MLB Trade Deadline: A Phillies Selloff Makes No Sense

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The discussion of a possible Phillies selloff is promoted by the media for the idea that some of the sexiest potential trade targets are on their roster, namely Cliff Lee and Jonathan Papelbon. Unless Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr. is blown away by an offer, Lee’s not going anywhere. Papelbon is the name to watch, but he’ll get them financial relief and won’t yield a bounty of prospects in return. Apart from that, the Phillies’ situation—both financially and practically—has to be examined before stating with unequivocal certitude of what they “should” do while not being in Amaro’s position.

The Phillies are not a good team and it’s not due to injuries or age. It’s because they’re not very good. They would’ve been a good team if they had Roy Halladay pitching in the form he did in his first two years in Philadelphia, but he’s not that anymore even if he’s healthy. If Halladay was healthy, they’d be mediocre and nominal playoff contenders. With the Braves and Nationals in their own division and the Pirates (who are for real), the Cardinals and Reds in the Central division, snagging one of the two Wild Cards is a delusion for the Phillies in their current state. Ordinarily, that might predicate a housecleaning of pending free agents and marketable veterans. But it again returns to the Phillies’ situation and it leaves them with few options.

Because the Phillies went all-in in 2010 when they were, on paper, playing the same way they are now and traded for Roy Oswalt to spur a blazing hot streak over the final two months of the season, there’s a dreamy hope that they’ll repeat the process in 2013. The difference is that they don’t have any prospects left to trade for a pitcher of Oswalt’s stature and the rest of their club isn’t underperforming, but is performing what they’re currently capable of because they’re beaten up and old.

They can move Michael Young and I think they will, but they’re not going to get much for him. They can offer Chase Utley around, but he’s a pending free agent and despite the fact that a new setting and a legitimate pennant race will wake him up and possibly revert him to the MVP-status he enjoyed during the Phillies years of NL East dominance, teams won’t go crazy for a rental and give up the prospects to justify the Phillies not keeping Utley, trying to sign him to a reasonable deal to stay or letting him leave and taking the draft pick compensation. Delmon Young might be a reasonable acquisition for an AL club that is going to be in the playoffs so he can DH and do one thing he does well: hit in the playoffs. Carlos Ruiz is a free agent at the end of the year and he too would help a legitimate contender, but again, they won’t get bring back stud prospects.

That leaves Lee and Papelbon.

I don’t believe the Phillies are going to trade Lee. It doesn’t make sense considering the rest of the roster being entrenched in trying to win over the next couple of years while the club begins rebuilding their gutted farm system that was neglected as the available money for development was allocated for the big league product. Teams that do what the Phillies did in trading all their top prospects to try and win now and simultaneously ignore the draft know they’re mortgaging the future with a balloon payment. That balloon payment is due soon and they’re going to have to pay it.

Amaro is not going to do a full-blown rebuild because he can’t afford to have an empty park waiting five, seven, ten or however many years it takes for the team to be good again. It’s easier to hope that they’ll get a resurgence with the veterans under contract and slowly start resuscitating their minor league system. Realistically, what would they get for Lee? He has a limited no-trade clause so there are only eight teams to which he can be traded and he’s owed $62.5 million through 2015 not counting his salary for the rest of 2013. To get viable prospects to make the deal worth the Phillies’ while, they’d have to pick up a chunk of his money. To get out from under his full salary, they’d have to take nothing back in return. Then what? They’d need pitching for next year to try and win with the players they still have with none as good as Lee on the market. So it makes no sense to even speculate about in any manner other than to garner attention for something that’s highly unlikely to happen during the season.

As for Papelbon, he’s one name who could help a club like the Tigers who need a closer. He could put them over the top and for the Phillies, he’s replaceable if they’re not in the playoff hunt. He doesn’t appear happy in Philadelphia, they don’t seem to like him very much and getting rid of his salary for a couple of mid-level minor leaguers would appeal to everyone. If they’re out of the race in the second half, they could give Phillippe Aumont a look as the closer and after the season go the cheap (and ironic) route and bring back Ryan Madson who, by then, might not have thrown one pitch for another team after leaving the Phillies only to return two years later to have a shot to be the closer again.

The idea behind trade deadline speculation is to formulate a clear-cut scenario of either/or. Either we’re in it and we buy or we’re out of it and we sell. That comes from the Moneyball school of thought with no obstacles other than financial, but that’s fiction just like Moneyball. The Rays can get away with that kind of attitude. The teams with fans who pay to see the team and live and breathe with the idea that they could possibly challenge for a World Series in spite of the odds—the Phillies, Yankees, Red Sox, Dodgers—can’t do it that easily. The Phillies won’t sell. They’ll tweak. That means Papelbon will be the one of the whales to go and Lee will stay.

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Phillies Should Just Extend Manuel

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For a team whose fortunes hinge on ancient veterans whose best days are behind them and have been reduced to signing the likes of Delmon Young, hoping his deficiencies don’t damage them more than his positives help them, the Phillies are dealing with an unnecessary distraction with manager Charlie Manuel’s contract status. He wants to manage after 2013 and the Phillies are content to let him sit with a one-year contract. To make matters worse, they’ve promoted “top managerial prospect” Ryne Sandberg from Triple A manager to big league third base coach. Rather than have the name SANDBERG on the back of his jersey, they could put the words “HEIR APPARENT” there instead and it would equally as accurate.

The Phillies are in the last throes of their run of contention with this current group. They’re very old and very expensive and if the season goes badly, they’re going to begin a serious changing of the guard if not a full-scale rebuild. Considering their circumstances and money they’ve spent, the last thing they need is a manager on the last year of his contract and feeling threatened by his unacknowledged replacement on the staff.

The Phillies’ managers prior to Manuel were qualified men Larry Bowa and Terry Francona—both of whom failed in Philadelphia. The last manager that could be considered a success was Jim Fregosi and his tenure had one winning season, albeit with a pennant. Manuel has done a tremendous job as the Phillies’ manager with five division titles and a World Series. He’s earned respect and the extra year on his deal whether the Phillies intend to have him fulfill it or not.

Manuel’s age (69) has been brought up as a factor, but it shouldn’t. If he was forgetting things or acting like an old man who’d lost touch, that would be one thing, but as far as we know, that hasn’t happened. As long as he feels good, wants to do the job and is capable of doing the job, there’s no point in whispering about it as if it’s a disqualifier from managing.

That Sandberg is considered so great a managerial prospect shouldn’t be a factor either. If it were Mike Schmidt and he’d paid his minor league dues and proved himself as an actual manager and not a former Phillies’ star installed in the position due to nostalgia, political skill and threats, it would be one thing; Sandberg was drafted by the Phillies and traded to the Cubs before he made it to the majors to stay. He’s not a “Phillie.” After all this time, Manuel is a Phillie and he deserves better than to be treated as the old man keeping the seat warm for the next guy.

With the amount of money the Phillies have committed to the players, would it hurt them to give Manuel a contract extension through 2014 just to quiet the talk that they’re greasing the skids for his exit? If they decide to make a change, they’ll have to pay him, but Sandberg’s not getting a huge contract to take over as manager and the peace of mind they, as an organization, will have from not answering questions about it will be worth it. Manuel’s earned the contract even if it’s for severance and pretense.

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Phillies 2013 Success Hinges on Halladay, Hamels and Lee

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Here are the facts about the 2013 Phillies:

  • They’re old
  • They’re expensive
  • Their window is closing
  • Their system is gutted of prospects
  • Their success is contingent on their top three starting pitchers

With all the ridicule raining down on Phillies’ GM Ruben Amaro Jr. for his acquisitions of players who are frequent targets of attacks from the SABR-obsessed in Delmon Young and Michael Young (no relation that we know of), the reality of the situation dictates that the Phillies go all in with players who are the equivalent of duct tape.

It’s the epitome of arrogance to think that the Phillies aren’t aware of the limitations of both Youngs; that they don’t know Michael Young’s defense at third base is poor and, at age 36, he’s coming off the worst season of his career; that they aren’t cognizant of the baggage the Delmon Young carries on and off the field when they signed him for 1-year and $750,000. But what were they supposed to do?

They needed a third baseman and their options were Michael Young and Kevin Youkilis. Youkilis hasn’t distinguished himself on and off the field over the past several seasons and Michael Young was cheaper (the Rangers are paying $10 million of his $16 million salary for 2013).

They needed another outfielder and they were left with the dregs of the free agent market like the limited Scott Hairston, who’s not any better than what they’ve already got; signing Michael Bourn, giving up a draft pick, paying Scott Boras’s extortion-like fees, and having two speed outfielders with Bourn and Ben Revere; trading for Vernon Wells; or signing Delmon Young. Delmon Young hits home runs in the post-season and that’s where the Phillies are planning (praying) to be in October.

This isn’t about a narrative of the Phillies being clueless and signing/trading for bad or limited players. It’s about working with what they have. Amaro isn’t stupid and he tried the strategy of building for the now and building for the future in December of 2009 when he dealt Cliff Lee for prospects and replaced him with Roy Halladay for other prospects.

Amaro, savaged for that decision, reversed course at mid-season 2010 when he traded for Roy Oswalt and then did a total backflip when he re-signed Lee as a free agent. The team has completely neglected the draft for what appear to be financial reasons, leading to the high-profile and angry departure of former scouting director Chuck LaMar.

The decision was tacitly made in the summer of 2010 that the Phillies were going to try and win with the group they had for as long as they could and accept the likelihood of a long rebuilding process once the stars Halladay, Lee, Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard and Chase Utley were past their sell-by date. The signings made this winter are not designed to be lauded or viewed as savvy. They’re patchwork in the hopes that they’ll get something useful from the Youngs; that Utley will come back healthy in his contract year; that Howard is better after a lost season due to his Achilles tendon woes.

As for the open secret that the Phillies no longer think much of Domonic Brown to the level that they’re unwilling to give him a fulltime job and are handing right field to Delmon Young, this too is tied in with the Phillies gutted farm system. Perhaps it was an overvaluation of the young players the Phillies had or it was a frailty in development, but none of the players they’ve traded in recent years to acquire veterans—Jonathan Singleton, Kyle Drabek, Travis d’Arnaud, Lou Marson, Jason Donald, Carlos Carrasco—have done anything in the big leagues yet. They wouldn’t have helped the Phillies of 2009-2012 much, if at all. Outsiders can look at Brown’s tools and his minor league numbers and wonder why the Phillies are so reluctant to give him a chance, but in his big league chances, he’s appeared limited and overmatched. There’s a similarity to Cameron Maybin in Brown that his assessments are off-the-charts until he’s actually with the team and they see him every day, then they realize that he’s plainly and simply not that good. The Phillies know him better than anyone and if they don’t think he can play every day, then perhaps he can’t play every day.

The 2012 Phillies finished at 81-81. Even with their offensive ineptitude for most of the season, with a healthy Halladay would they have been a .500 team or would they have been at around 90 wins and in contention for a Wild Card?

This is the last gasp for this group. Manager Charlie Manuel just turned 69 and is in the final year of his contract. Within the next three years, they’re going to be rebuilding with a new manager and young players. In the near term, it’s down to the big three pitchers.

The ages and wear on the tires for Halladay and Lee are legitimate concerns for 2013 as is the shoulder issue that Hamels had last season, but regardless of how the offense performs, the Phillies season hinges on how those aces pitch. If they don’t pitch well, the team won’t win. If they do pitch well, the team will be good for three out of every five days with Mike Adams and Jonathan Papelbon in the bullpen.

The Youngs, Revere, Howard, Utley, Rollins—none of it matters if they hit at all. It’s the starting pitchers that will determine the Phillies’ fate. Everything else is just conversation.

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The Marlins-Blue Jays Trade, Part III—Sidelights

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Let’s look at the the Marlins-Blue Jays trade from the perspective of those affected by it, positively or negatively, and those who insert themselves into it.

Social media experts and critics

The self-proclaimed experts on social media reacted with shock and disdain not only that the Marlins did this, but that they didn’t get Travis d’Arnaud from the Blue Jays in the deal as if they knew who he was. He’s a recognizable name to them and nothing more; if they did see him, the vast majority of them wouldn’t know what they were looking at, nor would they be able to interpret his statistics to determine how truly viable a prospect he is. Perhaps the Marlins asked for him and the Blue Jays said no; perhaps the Blue Jays preferred the lower level players they got in the deal; or maybe the Marlins are happy with the young catcher Rob Brantly whom they acquired from the Tigers in the trade that also netted them Jacob Turner in exchange for Anibal Sanchez and Omar Infante.

To a lesser degree, it falls in line with fans watching games and reacting to strategies with descriptive histrionics like, “*FACEPALM*” when Jim Leyland plays Delmon Young regularly; or Joe Girardi and Larry Rothschild choose leave Boone Logan in to pitch to a righty; or during the NFL draft when a guy sitting on his couch wearing his team’s jersey declares that he’d take Robert Griffin III over Andrew Luck and throws a fit when the opposite happens—the people actually doing the jobs know more than you do. For the guy on his couch, it’s a diversion; for the ones running the clubs, if they don’t make the correct (or at least explainable) decision, they’re going to get fired.

The media and the Marlins

The glaring response amid the outcry came from Joel Sherman of the New York Post. Unlike the Red Sox-Dodgers trade when Sherman made a fool of himself by turning that blockbuster salary dump by the Red Sox into another indictment of the Mets, he actually made some legitimate points with the following:

Yet this was a deconstruction the Marlins needed to enact. Their roster, as constructed, was a science project gone wrong. Now they have created a layer of young talent with all of these trades — in this latest deal, executives particularly like center fielder Jake Marisnick (some Jayson Werth comps) and lefty Justin Nicolino, and anyone who saw Henderson Alvarez pitch against the Yankees knows he has a big arm.

How much of this is based on deeply held beliefs and how much is another, more subtle shot at the Mets to be true to his narrative is known only to Sherman, but given his history it’s a contrarian viewpoint with a winking dig at the Mets more than a true belief that the Marlins did the right thing. But the fact remains that, overall, he’s right. They did do the right thing.

No one with a brain is shocked by this Marlins housecleaning

Ignoring the litany of lies and managers hired and fired by Jeffrey Loria, that the Marlins gave heavily backloaded contracts to Jose Reyes and Mark Buehrle made them mid-season trade candidates in 2013 since their escalators kicked in by 2014. They chose to trade them now rather than wait and see. John Buck and Josh Johnson are both free agents after the 2013 season. Buck isn’t very good and Johnson was going to cost a fortune to re-sign. The charade of being built for the long haul was obvious with the Marlins from the start. The players knew what they were walking into when they didn’t get the valuable no-trade clauses and received guaranteed money they probably wouldn’t get elsewhere in exchange for the likelihood of being sent to a locale they would not have selected if they’d had a choice. Buehrle and Reyes are going to get paid; Johnson, if healthy, will receive a massive contract for his services.

The perception of chicanery and Loria’s blatant disregard for anyone other than Loria is what’s grating the masses. It would’ve been more palatable for observers—chief among them the politicians in Miami who pushed through the stadium deal and baseball itself—had the Marlins tried to win in 2013, but rather than further the sham, they pulled the trigger now. That it’s going to make/save more money for Loria is part of the equation.

The Marlins baseball people have always gotten the right names in their housecleanings. In some cases, it succeeded when they received Hanley Ramirez and Sanchez for Josh Beckett; in others, it didn’t as they received Cameron Maybin and Andrew Miller as the centerpieces for Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis. This is the risk when trading for prospects. Getting talent is controllable; developing that talent is the variable. The Marlins foundation is young, cheap and quite good once we get past the messy way in which it was laid.

The rest of baseball

The balance of power has shifted drastically. The NL East was a monster before the 2012 season started, but the Phillies age caught up to them; the Mets weren’t as bad as expected; the Nationals took their leap faster than most anticipated; and the Marlins were a disaster. Now that they’ve gutted the place, the Marlins are widely expected to be a punching bag in 2013, but truth be told with a group of young players fighting for playing time and jobs, they’ll be at least as competitive as the 69-93 apathy-tinged monstrosity that played out the string for most of the summer.

The American League saw the balance of power shift East to West. While it was supposed to be a two-team race for supremacy between the Angels and Rangers, the Athletics stunned both by winning the division. The Mariners young pitching and money to spend will make them a darkhorse in 2013. The Tigers just signed Torii Hunter for their star-studded lineup. There’s no longer a waltz into the playoffs for 2-3 teams from the AL East.

The Yankees and Red Sox are in moderate to severe disarray with the Yankees having limited money to spend and now three teams in their division that have a rightful claim to being better than they are. The Red Sox purge excised the contracts of Beckett, Carl Crawford, and Adrian Gonzalez. At the time it was an acknowledgement that the construction of the team wasn’t going to work and they intended to start over. It’s eerily similar to the situation the Marlins found themselves in, but the Marlins didn’t give it another try as the Red Sox did following their winter of 2010 spending spree and subsequent 2011 failure, and the Red Sox are going to take the money they saved and put it back into the team while the Marlins aren’t.

The Yankees have done nothing thus far in the winter and are trapped with contracts like that of Alex Rodriguez clogging up their arteries. Brian Cashman is getting what he wanted and learning that being the would-be genius isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. He chafed at the notion that the Yankees teams he helped build were creatures of financial might and longed to be seen in the industry in the category of Billy Beane and Theo Epstein as architects of winning franchises under a budget and with intelligent acquisitions rather than raiders of resources for those that could no longer afford them. Well, he’s getting what he wanted and the results are not good. Under the mandate of getting the payroll down to $189 million by 2014, he can’t take on the contracts that the Blue Jays and Alex Anthopoulos just did. The pitchers he’d hoped to develop to provide low-cost production have either been mediocre or busts entirely. They’re waiting and hoping that Andy Pettitte returns and has another year in him; that Derek Jeter can recover from his ankle injury; that they get something from A-Rod; that Mariano Rivera can rebound from knee surgery at age 43; that Hiroki Kuroda will take a one-year deal to come back (he won’t); that they get something from Michael Pineda.

Do you really expect all of this to happen in a division made even tougher by the Blue Jays’ trades; the Orioles’ improvement; the Rays’ talent; and the Red Sox money to spend and determination to get back to their basics? The Yankees are in a worse position than the Marlins and even the Phillies were because if the season is spiraling in July of 2013, they’ll be trapped by those contracts and the fan anger that they won’t be able to make those conceding trades for the future. This is the team they have and the division they’re in and neither bode well.

Cashman wanted it and he got it. He’s so arrogant that it’s doubtful that he regrets it, but he should. And he will.

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San Francisco Giants vs Detroit Tigers—World Series Preview and Predictions

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San Francisco Giants vs Detroit Tigers

Keys for the Giants: Keep runners off the bases in front of Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder; get the Tigers’ starting pitchers’ counts up to get into the bullpen; try not to fall behind in the World Series as they have in the first two playoff series.

When a team has two bashers in the middle of the lineup the magnitude of Cabrera and Fielder, it goes without saying that you don’t want to face them with runners on base. The Giants have gotten above-and-beyond performances from the unheralded Barry Zito and Ryan Vogelsong as Tim Lincecum and Madison Bumgarner have struggled. Delmon Young has accumulated a multitude of big hits in the post-season this season and last and has to be accounted for as well.

The Tigers’ strength has been in their starting pitching and despite Phil Coke’s series-saving work against the Yankees, in this series, the Tigers are definitely going to need to use Jose Valverde at some point. He and Joaquin Benoit—the Tigers’ usual eighth and ninth inning pitchers—have been shaky. Tigers’ manager Jim Leyland doesn’t push his starters beyond their breaking points so it’s important to work the counts against the Tigers’ starters.

The Giants fell behind the Reds in the ALDS 2 games to 0 and came back to win.

They fell behind the Cardinals 3 games to 1 and came back to win.

If they fall behind 3 games to 1 in this series, they’re going to face Justin Verlander in game 5 with him smelling a championship to go along with his 2011 Cy Young Award and MVP and perhaps another Cy Young Award in 2012. These types of moments are what builds a Hall of Fame career and they’re not going to beat Verlander if they wind up in that hole.

Keys for the Tigers: Feast on the struggling Giants’ starters; get runners on base in front of Cabrera and Fielder; don’t overthink the closer situation or stick Valverde back there because it’s “his” job.

The Giants won the World Series two years ago riding a superlative starting rotation backed up by a flamethrowing and fearless closer. But Lincecum and Bumgarner have been bad; Zito is always on the verge of implosion; and Brian Wilson is out after elbow surgery. The strength isn’t exactly a weakness, but the Tigers can match and surpass the Giants’ rotation.

Obviously, the Tigers want to have their table-setters on the bases ahead of their mashers.

Leyland showed incredible flexibility (and didn’t have much choice) in removing Valverde from “his” inning. This is the World Series and the bottom line is winning, not feelings and roles. He’s going to need Valverde at some point, but when it gets to the ninth inning, he’s got to mix and match rather than insert the “closer”.

What will happen:

Zito is starting the first game for the Giants and after his brilliant performance against the Cardinals, he’s gained a bit more trust than the pitcher who Giants’ manager Bruce Bochy would allow to pitch 5 innings and have the bullpen ready to pull him when the first sign of trouble appeared. Zito is still getting by with a fastball that barely breaks 85 mph on a good day and his control is up and down. The Tigers are going to bash him and the feel good story will revert to talk of Zito’s massive contract and how it’s been a disaster. Zito spent a chunk of his career in the American League, but has limited history with the Tigers and nothing noticeable to watch for.

Bumgarner is starting game 2 after discovering what he and the Giants are saying were mechanical flaws that diminished his stamina and caused his poor outings. I’m not sure I’m buying that, especially with the Tigers’ bats like Cabrera and Fielder. Fielder is 3 for 7 in his career against Bumgarner, but they were all singles.

By the time the Giants get to their more reliable starting pitchers, they could be down 2 games to 0. Vogelsong is pitching game 3 and Matt Cain game 4. Lincecum is nowhere to be seen and will be in the bullpen. He could be an important factor.

The talk of home field advantage for the Giants is meaningless. In fact, Verlander is probably better off pitching in San Francisco in game 1 than he would at home because he’s going to have the opposing pitcher to face at the plate.

The Giants are battle-tested and fearless. Buster Posey is a star; Marco Scutaro is reveling in his playoff star turn. There are dangerous bats in their lineup with Pablo Sandoval and Hunter Pence, but the Tigers have too many weapons on offense and a deeper starting rotation.

The Tigers bullpen will blow a game or two in this series, but it’s not going to be enough to turn the tide in favor of the Giants.

PREDICTION: TIGERS IN SIX

WORLD SERIES MVP: PRINCE FIELDER

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ALCS Preview and Predictions—New York Yankees vs Detroit Tigers

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New York Yankees (95-67; 1st place, AL East; defeated Baltimore Orioles 3 games to 2 in the ALDS) vs Detroit Tigers (88-74; 1st place, AL Central; defeated Oakland Athletics 3 games to 2 in the ALDS)

Keys for the Tigers: Tack on runs and keep the game out of the hands of Jose Valverde; hold down the Yankees’ bats as the Orioles did; get runners on base in front of Prince Fielder and Miguel Cabrera.

Valverde has been terrible this year. Yes, he has a fastball and a split that can get strikeouts, but the hitters—and especially the Yankees—know to give him a chance to start walking people and he’ll oblige. His strikeouts were way down this year with only 48 in 69 innings. The Yankees will be supremely confident even if they’re trailing going to the ninth inning with Valverde coming in. The Tigers have the offense to put up big numbers and they’ll feel better en masse if they’re not placing the game in the hands of Valverde.

The focus was on Alex Rodriguez because he wound up being benched, but A-Rod was benched because the Yankees had options to do so. They don’t have that option with their other struggling hitters Robinson Cano and Curtis Granderson. Nick Swisher isn’t going to be in the lineup every game if he doesn’t provide some offense early in the series. The Orioles did it with Joe Saunders, Jason Hammel, and Miguel Gonzalez. The Tigers are trotting out Justin Verlander, Doug Fister, Anibal Sanchez, and Max Scherzer. Maybe the more familiar pitchers will help the Yankees have better at bats.

With Fielder and Cabrera, the Tigers have bashers that the Orioles didn’t. If the Yankees are in a position where they have no choice but to pitch to one or both, they’ll do damage.

Keys for the Yankees: Hit; don’t hesitate to make lineup changes with Swisher or A-Rod; get similarly great starting pitching as they did in the ALDS.

Mark Teixeira is coming off of a calf injury that could’ve ended his season and is an injury that has a tendency of recurring even when it feels as if it’s back to normal. He’s running hard and his key stolen base set the stage for the Yankees to take the lead in game 5 against the Orioles.

Cano, on the other hand, is running at perhaps 60% of capacity. He does it because he’s allowed to get away with it. It’s unacceptable. I can deal with him struggling at the plate; I can live with an error once in awhile; but this attitude of, “I don’t have to run because I can hit better than 98% of baseball,” is a warning sign to the Yankees that they should think very long and seriously before handing Cano—at age 31 a year from now—a contract for 8-10 years at over $200 million. His laziness on the field could extend to off the field; what once came easy will no longer come easy; and if he’s not willing to run out a double play ball in the playoffs, then what makes anyone think he’s going to work hard off the field to stay in shape when his bat slows down and his reactions aren’t as quick?

He was actually worse that A-Rod in the ALDS because A-Rod has the excuse of age and declining bat speed. I had thought Cano would be mitigated because he wasn’t going to see any pitches to hit, but in the series with the Orioles, he saw plenty of pitches to hit. He just didn’t hit them.

Andy Pettitte, CC Sabathia, and Hiroki Kuroda are warriors; Phil Hughes has the fans and media acting skittish whenever he’s out on the mound, but he’s been able to handle the pressure games and do his job.

By my estimation, Swisher will get the first two games against Fister and Sanchez to see if he produces. If he doesn’t hit, by game 3 when Verlander is on the mound, Swisher will be sitting.

It was interesting that both Joe Girardi and Jim Leyland left their aces out on the mound in a game 5 when they definitely would’ve pulled them in favor of their closers in a less-important game.

What will happen:

The Tigers are not the Orioles. They’re not relying on a bunch of journeymen and youngsters. They’re trotting star power out there with Fielder and Cabrera. Austin Jackson and Quintin Berry are speed players who pose a threat on the bases. Alex Avila and Delmon Young have had big hits in the playoffs. With their starting pitching, they’re more capable of shutting out the lights on the Yankees than the Orioles. Sabathia is not pitching until game 4 after his complete game effort in game 5 of the ALDS against the Orioles.

Cabrera has brutalized the Yankees’ pitchers—link.

Fielder hasn’t been as successful, so the series is going to hinge on him and Young, both batting behind Cabrera.

Valverde has had success against the Yankees, but he can’t be trusted. Nor can Yankees’ closer Rafael Soriano who, despite pitching well against the Orioles, has not been trustworthy in playoffs past. Both Leyland and Girardi will be inclined to leave their starters in the game rather than entrust a close game to questionable bullpen arms when they can help it. Joaquin Benoit has been shaky for the Tigers and David Robertson gets himself into trouble seemingly for the sake of getting out of it and that’s not going to work with Cabrera and Fielder.

I don’t see how A-Rod, Swisher, and Granderson will suddenly rediscover their strokes against better pitching than they saw in the Orioles series. I have no idea what to expect from Cano.

Leyland has bounced the Yankees the two times he’s faced them in the playoffs and with the Tigers lineup performing better than the Yankees and an even matchup on the mound, the Tigers will stop the Yankees again.

PREDICTION: TIGERS IN SIX

ALCS MVP: PRINCE FIELDER

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Detroit Tigers vs Oakland Athletics—ALDS Preview and Predictions

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Oakland Athletics (94-68; 1st place, AL West) vs Detroit Tigers (88-74, 1st place, AL Central)

Keys for the Athletics: Get depth from their young starters; maintain their magic; mitigate Prince Fielder and Miguel Cabrera; don’t be “happy to be here”.

The A’s young starters Jarrod Parker, Tommy Milone, and A.J. Griffin have shown no fear in becoming acclimated to the big leagues and carrying a team that no one expected to be contenders to the playoffs. That said, unless they’re successful in keeping runners off the bases ahead of Fielder and Cabrera and putting themselves in a position to use the multiple lefties in their bullpen late in the game against Fielder, they’re not going to win.

With the veterans Jonny Gomes, Grant Balfour, Coco Crisp, and Seth Smith, it’s not as if this is a purely young club that will be shell-shocked by the post-season. They’ve been freewheeling and feisty all season long in direct contrast to the outwardly calm and patient manager Bob Melvin.

They hit a lot of home runs and they pitch. If they fail to do one or the other against the Tigers, they’re going to lose.

Keys for the Tigers: Win Justin Verlander’s starts; receive contributions from hitters other than Fielder and Cabrera; get runners on base in front of Fielder and Cabrera; hope that Jose Valverde is able to close without incident or Jim Leyland smoking seven cigarettes at once in the runway while Valverde is on the mound.

A team with a pure ace such as Verlander holds a distinct advantage in a short series, but Verlander hasn’t pitched well in past post-seasons. For him to truly validate his place in history, he needs to go further than being a regular season horse and Cy Young Award/MVP winner, he has to come through in October. If Verlander is able to give the A’s pause early in the first game and make them think that the have to win the three games he’s not going to pitch, it could be a blow to the solar plexus for a young team that, for the most part, has not been in this situation before.

Contrary to perception, the Tigers offense is not limited to Fielder and Cabrera. Austin Jackson had a breakout season; Quintin Berry provided a spark and speed; and Delmon Young has a penchant for hitting homers in the playoffs.

Valverde is shaky and gets himself into trouble seemingly for the sake of getting himself out of it. It’s devastating to any team when they get a lead to their closer and their closer blows the game, and it happens remarkably often in the playoffs and World Series.

What will happen:

2012 was meant to be a rebuilding year for the A’s, but this season has been about inexplicable (statistically and otherwise) leaps for both the A’s and the Orioles. The A’s rode youngsters Parker, Milone, Ryan Cook, Josh Reddick, Yoenis Cespedes, and Griffin, along with veteran journeymen Balfour, Crisp, Brandon Moss, and Gomes to a shocking AL West title.

Can the young pitchers who reveled in the pressure during the regular season continue that trend in the playoffs? Parker is starting the opener against Verlander. Because of the new playoff rules, the team with the inferior record is beginning the playoff series at home. It’s a bizarre set-up but home field is generally overrated in baseball.

The A’s need their young pitchers to maintain their fearlessness against a Tigers’ lineup that houses Fielder and Triple Crown winner Cabrera. But that won’t help them if they don’t account for Jackson, Berry, and Young.

The A’s don’t have a long history against Verlander. Crisp is the only player on their roster with more than 20 plate appearances against him (8 for 22). They have a lineup of bats who like swinging at fastballs, but Verlander is more than just a near-100 mph fastball. He has a feel for pitching and gets better as the game wears on; if the A’s are going to get to him, it has to be early. If it gets to the fifth or sixth inning and Verlander gets his groove, the A’s are in trouble.

Max Scherzer isn’t scheduled to start for the Tigers until a possible game 4 after a shoulder injury put him on the sideline and an ankle injury set him back. I’d be concerned if the Tigers enter game 4 down 2-1 in the series and are relying on a rusty Scherzer.

The bullpens are similar with somewhat shaky closers who’ve lost their jobs at various times in their careers. It wasn’t long ago that Balfour wanted out of Oakland for having the job taken away from him in favor of rookie Cook. Valverde is unreliable at best.

The Tigers can hit for power with the Athletics and have the starting pitching to shut down the A’s offense. The bullpens are even; the starting pitching is an edge for the Tigers with Verlander looming for two games in the series.

The A’s magic ride was contingent on production that couldn’t have been crafted into believable fiction. The experience of the Tigers will show and they have star power that the A’s currently don’t.

PREDICTION: TIGERS IN FOUR

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Booing The Yankees’ Closer

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The Yankees’ closer has brilliant across-the-board numbers.

He’s saved 33 games in 36 opportunities. He’s only allowed 2 homers in 52.2 innings pitched; has struck out 53, walked 17, given up 46 hits. He’s been reliable and borderline dominant. If you’re interested in advanced stats, his ERA+ is 207 and his WAR is 2.2.

No, I’m not talking about Mariano Rivera. I’m talking about Rafael Soriano.

The same pitcher who the GM Brian Cashman didn’t want and openly said he didn’t want; the same pitcher who was little more than an injury-prone, whining, complaining nuisance in his first season with the team; who refused to get with the Yankees’ program and surrendered the backbreaking homer to Delmon Young in the turning point game 3 of last season’s ALDS; who wasn’t designated as the replacement for Rivera until all other options had been exhausted, has been a key to the Yankees staying in first place and playoff position all season long.

Soriano was booed last night by Yankees’ “faithful” after allowing a 3-run homer (I repeat, the second homer he’s allowed all season) to Blue Jays’ outfielder Colby Rasmus to turn a 6-4 lead into a 7-6 deficit. The Yankees tied the game in the bottom of the 9th when Derek Jeter homered, but lost it in the 11th.

Soriano blew the game, but did he deserve to be booed? Was it simple idiocy on the part of some fans or was it indicative of the problem among segments of the spoiled and greedy fanbase that there can never be failure of any kind. Success is expected and unappreciated; failure is a hanging offense. This is all symptomatic of the onrush to a logical conclusion built for failure: the concept that every player must be an All-Star; that the idea of a workmanlike and useful component can’t fill the shoes of greatness for even one month, one week, one game. How long before a CC Sabathia has his start pushed back because of flulike symptoms and the fans and media inundate the airwaves, web and print with demands to replace him—even for one game—with a star of commensurate magnitude?

It sounds ridiculous? Well, it’s not. Just look at the behaviors from last night. It’s inexplicable audacity for anyone to boo Soriano after the work he’s done not just on the mound, but in withstanding the pressure of replacing Rivera. The concept of “anyone could’ve done it”, which is a stat person’s lament, is ludicrous and selective in its application. The David Robertson as closer experiment was short-lived and the Yankees were retrospectively saved from the replacement “closer” blowing 3-5 more games before a move to Soriano was necessary. Had Joba Chamberlain been available at the time, he too would’ve been ahead of Soriano in the pecking order in spite of Soriano’s experience at doing the job.

Experience.

That’s far more important than stuff in being a successful closer. We can go on ad nauseam as to the true value of the guy who pitches the ninth inning and accumulates the watered down save stat, but it’s not as easy in practice as it is on paper. It’s a mentality that can’t be taught; can’t be drilled in; can’t be transferred to the faceless “PITCHER” as stat people imply. Robertson couldn’t do it and was far more valuable pitching the seventh and eighth innings than he would be in the ninth. But the succession of power dictated that Robertson, the set-up man, take over for Rivera as closer. How many times have we seen a good set-up man unable to pitch the ninth inning? It happens repeatedly. The Red Sox didn’t trust Daniel Bard as their new closer, in part, because he’d struggled in the role during the few save chances he’d had. That led to the trade of Josh Reddick for Andrew Bailey; the installation of Alfredo Aceves as the closer; and Bard being made into a starter, failing, and now rapidly degenerating into a disaster in need of a full mental and physical makeover as he pitches in Triple A as a reliever.

Soriano has not only taken over for the best closer in history, but been a major reason why the Yankees are still in the position they’re in. Had Robertson not injured his oblique and stayed as the closer for another week, where would the Yankees be now? What would they have done? Would they have gone to Soriano for any reason other than not having a choice? Would they have tried to make a trade to get someone else? And how would that have worked?

The Yankees playoff spot is currently not guaranteed. There are 5 spots for 7 teams that are legitimate contenders and eight if you count the floundering Angels, which I do. Manager Joe Girardi also brought up an important point during his press conference yesterday when he said it’s imperative for the Yankees to win the division because the Wild Card spots, while having an extra entry point, are a one-game and out affair. There’s no longer an automatic waltz into a best 3 of 5 series against a division champion for winning the Wild Card. A playoff spot for the Wild Card teams are limited to one game, and in one game, anything can happen.

In the American League overall standings, The Yankees are 2 games behind the Rangers; have a 2 ½ game lead on the White Sox; a 3 ½ game lead on the Orioles and Athletics; a 4 game lead on the Rays; a 4 ½ game lead on the Tigers; and an 8 game lead on the Angels. One bad week and they could fall from second in the league to sixth. Easily. And without Soriano, they probably would be in that position.

Boo Soriano and diminish his accomplishments if you choose to, but understand how he’s saved the Yankees both literally and figuratively before doing so. He stepped into massive shoes and, for the most part, has filled them. Yankees’ fans should consider where they’d currently be without Soriano. That’s, of course, if they’re capable of being objective and comprehending that they don’t have a divine right to the playoffs and that not every player can be a megastar/future Hall of Famer. That greed is their undoing and could be the eventual undoing of the entire organization if they’re not careful, prudent, and smart.

Are they careful, prudent and smart? The fans booing and criticizing Soriano certainly aren’t and, as said before, that attitude spreads like a disease and is getting worse and worse, even incurable, by the day.

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Cliff Lee—Desperately Seeking A Win?

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Where is this headed? Are the Phillies, so desperate to get Cliff Lee a victory on the season, going to insert him into a blowout as a reliever after four innings to get him a win?

Lee, with a Cy Young Award and post-season dominance on his resume, is being roasted because he hasn’t won a game yet in 2012?

Who cares?

The Phillies and Lee have bigger problems than to worry about the constant harping on whether or not Lee has a “W” next to his name. This is not a veteran hanging on trying to get his 300th career win; nor is it a pitcher who should be concerned about what’s said by outsiders who still equate the “W” with success or failure.

The “win” has received scrutiny in recent years and while it needs to be placed into context how a pitcher accumulates his total, it’s not something to be ignored entirely. It matters to the participants. It’s only in the past few seasons that a pitcher like Felix Hernandez or Tim Lincecum were able to gain their deserved Cy Young Awards because of advanced stats and that there are voters willing to look at something other than the pitcher who won 23 games vs the one who won 16.

That still doesn’t prevent the argument that Justin Verlander didn’t deserve the MVP award last season because the Tigers would’ve found “any” pitcher (conveniently unnameed) to fill in for Verlander and they would’ve won the division regardless.

This argument is ignorant of the Tigers’ early season struggles and that it was Verlander who carried them when they were stumbling around. Only when they made mid-season acquisitions of Delmon Young and Doug Fister; when Joaquin Benoit began pitching the way they expected; and when the Indians came apart did the Tigers take off and run away with the division. Without Verlander they wouldn’t have been in position to do so.

So there are mitigating factors in all statistics, awards and attempts to analyze.

Because Lee doesn’t have any wins doesn’t mean he’s having a “bad” year. It doesn’t mean the Phillies should put him on the trade block.

His contract owes him $87.5 million after this season and he has a 10 team no-trade list. The teams that could afford that contract and surrender the prospects to get him presumably are on the no-trade list because a veteran pitcher isn’t going to want to go to a place that could pay him more money and would be getting him at a discount over the short term. Lee made clear during his free agency that he wants nothing to do with the Yankees.

Ruben Amaro Jr. is not going to do that to him again and wouldn’t get anything more than prospects to add to a club that is still loaded with immovable long-term deals for veterans. The Phillies are what they are and a rebuild or retool on the fly is not on the table.

Lee hasn’t won any games this season because the Phillies’ offense has been unproductive; the bullpen has been shaky; and Lee has allowed runs late in games to sabotage himself. If the Phillies were the Phillies of years past, Lee would have 4-6 wins.

Would that make it all better?

He’s pitched poorly in his last two starts and for someone as mentally tough and impervious to pressure as Lee, it appears as if the talk of him “needing” a win is getting into his head.

That’s only going to make things worse and compound an issue that isn’t an issue for him to worry about or affect him at all.

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The Truth About the Drafts—NFL and MLB

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New York football Giants’ GM Jerry Reese was a guest with Mike Francesa yesterday to discuss his team’s haul in the NFL draft a week ago.

You can listen to the interview here.

Reese has won two Super Bowls and is the top football man of one of the most organized and serious front offices in the profession. During the interview, when discussing the media’s and public’s analysis of players and the draft, Reese said something very simple, highly intelligent and laser precise enough to stick a pin in the enormous and bloated egos of those who think they’re more qualified to assess, analyze, advise and criticize the players that are taken in any draft than those who are making the picks.

Well, I just think that there’s so many draft shows and people talk about draft picks and people don’t do it professionally for a job. We have guys who do it for a living. And the guys who don’t go to all the ballgames and scout them like we do here, I think there can be some misinformation.

He was speaking from his position running the Giants, but it applies to all drafts. My focus is on the NFL draft and the MLB draft.

The NFL draft has long been an extravaganza with a phalanx of armchair experts anointed credibility in a circular exercise without end. It’s easy to sit on the sidelines—with no responsibility—and say anything. Occasionally you’ll be right; occasionally you’ll be wrong; but without a career or job on the line, what difference does it make? All that’s necessary are a forum, the buzzwords and an audience.

I say this having great admiration for what a true NFL draftnik like Mel Kiper Jr. has been able to do in creating a niche for himself where there wasn’t one before. He worked very hard to get where he is and has made a lot of money doing what he loves.

That said, is anyone going to notice if Kiper says that he’d choose X player over Y player and Y player turns into a star? Probably. But is he going to lose his job? No.

Because the mandate of the draft analysts on ESPN, NFL Network, MLB and other outlets is to stimulate debate, disagree and draw attention to what they’re saying, there’s no reason to take it seriously.

If the mock drafts pop up and the repeated changes, “raging debates” and “eureka” discoveries as to why the “experts” are changing their minds isn’t based on any new information, what’s the point? We’re oversaturated with information as it is. It’s designed to attract webhits, ratings, attention and to sell draft guides. From higher ratings come more advertising dollars. If you know this going in and still partake for the theater, fine; if you don’t, then you’re being treated as and acting like a mindless sheep.

I could get my hands on a reputable website with the list of the top 30 potential picks in the NFL and MLB drafts, pick one and formulate a roundabout explanation as to why I did it without actually saying anything and there would be 1000 people saying it’s brilliant and another 1000 saying it’s idiotic.

Jon Gruden was savaged on Twitter for his negativity about drafted players. Said savagery was uttered by people who have no credentials to be critiquing someone like Gruden who is a Super Bowl winning coach, has extensive experience and would have another coaching job almost immediately if he chose to leave the broadcast booth.

Are you more credible than Jon Gruden? Is some guy on Twitter?

With the number of NFL players who were late-bloomers (Rich Gannon); lower round draft choices who found themselves in an advantageous system and circumstances (Joe Montana; Tom Brady); journeyman free agents who wouldn’t give up (Kurt Warner); or foundlings (Victor Cruz), and the number of top 3 pick busts (Ryan Leaf, Tony Mandarich, Blair Thomas), it’s not a science. Top NFL people are going to hit and miss.

So where does that leave Twitter-guy? Guy with a draft book and a dream? Radio man? Mel Kiper Jr.?

MLB former top picks in the draft are no more of a guarantee of success on the field or intelligence off the field. Just last week, former first overall pick Delmon Young was arrested for a fight outside a New York hotel that was classified as a hate crime because he, in a drunken state, made anti-Semitic references to the people he was fighting with.

In hindsight, Young hasn’t been a player worthy of the top pick in the draft either.

Anointed megastar Bryce Harper was caught in a viral video playing softball in a Washington DC park. What would’ve happened if Harper, trying to impress the people he was playing with, swung too hard and awkwardly and tore his shoulder in a softball game?

The video is below. It’s evidence.

Brien Taylor got into a fight and destroyed his shoulder.

Scouts were split on whether to select Ken Griffey Jr. first overall or a player named Mark Merchant. Mike Piazza was drafted in the 62nd round as a favor to his godfather Tommy Lasorda. James Shields was a 16th round pick. Albert Pujols was a 13th round pick. Jose Bautista was a 20th round journeyman who hopped from one organization to another before getting a chance to play with the Blue Jays—who almost released him.

The Reese quote basically says that if a talking head on TV gets a pick wrong, he’s still going to be a talking head on TV the next year and five years after that. If Jerry Reese gets it wrong, he might survive in his job for a year or two, but five years of mistakes and he’s out of a job and possibly out of football entirely.

It’s their living.

If you’re suggesting that you know more than they do and have on the line what they have on the line, here’s a flash: you don’t.

It’s even worse if you say you do.

Because you don’t. And won’t.

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