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Q&A with Keith Law, ESPN Senior Writer and Master Chef

Jake: First off, for those who don't know who you are, who is Keith Law?

Keith: I'm Batman.

Or, more accurately, I'm a senior baseball writer for and ESPN Scouts Inc. My mandate is to provide scouting-based analyses of players and teams, from the majors through the minors to the top amateur players. I spent four years in the front office of the Toronto Blue Jays, joining as the stats guy but learning the fundamentals of traditional evaluations from some of my co-workers while I was there. I'm also passionate about food - both cooking it and eating it - and an avid fiction reader, especially classic literature.

JL: If an owner of a baseball team called you up and offered you a GMing job or a senior advisor job, would you be interested in doing that again? Would it depend on the job or has the time away from being in the front offices make it harder?

KL: I don't like to rule anything out, since my last two job moves have been substantial changes for me, but I haven't pursued any front-office jobs since joining ESPN, nor do I expect to. If something comes to me, I'll explore it, and it will come down to the specific responsibilities of the role and, more importantly given my experience in Toronto, the people for whom I'd be working.

JL: The Rays had a very eventful offseason, how much did this close the gap between the Rays and Boston/New York or even the Jays and 3rd or 4th place?

KL: I could see them finishing in third, but I think the odds are against it. Toronto would be close to favorites to win the AL West and probably the favorites in the NL Central or West, because their run prevention is going to be among the best in baseball. Their offense will keep them out of the playoffs, but they're a good bet to win 85+; how likely is Tampa to get to that mark, given the thin nature of their pitching staff? It would require either outstanding pitcher health, or early arrivals from Price, Davis, etc. Possible, but not likely.

I noticed that PECOTA has the Rays preventing over 200 runs fewer than they did in 2007. CHONE doesn't provide projected RS and RA, but they have the Rays winning 89 games, which also implies a huge drop in run prevention. I'm finding it hard to justify that big of a decline in Tampa's runs allowed. A 200-run decline would have to sit at the right-most end of the distribution of possible outcomes for Tampa's pitching/defense in 2008, and Kazmir's injury and the imminent demotion of Evan Longoria don't help matters.

(By the way, what the hell are the Rays doing with Willy Aybar? He's not a good player to begin with. He missed 2007 with a substance-abuse problem. He was arrested less than two months ago for beating his wife, and only got out of jail because she didn't want to pursue the charges, not because he was acquitted or cleared. And this is the guy you're thinking of running out there instead of the best prospect in baseball? It's stupid, uncharacteristically so for that front office.)

JL: Is it me or do you think that it's pure cockiness that Boston basically did absolutely nothing in their offseason? David Aardsma is basically one of the few pick-ups that they made and he's nothing to be proud of.

KL: Did they need to make any changes? They're locked in at many positions anyway, and they've got help arriving right away in the outfield (Ellsbury) and the rotation (Buchholz), with a shortstop (Lowrie) and power reliever (Masterson) coming soon. I wouldn't have done much either.

JL: Buster Olney may disagree with here, but the Yankees look like a train-wreck waiting to happen. On one side, chugging steadily, is Joe "I don't care if you haven't pitched at all since the rain delay, you're still going to go back out" Girardi. On the other side is the trio of Joba/Hughes/Kennedy, who barely combined for over 100 innings last season. Should I be preparing the popcorn for what seems like the toilet-like decline of the Yankees partial stronghold for one of the 2 top spots of the AL East? Got an recipes for a snack that I should prepare?

KL: I'm predicting them to win around 90 games, so I guess we don't see this the same way. It's inaccurate to talk about Joba's and Kennedy's 2007 workloads as if their minor league innings don't count; Kennedy alone threw 165, so it's reasonable to think he'll be able to provide 170-175 innings to the Yankees this year.

Even if the Yanks miss the playoffs in 2008, which could very well happen because there are two great teams and three crappy ones in the Central, they're setting themselves up for a resurgence in 2009+ around homegrown pitching. The division ain't getting any easier, kids.

JL: The Rays have the #1 pick in the upcoming draft, what are your thoughts on what they should do? Pedro Alvarez, in batting stance and swing, sure looks to be Albert Pujols-lite but the Rays have a guy named Evan Longoria manning 3B. Justin Smoak looks like a great 1B prospect, but we're not exactly looking for Carlos Pena's replacement just yet. Tim Beckham looks like he could hit and stick defensively at SS, but we're covered there as well with Reid Brignac. Brian Matusz and Aaron Crow both look like front-line pitchers, but we're not exactly in need of more Starting Pitchers.

KL: I don't think you draft for need; you take the best player available who fits your system. I think the obstacle with Alvarez is that he's a Boras advisee, and since he's hurt and going to miss half the season, do you really want to give $6-8 million for a guy who 1) swings and misses a lot and 2) may not play at full strength at all this spring? Crow's also a Boras advisee, although I don't know what the bonus demands there will be, and I think it's relevant that he sat 89-92 most of last summer. Matusz hasn't been his normal self so far this spring.

I have a feeling they'll end up with Tim Beckham, FWIW. Brignac's not as sure a thing as you make him out to be, not so much that you'd let it affect your choice at 1-1. And you can never, never have too many plus bats at up-the-middle positions.

JL: It was revealed last week in a radio interview with Andrew Friedman that the Rays were planning to pick and sign Tim Lincecum 2 years ago and it wasn't until the last minute that they learned Colorado was leaning towards Greg Reynolds over Longoria. Had we picked Lincecum with that #3 pick, do you think that we'd be in any better of a position now? Had we made the same transactions of this offseason, would the quartet of "Kazmir-Shields-Lincecum-Garza" be one of the best in baseball?

KL: I think the Rays' choice will be more than justified in the end. Lincecum had trouble going through the order twice last year, and I think his numbers would be dimmed a bit by a move from a huge park in the NL West to a neutral park in the AL East. And it's not as if the Rays don't have an absurd quantity of young pitching marching through their system.

JL: One of my favorite parts of yourblog is your Mailbag of Malcontent, though many of your commentors aren't entirely huge fans of it. I think that the sensitivity of people and the unwillingness to take a joke is one of the only bad things about being a blogger.

KL: I'm not going to stop doing it; I have some readers who like the food/restaurant entries but not the book commentaries, so they only read the former. Readers who don't like the Mailbag of Malcontent can just skip over it.

JL: When you do chats, do you get to pick the questions or does someone else? If it's you, what are some things that people can do to make it more likely for them to get a question answered by you?

KL: I pick the questions. The software we use presents the chatter with ten questions at a time, and we can store questions if we see several at once worth answering.

The #1 thing not to do is hitting SUBMIT twenty times in a row. If you fill up my screen with your question, you'll never get an answer. If a few minutes go by and you haven't gotten an answer, then submit it again, because there's always a chance I didn't see it. But the nitwits who hit SUBMIT twenty times in ten seconds make me want to reach through the monitor and slap them.

I prefer specific questions over broad ones. My two goals in chat sessions are to get to as many questions (and thus readers) as possible, and to keep it entertaining. Really broad questions - "who would make your 2010 All-Star team?" - slow me down. Even when I like a broad question and store it for later, I usually don't get to it because I don't want to break stride. And if you make me laugh, I'm more inclined to post it, even if the joke is at my expense.

JL: I (like/love) my job because ___ .

KL: I love to write, and I love to watch baseball. And I enjoy being on TV.

JL: Did you watch any of the Clemens/McNamee debacle? Was it as bad of a scandal as the 1919 Blackhawks Scandal? Should they get Rafael Pailmeri to take the stand again?

KL: Didn't watch. Don't care. Never did.

JL: For those of us college-age males who are mediocre cooks, do you have a recipe that we can impress our girlfriends/wives/lady friends with?

KL: Sausage and mushroom pasta with a sauce made from pecorino romano cheese and a bit of the pasta water. Very easy, and very good.

JL: Explain, how is David Eckstein still a Major League Starting SS? I thought his scrappiness only applied to 2B.

KL: I'm not a fan of Eckstein, but he's above replacement level, and scrappy white guys get more chances than comparable black or Latino players because MLB front offices are so white.

JL: How does one get a job with ESPN SCOUTS Inc.?

KL: My understanding is that they only hire people who have industry experience, such as working in a front office or coaching at the appropriate level. Scouts Inc. is just a brand name within ESPN - ESPN bought the company over two years ago, and they're using it to distinguish certain content as analysis from former insiders within that sport.