Why Are the Diamondbacks So Desperate to Deal Upton?

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You can counter the title question with, “They’re not desperate; they’re just listening and trying to maximize an asset,” or some other line of sludge. But they sure sound desperate to deal him to me.

Since he took the job as Diamondbacks’ GM after the 2010 season, Kevin Towers has tossed Justin Upton’s name around as a negotiable commodity. That the Diamondbacks are so willing to trade a soon-to-be-25-year-old who has the talent to win an MVP is truly baffling. He’s also signed through 2015 with $38.5 million owed to him from 2013 onward.

Why?

Team managing general partner Ken Kendrick was publicly unhappy with both Upton and Stephen Drew earlier this season so this might not be coming from Towers, but he’s the front man and he’s the one making Upton available, so he’s the one to look at when asking the obvious question: Why?

The shift from willing to maybe to increasingly definite is curious. So curious that it would give me pause.

Before making a substantial bid for him and offer what Towers is going to want—figure on starting pitching, either a blue chip shortstop or third baseman, and possibly an outfield bat—I’d want to know why they’re moving him and I’d want a real answer. Then I’d ask around behind the scenes if there’s anything the Diamondbacks are hiding such as a worrisome physical problem or off-field issues.

In the spring, before they signed him to a team-friendly contract extension, the Pirates had put it out there that they’d listen to offers for Andrew McCutchen. McCutchen is one of perhaps 3-4 players in baseball for whom I’d surrender upwards of 5 players to get. In fact, if I was starting an organization, I’d select him over Bryce Harper, Stephen Strasburg and Giancarlo Stanton. He’s a foundational player that an organization builds around. The Pirates signed him, he’s staying in Pittsburgh and he’s blossomed into an MVP candidate.

I don’t consider Upton to be that type of player. He’s just below that group on the next tier. With the Diamondbacks acting as if they have to get rid of him, I can’t help but wonder what’s going on under the surface. I’d ask the question of Towers during negotiations and if I didn’t like the answers, I’d regretfully decline to make any deal and move along.

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How Are Super-Long Contracts Good For Sports?

All Star Game, Ballparks, CBA, Cy Young Award, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Hall Of Fame, History, Hockey, Hot Stove, Management, Media, MiLB, MLB Trade Deadline, MLB Waiver Trades, MVP, Paul Lebowitz's 2012 Baseball Guide, PEDs, Players, Playoffs, Prospects, Spring Training, Stats, Trade Rumors, Uncategorized, World Series

Zach Parise and Ryan Suter signed matching 13-year contracts with the Minnesota Wild reportedly worth a total of $196 million. This follows Sidney Crosby’s contract with the Penguins for 12-years at $104.4 million. Crosby is just getting over serious concussion problems which would presumably make the contract uninsurable. This madness appeared to begin with the Islanders’ retrospectively idiotic 15-year, $67.5 million contract they gave to Rick DiPietro in 2006 for which they’ve gotten absolutely nothing mostly due to injuries.

I’m not well-versed enough in hockey to be able to judge the wisdom of the matching deals the Wild just game to Parise and Suter, but as sports has tried to rein in salaries in a multitude of ways with caps, edicts and punishments, teams have found creative ways to circumvent those caps or to delay them from maturing. One of those methods has been to give contracts that, for athletes, are giant rolls of the dice.

Parise is 28, Suter is 27. Basically the Wild will be paying these players until they’re 41 and 40. For every Nicklas Lidstrom, Steve Yzerman, Gordie Howe and Chris Chelios who maintain production until they’re 40 and beyond, there’s an Eric Lindros, Pat LaFontaine and Chris Pronger who have their careers shortened due to head injuries; there’s a Peter Forsberg who had to retire from the NHL at 34 to play in the less violent Swedish league and made a brief comeback to the NHL and retired again at 37; there’s a Cam Neely whose degenerative hip condition forced him to retire at 30.

Baseball has taken to this contractual trend. In recent years Albert Pujols, Joey Votto, Prince Fielder, CC Sabathia and Joe Mauer have signed deals of 7 years and beyond. Alex Rodriguez is the perfect example of an elite player whose skills are eroding but will be paid as an elite player for another five years after this one. It’s risky with position players and deranged with pitchers. Teams have it in mind that they’re probably going to be paying their players for a year or two in which they can’t play, but that doesn’t help them when it happens; when the inevitable decline occurs.

The concept of offering more years to spread the money out makes sense, but of course it developed that the players wanted high annual salaries and the 7-10 year deals.

It’s one thing to give that contract to someone working for Apple. If they’re creating salable products that will last, it makes sense. The likelihood of a debilitating injury or condition to a person who’s not using his bodily skills to achieve his mandate are extremely small. But for an athlete? Paying them until they’re in their late-30s and early-40s is financial suicide especially in the era of PED testing and scrutiny.

Eventually those contracts—not the players but the contracts—are marketable and movable because the deals are winding down and they can be traded for another overpaid, underperforming player so the process can be started all over again.

The Rays are a club that has been pointed to as a paragon of fiscal sanity and fearlessness in trading players in their prime to restock the farm system. But it’s not a great example. Functioning in a unique vacuum, the Rays’ circumstances of having little money to work with; not much of a media and fan presence haranguing them to do certain things; that they have an owner and GM who trust one another and are completely on the same page; and have had success doing what they’re doing to validate when they choose to trade a Matt Garza for prospects gives them freedom that a Brian Cashman doesn’t have; that Theo Epstein didn’t have with the Red Sox.

Recently a “talent evaluator” from a club other than the Mets supposedly suggested that the team should consider trading R.A. Dickey while he’s at his “high value”.

The Mets are in contention; Dickey is a remarkable story; he’s a fan attraction; and he’s pitching brilliantly.

Trade him? Really? How’s that going to be explained and what could they possibly get to make it worth the fallout?

It’s remarkably easy to be Mr. Fearless when you’re little more than a voice in the woods giving advice to the actual decisionmakers. It’s the GMs and assistant GMs who have an owner hanging over them and saying, “we have to keep X player because the fans come specifically to see him and he makes us a lot of gate money”; or to have the ignorant, agenda-driven media following editorial orders and stoking fan response to sell newspapers, attract callers and beget webhits.

Making courageous statements from the sideline isn’t the same thing as having to answer for them when they’re implemented. A decision might be the right one and it could take 3-5 years to be accurately gauged. By then the GM who made the move might’ve been fired long ago.

The intention for the salary constraints was to prevent the larger clubs with more money from swallowing up the smaller clubs who didn’t have the means to compete, but teams and executives are constantly looking for solutions and loopholes to beat the system. That’s what Scott Boras is currently doing with the draconian draft rules that are cutting into a chunk of his business.

Bet that he’ll come up with a way to beat that system.

Bet that teams are thinking of ways to get their hands on players who aren’t willing to adhere to those draft rules.

The intentions of the caps and limits were reasonable, but that doesn’t mean they’re wise.

The Wild got their men and they’ll have them until they’re old. Only time will tell whether today’s splash will have been worth it. Logic and history says that the answer is no.

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2012 MLB Predicted Standings, Playoffs, World Series and Award Winners

All Star Game, Ballparks, Books, CBA, Cy Young Award, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Hall Of Fame, History, Hockey, Hot Stove, Management, Media, MiLB, MLB Trade Deadline, MLB Waiver Trades, Movies, MVP, Paul Lebowitz's 2012 Baseball Guide, PEDs, Players, Playoffs, Politics, Prospects, Spring Training, Stats, Trade Rumors, Umpires, World Series

American League

American League East

Wins Losses GB
1. New York Yankees 94 68
2. Toronto Blue Jays 87 75 7
3. Tampa Bay Rays 85 77 9
4. Boston Red Sox 81 81 13
5. Baltimore Orioles 65 97 29

American League Central

Wins Losses GB
1. Cleveland Indians 91 71
2. Detroit Tigers* 88 74 3
3. Kansas City Royals 81 81 10
4. Chicago White Sox 72 90 19
5. Minnesota Twins 70 92 21

American League West

Wins Losses GB
1. Texas Rangers 93 69
2. Los Angeles Angels* 90 72 3
3. Seattle Mariners 70 92 23
4. Oakland Athletics 64 98 29

*Denotes predicted Wild Card Winner

Playoff Predictions

Wild Card One Game Playoff:

Detroit Tigers vs Los Angeles Angels

Winner: Angels

ALDS 1: Cleveland Indians vs Texas Rangers

Rangers in 4

ALDS 2: Los Angeles Angels vs New York Yankees

Angels in 3

ALCS: Los Angeles Angels vs Texas Rangers

Rangers in 6

AMERICAN LEAGUE CHAMPIONS: TEXAS RANGERS

American League Award Winners:

MVP: Jose Bautista—Toronto Blue Jays

Cy Young Award: David Price—Tampa Bay Rays

Rookie of the Year: Jesus Montero—Seattle Mariners

Manager of the Year: Manny Acta—Cleveland Indians

National League

National League East

Wins Losses GB
1. Atlanta Braves 93 69
2. Philadelphia Phillies* 89 73 4
3. Washington Nationals* 88 74 5
4. Miami Marlins 83 79 10
5. New York Mets 69 93 24

National League Central

Wins Losses GB
1. Cincinnati Reds 91 71
2. Milwaukee Brewers 87 75 4
3. St. Louis Cardinals 77 85 14
4. Pittsburgh Pirates 77 85 14
5. Chicago Cubs 73 89 18
6. Houston Astros 60 102 31

National League West

Wins Losses GB
1. Colorado Rockies 92 70
2. San Francisco Giants 85 77 7
3. Arizona Diamondbacks 84 78 8
4. San Diego Padres 80 82 12
5. Los Angeles Dodgers 69 93 23

* Denotes predicted Wild Card winner.

Playoff Predictions

Wild Card One Game Playoff:

Washington Nationals vs Philadelphia Phillies

Winner: Phillies

NLDS 1: Philadelphia Phillies vs Atlanta Braves

Braves in 5

NLDS 2: Cincinnati Reds vs Colorado Rockies

Rockies in 4

NLCS: Colorado Rockies vs Atlanta Braves

Braves in 7

NATIONAL LEAGUE CHAMPIONS: ATLANTA BRAVES

National League Award Winners

MVP: Troy Tulowitzki—Colorado Rockies

Cy Young Award: Tim Lincecum—San Francisco Giants

Rookie of the Year: Yonder Alonso—San Diego Padres

Manager of the Year: Davey Johnson—Washington Nationals

World Series Prediction:

Atlanta Braves vs Texas Rangers

Braves in 7

WORLD SERIES WINNER: ATLANTA BRAVES

Far more in depth analysis is in my book, Paul Lebowitz’s 2012 Baseball Guide, now available.

Click here for a full sample of team predictions/projections. (This sample is of the Rangers.) My book can be purchased on KindleSmashwordsBN and Lulu with other outlets on the way.

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Smothering Pineda

All Star Game, Ballparks, Books, CBA, Cy Young Award, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Hall Of Fame, History, Hockey, Hot Stove, Management, Media, MiLB, MLB Trade Deadline, MLB Waiver Trades, Movies, MVP, Paul Lebowitz's 2012 Baseball Guide, PEDs, Players, Playoffs, Politics, Prospects, Spring Training, Stats, Trade Rumors, Umpires, World Series

For a pitcher the Yankees are counting on to a be a top of the rotation force and cost them Jesus Montero—who GM Brian Cashman compared to Miguel Cabrera—they’re showing a remarkable level of paranoia when it comes to Michael Pineda.

First it was the repeated reference to minor leaguer Jose Campos as a “key” to the deal; then there were the Cashman statements that if Pineda doesn’t improve his changeup, he (Cashman) supposedly said that he’ll have made a mistake in trading for him; now there’s the velocity and weight stuff.

There’s a troubling scrutiny surrounding every move that Pineda makes that lend credence to the sense that the Yankees are so terrified of Pineda failing that they’re looking for excuses if he does.

Either they wanted him enough to give up a potential top-tier power bat like Montero and a good arm in Hector Noesi to get him or they didn’t.

Today there were multiple reports about Pineda’s velocity with an underlying sense of “whew” when he hit 93 mph. This is after he topped out around 88 in his first spring start.

Never mind that velocity is a tool to determine where a pitcher is now in comparison to where he was before and that it’s spring training and there’s no reason to be thinking about velocity.

None of that matters.

It comes down to this: Why are the Yankees so worried about this pitcher?

Is the velocity something to pay attention to? Absolutely. And for all of 2011, he regularly reached the upper 90s. The big concern with Pineda was his supposedly “worse” second half of the season after an All-Star first half.

In reality, his first half and second half were pretty much statistically identical apart from a worse Batting Average on balls in play. In the first half, his BAbip was .247 and in the second it was .286.

Was he tired in the second half? Probably. Prior to 2011 when he threw 173 innings, he’d thrown a max of 139 in a season in the minors. Will he be better suited to giving the Yankees 185-190 innings in 2012? Probably. This is because he won’t be under the stress of a horrific offense with the Mariners to be perfect in order to win.

They traded for him so, in a similar vein to them buying A.J. Burnett, this is what they wanted and this is what they got.

All of the harping, expectations and demands didn’t help Burnett and they’re not going to help Pineda.

In fact, they could smother him.

And they’re well on the way to doing that and ruining another young pitcher.

Paul Lebowitz’s 2012 Baseball Guide is now available.

Click here for a full sample of team predictions/projections. My book can be purchased on KindleSmashwords, BN and Lulu with other outlets on the way.

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Francesa Mails It In with Gusto and Diet Coke

Games, Hockey, Hot Stove, Management, Media, Players, Playoffs

It takes a special kind of arrogance to extend mailing it in to openly gloating about mailing it simultaneously to being pompous, condescending, obnoxious and rude.

But Mike Francesa pulled it off yesterday during his interrupt…er, interview with hockey analyst Pierre McGuire.

You can watch/listen below.

In a tone of, “no need to thank me for doing you this favor of talking about hockey”, Francesa continuously interrupted McGuire as if he wanted to get the interview over with as quickly as possible to move onto more salable and important matters for his audience than the sport of hockey.

This is somewhat understandable considering that his listeners, in general, are there to hear baseball, football and basketball. When there’s an important event in another venue—one that translates into something everyone can weigh in on like the Penn State mess—it’s a legitimate news story. After all these years on the radio and his success, Francesa’s earned the right to talk about things that he wants to talk about like golf and horseracing in spite of the small percentage of fans who are deeply invested in them.

But he doesn’t watch hockey.

Is he obligated to do so? I don’t think he is.

I’ve never held it against WFAN in general and Francesa in particular for not being all-in on hockey. It’s supply and demand. The listenership demands more baseball/football than anything else and that’s what the station provides. The number of people who simply have the radio on as background noise and leave it on even if he’s talking about something they’re not interested in is limited; others, like me, only listen if there’s something we want to hear. For a large segment, that’s not hockey.

But on a slow sports news day when the biggest story is the equivalent of a negotiating session between China (the Yankees) and Taiwan (the Pirates) over territorial rights and bullying as to whom gets final custody of an expensive dissident (A.J. Burnett), and with the New York Rangers playing so well, there was a window to discuss hockey.

But Francesa constantly interrupted McGuire; he interjected random points that he seemed to think transcended which sport he was talking about and generalized any business in terms of future value vs present need; and declared what he’d do if he were in the position of the Rangers in terms of trades.

The strangest and funniest portion was when McGuire began mentioning players’ names with Francesa (at most) half-listening. He could easily have been listing members of Canadian Parliament and Francesa wouldn’t have known the difference.

Stickhandling (hockey, y’know) around an interview by vamping and uttering generalities is frequent when discussing an unfamiliar sport—they all do it—but to do a radio interview with eyes half closed while essentially providing a detailed account of how the audience are fools for listening at all shows an audacity remarkable in its scope and embarrassing to those who let Francesa get away with it without protest.

Acting interested in a subject one isn’t well versed in is part of the job, but Francesa didn’t even think enough of the hockey fans in the audience to do that.

I’d suggest that those offended by it complain to the station, but the higher-ups probably don’t care all that much either.

It’s a lockstep of indifference. Such is life under a dictatorship run by the Sports Pope.

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