The Royals Should Not Sell

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One you reference Joe (the Twins should’ve drafted Mark Prior over Joe Mauer amid dozens of other analytical baseball travesties) Sheehan as the basis for your logic, your foundation is built for collapse. In this SB Nation posting, Rob Neyer suggests the Royals throw the towel in on the season while they’re still within reasonable striking distance of first place by trading Ervin Santana, Greg Holland and Luke Hochevar. Needless to say, I’m not swayed by the Baseball Prospectus playoff percentages that are used as tenets to make these moves and I really don’t care what Sheehan says about anything.

The Royals have disappointed this season. They made a series of deals to try and win now and they’ve been hit or miss. James Shields has been good; Wade Davis inconsistent; Wil Myers, now with the Rays, is looking like the hype was real. The Royals haven’t scored in large part because their approach has been atrocious and Mike Moustakas has played poorly enough that they might want to consider sending him to the minors. But wouldn’t a sell-off of Santana, Holland and Hochevar be giving up on a season when they are still only seven games out of first place behind the somewhat disappointing Tigers? That’s an eight game winning streak away from getting it to three games. They have a large number of games against the White Sox, Mets, Mariners, Twins and Marlins. They have a lot of games left with the Tigers as well. Is it out of the question that they can get to within five games by September 1? If it were a team run by Sheehan or Neyer, would it be justified to give up on the season while still within five games of first place with a month left? Or is the loathing of general manager Dayton Moore so intense that it clouds their judgment to try and get him fired?

It appears that the hardcore stat guys have still not learned the lesson that taking every single player at a certain position and lumping them into a group as what teams “should” do with them based on that position is not analysis. It’s hedging. The lack of consistency in the suggested strategy and examples are conveniently twisted. At the end of the piece, Neyer writes, “We know what the A’s and Rays would do, though” when discussing why closers are disposable. Neyer writes that Holland is “probably worth more now than he’ll ever be worth again.” Yet the Rays, who got the best year of his life out of Fernando Rodney in 2012 and had him under contract at a cheap rate for another year, didn’t trade him when he was in a similar circumstance. The Rays had traded for a big money closer in Rafael Soriano before the 2010 season, much to the consternation of the “pump-and-dump/you can find a closer” wing of stat guys. Which is it? Is there consistency of theory or consistency when it confirms the bias as to what “should” be done?

I also find it laughable when people like Sheehan and Neyer have all the guts in the world to make these decisions while sitting behind a keyboard simultaneously having no responsibility to try and adhere to the various aspects of running a club—doing what the owner wants, attracting fans and keeping the job.

There’s an argument to be made for making deals to get better for the next season if the situation calls for it. If not an outright fire sale, a concession to reality by dealing marketable commodities is the correct move when a team is underachieving. The Blue Jays are an example far more relevant to the concept of giving up in late July than the Royals are. The Blue Jays have a GM, Alex Anthopoulos, who thinks more in line with what the stat people think and is probably more likely to be fired after the season than Moore.

With Neyer, Rany Jazayerli and presumably Bill James (even though he now works for the Red Sox), I can’t tell whether they’re providing objective analysis based on the facts or they’re Royals fans hoping the club comes completely undone because they don’t like Moore and would like someone closer to their line of thinking running the team. If that’s the case there’s nothing wrong with that if one is honest about it, but it’s somewhat untoward and shady to be using stats and out of context examples to “prove” a point.

Regardless of how they’ve played, the Royals are only seven games out of first place. That’s no time to start clearing the decks of players they might need to make a run. And numbers, hatred of the GM and disappointments aside, a run is still possible, like it or not.

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Bryce Harper’s Textgate With Davey Johnson

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Bryce Harper sent a text message to Nationals manager Davey Johnson with the ultimatum, “Play me or trade me.” The implication of this is that the 20-year-old was telling his veteran manager that he didn’t want to sit on the bench under any circumstances and that if Johnson knew what was good for him and the Nats, he’d write Harper’s name in the lineup. Or else. The reality of the situation is that Harper was being held out due to the lingering concerns over a knee injury that placed him on the disabled list and an ongoing slump. Johnson wanted to give him a few days off, but Harper wanted to play and said so. Johnson put him back in the lineup.

The media sought to make it into a big deal with a flashy headline, speculation and faux investigation into whether there’s any tension brewing between Harper, Johnson and the Nats where none appears to be in evidence. Johnson has never shied away from confrontation. As a player for the Braves, he got into a fistfight with manager Eddie Mathews. Mathews happened to be one of the toughest customers in baseball who simply liked to fight. Johnson blackened Mathews’s eye and the two made peace over drinks after airing their grievances with their fists. As a manager, Johnson had multiple altercations with Darryl Strawberry, fought with Kevin Mitchell, and nearly fought with Bobby Bonilla. It’s not as if he picked the lightweights. Those who have followed Johnson’s career know that even at age 70, he wouldn’t hesitate to take on the 6’2”, 230 pound 20-year-old Harper if it were necessary, but that’s not what this was. Not even close.

Harper has gotten a bad rap due to the perception that he was anointed at such a young age. He and support staff—family, representatives—are partly at fault for it by putting out preposterous stories of his exploits (he passed the GED without studying), his favorite players (Mickey Mantle and Pete Rose whose careers ended years and decades before his birth), and his own silly minor league behaviors (war paint and tantrums with umpires). There’s a pretentiousness in Harper’s biography that has not been consistent with his actions on the field.

He’s done some stupid things like smashing his bat against the runway wall in Cincinnati and nearly pulling a Ralphie from A Christmas Story (You’ll whack your eye out!), and plays the game with zero concern for his physical well-being. He goes all-out, doesn’t act like a spoiled brat on the field as shown with his mature and classic response to Cole Hamels intentionally hitting him as he humiliated Hamels by stealing home, and wants to play every day. His text message to Johnson may have sounded like a pampered would-be megastar making untoward demands upon his manager with implied threats knowing the club had little choice but to cave, but that’s just the way it’s being framed by the media and fans looking to find more reasons to knock Harper down a few pegs. In an age in which many players want to coast, Harper wants to play and there’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, it’s refreshing.

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Roy Oswalt Is Not a Relief Pitcher

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There’s been speculation that the Cardinals are interested in Roy Oswalt and Oswalt would love to pitch for the Cardinals. With the recent news that Oswalt would be willing to take a short-term deal, the number of teams seriously pursuing him increased exponentially; but Oswalt is still the Mississippi guy who’d prefer to steer clear of New York or Boston if he has a choice. Presumably, he would’ve liked to play in Texas, but the Rangers don’t have room for him and the Astros don’t need him as they rebuild.

The Cardinals would be a fine spot for him, but the surprising story is that the Cardinals would like Oswalt to consider a move to the bullpen with the possibility of moving into the starting rotation if he’s needed.

This will not work.

There are pitchers who can start and relieve and make the transition seamlessly. Derek Lowe could do it; Phil Hughes could do it; John Smoltz could do it. But the circumstances were vastly different for those pitchers and others who’ve shuttled from one role to the other.

Oswalt has been a starter his entire professional career; has had back trouble; and plainly and simply would not know how to relieve in preparation or practice.

It’s a bad idea if it’s a legitimate thought.

I don’t think they’re serious about it; nor do I believe that Oswalt would do it. Why should he? He’d have other options (including the Yankees and Red Sox) if he needed a job and wouldn’t have to go to the bullpen, so why should he do it for the Cardinals?

My guess is that the Cardinals want Oswalt for the starting rotation and are trying to find a taker for Kyle Lohse or Jake Westbrook. Westbrook is the more likely pitcher to be moved because he’s more consistent and cheaper.

Westbrook will be paid $8.5 million in 2012 and has an option for 2013 at $8.5 with a mutual option and a $1 million buyout if the Cardinals decline the option; simply put, he’s guaranteed $9.5 million.

Lohse has $11.875 million coming to him in 2012.

If we’re going by ability, Lohse is better; if we’re going by who’s a better pitcher, Westbrook is who you want. Lohse has always been and presumably will always be that pitcher who elicits sighs and lamentations of how good he could be if he ever put it all together. Here’s a newsflash: Lohse is 33-years-old and this is pretty much it. In a good year, he’ll pitch really well and the good years will be the bread of an overstuffed sandwich of 2-3 years where he got blasted, hurt or both.

Westbrook will give 180-200 innings and you know what you’re getting from him—he’s mediocre, but for a back-of-the-rotation starter on a short-term contract teams can (and will) do far worse.

Oswalt may be waiting until the other free agent chips—Edwin Jackson, Hiroki Kuroda—fall into place; then he’ll make his decision and it won’t be as a reliever for anyone.

With Oswalt, the Cardinals might sign him under the pretense of using him as a reliever with the pitcher publicly stating such inanities as, “I can make the transition”, blah blah blah; but the truth is that they’ll have Oswalt in the bullpen until they can deal either Westbrook or Lohse and make sure that Adam Wainwright is fully recovered from Tommy John surgery; that won’t happen until late in spring training when injuries make teams desperate for a veteran starter on a short-term contract.

Oswalt will not be a reliever if he signs with the Cardinals. He’ll be a starter.

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