Keys to 2013: Baltimore Orioles

Fantasy/Roto, Games, History, Hot Stove, Management, Media, MiLB, Players, Prospects, Spring Training, Stats

Starting Pitching Key: Chris Tillman

A lack of command kept Tillman bouncing back and forth between the majors and minors. Acquired in the trade that just keeps on giving that sent Erik Bedard to the Mariners, Tillman will turn 25 in April and after his performance following his July recall, may have taken the next step from prospect to legitimate big league starter. He’s not a strikeout pitcher, but with a fastball that reaches the mid-90s, a changeup, a slow curve, a slider and a cutter, Tillman has the variety of pitches to win 15 games and be a top-of-the-rotation arm.

He suffered from elbow inflammation that cost him two weeks in September. The Orioles weak spot in 2012 was their starting rotation and they’re not sneaking up on anyone this year. With Tillman and Dylan Bundy on the way, they could mitigate that issue while not having made any big acquisitions in the off-season.

Relief Pitching Key: Brian Matusz

The Orioles are giving Matusz a chance to regain his spot in the starting rotation, but I question whether their hearts are really in it. He’s shown flashes of being a useful starter, but after he was moved to the bullpen last season, he was a different pitcher. Perhaps it has to sink in that he’s better-served going through a lineup once and can cobble together a more successful career out of the bullpen. Starters—even bad ones—make much more money than good relievers, so for a 26-year-old, that’s not an easy thing to reconcile, but that’s not the Orioles’ problem and if they need Matusz more in the bullpen and he can help them be a better team, that’s where he needs to be.

Offensive Key: Manny Machado

Machado won’t turn 21 until July, but the potential and comparisons to Alex Rodriguez make him an offensive linchpin for the 2013 Orioles. He only walked 9 times in 202 plate appearances last season, but he doesn’t strike out. Once Machado matures and fills out, he’ll be a solid 210 pounds and hit the ball out of the park more frequently. The Orioles can pencil in what they’ll get from their power bats Adam Jones, Nick Markakis, Chris Davis, Matt Wieters and J.J. Hardy—but Machado’s rapid development will significantly improve their runs scored.

Defensive Key: J.J. Hardy

Hardy won a long overdue Gold Glove for his work at shortstop last season and while he provides pop at the plate, his main contribution is with his glove. Because Hardy’s there, Machado will play third base and the Orioles will have what will possibly be the rangiest left side of the infield in baseball. It’s a comfort for the pitchers to know that they have someone covering the most ground on the infield at shortstop, allowing them to pitch to contact without worrying about routine grounders getting through.

//

Advertisements

2012 Award Winners—American League Manager of the Year

Award Winners, Books, Cy Young Award, Games, History, Management, Media, Paul Lebowitz's 2012 Baseball Guide, Players, Playoffs, Politics, Prospects, Stats

A few weeks ago, I listed my picks for the Cy Young Award in each league. Along with that, I listed who I picked before the season and who I think will actually wind up winning. You can read it here.

Now let’s look at the intense debate for Manager of the Year in the American League.

The two candidates for the award are the Orioles’ Buck Showalter and the Athletics’ Bob Melvin. You can’t go wrong with either. For my purposes, I have to go point-by-point to see if I can find an advantage to tip the argument in the favor of one or the other and come to a conclusion that makes sense.

The Orioles started the season with an $84 million payroll; the Athletics started with a $52 million payroll. Showalter had more proven veteran talent. With Matt Wieters, Adam Jones, Nick Markakis, J.J. Hardy, and Mark Reynolds, the Orioles’ lineup was going to score runs. Their question marks were in the starting rotation and with bullpen depth. Showalter worked his way around not having one starting pitcher throw 200 innings. It was his deft use of the bullpen that carried the Orioles through.

Melvin was working with a patchwork quilt of pitchers comprised of youth (Jarrod Parker, Dan Straily, A.J. Griffin); journeyman veterans (Bartolo Colon); and the injury prone (Brandon McCarthy). The bullpen was also in flux as he bounced back and forth between Ryan Cook and Grant Balfour as his closer. The lineup was similarly makeshift with unknowns (Yoenis Cespedes); youngsters who’d never gotten a chance (Josh Reddick); and other clubs’ refuse (Brandon Moss, Brandon Inge).

Neither team had any expectations before the season started. Both clubs were in divisions where they were picked—across the board—to finish in or close to last place. The American League East and American League West had powerhouses with massive payrolls, star power and history behind them. But the Orioles and A’s overcame their disadvantages to make the playoffs.

Is there a fair way to break what is essentially a tie in making a pick?

Yes.

The one method I can think of to determine who should win is by looking at the managers, but switching places and determining whether Showalter or Melvin would have been capable of replicating the success they had with their club and mimicked it with the other club.

Could Showalter have done the job that Melvin did with the Athletics?

Could Melvin have done the job that Showalter did with the Orioles?

Showalter has long been a manager who maximizes the talent he has on the roster with his attention to detail, flexibility, and perceived strategic wizardry, but his teams have sometimes wilted under his thumb and tuned him out. Showalter’s unique maneuverings have invited quizzical looks and accurate criticism. One example was the decision not to hold Mark Teixeira on first base in the fifth inning of a scoreless tie in game 5. Teixeira stole second and scored on a Raul Ibanez single. Under no circumstances should Showalter have done that. Teixeira was running well on his injured calf and the risk wasn’t worth the reward to let him take the base. It cost them dearly, and because he’s Showalter, he gets away with it. It was a mistake.

In every one of his managerial stops, Melvin has been an underappreciated manager to develop youngsters and let them have a chance to play without scaring or pressuring them into errors, physical and mental. His strategies are conventional. He lets his players play. The players like playing for him and play hard for him. Every time his teams have underachieved, it hasn’t been Melvin’s fault. That’s not the case with Showalter as the Diamondbacks and Rangers grew stagnant with him managing their teams. On that basis, Melvin’s style would’ve translated better to the Orioles than Showalter’s to the Athletics.

In the end, it comes down to who was faced with the bigger disadvantages to start the season and overcame them; who had more proven talent on his roster; and who held the ship together when the circumstances were bleakest. The Orioles were never under .500 in 2012; the A’s were 9 games under and 13 games out of first place in June and came back to win the division.

Based on these factors, the Manager of the Year is Bob Melvin of the Oakland Athletics.

In the preseason I picked Manny Acta of the Cleveland Indians to win the award.

Before any laughter, it gets worse. The following is 100% true: Prior to making a last-minute change, I had initially written that the Indians were going to be a disappointment after positive preseason hope and hype and that Acta would be fired and replaced by Sandy Alomar, Jr. But I changed my mind and picked the Indians to win the AL Central (mistake number 1), and selected Acta as Manager of the Year (mistake number 2).

I believe that in spite of Melvin’s slightly better case as the recipient, Showalter is going to win.

//

A-Rod, Ibanez, and Changing the Culture at Closer

All Star Game, Ballparks, Basketball, Books, CBA, Cy Young Award, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Hall Of Fame, History, Hot Stove, Management, Media, MiLB, MLB Trade Deadline, MLB Waiver Trades, MVP, Paul Lebowitz's 2012 Baseball Guide, PEDs, Players, Playoffs, Prospects, Spring Training, Stats, Trade Rumors, Umpires, World Series

Watching for the reaction from Alex Rodriguez fits neatly into a narrative of the player’s struggles. Would he accept the unprecedented maneuver to pinch-hit for him with Raul Ibanez, or would he pull a Scottie Pippen and throw a public tantrum? Would A-Rod have negative things to say in spite of the move working? Would it be all about him?

This aspect is a non-story. A-Rod hasn’t acted like a diva since his opt-out in 2007 and subsequent return to the Yankees. He’s eager to help his younger teammates and contemporaries and is smart and self-aware enough to know that he’s not getting the job done. While he would have liked to have gotten a shot to do what Ibanez did? Yes, but logic and current reality dictates that had it been A-Rod at the plate against Orioles’ closer Jim Johnson, he would have failed. He’s still smart and savvy as a player (evidenced by his run-saving deke of J.J. Hardy in game 2), and while the traps he once set for pitchers by looking intentionally awful at a pitch just so the pitcher would throw it again when the situation called for it and A-Rod could crush it, he knew Joe Girardi did the reasonable—and gutsy—thing before Ibanez’s heroics.

On that same theme of game-knowledge, I find offensive the implication that managers as smart and experienced as Buck Showalter and Jim Leyland are unaware of the faults that lie within the concept of the one-inning closer who’s inserted into the game simply because it’s a save chance regardless of the hitters scheduled to bat or possibilities on the bench.

They know.

Johnson has been brilliant this whole season, but prior to 2012 he had zero experience pitching for a contender and zero experience in the playoffs. He’s blown two of the three games this series. Did Showalter have a better option than him? No. And it’s irrelevant to this argument that Johnson’s numbers are very good against both righties and lefties. It’s the era that’s the problem.

In order to change the culture of the “closer,” there has to be a team that does what Tony LaRussa did when he implemented the one-inning save with Dennis Eckersley. What LaRussa did was innovative and based on what he had; what others have done in years since is simply copying LaRussa so they don’t have to think on their own and risk being criticized. “I had my closer in the game,” is an excuse, not a reason. It’s a shield against reasonable questioning as to why a manager does what he does.  

LaRussa’s idea was bastardized and has evolved into the unrecognizable and mindless zombie it is today when that wasn’t LaRussa’s intent at all. LaRussa defined the roles for his relievers because he had the relievers to fill those roles effectively; Eckersley was more durable and effective in his mid-30s when he didn’t have to pitch more than one inning. It was cold-blooded analysis rather than an effort to reinvent the game.

The most ludicrous thing about the one-inning closer pitching against all comers is that prior to the ninth inning, the managers engage in a duel from the sixth inning to the eighth, mixing and matching their pitchers to specifically face certain hitters based on numbers, stuff, history, and other factors; then when the ninth comes around, for the Tigers, it’s Jose Valverde; for the Orioles, it’s Johnson, and no one dare interfere with the closer’s realm whether it’s the smart baseball move or not.

To think that Leyland is comfortable with Valverde on the mound and that some guy with a website or column on ESPN has the knowledge and nerve to make a change in the hierarchy, possibly upsetting the entire applecart, is the height of arrogance and cluelessness of how a baseball team is handled off the field. Johnson is effective against both righties and lefties, but if it was the seventh inning, would a righty have been pitching to Ibanez? Or would Showalter have brought in a lefty to face him?

The idea of an “ace” reliever is similar to the “ace” starting the first game of a playoff series. You want to have your best out there on the mound when it’s most important and, in the case of the Orioles, Johnson is the best they have. But in other cases, such as Valverde, is he the “best” choice or the choice to keep the peace among the pitchers by having it known, “You’ll pitch here; you’ll pitch there; you’ll pitch against X; you’ll pitch against Y.” During the regular season, if the team is good enough, it makes the manager’s life easier because the closer designate is likely going to convert his save opportunities, but in the playoffs, as we’re seeing now, it’s not a guarantee.

Mariano Rivera is considered the “greatest” closer in history because he’s gotten the big outs in the post-season, not because he’s accumulated the highest save total. Amid the saves he’s racked up in the playoffs—the vast number of them due to the opportunities accorded by pitching for a team in the playoffs just about every year—have been three high-profile gacks that cost his team a shot at the World Series title. In 1997, he allowed a game-losing homer to Sandy Alomar Jr.; in 2001, he blew game 7 of the World Series; and in game 4, it was a Dave Roberts stolen base that undid him and the Yankees. If Rivera hadn’t accrued the capital from the games he’s closed out, these would be defining moments in his career just as blown saves are for Trevor Hoffman, Neftali Feliz, and others.

What I would like to see is a team that is willing to try something different, has a manager willing to stand up to the scrutiny from the media and the complaints of the pitchers, and a front office that backs him to say, “Enough of this,” with the designated closer. Not in the way the Red Sox did, to disastrous results, in the 2003 season, but by having a group of pitchers—sidearming righties and lefties; specialists with numbers or a pitch that is effective for matchups—and use these pitchers in a similar way in the ninth inning as they do in the earlier innings.

A team that could experiment with this is the Rockies. Already trying a different tack with their starting pitchers and relievers rotating with a set number of pitches and the management unconcerned about stats; with an atmosphere not conducive to starting pitchers being successful; and a closer, Rafael Betancourt, that is in the role just because he’s there and not because he’s got a long history of doing the job, they could alter their relief configuration in the same way they’re trying to do it with starters. If it works, other clubs will copy it.

The save stat is ravaged as meaningless. In and of itself, it is meaningless. But until the mentality is changed from the top of an organization all the way through the entire system, there will still be calls for the “closer” even when a sidearming lefty who can’t get anyone out but lefties would be preferable to the guy who’s “supposed” to be out there because it’s “his” inning.

It’s not “his” anything. It’s the team’s thing. That’s what A-Rod proved by being a professional and an adult, and that’s what managers should strive to prove in the future with their bullpens.

//

Showalter’s Yankees Comments Are Ridiculous

Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Hall Of Fame, Management, Media, MLB Trade Deadline, Players, Playoffs, Prospects, Trade Rumors

Buck Showalter‘s image was that of a strategic wizard; a baseball hard-liner; an organization-builder and Mr. Fix-It who doesn’t tolerate small transgressions like a player wearing his socks at a different specification than Showalter deems appropriate. Nor does he allow large errors—mental and physical—like failing to hit the cut-off man, missing a sign or not running hard to first base.

It was the focus on “small stuff” like the socks that eventually grated on his veterans’ nerves and left his clubs tight and weary of the nitpicking. The Yankees, Diamondbacks and Rangers were all better because of his presence…and they were all better after he left.

With the Orioles, there was a “miracle-worker” aspect to the way the team went on a 34-23 run over the final two months of the 2010 season when he was hired to replace Dave Trembley; it was only exacerbated when they won 6 of their first 7 games to start the 2011 season.

Some actually expected this Orioles team to contend in the American League East with the Yankees and Red Sox still powerhouses and the Rays and Blue Jays having greater strengths of their own.

It didn’t take long for the Orioles to fall into a familiar fit of losing. Now they stand in their familiar terrain of last place, 25 games under .500 amid questions as to whom is going to run the club from the front office with the likelihood that Andy MacPhail will not return.

There is promise in Baltimore because of Showalter and the young players they’ve accumulated and acquired. Despite terrible records, Brian Matusz and Chris Tillman have good arms; their offense is productive with Adam Jones, J.J. Hardy, Mark Reynolds, Nick Markakis and Matt Wieters; and Showalter can strategically manipulate his team to a few more wins than they’d have under a lesser manager.

Whether he was reeling from the suicide of Mike Flanagan or was, in part, frustrated by the way the season came apart after the accolades and promise, Showalter’s comments about the Yankees being disrespectful to Flanagan for preferring to play a doubleheader in advance of Hurricane Irene on Friday rather than schedule the make-up for early September is ridiculous to the point of embarrassing.

The entire quote follows:

“First of all, I felt that some of the stuff was a little disrespectful to Flanny quite frankly. That didn’t sit with me very well. I can tell you that. We didn’t say much — I think we had an April rainout there — and they just told us when we were playing. We were Ok with that. Like I told you the other day, you tell us when we’re playing, we’ll play. The whole scheme of life, the things that really consume you. We understand that sometimes our opinions on things are not relevant. They come to me when there is two options and talk about it from a baseball standpoint. Every club does that. But some of it kind of has a feeling of [hypocrisy]. I don’t know. I don’t dwell on it. Their opinion on what the Baltimore Orioles should do for their fans and for their organization isn’t really that relevant to me personally. I can tell you that. We’ll do what’s best for our fans and for our organization and we expect it back that they’re going to do the same on their side.”

Orioles director of communications Greg Bader added the following (clipped from The Sporting News):

“Are we really still talking about this? We’ve just seen a hurricane come through this region which has caused millions to be without power, tens of millions of dollars in property damage and even several deaths,” Bader told ESPNNewYork.com in an email Sunday night. “We’ve got people out there literally trying to put their lives back together and yet there are some still worrying about a rescheduled game time?”

How the Yankees preferring to keep one of their two scheduled days off for September turned into a show of “disrespect” for Flanagan and a lack of concern for people whose lives were impact by the hurricane is a mystery to me.

That Showalter and Bader would bring other issues into the debate as if the Yankees were sitting around and diabolically scheming to sabotage the Flanagan tribute and simultaneously downplaying the severity of the hurricane indicates a tone-deafness bordering on the stupid.

The Orioles need follow their own rules of propriety and put things in perspective. They should let it go before saying something else idiotic and looking more petty than they do now.

//

The Derek Jeter All Star “Controversy”

All Star Game, Books, Fantasy/Roto, Games, Hall Of Fame, Management, Media, Players

Derek Jeter is skipping the All Star Game and it’s turned into the near equivalent of bowing out of game 7 of the World Series.

Let’s look at this point-by-point, shall we?

Here’s a defense of Jeter staying home.

He doesn’t deserve it this year.

As a perennial participant, future Hall of Famer with grand popularity and in the midst of the afterglow of his brilliant throwback performance as he got his 3000th career hit, obviously he’d be a worthy member of the American League squad.

But based on what he is now as an overall player, he’s not an All Star.

Asdrubal Cabrera of the Indians; Alexei Ramirez of the White Sox; Yunel Escobar of the Blue Jays; J.J. Hardy of the Orioles; and Jhonny Peralta of the Tigers are all American League shortstops having better years than Jeter.

The same argument that says he “should” be there could be applied to the perception of fairness and what’s needed in a game that supposedly “matters” and will be “played to win”.

What if Jeter went the faux boy scout route and said something inane and made for image consumption like, “I don’t deserve it this year; let someone else have a chance. And it affects the Yankees because we hope to be in the World Series this year and have home field advantage. The AL will have a better chance with players other than me.”

A large segment of the Ian O’Connor/Michael Kay wing of Jeter worshippers would’ve sighed at his selflessness and heroism and bought it as if it was true.

It’s the exact same thing as him saying he’s tired and needs the time off.

After his superlative performance on Saturday in getting his 3000th hit, he should be at the All Star Game.

What one thing has to do with another is beyond me.

Reds outfielder Chris Heisey hit 3 home runs in a game earlier this year (coincidentally against the Yankees); should he be in the All Star Game for that one accomplishment?

Without that 5 for 5 game and the flamboyant way in which he recorded his historic hit with a home run, no one would bat an eye if Jeter had backed out of the game. He’s coming off a stint on the disabled list with a calf injury, he’s older and he needs the time off.

The fans voted him in and deserve to see him play.

The fans? You mean the same dedicated Yankee fans who’ve turned on Jeter in droves as he’s showing the perils of ballplayer-related age and the apparent decision to play without the assistance of PEDs?

The ones who want him moved down in the lineup, benched, traded and borderline shot like a horse?

The ones that refer to him publicly as Captain Groundout and Captain DP?

Those who suggest his defense is so terrible that he needs to be moved to the outfield where he can do the least amount of damage?

Are those the fans you’re referring to?

As Alex Rodriguez can attest, Jeter is rumored to be the iceman with those that cross him. The rift between the two seems healed now—I believe they’re friends again—but after A-Rod’s ill-thought-out and mostly accurate appraisal of Jeter in comparison to himself in a 2001 Esquire interview, the once-close bond exploded into a cold war that took years to fix.

Jeter doesn’t forget. He hears the boos and negative comments of those who once revered him and it’s always from the safety of the stands, on social media sites Twitter and Facebook or on unknown blogs. If they run into him in person, they treat him like he’s their totem and fall at his feet.

It’s the nature of fandom and of people, but that doesn’t make it hurt any less after the way he’s conducted himself over the years.

It’s a betrayal.

Understandable? In a fan sense, yes.

Fair? No.

Are these the fans he’s supposed to appease when, at age 37 and in need of the rest, he made the decision not to attend the All Star Game? A meaningless exhibition that he’s been in for 12 of his 17 big league seasons?

It’s ridiculous.

Then again, the All Star Game itself has degenerated into the ridiculous with the Home Run Derby and 80+ players on the rosters amid all the other silliness that’s going on.

Why should a nonsensical “controversy” be any different from the current sideshow in Arizona right now?

//


Viewer Mail 6.4.2011

Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Games, Management, Media, Players

Gabriel writes RE Buster Posey and Scott Cousins:

What people don’t really see is that Posey did not suffer a concussion nor a separated shoulder. He was injured because of the awkward position he assumed when trying to defend the plate. It’s a shame Buster is lost for the season, but people should not satanize Cousins because injury was not his goal.

****

Pookah writes in response to Gabriel and RE Brian Sabean’s comments:

Gabriel, the injury could have been way worse. Unfortunately, it would take a way worse injury for the rule to be changed.

Though Sabs (as we call him) shouldn’t have said any of that, I don’t fault him. He lost his best position player. He spoke out of frustration. The Giants have already apologized on Sabs behalf (http://sanfrancisco.giants.mlb.com/news/article.jsp?ymd=20110603&content_id=19988894&vkey=news_sf&c_id=sf). Maybe he’ll get fined, but I’m sure he’ll think it was well worth it.

Posey was in a bad position because he moved in front of the plate to take the somewhat errant throw.

Cousins had no way calculating where Posey was and deciding in that small window that sliding around him was the best option. He chose to run him over and Posey got hurt. It was an accident of circumstance.

As for Sabean’s comments, you can’t defend them in any way. You can read Pookah’s link and then you can read this link from SBNation in which the Giants press release is “translated”—more accurately, I say.

Sabean’s absolutely going to get fined; he was going to get (or has already gotten) a stern talking to from baseball’s Godfather, Joe Torre; and he made himself look like a whiny fool.

The “home team” radio silliness as if Sabean’s comments weren’t going to be picked up by the national media and this “emotional time” garbage is stoking the fires.

Posey was hurt in a clean play. He wasn’t killed in a drive by shooting led by a rival gang with low-level soldier Cousins pulling the trigger.

Enough.

Jak writes RE the Brewers and deadline deals:

Sounds nice and all, but can you name any Brewers prospects that any team is interested in? You seem to have forgotten how much the Greinke trade emptied their whole farm system. Jose Reyes would make them unbeatable, but i will bet my life that Melvin cant pull that deal.

It’s a fair point.

But history has shown that you can’t say now what it’ll take to get a player from a dealing club. Situations and demands are fluid and change rapidly.

Reyes isn’t going anywhere unless there’s a lot coming back, but with Francisco Rodriguez or Carlos Beltran, the cost would be less; K-Rod especially could be had for a young, high-end prospect who needs to mature and simply taking on the rest of his contract.

Unbeatable is a strong word. The Mets have had Reyes for eight years and have proven to be eminently beatable.

Jeff at Red State Blue State writes RE the MLB Draft:

HAHAHA! Who will be drafted number one!?!? THE SUSPENSE IS KILLING ME LIKE A NAIL GUN TO THE TEMPLE! Two words for Pirates fans: Brad Lincoln.

Our best bet is to wait to see what Keith Law says as he continuously alters his mock draft with a greater frequency than PECOTA tries to run from their picking the Twins to win 95 games.

I fought the Law and the Law won.

Let’s not fight the Law.

Patrick writes RE Reyes and the Mets:

Reyes won’t make or break the franchise, but it will make or break the next three to four years.

Look if his price tag becomes insanely overvalued a lunatic owner looking to make a splash, like the way Boston did with Crawford and Washington did with Werth, I can’t fault the Mets for being in a thanks but no thanks mode.

However when you look at the makeup of the Mets system, the pending free agent market for 2012 and 2013, the two most direct routes to roster improvement, there is not a lot there.

Most of the Mets options for improvement are going to need to come out trades and of non-tendered guys, wise looks at other teams systems ala taking shots at guys like Pridie and Turner and roll the dice some pan out.

The trades require a deep farm system which the Mets can’t boast currently. So is it wise to lose a core asset like Reyes if you really want to be competitive.

To get Reyes, it’s a safe bet that someone will go over-the-top in a similar fashion as the Red Sox and Nationals did with Carl Crawford and Jayson Werth.

For the record, I’d like the Mets to keep Reyes unless someone offers the moon for him in a trade or his demands as a free agent are in the Crawford range ($140 million).

Teams turn around their fortunes relatively quickly even after perceived “franchise-wrecking” moves were completed. The Mets can’t let sentiment and the anger and rhetorical manipulations by fans/media influence them into doing something stupid; that’s how they got into this mess in the first place.

JR writes RE the Brewers and J.J. Hardy:

Do u think the Brewers go and try to get Hardy back?

I actually thought of that.

It’s not a terrible idea. A free agent at the end of the year, Hardy’s a far superior fielder and hitter than Yuniesky Betancourt, but his offense has collapsed since the All Star beginning to his career.

The Orioles won’t do anything now, but Hardy will be available and won’t cost much.

I could see it happening.

//

Contractual Relevance

Books, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Management, Media, Paul Lebowitz's 2011 Baseball Guide, Players

What would’ve happened had the Yankees and Derek Jeter not waited until he was a free agent to agree to a new contract?

What if the sides had gotten together after the 2009 season—after another World Series and Jeter 3rd in the MVP voting with a fantastic all-around year—and agreed to the exact same contract he signed last winter?

It’s purely speculative and unrealistic to think that Jeter would’ve agreed to a 3-year extension for $51 million; presumably he, at the very least, would’ve wanted the fourth year guaranteed. And that probably wouldn’t have gotten it done considering what he accomplished in 2009 in an individual and team context.

But think about it.

What would’ve happened?

Would those that are currently engaging in retrospective and somewhat shortsighted eulogies of Jeter’s career be using the same rationale to attack the player and team for the contentious negotiations and the contract he signed? Or would it be different? Would the argument center on Jeter’s age and how stupid it was—2009 irrelevant—to sign him to an expensive, long-term contract until he’s 39?

Here are two important points that the critics are missing: the money is relatively meaningless to the Yankees; and they didn’t have many options aside from Jeter last winter.

Considering the amount of money the Yankees have wasted on players who have done little-to-nothing while in pinstripes—Kei Igawa, Carl Pavano, Kyle Farnsworth, Hideki Irabu—is another $50 million that much considering it’s Jeter? Would the fallout of being ruthless as the internet musclemen seem to suggest and letting him leave have been realistic?

What could they have done this past winter in lieu of Jeter?

I suppose they could’ve tried to trade for a third baseman of the Mark Reynolds ilk and shifted Alex Rodriguez to shortstop; they could’ve made a move on Stephen Drew or J.J. Hardy; or they could’ve re-signed Jeter.

If Jeter was 30, the 2010 season would’ve been seen as a down year; the confluence of events—his free agency and age—make it appear as if the investment was unwise and his poor start is exacerbating that view, but I’ve never quite understood why outsiders are so concerned about how much money the Yankees spend as if there’s a payroll constraint. They have a $200 million payroll and have dealt with underperformance in relation to money forever. It’s the cost of doing business as the Yankees.

It wasn’t all that long ago (2005) that Jason Giambi was treated in much the same way as Jeter is now. Following the revelation that he admitted to using steroids, there were calls to try and void his contract; it didn’t help that Giambi wasn’t hitting at all through mid-season. Savaged in all aspects of the media, Giambi hit 14 homers in July and was suddenly the toast of the town again being asked if he remembered those who were so brutal in their assessment and desired punishment because he told the truth about his PED use. He said he remembered.

It goes with the territory for players to be judged on what they’ve done in recent history, but to imply that Jeter is finished and should be benched or shouldn’t have been re-signed in the first place ignores the other issues of what the alternatives were and are.

I have to believe that Jeter will eventually hit.

If he doesn’t, the Yankees will have to figure something else out. But to bury him now is counterproductive and reactionary;  it has the potential to come back and bite those partaking in it. They’re don’t stand behind what they say; they engage in the vitriol and move on with no consequences or need to retract apart from the occasional and wishy-washy, “well I guess I was wrong”.

It won’t do.

This pure arrogance and self-importance is inherent in the detached culture of “expertise” where the secondary tenet of the implication—accountability—is absent to begin with.

****

I was linked on Baseball Think Factory yesterday for my posting on Rob Neyer and Derek Jeter; the results were telling as always. It’s easier for the commenters to say the stuff they do without confronting me directly because then they’d have to deal with my response—something they’re incapable or unwilling to do.

But I’m here if they’d like to try.

Check it out—link.

****

I’m administrating a discussion group on TheCopia.com. Click on the link to leave a comment or start a new topic. Check it out.

****

Please purchase my book, Paul Lebowitz’s 2011 Baseball Guide. It’s useful all year long; it’s not a preview with predictions and nothing else, it’s a guide and can help with your fantasy baseball stuff.

I published a full excerpt of my book here.

It’s available now. Click here to get it in paperback or E-Book on I-Universe or on Amazon or BN. It’s also available via E-book on Borders.com.

It’s out on Amazon Kindle and Barnes and Noble Nook.

If anyone would like to purchase an autographed copy, leave a comment; Email me; contact me on Facebook or Twitter.

Become a fan on my Facebook fan page. Click on the link.

//

Duck And Cover

Fantasy/Roto, Hot Stove

Or cover and duck.

One of those.

Yesterday, in all my roto-innocence, I listed a few names that might help you in your fantasy baseball drafts, picks, trades, acquisitions, wheelings, dealings, healings and feelings.

Today, here are players you should avoid like the plague; or like Jose Canseco when he’s on Twitter and/or off his meds.

If you see these names available? Run.

But the strange part is that while some of them aren’t “numbers” players, they likely have use to their clubs on the field which, in part, proves my point of the need to place stats into their proper context; why being a numbers cruncher does not automatically imply a baseball expertise that takes years of watching, analyzing and participating to be able to come to a reasonable and educated conclusion.

Let’s have a look.

B.J. Upton, CF—Tampa Bay Rays

If you pick him up during one of his hot streaks, then fine, but too often Upton doesn’t look like he wants to play. He has barely evolved from the 2008 World Series when he grounded into a double play because he wasn’t running hard. Upton plays hard when he feels like it and this is not a positive attribute on the field or stat sheet.

He’ll steal you some bases, hit a homer here and there; but he strikes out a lot, doesn’t hit for average and doesn’t get on base. His terrible attitude shows in the numbers if you read between the columns.

Russell Martin, C—New York Yankees

He’s coming off numerous injuries and his offense has declined drastically in the past three years.

Jacoby Ellsbury, CF—Boston Red Sox

He’s listed as the center fielder on the Red Sox depth chart and even if he’s healthy I think he’s going to share time with Mike Cameron and lose the full-time job by May. If anything, the Red Sox might play him regularly to bolster his trade value.

Admittedly, I’ve never been a fan of Ellsbury; he’s more of a product of the Red Sox PR machine than actual use on the field; he’s not a good defensive center fielder; he doesn’t hit the ball out of the park; and his stolen bases and triples aren’t worth the trouble of picking him when he’s not going to play regularly and there are many other options available.

Speaking of options available, I forgot to mention Josh Willingham in my list of players to pick up. Grab him. He can hit.

Jose Bautista, INF/OF—Toronto Blue Jays

This has nothing to do with any allegations of impropriety on his part to achieve the *absurd* heights he did last season. We don’t know whether it was due to the first chance he’s gotten to play every day; the approach advocated by Blue Jays hitting coach Dwayne Murphy to look for a fastball and try to hit it into space; illicit means; or a fluke.

No.

He’ll be very expensive because people will recognize his name and while I do think he’ll hit his homers (I’ll say 30+), he’s not worth the presumptive cost.

J.J. Hardy, SS—Baltimore Orioles

Hardy’s never gotten on base at an impressive rate and he’s been injured and awful  in the past two years. He’s a good fielder, but I don’t think you get credit for that in your fantasy leagues.

In reality, he’s a giant upgrade from Cesar Izturis for the Orioles, but because what a club now has is better than what they had previously, it doesn’t mean he’s necessarily “good”.

Carl Pavano, RHP—Minnesota Twins

I’m sure there will be those who look at his 17 wins last season and say, “well, he won 17 games,” but I wouldn’t touch him.

I’m cognizant of the “relaxation factor” where he’ll have his contract in hand and want to go to the beach. I doubt that’s going to happen again, but I didn’t expect the ludicrousness of his time with the Yankees; nor did I expect Yankees GM Brian Cashman to make an offer to bring him back(?!?).

With Pavano, there’s a vortex of unreality that I want no part of. If you get sucked into someone else’s madness, it infects you fast.

And his numbers, apart from the wins and innings, were not impressive. The Twins defense is worse than last year and, as a club, they’ve got some major issues.

Mark Buehrle, LHP—Chicago White Sox

Here is the epitome of a player you want on your team when you’re actually playing the game of baseball, but do not want in a fantasy league.

Buehrle is the guy you want at your back in a dark alley. If White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen walks up to him and says, “we need a compete game from you today,” or, in Ozzie-speak, “Compleh gah today babeh, huh?” Buehrle would not question nor complain; he’d stay on the mound for 140 pitches and if he allowed 10+ runs; he wouldn’t worry about how it blew up his ERA or hits/innings pitched ratio because it helps his team.

If you do pick him up, you have to be lucky in getting a “good Buehrle” day as opposed to “bad Buehrle”. The good one pitches a perfect game; the bad one gives up 7 runs in the first inning.

Stats do not adequately define a player and Buehrle is proof of that.

Grady Sizemore, CF—Cleveland Indians

People might remember what he was before micro-fracture surgery and he’ll be in demand; I’d expect absolutely nothing and wouldn’t waste my time.

The one saving grace is the fear that he won’t be able to come back and his availability/upside—it depends on whether he’s cheap or not.

Brandon Webb, RHP—Texas Rangers

More name recognition and remembrances of greatness; considering that he’s missed two years and his fastball was reportedly puttering in at 82-mph last summer, he’s going to be picked because he’s known for what he was.

There’s a big difference between a bowling ball sinker at 90+ and at 84; and he’s pitching in Texas in a ballpark highly conducive to hitters.

Carlos Ruiz, C—Philadelphia Phillies

A career .260 hitter batting .302 with a .400 on base? Are you buying that? I’m not.

Craig Kimbrel, LHP—Atlanta Braves

Because he racks up the strikeouts and has been anointed as the Braves closer entering spring training, he’ll attract interest; he has has trouble throwing strikes and will be closing for a team with playoff expectations. He’s only 23.

It’s a shaky combination.

I have no clue how it works with 40-man rosters and fantasy drafts, but here’s what I would do if he’s available—take Billy Wagner.

He’s still on the Braves 40-man. Pick him late and hope he possibly comes back at mid-season.

Angel Pagan, OF—New York Mets

I’m hesitant to believe in a player when he has his first full season as a regular and puts up the numbers Pagan did last season; plus he’s got a history of injuries that can’t be ignored—that would be my biggest concern.

Jayson Werth, OF—Washington Nationals

How is he going to fare as the focal point? As the highest paid player? With a long-term contract in hand?

Out of the cocoon of the Phillies lineup and into the wasteland of Washington, I wonder whether he’s going to fall on his face.

Probably not, but if you think you’re getting huge numbers from him, think again.

Scott Rolen, 3B—Cincinnati Reds

At age 36 and after two mostly healthy seasons, he’s due for an injury.

Zack Greinke, RHP—Milwaukee Brewers

Amid all the talk that a move to the National League will inspire a Roy Halladay-style dominance, it has to be remembered that mentally, Greinke is no Halladay.

Having taken time to learn to deal with high expectations pitching for a team with no chance at contention with the Royals, how’s he going to react as he’s picked to win the Cy Young Award and an entire organization is pinning their hopes for contention on him?

Brett Myers, RHP—Houston Astros

He was excellent last season and got paid.

That’s what worries me.

He’s emotional and has had injury issues in recent years; the Astros defense is awful and Myers is a contact pitcher.

Carlos Zambrano, RHP—Chicago Cubs

Since you don’t know which Zambrano is going to show up, he’s a dart flung at a dartboard while wearing a blindfold.

There will be those who believe his renaissance in September is a portent of turning the corner, but how many times has that been said of Zambrano?

I’ll believe it when I see it…and still be dubious after I see it.

Brian Wilson, RHP—San Francisco Giants

Tim Kurkjian wrote an article for ESPN that looked into the workloads of pitchers in the post-season and their results in the following season—link.

I haven’t torn it apart yet (I intend to), but after a quick glance, it’s a simplistic and broad-based way of analysis.

But one pitcher for whom it might be a problem is Giants closer Brian Wilson.

He’s tough, durable and willing to take the ball whenever, wherever and for however long he’s needed. The aftereffects of the long playoff run and intense innings are cumulative and the slightest downgrade in Wilson’s velocity/movement will give the hitters that extra split second to react to his power pitches; plus his control might not be as good.

It’s imperceptible but real.

Jason Bartlett, SS—San Diego Padres

People think he can hit after his 2009 career year, but he’s moving into a rotten lineup and a giant ballpark. He is what he is as a hitter and that’s not much.

Cameron Maybin, CF—San Diego Padres

With Maybin, you’re waiting until his rough edges are smoothed; he’ll be a good player one day, he’s not yet. Horribly inconsistent, strikeout prone and still learning the game, Maybin has a lot of expectations in his third big league stop and that’s a bad combination for a young player.

Ian Kennedy, RHP—Arizona Diamondbacks

Kennedy was impressive for the Diamondbacks last season and let his pitching do the talking as opposed to the constant yapping, tweaking and ignoring he did with the Yankees. Away from the hype and in an atmosphere with limited expectations, he pitched well.

It’s still not enough to take a chance on him yet. He’s the type to think he’s “made” it and relax. This is not good.

Buyer beware.

I’ll do the mail tomorrow.

Silent And Achy

Hot Stove
  • As opposed to “silent and deadly”…

Teams have made acquisitions that aren’t earth-shattering; nor are they the final piece in a championship puzzle; but as a means-to-an-end, they’re not all that bad when put into full context.

In short, they’re like a pinch or a pinprick—it hurts, but not a lot and if you have a bunch of them, you slowly start to feel the effects.

Let’s have a look.

Don’t laugh.

Orioles sign 1B Derrek Lee to a 1-year contract; RHP Kevin Gregg to a 2-year contract; acquire SS J.J. Hardy and 3B Mark Reynolds in trades.

No, the Orioles have no chance of competing in the American League East; in fact, they have little chance—Buck Showalter or not—to escape the cellar in the division; but these acquisitions at low cost will make the team viable again.

The combination of Showalter’s regime, discipline and organization and the leadership of Lee and Reynolds will make the clubhouse more agreeable.

Gregg is what he is; he has trouble throwing strikes and gives up too many homers, but for the most part, he’ll get the saves; they’ll be of the heart-stopping variety, but he’ll close the games out. Mostly.

Showalter prefers having lesser name closers so he doesn’t have to answer questions about why he doesn’t adhere to the “he’s the guy no matter what” nonsense that managers use as their security blanket to absolve themselves from thinking in the ninth inning.

Both Mike Gonzalez and Gregg will be competent at the back of the bullpen and, worst case scenario, they have trade value as the season moves along.

I’m a fan of neither Hardy nor Reynolds, but considering what they’re replacing, both are giant steps up and the Orioles didn’t give up much to get either.

You can’t reel in the big fish until there’s stability; the new manager and players will bring that stability to a once-storied franchise that has been rudderless for far too long.

Mets sign LHP Chris Capuano and RHP Taylor Buchholz to 1-year contracts.

The Mets are desperate for pitching and while this can be seen as flinging darts at a dartboard while wearing a blindfold, it’s a win-win with both pitchers.

Capuano went 18-12 in 2005 and 11-12 in 2006. In both years, he pitched pretty much identically. He pitched similarly through July in 2007 and then started getting raked all over the lot.

After undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2008, he missed the entire 2008-2009 seasons and pitched respectably in 2010 as a starter and reliever; he was very good in the minors on the way back up to the bigs.

If the Mets can get something close to what Capuano was from 2005 through the first half of 2007, they’ll be thrilled.

Buchholz also had Tommy John surgery and it cost him the entire 2009 season; he pitched briefly for the Rockies and Blue Jays in 2010. While he was mediocre as a starting pitcher with the Astros in 2006, he found his niche as a reliever with the Rockies in 2008.

The epitome of the failed starter who makes his way as a relief pitcher, Buchholz was excellent in 63 games for the Rockies that year. He’s got a good fastball and a great curveball; his stuff appeared to translate better going once through the lineup; he’s on a non-guaranteed contract and is a fine representative of how to properly build a bullpen by finding scraps, signing them cheaply, using them, maximizing them and dispatching them when they grow too pricey.

These are both good signings.

Blue Jays sign RHP Octavio Dotel to a 1-year contract.

Dotel’s about as good (or bad) as Kevin Gregg; the Blue Jays got 37 saves from Gregg last year and now they’re taking a similar approach by signing Dotel.

Dotel gives up too many homers, but his strikeout numbers are still better than one-per-inning and, again in the worst case scenario, someone always seems to want him in a trade to bolster their bullpen late in the season; hypothetically the Blue Jays could get something for him if he’s pitching well.

Much like the Orioles, the Blue Jays are building for the future; they’re a year ahead in their development and the club is teeming with pitching; Dotel’s a stopgap; everyone knows that, but there are worse ones out there; plus he’s cheap.

  • Viewer Mail 1.5.2010:

Dave writes RE the NESN column—2011 Red Sox Will Challenge 1927 Yankees for Title of Greatest Team in Major League History:

Articles like these are actually going to make people root for the underdog Yankees in the AL East. As messed up as that sounds. If the Yankees don’t sign Pettitte, they will even have a lower payroll than Boston. Strange days.

I’m certainly not rooting for the Yankees, but I understand what you’re saying. Much like the Jack Zduriencik double-dealing in the trade for Cliff Lee, there were head shakes at what he did because it was wrong and shrugs because it was the Yankees to whom he did it. Sometimes the lesser of two evils is difficult to distinguish, so it’s best to steer clear and watch it happen with rampant disinterest.

That said, when it came from the Yankees, it was this type of arrogance that provoked Red Sox fans for all those years. This ridiculous column wasn’t coming from the Red Sox themselves, but many of their players—Josh Beckett, John Lackey, Kevin Youkilis, Jonathan Papelbon—aren’t exactly likable and this will fuel the implication of smugness and condescension from the organization.

It’s not the beaten down and abused Red Sox against the Evil Empire anymore.

Joe writes RE the Rangers, Adrian Beltre and Michael Young:

I actually suggested a while back that Young could be moved to first if they were to sign Beltre. Because the reality is, the Rangers 1st baseman were awful last year.  Maybe Chris Davis learns how to hit this year?  Maybe. But letting him figure it all out in the Minors is a better idea, seeing how they can’t really risk him being horrendous while they are fielding a competitive Big League team.  Young is being paid regardless, so they might as well use him somewhere until all those positions are occupied by someone even better than Young is.

I can’t imagine Davis cutting his strikeouts to the point where he can be trusted to get 500 at bats, but he does have power. Mitch Moreland was competent in a part-time role; he’s also hit well in the minors.

I have never understood why people ridicule Young to the degree that they do. He delivers 180-200 hits a year; 60 extra base hits; and is a leader on and off the field. He’s not great defensively, but so what? He can play every infield position for the short-term in case of injury.

He’s making a lot of money ($48 million through 2013); his numbers are way better at home than they are on the road as most Rangers players tend to be, but the difference isn’t glaring as it is with some players.

In the short-term, the team is better with Young and Beltre; if they’re thinking of clearing the Young salary for some pitching, they could conceivably do that as well.

Jane Heller at Confessions of a She-Fan writes RE Jon Miller, Vladimir Guerrero and the Rangers:

I’m gonna miss Jon Miller on Sunday nights. But I digress….Why wouldn’t the Rangers re-sign Vlad? He had such a good year for them and I’d be willing to bet he’s not asking for the moon. Why do they even need Beltre with Young at 3rd?

Guerrero had a great year and he, like Young, showed he could hit at home and on the road; he’s probably not going to settle for a 1-year, incentive-laden deal again after the year he had, at least not to go back to the Rangers. I think you’re right; his leadership and watchful eye over the young Latin players (along with Vlad’s mother doing the cooking) was a major part of their success this year. I’d be reluctant to dismiss that as meaningless especially with such a weak manager in Ron Washington.

Young is a far inferior fielder to Beltre and Beltre would hit in Arlington.

Jeff at Red State Blue State writes RE pro wrestling, Scott Boras and Michael Young:

Oooooooooooooooooh yeah, brother! *Snaps into a Slim Jim*

Ask me if I feel sorry for Michael Young and his $16 million a year. I WISH I had such hard times at the office.

Scratching my head on the Rangers/Beltre thing, for the same reasons you are… I think they’d be better off saving that money til mid-season, to see where they are, and maybe go out and make some noise then.

Michael Kay and Scott Boras doing a pro rasslin’ interview with Jayson Werth strutting around in the background and primping like Ric Flair would get me to watch.