Results tagged ‘ MLB ’

Is 755 Still Meaningful?

On Tuesday night, the Atlanta Braves celebrated the 40th anniversary of Hank Aaron‘s 715th home run, which catapulted him past Babe Ruth for Major League Baseball’s all-time record for career home runs. Aaron’s career was finished following the 1976 season, and, while Barry Bonds and his asterisk-filled resume was able to pass him on the home run list, Aaron still holds the major league record for RBI (2,297) and total bases (6,856).

There are many numbers that people remember about baseball:
4,256. Pete Rose – career hits.
714. Babe Ruth – career home runs.
2,632. Cal Ripken, Jr. – consecutive games played.
511. Cy Young – career pitching wins.
61. Roger Maris – home runs in 1961.

756755 is also one of those numbers that is burned into the minds of baseball fans; however, it was replaced by a new record for career home runs, established on August 7, 2007, when Bonds’ 756th bomb left AT&T Park in San Francisco. Bonds would be blackballed from baseball after the 2007 season, leaving the game with 762 career home runs and a legacy tarnished by perjury charges and his link to performance-enhancing drug use.

This morning in my drive home from dropping off my daughter at school, Mike and Mike, the morning ESPN Radio show, were discussing the importance of Aaron’s numbers and what they mean to baseball today. Mike Golic made an excellent point – why can’t baseball throw away the performance-enhancing drug numbers the way that track and field does? When an athlete sets a record, wins a medal, or any other significant merits that are later tarnished by allegations and proof of cheating, those awards and records are stripped, as if they never happened. If baseball wants to keep their records clean, they, led by commissioner Bud Selig, had and have the opportunities to do such a thing. Considering the MLB Player’s Association’s unwillingness to support Barry Bonds when he was unable to find a job after the 2007 season, it would appear that the removal of records would be something that could be easily accomplished by MLB leadership.

SosaMcGwireThe integrity of the game and its records have been tarnished by the use of performance-enhancing drugs. I have long felt that Major League Baseball has had plenty of celebrated miscreants within the game, including racists, womanizers, and cheaters (Ty Cobb, Ruth, and Gaylord Perry fit those descriptions perfectly), while drugs, including “greenies” and cocaine, ran rampant throughout the game for many years undetected and overlooked. After the 1994 player’s strike, the league seemed to be perfectly happy with the home run numbers increasing and the turnstiles producing record numbers, huge revenue, and new stadiums for the good ol’ boy network of owners. Suddenly, those same home runs weren’t as attractive, and the league went after Sammy Sosa, Bonds, and Mark McGwire, instead of acknowledging that they helped to save the game. So, now that the league has moved on from the men who helped to bring it back from the dead and they’re bringing in billions of dollars in revenue through Major League Baseball Advanced Media and lucrative television contracts, they can continue to turn their back on their one-time heroes like Roger Clemens, Mike Piazza, Jeff Bagwell, Bonds, Sosa, and McGwire, while allowing the Hall of Fame to become a mockery of a museum thanks in large part to the attention-starved writers who now make up the voting oligarchy of Cooperstown.

So, while Hank Aaron was and continues to be a living legend and icon in the sport, is it really fair for his number, 755, to continue to be the measuring stick of power in baseball when that number has been surpassed? No…but it doesn’t mean that it has to go away and that 762 is the only number that needs to be remembered. The 714 home runs that Babe Ruth hit are still an important number in baseball, as are the 660 that Willie Mays hit.

There isn’t an asterisk needed for Barry Bonds because there wasn’t one needed for Ruth’s number to be important. Regardless of the drugs that helped Bonds produce into his 40′s, baseball remains a numbers game. We don’t put asterisks on the numbers that players put up prior to Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier. Wouldn’t baseball have been more competitive, as it is today, with the world’s best players on one stage, and not just the top white players?

AaronHank Aaron’s 755 will live on and his legacy of powerful longevity within Major League Baseball will last well beyond his lifetime. His number will remain meaningful as long as his story does, just as others have heard about and learned to love players from well before their lifetimes. There aren’t many who look back at the production that Ruth put up in his career without being awestruck, and the same will remain true for future baseball fans who won’t even see a game until the year 2214. Why? Because baseball remains meaningful, the players remain meaningful, and the numbers remain meaningful to those who love and are passionate about the game.

 

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Spring Stars and Surprises

Spring statistics don’t really mean much to anyone, that is, of course, unless those numbers are being used to determine a position battle. I like to see young players who are getting long looks and veterans coming off of injuries prove their health and worth by admiring their feasting on lesser competition. While there are many out there that think that spring training is a waste of time and that the statistics don’t mean anything, they do mean a little something – especially to these players. (Statistics as of 3/20/2014)

Tigers 3B Nick Castellanos

Tigers 3B Nick Castellanos

Nick Castellanos, 3B, Detroit Tigers

.396/.412/.667, 19 H, 7 2B, 2 HR, 16 RBI, 2 SB, 5:2 K:BB in 48 AB

Why Spring Matters for Castellanos: The rookie third baseman is going to need to pick up some of the offensive production that was lost when the Tigers traded Prince Fielder to the Texas Rangers for a non-Arlington-version of Ian Kinsler. Kinsler has a career .242/.312/.399 line away from the spacious confines of the Ballpark at Arlington and a .304/.387/.511 line at home. Comerica Park is NOT  Globe Life Park in Arlington, and with the injury to Jose Iglesias (who may or may not be offensively capable), the Tigers need more players to step up to allow Miguel Cabrera to be an MVP candidate again in 2014. Castellanos doesn’t have the prospect shine of Byron Buxton or Xander Bogaerts, but he is going to hit. He always has. The fact that he is hitting while re-adjusting to playing third base, having been switched to the outfield just two years ago from the hot corner, is a positive sign. Additionally, he just turned 22 at the beginning of March. Castellanos may never hit 30 home runs and he may struggle to hit .300 due to contact and discipline questions, but if the Tigers are going to maintain solid offensive production, they’ll need this young man to hit the way that he has this spring. There may be some growing pains, but this production is very encouraging.

Mariners OF Dustin Ackley

Mariners OF Dustin Ackley

Dustin Ackley, OF, Seattle Mariners

.457/.490/.696, 21 H, 6 2B, 1 3B, 1 HR, 11 RBI, 1 SB, 6:3 K:BB in 46 AB

Why Spring Matters for Ackley: After hitting .304/.374/.435 in the second half of 2013 (208 plate appearances), Ackley deserved a long look this spring. When the Mariners signed Robinson Cano and Corey Hart and traded for Logan Morrison, it was worrisome that the M’s could have squeezed their former top pick the way that they have their current middle infielders with the Cano signing. An already crowded, though hideous, outfield could still be impacted if Morrison and Hart man the corners with Justin Smoak at first, but the hope for all baseball enthusiasts is that Ackley gets 500 at-bats while playing a single position, something that the former top prospect hasn’t had an opportunity to accomplish in his very shifty career. The month of March has been very kind to Ackley and he should be locked into an everyday role, especially with Franklin Gutierrez out for the year (not shocking) and Michael Saunders floundering last season so badly. His gap power and on-base skills will make him a surprisingly valuable asset in the Mariners push towards contention in 2014.

Mike Moustakas, 3B, Kansas City Royals

.450/.521/.875, 5 2B, 4 HR, 16 RBI, 1 SB, 6:6 K:BB in 40 AB

Why Spring Matters for Moustakas: Moustakas’ career appeared nearly dead when the Royals signed a perfect platoon partner, Danny Valencia, to pair up with the former top prospect. Then, Moustakas went and played winter ball and worked on his swing…and now this. Maybe it was the fire under the sphincter that Moose needed to get his career on track, maybe the alterations were enough,  or maybe he’s a late bloomer like the man that he replaced at the hot corner, Alex Gordon. Gordon was nearly out of the league until a breakout in 2011 at the age of 27, but Moustakas, 25, doesn’t deserve to be given up on just yet, either. Perhaps Moustakas has found the swing that led to 36 home runs and a .999 OPS at the age of 21 in 2010. He may still have some issues against the toughest of left-handed pitchers, but this could be the year.

hamilton3

Reds CF Billy Hamilton

Billy Hamilton, CF, Cincinnati Reds

.325/.413/.450, 13 H, 2 2B, 1 HR, 5 RBI, 9 SB, 12 R, 6:6 K:BB in 40 AB

Why Spring Matters for Hamilton: He’ll never replace Shin-Soo Choo and his ability to get on base, but when Hamilton gets on base, he’s nearly a lock to score. I am not sure how he managed to hit a home run, as the Reds should be instituting push-ups like Willie Mayes Hayes from the great American classic Major League. Hamilton’s wheels will make him a game-changing talent until an injury is to arise. It is highly unlikely that he’ll hit at this rate in 2014, but even a .250/.310/.325 line would afford him enough opportunities on the base paths to score close to 100 runs while stealing 50 or more bases. It may not seem mathematically realistic, but you need to see Billy run in person to gain an understanding of his actual speed. The walks and contact rate is encouraging, and while Great American Ballpark doesn’t have the thin air of the desert, it is still a launching pad – Hamilton just needs to keep the ball on the ground to better utilize his legs and to avoid the push-ups.

Madison Bumgarner, LHP, San Francisco Giants

0.00 ERA, 0.71 WHIP, 17 IP, 10 H, 16:2 K:BB

Why Spring Matters for Bumgarner: Spring doesn’t really matter much for Bumgarner, I just hope that people see this and realize that he is capable of winning the 2014 National League Cy Young award. The 2014 season is his age-24 season and he already has incredible numbers. His hits per nine fell to a career low in 2013 (6.5) and his strikeouts per nine were a career high (8.9). The dominance in his 17 spring innings will be what you’ll see in 2014. I wouldn’t be surprised if he stole the award from Clayton Kershaw. There weren’t eight pitchers in the NL better than him, regardless of the Cy Young voting.

Hector Santiago, LHP, Los Angeles Angels

2.76 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, 16.1 IP, 11 H, 19:6 K:BB

Why Spring Matters for Santiago: Thanks to Joe Blanton being terrible and the Angels minor league system being even worse, Santiago was a lock for the rotation when he was acquired from the White Sox in the Mark Trumbo deal. Santiago, though, is a very interesting pitcher in 2014. He has some friendly ballparks in the American League West and he has the stuff to post nearly a strikeout per inning. Add in an impressive offense and Santiago could be one of the more surprising No.4 starters in baseball. He has shown the strikeout stuff and how hard he is to hit this spring, and if he can cool the walks a bit, which have always been an issue for him, the 26-year-old will continue to be effective for the Halos.

Cardinals RHP Carlos Martinez

Cardinals RHP Carlos Martinez

Carlos Martinez, RHP, St. Louis Cardinals

1.76 ERA, 0.72 WHIP, 15.1 IP, 8 H, 9:3 K:BB

Why Spring Matters for Martinez: The Cardinals just aren’t fair. Joe Kelly, who only went 9-3 with a 2.28 ERA over 15 starts in 2013, is battling one of the club’s former top prospects for the No.5 spot in the Cards’ rotation. Nicknamed “Little Pedro” due to his stature and stuff being similar to future Hall of Fame right-hander Pedro Martinez, this 22-year-old Dominican future star has shown just how unhittable he is when he can manage to control his impressive arsenal. Many will wonder if his best long-term role will be the bullpen due to injury risks and how his stuff plays up in short bursts, but Martinez is much more valuable over 200 innings, and the Cardinals continue to have the depth to plug him into the rotation and reap the benefits of their minor league system. Martinez won’t look like Michael Wacha did down the stretch last season, but that is because he’ll be making a name for himself on his own in 2014.

When Arguing By History Goes Horribly Wrong

Angels 1B: Albert Pujols

Angels 1B: Albert Pujols

Albert Pujols should be a first ballot Hall of Famer, even if you only consider his time with the St. Louis Cardinals. Pujols posted an 83 WAR (FanGraphs) from 2001 to 2011 in the “Gateway to the West”, winning three MVP awards and earning nine All-Star appearances in those 11 seasons. He parlayed that success into a 10-year, $240 million deal with the Los Angeles Angels prior to the 2012 season.

Since joining the Angels, the Pujols that you grew to love (or hate) has played in just 253 games, compiling a .275/.338/.485 triple-slash with 47 home runs and 169 RBI, while amassing a 4.4 WAR over the last two seasons. “Prince Albert” certainly hasn’t lived up to expectations, but the partial tear of his left plantar fascia played a major role in his sudden decline in 2013, as his 30 home runs and 105 RBI in 2012 can’t truly be considered a failure – unless your own expectations could have been judged in the same way.

Bob Nightengale posted a piece at USA Today which detailed a response that Pujols had to an interesting question:

Are you motivated to put up the same numbers as Mike Trout?

Pujols’ response was intriguing, to say the least:

“Can you imagine someone saying that to me? I felt like saying, ‘Come on, are you serious? Are you really asking me that? Check out my numbers. I know what Mike Trout has done in his first two years is pretty special, but will you look at my numbers. I’ve been doing this for almost 14 years. The only guy in baseball who can match the numbers I’ve put up is Barry Bonds, and someone is actually asking if I can put up numbers like Mike Trout? Are you freaking kidding me?”

We do seem to forget greatness rather quickly in our society, which lives in the now thanks in large part to social media and a non-existent attention span; however, does Pujols have a point?

pujols1You could argue that what Pujols has done – nearly 500 home runs and a little over 2,300 hits – will reach numbers that guarantee a legacy and enshrinement into Cooperstown. If he continues to stay clean, which has been an argument from some in the past, that seems to be a lock, but, as we all know, one wrong move, one wrong vitamin, and one wrong trust in a trainer could leave Pujols waiting on steps of the museum with Bonds, Manny Ramirez, Sammy Sosa, and others.

Let’s just say that Pujols remains the clean producer that he has been. Pujols will still be considered a monster, likely the second player with 3,000 hits and 600 home runs in Major League history (joining Willie Mays). Does he need to prove anything to anyone, considering that he could post 100 hits and 15 home runs per season over the next seven years to reach those milestones? He certainly wouldn’t be worth his average annual value with that type of production, but given the Angels’ television revenue and the gate revenue that comes along with the milestone chase, perhaps the Halos could still break even.

Here is a bigger question: Is it fair for a member of the media to ask if Pujols can put up numbers that Mike Trout has the last two seasons?

No. Pujols never has posted those numbers and he certainly won’t as he continues to age and decline.

Angels OF Mike Trout

Angels OF Mike Trout

You see, for all of his greatness, Pujols will forever lose value in the battle of statistics. With Wins Above Replacement being such a dynamic measuring tool in player values, Albert Pujols has to understand that he has NEVER been as valuable in a single season as Mike Trout has been in his first two full season. Mike Trout has accumulated a massive 20.4 WAR (FanGraphs) in those two seasons, establishing himself as the top player in the game, even though he has not managed to snag the last two American League MVP awards from Detroit Tigers’ first baseman Miguel Cabrera.

For all of the 14 years of production that Pujols can stand on, for the nine All-Star games, for the three MVP awards – baseball has moved on from legacies and histories to projection. By developing statistics that measure player values currently and in the future, like Dan Szymborski’s ZiPS system, there is information available to teams and fans to dissect and look towards the future with, while hoping that their teams utilize the seemingly endless media revenue streams to lock-up their young stars, like Trout, to long-term deals. Albert Pujols has very little projection left and it seems unlikely that in today’s market, just two years removed, that Pujols would have received the type of contract that he did in Los Angeles.

As for the history that comes with Albert Pujols, he isn’t the player that the Angels are building their franchise around any longer. Although Mike Trout isn’t under team control as long as Pujols, the franchise is aware of the future success of the club, and it lies in the all-around skills and dominance that comes along with the generational talent that they drafted and developed, not the man that they committed a quarter of a billion dollars to in free agency.

If Mike Trout continues to be Mike Trout and he isn’t crippled by injuries like Grady Sizemore or Tony Conigliaro, Pujols will look back at this question and statement to remember that he was the one that could have used a serving of humble pie. Trout’s overall numbers may not reach the 700 home run plateau, but his WAR value could lead him to becoming the greatest player ever.

Pujols has never had a season as valuable as the last two that Trout has managed to post. If he thinks that he is the more valuable player of the two still today, he has to be kidding all of us, right?

Gardner’s Extension: Planting a Seed of Stupidity in Spending

Yankees OF Brett Gardner

Yankees OF Brett Gardner

Brett Gardner is a good baseball player. He has been around since 2008, but he didn’t really get a full-time shot until 2010. He posted a 6.0 WAR in 2010 due to his 97 runs, 47 stolen bases, 79 walks, and solid defense while manning left field  (123 games) and center field (44 games) throughout that season. He followed that up with a good 2011, compiling a 4.9 WAR and leading the American League in stolen bases (49) while seeing his wRC+ fall below 100 (97). The 2012 season was lost due to right elbow surgery (he played in 16 games), and the 2013 season was solid (3.2 WAR), while Gardner become better than league average in creating runs (108 wRC+) while leading the AL in triples (10) and manning center full-time for an injury-crippled Yankee squad.

However, this winter, the Yankees have been very active, acquiring a new catcher in Brian McCann, a solid rotation addition in Japanese import Masahiro Tanaka, and adding one of the elite players on the open market – Jacoby Ellsbury – from their division rival, Boston. This clearly improved the roster and should allow the Yankees to be much more competitive in 2014 and beyond, but with these additions, especially the addition of Ellsbury, Gardner’s name was listed throughout many rumors, as his bat isn’t going to produce the numbers that many corner outfielders are capable of.

On Sunday, the Yankees signed Gardner to a four-year, $52 million extension. Yankees general manager Brian Cashman had this to say about the signing:

“He would be a leadoff hitter and playing center field for most organizations because most organizations don’t have multiple center-field options. There are certain places that need a center fielder and would love to have a leadoff hitter. He fit that criteria, and you have to pay him that way.”

Do you?

Gardner3Are there other teams out there that have two players locked into the same role, and, why, when the club was so cautious (prior to this offseason) of the payroll, was it necessary to give a decent player $13 million per season in average annual value for his age 31 to 34 seasons, when he will, likely, be less likely to run and maintain defensive value?

The Atlanta Braves just signed Andrelton Simmons to a seven-year, $58 million extension last week, so it wouldn’t be ideal for the Braves to try to sign Cuban shortstop Aledmys Diaz to a deal similar to what the Dodgers paid Erisbel Arruebarruena, as both are defensive-minded shortstops, though Simmons showed unexpected pop in 2013. Should the Yankees be excused from this type of investment because of their revenue streams?

Sure, there are other teams that have decided to employ solid defense in the outfield, potentially leaving some runs on the base paths to ensure that it is harder for the opposition to score. The Cleveland Indians, for example, went into the 2013 season with three capable center fielders in their outfield – Michael Brantley in left, Michael Bourn in center, and Drew Stubbs in right – and they became contenders, winning 92 games in 2013 after winning just 68 in 2012. Certainly, Nick Swisher‘s addition, improved production from Jason Kipnis, and surprising seasons from Yan Gomes and Ubaldo Jimenez helped, but…maybe it was the defense.

The Angels had Peter Bourjos penciled into center in 2013 until hamstring and wrist injuries kept him on the disabled list for 106 games in 2013. With Bourjos, Mike Trout, and Josh Hamilton, the Angels, on paper, had a group of three center fielders, as well; although, it would be a reach to consider Hamilton a center fielder at this point. There is also the dynamic offensive numbers that Trout can put up wherever he is playing that separates him from any of the Indians’ outfielders, as well as Gardner – so with Bourjos gone and J.B. Schuck and Kole Calhoun taking his spot, Trout manned center and, once again, posted MVP-caliber numbers while the Angels finished with a disappointing 78 wins.

There are certainly arguments for defensive value that make the Gardner extension reasonable, but $13 million per season seems like a lot of money for the 20th most valuable outfielder in baseball from 2013, tied with Rays’ outfielder Desmond Jennings and Braves’ outfielder Justin Upton with a 3.2 WAR. There are so many other options who could have been more affordable for New York as players like Coco Crisp, Marlon Byrd, and Shane Victorino could have been available to them, and they each posted more productive seasons while earning similar totals to what Gardner will earn from 2015 through 2018. 

Beyond Gardner’s peers, should the Yankees be concerned about his production when compared to his past production?

Season PA HR R RBI SB BB% K% BABIP AVG OBP SLG WAR
2008 141 0 18 16 13 5.7 21.3 0.296 0.228 0.283 0.299 1.1
2009 284 3 48 23 26 9.2 14.1 0.311 0.270 0.345 0.379 2.3
2010 569 5 97 47 47 13.9 17.8 0.340 0.277 0.383 0.379 6.0
2011 588 7 87 36 49 10.2 15.8 0.303 0.259 0.345 0.369 4.9
2012 37 0 7 3 2 13.5 18.9 0.417 0.323 0.417 0.387 0.3
2013 609 8 81 52 24 8.5 20.9 0.342 0.273 0.344 0.416 3.2

His best season will be three-plus years ago when the 2014 season starts and his production has been all over the place since then. You can see that Gardner’s walk rate has gone from 13.9 percent  in his breakout 2010 to 8.5 percent in 2013, while, at the same time, his strikeout rate jumped to a full-season worst 20.9 percent in 2013. Gardner may have been pressing due to a need to be productive with all of the injuries around him, but if he isn’t on base, he isn’t running, and if he isn’t running, where does his value lie? It lies in his defense and if he isn’t playing center field, does that decrease his overall value?

Gardner2Again, there is such a thing as an elite defense, but teams tend to want big offensive production from their corner spots. Brett Gardner is not as sexy in left as he is in center, and with Jacoby Ellsbury unlikely to ever reach the outlier power numbers that he showed in 2011 ever again, there isn’t room for error, regression, or depreciation in Gardner’s skill-set over the next four seasons for him to be worth this investment.

Whether a win is worth $5 million, $7 million, or it is immeasurable, this contract seems unlikely to contain any room for surplus value for the Yankees.

While the Yankees may be able to afford a failed investment that a team like the Reds, Rays, or Pirates can’t, but $52 million for a league-average player doesn’t seem like a wise investment – cost of a win be damned.

Logan Morrison: LoMo NoMo in Seattle?

Hart

Recent Seattle additions: Corey Hart and Logan Morrison

When the Seattle Mariners acquired first baseman/outfielder Logan Morrison from the Miami Marlins via trade for relief pitcher Carter Capps on the same day that the club signed first baseman/outfielder Corey Hart away from the Milwaukee Brewers via free agency, I felt that there was something strange to the deal. The Mariners already had a lot of options at first base, albeit not tremendous ones, in Justin Smoak, Jesus Montero (who has likely moved off of catcher and is a first baseman/DH), and Dustin Ackley (who appears to be a utility player and has experience at first base from his time playing the position at North Carolina). Adding familiar, more successful names, particularly with Hart and the huge Robinson Cano signing was one thing, but how does Morrison really fit in with the Seattle club?

After making some noise in his first 185 games of his career for the Marlins by posting a .259/.351/.460 with 45 doubles, 11 triples, 25 home runs, 90 RBI, and a 150:95 K:BB in 812 plate appearances, Morrison has bombed to a .236/.321/.387 triple-slash since the start of the 2012 season, with 28 doubles, five triples, 17 home runs, 72 RBI, and a 114:69 K:BB in 667 plate appearances. There is still some production there, but Morrison hasn’t been nearly as impressive; however, considering that he is still just 26, there would seem to be some time for him to get his career back on track. But will it be in Seattle?

MorrisonIn addition to the gluttony of first basemen in Seattle, Logan Morrison is an absolute nightmare in the outfield, as he has posted a -26.9 UZR in his career as a left fielder, which is, of course, much worse than the -4.3 UZR that he has provided as a first baseman. After Corey Hart missed all of the 2013 season due to micro-fracture surgery on his right knee, it is safe to assume that he will either be the Mariners’ new DH or first baseman, which could be troublesome for the Seattle defensive outlook if it forces Morrison to the outfield on a full-time basis.

Which brings me to the continued efforts and rumors of a David Price to Seattle trade…After likely losing James Loney to free agency (especially considering his rumored $9-10 million annual salary that he is seeking), the Tampa Bay Rays could still use a first baseman, as the current roster makeup would leave a lot of playing time for Sean Rodriguez at first base, which doesn’t seem like a smart, Rays-like idea. So, could it be possible that the Mariners stole Morrison, which they did in acquiring him for a bullpen arm in Carter, to package him with other, in-house players in a deal for David Price?

It isn’t as if Logan Morrison could be the central figure in the Rays’ return in a deal, but three years of team control on a player with enough of a bat to be useful within Tampa’s unconventional, stats-driven ideology would make him an intriguing addition. With Cano at second base, Nick Franklin appears to be available, and while he isn’t much of a defender at shortstop, the Rays have Yunel Escobar through the 2014 season, with slick fielding shortstop Hak-Ju Lee coming up the prospect pipeline. Franklin could take over second base in 2015 if the Rays decline Ben Zobrist‘s 2015 option (very unlikely with a $7.5 million salary and his yearly effectiveness), or the club could utilize Zobrist all over the field, as they have done over the last several seasons. Taijuan Walker, the 21-year-old top prospect of the Mariners, continues to be the key name mentioned as the centerpiece of a deal, and by packaging this trio to Tampa Bay, the Mariners rotation would have one of the most frightening rotations this side of the Greg Maddux-John Smoltz-Tom Glavine Braves, and Tampa would have affordable, young, major league ready talent that they continually covet. (Side Note: The Mariners gave Corey Hart the No.27, Walker’s number from 2013…were they suggesting something here?)

The Mariners shocked the world when they swooped in and signed Robinson Cano to a ten-year, $240 million deal, and they appear to have moved from a slow and steady rebuild to a team looking to contend immediately. With a unique blend of young talent in Ackley, Franklin, Brad Miller, Mike Zunino, and Kyle Seager already around, the addition of Cano, Morrison, and Hart seemed to implode the existing philosophies on where the team was heading in a matter of a week.

PriceMorrison may not be a star, but he could have been the additional piece needed to pluck David Price away from the Tampa Bay Rays. While there have been plenty of questionable moves by Seattle GM Jack Zduriencik over the last several seasons, the acquisition of Morrison wasn’t one of them, and as the team looks to continue to make bold moves to turn itself into immediate contenders, it will be interesting to see how many more deals and signings could be made in the Pacific Northwest to bring a winner back to the house that Griffey built.

The Hot Stove Has Caught On Fire

It certainly hasn’t taken long for teams to begin dishing out large contracts that they’ll probably regret in a couple of years with free agency well under way. However, the last 24 to 48 hours have supplied the greatest number of gifts, with a lot of examples of “huh”, “why”, “seriously”, and “come again” worthy reactions.

The Trades

The Doug Fister Trade

Detroit Tigers get: 2B Steve Lombardozzi, LHP Ian Krol, and LHP Robbie Ray

Washington Nationals get: RHP Doug Fister

FisterIt has to be called the Doug Fister trade because no one really cares about any of the players that the Tigers got back, right? If this wasn’t a total salary dump, I don’t know what it was, as the “prize” return for the Tigers is Ray, who was a 10th round pick in 2010 and had a 6.56 ERA in 2012 in his first attempt at High-A Potomac before bouncing back and having a solid season between High-A and Double-A in 2013, really doesn’t seem like a tremendous prospect; though, we have been proven wrong by Dave Dombrowski before. After the Tampa Bay Rays received one of the top young prospects in baseball, Wil Myers, in return for two controllable seasons of James Shields, you would think that the Tigers could have received more for Fister, who had managed to post an impressive 32-20 record to go along with a 3.29 ERA and 1.19 WHIP in 440.2 innings with Detroit. Fister now joins Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmerman, and Gio Gonzalez within the Washington rotation, making the Nationals strong contenders for first-year manager Matt Williams in 2014.

Winner: Washington Nationals.

Smelling Fowler

Houston Astros get: CF Dexter Fowler

Colorado Rockies get: RHP Jordan Lyles and OF Brandon Barnes

Fowler1Fowler seemed to be on the trading block for some time, but he was finally dealt on Tuesday. The Astros get two affordable seasons (two-years, $11.6 million) of Fowler while they wait for George Springer to prove himself ready, or…they just acquired a nicer trade chip than what they gave up. Jordan Lyles may still be just 23 years old, but he hasn’t put it together in 377 major league innings, posting a 5.35 ERA, 1.45 WHIP, and a 6.2 K/9, and it seems very unlikely that shifting to Coor’s Field is going to assist his progression to sudden success. Brandon Barnes has some ability, but it isn’t as an everyday player, as his atrocious 127:21 K:BB and .635 OPS over 445 plate appearances goes to show. Barnes could be a fourth outfielder for the Rockies, with Carlos Gonzalez sliding over to center and Charlie Blackmon and Corey Dickerson battling it out for the left field job, or Colorado could look to free agency to upgrade in center. This deal didn’t make a whole lot of sense for the Rockies unless they saw something in Lyles and didn’t feel that Fowler would ever live up to his hot start from 2013, when he posted a 1.032 OPS and then fell off of the face of the earth. Even if Fowler doesn’t live up to those numbers, he is the most valuable piece in the deal.

Winner: Houston Astros.

The Unimpressive Three-Way

Cincinnati Reds get: LHP David Holmberg.

Tampa Bay Rays get: RHP Heath Bell and cash from Arizona, and C Ryan Hanigan from Cincinnati.

Arizona Diamondbacks get: RHP Justin Choate and a PTBNL

The Rays are always viewed as a smart club and they were able to land another potential closer after losing Fernando Rodney to free agency, leaving the club with Heath Bell and Juan Carlos Oviedo to battle it out for the gig. On top of that, they received an excellent framing catcher in Hanigan, who has proved to be quite valuable to Cincinnati over the last several years in game-calling, while inking the backstop to a three-year extension upon the completion of the deal. The bad part, though, is that both Bell and Hanigan weren’t very good last season, with Hanigan, in particular, looking like a nightmare offensively, posting a .198/.306/.261 line over 260 plate appearances, leading to the Reds leaning on Brayan Pena, who was signed to a two-year deal earlier this winter, and Devin Mesoraco, the young, power-hitting catcher who will finally get a full-time look in Cincinnati. The Diamondbacks dumped some salary while dealing Bell for a young, breathing body. Choate pitched in the New York-Penn League in 2013 at the age of 22 and he isn’t much of a prospect. The Reds dumped Hanigan, who was arbitration-eligible, while getting a 22-year-old left-handed starter, who posted a 2.75 ERA in 26 Double-A starts in 2013 with a 116:50 K:BB in 157.1 innings. While Holmberg wasn’t as sexy as Tyler Skaggs or Archie Bradley within the Diamondbacks system, he could become a solid back of the rotation arm or a Sean Marshall-like relief pitcher for the Reds. The good news for Cincinnati is that Mesoraco gets his shot and Holmberg adds some near-ready pitching depth after the likely departure of Bronson Arroyo via free agency.

Winner: Everyone looks like a winner here, as the deal worked well for all three teams, but the Rays received the most help in assisting the team win in 2013.

Why Did Beane Make That (Michael) Choice?

Texas Rangers get: OF Michael Choice and 2B Chris Bostick

Oakland A’s get: OF Craig Gentry and RHP Josh Lindblom

ChoiceThis seemed like an odd deal for Oakland and GM Billy Beane, as Gentry is arbitration-eligible for the first time this winter and Lindblom has been pretty terrible since being traded from the Dodgers to the Phillies in the 2012 Shane Victorino deal, as he has posted a 5.10 ERA and 1.50 WHIP over 54.2 innings since leaving Los Angeles (2.91 ERA and 1.18 WHIP in 77.1 innings prior to the trade). Maybe a return to the west coast is what Lindblom needs to be a useful reliever, but by getting the elite defensive skills and increasing salary of the light-hitting (.280/.355/.366 in 763 plate appearances), 29-year-old Gentry, and giving up the potential that still exists in the bat of Michael Choice, who is 24 and isn’t arbitration-eligible until 2017, Beane showed that he may be looking beyond three years from now and that he could be putting the A’s in win-now mode. Bostick is a nice second base prospect, having posted a .282/.354/.452 line over 555 plate appearances as a 20-year-old in Low-A in 2013, but the Rangers have quite a few young, up-the-middle prospects (Rougned Odor, Jurickson Profar, and Luis Sardinas) and they don’t seem to have a need there, while the A’s have run Jemile Weeks out of town in a trade with Baltimore and Eric Sogard was very…meh…in 2013 at the major league level. Winning now is important, but it doesn’t seem like the A’s really acquired anyone who can really help them in 2014 to get over the hump.

Winner: Texas Rangers.

The Free Agent Splashes

The Yankees Spend Like Crazy…Again.

Who They Signed: C Brian McCann (five-years, $85 million); OF Jacoby Ellsbury (seven-years, $153 million);

McCannWhy It Matters: Notice that the Yankees have committed nearly $240 million after having been rumored to be on a mission to avoid the $189 million threshold of the payroll luxury tax, while not having signed their All-Star second baseman, Robinson Cano, just yet. And, don’t forget, the team is rumored to be interested in signing Japanese right-hander Masahiro Tanaka, who could be had at a lesser amount after the posting fee was limited to a maximum $20 million bid on Wednesday. McCann is a huge upgrade over the combined .213/.289/.298 triple slash that Yankees’ catchers posted in 2013, while Ellsbury provides great defense and speed as the Yankees try to move on from all of the injuries that suffocated their success this past season. Even if the Yankees are done with the big name signings, including Cano, they should be a better team in 2014.

Twinkies Filled Their Rotation

Who Minnesota Signed: RHP Phil Hughes (three-year, $24 million); RHP Ricky Nolasco (four-year, $49 million);

Why It Matters: The Twins starting pitchers posted a 5.26 ERA and a 1.54 WHIP in 2013, worst in the majors, and the ERA was a whopping 0.45 points higher than the Toronto Blue Jays’ starters (4.81), who finished 29th. Hughes still has youth and potential, but he needs to start tapping into that potential after posting a horrific 5.19 ERA over 29 starts and 145.2 innings. Shockingly, Hughes’ numbers would have made him a solid number three starter for the Twins in 2013…they were that bad. Adding Nolasco was special, but he isn’t an ace. He will likely be the Twins’ Opening Day starter in 2014 by default and he should make the rotation slightly better; although, it couldn’t get much worse.

Kazmir Rejuvenates and Cashes In Athletically

Who Oakland Signed: LHP Scott Kazmir (two-year, $22 million)

Why It Matters: Signing Kazmir to a lucrative contract could lead to another movie about the Oakland A’s after the success of Moneyball. While Kazmir’s resurgence was quite surprising, an eight-figure deal, after making all of one total appearance in the majors in 2011 and 2012 due to severe shoulder woes, was even more surprising. Possessing a mid-90′s fastball and a left arm appears to be all that it took to find a big deal. Kazmir’s story is worthy of attention and praise, but it is a story that needs to be monitored to see if he can maintain the same success in Oakland over the next two seasons. His presence will allow the A’s and Beane to shop LHP Brett Anderson at the winter meetings next week, which could net the club some additional win-now resources.

The Tigers No Longer on the Prowl for a Closer

Who Detroit Signed: RHP Joe Nathan (two-year, $20 million)

Why It Matters: Detroit needed a lockdown closer after shuffling through Jose Valverde, Phil Coke, Jose Veras, and Bruce Rondon at closer before Joaquin Benoit took over and did a nice job over the rest of the season. They got their man after signing Joe Nathan away from the Texas Rangers. Nathan closed 80 games out the last two seasons, while posting a 2.09 ERA and 0.98 WHIP, and at 38 years of age, he doesn’t look to be slowing down after missing the 2010 season due to Tommy John surgery. After dealing Prince Fielder to improve at second base with Ian Kinsler, moving Miguel Cabrera back to first, and plugging Drew Smyly into the rotation (after dealing Fister), the Tigers will have a completely new look in 2014. With their strong rotation, Nathan’s shutdown ability makes them quite dangerous.

Fish Hook Their Catcher and the Red Sox Snag Another

Who Miami Signed: C Jarrod Saltalamacchia (three-year, $21 million)

Who Boston Signed: C A.J. Pierzynski (one-year, $8.25 million)

Why It Matters: With a lot of focus heading towards catcher defense and framing, highlighted by the Rays commitments to Jose Molina and Ryan Hanigan this winter, other clubs continue to look towards offensive-minded catchers, and the Miami Marlins and Boston Red Sox locked down their backstops this week. The Marlins seem to have very little hope for a quick turnaround and Saltalamacchia isn’t going to be the other piece to help Giancarlo Stanton and Miami to an NL East title, but it is a start…as long as they don’t trade him before the 2014 season starts. Pierzynski will be on his fifth organization and, despite being hated by some of his competition, he could be a tremendous asset to the character and chemistry that existed within the Boston World Series clubhouse. I guess he is better to have on your team than to play against him.

 

 

One Pitcher…One Game…Who Do You Pick?

All over the internet this week, different analysts have raised the question: “If you could choose any pitcher to pitch an elimination game, who would you choose?” It seems like a pretty easy question, but the answers have been all over the place. Obviously, the concept needs to be narrowed down. Is it right now? Is it in the history of the game? What kind of team is the pitcher facing?

Kershaw3A recent article at FanGraphs actually posed the question to 12 different players. Not surprisingly, Los Angeles Dodgers left-handed starter Clayton Kershaw came out on top, receiving six votes, but it was relatively surprising that he only received six of the 12 votes. David Price ranked second with two votes, while soon-to-be free agent right-hander Roy Halladay, New York Mets’ right-hander Matt Harvey, Philadelphia Phillies left-hander Cliff Lee, and St. Louis Cardinals right-hander Adam Wainwright each received one vote. With Andy Pettitte, the all-time leader in postseason wins (19), Cole Hamels (7-4 with a 3.09 ERA in 13 postseason starts), and Chris Carpenter (10-4 with a 3.00 ERA in 18 postseason starts) still around, is it fair to wonder what Baltimore Orioles’ first baseman Chris Davis was thinking when he said the zero postseason start Matt Harvey?

Certainly, the nastiness of the stuff has to be taken into account when you are answering a question like this, and Harvey is undeniably one of the nastiest pitchers in Major League Baseball…when healthy. If that is the case, should Miami Marlins’ right-hander Jose Fernandez be someone to consider? What about Justin Verlander – the guy has won seven of 14 starts, including a complete ownage of Oakland in the postseason, having posted a 0.29 ERA and a 43:7 K:BB in 31 innings (four starts)? Tim Lincecum has five wins and a 2.47 ERA over 54.2 postseason innings, why not him?

As great as Kershaw has been, he has just one win in five postseason starts. Certainly, it isn’t just about wins, as the win is a strange, outdated statistic; however, after watching Kershaw get rocked in the 2009 NLCS against the Phillies (albeit at the age of 21), is he the best option? How can a pitcher have a career 2.60 ERA, including a 2.21 ERA over his last 99 starts, and only win about 42-percent of his starts (63-percent of his decisions)?

It isn’t Kershaw’s fault. That’s why it doesn’t matter.

Pitching is fantastic, but if the team hitting behind that amazing pitcher isn’t scoring, all of those zeroes mean nothing. Case in point:

Courtesy:csnbayarea.com

Courtesy:csnbayarea.com

July 2, 1963.

Candlestick Park, San Francisco, California.

Milwaukee Braves versus San Francisco Giants.

Warren Spahn versus Juan Marichal.

Spahn’s line:

Pitching IP H R ER BB SO HR ERA BF GSc IR IS WPA aLI RE24
Warren Spahn, L (11-4) 15.1 9 1 1 1 2 1 2.84 56 97 0.970 1.68 5.5
Team Totals 15.1 9 1 1 1 2 1 0.59 56 97 0.970 1.49 5.5
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 10/12/2013.

Marichal’s line:

Pitching IP H R ER BB SO HR ERA BF GSc IR IS WPA aLI RE24
Juan Marichal, W (13-3) 16 8 0 0 4 10 0 2.14 59 112 1.470 1.49 6.7
Team Totals 16 8 0 0 4 10 0 0.00 59 112 1.470 1.68 6.7
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 10/12/2013.

Kershaw isn’t going to pitch 16 innings anytime soon, he is just as unlikely to pitch on three days rest several times in a series to accumulate dominant postseason statistics considering he has never started a game on three days rest in his career.

cabrera2The question “who would you start in a game that means everything” means very little. The pitcher means a lot to the outcome of the game, but what happens when that dominant pitcher has Miguel Cabrera playing third base with sore legs and Jhonny Peralta at short? What happens when Joe Kelly or some other non-elite pitcher somehow matches zeroes with the dynamic ace? What happens when Don Larson, who posted a career 81-91 record, 3.78 ERA, and 1.40 WHIP, throws the lone perfect game in World Series history?

Wins don’t matter and dominant pitching is only a luxury when it is happening while the offense is scoring runs. A pitcher is only as good as those playing behind him are on a given night. Even Kerry Wood and Roger Clemens, who struck out 20 in a single game, had to have a run behind them in case someone managed to score in between the seven non-strikeout outs.

Shouldn’t the real question be “if you could have one hitter and one pitcher on your team for a means-everything game, who would they be”?

 

Should MLB Teams Refuse the Mega-Contract?

Another free agency period is ahead with another Major League Baseball offseason. With so many superstars being signed to lucrative contracts with their existing clubs, players who reach free agency can make exorbitant amounts of money due to fewer players being available and television contracts that teams are using as revenue generating machines. With that being said, is a big-time contract a smart investment for a needy team this winter?

The Yankees as a Model

With Robinson Cano heading towards free agency after the 2013 season, the New York Yankees will be faced with a decision that could alter their original plan of getting under Major League Baseball’s $189 million luxury tax threshold. With $92.4 million due to six players (Alex Rodriguez, C.C. Sabathia, Alfonso Soriano (the Cubs are covering $13 of the $18 million owed to him), Mark Teixiera, Vernon Wells (the Angels are covering $18.6 of the $21 million owed to him), Ichiro Suzuki, and Derek Jeter (who has an $8 million player option), the Yankees, on the surface, appear to have some wiggle room in an offer to their superstar second baseman; however, the players mentioned above are the only players with guaranteed contracts next season.

Yankees vs. MarinersAdam Warren, David Phelps, and Eduardo Nunez are all pre-arbitration, so they can have their contracts renewed at the league minimum, but the club will have to deal with David Huff, Chris Stewart, Francisco Cervelli, Michael Pineda, Ivan Nova, Jayson Nix, Shawn Kelley, Brett Gardner, and David Robertson within arbitration, and determine whether Cano, Hiroki Kuroda, Kevin Youkilis, Andy Pettitte, Phil Hughes, Mark Reynolds, Boone Logan, Travis Hafner, Joba Chamberlain, and/or Lyle Overbay are worthy of being tendered a qualifying offer prior to reaching free agency. With up to 19 spots available for next season, the remaining $96.6 million doesn’t appear to be going very far.

While relief could be on the way with a possible 2014 suspension for Alex Rodriguez, from which his $25 million contract would be forfeited, the long-term contracts that the Yankees have handed out like candy are now causing financial issues as the club’s attendance continues to decline (43,733 in 2012 vs. 40,002 in 2013) along with the talent of the aging players.

Consider this:

Alex Rodriguez is 37 years old and is owed $86 million over the next four years.

C.C. Sabathia is 32 years old and is owed $76 million over the next three seasons (including his 2017 buyout).

Mark Teixiera is 33 years old and is owed $67.5 million over the next three seasons.

The three have been worth a combined WAR (Fangraphs) of 2.6 in 2013 while costing the Yankees $73.5 million in salaries. For comparisons sake, San Diego third baseman Chase Headley, Atlanta third baseman Chris Johnson, San Diego outfielder Chris Denorfia, Baltimore outfielder Nate McLouth, and San Francisco shortstop Brandon Crawford have each posted a 2.6 WAR in 2013…individually. If the Yankees had all five players this season, they would have spent just under $16 million, about $6.5 million less than they spent on Teixiera alone in 2013!

Why These Contracts Don’t Make Sense

By investing large sums of money into veterans when they reach free agency in the post-steroid era, teams are taking immeasurable risks.

1) They are assuming that a high-performing player will be capable of producing into their mid-30′s, and…

2) They are assuming that the high-performing player will stay healthy enough to be worth the investment.

When a player reaches free agency, they have at least six years of major league experience. The player likely had three seasons of pre-arbitration followed by three years of arbitration prior to reaching free agency. Considering that most players make their debuts between the ages of 21 and 24, a free agent is typically between the ages of 27 and 30. The magic prime age in baseball is apparently going to happen in a player’s age-27 season, lasting roughly three to five seasons. A player has reached their physical peak at this point, which allows the player to utilize their various tools to take advantage of the opposition through the use of their experience and mental approaches gained through those experiences. When a multi-year contract is given to a player at the age of 30, say a five-year contract, and that player is then declining for nearly three-fifths of the contract, what is the value to the club? Without performance-enhancers, normal aging processes, such as shoulder fatigue for aging pitchers and chronic knee soreness for a veteran position player, become normal once again. Can teams count on a 39-year-old shortstop to play in 162 games? Ask Derek Jeter how his season went.

Unfortunate Recent Examples

Albert Pujols signed his ten-year, $240 million deal with the Angels following his age-31 season in St. Louis. To make the deal more affordable and to allow the Angels some financial flexibility, Pujols’ contract was heavily back-loaded, meaning he will be making the most money at the end of his contract when he is approaching or passing the age of 40. In fact, in Pujols’ tenth season with the Angels, he is scheduled to make $30 million, the highest annual salary within his contract. After making a combined $28 million in 2012 and 2013, Pujols’ contract will jump to $23 million in 2014 and climb $1 million each season before reaching $30 million in 2021.

VottoHowever, Pujols hasn’t really lived up to the contract based on his production over the first 11 seasons in the majors, as he has posted the lowest WAR of his career in consecutive seasons (3.7 in 2012 and 0.7 in 2013). He was shutdown on August 19 due to a partial tear of his left plantar fascia and he  should be ready to go next season; however, since he isn’t undergoing surgery, how well will this injury heal? Although the tear supposedly did what the surgery would have, one has to wonder if it can be aggravated, torn further (since it is still a partial tear), and debilitating enough to plague Pujols throughout the remainder of his massive contract.

And what about the contract that the “small-market” Cincinnati Reds gave to Joey Votto? The Reds handed Votto a ten-year, $225 million extension in April of 2012. The contract hasn’t even started yet, as the first year of the extension will be the 2014 season, Votto’s age-30 season. For ten years, the Reds will hope that Votto will produce numbers similar to his 2010 MVP season, something that he hasn’t seemed capable of reproducing over the last three seasons, despite leading the National League in on-base percentage the last three seasons, four including 2010. When you consider that the Reds are winning in 2013 and they still average just 31,479 in attendance (16th in MLB), how will the team be able to contend when Votto is making $25 million per season beginning in 2018, when he is 34 years old?

Even worse, the contract that the Philadelphia Phillies gave to first baseman Ryan Howard. Howard received his extension in April of 2010 and it didn’t go into effect until the 2012 season, a five-year, $125 million deal that would begin in Howard’s age-32 season. Since the start of the 2012 season, Howard has played in 151 games while posting a .244/.307/.445 line with 31 doubles, 25 home runs, 99 RBI, and a whopping 194 strikeouts in 609 plate appearances. The previous seven seasons, Howard had a .275/.368/.560 line with an average of 26 doubles, 41 home runs, and 123 RBI per season, and that was including his declining 2010 and 2011 seasons, in which Howard posted the lowest OPS of his career (.859 in 2010 and .835 in 2011)…that was, of course, until his dreadful 2012 season (.718 OPS).

The Problem With TV Deals

I was able to get a response from Baseball Prospectus’ Ben Lindbergh when I asked him via Twitter, “Do you think MLB teams are going to shy away from mega contract due to the Pujols/Howard/Hamilton deals in post steroid era?” His response:

The TV money, which was mentioned previously, is an interesting enhancement to the revenue stream for major league teams. With the Los Angeles Dodgers getting over $6 billion over 25 years from Time Warner in  their TV deal, which will give the club nearly $240 million per year in revenue, the already crazy expenditures of the boys in blue could become even more egregious this winter. The club seems capable of locking up left-hander Clayton Kershaw to a contract worth $30 million per season or more this winter, AND signing Robinson Cano to take over second base from Mark Ellis, who has a $5.75 million option for 2014 or a $1 million buyout. By taking on those types of contracts on top of the Carl Crawford ($20.25 million in 2014), Matt Kemp ($21 million in 2014), Adrian Gonzalez ($21 million in 2014), Zack Greinke ($26 million in 2014), and Andre Ethier ($15.5 million in 2014) deals, the Dodgers will be willingly entering the luxury tax threshold in an effort to win the World Series.

KempBut what happens when money can’t buy titles? The New York Yankees seemed to always have the highest payroll in baseball and they haven’t won the title every season. Spending doesn’t quantify wins, it is, as Lindbergh referenced, the winner’s curse. This concept is outlined in Colin Wyers 2009 Baseball Prospectus piece titled The Real Cursewhich Wyers states:

The market for baseball players seems to more closely resemble a sealed-bid auction than it does a market. Since the person who wins that sort of auction is typically the person with the largest bid, it stands to reason that the person who “wins” is in fact the person who overbids…

The curse is then being the winning bid on a contract that was probably more than what another team was willing to bid. By evaluating players and making smart investments, teams that break the curse are able to get production out of what they spend, while teams that suffer from the curse are those that fail to get production out of their investment, as in the suffering that the Cubs went through with Alfonso Soriano, the joint suffering of the Blue Jays and Angels over the Vernon Wells contract, and the Giants’ suffering through the Barry Zito contract.

When spending goes wrong, it can financially cripple a franchise, who is then responsible for allocating funds to an under-performing player while still trying to field a competitive team around that player. Teams seem more likely to take those types of risks, though. Due to the incoming revenue from the TV deals, teams like the Cleveland Indians, who celebrated the sale of the franchise owned SportsTime Ohio to Fox Sports this winter by signing Michael Bourn and Nick Swisher, are more capable of making these potentially fatal bids.

Will the money continue to be there for clubs to take on these large, risky contracts?

Pete Kotz had an amazing story about the leagues finances, and while discussing television deals, he says:

With no one saying no, the networks see sports as a no-lose racket, with ESPN as its piper. The sports channel charges cable companies $5 a month per customer, by far the highest monthly fee in national television. While that may seem a pittance, it’s big money when spread over the 100 million U.S. households with pay TV. And it’s made the other big boys envious.

NBC and CBS have launched their own sports channels. Another from Fox is on the way. Even regional sports channels are starting to broach that $5 mark. Their bet is that viewers will always be willing to pay more. And more. And more.

…Today, the average TV bill rests at $86 per month, about half of which pays for sports programming. That’s more than double a decade ago. So it’s no coincidence that the cable and satellite industries have been jettisoning customers for nine years straight.

 “I can’t tell you what will be the trigger,” says Matthew Polka, president of the American Cable Association. “But I am certain that at some point in the very near future, that balloon will burst.”

As cable and satellite customers are forced to pay more and they continue to leave those companies in an effort to save money, the money will eventually not be coming in. The cable and satellite companies will likely battle with the club’s networks to get lower rates, and there could be something drastic, like CBS being taken away from major markets. Eventually, the boom in finances and long-term contracts will go away and the inevitable crash will make it harder for clubs to make large financial commitments to star players. Imagine if the housing market was responsible for financing people’s salaries and when the market for home sales crashed how disastrous that could have been…but it did and it was miserable for the entire economy.

Major League Baseball is exempt from some things due to anti-trust laws, but nothing is too big to fail.

Who Is Worth a Mega-Contract?

harper troutIt may seem easy to say that locking up players within their pre-arbitration or arbitration years to lucrative, long-term contracts seems more intelligent than waiting until free agency, as the annual salaries can slowly increase rather than starting and sitting at $25 million per year for eight straight seasons. A few examples of players who could be worth a long-term investment in this scenario:

  • Angels’ outfielder Mike Trout is earning $510,000 in 2013 and he is pre-arbitration in 2014 before being eligible for arbitration in 2015, 2016, and 2017. If Trout continues his torrid pace for the next four seasons and reaches free agency in 2018 at the age of 26, what types of maniacal offers will he be receiving at that point?
  • Nationals’ outfielder Bryce Harper signed a major league contract and will be arbitration eligible in 2016, 2017, and 2018 before reaching free agency at the age of 25 in 2019. Like Trout, he has posted absurd numbers, given his age, and, with Scott Boras as his current agent, could own half of a franchise based on what he will be offered in free agency.
  • Orioles third baseman Manny Machado, Nationals’ right-hander Stephen Strasburg, Marlins’ right-hander Jose Fernandez, Marlins’ right-fielder Giancarlo Stanton, and Mets’ right-hander Matt Harvey (upon his return in 2015 from elbow surgery…if he is just as productive and dominant) are additional players who fit this mold.

Why are these types of players worth a long-term investment? Because they are young, producing prior to their prime years, and are more likely to continue producing towards the end of a 10 to 15 year extension than a player who turns 40 or 41 in year ten of their long-term contracts, like Joey Votto and Albert Pujols.

These are the types of mega-contracts that seem more reasonable and realistic for franchises, while being less likely to provide a curse on the investing bidder. Because the player is within the grasp of the franchise already, the team has all kinds of data available to analyze, they have coaches and front office personnel who have strong relationships with the player, and the fan-base, media, and community surrounding the player are already familiar, so it could be assumed that there are fewer outside influences that could impact player performance.

SeligRegardless of the potential that these younger players possess, any long-term contract remains a risk for the franchise. If the clubs suddenly refuse to offer these types of contracts, however, the league and its owners would likely be accused of collusion. The mega-contract isn’t going away anytime soon. Despite future reluctance to meet the demands of players and agents to attain these large salaries, there will likely be enough money, or a few teams with large enough revenue streams, for at least one of these deals to be made each offseason. As fewer and fewer star players seem to reach free agency due to long-term commitments with their existing franchise (like Votto, Troy Tulowitzki, and Carlos Gonzalez), the stars that do reach free agency will likely continue to get the lucrative deals.

In Case You Haven’t Noticed…

It’s late in the baseball season and there are a lot of things that could be distracting you, such as following up on Johnny Manziel’s battle with the NCAA, completing your 21 fantasy football drafts, and wondering who will be Ace or Gary when you attend a Halloween party as the Incredibly Gay Duo. While all of those things are important, I present to you the world of baseball that you may have missed due to your fascination of Miley twerking.

  • SorianoYankees’ left fielder Alfonso Soriano leads MLB with 42 RBI and is tied with Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera for the lead in home runs (13) since the All-Star break. The Yankees are 21-16 since Soriano returned to New York and the Yanks are 2.5 games behind Tampa for the second Wild Card spot with 23 games remaining, including seven games against Boston (a four-game series begins today in New York) and three against the Rays.
  • New Pittsburgh Pirates right fielder Marlon Byrd is leading the majors in total bases since the All-Star break with 101 (he is tied with teammate Andrew McCutchen and San Diego outfielder Will Venable), and he is tied with Minnesota Twins shortstop Brian Dozier for extra-base hits since the break with 26. Byrd will look to continue his torrid pace in helping lead the Pirates to the NL Central title after the Buccos have already guaranteed their fans with the club’s first winning season since 1992.
  • Washington Nationals’ outfielder Jayson Werth looked like a total waste of a seven-year, $126 million deal after his horrendous first season, 2011, in the nation’s capital, but he has hit .311/.392/.487 over the last two seasons while battling various injuries. If Werth continues his production next season and the Nats get a full, healthy season out of Bryce Harper and their very good pitching staff, the letdown from 2013 will be all forgiven in 2014 with an improved season. Werth, by the way, is 8th in MLB in OPS (.920).
  • Toronto outfielder Rajai Davis doesn’t receive a lot of praise or playing time, but he has 40 stolen bases in just 93 games. With his .313 OBP, Davis has made an appearance on the bases just 93 times in 301 plate appearances. When you take away the two triples and four home runs (since he hasn’t stolen home and he can’t steal a base after a home run), it means that Davis has successfully stolen a base in 46 percent of his appearances on base. With his speed, who needed to wait for Billy Hamilton for an impact base runner?
  • Davis2There are only six players with 30 or more home runs (Chris Davis, Miguel Cabrera, Edwin Encarnacion, Pedro Alvarez, Paul Goldschmidt, and Adam Dunn) after 22 players reached the tier in 2012 and 24 players reached in 2011. With 17 players within six homers or reaching 30, and several within that group unlikely to do so (I’m looking at you J.J. Hardy and the injured Domonic Brown), the top-tier of sluggers appears to be a very rare breed with pitching being so dominant.

Speaking of pitching…

  • Max Scherzer is sitting at 19-2, but the names of other starting pitchers ranked near the top in wins is quite surprising: Jorge De La Rosa (16), Francisco Liriano (15), Chris Tillman (15), and Bartolo Colon (14) rank in the top eight in the strange statistic. While some writers will look at the win as valuable in determining who should win the Cy Young, it clearly has little use in determining who has been the best pitcher.
  • It’s somewhat disappointing to see numbers fall with the drop in velocity, but that is exactly what has happened to former Cy Young favorites like Justin Verlander (12-10, 3.59 ERA, 1.34 WHIP) and C.C. Sabathia (13-11, 4.86 ERA, 1.35 WHIP). With the fall from grace, though, has come exciting young arms like Jose Fernandez, Shelby Miller, Julio Teheran, and Matt Harvey (R.I.P.). Unfortunately for the aging arms, it doesn’t appear to be getting better, as Sabathia has a 6.88 ERA in the second half, while Verlander has a more respectable 3.77 ERA since the break.
  • FernandezSpeaking of those young arms and specifically Jose Fernandez, the young, Cuban-born right-hander has been filthy in the second half. His 0.83 WHIP is tops among all starting pitchers and the 70:13 K:BB in 54 innings is downright nasty. With the Marlins possibly looking to deal their only source of offense, Giancarlo Stanton, this winter, Fernandez will likely continue to post ridiculous numbers without wins going forward, although he has won five games since the break.
  • For all of those still sitting back and waiting for Chris Sale‘s arm to explode, it hasn’t happened. The White Sox ace has been even better in 2013 than he was last season, posting a 2.97 ERA and a 1.05 WHIP while improving his strikeout rate AND his walk rate on a per nine inning basis. After being locked up for five-years, $32.5 million (with team options totalling $26 million over 2018 and 2019), the Pale Hose look very wise in their string-bean investment.
  • R.A. Dickey‘s knuckleball didn’t carry over to the AL East. The veteran right-hander has a 4.30 ERA and 1.27 WHIP after posting a 2.95 ERA and 1.15 WHIP from 2010 through 2012 with the New York Mets. The small parks, the strong teams, and the patient hitters are all a factor in the decline, but when you don’t really know which way the ball is going when using a trick pitch, that kind of makes things difficult, too.
  • DarvishYu Darvish is having an absolutely stupid season. He leads MLB with his 12.0 K/9 and he has struck out 240 of the 722 batters that he has faced (33.2 percent). While some Cy Young voters will look at Scherzer’s 19 wins and look stupid years from now, it is the unhittable Darvish, who has allowed 124 hits in 179.2 innings and a .192 BAA, who deserves the award.

September Promotions to Geek Over

hamilton3With September come the expansion of rosters in Major League Baseball. Over the next several weeks, in between completing fantasy football drafts and mocking Notre Dame fans after their loss to Michigan, fans will be able to get a sneak peak at some of the top young players in baseball. While many of them won’t play a huge role in their team’s playoff hopes, several players will excite fans and their favorite organization for the 2014 season. Here are some players to monitor over the next month.

Billy Hamilton, Cincinnati Reds, OF/Pinch-runner extraordinaire

Year Age Tm Lev G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS TB
2013 22 Louisville AAA 123 547 504 75 129 18 4 6 41 75 38 102 .256 .308 .343 .651 173
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 9/3/2013.

When Billy Hamilton steps onto the baseball field, people have to take notice. On Tuesday night, he pinch-ran for Ryan Ludwick and stole his first base – with five-time Gold Glove catcher Yadier Molina behind the plate for St. Louis. Considering the value of a run and a win right now in a very close NL Central and NL Wild Card chase, the ability to utilize Hamilton’s speed will be a tremendous asset for Dusty Baker in Cincinnati. However, after posting a pretty down season in 2013 in Triple-A, there, likely, aren’t  enough bases that Hamilton can steal to make the Reds not look for help in center this offseason, as Shin-Soo Choo reaches free agency and the Reds were looking for more.

Erk Johnson, Chicago White Sox, RHP

Year Age Tm Lev W L ERA G GS CG SHO IP H R ER HR BB IBB SO WHIP H/9 BB/9 SO/9 SO/BB
2013 23 2 Teams AA-AAA 12 3 1.96 24 24 3 1 142.0 100 35 31 7 40 0 131 0.986 6.3 2.5 8.3 3.28
2013 23 Birmingham AA 8 2 2.23 14 14 3 1 84.2 57 22 21 6 21 0 74 0.921 6.1 2.2 7.9 3.52
2013 23 Charlotte AAA 4 1 1.57 10 10 0 0 57.1 43 13 10 1 19 0 57 1.081 6.8 3.0 8.9 3.00
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 9/3/2013.

After an impressive season over two levels, Johnson could have forced the White Sox hand in their apparent rebuilding mode in providing the youngster with a rotation spot in 2013. His ability to keep the ball in the yard will be useful in the bandbox that is US Cellular Field, and while the club has Chris Sale, Jose Quintana, Hector Santiago, and John Danks in the rotation right now, they are one of the only teams in baseball that could actually use some solid right-handed pitching. The Pale Hose appear to have a couple of solid options from the right side in Johnson and Andre Rienzo.

CastellanosNick Castellanos, Detroit Tigers, OF

Year Age Tm Lev G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS TB
2013 21 Toledo AAA 134 595 533 81 147 37 1 18 76 4 54 100 .276 .343 .450 .793 240
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 9/3/2013.

Nick Castellanos was once a lanky, beanpole-like prospect with a long swing and a lot of holes in his swing. While he could still eat a few steaks, Castellanos has done a lot to make himself useful to the Tigers, moving off of third base to become a solid outfielder, and improving his strike zone management tremendously. He has very good, still raw, power that could make him a fantastic addition to the already formidable Detroit lineup. He may not get a huge opportunity this month but the Tigers gave a lot of at-bats to Avisail Garcia late last season and Castellanos could prove to be more valuable in the lineup than Pat Kelly and Andy Dirks in left field. With the talent around him in Motown, Castellanos could become an above-average regular with clubs being more cautious with Prince Fielder and Miguel Cabrera.

Jose Ramirez, Cleveland Indians, INF

Year Age Tm Lev G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS TB
2013 20 Akron AA 113 533 482 78 131 16 6 3 38 38 39 41 .272 .325 .349 .674 168
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 9/3/2013.

A strong middle infield prospect in the Cleveland Indians organization that isn’t named Francisco Lindor, Ramirez has established himself as a unique talent, with an excellent hit tool and solid speed. It’s possible that Ramirez steals quite a few at-bats from the struggling Lonnie Chisenhall in September, and, if he shows himself capable, he could steal his job next spring. Ramirez was moved quickly to accommodate the quick rise of Lindor, and, while he doesn’t have a lot of power, he will make enough contact to be a very good utility infielder in any worst case scenario.

JR Murphy, New York Yankees, C

Year Age Tm Lev G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS TB
2013 22 2 Teams AAA-AA 108 468 413 60 111 29 0 12 46 1 47 73 .269 .347 .426 .773 176
2013 22 Trenton AA 49 211 183 34 49 10 0 6 25 1 24 32 .268 .352 .421 .773 77
2013 22 Scranton/Wilkes-Barre AAA 59 257 230 26 62 19 0 6 21 0 23 41 .270 .342 .430 .773 99
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 9/3/2013.

Murphy, like Ramirez, has been pushed along by another top prospect, as the Yankees have moved the young catcher quickly due to the potential monster who is Gary Sanchez; however, Murphy isn’t a terrible player and probably shouldn’t be overlooked as an option at a weak Yankees catching position in 2014. With only Chris Stewart, Austin Romine and Francisco Cervelli ahead of him, Murphy could prove to be more than a holdover before Sanchez gets his already questionable makeup together in New York.

Michael Choice, Oakland Athletics, OF

Year Age Tm Lev G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS TB
2013 23 Sacramento AAA 132 600 510 90 154 29 1 14 89 1 69 115 .302 .390 .445 .835 227
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 9/3/2013.

Choice was once an all-or-nothing type of hitter who hit home runs in bunches while attending the University of Texas-Arlington. After hitting 30 home runs in 2011, with a little help from the fences of the California League, Choice has a total of 24 home runs over the last two seasons. While he may never reach the power expectations that he once had, Choice has enough plate discipline and gap power to be an asset for the always cost-conscious Oakland A’s. He could take the at-bats that Chris Young was getting in 2014, which would make him a fantasy baseball asset.

Jonathan Schoop, Baltimore Orioles, INF

Year Age Tm Lev G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS TB
2013 21 3 Teams AAA-Rk-A- 81 336 309 42 86 14 0 14 52 1 20 62 .278 .330 .460 .790 142
2013 21 Orioles Rk 8 32 25 9 9 2 0 3 9 0 6 6 .360 .469 .800 1.269 20
2013 21 Aberdeen A- 3 15 14 3 8 1 0 2 9 0 1 1 .571 .600 1.071 1.671 15
2013 21 Norfolk AAA 70 289 270 30 69 11 0 9 34 1 13 55 .256 .301 .396 .697 107
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 9/3/2013.

Schoop missed significant time in 2013 due to a stress fracture in his back, but upon his return, he quickly showed the Orioles the tools that have made him a solid, under-the-radar prospect. Schoop may not have a very keen eye at the dish, but he is very effective hitter, especially for a 21-year-old in the upper ranks of the minors. Schoop will, likely, have an opportunity to win the second base or third base job down the line, but not until the Orioles give Manny Machado a look at shortstop once J.J. Hardy leaves via free agency (or is moved off of short).

MartinezCarlos Martinez, St. Louis Cardinals, RHP

Year Age Tm Lev W L ERA G GS IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP H/9 BB/9 SO/9 SO/BB
2013 21 2 Teams AAA-AA 6 3 2.49 16 16 79.2 65 25 22 4 28 72 1.167 7.3 3.2 8.1 2.57
2013 21 Springfield AA 1 0 2.31 3 3 11.2 11 3 3 1 1 9 1.029 8.5 0.8 6.9 9.00
2013 21 Memphis AAA 5 3 2.51 13 13 68.0 54 22 19 3 27 63 1.191 7.1 3.6 8.3 2.33
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 9/3/2013.

Dubbed “Little Pedro” due to his size and stuff, Carlos Martinez has been up and down for the Cardinals this season, mostly pitching in relief, a role that many seem he is destined to take over due to his small (6′, 185) frame. Martinez has enough stuff to be a front-end starter, but the Cardinals pitching depth allows the club to take things slow with their young arms. By utilizing Martinez and his electric stuff out of the bullpen, much like they did with Trevor Rosenthal in 2012, the Cardinals may be able to have even more shutdown options out of the bullpen.
Michael Wacha, St. Louis Cardinals, RHP

Year Age Tm Lg Lev Aff W L ERA G GS IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP H/9 BB/9 SO/9 SO/BB
2013 21 Memphis PCL AAA STL 5 3 2.65 15 15 85.0 65 26 25 9 19 73 0.988 6.9 2.0 7.7 3.84
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 9/3/2013.

Michael Wacha, like Martinez, has been up and down this season. A first-round pick out of Texas A&M in 2012, Wacha flew through the minors with precise control and powerful stuff, which has carried over to the big leagues in his 39.1 innings. With injuries to Jaime Garcia and Jake Westbrook, the club has relied heavily on young arms, including Shelby Miller, Lance Lynn, and Joe Kelly, and as those arms reach innings limits, it could be Wacha and Martinez who come to the rescue as the Cards head to another playoff round.
WalkerTaijuan Walker, Seattle Mariners, RHP

Year Age Tm Lev W L ERA G GS IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP H/9 BB/9 SO/9 SO/BB
2013 20 2 Teams AA-AAA 9 10 2.93 25 25 141.1 112 56 46 11 57 160 1.196 7.1 3.6 10.2 2.81
2013 20 Jackson AA 4 7 2.46 14 14 84.0 58 31 23 6 30 96 1.048 6.2 3.2 10.3 3.20
2013 20 Tacoma AAA 5 3 3.61 11 11 57.1 54 25 23 5 27 64 1.413 8.5 4.2 10.0 2.37
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 9/3/2013.

Walker is an extremely big and athletic body who is still relatively raw as far as his command and stuff goes, which speaks volumes as to why you should be excited to see him. He could be the top arm in the majors, taking on a phenomenon in Seattle that could equal that of Felix Hernandez. At 6’4″, 220 pounds and having just turned 21 in August, Walker has an immeasurable ceiling and will likely become a number one starter within the next few years. His first start (five innings, two hits, zero earned runs) was a nice introduction. He may not make more than one or two more starts before being shut down due to innings, but those are starts that are must-see TV.
James Paxton, Seattle Mariners, LHP

Year Age Tm Lev W L ERA G GS CG SHO IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP H/9 BB/9 SO/9 SO/BB
2013 24 Tacoma AAA 8 11 4.45 28 26 2 1 145.2 158 84 72 10 58 131 1.483 9.8 3.6 8.1 2.26
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 9/3/2013.

Paxton is an interesting prospect. He is left-handed and has very good stuff, striking out 9.6 per 9/IP over his minor league career; however, Paxton also walks a lot of batters and can’t seem to miss enough bats when he isn’t completely missing them, posting a 1.45 WHIP over his last two seasons and 252 innings. At 6’4″, 220, Paxton has a strong frame, just like Walker, but he appears headed to a mid-rotation future, and he could become a very good innings-eating pitcher once he gets a grasp of his stuff and the strike zone.
Marcus Semien, Chicago White Sox, INF

Year Age Tm Lev G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS TB
2013 22 2 Teams AA-AAA 137 625 518 110 147 32 6 19 66 24 98 90 .284 .401 .479 .880 248
2013 22 Birmingham AA 105 483 393 90 114 21 5 15 49 20 84 66 .290 .420 .483 .903 190
2013 22 Charlotte AAA 32 142 125 20 33 11 1 4 17 4 14 24 .264 .338 .464 .802 58
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 9/3/2013.

Marcus Semien has moved quickly through the White Sox system after being taken in the 6th round of the 2011 MLB Draft. He has an intriguing skill-set for a middle infielder, possessing very good gap power, solid speed, and the ability to handle both short and second defensively. His plate discipline will be valuable to the rebuilding White Sox and if the club is ready to move on from the Gordon Beckham, Alexei Ramirez, and Conor Gillaspie trio in the infield, Semien could fill any of those positions in 2014.
Matt Davidson, Arizona Diamondbacks, 3B

Year Age Tm Lev G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS TB
2013 22 Reno AAA 115 500 443 55 124 32 3 17 74 1 46 134 .280 .350 .481 .831 213
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 9/3/2013.

Davidson is a powerful third base prospect who has been passed over for Eric Chavez this season. He has the ability to hit around 30 home runs playing half of his games at Chase Field, but he will need to make more consistent contact to reach those levels. Having watched Paul Goldschmidt similar strikeout numbers in the minors before reaching MVP levels in performance this season, Davidson’s stock shouldn’t be taken lightly. With that being said, the fact that they didn’t seem to want to commit to him when Chavez was hurt, instead relying on Martin Prado moving in from the outfield, the club may have questions about his long-term role. Considering how quickly they gave up on Trevor Bauer, you have to wonder what is going on in their front office at times.
Chris Owings, Arizona Diamondbacks, SS

Year Age Tm Lev G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS TB
2013 21 Reno AAA 125 575 546 104 180 31 8 12 81 20 22 99 .330 .359 .482 .841 263
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 9/3/2013.

Owings looks to be blocked by Didi Gregorius at short but he looks like a player that could fetch a nice return if the Diamondbacks were to deal him this offseason. Solid pop, solid speed, and an atrocious approach at the plate, Owings could become a valuable Ben Zobrist-like player, capable of handling several positions to get his playing time, as he is just 22 years old Arizona could have him blocked at short (Gregorius), third (Davidson), and second (Aaron Hill is signed through 2016).

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