Philly eats, February 2016 edition.

Standard reminder, since I’ve been asked this several times a day lately: The top 100 prospects package starts to roll out on Wednesday, February 10th, with the organizational rankings; the top 100 list itself follows on Thursday, with the org reports (including top tens) posting the following week.

I was both inspired and shamed by Philadelphia magazine’s latest list of the top 50 restaurants in Philly, since I live just 35 minutes away and had only been to three of the entries on the list: High Street on Market, Barbuzzo, and Osteria, which are all fantastic. I’m up to five now and would like to try to get to about half of the entries on the list by the end of 2016 (it’s down to 49 after Il Pittore closed in January), especially Laurel, Zahav, and Vedge, all nationally known establishments that are among Philly’s culinary stars.

Top Chef fans likely remember season 7 winner Kevin Sbraga – whose response to “You are Top Chef” was “I am?” – and his namesake restaurant, Sbraga, made the top 50. The menu is a $55 four-course prix fixe, very reasonable for the quality of food you’re getting, with plenty of options for each course to suit most diets. All meals start with a gruyère popover (outstanding) and foie gras soup (a little strongly flavored for my palate – the taste lingered for much of the meal). The menu changes frequently, but here’s what I had in my meal there at the end of January. For the first course, I got the hamachi crudo, served with thinly sliced honeydew, jicama, and coconut; the fish was as fresh as it gets, although I think it was a bit overpowered by the variety of other flavors on the plate. For the second course, which comprises pastas and a risotto, I went with the gnocchi with sunchokes, Brussels sprouts, and pine nuts, a dish that really worked when I could get every flavor in one bite – the sweetness of the sunchokes (a.k.a. Jerusalem artichokes), the faint bitterness of the sprouts, and the mixture of flavors in the well-browned gnocchi, although they could have been a little lighter in texture.

Course three is the proteins and this was where Sbraga kicked into high gear. I’m ridiculously picky about octopus – more than 90% of the times I’ve had octopus, it has been terrible, but I figured this was the kind of place that would do it justice. It’s cooked sous vide and finished on the grill, so the texture was perfect, and the restaurant’s version of piri piri – a chili pepper and lemon sauce that is kind of like a Portuguese chimichurri – was the ideal complement to the meaty but kind of neutral flavor of the octopus. The dessert option was a no-brainer – the mint cookie has a scoop of chocolate mousse sandwiched between two flat meringue cookies, topped with a quenelle of mint ice cream and a sprinkling of chocolate cookie crumbs. Both of the last two courses were memorable, the octopus for how it was cooked and the perfection of that sauce, the dessert because oh my God it’s like a Thin Mint on PEDs.

Late last week, my daughter and I went on a date to Brigantessa, a Southern Italian trattoria with wood-fired pizzas and house-made pastas in the Passyunk neighborhood of Philly, and another entry on the top 50. The biggest hit of the meal was the cappellaci dei briganti – hat-shaped pasta pieces – made with arugula pasta dough and served with a wild boar ragù that was everything you want a slow-cooked meat sauce to be. My daughter ended up eating about half of my plate, so I shared her margherita pizza (her standard order), which was solid; they’re using really good San Marzano tomatoes, because the sauce was bright and sweet and just a little tangy. I loved my appetizer, charred beets with salsa salmoriglio (which really is just an Italian chimichurri, swapping oregano in for the cilantro), grilled treviso, and toasted pistachios; if I’m really nitpicking, I’d say it could have used a dollop of the sheep’s milk ricotta that was on my daughter’s starter plate. Hers had that ricotta, prosciutto, pepitas, and a roasted and caramelized winter squash puree, but the cheese and squash were underseasoned, probably to compensate for the prosciutto. Even when I tasted everything at once it didn’t quite click, and my daughter, who has never met a cheese she didn’t like, ended up just crushing the prosciutto. As traditional as much of the menu is, the dessert menu is rather untraditional – not bad, necessarily, but not what we had in mind, so we passed. They have a nice menu of Italian beers that you don’t see everywhere else, including beers from Birrificio Italiano, a brewery located north of Milan near Lake Como.

I only managed to take advantage of Philadelphia Restaurant Week once, since I was sick for most of it, meeting a friend for lunch at FARMiCiA, a farm-to-table spot located right across from Menagerie Coffee and around the corner from High Street on Market. Farmicia’s lunch menu (I’m not going to bother with the weird capitalization again) is very straightforward, like diner fare done right, with way better ingredients and attention to detail. The roasted beets and kale salad was calling my name, even with its “veggie ricotta;” I’m not sure what that was made of, but the dressing on the dish was so flavorful that I didn’t mind the intrusion of the soy or nut “cheese” or whatever it was. The turkey and avocado club was enormous and not over-mayonnaised. The fries are freshly cut and properly fried. The desserts appear to have been specials for restaurant week; both my friend and I ordered the apple tart, which was … a good apple tart, although I hate when the pastry chef sneaks raisins into a dish, because, as John Oliver said, “no one fucking wants them there.”

Since I haven’t done a recent Philly eats post, I’ll just mention some of my other favorites that aren’t cited above: Pizzeria Vetri is my go-to date place with my daughter – we went tonight, in fact – and while everything is good, I’m very partial to the sausage and fennel pizza because I’ve never had fennel that good. That’s our favorite pizza in Philly, and Pizzeria Stella is second; Stella has some pasta options if you’re going with some freak who doesn’t like pizza. I mentioned Menagerie Coffee, a very cool space that uses Dogwood Coffee’s Neon blend for its espresso and rotates in various micro-roasters for its pourovers. I also love the local roaster Re-Animator, now with one location near center city plus the original in Fishtown. High Street on Market is still my go-to spot for breakfast or lunch, especially when I want to impress someone; you can’t go wrong with their Forager breakfast sandwich, or just with anything involving their amazing breads. El Vez tries a little too hard to be hip, but I was impressed by their guacamoles, both the variety and the freshness. I’m sure there’s better Mexican to be had – everyone raves about Lolita, which is owned by the same team that runs Barbuzzo (get the gnocchi and the salted caramel budino), Jamonera, and Bud & Marilyn’s, but that’s still on my to-do list.

I haven’t done many brunch spots in Philly, but we all liked the Farmacy in West Philadelphia, which offers a build-your-own Benedict and a lot of crazy twists on breakfast classics. No trip to Philly is complete without a stop at the Reading Terminal Market and a pork sandwich with broccoli rabe and provolone at Dinic’s. And for reasons I can’t quite explain, I liked the Big Gay Ice Cream shop down here better than the one I tried in Manhattan (which was the original location, I think). My daughter and I were in a bookstore in Philly recently, and I’d promised to take her to the BGIC afterwards, but she confused her favorite dish there with the name of the place and said in a fairly loud voice, “I wanna go to the Salty Pimp!”

Stick to baseball, 2/6/16.

I held my usual Klawchat yesterday. The top 100 prospects package starts to roll out on Wednesday with the organizational rankings; the top 100 list itself follows on Thursday, with the org reports (including top tens) posting the following week.

And now, the links…

  • I actually didn’t know that cleaning the outside of your ears – where cerumen (a.k.a., “ear wax”) builds up – was actually bad for you, but this piece on the weird history of Q-tips explains why it is. I’ve cleaned my ears for ages, because my mom always cleaned mine when I was a kid. I also use Q-tips for cleaning lots of odd items in the kitchen that you can’t get to with a paper towel, like the gasket above my espresso machine’s portafilter.
  • Zika virus is not a global health emergency, people. You know, no one gives a shit about dengue fever, another mosquito-borne illness that kills 25,000 people a year, but show pictures of babies with tiny heads (which, by the way, might not even be because of the zika virus) and suddenly the media starts talking global pandemic.
  • Oh, hi, California’s about to execute an innocent man. Does Netflix have to make another series to get anyone to care?
  • No, Marco Rubio, Sweden does not have a President, and I don’t think it’s too much to ask of a Presidential candidate to know such a thing.
  • Are we seeing the end of Twitter? I doubt it, but there’s no question that audience engagement via Twitter is more fleeting than engagement on other social media platforms. Of course, Twitter is about to totally screw with what tweets you see, so maybe it is dying after all.
  • The Useless Department of Agriculture is at it again, revoking the (weak) labeling standards behind calling beef “grass-fed”.
  • School of Seven Bells’ final album comes out on February 26th, featuring the last recorded works of late co-founder Ben Curtis, and the 405 has the best interview with surviving member Alejandra Deheza that I’ve seen. She’s also going to appear on NPR Weekend Edition some time today.
  • Luxembourg has jumped into the fray in support of space mining, which seems inevitable as our demand for rare metals like iridium increases. I think the fuel expense of hauling that kind of weight gets underestimated in this kind of mainstream media coverage, though.
  • Two Arizona State scientists have argued that silica formations on Mars might be evidence of earlier microbe life.
  • Look at Cam Newton’s father talking sense about why college athletes should be paid.
  • Boardgamegeek polled its readers on the “most anticipated games of 2016,” and the resulting list is high comedy, because these games are almost all extremely heavy strategy games, the kind you need two hours minimum to play and that only hardcore gamers like. If there’s a Splendor on the horizon, this poll missed it in favor of the next four-hour marathon game with a rulebook the size of a Russian novel.

Top Chef, S13E09.

I held my usual Klawchat yesterday. The top 100 prospects package starts to roll out on Wednesday with the organizational rankings; the top 100 list itself follows on Thursday, with the org reports (including top tens) posting the following week.

This week’s episode was really half of a two-parter, so there’s no Judges’ Table and no elimination. But I do like the format change for reasons I’ll get into below.

* Isaac seems befuddled by his frequent near-eliminations, and thinks it’s because he’s losing to chefs who do much more refined presentations. He says, “I don’t tweezify my plates,” and if nothing else that’s a great word that needs to enter my Top Chef recap vocabulary. (The guy who got sent home last week was axed for tweezifying his plate, so I’m not sure what Isaac is getting at here.)

* The guest judge is Bill Chait, owner of Bestia in LA, and the man makes Debbie Downer look like a ray of sunshine. Jeez, Bill, you’re judging on Top Chef. You could perk up a bit.

* The chefs have a Restaurant Wars song and dance. It is not going to win an Emmy.

* Amar and Karen win the knife pulls to pick teams for Restaurant Wars. Amar picks Kwame. Karen picks Marjorie, calling her the “Top Chef MVP” for her versatility. Those are the easy top two choices, I say. Amar takes Jeremy. Karen takes Carl. Amar takes Phillip because Phillip wants to do front of house and Amar doesn’t. So Karen gets Isaac.

* Here’s the format change: This time, each team will do two services, lunch and dinner, and still gets just 24 hours to prepare. Every chef must take a turn at either executive chef or front of house for one service. This seems way more fair than the old system, where the eliminated chefs were nearly always from one of those two positions.

* Kwame feels Phillip can be “adamant.” That’s one way to put it.

* In the team menu planning sessions, Isaac’s ideas are all going over like lead balloons, and he’s kind of getting ignored/plowed over. Marjorie seems to be completely ignoring him, like he’s not even standing there. I would expect him to break the table in half at this point.

* I hate the part of Restaurant Wars where the chefs go pick their décor and flatware and such. Is this something any chef would normally do? It’s always lousy television. I’m here for the food, not the fucking wall art.

* Kwame: “Phillip wants to do mason jars and I think that’s so ten years ago Brooklyn.” I … nah, he’s right, I can’t snark this.

* So the Karen/Marjorie/Carl/Isaac team calls its restaurant Palate (okay, how about “Palette” with a wild color scheme?), and plans ten dishes plus a bread course for the two meals.

* Jeremy is making risotto. You know how that goes. It also looks like he’s making it ahead and cooling it on sheet pans … that seems like a really terrible idea.

* Isaac says he’s glad he’s not with the four “bros” on the other team, and that the two high-powered women on his team are “ego-less.” I don’t think Karen is ego-less, although Marjorie certainly seems to keep hers on a bare simmer.

* Phillip’s strawberry salad has a million steps, even though Kwame has to assemble it. This is beyond “adamant” – it’s self-destructive. You know someone else is making your dish, so make it simple.

* Marjorie marinated beets with baby greens pepitas and garrotxa; Carl pork and bacon terrine; Karen steak salad; Isaac shellfish stew with fennel.

* Jeremy crispy egg charred asparagus and truffle vin; Kwame corn and sage veloute; Amar roasted chicken breast with polenta; Phillip roasted salmon with crispy skin.

* Padma’s cleavage is on the menu. Almost literally.

* Here’s where the two-episode format kind of hurts the tension: When the judges arrive at District LA (Jeremy/Amar/Kwame/Phillip), Jeremy, the exec chef for lunch, pushes all other tables’ dishes back and puts the judges’ dishes at the front of the queue. This creates a pileup later that we don’t really get to see, especially since they seem to be having real trouble with the servers knowing what to do – or with the kitchen not giving them enough food.

* Their starters include Jeremy’s grilled asparagus, arugula salad, crispy egg, and truffle vinaigrette; and Kwame’s corn and sage velouté with pancetta and pickled corn, crispy sage. Both get high marks, although Bill is the only one who thinks soup is underseasoned. I’m starting to think he could tell you a double rainbow was too colorful.

* Marjorie has to try to push tables out the door. People are lingering like it’s some kind of prank, like the producers told everyone, “hey, when you’re done eating, don’t leave.”

* Tom has noticed that Jeremy isn’t feeding other tables. This seems like the kind of thing that gets your ass sent home, right?

* Somehow the judges’ table didn’t get utensils, and neither did some other tables. Did they hire servers off the street?

* Phillip’s main course is a roasted salmon with crispy skin, greek yogurt, and ratatouille. Amar served yet another roasted chicken breast (blech) with creamy polenta and wild mushroom ragout. Phillip’s salmon is good but the vegetables are undercooked, and Padma says she doesn’t like the ratatouille served over the fish (I totally agree – wouldn’t the heat from the vegetables continue cooking the fish and ruin its texture?). Amar’s doesn’t have enough sauce, and Tom points out that’s three times he’s sous vided a chicken breast. Unless it’s a heritage bird, or truly free-range and pasture-raised, the chicken’s breast will have no flavor of its own. It’s the worst protein to choose for a competition.

* Marjorie starts giving people booze to get them to abandon their tables. It’s kind of clever, actually. Sort of a Pied Piper act for grown-ups.

* Carl’s starter is a pork and bacon terrine with haricots verts, gem lettuces, prosciutto, salumi, and golden raisins. Marjorie served marinated beets with pickled cauliflower and shaved garrotxa (a semi-soft Spanish goat cheese). The terrine is just not good – Tom looks mildly disgusted by it. The rest of the dish was better, but that’s not salvaging anything. Marjorie’s beets were a little simple but done well. I love roasted beets and have had them in a few dozen restaurants by now, and the one thing that seems missing from her dish is something to add crunch, like pepitas or pistachios. It also sounds like it had no spice at all, so you’re getting sweetness and acidity but not much else. I had a great charred beet dish at Brigantessa in the Passyunk neighborhood of Philly last night, and it included a grilled head of treviso for that sharp, bitter flavor.

* Jeremy’s completely in the weeds now because of his decision to put the judges’ dishes first. When lunch service is technically over, his restaurant still has diners waiting for food.

* Karen’s main course is a grilled flank steak salad with shaved carrots, daikon, jicama, cabbage, papaya, herbs, and nuts. Isaac’s dish is a seafood stew cod with shrimp, clams, and mussels. Karen’s is the best dish the judges have had. Tom likes the added flavors from the Thai basil, mint, and cilantro – kind of like a spring roll herb combination. Isaac’s stew was solid, with big flavors from saffron and fennel, but no one seems blown away by it.

* The quick consensus from the judges is that Palate had much stronger entrees, while District had better apps.

* And … that’s it. The preview of next week makes it look like at least one team has everything go totally pear-shaped during dinner, so that could be fun in a sadistic sort of way.

Klawchat 2/4/16.

Klaw: Double up or quit, double stake or split, it’s Klawchat.

JP: would Lazarito crack your top 100, if eligible?
Klaw: Absolutely not. Wouldn’t even be a consideration.

Adam: If the Braves sign Lazarito does that mean they are out on Maitan? If they wait until July can they sign both?
Klaw: He would have to agree to wait until July 2nd to sign. That’s not legal, but then again, nothing that happens in the international free agent market seems to be legal any more. There are African dictatorships that laugh at how corrupt baseball’s IFA system is.

Dave: How high would Conforto probably be on the top 100 if he didnt meet playing time conditions like Matz?
Klaw: Probably top 20. Very high floor, some All-Star potential, but not the super high ceiling of top 10 guys. I’ve always believed he’d hit and I think the limited pro sample we’ve seen so far supports that.

Bob: Greetings, Keith. Can we talk Ichiro for the HOF? Career WAR of 58.4 which is not a typical slam dunk number. He trails non-HOFers Reggie Smith and Dwight Evans, and is tied with Sammie Sosa. Assuming he doesn’t add to that figure appreciably, under what criteria do we put him in the HOF (as everyone assumes will happen)? He didn’t start in American baseball until he was 27? His Japanese stats should count too? What are your thoughts on this?
Klaw: I have no objection to giving some weight to his performance in Japan. I also don’t object to considering Ichiro’s impact on the game, here and globally. He was very much a star in the subjective sense of the word – the Fame part of the Hall of Fame. I think he’ll sail in on the first ballot because his support will be so broad, and if I have the vote I’ll give one to him.

Josh: How quickly do you think that Groome could love through the minors?
Klaw: Freudian slip? Not quickly at all. Big arm, not advanced or polished.

Dean Gulberry: As always, appreciate the chat! What is your opinion of Josh Hader? Did you get to see him pitch when you were in the AFL?
Klaw: Great arm, two above-average or better pitches, reliever’s arm action and delivery, but a really uncomfortable at bat, especially for lefties. I don’t know how any LHB ever sees the ball out of his hand.

Rob: I’m sure you’re getting a lot of questions about Dickerson-McGee. What can you tell us about Kevin Padlo? A few observers seem to think he’s the hidden gem in the trade.
Klaw: Yeah, I’m not buying it. Actually would probably rate Marquez, who has two above-average pitches but some reliever risk, over Padlo, who doesn’t have a great body and may not stick at 3b.

Joe: Will Corey Seager stick at SS? If he does, will he ever be good, or adequate, defensively?
Klaw: He’ll spned the majority of his MLB career at 3b. Might be adequate for a year at SS, but even so I think the plays he can’t get to will start to become a problem.

JP: rank these OF: Judge, Conforto, Mazara, Brinson, Benintendi
Klaw: You’ll get the answer to that next week when my top 100 comes out.

JP: more likely to be a useful starter: Bundy or Kolek
Klaw: Kolek. Bundy might be through as a potential starter.

Craig: Which team has done more in the past 12 months to improve its farm system: Philadelphia or Milwaukee?
Klaw: Milwaukee.

Mr. Robot: RIP Bloc Party. Didn’t think things could have gotten worse than “Four” but “Hymns” is just a snooze. Thanks for the memories, go in peace.
Klaw: Yep. Their album and St. Lucia’s were both huge disappointments. Megadeth’s was too – it’s like Mustaine is trying to recapture the Hangar 18 sound and just can’t find it.

Dance!: You were talking up Jake Lamb quite a bit last year but then he dealt with some injury stuff after a ridiculous April. What do you expect from him this year?
Klaw: Above-average offense, more OBP and doubles than HR, and at least solid-average defense at 3b.

Francisco, Atlanta: Hi Keith! Thanks for the chat. How good is Nick Senzel ?
Klaw: No clear position, and hasn’t shown much power in games. He might go in the first round because of the paucity of college bats, but I know plenty of scouts who think he’s a 2nd round talent or less.

Claudio: Coppolella recently stated that, while the general BPA rule will apply in next draft, they would love to get a college hitter. Do you buy it? (I don’t) and if it’s true, what’s your view of Buddy Reed?
Klaw: I don’t buy it, because there may not be a good enough college bat where they pick, and I don’t think Reed can hit. It’s a bad swing on both sides of the plate.

Ozzie: What is the ceiling for Eddy Martinez? Do you expect the Cubs to start him in South Bend?
Klaw: I only saw a workout – he really doesn’t have a lot of game experience – but he has All-Star tools. South Bend is probably right, just let him move quickly if he turns out to be really advanced at the plate. We just don’t know much yet.

Trent: Instead of costing a team a first round pick, would it make more sense to cost a team overall bonus pool money instead for a qualifying offer player? It seems like teams might be more willing to sign a guy that would help their team if it cost them, say $600k, to sign a QO guy and get to keep their pick. I get that that may bring down certain amateur players signings but it could also help others get more.
Klaw: I just want to see free agency disconnected from the draft. No system that MLB has tried has ever done anything but put an artificial drag on salaries – it’s a tax, and rational actors respond to taxes by reducing their demand or the price they’re willing to pay, Bernie – and the idea that you can use the draft to compensate low-revenue teams for lost free agencies has failed repeatedly in practice.

Jonathan Orr: Best Cardinals starter out of Gonzales, Lyons, and Cooney
Klaw: Gonzales. Other two are probably 6th starter/swingman types.

Tom: How much merit do you give the influx of “tanking is killing the game!” discussions?
Klaw: Zero. It’s not killing the game because this isn’t basketball, and it is absolutely the result of the incentives MLB and the union set up in the last CBA. I mean, would Phillies fans rather see a bad, expensive 72-win team, or a bad, young, cheap 65-win team? I’m betting the latter. Give the fans Nola and Thompson and Velazquez and Crawford and put the future on TV every night instead of signing a bunch of garbage veterans to one-year, $10 million deals just to pretend you’re competing.

Jason: I am guessing your top 100 comes out next week?
Klaw: Indeed, as I have announced here on the dish several times already. The top 100 and the org rankings come out next Thursday and Wednesday, respectively. The team reports (top 10 + notes) will come out the following week, because I lost a week to a respiratory infection.

Mike: Would Kevin Maitan crack your top 100? If not, has any 16 year old cracked it?
Klaw: No, and none since Sano. Only three ever did and Sano is the only one to turn into anything.

Jose: Any red flags concerning Blake Ruhterford? ie. age, competitive spirit?
Klaw: Age (nearly 19) and the fact that he’s a corner guy already so you’re betting entirely on the bat and power.

Craig: I know you’re very high on Dom Smith but I saw you mention in a previous chat that you’re concerned about his lack of pulling ability so far – how big of a concern do you think that is?
Klaw: Not a lack of ability, but a reluctance to do so, as he’s spent two years in parks that discourage it. He has big pull power – he hit a homer at Salt River to right-center in October that might have landed on the 202 – but knowing that pulling balls in Savannah or St. Lucie would result in a lot of F9s, he chose to just go the other way all day. That’s very sensible, but now that he’s going to AA it’s time to let ‘er rip.

Kerry: Dalbec is rated pretty high for his power. But he pitched well too. Could he do both in MLB?
Klaw: No and I have real doubts about his hit tool. Might be a 35 present grade.

Jimmy: Thanks for taking our questions and your thoughtful answer. Always look fwd to Klawchat. Have you ever been to SXSW? Did you enjoy it? I’ve been several times over the last 11 years but not since 2013. I’ve heard it has changed a lot in the last few years but I am still excited to go.
Klaw: Would love to but the timing isn’t great for my day job. Maybe when someone hires me to be the omnibus music/books/boardgame critic I’ll go.

Zach: Keith, thanks as always for being a fan of dead trees. I know you are a big Strange and Norrell fan – are there any other “fantasy” authors or titles that you’d recommend for adults in a similar vein?
Klaw: Lev Grossman’s Magicians series – I’ve read the first two, with number three on my shelf – and which is also now a Syfy series.

Anonymous: I know a lot can happen between now and June, but Coppy has said a college bat is the likely target for Atlanta at #3. Kyle Lewis an option, you think? Too high for him?
Klaw: Way too high. The only college bat I might consider up there is Corey Ray, and even he has a big question mark in the 60 Ks last year. (Never when I’m in the park, though. I swear he’s gone 12-for-10 over the games I’ve seen.)

Mike: How much time in the minors will Lazarito likely need, assuming he’s legit?
Klaw: That guy has gotten way more press than his workouts have merited. He may get his $20-30 million but I haven’t found a scout that put in a report that would get him close to that money.

Robert: I do not recall hearing much hype for Willson Contreras when he was listed as a third baseman. How much has moving to catcher full time impacted his jump in just about everybody’s prospect ratings? Or has his bat just been that much better than initially thought?
Klaw: Well he also finally started to hit last year. Tools were always there but years of poor performance made them seem irrelevant – eventually, you have to hit.

Steve: How about just if you lose a FA, you get a pick at the end of the first round. No disincentive for teams to sign players, just compensation for those who lose. Could be real simple – biggest 5 total contracts get picks at end of first round, next biggest 5 get picks at end of second round, next biggest 5 get picks at end of third round.
Klaw: I like this, as long as it’s not tied to a QO, because you get low-payroll teams with a disincentive to even offer the QO (out of fear the player takes it) and thus will see fewer compensatory picks going to the teams that in theory need them most.

Steve: I might have missed it, but what did you think of the Cespedes deal. If he opts out, it’s $27M for a year of Cespedes plus a first round pick.
Klaw: Not on it. He’s not a $27 million player and he’s not a centerfielder. By the way, that’s “if he opts out AND the Mets offer AND he signs elsewhere.”

Rob: On baseball reference, Mark Grace has negative dWAR for his career despite winning 4 gold gloves. He likely would have won more if not playing simultaneously with Will Clark. I’m open minded but can you make a case for dWAR being wrong?
Klaw: I can make a case for dWAR being wrong, especially on first basemen, but Gold Gloves are evidence of nothing except how bad major-league coaches can be at evaluating defense.

Steve: I think I read the worst thing ever this week. Did you see the “neomasculinity” group that is holding meetings to legalize rape? What is wrong with people??
Klaw: Yes, and they cancelled the meetups, but only after getting a ridiculous amount of press attention that probably drove lots of traffic and men’s rights idiots to their site. Their message is abhorrent, but not illegal here, and it’s such a fringe group that giving them publicity probably did them more good than harm. That said, I wish they’d held the meetups so opponents could go and confront them.

Michael: Do you buy every book you read or go to the library?
Klaw: It’s a mix. I get a lot of books as gifts, or gift cards to bookstores; I go to used bookstores a lot; I buy some ebooks when I see something good is on sale; and I go to the library, which is right down the street, especially for something I know I’ll never read again.

Hank: What is your opinion on the Klentak, Macphail regime in philly? Can they bring me a world series?
Klaw: So far, very good. Should learn more over the next ten months as they make more changes to the front office and overall direction.

HugoZ: If a team like Atlanta were willing to pay a bigger bonus to Lazarito than another team that wanted him
Klaw: Problem is the deal is unenforceable. If he has something go wrong – an injury, an off-field incident – Atlanta can just walk away and he could be left with nothing, or just a lot less. That’s my main issue with the current system, that neither side has any protection at all from the other party just walking away.

Steve: Who is the best pitching prospect left in the Mets system? Chris Flexen? Wow, hope they don’t need another starter anytime soon.
Klaw: Not counting Matz? I have Gsellman next up, but he’s 8th overall in the system. No other pitchers in their top 10.

Jeremy: I see some MILB leagues referred to as being pitcher or hitter-friendly. What makes them that way?
Klaw: Ballparks and altitude are the two main factors.

Matt: Do you think some portion of lefty hitters struggling against LHP comes from a self-fulfilling prophecy? Hitters are told early on how much different it is facing a lefty and they must change their approach to succeed. So, hitters alter their typical approach to face this challenge and it doesn’t work for them. It doesn’t seem that righty hitters do this when they face RHP.
Klaw: I think the number one reason is the lack of AB. RHB get way more reps vs RHP than LHB will ever get against LHP.

Steve: I’ve heard serious questions about Cechinni’s defense at SS. Can he stick there, and if not is he still a useful prospect?
Klaw: Hands and range are fine. Has a 6 arm, but had legit accuracy issues last year (out of the blue). I’d still bet on him staying there … but hey, hanging out with the team shrink wouldn’t be a bad idea either.

Rob: It’s odd that the “tanking is killing the game” conversation is so big now when arguably the best and most interesting teams in the AL (Astros) and NL (Cubs) spent the first half of this decade “tanking.” The evidence seems to indicate that tanking is good for the game when your team sucks.
Klaw: Yep. I really have no objection to it. There’s no MLB team like the 76ers right now. The Astros did get there, briefly, but remember, when Luhnow took over, the top levels of the farm system were bleak – all the talent from those Bobby Heck drafts was still about two years away at the time.

Steve: Sandy mentioned yesterday that they’ll try d’Arnaud and Plawecki at other positions during the spring – good idea? Any chance they’ll stick?
Klaw: Yeah, good idea on d’Arnaud given his problems staying healthy – I think he’s had two concussions already, plus a host of other injuries. For his own health I’d like to see him somewhere else, but I don’t see the spot for him with Conforto in LF and Duda at 1b.

Michael: Is it simply a matter of Tyrell Jenkins cutting down the walks and missing more bats for him to finally get the call to Atlanta??
Klaw: I mean, that’s not a simple matter.

Matt: I know the rankings will help answer this question, but is A.J. Reed’s potential hit/power enough to make him a superstar despite his lack of speed or defensive skill?
Klaw: How about star rather than superstar?

Tim: Early to project (and doubt he makes your top 100) but is Tyler Stephenson a sure-fire Catcher on the defensive side? He seems to be mentioned mostly as a bat-first catcher.
Klaw: Plus-plus arm, good athlete, not at all sold on the receiving or on the body staying back there. Looks a lot like Wieters, and Wieters is an anomaly and a bad framer.

Colin: Word is the Rangers are trying Josh Morgan at catcher. Thoughts on this?
Klaw: Yes, I’m surprised that got out but it is true and I love the idea. Could be a Russell Martin type back there.

Addoeh: So you’ve recently been to the Dominican and Puerto Rico. When is the scouting trip to Cuba?
Klaw: Ask my bosses. I’m in. I want to go get drunk where Hemingway used to get drunk.

Marshall: Any predictions on Sano in RF – I assume somewhere between horrendous and bad. Not a lot (any?) of guys his size patrolling OFs at the major league level.
Klaw: He could be a -5 runs guy if he puts some work into it. Great arm, actually a good athlete for someone his size. But I’ve never gotten the sense he wanted to work on defense. He just likes to hit.

JF: Given that this is likely Strasburg’s last year in DC, how would you assess his career so far? What does he need to do to become an elite pitcher—probably somewhere else in 2017?
Klaw: He’s never really pitched as aggressively as his stuff would indicate. He should be going after guys like “here it is, fuck you, try and hit it.” He nibbles, he pitches away from contact, he gets tentative when there are men on. That’s a perfectly fine approach for guys with lesser stuff. I want him to pitch like peak Verlander, who looked like he might tear your head off and was happy to just blow guys away with power, whether it was velocity or just some hellacious breaking ball.

Michael: Any reaction to the Iowa caucus?
Klaw: It’s a really dumb way to pick a candidate.

Matt: I saw pre-draft write-ups on Benintendi comparing him to guys like Jon Jay and Mark Kotsay. Are those still apt comparisons, or did he improve his stock so much last year (particularly with the bat) that he’s risen to a different level of prospect?
Klaw: Don’t think those were apt on draft day. Maybe before the college season? Kid’s got power and neither of those comps did.

Greg: Are you enjoying Savage’s Adore more than Silence Yourself? I tried several times to get into Silence Yourself, but something wasn’t clicking for me (although their live show is outstanding).
Klaw: It’s very different, still good but a real change of pace and tone. Maybe less consistent track to track, but Silence Yourself could feel a little repetitive and Adore nevre does.

Steve: Nimmo with a torn tendon in his foot. It’s starting to look like he’s never going to put it together. Is his ceiling 4th OF now?
Klaw: Yeah, I thought that was his ceiling coming out of 2015. Used to have higher hopes for him but he hasn’t developed like I expected.

Dave Stewart: The key to winning baseball is to bat your worst hitter leadoff so he gets more plate appearances than anyone, but only if he’s fast.
Klaw: The mere idea that Segura is a top-of-the-order bat with sub-.290 OBPs says everything we need to know about how Dave Stewart views baseball. He last worked in a front office in 2001, and his criteria on players seem to have remained there.

Ed: If you’re the Cubs do you continue to develop Dylan Cease as a starter? Any concerns with his delivery?
Klaw: Yes, absolutely a starter, and no on the delivery. Not even sure what you’re referring to with that.

Hank: I know the top 100 is coming next week, but do you think Orlando Arcia is major league ready? I like the trade for the Brewers, but I’m worried about them bringing up Arcia too early.
Klaw: Glove is ready. Instincts are already there. Bat probably not quite, but he wouldn’t be terrible if he went right to the majors. I think he’ll make a lot of contact and play plus defense and help the team.

Chris: In regards to the Mets & Cespedes. Isn’t it better to overpay him for 1 year then being stuck with 2-3 dead years on the back end of a 5-6 year contract?
Klaw: Isn’t it better to just not pay him at all? There wasn’t a better use for the money they gave him, Cabrera (who can’t play short at all), and de Aza?

ballsandgutters: You think Jesse Biddle is worth a spot on the Pirates 40 man roster?
Klaw: I don’t. They’ll probably outright him in March, but they’ll have to re-add him in October to prevent him leaving as a minor league free agent, and then in March 2017 he has to stay on the 40-man because a second outright would give him the right to elect free agency immediately. And I don’t see him worth a 40-man spot for all of 2017.

Claudio: Swanson and Albies will both stay at SS this year, do you see Swanson in AA and Albies in High-A to start the year? Suppose they both make it to ATL, am I wrong if I think the best dp setup would be Swanson at 2b and Albies at SS?
Klaw: I would do what you suggest – send Swanson right to AA because he played and raked in the SEC. I also think Swanson is the more likely long-term shortstop than Albies.

Scott: Do you see any chance that Marcus Semien can stick at SS? I feel like his bat would make him valuable even with slightly below average D
Klaw: I do not. Also not a very good hitter – he had a big April and then went back to his old self, .306 OBP the rest of the way with a lot of strikeouts (22-23%).

Dan: Does Casey Kelly have anything left that would make him a contributor to the Braves over the next few seasons?
Klaw: Yes, but I think they need to make a real change to his repertoire due to the lack of deception in his delivery and movement on his fastball. Maybe the answer is a cutter, or a two-seamer, but he hasn’t missed bats like his stuff should, and when that happens consistently, you have to make some kind of change.

Anonymous: Hey KLaw, thank you for doing these chats! What do you think of a Benintendi and Vazquez for Teheran swap?
Klaw: I think that makes no sense for Boston.

Mike: O’s just traded for Despaigne from SD. Does he have any potential? Or just a guy? (if that)
Klaw: Just a guy. I heard San Diego got Cosme, which is one of the best restaurants in NYC, so that’s a clear win.

Anonymous: Another key difference between “tanking” in MLB vs other sports is that it’s a much harder transition to professional baseball than for other sports. Take a top guy in NFL/NBA you have a much clearer idea of what you’re getting, correct?
Klaw: I think that’s true, but I can’t claim to know the other drafts that well – it seems like they have their share of high-profile flops at the top of the draft too.

Alex: How small do you think the win now window is in Arizona before they start getting old and regretting trading away all the young talent?
Klaw: The regret will end up in the laps of the next regime.

Frank: Hey Keith. How would you handle Anthony Alford this year. Start him in AA and move him up to AAA with success halfway through. Maybe a cup of tea in September. I worry about the Jays OF with Bautista (old and gets injured a decent amount), Saunders (Injury prone), and Dalton Pompey (unproven). Pillar seems to be the only guy I don’t worry about.
Klaw: You can’t let major-league needs dictate the development plan for a player. You move Alford up when he’s shown he has nothing left to learn at his current level. He should start in AA, but that’s a big leap for him, and he still has just under 600 total PA in pro ball. Rushing him makes less sense than rushing most prospects.

Lee: Seems like a Bradley Jr. for Sano trade seems like great match-up for both teams. Which team do you think would balk at that?
Klaw: No way the Twins do that. Not only is that a big loss of value for them, but with Buxton and Kepler, why do they need a CF?

Will: A week later, and I’m still worked up over last week’s Top Chef episode. Should the producers have realized the issues of the episode and judging and made this week a double elimination? Seems so stupid to see someone go home for making “dainty” food instead of bad food when no one knew what the hell a beefsteak was.
Klaw: I don’t get that worked up over it, but it was one of their worst episodes for that very reason. No one seemed to understand the challenge, and the challenge itself was kind of antithetical to the whole concept of the show.

Steve: Just wondering – if the Wilpon’s are indeed willing to spend $140M on payroll going forward, does this make you any more bullish on the Mets window?
Klaw: It helps, but I don’t think I’m bearish on the team. They’re probably still the favorites in the division and we saw that they’re well built for October.

Brian Morris: Max Kepler, Bradley Zimmer, Jesse Winker: are we looking at 3 OF prospects that have similar tools/outlooks? Which bat plays better long term?
Klaw: Not similar at all – Winker is a corner OF only, while the other two are above-average runners who can play CF.

Jeff R: How’s your health tool looking? I hope you’re feeling better and stronger. Thanks again for all your work.
Klaw: Still kind of tired – I slept almost two more hours this morning after getting my daughter on the bus – but the evil Levoquin did its job and has not yet blown out my tendons.

JR: Was happy to see you call out Manning in your “stick to baseball” column this week. I had heard this before, but he certainly tends to get a free pass. Also getting a free pass is Kobe Bryant. He’s making his retirement tour and you never hear anything about the CO rape.
Klaw: We pick and choose when to remember sexual assault cases. Peyton can’t legally answer questions about it, so it’s unfair to ask him directly, but completely fair to bring it up in all this bullshit talk about his “legacy.”

Alex: The biggest problem with tanking is the strategy really only works if you can get the first or second pick in the draft and all the extra money in the bonus pool that comes from those slots. With 7-8 teams tanking the strategy really doesn’t help teams picking in the 5-7 range. Remember the Astros had a lot of top picks to make the strategy work.
Klaw: Right. If the Phillies can trade for one of those competitive balance picks, it puts them in a way better spot. In fact, let’s just make all draft picks tradeable in the next CBA, like I’ve been arguing they should do for the last decade.

Chris: Do you think Lopez makes it to the Nats this year out of the pen, or does he still need to work on that command in the minors?
Klaw: Could appear this year, don’t think command will be an issue if he’s in the pen.

Chris: It seems like Josh Naylor is stuck at 1B, but do you think his bat plays enough there to still be in your top 100 prospects?
Klaw: He’s not on it and wasn’t close. Didn’t have him as a first-round talent going into the draft.

Jojo: The wife and I took our first plunge into gaming with Carcassone and Seven Wonders Duel (your rankings helped!) and we loved them. Wondering if you have any specific recommendations for a 2 player game considering our enjoyment of those two.
Klaw: I always recommend Jaipur for a purely two-player game. Here’s my review.

Nick: When do you see Taillon and Glasnow being ready for Pittsburgh?
Klaw: Glasnow by June. Taillon depends entirely on health and I don’t know enough to tell you on that one.

Mike: I would not agree you get a much clearer idea of what you are getting. Rather, you can get a player who has a much larger impact. Basketball, one player can make a much larger difference. Same with a QB in NFL…
Klaw: Strasburg was probably the clearest case of a 1-1 guy who was close to major-league ready in the last ten years, and he’s been good if not quite what was expected, certainly not enough to turn the franchise around by himself. I’m dating myself, but I remember the Magic getting Shaq and adding about 25 wins in one year, missing the playoffs in his rookie season by maybe a game. There’s no baseball equivalent to that.

Scott: Will Beede or Crick make an appearance at the big league level this year? Seems to me one of those guys could help out the bullpen since SF was looking for bullpen help? Bad idea?
Klaw: Bad idea. Crick walked a man an inning last year and I’m not sure what his outlook is. Beede is now throwing 88-89 mph sinkers, and while I’m not exactly clear on the plan there, that’s not a reliever’s pitch.

Bill: Darin gorski MLB potential?
Klaw: Sixth starter or up-and-down guy. If that.

Nick: I know it’s (really) early but have you seen any of the 2017 Draft prospects? Mark Vientos, JJ Schwarz, etc.?
Klaw: Schwarz yes, loved what I’ve seen so far, could be a top five pick (in the abstract – I don’t know the class that well yet). Haven’t seen Vientos.

Nick: Have you ever listened to Run the Jewels? If not, there’s a chance you’d like them. They have a more old school and refined sound than mainstream rap.
Klaw: Listened to both albums, didn’t like them.

Paul: KLaw – curious how many of the restaurants on Eater’s latest National 38 list you’ve tried? I know I’ve seen you write several of them up. I’ve only been to 4, all in the Southeast (Husk, Fig, Pooles, Gunshow just last weekend), but have some of the others circled for upcoming travel. Gunshow was truly awesome by the way… you should definitely check it out when in Atlanta. Would recommend going with a party of 4 or even 6 if possible, though. We were able to try every dish on the menu by going with 6. Cheers!
Klaw: Been to eight of them, yet neither of the Philly entries – Zahav is a tough reservation, and Vedge is going to have to be a solo outing since I don’t know many folks who would willingly go to a vegan restaurant. Poole’s is great. Didn’t like Oleana at all. I heard from a DC friend that people actually pay others to stand in line to get a table at Rose’s Luxury – like, this is a side job where people advertise on Craigslist that they will stand in line for you for a fee. I can’t imagine the food living up to that kind of hype.

Blueberry Johnson: Keith, would you say you have an 80 time management? You do a lot of stuff and it’s kind of amazing. Any big insights on time management you can share?
Klaw: I don’t think I would say that. I don’t watch a lot of TV, and I don’t burn a lot of time doing ‘nothing.’ I’m always busy with something, whether it’s work, reading, family time, stuff around the house. I get a lot of satisfaction from completing mundane stuff, which helps motivate me. The other day I changed some fuses in one of our cars – a very routine bit of maintenance, but I was still psyched to do it (and not pay someone else $50 or so for a five minute job).

Bama Pezz: I don’t believe for a second that Chris Correa acted alone. He probably had an IT guy helping him as well as mentioning it and sharing information to multiple people in the org. Isn’t the likelihood of him taking the fall for this for all parties to move on with minimal damage much more likely?
Klaw: I have zero inside info on this topic, but my gut response was identical to yours.

Alex in Austin: Do you see any chance these Time Warner and Fox Sports contracts with teams blow up? I can’t imagine the ratings justify these prices and as marketing dollars move away from cable to more digital media, where is the revenue going to come from?
Klaw: It does seem inevitable that the traditional cable model, pushing big subscriber fees on the customer as part of tying arrangements (which could be ruled an antitrust violation at some point, no?), is going to see an accelerating decline. We just dropped DirecTV after 14 years to take a much cheaper, smaller package as part of a Verizon FiOS bundle. Lost maybe 2-3 channels we liked, but saved a ton of money in the process.

Jon: During the Cespedes press conference, Sandy indicated the Mets will now start looking at getting the young pitchers signed to extensions. Syndergaard would be the obvious place to start for that, no?
Klaw: Of their young arms he’s the one I’d try hardest to sign, and Matz would be the least because of his injury history.

Woodman: Christian Arroyo had a good year in San Jose and fall league last year. What’s his potential and possible arrival time frame in SF?
Klaw: Not a shortstop but plus hit tool. Probably a solid two years away.

John: I’m driving across the country next week. Any recommendations for an audio book? For that format, I prefer an entertaining plot even more than usual. That’s mainly so I stay awake/alert, but also because I find I don’t retain details as much when I listen rather than read.
Klaw: Best audiobook I’ve listened to in the last two years was Bill Nye reading his own Undeniable, where he tears apart creationist claims against evolution (here’s my review). He has so much energy and infuses a lot of humor into the work that it kept me alert through a couple of long, dull drives.

bobby: Important stuff first: Best Super Bowl snack to serve? Also, morality of the move aside, now that the Yanks have the Big 3 in the bullpen, how would you use Betances? 2 innings a pop in 60 games or so? Or a strict 7, 8, 9 of the big 3 for, say, 80 games?
Klaw: If you have any thought to keeping guys healthy, days off is key. So two innings a pop for 50-60 games is better than 75 innings in 70-75 games. We don’t know much about pitcher health but I think we know, or at least have strong evidence to indicate, that rest is a big help.

Janey: How many college bats or arms come out of nowhere? In other words, are most guys who were not thought as first rounders when in high school?
Klaw: Benintendi was a rare event: A draft-eligible sophomore who was hurt his freshman year and I think skipped the summer, so he emerged very late. It’s more common for a guy like Anthony Rendon, who was little-known in high school, to show up his freshman year and suddenly look like a first-rounder, after which we get three springs and two summers of scouting looks and data to evaluate.

Chris: What happened to DJ Peterson, and do you think he’s destined to be a AAAA player?
Klaw: Hasn’t been the same since the injury to his face, but was always a bit limited anyway – 1b only, not geared to hit for both average and power.

Greg: Better comparison than Shaq (also dating myself)- Spurs lost Robinson for a year, finished last, got Duncan, and then won the title.
Klaw: Ah yes, reminds me of that year when we were on a trip to Italy and visiting my cousins in Genova during the NBA finals. I asked my younger cousin if he knew who won, and he said yes, the “Sant’Antonio Spurs.”

Taybor: Any reason you and your wife stopped at one kid? She seems to bring you so much joy that I’d think you’d want a 2nd.
Klaw: Several reasons, but two big ones: My wife was nauseous for five solid months while pregnant, and my daughter has been adamant since she was four that she does not want a sibling at all.

Mickey: Hansel Robles was quietly absolutely dominant down the stretch (2.63 era, .804 whip, 11.2 k/9, 4.64 k/bb over his last 41 innings) – should he be the mets setup man this yr? Future closer? Or are his inconsistencies too much?
Klaw: Definitely setup material. You don’t buy or trade for relievers – you make them.

Ted: Best piece of advice for an upcoming college graduate about to enter the “real world?”
Klaw: I could probably give a whole speech on this, but the hardest thing for me was learning to be professional, to act like an adult as a 21-year-old in an office in the workforce, surrounded by super smart people who would look down on my immaturity. Working harder and being more conscious of how I appeared – I’m definitely an introvert, and often shy, but back then it could manifest itself in behavior or commentary that others would find immature – even just for that first year would have made a huge difference to my career had I chosen to stay in that line of work.

Bill: But mets need matz, he’s a lhp, all others rhp ,no?
Klaw: This does not strike me as a counterargument. Who cares if you have five righties? And if Matz can’t stay healthy – he’s never thrown 150 innings in a calendar year – then why would his lefthandedness make him a better candidate for a long-term contract?

Dave: If there was no reserve clause in MLB and no player union, would players make more money than they do now? It seems to me that an open market for player services would give the players more money. So, players like Kris Bryant would make a lot more, and older players would make a lot less.
Klaw: If you had more true free agency, with players getting there at 3 or 4 years of service, then yes, the scenario you outline seems likely.

Dave: Do you think taxing the rich at over 70% would help or hurt the economy? Some of those more “socialist” European countries seemingly have little chance for climbing the economic ladder, and there is very little job creation.
Klaw: I say hurt. Didn’t we have punitive tax rates for the highest income earners (not the “rich” – that’s wealth, not income) in the 1950s, until JFK pushed through a tax cut?

Hank: Will you watch the Super Bowl?
Klaw: Eh. Maybe. It’s not a priority.

Dave: Does a soft throwing sidearm pitcher like David Berg have any place it today’s MLB? Or do you think he would just get lit up.
Klaw: Don’t see him as a big leaguer.

Mike: Is McCullers in the same group of possible aces as Berrios & Reyes?
Klaw: Reyes is a possible ace. I don’t think Berrios or McCullers is.

Nick: Re the bird with the clipped wing, would you expect it to take an additional year for him to find his swing like a guy going down with a wrist or thumb injury and not getting back to his normal power numbers until a full year after he gets back?
Klaw: Impossible to say because we don’t know how his swing will look post-surgery. Will he be restricted? Will he be reluctant to let it go, the way Heyward was for a few years after his shoulder injury? It’s not good news, certainly.

Hank: Bigger impact for the Rangers this season: Nomar Mazara, Joey Gallo or Lewis Brinson?
Klaw: Gallo will get the most opportunities with the big club, but Mazara is the best bet to produce if he gets the chance.

Brian Morris: My son is just starting to get into reading…any suggestions for good children’s books?
Klaw: We loved the Paddington series. They’re good for a wide range of ages – you might need to read them to him because some of the vocab is a little advanced, but the stories are good for ages 4 to 100.

Klaw: That’s all for this week’s chat, as i need to do some more top 100 writing and I have a phone call scheduled for 3 pm. Thanks for all of the questions. Assuming the current schedule holds, I will try to do two chats next week, one the day the org rankings come out, another the day the top 100 comes out. I’ll continue to post updates here on the dish.

January 2016 music update.

My analysis of Arizona’s trade for Jean Segura is up for Insiders.

It was a huge month for new music, but it wasn’t all good – we got very disappointing albums from St. Lucia, Wet, Bloc Party, and Megadeth, among others, but some excellent albums from With Lions, Savages, Daughter, Hinds, Chairlift, and more, plus a few surprise singles from Bob Mould, the Last Shadow Puppets, Cullen Omori (ex-Smith Westerns), and HAERTS. And I haven’t even gotten to the latest from Suede, Dream Theater, or Tricky. I’ve got some work to do, but in the meantime, here are 22 songs to keep your ears busy.

With Lions – Down We Go. This Tennessee-based blues-rock trio first released this song via Soundcloud last year, but it just appeared on Spotify with the release of their newest album, the grooving, hypnotic Fast Luck (amazoniTunes).

Yeasayer – I Am Chemistry. Yep, same band that gave us the 2010 hit “O.N.E.” but nothing quite so catchy since then, at least not until this track, which sort of sounds like Yeasayer trying to impersonate Imagine Dragons or A Silent Film … but with positive results, although I’m a sucker for a song full of scientific references to poisons, from sarin to acrylonitrile to oleander.

School Of Seven Bells – Ablaze. SVIIB’s fourth and final album, just titled SVIIB, is due out February 26th, and the advance singles are incredibly promising. It’s their final album because Benjamin Curtis, who made up half the group, passed away in December 2013 at age 35 of T-cell lymphoblastic lymphoma. He had previously been in the Secret Machines with his brother Brandon. I’ve always found vocalist Alejandra Deheza’s voice to be haunting and melancholy, and the context of this record will only make it more so.

Bob Mould – Voices in My Head. Does Bob Mould just wake up in the morning and spit out six great melodies while brushing his teeth? “Voices in My Head” would fit in just fine on Black Sheets of Rain, and that’s high praise indeed. There are some artists whose sounds should never change, and Mould is high on that list.

The Last Shadow Puppets – Bad Habits. TLSP appeared to be a one-time side project for Arctic Monkeys’ lead singer/songwriter Alex Turner, with one great album, 2008’s The Age of the Understatement, serving as a deliberately anachronistic homage to a lost era of pop music. This lead single from their second album, due out April 1st, seems to herald a big shift in direction towards a more abrasive, harder sound. It’s very insistent, but it’s not as catchy as the better songs from their debut. In Alex we trust, though.

Courtney Barnett – Three Packs a Day. Anything by Barnett, the best lyricist in contemporary music, is an automatic add to my playlists. This is kind of midrange for her, not as dirgey as “Depreston,” not as rousing as “Pedestrian at Best.” Of course, I adore her ode to umami, “That MSG tastes good to me/I disagree with all your warnings.”

Chairlift – Moth to the Flame. I haven’t spent enough time with Moth (amazoniTunes), the duo’s first LP since 2012, but have loved several of the lead singles, including “Ch-Ching,” which made my top 10 songs of 2015, and “Romeo.” This is another very strong synth-pop single, so much smarter than what passes for pop music these days, boosted by Caroline Polachek’s lovely, acrobatic vocals.

Cullen Omori – Cinnamon. I actually did not know that the Smith Westerns had broken up (they did in 2014) until I got a press release about lead singer Omori’s first solo album, New Misery, which comes out on March 18th. This lead single isn’t SW material – it’s brighter, almost jangle-pop, heavy on reverb, and more memorable than anything SW produced.

Porches – Be Apart. Porches (the nom de tune of Aaron Maine) usually delivers dark, synth-heavy music, like someone who just listened to a little too much Bauhaus as a kid, so this song seems almost bright and sunny compared to some of their other stuff, but it still has that hint of shadow to keep things from getting too chummy.

White Denim – Holda You (I’m Pyscho). A surprisingly taut, concise track from these jazz-rock experimentalists, whose next album, Stiff, is due out in late March.

Savages – Adore. Savages’ first album, the amazing Silence Yourself, was full of short, potent, angry post-punk tracks, and flopped whenever the quartet tried to change the tempo; their second album, Adore Life (amazoniTunes), which came out on January 22nd, features longer tracks and more successful ventures into slower material. Of course, they’re still at their best when they sound pissed off, but I’m not sure that formula would have lasted more than two albums before wearing out. I owe this LP a review, but my early opinion is very positive.

Wild Nothing – Reichpop. References to Hitler’s era are in now, don’t you know? (Phil Anselmo can really go fuck himself, by the way.) I’m not sure what to make of Wild Nothing’s new material; lead single “To Know You” wasn’t shy about, er, borrowing from Talk Talk’s “It’s My Life,” and now we get this lush single that sounds for all the world like a lost Oingo Boingo track. These are great influences to have, but has Jack Tatum lost the originality that made Nocturne such a great album?

Sunflower Bean – Easier Said. I liked “Wall Watcher” a bit more, primarily because it had such a weird chorus, but this is probably the more radio-friendly track.

Hinds – Castigadas En El Granero. This quartet of Barcelona teen girls has been getting hype for what seems like two full years now, so it’s almost anticlimactic to hear an actual full-length album from the band, but Leave Me Alone (amazoniTunes) did indeed drop early in January. It’s just what you’d expect if you heard any of their EPs and singles, but perhaps a little toned-down. Their first few singles were joyously cacophanous, like they’d just picked up guitars and started strumming at random and were shouting out vocals on top of each other in this endearing, messy style. That’s lost a bit now that the ladies have better production at their disposal, but you can still get glimpses of that style in earlier singles like “Bamboo” and “Garden,” included on the album, as well as this track.

Lucius – Madness. This five-member band from Brooklyn really is the ne plus ultra of hipster bands, and I’ll admit it’s turned me off a lot of their music. (Just look at this picture of the group and tell me you think it’s a band and not some new company pretending to sell you bean-to-bar chocolate out of a disused warehouse.) The chorus on this song is very, very strong, though.

Lemaitre featuring Mark Johns – Stepping Stone. I’ve been singing Lemaitre’s praises around these parts for about two years now, and this collaboration with Mark Johns – who is a female singer from Singapore named Naomie who normally records for Skrillex’s imprint OWSLA – might be their most commercially-ready single yet.

Mass Gothic – Every Night You’ve Got to Save Me. Noel Heroux – why not just record under that name, which is great, instead of the pseudonym Mass Gothic? – used to be in Hooray for Earth, which definitely appeared on one of my 2014 playlists, but broke that band up to start a new solo project as Mass Gothic. This track is certainly unexpected – it feels like it fell out of the late 1950s, but with some more modern instrumentation, driven by a huge, hooky chorus.

The Joy Formidable – The Last Thing On My Mind. This Welsh outfit’s third full-length album, Hitch, dedicated entirely to the Will Smith/Kevin James movie (I just made that up), will be out on March 26th. I’ve liked their sound more than their songs in the past, as they’ve struggled to come up with good enough melodies to bring me back to any of their songs, so this track, with its sultry chorus, is easily my favorite to date.

Nevermen – Dark Ear. Supergroups are always groups but seldom super; Nevermen, which comprises Mike Patton (Faith No More), Tunde Adebimpe (TV on the Radio), and rapper/producer Doseone, is indeed less than the sum of its parts. “Dark Ear” shows what could have been, with the layered and almost competing lyrics, huge guitars, sonic shifts, and just a general sense of seismic unease throughout, but much of the album feels like unfinished experimentation.

Diiv – Is the Is Are. Every DIIV song sounds the same to me. But they’re mostly okay, so here’s the title track from their upcoming second LP, due out on Friday.

Boss Selection – Flip and Rewind (feat. Rashida Jones). Included primarily because that’s Ann Perkins on vocals.

HAERTS – Eva. Well, this was definitely the surprise release of the month: a three-song EP that still isn’t even mentioned on HAERTS’ official site, led by this nearly eight-minute epic that serves as a wonderful showcase for Nini Fabi’s voice and an introduction to HAERTS’ entire sound. I generally dislike songs of this length outside of the metal genre, where you get actual movements or time signature changes to keep things moving, but I didn’t even realize how long I’d been listening to “Eva” until it was well past the six-minute mark.

Top Chef, S13E08.

If you’re looking for info on the top 100, it’s in today’s “Stick to baseball” links post.

This episode was definitely not my favorite. We got a challenge that wasn’t about cooking at all, then a challenge that was basically who can do the best Texas de Brasil impersonation.

* We do get some interesting background on Kwame before the Quickfire. When he was “about 19,” he was selling drugs to pay his tuition – I assume that last bit was connecting to the rupture between him and his father that he described in the previous episode – until his girlfriend told him he was “better than this,” after which he moved to Louisiana and became a professional cook. What I found really interesting about the monologue was when he said that he figured if he could be a successful drug dealer, he could be successful at something he really cared about. So selling drugs gave him the confidence to go be a great chef. That’s … weird, but good, I guess.

* Chad blow-dries his beard. I really have no words for this.

* Also, we see Karen and Marjorie sharpening their knives in the morning before challenge, a reminder to me that I just don’t do this often enough, mostly because I hate the sound of the knife scraping the stone.

* Quickfire: Food porn. Chef “Jacques La Merde” (merde is the French word for “shit”), an anonymous, minor celebrity on Instagram, is on in silhouette with his voice disguised, saying he’s “feeling pretty soigné today,” and keeps saying “bro,” just in case you weren’t in on the joke. The account has over 30K followers and posts pics of beautiful plates made from junk food. The quickfire challenge is for chefs have to do the same: make beautiful plates from junk food. Really. All nine plates will be (were) posted to Bravo’s Instagram account, and the one with the most likes wins the challenge. So it’s a plating challenge with immunity and it doesn’t matter what the food tastes like.

* Phillip says in the confessional that “You eat with your eyes before you eat with your mouth.” Then we get Isaac saying, “people who say they eat with their eyes first should be stabbed with a pork chop bone.” I’m Team Isaac, for what it’s worth.

* So half the chefs don’t seem to know what “soigné” means. It’s one of Chef La Merde’s favorite hashtags, and means refined or elegant if you want to sound like a total douche. The French word soigner just means to treat or take care of someone or something, but apparently we stole and distorted the word from them about two hundred years ago. They’re probably still mad at us.

* Amar loves spray cheese, saying, “That’s the original foam.” Silly me, I thought the original foam was whipped cream.

* Chef Jacques La Merde is actually Christine Flynn, a French Culinary Institute-trained chef who now works for the Toronto health food chain iQ Foods.

* Amar painted half his plate with fermented black bean paste to make it look like wood. That was the only thing I saw on any of these plates that looked clever.

* Kwame’s was the “first one that you could eat that would make sense. Pretty soigné.” That’s so much less amusing when it’s said out loud, isn’t it?

* Phillip going way overboard to take the ideal pic. Padma even has to hurry him along and count down “3, 2…” like she’s telling her kid to get upstairs for bed already.

* Elimination challenge: Neal Fraser, chef/owner of Redbird in LA, where they host occasional “beefsteak” banquets: Black-tie affairs, for charity, where guests only eat with their hands and are served beef tenderloin, whole roasted salmon, and a few side dishes. Fraser describes it as a “gluttonous feast,” which is not very soigné in 2016 when we know that people don’t need to eat all that protein, raising cows en masse is not environmentally sound unless it’s done very well, and overfishing and ocean acidification are depleting stocks around the globe. So, hey, let’s have a big celebration of overeating!

* The team of Marjorie-Isaac-Chad isn’t doing a beef dish at all. I do like her idea of doing bread as one of the sides because it becomes a vehicle for eating the other foods.

* Phillip just wants to cook lamb, so his team (with Amar and Jeremy) is not doing beef either.

* Amar buys a 25 pound, $575 halibut! I don’t even think that’s a very big halibut, but man that’s an expensive creature.

* Chad wants to make ahi tuna – originally he wanted another fish but Whole Foods only had a few pounds – yet can’t figure out how to serve it. You eat sushi with your hands and that is the quintessential fish for sushi. Maybe that’s too fussy for beefsteak, but if you’re choosing that fish, you have lots of raw and near-raw options for serving it.

* Isaac is making chicken sausage with bacon, which is their meat dish in place of beef. “It’s a good way of showing that chicken can be decadent … when it’s packed full of bacon!” So why not make a beef sausage with bacon? I’m thinking like the Bar at Husk burger, which I think is equal parts chuck, brisket, and bacon.

* Round one: Carl New Zealand lamb with prune, Amar halibut with mustard vin, cucumber, pickled red onion: jeremy roasted carrots with spiced yogurt, fried Brussels sprouts with bacon cilantro and sweet and sour sauce.

* The central group of judges and diners includes Colin Hanks, Simpsons executive producer Matt Selman (who appeared to be completely hammered), Top Chef Masters winner Chris Cosentino, Recipe for Deception host Max Silvestri, and our dear friend Hugh Acheson.

* Padma calls serving the halibut like this “a little pansy to me,” which was probably not the best choice of words. Hugh expresses the sentiment much more diplomatically, saying the food was “dainty.” Max says eating the lamb, where you grabbed the bone and tore the meat off with your teeth, was the one really satisfying moment.

* Hugh throws Padma’s half-eaten lamb at another table, which was absolutely the best part of the entire episode.

* Round two: Isaac’s chicken bacon sausage with grilled cabbage; Chad’s seared ahi tuna with citrus, pickled beets, radish, and black sesame; Marjorie’s assorted pickled vegetables and milk bread (which looks like Parker house rolls … I could eat those for days). The judges liked the sausage concept but it didn’t have enough fat. Colin Hanks says the “looked rad, (but) it did not taste rad.” Tom says of Chad’s dish that there shall be “no micro greens at a beef steak.” Marjorie’s stuff was good, of course.

* After Selman says – in that way a drunk person says something he thinks is hilarious but that is not actually funny – that a beefsteak should be about “sexism” (what?), Issac is quick with the response, “I wanted to put my sausage in your mouth.” Hugh, never to be outquipped, “You have a dry sausage, though, so I’m not sure I want to put it in my mouth.” I’m sure Padma thinks they’re all pansies by now.

* Round three: Kwame’s peel-and-eat shrimp with thyme, garlic, Cajun seasoning, and drawn butter; Carl and Karen’s roasted strip loin with romesco; Karen’s asparagus with chorizo and some undefined dish of potatoes and olives.

* Kwame seems to have actually messed a dish up for real: His shrimp ranged from overcooked to very overcooked and seems to have been oversalted. The beef dish was not “caveman” enough. Should they have just served roadkill? Actually – and I’m only saying this with the benefit of having seen the whole episode – if they could have gotten any sort of blood and made something with it, even black pudding, it might have gone over really well as a nod to the spirit of the challenge. But I didn’t think of that till after I watched, and blood isn’t easy to find.

* So the universal feedback is that nobody “got” the challenge. Maybe the problem was the challenge itself, right?

* Winner of the Quickfire Instagram challenge: Karen. Okay, who cares.

* Tom asks, “why didn’t we get decadence?” Well, selecting chefs for the show was probably about the chefs’ refinement and ability to build flavors or cook in new or unusual ways, so maybe you confused the hell out of them, or should have just invited Uncle Gus on the show instead.

* Amar, Jeremy, and Phillip had the favorite meal. Their lamb was the only protein served on the bone. Jeremy’s vegetable dishes were both good. Amar’s fish was done well, but was just not appropriate for the challenge. The winner, unanimously, was Phillip. Jeremy says right away, “nice dude! About time, huh?” Even though the other chefs find Phillip annoying, it doesn’t seem like they dislike him – or anyone in their ranks now, really.

* Marjorie, Chad, and Isaac on the bottom. Tom says, “If you’re doing to make us sausage, don’t serve us chicken.” I would have thought Isaac would have done some kind of andouille, something that lights you on fire and drips with pork fat, but the judges even said his sausage didn’t have a lot of taste. He says he makes it at his restaurant, so something was off. Marjorie’s vegetables and bread were delicious, with Tom saying, “I’d have to say you are the best baker to ever be on this show.” That is high praise.

* Padma says Chad’s dish “ate fine.” I hate that expression. It’s the “pitchability” of foodspeak – words that sound apposite and mean nothing at all.

* Chad is eliminated. Unsurprising – his dish really missed the mark and he never even seemed comfortable with his concept.

* Restaurant Wars next week! It’s a two-parter where they serve two meals and rotate roles, which might actually be more fair than the usual “exec chef of the losing team goes home.”

* Rankings: Kwame, Marjorie, Jeremy, Carl, Amar, Karen, Phillip, Isaac. I’m kind of floored Isaac didn’t crush this “RAWR MEAT” challenge, and his relative lack of range seems like a huge weakness given who else is left.

* LCK: Chad and Jason get 25 minutes to prep a beef dish, but only 5 minutes with their knives for butchering. Tom says he wants “to see your inner caveman here.” Chad goes for the head, Jason for the bone-in ribeye. Chad grinds up cheek, eye, and tongue to make chili. Jason is making chuleton with grilled onions, basil, mint, and braised olives, which seems like a dish perfectly suited to please Tom (if it’s cooked right). His response is kind of telling: “That’s like beefsteak!” Chad made a huitlacoche puree, no-bean chili, grilled cheek, and crème fraiche on top. Tom says the whole challenge was “fantastic” and both guys did a great job with their beef. And then he says Chad’s dish “ate really really well,” just to mock me. The winner is Jason. Tom thinks Chad underdid the cheeks a little, but still says it was a great dish. I can’t see Jason hanging with who’s left in the main show, though – Chad might have had a chance.

Stick to baseball, 1/30/16.

My latest boardgame review for Paste covers the very strong Warhammer Quest card game, which I liked even though I don’t play any Warhammer anything and don’t do much with RPGs. My usual Klawchat schedule resumed this week now that I’m not bedridden with plague.

The top 100 prospects ranking and the organizational rankings are still scheduled to post the week of February 8th. We may push back the org top tens and reports to the following week because I lost so much time to illness this month.

And now, the links…

  • Luke Bonner, former pro basketball player (and brother of Spurs power forward Matt Bonner), pens a vicious op ed for VICE Sports on how raw a deal NCAA athletes are getting.
  • Uganda receives billions of dollars in foreign aid, yet has one of the most corrupt “democracies” in the world, with President Yoweri Museveni – who used public money to buy himself a $50 million Gulfstream jet a few years ago – running for certain re-election to extend his already 30-year term in office.
  • This isn’t getting much play that I’ve seen, but the Texas investigation into those “fetal harvesting” claims against Planned Parenthood had an unexpected outcome: the grand jury indicted the two people who made the videos, but not PP. There was a tremendous amount of time and money wasted on these investigations across the country, none of which found anything except political gold, and these two “activists” should be asked to pay those costs.
  • Peyton Manning is playing in the big game! Remember when he sexually assaulted a trainer in 1996? No? Wow, I’m surprised that just slipped everyone’s minds. Maybe I should turn it into a jingle. “Pey-ton Man-ning is a creep.”
  • The Supreme Court ruled this week that the federal government can regulate demand response in electricity/energy markets, or “negawatts,” just as it regulates production. This is potentially a huge deal for consumers (in the form of lower wholesale prices) and for our energy usage and thus production of climate-changing emissions, reducing loads on power-production facilities during peak periods. I still don’t understand why there’s a single rooftop in Arizona that isn’t covered with a solar panel, other than the laws that so actively discourage this.
  • Ted Cruz was thrilled to announce an endorsement from Tony Perkins this week. That’s cool, except that Perkins is a longtime gay-basher with ties to white supremacy groups.
  • The Guardian looks back at the influence of the 1996 cult hit film Big Night, which it says helped spark an American food revolution. I found the film so frustrating to watch – it was well-made and well-acted, but how could you not want to throttle the chef who’s cooking the restaurant into bankruptcy?
  • Craig Calcaterra talks some sense on ballpark security. Here’s the truth: MLB probably can’t do anything to stop a terrorist attack at one of its stadiums. But they can pretend to do stuff, like confiscating your bottles of water when it’s 105 degrees at field level so they can sell you $6 bottles of tap water taken off a Native American reservation in drought-stricken California.
  • She died for saying no: Janese Talton-Jackson was shot and killed by a man whose advances she’d rejected. That appears to be all there is to it: He approached her at a bar, harassed her, and then shot her when she continued to say no, according to police documents.
  • I wish this piece had been a bit longer, but it’s still a great topic: tourists who deliberately seek out forbidden or repressive destinations, and the way such tourism might actually help change policies.
  • A six-year-old the Chianti region of Italy suffering from an immunodeficiency disorder can’t go to school because eight out of her eighteen would-be classmates are unvaccinated. These are my people, and still, I say, what the fuck is wrong with them? (Article in Italian.)

Klawchat 1/28/16.

Klaw: Birth, school, work, Klawchat, death.

Marshall: Do you think Gallo will ever figure out his contact issues, or he destined to become a sort of uber-Mark Reynolds type of player?
Klaw: I think where I’ve got him ranked implies that I think he’ll make more than enough contact, although I talk about it quite a bit in the player capsule. So without spoiling too much, I’ll say I think he’ll more a lot more than a Reynolds type – he’s still really young, and he’s a much more athletic kid than a lot of folks realize because he’s so freaking big.

Jackie: What penalty would you give the Cardinals for the hacking fiasco? It hasn’t to be more than just a punishment, it has to be a deterrent to the other teams against committing a similar felony, right?
Klaw: Well I would think jail was a sufficient deterrent, and I’m somewhat loath to start tagging the entire team for what may have been the acts of a single, rogue employee. (Of course, it’s possible he wasn’t acting alone, in which case, drop the hammer, Rob.)

Chris: Hey Keith, sorry if this is a dumb question, but I’m just curious how the whole “reimbursing high school signees for college tuition” works? Do you have to play a certain amount of time in pro ball? Can you only use that tuition money at certain schools? I think it’s really cool that teams do this and I just wanted to learn more, figured you could give a better, streamlined answer than anyone else
Klaw: Not a dumb question. You don’t have to play a certain amount of time, and you can use it to attend any school, even one different from the one you left to play pro ball. It’s why signing out of HS is the right move the vast majority of the time, no matter what some coach says on twitter about the “experience.” In my life, I’ve discovered that you can buy a lot of great experiences with money.

James: Who would you take number one overall in the draft?
Klaw: I have not seen Alec Hansen yet so I can’t really answer. I think the decision set should include Groome, Perez, presumably Hansen, and … man, that ended quick. I’ve seen Puk a lot and don’t think he’s 1-1 on merit, although the Phils could also choose to do a deep discount there and overspend later on.

Anonymous: How you doing?
Klaw: I’m not dead, so that’s good. Fever is gone and while I don’t still need the inhaler it’s helping. I don’t know what I had but I basically lost a week to it.

Tim: Hey Keith, hope you’re feeling better. Spring training is around the corner – and with it everyone’s favorite game – “Scout meaningless spring box scores!”. Personally, I’d rather know what you or another scouts are actually looking at in the players you are scouting during the month of March. Are you looking at mechanical changes for hitters/pitchers? Maintaining positive changes that players exhibited last year? Consistency in delivery/swing path? Or if it’s hard to scout at Spring Training, why exactly? Thanks.
Klaw: Stuff, health, bodies, mechanics, but not performance. This guy’s throwing harder, this guy has a new pitch, this guy is missing 4 mph. This guy showed up fat, this guy showed up in the Best Shape of His Life, this guy isn’t throwing like he used to. Spring training is the month of fake looks, so I try to keep it very simple to minimize the chance that I’ll get fooled.

John: What’s your view on Ian Happ’s chance at sticking at second? Does the bat play enough to be an above-average corner outfielder?
Klaw: I always had him as a 2b going back to I think his sophomore year in college. He’s absolutely agile and athletic enough. And yes, I think it’d play in RF, but that’s a much less valuable outcome.

Ryan: A friend and I need to settle an argument. Most unbreakable MLB record. My thought is Cy Young’s completed games record. His choice is Ricky’s stolen base record. Which record do you feel is most unbreakable?
Klaw: Any pitching record from before World War I is untouchable. If anything, those are going to become more distant as we stop asking pitchers to turn lineups over four times and increase the use of more relievers for longer stints.

Adam: YES!!!! Thursdays have been so boring!
Klaw: you’re telling me. I spent last Thursday on the couch trying to figure out what was real and what was a hallucination.

Theo: How does the age of a player factor into your evaluation? For instance, Blake Rutherford is 19, which is a year or more older than other HS seniors. Would a guy like Moniak, who is of normal age, be a better prospect in your eyes, since he has that extra year to develop?
Klaw: It matters and it doesn’t. (!) Historically, yes, older HS players have worse probabilities, very young HS players have much better probabilities. We would think of a 19-year-old mashing in low-A very differently than a 21-year-old doing the same; why wouldn’t we consider age the same way for amateur players? That said, there are some tools that are age-immune. Byron Buxton was past 18.5 on his draft day, but he was an 80 runner with an 80 arm, a probable 70 glove, bat speed, and the frame for power.

Jim: How good is Victor Robles? Is he already a top 15 prospect?
Klaw: Top 15 for the Nationals? Yes. I really hope you weren’t asking top 15 in baseball because no.

ProBeauNO: What’re your thoughts on Eddy Julio Martinez and Vlad Guerrero Jr.? Either potential impact players?
Klaw: Both, I think. I saw EJM work out, which is not the same as seeing him play in actual games, but if that guy was now entering his third spring of college, assuming he had two years of even adequate performance behind him, we’d be talking about him near the top of this draft.

David: Scouting reports reference “body control.” What does that mean?
Klaw: Think of it as a more comprehensive look at physical coordination. My wife and daughter love So You Think You Can Dance, and every year there are dancers who call their style “animation,” where they seem to be manipulating individual muscles in robotic movements. That’s 80 body control. And it’s important in baseball because the more you can control your muscles, the better you can repeat your mechanics, and the less you’re going to waste energy on inefficient movements.

AL (DC): Does the contract for Fister seem light? Seems rumors were two years and $10 per. But obviously those are rumors. Do you find it odd no one wanted to go more than 1 year? Especially teams (Orioles) that desperately need any and every pitching golden ticket?
Klaw: I was surprised he didn’t end up with two years somewhere, yes. It’s a perfect one-year flier – if his stuff is just gone, you release him.

Bored at Work: Read today that 92% of American girls between 3-12 have owned a Barbie at one point. Has your opinion of that toy option changed in light of the new sizes they’re coming out with? I’d guess your daughter doesn’t have any interest in such things — but, hypothetically, are you more likely to buy one for her now than, say, a year ago? (Assuming you haven’t already?)
Klaw: She never got into Barbie and we never encouraged it. She watched a couple of episodes of the new animated series and we had to ban it because it was so insulting to everyone’s intelligence.

CK: Keith, you’ve stated many times your views that college athletes should be paid for their labors, a position I certainly understand and agree with. Do you have thoughts on how we might ever get to that point, considering that we’re not starting from a blank slate and have to work in the world as it currently exists? In particular, it seems to me that the money brought in by big-time football and basketball not only supports exorbitant salaries for coaches and administrators, but allows the nonrevenue sports at big time schools, almost all of which lose money, to exist. Do you see any way to withstand the opposition the inevitable cutbacks for those sports would cause, particularly since Title IX concerns would become a big part of the issue?
Klaw: If we set Title IX aside for a moment, who cares about the other sports? Why is it the responsibility of football players to make sure the golf team still has putters? I get this argument all the time – “well, then say goodbye to non-revenue sports,” to which I say, “Okay.” Fund your own sports just like every other student club has to fund itself. Have a bake sale. But stop free-riding on the labors of other athletes.

Eric: Hi Keith, do you see the Mets drafting a pitcher with their 1st round pick this year, with the trade of Fulmer and Molina out with TJ the well is finally dry when it comes to top tier pitching prospects in the pipeline. Due to the weak free agent crop next year I wouldn’t be shocked to see the Mets trade 1 of their aces if the return is right, this is more reason to go with a pitcher in the 1st round, what are your thoughts on the Mets draft plan, any names you think they may be targeting?
Klaw: I don’t see them drafting for need like that – teams that do so nearly always regret it – but I agree with your second point about them potentially trading one of the young starters. It has to be in the back of Sandy’s mind that any of those kids could blow out (again) at any time, and if the opportunity came up to trade, say, Matz, who is super talented but always hurt, for a durable asset like a high-end position player prospect, he has to at least consider whether that’s the better long-term play.

Sean: Were you surprised by the Cespedes deal? Should he have taken Nats’ offer or is he better off with short term contract?
Klaw: Nats apparently offered a ton of deferred money so the Mets’ offer was probably worth more. I’m surprised the market didn’t give him more guaranteed money, yes.

Amy: What do you expect from Trey Ball this year and going forward? What’s his projected floor/ceiling at this stage?
Klaw: This is a big year for him. Velocity backed up and has never really returned, and the loss of arm speed backed up the breaking ball too. Still a good athlete, hard worker, good frame, but the stuff is just not sufficient.

Julie: Bad thing about being sick is it will be hard for you to report to spring training in the best shape of your life.
Klaw: I feel like the shape I’m likely to report in would be trapezoid.

Jeff: Thanks for recommending Jasper Fforde. My daughter and I enjoyed working through the first three Kazam books – any idea when the fourth will come out?
Klaw: I believe he’s now saying 2017. He’s become very cagey about release dates lately. There’s supposed to be a one-off adult novel from him this spring.

Mike: I just wanted to say thank you for all your discussion of your anxiety issues. Your openness and story on Stigma Fighters prompted me to finally seek some help and it’s already paying dividends with my own anxiety disorder.
Klaw: You’re welcome. I’m thrilled to hear that it helped. That is the reason I wrote it.

Johnny (Woburn, MA): Keith, thanks for taking my question! Could you see Moncada/Benintendi reaching the Majors before the end of the year?
Klaw: Benintendi, possibly. Moncada, I highly doubt it.

Ray A.: Are the SF Giants linked to Cuban prospect LAZARITO at all? They already went over on Fox, so it seems smart for them to gamble on this potential superstar.
Klaw: I spoke to three scouts who saw him in San Cristobal last week. Not one said he was a “potential superstar” or even close to that.

Roy: Why do people assume devers cant keep his weight down for 3b? Infuriating to see such lazy analysis.
Klaw: He’s also not fat. He’s big, but not heavy or fat or out of shape or plump or adipose or any of that. Just a big guy.

Miles: You have to bet on Fister either being his 2014 self or his 2015 self… No copout “in between”. Which way do you lean?
Klaw: I think he can recapture much of 2014, but no way would I say all of it given the velo drop.

Andy: Are you still going to be able to make the whole book o prospects in 10 days? While your ESPN editors may disagree, as a fan, please don’t rush them. Put in all 26 million (rough estimate) words.
Klaw: So the top 100 and the org rankings (1 to 30) will still run Feb 8-9 or 9-10, as planned. We may push the team reports back to the following week because of the time I lost. I’m still not doing a lot of phone stuff because I have a bad cough, which is not helping.

Sean: You seem to be pretty high on dom smith, what do you expect form him as a big leaguer?
Klaw: He was the 11th pick in the draft and raked in the minors, so I don’t think I’m high on him at all. I think he’s going to hit for a very high average with some power and plus-plus defense at first. If he’s going to get to more than just “some” power, he’s going to have to start to pull the ball more.

Brian: thanks for the chat, what kind of power numbers do you expect Bogaerts to get to this year? It seemed like last year he was just focusing on improving his contact rate, slapping the ball the other way. Do you think he could jump up to 20 – 25 hrs this year if he focuses on driving the ball more?
Klaw: Yes, I do. Ball really comes off his bat well – I wouldn’t be surprised if he grew into hitting a handful of oppo homers every year too.

addoeh: What song, with your surname in the title, would you choose for your walk-up music; Breaking The Law or I Fought the Law (Clash version)?
Klaw: Breaking the Law. More intimidating, which clearly I need.

Sean: Do you have a scouting report or opinion of Thomas Eshelman – HOU?
Klaw: He’s a Phillie now. Fifth starter type. Outstanding command of fringy stuff.

Adam: What are your thoughts on Kevin Maitan? Isnt he too young for the type of hype he is receiving?
Klaw: He can really hit, and there’s going to be power there. As for him being too young … I mean, there’s no appropriate age to compare someone to Miguel Cabrera, right? I’m more concerned about the joke of a system that lets him be “locked up” by a team 18 months before the signing date.

Scherzer’s Blue Eye: How soon do we see Giolito?
Klaw: August. Just a guess but they’ve handled him so carefully it’s going to end up slowing his march to the majors.

Raphael: Hypothetical question: If a player racks up 100 WAR (a clear hall of famer), then continues playing and racks up -60 WAR (40 career WAR, not a hall of famer), should this player still make the hall of fame?
Klaw: I would actually say yes, although I know MGL had a big rant on Twitter a few weeks ago where he made a decent argument that the answer should be no.

Scherzer’s Blue Eye: Speaking of Cespedes, would be shocked to see him revert to his .260/.300/.450 slashline?
Klaw: Not at all. I don’t see any reason to think he suddenly became a different player because he beat the crap out of some bad pitching at the ideal time last year. (Slight exaggeration there.)

Jeremy: How much are tools learned or innate? Are some tools more learnable/developable than others?
Klaw: Tools are not learned. Skills are learned, mechanics are learned, but tools are innate.

Frank: Glad you are feeling better. Never saw you comment on the giants signing of Denard Span. Curious what your thoughts were on this deal? Thanks
Klaw: Money was fine, but don’t like him to play CF there – that’s a big park, with some flyball guys on staff – for the next three years. Thought they should have aimed for a better defender, even though I think the contract itself was probably just about right.

Ed: What are your favorite Rex Stout novels? Fer de Lance and Over My Dead Body are at the top for me. Thank you for doing these chats and sharing your opinions on your passions.
Klaw: I love both of those and Some Buried Caesar.

Charles: Even Jeter would get benched before he put up -60 WAR.
Klaw: I assume his question was prompted by Griffey’s career, where he was a zero or worse from age 30 on. So, if you’re a HoFer for 11 years – like, inner-circle good – and then just do some stat-padding that doesn’t really help the team, are you a HoFer or not?

Marshall: Tyler Duffey cam out of relative no where to be probably the Twins best pitcher down the stretch last season, I can’t assume that will be his ceiling going forward, but what do you think?
Klaw: Agreed. Fifth starter. Nothing he ever did before indicates he can keep doing what he did.

Alex: What about the system has him locked up? If someone comes along and blows away the supposed offer he has from the Braves what prevents him from taking it?
Klaw: Those deals are very, very rarely broken. The entire system is built on mutual trust. If you, as a trainer, renege on a deal with one club to take more money from another, teams will not commit money to your players the following year. Now that said, if I were GM of a team not under the penalty for 2016-17, I’d absolutely call Maitan’s guy on July 1st right around midnight and offer him $8 million and just DARE him to turn it down. And when he did, I’d make sure it became public, so MLB has to change the system. It is horribly broken and Manfred has a great opportunity to scrap it and start over.

JD: Speaking of hallucinations, have you watched/will you watch The Knick or Hannibal? Both incredible for different reasons, both very difficult to watch sometimes.
Klaw: Neither. I will not watch Hannibal. That kind of pandering does not appeal to me.

Jeff: How did Ian Kennedy get 5 years? Ian Kennedy!
Klaw: I think that’s my least favorite deal of the offseason, but the offseason isn’t over yet.

Scott of Lincolnshire: You’ve been advocating that swing bullpen position for years. Are teams like the Cubs fitting your vision of how a full pitching staff should look like? A couple of studs at the top, and then a bunch of #4/5 starters to fill out the rotation and half the bullpen?
Klaw: Yes, looks like Wood and Warren and possibly Richard will all be longer relievers this year. I love it.

Aubrey: At what point can Astros’ fans fairly question if Jim Crane is just unwilling to spend money on free agents? I know the team was a year or so ahead of schedule in 2015, but they have a very low payroll vs. Market size, and have clear needs that could be addressed.
Klaw: Oh, you can ask that now. Go ahead. He’ll answer you as soon as he finishes dealing with the cash call from his investors.

Keith: Re: Dom Smith – I’ve seen other reports that people are divided on the power thing. What you describe sounds vaguely Keith Hernandez- like – what’s wrong with an awesome defensive 1st baseman who hits 15 homers, lots of doubles and .300/.350 on base? Sounds like a star to me.
Klaw: These “other reports” are scouting the stat line, not the player. Anyone can sit home, read players’ stats off Baseball-Reference, and pretend to rank prospects.

Mike: Why didn’t Ke’Bryan Hayes go higher in the draft?
Klaw: I believe because people saw a lack of power in a corner player. But if he’s a 70 defender who never strikes out and hits .280 with a .360 OBP and 10 homers … I mean, Bill Mueller wasn’t even that good and he was a solid regular.

PRS: Are thinking about a re-fresh on the iOS board game rankings?
Klaw: I’m thinking about a lot of things I’d like to do right now and can’t because I’m like a walking corpse and still have to do the top 100. I finished The Caine Mutiny, The Mearseault Investigation, and The Vorrh in the last week and don’t have time to write any of them up.

Marshall: The Twins have gotten some criticism from fans for not going hard enough after new RP – however, I actually think we can get more bang for our buck by augmenting the bullpen with your power arms that are near the majors (Burdi, Reed, Chargois, Meyer, etc).
Klaw: Yeah that is the worst possible thing they could do. Plus ownership clearly doesn’t want to spend a ton on payroll, so why would Ryan spend it in the place where ROIs tend to be terrible?

Greg: What are your thoughts on Blake Rutherford? Do you think he is #1 on the braves early list at #3?
Klaw: I don’t think teams really have “early lists” like that now when most players won’t start playing for a month. I also don’t think he’s at all their kind of player, based on that group’s draft history. He’s a bat, but not an athlete.

Brenden: If you’re the Rangers how do you handle Profar coming back? Odor and Andrus look to have him blocked in the infield.
Klaw: Let him go to AAA and play every day for a while. It’s quite possible this will work itself out via injury, an external trade offer, or non-performance by Andrus.

Keith: I know you pay little attention to “other reports” and view players through your own lens but are there other scouts/websites etc. whose opinions you value even when different than your own?
Klaw: I think Jim Callis and Jonathan Mayo at MLB do a fantastic job. Baseball America remains very thorough and if I have a dumb question on a player (like how tall is he, or what HS did he attend) they’re the best resource. Chris Crawford at BP worked for me and I’ve always thought highly of his eye. And Kiley McDaniel (RIP) always did great work for me and then for FG.

Raphael: I was thinking more Rose than Griffey. The question is less about players accruing -60 WAR (which is obviously never ever going to happen) than if we should discredit players for awful performances in addition to their great ones, and if so, how much.
Klaw: I think the subjective argument against Rose is that for the last 900 games of his career, he was probably hurting his teams rather than helping them, and some of that was in pursuit of a personal milestone. (I would bet a lot of folks don’t remember how bad he was in 1980, when the Phillies won the WS, but first basemen with ISOs of 0.073 are not terribly valuable creatures.) The selfishness of his actions at the end of his career should leave a bitter taste in everyone’s mouths. Does that cancel out a 75-WAR career beforehand? Probably not, but I’m open to the discussion. Of course, now we know what a terrible person he is, so this is academic.

Alex in Austin: What does Connor Jones need to show you this year to be a top 5 pick?
Klaw: I think he gets there with a strong statistical performance and consistent velocity. He can be 92-95 as a starter with sink and the good changeup and then we’re just debating little things. He doesn’t have the red flags of every other college starter in the draft, but he also doesn’t have that sexy 98 mph fastball.

David: Raimel Tapia has a reputation for an unorthodox swing/approach. How confident are you that he can succeed at the plate in the majors?
Klaw: He does not have that “reputation.” He has an unorthodox swing, period. I’ve never seen anyone hit like it, and with two strikes he looks like an ostrich trying to hide its head in the sand. (I know they don’t really do that.) I think he has exceptional hand-eye coordination, though, and that alone will get him TO the majors. To succeed, he’s going to have to develop more of a plan at the plate and some better recognition of spin.

Todd: Think Tyler White can have some Billy Butler-esque medium high OBP medium high power seasons as a DH?
Klaw: Yes I do. Don’t sleep on him just because he’s 5’10” and a little, um, adipose?

James: Can you comment on the Bob Ryan suspension?
Klaw: No because I don’t know what you’re talking about.

David: Reading “Chasing the Scream”. Does Sheriff Arpaio have a role in Pres. Trump’s administration?
Klaw: At some point, does Trump say to these endorsers, “nah, I’m good, thanks.” Because next up will be the head of the Aryan Nations or something.

jay: Thoughts on the initial Shapiro/Atkins regime in Toronto, fans are revolting. How would you rate their offseason to date?
Klaw: Jays fans are revolting? Come on, they’re perfectly nice people, don’t say that about them.

Mike: Fangraphs’ projections are pretty down on the Giants’ infield. Was last year for real, or is the concern about regression legit?
Klaw: I’d absolutely take the under on Crawford’s power, Kelby’s whatever, and probably Panik’s BABIP. But I think Duffy can really hit and Panik will still put the ball in play a ton.

Chris: Would a Ref for Cowart trade be fair and make sense? Better long term organizational fits position-wise.
Klaw: Probably not, because Refsnyder isn’t a second baseman.

Charles: What MLB players (if any) have the LeBron James power of getting a manager fired?
Klaw: I truly wonder – based on zero inside intel – what would happen if Mike Trout’s agent said to Arte Moreno, “Mike is unhappy with the manager.” That seems like the one player and the one situation where it might really topple the mountain.

Tim: I’m so confused when people say things like ” I wouldn’t be shocked to see the Mets trade 1 of their aces if the return is right…” when a team is in the middle of a contending period. Good teams don’t actually trade established, high value assets like an “Ace” during a contending period do they? I understand pitchers are volatile but aren’t they also the most irreplaceable part of a team?
Klaw: I don’t think they’re the most irreplaceable part of a team, but also, the return is the key variable. If you can trade Steven Matz for Bryce Harper, you do it. That’s a lopsided example, but what if the Pirates called and offered you Gregory Polanco for Matz? A five-tool guy who’s already made some adjustments in the majors for a pitcher who is certainly more valuable right now on a day-by-day basis, but who has yet to throw 150 innings in a pro season?

bobby: I know you have been suspect of L Severino’s ability to stay healthy with his arm action. If you were Girardi/Cashman would you come up with a different plan for him to protect against that, use up his bullets now and figure it out later, or have those concerns abated for you?
Klaw: Two arguments here. One, you could say we want to protect him, so we’re going to make him strictly a three-times-through-the-order guy, and maybe put some low pitch count on him too. Or, two, you could say, fuck it, they ALL get hurt at some point, and he’s been great for us, so just use him normally and if it ends some time, well, at least we got value while we could. I kind of lean towards the latter. I hate the delivery, but some bad deliveries last for years and some good ones blow out.

Thomas: I’ve seen you speak highly of it in the past, but would Raglan Road still be your go-to recommendation for Disney Springs? Thanks.
Klaw: Downtown Disney. Still like it a lot for a casual dinner. I think the best restaurant on the property is Jiko at Animal Kingdom Lodge.

Dave: What do you think the odds are that Sandoval’s offense and defense bounce back to career levels in 2016 and that Ramirez can play a passable first base?
Klaw: Low, low, high.

Hank: Out of the 5 tools, which do you see as the most important?
Klaw: People will overlook many sins if you can hit.

Chris: I didn’t see a write-up on the Scott Kazmir signing. What have been your thoughts on the Dodgers’ offseason, specifically the construction of the rotation? Should they have just signed Greinke or do you like the depth added with Kazmir, Maeda and Yasiel?
Klaw: I would have signed Greinke rather than go with the quantity approach. I don’t think Sierra is MLB rotation depth for this year, though. Probably further down the line.

Kieran: Thoughts on Conforto’s numbers for a full year? Is he a star in the making with a middle of the order bat or does he not have that upside?
Klaw: I think he’s a star in the making – .400 OBP with 20-25 HR and good LF defense? Maybe 25 HR is too optimistic, but even 20 HR would make him a star with that other stuff.

Michael: Has Clint Frazier’s development thus far been what you would have expected or would you be a bit concerned?
Klaw: It’ s been what I would have expected, but I had real concerns about the hit tool in HS and frankly see all the same issues there today.

Chris: Given your normal propensity to be (rightly) player-centric at all levels of baseball, I am surprised by your Sev answer. Team uses him up and blows him out before he’s had a chance to earn real money?
Klaw: Isn’t that right for the team? I’m not offering a moral judgment but what I think is sound business advice.

Tom: Have the pirates been deliberately forgoing power for contact in the draft recently(and in free agency for that matter)? It seems like every hitter they have drafted the last two years is a contact hitter with modest power potential.
Klaw: Contact is a very rare skill in MLB right now. Perhaps they’re responding to that. A team without a lot of power but whose hitters put the ball in play all the time did just win two straight AL pennants, so maybe it’s not a bad idea?

mike: aaron sanchez has put on 25 pounds this offseason “working out” with stroman. assuming no overhaul to his delivery, this doesn’t change the outlook for him as a starter does it?
Klaw: No. Until he restores his old delivery he’s probably going to have to work out of the bullpen.

Nils: Can Jon Singleton claim and hold on to the 1B job for the forseeable future? Or is he just keeping the seat warm for Reed?
Klaw: I would not be at all surprised if Reed made a real push for that job in March. He might just be the best option today, and while I know about OMG SUPER TWOOOO and all that, I’d rather get another 150 PA from him now versus saving a million bucks in 2019.

Johnny: How do you find all the articles for your weekly Stick to Baseball? Twitter generally?
Klaw: Twitter, facebook, noodling around, often I am reading something I found on twitter but the link that ends up in StB is something else on that site that proved more interesting.

Johnny: Do you ever skip words/chapters/pages when reading or are you just an awesome speed reader? I read slow because I often repeat sentences or even pages to really absorb them but I end up reading very slow.
Klaw: If I’m skipping content it’s time to put the book down. I got 30 pages into The Uplift War last week and found myself glazing over all his made-up words so I bailed.

Scott of Lincolnshire: Dan Vogelbach. Now that I’ve mentioned him, I think we can all feel better about our lives.
Klaw: Indeed, and now our chat has ended, let us go in peace. Current plan is a chat next week and two the week after, one on org top 30 day, one on top 100 day. As always watch this space, twitter, facebook for updates. Thanks for your patience!

Stick to baseball, 1/23/16.

My lone Insider piece this week was on the Tigers’ deal with Justin Upton. I’ve been sick pretty much since noon on Monday and am still down with disease, trying to do as little as possible this weekend.

And now, the links…

  • J. Kenji Lopez-Alt is back with another great post on 22 things you should never buy at the supermarket, meaning you should make them at home instead. I’d add mayonnaise to the list myself, because store jars are huge and I never finish them.
  • Ruhlman weighs in too, by pointing out that no food is actually “healthy,” not even kale. Some of this is semantics; people are healthy, but food, by virtue of being already dead, is not. Food can be healthful – full, or not, of nutrients – but not healthy. The bigger problem, however, is the rush to categorize foods as good or bad for you when there’s a huge range in between, something that depends on what else you eat and your individual genetics.
  • Most of you have likely seen this, but the BBC/Buzzfeed joint investigation on possible match-fixing in tennis is damning, even though it seems like much of this will be difficult to prove to an extent where we’ll see suspensions or expulsions.
  • Ted Cruz isn’t up to speed on the Flint water crisis, even though Flint officials knew about the tainted water over a year ago, per this New Yorker editorial on politicians’ “contempt” for their constituents. Al-Jazeera America, which is about to shut down, ran a damning exposé on Flint water an entire year ago … and still Flint did nothing. And Michigan did nothing. Flint’s Director of Public Works, Howard Croft, refused to admit that there’d been any mistake made whatsoever in that piece; he resigned his post in November.
  • EDBDS’s Spencer Hall gets a bit personal about his own depression.
  • The Atavist has the story of Jewish-American lawyer who successfully sued the government of Iran for funding terrorism, including the attack that killed his daughter in 1995.
  • The half-billion-dollar battle over the toy rights to Disney’s princess characters saw Disney (my employer) pull a license Mattel had held for twenty years and hand it to Hasbro. The reasons are complicated and fascinating.
  • You can become a math person, mostly because the whole “math person” thing is bullshit. Point #4, about teaching math as a language, is the most important in my view – math is like the world’s easiest language because it lacks the irregularities and colloquialisms that trip up most language learners.
  • A heartbreaking story of fetal alcohol syndrome in a 43-year-old woman.
  • Liz Finnegan, erstwhile video game writer for The Escapist, explores the unbalanced nature of “consent” on college campuses, especially once alcohol is involved. I don’t see how you can say that an inebriated person (the woman, in these examples) is incapable of giving consent, but that the other inebriated person (the man) is capable of determining whether the first person is capable of giving consent – that is, not so drunk that clear, affirmative consent is still not sufficient. You couldn’t use that standard in court, but colleges play by their own rules when policing student behavior on campus.
  • Loved Melinda Gates calling out Donald Trump on his anti-science vaccine denial views. Of course, I don’t think he’s got much of a shot with the intellectual crowd anyway, but it would be nice to get this particular lie out of the press for now.

Top Chef, S13E07.

Second strong episode in a row, with almost complete emphasis on the craft of cooking, which is good because next week’s (Instagram users voting?) looks like a trainwreck.

* We start out with lots of scenes of the chatter among the ten remaining chefs, who are driving back up to LA in two vans. Most of it was just small talk, until some of the chefs started ribbing Kwame about his crush on Padma. He doesn’t even flinch: “what guy wouldn’t be attracted to Padma?” I can’t really argue with that, although at 5’9″ she’d tower over me even without heels. I did like his chianti-dry delivery of his supposed date line to Padma, saying he’d show up with flowers … and a Yorkie. “‘Surprise, I got you a dog!’ That wouldn’t be weird, right?”

* Season 4 and All-Stars contestant Antonia, now at Scopa and Black Market Liquor Bar in LA, is back to judge the Quickfire. Each chef gets to choose one ingredient, and thosee ten in total are the only items available to all chefs (although they don’t have to use all ten). We’re also back to immunity rather than sudden death, which is welcome. The chefs go one at a time, each getting twenty seconds to go grab an ingredient.

* Phillip grabs prime beef loin. Isaac grabs … a whole chicken? Marjorie asks (in the confessional) “why are you choosing another protein?” That made no sense to me either. I think only one of the chefs was really glad to see chicken, as it turned out. It’s versatile because it’s pretty flavorless.

* Chad grabs jalapeños, of course. Jeremy gets kosher salt, to which Isaac says, “thank God.” (I mean, if none of the chefs picked salt, would they really have denied that ingredient to everyone? How can you cook anything, especially any protein, without salt?) Marjorie grabs rice vinegar … I might have gone for lemons but any acid is good. Karen gets olive oil. Kwame takes garlic, which he says he can’t cook without. Amar takes cremini mushrooms. Carl gets a big basket of heirloom tomatoes. Jason, picking last, kind of annoys a lot of the other chefs by taking celery rather than an herb or other flavoring agent. I was surprised no one went for black pepper, butter, bacon, or onions. I’d never think to grab celery before onion, for example. I wouldn’t even take garlic before onion.

* Carl points out that this challenge is like “cooking at home” with just a few things in the fridge. Granted, our homes don’t have equipment this nice, but it’s nice for once to see a challenge that at least somewhat reflects the limitations home cooks face – and the common challenge of “I need to make dinner with what’s in the house already.”

* Amar says Charlie Palmer, one of his first bosses, always judged chefs and restaurants by how they cooked chicken. Now that I can see: it’s probably an easy dish for restaurants to half-ass, because if you go to a high-end place (especially a steakhouse) and order chicken, the kitchen is just not going to take you very seriously. I’m not saying that’s right; I’m saying that’s how it is.

* After picking chicken as his ingredient, Isaac cooks steak. I mean, he has the right to do that, but why not pick an ingredient you know you’ll use heavily?

* Jason is unapologetic about the celery and seems to enjoy the fact that other chefs are a little miffed. He’s right about its versatility and I could not agree more with him about the leaves. I buy whole stalks (sometimes called “heads” … sometimes “stalk” refers to a single rib) because I want the leaves and tender ribs in the center, and whatever I don’t use ends up in the next batch of poultry stock.

* Amar mocks Jeremy for yet another raw preparation – tataki style beef, which is kind of like a Japanese carpaccio, usually very lightly seared or grilled just to warm the exterior, raw in the center, and seasoned with vinegar and a paste of ginger. Jeremy just heats the surface with a blowtorch, but Amar is correct that Jeremy leans a little too much on the raw preps.

* Karen says she doesn’t want to complain about the ingredients they had and in doing so manages to complain about the ingredients they had while Padma and Antonia are tasting her dish.

* Least favorites: Isaac’s seared carpaccio with shaved jalapeños and mushrooms and tomato concentrate was both unappealing to look at and underwhelming to taste. Antonia says Karen’s flavors in her grilled steak salad with grilled and raw celery and jalapeño vinaigrette were “beautiful,” but that there was “no focus” to the dish. I’m trying to figure out how a jalapeño vinaigrette would taste like anything but pain.

* Favorites: Jeremy’s tataki-style steak with shaved mushrooms and crispy garlic vinaigrette worked as planned, especially the slight texture change that came from warming the top of the meat (I guess starting to denature the proteins without fully cooking them?). Amar’s wood-roasted chicken breast – that takes stones, serving the most boring part of the chicken in a competition like this – with roasted tomato vinaigrette and mushrooms à la Grecque (with olive oil, lemon juice, and herbs) showed great finesse and technique. Jeremy wins. Amar looks pissed, and why not? He actually cooked. Jeremy just sort of prepared, no?

* Elimination challenge: Ten years ago this year, Top Chef premiered (pre-Padma!). Each chef must create a dish representing who s/he was ten years ago.

* Jeremy was in a metal band … and had hair. Anyone catch what kind of guitar that was?

* Kwame talks about how ten years ago, he was starting high school and it marked the beginning of the end of his relationship with his strict father. Over the rest of the episode he makes it clear that the relationship never recovered and they haven’t spoken in years.

* Jason ten years ago was in his first management job, but says he was kind of awful to staff and used to chew out cooks who screwed up the restaurant’s signature trout dish, which was actually quite difficult to make.

* Marjorie wants to make green curry, but the Whole Foods they visit is out of lemongrass (in LA? Really?). She buys jarred green curry paste instead, which struck me at the time as a colossal mistake, because chefs get killed all the time for buying anything that’s that processed rather than working from scratch. Turned out I was wrong about it, but that’s what I thought in real-time.

* Carl does a pretty good Tom impersonation but we need to see more of this to put a grade on it.

* Chad quit drinking a year and a half ago and has since dropped 75 pounds, which in and of itself seems like a good reward for getting sober, although of course he talks about the improvements in his life too. I would have liked more on how he quit drinking – a good success story needs that aspect too as a way to encourage others, I think.

* So Recipe for Deception premiering last night means we never have to hear that “I just got a culinary boner” dipshit again, right? I do appreciate Bravo warning me that I want no part of that show. If that’s the line you chose to use in the commercial that introduces the show to the audience, it must be all kinds of awful. Also, boner jokes are only funny if your age hasn’t reached double digits yet.

* Jason is dressed like a clown. Yellow pants, red shoes. He’s talking about his look as if it’s some kind of fashion statement, but looking like you bought Ronald McDonald’s hand-me-downs and got dressed in the dark is not a fashion statement.

* Marjorie decides to grill some lemons to pull out the bitter aromatics in the rind and use that as a substitute for lemongrass. The two plants are not related: lemons are a true citrus tree (Citrus limon), while culinary lemongrass (Cymbopogon citratus) is a flowering rhizome that is typically harvested as soon as its stalks are mature. Both contain the aldehyde citral, also called lemonal, which has the strong aroma of lemon but is only found in small amounts in actual lemons, showing up more in lemongrass, lemon verbena, and other lemony plants. So she might need a lot of grilled lemon to replace what she lost when she couldn’t buy lemongrass, but at least she has that one chemical similarity as a hinge between the two ingredients.

* Michael Voltaggio is one of the guest judges, yet when he asks Phillip how the experience has been, Phillip says right in front of Tom that he has had to “cook food that makes the judges happy,” which makes Tom make that WTF face he makes when someone says something incomprehensibly stupid. Marjorie says in the confessional that she thinks “the kid is delusional.” It’s hard to argue with that.

* Amar makes a dish for his former mentor from ten years ago, Long Island chef Gerry Hayden, who was very sick at the time with ALS and passed away in September, probably not long after the episode finished shooting. Tom gets very choked up as they talk – visibly so, and the editors just let the moment “breathe,” with the camera on Tom while he tried to keep some composure. All reality shows want real emotions like that and end up trying to manufacture them through challenges, false drama, and other silliness. This was one moment that I think will stand out for a long time from season 13. (The episode ended with a brief full-screen honoring Chef Hayden’s memory.)

* Kwame’s dad is half Jamaican. One of the only decent memories Kwame seems to have of that period was going to jerk chicken shacks with his dad, although even talking about that seems to weigh him down further. I don’t know what it’s like to have such a terrible relationship with a parent – I have a couple of good friends who’ve had to sever parental ties, for reasons such as a history of abuse, and I can at least see the shadow it leaves on a person’s soul even after s/he has made the right decision to end the relationship. Anyway, we don’t know exactly what Kwame split with his father over, but it was clearly something worse than we’re hearing, and it’s got Kwame in a bit of a mental tailspin here. In hindsight, he probably should have pulled back for another memory, maybe an earlier or later year – it’s not like the judges know where he was in 2006 – but once he’d committed to this dish he was pretty well stuck.

* Blais is wearing a blue camo blazer for the upcoming war with invading aquatic creatures from Kepler-22b.

* Talk about a table where I’d love to just sit and listen: In addition to the five judges, we get Mei, Antonia, Zach Pollack, and iconic baker/restaurateur Nancy Silverton, who looks like my great-aunt Antoinette in that black and white outfit and with her hair up in clips. (Don’t laugh: “Aunty” was once President of the Amateur Astronomers’ Association of New York and longtime physics teacher who died about eight years ago at age 100.) Chef Silverton’s La Brea Bakery, and associated cookbook Breads from the La Brea Bakery, often show up in discussions of what and who started the artisan bread revival in the U.S.

* The dishes … Marjorie made a seared halibut with grilled and roasted vegetables in green curry sauce; so it turns out the lemon trick worked out great and I had it all wrong. Blais even said her vegetables were so good that maybe she didn’t need fish. (Am I dumb for expecting rice? Probably. Stupid American.) Chad made a shrimp ceviche with tomato concassé, shrimp cracker, pickled serrano, olive, and caper. Both dishes were hits.

* Isaac made a duck gumbo with roasted jalapeño andouille sausage, crispy rice cake, and duck cracklings. Man, I want to make this and then eat it, especially now since I’m still fighting some sort of bad respiratory infection. Jason made poached trout with toasted beets, spring vegetable salad, and goat milk vinaigrette, but he didn’t season the fish correctly before poaching it and had to top it with what looks like an excessive amount of finishing salt before service. Tom clearly does not like it – he turns like he’s debating the etiquette of spitting it out. Volt says the fish is perfectly poached, but it “stopped right there.” I’m very much on board with having him back as a judge more frequently – his comments are very specific and, at least this week, never denigrating. Anyone seen the cookbook he and his brother wrote a few years ago, VOLT ink.?

* Karen made orecchiete with pork ragù and broccoli rabe. She left some radicchio leaves whole, which meant they stayed fairly bitter, but I think the judges liked the concept. Still, it’s fresh pasta in a pork ragu with earthy vegetables – it’s not that novel so it has to be executed better than this. Amar made a butter-poached lobster with sauteed bok choy, tapioca curry, and tempura onion rings. Volt likes the homage to Chef Hayden and everyone seems to agree that the lobster is cooked perfectly. I assumed he’d be in the top three at this point.

* Carl made a fricassee (a meat dish that starts like a stir-fry but finishes like a braise) of California vegetables, burgundy snails, and fried eggs, along with a spring garlic puree. This is a clear hit from plating to tasting. Phillip made a ceviche mixto with tiger shrimp, halibut, razor claims, and pressure-cooked squid. Chef Silverton says it lacks brightness of true ceviche, but then Volt drops the cleaver by saying it was a “not-so-fresh fish taste” per Volt. If someone describes your seafood dish with a catchphrase from a 1980s douche commercial, you should probably log off your knives and go. Instead, Phillip just blames the judges again for not appreciating his genius.

* Jeremy lobster ravioli with a shellfish sauce (looks like a foam to me) and king salmon. The salmon is well cooked but unnecessary, and everyone just seems kind of whelmed – not underwhelmed, but there’s no praise here – until Padma drops this non sequitur “good thing you have immunity” bit. Either they edited out Tom saying it tasted like the before picture in a Febreze commercial or that was a real overreaction. Kwame made jerk broccoli with corn bread pudding and smokey blue cheese, and presents it with no conviction or any emotion other than exhaustion. Tom says “this is just confusing the hell out of me.” Silverton says a dish “has to look visually appealing” and this doesn’t. Volt, with pretty good insight for someone who just walked in, infers how Kwame’s emotional connection to food in general and the specific nature of this challenge probably worked against him. Padma dismisses the two with a curt “see you later,” although “off with their heads!” may have fit the mood more.

* Top three: Marjorie, Chad, and Carl. Chad’s ceviche was very acidic and bright. Marjorie’s was technically well executed. Tom liked her story, liked the dish, and liked the audible she called with the lemons. Carl’s was very classic and timeless, per Gail, although that doesn’t usually win a challenge. Marjorie wins. She kind of does this Eeyore thing when talking to the camera but she’s been fairly consistently in the top 3 just about all season now, other than that weird hiccup in the beer challenge, where Blais loved the dish but the beer she used didn’t come through in the sauce.

* Bottom: Kwame, Phillip, and Jason. Kwame “tried to bring a good memory out of some bad memories” and it didn’t work. Phillip is really acting like a narcissist at this point, saying, “I know this panel likes … really spicy” foods, like it’s just not possible that he’s cooking inferior dishes to those of these other very talented chefs. Tom, with his customary impatience for bullshit, cuts that off with “We just want good food up here.” Simplest dictum there could be. Jason just flat-out underseasoned the fish, which is typically a fatal error on this show. You do not give Tom Colicchio protein that is overcooked or underseasoned.

* Jason is eliminated. I would have preferred Phillip, especially given the whining, but given the face that Tom made while eating Jason’s dish, it had to have tasted pretty bad. Underseasoned fish is atrocious to eat.

* LCK: Take bland ingredients and make something flavorful, using the sponsor Soy Vey’s Teriyaki sauce (soy sauce; sugar; dried garlic, onion, and ginger; and sesame seeds and oil), which, while very sweet – and let’s face it, Tom ain’t using this in his restaurants – does at least include a lot of the base flavors you’d want in stir-fry dishes. I don’t know what will happen if you end up reducing it, though – it could get very sticky, or very salt, or maybe even both. Soy sauce is great but if that’s your only real source of umami you may end up with too much salt by the time you get enough glutamates.

* Angelina made terikyaki shrimp with potato and onion hash and a celery and orange salad. Shrimp a little overcooked. Jason made a salmon fillet with soft-cooked egg with broccoli and grilled sweet potato salad. Tom screwed with him a bit, asking if that’s how he liked the salmon cooked as if it were overdone, but Tom (like me) prefers his salmon around medium. Jason wins, just because Angelina’s shrimp was a tick overdone. I understand the need for sponsorships to pay for the web series, but this is too blatant a product promotion for my tastes (no pun intended).

* Rankings: Kwame, Marjorie, Carl, Jeremy, Amar, Chad, Karen, Isaac, Phillip.