Saturday, September 13, 2008


September 13th--Darwin GM Scott Hatfield confirmed what had been earlier hinted at, that the Finches had made a deal just hours before the trading deadline to bolster their pitching staff, in effect their final gamble of the 2008 season. "We are well-positioned for a playoff run already," said Hatfield. "As we speak, Darwin is only two games out of first in the East and we lead the wild card. But there are still 25-30 games left in the schedule for all of the clubs. No one has been eliminated, and certainly no lead is safe. Clubs like Worcester, Yuma, Lexington...all likely to win 80 or more games....they are all nipping at our heels. Besides, our goal is not just to get into the playoffs...Darwin's achieved that twice...we want to get to the Series, and our chances of doing that improve greatly if we win our division outright."


"So, with that said," Hatfield continued, "We have made a deal with Pottsylvania to acquire RHP Gil Meche (10-11, 2.77 ERA in 25 starts) and lefty reliever Hideki Okajima (3-5, 3.52 in 49 G). We feel that Meche, who had nine complete games with the Creepers and clearly was their best pitcher over the whole season, can upgrade our rotation. We have a lot of guys who are six-inning guys at best, and this puts a strain on our bullpen, which is not as deep as last year."


"You can't make an omelette without breaking a few eggs," Hatfield added, "So we had to make a tough decision. We'll be sending Pottsylvania GM Jeff Moore a guy who has been with us since Day One....Jeff Francouer. Over the years we've resisted many opportunities to deal this guy, and we still think he's a big-league regular. But he's kind of lost his way this year, swinging at too many pitcher's pitches, and as a result his production has suffered. And, with the way Rick Ankiel, Milton Bradley and Josh Hamilton have swung the bat, he just hasn't gotten the playing time. So, since we are already deep in the outfield with Aaron Rowand, Chone Figgins, Lance Berkman and others able to play there, Jeff became expendable. But we wish him well and we wouldn't be surprised if he ended up playing right regularly for the Creepers next year, and hit .280 with 90 or so RBI. He's that type of player."

In addition to Francouer, the Finches dealt hulking reliever Jonathan Broxton (5-4, 2.59 ERA in 55 G) and recently-activated RHP Josh Johnson (who has missed much of the last year with injuries), as well as a player to be named. Broxton, who figures to fill Pottsylvania's closer job, and Johnson, a likely future starter, are both just 23, which augurs well for their having a big impact on the club next season.


Darwin GM Scott Hatfield pulled no punches in talking to the media. "This is it, people. We are, as the poker players say, 'all in'. Darwin is trying to win it all. Meche is going to be given an opportunity to go deep into ball games. Okajima gives us the situational lefty we've been missing. Barring injuries, Clayton Kershaw, Max Scherzer and Jonathan Sanchez are the Finches future, not their present. It's tough, but consider that by dealing Francouer we open a roster spot for Josh Hamilton, whom we had to temporarily option to the minors in order to carry 11 pitchers. Moving Josh Johnson, on the hand, allows us to return Chad Billingsley to the rotation. To get this all set up, we'll have to gamble on juggling the rotation yet again. We'll let (41-year-old knuckleballer) Tim Wakefield have another spot start, and then we're going to give the ball to Meche, and ask a lot from him, and put it on our staff to rise to the occasion. We may put Greinke in the pen, we may cut a player in order to bring up Mark Loretta or somebody else. But we're going to do whatever we can in the next few weeks to win as many games as can. We may sit David Ortiz and let Bradley DH. We may DH Chipper Jones if he needs time off, too, and let Wiggington play. Bottom line, we're in the hunt and anything's possible!"

Saturday, August 30, 2008


For the first time in several weeks, the Darwin Finches are not in first place in the Eastern Division. A hot streak by Frostbite Falls against Central Division clubs (winning eight straight) and some failures by Darwin's bullpen has allowed the Finches division rivals to first catch, and then surpass them.

As a result, Darwin GM Scott Hatfield is concerned, and for the first time in months, may be actively pursuing help on the trade market.

"Basically, our concern is still the effect that our starters are having on our bullpen," Hatfield admitted. "We have trouble getting our veteran starters to go deep in the ballgame, and we've tried to get our youngsters to go long, it just doesn't seem to be happening. Zack (Grienke) is in his first year as a full-time starter, and he's tired. Kazmir, we all know, had an injury this spring and we don't want to push him too hard, or we may lose him again. Chad's pitched pretty good for us of late, and it seems like that since he didn't start early in the season, that he's fresher now. But he still goes deep in the count to most hitters, and is around 100 pitches usually in the fifth. So, while I wouldn't say any of my guys are pitching badly, those four guys are basically five-inning pitchers at this point in the season, and the relievers are getting worn out."

An agitated Hatfield began ticking off his options. "A couple of times earlier this season, we had Tim Wakefield make a spot start, and just leave him and his knuckleball in there most of the night. He's always been very durable, versatile, a good team player. But he's in his forties now, and even knuckleballers can be overworked. He's showing signs of it. So I don't think much of that option."

"Or," Hatfield continued, "we could try putting some youngters in the rotation. Kershaw won a game in relief for us last week, and he has certainly earned an opportunity to start. Sanchez has shown some flashes But, like Kazmir, like Chad, these guys are young and they will go pretty deep in the count. So I'm not sure what that would get us."

"Another possibility," Hatfield sighed, "would be to increase the overall size of the pitching staff. Call up Max Scherzer, who is probably ready to contribute. Give Cla Meredith another shot at sticking on the roster. Just inflate the pitching staff, so there are lots of arms and I don't overwork the pen! But, to do that, I'd have to move some regular players down, and barring a trade, one of them would certainly be Josh Hamilton, and I don't have to tell you the excitement he's brought to our ball club since joining it. Hamilton's got options. Jeff Francouer, Rick Ankiel, they don't. So I would definitely have to weaken the lineup and the bench a bit in order to add some pitching depth."

"Finally," Hatfield concluded, "There is the trade market. I've been very reluctant to go there, because whether or not you improve that way is a bit of a crap shoot, especially when you're dealing with pitchers. Clearly, I would love to have a right-hander in their prime who could give us a complete game now and then, and maybe help us match up better with Frostbite Falls as the season goes on. But who's out there? Gil Meche? Brett Myers? Jon Garland? I'm not sure that the arms that I might be able to get would be enough of an upgrade to justify sitting one of my present starters."

"So," concluded the Darwin GM, "I continue to weigh my options. The trading deadline is September 14th, so if we're going to do anything, it will have to be soon."

Friday, July 4, 2008


Darwin----The defending Eastern Division champions are in first place again, their pitching staff lead all of BARB in ERA (XXX), but is it all a house of cards?

GM Scott Hatfield thinks so, at least if you read the transcript of this press conference:

HATFIELD: Th---um----Is this thing on? Right. OK, any questions? Yes, you there.

PRESS: Bob Nightengale, Kansas City Star. Mr. Hatfield--how does one put this? Why are we here?

You got the press release, right?

Yes. But it doesn't seem to make any sense. We've watched the Finches pitch and play pretty good defense for more than a third of a season, you're in first place, and your announcement says, and I quote, 'Our club is on the verge of a total collapse.'

Yes, that's what it says.

Well, sir, can you explain how you come to that conclusion?

Sure, Bob. I came to it by the same means that I assembled the best club in BARB, with my superior knowledge of baseball. Next question.

Candy Sofax, Modern Maturity. If I could follow up on my colleague Mr. Nightengale---I don't meant to speak for him, but I think he was hoping to hear an explanation of your particular chain of reasoning.

Oh, right. Well, it's like this. We put together a veteran club to start the year, as you know, and our old guys are having troubles staying healthy. Randy missed a month to start the year, but then we lost Smoltzie and Glavine at the same time and, really, if you look at the numbers, none of these guys are averaging six innings a start. That puts a real strain on our bullpen. As you know, a Finches trademark the last two years is a deep, flexible, pen. But, with J.J. Putz and Jeremy Accardo both out, and us with no situational lefty---none proven, anyway----well, I think we've let that souffle bake as long as we dare. Even if Tom and John got healthy, really, we're still going to be calling on our bullpen sometime in the fifth most games. And that's just too heavy a workload, in my opinion. We've already seen our team ERA rise nearly half a run in the last two weeks. Like that souffle, it's time to get that thing out of the open, so it doesn't fall. Yes, you there.

Dan Taylor, Channel 26, Action News. That's---

Never heard of you.

We have the Valley's leading sportscast, at 6 and 10.

Maybe you mean Death Valley, Dan.

No, that's the San Joaquin Valley. And we'll right back with a real question right after we plug high school football.

It's the middle of the summer, Dan.

Well, we have highlights of annnnother San Joaquin Memorial scrimmage, right in the next segment. Don't you looove it when I smile while cocking my head to the left, and then the right?

And here's another thing. Why do you do updates and teasers from the newsroom with your shirt off, then put on a suit that looks like it was from an 80's wedding and needs a mullet to carry off when you do the actual broadcast? You haven't actually done any location broadcasts since Appleton had a heart attack.

Well, I'm too busy reading scores from arrrrrround the majors. Dodgers won, Giants lost, Athletics breeze, Angels edge! And here's some stock footage of a walkoff home run by some Yankee from yesterday afternoon. And back to you!

Mmmmm. I just love how you manage to pack so little into 90 seconds. Is there a question from a real journalist?

Eric Maddy, Huntington Beach Coupon Clipper here.

Yes, go ahead, Eric.

What exactly are the Finches going to do about their rotation?

Finally a question I know the answer to! Well, it's simple. The veterans are banged-up and not going deep enough. So it's time to shake things up. We're going to let Wakefield take a spot start to push the rotation back, and I don't mind telling you that we intend to let him throw as many pitches as it takes: 130, 140, whatever. He doesn't throw hard enough to hurt himself. The main thing, we're going to skip Randy's next start and throw him to the back of the rotation. Chad Billingsley and Jonathan Sanchez are going to go in there ahead of him and after Kazmir, Grienke and Perez. Then we'll see about where Randy fits in. We're going to stretch our young pitchers out and ask them to go deeper into games and take the pressure off the pen. I know our team ERA is probably going to continue to climb, but we'll be able to keep our relief corps from getting overworked.

Hal Bodley, AP. What happens when Tom Glavine gets off the DL?

Well. Tom is a veteran and knows the score. We don't think he would be effective in the pen, so we plan on using him as a starter if that's what is best for the team. But if we have five or six guys we like better...that could be a problem. We'll cross that bridge when we come to it. Thank you for attending, and may the baseball gods smile on the Darwin Finches...!

Saturday, June 14, 2008


Finches currently on or just off the major-league disabled list, as we speak:

C Ryan Doumit
1B David Ortiz
IF Chone Figgins

RHP John Smoltz (out for year)
RHP Mark Prior (out for year)
RHP Josh Johnson (out for year)
RHP Jeremy Accardo
RHP J.J. Putz
LHP Tom Glavine

Monday, June 2, 2008


In his last 19 major-league starts, Zack Greinke has gone 7-4 with a 2.56 ERA. Not bad, but as long as he's with the Royals that projects to probably just 12-13 wins a year, tops.

The question for Darwin: should Greinke start, or be dropped into long relief, a role in which he excelled for much of last season, in order to get aging veterans Tom Glavine and Tim Wakefield starting opportunities?

And, if John Smoltz returns from the DL again, what role should he have with the club?

Right now, the only sure things in the rotation of the Unnatural Selections are Oliver Perez and Scott Kazmir.

Saturday, May 17, 2008


Well, this will never happen again in my lifetime, so I have to mention it.

At this moment, Darwin has both the HR and RBI leader for both leagues. If Hamilton drives in a run today, he'll be halfway to 100 in May. Berkman's already got two hits (one his major-league-leading 16th bomb, a solo shot). It makes Chipper Jones look like the third-best stick on the Finches roster, even though Jones carries a major-league-leading .423 average to go with 11 HR. Oh, and David Ortiz went deep in Game 1 against the Brewers (7 HR, 32 RBI) and just scored a run in Game 2. Despite his slow start, 'Big Papi' is fourth in the AL in runs batted in.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008


After protracted negotiations and much posturing, the Darwin Finches reacquired Zack Grienke, much-traveled righthander whose career has been a mixture of 'ahhs' at his potential and 'ewwws' at his well-publicized struggle with an anxiety disorder.

Grienke, who was but 5-6 with a 4.40 ERA in 46 games last season, missed virtually all of 2006 when he left his club in spring training. Overall, Grienke is 5-8 with a 5.13 ERA in 51 BARB games over the last three seasons and on the surface seems like a poor answer to the Finches' well-publicized need for stability in the rotation.

"You need to remember that he is still only 23 years old," said Darwin GM Scott Hatfield. "And, you also need to remember we drafted him way back when, and we have seen him go through his ups and downs. We feel that he's ready to put that behind him and be a regular contributor on a contending ballclub. In fact, we think it's important for Zack's life that he experience success, and we think that our club is a good fit for what he needs. It's a win-win thing."

In order to obtain Grienke, the Finches dealt significant talent. RHP Dustin McGowan (4-2, 4.66 ERA in 10 games last year) was slated to be the fifth starter, but he was sent packing along with Jarrod Saltalamacchia, widely-regarded as the top catching prospect in the majors today. GM Hatfield had only nice things to say about both at the press conference, emphasizing that he thought McGowan could easily win 13-14 games with Lexington and that 'Salty' would eventually be a big-league regular.

"Unfortunately," Hatfield remarked, "Salty hit a rough patch this spring behind the plate. He got into a funk with balls down and away, and it messed up his throwing mechanics. Last year the biggest hole in Darwin's game was our defense, and we just felt like we were going to be a better overall club if we improved our work up the middle. We weren't going to be able to give him time to develop in a pennant race. Probably in a year or so he'll be bashing the ball and people will talk about him as the best young offensive catcher in the American League. But we can't wait for that. We wish him the best."

Sunday, April 27, 2008


This is probably the best news the injury-addled Finches could possibly have right now:

Saturday, April 26, 2008


2B Placido Polanco, bothered by a strained lower back, did not start, but came off the bench in the tenth and played two innings. "So far, so good," Polanco said, wincing in the trainer's room. "It just seems a little out of sorts..."


Less cheerful? Darwin's newly-anointed closer, J.J. Putz, who came into the game in the ninth and would pitch four innings as the Finches seventh pitcher. Putz blew a save situation with Darwin leading 5-4 in the tenth, but was allowed to continue to work, a move heavily-criticized by media. Putz would go on to get the win, but MRI after the game discovered that the big righthander had strained an intercostal muscle (rib cage). He will miss, at a minimum, two weeks, a big blow to a ballclub that dealt last year's closer (Trevor Hoffman) for a failed shot at acquiring C Jason Varitek...


Speaking of injuries....John Smoltz, Randy Johnson, Scott Kazmir and Chuck James have all been placed on the disabled list, with none of them expected to see any action for at least two weeks, and Kazmir likely out until mid-May. With so many experienced hands out, manager PZ Myers felt it best to start Tom Glavine on Opening Day rather than a youngster like Chad Billingsley or Dustin McGowan. "Tom won't get caught up in all the hoopla," Myers explained, then added, "We may have Tim Wakefield work #2 or #3 as well, especially if our bullpen gets worked." As it happened, Myers was a prophet: Darwin used eight pitchers in the 12-inning opener, and so if nothing else the knuckleballing Wakefield will give the staff a day off, come heck or home run. Still, concern has to run high. With this many starters down, the Finches will have to hope they can stay near .500 and not get buried in the competitive East.


Free agent-signee Ryan Doumit made the Opening Day roster as the backup catcher over hot shot phenoms Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Jeff Clement. The overall game of defensive specialist Yadier Molina has improved to the point where Myers claimed he would rather have a Molina hitting eighth than a 'Salty' batting fifth or sixth. "The offense Jarrod or Jeff can provide is nice," Myers allowed, 'but we can get that from other quarters. Yadier has shown that he can pretty much take charge of the pitching and stuff the running game, and he handles the bat well enough that I wouldn't be afraid to bat him second against the right pitcher. Neither Jarrod or Jeff would've gotten much playing time with us, so I think some time on the farm is going to be in their best interests, long-term. Doumit can play the outfield corners and first as well as catch, and this versatility makes him a better choice for the backup job...for now."


The versatility of players like Doumit, Ty Wigginton, Carlos Guillen, Chone Figgins and Lance Berkman is good news for PZ Myers, but was bad news for OF Josh Hamilton. Hamilton will not make the Opening Day roster initially despite outhitting nearly everyone in the Grapefruit League. "Josh understands this is a numbers game," said Myers. "At one point, we thought (Milton) Bradley would have to start the season on the DL, and there was a slot. But he got better quickly, and he's making $2 million and has a guaranteed deal, and Josh has an option. But let's face it. Josh and Rick Ankiel are going to be the cornerstones of our club's OF in the future."

Saturday, April 12, 2008


Northern Territory of Australia----DH/1B David Ortiz, the 'franchise player' of the Darwin Finches, is unhappy.

'Big Papi' has been informed that the Finches will play all of their home games without the DH rule, which effectively will trim 100-150 at-bats away from Darwin's big bopper, as well as forcing the rather stationary Ortiz to occasionally pick up a mitt in order to get his bat in the lineup. "Wazzup with that?" Ortiz growled, "No one will tell me."

Insiders speculate that statistical analysis by consultants has led Darwin's management to conclude that the 5-6 extra home runs they are likely to lose from not running Ortiz out there every game are a fair price to pay for leveraging the value of late-inning matchups against other clubs, particularly Eastern Division foes largely bereft of quality left-handed pitching.

"We're sure that David will realize this is about winning ballgames, and understand his role in the organization," said an anonymous club spokesperson, hopefully.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008


Outfielder Jordan Schafer, a prospect in the Darwin Finches farm system, was suspended for the 2008 season by BARB Commissioner Scott Hatfield just weeks after being selected in this year's Rookie Draft, after tests revealed Schafer used human growth hormone in violation of the sport's minor league drug program.

The 21-year-old Schafer, ranked as the No. 25 prospect overall this year by Baseball America, is projected to take over in CF for the Finches in 2009. He got his first taste of the big league club this spring as a non-roster invitee.

"We are extremely disappointed that Jordan has violated the commissioner's performance enhancing drug policy," Darwin manager PZ Myers said. "In no way do we condone this action. We are supportive of the program and will continue to educate all of our players. He will not be reinstated until, at the very least, after completing an education and community service program prior to spring training of 2009."

Schafer was batting .091 (1-for-11) for St. Francis (AAA) in the League of Flagellants at the time of the suspension. He batted .312 at Class A last year with 15 homers and 63 RBIs for Rome of the South Atlantic League and Myrtle Beach of the Carolina League.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008


In a relatively-unheralded deal, the Darwin Finches have sent promising young OF Lastings Milledge to the Lexington Rebels for minor-league free agent Eric Hurley. The Rebels wanted a fourth OF to start the season, and have hopes that Milledge might develop into more than that. The Finches, meanwhile, are facing a roster crunch and simply decided that this was a move in both the player's and organization's interest.

Saturday, April 5, 2008


"The Big Unit" has returned---and for good.

Darwin GM Scott Hatfield, his eyes twinkling, confirmed that the ballclub has spent some serious money ($4 million, guaranteed), and assumed some serious risk, in signing 44-year-old lefthander Randy Johnson, who was spurned by every club in the league on Draft Day.

"We had room under the cap," Hatfield noted. "More importantly, we're bringing Randy back, and we are going to retire his number in a Darwin uniform. I'm happy to say that I drafted Randy back in 1989 when he was an unestablished Expos farmhand out of USC. The rest is history. When I formed BARB, he was one of the core members of my inaugural club, and this is his second--and last--tour of duty. The circle is complete."

Johnson, who is attempting to come back from two back surgeries since his last inning of work in a regular-season game, simply glowered, as if to say he could pitch forever if he wanted to. "I'm not ready yet to join the club," the towering southpaw said curtly to reporters. "When I'm ready, I'll let you know. I've got my pride, and I wouldn't be signing this contract if I didn't believe that I can get back to where I need to be."

The Finches also took a flyer on another USC product, oft-injured RHP Mark Prior, who came into BARB with so much promise but has missed most of the last three seasons. Prior agreed to a split contract that will pay him $680,000 in the event he is able to rejoin the big-league roster. Prior was, shall we say, quite a bit more friendly than his fellow Trojan, but laughed when asked about it. "I've known Randy since I was a freshman with Gillespie," Prior chuckled. "That's just Randy being Randy. His dedication and focus are an inspiration to guys like me."

Also signing with the Finches: veteran knuckleballer Tim Wakefield, who will instantly join the club's rotation and give the Unnatural Selections an inning-eater while they wait for Johnson, Prior, Smoltz, Kazmir and the rest of the Darwinian wounded to get healthy. "I'm not going to blaze it by ya," drawled Wakefield. "But then, I don't have to." Inititially, however, Wakefield will be assigned to AAA along with utility men Ryan Doumit and Mark Loretta, who will attempt to earn roles on the parent roster in the final week of spring training.

Darwin also announced that they were temporarily moving their minor-league base of operations to St. Francis, Kansas, which is widely believed to be the site of future BARB expansion, much to the distaste of Darwin's skeptical skipper, PZ Myers. "Everyone here seems to have a burning desire to dress up in monk's garb," puzzled Myers. "Don't they know that's just a fairy tale? Jee-bus!"

Thursday, April 3, 2008


Let's far I've lost three starters and my closer to various injuries. Fortunately for me, someone else took Escobar off my hands before it became clear that what ailed him was career-threatening. Still, I will start the season with no Smoltz, no Kazmir, and I'll lose Putz on the fourth day of the season. Kinda rugged.

I'll try to make do with this rotation:

Chad Billingsley
Tom Glavine
Dustin McGowan
Oliver Perez
and...hmm....someone else

Kevin Gregg will close against lefties (look at his numbers, you'll see),
Jeremy Accardo against righties,
Broxton, Meredith and hmm....someone else....will have to setup.

In other words, I'm not worried yet. So far all indicators are that Smoltz and Kazmir will return before April is over, and Putz's injury doesn't appear to be all that serious. But if I lose another starter in April or early May, I may have cause for concern.

Saturday, March 29, 2008


In which, of the five starts depicted on my current logo, two are on the DL and one was first lost me in the draft, then possibly grounded for the season, their career in jeopardy, and contemplating arm surgery.

Monday, March 17, 2008


Finches GM Scott Hatfield will not confirm, but neither will he deny published reports that suggest this may be his last year helming the Darwin franchise, but he did have some pointed comments about the ball club that may not sit well with other owners.


"Essentially," Hatfield said, "This is the best team I've ever built, and I fully expect to win close to 100 games, make the playoffs and (if things go my way) win the whole thing. I don't say this idly, but I do expect to win a championship, and this is not something that I could've said in previous seasons. We have a unique window, where we have tremendous depth on offense, improved defense, lots of young pitching and just enough cap to handle it."

"We will lose a lot of that edge in 2009," conceded Hatfield, "but we will remain a contending club due to the nucleus of young players: Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Khalil Greene, Jeff Francouer, Dustin McGowan and the slew of young lefties. Add to that a coterie of the finest switch-hitters in the game (Berkman, Chipper Jones, Carlos Guillen, Chone Figgins, Milton Bradley) and we have an offense that is just a nightmare for opposing managers in the late innings. So, as I've said before, as far as I'm concerned we should be the front-runners in this division. The other clubs, long operating at a talent level higher than the Finches, have all slipped and it will take them more than a year to get back to where they were before."

"Bottom line," Hatfield concluded, "We're the class of the division now, and the Eastern Division is still arguably the league's most competitive. The only significant talent I'm going to expose in the early rounds of the draft is Kelvim Escobar, who is making $8.5 million and will miss at least the first month of BARB action with an injury. I'd like to see the GM who will go out on a limb and draft Escobar in the first three rounds, paying up to $11 million for a guy who's going to be out for part of the year, and give me an extra draft pick to boot high in the draft."


This is not the first championship club I've built. In my very first league (the old FL), I won the inaugural season back in 1989 with a good, but significantly-flawed club that featured a young Roberto Alomar filling in at short, an outfield of Andy Van Slyke and Tony Gwynn, and ace Orel Hershiser handing the ball to Dennis Eckersley. That was OK, but in retrospect it was case of luck and (also) the total lack of experience by all involved.

The following season, I took my first-ever expansion club. This club, eventually known as the Leon Redbones (out of Leon, Mexico) would take back-to-back championships in 1992-93, but it wasn't easy. I started out with the league's rejects, among them castoff OF Ivan Calderon and closer Tom Henke, then spent two years dealing washed-up players for prospects.

I was roundly mocked in my first season for trading hot shot Mets IF Gregg Jefferies (a two-time Minor League Player of the Year) for soft-tossing lefty Zane Smith (who was, at the time, 1-13 with the Expos) and an aging (43 years old when I got him) Nolan Ryan. But these two partnered with ex-Yankee Doug Drabek to form the nucleus of my rotation, winning 100 games between the three of them over the next two seasons. Ryan threw a no-hitter for the Rangers shortly after I acquired him and he would add a pair of no-no's for my team, as well. When he hung it up in 1993, Ryan was still throwing 98-mph fastballs at the age of 46.

Of course, it was more than just the pitching. The club overall had a strong Blue Jays flavor, with the afore-mentioned Tom Henke closing, a young Pat Borders behind the plate, Robbie Alomar at 2B, under-rated defender Devon White patrolling CF and 3B Kelly Gruber. As mentioned, Calderon proved to be a good regular for me in LF, and another veteran unloaded by his old team, Andre Dawson, revived his stock while playing RF for Leon, earning our league's MVP award in 1992, and I got a lot of mileage from SS Billy Spiers, whose career was shortened by injuries.

Notice that many of these guys had abbreviated careers. I caught them in the 4-5 years in which they blossomed, pretty much at the same time, and won nearly 200 games with them over a two-year period. By then, I moved on to other challenges, building another expansion team from scratch. This club, the Las Vegas Flamingoes, was never able to win a Series during the five years of operation, though it did go from losing 100+ games to being an above-.500 ballclub and making the playoffs in 1997. Many of the owners in the league had caught up with me in terms of acumen in evaluating talent, and a flaw in that league's design made it difficult for the have-not's to catch up to the have's after a certain point. I left this league after 12 years of operation (1988-1999) with many fond memories, including the unlikely spectacle of the grotesque Kevin Mitchell hammering three home runs in the final game of the 1996 World Series to upset the league's most dominant club, the Blackburn Walkabouts. Good times.


When I returned to fantasy baseball in 2003 at Bullard High, I determined that I would set a different system in place, one that would allow for greater parity year-to-year and prevent one club from hoarding minor-league talent. In my first year of operation, I again won a division title (in fact, over 100 games) with the Delta V's, only to be upset in the Series by the slugging of the Santa Barbara Storm (now rechristened Frostbite Falls).

Satisfied that this club was on a strong footing, I took an expansion club (the Darwin Finches), and it's been a wild ride. After losing nearly 100 games in our inaugural season, the Finches slugged their way into the playoffs in 2005. We just didn't have enough pitching, though, and so again fell to a club that did. Rather than attempting to maintain that nucleus, I traded the talent widely regarded as our club's best player (2B/SS Michael Young) and best reliever (LHP Billy Wagner) but in return acquired substantial talent while stockpiling prospects. Following a losing season in 2006, we freely pilfered some top bats away from other clubs in the Draft to go with our newly-bolstered bullpen, and rode a league-leading 93 wins to a division title. While we lost the Series in seven games largely due to poor fielding, we have essentially the same nucleus returning this year with what we hope will be stronger up-the-middle defense. Without a doubt, I have taken another collection of castoffs and turned them into a powerhouse.

So, after this season, you can expect that I will pursue other challenges. The Finches will be an attractive club for a new owner, especially if they have taken post-season honors again. This will be my 18th year of operating a computer-based baseball simulation, and in that time I have only had eight post-season berths and two championships, partly due to my love of expansion clubs. Perhaps, after this year, it will be time for me to try expansion....for the fourth time.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008


The Darwin Finches have made it official: Veterans DH David Ortiz and SP John Smoltz have been named the Unnatural Selections' franchise player and pitcher, respectively, and will probably retire as Finches.

Also offered a limited no-trade clause for 2008:

3B Chipper Jones
OF/1B Lance Berkman
LHP Scott Kazmir
U Chone Figgins
RHP J.J. Putz

Also protected, for the time being:

SS Khalil Greene
OF Jeff Francouer
RHP Jonathan Broxton
LHP Oliver Perez
IF Carlos Guillen

Saturday, February 23, 2008


"That's right," said Scott Hatfield, GM of the defending Eastern Division champion Darwin Finches. "Psychologically, at least, I feel like the Bronx Bombers. When I survey the landscape which is BARB, I realize that it's going to be really difficult to improve my club, which had the league's best record last season. The main improvement going to come from players like Khalil Greene, Aaron Rowand, Kelvim Escobar and Dustin McGowan---all of whom had career year in 2007 and figure to improve."

"In fact," commented Hatfield, "I find it difficult to even imagine a way to improve the quality of my planned lineup, which--interestingly enough---envisions players like Carlos Guillen, Jeff Francouer and Chad Billingsley as role players, rather than regulars. I will be fielding a lineup with five switch-hitters, which will give me a definite advantage in late-inning matchups. With a full year of Chone Figgins shuttling between 3B and LF, I see no reason why we won't score runs, or why my pitching staff, led by the bullpen, will be among the best in BARB."

"That's not to say that I'm guaranteeing a pennant," Hatfield allowed. "Things can happen. The other clubs in my division are very talented, and in a short series anything can go down. But there's no doubt in my mind that my needs are few. Right now, I'm looking for a veteran backup catcher, a fourth outfielder and a lefty reliever. That's it. I don't have to figure out who's going to play third (Frostbite), or who in my bullpen will be able to comb their hair, much less get the ball to the ninth inning (Brooklyn), or whether I can count on three of my projected starters (Bedard, Harden, Young) for a full season(Worcester)."

"Again, that's not to say that other clubs aren't talented. Yuma and Arizona both have better rotations than anyone in my division. Worcester and Brooklyn have a lot more infield depth, and for sheer muscle-bound slugging Las Vegas takes a back seat to no one. But I have a formula that works, and I'm going to stick to it. We're the new sheriff in town until someone else proves otherwise."

Sunday, February 17, 2008

40-40 VISION

What are the chances that someone on the Finches will hit at least 40 HR next season?

Well, not too bad. There's David Ortiz, Lance Berkman, Chipper Jones. They have six 40-plus HR between them, four in the last three seasons, though none last year. Make that about a 12 percent chance of one such season, about 3.5 percent two and about 1.8 percent all three.

What are the chances that someone on the Finches will steal at least 40 bases?

About 75 percent. Chone Figgins has three straight seasons at 40-plus swipes, and he's still in his prime.

What are the chances that the Finches will actually make a favorable deal in 2008?

Not that great. The new 40-man roster rule is going to hamper the club's ability to stockpile young talent for trades, and with a veteran club that went to the Series last year taking another shot at a championship, the Finches don't have that much flexibility. They will no doubt spend some of their draft picks to keep their own players. That makes trading, at this stage or later, a little rough.

Monday, February 11, 2008


Down Under----Faced with over $60 million in red ink, defending Eastern champ and Series runner up Darwin began the sad, difficult process of trimming its roster in preparation for March's 2008 BARB Draft.

"There's no point in waiting for guys we know we aren't going to keep," manager PZ Myers said. "This way, some of these guys could still find a team that needs them, giving them a better chance of extending their career. We just have to trim the fat."

Among the big names granted their unconditional release: 3B Eric Chavez, whose chronic back woes and declining production made his $7.5 million salary dicey; LHP Mark Mulder (whose comeback from shoulder surgery hit a snag in September), and RHP Jose Contreras, whose bad body language and clubhouse demeanor had made him a mid-summer pariah. Contreras, who was due to make $9 million, will instead be looking for a fifth starter's role with any team that can afford him.

Darwin also released pitchers Kyle Farnsworth, Edwin Jackson, Yusmeiro Petit, Jeff Jeffress and Juan Salas. None were particularly effective, and minor-leaguers Jeffress and Salas had earned the ire of team officials when they tested positive for steroid usage. The Finches also let go C Jason Philips, OF Corey Patterson and OF Jose Cruz, Jr.

Myers seemed especially sad to lose Cruz, the club's fourth outfielder and top pinch-hitter who played well in the post-season. "It doesn't make sense to keep Cruisie," Myers admitted, "because he would've made $4 million but never played. We've got Berkman, Rowand and Francouer and Lastings Milledge needs a place to start getting at-bats. If Jose can't hook up with another club, the staff and I have talked about asking him back as an outfielding coach."

Despite all the trimming, the Finches are still over $120 million and want to cut another $20 million in commitments out before Draft Day. "We'll have to float some of our big-salaried guys instead of protecting them all," moaned Myers. "Tough decisions ahead."

Those tough decisions include veteran LHP Tom Glavine, still able to pitch but due to make $7.5 million; RHP Trevor Hoffman, a high-paid ($6.5 million) closer in his 40's; SS Carlos Guillen, a top-notch hitter but a defensive liability who is owed $5 million and might have to move to first base; 2B Jose Lopez, who could start for a lot of clubs but appears stuck behind higher-priced veterans like Placido Polanco, Chone Figgins and Khalil Greene; and whether or not prospects Jarrod Saltalamachia or Jeff Clement can take over behind the plate for veterans Miguel Olivo and Johnny Estrada.