Bashing and Smashing the Real Underachievers—American League

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Yesterday I asked why the Mets were being hammered for playing pretty much the way anyone and everyone should’ve expected them to play. Today let’s have a look at some teams that were—according to the “experts,” payrolls and talent levels—were supposed to be performing better and why they aren’t.

Toronto Blue Jays

It’s becoming apparent that the Blue Jays are not a team off to a bad start. They might just be plain bad. In addition to that, one of the main culprits in their mediocrity/badness over the past two seasons—former manager John Farrell—has the Red Sox in first place with the best record in baseball. I don’t think he’s a good game manager, but the reality doesn’t lie. The Red Sox will fall to earth at some point, but will the Blue Jays rise?

They may not be making the same baserunning gaffes they did under Farrell, but they’re third in the American League in homers and twelfth in runs scored. They’re last in batting average, next-to-last in on-base percentage, and thirteenth in ERA. The bullpen has been solid, but if a team doesn’t hit and doesn’t get any starting pitching their roster is irrelevant whether it has Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, Josh Johnson, Brandon Morrow and Jose Bautista or whatever refuse the Mets are shuttling in and out of their outfield.

There’s too much talent with too long a history for this type of underperformance to continue for the whole season, but if it does it may be time to stop looking at the players, coaches and manager and turn the blame to the front office.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

What I find funny is that one of the main arguments for Mike Trout’s 2012 MVP candidacy apart from his higher WAR over Miguel Cabrera was that the Angels took off after he was recalled. Without him to start the season they were 6-14; with him in the lineup after his recall they were 81-58. Trout’s been there from the beginning of the 2013 season and the Angels are 10-17, looking haphazard, disconnected and awful. The only “war” being mentioned is the undeclared, but known, “war” between the front office and the manager.

They’re not a cohesive unit and when you have a bunch of mercenaries, some of those mercenaries had better be able to pitch.

Yesterday’s win over the Athletics was indicative of one of the Angels’ biggest problems: veteran apathy. In the eighth inning, an important insurance run would’ve scored had Mark Trumbo touched the plate before Josh Hamilton was thrown out at third base to end the inning. Mike Scioscia’s teams were known for the inside game, pitching, defense, speed and going all out. Those small fundamental mistakes didn’t cost them games because they didn’t happen. Now they do. And they’re 10-17 and going nowhere in large part because of that. They got away with it yesterday, but just barely. It certainly doesn’t help that their pitching is woeful, but their issues stem from more than just bad pitching.

Why don’t the Angels just put the man out of his misery? He’s been there for 14 years, it’s no longer his team, his sway in the organization is all but gone and the players aren’t responding to him. It’s like delaying the decision to put down a beloved pet. Another week isn’t going to make a difference other than to make things worse. Sometimes making a change for its own sake is good.

Tony LaRussa’s says he’s not interested in managing. He might be interested but for one thing: his relationship with Jim Leyland is such that he won’t want to compete with his friend in the same league and possibly ruin Leyland’s last shot at a title so LaRussa could stroke his own ego, make another big payday, derive some joy over abusing Jeff Luhnow and the Astros and being the center of attention again. It’s Ivory Soap Pure (99 44/100%) that you can forget LaRussa.

Phil Garner took over an Astros team that was floundering in 2004 and brought them to the playoffs; the next season, they were 15 games under .500 in late May of 2005 and rebounded to make the World Series. Even Bob Brenly, who was a figurehead as Diamondbacks manager and whose main attribute was that he wasn’t Buck Showalter and didn’t tell the players how to wear their socks, would restore a calming, “it’s different” atmosphere.

Someone, somewhere would yield a better result that Scioscia is now. It’s known and not accepted yet. Maybe after a few more losses, it will be accepted that it’s enough so they can move on.

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Yankees Get Vernon Wells…For A.J. Burnett

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After all the ridicule the Yankees are receiving for trading for Vernon Wells and agreeing to even pay $13.9 million of the $42 million remaining on his contract, did they get better or was this a move of pure desperation in the George Steinbrenner tradition to get a name he happened to recognize and isn’t any good anymore?

Let’s look at the various parts of the deal.

For Wells

Wells is an easy man to please. It was only two-plus years ago that Wells referred to Anaheim in the following way at his introductory press conference upon joining the Angels:

“This is paradise. This is one of the best places to play in baseball.”

Now with the Yankees, Wells said:

“This is baseball, this is the center of it all. There’s no other place like it. This is a fun way for things to go toward the end of my career.”

The Yankees are putting a lot of stock in his hot spring training in which he hit 4 homers and had a .361 batting average, but he walked twice in 41 plate appearances continuing the trend of recent years. In spring training, when pitchers are building arm strength and trying to get their own timing and mechanics down, it’s senseless to put any stock in how a veteran who’s fighting for a starting job hits. Wells was the odd man out in Anaheim in an outfield of Mike Trout, Peter Bourjos and Josh Hamilton with Mark Trumbo as the DH. He wasn’t going to play and if the Angels didn’t find a taker to absorb at least some of his salary, eventually, they would’ve cut ties and paid him to leave. As it is, they were so desperate to get rid of him, that they paid $28.1 million to get him off the team and acquire two players—Exicardo Cayones and lefty pitcher Kramer Sneed—with difficult to spell and/or unusual names.

Cayones was acquired from the Pirates for A.J. Burnett a year ago, so considering the money the Yankees paid to get rid of Burnett ($19.5 million), they basically just traded Burnett for Wells and paid $33.4 million to do it. All this talk about the Yankees paying “nothing” for Wells is just that—talk. And it’s nonsense.

Objectively, on the field Wells can hit a few home runs and is a good defensive outfielder who can play center field if needed. Wells was once a .900 OPS player with home run power, speed, great defense, and he didn’t strike out. He’s not that anymore. It says more about the Yankees than it does about Wells that he’s an upgrade over what they had a few days ago. If you look at Wells’s home run logs from the past, especially 2011-2012, you’ll see that he hits bad pitching. This is the hallmark of a declining player who guesses and sometimes guesses right. He doesn’t have any clue of the strike zone and hacks at the first pitch that looks tasty. Sometimes it happens to go out of the park.

For the Yankees

In addition to Wells, the Yankees signed Lyle Overbay to a minor league contract after the Red Sox released him. If the Yankees are basing the singing of Wells on his spring training numbers, for what purpose are they signing Overbay, who batted .220 this spring? The last time Overbay was a productive everyday player was in 2009. Combine that with Wells last having been productive in 2010 and you get the feeling that the money being saved on players is being invested into the construction of a time machine. In fact, the 2013 Yankees roster would win 135 games…in 2006. The problem is it’s not 2006 and no longer can players take certain little pills and potions to make them feel and play like it’s seven years earlier.

Most tellingly, it’s finally beginning to sink in with Yankees fans and media apologists that they really are following through with the plan to get below $189 million in total salary by 2014. What we’re hearing now, en masse, is about the 2014-2015 free agency class and how much money they’re going to spend to get back to the the “real” Yankees, whatever that is; we’re also hearing about their young prospects on the way. Hopefully for them, they’ll be better than the non-prospects they haven’t developed or traded away over the past decade.

Are they better now with Wells and Overbay than they were a week ago? Sadly, for the Yankees fan who expects a Hall of Famer at every position, yes, but Wells and Overbay are not Hall of Famers. They’d have to pay to get in just like everyone else.

The reality

You can go on an on about the injuries that were unforeseeable with Mark Teixeira’s wrist and Curtis Granderson’s broken forearm; about Derek Jeter returning from surgery and his “heart” and “courage” pushing him forward; about Wells and Overbay being stopgaps until the varsity is ready, but no sane fan or media person can justify the Yankees having so cheap and shallow a bench considering the age and injuries on this team; no one can say that they couldn’t have accounted for this possibility and that they’d be seeking the dregs of the dispatched because they don’t have any high level minor leaguers who can step in for a month—a month—that they had to go and get Wells and Overbay.

The Yankees’ spring training has been eerily similar to the opening of Tropic Thunder and if truth imitates art, the season goes downhill from here at the speed of plummet. Don’t blink or you might miss the crash.

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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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The Media Vultures Circle The Mets Again

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Since the Mets have come apart after a surprising first half of the season when it was being speculated as to whether or not they’d be heavy buyers at the trading deadline, the same reporters who were so sure that the Wilpons days as owners were numbers just a few short months ago and wrote relentless pieces about the Bernie Madoff Ponzi scheme and its damage to the franchise have popped up again.

They were silent for a period of time, trying to maintain an aura of credibility that only exists because they’re in the media, as if that matters. Being paid by the New York Post, Newsday, ESPN or whatever other entity you can name doesn’t automatically imply knowing what they’re talking about. No one—no…one—I read speculated on the possibility of a Madoff settlement to save the Wilpons. In fact, the Wilpons might even wind up getting money back after all is said and done. They didn’t get rich being stupid and to suggest that they’re broke and the team is still in danger of being lost to the family is based on the same shoddy speculation that was indulged in months ago and turned out to be wrong.

It’s similar to the same so-called experts who felt that the Mets’ farm system was destitute of prospects. As it turns out, Omar Minaya’s scouting/drafting operation was far better than anyone thought.

Now, as the team has stumbled from their unexpected heights of contention at the All-Star break, the doom and gloom has returned. I’m not talking about from the fans—that’s expected; I’m talking about from the supposedly credible “insiders” in the media. Just the other day it started again about the possibility of David Wright leaving the club after next season. Compared with the Jose Reyes situation, will the Mets let Wright leave as they did Reyes? Are they going to be a stripped down version of other teams that haven’t spent one penny more than the bare minimum? Of course not. Wright’s going nowhere. The two situations were totally different on and off the field.

The Mets front office baseball people didn’t want to spend the necessary money to keep Reyes and wouldn’t have done so even if they had the money to spend and were allowed to run the team as they wanted. Last winter the Madoff trial was hanging over the oraganization’s collective heads like a guillotine. But money or not, GM Sandy Alderson would not want to allocate $100+ million to a speed player approaching 30 who’s had multiple injury problems; and if you look at Reyes in 2012 with the Marlins, it’s trendy to point to his recent hitting streak and solid play after a slow start, but the Marlins exponentially more dysfunctional than the Mets, are terrible and in the midst of a housecleaning that’s put them in a worse position than the Mets. Don’t bet on Reyes being with the Marlins past next season.

Wright’s different. A power bat that walks, is the de facto captain of the team (the Mets should make it official already), and who plays a difficult to fill position is not getting traded, nor is he going to be allowed to leave as a free agent. It’s true that the Mets have a large financial commitment to Jason Bay and Johan Santana next season ($50 million with their contracts and buyouts), but that will free a large amount of money to re-sign Wright and import players for 2013 with either backloaded free agent contracts or via trade. This idea that simply spending money would’ve made a significant difference in 2013 is ignoring that the teams that have spent tons of money on players in recent years haven’t succeeded. The Red Sox were supposed to “challenge the 1927 Yankees” as the best team in history in 2011, but collapsed in September and that collapse revealed disciplinary and personal fissures that resulted in the departure of manager Terry Francona, the hiring of Bobby Valentine and desperation maneuvers to patch over their holes and hope that they’d revert to performances and team-oriented behaviors of the past. Needless to say, it hasn’t worked and the Red Sox are in deep trouble moving forward as long as there are factional disputes and power grabs in the front office and the insistence that they don’t need to substantially alter the personnel.

The Phillies? They had an all-world starting rotation, signed a top-notch closer and had an offense that should’ve scored enough to support that rotation. But they’re old and injuries removed significant names from their everyday lineup and rotation. They’re not getting any younger and have contract commitments that made it necessary to trade Hunter Pence and consider again trading Cliff Lee to re-sign Cole Hamels and hope to have the health and performance they’ve lacked in 2012.

The Angels? Jered Weaver is 15-1; Mike Trout is on his way to winning the Rookie of the Year and the American League MVP; they traded for Zack Greinke; stole Ernesto Frieri from the Padres; Mark Trumbo is having an MVP-caliber season of his own and will eventually hit a ball that will never land; and signed Albert Pujols (this generation’s Joe DiMaggio) last winter, are still hovering around mediocrity and are in serious danger of missing the playoffs. Could the fact that they had too many players for too few positions and a manager, Mike Scioscia, who was used to being totally in charge and found his power usurped with a roster that doesn’t fit his style have something to do with their lack of cohesion and simply looking off?

Importing stars and spending money is not necessarily the answer and with the Mets, who were they supposed to get last winter? Would they be any better now if they’d signed Jonathan Papelbon? First, Papelbon wasn’t signing with the Mets; second, they didn’t have the money. Who else was other there that would fill a hole the Mets had? C.J. Wilson? He wasn’t coming to the Mets. Prince Fielder? Would he take an IOU?

The 1998 Mariners had Alex Rodriguez, Ken Griffey Jr., and Edgar Martinez in their lineup and went 76-85. In 1999, they went 79-83. They traded Griffey for nothing after 1999 and lost in the ALCS in 2000. After that season, they lost A-Rod…and won 116 games in 2001. If you said in 1999 that the team would lose those two stars and win 116 games two years later, people would think you insane.

We don’t know what’s going to happen with prospects; how much luck will be involved; what the future holds. But the Mets have enough young players—especially young pitching—for a bright future.

Madoff was a PR disaster and financial nightmare for the Mets, but what it did was free the organization to let them rebuild correctly. As much as Minaya is savaged for spending money and for the contracts he gave to Oliver Perez, and the soon-to-mature big money deals he gave to Bay and Santana, no one could’ve expected the Wilpon financial empire to come undone. Whether they suspected that Madoff was a fraud or not, did anyone think it would come crashing as it did? Even with the Bay/Santana contracts, they should very well have had some money to spend if things had gone on as they were.

In retrospect, it’s going to be viewed as a good thing that the Mets had to trade Carlos Beltran and got Zack Wheeler; that they couldn’t toss more money at the wall and hope that stacks of cash would fill holes in a foundation that needed what’s being done now: a true rebuild.

If you think that a Mets’ starting rotation in 2013 of R.A. Dickey, Santana, Jonathon Niese, Matt Harvey and Wheeler won’t be able to make a run at a playoff spot if there’s a halfway decent bullpen and a couple of more offensive weapons, then you’re not accepting facts. As for the financial holes, no one knows how much money the Mets have to spend or not. They settled the Madoff case and, much to the poorly concealed disappointment of Howard Megdal, Bob Klapisch, John Harper and Joel Sherman, paid off several of the loans they’d taken out to continue to do business.

And they still own the team.

With the Bay/Santana money coming off the books after next season, Wright will be re-signed. A realistic idea to improve the offense and make Wright more willing to stay and not hold the organization hostage would be to make a serious play for Justin Upton to play right field (signed through 2015 with $38.5 million coming to him from 2013 onward); and pursue his brother B.J. Upton to play center field. B.J.’s not getting the $100 million he’s probably going to want, but would $70 million over 5 years get it done? To play with his brother and Wright, their childhood friend from Virginia? Maybe. And a lineup of Ike Davis, Daniel Murphy, Ruben Tejada, Wright, the Uptons, Jordany Valdespin or Kirk Nieuwenhuis, and a better hitting catcher would score enough runs to support that starting rotation.

It’s doable.

Ignore the media as they’re seeking ways to make up for their inability to write epitaphs for the Mets by writing them pre-death; also tune out the fans who are throwing tantrums as the team spirals. They weren’t expected to be any better than this. The young players are showing promise and things are far more positive than anticipated from December to April. Realistically that’s all the Mets and any organization can ask for when they’re rebuilding from the ground up amid financial catastrophe, declining attendance, media hit squads and palpable fan anger.

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American League Mid-Season Award Winners

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Normally I don’t like doling out awards for half-a-season, but everyone else does it so someone has to do it right when they’re more than likely doing it wrong.

Here’s the American League along with the people I selected in my book before the season started.

MVP

1. Mike Trout, OF—Los Angeles Angels

The Angels recalled him in what appeared to be a desperation maneuver similar to the way the Yankees recalled Robinson Cano in 2005. The difference being no one knew who or what Cano was. That’s including the Yankees since they’d offered him to the Rangers in the Alex Rodriguez trade a year earlier and the Rangers said no.

Trout was a star-in-waiting and has delivered. It’s no coincidence that the Angels’ ship righted when Trout joined the team and provided what the front office wants with pop and what manager Mike Scioscia wants with speed and defense.

2. Josh Hamilton, OF—Texas Rangers

In May it looked as if Hamilton was going to make a viable (and ironically a presumably clean) run at the “legit” home run record of 61.

No, I don’t advocate an asterisk or blotting out of the Barry Bonds record, but it can be discussed as if the modern records were achieved dubiously. Hamilton’s faded in June and July.

3. David Ortiz, DH—Boston Red Sox

Without him the Red Sox would probably be 4-5 games under .500 and pretty much buried.

4. Robinson Cano, 2B—New York Yankees

Quite simply there is nowhere to pitch to him to consistently get him out. With A-Rod, Derek Jeter and Mark Teixeira degenerating into one-dimensional, occasional threats, without Cano and Curtis Granderson the Yankees would be a pedestrian offensive club, if that.

5. Mark Trumbo, OF/1B/3B/DH—Los Angeles Angels

The day is going to come when he hits a ball and it never comes down.

Before the season I picked Jose Bautista. He’s having a big power year with 27 homers but his other numbers are down and the Blue Jays are a .500 team.

Cy Young Award

1. Justin Verlander, RHP—Detroit Tigers

He’s leading the Majors in strikeouts, innings pitched and has 5 complete games. For the second straight season the Tigers would be non-contenders without him and in 2012, they haven’t been all that good with him.

2. Chris Sale, LHP—Chicago White Sox

There are seamless transitions to the starting rotation from the bullpen and there’s blossoming into an ace. Sale has done the latter.

3. Jered Weaver, RHP—Los Angeles Angels

He’s 10-1 with a 1.96 ERA.

4. David Price, LHP—Tampa Bay Rays

He’s leading the league in wins and has the ability to dominate every time he goes out to the mound.

5. Jake Peavy, RHP—Chicago White Sox

Peavy is almost—not quite, but almost—back to the dominant pitcher he was in his best years with the Padres. His fastball isn’t as fast and his stressful motion is a constant concern for another injury, but he and Sale have saved the White Sox.

My preseason pick was Price.

Rookie of the Year

1. Mike Trout, OF–Los Angeles Angels

See above.

2. Jarrod Parker, RHP—Oakland Athletics

He has a great hits/innings pitched ratio of 65/85, has 67 strikeouts and only allowed 4 homers.

3. Will Middlebrooks, 3B—Boston Red Sox

Middlebrooks’s emergence expedited the departure (and essentially giving away) of Kevin Youkilis.

4. Jesus Montero, DH/C—Seattle Mariners

He’s struggling in his rookie year, but has 20 extra base hits while learning to catch a good pitching staff.

5. Addison Reed, RHP—Chicago White Sox

His ERA was blown up by one awful game in which he allowed 6 earned runs, but he’s stabilized the White Sox closer’s role and without him they wouldn’t be in first place.

My preseason pick was Montero.

Manager of the Year

1. Robin Ventura—Chicago White Sox

The absence of managing experience at any level made me a skeptic, but his laid back attitude is diametrically opposed to the former White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen which has relaxed the clubhouse from its hair-trigger and has notably helped Adam Dunn and Alex Rios.

2. Buck Showalter—Baltimore Orioles

The Orioles are playing Buckball.

3. Bob Melvin—Oakland Athletics

Having that team with their ballpark issues and influx of youngsters has proven Melvin to be what he always was: a good manager.

4. Joe Girardi—New York Yankees

Girardi’s never gotten the credit he’s deserved. They’ve survived the aforementioned decline of A-Rod and the season-ending injury to Mariano Rivera.

5. Ron Washington—Texas Rangers

No he’s not a strong strategic manager, but the players play hard for him and they win.

My preseason pick was Manny Acta of the Indians.

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Chase Headley Is More Valuable Than…

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Chase Headley is an affordable and versatile switch hitter. He can run, has some power and plays good defense whether it’s at third base or the outfield. He can probably play first base relatively well. He’s not a free agent until after the 2014 season so any team that has him will have him for the foreseeable future at a very reasonable price.

He’s a nice player. He’s a pretty good player.

But this posting on MLB Trade Rumors implies, based on Fangraphs’ version of Wins Above Replacement (WAR), that he’s something more than a pretty good player. It says specifically that Headley is the 13th most valuable position player in baseball.

This exemplifies a problem with WAR. It gives information that may or may not be accurate, relevant or in the proper context.

Does value equal worth?

In other words, it may be accurate that Headley is that good in this framework, but is it true? Is it fair?

Based on fWAR, yes Headley was the 13th “most valuable” player in baseball. (He’s dropped since the posting.)

But salary aside, would you rather have Headley instead of some of the players currently behind him in the list? Headley instead of Carlos Beltran? Instead of Brett Lawrie? Mark Trumbo? Jose Bautista? Joe Mauer?

Headley might hit for more power if he was in a friendlier home park, but don’t expect him to suddenly morph from what he is—10-12 homers a year—into Asdrubal Cabrera and have a wondrous jump in power to 25 homers.

Looking at other Padres’ players who’ve gone on to play in fairer parks—Adrian Gonzalez, Kevin Kouzmanoff and Mike Cameron—their power numbers have been the same or worse.

When in PetCo Park, the pitchers are aware of how difficult it is to hit a home run; that Headley hits a lot of balls up the middle which make it harder for him to hit home runs. They’re more likely to feed him pitches they wouldn’t if he were playing in a smaller park.

The dimensions of the park are static; the pitching strategy is variable.

Not unlike the oft-repeated and woefully inaccurate lament that if X player wasn’t caught stealing prior to Y player’s home run they would’ve had 2 runs rather than 1, it’s not taking into account that the entire pitching sequence would’ve been different and might’ve yielded an entirely different result.

It’s indicative of a lack of in-the-trenches knowledge to take fWAR—or any stat for that matter—at face value. Similar to those who said they’d stay away from Yu Darvish or Aroldis Chapman because of prior failures with Japanese and Cuban free agents; or the concept that because a tall catcher like Mauer has never made it as a star player then he’s not going to be a star player; or the Moneyball farce that college pitchers are a better option than high school pitchers, it’s a false “proof” based on floating principles that remove experience and baseball sense from the decisionmaking process.

Stats are important but not the final word. If you take seriously the idea that Headley is the 13th most valuable position player in baseball and judge him on that, quite bluntly, you don’t know anything about baseball and need to learn before putting your opinion out there as final. And if you knowingly twist the facts, that makes it worse because instead of full disclosure—statistical and otherwise—in spite of the possibility of them watering down your argument, you’re spiritually altering them to “prove” a nonexistent point. That’s not honesty. It’s agenda-driven and self-interested at the expense of the truth.

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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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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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My 2011 MLB Award Winners (And They Should Be Yours Too)

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Here are my 2011 Award Winners along with the other contenders listed 1-5. Also my pre-season picks are included.

American League Award Winners

MVP

1. Justin Verlander, RHP—Detroit Tigers

Verlander carried a mediocre team into contention and was about as brilliant as a pitcher can possibly be for the entire season. The Tigers record makes them look better than they were at mid-season when they were far from a playoff lock. Verlander won the pitching Triple Crown with 24 wins (5 losses); a 2.40 ERA; and 250 strikeouts in 251 innings.

If you use advanced statistics like WAR as a barometer, Verlander was second in the American League behind Jose Bautista with an 8.5.

The combination of being the best at his position and being imperative to the team’s success—they wouldn’t have been where they are without him—makes him the MVP.

2. Jose Bautista, OF/3B—Toronto Blue Jays

3. Jacoby Ellsbury, CF—Boston Red Sox

4. Adrian Gonzalez, 1B—Boston Red Sox

5. Miguel Cabrera, 1B—Detroit Tigers

Before the season, I picked Carl Crawford.

Yes. Well.

Cy Young Award

1. Justin Verlander, RHP—Detroit Tigers

See above.

2. CC Sabathia, LHP—New York Yankees

3. Jered Weaver, RHP—Los Angeles Angels

4. James Shields, RHP—Tampa Bay Rays

5. Mariano Rivera, RHP—New York Yankees

My preseason pick was Verlander.

Rookie of the Year

1. Ivan Nova, RHP—New York Yankees

Nova has overcome every obstacle put in front of him including an “odd man out” treatment from the club that quite probably prevented him from winning 20 games as they had too many starters and Nova still had minor league options remaining. He’s fearless, he’s cool and he comes up big when the Yankees need him to. He went 16-4 with a 3.70 ERA and was completely reliable on a team that had more questions at the beginning of the season than they care to admit—including a failure to truly believe in Nova.

2. Eric Hosmer, 1B—Kansas City Royals

3. Jeremy Hellickson, RHP—Tampa Bay Rays

4. Mark Trumbo, 1B—Los Angeles Angels

5. Jordan Walden, RHP—Los Angeles Angels

My preseason pick was Kyle Drabek of the Blue Jays. He wound up back in the minors.

Manager of the Year

1. Joe Maddon—Tampa Bay Rays

Maddon did a magnificent job in leading the Rays from “out” of contention into the playoffs. Had the Red Sox held onto their playoff spot, I’d have picked Joe Girardi, but the late season run by the Rays stole a playoff spot and the MOY award for Maddon. Girardi did a magnificent job this year and that must be noted.

2. Joe Girardi—New York Yankees

3. Jim Leyland—Detroit Tigers.

4. Mike Scioscia—Los Angeles Angels

5. Ron Washington—Texas Rangers

My preseason pick was Leyland.

National League Award Winners

MVP

1. Matt Kemp, CF—Los Angeles Dodgers

Kemp’s come a long way from being benched and ripped publicly by the club for his lazy, disinterested play and poor attitude that seemed to have come from going “Hollywood”.

He dedicated himself to the game in 2011 and almost won the Triple Crown while playing Gold Glove defense in center field. He put up massive numbers with 39 homers, 126 RBI, a .324 batting average, a .399 on base and 76 extra base hits.

2. Ryan Braun, LF—Milwaukee Brewers

3. Prince Fielder, 1B—Milwaukee Brewers

4. Lance Berkman, RF—St. Louis Cardinals

5. Clayton Kershaw, LHP—Los Angeles Dodgers

My preseason pick was Albert Pujols.

Cy Young Award

1. Clayton Kershaw, LHP—Los Angeles Dodgers

Kershaw won the National League pitching Triple Crown with 21 wins, a 2.28 ERA and 248 strikeouts in 233 innings. He walked 54 and allowed only 15 homers.

2. Roy Halladay, RHP—Philadelphia Phillies

3. Cliff Lee, LHP—Philadelphia Phillies

4. Ian Kennedy, RHP—Arizona Diamondbacks

5. Craig Kimbrel, RHP—Atlanta Braves

My preseason pick was Lee.

Rookie of the Year

1. Craig Kimbrel, RHP—Atlanta Braves

Never mind the games he blew late in the season, Kimbrel struck out 127 in 77 innings and saved 46 games for the Braves. They collapsed, but it wasn’t because of Kimbrel.

2. Freddie Freeman, 1B—Atlanta Braves

3. Brandon Beachy, RHP—Atlanta Braves

4. Vance Worley, RHP—Philadelphia Phillies

5. Wilson Ramos, C—Washington Nationals

My preseason pick was Kenley Jansen.

Manager of the Year

1. Kirk Gibson—Arizona Diamondbacks

This is partially good work and partially managing a team from whom not much was expected. Gibson’s intensity and the way it rubbed off on his players and the Diamondbacks won the NL West title.

2. Charlie Manuel—Philadelphia Phillies

3. Don Mattingly—Los Angeles Dodgers

4. Ron Roenicke—Milwaukee Brewers

5. Tony LaRussa—St. Louis Cardinals

My preseason pick was Mattingly.

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