2013 Astros Will Be A Pennant Race Factor

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The aftermath of the Astros gutting and pending 2013 disaster won’t simply affect their organization. In a positive sense, they’re getting rid of their moderate-to-highly paid players and bringing volume into their farm system, plus they’re at the top of the MLB draft and will be so for the foreseeable future. In a negative sense, they’ve all but conceded any and all pretense of fielding a legitimate big league team.

Unlike Michael Kay’s ridiculous, uninformed, petty and vindictive “prediction” that the 2012 Mets were going to lose well over 100 games, I can say without rancor or bias that the 2013 Astros are, at best, a 55 win team. It’s probably going to be fewer than that. Let’s look at why this is the case and why a horrendous club will play so great a role is the 2013 playoff chase.

Their division and status as a target

Two teams from the AL West, the Athletics and the Rangers, made the playoffs last season. A third, the Angels, significantly underachieved but still won 89 games. The fourth team, the Mariners, has improved. Because they’re going to play 19 games each against all of these clubs, the Astros and their opponents will enter each series knowing the Astros will be lucky to win a game.

Other clubs are going to go all out to beat the Astros. The games won’t take on the tenacity of Yankees-Red Sox, Reds-Cardinals or Dodgers-Giants, but they’ll entail opposing managers treating them as such because they’re games they have to win. Losing to the Astros this season will be tantamount to a fundamental gaffe such as failing to touch a base, getting caught leaving too soon on a sacrifice fly, not having the proper reliever warming up or hitters batting out of order. It’s inexcusable.

The rest of the American League

For the Yankees, Blue Jays, Rays, White Sox and Royals, the Astros are a problem. With the strength of the AL West teams, three from the division might make the playoffs based strictly on the extra few victories they’ll accumulate by beating up on the Astros.

Let’s say the Red Sox are out of contention by August and the Yankees are hovering around a playoff spot. On the weekend of August 16th the Yankees are playing the Red Sox while the Angels playing the Astros. The Red Sox won’t have a personal stake in the outcome, but nothing would please them more than hurting the Yankees. The Angels will have what amounts to a sparring session while the Yankees and Red Sox are staging a typical four hour wrestling match regardless of their positions in the standings.

Having a team on the schedule for 19 games and realistically penciling in 13-15 wins goes a long way in bolstering one’s win total and assisting a playoff run.

Job savers and game changers

The Mariners 2013 offense is more potent with the additions of Kendrys Morales and Mike Morse. Their pitching will be affected by the decision to move in the fences at Safeco Field. They were 75-87 last season and GM Jack Zduriencik and manager Eric Wedge are both in the final year of their contracts. Zduriencik’s job is on the line. Would a perceived “improvement” of rising to, say, 84-78 be enough to convince ownership that the Mariners are on the right track and that Zduriencik and Wedge deserve at least one more season? If the Astros weren’t in the AL West, the Mariners would probably be around a 75 win team again. With the Astros there, the Mariners should be over .500. This could potentially save the jobs of their GM and manager.

The Angels’ manager Mike Scioscia’s job is also in jeopardy if the high-priced group plays in a similar lackluster fashion as they did last season. In spite of insistence to the contrary, GM Jerry Dipoto and Scioscia are not on the same page. Owner Arte Moreno wasn’t happy with anyone in his organization after splurging for Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson and missing the playoffs. This past winter he spent even more money on Josh Hamilton and kept his management team in place. None of that changes the fact that this current configuration is not a Scioscia team that, in the past, relied on deep starting pitching and bullpen. The starters gobbled innings; they had a proven closer and set-up men; they embodied solid fundamentals, inside baseball strategies, speed and defense. Apart from Mike Trout and Erick Aybar, this team is plodding. They rely on power, power, power with a shaky starting rotation. Could the Astros’ presence give the Angels with the extra 4-5 wins they wouldn’t get otherwise? A number of wins that last season would’ve vaulted them into the playoffs despite the dysfunction?

On the other coast, the Yankees have gotten worse this winter, not better. They’re relying on ancient veterans and reclamation projects, pinching pennies and have a manager, Joe Girardi, on the final year of his contract. If they don’t make the playoffs, someone is on the chopping block. History has proven that Brian Cashman is now the Teflon GM. It won’t be Girardi’s fault, but hypothetically if the Yankees miss the playoffs, he could be gone and it would be in large part due to the Astros getting beaten so consistently by other playoff contenders who have the advantage of 13 more games against them than the Yankees do.

The Astros will get worse as the season moves along

You wouldn’t think it possible for them to get worse with a projected payroll of $25 million and open admission from GM Jeff Luhnow that they’re going to be awful. In response to the criticism for his latest deal in sending Jed Lowrie to the A’s, Luhnow said:

“We’re not going to do something to improve a few games in 2013 that comes at the expense of our ability to compete over the long haul.”

In other words, “We’re going to be as bad or worse than we’ve been in the past two years when we lost 107 and 106 games.”

In a sense, he’s right on all counts. What’s the difference to the Astros if they win 65 or 50 games? But there’s something untoward about a team not even putting forth the affectation of caring whether they win or lose—in fact, trying to lose to get a higher draft position.

The remaining big league-caliber players they have will be traded as well. They’re already willing to listen to offers on their best pitcher and highest paid player, Bud Norris. He’s going to be dealt at some point. The other mediocre veterans they have will be available at mid-season. Carlos Pena still has power and a good glove at first base. Strikeouts and under .200 batting average aside, a contender will take him for their stretch run. Jose Veras is the Astros’ closer and if he’s pitching well is a veteran bullpen asset for the second half. Wesley Wright is a lefty specialist and every team needs more than one lefty specialist in the playoffs.

Luhnow has shown total indifference to trading his players. He’ll send them to division rivals or anywhere that he can get the most in exchange. Pena, Veras, Wright can help the Angels, Rangers, Yankees, White Sox—anyone to win that extra game or two to take a playoff spot.

The Astros are a Triple A team now and will be a Double A team by July. They can talk about the future all they want, but the present has consequences for the rest of baseball.

Expect complaints from teams like the Yankees that it’s not fair. Opposing franchises will say that the Astros should have to field a reasonably competitive big league team. Eventually, something might be done about this strategy with MLB forcing teams to provide a competent product. There’s not much MLB can do right now, but they could try to install a payroll floor in the future, something the Players Association and most other owners would agree to.

In 2013, though, it won’t change the reality or the outcome. As a direct result of the Astros switching leagues, people will save or lose their jobs because of it.

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The Media Vultures Circle The Mets Again

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Since the Mets have come apart after a surprising first half of the season when it was being speculated as to whether or not they’d be heavy buyers at the trading deadline, the same reporters who were so sure that the Wilpons days as owners were numbers just a few short months ago and wrote relentless pieces about the Bernie Madoff Ponzi scheme and its damage to the franchise have popped up again.

They were silent for a period of time, trying to maintain an aura of credibility that only exists because they’re in the media, as if that matters. Being paid by the New York Post, Newsday, ESPN or whatever other entity you can name doesn’t automatically imply knowing what they’re talking about. No one—no…one—I read speculated on the possibility of a Madoff settlement to save the Wilpons. In fact, the Wilpons might even wind up getting money back after all is said and done. They didn’t get rich being stupid and to suggest that they’re broke and the team is still in danger of being lost to the family is based on the same shoddy speculation that was indulged in months ago and turned out to be wrong.

It’s similar to the same so-called experts who felt that the Mets’ farm system was destitute of prospects. As it turns out, Omar Minaya’s scouting/drafting operation was far better than anyone thought.

Now, as the team has stumbled from their unexpected heights of contention at the All-Star break, the doom and gloom has returned. I’m not talking about from the fans—that’s expected; I’m talking about from the supposedly credible “insiders” in the media. Just the other day it started again about the possibility of David Wright leaving the club after next season. Compared with the Jose Reyes situation, will the Mets let Wright leave as they did Reyes? Are they going to be a stripped down version of other teams that haven’t spent one penny more than the bare minimum? Of course not. Wright’s going nowhere. The two situations were totally different on and off the field.

The Mets front office baseball people didn’t want to spend the necessary money to keep Reyes and wouldn’t have done so even if they had the money to spend and were allowed to run the team as they wanted. Last winter the Madoff trial was hanging over the oraganization’s collective heads like a guillotine. But money or not, GM Sandy Alderson would not want to allocate $100+ million to a speed player approaching 30 who’s had multiple injury problems; and if you look at Reyes in 2012 with the Marlins, it’s trendy to point to his recent hitting streak and solid play after a slow start, but the Marlins exponentially more dysfunctional than the Mets, are terrible and in the midst of a housecleaning that’s put them in a worse position than the Mets. Don’t bet on Reyes being with the Marlins past next season.

Wright’s different. A power bat that walks, is the de facto captain of the team (the Mets should make it official already), and who plays a difficult to fill position is not getting traded, nor is he going to be allowed to leave as a free agent. It’s true that the Mets have a large financial commitment to Jason Bay and Johan Santana next season ($50 million with their contracts and buyouts), but that will free a large amount of money to re-sign Wright and import players for 2013 with either backloaded free agent contracts or via trade. This idea that simply spending money would’ve made a significant difference in 2013 is ignoring that the teams that have spent tons of money on players in recent years haven’t succeeded. The Red Sox were supposed to “challenge the 1927 Yankees” as the best team in history in 2011, but collapsed in September and that collapse revealed disciplinary and personal fissures that resulted in the departure of manager Terry Francona, the hiring of Bobby Valentine and desperation maneuvers to patch over their holes and hope that they’d revert to performances and team-oriented behaviors of the past. Needless to say, it hasn’t worked and the Red Sox are in deep trouble moving forward as long as there are factional disputes and power grabs in the front office and the insistence that they don’t need to substantially alter the personnel.

The Phillies? They had an all-world starting rotation, signed a top-notch closer and had an offense that should’ve scored enough to support that rotation. But they’re old and injuries removed significant names from their everyday lineup and rotation. They’re not getting any younger and have contract commitments that made it necessary to trade Hunter Pence and consider again trading Cliff Lee to re-sign Cole Hamels and hope to have the health and performance they’ve lacked in 2012.

The Angels? Jered Weaver is 15-1; Mike Trout is on his way to winning the Rookie of the Year and the American League MVP; they traded for Zack Greinke; stole Ernesto Frieri from the Padres; Mark Trumbo is having an MVP-caliber season of his own and will eventually hit a ball that will never land; and signed Albert Pujols (this generation’s Joe DiMaggio) last winter, are still hovering around mediocrity and are in serious danger of missing the playoffs. Could the fact that they had too many players for too few positions and a manager, Mike Scioscia, who was used to being totally in charge and found his power usurped with a roster that doesn’t fit his style have something to do with their lack of cohesion and simply looking off?

Importing stars and spending money is not necessarily the answer and with the Mets, who were they supposed to get last winter? Would they be any better now if they’d signed Jonathan Papelbon? First, Papelbon wasn’t signing with the Mets; second, they didn’t have the money. Who else was other there that would fill a hole the Mets had? C.J. Wilson? He wasn’t coming to the Mets. Prince Fielder? Would he take an IOU?

The 1998 Mariners had Alex Rodriguez, Ken Griffey Jr., and Edgar Martinez in their lineup and went 76-85. In 1999, they went 79-83. They traded Griffey for nothing after 1999 and lost in the ALCS in 2000. After that season, they lost A-Rod…and won 116 games in 2001. If you said in 1999 that the team would lose those two stars and win 116 games two years later, people would think you insane.

We don’t know what’s going to happen with prospects; how much luck will be involved; what the future holds. But the Mets have enough young players—especially young pitching—for a bright future.

Madoff was a PR disaster and financial nightmare for the Mets, but what it did was free the organization to let them rebuild correctly. As much as Minaya is savaged for spending money and for the contracts he gave to Oliver Perez, and the soon-to-mature big money deals he gave to Bay and Santana, no one could’ve expected the Wilpon financial empire to come undone. Whether they suspected that Madoff was a fraud or not, did anyone think it would come crashing as it did? Even with the Bay/Santana contracts, they should very well have had some money to spend if things had gone on as they were.

In retrospect, it’s going to be viewed as a good thing that the Mets had to trade Carlos Beltran and got Zack Wheeler; that they couldn’t toss more money at the wall and hope that stacks of cash would fill holes in a foundation that needed what’s being done now: a true rebuild.

If you think that a Mets’ starting rotation in 2013 of R.A. Dickey, Santana, Jonathon Niese, Matt Harvey and Wheeler won’t be able to make a run at a playoff spot if there’s a halfway decent bullpen and a couple of more offensive weapons, then you’re not accepting facts. As for the financial holes, no one knows how much money the Mets have to spend or not. They settled the Madoff case and, much to the poorly concealed disappointment of Howard Megdal, Bob Klapisch, John Harper and Joel Sherman, paid off several of the loans they’d taken out to continue to do business.

And they still own the team.

With the Bay/Santana money coming off the books after next season, Wright will be re-signed. A realistic idea to improve the offense and make Wright more willing to stay and not hold the organization hostage would be to make a serious play for Justin Upton to play right field (signed through 2015 with $38.5 million coming to him from 2013 onward); and pursue his brother B.J. Upton to play center field. B.J.’s not getting the $100 million he’s probably going to want, but would $70 million over 5 years get it done? To play with his brother and Wright, their childhood friend from Virginia? Maybe. And a lineup of Ike Davis, Daniel Murphy, Ruben Tejada, Wright, the Uptons, Jordany Valdespin or Kirk Nieuwenhuis, and a better hitting catcher would score enough runs to support that starting rotation.

It’s doable.

Ignore the media as they’re seeking ways to make up for their inability to write epitaphs for the Mets by writing them pre-death; also tune out the fans who are throwing tantrums as the team spirals. They weren’t expected to be any better than this. The young players are showing promise and things are far more positive than anticipated from December to April. Realistically that’s all the Mets and any organization can ask for when they’re rebuilding from the ground up amid financial catastrophe, declining attendance, media hit squads and palpable fan anger.

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The Truth About The Yankees’ Home Runs

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The simple stupidity of the Yankees being criticized for relying on the home run ball speaks for itself. Are they supposed to stop trying to hit home runs to prove they can win without it? What’s the difference how they score their runs? Are they sacrificing other aspects of their game chasing homers?

The answer to the above questions is no.

They have players who hit a lot of home runs. If they lose games in which they haven’t homered, it’s a safe bet that they ran into a pretty good pitcher.

The out-of-context stat argument is more complicated. Picking and choosing a convenient stat to bolster an argument is not the true intent of using statistics to begin with. They’re designed to promote a factual understanding and not to fool readers into seeing things the way the writer wants.

Is it a bad thing that the Yankees score via the home run? No.

Is it indicative that they’ll continue that trend once the playoffs start and do they need to be prepared to find other ways to score runs when they’re in games against better teams with better pitchers? They’ll hit their homers, but it won’t be like it is now.

The truly important factor to examine isn’t whether or not they’re hitting home runs, but who they’re hitting the home runs against.

During the regular season there aren’t the top-tier pitchers they’re going to face in the playoffs. The better the pitcher is, the better his stuff is; the better his command is; the better his control is. He’s not going to make the same mistakes as the mediocre and worse pitchers they’re fattening up their power numbers against.

I looked at all the pitchers the Yankees have homered against this season.

The list follows:

Russell Martin: Clay Buchholz, Justin Verlander, Jose Mijares, Homer Bailey, James Shields, J.P. Howell, Jonathon Niese, Jon Rauch

Mark Teixeira: Anthony Swarzak, Felix Doubront, Matt Albers, Bruce Chen, Luis Ayala, Tyson Ross, Bartolo Colon, Graham Godfrey, Hisanori Takahashi, Alex Cobb, Dillon Gee, Mike Minor

Robinson Cano: Jason Marquis, Luke Hochevar (2), David Price, Bronson Arroyo, Tyson Ross, Bartolo Colon, Ervin Santana, Alex Cobb, Johan Santana (2), Tom Gorzelanny, Anthony Varvaro, Tommy Hanson, Miguel Batista (2)

Alex Rodriguez: Ervin Santana, Clay Buchholz, Derek Holland, Justin Verlander (2) Tommy Hottovy, Will Smith (2), Octavio Dotel, Jonny Venters, Tommy Hanson, Jon Niese

Derek Jeter: Wei-Yin Chen, Hisanori Takahashi, Carl Pavano, Matt Capps, Bruce Chen, Justin Verlander, Tommy Hanson

Raul Ibanez: James Shields (2), Jason Isringhausen, Neftali Feliz, Burke Badenhop, Felix Hernandez, Hector Noesi, Bronson Arroyo, Jonny Cueto, Randall Delgado, Chris Young

Curtis Garnderson: Jake Arrieta, Ervin Santana (2), Carl Pavano, Anthony Swarzak (2), Jeff Gray, Phil Coke, Max Scherzer, Brian Matusz, James Shields, David Price, Jason Hammel, Wei-Yin Chen, Will Smith, Bobby Cassevah, Casey Crosby, Bobby Parnell, Tim Hudson, Tom Gorzelanny, Edwin Jackson

Nick Swisher: Joel Peralta, Kevin Gregg, Clay Buchholz, Vicente Padilla, Drew Smyly, Jose Valverde, Luke Hochevar, Tyson Ross, Johan Santana, Cory Gearrin, R.A. Dickey

Eric Chavez: Clay Buchholz (2), Jason Hammel, Tommy Hanson, Jon Rauch

Andruw Jones: Darren O’Day, Matt Maloney, Collin Balester, Steve Delabar, Tommy Milone, Johan Santana, Jon Niese

There are some names above that the Yankees might be facing in the post-season. Shields, Price, Verlander, Hanson and a few others. But they’re not going to be able to use Hochevar, Pavano or most of the other mediocrities to beat on.

I don’t see the names Jered Weaver, C.J. Wilson, Dan Haren, Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez or Yu Darvish in there.

If the Yankees don’t hit homers, then what?

Understanding the value of their homers is not the brainless bully strategy of, “Me swing hard; me hit home runs; team win.”

What was the score when the home runs were hit? What where the weather conditions? Did the pitcher make a mistake or did the hitter hit a good pitch? Was the game a blowout and the pitcher just trying to get the ball over the plate to get the game over with in either club’s favor?

These questions, among many other things, have to be accounted for.

Those who are complaining about the club needing to “manufacture” runs don’t know any more about baseball than those who are blindly defending the use of the home run without the full story.

Of course it’s a good thing that the Yankees hit a lot of home runs, but those home runs can’t be relied upon as the determinative factor of whether they’re going to win in the post-season because they’ll be facing better pitching and teams that will be able to use the homer-friendly Yankee Stadium themselves mitigating any advantage the Yankees might have. Teams that are more versatile, play good defense, steal bases and run with smart aggression and have strong pitching will be able to deal with the Yankees’ power.

Teams like the Mets are unable to do that.

The Yankees’ home runs are only an issue if they stop hitting them. Then they’ll have to find alternative ways to score when the balls aren’t flying over the fences. This is why it’s not a problem that they don’t have Brett Gardner now. In fact, it seems like the fans and media has forgotten about him. But they’re going to need him in the playoffs because he gives them something they barely have with this current configuration: he can run and wreak havoc on the bases and is an excellent defensive left fielder.

As much as Joe Morgan was savaged for his silly statements blaming the Oakland A’s inability to manufacture runs in their playoff losses during the Moneyball years, he wasn’t fundamentally inaccurate. It wasn’t about squeezing and hitting and running capriciously as Morgan wanted them to do and altering the strategy that got them to the playoffs; but it was about being able to win when not hitting home runs; when not facing a pitching staff that is going to walk you; when a team actually has relievers who can pitch and not a bunch of names they accumulated and found on the scrapheap.

The A’s couldn’t win when they didn’t get solid starting pitching or hit home runs.

Can the Yankees?

That’s going to be the key to their season. Then the true value of their homer-happy offense will come to light.

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Off Season Winners In Retrospect

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Let’s look at the teams whose off-season moves are paying off so far in 2012.

Tampa Bay Rays:

Acquired:  Jose Molina, Hideki Matsui, Luke Scott, Carlos Pena, Fernando Rodney

Subtracted: Johnny Damon, Kelly Shoppach, Casey Kotchman, Juan Cruz, John Jaso

The Rays did what the Rays always do. They cut out the players that were getting too expensive or had been signed as a short-term veteran stopgaps and replaced them with youngsters or other veteran stopgaps.

Molina hasn’t hit; Pena is doing what Pena does with a low batting average, good on base percentage and power; Rodney has been brilliant. None of the players they dispatched—Damon, Shoppach, Kotchman, Cruz, Jaso—have been missed or are doing much with their new teams.

Baltimore Orioles

Acquired: GM Dan Duquette, Jason Hammel, Wei-Yin Chen, Matt Lindstrom, Wilson Betemit

Subtracted: GM Andy MacPhail, Jeremy Guthrie, Luke Scott, Vladimir Guerrero

The Orioles have played over their heads but Dan Duquette got rid of Guthrie and acquired Hammel and Lindstrom who are under team control and have pitched well. Chen has been very good.

Chicago White Sox

Acquired: Manager Robin Ventura, Kosuke Fukudome

Subtracted: Manager Ozzie Guillen, Mark Buehrle, Sergio Santos, Carlos Quentin, Juan Pierre

Getting rid of the volcanic and tiresome personality of Guillen and replacing it with the laid back Ventura has been exactly what the White Sox needed. They cleared salary by getting rid of veterans Buehrle, Quentin and Pierre. They’re not as good as they look right now, but the AL Central is wide open and they have enough starting pitching to stay in the hunt. They underachieved horribly in recent years under Guillen and are overachieving now under Ventura.

Texas Rangers

Acquired Yu Darvish, Joe Nathan

Subtracted: C.J. Wilson, Darren Oliver, Endy Chavez, Matt Treanor

Darvish has been as brilliant as I expected. Nathan is having a good season. They haven’t missed Wilson on or off the field.

Seattle Mariners

Acquired: Jesus Montero, Hector Noesi, John Jaso

Subtracted: Michael Pineda, Josh Lueke, David Aardsma, Jose Campos

For Michael Pineda (disabled list), Jose Campos (hot prospect and on the disabled list), the Mariners got a top hitting prospect in Jesus Montero who’s still finding his way and showing flashes of immense power and a young starting pitcher who’s also learning his craft in the big leagues in Noesi. They got rid of the troublesome Lueke for Jaso who’s been contributing big hits of late.

Oakland Athletics

Acquired: Yoenis Cespedes, Josh Reddick, Collin Cowgill, Bartolo Colon, Jonny Gomes, Ryan Cook, Jarrod Parker, Tom Milone, Seth Smith, Kila Ka’aihue, Manny Ramirez

Subtracted: Trevor Cahill, Gio Gonzalez, Andrew Bailey, David DeJesus, Josh Willingham, Ryan Sweeney

Reddick has 14 home runs and is heading for the All Star Game. Cespedes was a silly signing for a team like the A’s, but there’s no denying his talent. We’ll see what Manny does and the young pitchers Millone and Parker are high-end arms.

Washington Nationals

Acquired: Gio Gonzalez, Edwin Jackson, Ryan Perry, Mark DeRosa, Brad Lidge

Subtracted: Ivan Rodriguez, Todd Coffey, Jonny Gomes

Gonzalez has been terrific across the board and might deserve to start the All Star Game. Jackson has been consistent despite not accumulating wins.

Miami Marlins

Acquired: Manager Ozzie Guillen, Carlos Zambrano, Jose Reyes, Heath Bell, Mark Buehrle

Subtracted: Javier Vazquez, Chris Volstad, Clay Hensley, Burke Badenhop

Zambrano showed up in shape, has kept his temper in check and is showing why the Cubs gave him that contract in the first place (the majority of which they’re paying for him to pitch for the Marlins). Reyes is getting hot and Buehrle is a leader off the field and innings-eater on it. Bell’s been a disaster, but it pitching better lately.

Guillen was hired to draw attention and he did so negatively when he started trouble almost immediately with his idiotic comments praising Fidel Castro. Jeffrey Loria is under investigation for the stadium deal and looked silly using Muhammad Ali as a human shield to protect himself from getting booed at the regular season opener of the new stadium, but apart from Bell they’re getting what they paid for for the most part.

San Francisco Giants

Acquired: Melky Cabrera, Angel Pagan, Clay Hensley, Gregor Blanco

Subtracted: Carlos Beltran, Jonathan Sanchez, Andres Torres, Ramon Ramirez, Pat Burrell, Cody Ross

Cabrera’s not going to maintain this pace, but he’s still a good player and they got him for Sanchez who’s been hurt and had worn out his welcome with the Giants. Pagan is batting .314 with 10 stolen bases and has contributed several big hits to go along with his usual array of space cadet maneuvers. Blanco and Hensley have been solid, cheap pickups off the scrapheap.

Arizona Diamondbacks

Acquired: Trevor Cahill, Jason Kubel, Craig Breslow

Subtracted: Micah Owings, Ryan Cook, Collin Cowgill, Jarrod Parker

The Diamondbacks are struggling because they’re not getting the same above-and-beyond performances from the players that carried them to a stunning division title in 2011. That doesn’t diminish the work that Cahill, Kubel and Breslow have done. If the Diamondbacks don’t right the ship, it won’t be because of the players they acquired over the winter.

Los Angeles Dodgers

Acquired: Chris Capuano, Jerry Hairston Jr., Mark Ellis, Aaron Harang, Matt Treanor

Subtracted: Jon Garland, Jonathan Broxton, Jamey Carroll, Hiroki Kuroda, Casey Blake, Rod Barajas, Vicente Padilla

Capuano is pitching about 20 miles over his head; Hairston is hitting about 20 miles over his head; Ellis and Harang are respected, under-the-radar veterans.

The Dodgers didn’t spend a lot of money this past winter, but are getting far more than they paid for.

Off season losers and incompletes will be in forthcoming postings.

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2012 American League West Predicted Standings

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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.

Texas Rangers

The Rangers lose starting pitching (Cliff Lee, C.J. Wilson), but find innovative ways of replenishing it.

They lost Lee after 2010 and inserted Alexi Ogando into the rotation and he made the All-Star team.

They lost Wilson after 2011 and finally shifted Neftali Feliz into the rotation permanently and signed Joe Nathan to take his place as closer. Then they won the bidding for Yu Darvish.

They can hit, they can field, they can run, they can pitch, they’re willing to make bold trades in-season, and they’re not constrained by contemporary orthodoxies that are circular in nature and taken as fact because “everyone is doing it”.

If everyone is doing it, it’s probably as good a reason as any to do something else.

Los Angeles Angels

The Angels were never the team to spend lavishly on the biggest of the big name free agents, but after losing out on Carl Crawford last year and taking on the toxic contract of Vernon Wells, GM Tony Reagins was fired and replaced by Jerry DiPoto. DiPoto was handed what amounted to a blank check to make the team better, they signed Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson and traded for Chris Iannetta.

The bullpen is still a question mark, but they trot out four ace-quality starters and have more bats than they know what to do with.

The balance of power has shifted West and the days of the Yankees and Red Sox being anointed playoff spots as a rite of spring are over.

Seattle Mariners

Jack Zduriencik supporters are leaping from his ship like it’s the Hindenburg.

Not every negative thing that’s happened with the Mariners is his fault—I find it hard to believe he wanted to bring Ken Griffey Jr. back for a second season in 2010 and if he has a brain in his head, he’d love to be rid of Ichiro Suzuki—but he got the credit, he gets the blame.

Chone Figgins has been a disaster. They’re trying again to give him a starting job at third base and are batting him leadoff.

That won’t last.

The trade Zduriencik made in getting Jesus Montero and Hector Noesi is going to be terrific.

The Mariners are still offensively challenged, are relying on a patched together bullpen with upside, have good starting pitching and defense.

The division is a nightmare and support of this regime is crumbling. They’d better overachieve or Zduriencik is going to be in serious trouble by the waning days of the season.

Oakland Athletics

Is the intense study of sabermetrics undertaken by Brandon McCarthy going to repair his constant injuries? He’s the darling of the stat guys because he implemented numbers to improve his results—and it worked—but it’s all a bit over-the-top thinking he’s turned a corner, never to return to what he was.

Their number two starter is Bartolo Colon; their bullpen is gutted; the offense is woeful; the defense is questionable.

But ignore the facts. Billy Beane is a genius because a book and a movie said so.

It’s Hollywood and creative non-fiction!! You can believe it if you want…if you’re an indoctrinated, agenda-driven moron.

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. My book can be purchased on KindleSmashwordsBN and Lulu with other outlets on the way.

//

Hot Stove Winners, 2011-2012

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Most of the big names are off the board and the ones remaining on the market—Roy Oswalt, Edwin Jackson—aren’t going to change the landscape much, if at all.

Let’s look at the hot stove winners for this winter.

New York Yankees

This isn’t a matter of the Yankees opening their checkbook and buying stuff as it usually is when they’re considered the “big winners” of the off-season. This winter was dedicated to keeping CC Sabathia and bolstering their starting rotation—which they did.

The Yankees essentially held serve and got more assured production with the additions of Michael Pineda and Hiroki Kuroda than the scrambling they did and luck they enjoyed last year when Freddy Garcia and Bartolo Colon surpassed any logical expectations.

They’ve also been helped by the Red Sox evident disarray; the Blue Jays failing to acquire any veteran lineup or starting pitching help; the financial constraints that continually bound the Rays; and the Orioles being the Orioles.

Texas Rangers

The Rangers helped their starting rotation in two ways. One, they signed Joe Nathan to take over as closer and are shifting Neftali Feliz into being a starter. Two, they won the bidding for Yu Darvish.

Some will point to the loss of C.J. Wilson and the above moves as canceling each other out. The case can even be made that because the Angels signed Wilson, the Rangers wind up as net losers because of Wilson’s departure for a division rival.

The money they spent on Darvish in comparison to what it would’ve cost to keep Wilson or sign Jackson or Kuroda is a viable argument of having overpayed, but Wilson is 31 and Darvish 25. With Darvish, they get a more talented pitcher and the ancillary benefit of worldwide marketing possibilities because of his Iranian/Japanese heritage, looks and personality.

I think Darvish is going to be a superstar.

Los Angeles Angels

Long term consequences aside for having to pay Albert Pujols $59 million past his 40th birthday, they signed the best hitter of this generation and immediately launched themselves to the top of the talent scale. Simultaneously, they supplemented their strength in the starting rotation by signing Wilson.

They also acquired a catcher with pop in Chris Iannetta and hired a more competent GM when they replaced Tony Reagins with Jerry DiPoto.

Miami Marlins

They wanted a proven, name manager to draw buzz heading into their new ballpark and traded for Ozzie Guillen.

They needed starting pitching and signed Mark Buehrle and acquired Carlos Zambrano.

They needed a closer and signed Heath Bell.

And they wanted to bring in an offensive force to strengthen both shortstop and third base offensively and defensively and signed Jose Reyes, shifting Hanley Ramirez to third base.

The big questions are whether or not petulant owner Jeffrey Loria, meddling team president David Samson, Guillen, Zambrano and an unhappy Ramirez light the fuse of this powder keg and if the fans decide to show up to watch after the initial novelties.

On paper in February, they look good.

Cincinnati Reds

Giving up a chunk of their minor league system to get Mat Latos is risky, but he fills the need at the top of their starting rotation.

Ryan Madson’s market crashed and the Reds got him for one year; they traded for a solid lefty reliever in Sean Marshall and signed Ryan Ludwick, who will benefit from being a background player and hitting in a friendlier home park.

Colorado Rockies

Michael Cuddyer will have a big offensive year in right field and can play first base if/when Todd Helton gets hurt.

Replacing the shaky Huston Street with the cheaper and better Rafael Betancourt is a step up. Getting Tyler Chatwood for Iannetta and signing Ramon Hernandez to replace Iannetta is a dual gain. They signed the underrated Casey Blake to play third and traded a journeyman righty Clayton Mortensen to get Marco Scutaro, immediately solving their problem at second base.

San Diego Padres

Yonder Alonso is a power bat and Rookie of the Year candidate at first base. Yasmani Grandal is a top catching prospect and Edinson Volquez is good if he’s healthy and will benefit from pitching in the cavernous Petco Park and having a deep bullpen supporting him.

They gave up Latos to get the above package, but it’s an even trade for both sides for short and long term needs.

Street is just as good as the departed free agent Bell and maintains the bullpen hierarchy with Luke Gregerson as the set-up man and Street closing.

Carlos Quentin will be looking to have a big year as he heads for free agency and the Padres acquired him for two minor league pitchers who’d fallen out of favor with the organization.

Josh Byrnes is a category above Jed Hoyer as GM.

The hot stove losers and clubs that made lateral maneuvers will be discussed in upcoming posts.

//

Scott Boras, You Just Keep Being You

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The problems that Prince Fielder is going to have in securing the contract he wants are many.

Without the Yankees, Red Sox and Phillies in pursuit; the Mets and Dodgers in financial disarray and out of the running; the Angels having spent on Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson instead of Fielder; the Cardinals signing Carlos Beltran and shifting Lance Berkman to first base rather than signing Fielder to replace Pujols, that leaves a limited number of destinations who could—I didn’t say would—but could pay him the amount of money for the number of years he desires.

The Orioles, Nationals, Mariners and Cubs can do it.

A year after Boras somehow, some way convinced the Nationals to give Jayson Werth $126 million, they’d be pretty stupid to fall for the same trick twice even though Fielder is far younger and more productive than Werth.

The Orioles have the money, but are they willing to spend it? GM Dan Duquette likes to have that one offensive and pitching star and insert fill-in pieces around them, but the Orioles haven’t spent that kind of cash in years.

The rumblings from around the Cubs are that Theo Epstein wants to tear the whole thing apart—Fielder would be a repeat of the mistakes he made in his final years with the Red Sox in overpaying for free agents to placate the masses rather than what would be good for the team; that’s not what he envisioned nor what he did in practice when he took over the Red Sox in 2003-2005.

The Mariners can pay Fielder and desperately need his power, but it may come down to GM Jack Zduriencik completing the triple play of convincing team ownership to cut ties with Ichiro Suzuki after the 2012 season; getting them to at least let him listen on Felix Hernandez for a big package; and talking Boras into lowering his demands from 10 years to 6-8 years.

Chubby order.

That’s another thing.

There’s a legitimate concern that Fielder is going to turn into Mo Vaughn; that his knees won’t be able to handle his weight; that his defensive shortcomings will grow worse as he gets older; and that if he stays in the National League, he won’t be hidden as a DH.

But Boras is undeterred.

Amid talk that Fielder might be willing to take a shorter term, massive cash contract and try for free agency again at age 30-32, Boras lashed out as only he can by doing his “Boras-Thing” and turning Fielder into Barry Bonds.

The quote from this ESPN Chicago piece vaults right into the top 10 of 2011:

“Not only is that inaccurate and delusional, but it seems that some people have gotten into their New Year’s Eve stash just a little bit early this year.”

Classic Boras.

While his clients drink the Kool-Aid, Boras’s own agenda must be considered as he tries to save face and reputation by delivering for his last remaining big name client on the market.

Mark Teixeira and Beltran both fired him.

Reports had Ryan Madson’s goal of a 4-year, $44 million deal about to be met before the Phillies came to their senses and went after Jonathan Papelbon instead; now Madson is waiting…waiting…waiting (that’s the hardest part).

Francisco Rodriguez made a high-profile hiring of Boras at mid-season only to see his no-trade clause rendered meaningless as the Mets traded him before Boras could submit the list of teams to which he couldn’t be traded; then he waived his 2012 option to be a free agent and, with the closer market flooded and offers non-existent, K-Rod accepted arbitration from the Brewers. One would assume that since he took arbitration, the no-trade clause is not in effect and the Brewers can turn around and trade K-Rod wherever if they choose to—that’s not what a veteran pitcher with K-Rod’s on-field resume expects when they hire Boras.

It’s down to Fielder.

Boras is clinging to that final vestige of prestige and fear engendered by the mere mentioning of his name. That reputation has been a burgeoning entity and raised him into the stratosphere of agents who get things done.

But it also feeds on itself.

That’s the line he’s straddling with his outward display of confidence mitigated by a reality that he knows all too well.

There’s plenty of time and several destinations for Fielder, but for how long can Boras continue with his PR blitz of bloviating and outrageous demands as teams consider alternatives to Fielder?

Don’t underestimate Boras, but for Fielder it’s coming down to numbers—on the check; the length of contract; and the scale. He might have to tell his agent that it’s time to be more flexible and hope that the next time he’s a free agent, the list of teams that can and will bid on his services isn’t as limited as it is now.

Or he could get a different agent.

Players have done that recently as well.

//

Yu Darvish and the Yankees

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Despite refusing to show their hand in the Yu Darvish sweepstakes, the Yankees must have posted a large bid for the Japanese right-hander.

Here’s why.

They need him.

For the second straight year, Brian Cashman went to the winter meetings looking for pitching and came away empty handed. The Yankees weren’t enamored of C.J. Wilson‘s asking price; Mark Buehrle didn’t appear interested in New York; Trevor Cahill was traded to the Diamondbacks; Billy Beane is asking for a ton to acquire Gio Gonzalez; and Felix Hernandez isn’t on the market.

CC Sabathia was retained with a contract extension; they kept Freddy Garcia and are looking for takers on A.J. Burnett. The young pitchers Dellin Betances, Manny Banuelos and Hector Noesi are not expected to start the season in the rotation. That leaves Sabathia, Garcia, Ivan Nova, Phil Hughes and Burnett.

It’s doubtful that Cashman is comfortable with that in the wake of the new look American League that houses the two-time defending American League champions Rangers and the rainmaking Angels. The AL East isn’t a guarantee to have the Wild Card anymore. There’s still the chance that the playoffs expand to an extra team in 2012, but that’s an unknown and the configuration of the playoff structure—a one-game playoff for the Wild Card—is not what any team with a near-$200 million payroll wants to bank on.

If the Blue Jays are—as rumored—one of the teams that put in a bid for Darvish, they’re very dangerous in the changing culture of the division. It’s not just the Red Sox and Yankees with the Rays insinuating themselves into the conversation anymore. The Blue Jays are a serious threat.

He only costs money.

The Yankees are concerned about the luxury tax; the posting bid will not count against the luxury tax. (You can read a concise synopsis of the new CBA here on MLB Trade Rumors.)

Hypothetically, say the winning bid is $50 million and the Yankees or anyone else has to come to a contract agreement with Darvish. Darvish could conceivably stay in Japan if he doesn’t like the offers he receives, but that’s unlikely. If a team wins the bid, they’ll have to sign him and he wants to pitch in the majors. They’ll hammer something out.

Judging by prior posting bid contracts, the contract itself won’t be a huge outlay. The Red Sox got Daisuke Matsuzaka for 6-years and $52 million. If the Yankees can get Darvish for somewhere around $60 million for 5-years, that’s far lower than what they would have had to pay Wilson; cheaper in personnel than what they’d have to surrender in a trade for Gonzalez, Hernandez or any other young arm they might pursue; it won’t count against the luxury tax and there are no compensatory draft picks.

Money is something the Yankees have and it’s a one-cost purchase without any kickers to affect the rest of their payroll.

Darvish is really, really good.

This is a superstar talent in personality and performance. Those who are preaching caution are using the fractured logic that because Matsuzaka, Kei Igawa and Hideki Irabu didn’t work out, Darvish will be the latest in massively hyped, overpriced pitchers from Japan to come to North America and be a bust.

I was ready to make the same argument before looking at Darvish.

Pigeonholing a player based on where he’s coming from is the wrong way to pursue talent.

That stereotype could be applied to anything.

Why sign any free agents if they might become Carl Pavano?

Why draft any immense talent if they might become Brien Taylor?

Why develop pitchers if they might washout in New York like Joba Chamberlain and Ian Kennedy?

Players have to be judged on who they are with a consideration to the history of other pitchers who tried to make the transfer. I tore down Darvish’s mechanics with video and comparisons in this piece; he’s the real deal.

I said at the time that teams with the means have to go after him because he’s going to be that good.

The Yankees are one of those teams and considering the above factors it’s a pretty fair assumption that they put in a bid for Darvish.

A big one.

//

Jose Reyes Signs with the Marlins—Full Analysis

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Jose Reyes has agreed to terms with the Miami Marlins on a 6-year, $106 million contract.

Let’s dissect it.

For the Mets present and future.

Did Reyes’s presence or absence matter much to the 2012 Mets?

The financial issues notwithstanding, do you really think that the 2012 Mets have a chance in that division?

If you read The Extra 2% about the Rays, the new front office—coming from a financial background and aware of risk/reward and bottom-line reality—made a conscious decision not to waste money on veteran players and negligible production to win a few more games.

Mired in a division with the Yankees and Red Sox, playing in a hideous ballpark and with a rotten team, it didn’t make a difference whether they won 64 games, 68 games or 75 games.

They weren’t going to be anywhere close to the top of the division anyway and they weren’t competing for a Wild Card spot, so why put up a pretentious display and spending money they didn’t have for players they didn’t need?

The Mets current financial situation isn’t as dire as that of the Rays, but you can compare the two.

The Rays didn’t have money to spend on payroll to begin with; the Mets don’t have the money because of an ongoing legal drama and onerous, immovable contracts for Johan Santana and Jason Bay.

The common denominator is the same.

Why spend the money on Reyes when the earliest possible season of contention—barring a serious and unrealistic leap from their young players—is 2013?

The Phillies age/money-related downfall won’t start until 2013; the Marlins are being investigated by the SEC, are taking a wait-and-see approach to see if the new ballpark inspires the fans in Miami to come to ballgames and could tear the roster down as quickly as they’re building it up; the Nationals years of being terrible gave them the foundation of two franchise players in consecutive years with Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper and have other young players on the way to counteract stupidities like giving Jayson Werth $126 million; the Braves are stacked with young players of their own.

How are the Mets competing in that division in 2012?

They’re not. With or without Reyes.

They haven’t won anything with Reyes. They lost in the playoffs in 2006, collapsed in 2007 and faded in 2008. The whole thing came apart in 2009 and they’re sifting through the muck to fix what ails them now.

One player isn’t going to make a difference one way or the other to achieve their ends.

Maybe it’s time to do something different and move on.

For Mets fans and the bloodthirsty media.

The fans have all the power in the relationship. If you don’t like the product they’re putting on the field; if you’re unhappy with the management; if you don’t want to watch the team in person without one specific player, don’t go to the games.

Reyes is the girlfriend you’re not all that bothered to see leave, but don’t want to picture her with someone else.

Make a choice. Overcompensate and mortgage more of the future to keep him around or enter another phase of life.

The fans have the option of supporting the franchise with their money or not.

In a capitalistic society with a discretionary expense, it’s remarkably simple—don’t buy it.

Fans who are hoping that Reyes gets injured are bitter and spurned; to blame Reyes for taking the biggest contract he could get is projecting that anger on someone who doesn’t deserve it. The Mets didn’t make an offer that compared with that of the Marlins and Reyes left. Blame the Mets if you must and act accordingly.

Reporters who were sitting and waiting with rampant (as opposed to rational) self-interest for Reyes’s departure are gloating now, doing their touchdown dance and rationalizing the departure in terms to bolster their own agendas. They hedged their bets when it looked like there was the remote possibility of him staying, but betrayed their hands at every rumor that had him gone before it was a fact. Now they’re saying, “See?!?”

It’s akin to picking the Cardinals to win the World Series before the season started and claiming to have been “right” after the fact while ignoring that they turned over half the roster and wouldn’t have made the playoffs at all if the Braves didn’t collapse.

Put it into context; know what you’re reading.

If you’re smart, intuitive and aren’t looking for validation for yourself, you’ll see right through it and not purchase the junk that they’re selling either.

How does this affect the Marlins and their fans?

Hanley Ramirez is moving to another position. Some say it might be center field; some say third base.

He’s not going to be happy about it nor is he going to be happy if the Marlins don’t offer him a contract extension for time served to put his paycheck in line with his friend and new teammate.

An unhappy Ramirez is the fuse to a powder keg.

The Marlins have made some splashy moves and are apparently not finished. Reyes and Heath Bell are onboard; they’re still after pitching with C.J. Wilson and Mark Buehrle and have an offer out for Albert Pujols; but much is dependent on Josh Johnson‘s return from shoulder problems and how much they improve the pitching. If they don’t pitch, they don’t win.

The NL East isn’t a division where a few big name signings will vault the Marlins past the Nationals, Braves and Phillies.

Even if they win, it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re going to achieve the floating projections and needs in attendance to keep the group together.

Pending the SEC investigation into the shady ballpark financing and whether there’s an interest in a new park and star-laden team, we won’t know about the Marlins and their future until the summer when there won’t be any basketball or football to distract the fans—fans whose interests tend to lean in that direction in spite of the Marlins record.

They’re not baseball fans in Florida. Will stars and a freshly built stadium with a roof and prevalent diversions alter that fact?

We won’t know until we know.

What to expect from Reyes.

The predictions (prayers) are running the gamut from Reyes going to Miami and being a megastar for the entire 6-year term; to him getting hurt immediately; to the Marlins holding him for a year or so, seeing how things go as they did in 1997 during their last spending spree, then trading him.

Bell, Ricky Nolasco, Johnson, Ramirez, Ozzie Guillen, that hideous home run monstrosity disguised as art, their World Series trophies and anything else that isn’t nailed to the ground could be on the move a year from now.

It’s impossible to foresee what’s going to happen, but there is that history of business amorality and outright falsehoods surrounding Jeffrey Loria and his club.

Reyes might get hurt.

Reyes might stay healthy.

It might be somewhere in between.

Those who constantly reference Reyes’s health from the years 2005-2008 are ignoring the consistent injury history to a single part of his body—his hamstrings—and that his legs are what makes him special. Without his speed, he could hit 10 home runs a year, be a decent fielder, pop a few doubles and triples if the mood strikes him. But he doesn’t walk and if he can’t steal bases, what good is he as anything other than a $17 million a year singles hitter?

The hamstring problems are recurrent and had little to do with the Mets supposedly subpar medical staff. It’s insane to think that he’s going to sign with the Marlins and turn into Cal Ripken. The only question is whether there’s a tweak here and there for which he misses a few games or a pull/tear that keeps him out for a season.

As a player in the prime of his career, he’s an unstoppable force when he’s healthy and motivated—while he has his legs. Reyes was healthy and motivated in the first half of this season with the Mets with visions of $100 million+ spurring him on. But when he returned from his numerous hamstring strains, he didn’t steal any bases; he was intentionally tentative; he was thinking about his contract and, playing for a non-contender, he made sure he stayed on the field…and he got hurt again.

In conjunction with his decision to remove himself from the final game of the season to save his batting title, it’s a typical and troubling attitude of me-me-me that is tolerated out of necessity and unwanted in a perfect world.

Self.

There’s going to be lots of “self” on that Marlins squad. Guillen is a calculating and perceived as a self-promoter; many times he’s doing it to take the focus off his players in a method-to-his-madness sort of way, but there will be instances where he calls out his players, coaches, media, fans, front office and makes a mess.

The players tend to go off the reservation as well with Logan Morrison‘s social network fetish; Bell’s big mouth; Reyes and Ramirez and that “you’re taking my money and my position” dynamic that could turn ugly—it’s going to take time to find cohesion and common ground.

It’s a potentially toxic brew.

Reyes always wants to play; he’s not a malingerer. But that doesn’t mean his hamstrings are going to sustain his game of speed and quickness from age 29-35.

And without that no-trade clause he could be traded anywhere at anytime and there won’t be an enraged fan base, protesting media and image-cognizant ownership. They’ll deal him if they have to; they’ll send him anywhere; and they won’t care how Reyes feels about it.

Reyes is smart enough to know this.

Why did he sign the deal?

It appears as though the bottom-line dollar figure was more important than any personal protections that could’ve been inserted into the contract. If Reyes was willing to take the lower amount of money from the Mets in exchange for that no-trade clause, he absolutely would’ve gotten it.

But he wanted to get paid. His agents, the Greenbergs, had an undeniable stake in maximizing his dollars as a selling point to Reyes and their other clients. In reality, there will be whispers and outright statements from the other agents that the Reyes contract was lowball; they should’ve waited and demanded that no-trade clause.

They didn’t.

He’ll get his $106 million. Whether it’s from the Marlins for the life of the contract is contingent on the multiple factors surrounding the club and their too-clever-for-their-own-good ownership.

The contract and advancement of evil.

In the spire of a heavily guarded skyscraper a shadowy figure sits in a darkened office.

His eyes glow with hint of red that may be an optical illusion, a casting of light or terrifyingly real.

His fingers are tented under his chin; his mouth a thin line of concentration, he waits.

He’ll use this. This example of foolhardy loyalty; ill-advised pragmatism; brainless adherence to a limiting code of propriety.

Ethics. Personal attachment. Emotions.

He shakes his head at the faux and misplaced morality.

Emitting a grunting sound comparable to the stifling of a laugh, the corners of his lips curl into a sneer. His nose crinkles as his mouth twitches. His nostrils flare as he grins. The grunt evolves into a chuckle then a full-blown laugh.

Hysterical and maniacal, it continues for an extended period and echoes through the cavernous and sparsely furnished room.

It stops suddenly.

The muffled wheeling sound of an oversized leather chair—similar in scope to a throne—is heard as he rises from his desk. He walks deliberately to the window overlooking the curvature of the earth in the distance; the lights of Los Angeles in the foreground. He interlocks his fingers behind him, his legs spread wide apart.

He’s contemplating how he will use this turn of events. The obvious answer is that he’ll frame it just as he frames everything else—advantageously, twisted and designed to achieve his nefarious ends.

There is no functioning as an advocate and representative of the individuals. He has a mandate to his defined job, but he’ll do it differently. Using this inexplicable turn of events as a tendril of connectivity from one to the other, his current stable of clients will benefit from this and assist him in accruing others who want him to deliver what only he can, by any means necessary.

He pauses and looks over his shoulder, his profile in view against the background of the windows, the moon and stars of the Southern California night.

One thing passes through Scott Boras’s mind over and over as he thinks back to his ill-fated pursuit of Jose Reyes as a client at mid-summer.

How do you not get a no trade clause?!?!

He shakes his head in disgust of what is, of what might have—should have—been.

The profile recedes into the dark.

He has work to do.

//

The Dodgers Spending and the Market for Hiroki Kuroda

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There are things to admire about Ned Colletti. He’s decisive and unapologetic as to what he believes in building a team; he’s acquitted himself as a professional during the Frank McCourt vs Everyone legal inferno; and he doesn’t play games.

But it’s difficult to find justification in signing Chris Capuano to a 2-year, $10 million contract to replace Hiroki Kuroda.

Kuroda is durable; Capuano is not.

Kuroda has great stuff and can get away with not being at the top of his game; Capuano is a fastball/changeup pitcher who has to have his control to be effective.

Capuano is an intelligent man and intense competitor; Kuroda is mean.

Capuano is willing to pitch inside and knock people off the plate as a correlation to strategy; Kuroda does it because he likes to do it.

If the Dodgers are going to imply that money was a major issue to retaining Kuroda, how do they equate that with signing Mark Ellis for a guaranteed $8.75 million; Juan Rivera for $4.5 million; Adam Kennedy to a guaranteed $800,000; and having given Juan Uribe $21 million last year? They even gave a million dollars to Matt Treanor.

Matt Treanor!

The Dodgers can’t claim that they don’t have the money for Kuroda after extending Matt Kemp with $160 million.

They either have money buried, a big credit limit or the hopes of income from somewhere in the future because they’ve been spending it now.

Colletti prefers to do all his shopping early in the winter before he’s left desperate in January and February, but sometimes it behooves an executive to wait and see with the non-tenders, trade targets and players who are left on the outside looking in; they might grow desperate for work as spring training approaches and be available cheaply.

For a team with multiple issues—both financial and on-field—it made no sense to spend so capriciously on mediocrity and worse.

In addition to his on-field ability, what makes Kuroda so attractive is that he’s not seeking the type of contract a pitcher of his stature normally would on the open market. Like Roy Oswalt, he’s not walking around with dollar signs in his eyes and an overinflated opinion of both himself and the rampant executive stupidity like that which led the Nationals to give Jayson Werth $126 million.

Kuroda could’ve secured a 3-year contract last season, but wanted to stay with the Dodgers and signed for 1-year at $12 million.

Few are truly appreciating how good Hiroki Kuroda is. Are they blinded by his under .500 record? Are they ignoring him?

He’s said to prefer to stay on the West Coast but if his map expands, the Yankees and Red Sox would both be after him; the Angels opened a spot in their rotation when they traded Tyler Chatwood; they’re not getting into a bidding war for Wilson nor are they going to satisfy his stated desire for $120 million—no one is.

Kuroda’s a perfect fit in Anaheim and it would be a brilliant addition to a rotation that is going to be among the best in baseball.

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