Odds On Tanaka And Why He’ll End Up With The Yankees

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Masahiro Tanaka’s deadline to pick a team is Friday. In the past, the waiting game on Japanese players was based on whether the team that won the bidding would make a sufficient offer to sign the player. Limited as it was to a single team, the Japanese import had the options of either using the dull axe—which the team knew would never leave his belt—of going back to Japan, or making the best deal he could.

There was pressure on the team that won the bidding as well. After a month of promotion, ticket sales and hype, winning the bidding meant the player had to be signed.

With the new rules, Tanaka’s a pure free agent with the forgettable and meaningless deadline. The threat of him going back to Japan to play is less than zero. Because of that, instead of the manufactured drama of “will he or won’t he?!?” sign a contract in time, the speculation is where he’ll wind up.

You can log onto the schlock sites, sports news sites and clearinghouses and fall into their trap. Preying on the fans’ desperation for information about Tanaka, they’re trolling you with information that, at best, stretches even the most elastic boundaries of common sense. The sheeple are clamoring and clawing for a minuscule smidgen of news about Tanaka. For the rank-and-file fan rooting for teams out of the bidding, it’s a distraction in the cold winter. For fans of the teams that are in the running for the pitcher, they’re looking for validation as to why their team will get him and “win” the sweepstakes.

Ignoring all the ancillary nonsense, let’s look at the realistic odds based on what we actually know and not what’s planted to garner webhits with speculation, whispers and rumors from invisible sources that might not exist.

New York Yankees

Odds: 1-2

Initially, I thought the Yankees were one of the leading contenders, but not alone at the top of the list. In my estimation, they were even with the Mariners and Cubs. Now, however, the Yankees are the best bet to get Tanaka. In a similar fashion as the Yankees being seen as a darkhorse for Mark Teixeira while the Red Sox were the team with whom he was widely expected to sign, the Yankees dove in and got their man. With Tanaka, they don’t have much of a choice anymore. Their starting pitching is woefully short and in spite of the offense they’re going to get from the outfield additions Carlos Beltran and Jacoby Ellsbury and catcher Brian McCann, their infield is currently a series of aged question marks, journeymen and massive holes. The bullpen is a mess; the starting rotation is a roll of the dice. Tanaka won’t solve those problems if he solves any at all—no one knows how a Japanese player will transition—but they need him not just on the field but at the box office.

It’s unconscionable that the Yankees have had everything go their way in terms of the Alex Rodriguez suspension, that they received inconceivable salary relief in their goal to get below $189 million and they’re still probably not going to be able to do it. Since they’re near the limit and have those holes to fill, it no longer makes sense for them to put forth the pretense of getting below the limit at the cost of losing out on Tanaka and having a roster that’s equal to or worse than the one that won 85 games last season.

They don’t have any other options apart from pitchers they don’t want in Ubaldo Jimenez, Matt Garza, Ervin Santana and Bronson Arroyo. They could trade Brett Gardner for a middling starter, but that’s not going to sell tickets for a fanbase looking at this team and wondering where they’re headed.

The Yankees have every reason to tell Tanaka’s representative Casey Close that if there’s an offer that surpasses theirs, to come back to them for a final offer to get their man.

Los Angeles Dodgers

Odds: 2-1

When Mike Tyson was at the height of his powers as the heavyweight champion of the world and didn’t have the tax collectors garnishing his salary to pay his debts, he purchased on whims based on his limitless bank account. One story detailed Tyson driving past a luxury car dealership and driving in with one luxury car to purchase another one. He did it because he felt like it, because he could.

That’s the sense I get with the Dodgers.

Whether or not you believe the stories of Tanaka’s wife preferring the West Coast, if Tanaka signs with the Dodgers—or anyone—it will be because that’s the team that offered him the best deal. The Dodgers have locked up Clayton Kershaw and have Zack Greinke. If Tanaka’s anywhere close to as good as advertised, that top three is 1990s Braves-like, if not better. They have the money to spend and both Chad Billingsley and Josh Beckett are coming off the books after 2014. He’s not a need for them. If they sign him it’s because they wanted to. It’s as good a reason as any when dealing with a payroll whose limit appears to be nonexistent.

Seattle Mariners

Odds: 6-1

The Mariners haven’t been mentioned prominently in recent days, but there are numerous reasons not to count them out. They signed Robinson Cano, but the other “big” additions they made were Corey Hart and Logan Morrison. These were downgrading moves from Raul Ibanez and Kendrys Morales.

Other than Cano, what have they done to get significantly better from what they were in 2013? Tanaka will slot in right behind Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma and be in front of Taijuan Walker and James Paxton. The injury to Danny Hultzen limits some of the Mariners’ vaunted pitching depth and they need another arm and another name to draw fans. Cano will spur some ticket sales and if they lose out on Tanaka, the fans might draw some slight enthusiasm from Garza, Santana or Jimenez, but not as much as they’d get from Tanaka. They could trade for David Price, but that would cost them Walker plus others.

No matter who they sign, the Mariners won’t have fans coming to the ballpark if they’re 20-30 after 50 games, Cano or no Cano. Tanaka would bring fans into the park and it’s a good situation for him.

There’s talk that the Mariners are close to the limit on their payroll and they need approval from ownership before spending more on the likes of Tanaka. If they don’t continue to add, the signing of Cano was done for show and little else.

Chicago Cubs

Odds: 8-1

Of course there’s no connection between the two, but it would be interesting if Cubs team president Theo Epstein goes all-in with Tanaka after his negative experience with Daisuke Matsuzaka with the Red Sox. The Cubs are in the middle of their rebuild and Epstein is loading up on draft picks and international signings. Giving Tanaka the time to grow accustomed to North America with a team that’s not expected to contend could be good for him. If Epstein’s plans work, by the time Tanaka’s acclimated, the Cubs will be prepared to take a step forward with him at the front of their rotation.

The Cubs have done absolutely nothing at the big league level this off-season apart from that…unique…new mascot. Ownership, if not overtly meddling, is getting antsy. The Cubs’ attendance is declining and judging by the roster they’re putting out there as of now, that’s not going to change without a splash. Tanaka is that splash.

I doubt Epstein is going to go above and beyond what the other suitors offer while the Yankees will and the Dodgers might, making Tanaka landing with the Cubs unlikely.

Arizona Diamondbacks

Odds: 50-1

He’s not going to Arizona. They don’t have the money to match the other teams. Why they’re even putting on a front of going hard after Tanaka is bizarre. Never mind that he’s still an unknown, he’d immediately walk into the Diamondbacks’ clubhouse and be the highest paid player on their roster by almost $10 million per season. The expectations there would be far more intense than they’ll be in the other venues. It’s a silly idea.

By Friday, we’ll know where Tanaka’s going. But all logic and reality dictates that he’ll end up with the Yankees for $130 million-plus, for better or worse.




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MLB Trade Deadline Analysis: Diamondbacks-Padres Trade

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The fact about Ian Kennedy is that his baseline stats don’t tell the whole story. He’s not as good as he was in 2011 when he was 21-4 with an ERA of 2.88 and finished fourth in the Cy Young Award voting, nor is he as bad as he’s been this year with a record of 3-8 and a 5.23 ERA. Kennedy requires several things to be successful as a big league pitcher. He needs:

  • A sound infield and outfield defense
  • Luck on balls in play
  • To keep runners off the bases for when he surrenders home runs

The Yankees’ initial estimation of him was that of the three young arms they were promoting as their future, he was more polished and poised that Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain and would be the best of the three. Once he got his shot, it became abundantly clear that Kennedy was never going to make it with the Yankees. Hughes’s home run problems would’ve looked minuscule in comparison to those that Kennedy would’ve had if he’d stayed in New York. They saw this in his brief time with them and in combination with his big mouth that grated on the nerves of the veterans, chose to move him before his value disappeared completely.

With the Diamondbacks, he kindasorta fulfilled the potential the Yankees touted, but it too was based on other factors. He had great luck on balls in play in 2010 and 2011 and poor luck on balls in play in the past two seasons. The Diamondbacks’ defense in 2013 isn’t as good as it was in 2011 and Kennedy’s results reflect that change. Kennedy is going to make a lot of money in arbitration; the Diamondbacks have a surplus of starting pitching; the veteran lefty specialist Joe Thatcher fills a strategic need for the Diamondbacks’ stretch run; and the Padres have a huge ballpark and excellent defense. Add it up and it makes sense for the sides to pull the trigger now.

The minor leaguer the Diamondbacks received in the trade, righty Matt Stites, has eye-catching numbers. He’s a relief pitcher, is 5’11” and throws very hard. This is inspiring comparisons to Craig Kimbrel. Of course a comparison to Kimbrel based on velocity and stature is ridiculous at this point. He’s an arm who could help the Diamondbacks as early as this season.

This was a deal based on need, philosophy and bottom-line numbers. The Diamondbacks are contenders, needed relief help and their GM, Kevin Towers, likes to accumulate power arms and depth in the bullpen. The Padres are not contenders and their GM, Josh Byrnes, likes to collect starting pitchers. It’s a fit for both sides and gives each what they need under their current circumstances.

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Dodgers vs. Diamondbacks Fight—Video

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The thing about these legitimate fights like the Diamondbacks-Dodgers altercation last night isn’t the guys throwing punches but the ones who stand around and don’t know what to do. They have to go out on the field for team solidarity, but want nothing to do with punching or being punched, so they sort of mill around, run to where the action is, yell, “Hey, hey, hey!!!” a lot and try not to get injured.

Here’s the clips from the brawl anyway.

There’s really no reason to debate intent here. Ian Kennedy was trying to brush Yasiel Puig back off the plate. This is completely understandable considering how the Cuban rookie is treating opposing pitchers like they were the nameless, faceless red-shirted security personnel in Star Trek who never return from expeditions with Kirk, Spock and McCoy; there’s nothing wrong with pushing him off the plate. Kennedy wasn’t trying to hit him—though he wouldn’t have been all that bothered if he did—but he didn’t want to hit him up around the face.

Zack Greinke retaliated by hitting Miguel Montero and Kennedy intentionally threw at Greinke. There’s no way to deny nor is there any question about it. If anyone’s responsible for the fight, it’s Kennedy and the Dodgers were right to be angry about it.

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Rethinking the GM, Part III—American League West

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Click on these links to read part I and part II.

Texas Rangers

Jon Daniels is a popular and well-respected GM today but that wasn’t the case when he took over for John Hart in October of 2005 and one of the first big trades he made sent Adrian Gonzalez and pitcher Chris Young to the Padres for Adam Eaton and Akinori Otsuka. That will go down as one of the worst trades in the history of the sport.

If he was able to rebound from that and craft the Rangers into an annual contender with a reasonable payroll and deep farm system while dealing with the alpha-male presence of Nolan Ryan and navigating his way through the financial woes of former owner Tom Hicks, then he’s got something on the ball.

Daniels got the GM job very young at 28 and clearly wasn’t ready for it, but grew into the job and is not a stat guy or scouting guy, but uses every outlet at his disposal and is also able to do the dirty work mentioned earlier to consolidate his power.

Oakland Athletics

Just ignore Moneyball for a moment when thinking about Billy Beane. Look at his body of work without the accolades, best-selling book and ridiculous move to accompany the star status Beane’s cultivated and persona Beane has created and look at his work objectively. Is he a good GM who worked his way up through the ranks from scouting to assistant GM to GM to part owner? Yes. Would he be as lusted after without that ridiculous bit of creative non-fiction known as Moneyball? No.

It can be argued that Moneyball has done an exponential amount of damage in comparison to the good it did in introducing the world at large to statistics that they would not otherwise have realized existed. Due to Moneyball, everyone thinks they can study a spreadsheet, calculate some numbers and suddenly run a big league baseball team. One of the under-reported aspects of Moneyball is that Beane played in the Major Leagues with a nondescript career as a journeyman when he was talented enough to be a superstar. It’s part of the narrative that made the Beane story so fascinating, but now that he’s become this totem many of his worshippers probably aren’t even aware that he played at all.

Beane had a perfect storm when he took over as GM. There had been a brief Sports Illustrated profile of him and his transition for player to scout and he was known in MLB circles as an up-and-comer, but the Athletics were so bad and so consistently bad for several years due to financial constraints that Beane was able to implement the strategies of statistics into his player procurement. It worked because no one else was doing it or paying big money for players who didn’t just get on base, but had undervalued attributes.

Beane’s “genius” has been a media creation. He’s been smart, he’s been lucky and he’s also been unlucky. He’s crafted the image of the brilliantly cold corporate titan when it’s not true. He’s a former player who entered the front office, took advantage of the opportunities presented to him and has been successful. A large part of that is due to the circular nature of Moneyball giving him the freedom and leeway to make bad trades and have half-a-decade of futility in which he blamed everyone but the man in the mirror and still kept his job.

Los Angeles Angels

Jerry Dipoto has two issues that are tarnishing his reputation as a GM. One, people don’t remember that it was Dipoto, functioning as the interim GM of the Diamondbacks after Josh Byrnes was fired in 2010, who made two trades that have paid significant dividends to the current Diamondbacks by acquiring Patrick Corbin and Tyler Skaggs for Dan Haren and getting Daniel Hudson for Edwin Jackson. Two, he’s overseeing an Angels team that has played better recently but is still in rampant disarray with overpaid, underperforming players; a manager who has had his own power within the organization mitigated by the hiring of Dipoto; and is trying to rebuild the farm system in his own way with scouts he knows and a new school sensibility while the owner wants a championship now and the manager has a contract to 2018. It’s highly doubtful that Dipoto wanted to commit so much money and so many years to the likes of Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton.

Dipoto was a journeyman relief pitcher who scouted and worked in many front offices with varying philosophies before getting the Angels job and is a qualified baseball man. It’s difficult to know what he’s wanted to do with the Angels and what’s been forced upon him. If the situation really comes apart, he might be cleared out with the rest of the Angels hierarchy and have to wait to get another opportunity due to the damage done to his reputation with what’s happening with the Angels.

Seattle Mariners

The ice is cracking under the feet of Jack Zduriencik and if he is eventually dismissed he will be a cautionary tale that no one will listen to when anointing the next “genius” by giving credit for that which he had nothing to do with. After the fact, if you ask Zduriencik what his biggest regret is, it’s likely to be that the Mariners had such a luck-filled rise from 101 losses the year before he arrived to 85 wins in his first year on the job. It accelerated the process spurring the trade for Cliff Lee and drastically raised the expectations.

Unsurprisingly the expectations were not met; much of Zduriencik’s subsequent moves have gone wrong and if he is indeed fired, the next GM will likely benefit from the farm system seeds Zduriencik planted. That brings me to the next point: there are GMs who are better-served as assistants, farm directors, scouts, and other lower-level positions in an organization. It may not be as flashy, but is no less important and for all the talk of “GM prospects,” it must be examined whether or not the person will be able to do all aspects of the job as an overseer rather than as an underling.

Houston Astros

Jeff Luhnow is not only getting a pass for the horrific Astros club he’s put together—that is on a level with an expansion team—but for the Cardinals fertile farm system that is continually producing players. The draft is a communal effort and not one person deserves or should receive all of the credit in the same manner that a GM shouldn’t get the blame if drafts go poorly. Luhnow didn’t work his way up in baseball and was a private businessman when Cardinals owner Bill DeWitt hired him. This infuriated the old-school people in the Cardinals organization namely Walt Jocketty, Tony LaRussa and Dave Duncan and created factions between the stat people and the scouting people that eventually resulted in Jocketty’s firing. Luhnow also lost the power struggle to LaRussa in the months prior to leaving the Cardinals to take over the Astros. If nothing else, it was the experience in trying to transition into a baseball front office that has shaped Luhnow’s building of his Astros staff and construction of the roster from the top down as he’s got people who are going to do things in the stat-based way and are told before they’re hired how it’s going to be or they’re not going to get the job.

Of course the portrayal of Luhnow as the newest/latest “genius” and musings as to when (not if) he’ll be the subject of the new Moneyball are absurd. In four years he could be in the same position as Zduriencik or he could be Andrew Friedman. Know this: Astros owner Jim Crane is not going to accept failure and if the Luhnow project doesn’t work all the trust and belief that Crane has put into the Luhnow experiment will be quickly forgotten if the team doesn’t show concrete results on the field.

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Schilling’s Financial Mess Has Plenty Of Blame To Go Around

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In today’s Sunday Business section of the New York Times, Matt Bai writes a great article about Curt Schilling and his failed video game company. What is made clear in the piece is how blinded those who were involved in this failed entrepreneurship/business partnership were to the obvious realities behind it.

The issues that surrounded Schilling throughout his career have extended to his post-career endeavors. The main difference is, back then, it didn’t really affect anyone other than himself and it didn’t harm his teams all that much. He was a great pitcher and if he pitched, the other stuff was shrugged away.

Schilling played for five teams in his career and took a long time to establish himself. In every stop, there was eye-rolling at head-shaking at Schilling the person and his overt theatrics even as he accumulated respect for his abilities, post-season success and willingness to pitch through pain. When he played with the Diamondbacks, there was an uncomfortableness bordering on hate between Schilling and his fellow ace and Cy Young Award contender Randy Johnson. With most teams, it would be construed as jealousy, but with Schilling it wasn’t a unique phenomenon. It was obvious why Schilling would clash with Johnson when Johnson never hid who he really was: a curmudgeonly star who would be happiest if the media never came near him. Schilling, on the other hand, was almost chameleon-like in his personality.

This was a hallmark for his career.

The teammates who considered themselves “real people” like Mitch Williams, thought Schilling was a phony and relentless self-promoter doing things to garner attention. There was a “Will this be cool?” aspect to Schilling that’s indicative of a lack of definition in who he was and what he believed. Like a teenager whose brain hasn’t fully grown and is fighting through puberty, Schilling’s personality was flexible and he never appeared to have evolved into a complete person on its own merit. There’s a constant concern about perception and eventually the line becomes blurred with the cause of something a person is doing and the effect.

“Oh, not many people are willing to be open, hard-core conservatives? I’ll stump for Republican candidates and make clear my political affiliation.”

“What? Nobody pitches complete games anymore? Watch me pitch complete games.”

“Ballplayers are unable to make the transition from athlete to business without losing all their money? I’ll become Bill Gates-rich.”

Most of the quotes are designed to encapsulate my view of Schilling’s thinking except for the words, “Bill Gates-rich.” He actually said that.

It’s a window into his mind that he really believed that his video game company could achieve that level of inexplicable wealth when, for 99.9% of the world’s population, the money Schilling had accumulated as a player as well as the extras ballplayers get for endorsements, broadcasting, autograph shows and whatever would have been more than enough to support them and several generations after them. It’s an egotistical need that was being fed and, in turn, wound up devouring him, his money, and his reputation.

Was there an intentional decision on Schilling’s part to take the loans from Rhode Island and blow it all with nothing to show for it but lawsuits, contretemps and humiliation? Doubtful. But it’s disturbing and telling that he felt the state should have given him more money to prop up the business.

In a similar vein, I don’t think there was any intention on the part of former governor of Rhode Island Donald Carcieri to waste that money by giving it to Schilling. Schilling has accused the current governor, Lincoln Chafee, of intentionally sabotaging his video game business. I don’t think it was any of that. I think that each party was using what benefited himself and his vision for what would further his own interests. Schilling had absurdly ambitious plans and the belief that he’d bull his way through to achieve them without the experience and ability to do so; Carcieri wanted to create jobs to help the flagging economy in his state; Chafee jammed the spigot into the money flow before the investment grew more red than it already was.

What led to this were the mistakes made due to political calculations, desperate agendas, and a starstruck reaction to Schilling’s enthusiasm and name-recognition.

Schilling’s intentions were legitimate, but who would think it’s a good idea to hand him $75 million based on a vague business plan and grandiose statements backed up by his status as a borderline Hall of Fame baseball player? If Jimmy O’Brien from Boston showed up and tried to extract that money from the governor of Rhode Island, he wouldn’t even receive a reply. That’s how ridiculous it was. Since it was Schilling, he got the money.

Had Schilling chosen to lure a series of professionals—CEOs, CFOs, gaming executives—to assist him in allocating that money and creating a viable company, it could have worked with Schilling lending that same star power he used to get the money to selling it rather than running it. But Schilling decided to play big businessman and lost everything he had as well as a massive chunk of Rhode Island’s dwindling cash.

Because his intentions weren’t nefarious doesn’t make it much better than if he just walked in, scammed them, took the money and left because it’s the exact same result.

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Lusting For Luhnow, Part I

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We’re about a week away from a Jeff Luhnow bowel movement being encased in a climate controlled, clear reinforced plastic viewing chamber to be marveled at and admired 50, 100, 200 years from now in Cooperstown as if it was the work of a genius and not a bran muffin and coffee he had for breakfast on a particular morning in April of 2013.

For now, the adoration lavished on the Astros GM is limited to orgasmic sighs, lusty Twitter comments, and Hardball Talk postings about the I-Pads all the Astros’ players were given, beatific grins at the catchphrase in the clubhouse (“Process”), Baseball America columns discussing the number of Luhnow draft picks that opened the season on a big league roster, and the method in which Luhnow is rebuilding the Astros as if they’re an expansion team.

Of course it’s nonsense. With the free hand Luhnow’s been given by Astros owner Jim Crane, he’s in an enviable position on multiple fronts. First, the owner isn’t expecting results immediately and is letting the GM do whatever he wants in every aspect of the organization. Second, the media is rolling around and contorting itself into a pretzel to allow Luhnow a wide swath of absolution in spite of formulating a 2013 club that is going to be among the worst in the history of the sport. Third, his resume is being taken so drastically out of context that it won’t be long before he’s given credit for the Cardinals busting through from the team that constantly lost in the playoffs under Walt Jocketty/Tony LaRussa pre-2006 to the one that won two World Series in 2006 and 2011 with Luhnow as the scouting director. Fourth, he has the support of one of the largest growing constituencies in all of sports: the bloggers and social media “experts” who think they can run a club, scout, and analyze because they play fantasy baseball and can read a spreadsheet, yet never picked up a baseball in their lives and wouldn’t know what to do with one if they did.

Luhnow’s gutting of the Astros is fulfilling a mandate and reacting to the situation he entered. The Astros had bloated contacts, were notoriously thin in talent, and had neglected the farm system to the degree that there were very few marketable prospects for trade or development. He’s essentially running an expansion team in large part because he himself cleared out the house of any and all players that were there when he arrived. It may be a bit much to say they’re trying to lose, but it’s not too much to say they don’t care if they win. It’s a subtle difference and a large factor as to why they’re being allowed to put a team on the field that has a $26 million payroll and will have a dramatic impact on all of baseball with their historic and intentional awfulness.

Is it necessary to strip the whole apparatus down to its brass fittings in order to build it back up? No. It’s not. There are many ways to get where a club wants to go and the days of an expansion team having to take annual beatings for 5-7 years while their draft picks develop ended with free agency. The 1969 Mets and early 1980s Blue Jays were case studies of clubs that built from the bottom up and turned their fortunes around in year eight for the Mets (100 wins and a World Series), and year seven for the Blue Jays (89 wins in 1983 starting off a long run culminating in back-to-back World Series wins in 1992-1993).

However, those were the days before teams spent lavishly on free agents and had the ability to just buy their way into contention. Nowadays, it’s not necessary to wait. The Diamondbacks are the new age case study having won 100 games in their second season and a World Series in their fourth. Strangely, their success has been quantified as “lucky,” “mortgaging,” and “checkbook building” by then-owner Jerry Colangelo; then-GM Joe Garagiola Jr.; and then-manager Buck Showalter. They followed the strategies of Showalter—hired by the Diamondbacks shortly after the Yankees had fired him in 1995—and he took command of the implementation of Showalter-preferred teaching methods from that day forward. They were largely a creation of free agency by signing Randy JohnsonJay Bell and trading for Luis Gonzalez and Matt Williams. This is often referred to with a scoffing eye-roll as if there’s something untoward about signing free agents and achieving rapid success with players drafted, signed and developed by other clubs. Like those who advocate eating organic foods and nothing else, there’s a sense of superiority for a team that developed their own players rather than purchased them. In reality, there’s no difference other than in the mind. The Yankees didn’t develop Babe Ruth. They bought him. So what? Does that diminish what he was? Not in any way.

The “development” attitude is supposed to be sustainable as if the atmosphere is being saved and global warming is being stopped by a player working his way through the organization and making it to the big leagues as a homegrown talent.

In the end, a win is a win is a win and it doesn’t make much difference whether it’s done by a bunch of mercenaries and a $150-200 million payroll or one with a $70 million payroll and the appellation of “genius” attached to the “architect” of the club.

The concept that what Luhnow is doing with the Astros is “right” is based on nothing more than the preferred public perception by the self-styled revolutionaries who feel as if statistics have taken over the game of baseball in an inextricable metamorphosis from what was to what is and what will be.

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Trevor Bauer Listens To Trevor Bauer…Rapping!!!

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The off-season moves made by the Diamondbacks involved importing “gritty” players to fit the desired style of play of manager Kirk Gibson, but given the continuing verbal volleys going back and forth between Diamondbacks’ catcher Miguel Montero and Indians’ pitcher Trevor Bauer, perhaps it’s not grit they wanted to bring in, but weeding out of difficult personalities to excise players who didn’t fit into the preferred clubhouse dynamic.

Recently the discord between pitcher and catcher reentered the storyline as Bauer’s rap lyrics (really) were interpreted as alluding to his relationship with Montero—Yahoo Story. You can hear the rap below. He’s certainly not the Beastie Boys unless you consider his pitching for the Diamondbacks last season, which were beastly enough to get him demoted. Bauer should stick to pitching.

Bauer says that the lyrics were directed at people on Twitter, but who knows? Earlier this spring Montero made damning indictments against Bauer in a matter of fact fashion. The statements were overt in comparison to what Montero said as he was trying to create a working relationship with Bauer last summer. Judging from their decision to trade him so quickly, Montero was clearly speaking for the Diamondbacks and their concerns.

Bauer’s reputation as opinionated, loud and immature isn’t new. It goes back to his days at UCLA when, in certain circles, he was ludicrously compared to Tim Lincecum and behaved in a manner that was certain to draw the ire of big league veterans if he continued it when he entered pro ball. Unsurprisingly he continued it into pro ball, irritated big league veterans, and was traded away a year-and-a-half after he was drafted 3rd overall.

There’s still a pecking order in a major league clubhouse and hazing from some veterans where a rookie, regardless of his draft status and known talent level, should be seen and not heard. Bauer was seen and the Diamondbacks saw him pitching terribly; he was heard and what they heard was arrogance and obnoxiousness. This is a bad combination to engendering positivity with one’s teammates.

The view of teammates and clubhouse chemistry can be overrated, but not dismissed. Last season, as Mets’ first baseman Ike Davis was batting well under .200 into the summer, there was discussion of demoting him to Triple A. David Wright and others stood up for Davis. The front office and manager Terry Collins, realizing the damage that could be done by sending Davis down when his teammates liked and believed in him, gave him the chance to battle through his struggles and he did. Would anyone have stood up for Bauer? Or would they have advocated getting him out of the clubhouse before the place exploded or Gibson attacked him?

The mentioning of Lincecum is key. Yes, Lincecum was allowed to do his own thing in terms of stretching exercises and mechanics designed by his father. Yes, he was unconventional in his dress and personality. But the difference between Bauer and Lincecum is that Lincecum didn’t arrive in the big leagues and automatically start loudly challenging conventional orthodoxy or disrespecting veterans. And Lincecum did something Bauer didn’t do when he first arrived on the scene: he pitched well.

Lincecum, passed over and questioned because of his diminutive stature and stage father, exhibited a quiet determination to prove the critics wrong; Bauer is strutting around and informing the world of his greatness and uniqueness while posting an ERA over six with 13 walks in 16 innings and getting sent to the minors after four starts.

In a sense, even Lincecum is learning that his quirks are tolerated as long as he pitches well. He was mostly terrible in 2012 and his style and preparation are under scrutiny. Lincecum has two Cy Young Awards. Bauer doesn’t have any big league accomplishments other than annoying people to the point where he got himself traded.

Iconoclasm in baseball is fine…as long as the player performs. Had Bauer arrived and pitched brilliantly, the Diamondbacks and Montero would’ve gritted their teeth and swallowed his attitude and behavior as a concession for the greater good. He didn’t. Some catchers like to bully their pitchers to establish dominance and get the pitcher to do what the catcher wants. Montero didn’t do that. He was trying to reach a consensus with Bauer and was genuinely stunned at the rookie’s complete lack of interest in working cohesively and appearance of being more interested in doing things his way than succeeding.

If life were a moralistic TV show, Bauer would keep getting batted around until he learned humility and the value of working with others. It’s not. Since he’s so talented, he might bull his way through and succeed in spite of his selfish attitude. What’s he’s not seeing, though, is that the strutting and snarling is accepted because of his ability and draft status. If Lincecum had posted an ERA over 6, how long before the Giants took the rules and regulations that accompanied his drafting and tossed them out the window to try and recoup something on their investment? How long would David Wells have lasted in the majors had he simply been a guy trying to imitate Babe Ruth while pitching as Bauer did in his brief 2012 audition? As Mark Prior has proven, it can all be gone in an instant.

Players don’t have to be friends and in many cases, they’re not. They do have to communicate. So far, Bauer has been interested in communicating with the the man in the mirror and the media. And rapping. Don’t forget the rapping. Unless he performs, his teammates won’t want to hear about his college exploits and draft status and they definitely won’t want to hear his awful rapping.

Reputation matters and, as of now, Bauer’s reputation is not good and he’s doing absolutely nothing to change the perceptions that will follow him around until he pitches well or disappears, wondering what happened to the All-Star career he was supposed to have.

Aspiring rappers are generally not advised to follow the lead of Vanilla Ice, but in this case maybe Bauer should stop, collaborate and listen because the failure to do that has soiled his image and gotten him traded once. Unfortunately the music from the Diamondbacks and Bauer is going on and on with no sign of slowing down anytime soon.

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The Astros Strip The Spaceship For Parts

Ballparks, CBA, Draft, European Football, Free Agents, History, Hot Stove, Management, Media, MiLB, Players, Prospects, Stats

Stat-centric people are looking at the Astros and nodding their heads approvingly at the series of maneuvers that may have improved their farm system and future. GM Jeff Luhnow is implementing the sabermetric template in what’s developing into a case study of how a purely stat-based organization would be run. They’re creating new job titles in baseball circles (Director of Decision Sciences), hiring people from Baseball Prospectus, and gutting the big league club of any and all competent major league players while signing the refuse that’s available cheaply and who have nowhere else to go. If you wanted to see a team that was run by the people at Fangraphs, here are your 2013 Houston Astros sans Jed Lowrie who was traded to the Athletics yesterday along with reliever Fernando Martinez for Chris Carter, Brad Peacock and Max Stassi. The players they received may be assets for the future, but financially they cost a fraction of what Lowrie was going to make in 2013 ($2.4 million).

Whether the Astros’ strategy works or not will take at least three and probably five years to determine. As of now, though, MLB has to take a hard look at what the Astros are doing, and decide if it’s fair to the spirit of competition to have a team with what projects to be a $25 million payroll and won’t just be the worst team in baseball for 2013 (that’s a given), but will possibly be one of the worst teams in the history of the sport. To think that the Astros, who lost 106 games in 2011 and 107 games in 2012 could somehow find a way to sink lower than that ineptitude is mind-boggling, but they’ve done it.

When Jim Crane bought the team and hired Luhnow, the organization was a barren, expansion-like wasteland. That’s not an excuse for what they’re doing. The days of teams having to endure half a decade of 100-plus losses ended when the Diamondbacks showed that an expansion team can win if they’re truly committed and intelligent about it. With free agency and teams’ willingness to trade, there is no longer 1960s Mets-style acceptance of being a league punching bag until the young players develop. There’s no reason that a team has to turn itself into an embarrassment while they’re rebuilding.

The Cubs are embarking on a similar restructuring and overhaul with people who come from the same mindset (though not as extreme) as Luhnow. Theo Epstein was one of the first to turn his club into a sabermetrically-inclined organization with the Red Sox in 2003, but he also used scouting techniques and a lot of money to create a juggernaut that won on the field and “won” off the field in terms of popularity and profit. The Cubs lost six fewer games than the Astros did in 2012, but while Epstein, GM Jed Hoyer and the rest of the staff alter the way the club is run from top-to-bottom, build through the draft and search for international players to sign, they’re also bringing in veterans like Edwin Jackson and Scott Hairston to join Starlin Castro (whom they signed to a long-term deal), Matt Garza and a few other recognizable players.

In fairness, the Cubs were in a slightly better situation than the Astros when the new front office took charge and the Astros weren’t going to win many more games with Lowrie than they will without him, but the Cubs tried to bring in big league caliber players all winter and the Astros didn’t. The Cubs have more money to spend and a fanbase that’s going to show up no matter what, but the Astros are essentially spitting in their fans’ faces with a team that no one is going to want to go see as a “root, root, root for the home team” group. Houston fans will go to the games to see opponents Mike Trout, Derek Jeter, Yu Darvish and Felix Hernandez, but they’re not going to see their own Lucas Harrell. By July, the Astros won’t be able to give tickets away.

MLB saw fit to intervene when the Marlins used financial sleight of hand to pocket revenue sharing money. They mandated that the money be used to improve the on-field product. Does realistic competence dictate that the commissioner’s office step in and tell the Astros that this simply isn’t acceptable?

The Astros are trying to run their club like a business, but in MLB or any other sporting conglomerate, there’s a responsibility to ensure a baseline of competitiveness not just for the people of Houston, but for the rest of baseball.

Is it right that the four other teams in the American League West will have 19 games each against the Astros while the AL East is so parity-laden? Clubs like the White Sox and Royals in the AL Central—who have an argument to make a playoff run—can deem it wrong that a playoff spot in the West will have an easier path because the Astros are openly presenting a product that has no intention nor chance to win a vast majority of the games they play through sheer lack of talent.

I’ve long been against a minimum payroll in baseball. If a team is smart enough to succeed by spending less, they should be allowed to do so without interference. That, however, is contingent on the teams trying to compete, something the Astros are currently not doing.

It’s fine to adapt outside world business principles to sports, but unlike the outside business world, a sports franchise is not operating in a vacuum as an individual company. Like the battle between pitcher and catcher, it’s one-on-one in a group dynamic. They’re individuals, but are functioning within a group.

Since there’s no such thing as European football-style relegation in MLB where actual punishment is possible, the overseers need to seriously consider creating a payroll floor to stop what the Astros are blatantly doing because it’s hindering the competitive balance that has long been the goal. The Astros are scoffing at that notion and it’s unfair to the rest of baseball that they’re being allowed to do it with impunity.

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The Rejected Justin Upton Trade: Q&A

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

The general reaction to the proposed Justin Upton trade from the Diamondbacks to the Mariners has been, “Why?”

Why would the Diamondbacks and GM Kevin Towers bother negotiating and completing the deal pending Upton’s approval while knowing that approval wasn’t going to come?

Why would the Mariners make such a deal while surrendering four players—Charlie Furbush, Nick Franklin, Stephen Pryor and Taijuan Walker—when the general consensus is that they need more than Upton to compete in a tough division?

Let’s discuss the answers.

Why did Towers bother?

Towers has no choice now. He has to get Upton out of there. He’s put himself in this position and there are lingering questions as to why there’s such a desperation to get rid of a 25-year-old, power hitting right fielder who’s signed to a reasonable contract. Usually in such a case there’s an obvious reason such as open animosity between player and club, money, poor performance or a rebuilding process. None of this is evident with Upton and the Diamondbacks. This is going to permeate the dealmaking process and clubs interested in Upton who may not have heard whispers (if they exist) of the real reason Upton’s available will hesitate and want an answer before they surrender a package similar to the Mariners.

The Mariners offer is important. Furbush is a useful lefty specialist, but the other players are significant. Pryor is a potential closer; Walker has a great power arm; Franklin is a former first round pick as a middle infielder with pop.

Towers was reportedly aware that Upton wasn’t going to okay the deal and perhaps he was hoping that the wearing down of the trade rumors that have gone on for over a year might spur Upton to say, “Let me outta here already.” But it was also a message to the rest of baseball that the cost for Upton is going to be steep for a deal to get done.

It makes sense in a way, but it might have backfired for Towers as the desire to trade Upton has now become a need. The difference between “I will” and “I must” is stark and the Diamondbacks have almost completely crossed that threshold. By that logic, they’re going to wind up with far less for Upton than what they were getting from the Mariners.

How did this help the Mariners?

On the surface, it’s a logical progression to use their farm system to acquire a superstar talent they’ll have at a reasonable cost for the next three years, but the Mariners knew that Upton would reject the trade just like the Diamondbacks did. But they tried anyway. Why?

Here’s why: Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik is in the final year of his contract. A surprising (and lucky) 85 wins in what was supposed to be year one of a rebuild in 2009 has lost its luster. He was referred to as a “genius,” and a new age thinker who used both scouting experience and new age stats to run his club. But disastrous signings such as Chone Figgins and off-field missteps like the allegations of lying in the entirety of his Cliff Lee dealings with the Yankees and subsequently trading for an accused rapist Josh Lueke made Zduriencik appear shady and amoral.

Whether it’s a fair assessment or not is irrelevant. If the on-field product had been better, these issues could be glossed over, but the on-field product has been awful and no one wants to hear about a rebuilt farm system. The Mariners have finished in last place in the AL West in each of the past three seasons and are desperately flinging things at the wall—Raul Ibanez, Jason Bay, Upton, flirting with Josh Hamilton, bringing in the fences at Safeco Field—and hoping to regain some attention from a fan base that’s stopped coming to the park.

Forgetting the on-field issues, here’s the bottom line: when Pat Gillick and Lou Piniella were running the place, the Mariners were first in attendance in baseball in 2001-2002. The last year when Bill Bavasi was GM in 2008 they lost 100 games and were sixth in attendance. In 2009, when they won those 85 games, they were seventh. In 2010, the year they acquired Lee to couple with Felix Hernandez and the Mariners were a trendy pick to make the playoffs, they were seventh. They were eighth in 2010 and 2011 and eleventh in 2012. It gets worse from there unless major names are acquired. They tried that with Upton and he said no.

With Ichiro Suzuki no longer there as a nominal drawing card, what possible reason other than King Felix is there to go see the games as long as the fans don’t think there’s any chance for them to win in a division with the Rangers, Angels and A’s?

The Upton trade was desperation, pure and simple, because Zduriencik’s job is on the line and if the season goes poorly without legitimate improvement, he’s getting fired. In fact, he might get fired during the season before the beginning of summer.

Was it worth it to the Diamondbacks and Mariners?

It was only worth it if they had convinced Upton to accept the trade before it leaked to the media. They didn’t. Now matters are worse for both. In the end, it was a huge gaffe that will define the organizations until the situations are settled and that settlement may not end as either Towers or Zduriencik envisioned unless they accounted for a worst case scenario that is looking more and more likely with each passing day.

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Why Are the Diamondbacks So Desperate to Deal Justin Upton?

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

The proposed trade of Justin Upton to the Mariners was rejected by Upton because the Mariners are one of four clubs on his no-trade list. With a heavy return consisting of a situational lefty (Charlie Furbush), a young middle infield prospect (Nick Franklin), a young righty reliever with closer potential (Stephen Pryor), and one of the following young starters: Taijuan Walker, Danny Hultzen or James Paxton, in theory the trade made sense for the Diamondbacks. Given their overflow of outfielders, someone (or two) has to go.

It has seemed at times that Diamondbacks GM Kevin Towers is collecting outfielders just for the sake of it. Apart from the Upton trade talks a year ago, there was no reason for him to pay $16 million last winter to sign Jason Kubel when Kubel was replacing Gerardo Parra who had a career year offensively and defensively—winning a Gold Glove—in 2011. He signed Kubel anyway. Kubel had a hot start to the season making the signing look like the work of a genius, but once the National League figured out Kubel’s weaknesses (he has a slow bat and doesn’t hit lefties), he had a dreadful second half.

This winter, Towers replicated the Kubel signing more expensively from the opposite side of the plate by signing Cody Ross to a 3-year, $26 million contract. Ross can hit both lefties and righties and can crush a fastball, so he’s more of an everyday player than Kubel, but there’s a glaring redundancy of the flawed outfielders that Towers insists on signing to fill holes that didn’t exist.

Compounded by the trade of Chris Young to the Athletics for a no-hit shortstop Cliff Pennington, the Diamondbacks now have three no-hit shortstops with Pennington, Willie Bloomquist and John McDonald. In addition, they traded their top young pitching prospect Trevor Bauer in a three-way trade to bring in a young shortstop, Didi Gregorius, who Towers ridiculously compared to Derek Jeter. Bauer had made no friends in the organization with his mouth and unwillingness to listen to suggestions from anyone and didn’t hesitate to make that known publicly. But Towers drafted Bauer. Shouldn’t he have been aware of his personality before the fact?

Interestingly, one of the reasons the Diamondbacks—under former GM Josh Byrnes—were able to acquire Ian Kennedy was because the Yankees had tired of his mouth and he didn’t listen.

Like the line from the film The Town, “You need a Venn diagram for these people.”

When Towers was hired, the Diamondbacks were an organization in apparent disarray. In the midst of a 2010 season in which they’d lose 97 games, they fired their longtime GM Byrnes at mid-season along with his hand-picked, inexperienced manager A.J. Hinch and replaced them with Jerry Dipoto and Kirk Gibson. Dipoto made several housecleaning trades that set the stage for the club’s stunning division title in 2011. Towers rebuilt the bullpen. The one thing Towers is good at is building a bullpen. Apart from that, his history has been one of haphazard, lateral maneuvers and a significant amount of luck.

No one has come up with an acceptable reason that Upton is on the block to begin with.

Is it attitude? There’s never been a report of Upton causing problems and he’s certainly got a better reputation than his brother B.J. Upton. The same B.J. Upton to whom the notoriously prickly and behavior-oriented Braves just gave $75 million. Any off-field problems and desire for “good guys” is counteracted by the Diamondbacks trading for Heath Bell. When compiling a list of players with bad reputations, Bell will be in everyone’s top 10.

Playing ability? Upton was the first overall pick in the 2005 MLB Draft, is a power hitter with speed and is a good defensive right fielder.

Age? He’ll be 26 in August.

Money? He’s signed at a comparatively cheap $38.5 million through 2015.

A better replacement? They don’t have a better replacement.

I suppose you can make the argument that he’s their biggest asset and would yield the largest return, but the team is trying to win. Doesn’t Upton help them in that goal better than replacing him with some conglomeration of a Furbush, Ross, Kubel and a mass of young players that may or may not make it?

In looking for a “why?” of Towers’s frantic attempts to trade Upton that seemingly were in place immediately upon getting the job, his accompanying decisions have made clear that there may not be a reason and if there is, the public doesn’t know about it. But we can only judge by what’s known and via that metric, combined with the other things Towers has done in his time on the job, Upton’s availability not as a “we’ll listen,” but as a “we have to get this guy outta here,” simply doesn’t pass the smell test.

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