Rabbit is Rich and Rabbit at Rest.

I read Rabbit, Run in 2009, shortly after the death of author John Updike, because it appeared on the TIME list of the greatest 100 English-language novels from 1923 (the year the magazine started publishing) through the year the list was published, 2005. I truly disliked the book because I disliked the main character, Harry “Rabbit” Angstrom, a wildly immature young adult who peaked as a high school basketball player and can’t adjust to adult life and responsibilities.

Updike wrote three more Rabbit novels, the last two of which, Rabbit Is Rich and Rabbit at Rest, won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. I read both books this month, skipping the second book in the series (Rabbit Redux), as part of my effort to read all the Pulitzer winners, and now, after reading over 1000 pages of Updike’s writing about Rabbit, I can say with great confidence that Harry Angstrom is an asshole.

I suppose someone better equipped to diagnose a fictional character’s psychological issues could have a field day with Rabbit, who can’t stop cheating on his wife, resents her and her mother for the way they’ve made him financially comfortable, can’t connect with or even fully trust his own son, and has a puerile, almost perverted obsession with sex that would be appropriate for a teenager but hardly for a 56-year-old man, as he is in the final volume. Even when faced with his own mortality after a mild heart attack at the end of the first section of Rabbit at Rest, Rabbit can’t even be bothered to grow up enough to follow his doctor’s rather obvious advice – eat right and exercise – try to prevent a recurrence, instead continuing his old-man leering while facing the unwelcome stress of a crisis with his wayward son.

In Rabbit, Run, we meet Angstrom, who still can’t quite get over the fact that his basketball career – and, we later learn, his life – reached its apex in high school, after which he experiences a long if nonlinear decline across four books and almost four decades. (Updike revisited his character every ten years, and we are fortunate he stopped writing when he did, or he would have won the 2001 Pulitzer for The Five Rabbits You Meet in Heaven.) The first novel is unpleasant, but has a clear direction and point. Rabbit’s refusal to grow up is rooted in recognition that it’s only going to go downhill from here, and with the ennui of a lower middle-class existence, tied to a wife and child he didn’t plan to have so soon, staring him in the face, he runs. By the third book, however, he’s at least come into money via his marriage, and is now running a Toyota dealership in the late 1970s as fuel economy entered the lexicon – Updike seems to be at great pains in each of the last two books to remind us of the mood of the time, as well as lots of brand names and details that seem like quaint product placement in hindsight (although I doubt Sealtest cared for Updike’s flavor suggestion). That shifts Angstrom’s angst (built right into his name!) to his desultory marriage, his ne’er-do-well son, and a simmering conflict with his wife over their son’s role in the family business.

The marital antibliss culminates in a couples’ weekend in the Caribbean where the eight participants agree to a one-night swap of partners – if ever there was a 1970s anachronism, there you have it – which puts Rabbit not with the woman he lusts for, the youngest wife of the four, but with Thelma, who has been in love with him for years. Rather than giving the scene any kind of emotional depth, or exploring what it might mean for Rabbit to see a woman truly (if rather perplexingly) in love with him, Updike has the entire book climax (sorry) in a scene where the two engage in anal sex, a moment he has Rabbit revisit in his mind in utterly bizarre fashion for the remainder of that book and in book four. I’d credit Updike with a clever metaphor if it weren’t so distasteful.

The escalation in Rabbit at Rest makes the book read like a Very Special Episode, where Harry’s son, Nelson, ends up a cocaine addict, destroying the family business and possibly contributing to Rabbit’s heart problems. After an angioplasty that’s designed to tide him over for a few months, after which the doctors recommend he have coronary bypass surgery, Rabbit goes to recuperate in his son’s house the first night, only to have his daughter-in-law, Pru (a nickname given to her because she was prudish as a teenager), seduce him while Nelson is away at rehab. I mean, this is what you do with a man twice your age who’s fresh off heart surgery, right?

Despite his frequent dalliances with women other than his wife, and desire for even more, Rabbit is one of the most outright misogynistic characters in modern literature, increasingly out of step with the times in which he lives. He frequently characterizes women as his enemy, referring to them by the most vulgar term you can use (and thus reducing them to a single body part), yet harbors a long-running obsession that he has a daughter by one of his former lovers. His relationship with Janice worsens in Rabbit at Rest when she begins to assert her independence, pursuing a career for herself after years of Rabbit telling her she was stupid. It’s hard not to root for her and quietly enjoy Rabbit’s accelerating decline, although Nelson’s mistakes and initial refusal to take any responsibility for his actions (just like dear ol’ dad) are infuriating in their own right. What could have been a thoughtful meditation on a man facing his own mortality at an age when most Americans are still working and looking forward to a long retirement is instead a pathetic coda to 1500 pages written about a terrible husband and father who is unworthy of any of our sympathy.

Next up: Steven Weinberg’s To Explain the World: The Discovery of Modern Science.

Stick to baseball, 2/27/16.

My ranking of the top 25 prospects for impact in 2016 is up for Insiders. I also held my Klawchat on Thursday.

I updated my Arizona dining guide for those of you heading to the Valley for spring training.

I also joined the boys of Cespedes Family BBQ on their podcast for an hour of silliness and a lot of prospect talk.

And now, the links…

Top Chef, S13E12.

My ranking of the top 25 prospects for 2016 impact is up for Insiders, and I held a Klawchat yesterday afternoon.

* Quickfire: Chef Martin Yan of Yan Can Cook and Martin Yan Quick and Easy fame is the guest judge. The man is 67 years old and still full of energy, at least on camera. He explains that during the California gold rush, a lot of miners came from Guangdong (Canton), where his father also came from. The intersection of cultures led to chop suey, an iconic Americanized Chinese dish. (Wikipedia’s entry on the dish offers a more detailed explanation of the dish’s roots, tracing it back to a dish common Taishan made from leftovers.) The chefs must make a version of chop suey, cooking at a typical wok station, which is at least five times stronger than a professional kitchen burner. So we get a quickfire challenge that is just about cooking!

* I remember seeing Yan as a judge on ICA maybe ten years ago, and he was very big on “texture contrast” in every dish. I’d imagine in chop suey that’s as critical as anything, because you’re cooking vegetables so fast that they should remain crisp.

* Kwame is blanch-frying the vegetables in oil the wok, which apparently is a traditional technique. I can’t imagine cooking on a burner with that kind of power, because it seems like food could burn in a matter of seconds, and any aerosolized oil droplets would ignite right in front of you.

* Jeremy makes a Dungeness crab with bok choy, red chile, long beans, and onions … Marjorie makes lobster with ginger, thai chili, and orange … Carl does a Szechuan-style lobster with snow peas, ginger, and I presume a lot of chiles … Amar does pork (not chicken!) with vegetables and Szechuan peppercorns … Isaac makes General Tso’s chicken with cracklings, sambal, and orange … Kwame serves crispy beef with eggplant, long beans, carrots, cabbage, and noodles. Yan recognizes the oil-blanching technique right away.

* One other thing I remember from Yan’s appearance on ICA, because it’s evident here too: He’s just very kind. He couches everything he says with an almost educational context, and his criticisms are almost apologetic.

* The least favorites: Carl’s should have had more vegetables. I assume that’s an authenticity thing; when meat was expensive and limited, you’d fill up with cheap vegetables? Kwame’s blanch-frying technique made the vegetables greasy, and Yan says the eggplant soaked up the oil. Isaac used too much starch in his sauce.

* The winner is Marjorie, apparently because she had the best balance of all the ingredients.

* Elimination challenge: Guest judge is the founder of Umami Burger and 800 Degrees, Adam Fleischman. I’ve been to both places, as well as the now-defunct Umamicatessen; what the two existing concepts have in common is that they serve good food relatively fast, turning over tables quickly, and offer alcohol to boost profits. The challenge for each of the chefs is to come up with a fast casual concept that “would work in any city in North America.” Each must make one dish for 150 diners and potential investors, and to create an entire menu for the concept. Six of the eliminated chefs are there to be sous chefs. Marjorie, as the quickfire winner, gets to pick her own sous.

* Marjorie picks Angelina because she’s “a beast with prep.” She also gets to assign the other five sous chefs, although I wondered if she was spiteful enough to take full advantage. She assigns Jason to Jeremy, Chad to Carl, Karen to Amar, Wesley to Isaac, and Phillip with Kwame. That last one she did on purpose, since they’d sparred and she sees Kwame as competition, although I don’t think anyone wanted Phillip.

* Amar is making rotisserie chicken. Has he never heard of Boston Market?

* Kwame wants to do chicken and waffles that are easy to eat. I love the concept … and then he says he’s going to buy frozen waffles. What. The. Fuck. My man, Kwame, have you never watched Top Chef before? Frozen means pack your knives and gozen.

* Marjorie worked at Per Se and learned pasta there; she now wants to adapt that to fast casual. She’s doing olive-oil poached tuna with pasta, a very classic northern Italian combination. Pasta’s tough for fast casual, though, because it doesn’t travel or reheat well, and I think too many Americans hear pasta and think “tomato sauce.”

* Isaac says that he “got a couple of ideas I shoot to myself, then I shoot them down cause they’re stupid.” He has to be a top 5 most entertaining chef in Top Chef history. I’d love to do play-by-play with him of any sport, regardless of whether he knew it, because I think he’d be hilarious – maybe more so if he knew nothing about it. He settles on gumbo, of course. Three hours is not a lot of time to make gumbo, given the time required for the roux.

* The other chefs are mocking Kwame for buying frozen waffles while they’re all in the checkout line at Whole Foods. This is beyond foreshadowing. Kwame is toast, pun intended.

* Carl’s concept is a Mediterranean place that will showcase some lesser-known flavors of the region. (Isn’t this a little like Zoe’s Kitchen?) He’s making the lamb stew of his imagination.

* Amar’s concept is called Pio Pio, which is an actual rotisserie chicken place near Orlando that is very good.

* Jeremy’s concept is Asian-style tacos. Tom points out that the taco market is already very crowded. He’s frying pork belly strips with nam pla caramel and serving with wontons or lettuce wraps.

* Adam and Tom look at Kwame like he’s a complete idiot when he says he’s using frozen waffles. I mean, you see people making their own waffles at crappy free hotel breakfasts all the time. You can’t make your own on Top Chef?

* Marjorie needs pasta baskets (inserts for the pots in which she’ll cook the pasta) and finds none. She decides to use the fryer as a boiler. I saw something like that at Sotto in Cincinnati and they made it work beautifully, although it was built for that purpose – it had two chambers, one for gluten-free pastas and one for wheat pastas.

* Kwame immediately gets the biggest line, because who doesn’t love fried chicken and waffles?

* Blais is back as the fourth judge, always a welcome sight.

* Carl’s concept is SavoryMed, which he even acknowledges might sound like a health-care company. Blais compares it to Chipotle without saying that name (Chipotle without the sick employees!). The dish is lamb and piquillo pepper stew over couscous with yogurt, feta, fresh herb salad. The menu would offer the modular approach of Chipotle and its imitators. The judges all love the dish and the concept. Tom questions the feasibility of an herb salad, but that is serious nitpicking.

* Isaac’s concept is called Gumbo for Y’all, and his dish is gumbo ya-ya with chicken and sausage. What I think really sells the judges here is when he describes the concept as one that suits takeout and even catering – go buy a bowl of gumbo, or a couple of gallons to feed a crowd. That’s a food that reheats well and even gets better the next day. Hold your surprise, but Isaac’s gumbo is good, by the way.

* Kwame’s concept name is Waffle Me, which is great, but it’s all downhill from there. Customers would customize their waffle, topping, and spice level. He’s serving a whole wheat waffle topped with fried chicken, maple jus, mustard seeds, and an ancho chili crust (on the waffles, I think). Blais says the dish is a “disaster of a business model” because the bites are way too small. The frozen waffles weren’t good, of course.

* Marjorie’s concept is called Pasta Mama. One idea is to have a pasta extruder in every store, but I assume she’d ship the fresh pasta sheets from a central facility? Making pasta fresh on-site seems like a tall order for fast casual. Tom notes and admires the use of the fryer as the pasta cooking vessel. Her dish is olive-oil poached tuna with spaghetti, chili, garlic, lemon bread crumb. Tom says the tuna is cooked well. He and Blais are already working on commercials.

* Jeremy has the worst concept name, “Taco Dudes.” Adam says the menu has too many unfamiliar terms on it, although Tom sees a social media campaign around them. I think I side with Adam – you don’t want a menu to intimidate a customer who has just walked in without knowing the place already. Jeremy’s dish is crispy pork belly with nam pla caramel glaze, lime aioli, cabbage slaw, and pickled habaneros. Jeremy starts describing the place as a gastropub with a rooftop garden and “hot chicks serving you.” That gets a look from Padma, as it should, because he’s apparently a pig. Are you selling tacos or boobs? The food is good, but the concept isn’t.

* Amar’s Pio Pio has a very simple format and menu; his dish is chicken with Spanish yellow rice, four bean salad, and a choice of four sauces – I caught two, romesco and a chimichurri sauce. Rather than serving whole chicken pieces, he’s shredded the meat and mixed the white and dark together, which I think is a terrible move because there are people who, for health or taste reasons, prefer only one kind. Plus shredding is more work for the kitchen. Blais says Amar didn’t sell the concept well enough and the chicken doesn’t have the rotisserie flavor it should.

* Top three were Marjorie, for the dish and the concept’s “great branding opportunities;” Carl, for a “very articulate vision” of the restaurant (yeah, because we’ve seen something a lot like it before); and Isaac, who I think had the best concept, and of course the judges loved the gumbo.

* Kwame’s chicken and waffles were “nothing special” compared to others the judges have tried, his portions were too small, and have I mentioned that he used frozen waffles? Amar’s concept isn’t novel, although the sauces were good. Jeremy’s concept was “half-baked” and the judges say they’ve seen plenty of Asian taco places before. One thing I’ll say in Jeremy’s defense is that I think the Asian taco concept is still largely limited to major cities, maybe even just major cities on the coasts; it’s definitely not in small-town America very much, although I see no reason it wouldn’t work everywhere.

* Judges’ table: Majorie and Carl at the top. She’s not Italian but the judges just loved the concept. Adam says it’s hard to do pasta in fast-casual environment but she twisted it and “made it your own,” whatever that means – it doesn’t explain how she could execute fresh pasta in that type of restaurant. Carl’s food looks healthy and colorful, and the menu focuses on flavors Tom says are popular right now.

* Carl wins. He was the overwhelming favorite of the diners too.

* The bottom two are Kwame and Jeremy. Jeremy’s had a “few flavors missing,” and the concept was flawed. Tom can’t get past the “two dudes” name and explanation, saying that that story goes with fish tacos rather than pork. But the whole concept – in a gastropub, with a roof garden, with hot chicks – was a mess. Kwame’s dish required “too much technical precision” for fast-casual … and hey, frozen waffles, dumbass. Tom points out that the menu showed sweet-potato waffles, for example, and if Kwame had made those, he would probably have fared much better.

* Kwame is eliminated. Frozen anything gets you sent home. He gives a thoughtful thank-you speech to Tom, where he started at Craft as a waiter. You could see Tom was both very surprised and touched.

* LCK: Tom starts by saying Kwame is there because of the frozen waffles, so it’s a breakfast challenge, even though he says chefs hate working that shift and concedes that at home he’ll even serve frozen waffles to his kids. The chefs have fifteen minutes to make a creative breakfast.

* I grew up eating Eggos quite a bit and they do still have a nostalgic appeal to me, although if we have waffles in the freezer at my house, they’re probably leftovers from a weekend breakfast I made from scratch. Just lay them out on the counter on a cooling rack until they reach room temperature, then put them in a freezer bag. If you put hot waffles in the bag without cooling them, you’re trapping all that steam you want to lose first and the waffles will get soggy.

* I think it’s weird Kwame doesn’t have a waffle recipe off the top of his head. Even I do. They’re really just pancakes with more fat.

* Kwame is making egg bhurji, an Indian dish with lots of savory flavors and spices. Jason is making migas, a Spanish dish usually made from leftover bread that’s stale. He’s using fresh bread and just tearing it, rather than throwing it in a food processor to grind it a bit.

* The chefs in the peanut gallery are all acting very silly, or just drunk. Probably drunk, not that there’s anything wrong with that.

* Jason deep-fries the eggs rather than skillet-fry them, which is easier to manage and also gives the white a nice crispy, brown edge. Is poaching an egg in 15 minutes too risky because you can’t redo it? I think the Alton Brown method I’ve used requires about 12 minutes, so it’s doable, but you’ve got just one shot.

* Jason’s migas has sausage, pine nuts, currants, and thyme, and it’s kind of like a big hash where you break the egg yolk and toss it all together. Tom loves it. Kwame serves the egg scrambled with the bhurji like a thick sauce over brioche with cilantro. Tom seems to like it too. He’s surprised there’s no curry in the eggs but I think the sauce is so flavorful that he thought the eggs were spiced too. (Side note: Every recipe I found for eggs bhurji includes hing, the spice also known as asafoetida, an Indian spice famous for its fetid smell. I’ve actually never seen the spice here, although I imagine it’s easy to find in Indian groceries.)

* Tom loved both, but says “if I had to travel” to go eat one dish again, it would have been to Spain for Jason’s. So Kwame, who seemed like he was lapping the field before the ten-years-ago challenge, doesn’t even reach the finals.

* Ranking: Marjorie, Carl, Jason, Isaac, Amar, Jeremy. Carl’s stayed very strong throughout the season, but I think this is Marjorie’s to win right now. Jeremy was saved by Kwame’s disastrous choice this week, but he’s had more flops this season than any two other chefs remaining combined.


School of Seven Bells were working on their third album when member Ben Curtis, who was half of the group along with Alehandra Deheza, was diagnosed with T-cell lymphoblastic lymphoma; ten months after announcing the diagnosis, he died of the disease in December of 2013, leaving behind much of the music that has now appeared on the group’s final album, SVIIB (amazoniTunes). Deheza, who was both Curtis’ musical partner and his former romantic partner, has done a number of interviews about the difficulty of revisiting this material and completing the album, which she did with the help of Curtis’ brother Brandon (of The Secret Machines) and producer Justin Meldal-Johnson, after taking a break from music to grieve. The resulting record is a gorgeous elegy to her late partner and their life and work together, bringing the same ethereal post-new wave style of music but with a new lyrical direction and, of course, the subtext of Curtis’ death underpinning the entire album.

The opener, “Ablaze,” is probably the most recognizably SVIIB song, teetering on the edge of upbeat dream-pop and their more traditional soundscape musical style, but when Deheza appears with the opening line, “How could I have known/the god of my youth/would come crashing down on my heart?” it’s clear that we are no longer in typical lyrical territory for the duo. It is impossible to hear Deheza singing (or sing-talking, as she does on several tracks) without thinking everything is directed at Curtis or is merely about him, whether it’s the references on “Ablaze” to Curtis relighting the spark in her life when she “had sunk into the black,” or the dual meanings on “Open Your Eyes,” one of which is directed at the partner whose eyes will never open again.

School of Seven Bells’ best tracks from their first three albums combined strong pop hooks built on layers of synthesizers and drum machines, a huge shift from Curtis’ work with his brother in The Secret Machines or as drummer for Tripping Daisy, but better built to take advantage of Deheza’s lower registers and the smoky quality to her voice. They seemed like the spiritual descendants of early Lush, but with cleaner sounds than shoegaze acts from twenty years ago, so that you could easily distinguish between the layers of music and could understand the lyrics. The first seven tracks on SVIIB all follow a similar template, most of them very successful as alternative/pop songs; “A Thousand Times More” could be a HAERTS track, while “Signals” meanders more into Chairlift/Grimes territory, but with richer textures, with a deluge of sound in the intense chorus.

And then we get to the final two tracks, “Confusion” and “This is Our Time,” where the tempo slows to match the mood of the lyrics, from elegy to eulogy, songs drenched in loss and grief. What we lose in melody we gain in emotional power as Deheza sings to Curtis’ memory over the album’s sparsest musical arrangements. She opens the latter track’s chorus with “Our time is indestructible,” but with Curtis’ passing she can only be referring to her memories of their time together, and how those can carry her forward despite her grief. I felt that the transition from seven mostly uptempo tracks to what is essentially a two-part closer with a slower pace and more funereal feel was sudden, but there’s no smarter way to organize the nine songs on the album, and pairing these two at the end makes clear the album’s dual purpose and the finality of its subject.

There are still missteps, like the lyrics to “On My Heart,” a shimmering pop song where Deheza trips herself up by eschewing the more poetic, image-laden words on the rest of the album, and her sing-talking technique starts to slip off-key. I’d much rather hear Deheza sing, even though her style is more finesse than power, given her voice’s airy, sensual quality, but it also seems like she had so much to say on some of SVIIB‘s tracks that singing the lyrics might not have left her enough time to get it all on the record. The album was probably going to receive praise anyway, because who’s going to trash an album recorded by a deceased musician and his grieving partner, but it turns out that School of Seven Bells’ swansong is their finest work to date, deserving of all the accolades it’s receiving and likely to end 2016 as one of the year’s best albums.

Klawchat 2/25/16.

My ranking of the top 25 prospects by 2016 impact is now up for Insiders.

Klaw: I take this more serious than just a poem. Klawchat.

Chris in London: Some articles and John Henry have revived the analytics vs scouting debate? Why is there even a debate? Surely an organisation should exploit both. They’re not mutually exclusive.
Klaw: Analytics are an easy scapegoat. Remember Frank McCourt blaming them when he fired Depodesta and hired Colletti? It’s a combination of Trumpian pandering and the misconception that “analytics” are not actually produced by people the way scouting reports are.

Matt: Some warm weather in Louisville encouraged me to catch the Cardinals playing this weekend. Corey Ray was really impressive offensively and defensively (Feb. competition notwithstanding). One of my friends tried to comp him to Ken Griffey Jr. (we aren’t friends anymore), but I thought Jacoby Ellsbury is more realistic projection of his ceiling. Or am I way off as well?
Klaw: Less speed/defense than Ellsbury, more power. Bear in mind that Louisville outscored their opponentss 53-7 in those four games. I don’t think playing Pencil State and Little Sisters of the Poor counts the way some of their in-conference opponents will.

Anonymous: What do you think of Rangers’ David Perez? Beyondtheboxscore called him one of the best underrated prospects in the game. Would you agree?
Klaw: That’s silly, he’s been on the radar for at least four years and has no history of staying healthy. Great arm, of course, and if he ended up throwing 40 good innings for Texas’ bullpen this year I wouldn’t be surprised.

Matt: Since your last chat (as I’m sure you saw), Umberto Eco passed away. Did you ever read any of his works? The Name of the Rose remains the best and most challenging book I’ve ever read. An incredible blend of murder mystery fiction with medieval history, semiotics, philosophy, and religious studies all mixed in.
Klaw: Loved Name of the Rose for all the reasons you mentioned. Foucault’s Pendulum was a huge disappointment, primarily because he could not finish the plot.

Bob: Do you think Braxton Davidson has the hit tool to make enough contact to be a quality corner bat in the majors?
Klaw: Yes. He’s also got more power than stat-line scouting might lead you to believe.

Ben: I take it you don’t like Robert Stephenson’s chances of being a fulltime SP for Cincy this year?
Klaw: Is there a spot in their rotation for him? I don’t see one.

Ciscoskid: I found your comment about Gray not having little deception interesting. Is deception a skill, or attribute that you would focus on finding pitchers who had it for the Rockies rotation. So despite the stuff not being great a big deceptive fast ball might be highly effective?
Klaw: Deception comes from the delivery. If the hitter can’t see the ball till fairly late in the delivery, the pitcher gets a substantial advantage. Gray has as little deception as any pitching prospect I saw all last year, and a hard, straight fastball without deception is … well, that’s been one of Mark Appel’s problems, too.

Casey: Do you think Luke Weaver has the ceiling of a number 3 or 4 starter?
Klaw: I think he’s a reliever. FB-CH but not even a fringe-average breaking ball. Smaller guy too.

Brandon: How do you see the major league playing time for Gallo, Mazara, and Brinson playing out this year? Does Profar get first crack in the outfield?
Klaw: I don’t know, but I hope they do something like that, playing Profar, rather than acquiring a veteran to play LF. They have enough internal options to cover them until Hamilton is healthy (j/k) or one of those kids is ready to come up and perform.

Nick: Thoughts on Boras’ elite draft idea?
Klaw: He described something very much like this to me maybe four or five years ago, and I think he has the concept right. He’s absolutely correct that in any draft class there are only a few players whose market value would blow away these slot bonuses, and for most other kids, the draft shaves a little off their potential earnings but not a ton. His idea is focused on getting the Strasburg/Harper talents paid, and I support that without reservation, even though I think implementing his idea would be tricky because it creates opportunities for teams to manipulate the pool.

Jack: Will you travel to see Jason groome this year?
Klaw: He’s like 80 miles from my house, so, yes.

Alex: Does the fact that Anthony Alford has limited pro experience to date mean he could advance up prospect lists with a strong performance this year? With so few pro games he could be undervalued due to lack of exposure… What do you see his ceiling being?
Klaw: I do not believe he’s undervalued at all, nor is there a “lack of exposure.” He was a first-round talent in HS, and just played a full year in two full-season leagues. We got him. But he could shoot up into my top 10-15 this year because he’ll go to AA and now has a full season of at bats under his belt, as opposed to last year when he came in somewhat cold, with only about 150 pro AB before 2015.

Dave M: As a Cubs fan I loved your ranking of G. Torres. Are you at all concerned with his relatively high(21%) SO rate at low A?
Klaw: Well, no, or I wouldn’t have ranked him there. Also, that’s not that high a K% and he was exceptionally young for low-A.

Michael: Do you still think Foltynewicz can be an effective starter or with all the arms they’ve acquired is he just destined now for the pen??
Klaw: After the injury he might need to go to the bullpen for the interim anyway. I’d rather see him in the 8th or 9th and Blair in his rotation spot.

Jason (DC): You once were high on Dalton Pompey as a prospect. Still believe a breakout could come if given the opportunity?
Klaw: Yep, still a fan, haven’t really changed my view of him.

Dan: Understanding right now it seems unlikely. Should the Angels trade Trout? Is there any team in the league that has enough to trade for him?
Klaw: No, and just for the record (I know you’re not saying this), I never said the Angels should trade Trout. I said they will have to look at this if they don’t improve the system dramatically in the next 2-3 years or win a title in the meantime. But as long as he’s here, in his prime, and affordable, the mandate should be to build as good a team around him as possible.

PhillyJake: In Scottsdale many years ago I ate at Grimaldi’s, a brick over pizza place. When I lived in Brooklyn Heights, I used to go to his place under the Brooklyn Bridge. It was great. Wondering if the place in Scotssdale is still there and if it’s still any good?
Klaw: It’s a chain of about 20 places now, mostly in the southwest, although there’s no longer any formal connection with the locations in Brooklyn. I have tried both and actually prefer the pizza at the AZ places.

Andy: Does it worry you that someone putting together Time’s literature list may not know literature that well? I agree, Evelyn Waugh has a female sounding name, but no one looking at the list noticed that maybe he shouldn’t be on a list of top female authors.
Klaw: On the bright side, people are talking about Evelyn Waugh, and his work definitely deserves to be read. Scoop is just timeless.

Bret: With Jose Bautista’s negotiating stance making it seem highly likely he’ll be a free agent after this season, would you say that the Blue Jays window to contend will end after this season?
Klaw: I tried to say something like this but in less dramatic terms on TSN 1050 yesterday. If they get to July 15th and are not in the hunt, they should trade Bautista and begin a retooling, although they still have enough of a core that they might be able to turn it over into a contending team in 2017 if they trade shrewdly.

Scott of Lincolnshire: What in the eff are the Cubs going to do with their OF? Baez and/or Soler trade coming?
Klaw: I don’t understand the responses from fans about Baez. He hadn’t earned a thing. If this sends him back to AAA, so be it. A good September against largely non-contending teams shouldn’t change our opinion of the player.

Chris: Do you think players often read scouting reports of themselves from outside sources such as you or BA? And if not, do you think they should?
Klaw: I would hope not. I don’t write these for players. I write them for you.

Sam: Should Mazara be the Rangers LF this year?
Klaw: Doesn’t even have 100 AB above AA, right? I don’t think his bat is ready.

Derek Harvey: Just a heads up if you aren’t already aware, the link you tweeted doesn’t go here, but to an article on ESPN.
Klaw: Fixed, thanks. Too many links. (too many liiiiinks)

Jim: Obviously lots of info still trickling in, but what’s your reaction to the Brooks trade/Fowler signing and possible trades the Cubs might pursue with their outfield surplus?
Klaw: I’ll add that it’s a nice pickup for Oakland. Brooks is an up-and-down guy for me, and deployed properly Coghlan can be worth a win or two.

Matt: When it comes to teams like Atl, Philly, Cincy, etc., would you be in favor of playing the young players/prospects that are close to MLB ready or stop-gap veterans? For example, Jenkins or Blair in Atlanta rather than Kendrick or Chacin. It seems like it would make sense to get the younger players ready and lose that way instead of losing with retreads. Just my thoughts. Thanks, Keith
Klaw: I’d rather play the kids if they’re ready. I would never advocate rushing a kid to a non-contending team just for the sake of not paying a veteran, but I might argue that, say, the Twins should give Buxton the CF job now because his glove and speed will help them even if his bat isn’t quite ready.

Chris: How should qualifying offer process change? I think it’s brutal as is but not sure what would make more sense.
Klaw: All ties between free agency and the draft should be severed.

Alex: How does Aaron Judge not make the top 25 prospects by 2016 impact list? Have to assume he gets promoted when a Beltran or Ellsbury hits the DL.
Klaw: Do we have to assume that? What if he’s striking out 30% of the time in AAA? I’m a big fan of Judge’s, but there’s a significant hurdle for him to clear before he’s ready. Even AA pitchers were exploiting him on the outside edge when I saw him last summer.

Mel Judd: How long before Ray Montgomery gets a GM gig?
Klaw: Really thought the Brewers would promote him, but that whole search process seemed rigged from the start. Attanasio decided who he wanted before it began.

Jon: Is the situation with Lazarito scary and cause to finally clean up/change the international signing process?
Klaw: Not scary, just typical for down there. Lots of people have “invested” in him and want to get paid. MLB should step up its presence in the DR even further, though, because that’s the only way we’ll get more transparency in the process.

ECinDC: In the Impact Players column you mentioned that Danny Espinosa is a poor defender at SS. From the eye test (which admittedly isn’t great), he looks fantastic and had great numbers at 2B. Why the negative assessment, as I have always thought the knock on him to be the weak average/obp?
Klaw: He’s good at 2b but not at short. Also can’t hit. Other than that, great player.

Ed: Do you think Will Benson and Delvin Perez are to HS players that will end up going top 5 this year? Seems like a better HS bat crop than initially reported.
Klaw: Perez might have the best tools in the class, but his makeup is getting a lot of criticism from scouts, directors, even two GMs I asked. He doesn’t always play hard, and there have been some attitude questions even off the field. So he could go top five – he could go top 2 or 3 – or he could slide because teams worry he won’t have the commitment to be a big leaguer. Benson is in the top group of HS position players with Rutherford, Moniak, Nolan Jones.

Ben: Where would have betts and swihart ranked in your top 100 if eligible?
Klaw: Betts just had a 5-WAR season in the majors, right? You can’t put that guy on a top 100 prospects list. It’s like asking where Mike Trout would rank.

Matt B: Which Phillies prospect has the highest ceiling other than Crawford?
Klaw: Kilome. Maybe Randolph, just because he can really hit, but the bar is pretty high for his bat now that he’s in LF.

Tom: Is there any main reason that the Angels have earned their #30 ranking? Bad drafts? Constant giving up their #1 draft pick to sign past their prime free agents?
Klaw: Some bad drafts. Some drafts without high picks. Lots of trades. Some non-development of guys like Cowart, who was a legit first-round pick.

Joe: Why have you fallen of on Moancada?
Klaw: I don’t think I fell off anyone. And this is making me uncomfortable.

mike: what is the Bluejay obsession with Jay Bruce? Jacoby was hitting instructor during his most successful year, but the rumoured acquisition did not match the required additional salary for a limited budget team like Toronto
Klaw: I don’t understand it either. He’s not that good of a player.

John Uskglass: Do you ever, or how often, do you get discouraged when writing about a topic (sports) that always is looking to predict future and find answers on why things are, yet is almost entirely unpredictable because of the ever fluid nature of an athlete’s skills & inherent randomness?
Klaw: No. I recognize the nature of what I’m doing is as much entertainment as anything else. I try to do my job to the best of my abilities, but failure is built in and I’ve come to terms with that.

JT: What is your gut feeling on how Dylan Bundy performs this season?
Klaw: My gut feeling is that he’s hurt and barely pitches if at all.

Matt B: If you had to make a comparison to what Scott kingery could be, what player would you compare him to?
Klaw: Altuve. Now, that’s projecting to an unreasonable extent on Kingery’s hit tool, but bear in mind I had him as a first-round talent in June, so I’m fairly optimistic on him. It’s a similar profile, but Altuve was in the big leagues at Kingery’s age.

Dane: Having an arguement with a friend, i think a trade involving Bogaerts for Harvey straight up is awful. Pitchers are always a questionable investment. Bogaerts is a once in a lifetime player. Thoughts?
Klaw: I would not trade Bogaerts for Harvey, but I don’t think Xander is a “once in a lifetime player.”

Ted: JBJ + for Soler. Both OFs align nicer this way. Any chance?
Klaw: Makes no sense for the Cubs. The hell would they need with another outfielder?

Nate A: Keith your thoughts on the slide rule change, particularly the change in ability to review neighborhood plays?
Klaw: If this causes umps to get the neighborhood play right more frequently, great. If this means 200 more replay delays this year to overturn stubborn umps who refuse to call the neighborhood play as it should be, not great.

Thomas: What is a realistic ceiling for Max Kepler? Could he be a 300/370/450 guy with 50 XBH a year?
Klaw: Think there’s a little more power in there.

cw: Delvin Perez, AJ Puk, or Jason Groome to Philly? I’m leaning Perez
Klaw: I would bet you right now it’s none of the above. I see virtually zero chance it’s Groome, not much more it’s Perez, and if you’re offering me Puk or the field, I’m taking the field. Ray, Jefferies, Jones, one of those prep bats I mentioned – plenty of other options.

Jason: Do you see the “top” college arms like Puk and Hansen falling this spring behind the draft’s HS bats and possibly arms?
Klaw: Hansen needs to pitch well, stat. He came into the year with a red flag on his elbow, and then was awful week one. Puk will go pretty high as a “safe” college lefty with size and stuff.

Jason: Remember during the last CBA negotiations how the new IFA restrictions were to prevent large teams from throwing money around and helping to protect smaller markets. Funny how that ended up.
Klaw: Every time MLB has tried to tweak its tax code to implement social policies, it has backfired. I’m shocked, shocked to find this.

Alan: Any feedback regarding catcher Sean Murphy from Wright State?
Klaw: He seems like a solid first rounder.

RAW: I notice you didn’t mention Vogelbach in your Cubs top ten+. Is he simply a non-prospect?
Klaw: For me, yes. DH only who hasn’t hit for much power.

Alex: If Groome and Perez are picked 1-2, what names should the Braves look at with the 3rd pick? When will you post your first mock draft?
Klaw: Those guys are not 1-2. Again, I see virtually no chance the Phillies take Groome, or any HS pitcher, at 1. My first mock draft will be about three weeks before draft day, so early to mid-May. Anything too far before that is a fabrication.

Josh: Tough board game question: I have an 8 year old daughter, recently diagnosed with ASD. As part of her therapy it’s been suggested that she play board games. What are some suggestions that won’t bore me to tears? She has attention and sensory issues. Long waits between turns is bad. Things she can interact with by touch are good. She is very bright, so that’s not an issue.
Klaw: That’s a really good question. Of the games I know, many of which are aimed at older kids or adults, Splendor is pretty quick between turns and has thick plastic tokens as well as cards and cardboard badges. Jaipur, which is just a two-player game, has similar components. They’re also both simple for an 8-year-old to learn. I’ve also played Splendor with a kid about that age who has sensory processing disorder, and she liked it.

Ray: I know you value defense highly, but what kind of hitter can we expect Nick Williams to be as a big leaguer? 20 HR, 20 SB, .280 BA type bat?
Klaw: Not sold on that kind of average, and I think he’ll always be a low OBP guy. Could see that 20/20 profile though.

James: Do you believe Groome will go #1 to the Phils? Local guy , they love him.
Klaw: /slams head into kitchen table

BD: A few years ago in chat, you actually suggested the Nats move Espinosa to SS, because he could handle it, and because it would improve his trade value since there was more scarcity at SS. Just saying.
Klaw: A few years later, he’s no longer very good there. Let’s not pretend players never change or that defense doesn’t get worse as a player approaches or passes 30. Just saying.

Thomas: Just read Moneyball again recently. Do you agree with the Athletics on not taking high school players due to the risks involved? Or is it more of a case by case basis for you?
Klaw: Never. It was a good idea, briefly, while college players were being undervalued by the industry. That window closed fast.

JakeInCanada: Does Anthony Alford’s particular skillset give him a chance for a high ceiling, high floor, or both/none? He’s been impressive, considering his time away from baseball.
Klaw: High ceiling especially because I think there’s more power to come.

Kevin (DC): The Yankees are trying Refsnyder at 3B. It will likely end in disaster, but I kind of like the idea that they at least tried. Are other teams looking at this approach for player development?
Klaw: I agree. They don’t get enough credit for trying out players at different positions where they might have more value. Doesn’t have to work all the time to be a good strategy. Cardinals have done this a little, with Carson Kelly the most notable example.

Ed: Regarding your mention of Delvin Perez’s makeup concerns, would you draft a player with a great skill set hoping he will mature or would you not waste a top 10 pick on a potential headache?
Klaw: If it’s just immaturity, I’d take the risk, especially since I think he has 1-1 caliber tools (at least in this class he does). If the kid had anger issues, or a drug problem, or something else worse – none of which is true about Perez to the best of my knowledge – I would pass. I remember when Elijah Dukes was in the draft class, and I was with Toronto; he had first-round tools but we wanted no part of him.

Tom: My 9 year old son and I finished all the Kazaam books on your Jasper Fforde suggestion a couple of months ago. Any other readaloud suggestions?
Klaw: Diana Wynne Jones’ Howl’s Moving Castle and Castle in the Sky have both been hits with my daughter.

@Jaypers413: Don’t most managers and pitching coaches take more than 30 seconds just to make it to the mound?
Klaw: Well, you know, hurry the fuck up already.

John Uskglass: With regards to top prospects, what do you think a reasonable expectation is of them? I know everyone thinks a player ranked in the top ten of top 100 prospects list is destined to be a superstar, but the odds of that are way lower than people think. I would think the front office looks at it as a success if a top prospect turns out average to above average WAR seasons for multiple years and fans are disappointed in anything less than multiple 6+ WAR seasons. Like if Byron Buxton’s WAR then next 5 years (assuming regular playing time) were: 1.3, 1.6, 3.6, 3, 2.4. How many people would take that right now?
Klaw: I think the Twins would see that as very disappointing. I would too. He might only be a 1-2 WAR player now, because I’m afraid he’ll post a .290 OBP this year, but he has 4+ WAR upside and I would hope after 1000 major league PA he’d have made some adjustments at the plate.

Stu: Would Kyle Lewis be too big of a reach at #3 for Atlanta?
Klaw: Hell yes. Can’t take a college kid with that noisy a swing and that much swing and miss at 3 overall.

BD: If you were to do one… overspend your rule 4 draft budget (and take penalty), or overspend your IFA budget (and that that penalty)?
Klaw: The IFA penalty is just money, so that’s the easy choice. That said, if Bryce Harper were in the draft class, and I was picking 2nd or 3rd, you’re damn right I’d call him and offer him $20 million and take the penalty.

Chris: Matt Bowman gonna stick on Cardinals roster?
Klaw: I don’t see how. Nice pitcher, great AAA depth starter, but where does he fit for them?

Alex_NY: If you could pick one Mets starter to pitch a do or die game, who would it be?
Klaw: Harvey. No disrespect to Thor or deGrom. You could do a lot worse.

Michael: Correct me if I’m wrong, but I assume you were a baseball fan before you got into the industry. For those of us interested in sports as a career, does having baseball as a job take away some of its enjoyment and turn a hobby into a job or hassle?
Klaw: It is a job now, not a hobby. I still enjoy the sport, enjoy watching it and following it, but you see how many other hobbies or interests I have, and that is in part because I want things in my life that are not work. Baseball is work now.

David: You ever read the Game of Thrones books?
Klaw: First one. Hated it. Lurid, rapey crap.

Goldenface: Do you believe there are any analytics (velocity, pitch type, pitch F/X data, etc.) that can crack the mystery of predicting injuries, or are injuries just a thing that are too dependent on the specifics of the player in question and we won’t be able to accurately apply a large data analysis?
Klaw: I lean towards the latter. Of course, we should keep trying, but I think genetics play too big a role for us to ever get to a level of certainty that makes us comfortable with the type of decisions we make around estimates of future health.

Alex_NY: What should the Mets strategy be in the draft? Best player available, young, top HS talent, more developed college players, etc?
Klaw: Every team’s strategy should be best players available. I say “players,” because sometimes you’ll cut a deal at pick #6 to get a better player at pick #38, and that’s how you end up with the best portfolio of players.

Ryan: Can Sam Tuivailala be an above average reliever? I’ve heard that he could potentially be a closer some day. Are people only saying this because he throws hard or is that potential there?
Klaw: Slider is legit when it’s on. I think he could be a closer some day too. The sample is too small to mean much, but I like that he missed more bats in August and September last year, at least.

Daniel: You know deception is valuable when pitchers Like Chris Young and his 84 MPH are still relatively successful.
Klaw: Yep. It’s going to be a big part of Sean Manaea’s success in the majors too. Left-handed hitters especially won’t see the ball.

Dave: For the child with sensory issues, try King of Tokyo. My 8 year old loves it. Vibrant board, fun monsters, lots of dice rolls, etc.
Klaw: Thank you. Time between turns might a little long.

Jason: Blake Snell isn’t going to make an impact this year?
Klaw: I never said that.

Dan: Thoughts on the Twins saying Sano won’t play any third base this year?
Klaw: I don’t blame them.

Drew: What do you think Connor Jones’ ceiling is?
Klaw: I’m going to see him tomorrow afternoon. I think mid-rotation starter with good probability. Maybe a little more if that sink is as good as I think it is.

Michael: Do you agree with MLB’s handling of Jose Reyes? Does the result of his criminal case really matter?
Klaw: I wonder if they are hoping the criminal case solves the problem for them. If he’s convicted, or pleads to anything, they can just point to that and suspend him for a long time.

Braves: Think this news regarding Lazarito bodes well for the Braves signing him? A duo with him and Maitan would be an impressive haul…
Klaw: I think Lazarito is highly overrated by folks who have never seen him play.

cw: Are you worried about Trump being President?
Klaw: I’ll put it this way: I don’t want him to be President. But Sinclair Lewis told me it can’t happen here.

Matt: In comparison to the every-year 16 yr dominican/venezuelan J2 pitchers, how good a prospect is Adrian Morejon? i know there was a report of an 8-figure bonus, is this purely a cuba-tax? is his talent even close to justifying it?
Klaw: From what I’ve heard, he’s worth it, or something close.

Keith: If Matz stays relatively healthy moving forward, what is his ceiling? Also, is he so injury plagued? Delivery looks relatively easy, seemingly somewhat durable build…
Klaw: Look at the history of injuries. I only mentioned some of them in the top 100 capsule and there were more I omitted. It’s probably a #2 starter if you think he can handle 180+ on a regular basis. He’s never reached 150, though, and he’s been in pro ball since 2009.

José (not Peraza): I read from several sources that José Peraza was an elite defensive SS not that long ago. What happened? Is ti all mismanagement, poor evaluation or something else?
Klaw: Don’t think he was elite, but I think he could have been elite had he stayed there. Now he’s two years off the position and hasn’t developed much if at all with the bat.

Raphael: Hey Keith. How come Correa (listed at 6’4, 210 lbs) doesn’t face the same questions about being able to stick at SS as Seager does?
Klaw: Seager’s bigger and less agile. Correa faces those questions too, by the way. I don’t think Correa’s still a shortstop in five years.

Drew: If possible, while in Charlottesville,
Klaw: Love it. Been twice. Cool space too, although last time I was there it was overpacked.

PhillyJake: KLaw for President?
Klaw: Eric B. for President. I’ll be VP.

TJ: 20-80 scale, how difficult will the next round of CBA talks be between the owners and the players be? Would either side be willing to risk killing their golden goose?
Klaw: 30. Everyone’s making bank. The sticking points are all around the margins.

Paul: With 12 man pitching staffs, do you think more teams featuring staffs with lower K/9 and stuff should adopt the Rays / 3 times through the order approach for their worst starters, supplanting them with long-men? I think about the Twins rotation, and with health and their youth, you could maximize many 120 IP for the guys by turning like Nolasco/Milone/May as a caddy for the starter.
Klaw: I think that you’re going to see more teams employ long men and keep starters on shorter workloads not just for the TTO penalty, but to try to keep them healthy by just plain using them less.

Nate: Ever stayed at any of the DVC properties while at WDW? (Wondering about Old Key West in particular)
Klaw: Yes. Pricey, but high quality.

Stu: Do you have any thoughts on Jeren Kendall as a prospect, or is it too early?
Klaw: Guy was a top 20 talent out of high school. He’s only gotten better, but he’s been well-known and very well-regarded for about three years now. Could have had $1.5MM at least out of HS.

Rob: Was Gary Sanchez under consideration for your list? I gather lack of obvious playing time is an issue.
Klaw: He was not, for that very reason.

Jon: What is the best way to clean a cast iron grill pan? Steel wool?
Klaw: No, a non-abrasive pad like a Dobie. Clean right away with soap and hot water, rinse, dry FULLY, then heat with a little oil to retreat the surface.

Andy: So assuming that at the least, Reyes’ trade value is shot, the Rockies traded a possible top 15 player in MLB for extra money in 2018-2020 and 3 pitching prospects who currently rank as two possible #3’s and a future reliever. That’s bad asset management.
Klaw: Well, clearing the money was probably the priority there.

Corey: Do you think Pat Light will make a contribution in the pen this year or more likely next season? What about Marmol, Sox have identified a delivery issue supposedly and think they can fix him.
Klaw: I’ll believe in Marmol having value when I see it. This strikes me as more “the games haven’t started and we need something to write about” than “hey, this guy who hasn’t been good in six years is good again.” Light is ready to help in middle relief.

Craig: Is Eric Thames that much better than when he was a major leaguer or is the KBO that bad?
Klaw: The KBO is a lot worse than MLB and it’s a very high-offense league.

Scott of Lincolnshire: Going to NOLA for the first time (the city, not the Phillies pitcher). What’s your #1 place to eat there?
Klaw: Cochon.

mtsw: Britton for Soler make sense for both side on paper?
Klaw: Not for the Cubs.

Mike: Jason Heyward being the first MLBer younger than me was enough to make me feel old, but j2’ers born in 2000? That’s too much.
Klaw: I’m old enough now that the HS kids in this draft were all born when I was in grad school.

Scotty G: Could Carlos Martinez become an elite, Cy Young candidate pitcher this season – what is his ceiling in your opinion?
Klaw: Might put him in the Matz category of “great when healthy but not often healthy.”

Jimmy: Do you think Jorge Polanco can handle SS as soon as this season? Or is he the eventual successor to Dozier? Maybe they can just bench Dozier post-ASB since he hits like Brian Dennehey in the 2nd half.
Klaw: You’re eventually going to want more defense at short than Polanco will provide, but he might be their everyday guy there by the midpoint.

Justin: Thoughts on Isan Diaz? Does he eventually end up at 2B?
Klaw: I think third base. Not a shortstop. Looks like he’ll hit enough for 2b or 3b.

Dana: Seems like a Brett Gardner trade to the Angels for young pitching makes a lot of sense for both sides. Am I missing something?
Klaw: You’re missing the part that helps the Angels.

Bill: What is it about Devon Travis, on the field, that you are not high on? What are his major flaws?
Klaw: Don’t like the swing or the defense.

Kevin: Hi Keith, Jays Fan. Please tell me Shapiro is smart enough to not pay Bautista for his past? He has averaged about 4.5 fangraphs WAR the last 4 years. What would have been fair value for that? $20m/year? Use him for a playoff run this year and take the compensation pick for the qualifying offer at year end.
Klaw: No chance. I think Bautista made Shapiro’s life easy.

Jeff: I am very interested in your thoughts on Billy Hamilton. Does he generate enough productivity with speed and defense that it is worth playing him every day, or do you think the bat will put him on the bench?
Klaw: He does, but he should hit 8th or 9th.

Rob: It seems from Twitter that you and Jonathan Mayo are on one side of the Amed Rosario divide. Is he divisive because his profile has seemingly changed? What’s the good outcome here? Alcides Escobar with a little more bat?
Klaw: I think we’re both big believers in him, no? Rosario can hit and he’s going to come into some power. It’s bat speed and strength. He went from short-season right to St. Lucie, which dampens power considerably.

Alex: I picked up Section Eleven on your recommendation Monday after work. I finished it Tuesday, it was fantastic, thank you. Do you have any recommendations for similar books? I have read most of David Mitchell.
Klaw: Bel Canto by Ann Patchett.

Nils: Hi Keith, who is the best defensive OFer in your top 100? Maybe Brinson? Alford?
Klaw: Buxton, Brinson, Margot, Almora, Alford.

Chris: Thoughts on cooking with a slow cooker?
Klaw: I’m cooking a pork shoulder in mine right now.

Jake: What’s your feeling on expensive restaurants with lengthy tasting menus (to name a few in NYC, Ko, Blanca, Chef’s Table) – great experience, colossal waste of money, or something in between?
Klaw: I’ve had the nine-course-plus-little plates meal at the Catbird Seat in Nashville, which featured amazing food but was also very much an experience in presentation, show, and technical skills. I would have a hard time spending that kind of money on even an infrequent basis, though, as great as that meal was. I can only eat so much.

John: Please break down the Fowler deal and how it effects the Cubs and the O’s please. Thanks. Really want to get your opinion here
Klaw: There’s nothing to break down. He went back to where he was, and he was never an Oriole anyway.

Michael: How far would you be willing to go on Bautista right now? 4 years/$80MM?
Klaw: Nope. Less.

Tom: Just how bad are the Phillies going to be this year? I have some hope for a little more excitement and a few more wins than last year.
Klaw: I think they’re going to be very interesting by the second half, when a bunch of the kids should be up and playing. It may not mean more wins, but it would be a much better product to watch. I’ll probably go to some games myself once the Crawfords and Appels and Thompsons are up.

Klaw: That’s all for this week – thank you all, as always, for the questions. I will be traveling for most of March, but will do my best to chat weekly, just adjusting the day around my movements.

Arizona spring training dining guide, 2016 edition.

I have lots of dish posts on food in the Valley, searchable via the search box above or by location tags like Phoenix, Scottsdale, or Mesa. This is now my fourth edition of the dining guide, and my second since moving back to the east coast last summer; I’ve done my best to keep up with restaurant news from out there, but I’m aware I’m likely falling behind. Nothing’s new in the structure and I’ve left the list of places in downtown Phoenix that aren’t close to any ballpark at the end. A lot of the text is unchanged from last year, so don’t be shocked if it seems familiar.

Scottsdale/Old Town (San Francisco):

* Virtu Honest Craft: Award-winning, including a James Beard nomination for best new restaurant in the country, with reason, as this might be the best restaurant in all of Arizona. Virtu is only a 12-minute walk from Scottsdale Stadium and offers inventive, attractive, and most importantly delicious food that plays with textures and flavors in unexpected ways. I went there in October and wrote up the meal in depth.

* Citizen Public House: This was my birthday dinner spot each of the last two years we were out there, if that gives you some sense of how much I liked it. I love the pork belly pastrami starter with rye spaetzle, shredded brussels sprouts, and mustard vinaigrette. I love the short ribs with a dark cherry glaze. I loved the seared scallops on grits. I loved the bacon-fat popcorn and the chicken-and-waffles starter. The only thing I didn’t love was, surprisingly, the duck breast, which was so rare that I couldn’t cut it. Great beer selection as well as well as the best negroni I’ve ever had.

* FnB: I’ve had lunch and dinner here and never been disappointed at all; it rivals Virtu and crudo for the best restaurant in Phoenix, with a menu of smaller plates that often showcase produce of a quality I didn’t think you could get in the state of Arizona. Chef Charleen Badman was just nominated for the James Beard Award for Best Chef, Southwest, for the second year in a row.

* Pig and Pickle: Just outside of Old Town, and only open since November, they do things with pig and with pickles, like the braised pork belly, yam puree, and brussels sprouts slaw starter that was pretty special, as well as a great selection of cocktails.

* Barrio Queen: A spinoff of Barrio Cafe (reviewed below), Barrio Queen is all about the mini tacos, which you order on a piece of paper like you’d get at a sushi place. They range from about $2.50 to $6 apiece and everything I tried was excellent, especially the same cochinita pibil that is a signature dish at the original Cafe.

* Culinary Dropout: A gastropub of sorts, located right near Old Town across from the Fashion Square mall. Definitely a good place to go with pickier eaters, since the menu is broad and most of it is easily recognizable. The chicken truffle hash and the turkey pastrami are both very good.

* Arcadia Farms: Farm-to-table breakfast dishes and sandwiches. Not cheap, but you are paying for quality and for a philosophy of food. I have been there twice and service, while friendly, was leisurely both times.

* Grimaldi’s: Local chain, related to the Brooklyn establishment of the same name. Very good (grade 55) thin-crust, coal-fired pizzas, including nut-free pesto, and similarly solid salads in generous portions. Not terribly cost-effective for one person for dinner, although they’ve finally introduced a more affordable lunch menu.

* Distrito: Inside the Saguaro hotel is this cool, upscale Mexican place, an offshoot of the restaurant of the same name in Philadelphia, serving mostly small plates at a slightly high price point but with very high-quality ingredients, including the best huitlacoche dish I’ve had, and an excellent questo fundido with duck barbacoa. I also liked their Sunday brunch … except for the coffee, which was like molten lead. I haven’t been here since the makeover, however.

* Cartel Coffee Lab: Best coffee in Arizona. Full writeup below in the Tempe section. This shop is on 5th street right across from Citizen Public House and FnB.

* Los Sombreros: A bit of a drive south of Old Town into the only part of Scottsdale that you might call “sketchy,” Los Sombreros does high-end authentic Mexican at Scottsdale-ish prices but with large portions and very high quality.

* Defalco’s Italian Market is a great spot to grab an authentic Italian (specifically New York-Italian) sandwich while you’re on your way to a game anywhere in Scottsdale. I prefer it to Andreoli’s, which offers a similar menu and is much closer to Salt River Fields.

* I should mention Franco’s Italian Caffe, right on Scottsdale Road, as it’s very highly regarded by locals, but I was very disappointed. Authentic Italian cuisine is light, focused on simple recipes with big flavors but rarely heavy, while Franco’s menu skews toward what I think of as New York-Italian cuisine, with heavier dishes including lots of heavy cream and salt. It’s not my thing, but I won’t judge you if it’s yours. I also tried The Upton, a new small-plates-and-cocktails kind of place just off Scottsdale road south of Camelback, but their execution was very uneven (e.g., the fried oysters’ batter was inedibly salty) and the service was just kind of weird. I ate at EVO in Scottsdale in October and had a uniformly awful experience.

Scottsdale central/north (Arizona/Colorado):

* Soi4: upscale Thai and Thai-fusion, very close to the park. Owned by the same family that runs Soi4 in Oakland. Full review of my first visit. I’ve gotten pad see ew as a takeout item from here a few times and it was always excellent, full of that crunchy bitter brassica (similar to rapini), and smoking hot.

* Il Bosco: Wood-fired pizzas, cooked around 750 degrees, at a nice midpoint between the ultra-thin almost cracker-like Italian style and the slightly doughier New York style I grew up eating. Their salads are also outstanding and they source a lot of ingredients locally, including olives and EVOO from the Queen Creek Olive Mill. I’ve met the owner and talked to him several times, and he was kind enough to give my daughter a little tour behind the counter and let her pour her own water from their filtration machine, which she loved.

* ‘Pomo Pizzeria: This location is in the same shopping center as Soi4, with others in downtown Phoenix and out in Gilbert. Authentic, Neapolitan-style pizza, not as good as Bianco, but in the running for the second-best pizza in Arizona along with cibo. Toppings include a lot of salty cured meats designed (I assume) to keep you drinking … not that there’s anything wrong with that. Full review.

* Press: In that same shopping center is a small coffee shop where they roast their own beans and will make you a cup of coffee using your method of choice (vacuum, French press, pour-over), as well as the usual run of espresso-based options. There’s apparently also a location at Sky Harbor in Terminal 4 by the B gates (USAirways), although I haven’t visited that one.

* Butterfields: The lines are crazy on the weekends, but if you like a basic diner and want good pancakes or waffles this is one of the better options in the Valley.

* Sweet Republic: I actually find this place to be a little overrated, but if you prefer traditional New York ice cream to gelato or custard, then it’s a good bet, and not far north of the park, just east of the 101 on Shea.

* Andreoli’s Italian Market is a decent spot for New York-Italian sandwiches, although I prefer Defalco’s in south Scottsdale.

* Perk Eatery: West of Scottsdale road and the Kierland mall, on Greenway, probably stretching the definition of what’s near Salt River Fields, but Phoenix doesn’t have a ton of good breakfast spots and this is one of the few. It’s a diner by another name, open for breakfast and lunch, with a slow-roasted pork option along with the regular array of breakfast meats, and rosemary potatoes that are a must with any egg dish.

Tempe (Angels):

* Hillside Spot, Ahwatukee (Phoenix). My favorite place to eat in the Valley, right off I-10 at the corner of Warner and 48th. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I recommend the pulled pork sandwich, the chilaquiles, the grilled corn appetizer, the house-cut French fries, the pancakes (best in Arizona), and the coffee from Cartel Coffee Lab. The Spot sources as much as they possibly can from local growers or providers, even providing four local beers on tap, and you can get out for under $15 including tax and tip. I’ve written about it more than once; here’s one of my posts, which talks about that pork sandwich. They’ve also added an evening menu called “Cocina 10,” including (on some nights) a really great take on fried fish tacos. For breakfast and lunch they’re outstanding, but I have found dinner service to be a little less consistent – but still usually great.

* Crepe Bar: Amazing savory and sweet crepes, and expertly pulled espresso shots using beans from heart coffee roasters, one of the best micro-roasters I’ve come across. They use a lot of local ingredients, including produce from Agritopia Farms (which also hosts Joe’s Farm Grill in Gilbert, seen on Diners, Drive-Ins, and Douche), and bake their own brioche if you’re not in the mood for a regular or buckwheat crepe.

* nocawich. Nestled right off University within the heart of ASU is this fantastic sandwich shop serving breakfast and lunch, with the Dolly, a fried chicken sandwich that is so good I’ve scheduled layovers at this airport just to eat it at their Terminal 4 location. (I’ve done the same to get coffee at Cartel, too.) They also offer an amazing patty melt sandwich, triple-cooked fries, and H&H bagels for their enormous breakfast sandwiches.

* Cornish Pasty Company: Just what the name says – large, hearty Cornish pasties with dozens of traditional and non-traditional filling options. I’ve eaten one for lunch and then skipped dinner. Convenient to the A’s ballpark. Second location in Mesa isn’t too far from the Cubs’ park and is bigger with more parking, and there’s one within a mile of the Giants’ place in Scottsdale.

* Four Peaks Brewery: One of the best local microbreweries with surprisingly solid food as well. You’ll see their beers all over the place, but the restaurant is absolutely worth hitting. Parking is very difficult on Friday through Sunday nights, though. Also very convenient to the A’s ballpark.

* Cartel Coffee Lab: Among the best coffee roasters in the Valley, and now in an expanded place that doesn’t feel so much like a fly-by-night operation. They’re also in the C wing of Terminal 4 at Phoenix Sky Harbor, in downtown Phoenix, and right in Old Town Scottsdale near Citizen Public House.

* I haven’t tried Moroccan Paradise yet, where they serve Moroccan (duh) and French food, but it’s garnered some nice reviews, as has BP Street Cafe for its Malaysian food.

Mesa (Cubs):

Most of the places I suggested for Tempe are also quite close to here, including Crepe Bar, Cartel, and the Revival.

* The best smoked brisket I’ve ever had outside of Franklin BBQ in Austin is at Little Miss BBQ on University Avenue in Tempe, right near the airport. If you’ve been to Franklin or read about it, you know what to expect: Get in line by 10:30 or so if you want to eat before 1 pm; they start serving at 11 and they stop when they sell out of meat; and don’t expect a lot of variety. The menu is short but amazing, with all meats smoked over oak and pecan. The brisket is amazing, the sausage is excellent, but everything’s good, and it’s a great place to go with a group because you can only order some items – like the occasionally available smoked lamb neck – by the pound.

* Republica Empanada offers outstanding empanadas, small plates, a few entrees, and beer. I loved everything I tried here but particularly recommend a side of maduros.

* Chou’s Kitchen: Just over the line in Chandler, at the intersection of Alma School (north-south) and Ray (east-west), this hole-in-the-wall place does dongbei cai, the cuisine of northeastern China – what we used to call Manchuria – which is heavy on dumplings, mostly fried and generally delicious, with large portions designed for sharing and vinegar on the table for dipping. I also love their lao hu cai or “tiger salad,” a vinegary mix of shredded vegetables, scallions, cilantro, jalapenos, and peanuts.

* Pros Ranch Market: A Mexican/Latin American grocery store south of the ballpark (at Stapley and Southern) with a large quick-service department offering some of the best burritos (including, hands-down, the best carnitas) I’ve had in Arizona. The enchiladas are solid, my daughter loves their quesadillas, they make great aguas frescas in eight to twelve flavors, and there’s an extensive selection of Mexican pastries. You can stuff yourself here for under $10. There’s another location near the A’s ballpark in Phoenix as well.

* Thai Spices: In a strip mall of Asian restaurants, Thai Spices is among the best Thai places I’ve found around here, just doing a great job with the basics of Thai (or perhaps Americanized Thai) cuisine. I really loved their soups, both tom yum (clear, sour/spicy soup with lemongrass) and tom ka (sweeter, with coconut milk, and also lemongrass), as well as the green curry.

* Tia Rosa’s: A bit east of the ballpark, Tia Rosa’s is a taqueria that offers a few other Mexican dishes in a casual setting; the large, high-end restaurant that used to be here burned down, although they offer that menu at a location way out in east Gilbert.

Maryvale (Milwaukee):

* Life is nasty, brutish, and short. Don’t make it any worse by going here.

(Okay, fine, here’s an actual recommendation for this neighborhood: the Phoenix New Times just reviewed a place called Machete Azteca, which sells the machetes (like giant quesadillas) of the Distrito Federal region of Mexico.)

Goodyear (Cincinnati/Cleveland):

* Ground Control. In the Avondale/Litchfield Park area, but kind of between Goodyear and Glendale, this coffee-shop has upgraded its menu so it’s now a craft-beer paradise and upscale sandwich shop and coffee bar and even gelateria. I’ve been twice; the service can be a little spacey but the food is very good and I even liked the coffee. They do breakfast as well. This place should be so much more popular than it is, given the paucity of quality non-chain options in the area.

* Raul and Theresa’s: Very good, authentic, reasonably priced Mexican food, really fresh, always made to order. The guacamole is outstanding. It’s south of the stadium and doesn’t look like much on the outside, but I would call it a can’t-miss spot if you’re going to a Cincinnati or Cleveland game, since there isn’t much else out here that isn’t a bad chain.

Glendale (Dodgers/White Sox):

* If you’re headed here or even to Goodyear, swing by Tortas Paquime in Avondale. They do traditional Mexican sandwiches, with the torta ahogada – literally a “drowned” sandwich – covered in a slightly spicy red sauce, although that was a little over-the-top heavy for me. Solid aguas frescas here as well.

* For finer dining and good cocktails, try Cuff right in downtown Glendale, which does very unpretentious but fresh, high-quality food, including burgers, sandwiches, and salads that use much better inputs than most places that try that sort of menu. I’m underselling it a bit – it’s basic food, but done exceedingly well.

* You might also try Siam Thai, which is in Glendale on Northern but is at least 15 minutes away from the park, heading east. It is, however, superlative Thai food, perhaps the highest-rated Thai place in the Valley.

* La Piazza Al Forno: thin-crust, wood-fired pizzas that are not as good as Bianco’s or Cibo’s, but are certainly authentic Neapolitan pizzas with the wet center you’d expect. It’s a couple of doors down from Cuff.


* It’s a wasteland of chains out here; the best option I know is the local chain Grimaldi’s, mentioned above.


* I’ve got one good rec out this way, the new-ish Vietnamese place Saigon Kitchen up on Bell Road just north of the ballpark. There’s good Vietnamese food to be had out here if you work to find it, and this is the best, especially in presentation – the menu is familiar, the food is a little brighter and fresher, and the place is far more welcoming. I’ve yet to try Amuse Bouche, probably the best-reviewed restaurant in Surprise, which does a more casual sandwich/panini menu at lunch before shifting to fine dining for dinner.

Away from the parks: Downtown Phoenix and Camelback East

These places are no longer near any ballpark other than Phoenix Muni, which now houses Arizona State but no spring training teams.

* Pizzeria Bianco: Most convenient to Chase Field. Best pizza I have ever had in the United States. No reservations, closed Sunday-Monday, waits for dinner can run to four hours, but they’re now open for lunch and if you get there before twelve the wait usually isn’t too bad. Parking is validated at the Science Museum garage. There’s now a second, larger location just off route 51 in the Town and Country shopping center, serving a few pasta items as well as the signature pizzas. By the end of March, a trattoria serving house-made pastas with locally grown wheat will open in the space next to that Town and Country pizzeria.

* Welcome Chicken and Donuts: Located in a former KFC location, this spinoff of the Welcome Diner serves “Asian” fried chicken, lots of donuts, and not a whole lot else. You can get one of three sauces on the chicken; I don’t recommend the Vietnamese option unless you really love fish sauce. I thought the chicken was plus and the donuts were Hall of Fame-worthy.

* Noble Eatery: Artisan European-style breads from the Noble Bread Company, with 3-4 sandwich options each day in a tiny (“intimate”) cafe. It is truly some of the best bread you’ll ever have this side of Italy.

* Barrio Cafe: About 15 minutes west of Phoenix Muni via the 202/51. Best high-end Mexican food I’ve had out here, edging out Los Sombreros in Scottsdale. Table-side guacamole is very gimmicky (and, per Rick Bayless, suboptimal for flavor development), but the ingredients, including pomegranate arils, are very fresh. Great cochinita pibil too. There’s now a location at Sky Harbor’s Terminal 4, past security near the D gates. Chef Silvana has also opened a cocktail bar with lots of small plates, serving three meals a day, at The Yard in Phoenix.

* The Grind: The best burger I’ve had out here, far superior to the nearby Delux, which is overrated for reasons I don’t quite fathom. (Maybe people just love getting their fries in miniature shopping carts.) The Grind cooks its burgers in a 1000-degree coal oven, so you get an impressive crust on the exterior of the burger even if it’s just rare inside. Their macaroni and cheese got very high marks from my daughter, a fairly tough critic. They have photos of local dignitaries on the wall, including Jan Brewer and Mark Grace, which might cause you to lose your appetite.

* Chelsea’s Kitchen: I’ve only been to the airport location, in the center of Terminal 4 before security, where the food was excellent but the service a little confused. The short rib taco plate would feed two adults – that has to be at least ¾ of a pound of meat. Their kale-quinoa salad sounds disgustingly healthy, but is delicious despite that. Both this and The Grind (and North Fattoria, an Italian restaurant from the Culinary Dropout people) are near Camelback and 40th, about 6 miles/13 minutes west of Scottsdale Stadium.

* crudo: There isn’t much high-end cuisine in Phoenix – I think that’s our one real deficiency – but Chef Cullen Campbell does a great job of filling that void here with a simple menu that has four parts: crudo dishes, raw fish Italian-style, emphasis on tuna; fresh mozzarella dishes, including the ever-popular burrata; small pasta dishes, like last fall’s wonderful squash dumplings with pork belly ragout; and larger entrees, with four to five items in each sections. The desserts, like so many in the Valley, are from Tracy Dempsey, the premier pastry chef in the area. Like the previous two spots, it’s about 12-13 minutes west of the Giants’ ballpark. This is now my go-to rec when someone wants a splurge meal in Phoenix or wants more adventurous cuisine.

* Zinburger: Not the top burger around here but a damn good one, especially the namesake option (red zinfandel-braised onions, Manchego, mayo), along with strong hand-cut fries and above-average milkshakes. Located in a shopping center across the street from the Ritz. Try the salted caramel shake if you go. There are also two locations in Tucson, and two in New Jersey that are licensed but independently owned and operated.

* cibo: Maybe the second-best pizzas in town, with more options than Bianco offers, along with a broad menu of phenomenal salads and antipasti, including cured meats, roasted vegetables, and (when available) a superb burrata.

* Pane Bianco: Sandwiches from the Bianco mini-empire, just a few options, served on focaccia made with the same dough used to make the pizzas at Pizzeria Bianco. My one experience here was disappointing, mostly due to the bread being a little dry, but the cult following here is tremendous and I may have just caught them on a bad day.

* Otro Cafe: The chef behind Gallo Blanco (which is now closed) has a new place, with a very simple menu – a few taco items, a few tortas with the same meats you’ll find on the taco menu, a few Mexican street-food starters, and a full bar. There’s a bit more focus on local fare here, and the guacamole is my favorite in the Valley.

* Matt’s Big Breakfast and Giant Coffee. Owned by the same guy, located a few blocks apart, but not otherwise connected as Matt’s doesn’t use Giant’s coffee. Matt’s is the best pure-breakfast place in the Valley, and one major reason is that they use the black-pepper bacon from Queen Creek’s The Pork Shop. Everything here is good, but the veteran move is breakfast at Matt’s original location with coffee or espresso afterwards at Giant. (Matt’s uses ROC, from Cave Creek, a popular roaster with Valley restaurants but nowhere near Giant’s quality.) Giant uses direct-trade beans for its espresso from Four Barrel and usually has three or four single-origin options for pour-overs. Matt’s recently opened a second location that should take some pressure off the lines at the first spot.

* Federal Pizza. Federal’s was the best Brussels sprout pizza I’d ever tried until I found Motorino in NYC, and even then it was close. I’ve tried a few of their pizzas and their roasted vegetable board, loving everything, and their crust is a great compromise for folks who want more chew and less of the cracker-thin crust of a place like Bianco.

* The Gladly. The second location from the folks behind Citizen Public House, the Gladly’s location and menu are built more around the alcohol – I think the atmosphere they’re going for is cocktail party, or upscale happy-hour, with smart food to go with the booze. I had a mixed experience in my one meal there, loving the chicken-liver pate starter but finding less success with the duck ramen (which I’m told is a dish they frequently tweak). Given their track record at CPH, I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt.

* Blue Hound. Another great cocktail bar that happens to offer good food, mostly sandwiches and other items you’d expect at a quality bar, although I’ve only been here for drinks and bar snacks (like the tater tots, which I highly recommend).

* Frost Gelato. Located at the Biltmore, right by Zinburger, Frost has the best gelato or ice cream anywhere in Phoenix. The sea salt caramel is their top seller; I suggest you pair it with the dark chocolate. They also have locations in Gilbert and Tucson.

* The larder + the delta, the new place from former Blue Hound exec chef Stephen Jones, specializing in southern cuisine, located inside the Desoto Market downtown.

Some of the places I’m hoping to try on my spring training trip this year: Okra, the new place from the folks behind crudo; Forno 301, serving thin-crust pizzas and salads plus daily pasta specials; Couscous Express, another Moroccan place, this one on East McDowell in Phoenix; Craft 64, serving pizza and beer, which is like the meaning of life; TEN, serving simple, well-done pub food in the Biltmore area; and Ocotillo, a combination coffee bar, beer garden, and restaurant serving lunch, dinner, and weekend brunches.

Feel free to offer your own suggestions for places I haven’t listed or tried in the comments below. I believe everything I’ve listed here is still open, but if you know that one of these restaurants has shut its doors, again, please let me know.

The Three-Body Problem.

ESPN has published an index to all my 2016 prospect content.

Liu Cixin’s 2006 novel The Three-Body Problem was translated into English in 2014 and promptly won the Hugo Award for Best Novel, making Liu the first Asian writer to win the award. He’s won a slew of Galaxy Awards in China for his fiction, but in an interview after he won the Hugo he said he was just writing for “beer money.” That seems a bit disingenuous, as even the afterword to The Three-Body Problem reveals more of his motivation and his enormous imagination, but even so, he’s coming at science fiction from an entirely different angle than any author I’ve read before.

Liu’s novel is the first of a trilogy that presents a largely realistic, hard-science fiction look at the classic sci-fi story of first contact. The book’s title (in Chinese it’s santi, which just means “three body”) refers to a famous problem in classical mechanics. Given the beginning positions, masses, and velocities of two bodies (such as a planet and its moon), determining their motions is simple. When the same problem is extended to three bodies – such as the Earth, its moon, and the Sun – it becomes extremely difficult to solve, and the solution, first identified in 1912 by Karl Sundman, converges so slowly that it’s useless. (The same is true for any n-body problem where n > 2, with that solution coming in a 1991 paper by Wand Qiudong.)

The problem and its lack of a practical solution figures heavily in the novel, although the reason isn’t immediately clear. What is clear, however, is that something very weird is going on, causing scientists to commit suicide without apparent explanation, and it’s connected in some fashion with the secret research facility on Radar Peak and with an intense massive multiplayer game called Three-Body. A nanomaterials researcher, Wang Miao, becomes involved in the global mystery when he starts seeing an ominous countdown first in photographs he takes and then in his own eyes, eventually working with the government to try infiltrate the apparent conspiracy to undermine both science and global security. It’s not much of a spoiler to say that the conspiracy involves the alien race heading for Earth, and the handful of characters who populate Liu’s book have differing feelings on the visitors, even though they won’t arrive for another four centuries.

Liu insists in that afterword that he doesn’t write to make any points, so his works are not political or metaphorical, even though I think it would be easy to read The Three-Body Problem as a work of political allegory, considering the results of life under authoritarianism on individuals’ loyalties to themselves versus to the state. But even without that subtext, the novel still offers plenty of room for analysis because, whether or not he intended it, Liu is exploring the way people might react to this kind of species-altering event, and the varying ways in which people might lose hope in humanity’s ability to fix its own problems. (He makes many references to environmental catastrophes, some real, some not, but despite the book’s infusion of real science, he also includes a maddening, unscientific claim about a GMO crop-caused catastrophe too.) What might cause someone to turn his/her back on the entire human race? To betray us to an unknown species that might intend to do us harm? Some of these conjectures border on the absurd – the rise of a global movement dedicated to the destruction of humanity seems a bit worse than your average doomsday cult – but their existence gives Liu an extreme against which he can set the characters who don’t quite embrace that nihilistic view.

Hard science fiction, in my reading experience, tends to be dry and obsessed with its own navel, so busy telling you about all the cool science – real or speculative – that the prose and plot suffer. Liu’s work is the best blend of quality fiction and hard science, of which there’s a lot, from the three-body problem to quantum entanglement to some crazy stuff about the sun as a radio-wave amplifier and the unfolding of a proton. His explanations are a little abstruse, but having read a bit about these topics recently I was able to follow his text, and he doesn’t dwell long enough on any of the hard-science stuff to derail the plot. I actually had a harder time keeping the characters straight – referring to the wisecracking policeman Da Shi by two different names did not help – than I did staying with the science.

Where Liu falls short as an author is in character development – even beyond my own difficulty with the names. The various leads, including the nanotechnologist Wang and the retired scientist Ye Wenjie, have remarkably little personalities of their own; they become different characters when pressed into action or facing a crisis, but retain none of those traits after those sequences end. Not only does The Three-Body Problem lack a hero or heroine, but it lacks any central character who’s of interest for his or her own sake, rather than as functions within the larger program of the book.

The Three-Body Problem ends with a partial conclusion – the mysteries within the book are solved, but the alien race still won’t arrive for over four hundred years, leaving humanity to decide how to prepare and respond, but with a handicap to their efforts that I assume will hang over much of the sequel, The Dark Forest. It’s certainly readable enough on its own, although you won’t get the satisfaction of a complete ending; the final book of the trilogy, Death’s End, will appear in English this August, when The Dark Forest comes out in paperback.

Next up: I’ve still got two sections left in Rabbit at Rest. Rabbit Angstrom has to be one of my least favorite protagonists in the history of literature.

Top Chef, S13E11.

I have a new draft blog post on possible first-rounders Robert Tyler and Kyle Lewis up for Insiders.

So the remaining seven chefs are all acting like they’re going to miss Phillip … no, they’re not. I think they all made it clear they didn’t really like him, and how could you, given how he acted? Kwame says “I understood him,” after which Marjorie, the one honest soul there, says, “I didn’t.”

* Quickfire: They’re in Oakland and MC Hammer is here. (Where’s MC Slammer and Vanilla Sherbet?) I don’t see the point of having Hammer here, although at least he drops a “Go A’s, go Warriors, go Raiders” on us. The challenge is for the chefs to come up with their own rap names and create a dish that visually and conceptually expresses that name. Hammer says he made sure it “personified how hard I hit the stage.” Yeah, nothing says “hard” to me like “Help the Children.”

* It’s actually kind of painful to watch this. Kwame seems like the only chef there with any sense of rap culture at all, given the name he picks and what eventually happens during judging.

* Kwame says he did shows when he was a teenager and dropped a couple of mixtapes, when he had “a very short-lived rap career” where he’d give away food at the shows to get people to show up.

* Carl picks the name “Dr. Funky Fresh,” which would have sounded dated in 1988. Marjorie’s “Miss Punch-a-Lot” is almost as bad.

* The dishes: Karen (rap name: “Pink Dragon”) made a hot and sour soup with pork meatballs, shiitakes, and morels … Carl (I had to mute him rapping) made a beef tartare lettuce wrap … Amar (“Santana Lovah”) made a soy-glazed sea bass with dashi broth … Marjorie made a fried chicken sandwich with honey sriracha and marinated watermelon radish salad … Isaac (“Toups Legit”) made scallops with BBQ sauce and grits … Jeremy (“Spicy J-Rock 305” … what the fuck is that) made spicy dungeness crab in broth with grilled summer squash and halibut cheek … Kwame (“Baylish”) did a seafood broth with grilled lobster and dungeness crab.

* Kwame drops a few rhymes and at least sounds somewhat current – way better than Carl.

* Least favorites: Amar’s plate was just fish; the bread on Marjorie’s andwich just “sucked up the spices;” Kwame’s dish was fine but other plates were “simyular” to his yet better.

* Favorites: Carl, Isaac, and Karen. Hammer’s comments are kind of worthless and I truly don’t see why he would be a guest judge here. Why not invite Alison Barakat of Bakesale Betty’s and challenge everyone to make a fried chicken sandwich?

* The winner is Isaac, again, and he gets immunity.

* Elimination challenge: Guest judge Jonathan Waxman, who seems to pop up once a season here. Each chef must cook a dish from a specific place and time in history. The chefs get to pick off a globe that has at least ten options on it, so even the chef picking last gets a choice. Isaac picks the Viking age. Carl picks ancient Greece. Amar chooses Paris’s Belle Époque (roughly contemporary with our Gilded Age). Marjorie picks ancient India. Kwame takes the Han dynasty of Beijing. Jeremy chooses the Gold Rush in San Francisco. Karen, picking last, takes the Empire of Japan. No one wanted the Italian Renaissance?

* The chefs get two hours to research at the SF library … which does not make riveting television.

* The chefs go drinking at an old-fashioned kitsch tiki lounge. And suddenly Jeremy is banging the drums and giving us the metal horns. Honestly, I kind of wish his food read more “metal.” He’d be much more interesting.

* Amar gets to make classical French cuisine, which is a mixed blessing – I’m sure it’s food he knows, but it’s also food every chef who’s going to judge his food knows.

* Kwame’s dish has four ingredients: duck, eggplant, a duck “jus,” and lapsang souchong, a black tea that is dried by smoking it over burning pine wood. He goes to serve a “sample” to Tom/Jonathan and his duck is raw in the center. He says he roasted the duck for 16 minutes … is it just me or is that barely enough to get the duck to room temperature?

* Waxman’s enthusiasm is great, especially when Tom can seem a bit cantankerous in the kitchen and many guest judges don’t bring much personality at all. Also, Waxman agrees with me and says he would have chosen Italian Renaissance “in a heartbeat.” Of course, he did write a book on Italian cooking, so he may have a better handle on it than I do.

* The dishes: Carl made marinated mackerel and calamari with olives and grapes, seasoned with garum, an ancient Roman fish sauce that, as far as I know, no longer exists. (He probably used Asian fish sauce or colatura, a modern Italian descendant of garum.) It’s a big hit. Marjorie made a lamb kebab with heart jus, curried split peas, and paratha (an unleavened Indian flatbread). Padma likes the balance of spice/heat in the dish, but the paratha was too greasy. I’m wondering if Marjorie only fried it, rather than baking it partway and then frying it. Waxman says her lamb should have been cooked all the way through to be authentic.

* Isaac made a cumin- and mustard-seared venison with caramelized onion “grautr” (I assume this is grøt, a sort of porridge often made with barley) and pickled beets. There’s a great texture/flavor to venison. Kwame made a coriander-crusted duck with black sesame jus, lapsang souchong “cream” with silken tofu, and eggplant. Waxman loves the coriander. Tom says duck is nicely cooked, which is a nice comeback from the kitchen debacle. Of everything we saw in the elimination challenge, this is the dish I’d most want to eat.

* Jeremy made halibut with shellfish chowder. Tom says it’s not a chowder and is more like a sauce. Waxman says it’s not authentic at all, since miner food would likely have been rustic and hearty. Karen made soba noodles in a mushroom dashi with pickled mushrooms and wagyu beef. Padma says the broth more Chinese than Japanese. Waxman says she should have stopped with the clear broth, and Gail says she should have kept the dish simple.

* Amar made roasted squab with sweetbreads, foie gras, tourné vegetables, and a lot of truffle sauce. The sauce seems to be the key, and Tom says it’s a very concentrated sauce for only three hours of cooking time.

* Marjorie, Karen, Jeremy are on the bottom. The other four all did well.

* Kwame, Amar, and Carl were top three. Waxman loved Kwame’s sparseness and restraint. Amar showed off a lot of technique. Tom praises Carl’s dish, saying how every ingredient mattered. The winner is Amar. His dish may very well have been the best, but he also got the easiest challenge, cooking in a style any chef who went to culinary school or trained in a high-end restaurant would have learned.

* Karen’s dish had too many components, plus it wasn’t really authentic. Waxman said it’s a chef’s job to edit, and she didn’t. Marjorie’s lamb didn’t have enough char. Padma says the paratha got too crispy when Marjorie fried it. Jeremy’s dish didn’t have the flavor depth of a chowder; it was definitely not a miner’s chowder and was too fussy.

* Karen is sent home. How is it not Jeremy? I understand Karen’s dish wasn’t very authentic, but neither was Jeremy’s, plus it seems like hers tasted better.

* By the way, that’s easily the most emotional goodbye from other chefs we’ve seen this year. She’s struck me as a little glib on screen, but she must be much more genuine in person than I thought.

* LCK: Teppanyaki challenge. Ten minutes to prep, ten to cook and put on a show. We end up with the chefs doing shots of sake. It’s just so much more collegial in LCK than on the main show.

* Karen calls and audible and changes her dish to lobster fried rice when her omelet cooks a little too fast. She serves it with a quail egg, mushrooms, and asparagus. It looks very messy but like it has a zillion flavors. I would also eat this.

* Jason says he’s a “natural performer” and is into drag … with an actual character he’s named Sissy Chablis. He makese seared wagyu NY strip with shiitakes, asparagus, and quail egg, topped with “dancing” bonito flakes. It seems like his dish was a little better executed and he gave a little more entertainment, so he wins again, his fourth in a row.

* Rankings: Kwame, Marjorie, Amar, Carl, Isaac, Jeremy. How many chances can Jeremy get? Outside of his crudo dishes, he hasn’t really excelled, and he seems to be trending downward as the challenges progress and the competition gets better.

Georgia eats, February 2016.

I have a new draft blog post on possible first-rounders Robert Tyler and Kyle Lewis up for Insiders.

So I started my Georgia trip right by going to Ponce City Market to hang out at Spiller Park Coffee, where co-owner Dale Donchey (full disclosure: he’s a friend of mine) is a diehard baseball fan in addition to a coffee expert. Their stand, which is like an open-concept coffee shop located within the hallway of the market but with some cool diner-style seating around a large kiosk, is named for the old ballpark that hosted the city’s Negro League team the Black Crackers as well as several minor league clubs. Spiller Park uses coffee from a variety of small roasters that meet with Dale’s approval, including Intelligentsia and 49th Parallel. I tried an Ethiopian bean called Ageze from Calgary roasters Phil and Sebastian, with a lot of fruit as you’d expect from anything out of east Africa. Spiller Park also offers donuts from Sublime Doughnuts and various toasts made to order, including eggs fried right in front of you. Even better, when you’re done caffeinating there, you can wander the market, which has lots of good eats, including…

Hop’s Chicken, located right next to a Holeman and Finch burger stand, all of which faces Spiller Park. Hop’s has a simple menu: they make fried chicken, and if you want you can get a piece of fried chicken breast on a biscuit or a roll, along with your choice of a half-dozen sauces. I went with the sandwich (roll), having heard the biscuits are not that great, and the crust on the chicken was crispy and well-seasoned. I did think the breast meat was nearing the dry side of things, so I ended up using the honey-mustard sauce more than I’d intended.

Before leaving PCM for Athens, I grabbed a “kale quencher” smoothie from Lucky Lotus to have something for the road, figuring I wasn’t likely to eat anything for another seven hours – and I’m always looking for vegetables when traveling since it’s easy to end up overloading on meat and carbs. The smoothie is all fruit other than the kale, with pineapple, mango, and apple juice, and it served its purpose as I wasn’t hungry again until after the Georgia game.

Dinner that night was a bucket-list place for me, Hugh Acheson’s flagship restaurant 5&10, and man did it ever live up to expectations. I ended up going with four items, going heavy on the vegetables since I know Hugh’s known for such dishes and his latest cookbook, The Broad Fork, is all about them. The carrot-coconut soup with cashews and crème fraîche was just a giant hit of big carrot flavor, with a little spice and both sweetness and crunch from the cashews. It’s simple and elegant and yet delivers the punch of a more complex dish.

The roasted shiitake salad was even more of all of those things: the mushrooms are roasted and chilled, then served with orange supremes, shaved celery, some celery leaves, and a ponzu dressing. The mushrooms remain the stars at the center of the dish, and everything else on there just accentuates their earthy, umami-rich flavor. (I’d probably like it better at room temperature, but that’s probably just me.)

For the main course, I went with a panko-breaded catfish with fennel slaw, tomato chutney, and “buttered Red Mule grits.” No disrespect to the catfish, a generous fillet perfectly cooked, but it may have been the least interesting thing on the plate. You can bury me in a bowl of those grits. I’ve never had grits that flavorful or with that risotto-like texture. And the chutney was like kasundi with less acidity, deep and earthy and complex, with what I assume was garam masala or a similar spice mix that helped give depth to the mild-flavored fish it accompanied.

For dessert, I overextended myself a little bit to try the chocolate ganache tart with roasted peanuts, bruléed banana, and cinnamon condensed milk. I didn’t even finish half of it because it was so rich – not a surprise – but as much as I love chocolate, the tart crust was the best part of the dish, like one of the best shortbread cookies I’ve ever had.

5&10 occupies a converted house, like Husk in Nashville, so every room looks and feels and even sounds a little different, but it’s all very charming and rather distinctively southern. That wouldn’t matter at all if the food (and service) were just ordinary, but every single thing I ate was excellent from concept to execution. I need a reason to go back to Athens soon.

Lunch in Macon before the Mercer game was a treat, as I found Dovetail, a small localvore fine-dining spot that was open for lunch. They do a lot of their own charcuterie (I spied a copy of Ruhlman’s Charcuterie on the host’s stand), so I chose their duck pastrami sandwich with gruyere and whole-grain mustard. Other than perhaps a little more black pepper than I’d like, it was outstanding, and actually well portioned (as opposed to the half-mile high pastrami sandwiches that seem to be the norm at delis that serve it). The roasted Brussels sprouts on the side were a little light on flavor; halved, roasted, seasoned, and tossed with EVOO and lemon juice. Some halves showed very little browning, and the dish needed a little more acidity.

My meal at Gunshow, the new restaurant from Top Chef season 6 runner-up Kevin Gillespie (a.k.a., Yukon Cornelius) and one of Eater’s 38 “most essential” restaurants in the U.S. for 2016, was, to my great surprise, a big disappointment. Gunshow serves food “dim sum” style, so you don’t order anything; servers come by with small plates and you simply say yes or no. It’s a clever gambit because it’s awfully easy to say yes to anything that looks this good when it’s right in front of you, and I imagine many diners end up spending a lot more than they planned to spend, especially once some alcohol enters the mix. But of the five dishes I tried, only one was truly excellent, and two were failures, which is not a word I use lightly.

I started out with the pork belly with Thai-style fried rice, primarily because I have a copy of Gillespie’s book Pure Pork Awesomeness and was not leaving Gunshow without eating something with pork. The belly was superb, served in three slices that were lightly breaded and fried after what I presume was either a long braise or a sous vide spell, but the rice underneath was just ordinary, and if anything a little dry. It came already doused in soy sauce, which might be authentically Thai (I just don’t know) but is certainly not how I like fried rice because you can’t taste the rice any more, and the result is usually very salty, which this was.

The second dish was cacio e pepe with guanciale, a twist on a very classic Roman pasta dish that has become trendy lately, but even though I adore fresh pasta, I adore cacio e pepe, and I adore guanciale (like bacon, but made from jowl meat), this dish was so oversalted I couldn’t even eat half of it. Next up was the egg yolk gnocchi with hazelnuts, black trumpet mushrooms, and black truffle. The gnocchi are some sort of devil magic – they contain no flour or potato, just egg yolks. The outside had the consistency and texture you’d expect from gnocchi, but the inside were almost custardlike, one of the most interesting (in a good way) pasta items I’ve ever had. They paired well with the mushrooms, but the hazelnuts had lost much of their flavor in the pungent sauce, and I ended up with a bowl of bland hazelnuts with the texture of boiled peanuts after I’d eaten the good stuff.

The fourth dish was a quick-cured hiramasa (yellowtail amberjack) with … oh, it doesn’t matter, the fish was awful. It had a slightly fishy smell and taste, and a texture unlike any crudo or cured fish preparation I’ve ever had – I’d compare it to a gummy candy, not to the soft consistency of sashimi or something like cured salmon. The last dish I had was the one I could say was well-executed throughout – the fritto misto, or “mixed fried,” with cauliflower florets, red bell pepper strips, and cipollini onions, served with a finely chopped giardiniera as a condiment. The vegetables were perfectly fried and nicely crunchy in a tempura batter, and the pickled bits of the giardiniera were the ideal complement to the fried bits.

Dishes at Gunshow average about $14-15, reasonable for the kind of food you’re getting and the quality of ingredients, but only if the execution is better than what I experienced. The service was excellent, and when I asked my server if she could grab a specific item I hadn’t seen, it materialized within a minute or two. I just wish I’d had better luck with the food. How this made Eater’s list over other top-notch and well-known spots like 5&10 or Juniper & Ivy or Narcissa or Cochon or Qui or a bunch of other places that come to mind, I just don’t know. Maybe I caught them on the wrong night.

Stick to baseball, 2/20/16.

The index to all 30 MLB farm reports and top tens is now up; all reports are Insider except for Baltimore’s, which is free for all readers. Insiders can also read my top 100 prospects ranking and my my ranking of all 30 farm systems.

And now, the links…

  • The University of Tennessee has a lot of explaining to do about the rape culture on campus.
  • More SVIIB content, now just six days from the release of their final album. The questions in this interview are generic, but Alehandra Deheza’s answers are always enlightening. She also spoke to DIY about the process of finishing the record, with the tantalizing suggestion that she’ll be embarking on some sort of tour.
  • The Huffington Post has some actual journalism for a change, with this piece on the horrifying scope of domestic violence in the United States.
  • Here’s yet another good reason to avoid buying grated cheese: You may be buying fake cheese, or cheese doctored with cellulose. Buy hard cheeses whole and they’ll last for months. I’ve recommended the grana padano, which is virtually identical to Parmiggiano-Reggiano but is produced in a neighboring region of Italy, sold at Trader Joes; it’s 40-50% less than buying whole P-R at Whole Foods but in most applications you’d never notice the difference.
  • I stand with Apple.
  • Everybody seems to want their eggs to be “cage-free,” but getting to that point is complicated and expensive. One fundamental problem with our food supply, especially that of products from animals, is that we’ve lost any sense of what eggs or milk or meat really should cost. Factory-farming techniques that weren’t good for the animals drove prices down for consumers, but that model is not sustainable and consumers are increasingly demanding better treatment of the animals as well.
  • One of my alma maters just reached a $750 million settlement in a longstanding patent lawsuit against Marvell Technology, after two judgments against the company that including a ruling that said infringement was wilful. The best part? The school’s President has said that CMU should “dedicate a substantial majority of this resource to helping qualified students afford a Carnegie Mellon education.”
  • Meanwhile, another win for the collegiate athletics cartel, as former athletes at Penn lost their case arguing they were analogous to work-study employees and thus should be paid minimum wage for their time. The quote from the NCAA’s lawyer is stunning in its intellectual dishonesty.
  • Vox interviews the woman who took 47 million academic papers and made them available, free, online. Yes, it’s copyright infringement, but I still see value in what she has to say, even if I can’t approve of what she did. The copyright owners in these cases are not content creators in the sense intended by U.S. copyright laws.
  • I’ve seen this pitched as a “debunking of seasonal affective disorder,” but if I’m reading the underlying research correctly, it’s really a debunking of the idea that we’re all a bit down in winter. I’d welcome feedback from the more science-literate out there.