The Dual-Edged Sword of Hiring Gary Sheffield as an Agent

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A player agent with experience might’ve had it in mind that there was the possibility—injury or trade—that his client’s new contract might require a few “if-then” incentive clauses. That doesn’t appear to have been the case with Jason Grilli whose agent, Gary Sheffield, didn’t get such clauses inserted into the contract Grilli signed to return to the Pirates. Because of that, as Grilli is set to take over as the Pirates’ new closer once the Joel Hanrahan to the Red Sox trade is finalized, he will collect his salary for 2013-2014 (2-years, $6.75 million), and not get one penny more whether he saves 40 games or 0.

Was Sheffield required to do more and what’s the trade-off when Grilli shuns an established agent who might see Grilli as a low priority and opts for Sheffield, who doesn’t have a long list of clients?

In the past, agents like Scott Boras have treated their lower-tier clients as moderate inconveniences, expecting them to be happy to take a back seat to the big names and wait their turn. Felipe Lopez was such a player who pushed back in February of 2010 when he fired Boras. Lopez wasn’t in Grilli’s situation when Grilli hired Sheffield in 2010. Grilli was out of baseball and looking for work; Lopez, in 2009, had had one of the best seasons of his career with a .310/.383/.427 split and 9 homers for the Diamondbacks and Brewers. Lopez was a flawed player, but should’ve gotten a suitable job offer before February considering his bat, pop and that he was defensively versatile playing a passable second and third base.

Boras’s reaction wasn’t an apology to his client or an explanation. Instead, he announced that he was going to “confront the player,” and made cryptic references of “reasons” why Lopez wasn’t offered a job that he declined to disclose. It’s as if he—the employee—was in charge and was exacting revenge for being fired. Boras is powerful and Lopez had little leverage, but in the end, Boras worked for Lopez, not the other way around.

While Sheffield might not have the most sparkly reputation around the executives and teams that he angered throughout his career and that is definitely going to hurt the players he represents because they simply will not want to deal with Sheffield, he’s going to speak up and fight for the people on his side. His clients—Grilli and Josh Banks—weren’t in a great position to bargain. They were looking for work. Would someone have signed Grilli and Banks without Sheffield? Probably. But what’s the difference? Maybe players like these need someone like Sheffield who has nothing to gain by representing them instead of Boras who probably has lower level associates handling the Lopezes of the world on a daily basis and forgets about them completely until they do what Lopez did and publicly fires him, embarrassing him. Boras certainly couldn’t let that go by without face-saving response.

Grilli’s main obstacle as a closer is handling it mentally. The Pirates have a shot at a playoff spot in 2013, so his closing opportunities will be important. Pitchers in the past that have proven themselves as set-up men and couldn’t close have been legion—one in particular last season was David Robertson of the Yankees, who looked as if he was about to hyperventilate on the mound when he took over for Mariano Rivera, then got hurt. It opened the door for the more proven Rafael Soriano and Robertson went back to being a set-up man. It’s not that Soriano’s stuff is better than Robertson’s—it’s not—but Soriano can close. Whether Robertson can or not remains to be seen. The first impression wasn’t good.

That mentality, more than stuff, is the key to closing. Grilli’s strikeout numbers have spiked and he’s found a velocity in the mid-90s that he didn’t have earlier in his career. He has a chance to be good at the job that Sheffield the agent clearly didn’t expect his client to have. Should Sheffield and his partner, lawyer Xavier James, have realized that there was a chance that Grilli could accumulate a few saves and prove himself as a closer, possibly putting himself in line to make a lot more money? Yes. But Grilli is also 36 and his annual salary for a 15 year professional career surpassed $1 million for the first time in 2012. Taking the guaranteed cash was the smart move. Another agent would’ve insisted on the clause and that might’ve wound up costing Grilli the opportunity and left him sitting out and waiting as Lopez was.

It’s a dual-edged sword. Sheffield, perhaps unwittingly, served his client and got him a guaranteed two year contract in the now. That’s not a bad thing.

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Hurdle’s Law vs Murphy’s Law—Fighting for the Future of the Pirates

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Pending a physical, the Pirates have agreed to a 2-year, $14 million contract with free agent lefty Francisco Liriano. This winter, in addition to Liriano, the Pirates have added catcher Russell Martin (2-years, $17 million) and retained pitcher Jason Grilli (2-years, $6.75 million negotiated with Grilli’s agent Gary Sheffield. Yes. That Gary Sheffield.) These moves follow last spring’s acquisition of A.J. Burnett from the Yankees and the summer trade for Wandy Rodriguez from the Astros. During the 2012 season, they also received cheap and talented youngsters Travis Snider from the Blue Jays and Gaby Sanchez from the Marlins.

Liriano’s acquisition mirrors the Pirates’ trade for Burnett. Liriano is a superiorly talented underachiever whose results will benefit from the National League and the big Pirates’ park. Looking at the club on the whole, the Pirates have a batch of young players that they’re in the process of surrounding with veterans who have playoff experience and have played for well-run, winning organizations.

The Pirates collapsed in the second halves of both 2011 and 2012; endured rightful public indignation at their assistant GM Kyle Stark implementing ridiculous physical and mental training techniques for their minor leaguers; and struggled to shake the hapless image that has been their albatross for two decades. The entire front office from team president Frank Coonelly to GM Neal Huntington to Stark were said to be in jeopardy of losing their jobs at the conclusion of 2012 and still aren’t completely secure, but owner Bob Nutting retained all three, staying the course along with manager Clint Hurdle and trying—not putting forth the pretense of trying, but actually trying—to win by spending some money.

They haven’t simply taken on onerous contracts of other clubs either, nor have they drastically overpaid in terms of years/dollars to get veteran help. The Pirates got Burnett from the Yankees for low level non-prospects while paying a third of Burnett’s $16.5 million salary in 2012 and will pay half in 2013. They got Rodriguez from the Astros for three nondescript minor leaguers and are paying $8.5 million of his $13 million salary. Now with Liriano, the rotation of Burnett, Rodriguez, Liriano, James McDonald and as early as 2013, Gerrit Cole, the Pirates can compete. Andrew McCutchen is a true all-around star and MVP candidate; Pedro Alvarez has tremendous power; and with Sanchez, Martin, Neil Walker and Garrett Jones, they’ll score enough to support that starting rotation. In the weakened National League Central—with only the Reds substantially better on paper—and the extra Wild Card, there’s an opening for the Pirates.

The front office is constantly on the precipice of doing something stupid and are discussing trading closer Joel Hanrahan. What they get for him and whom they use to replace him should be planned before pulling any trigger and I wonder whether Hanrahan’s pending free agency after 2013 is more of a catalyst to this talk than any potential return or concerns about the righty’s effectiveness. I would not trade Hanrahan unless there are extenuating circumstances or the offer is too lucrative to turn down. They’re going to need him.

As always, there’s a dubious nature surrounding the Pirates’ plans and intentions and much of their rise has been due to a vast number of high draft picks and not overwhelming wisdom from the front office. But in spite of the collateral stories and questioning glances, there’s much to be enthusiastic about in Pittsburgh and it’s not Sidney Crosby (if the NHL ever plays again) or Ben Roethlisberger. It’s McCutchen, Cole and the other youngsters the Pirates have developed along with their shiny new veterans. Players are no longer shunning the Pirates or going to Pittsburgh because they have nowhere else to go. Given the team’s reputation around baseball as a wasteland where young players run out the clock to free agency and veterans go for a final job, that new perception is not a small thing.

There’s still that hovering feeling of Murphy’s Law that everything that can go wrong will go wrong, particularly because of the still shaky status of the front office and the owner’s blindness to the harsh and exhausting realities of being a baseball player. It’s highly possible that Nutting’s expectations will outweigh what the team can accomplish and he’ll let his displeasure be known early if the team isn’t markedly better immediately. At that point, changes might be made in the front office.

Even with the looming dysfunction, they have enough talent to rise from the ashes of their 2011-2012 stumbles, use them as learning experiences, and contend for seven months rather than four. Murphy’s Law says that the Pirates will remain the Pirates, but that’s being counteracted by Hurdle’s Law—the law that dictates not taking crap and not making excuses.

They have the talent to win. And they just might.

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

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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.

***

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.

***

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.

***

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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Believe It Or Don’t—The Bad (American League)

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Yesterday I examined teams that were expected to do poorly, but haven’t and whether or not their performances are real. Today let’s look at the teams that were supposed to be good and have started out…bad.

This is the American League; the National League will be posted later.

  • New York Yankees

What they’re doing.

The Yankees are 21-20 and in fourth place in the American League East, 5 1/2 games behind the Baltimore Orioles.

How they’re doing it.

The easy answer is to say that the Yankees are hovering around .500 because of injuries. Strangely, the loss of Mariano Rivera hasn’t hurt them yet and presumably won’t until (if) they’re in the playoffs.

The word “if” concerning a playoff spot was once a hedge, but no longer. This team is not, under any circumstances, guaranteed a playoff spot in spite of the specious logic of Mike Francesa when he says something like, “well, they’ve made in in 15 of the past 16 years” as if there’s a connection.

They loaded up on starting pitching by trading for Michael Pineda and signing Hiroki Kuroda; prior to that, they also re-signed Freddy Garcia.

Pineda’s out for the year (at least); Kuroda’s been alternately brilliant and awful; and Garcia was bounced from the starting rotation. Andy Pettitte’s return gives them another veteran starter but they can’t reasonably expect Pettitte to be close to what he was in his prime.

The starting pitching has been inconsistent, but serviceable; the bullpen is still functional. It’s been the lineup that’s the problem.

Russell Martin is hitting .170 and losing playing time to the defensively superior and offensively inept Chris Stewart. Alex Rodriguez is now a “threat emeritus” against whom opposing clubs still need to be careful, but can challenge and beat him with power fastballs. Robinson Cano has gotten hot in May. Mark Teixeira has taken Derek Jeter’s place as the target of the fans’ ire. He’s been ill with a bad cough and hasn’t hit at all. It seems so long ago that Jeter was called “Captain DP” among other things; now Teixeira has taken his place.

Eventually, Teixeira will hit.

Believe it or don’t?

They’re going to hit enough to get back into contention for a playoff spot, but that doesn’t mean they’re a lock to get in.

Don’t believe it but don’t get too overconfident (or suffocatingly arrogant) either.

  • Boston Red Sox

What they’re doing.

The Red Sox are 20-21 and in last place in the AL East, 6 1/2 games behind the Orioles.

How they’re doing it.

The starting pitching got off to a woeful start and the transition from the laid back Terry Francona to the polarizing Bobby Valentine, combined with the front office regime change and still simmering tensions from the 2011 collapse put the Red Sox in an onerous situation.

Josh Beckett has pitched well in his last two starts following the golf outing/strained back/public effigy he endured. Daniel Bard is a Daisuke Matsuzaka return away from a trip back to the bullpen and they’ve lost Jacoby Ellsbury and Kevin Youkilis to injuries. Adrian Gonzalez hasn’t gotten hot yet.

Believe it or don’t.

After everything, the Red Sox are only one game behind the Yankees.

I didn’t think they were a legitimate contender before the season. Nor did I think they were as bad as they looked early in the season.

Objectively, they’re about a .500 team.

Believe it.

  • Detroit Tigers

What they’re doing.

The Tigers are 20-21, in third place and 3 games behind the Indians in the AL Central.

How they’re doing it.

The Tigers were widely predicted to run away and hide in the AL Central based on their high-powered offense, deep bullpen and all-world ace in Justin Verlander. Those factors would make up for a rancid defense and questionable backend of their rotation.

The offense is seventh in runs scoured and is functioning with black holes at second base and DH. The starting pitching behind Verlander has been bad. Jose Valverde was on the verge of losing his closer’s job before he injured his back.

Believe it or don’t?

This isn’t a new experience for the Tigers. For years after their shocking run to the World Series in 2006, they acquired big, expensive names in an “I’m collecting superstars” fashion by getting Gary Sheffield, Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis and it didn’t work then either.

The offense will be okay but the back of the rotation with Max Scherzer, Rick Porcello and a series of youngsters is a major problem.

They’re not an under .500 team, but they’re not walking into the playoffs.

Don’t believe it, but they’re going to have to fight their way into the playoffs.

  • Los Angeles Angels

What they’re doing.

The Angels are 18-24, in last place in the AL West and 8 games behind the Texas Rangers.

How they’re doing it.

They’re 13th in the American League in runs scored continuing the same absence of firepower that cost them in the pennant race in 2011. The difference now is that they have Albert Pujols.

The bullpen has been bad and closer Jordan Walden was replaced by veteran Scott Downs.

Inexplicably, only three of their everyday players have on base percentages over .300 and one of them isn’t Pujols.

This team is not a Mike Scioscia-style team that preferred speed, defense, good pitching and opportunism. The chasm between the manager’s style and the type of team he has is showing and it cost hitting coach Mickey Hatcher his job.

Believe it or don’t?

Don’t believe it.

Their starting pitching is too good and Pujols is going to hit at some point. It’s going to take some time for everyone to get on the same page, but by the All Star break, I’d expect an uneasy peace among new GM Jerry Dipoto, Scioscia, the newcomers and the remaining veterans for the Angels to right their ship and make a playoff run.

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Radio Appearances and International Disarray

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Terry Francona went on Michael Kay’s ESPN radio show in an apparent attempt to do some damage control to repair his fading image as the innocent bystander in the Red Sox’ 2011 collapse and only succeeded in making things worse.

You can read about the appearance here on ESPN.com.

In the piece, it’s revealed that—shocker!!—Francona is working on a book with none other than reporter Dan Shaughnessy who also happened to pen the piece in which Francona aired his reasons for not attending the 100th anniversary celebration to commemorate Fenway Park.

I’m not sure which upcoming book is going to fire more vendetta-tinged salvos, Francona’s or Tony LaRussa’s.

For someone who’s viewed positively throughout baseball for his good guy persona, Francona is doing his best Gary Sheffield impersonation.

Those who remember Sheffield know that whenever a reporter needed a hot story, all he had to do was walk over to Sheffield and ask him about something that he’d insisted he wasn’t going to talk about. Sheffield would invariably reiterate that stance…then go into a long-winded rant about precisely what he said he wasn’t going to discuss. Sheffield’s reputation made it easy to dismiss his complaints whether they were valid or not. Francona’s the opposite.

Francona backtracked on his decision to go public with his gripes and then snatched Kay’s bait like a starving shark.

Here’s a clip from the above-linked ESPN article:

Kay also asked the question many around Boston have been wondering: “As you sit back on Thursday, April 12, and the Red Sox are 1-5, is there a part of you that’s absolutely elated?”

Francona laughed at first, but then said: “I wouldn’t say elated. I know what you mean, though. You know, everybody has human emotions … there are so many people there that I’ve gone through so many things with, that I care so much about. You know, somebody asked me yesterday and I said ‘I hope (Dustin) Pedroia hits 1.000 and I hope (Jon) Lester wins every game.’ … At the same time, I recognize the way things ended there didn’t make me very happy. And actually really hurt me. And I’m aware of that also. So, you try to balance it a little bit. But being vindictive is not a good way to go through life. And I hope I’m not that way.”

No, the Red Sox are not playing well. Yes, it’s natural for Francona to feel a certain amount of satisfaction that they’re going poorly without him. But this looks and sounds bad because it is bad in perception and practice.

Would the Red Sox be better with Francona? If Francona had stayed, Theo Epstein was going to stay as well, so the construction of the club would be radically different. We don’t know what they’d look like with a different GM and manager, who would and wouldn’t be on the team.

It’s a question that can’t be answered.

What he’s doing is distracting and unfair to the club that gave him an opportunity that other teams weren’t prepared to give him in a situation that was ready-made to win immediately.

It’s clearly intentional payback.

Regardless of how it ended with the Red Sox, Francona’s in a far better position now with a lot more money in the bank and industry-wide respect that wasn’t there when he was fired by the Phillies after a four-year tenure of 285-363.

He wasn’t hired by the Red Sox because they were expecting the reincarnation of Connie Mack. He was hired by the Red Sox because the Red Sox were trying to get Curt Schilling to agree to a trade to Boston and Francona was an agreeable choice to the pitcher; Francona was willing to take short money for the opportunity; and he would do what Grady Little didn’t do—take orders from the front office.

This labeling of Francona being a “great” manager is directly connected to the results he achieved. That Red Sox team in 2004 was very good and it wasn’t his mere presence that was the final piece in the championship puzzle. They would’ve been good with or without Francona.

The Red Sox have earned the right to celebrate their ballpark and try to right the ship on the field. Francona’s gloating makes him look petty and babyish and won’t be lost on any club that considers hiring him as their manager in the future. He may feel safe in his new broadcasting job and is trying to retaliate for the shoddy manner in which he was treated when the Red Sox let him go, but he’s making himself look terrible and it’s casting the Red Sox in a far more sympathetic light than they were in before.

Francona needs to shut up.

Period.

On another Red Sox-related note, the football club their ownership purchased that was supposedly siphoning money away from the Red Sox—Liverpool FC—has made their own change at the top. This clip is from the NY Times:

Liverpool dismissed its director of football, Damien Comolli, after criticism of his transfer strategy since he was hired 16 months ago. Liverpool has spent $183 million on players since Comolli joined the club, but expensive recruits like Andy Carroll, Jordan Henderson and Stewart Downing have failed to impress.

You can read analysis of this maneuver here.

Is Comolli going to go on Kay’s show? Will he write a book?

The mess has gone international and it shows no signs of abating any time soon.

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The Price for McCutchen

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Pirates GM Neal Huntington is making it clear with his between-the-lines statements that he’s willing to trade Andrew McCutchenThe Sporting News.

Given the Pirates circumstances as a perennial laughingstock and that McCutchen would have to be just as overwhelmed to stay long-term as the Pirates would be to trade him, it makes sense to listen to what other clubs have to say.

McCutchen is not closing in on free agency (it’s not until after the 2015 season) and he’s going to be arbitration-eligible until next year. He’s 25, is not reliant on his speed to make a living and he can play center field.

He’s an MVP-quality talent.

It’s somewhat unprecedented for a young, established position player to be available regardless of the demand.

Most of the huge deals for packages of young players that aren’t closing in on free agency involve pitchers. We saw this with the Athletics’ latest housecleaning in dealing Trevor Cahill and Gio Gonzalez. The Rays are always ready to do business with any player on their roster and the Rockies made a bold move in trading Ubaldo Jimenez last summer.

McCutchen is a franchise cornerstone and exactly the type of player for whom an interested club should be willing to overpay as Huntington implies.

Let’s take a look at some big trades that were made with a lot of young talent exchanged for a young position player to get a gauge on circumstances and boundaries.

1982: Indians trade OF Von Hayes to the Phillies for INF Julio Franco, RHP Jay Baller, 2B Manny Trillo, OF George Vukovich and C Jerry Willard.

Hayes was 24 and saddled with the nickname “5 for 1” after the trade, but turned out to be a very good player for the Phillies. He had power and speed and if he played today, he’d be comparable to McCutchen.

Franco was an excellent hitter and lasted in the big leagues until he was 48.

Hayes’s career was over at age 33 after the Phillies had traded him to the Angels in a trade that brought them…Ruben Amaro Jr.

1990: Padres trade 2B Roberto Alomar and OF Joe Carter to the Blue Jays for 1B Fred McGriff and SS Tony Fernandez.

Alomar was 23 and I don’t think anyone predicted he’d blossom into a Hall of Fame player with power. Two old-school GMs—the Padres’ Joe McIlvaine and the Blue Jays’ Pat Gillick—pulled off this drastic maneuver that worked out better for the Blue Jays, but was productive for the Padres. In retrospect, they would have preferred to keep Alomar, but no one knew what Alomar was.

Veteran general managers got together and cobbled out a major trade that helped both sides.

1992: Brewers trade INF Gary Sheffield and RHP Geoff Kellogg to the Padres for RHP Ricky Bones, OF Matt Mieske and INF Jose Valentin.

Sheffield was miserable in Milwaukee, couldn’t handle the expectations and pressure stemming from being in the big leagues at 19 and the nephew of Dwight Gooden. In later years, Sheffield claimed to have intentionally thrown balls wildly from third base as some form of retribution for perceived slights.

Sound familiar?

The self-destructive petulance was chalked up to youth.

It turned out not to be youth. Gary was just Gary and that’s simply what he did.

From age 19-40, Sheffield imploded and exploded in his subsequent stops (six after Milwaukee and San Diego) and alienated anyone and everyone along the way. He got away with it because he could hit for power and get on base—no other reason.

The Brewers got rid of Sheffield because he was a ticking time bomb.

2007: Rays trade OF Delmon Young, INF Brendan Harris and OF Jason Pridie to the Twins for RHP Matt Garza, SS Jason Bartlett and RHP Eddie Morlan.

Young was a former first pick in the draft, but the new Rays front office wouldn’t have drafted him first had they been in charge and were in the process of clearing out players who didn’t behave appropriately—Young had acted up in the minors and majors resulting in suspensions and confrontations with manager Joe Maddon. It helped the decision to move him that they didn’t value what it was he did because he hit a few homers, didn’t get on base and played poor defense in the outfield.

Garza was a young pitcher with a temper similar to Young’s, but that temper was tolerable to get his power arm.

This was a mutual-interest/need deal and not one to clear salary.

Barring free agency, financial constraints and ancillary factors, players like McCutchen are rarely available.

Is he “available”? Or are the Pirates tossing it out there to see if anyone bites and gives up the house?

Teams should inquire and be serious about getting him.

The Royals have the prospects and the need. With McCutchen in center field flanked by Alex Gordon and Jeff Francoeur, their outfield defense would be superlative and their rebuilding process would be sped up markedly.

The Nationals need a center fielder, have the young talent to deal and are looking to improve quickly; the Braves’ farm system is loaded; and the Mets should accept reality and give the fans something to bank on while getting a marquee youngster.

If teams have to overpay, so be it.

For a player like McCutchen, everyone should contact the Pirates and see whether or not they’re serious about moving him. If they ask for seven players including four who are perceived as “can’t miss”, then they’re not serious; if they ask for four or five, then it’s something for an interested club to pursue because McCutchen is worth it.

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Carlos Zambrano: Pros and Cons

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If Carlos Zambrano behaved in society the way he has in clubhouses and on the field, it wouldn’t be a matter of “pros and cons” as much as it would be “prosecutions and convictions”.

But he’s a baseball player and his behaviors have occurred in the setting of baseball—a world that is mostly removed from reality.

If the Marlins continue the trend of setting explosive devices in their clubhouse and decide to invite Milton Bradley to spring training, the city of Miami needs to be evacuated and those who refuse to evacuate should arm themselves and have a plan of escape.

A combustible mix that already has an unhappy Hanley Ramirez; the loudmouthed Heath Bell; a manager bordering on the edge of lunacy, Ozzie Guillen; along with front office led by an overbearing team president, David Samson and a temperamental and demanding owner Jeffrey Loria has added a new ingredient, Zambrano.

Naturally things could go completely wrong for the Marlins from top-to-bottom, but there are many positive possibilities to Zambrano that make it worthwhile for them to gamble on him.

They’re getting significant financial relief from the Cubs who are paying $15.5 million of Zambrano’s $18 million salary for 2012; Zambrano waived his 2013 option that was worth $19.25 million. He’ll be free of Chicago, the reputation he created himself and the constant scrutiny; the Marlins are getting a pitcher who will be on his best behavior not just because he’s pitching for his friend Guillen, but because he’s singing for his free agent supper.

If you add in Chris Volstad—going to the Cubs in the trade—the Marlins payroll isn’t increasing much, if at all. Volstad is eligible for arbitration for the first time. If you figure his salary is going to increase from $445,000 to, say $1.4 million, the Marlins are taking on $1.1 million with Zambrano and getting, potentially, a top of the rotation starter.

That’s the key word: potentially.

The list of negatives with Zambrano is long. In my experience, players who’ve caused problems in one place are going to cause problems in another place. Gary Sheffield, Jeff Kent, Albert Belle, Carl Everett, Shea Hillenbrand plus the aforementioned and in a category unto himself, Bradley, have all been magnets for trouble in spite of press conference glad handing, gleaming smiles and pledges to be different.

It comes down to whether the aggravation quotient will be worth it.

With Zambrano, we’re not seeing a decline in performance to accompany the bad attitude. He pitched well when he pitched. The absence of a heavy workload (he hasn’t thrown over 200 innings since 2007 and it wasn’t solely due to injury) might actually help him over the long term. His arm should be fresh.

The Marlins are trying to win and draw fans to their new park; let’s say that Zambrano and Volstad pitch similarly in 2012—it was still worth it. Fans are not going to the park specifically to see Chris Volstad; they will go to the park to see Carlos Zambrano, and even if it’s to watch a potential explosion, so what? Fans in the seats are fans in the seats.

Could the Cubs have brought Zambrano back to the team? They could’ve, but the reward was minuscule in comparison to the risk. If Zambrano returned, behaved and pitched well, the Cubs are fringe contenders at best. Those are huge “ifs”. Volstad is a talented pitcher who’s far cheaper and under team control for the foreseeable future.

Cubs new president Theo Epstein is going to build his team on character and known on-field qualities; Zambrano isn’t and would never be a fit. They were going to have to pay him anyway and the possibility of a career/personal behavioral turnaround was so remote that it was better to pay Zambrano off to leave and get something for him.

This trade is sensible for both sides. The Cubs get some peace and the Marlins get a big name in Big Z.

It’s a good trade.

Just have your disaster kit ready if the atom splits because that Marlins clubhouse is a ticking time bomb that could blow at any moment.

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David Ortiz Is Yapping His Way Out Of Boston

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The days of players like Gary Sheffield and David Wells cutting side deals with George Steinbrenner around the desires of the Yankees baseball people ended upon the Boss’s death.

Hank Steinbrenner won’t be allowed to repeat the mistake he made in taking Alex Rodriguez back after Rodriguez’s 2007 contract opt-out.

With Brian Cashman’s contract expiring and the disastrous Rafael Soriano signing, Randy Levine won’t be interfering again anytime soon.

So David Ortiz can’t hope for some random act of stupidity on the part of anyone aligned with the current Yankees to garner him a contract with the club for 2012.

But as the Red Sox world crumbles, Ortiz’s self-interested complaints and weak defenses of the Red Sox clubhouse charade are not helping matters. Now he’s openly musing about playing for the Yankees.

The Yankees—already overloaded with declining veterans signed to contracts they can’t move—might, might have interest in Ortiz if his stats were attached to another player from another team. But with Mark Teixeira and A-Rod in decline; their “will they or won’t they” decision on bringing back Nick Swisher; the CC Sabathia opt-out and starting pitching holes, the last thing they need is to start another level of the Red Sox-Yankees war by signing Ortiz.

If they’re looking for a mashing DH, they have a young, cheap hitter named Jesus Montero who looks like he’d do just fine if he were given the job full-time.

So what would they need Ortiz for?

Ortiz appears to be living in a past where he was an icon in Boston and the team had no other viable alternatives to him in their lineup and couldn’t let him leave; a time when, with every homer Ortiz launched into the right field porch at Yankee Stadium, the late George Steinbrenner was constantly reminding Cashman how he’d told his GM to sign Ortiz when the Twins non-tendered him after the 2002 season and Cashman ignored Steinbrenner because he had nowhere to put him.

Ortiz is considering leaving Boston?

Okay.

Where’s he going?

He can’t play the field, so that eliminates the 16 teams in the National League.

The Yankees won’t want him; the Rays won’t pay him. The White Sox have a clogged up DH spot with Adam Dunn and the last thing a neophyte manager Robin Ventura needs is Ortiz walking in with his sideshow. The Indians? The Royals? The Rangers?

None of those teams are landing spots.

The Blue Jays, Mariners, Athletics, Angels, Twins and Orioles could use Ortiz’s bat, but none are going to pay him what the Red Sox will.

Could the Red Sox say to themselves they could use a different, quieter and still productive DH-type like Jim Thome? Someone whose class and likability would add immeasurably to the Red Sox clubhouse? Someone who would absolutely say something if teammates were behaving in a selfish, disinterested way? Plus Thome’s going to be much, much cheaper than Ortiz.

Ortiz had better be careful.

Terry Francona and Theo Epstein were icons in Boston as well and they’re gone. Jason Varitek and Tim Wakefield are on the way out the door. Jonathan Papelbon and Kevin Youkilis could be right behind them.

The more Ortiz talks, the more the Red Sox might add him to the list of people they have to purge from the poisoned clubhouse to begin refurbishing and repairing.

He has few options and definitely won’t make the money he’s made in Boston.

My advice to him would be to shut up and hope the Red Sox forget that he was one of the players who should’ve and could’ve put a stop to the nonsense that went on there in 2011; nonsense that played a large part in sabotaging their season and started this mass exodus and changes that no one saw coming on September 1st.

Ortiz might get caught in the waterfall.

And he won’t be landing in New York.

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Mets Can’t Get Too Clever With Reyes

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This is not turning into an “all Jose Reyes, all the time” deal, but there’s much to talk about with the Mets shortstop currently back in his part-time office, the disabled list.

ESPN’s Jayson Stark discusses Reyes’s fluid situation of free agency with the latest injury factored into the equation.

Here are the main quotes:

The buzz in the business is that the Mets were prepared to offer him $100 million over five years. Maybe that would have gotten it done, hamstring pops or no hamstring pops.

But now you could see those guaranteed years shrinking — to four years, maybe even to three, with options that would vest a fifth year if he can just stay off the DL.

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But there’s another side to this argument. For one thing, the Mets can’t drop the years and dollars too low — because it would draw other clubs into the auction.

Stark brings up the paucity of big money teams that will pursue Reyes and the overall market in his posting.

I’m not thinking about Adrian Beltre or Albert Pujols or any of the clubs Stark mentions as possibly being in or out on Reyes.

I’m thinking back to Vladimir Guerrero and the Mets in 2003.

At age 28, Guerrero was a free agent with an injury that was worrisome—more worrisome in fact than Reyes’s hamstring because it was Guerrero’s back.

The Mets were interested in Guerrero and amid rumors that there was no market for him they tried to sign him to a short-term contract at a relatively cheap price with incentives ($30 million guaranteed over 3-years).

The Yankees were also supposedly considering Guerrero (and GM Brian Cashman was said to prefer Guerrero), but owner George Steinbrenner signed Gary Sheffield.

Guerrero was floating free into January of 2004—unprecedented for a player of his talents at that age, back injury or not.

The rumors were rampant that the Mets were about to net the slugger…until the Angels struck—as is their wont—like lightning. Without warning, they signed Guerrero to a 5-year, $70 million deal and the Mets were sitting on their hands, wondering what happened.

The New York Times reported that there was a Players Association investigation into who leaked Guerrero’s medical records to the Mets—medical records that turned out to be wrong in the severity or Guerrero’s back woes.

Guerrero wound up bolstering his Hall of Fame credentials with the Angels; was a perennial MVP candidate and All-Star; and a leader in the clubhouse and on the field.

Were the Mets afraid of Guerrero’s medical prognosis? Were they being cheap? Were they hesitant when they should’ve been aggressive?

All of the above?

Considering the way the Mets were being run in those days and their “solution” to missing out on Guerrero was to sign Karim Garcia and Shane Spencer, it’s probably that they were being cheap. And being the Mets.

Luckily Mel Hall wasn’t around.

The only reasonable answer is that the Mets got greedy and thought they were the only team in on Guerrero.

They missed out on him because of it.

Truth be told, Guerrero doesn’t like speaking to the press in English and would’ve wanted no part of living and playing in New York; he had little interest in being the front-and-center leader of a team that wasn’t particularly good and was better off in a stable atmosphere like that with the Angels.

How does this relate to Reyes?

If the Mets think that no one is going to jump in and offer Reyes a lot of money despite the hamstring problems, them they’re putting themselves in a Guerrero-like circumstance where they’ll lose him for the wrong reasons.

If the club comes to the conclusion that Reyes is only worth X amount of dollars and Y number of years, sticks to it and he leaves, so be it; if they lose him because they were lowballing him, the Sandy Alderson regime will be making the same mistake the Jim Duquette regime did—and that’s not what the Wilpons (and MLB itself) had in mind when the Mets hired Alderson.

It would be a mistake.

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The Tigers Quick Trigger On Contract Extensions

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The Tigers extended the contracts of GM Dave Dombrowski and manager Jim Leyland. Dombrowski’s goes through 2015; Leyland’s through 2012.

I wouldn’t read anything into the shorter-term nature of Leyland’s contract; he’s not young and presumably doesn’t know how much longer he’s going to manage.

This is a curious maneuver considering that it was only a few weeks ago when owner Mike Ilitch implied there would be changes if this Tigers team didn’t make the post-season. It was a quick turnaround from that to keeping the GM for three more years.

Dombrowski and Leyland are good baseball men and the contract security eclipses a concern that I expressed when there was talk of the club gutting the farm system for veteran help at the trading deadline—that concern centered around a manager and executive whose short-term needs precluded rational thinking for the future.

That’s no longer an issue because whatever problems arise from a trade, they’ll fall on the desk of the GM and manager.

The Tigers have had a tendency to be reactionary in these cases. For example, they doled out contract extensions on Gary Sheffield, Nate Robertson and Dontrelle Willis among others when it wasn’t necessary to do so and all turned out to be costly mistakes.

Because they’ve played better after an inconsistent start and have taken some semblance of control over the AL Central, the Tigers look like a pretty good bet for the playoffs—something that wasn’t the case when Ilitch made his cryptic statement.

They could’ve waited to extend the contracts, but it’s not a glaring mistake to do it now.

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