MLB Inches Closer Toward The Trading Of Draft Picks

Award Winners, Basketball, Books, CBA, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Football, Free Agents, Games, Hall Of Fame, History, Management, Media, MiLB, NFL, Players, Playoffs, Prospects, Stats, Trade Rumors

The trades that were completed yesterday were a distraction for a slow day. Righty pitcher Scott Feldman was traded from the Cubs along with catcher Steve Clevenger to the Orioles for righty pitchers Jake Arrieta and Pedro Strop and cash. The cash in a trade is usually to offset contracts or provide a sweetener to complete a deal, but in this case the cash is international bonus money that the Cubs will use to accrue extra wiggleroom to sign free agents. They also acquired more bonus pool money from the Astros in exchange for minor leaguer Ronald Torreyes. They traded away some of that money in sending Carlos Marmol and cash to the Dodgers for veteran reliever Matt Guerrier.

The trades are secondary to the money exchanges. You can read about the ins-and-outs of why the Cubs, Dodgers and Astros did this here and the details of trading bonus slot money here. What the shifting around of money says to me is that MLB is experimenting with the concept of trading draft picks, something I’ve long advocated. That they’re trying to implement an international draft to shackle clubs’ hands even further from spending makes the trading of draft picks more likely.

With the increased interest in the MLB draft, one of the only ways to turn it into a spectacle that will function as a moon to the NFL draft’s sun and NBA’s Earth is to allow teams to trade their picks. Because amateur baseball pales in comparison to the attention college football and college basketball receive; because the game of baseball is so fundamentally different when making the transition from the amateurs to the pros, there is a finite number of people who watch it with any vested interest and a minimum percentage of those actually know what they’re looking at with enough erudition to accurately analyze it. It’s never going to be on a level with a Mel Kiper Jr. sitting in the ESPN draft headquarters knowing every player in the college ranks and being able to rattle off positives, negatives and why the player should or shouldn’t have been drafted where he was with it having a chance to be accurate. MLB tries to do that, but it’s transparent when John Hart, Harold Reynolds and whoever else are sitting around a table in an empty studio miraculously proclaiming X player of reminds them of Bryce Harper, Mike Trout, Albert Pujols, Matt Harvey, Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez or Dustin Pedroia when they’ve seen (or haven’t seen) a five second clip of him; when Bud Selig takes his mummified steps to the podium to announce the names of players he couldn’t recognize if they were playing in the big leagues now. And don’t get me started on the overall ludicrousness of Keith Law.

There’s no comparison between baseball and the other sports because in baseball, there’s a climb that has to be made after becoming a professional. In football and basketball, a drafted player automatically walks into the highest possible level of competition. With a top-tier pick, the football and basketball player isn’t just a member of the club, but he’s expected to be a significant contributor to that club.

With baseball, there’s no waste in a late-round draft pick because there’s nothing to waste. Some players are drafted to be organizational filler designed to complete the minor league rosters. If one happens to make it? Hey, look who the genius is for finding a diamond in the rough! Except it’s not true. A player from the 20th round onward (and that’s being generous) making it to the majors at all, let alone becoming a star, is a fluke. But with MLB putting such a focus on the draft, that’s the little secret they don’t want revealed to these newly minted baseball “experts” who started watching the game soon after they read Moneyball and thinks a fat kid who walks a lot for a division III college is going to be the next “star.” Trust me, the scouts saw that kid and didn’t think he could play. That’s why he was drafted late if he was drafted at all. There’s no reinventing of the wheel here in spite of Michael Lewis’s hackneyed and self-serving attempts to do so.  Yet MLB draft projecting has blossomed into a webhit accumulator and talking point. There’s a demand for it, so they’ll sell it regardless of how random and meaningless it truly is.

So what does all this have to do with the trading of the bonus slot money? MLB allowing the exchange of this money will give a gauge on the public reaction and interest level to such exchanges being made to provide market research as to the expanded reach the trading of draft picks would yield. If there’s a vast number of websearches that lead MLB to believe that it’s something that can spark fan fascination, then it’s something they can sell advertising for and make money. It’s a test case and once the results are in, you’ll see movement on the trading of draft picks. It’s a good idea no matter how it happens. Now if we can only do something to educate the masses on how little Keith Law knows, we’ll really be getting somewhere.

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Covering The Bases Of Inaccuracy

Books, Games, Management, Media, Paul Lebowitz's 2011 Baseball Guide, Players

Considering his success as a manager, it’s odd that certain factions have chosen to take the Twins awful start and a statement he made yesterday as an all-encompassing indictment of the entire tenure of manager Ron Gardenhire.

Gardenhire said that he and pitching coach Rick Anderson have been trying to convince Francisco Liriano to “pitch to contact” rather than try and rack up strikeouts.

Was this a discouragement against the strikeout? No, I doubt it. I see this as an entreaty for Liriano to trust his stuff and stop being so concerned with missing bats; make the pitches and let the movement, velocity and location take care of itself.

Laying the blame for the Twins slow start at the manager’s desk an after-the-fact emergence of those who’ve surreptitiously criticized the Twins and their style for years, but didn’t have the courage to do so while the team was making the playoffs on an annual basis.

Because they do things their own way, the stat people have ridiculed them as a creation of luck; that Gardenhire was along for the ride as they’ve made the playoffs in six of his nine years as manager; the one year they didn’t, they lost in a one-game playoff. His faults have been perceived as evident in their consistent playoff losses.

It’s a fact that they’ve only gotten past the ALDS once.

But facts don’t always tell the entire story. The reasons for the criticisms of Gardenhire may be accurate and factual in the bottom line, but it doesn’t make it fair.

You can’t have it both ways.

You can’t say the manager is at fault for the negatives and deserves no credit for the positives. In stat circles as an excuse more than a reason, the playoffs are seen as a crapshoot. If that’s the case, you can’t hold Gardenhire responsible for continually running into the Yankees in the ALDS and losing; nor can you say his strategies didn’t work if there’s no blame to be doling out.

Now the Twins are off to an atrocious start not because of anything Gardenhire has said, done or not done; they’re off to an atrocious start because they’re a strangely constructed team that endured heavy under-the-radar free agent losses that undermined their template for winning.

Without the bullpen arms Matt Guerrier, Jon Rauch and Jesse Crain; and the departure of defensively superior shortstop and second baseman J.J. Hardy and Orlando Hudson, how do you think the pitchers—none of whom apart from Liriano are particularly good—are going to fare?

When a contact-based, bullpen reliant starting staff has their defense compromised and relievers dispatched, what’s going to happen?

It doesn’t help that the Twins haven’t hit, but their defense is awful and this is directly affecting the pitchers. They’re walking too many people; giving up too many hits and homers.

Could it be that the pitchers don’t trust the defense and trying too hard to pitch differently from what they’re accustomed to and what they’ve been taught? That the absence of trustworthy bullpen arms is in their heads as they feel they have to pitch deeper into games? Are they trapped in the purgatory of  bad defense, pitching to contact, conserving pitches and an offense that hasn’t started hitting?

As much as his decisions can be criticized, Gardenhire is in control of the clubhouse and his players play the game in a fundamentally correct fashion. It’s worked for them every year. Through lost stars like Johan Santana, injuries and a limited payroll, they’ve won.

Gardenhire wasn’t appreciated for the good things, but now all of a sudden his managing is why the Twins sit at 4-7?

He’s not doing anything different than he did before. His team’s just oddly constructed and not very good.

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Check out my book, Paul Lebowitz’s 2011 Baseball Guide is available.

I published a full excerpt of my book here.

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Minnesota Has Bigger Problems Than Just Michele Bachmann

Books, Management, Paul Lebowitz's 2011 Baseball Guide, Players, Spring Training

All due respect to the overt danger of Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann contemplating a presidential run and that there are unsupervised adults who are supporting this endeavor, there are bigger issues currently confronting the people of Minnesota.

Representative Bachmann has zero chance of being elected president, thereby rendering her run meaningless. The Twins on the other hand have had a viable claim to being World Series contenders for much of the past decade. It’s not simply due to talent; the “Twins Way” has been as responsible for their consistency as any trades, free agent signings, smart draft choices or stability.

There’s a chain-of-command with the Twins; a code of conduct and behavior off the field; and an adherence to fundamentals on it that has served them well despite injuries, defections and financial constraints.

But now there are holes that they’ll have a tough time overcoming.

Let’s take a look.

Systematic departures:

The Twins are not a club of dominating starting pitching. Their rotation—apart from the potential star Francisco Liriano—is a strike-throwing, innings-gobbling group of cogs in the machine.

They’re not asked to do too much. They need to pound the strike zone, not surrender crooked numbers and get the game to the bullpen with a lead.

That’s the problem.

Departed relievers Matt Guerrier, Jon Rauch and Jesse Crain were keys to manager Ron Gardenhire’s strategy.

Guerrier was durable with 70+ appearances every single year and consistent numbers. Crain didn’t allow many homers, threw hard and could strike people out. Rauch was versatile, able to set up and close.

All three are gone and so too is sidearming Pat Neshek who was placed on waivers and claimed by the San Diego Padres.

The return of Joe Nathan and a full season from Matt Capps (one will close, the other will set-up) will help in their efforts to move forward without the above-mentioned pitchers, they still have several gaps to fill in the middle innings. And they haven’t done it.

If you think Carl Pavano‘s 2010 season and his brilliant spring training are a portent of a continuation of that work into the regular season, you’re banking a lot on a pitcher who was a running joke not long ago and has a history of relaxing (to say the least) once he has contractual security.

Apart from Liriano, the rest of the Twins staff is extremely hittable and will be hurt badly by the departures of the defensively-oriented J.J. Hardy and Orlando Hudson.

With a bullpen-based team and mediocre starting rotation that needs its defense, do you see the problem here as the bullpen has been drastically altered and gutted of the unsung arms that were imperative to team success?

Teams don’t realize what they had until it’s gone; replacing Guerrier, Rauch and Crain won’t be a matter of plugging someone else in andc continuing with the same template.

Questionable defense, declining offense:

Alexi Casilla has moved to shortstop to replace J.J. Hardy. Japanese import Tsuyoshi Nishioka—a shortstop in Japan—will play second base.

Do you know what to expect from either one of these players?

It was a year-and-a-half ago when Casilla—the erstwhile second baseman—was sent to the minor leagues for poor, lackadaisical play. Will he hit? And can he play shortstop on an everyday basis?

Nishioka has killed the ball this spring, but that means nothing. You won’t know how a Japanese import is going to perform until the season starts and he does it. Nishioka batted .346 last season; stole 22 bases; and walked 79 times—stats.

But so what?

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: you don’t know what you’re getting from a Japanese import. You could be getting a Hideo Nomo-like phenomenon; you could be getting a Hideki Irabu disaster. Offensively, you might get Ichiro Suzuki or Hideki Matsui or you could get Kaz Matsui.

You don’t know.

There are some who believe that a team is only as good as their up-the-middle personnel. The Twins have Joe Mauer behind the plate—state of the art and one of the top three all-around hitters in baseball; in center field, they have the talented Denard Span who should rebound from a sub-par 2010; at second and short, they have two question marks both offensively and defensively.

A weaker offense:

The Twins seem to still be holding their collective breaths with Justin Morneau as he recovers from the concussion he sustained last year. They have the depth to mix-and-match and survive with Jason Kubel, Michael Cuddyer, Jim Thome in some permutation.

But with the departures of the bullpen pieces; the new middle of the diamond; the likelihood of a fallback year from Delmon Young; and the questions surrounding Morneau’s health, they won’t score as many runs as the did last season and will allow more due to a diminished pitching staff.

The Twins are banking a great deal of their 2011 season on Casilla and Nishioka—an eventuality I would not be comfortable with.

Hangover and fallout:

The Twins put everything they had into last season. They spent money to acquire veteran talent Orlando Hudson, Hardy and Thome; they made bold in-season acquisitions with Capps and Brian Fuentes; they felt they had the goods to finally take out the Yankees.

For five innings in game 1 of the ALDS, they were killing the ghosts from their playoff nemesis…then the wheels came off.

After the Yankees exploded for 4 runs in the top of the 6th inning of game 1, the Twins put forth their final stand in the series by tying the game in the bottom of the inning; but Mark Teixeira‘s 2-run homer gave the Yankees a 6-4 lead—which they held.

The Twins whole aura changed. All the confidence and self-belief they carried into the series, telling themselves that this time would be different, floated off into the distance and disappeared like a lost helium balloon.

As much as it’s said that such an instance can be overcome when the next season starts, this is not the same team. It’s weaker and the White Sox and Tigers are stronger.

It all adds up to a down year for a model franchise.

The 2011 Twins are going to go about as far as former Governor Tim Pawlenty’s own (more realistic than Rep. Bachmann’s) presidential aspirations: the Twins players and Pawlenty are good guys; solid backgrounds; experience; systematic beliefs and a limited chance to win based on reality.

They’re in for an awakening and it’s not going to be gentle.

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I published a full excerpt of my book a week ago here.

The book is available now. Click here to get it in paperback or E-Book on I-Universe or on Amazon or BN. It’s also available via E-book on Borders.com.

Now it’s out on Amazon Kindle too! Dig it!!!



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The Bubble Contenders

Free Agents, Players, Spring Training

The importance of spring training won/lost records and performances aside—yes, I’m being sarcastic—certain teams have numerous questions entering the 2011 season. Some will have to make the decision relatively early as to whether to clear out marketable players for the future or move forward and add in a desperate attempt to save the season.

Here are some of the teams whose seasons could go either way from contention to a rapid plummet and the players about whom needy clubs should inquire.

(This is independent of teams like the Pirates and Mariners—we know where their seasons are heading.)

Tampa Bay Rays

They have the ingredients to hang around contention but they have a load of young pitching and veterans like James Shields trying to regain his form; the bullpen has been completely redone; they’ll score, but they could be overmatched in the AL East if they get off to a bad start.

The obvious names to call about at mid-season will be Manny Ramirez and Johnny Damon; but I’d call about Ben Zobrist. Zobrist is signed, he’s versatile and coming off a bad year after his star turn in 2009.

Someone would take B.J. Upton—I wouldn’t touch him—but he’s a center fielder and they’re in demand. I’d field offers on him now.

Minnesota Twins

The bullpen—their most underappreciated attribute to winning all these years—was gutted with the departures of Matt Guerrier and Jesse Crain; the starting rotation is workmanlike, mediocre and needed that bullpen to survive.

Francisco Liriano will be up for auction if the Twins falter and the Twins will try to hold someone up. If I’m the Yankees, there’s no way I surrender Ivan Nova for Liriano—Nova’s about as useful without the flashy name of Liriano.

Jim Thome would help someone down the stretch and Michael Cuddyer is a pending free agent after the season.

Los Angeles Angels

Scott Kazmir, Joel Pineiro, Bobby Abreu and Fernando Rodney are the pending free agent vets and would be on the trade block if the Angels fall.

But there’s another name who’s worth a shot: Jered Weaver.

The Angels relationship with Weaver’s agent Scott Boras is shaky at best after the Mark Teixeira mess; Weaver and the club are going year-to-year with arbitration threats and settlements. He’s not signing a long-term deal and is a free agent after 2012. He’d be worth a fortune in prospects to clubs like the Yankees, Cardinals and Rangers.

If I were the Yankees, I’d steer clear of Liriano and go after Weaver.

Oakland Athletics

The lovelorn worship of Billy Beane is starting up all over again and I’ve taken a new tack in my attempts to contextualize his so-called “genius”; I call it the “Chris Russo Argument With Ludicrous Leaps Of Logic”. Here it makes sense. Briefly, I call it “win something”.

Enough with being the prom king.

Win something.

No more “genius” and applause based on washing himself with a rag on a stick obese Bart Simpson-style.

Win something.

As for the players, the A’s are a trendy pick for the playoffs, but young pitching fluctuates and there’s no guarantee they’re going to be as good as people think.

Hideki Matsui, Josh Willingham, David DeJesus, Mark Ellis, Coco Crisp and Kevin Kouzmanoff would all be on the market if things go badly.

I love the way Willingham hits and the Braves could really use him.

Florida Marlins

They’re heading into a new ballpark in 2012; the division is a nightmare; expectations are unreasonably high.

Javier Vazquez will be in demand if he pitches competently and is healthy. If I were the Marlins, I’d trade Anibal Sanchez before he gets hurt again. Wes Helms could be an asset for a contender with his penchant for clutch homers.

San Diego Padres

The one name on everyone’s lips will be Heath Bell.

A free agent at the end of the year and ready to cash in for the first time in his career, he might make the difference in a championship as a set-up man or closer.

I’m convinced the Padres front office was surprised by their rapid leap into contention last season and, in the long run, it might have been a detriment to the long term plan especially since they faded and missed the playoffs. They did the right thing in trading Adrian Gonzalez last winter and unless Bell agrees to a hometown discount, they have to keep an open mind.

Ryan Ludwick, Jorge Cantu and Brad Hawpe might yield a couple of prospects for a team needing a veteran bat.

Colorado Rockies

I would call Rockies GM Dan O’Dowd and tell him that if their season goes poorly, don’t rule out considering a trade of Ubaldo Jimenez. He’s willing to think outside-the-box and presumably would at least listen to offers; that’s the first step in getting a deal done. It’s unlikely since Jimenez is signed through 2014 for a pittance commensurate with his abilities, but why not ask?

Aaron Cook, Huston Street and possibly Todd Helton would be movable parts who could be of ancillary assistance to a contender.

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