The Rays know where they’re at and act accordingly

MLB, Uncategorized

RAys
When the Tampa Bay Rays traded Evan Longoria, Corey Dickerson, Steven Souza Jr., Jake Odorizzi and Brad Boxberger and repeated their usual trend in free agency of finding players who sought a mutually beneficial circumstance to try and replenish their bonafides while the Rays hoped to get motivated value, the word “tanking” was thrown around. It was an easy assumption to make. But there’s a difference between tanking and accepting losing as a necessary corollary for the experimenting that the club is doing. The difference is subtle and might have the same result as tanking without the intent and the justifiable criticism that goes along with getting as close to losing on purpose as a team can get without throwing games a la the 1919 Black Sox, but it won’t be viewed as “dirty.”

After an atrocious start losing 13 of their first 17 games, the Rays have won 19 and lost 12. In doing so, they have turned their starting rotation into a petri dish by using “bullpen games” – a concept teams had generally done only in an emergency – as a regular part of their strategy. It might seem odd, but that’s only because no club has ever taken it to its logical conclusion before. However, the Rays have a history of flouting norms to achieve their desired ends.

It was the Rays under owner Stuart Sternberg and general manager Andrew Friedman who were one of the first clubs to put circumstantial tanking into action before it became such an objectionably noncompetitive act that teams openly wallowed in and even took pride in doing. When Sternberg took over, he and his staff tacitly chose not to overspend on free agents or make shortsighted trades just to win 75 games instead of 65. Getting higher draft picks; developing their players and signing them to preemptive long-term contracts; manipulating service time; finding players who needed a job and had upside; and identifying puzzle pieces who, individually, weren’t much, but in combination were formidable was their method of competing with the Yankees and Red Sox. And it worked. It was so obvious that it begs the question why no one else tried it. They tricked out the Moneyball concept and went all-in from a different angle.

Now the Rays are doing something else unconventional in having three regular members of their starting rotation and using their relievers in the other games. Already Sergio Romo – a career-long reliever who had not been in a starting rotation since his first two seasons of professional baseball in 2005 and 2006 – has started two games this season…and they were on back-to-back days.

Naturally, if this takes hold across baseball, it will not only change the landscape of how players are assessed, utilized and paid, but it will essentially take the pitcher win and rather than say it is meaningless as many insist it should be, will make it legitimately meaningless.

They are discarding the constraints of convention and longtime tactics by ignoring the idea that a starting pitcher must pitch X number of innings followed by specialized relievers until the ninth inning when the designated closer will pitch regardless of the situation.

This can easily be compared to the incremental changes that took place as teams went from four starting pitchers to five, relied more heavily on relievers, transformed relievers into specialists and chipped away at how things have always been done. In context, is it any different from Jack Chesbro throwing 454.2 innings, starting 51 games and winning 41 in 1904 and that never happening again? It’s ludicrous to think about today. In a few years, the same could be said about having five starters and eight relievers with the innings doled out according to those roles whether the pitchers available are suited to that blueprint or not.

Friday’s trade of Denard Span and Alex Colome to the Mariners for pitchers Andrew Moore and Tommy Romero could be viewed as a head-scratcher, but in reality, it makes perfect sense. Moore fits into the Rays’ pitching experiment as a big-league ready arm who they can plug into their grid. Romero is in the low-minors, is about to turn 21, has impressive numbers and a quirky, over-the-top motion. They were not getting more than this for Span and Colome. Span’s injury history is such that they needed to act before he got hurt again and they were left with nothing when he departs as a free agent at season’s end. (He has a mutual option the Rays were not exercising.)

As a team and as well as they have played since that hideous start, what is the best-case scenario for the Rays this season? They’re in the AL East with the powerhouse Yankees and Red Sox; the World Series champion Astros are in the AL West. Let’s say the Rays win a Wild Card. It’s one game. Anything can happen. But as top-heavy as the AL is, what is the likelihood that they can get past the Yankees or Red Sox in that one game and then get past the Astros in either the division series or the championship series?

There is no likelihood because it’s not going to happen.

So, like the decision in 2006-2007 to tank without tanking, the Rays are trying this new method of using erstwhile relievers to pitch the first inning and flipping the entire script as to how pitchers are used because they have the opportunity and the wherewithal to see if it can succeed. They’re accepting reality and trading away Span, whom they only acquired as a salary exchange in trading Longoria, and Colome, who is just another in a long line of replaceable short relievers who just happened to be their closer and led the majors in saves in 2017.

They know who they are, they know what they are and are making the wise decision to shun pretense and act rather than react.

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We Know What’s Wrong With The Nats, But How Can It Be Fixed?

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The Nationals were expected to dominate. Instead, the team that won 98 games in 2012 and seemingly improved over the winter is under .500, out of contention and facing a large number of changes this off-season. It’s not hard to diagnose what went wrong and here’s a brief synopsis:

  • Injuries

The Nationals lost Bryce Harper, Jayson Werth, Wilson Ramos and Ross Detwiler for extended periods.

  • Underperformance

Dan Haren was signed to shore up the back of the rotation and has been awful. Drew Storen is out of his element as a set-up man and wound up back in the minors. Denard Span has been a disappointment. And Danny Espinosa’s numbers (.158/.193/.272 split with a .465 OPS and 3 homers) are worse than those of Cubs’ pitcher Travis Wood (.267/.298/.489 split with a .787 OPS and 3 homers).

  • Bad approach/bad luck

The Nats are seventh in the National League in home runs and next-to-last in the league in runs scored. They’re twelfth in the league in walks and fourteenth in on-base percentage. In 2013, they’re thirteenth in the league with a BAbip of .282; in 2012, they were fourth at .308.

  • Poor defense

The Nats’ catchers have caught 13 percent of the runners trying to steal on them. Anthony Rendon is a third baseman playing second. Ryan Zimmerman is in a defensive funk that’s gone of for the better part of two years.

  • Dysfunction

Manager Davey Johnson has openly clashed with general manager Mike Rizzo. Tyler Clippard ripped the organization for their demotion of his friend Storen. The players appear to have thought they’d have a cakewalk to the playoffs given the hype and star power.

In short, the Nats have gone from an embarrassment of riches to a plain embarrassment. With 2013 essentially over and 2012 long gone in the rearview mirror, what do the Nats have to do to get back to where they were supposed to be? What should they do?

With Rizzo having received a promotion and contract extension, it’s his baby. The luck/design argument is irrelevant. The Nationals happened to be the worst team in baseball two years in a row when once-a-generation talents were sitting there waiting to be picked first overall in Harper and Stephen Strasburg. That’s no one’s fault and to no one’s credit. It just is. Rizzo put a solid team together, but there’s been a semblance of overkill with the signings of Haren and Rafael Soriano. Haren’s performance in 2013 is indicative that his decline that began last season with the Angels was not an aberration. Soriano has pitched well, but he was not really a necessity for the Nats. He was available, they didn’t trust Storen and preferred Clippard as the set-up man. In retrospect, both were mistakes.

The question of who the manager will be going forward is vital. Johnson bears a large portion of the responsibility for this team’s underachievement. As great as his record is and as much as the media loves him for his personality and candor, Johnson’s style was a significant reason the 1980s Mets failed to live up to their talent level. He doesn’t care about defense, he trusts his players far too much in preaching aggressiveness, and the festering anger over the 2012 Strasburg shutdown—that I’m sure Johnson thinks cost his team a World Series—has manifested itself in open warfare between the manager and GM. If Johnson weren’t retiring at season’s end, Rizzo likely would’ve fired him a month ago along with hitting coach Rick Eckstein, or Johnson would simply have quit.

Johnson’s positives (he wins a lot of regular season games) don’t eliminate his negatives (he’s insubordinate and his teams are fundamentally weak). Thirty years ago, Johnson was seen as a computer geek manager. Nowadays, he’s considered a dinosaur. In reality, Johnson is and always has been a gambler and an arrogant one at that. His attitude is that the team he’s managing needs him more than he needs it. He doesn’t want people telling him what to do and he’s never taken well to front office meddling. The Strasburg shutdown and firing of his hitting coach are two instances in which Johnson would like to tell the front office to take a hike and let him run the team his way. Rizzo had problems with Johnson and his predecessor Jim Riggleman. With the next hire, he’d better get someone younger and on the same page. That doesn’t mean he should hire a yes man, but someone who he can work with sans this lingering tension and open disagreements.

With the personnel, a lesson can be learned from the Big Red Machine Reds from 1971. In 1970, GM Bob Howsam and manager Sparky Anderson had built a monster. The Reds won 102 games and lost the World Series to the Orioles. Widely expected to repeat as NL champs, they fell to 79-83 in 1971. With cold-blooded analysis, Howsam realized that the Reds were missing the elements of leadership, speed, intensity and defense, Howsam traded 39-homer man Lee May and starting second baseman Tommy Helms with Jimmy Stewart to the Astros for Joe Morgan, Cesar Geronimo, Jack Billingham, Ed Armbrister and Denis Menke. The clubhouse was transformed and they were suddenly a faster team with Gold Glovers at second base and in center field. In fact, it was that decried move that spurred their run to greatness.

Rizzo needs to look at the team’s deficiencies in the same way that Howsam did and act decisively. If that means getting a defensively oriented catcher, trading Ian Desmond, Clippard and some other names that are supposedly part of the team’s “core,” then they have to explore it. If a team underachieves from what they were supposed to be, there’s nothing wrong with dropping a bomb in the clubhouse. In fact, it’s necessary in order to get back on track. With their youth and talent, the Nats can get back to where they were with the right managerial choice and a gutty trade or two.

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Early Season Underachievers: Washington Nationals

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Just a note: these “underachievers” are based on what the majority of the prognosticators thought prior to the season and not what I thought. For example, I had the Phillies at 79-83 in my book (which, for the record, is now available on I-Tunes). The majority of the predictions I saw had the Phillies as contenders. I had the Nationals winning 103 games.

For a team as loaded as the Nats to have a .500 record after almost 20% of the season is unexpected. Is it something to be overly concerned about though? The answer is no.

Both Adam LaRoche and Danny Espinosa are proven players who are batting under .200. That won’t continue. The starting pitching and bullpen are deep and diverse and as the season moves along, GM Mike Rizzo will find a lefty specialist somewhere—Wesley Wright, Mike Dunn—because several will eventually become available.

That’s not to say there’s not potential for things to go wrong. They’re leading the Major Leagues in errors and manager Davey Johnson made a typical Davey Johnson managerial move when the Nats were playing the Mets two weeks ago and it neatly summed him up for better or worse. With the Mets leading 2-0 in the top of the eighth inning Mets reliever Scott Rice gave up a single to Steve Lombardozzi, walked Denard Span, and went to 3-0 and Jayson Werth. Werth was given the green light, swung at a low, outside pitch and grounded into a 6-4-3 double play. The Mets won the game.

That’s Johnson. It’s always been Johnson. It always will be Johnson. With the Mets in the 1980s, the lack of discipline, overaggressiveness and arrogance in believing that the fundamentals would be unnecessary as long as they pitched and hit home runs cost them playoff spots multiple times to teams like the Cardinals who were schooled in playing the game properly. Whitey Herzog’s hardline treatment of his players was well-known and if they didn’t do what they were supposed to do when they were supposed to do it, they didn’t play.

Is it a problem for the Nats? Yes and no. One of the reasons he’s been so successful is that the players love him and know he’s going to put the game in their hands. There wouldn’t be a debate if Werth hit the ball out of the park. It’s not the strategy that was the issue, but the execution. Werth was overanxious and swung at a bad pitch and criticizing him or Johnson won’t matter because telling Johnson what he did was wrong is only going to accomplish one thing: he’s going to do it more just to prove how smart he is and how dumb his critics are.

The Nats are too talented and deep to play in so mediocre a fashion for much longer.

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Mike Morse a Useful Bat and Not a Huge Difference-Maker

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The Nationals are listening to offers on outfielder/first baseman Mike Morse after re-signing first baseman Adam LaRoche to a 2-year, $24 million contract. With the presence of Denard Span, Jayson Werth and Bryce Harper in the outfield and the retention of LaRoche, there’s nowhere for Morse to play. He’s stated that he’d be uncomfortable as a designated hitter, but given that he is under contract for one more year at $6.75 million and is a free agent after 2013, he doesn’t have any say in the matter. He’s a below-average defensive player, but he’s not an outright liability in the outfield or at first base.

The Nationals are counting on several variables to repeat their 2012 division-winning performance and 98 wins. Dan Haren is replacing Edwin Jackson in the starting rotation and while Jackson was a guaranteed 190-200 innings, Haren’s back injury limited him to 176 in 2012 and he’s not a certainty to return to durability and form in 2013. On a one year contract, he’s worth the risk at $13 million in comparison to the 4-year, $52 million deal Jackson got from the Cubs. Stephen Strasburg’s limits are gone, so they can count on him for 30 more innings than the 159 he was allowed to throw in 2012. With Haren and Strasburg’s newfound freedom, that should counteract the loss of Jackson.

They’ve lost their two lefties out of the bullpen Tom Gorzelanny and Sean Burnett. Unless they replace them from the outside or get another starting pitcher in order to place Ross Detwiler in the bullpen where he belongs, these departures are going to hurt the Nationals.

They’re said to be seeking lefty bullpen help in exchange for Morse or young starting pitching. Teams in need of Morse’s bat include the Braves, Mets, Rays, Phillies, Orioles, Yankees, Mariners, and Indians. If the Nats think they’re getting at top-tier starting pitching prospect for Morse, they’re deluding themselves.

Morse has tremendous power, but his walks dropped significantly in 2012 in spite of his pitches-per-at-bat percentage remaining static for what it’s been for his career. That could be explained by several things. The Nationals’ batting order, with LaRoche having a very good power year and batting behind Morse, might have led to pitchers challenging Morse a bit more. He could have altered his approach and gotten too aggressive with pitches that he shouldn’t have—that was the case on 2-0 counts and it was a detriment to his production. Or the league might have, to a certain extent, figured out that he’s not an elite slugger and a power fastball up in the zone can get by him with breaking stuff in the dirt leading to strikeouts.

He has legitimate 25-30 homer pop, but not overwhelming value.

What I would try to do if I were the Nationals is to seek something a bit more out of the box than what’s been mentioned as a return in a Morse trade. The likeliest combination of return for Morse would be, for example, from the Mariners Charlie Furbush and Hector Noesi. That’s not a bad deal for either side.

From the Yankees, I wouldn’t ask for young pitching they don’t have, but I would ask for another pending free agent after 2013, one who’s fallen out of favor with the club from his days as a big time prospect: Joba Chamberlain. I’d also ask for Clay Rapada. This would bolster the Nationals bullpen with a situational lefty and possibly give them a shutdown seventh, eighth and ninth innings with Chamberlain, Tyler Clippard and Drew Storen with three pitchers who can interchangeably close.

They won’t get a ton for Morse, but they’ll get useful pieces. The team that gets Morse will get a power bat who hits righties and lefties equally as well and won’t be affected by ballpark factors because he’s big enough and strong enough to hit the ball out of any park. He’s not a major difference-maker, but he’s a chip they can trade to fill immediate needs.

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The Phillies Go Backward; The Twins Go Forward

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The Phillies were linked to free agent center fielder Michael Bourn and chose to acquire Bourn—the 24-year-old version of him—by trading righty pitchers Vance Worley and Trevor May to the Twins for Ben Revere.

Looking at Revere and you see essentially the identical player Bourn was when the Phillies traded him to the Astros after the 2007 season to acquire Brad Lidge. Bourn had speed, great defensive potential, limited selectivity at the plate, and no power. Revere has those same attributes but comes at a minuscule fraction of the cost a reunion with Bourn would’ve exacted on their payroll. Other than the hope that they’re getting Bourn without paying for Bourn and that the Phillies are going to use the money they didn’t spend to improve the offense at another spot (right field and third base), this doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.

The Phillies and GM Ruben Amaro Jr. are again straddling the same line they did in December of 2009 when they chose to trade Cliff Lee away to get Roy Halladay in the interests of maintaining and bolstering their farm system while achieving certainty that they’d have Halladay past the 2010 season when Lee was set to be a free agent. As it turned out the Phillies dipped into the market and brought Lee back a year later, but that was after a disappointing first half of the season and teetering on falling from contention due to a shortness of pitching led them to acquiring Roy Oswalt to fix the problem Amaro created by trading Lee away in the first place. It had appeared that Amaro learned a hard lesson that a team with the age and expectations of the Phillies couldn’t simultaneously build for the future while winning in the present, but pending other acquisitions, he apparently hasn’t.

This is another Amaro move where it’s clear what he’s doing, but reasonable to ask why he’s doing it because unless the Phillies make a drastic addition to the offense (and Michael Young or Kevin Youkilis are not “drastic”), they’ll find themselves in the same position they were in during the summer of 2010, but instead of getting an Oswalt to fix the pitching, they’ll need to make other deals to fix a sputtering offense and save the season and don’t have the prospects they did then to facilitate such a maneuver. The landscape is also different with a new and highly competitive National League East. What worked in 2010 is unlikely to be as successful in 2013.

For the Twins, they’re trying to improve a profound lack of depth in the organization and desperately need pitching. At first glance, they seemed to have short-changed themselves when they sent Denard Span to the Nationals for Alex Meyer, but I like Meyer a lot. He’s big (6’9”), has a free and easy motion, a power fastball, and outstanding mound presence. The potential is there for a top of the rotation starter.

With Worley, there were murmurs about attitude problems and thinking he’s a part of the Lee/Halladay/Cole Hamels group without having accomplished anything to be a part of such a high-end rotation. He was dominant in 2011, but the sense of “here’s my fastball, hit it,” brought back images of Jason Isringhausen when he burst onto the scene with the Mets in 1995, blew away the National League, came back in 1996 and struggled with an inability to adapt to the hitters’ adjustments and injuries. If Worley is willing to listen and lose the macho “me fire fastball” strategy, then he can be successful. If not, the American League is going to educate him quickly. In fairness, he was pitching hurt in 2012 and required elbow surgery. He’s not a guarantee and was expendable for the Phillies while being a clear asset to the Twins. That’s if he learns to act properly, something the Twins insist on.

The Twins did well in acquiring these pitchers for the two center fielders they had on their roster, but as is the case with most clubs who trade from a moderate strength to address a weakness, they’ve created another hole. Considering the rebuild they’re undertaking though, they didn’t have much of a choice.

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Joe Girardi Needs to Channel Saul Goodman and Other “I Woulds” From the Yankees Disaster

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You can get a postmortem on the 2012 Yankees anywhere and most of them are partisan and ridiculous. The autopsy and dissection of this carcass will be extensive and tantamount to a bunch of animals crawling all over one another to get a piece of the dead, rotting meat with no logic, reason, or intelligence. Primal and mindless, the excuses, prescriptions, suggestions, demands, and shifting of the narrative will have little to do with what actually can and will be done.

Instead of that, let’s look at the individuals in this tragicomedy, what they should do and more importantly, what they will do.

Joe Girardi—Manager

Is it his fault? No. Is he totally devoid of responsibility? He wasn’t until GM Brian Cashman came out and said the decision to bench Alex Rodriguez was made between the manager, coaching staff, and him.

Considering all the garbage Girardi has to deal with on and off the field with an overpaid and veteran club along with the injuries and scrutiny, I don’t think there’s one manager who could have gotten more out of this team than Girardi got.

Ultimately, he’s responsible for the players—specifically Robinson Cano’s—lack of hustle, but unless he’s got support from the front office to bench him or try to get him to run out ground balls, act like he cares and isn’t entitled to do whatever he wants, benching the player would do no good.

In an episode of Breaking Bad, the amoral attorney Saul Goodman becomes the representative of meth manufacturers/dealers Walter White and Jesse Pinkman when they drag him into the desert to threaten him if his client Badger (Jesse’s friend) talks after being arrested.

Jesse: Listen to me very carefully. You are going to give Badger Mayhew the best legal representation ever. But no deals with the DEA! Badger will not identify anyone to anybody. If he does, you’re dead!

Saul: Why don’t you just kill Badger?

This is what Girardi has to do if they try to fire him by saying, “Why blame me? Blame Cashman!” Is it dragging Cashman down with him? Maybe. Does Cashman deserve it if he tries to blame Girardi for this mess? Absolutely.

Here are Girardi’s choices: A) Do what I say he should do; B) Tell the Yankees that if he’s going to run this team, he can’t do it on the last year of his contract in 2013 and ask for a contract extension that they won’t give him and get himself fired; C) wait it out and see what happens in 2013. If they get off to a bad start, he’s getting the axe (if he survives this winter).

What will Girardi do?

Nothing. He’ll wait. I strongly doubt he’s getting fired.

Brian Cashman—General Manager

If Cashman cites anything other than what he himself has done, then I’d fire him immediately. The complaints about Rafael Soriano being shoved down his throat against his will lost all viability when Soriano took over for the injured Mariano Rivera and was brilliant, probably saving the Yankees’ playoff spot along the way because they didn’t have anyone else who could close and had traded the useful prospects that might’ve gotten them a closer for Michael Pineda and Jose Campos.

It was Cashman who put this team together relying on the home run above all else. It was Cashman who traded two useful prospects (if only to trade for someone who actually would’ve contributed) for Pineda and Campos—both on the disabled list.

It was Cashman who left this team without a viable bench to sit the players who needed to be sat down in the playoffs. They had no super-utility player to replace Derek Jeter and A-Rod; no center fielder to sit Curtis Granderson; not enough bench strength to bench Nick Swisher or Cano if they chose to punish him for his disinterest.

This is Cashman’s team. He put it together and he’s responsible for it. And I don’t mean a hollow, “The responsibility ends with me,” as Cashman will say. I mean actual responsibility in that, “You made this mess; you embarrassed the organization with your behavior away from the office; you’ve been here too long; and you’re fired.”

I’d fire Cashman. Damon Oppenheimer or Billy Eppler can’t do much worse. Or maybe see if Gene Michael or Pat Gillick wanted to do the job for a couple of years to groom Oppenheimer or Eppler to take over.

What will happen with Cashman?

I think it’s a 55% chance that he’s back and no more than that.

A-Rod—Aging star and gadfly

The noise has begun. A-Rod wants to stay. They don’t have anyone to replace him. He can still play. Blah and blah and blah.

I would not pay his entire contract to get him off the team, but I would see if I can move him. It’s over and the sideshow that was once mitigated by his on-field performance is now just a sideshow.

I’d do everything within reason to get him out.

What will happen with A-Rod?

They’ll get rid of him, somehow, some way.

Rafael Soriano—Relief pitcher

He’s opting out of his contract and is leaving.

What they’ll do:

Say goodbye.

Kevin Long—Hitting coach

He’s gone. It’s not his fault, but it wasn’t his doing when they were going well. Girardi didn’t sound too thrilled with Long when Long suggested the Yankees should play more small ball. It was a shot (presumably unintentional) at the manager and the manager has the last word in situations like this.

Robinson Cano—Second baseman

They’re not going to let him enter 2013 in his walk year and after getting swept, they’ll want to have a “positive” feeling. This can be accomplished by signing their star second baseman to a long-term contract.

If I were agent Scott Boras, I would redact the 2012 post-season from the Blue Book of Accomplishments he prepares for all of his free agents as if it’s a classified government memo and claim that it never happened.

I would think very long and hard about signing Cano to a long-term deal at age 31 and with his growing laziness.

Curtis Granderson—Center fielder

They’ll exercise his contract option and scan the market to see if they can: A) deal Granderson; B) get a replacement such as Denard Span, Shane Victorino, Dexter Fowler, or someone.

Nick Swisher—Outfielder/first baseman

Bye. Good luck getting the Jayson Werth contract you implied you wanted.

Andy Pettitte—Left-handed starting pitcher

Ask for a definitive answer as to what he’s doing in 2013 with no Roger Clemens-style vacillation. Either he wants to play or he doesn’t and if he doesn’t, it’s time to move on.

What Pettitte will do:

I think he’s going to retire.

Ichiro Suzuki—Outfielder

They might think about brining Ichiro back, but I wouldn’t. They got him for nothing; they got use from him; he’s extremely limited as a player and at his age won’t maintain the good work he did for the Yankees over a full season.

What they’ll do:

They’ll let him leave.

This is a crumbling municipality with a set of power brokers at the controls who are desperately trying to patch it together; the man in charge of baseball operations has made a series of unforgiveable gaffes; the baseball people are powerless.

Changes need to be made, but they’re not going to make the most significant and necessary ones. They’ll move forward with this failed template and the results will be predictable. There’s not an endless domination from year-to-year. They haven’t taken steps to replace the aging and broken down core and are reliant on players who are 38 and above. Jeter and Rivera, at their ages, are coming back from serious injuries that required surgery; Pettitte is going year-to-year and day-to-day and as good as he was on the mound and in the clubhouse, the “will I? or won’t I?” stuff is a hindrance to the off-season plans.

They’re old; they’re expensive; they’re comfortable; they’re limited.

This cannot be repaired on the fly. It’s a hard lesson that’s been proven and no air of superiority and proclamations of “we’re different” can skirt these facts. They’ll try. And they’ll fail. Just like the 2012 (and 2011 and 2010) versions of this team.

It’s unavoidable. The thing is coming down and they’re not going to do what must be done to stop it.

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The Rangers Have More Options Than Josh Hamilton Does

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The Rangers announced decision to let free agent outfielder Josh Hamilton test the market before coming back to them is reminiscent of the Yankees telling Derek Jeter the same thing when Jeter was unhappy with the offers the Yankees presented. In a different context, the Yankees knew that Jeter had nowhere to go because he was coming off a substandard season and the consensus was that no matter what, the then-36-year-old Jeter was eventually going to wind up back with the Yankees. The same could hold true with Hamilton and the Rangers, but in a different way.

If he returns to the Rangers, it will be for far less money and fewer years that Hamilton and his agents implied they wanted. The name Prince Fielder and the number $214 million were kicked around in the media as a comparison when the negotiations were broached in the spring. Those negotiations were put on hold as Hamilton was caught drinking. The Rangers are not going to overspend to keep their talented and troubled outfielder. In fact, it’s becoming clear that the Rangers may not be all that bothered if another team does go overboard to sign Hamilton and he can walk away from them before they walk away from him.

The Rangers have been good to Hamilton. They’ve done everything possible and necessary to try and keep him clean and sober while coming close to the line of enabling without crossing it. Of course much of that was in their own self-interest, but other teams wouldn’t have gone that far. They would’ve gotten rid of Hamilton as soon as he slipped up. The problem Hamilton has as a free agent isn’t limited to his off-field issues anymore. He was mediocre in the second half of the season (16 homers, .833 OPS) following a gargantuan first half (27 homers, 1.016 OPS) and he appeared disinterested as the season wound down. His error in the last game of the regular season against the Athletics is viewed as a culmination, but his mind looked to be elsewhere for quite some time prior to that.

He’s not getting $200 million and he’s not getting an 8-10 year contract. I seriously doubt that he’s even going to get a 5-year contract. It’s also a question now as to how the Rangers want to approach the possible end of their run of dominance in the American League. There’s a chance that they make the preemptive strikes and clear out some key components of their 2010-2011 World Series participants. Other clubs failed to make those hard decisions and led to their downfalls by staying the course with the players who could’ve and should’ve been replaced before they faltered. Teams have to evolve and make intelligent and gutsy alterations. That the Rangers blew a large division lead and got bounced in the Wild Card play-in game—a game they shouldn’t have had to play in in the first place—gives them a basis to let the likes of Hamilton go without much of a media/fan firestorm.

If they make significant changes such as listening to offers on Ian Kinsler to make room for Jurickson Profar, then it’s also a good bet that they’ll also move on from Hamilton and bring in one of the available center fielders on the free agent market such as B.J. Upton, Shane Victorino, or via trade with Dexter Fowler or Denard Span.

Hamilton’s talents are worth a significant amount of money; his personal demons are foundation for letting him leave. What the Rangers have to decide is where the line is on how far to go to keep him and when to say it’s not worth it and let him walk.

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Mid-Season Player Trade Predictions—American League

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If you read the mainstream sites and clearing houses of “rumors”, you’ll see that at any given time approaching the July 31st deadline there are around 30 different trades with 50+ players that are supposedly being discussed. The problem is the majority of the purveyors of this sludge claim to have “inside information”. But it’s always the same players going to 10 different places, staying put, signing contracts or whatever other fiction they can come up with and it’s done to accumulate webhits and play you for a fool. Most of it is garbage. It’s probably wise to just ignore the “rumors” that pop up since most of them are formulated based on search engine analysis and have little-to-no basis in fact.

Let’s have a logical look at players that are or might be available along with predictions of where they’ll end up or if they won’t be traded at all. The teams listed are sellers, possible sellers or those who are willing or have the need to do something drastic. The National League will be posted at another time.

Tampa Bay Rays

James Shields, RHP—He won’t be traded mid-season unless a team gets desperate and offers 2-3 legit prospects to get him. He’s signed through 2014 and the Rays are still in contention. I do believe he’ll eventually be traded, but it won’t be until the winter.

Wade Davis, RHP—They won’t trade him.

Boston Red Sox

Kelly Shoppach, C—He’ll get traded in an “if this, then that” deal meaning if the Red Sox have to trade someone from the current roster to improve the starting rotation, they’ll trade Shoppach simultaneously to fill the created hole.

He’ll end up with the Mets.

Carl Crawford, LF—No one’s taking that contract now. They’ll try to deal him after the season to free money to sign Jacoby Ellsbury long-term and might find a taker if Crawford’s healthy and plays well over the final 2 months. Both Crawford and the Red Sox seem to realize that it would be best if the sides parted. The Red Sox signing him was a mistake; Crawford signing in Boston was a mistake.

Josh Beckett, RHP—Since the media created a ridiculous rumor out thin air that would’ve sent Crawford to the Marlins for Heath Bell and Hanley Ramirez, I’ve got one of my own (only not ridiculous). If they’re going to get rid of Beckett, they’ll have to take a similar contract in return. Beckett is owed $31.5 million through 2014. If the Marlins are desperate to get rid of Bell, how about Bell, Anibal Sanchez and Randy Choate for Beckett?

I’m sure Bell and Bobby Valentine would get along about as well as Valentine and Kevin Youkilis. Or Valentine and anyone else. Which is to say not well. At all.

Toronto Blue Jays

Yunel Escobar, SS—Escobar may have irritated his way out of another venue and the Dodgers need a shortstop. For some reason, the Blue Jays fancy themselves as contenders and need pitching.

Kansas City Royals

Jeff Francoeur, OF—He was with the Rangers when they went to the World Series in 2010 and if he was a defensive replacement for the Nelson Cruz in the 2011 series, they would’ve won. Jon Daniels and Nolan Ryan won’t forget that.

Bruce Chen, LHP—They’re not going to trade him.

Jonathan Broxton, RHP—His strikeout numbers are down, but he’s had a solid comeback season as a closer. The cross-state Cardinals need bullpen help.

Jose Mijares, LHP—Everyone needs an extra lefty. The Dodgers are ready to buy.

Minnesota Twins

Justin Morneau, 1B—They haven’t made clear that they’re going to trade him, but if he goes I say—and have said for months—that he goes to the Dodgers.

Josh Willingham, OF—They’re not trading him.

Denard Span, CF—They’re not trading him.

Francisco Liriano, LHP—He’s in heavy demand and can start or relieve. The Yankees have long coveted him and could use him in either role.

Carl Pavano, RHP—He’s back in his office (the disabled list). He won’t be back in time to be dealt at the deadline, but he’ll get through waivers in August and wind up somewhere. The Red Sox will take him for nothing.

Oakland Athletics

Grant Balfour, RHP; Kurt Suzuki, C—The A’s can’t justify dumping salary while they’re hovering around contention. They’re not making the playoffs and are playing over their heads, but they’re playing well and moving anyone for reasons other than to improve the team is not feasible.

Seattle Mariners

Jason Vargas, LHP—Once the bigger names come off the board, Vargas is a viable back-of-the-rotation starter who’s relatively cheap and under team control through 2013. The Braves do lots of yapping about being in on “big” names like Zack Greinke, then wind up trading for a Vargas-type.

Felix Hernandez, RHP—They’re not trading him.

Brandon League, RHP—League is a mediocre reliever, but throws hard and has been unlucky this season. The Giants are always interested in improving their bullpen.

Chone Figgins, INF/OF—What happened to this guy? The only thing I can see as possible is if the Angels are so desperate to get rid of Vernon Wells that they pick up the difference in the two contracts and send Wells to Seattle to get Figgins back. He was a very good player for the Angels.

Kevin Millwood, RHP—I’d probably prefer the veteran Millwood to Vargas. He’s been serviceable this season and has post-season experience. The Cardinals need some starting pitching.

Ichiro Suzuki, RF—According to GM Jack Zduriencik, Ichiro (.264/.290/.358) is still a “franchise” player. Jack Z can start cleaning out his office. Someone would take Ichiro, but evidently he’s not available. This is how teams that lose 90+ games for four straight years are built and maintained!

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American League Central—Buy, Sell or Stand Pat?

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I’m going division by division. This morning I went through the AL East. Now it’s time for the AL Central.

Chicago White Sox

They’re buyers and should be, but they need to do it within reason.

They’ve already made one move to fill a hole by getting Kevin Youkilis essentially for nothing, they need a starting pitcher and some bullpen help.

Could they cobble together the prospects to get a Cole Hamels, Zack Greinke or Matt Garza? Probably. Should they? Probably not. But GM Ken Williams is going to do what he’s going to do and won’t apologize nor backtrack. They’ve played this well up to this point with John Danks and Philip Humber injured.

I would tweak the bullpen with a Brandon League, Huston Street, Rafael Betancourt or Francisco Rodriguez if he comes available; plus another lefty like Joe Thatcher. The best improvements to the club will be if Danks and Humber come back effectively and if Alexei Ramirez starts hitting. That’s more important than any acquisition they could make. A desperation trade would be counterproductive.

Cleveland Indians

They need a bat at first base, the outfield or at DH. I’d leave the pitching alone unless they can get Ryan Dempster at a reasonable price. Yes, Travis Hafner’s off the disabled list, but judging from history he’ll be back on it soon enough. Neither of their veteran acquisitions—Johnny Damon and Casey Kotchman—have hit; they can forget about getting anything from Grady Sizemore.

They could use a lefty out of the bullpen and should make a move on the just released Brian Fuentes. For a bat, Carlos Quentin is out there. If the Cubs will pay his whole salary, they might want to take a look at Alfonso Soriano. At the very least he’d hit them some homers. Ty Wigginton would be a useful and cheap extra bat.

If they’re inclined, they could craft an offer for Justin Upton and wait to see if B.J. Upton comes available.

Detroit Tigers

The second they signed Prince Fielder and moved Miguel Cabrera to third base, the Tigers were all-in to win now. They need a starting pitcher and while I wouldn’t trade Jacob Turner, that’s probably what’s going to have to happen to get one of the big names out there, Hamels, Greinke and Garza. I have a feeling that Placido Polanco is going to be playing second base for the Tigers before the end of July.

A lot will depend on how realistic it is to pin their needs for a bat on Victor Martinez getting back from knee surgery well before he was expected to.

The Tigers can still salvage their season and make the playoffs. There’s no dominant team in the AL Central.

Kansas City Royals

A couple of weeks ago I asked why they would be selling when they were only 5 games out of first place and had played well since a rancid start. Now they’re 9 ½ games out of first place and are said to be willing to move closer Jonathan Broxton but won’t give him away. They have players who have use like Jeff Francoeur, Bruce Chen and Jose Mijares.

They should get what they can for Mijares and stay where they are, giving the young players a chance to right the ship. This can still be a positive season for the Royals.

Minnesota Twins

They need to sell some of the key pieces from their long run in dominating the division. That means Justin Morneau and Francisco Liriano. I still think Morneau winds up in Los Angeles with the Dodgers. Liriano is going to be in heavy demand for multiple teams as a starter or reliever. Matt Capps will wind up getting traded somewhere maybe as part of a Morneau to the Dodgers deal.

I would not trade Denard Span.

If Carl Pavano returns and shows himself healthy, he’ll get through waivers in August and teams will need a body with a functioning arm. I suppose Pavano qualifies in that respect. Sort of.

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Sticker Shlock

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“Don’t be surprised if the Twins give at least some thought to trading Justin Morneau.”

Um, yeah. No kidding.

The above quote is from this Full Count video link from Ken Rosenthal.

Where’s he been?

There’s no story here other than what’s being sold. The Twins are horrible, they need multiple pieces and want to slash salary. But it’s treated as breaking news.

Morneau is making $14 million this season and $14 million next season. He’s had post-concussion syndrome and wrist trouble. He’s hit 4 homers in the past 5 games and has something left at age 31, but is an expensive risk. No team is taking that money unless they’re convinced Morneau is healthy, the Twins pick up a chunk of it or it’s in exchange for another bad contract.

None of that is relevant to the initial premise: that it’s a surprise that the Twins would trade him. Of course they would. They’d be fools not to.

More potential dealings for the Twins.

They’re not trading Josh Willingham unless they’re bowled over for him. They just signed him to a very reasonable contract of 3-years, $21 million and he’s a part of the solution with Joe Mauer, not part of the problem. The other players mentioned—Denard Span, Matt Capps could be had and (“maybe even” according to Rosenthal) Carl Pavano.

Maybe even? What maybe even? They’d love to dump Pavano and get something for him. He’s a free agent at the end of the season and he hasn’t pitched well. What do they need him for? And why would they try to re-sign a barely mediocre 37-year-old?

Pavano, Francisco Liriano and Capps are all going to be gone before the season is over. They’ll keep Span. He’s signed to a reasonable deal (owed $11.75 million from 2013-2014 and under team control for 2015 with an option) and it’s hard to find centerfielders.

Alex Gordon can be pried loose?

That’s according to Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe. Where he’s getting this is presumably from the same place where lurk the unnamed GMs and executives that pop up as sources in ludicrous stories. I think it’s Joel Sherman’s repulsive to the touch lair of lies.

That concept of trading Gordon makes sense except that they’ve shown zero willingness to make “play for the future” trades and they just signed Gordon to a long-term extension worth $37.5 million through 2015 with a 2016 option. He’s been hitting in bad luck (.277 BAbip) as opposed to his .358 BAbip last season. Gordon’s not a .303 hitter like he hit last year, but he’s not a .220 hitter either. He’s found a home in left field as a defensive force. What purpose would there be for the Royals to trade him as they’re trying to attach the fans to their young players and build a winner? More “wait ‘til five years from now”? I don’t think so. Gordon’s going nowhere.

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