Analysis Of Zack Wheeler

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The deal is finally official and contrary to the popular notion that the Mets weren’t going to be able to get a top prospect for Carlos Beltran, GM Sandy Alderson did a masterful job of dangling Beltran out there, sifting through the offers with little bargaining power and extricated Zack Wheeler from the Giants.

Next, rather than admit they were wrong and that they don’t know what they’re talking about, the “experts” and “insiders” in the media will say it’s not their collective faults that Giants GM Brian Sabean was stupid enough not to hold out and tell Alderson that he wouldn’t give up Wheeler.

Be that as it may, the Mets got themselves the Giants 1st round pick from the 2009 draft.

The Giants are adept at finding and nurturing pitchers. Because of the success they’ve had with the development of Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Jonathan Sanchez and Madison Bumgarner, perhaps teams should shun those silly rules that organizations like the Yankees have enacted and try something different as the Giants and Rangers have—plans that have worked.

You can read an judgment of Wheeler from before he was drafted—along with a slow motion video—here on Baseball-Intellect. They’re usually pretty reliable in their viewpoints.

Wheeler, 6’3″ and lanky, is generally clocked in the low-to-mid-90s with his fastball, has a slurve and a changeup. Below you can look at a video clip of him from late last season.

His motion somewhat reminds me of Stephen Strasburg in its fluidity and easy generation of power. He has the long arms of Strasburg as well; if you’re wondering why Wheeler’s unable to achieve the triple-digit fastball as Strasburg could, I’d venture a guess that his hands are far smaller than the giant mitts on Strasburg. Smaller hands mean less leverage which translates into lower velocity.

Effortless and smooth in a quirky sort of way, he’s all arms, legs, elbows and wrists; he lands slightly to the right of his posting leg and is throwing a bit across his body but not enough to be deeply concerned about a mechanically-induced arm injury, nor is it something to I’d mess around with if I were the Mets.

The mechanics are repeatable, but because he’s so tall and lean and has some moving parts, he might be in danger of losing his release point now and again, hence the occasional wildness. Again, not something I’d be overly worried about.

The Mets did a brilliant job of maximizing the value of a player in Beltran whom they weren’t going to keep and for whom they had no draft pick compensation coming back when he left as a free agent. They got themselves a superior, All Star-level talent from a club that knows how to find and build pitchers.

Alderson did a terrific job.


Cardinals Concession?

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The Colby Rasmus trade is being chalked up to a blame-game on either Colby’s father Tony Rasmus, manager Tony LaRussa or both.

Tony Rasmus went on another tangent yesterday, mostly aimed at LaRussa.

Who’s to blame is largely irrelevant. Colby Rasmus is no longer a Cardinals player; Tony Rasmus is no longer a Cardinal gadfly; everyone can move on.

In the middle of his tirade, Tony Rasmus brought up an interesting point with the following from the linked piece in the Toronto Sun:

Jeff Luhnow, the Cards’ vice-president of player procurement, made Rasmus his first pick in the 2005 draft, causing La Russa, according to Tony Rasmus, to “make cracks how Colby was Luhnow’s boy and that led to (former GM) Walt Jocketty leaving.”

There was a known rift between the Cardinals front office and LaRussa when Luhnow’s stat-based influence began to take hold. No longer did the organization defer to the teachings of LaRussa and his pitching coach Dave Duncan; ownership wanted to head in the direction of the stat “revolution” and eventually forced Jocketty out because of it.

LaRussa has had to play politics since then to get everything he wanted—something that would’ve been relatively automatic under Jocketty—and he’s been quite adept at it.

So you can understand the Rasmuses being a pawn in this struggle.

One has to wonder where the Cardinals are going with this as they’ve traded their most marketable young position player for a somewhat questionable return.

Are they going all-in now with the looming possibility of Albert Pujols leaving? With LaRussa going year-to-year and his continuing as Cardinals manager likely tied to Pujols staying or going? Are they consciously saying to themselves, “Look, if Pujols and LaRussa leave, we’re more than likely gonna hafta tear the whole thing down anyway and we’ll be terrible for 3-5 years, so let’s go for it now,”?

They’d never admit it publicly, but judging by the decisions that are being made now, it’s not a hard assessment to make.

In a way, it makes sense, but I’d have an ominous sense of foreboding for 2012 and beyond if I were a Cardinals fan. They’d better win in 2011 because if the worst case scenario happens, they’re not going to be a contender for quite awhile after this year.


Carlos Beltran’s Star-Crossed Mets Career Comes To A Fitting End

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The trade sending Carlos Beltran to the Giants for minor league righty Zack Wheeler isn’t officially official, but it sounds done, so I’ll treat it as if it is done.

We don’t know whether it was a concession to the will of the player or some evil scheme he’d cooked up, but the fact is that when Beltran was making his free agency rounds after the 2004 season, agent Scott Boras offered his client’s services to the Yankees for fewer years and less money than what the Mets had offered.

A more bitter pill for Mets fans to swallow is hard to find.

Right there it was set in stone that the relationship between the Mets and Beltran—short of a Hall of Fame run in a Mets uniform and at least one championship—was going to be one of pure business with little genuine affinity.

Beltran was a great and loyal player for the Mets. He provided everything they could’ve expected on and off the field. Remembered predominately for looking at a called strike three in game 7 of the 2006 NLCS and his contentious disagreements with the club concerning his injured knee and subsequent club-unsanctioned surgery, Beltran’s achievements as a Met are glossed over.

He produced and behaved professionally. While never a vocal leader, his teammates often spoke well of his understated influence; he spoke to the media, was respected by all; he played hard.

But he was never embraced by Mets fans because of the perception that he not only didn’t really want to be a Met, but had the audacity to choose the Yankees and offer a discount. It was the Yankees who rejected Beltran with the Mets being his consolation choice; had that not happened, he’d have been a Yankee.

It shouldn’t make a difference, but it does. There’s nothing overtly wrong with chasing every single penny on the open market, but that decision—for whatever reason—hovered over him during his entire Mets tenure and it’s going to linger as a negative just like the strikeout.

Fans worshipped Pedro Martinez when he signed with the Mets in the same winter of 2004-2005 that they acquired Beltran. Is it really hard to see why they’d love Pedro and not Beltran? Even when Beltran was much better as a Met is understandable in the statistical sense?

No. Because stats don’t have anything to do with emotions and the emotional connection to Mets fans was never present with Beltran. He was too shy; too smooth; too quiet…and he offered himself to the Yankees.

Beltran signed with the Mets because they offered the most money; he was traded because the Mets are moving forward without him under a new regime; and both sides got a majority of what they wanted from the relationship, beginning to end.

10-20 years from now, don’t think that Beltran will be a worshipped Met of yesteryear, because he won’t be.

That sense is innate and unfair, but it’s real because in the end, he really didn’t want to be a Met. It was a marriage of convenience when it started and that’s how it’s ending.

To conclude the story of Beltran and the Mets properly and without romantic notions of fantasy as to what would be pleasing to the eye, it couldn’t go any other way.

And it didn’t.


Soxfinger, Tony Tantrum And Another Casualty Of Moneyball

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Let’s do this in order.

First the White Sox traded Edwin Jackson and Mark Teahen to the Blue Jays for veteran righty reliever Jason Frasor and 25-year-old minor league righty Zach Stewart.

This is not a “give-up on the season” trade by White Sox GM Kenny Williams (aka the James Bond villain known as Soxfinger). He dumped Teahen’s salary and gave up a pitcher in Jackson who they had no intention of keeping. Jackson’s good, but he’s represented by Scott Boras and the White Sox payroll is already bursting at the seams. It made sense to get a veteran reliever in Frasor to bolster the White Sox leaky bullpen.

In analyzing Stewart apart from what I can see in his minor league numbers, I’ll say this: it’s unwise to bet against Williams’s pitcher-recognition skills. It was Williams who acquired both Gavin Floyd and John Danks when neither were on anyone else’s radar; yes, he made the expensive and retrospectively mistaken decision to acquire Jake Peavy, but Peavy is a former NL Cy Young Award winner—it just hasn’t worked out. You can give him a hard time for trading Daniel Hudson to get Jackson, but it’s not something to go crazy over.

Clearly Williams sees something in Stewart to inspire him to make this trade.

Teahen is another failure from the 2002 Billy Beane/Athletics “Moneyball” draft in which Beane and his staff were supposedly “counting cards” in selecting players.

No commentary needed as to how that worked out.

After that was done, the Blue Jays spun Jackson, Marc Rzepczynski, Corey Patterson and Octavio Dotel to the Cardinals for Colby Rasmus, Trever Miller, Brian Tallet and P.J. Walters.

Miller is supposedly going to to the White Sox.

Let’s find a rational explanation. Or two.

Once Jonny Gomes was off the market, did the Blue Jays feel they had to make a move on Rasmus? (Satirical.)

Was Joel Sherman wrong in the assertion that the Cardinals were asking for a “ton” in a Rasmus deal? (Likely.)

Did the Cardinals judge this return as a “ton”? (Possible.)

Or is it all of the above? (Hedging.)

All kidding(?) aside, this trade has Tony LaRussa‘s fingerprints all over it.

The curmudgeonly baseball manager/non-practicing lawyer that LaRussa is, he’ll deftly separate himself from the trade and deflect responsibility and evidence in all directions to save the man in the mirror.

It turns out my repeated statements that LaRussa’s doghouse was “entrance only” were mistaken; there’s an exit, but it happens to lead to another town on a questionable exchange policy.

LaRussa wanted Rasmus gone and this is another case in which the front office is appeasing the manager to try and win now.

That doesn’t make wrong the analysis that Rasmus was never going to fulfill his promise in St. Louis; nor that his “stage-father” Tony Rasmus wasn’t going to back away from interfering in his son’s career to let the Cardinals do what they wanted. It’s just the way it is.

On the surface, it’s a weak trade for the Cardinals.

Jackson’s a rental; as mentioned before, his agent is Boras and the Cardinals have got to save their money to keep Albert Pujols. Jackson’s a good pitcher and will help them.

The key for the Cardinals will be Rzepczynski. He’s spent this season in the bullpen and that may be where he is for the rest of the season with the Cardinals having traded Miller, but he’s got starter stuff and a gentle delivery that bodes well for his durability—he reminds me of Mark Mulder when he was in his prime. Had Mulder not had the hip problems, I believe his shoulder would’ve stayed in shape to continue pitching as well as he did for the Athletics early in his career and not had its premature end.

Patterson and Dotel are veterans from whom you know what to expect—such as that is.

The Blue Jays got themselves an everyday center fielder in Rasmus who won’t be saddled with the pressures he felt in St. Louis. A clean start might be exactly what he (and his dad) need to fulfill his promise.

For the White Sox, this is a move for the now and the future; for the Cardinals, it’s a move to improve immediately; and for the Blue Jays, they’re hoping to be in a legitimate position to contend in 2012—and I think they will be.


Challenges Are The Way To Go With Expanded Replay

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In case you missed it, last night’s Pirates-Braves game ended on a controversial call by umpire Jerry Meals in which Julio Lugo was deemed safe when—by all angles—he appeared out.

You can see the clips and different angles below.

It was a horrible gaffe, but to suggest any malfeasance on the part of Meals is nonsense. Much like the reactionary idiocy surrounding Jim Joyce’s courageous (and wrong) call on the final out of Armando Galarraga‘s imperfect-perfect game, it was a mistake pure and simple.

Even the worst umpires don’t make it to the big league level with any essence of possible chicanery in their history. In short, Meals didn’t say Lugo was safe because it was the 19th inning and he wanted to leave. Like Joyce, the easier thing for Meals to do would’ve been to call the runner out.

As for the resurgence of demands for expanded instant replay, here’s my solution: the managers get one challenge per game. Independent of what’s already in place for reviewable calls for home runs, one challenge to be used at any time for the managers to protest.

That’s it.

No more than one.

Expanding replay to the degree that some are suggesting would take far too much time and—much like governmental intervention into too many aspects of our lives—where does it end?

One challenge. If Pirates manager Clint Hurdle had such an option, he could’ve used it in last night’s game. He didn’t, so now MLB is dealing with this debate again.

This is the simplest and most logical solution.


Colby Rasmus And Daddy Issues

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During the Mets series against the Cardinals last week the broadcasters Keith Hernandez and Gary Cohen were discussing Colby Rasmus, his father’s perceived interference and his relations with the club. To paraphrase Hernandez—whose own father was heavily involved with his career from beginning to end—it was basically, “my dad’s involved; my dad’s gonna be involved; deal with it”.

The Cardinals are apparently listening to offers for Rasmus. It’s largely irrelevant whether his father Tony’s interference in Colby’s career is a major part of that; that they feel trading him is their best possible bet to improve immediately; or that they simply don’t feel he’s as good as they thought he was when he was drafted.

The perception is that it’s because of his dad.

Teams are aware of a parent’s involvement when they draft him. Sometimes it works as it has with Tim Lincecum; other times it doesn’t with Eric Lindros and Gregg Jefferies.

Because Lincecum has been so tremendous, it’s somehow okay that his father set such ironclad decrees as to his the handling of his son. I’ve always been curious as to what Giants pitching coach Dave Righetti says to Lincecum on a trip to the mound when the pitcher is struggling. Do they talk about the weather? Lincecum’s shampoo of choice for his long, lustrous hair?

The Giants allowed Lincecum to be separate from the rest of the group because he did well and they had a lot of money invested in him. If he was bad in the minors or was in danger of becoming a bust, how quickly would they have started to tweak his perfectly honed mechanics from which he was never supposed to deviate?

Rasmus has been up-and-down in his brief big league career; manager Tony LaRussa appears to have had enough of him; Albert Pujols publicly called out the youngster a year ago. He seems isolated and worn down by the public spitting contest between his stage-father and the team.

But the Cardinals had to have known all this when they drafted him. If he was hitting as he did earlier in the year, it wouldn’t be an issue; but he’s slumping, so it’s a problem.

Like Hernandez said, the dad’s involved—deal with it.

And the Cardinals may deal with it by dealing Rasmus. Then someone else will have to contend with his dad. They too will know what they’re walking into and accept it as a matter of course for getting the young talent of Colby Rasmus. Just like the Giants did with Lincecum and the Cardinals should have—and presumably did—with Rasmus.


Nationals Acquire Jonny Gomes; In Other News, Why Do The Nationals Need Jonny Gomes?

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The Nationals acquired Jonny Gomes and cash from the Reds for veteran Triple A outfielder Bill Rhinehart and minor league lefty Christopher MannoMLBTradeRumors.

Let’s not waste time asking why; let’s try to find some reasons among the dozens there must be(?).

Perhaps the Nationals were somehow hypnotized by the creepiness of Gomes’s numbers being almost eerily identical to their $126 million man Jayson Werth. Look below.


2011 Totals 77 218 30 46 8 0 11 31 38 74 .211 .336 .399 .735 .255


2011 Totals 97 95 359 42 78 19 1 11 35 12 3 52 99 .217 .325 .368 .692 .265

Provided by View Original Table

Or maybe they want someone to intimidate Bryce Harper. Gomes is a bit of a tough guy who’s willing to mix it up—he’d grab Harper by the throat and toss him into a locker if the immature busher continues such self-involved behaviors as blowing kisses to opposing pitchers after homering. If their intent is to keep Gomes past the final two also-ran months of the season for the Nats, then I suppose it makes sense.

Um…that’s about all I can come up with at the moment.

Other than that, what do the Nats need Jonny Gomes for?



Mets Have To Check In On Colby Rasmus

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So deep into Tony LaRussa‘s spacious, entrance only doghouse; so far out of favor with the Cardinals has fallen Colby Rasmus that it’s being said that they’re shopping him.

There are different levels to “shopping him”. In extreme cases, the phrase means “we gotta get this guy outta here”; in some, it’s “let’s move him now before he declines any further; in others, it’s “we need ‘X’ to compete for a championship now and the easiest way to get that is by dealing ‘Y’ and worrying about the consequences later”.

Whatever the reason, Rasmus is available and the Mets have to check in on him.

What would it take? With the statement from none other than Joel Sherman in the above-linked piece (grains of salt at the ready) that the Cardinals are asking for a “ton”, Rasmus won’t be easily attainable; but what are the Cardinals asking for?

Could the Mets convince the Cardinals that Carlos Beltran, Bobby Parnell and Fernando Martinez for say Rasmus, Bryan Anderson and Maikel Cleto would be a sufficient return?

Beltran could mean the difference between a playoff spot in 2011 or 4th place for the Cardinals.

It’s no guarantee that Beltran would want to leave St. Louis once he’s there nor ask for an absurd contract to stay—many players have been traded to the Cardinals and taken short money to preclude free agency because they enjoyed it so much; plus he’s a LaRussa-type of player. Beltran would also be a viable fallback/threat to Albert Pujols‘s prospective free agency. They could keep Lance Berkman and shift him to first base and install Beltran in right field with Jon Jay in center in the unlikely event of Pujols leaving.

After his breakout season in 2010, Angel Pagan has reverted into being, well, Angel Pagan. A flash of brilliance here; an injury to keep him out for weeks there; and a rockhead play like the one he pulled against the same Cardinals in which he tried to double a runner off first….by throwing the ball to Cardinals first base coach Dave McKay.

He’s not the long-term solution in center for the Mets.

Maybe Rasmus is.


MLB’s James Bond Villain Issues A Threat And Other Deadline Stories

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“No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to die!!”

With Kenny Williams as Soxfinger; Jack Zduriencik as Dr. Evil; Joel Sherman as Mini-Me; and Billy Beane as Brad Pitt as Billy Beane.

An empty threat?

I put nothing past White Sox GM Ken Williams, so despite the fact that his statement of possibly “turning over the entire roster” seems crazy, it’s possible that he’s going to do something drastic.

The White Sox are currently 50-51 and 3 1/2 games out of first place in a bad division. I can’t see him cleaning house with them that close to first place even if they do play poor-to-mediocre baseball over the next week.

As the linked MLBTradeRumors piece says, he could trade Edwin Jackson, Matt Thornton, Carlos Quentin and other pieces; but he’s not going to be able to move Adam Dunn or Alex Rios.

In other words, what’s the point?

The one thing about Williams that can be seen as simultaneously good and bad (or evil) is his single-mindedness. He had his sights set on Jake Peavy two years ago, Peavy rejected a trade to the White Sox, Williams tried again and got Peavy. They’d have been better off taking Peavy’s no for an answer.

He was also enamored with Ken Griffey Jr., traded for him and Junior was winding down by the time he got to the White Sox.

In other circumstances, he loved Gavin Floyd when there was no reason to love Gavin Floyd and Floyd’s become a solid and sometimes spectacular starter.

Warnings aside, I can’t see the White Sox blowing it up unless they lose all their games this week. Then everyone should duck.

A cheaper patch-job.

Varying reports have the Giants still after an outfield bat—B.J. Upton (WHY?!?); or Carlos Beltran—but they’d be better-served in filling their current hole in the lineup and behind the plate by going after the Mariners’ Miguel Olivo.

Olivo has power (14 homers); handles the pitchers well and can throw.

Yes, he’s signed through next year at $3.5 million with a club option for 2013, but so what? The Giants don’t know when Buster Posey‘s going to be ready to return and Olivo is a good replacement considering the weak market for catchers.

One would assume the Mariners will be very willing to move Olivo.

Then again, the Mariners wanted an “impact bat” for journeyman reliever David Aardsma before he got hurt, so reality might not be part of the plot in Seattle.

After 16 straight losses, it’s just as well.


Wag the dog.

If you check out the clearinghouse websites with writers attributing their “rumors” to various sources—and are truly reading what they’re writing rather than indulging in fast food for the mind while you’re sitting at your desk at work or staring at your smartphone—you’ll notice something interesting: within one piece, you’ll see 7-10 different reporters quoting 7-10 different “insider” sources saying 7-10 radically different things. Many times, they’re diametrically opposed to what the other “experts” and “insiders” have said.

Are you getting my point?

It’s circular self-indulgence and is likely to be completely inaccurate but justified as a “fluid situation”.

What that means is the stories are planted to maintain attention, keep the readers coming back to see what happens next (which won’t, in most cases, actually happen in reality), or gauge the reaction of the public-at-large.

But you keep on eating your Big Macs; go to Subway because it’s where “winners eat”; drink your Big Gulp.

You’ll be fine.

(No you won’t.)


When A Positive Becomes A Negative

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With the Mariners having lost an obscene 15 games in a row and beginning a series with the Yankees tonight, their rebuilding project has hit another sticking point.

They were at .500 when this streak started and GM Jack Zduriencik was looking to buy rather than sell.

That’s long gone.

What happens with Zduriencik remains to be seen. He was clearly on thin ice last season not because of the 100-losses, but because of the haphazard and, at best, dysfunctional way in which the team was run.

The excuses for what was there when Zduriencik arrived are all well and good: “The farm system was barren”; “The team was terrible”; “There were bloated contracts and a lack of analytics”; etc.



But this team is an embarrassment. Most of the current club’s future were in place before Zduriencik was hired. Felix Hernandez, Michael Pineda, Greg Halman and Carlos Peguero were in the organization.

We don’t know how the drafts under Zduriencik have gone. Dustin Ackley is going to be a star. But we won’t know how well or poorly they did in their selections and other amateur acquisitions for quite awhile.

And the big league team he’s put together is atrocious.

Is Justin Smoak the player he was earlier in the season or is he the slumping youngster he is now? He’s hit at every level, so he’s going to eventually hit in the big leagues. But what else has Zduriencik done to distinguish himself as anything more than misplaced hype based on an agenda?

Zduriencik has brought in Chone Figgins, Jack Wilson, Milton Bradley and Ian Snell—none of whom worked out and many have been utter disasters. He’s done a lot of things that have made no sense like trading for Russell Branyan at mid-season 2010 after letting him leave as a free agent the previous winter and surrendering a youngster who looks like he can play, Ezequiel Carrera, to do it.

Yes, he got Brandon League who was an All Star in 2011, but he traded Brandon Morrow to do it.

He did Morrow a favor by trading him after the unfulfilled promise with the Mariners and that he was never going to get past having been drafted before Tim Lincecum, but it’s a recurring nightmare that for every decision that’s worked, five haven’t.

Everything—the shady trading practices; inexplicable and backwards statements; indecision as to what they are and where they’re headed; sacrificial blame games that were perpetrated on former manager Don Wakamatsu—all adds up to the albatross of heightened expectations.

The combination of his reputation as a scout with an understanding and adherence to advanced stats, the gambler’s mentality in making drastic moves like trading J.J. Putz to the Mets and getting Cliff Lee from the Phillies and that the team radically overachieved in his first season without Zduriencik having done anything significant to improve the team led to the belief that things were getting better faster than they were; faster than they should’ve.

If the Mariners had it to do over again, I’m sure they would quietly admit that they’d have been better off having a 71-91 year in 2009 rather than 85-77. No one would’ve been surprised and the desperation to win immediately would’ve been lessened.

They would’ve had the opportunity to grow organically without the crafted narrative surrounding a non-existent, stat-based revolution the type we’re seeing come crashing to the ground with Moneyball and the Athletics train wreck along with the requisite excuses for the failures that are becoming more and more ludicrous.

A few days ago, I wrote that considering everything that happened with the Mariners in 2010, 2011’s positives couldn’t be ignored despite this horrific run.

That’s still true.

But I’m looking at things from a perch of indifference. I couldn’t care less what Zduriencik’s beliefs in building a club are and I’m not desperate to have my theories proven as “right”. I’m seeing things as they were and as they are. He wasn’t a “genius” nor an “Amazin’ Exec” when he took over and he’s not that now. Nor is he a fool.

But the fans are undoubtedly exhausted by all that’s gone south for the Mariners since that 85-win season. The reputation was media-created, but no one wants to hear that as they’re setting franchise records for losing streaks.

Patience may be wearing thin in Seattle with the regime. And given the work they’ve done—work that is documented and found to be wanting on and off the field—it’s easy to understand why.