National League Breakout/Rebound Candidates (Or Cheap Gets For Your Fantasy Team)

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Last week, I looked at breakout/rebound candidates for the American League, some of whom will be very, very cheap pickups for your fantasy clubs. Now I’ll look at the National League.

Wilson Ramos, C—Washington Nationals

Ramos is coming back from a torn ACL in his knee and because the Nationals traded for Kurt Suzuki from the Athletics last season, there’s no need to rush Ramos back before he’s 100%. But he will eventually take over as the starting catcher and it’s not just because he’s a future All-Star and potential Gold Glove winner.

Suzuki is a competent everyday catcher who’s shown 15 homer power in the past. Even if he’s not hitting, the Nationals lineup is strong enough to carry one mediocre bat and Suzuki’s good with the pitchers.

There’s a financial component though. Suzuki has a club option in his contract for 2014 at $8.5 million. The option becomes guaranteed if Suzuki starts 113 games in 2013. Barring another injury to Ramos, that is not going to happen. Ramos will be catching 5 of every 7 games by the summer.

Freddie Freeman, 1B—Atlanta Braves

It’s easy to forget about Freeman due to the number of power-hitting first basemen around baseball, but he’s gotten steadily better every year as a professional and with the infusion of Justin Upton and B.J. Upton into the lineup, plus Brian McCann, Jason Heyward and Dan Uggla, teams won’t be worried about Freeman’s power leading to him getting more pitches to hit.

Lucas Duda, LF—New York Mets

Given the Mets on-paper outfield (Collin Cowgill, Kirk Nieuwenhuis, Mike Baxter, Marlon Byrd, Marv Throneberry, George Theodore, Jan Brady, Cindy Brady, Gilligan, Barnaby Jones, Cannon), there’s plenty of fodder for ridicule. Duda is the butt of jokes because of his last name; that he’s a bad outfielder; because he seems so quiet and reticent. The criticism is missing an important factor: he can hit, hit for power and walk. If the Mets tell him he’s their starting left fielder, period, they’ll be rewarded with 25-30 homers and a .360+ on base percentage. So will fantasy owners.

Bobby Parnell, RHP—New York Mets

With Frank Francisco sidelined with elbow woes, Parnell has been named the Mets’ closer…for now. They have Brandon Lyon on the team and are still said to be weighing Jose Valverde. None of that matters. Parnell was going to get the shot at some point this season and with a little luck in Washington last season when defensive miscues cost him an impressive and legitimate old-school, fireman-style save, he would’ve taken the role permanently back then.

Jacob Turner, RHP—Miami Marlins

The Tigers were concerned about Turner’s velocity at the end of spring training 2012 and he wound up being traded to the Marlins in the deal for Omar Infante and Anibal Sanchez. He acquitted himself well in seven starts for the Marlins and will be in the 2013 rotation from start to finish. He has all the pitches, a great curve, command and presence.

Justin Ruggiano, CF—Miami Marlins

It’s natural to wonder if a player who has his breakout year at age 30 is a product of unlocked talent and opportunity or a brief, freak thing that will end as rapidly as it came about.

Ruggiano has been a very good minor league player who never got a shot to play in the big leagues. He took advantage of it in 2012 and will open the season as the Marlins starting center fielder.

Billy Hamilton, CF—Cincinnati Reds

The Reds have major expectations in 2013 and much of their fortunes hinge on their pitching staff; they’re functioning with Shin-Soo Choo playing an unfamiliar position in center field; at mid-season (or earlier) it may become clear that Choo can’t play the position well enough for the pitchers nor to bluff their way through to the playoffs. Hamilton is in Triple A learning center field after a shift from the infield and can make up for any educational curve with sheer, blinding speed that has yielded 320 stolen bases in 379 minor league games. He also provides something they lack: a legitimate leadoff hitter and an exciting spark that other teams have to plan for.

Vince Coleman spurred the 1985 Cardinals to the pennant by distracting the opposing pitchers into derangement and opening up the offense for Willie McGee to win the batting title and Tommy Herr and Jack Clark to rack up the RBI. The same thing could happen with Hamilton, Joey Votto, Brandon Phillips and Choo.

Jason Grilli, RHP—Pittsburgh Pirates

Grilli is a first time closer at age 36, but he’s a late-bloomer with a fastball in the mid-90s and a ripping strikeout slider. The Pirates starting pitching and offense are good enough to provide Grilli with enough save chances to make him worthwhile as a pickup.

Kyuji Fujikawa, RHP—Chicago Cubs

Fujikawa was a strikeout machine as a closer in Japan and history has proven that Japanese closers tend to transition to North America much better than starters without the fanfare. Takashi Saito and Kazuhiro Sasaki are examples.

The Cubs are in full-blown rebuild and will trade incumbent closer Carlos Marmol during the season. They’ll let him close at the outset to boost his value, then dump him, handing the job to Fujukawa.

Dale Thayer, RHP—San Diego Padres

Closer Huston Street is injury prone and the Padres, for whatever reason, don’t think much of Luke Gregerson (they tried to trade him to the Mets for Daniel Murphy and when Street was out last season, they let Thayer take over as closer.)

Thayer has a strikeout slider that leads stat-savvy teams like the Rays, Mets, and Padres continually picking him up. If Street gets hurt, Thayer will get closing chances.

Yasmani Grandal, C—San Diego Padres

His PED suspension has tarnished his luster, but he’s still a top catching prospect and once he’s reinstated, there’s no reason for the Padres not to play him with Nick Hundley and John Baker ahead of Grandal. Neither of the veteran catchers will be starting for the Padres when they’re ready to contend; Grandal will. He hits and he gets on base.

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Mets Fans’ Negativity Toward Brian Wilson is Absurd

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Underneath his cautious word choices, poker face, military cachet and known bio as an Ivy League-trained lawyer, Sandy Alderson has the true countenance of a “get the job done however you have to” Marine grunt. We see it occasionally when he’s had enough of answering the same questions over and over again as he did with his snide (and unnecessary) comment about sending chocolates to Jose Reyes; with his crack about currently not having any outfielders; and with his blunt dismissal twelve years ago of Mike Hampton’s decision to sign with the Rockies when Hampton referenced the Colorado school system. (Alderson said, rightly, that Hampton went to Colorado because they offered the most money.)

For the Mets, he wants players who can play and who fit into what he’s trying to build. This concept of signing players who have class and dignity is ridiculous and no one—not even the case study of a club that portrays itself as that, namely the Yankees—adheres to it. It’s a storyline designed to create an image and has no basis in reality.

The absurdity of Mets fans complaining about the “act” of Brian Wilson as a foundation for not wanting the team to sign him is so glaring that one would think it’s satire. But it’s not. Alderson went to watch a Wilson workout and while the erstwhile Giants’ closer is still recovering from Tommy John surgery, the Mets are said to be interested in him. If he’s ready at some point in the early summer and they can to a two-year contract with an option for a third, he’d be a perfect addition to a team that, by 2014-2015, will need a legitimate closer for a playoff run.

Wilson’s off-field personality is a matter of taste. Personally, I think he’s funny. Even if I didn’t, I wouldn’t care about that when assessing whether or not the Mets should sign him. He’s all business on the mound and that’s what counts. As opposed to other closers who are reluctant or outright refuse to throw more than one inning to accumulate the relatively meaningless save stat, Wilson has shown a willingness to pitch more than one inning and sometimes more than two innings to help his team.

Would the fans prefer to have Frank Francisco closing over Wilson? Why? Because Wilson has an over-the-top beard and draws attention to himself? Francisco Rodriguez, the last star closer the Mets had, was arrested for punching his common-law father-in-law in the face in the Citi Field family room and there were fans who: A) didn’t want him traded the next year; and B) wanted the Mets to bring him back to close for them when he became available.

But they don’t want Wilson. The same fans who look back nostalgically on the 1980s Mets whose on-field attitude was closer to that of a street gang than a baseball team and whose partying led to them winning one championship with a squad that should have won at least three and probably five; a team that has had multiple members—Darryl Strawberry, Lenny Dykstra, Dwight Gooden, Wally Backman—in trouble with the law, is seen as a beacon in the organization’s existence, yet they don’t want Wilson because of his beard and Lady Gaga-like “look at me!!” persona.

In his time as Athletics GM in the 1980s, Alderson wasn’t trying to score political points or build a G-rated theme park when he tolerated Jose Canseco’s act and had players who were using steroids without his consent to accumulate cartoonish muscles and hit home runs; he had Rickey Henderson on his team, a player who never met a management who couldn’t irritate; his manager was the notably egomaniacal and difficult Tony LaRussa. Alderson’s not building a military where conformity is necessary. He wants people who can play and help his team win. Period.

Wilson, as quirky as he is, has never had an incident off the field, nor have we heard of him being a clubhouse problem. If the Mets can get him at a discounted rate and he’s healthy, his post-season bona fides and willingness to do whatever is necessary to help the team win without complaint or thought of his own health and future would be a welcome change to a clubhouse that could use his fastball and veteran grit to counteract a vanilla group. Wilson cultivates the publicity and will gladly say, “I’ll take the heat. Follow me.” As much as David Wright is the acknowledged leader of the Mets, he doesn’t have that edge that Wilson would bring.

There’s no basis in saying “no” to him for his beard or tattoos or any off-field reason that’s not hurting anyone. “He annoys me,” is not a reason. Closing is more mentality than stuff and if Wilson has the mentality. If he can return to some semblance of form, the Mets should try and get him because he’d help them win more games. And that’s all that really matters.

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Alex Anthopoulos’s Kitchen Sink

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Unwed to a particular strategy as his predecessor was, when Alex Anthopoulos took over as Blue Jays’ GM replacing J.P. Ricciardi, he exhibited a freshness that invigorated the franchise. Ricciardi did a better job than he’s given credit for, but a series of poor drafts and feuds with players from his team and others as well as the consistently mediocre, “almost there” results, led to his ouster. Anthopoulos took the controls, executed a series of well-regarded trades getting quality prospects Kyle Drabek and Travis D’Arnaud for Roy Halladay; as well as acquiring Brandon Morrow for Brandon League and was rightfully judged as a solid choice and up and coming executive who could be trusted.

The Blue Jays looked to be a team on the rise with plenty of young talent and a forward thinking GM who knew the numbers, but also trusted his old-school baseball people with flexibility of trying speed in lieu of power and on base percentage. But the on-field results are still mediocre-to-bad and now there’s a rising scrutiny on Anthopoulos. His great moves such as getting Morrow and finding a taker for Vernon Wells‘s atrocious contract have been mitigated by his poor moves such as trading Mike Napoli for Frank Francisco. Colby Rasmus and Yunel Escobar were two players who had worn out their welcomes in their prior stops, but were talented enough to make it worthwhile to get them. Escobar is still a player the front office wants to strangle because of his brain dead behavior and Rasmus has been the same disappointment with the Blue Jays he was with the Cardinals; in fact, he’s been worse.

Now the strange decision to sign career utility player Maicer Izturis to a 3-year, $10 million contract while trading a better player Mike Aviles to the Indians for a scatterarmed reliever (the Blue Jays have plenty of those) Esmil Rogers calls into greater question what the plan is. In 2012, the entire pitching staff was decimated by injuries and the strategy Anthopoulos has used to construct his bullpen with journeymen such as Kevin Gregg, Francisco, Jon Rauch, Octavio Dotel, and Sergio Santos has been a failure. His hand-picked manager, John Farrell, was roundly criticized for game-handling skills that were bordering on the inept and a profound lack of fundamentals that cost the club numerous games.

This kitchen sink strategy is reminiscent of a sous chef getting the head chef job, having many plans and innovative ideas, then overdoing it making things worse than they were before. Anthopoulos is trying a lot of different tactics, but it doesn’t hide the bottom line that his choice as manager was traded away only because the Red Sox desperately wanted him and was in serious jeopardy of being fired if they hadn’t; that the Blue Jays have consistently been labeled a team to watch, but sat by haplessly as the team that finally overtook the Red Sox and Rays in the AL East was a different kind of bird, the Orioles, with a roster that was widely expected to lose 95 games in 2012.

The Blue Jays have yet to hire a manager to replace Farrell. The trade was completed on October 21st. How long does it take to find a new manager? The pedestrian names who struggled elsewhere such as Don Wakamatsu and Manny Acta have been bandied about. How many managers does Anthopoulos get to hire and fire? How many tries at getting the recipe right will he get before the scrutiny falls squarely on him?

Getting Brett Lawrie and Morrow; dumping Wells’s onerous contract; and the perception of knowing what he’s doing have carried him this far. Much of what’s gone wrong with the Blue Jays hasn’t been the fault of Anthopoulos, but there comes a time when there has to be a legitimate improvement on the field before the question, “What’s the problem here?” is asked. That time is coming and if the Blue Jays don’t get better quick, it will be asked of Anthopoulos and right now, given the ponderous managerial search, it doesn’t appear as though he has an answer that will placate the angry masses.

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It Works Both Ways With The Decried Save Stat

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While I disagree with much of what the hard core stat guys say about relief pitching and in the “we’ll tell them what to do and they’ll do it” concept of dealing with players, the struggles of highly paid closers Heath Bell of the Marlins and Frank Francisco of the Mets; the injuries and money/prospects tossed down the tubes for the Reds’ Ryan Madson and Andrew Bailey of the Red Sox; the Angels’ demotion of Jordan Walden; and the Giants’ scrambling to find a replacement for Brian Wilson have again opened a legitimate argument of how and when to deploy the best relievers.

It absolutely makes sense to use the best relief pitcher in the most important circumstances and not as a rote decision in the ninth inning.

But it works both ways.

If teams are interested in having their best relievers willingly agree to shun the watered down save stat they’re going to have to do something other than order them to do as they’re told or convince them to be team players.

They’re going to have to pay them.

The mistake teams have made with the closer-by-committee and using a well-intentioned and, on paper, logical strategy is that they choose a lot of cheap, found and unproven pitchers in the role without one who can be trusted as a “fireman”.

It’s in the same category as the creation of the save stat to begin with. The pitchers of yesteryear who were called the “closers” were pithing around 140 innings a year and multiple innings per appearance.

Good intentions and strategy being what they are, it eventually become twisted.

Is Tony LaRussa truly to blame for the “one-inning save” as is generally believed? No. He was just using his then-closer Dennis Eckersley in a highly analytical way because Eckersley was older, had less bounceback ability in his arm and was more effective pitching one inning at a time than if he was used for 2-3 innings as closers generally were when the defined bullpen roles came into vogue.

LaRussa used his closers in a conventional manner before he stumbled onto Eckersley and he also had a very deep and diverse set of relievers—Rick Honeycutt, Todd Burns, Gene Nelson—to get him to Eckersley.

It was the copiers of LaRussa like Jeff Torborg who took the lunacy to its extreme, logical conclusion and pitched his closer in a save situation and, almost exclusively, for one inning. Period.

Now it would take an innovator to change the template and a front office to say to the pitchers, “We don’t believe in the save stat here. We’re going to pay you as if you’re accumulating saves, but you won’t be accumulating saves.”

Like everything else in baseball—the downfall of complete games; the widespread use of relief pitching; relief pitching specialization—it would take one team to try it and succeed and then other teams would follow suit.

Until that happens, we’re going to continue to see this as a method when it should be changed.

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New York Style Injuries And “Knowledge” Of The Masses

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After the news broke that Mike Pelfrey is going on the disabled list—and possibly under the surgeon’s knife—with an elbow issue, the most glaring aspect is that nobody backtracked or expressed regret for ripping Mets’ manager Terry Collins for pulling Pelfrey after eight innings on Saturday.

What you’ll hear is the excuse: “We didn’t know.”

Exactly. You didn’t know. Because you’re not in the dugout and are not a baseball person, the manager is left to take a beating by outsiders stemming from the ignorance that comes from a little bit of self-anointed knowledge of statistics and “experience” accrued by watching games and studying numbers without actually being involved in the activity of playing, coaching and managing a baseball game and baseball players.

It’s remarkably easy to react to something that appears to be wrong in the realm of a layman and go on a tangent on Twitter.

What would’ve happened had Collins done what the masses wanted him to do—after the fact and knowing that closer Frank Francisco blew the game—and left Pelfrey in the game? Would that have been referenced as the time when he got hurt?

We don’t know when he got hurt, but that would’ve been the “when”, true or not.

A little knowledge is a dangerous thing and a forum to vent with others actually listening to the venting and giving it credibility with mass agreement makes it worse.

The Mets are being hammered by injuries.

Their frontline roster is competent and they’ve played relatively well to start the season, all things considered; but the main reasons I had the Mets finishing at 69-93 and in last place in the NL East were the notoriously rough division and the profound lack of depth in the organization. Up to now, the young players Kirk Nieuwenhuis, Ruben Tejada, Josh Thole and Dillon Gee have held their own, but when you lose the 200 innings of Pelfrey and a veteran like Jason Bay—regardless of fan perception of the two—it’s going to hurt badly by highlighting the absence of viable replacements for those players.

Those who were celebrating Pelfrey’s and Bay’s injuries have their own issues to deal with. In a baseball sense, the same prevailing lack of logic applies as when there were calls to release Pelfrey and Bay. Who’s going to play left field? (One suggestion last year was for the Mets to get Endy Chavez back; Chavez is currently batting .156 for the Orioles.) And who precisely are they supposed to get to replace the 200 innings that Pelfrey would provide?

Who?

On the other side of town, Michael Pineda’s saga as a Yankee continues. The majority of it is out of uniform and in MRI tubes. He’s getting a second opinion on the diagnosis for his ailing shoulder which, obviously, is not a good thing. If the initial diagnosis was good, why would he need a second opinion?

There’s little to say about the Yankees and their treatment, development and assessment of pitchers other than it’s awful.

One would think that the litany of failures—Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain, Ian Kennedy, Andrew Brackman, Pineda—would tell them that perhaps it’s time to do something entirely different as the Texas Rangers have consciously decided to do in pushing their pitchers harder in the minors and letting them work their way through the middle innings in lieu of planting in their heads a predetermined pitch/innings count so they know that they’re coming out of the game.

The most laughable part of the Yankees’ pitching merry-go-round is that there are still Yankees’ apologists in the media trying to put forth a defense of the treatment of Pineda.

Mike Francesa is constantly discussing the prospect the Yankees acquired—Jose Campos—as if he’s the Holy Grail of the trade.

Given their absurd pitching failures, what makes anyone think the Yankees are going to do a better a job developing and using Campos than they have with the other pitchers they’ve ruined with their idiotic rules.

Joel Sherman of the NY Post clumsily altered reality on Sunday by implying that GM Brian Cashman’s statements about Pineda were designed to remove pressure from him as he became acclimated to life with the Yankees.

So saying that he’ll have made a mistake if Pineda doesn’t develop into a number 1 starter and refine his changeup is taking pressure off him? A number 1 starter is generally a Tim Lincecum, Justin Verlander, Felix Hernandez, Clayton Kershaw, Roy Halladay-type. Being placed into that category wouldn’t put pressure on a 23-year-old to overdo it?

The Yankees and the media openly questioned Pineda’s fastball when he pitched in spring training possibly leading him to try to throw too hard and light up the radar gun; perhaps ignoring pain in his shoulder while doing it to validate the trade and rhetoric.

Compounding all of this by comparing Montero to Miguel Cabrera only exacerbated the problem.

This idea that they didn’t “need” Jesus Montero is ludicrous. If they were going to trade him away due to an overabundance of hitting and need for pitching, they could’ve done it for someone established. Or they could’ve kept Montero as the DH and allowed Hector Noesi to have a legitimate shot in the rotation.

Regardless of the reasons and actions, this is where they are. They have Pineda and Campos and the trade is already looking like a long-term disaster.

The Yankees currently have the overall pitching and hitting to live without Pineda, but in the future when Andy Pettitte decides to retire once and for all; when CC Sabathia is aging and can’t be counted on for 240 innings every year; and are concerned enough about the luxury tax guidelines that they can’t fling money at their holes, what are they supposed to do then?

Wait for Campos?

They’ll be waiting until 2016 and he’ll be on a series of brilliantly devised limits.

To protect him of course.

The Yankees protection is an implanted time-bomb and I’d rather go without it in every conceivable sense.

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National League Fantasy Sleepers

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Let’s look at some fantasy sleepers in the National League.

Mike Minor, LHP—Atlanta Braves

He got a lot of grief for what was perceived to be a “play me or trade me” demand that he start the season in the big leagues in the Braves’ starting rotation.

It wasn’t that kind of demand at all, but that’s how it was taken.

Putting that aside, with Tim Hudson recovering from back surgery Minor is going to have to start the season in the big leagues. He’ll want to get off to a good start to stake his claim in the rotation and validate his assertion that he belongs.

He racks up the strikeouts, hits hits/innings pitched ratio is great and he doesn’t allow a lot of home runs or walks.

John Mayberry Jr., OF/1B—Philadelphia Phillies

Mayberry has never gotten the chance to play regularly from the start of the season onward, but will in 2012.

With Ryan Howard’s return date increasingly uncertain after the procedure to clean up the infection in his surgical wound, there’s even more reason to pick up Mayberry. The Phillies’ situation in left field is in flux and he’ll also play some first base.

He has 25-30 homer potential.

Chase Utley, 2B—Philadelphia Phillies

Looking at his basic stats, it appears as if he’s on the decline due to age and injury.

It’s nonsense.

Utley has hit in notoriously bad luck in the past two seasons. His BAbip was .288 in 2010, .269 in 2011. He stole 14 bases without getting caught after returning from his knee injury. His power numbers were right in line with what he normally produces.

Utley’s going to have a big comeback year.

Chris Coghlan, INF/OF—Miami Marlins

He may have worn out his welcome with the newly star-studded Marlins, as injuries and bickering with the front office have diminished the former NL Rookie of the Year to a forgotten man.

The Marlins don’t have a prototypical centerfielder on the roster (they’re intent on going with Emilio Bonifacio), Coghlan can play the position defensively and his bat can rebound. He’ll get one last shot with the Marlins; otherwise he’s trade bait and is worth the risk in the hopes of a return to what he once was.

Frank Francisco, RHP—New York Mets

He’s not a great closer, but he strikes out over a batter an inning. If you need someone to get you some saves and don’t want to pay for them, he’s going to be cheap.

These are the Mets and fantasy mirrors reality.

Or reality mirrors fantasy.

Or both reflect a nightmare. Or circumstances.

Or all of the above.

Jonathan Lucroy, C—Milwaukee Brewers

Lucroy has a career minor league OPS of .838 and an OBP of .379. He’s hit 20 homers in a season in the minors and hit 12 in the big leagues last season.

He’ll be cheap and there’s major room for improvement.

Alex Presley, OF—Pittsburgh Pirates

The Pirates’ outfield situation flanking Andrew McCutchen isn’t set. Presley can run and had an .804 OPS in 231 plate appearances in the big leagues last season.

Jeff Samardzija, RHP—Chicago Cubs

The Cubs are going to trade Carlos Marmol at some point and someone—either Samardzija or Kerry Wood—will have to take over as closer. It makes no sense to use Wood at this stage of his career.

Samardzija overcame his control issues for the most part and struck out 87 in 88 innings last season.

Bud Norris, RHP—Houston Astros

Norris isn’t going to win many games for the Astros, but he strikes out close to a batter per inning and has had excellent hits/innings pitched ratios at every level.

David Hernandez, RHP—Arizona Diamondbacks

I don’t trust J.J. Putz to stay healthy and Hernandez saved 11 games in Putz’s absence last season.

Hernandez struck out 77 in 69 innings and allowed 49 hits.

Cory Luebke, LHP—San Diego Padres

Luebke struck out 154 in 139 innings last season and allowed 105 hits.

He began 2011 in the bullpen, but moved to the starting rotation in the second half. He’ll be a full-time starter in 2012.

Jerry Sands, OF—Los Angeles Dodgers

The Dodgers circumstances in left and right field aren’t settled. Juan Rivera is slated to start in left and Andre Ethier is a free agent at the end of the season and is a good bet to be traded.

Sands has posted huge power numbers in the minors—stats—and has the speed to steal 15-20 bases.

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Myers to the Bullpen and Luhnow’s Betrayal

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It must’ve been a kick to the gut of the hard core stat people who felt that they finally had one of their own running a club in the way they would run a team if given the opportunity when the GM of the Astros, Jeff Luhnow, okayed the move of Brett Myers from starter to closer.

The reactions ranged from anger to bewildered to non-answer answers in trying to “protect” Luhnow because they don’t want to put forth the impression of infighting in the mostly monolithic “this is how to do it” world of hardline stat-based theory.

Luhnow doesn’t need your protection and obviously, he’s not going to follow a specific set in stone blueprint in running his club.

The underlying sense I got from the responses I saw on Twitter were indicative of righteous indignation and the feeling of betrayal as if a spouse had cheated on them.

(Insert your stat guy/spouse joke here.)

“But, but, but…you’re one of us!!!”

In truth, the shifting of Myers to the bullpen can be argued both ways.

He was a good closer with the Phillies in 2007 and enjoyed the role, the adrenaline rush and the game-on-the-line aspect of doing to the job.

He’s a durable starter who can give a club 200 innings and, at times, pitch well.

The Astros need a closer because they don’t trust Brandon Lyon and the other candidates—David Carpenter and Juan Abreu—are inexperienced.

What you have to do in trying to understand the Astros’ thinking is examine what the long-term strategy is.

They’re not going to be a good team either way and when they are, Myers is not going to be on the roster in any capacity, so how would having Myers for 2012 best help expedite their rebuilding project?

Myers’s contract pays him a guaranteed $14 million with $11 million for 2012, a $10 million club option for 2013 and a $3 million buyout.

Teams have frequently overpaid for good relievers as opposed to mediocre starters in trades in recent years. The Nationals got Wilson Ramos for Matt Capps; the Rangers gave up young talent for Koji Uehara, Mike Gonzalez and Mike Adams; the Rangers got Mike Napoli for Frank Francisco and got David Murphy for Eric Gagne.

What would be the most lucrative return on Myers at mid-season? It depends on whether he’s pitching as he did last season as a starter or as he did in 2010; either way, he probably wouldn’t be a contributor in the post-season for a team that gets him in that role. But as a reliever he would be more attractive to teams with their eyes on post-season help.

It’s cold reasoning not in the Astros using Myers for themselves on the field, but using him to get a few pieces to make themselves better in the future.

Moving Myers to the bullpen could end up being seen as a smart move.

At least there’s an argument for it.

But stat people are reacting as if Luhnow has betrayed them and it displays the lack of in-the-trenches understanding of how to run a team that led them to relying on stats rather than intuitive, subjective interpretations of circumstances to begin with.

They’re a crutch.

Crunching numbers, reading and regurgitating lines off a stat sheet and steering an organization by rote is not how a successful team can and should be run.

Jeff Luhnow knows that.

Do you?

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Imagine Beltran Back to the Mets

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Jokes about the Mets taking a bridge loan from Bank of America aside, they had the money available to make try and sign Jose Reyes for $80 million and have spent about $10 million of the Reyes money on Frank Francisco and Jon Rauch (the Andres Torres/Ramon Ramirez acquisitions for Angel Pagan are a financial wash).

So what if the Mets are one of the mystery teams who are after Carlos Beltran?

Before shipping him to San Francisco for Zack Wheeler, the Mets made it a point to ask Scott Boras if the outfielder would be willing to consider returning if they traded him; at the time, I thought it was for appearances only and that they wanted no part of Beltran in the future.

But maybe it wasn’t.

Beltran fired Boras and replaced him with Dan Lozano who’s been busy with a few other “i” dots, “t” crossings, controversies, accusations and contracts.

Now he’s looking for a home for Beltran.

With the talk that the Mets willing to listen to offers on Ike Davis, Sandy Alderson could be truly interested in bringing Beltran back.

I believe that Lucas Duda is going to be a more productive power hitter than Davis; he doesn’t strike out as much and walks more; plus he’s a year behind Davis in service time. Duda is a horrible right fielder and an adequate first baseman; Davis would bring back quality on the trade market and the Mets know that Beltran can handle New York and being a Met—such as that is.

Beltran is an attractive option for multiple teams because he’s a switch-hitter; has power; showed he was recovered sufficiently from knee problems to steal a few bases; transitioned well to right field; is a big game performer; is a well-liked person; and doesn’t cost any draft picks.

Would it be so absurd for the Mets to consider bringing him back and would he think about it? They asked in the summer and Beltran said he would.

It’s unlikely given the contending and finanical status of the teams that are already known to be interested—the Cardinals, Rockies, Blue Jays and Red Sox among them—but it wouldn’t be such a terrible thing as a domino effect to make the Mets better in 2012 and beyond.

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The Mets Can’t Win

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I don’t mean on the field.

Obviously it’s going to be hard for them to compete in the National League East with the Phillies, Braves, Marlins and Nationals; but as I said when the Jose Reyes signing by the Marlins was leaked to the media, this is where the Mets are. They didn’t have the money and/or the desire to pay Reyes and let him leave.

What’s being ignored is that the Mets weaknesses in 2011 were not at the plate. In fact, they were more than capable of surviving without Reyes, David Wright and Ike Davis in the lineup and enduring poor years from Jason Bay and Angel Pagan.

How did they do it?

They had the second highest on base percentage in the National League which led to them finishing sixth in the league in runs scored. They had no power as Carlos Beltran led the team with 15 homers despite being traded in July. With the outfield fences being moved in, Citi Field will be more hitter-friendly to Wright and Bay which should lead to more production. One thing about the Mets front office led by Sandy Alderson: they did the math of how the new park dimensions will affect the hitters and the pitchers. Whether the projections are accurate or not is unknown. If anything, the mental block that has affected Wright since he set foot in the new, cavernous park will be removed.

There are two ways to go about building a team in the off-season: you can bolster strengths or address weaknesses. As difficult as it is to believe, the Mets strength was actually offense. That’s only in part due to the career season of Reyes— a career season that included two stints on the disabled list; a controversial bunt to win the batting title; a .337 average and a weak .384 OBP in conjunction with that lofty average. He also stopped stealing bases after his hamstring woes in what looked to be a concession to staying healthy as he headed towards free agency.

Their weaknesses were the bullpen, a lack of depth—both personnel wise and in innings pitched—in the starting rotation; and black holes in the lineup.

One of those black holes was Pagan.

Pagan has long been an impressive talent. Something like a baseball Frankenstein, Pagan’s creation seems to have been through mined bodyparts from a baseball graveyard. Somewhere in that body, he can run like Tim Raines; hit like Bernie Williams; and field like Garry Maddox.

He was also deprived of a functioning baseball brain.

For a management group that either wants players who listen to instruction or know what to do and when to do it, Pagan was a clear target for dispatching. It could’ve been any number of things that hastened his departure—his rising salary; his frequent injuries; his consistent on-field mistakes—but it was probably his attempt to double off a Cardinals baserunner—by throwing the ball towards Cardinals first base coach Dave McKay—that was the catalyst for the team to say enough’s enough.

Pagan was traded to the Giants for outfielder Andres Torres and right handed reliever Ramon Ramirez.

It’s partially addition by subtraction and partially getting functional bodies who will be better than what they had.

Both Torres and Ramirez are better and cheaper than what the prior bullpen inhabitants.

The Mets also signed two former Blue Jays relievers Jon Rauch and Frank Francisco.

Rauch receives a 1-year deal for $3.5 million; Francisco 2-years at $12 million.

All the relievers they acquired are relatively cheap and competent. Relief pitchers fluctuate from year-to-year and overpaying for them—especially with limited finances—is absurd.

Will these decisions spur a load of season ticket purchases? Inspire the media to suddenly cease the bashing of the team for doing the things that Alderson and Co. did with the Padres and Athletics they were faced with not having the money for big ticket items and instead went the affordable and sane route?

Probably neither, but the Mets filled needs in the bullpen and by getting rid of Pagan. The entire 2012 season is hinging on the improvement of young pitchers Jonathon Niese and getting something useful from Mike Pelfrey; the offense might be improved by the aforementioned factors of ballpark and Davis coming back; also Lucas Duda showed an impressive spurt of power late in the season.

Considering the way they were constructed in recent years and the doom accompanying the overreacting devastation at Reyes’s departure, they made some smart decisions that were what the media and fans were clamoring for in opposition to just buying things that were overpriced as they did under the prior regime.

Overall, things could be much worse.

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2012 Starts Now For The Blue Jays

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The Blue Jays can and will contend for a playoff spot in 2012 if they make smart personnel decisions this winter.

Here’s what they have to do:

Get a legitimate closer.

GM Alex Anthopoulos is notoriously close-to-the-vest in how he runs his team; there’s no ironclad “strategy” of using stats or scouting; he doesn’t betray his hand and acts stealthily and aggressively in making his moves.

He may or may not care what’s said about him, but he doesn’t allow it to interfere with what he does.

This past winter, Anthopoulos signed two former closers in Octavio Dotel and Jon Rauch; he also traded for Frank Francisco.

In the logistical sense, they were all interchangeable and were signed to short-term deals to preclude widespread complaining about not being the closer. But if the Blue Jays want to be taken seriously next season, they have to get someone better and more trustworthy than Rauch or Francisco. (Dotel was traded to the Cardinals at the end of July.)

The market will be flush with established closers via free agency and trade. Heath Bell, Francisco Rodriguez, Jonathan Papelbon (who worked with Blue Jays manager John Farrell with the Red Sox) and Ryan Madson are all free agents or potential free agents. Jonathan Broxton is a probable non-tender; and Joakim Soria is a trade candidate.

All are worthy of consideration and are better than Rauch/Francisco.

Find a veteran anchor for the starting rotation.

The Blue Jays let a future Cy Young Award winner get away.

No. I’m not talking about Roy Halladay. I’m talking about Chris Carpenter.

To be fair, when the Blue Jays non-tendered Carpenter under J.P. Ricciardi’s regime, Carpenter was injured and hadn’t been particularly effective; the talent that made him a 1st round draft choice wasn’t going to be fulfilled until he was streamlined—mentally, mechanically and physically—under Tony LaRussa and Dave Duncan with the Cardinals. The Blue Jays wanted to bring him back for less money, but he smartly went to the Cardinals, rehabbed his injury for a year and became a star when he got healthy.

Carpenter has a $15 million option for 2012, but he’s a 10-and-5 player so he can veto any trade; for him to waive it, the trading team would presumably have to give him a contract extension.

The Cardinals are in major flux, but if they’re looking for salary relief and want to bolster a sagging farm system, they could exercise the option rather than pay Carpenter’s $1 million buyout and trade him. This would all have to be done within a rapid series of maneuvers to make it work.

Shedding that $15 million and trading him would give the Cardinals room to re-sign Albert Pujols; re-signing Pujols might be the key to LaRussa coming back for another year; Adam Wainwright will be back next season and they could bring back Joel Pineiro to fill Carpenter’s slot and hope reuniting with Duncan will return Pineiro to his Cardinals form.

The Blue Jays have prospects to trade.

Carpenter leading a rotation with Ricky Romero, Brandon Morrow and Kyle Drabek would be superior to most of baseball if the younger pitchers fulfill their potential; Carpenter could teach them how.

Be flexible and think outside-the-box.

They don’t have the cash to go after Jose Reyes and they signed Yunel Escobar to a contract extension; but Brett Lawrie‘s ability to play third and second base allows the Blue Jays to go after a David Wright.

The recently acquired Kelly Johnson is a free agent, but if they offer him arbitration he’d probably take it. An infield of Adam Lind, Johnson, Escobar and Lawrie can mash—whether it’d be adequate defensively for the pitching staff would have to be determined.

The Mets probably aren’t going to trade Wright, but the Blue Jays have a lot of young pitching and outfield bats. Anthopoulos thinks outside-the-box and goes after players who “probably aren’t” getting traded. Sometimes the players who “probably aren’t” getting traded do get traded and extract a major chunk of a trading team’s farm system. (See Ubaldo Jimenez.)

Alter the strategy on the bases and with the lineup.

The Blue Jays run the bases with abandon. If they’re doing it at the bottom of the lineup to try and make something happen, it’s an arguable premise; doing it in front of a basher like Jose Bautista is a mistake.

Without doing any deep statistical research into the matter, there’s no excuse for Bautista to have 37 homers and only 83 RBI.

Before Corey Patterson was traded, he was batting in front of Bautista for much of the season; Patterson steals bases, but has a woeful on base percentage. Escobar also batted in front of Bautista and gets on base at a good clip. Since his arrival, Colby Rasmus has been batting second with Bautista third.

A better plan would be batting Bautista fourth and having Escobar lead off; Johnson would bat second; Lawrie third; and Rasmus and Lind behind Bautista.

The haphazard stolen bases also have to stop.

Temper expectations and idol worship.

There was recent talk of Anthopoulos being a “genius”.

Yah. Well. Billy Beane was a genius once too. So was Theo Epstein. So was Jack Zduriencik.

Are you getting my point?

Listening to sports talk radio on Friday, Jim Mora Jr. was being interviewed about the upcoming NFL season and he subtly hit back at the notion of Patriots coach Bill Belichick being a “genius” saying something to the tune of, “he’s a good football coach; a genius is someone who comes up with life-saving vaccines”.

He’s right.

The Blue Jays have been built the right way so far, but expectations and idolatry have doomed even the smartest people with the most coherent and logical plans.

They’re in a great position now to take the next step, but keeping from doing something stupid isn’t as easy as it sounds.

If they follow some incarnation of the plan I laid out (or something similar), they could be a playoff team in 2012.

If….

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