Ricky Nolasco Proves the Market Rewards Mediocrity

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The Ricky Nolasco contract with the Twins was announced last night. I haven’t looked at the reactions yet, but presumably they range between indignation, head shakes and grudging acknowledgements that “that’s the market.” Whether or not he’s worth that money is beside the point. Nolasco is a better pitcher than he’s been given credit for and he’s durable. He’s not the pitcher you’d prefer to have starting opening day or the first game of a playoff series, but he’s a professional arm who will provide innings and competence. In today’s market, that’s going to get him $50 million. I’m not judging it one way or the other. It just “is.” Personally, I’d prefer Bronson Arroyo to Nolasco. But Nolasco is certainly a better risk than Masahiro Tanaka. It’s all about context.

It’s not a free money policy in an industry that is flush with cash that is causing teams to make seeming overpays for slightly above-average pitchers. It’s the overall culture of wastefulness that has permeated baseball through ridiculous developmental rules for pitchers that make necessary the purchasing of whatever is on the market for the going rate due to supply and demand.

Teams and analysts talk out of both sides of their mouths – as well as other orifices – when they put forth the pretense of running the organization as a business and then toss uncountable amounts of money at mediocrity, wondering why they get mediocrity when that’s what they bought.

A.J. Burnett was the epitome of a pitcher who was overpaid based on need and availability. Having missed the playoffs in 2008 and desperate for starting pitching, the Yankees threw money at their problems and it worked. One pitcher they signed was A.J. Burnett. Burnett was always the epitome of the “million dollar arm, five cent head” pitcher, one who could throw a no-hitter striking out 18 one game and give up a three-run homer to the opposing pitcher in the next game. For that, the Yankees doled a contract worth $82.5 million for five years. They kept him for three, paid the Pirates $20 million to take him off their hands and didn’t even get useful prospects in the trade.

The galling aspect of Burnett’s three year tenure in pinstripes was that there was a belief that he’d arrive and suddenly fulfill his potential just because he was a Yankee. In truth, he pitched in the same frustrating, aggravating way he always pitched. It was the height of Yankee arrogance to think they were going to get anything different. During his whole time as a Yankee, when the media and fans screamed about his inconsistency, I responded with an identical and more logical scream that I gave when they signed him: This is what you bought!!! This is A.J. Burnett!!!

The reason the Yankees needed pitching that year was because their attempts to “grow their own” in an effort to save money over the long-term by not having to buy other teams’ arms failed miserably with Joba Chamberlain, Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy either getting hurt, pitching poorly or fluctuating in their roles in 2008. With 20/20 hindsight, the Yankees and other clubs who use the pitch counts/innings limits/overprotectiveness for their young pitchers can examine these failures, the need to spend their way out of trouble to purchase breathing bodies who can eat innings and ask whether or not it was worth it.

I don’t want to hear about injuries, changing roles, unsuitability for New York and the other excuses that are proffered to explain away the failures of these three pitchers – that’s all part of why they failed. The fact is that for 16 combined seasons from Chamberlain, Hughes and Kennedy, the Yankees got an 80-68 won/lost record, a 4.37 ERA and wasted years when they were in their early-to-mid 20s and should have been at their strongest and most useful. Don’t start looking for advanced stats either because that’s only going to make the case for the way the Yankees used them worse. They could have been good and weren’t. It’s not hard to figure out why.

If you combine the draft pick compensation that many teams are unwilling to surrender to sign pitchers, the number of pitchers on the market declines even further. That absence and the number of top-tier talent who sign long-term deals to stay with their current teams leads to pitchers like Nolasco getting $50 million deals. Nolasco was traded at mid-season meaning he wasn’t subject to being offered arbitration, therefore there’s no draft pick compensation. Arroyo wasn’t offered arbitration by the Reds. Tanaka won’t cost anything other than money. That’s why they’re attractive.

The Giants were roasted for signing Tim Lincecum to a two-year, $35 million contract rather than let him go as a free agent, but now the decision looks astute. You’d be hard-pressed to find any stat person willing to give Giants general manager Brian Sabean credit for anything, but he kept Lincecum. It was wiser to do so considering the options of trading young players to get an arm or offering Lincecum arbitration hoping he’d take it and no one would offer him a Nolasco-style deal. In retrospect, it was simply easier and better long-term thinking to keep him. The Giants also signed Tim Hudson to a two-year contract. Without compensation attached to him and with the deal Nolasco just signed, Hudson might have lowballed himself by signing so early even at age 38.

Are teams really so in love with Tanaka that they’re willing to give upwards of $150 million to secure his rights and sign him? Or is it that there’s no other payments necessary apart from the posting fee and signing him to a contract? To sit and claim that Tanaka is a sure thing is ridiculous considering the attrition rate of pitchers who arrive with similar hype and expectations. Again, it’s the market and the desperation to hold true to draft picks, luxury tax and other aspects that are influencing which pitchers are getting big money and which aren’t.

The Rays have the right idea with their own pitchers: they use them without overt abuse or overprotectiveness; they don’t sign them to long-term contracts; and they trade them at their highest value for a package of prospects. It’s easy to say, “just copy the Rays” but how many teams have the freedoms the Rays do? How many teams are able to say, “We can’t pay him and it makes no sense to keep him for that extra year when these offers are on the table in a destitute market?” For all the credit the Rays get for their success and intelligence, a substantial portion of it is directly because they have no money; because they’ve been able to win under their tight financial circumstances; because they don’t have a brand-new ballpark with three million fans in attendance; because the media doesn’t go crazy when they trade Matt Garza, James Shields and listen to offers on David Price.

When a team needs 200 innings and isn’t going to get it from their top pitching prospects due to an arbitrary number of innings they’re allowed to pitch to keep them healthy, they have to buy it somewhere else. Stephen Strasburg is entering his fifth season in the big leagues, will be a free agent after 2016, will demand $150 million and as of now still hasn’t broken the 200-inning barrier. Unless the Nats pay it, another team will benefit from the protective cocoon he’s been in. Oh, and he got hurt anyway. Scott Boras will be more than happy to use the hammer of the Nats having signed, paid and developed Strasburg and won’t want to let him leave to force them to pay more money than his performance indicates he’s been worth.

For every Clayton Kershaw or Chris Sale who are allowed to pitch, there are five Strasburgs and Chamberlains who aren’t. And who benefits from the absence of arms? The Nolascos and Tanakas. Production be damned. They have what teams are looking for because most teams – through their own short-sightedness and stupidity – can’t make it on their own.

How is that a wise business model?

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American League Remaining Schedule and Playoff Chance Analysis

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Let’s take a look at the remaining schedules for all the teams still in the hunt for an American League playoff berth.

Boston Red Sox

Record: 89-58; 15 games remaining

Current Position: First Place by 9.5 games, American League East

Remaining Schedule: 1 game at Rays; 3 games vs. Yankees; 3 games vs. Orioles; 3 games vs. Blue Jays; 2 games at Rockies; 3 games at Orioles

The Red Sox have the best record in the American League by five games. They’re going to have a significant say in which team gets the second Wild Card given their six games against the Orioles and four against the Yankees. They’re not going to lay down as evidenced by manager John Farrell’s somewhat odd – but successful – decision last night to use Koji Uehara is a tie game that meant nothing to them. I’m wondering if Farrell has received advice from Patriots coach Bill Belichick on going for the throat at all costs because it was a Belichick move.

They don’t seem to have a preference as to whether they knock out the Yankees, Rays or Orioles. They’re playing all out, all the way.

Oakland Athletics

Record: 84-61; 17 games remaining

Current Position: First Place by 3 games, American League West

Remaining Schedule: 1 game at Twins; 3 games at Rangers; 3 games vs. Angels; 4 games vs. Twins; 3 games at Angels; 3 games at Mariners

The A’s lead the Rangers by three games and have three games with them this weekend. Strength of schedule can be a dual-edged sword. This isn’t the NFL, but teams whose seasons are coming to a disappointing close are just as likely to get some motivation by playing teams that have something to play for as they are to bag it and give up. The Angels have played better lately and the Mariners can pitch.

Detroit Tigers

Record: 84-62; 16 games remaining

Current Position: First Place by 6.5 games, American League Central

Remaining Schedule: 3 games vs. Royals; 4 games vs. Mariners; 3 games vs. White Sox; 3 games vs. Twins; 3 games vs. Marlins

The Tigers’ upcoming schedule is pretty weak and they have a good cushion for the division. They can’t coast, but they can relax a bit.

Texas Rangers

Record: 81-64; 17 games remaining

Current Position: Second Place by 3 games, American League West; lead first Wild Card by 3.5 games

Remaining Schedule: 3 games vs. Athletics; 4 games at Rays; 3 games at Royals; 3 games vs. Astros; 4 games vs. Angels

The Rangers are in jeopardy of falling out of the playoffs entirely if they slip up over the next ten games. All of those teams have something to play for and the Rangers have been slumping.

Tampa Bay Rays

Record: 78-66; 18 games remaining

Current Position: Second Place by 9.5 games, American League East; lead second Wild Card by 1 game

Remaining Schedule: 1 game vs. Red Sox; 3 games at Twins; 4 games at Rangers; 4 games at Orioles; 3 games at Yankees; 3 games at Blue Jays

With the way they’re currently playing (think the 2007 Mets) they’re not going to right their ship in time to make the playoffs. They’d better wake up. Fast.

New York Yankees

Record: 78-68; 16 games remaining

Current Position: Third Place by 10.5 games; 1 game behind for the second Wild Card

Remaining Schedule: 1 game at Orioles; 3 games at Red Sox; 3 games at Blue Jays; 3 games vs. Giants; 3 games vs. Rays; 3 games at Astros

There’s a reluctance to say it, but the Yankees are better off without this current version of Derek Jeter. He was hurting the team offensively and defensively. Their problem has nothing to do with schedules or how they’re playing, but with age and overuse. They’re hammering away with their ancient veterans for one last group run. Mariano Rivera is being repeatedly used for multiple innings out of necessity; Alex Rodriguez is hobbled; David Robertson is pitching hurt; Shawn Kelley isn’t 100 percent; Andy Pettitte is gutting his way through. If they’re in it in the last week, will there be any gas left in their collective tanks?

Cleveland Indians

Record: 77-68; 17 games remaining

Current Position: Second Place by 6.5 games, American League Central; 1.5 games behind for the second Wild Card

Remaining Schedule: 4 games at White Sox; 3 games at Royals; 4 games vs. Astros; 2 games vs. White Sox; 4 games at Twins

The White Sox are playing about as badly as the Astros without the excuse of lack of talent/innocent youth. They just don’t seem to care. The Indians’ schedule pretty much guarantees they’ll at least be alive in the last week of the season.

Baltimore Orioles

Record: 77-68; 17 games remaining

Current Position: Fourth Place by 11 games, American League East; 1.5 games behind for the second Wild Card

Remaining Schedule: 1 game vs. Yankees; 3 games at Blue Jays; 3 games at Red Sox; 4 games at Rays; 3 games vs. Blue Jays; 3 games vs. Red Sox

The Red Sox are taking great, sadistic pleasure in hampering the playoff hopes of anyone and everyone and have shown no preference in who they’re beating on. This will hurt and/or help the Orioles. The big games to watch are those four with the Rays.

Kansas City Royals

Record: 77-69; 16 games remaining

Current Position: Third Place by 7 games, American League Central; 2 games behind for the second Wild Card

Remaining Schedule: 3 games at Tigers; 3 games vs. Indians; 3 games vs. Rangers; 3 games at Mariners; 4 games at White Sox

I’d like to see the Royals make the playoffs because: A) they’re a likable young team; B) we need some new blood in the post-season; and B) the likes of Rany Jazayerli, Rob Neyer, Joe Sheehan and the rest of the stat-obsessed “experts” who live to bash the Royals will either have to admit they’re wrong (unlikely) or will join together to play a disturbing game of middle-aged men Twister (hopefully clothed) to justify why they were “right” even though Dayton Moore’s moves worked and the Royals leapt into contention and more.

It will be nice having an experienced arm like James Shields for a one-game Wild Card playoff or for the first game of the ALDS. I have a feeling about the Royals making the playoffs. And it’s gonna be funny.

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MLB Trade Deadline: Thinking Outside The Box With Hughes And Chamberlain

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The Yankees are trying to unload both Joba Chamberlain and Phil Hughes. In Chamberlain’s case, they’ll take whatever a team is willing to give. In Hughes’s case, they’d like to boost their offense with a third base or outfield bat. With the pending free agency and poor performance from both former phenoms, they’re not getting much of a return on either. Because the interest in the pitchers is limited, it would help the Yankees in their cause to get something for them if they alter the landscape. How about Hughes as a reliever, where he’s been successful in the past; and Chamberlain as a starter to see if he can perform adequately in the role over the remaining two months of the season?

In what would be a combination of Mike Francesa’s current dream and revisiting of a past nightmare by approaching the Twins to see if they’d send Justin Morneau in exchange for Chamberlain and the suggestion that the rebuilding Twins try Chamberlain as a starter, they might be willing to give it consideration if the Yankees throw in another prospect. The trade interest in Morneau is reportedly just as limited for the Twins as Chamberlain and Hughes are for the Yankees, so why not suggest to the Twins that they might get something from Chamberlain as a starter? Perhaps they’d see something they liked, would be able to sign him for another year and give him a full year in the rotation and an opportunity the Yankees never gave him: to function in one role without expectations, demands, hovering questions, rules and alterations that played a large part in his eventual destruction and disappointment.

Chamberlain would be agreeable to the idea because he knows he won’t get a lot of money as a free agent in his current state. Few will dispute that the Yankees mishandled him from 2008 onward. He needs a change of scenery and in spite of his status amongst his peers as overrated and the joy they take in his downfall because he’s not a likable person, he still has a mid-90s fastball and hard slider. His ancillary pitches have diminished due to lack of use, but he does have a curveball and changeup. Naysayers will say “he can’t start,” but no one knows if he can start because he was never given a true opportunity to be a starter with the Yankees’ ridiculous constraints on him in the interest of “protection.” Even when he had a brief run of sustained success in late July of 2009, the Yankees disrupted his rhythm by decreeing that he needed extra rest, made him wait a week between his July 29 start and his August 6 start and he reverted back to what he was with mediocrity and inconsistency. The Yankees’ self-harm with Chamberlain appeared almost intentional like a teenage girl cutting herself.

At this point it’s senseless to go into another rant regarding the mistakes the Yankees made with Hughes and Chamberlain. That the pitchers have neither come close to fulfilling their potential nor living up to the hype the Yankees saddled upon them goes without saying. That’s a matter for discussion once both are gone. Now that Hughes is performing as a back-of-the-rotation starter and Michael Pineda is ready to return makes it wasteful to keep Hughes as a starter or a reliever. A contending team might want Hughes as a starter and give up a low minor leaguer for him, or they might look at his prior success as a reliever for the Yankees’ 2009 World Series winning team and think he can help them as a set-up man for the final two months of the season and let him leave as a free agent with little risk or cost. The team that trades for him might even want to keep him as a starter or reliever.

The fact is that the value of Hughes and Chamberlain is gone. The Yankees don’t need them. They don’t even want them. The best bet for everyone is to restart the whole process and move along. The Yankees can still get something for them and they can be of use to whatever team trades for them if the participants think a bit differently and consider them in different roles than they’re being used in now.


Francesa Dreams Of Justin

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With Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira reinjuring his right wrist and the possibility of him being lost for the season very real, expect Mike Francesa on WFAN tomorrow to begin anew his delusional, deranged and silly demand that the Yankees get—not pursue, but get—Twins first baseman Justin Morneau.

The reasons this won’t happen are nearly endless. The Twins, in spite of being five games under .500, are only 6 1/2 games out of first place, which puts them 2 1/2 games further out of first place than the Yankees. The Twins aren’t giving Morneau away regardless of his expiring contract at the end of the season and there still remains the possibility that they’ll do a typical “Twins thing” and re-sign Morneau. Morneau has played in 61 games this season and hit 2 home runs vs. Teixeira’s 3 in 15 games with a wrist that is now revealed to not have been at 100%.

It makes no sense in any context, but that won’t stop Francesa from repeating the name Morneau (Moah-no) as if that is the answer to the Yankees’ woes when it’s:  A) not; and B) not going to happen.

Amid all the talk of the likes of Cliff Lee, Aramis Ramirez, Brian McCann and other available or potentially available name, they too are unlikely unless the Yankees are willing to surrender the prospects and eat the money that will be necessary to do it. Strangely, with Kevin Youkilis also returning to the disabled list with a back injury and the big news that Derek Jeter is back to baseball activities and may be able to return after the All-Star break, the one player that everyone reviled and wanted gone might be the player who can help more than any of the others who’ve been mentioned and won’t cost them anything to acquire: Alex Rodriguez.

A-Rod, for all the vitriol and embarrassment he engenders, still hit 18 homers and posted a .783 OPS in 122 games last season. His late-season stumble and post-season nightmare were due to him being hurt. If he comes back and shows some semblance of the pop he has in the past, pitchers will still have to plan for him even if he isn’t the 50-homer masher he once was.

After all the loathing A-Rod has inspired, it would be somewhat ironic if the Yankees look forward to his return because they need him and don’t treat him as if he’s an incurable disease whose mere mention inspires retching. And if the fans start clamoring for A-Rod and have the audacity to give him a standing ovation similar to the one that Jeter’s going to get when he comes back, A-Rod should respond appropriately. Given how he can’t sink any lower in the eyes of the public, a perfect response would be to drop he pants and moon the cheering crowd as he flips his middle finger at them. It would sum up the relationship and would probably be the first time in A-Rod’s tenure as a Yankee that he was honest about anything. The fans might actually appreciate it…as long as he hits.


Rethinking the GM, Part II—American League Central

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You can read the basis of these postings and part I here.

Detroit Tigers

Mike Ilitch is the epitome of the “do the right thing” owner with all of his sports franchises. He hires people who are both perceived to know and do know what they’re doing and gives them the resources to be successful. With GM Dave Dombrowski, there’s none of the “look how smart I am” pretense in which he wants to win but more than winning, he wants credit for winning and being the architect of the franchise.

Dombrowski is the classic old-school baseball guy who worked his way up organically and didn’t trick anyone with an array of numbers and catchy business-themed buzzwords. Some owners want to hear that stuff and it’s usually either the ruthless corporate types who have no interest in anyone’s feelings and putting out a product that will be both practically successful and aesthetically likable; or a rich guy who didn’t work for his money and is interested in seeing his name in the papers, but doesn’t have the faintest concept into what running a sports franchise is all about and isn’t able to comprehend that you can’t run a baseball team like a corporation and expect it to work.

Ilitch knows and understands this and lets Dombrowski do his job. Dombrowski has built three different clubs to success with the Expos, Marlins and Tigers and had a hand in the early 1980s White Sox who rose to prominence under manager Tony LaRussa. For those who consider Dombrowski a product of Ilitch’s willingness to spend money and little else, it’s simply not true and is only presented as an excuse because he’s not a stat guy. He knows talent, spends money when necessary, but also has an old-school GM’s aggressiveness going after what he wants when others wouldn’t know what they’re getting as evidenced by his under-the-radar trade for Doug Fister. Most people in baseball barely knew who Fister was at the time the Tigers traded for him and the acquisition exemplified Dombrowski’s thinking and decisionmaking as he refused to take Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik saying “no” for an answer. The prospects Dombrowski gave up to get Fister haven’t done much for the Mariners and Fister is a solid mid-rotation starter at age 29.

Cleveland Indians

The Indians use the transfer of power approach when they name their GM. John Hart passed his job on to Mark Shapiro and Shapiro moved up to the team presidency and Chris Antonetti took over as GM. This is not a situation where the GM is actually running the whole show. Shapiro may have moved up to a more powerful position above the player personnel fray, but he still has significant input in the club’s construction.

In general when there’s a promotion of this kind, it’s done so that the team president doesn’t have to deal with the day-to-day minutiae that the GM has to deal with. I’m talking about press conferences, giving the final nod on the draft, listening to manager/player complaints and other redundant and tiresome exercises that make a GM want to get the promotion (or demotion) in the first place.

The Indians GM job and other front office positions are rarely if ever in jeopardy. It’s understood that there are payroll constraints and Shapiro and company have the freedom to teardown and rebuild as they see fit. This year is different because they hired a pricey name manager in Terry Francona and spent money on players Nick Swisher, Michael Bourn, Mark Reynolds and make a bold trade in sending Shin-Soo Choo to the Reds. Much of this is rumored to be due to owner Larry Dolan wanting to boost the product and attendance to increase the franchise’s sale value and then sell it.

Chicago White Sox

The White Sox are unique in that owner Jerry Reinsdorf trusts former GM and now Executive V.P. Ken Williams implicitly and lets him do what he wants even if that includes considering making Paul Konerko player/manager prior to hiring an unproven Robin Ventura who had no managerial experienced whatsoever.

Much like the Indians, Williams moved up to a higher executive perch and Rick Hahn took over as the day-to-day GM with Williams maintaining significant influence on the club’s construction. Outsiders rip Williams but he wants to win at the big league level every year and tends to ignore development. If contending is not in the cards, he reacts preemptively and blows it up. Another reason he’s so loathed by the stat person wing is because he scoffs at them with the reality that they haven’t the faintest idea as to what running a club entails, nor does he care about what they say.

Minnesota Twins

The Twins are insular and won’t bring in a new GM from the outside who’s going to want to clear out the house of former employees, marginalize longtime implementer of the “Twins way” Tom Kelly, and fire manager Ron Gardenhire. With that in mind, when they demoted Bill Smith from the GM position, they reached into the past for the GM of the club during their annual trips to the post-season, Terry Ryan.

The Twins have a packed farm system and should be back contending in the next couple of years. Ryan is decidedly old-school, has a background in scouting and worked his way up like Dombrowski. He’s willing to listen and discuss his philosophy with the stat people at their conventions, but will continue to be a scouting and “feel” GM as he looks for players that fit into what he, Kelly and Gardenhire prefer rather than someone whose OPS jumps off the page but might not behave in the manner the Twins want their players to.

The Twins ownership is one of the wealthiest in sports but there’s a tradeoff with their manner of ownership: they don’t interfere with the baseball people, but they don’t give them any more money than is within the budget. They treat it like a business. There are probably more benefits to that than negatives since they’re willing to have a $100+ million payroll and aren’t asking Ryan to complete the very difficult task of winning with $60 million or less.

Kansas City Royals

What’s funny about Dayton Moore becoming a punching bag for the Royals horrific backwards streak in which they went from 17-10 to 22-30 is that none of his more vicious critics was saying much of anything when the team was playing well and it looked like Moore’s decision to trade a package led by Wil Myers to the Rays for a package led by James Shields was going to yield the desired result.

Moore learned as an assistant to John Schuerholz and played a significant role in the Braves having a fertile farm system through the 1990s and early 2000s, but might not be cut out to be a fulltime GM. He’s good at building a farm system and has trouble sprinkling in necessary ingredients to supplement the youngsters on the big league roster.

When Moore was making the rounds as a GM candidate, he almost seemed to be reluctant to take the job. He interviewed with the Red Sox in 2002 and withdrew from consideration after the first interview. He then took the Royals job at mid-season 2006. Perhaps he knew something that those who touted him as a GM candidate didn’t; maybe he was happy as an assistant and didn’t want the scrutiny that comes from being a GM and took it because he was expected to move up to the next level as a GM.

Whatever it was, I think of other GMs and former GMs who had certain attributes to do the job but weren’t cut out to be the guy at the top of the food chain because of the missing—and important—other aspects. Omar Minaya was like that. Minaya is a great judge of talent, can charm the reporters and fans, has a fantastic rapport with the Latin players and can be a convincing salesman. When he was introducing his new free agent signing or acquisition in a big trade, he was great with a big smile and nice suit as a handsome representative for the team. But when there was dirty work to be done like firing his manager, firing an assistant, or answering reporters’ questions regarding a controversy, his shakiness with the English language and propensity to be too nice came to the forefront and he couldn’t do the job effectively.

There’s nothing wrong with being a great assistant when the alternative is being a mediocre-to-bad GM and winding up right back where he or she started from.


2013 MLB Awards Predictions

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American League

MVP: Jose Bautista, Blue Jays

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

Cy Young Award: Felix Hernandez, Mariners

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

Rookie of the Year: Aaron Hicks, Twins

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

Manager of the Year: Eric Wedge, Mariners

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

National League

MVP: Joey Votto, Reds

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

Cy Young Award: Zack Greinke, Dodgers

Pitching in Dodger Stadium will keep his ERA supernaturally low.

Rookie of the Year: Hyun-jin Ryu, Dodgers

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

Manager of the Year: Davey Johnson, Nationals

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

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


We Get It: Mike Francesa Demands Justin Morneau

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Ignoring multiple realities save for the ones that exist only in his mind, Mike Francesa is clinging to the farfetched notions that:

a)    The Twins will just give Justin Morneau up in a salary dump

b)   They’ll give him to the Yankees before offering him around the league

c)    The Yankees have the prospects to get Morneau now

d)   The Yankees will surrender the prospects to get Morneau

Yet he clings to the prayer from a desert island that the ship off in the distance will see his persistent waving; that the plane hovering in the sky will spot and explore his abandoned outpost; that the “Yankee magic” steeped from the historical foundation of, “Da Yankees want, dere-fore da Yankees get,” will hold true in spite of the reality of other factors: money; that other clubs have no choice in trading players to a club willing to absorb the salaries; that players wanted to go to the Yankees because the Yankees were prohibitive preseason favorites.

It’s not magic. It’s not history. It was because of factors no longer in existence or not relevant in this particular instance.

You can hear one of Francesa’s delusional Morneau rants here on Bobs Blitz. It was right after Mark Teixeira’s injury and could have been chalked up to the panic of the moment, trying to find an escape route from the prison or appeal on the conviction before acceptance of the circumstance set in.

But he’s still at it.

I’d understand if there was a basis for this Morneau obsession, i.e. the Twins making clear that they’re looking to trade him just to get out from under the $14 million salary for 2013, but I have not seen a rumor, a story or anything else from even the schlockiest of schlock sites, the trollingest of trolls saying that this is the case. I’d also understand if Morneau was presented as a faceless example of the type of player the Yankees should pursue, but Francesa’s not coming up with other names, nor is he providing well-thought-out analysis as to whom the Yankees could give the Twins to make it worth their while to trade Morneau before the season starts when the Twins are also trying to put forth the pretense of competitiveness, at least at the outset of the season.

On Twitter, a close follower and analyst of the Twins Brandon Warne said to me that he wouldn’t be surprised if the Twins not only kept Morneau for the season, but signed him to a contract to stay. Brandon’s dialed in on how the Twins think and is right. Regardless of the clear reasoning to deal Morneau and open a spot at first base for Joe Mauer, the Twins sometimes do things like that even if they don’t appear to make any sense. When they were winning, it was the “Twins Way.” Now that they’re losing it’s “stupid.” Neither assessment is any more accurate than the other, it just is.

If the Yankees were looking for the type of player that Francesa is insisting Morneau is now—a veteran with a terrible team looking to dump salary just to get money off the books—they’d go to the Astros and try to get Carlos Pena; they’d approach the Rockies about Chris Nelson and move Kevin Youkilis to first base; they’d come up with something reasonable and doable. “Reasonable” and “doable” are not categories in which Morneau fits.

Other unavailable names that have been bandied about by desperate Yankees fans and apologists are Garrett Jones and Billy Butler. Jones is gettable from the Pirates, but the days of the Pirates handing their lunch money over to the bullying Yankees are over; Butler is a star hitter who most fans are entirely unaware of how good he is and the Royals aren’t moving him.

Here’s a flash that maybe you’ll get if I capitalize it: THESE PLAYERS ARE NOT AVAILABLE FOR THE SCRAPS THE YANKEES ARE WILLING TO GIVE UP!!!!

If the Yankees were to surrender Gary Sanchez, Slade Heathcott, Jose Campos, even David Robertson or the rehabbing Manny Banuelos, yes, they can get someone to fill in at first base. But they’re not doing that. Accept it.

Also accept this: the Yankees are currently a mess. They want to lower payroll and won’t give up any prospects to improve in the moment. Brian Cashman clung to Eduardo Nunez in trade talks for veteran help like Cliff Lee in 2010, proclaiming him “untouchable,” but is now refusing to make the simplest and most obvious decision and let Nunez play third base and move Youkilis to first, basically saying that Nunez isn’t that good.

He was so good that he was untouchable a year ago but, now they’re implying he can’t play regularly simultaneous to insulting the intelligence of any sane person who’s ever seen Nunez play shortstop by saying, “We see him as a shortstop.” Where? On Mars? He’s so great a prospect that he can’t be traded, but not good enough to actually play at third? Left field? First base? Somewhere?

The reality is setting in everywhere but at 1:00 PM EST on WFAN in New York, where the Yankees are still able to demand that other clubs hand over what the Yankees want. Just because they’re the Yankees.

It doesn’t work that way anymore and truth be told, it never really did.


Keys to 2013: Minnesota Twins

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Starting Pitching Key: Vance Worley

The Twins acquired Worley from the Phillies along with Trevor May for Ben Revere. In 2011, Worley was dominant to the point of making it look easy and acting as if it was easy as the fifth in the Phillies foursome of star starters, caddying for Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels and Roy Oswalt. Worley’s attitude appeared to be one of, “Here, hit my supercharged fastball. This big league stuff is a breeze.”

Then in 2012, it wasn’t a breeze and hitters took him up on his offer of hitting his fastball. Relied on as more than a rookie at the back-end of the rotation, he struggled with his command, gave up a lot of hits and had recurring elbow problems. Once the Twins are back to their normal method of doing business with a fundamentally sound defense combined with a big ballpark, Worley could be a big winner. He has to learn to pitch rather than bully his way through. That prehistoric “me young and tough” act can work the first time through the league, but the second time the hitters humble even the cockiest rookies as they did with Worley in 2012.

Relief Pitching Key: Glen Perkins

If I’m going to have a lefty closer, I’d prefer him to be a flamethrower who can blow people away with a moving fastball a la Billy Wagner. Perkins’s fastball reaches the mid-90s and his strikeout numbers have improved since the move to the bullpen, but I wouldn’t classify him as a strikeout pitcher. He’s also vulnerable to the home run ball. To be an effective lefty closer over the full season, he’ll have to have the threat of an inside pitch to righties. That must be established early in the season so it’s known. Once the word’s out that he’s working righties on the inner half, he won’t have to do it as often and risk leaving a hittable fastball out over the plate.

Offensive Key: Justin Morneau

If the Twins had their sights on legitimate contention, the key might be Aaron Hicks, the rookie center fielder. A team’s true key, however, is contingent on their goals. For the 2013 Twins, they’re incorporating youngsters and looking to move past the era in which Morneau was a mid-lineup linchpin and MVP candidate.

A free agent at the end of the season, if Morneau is hitting, his trade value will skyrocket. A significant return on a trade will speed the Twins’ rebuild.

Defensive Key: Pedro Florimon

Florimon will get the first crack at shortstop. The Twins, with their preferred strategy of pitchers who pound the strike zone and trust their defense, need a shortstop to catch the ball and show good range. Trevor Plouffe is the Twins’ third baseman and his range is limited to a step to the left and a step to the right leaving Florimon with more ground to cover and making defensive positioning and strategy important. He’s not much of a bat and if he doesn’t give the Twins what they need defensively, they’d be wise to throw Eduardo Escobar out there and give him a chance since he’s probably their best long-term solution at short anyway which says more about the current state of the Twins than anything else.


Indiana Cashman And The Search For Fossils

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When asked about the Yankees putting out a feeler for Chipper Jones, Derek Jeter wondered, in his typical dark deadpan sense of humor, if they’d also contacted Mike Schmidt.

That got me to thinking of other options for the Yankees in their archaeological dig for dinosaur fossils hoping to unearth a corner infielder. Here are some of the names I came up with and they’re almost as ludicrous as Jones.

Mike Francesa

For a week he’s been pushing for the Yankees to get Justin Morneau from the Twins. Not “pursue,” but “get,” period. Naturally ignorant of the fact that the Twins are in a similar position to the Yankees in that they have to at least put forth the pretense of placing a competent product on the field at the start of the season to sell a few tickets that they’re not going to sell when they’re heading towards another 90+ loss season and that Morneau, if healthy, will have significant value at mid-season, Francesa expects the Twins to just give him up for whatever scraps the Yankees deign to provide simply because they want him.

It’s not going to happen, but during his vetting, perhaps Francesa should pull a Dick Cheney who, while running George W. Bush’s vice presidential search looked into the mirror, saw the epitome of what Bush needed in his vice president and selected himself. Sure, they’d have to get a muumuu for him to wear and he’d have to stand on first base to prevent every runner from beating him to the bag on a groundball, but with the court striking down New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s ban on extra-large sodas, Francesa’s Diet Coke predilection will move forward unabated. When returning to the dugout after a long half-inning, he can scream at the clubhouse kids like a real-life Les Grossman, “DIET COKE!!!!!”

Mo Vaughn

In the tradition of players who didn’t work out for the Mets, Vaughn would fit perfectly into what the Yankees are trying to create. It adds to the intrigue that he’s also a former Red Sock and he hates Bobby Valentine. That he’s probably far past 320 pounds and could barely move when he was still playing is irrelevant. Pinstripes are slimming and maybe no one would notice his girth, plus all the balls hitting him in the stomach because it’s extended so far beyond the plate would send his on-base percentage into the stratosphere.

Keith Law

No, he’s never picked up a baseball and he’s far too thin-skinned to last one day in Yankeeland without crawling into a fetal position and sobbing uncontrollably, but he scammed his way into a front office position with the Blue Jays on the heels of the Moneyball revolution; he parlayed that into a job at ESPN as an “insider expert” by regurgitating terms he’s heard from scouts; and he has an inexplicable following based on his stat savviness and that people think his resume denotes credibility in some sort of circular and wrong “if this, then that” manner.

Maybe he can imitate an athlete just as effectively as he’s aped actual scouts.

Bear in mind that his throwing style will replicate what we see below.

Michael Lewis

I have deep psychological concerns about someone who places a ginormous picture of his own face on the back cover of every one of his books, but that can also be a positive. A level of arrogance that geometric leads a person to believe he’s capable of things he’s universally acknowledged as being incapable of. Look at it this way: people think that because he wrote Moneyball, he knows something about baseball when he doesn’t.

Worst case scenario, he can write a book about his adventures, present it in a twisted (and skillful) fashion so the masses believe it and they’ll make a movie about it. He can be played by Aaron Eckhardt—a man with some athletic skills—and it’ll sell, man!! It’ll sell!!!

If it doesn’t work, the epitome of evil lurks in the shadows of the world as a fugitive and is ready to be blamed for the experiment (disguised as evolution) failing: Art Howe.

Lou Gehrig

Dead for 72 years? Try resting and waiting for his opportunity!!!

Truth be told, how much more absurd is it than thinking Jones will come out of retirement for the “privilege” of playing for the Yankees?

Billy Beane/Brad Pitt

True, Beane was an awful player and Pitt is an actor who played an awful player on film, but if people bought into the “genius” aspect when Beane was simply exploiting analytics that no one else was at the time and has been alternatingly lucky and unlucky in his maneuverings since, maybe putting him in uniform would hypnotize the fans long enough not to realize the Yankees are in deep, deep trouble.

Here’s the reality: Jones is not coming out of retirement and if he was, it would be for the Braves and not the Yankees. He’s injury-prone and he’s old. He’s also fat. Considering the Yankees decisions over the past few months, he actually fits. But why, in a normal and logical world, would anyone believe that Jones would tarnish his legacy with the Braves to play for the Yankees? Not only did he win his championship in 1995, rendering meaningless the long-used desire on the part of certain players like Roger Clemens to gain that elusive title, but he was with the Braves his entire professional life and the 2013 Braves are far better than the 2013 Yankees. This concept that everyone “wants” to be a Yankee is one of the biggest farcical examples of “world revolves around us” egomania in sports today and was disproven by Cliff Lee and even such journeymen as Nate Schierholtz who decided to go elsewhere.

The Yankees looked into Derrek Lee, who’s a good guy and a good idea if he’s healthy and wants to play, but if he does, he has to get into camp immediately. They signed Ben Francisco, which is a case study of the bargain-basement strategies of the 2013-2014 Yankees with self-evident on field results. They’re desperate and they’re short-handed. As a result, you get nonsense and panic. This is just getting started. It’s only March and there’s a long, long, looooong way to go. It’s getting longer by the day.


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

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Let’s look at some of the lesser-known players or rebounding veterans in the American League that are likely to play more than expected and could produce at a cheap price.

Eduardo Nunez, INF—New York Yankees

Nunez doesn’t have a position, but the Yankees are insisting he’s a shortstop so he’ll see time at shortstop while Derek Jeter is periodically rested or is the DH. Kevin Youkilis has been injury-prone in recent years and when he’s playing, will see time at first base as well as third with Mark Teixeira DH-ing against lefties. In a best-case scenario, the Yankees can’t expect any more than 350 at bats from Travis Hafner and that’s stretching it by 100-150 at bats. Plus he doesn’t hit lefties. No one knows when or if Alex Rodriguez will be able to play and his latest foray into the front of the newspaper puts into question whether he’s ever going to suit up for the Yankees again. Their bench is terrible.

All of these factors will open up at bats for Nunez. He can’t field and is a hacker, but he can hit.

Chris Tillman, RHP—Baltimore Orioles

He still runs up high pitch counts but his walks are decreasing incrementally. If examined as a step-by-step process, first comes the better control, then comes the lower pitch counts. If Tillman is able to continue improving in this manner, he could become a 30 start/180-200-inning arm for the Orioles.

The Orioles haven’t bolstered their starting rotation. Brian Matusz showed he’s better off out of the bullpen; they’re waiting for Dylan Bundy and hoping for a repeat performance from Miguel Gonzalez. They’ll need innings from Tillman.

Phil Coke, LHP—Detroit Tigers

In last season’s ALCS, with Jose Valverde shelved because he couldn’t be trusted to even hold a four-run lead, Coke was pressed into service as the nominal closer in a bullpen-by-committee. Valverde’s gone and the Tigers have a former closer on the roster in Octavio Dotel; they’re insisting they’ll give rookie Bruce Rondon every chance to claim the role. Rookies have emerged as closers in the past (Jonathan Papelbon, Craig Kimbrel) but manager Jim Leyland is not going to be patient with a 1-year contract, a veteran team expected to be a World Series contender and a rookie closer. Coke got the job done for Leyland in the post-season and the manager won’t forget it if he has to replace Rondon.

Greg Holland, RHP—Kansas City Royals

Holland will be the Royals’ closer, struck out 91 in 67 innings last season and saved 16 games after Jonathan Broxton was traded. The Royals stand to be pretty good this season giving him save opportunities and he’s arbitration-eligible after the season giving him the incentive of money at the end of the road or perhaps even a preemptive long-term contract to guarantee him at least $10 million-plus through his arbitration years.

Justin Morneau, 1B—Minnesota Twins

Morneau looked like his former MVP self for most of the second half of 2012 after a dreadful start, so perhaps his concussion/injury problems are behind him. Both Morneau and the Twins will have significant mutual benefit from him putting up big numbers. The Twins are in full-blown rebuild and won’t want to keep the pending free agent Morneau after the season. Morneau won’t want to stay in Minnesota for the full season because if he does, the Twins will make the qualifying offer for draft pick compensation and he might be in the same position in 2014 that Michael Bourn and Kyle Lohse are in now. It behooves him to have a hot start and be traded in July.

Aaron Hicks, CF—Minnesota Twins

The Twins’ current center fielder is listed as Darin Mastroianni. Mastroianni can steal a few bases and catch the ball in center field, but he’s a fourth outfielder and a reasonable facsimile of Jason Tyner.

Hicks is a former first round draft pick whom the Twins have no reason not to play after he spends the first month of the season in Triple A to keep his arbitration clock from beginning to tick.

Lance Berkman, DH—Texas Rangers

Berkman’s problems in recent years have been injury-related and if he doesn’t have to play the field, that will reduce the stress on his knees. 81 games in the hitting haven of Texas has made the likes of Mike Napoli into an All-Star. Berkman is a far superior hitter who still accumulates a high on-base percentage. As long as he’s healthy, he’ll post a .380 OBP and hit 25 homers.

Garrett Richards, RHP—Los Angeles Angels

Richards is currently the sixth starter for the Angels, but 3-4-5 are Jason Vargas, Tommy Hanson and Joe Blanton. They’re interchangeable and have major warts. Vargas was a creature of Safeco Field with the Mariners; Hanson’s shoulder is said to be teetering with injuries and horrible mechanics; Blanton allows tons of hits and homers. Richards will end up being the Angels’ third starter by the end of the season and could be the key to them making the playoffs and saving manager Mike Scioscia’s job.

Hisashi Iwakuma, RHP—Seattle Mariners

Iwakuma is what Daisuke Matsuzaka was supposed to be amid the media circus of the Red Sox winning the bidding and hyping him up. Iwakuma is just doing it for a minuscule fraction of the price and none of the aggravation. He picked at the strike zone as a reliever and allows a few too many homers, but as a fulltime starter he’s got the stuff to be a Hideo Nomo sensation. And, unlike Matsuzaka, he actually throws the Bigfoot of the baseball world (often sighted but never proved): the gyroball.