Hot Stove Winners, 2011-2012

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Most of the big names are off the board and the ones remaining on the market—Roy Oswalt, Edwin Jackson—aren’t going to change the landscape much, if at all.

Let’s look at the hot stove winners for this winter.

New York Yankees

This isn’t a matter of the Yankees opening their checkbook and buying stuff as it usually is when they’re considered the “big winners” of the off-season. This winter was dedicated to keeping CC Sabathia and bolstering their starting rotation—which they did.

The Yankees essentially held serve and got more assured production with the additions of Michael Pineda and Hiroki Kuroda than the scrambling they did and luck they enjoyed last year when Freddy Garcia and Bartolo Colon surpassed any logical expectations.

They’ve also been helped by the Red Sox evident disarray; the Blue Jays failing to acquire any veteran lineup or starting pitching help; the financial constraints that continually bound the Rays; and the Orioles being the Orioles.

Texas Rangers

The Rangers helped their starting rotation in two ways. One, they signed Joe Nathan to take over as closer and are shifting Neftali Feliz into being a starter. Two, they won the bidding for Yu Darvish.

Some will point to the loss of C.J. Wilson and the above moves as canceling each other out. The case can even be made that because the Angels signed Wilson, the Rangers wind up as net losers because of Wilson’s departure for a division rival.

The money they spent on Darvish in comparison to what it would’ve cost to keep Wilson or sign Jackson or Kuroda is a viable argument of having overpayed, but Wilson is 31 and Darvish 25. With Darvish, they get a more talented pitcher and the ancillary benefit of worldwide marketing possibilities because of his Iranian/Japanese heritage, looks and personality.

I think Darvish is going to be a superstar.

Los Angeles Angels

Long term consequences aside for having to pay Albert Pujols $59 million past his 40th birthday, they signed the best hitter of this generation and immediately launched themselves to the top of the talent scale. Simultaneously, they supplemented their strength in the starting rotation by signing Wilson.

They also acquired a catcher with pop in Chris Iannetta and hired a more competent GM when they replaced Tony Reagins with Jerry DiPoto.

Miami Marlins

They wanted a proven, name manager to draw buzz heading into their new ballpark and traded for Ozzie Guillen.

They needed starting pitching and signed Mark Buehrle and acquired Carlos Zambrano.

They needed a closer and signed Heath Bell.

And they wanted to bring in an offensive force to strengthen both shortstop and third base offensively and defensively and signed Jose Reyes, shifting Hanley Ramirez to third base.

The big questions are whether or not petulant owner Jeffrey Loria, meddling team president David Samson, Guillen, Zambrano and an unhappy Ramirez light the fuse of this powder keg and if the fans decide to show up to watch after the initial novelties.

On paper in February, they look good.

Cincinnati Reds

Giving up a chunk of their minor league system to get Mat Latos is risky, but he fills the need at the top of their starting rotation.

Ryan Madson’s market crashed and the Reds got him for one year; they traded for a solid lefty reliever in Sean Marshall and signed Ryan Ludwick, who will benefit from being a background player and hitting in a friendlier home park.

Colorado Rockies

Michael Cuddyer will have a big offensive year in right field and can play first base if/when Todd Helton gets hurt.

Replacing the shaky Huston Street with the cheaper and better Rafael Betancourt is a step up. Getting Tyler Chatwood for Iannetta and signing Ramon Hernandez to replace Iannetta is a dual gain. They signed the underrated Casey Blake to play third and traded a journeyman righty Clayton Mortensen to get Marco Scutaro, immediately solving their problem at second base.

San Diego Padres

Yonder Alonso is a power bat and Rookie of the Year candidate at first base. Yasmani Grandal is a top catching prospect and Edinson Volquez is good if he’s healthy and will benefit from pitching in the cavernous Petco Park and having a deep bullpen supporting him.

They gave up Latos to get the above package, but it’s an even trade for both sides for short and long term needs.

Street is just as good as the departed free agent Bell and maintains the bullpen hierarchy with Luke Gregerson as the set-up man and Street closing.

Carlos Quentin will be looking to have a big year as he heads for free agency and the Padres acquired him for two minor league pitchers who’d fallen out of favor with the organization.

Josh Byrnes is a category above Jed Hoyer as GM.

The hot stove losers and clubs that made lateral maneuvers will be discussed in upcoming posts.

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Quality Moves, Under the Radar

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While the Marlins and Angels have garnered the headlines with their spending sprees; the Nationals by their overreaching trade for Gio Gonzalez; the Red Sox with their front office and off-field controversies; and Billy Beane for being Billy Beane and therefore worthy of attention just because, two teams have made drastic improvements amid questions, criticisms, ridicule and camouflage.

The Rockies and Indians are poised to leap into serious contention in 2012 because of said acquisitions and they’ve done it relatively cheaply and without fanfare.

Still needing help with their starting pitching, the Rockies are one of the suitors for the underrated and mean Hiroki Kuroda; if they get him, I’ll like their off-season all the more.

Here are the Rockies moves so far:

Signed OF/1B Michael Cuddyer to a 3-year, $31.5 million contract.

I went into detail about the match between Cuddyer and the Rockies in an earlier posting. In short, his defense in right field won’t be an issue because of the Rockies pitching staff’s penchant for getting ground balls; his hitting will improve markedly playing in Coors Field; and he might see substantial time at first base with the recent injury history of Todd Helton. He’s a better player than Seth Smith and will hit and hit for power.

Traded RHP Huston Street to the Padres for minor league lefty Nick Schmidt.

The Rockies sent $500,000 to the Padres (for Street’s 2013 buyout) and cleared the rest of his $7.5 million salary.

Street was not reliable as a closer, gave up too many hits and homers and was expensive; the Rockies dumped him and his paycheck and have Rafael Betancourt to close and Matt Lindstrom to back him up.

Schmidt is 25 and still in A ball. This was a money spin for an organizational warm body and it was a smart thing to do.

Traded C Chris Iannetta to the Angels for RHP Tyler Chatwood; signed C Ramon Hernandez to a 2-year, $6.4 million contract.

Iannetta has pop and gets on base, but he was never able to put a stranglehold on the everyday catching job; Chatwood was one of the Angels top pitching prospects who had an up-and-down season in Anaheim. He’s a ground ball pitcher who should do well in Colorado.

Hernandez is fine with being a part-timer, has power and throws well. He’ll be a perfect tutor to young prospect Wilin Rosario.

Traded INF Ty Wigginton to the Phillies for a player to be named later or cash; signed 3B/1B/OF Casey Blake to a 1-year, $2 million contract.

Wigginton was a fiery player and hit a few homers, but he’s terrible defensively and limited offensively. They’re paying $2 million of his $4 million salary and signed Blake to a 1-year contract for $2 million—basically they traded Wigginton for Blake and it’s a great trade…if Blake is healthy.

Blake missed most of the 2011 season with multiple injuries and required neck surgery.

His health is the key. He’s versatile and is a good fielder; he has power; and Blake is plainly and simply a professional baseball player who goes unnoticed but is a key component to a winning team—the other players, coaches and managers will tell you how good a player a healthy Blake is.

If they add a Kuroda or Roy Oswalt to go along with the package they got last summer for Ubaldo Jimenez, it equates to a strong top-to-bottom club that has repaired the holes that caused their underwhelming 2011 record of 73-89.

The Indians have done the following:

Acquired RHP Derek Lowe from the Braves for minor league LHP Chris Jones and $10 million.

There’s no defending Lowe’s performance for the Braves, but the Indians got an innings-eater and will only pay $5 million of his $15 million salary. When a durable sinkerballer like Lowe is pitching so poorly, the issue is generally mechanical; if the Indians can fix whatever was preventing him from getting the proper movement on his pitches, he can again be effective; perhaps he just needed a change-of-scenery.

Either way, you can’t go wrong for $5 million. With Jimenez, Justin Masterson, Fausto Carmona and Josh Tomlin, the Indians have a formidable rotation backed up by a strong bullpen.

Re-signed CF Grady Sizemore to a 1-year, $5 million contract after declining his option.

Sizemore was a budding star before microfracture surgery derailed him; he’s worked very hard to come back and it took Carlos Beltran (whom the Indians pursued but lost to the Cardinals) a full season to return to relative normalcy after a bone bruise. Although Beltran didn’t need microfracture surgery, the injuries and recovery times are similar. If Sizemore can be 75-80% of what he was, he’s a bargain.

The Indians finished ninth in the American League in runs scored and are looking for another bat, but with full seasons from Jason Kipnis and Shin-Soo Choo along with some semblance of production from first base (they need to sign someone, perhaps Derrek Lee) and Travis Hafner, they’ll score enough to contend in the winnable AL Central.

The Rockies and Indians need to be watched closely in 2012 because they’re legitimate playoff threats without having spent $300 million as the Angels did or hoodwinking their local government to get a new ballpark as the Marlins did.

They did it with under-the-radar acquisitions, bold and clever.

And they’re going to pay off.

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I’ll be a guest tomorrow with former MLB player Les Norman on his baseball show Breakin’ the Norm on the ESPN affiliate 810 WHB in Kansas City. I’ll link the appearance and post it here.

Spread the word!

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Cuddyer’s Defense Won’t Hurt the Rockies

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As they complain about his poor defense and criticize his signing, many are missing the point with Michael Cuddyer and the Rockies.

His shaky glove is the most contentious and debated aspect in the Rockies 3-year contract (for $31.5 million) with Cuddyer, but several factors are being ignored.

Cuddyer may be a poor defensive outfielder, but the idea that the Rockies made a mistake in signing him based on his defense is stat person’s lament disguised as fiscal and practical sanity; it’s ignoring the Rockies strategy and personnel.

Because the National League doesn’t have a DH and they don’t have anywhere to hide him, Cuddyer’s glove is a perceived problem; but the constant references to how many runs he cost the Twins over the years is a misplaced extrapolation of “if this, then that” without considering what the Rockies do and how many balls are going to be hit to him to begin with.

The Twins pitchers generally allow more ground balls than fly balls; in 2011 they surrendered 1762 fly balls vs 2082 ground balls.

The Rockies had a 2011 difference of 1541/2061 fly balls to ground balls.

That was before the Rockies brought in new starting pitchers whose stuff is conducive to coaxing ground balls.

It’s done by design.

The Twins ratios were similar every year that Cuddyer played right field regularly and accrued the poor defensive metrics that have led to the implication that he’s a pending disaster for his new team in right field—that his defense won’t be mitigated enough by his power bat to make him an intelligent signing.

It’s nonsense.

In general, during Cuddyer’s years in right field, the Twins had 200-300 more ground balls to fly balls; going back to 2008, the Rockies have had 500-700 more ground balls than fly balls.

That’s a big difference.

The Twins were a contact-based pitching team; the Rockies are a contact-based pitching team—but the type of contact is important. The Rockies get more ground balls than the Twins; this makes Cuddyer’s glove in right field less imperative.

Like the proverbial tree falling in the woods, how can the porous defense of Cuddyer cost the Rockies runs if the ball isn’t hit to him?

He’s in the big leagues because he can hit and he’ll hit with the Rockies; the best thing to do with a player who’s limited defensively is to hide him where he’ll do the least amount of damage. For the Rockies and Cuddyer, that means right field.

As a direct result of playing their home games in a park that begets a lot of home runs, Rockies GM Dan O’Dowd has filled his pitching staff with arms that throw sinkers and get ground balls.

Their prospective starters for 2012 are all this type of pitcher.

Jhoulys Chacin gets twice as many ground balls as fly balls.

Jorge De La Rosa—ground ball pitcher; Tyler Chatwood—ground ball pitcher; Drew Pomeranz—ground ball pitcher; Jason Hammel—ground ball pitcher.

Their relievers are the same way. Matt Lindstrom and Matt Belisle get ground balls; Rafael Betancourt allows more fly balls than grounders, but he also strikes well over a batter-per-inning.

Their infield defense is led by the still-solid first baseman Todd Helton and the superlative shortstop with a howitzer arm Troy Tulowitzki; second base and shortstop are unsettled, but they’re not going to compromise the infield defense because of the strategy they employ with their pitchers.

The Rockies want their pitchers to throw strikes and get ground balls. And they do.

Because of the reliance on contact-based pitchers and trusting the infield defense, does it matter if they have Cuddyer in right field? Is he going to hurt the team that much considering there’s such a disparity in hit trajectory?

Cuddyer in Colorado will hit for an .800 OPS and he’ll pop at least 20-30 homers—maybe more.

The Rockies biggest issue in 2011 was a lack of depth in the starting rotation. With the young arms they’ve accumulated in trades of Ubaldo Jimenez and Chris Iannetta, they’ve addressed that.

Cuddyer has played the outfield, third base, second base and first base with the Twins, but it would be silly to call him a utility player; he’s not good defensively—it’s true—but he’s passable at first base and can be placed in right field without panic.

He can hit; that’s why the Rockies signed him; that’s what he’ll do.

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A Rocky Solution

Free Agents, Games, Management, Media, Players


How about a Troy Tulowitzki-style deal for Jose Reyes and the Mets?

Because the fan reaction has been so loud and Reyes’s play has been beyond superlative, the Mets shortstop is making the lives of the front office very difficult in a good way—for now.

In the near future, it’s an issue that has to be handled; in the not-so-distant future of the winter, it’s a big problem and potential public relations disaster for a club that doesn’t need more ridicule.

Sandy Alderson is going to talk with Reyes’s people in the coming weeks about the parameters of a contract extension.

Speculation is fruitless.

The dollar value; years; whether the Mets are going to seriously explore trade options if they can’t sign him; or don’t think the team will have the money to pay him—all are byproducts of the landscape surrounding the Mets.

They’re not dealbreakers in any context.

The Mets have played far better than anyone could have expected partially due to league-wide parity and with a large amount of credit due to manager Terry Collins. But everything must be on the table regarding Reyes.

So here’s an idea: a long, long, long term contract with a dollar value that would satisfy Reyes’s financial desires and keep the team finances in order until the ownership issues are settled.

The Rockies don’t have a ton of money to work with—their 2011 payroll is $82 million—but they sign their players to longer term deals than the norm to keep them. They’ve done so with Todd Helton, Carlos Gonzalez and Tulowitzki.

Sometimes it works; sometimes it doesn’t.

But they keep their recognizable stars.

The Tulowitzki deal was criticized—by me as well—because he was already signed to a team-friendly contract through 2014; they chose to keep that current contract in place and extend the extension through 2020 with a 2021 club option.

It’s value comes to $157.75 million for 10 years.

Would that type of offer satisfy Reyes? Give him the chance to spend his entire career with the Mets, keep his home, his children in school and be a Met for life?

The discussion has centered around Reyes wanting to match Carl Crawford‘s contract with the Red Sox of 7-years, $142 million. It’s been done so in embarrassing fashion because of the New Yorker article profiling owner Fred Wilpon. This has never been said by Reyes or his people—at least publicly.

A Tulowitzki-type deal would extend a lifeline to the Mets in keeping Reyes, placate the fans and send a signal that the club isn’t looking to slash payroll to minimalist proportions.

It would be reasonable for all sides and it should be examined closely.

Very closely.

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