The Meaning of the David Wright Signing

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A week after Black Friday, it was Blue and Orange Friday as the Mets signed their star third baseman David Wright to an 8-year contract extension for $138 million. Of course this decision elicited reactions far and wide. Let’s take a look at the reality of the Wright contract for everyone involved.

For David Wright

I wrote about Wright’s decision to re-sign with the Mets yesterday.

Wright had the choice of waiting until his chance at free agency after next season and face the prospect of being traded or getting hurt. Maybe he would have had a career season and put himself in position to make perhaps $20-30 million more on the open market; maybe he would’ve been traded to a preseason/mid-season title-contender.

Or it could’ve ended badly.

Wright saw what happened to his friend and former teammate Jose Reyes when he chased the money, went the the Marlins and now is playing for the Blue Jays in Canada on artificial turf for the next five years. There was the added attraction of Wright being a Mets icon who will rewrite their record book, be the best position player in their history and to never wear another club’s uniform. The offer was on the table, he wasn’t going to do much better as a free agent and didn’t really want to leave apart from a fleeting, “what if?” curiosity of what it would be like elsewhere.

In the end, he chose to stay in the only baseball home he’s ever known.

For the Mets

There’s no getting around how important it was for the Mets to keep Wright not just because he’s a top 5 third baseman in all of baseball and their most popular player, but because they had to undo the perception of the club being broke and having little interest in: A) spending money; B) give the fans what they wanted.

Like Carlos Beltran functions as a symbol of the near-miss of the 2006 team; Jason Bay the symbol of the desperation to hold onto the shriveling tendrils of contention; Reyes the star who spiraled down the drain like the Bernie Madoff Ponzi scheme money that gutted the Wilpons’ finances, Wright is a bridge to the better times of the Mets and can be the elder statesman for the future.

It was important for the club to step up, show the fans, media, and the rest of baseball that they were willing to do what it took to keep the one player they had to keep. It wasn’t simply an on-field maneuver. Truth be told, the rebuilding might have been expedited with a lower payroll had they traded Wright for a package of prospects—in fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if there were loud voices in the front office that wanted to do that exact thing. But for the same reason they didn’t trade Reyes when many were screaming that they should, there were collateral reasons not to pull the trigger on Wright.

And here’s a flash about Reyes: the Mets did want him back. To say that they didn’t is silly. What they didn’t want to do was give $100 million to a speed player whose defense was markedly declining and who had had multiple injuries over the years when they knew they were also going to need money to sign Wright. What they were hoping was that the Reyes market crashed and he had to return on a deal the club found reasonable. Had the Marlins not jumped in with their backloaded $106 million deal, that’s exactly what would’ve happened. In addition, the Mets had a big league ready replacement for Reyes in Ruben Tejada. No such replacement on or off the field existed for Wright.

It didn’t have racial undertones of choosing the handsome, steady white guy over the flashy and injury prone Dominican. It was a cold baseball decision made by the front office—exactly the type of rationality they wanted when the hired Sandy Alderson as the GM to replace the “I want to make people happy immediately regardless of long-term cost” Omar Minaya.

As for the repeated reference to Fred Wilpon’s ill-advised comment in the New Yorker Magazine that Wright wasn’t a superstar player, it was a year-and-a-half ago. Do you really believe that Wright and Wilpon haven’t since spoken and hashed it out? The Mets paid him like a superstar and Wright will be the first one to tell you that he’s not an Albert Pujols or Alex Rodriguez in their primes. How many true “superstars” are there in baseball? Not many and Wright, along with many other All-Star players, is not a prototypical superstar. It’s not the insult it’s portrayed to be and in the end, what’s the difference?

For the rest of baseball

Wright is very popular around baseball and if he’s willing to invest the rest of his career to the Mets, it’s a signal that the circumstances are getting better around the entire franchise. Because of the lack of money and last four seasons of steady decline and rebuild, the Mets were a “no go” destination unless a player had no other choice. As we’ve seen with the Orioles and Athletics on the positive side and the Red Sox and even the Yankees on the negative side, that is more of a function of how they’re viewed in the moment.

With Wright onboard and the young pitching Matt Harvey, Zack Wheeler and Jonathon Niese that has much of baseball salivating to get their hands on them, along with NL Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey, the Mets have the foundation in place to make a serious move into legitimate contention.

Wright signing and the Mets paying him tells the rest of baseball that the talk of wanting to keep Wright wasn’t lip service to placate without a true intention of following through. They followed through.

For the fans

Even the most miserable Mets fan who didn’t want Wright back, who is still complaining about the supporting cast they’re surrounding the third baseman with, has to feel some sense of happiness that they’re keeping someone and not masochistically pleading for a repeat of the flogging they took for their dealings with Reyes.

They kept Reyes rather than trade him because, as said before, they wanted to keep him; and they also wanted to sell a few more tickets in a lost season. It was a retrospective mistake, but it was more understandable—given the circumstances—than the simplistic entreaties that they “should’ve traded him” would suggest.

Mets fans will still complain, but it won’t be about not holding onto their own players. For now anyway.

For the media

As usual, the Mets can’t win with the media. Whatever they do, it’s twisted to suit the narrative of a moderately brainless idiot who occasionally and by mistake manages to get something right.

This is exemplified by today’s passive aggressive piece in the New York Times by Tyler Kepner. Amid the begrudging credit given to the club for keeping their third baseman, Kepner took the cheap shots that have become a prerequisite in this market by, of course, mentioning the Wilpon comment; rehashing past mistakes such as Oliver Perez and Luis Castillo; questioning the wisdom on the part of Wright and the Mets in staying together; and naturally making sure to mention the supposed superiority of the Yankees who, according to Kepner, have a “business model sets them up to contend for the title every year.”

That same Yankees’ business model that: has an array of immovable contracts; Derek Jeter appearing as if he’s packing on the pounds to audition to be Engelberg in The Bad News Bears—20 years later; ancient players from top to bottom; lost Russell Martin to the Pirates; and has, topping their catching depth chart, the equally horrendous Eli Whiteside and Chris Stewart.

Referencing the Yankees as anything to admire right now is an outrageous display of clinging to the past and a none-too-sly shot at the Mets during a brief moment of happiness.

Kepner offhandedly points out the acquisition of Wheeler from the Giants for Beltran in the tone of the Mets being a broken clock that manages to be right twice a day, then contextualizes it by equating the decision to trade Angel Pagan—a talented player who is baseball-stupid—as the Giants getting “even.” Like the Wright signing, the Pagan trade made sense at the time. It didn’t work, but the way to judge any trade/free agent signing/draft pick is whether it was logical. Anything other than that is second guessing.

What the Mets have done under Alderson is to retreat from the Wilpons’ prior modus operandi with GMs of the past and, instead of concentrating on doing what the media wanted them to do to garner good press, are pushing back and running the club as it should be run. The same press that had Minaya thinking everyone is his friend is intimidated by Alderson because the GM sees right through them and won’t respond to their tactics—tactics that Kepner again employs and will be roundly ignored if not ridiculed by those who know better and understand his intentions with such a transparent piece.

This is a positive move for the Mets. They did what needed to be done in keeping Wright. That is the only way in which this signing must be judged. It makes sense now, therefore it makes sense, no matter what happens in the future and over Wright’s career that will be as a Met and a Met alone.

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2012 MLB Award Picks—Cy Young Award

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Let’s look at the award winners for 2012 starting with the Cy Young Award with my 2012 picks, who I picked in the preseason, and who I actually think is going to win regardless of who should win.

American League

1. Justin Verlander, Detroit Tigers

Verlander won the Cy Young Award and the MVP in 2011. His numbers in 2012 weren’t as dominating as they were in 2011 and the Tigers had a better team in 2012, so he’s not an MVP candidate this season, but he still did enough to outdo the competition for the CYA.

Verlander led the American League in innings pitched, strikeouts, complete games, and was at or near the top in advanced stats such as Adjusted ERA+ and Wins Above Replacement (WAR).

The WAR argument is a factor, but not the factor to set the stage for the MVP analysis between Miguel Cabrera and Mike Trout.

2. David Price, Tampa Bay Rays

Price led the AL in ERA and wins, but was far behind Verlander in innings pitched and strikeouts.

3. Felix Hernandez, Seattle Mariners

If he hadn’t had two terrible games in September in which he allowed 7 earned runs in each, he would’ve been higher. In addition to those games, he allowed 6 earned runs in two other games; and 5 earned runs in three others. He was pitching for a bad team that couldn’t hit, pitched a perfect game, and threw 5 shutouts.

4. Jered Weaver, Los Angeles Angels

Had he not gotten injured and missed three starts, the Angels might’ve made the playoffs. It wouldn’t have won him the award unless he’d thrown three shutouts, but he’d have had a better shot. He won 20 games and was third in ERA, but only logged 188 innings.

5. Chris Sale, Chicago White Sox

In his first year as a starter, it was Sale’s smooth transition to the rotation that led the White Sox to surprising contention.

***

My preseason pick was Price.

The winner will be Verlander.

National League

1. R.A. Dickey, New York Mets

Which will win out? The story of Dickey and how he rose from a first round draft pick whose contract was yanked from under him because his elbow didn’t have an ulnar collateral ligament, then to a 4-A journeyman, then to a knuckleballer, then to a sensation? Or will the fact that he is a knuckleballer and the perception of him using a trick pitch sway some voters away from his numbers to the concept of giving the award to a “real” pitcher (as ridiculous as that is).

When Jim Bouton was making a comeback as a knuckleballer in 1978, he pitched well against the Reds of Joe Morgan, Pete Rose and Johnny Bench. The Reds quantified their inability to hit Bouton with head shakes at how slow his offerings were. Bouton’s friend Johnny Sain said something to the tune of, “You’ve discovered a new way to assess a pitcher’s performance—go and ask the opponent what they thought.”

How Dickey did it and debiting him for using a “trick pitch” is like refusing to give Gaylord Perry the Cy Young Award or Hall of Fame induction because he admittedly threw a spitball. Everyone knew it and he got away with it. It’s the same thing with Dickey except he’s not cheating.

Dickey won 20 games for a bad team and led the National League in strikeouts, innings pitched, complete games, and shutouts.

2. Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers

I wouldn’t argue if Kershaw won the award. You can flip him and Dickey and both are viable candidates.

Kershaw led the NL in WAR for pitchers, was second in adjusted ERA+, led the league in ERA, was second in innings pitched and strikeouts. He was also pitching late in the season with a hip impingement injury that was initially thought to need surgery. (He won’t need the surgery.)

3. Craig Kimbrel, Atlanta Braves

I am not punishing a great pitcher for being a closer. Saying he’s not a starter is similar to saying that a player like Derek Jeter isn’t a great player because he never hit the home runs that Alex Rodriguez hit. He’s not a slugger. That’s not what he does. It’s the same thing with Kimbrel and Mariano Rivera. Make them into a starter, and it won’t work. But they’re great closers.

Hitters are overmatched against Kimbrel. And yes, I’m aware you can make the same argument for Aroldis Chapman, but Chapman’s ERA was half-a-run higher than Kimbrel’s, but Kimbrel’s ERA+ was 399 compared to Chapman’s 282. For comparison, Rivera’s highest ERA+ in his career is 316; Eric Gagne won the 2003 NL CYA with an ERA+ of 337.

4. Johnny Cueto, Cincinnati Reds

Cueto was second in WAR (just ahead of Dickey), third in ERA, first in adjusted ERA+, and third in wins.

5. Gio Gonzalez, Washington Nationals

Gonzalez won 21 games, but didn’t pitch 200 innings. He has a Bob Welch thing going on. Welch won 27 games in 1990 and won the Cy Young Award in the American League, but Dave Stewart had a far better year than Welch and Roger Clemens was better than both. Welch was the beneficiary of pitching for a great team with a great bullpen. Clemens was second, Stewart third. Dennis Eckersley had an ERA+ of 603 (that’s not a mistake) and walked 4 hitters (1 intentionally) in 73 innings that season. Welch had a good year, but it’s not as flashy as it looked when delving deeper into the truth. This is comparable to Gonzalez’s predicament.

***

My preseason pick was Tim Lincecum.

Kimbrel is going to win on points as Dickey, Gonzalez, and Kershaw split the vote among starters. I see some writers punishing Dickey for being a knuckleballer due to some silly self-enacted “rules” or biases just as George King of the New York Post deprived Pedro Martinez of a deserved MVP in 1999—link.

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Your American League MVP Checklist

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Miguel Cabrera and Mike Trout are locked in a duel for the American League Most Valuable Player. In a way, it’s a factional battle for the hearts and minds of the casual fan.

Some quarters look at the conventional batting stats of Cabrera and say that he’s the winner without question. If it’s not a homer or an RBI, then it’s unimportant. If he wins the batting title too? It’s over.

Others examine advanced stats and defensive metrics to give the nod to Trout. Neither side, in general, wants to hear what the other has to say in part because one is the grumpy old man who doesn’t care about OPS+, and defensive runs saved or lost; and the other is higher-educated, pompous, smug, and condescending and lacks the confidence in their argument to lay it out in terms that the old-schoolers are going to understand and accept, so they choose to be dismissive and blatantly arrogant. If it’s not quantifiable, it doesn’t matter and gut instincts from being around the game are claimed not to exist.

So here’s a checklist combining common sense, old-school stats, and new-school metrics to determine what the criteria for AL MVP should be.

Conventional Offensive Stats vs Advanced Offensive Stats

20 years ago, there would be no contest and Cabrera would win. He’s leading the league in batting, RBI, and slugging. He’s near the top of the league in home runs. As for advanced stats, at the plate, he leads the league in OPS and OPS+. Cabrera has an OPS of 1.003 and an OPS+ of 167. Trout has 27 homers and 47 stolen bases in 51 tries. He has a .949 OPS and also has an OPS+ of 167.

But what about BAbip (Batting Average on Balls in Play)? Trout has been very, very lucky with a .379 BAbip; Cabrera is at .330 (his career mark is .345). There’s no doubt that Trout’s speed is important to his high BAbip and his batting average, and Cabrera is slow. So where does that factor in? Should Trout’s luck count against him just as the defense and resulting higher WAR are counting for him?

Defense

It comes down to deciding how many points to deduct from Cabrera for his poor defense at third base and whether or not he should be punished for not being a good third baseman.

Trout is a defensive whiz in center field and saving his pitchers and team a large number of runs because of that. Cabrera was shifted to third base because they had nowhere else to put him in the field upon the signing of Prince Fielder. Cabrera has only played in 33 games in his career as a DH and his numbers—.242/.317/.414—are poor. Not every player is comfortable as a DH and if Cabrera was already feeling threatened by the Tigers bringing in another star in his stratosphere such as Fielder, the last thing they wanted to do was to make it worse by also telling him he’s not going to play the field at all and will be a permanent DH. Cabrera probably would’ve hit as a DH, but with his history of off-field problems, it’s understandable that the Tigers didn’t want to antagonize him.

The idea that the shift third base was a major issue missed the fact that Cabrera wasn’t any better at first base than he is at third. He should be a DH, but if he’s more comfortable hitting and keeps his head in the game better when he’s playing the field, so be it.

He didn’t take the move to third base lightly (so to speak) and showed up to spring training far leaner than he’s been in recent years. But he’s not a good defensive player. Could the Tigers have moved him to the outfield and found a better way to mitigate his deficiencies? Yes. Would that have made him a more agreeable choice to the voters who are weighing Trout’s defense so heavily? Possibly. If Cabrera is going to be punished for his poor defense, it should be attached to the caveat that he’s not good defensively period and using that as the final word is similar to punishing R.A. Dickey because he’s a knuckleballer as opposed to a conventional pitcher—it’s not fair.

The “value” argument AKA “Where would they be without him?”

Trout wasn’t recalled by the Angels until April 28th after they got off to a horrific start amid star-studded acquisitions such as Albert Pujols and preseason World Series predictions. The Angels are 77-54 with Trout in the lineup and 8-14 without him. The Tigers’ record is 82-72 and with Cabrera in the lineup, it’s 81-72. Both clubs have underachieved given the expectations lavished upon them before the season. Is the Tigers’ underachievement the fault of Cabrera? And did the Angels turnaround begin with the recall of Trout? How much does that count in the deliberation process?

I am not one who believes a pitcher should not win the MVP and supported Justin Verlander last season in large part because of the, “Where would they be without him?” argument. The Tigers won the division by 15 games, but that doesn’t tell the whole story of how they did it. Because they ripped off a 12 game winning streak in early September and their closest competitor in the division, the Indians, came apart in the second half, the Tigers were able to make a close race look like it wasn’t close. In truth, had they not had Verlander at the beginning of the season, they would’ve been behind in the division by double-digits. And the “any pitcher could’ve done X” in Verlander’s place is absurd. It was Verlander’s brilliance that kept a struggling team afloat early in the season, making him the most valuable player they had. Without him, they were a .500 team. With him, they made it to the ALCS. This is in addition to his numbers.

So who was more valuable to his team? Trout or Cabrera? And where would they have wound up without them?

Context

The stat people call the concept of lineup protection a myth, but with Fielder behind him, Cabrera’s walks have dropped to 65 from 108 last season and 89 in 2010. Can it not be said that pitchers aren’t so willing to walk Cabrera because Fielder is behind him? He might not have as many homers if Fielder weren’t hitting behind him, but his OBP would definitely be significantly higher. Would that make his case stronger if he didn’t have that basher behind him? Or does it make it weaker because he has that basher behind him? Which is it?

WAR is an overused stat that doesn’t tell the whole story. If you discount the defensive aspect, Trout’s still ahead, but it’s not by as wide a margin. Cabrera has the eye-catching numbers; Trout has the accumulation of other stuff that many don’t pay attention to at first glance.

Trout’s argument is incremental. Will there be enough of a groundswell from his higher overall WAR, his great defense, speed, and that the Angels’ season was heading down the tubes before he arrived? Or will the power numbers that are more obvious on the part of Cabrera take precedence?

Will those who are vacillating be swayed by the forcefulness of the beliefs from the old-schoolers and the stat people? There are many who simply do what the crowd does; what the crowd tells them to do and, like sheep, are incapable of thinking on their own.

The final analysis

Each factional end would be better-served to refrain from the name-calling, eye-rolling, tantrums, sarcasm, and obnoxious dismissals that make the old-schoolers knuckles white with rage and cause the veins to bulge out of their necks like they’re having a heart attack. No one wants to hear that stuff any more than they want to be told, “That’s the way it’s always been,” as if that’s a legitimate reason.

Both players have a case for the MVP and if one side is trying to convince the other, perhaps they’d be better-served in looking at it from their point-of-view rather than just shutting their eyes, covering their ears, and throwing a tantrum in lieu of possibly admitting they’re wrong and accepting that there’s more than one way to hand out arbitrary award with no clear-cut process in formulating a conclusion that everyone will be happy with and accept.

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R.A. Dickey’s Story is Meant for Paperback

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How much more money has R.A. Dickey made for himself with his story?

I’m not talking about his baseball contract. The Mets have him signed for next season at $5 million and if his second half goes as well as his first half, I’d expect them to approach him about a reasonable extension. It won’t be 5 years (knuckleballer or not, he’s going to be 38 in October), but 2-3 years with incentives and options is a realistic starting point.

The extra money I’m talking about is with the paperback release of his book.

It’s doubtful that Dickey got a large sum of money in the form of an advance for the hardcover version of his book, Wherever I Wind Up: My Quest for Truth, Authenticity and the Perfect Knuckleball.

You can read my review here.

Knowing how the publishing industry works, he’s getting a 10-20% royalty off the cover price on every copy sold and that has to be shared with his collaborator Wayne Coffey. It’s possible that Coffey got paid upfront and isn’t getting a piece on the backend. Bad luck for him if that’s the case.

The cover price is $26.95. It’s currently #58 on Amazon’s bestseller list; #1 for religious and spirituality; #2 for baseball; and #4 in sports and outdoors.

Just for context, if I sell one copy of my book, my rankings rise from say 400,000 on Amazon to 200,000. For my 2001 novel I received a standard entry level author contract. The royalties were such that I got 10% of the first X number of books sold and 15% for anything after that. It didn’t amount to a massive series of paychecks for me, but for a book like Dickey’s that can mean a lot of money just from sales alone.

With the number of books that Amazon stocks overall, Dickey’s book is selling rapidly and it’s been boosted greatly by his performance. The book was interesting before Dickey’s sudden rise to All-Star/Cy Young/MVP status. He pulled no punches and made personal revelations that have rarely been seen from an athlete. The storyline of going from where he was to where he is now is exponentially multiplying the fees his representatives are going to be able to secure for the paperback rights. That Dickey is—I guarantee this—keeping a diary of his 2012 season for the “new chapter” in the paperback and that this new chapter will include everything from the attention he’s received to the Mets’ surprising vault into contention to the way he’s pitched will all combine to make him money that few first time authors and almost no athletes make.

It’s a stunning leap for Dickey on the field; a cathartic and gutsy display of naked self-revelation in his book; and now, a financial windfall.

And that’s before getting to the movie rights. They’re coming too.

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