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

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The avalanche of circumstances that necessitated the trade of Justin Upton began when Kevin Towers was hired as Diamondbacks GM. After a 65-97 season in 2010 during which longtime GM Josh Byrnes and manager A.J. Hinch were fired; interim GM Jerry Dipoto made several housecleaning trades by dispatching Dan Haren, Edwin Jackson, Conor Jackson, Chris Snyder, and Chad Qualls for prospects or salary relief; and years of mediocre drafts and failed trades had left the organization in retooling mode, it’s understandable that Towers arrived and made it clear that he’d be willing to discuss his best asset—Upton—to speed the refurbishment.

The Diamondbacks weren’t in the position of the Astros or Cubs in that the whole thing had to be gutted, but they certainly weren’t a trendy pick to rebound from 65 wins to 94 and the 2011 NL West title. Any realistic assessment of their roster in 2011 would have said, “We’re not as bad as we were last year. If everything breaks right with Ian Kennedy, Daniel Hudson and Joe Saunders pitching well; the new bullpen performing; a huge year from Upton; unexpected contributions from Gerardo Parra and Ryan Roberts; and youngsters like Paul Goldschmidt stepping up, we can hang around the periphery of contention and maybe—maybe—be in the Wild Card hunt.”

Stunningly, the club took to the fiery style of manager Kirk Gibson and overcame their limitations with teamwork, intensity and more than a little luck. Gibson himself was only there because Towers bought into the passionate presentation he gave when the interim manager was interviewed for the fulltime job.

Sometimes the planets align perfectly and that’s what happened with the 2011 Diamondbacks. After that season, there was no need to slowly build. Instead of seeing a team that needed time to develop and required significant changes, they were suddenly legitimate contenders and looking to bolster what was already there by trading for Trevor Cahill and surrendering a large chunk of the few prospects—Ryan Cook, Jarrod Parker, Collin Cowgill—they’d accumulated in the draft. Parker and Cook were significant factors to the Athletics’ stunning run to the AL West title in 2012. Cahill was, at best, inconsistent for the Diamondbacks.

What went right for the Diamondbacks in 2011 went wrong in 2012. It would probably have been wise to realize that Roberts would fall back from his career year; that Kennedy wouldn’t be as lucky on balls in play; that the number of times they said, “I don’t believe this is happening,” was a warning sign not to believe that it was going to happen again the next year.

There’s nothing wrong with being lucky, but when that luck is translated into design and the original blueprint is ripped to shreds midstream and replaced with a new one, it’s easy to miss things and set traps for oneself. That’s what happened with Towers and Upton. When the team made that wondrous leap from last place to first place, Towers made the same mistake that Mariners’ GM Jack Zduriencik did in 2009-2010 when the Mariners overachieved to rise from 101 losses to 85 wins: he believed the hype that the team was better than it was and made decisions accordingly. These were decisions he might not have otherwise made if he’d adhered to the original plan.

What Towers was stuck with, through his own doing, was an excess of outfielders, a hole at shortstop, a sensitive player in Upton who was letting the trade talk affect his play, and the public shouting from loquacious managing general partner Ken Kendrick that Upton wasn’t living up to his contract.

Right after he was hired, Towers took offers for Upton. There was never a need to get Upton out of town because he was a malcontent, overrated or lazy. They were performing due diligence by seeing what they could get for him and if some club offered a Herschel Walker package, they’d trade him. It snowballed to the degree that they not only had to move Upton, but they had to formulate an excuse to justify it while simultaneously explaining their overpay for Cody Ross by saying that Upton wasn’t the grinding type of player they wanted their version of the Diamondbacks to exemplify. Gibson quickly ran away from the idea that he didn’t want Upton, leaving Towers and Kendrick as the likely culprits in the move and, as I said before, Towers didn’t want to trade Upton as a matter of course, he was simply seeing what was out there.

So now what?

The return for Upton is haphazard and odd. When they initially tossed his name out as negotiable, they wanted a huge package for their future. The trade they made with the Braves is a now-and-later deal. They received Martin Prado, who will fill a hole at third base, but is a free agent at the end of the season and wants a lot of money. The Diamondbacks have said they want to sign Prado and hope to get an extension done quickly, putting themselves in another precarious position similar to the one they dove headfirst into with Upton. Prado is a fine, versatile player with speed, power and defense and will help them in 2013.

They also received shortstop Nick Ahmed, third baseman Brandon Drury, righty pitcher Zeke Spruill, and righty pitcher Randall Delgado. It’s a solid return. Delgado, with his deceptive shotgun windup, has the stuff to be a big winner. You can read about the young players here on Baseball America.

There is a “but” and it’s a big one.

It’s a good trade, BUT what was the point? The problem for the Diamondbacks is that this increases the perception of ambiguity. Are they building for the future with the young players? Are they trying to win now? If Prado doesn’t sign, are they going to see where they are at mid-season and spin him off in a trade if they’re not contending or if they are, will they use this excess of young shortstops with Ahmed and Didi Gregorius to get veteran help?

A lack of definition is the hallmark of an absence of planning. The Diamondbacks may have had a plan when Towers was hired. One would assume he presented said plan to get the job. There’s no evident plan anymore. It’s an unsustainable tapdance to adapt to the on-the-fly alterations. The intention was to build slowly while being competitive. The new construct was rushed and adjusted due to situational concerns. The structure has become a box without a sufficient escape route. They’d better learn to live in it, because they have nowhere else to go. It might be good. Then again, it might not.

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Did the Angels Botch the Dan Haren Deal?

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Is $12 million for one season a lot of money for a pitcher with the history of Dan Haren?

Unless there are extenuating circumstances that we don’t know about, it’s not a bad deal at all. Judging from the Angels desperation to trade Haren prior to the deadline to exercise or reject his 2013 option, their willingness to take the Cubs’ Carlos Marmol and his $9.8 million contract for 2013, and then final decision to decline the option, it makes me believe that there’s something we don’t know about Haren—something that spurred the Angels’ decision and led to them messing it up.

Pitching for the Athletics, Diamondbacks and Angels from 2005 to 2011, Haren was one of the most durable and quality pitchers in baseball. Never once did he fall below 216 innings pitched in a season; his strikeouts per 9 innings were consistently between 7 and 9; he has tremendous control; and he takes the ball every fifth day.

In 2012, Haren was pitching with a bad back that was a continual problem and sidelined him from early July to early August and was clearly an issue all season. His velocity was judged to be mediocre at around 88 all season, but Haren was never a flamethrower anyway, hovering around the 92-93 range. The Angels’ contract option contained a $3.5 million buyout or they would’ve owed him $15.5 million for 2013. That’s a lot of money, but if Haren returns to form and gives them 200 innings, is the difference—$12 million—disagreeable for a team like the Angels that has money to spend?

Obviously they want to keep Zack Greinke, but having traded Ervin Santana (178 innings in 2012) and with Greinke a free agent, the Angels currently have a guaranteed rotation of Jered Weaver, C.J. Wilson, and Garrett Richards. That’s a decent top three and there are mid-level arms available such as Hiroki Kuroda, Edwin Jackson, or by bringing Joe Saunders back. Available via trade will possibly be some starters from the Rays’ surplus, so the situation isn’t dire, they can replace Haren’s innings, and they might save some money in comparison to Haren, but they had Haren under team control. They made the decision to try and trade him so openly that everyone knew they were trying to trade him and they stepped up their efforts after they’d dealt Santana. They couldn’t come to an agreement with the interested teams (rumored to be the Cubs and Red Sox) who clearly tried to take advantage of the Angels’ frenzy to move him. Then they declined the option; then put out a halfhearted, “We’re willing to continue talking to Haren,” in a tone that drips with, “Thanks, take a hike.” All of this makes me wonder if the Angels have information the media and other clubs don’t regarding Haren’s health and botched the attempt to get a small piece for him before paying him off to leave. It doesn’t sound as if they’re all that confident in the 32-year-old returning to form and that’s fine, but it could’ve been handled a little better.

Either way, the whole process went in an odd fashion, keeping in line with the increasing perception of dysfunction in an Angels organization that was once decisive and whose hallmark was one of continuity and purpose.

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ALCS Preview and Predictions—New York Yankees vs Detroit Tigers

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New York Yankees (95-67; 1st place, AL East; defeated Baltimore Orioles 3 games to 2 in the ALDS) vs Detroit Tigers (88-74; 1st place, AL Central; defeated Oakland Athletics 3 games to 2 in the ALDS)

Keys for the Tigers: Tack on runs and keep the game out of the hands of Jose Valverde; hold down the Yankees’ bats as the Orioles did; get runners on base in front of Prince Fielder and Miguel Cabrera.

Valverde has been terrible this year. Yes, he has a fastball and a split that can get strikeouts, but the hitters—and especially the Yankees—know to give him a chance to start walking people and he’ll oblige. His strikeouts were way down this year with only 48 in 69 innings. The Yankees will be supremely confident even if they’re trailing going to the ninth inning with Valverde coming in. The Tigers have the offense to put up big numbers and they’ll feel better en masse if they’re not placing the game in the hands of Valverde.

The focus was on Alex Rodriguez because he wound up being benched, but A-Rod was benched because the Yankees had options to do so. They don’t have that option with their other struggling hitters Robinson Cano and Curtis Granderson. Nick Swisher isn’t going to be in the lineup every game if he doesn’t provide some offense early in the series. The Orioles did it with Joe Saunders, Jason Hammel, and Miguel Gonzalez. The Tigers are trotting out Justin Verlander, Doug Fister, Anibal Sanchez, and Max Scherzer. Maybe the more familiar pitchers will help the Yankees have better at bats.

With Fielder and Cabrera, the Tigers have bashers that the Orioles didn’t. If the Yankees are in a position where they have no choice but to pitch to one or both, they’ll do damage.

Keys for the Yankees: Hit; don’t hesitate to make lineup changes with Swisher or A-Rod; get similarly great starting pitching as they did in the ALDS.

Mark Teixeira is coming off of a calf injury that could’ve ended his season and is an injury that has a tendency of recurring even when it feels as if it’s back to normal. He’s running hard and his key stolen base set the stage for the Yankees to take the lead in game 5 against the Orioles.

Cano, on the other hand, is running at perhaps 60% of capacity. He does it because he’s allowed to get away with it. It’s unacceptable. I can deal with him struggling at the plate; I can live with an error once in awhile; but this attitude of, “I don’t have to run because I can hit better than 98% of baseball,” is a warning sign to the Yankees that they should think very long and seriously before handing Cano—at age 31 a year from now—a contract for 8-10 years at over $200 million. His laziness on the field could extend to off the field; what once came easy will no longer come easy; and if he’s not willing to run out a double play ball in the playoffs, then what makes anyone think he’s going to work hard off the field to stay in shape when his bat slows down and his reactions aren’t as quick?

He was actually worse that A-Rod in the ALDS because A-Rod has the excuse of age and declining bat speed. I had thought Cano would be mitigated because he wasn’t going to see any pitches to hit, but in the series with the Orioles, he saw plenty of pitches to hit. He just didn’t hit them.

Andy Pettitte, CC Sabathia, and Hiroki Kuroda are warriors; Phil Hughes has the fans and media acting skittish whenever he’s out on the mound, but he’s been able to handle the pressure games and do his job.

By my estimation, Swisher will get the first two games against Fister and Sanchez to see if he produces. If he doesn’t hit, by game 3 when Verlander is on the mound, Swisher will be sitting.

It was interesting that both Joe Girardi and Jim Leyland left their aces out on the mound in a game 5 when they definitely would’ve pulled them in favor of their closers in a less-important game.

What will happen:

The Tigers are not the Orioles. They’re not relying on a bunch of journeymen and youngsters. They’re trotting star power out there with Fielder and Cabrera. Austin Jackson and Quintin Berry are speed players who pose a threat on the bases. Alex Avila and Delmon Young have had big hits in the playoffs. With their starting pitching, they’re more capable of shutting out the lights on the Yankees than the Orioles. Sabathia is not pitching until game 4 after his complete game effort in game 5 of the ALDS against the Orioles.

Cabrera has brutalized the Yankees’ pitchers—link.

Fielder hasn’t been as successful, so the series is going to hinge on him and Young, both batting behind Cabrera.

Valverde has had success against the Yankees, but he can’t be trusted. Nor can Yankees’ closer Rafael Soriano who, despite pitching well against the Orioles, has not been trustworthy in playoffs past. Both Leyland and Girardi will be inclined to leave their starters in the game rather than entrust a close game to questionable bullpen arms when they can help it. Joaquin Benoit has been shaky for the Tigers and David Robertson gets himself into trouble seemingly for the sake of getting out of it and that’s not going to work with Cabrera and Fielder.

I don’t see how A-Rod, Swisher, and Granderson will suddenly rediscover their strokes against better pitching than they saw in the Orioles series. I have no idea what to expect from Cano.

Leyland has bounced the Yankees the two times he’s faced them in the playoffs and with the Tigers lineup performing better than the Yankees and an even matchup on the mound, the Tigers will stop the Yankees again.

PREDICTION: TIGERS IN SIX

ALCS MVP: PRINCE FIELDER

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American League Wild Card Play-In Game Preview—Baltimore Orioles at Texas Rangers

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It wasn’t until Thursday afternoon that the Orioles announced Joe Saunders as their starting pitcher. Since his acquisition from the Diamondbacks on August 26th, Saunders went 3-3 in 7 starts for the Orioles and was a consistent arm in the Orioles rotation for their run to the playoffs. He gives up a lot of hits, can be homer-prone, and accumulates high pitch counts because of his propensity to lose the strike zone. He doesn’t walk that many (39 in 174 innings in 2012), but he goes to a lot of deep counts. He doesn’t have the stuff to miss his spots and if he misses his spots in a homer haven like Texas against the Rangers lineup, the Orioles will be staring at an early crooked number and have to get the bullpen hot quickly.

Manager Buck Showalter will have someone in mind to take over in the first inning if Saunders gets into immediate difficulty. Many of the Rangers players have experience against Saunders from his days with the Angels, and Ian Kinsler has hammered him with a 1.464 OPS and 4 homers in 28 plate appearances. Nelson Cruz has 2 homers in 20 plate appearances, Josh Hamilton is 4 for 10 with a homer, and Geovany Soto is 4 for 6 in his career against Saunders with a homer and two walks.

Saunders struggled in his post-season opportunities with the Angels and has a 6.00 ERA in 18 innings.

We won’t see Saunders for long.

The Rangers are countering with their high-priced Japanese import Yu Darvish. After the consternation as to whether Darvish was going to be another Daisuke Matsuzaka and come to North America with great hype only to fail, perhaps a lesson was learned not to judge a player simply because of his nationality. Darvish and Matsuzaka are nothing like one another apart from both having come from Japan.

Darvish was made even more interesting due to his unique heritage of being half-Japanese and half-Iranian. He was everything that the Rangers could have wanted and more. He went 16-9 with a wonderful innings-pitched/hits ratio of 191/156, and 221 strikeouts. Bear in mind that he walked 89 and can be very wild. Darvish did not pitch against the Orioles this season.

Like Saunders, I wouldn’t expect Darvish to be sharp and in complete command of his enthusiasm and emotions in a home start to send his team deeper into the playoffs. The Rangers are reeling from having blown the AL West to the Athletics and don’t have the peace of mind and relief from just having made the playoffs that prior teams that blew the division like the 2006 Tigers did. There’s no 3 of 5 series to get themselves straight. This is one game and the Rangers need Darvish to be throwing strikes and focused. If his mind is going in twenty different directions, the Rangers are going to have the bullpen ready to go like the Orioles will.

Mike Napoli, Cruz, and Hamilton have all put up great showings in post-seasons past, but where is Hamilton’s head? His dropped pop-up and casual jog after the ball when it fell was indicative of a rampant disinterest as to whether the Rangers won the division or not. It could very well have cost them the game and ruined their season if they lose to the Orioles.

The Orioles have played with magic all season long. I’ve had enough of people saying they’re not a “good” team, or that they’re “lucky” as a justification for having ripped them as hopeless and a perennial loser before the season started. I picked them to finish in last place and was wrong. I’m happy to see an organization as historically significant as the Orioles back in the playoffs after a decade-and-a-half of futility and embarrassment. And what’s wrong with being lucky anyway? They’re opportunistic and cohesive; they get contributions from unexpected sources such as Nate McLouth and Lew Ford, and have stood toe-to-toe with teams like the Yankees, Red Sox, and Rays that shoved their faces in the dirt for far too long. They have bashers who can hit the ball out of the park with Mark Reynolds, Chris Davis, Adam Jones, and Matt Wieters.

Both teams, going in, are evenly matched with a decided advantage in the Orioles dugout with Showalter over Rangers’ manager Ron Washington.

The starters are not going to last long and this game will be a shootout. I would prefer not getting into a shootout with a Texas Ranger in Texas and that will be the Orioles downfall.

PREDICTION: Rangers 10—Orioles 7

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National League West—Buy, Sell or Stand Pat?

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San Francisco Giants

The Giants have taken pitching and defense to the extreme with an outfield that can catch the ball with anyone, can run and has almost no power production. Predictably Melky Cabrera has slowed down from his early-season pace and the Giants’ middle infield can neither hit nor field all that well. They need a bat in the middle of the infield at either second or short. I don’t believe in rumors that pop up out of nowhere, but if the Phillies are willing to concede the season, want to free up money to keep Cole Hamels and will take Brandon Crawford in exchange for him, Jimmy Rollins is from the Bay Area.

Would the Diamondbacks trade Justin Upton or Stephen Drew to a divisional rival? It depends on whether they truly think they’re still contenders. From the way they’re acting, it doesn’t appear as if they do.

Jed Lowrie would’ve been a nice addition, but he’s hurt.

The Giants don’t need much bullpen help, but GM Brian Sabean might get some anyway with a Brandon League-type arm.

Los Angeles Dodgers

Does this make any sense? The Dodgers are said to be heavy buyers and the Brewers are considering selling but the Brewers are 3 games behind the Dodgers in the loss column. The Dodgers were 42-25 on June 17th and 5 games up in their division. Since then, they’ve gone 7-19 since and are 3 games back.

But Ned Colletti is a buyer and he’s been validated in his strategy in the past. He’s willing to give up young players to get a veteran to help him win now. It sounds as if new ownership has given him the nod to go for it.

They need a starting pitcher and have been pursuing Ryan Dempster and checking in on every other available name like Zack Greinke, Hamels and whoever else. They need arms for the bullpen too, specifically a lefty like Joe Thatcher or Jose Mijares. Offensively, a first baseman who can hit the ball out of the park would significantly upgrade the offense and if the Twins are willing to eat some of his remaining contract, I’d pursue Justin Morneau. If he gets traded, I think it will be to the Dodgers.

Arizona Diamondbacks

Are they selling? Are they buying? Are they changing on the fly? Most importantly, is Kevin Towers still a “genius” as he was ridiculously called last season when the Diamondbacks won a surprising NL West title with a lot of luck?

The Diamondbacks starting pitching is a problem. Ian Kennedy won 21 games last season and is now 7-8. The big difference? Luck. His BAbip was .274 in 2011 and this season it’s .330. Daniel Hudson is out for the year with Tommy John surgery; Joe Saunders just came off the disabled list; Trevor Bauer was sent to the minors. If they’re trading Upton and intend on contending this season, they have to get a legitimate starting pitcher in the deal, one who can help them now.

Upton is so out there in trade talks that I’d like to know why the D-Backs are so desperate to trade him. He’s signed and an MVP-talent. What’s the problem?

Stephen Drew is also available. Unless they get a shortstop in return, I hope D-Backs’ fans enjoy watching Willie Bloomquist do whatever it is Willie Bloomquist does.

I don’t know what’s going on over there. I don’t know what they’re doing or what their intentions are and wouldn’t be surprised to find out that they don’t know either.

San Diego Padres

Sell, sell, sell.

The new talk is that they might keep Carlos Quentin and try to sign him, which is ridiculous. Quentin’s getting traded and they’d better do it sooner rather than later before he gets hurt again.

Chase Headley’s name is bouncing around but he’s under team control and plays a position that is hard to fill at third base. If they trade him, they’ll want 2-3 legitimate prospects.

Their bullpen is where teams are sniffing around. Thatcher is a lefty specialist that few are aware of, but is nasty. Huston Street is a hot name, but I prefer Luke Gregerson—he’s cheaper and better.

Nothing is off the table in San Diego and they’re going to be very busy as a potential kingmaker at the deadline.

Colorado Rockies

I’m ashamed to admit it, but I actually picked this team to win the NL West.

It’s a disaster and they not only have to decide what they’re doing with their players, but whether GM Dan O’Dowd is going to keep his job. If they’re making a change in the front office, does it make any sense to let the outgoing GM make important deals of veteran players and leave a potential mess for the next guy?

They’re said to want a lot of relievers Rafael Betancourt and Matt Belisle, both are valuable and useful for contenders. Jason Giambi would help either an NL team as a pinch hitter or an AL team as an occasional DH. Marco Scutaro is versatile all over the infield and can still hit and get on base. O’Dowd has said he’d listen on Dexter Fowler, but ownership should nix that idea. They’re going to trade Jeremy Guthrie somewhere and probably not get anywhere close to what they surrendered to get him—Jason Hammel and Matt Lindstrom. That’s if they get anything at all.

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National League—Mid-Season Award Winners

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Yesterday I listed my American League mid-season award winners. Now here’s the National League along with my preseason picks from my book.

MVP

1. Andrew McCutchen, CF—Pittsburgh Pirates

It’s a pleasure to watch a player who I knew would be a star the first time I saw him run out a triple begin achieve that vision; that he’s doing so for a team that hasn’t had a winning season since 1992 and suddenly finds itself in first place in the NL Central and is a legitimate playoff contender makes it all the more gratifying,

McCutchen is leading the Majors in batting at .362; he has a .414 OBP and .625 slugging with 18 homers and 14 stolen bases. It was almost as if he was sending a message on Sunday to let the world know that he’s not playing around; that this is the real McCutchen as he went 3 for 5 with 2 homers.

I’ve seen some random, inaccurate comparisons to Barry Bonds but in reality McCutchen is more like an Eric Davis-squared and is fulfilling what Davis was supposed to be but just barely missed becoming—an MVP.

2. Joey Votto, 1B—Cincinnati Reds

The Reds’ leader on and off the field is celebrating his new, long-term contract by replicating his MVP season of 2010. Votto is leading the Majors is OBP and OPS, has 35 doubles, 14 homers and is leading the NL in walks.

3. David Wright, 3B—New York Mets

It’s amazing what happens when a star player is healthy and playing in a home ballpark that no longer makes it necessary to change one’s swing to have a hope of hitting a few home runs.

Wright’s having his best season since 2007-2008 when he was an All-Star, MVP candidate, Silver Slugger and Gold Glove winner.

4. Ryan Braun, LF—Milwaukee Brewers

Those hoping he’d fall flat on his face after getting out of a PED suspension on a technicality are being horribly disappointed.

5. R.A. Dickey, RHP—New York Mets

Sylvester Stallone couldn’t conjure a story this ridiculous.

In my book I picked Troy Tulowitzki. He’s been injured.

Cy Young Award

1. R.A. Dickey, RHP—New York Mets

It’s not simply that he’s dominating and doing it with a knuckleball, but he’s throwing a knuckleball at 80+ mph and is able to control it. Hitters have looked helpless and he’s been the Mets’ stopper when they’ve appeared to waver in their greater-than-the-sum-of-the-parts play.

2. Matt Cain, RHP—San Francisco Giants

The ace of the Giants’ staff is not named Tim Lincecum anymore.

3. Johnny Cueto, RHP—Cincinnati Reds

Cueto’s ill-conceived comments about Tony LaRussa aside, he’s had a great year.

4. James McDonald, RHP—Pittsburgh Pirates

Another Pirates’ player whose talent I lusted after is fulfilling his potential. This is how fiction-style stories of teams rising from the depths are written.

5. Cole Hamels, LHP—Philadelphia Phillies

His rumored trade availability, pending free agency and “look how tough I am” antics are obscuring how well he’s pitched as the Phillies’ empire crumbles around him.

My preseason pick was Lincecum. I think we can forget that now.

Rookie of the Year

1.  Bryce Harper, OF—Washington Nationals

Considering his arrogant statements and behavior in the minors, I was dubious about his maturity. He’s proven me wrong and been an absolute professional handling the scrutiny like a 10-year veteran.

On the field, he’s the real deal.

2. Wade Miley, LHP—Arizona Diamondbacks

Miley has picked up for the inconsistent Ian Kennedy and the injured Joe Saunders and Daniel Hudson; the Diamondbacks would be buried in the NL West without him.

3. Todd Frazier, INF—Cincinnati Reds

He’s had more than a few big hits in picking up for the injured Scott Rolen.

4. Norichika Aoki, OF—Milwaukee Brewers

He’s 30 and a rookie in name only, but he’s batting .300 and has played well for the Brewers.

5. Wilin Rosario, C—Colorado Rockies

He’s struggled defensively and is a hacker, but he does have 14 homers.

My preseason pick was Yonder Alonso.

Manager of the Year

1. Clint Hurdle, Pittsburgh Pirates

He…doesn’t…take…crap.

2. Davey Johnson, Washington Nationals

Johnson was always a bridesmaid in the Manager of the Year voting. He still is. He’s dealt with the new age game that clearly grates on him with the pitch counts and the relentless “experts” from the outside questioning him; he’s also dealt with the Harper/Stephen Strasburg sideshows far better than other veteran managers dropped into the middle of it would.

3. Don Mattingly, Los Angeles Dodgers

They Dodgers have slumped lately, but Mattingly has proven he can handle pretty much anything.

4. Terry Collins, New York Mets

What he’s done with this team amid all the off-field distractions and non-existent expectations is Amazin’.

5. Bruce Bochy, San Francisco Giants

Lincecum’s been horrific and he lost his closer but still has the Giants hovering around first place in the NL West.

My preseason pick was Johnson.

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MLB Non-Tenders—List and Analysis

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Here’s a list of the MLB players who were not tendered a contract for 2012.

Among the non-tenders are some surprising names that are sure to draw widespread interest.

The most interesting/intriguing players are discussed.

Fabio Castillo; RHP; age 22—Texas Rangers

Dan Cortes; RHP; age 24—Seattle Mariners

Cortes is huge (6’6”, 235) and has put up solid strikeout numbers in the minors as both a starter and reliever. He can be wild but there’s a pitcher in there somewhere; his hits/innings pitched ratio of 659/691 and that he doesn’t allow many homers (50) make him an attractive look-see.

Willie Eyre; RHP; age 33—Baltimore Orioles

Cole Garner; OF; bats and throws right; age 27—Colorado Rockies

Garner’s shown the ability to hit, hit for pop and run in the minors and never got a chance in the big leagues.

Chris Gimenez; C; bats and throws right; age 29—Seattle Mariners

Gimenez is a journeyman who doesn’t hit, but he can throw from behind the plate.

Clay Hensley; RHP; age 32—Miami Marlins

Hensley can start or relieve and be useful-to-good if he’s healthy. He missed substantial time in 2011 with a shoulder problem.

Jeremy Hermida; OF; age 28 in January; bats left, throws right—San Diego Padres

Hermida’s become an “oh him” guy where everyone wants to pick him up and hope they unlock the talent that made him a first round pick. He has power and is a pretty good defensive corner outfielder.

Koyie Hill; C; age 33 in March; bats both, throws right—Chicago Cubs

Rich Hill; LHP; age 32 in March—Boston Red Sox

Jeff Keppinger; INF; age 32 in April; bats right, throws right—San Francisco Giants

Hong-Chih Kuo; LHP; age 30—Los Angeles Dodgers

This is a pitcher who’s going to be in demand, might get a multi-year contract and will either be a huge success or a disaster.

He’s had Tommy John surgery twice; he missed a large chunk of 2011 with an anxiety disorder and has had back problems.

But when he’s right, he’s unhittable with a near 100 mph fastball and wicked slider.

Expect the big guns to take a serious look at Kuo.

Aaron Laffey; LHP; age 27 in April—Kansas City Royals

Jose Mijares; LHP; age 27—Minnesota Twins

Peter Moylan; RHP; age 33—Atlanta Braves

The side-arming Moylan missed much of the 2011 season with a rotator cuff problem. Presumably the Braves want him back but didn’t want to pay him in arbitration.

Micah Owings; RHP/PH; age 29—Arizona Diamondbacks

Owings found a home in the bullpen in 2011 and he’s a weapon off the bench with his bat when he’s not pitching. I’d expect him back with the Diamondbacks.

Ronny Paulino; C; age 31 in April; bats right, throws right—New York Mets

No one on the Mets had a nice word to say about his work ethic or attitude.

Jo-Jo Reyes; LHP; age 27—Baltimore Orioles

Will Rhymes; 2B; age 29 in April; bats left, throws right—Detroit Tigers

Joe Saunders; LHP; age 30—Arizona Diamondbacks

Saunders gives up a lot of hits; a lot of home runs; his control and stuff aren’t particularly great; but he’s durable. If you put him on a good team that scores a lot of runs; plays their home games in a big ballpark; or has a good bullpen, he’ll win 15 games, lose 13 and give 200 innings.

Luke Scott; OF/1B; age 33; bats left, throws right—Baltimore Orioles

Scott missed most of 2011 with a shoulder injury. His home/away splits with the Orioles are atrocious—he murdered the ball in Camden Yards and was useless on the road. He has power and can be a veteran threat off the bench.

Doug Slaten; LHP; age 32 in February—Washington Nationals

Andy Sonnanstine; RHP; age 29 in March—Tampa Bay Rays

Ryan Spilborghs; OF; age 32; bats right, throws right—Colorado Rockies

Ryan Theriot; INF; age 32; bats right, throws right—St. Louis Cardinals

Eli Whiteside; C; age 32; bats right, throws right—San Francisco Giants

There are some players who will help certain teams—possibly help them a lot—but, as usual, the non-tender wire is the scrapheap where luck trumps analytical skill.

Unless we’re talking about the Pirates.

But they didn’t non-tender anyone they could’ve used as they did with Matt Capps two years ago.

Then again, they’re the Pirates and doing something stupid is part of their routine at one point or another. They just haven’t done it yet. But they will.

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Time For The Blue Jays To Move Up

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The Blue Jays are looking for a closer. They also could use another bat and definitely need a starting pitcher to function as an anchor for the young starting rotation.

Let’s take a look at what they could and should do.

Closer.

With the top tier closer off the market as Jonathan Papelbon signed with the Phillies and the Blue Jays reluctant to spend that amount of money on a short-reliever anyway, they have to look at the other options; these options might not be as splashy as the Papelbon signing, but they would fit into the Blue Jays budget and serve their purpose in the regular season.

The names of a lower tier/cheaper variety include the affordable, warted veterans Brad Lidge, Jonathan Broxton, Matt Capps and Joe Nathan.

Then there’s Heath Bell, who’s not young (34) and won’t demand as much as a Papelbon, Ryan Madson or Francisco Rodriguez.

The Blue Jays could wait and see if the market crashes on Madson or K-Rod; or they could try and make a trade for Joakim Soria, Huston Street or Carlos Marmol.

The prices for Soria and Marmol are likely to be exorbitant; I’d steer clear of Bell, Madson, Broxton, Capps and Street—they don’t fit for the Blue Jays.

That leaves Nathan and Lidge.

Lidge has had his highs and lows in the post-season; his confidence is hair-trigger and his injury history concerning; he’d be cheap and might be very, very good or very, very bad.

Nathan pitched well once he regained the job as stopper from Capps and in his second year back from Tommy John surgery, he’s a good gamble to regain his form at a highly affordable price.

What I would do: Sign Joe Nathan for 2-years, $11 million guaranteed with incentives to push it to $15 million and a mutual option for a 3rd year.

Starting pitcher.

In the summer when it looked like the Cardinals were going to clear salary to keep Albert Pujols, I suggested that the Blue Jays bring back the pitcher they drafted but non-tendered when he got hurt—Chris Carpenter.

Carpenter was signed by the Cardinals, allowed to recover, had his motion torn apart and rebuilt by Dave Duncan and developed into one of the best pitchers in baseball over the past decade.

But Carpenter signed a contract extension with the Cardinals.

What the Blue Jays need is a horse. Someone to eat innings and set an example for the talented youngsters Brandon Morrow, Kyle Drabek, Henderson Alvarez and current ace Ricky Romero.

There are pitchers like this available.

Mark Buehrle is team-oriented; can show the youngsters how to get by when they don’t have their good stuff; and when he’s on, he pitches no-hitters. He’d probably prefer to stay in Chicago (with the White Sox or Cubs); go to the Cardinals (who don’t have room for him barring a trade or three); or stay relatively close to the Mid-West. That shouldn’t dissuade the Blue Jays from pursuing him.

Hiroki Kuroda has wicked stuff and is mean, but it’s hard to see him leaving the West Coast.

Edwin Jackson is represented by Scott Boras and the Blue Jays won’t want to pay him—nor should they.

Roy Oswalt isn’t looking for a long term contract and won’t be interested in the pressure-packed, big city atmospheres of Boston or New York—he’d like to go to Texas or the Mid-West, but maybe he’d also listen to the Blue Jays.

Like Jackson, C.J. Wilson will cost more than they’d like to spend on a starting pitcher.

Javier Vazquez had major success in Canada with the Expos and was one of baseball’s best pitchers over the second half of last season for the Marlins; he has yet to decide whether he’ll pitch in 2012 (I suspect he will) and he’s had bad experiences in the American League overall and the American League East in particular with two hellish stints with the Yankees.

Trade candidates include Bronson Arroyo; Francisco Liriano; Trevor Cahill; Gio Gonzalez; Mike Pelfrey; Brett Myers; Wandy Rodriguez; and Joe Saunders.

All have positives and negatives. Of the group, the ones I’d serious pursue are Arroyo—he’s an innings-eater, is signed for $13 million through 2013, and has guts and experience in the AL East; Cahill—a sinkerballer who pounds the strike zone and has succeeded with a bad Athletics team; or Rodriguez—terrific stuff and an underrated competitor.

What I would do: Explore a trade for Arroyo and go after both Oswalt and Buehrle—see what the asking prices are, who wants to come to Toronto and will be the most reasonable.

A bat.

I would stay away from the massive financial commitment to Prince Fielder; I wouldn’t touch David Ortiz.

If Joey Votto is put on the market, any team would have to try getting him, but he’s going to cost a chunk of the farm system.

Here’s the best strategy: let Kelly Johnson leave; sign Carlos Beltran to play right field; shift Jose Bautista to third base; and move Brett Lawrie to second. When Beltran is the DH, they can play Edwin Encarnacion at third and have Bautista in right.

Beltran’s contract demands are no longer going to be Borased because he and Boras parted ways in the summer; he won’t cost any draft picks because it was inserted into his contract he can’t be offered arbitration by his prior club; and he could DH when his knees aren’t feeling up to playing the outfield—it might be more often than it would normally be due to the artificial turf at the Rogers Center.

He’d be a more athletic, versatile and cheaper alternative to Fielder; and is a quiet leader who has performed in the big city and during pressure-packed moments. The big concern I’d have with Ortiz is that there’s a chance he’s a “Red Sox player” who won’t perform when removed from the venue where he made his name and became the Big Papi character. That “character” is also an issue—while the Red Sox are used to him, his outspokenness might be seen as an intrusion for a new, young club.

What I would do: Sign Beltran for 3-years, $40 million and make the position switches listed above.

The above maneuvers would fill the Blue Jays needs; leave them financial room to add as they need to at mid-season; and put them in a legitimate position to contend for a playoff spot rather than hope that if everything goes right, then maybe they’ll hang around the outskirts while knowing that they had little-to-no chance.

They have the talent now; the Red Sox are vulnerable; the Yankees are aging.

It’s time to move up.

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Arizona Diamondbacks vs Milwaukee Brewers

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Arizona Diamondbacks (94-68; 1st place, NL West) vs Milwaukee Brewers (96-66; 1st place, NL Central)

Keys for the Diamondbacks: Get into the Brewers middle relief; keep the bases clear in front of Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder; get depth from their starters; jump out to a lead early in game 1.

The Brewers strength is their starting rotation and their power. The Diamondbacks have been a more-than-the-sum-of-their-parts club; they don’t have an overt “strength” despite the statistically similar pitching staff in comparison to the Brewers.

The Brewers starting pitching is so deep and so good that the Diamondbacks have to get their pitch counts up and hope the Brewers rookie manager Ron Roenicke jumps the gun either by pinch hitting for his pitchers or pulls them in the middle innings. In the late innings, they’ll have Francisco Rodriguez and John Axford to contend with.

Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder are both MVP candidates this season; the Brewers offense is top-heavy and limited with Yuniesky Betancourt and Casey McGehee occupying two spots in the lineup along with the pitcher; the Diamondbacks have to keep the runners off the bases to either mitigate how much damage Braun and Fielder can do or to pitch around them when necessary.

Ian Kennedy won 21 games and was masterful this season, but in his time with the Yankees he proved to be a pitcher who thought way too much about what he was doing; those types tend to take a pressure situation and use it to formulate ways in which they can make themselves “better” rather than doing what it was that got them to where they are in the first place. If Kennedy gets through the first 3 innings relatively unscathed, he’ll be fine—the Diamondbacks coaching staff has to get it through his over-analytical head that what he’s done all season long has worked and there’s no reason to change it because it’s the playoffs.

Daniel Hudson is still a young pitcher despite winning 16 games and providing over 200 innings in 2011; McGehee is 5 for 5 in his career against Hudson with a double and a homer; Fielder is 2 for 5 with a homer.

Joe Saunders is a control-based lefty who cannot be expected to hold down the Brewers lineup. Braun has 2 homers in 6 at bats vs Saunders. Gibson has to have a quick hook with Saunders.

The Brewers are loud and bullying. They have a lot to say, are overt in their mannerisms and take their cue from Nyjer Morgan and Fielder. They’re not particularly likable and Diamondbacks manager Kirk Gibson isn’t the type to let his players take a lot of junk. If the Diamondbacks jump to an early lead, that will prevent the Brewers from starting with their nonsense.

Keys for the Brewers: Depth from their starters; get the game to K-Rod and Axford; get runners on base in front of Braun and Fielder; lay down the law early with the Diamondbacks young starters.

This is why the Brewers made those drastic maneuvers last winter in getting Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum. They have two of the best pitchers in baseball fronting their rotation with Greinke and Gallardo; a very good one in Marcum; and the veteran Randy Wolf. Greinke has never pitched in  the post-season; nor has Marcum. Gallardo pitched 7 solid innings against the Phillies in the 2008 NLDS.

With K-Rod and Axford for the eighth and ninth innings, the Brewers are well-suited to get as many innings as they can from their starters and hand it over to a shutdown bullpen with two quality closers.

Morgan is good at getting on base and wreaking havoc with his legs and his obnoxious personality. With the all-or-nothing spots in their lineup occupied by Yuniesky Betancourt and McGehee, the Brewers have to get production from Braun and Fielder.

The Brewers are frontrunners; if they fall behind the Diamondbacks early, their bullying will be prevented.

Miguel Montero has hammered Greinke, Wolf and Marcum in his career and has to be watched.

What will happen.

The Diamondbacks were not expected to be here and take their cue from their ultra-competitive manager. They have some pop, they don’t strike out as much as they before GM Kevin Towers cleared out some of the wind producers, but they still strike out a lot. They have solid starting pitching, but it’s inexperienced in these types of circumstances; their bullpen isn’t as flashy as the Brewers, but it’s still good.

There will be tension in this series and how that goes might determine the outcome. The Brewers are loud and arrogant. Gibson isn’t going to tolerate that kind of attitude and will tell his players not to let it go by without response. The Brewers will push the Diamondbacks early, the Diamondbacks will push back and tempers will flare.

If Kennedy can get to the middle innings without giving up a crooked number and the Diamondbacks take the first game, they’ll be in great position to win the series. Justin Upton is 3 for 9 in his career vs Gallardo and Lyle Overbay 2 for 3.

If the Diamondbacks are going to win this series, they’ll be better-served to win the first game.

The Brewers infield defense is terrible; it didn’t hurt them during the season, but it will in the playoffs.

Far too impressed with themselves, the Brewers think they’ve accomplished something without actually having accomplished much of anything apart from making angry clubs throughout baseball with their behaviors led by Morgan.

The Diamondbacks functioned under-the-radar all season long and they’ve proven themselves again and again to be a formidable opponent that plays the game the way their manager did—hard.

The Diamondbacks are going to quiet the Brewers quickly and drop them in 4 games.

PREDICTION: DIAMONDBACKS IN FOUR.

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The 2011 Diamondbacks And The Towers Of Credit

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The Diamondbacks turnaround and success under first-year GM Kevin Towers has cemented his supposed brilliance. A brilliance that became more pronounced while he wasn’t a GM and had his name bandied about as a “perfect” choice for any number of GM jobs. Like a backup quarterback in football, Towers could do no wrong as long as he wasn’t specifically doing anything. It’s a safe place to be.

After being fired by the Padres, Towers was an assistant to Brian Cashman with the Yankees for the 2010 season; as various jobs opened up, he was a candidate for all of them. He was hired by the Diamondbacks and took steps to improve the club’s woeful strikeout rate by trading Mark Reynolds and in the process acquired a valuable bullpen arm in David Hernandez.

Among other moves Towers made like signing J.J. Putz at a reduced rate and retaining manager Kirk Gibson, there’s little he’s had to do with this current club—a club that’s in first place, streaking with 7 straight wins and has opened some daylight between themselves and the reeling Giants. They now lead the NL West by 5 games.

But does Towers deserve all the credit he’s getting?

Much of the foundation of this club was already in place and it’s been there for awhile. The two prior regimes acquired many of the players on the team now.

Joe Garagiola Jr. was a highly underrated GM who won a World Series, dealt with a micromanaging organizational gadfly, Buck Showalter; and an empty uniform, Bob Brenly.

Garagiola’s replacement, Josh Byrnes, contributed as did interim GM Jerry DiPoto. In fact, DiPoto warrants accolades more than Towers; he’s still with the Diamondbacks as an assistant and is a top GM candidate himself.

Garagiola acquisitions:

Stephen Drew, SS—1st round draft choice, 2004.

Justin Upton, OF—1st round draft choice, 2005.

Miguel Montero, C—amateur free agent from Venezuela, 2001.

Gerardo Parra, OF—amateur free agent from Venezuela, 2004.

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Byrnes acquisitions:

Chris Young, CF—acquired from the White Sox for Javier Vazquez in December 2005.

Ian Kennedy, RHP—acquired in a 3-way trade with Edwin Jackson for Daniel Schlereth and Max Scherzer.

Ryan Roberts, INF, OF—signed as a minor league free agent in November, 2008.

Josh Collmenter, RHP—15th round draft choice, 2007.

Paul Goldschmidt, 1B—8th round draft choice, 2009.

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DiPoto acquisitions:

Joe Saunders, LHP—acquired from the Angels in the Dan Haren trade in July 2010.

Daniel Hudson, RHP—acquired from the White Sox in the Edwin Jackson trade in July 2010.

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Towers acquisitions:

J.J. Putz, RHP—signed as a free agent for 2-years, $10 million.

Zach Duke, LHP—signed as a free agent for 1-year at $4.25 million with a club option for 2012.

Henry Blanco, C—signed as a free agent for 1-year at $1.25 million with a mutual option 2012.

Willie Bloomquist, INF—signed as a free agent for 1-year, $900,000 with a mutual option for 2012.

Brad Ziegler, RHP—acquired from the Oakland Athletics for Brandon Allen and Jordan Norberto in July 2011.

Then there’s the deal of Kelly Johnson to the Blue Jays for Aaron Hill and John McDonald; its results remain to be seen.

There are certain things that Towers is good at. He builds excellent bullpens on the cheap; he loads his bench with versatile, leader-type players; and he can clear salary. But to suggest that the Diamondbacks are a product of Towers is the same fractured logic that led to him being so widely feted during the time that he wasn’t even a GM.

The one superiorly smart thing he did was to retain Gibson as his manager. Gibson lobbied hard for the job and said that his team was not going to be a pleasant opponent; they’d take people out on the bases; pitch inside; and retaliate when needed. And they have.

This Diamondbacks team is more than the sum of their parts; they play very, very hard and on the edge—like their manager did. He brought the football mentality to baseball when he was a player, took everything seriously and was more interested in winning over personal achievement; that’s how this Diamondbacks group plays.

Did Towers see that in Gibson? Was he enamored of the intensity that Gibson was going to instill? Or was it more of a, “he’s here and he’s not going to cost a lot of money” for a team that wasn’t expected to come this far, this fast?

Maybe.

Towers is a good GM.

In public perception Towers is responsible for the rise of the Diamondbacks; how much he’s owed in reality is limited because a large portion of this club was in place on his arrival and is succeeding as a matter of circumstance rather than grand design on the part of the GM.

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