Le Havre the Inland Port app.

The new app version of Le Havre: The Inland Port (for iOS) – itself a two-player adaptation of the highly complex strategy game Le Havre – is a beautiful port of a boring game. That’s probably enough to keep most of you from reading a long review, so here’s a short one instead. (And if you’re looking for a good new two-player game, try 7 Wonders Duel instead.)

The boardgame version of Le Havre The Inland Port takes the theme of the original game and creates a much simpler two-player experience, where a stream of buildings, advancing in cost and productivity/value, comes up for sale in the central market, and players must balance gaining resources from buildings that they’ve already built (you can use yours or an opponent’s, paying one coin for the latter) against buying new buildings to add victory points and go for two game-end bonuses. The buildings are the same in every game and even the order in which they appear for sale doesn’t vary much at all.

Resource production/acquisition is the strangest part of the game, a peculiar mechanic that seems to be peculiar for its own sake. You don’t just get, say, 2 wood or 1 bread, but you move your four resource tokens (wood, coal, bread, fish) on a numbered array, going up a row (plus 3), right one space (plus one), up and to the left diagonally (plus 2), and rarely up and to the right diagonally (plus 4). When you spend resources, you can spend in combinations of 1, 3, and 4, which means sometimes you have to pay an extra unit or two, for no reason other than that’s how the game was designed.

Most buildings bring you new resources, showing an arrow in one resource’s color, with the arrow telling you in which direction to move. When you buy a building, it goes in the zero column of the main board, and each “day” of the game that you don’t use it, it moves one column to the right, with the columns numbered 2, 3, 4, and 4+. The number tells you how many times you can invoke the building’s capability – for example, if the building with the brown arrow pointing to the right is on the 3 column, you can use it, moving your wood (brown) token three spaces to the right, then returning the building to column 0. The + symbol in the last column gives you one coin in addition to the building’s regular function, and if you don’t use that building before the end of the current day, it’s sold back to the bank for half the face value (which you get).

There are five special buildings that can award bonuses at game-end. There’s one “anchor” building for each resource that gives you one point per unit of that resource that you have on hand when the game is over. A fifth building, the dock, costs 7 coins to build (but no resources), and gives you ten points for each of those other four anchor buildings.

Because turn order is determined from the start, the player who goes second will get the first shot to buy the Dock when it appears on Day 12, the last Day of the game. So if s/he plans properly, s/he gets an automatic ten-point bonus – the dock plus one of the two anchor buildings that show up in day 12. (The other two appear in day 11.) That gives the game a deterministic feel, and I found after two or three plays I felt like this guy:

As for the app itself, it looks great, with bright colors, clear graphics, and a thorough tutorial. The AI has five levels of difficulty, but I beat the medium player the first time through, and took down the hard AI player (named Pascal … of course) after two or three tries. I hope the developers choose a better game to port next time out, because their work is good, but this title just wasn’t worth their efforts.

Cookbook recommendations, 2015.

I rewrote this post from scratch last year, but since this year I only have a few titles to add, I’m retaining most of last year’s text underneath a top section outlining a few new books I like (and one I’m going to recommend sight-unseen because of who wrote it). So as with last year, I’ve grouped them into categories: The essentials, which any home cook regardless of experience level should own; the advanced books for expert home cooks; a few cookbooks from Top Chef-affiliated folks that I recommend; and bread-baking books, all by one author because I’ve never needed any others.

New for 2015

I was fortunate enough to get an advance copy of Hugh Acheson’s second cookbook, The Broad Fork: Recipes for the Wide World of Vegetables and Fruits, this spring, and it’s become a staple in my kitchen – one of the books I go to first when I am looking for a new idea for a vegetable dish, or when I bought something at the local farmstand despite lacking an actual plan for it. Acheson conceived the book in response to a neighbor’s question about what the hell to do with the kohlrabi he got in a CSA box, and the whole book works like that: You have acquired some Vegetable and need to know where to start. Organized by season and then by plant, with plenty of fruits and a few nuts mixed in for good measure, the book gives you recipes and ideas by showing off each subject in various preparations – raw, in salads, in soups, roasted, grilled, pureed, whatever. There are main course ideas in here as well, some with meat or fish, others vegetarian or vegan, and many of the multi-part dishes are easy to deconstruct, like the charred-onion vinaigrette in the cantaloupe/prosciutto recipe that made a fantastic steak sauce. Most of us need to eat more plants anyway; Acheson’s book helps make that a tastier goal.

The book I recommend but haven’t bought yet – I think Santa will be bringing me this one – is J. Kenji Lopez-Alt’s mammoth The Food Lab: Better Home Cooking Through Science, named for Kenji’s acclaimed and indispensable column over at Serious Eats. (Speaking of which, I’ll be spatchcocking my turkey this year, per Kenji’s column, with a salt rub the night before.) He’s shared a bunch of the recipes and essays from the book on various sites already and did a great too-short interview with the Sporkful’s podcast as well. His science-based thinking is kind of like a Mythbusters approach to cooking: People say you should do X, but does X actually work? And what’s the science behind it? Alton Brown has always argued that cooking is the science of applying heat to food; Kenji takes that to a new extreme in his writing, and assuming I can lift the 960-page tome (there’s a Kindle edition too) I expect I’ll use it heavily.

Also new to my shelves this year: Top Chef contestant Korean-American chef Edward Lee’s Smoke and Pickles, which offers his fusion of Asian (mostly Korean but occasionally other cuisines like Filipino) flavors with classic Southern dishes, like his fried chicken, which he partially poaches first in a Filipino adobo vinegar mixture, or his seasonal kimchi recipes to replace the boring cole slaw on your table … Kevin Gillespie, the runner-up to the Bros Voltaggio on Top Chef’s epic season 6, put out a new book this spring called Pure Pork Awesomeness, which a reader was kind enough to send along; it’s all about the pig, with a lot of big, heavy dishes that are probably best suited to feeding a crowd … April Bloomfield’s A Girl and Her Pig has the duck fat-fried potato recipe that got my daughter hooked on the dish, as well as a good selection of staple sauces, dressings, and starches to go along with the numerous meat dishes, including some offal recipes, one of which (made from minced pig’s heart and liver, with bacon, onion, and breadcrumbs) can’t be named here.


There are now two cookbooks that I insist any home cook have. One is the venerable Joy of Cooking, revised and altered through many editions (I own the 1997, now out of print), but still the go-to book for almost any common dish you’re likely to want to make. The recipes take a very easy-to-follow format, and the book assumes little to no experience or advanced technique. I still use it all the time, including their basic bread stuffing (dressing) recipe every Thanksgiving, altered just with the addition of a diced red bell pepper.

The other indisputable must-have cookbook is, of course, Ruhlman’s Twenty, by the best food writer going today, Michael Ruhlman. The book comprises twenty chapters, each on a technique or core ingredient, with a hundred recipes, lots of essays to explain key concepts or methods, and photographs to help you understand what you’re cooking. It’s my most-used cookbook, the first cookbook gift I give to anyone looking to start a collection, and an absolute pleasure to read and re-read. Favorite recipes include the seared pork tenderloin with butter and more butter; the cured salmon; the homemade mayonnaise (forget the stuff in the jar, it’s a pale imitation); the pulled pork; all three duck recipes; the scrambled eggs with goat cheese (using a modified double-boiler method, so you get something more like custard than rubber); and the homemade bacon. I’m trying his weekday coq au vin recipe tonight, too. Many of these recipes appear again in his more recent book, Egg: A Culinary Exploration of the World’s Most Versatile Ingredient, along with more egg basics and a lot of great dessert recipes; and Twenty itself builds on Ruhlman’s Ratio, which shows you master formulas for things like doughs and sauces so you can understand the fundamentals of each recipe and extend as you see fit.

I’ve long recommended Baking Illustrated as the perfect one-book kitchen reference for all things baked – cookies, cakes, pies, breads, and more. It’s full of standards, tested to ensure that they will work the first time. You’ll need a scale to get maximum use from the book. I use their pie crust recipe, their peach pie recipe, their snickerdoodles recipe (kids love it, but moms seem to love it even more…), and I really want to try their sticky toffee pudding recipe. The prose can be a little cloying, but I skip most of that and go right to the recipes because I know they’ll succeed the first time. That link will get you the original book from the secondary market; it has been rewritten from scratch and titled The Cook’s Illustrated Baking Book, but I can’t vouch for it as I haven’t seen the new text.

If I know someone already has Ruhlman’s Twenty, my next gift choice for them is Nigel Slater’s Tender: A Cook and His Vegetable Patch, a book about vegetables but not strictly vegetarian. (There’s a lot of bacon here.) Each vegetable gets its own section, with explanations on how to grow it, how to choose it at the market, a half-dozen or more basic ways to cook it, and then a bunch of specific recipes, some of which are just a paragraph and some of which are a full page with glorious pictures accompanying them. The stuffed peppers with ground pork is a near-weekly occurrence in this house, and the warm pumpkin scone is the only good reason to buy and cook an actual pumpkin. I own but have barely cooked from his sequel on fruit, Ripe: A Cook in the Orchard.

You know, a lot of people will tell you go get Julia Child’s classic books on French cuisine, but I find the one I have (Mastering the Art) to be dated and maddeningly unspecific. Julia’s Kitchen Wisdom is a slimmer, much more useful book that focuses on the basics – her explanation of vinaigrettes is still the gold standard, and her gift for distilling recipes and techniques into simple little explanations shines here without the fuss of three-day recipes for coq au vin. Oh, that’s in here too, but she does it in two and a half hours.


The The Flavor Bible isn’t actually a cookbook, but a giant cross-referencing guide where each ingredient comes with a list of complementary ingredients or flavors, as selected by a wide range of chefs the authors interviewed to assemble the book. It’s the book you want to pull out when your neighbor gives you a few handfuls of kale or your local grocery store puts zucchini on sale and you don’t know what to do with them. Or maybe you’re just tired of making salmon the same way and need some fresh ideas. The book doesn’t tell you how to cook anything, just what else to put on the plate. Spoiler: Bacon and butter go with just about everything.

Yotam Ottolenghi’s Plenty is an outstanding vegetable-focused cookbook that uses no meat ingredients (but does use dairy and eggs), although Ottolenghi’s restaurant uses meats and he offers a few suggestions on pairing his recipes with meat dishes. The recipes here are longer and require a higher skill level than those in Tender, but they’re restaurant-quality in flavor and presentation, including a mushroom ragout that I love as a main course over pappardelle with a poached egg (or two) on top and my favorite recipe for preparing Belgian endives (a pinch of sugar goes a long way). As of this writing, the kindle edition is only $7.28, over 60% off the hardcover price.

Thomas Keller’s Bouchon Bakery is is easily the best baking book I’ve ever seen, but unlike Baking Illustrated, the recipes are written for people who are more skilled and incredibly serious about baking. Ingredients are measured to the gram, and the recipes assume a full range of techniques. It has the best macaron recipe I’ve ever found – close second is I Love Macarons, suggested to me by Richard Blais’ pastry chef at the Spence, Andrea Litvin – and the Bouchon book also the homemade Oreo recipe I made for Halloween (but you need black cocoa and real white chocolate to do it right).

Bobby Flay has an absurd number of cookbooks out there, but the one I like is from his flagship restaurant Mesa Grill, which includes the signature items (including the blue and yellow cornbread) and a broad cross-section of dishes. There’s no instruction here at all, however, just a lot of recipes, many of which have an absurdly long list of ingredients.

For the really hardcore, Harold McGee’s On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen is an essential kitchen reference, full of explanations of the chemistry of cooking that will make you a smarter cook and help you troubleshoot many problems at the stove. I haven’t read it straight through – it’s 700-plus pages – but I’ll go to the index and pull out some wisdom as needed. It also explains why some people (coughmecough) never acquired the taste for strongly-flavored cheeses.

Top Chef Division

Richard Blais’ Try This at Home has become a staple in my kitchen both for about a half-dozen specific recipes in here that we love (his sweet potato gnocchi are now a Thanksgiving tradition for us; the lemon curd chicken is at least a twice-a-month dish around here and perfect for guests) and for the creativity it inspires. Blais has lots of asides on techniques and ingredients, and if you actually read the text instead of just blindly following the recipes, you’ll get a sense of the extensibility of the basic formulas within the book, even though he isn’t as explicit about it as Ruhlman is.

Hugh Acheson’s first book, A New Turn in the South, and Top Chef season one winner Harold Dieterle’s Harold Dieterle’s Kitchen Notebook have both recently entered my cookbook rotation as well. Acheson’s book reads the way he speaks – there’s a lightly sardonic aspect to much of his writing so that it comes off more like you’re hanging out with the guy, talking food, rather than taking instruction. His bacon-wrapped whole fish recipe is unbelievable, more for the powerful aromatics (winner, best use of fennel) than for the bacon itself. Dieterle’s book requires a lot of harder-to-find ingredients, but his side essays on specific ingredients run from the mundane to the esoteric and drop a ton of knowledge on how to choose and how to use. My particular struggle with both books is that they use a lot of seafood, with Dieterle’s including a ton of shellfish; my wife is allergic to shellfish, so I don’t even bring that into the house any more, which requires some substitutions and means there are some recipes I just have to set aside.


I’ve owned and given away or sold a lot of bread-baking books, because nothing has been able to beat the two masterworks by baker/instructor Peter Reinhart, The Bread Baker’s Apprentice and Whole Grain Breads. Reinhart’s books teach you how to make artisan or old-world breads using various starters, from overnight bigas to wild-yeast starters you can grow and culture on your countertop. If that seems like a little much, his Artisan Breads Every Day takes it down a notch for the novice baker, with a lot of the same recipes presented in a simpler manner, without so much emphasis on baker’s formulas.

And finally, while it’s not a cookbook, Anthony Bourdain’s first book, Kitchen Confidential, is just $3.99 right now for Kindle, and it’s a riot regardless of whether you like to cook.

The Killer Angels.

Michael Shaara only wrote four novels during his life, one of which, the baseball book For the Love of the Game, was published posthumously and turned into a critically panned movie, but his magnum opus was the Civil War novel The Killer Angels, for which he won the 1975 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. That book, which takes its title from one general’s father’s reaction to a line in Hamlet, served as the basis for the four-hour epic film Gettysburg, and Joss Whedon has said it inspired him to create the series Firefly.

The book retells the Battle of Gettysburg in substantial detail, using memoirs and letters from the generals involved where possible, narrating from the perspective of five of those generals and showing the discord on the Confederate side on how to attack the Union’s positions. General James Longstreet wrote an extensive memoir after the Civil War and we get much of his view on the South’s ill-fated decision to hold Gettysburg rather than retreating to more favorable ground; instead, Robert E. Lee, who is depicted here as in failing health and of a distracted, stubborn mind, chose to attack Union positions on two hills south of the town that provided the blue troops with a decided defensive advantage. (Longstreet was roundly criticized for decades afterwards for these failures and his request to delay the assault until an additional brigade arrived for support.) The main voice for the Union, Joshua Lawrence Chamberain (called Lawrence by his brother, Tom, throughout the book), led the defense of one of those hills, Little Round Top, and became one of the war’s primary heroes after the battle, commanding the Union troops at the surrender ceremony at Appamattox and later serving four years as Governor of Maine.

The Killer Angels is a war novel through and through, which means there’s very little else in it – including no female characters at all, but also little dialogue or even thoughts beyond the exigencies of the next battle. If you’re interested in military tactics, there’s likely quite a bit in here for you to enjoy and digest, especially with Longstreet’s recollections of the battle informing so much of the text. If you like character development or any plot threads at all beyond the war itself, this isn’t the book for you – or me, as it turned out, because despite strong prose and a quick pace through the action, The Killer Angels struck me as rather dry and, no pun intended, an antiseptic look at a pivotal moment in U.S. history. They came, they fought, some of them died, and those losses – nearly 8000 soldiers from both sides were killed, with around 50,000 total casualties – seem horribly pointless through the narrow lens of the book, which gives no broader context to the battle. (Not that the broader context makes the deaths any less lamentable.) The generals in Washington who were directing the overall war effort are only present on these pages as the idiots the leaders on the ground criticize for their dimwitted direction, while families are off-page distractions mentioned only in passing. There’s none of the substance I’d expect to see in a work of literature, because Shaara chose to make the novel all about the battle itself. That may suffice for many readers, and it does qualify the work for the Pulitzer criterion that the winner “preferably (deal) with American life,” but it’s not my personal preference for higher-end reading.

Next up: Another Pulitzer Prize for Fiction winner, A.B. Guthrie’s The Way West, which won in 1950.

Stick to baseball, 11/21/15.

Not much from me at Insider this week as I wait for a big trade or signing worth writing up; I did post my NL ROY ballot with my explanation on Monday, and held my regular Klawchat on Thursday. I’ve deferred a couple of trade comments because the PTBNLs might be significant, such as in the Leonys Martin-Tom Wilhelmsen trade.

I know there are many sci-fi fans among you – Robert Heinlein’s first Hugo winner, Double Star, is $2.99 for kindle today. I bought it since I’m reading the Hugo winners and haven’t read that one yet.

Also, if you didn’t see my post yesterday, the Ticket to Ride app (for iOS devices or for Android) received a major update, with upgrades to the base game and in-app purchases for most of the major maps (Europe, Switzerland, Asia, and India) available as well.

And now, my longest-yet collection of links …

  • The closing of Grantland has relit the debate over writers getting paid an appropriate wage for their work, with two strong editorials on the subject appearing over the last few weeks, one from Salon and another from
    Autostraddle. Both followed Wil Wheaton’s tweets about Buzzfeed approaching him about republishing something he’d written on his own blog without any compensation. When people tell me they think it’s “wrong” (or some variation thereof) for ESPN to charge for Insider, they’re falling into this same trap: If you want quality content to survive, you’re probably going to have to pay for it somehow, as ad revenue doesn’t cut it.
  • Buried amidst all the hot takes and thinkpieces after the terrorist attacks on Paris lie some smart writing on the broader topics of fighting Islamist extremists and the Syrian refugee crisis. Military historian Gwynne Dyer argued that terrorism is “overblown” and we shouldn’t bomb ISIS. (Security expert Bruce Schneier has been arguing since before 9/11 that we overreact to terrorist incidents, an overreaction that I think is a combination of availability bias and just plain old-fashioned fear of dying.) Nicholas Hénin, who was held captive by ISIS, also argues against airstrikes, saying we should take out Assad instead, while welcoming Muslim refugees. Freelance journalist David Perry pointed out that the United States has a long history of getting refugee crises “wrong.” And ESPN’s sister site Fivethirtyeight pointed out that of the governors who’ve said they won’t accept Syrian refugees – which is not actually their call, but the federal governments, but, you know, panderers gonna pander – come almost entirely from one party. This manifestation of anti-Muslim/anti-Arab prejudice is exactly the sort of discord ISIS can use to claim to recruits that the West is at war with Islam.
  • The longread of the week, which everyone seemed to be talking about on Twitter already: The New Yorker‘s detailing of the un-conversion of Westboro Baptist scion Megan Phelps-Roper, who, as the primary social media voice of the gay-bashing cult, spewed vitriol and hate for years before social media itself opened her mind.
  • A former Gawker staffer details the site’s problem with female staffers, largely a lack of female voices in the organization but also cases of harassment and other possibly illegal behavior.
  • I’ve long wondered how sellers of used books on amazon get any benefit from selling titles at a penny apiece. The New York Times is on it, describing those sellers’ business models in a way that made me want to go buy more of those books.
  • Christopher Kimball is leaving America’s Test Kitchen. I’ve never been a huge fan of his folksy act on TV or his prolix prose in their books, but I’m in the minority on that, and his personality was a dominant factor in the rise of ATK and success of their various media ventures.
  • Why is Urban Outfitters buying the Vetri restaurant group, which includes the wonderful Pizzeria Vetri mini-chain, modeled after Pizzeria Bianco? I don’t get it, although it seems like a backdoor IPO for Vetri, who will keep only his eponymous flagship restaurant. I just hope the pizzas and the amazing pastas at Osteria don’t change. Maybe now I can convince them to open a pizzeria in Wilmington.
  • NPR’s science desk reports on a contest for sustainable aquaculture startups called Fish 2.0. One winner: SabrTech, which produces substantial Water-filtration Above Replacement by using algae.
  • The Atlantic reports on a 19th century mental hospital in Alabama where the patients produced their own newspaper.
  • The world is on the cusp of a “post-antibiotic era,” based on the discovery of completely antibiotic-resistant strains of two bacteria in livestock in China. This is why buying antibiotic-free meat matters – and mattered a long time ago when we may have had time to prevent this.
  • Two more idiots who won’t vaccinate their baby … except these idiots are famous and someone might listen to them.
  • Friend of the dish Erik Malinowski has a wonderful piece on the 1995 Baltimore Stallions, still and likely forever the only U.S. team to win the CFL’s Grey Cup.
  • Two more strong pieces from Fivethirtyeight: How Alaska is heading for potential bankruptcy and a longread on the difficulty involved in statistical research for scientific papers.
  • This is the best piece I’ve seen on the debate over free speech on campus: In “Confessions of a non-leftist professor,” the author isolates the specific question of academic freedom for faculty members who aren’t in ideological sync with the overwhelming leftist majorities on campus.
  • The libertarian Cato Institute calls out two GOP Presidential candidates (plus Bobby Jindal, who was designated for assignment this past week) for “sucking up to hatemongers” by attending a conference where the keynote speaker called for the execution of gays. You’d think Ted Cruz would be lambasted for this, but the story seems to have slipped under the mainstream media’s radar.
  • Finally, the tweet of the week mocks our idiot friend the FraudBabe:

Brass app.

Many of you already have the Ticket to Ride app (for iOS devices or for Android), but if not, it’s been overhauled now, with better graphics, some more board-specific AI players, and an all-in-one in-app purchase that gets you all of the various maps beyond the core U.S. map – Europe, Asia, India, Switzerland – in one purchase. It was already a must-have but it’s even better now.

Brass is one of the highest-ranked games on Boardgamegeek (#17 overall right now) that I’ve never tried; it was out of print for a while (it’s in print now, $44 new on amazon) and lists a playing time of 2-3 hours, which, since I’m a parent of a fourth grader, isn’t terribly practical right now. (The need to review such games for Paste is why I’ve put out the call for folks in my general area willing to test out some of these longer games with me.) The game, perhaps the best-regarded of all “economic engine” games – where you’re building for immediate points and creating a network that will help you generate more points as the game unfolds – was ripe for an adaptation that speeds setup and does all of the calculations of costs and points for you. Over a year in development, the app finally hit the various online stores last week, and it’s extremely well done if you’re looking for an online experience, but the tutorial is too light and the AI players proved very easy for me, a total novice, to beat. This review covers the iOS version, but it’s also available for Android devices. (There’s an entry for the Android app on amazon, but it’s a fake.)

Players in Brass play 16 turns in two phases set in the Industrial Revolution in England, with the second phase coming after the advent of railroads. Players build four buildings that can produce income as well as points – ports, cotton mills, coal mines, iron works – and must “activate” them by connecting them to networks of canals or rail lines to begin generating revenues. A fifth building, the shipyard, only generates victory points. The exact income and points depend on the “level” you build; you must develop each building type individually over the course of the game to keep up with the times and your opponents. Money is scarce early in the game, but Brass allows players to take loans – as far as I can tell, you can’t get anywhere without it – of up to £30 if you pay 10% interest every turn for the remainder of the game.

In 19th century England, tiny hills were totally impassable.

On each turn, the player gets two actions, choosing from building, developing, taking a loan, shipping cotton (from your own mill to any player’s port), or building a canal/rail link. Players have hands of up to eight cards, with cards showing either one of the towns on the map where players can build or a specific building type; to build, you must discard a card that shows either the town where you want to place the building or that building type, then pay the cost – but in many cases you must also meet another requirement, like having a link to your network or being able to get coal to the building site. You then activate a building by using it – shipping cotton from the mill, shipping it out of a port, providing coal to the network all at once or one bit at a time as you build within the network, or sending a bunch of iron to the market. (Shipyards are activated automatically when built.) Each town allows specific building types; in phase one, you can only have one building in each location, but that’s lifted for phase two. At the end of phase one, all level-one (undeveloped) buildings and all canals disappear; in phase two, you can only build level-two or higher buildings, and can only build rail lines. The AI player always uses its first move of the game to develop ports to level two, so I have adopted the same plan, as it ensures that those ports provide a greater return and stay in place for the remainder of the game. Turn order changes each turn, going in reverse order of spending from the previous turn – if you spent nothing last turn, such as by taking loans with each action, you’ll go first next time around.

Games on the app take about 10-15 minutes, on par with other complex strategy games like Agricola and Caylus. The graphics are clear and bright, the map itself is attractive, and the animations (if you use them) are helpful while you’re learning the game. There are pop-up menus from the sides that can give you all the information you need once you understand what you’re looking for, and I only encountered very minor glitches, such as the app telling me I could ship cotton on some turns when I didn’t have an unactivated cotton mill from which to ship.

The tutorial was a little superficial and didn’t get into some of the details of interactions between buildings or point scoring, so I didn’t understand anything but the basic mechanics and had to learn a lot of the game’s restrictions on building via trial and error. I’ve also found that, once I understood the game, I could beat the AI players every time, even playing against three at once, primarily because they never build shipyards. A level two shipyard is worth 18 points, and there are only three spots on the board where you can build one; with winning scores typically around 100-110, if you build two shipyards, you’re going to win. I haven’t lost any game where I built even one shipyard, in fact. (It also seems to me that there should be at least one shipyard space per player.) I’ve swapped emails with the developers and there will be improved AI players in a later update.

The game itself is very elegant, with a small number of rules and options leading to complex strategic decisions, but has virtually no interaction between players. I found after a few plays that I could simply skip the animations of AI players’ moves and play my own game as if I were going solo. There are rare conflicts over building spaces on the board, and there’s a brief race each phase to ship cotton before the export market’s bottom falls out (which it does, quickly), but otherwise that’s it. The fact that AI players don’t build shipyards means I can wait till the last phase to do so, and even ignoring that, the AI players’ moves didn’t otherwise affect me. You can use anyone’s canals or rail lines, and even ship cotton from someone else’s ports. If you need coal to finish a building, you can take from someone else’s unactivated coal mine; the worst thing that happens is that you take its last piece and activate the mine for your opponent, but that was probably going to happen at some point anyway.

If the designers of Brass – who have had some great blog posts on the process, like explaining their improved method of displaying victory points – improve the AI players, this could be a must-buy for serious boardgamers along the lines of Caylus and Agricola, both of which have AI players that are at least tougher for the novice player. I’d also like to see a tutorial that explains more of the details of building and scoring, so that newbies wouldn’t have to fly so blind for their first few games. But it looks great and plays cleanly, two of the biggest hurdles for new apps that try to implement games of this size and complexity.

Klawchat 11/19/15.

Klaw: You gotta go for what you know. Klawchat.

Ryan: What makes you such a believer in Javier Guerra’s power? There have been lots of prospects that hit for power in Greenville, then have it never show up again. Plus he has a distinct lack of power in batting practice, and all his home runs were hit right down the line.
Klaw: I’m not sure what other prospects you meant, or if any of them were 19. I see power in the swing, and he hit for just as much power on the road as he did at home. Home runs down the line are still home runs, last I checked.

Colin: Kapler or Roberts?
Klaw: I don’t know who’ll get it, and knowing nothing of Roberts as a candidate I can’t express a preference either.

SPC: Do you think what Matt Duffy did is sustainable? Improve?
Klaw: I can’t forecast any improvement given how much better he was in the majors than in the minors.

Matt: Are advisers necessary for college players in draft process?
Klaw: Hell yeah. Otherwise negotiating against the team(s) would be like bringing a butter knife to a gunfight.

Adam: How long before Ozzie Albies is ready?
Klaw: Two years.

Michael: What teams have the prospects necessary to land Jose Fernandez if he is traded? Cubs? Red Sox? Astros? Dodgers? Wouldn’t this have been a better use of Margot and Guerra(and Allen and Asuaje) than trading for Kimbrel? Fernandez seems like the perfect Dombrowski target.
Klaw: Yes, if that package would have landed Fernandez, it’s obviously a better use of the resources – but I would guess the Marlins would aim even higher, asking for Moncada for example. Don’t see the Dodgers doing it. Cubs, Red Sox, Astros all could. Braves could but wouldn’t. Rangers absolutely could. Angels absolutely could not.

Chris: Kolby Allard with a 2nd back surgery already, how concern should Braves be?
Klaw: I think that’s his first. March injury was a stress reaction. Not a concern.

Jeremy: what’s the optimal use of Swihart/Vasquez (once healthy). a trade? or having Swihart split time at DH/1B?
Klaw: I think it’s a waste of value to let Swihart play somewhere other than C, so I’d think about a trade at some point. Swihart has superstar potential, but perhaps a bit more risk (volatility in potential outcomes).

Matt: Price, Greinke, Cueto, Zimmerman. Your gut, who ends up where?
Klaw: I really don’t speculate on that stuff, sorry.

Jeremy: can you give your hypothetical 10-man HOF ballot? and full ballot if there were no restrictions?
Klaw: Raines, Bagwell, Piazza, Griffey, Bonds, Clemens, Schilling, Mussina, Trammell, Edgar. I could add one or two names beyond that, such as Walker, but I don’t feel like anyone HAS to be on there who isn’t.

Luis: Do you think it’s crazy that Hoffman and Wagner are getting HoF consideration? Really their only argument lies in the worst stat in baseball. Besides the fact that relievers don’t pitch enough, I find it baffling that pitchers who weren’t even good enough to crack the starting rotation could get Hall votes. We don’t have to acknowledge every role in Cooperstown with a plaque. We don’t put bench players, pinch-hitters, or pinch-runners in the Hall of Fame, and for good reason. I would argue that pitching so seldom sets the bar extremely, extremlely high to merit induction, and the only full-time reliever to have ever reached that mark is Mariano Rivera.
Klaw: It redefines what the Hall of Fame is about – or, I guess, it continues the redefinition that came with the insane induction of Bruce Freaking Sutter, who barely cleared 1000 innings pitched. Rivera is a yes for me, and that’s it for modern relievers.

Gary: I saw your write up on the AFL and your mention that Rowdy Tellez has trouble with fastballs. Yet, he still seemed to swing it well down there. Do you mean he will be able to hit some of the average heaters he will see in the minors, but will be overmatched by the better stuff in the majors?
Klaw: I’m assuming you’re scouting the stat line. He was behind better fastballs all week when I was there, just as he was in high school. It’s a slow bat.

richard: Does someone claim Becerra if the Mets expose him in the Rule 5? I think yes.
Klaw: I think yes and he gets returned. Can’t carry that guy all year. The rule 5 rules are kind of a mess – they expose Latin American kids to the draft too soon, but absolutely screw college draft picks with the extra year before they can be taken in the rule 5 (extra vs the old system, I mean).

Fitz: Is there any hope for Drew Hutchison? He had a pretty strong 2014 and completely fell off the map in 2015. That adjustment he made to his slider in the 2nd half of 2014 somehow disappeared this season.
Klaw: You answered it the way I would. If they find that missing slider – perhaps it was lost at customs? – then he can be that same guy again. Otherwise I think he’s a reliever.

Oilcan23: I understand that you think the Red Sox gave up too much for Kimbrell, and I really do understand why. That said, does it matter that the pieces the Red Sox gave up probably wouldn’t have played a Fenway over the next three years (maybe Margot makes it)? Do you place any credence in the idea that the Red Sox are a win-now franchise that can’t wait for players like Margot to develop when they have pressing needs today? I can’t speak for all Red Sox fans, but I can’t imagine “trust the process” going over all that well in Boston.
Klaw: No, it doesn’t matter, because the value of those assets they dealt is independent of whether they’re blocked in Fenway. If you insist on trading Margot, then get a fair return for him. They didn’t.

Bill G.: Keith, thanks for doing these chats. If you were starting a team, who would you want long term, Lindor or Corey Seager. Thanks.
Klaw: Seager. Nothing against Lindor, though.

Brandon: Who is most likely to get a shot in Houston first… Tyler White or AJ Reed? Reed looks like the better long-term bet to be good, but White has hit EVERYWHERE. Thanks, Keith.
Klaw: I think they give White a shot first because he’s a lesser prospect and they’ll be more concerned about manipulating Reed’s service time than White’s.

Jay: What are your thoughts on the Nats signing Heyward and moving Harper to CF?
Klaw: Certainly makes them a much better team. I believe Harper can play CF. At that point I’d look to trade Taylor, though.

Devin: Hey Keith, I’ve read a few reputable scouting reports on Jorge Lopez and they are saying he could be a solid #2 or #3 starter in the mlb. Do you share the same opinion? If so, what about him makes him a front/midldle of the rotation type of guy?
Klaw: A two seems a bit optimistic given his stuff, but he can really pitch. I see a three, mid-rotation type with a lot of above-average weapons but nothing that’s an absolute out pitch, and good feel and control. Good pick in the second round – projectable HS arm who came along “slowly” relative to what we demand out of prospects these days but actually advanced at a perfectly reasonable pace.

Tom: Is there any chance that during the CBA negotiations that the union tries to upgrade pay for minor leaguers as part of a proposal to raise the percentage of revenue spent on players? Or, is this a non starter since the union only represents the players already in the majors?
Klaw: Union has zero incentive to do this.

Buck: Mallex Smith, Roman Quinn, Socrates Brito – who’s more likely to become a legitimate top-of-the-order hitter for his team?
Klaw: Probably Smith. Not wild about any of them.

Joe: I saw on Twitter that the White Sox are willing to trade Avisail Garcia. Is that actually news? Aren’t most teams always willing to trade fringe major leaguers who are running low on options?
Klaw: Yes, although maybe it’s news in the sense that he was kind of hyped by his clubs (Detroit and Chicago) a few years back.

Steve: Would Papi get your HOF vote?
Klaw: No. Adjusted for era and position, it’s not a Hall of Fame offensive career.

Dave: I’m about 3/4 through reading “Crime and Punishment”, and I’m surprised by how witty and funny it is. I was expecting a dreary slog, but it’s been delightful (and exciting in places). Is there a book you’ve read out of a feeling of obligation (“I should really read that,”) that especially surprised you?
Klaw: Middlemarch and Tess of the d’Urbervilles. The latter was assigned to me in high school and I watched the movie instead. I read it when I was 33 and was blown away by the prose and the use of irony.

Kevin: Do you expect Beede or Blackburn to be called up to the show in 2016?
Klaw: Blackburn yes, Beede no.

Fonz: If baseball did not exist, do you think your career today would be in writing?
Klaw: I think now that it’s what I was always meant to do, but it’s not the career I originally chose for myself, largely because I was trying to meet others’ expectations for me.

Michael: There seem to be two approaches related to the fragility of pitchers: draft a ton of them and play the numbers OR value position players and hope to find pitchers to plug in. Do you prefer either approach?
Klaw: I’d be disinclined to go heavy on pitching early in the draft; there are always exceptions, but I’d lean hitter up top and look for projectable HS arms after the first or the top two rounds.

Fonz: Now that he’s improved contact, do you foresee Bogaerts starting to pull / drive the ball more, or has he transformed into a slap-the-ball-to-the-opposite field guy?
Klaw: I think the power’s still there, but as you said, he had to work on improving his contact first to get to that power.

Jay: Did you factor in the cost of draft pick forfeiture in the free agent rankings? Seems like that would sway the choice towards Price over Greinke if they were close to a coin flip to start.
Klaw: No, and I didn’t factor in any estimate of cost. It was strictly about on-field value.

Matt: Nothing says Thanksgiving like the xenophobia running rampant in this country. When this topic comes up at the dinner table, and it will, how do I keep my composure?
Klaw: Don’t – just serve kebab halabi made with turkey, some labneh, maybe some falafel…

Ken: assuming McCann is not blocking him, is Sanchez ready to catch full time or still need work defensively? If so, is he the back up this year?
Klaw: Still think he needs work defensively.

Derek Harvey: Do you think Trevor Bauer has room to improve or is back-end starter his likely role/caliber from now on.
Klaw: If he ever finds more control, he could have a huge breakout year. I have no sense of when or how that might occur, though. Remember when some folks argued he had to be the first pick over Gerrit Cole in 2011, based just on the stats? That was fun.

Archie: Is Herrera the starting 2B for the Mets next year? What could be expected from him?
Klaw: I think he could be, although this dalliance with Zobrist could affect those plans.

Zirinsky: What are you making for Thanksgiving dinner (assuming you’re cooking)?
Klaw: I am. I’m going to spatchcock the turkey (NSFW), and sides will include stuffing (at least one, maybe a second with gluten-free cornbread as we will have two guests who can’t eat wheat), a warm potato salad, roasted brussels sprouts, a beet dish, possibly a kale Caesar with duck confit (if I can get the duck legs), the dish-that-must-not-be-named (initials are g.b.c.), and at least one more vegetable side. Desserts will be pumpkin pie, probably apple pie, and a GF chocolate tart with an oat-nut crust.

Thomas: Do you see JD Davis a a future big league regular? If not, is it his bat or seeming lack of a position that would hold him back?
Klaw: Below. Little of both.

Diana G: I agree with the Kimbrel comments, but if he saves four WS games does the end justify the means?
Klaw: Not for me. For the Red Sox, perhaps.

Anonymous: Lance McCullers, you’ve said before you see him as a RP. Did he do anything this year to convince you he can stick in the rotation? Do you believe in the changeup?
Klaw: Three pitches are all there. Long arm action is tough to repeat and explains the below-average command.

ds: Music question – Have you listened to Wolf Alice before, your thoughts?
Klaw: Really liked it. Top ten album of the year for me.

Diana G: Any way to identify who may be a late blooming outlier like Arieta, Bautista, etc? Is it as simple as better coaching?
Klaw: Change of scenery, adding a pitch, tweaking a delivery or a swing, getting healthy, growing up … I try to tab some breakout guys every year, but those two you named were so completely out of nowhere that I didn’t see either one coming, and didn’t buy into Bautista for a while even after he was clearly a star.

Larry: Are you concerned with your cholesteral level? You seem to eat a lot of high-cholesteral foods, at least according to your Instragram
Klaw: My cholesterol is consistently in the 160-170 range, because genes play a big part in it. Also, I’m not a huge fan of food-scolds … it’s my body, I’ll eat whatever the hell I want to eat, and if it doesn’t affect you it’s not your business.

Corey: Darren O’Day looking for 4/$28m – 36 Soria too. With the trend to power pens, is either guy worth that sort of investment ?
Klaw: Neither, but Soria in particular seems nuts – he was borderline replacement level last year and his stuff is down. Teams have to see that, even with the Proven Closer tag.

Matt: I’m trying to eat healthier. What are some good vegetables to roast?
Klaw: Anything that isn’t leafy roasts well. I love to roast broccoli and cauliflower at 450, lightly oiled and salted, till brown and caramelized.

Eric: Maybe you can explain what the Braves are doing? I get “rebuilding” but trading players like Wood and Simmons seems a little odd for a rebuilding club. They were controlled for another 5 seasons.
Klaw: The Wood trade was about Olivera, whom I think Atlanta completely overrates. Simmons was about getting those two arms back (Newcomb and Ellis), and I think an underestimation of Simmons’ future offense. You named my two least favorite moves of their last twelve months.

Corey: Frazier’s rough 2nd half a red flag or a worthwhile trade target for higher end prospects ?
Klaw: I think it’s more fair to say that his huge first half was a fluke and not representative of a new true talent level. Still a good player and worth flipping a couple of prospects for.

Marco: I have read, and also believe, that Greinke will age really well because of the way he pitches, which can withstand declining stuff. Do you see Price the same way? He has 4 solid pitches….will he be able to work off of declining velocity over the next few seasons?
Klaw: I think Price has the intellect and the control to be highly effective even when his velocity drops, but it will require a greater adjustment for him than it will for Greinke.

Silv: Honest question: explain to me how Rich Hill, after a few months of the absolute definition of small sample size and totally inconsistent with his career numbers, gets 6MM guaranteed and David Carpenter, who was anywhere from pretty damned good to mediocre for the past three full seasons, is DFA’ed?
Klaw: Fair question. But if you watched those few starts, he did look like a completely different pitcher, and pitchers are more subject to those wild swings in value that Diana G asked about earlier than hitters are. I thought it was a good signing.

Master Pau: Does Eddy Martinez have star potential my friends think he is going to be a bust given he only signed for 3 million. Saying if he was a better prospect he would go for 10+ Million
Klaw: Something weird happened behind the scenes; I thought he had a $10 million deal with a specific club, yet it never came to fruition. He’s a potential star for me.

Craig: Does Javier Bentancourt project enough power to at least become a doubles guy or is he always going to project as a slap hitter?
Klaw: Line drive guy. Doubles but not homers. Can really play the heck out of 2b. Need to see who the two PTBNLs in the deal are to have a decent opinion on it though.

Larry: Brad Zimmer or Frazier?
Klaw: Zimmer.

Jake: Keith, I know you generally don’t like to use subjective measures in your evaluations, but don’t you think someone like Ortiz deserves some modicum of consideration based on matter that might be more subjective? I mean, isn’t the fact that it would be impossible to write the history of baseball from 2000-2015 without mention of Ortiz’s accomplishments, especially in the postseason?
Klaw: I assume the Hall (I haven’t been in decades) has exhibits on the various postseasons. Celebrate him there.

Steve: How do you expect Zobrist to age over a 4 year deal?
Klaw: Like a fine wine … that has been exposed to the wrong bacteria.

DodgerFan101: Do you think Pederson and DeLeon would be enough to land Shelby Miller?
Klaw: I don’t. I think it’s a good offer, though.

Ryan: At what age can I start reading to my daughter that would actually benefit her?
Klaw: I’ve been reading to my daughter since she was two. Back then I think she just liked having me in the bed with her before she went to sleep. Now of course she’s locked into the stories.

Archie: Are the Reds stretching out Finnegan to start? If not, would he make sense to close w/Chapman presumably being traded?
Klaw: He has to be a closer. Can’t start IMO.

James: Matt – your answer should be – Thank God we killed hundreds of thousands of Indians and Mexicans before the Internet.
Klaw: And then serve the popcorn course.

Corey: Benintendi ready by 2017, fast-tracked like Conforto ? And where would they put him – CF and move Betts to RF ?
Klaw: I’d treat him like the Cubs treated Schwarber. Leave him in CF, move him later when it becomes necessary. Might just end up trade bait, but he’s worth more as a proven CF in the minors.

Addoeh: Mmm, G.B.C.!
Klaw: No. Too much bread, and not even good bread, relative to everything else.

Fitz: Do you think Tony LaCava becomes GM long-term, or does Shapiro bring in someone external?
Klaw: I think they should keep him, but it sounds like they won’t. I saw a Josh Byrnes rumor this morning, which doesn’t make sense to me; I don’t see what he brings that Lacava doesn’t already provide, and Byrnes has had two poor experiences as GM already.

Jon: Keith, you talked in your Periscope chat yesterday about how it would be creepy to game with ballplayers. A friend of mine has suggested I game with you (I live in Lancaster) but it feels the same way to me, a little fanboyish maybe. Am I wrong?
Klaw: Not at all. I’ve played games with a couple of readers over the years. Also, I own the game Lancaster and haven’t played it. So let’s make that happen. I need some folks to help me test all these games to review!

Chris: I get the idea of listening on everyone, but not sure I understand trading Miller. Very reasonable contract, and I thought at the deadline last yr the Yanks were trying to ADD another top reliever a la KC
Klaw: Unless they think something’s wrong with him. Then I could understand it.

John: Freeman shouldn’t be off limits, right? Need to go full rebuild (given return value, of course)
Klaw: Right. In for a penny, in for a pound.

Adam Trask: What’s your Rx for getting more African-Americans into baseball?
Klaw: No easy answer to that. Have to make the game more accessible at the youth level, because kids who play it will be fans of it. But attending MLB games is prohibitively expensive for a wide swath of the population (of all races, of course), and that is going to lose a lot of fans to more affordable alternatives.

RBI, Wins, & Saves: Ah, HOF time, when the rest of the baseball world aside from you, Klaw, bows and worships at our feet! Did you see our new favorite HOF voter who included Smith, Hoffman, AND Wagner on his ballot? Now if we can only get Tommy John and Jim Kaat in through the Veterans Committee…
Klaw: I thought I was rid of you three when we left ESPN’s chat module.

Marco: Is it better to have a plus changeup or a plus breaking ball?
Klaw: Neither. It’s just good to have a plus offspeed pitch.

Alex: How do you split the oven time between the turkey and side dishes on Thanksgiving, without either getting cold?
Klaw: Turkey comes out, gets covered to keep the heat in, get the sides right in the oven. By the time the sides come out 30-40 minutes later the turkey is still hot and ready to slice. Also, I will serve a couple of room temp sides – the Caesar, the beet dish I have planned, the potato salad (served with a warm bacon-mustard dressing).

Addoeh: Never been to Cooperstown. Worth going once?
Klaw: The problem is it is located 80 miles from East Nowhere.

Jon: Keith, you mentioned yesterday about how you felt it would be creepy to game with ballplayers. Why do you think it would be different for you to invite readers to play?
Klaw: I am friendly with a bunch of players and was being somewhat facetious about that – I specifically said it would be creepy to be hanging out in the clubhouse playing a boardgame with them, mostly because I feel like the clubhouse is their place and I’m intruding.

Ron: Klaw, you seem to have a good sense of humor, but also some very progressive sensibilities. Which makes me curious how you feel about some of the “edgy” comics of today that are so successful – Amy Schumer, Louis CK, et. al. who are considered these comic geniuses, but also joke about language and topics that I would presume you do not have a sense of humor about.
Klaw: I know you’ve asked this before but I don’t have a great answer because I don’t know what material you mean. I have heard some of Louis C.K.’s stuff that was hilarious, and then I read about the allegations of harassment (Defamer had them earlier this year) and couldn’t call myself a fan any more.

Tom: Is Ahmed the best SS in the NL, now that Simmons is gone? If not, who is?
Klaw: Defensively? Probably Crawford. Speaking of whom, that contract he got seems to price in a little more power than I think you can reasonably expect from him going forward.

Jonny: How do you evaluate a guy like Ian Desmond? Do you write off the first half of 2015 as an aberration, and assume he’s one of the best SS in the game? Or do you assume he’s on a quick downward slide?
Klaw: Almost certainly better than he was in 2015, but I’d price him at some discount from the player I thought he was coming out of 2014. How much of a discount, I’m not sure. That’s a better question for an MLB analytics department.

Jay: Can you include overall (and optionally on the tools as well) grades with the prospect rankings? That would be a better reflection of value of the prospect than a relative ranking for a particular point in time which is dependent on the strength/weakness of other prospects.
Klaw: I won’t do that. I think they get misused and misinterpreted, and if I’m writing a couple of hundred words on each player I’d rather you read those than focus on a two-digit number.

John C: Most liberal scribe – you or Rob Neyer?
Klaw: I don’t know Rob’s politics. People who call me “liberal” are off base unless they mean the term in the classical sense, which today is somewhere closer to libertarian and combines ideas that are found on both sides of the center, from lower or less invasive taxation to social justice and equality.

Josh: Do you see Brandon Mauer being able to transition back into the rotation, or should the Pads keep him in the pen?
Klaw: Two pitch guy equals pen for me.

Bob: Thanks for the heads-up on the Ruhlman 20 special on Kindle… salting meat and eggs well ahead of time has already yielded some great results. Tried the short ribs… any suggestions on the next recipe to try in the book?
Klaw: Any of the duck recipes, especially the braised legs.

Paul Furlong: Then you are not eating Chicago Pizza!!!! Chicago pizza is like a pie crust. Not bread. Cheese and crust
Klaw: Pizza crust is bread. It’s yeast, water, flour, salt. That’s bread.

Archie: I know he’s still a few years away, but what do you think the Cubs do with Gleyber Torres? Trade bait?
Klaw: Two years out from that point, I think. Potential superstar whom I’d be loath to trade now for fear that I’d be selling too low, because he’s more potential than anything at this point. He’s wildly advanced for his age.

Anthony: Any thoughts on the Rangers/Mariners trade? I know it was minor, but Wilhelmsen is a nice add to a young, hard throwing bullpen. Possibly allows them to trade their “proven closer” for another piece or two.
Klaw: I’m also not much of a Martin fan – great defender who can’t hit. And I heard the PTBNL Texas is receiving is someone of value too.

Tom: You mentioned below that attending an MLB game is prohibitively expensive. I’ve always heard that ticket prices are not related to player salaries. So what drives it? Simply that MLB (and other pro sports) have found enough people to pay what they’re charging?
Klaw: Exactly (the latter). MLB teams are quasi-monopolists and set prices to maximize revenues. They don’t need the hoi polloi to attend games unless those folks are going to buy a lot of beer and food.

Brian: Could Swihart be the centerpiece of a trade for Jose Fernandez?
Klaw: In theory, yes. He’s good enough to be the centerpiece. Whether the Marlins would want him as such is something I don’t know.

alex: You mentioned that you saw Trey Mancini as a AAAA guy– what are the things that are holding him back– walk rate, etc? thanks
Klaw: Bad swing and lack of athleticism.

TJ: Had the conversation at work- what was your favorite Thanksgiving dish when you were a kid? Mine was the stuffing my mom made- loved it so much she had to make an extra side of it to keep me from devouring the turkey like a jackal…
Klaw: I’m Italian so Thanksgiving in my house always started with a pasta dish, usually baked ziti, which at the time I loved. I really don’t eat that kind of food any more, though.

James: Teheran and Newcomb to LA for Seager, who hangs up?
Klaw: Dodgers. They’re not trading him unless it’s for someone like Trout.

Oren: Will Gregory Polanco ever hit lefties?
Klaw: Yeah, i think he’s got tons of improvement ahead of him. That’s one guy I am not worried about (yet, I can always start worrying later).

Alex: Who will the Braves deal next? Do you think Jenkins, Sims, and Newcomb will play for Atlanta at some point this
Klaw: Sims and Jenkins might. Newcomb isn’t close to MLB ready yet. He’s not a sure thing IMO, although I know Atlanta loves him. Command isn’t there yet and it’s not something that they might fix with a delivery tweak.

Brandon: Assuming Boston needs pitching, what do you believe would have been fair return for Margot, Guerra, Asuaje, Allen? Short term control, 200-IP SP (i.e. Shelby Miller)? Mid-tier SP on undervalued contract (i.e. Julio Teheran, Jose Quintana)? All-star, non-arb eligible SP (i.e. Sonny Gray)?
Klaw: If I were Atlanta I would have jumped at that offer for Miller. Two potential impact everyday guys, a likely UT who might hit his way into regular status at 2b, and a quality 18-yo arm. Seems like a great return.

Roke: Have you played Twilight Struggle? I would think it would be right up your alley.
Klaw: No – I’m not really into games that typically take two hours or more.

Kay: Crazy for thinking Conforto will be more valuable than Schwarber, despite less power? He takes excellent at bats, have decent pop, and actually has a position. Schwarber has DH written all over him
Klaw: I think Schwarber is a LF in the long run, but Conforto will be a better defender and I’ll bet on him to have higher OBPs, whereas Schwarber will hit more homers. Not a crazy thought but I think it’s close.

michael: hi keith – saw ur comment re: power that you’re not sure we’ll be repeatable being priced into crawford’s sf contract. based upon that, do you think it’s a slight overpay or a massive overpay at $15M per FA season. The $5M and $8M salaries seemed in line with MLBTR’s arbitration estimates.
Klaw: Slight overpay. Defense should make the in years good value. Out years are what concern me.

Matt: International scouting – if a team like the Cubs or Dodgers goes big and then is out for 2 years, will they trim down the amount of international scouting staff they have? Or continue to deploy those same folks just to gather info for potential trades in the future since somebody is signing these guys?
Klaw: No because you scout guys down there starting at age 14 now. It’s the most incompetently designed system I can imagine.

Chris: Thoughts on Jon Gant and Rob Whalen? They seem like (at the least) useful relievers, which is a nice get for half-seasons of Uribe and Johnson.
Klaw: Yep, that’s about right.

JT: You mentioned Italian thanksgiving below. Ever had a pizelle? It’s a cookie my grandma makes dozens of every holiday season.
Klaw: Yes, I have. Never made them because you need a specialized iron for them and I don’t need more gadgets.

Jon: So assuming I start to feel OK about the whole idea of gaming with you, what’s the best way to contact you if I am not a social media user?
Klaw: Leave a comment anywhere on the dish with your email address. I’ll send you through the government’s vetting system and you’ll hear from me in 18 to 24 months.

Ray: Cody Bellinger – is he an org guy, every day regular, or future all star? 20+ HR power in that bat?
Klaw: i don’t think he’s a regular, or maybe I should say I didn’t, as even adjusting for league and park that’s a nice season for a 19-year-old in high-A. I believe he’s going to end up a full-time 1B, and he has to hit a lot more to be a regular there.

Jeff: Klaw, thanks for answering my question on Twitter re: whether or not you care if a HoF candidate has failed a drug test. Could you briefly expand on your answer, as far as how that information affects your ultimate conclusion? Do you treat players differently if one failed the “anonymous” testing and got outed, as opposed to someone who failed after the new drug policies were implemented?
Klaw: I think what I said was that I don’t care about PED usage in general. I treat all unfounded accusations as bullshit. A failed test is the one thing I might consider because it is within baseball – Bonds’ grand jury testimony was outside of the game’s jurisprudence and should never have become public anyway under federal (?) law, so I think it’s improper to consider it on two separate grounds. Palmeiro flunking a test is hard evidence, and for a player where I might be on the fence about voting for him, I’d consider it. But if a player never flunked a test, rumors and speculations are best flushed down the toilet.

Chris: Reasonable return for Aybar for Braves? Feel like they gotta flip him.
Klaw: He makes no sense for them and he isn’t even very good. One mid-tier prospect would be enough.

Kay: Why have teams moved away from using platoons? If you lack a star caliber player, I feel like you can combine a pair of useful guys into star level production by hiding their weaknesses.
Klaw: Having 12 pitchers on the roster means 13 hitters. In the AL, that’s four bench six spots, and one goes to the backup catcher, while another has to go to someone who can play short. Not much room for platoons. I agree with you that they’re really useful, but I’d also limit the bullpen to six guys and ensure that I had at least one long reliever at all times.

Rob: If the Yankees intent is to keep Sanchez, wouldn’t it make sense to begin giving him some reps at 1B to turn him into more of a Victor Martinez-type player, when he was younger. 50 games at catcher, 40 games at 1B (against lefties to sit Bird) 60 games at DH?.
Klaw: I agree and perhaps they’ll do that now, but I have a feeling that all of the hype now about him being better behind the plate – he was never as bad as reputed, and now he’s not as good as they claim – is an attempt to boost his trade value. He can hit and has power, and it’s a plus arm, but long-term he might not be a catcher at all.

Brad: Isan Diaz have huge upside with the bat?
Klaw: Huge upside? No.

Kyle: How does JBJ’s trade value compare to the returns for Martin and Hicks? Bit higher?
Klaw: More than Martin for sure. Maybe comparable to Hicks – Hicks has better tools overall, JBJ has a shorter period of big-league performance.

Chris Plouffe: Can Max Fried become an above average starter in your opinion, or is he headed to the pen?
Klaw: He’s been hurt for over a year with TJ. Let’s get him back on a mound first.

Jeff: Do you think a Jay Bruce for Zack Wheeler trade is equitable? I know it was discussed at the deadline and ended up not happening. But it could realistically come up again, once Cespedes leaves.
Klaw: If Wheeler is presumed healthy, that’s an inferior deal for the Mets’ side.

Fred: I know he gets a lot of hate for his defense, but what have you thought of Wilmer’s hitting so far in his MLB career? 20 HR 100 RBI guy?
Klaw: I think he’s going to hit – his OBPs are terrible to date, but he’s young, makes contact, has a good swing, and should eventually hit for enough average that his OBPs will end up respectable if never actually good. Not a shortstop, of course.

Tim: Atlanta still have Kevin Maitan lined up?
Klaw: I have answered this many times already. They have an agreement with him, but as it’s totally prohibited by MLB, if either side chooses to break it there’s no recourse. A player who signed a seven-figure deal this past July 2nd reneged on an agreement the day before and signed with another team that offered more money; there’s nothing the original team could do because their deal with the player wasn’t legal to begin with!

JD: Joe Musgrove seemed to move up some prospect rankings this year. I saw him last year in the NYP and he didn’t stand out. Has something changed? Did you see him last season?
Klaw: I think he moved up for people looking at the stat line. Control guy who got healthy but doesn’t have premium stuff.

Adam: You mentioned earlier that the Nats signing Heyward and moving Harper to CF makes them much better…….wouldnt Heyward be the better CF of the two?
Klaw: I think Harper would be, actually. Better runner. Both have great instincts.

Fred: I read such mixed scouting reports on Amed Rosario’s power potential. Some say its gap power, some say its HR power. What have you seen?
Klaw: HR power. He’s still just a baby. Lot of people will tell you Dom Smith doesn’t have HR power either. They are mistaken.

JWP: Would Dylan Bundy even make your top 100 now?
Klaw: Probably not, which is a damn shame. I said yesterday on the periscope that I wonder if he was just overworked so much in HS that he was going to break down no matter what.

Bob Pollard: What do you make of Jon Gray at this point? Can he succced in Colorado?
Klaw: I don’t like his stuff and lack of deception in that environment.

Max Footroom: How did everyone miss so big on Jesus Montero’s bat? It was supposed to be MLB ready years ago. I remember the hype when he was traded to Seattle and people were saying he was the perfect DH who will hit MLB pitching immediate and have 30+HR power. How did the evaluators en mass miss this one?
Klaw: Good question. I don’t see a single smoking gun here: He didn’t work hard at all, he didn’t stay in shape, he did eventually get nailed for PED usage. I got destroyed by Yankee fans one year for ranking him too low, then conceded that I was likely wrong and ended up ranking him too high the next year. BTW, he’s still just 26 this year and I think he carves out a career for himself.

Ray: Is Margot more of a gap power hitter than a HR hitter. How will his power play in SD?
Klaw: Yes, and I don’t think he gets to 15 HR a year as a Padre.

Adam: Wouldnt the Braves best bet be to unload Maybin now so you can play Bourn and Swish? Hope they have good first halves so you can unload them……even if you dont get anything back thats money off the payroll?
Klaw: I think the ship has sailed on both of those guys, unfortunately. They’re probably just dead money, especially Brohio there.

Jeremy: Would head coaching experience at the college level (at one of the major conference schools) be enough for you to hire someone as a major league manager, or is the job too different? Why don’t we see more college coaches making that kind of jump?
Klaw: The job is extremely different but I’d still count it as something. The games themselves are quite different as you’re not managing every day, rosters are different, bats are different, and of course they’re not professionals. But it’s still fundamentally the same sport.

Kingpin: No question, just want to say thanks again for continuing the chats in this format and here’s hoping the best Thanksgiving for you & your loved ones.
Klaw: You’re welcome, and thank you for the kind wishes. A very safe and Happy Thanksgiving to all of you as well; please eat to excess and, if you drink to excess too, stay off the roads. I will resume the chats the week after the holiday and will continue to post here and on ESPN.com in the interim, with a 2016 rule 4 draft preview going up tomorrow.

The Late George Apley.

I’m on a little run of past Pulitzer Prize for Fiction/the Novel winners right now, and just finished John Marquand’s extremely subtle satire The Late George Apley, which won the prize in 1938 when it was still only awarded to novels. The book is clearly a satire of the isolated, self-important life of the patrician class of the early 20th century, especially the so-called Boston Brahmins, but Marquand plays it so straight that I found myself vacillating through half the novel on just what parts he might have wanted readers to take seriously.

The book is a sort of fake biography/epistolary novel, where a longtime friend and former classmate of the title character has been asked by Apley’s family to write a private story of the man’s life, leaning heavily on his correspondence. The author (the fictional one, that is) traces Apley’s story back several generations, explaining the grand history of his family line within the United States, the first of many times when he tries to impress upon the reader the importance of the name. He gives us Apley’s birth and upbringing in a life of privilege and strict expectations, his attendance at the prestigious Groton School in Massachusetts (then all boys, now coed, which would have made for an amusing postscript to the book) and at some liberal arts college in Cambridge, and so forth, with every step already laid out for him by his imperious father and the constraints of polite society of the time. He falls in love with an Irish Catholic girl, is forced to end it when he’s shipped off for a Grand Tour, comes home, marries a woman of proper breeding, bangs out a couple of kids, and so on.

It’s a dull story in its own right, which is part of the point, and how dull becomes apparent in the latter half of the book when Apley’s son and daughter take advantage of the lax attitudes of the 1920s to live a little. Apley’s letters to and about his children seem increasingly ridiculous as the world changes around him – he’s still worried about the shrubbery around the family estate when the stock market is crashing – and only when he realizes he has a terminal heart condition does it dawn on him that life has passed him by. His final letters are reminiscent of Kazuo Ishiguro’s Remains of the Day was, full of regret without hope. Unlike the butler of Ishiguro’s novel, however, Apley’s heartbreak is darkly comic: He admits, not quite explicitly, that he should have sowed his wild oats when he was younger, gotten wasted more, gotten laid more, and told his parents to stuff it and married the girl he loved (she makes a brief cameo again at the end of the book).

I can understand why this would have won the Pulitzer in 1938, when I presume the board considering the candidates was all white males and this sort of American aristocracy was more prevalent in the culture. It didn’t resonate so much with me today, however; even though I went to that liberal arts school, the population was quite diverse ethnically and by gender, and they’ve since done quite a bit to improve the diversity of economic backgrounds too, making Apley’s experiences there seem as anachronistic as the semi-arranged marriage and emphasis on decorum and appearances. It’s an entertaining read, but it feels very dated today.

Next up: Michael Shaara’s 1974 Pulitzer winner The Killer Angels ($6 in paperback!), a novel of the Battle of Gettysburg that was adapted into the four-hour movie Gettysburg in 199.

Art Angels.

My column on my NL Rookie of the Year ballot is up for Insiders.

Grimes’ Art Angels (buy on amazon or iTunes) is the best album of 2015, and the best album I’ve heard since alt-J’s 2012 debut An Awesome Wave. Canadian singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Claire Boucher, who records under the pseudonym Grimes, has created a masterful indie-pop performance that transcends genres and incorporates wildly diverse sounds into a cohesive, intelligent offering that never lets up from the ninety-second opener to the final song’s declaration of independence.

Grimes’ third album, 2012’s Visions, brought her substantial critical acclaim, notably for the singles “Genesis” and “Oblivion,” which received plenty of airplay on alternative radio and led to multiple recommendations from many of you, but I couldn’t get past the juvenile sound of her high-register vocals and the electropop leanings of the music. Grimes has ditched GarageBand, which she used to record much of that last album, for more sophisticated digital audio workstation software, and it is reflected in the worldliness of the music itself. The maturation process from there to Art Angels was, by all accounts, arduous, including an entire album that Grimes scrapped, the one-off single “Go” (rejected by Rihanna’s people, because I guess her people are idiots), and the song “REALiTi,” which survived the trashing of the lost album and reappears here in a more polished form. This is the Grimes album with vision, delivering rather than promising, with marked increases in the sophistication of her music and her lyrics.

After that brief intro track, Grimes delivers the first of many surprises on the album with “California,” a sunny track that gives off the illusion of an acoustic or folk-rock song, but is largely electronic and hides a dark, cynical take on the record industry through a metonymical use of the state to represent the entertainment industry. (Grimes has spoken publicly before about how the mainstream record industry does not, in her view, treat indie artists well.) From that luminous track we downshift into the album’s darkest song, “Scream,” with all lyrics courtesy of the female Taiwanese rapper Aristophanes, who raps entirely in Mandarin with a menacing, breathy delivery that matches the funereal music beneath her. If you’ve survived this hairpin turn, you’ve gotten the hang of Art Angels, which refuses to choose a single direction yet manages to squeeze a panoply of styles into a single tent.

Lead single “Flesh Without Blood” is the most traditional song on the record in both its structure and the melodic nature of the vocals, but would still jar listeners to straight pop stations if it came on after the latest four minutes’ hate from OneRepublic. “Kill v. Maim” and “Venus Fly” both show Grimes asserting her individuality and particular brand of feminism, with the former seeing her voice as high as it gets on the album, which is fine with me as I think she starts to sound very young at the top end of her range, although here it also seems like an allusion to J-pop traditions and is interspersed with the occasional death-metal scream. “Venus Fly” features vocals from Janelle Monáe, who will appear on your album if you just remember to include a self-addressed stamped envelope, in an articulate rant about how women in music are judged on their appearances, with a number of lines that sound like they should end in “boy” if you’ve been reared on vapid, modern pop music.

The title track is a real sleeper, the kind of song Daft Punk tried and failed to craft on their Grammy-winning album Random Access Memories, between the funk-guitar riff and the layered synthesized drum lines, with lyrics that express her love for her adopted home city of Montréal. I might be alone in preferring the raw demo version of “REALiTi” we got back in the spring, where her vocals were more seductive even when she veered on the edge of falsetto; although the current version maintains the basic hook of the original, her vocals are honed to a finer point, excising the demo’s dreamlike quality.

Grimes’ lyrics have improved enormously over the last three years, with greater use of metaphor and new phrasings, with very few lines that clunk enough to detract from the songs as a whole. (“California” does have a line about how certain music “sounds just like my soul;” I’m not sure I’ve ever heard a song lyric using the word “soul” in a secular or metaphorical sense that didn’t sound like something from a teenager’s poetry notebook.) She’s covering a ton of thematic ground here, but they’re all tied together under the banner of the experiences of a woman in a male-dominated industry that is rife with sexism, harassment, and superficial judgments. When the slightly saccharine closer, “Butterfly,” concludes with Grimes’ assertion that she’ll “never be your dream girl,” it’s clear she’s both refusing to bend herself to be what someone else wants and saying that the song’s target isn’t worthy of her time. It’s a compulsive listen without a dud to be found, with so many changes in musical direction that she grabs your attention from the start and holds it, rapt, until she tells you to kiss off in the closing track. It’s an album that demands repeated listening.

A Summons to Memphis.

My NL ROY ballot will go up tonight for Insiders, once the winner is announced; my last post over on that other site is on the Craig Kimbrel trade. My favorite comments so far have been tweets telling me I’m wrong, from people (at least three) who haven’t actually read the article. Yay Internet.

While working my way through the list of winners of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction (until 1948 the Pulitzer Prize for the Novel), I’ve been somewhat surprised at how few winners have remained actively read books over the years. Some of the winners were duds, and only a handful made my own top 100 list, but the majority have at least been good books – above-average novels, at least, which should be enough to keep them around; perhaps it’s just the flood of new titles that pushes them off of the mainstream reader’s radar. Peter Taylor’s 1987 novel A Summons to Memphis is one of these – a good novel, amusing and serious, distinctly American in theme and outlook, enough that I’d recommend it but wouldn’t put it on my own rankings.

The narrator, Phillip Carver, gets the titular summons from his two spinster sisters because their widowed father, now 81, plans to marry again, to a somewhat younger woman, which of course raises questions of inheritance as well as of public perceptions. The sisters are comic entities in themselves – virginal in fact and in behavior, as if their emotional development stopped at age 15 while their bodies continued to swell to near-obesity in their fifties – while Phillip, more put together, has also never married, bearing the same scars as his sisters do from the traumatic move of their childhood. When their father was caught up in a scandal in Nashville, he had to move the family to Memphis and restart his career, uprooting them all, including their mother and another brother who later died in World War II, from the comfortable life they knew in the genteel city that sounds like Margaret Mitchell would have approved of it. Memphis is depicted as rougher, déclassé, foreign to the family, with each of the three children having to give up a potential marriage somewhere along the way due to their father’s disapproval or outright meddling. Although the novel opens with the summons, Phillip doesn’t make the actual trip to Memphis – the first of several, as it turns out – until about two-thirds of the way through the novel, after he’s told the reader of his childhood and the lost loves of the three siblings via a series of flashbacks.

There’s an element of King Lear in this book, although it’s not as explicit as the allusion made in a later Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, the torpid A Thousand Acres. King Lear had three daughters, two of whom earn his favor through false flattery with an eye toward increasing their inheritance at their sisters’ expenses, but Lear descends into madness in his old age and the infighting between the siblings leads to … well, it’s a tragedy by Shakespeare, so you know they all die. A Summons to Memphis relies instead on emotional violence: the father wrecked the lives of his children, especially the sisters, so they have now come around to wreck what remains of his by blocking his attempt to marry again. Phillip, the one child who moved away from Tennessee and thus has escaped somewhat unscathed (a slight parallel to Cordelia, especially as both characters are reserved when discussing their emotions), ends up the one with some semblance of a thawing of his relationship with their father, even as the girls continue to plot their revenge to the bitter end.

The move a few hundred miles west, without even crossing state lines, seems to underscore the extent of the betrayal by the father’s business partner, who engineered the kind of financial scam that will never go out of style; while the elder Mr. Carver was cleared of any wrongdoing, it seems that he was unable to escape the shame in his own mind of his involvement, and, more importantly, of the fact that a man he considered his best friend was capable of such treason. This one event fractured their life as a family twice – once when he relocated the whole unit, including their servants, to Memphis; then again, when he exerts his authority over each family member to bend them to his will. So many individual moments and elements of the book are humorous, but the overall effect is one of deep emotional scarring.

I looked to see if any critics inferred the Lear comparison, and one of the greatest living American novelists, Marilynne Robinson, did just that in her 1986 review of the novel for the NY Times. Robinson, author of Housekeeping and the three related books that began with her own Pulitzer winner, Gilead, is a master of words and of characterization, so if she agrees with me on something, I view that as an enormous validation.

Next up: Another forgotten winner of the Pulizter, John P. Marquard’s 1938 satire The Late George Apley.

Saturday five, 11/14/15.

I have analyses up for Insiders on the Aaron Hicks-John Ryan Murphy trade, the Andrelton Simmons trade, and the Craig Kimbrel trade. I also held my weekly Klawchat here on the dish.

My various offseason buyers’ guides all went up this week:
Corner infielders
Middle infielders
Starting pitchers
Relief pitchers

Plus, you all saw my ranking of my all-time favorite boardgames, right?

And now, the links…

  • One of the bigger surprises on Art Angels, the outstanding new album from Grimes (née Claire Boucher), is the presence of the female Taiwanese rapper who goes by the name Aristophanes. Fader has a little more info on her with some Soundcloud links.
  • The Atlantic has a good review of Art Angels that talks about Grimes’ emerging fame and choice of musical direction. I’ll try to get a review of the album up early next week.
  • Public schools in Louisiana are teaching kids Christianity and creationism, a blatant violation of federal law and of the students’ rights.
  • The New Yorker has an excellent piece up on using “free speech” to distract from discussions of racism, focusing on the protests at Yale and the University of Missouri. The Yale controversy has seemed particularly easy to parse to me: You don’t get to go around in blackface in a closed environment and then claim you’re exercising your free speech rights. You get expelled.
  • Pennsylvania has the second-worst student immunization rate in the nation, but there are bills pending in their legislature to end the “philosophical exemption” (that is, the opt-out for parents too stupid to understand basic science), while the state’s departments of health and education are working to end the “grace period” that allows kids to attend school before they’ve gotten all their shots. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette‘s editorial board supports these moves, as do I, not least because the state of Delaware told me building a border wall was too expensive.
  • Doctors need to do a better job of encouraging parents to give their kids the HPV vaccine, according to Aaron Carroll, Professor of Pediatrics at Kyle Schwarber’s alma mater (well, technically at IU’s Medical School). The problem, in Carroll’s view, is that it touches on ignorance about vaccines as well as the dirty dirty subject of teens having sex.
  • J. Kenji Lopez-Alt talked to NPR’s Here and Now, and the resulting interview includes three recipes from his new cookbook The Food Lab: Better Home Cooking Through Science.
  • The BBC has a quirky story up on a brand-new record store in Ulan Bator, the capital of Mongolia. And if all you know of Mongolia is “Mongolian barbecue,” well, that’s Taiwanese, sorry.
  • Last week’s links included a story on Elizabeth Holmes, the Stanford dropout whose blood-testing startup Theranos may have lied about its product’s capabilities. The Washington Post has a story on how the NY Times erased Holmes from a story on tech heroes, as well as failing to discuss a potential conflict of interest by that story’s author.
  • This story by a pro-science skeptical blogger about an vaccine-denier nut job is a bit inside-baseball, as the saying goes, but highly amusing.