What’s next for the Reds after firing Bryan Price?

MLB

Cincinnati Reds pitching coach Bryan Price (38)

The Reds firing manager Bryan Price should come as no surprise. Their won/lost record of 3-15 is terrible in any context, but it’s incidental when determining Price’s fate. As discussed in my post for FanRag Sports here, Price had little chance of retaining the job beyond this season and if things went badly, it made sense to pull the trigger sooner rather than later.

Price was in a bad spot from the get-go when he got the job in 2014. Replacing Dusty Baker and taking over a team that made three postseason appearances under Baker and never gotten beyond the first round, hiring Price was change for its own sake. He just happened to be the guy sitting next to Baker who was not a Baker acolyte and got the opportunity for a limited level of continuity to see if the same core of players would have different luck with a new manager. They didn’t. In Price’s first year, they finished at 76-86. Then the housecleaning started in earnest. From there, he was a “bridge” manager who would oversee a rebuild and whose expertise – pitching – was the area in which their new foundation was to be built. Acquiring talented young arms Brandon Finnegan, Anthony DeSclafani and Luis Castillo among others was the basis of the rebuild. They had some decent power bats and could build around veteran star Joey Votto as the linchpin of the offense.

No one, least of all the Reds, were expecting the club to vault into contention in 2018. In a National League Central with the Cubs, Cardinals and Brewers, there was essentially no chance of that. But when the season began and the Reds found themselves buried after three weeks even with those three competitors struggling, what was the purpose of delaying the inevitable and letting Price twist in the wind?

Jim Riggleman has been named as the interim manager. The club made certain to emphasize the word “interim.” This is familiar terrain for the veteran baseball man Riggleman having been the guy sitting next to the guy who got fired and taking over in similar circumstances as manager of the Padres, Mariners and Nationals.

For those scoffing at Riggleman and pejoratively labeling him as an old-school retread, he’s a good baseball man who will, at minimum, stabilize the situation as they decide on their direction.

And what direction is that?

Immediately, speculation centered around three names: Barry Larkin, John Farrell and Joe Girardi.

Larkin is a Reds icon and baseball Hall of Famer. He was a great player and is a good, well-spoken person. He’s expressed an interest in managing. Owner Bob Castellini likes “name” managers – that’s how Baker got the job in the first place – and Larkin fits that criteria.

However, there are dangers with this kind of hire. First, what exactly are Larkin’s managerial credentials? Being a great player does not imply that he or anyone will be a great manager. In fact, it’s generally the opposite. The better players are often terrible managers because they grow frustrated with players being unable to perform as easily or as intelligently as they did. “I did it, why can’t you do it?”

The problem with hiring Larkin goes beyond his inexperience. Placing a young president of baseball operations and general manager, Dick Williams, in a position where he has foisted upon him a manager who is clearly not of his choosing figuratively castrates him. If Larkin doesn’t work out as manager, the club will be confronted with the choice of firing and creating a rift with a popular player and personality who happens to be from Cincinnati; or retaining him not because of his work, but because they don’t want to create a rift with a popular player and personality. Hiring someone who is bulletproof from being fired is not a good thing and there’s no guarantee he can do the job. Fans don’t go to games to see a manager manage if the team is terrible, so why risk it?

Farrell was mentioned in the FanRag post as the obvious successor. The Reds hired him as a scout. Perhaps the implied hesitation of the Riggleman interim hire is so Farrell can gauge the organization before taking over on the field. He’s not great, but he does come with a certain cachet after winning the World Series with the Red Sox and is a good pitching coach. While Price is also a good pitching coach, the pitchers have stagnated, regressed or gotten injured under his stewardship, so maybe a different voice is all that is needed.

The idea of Girardi might be alluring to Castellini, but this is not a good fit for Girardi. He won’t want to go to a team that is still in need of retooling. As the Yankees struggle without him, it would be understandable if he sits on the sideline, does some broadcasting, and has his Yankees tenure look better and better as the team tries to find its footing with new manager Aaron Boone. Two jobs that immediately that immediately come to mind as better fits for Girardi are the Cardinals and the White Sox. For him to jump back in with the Reds smacks of desperation to take a job, any job, and that’s something Girardi neither needs to do nor should do.

Price was not the problem, but he was not the solution either. Therefore, firing him was justified.

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2013 MLB Awards Predictions

2013 MLB Predicted Standings, Award Winners, Books, Cy Young Award, Games, History, Management, Media, MVP, Players, Stats

American League

MVP: Jose Bautista, Blue Jays

If the Blue Jays are contending as they’re supposed to, they’ll be doing it with Bautista having the type of year he had in 2010-2011 when he led the majors in home runs both years and had an OPS of .995 and 1.056.

Cy Young Award: Felix Hernandez, Mariners

He finally has an offense to score a few runs and won’t have to have people make a case and “search for points” to vote for him to win an award he should win outright.

Rookie of the Year: Aaron Hicks, Twins

He’s hit, hit with pop, gotten on base, and stolen bases at every minor league level and forced his way into the Twins’ starting lineup. Because the Twins are not expected to contend, they can let Hicks play until he grows comfortable without immediate pressure to send him down if he slumps.

Manager of the Year: Eric Wedge, Mariners

I’m expecting the Mariners to be contenders in a tough division and if they are, the manager will get the credit.

National League

MVP: Joey Votto, Reds

A healthy Votto, surrounded by power hitters and guys who will get on base in front of him will yield massive classic power numbers with a huge slugging and on base percentage. Plus he’s a Gold Glove candidate and the leader of the team.

Cy Young Award: Zack Greinke, Dodgers

Pitching in Dodger Stadium will keep his ERA supernaturally low.

Rookie of the Year: Hyun-jin Ryu, Dodgers

Ryu has an exploding fastball, a changeup, slider, curve and control. He won’t have to be the center of attention behind Clayton Kershaw and Greinke and there won’t be a large amount of attention paid to him as there would be for an import from the Far East who had expectations a la Daisuke Matsuzaka.

Manager of the Year: Davey Johnson, Nationals

Johnson’s team will be frontrunning from the beginning of the season to the end. Barring an unexpected team contending and having their manager given the credit to take the award away from Johnson, he’ll win the Manager of the Year for the Nats’ regular season success.

Paul Lebowitz’s 2013 Baseball Guide is now available on Amazon.com, Smashwords, BN and Lulu. Check it out and read a sample.

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Mike Trout’s Contract and the Needless Uproar

All Star Game, Award Winners, CBA, Cy Young Award, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Hall Of Fame, History, Management, Media, MiLB, MVP, PEDs, Players, Prospects, Spring Training, Stats

There’s been an absurd uproar and reaction of shock that the Angels chose to renew Mike Trout‘s contract for $510,000. This is strange considering that the constant storyline surrounding athletes is how overpaid they are. For the most part, it has little to do with their performance. Players who are at the top of the baseball pay scale like Albert Pujols, Alex Rodriguez, Joey Votto and Felix Hernandez are the examples given of players who are either not going to fulfill their paychecks with extended production into their late 30s or are considered anomalies and accused of PED use if they do perform.

In the realm of public perception, they can’t win. Of course they win in their bank account, but through no fault of their own, no matter what they do, it’s not going to be good enough.

Pujols’s contract is called a backend nightmare because he’s going to be paid $59 million two seasons after his 40th birthday.

A-Rod is breaking down physically, has $114 million due him with the very real possibility that the Yankees will eventually cut their losses of him and his constant sideshow of embarrassing drama, paying him to leave. They won’t even have the benefit of the extra income they thought they, as an organization, would accrue as A-Rod broke home run records. He probably won’t break the records at all and if he does, they’re sullied beyond all recognition due to his admitted PED use and recent allegations that their use has been ongoing.

Votto will be 30 in September and his 10-year, $225 million deal doesn’t kick in until 2014. He’ll be paid $25 million annually from age 35-39 and $20 million at 40. Plus Votto’s playing for a mid-market club, the Cincinnati Reds, for whom that contract might preclude them from putting commensurate talent around him.

Hernandez is a pitcher whose prematurely announced contract was put in jeopardy by red flags found in his elbow during his physical. By the time the contract news had been strategically leaked, neither he nor the Mariners could back out and protective language was inserted to shield the Mariners if he gets hurt.

Those who take down-the-line contracts to remain in their current venue are so rare that it’s a worldwide stunner when they make the decision that they don’t need to be the highest paid player in the world and that $85 million can buy just as much stuff as $200 million. Jered Weaver and Evan Longoria are players who have made that choice. They’re a rarity.

No matter where you stand on the issue of athletes’ pay, the way baseball functions can be manipulated to advantage the player, the club, or they can come to an agreement to share the risk with a preemptive, long-term deal. Once a player has exhausted his amateur eligibility, he’s at the mercy of the organization that drafts him. For the first three years of their major league careers, they’re paid at the whim of the team. The next three years they’re eligible for arbitration. Then they can become free agents. If they choose to do as Longoria did and sign a contract to give up their opportunity at arbitration and have their first couple of years at free agency bought out with guaranteed years and options, they can have a nice nest egg of $10-20 million regardless of whether if they flame out as players or become stars. It’s a gamble they take. It’s a gamble the team makes. It applies to everyone from Trout to the last player taken in the draft who manages to make it to the big leagues for a cup of coffee or is a late-bloomer and has a 20-year career.

You wouldn’t know that, though, from the indignant reaction to the Angels deciding to renew Trout’s contract for $510,000. Does Trout’s near-MVP season in 2012 have any bearing on the Angels’ decision to raise his salary by $28,000 from what he made as a rookie? Should it?

The Players Association makes the rules for all the players and it’s the players who instituted these rules. It allowed MLB to implement draconian constraints on newly drafted players because of the proffered reason to cut down on the huge signing bonuses amateurs receive. But the real, primordial reason is a “screw those guys” attitude that permeates established players and would, in a financial form of plausible deniable hazing, let the drafted players work their way up to making big money. It’s long been a point of contention for veteran major leaguers to see some kid taken at number 5 in the draft being handed an automatic $8 million bonus for nothing other than being a good amateur or having great tools. They dealt with it the best way they knew how. Of course it blew up in some of their faces as solid pitcher Kyle Lohse is sitting out because no one wants to give up the draft pick to sign him.

Eventually it affects everyone. These are the rules. The Angels aren’t beholden to an abstract code of right and wrong. They don’t have to give Trout a long-term contract extension if they don’t want to and they renewed his contract for an amount determined on their own volition. They don’t have to apologize or explain.

If Trout plays even 75% as well as he did in 2012, he’s going to get a $200 million contract from the Angels or someone else. He’ll have his freedom in five years. For now, he’s tied to the club that drafted him and that club can pay him whatever they choose to pay him under the parameters of the basic agreement. They decided on $510,000 and that’s what he’ll be paid. Or maybe they’re already planning a long-term contract to pay him for the next 6-8 years and buy out his arbitration years and free agency. Until that happens, his salary is what it is.

Is it fair?

Is it unfair?

It’s neither. These are the rules. It’s not slave wages and there’s no reason for the explosion of public ridicule for the Angels operating within the pay structure in Major League Baseball.

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

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

Wilson Ramos, C—Washington Nationals

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

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

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

Freddie Freeman, 1B—Atlanta Braves

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

Lucas Duda, LF—New York Mets

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

Bobby Parnell, RHP—New York Mets

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

Jacob Turner, RHP—Miami Marlins

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

Justin Ruggiano, CF—Miami Marlins

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

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

Billy Hamilton, CF—Cincinnati Reds

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

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

Jason Grilli, RHP—Pittsburgh Pirates

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

Kyuji Fujikawa, RHP—Chicago Cubs

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

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

Dale Thayer, RHP—San Diego Padres

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

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

Yasmani Grandal, C—San Diego Padres

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

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2012 MLB Rookie of the Year Award Winners

All Star Game, Award Winners, Ballparks, Books, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Games, History, Hot Stove, Management, Media, MiLB, MVP, Paul Lebowitz's 2012 Baseball Guide, Players, Prospects, Stats

Here are my picks for the Rookie of the Year in each league along with who I picked in the preseason.

American League

1. Mike Trout, CF—Los Angeles Angels

Many say Trout should be the MVP over Miguel Cabrera even though Cabrera won the Triple Crown, so how could he not be the Rookie of the Year?

Trout was recalled by the Angels at the end of April in a “save us” move as they started the season at 6-14 and were on the verge of panic. At age 20, he did everything possible to save the season with 30 homers, 49 stolen bases, a league leading OPS+ of 171, and Gold Glove defense in center field. He may not win the MVP—in fact, I think he won’t—but he’s Rookie of the Year.

2. Yoenis Cespedes, OF—Oakland Athletics

Cespedes was a risky signing for the Athletics and many, myself included, wondered what Billy Beane was thinking about. Cespedes started the season looking raw and unschooled; he was also frequently injured. Talent won out, however, and he hit 23 homers, stole 16 bases, with an .861 OPS.

3. Yu Darvish, RHP—Texas Rangers

Darvish shoved it to everyone who dismissed him under the absurd logic that he was from Japan and because Daisuke Matsuzaka was a disaster, that Darvish would be a disaster as well.

Darvish went 16-9, struck out 221 in 191 innings and showed dominating potential.

4. Ryan Cook, RHP—Oakland Athletics

Cook took over as closer when Grant Balfour slumped. Balfour eventually retook the role, but without Cook, the A’s wouldn’t have made the playoffs. He posted a 2.09 ERA with 80 strikeouts in 73 innings and made the All-Star team.

5. Will Middlebrooks, 3B—Boston Red Sox

His season was cut short by a broken wrist in August, but he entered a toxic atmosphere and replaced a former star player Kevin Youkilis, performing well enough to spark Youkilis’s trade to the White Sox. Middlebrooks hit 15 homers in 286 plate appearances.

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My preseason pick was Jesus Montero of the Seattle Mariners. He hit 15 homers, but struggled for extended periods.

National League

1. Bryce Harper, OF—Washington Nationals

The key for Harper wasn’t whether he could play at the big league level at 19—he probably could’ve held his own at 17—but if he would act like the spoiled, loudmouthed brat he was in the minors and engender vitriol not around the league (that was unavoidable), but in his own clubhouse.

He behaved with an impressive maturity for the most part aside from the usual bits of stupidity like nearly hitting himself in the eye with his bat during a runway tantrum, and did most of his talking on the field. He had 22 homers, 18 stolen bases, and an .817 OPS. His humiliation of Cole Hamels by stealing home after Hamels intentionally hit him was a thing of beauty.

2. Norichika Aoki, OF—Milwaukee Brewers

Very quietly, the 30-year-old Aoki had a solid all-around season. He played very good defense in right field; had a slash line of .288/.355/.433 with 10 homers, 37 doubles, and 30 stolen bases.

3. Wade Miley, LHP—Arizona Diamondbacks

With the injury to Daniel Hudson and Ian Kennedy falling back from his work in 2011, Miley saved the Diamondbacks from a season under .500. Miley began the season in the bullpen, but made the All-Star team as a starter and won 16 games with a 3.33 ERA and only 37 walks and 14 homers allowed in 194 innings.

4. Todd Frazier, INF—Cincinnati Reds

Scott Rolen missed a chunk of the season with his usual injuries and Joey Votto was out with knee surgery, but the Reds didn’t miss a beat on the way to 97 wins and the NL Central title in part because of Frazier’s power and production as a utility player. He hit 19 homers and had an .829 OPS in 465 plate appearances.

5. Lucas Harrell, RHP—Houston Astros

Somehow Harrell managed to finish with an 11-11 record, and a 3.76 ERA for an Astros team that lost 107 games and by August resembled a Double A team with all the gutting trades they made during the season.

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My preseason pick was Yonder Alonso of the Padres. He had a good season with 39 doubles, 9 homers, and a .741 OPS. He would’ve wound up around 6th or 7th on my list.

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2012 MLB Award Winners—National League Manager of the Year

All Star Game, Award Winners, Books, Cy Young Award, Games, History, Hot Stove, Management, Media, MiLB, Players, Playoffs, Prospects, Stats

Awards time is coming up fast in MLB. Yesterday I wrote why Bob Melvin should win the Manager of the Year award on the American League. Last month, I listed my Cy Young Award picks. Now, let’s look at the National League Manager of the Year along with who I picked before the season and who I think is going to win as opposed to who should win.

1. Davey Johnson, Washington Nationals

Johnson retuned to the dugout at mid-season 2011 at age 68 replacing Jim Riggleman and taking over a team that had been rebuilt from top-to-bottom and was on the cusp of taking the leap into contention. 2012 was supposed to be a step forward with a chance at making the playoffs if everything broke right. It turned out that everything broke right and then some.

Johnson straddled the line of development and winning; of protecting and letting fly and the Nationals won 98 games and the NL East title.

In his long managerial career, Johnson’s confidence has never been lacking. He’ll tell you his team’s going to win and tell you that it will be, in part, because they have Davey Johnson as their manager. He dealt with the rules and was onboard—reluctantly I think—with the limits placed on Stephen Strasburg. He didn’t hinder Bryce Harper learning how to play and behave in the big leagues and, for the most part, the 19-year-old exceeded expectations especially considering the reputation he carted with him from the minors as a loudmouthed brat.

The veterans have loved Johnson in all of his managerial stops because he lets them be themselves and doesn’t saddle them with a lot of rules and regulations. He doesn’t care about the length of their hair or that their uniforms are all identical as if they’re in the military. He treats them like men and they responded by getting him back to the playoffs.

2. Dusty Baker, Cincinnati Reds

The criticism Baker receives from the stat-obsessed is bordering on fanatical and doled out just for its own sake. He does and says some strange things sometimes, but so does every manager in baseball. He lost his closer Ryan Madson in spring training and replaced him with the unproven Aroldis Chapman and manipulated the bullpen well. The starting pitching was solid from top-to-bottom and remarkably healthy. The lineup lost star Joey Votto for a chunk of the season, but got through it and won the NL Central in a walk. The bottom line for Baker is this: he wins when he has good players and the players play hard for him. That’s all that matters.

3. Bruce Bochy, San Francisco Giants

Bochy is old-school and would fit in perfectly in the late 1800s with his gravely voice, gruff and grumbly—though likable—manner of speaking, and professional handling of his players. Like Baker, Bochy lost his closer Brian Wilson; dealt with Tim Lincecum’s poor season; and manipulated the lineup getting useful production from journeymen like Gregor Blanco after the suspension of Melky Cabrera.

4. Mike Matheny, St. Louis Cardinals

Matheny made some strategic mistakes as he was learning on the job after never having managed before, but the Cardinals made the playoffs and got past the expected pains of evolution following the departures of Tony LaRussa, Dave Duncan, and Albert Pujols. Matheny coaxed a career year out of Kyle Lohse, transitioned Lance Lynn into the starting rotation and an All-Star berth, and overcame the injuries to Lance Berkman and Yadier Molina.

5. Fredi Gonzalez, Atlanta Braves

Gonzalez learned from his mistakes by not burning out his bullpen and overcame injuries and questions in the starting rotation and lineup to win 94 games. Gonzalez and pitching coach Roger McDowell developed Kris Medlen; didn’t abuse Craig Kimbrel; overcame the struggles of Randall Delgado and Tommy Hanson; and the injuries to Brandon Beachy and Jonny Venters. Dan Uggla dealt with prolonged slumps; Chipper Jones was in and out of the lineup; and the Braves went through multiple shortstops, but still emerged in a tough division to make the playoffs.

My preseason pick was Johnson and that’s who’s going to win.

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San Francisco Giants vs Cincinnati Reds—NLDS Preview and Predictions

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San Francisco Giants (94-68; 1st place, NL West) vs Cincinnati Reds (97-65; 1st place, NL Central)

Keys for the Giants: Get depth from the starting pitching; keep the Reds hitters in the park; don’t fall behind and need to score against the Reds bullpen.

The Giants won the World Series two years ago behind a deep starting rotation and a dominating closer in spite of a limited lineup. They still have a deep starting rotation and it’s probably deeper than it was in 2010, but they’re without closer Brian Wilson. This series—and the Yankees series against the Orioles for that matter—will be a good case study of how important it is to have a “name” closer in the playoffs. The Giants have survived with a closer-by-committee with Santiago Casilla, Sergio Romo, Jeremy Affeldt, Javier Lopez, and Clay Hensley. They’d probably prefer to have their starters throw a complete game or three to prevent the question from even being asked of how much they miss Wilson.

The Reds have a lineup full of power hitters and will also have bench players (depending on who among Todd Frazier and Scott Rolen are in the starting lineup) who can go deep.

The Reds bullpen has a diverse set of arms led by Aroldis Chapman and his searing 100+ mph fastball and 122 strikeouts in 71.2 innings.

Keys for the Reds: Get ahead, stay ahead; hit the ball out of the park; try and be patient to get the Giants’ starters’ pitch counts up.

The Reds pitching from top-to-bottom is too good to fall behind them. Johnny Cueto had a breakout, 19-win year; Mat Latos overcame a slow start to slot in neatly behind Cueto; Bronson Arroyo is a solid veteran who won’t be intimidated by the post-season. With that bullpen, no team wants to fall behind late in games, but the Reds have so many power bats—Joey Votto, Jay Bruce, Ryan Ludwick, and Brandon Phillips—that keeping them in the park is a difficult order. On the bright side for the Giants, the Reds don’t manufacture runs with walks and stolen bases, so if the Giants keep them in the park, they have a great chance of low scores.

The Giants starting pitching has the ability to turn out the lights on any lineup no matter how good that lineup is, so the Reds need to try and get early leads and hand the games over to their pitchers.

What will happen:

If the Reds play poorly early in the series, it’s only a matter of time before the “witty” Dusty Baker critics make coarse jokes about his recent illnesses and suggest that the Reds would’ve been better off if he’d stayed sick. I guarantee it.

With Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner, and a resurgent Tim Lincecum, the Giants pitching is among the best in baseball. The Reds have talent in their starting rotation, but it’s not on a level with that of the Giants. I don’t trust Cueto in a playoff game. Arroyo, as gutty as he is, is hittable.

The Giants offense doesn’t have the lightning strike power that the Reds do, but the Giants wound up 6th in the National League in runs scored, while the Reds were 9th. Buster Posey is a bona fide star who might win the MVP in the National League. After his dreadful first half, Lincecum quietly finished the season respectably, if not in his Cy Young Award form.

The Giants’ pitching will keep the Reds in the park during the first two games in San Francisco. Because the Reds are aggressive at the plate and limited on the bases, they have to hit the ball out of the park to score. If that doesn’t happen, they have a hard time winning. The Giants have speed, some power, and more ways to score without the homer than the Reds do.

This series will come down to starting pitching and the Giants starting pitching is battle-tested and simply better.

PREDICTION: GIANTS IN FOUR

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Mid-Season Player Trade Predictions—National League

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Yesterday I predicted where various available American League players would wind up (or if they won’t be traded at all). Now let’s have a look at the National League. Bear one thing in mind: the irony shouldn’t be lost on you that Brett Myers was traded from the Astros to the White Sox and the “insiders” and rumormongering schlock sites had no inkling that Myers was even on the White Sox’ radar. They don’t have any more viable information than you or I do and are either making things up or working hand-in-hand with organizations and one another to wag the dog and accumulate webhits, attention and increase advertising rates.

Know what you’re reading and determine credibility based on logic and intelligence, not a circular reputation based on a shoddy foundation.

New York Mets

Ike Davis, 1B—He hasn’t been rumored anywhere that I’ve seen, but if they can move Davis as part of a deal for Justin Upton, it has to be explored. Davis has power, is a good fielder and his teammates love him, but he strikes out way too much; is streaky; and has a growing negative reputation with the umpires as a whiner. If he thinks the whining is going to get him close calls, he’s sorely mistaken. He won’t be traded in-season; in the off-season, the Mets will listen.

Daniel Murphy, 2B/1B/3B—He can hit and does have the ability to hit the ball out of the park 10-15 times a year in spite of his low power numbers in 2012; his defense at second base has been serviceable and no one works harder, but is he going to be the Mets’ second baseman when they take the next step into contention? If not, they should explore dealing him for pitching help. He’ll go as part of a deal for Huston Street so the Mets can get Jordany Valdespin into the lineup.

Scott Hairston, OF—The talk of trading the likes of R.A. Dickey at his “high value” is ridiculous, but they could get bullpen help for Hairston. I doubt they trade him.

Jason Bay, OF—They could get a similarly bad contract like Chone Figgins and probably money to pay off a worse contract like Vernon Wells. It would be best for everyone, but Bay’s not going anywhere now. They’ll release him after the season.

Miami Marlins

Carlos Zambrano, RHP—Nobody wants him and after yesterday’s display of 6 walks in 3.1 innings and his awful pitching of late, when the Marlins start making the inevitable changes, they’ll just release him and make a big show of it as evidence of them “doing something”.

Hanley Ramirez, 3B/SS—They won’t trade Hanley in-season. If they make a move, it’ll be over the winter. Even then, I doubt they’ll pull the trigger. In fact, amid all the talk of a “Marlins sell-off”, they can’t clean out the house halfway into the first season in a new park just because the flawed team they put together hasn’t performed. Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson and Giancarlo Stanton aren’t going anywhere…for now.

Logan Morrison, LF/1B—LoMo is another matter. He’s too one-dimensional to be this much of an organizational pest. He irritated the club with his tweeting and subversive behaviors and if they’d like to set an example, this is the way to do it.

The Orioles need a bat who can hit the ball out of the park.

Ricky Nolasco, RHP—Nolasco needs a change of scenery and if teams realize the Marlins are moving some pieces after the names that are floating around now are off the board, Nolasco’s a pretty good consolation prize. The Cardinals could use him.

Anibal Sanchez, RHP—Another former Red Sox’ farmhand like Ramirez, he’s available and very good when he’s healthy. Back to the Red Sox he goes.

Heath Bell, RHP—Who wants the contract? Who wants him? Nobody and nobody.

Omar Infante, 2B—They won’t trade him.

John Buck, C—Who wants him?

Greg Dobbs, 3B/OF/PH—The Giants need a bat off the bench.

Philadelphia Phillies

Cole Hamels, LHP—They’re going to sign him.

Cliff Lee, LHP—Here’s a flash for the Joel Shermans of the world of which there are far too many: THEY’RE NOT TRADING LEE!!!!

Shane Victorino, OF—The Yankees are being pushed to acquire an outfielder they don’t need and are said to have asked about Victorino. He’ll be traded and I say to the Indians.

Ty Wigginton, INF—He’s a Kirk Gibson-type player who’d help the Diamondbacks as a corner infielder and bat off the bench.

Hunter Pence, OF—They’re not trading Pence.

Jimmy Rollins, SS—If they’d like to free up some money for Hamels, they could explore getting rid of Rollins. The Giants like veterans, but Brandon Crawford hit a grand slam yesterday; they demoted Brandon Belt; if the Giants look for a bat, it will be at first base. Nobody’s taking Rollins.

Juan Pierre, OF—The Cardinals could use bench help and speed.

Placido Polanco, INF—Back to the Tigers.

Joe Blanton, RHP—The Orioles need a starter to gobble innings.

Milwaukee Brewers

Zack Greinke, RHP—Greinke won’t sign long-term with the Brewers, but they’re close enough to contention to hang onto him and take the draft pick when he leaves.

Randy Wolf, LHP—Another pitcher who will be on the second tier after the names come off the board. He’ll go to the Dodgers.

Shaun Marcum, RHP—He won’t be traded.

Aramis Ramirez, 3B—Nobody’s taking that contract.

Francisco Rodriguez, RHP—Back to the Angels.

Chicago Cubs

Matt Garza, RHP—The blogosphere went bonkers when Garza was yanked from last night’s game after 3 innings. “Was he traded?” “Where was he traded?”

He wasn’t traded. He had cramping in his triceps.

Unless the Cubs are knocked over, why trade him now? He’s under contract for 2013 and whatever they’d get now, they can get after the season. He’ll stay.

Ryan Dempster, RHP—Don’t buy into the teams that are supposedly “out” on Dempster. He’s a Jim Leyland-type of pitcher and the Tigers need starting pitching.

Starlin Castro, SS—They’ll listen but won’t move him in-season.

Geovany Soto, C—If he’s moved, it will be in the winter.

Bryan LaHair, 1B—With the Giants sending Belt to the minors, they need a bat at first base.

Carlos Marmol, RHP—I don’t know who’d want him. He strikes out a lot of hitters, but walks a lot as well.

Alfonso Soriano, LF/DH—The Cubs would have to pay off his remaining contract ($36 million for 2013-2014), but what’s the difference at this point? I doubt anyone’s taking him even for free.

Houston Astros

Wandy Rodriguez, LHP—He’s owed up to $26 million for next season with his 2014 option becoming guaranteed with a trade. The Blue Jays need pitching and have money and prospects to deal.

Wesley Wright, LHP—The Rangers need another lefty reliever for the playoffs.

Arizona Diamondbacks

Justin Upton, RF—They’ve made such an overt display of putting him on the market, they pretty much have to trade him now. The Rays will jump in with a package and hope that the unification of the Justin with his brother B.J. Upton will inspire B.J. to play hard over the second half and perhaps steal another playoff spot.

Stephen Drew, SS—The Braves need a shortstop and Paul Janish ain’t it.

Ryan Roberts, INF/OF—Roberts is a utility player who had a career year in 2011 and the Diamondbacks began to think he’s an everyday player. They’ll keep him and put him back where he belongs as an extra bench man.

San Diego Padres

Chase Headley, 3B—Their demands are high for a controllable player and won’t trade him.

Carlos Quentin, LF—He and the Padres are supposedly nearing a contract extension.

Huston Street, RHP—He’ll go to the Mets.

Luke Gregerson, RHP—They won’t trade him.

Clayton Richard, LHP—They won’t trade him.

Joe Thatcher, LHP—The Indians need another lefty out of the bullpen.

Edinson Volquez, RHP—They won’t trade him.

Colorado Rockies

Dexter Fowler, CF—They’d listen but won’t move him. If GM Dan O’Dowd goes to ownership with a deal that’s as big as it would be to trade Fowler and ownership says to hold off, O’Dowd should start getting boxes for his stuff and prepare to clean out his office.

Rafael Betancourt, RHP—Back to the Indians.

Ramon Hernandez, C—The Rays have interest and that’s where he’ll go.

Jason Giambi, 1B/PH—The Reds need a lefty bat off the bench who can play sparingly at first base until Joey Votto is 100%.

Carlos Gonzalez, OF—More nonsense from Joel Sherman who said recently that the Yankees (shocking coming from Sherman) should go after Gonzalez. He’s not available even to the Yankees who, supposedly, are preordained to be handed whatever they want whether it be Lee, Gonzalez or whoever.

Gonzalez’s not getting dealt.

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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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How Are Super-Long Contracts Good For Sports?

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Zach Parise and Ryan Suter signed matching 13-year contracts with the Minnesota Wild reportedly worth a total of $196 million. This follows Sidney Crosby’s contract with the Penguins for 12-years at $104.4 million. Crosby is just getting over serious concussion problems which would presumably make the contract uninsurable. This madness appeared to begin with the Islanders’ retrospectively idiotic 15-year, $67.5 million contract they gave to Rick DiPietro in 2006 for which they’ve gotten absolutely nothing mostly due to injuries.

I’m not well-versed enough in hockey to be able to judge the wisdom of the matching deals the Wild just game to Parise and Suter, but as sports has tried to rein in salaries in a multitude of ways with caps, edicts and punishments, teams have found creative ways to circumvent those caps or to delay them from maturing. One of those methods has been to give contracts that, for athletes, are giant rolls of the dice.

Parise is 28, Suter is 27. Basically the Wild will be paying these players until they’re 41 and 40. For every Nicklas Lidstrom, Steve Yzerman, Gordie Howe and Chris Chelios who maintain production until they’re 40 and beyond, there’s an Eric Lindros, Pat LaFontaine and Chris Pronger who have their careers shortened due to head injuries; there’s a Peter Forsberg who had to retire from the NHL at 34 to play in the less violent Swedish league and made a brief comeback to the NHL and retired again at 37; there’s a Cam Neely whose degenerative hip condition forced him to retire at 30.

Baseball has taken to this contractual trend. In recent years Albert Pujols, Joey Votto, Prince Fielder, CC Sabathia and Joe Mauer have signed deals of 7 years and beyond. Alex Rodriguez is the perfect example of an elite player whose skills are eroding but will be paid as an elite player for another five years after this one. It’s risky with position players and deranged with pitchers. Teams have it in mind that they’re probably going to be paying their players for a year or two in which they can’t play, but that doesn’t help them when it happens; when the inevitable decline occurs.

The concept of offering more years to spread the money out makes sense, but of course it developed that the players wanted high annual salaries and the 7-10 year deals.

It’s one thing to give that contract to someone working for Apple. If they’re creating salable products that will last, it makes sense. The likelihood of a debilitating injury or condition to a person who’s not using his bodily skills to achieve his mandate are extremely small. But for an athlete? Paying them until they’re in their late-30s and early-40s is financial suicide especially in the era of PED testing and scrutiny.

Eventually those contracts—not the players but the contracts—are marketable and movable because the deals are winding down and they can be traded for another overpaid, underperforming player so the process can be started all over again.

The Rays are a club that has been pointed to as a paragon of fiscal sanity and fearlessness in trading players in their prime to restock the farm system. But it’s not a great example. Functioning in a unique vacuum, the Rays’ circumstances of having little money to work with; not much of a media and fan presence haranguing them to do certain things; that they have an owner and GM who trust one another and are completely on the same page; and have had success doing what they’re doing to validate when they choose to trade a Matt Garza for prospects gives them freedom that a Brian Cashman doesn’t have; that Theo Epstein didn’t have with the Red Sox.

Recently a “talent evaluator” from a club other than the Mets supposedly suggested that the team should consider trading R.A. Dickey while he’s at his “high value”.

The Mets are in contention; Dickey is a remarkable story; he’s a fan attraction; and he’s pitching brilliantly.

Trade him? Really? How’s that going to be explained and what could they possibly get to make it worth the fallout?

It’s remarkably easy to be Mr. Fearless when you’re little more than a voice in the woods giving advice to the actual decisionmakers. It’s the GMs and assistant GMs who have an owner hanging over them and saying, “we have to keep X player because the fans come specifically to see him and he makes us a lot of gate money”; or to have the ignorant, agenda-driven media following editorial orders and stoking fan response to sell newspapers, attract callers and beget webhits.

Making courageous statements from the sideline isn’t the same thing as having to answer for them when they’re implemented. A decision might be the right one and it could take 3-5 years to be accurately gauged. By then the GM who made the move might’ve been fired long ago.

The intention for the salary constraints was to prevent the larger clubs with more money from swallowing up the smaller clubs who didn’t have the means to compete, but teams and executives are constantly looking for solutions and loopholes to beat the system. That’s what Scott Boras is currently doing with the draconian draft rules that are cutting into a chunk of his business.

Bet that he’ll come up with a way to beat that system.

Bet that teams are thinking of ways to get their hands on players who aren’t willing to adhere to those draft rules.

The intentions of the caps and limits were reasonable, but that doesn’t mean they’re wise.

The Wild got their men and they’ll have them until they’re old. Only time will tell whether today’s splash will have been worth it. Logic and history says that the answer is no.

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