Odds On Tanaka And Why He’ll End Up With The Yankees

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Masahiro Tanaka’s deadline to pick a team is Friday. In the past, the waiting game on Japanese players was based on whether the team that won the bidding would make a sufficient offer to sign the player. Limited as it was to a single team, the Japanese import had the options of either using the dull axe—which the team knew would never leave his belt—of going back to Japan, or making the best deal he could.

There was pressure on the team that won the bidding as well. After a month of promotion, ticket sales and hype, winning the bidding meant the player had to be signed.

With the new rules, Tanaka’s a pure free agent with the forgettable and meaningless deadline. The threat of him going back to Japan to play is less than zero. Because of that, instead of the manufactured drama of “will he or won’t he?!?” sign a contract in time, the speculation is where he’ll wind up.

You can log onto the schlock sites, sports news sites and clearinghouses and fall into their trap. Preying on the fans’ desperation for information about Tanaka, they’re trolling you with information that, at best, stretches even the most elastic boundaries of common sense. The sheeple are clamoring and clawing for a minuscule smidgen of news about Tanaka. For the rank-and-file fan rooting for teams out of the bidding, it’s a distraction in the cold winter. For fans of the teams that are in the running for the pitcher, they’re looking for validation as to why their team will get him and “win” the sweepstakes.

Ignoring all the ancillary nonsense, let’s look at the realistic odds based on what we actually know and not what’s planted to garner webhits with speculation, whispers and rumors from invisible sources that might not exist.

New York Yankees

Odds: 1-2

Initially, I thought the Yankees were one of the leading contenders, but not alone at the top of the list. In my estimation, they were even with the Mariners and Cubs. Now, however, the Yankees are the best bet to get Tanaka. In a similar fashion as the Yankees being seen as a darkhorse for Mark Teixeira while the Red Sox were the team with whom he was widely expected to sign, the Yankees dove in and got their man. With Tanaka, they don’t have much of a choice anymore. Their starting pitching is woefully short and in spite of the offense they’re going to get from the outfield additions Carlos Beltran and Jacoby Ellsbury and catcher Brian McCann, their infield is currently a series of aged question marks, journeymen and massive holes. The bullpen is a mess; the starting rotation is a roll of the dice. Tanaka won’t solve those problems if he solves any at all—no one knows how a Japanese player will transition—but they need him not just on the field but at the box office.

It’s unconscionable that the Yankees have had everything go their way in terms of the Alex Rodriguez suspension, that they received inconceivable salary relief in their goal to get below $189 million and they’re still probably not going to be able to do it. Since they’re near the limit and have those holes to fill, it no longer makes sense for them to put forth the pretense of getting below the limit at the cost of losing out on Tanaka and having a roster that’s equal to or worse than the one that won 85 games last season.

They don’t have any other options apart from pitchers they don’t want in Ubaldo Jimenez, Matt Garza, Ervin Santana and Bronson Arroyo. They could trade Brett Gardner for a middling starter, but that’s not going to sell tickets for a fanbase looking at this team and wondering where they’re headed.

The Yankees have every reason to tell Tanaka’s representative Casey Close that if there’s an offer that surpasses theirs, to come back to them for a final offer to get their man.

Los Angeles Dodgers

Odds: 2-1

When Mike Tyson was at the height of his powers as the heavyweight champion of the world and didn’t have the tax collectors garnishing his salary to pay his debts, he purchased on whims based on his limitless bank account. One story detailed Tyson driving past a luxury car dealership and driving in with one luxury car to purchase another one. He did it because he felt like it, because he could.

That’s the sense I get with the Dodgers.

Whether or not you believe the stories of Tanaka’s wife preferring the West Coast, if Tanaka signs with the Dodgers—or anyone—it will be because that’s the team that offered him the best deal. The Dodgers have locked up Clayton Kershaw and have Zack Greinke. If Tanaka’s anywhere close to as good as advertised, that top three is 1990s Braves-like, if not better. They have the money to spend and both Chad Billingsley and Josh Beckett are coming off the books after 2014. He’s not a need for them. If they sign him it’s because they wanted to. It’s as good a reason as any when dealing with a payroll whose limit appears to be nonexistent.

Seattle Mariners

Odds: 6-1

The Mariners haven’t been mentioned prominently in recent days, but there are numerous reasons not to count them out. They signed Robinson Cano, but the other “big” additions they made were Corey Hart and Logan Morrison. These were downgrading moves from Raul Ibanez and Kendrys Morales.

Other than Cano, what have they done to get significantly better from what they were in 2013? Tanaka will slot in right behind Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma and be in front of Taijuan Walker and James Paxton. The injury to Danny Hultzen limits some of the Mariners’ vaunted pitching depth and they need another arm and another name to draw fans. Cano will spur some ticket sales and if they lose out on Tanaka, the fans might draw some slight enthusiasm from Garza, Santana or Jimenez, but not as much as they’d get from Tanaka. They could trade for David Price, but that would cost them Walker plus others.

No matter who they sign, the Mariners won’t have fans coming to the ballpark if they’re 20-30 after 50 games, Cano or no Cano. Tanaka would bring fans into the park and it’s a good situation for him.

There’s talk that the Mariners are close to the limit on their payroll and they need approval from ownership before spending more on the likes of Tanaka. If they don’t continue to add, the signing of Cano was done for show and little else.

Chicago Cubs

Odds: 8-1

Of course there’s no connection between the two, but it would be interesting if Cubs team president Theo Epstein goes all-in with Tanaka after his negative experience with Daisuke Matsuzaka with the Red Sox. The Cubs are in the middle of their rebuild and Epstein is loading up on draft picks and international signings. Giving Tanaka the time to grow accustomed to North America with a team that’s not expected to contend could be good for him. If Epstein’s plans work, by the time Tanaka’s acclimated, the Cubs will be prepared to take a step forward with him at the front of their rotation.

The Cubs have done absolutely nothing at the big league level this off-season apart from that…unique…new mascot. Ownership, if not overtly meddling, is getting antsy. The Cubs’ attendance is declining and judging by the roster they’re putting out there as of now, that’s not going to change without a splash. Tanaka is that splash.

I doubt Epstein is going to go above and beyond what the other suitors offer while the Yankees will and the Dodgers might, making Tanaka landing with the Cubs unlikely.

Arizona Diamondbacks

Odds: 50-1

He’s not going to Arizona. They don’t have the money to match the other teams. Why they’re even putting on a front of going hard after Tanaka is bizarre. Never mind that he’s still an unknown, he’d immediately walk into the Diamondbacks’ clubhouse and be the highest paid player on their roster by almost $10 million per season. The expectations there would be far more intense than they’ll be in the other venues. It’s a silly idea.

By Friday, we’ll know where Tanaka’s going. But all logic and reality dictates that he’ll end up with the Yankees for $130 million-plus, for better or worse.




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The Costas Factor

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I’ll preface this by saying I agree with Bob Costas’s premise that the overt celebrations in baseball when there’s a walkoff of any kind, especially a walkoff homer, have gone so far over-the-top that it appears as if a relatively meaningless game in June is the seventh game of the World Series. We’re not that far away from players gathering at home plate on a first inning home run like they do in college and high school. It’s bush league, amateurish and ruins the specialness of games in which there should be a legitimate celebration: no-hitters, perfect games, milestone achievements, post-season clinchings and series victories.

When presenting the afternoon’s baseball highlights, however, Costas gave a mini-editorial with smiling disdain while calling the Mets’ celebration after winning in walkoff fashion on Kirk Nieuwenhuis’s home run “another indication of the ongoing decline of Western civilization.” The clip is below.

The truth of the matter regarding these celebrations is that everyone does it. Costas’s snide comment regarding the second division Mets and Cubs is accurate in the overriding silliness of the act, but the “classy” Cardinals and Yankees do it as well. Prince Fielder celebrated a walkoff homer with teammates by acting as if he was a bowling ball and knocking over the pins (his teammates) and got drilled for it the next year. Kendrys Morales, then of the Angels—a club that took their cue on stoicism and professionalism from manager Mike Scioscia—severely damaged his ankle leaping onto home plate and lost a year-and-a-half of his career because of it. They’re not going to stop doing it no matter how badly Costas wants to go back to 1960 with players celebrated by shaking hands like they’d just had a successful meeting at IBM.

Frankly, I couldn’t care less what Costas says. As he’s aged and his status has grown as a crossover broadcaster whose opinions on a wide range of subjects are given weight, he’s turned increasingly crotchety, preachy, smug and obnoxious. He’s almost a likable Bill O’Reilly with a smile—sort of how Bill O’Reilly was when he was hosting Inside Edition and when The O’Reilly Factor first started before market dictates and egomania forced him to lurch far to the right and put forth the persona of screaming in people’s faces as an omnipotent pedant. Costas has the forum and gets away with it because he’s Bob Costas, therefore he does it and this will happen again unless his bosses tell him to can it.

This is only a small blip in comparison to his halftime op-ed regarding gun control the day after Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher’s murder/suicide last December. That clip is below.

Speaking of the decline of Western civilization, the conceit that is evident everywhere stemming from the me-me-me attitude that has been exacerbated with social media, easy fame and its trappings has led to a rise in pushing the envelope to make one’s voice heard over the din whether it’s the proper forum to do so or not. Would a Costas commentary on gun control be given airtime anywhere if he didn’t blindside his employers by interjecting it during an NFL halftime show? Would anyone listen to it if there wasn’t a captive audience of people gathering to watch the game who were suddenly inundated with Costas’s political rant?

The NFL halftime show is meant to be talking about Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Robert Griffin III, not going into a long-winded diatribe directly challenging the beliefs of a massive constituency of the NFL—conservatives who believe in the right to bear arms. If Costas has these little vignettes planned on the state of sports and the world in general, perhaps he should save it for a time in which people who are tuning in would expect it and make the conscious choice to hear what he has to say on the variety of off-field subjects and negligible behaviors that he’s made it a habit of sharing his feelings on. But then, maybe no one would tune in because they want to hear Costas talk about sports and would prefer if he saved his personal feelings for a time when it’s appropriate, not when viewers looking for sports and highlights have to endure his arrogant and high-handed opinions.

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2013 Astros Will Be A Pennant Race Factor

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The aftermath of the Astros gutting and pending 2013 disaster won’t simply affect their organization. In a positive sense, they’re getting rid of their moderate-to-highly paid players and bringing volume into their farm system, plus they’re at the top of the MLB draft and will be so for the foreseeable future. In a negative sense, they’ve all but conceded any and all pretense of fielding a legitimate big league team.

Unlike Michael Kay’s ridiculous, uninformed, petty and vindictive “prediction” that the 2012 Mets were going to lose well over 100 games, I can say without rancor or bias that the 2013 Astros are, at best, a 55 win team. It’s probably going to be fewer than that. Let’s look at why this is the case and why a horrendous club will play so great a role is the 2013 playoff chase.

Their division and status as a target

Two teams from the AL West, the Athletics and the Rangers, made the playoffs last season. A third, the Angels, significantly underachieved but still won 89 games. The fourth team, the Mariners, has improved. Because they’re going to play 19 games each against all of these clubs, the Astros and their opponents will enter each series knowing the Astros will be lucky to win a game.

Other clubs are going to go all out to beat the Astros. The games won’t take on the tenacity of Yankees-Red Sox, Reds-Cardinals or Dodgers-Giants, but they’ll entail opposing managers treating them as such because they’re games they have to win. Losing to the Astros this season will be tantamount to a fundamental gaffe such as failing to touch a base, getting caught leaving too soon on a sacrifice fly, not having the proper reliever warming up or hitters batting out of order. It’s inexcusable.

The rest of the American League

For the Yankees, Blue Jays, Rays, White Sox and Royals, the Astros are a problem. With the strength of the AL West teams, three from the division might make the playoffs based strictly on the extra few victories they’ll accumulate by beating up on the Astros.

Let’s say the Red Sox are out of contention by August and the Yankees are hovering around a playoff spot. On the weekend of August 16th the Yankees are playing the Red Sox while the Angels playing the Astros. The Red Sox won’t have a personal stake in the outcome, but nothing would please them more than hurting the Yankees. The Angels will have what amounts to a sparring session while the Yankees and Red Sox are staging a typical four hour wrestling match regardless of their positions in the standings.

Having a team on the schedule for 19 games and realistically penciling in 13-15 wins goes a long way in bolstering one’s win total and assisting a playoff run.

Job savers and game changers

The Mariners 2013 offense is more potent with the additions of Kendrys Morales and Mike Morse. Their pitching will be affected by the decision to move in the fences at Safeco Field. They were 75-87 last season and GM Jack Zduriencik and manager Eric Wedge are both in the final year of their contracts. Zduriencik’s job is on the line. Would a perceived “improvement” of rising to, say, 84-78 be enough to convince ownership that the Mariners are on the right track and that Zduriencik and Wedge deserve at least one more season? If the Astros weren’t in the AL West, the Mariners would probably be around a 75 win team again. With the Astros there, the Mariners should be over .500. This could potentially save the jobs of their GM and manager.

The Angels’ manager Mike Scioscia’s job is also in jeopardy if the high-priced group plays in a similar lackluster fashion as they did last season. In spite of insistence to the contrary, GM Jerry Dipoto and Scioscia are not on the same page. Owner Arte Moreno wasn’t happy with anyone in his organization after splurging for Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson and missing the playoffs. This past winter he spent even more money on Josh Hamilton and kept his management team in place. None of that changes the fact that this current configuration is not a Scioscia team that, in the past, relied on deep starting pitching and bullpen. The starters gobbled innings; they had a proven closer and set-up men; they embodied solid fundamentals, inside baseball strategies, speed and defense. Apart from Mike Trout and Erick Aybar, this team is plodding. They rely on power, power, power with a shaky starting rotation. Could the Astros’ presence give the Angels with the extra 4-5 wins they wouldn’t get otherwise? A number of wins that last season would’ve vaulted them into the playoffs despite the dysfunction?

On the other coast, the Yankees have gotten worse this winter, not better. They’re relying on ancient veterans and reclamation projects, pinching pennies and have a manager, Joe Girardi, on the final year of his contract. If they don’t make the playoffs, someone is on the chopping block. History has proven that Brian Cashman is now the Teflon GM. It won’t be Girardi’s fault, but hypothetically if the Yankees miss the playoffs, he could be gone and it would be in large part due to the Astros getting beaten so consistently by other playoff contenders who have the advantage of 13 more games against them than the Yankees do.

The Astros will get worse as the season moves along

You wouldn’t think it possible for them to get worse with a projected payroll of $25 million and open admission from GM Jeff Luhnow that they’re going to be awful. In response to the criticism for his latest deal in sending Jed Lowrie to the A’s, Luhnow said:

“We’re not going to do something to improve a few games in 2013 that comes at the expense of our ability to compete over the long haul.”

In other words, “We’re going to be as bad or worse than we’ve been in the past two years when we lost 107 and 106 games.”

In a sense, he’s right on all counts. What’s the difference to the Astros if they win 65 or 50 games? But there’s something untoward about a team not even putting forth the affectation of caring whether they win or lose—in fact, trying to lose to get a higher draft position.

The remaining big league-caliber players they have will be traded as well. They’re already willing to listen to offers on their best pitcher and highest paid player, Bud Norris. He’s going to be dealt at some point. The other mediocre veterans they have will be available at mid-season. Carlos Pena still has power and a good glove at first base. Strikeouts and under .200 batting average aside, a contender will take him for their stretch run. Jose Veras is the Astros’ closer and if he’s pitching well is a veteran bullpen asset for the second half. Wesley Wright is a lefty specialist and every team needs more than one lefty specialist in the playoffs.

Luhnow has shown total indifference to trading his players. He’ll send them to division rivals or anywhere that he can get the most in exchange. Pena, Veras, Wright can help the Angels, Rangers, Yankees, White Sox—anyone to win that extra game or two to take a playoff spot.

The Astros are a Triple A team now and will be a Double A team by July. They can talk about the future all they want, but the present has consequences for the rest of baseball.

Expect complaints from teams like the Yankees that it’s not fair. Opposing franchises will say that the Astros should have to field a reasonably competitive big league team. Eventually, something might be done about this strategy with MLB forcing teams to provide a competent product. There’s not much MLB can do right now, but they could try to install a payroll floor in the future, something the Players Association and most other owners would agree to.

In 2013, though, it won’t change the reality or the outcome. As a direct result of the Astros switching leagues, people will save or lose their jobs because of it.

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The Mariners Get Morse (Change One Letter and it’s “Worse”)

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Anyone else see the irony of the Mariners and their GM Jack Zduriencik having traded Mike Morse in 2009 while Zduriencik was in the midst of an overachieving first season at the helm and being called a genius, and has reacquired Morse four years later when he’s possibly a losing first half away from being fired?

Or that he traded Morse for the essentially useless Ryan Langerhans and has now traded John Jaso to get Morse back when, with or without Morse, the Mariners are only staying out of last place because the Astros are in the AL West?

The deal, on its surface, isn’t a bad one for the Mariners. All they surrendered was Jaso, but considering their likely finish in 2013, why bother? Why bother doing anything the Mariners have done since the 2012 season ended from moving in the fences at Safeco Field to making trades/signings for bats on the final year of their contracts or final years of their careers?

This is not a logical progression of being ready to win and making the requisite fill-in veteran acquisitions. It’s desperation on the part of Zduriencik—a worse desperation than Royals GM Dayton Moore was accused of when he acquired two big league starting pitchers in James Shields and Wade Davis, both of whom are under team control, in exchange for a large package of prospects. It was said that Moore is trying to save his job. Zduriencik? Where’s the criticism from the stat people who held him up as their totem before reality rendered them silent? On Fangraphs a few years ago the Mariners were labeled as the sixth best organization in baseball, thereby setting themselves and the Mariners up for endless ridicule with the Twitter hashtag #6org. Has there been an update or viable explanation? Or clinging in the hopes that it’ll all end up as the math having been “right”?

Let’s put this into simple terms. Over the four-plus years Zduriencik has been running the team, they rebuilt the farm system based on pitching and brought in players whose forte is defense. In year five of the rebuild, they’ve brought in the fences at Safeco Field, signed or traded for players for whom defense is a necessary evil, and changed the strategy on the fly not because it’s a natural evolution combined with intelligent design, but because what they were doing before didn’t work and now they’re doing something totally different.

If that’s the case, how are they moving forward with the same GM?

A team that had an eye on pitching and defense now has imported the weak defenders Jason Bay, Raul Ibanez, Morse and the mediocre Kendrys Morales. In addition, they traded away Jaso, let Miguel Olivo leave as a free agent and are intent on replacing them behind the plate with Jesus Montero, for whom defense is the main weak point of his game and will have to handle a pitching staff who will already be compromised due to the new dimensions of their home park.

There’s no question that the Mariners needed offense and their offense will be better with the players they’ve acquired as well as Dustin Ackley and Montero, but how much worse will the pitching be with the new dimensions of Safeco Field?

In the past three seasons, their pitchers have posted the following OPS numbers home and away:

2010: .663 home, .768 road

2011: .667 home, .728 road

2012: .676 home, .777 road

In addition, the Mariners’ offense hasn’t just been bad in those same three seasons, it’s been historically bad. Since the 162 game schedule was implemented in 1961 (and bear in mind the numbers are slightly skewed by the strike shortened seasons of 1972, 1981 and 1994), the Mariners of 2010 and 2011 were in the top 100 of the lowest scoring clubs in baseball. That’s out of 1356 teams.

Will Morse, Ibanez, and Morales, plus a full sophomore season from Montero help the Mariners’ scoring improve? Yes. Will the defensive limitations of these players, that they’re in the lineup at the expense of stronger defensive players, plus the new dimensions of the Mariners’ home field hurt them? Absolutely.

This is while the Mariners are playing in a division with the high-priced Angels; the still very good Rangers; and the Athletics who won the division last season. The only beacon of hope the Mariners have is that the Astros are basically a Triple A team, keeping them from looking too terrible in comparison.

The Royals and Moore were savaged for the trade they made with the Rays. But they’re in a weaker division, have enough young talent to at least justify going for a marked improvement with established pitchers who’ve been on playoff teams, and will have those pitchers for a longer time than the Mariners will have the hitters they’ve brought in.

Where are the vitriolic attacks against what Zduriencik has built? Is his credibility based on his work or because he runs his club the way analysts who base their beliefs on stats would run their clubs? Is he being protected in a manner that Moore isn’t because he’s using “objectivity” while crafting a team that is, by all standards, horrific and is now worse than it was when he arrived?

There’s no room for personalities, biases, factionalism, bloodlines, and tribalism in purported objective analysis. Because Moore is the antithesis of what stat people want in a GM, he’s a punching bag whenever it suits them; but Zduriencik exemplifies that which Moore was accused of when he traded Wil Myers: desperation and trying to keep his job.

The Mariners are a weird, toxic amalgam with no definition or plan and Zduriencik’s genius, like the classic sitcom Seinfeld, is about nothing. It worked in TV comedy and in glowing write-ups for Zduriencik before the fact. It’s not working so much at the ballpark and in practice. Nor is it going to for the Mariners in 2013.

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Dayton Moore—Desperate; Jack Zduriencik—Genius?

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Desperation and job security are in the eye of the beholder.

Last season Jason Vargas was, in stat guy metrics, more valuable than James Shields with a 2.8 Wins Above Replacement (WAR) compared to Shields’s 2.2. Vargas is a free agent after the 2013 season while Shields is signed through 2014, so the Royals have Shields for two years vs the Angels guaranteed to have Vargas for one, but the return on the trades that sent both from their former homes should be viewed in the same light.

Royals’ GM Dayton Moore was torched for trading top prospect Wil Myers and other young minor leaguers to the Rays for Shields and Wade Davis. Vargas was traded by the Mariners by their GM Jack Zduriencik (a stat guy totem) to the Angels for 1B/OF/DH Kendrys Morales. On the surface, the trades don’t appear to be similar, but in reality, they are.

Vargas isn’t particularly good and isn’t a substantial upgrade for the Angels, but if Zduriencik was in year two of his administration and still getting a pass for what he inherited from Bill Bavasi, would he have made this trade? Or did he bow to expediency to try and get better in the now with an acquisition for a “name” player to try and score a few more runs because he’s in year five and under fire, possibly having to show legitimate improvement to keep his job?

Moore was accused of making a capricious and desperate trade in an attempt to save his job and the Myers trade was added to the list of charges on the indictment.

In comparison, one of the stat persons’ “own,” Zduriencik, has been essentially bulletproof from criticism from the wing that portrays themselves as seeking profundity through statistical truth, but is just as invested in altering the narrative to fit into their desired template. There’s a collision of philosophies when a faction uses one man’s trades (in this case Moore) to advance an agenda; and another’s trades (Zduriencik’s) to defend an agenda. The genesis of these deals is basically the same even if the players are entirely different.

Zduriencik’s tenure as Mariners’ GM somewhat mirrors Moore’s with only perception separating the two. They’ve both rejuvenated dilapidated farm systems and developed prospects that are highly regarded around baseball. They’ve made free agent signings, somewhat going over budget to disastrous results as Moore did with Jose Guillen and Gil Meche and Zduriencik with Chone Figgins. Both are on their third manager. Neither has made meaningful progress in the bottom line win column. Yet comparing the vitriol Moore inspires and the silence that accompanies Zduriencik’s tenure, you’d think they were polar opposites. They might be in terms of philosophy, but in the sum of their reigns? Not at all.

Would the Royals have been better served to keep Myers? Or did they put themselves in the thick of playoff contention for 2013-2014 by getting one genuine All-Star pitcher—Shields, and a pretty good 200-inning arm—Davis? The Royals will more than likely be a better team immediately because of the trade Moore made in spite of viable criticisms of the short-sightedness of the move.

Can the same be said for the Mariners and this trade?

Vargas’s situation is separate from Myers’s because of Vargas’s pending free agency and reputation as a creature of the Mariners’ formerly spacious home park of Safeco Field. When the decision was made to bring the fences in significantly to boost the offense, pitchers like Vargas were either going to suffer statistically or need to be traded. In 2012, 26 of the 35 homers he surrendered were away from Safeco. If he’d stayed with the Mariners, there’s a good chance he’d allow 40 homers next season; and as a pending free agent for a team offensively destitute with pitching to spare, he was a logical choice to go. But for Morales? A rental for a rental to play for a team that has very little chance at contention in 2012? This was a cosmetic trade and won’t make the club markedly better over the long term. They’ll be slightly better in the short term. Moore’s trade doesn’t simply change the optics as Zduriencik’s does. In 2013-2014, it does guarantee to make the Royals better because no one knows whether Myers is truly ready, but we do know what Shields and Davis are and they’re far better than what the Royals trotted out to the mound last season.

For Zduriencik, this winter has consisted of dumping one free agent bust (Figgins) and replacing him with another one (Jason Bay); he traded for Robert Andino; selected Scott Cousins off waivers from the Blue Jays (maybe he can run around the field ramming into other clubs’ stars and knock them out as he did with Buster Posey); and by acquiring Morales.

It’s repeatedly said that the Mariners were “in it until the end” on Josh Hamilton. In the stat person’s world of the definable and “you are what you are,” this would be mocked as the lamentations of a loser. In the Mariners’ case, it’s used as evidence of “trying.”

There are repeated references to prospects on the way for the Mariners. On the way. Eventually. Someday. Much of their talent base are pitchers waiting to graduate to the big leagues for a club whose ballpark is no longer as conducive for pitchers to succeed as it once was. Do you see the dichotomy?

Morales will make the Mariners’ offense better, but how much of his infusion of power will be counteracted by the increased number of homers the pitchers are going to allow? They’re in the AL West with the high-powered Angels; the still-talented Rangers; and the AL playoff surprise Athletics. Barring a shocking rise, massive trade to improve immediately (sort of like what Moore did), or a free agent signing out of the blue, can they contend in 2013? I don’t see how.

At least they’ll be able to beat on the horrific Astros.

Perhaps Zduriencik can again he can use Yankees’ GM Brian Cashman as a handpuppet like he did in the Cliff Lee/Michael Pineda trades. Nothing else seems to be working and, on his GM epitaph, it won’t be a total negative to say, “He torched the Yankees a couple of times.” That might be all he has left.

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The Angels Trump the Competition on Hamilton

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There’s a fine line between decisive and desperate. The Angels used to adhere to a set of principles from which they would not deviate. That changed after Bill Stoneman left as GM. The shift began in earnest when former GM Tony Reagins, all in the same off-season, fired respected scouting director Eddie Bane and after losing out on all their off-season targets—most notably Carl Crawford—made the ridiculous deal for Vernon Wells.

It’s all but impossible to truly pinpoint the cracking of a foundation and when the entire structure is turning dilapidated and in danger of coming down, but the Angels are not the same as they were and the Josh Hamilton signing for 5-years and $125 million is another signal that they’re following the crowd of dysfunction. Rather than doing things their own way with development and understated signings and trades for players who fit into what they’re trying to build, they’ve turned the team into a destination for players who want to get paid.

And that’s not good.

These are the types of signings that Donald Trump would make. Arte Moreno was never like this; he was never the owner who interfered or publicly let his displeasure be known. In the past year, that’s changed. The infection of expectations and demands for return on his money got the whisper campaign rolling during the 2012 season. There’s no longer a cohesive plan, nor is there chemistry. It’s tossing money at the problem, mixing explosive ingredients, shoving people of divergent opinion into a room and telling them to work it out. Somehow.

If this is what the Angels were going to do, they might as well have hired Omar Minaya as the GM over Jerry Dipoto. This is what Minaya was good at—signing big name free agents and charming people. Given where Dipoto cut his baseball front office teeth with clubs that either had a plan to spend wisely and develop (the Red Sox), or worked for clubs that didn’t have a lot of money to spend and were forced to function under constraints (the Rockies and Diamondbacks), I can’t imagine that this is what he had in mind when he took over the Angels. Perhaps he’s holding sway in drafting and development and the fruits of his skills will be seen in 3-5 years as the big league club is rife with stars and young players slowly arrive and contribute, but in 2012-2013 it’s checkbook general managing and pretty much anyone can do it.

Why is Mike Scioscia still the manager of this team? It speaks to the stripping of his power that the Angels have infused his clubhouse with people he can’t force to fall in line, who don’t want to fall in line. Prior to 2012, very rarely was a peep heard about the goings on inside the Angels clubhouse and when it did happen, it was quickly squashed. Sciosica’s clubhouse was unique in that there wasn’t public backbiting via “anonymous” sources; coaches weren’t fired; there weren’t factions and battles between the manager, the GM, and the owner.

Now?

Scioscia likes having a deep starting rotation with innings gobblers who aren’t concerned about their ERAs or won/lost records. Is this—Jered Weaver, C.J. Wilson, Garrett Richards, Tommy Hanson, Joe Blanton—a rotation similar to the Angels of years past? He also liked having a deep and diverse bullpen with a proven closer. Is Ryan Madson a proven closer or is he a cheap alternative who fits in line with Dipoto’s theory of not paying big money for a name reliever when a fill-in-the-blank arm could rack up the saves?

As for the lineup and defense, Scioscia likes having a versatile batting order that can steal bases, play small ball, and hit the occasional homer—they never had the MVP-level basher with the accompanying diva tendencies on any of his clubs. The one mega-star the Angels had in recent years was Vladimir Guerrero and hearing his voice is similar to finding a Leprechaun—there are rumors of it without proof.

In short, is this a team that Scioscia would like to manage? Is he the man to sit back and let things be waiting for the home runs to come? With the evident fissures that led to the firing of Scioscia’s longtime hitting coach Mickey Hatcher as an object of sacrifice in May after Albert Pujols got off to an atrocious start, does Dipoto want Scioscia and does Scioscia want to run a team constructed like this?

Who, apart from Mike Trout, can run and is it worth it for anyone to risk stealing bases when the middle of the lineup consists of Pujols, Hamilton, Mark Trumbo, Kendrys Morales and the rest of the would-be wrecking crew? And forget about two more of Scioscia’s fetishes: bunting and squeezing.

It’s not wrong to say that the Angels’ old-school National League-style play that Scioscia learned under Tommy Lasorda isn’t the strategy to follow today, especially in the AL West, but since that has been established with their trying 2012 season, why didn’t Moreno, Dipoto and Scioscia agree that it would be best if they were to part ways and find a new manager?

Not one organization has everyone on the same page, but the Angels were the best at keeping their purpose above personal differences and, if there were personal differences, they didn’t include the theoretical and harm the team dynamic. That’s no longer the case.

When the owner was hands off and is now hands on; when the GM would prefer to draft, develop and make wise signings that fit into his budget and preferred on-field strategy; and the manager wants to play like it’s 1968, don’t you see where the clashes of philosophy will occur? It’s not a criticism or an admission of failure to realize that certain people can’t work together, but that’s where the Angels are with Dipoto and Scioscia and, rather than make a change, they’re going forward and tossing more money at the problem, simultaneously putting an even bigger, more expensive child under Scioscia’s care in Hamilton.

They’re a haphazard, “let’s do this because it looks good” club diametrically opposed to what their GM, manager, and owner supposedly believe. It’s clear they didn’t learn a year ago that spending sprees, shiny acquisitions, and maneuvers that draw accolades and gasps don’t necessarily mean they’ll work.

Hamilton is a great talent, but putting him in Southern California is a mistake; giving him $125 million is a mistake; and altering the club in so drastic a fashion on the field while not making required changes to the field staff is a mistake.

We’re witnessing the decline and crash of the Angels and they set the charges for the pending implosion all by themselves with the errors they continue to make. Hamilton is the latest one.

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Oswalt Overkill and Desperation

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In the category of unsubstantiated rumors of the day, the Angels are supposedly the “frontrunners” for fussy free agent righty Roy Oswalt and the Red Sox are thinking about moving Daniel Bard back to the bullpen.

Or not in both cases.

If there’s a grain of truth in the rumors, they’re connected to one another in what should happen.

Of course that has nothing to do with what will happen.

First, with the Angels and Oswalt, do the Angels need another name starter? Are they going to use whatever money it costs—even if the template for Oswalt’s contract is the Andy Pettitte deal with the Yankees—to bolster an overwhelming strength in the starting rotation?

With an innings-eating front four of Jered Weaver, Dan Haren, C.J. Wilson and Ervin Santana, the Angels will be perfectly fine with Jerome Williams (who pitched quite well last season) as their fifth starter. In spite of the acquisition of Albert Pujols and what appears to be an overabundance of bats with too few positions to go around, the offense is still shaky with Vernon Wells a black hole; Bobby Abreu whining his way out of town; and the unknown of Kendrys Morales.

As of right now, the only true offensive guarantee they have is Pujols.

The bullpen may need boosting during the season as well. Are they intent on spending the money they have left now on a player they really don’t need in Oswalt?

Why?

Oswalt’s had multiple injuries in recent years and wouldn’t be ready to pitch until May.

And they don’t need him.

It makes no sense.

On the other hand, there’s one destination that makes sense for Oswalt, where he would be a need and not overkill—the Red Sox.

Another rumor that made the rounds this weekend (and was only reported as a possibility in one place—link) is that the Red Sox have seen enough of Bard in the starting rotation and he’ll be shifted back to the bullpen.

There are numerous possibilities surrounding this revelation if it’s true. The Red Sox could be dropping a rock into the water to see the ripples it causes in the public and media; perhaps they wanted to pressure Bard into pitching better in his next start (which was yesterday) after the story came out. His results were similar to what he’s done all spring—not particularly good—but manager Bobby Valentine made it a point to say he liked Bard’s demeanor better than he had in prior starts.

What that means for the future is anyone’s guess.

The Red Sox are not in a position to be putting Bard back in the bullpen. If they do that and move Alfredo Aceves to the starting rotation, they’ll be trading one problem for another. Aceves is not durable enough to be a 180-200 inning starter and he’s too valuable and versatile in the bullpen to start. If they determine that Bard can’t start, their only real option is Oswalt. Apart from that, they’re going to be in bigger trouble that I thought. And bear in mind that I picked them to go 81-81 this year. If Bard is unable to be at least a serviceable starter and they’re relegated to using castoffs in the number 4 and 5 slots in the rotation, they’re in trouble. A lot of it.

Oswalt would be their only choice and the same issues that make him a questionable fit for the Angels would make him a desperation shot for the Red Sox. If they continue down this line of thought, desperation might be all they have left.

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

If anyone has already purchased the book and noticed there were formatting mistakes, they’ve been fixed and republished; so you can re-download the book.

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

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The Angels’ DH Glut

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When the Angels signed Albert Pujols, it created the “problem” of too many bats for too few spots in the lineup.

Because they had a first baseman that hit for power in Mark Trumbo; another first baseman that hit for power still trying to come back from injury in Kendrys Morales; and veteran Bobby Abreu as the DH, it’s considered too many players to keep and keep happy.

The player most frequently discussed in trade suggestions has been Abreu.

GM Jerry DiPoto was probably speaking out of pragmatism rather than playing his cards close to the vest when he said they weren’t looking to trade Abreu.

Abreu is coming off a subpar season considering the consistent offensive numbers he’s posted in his career. In 2011, he batted .253 with 8 homers and a .717 OPS.

Abreu will be 38 in March, but he’s only being paid $9 million in 2012 and even if he repeats the production from last season, is a .353 OBP with 30 doubles and 21 stolen bases that bad? If he’s hitting in front of Pujols, he’ll score plenty of runs getting on base and advancing without giving up an out. The biggest difference between Abreu’s 2010 season and 2011 was the decline in home runs; other than that, the numbers were almost identical.

For the Angels, there isn’t an ironclad solution for the glut of bats.

Trumbo has tremendous power and hits tape measure home runs, but he strikes out a lot, doesn’t walk at all and is returning from a foot injury. Trumbo is preparing for a shift to third base, but manager Mike Scioscia likes defense and Trumbo has never played third as a professional—Scioscia won’t play Trumbo at third if he can’t handle the position defensively.

In spite of the Angels playing up how great Morales looks, he had an injury that, in years past, would only have happened to someone playing for the Mets when he broke his ankle jumping on home plate after hitting a game-winning grand slam in May of 2010.

That’s almost two years and multiple false starts ago. He can’t be counted on until he proves he can play again and stay healthy.

The biggest variable as to what the Angels do with Abreu might be Vernon Wells.

Wells was so horrible last season at the plate (.218/.248/.412 slash line with 25 homers) that they wouldn’t be crazy to accept that the $63 million remaining on his contract is gone and release him if he’s not hitting by May. The GM who traded for Wells, Tony Reagins, was fired and the Wells trade was a major factor in his dismissal.

Releasing Wells would be costly, but he’s untradeable, they have two young outfielders in Peter Bourjos and Mike Trout to play center and left and the bats to account for the one thing Wells has done: hit the ball out of the park.

But they only have the bats if they keep Abreu until they see what they have with the other players.

And that’s what they should do.

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The Brewers Fill Their Holes

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They may not be flashy signings, but the Brewers acquisitions of Alex Gonzalez to play shortstop and Aramis Ramirez to play third shore up holes and give them two bats who hit the ball out of the ballpark to counteract the near-guaranteed loss of Prince Fielder.

Gonzalez signed a 1-year contract and Ramirez’s deal is reportedly for 3-years at $34-$37 million—MLB Trade Rumors.

Gonzalez is still a fine fielder and despite a lack of on-base skills, he’ll hit 15-20 homers. You could make the same offensive argument with Yuniesky Betancourt, but at least Gonzalez can catch the ball and has range.

Ramirez isn’t a particularly good defensive third baseman, but he’ll hit 25-30 homers and has a .342 career on-base percentage and has always hit for power. You know what you’ll get from Ramirez.

Individually, the acquisitions aren’t much to get excited about, but considering the Brewers pitching staff—a superior starting rotation and shut-down bullpen (especially now that Francisco Rodriguez has accepted salary arbitration)—they don’t need a high-powered offense to win.

If they choose to keep Casey McGehee rather than non-tender him, he’s insurance at first base if they give Mat Gamel a legitimate chance to play regularly or take a chance on a Kendrys Morales.

The Brewers have limited funds and couldn’t afford to replace an expensive star-level player like Fielder with a similar talent from the outside, but it’s smart to accentuate the positives and focus on what these players can do rather than what they can’t, scouring and assessing what was available in replacing Betancourt and making McGehee a backup—as he should be—with Gonzalez and Ramirez; in these deals they’re staying competitive, without destroying their salary structure.

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Prince Fielder’s Free Agent Possibilities

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Prince Fielder will not be back with the Brewers.

And I don’t want to hear how he’d “love” to stay in Milwaukee; if he truly wants to stay in Milwaukee, I’m sure he could find a way to live on the $100 million or whatever amount of deranged sum they offer. Part of the reason players generally shun their original, mid-market home is due to union pressure to take the largest offer; and that they want to outdo their peers in terms of zeroes on the check.

It’s the same form of egomania that was evident in Moneyball as Billy Beane wants a monetary value on what it is he does. (And what it is he does is becoming increasingly mysterious as time passes; it’s an existential question: what does Billy Beane do? I dunno—he’s becoming Kim Kardashian; he’s famous and we don’t really know why.)

You can forget about the Yankees and Red Sox being in on Fielder despite fan greed about bringing in another $140 million bat. Fielder won’t want to DH, the Yankees have a first baseman and don’t want to clog up the DH spot with another immobile body and onerous contract. They have to re-sign CC Sabathia and/or bring in some better starting pitching.

With the Red Sox, owner John Henry openly regretted the Carl Crawford contract and expressed his wariness at the whole free agent process—do you really think they’re going to bring in an $140 million DH? Really? They, like the Yankees, need pitching.

With that established, let’s handicap and eliminate Fielder’s possible landing spots based on who could use him and who can afford him.

Teams that could use him, but can’t pay him.

Oakland Athletics: It’s pretty funny (no, it’s very funny) that Fielder was singled out in Moneyball as being “too fat” for the team that was portrayed as openly looking for fat players, and Fielder wound up being the most productive bat in the draft.

He’s not going to Oakland and it’s not because of the ballpark or that he doesn’t appreciate the value of being around “genius”; it’s because they can’t pay him.

Pittsburgh Pirates: After their mid-summer flirtation with contention, it only took a few short weeks for whatever spell had been aiding them to wear off and they reverted back into being…the Pirates.

They were 14th in runs scored in the National League in 2011, but they’re supposedly about to ridiculously repeat the same mistake they made with Matt Capps (they non-tendered him) and decline the option on a useful arm in Paul Maholm.

Um, he’s a guy you can trade, y’know? Sort of the way the Nationals traded Capps for a starting catcher they’ll have for the next 10 years in Wilson Ramos? Get it?

Why would anyone with options want to go to Pittsburgh?

San Francisco Giants: There’s a bit of an upheaval and apparent tightening of the pursestrings with Bill Neukom forced out as CEO. They’re more likely to keep Carlos Beltran than bring in any difference-making free agent. They also have to sign Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum and Brian Wilson in the coming years, so forget Fielder.

San Diego Padres: They just traded a better all-around player in Adrian Gonzalez because they weren’t going to be able to pay him, so it would make zero sense to sign Fielder.

Teams that could use him, pay him and won’t pursue him.

Los Angeles Angels: The Vernon Wells contract is now their problem and it got Tony Reagins ousted. They have two first basemen with Mark Trumbo, the (hopefully) returning Kendrys Morales and Fielder doesn’t want to DH. I would expect them to pursue a trade for the likes of David Wright or chase Jose Reyes instead of jumping in on Fielder.

Chicago Cubs: Theo Epstein has enough problems; they’ve got Carlos Pena, who’s okay; and you can find a first baseman relatively easily.

Baltimore Orioles: Buck Showalter is running things and prefers to have a more versatile, defensively-balanced club with interchangeable parts. Offense wasn’t the Orioles problem, the pitching was.

Teams that could pay him, use him and go after him.

Washington Nationals: Are they agent Scott Boras’s new “go-to guys”? He somehow managed to get them to give Jayson Werth $126 million, are looking to make a splash and rapid leap into contention and have the money.

Adam LaRoche is owed a guaranteed $9 million, but missed most of the 2011 season; the Nats desperately need a bat; they’re better off going after Reyes, but don’t discount them on Fielder.

Los Angeles Dodgers: The McCourts are now divorced and Frank has the Dodgers; but the legal red tape requires a machete to cut through and they have to sign Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier and must begin considering locking up Clayton Kershaw.

I don’t see Fielder going to the Dodgers, but they spent last winter when no one thought they had any money; they have to be considered.

Seattle Mariners: They were last in the AL in runs scored. It’s ironic that the double-dealing they pulled on the Yankees with Cliff Lee looks like they wound up with a worse deal from the Rangers. Will ownership interfere and force GM Jack Zduriencik to keep Ichiro Suzuki rather than look for a legitimate offensive force like Fielder?

Zduriencik drafted Fielder with the Brewers.

They do have the money to sign him and their young pitching can’t go on with a team that simply doesn’t score any runs.

Florida Marlins: They’re repeatedly referenced as teams that are going to go all-in for players in free agency. Albert Pujols has been talked about, but he’s not leaving the Cardinals. One drawback of the Marlins pursuing and getting Fielder would be the homers he’d hit in Florida would be accompanied by this monstrosity.


Here’s my guess: Fielder goes to Seattle for 7-years and $148 million.

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