The Cubs and Kris Bryant: following the rules, manipulating them or both?

MLB

After all the debates, arguments, anger, rhetoric, defensiveness, explanations, excuses and rants, it comes down to the one simple question regarding the Chicago Cubs and third base prospect Kris Bryant: Are they following the rules, manipulating them or both?

It’s not a hedge or a dodge or an attempt to avoid taking a side to say it’s both.

If the Cubs keep Bryant in the minors for a minimum of 12 days at the beginning of the season, they’ll be able to recall him, play him for almost the entire season while simultaneously having an extra year of team control before he’s eligible for free agency. There’s nothing illegal about this. It doesn’t even violate the collective bargaining agreement as it currently stands. As for whether or not it’s ethical or moral, that’s up in the air. From the perspective of Bryant and his agent Scott Boras, it’s a manipulation in violation of the spirit of the rule. From the perspective of the Cubs and team president Theo Epstein, it’s manipulation camouflaged by the rules and buttressed by the excuse that Bryant needs to improve his defense at third base.

Is it true that he needs to improve his defense? Yes. Is that improvement going to magically happen over the course of two weeks after he’s been working on his defense for years? You tell me.

It’s ironic how Epstein’s methods are glorified when the vast proportion of the media agrees with them and/or they work, but when he does something that looks shady, it turns into a relentless holy war as to how far his ruthlessness should go. Epstein is a new age baseball executive whose entire being is supposedly based on objective analysis. It was how he helped build the Boston Red Sox to win the club’s first World Series in 84 years; it’s how he grew into the epitome of what many analysts and observers believe a sports executive should be; and it’s how he’s gotten a pass on certain behaviors that are petty, babyish, self-indulgent and morally and ethically questionable.

This is no different from the tactics that made Billy Beane famous and helped Epstein win that elusive championship for the Red Sox. It’s how he’s trying to win another elusive championship with the Cubs. Finding loopholes and stretching the boundaries to its fullest advantage isn’t limited to finding a Scott Hatteberg or David Ortiz. It includes blaming managers like Dale Sveum when the “plan” isn’t following the preordained script. It includes dumping Sveum’s replacement, Rick Renteria like he’s the first wife to a suddenly famous Hollywood actor when the “hotter” wife who was previously unattainable, Joe Maddon, comes along.

You can’t have it both ways. It’s one or the other. Either you’re all in with Epstein’s methods or you’re not. For now, he’s bulletproof because he has the resume to be bulletproof. Even the shallow critiques of his treatment of Bryant and arrogant dismissal of assertions that he’s simply using sleight of hand to justify it won’t change the outcome: they’re sending him to the minors to start the season. Those who suddenly find his actions distasteful are not in a position to be judging him since it’s they who built him up in the first place.

With Bryant and how he’s likely to lose that year of service time, this is a loophole that is the responsibility of the union to close. Some players have willingly gone along with being kept them in the minors for this reason alone. Evan Longoria is the most famous case as the Tampa Bay Rays started him in Triple A in 2008, recalled him and immediately signed him to a long-term contract that has since been called the most value-laden deal in baseball history. At the time, the idea of signing a player who hadn’t yet played in the big leagues to a guaranteed contract was revolutionary or insane. It turned out to be a stroke of brilliance on the part of the Rays that was rapidly copied. Players like the Astros’ George Springer who don’t give in to the pressure with the big league carrot dangling in front of them are kept in the minors. Players like Bryant will simply have to deal with the reality that his free agency will likely come after 2021 instead of after 2020.

To compound Longoria’s acquiescence to and tacit agreement with this circumventing of the spirit of the CBA, he also eschewed his opportunity to gauge his value on the open market Robinson Cano-style and get the $200+ million deal he’d undoubtedly receive by signing another contract extension with the Rays for $100 million in guaranteed money.

Every time a player does what Longoria, Mike Trout and many others have done and take the upfront, guaranteed money in lieu of free market capitalism, it damages what Boras is trying to do, much to the chagrin and anger of the agent. Even one of Boras’s own clients, Jered Weaver, took less money to stay with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, citing his happiness with the club and that he didn’t need to get every single available dollar to prove his worth. Weaver is an anomaly among Boras clients.

Since Bryant’s agent is Boras, the likelihood of the player signing a long-term extension with the Cubs to buy out his arbitration eligibility and first few years of free agency are minuscule if not outright not-existent. This is the way in which the Cubs are combating the understanding that they’ll have Bryant for a limited period and either have to pay him or move on. Longoria and Weaver were content enough in their station and egos that they didn’t have to scrounge for every penny. Not everyone is like that.

Strangely, the Cubs have stated that they’re going to play Bryant in the outfield over the next few spring training games essentially undermining the entire concept of him getting his defense at third base to be serviceable enough that he’s deemed “ready” for major league duty. Then again, it’s a wink-and-nod act of dishonesty to say that his defense isn’t good enough and that it will improve in those two weeks in the minors that, coincidentally, will also let the Cubs keep him at a reasonable price for an extra year.

The fact is that everyone knows what the Cubs are doing. Not everyone agrees with it, but it’s perfectly legal based on the CBA. If the union and Boras have a problem with it, it’s up to them to close the loophole to stop it from happening again.

While the number of home runs that Bryant has hit in spring training (nine in 32 plate appearances as of this writing) is largely irrelevant and doesn’t mean he’s automatically “ready” for the majors, he’s clearly got the goods to be a big league star. A former second overall pick with consistently massive production at every minor league level, he’s going to hit and hit with power in the majors. But it won’t be until after 12 days have passed in the 2015 season.

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The Positives and Negatives of Stephen Drew for the Mets

Ballparks, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, History, Hot Stove, Management, MiLB, Players, Playoffs, Prospects, Stats, Trade Rumors

The Mets have spent the last three seasons fielding a lien-up rather than a lineup. Since the Bernie Madoff scandal and the conscious decision to rebuild from the bottom up in part due to finances and in part because it was what they needed to do, the Mets haven’t spent significant money on any players. In retrospect, it will be seen as a positive that the team didn’t overpay and give up a draft pick for Michael Bourn or any of the other players Mets fans were demanding they sign for pretense and little benefit on the field.

Now that they’re free of the onerous contracts of Jason Bay and Johan Santana, the Mets have invested some of their available cash to improve the lineup with Chris Young and Curtis Granderson. They bolstered the starting rotation with Bartolo Colon. There’s a public debate as to whether they should sign the still-floating free agent shortstop Stephen Drew. Let’s look at how Drew fits for the Mets.

Cost

Drew’s market is hindered by the relatively few number of teams that need a shortstop and are willing to pay what agent Scott Boras wants. A year ago, Drew signed with the Red Sox for one year and $9.5 million with the intention of replenishing his value for a big-money contract. He replenished his value all right, but the big-money contracts have yet to present themselves. Drew was everything the Red Sox could have asked for. He was solid defensively, hit for pop with 50 extra base hits, and had an OPS of .777 which was close to his career average.

The problem for Drew remaining in Boston as appears to be his preference is that the Red Sox have a ready-made replacement for him at shortstop in young Xander Bogearts. They also have a competent third baseman in Will Middlebrooks. Neither are expensive and both can make up for Drew’s departure if the price isn’t similar – or slightly higher – than what the Red sox paid for him last season. If his price drops, then the Red Sox will gladly take him back, but it won’t be for a multi-year deal and they don’t need him.

The Yankees have already said they’re out on Drew and it’s not because they don’t need him. They do. But they’re tied to keeping Derek Jeter at shortstop and the idea of signing Drew to move him to third base is insulting to the intelligence of anyone who can see the reality that Jeter will not be able to play a competent defensive shortstop at age 40 as he returns from a serious ankle injury.

Drew has few alternatives other than the Mets and Red Sox. The Mets are being coy and the Red Sox are waiting him out. The Mets can get him if they decide they want him. A decision that they want him would mean they have to pay him. A three-year, $30-33 million deal would probably get it done. Are they willing to do that? Can they afford it?

How he fits

Drew is a clear upgrade over Ruben Tejada offensively and defensively. Tejada can play, but he’s never going to hit for the power that Drew does; he’s similar defensively; and he’s got a reputation of being lazy. The main attribute of Tejada for the Mets is that he’s cheap. But with the signings of Granderson and Young and that they’re intending to start the season with the still questionable Juan Lagares and Travis d’Arnaud in center field and catcher respectively, they’re running the risk of having three dead spots in the lineup before the season even begins. With Drew, they’d know what they’re getting and he would at least counteract Lagares and d’Arnaud. Drew is an up-the-middle hitter and his power comes when he pulls the ball. He wouldn’t be hindered by Citi Field and he’d hit his 10 homers and double-digit triples.

No matter how superlative he is defensively, the Mets won’t go through the whole season with Lagares in center field if he doesn’t hit. They’ll simply shift Young to center for more offense. They’re committed to d’Arnaud and he’ll play every day no matter what. If they want to have a chance for respectability and perhaps more, they can’t worry about whether they’re getting the Tejada from 2013 or the Tejada from 2011-2012. And the Tejada from 2011-2012 was serviceable and useful, but not close to what Drew can do.

With Drew, the Mets would be better in 2014 when they’re striving for respectability and in 2015 when Matt Harvey returns and they clearly have designs on contending.

The Mets pitching staff is not one that racks up a lot of strikeouts. The left side of the infield with Drew and David Wright will be excellent. Daniel Murphy is mediocre at best at second base. Lucas Duda is a solid defensive first baseman. With Lagares in center field, they have a Gold Glove candidate. Young can play the position well. They’re better in all facets of the game with Drew, plus they’re getting offense they will not get with Tejada. The difference between 77-85 and also-ran status and 85-77 and bordering on the fringes of contention might be Drew. That makes the signing worthwhile for on-field purposes.

His Drew-ness

The Drew family has long been known for its prodigious baseball talent. They’re the physical prototypes for baseball players. Along with that, they’ve been the prototypes for Boras clients.

J.D. Drew sat out a year rather than sign with the Phillies when he was drafted second overall in 1997. They didn’t meet his contract demands. The Cardinals drafted him fifth overall the next season and he signed. He was an excellent player for the Cardinals, but flummoxed manager Tony LaRussa with his lack of passion and aloofness. He was traded to the Braves for Adam Wainwright as the Braves expected him to be happier closer to his home. He had his career year and left to sign with the Dodgers. He spent two years in Los Angeles, then exercised an opt-out in his contract to go to the Red Sox.

In short, he was never happy with where he was and was constantly looking for the next opportunity. It could have had to do with money or it might have had to do with a wanderlust. Or he could simply have been treating the game as a business and listening to every single word uttered by the Svengali, Boras.

Stephen Drew has many of the same traits as his brother. Both are injury-prone, though Stephen is not hurt to the extent that his brother was; both are supremely talented and never appear happy where they are; both wanted to get paid and might be making decisions detrimental to their careers in listening to every whisper from their agent.

In retrospect, should Stephen have accepted the Red Sox qualifying offer and tried for free agency in another year when it’s pretty much a certainty that the Yankees are going to be looking for a replacement for Jeter and will be free of any financial constraints? Probably. Does he regret not taking it? We’ll never know because the Drews don’t rattle the Boras cage.

If the Mets go hard after Drew, there’s the possibility that they’re being used to get the Red Sox or the famed Boras “mystery team” to ante up and top the offer. For the Mets, while it wouldn’t be catastrophic not to get Drew, it would extinguish much of the good will they did accumulate by signing Granderson and Colon if they pursued him and failed to reel him in.

The conclusion

The Mets should go after Drew and see whether they can get him at a reasonable price. If Boras will take something in the neighborhood of three-years at $30-33 million, the Mets would have a bridge shortstop until former first round draft pick Gavin Cecchini is ready. They’d be better in the short term and definitely have someone who could help them do what the true intention is: contend in 2015. If Boras is being unreasonable or the feeling is that they’re just waiting for the Red Sox to up the offer, the Mets should move on and figure something else out. If that means they’re hoping that Tejada decides he wants to play and shows up early and in shape, so be it.




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Granderson Not An Ideal Signing, But A Good One For The Mets

Ballparks, Draft, Free Agents, Games, History, Hot Stove, Management, Media, MiLB, PEDs, Players, Prospects, Stats

In a utopia, the Mets would have the goods to pry Troy Tulowitzki away from the Rockies without gutting their farm system. Or they would have the money available to sign one of the big free agent outfield names like Shin-Soo Choo. Tulowitzki isn’t available and the Mets can’t afford to give up the prospects if he was. They don’t have the money nor the willingness to meet Scott Boras’s asking price for Choo. The same held true for the recently signed Jacoby Ellsbury and a reunion with Carlos Beltran wasn’t a fit.

Instead of complaining about the players they couldn’t sign or acquire via trade, the Mets did the next best thing given the market and their circumstances and signed Curtis Granderson away from the Yankees. Granderson received a four-year, $60 million contract. There was debate within the organization as to whether they could get him for three years – general manager Sandy Alderson’s preference – but the team stepped up and guaranteed the fourth year. This saved them from the embarrassment of Granderson walking away and leaving the Mets even more desperate and needing to do something worse to placate an enraged and disgusted fan base. Even if it wasn’t necessary, it was needed.

The toxic situation surrounding the Mets and perception that there was a lack of commitment to winning led to players either using them as a lever to get better money elsewhere or not considering them at all. Granderson wasn’t a player who was left without options. Had he held out and waited until the other dominoes fell, he might have been able to surpass the contract he got from the Mets with another club. The Mets couldn’t risk that. Truthfully, nor could Granderson. It’s a marriage of convenience to be sure, but considering how free agents (and marriages) tend to be disastrous even if they seem so perfect at the time, it could be a boon to both sides.

Granderson is not without his flaws. He strikes out a ton and it’s unlikely that he’ll hit 40 home runs playing half his games in Citi Field as he did aiming for the short right field porch in Yankee Stadium. But he is a legitimate threat in the middle of the lineup who will hit a mistake out of the ballpark and provide protection for David Wright in the lineup. He’s a good defensive outfielder, has extra-base power, will walk around 70 times, and is a tremendous person – exactly the type the Mets would like to pair with Wright to represent them publicly.

He’s an actual, established big leaguer with credentials and not someone like Marlon Byrd who they picked up off the scrapheap after a PED suspension or Chris Young who was a former All-Star only available to them because he was injured and terrible in the past two seasons and Alderson promised him regular playing time.

Often it takes an overpay to send a message to the rest of baseball that a club is serious. As criticized as former GM Omar Minaya was for paying Pedro Martinez $50 million for one-and-one-half productive seasons, the signing of Martinez was a signal that it wasn’t the same old Mets with legacy contracts doled out to the likes of Al Leiter and John Franco because of what they once were and that the ownership liked them. Shortly after securing Martinez, the Mets signed Beltran. The next year, they acquired Carlos Delgado and signed Billy Wagner. They paid the highest amounts for the players they signed, but given the way the Mets were perceived back then – and now – players might have shunned them for better circumstances no matter how much money they offered.

In addition to their minor league system stacked with pitching, the Granderson signing is a foundational move for credibility and a signal to other players that it’s okay to join him and Wright on the Mets helping them back to respectability. He’s not great, but he’s an affordable cog. He fills what the Mets currently need.




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Ricky Nolasco Proves the Market Rewards Mediocrity

CBA, Cy Young Award, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, History, Hot Stove, Management, Media, MiLB, Players, Prospects, Stats, Trade Rumors

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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Teams Shouldn’t Follow the Red Sox Template

Books, Games, History, Hot Stove, Management, Media, MiLB, Players, Playoffs, Prospects, Stats, Trade Rumors, World Series

Much to the chagrin of Scott Boras teams are increasingly shying away from overpaying for players they believe are the “last” piece of the puzzle and doling out $200 million contracts. This realization spurred Boras’s reaction to the Mets, Astros and Cubs steering clear of big money players, many of whom are his clients.

Ten years ago, the Moneyball “way” was seen as how every team should go about running their organization; then the big money strategy reared its head when the Yankees spent their way back to a World Series title in 2009; and the Red Sox are now seen as the new method to revitalizing a floundering franchise. The fact is there is no specific template that must be followed to guarantee success. There have been teams that spent and won; there have been teams that have spent and lost. There have been teams that were lucky, smart or lucky and smart. Nothing guarantees anything unless the pieces are already in place.

The 2013 Red Sox had everything click all at once. They already had a solid foundation with Dustin Pedroia, David Ortiz, Jon Lester and Jacoby Ellsbury. They were presented with the gift of financial freedom when the Dodgers took the contracts of Carl Crawford, Josh Beckett and Adrian Gonzalez off their hands. Bobby Valentine’s disastrous season allowed general manager Ben Cherington to run the team essentially the way he wanted without interference from Larry Lucchino. John Farrell was the right manager for them.

To think that there wasn’t a significant amount of luck in what the Red Sox accomplished in 2013 is a fantasy. Where would they have been had they not lost both Joel Hanrahan and Andrew Bailey and stumbled into Koji Uehara becoming a dominant closer? Could it have been foreseen that the Blue Jays would be such a disaster? That the Yankees would have the number of key injuries they had and not spend their way out of trouble?

The players on whom the Red Sox spent their money and who had success were circumstantial.

Mike Napoli agreed to a 3-year, $39 million contract before his degenerative hip became an issue and they got him for one season. He stayed healthy all year.

Shane Victorino was viewed as on the downside of his career and they made made a drastic move in what was interpreted as an overpay of three years and $39 million. He was able to produce while spending the vast portion of the second half unable to switch hit and batting right-handed exclusively.

Uehara was signed to be a set-up man and the Red Sox were reluctant to name him their closer even when they had no one left to do the job.

Jose Iglesias – who can’t hit – did hit well enough to put forth the impression that he could hit and they were able to turn him into Jake Peavy.

The injury-prone Stephen Drew stayed relatively healthy, played sound defense and hit with a little pop. The only reason the Red Sox got him on a one-year contract was because he wanted to replenish his value for free agency and he did.

Is there a team out there now who have that same confluence of events working for them to make copying the Red Sox a viable strategy? You’ll hear media members and talk show callers asking why their hometown team can’t do it like the Red Sox did. Are there the players out on the market who will take short-term contracts and have the issues – injuries, off-years, misplaced roles – that put them in the same category as the players the Red Sox signed?

Teams can try to copy the Red Sox and it won’t work. Just as the Red Sox succeeded because everything fell into place, the team that copies them might fail because things falling into place just right doesn’t happen very often. Following another club’s strategy makes sense if it’s able to be copied. What the Red Sox did isn’t, making it a mistake to try.




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Seaver, Palmer and Pitcher Injuries

Award Winners, CBA, Cy Young Award, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Hall Of Fame, History, Management, Media, MiLB, MVP, Players, Prospects, Stats

Tom Seaver made his opinion of pitch counts and innings limits perfectly clear in the New York Daily News. (He’s against them.) Jim Palmer added his own position in yesterday’s New York Times:

Palmer won 83 games from 1970 to 1973, but he hurt his ulnar nerve in 1974 and made only 26 starts. He was healthy enough to throw a complete game in the playoffs, but the Orioles cited his lack of durability as a reason to cut his salary the next season. Pitchers tried everything to grunt through injuries, Palmer said, because it was the only way to be paid.

“It didn’t make us any better than these guys,” Palmer said. “I’m not saying these guys aren’t terrific players who play their hearts out, because they do. It’s just a different era.”

Both are right. Seaver has a valid point in his clear disgust at the way in which pitchers are babied today when it’s not even working. But Palmer hammers home the real reason that pitchers and teams are more willing to work together to allow pitch counts, innings limits and paranoia to trump an employer-employee relationship: money.

If baseball players were still indentured servants as they were during the time Seaver and Palmer were in the nascent stages of their career, you wouldn’t see these protectionist edicts limiting the pitchers from injuring themselves. The clubs wouldn’t care; the pitchers would be more interested in keeping their jobs than being able to pitch when they’re 30; and the agents – if players had agents at all – would shrug their shoulders because they weren’t making that much money off the players either. Palmer had won the Cy Young Award in 1973 and finished second in the MVP voting, was injured in 1974, still made 26 starts and took a paycut for 1975. That’s what players dealt with. It wasn’t take it or leave it. It was take it. Period.

In 1974, Scott Boras was a 21-year-old outfielder/third baseman in his first year of professional baseball with the Cardinals’ Rookie team in the Gulf Coast League. Now he has the power to tell teams how they’re going to use their employees to whom they’ve given multi-million dollars in guaranteed contracts and bonus money.

Last night on the ESPN Sunday Night Baseball telecast, Orel Hershiser stated that The Verducci Effect – a study of why pitchers supposedly get injured by writer Tom Verducci – had been “debunked.” Despite their acknowledgment of the theory, I don’t think any credible person inside baseball or the medical community took all that seriously a random study from a baseball writer for any reason other than to validate what they already wanted to do. In other words, “Here’s a written article to allow me to explain away why I’m shutting down Stephen Strasburg.” I wrote about the absurdity at the time. Now all of a sudden, it’s trendy to question it as more and more pitchers get injured in spite of the attention paid to it and other theories formulated with a confirmation bias.

Are the new strategies making pitchers better? Is weight training good or bad? Do pitch counts help or hurt? Should the chains be removed and pitchers allowed to build up a tolerance to high numbers of innings and pitch counts or should they be babied more? Seaver, Palmer, Ferguson Jenkins, Steve Carlton and countless others pitched inning after inning and never had significant injuries and, back then, Tommy John was a pretty good sinkerballer and not a term that pitchers and teams loathe to hear. We don’t hear about the number of great talents who came up with a non-specifically diagnosed “sore arm” and either lost their effectiveness or never pitched again.

The Mets and Nationals did everything humanly possible to keep Matt Harvey and Strasburg on the mound and pitching. Both got injured anyway. There’s no ironclad method to keeping pitchers healthy; no smoking gun; no pitching coach/manager to blame; no reason for it to have happened. It just did. All the second-guessing and preventative measures aren’t going to change that and baseball is certainly not going back to the days in which pitchers threw 300 innings.

Pitcher injuries are part of life when one chooses to become a pitcher and there’s nothing that can be done to stop it. That was true in 1960, 1970, 1980 and it’s true in 2013. The game may change, but that fact won’t.




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Waiting Out The Cano/Jay-Z Results

CBA, Free Agents, History, Management, Media, Players, Stats

When Yankees second baseman and pending free agent Robinson Cano fired Scott Boras as his agent and replaced him with Jay-Z’s Roc Nation Sports and CAA, it was seen as a positive omen for Cano to stay with the Yankees. Gone were the predictions of a contentious negotiation with questions surrounding whether the Yankees would spend the money to meet the demands of Boras and Cano. The threat of the free-spending Dodgers was very real and Boras doesn’t care about team loyalty or legacy—he wants to get his players paid and the players hire him because they want to get paid. If it took a slow dance with the Dodgers or any other team to get the Yankees to put the ring on Cano’s finger, so be it. There’s no pretense nor is there ambiguity.

At first blush, the obvious response to the Jay-Z hiring was that Cano wants to stay with the Yankees. He dumped the agent who left the prospect of him re-signing in question, and hired someone who would facilitate a deal between the sides to avoid the mere possibility of a departure. Now, as time has passed and the contract talks between the sides at a reported impasse, it’s opening increased wonderment as to the wisdom of making the change. Boras wouldn’t have a deal done by now and would advise his client to go through to free agency. If the idea of hiring Jay-Z was to preclude free agency with a preemptive deal, well, that hasn’t happened either and doesn’t look like it will. So what was the point?

The Yankees payroll constraints are one reason that the long-term, huge money contract that Cano wants is not as guaranteed as it would’ve been five years ago, but there are others reasons as well. The Yankees need only look at the albatross that Alex Rodriguez’s contract has become; how Mark Teixeira’s contract is heading in the same direction; at Cano’s age (31 in October); how other players like Albert Pujols who have signed contracts similar to what Cano is going to want have declined, and set a line that they won’t surpass in terms of years or dollars hoping that Cano blinks. Are the Yankees going to be held hostage by Cano and Jay-Z for a ten-year contract and pay a 38-41-year old what will probably amount to 40% of the total value of the deal in those years when Cano will either be declining or finished entirely? It doesn’t help Cano that there is a lack of attractive options if the Yankees don’t want to pay. They’re not going to bid against themselves and they might play chicken with Cano as they did with Derek Jeter and tell him that if he thinks he can do better than their best offer, so be it.

Although Jay-Z has been certified as a player agent, the concept of him sitting across from Brian Cashman and poring through the contract’s fine print is silly. He’s lending his name to a new business and while he’s a savvy businessman, this “hands-on” concept won’t extend to the ludicrous with Jay-Z reading the fine print of a contract that is packed with legalese. While Jay-Z has qualified attorneys and agents handling the actual negotiations, this decision on the part of Cano reeked of panic, desperation and listening to the whispers of others. Changing agents so close to free agency and so soon after hiring Boras defeated the purpose of hiring Boras to begin with. Boras, in fact, never really did any contract negotiating for Cano; all he did was some saber rattling. It was a flighty and flaky move that could end up biting the second baseman and the rap mogul if they don’t get a deal done to the financial satisfaction of the player and the reputation of Jay-Z. And rest assured other agents who are threatened by Jay-Z’s foray into sports representation will latch onto any mistake, small or large, that is made and let players who are considering hiring Jay-Z know exactly what happens when they hire someone who’s not a legitimately experienced sports contract negotiator. Even though CAA is going to handle the contract nuts and bolts, many athletes will only see the end result if Cano winds up with less than the $250+ million he’s going to want or has to leave the Yankees due to overplaying his hand when his first (and probably only) desire is to stay.

When Cano fired Boras there was a sense—from me included—that the change was designed to turn down the rhetoric that was a part of Boras’s negotiating strategy and get something done to avoid even the threat that Cano would leave. But no deal has been struck and the Yankees are clearly going to wait to see what Cano and Jay-Z do after the season. Say what you want about Boras and the manner in which he does his deals, but his main interest is that of his clients. If they want money, that’s what he pursues; if they want to sign a down-the-line deal to stay with their preferred team as Jered Weaver did, he’ll acquiesce to their wishes.

With Jay-Z, Cano is a the test case in the expansion of an empire which tacitly indicates that the goals are not just for the player, but the representatives as well. In fact, Jay-Z might make be even more strident with the negotiations than Boras would to ensure that he’s not seen as a Yankees fan who had the power and sway to acquire a client the stature of Cano and allows that to blur the line between his client’s interests and his own. Whatever the intention was with the hiring, it hasn’t yielded any results as of yet and those results won’t be known until Cano’s fate is determined. That fate is currently up in the air just as it was with Boras, only there’s a different pilot who might not have the skills that the former pilot did. It makes me question the wisdom of changing planes in the first place.

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A Long-Term Concern With The Nationals’ Slow Start

2013 MLB Predicted Standings, All Star Game, Award Winners, Ballparks, CBA, Cy Young Award, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Hall Of Fame, History, Hot Stove, Management, Media, MiLB, MLB Trade Deadline, MLB Waiver Trades, MVP, Paul Lebowitz's 2013 Baseball Guide, Players, Playoffs, Prospects, Spring Training, Stats, Trade Rumors, World Series

The time to worry about an underachieving team or to celebrate an overachieving team is August and September, not April and May. For teams like the Nationals that had great expectations coming into the season and have, up to now, been a disappointment with a 25-23 record due mostly to an offense that hasn’t produced, it’s not time to panic. Eventually they’re going to hit and be in playoff contention. But being in playoff contention isn’t the same as being in the playoffs or being guaranteed of being in the playoffs which is a luxury the Nationals had last season by mid-to-late August.

While the decision to shut Stephen Strasburg down in September and sit him out for the playoffs didn’t overtly cost the Nationals the NLDS against the Cardinals, its residue may stain the organization for years to come if they don’t come through and build on their progress and rapid ascent of 2012 by making an extended playoff run in the next few years. We’ll never know if the NLDS would have gone differently if Strasburg was pitching in the series, but the concept that the Nationals would “definitely” be back in that position on an annual basis with Strasburg and Bryce Harper leading the way ignores how circumstance and reality can sabotage even the most foolproof plans.

The Nationals’ struggles in 2013 should be an indicator that the run to the World Series with their young core isn’t fait accompli and the decision to shut Strasburg down could come back to haunt them within the next three years if they don’t make that playoff run and Strasburg leaves as a free agent after 2016. What they will have done is to save Strasburg’s bullets for the next team to use him rather than cower and give in to paranoia as a reason to “protect” him and not let him do what they paid him to do: pitch and help them win.

This is not about whether or not a few more innings would have resulted in cumulative damage that would injure Strasburg, nor is it about the medical studies and theories that predicated the shutdown. It’s about succeeding in achieving the ultimate object of playing in the first place: winning. Considering who Strasburg’s agent is and that the puppet strings in his usage dictates have been pulled by Scott Boras from the start with Strasburg a willing accomplice and the Nationals a witting (or unwitting) collaborator, do the Nationals think they’re going to get a discount when Strasburg’s free agency approaches?

Along with having two once-in-a-generation talents available as the number one pick in the draft and having the backwards good fortune of being so terrible that they were the first team picking for two straight years also comes with the caveat that, by today’s standards, they’re going to have to pay those players contracts of $200+ million for Harper and $180+ million for Strasburg. Boras represents Harper as well and the Nationals may not be able to keep both. Considering that it’s Boras, they’re less likely to take a long-term, team-friendly deal to sign. Boras doesn’t do that unless the player tells him to as Jered Weaver did and it was presumably over the heavy objections of the agent.

Let’s look at a worst case scenario independent of Strasburg getting hurt. What if the Nationals never return to the position they were in last season with this group and it gets to 2016 with Strasburg fully evolved and the best pitcher in baseball with Cy Young Awards, dominance and pending free agency? Then he leaves. Will the decision to shut him down in 2012 have been worth it? For Strasburg, Boras and the team that signs him (Yankees? Red Sox? Dodgers? Angels?) it will have been. For the Nationals, not at all.

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Don’t Expect a Phillies Selloff

2013 MLB Predicted Standings, Award Winners, Ballparks, CBA, Cy Young Award, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Hall Of Fame, History, Hot Stove, Management, Media, MiLB, MLB Trade Deadline, MLB Waiver Trades, MVP, Paul Lebowitz's 2013 Baseball Guide, Players, Playoffs, Prospects, Spring Training, Stats, Trade Rumors, World Series

Because they fall into the category of early-season disappointment, there’s already speculation as to a Phillies selloff at mid-season if they continue to play like a team that can finish with, at best, a .500 record. History has proven, however, that under GM Ruben Amaro Jr. any move that is made will be either to double-down and go for it in spite of widespread negativity and perception that they’re “done,” or he’ll make trades of players who aren’t keys to the team and those who won’t be part of the long-term future.

For all the criticism Amaro has received for mortgaging the future by gutting a fertile farm system for veterans, overpaying on contract extensions for players already on his roster, and essentially ignoring the draft, he had a different idea when he took over as GM after the 2008 season. What he wanted to do was maintain some semblance of a solid core of young players. This was the intention of trading away Cliff Lee for prospects as he was entering his free agent year and trading other prospects to acquire Roy Halladay who was willing to sign a long-term contract just to get out of Toronto and join a contender.

Amaro was savaged—by me included—for that decision and did a total about-face at mid-season 2010 first by trying to get Lee back from the plummeting Mariners, then filling the hole in the rotation that his plan created by acquiring Roy Oswalt. The Phillies had been rumored to be listening to offers for Jayson Werth at that point, were barely over .500 and fading. They got hot, won the NL East, advanced to the NLCS before losing to the eventual World Series champion Giants.

By then, there wasn’t a pretense of building for the present and the future. It was all-in for the now as evidenced by the advancing age of their roster and the subsequent acquisitions of Lee (as a free agent), Hunter Pence, and Jonathan Papelbon. Farm director Chuck LaMar resigned in a public dustup with Amaro because of the rapidly deteriorating farm system and lack of money available to repair it.

But what Amaro was doing was similar to what Theo Epstein wanted to do sans the ridiculous appellations of “genius” after the Red Sox 2004 World Series win. The expectations from the fans and media, as well as ownership demands, sabotaged what Epstein wanted to do and the Red Sox degenerated into a battle of one-upmanship with the Yankees as to who could spend the most money on the biggest free agents. It resulted in a dysfunctional group of mercenaries and organizational collapse culminating with the 69-93 showing in 2012 with rampant inter-organizational contretemps and hatred combined with a self-protective blame game from everyone involved.

The Phillies haven’t fallen to those depths yet. But with an aging and declining roster and few prospects on the way up, it will happen eventually.

The question is, what do they do about it?

The simple answer is: nothing.

Could the Phillies clean out the house at mid-season and save money for an on-the-fly rebuild by signing free agents and trading for players that other teams can no longer afford? Yes. Will they do that? Probably not.

When clubs are trading players in salary dumps, the get-back is usually not all that impressive. Many will point to the Red Sox salary dump of Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford and Josh Beckett to the Dodgers for a package of prospects including two who are impressive—Allen Webster and Rubby De La Rosa—but the key point being missed is that Gonzalez is still a star-level, MVP-caliber talent whom the Red Sox had surrendered three top prospects to acquire just a year-and-a-half earlier. Were they supposed to give him away just to get out from under the contract? And were the Dodgers just doing the Red Sox a favor along the lines of the nouveau riche just buying things they recognized?

The Dodgers also claimed Lee when the Phillies placed him on waivers last year. If there was an intention on the part of Amaro to extricate himself from Lee’s contract, he could’ve just handed him to the Dodgers and moved on. He didn’t do that and won’t do it this year with Lee unless he’s getting something back. If a team is accepting the $62.5 million Lee is guaranteed through 2015, they’re not surrendering a top-tier prospect for a soon-to-be 35-year-old with that much cash coming to him. Nor will they get significant packages of younsters for Halladay or Rollins. They might get something decent for Chase Utley, but it won’t be a franchise remaking deal that will be pointed to in 2017 as the building block for the next Phillies run.

There are other concerns in play here. It’s a ridiculous premise to believe that the GM has the final say in all personnel moves. Evidence of Amaro answering to his bosses was clear in the negotiations to retain Ryan Madson as the team’s closer after the 2011 season when the strongly cited rumors were that the Phillies had made a $44 million offer to Madson that the player and his agent Scott Boras accepted. Then when Amaro went to get approval from CEO David Montgomery, a hold was put on the agreement and a few days later, Papelbon was signed. In retrospect, with Madson not having thrown a Major League pitch for the two organizations he’s signed with since, Amaro and the Phillies were lucky it fell apart, regardless of who pulled the first thread as the catalyst of the fabric disintegrating.

Prior to the contract extension given to Cole Hamels, there was endless speculation that the staggering Phillies would trade him. Instead, they gave him what was, at the time, the richest contract ever given to a pitcher.

Apparently Amaro doesn’t read the rumors and do what they’re saying he’s about to do or supposed to do.

Another issue is the attendance factor. Amid all the talk that of the loyalty of Phillies’ fans and the daily sellouts during the club’s run of excellence, like most fanbases if the team isn’t contending and isn’t good, the fans aren’t going to go. This is part of the reason the Cubs have been so historically bad—there’s no motivation to consistently try and win because the fans show up either way. It would take annual contention over the long-term (a decade) and at least one World Series win for the Cubs to: A) lose the lovable loser mantle they so proudly wallow in; and B) accumulate the apathy that comes from fans being disgusted with losing when they expected to win to the point that they’ll find something to do other than going to the park.

That’s not so with the Phillies. If the fans see a team without Lee, without Jimmy Rollins, without Halladay, without Papelbon, without Utley, they’re not going to the park to see a backend starter packaged as a top prospect in Jonathan Pettibone, Ben Revere, Domonic Brown, and Hamels for a team that’s going to win 75 games and is rebuilding.

This is the team they’ve put together. Amaro accepted that when he tacitly acknowledged that it’s all but impossible to win and build simultaneously with the Oswalt acquisition and unsaid admission that he was wrong to trade Lee. He reacted accordingly and this is where they are. With the extra Wild Card, the parity in the National League, their pitching and impossibility of trading their veterans for the quality youth necessary to justify it, they’re not blowing it up now.

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Analysis of the Kyle Lohse Signing

Ballparks, CBA, Cy Young Award, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, History, Management, Media, MiLB, Players, Playoffs, Prospects, Spring Training, Stats, Trade Rumors

The Brewers have signed Kyle Lohse to a three-year, $33 million contract making Scott Boras look like a genius again. In this market, at this late date and with the draft pick compensation attached to Lohse, to somehow convince the Brewers (and probably the Brewers owner Mark Attanasio) that they needed Lohse when they didn’t need Lohse is worthy of a bow.

Let’s look at the signing.

For Lohse

We’ll know soon enough whether Lohse was a creation of the Dr. Frankenstein-like corpse rejuvenation of former Cardinals’ pitching coach Dave Duncan or if he has become a different pitcher whose new mentality, mechanics, approach and stuff that can translate the knowledge everywhere. But here are the facts:

  • Lohse gives up more fly balls than ground balls and is going from a home ballpark that allowed 140 homers to a ballpark that allowed 230 homers
  • The Cardinals’ infield defense was average; the Brewers’ was bad
  • He’ll be working with a catcher that’s not Yadier Molina

Because Lohse learned to pound the strike zone, trust his catcher and defense, and not worry about the outcome as long as he made his pitches—Duncan trademarks—he reached a level of success with the Cardinals that he never did in any of his prior stops. That he’s leaving the Cardinals isn’t as much of a factor as where he’s going and going to Milwaukee to join a pockmarked team with multiple holes and is floating halfway between a rebuild and clinging to the tendrils of contention, his margin for error is gone and what worked with the Cardinals is unlikely to work with the Brewers.

In short, he can do the exact same things with the Brewers he did with the Cardinals and have drastically different—and worse—results.

For the Brewers

Anything they did was bound to make a gutted starting rotation better. They were beginning the season with Yovani Gallardo at the top of the rotation and a series of question marks behind him. There’s some ability with Wily Peralta and perhaps useful mid-rotation arms with Marco Estrada and Mike Fiers. Their bullpen isn’t particularly good and manager Ron Roenicke hasn’t distinguished himself as a field boss who can inspire overachievement in his players. It’s a bad sign when a pitcher signs with a club a week before the season starts and he’s automatically their number 2. Of course it has to be footnoted why Lohse was sitting out for so long as teams didn’t want to surrender the draft pick compensation, but they were also concerned about what I alluded to earlier: that he’s not going to be as good away from the Cardinals and not worth the money he wanted and, by all rights considering his performance, deserved.

For the National League

Are teams looking at the Brewers and seeing how they can hit thinking, “Whoa!! They got Lohse!!! Watch them!!”?

No.

Lohse is a pitcher who’s a “Yeah, we can use him I guess” arm, but he’s not a difference-maker for a mediocre team. The Brewers have him for three years when they’re locked in the vacancy of a simultaneous rebuild/contend. History has proven that’s not only very hard to do, but can be destructive when a team surrenders a draft pick (the 17th overall) to get the player who: A) won’t help that much; and B) will cost them the draft slot where there can be a very good player available (Brad Lidge and Cole Hamels were taken at 17).

I wouldn’t have done this and I doubt the Brewers’ baseball people would’ve done it either if they weren’t forced to do so by the owner who’s the latest in a long line of smart men who were sold on a player they didn’t need by the mastermind named Scott Boras.

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