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

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Last week, I looked at breakout/rebound candidates for the American League, some of whom will be very, very cheap pickups for your fantasy clubs. Now I’ll look at the National League.

Wilson Ramos, C—Washington Nationals

Ramos is coming back from a torn ACL in his knee and because the Nationals traded for Kurt Suzuki from the Athletics last season, there’s no need to rush Ramos back before he’s 100%. But he will eventually take over as the starting catcher and it’s not just because he’s a future All-Star and potential Gold Glove winner.

Suzuki is a competent everyday catcher who’s shown 15 homer power in the past. Even if he’s not hitting, the Nationals lineup is strong enough to carry one mediocre bat and Suzuki’s good with the pitchers.

There’s a financial component though. Suzuki has a club option in his contract for 2014 at $8.5 million. The option becomes guaranteed if Suzuki starts 113 games in 2013. Barring another injury to Ramos, that is not going to happen. Ramos will be catching 5 of every 7 games by the summer.

Freddie Freeman, 1B—Atlanta Braves

It’s easy to forget about Freeman due to the number of power-hitting first basemen around baseball, but he’s gotten steadily better every year as a professional and with the infusion of Justin Upton and B.J. Upton into the lineup, plus Brian McCann, Jason Heyward and Dan Uggla, teams won’t be worried about Freeman’s power leading to him getting more pitches to hit.

Lucas Duda, LF—New York Mets

Given the Mets on-paper outfield (Collin Cowgill, Kirk Nieuwenhuis, Mike Baxter, Marlon Byrd, Marv Throneberry, George Theodore, Jan Brady, Cindy Brady, Gilligan, Barnaby Jones, Cannon), there’s plenty of fodder for ridicule. Duda is the butt of jokes because of his last name; that he’s a bad outfielder; because he seems so quiet and reticent. The criticism is missing an important factor: he can hit, hit for power and walk. If the Mets tell him he’s their starting left fielder, period, they’ll be rewarded with 25-30 homers and a .360+ on base percentage. So will fantasy owners.

Bobby Parnell, RHP—New York Mets

With Frank Francisco sidelined with elbow woes, Parnell has been named the Mets’ closer…for now. They have Brandon Lyon on the team and are still said to be weighing Jose Valverde. None of that matters. Parnell was going to get the shot at some point this season and with a little luck in Washington last season when defensive miscues cost him an impressive and legitimate old-school, fireman-style save, he would’ve taken the role permanently back then.

Jacob Turner, RHP—Miami Marlins

The Tigers were concerned about Turner’s velocity at the end of spring training 2012 and he wound up being traded to the Marlins in the deal for Omar Infante and Anibal Sanchez. He acquitted himself well in seven starts for the Marlins and will be in the 2013 rotation from start to finish. He has all the pitches, a great curve, command and presence.

Justin Ruggiano, CF—Miami Marlins

It’s natural to wonder if a player who has his breakout year at age 30 is a product of unlocked talent and opportunity or a brief, freak thing that will end as rapidly as it came about.

Ruggiano has been a very good minor league player who never got a shot to play in the big leagues. He took advantage of it in 2012 and will open the season as the Marlins starting center fielder.

Billy Hamilton, CF—Cincinnati Reds

The Reds have major expectations in 2013 and much of their fortunes hinge on their pitching staff; they’re functioning with Shin-Soo Choo playing an unfamiliar position in center field; at mid-season (or earlier) it may become clear that Choo can’t play the position well enough for the pitchers nor to bluff their way through to the playoffs. Hamilton is in Triple A learning center field after a shift from the infield and can make up for any educational curve with sheer, blinding speed that has yielded 320 stolen bases in 379 minor league games. He also provides something they lack: a legitimate leadoff hitter and an exciting spark that other teams have to plan for.

Vince Coleman spurred the 1985 Cardinals to the pennant by distracting the opposing pitchers into derangement and opening up the offense for Willie McGee to win the batting title and Tommy Herr and Jack Clark to rack up the RBI. The same thing could happen with Hamilton, Joey Votto, Brandon Phillips and Choo.

Jason Grilli, RHP—Pittsburgh Pirates

Grilli is a first time closer at age 36, but he’s a late-bloomer with a fastball in the mid-90s and a ripping strikeout slider. The Pirates starting pitching and offense are good enough to provide Grilli with enough save chances to make him worthwhile as a pickup.

Kyuji Fujikawa, RHP—Chicago Cubs

Fujikawa was a strikeout machine as a closer in Japan and history has proven that Japanese closers tend to transition to North America much better than starters without the fanfare. Takashi Saito and Kazuhiro Sasaki are examples.

The Cubs are in full-blown rebuild and will trade incumbent closer Carlos Marmol during the season. They’ll let him close at the outset to boost his value, then dump him, handing the job to Fujukawa.

Dale Thayer, RHP—San Diego Padres

Closer Huston Street is injury prone and the Padres, for whatever reason, don’t think much of Luke Gregerson (they tried to trade him to the Mets for Daniel Murphy and when Street was out last season, they let Thayer take over as closer.)

Thayer has a strikeout slider that leads stat-savvy teams like the Rays, Mets, and Padres continually picking him up. If Street gets hurt, Thayer will get closing chances.

Yasmani Grandal, C—San Diego Padres

His PED suspension has tarnished his luster, but he’s still a top catching prospect and once he’s reinstated, there’s no reason for the Padres not to play him with Nick Hundley and John Baker ahead of Grandal. Neither of the veteran catchers will be starting for the Padres when they’re ready to contend; Grandal will. He hits and he gets on base.

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A-Rod Upstages the Super Bowl

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Jim Harbaugh. John Harbaugh. Ray Lewis. Colin Kaepernick. Randy Moss. Joe Flacco. And…Alex Rodriguez?

The easiest thing to do in this latest media firestorm surrounding A-Rod would be to set up a table in New Orleans at or around Super Bowl XLVII and let him join in with the frenzy to save time and airfare for everyone. A-Rod has a talent for jumping to the forefront of big events in which he is not participating. In 2007, during the Red Sox-Rockies World Series, it was announced that A-Rod was opting out of his Yankees contract. Blame for the “mistake” in timing was doled on agent Scott Boras. Because Boras is seen as the epitome of evil and a Svengali who latched his claws into the fatherless A-Rod at a young age and unduly influenced him to make decisions he wouldn’t have made if left to his own devices, it’s easy to turn him into the fall guy whether it’s true or not.

Boras no longer represents A-Rod and his problems have gotten worse, not better.

The latest is A-Rod’s name popping up in the notes of a shady anti-aging clinic in Miami—NY Times Story.

I suppose it’s possible that he’s innocent. We can ask the simplest questions: Why would anyone be stupid enough to write the actual name of the client instead of using a code? Why don’t these players just get up and go to Mexico, Switzerland, Iceland, Japan, Mars, Jupiter or anywhere they can simply do what they need to do using a false name, pay in cash and come back with no paper trail and no one the wiser? Why would A-Rod continue to poke the eyes of anyone and everyone for (considering his plummet in the past several years) what amounted to zero return?

A-Rod will be referred to as arrogant, but that may not be the case. It may be insecurity and, in a weird way, a certain nobility of trying to live up to the money the Yankees are paying him by taking PEDs to be able to perform. There will be comparisons to Lance Armstrong, but as far as we know, A-Rod has never wantonly destroyed the lives of those who tried to expose him in an effort to prop up a front of philanthropy and honor. The only person he’s succeeded in destroying is himself. He’s not as arrogant or stupid as he is oblivious.

That obliviousness hasn’t extended to ignorance of reality. He’s still cognizant of plausible deniability and legal ramifications. You won’t see A-Rod sitting in front of Congress denying PED use and wagging his finger in their faces a la Rafael Palmeiro; you won’t see him on 60 Minutes like Roger Clemens. You might see him pleading his case to the media as Barry Bonds did once a sufficient amount of time has passed and he thinks it might be safe to argue his Hall of Fame worthiness. For right now, A-Rod is smart enough to keep quiet and lawyer up.

Major League Baseball itself is again left running into one another like some slapstick comedy worthy of Benny Hill, trying to spin their inability to get in front of these stories and cleaning up the mess after the fact. They knew about this Miami clinic and were investigating it in the hopes that a bolt of lightning out of the sky would provide them with cause to suspend the players who used its services. They were unsuccessful.

A-Rod is the glossiest name on the list, but it’s no shock for him to wind up in the middle of incidents such as these. Gio Gonzalez, whose career has taken a wondrous jump to “ace” is on the list. Nelson Cruz was a journeyman until age 28 when he hit 33 homers is on the list. Melky Cabrera we already know about. Yasmani Grandal is a yet-to-be-established kid and is on the list. Bartolo Colon was trying to hang on and is on the list.

The fine line between developing and using outlawed “helpers” to improve is no longer blurred. It’s gone. Every player is under scrutiny. Which is the real Gonzalez? Did he naturally evolve from his initial opportunities in the big leagues in 2008-2009 when he showed flashes of great talent with terrible results to the rising star in 2010-2011 and then third in the NL Cy Young Award voting in 2012? Or was it in 2009-2010 when someone whispered in his ear that if he went to this Miami clinic, they’d provide him with potions to send his career into the stratosphere?

Any statistical evidence is presented with the benefit of hindsight and all players are suspect.

For A-Rod, we’ll never know if everything was a creation of PEDs or if he was using them at age 25? 28? 30? 35? to perform and make a ton of money; to maintain; to return from injury and live up to his contract. The one thing he has in common with Armstrong is that he’s not credible in anything he says even if, at some point, he decides to “confess.”

A-Rod’s career with the Yankees is over. The Yankees are said to be poring over his contract to try and find a way to keep from paying him. As much as A-Rod is reviled by contemporaries, the MLB Players Association will fight for him to get every single penny on that contract from now until the Rapture and even then, they’ll have to stand in front of Jesus and find a reason not to give A-Rod his money. And they’ll lose. (When I say Jesus, I mean Christ. Not a distant A-Rod relative who did his bidding as a human shield.)

What will happen is this:

MLB will try and find a way to suspend A-Rod and these other players and fail.

The Yankees will try and get out of paying him and fail.

A-Rod won’t agree to the floated insurance scheme that a doctor says he can’t play again.

A-Rod won’t play again for the Yankees; they’ll come to an agreement to pay him off, perhaps deferring some of it so they have cash on hand and it’s not a lump sum payment.

A team like the Marlins, A’s or Rays will sign him against the wishes of MLB. A-Rod will repeat the 2011-2012 performances of Manny Ramirez and provide nothing other than aggravation and a media circus.

Some other embarrassment will occur with A-Rod because that’s like the sun coming up—once you see it happen every day of your life, you just sort of expect it.

A-Rod will epitomize the ending in the novel version of The Natural in which Roy Hobbs doesn’t redeem himself and lives his life wondering what might have been. This isn’t Hollywood, but the ending is just as predictable. Unlike Hobbs, A-Rod will be very wealthy when he fades into oblivion with a career blotted out by a giant asterisk of his own making. There are no excuses and no one left to blame anymore.

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Michael Bourn vs. the #11 Pick: Which is Right for the Mets?

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Operating under the premises that if the Mets sign Michael Bourn they will: A) not receive a waiver from MLB to switch the number 11 pick in the first round of the 2013 draft for a second round pick, and B) pay something close to what B.J. Upton got from the Braves and probably more to get him, we can look at what the risk/reward of signing Bourn will be now and later.

The draft pick

The past is not indicative of the future in the draft. A myriad of factors dictate what a club will get from whatever player they draft at whichever spot, but the eleventh pick in the first round is a high pick. From 2003 to 2010, players taken at eleven have been:

2003: Michael Aubrey

2004: Neil Walker

2005: Andrew McCutchen

2006: Max Scherzer

2007: Phillippe Aumont*

2008: Justin Smoak*

2009: Tyler Matzek**

2010: Deck McGuire**

*Aumont and Smoak were both traded for Cliff Lee.

**Matzek and McGuire are mentioned because players selected after them were traded for name players.

After the eleventh pick, the following players were taken in 2003 to 2010 in the first round:

2003: Chad Billingsley, Carlos Quentin

2004: Jered Weaver, Billy Butler, Stephen Drew, Phil Hughes

2005: Jay Bruce, Jacoby Ellsbury, Clay Buchholz

2006: Ian Kennedy, Joba Chamberlain

2007: Jason Heyward, Rick Porcello

2008: Brett Lawrie, Ike Davis, Lance Lynn, Jake Odorizzi, Wade Miley

2009: Mike Trout, Tyler Skaggs, Brad Boxberger

2010: Yasmani Grandal, Chris Sale, Chance Ruffin, Mike Olt

Odorizzi was included in trades for Zack Greinke, James Shields and Wade Davis. Skaggs was part of the Angels trade for Dan Haren. Boxberger and Grandal were traded by the Reds for Mat Latos. Ruffin was traded by the Tigers for Doug Fister.

This isn’t a final determination on any player’s worth, but a clue as to what these draft picks mean. It underscores another underrated aspect of the draft in finding players that a club may not have much of a plan to use themselves, but will develop to trade for established help.

What this shows isn’t specifically connected to the number 11 pick as if it’s a spot that cannot be surrendered. The pick itself is irrelevant in comparison to the talent level in the 2013 draft. Judging the rest of the first round should tell the Mets which is better; which is going to help them more.

The 2005 draft was strong enough that the Red Sox were able to get Ellsbury and Buchholz late in the first round, the 2006 draft was weak. If there isn’t enough talent in the pool to make an impact, then Bourn would make more sense.

The money

It’s not financial, it’s projective. The Mets can sign Bourn even if they have no immediate money to pay him upfront. With Jason Bay and Johan Santana both coming off the books after this season, they can backload any deal for Bourn and get him.

Scott Boras represents Bourn and is willing to keep his clients on the market into spring training without concern as to the public perception, industry ridicule or media panic. Boras has acquiesced with short-term deals for clients that didn’t have much of a resume such as Kyle Lohse in 2008 with the Cardinals. That worked out well for Lohse because he pitched wonderfully in that first year with the Cardinals and was rewarded in-season with the money he didn’t get the previous winter. With established players like Prince Fielder, Boras has waited and gotten his client paid. It’s more likely than not that he’ll eventually be rewarded with Bourn without significantly lowering his demands.

Practicality

The current Mets outfield is ludicrous. I believe Lucas Duda will be a productive bat, but defensively he’s a nightmare. Center field and right field are empty. Bourn gives credibility and quality defensively and offensively. He will certainly help them at least for the next three seasons when he’ll be age 30-33.

Richard Justice reports on the Mets apparent decision to steer clear of Bourn if it will cost them the first round pick. Craig Calcaterra makes a ridiculous assumption on HardballTalk that Bourn won’t help them when they’re “legitimately competitive.” When does he think they’ll be “legitimately competitive”? 2017? 2020? Is it that bad for the Mets? Are they the Astros?

The Mets are flush with young pitching, will be competitive and could contend by 2014; the 2012 A’s and Orioles are evidence that if the planets align, an afterthought team that’s the butt of jokes like the Mets can contend in 2013. For someone who bases his analysis in “reality,” it’s an uninformed, offhanded and unnecessary shot at the Mets for its own sake.

Let’s say he’s kind of right and the Mets aren’t contending until around 2015. Bourn will be 32. Is Bourn going to fall off the planet at 32? In many respects, a player comparable to Bourn is Kenny Lofton. Lofton was still a very good hitter and above-average center fielder until he was in his mid-30s. There have never been PED allegations with either player so there wasn’t a shocking improvement at an age they should be declining with Lofton and it’s reasonable that this would hold true for Bourn.

We can equate the two players and expect Bourn to still be able to catch the ball with good range in the outfield and steal at least 35-40 bases into his mid-30s. Bourn’s not a speed creation at the plate who will come undone when he can no longer run like Willie Wilson; he can hit, has a bit of pop and takes his walks. He’ll be good for at least the next four seasons.

The bottom line

It’s not as simple as trading the draft pick to sign Bourn and paying him. The Mets have to decide on the value of that draft pick now and in the future as well as what would be accomplished by signing Bourn, selling a few more tickets in the now and erasing the idea that the Mets are simply paying lip service for good PR by floating the possibility of Bourn with no intention of seriously pursuing him. As long as they’re not spending lavishly, that will be the prevailing view. They re-signed David Wright to the biggest contract in club history, but that still wasn’t enough to quell the talk of the Wilpons’ finances being in disastrous shape.

What’s it worth to the Mets to sign Bourn? To not sign Bourn? To keep the draft pick? To lose the draft pick? To sell a few more tickets? To shut up the critics?

This is not an either-or decision of Bourn or the pick as it’s being made out to be. The far-reaching consequences are more nuanced than the analysts are saying and there’s no clear cut right or wrong answer in signing him or not signing him. That’s what the Mets have to calculate when making the choice.

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Off Season Losers In Retrospect

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Several days ago I listed the off season winners in retrospect discussing teams and the moves they made this past winter. Now it’s time for the losers.

New York Yankees

Acquired: Michael Pineda, Raul Ibanez, Hiroki Kuroda, Andy Pettitte, Jose Campos

Subtracted: Jorge Posada, A.J. Burnett, Jesus Montero, Hector Noesi

The YES Network website still hasn’t mentioned Jose Campos since he got hurt. For that matter, nor have they mentioned Manny Banuelos’s recent injury. Maybe they haven’t been informed yet. Yeah. That’s it.

The trade of Montero and Noesi for Pineda and Campos is an absolute and utter disaster—a fireable offense for GM Brian Cashman.

Kuroda’s been good and unlucky.

Pettitte’s unexpected return has been a bolt from the blue and Ibanez has contributed the power I expected.

It’s fine to talk about them “having” to get rid of Burnett, but they’re paying him; they got low minor leaguers for him; he’s pitching well for the Pirates; and the players the Yankees got haven’t played yet in 2012. Had Pettitte not returned I guarantee there would be people now lamenting the loss of Burnett.

Guarantee.

Boston Red Sox

Acquired: GM Ben Cherington, Manager Bobby Valentine, Andrew Bailey, Ryan Sweeney, Cody Ross, Kelly Shoppach, Mark Melancon, Nick Punto

Subtracted: GM Theo Epstein, Manager Terry Francona, Jonathan Papelbon, Marco Scutaro, Josh Reddick, Tim Wakefield, Jason Varitek

It’s only when you look at the list above all at once do you realize how rancid an off-season the Red Sox had. Never mind the exchange of GMs/managers. Had he stayed, Epstein probably would’ve had better success fending off the advancing power grab of Larry Lucchino but it would’ve taken a Herculean effort for Epstein to prevent the mediocrity that the Red Sox have become.

I’m sick of seeing Francona complaining about how he was treated in Boston. If it weren’t for the Red Sox, the hot chicks to whom he’s sending candid photos of himself wouldn’t know who he is; not to mention would he not have two World Series rings and respect as a “great” manager—which he’s not.

Bailey got hurt as Reddick is on his way to making the All Star team and has been the Athletics’ best player. Melancon is back in the minor leagues; Shoppach is on the trade block; Ross was playing well before he got hurt; Punto is Punto.

No one’s saying they should’ve overpaid to keep Papelbon, but giving Scutaro away for a journeyman righty Clayton Mortensen made no sense.

Detroit Tigers

Acquired: Prince Fielder, Octavio Dotel, Gerald Laird, Collin Balester

Subtracted: Wilson Betemit, Brad Penny, Magglio Ordonez, Carlos Guillen, Joel Zumaya

Fielder and Cabrera are doing their jobs at the plate and more. The porous defense created by the signing of Fielder and shifting of Cabrera to third base hasn’t been as catastrophic as expected. That’s unless the pitching staff has it in their heads that they have to strike out more hitters or pitch differently to prevent balls from being hit to the right or left sides of the infield—highly unlikely.

The Tigers are 5 games under .500 because their pitching has been bad. The off-season isn’t a failure because of the signing of Fielder, but 5 games under .500 wasn’t what Mike Ilitch had in mind when he paid all that money to sign a huge bat like Fielder to replace Victor Martinez and team him with Cabrera.

Minnesota Twins

Acquired: GM Terry Ryan, Josh Willingham, Jamey Carroll, Jason Marquis, Ryan Doumit, Joel Zumaya

Subtracted: GM Bill Smith, Joe Nathan, Michael Cuddyer, Jason Kubel, Kevin Slowey

Terry Ryan was supposed to come back into the GM’s chair and start doing things the “Twins’ Way”. Well, that “way” is no longer working. The reason that vaunted “way” worked in the past was because they had talent on the roster and a club that was built for how Ron Gardenhire managed.

That’s no longer the case.

Marquis was released. Carroll hasn’t hit. Willingham’s been fantastic. The Zumaya signing was worth a shot I suppose, but he got hurt again. What he needs now is a friend—a real friend—to tell him that it’s over and he should retire before he damages himself permanently.

Maybe that’s what the Twins need too.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

Acquired: GM Jerry Dipoto, Albert Pujols, C.J. Wilson, Chris Iannetta, Jason Isringhausen, LaTroy Hawkins

Subtracted: GM Tony Reagins, Fernando Rodney, Jeff Mathis, Tyler Chatwood

Pujols has started hitting and the Angels will rise and fall on what he does, but the uncharacteristic decision on the part of the Angels to depart from the template they’ve adhered to for a decade has led to this disconnect between GM Dipoto, manager Mike Scioscia and the club.

Scioscia’s hitting coach, Mickey Hatcher, was fired against Scioscia’s wishes. They never took serious steps to bolster the bullpen and had too many players for too few lineup spots.

Owner Arte Moreno made maneuvers that were not team-related, but related to the TV deal he wanted to secure. And he did.

They did business like the 1980s Yankees and they’ve been playing and behaving like the 1980s Yankees. The one thing that will save them is the thing that was lacking in the 1980s: the Wild Cards.

Cincinnati Reds

Acquired: Mat Latos, Ryan Madson, Ryan Ludwick

Subtracted: Ramon Hernandez, Yonder Alonso, Yasmani Grandal, Edinson Volquez, Edgar Renteria, Francisco Cordero

The Reds are in first place and playing well no thanks to Latos (he’s been horrific); Madson (out for the year with Tommy John surgery); and Ludwick (.205/.290/.402 slash line with 6 homers in a homer-friendly home park).

It’s not as if they needed Alonso with Joey Votto ensconced at first base. They have a young catcher in Devin Mesoraco so they didn’t really need Grandal. And Volquez has been consistently inconsistent and injured since his great rookie year with the Reds.

But the winter moves are what’s relevant here and if they’d held onto the players they traded for Latos (and I’m not retrospectively ripping the deal since I thought it was good for both sides), they could’ve gotten mid-season help rather than an in-season nightmare.

Milwaukee Brewers

Acquired: Aramis Ramirez, Alex Gonzalez, Norichika Aoki, Jose Veras, Brooks Conrad

Subtracted: Prince Fielder, Yuniesky Betancourt, Casey McGehee

Ramirez is starting to hit and will hit put up numbers by the end of the season. We’ll never know whether the improved defense and pop from Alex Gonzalez and a full season from Mat Gamel would’ve made up for the loss of Fielder because both blew out their knees within days of each other.

It’s not really anyone’s fault. They did the best they could under their financial and practical circumstances.

St. Louis Cardinals

Acquired: Manager Mike Matheny, Carlos Beltran, pitching coach Derek Lilliquist

Subtracted: Manager Tony LaRussa, pitching coach Dave Duncan, Albert Pujols, Edwin Jackson, Octavio Dotel, Gerald Laird, Nick Punto.

So wait…now that the Cardinals are at .500 and freefalling it’s been miraculously discovered that the transition from a Hall of Fame manager/pitching coach combination to a manager who’s never managed before anywhere wasn’t going to go as smoothly as it did when they got off to a hot start?

That replacing Pujols wasn’t as simple as signing Beltran and moving the now-injured 36-year-old Lance Berkman to first base?

Shocking.

Colorado Rockies

Acquired: Michael Cuddyer, Marco Scutaro, Ramon Hernandez, Jeremy Guthrie, Tyler Chatwood, Tyler Colvin, Jamie Moyer

Subtracted: Chris Iannetta, Jason Hammel, Matt Lindstrom, Ian Stewart, Seth Smith

The starting pitching has killed them.

They loaded up on starters, but it hasn’t been enough as Drew Pomeranz got hurt and they gave Moyer 10 starts. It hasn’t helped that Hammel has been very good for the Orioles while Guthrie has been terrible for the Rockies.

Cuddyer has been everything advertised. Scutaro and Hernandez haven’t.

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The Votto/Cain Contract Extensions

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All winter long we heard two consistent storylines regarding Joey Votto and Matt Cain. Votto, due to be a free agent after 2013, was going to cost $200+ million and the Reds wouldn’t be able to keep him. Cain was a free agent after 2012 and the Giants’ finances were tight enough that they might not be able to retain him and other key players.

Suggestions were made that the Reds trade Votto. GM Walt Jocketty said he wasn’t trading Votto; wasn’t interested in trading Votto; wasn’t listening to offers on Votto.

But it went on and on.

The most ludicrous suggestion came from Dave Cameron who wanted the Reds to trade Votto and Yasmani Grandal to the Mariners for a package that included Michael Pineda, Brandon League and Chone Figgins.

I said at the time that the only thing the Mariners could do to get Jocketty to accept that package for Votto is to put a gun to his head.

There were other trade scenarios for Votto presented in print and online; this in spite of Jocketty’s increasingly flustered protestations that he had zero interest in moving his star first baseman.

Now Votto is close to an extension and, at age 28, has a better chance to be productive and healthy for the duration of the contract than the other two first basemen who signed similar deals—Prince Fielder and Albert Pujols.

Votto is in better shape than Fielder and younger than Pujols; he hits the ball out of the park, puts up huge on-base numbers, is a good fielder and can run.

The Giants were facing the reality of having to pay Cain after this season and then pay Tim Lincecum after next season—a daunting prospect.

But they signed Cain today and his agreement—said to guarantee $127.5 million over 5 years—is for less than what he’d get if he were to go out on the free agent market.

The salary and length are reasonable in comparison to what other pitchers are getting. CC Sabathia, at age 31, signed a 5-year extension with the Yankees that guarantees him $122 million; Cliff Lee, at age 32, signed a 5-year, $120 million contract with the Phillies.

Cain is 27 and has pitched at least 190 innings in each of his six full big league seasons and 217+ in each of the past four.

His won/lost record is an unimpressive 69-73, but getting past the most simplistic of simplistic numbers, he’s one of the best pitchers in baseball whose results—low ERAs, home run numbers and hits allowed—are not a creation of a pitcher-friendly home park. If he were pitching for a team that scored in bunches, he’d have a gaudy won/lost record.

He’s big, durable and tough.

In a team sense, the Giants were staring at either keeping Cain and trying to keep Lincecum; keeping one and letting the other one leave; letting either/or leave and then replacing him with someone who’s not going to be anywhere near as good and probably not all that much cheaper; or trying to alter the template from what they’ve been a successful with over the past several years by seeking run producing bats to replace the departed arms.

Like all long-term contracts, of course there’s a possibility of injury; but with these two players, it’s not as glaring because of their history. Team circumstances were going to be worse if they traded them or let them leave.

The Giants and Reds shunned the supposed wisdom from the self-proclaimed experts and did the right thing by keeping their star players.

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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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Analyzing the Reds-Padres Trade

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The Padres traded pitcher Mat Latos to the Reds for a package of four players—top prospect first baseman/outfielder Yonder Alonso; righty starter Edinson Volquez; minor league catcher Yasmani Grandal; and minor league pitcher Brad Boxberger.

Let’s take a look at the deal for all sides.

For the Reds:

The 24-year-old righty Latos has superstar potential. His 2011 numbers appeared to take a tumble from his 2010 work in which he went 14-10 with a 2.92 ERA. In 2010, he had an excellent walk/strikeout/innings pitched ratio of 50/189/184 and allowed only 150 hits and 16 homers in 31 starts. He finished 8th in the National League Cy Young Award voting.

In 2011, Latos went 9-14 for the 91-game losing Padres; his ERA jumped to 3.47; his walk/strikeout/innings pitched ratio rose to 62/185/194. But his hits allowed and homers stayed consistent with 168 hits and 16 homers in those 194 innings.

The increase in hits allowed can be accounted for by the rise in BAbip from .275 to .288; the Padres defense in 2010 was appreciably better than it was in 2011 and the downgrade with the departures of Adrian Gonzalez, David Eckstein and surprisingly Miguel Tejada truly affected Latos.

The Padres intent in acquiring Jason Bartlett and Orlando Hudson was to shore up the middle-infield defense, but both players were far worse than the veteran stopgaps they had in 2010.

Brad Hawpe isn’t a first baseman and no one could’ve expected him to replace Gonzalez’s Gold Glove, but that was no consolation to Latos.

He’s been consistent at home (pitching in a cavernous ballpark) and on the road. He’ll allow a few more homers pitching in the hitter-friendly Reds home field, Great American Ballpark, but he’ll also have a better defense behind him and the Reds—second in runs scored in the NL in 2011; 1st in 2010—will be able to provide more runs than the Padres popgun offense did.

Reds manager Dusty Baker is a laid back and easy man to play for and that should suit the free-spirited Latos better than San Diego.

The Reds surrendered a large chunk of their farm system in this trade, but they’re trying to win now; the NL Central is suddenly in play again with the Brewers pending loss of Prince Fielder and likely suspension of Ryan Braun; the Cardinals loss of Albert Pujols and uncertainty with a new, neophyte manager in Mike Matheny.

Reds GM Walt Jocketty is aggressive. The Reds stumbled to 79-83 after winning the division in 2010; they needed a top-of-the-rotation starting pitcher and got one in Latos.

Alonso played the outfield in the minors, but they saw him as a first baseman—and they proved with a flourish that they aren’t trading Joey Votto; they had no place for Alonso to play. Ryan Hanigan and Devin Mesoraco were blocking Grandal; Volquez hasn’t been the same since his 17-game-winning rookie year in 2008, followed by Tommy John surgery and a PED suspension; Boxberger is a minor league righty with impressive strikeout numbers.

The Reds gave up a lot, but they got a lot in return.

Given the cost the Reds just paid in terms of players to get him, if I were Latos I would want to discuss a long term contract to buy out my arbitration years and first couple of free agent seasons as well.

They traded for him and have to keep him.

For the Padres:

One thing you can say about Padres new GM Josh Byrnes is that he’s not afraid to make drastic and risky decisions.

The Padres have enough starting pitching to get by without Latos; their offense in 2011 was predictably rancid; their defense wasn’t what they expected; they’ve already lost closer Heath Bell and replaced him with Huston Street, who’s not as good.

They had to do something to upgrade their offense and they did with Alonso.

Grandal probably won’t be ready to start 2012 in the majors. Volquez is a question mark; Boxberger was relieving in the minors, but might be better-utilized as a starter.

This calls into question what the Padres are going to do with Anthony Rizzo. Rizzo was acquired from the Red Sox in the Gonzalez trade and has tremendous power and on-base skills; interestingly, he reminds me of Votto. He batted .141 in 153 plate appearances in the big leagues in 2011, but he’s only 22.

The Padres are desperate for offense and if that means they need to use Alonso in the outfield when Rizzo is ready to play in the big leagues, that’s what they’ll do.

The Padres aren’t in a rebuild-mode, but the NL West is a tough sell for them to contend until they find hitters and improve the defense.

They’re not done because they have a lot more to do to be respectable again.

It’s not a cop-out when analyzing a trade to say it helps both teams if it indeed does help both teams.

The Reds had plenty of offense and needed a 200-inning starter; that he’s 24 and under team control for the foreseeable future makes Latos a good buy for them.

The Padres needed to replenish their farm system and acquire guys who can hit. They have enough pitching and could afford to part with Latos.

In short, the Reds are contenders; the Padres weren’t contending under their prior construction.

Each got what they wanted; whether the trade pans out or not, it’s a logical maneuver and an immediate win for each side.

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Stat Guy Strong Arm

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Dave Cameron of USS Mariner and Fangraphs provides this prescription to begin fixing the Mariners woes for 2012.

Here’s the clip from the above link:

Transactions

Trade RHP Michael Pineda, RHP Brandon League, OF Greg Halman, 3B Chone Figgins (with Seattle absorbing $16 of remaining $17 million on Figgins’ contract), and SS Carlos Triunfel to Cincinnati for 1B Joey Votto and C Yasmani Grandal.

Trade 1B Mike Carp to Milwaukee for 3B Casey McGehee and RHP Marco Estrada.

Trade OF Michael Saunders and RHP Dan Cortes to Florida for RHP Chris Volstad.

Trade LHP Cesar Jimenez to New York for OF Angel Pagan.

Sign Chris Snyder to a 1 year, $3 million contract.

Sign Erik Bedard to a 1 year, $4 million contract.

Sign Jamie Moyer to a 1 year, $500,000 contract.

That’s only part one; I can’t wait for part two. Maybe there he’ll send Miguel Olivo and Brendan Ryan to the Yankees for Jesus Montero.

This thinking epitomizes what one William Lamar Beane—aka Billy Beane—said to Tom Verducci in one of the “it’s not Billy’s fault” pieces that came out to defend Beane (in advance of the homage known as Moneyball, THE MOVIE) for putting together a bad Athletics team; a team that Verducci himself picked to win the AL West before the season.

Beane’s argument was that the new breed of GMs have burst into baseball and are doing essentially what Cameron is doing; they’re saying “here’s what we’ll give you and if you’re smart, you’ll take it” in a Luca Brasi (or Frank Wren) sort of way.

Short of kidnapping his family or putting a gun to his head, I don’t know what Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik could do to Reds GM Walt Jocketty to get him to accept the above package for Votto.

Though I see Tommy John in his future, Pineda’s very good; League is a guy you can find very cheaply on the market; Halman strikes out too much, doesn’t walk and from his numbers is a bad outfielder; Triunfel hasn’t shown he can hit in the minors; and you can have Chone Figgins and we’ll pay him. For that, you can give us a top catching prospect and one of the best hitters in baseball. We all done? Okay. Good.

The other deals are just as delusional.

What is this obsession with Erik Bedard and the Mariners? Haven’t they had enough?

Moyer? Again? He’s had a wonderful career, but he’s almost 50. Move on.

You want Pagan? He’s yours.

Why the Marlins would take Cortes and Saunders at all, least of all for Volstad, is unclear and unexplained.

Without getting into a long-winded “my way’s better” critique of Cameron’s plan, how about—before anything else—Zduriencik walking into ownership on hands and knees and begging to let him get rid of Ichiro Suzuki? Signing Josh Willingham? Pursuing Jose Reyes or Prince Fielder? Making a major bid for Yu Darvish? Jim Thome? David Ortiz?

Wouldn’t these be preferable options than making a lunatic proposal for Votto that would be rejected?

These deals are typical of the concept that outsiders with a forum and a stat sheet envision as the simplicity as to how deals are made. We call you, you accept and we’re done.

Much like the same people have the audacity to say—in a grudging tribute to Tony LaRussa on the day of his retirement and immediately after he wins a World Series—“I didn’t always agree with his strategies, but…” they have this vision of innate knowledge that doesn’t exist; of what they’d do.

They cling.

They cling to Moneyball being “real”; cling to the likes of Charlie Haeger, R.J. Swindle and Dale Thayer; and cling to a so-called revolution that was self-serving from the start.

It’s fine to print an off-season prescription of a scenario that could only exist in Tolkien, but this is reality; you’re not getting Votto for that package even if you do put a gun to Jocketty’s head and/or kidnap his family.

Jocketty would say, “kill me first”.

And I would say that too.

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