Nashville eats, December 2015.

In what may be the last MLB winter meetings at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel outside of Nashville – praise be – I got to four new places, although I did add successful revisits to a couple of old favorites.

I’ll start with Two Ten Jack, an izakaya/ramen house in east Nashville that I’d visited solo back in April and thought would be perfect for one of our writer group dinners during the meetings. It was a huge hit across the board, and this time around I got to sample much more of the menu, including many of the yakitori (grilled skewer) options as well as many of the small plates, although I wasn’t going to skip their amazing pork-broth (tonkotsu) ramen either. Highlights included the tuna poke, JFC (Japanese fried chicken, which was thigh or oyster meat, with a negi dipping sauce), crispy Brussels sprouts, seaweed salad (not your ordinary one), the yellowtail sashimi with jalapeñ, and the pork belly yakitori. I also tried their sweet potato sh?ch?, a distilled liquor with a rather distinctive aroma but very mild flavor. The executive chef, Jess Benefield, is a big sports fan, and popped out to the table to say hello; she and her staff deserve extra praise for making many items gluten-free for the member of our party with celiac disease.

I finally made it to Barista Parlor, the ultra-hipster coffee joint in east Nashville that offers pour-over options from six different micro-roasters from around the country (including Four Barrel and Intelligentsia) and roasts their own blend, called Slayer, for espresso. The space is huge for a coffee shop, and the coffee options are fantastic, although the one pour-over I tried, an Ethiopian from Supersonic roasters, ended up kind of blah – if someone had handed me that cup blind, I would have guessed it was a blend of several beans because I didn’t pick up any notes or character in it. But the Slayer rocks, pun intended, and they offer pastries from Five Daughters Bakery, including the “100-layer donut” that most folks would recognize as a cronut before they inhaled it. I did make it over to Crema, my favorite local roaster in Nashville, before leaving on Thursday, but since they’re in the Gulch it wasn’t a reasonable commute from the Opryland.

Cochon Butcher, an offshoot of the two Cochon places in New Orleans, is all about the pig – if you don’t eat pig, I suggest you give it a miss – with various cuts of pig available in small and medium plate preparations. I was there for a quick lunch between appointments and had the pork belly sandwich with cucumber and mint along with a side of marinated Brussels sprouts. The pork belly was spectacular, not too fatty, and a reasonable portion of meat for one person (although I’m a small person so perhaps others would say it wasn’t enough), although I wish it had been on better bread – it came on white bread, better than store-bought but still a bit lacking in character to stand up to the strong flavors of the pork and the mint. The Brussels sprouts were salty and a tiny bit spicy, a bit more than I’d usually eat by myself but fine for sharing with another person.

Biscuit Love was the big letdown of the trip, especially given the name and my affinity for that very southern breakfast staple. Also located in the Gulch, Biscuit Love operated a food truck and has now expanded into a sizable space for breakfast and lunch, but what just killed it for me was that the biscuit was very plain and was very flaky, more akin to puff pastry than to the crumbly kind of biscuit I expect when I’m in the south. They also offer a number of options that douse the biscuit in things like sausage gravy, which is probably delicious but something I eat about once a year because it’s just so heavy. (I do love it, though – if you’re a carnivore, how could you not?)

And then there’s Avo, a brand-new spot near Vanderbilt’s campus, housed in an old shipping container, with an all-vegan menu with almost nothing cooked beyond 118 degrees. Our server gave us the tired shpiel about how serving the food in this raw or not-really-cooked state would “preserve the nutrients,” even though this is total bullshit, but the food was actually quite good. I had the falafel wrap, sprouted “raw” (but warm and clearly somewhat cooked) falafel wrapped in collard greens, served with raw tabbouleh and mint crème fraîche. The collard greens were the one mistake in the dish – they are way too tough to enjoy when raw and could use even a quick blanching to soften them up – but if I hadn’t known that falafel was sort-of-raw I would never have guessed it. The tabbouleh was solid, if a bit heavy on the parsley, and I don’t know what they used in the crème fraîche since they don’t use any dairy. My vegetarian friend said the vegan lasagna, made with a cashew-based ricotta, was also excellent, and her dish looked like it contained was about two days’ recommended allowances of vegetables. If you’re looking for a vegetarian or vegan option and/or just need more vegetables in your diet, I recommend Avo … but I can’t say I’d be racing to go there over Two Ten Jack.

I also ate at the Pharmacy (ate too much, to be exact) and brought a small and very appreciative group to Mas Tacos, where everything was a hit but nothing more so than their elote, grilled corn with cotija cheese and paprika. I could eat that three meals a day and be quite happy about it. And the Pharmacy’s tater tots and German potato salad are both superb, although I might have gone too far getting both of those as well as their farm burger, which comes with bacon and an egg on top. I don’t know how I was even able to move the rest of that night.

Top Chef, S13E03.

All my Insider links from the week are in today’s stick to baseball post, along with the link to my top ten new boardgames of the year plus the usual miscellany.

So the road tripping begins with this episode, as the crew heads to “Santa Barbara” … except they’re really going to Sanford Winery, which is up in the hills towards Lompoc.

* Frances … there’s more to that story about her dad kicking her out, right? That deserved some more explanation.

* We’re talking sea urchins, specifically uni, the gonads of the spiny echinoderms, which are eaten both raw (as sushi) and cooked, with a “briny, buttery,” “cucumber-melon” flavor, according to these folks. I’ve never had it raw, only cooked, in pasta with uni butter at a restaurant that’s now closed. I don’t particularly care about eating one part of the animal versus another – I’ve had heart, liver, thymus gland, tongue, “head cheese” – but can’t say I’m particularly drawn to sea urchins or their relatives, the sea cucumbers.

* Oh, it’s Dana Downer! Although she’s actually smiling in this episode, maybe because she just retired from Food and Wine.

* It’s a sudden death Quickfire, one of the worst gimmicks in Top Chef history, where the losing chef faces elimination. The chefs have 25 minutes to prepare a dish with uni and pair it with a Sanford wine.

* I noticed Kwame sampling the wine, but did we see any other chef do that? How can you pair a wine you haven’t tasted? With the exception of Chad (who says he’s recently sober) no one else has any excuse to not at least take thirty seconds to sip one or two of the wines.

* Frances worked in the Middle East for seven years and says there’s “no alcohol there,” although I think she was in Dubai, where you can get alcohol in the hotels that cater to foreigners but not elsewhere. She can’t pronounce the wine’s name so she says “whatever, I got a fucking wine.” If nothing else she’s a hell of a quote.

* Wesley says he’s used to cooking “subtle French cuisine,” which is hilarious because I’m pretty sure Jacques Pepin’s station doesn’t look like an F5 tornado just went through it after service.

* Giselle wants to make scrambled eggs with uni, but can’t find any eggs; it looks like Carl took a dozen eggs, which I guess is supposed to make him the bad guy here? This isn’t exactly the pea purée crisis redux.

* Isaac gets into the sea urchin with two cleavers, which amuses me for no particular reason. Chad says Isaac is “like swamp people on steroids,” which I think he meant as a compliment.

* Karen is whipping uni with egg yolks and wants to make an egg drop soup, but won’t the uni’s flavor just get overwhelmed in a dish like that? When you eat egg drop soup, the flavor of the egg isn’t exactly front of palate.

* Angelina says she’s playing it safe, which is always a good idea. (Note: It’s never a good idea.) She’s making pasta with uni butter, which isn’t just safe, but totally uninspired. The place where I had that dish wasn’t even going for haute cuisine – it was just a smart Italian restaurant.

* Grayson seems to be one of the only chefs here who gets the idea that the uni has to be the star ingredient of the final dish – the first time she’s acted like she’s been here before.

* Karen’s uni just dissolves in the soup. That’s not exactly what I was predicting, but the dish was just a bad idea from the start.

* Favorites: Grayson, who made a crab salad with cucumbers, grapefruit, and uni, paired with a Viognier (a white grape related to Chardonnay, per Wikipedia), is praised for the dish’s simplicity and her showcasing of the uni. Wesley’s uni with creamed corn, fennel, salmon roe, and scallop, paired with Chardonnay; Padma and Dana loved the building of flavors. Carl’s eggs and uni – he made am omelet with herbs and green chili, also paired with Chardonnay – are “such a great pair,” and the dish exemplified what the challenge was about. The winner is … Grayson. It’s like she got out of LA and remembered she was on a competition show.

* The least favorites: Angelina, who made one of Dana’s favorite dishes (cacio e pepe with uni butter and Parmiggiano) and made it too salty. Karen, because it was hard to find the uni in her soup. Giselle, who made a potato with uni and onion jam; the potato wasn’t completely cooked and there was too much onion flavor from the jam. Giselle is the bottom and picks Angelina for her sudden-death cook-off, which is probably the right call.

* An aside: I know jack about wine, but isn’t Chardonnay kind of a ‘common’ wine? I mean that in the sense of lacking sophistication, rather than just something popular, although the latter can often lead to the former. I was surprised how many chefs chose it, especially since its main note is usually the assertive flavor of oak.

* Giselle and Angelina have to cook ostrich eggs. Angelina mutters “you better kick ass…” but admits she’s never worked with ostrich eggs before. (Really? Come on, I have a dozen in my fridge right now.)

* Giselle makes soft scrambled eggs with avocado, chipotle salsa, and pepitas. Angelina made a spicy tomato jam with scrambled eggs, shiitake mushrooms, and carrots.

* Dana didn’t seem to like either dish. Giselle rushed her presentation and too many pepitas. Angelina’s dish was overdone in more than one way. Giselle wins but I wonder if this was by default since both dishes sucked.

* Elimination challenge: Pair up to make the ultimate surf and turf dish. Grayson is a team of one because she has immunity. No one wants Giselle or Angelina so they end up a pair.

* There’s a mad rush to grab proteins. It’s the same stupid shit every year. In what possible way is this measuring chefs’ skills? If anything it’s just favoring the stronger or faster, not the better cooks.

* OK, now that I’ve got that off my chest, I don’t have much more patience for chefs who complain about the proteins they end up with because you’re kind of supposed to be able to cook anything, right? Kwame and Chad end up with lamb and crab … yeah it’s weird, but so what? Show off. Why go traditional? I’d think the judges would be more impressed by a clever lamb/crab surf-and-turf than an expected combo like steak and lobster.

* Also, surf-and-turf is incredibly passé. It’s a sign of an era when consuming lots of animal products was considered a sign of status, rather than a sign that you don’t give a rat’s ass about the world.

* Tom shows up. Cue dramatic music. Teams are no longer together, but are going to cook against each other – surf vs. turf. Grayson gets to choose who to go against (she picks Wesley/Amar, because she wants the challenge) and can go surf or turf. Suddenly Giselle and Angelina have to be happy with their pairing.

* Carl, in confessional, says, “I should have picked Giselle!” The sad part is he’s probably right – she and Angelina have quickly emerged as two of the weakest chefs here.

* Even though they’re competing, Kwame helps Chad butcher his lamb. That’s impressive.

* Guest judges include Jon and Vinny from Animal, Cat Cora, Michael Cimarusti from Providence restaurant, and our friend Richard Blais. Wesley took over as executive chef for Blais at The Spence in Atlanta earlier this year, now that Blais has relocated to San Diego, with two restaurants there in Little Italy.

* Wesley is using stencils for plating, which is too clever by half. Get the dish done first, then worry about artwork. And sure enough, he doesn’t get everything on the plate, and the meat isn’t tender enough even though he used sous vide to try to soften it up. (We could have used some more detail on that, just from an education perspective – why it might not have worked, or whether it was even a good idea.)

* And now the dishes … First up is Amar, Wesley, and Grayson. Amar serves olive oil-poached halibut with an “eggless Bearnaise” (isn’t this just a tarragon beurre blanc?), asparagus, and morels. Tom says the fish a tick overcooked. Cat, who calls it a hollandaise, says there’s “no complexity” to the sauce. Wesley serves a sous-vide and smoked ribeye with asparagus puree and morels. No one likes it. Grayson serves a spiced carrot puree under a tangy lacquered pork belly with cara cara oranges (a red-fleshed navel orange with nuanced flavors) and cacao nibs. Blais says the purée is “fascinating and dynamic.” Grayson takes the first five voters, so she wins the challenge.

* Blais says that Wesley’s dish is “what gives sous vide a bad rap.” I know it’s a widely accepted technique, but putting food in a plastic bag and cooking it in warm water isn’t exactly an obvious approach for most home cooks. Tell us more about when and why it’s a good idea.

* Second service is Jeremy vs Philip. Jeremy made spot prawns roasted in their shells with potato gnocchi, English peas, and preserved lemon. Tom says it’s “all about finesse.” Philip served a center cut ribeye over rutabaga puree with a nori beurre blanc. Cat raves about the meat, saying she “probably could have cut it with my fork,” but now we’re getting technical about whether it’s a beurre blanc. Jeremy wins by a sliver, although there’s praise all around for Philip.

* Since it’s now come up twice: Beurre blanc is one of my favorite sauces to make at home because it’s simple and very potent, ideal with fish and most cooked vegetables. You cook shallots with white wine and vinegar, reducing till it’s almost a glaze in the pan, and then whisk in too much butter to believe. The butter must be cold to form and maintain an emulsion in the pan. It’s also highly extensible – I’ve swapped in all kinds of citrus juices for the vinegar, seasoned it with herbs at the end, even used beet juice to make a sort of “beurre blood.” Unlike egg yolk-based emulsions like Bearnaise and hollandaise, beurre blanc comes together faster and is far less likely to break.

* Third service is Angelina vs Giselle. Angelina made marinated mussels with a light escabeche sauce, fennel leek puree, potatoes, and radishes. The mussels are dry and flavorless, and Tom says she “tortured” the ingredients. Giselle made quail with cucumber radish salad and a tamarindo sauce. The judges like the serrano chilies she seems to have used in the sauce. Giselle wins.

* Angelina’s response afterwards: “This bitch beat me again.” I can only imagine what Madeleine Albright would think of this.

* Fourth up is Kwame vs Chad. Kwame made a rock crab salad with turmeric, asparagus, and radish. Tom called it “Playful and fun.” I’m just surprised to hear turmeric, which I associate with color but not flavor (or at least not a positive flavor), cited as the first item after the protein. Chad made a spicy bean, honey, and orange lacquered roasted lamb with asparagus and mint puree. The lamb was cooked perfectly, and the puree was “rockin’.” With four votes apiece, Tom breaks the tie with … “Kwame for President,” which I can only assume is an allusion to the late Ghanaian President and dictator Kwame Nkrumah.

* Other than Giselle and Angelina, every team seems to be getting along. I’m not sorry to see a lack of enmity here – too often that ends up taking screen time away from the food.

* Fifth service is Isaac against Carl. Isaac serves a fennel-crusted halibut with English peas and a brown butter hollandaise (that sounds like a really good idea, by the way). The halibut is a tick overcooked and needs a hit of acid. (Don’t we all.) Carl made a roasted chicken thigh with prosciutto, English peas, and a white wine dijon sauce. Cat says it’s very reminiscent of home and they’re all talking about the chicken like it’s fried, so I assume he did something to crisp the skin. Carl wins although Isaac gets three votes.

* Sixth service is Karen vs Marjorie. Karen is missing a piece of fish … and Padma ends up with the plate without it. Karen looks like she wants to die; I can feel her mortification through the television. Her dish was a seared rock cod with carrot-orange puree, blood orange vinaigrette, and roasted carrots. David Lentz, chef at the Hungry Cat, says it’s “one of the best dishes” of the day. Everyone loves it, except Padma, who looks forlorn as everyone else raves. (I think we got more shots of Sad Padma on the screen than we did of the food itself.) Marjorie made a roasted pork loin, olive oil crushed potatoes, citrus gremolata, bok choy, and carrot. Dana just murders this dish, and Marjorie overcooked the pork. Karen wins despite the mistake.

* Seventh and final service pits Jason against Frances. Jason made a marinated grilled pork loin with “steamed crudit&eacutes,” and a Thai egg. Who the heck calls anything “crudité” in 2015? That’s 1970s cocktail party shit. Tom says he needed to develop more flavors. Frances made a ginger-glazed black cod with jicama and cucumber salad. The skin is rubbery, and with dripping disdain David says, “just take the skin off if it’s going to be like that.” Nobody likes hers either, with Tom calling it a “hodgepodge of stuff on a plate.” (I thought Hodgepodge was a rabbit, not a black cod.) Tom has to break the tie again and picks Jason.

* Wesley is having a big pity party out on the veranda there in the beautiful weather, where Kwame is simultaneously trying to give him a pep talk and tell him he’s being a big whiny baby.

* Judges’ table – the favorites: Jeremy, Kwame, and Karen. Karen is immediately DQ’d because she didn’t serve Padma fish. Kwame’s dish was strong, creative, and respectful of the ingredients; I get the sense he did more with less. Jeremy had never worked with spot prawns that quality and gets raves for his treatment of it. Kwame wins and gets his own barrel of wine from Sanford Winery.

* Bottom three: Frances, Angelina, and Wesley. Wesley didn’t start plating in time, and Tom kills him for playing with stencils. Wesley explains that the steak had no marbling (finally, some real explanation), and thought sous vide would soften it, but Blais says “it didn’t eat that way.” Angelina’s mussels dried out once they were out of the shell; Michael said they would have loved it had the mussels been cooked right. Frances added acorn squash because she thought the dish was too simple with just black cod and jicama relish, but that appears to have overcomplicated things, although everyone killed her on the rubbery cod skin anyway. Blais hits them all on time management – he says they had plenty of time but didn’t use it well, especially Wesley.

* Frances is out. That’s too bad for us because her commentary was entertaining. Meanwhile, the chefs are packing up right away and going to Palm Springs.

* LCK: Frances and Garret start trash-talking each other right away. Challenge is to cook a vegetable three ways, using the whole thing, with all trimmings on the station to be factored into the grading. The chefs must use Hidden Valley Ranch seasoning in one of the three ways; I guess even Top Chef has to pay the bills. Frances says, “I’m from Third World country (sic), you use everything!” She picks broccoli, which is a fairly easy vegetable for this challenge – the stalks and leaves aren’t just edible but are good. Garret picks beets. He slices the bulbs into discs and grills them, which … I actually don’t know how that would work. They take so damn long to cook otherwise. He also fries the beet peelings in the deep fryer to see if he can use them rather than creating more waste. Frances cooks the broccoli scraps, pur&eacuate;es them, and seasons with the HVR to make the sauce.

* I was fine with all the taunting going back and forth until Garret said, “suck it Frances.” That’s a terrible expression in general, especially for a man to say to a woman. Trash-talking is fine until someone loses an eye.

* Garret made pickled beet stems, chiffonaded greens, beet vinaigrette, fried skins, and grilled beet bulbs. Tom was obviously impressed because beet skins would ordinarily be food waste. Frances made a broccoli puree with chili and yuzu, pickled broccoli stems with yuzu and olive oil, and stir fried broccoli florets.

* Tom: Garret’s grilled beets were bland, while Frances overspiced a few things. Garret wins – the fried skins appear to have won the day for him.

* Quick power rankings: Kwame, Carl, Jeremy, Amar, Karen. Kwame’s the one holdover in my top three this week, but through three episodes he’s the only chef who’s stood out every single time. Bottom three: Angelina, Giselle, Wesley.

* Don’t forget to check out my annual cookbook recommendations and my 2015 gift guide for cooks as Christmas approaches.

Stick to baseball, 12/12/15.

Paste published my ranking of the top ten new boardgames of 2015 this week, as well as my review of 7 Wonders Duel, the new two-player game based on 7 Wonders.

I wrote a lot for Insider this week, reviewing signings and trades. Here’s the full list:

Jason Heyward to the Cubs
The Bethancourt/Kelly trade
The Brett Lawrie trade
The Walker/Niese trade
The Kenny Giles trade
The Adam Lind trade
The Cubs’ moves with Zobrist and Castro
The Shelby Miller trade
The Jay/Gyorko trade
The Carson Smith/Wade Miley trade
Hisashi Iwakuma to the Dodgers
Jeff Samardzija to the Giants
Zack Greinke to the Diamondbacks

And of course, there was a Klawchat this week.

And now, the links…

Klawchat 12/11/15.

Klaw: Come for the wuggas, but stay for the jiggy-juggas. Klawchat.

Jean Lazure: Hi Keith – you said this morning in your appreciation of Ricardo Rodriguez that he has “more skills than tools”. Is a tool innate and a skill learned? Was just wondering…thanks.
Klaw: That’s a good quick and dirty summary. Tools are largely physical – run, power, throw – but can incorporate the mechanical too. Skills represent refinement, and are about what happens during games more than tools, which express raw abilities.

Jack: Thoughts on Oaklands offseason so far? Personally not a huge fan of relief expenditures or selling so low on Lawrie.
Klaw: A bit confused. I’ve never believed in buying relievers, especially when your budget is low. I don’t know if they sold low on Lawrie so much as they got rid of a guy whose character flaws outweigh his mediocre production.

Bob: Overall thoughts on the Chapman situation ??
Klaw: If he did what his girlfriend accused him of doing, I’d be fine with never seeing him in an MLB uniform again.

Danny: Orioles seem lost at sea again. Have to be early leaders for worst offseason direction so far.
Klaw: I’m really not a fan of judging any team’s offseason when they haven’t done much yet. There’s a lot of time left and a lot of players without teams.

Rauzer17: Which is worse, the Opryland Hotel or downtown Detroit?
Klaw: Well you’re not likely to get shot at the Opryland, but you might die of starvation wandering its halls.

Nelson: Will we be getting a Nashville dining review?
Klaw: Of course, although I only went to three new places. Two Ten Jack was the big group dinner and an enormous hit. I love everything about that place.

LarryA: Do you think Henson is ready to take over yet in Pit after the Walker trade?
Klaw: I assume the infield includes Harrison and Kang at 2b and 3b.

Mmmmmmm: Could Javier Baez really play CF?
Klaw: I doubt it.

Jimbo: Can you give Braves fans an idea of just how great it is to have picked up Dansby Swanson?
Klaw: It’s “having a major league stadium on public transit” great.

Rob: How did Dave Stewart get a GM job?
Klaw: His buddy hired him. That’s the number one way to get a GM or manager job in baseball right now – make sure you have a friend doing the hiring.

Jérôme Champagne: Any recommendations for two player entry level board games? I saw you mention 7 Wonders Dual but that seems a bit intimidating for someone new to board games.
Klaw: Jaipur. If you go to my top 80 boardgames ( there’s a ranking of two-player games at the bottom.

Barry: What do you think about Mark Shapiro’s response to the Jays’ limited activity since signing Happ? Is a front office’s obligation to ‘run a successful business’ or is it to win? Winning can make a business successful, but doesn’t it work the other way only rarely?
Klaw: Winning generally leads to financial success in baseball. Losing sometimes does, especially when the league is subsidizing you (coughMarlinscough), but winning is a much better formula.

Bobby: Small trade, I know, but any thoughts on the SP’s the Yanks got back in the J Wilson deal? Also, re “Too Many Cooks,” I am not a big believer in changing original text, but I do agree that the repeated use of that word diminish the ability to enjoy the text. In this case, I would probably advocate making a change and hoping a good forward or note on the topic fosters interesting discussion. Thanks, as always…
Klaw: I like Cessa as a depth guy, liked him for Detroit in the Cespedes deal but think Wilson provides now value and fits their roster better. Not sure why the Yanks have become cost-conscious all of a sudden.

Corey: Are you going to do an espn writeup for the bethancourt trade or can you comment here?
Klaw: Already posted about a half hour ago. Here it is.

Marshall: Dusty Baker sure is off to a “great” start as manager for the Nats with his supportive comments toward Chapman. The more Baker talks the more he sounds like a guy stuck in a bygone era.
Klaw: What he’s saying isn’t just insensitive, but indicative of someone who doesn’t think before he speaks. That should concern the Nats’ FO and ownership most of all.

Silv: Any idea as to the return from the Dodger side in the Chapman deal? Leaving aside his alleged actions, abhorrent as they may be, I’m having a hard time understanding why LA would deal the rumored two+ of their top ten prospects for a 65 inning reliever, regardless of how hard he throws.
Klaw: No idea, and while I know someone said it was “two significant prospects” on air the other night, I don’t even know if THAT was true. The one way I could justify it for LAD would be if they intended to use Chapman for more like 100 innings in relief. He could be a 4 WAR reliever, higher by WPA if the manager used him in high-leverage situations.

Josh: What are your thoughts on Jabari Blash (other than the outstanding name)?
Klaw: Always thought he was a AAA or 4A slugger type. Toolsy but not very disciplined. This was his third straight year with AA time and second in the PCL.

Jason: Tell us about Dansby Swanson, can he really be a 15/25 guy and does he go back to second base with the Braves having Albies at SS?
Klaw: No, I think he’s the one who pushes Albies, whose arm is a little light for short, to second. I don’t know what the 15/25 refers to.

Josh: Are the Padres crazy for having four Rule 5 guys on the roster, or is it a decent gamble that one may pay off for a relatively small investment?
Klaw: Doubt they keep more than two. Really no disincentive to do what they’re doing – $25K a pop for extended tryouts in March.

Tom: Much to make about LAA trading Gott for Escobar?
Klaw: Not really. Should ensure Rendon goes back to 3b where he belongs.

Silv: Does Utley actually have anything left, or are the Dodgers basically paying him 7mm for #grit. Friedman wouldn’t be so foolish as to block Peraza, right?
Klaw: Don’t think he has much left but I wouldn’t say he’s done. Half a year in AAA wouldn’t kill Peraza – in fact, I’d move him back to short and see if he can still do it.

Bruce: Do you get more or less questions now than over at ESPN?
Klaw: Fewer in total, but no fewer quality questions.

Josh: If you are the Padres, do you try to stretch out Pomeranz in the spring, or leave him in the pen?
Klaw: Bullpen. Never has had a good enough changeup to get RHB out.

Josh: Rosenthal, Heyman, and others are reporting Heyward to the Cubs. On paper, are the Cubs the best team in baseball right now?
Klaw: I think so. But I wonder if this opens them up to trade Soler. Heyward can handle CF but I doubt he’s plus there. We know he’s ridiculously good in RF.

M. Pemulis (Enfield): How has the ratio of trolls to real questions changed since the chats moved over to here?
Klaw: Most trolls are gone. Also don’t get the people who complain that I answer non-baseball questions.

Chris: How long until Boras calls up Ted Lerner to give Davis a monster contract since they missed out on Heyward?
Klaw: You act like that hasn’t already happened in the last ten minutes.

Mar: You’ve mentioned before fans don’t understand basic economics and that’s why they disapprove of player salaries. I’m skeptical economics truly drives salaries. Do teams know the relation between wins (or even star power) and revenues?
Klaw: Hell yes they do.

Skip: What are your thoughts on Maeda? Where should he slot into a rotation?
Klaw: Fourth starter. Very worried about durability. Smaller frame guy who’s had some issues getting through a full season healthy.

Zach: Given your love of literature and coming from a front office background, was it natural for you to begin writing? Is the writing process still frustrating for you at times, or did you fall into it pretty naturally?
Klaw: I’ve always been a natural writer (in the sense that I don’t find it difficult or frustrating, not that I’m some innate Hemingway). I’m more comfortable expressing myself in writing than verbally, although I’ve had to get better at the latter.

Chris: Bethancourt and Alfaro seem similar based on write up on bethancourt, is that the case?
Klaw: Yes. Alfaro’s a better hitter though.

Adam: Hi Keith–I was curious if you’ve ever tried cooking sous vide-style at home?
Klaw: I have not. Devices were pretty expensive until the last year or so.

Ben: Confirmed that Cubs got Heyward. You think that’s a better use of resources than grabbing a CF and another SP?
Klaw: Not sure they need another SP; Hammel is the 5, and they have Warren and Wood in the pen as long options, which could also make Hendricks a short starter. CF options this winter weren’t great. All depends on the cost but I don’t think this is a poor use of resources. Also bear in mind that next winter’s free agent class is a dumpster fire.

Marshall: Until proven otherwise do the Twins just need to treat Alex Meyer as reliever rather than a starter?
Klaw: Yes. Needs to show he can throw enough strikes first, then to get some left-handed hitters out.

Boogie: It’s being reported that the Cubs “won the Heyward sweepstakes”. How good does this make them? Adding Zobrist/Heyward is an amazing offseason…
Klaw: I love that phrasing – like Casey Close just showed up at the door, but instead of carrying a giant check, he was asking for one.

Joshua: With it looking like the Nats (hopefully) will have Turner starting as their SS, what can you tell me about Difo. Is he a legitimate starting threat at 2B this year, or should I still be expecting to see Espinosa out there? Thanks, Keith.
Klaw: I don’t think he’s ready now, but he could be their starting 2b in 2017. Pretty toolsy kid who put everything together a little late, like Willson Contreras with the Cubs.

Chad: Where does that leave the Cards? without Lynn, an OF Grichuk and Piscotty and Adams at first.. that’s not exactly encouraging? Do they sign a different OF?
Klaw: I don’t know their plans – I’m sure they’re scrambling a little bit right now – but I think they’d be better served to see if there’s a hitter available in trade, and spending their available cash on one of the many good SP out there. Leake and Kazmir come to mind immediately.

Archie: Higher ceiling Gleyber Torres or Ozhaino Albies?
Klaw: Torres. Better fielder and I think more chance to hit for power. Albies is the safer bet to hit.

Chris: Nola Hellickson Oberholtzer Velazquez Eickhoff?
Klaw: Is this some sort of curse?

Bruce: Will you ever write a novel?
Klaw: I would love to do so. There are one or two projects I need to complete (or start and complete) first.

Ray: Thoughts on Derek Fisher- can he be a low average, high OBP, 20+ HR, 20+ SB hitter in Philly or do we need to see how he performs in AA?
Klaw: I’m a bit down on him after that first year in pro ball and a very bad look in the AFL after I saw him so much better in college. Lot of holes in his game for someone whose tools are so damn good.

Ed: Have you been to Blais’ crack shack yet? Very good fried chicken, sides aren’t the best.
Klaw: No, but I’ll probably get there in March. I think Hedges has value because there is always more demand for catching than supply, but yeah, the way they mishandled him in 2015 didn’t help.

Anonymous: Just started working at Rice University—any players of note to watch there in 2016-2017?
Klaw: Duplantier, if he’s not hurt, which he has been, which I know you’ll find terribly surprising for a Rice pitcher.

TJ: Two HOF write-in voters for Pete Rose so far…
Klaw: An utterly pointless gesture, regardless of his merits as a player.

Brandon in DC: In discussing the Jason Hayward free agency with a friend of mine, he said he was dubious of Heyward’s value because he believes WAR overweights defensive metrics. I know the calculation and components of the various forms of WAR have been often debated, but what is your current view about the weight given to defense, and whether you think WAR would properly measure Heyward’s value? Thanks!
Klaw: I think defensive metrics, especially the proprietary ones that teams use, are more accurate than critics understand, even if they lack the precision that offensive measures provide. The question is seldom “how much was he worth” but “how much will he be worth?” To answer the latter, you need to try to impute the player’s true talent level from his performance. That is less about precision in a single period of time and more about directional accuracy over a larger sample.

Jesse: Hi Keith, thank you for your advocacy for mental health and science issues. I’m interested in your thoughts on GMOs – I am not against the development of GMOs on principle as many people are, but do have a fear that the biotech industry is writing the rules and don’t trust individual corporations to regulate themselves. Despite GMOs being generally safe and effective, I can’t get over the fear of an environmental catastrophe is something is developed without adequate oversight. You seem comfortable with the use of GMOs, how do you reconcile this concern?
Klaw: Comfortable but concerned would be a good way to put it. Evolution has been genetically modifying organisms for millions of years, yet only one has become dangerous enough to wipe out thousands of other species and take over the planet: Us.

Jack K: What about Jason Heyward’s swing are scouts concerned about? Do you see a higher offensive ceiling for him?
Klaw: The Cards made some tweaks last year that helped him. He starts high and often comes a bit down towards the ball, which produces a lot of groundballs, something he didn’t do as much as a minor leaguer. He’s big enough and has the lower body strength to hit for more power. I think there’s a chance he does that now.

Alison: Odds that the draft picks the Cards get from the Cubs signings turn out to be HOF’s.
Klaw: I’m going to say under 1%. Had to think for a second about it when you said “picks” but you’re right (and I was wrong!).

Jack: What are your thoughts on Renato Nunez? I’ve read conflicting reports about his ability to stick at third, and it doesn’t seem his bat will carry playing first.
Klaw: That’s about right. I don’t know if he stays at third, and he probably won’t, but I’d give him every chance to do so.

Brando: Think that the BBWAA HOF voters hold it against Griffey for being a prick during his career? I bet it cost him some votes
Klaw: Maybe a couple but it won’t matter in the end. He’ll get 95% or more. And yeah, he was not a good guy, especially not as a teammate (so I hear – this is terribly secondhand, so feel free to dismiss it), but he skates on that while Bonds gets murdered for it.

Matt: With Greinke Miller Corbin leading Dbacks rotation this makes them the favorite for the NL west correct?
Klaw: Ehhhhhh i’m not so sure about that. As I said above, there’s a lot of offseason left to be played. They may think Corbin’s ready to make 32-33 starts, but in his first full year back from TJ that’s very foolhardy. They were also well behind LAD/SF on paper coming into the winter; they’re slightly ahead now, but the other two clubs have barely made any moves while the Dbacks are probably done. AZ still needs something in the middle infield, though; Ahmed is terrible and Owings isn’t much better.

Jugdish: I know you are a Top Chef fan. Do you liked Chopped and have you ever tried to be a contestant?
Klaw: No, and no – aren’t those contestants actual chefs?

Adam: What should the Braves do with all of these OF’s? Wouldnt the best move be to play Olivera at 3rd and see if he at least improves until they can clear the OF traffic?
Klaw: He was pretty awful at 3b and 2b, and he’s not a prospect – he’s old enough that hoping for improvement is wishful thinking.

Archie: Do you see Drury opening the season as the Dbacks 2B if they don’t trade for Phillips?
Klaw: If he shows his glove is good enough. He was not good last spring when I saw him in AZ.

Alison: Alison 1, Klaw 0. It was a tongue in cheek question because no matter who they lose, things tend to work out for the Cards. And not work out for my Cubs.
Klaw: you forgot to say #cardsdevilmagic.

Horacio: Hi Keith, I was introduced into Chvrches by one of your previous ‘best of’ lists and now I love them. I attended a concert a couple of weeks ago here in London and it was superb. I just wanted to thank you for that!
Klaw: They’re so good – and good live, which I didn’t expect because Mayberry has something of a “little” voice.

Greyson: Considering Christian Bethancourt’s ridiculous arm (I still remember his snap throw at the 2012 futures game) and problems receiving, could he be converted to a pitcher? Or is it too late?
Klaw: A scout I know well suggested that maybe four years ago to me, and I think the idea still has merit. He’d have to be mid-90s.

Jeff: Keith, is John Hart just smarter than everyone else in the room or does he have some naked photos of them with their mistresses? I don’t understand how he keep getting these teams to make trades like the Shelby Miller for Dansby Swanson and others.
Klaw: Atlanta (I think Coppolella is the one making the calls rather than Hart) has done an excellent job of taking advantage of a GM with no effective front office experience and what appears to be a thoroughly outdated view of the game.

James: The Royals are saying they thing Bubba Starling will become a starting OF in the future, but I don’t see it. What are you thoughts?
Klaw: Too optimistic for me.

Chris: JP Crawford go full time in 2017 at this rate?
Klaw: I think by July 1st he’s the shortstop in Philly, barring injury or cholera or something.

Pat: To your knowledge, do or have the Blue Jays used financial derivatives to hedge exchange rate risk, particularly is much of their revenue is C$ but their expenses are US$ (player salaries)?
Klaw: Yes, they have for at least 15 years. I think it’s even in Rogers’ annual report.

Josh: What are your thoughts on AJ Preller? Seems to me he cleared out some prospects he wasn’t high on last year for a chance at a run, but after it didn’t work he is flipping them for prospects he does like.
Klaw: That’s a fair characterization, and I’m pretty good with that overall, although I thought all last year that failing to address CF or SS or the lack of RHB in the lineup were mistakes.

Joshua: Curiosity questions: I know (or maybe presume I know) that you are not a big Pearl Jam fan. I have read that you really like(d) Mother Love Bone. Just curious as to why. Thanks.
Klaw: Very different sounds IMO. Pearl Jam derives more from classic blues-rock and arena rock. MLB (!) were more influenced by psychedelia, and Andrew Wood’s lyrics were insanely great.

Dan: According to Alex Pavlovic, Giants might be considering Christian Arroyo in LF…do you see this as a legitimate possibility?
Klaw: Silly. No reason he can’t play 2b. I know Panik is there now, but a) I think Arroyo might end up a better player and b) something totally unexpected could change Panik’s career arc too.

Jesse: What is your gut on Dansby Swanson and his upside
Klaw: At least an above-average everyday shortstop who may make a couple of All-Star teams in his career. And I think he could be ready at some point in 2016 if Atlanta allows him to move quickly – start him in high-A, move to AA if he wrecks the league like I expect.

Mark: Are certain tools available throughout the draft? For example, can you find an 80 runner in the 40th round? How about an 80 fastball guy in the 30th round? How about 80 power, 80 defense?
Klaw: Anything after the 10th round is no longer about talent but about signability now. You can definitely find 80 runners who can’t do anything else into the 8th-10th round range. I know of potential 80 defenders (future 60 or 70, project to 80) who’ve gone in the 6th or 7th. Those are guys who have massive deficiencies somewhere else – an 80 defender in center with a 30 hit tool isn’t flying off the board.

Jeff: When will we get your review of the Top Chef episode from last night? I thought it was a pretty interesting episode. I’ve been to the Sanford Winery and not only is it a beautiful property, but the wines are very good.
Klaw: I haven’t watched it yet – my sister-in-law and niece were here this morning and I wanted to spend time with them and also not expose the baby to that sort of language.

Corey: If somehow Moncada, Devers and Benintendi all arrive roughly at the same time, say ’18, where do you play them and where is Mookie in that alignment ?
Klaw: Moncada 2b, Devers 3b, Benintendi cf/rf, Betts cf/wherever. He can play a lot of places. I presume Bogaerts at ss still.

Silv: No question, just a comment. Good golly, the Cubs are LOADED.
Klaw: Yes. They have good players, too.

James: Michael Gettys or Monte Harrison?
Klaw: Harrison has more chance to hit. Gettys has crazy tools but has never hit at all and his swing has always had problems.

James: After a club loses its first draft pick, does it matter how many more it loses. For the Cubs, they have lost a first round and either a sandwich pick or a second rounder, do they care if they lose the next pick?
Klaw: Nope. I would never let a second-round pick stop me from signing a premium free agent. First-round yes, second-round … I guess I’ll say almost never.

Greg: Does Yordano Ventura ever become a top 20 pitcher or have we seen his best?
Klaw: I don’t think we’ve seen his best, but he’s got to be one of the biggest blowout risks of any MLB starter.

Lenny: Are you receptive to questions from obvious pseudonyms or “celebrity imposters” as long as the questions are legit/respectful? Or do you prefer answering questions from people who are apparently using their real names? Just curious for future reference.
Klaw: Doesn’t matter. I don’t usually look at the names at all, just the questions. As long as you’re civil, I’ll take any question, even ones that criticize me or call me out for my stupidity.

Chris: Do you watch video of players that you’ve correctly scouted to keep your eye trained for what to look for, or any similar practice?
Klaw: Much better use of time to revisit guys I got wrong. Although I don’t have enough time to do that much.

James: I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder last April and I hear that things like meditation will help me immensely. Any other reccomendation Keith? Thanks!
Klaw: EMMET: Exercise, Meditation, Medication, Eating better, Therapy. Bipolar is serious bidness, much more so than my anxiety, so definitely work with your doctor on finding meds that help.

Greg: Keith, where did you learn to scout from? Did you go to scout school?
Klaw: From colleagues with Toronto and scout friends over the years. I did not go to scout school. Scout school does not teach you to be a scout. Plenty of people brag about going to scout school and couldn’t tell a player from a potted plant.

Chris: Have there been any recent misses that made you wonder what you were looking at or caused you to look again?
Klaw: I write about 5-6 of them or more every September on Missing on Goldschmidt has made me look at Rhys Hoskins differently, to give you one recent example.

Rob: Does the Bethancourt trade have any implications for Derek Norris? What’s your view on him? Still improving? Is what he is? Other?
Klaw: Norris can hit and isn’t a very good catcher. Either he goes to 1b or gets traded. I don’t think he’s going to last as a catcher in this new, defense-conscious environment.

Andrew: Your thoughts on Mizzou pitcher Tanner Houck or too early to speculate for a 2017 guy?
Klaw: He’s got first-round possibilities but I don’t like getting that far ahead unless it’s a clear top-of-the-draft guy.

Marshall: If the Marlins are a in “rebuilding phase” (seemingly on an endless loop) and receptive to trading Jose Fernandez, wouldn’t now be the perfect time to see what the market is for Dee Gordon?
Klaw: I don’t think their ownership allows the front office to stick to a single coherent strategy. They have smart people there, but Loria and Samwise there can’t stop interfering.

Adam: Does Mississippi State have any prospects this year?
Klaw: Dakota Hudson, who I think is supposed to be healthy in the spring.

JD: The Braves are offering some kind of “tracking stock” where you can essentially invest in the team without being an actual investor. Huh?
Klaw: I really thought those fell out of favor ten years ago. They were a bad idea then and are no better now.

Corey: Corollary to the Moncada, Devers, et al question – what do the Sox do with Pedroia then ? Obvious answer is a trade but that’s complicated given who we’re talking about. Put him in the Holt super UT role? 1B ?
Klaw: Pedroia is 32, may be starting to break down, and is clearly not the hitter he was two or three years ago. If he’s not your best 2b, you sit him.

Joshua: What are your thoughts on Tanner Roark? With the Nats losing both Zimmermann and Fister, he seems to be a logical choice for their rotation. However, if past indications tell me anything about this year, the Nats may not be sold on him. What are your thoughts? Thanks.
Klaw: I think he’s a back-end starter for almost any team in baseball. If the Nats don’t think that and aren’t planning to use him as an Adam Warren-type swing man, they should trade him because I’m pretty sure they could get something they value in return.

Marshall: If David Samson is Samwise, does that make Loria Frodo or Gollum?
Klaw: I thought it was obvious. He’s Sauron. And that’s all for this week’s chat! Thanks for joining me. I’ll be back next week, most likely on Thursday, and then we’ll play it by ear the week of Christmas. Look for something on Heyward later today after we know his contract details. Thank you as always for reading and for all of your questions!

Language Arts and my year of 100 books.

Stephanie Kallos’ 2015 novel Language Arts first crossed my radar over the summer when I saw that Paste named it the best novel of the first half 2015, shortly after which I spotted it for $2.99 for the Kindle and picked it up to save for … well, the MLB winter meetings, as it turned out. It’s a bit sentimental with some purple prose, but the story itself is engaging and thoughtful, tied together by a surprise near the novel’s end that, with hindsight, makes clear so much of what was going on beneath the text in the first three-quarters of the book.

The center of the story is Charles Marlow and his autistic son Cody, whose sudden withdrawal as a toddler precipitated the breakup of Charles’ marriage to Alison and triggered a long-dormant memory of Charles’ childhood friendship with a developmentally disabled classmate. Through staggered flashbacks and shifts in present-day scenes from Charles to Cody (living in a group home) and a nun suffering from dementia that has caused her to revert to her young adulthood in Italy – a few too many abrupt shifts for me – Kallos unfolds what is really the story of Charles overcoming a series of mental obstacles to find some way to connect to his son.

While florid language often gives the book the feel of pop literature – the moon as a “melting scoop of vanilla ice cream” was a metaphor too far – Kallos invests the three mentally infirm characters (Cody, the nun, and Charles’ classmate Dana) with the complexity normally reserved for the not-disabled. While Cody is, of course, limited in expression and cognitive powers, he’s still given a broad range of emotions and treated like a whole person, both by other characters and by Kallos herself in describing his movements, habits, and attempts to communicate. Charles himself is the most fully fleshed-out character in the book, but there’s a hint of a sad-sack cliché about him, whereas Cody is one of the most refreshing, novel (no pun intended) portrayals of a developmentally disabled person I’ve ever seen.

Whereas Kallos’ phrasings often detracted from the book, she avoided many obvious plot pitfalls that would have turned this into a Hallmark movie of the week. Charles wrote an award-winning story as a fourth grader that resurfaces when his elementary school is slated for demolition; at a reunion with other students from that Langauge Arts class, he meets up with one of the other prize students, who’s also divorced, and … nothing happens. It would have just been too easy to have them date, or sleep together, or fall in love and give Charles a well-rounded, happy ending, but Kallos doesn’t go there, just as she doesn’t give Cody a miraculous recovery or reunite Charles and Alison or choose any of a dozen other easy ways out. The cathartic climax of the book is of the small kind, and it feels genuine, the kind of tiny miracle that can happen any day through nothing more unlikely than the kindness of others.

There’s a hint of pop spirituality, a sort of false ecumenicalism, running through Language Arts that did ring a bit off-key for me; it’s certainly true that we see many people turning away from organized religion while retaining some kind of spiritual belief system, but here Kallos wants to ask the Big Questions without doing much more to address them than point out that we’re all looking for answers. Between that and the prose, I could never quite get over the disconnect between the intense, thorough characterizations and the feel that Kallos was talking down to the reader – not from a point of intelligence looking down on the less clever, but the way we might look at a self-help guru dispensing empty platitudes. I can forgive quite a bit for a story and cast this compelling, where the conclusion delivers in a huge way without diverting from the book’s relentless realism.

This was the one hundredth book I’ve read in 2015, a peculiar goal but one I’ve wanted to reach for a very long time. I was on track to do it back in 2002, my first year working for the Blue Jays, one where I spent a lot of time on my own in Toronto (and prowled many of that fine, fine city’s many used bookstores … I remember a wonderful one near Little Italy where I went nuts), and read 75 books by early September. It was Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises that stopped me cold; I’ve tried so much Hemingway before and after that, but his prose is so cold and his depression so thoroughly reflected in his stories and characters that I’ve found his work more of a chore to read even than the labyrinthine language of Faulkner. That year I just hit a wall, and went as long without reading anything as I have at any point since then.

The year that my daughter was born (2006) was, naturally, another low point, although I still got to about 50-55 books read that year; I didn’t travel between spring training and the Futures Game, which cut down on reading time, and of course if I tried to read when my daughter was an infant I’d just fall asleep wherever I sat. But I’ve steadily ramped back up the last few years and read religiously for an hour or more just about every day. My therapist back in Arizona encouraged me to do it when I expressed some reservations about devoting time to such a solitary activity when I had a family and a job and, like everyone, a million other things I “should” (dangerous word there) be doing. She insisted I consider it part of my “self-care” regimen, the way I would meditation or exercise or getting enough sleep or eating well. So I have, going through 70 to 80 books a year most years since my daughter started sleeping through the night.

This year’s been an exceptional one though, even though I’ve had my share of longreads, because of my daughter. She’s supposed to read for a half an hour every night, so our deal, when I’m home, is that we read together, usually sitting next to each other on the couch (or her lying on top of me, which was a lot easier before she got to be more than half my weight), although if she’s annoyed at me for making her do her homework she might exile herself to the other side of the couch. She’s even been cheering me on towards the 100-book goal, which is wonderful encouragement, and delights me to see that she’s acquired some of my own yearning for achievements, no matter how arbitrary or meaningless to anyone but myself.

This year’s list of books has been suitably eclectic, with everything from Ngugi wa Thiongo’s epic Wizard of the Crow to Jasper Fforde’s two most recent Chronicles of Kazam books (which I read to my daughter a chapter or two a night), from books on quantum entanglement to the last two-thirds of Evelyn Waugh’s Sword of Honour trilogy. The list included fourteen Pulitzer Prize for Fiction winners and one for Non-Fiction; ten Hugo Award for Best Novel winners; and two titles from Nobel Prize for Literature winners. (I didn’t like either of those two.) Three books were collections of works from various authors; of the other 97, twenty-two were written by women. Eighty-seven of the titles were works of fiction. Eight were audiobooks to get me through the drives to and from Bristol or the occasional bout of yardwork. I read four titles each from Agatha Christie and Rex Stout; three by Waugh; and two apiece from Fforde, Neil Gaiman, Philip K. Dick, and P.G. Wodehouse. And one was by an author I know personally, a rare pleasure and a case where I didn’t bother to feign objectivity.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve just begun John Brunner’s Stand on Zanzibar (just $5 on Kindle right now!) and you’re keeping me from my reading…

Too Many Cooks.

I have new Insider posts up on the Wade Miley-Carson Smith trade and the Hisashi Iwakuma contract. My latest boardgame review over at Paste covers 7 Wonders Duel, the new two-player game that uses the theme and some mechanics from the outstanding original 7 Wonders.

I don’t normally post on books in series, since part of any series’ appeal is the familiarity you get from title to title, but Rex Stout’s Too Many Cooks, the fifth of what would eventually be his thirty-three novels starring the corpulent detective Nero Wolfe and his milk-swigging sidekick Archie Goodwin. (I’ve now read thirteen of them, plus four books of short stories or novellas.) But this book merited some comment for two reasons, or perhaps two and a half if you consider the new meaning of the book’s title:

The story itself is one of the few that has Wolfe leave his famous brownstone, from which he solves most of the cases that come to him, usually in a climactic scene where all of the suspects gather in his parlor for the Big Reveal. In Too Many Cooks, Wolfe and Goodwin travel to a spa/resort in West Virginia for the festivities of the Quinze Maîtres, a collection of chefs (fifteen in name, with only twelve attending due to the deaths of three since the previous meeting) from around the world who gather every five years for enormous meals, presentations on food, and, in this case, murder. When one of the twelve is killed during a tasting experiment he’s running, Wolfe first has to clear the chef who invited him to the shindig, and eventually solves the murder when the killer takes a shot at Wolfe himself.

Wolfe’s view of the world always involves food and drink (usually cold beer), as he employs a full-time chef, Fritz, and cooks frequently himself, but Stout outdoes himself in the descriptions of the dinners the Maîtres enjoy, as well as the sauce printemps that’s used in the tasting test during which the murder occurs. I found it fascinating to see how different haute cuisine – or, I guess, what Stout considered haute cuisine – looked in 1938, when the book was published, from what it has become now. The sumptuous meals in Too Many Cooks are almost entirely derived from French cuisine, directly or through some translation on the American side of the ocean, with nothing from outside of Europe, and the overemphasis on animal proteins is almost embarrassing to an educated eater today. The test in question is clever, although I wonder how feasible it would be in practice: One chef prepares the same sauce nine different ways, each time omitting one critical ingredient, and the other chefs must taste each sauce once and fill out a card indicating which batch was missing which ingredient. The test is tangential to the main plot, more red herring than essential element, but I also inferred that Stout was having a little fun with his fascination with food.

On the flip side, however, of all of the Nero Wolfe works I’ve read, I don’t think any used the n-word as frequently as Too Many Cooks does, even though most of the time it’s used it comes from the mouth of one of the southern whites in the book – such as the redneck local sheriff who shows up to investigate the murder. This prompted a question in my mind that I’ll pose to the group. In general, I don’t support the idea of bowdlerizing older works of art – film, literature, etc. – to remove language that was in the common vernacular of the time but has since become objectionable or effectively prohibited. This is how people talked and acted, and removing those words or actions (such as the awful blackface scene in Holiday Inn) not only reduces the works’ historical accuracy but has the possibly unintended effect of allowing us to pretend that this crap never happened. At the resort in Too Many Cooks, the kitchen staff members are mostly black, and everyone but Wolfe refers to them in derogatory terms, liberally sprinkled with that odious epithet. In reality, you could clean this text up, removing most of those uses of the term and replacing with less offensive words that still express the racism of the speakers, without materially impacting the text. Failing to replace those words makes the book much less enjoyable to read, and I would guess many if not most African-American readers today would find it unreadable. (Don’t even get me started on Gone With the Wind.) So what would you prefer: Leave these works as they are, as I believe we should, as testaments to our history, or “edit” them to be more culturally sensitive?

Next up: Stephanie Kallos’ 2015 novel Language Arts.

The Keepers of the House.

My thoughts on the Jeff Samardzija contract are up for Insiders. I’m still waiting for details on Hisashi Iwakuma’s reported contract before writing that one up.

Shirley Ann Grau’s novel The Keepers of the House, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1965, is an outstanding work of seething rage that manages to address themes of race and racial injustice by telling the story of a white family, of all things, in rural Alabama, from the late 19th century through the period just before the book’s publication. It is obvious to me why it won the award, and baffling to me that it has all but disappeared from reading lists, with no film adaptation or anything else to keep it alive.

The book nominally details seven generations of the Howland family, but the focus is primarily on two of them: the fifth William Howland and his granddaughter Abigail, who returns with her mother to live with her grandfather after her father abandons the family to fight in World War II, and ends up raised by her grandfather after her mother dies shortly after. William brought a young black woman named Margaret in to be the housekeeper after his own wife died in childbirth, and Margaret eventually became his mistress, bearing him three children, each of whom was sent away to schools in the north where their mixed heritage would not be held against them. While the relationship was commonly known in the area, the locals – depicted by and large as the sort of upstanding racists you might associate with the South of the 1950s – overlooked it as a quirk of those crazy Howlands.

After William dies, Margaret moves back to the black section of town with her family, and Abigail and her ambitious politician husband John Tolliver move into the Howland estate. When John runs for Governor of Alabama, a post he’s favored to win in a landslide, one unknown detail emerges about William and Margaret that derails his campaign and marriage while bringing the wrath of the town upon Abigail, thereby unlocking within her generations of outrage at the hypocrisy all around her, from the local whites who would tolerate such miscegenation up to a point to William and Margaret’s children who try to reject their black heritage.

The first three-fourths of Grau’s novel feel like many other novels in the subgenre of southern literature, telling a vast story of a family that once ruled a vast estate or accumulated great wealth but watched it fritter away via complacent or dissolute descendants. But Grau plants many seeds (no pun intended) in the early going to set up a dynamite climax (same) that gives Abigail two shots at revenge on her family’s tormentors, taking advantage of the unspoken dependence of the townfolk to enact a vicious vengeance. Abigail serves her revenge piping hot, and because of its genesis, it’s an extraordinarily satisfying conclusion for the reader.

It’s even more potent for Grau’s decision to tell the story with Abigail as the narrator. Imposing that fog over the family history – it’s passed down orally, so bits of it seem embellished, perhaps impossible – meant that images become clearer as the story approaches the material Abigail herself would have seen, and allows us to trace the development of her identity as a Howland, especially from the time when she goes to live on the family estate. In the time when Grau wrote Keepers, it was unthinkable to have a black character enact the sort of revenge Abigail gets – as it was, Grau ended up with a cross burned on her lawn after the book was published – so giving us a white woman who was raised in a house where black children were treated as cousins was probably the closest Grau could get. And in so doing, she never spared the white racists who smiled and said the right things but harbored the same centuries-old bigotry in their hearts.

Next up: I just finished Rex Stout’s Too Many Cooks, a Nero Wolfe mystery, and have begun Stephanie Kallos’s highly lauded 2015 novel Language Arts.

Stick to baseball, 12/5/15.

I have written three Insider pieces this week, one on David Price and Chris Young, one on Zack Greinke and John Lackey, and one on Jordan Zimmermann and J.A. Happ. I also held my weekly Klawchat on Thursday.

Top Chef recaps began this week with episode one and episode two.

And now, the links…

Top Chef, S13E02.

If you’re looking for the episode one recap it’s here. Unrelated to Top Chef, but there’s a big boardgame sale again today on amazon, including half off Splendor, Flash Point, Dominion Intrigue, and more big discounts on Ticket to Ride and others.

Back to Top Chef land … Ludo Lefebvre, whose website bills him as an “impresario of pop-up dining,” is the guest judge this week, so you know the challenge will revolve around pop-up restaurants – typically a one-day experience where a chef or team of chefs opens a restaurant with a very small, focused menu for a single meal or an afternoon. The contestants split into four teams of four and have to open four popups around LA, each in a distinctive neighborhood. Meanwhile, Ludo says that he’s sick of pop-ups, so why exactly is he here?

Each team gets an address but doesn’t learn the type of food until they reach the restaurant.

* Philip says the part of Venice they’re going to is “white people town.” Isn’t “white people town” where most restaurants are located? How many high-end places open in highly non-white neighborhoods? I’d love to see that change – the area in downtown Wilmington where La Fia and sister restaurant Cocina Lolo are has noticeably improved since those two restaurants arrived – but it’s certainly not common.

* Isaac, Marjorie, Angelina, and Amar get Persian food. Isaac knows nothing about it. I’m not sure any of them know much about it. When I think Persian food, I think rice and saffron and pistachios and tah dig. There’s no discussion around any of that stuff, although they do eventually incorporate a lot of pistachios into the menu.

* Karen, Carl, Jason, and Giselle get Korean. They’re at Sang Yoon’s place; he was on Top Chef Masters but is probably better known for his gastropub Father’s Office, with a burger that’s been named one of the best in the country and a big craft beer selection. Sang Yoon says Korean food in LA compares to Korean food in Korea, but that Korean food in New York or other cities doesn’t. This is as stupid as people who say you can’t get good pizza outside of New York. If you have the right person at the helm, you can get good ethnic or regional cuisine anywhere.

* Giselle has eaten wings but never cooked them, and is sort of freaking out a bit in front of the team, saying, “you guys aren’t going to let me fail” … I mean, yeah, they probably would. If the ship starts sinking, they’re not letting her in the lifeboat.

* Even better, her description of Korean-spiced fried chicken wings includes “something makes them red.” Yeah, that’s gochujang. I have a tube in my fridge right now. If you’ve ever eaten Korean food at all, you’ve had it, and I don’t know how a professional chef wouldn’t know what it is: a paste made from fermented soybeans, red chilis, “glutinous” rice powder (sticky rice – not rice with gluten, which would be weird), salt, and often some kind of sweetener. It’s spicy but balanced and is high in glutamates from the fermented soybeans, making it a powerful way to add umami to a dish. I put it in a fresh mayonnaise I served at Thanksgiving with roasted Brussels sprouts.

* Philip, Grayson, Renee, and Frances are at Seed in Venice, a vegan restaurant. Philip’s wife has been an “on and off raw vegan,” which is extremely California. It’s not mentioned till later in the show, but the couple runs a vegan restaurant in Studio City called The Gadarene Swine. As for the team, this seems like a much harder challenge than the other three teams got, although they can make their budget go a lot farther since they don’t have to spend big on meat or fish.

* Grayson says “God put animals on this planet for a reason: to eat them.” Well, I’d argue they came from natural selection, but they can be rather delicious.

* Chad, Wesley, Kwame, and Jeremy get Mexican. Chad and Jeremy have cooked Mexican, while the others haven’t.

* Grayson wants to do a charred bean salad, but Whole Foods doesn’t have the wax beans she wants, which is fine because wax beans have absolutely no taste whatsoever. Grayson is about as bitter as burned garlic this season and I wonder if she’s just a ringer, brought back to stir shit up.

* Frances says she cooked Indian food for the royal family in Dubai, which is ironic since homosexuality is illegal in Dubai and punishable by death. Anyway, she can’t find fresh chickpeas, so she buys canned chickpeas, and around these parts we refer to this as “foreshadowing.”

* Giselle accosts a Korean customer and grills her on how to cook chicken wings. I kind of like that – I’m hoping she didn’t just pick an Asian woman at random but perhaps saw the woman buy items with Korean labels? – although she could also have just asked Sang Yoon.

* What isn’t clear to me in this episode is whether the pop-ups are supposed to be super authentic or merely inspired by each restaurant’s regular cuisine.

* Frances says Philip has gone from being a leader to being bossy … but we see one brief example, if that, and nothing else to support the claim. Plus, he has an actual vegan restaurant; if I were cooking vegan with no experience, I’d want his direction.

* Is it just me or has Gail’s wardrobe changed for the better? I’m loath to make too much of the physical appearance of anyone on the show, but that’s two straight episodes where she’s wearing something that at the very least flatters her more than looks in previous years, where what she wore was often a huge target for criticism (much of it unfair – she’s not there to be ogled) among viewers.

* The judges start the orgy of eating at the Persian place. Amar made grilled heirloom carrots with cilantro pesto, cauliflower hummus, and vadouvan spice (which I think is Indian, not Persian). The judges like it and the host chef, Saghar Fanisalek, says it’s “very Persian,” so there. Angelina serves chicken with a crispy fennel-coriander crust, yogurt with fresh herbs, and lemon confit. Tom says it’s really nicely cooked, loves the crispy skin, but says that it needs a little salt and more aromatic. Isaac makes lamb kofta and chile-spiced beef kabob over smoked eggplant, which even one or two diners say is spicier than “real Persian food.” Marjorie is the only chef of all sixteen to make a dessert, usually the kiss of death on Top Chef (well, that or risotto), making a yogurt mousse with pistachio sponge cake, saffron orange syrup, candied pistachios, and poached orange supremes. Everyone loves it, Ludo especially. As someone who loves to make dessert, I’m thrilled when a chef says “screw it” and makes one on Top Chef anyway. I’d love to know how that sponge cake came together.

* The Mexican pop-up is next. Chad makes a “carrot asado” (uh, you mean roasted carrot?) with banana yogurt and carne seca with hot sauce. The carrot is undercooked and the judges all agree it’s not Mexican enough, which is weird since Chad at the time had two Mexican restaurants, one in Tijuana. (He’s since shuttered them and moved back to Spokane.) Kwame made a chipotle and raisin-glazed shrimp over masa porridge, avocado lime crema, and chicharron and almond puree. This seems like a big hit although I’m imagining a sickly sweet note from the raisins. Jeremy served potato confit poached in “pork lard” (is there another kind of lard?) with charred skirt steak and a poblano-almond puree. This sounds good, but while Tom loves the dish he says it’s also not Mexican. Wesley serves an orange and tomato stew with chorizo, hominy, mint, and cilantro. Ludo says he doesn’t taste the chorizo, which is surprising because I can taste chorizo if my neighbor down the street eats it. It emerges afterwards that the chefs here didn’t ask their host chef, Ray Garcia for much if any direction or advice.

* The vegan pop-up comes third, and we see the food served on sustainable paper plates. Philip serves a dish of cauliflower done three ways, cleverly titled “Cauliflower cauliflower cauliflower,” which I assume is just an homage to the band Toyboat Toyboat Toyboat. Frances made chana masala (chickpeas in curry) with tofu chips and saffron. Renee made a stuffed beet (misspelled as “beat” on the Bravo site right now) with toasted cashews and tofu. Grayson’s salad ended up a mixture of charred haricots vert with pickled red onion, frisee, mint, pepper. She says, “I know it could have been better with a little pork fat.” Sure, but that’s not the only option for flavor or umami, right? A little miso in the dressing, a splash of soy sauce, a poached eggoh wait scratch that last one. All four of these fall a bit flat: Philip’s cauliflower puree isn’t very good, Frances’ dish was good but used canned chickpeas with fresh produce everywhere, Renee’s appears to have sucked in every way but especially in texture, and Grayson’s was just boring. But isn’t cuisine vegan extremely limiting compared to the other three pop-ups’ cuisines?

* The Korean place is last. Carl made a cuttlefish and shrimp salad with avocado. Jason served chilled noodles in radish broth with fried anchovy, cucumber, Asian pear, and egg. Karen made grilled kalbi (marinated, grilled, flanken-cut short ribs) with nectarine kimchi. Giselle’s Korean chicken wings are glowing red and served with cuke salad and cabbage. The cuttlefish in Carl’s dish gets dinged for lack of any real flavor. Giselle’s chicken wings came out well, while Karen’s dish had the most overall flavor and Sang called it the most Korean dish of the four.

* Judges’ table: The Persian team wins. The four chefs said they asked Chef Saghar a lot of questions. Tom really loved Marjorie’s dessert, which means she wins – perhaps breaking the Top Chef Dessert Curse? Chef Saghar wants to put the dish on the menu at Taste of Tehran. If anyone’s been there I’d love to know if that’s actually come to pass.

* The bottom team was the vegan team, although Gail says Kwame’s dish saved the Mexican team from the low spot. Frances admits she used canned beans, which is one of those things you shouldn’t say at judges’ table unless they ask you about it. Grayson’s salad was too ordinary and she’s doing that whole “I’m not sorry I cut your stupid class” act again. Renee’s beet was a good idea (really?), but the beet was dry, there wasn’t enough sauce, and Ludo says it was very mushy. If the beet is that soft, why not finish it on a grill to get some caramelization of all of those sugars? Philip’s dish needed more flavor and there wasn’t enough on the plate, although if they crushed him over the bland puree we didn’t see it on the show. Padma says the vegan team’s task was the easiest because they “could have gone anywhere … just had to omit animal products.” So, cooking is easier with no butter, no cream, no bacon, no eggs, no cheese, no honey, no duck fat, no anchovies, not even ground grasshoppers? I think Padma is out of her mind on this one. There’s no way that’s easier, not with tons of ingredients out of the pantry – you can’t finish a dish with a bit of Parmiggiano-Reggiano for salt and umami, you can’t thicken a sauce with an egg yolk base or finish with some buerre monté.

* Renee is out. Her “dish just didn’t eat well at all, and didn’t have a lot of flavor.” Plus apparently it had the texture of baby food. She looks crushed. Meanwhile Bad Attitude gets another chance.

* “I arrived sassy and I’m leaving even sassier.” You keep using that word, Renee. I do not think it means what you think it means.

* Last Chance Kitchen: Garret has to cook with Renee’s losing ingredients, and Renee with Garret’s. Garret hates tofu and finds “some really dirty beets” in his ingredient box. They grew in the ground, genius, what the fuck do you expect? He doesn’t seem to be pressing any moisture out of the tofu and he’s not using the beets at all, although on the latter point I’m not sure how he could cook them fully in 30 minutes. Pressure cooker?

* Garret makes a coriander- and white pepper-coated tofu with coconut and tea-braised mustard greens, lemon vinaigrette, and roasted cashews. Tom likes the tofu, says he wishes Garret had used the beets, and that the sauce came out too salty (Garret says he reduced it too much … season last!). Renee made a pan roasted chicken with sauteed dandelion greens, poached eggs, and a chicken skin chip. She burned one side of the chicken so she cut that part off before serving, and didn’t use the garlic, ginger, lemongrass enough. Garret wins, perhaps by default with Renee botching the dish. Either way, I don’t think Garret’s around for much longer either.

* Way too early top three rankings: Kwame, Amar, and since she just won the challenge, Marjorie. Sounds like Kwame might have won or been top 2-3 had they done the dishes in this episode by chef rather than by team first. Jeremy did win the first week, but it was with a crudo dish, which seems to always give chefs an advantage here as long as they cut the fish properly. Bottom three would be Grayson, Angelina, and Wesley.

* So far, by the way, this is not the most inspiring group of chefs. Maybe a few of the stars haven’t had enough screen time to show off what they can do, but I’m not blown away by either the dishes or any effusive personalities. There may be a tremendous amount of talent on the show – certainly by resume there is, and I’d rather judge someone on the resume than the interview, so to speak – but through two episodes the season feels a bit, well, underseasoned.

Klawchat 12/03/15.

Klaw: A chance encounter, you want to avoid the inevitable, the Klawchat.

Clark: Why do smart front offices make bad decisions?
Klaw: I feel like you should ask your rabbi that question.

Brady: Hi Keith, thanks for chatting. There’s been a lot of Shelby Miller for Jorge Soler speculation, but Miller had 2.5 more WAR last year than Soler has had in his career. Would you trade Miller for Soler straight up?
Klaw: Different service time and cost, plus higher innate risk of a pitcher, makes that a reasonable deal for both sides in my eyes.

scottdsimon: Would you give a quick preview of your Paste review of two-player 7 Wonders?
Klaw: I liked it (7 Wonders Duel), but it’s not quite 7 Wonders for two players – same theme, somewhat simpler mechanics, more direct interaction.

Anonymous: Keith, thanks again for the chat. Any surprises among the non-tenders, and anyone you’d think a good candidate on which to take a flyer?
Klaw: Nicasio jumped out at me. Some guys who were non-tendered just to sneak them off the 40, like Rosell Herrera or Domingo German (who had TJ last winter), would be worth a look. I don’t know what to make of Minor or H Alvarez, since both had shoulder surgery and I don’t know what their outlooks are. A little surprised at Chris Carter – I think I’d rather take another year of him than of Gattis.

mike: Aside from adding a power arm or two to the bullpen do you think the BlueJays are done adding to roster?
Klaw: I thought Shapiro said they were done with major adds. BTW, remember those stupid rumors about how some “source” said the Jays were David Price’s top choice, or that they were negotiating a deal? So much BS out there this time of year from people who want clicks or retweets.

Miles: Thoughts on Kivlehan?
Klaw: Fringe to non-prospect. 1B only, good approach, limited tools.

Bradley: After seeing what Zimmerman and Price signed for, $63 million over the next three years for Shields doesn’t look so bad to me. Yes, Zimmerman and Price are younger, but if somebody is looking for a solid No.2 or 3, Shields looks like a reasonable option.
Klaw: I agree. Seems like he’s got real trade value if they want to move him.

Tom: I finally disagreed with you on a board game. Tried Race for the Galaxy last night and loved it. First time for everything. Thanks again for all the reviews. You’ve singlehandedly increased our family together time by sparking my and my kids’ interest in board games. Always much appreciated. Keep up the good work.
Klaw: I’m in the minority on RftG. Most folks who like serious games love it.

James: Hey Keith, is there any worry about Luis Ortiz’s weight gain? I love his stuff but I’m worried that his weight becomes an issue if he doesn’t get it under control
Klaw: Absolutely. Guy’s as big as a house right now.

Donald X: Play the new Dominion app yet?
Klaw: Reviews are awful so no. Plus they want $15 for expansions, which is high comedy.

Chad: Why is Pandemic so much lower on your 2 player rankings, then your overall rankings? I bought it on Cyber Monday, and I primarily play with my wife, and I was just curious if there was a clear problem with the two man gameplay?
Klaw: I think two-person games turn into one-person games.

Ryan: With Jeimer Candelario’s showing in the AFL, is he a viable MLB player and is he only a 3B
Klaw: Can’t play 3b.

Pops: Alen Hanson PIT a starter at 2B for you or a utility guy?
Klaw: Starter.

Joe: Any chance Mark Trumbo can be a 2 WAR player again in Camden Yards?
Klaw: Not there or anywhere. OPACY is not this great hitters’ park that some folks (including media/broadcasters) think it is.

Bradley: What was your favorite dish at Thanksgiving this year?
Klaw: I was very pleased with the Kale Caesar with duck confit – I made Ruhlman’s Caesar dressing from his book Egg, using confit oil, and (since my wife does not eat any seafood) using about 1 Tbsp of white miso in lieu of the anchovies to keep some umami in the dish. Plus my daughter and I then ate all the extra duck legs for dinner the next few nights. But that wasn’t the biggest hit with the guests – they crushed the basics, including the from-scratch g.b.c.

Jace: Other than move to Australia, is there any real chance for living in a sane gun control environment in my lifetime?
Klaw: This is morbid, but if a major celebrity is killed in one of these massacres, that might do it. Or campaign finance refoHAHAHAHA oh my God I almost got that out.

Ryan: I don’t understand all of this interest the Mets are showing in Ben Zobrist. A long-term contract to a 35 year old second baseman? No, thanks. What is it about Dilson Herrera that the Mets don’t like?
Klaw: Hey, Zobrist is a good player, but four years? That makes no sense to me.

Jeremy: what is a reasonable comp for Benitendi? Adam Eaton?
Klaw: Like him more than that. More power.

Todd: If I told you five years ago Keuchel and Kluber would win consecutive Cy Young awards, how crazy would I have looked? Which guy surprised you more?
Klaw: Keuchel. Saw him in college, 5th starter type. Totally overhauled his arsenal before 2014. Guy deserves a ton of credit.

Vin: Seems like both Cueto and Samardzjia will get more than $100 million. Who would you feel more comfortable giving that contract to?
Klaw: Cueto.

Nick: How often does a guy who doesn’t take any walks, such as grichuk, change their approach to do so? Could he be an all star with an upped walk rate?
Klaw: It’s very rare for that to happen and last at all. I don’t think he’ll do it.

Alex: Would you give Grienke a 6th year? Sounds like that is going to be what it will take for either the Dodgers or Giants to get him.
Klaw: Yes.

Craig: What is Josh Hader’s ceiling after his AFL performance? #3 starter?
Klaw: still think that’s a reliever all the way. Low slot for a starter, lot of effort, questionable command.

Steve: Just wanted to say thanks for the recommendation on the food lab and the note it was 30% off at Amazon. About 50 pages in and it is a great read.
Klaw: That book is amazing other than its sheer heft.

Ray: What kind of player do the Dodgers have in Yusniel Diaz? More bat than power or a little of both?
Klaw: Power/speed guy. Lot of tools meaning high upside but more risk than Estevez, the other Cuban they signed the same day (both Boras clients, IIRC), who has better feel to hit right now but lacks the big tools.

Ryan: Know anything about Jose Miguel Fernandez?
Klaw: He was actually on my top free agents ranking last winter, prematurely as it turned out. Chance to be an above-average everyday player.

Bret: It’s not a major deal, but I was surprised that the Jays kept Justin Smoak around for $3.9M. What do they see in him?
Klaw: Platoon bat with plus defense at first. Slight overpay IMO – probably a $2MM player.

Ben: Byung Ho Park – thoughts on his deal?
Klaw: Less than I thought he’d get, which is good for the Twins and also an example of how this posting system sucks for the players.

Ian: Is Jose Berrios a (potential) front of the rotation starter? I know you’ve had concerns about his height limiting his ceiling.
Klaw: Don’t think so. He’s likely to be too homer-prone with that flat fastball.

Tyler: Can Jason Heyward be a above average CF defender for the likely life of the contract he signs this offseason (6-7 years+)?
Klaw: No, I don’t think so.

nb: Hey Keith – Thanks for these chats. They’ve become one of my favorite hours of the week! Just wanted to know when we will start seeing your organizational rankings on the mothership. Thanks
Klaw: End of January for the whole thing. I always do the entire prospect package at once, over a three-day span.

Ryan from Richmond: When is the Rule 5?
Klaw: Next Thursday morning. I fly home late that morning so I may not attend it in person – not that the rule 5 matters much any more.

Alan: Just wanted to let you know my thoughts and prayers are with you through this chat.
Klaw: Thanks, Alan, really feelin’ the love right now.

Patrick: I know that lineup order has been shown to not have much importance, but am I crazy to use it as the main thing I judge a manager on? It is the decision that the manager has the most time and information to make as opposed to in game decisions that need to be made in an instant. I equate it to an open book test where it is really inexcusable to get questions incorrect.
Klaw: You’re right if you’re looking at a manager who puts a low OBP guy in the 1 or 2 spots and you think he’s a moron for doing so, because he is.

Bob@TheGoldenTriangle: Your thoughts on Pedro Alvarez getting non-tendered (released, really), please. How did he perform based on what you saw of him as a prospect.
Klaw: I loved the power, saw high risk with the swing and miss and the inability to hit lefties. Also didn’t think the body would stay at 3b long term. I remember ranking him around #37 one year on my top 100, and getting called all kinds of names by (some) angry pirates fans. Some high-risk guys work out; that one didn’t.

Alan: Felt like every guy the Giants brought up was able to contribute (Crawford, Panik, Duffy, Tomlinson, etc) despite having a system that is always seen as pitching heavy at best. What’s the Giants secret sauce?
Klaw: Pretty good system for getting the most out of high-contact bats. Lot of folks in the game credit Meulens and Bochy. Some of that was fluky though – Tomlinson has so little power it’s hard to see pitchers even giving him the opportunity to hit .300, and Crawford’s first-half spike was a mirage.

Bill G.: Which do you believe will have a better career, Max Kepler or Odubel Herrera. Also, have you played with any of the simulation baseball games like DMB, if so which do you like best? Thanks!
Klaw: Kepler, and no, I haven’t played any sim games.

Vin: What have you heard about Kenta Maeda? Is he more of a back-of-the-rotation guy?
Klaw: I think that’s where he ends up if he comes here and has to pitch every fifth day. Plus splitter, average to slightly above avg fastball, very small/slight guy who doesn’t look very durable and missed a handful of starts in 2013 and 2014.

Ian: Early 2016 draft question but who goes #1?
Klaw: If Alec Hansen is healthy, he’s my bet. Jason Groome and AJ Puk are possibilities too, although I think that’s too much for Puk – if I’m going pitcher at 1-1 I want a better athlete.

Josh Bell: So, does this mean I’ll get the call quicker?
Klaw: Not if you can’t make a significant improvement in your defense at first base.

Tom: You mentioned on Twitter yesterday that fans complain about player salaries but not owner profits (hey, no one complains about movie actor salaries either) but shouldn’t fans be concerned how contracts affect teams’ abilities to put together future rosters? Or, say in Price’s case, how many guys have been productive in the 7th year of these long term deals?
Klaw: Those complaints are fair criticisms; I’m referring to comments like “$31 million is insane!” (actual comment on my FB page) or “no one is worth that much money for playing a game” (I made that one up). It’s economic illiteracy. The owners are raking it in; revenues are rising faster than salaries. The players are the product and should be able to earn the marginal revenue product of their labor; there are players who are worth $40 million a year in added revenue, like Harper and Trout, but good luck convincing the average fan who didn’t even take economics in high school that a guy making $20 million a year is “underpaid.”

Jack: Is there anything to like in the Orioles farm system?
Klaw: It’s in poor shape. Sisco is a prospect, Hess and Scott are big leaguers, and you can always hope Harvey and/or Bundy gets healthy at some point.

Logan: Surprised by the Henderson Alvarez non-tender? He should have a pretty robust market, yeah?
Klaw: Depends on what the shoulder looks like. If it’s just ground beef in there, then no.

Jeremy: Javy Guerra or Jorge Mateo?
Klaw: Guerra.

Ian: What’s the scouting report on Kohl Stewart? Twins fans are calling him a bust because of the lack of strike outs. Does he have time to turn it around?
Klaw: Twins fans calling a 20-year-old a “bust” by scouting the stat line are not actually Twins fans.

Fred: What is it with Mets starters that their stuff seems to get better in the majors? Harvey, deGrom and Syndergaard’s stuff have all been better in the majors than minors. Is it due to better instruction in the majors, elite athletes elevating their game as they reach a higher level or just a fluke thing?
Klaw: Their folks credit the pitching coach, Dan Warthen. Will be interesting to see what he can do with Matz (if healthy), where the stuff is pretty good already but the command isn’t.

Andrew: Does Carter’s release indicate that AJ Reed will be the everyday 1B by May 1 (assuming he hits in AAA in April)?
Klaw: I hope so, just because I think he’s close to ready and I hate seeing clubs hold players down for arbitration/service time reasons. It does a disservice to the game and the fans even though it is the right business move in many or most cases.

Kyle: Did you read the Bill James piece on the three man rotation? Seems crazy enough to work….but is there any team out there that would actually try it? And any agents that would let their pitchers take the mound for said team?
Klaw: No, but if this is three starters, none faces more than 18 batters idea, it’s been around for ~30 years. I also think something like that is inevitable given data that shows that pitchers are worse the fourth time through the order.

Rob: So is Wil Myers the new 1B in San Diego? Does he profile adequately as an everyday 1B? First division upside or not?
Klaw: I assume so – he was awful in the OF last year, and that’s a bad park for a below-average defensive outfielder anyway. I do think he can hit enough to play there if he’s healthy.

Ben: Do you see Greinke setting a new AAV record?
Klaw: I think it’s about even money on that. I wouldn’t hesitate to give him 5 and $160MM if I were a high-revenue contender.

Tyler: More likely in next CBA… A) Rosters expanded to 26-27 B) NL DH, C) International Draft D) None of those are happening
Klaw: Some form of C, which will take the current system, fix some of its flaws, and create new ones instead.

Jeremy: what do you think the Rangers should do with Profar? seems like they are locked into Odor/Andrus in the middle infield.
Klaw: Probably start him in AAA anyway to get him some at bats and some reps in the field. I believe these surpluses often work themselves out due to an injury or an unanticipated trade opportunity. No reason to force it now unless something comes to you. Maybe they’ll get a proposal next week for one of those three guys that makes too much sense to refuse.

Mike: What is Roughned Odor’s power ceiling?
Klaw: I could see a 20 HR season there. Hey, did you know that the Rangers signed his brother, who is also named Rougn*()_U#I@R##(strangling sounds)

Pat: The Rays held Desmond Jennings in AAA in 2011 until summer to avoid the super 2, and then he played so well that you could question whether bringing him up earlier would have made up the 1 game by which they missed the playoffs. Now he’s been underwhelming and getting expensive and it would be tragically ironic if they were to non-tender him after the 2016 season.
Klaw: One man’s tragic irony is another’s black comedy.

Jeremy: if salary weren’t an issue, would Aaron Judge be a better RF option than Beltran in April 2016?
Klaw: I thought that would become the case last summer/spring, but now I don’t. Judge would get eaten alive by MLB pitchers working him soft away right now.

Lewis: Do you consider the 2016 Draft good like 2011 or more of the same of the last few years?
Klaw: We may not see another 2011-level draft for many more years. That was an absolute delight to cover.

Bryan (Montclair, NJ): Klaw, thanks for recommendation on Carcassonne. I haven’t bought or played a board game in years, and my wife and I loved it. Since I’ve also enjoyed some of your other recommendations related to literature and cooking, do you have any book recommendations for expecting fathers?
Klaw: The Happiest Baby on the Block was our mainstay.

Jake: Greg Bird upside?
Klaw: Everyday DH. Low average, walks, 25 HR.

Thomas: Many seem to think opt-outs are bad deals for teams, but I don’t see it that way at all. The back end of contracts are always bad. Provide a door the player can step through to save you from the bad years. The Yankees should have done that with CC. Am I wrong here, and if not, do you see more teams using them strategically?
Klaw: I think they cut both ways, for the reason you cited. The argument that they’re always bad for the teams – a belief to which I used to subscribe, by the way – was that if the player performed well in Phase 1 of the contract, it indicated that he would continue to perform well in Phase 2. I don’t think that correlation is quite as strong as we once believed it was, especially for pitchers.

Jack: Isn’t Greg Bird’s upside technically sky-high?
Klaw: How sick?

Sam: Why in the world would the Diamondbacks say Cueto rejected their offer? Seems the only viable explanation is to let the fans know they are trying to spend money even if they eventually do not. Any way it comes off as bad form and since nobody else publicly releases rejected offers it seems petty.
Klaw: Yes, I believe that’s the reason, but in general, please don’t ask me why the current Diamondbacks regime does anything they do, because I sure as hell don’t understand it. This is the same club that sold Touki Toussaint to cover a budget shortfall caused by Yoan Lopez. I’d sooner explain magnets and the tides.

Jeremy: is JBJ the best defensive CF in the MLB?
Klaw: I was going to answer this question but Kevin Kiermaier just robbed it from the queue.

Jeremy: if Pedroia got hurt, is Betts or Holt a better replacement at 2B
Klaw: Betts.

Kirk: Do you think Miguel Sano has the ability to play right field every day?
Klaw: I’d try him in LF and Kepler in RF. I’d say 2 to 1 odds against Sano working out in the outfield, but well worth the try.

Scott: Should the A’s extend Reddick? I worry that he won’t be worth the amount he likely needs to stay put.
Klaw: I think they should shop or trade him.

Tom: Thanks, I’ve always thought it was funny that it’s common to hear “Hey, greedy (pro athletes) aren’t worth $20m a year” but no one ever complained when Tom Cruise/Jim Carrey, etc would rake in $20m per film. All of it’s entertainment, right?
Klaw: Yep, and indeed no one cares about celebrity salaries or musician incomes. If that player was your son, you’d want him to get every dollar he could.

Fred: Why is everyone forgetting about Wheeler with the Mets rotation? Correct me if I’m wrong, he still projects better than Matz? How is Wheeler not in the big four but Matz is?
Klaw: Because he had Tommy John surgery? I love Wheeler, but expecting him to step right back into the rotation and make 30 starts at his old level this year is a bit optimistic for me.

MFY: How did the Yankees miss on Anderson Espinoza? They spent so much that year and didn’t come up with the best prospect.
Klaw: Well 29 other teams missed too, right? Signing players in Latin America is about as difficult as it gets. You have to start when they’re 14 and often they already have (illegal) deals in place before their 15th birthdays.

Thomas: How could the O’s not sign Alvarez? Seems like he can walk right into Davis’ role.
Klaw: Well “walk” probably isn’t the ideal word there.

Matt: How much value, if any, would you ascribe the the notion of pitchers being “comfortable” with a certain catcher? I’ve been seeing a lot of criticism of the White Sox non-tender to Flowers based on the fact that Sale loves pitching to him, and I’m wondering if that’s something that should be considered in the FA process
Klaw: I think it’s a nice thing to have but not something I’d really pay for if the catcher didn’t have other tangible value, like framing or OBP or something. Otherwise it becomes unverifiable bullshit and I don’t pay for that.

Sooperjones: Can we get that Turkey and Soba Noodle Soup recipe?
Klaw: It wasn’t a recipe – lot of my dishes aren’t – I just made a very rich turkey stock, cooked it down enough that it barely set at room temperature and was a solid block of gel in the fridge, then heated it and added cooked soba noodles, leftover turkey, salt, chopped scallions, chopped celery leaves/hearts, and a splash of rice wine vinegar.

Michael: I’m trying to learn a foreign language. I believe you’ve been vocal against using Rosetta Stone. Before I spent hundreds on it, why?
Klaw: Because I don’t think their method teaches you the language at all. You learn some vocabulary and not in a way that increases retention. It’s very expensive for how little it delivers – but it feels like you’re doing something so people pay for it.

Ray: Will Brett Phillips hit for avg, power or both? Can he be a 15 HR-20 SB-.280-.350 hitter?
Klaw: Yeah, I buy that. Not huge power but he hits the ball hard and could peak at 20-22 HR.

Ryan E: Any thoughts on who the Phillies go for in the rule 5? Are any available outfielders interesting to you?
Klaw: The rule 5 draft is not interesting to me. There’s too little talent available. In a good year you get two guys who stick and do something. In most years you get one or none.

Scott: Is it just me, but have you noticed that people are much more defensive about their tastes in music, compared to movies, books, etc?
Klaw: Every year I do some best-of-the-year music posts, and every year at least one person shows up to insult me for my choices because I omitted some album/artist that person loves. Never fails. I don’t get it – these lists are inherently subjective and I claim nothing more for them than that they’re my opinions.

Joe: Baseball Prospectus has a lot of data on pitch framing, and basically it shows that the best pitch framing catchers get about an extra strike and a half per game. Long story short: do we seriously overrate pitch framing as analytics people?
Klaw: I think we do, and another major reason is that it doesn’t seem to correlate well from year to year. Wasn’t Rene Rivera supposed to be great at framing? Hank Conger? How’d those work out? Now we’re chasing exit velocity the way we chased framing a year or two years ago. The value in new statistics is learning their predictive value, not in arbitrarily deciding that this one or that one is valuable before we have proof.

Jeremy: does Henry Owens 2015 debut lower his ceiling for you? the changeup didnt seem to fit the 70 profile at the MLB level.
Klaw: Nope, it didn’t. And the deception wasn’t as effective as it was in the minors.

Billy: I’ve seen you mention that you have a few Celiac family members recently. My fiance was recently diagnosed and I was wondering what resource(s) you’re using to find recipes, suggestions for substitutions, etc.
Klaw: One gluten-free family member (non-celiac but medical reasons), one close friend who developed a severe wheat allergy after dying in childbirth. (She got better.) Bought KA Gluten-Free Flour blend and xanthan gum. I start with 1-for-1 substitutions in regular recipes (but not bread – you need gluten for real bread) and work from there.

DC: Comps for Josh Bell and Alan Hansen? Thanks
Klaw: I don’t do comps, sorry.

Thomas: Regarding Judge, is the slow away going to kill him permanently, or to-be-expected growing pains?
Klaw: To be expected but it’s a real hole he has to address now.

Jeremy: which of the 2016 draft prospects is most likely to crack your midseason top 25 prospects list?
Klaw: Right now I would guess none.

Josh: Back to the James Shields trade value q, I believe he can opt out if traded, which significantly lowers his value, because if he’s good, he will walk and if he gets worse then you are stuck. Worth more to the Padres than any other team I think.
Klaw: If he’s good, he walks, and you’re off the hook for what are likely to be worse years anyway. But yes, if he sucks, you’re screwed.

Jeremy: for a non-contending Phillies team, would you bring JP Crawford up in June/July 2016? or let him work in AAA until September?
Klaw: When he’s ready – when the at bats are good enough, when he’s no longer making some of the little mistakes that mar his game.

TodD: I read somewhere that many scouts believe this is the best draft class in 10~ years. Do you agree with that sentiment?
Klaw: I don’t think you read that anywhere because it couldn’t be further from the truth.

Jeremy: did you see anything in Seager in 2015 that would make you believe he could stick at SS for 3-4 years?
Klaw: I’d bet against it.

Kirk: So if Kepler in right and Sano in left, that leaves Rosario…where? (Assuming Buxton in center) trade chip? Super sub?
Klaw: Trade chip, most likely. Rosario’s not as good as the other guys and the makeup is not great either.

Michael: As someone who is socially liberal, but fiscally conservative (I can’t be the only one), I find that I basically have no political candidates to vote for. Would you make any changes to the election process in the U.S.? How do you vote? Do you prioritize certain issues over others?
Klaw: You’re far from the only one but there is no party that represents that set of views. I don’t talk much about specific candidates, but I can tell you this: I won’t vote for anyone who’s anti-science. If you don’t accept the reality of evolution, climate change, vaccination safety and effectiveness, and so on, you don’t get my vote. I don’t always vote for the same party, or for the same reasons, but I always vote science.

Vin: Since Crick looks destined to be a reliever, who’s the best pitching prospect in the Giants’ system?
Klaw: Don’t even think Crick is a reliever at this point. I’ll defer on the latter question till I do their rankings because the guy I have in mind would be something of a surprise.

Chris: You can add gerrymandering and a total misread of the 2nd Am as obstacles to reform, Keith.
Klaw: Gerrymandering is something of an anti-science (or anti-math or anti-technology) thing on top of mere self-preservation – exhibited by all parties and ideologies, by the way. Not a huge issue in my state, though, with a single Representative.

Frustrated Cubs Fan: Thoughts on Theo basically twiddling his thumbs when it comes to acquiring SPs?
Klaw: I think you should take a Xanax.

Jeremy: How does Santa act in your house? Reward the nice and punish the naughty? Or give gifts out of unconditional love?
Klaw: We have one child and overall she’s quite well-behaved so it’s not a huge issue. We do wield that hammer, though – behave or Santa will see – but in reality she’s going to get a ton of presents even if we chose to skimp.

RC in the 41Six: JA Happ to the Jays for $12 million? Better shore up the bullpen but I don’t see how losing Hendriks helps this cause. Are good relievers simply much easier to find than #3 or #4 starters and is this the way you would have rebuilt the post Price Jays?
Klaw: Didn’t like that deal or the Estrada one. BTW, I’ll predict here that Atkins gets the GM job, and while I’ve known Ross for years and like him as a person and as a baseball mind, that would be just another preordained handpicked GM “search” that should add to MLB’s list when examining obstacles to minority advancement.

Tom: Since LAA traded their one good prospect to shore up SS, what’s their best course of action to address the black holes in LF, 3B, and 2B?
Klaw: It’s money or nothing (well, or finding someone on the scrap heap, which isn’t a crazy idea, just not guaranteed).

robb: The problem with the athletes-entertainers comparison over salaries is that, if you don’t want to go see a Cruise movie, you can go see one with Hanks in it. If you get upset at the contracts the team you’ve followed all your life hands out, you don’t start following another team. That said, I don’t get why people complain about it at all. It’s not our money.
Klaw: And people who complain about that one contract – oh, I can’t believe they gave Estrada that deal – aren’t my target here. It’s the Blue Jays fan who gets mad at what Price and Greinke and Heyward make just because it sounds like a lot of money. It isn’t in the context of industry revenues.

Taylor: Pedro Alvarez is very limited but the power is… something. What would you do with a player like that and who do you think should pick him up?
Klaw: IMO always a place on the roster for a player with a huge tool like Pedro’s power. Just have to use him judiciously and be willing to accept the failure that comes with it. He’s not a zero or replacement-level; he’s a part-time asset. BTW, tough week for that 2008 draft’s college first basemen: Alvarez non-tendered, Smoak signs a small one-year deal to avoid non-tender, Alonso traded because he was about to be non-tendered and goes to a club to replace Ike Davis. The other college 1b taken in the first round are all essentially done – Brett Wallace, David Cooper, Allan Dykstra. Yikes.

Michael: Boston talk radio has already started with the Price-sucks-in-big-games narrative. Funny or sad?
Klaw: A sad commentary on our country’s innumeracy.

Jimbo: You mentioned somewhere (twitter?) recently that you’ve cured and smoked your own bacon before. How did you do the cure? Did you use nitrates or nitrites?
Klaw: Pink salt (sodium chloride plus sodium nitrite). Otherwise your bacon will come out grey and taste very porky, plus you’re slightly increasing the risk of some bacterial growth. Ruhlman’s Twenty has a cure recipe that I use as my base.

J: Love it that Adele has sold 4m copies of her new record. It shows that people are still willing to pay for music
Klaw: Agreed. I bought Grimes’ new album. I will say that the industry-wide jump from 99 cents a track to $1.29 a track did impact my purchasing – I didn’t expect to react that way but ended up a Spotify premium member instead of continuing to buy lots of singles.

Corey: With all their young MLB players, long term contracts + minors talent close or on the way, Boston doesn’t really have any holes to fill for a few years (Sam Travis at 1B, Hanley to DH) How would you manage the farm system and MLB roster if you were GM given there’s no place to put a lot of these guys?
Klaw: They become trade assets for now or July or maybe next winter. Marrero, Cecchini, Barnes, Owens, Shaw … they’re all useful parts of larger deals, or maybe pieces to get good relief options who are younger than free agents and maybe don’t have the mileage of a Darren O’Day.

Thomas: Have we flipped too far towards youth and prospects? Will “older” players become the new market inefficiency eventually?
Klaw: I hope so or else I have no shot at getting that one at bat to get me a page on Baseball-Reference. That’s all for this week’s chat – thank you so much for reading. I’ll be in Nashville for the winter meetings next week and may delay the chat till Friday around my travel, but I’ll be writing, tweeting, posting on my Facebook page, and perhaps doing a Periscope if I can find a good spot and strong enough wifi connection.