The Positives and Negatives of Stephen Drew for the Mets

Ballparks, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, History, Hot Stove, Management, MiLB, Players, Playoffs, Prospects, Stats, Trade Rumors

The Mets have spent the last three seasons fielding a lien-up rather than a lineup. Since the Bernie Madoff scandal and the conscious decision to rebuild from the bottom up in part due to finances and in part because it was what they needed to do, the Mets haven’t spent significant money on any players. In retrospect, it will be seen as a positive that the team didn’t overpay and give up a draft pick for Michael Bourn or any of the other players Mets fans were demanding they sign for pretense and little benefit on the field.

Now that they’re free of the onerous contracts of Jason Bay and Johan Santana, the Mets have invested some of their available cash to improve the lineup with Chris Young and Curtis Granderson. They bolstered the starting rotation with Bartolo Colon. There’s a public debate as to whether they should sign the still-floating free agent shortstop Stephen Drew. Let’s look at how Drew fits for the Mets.

Cost

Drew’s market is hindered by the relatively few number of teams that need a shortstop and are willing to pay what agent Scott Boras wants. A year ago, Drew signed with the Red Sox for one year and $9.5 million with the intention of replenishing his value for a big-money contract. He replenished his value all right, but the big-money contracts have yet to present themselves. Drew was everything the Red Sox could have asked for. He was solid defensively, hit for pop with 50 extra base hits, and had an OPS of .777 which was close to his career average.

The problem for Drew remaining in Boston as appears to be his preference is that the Red Sox have a ready-made replacement for him at shortstop in young Xander Bogearts. They also have a competent third baseman in Will Middlebrooks. Neither are expensive and both can make up for Drew’s departure if the price isn’t similar – or slightly higher – than what the Red sox paid for him last season. If his price drops, then the Red Sox will gladly take him back, but it won’t be for a multi-year deal and they don’t need him.

The Yankees have already said they’re out on Drew and it’s not because they don’t need him. They do. But they’re tied to keeping Derek Jeter at shortstop and the idea of signing Drew to move him to third base is insulting to the intelligence of anyone who can see the reality that Jeter will not be able to play a competent defensive shortstop at age 40 as he returns from a serious ankle injury.

Drew has few alternatives other than the Mets and Red Sox. The Mets are being coy and the Red Sox are waiting him out. The Mets can get him if they decide they want him. A decision that they want him would mean they have to pay him. A three-year, $30-33 million deal would probably get it done. Are they willing to do that? Can they afford it?

How he fits

Drew is a clear upgrade over Ruben Tejada offensively and defensively. Tejada can play, but he’s never going to hit for the power that Drew does; he’s similar defensively; and he’s got a reputation of being lazy. The main attribute of Tejada for the Mets is that he’s cheap. But with the signings of Granderson and Young and that they’re intending to start the season with the still questionable Juan Lagares and Travis d’Arnaud in center field and catcher respectively, they’re running the risk of having three dead spots in the lineup before the season even begins. With Drew, they’d know what they’re getting and he would at least counteract Lagares and d’Arnaud. Drew is an up-the-middle hitter and his power comes when he pulls the ball. He wouldn’t be hindered by Citi Field and he’d hit his 10 homers and double-digit triples.

No matter how superlative he is defensively, the Mets won’t go through the whole season with Lagares in center field if he doesn’t hit. They’ll simply shift Young to center for more offense. They’re committed to d’Arnaud and he’ll play every day no matter what. If they want to have a chance for respectability and perhaps more, they can’t worry about whether they’re getting the Tejada from 2013 or the Tejada from 2011-2012. And the Tejada from 2011-2012 was serviceable and useful, but not close to what Drew can do.

With Drew, the Mets would be better in 2014 when they’re striving for respectability and in 2015 when Matt Harvey returns and they clearly have designs on contending.

The Mets pitching staff is not one that racks up a lot of strikeouts. The left side of the infield with Drew and David Wright will be excellent. Daniel Murphy is mediocre at best at second base. Lucas Duda is a solid defensive first baseman. With Lagares in center field, they have a Gold Glove candidate. Young can play the position well. They’re better in all facets of the game with Drew, plus they’re getting offense they will not get with Tejada. The difference between 77-85 and also-ran status and 85-77 and bordering on the fringes of contention might be Drew. That makes the signing worthwhile for on-field purposes.

His Drew-ness

The Drew family has long been known for its prodigious baseball talent. They’re the physical prototypes for baseball players. Along with that, they’ve been the prototypes for Boras clients.

J.D. Drew sat out a year rather than sign with the Phillies when he was drafted second overall in 1997. They didn’t meet his contract demands. The Cardinals drafted him fifth overall the next season and he signed. He was an excellent player for the Cardinals, but flummoxed manager Tony LaRussa with his lack of passion and aloofness. He was traded to the Braves for Adam Wainwright as the Braves expected him to be happier closer to his home. He had his career year and left to sign with the Dodgers. He spent two years in Los Angeles, then exercised an opt-out in his contract to go to the Red Sox.

In short, he was never happy with where he was and was constantly looking for the next opportunity. It could have had to do with money or it might have had to do with a wanderlust. Or he could simply have been treating the game as a business and listening to every single word uttered by the Svengali, Boras.

Stephen Drew has many of the same traits as his brother. Both are injury-prone, though Stephen is not hurt to the extent that his brother was; both are supremely talented and never appear happy where they are; both wanted to get paid and might be making decisions detrimental to their careers in listening to every whisper from their agent.

In retrospect, should Stephen have accepted the Red Sox qualifying offer and tried for free agency in another year when it’s pretty much a certainty that the Yankees are going to be looking for a replacement for Jeter and will be free of any financial constraints? Probably. Does he regret not taking it? We’ll never know because the Drews don’t rattle the Boras cage.

If the Mets go hard after Drew, there’s the possibility that they’re being used to get the Red Sox or the famed Boras “mystery team” to ante up and top the offer. For the Mets, while it wouldn’t be catastrophic not to get Drew, it would extinguish much of the good will they did accumulate by signing Granderson and Colon if they pursued him and failed to reel him in.

The conclusion

The Mets should go after Drew and see whether they can get him at a reasonable price. If Boras will take something in the neighborhood of three-years at $30-33 million, the Mets would have a bridge shortstop until former first round draft pick Gavin Cecchini is ready. They’d be better in the short term and definitely have someone who could help them do what the true intention is: contend in 2015. If Boras is being unreasonable or the feeling is that they’re just waiting for the Red Sox to up the offer, the Mets should move on and figure something else out. If that means they’re hoping that Tejada decides he wants to play and shows up early and in shape, so be it.




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Masahiro Tanaka: Full Analysis, Video and Predictions

Award Winners, Cy Young Award, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Hall Of Fame, History, Hot Stove, Management, Media, MiLB, Players, Playoffs, Prospects, Stats, Trade Rumors, World Series

Masahiro Tanaka has been posted and teams are scrambling to get their hands on the 25-year-old Japanese star. Like most hot items, though, is it availability that’s spurring the interest? Is it hype? Is it his gaudy 24-0 record pitching for Rakuten in 2013? Is it his ability? Or is it a combination of a multitude of factors that Tanaka and his new U.S. agent Casey Close are going to exploit to extract every last penny out of MLB clubs?

The loudest shrieks in favor of Tanaka aren’t based on any analysis. “I want Tanaka!” is not analysis and it’s based on nothing. So let’s take a look at the numerous positives and negatives of the Japanese sensation that could wind up being the next Yu Darvish or the next Kei Igawa.

Mechanics

You notice the different teaching techniques with every Japanese pitcher that makes the trek to North America. They step straight back as pitchers are supposed to to maximize leverage toward the plate. Many Americanized pitchers don’t step straight back. They move to the side or at a diagonal angle. The Japanese pitchers will bring their arms above their head and hesitate as if they’re making sure all their weight is on the lead leg before they move forward. Then they’ll very quickly and all in one motion pivot on the rubber, lift their legs and they bring their arms down, separate ball from glove and fire. Many have what appears to be a leg-based motion similar to that which was used by Nolan Ryan, Tom Seaver and Greg Maddux.

But are they using their legs?

Looking at Tanaka, Daisuke Matsuzaka and Yu Darvish among many others, they’re garnering leverage from their lower bodies, but essentially stopping halfway through and using their arms to generate power. With Seaver, he would explode hard off the rubber, using it as a foundation to launch himself toward the hitter. The energy would flow from his lower body all the way up through to his arm. Upon release of the ball, that energy would suddenly be compacted as he bounced and stood straight up. The arm was simply a conduit of that power that was generated by the legs, butt and hips. While Tanaka and the others are contorting their bodies and generating power through their legs, the brunt of the release of the ball falls on their arms because the legs stop working. You can see it when he finishes his release and the leg drags along behind him rather than whipping around after impact. His arm bullwhips as it’s not decelerating with the cushion of the lower legs. He has the flexible front leg Seaver, Ryan and Maddux used, but it’s a middling technique that’s done without completion of the intent of taking stress off the arm.

You’ll hear people who regurgitate scouting terminology and facts as if they have an in-depth knowledge of them. The inverted W and Tanaka’s wrist hook should become such terms you’ll need to understand when looking at Tanaka and whether these issues will affect his long-term health and durability. There’s a profound negativity surrounding the inverted W when the pitcher moves both arms simultaneously into what looks like and upside down W (which leads to the question of why it’s not called an “M”) and guarantees his arm will be in the optimal position when he turns and throws. For pitchers who have trouble maintaining their arm slot and release point when making a big circle with their arms or might have the arm drag behind their bodies when they throw, the inverted W is a checkpoint method to ensure the arm is in the proper position. The only time it’s a problem is if the arm is brought back further than is necessary and it strains the shoulder. If the pitcher raises the elbow above the shoulder, this too can be an issue. Tanaka does neither. Watching a quarterback with proper throwing mechanics is the correct way to use the inverted W. Getting the elbow to shoulder level is the point. There’s no issue with Tanaka there.

As for the wrist hook, it’s not something that can be stopped or fixed. Barry Zito does it and has had a successful career without injury issues to his arm. Rick Sutcliffe and Don Drysdale hooked their wrists as well. With Sutcliffe, it was part of a long and herky-jerky motion that was actually quite smooth. He had arm trouble in his career, but he was a top big league pitcher and quite durable for his 18 year career. Drysdale blew out his shoulder, but he lasted until he was 32 and averaged 237 innings a season with four straight of 300-plus innings. Was it the workload or his mechanics? I’d say it was the workload.

When there is a mechanical problem, it has to be repaired when the pitcher is in his formative years. The longer they throw a certain way, the greater the challenge in “fixing” an issue. It also has to be remembered that a part of the reason pitchers like Sutcliffe were successful was because of his unique throwing motion. Much like it can’t – and shouldn’t – be taught for a pitcher to hook his wrist up toward his elbow, it can’t be changed either once he’s established. Hooking is not going to be a health issue unless it’s a pronounced yank. I don’t see Tanaka yanking the ball.

Analysis: He throws mostly with his arm and I would be concerned about him staying healthy.

Stuff

Tanaka has a mid-90s fastball with good life, a shooting split-finger fastball and a sharp slider. At the very least, no one is manufacturing a story that he throws pitches that either do or don’t exist as was done with Matsuzaka and the gyroball. The gyroball, for the record, is thrown with the wrist turned for a righty pitcher as if he’s waving to the third base dugout. From a righty pitcher, it would appear as a lefty quarterback’s spiral. The problem was Matsuzaka didn’t throw it. Hisashi Iwakuma does throw the gyroball and it’s nasty.

As for Tanaka’s fastball, it’s explosive when he throws it high and hitters will chase it given the downward action of his splitter and slider. His fastball is straight meaning if he doesn’t locate it and isn’t getting his breaking pitches over, he’ll get blasted. His breaking pitches are the key to his success. If hitters are laying off the splitter and his slider’s not in the strike zone, he’ll be forced to come in with his fastball where big league hitters will be waiting.

Analysis: With the velocity and breaking stuff, he certainly has the ability to be a successful, All-Star level pitcher in MLB.

The switching of leagues

In Japan, they tend to adhere more closely to the by-the-book strike zone. With that, Tanaka got high strike calls above the belt that he’s not going to get in MLB. If hitters learn to lay off that high pitch, he’s going to have a problem.

The ball in Japan is smaller than it is in North America. That hasn’t appeared to be a problem with most hurlers who’ve joined MLB and been successful. It’s not something to discount, but not something to worry about either.

Looking at Tanaka’s statistics are silly. A pitcher going 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA (an ERA he achieved in both 2011 and 2013) is indicative of a weak-hitting league. When studying a pitcher making the switch from Japan to MLB, the statistics might be a gaudy show to sell a few tickets, but few actual baseball people who know what they’re doing will take it seriously. Igawa was considered a top-flight pitcher in Japan and his stuff was barely capable of being deemed that of a journeyman Triple-A roster filler.

Analysis: Accept the statistical dominance at your own risk.

Workload

Much has been made of how Japanese pitchers are pushed as amateurs and expected to pitch whenever they’re asked to for as long as they’re needed. Two months ago, Tanaka threw 160 pitches in losing game 6 of the Japan Series then closed out game 7 to win the series for Rakuten.

Is this a red flag?

In North America, where pitchers are babied and placed on pitch counts and innings limits seemingly from little league onward, then are tormented by big time college coaches who couldn’t care less about their futures similarly to the workload Tanaka endured, then are placed back on their limits, it would be a problem. In Japan, it’s not unusual for pitchers to be used in ways that would be considered abusive. But that’s the way they’re trained. They’re expected to pitch and there’s no evidence that injuries and pitch counts/innings are correlated because the pitchers who’ve gotten hurt (Stephen Strasburg, Matt Harvey) were watched while others who weren’t (Maddux, Clayton Kershaw) have stayed healthy. With all the reams of numbers and organizational mandates steeped in randomness as to what keeps pitchers healthy, perhaps it’s all about the individual and his capacity to pitch. Japanese pitchers are conditioned this way and the workload wasn’t a jump from being allowed to throw 100 pitches to suddenly throwing 175 in two days.

Analysis: I wouldn’t worry about it.

Cost

With the changes to the Japanese posting system, Rakuten is guaranteed $20 million. That’s well short of the $51.7 million Nippon got from the Rangers for the rights to Darvish and a severe disappointment to Rakuten. They could have kept Tanaka, but instead chose to acquiesce to the pitcher’s wishes and let him go to MLB.

The new posting rules make more money for the players rather than the teams that are selling him. Darvish received a $56 million contract two years ago. Tanaka is expected to get over $100 million, but I’m expecting the bidding war to reach $130 to $140 million.

Is he worth it?

To hand this pitcher $130 million after the number of Japanese pitchers who’ve come over and failed is crazy. There’s an overemphasis on the fact that he’s a free agent that won’t cost a compensatory draft pick. But he’ll cost an extra $20 million to get his rights. Matt Garza won’t cost a draft pick either because he was traded at mid-season and he’s an established big league pitcher. Is it wise to spend $130 million to get Tanaka even if he’s 75 percent of what he was in Japan? Given the failures of Matsuzaka, Igawa and Hideki Irabu and the success of the less heralded pitchers who’ve come over like Hiroki Kuroda, Hideo Nomo and Iwakuma, the fact is no one knows with any certainty as to what they’re getting. And that’s important.

Is it preferable to pay for potential or to pay for what is known?

Let’s say the Yankees give Tanaka $130 million and he turns out to be an okay third starter. Was it worth it when they could’ve signed Garza and Bronson Arroyo, filled out their rotation with pitchers who are known commodities, kept their draft picks and had an inkling of what they were getting with arms who’ve succeeded in the AL East? Or is it better to go for the potential greatness of Tanaka and face the consequences if he’s Irabu/Igawa-revisited?

Other teams face the same dilemma. The Dodgers have their own 2015 free agent Kershaw to worry about and would like to sign Hanley Ramirez to a contract extension. How would signing Tanaka influence those issues? It’s more important to keep Kershaw than it is to sign Tanaka.

Analysis: I would not give Tanaka $100-130 million.

The pursuit

Tanaka is the first full-blown Japanese free agent with the new posting fee rules and it opens up a larger pool of teams that think they have a shot at getting him. The Yankees and Cubs are known to be hot for him.

The Mariners need another arm and it makes no sense to stop at Robinson Cano and think they’ll contend. Singing him would keep them from needing to gut the system to get David Price and a top three of Felix Hernandez, Iwakuma and Tanaka with Taijuan Walker, Danny Hultzen and James Paxton would be tough.

The Angels need pitching; the Diamondbacks and Dodgers are interested; the Astros could be sleepers with an owner holding deep pockets and trying to show he’s not a double-talking, money-hungry, arrogant cheapskate; the Rangers are all in for 2014; the Red Sox are always lurking; the Phillies need pitching; and the Orioles need to make a splash.

Analysis: It’s going to come down to the Yankees, Cubs and Mariners.




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Granderson Not An Ideal Signing, But A Good One For The Mets

Ballparks, Draft, Free Agents, Games, History, Hot Stove, Management, Media, MiLB, PEDs, Players, Prospects, Stats

In a utopia, the Mets would have the goods to pry Troy Tulowitzki away from the Rockies without gutting their farm system. Or they would have the money available to sign one of the big free agent outfield names like Shin-Soo Choo. Tulowitzki isn’t available and the Mets can’t afford to give up the prospects if he was. They don’t have the money nor the willingness to meet Scott Boras’s asking price for Choo. The same held true for the recently signed Jacoby Ellsbury and a reunion with Carlos Beltran wasn’t a fit.

Instead of complaining about the players they couldn’t sign or acquire via trade, the Mets did the next best thing given the market and their circumstances and signed Curtis Granderson away from the Yankees. Granderson received a four-year, $60 million contract. There was debate within the organization as to whether they could get him for three years – general manager Sandy Alderson’s preference – but the team stepped up and guaranteed the fourth year. This saved them from the embarrassment of Granderson walking away and leaving the Mets even more desperate and needing to do something worse to placate an enraged and disgusted fan base. Even if it wasn’t necessary, it was needed.

The toxic situation surrounding the Mets and perception that there was a lack of commitment to winning led to players either using them as a lever to get better money elsewhere or not considering them at all. Granderson wasn’t a player who was left without options. Had he held out and waited until the other dominoes fell, he might have been able to surpass the contract he got from the Mets with another club. The Mets couldn’t risk that. Truthfully, nor could Granderson. It’s a marriage of convenience to be sure, but considering how free agents (and marriages) tend to be disastrous even if they seem so perfect at the time, it could be a boon to both sides.

Granderson is not without his flaws. He strikes out a ton and it’s unlikely that he’ll hit 40 home runs playing half his games in Citi Field as he did aiming for the short right field porch in Yankee Stadium. But he is a legitimate threat in the middle of the lineup who will hit a mistake out of the ballpark and provide protection for David Wright in the lineup. He’s a good defensive outfielder, has extra-base power, will walk around 70 times, and is a tremendous person – exactly the type the Mets would like to pair with Wright to represent them publicly.

He’s an actual, established big leaguer with credentials and not someone like Marlon Byrd who they picked up off the scrapheap after a PED suspension or Chris Young who was a former All-Star only available to them because he was injured and terrible in the past two seasons and Alderson promised him regular playing time.

Often it takes an overpay to send a message to the rest of baseball that a club is serious. As criticized as former GM Omar Minaya was for paying Pedro Martinez $50 million for one-and-one-half productive seasons, the signing of Martinez was a signal that it wasn’t the same old Mets with legacy contracts doled out to the likes of Al Leiter and John Franco because of what they once were and that the ownership liked them. Shortly after securing Martinez, the Mets signed Beltran. The next year, they acquired Carlos Delgado and signed Billy Wagner. They paid the highest amounts for the players they signed, but given the way the Mets were perceived back then – and now – players might have shunned them for better circumstances no matter how much money they offered.

In addition to their minor league system stacked with pitching, the Granderson signing is a foundational move for credibility and a signal to other players that it’s okay to join him and Wright on the Mets helping them back to respectability. He’s not great, but he’s an affordable cog. He fills what the Mets currently need.




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Note About PaulLebowitz.com

Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, History, Management, Media, Players, Prospects, Trade Rumors

I received an email from a loyal reader over the weekend about the reduced frequency of my posting on this site. Perhaps I didn’t make it clear enough. I’m still posting nearly every day, but mostly on FanIQ. Here’s the link to my page. I’ll still be posting here and am currently deciding the best way to organize it. I’m thinking a weekly, all-encompassing column but am not sure yet. You can find my daily postings on FanIQ.




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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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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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Theo Epstein’s Masquerade

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The increased use of analytics has also given rise to the loquaciousness of the decision-makers. You can pick any of the new age general managers in baseball and find one of their statements when a somewhat controversial decision is made and interchange them. When they fire a manager, it’s generally even longer. The explanation is convoluted and rife with semantics designed to protect their own interests.

This was evident again today when Theo Epstein – someone who clearly loves to hear his own voice whatever the circumstances – gave this long-winded statement as to why the Cubs’ hand-picked manager to oversee their extended rebuild, Dale Sveum, was fired following a 66-96 campaign. The accolades and qualifications Epstein gave to justify Sveum’s firing are little more than a dressing up of the dismissal of an employee.

Was it justified? Did Sveum deserve to take the fall for what was an organizational failure? Should the Cubs have been better than they were?

Considering the expectations (I had the Cubs’ record exactly right in my preseason predictions) they weren’t supposed to be contenders. They traded away veterans Alfonso Soriano and Scott Feldman during the season. They were functioning with journeyman Kevin Gregg as the closer. A team like the Cubs isn’t meant to be judged based on their record alone which lends more credence to the idea that Sveum is being thrown overboard to quiet the rising number of critics wondering when they’ll get Red Sox-like results from Epstein.

With the number of prospects they have on the way up, if the young players like Starlin Castro, Anthony Rizzo, Darwin Barney and Jeff Samardzija take steps back, then the manager is going to take the fall for it. That doesn’t mean he gets the blame.

Much like the Red Sox failure in 2003 was passed off on Grady Little’s call not to pull a clearly tired Pedro Martinez in game seven of the ALCS against the Yankees, the Cubs are holding the manager in front of the GM, president and owner like a human shield. Little’s choice in not yanking Martinez was due in part to an old school decision that if he was going to lose, he’d lose with his best. It was also done in part because the Epstein regime had made the conscious choice to go with a favorite concept of the stat guy in the closer by committee and didn’t give Little a competent short reliever he could trust in a game of that magnitude. It all turned out fine as the Red Sox won the World Series the next year only after signing Keith Foulke, a legitimate closer. Crisis averted.

With the Cubs, Epstein has been lauded for his and GM Jed Hoyer’s trades and restructuring of the minor league system. Whether or not that credit will bear fruit in the coming years for the new manager remains to be seen. Until they perform, prospects are only prospects.

Epstein’s big name free agent signings have long been inconsistent. With the Red Sox, he was able to cover it up with John Henry’s money. Whether that will be the case for the Cubs is as unknown as their young players’ development. For the Cubs this season, he signed Edwin Jackson to a four year, $52 million deal. Jackson went 8-18 with an ERA of nearly five. He signed Kyuji Fujikawa to a two year, $9.5 million deal and Fujikawa wilted under the pressure as set-up man and closer before requiring Tommy John surgery. It cannot be said that these were worthwhile and cost-efficient signings.

When Epstein says, “Jed and I take full responsibility for that,” as he discusses the state of the big league product, it’s little more than a hollow accepting of responsibility. He’s been on the job with the Cubs for two years and is ensconced in his job. There might be a small amount of pressure on him because of his reputation and the expectations that surround his high-profile hiring, lucrative contract of five years at $18.5 million and final say powers, but he’s going to get at least two more years before he’s on the firing line. Hoyer is Epstein’s front man and is safe as well.

If the duo is taking “responsibility,” what’s the punishment? They’ll get roasted on talk shows and in print for a while. Attention will be paid to who they hire as manager because GMs and team presidents, no matter how respected, generally get two managerial hirings before the focus of blame falls to them. For now, though, he’s safe.

He says that Sveum isn’t a “scapegoat,” but then two paragraphs later says that the team needs a “dynamic, new voice…” It certainly sounds like scapegoating to me.

I’m not defending Sveum and many times when a firing of this kind is made, there are behind the scenes issues that the public isn’t privy to. Epstein and Hoyer can fire Sveum if they want to. It’s completely up to them. There’s never been anything wrong with firing the manager for any reason that the front office wants to give. In fact, they don’t even need to give a reason. “I felt like making a change,” is a perfectly acceptable response.

However, to take the firing as an opportunity to provide a new line of defense of the front office and disguise it as a “we’re all at fault” line of faux solidarity is an insult to the intelligence of any person who’s been an observer of Epstein’s behavior since he first came to prominence a decade ago as a 28 year old “genius” who was going to lead the game into a new age with his youth and creativity. Getting past the mask, he’s little more than a younger and supposedly more handsome version of the 1960s era of GMs who threatened and bullied employees just because they could and had a job for life. It sounds like the common “blame the manager” rhetoric. The only difference is that it’s camouflaged by a Yale graduate’s skill with the language and ability to make circular sludge sound like the dulcet tones of a gifted tenor.

The firing of Sveum might be retrospectively seen as a the catalyst to the Cubs jumping into contention and breaking their World Series drought. Even if that happens, it can’t be masqueraded as anything more than what it is: they’re blaming the manager. No amount of verbal deftness will alter that fact whether it’s coming from Epstein or anyone else.




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The Mets Winning and Draft Pick Issues

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The Mets can’t win even when they win. A 5-1 road trip including a sweep of the hated Phillies and putting a severe hit on the Reds’ hopes to win the NL Central or host the Wild Card game isn’t enough to make Mets fans happy. Now that they’ve moved into third place in the NL East, there are worries that they’re going to make the “mistake” of winning too many games and fall out of the top ten worst records in baseball and have to give up draft pick compensation to sign free agents.

The draft pick issue is not unimportant. The most negative of fans and self-anointed analysts believe that the Mets will use the draft pick compensation issue to have an excuse not to sign any big name free agents. This is equating the winter of 2012 with the winter of 2013 and the club’s retrospectively wise decision not to surrender the eleventh overall pick in the draft to sign Michael Bourn.

Bourn has been a significant contributor to the Indians’ likely run to the playoffs and would most certainly have helped the Mets. But if Bourn were with the Mets, would Juan Lagares have gotten his chance to play? Lagares has very rapidly become perhaps the best defensive center fielder in baseball and already baserunners are leaving skid marks in the dirt when they round third base and think about scoring on Lagares’s dead-eye arm. Signing Bourn would have gotten the team some positive press for a brief time, but ended as a long-term negative. With or without Bourn, the 2013 Mets were also-rans.

For 2014, the Mets no longer have any excuses not to spend some money to sign Shin-Soo Choo, Bronson Arroyo, Carlos Beltran or Tim Lincecum and to explore trades for Troy Tulowitzki, Carlos Gonzalez, Matthew Joyce, Ian Kinsler or any other player who will cost substantial dollars. Jason Bay and Johan Santana are off the books and the only players signed for the long term are David Wright and Jonathon Niese. For no reason other than appearances, the Mets have to do something even if that means overpaying for Hunter Pence (whom I wouldn’t want under normal circumstances if I were them) if they’re shut out on every other avenue.

I’m not sure what they’re supposed to do for the last week of 2013. Are they supposed to try and lose? How do they do that? This isn’t hockey where a team with their eye on Mario Lemieux has everyone in the locker room aware that a once-in-a-generation player is sitting there waiting to be picked and does just enough to lose. It’s not football where an overmatched team is going to lose no matter how poorly their opponent plays. It’s baseball.

The same randomness that holds true in a one-game playoff is applicable in a game-to-game situation when one hit, one home run, one stunning pitching performance against a power-laden lineup (as we saw with Daisuke Matsuzaka for the Mets today) can render any plan meaningless. It’s not as if the Mets are the Astros and guaranteed themselves the worst record in baseball months ago. There’s not a blatant once-a-generation talent sitting there waiting to be picked number one overall as the Nationals had two straight years with the backwards luck that they were so horrific and were able to nab Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper. And it’s not the first overall pick, it’s the eleventh to the thirteenth. A team will get a great talent, but not a can’t miss prospect at that spot.

As for the mechanics of the draft pick, the Mets are hovering between the tenth worst record and the twelfth worst record. You can read the rules surrounding the pick here. If they’re tied with a team that had a better record in 2012, the Mets will get the higher pick. That means if they’re tied with any of the teams they’re competing with for that spot – the Giants, Blue Jays and Phillies – the Mets will get the higher pick and be shielded from having to dole out compensation for signing a free agent.

Naturally, it hurts to lose the first round draft pick if it’s the twelfth overall. It has to be remembered that there are still good players in the draft after the first and second rounds. They may not have the cachet of the first rounders – especially first rounders taken in the first twelve picks – but they can still play.

Most importantly, there comes a point where the decision to build up the farm system has to end and the big league club must be given priority. For the most part, Mets fans have been patient while the onerous contracts were excised, the Bernie Madoff mess was being navigated and Sandy Alderson and Co. rebuilt the farm system. There has to be some improvement and a reason to buy tickets and watch the team in 2014. A high draft pick who the team will say, “wait until he arrives in 2018-2019(?)” isn’t going to cut it. They have to get some name players and if it costs them the twelfth overall pick, so be it.




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Jeter’s Wants and the Yankees’ Needs Can’t Function Simultaneously

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Derek Jeter has gone from being an ageless wonder bent on proving his critics wrong to an aging albatross who might not even be able to play next year. That’s according to the media. To make matters worse, the Yankees can’t consider moving Jeter to another position like third base if they don’t have Alex Rodriguez because it would be an “insult” to their heroic captain. Nor can they import a legitimate veteran shortstop just in case he needs to play regularly for fear of usurping Jeter’s spot.

The Yankees biggest mistake in Jeter’s 2013 season was entertaining the notion that he could push his rehab from ankle surgery so hard that he’d be ready for opening day. The club is allergic to placing Jeter and A-Rod in the same category, but the restraint they showed with A-Rod and his hip surgery should have been implemented with Jeter as well.

Of course, they didn’t want A-Rod to be able to play at all and Jeter is a monolithic institution at shortstop who’s not afraid to use his cachet to get what he wants even if that hurts him and the team.

Jeter came back too soon in the spring and reinjured his ankle. He returned in July, played one game and strained a quadriceps. He came back late in July and strained a calf in early August. Now his ankle is barking again. He’s also hitting .190 and can’t function effectively at shortstop. He shouldn’t be playing.

Amid all the accolades doled out to Jeter for playing clean during the steroid era and refusing to use those little extra helpers to boost him, the little extra helpers are what keep a player on the field when he’s 39-years-old and breaking down physically after two decades of playing hard and playing the extra games the Yankees played on an almost annual basis with post-season berths. This is what happens to older players.

The same appellations of Jeter being a marvel who shoves it to his doubters are applicable in the opposite direction as well as his status makes the Yankees keep acquiescing to his demands and he’s shoving it to the hand that feeds him. He’s not able to contribute but is forcing his way into the lineup by the sheer fact that he’s Derek Jeter and the Yankees have to give him what he wants. If they want to contend next year, however, they’re going to need to at least find a competent backup shortstop whom they can trust every day if need be and it’s clear by now that Eduardo Nunez isn’t it. Or they can move Jeter to third base if and when A-Rod is suspended.

The “I’m a shortstop” bit has to end sometime especially if he’s no longer capable of being a shortstop. Jeter rebelling or accepting these facts will show how cognizant he is of the new reality and how far he’s willing to go to sabotage the team to get what he feels is rightfully his whether it’s good for the 2014 Yankees or not.




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Blame Joba?

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You can’t blame both Joe West and Joba Chamberlain for last night’s Yankees loss to the Red Sox. When seeking a responsible party, Mariano Rivera also has to be part of the mix. But since that’s not allowed in Yankee-centric circles, the focus turns away from Rivera to the reviled Chamberlain and the cranky veteran ump West.

There were concession speeches going on when Chamberlain was seen warming up in the bottom of the ninth inning. Not even Michael Kay could muster any enthusiasm – phony or otherwise – to show a small positive notion that Chamberlain would do anything more than what he did: give up a run to lose the game. He gave up the run and took the loss, but it’s not entirely his fault.

It really wasn’t that long ago when there were “Joba Rules” T-shirts all over Yankee Stadium; concerns were expressed that then-manager Joe Torre would abuse Chamberlain as he did Scott Proctor and other relievers to ruin his incredible arm; and near fistfights and lunatic rants as to whether Chamberlain should be a starter or reliever were a daily occurrence and went on for years.

It’s 2013 and rather than swat the Cleveland midges that partially defined Chamberlain’s 2007 coming-out party, he’s gotten so heavy that he simply would eat them to add to his prodigious girth. The Yankees and their fans can’t wait until he’s some other team’s problem. The story has come 75 percent of the full circle.

The midges are an appropriate allegory for Chamberlain’s career with the Yankees. It was sabotaged and missed being something special. Who knows what would have happened had Chamberlain been placed in the starting rotation and allowed to pitch and figure things out on his own rather than be subject to the stifling and counterproductive innings limits and pitch counts that ruined not only him, but Phil Hughes as well? What could he have been if he’d been placed in the bullpen as Rivera’s set-up man and allowed to do his job in the same devastating fashion he did when he was a sensation for two months in 2007?

As the years passed and the Yankees jerked him from the rotation to the bullpen and back, as Chamberlain himself ate and trampolined his way out of the club’s and fans’ good graces, he’s become the “Oh God, no” pitcher that no one with anything invested in the Yankees wants to see. Last night’s result was what was expected, but it wasn’t due to anything Chamberlain did. While the Shane Victorino check-swing was viewed as so cut-and-dried that it was portrayed an obvious swing and Chamberlain got himself ejected for arguing it after he was pulled from the game, it wasn’t so blatant that the entire episode should be placed at the feet of West.

After the check-swing, Victorino hit a looping single to right field to score Jacoby Ellsbury. Right fielder Ichiro Suzuki’s throw to the plate would’ve been in time to get Ellsbury had catcher Austin Romine held onto it. How are any of the events subsequent to the check-swing Chamberlain’s or West’s fault?

Chamberlain is immature and was damaged by the way the Yankees anointed and babied him since his debut. That said, he still throws a fastball that reaches the upper-90s and has a hard slider that will accumulate a lot of strikeouts if he’s simply allowed to pitch without all the hovering hatred and preordained negativity that follows him around as long as he wears pinstripes. He’s going to go somewhere next season, either be a set-up man or closer and rejuvenate his value simply because that’s what happens with pitchers the Yankees have played up as their homegrown saviors and are tormented and dispatched when they don’t produce results commensurate with the overwhelming expectations.

Don’t be surprised to see both Hughes and Chamberlain with a team like the Marlins on cheap deals and pitching well. Or for Chamberlain to be the Astros closer. Or for the Rays to try to do what they did with Kyle Farnsworth and Fernando Rodney, give Chamberlain the chance to close and coax 50 saves out of him. Then the fans will turn their ire away from Chamberlain to the Yankees themselves for not getting out of him what another team will. He can be of use. It just won’t be as a Yankee and for that, much like last night’s loss, there’s plenty of blame to go around.




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