Which B.J. Upton Are The Braves Getting?

All Star Game, Award Winners, Ballparks, CBA, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, History, 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, Umpires, World Series

Looking at his numbers without knowing how physically gifted he is, the Braves signing B.J. Upton to a 5-year, $75.25 million contract would be viewed somewhere between an overreach and lunacy. Upton’s offensive production has steadily declined from his best overall season—his first full year in the big leagues—in 2007 to what has now become a 28-year-old question mark.

Upton’s entire career has been based on talent and not results. He was the second player selected in the 2002 amateur draft; in 2004, he was in the big leagues at 19 before going back to the minors for most of 2005 and 2006; he looked to be a burgeoning star in 2007 with 24 homers, 22 stolen bases, and an .894 OPS; and throughout has been an aggravating player and person with bursts of brilliance and extended periods of inconsistency and laziness. At times, Upton doesn’t behave as if he even wants to play, let alone play hard.

In 2012, his free agent season, he hit a career high 28 homers and was clearly trying to hit more homers—not that that’s always a good thing. His OPS has been stagnant in the mid .700s since 2010, he strikes out 160 times a year, and his walks have severely diminished since posting 97 in 2008. When sufficiently motivated, he’s a great defensive center fielder, but one of his signature moments of being B.J. Upton occurred in June of 2010 when he lackadaisically pursued a line drive in the gap and Evan Longoria confronted him in the dugout nearly initiating a fistfight.

In addition to that incident, he was benched or pulled several times by manager Joe Maddon for such transgressions and chose not to run hard on a double play ball in the 2008 World Series. If he’s not going to run out grounders in the World Series, when is he going to run them out?

The petulance and sour faces are unlikely to be assuaged by his paycheck and the mere act of putting on a Braves uniform, but that’s undoubtedly what they’re expecting. When thinking about Upton and predicting the future, I’m reminded of the Braves acquisition of Kenny Lofton from the Indians after the 1996 season. The Indians dealt Lofton away because he was a pending free agent after 1997, wanted a lot of money the Indians wouldn’t be able to pay, and the club didn’t want to let him leave for nothing as they did with Albert Belle.

Lofton did not fit in with the corporate, professional, and somewhat stuck-up Braves of the 1990s and was allowed to leave after the season where he, ironically, returned to the Indians for a reasonable contract. Lofton was a far better player than Upton is and wasn’t known for a lack of hustle. He was just outspoken and got on the nerves of managers and teammates who didn’t know him well.

Will Upton be motivated to live up to the contract or will he be content now that he’s getting paid? Will being a member of the Braves inspire him to act more professionally? The Braves certainly aren’t the frat house that the Rays were. Will there be a culture shock or will Upton try to fit in? Chipper Jones is no longer there to keep people in line and Dan Uggla doesn’t put up with the nonsense of teammates jogging around—with the Marlins he confronted Hanley Ramirez repeatedly; Tim Hudson won’t shrug off Upton jogging after a shot in the gap; and Fredi Gonzalez is more outwardly temperamental than Maddon.

Perhaps what Upton needs is the starchy, conservative, “this is how we do things” Braves instead of the freewheeling, young, and new age Rays. Maybe he’ll take the new contract as a challenge and want to live up to the money he’s being paid, money that based on bottom line statistics alone, he never would have received.

Upton is one of the most talented players in baseball with a lithe body, speed, power, and great defensive skills. At 28, he’s in his prime. The Braves just need to hope that he feels like playing and fitting in, because if he doesn’t the same issues that were prevalent in Tampa will be evident in Atlanta, except they’ll be paying big money to cajole, entreat, challenge, discipline and bench him while the Rays weren’t.

Upton is a “can” player. He can hit 20+ homers. He can steal 40 bases. He can make plays of unique defensive wizardry. He can get on base and take pitches. The Braves are paying for what he can do. What he will do is the question that not even the Braves are able to answer. They’re certainly paying for it though. It could be a retrospective bargain or disaster. And no one knows within a reasonable degree of certainty as to which it’s going to be.

//

Advertisements

New Age Collisions and Matt Holliday

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

The photo you see above is Graig Nettles kicking George Brett in game 5 of the 1977 ALCS. The Yankees eventually won the game and the pennant. A brawl occurred between the two teams following this incident. No one was kicked out of the game. (Get it?)

If that happened today, someone would have to be thrown out. I think. Although Roger Clemens was allowed to fling a projectile—a broken bat—at Mike Piazza in the 2000 World Series and didn’t get tossed. It’s a fine line between defending oneself and running the risk of getting ejected.

In last night’s game 2 of the NLCS, on a double play attempt, Marco Scutaro of the Giants was nailed and had his hip injured on a takeout slide by Cardinals’ outfielder Matt Holliday.

You can watch it below.

Holliday was past the base and his specific intent was to hit Scutaro hard enough to prevent the double play. He did it cheaply with a dangerous roll block and raised arm making it doubly treacherous for the infielder. This isn’t little league and there’s a reasonable expectation for hard, clean play. Infielders have their own little tricks they use to prevent this from occurring. In general, they use the base for protection because the runner is technically not supposed to pass the base; they also throw the ball sidearm and specifically aim it at the runner’s head (this is taught) so the runner has to get down to avoid getting beaned. Holliday’s play was arguable in its legality/line-crossing because the ball and Holliday arrived nearly simultaneously and Scutaro didn’t have the time to hop out of the way or use the base as protection, nor could he throw the ball at Holliday’s head. Holliday did go past the base to get Scutaro.

It wasn’t overtly illegal, but it was a legal cheap shot.

On the Fox broadcast, Tim McCarver—a former catcher, no stranger to home plate collisions—compared the play to Buster Posey getting leveled by Marlins’ outfielder Scott Cousins in May of 2011. Posey had his ankle broken, needed surgery, and was lost for the season. It was his absence that set forth the chain-of-events that might have cost the Giants a second straight World Series and forced them to search for more offense and surrender their top pitching prospect Zack Wheeler to get Carlos Beltran from the Mets.

There was no comparison between the two hits because what Holliday did was questionable at best and dirty at worst. What Cousins did was within the rules. Rules and propriety don’t always intersect and if that’s the case, then baseball has to step in and clarify the grey areas.

What creates the controversy is that it’s so rare in today’s game. In the Royals-Yankees annual ALCS matchups (4 times in 5 years between 1976 and 1980), Royals’ DH/outfielder Hal McRae took every opportunity to try and send Yankees’ second baseman Willie Randolph into the left field seats and break up a double play. It’s perfectly acceptable for a runner to run into a fielder if he has the ball and is trying to tag him, but the last player I remember doing it was Albert Belle.

With catchers and runners, it’s an old-school play that some former catchers like McCarver, Yankees’ manager Joe Girardi, and Giants’ manager Bruce Bochy would like to see outlawed, while Angels’ manager Mike Scioscia thinks it’s an integral, exciting, and necessary aspect of competition. No one will accuse any of the above ex-players of being wimps. All were tough, but disagree on the subject. Scioscia relished the contact and was the recipient of one of the most brutal collisions I’ve ever seen in 1985 when Jack Clark of the Cardinals barreled into him. Scioscia was knocked out; Clark was staggered as if he’d been he recipient of a George Foreman sledgehammer punch; and Scioscia held onto the ball.

Nobody runs over the catcher anymore. There’s a commercial playing in New York of Derek Jeter crashing into a catcher. When has Jeter ever run into a catcher? It’s almost never done, and when it is, it turns into a national catastrophe if one of the players gets hurt.

The camaraderie and brotherhood among the players also precludes these hard plays. Everyone knows each other now. With the limited degrees of separation and the amount of money at stake, few are willing to take the chance of ruining another player’s career. You don’t see knockdown pitches; you don’t see take-out slides; you don’t see busted double plays; and you don’t see home plate collisions.

It wasn’t an, “I’m trying to hurt you,” play. But an injury was a byproduct. It was legal, yet borderline. If MLB wants to make it illegal or come up with a way to constrain it, then fine. Until then, it’s acceptable. As long as the people in charge fail to make a concrete announcement and provide a clear-cut mandate to the umpires that certain actions won’t be tolerated, there will be players who are willing to do what Holliday did, injured players, and indignant reactions in its aftermath.

//

The Aftermath of A.J. Burnett

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

It’s indicative of the Yankees that they thought A.J. Burnett, Javier Vazquez, Kyle Farnsworth and others would be transformed into something other than what they were strictly by the simple act of putting on pinstripes.

Those who try to defend Yankees’ pitching decisions by pointing to CC Sabathia are scraping through the muck of viable argument.

Sabathia would be a great pitcher as a Yankee; as a Met; as a Dodger; as a Pirate; or as a Yakult Swallow.

Burnett was never worth the money the Yankees paid him nor was he suited to develop into a solid starter behind Sabathia.

The decision the Yankees made to develop their own pitchers; to focus on statistics; to shun buying the big names on the free agent market were three separate concepts opposed to one another in a triangular fashion when they signed Burnett.

He was never that good.

Talented? Yes.

Good? No.

But they paid him as if he was; as if by merely joining the Yankees, bolstered by their offense and great bullpen, he’d relax and pitch 6 or so innings a start giving up 3-4 runs to rack up wins simply by pitching within his own abilities. Burnett used to fire every pitch like it was his last; he tried to embarrass the hitters instead of just getting them out. That would explain the rampant injuries that subsided over the past four years.

But the dying phrase for many a regime, “we’ll be able to handle him” is a self-destructive and ruinous strategy that’s failed repeatedly.

Joe Torre thought he could deal with Albert Belle when the Yankees were inches away from letting Bernie Williams depart for the Red Sox and signing Belle as his lineup replacement.

Torre could not handle Albert Belle.

The Navy Seals would have trouble handling Albert Belle.

Rafael Soriano had a reputation as a diva. Rafael Soriano acted like a diva. He allowed big homers and had trouble handling pressure before he became a Yankee; he had those same problems last season as a Yankee.

Reputations are what they are for a reason. For years, Burnett had the moniker of “injury-prone underachiever” hovering over his head with the Marlins and Blue Jays; when he busted out in his potential free agent year (he had an opt-out in his contract) for the Blue Jays in 2008 with 18 wins and 231 strikeouts, he was believed to have “turned the corner” and would blossom in New York.

He was okay in his first year and mostly bad and aggravating in the subsequent two.

The expectations were such that the Yankees and their fans were disappointed even though they got what they bought—not what they paid for, but what they bought.

At least he stayed healthy.

Comparing him to a Yankees bust like Carl Pavano is absurd because Burnett came to New York and did the best he could while Pavano was swallowed up by the pressure immediately. It wasn’t the pressure that got to Burnett—he handled New York fine—he’s just A.J. Burnett and pitched like A.J. Burnett.

That the Yankees had to pay about $20 million of his remaining $33 million to get rid of him says that they realized they couldn’t continue with him on the team. It’s not because Burnett was clubhouse poison and they had to get him out of town before he infected the rest of the room, but because he’s not that good and they didn’t want to deal with the aftermath of putting him out on the mound and watching him implode for another season.

And now he’s gone from a place he probably shouldn’t have been in the first place.

//

Carlos Zambrano: Pros and Cons

All Star Game, Ballparks, Books, CBA, Cy Young Award, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Hall Of Fame, History, Hot Stove, Management, Media, MiLB, MLB Trade Deadline, MLB Waiver Trades, MVP, Paul Lebowitz's 2011 Baseball Guide, PEDs, Players, Playoffs, Prospects, Spring Training, Stats, Trade Rumors, Umpires, World Series

If Carlos Zambrano behaved in society the way he has in clubhouses and on the field, it wouldn’t be a matter of “pros and cons” as much as it would be “prosecutions and convictions”.

But he’s a baseball player and his behaviors have occurred in the setting of baseball—a world that is mostly removed from reality.

If the Marlins continue the trend of setting explosive devices in their clubhouse and decide to invite Milton Bradley to spring training, the city of Miami needs to be evacuated and those who refuse to evacuate should arm themselves and have a plan of escape.

A combustible mix that already has an unhappy Hanley Ramirez; the loudmouthed Heath Bell; a manager bordering on the edge of lunacy, Ozzie Guillen; along with front office led by an overbearing team president, David Samson and a temperamental and demanding owner Jeffrey Loria has added a new ingredient, Zambrano.

Naturally things could go completely wrong for the Marlins from top-to-bottom, but there are many positive possibilities to Zambrano that make it worthwhile for them to gamble on him.

They’re getting significant financial relief from the Cubs who are paying $15.5 million of Zambrano’s $18 million salary for 2012; Zambrano waived his 2013 option that was worth $19.25 million. He’ll be free of Chicago, the reputation he created himself and the constant scrutiny; the Marlins are getting a pitcher who will be on his best behavior not just because he’s pitching for his friend Guillen, but because he’s singing for his free agent supper.

If you add in Chris Volstad—going to the Cubs in the trade—the Marlins payroll isn’t increasing much, if at all. Volstad is eligible for arbitration for the first time. If you figure his salary is going to increase from $445,000 to, say $1.4 million, the Marlins are taking on $1.1 million with Zambrano and getting, potentially, a top of the rotation starter.

That’s the key word: potentially.

The list of negatives with Zambrano is long. In my experience, players who’ve caused problems in one place are going to cause problems in another place. Gary Sheffield, Jeff Kent, Albert Belle, Carl Everett, Shea Hillenbrand plus the aforementioned and in a category unto himself, Bradley, have all been magnets for trouble in spite of press conference glad handing, gleaming smiles and pledges to be different.

It comes down to whether the aggravation quotient will be worth it.

With Zambrano, we’re not seeing a decline in performance to accompany the bad attitude. He pitched well when he pitched. The absence of a heavy workload (he hasn’t thrown over 200 innings since 2007 and it wasn’t solely due to injury) might actually help him over the long term. His arm should be fresh.

The Marlins are trying to win and draw fans to their new park; let’s say that Zambrano and Volstad pitch similarly in 2012—it was still worth it. Fans are not going to the park specifically to see Chris Volstad; they will go to the park to see Carlos Zambrano, and even if it’s to watch a potential explosion, so what? Fans in the seats are fans in the seats.

Could the Cubs have brought Zambrano back to the team? They could’ve, but the reward was minuscule in comparison to the risk. If Zambrano returned, behaved and pitched well, the Cubs are fringe contenders at best. Those are huge “ifs”. Volstad is a talented pitcher who’s far cheaper and under team control for the foreseeable future.

Cubs new president Theo Epstein is going to build his team on character and known on-field qualities; Zambrano isn’t and would never be a fit. They were going to have to pay him anyway and the possibility of a career/personal behavioral turnaround was so remote that it was better to pay Zambrano off to leave and get something for him.

This trade is sensible for both sides. The Cubs get some peace and the Marlins get a big name in Big Z.

It’s a good trade.

Just have your disaster kit ready if the atom splits because that Marlins clubhouse is a ticking time bomb that could blow at any moment.

//

Of Reyes And Agendas

All Star Game, Books, Cy Young Award, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Hall Of Fame, History, Hot Stove, Management, Media, MiLB, MLB Trade Deadline, MLB Waiver Trades, Movies, MVP, Paul Lebowitz's 2011 Baseball Guide, Players, Playoffs, Politics, Prospects, Spring Training, Stats, Trade Rumors, Umpires, World Series

I make no secret of reveling in the fact that Moneyball and Billy Beane are, by now, incongruent; that I find it funny that Beane has become a joke; that he’s trying to put forth the portrayal of the hapless everyman who’s been swallowed up by the big money clubs who stole his blueprint and left him behind.

The casual fan watches Moneyball, sees the “genius” with which Beane implemented the stat-based theory and found a means to compete in an uncompetitive world, then looks at the Athletics utter non-competitiveness and questions why he’s still considered a “genius”. Beane’s fall adds a perceptive resonance to the truth and directly correlates it to Moneyball being perceived as “wrong”.

Moneyball isn’t necessarily “wrong” insomuch as it was inaccurate and crafted in such a way to make Beane look smarter than he really was; to appear to be creating something when his main attribute was—as a matter of desperation—using the statistical analysis that few other clubs were using to the degree that he did.

And it worked.

For awhile.

Now it doesn’t work because teams like the Yankees and Red Sox are using the same strategy, buying the players Beane once got for free and covering up the ones that don’t work by flinging money at the problem.

My agenda isn’t to be seen as “right”, but to present the full context.

Others—specifically those who have a personal investment in bashing the Mets—can’t say the same.

Jose Reyes is either going to stay with the Mets or he won’t. They’ll make an offer. It will be a lucrative offer. And if someone vastly surpasses it, he’ll leave; if it’s not a drastic increase, he’ll have a decision to make.

Does the reason he leaves or stays matter?

Only in their warped, egocentric, self-aggrandizing views of themselves.

By “them” and “their” I mean any and all people who criticize an entity because it’s a convenient target like a piñata; because they have a vested interest in its failure or success.

Sandy Alderson was hired by the Mets. In the same scope of the Mets and Reyes, does it matter why he was hired? There are floating ideas that the Mets were forced to hired him by the commissioner’s office who wanted someone they trusted in place to keep an eye on the Wilpons and restore order to one of the big market franchises for whom it behooves MLB to be successful and not a laughingstock.

Alderson is the Mets GM; multitudes were pushing for him to be the GM because they thought they were getting the “father” of the Moneyball movement (another myth); but then he started GMing and wasn’t making the decisions they wanted, therefore he’s not any good.

It’s fan and media logic. And it’s ridiculous.

Alderson made the right decision in biding his time; not sacrificing the Mets limited prospects for veteran players to win 5 more games and appear to be competing in a division that they had no chance of winning or for a playoff spot they had no chance of securing; he dumped Oliver Perez and Luis Castillo; he made low-cost maneuvers that worked (Chris Capuano) and didn’t (Chris Young); he somehow found a way to get rid of Francisco Rodriguez‘s contract without having to take a headache off the hands of the team that took him; and he extracted a top tier pitching prospect in Zack Wheeler for Carlos Beltran.

It’s still not enough.

Whether or not the Mets were under siege due to the Bernie Madoff scandal would have little effect on Alderson’s strategy as GM. Rightly or wrongly, he doesn’t want to have a club with a payroll in the $150 million range; if that’s because he wants to appear smarter by doing it cheaper or that he feels he can stock his team just as well as the super-spenders without the capricious spending doesn’t matter if it works.

If the Mets had the access to funds the Yankees and Red Sox do, there’s still no guarantee that they’d allocate such a large chunk of their payroll to Jose Reyes.

It’s not because Reyes—as a talent—isn’t worth it. It’s because the team has multiple needs; Reyes’s injury history to his legs makes him suspect; a large part of his game is based on speed; and another team might jump in and blow them out of the water.

If that’s the case, they’ll have to move on and figure something else out.

Teams do it all the time.

Is Reyes replaceable? As a shortstop, they’re not going to replace him; but for the same reasons outlined in Moneyball, the Mets could find other pieces at various positions for the same amount of money that would be going to Reyes; they can bring in multiple players on the mound; in the outfield; behind the plate and possibly make themselves better and cheaper in the long run.

The Michael Kays of the world will sit in front of their microphones and rant and rave about how the Yankees would never let a key player leave if they really wanted to keep him. Apparently he’s forgotten that Andy Pettitte left the Yankees after the 2003 season to go to the Astros for less money, in part, because of a lack of respect shown to his work and loyalty; that had George Steinbrenner not made a last second phone call to Bernie Williams, the 1999 Yankees would have had Albert Belle and Williams would’ve gone to the Red Sox.

Alderson was hired to be the adult and not respond to public demands that border on the bratty and bullying.

He’s done a very good job in clearing some of the polarizing personalities; dumping money; restoring order and behaving in a rational, well-thought out fashion to do what’s best for the club. He’s also verbally backhanded every media member who tried to exert their will over him, specifically by intimidating the likes of Mike Francesa and Joel Sherman, slapping them down every time they say something idiotic in reference to what Alderson’s thinking without knowing anything about what he’s thinking, planning, doing.

The entire concept of the movie version of Moneyball—amid more silliness and trickery designed to convince the audience that reality isn’t real—was that Scott Hatteberg was a viable replacement for Jason Giambi and the manager of the club, Art Howe, ignored the GM’s demands to play Hatteberg until he had no other option; when Hatteberg played, he came through.

The public doesn’t want to know that Hatteberg was a regular player from the beginning of the season onward; that the Red Sox were lucky with David Ortiz and it wasn’t a grand design of diabolical brilliance; or that the Mets might be better off in the long run if they let Reyes leave.

Accept it or don’t.

It’s not going to alter objective truth one way or the other.

//