The Red Sox Should’ve Just Paid Papelbon

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

Misunderstanding the value of a closer is the Red Sox blindspot.

Adhering too strictly to theories, stats and factoids about closers, the Red Sox have repeatedly made the same mistakes by going back to where their hearts and minds and supposed logic reign instead of where reality and how baseball actually works. They cling to an ideology, occasionally bow to need and concede the point that a legitimate closer is necessary while still holding true to the fanaticism of not paying for saves.

But they are paying for saves with currency other than money and, in retrospect, the $50 million guarantee Jonathan Papelbon received from the Phillies would have been better spent by the Red Sox to keep him rather than do what they’re currently doing, having just acquired their third replacement for him in one year. $50 million is a lot of money, especially for a closer, but here’s the tree of what the Red Sox have spent so far in getting Papelbon’s replacements:

Andrew Bailey

Bailey was acquired from the Athletics and earned $3.9 million in 2012. He spent most of the season on the disabled list with thumb surgery—an unforeseen circumstance to be sure and one that played a large role in the sabotaging of the 2012 season.

To acquire Bailey and Ryan Sweeney however, they surrendered Josh Reddick and two minor leaguers. Sweeney was paid $1.75 million in 2012. Sweeney is a good defensive outfielder in both right and center, but received 219 plate appearances, provided 0 homers, and a .263/.303/.373 slash line, making him nearly worthless at the plate.

Josh Reddick

Reddick earned $485,000 from the Athletics in 2012 and hit 32 homers with 11 stolen bases in 12 attempts and won a Gold Glove in right field for the AL West champs. The Red Sox could certainly have used Reddick in 2012, but they clearly misjudged him, used him as a chip to get a closer and replaced him with Cody Ross.

Cody Ross

Because of his feistiness and everyman likability, Ross became a popular player with the Red Sox and their fans in his lone season as their right fielder. Like Reddick, he could play center field in a pinch; like Reddick he had pop (22 homers), but with no speed and average defense in right field. He cost them $3 million and departed as a free agent for an inexplicable $26 million from the Diamondbacks. To replace Ross, the Red Sox signed Shane Victorino.

Shane Victorino

The Red Sox signed Victorino to a 3-year, $39 million contract. Keith Law referred to Victorino as a “fourth outfielder,” which is absurd. Victorino is a good player with a great attitude and clubhouse presence. He’s versatile and can play both right and center field, is a switch-hitter with power and speed. Victorino gives the Red Sox the freedom to consider trading Jacoby Ellsbury before his heads into free agency after the 2013 season.

That sort of sounds like what Reddick added, except with Reddick they’d have spent around $37.5 million less.

The separate tree to replace Bailey, who replaced Papelbon goes something like this:

Jed Lowrie

Lowrie is an average defensive shortstop at best, but he hit 16 homers with a .769 OPS in 387 plate appearances for the Astros in 2012. He earned $1.15 million last season. The primary Red Sox shortstop, Mike Aviles, had a solid defensive season and hit 13 homers while being paid $1.2 million. It’s a wash on the field, but the Red Sox could’ve gotten something more useful than Melancon for Lowrie.

Aviles was traded to the Blue Jays for the rights to manager John Farrell, whose hiring will be eventually seen as a mistake if he actually has to do some managing rather than sit there and look managerial. Given this roster, his stern face and ability to deal with the press won’t be enough.

Melancon was shipped along with Jerry Sands and Ivan De Jesus Jr. (two players the Red Sox got from the Dodgers in their salary dump/clubhouse enema deal sending Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett and Carl Crawford to Los Angeles) to the Pirates for Joel Hanrahan.

Mark Melancon

Melancon made $521,000 in 2012. He had closed for the Astros and was acquired to be a set-up man/backup closer for Bailey just in case Bailey got hurt. But when Bailey got hurt, the decision was made (by manager Bobby Valentine or someone in the front office) to use Alfredo Aceves as the closer.

Aceves was, to put it lightly, not Papelbon. As gutty and useful as Aceves was in 2011, he was equally inconsistent, difficult and contentious with management and teammates in 2012.

Melancon? He got off to a dreadful start and wound up back in the minors. When he returned, he pitched better in a far less important role than as the set-up man. To acquire Melancon, the Red Sox gave up Lowrie and Kyle Weiland.

Joel Hanrahan

Now it’s Hanrahan who’s going to be the closer.

Hanrahan is a free agent after 2013, is arbitration eligible and set to make around $7 million next season. He’s probably better-suited than Bailey to the pressure of pitching in Boston as the closer for the demanding Red Sox, but he won’t be a known commodity until he performs. He’s never pitched for a team with these expectations and with free agency beckoning, he might try too hard and pitch poorly. Or he could be Brad Lidge, circa 2008 and be shockingly close to perfect. We don’t know.

All of this is without the horrific misjudgment the team made in trying to make Daniel Bard into a starter and succeeded in nothing more than popping his value like a balloon. Nobody even talks about him anymore, let alone mentions him in a prominent role as a reliever or starter.

Short of re-signing Papelbon, the easy move would’ve been to use the succession theory and simply insert Bard as the closer to replace Papelbon, but they didn’t do that either.

So let’s tally it up:

Hanrahan (±)$7 million + Ross $3 million + Sweeney $1.75 million + Victorino $39 million + Melancon $521,000 = $51.271 million

vs

Papelbon $50 million + Reddick $485,000 + Lowrie $1.2 million = $51.685 million

This is before getting to the Red Sox results in 2012; the dysfunction; and what they could’ve acquired in lieu of Bailey and Hanrahan if they chose to spend the money they spent and players they traded to get them.

Papelbon received a guaranteed $50 million from the Phillies with a vesting option making it worth a possible $63 million. If he reaches the appearance incentives in 2014-2015 to gain the vesting option, that will mean that Papelbon is healthy and pitching well, making the money moot because the club would be getting what they need from him.

The Red Sox never fully appreciated the value of having a pitcher who was automatically the ninth inning man. They’d underestimated the value of a closer in 2003 when not having one cost them the pennant and possibly the World Series; they accepted that they needed one in 2004 when they signed Keith Foulke, paying him $20 million for what amounted to one productive season. If you conducted a poll of everyone involved with the Red Sox from ownership on down and asked them if, prior to 2004, they’d make a bargain in which they paid any closer that amount of money for one season and were rewarded with a World Series, each and every one of them would’ve said yes without a second thought and been right to do it.

Any manager with experience and who isn’t beholden to taking orders from the front office or brainlessly attached to new theories will say that it takes a great deal off his mind to know that when he calls down to the bullpen, more often than not, his closer will be ready and willing to pitch and, the majority of the time, will nail the game down. The numbers of every game in which a club is leading in the ninth inning winning the game being X% regardless of who closes the game is separate from the sigh of relief self-assuredness the team as a whole feels when a Papelbon is out there.

Yet they still hold onto that ideology like it’s the last bastion of what they aspire to be.

A year after Papelbon’s outstanding rookie year in 2006, they put forth the farce of making him a starter before acquiescing to reality and shifting him back to the bullpen. In large part to Papelbon, they were rewarded with a World Series win in 2007.

Conceded the point; clinging; practically; financially; logistically; ideologically; injuries—there are so many words to attach to why the Red Sox run on this treadmill, but none cancel out that the simplest and smartest option would have been to re-sign Papelbon.

You can go on about his WAR being less than 2 wins in both 2011 and 2012, his failures late in the season of 2011 and how he was inaccurately perceived as a clubhouse problem. How inaccurate that was only became known in 2012 when it wound up being Youkilis, Beckett and the other malcontents who were the troublemakers and not Papelbon, who came to play every day.

You can mention the injury concerns, but as you can see in this posting on Fire Brand of the American League, the Red Sox medical staff hasn’t distinguished itself in a positive way in recent years.

You can talk about Papelbon “wanting” to leave or the clubhouse issues, but sometimes all it takes is a branch of communication and the expression from the club that they truly wanted him and said so. They never did. They constantly diminished his importance by refusing to give him a lucrative long-term contract to forego his arbitration years and free agency as they did with other young stars Dustin Pedroia, Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, and Kevin Youkilis. They gave Beckett a 4-year $68 million extension. They paid $106 million in total for Daisuke Matsuzaka. They gave Crawford $142 million. They gave John Lackey $82.5 million.

There was no money to pay one of the best closers in baseball over the past seven years? No financial wherewithal to pay one who had proven himself in the post-season where the true separation between the Mariano Rivera-type and the Joe Nathan-type is made? They were unable to provide a reasonable deal and tell Papelbon that they wanted him back? That was too much of a commitment?

The bottom line with Papelbon is that he was proven in the post-season, durable, able to handle the cauldron of baseball madness that is Boston, and they knew what they were getting without having to do a tapdance to replace him.

Hanrahan might work out or he might become another Bailey. They don’t know. With Papelbon, they did know. They just went cheap and retreated to their core beliefs of not paying for a closer while presenting a litany of excuses as to why they were doing it. All they succeeded in doing, though, was to cost themselves more money and prospects, simultaneously adding more questions to the ones that would’ve been answered had they just accepted reality and paid Papelbon to stay.

//

Advertisements

Rafael Soriano’s Inevitable Opt-Out

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

By now there’s no denying that Rafael Soriano’s brilliant work in taking over as Yankees’ closer for the injured Mariano Rivera has taken a bite out of Rivera’s irreplaceable status. Whether it’s a significant bite or a nibble will be determined in the coming weeks.

The designation of “greatest closer in history” is based more on Rivera’s post-season success, his durability, and that he’s accumulated more saves than anyone else. In breaking that down, it’s easy to make a case that it’s not as huge an accomplishment as it appears on the surface. Rivera has had more opportunities to rack up those saves because for his entire career, he’s never played for a club that’s won fewer than 87 games. He’s been in the post-season every single year except one. And he didn’t have to handle the workload that the closers of the 1970s and 80s did.

The mere designation of “closer” is indicative of the change from the ace out of the bullpen pitching 2-3 innings in a game to what the job is now and how it’s news if a “closer” is asked to pitch in the eighth inning. Back then it was “fireman” because Rich Gossage, Dan Quisenberry, Bruce Sutter, Rollie Fingers or any of the greats from years ago were asked to put out a fire in the middle of an inning. They were also called “short men” because they pitched briefly, and “briefly” didn’t mean one inning.

There’s no questioning Rivera’s greatness, but it’s watered down to a degree. He couldn’t have done what the aforementioned short relievers did with multiple innings and maintained his effectiveness and health for all these years. Those pitchers didn’t have to pitch in three separate, pressure-packed post-season series. It can’t be denied that Rivera has come up biggest when it counts with a 0.70 post-season ERA and a cold, brutal, fearless dominance that contemporaries—Trevor Hoffman, Joe Nathan, Billy Wagner—didn’t have.

But what happens with Soriano in the coming weeks will determine Rivera’s perception. The Yankees have won six straight games to solidify their position to at least make the playoffs. The Orioles are matching them win-for-win so the division is still in question, but if Soriano is called upon to save a Wild Card play-in game or 2-3 games in the first round and blows it, Rivera’s legacy is solidified further; but if he does what Rivera did and closes the games out without incident, what then?

The Yankees were well-situated to replace Rivera in the event of a catastrophic injury. Initially, they didn’t go to Soriano and decided to use the succession concept to give the job to David Robertson. Robertson didn’t handle it in his opportunities before he got injured and the Yankees, by necessity rather than design, went to Soriano. Soriano has been at least as good as Rivera would’ve been and possibly even better. It’s in the Fall that his value will truly be determined.

The Yankees have to face the reality that Soriano is going to opt-out of his contract and go elsewhere to close in 2013 and beyond. Unless the Yankees again make a drastic overpay as they did when the signed Soriano against the wishes of GM Brian Cashman and promise him he’ll be the closer again in 2014 (if Rivera retires), he’s leaving. The Dodgers are spending wildly and although they have a dominant closer in Kenley Jansen, his heart problems have repeatedly sidelined him and they’ll need someone they can trust to be healthy. Other teams like the Tigers, Angels, Blue Jays, Reds (if they move Aroldis Chapman into the starting rotation), and Giants might be in the market for a closer and be willing to pay for Soriano.

Soriano is guaranteed $14 million from the Yankees in 2013 with a buyout of $1.5 million. He can certainly surpass that on the market if not on an annual basis, but with a longer-term deal. With Scott Boras as his agent, he’s going to opt-out. Will Soriano be happy to take a secondary role to Rivera again after the year he’s had? Extremely doubtful. Can the Yankees risk Rivera not being able to come back from his knee injury at top form? As ageless as Rivera has been, he’s still going to be 43-years-old. It has to end sometime.

Soriano’s going to walk from that contract, but will the Yankees let him walk away from them? And more importantly, can they afford to—not financially, but realistically?

The true answer will come over the next month and in the front office, they’re asking themselves the same question right now.

//

American League West—2012 Present and 2013 Future

All Star Game, Ballparks, Books, CBA, College Football, 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

I examined the AL East here and the AL Central here.

Now let’s look at the AL West

Texas Rangers

The Rangers are heading for the playoffs again and are a legitimate threat to win the World Series. The one question they have is in the same area that cost them the World Series last year, the closer. Historically, Joe Nathan is good during the regular season and struggles during the playoffs, especially against the Yankees.

The roster has playoff experience; the hitters can mash; Josh Hamilton will want to have a big post-season to increase his paycheck as a free agent; their starting pitchers aren’t expecting to be pulled because of an arbitrary pitch count and have the strikeout capability to get out of trouble and pitch confidently with a great defense behind them.

Whether they win the World Series or not, the upcoming off-season could be one of transition for the Rangers. In addition to Hamilton being a free agent, so are Mike Napoli, Mike Adams, and Ryan Dempster. This can be seen as a negative, but it’s also a positive. They have flexibility to do a great many things, the nerve to follow through on them, and the farm system to make it possible.

There’s been talk that they might be willing to trade Elvis Andrus to make room for Jurickson Profar, but I think it’s more likely that they’ll entertain trade offers for Ian Kinsler, play Profar at second base, and try to get Michael Young’s contract off the books in the deal. They’ve had interest in Ike Davis in the past and the Mets are going to be willing to make drastic moves.

They won’t break the bank for Adams and they have starting pitching to let Dempster go. They’ll set a price for Napoli and if another team surpasses it, will let him leave. I think he ultimately stays.

That leaves Hamilton.

The Rangers are not going to give him $200 million. I wouldn’t expect them to want to give him $140 million, nor would they like to commit to him for 6-8 years. The question becomes: Will there be a team that’s willing to pay Hamilton anything close to his asking price?

I don’t know. I certainly wouldn’t. The teams with the money—the Yankees, Red Sox, Dodgers, Phillies, Cubs—either don’t need Hamilton at that price or wouldn’t risk putting him in their towns with his history of substance abuse problems.

The Tigers have been mentioned, but I don’t see that either.

What then?

He won’t get 8 years, but I can see the Rangers going to 5 with an easily reachable set of options if he’s clean off the field and healthy on it to make it a 7-8 year deal. The Rangers have other choices such as B.J. Upton or Shane Victorino or by making a trade. Hamilton doesn’t.

Oakland Athletics

The A’s accumulated a lot of young talent last off-season as they cleared out Trevor Cahill, Gio Gonzalez, and Andrew Bailey—that was known. But no one could’ve predicted that their young pitching would come so far so fast; that Yoenis Cespedes would be the impact bat he’s been; that Josh Reddick would become a 30 homer man; or that they’d be on the cusp of making the playoffs.

The financial and ballpark problems that made it necessary for the A’s to restart their rebuild and make those trades are still present. They need a new ballpark and don’t have a lot of money to spend to bring in players; in spite of their good play, they’re still only 12th in the American League in attendance. With that young pitching and the concession when they hired Bob Melvin to replace the overmatched Bob Geren that not just anyone can manage a big league team and be successful, they have the talent to be at least respectable and possibly very good for years to come.

Stephen Drew and Brandon McCarthy are free agents at the end of the season, but both have a good chance to stay with the A’s.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

They have a chance to salvage 2012 and make it to the Wild Card play in game. With a veteran team loaded with starting pitching and power bats, once they’re in the playoffs they’re a threat.

That doesn’t gloss over the management issues that aren’t going to go away.

Mike Scioscia is not the right manager for a team loaded with power hitting stars. He wants to hit and run, play defense, and rely on his pitching. The front office has a new, stat-based, “my manager will take orders” GM Jerry Dipoto, and an owner Arte Moreno who may be tired of making the playoffs just about every year and losing in large part because of his manager’s stubbornness in doing things his way in spite of talent and reality.

Scioscia is signed through 2018 with an opt-out after 2015, but if he wants to leave or they want to fire him, that’s what will happen. It’s not easy to function when one’s power is essentially taken away and that’s what happened with Scioscia. There’s been talk that he’d be a possible candidate to take over for Bobby Valentine with the Red Sox, but since the Red Sox are going back to their own stat-based roots and have publicly said that Bill James will take a larger role in putting their team together, Scioscia would be in the same situation in Boston that he’s in with the Angels. Forget it.

I have a hard time seeing Scioscia managing the Angels next season no matter what happens this season.

On the field, they owe Vernon Wells $42 million through 2014; Torii Hunter’s contract is expiring; they have a team option on Dan Haren; and Zack Greinke is a free agent.

The Angels will look markedly different in 2013, probably with a new manager who’s more in tune with strategies that fit the roster and what the front office wants.

Seattle Mariners

Getting rid of Ichiro Suzuki was a major step in a positive direction. But years and years of losing is finally taking a toll on their attendance figures. The Mariners fanbase is loyal and ten years ago, they had the highest attendance in the Major Leagues. Now they’re tenth. Until they start winning, that’s not going to improve.

They’re loaded with young pitching and led by a true megastar Felix Hernandez. They have some talented bats like Dustin Ackley and Kyle Seager, but are plain woeful offensively. Once they have some hitters to go along with that pitching, they’ll be a viable threat, but this ineptitude at the plate is going back a decade just like their attendance decline.

Chone Figgins and Franklin Gutierrez are owed a combined $15.5 million in 2013, but if they take a bad contract and some money (Jason Bay?) maybe they can clear those players and try something different. Apart from that, they have money to spend and prospects to trade to pursue bats such as Justin Upton and B.J. Upton; Mike Morse; Justin Morneau; or possibly try to trade for Jacoby Ellsbury.

Unless they find some people who can produce offensively, the results are not going to change.

//

Off Season Losers In Retrospect

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

Several days ago I listed the off season winners in retrospect discussing teams and the moves they made this past winter. Now it’s time for the losers.

New York Yankees

Acquired: Michael Pineda, Raul Ibanez, Hiroki Kuroda, Andy Pettitte, Jose Campos

Subtracted: Jorge Posada, A.J. Burnett, Jesus Montero, Hector Noesi

The YES Network website still hasn’t mentioned Jose Campos since he got hurt. For that matter, nor have they mentioned Manny Banuelos’s recent injury. Maybe they haven’t been informed yet. Yeah. That’s it.

The trade of Montero and Noesi for Pineda and Campos is an absolute and utter disaster—a fireable offense for GM Brian Cashman.

Kuroda’s been good and unlucky.

Pettitte’s unexpected return has been a bolt from the blue and Ibanez has contributed the power I expected.

It’s fine to talk about them “having” to get rid of Burnett, but they’re paying him; they got low minor leaguers for him; he’s pitching well for the Pirates; and the players the Yankees got haven’t played yet in 2012. Had Pettitte not returned I guarantee there would be people now lamenting the loss of Burnett.

Guarantee.

Boston Red Sox

Acquired: GM Ben Cherington, Manager Bobby Valentine, Andrew Bailey, Ryan Sweeney, Cody Ross, Kelly Shoppach, Mark Melancon, Nick Punto

Subtracted: GM Theo Epstein, Manager Terry Francona, Jonathan Papelbon, Marco Scutaro, Josh Reddick, Tim Wakefield, Jason Varitek

It’s only when you look at the list above all at once do you realize how rancid an off-season the Red Sox had. Never mind the exchange of GMs/managers. Had he stayed, Epstein probably would’ve had better success fending off the advancing power grab of Larry Lucchino but it would’ve taken a Herculean effort for Epstein to prevent the mediocrity that the Red Sox have become.

I’m sick of seeing Francona complaining about how he was treated in Boston. If it weren’t for the Red Sox, the hot chicks to whom he’s sending candid photos of himself wouldn’t know who he is; not to mention would he not have two World Series rings and respect as a “great” manager—which he’s not.

Bailey got hurt as Reddick is on his way to making the All Star team and has been the Athletics’ best player. Melancon is back in the minor leagues; Shoppach is on the trade block; Ross was playing well before he got hurt; Punto is Punto.

No one’s saying they should’ve overpaid to keep Papelbon, but giving Scutaro away for a journeyman righty Clayton Mortensen made no sense.

Detroit Tigers

Acquired: Prince Fielder, Octavio Dotel, Gerald Laird, Collin Balester

Subtracted: Wilson Betemit, Brad Penny, Magglio Ordonez, Carlos Guillen, Joel Zumaya

Fielder and Cabrera are doing their jobs at the plate and more. The porous defense created by the signing of Fielder and shifting of Cabrera to third base hasn’t been as catastrophic as expected. That’s unless the pitching staff has it in their heads that they have to strike out more hitters or pitch differently to prevent balls from being hit to the right or left sides of the infield—highly unlikely.

The Tigers are 5 games under .500 because their pitching has been bad. The off-season isn’t a failure because of the signing of Fielder, but 5 games under .500 wasn’t what Mike Ilitch had in mind when he paid all that money to sign a huge bat like Fielder to replace Victor Martinez and team him with Cabrera.

Minnesota Twins

Acquired: GM Terry Ryan, Josh Willingham, Jamey Carroll, Jason Marquis, Ryan Doumit, Joel Zumaya

Subtracted: GM Bill Smith, Joe Nathan, Michael Cuddyer, Jason Kubel, Kevin Slowey

Terry Ryan was supposed to come back into the GM’s chair and start doing things the “Twins’ Way”. Well, that “way” is no longer working. The reason that vaunted “way” worked in the past was because they had talent on the roster and a club that was built for how Ron Gardenhire managed.

That’s no longer the case.

Marquis was released. Carroll hasn’t hit. Willingham’s been fantastic. The Zumaya signing was worth a shot I suppose, but he got hurt again. What he needs now is a friend—a real friend—to tell him that it’s over and he should retire before he damages himself permanently.

Maybe that’s what the Twins need too.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

Acquired: GM Jerry Dipoto, Albert Pujols, C.J. Wilson, Chris Iannetta, Jason Isringhausen, LaTroy Hawkins

Subtracted: GM Tony Reagins, Fernando Rodney, Jeff Mathis, Tyler Chatwood

Pujols has started hitting and the Angels will rise and fall on what he does, but the uncharacteristic decision on the part of the Angels to depart from the template they’ve adhered to for a decade has led to this disconnect between GM Dipoto, manager Mike Scioscia and the club.

Scioscia’s hitting coach, Mickey Hatcher, was fired against Scioscia’s wishes. They never took serious steps to bolster the bullpen and had too many players for too few lineup spots.

Owner Arte Moreno made maneuvers that were not team-related, but related to the TV deal he wanted to secure. And he did.

They did business like the 1980s Yankees and they’ve been playing and behaving like the 1980s Yankees. The one thing that will save them is the thing that was lacking in the 1980s: the Wild Cards.

Cincinnati Reds

Acquired: Mat Latos, Ryan Madson, Ryan Ludwick

Subtracted: Ramon Hernandez, Yonder Alonso, Yasmani Grandal, Edinson Volquez, Edgar Renteria, Francisco Cordero

The Reds are in first place and playing well no thanks to Latos (he’s been horrific); Madson (out for the year with Tommy John surgery); and Ludwick (.205/.290/.402 slash line with 6 homers in a homer-friendly home park).

It’s not as if they needed Alonso with Joey Votto ensconced at first base. They have a young catcher in Devin Mesoraco so they didn’t really need Grandal. And Volquez has been consistently inconsistent and injured since his great rookie year with the Reds.

But the winter moves are what’s relevant here and if they’d held onto the players they traded for Latos (and I’m not retrospectively ripping the deal since I thought it was good for both sides), they could’ve gotten mid-season help rather than an in-season nightmare.

Milwaukee Brewers

Acquired: Aramis Ramirez, Alex Gonzalez, Norichika Aoki, Jose Veras, Brooks Conrad

Subtracted: Prince Fielder, Yuniesky Betancourt, Casey McGehee

Ramirez is starting to hit and will hit put up numbers by the end of the season. We’ll never know whether the improved defense and pop from Alex Gonzalez and a full season from Mat Gamel would’ve made up for the loss of Fielder because both blew out their knees within days of each other.

It’s not really anyone’s fault. They did the best they could under their financial and practical circumstances.

St. Louis Cardinals

Acquired: Manager Mike Matheny, Carlos Beltran, pitching coach Derek Lilliquist

Subtracted: Manager Tony LaRussa, pitching coach Dave Duncan, Albert Pujols, Edwin Jackson, Octavio Dotel, Gerald Laird, Nick Punto.

So wait…now that the Cardinals are at .500 and freefalling it’s been miraculously discovered that the transition from a Hall of Fame manager/pitching coach combination to a manager who’s never managed before anywhere wasn’t going to go as smoothly as it did when they got off to a hot start?

That replacing Pujols wasn’t as simple as signing Beltran and moving the now-injured 36-year-old Lance Berkman to first base?

Shocking.

Colorado Rockies

Acquired: Michael Cuddyer, Marco Scutaro, Ramon Hernandez, Jeremy Guthrie, Tyler Chatwood, Tyler Colvin, Jamie Moyer

Subtracted: Chris Iannetta, Jason Hammel, Matt Lindstrom, Ian Stewart, Seth Smith

The starting pitching has killed them.

They loaded up on starters, but it hasn’t been enough as Drew Pomeranz got hurt and they gave Moyer 10 starts. It hasn’t helped that Hammel has been very good for the Orioles while Guthrie has been terrible for the Rockies.

Cuddyer has been everything advertised. Scutaro and Hernandez haven’t.

//

Off Season Winners In Retrospect

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

Let’s look at the teams whose off-season moves are paying off so far in 2012.

Tampa Bay Rays:

Acquired:  Jose Molina, Hideki Matsui, Luke Scott, Carlos Pena, Fernando Rodney

Subtracted: Johnny Damon, Kelly Shoppach, Casey Kotchman, Juan Cruz, John Jaso

The Rays did what the Rays always do. They cut out the players that were getting too expensive or had been signed as a short-term veteran stopgaps and replaced them with youngsters or other veteran stopgaps.

Molina hasn’t hit; Pena is doing what Pena does with a low batting average, good on base percentage and power; Rodney has been brilliant. None of the players they dispatched—Damon, Shoppach, Kotchman, Cruz, Jaso—have been missed or are doing much with their new teams.

Baltimore Orioles

Acquired: GM Dan Duquette, Jason Hammel, Wei-Yin Chen, Matt Lindstrom, Wilson Betemit

Subtracted: GM Andy MacPhail, Jeremy Guthrie, Luke Scott, Vladimir Guerrero

The Orioles have played over their heads but Dan Duquette got rid of Guthrie and acquired Hammel and Lindstrom who are under team control and have pitched well. Chen has been very good.

Chicago White Sox

Acquired: Manager Robin Ventura, Kosuke Fukudome

Subtracted: Manager Ozzie Guillen, Mark Buehrle, Sergio Santos, Carlos Quentin, Juan Pierre

Getting rid of the volcanic and tiresome personality of Guillen and replacing it with the laid back Ventura has been exactly what the White Sox needed. They cleared salary by getting rid of veterans Buehrle, Quentin and Pierre. They’re not as good as they look right now, but the AL Central is wide open and they have enough starting pitching to stay in the hunt. They underachieved horribly in recent years under Guillen and are overachieving now under Ventura.

Texas Rangers

Acquired Yu Darvish, Joe Nathan

Subtracted: C.J. Wilson, Darren Oliver, Endy Chavez, Matt Treanor

Darvish has been as brilliant as I expected. Nathan is having a good season. They haven’t missed Wilson on or off the field.

Seattle Mariners

Acquired: Jesus Montero, Hector Noesi, John Jaso

Subtracted: Michael Pineda, Josh Lueke, David Aardsma, Jose Campos

For Michael Pineda (disabled list), Jose Campos (hot prospect and on the disabled list), the Mariners got a top hitting prospect in Jesus Montero who’s still finding his way and showing flashes of immense power and a young starting pitcher who’s also learning his craft in the big leagues in Noesi. They got rid of the troublesome Lueke for Jaso who’s been contributing big hits of late.

Oakland Athletics

Acquired: Yoenis Cespedes, Josh Reddick, Collin Cowgill, Bartolo Colon, Jonny Gomes, Ryan Cook, Jarrod Parker, Tom Milone, Seth Smith, Kila Ka’aihue, Manny Ramirez

Subtracted: Trevor Cahill, Gio Gonzalez, Andrew Bailey, David DeJesus, Josh Willingham, Ryan Sweeney

Reddick has 14 home runs and is heading for the All Star Game. Cespedes was a silly signing for a team like the A’s, but there’s no denying his talent. We’ll see what Manny does and the young pitchers Millone and Parker are high-end arms.

Washington Nationals

Acquired: Gio Gonzalez, Edwin Jackson, Ryan Perry, Mark DeRosa, Brad Lidge

Subtracted: Ivan Rodriguez, Todd Coffey, Jonny Gomes

Gonzalez has been terrific across the board and might deserve to start the All Star Game. Jackson has been consistent despite not accumulating wins.

Miami Marlins

Acquired: Manager Ozzie Guillen, Carlos Zambrano, Jose Reyes, Heath Bell, Mark Buehrle

Subtracted: Javier Vazquez, Chris Volstad, Clay Hensley, Burke Badenhop

Zambrano showed up in shape, has kept his temper in check and is showing why the Cubs gave him that contract in the first place (the majority of which they’re paying for him to pitch for the Marlins). Reyes is getting hot and Buehrle is a leader off the field and innings-eater on it. Bell’s been a disaster, but it pitching better lately.

Guillen was hired to draw attention and he did so negatively when he started trouble almost immediately with his idiotic comments praising Fidel Castro. Jeffrey Loria is under investigation for the stadium deal and looked silly using Muhammad Ali as a human shield to protect himself from getting booed at the regular season opener of the new stadium, but apart from Bell they’re getting what they paid for for the most part.

San Francisco Giants

Acquired: Melky Cabrera, Angel Pagan, Clay Hensley, Gregor Blanco

Subtracted: Carlos Beltran, Jonathan Sanchez, Andres Torres, Ramon Ramirez, Pat Burrell, Cody Ross

Cabrera’s not going to maintain this pace, but he’s still a good player and they got him for Sanchez who’s been hurt and had worn out his welcome with the Giants. Pagan is batting .314 with 10 stolen bases and has contributed several big hits to go along with his usual array of space cadet maneuvers. Blanco and Hensley have been solid, cheap pickups off the scrapheap.

Arizona Diamondbacks

Acquired: Trevor Cahill, Jason Kubel, Craig Breslow

Subtracted: Micah Owings, Ryan Cook, Collin Cowgill, Jarrod Parker

The Diamondbacks are struggling because they’re not getting the same above-and-beyond performances from the players that carried them to a stunning division title in 2011. That doesn’t diminish the work that Cahill, Kubel and Breslow have done. If the Diamondbacks don’t right the ship, it won’t be because of the players they acquired over the winter.

Los Angeles Dodgers

Acquired: Chris Capuano, Jerry Hairston Jr., Mark Ellis, Aaron Harang, Matt Treanor

Subtracted: Jon Garland, Jonathan Broxton, Jamey Carroll, Hiroki Kuroda, Casey Blake, Rod Barajas, Vicente Padilla

Capuano is pitching about 20 miles over his head; Hairston is hitting about 20 miles over his head; Ellis and Harang are respected, under-the-radar veterans.

The Dodgers didn’t spend a lot of money this past winter, but are getting far more than they paid for.

Off season losers and incompletes will be in forthcoming postings.

//

The Twins As League Tomato Can

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

First it was the Red Sox and now it’s the Angels. Two teams with high preseason expectations and off to atrocious and scrutiny-laced starts are righting their flagging ships by beating up on the Twins.

For a franchise that had grown accustomed to winning and garnering a playoff spot as if by divine right (and being in a bad division), the Twins have rapidly become the league punching bag.

It’s going to last all season.

The return of former GM Terry Ryan was greeted with much fanfare and expectations of improvement. In the winter, he made a series of old-school “Twins” moves by signing the underrated Jamey Carroll; the innings-eating Jason Marquis; declining the contract option and re-signing veteran reliever Matt Capps; signing Josh Willingham and the competent backup catcher/first baseman/outfielder Ryan Doumit.

He also brought in an array of arms for the bullpen in the hopes that a few of them would be cheap, useful cogs in the machine.

But none of that addressed the fundamental problems that led to the 99-loss disaster of 2011.

The starting rotation is still contact-based and the pitchers are eerily similar to one another; the bullpen is serviceable but nowhere near what it was when manager Ron Gardenhire had durable veterans who knew their roles and were backed up by an All-Star closer, Joe Nathan; the lineup has black spots and no replacements on the horizon.

Already 6-17, Ryan doesn’t even have the option to clear out the house and build for the future because there are few players that any other team would be willing to give up a ton to get. Justin Morneau is a shell of what he was after concussions and their aftereffects. He might be worth a shot if he wasn’t due $28 million for 2012-2013. Perhaps they could eat some of the money to get back better young players in a deal.

Denard Span would bring back value, but he’s signed cheaply (a guaranteed $14.75 million with an option for 2015 at $9 million) and, with it so difficult to find a competent centerfielder, it makes no sense to move him unless they’re bowled over with an offer.

Joe Mauer is hitting again, but with Mauer, the residue of the failed tenure of demoted GM Bill Smith remains. Had the Twins held onto Wilson Ramos instead of trading him to the Nationals for Capps, they’d have a big league ready catcher who would free them to move Mauer to another position at least part time. In much the same way the Yankees are proving now with the burgeoning nightmare trade of Jesus Montero to the Mariners, if you’re trading a top prospect who can catch and hit, you’d better get something useful and proven in return.

The Twins will get low level prospects for pending free agent Carl Pavano (trade him to the Yankees!) and probably less for fellow free agent Francisco Liriano.

The organization had been the dominant force in the AL Central for a decade, but now they’re relegated to the equivalent of a found opponent that the managers and promoters of rising boxers use to fatten up their charge’s knockout record.

If I were a Twins’ fan, I’d get used to the abuse because it’s not going to stop anytime soon.

//

Bard’s Start Complicates Matters

All Star Game, Ballparks, Free Agents, Games, History, Management, Media, Paul Lebowitz's 2012 Baseball Guide, Players, Playoffs, Prospects, Stats, Trade Rumors, World Series

Daniel Bard made his first major league start against the Blue Jays last night and the line was ugly: 5 innings; 8 hits; 5 earned runs; 1 walk; and 6 strikeouts. He threw 96 pitches and 65 strikes and didn’t allow a homer.

But the bottom line of the boxscore is misleading. In fact, most of the runs were scored on placement rather than power. Bard’s biggest problem was the inability to throw his changeup for strikes.

Neftali Feliz made his first major league start as well and his line was far more impressive: 7 innings; 4 hits; 0 runs; 2 walks; and 4 strikeouts. He threw 108 pitches and 68 strikes.

Bard took the loss. Feliz got the win. In truth, they didn’t pitch all that differently. Feliz had better control of his changeup and worse control with his fastball and slider.

None of that is going to matter to those who’ve already made their minds up on how Bard needs to be utilized. Because he gave up 5 runs and the Red Sox bullpen is still in flux, the calls will continue to shift Bard into the closer’s role. After all, the argument will go, he lost and didn’t pitch “well”.

The results weren’t good, but Bard was good enough to win if he’d had some better luck.

There will be no such calls for Feliz to be moved back to the bullpen.

Why?

Because the Rangers signed a veteran closer, Joe Nathan, to take over for Feliz, there’s no debate as to Feliz’s role. He’s a starter, period.

The Red Sox traded for Andrew Bailey, who got hurt; and Mark Melancon, who they don’t trust; and they’re trying Alfredo Aceves as the closer now in a desperation maneuver that’s probably not going to work.

With the Rangers depth in the starting rotation and inexpensive signing of Nathan, they don’t have to concern themselves with perception. The Red Sox don’t have that luxury in either area, so they’re going to endure constant demands to put Bard where he “belongs”.

There’s a dichotomy of purpose in Boston. On one hand, the players, coaching staff and manager want Bard to do well in whatever role he’s in; on the other, they might want to see him do badly enough as a starter that the front office has no choice but to sign off on the move that the on-field staff wants to make and switch him to the bullpen to insert veteran Aaron Cook into the starting rotation.

And don’t think Cook isn’t watching and waiting for his opportunity; if that means he’s silently hoping that Bard pitches poorly as a starter, so be it.

Cook pitched well in his first start for Pawtucket.

Bard’s work last night complicates matters and every game the Red Sox play—and every start Cook makes in Triple A—will be relevant to how the team moves forward.

All will try to twist the results in the direction they prefer and their agendas will lead them; but if Bard keeps pitching as he did last night, there’s not going to be an obvious answer. A decision will have to be made and they’re going to have to stick to it.

It’s not going to be simple one way or the other.

//

2012 American League West Predicted Standings

All Star Game, Ballparks, Books, CBA, Cy Young Award, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Hall Of Fame, History, Hot Stove, Management, Media, MiLB, MLB Trade Deadline, MLB Waiver Trades, Movies, MVP, Paul Lebowitz's 2012 Baseball Guide, PEDs, Players, Playoffs, Politics, Prospects, Spring Training, Stats, Trade Rumors, Umpires, World Series
Wins Losses GB
1. Texas Rangers 93 69
2. Los Angeles Angels* 90 72 3
3. Seattle Mariners 70 92 23
4. Oakland Athletics 64 98 29

* Denotes predicted Wild Card winner.

Texas Rangers

The Rangers lose starting pitching (Cliff Lee, C.J. Wilson), but find innovative ways of replenishing it.

They lost Lee after 2010 and inserted Alexi Ogando into the rotation and he made the All-Star team.

They lost Wilson after 2011 and finally shifted Neftali Feliz into the rotation permanently and signed Joe Nathan to take his place as closer. Then they won the bidding for Yu Darvish.

They can hit, they can field, they can run, they can pitch, they’re willing to make bold trades in-season, and they’re not constrained by contemporary orthodoxies that are circular in nature and taken as fact because “everyone is doing it”.

If everyone is doing it, it’s probably as good a reason as any to do something else.

Los Angeles Angels

The Angels were never the team to spend lavishly on the biggest of the big name free agents, but after losing out on Carl Crawford last year and taking on the toxic contract of Vernon Wells, GM Tony Reagins was fired and replaced by Jerry DiPoto. DiPoto was handed what amounted to a blank check to make the team better, they signed Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson and traded for Chris Iannetta.

The bullpen is still a question mark, but they trot out four ace-quality starters and have more bats than they know what to do with.

The balance of power has shifted West and the days of the Yankees and Red Sox being anointed playoff spots as a rite of spring are over.

Seattle Mariners

Jack Zduriencik supporters are leaping from his ship like it’s the Hindenburg.

Not every negative thing that’s happened with the Mariners is his fault—I find it hard to believe he wanted to bring Ken Griffey Jr. back for a second season in 2010 and if he has a brain in his head, he’d love to be rid of Ichiro Suzuki—but he got the credit, he gets the blame.

Chone Figgins has been a disaster. They’re trying again to give him a starting job at third base and are batting him leadoff.

That won’t last.

The trade Zduriencik made in getting Jesus Montero and Hector Noesi is going to be terrific.

The Mariners are still offensively challenged, are relying on a patched together bullpen with upside, have good starting pitching and defense.

The division is a nightmare and support of this regime is crumbling. They’d better overachieve or Zduriencik is going to be in serious trouble by the waning days of the season.

Oakland Athletics

Is the intense study of sabermetrics undertaken by Brandon McCarthy going to repair his constant injuries? He’s the darling of the stat guys because he implemented numbers to improve his results—and it worked—but it’s all a bit over-the-top thinking he’s turned a corner, never to return to what he was.

Their number two starter is Bartolo Colon; their bullpen is gutted; the offense is woeful; the defense is questionable.

But ignore the facts. Billy Beane is a genius because a book and a movie said so.

It’s Hollywood and creative non-fiction!! You can believe it if you want…if you’re an indoctrinated, agenda-driven moron.

Far more in depth analysis is in my book, Paul Lebowitz’s 2012 Baseball Guide, now available.

Click here for a full sample of team predictions/projections. My book can be purchased on KindleSmashwordsBN and Lulu with other outlets on the way.

//

2012 Preview/Guide—Texas Rangers

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

My book is now available on Kindle, Smashwords and Lulu with other outlets on the way.

Click on the above links to purchase a copy.

Here’s a full sample with more upcoming:

Texas Rangers

2011 Record: 96-66; 1st place, American League West.

Defeated Tampa Bay Rays in ALDS 3 games to 1.

Defeated Detroit Tigers in ALCS 4 games to 2.

Lost to St. Louis Cardinals in World Series 4 games to 3.

2011 Recap:

Despite losing Cliff Lee from the 2010 American League pennant winners, the Rangers again rolled to the division title in the AL West, knocked out the Rays in the ALDS and the Tigers in the ALCS.

They came within one strike of winning the World Series in the ninth inning of game 6 before the Cardinals tied the game against closer Neftali Feliz.

The Rangers scored 2 runs in the top of the tenth on a home run by Josh Hamilton and again were within one strike of winning the World Series and the Cardinals tied the game again.

In the bottom of the eleventh, David Freese homered to win the game for the Cardinals.

The Cardinals won game 7 and the World Series.

2012 ADDITIONS:

RHP Joe Nathan signed a 2-year, $14.75 million contract with club option for 2013. (Twins)

RHP Yu Darvish’s rights were purchased from Japan for $51.7 million and he signed a 6-year, $56 million contract.

1B Brandon Snyder was purchased from the Baltimore Orioles.

OF/1B Brad Hawpe signed a minor league contract. (Padres)

RHP Sean Green signed a minor league contract. (Brewers)

LHP Mitch Stetter signed a minor league contract. (Brewers)

OF Kyle Hudson signed a minor league contract. (Orioles)

OF/1B Conor Jackson signed a minor league contract. (Red Sox)

LHP Joe Beimel signed a minor league contract. (Pirates)

C Luis Martinez was acquired from the San Diego Padres.

RHP Greg Reynolds was acquired from the Colorado Rockies.

INF Luis Hernandez signed a minor league contract. (Mets)

LHP Neal Cotts signed a minor league contract.

2012 SUBTRACTIONS:

LHP C.J. Wilson was not re-signed. (Angels)

OF Endy Chavez was not re-signed. (Orioles)

LHP Darren Oliver was not re-signed. (Blue Jays)

C Matt Treanor was not re-signed. (Dodgers)

RHP Darren O’Day was claimed off waivers by the Baltimore Orioles.

C Taylor Teagarden was traded to the Baltimore Orioles.

RHP Brandon Webb was not re-signed.

RHP Tim Wood was not re-signed. (Pirates)

INF Andres Blanco was not re-signed. (Nationals)

1B/OF Chad Tracy was traded to the Colorado Rockies.

2012 PROJECTED STARTING ROTATION: Colby Lewis; Derek Holland; Neftali Feliz; Yu Darvish; Matt Harrison; Alexi Ogando.

2012 PROJECTED BULLPEN: Joe Nathan; Mike Adams; Koji Uehara; Scott Feldman; Mark Lowe; Michael Kirkman; Yoshinori Tateyama; Joe Beimel; Sean Green.

2012 PROJECTED LINEUP: C-Mike Napoli; 1B-Mitch Moreland; 2B-Ian Kinsler; 3B-Adrian Beltre; SS-Elvis Andrus; LF-David Murphy; CF-Josh Hamilton; RF-Nelson Cruz; DH-Michael Young.

2012 PROJECTED BENCH: C-Yorvit Torrealba; OF-Julio Borbon; OF-Craig Gentry; 1B-Brandon Snyder; C-Luis Martinez; OF/1B-Conor Jackson

2012 POSSIBLE CONTRIBUTORS: RHP-Greg Reynolds; RHP-Jacob Brigham; INF-Luis Hernandez; RHP-Cody Eppley; LHP-Miguel De Los Santos; RHP-Justin Miller; LHP-Martin Perez; RHP-Neil Ramirez; RHP-Matthew West; OF-Engel Beltre; OF/1B-Brad Hawpe; LHP-Mitch Stetter; OF-Kyle Hudson; OF/1B-Brad Nelson; LHP-Neal Cotts.

FANTASY PICKS: RHP-Joe Nathan; RHP-Yu Darvish; RHP-Neftali Feliz; RF-Nelson Cruz; RHP-Alexi Ogando.

MANAGEMENT:

The new ownership group led by team president Nolan Ryan along with GM Jon Daniels has authored a case study in how to rebuild a financially strapped and moribund franchise from nothing to the dominant team in the American League within a reasonable budget.

Ryan, having been one of the best and most durable pitchers in the history of baseball and definitely not babied as pitchers are today, has implemented a new strategy of letting the pitchers pitch rather than utilize a random number of pitches and innings to limit their development.

There’s still something to be said for proper mechanics and common sense in conjunction with the application of new science.

Because Ryan is a Hall of Famer and running the team, he’s in a unique position to try something different and be responsible for the aftermath¾good or bad.

Daniels overcame a rocky start as GM when he made perhaps one of the worst trades in the history of the game sending Adrian Gonzalez and Chris Young to the Padres for Adam Eaton and Akinori Otsuka.

He has since become intelligent and flexible in finding players through the draft; made brilliant trades of his own star players like Mark Teixeira and brought in multiple pieces like Elvis Andrus, Matt Harrison and Neftali Feliz that expedited the rebuilding process.

The Rangers put together a deep farm system that has allowed them to make in-season acquisitions of terrific set-up man Mike Adams and to be involved in pursuing Carlos Beltran.

This front office is willing to spend money and take risks regardless of what outsiders say as they showed when they won the bidding for Yu Darvish and signed Joe Nathan to move Feliz into the starting rotation.

The Rangers are one of the best run clubs in baseball because of the diversity in the front office and willingness to do things using the old and new schools of thought.

Oh, and they added Greg Maddux to the front office as a special assistant this past winter.

It’s funny how Ron Washington was laughed at and ridiculed until those who know absolutely nothing about the inner workings of a baseball clubhouse and the type of methods and messages that get through to players heard the recorded pep talk Washington gave to his club before game 7 of the World Series.

More than once self-proclaimed baseball “experts” who know how to calculate a player’s OPS while he’s running to first base after a single to left field said they found a new “respect” for Washington for that profane and hilarious tirade about what his team was going to do to Cardinals starter Chris Carpenter.

Of course they lost. Of course one could point to several strange decisions Washington made in the course of the series that might’ve cost the team the World Series. But that’s irrelevant. Even before he failed the drug test in 2010 and came up with the preposterous excuse that it was the first time he’d tried cocaine (that’s backward lottery-level unlucky), the players always loved Washington and played hard for him because they know he has their backs.

Sometimes it’s more important for the players to do whatever they can to win for their manager than it is to have a strategic genius they don’t want to play for.

The Rangers front office gives Washington the players to win, they let him have the statistics he needs to know and they let him do his job. The end result has been two consecutive AL pennants and you can’t argue with those results.

In January of 2012, Washington was rewarded with a 2-year contract extension through 2014.

STARTING PITCHING:

With the departure of C.J. Wilson to the Angels, the Rangers are dealing with an All-Star pitcher’s departure. They don’t have a specific “ace” of their staff…yet. But Neftali Feliz and Yu Darvish both have the potential.

For right now, the veteran Colby Lewis should be considered their number one and the anchor.

Lewis returned from Japan in 2010 and was their most consistent pitcher in that year’s playoffs.

Last season, he went 14-10 and his overall numbers look far worse than they did in 2010, but it’s misleading. He did allow a league-leading 35 homers, but his ERA was bloated to 4.40 by games in which he got punished for 9, 6, 7 and 6 earned runs. Apart from that, he was consistently good. In 200 innings, he allowed 187 hits with 56 walks and struck out 169. Lewis doesn’t have overpowering stuff, but he knows how to pitch and work his way out of trouble.

He’s a free agent at the end of the 2012 season.

25-year-old lefty Derek Holland was brilliant in the ALDS and the World Series. During the regular season, he led the American League with 4 shutouts and went 16-5 with a 3.95 ERA and 162 strikeouts in 198 innings. Holland has a mid-90s fastball, a changeup, a slider and a curve. Holland has All-Star and Cy Young Award-contending potential.

The Rangers flirted with the idea of shifting Neftali Feliz into the starting rotation last year by letting him start in spring training, he moved back into the bullpen and endured some shoulder trouble that might have been as a result of the abrupt changes back and forth.

The Rangers knew that the decision had to be made once and for all. The ambiguity of not having a big league closer to replace Feliz and to leave the job open to made it a possibility that Feliz would have to move back out of necessity. That was solved when they signed veteran Joe Nathan and officially moved Feliz into the rotation to stay.

The Rangers have experience with transitioning relievers to the starting rotation successfully after doing so with Wilson and Alexi Ogando.

Feliz also might have had shellshock from blowing game 6 of the World Series after two were out, so it’s best to take him from that pressure-packed role and let him start. He’s only about to turn 24 in May and with his arsenal of pitches¾a fastball that’s reached 100-mph, a cutter, a slider and a changeup¾he’ll be able to mix and match and change speeds more effectively than he could as a reliever.

He’s probably going to be limited in his innings, but he racks up the strikeouts and will make the shift well.

When I first heard the stories about Yu Darvish, all I could think about was the misplaced and retrospectively inaccurate hype about the likes of Daisuke Matsuzaka and Hideki Irabu. Because of that, I was dubious as to whether teams should spend the vast amount of cash up front simply to win his rights and then pay him what amounted to a free agent contract.

The total amount for Matsuzaka wound up at over $100 million and it promised to be that much or more for Darvish.

I would’ve refrained from pursuit.

Then I watched video clips of Darvish pitching and saw that he’s going to be a star.

He has a deceptive, power motion and a wide variety of pitches with a fastball, a cutter, a slider, a forkball and a wicked off-speed curve.

Darvish’s motion combines the quirkiness of Rick Sutcliffe’s wrist hook; the hip turn and leg drive of Tim Lincecum; and the inventiveness and array of stuff of David Cone.

His ethnicity is unique with an Iranian father and Japanese mother, he’s a big personality and extremely handsome.

Darvish is going to be a megastar.

Lefty Matt Harrison went 14-9 in 30 starts, pitching 185 innings and allowing 180 hits and only 13 homers. He walked 57 and struck out 126.

He’s effective against lefties and righties and for a pitcher to pitch his home games in the hitters’ heaven of Arlington to only allow 13 homers is amazing.

Harrison has a fastball that reaches the upper-90s, a changeup, a curve and a cutter and, like Holland, has All-Star potential.

Alexi Ogando was a dominating set-up man in 2010, moved into the rotation in 2011 and made the All-Star team. Ogando was so dominant in the first half (opposing hitters had an OPS of .591) that a good second half looks worse than it is. But a .743 OPS is still good. Ogando has a mid-90s fastball, a changeup and a slider and is murder on right-handed hitters.

The Rangers have six capable starters so they can be cautious with both Feliz and Darvish by occasionally using a six-man rotation to get both accustomed to their new role and surroundings. Doing this would let them refrain from using an innings/pitch limit based on specious numbers and let the workload stay under control more naturally.

BULLPEN:

Veteran closer Joe Nathan was signed 2-year, $14.75 million contract with an option for 2014 to replace Feliz.

After undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2010, Nathan returned as the Twins’ closer to start the season, was used cautiously and got off to a bad start in April and May. He went back on the disabled list with a flexor strain in his elbow. He was demoted to set-up man, reinstalled as the main man in July and regained the form that made him one of the best short relievers in baseball over the past decade.

His velocity was back in the 92-93 range after hovering around 90-mph in April and his strikeout numbers were at one-per-inning.

For some pitchers it takes more than the usual one calendar year for them to regain their form following Tommy John and that appears to have been the case with Nathan.

For the Rangers, his signing allows them to get an inexpensive former All-Star with extensive experience (albeit struggles in the post-season, especially against the Yankees) and a potential big time starter in Feliz.

Mike Adams was acquired from the Padres at the trading deadline and was the same dominant set-up man he’s been for years with the Padres.

Adams throws one slider after another with a quirky, stressful overhand motion. He’s more effective against righties (.439 OPS), but is solid against lefties as well (.538 OPS).

He’s had multiple arm problems in the past because of that stressful motion and the reluctance of Washington to use him in the World Series was either strategic ineptitude (possible), or something was bothering Adams which the Rangers did not disclose.

He’s a free agent at the end of the season and someone is going to pay him big money as a closer or set-up man if he has a good year with the Rangers and is healthy.

Koji Uehara has been the subject of trade rumors at the time of this writing and the Rangers are listening to offers.

Uehara racks up the strikeouts and throws strikes (85 k’s and 9 walks in 65 innings in 2011 with the Rangers and Orioles) and his numbers are almost identical against righties and lefties. He doesn’t throw particularly hard (around 89-90 mph), but he has a great split-finger fastball. His one issue¾and it’s a big one¾is the home run ball. He allowed only 38 hits in those 65 innings and an absurd 11 home runs. Then he allowed 3 in 1 ⅓ innings in the playoffs.

I think I could hit a homer against him.

Scott Feldman pitched brilliantly in the post-season until the World Series.

Having won 17 games in 2009 by imitating Roy Halladay’s motion, Feldman looked like he was going to be a rotation stalwart. Injuries, particularly to his knee, ruined his 2010 and a large chunk of 2011. There was debate as to whether he’d even be on the post-season roster in 2011, but he was and played a key part in the Rangers winning the pennant. He was knocked around in the World Series by the Cardinals.

Having been a starter, the righty Feldman has a starter’s arsenal with a sinking fastball, a cutter, a changeup, a slider and a curve.

Mark Lowe allowed the game-winning homer to David Freese in game 6 of the World Series.

Lowe has a high-90s fastball, a changeup and a slider. As a second-tier reliever for the Rangers, in 45 innings, he walked 19 and struck out 42. Lowe allowed 6 homers.

Michael Kirkman is a lefty with a 95 mph fastball, a changeup and a slider. He’s put up big strikeout numbers in the minors and held lefties to a .622 OPS and 0 homers in 49 plate appearances last season.

36-year-old Japanese righty Yoshinori Tateyama is a crafty junkballer with a sinking fastball, a change and a curve. In 44 innings, he struck out 43 batters and allowed 8 homers. Lefties beat him up with a .909 OPS, but he held righties to a .189/.230/.274 slash line.

Veteran lefty specialist Joe Beimel signed a minor league contract. The 35-year-old had a bad year for the Pirates in 2011.

He throws across his body and relies on a sinker and slider and, as relievers numbers tend to fluctuate, it’s reasonable to think the Beimel could have a comeback season with the Rangers.

Sean Green signed a minor league contract after spending 2011 with the Brewers organization. He was in Triple-A for the majority of the season, but there’s no point in judging Green on his past stats and what he’s done as he makes the transition from an over-the-top sinkerballer to a sidearmer. As a sidearmer, he can be an effective righty specialist for the Rangers.

LINEUP:

I found it laughable that Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos was considered a “genius” not just for finding a taker for almost all of Vernon Wells’s contract, but also got a productive hitter in Mike Napoli…then none of those who were calling him a genius acknowledged that the Blue Jays didn’t think any more of Napoli than the Angels did by spinning him off to the Rangers for Frank Francisco.

Natually, after the year he had, both the Angels and the Blue Jays would’ve been far better off with the Napoli than Wells or Francisco.

Napoli has a massive year at the plate with a 30 homers in 432 plate appearances with a slash line of .320/.414/.631. That’s a ridiculous 1.046 OPS.

To put that in perspective, NL MVP Ryan Braun’s OPS was .994; Jose Bautista had a 1.056 OPS.

And before you start thinking that Napoli was a Josh Hamilton-style product of hitting in Rangers Ballpark, he hit better on the road than he did at home.

His numbers were also nearly identical hitting against lefties or righties.

Napoli’s BAbip was .344, so he’s not going to repeat those numbers, but he’s a far better hitter than anyone ever gave him credit for and as a pending free agent, he’s going to want to have another big season at age 30.

He’s also had a good year defensively and threw out 36% of basestealers.

Napoli isn’t fully recovered from a severe ankle sprain suffered in the World Series, but should be good to go at the start of the season.

The Rangers were courting Prince Fielder, but weren’t going to match the Tigers’ offer. If Victor Martinez’s injury hadn’t spurred the Tigers to spend big on Fielder, there was a chance that Fielder would’ve signed a shorter term contract with the Rangers to try and win a championship and be a free agent again in 3-5 years.

With Fielder off the board, the Rangers will again have Mitch Moreland and Napoli playing first base.

Moreland is a player for whom WAR (Wins Above Replacement) is a valuable stat because the Rangers would be able to find a first baseman somewhere or play Michael Young at first regularly and get themselves a DH who’d be more productive than Moreland. Moreland was a -0.2 WAR player last season in spite of hitting 16 homers and 22 doubles. In comparison to other first basemen in baseball, that’s not very good. First base is generally a power position.

If Moreland doesn’t hit, the Rangers will probably play Young and Napoli at first base and look to upgrade their offense as the season moves along with a power bat.

Don’t be surprised to see them pursuing David Wright of the Mets.

Ian Kinsler had his usual extreme home/road splits as he mashed the ball at home with a .933 OPS and posted a .730 on the road. Unlike recent years, though, he had 16 homers at home and 16 on the road.

Kinsler is a very good defensive second baseman, hits plenty of extra base hits and steals 30 bases a year. His average dropped to .255, but his BAbip was .243, so that was bad luck and his average should rebound back to his career numbers of around .275-.285.

It took me awhile to come around as to how good a player Adrian Beltre is. Because Beltre had such a tough time putting up offensive numbers during his time with the Mariners, his numbers were mediocre and his defense wasn’t as appreciated as it is today.

Now Beltre is considered one of the best players in baseball and is building a reasonable Hall of Fame case with at least 4-5 productive years in his future.

Beltre won his third Gold Glove and his second Silver Slugger award. He had an .892 OPS with 32 homers and 33 doubles. He took advantage of the friendly confines in Arlington by hitting 23 of his homers and having an OPS of 1.078 at home.

Beltre hit 5 homers in the post-season, including 3 in one game against the Rays. He’s a leader on and off the field and was a prescient and brilliant signing for the Rangers.

Elvis Andrus is a Gold Glove-caliber shortstop and stole 37 bases in 2011. The 23-year-old is improving at the plate as he matures and hitting the ball with more authority. Last season, he raised his average .14 points to .279 and his OPS from .643 to .708. Eventually, he’s going to hit 8-12 homers to go along with his speed and defense.

David Murphy plays regularly against right-handed pitching. He struggles against lefties.

Against righties in 348 plate appearances, Murphy had a slash line of .296/.348/.461 and hit all of his 11 homers against righties.

Josh Hamilton missed a chunk of the season with a broken arm and it hindered his power and contributed to the decline in his numbers from his MVP season in 2010.

Hamilton still hit 25 homers and drove in 94 runs with an .882 OPS and hit the homer that gave the Rangers the lead in game 6 of the World Series and came within one strike of winning the championship.

He’s a great talent.

But none of that is relevant for his 2012 season.

In early February, Hamilton publicly fell off the wagon and had several drinks in a Texas bar/restaurant. This was the first public misstep for Hamilton since 2009 when he was also caught drinking and partying with fans in an Arizona bar.

Hamilton is a free agent at the end of the season and he and the Rangers have tabled talks for an extension. Prior to this, his representatives were implying that they wanted a Prince Fielder-level contract of $200 million. Even before he got caught drinking publicly¾and I don’t believe those are the only times he’s had a drink ¾I would’ve hesitated before signing him to a long-term deal and handing him a guarantee of $100+ million regardless of what he does on or off the field.

Now? Forget it.

He can’t be trusted.

Much was made of the departure of Hamilton’s “accountability partner” (basically his babysitter and sounding board) Johnny Narron, who left to take a job with the Brewers.

Hamilton was functioning without a designated “accountability partner” and had a couple of drinks.

Does that justify it? Is it a viable excuse that because he didn’t have someone to say, “NO JOSH!!!” that it’s okay that he drank?

Hamilton is a family man with three daughters with his wife (she has another daughter as well). He’s an adult. He needs to control himself and understand that he has hundreds of millions of dollars and people depending on him to stay sober and clean. The “accountability partner” or personal problems are not an excuse to go right back into the behaviors that almost destroyed the life of the former number 1 pick in the draft.

I would not sign Hamilton to a massive long-term contract unless he agreed to the unprecedented caveat that if he falls off the wagon and it affects his play, that the contract can be nullified by the team that signs him.

His representatives would never agree to that, but Hamilton might.

Even with that, I’d go as high as 3-years and $60 million, but that’s it.

He’s a great player. He has to stay straight.

Nelson Cruz missed 28 games last season with multiple leg injuries and his production at the plate dropped from a .950 OPS to .821. He still hit 29 homers during the regular season.

Cruz made up for it in the playoffs as he hit an absurd 6 home runs in the ALCS against the Tigers and was the ALCS MVP. He then hit 2 more in the World Series.

Cruz was held responsible in certain circles for not securing the catchable game-tying triple off the bat of Freese in the bottom of the ninth inning in game 6.

It was a catchable ball, but it was a tough catch. Blaming Cruz is a bit extreme for what would’ve been a really good play to end the game and the series.

Michael Young suddenly found himself appreciated for what he does rather than ripped for what he doesn’t.

Young requested to be traded when he was again asked to move to a new position when they signed Beltre.

Young batted .338 (.367 BAbip), with 213 hits to lead the league. He only had 11 homers, but drove in 106 runs, but had a .380 OBP and .474 slugging.

Young is and always has been a very good hitter who doesn’t walk enough to suit the tastes of the new age experts who are permeating baseball and baseball analysis. He’s not a great defensive player, but he can play anywhere on the infield and is a well-liked leader in the clubhouse.

BENCH:

Backup catcher Yorvit Torrealba had his usual passable season at the plate and was very good defensively, but that’s not the first thing people think of now when hearing his name.

While playing in the Venezuelan League this past winter, Torrealba was arguing a call at home plate and shoved/hit the umpire in his mask. He was immediately suspended from the league for 66 games and the video of the incident went viral.

Torrealba is not Milton Bradley and has never shown this kind of temper. He’s a respected and well-liked player and it was a mistake.

There were questions as to what the Rangers were going to do about it, if anything. There’s really nothing they can do about it since it was an incident in an entirely separate league and out of the jurisdiction of MLB. If they or the Rangers tried to punish Torrealba the MLBPA would fight it to the last and they’d win.

What will probably happen is that Torrealba will apologize (and I’m sure he’s legitimately sorry) and, at the behest of Nolan Ryan, will speak to children at schools about why what he did was wrong.

It was an unfortunate and isolated incident in an otherwise respectable career.

Julio Borbon played regularly in 2010, but missed time in 2011 with hamstring woes.

The lefty batter can play center field and has speed to steal 20 bases. He has no power.

Craig Gentry is a good defensive center fielder with speed. He might see substantial time in 2011 with Hamilton playing left field. Gentry stole 18 bases in 18 tries and he’s hit for some pop in the minors and takes his walks. He’s 28 and bats right-handed.

Former Orioles’ first round pick Brandon Snyder was purchased by the Rangers. The right-handed hitting first baseman has only had 37 big league at bats, but he hit 14 homers and had 21 doubles in Triple-A Norfolk last season.

Catcher Luis Martinez was acquired from the Padres in December. He’s 27 and bats righty. He has a career .725 OPS in the minors and has a 33% caught stealing rate.

Conor Jackson signed a minor league contract after spending 2011 with the A’s and Red Sox.

Jackson was a first round pick of the Diamondbacks in 2003 and was on his way to becoming an All-Star before injuries and illness derailed him.

In 2008, Jackson hit 12 homers, drove in 75, batted .300 and had a .376 OBP. He was also a good defensive left fielder.

Since then, he’s done nothing.

With the A’s in 2011, Jackson had a .658 OPS and 4 homers in 368 plate appearances. Perhaps joining the Rangers and hitting in the Ballpark will help him return to form. He’ll be 30 in May, so there’s time for him to rejuvenate his career.

PREDICTION:

The Rangers are one of the best run, smartest and most aggressive teams in baseball. They use new age stats and old school trust in common sense by letting their pitchers go deeper into games and throw more pitches than the generally accepted limits that have hindered the development of countless youngsters in other organizations.

On offense, they hit for power, have speed and get on base.

They have a deep starting rotation, a diverse bullpen and are ready and willing to make improvements during the season.

Defensively, they’re excellent.

The loss of C.J. Wilson was addressed by the signings of Nathan and Darvish and by moving Feliz into the rotation.

The argument could be made that the team that has won the last two American League pennants is now better than it was in 2010-2011.

In fact, they are.

In spite of the high-profile acquisitions by the Angels, the Rangers are still the best team in the American League and are going to win the AL West and advance to their third straight World Series.

PREDICTED RECORD: 93-69

All 30 teams are detailed identically to the above sample with relevant statistics, evenhanded analysis and brutal truths.

Click Amazon Kindle, here for Lulu and here for Smashwords with Kobo, BN Nook, Apple Store and other options available soon.

//

Life Will Go On Without Mariano Rivera

All Star Game, Ballparks, Books, CBA, Cy Young Award, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Hall Of Fame, History, Hot Stove, Management, Media, MiLB, MLB Trade Deadline, MLB Waiver Trades, MVP, Paul Lebowitz's 2011 Baseball Guide, PEDs, Players, Playoffs, Politics, Prospects, Spring Training, Stats, Trade Rumors, World Series

The reaction to the inevitable end of Mariano Rivera’s career inspired maudlin whimpering and prognostications of doom as to the Yankees’ fate without the all-time saves leader.

Rivera’s cryptic statements and oft-mentioned reluctance to leave his family every February have led to the belief that this is definitely his final season.

Rivera’s comments saying he knows what his decision will be, that he’s not sharing it with the media yet and that he’d like to go out on top of his game all point to retirement, but if he’s decided to retire at the end of the season, then why not just say it?

Rivera may be leaning a certain way, but because he’s chosen not to state it outright, he’s leaving himself plausible wiggle room to do what he wants.

There’s no reason to go into a depression about it now and contemplate an immediate future without Rivera.

It’s in the post-season where Rivera has become something more than Joe Nathan who, like it or not, for a few years put up regular season stats very comparable to Rivera’s. Had Nathan been able to get the outs in the post-season—outs that Rivera has consistently recorded—won a championship or two with the Twins and been the man on the mound to celebrate when they did it, he might be mentioned as a “Hall of Fame closer” in his own right.

Rivera’s longevity and maintenance of greatness, along with the way he’s gotten batters out all combine to highlight his uniqueness. There’s been no deviation in the strategy from 1996 to now. It’s the cutter, the ice in his veins, and that’s it.

Whereas pitchers like Trevor Hoffman had to adjust from his younger days as a flamethrower to a changeup artists, it’s “here it is, hit it if you can” with Rivera, as it’s always been.

The Yankees won’t prototypically “replace” him because they can’t. They’ll stick someone in the role and hope.

But that’s not something to worry about now; he hasn’t said anything specific despite the allusions. That’s because he’s not 100% sure yet in spite the suggestion and panicky, borderline sickening reactions to the contrary.

Eventually it’s going to happen. It could be in 2013, 2014 or 2015. We don’t know. But it will happen. In his absence, the Yankees will find someone to accumulate the saves during the regular season even if it’s (uch) Rafael Soriano.

Life will go on.

//