Hot Stove Report (cont.)
Kenny Lofton, Hall of Famer
Kenny Lofton made some news Wednesday when he became the latest retired player to deride his chemically enhanced rivals, proclaiming that he wasn't a cheater and expressing fond hopes that Hall of Fame voters take that into account. Lofton won't be elected even if they do, and it's a shame.
At the most basic level, Lofton has a reasonable case. He's one of 10 players to reach 2,400 hits and 600 steals. Of the others, eight are in the Hall and the ninth is Tim Raines, who should be. On top of that, he was a terrific center fielder who won four Gold Gloves and was good enough to field the position for contending teams until the end of his career. Hardly some obscure player who looks best on a stats sheet, he made six straight All-Star teams in his prime, was a key player on one of the dominant teams of his era, and was regarded as the premier leadoff man of his time. Even his later years as an itinerant, when he famously played for nine teams in six years, could be said to work in his favor -- in five of those six years, after all, he played in October.
His case gets even better if you look at it more closely. I'm a bit skeptical of metastatistics, if only because the value of a great player is in the small memories and perfect moments of joy to which he contributed, not in an integer, and dry numbers can sometimes make us forget that. Still, Sean Smith's very well-designed WAR system rates Lofton on par with players like Raines, Ozzie Smith, Tony Gwynn and Mark McGwire, and as absurd as that might seem, it's difficult to pick the numbers apart. Smith's system credits Lofton for creating 23 wins on the bases and in the field, and while that might not be exactly right, there's no obvious reason to think it's wrong. Arbitrarily dock 10 percent of Lofton's value and he's still on par with the likes of Mike Piazza and Jeff Kent.
Say what you will about players who hold their peace about drugs until they're safely retired, but Lofton has a bit of a point. Relatively subtle skills like his went unappreciated in an era of synthetic hormones and long home runs. That's probably going to keep him from getting a fair look from the Hall electorate, and it really isn't fair.
More Hot Stove Thoughts
The Twins have such a long lived and long deserved reputation for winning with pitching, defense and place hitting that it's a shock when you realize Jim Thome, who's still a very good hitter, might be something like the sixth-best hitter on the team this year. It isn't quite a new Murderer's Row, but a lineup with Thome, Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, Jason Kubel, Denard Span and Michael Cuddyer is going to score a lot of runs this year. I don't think people generally care about this sort of thing, by the way, but Thome really is about the nicest guy in the world, and having signed a $1.5 million deal, he'll make the Twins that much harder not to root for.
By signing Randy Winn, the Yankees continued with a quietly excellent winter. Winn, 35, might be a bit stretched at this point as a regular, but he's an average hitter, a very good baserunner and a very good defender, excellent in the outfield corners and passable in center. He's an ideal role player, and -- money and sentiment aside -- don't be at all surprised if the team gets more production out of a combination of him and Brett Gardner than they would have out of Johnny Damon, who for all his many virtues isn't much in the field and hasn't been for a long time.
If right fielder Xavier Nady didn't exist, the Cubs would have to invent him. He makes for an ideal lefty-hammering reserve, and if he takes well to his role one can imagine both the Cubs' center and right field jobs evolving into an interesting platoon with he and new center fielder Marlon Byrd essentially splitting time while Kosuke Fukudome plays both positions, and a long career for Nady as the much-feared "professional hitter." His contract -- $3.3 million plus millions more in performance bonuses -- seems like a lot, but the Cubs are rich.
MLB Truth & Rumors