Beltran vs Upton—Risk/Reward

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There are positives and negatives with acquiring either B.J. Upton or Carlos Beltran.

Let’s take a look.

Contracts.

Upton is not a free agent until after 2012; Beltran is a free agent after this season.

Because Scott Boras ingeniously inserted the provision that Beltran couldn’t be offered arbitration, there will be no compensatory draft picks when and if he leaves as a free agent—he’s a pure rental.

Beltran has a no-trade clause and it’s repeatedly reported that he doesn’t want to go to the American League. The Mets are severely limited in what they can do and they have no choice in the matter in trading Beltran—they have to trade him. The Rays are under no such constraints. They can trade Upton, keep Upton, whatever.

You can pretty much bet heavily that Boras will be after Upton at some point. And he’ll get him.

Remembrances.

Beltran and Upton have experienced seminal moments in their perception and both occurred in the post-season.

Beltran’s was being caught looking at Adam Wainwright‘s vicious curveball to end the 2006 NLCS.

Upton’s was failing to run hard on a double play ball in the 8th inning of game 5 of the 2008 World Series with his club down a run.

Both are taken grossly out-of-context but have contributed mightily to the view of both players.

Beltran is considered a failure in the clutch when he’s been exactly the opposite; it was his ridiculous hot streak in the 2004 NLCS with the Astros in which he hit 8 home runs in 12 games that spurred the Mets to pursue him so avidly. With the Mets, he was excellent in the 2006 NLCS loss with 3 homers and a 1.054 OPS.

Upton has also been terrific in the playoffs. He homered 3 times in the 2008 ALDS and 4 times in the ALCS.

But it’s those prominent plays that are remembered even though they’re small parts of the whole story.

People.

Beltran has always played hard and done the Mets uniform proud. Because he appeared to be chasing every last dollar and Boras offered his services to the Yankees for less dollars and fewer years, the Mets fans have never truly embraced him—it was a business relationship. He’s a quiet leader who has given everything he’s had on the field for the Mets.

The same cannot be said for the mercurial Upton. With his penchant for laziness and lapses; the frequent run-ins he’s had with teammates and management, his attitude is a question mark.

It’s easy to say a change-of-scenery will do wonders for him, but what’s the evidence of this? The Rays have catered to him and let him get away with everything; little punishment has been doled out and it hasn’t done any good in improving his on-again/off-again decision to play hard.

Cost.

The Mets want a top prospect for Beltran and, as said earlier, have to trade him.

The Rays can hold out with Upton and choose not to trade him until the winter if at all.

Interested clubs know this and will react accordingly using the availability of Upton to lever the Mets into lowering their demands for fear of a club backing away and going after Upton instead.

The Rays also know this and they’re not going to trade Upton before the Mets trade Beltran. Hoping that the availability and cost-certainty of Upton will yield a greater return, they can simply dangle him out and bank on someone panicking and offering a ridiculous return for a player the Rays are under no mandate to trade.

Upton’s low financial cost and that he’s going to yield at least an extra draft pick after he departs as a free agent in 2013 make him a viable alternative to Beltran.

The players.

Upton is a superlative defensive center fielder.

Beltran might be able to play center field for a couple of months, but it’s not an absolute that he can handle it physically.

Upton’s history indicates that he’s going to do something to enrage whichever club trades for him—regardless of who they are and who’s running the team. They don’t know what they’re getting for the rest of 2011. In 2012 however, with free agency on the horizon, you can bet that Upton is going to be on his best behavior and probably put up a massive season.

Beltran will be around for 2 months plus the playoffs and that’s it.

The analysis.

Beltran’s the preferable all-around acquisition who’d be a greater help in the now.

Upton is more versatile with his ability to play center field and will be on his new club for at least a year-and-a-half at a reasonable price in terms of money.

Whom to pursue depends on immediate club needs. The Giants would be wise to go after Beltran instead of Upton; the Pirates would be better off pursuing Upton.

If I were making the call, I’d want Beltran and would steer totally clear of Upton. Attitude problems and selfishness aren’t superseded by “upside” and “cost-certainty”. Upton’s never gone all-out, all the time; what makes anyone think he’ll suddenly reach that epiphany now?

You know what you’re getting with Beltran; with Upton, you have no idea.

If it’s one or the other, Beltran’s the better option.

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Your Idiot Rumor/Stupid Idea Of The Day 7.24.2011

All Star Game, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Management, Media, MLB Trade Deadline, Players, Trade Rumors

It was a close call. The near winner was the rumor that the White Sox and Cardinals were discussing a trade that would sent White Sox pitchers Edwin Jackson (a pending free agent) and reliever Matt Thornton to the Cardinals for Colby Rasmus.

Supposedly the White Sox were also going to send young players to the Cardinals or a third team was going to be recruited to help facilitate matters.

Do the White Sox even have any worthwhile young players past Gordon Beckham, Chris Sale and Dayan Viciedo? And why would the Cardinals want to rent Jackson and take Thornton, who was a total disaster as the White Sox closer for Rasmus, who’s taken up residence in Tony LaRussa‘s entrance only doghouse?

Rasmus is 25 and under team control for the next 3 years. If they’re going to trade him, they’d better get a substantial amount more than Jackson and Thornton and don’t do it in a fit of pique for a manager like LaRussa who’s going year-to-year and is notoriously prickly with anyone—especially a young player—who dares rub him the wrong way.

It’s lunacy.

But there was another rumor that was even more deranged.

The worst of the worst is reserved for the Nick Cafardo weekly piece summed up here on MLBTradeRumors.

Here’s the relevant bit:

Some Nationals people believe a change of scenery would greatly benefit B.J. Upton, and are considering “offering the moon” for him.

The “moon”? For B.J. Upton?

The same Nationals organization that thought they were going to straighten out Lastings Milledge, Scott Olsen and Elijah Dukes is going to somehow get through to Upton?

Have they learned from their mistakes in the attempted nurturing and maturing of the aforementioned problem children and the failures? Do they have a new strategy that the Rays haven’t tried?

The Rays have benched, yelled at, physically challenged and fined Upton. They’ve had leaders like Troy Percival, Jason Isringhausen, Gabe Kapler and Evan Longoria in their clubhouse and not one has gotten through to Upton. Joe Maddon is probably the easiest manager any player is ever going to play for while according him a modicum of respect. Short of sticking him in a room alone with Kyle Farnsworth and telling Farnsworth to do whatever he has to do short of killing Upton to get him in line, I don’t know what else they can do.

So what gives the Nats the idea that they’re going to unlock the secret to Upton’s massive talent? Who came up with this concept and why would they surrender the “moon” to get him? Is this the same line of thought that spurred them to give Jayson Werth $126 million? Because if it is, maybe they should do the exact opposite of what they think is a good move now.

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B.J. Upton Runs On The Rumor Treadmill, Jeff Niemann Might Be The One Traded

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It’s very strange how the Washington Nationals are in the middle of every trade rumor, but never seem to make any trades. They wait until the winter and make stupid free agent signings. (See Jayson Werth.)

The latest object of their pursuits—who won’t be traded to the Nats—is B.J. Upton.

The enigmatic Upton has been on and off the trade block (or part of stories suggesting that he’s on the trade block—true or not—forever). In part because of his on-again, off-again success and attitude; a desire to finally get a long-term contract and be paid like his brother Justin Upton has with the Diamondbacks; has, at various points, had management and teammates wanting to strangle him; and that he’s a free agent after the end of the 2012 season, Upton is a frequent subject of rumors.

With the premium the Rays place on defense and that they’re still in the playoff race, I don’t expect them to trade Upton.

The same can’t be said about their pitchers. More talk has centered around James Shields, but the pitcher I see being moved is Jeff Niemann.

Shields has been excellent this year and is signed through 2014—there’s no real reason to trade him unless they’re blown away by an offer; given Shields’s durability, there’s little risk in hanging onto him and waiting until the winter to make a trade.

With Niemann, he’s had back problems; he’s arbitration-eligible after the season; he’s benefited greatly from the Rays magnificent defense; and he’s not particularly good.

A workmanlike mid-rotation starter is useful enough, but the Rays could replace him relatively easily and his status as a former 1st round draft pick and other clubs not taking the reality of his “success” into account could yield a decent return for a pitcher they’re likely to eventually trade anyway.

Why not do it now when teams are starting to panic?

The Rays aren’t going to give up on the season now; I don’t think they’re trading Upton or Shields; but Niemann? He’s a name to watch as the deadline approaches because it makes perfect sense to get something for him. Now.

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Have Empathy For Kei Igawa

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Bill Pennington writes a long article in today’s NY Times about Kei Igawa.

I’m not suggesting that there should be an overt level of sympathy doled out on Kei Igawa, but his disastrous contract is more palatable in the human sense after reading Pennington’s piece.

Apart from financially, the Yankees haven’t treated Igawa particularly well.

From the mistaken signing (GM Brian Cashman didn’t know Igawa’s stuff didn’t translate to the big leagues?); to the alteration of his motion (that generally doesn’t go well for a player who’s reached the level—don’t laugh—of Igawa, who was a Japanese All Star); to the foolish decision to keep him when the Padres claimed him on waivers in 2007 (WHY?!?), independent of his performance there’s been plenty for Igawa to feel slighted about.

Igawa was the Yankees response to the Red Sox acquisition of Daisuke Matsuzaka. As we’ve seen with such decisions based on ancillary factors—like the signing of Rafael Soriano—they rarely work.

Clubs need to consider all the aspects of a player coming over from Japan. This includes the way they achieved their results (stuff and skills) and whether they translate not statistically, but analytically; that they may not be able to handle the transition emotionally and culturally; and what they do.

A speed player is likely to be able to use his speed anywhere; a power pitcher or hitter may not if their game is built on circumstances—ballparks, rest days, training regimens—in Japan.

When signing a player as a retort as the Yankees did—expensively—with Igawa, that can’t possibly be entirely thought through.

It hasn’t worked with Igawa.

It’s not all his fault either. He’s been mishandled. Badly.

Have empathy.

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For The White Sox, It Makes No Sense To Sell

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Circumstances have to be aligned for teams that have a veteran core and massive payroll commitments to make the decision to try and sell at mid-season.

The White Sox have that veteran core and their payroll has skyrocketed to $127 million. But they’re not in a position to clean out the house for several reasons.

Apart from Chris Sale, Gordon Beckham and John Danks the White Sox—to be blunt—are old. In addition to that wear on their tires, they’re ridiculously expensive with contracts that are almost totally immovable.

Jake Peavy, Adam Dunn and Alex Rios are locked in with the White Sox and are going nowhere. Short of taking on another club’s prohibitive contract/headache along the lines of Barry Zito, Carlos Zambrano, Alfonso Soriano, Chone Figgins or Jason Bay, they’re stuck with those players.

The more marketable types like the free agents-to-be Mark Buehrle and Edwin Jackson would absolutely be in demand, but it makes little sense for the White Sox—5 games out of first place in a weak and winnable division—to trade them for the “future”.

If they can improve now by making a deal with one of those players, that’s a different story.

If there are going to be a wholesale set of changes, it’ll be after this season as Juan Pierre, Jackson and Buehrle all come off the books. At that point, the White Sox can start to listen to offers on Carlos Quentin and even Gavin Floyd to restock their farm system.

GM Kenny Williams has been loathe to surrender a season in the interests of the future and mid-season 2011 won’t be any different not only because he doesn’t want to, but because he can’t.

A retool/rebuild is also contingent on what happens with manager Ozzie Guillen. An entirely new direction with a different core would likely include a new manager. There’s been speculation forever about Guillen’s job security and he’s still there; the Marlins are known to have interest and want a “name” manager to take over as they enter their new ballpark; Guillen is signed through next year, but Williams was willing to discuss an exchange that would let Guillen leave last winter when the Marlins came calling. After the 2011 season and the way things have come apart, perhaps he’d like to make a change once and for all.

If they were in the American or National League East, I’d say the White Sox should dispatch anyone and everyone they could. They’re not. They’re well within striking distance of first place and one hot streak from jumping right over both the Tigers and Indians.

They shouldn’t sell because it’s unwise and it wouldn’t do them any good anyway.

Stand pat or add and see what happens.

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Ellsbury Quietly Putting Together An MVP-Caliber Season

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A year after being considered a malingerer because he was on-and-off the disabled list with broken ribs, Jacoby Ellsbury is fulfilling the potential that made him a hot and untouchable prospect.

I’m also guilty in this regard. Ellsbury, to me, was never going to be more than a speed player with 8-10 homer power; his defense in center field was considered substandard; and his stolen base numbers were padded in meaningless situations.

In fact, I speculated that Ellsbury would be traded and Mike Cameron would end up as the regular center fielder.

Wrong, wrong, very wrong.

Overshadowed by the massive numbers posted by his Red Sox teammate Adrian Gonzalez, Ellsbury is quietly putting himself in the MVP conversation with a speed/pop/on-base year reminiscent of a darling of the stat guys and proposed Hall of Famer Tim Raines.

Ellsbury is batting .317 with an .891 OPS; has 16 homers, 26 doubles and 2 triples; has stolen 28 bases in 38 tries; and his defense in center field has been superb.

He’s going to get some MVP votes, but won’t win. Even with that, his value has been reasserted and he’s in the process of proving a lot of would-be experts—me included—eat their words.

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Montero Losing His Luster Is A Matter Of Perception

Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Management, Media, MLB Trade Deadline, Players, Trade Rumors

Or delusion.

There’s a floating concept that Yankees catching prospect Jesus Montero has become the epitome of the “yeah, we’ll take him, but what else you got?” when he’s mentioned as the centerpiece of any deal for an established player.

“They’re too willing to trade him.”

“He’s not a big league-caliber catcher.”

“He’s got an attitude problem.”

“The Yankees future catcher is Austin Romine, not Montero.”

Blah, blah, blah.

Perception is not reality. The reporters and executives frame the story as they prefer; while they may be true, they’re not often fair or in full context.

The reality with Montero is that he’s a 21-year-old catcher; he’s shown power and patience at every level; he doesn’t strike out a lot; and, based on the numbers, there’s every indication that he’s going to be able to translate those skills to the big leagues.

The idea that he’s not ready to catch in the majors has validity—either he’s ready or he’s not—but that doesn’t automatically mean he’s going to need to be permanently shifted from behind the plate to a corner position. Buster Posey wasn’t deemed ready to catch in the big leagues until mid-season 2010 because of the importance the Giants placed on handling their pitchers; once he was considered “ready”, he was excellent. If Montero can sit behind the plate and catch the ball while not embarrassing himself with his throwing, he can catch in the big leagues.

He’ll learn.

The attitude can be straightened out if it in fact does exist. He’s 21-years-old; 21-year-olds with the maturity of a Troy Tulowitzki, Derek Jeter or Evan Longoria aren’t as easy to find as it’s made out to be.

Romine might be the better choice for a long-term big league career behind the plate, but Montero is more advanced at the plate. Bear in mind that the Yankees were briefly enamored with Francisco Cervelli—Cervelli doesn’t even belong in the big leagues.

Teams have been reluctant to accept Montero as the main component of a trade because of these beliefs. The preference is for the Yankees young pitchers Manny Banuelos and/or Dellin Betances. But totally disregarding a package starting with Montero appears to be a mistake. Unless there are serious off-field issues we don’t know about, he has great value. He’s going to hit in the majors and a catcher who can function at a bare minimum defensively and hit is hard to come by.

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The Carlos Beltran Trade Wheel

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It’s not “if” Carlos Beltran gets traded, it’s “when”.

The Mets have no choice and the suggestion that the Mets will trade Beltran and go after him again as a free agent is a nice story and a teaser for angry fans who might still think the team has a chance at contention this year in a “we’re making ourselves better now and in the future” sort of way, but it’s not going to happen.

Think logically: the Mets have to at least make an attempt to re-sign Jose Reyes. They’re short on cash as it is. Beltran’s demands will be far too high for the Mets to even approach.

Nor should they.

For Beltran and the Mets, it’s time to move on and agent Scott Boras is going to squeeze every single penny out of his player’s great and unexpected comeback year after two seasons sabotaged by injury.

There’s been the idea floated that Beltran might want a contract extension with his new club.

That’s not happening either. Boras is not going to surrender the opportunity to squeeze a Jayson Werth contract out of someone. And don’t put it past him. It’s a circle. He got it for Werth, why not for Beltran?

Beltran is also rumored to prefer staying in the National League so he’s familiar with the pitchers; it’s doubtful he wants to DH and he’s stayed healthy and played right field this whole season.

That’s quite possible. While the Mets might be offered the best deal by an American League club—specifically the Rangers, Tigers or Angels—Beltran’s no-trade clause and desires can’t be ignored. I think he stays in the National League.

One question that has to be answered is whether Beltran can play center field. If he can, it would only boost his value now and after the season. He hasn’t played the position at all, but for 2 months, plus playoffs, why not?

The stories of suitors in the National League have centered around the Braves, Phillies, Brewers and Giants. There are pluses and minus for all.

The Braves and Phillies might be asked for more in a trade because they’re in the same division as the Mets, but that would be an excuse to ask for more rather than a threat to the Mets since the Mets aren’t contenders and Beltran’s a free agent at the end of the year.

The Brewers are limited in the prospects they can offer, but there’s a fit.

And the Giants appear reluctant to give the Mets to the top prospects Sandy Alderson is said to be asking for.

Gazing into my crystal baseball, I would say the Tigers are going to offer the most for Beltran, but he’s more likely to stay in the National League.

If I had to place a bet, I’d say he’s going to the Braves.

I was never a good gambler, but this type of speculation? Betting against me is unwise.

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MLB Trade Deadline Stories 7.22.2011

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I don’t do rumormongering just for the sake of it; everything here is my own speculation as to what makes sense and/or analysis of what’s being said.

Of course “sense”, “logic” and “reality” often has little to do with what’s presented as a story.

Let’s take a look.

Keeping Izzy.

I don’t buy the “Mets are not trading Jason Isringhausen” stuff. If it’s August and the team has faded, he should be on the table.

But only if it makes sense.

Unless they’re offered something that the Mets really like (and it won’t be a top prospect), they’re not getting a lot for a pitcher who’s likely to retire at the end of the year and has had multiple arm problems. And the concept of Isringhausen mentoring the younger pitchers who are going to get a shot at closing—Bobby Parnell and Pedro Beato among them—is legitimate.

In 2006, it was Isringhausen who guided Adam Wainwright through the unfamiliar terrain of moving from a career starter in the minors and long reliever in the majors as a rookie, to being a post-season closer.

It worked out pretty well for the Cardinals in the long and short term as Wainwright helped them to a championship, then slotted into the rotation as one of the best pitchers in baseball who had a post-season pedigree for getting the big outs.

If Isringhausen can impart similar wisdom for the Mets, he’d be more valuable than any low-level minor leaguer they’d get in a trade.

Mariners awful stretch shouldn’t detract from the positives of 2011.

A year ago, the Mariners were 38-60 after 98 games; this year after a 12-game losing streak, they’re 43-55.

They were considering being buyers at the trading deadline before that losing streak, but now they’ve fallen essentially to where they were expected to be before the season.

That doesn’t mean it’s all negative.

Last season, the team was in absolute disarray on-and-off the field with poor behaviors, a lack of respect for the manager and shady dealings in trades.

They were a disaster.

Now with Eric Wedge bringing order in the clubhouse and young players Dustin Ackley (who reminds me of Chase Utley—a very good thing) and Michael Pineda arriving on the scene, there are positives now where there were few a year ago beyond Felix Hernandez.

They still have one of the worst offenses I’ve ever seen and are saddled with Chone Figgins‘s onerous contract and Ichiro Suzuki—two collapsing singles hitters are owed a combined $34 million.

They still have a lot of work to do and a lot of dead money to subtract.

They’re not close to contending, but even as they spiral towards 95 losses again, it’s not as all-around bad as it was in 2010.

In a way, it’s progress.

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The Defensive Equation With The Brewers And Rangers

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Neil Paine writes a piece in the NY Times about the Texas Rangers recent hot streak, how their defense has contributed to winning this season and last.

They’ve done it without an array of “name” pitchers like those of the Phillies, Giants and Brewers; instead, they’ve relied on converted relievers Alexi Ogando and C.J. Wilson; young, unspectacular strike-throwers Derek Holland and Matt Harrison; and a scrapheap pickup Colby Lewis.

While the names are unfamiliar, the results are excellent.

Is it due to the strategy to tell these pitchers to pound the strike zone and let the superior defense take care of the rest despite pitching in a notorious hitters’ ballpark in Arlington?

It certainly appears so.

The Brewers have gone in the opposite direction as the Rangers in terms of putting their team together. Whereas the Rangers built their club with this intention clearly in mind based on the deployment of players and execution of plans, the Brewers have a starting rotation of Cy Young Award quality-talent with Zack Greinke and Yovani Gallardo; a solid, gutty craftsman in Shaun Marcum; and a workmanlike veteran Randy Wolf.

The Brewers defense is also slow-footed and lacks range. Despite having pitchers in their starting rotation who are better than those on the Rangers, their ERA+ is in the middle-of-the-pack of the National League.

If a team brings in starting pitching the level of that which the Brewers have, ignoring the defense is a huge mistake.

The Brewers are top-heavy with bashers who are more suited to DHing like Prince Fielder; and other regulars who probably shouldn’t be playing at all in Casey McGehee and Yuniesky Betancourt.

The Rangers are deeply balanced and have built their team based on that conscious decision to focus on the factors of pitching and defense with a fair amount of power thrown in.

How much better would the Brewers be if they shored up the defense at third and short and would it behoove them to do so? And would fixing this issue now with the acquisition of a defensive ace at short the likes of Jack Wilson or Jason Bartlett help? There’s been talk of Rafael Furcal who’s been injured and awful, but a pennant race might wake up his game—if he’s healthy. They’d get him for nothing.

The Rangers success with this template is a better option than what the Brewers did. All that great pitching isn’t doing much good if the infielders don’t—or can’t—catch the ball.

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