The Cubs and Kris Bryant: following the rules, manipulating them or both?

MLB

After all the debates, arguments, anger, rhetoric, defensiveness, explanations, excuses and rants, it comes down to the one simple question regarding the Chicago Cubs and third base prospect Kris Bryant: Are they following the rules, manipulating them or both?

It’s not a hedge or a dodge or an attempt to avoid taking a side to say it’s both.

If the Cubs keep Bryant in the minors for a minimum of 12 days at the beginning of the season, they’ll be able to recall him, play him for almost the entire season while simultaneously having an extra year of team control before he’s eligible for free agency. There’s nothing illegal about this. It doesn’t even violate the collective bargaining agreement as it currently stands. As for whether or not it’s ethical or moral, that’s up in the air. From the perspective of Bryant and his agent Scott Boras, it’s a manipulation in violation of the spirit of the rule. From the perspective of the Cubs and team president Theo Epstein, it’s manipulation camouflaged by the rules and buttressed by the excuse that Bryant needs to improve his defense at third base.

Is it true that he needs to improve his defense? Yes. Is that improvement going to magically happen over the course of two weeks after he’s been working on his defense for years? You tell me.

It’s ironic how Epstein’s methods are glorified when the vast proportion of the media agrees with them and/or they work, but when he does something that looks shady, it turns into a relentless holy war as to how far his ruthlessness should go. Epstein is a new age baseball executive whose entire being is supposedly based on objective analysis. It was how he helped build the Boston Red Sox to win the club’s first World Series in 84 years; it’s how he grew into the epitome of what many analysts and observers believe a sports executive should be; and it’s how he’s gotten a pass on certain behaviors that are petty, babyish, self-indulgent and morally and ethically questionable.

This is no different from the tactics that made Billy Beane famous and helped Epstein win that elusive championship for the Red Sox. It’s how he’s trying to win another elusive championship with the Cubs. Finding loopholes and stretching the boundaries to its fullest advantage isn’t limited to finding a Scott Hatteberg or David Ortiz. It includes blaming managers like Dale Sveum when the “plan” isn’t following the preordained script. It includes dumping Sveum’s replacement, Rick Renteria like he’s the first wife to a suddenly famous Hollywood actor when the “hotter” wife who was previously unattainable, Joe Maddon, comes along.

You can’t have it both ways. It’s one or the other. Either you’re all in with Epstein’s methods or you’re not. For now, he’s bulletproof because he has the resume to be bulletproof. Even the shallow critiques of his treatment of Bryant and arrogant dismissal of assertions that he’s simply using sleight of hand to justify it won’t change the outcome: they’re sending him to the minors to start the season. Those who suddenly find his actions distasteful are not in a position to be judging him since it’s they who built him up in the first place.

With Bryant and how he’s likely to lose that year of service time, this is a loophole that is the responsibility of the union to close. Some players have willingly gone along with being kept them in the minors for this reason alone. Evan Longoria is the most famous case as the Tampa Bay Rays started him in Triple A in 2008, recalled him and immediately signed him to a long-term contract that has since been called the most value-laden deal in baseball history. At the time, the idea of signing a player who hadn’t yet played in the big leagues to a guaranteed contract was revolutionary or insane. It turned out to be a stroke of brilliance on the part of the Rays that was rapidly copied. Players like the Astros’ George Springer who don’t give in to the pressure with the big league carrot dangling in front of them are kept in the minors. Players like Bryant will simply have to deal with the reality that his free agency will likely come after 2021 instead of after 2020.

To compound Longoria’s acquiescence to and tacit agreement with this circumventing of the spirit of the CBA, he also eschewed his opportunity to gauge his value on the open market Robinson Cano-style and get the $200+ million deal he’d undoubtedly receive by signing another contract extension with the Rays for $100 million in guaranteed money.

Every time a player does what Longoria, Mike Trout and many others have done and take the upfront, guaranteed money in lieu of free market capitalism, it damages what Boras is trying to do, much to the chagrin and anger of the agent. Even one of Boras’s own clients, Jered Weaver, took less money to stay with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, citing his happiness with the club and that he didn’t need to get every single available dollar to prove his worth. Weaver is an anomaly among Boras clients.

Since Bryant’s agent is Boras, the likelihood of the player signing a long-term extension with the Cubs to buy out his arbitration eligibility and first few years of free agency are minuscule if not outright not-existent. This is the way in which the Cubs are combating the understanding that they’ll have Bryant for a limited period and either have to pay him or move on. Longoria and Weaver were content enough in their station and egos that they didn’t have to scrounge for every penny. Not everyone is like that.

Strangely, the Cubs have stated that they’re going to play Bryant in the outfield over the next few spring training games essentially undermining the entire concept of him getting his defense at third base to be serviceable enough that he’s deemed “ready” for major league duty. Then again, it’s a wink-and-nod act of dishonesty to say that his defense isn’t good enough and that it will improve in those two weeks in the minors that, coincidentally, will also let the Cubs keep him at a reasonable price for an extra year.

The fact is that everyone knows what the Cubs are doing. Not everyone agrees with it, but it’s perfectly legal based on the CBA. If the union and Boras have a problem with it, it’s up to them to close the loophole to stop it from happening again.

While the number of home runs that Bryant has hit in spring training (nine in 32 plate appearances as of this writing) is largely irrelevant and doesn’t mean he’s automatically “ready” for the majors, he’s clearly got the goods to be a big league star. A former second overall pick with consistently massive production at every minor league level, he’s going to hit and hit with power in the majors. But it won’t be until after 12 days have passed in the 2015 season.

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ALDS Playoffs Preview and Predictions – Boston Red Sox vs. Tampa Bay Rays

Games, History, Management, Players, Playoffs

Boston Red Sox (97-65) vs. Tampa Bay Rays (92-71)

Keys for the Red Sox: Score a lot of runs; don’t rely on their starting pitching; get the Rays’ starters pitch counts up and get into the bullpen; don’t let Farrell’s mistakes burn them.

The Red Sox led the American League in on-base percentage and runs scored. Much has been made of their “top-to-bottom” lineup, but a lot of their success was based on circumstance. Yes, they have guys who hit the ball out of the park and work the count in David Ortiz, Mike Napoli and Shane Victorino. Yes, they have grinders and fiery players like Dustin Pedroia, Jonny Gomes and Mike Carp. Yes, Jarrod Saltalamacchia had a big power year.

That said, the Red Sox took great advantage of teams with bad pitching. When they ran into teams with good pitching – teams that weren’t going to walk them and give up homers – they had trouble. The Rays aren’t going to walk them and give up homers.

The Red Sox starting pitching has been serviceable, but not superior. They have a starting rotation of a lot of impressive names who have also benefited from the Red Sox run-scoring lineup and solid defense.

The Rays’ starters have a tendency to run up high pitch counts. Manager Joe Maddon showed that he was willing to push his starters in the post-season with David Price’s complete game in the wild card tiebreaker. The Rays bullpen has been shaky and I certainly don’t trust Fernando Rodney. If the Red Sox can have a lead or keep the game close late, they’ll score on the Rays’ bullpen.

Farrell deserves immense credit for the Red Sox turnaround. It can’t be forgotten, though, that everything worked out right for them this year. Farrell still has his strategic missteps and in the post-season, they’re magnified.

Keys for the Rays: Get depth from their starters; keep the Red Sox off the bases and in the park; rely on Evan Longoria.

Maddon is deft at handling his bullpen, but it’s always better to not have to put the game in the hands of Rodney, Joel Peralta and the rest of the mix-and-match crew he has out there. Price pitched a complete game dancing through the proverbial raindrops against the Rangers. Matt Moore racks up high pitch counts by the middle-innings. Maddon will push them, but he won’t abuse them. If he has to remove them, then a bullpen-based game is to his disadvantage.

The Red Sox look for walks and pitches they can hit out of the park. If you don’t walk them and get the breaking ball over, they’re not going to be able to hit their homers with runners on base.

Longoria lives for the spotlight. He wants people to be talking about him on social media and over coffee the next morning. If he hits and the Rays pitch, they’re tough to beat.

What will happen:

As incredible as Koji Uehara has been as the Red Sox closer, his longball tendency concerns me. He’s never faced this kind of pressure before and all the strikeouts in the world aren’t going to help him if the home run ball bites him at an inopportune moment.

I don’t trust the Red Sox bullpen; I don’t trust their starting pitchers; and I don’t think they’re going to hit with the authority they did during the regular season, nor are they going to have the runners on base to put up crooked numbers.

The Rays are playing with a freewheeling abandon that comes from the top. Maddon is a superior strategic manager to Farrell and has greater experience in post-season games. Farrell will make a game-costing gaffe at some point in this series.

There’s a strange love-fest going on with the Red Sox outside their fanbase and I’m not sure why. There’s an idea that because they had a collapse in 2011 and a rotten year in 2012, that they’ve “earned” this season and it’s going to end in a championship.

The playoffs have a tendency to provide an electroshock rude awakening. Sort of like a sting from a ray.

PREDICTION: RAYS IN FIVE




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Cliff Lee And The All-Star Look

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

If there are a trail of bodies or body parts scattered from Cleveland to Philadelphia to Seattle to Texas and back to Philadelphia, be on the lookout for this man.

cliffleeallstar

What is Cliff Lee’s problem? Never mind that his All-Star look was more appropriate for a man awaiting a decision as to whether or not he’d get the death penalty and the question as to whether he’d ever learned to fake a smile and tip his hat. This isn’t about that face which would make a hardened criminal or sociopathic dictator think twice before messing with him, but it’s about the repeated trades of Lee and how he’s seemingly always up for discussion in trade talk. We’ve seen instances of him glaring at teammates who make errors behind him and even confronting them as he did with Shane Victorino. Much like the B.J. UptonEvan Longoria incident when Longoria questioned Upton as to why he didn’t hustle on a ball hit in the gap, it obviously wasn’t the first time that players, coaches and the manager spoke to Upton regarding his lackadaisical play. Lee’s name prominently featured in trade talks, his strange history as a journeyman in spite of how good he is and that face make it a viable question as to whether he’s worth the aggravation unless he’s pitching like an All-Star.

Is Lee a clubhouse problem? While his teammates appear to respect his commitment and status as one of the top pitchers in baseball over the past five years, it reverts back to wondering why he’s always a negotiable topic in trade discussions. With the Indians the trade to the Phillies was spurred by his contract status, that the team was rebuilding and they wanted to maximize his value rather than lose him for nothing a year-and-a-half later. With the Phillies, the club got the idea that he wanted to test the free agent waters after the 2010 season and they preferred someone who was with them for the long-term in Roy Halladay while simultaneously maintaining some semblance of a farm system. Lee denied that he told the Phillies he didn’t want to negotiate an extension prior to the trade.

With the Mariners, the club was in the midst of a disastrous season in which the planned dual-aces at the top of their rotation with Felix Hernandez and Lee wasn’t working out and they traded him to the Rangers for a large package of youngsters. Lee certainly didn’t look any happier with the Mariners than he did during the All-Star introductions.

He went back to the Phillies after the 2010 season, spurning the Rangers and Yankees. Whether or not Lee is a clubhouse problem or is just an introverted, intense competitor who lets his emotions get the better of him is known only to his teammates and the organizations he’s played for. With Lee, though, there’s been a smirking shrug when things aren’t going his way as if it’s not his fault.

The Phillies’ decision to trade Lee once was based on pure business practices. When the parties reunited after backbiting and back-and-forth accusations as to what went wrong the first time, it was viewed as Lee liking Philly better than New York and the Phillies offering more money than Texas. For the Phillies it was an overt admission of the initial mistake in trading Lee. Given their continued willingness to listen to offers on Lee, it’s clearly evident that the relationship is still a business one. Lee didn’t want to bring his family to New York where his wife had a bad experience during the playoffs against the Yankees while he was pitching for the Rangers. The Phillies wanted to build a juggernaut. Both got what they wanted.

Currently there is speculation that the Phillies might trade Lee if they decide to sell at the trading deadline, but they’ve said they’re not going to. It’s not because they’re in love with Lee, but because they think they’re still in contention for 2013 and will be in contention in 2014, so they’ll be a better team with Lee than they would be with the prospects he’d bring back or the players they could sign with the money freed up after getting his contract off the books. Lee doesn’t sound as if he’s all that bothered by the trade talk. His attitude and that face indicate he’s treating the game as a business and if he’s traded, that’s part of the deal. He’ll get paid and will escape another town and use his glare to scare off onlookers yet again in a new venue.

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Rethinking the GM, Part I—American League East

2013 MLB Predicted Standings, All Star Game, Award Winners, Ballparks, Books, CBA, Cy Young Award, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Hall Of Fame, History, Hot Stove, Management, Media, MiLB, MLB Trade Deadline, MLB Waiver Trades, MVP, Paul Lebowitz's 2013 Baseball Guide, PEDs, Players, Playoffs, Politics, Prospects, Spring Training, Stats, Trade Rumors, World Series

Maybe it’s time to rethink how GMs are hired instead of lauding owners for adhering to stats; for placating media demands; for listening to fans; for doing what they think will be well-received and garner them some good coverage while hoping that it’s going to work in lieu of hiring the best person for the job and all it entails. Some people may have sterling resumes, extensive experience, a great presentation and charisma and then fail miserably at one or another aspect of the job. Just because a GM was great at running another club’s draft, running the farm system or was a valuable jack-of-all-trades assistant doesn’t make them suited to do the big job.

With the struggles of GMs from both sides of the spectrum like the Mariners’ Jack Zduriencik, who built his club based on stats; and the Royals’ Dayton Moore, who rebuilt the entire Royals farm system into one of baseball’s best, after-the-fact and self-indulgent criticisms from the aforementioned factions of stat people, media and fans are essentially worthless. Zduriencik’s bandwagon has emptied since his first overachieving season as Mariners GM in 2009 when the team, which he had little to do with putting together, rose from 61-101 to 85-77 due to luck and performance correction rather than any brilliance on his part. Moore is a veritable punching bag for the Royals collapse from 17-10 after 27 games to 21-29 and sinking.

Instead of ripping the GMs for what they’ve done, perhaps it would be better to look at each GM and examine how he got the job without a retrospective on the moves they made and the teams they’ve built. This isn’t as flashy as dissecting his decisions as GM, but it’s probably more useful to those doing the hiring in the future. In short, was the hiring a good one in the first place and was the decision made based on factors other than putting a winning team together?

If you think it’s so easy to put your individual stamp on the job of being a Major League Baseball GM, then walk into your boss’s office today (if you have a job that is) and tell him or her some of the things you say on blogs and message boards and tweets to Keith Law: “This is how it’s gonna be, and I’m gonna do this my way and you better just give me full control…” On and on. Then, after you’re done, go get your resume ready to look for a new job. It doesn’t work in the way people seem to think it does and the audacity of someone who’s working the stockroom at Best Buy telling experienced baseball people how they should do their jobs needs to be tamped down a little. Actually, it needs to be tamped down a lot.

Let’s go division by division. First the American League East with subsequent postings to be published discussing all of the other divisions in baseball.

Boston Red Sox

Ben Cherington was the next-in-line successor to Theo Epstein when Epstein abandoned ship to take over as president of the Cubs. He’d worked in the Red Sox front office going back to the Dan Duquette days and was a highly regarded hire. His first season was pockmarked by the aftermath of the disastrous 2011 collapse, the interference of Larry Lucchino and John Henry and that he was overruled in his managerial preferences for someone understated like Gene Lamont in favor of Bobby Valentine. Now the team has been put together by Cherington and they’re trying to get back to what it was that built Epstein’s legacy in the first place.

New York Yankees

Brian Cashman walked into a ready-made situation when he took over for Bob Watson after the 1997 season. He’d been with the Yankees since 1986 working his way up from intern to assistant GM and barely anyone knew who he was when he got the job. His hiring inspired shrugs. He was known to George Steinbrenner and Cashman knew what his life would be like functioning as Steinbrenner’s GM. He was taking over a team that was a powerhouse. Little was needed to be done in 1998 and his main job during those years was to implement the edicts of the Boss or steer him away from stupid things he wanted to do like trading Andy Pettitte. If the Yankees had hired an outsider, it wouldn’t have worked because no one would’ve been as aware of the terrain of running the Yankees at that time as Cashman was. He’s a survivor.

Baltimore Orioles

Whether the Orioles would’ve experienced their rise in 2012 had Tony LaCava or Jerry Dipoto taken the job and been willing to work under the thumbs of both Peter Angelos and his manager Buck Showalter will never be known. Dan Duquette was hired as a last-ditch, name recognition choice whose preparedness in the interview was referenced as why he got the nod. Duquette has never received the credit for the intelligent, gutsy and occasionally brutal (see his dumping of Roger Clemens from the Red Sox) work he did in laying the foundation for the Red Sox championship teams or for the Expos club he built that was heading for a World Series in 1994 had the strike not hit. He’s a policy wonk and devoid of the charming personality that many owners look for in today’s 24/7 newscycle world in which a GM has to have pizzazz, but he’s a qualified baseball man who knows how to run an organization. Suffice it to say that if it was LaCava or Dipoto who was the GM in 2012, more credit would’ve gone to the GMs by the stat-loving bloggers than what Duquette has received. All he’s gotten from them is silence after they torched him and the Orioles when he was hired.

Tampa Bay Rays

For all the talk that Andrew Friedman is the “best” GM in baseball, it’s conveniently forgotten that he is in a uniquely advantageous situation that would not be present anywhere else. He has an owner Stuart Sternberg who is fully onboard with what Friedman wants to do; the team doesn’t have the money to spend on pricey free agents nor, in most cases to keep their own free agents unless they do what Evan Longoria has done and take far down-the-line salaries to help the club; and he’s not functioning in a media/fan hotbed where every move he makes is scrutinized for weeks on end.

If he were running the Yankees, would Friedman be able to tell Derek Jeter to take a hike at the end of this season if it benefited the club? No. But if it got to the point where any Rays player from Longoria to David Price to manager Joe Maddon wore out his welcome or grew too costly for what he provides, Friedman has the freedom to get rid of one or all. That wouldn’t happen anywhere else, therefore his success isn’t guaranteed as transferrable as a matter of course.

Toronto Blue Jays

After the rollercoaster ride on and off the field that was having J.P. Ricciardi as their GM, they tabbed his assistant Alex Anthopoulos as the new GM. There were no interviews and no interim label on Anthopoulos’s title. He was the GM. Period. Anthopoulos was a solid choice who had extensive experience in front offices with the Expos and Blue Jays. He’s also Canadian, which doesn’t hurt when running a Canadian team.

Should the Blue Jays have done other interviews? If the former GM is fired because his way wasn’t working, then that’s not just an indictment on the GM, but on his staff as well. No one in a big league front office is an island and if the prior regime didn’t succeed, then interviews of outside candidates—just to see what else is out there—would’ve been wise. It’s like getting divorced and then turning around marrying one of the bridesmaids. Anthopoulos still might’ve gotten the job, but it would not have been done with such tunnel vision.

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The “Worst” Contracts In New York Sports History?

All Star Game, Award Winners, Ballparks, CBA, Cy Young Award, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Hall Of Fame, History, Hot Stove, Management, Media, MiLB, MVP, Paul Lebowitz's 2013 Baseball Guide, PEDs, Players, Playoffs, Prospects, Spring Training, Stats, Trade Rumors, World Series

This New York Times article by Benjamin Hoffman has all the earmarks of the editorial edict telling him to write something and hand it in for publication without caring what it was that he actually wrote in content or accuracy. Never mind that judging the “worst” contracts in New York sports history can only be done in retrospect, it’s a completely random analysis that hinges on so many factors that it’s impossible to predict whether a contract will be deemed “good” or “bad” until years after the fact. This was designed to stoke fan anger by bringing up players who drew their ire.

The baseball names listed are Alex Rodriguez, Carl Pavano, Johan Santana, Jason Giambi, Mark Teixeira, A.J. Burnett, Kei Igawa, Bobby Bonilla, Jason Bay and Oliver Perez.

Going one by one, let’s look at the reality of these signings when they were made and the “badness” of the contracts.

A-Rod

A fall for A-Rod was predictable to a degree. That said, he’d hit 54 homers and won his second MVP with the Yankees in 2007. No one could’ve foreseen the number of embarrassing off-field episodes and injuries that have befallen A-Rod along with the continued PED admissions/allegations. Reasonably, the Yankees could’ve expected five more “big” A-Rod years with MVP contention, then three years of good production followed by a decline in the final years of the deal. The “final years” decline came early and now he’s an albatross.

Pavano

Had the Yankees not signed him to that contract, the Red Sox, Tigers or Mariners would have. They signed a pitcher who: was entering his prime at 29; had logged 200+ innings in back-to-back years; won 18 games in 2004, was an All-Star and finished sixth in the NL Cy Young Award voting; pitched brilliantly in the Marlins’ 2003 post-season run to the World Series title—especially against the Yankees; was from the metropolitan area and grew up a Yankees fan. Why wouldn’t they have signed him? Who could’ve predicted that they’d get someone who hated being a Yankee, acted like it and found reasons not to pitch?

Santana

The Mets had collapsed the year before and blown a playoff spot. They needed an ace at the top of the rotation and Santana was a two-time American League Cy Young Award winner. They gave up essentially nothing in terms of players at the time and in retrospect and were looking for the last piece in a championship puzzle. He was brilliant in 2008, good in 2009, and then the injuries started. There’s not much that can be done about that. Had they not paid him, someone else would have as a free agent after the 2008 season.

Giambi

In seven years in pinstripes, Giambi had 209 homers and a .925 OPS. This was almost identical to the numbers he’d posted in eight years with the Athletics before the Yankees signed him. Did they not get what they were expecting?

Teixeira

He’s hit 135 home runs in four seasons, won three Gold Gloves and has been an old-school professional. How his contract can be labeled as one of the “worst” with four years to go is a mystery.

Burnett

The problem with Burnett is that the Yankees overpaid for him based on desperation and his potential while ignoring that he was 31 when they signed him and he was what he was: gifted and aggravating. Blaming him for being himself is silly. This was a bad and stupid contract.

Igawa

A George Steinbrenner signing done as a “response” for the Red Sox signing of Daisuke Matsuzaka, it’s similar to any form of retaliation: it’s usually shortsighted and does more damage to the one making the move than to the one they’re retaliating against. No qualified baseball person could have looked at Igawa and thought he’d be a success against Major League hitters.

Bonilla

Find an economist to explain the Mets’ reasoning for the deferment and whether they’re actually going to wind up making money on the deal instead of giving a broad-based overview as to why it was “bad.” I would guess that the Mets probably used that money to make even more money than they’re spending for its duration.

Bay

Even if Bay had a decline in production because of the switch to Citi Field and advancing age, no one could’ve predicted that he’d be as bad as he was.

Perez

This was a desperation contract like Burnett’s. Ironically, Perez is a similar pitcher to Burnett in that he was gifted, aggravating and the club signing him mistakenly expected something other than what he was.

Go through any contract and you can find a reason to rip it. The number of Evan Longoria-type contracts where the club gets more than they bargained for at the right price or lower are so few and far between that it would be easier to list those than to list the bad contracts and it would make for a much shorter piece without the finger-wagging “I told you so.”

It’s random and to make it worse it appears to have been done because the author was instructed to do it and find case studies to “prove” a point that can’t be proven in the first place.

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Mike Trout’s Contract and the Needless Uproar

All Star Game, Award Winners, CBA, Cy Young Award, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Hall Of Fame, History, Management, Media, MiLB, MVP, PEDs, Players, Prospects, Spring Training, Stats

There’s been an absurd uproar and reaction of shock that the Angels chose to renew Mike Trout‘s contract for $510,000. This is strange considering that the constant storyline surrounding athletes is how overpaid they are. For the most part, it has little to do with their performance. Players who are at the top of the baseball pay scale like Albert Pujols, Alex Rodriguez, Joey Votto and Felix Hernandez are the examples given of players who are either not going to fulfill their paychecks with extended production into their late 30s or are considered anomalies and accused of PED use if they do perform.

In the realm of public perception, they can’t win. Of course they win in their bank account, but through no fault of their own, no matter what they do, it’s not going to be good enough.

Pujols’s contract is called a backend nightmare because he’s going to be paid $59 million two seasons after his 40th birthday.

A-Rod is breaking down physically, has $114 million due him with the very real possibility that the Yankees will eventually cut their losses of him and his constant sideshow of embarrassing drama, paying him to leave. They won’t even have the benefit of the extra income they thought they, as an organization, would accrue as A-Rod broke home run records. He probably won’t break the records at all and if he does, they’re sullied beyond all recognition due to his admitted PED use and recent allegations that their use has been ongoing.

Votto will be 30 in September and his 10-year, $225 million deal doesn’t kick in until 2014. He’ll be paid $25 million annually from age 35-39 and $20 million at 40. Plus Votto’s playing for a mid-market club, the Cincinnati Reds, for whom that contract might preclude them from putting commensurate talent around him.

Hernandez is a pitcher whose prematurely announced contract was put in jeopardy by red flags found in his elbow during his physical. By the time the contract news had been strategically leaked, neither he nor the Mariners could back out and protective language was inserted to shield the Mariners if he gets hurt.

Those who take down-the-line contracts to remain in their current venue are so rare that it’s a worldwide stunner when they make the decision that they don’t need to be the highest paid player in the world and that $85 million can buy just as much stuff as $200 million. Jered Weaver and Evan Longoria are players who have made that choice. They’re a rarity.

No matter where you stand on the issue of athletes’ pay, the way baseball functions can be manipulated to advantage the player, the club, or they can come to an agreement to share the risk with a preemptive, long-term deal. Once a player has exhausted his amateur eligibility, he’s at the mercy of the organization that drafts him. For the first three years of their major league careers, they’re paid at the whim of the team. The next three years they’re eligible for arbitration. Then they can become free agents. If they choose to do as Longoria did and sign a contract to give up their opportunity at arbitration and have their first couple of years at free agency bought out with guaranteed years and options, they can have a nice nest egg of $10-20 million regardless of whether if they flame out as players or become stars. It’s a gamble they take. It’s a gamble the team makes. It applies to everyone from Trout to the last player taken in the draft who manages to make it to the big leagues for a cup of coffee or is a late-bloomer and has a 20-year career.

You wouldn’t know that, though, from the indignant reaction to the Angels deciding to renew Trout’s contract for $510,000. Does Trout’s near-MVP season in 2012 have any bearing on the Angels’ decision to raise his salary by $28,000 from what he made as a rookie? Should it?

The Players Association makes the rules for all the players and it’s the players who instituted these rules. It allowed MLB to implement draconian constraints on newly drafted players because of the proffered reason to cut down on the huge signing bonuses amateurs receive. But the real, primordial reason is a “screw those guys” attitude that permeates established players and would, in a financial form of plausible deniable hazing, let the drafted players work their way up to making big money. It’s long been a point of contention for veteran major leaguers to see some kid taken at number 5 in the draft being handed an automatic $8 million bonus for nothing other than being a good amateur or having great tools. They dealt with it the best way they knew how. Of course it blew up in some of their faces as solid pitcher Kyle Lohse is sitting out because no one wants to give up the draft pick to sign him.

Eventually it affects everyone. These are the rules. The Angels aren’t beholden to an abstract code of right and wrong. They don’t have to give Trout a long-term contract extension if they don’t want to and they renewed his contract for an amount determined on their own volition. They don’t have to apologize or explain.

If Trout plays even 75% as well as he did in 2012, he’s going to get a $200 million contract from the Angels or someone else. He’ll have his freedom in five years. For now, he’s tied to the club that drafted him and that club can pay him whatever they choose to pay him under the parameters of the basic agreement. They decided on $510,000 and that’s what he’ll be paid. Or maybe they’re already planning a long-term contract to pay him for the next 6-8 years and buy out his arbitration years and free agency. Until that happens, his salary is what it is.

Is it fair?

Is it unfair?

It’s neither. These are the rules. It’s not slave wages and there’s no reason for the explosion of public ridicule for the Angels operating within the pay structure in Major League Baseball.

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Keys to 2013: Tampa Bay Rays

Award Winners, Cy Young Award, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Hall Of Fame, History, Management, MiLB, Players, Playoffs, Prospects, Spring Training, Stats, World Series

Starting Pitching Key: Matt Moore

Moore’s done his flashy playoff introduction to the world as David Price did. He had an inconsistent rookie year as Price did. Now, he’s ready to take the next step into Cy Young Award contender in his second season as Price did.

Moore has a smooth, clean, simple and repeatable motion similar to Cliff Lee. He’s refining his command and harnessing his changeup. The changeup is usually the last pitch a pitcher needs to master before fulfilling his potential. If Moore’s able to do that at age 24, the Rays will be legitimate World Series contenders.

Relief Pitching Key: Chris Archer

Fernando Rodney is not going to repeat his 48 save, 0.60 ERA. The question is whether he’ll revert to the on-again/off-again closer he was with the Tigers and Angels or will be able to get the job done the majority of the time. If he can’t and Kyle Farnsworth, the closer in 2011, can’t do it either, the Rays might turn to Archer.

Archer has been a starter in the minors, but has the power fastball to be a dominating reliever. The Rays have never been shy about using young pitchers in very important roles and Archer could play a major factor in 2013.

Offensive Key: Evan Longoria

As Longoria goes, so go the Rays. The other lineup bats Desmond Jennings, Kelly Johnson, Yunel Escobar, Matthew Joyce and eventually Wil Myers are undoubtedly important and the Rays are opportunistic and adaptable, but with Longoria they’re a title contender and without him, they’re not.

Defensive Key: Desmond Jennings

If Jennings has to play center field, he has to be at least adequate at the position. Sam Fuld is a fine defensive outfielder, but he can’t hit enough to justify being in the lineup as an everyday player. The Rays were in the market for a legitimate center fielder, but as the season moves along and Myers is recalled, they’re going to need to find a place to get Myers and Joyce in the lineup. Someone’s going to have to play the outfield and if Myers/Joyce are the DH, one is going to have to play left with Jennings in center.

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The Yankees Are Aware

CBA, Free Agents, Games, Hall Of Fame, History, Management, Media, MVP, Players, Playoffs, Prospects, Stats, World Series

Team policies are fine as long as they’re either necessary or enforceable. The Marlins, for example, refuse to give out no-trade clauses. Players who chose to sign with the Marlins, in a weird case of role-reversal considering the team name, were reeled in with the bait of guaranteed money. They tacitly accepted the risk when they went to Miami during the Marlins’ spending spree in the winter of 2011-2012. Regardless of the allegations from Mark Buehrle and Jose Reyes that Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria lied to their faces about not trading them, they entered into the agreement to go to Miami willingly and with childlike naïveté if they weren’t cognizant of Loria’s history and the real reason they don’t give out no-trade clauses being that he wanted the freedom to trade them whenever and wherever he felt like it.

The Yankees, on the other hand, have had a longstanding policy of not doling out contract extensions to players before the contracts had expired. It goes back to the days of George Steinbrenner and it wasn’t due to any business plan he adhered to, but like much of what he did, it was just because. Safe in the knowledge that the Yankees could and would outbid anyone for a player they wanted to keep and the egomaniacal delusion that everyone wants to be a Yankee, for the most part it succeeded in keeping the stars—Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Alex Rodriguez—even if the Yankees overpaid to do so.

That policy was exemplified, sort of, in the Jeter negotiations after the 2010 season. Jeter was a free agent and had subpar numbers the previous year. The Yankees weren’t raking him over the coals and using his ties to the organization to lowball him, but the identification and perception of loyalty of Jeter being Mr. Yankee, the captain of the team were weapons they knew Jeter had no defense for. If he was going to leave, it would’ve been to prove a point and ruin a large portion of why Jeter is so revered in the first place. In other words, short of telling him to go, Jeter was staying. They did tell him to shop around and see if any club chose to make a better offer than that of the Yankees. They knew the odds of that were minimal. Other teams knew the reality as well. Reluctant to be a negotiating tool, clubs steered clear of Jeter and he wound up returning to the Yankees for a relatively team-friendly, three-year deal with a player option for 2014.

None of these factors are in place with Robinson Cano and if the Yankees want to be assured of keeping him after this season, they’re going to need to deviate from club policy and sign him to an extension during the season.

Ignoring all the factors that make a $200+ million contract a bad idea—that Cano is already lackadaisical, running when he feels like it and nonchalant to the point of looking as if he needs a pillow—they’re not going to have any choice in the matter if they want to bring him back. In the past, the number of teams that had the means to sign Cano was limited to, perhaps, five. The number willing to do it would’ve been fewer. Now, it’s two. The second, however, is the Dodgers and they’re serious and flush with cash, uninterested in tweaking the Yankees by forcing them to pay more as the Red Sox used to, but pursuing Cano because they want to sign him.

Two clubs vying for one player is all agent Scott Boras needs if one is serious and the other is the club his player already plays for and desperately needs him back.

In years past, the Yankees were able to sell their history; the outside moneymaking possibilities; the city; the allure of being a Yankee and entering the Hall of Fame as a Yankee and never having worn another uniform; that they were in contention every year and wound spend enough cash to continue that trend; and that they would offer the most money.

Can they do that with Cano given the self-enacted constraints on payroll that they insist on reaching $189 million (or lower) by 2014? Can they sell history when there’s a club on the West Coast with a storied history of their own and more money and willingness to spend that money than the Yankees? Can they sell the concept of staying as part of the core group when the rest of the core group—Rivera, Jeter, Andy Pettitte—are at or near the end of their careers?

They can certainly still pay Cano what he wants—whether logic dictates they do or not—but what would he be signing up for? A team with unfamiliar faces surrounding him and the arrogant expectation that simply because they’re putting on a Yankees uniform the new players will be suitable replacements for the aging and departing veterans?

The Dodgers are a glossy collection of stars in Hollywood. While that may not be conducive to winning, the situation may be more attractive to Cano unless the Yankees make an overwhelming offer or sell him on the idea of their future being as bright as the past.

The majority of the time, when a player hires Boras, he does so to get paid the maximum amount of money. Amid all the talk and credit given to Evan Longoria and David Wright for eschewing the free agent riches that awaited them and signing cheaper extensions with their current clubs, neither is represented by Boras.

The Yankees have already indicated a willingness to depart from team policy and sign Cano to an extension before he’s a free agent. Fans like to ask “are you not aware?” when Cano does something positive on the field; the Yankees are certainly aware of the situation right now. If the Yankees don’t give Cano an extension to preempt his availability, the Dodgers are going to let him and Boras know that they’ll trump any offer. Then the Yankees have a choice. It’s either pay him now or lose him. They’re smart enough to know that. The question is whether they’re willing to take the steps to prevent it from coming to pass.

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Analysis of the Braves-Diamondbacks Trade, Part I: For the Braves

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

In exchange for outfielder Justin Upton and third baseman Chris Johnson, the Braves gave up infielder/outfielder Martin Prado, righty pitcher Randall Delgado, minor league infielders Nick Ahmed, and Brandon Drury, along with righty pitcher Zeke Spruill. They held onto defensive wizard and All-Star talent Andrelton Simmons who, in earlier trade discussions, was the player the Diamondbacks wanted to front the trade.

The Braves made this deal based on winning immediately, filling holes and achieving cost certainty. They were moderate title contenders as constructed, but with the retirement of Chipper Jones, they needed another power bat in the lineup; if they were trading Prado they needed someone that could play third base. Justin Upton is the bat and Johnson is the third baseman to achieve those ends.

With the free agent signing of B.J. Upton, they acquired a defensive ace in center field and a potential do-it-all player. The question with B.J. Upton has always been motivation. In short, he’s lazy. Of course the money that the Braves agreed to pay him (5-years, $75.25 million) should be enough to receive an all-out performance on a daily basis, but this is the same player who didn’t run hard on a double play grounder in the Rays’ 2008 World Series loss. Evan Longoria confronted him in the dugout after a particularly egregious bit of lollygagging in 2010. Given that it was a public scolding and that manager Joe Maddon had repeatedly disciplined him, it’s a sound bet that it wasn’t the first time a teammate got in the face of the gifted and flighty B.J. Upton.

Combined with the money, what better way to get B.J. Upton on the same page with the club and make sure he plays hard than to acquire his brother Justin? It’s not as if this is a Ken BrettGeorge Brett case where Ken was signed by the Royals in 1980 to inspire his brother in his quest to bat .400. Nor is it a lifelong minor leaguer Mike Glavine playing first base for the Mets late in the 2003 season as a favor to Tom Glavine. Justin Upton is an MVP-caliber player (like his brother) who’s actually put up MVP-quality numbers.

Overall B.J. Upton is more talented, but Justin Upton has done it on the field. Justin was traded by the Diamondbacks because of the flimsy excuse that he’s not intense enough, but the criticism wasn’t due to jogging around the field as if he didn’t care. Justin Upton is younger than people realize at 25. He was in the big leagues at 19 and if the Diamondbacks wanted him to step forward and be a leader, it might have been a case where he’s not comfortable doing that.

Not everyone can be the center of attention and fire up the troops—not everyone wants that responsibility. With the Braves, there are enough players willing to take that initiative with Dan Uggla, Brian McCann, and Tim Hudson that Justin Upton can do his job and not worry about running into walls to keep up insincere appearances for what the Diamondbacks wanted from him. The two Uptons in the outfield with Jason Heyward will be the Braves written-in-ink outfield at least through 2015. All three are in their 20s with MVP ability. Both Uptons need to perform. Braves fans turn on players rapidly if their expectations aren’t met and sustained, so the honeymoon will be short-lived if neither brother hits.

Prado is popular, versatile and defensively solid wherever he plays. He can run and has pop. But he’s a free agent at the end of the season and unless they find a taker for Uggla (good luck), the cost-conscious Braves would have no chance of keeping Prado and their other pending free agents McCann and Hudson. Prado was the logical trade candidate if they wanted to keep Simmons.

Johnson is a limited player. He’s mediocre defensively and strikes out a lot. He’s relatively cheap ($2.88 million in 2013) and has 10-15 home run power. They needed a stopgap third baseman and took Johnson as a concession to losing Prado. Given the third base market, they could do worse. Better still, Johnson isn’t the type to be intimidated by replacing the future Hall of Famer Jones.

The initial reaction to a trade like this is generally, “Wow, look at what the Braves could be.” But what they will be is contingent on B.J. Upton hustling full-time and not just when he feels like it. If Justin Upton being there assists in that, his value will be exponentially increased from what he provides on the field.

The Braves are a win-now team and the young players they traded weren’t going to help them win on the field in the immediate future, but by trading them for Justin Upton, they did help them for 2013 and beyond.

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The R.A. Dickey Trade, Part II—As A Means To Bash The Mets

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

R.A. Dickey was found money for the Mets. Rather than spend it immediately, they invested it wisely in blue chip stocks to secure their future. It was the smart move. But as a means to bash the Mets, it’s a handy weapon. There’s a movement to lump the decision to cut ties with Jose Reyes (batting champion) after 2011, and Dickey (Cy Young Award) as additions to the prototypical “long list of Mets’ mistakes” as if they just dumped Tom Seaver in a front office fit of pique; to cast it as more of the same from the Mets, a franchise whose main function is to torment their fans by testing their loyalty, seeing how much abuse they’ll take.

It suits the storyline, but comes nowhere close to suiting reality. The sports media has transformed from analyzing and assessing to validating fan anger or writing controversial columns to accumulate webhits and attention.

The truth about Dickey is that while he won the Cy Young Award, he is not in a class with prior winners of that same award. Therefore, he should not be treated as such just because he won the award. Looking at the winners in the American and National Leagues in the past five years alone and you see something akin to Sesame Street’s “Which of these doesn’t belong?”

2012: R.A. Dickey, David Price

2011: Clayton Kershaw, Justin Verlander

2010: Roy Halladay, Felix Hernandez

2009: Tim Lincecum, Zack Greinke

2008: Lincecum, Cliff Lee

Barring financial constraints and extenuating circumstances, would any of these pitchers have been on the market immediately following the season in which they won the award? I’m not talking about the next summer when the pitcher is a pending free agent or a year later when he’s making it clear he wants a contract extension or wants out. I’m talking about a month later.

Because Dickey is such a unique story throwing a trick pitch; is 38-years-old with a Mets team whose 2013 is unlikely to be much different with or without him, he can’t be placed into a category as a Cy Young Award winner who must not be traded. Unlike Verlander, Lincecum and the others, Dickey was an iffy proposition to be a significant contributor to a potential Mets’ renaissance in 2014 and beyond.

Ignoring irrelevant media and fan responses to this trade, the facts are that the Mets organization was barren at catcher and now, in sending Dickey to the Blue Jays, has a soon-to-be 24-year-old, power hitting catcher who can throw in Travis d’Arnaud. They acquired a 20-year-old, flamethrowing righty pitcher in Noah Syndergaard, a competent veteran catcher John Buck, and a 17-year-old throw-in, outfielder Wuilmer Becerra. They received all of this in exchange for Dickey, whom they got for nothing and whose rise is unlike anything anyone’s ever seen in a non-fiction setting; who, at 38-years-old, wanted another $25 million+ to sign a contract extension to forego free agency after 2013; and whose value was never, ever going to be higher for a team that, tacitly or not, knows their time to try and contend is in 2014 and not 2013. They also sent Josh Thole and Mike Nickeas to the Blue Jays, neither of whom the Mets would need with the acquisitions of Buck and d’Arnaud and who the Blue Jays required to catch Dickey’s knuckleball.

The most fascinating aspects have nothing to do with the deal itself, but the negative reactions to it and that Mets GM Sandy Alderson got the okay from ownership to pull the trigger. Fans are taking their cue from critics and the media and expressing anger at losing their Cy Young Award winner and eloquent, likable spokesman, Dickey. Objectively, however, the return on this trade was beyond anything the club could’ve expected in a best case scenario.

It’s a subtle and Executive of the Year level accomplishment that Alderson was able to impress upon the Wilpons that the short-term pain wouldn’t be any worse than the vitriol they already engender for reasons real and exaggerated, and that the long-term gains were beyond measure. A key part of being a GM, especially when working for an embattled ownership group so cognizant of public perception as the Wilpons, is to dissuade them from short-term maneuvers for short-term gain when the long-term is where their focus should be. Somehow, Alderson managed it and it’s in the best interests of the club and the fans.

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Below are video clips and analysis of d’Arnaud and Syndergaard.

Travis d’Arnaud

His bat wiggle and leg lift are, to a gentler degree, reminiscent of Gary Sheffield. The leg lift is fine as long as he gets his foot down in time—it’s a timing mechanism. There will be slumps due to the moving parts; specifically he will have stretches where he’s behind a good fastball because he’s not getting his foot down in time, but it’s not a giant hitch to be exploited and will be counteracted by his short arms and short swing. For a power hitter, he doesn’t strike out an inordinate amount of the time. At worst, he’ll hit 15 homers and bat .275 in the big leagues, but is more likely to be a 20-25 homer man with a .280 BA, a .350 OBP, and an .820+ OPS.

Considering that the Mets catchers last season (mostly Thole and Nickeas) had a .218/.281/.286 slash line with 5 homers and threw out 24% of stealing baserunners, it won’t take much to top what the Mets had before. The righty-swinging d’Arnaud could bat lefty and surpass that offensive production; he threw out 30% of basestealers in Triple A.

The Mets will keep him in the minors for the first few weeks of 2012 to keep his arbitration clock from ticking, but don’t be surprised to see them sign him long term shortly after he arrives in the majors as the Rays did with Evan Longoria.

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Noah Syndergaard

Syndergaard is big (6’5”, 200 pounds) and has the strikeout-accumulating combination of a power fastball, a sharp overhand yellowhammer curve, a changeup, and that he’s sneaky fast.

Syndergaard already has a mid-90s fastball, but his short and quick pre-stretch (when he brings his arm down after taking the ball out of his glove) and that he hides the ball behind his body as he accelerates will confuse the hitter and make his velocity appear to be closer to 100+ mph.

In general, a pitcher will take a longer time to deliver and the ball will be visible when collapses his back leg to generate power. In Syndergaard’s case, it isn’t. He lifts his leg, separates his hands and ZOOM!!! the ball’s on the way. Because of that rapid fire delivery, the fastball explodes on the hitter, hence the term “sneaky fast.” If he rips off a curve or changeup, it’s very difficult to adjust.

He’s only 20 and spent 2012 in A ball, but it’s not unreasonable to think he could be in New York and pitching for the Mets by late 2014.

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The way to judge a trade isn’t after the fact. The way to judge a trade is to determine if it made sense at the time it was consummated. For the Mets, with Dickey, it did. Any criticism is self-serving and misinformed. They did the right thing and got a lot for a pitcher from whom they expected nothing when the prior regime signed him as an, “Oh, yeah. Him.” It worked out and they took maximum advantage of Dickey’s rise. Anything else would’ve been foolish and the Mets’ future is brighter because of that luck and this ruthless intelligence.

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