Ricky Nolasco Proves the Market Rewards Mediocrity

CBA, Cy Young Award, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, History, Hot Stove, Management, Media, MiLB, Players, Prospects, Stats, Trade Rumors

The Ricky Nolasco contract with the Twins was announced last night. I haven’t looked at the reactions yet, but presumably they range between indignation, head shakes and grudging acknowledgements that “that’s the market.” Whether or not he’s worth that money is beside the point. Nolasco is a better pitcher than he’s been given credit for and he’s durable. He’s not the pitcher you’d prefer to have starting opening day or the first game of a playoff series, but he’s a professional arm who will provide innings and competence. In today’s market, that’s going to get him $50 million. I’m not judging it one way or the other. It just “is.” Personally, I’d prefer Bronson Arroyo to Nolasco. But Nolasco is certainly a better risk than Masahiro Tanaka. It’s all about context.

It’s not a free money policy in an industry that is flush with cash that is causing teams to make seeming overpays for slightly above-average pitchers. It’s the overall culture of wastefulness that has permeated baseball through ridiculous developmental rules for pitchers that make necessary the purchasing of whatever is on the market for the going rate due to supply and demand.

Teams and analysts talk out of both sides of their mouths – as well as other orifices – when they put forth the pretense of running the organization as a business and then toss uncountable amounts of money at mediocrity, wondering why they get mediocrity when that’s what they bought.

A.J. Burnett was the epitome of a pitcher who was overpaid based on need and availability. Having missed the playoffs in 2008 and desperate for starting pitching, the Yankees threw money at their problems and it worked. One pitcher they signed was A.J. Burnett. Burnett was always the epitome of the “million dollar arm, five cent head” pitcher, one who could throw a no-hitter striking out 18 one game and give up a three-run homer to the opposing pitcher in the next game. For that, the Yankees doled a contract worth $82.5 million for five years. They kept him for three, paid the Pirates $20 million to take him off their hands and didn’t even get useful prospects in the trade.

The galling aspect of Burnett’s three year tenure in pinstripes was that there was a belief that he’d arrive and suddenly fulfill his potential just because he was a Yankee. In truth, he pitched in the same frustrating, aggravating way he always pitched. It was the height of Yankee arrogance to think they were going to get anything different. During his whole time as a Yankee, when the media and fans screamed about his inconsistency, I responded with an identical and more logical scream that I gave when they signed him: This is what you bought!!! This is A.J. Burnett!!!

The reason the Yankees needed pitching that year was because their attempts to “grow their own” in an effort to save money over the long-term by not having to buy other teams’ arms failed miserably with Joba Chamberlain, Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy either getting hurt, pitching poorly or fluctuating in their roles in 2008. With 20/20 hindsight, the Yankees and other clubs who use the pitch counts/innings limits/overprotectiveness for their young pitchers can examine these failures, the need to spend their way out of trouble to purchase breathing bodies who can eat innings and ask whether or not it was worth it.

I don’t want to hear about injuries, changing roles, unsuitability for New York and the other excuses that are proffered to explain away the failures of these three pitchers – that’s all part of why they failed. The fact is that for 16 combined seasons from Chamberlain, Hughes and Kennedy, the Yankees got an 80-68 won/lost record, a 4.37 ERA and wasted years when they were in their early-to-mid 20s and should have been at their strongest and most useful. Don’t start looking for advanced stats either because that’s only going to make the case for the way the Yankees used them worse. They could have been good and weren’t. It’s not hard to figure out why.

If you combine the draft pick compensation that many teams are unwilling to surrender to sign pitchers, the number of pitchers on the market declines even further. That absence and the number of top-tier talent who sign long-term deals to stay with their current teams leads to pitchers like Nolasco getting $50 million deals. Nolasco was traded at mid-season meaning he wasn’t subject to being offered arbitration, therefore there’s no draft pick compensation. Arroyo wasn’t offered arbitration by the Reds. Tanaka won’t cost anything other than money. That’s why they’re attractive.

The Giants were roasted for signing Tim Lincecum to a two-year, $35 million contract rather than let him go as a free agent, but now the decision looks astute. You’d be hard-pressed to find any stat person willing to give Giants general manager Brian Sabean credit for anything, but he kept Lincecum. It was wiser to do so considering the options of trading young players to get an arm or offering Lincecum arbitration hoping he’d take it and no one would offer him a Nolasco-style deal. In retrospect, it was simply easier and better long-term thinking to keep him. The Giants also signed Tim Hudson to a two-year contract. Without compensation attached to him and with the deal Nolasco just signed, Hudson might have lowballed himself by signing so early even at age 38.

Are teams really so in love with Tanaka that they’re willing to give upwards of $150 million to secure his rights and sign him? Or is it that there’s no other payments necessary apart from the posting fee and signing him to a contract? To sit and claim that Tanaka is a sure thing is ridiculous considering the attrition rate of pitchers who arrive with similar hype and expectations. Again, it’s the market and the desperation to hold true to draft picks, luxury tax and other aspects that are influencing which pitchers are getting big money and which aren’t.

The Rays have the right idea with their own pitchers: they use them without overt abuse or overprotectiveness; they don’t sign them to long-term contracts; and they trade them at their highest value for a package of prospects. It’s easy to say, “just copy the Rays” but how many teams have the freedoms the Rays do? How many teams are able to say, “We can’t pay him and it makes no sense to keep him for that extra year when these offers are on the table in a destitute market?” For all the credit the Rays get for their success and intelligence, a substantial portion of it is directly because they have no money; because they’ve been able to win under their tight financial circumstances; because they don’t have a brand-new ballpark with three million fans in attendance; because the media doesn’t go crazy when they trade Matt Garza, James Shields and listen to offers on David Price.

When a team needs 200 innings and isn’t going to get it from their top pitching prospects due to an arbitrary number of innings they’re allowed to pitch to keep them healthy, they have to buy it somewhere else. Stephen Strasburg is entering his fifth season in the big leagues, will be a free agent after 2016, will demand $150 million and as of now still hasn’t broken the 200-inning barrier. Unless the Nats pay it, another team will benefit from the protective cocoon he’s been in. Oh, and he got hurt anyway. Scott Boras will be more than happy to use the hammer of the Nats having signed, paid and developed Strasburg and won’t want to let him leave to force them to pay more money than his performance indicates he’s been worth.

For every Clayton Kershaw or Chris Sale who are allowed to pitch, there are five Strasburgs and Chamberlains who aren’t. And who benefits from the absence of arms? The Nolascos and Tanakas. Production be damned. They have what teams are looking for because most teams – through their own short-sightedness and stupidity – can’t make it on their own.

How is that a wise business model?




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MLB Futures Bettors Rejoice as Cabrera, McCutchen Snag MVP Honors

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Washington Nationals v Pittsburgh Pirates

On Thursday, November 14 the MLB announced the winners of both the National League and American League Most Valuable Player Awards for the 2013 season. Each year the awards are voted upon by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America, and this time around the decisions were fairly unanimous in both leagues.

The week’s announcements are always an annual focal point for baseball bettors everywhere, as some look to cash in on the MLB futures bets they made prior to and during the season.

The lucky names this year were Miguel Cabrera of the American League and Andrew McCutchen of the National League.

Cabrera, the Detroit Tigers hot shot and 2012 Triple Crown winner, posted a .348 batting average with 44 home runs and 137 RBIs.  It was a strong follow up performance to his MVP win in 2012. The last time a player repeated the feat two seasons in a row in the AL? 1994.

McCutchen, on the other hand, posted excellent numbers as well. With 21 homers, 84 RBIs and a .317 average, the Pittsburgh Pirates player and three-time All-Star got the job done in 2013. McCutchen packs plenty of star power in his already dazzling resume, with 2 Silver Slugger Awards and a 2012 Golden Glove Award to keep his MVP award company in the McCutchen trophy case.

McCutchen was also the first Pirates player to bring home the award since Barry Bonds did so in 1992.

The AL runner up was Mike Trout with 5 first place votes, while the NL MVP was followed not-so-closely by Paul Goldschmidt and Yadier Molina.

The annual awards always spur much debate amongst fans and media, but it’s hard to argue with this year’s decisions. For instance, Andrew McCutcheon’s numbers weren’t extraordinary, but he was an irreplaceable part of this past season’s Pirates team.

And like those futures bettors who have been cashing in this week, it’s all about the value.

Ruben Tejada’s Possible Grievance Against the Mets

CBA, Games, History, Management, MiLB, Players, Spring Training, Stats

Ruben Tejada is considering filing a grievance against the Mets because they kept him in the minors to save an extra year of service time. The jokes regarding Tejada’s poor play are obvious. Did the Mets intentionally keep him in the minors to prevent him from accumulating the service time? Of course. They were brazen about it and there was no attempt at subterfuge. When he was recalled in September, Tejada fell one day short of reaching the number of days necessary to achieve three years in the Majors and the Mets made the move one day later than they did with their other Triple A players.

The implication that the Mets were sticking it to Tejada just because they could might have some merit. Tejada has done a masterful job of currying disfavor in the organization in spite of playing well in 2012 replacing Jose Reyes. General manager Sandy Alderson has never been shy in saying that he never felt the shortstop position was settled with Tejada and openly prefers to have players who can hit the ball out of the park at least once in a while. Tejada’s shortcomings at the plate could have been mitigated if he’d shown the slightest interest in doing as he was told. The Mets wanted him to come to camp early in 2012 to grow accustomed to working with a new second baseman Daniel Murphy. He didn’t. The club’s annoyance was somewhat assuaged when he batted .289 and played sound defense. After the season, they were still more than willing to include him as part of the package to try and get Justin Upton.

In 2013, he drew the club’s ire once again by showing up to camp slightly out of shape. Only this time, he didn’t make up for it by playing well. When he strained his right quadriceps on May 29 against the Yankees, he was batting .209 and had somehow managed to have a slugging percentage lower than his on-base percentage. He was also playing slipshod defense. The Mets were about to send him to the minors that week. The injury put Tejada on the disabled list until July 7 when they activated him and immediately sent him to Triple A.

While they blatantly kept him in the minors an extra day in September, the Mets argument could be that they were going to send him down before June 1 and probably weren’t going to recall him before September based on his play and, truthfully, that they wanted to send him a message that his spot in the lineup and big leagues is not assured.

This is not a Jordany Valdespin issue where he was angering the organization and teammates because of his behavior. Tejada angered the organization because he wasn’t doing what he was asked to do and was playing poorly. They were well within their rights to send him down and keep him down. In fact, they could make the argument that they were under no obligation to bring him back to the big leagues at all.




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Teams Shouldn’t Follow the Red Sox Template

Books, Games, History, Hot Stove, Management, Media, MiLB, Players, Playoffs, Prospects, Stats, Trade Rumors, World Series

Much to the chagrin of Scott Boras teams are increasingly shying away from overpaying for players they believe are the “last” piece of the puzzle and doling out $200 million contracts. This realization spurred Boras’s reaction to the Mets, Astros and Cubs steering clear of big money players, many of whom are his clients.

Ten years ago, the Moneyball “way” was seen as how every team should go about running their organization; then the big money strategy reared its head when the Yankees spent their way back to a World Series title in 2009; and the Red Sox are now seen as the new method to revitalizing a floundering franchise. The fact is there is no specific template that must be followed to guarantee success. There have been teams that spent and won; there have been teams that have spent and lost. There have been teams that were lucky, smart or lucky and smart. Nothing guarantees anything unless the pieces are already in place.

The 2013 Red Sox had everything click all at once. They already had a solid foundation with Dustin Pedroia, David Ortiz, Jon Lester and Jacoby Ellsbury. They were presented with the gift of financial freedom when the Dodgers took the contracts of Carl Crawford, Josh Beckett and Adrian Gonzalez off their hands. Bobby Valentine’s disastrous season allowed general manager Ben Cherington to run the team essentially the way he wanted without interference from Larry Lucchino. John Farrell was the right manager for them.

To think that there wasn’t a significant amount of luck in what the Red Sox accomplished in 2013 is a fantasy. Where would they have been had they not lost both Joel Hanrahan and Andrew Bailey and stumbled into Koji Uehara becoming a dominant closer? Could it have been foreseen that the Blue Jays would be such a disaster? That the Yankees would have the number of key injuries they had and not spend their way out of trouble?

The players on whom the Red Sox spent their money and who had success were circumstantial.

Mike Napoli agreed to a 3-year, $39 million contract before his degenerative hip became an issue and they got him for one season. He stayed healthy all year.

Shane Victorino was viewed as on the downside of his career and they made made a drastic move in what was interpreted as an overpay of three years and $39 million. He was able to produce while spending the vast portion of the second half unable to switch hit and batting right-handed exclusively.

Uehara was signed to be a set-up man and the Red Sox were reluctant to name him their closer even when they had no one left to do the job.

Jose Iglesias – who can’t hit – did hit well enough to put forth the impression that he could hit and they were able to turn him into Jake Peavy.

The injury-prone Stephen Drew stayed relatively healthy, played sound defense and hit with a little pop. The only reason the Red Sox got him on a one-year contract was because he wanted to replenish his value for free agency and he did.

Is there a team out there now who have that same confluence of events working for them to make copying the Red Sox a viable strategy? You’ll hear media members and talk show callers asking why their hometown team can’t do it like the Red Sox did. Are there the players out on the market who will take short-term contracts and have the issues – injuries, off-years, misplaced roles – that put them in the same category as the players the Red Sox signed?

Teams can try to copy the Red Sox and it won’t work. Just as the Red Sox succeeded because everything fell into place, the team that copies them might fail because things falling into place just right doesn’t happen very often. Following another club’s strategy makes sense if it’s able to be copied. What the Red Sox did isn’t, making it a mistake to try.




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Damon Bruce’s Rant (Who’s Damon Bruce?)

Football, Management, Media, NFL, Players, Politics

I didn’t know who Damon Bruce was prior to about an hour ago. In fact, when I went to have dinner and came back to my Mac to Twitter-search his name, I mistakenly referred to him as “Buford.”

The name “Damon Bruce” brought me back to my days of writing fiction as I began formulating a method to describe a character to fit the name. My version of Damon Bruce would be wearing denim overalls and no shirt. He’d have a corncob pipe in his mouth as he sat on a tree stump holding between his legs a two-tone bottle of moonshine with the “XX” emblazoned across its front. His eyes would be crossed, his head titled toward the sky and the corners of his lips would be in downward curl as he gazed toward the sky. There might be a thought bubble above his head with the universal sign of thoughtlessness/blissful drunkenness: ***. His hair and goatee would be identical to what they are in reality.

The world is quick to take what they deem offensive or what they’ve been told is offensive by those who have been offended and twist it into a way to write a blog posting, go on a tangent or bolster themselves by using it (whatever “it” is) as a catalyst. Women who are insulted are fainting as if they’re a Southern belle caricature and have the vapors. Men are responding with a “how dare you?!?” tone as if they really care one way or the other. If Bruce were in a position of authority like a newspaper editor or program director, I can see the offense taken. He’s a guy looking for attention and is getting it.

You can listen to Bruce’s radio rant below:

After listening to it, I’m not sure of its purpose other than for him to get his name out there for those who – like me – had no idea who he was. It was poorly organized from the start and if one is going to intentionally build up a chain reaction controversy, it would be better executed if it wasn’t so blatant. Comparing the content provided by women in comparison to men is a silly foundation to complain about given the state of media as a whole. Male or female, the majority of supposed sportswriters don’t know much of anything to begin with and can’t write very well. It’s not women; it’s not men; it’s everyone.

Bruce played the Jerry Sandusky card when comparing the abuse that Jonathan Martin supposedly suffered at the hands of his Dolphins teammates. Without a legitimate context, this should be completely off-limits when making any kind of comparison and wanting to keep one’s job on the radio.

And that’s the key: Bruce works on the radio in San Francisco. The Martin-Richie Incognito case appeared to be what sparked this bizarre rant and that case is about lines and at what point they’re being crossed. No matter what happened and who’s completely at fault – and we really don’t know the full extent of the story yet – it was about lines more than anything else. The lines between what the coaches said and meant when they allegedly told Incognito to toughen Martin up; the lines between how far the players should have gone separating conventional team goofing and abuse; the lines between what would be acceptable. For a radio host working in one of the most liberal and intolerant cities in the world when it comes to misogyny, homophobia and racism, it’s clear that Bruce doesn’t understand the difference between drumming up some attention and saying things that will, at best, get him suspended. At worst, he’ll be fired.

If this wasn’t a planned and desperate plea for attention and Bruce had left out the gender-related commentary by saying, “Everyone is being too sensitive because this story has blown up to the degree it has. This stuff has been going on forever. All those billions of NFL fans who watch with rapt attention and spend gobs of money every week acting indignantly because the Martin case is such an affront to their delicate sensibilities are only responding because the cover has been violently ripped off of the realities of what happens in some NFL lockerrooms.”

There’s a case for that and it can be made intelligently, without having to resort to the cheap tactics that Bruce used. Now, instead of a furthering of the discussion, Bruce got the attention he wanted and he might lose his job because of it.




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The Jonathan Martin Case Puts the NFL in a Precarious Situation

CBA, Draft, Football, Games, History, Management, Media, NFL, Players, Politics, Prospects

Jonathan Martin of the Miami Dolphins having left the team due to what’s been referred to as locker room bullying has put the NFL in a delicate situation on how to regulate their players.

Years ago, this wouldn’t have been an issue. Martin would be declared weak and told that if he wanted to be an NFL player, he had to toughen up. As a former second round draft pick, the young offensive tackle has obvious value. He’s 6’5”, 310 pounds and teams don’t waste second round draft picks on players they’ll dispose of for a solvable problem. If this had happened before the NFL tried to become such a fan-friendly entity with crossover appeal, it’s doubtful it would have been a story at all.

Times are different. The simplistic approach says that when dealing with a group mentality with people in an aggressive, high-pressure environment, the way to put a stop to this type of behavior is to handle it physically. Fights within a sports team happen all the time whether they’re reported or not. The only time they are reported are when they occur in public or there’s an injury of some sort. Other than that, they’re occasionally necessary to clear out bad blood or, as in Martin’s case, to make his teammates cease being so abusive.

Could Martin have taken the supposed ringleader, Richie Incognito and given him a beating to send a message to him and the rest of the team to knock it off? Incognito is about the same size as Martin, but usually just the effort is enough to make a bully back away.

Perhaps Martin doesn’t want to resort to that.

Martin went to Stanford and both of his parents are attorneys who went to Harvard. When a physical confrontation is necessary, it’s not fear that stops the more cerebral and intelligent person from acting. It’s the potential consequences and weighing the results that keeps them from taking that step.

“What if I really hurt him?

“What if I go to jail?”

“Do I want to play this game if it makes me into something I’m not?”

They’re legitimate questions.

For whatever reason, Martin chose to take a different route and walked away. The whole episode is being portrayed as “Martin was picked on and he left the team.” It might not be that at all. No one knows the whole story. It could be a combination of issues that led to his departure. Whether or not he’ll be back is up to him.

To believe that the intra-team treatment of players is an isolated incident is naïve at best and stupid at worst.

The public response to a cellphone video that Giants punter Steve Weatherford made of Prince Amukamara being dumped into ice water by Jason Pierre-Paul was indicative of the culture. Weatherford posted it on Twitter and it became an “incident.” Was this hazing? Was it bullying?

If it’s guys goofing around, it’s one thing. If it reaches the level where the target doesn’t want to come to work, it’s another. It’s hard to blame the players because how are they supposed to know when to stop if there’s not a baseline criteria and standards of which action is in what category?

There’s a fine line between hazing and abusiveness. There’s also a fine line between looking like the school kid saying “I’m telling on you” to have it handled by a person in position of power and reporting a workplace violation. Many times, telling the boss or the teacher or the police about it is going to make matters worse. In the case of the Dolphins, what precisely is coach Joe Philbin going to do about it? He’s not exactly intimidating and doesn’t have the personality of someone the players will be frightened of. Much has been made of Buccaneers coach Greg Schiano and his staff violating what’s supposed to be a “players only” sanctuary of the locker room with spies and perceived inappropriate venturing into their territory. If the coaches aren’t supposed to go in there, then they’re not supposed to mess with the hierarchy of the room and any rituals that might go on either.

In the Giants incident, coach Tom Coughlin said that he didn’t know about it until he was told and would take care of it. Rest assured he did. Will Philbin? Or will he hem and haw and be wishy-washy about it hoping it goes away? Would anyone be scared enough to listen if he told them to stop?

A strong-handed head coach doesn’t necessarily have to be a stern, glowering taskmaster like Coughlin or Mike Tomlin; it doesn’t have to be someone whose personality permeates the room and the players know he’ll be ruthless in dealing with a problem as Jimmy Johnson was. Andy Reid and Mike Holmgren are soft-spoken puffballs, but the players know they’re in charge. And that’s without mentioning the Emperor Palpatine of the NFL, Bill Belichick.

With a coach, it comes down to this: Is it affecting the team? Since Martin left, it’s affecting the team, therefore it’s a problem that must be addressed. Other than that, they probably wouldn’t notice if they knew about it at all.

Given the nature of this story and the mere use of the word “bullying,” it puts the NFL in a precarious position on how to proceed. The NFL is taking part in anti-bullying campaigns and trying to educate young people on why not to do it and what to do if it does happen. So what is the NFL’s recourse if it’s happening with one of their own franchises to the point that the player who was reportedly subjected to the bullying got up and left?

The NFL Players Association is looking into it and there’s no doubt that Commissioner Roger Goodell is monitoring this closely. In combination with the league-wide efforts to take part in anti-bullying initiatives and that it’s making the league look bad, this happening so publicly will get some results. Whether it will stop throughout the league is the question. The answer is probably no.

Like the code red in the Marine Corps and made famous in A Few Good Men, these hazing rituals are part of the culture. On some level, the players, coaches and participants might think it’s a necessary part of building a bond and indicates acceptance into the group. Once something happens to draw it into public scrutiny, there will be the pretense of responding to the issue to prevent it from happening again, then it will be forgotten about. It’s been part of the dynamic forever. One story about a football player who decided he’d had enough won’t alter that fact.




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