The Does April Really Matter in MLB Debate

May 3, 2011

Read the opposing arguments from Loyal Homer and Bleacher Fan.

Here we are in early May and the MLB standings are a bit confusing. The team with the best record in baseball is not the team many predicted – it’s the Cleveland Indians of all teams. A 18-8 April does not earn any team a championship, but it is as noteworthy as the New York Yankees’ 17-8. It’s as good as the Phillies as well. Since the Yankees and the Phillies are legitimate name-brand contenders, then the Indians must be for real also, right?

Unfortunately, that question does not have a simple answer… making it a great candidate for an eternal baseball debate. Does a strong April REALLY matter for Major League Baseball teams?

Loyal Homer will argue that an excellent April is not indicative of a great season while Bleacher Fan will argue that a great April means a great season is in the works.

Who do you agree with? Check back here and find out how the judge rules later this week.

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The Does April Really Matter in MLB Debate… Pride Goeth BEFORE the Fall, and Winning in April Goeth INTO the Fall

May 3, 2011

Read the opposing argument from Loyal Homer.

The first month of baseball is officially in the books, and the biggest story from the month of April has been the play of the Cleveland Indians.

The upstart Tribe has just turned in the greatest start in the 110 year history of their storied franchise, finishing April tied for the best record in baseball at 18-8, and currently owning a 4.5 game lead in the AL Central.

This is a better start than any of the AL Championship teams from the 1990s ever saw, and it’s better than the World Series Champion 1948 team. In fact, even the 1954 Indians (a team that went on to win 111 games that year) would have trailed its 2011 counterparts by two games when April turned to May.

So, why is it that most people are STILL not yet ready to give the Indians (who own the best record in baseball) any respect? Many writers around the country are reluctant to do more than acknowledge that the Indians had a good start to the season. And, of all the major publications online, only has the guts to put the Indians atop the Power Rankings (most still refuse to put Cleveland even in the top three).

I am not trying to make a claim that the Indians are destined for a World Series championship, but the team has clearly played as the best team in baseball so far. They swept five of their nine series, and have not lost at home in over a month. They swept the pre-season AL favorite Boston Red Sox, and just completed a thrilling sweep of the Detroit Tigers, a team many analysts’ pick to be the AL Central champions.

With the exception of a couple bumps in the road (which every team has), the rotation has been outstanding, and the bullpen has been virtually unhittable. Meanwhile, on the offensive side of the ball, the Indians are tied with the Texas Rangers for scoring the most runs in the AL, and the Indians trail only the equally surprising Kansas City Royals for the best team batting average at .272.

So, why are people still doubting the Indians? Because 30 days ago, NOBODY thought the team could be a contender this year (I even predicted a season with fewer than 72 wins). But is a prediction from 30 days ago really any reason to discount the Indians today?

Perhaps Indians outfielder Shelley Duncan sums it up the best – “Did you ever notice that people don’t want to be wrong?”

Rather than admit that they might have actually gotten a prediction wrong, analysts-turned-prognosticators like Jayson Stark would instead try to diminish a tremendous start to the season for teams like the Indians or the Royals by attempting to tag their records with an asterisk that “this is only the first month of the season… it doesn’t really MEAN anything yet.”


That’s like saying that the first inning of a game doesn’t matter, because there are still eight innings left to be played.

Let’s forget the obvious fact that the first month of the season is JUST AS important as the last month of the season. The notion that games played in the month of April should not serve as an indication of what to expect through the rest of the season for a team is absolutely absurd.

Every team is now at least 25 games deep into their season. Every team has already dealt with injuries and road trips, slumps and streaks. They have played in good weather and bad, and in front of fans both friendly and hostile. If a team after 25 games can’t at least say that they have indication of what to expect in the weeks and months ahead, then their problems are greater than where they sit in the standings.

The NFL crowns their champion after only 19 games, but baseball doesn’t mean ANYTHING after playing 25 or more? Child, please.

Last year at this point in the season the AL standings had Tampa Bay, Minnesota, and Texas leading their divisions, with the Yankees sitting in the Wild Card spot, just one game behind Tampa. Guess where things stood at the end of September… the AL standings had Tampa Bay, Minnesota, and Texas leading their divisions, with the Yankees sitting in the Wild Card spot, just one game behind Tampa.

And do you think there is a single person in the league – whether a player, manager, GM, or owner – who is shrugging their shoulders at their April performance because, “It doesn’t matter, anyway”? Of course not! Every single person in baseball would LOVE to have a 4.5 game division lead at this point in the season. It builds confidence for the athletes, and it sets a team that much farther ahead of the competition for the next 25 games (and more).

Obviously, there is a lot of baseball left to be played. There is a reason the playoffs are not based on season standings at the end of April. But that is the exact same reason why teams play the April games.

It is true that the Indians could blow the 4.5 game April lead over the rest of the division. But that same lead can also be blown in September. It is true that the Tigers, Twins, or White Sox could get hot, and make a stronger push for the AL Central than has been made so far. But it is also true that the season could end just as it started, with the Indians outright dominating the rest of the competition.

I’m not trying to make the case that the Indians are on course for a World Series championship. I’m not even arguing that they have the AL Central locked up. But I can guarantee you that teams like the Texas Rangers, New York Yankees, and Boston Red Sox are taking the Indians seriously, and the White Sox, Twins, Tigers and Royals are taking the Indians VERY seriously.

If the other teams in the league are putting stock in the performance of teams like the Cleveland Indians, shouldn’t that be good enough for Jayson Stark and company?

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The Biggest Choke Ever Debate… Hardly a Comedy of Errors

May 21, 2010

Read the opposing arguments from Babe Ruthless and Loyal Homer.

Bill Buckner didn’t choke. He committed an error, nothing more. His error was costly, and Red Sox Nation had to wait nearly 20 years after that error before finally seeing a World Series championship. But it was still just a single error on a single play.

The Red Sox still had a full game AFTER that error to recover and win the series, but the better team ultimately prevailed.

As unfortunate as the 1986 World Series was for fans of the Boston Red Sox, they did not lose it because Buckner missed one single ground ball.

Now, a CHOKE in sports is something entirely different than that example. A choke does not hinge on one moment, especially in a seven-game series. When the same two teams are pitted against each other until one of them can win four games, one single play does not define a series.

If you want to talk about choking in the World Series, you need to look for a situation where the losing team had MULTIPLE opportunities to win, but ultimately failed – every time. A REAL choke in the World Series is one where a team REPEATEDLY sets itself up for success, only to stumble every single time.

As evidence, I submit to you the 1997 Cleveland Indians.

Just as hard luck a team as the Boston Red Sox, the Indians carried a lead into the bottom of the ninth in game seven of the 1997 World Series, and STILL lost to the Florida Marlins. Unlike the Red Sox, though, the Indians can’t point to a single unfortunate moment in the 1997 series and bemoan that as the reason their downfall. The entire series was LOADED with downfalls.

The Fall Classic of 1997 played out as a cavalcade of blown chances for the Indians. For starters, they held the lead in EVERY SINGLE GAME of the series. That’s right, the Cleveland Indians lost four times out of seven games, even though they held the lead in each game.

In game one, it was a four-run fourth inning that did the Tribe in, eventually losing that game 7-4.

In game three the Indians led 7-3 going into the sixth inning before giving up two runs in the sixth, and two more in the seventh. Still, they stood tied with the Marlins entering the ninth inning. During their half of the ninth the Indians even managed to score four runs, but it wasn’t enough. Why? Because they gave up seven to the Marlins, thanks to not one, but THREE costly errors. They lost 14-11.

In game five it was another four-run inning, this time in the sixth, which was the Indians’ undoing. They lost 8-7.

Still, despite all those FAILURES, the Indians somehow led in game seven – only three measly outs away from a World Series championship – when the team’s trusty closer, Jose Mesa, was walking to the mound.

Florida’s Moises Alou hit a single to lead off the inning… still no big deal, right?

Then Bobby Bonilla struck out… two outs away!

That was as close as the Indians would get. After Bonilla’s strike out, Charles Johnson singled, moving Alou over to third base. Then, Craig Counsell hit a sac-fly that scored the runner and tied the game. Two innings later, thanks to (surprise) ANOTHER error, the Marlins were celebrating a championship in only their fourth year of existence, while the Indians were sent home as losers.

In all, the Indians gave up TEN runs in the ninth inning or later, eight of which came off of FIVE errors. They led in all seven games of the series, including holding a 2-1 lead in the bottom of the ninth inning in game seven. Yet, they still lost the Series.

Now THAT’S a choke!

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The Early MLB All-Star Voting Start Debate… A Royal All-Star Game?

April 29, 2010

Read the opposing argument from Babe Ruthless.

Another season, another desperate promotional crawl toward the MLB All-Star game this July. And, of course, if you promote something enough through various media outlets then it simply MUST be important, right? That’s the only possible explanation. Well, if that’s the rule you live by, I hope you’re enjoying your Furby and Pet Rock. I have some GREAT Snake Oil I’d like to sell you, too.

Too often sports marketing becomes about repetition of message and not quality of product. No example better illustrates this fact like Major League Baseball’s promotion of All-Star voting for fans. Fans are asked after a short three weeks of actual baseball to vote on which players deserve to play in the All-Star game – you know, that game that decides home field advantage for the World Series. Sure, it is an exhibition game, but it is also a game designed to award the best league with home field advantage. Are you ready to pick those players in April, knowing full well that those players might be deciding if your team gets home field advantage in the World Series? I know I’m not.

This debate depends entirely on context. What is the context for the fans voting in the All-Star game? Are fans expected to pick the best players across the league to represent their preferred league in the All-Star game? Or, are fans simply voting for their favorite players? It seems that there is a substantial disconnect here. Fans are voting based on popularity in the current structure. Allowing fans to vote after three weeks of actual games is absurd because fans have very little sample size to go off of. The kicker is, of course, that the All-Star game is a game fans and players alike want to win.

So, to recap. Fans want to vote for their favorite players early and often. A smaller faction of fans, coaches, and players want to win the game to secure home field advantage in the World Series… a goal that the best players are required to accomplish. The equation simply does not add up, and the early voting perpetuates the problem. Any democratic situation requires the electorate be informed, but in this case the electorate is misinformed with bad information with a small sample size.

Popularity dictating the vote does not seem to make sense, then, because, popular players are not always the best players. And, the inverse is true also in that the best players are not always popular. The problem is, the best players a few weeks into April will not be the best players still after June 1. Consider this very real scenario, folks. If voting were ended right now here is a likely starting lineup for both sides:

American League
1B Miguel Cabrera, Detroit Tigers
2B Robinson Cano, New York Yankees
3B Ty Wiggington, Baltimore Orioles
SS Yuniesky Betancourt, Kansas City Royals
LF Scott Podsednik, Kansas City Royals
RF Shin-Soo Choo, Cleveland Indians
CF Franklin Gutierrez, Seattle Mariners
C Joe Mauer, Minnesota Twins
P Francisco Liriano, Minnesota Twins
DH Vladimir Guerrero, Texas Rangers

National League
1B Albert Pujols, St. Louis Cardinals
2B Martin Prado, Atlanta Braves
3B Pablo Sandoval, San Francisco Giants
SS Ryan Theriot, Chicago Cubs
LF Andre Ethier, L.A. Dodgers
RF Kosuke Fukudome, Chicago Cubs
CF Michael Bourn, Houston Astros
C Ivan Rodriguez, Washington Nationals
P Mike Pelfrey, New York Mets
DH Ryan Braun, Milwaukee Brewers

Do those lists showcase the best talent in MLB, across the board, that is most deserving of an All-Star game apperance? No. Some of the players deserve recognition, but many will likely fade after the adrenaline of April wears off. And frustrated All-Star managers will be left holding the bag. I mean, do the Royals REALLY deserve that much All-Star attention? As a business issue – are fans going to PAY to see the stars from ROYALS? No, but then we’re back at the popularity scenario where the best players are not guaranteed a roster spot. The entire conundrum can be avoided easily if fan voting does not begin until a reasonable amount of baseball has been played.

Plus, if the World Series home field advantage depends on this game, why aren’t the selected managers able to build the type of club they want in order to win the game? Taking fan voting completely out of it, there is potentially a great deal at stake. It doesn’t make sense to put every manager in a difficult situation by forcing underqualified players on them in a playoff series that is a must win should their team reach the World Series.

If fans must be included in the voting, at least recognize that there is no baseball value in beginning the vote this early. It is an effort to pander to fans – an effort I find both insulting and useless. There are some aspects of the game that should be taken seriously, like contracts and championships. Opening the vote even earlier to fans makes a mockery of contracts by triggering All-Star incentives in contracts for players that do not deserve them, and by forcing less skilled players on managers charged with the responsibility of winning a game.

Allowing fans to vote at all is enough. Opening the vote up after three weeks into the season just stuffs the roster with questionable players and works against the goal of the game being taken seriously. Restore pride in the All-Star game… or just don’t bother.

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The LeBron James Staying in Cleveland Debate – Should LeBron Stay or Should He Go?

August 4, 2009

Read Sports Geek’s argument that King James should stay in Cleveland and read Bleacher Fan’s argument that James should not sign the extension and leave after next year.

The NBA free agent signing period is basically over. At least the busy portion of the off-season is behind us, but that does not mean there is not some NBA news floating around.

We’ve debated LeBron James before, specifically, his sportsmanship back in one of our earlier debates. This time, we are going to debate the future of King James.

In case you missed it, here’s the latest with James. If you really have not paid any attention to the NBA in the past two years, you know that next year’s NBA free agent class is potentially loaded with talent. In addition to James, Miami Heat guard Dwyane Wade, Toronto Raptors forward Chris Bosh, and countless others, are set to cash in with a rich, lucrative free agent contract. The Cleveland Cavaliers are trying their best to keep James off of the market by signing him to a contract extension now. They know that once he hits the open market, it’s anyone’s game.

The Cavs have reached out to James and his agent, Leon Rose, about an extension. The Cavs are believed to have offered a three year extension to their superstar, recognizing it is essential to the future of the organization to keep him in a Cavalier uniform.

Sometime within the next year, by June 30,2010, James is going to have to make a decision regarding his future. He must decide if he wants to continue his career in Cleveland, or if he wants to go play for another team, and perhaps a bigger market. You can bet that any team with any type of extra cash and salary cap space is going to make a run at him. But, you can also bet that Cleveland is going to do everything possible to keep #23 in a Cavs uniform. With the Browns and Indians currently going through downturns in their respective sports, the city of Cleveland really needs the Cavs to be relevant. In a championship starved city, the sports fans need at least one of their sports teams to be successful to keep their sanity.

All of that leads into today’s debate. Should LeBron James accept Cleveland’s offered contract extension, or should he decline it and find a bigger market to play in after the 2009-2010 season? Sports Geek will argue that James should accept the extension while Bleacher Fan will argue he should decline the extension and seek out all possibilities next summer, including an opportunity to play in a much bigger market (the Big Apple comes to mind).

The balance of power in the NBA rests on the decision made by James. And the balance of power on this debate depends on the case that you present. Gentleman, I have called a jump ball. Who is going to win the tip?

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The 2009 Trade Deadline Damage Debate – The Cleveland Indians Won’t Compete For A Long Time

August 3, 2009

Read Bleacher Fan and Loyal Homer’s arguments on which team did themselves the most harm at the trade deadline.

You have to love baseball. For starters, the silly season lasts forEVER. First there is the off-season where players change organizations, highlighted by the winter meetings. Then there is the entertaining search for “that last player” a team needs to dominate a season during Spring Training. Then, the non-waiver trading deadline of July 31 comes, the best time to trade a player before passing them through waivers. Then the waiver-trading deadline a month later at the end of August.

For most teams it is a chance to make the team better for the remainder of the season. For others, they are preparing to be a contender for the following season.

For the 2009 Cleveland Indians, apparently they are preparing for contention in the 2012 season – maybe.

The season started with the Indians trading for versatile and consistent slugger Mark DeRosa and signing fireballing free agent closer Kerry Wood.

High hopes, right?

A couple of injuries later the season is derailed. Designated hitter Travis Hafner’s mysterious shoulder fatigue injury, an elbow injury to center fielder Grady Sizemore, some really awful pitching out of the bullpen, and a lack of consistent and timely hitting turned this season into a wash. Despite general manager Mark Shapiro’s best efforts, the Indians were no longer competitive in 2009. Time to sell off the players necessary to restock for 2010, right?

Wrong. Shapiro has done a great deal of damage to the team’s chances at competing for the next several years. Despite his weak reassurances and high-brow “I don’t need applause right now” comments, the Indians traded away enough talent to make it obvious that not only were the Indians in no position to compete in 2010, the talent received in return puts the team even farther behind.

Let’s take a quick look at some the trading season deals from the Indians that set them back so much.

Just last week the trade between the Indians and St. Louis Cardinals was finalized where the Tribe sent Mark DeRosa over for relief pitchers Jess Todd and Chris Perez. Something about Cleveland has not agreed with Perez as his performance in Cleveland has been spotty and subpar. Todd, who has decent numbers in Triple A this season, probably will not make his major league debut until September.

Formerly solid middle reliever Rafael Betancourt was traded to Colorado for minor league pitcher Connor Graham, who is not likely to reach the majors until 2010 at the earliest (if ever).

Next is first baseman Ryan Garko, a player who is arbitration eligible at the end of the season. The Indians traded Garko to the San Francisco Giants – straight up – for a Single A pitcher, left-hander Scott Barnes. While Barnes is excellent – in Single A ball – the move does not show the aggressiveness needed to compete in 2010. It’s also a suspicious trade considering Garko knocked in 61 and 90 runs respectively in the last two seasons – all without consistent playing time. Apparently those numbers are only good enough to get a Single A prospect in return. For fans, I am sure it is hard to understand how an established major leaguer is worth the same as a Single A player… who could fall victim to any number of problems in his still developing career that prevent him from ever making his major league debut.

Then, of course, there are the big trades. For the second consecutive season the Indians traded the reigning American League Cy Young award winner, this time left-hander Cliff Lee (along with outfielder Ben Francisco) to the Philadelphia Phillies. The return on Lee (or, ROL) was no cache of major-league ready players primed to make the Indians contenders in 2010. They received pitchers Jason Knapp and Carlos Carrasco, infielder Jason Donald, and catcher Lou Marson. Of course no one knows the names. But, that’s not why there’s an issue with this trade. Lee did not have to be traded. He was under contract for next season (at an affordable $8M… good for a Cy Young winner – in Cleveland or anywhere). His value was not at its peak. More, the prospects Cleveland received in return did not include any of the big name pitchers in the Phillies minor league system. A Cy Young winner for a group of “might bes…” not even “probably wills.”

Last, the trade of catcher/first baseman Victor Martinez yielded just Justin Masterson – a reliever the Indians are going to convert to starter – pitcher Bryan Price, and pitcher Nick Hagadone. Price and Hagadone have had good seasons, but they are also single A players. It is unlikely that those players make an impact in 2009 or 2010. Plus, Martinez is under contract next season, and he was willing to stay with the Indians. He was a clubhouse leader the Indians badly needed, and a willing one at that. Instead, the future was traded for… the farther out future?

The entirety of the trade season, and the pieces Shapiro went after, do not indicate that the Indians are close to a World Series. Rather than trading for consistent bats (the Indians primary need along with the bullpen), Shapiro targeted a lot of relievers. It’s a misdiagnosis of the issues with the team. The Indians are not in need of a couple of relief pitching pieces to get over the hump, especially without rotation anchor Lee and star of the future Martinez.

Sure, Shapiro saved the Indians $16M in payroll for next season. But, at what cost… the cost of being a respectable, competitive major league baseball team next season? The cost of the present proved too high for the Indians, and they’ll again begin grooming the stars of tomorrow – who will likely blossom with another team. Look no further than Franklin Gutierrez’s success in Seattle this year for evidence of poor decision-making on talent in Cleveland.

Claiming competitiveness many years down the road is not acceptable to fans – whether they are season ticket holders or not. It’s offensive. The organization is taking the fan’s money for granted, showing they do not have to field a competitive team every year to get the fan’s money. Safe to say, even the penny-pinching Dolan family (who own the Indians) will not be able to accept another failure in 2010. The best way for them to get to that realization is by fans refusing to shell out their cash for an inferior product. It’s time for some accountability in Cleveland!

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The 2009 Trade Deadline Damage Debate – Don’t It Make My Blue Jays Blue?

August 3, 2009

Read Sports Geek and Loyal Homer’s arguments on which team did themselves the most harm at the trade deadline.

Well, the trade deadline has come and gone on for another season in Major League Baseball.

To celebrate, the bundles of sunshine and positivity that are the staff here at TSD decided to take a look back on the 2009 MLB trade season and discuss which team in the league had the worst trade season. Let’s be honest – they can’t ALL be winners, right?!

So, in the quest for identifying the owner of this dubious distinction, each of us are writing about the team we feel did themselves the most harm in their actions leading up to last Friday and the MLB trade deadline.

Sports Geek will arguing that it was the Cleveland Indians and their fire sale which was the worst of the season.

Loyal Homer will argue that the annual purge of Pittsburgh Pirates talent sits atop the mountain as most damaging.

For Bleacher Fan, I looked to John F. Kennedy for guidance, who once said, “There are risks and costs to a program of action, but they are far less than the long-range risks and costs of comfortable inaction”.

The Toronto Blue Jays are about to learn that lesson the hard way!

For weeks leading up to the trade deadline of the 2009 MLB season, it seemed that you couldn’t turn on ESPN, pick up an issue of Sports Illustrated, or go to any sports news source without finding at least one mention about Blue Jays pitcher Roy Halladay and which new city he would be pitching in when August first rolled around. Everyone (including the folks in Toronto) acted as if it were inevitable that Halladay would be pitching elsewhere by the end of the season, and the only mystery appeared to be where that would be.

The frenzy began when Halladay, a six time All Star and former American League Cy Young Award winner, expressed interest in testing free-agency next year following the expiration of his most recent contract extension in Toronto, a three year deal signed in 2006 that was worth $40M.

In response to his comments, Blue Jays general manager J.P. Ricciardi decided to shop Halladay around to the other teams in the league, all in an effort to make a deal that would still net some value to the Toronto organization upon Halladay’s seemingly inevitable departure. When you consider the year that Halladay has had so far, there was little doubt that Ricciardi would have any difficulty in finding teams interested in the ace.

Halladay, who has been undoubtedly among the best pitchers in the American League for the past several years, has so far pitched in the 2009 season to an 11-4 record, a 2.68 ERA and 129 strikeouts to only 11 walks. He also was named the starting pitcher for the American League All-Star team when they took the field last month. With those kind of numbers, there were many teams interested in dealing with Toronto to bring Halladay on board.

So what does Ricciardi do? He prices himself right out of the market. Rather than face the fact that Halladay will likely be gone from the organization by the end of 2010, Ricciardi foolishly states that he wants to be “blown away” by a trade offer if he’s going to deal Halladay. Essentially, Ricciardi had set too high a price for any team to seriously consider working with Toronto.

The Philadelphia Phillies, who seemed like the leading contenders to land Halladay, decided to look elsewhere when they were unwilling to meet Ricciardi’s demands. They didn’t have to look far, though, as they found the Cleveland Indians, who were willing to deal reigning Cy Young winner Cliff Lee for a minor league prospect and a free coupon from Subway. When Lee was traded to the Phillies, Ricciardi should have realized that his price was, perhaps, too high. Instead, he persisted on demanding top value for his ace.

In fairness, I have no problem with Ricciardi trying to retain as much value as possible for a proven ace like Halladay. But, with other talent on the market like Lee, or Jake Peavy who FINALLY has been moved to the South side of Chicago, the going rate for pitchers just was not as high as Ricciardi hoped it would be. He made his mistake in either the refusal or the inability to read the writing on the wall and to adjust his expectations accordingly. As a result, the Blue Jays organization will suffer.

Now, instead of seeing some kind of return on investment for Halladay, the Blue Jays are going to keep him through the remainder of the 2009 season, which is like winning the sportsmanship trophy in high school. It means nothing, because the season is all but over for Toronto as they currently sit 12 games behind the New York Yankees in the AL East. As they move into the 2010 season, Ricciardi will likely try to shop Halladay around again, but next year the buyers will be holding all the cards because they know that they will have a shot at Halladay for nothing at the end of the season.

Ricciardi’s inactivity, and his unwillingness to make any concessions when the pressure was on for him to make a deal will ultimately cost the Blue Jays much more next year, when they watch Halladay just walk away from the team and have nothing to show for it.

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