Monday, January 31, 2011

Don't Smokeless Up Johnny!!!!!


Here at BBIMH we aim to keep it light most of the time. We try to be funny, informative, fresh, and insightful. None of us take ourselves too seriously. After all even though it is a baseball blog and Josh, Chip, and I are all very passionate about the sport, none of us thinks our writing is going to cure world hunger. Truth be told our writing probably couldn't even cure Rob Dibble of a bad hair cut and saying inane things on television. We're not miracle workers.

But I digress.

Lets get serious for a moment. I'd like to talk about smokeless tobacco in major league baseball. Craig Calcattera posted on "Hardball Talk" this morning that Stephen Strasberg is trying to quit smokeless tobacco after discovering his college coach Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn had parotid cancer. Now I'm not trying to scale Mt. Moral Highground but isn't it about time that the MLB banned smokeless tobacco in the Bigs? The minor leagues already have a ban on smokeless tobacco. It just seems like the next logical step. My God some places are still selling Big League Chew bubblegum for crying out loud! Give me some Heroin Hi-C and Cocaine Cookies and I'll be good to go.

In an era when people who use tobacco of any kind aren't permitted to endulge in most public places, why does it still persist in pro sports? I'm probably going to sound like my father here but these are the guys (right or wrong) that children look up to. If you asked most major leaguers I think the majority of them would not want kids to emulate their use of smokeless tobacco.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not trying to dismiss personal accountability here. The decision to use smokeless tobacco is a personal choice. It is ultimately up to parents to warn their children about the dangers of tobacco use. But let's not bury our heads in a pile of used HGH syringes either. At 13, 14, 15 boys are more likely to look to their baseball heroes for guidance (even from afar) than their parents. Sad but true.

Strasberg incidentally said something interesting about quitting: "It's going to hard because it's something that's embedded in the game." Although an obvious statement it is also very accurate. Smokeless tobacco is as much a part of baseball as hot dogs, purpose pitches, or the suicide squeeze. Just like spit and scuffed balls it is time for smokeless tobacco to go the way of Bartolo Colon's offseason workout regimen...that is to say away.

Unfortunately the banning of smokeless tobacco is something for the collective bargaining table. Bud Selig can't just make a unilateral decision to ban smokeless tobacco as much as I'd like him too. It's up to the players to make the right call on this one.

And just so I can end this post on a light note I'd like to respond to one thing Calcattera stated in his article. He wrote, "How do these guys manage to keep girlfriends with that crap in their mouths?"

Craig, I can't give a universal answer on this one but I'm pretty sure that Icebreaker Mints, trips to Tiffany's, and Benjamins hanging out of their front pants might have something to do with it.

Sad Day in Baseball Blogging


Well, this is the kind of news that can really f@#! up your week:  Rob Neyer has decided to leave ESPN for greener pastures.
"Whether you've been reading my ramblings since 1996 or just since last week, you have my profound, impossible-to-express-in-words gratitude. There is not a working writer on Earth who's more grateful than I for his readers. Without you, I would have nothing.

Today, I hand off this space to whoever's next. I don't know yet who is next, but I'm highly confident that this blog and the SweetSpot Network will soon be in excellent hands.

Meanwhile, I'll be around. The kids tell me it's all about search these days. You won't have to search real hard to find me, if you want.

Happy trails, until we meet again."
I've been pondering this passage from Rob's final ESPN post for a couple of hours now.  I didn't know what to say then, and I still don't know what to say now.  To be honest, I feel a little numb.  I know that probably sounds stupid, but it's true.  You might even be thinking, "But Chip, Rob Neyer is just a baseball writer, it's not that big of a deal," and you'd be right.  But he isn't just a baseball writer to me.  He is one of my primary sources for inspiration.  Even just writing that I feel a little silly, but it's how I feel.  Nothing can change that. 

I'm not sure when I started reading Rob exactly (I think it was around 2003 or 2004), but I do remember being completely blown away by the first article I read.  There was something about his style and delivery that spoke to me.  His writing, while rational and (frequently) statistically driven, somehow managed to retain a  personal feel.   At times, it was almost as if he was writing articles specifically for me.  While I knew this wasn't actually the case, it still felt (and does still feel) that way nonetheless.  Through his writing, Rob taught me a lot of things.  He taught me to not only challenge conventional wisdom, but also look beyond the most obvious of conclusions.  He opened my eyes to the world of advanced baseball analytics, and taught me that it's ok to be a stat geek.  He made me realize that baseball is much more than just nine guys playing a game on a grassy field. 

Without Rob's writing, I never would've been exposed to a lot of the great baseball writers I hold in such high esteem today.  He exposed me to Craig Calcaterra of Shysterball and Hardball Talk; Jason Rosenberg of IIATMS; Evan Brunell of Fire Brand and CBS Facts and Rumors; Larry Granillo of Wezen-Ball; Dave Cameron of USS Mariner and Fangraphs; Rich Lederer of Baseball Analysts; The Common Man from the Platoon Advantage; and many, many others.  For that I'm eternally grateful.  I have learned so much, and gained considerable enjoyment out of reading each one of them every day.  In a way, as the godfather of baseball blogging, Neyer's touched every one of us who has ever been brave enough to start a blog.   He spawned and cultivated an entire legion of analytically minded baseball fans that he inspired to follow in his footsteps.*  While it wasn't his intention to inspire us, it happened anyway.  To me, that's the mark of a truly inspirational individual.  I can honestly say that I probably never would've started this blog had it not been for Rob, a man with whom I've never met, spoken, or even exchanged emails. 

* If baseball blogging were equivalent to grunge, he would be Mudhoney; Rich Lederer would be Mother Love Bone; Craig Calcaterra would be Nirvana; Jason Rosenberg would be Stone Temple Pilots; and I would probably be Bush (at best) or Creed (at the very worst).  Note:  These references are NOT meant to be quality comparisions.  Instead, they're meant to show the different generations of baseball blogging.

In closing, Rob's daily baseball musings will be sorely missed.  While his leaving ESPN is almost like losing a friend, I know that it is not for long.  At some point down the road, he will return to the fold.  When he does, I'll probably be one of the first people in line.  Until he does, I'll continue to use his writing as the standard for which I strive to achieve.  I only hope I can prove to be worthy.  Thanks again Rob.  Hurry back soon.

Hamilton, Rangers Still Negotiating


According to Richard Durrett of ESPN Dallas, the Rangers and AL MVP Josh Hamilton are still negotiating a deal for the 2011 season in hopes of avoiding salary arbitration. 
"We have a very good relationship with Mike Moye," Levine said. "I would characterize our communication as very open and strong. Needless to say, we may have slightly different opinions, but we're working through things and with each call we're making progress. We haven't announced a deal yet, so we still have work to do. But I think both sides have talked about things and made progress."
While it's possible the two sides are still working on negotiating a long-term deal, it seems much more likely that the two sides will agree to a one year deal.  When the two sides exchanged arbitration figures on January 18th, the two sides were $3.3M apart.  Though it seems logical that both parties would meet somewhere in the middle at $10.35M, that doesn't always happen.  After the season Hamilton had last year (.447 wOBA, 8.0 fWAR, AL MVP, ALCS MVP), he looks to be in a great position to win his arbitration case should it get to that point.  If I were his agent, I'd be advising him to sit tight.

Hanley Ramirez Motivated for 2011


Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald reports that Hanley Ramirez has a new attitude, and will come to Spring Training with the "hunger of a rookie."
“I’m going to be the first player to win Rookie of the Year twice,” Hanley Ramirez playfully told the Marlins and his agent this winter. That’s obviously impossible, but his message – as agent Andy Mota explained – is clear: Ramirez “has the hunger of a rookie” after a humbling 2010.
Ramirez, 27, started his offseason workouts a month early and is extremely driven to rebound from last year, when his average dropped 42 points from 2009 (.342 to .300) and his RBI total plunged from 106 to 76. His errors rose from 10 to 16 in nine fewer games (142)."
While I think it's great that Ramirez is coming into 2011 with a renewed motivation, his problem in 2010 wasn't motivation--well, at least not entirely.  His problems (and I use that term very loosely) stemmed from the fact he wasn't squaring up pitches in the same way he did in previous seasons, which is evidenced by his batted ball rates.  In 2010, Ramirez produced the lowest line drive rate (16.3% versus a career rate of 18.5%), and easily the highest ground ball percentage of his career (51.0% versus 43.7%).  Not surprisingly, a low line drive rate combined with a high ground ball rate isn't particularly conducive to high batting averages and home run totals. 

So what was the root cause of Ramirez's misfortune with regards to his batted ball rates?  It's tough to pinpoint exactly.  Some analysts have said his performance was the cause of small sample size variance and possibly poor luck.  While the 162 game baseball season is a fairly sizable sample, it's important to note that it's still small enough to be swayed by unexpected swings in performance.  One or two below average months could have a significant impact on a player's year end statistics. 

The scouting side of the house has made the claim that pitchers finally stopped throwing Ramirez so many of high pitches he typically jacks, and started throwing him more sinking fastballs.  This makes sense because good sinking fastballs, particular those thrown low and away, frequently lead to weakly hit ground balls that are converted to outs.  Provided Ramirez makes the adjustment and lays off of those sinking fastballs (as it appeared he did in September when he posted a 26.3% line drive rate and a 1:1 GB/FB ratio), he should have no problem turning his performance around in 2011.  If he doesn't make the adjustment, we should expect either another season on par with 2010, or a season of lesser quality as pitchers continue to exploit this weakness. 

One other important thing to note.  In 2010, Ramirez put up a .373 wOBA and 4.4 fWAR.  By most standards, he put up a monster season for a shortstop.  It seems we've gotten a bit spoiled by Ramirez after back-to-back 7 WAR seasons in 2008 and 2009.  It's important to keep in perspective that even though he had a "down" year, he was still one of the best shortstops in baseball.

MLK III Interested in Purchasing a Stake in the Mets


According to Kevin Kernan of the New York Post, Martin Luther King III is interested in purchasing a stake in the Mets.  Unfortunately for the Wilpons, he wants more than the 20-25% they're looking to sell.
"According to Meli, King, 53, who runs the King Center in Atlanta, is scheduled to come to New York this week to set up a meeting with the Wilpons, who announced Friday they're looking to sell up to 25 percent of the team because of financial woes created by the Bernie Madoff mess.
King declined to comment on the particulars, but Meli said he and his group are looking to purchase at least 50 percent of the club. That could be a roadblock, but Meli said he hopes the two sides can work together.
"I think in order for it to make sense it would have to be at least a 50-50 arrangement," said Meli, a trusted friend of King.
As I mentioned in my post on Friday, the Wilpons are going to have a very difficult time selling only a minority stake in the team.  Ownership groups are rarely successful in such a feat, especially when they're selling such a sizable piece (20-25%) of the franchise.  King's statement that the purchase "would have to be at least a 50-50 arrangement," is one that will likely be echoed by most serious bidders going forward.  If I was a serious prospective bidder, I would be of the mindset of, "Why buy a quarter of franchise, when controlling interest isn't that much more?"  Relatively speaking, of course.  King's prospective ownership group includes former Met Ed Kranepool, businessman Don Clendenon, Jr., TV executive Larry Meli, and several others.

In a conversation I had the other day via Twitter with Evan Brunell of CBS's MLB Facts and Rumors (and founder of Fire Brand of the American League), he made a very interesting point.  While he agreed that it will be difficult for the Mets to sell and not give up controlling interest of the team, someone might be willing to agree to those conditions with an eye toward gaining controlling interest at some point down the line.  This could happen, but I don't consider it to be a likely outcome.  If it does, that bidder will become the obvious favorite. 

I do have one small issue with one thing King said.
"It's fitting with the legacy of Jackie Robinson essentially transferring to the Mets; what better place to have African-American ownership than with the Mets," Meli said, noting that Major League Baseball has no African-American owners.
The legacy of Jackie Robinson will always remain with the Dodgers.  If any bit of his legacy has transferred to the Mets, it's because they've blatantly tried to steal it. 

FYI - Check out Brunell's piece on the subject (for CBS's MLB Facts & Rumors). 

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Twins to Retire Blyleven's Number 28


According to Christopher Gates of SB Nation, the Twins will retire Bert Blyleven's number 28 on July 16th.  This is really great news, but what took them so long? 

To date, the Twins have retired the numbers of five players:  Harmon Killebrew, Kent Hrbek, Kirby Puckett, Tony Oliva, and Rod Carew. Based on my research, the Twins do not have a stringent criteria to retire numbers (a la the Boston Red Sox).  They require players to have neither finished their careers with the team (as evidenced by Rod Carew's inclusion), nor been elected to the Hall of Fame (as evidenced by the inclusion of Kent Hrbek and Tony Oliva).   This just another classic example of how criminally undervalued and underappreciated Blyleven was throughout his career.  Now that he's been elected to the Hall of Fame, everyone is trying to get a piece of the action.  I guess it's better late than never, but it's unfortunate it took everyone so long to realize his greatness.

Blyleven played with the Twins from 1970-1976, and then again from 1984-1988.  During his eleven seasons with the Twins, Blyleven had been one of the organization's all-time great pitchers going 149-138 with a 3.28 ERA, 3.02 K/BB, and 45.7 rWAR.

Weekend Round-Up - 1/30/2011

Good news!  I'm in my new house, and I have internet.  I'm a little irritated with the Salvation Army who refused to accept two of my donations (a couch and recliner), but other than that, life is good.

Without further adieu, on to the links...
  • Link of the Week:  In case you missed it, Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports wrote a tremendous article about Voros McCracken, the man behind the Defense Independent Pitching (DIPS) theory.  If you haven't read it yet, I strongly encourage you to do so.  Probably one of the two or three best pieces I've read all year.
  • Rob Neyer asks the question, can someone rediscover their love for a team long after it's gone dormant?  This article is so good that it's a shame it can't be named "Link of the Week."
  • Very rarely will I ever link to an article that's not entirely baseball related, but Joe Posnanski was cool enough to share excerpts from a conversation he had with Michael Schur (executive producer of NBC's Parks and Recreation and Ken Tremendous of the brilliant site, Fire Joe Morgan).  Great stuff. 
  • Double dipping with Joe Poz today.  He put up a great analysis of the Angels outfield situation the other day. 
  • Matt Klaussen of Fangraphs takes at a cross-section of players that will make more than Evan Longoria ($2M) in 2011.  It's jarring to say the least.  It's a great contract from the Rays perspective, but Longoria is getting jobbed big time. 
  • Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay were two of the most efficient pitchers in baseball last season.  In 2011, they'll be on the same team.  Paul Swydan of Fangraphs takes a look at the historical significance of their pairing.
  • Dave Cameron says that it might be beneficial for the Angels to sign Vlad Guerrero.  According to him $7-8M spent on Vlad now, might save them $9M next season.
  • Jason at IIATMS has been all over the "Is Cashman trying to get fired," storyline that's been setting the backpages afire.  In this article, he takes on Mike Lupica, Murray Chass, and Steve Lombardi, and does a fantastic job.  While the idea of Cashman "pulling a Costanza" is hilarious, there's no way that's what he's doing.  Everyone thinks Cashman's job is easy, but it isn't.  While he has the biggest payroll in baseball, he's under a great deal of pressure to put a championship squad on the field every season--no excuses.  Name one other GM in the same position.  You can't.  Then, he has to contend with a tenuous media and an impatient fan base on top of it.  As far as I'm concerned, he's one of the best GMs in baseball. 
  • Tom Fratamico of Fire Brand compares the competitive balance between MLB and NFL.  Despite the lack of salary cap, the numbers (at least on the surface) show that they're pretty similar.
  • There were a lot of really good articles at the Hardball Times this week, so I recommend hitting them up, and reading them all.  There were two in particular I wanted to point out.  Brad Johnson asks the question, is Alex Anthopoulos a top GM?  Chris Jaffe counts down the ten worst endings to postseason games in history. 
  • Rich Lederer posts a video and article from when he finally got to meet Bert Blyleven.  As he says, "The fun never stops."
  • The Platoon Advantage takes a look at how underrated Shin-Soo Choo is. 
  • Dave Cameron at USS Mariner takes a look at the proposed Figgins-for-Kouzmanoff swap.
  • If Larry Granillo of Wezen-Ball isn't the most creative baseball blogger around, he is certainly in the top five.  This week, does a baseball themed look at the Oscar nominees.
  • Finally!  A comparison between the Giants and Phillies rotations!  Bill Baer of Crash Burn Alley uses SIERA to determine which team has the best one. 
  • Mike Scioscia's Illness ponders the wisdom behind Scott Podsednik's decision to decline his $2M option with the Dodgers.
  • Who are the best and worst base runners of the last four years?  MGL of The Book has the answers.
  • Did the Yankees make a mistake in not pulling the trigger on Johan Santana a few years ago?  Stephen Rhodes of River Avenue Blues takes a two part at the Yankees non-trade.  (Part 1 and Part 2)
  • Rany Jazayerli is the go to source on everything Royals.  This week, he looks at the recent Billy Butler extension.  
  • Lee Panas is a research analyst with Brandeis University.  Last week, he emailed me to tell me about his new book titled Beyond Batting Average, which I plan on picking up very soon.  Incidentally, it introduced me to his excellent blog titled Tiger Tales.  This week, he took a look at Austin Jackson and his line drive rate.  Great article. 

Friday, January 28, 2011

A Brief Hiatus

I am moving to a new house tomorrow, so it will probably be pretty quiet around these parts for a couple of days.  I might have a chance to throw up a post or three this weekend, but that's about it.  At the very least, I should be able to get the Weekend Round-up posted on Sunday--unless Verizon screws me with my internet connection. 

If anyone finds any particularly good articles, tweets, or trade rumors, please feel free to send them my way.  See you guys soon!

Choo Puts Deadline on Extension Talks


Anthony Castrovince of mlb.com reports that while Indians outfielder Shin-Soo Choo is interested in signing a long-term deal with the Indians, he will not negotiate once the season starts.

This sounds like a classic Scott Boras tactic to me.  Like I've mentioned a few times before, he's famous for going year-to-year during the arbitration process because he knows that will net his clients the most money both in the short term and long term.  Typically, he only allows his clients to sign long-term deals buying out arbitration and parts of free agency if the signing team is willing to cede a significant portion of their leverage.  By setting an Opening Day deadline, he hopes to force the Indians into making a decision:  sign him now and overpay or take the risk of Choo's price skyrocketing before the beginning of the next negotiating window.  It's very simple.  If Choo puts up another 5-6 win season in 2011, the Indians may no longer be able to afford him.

What would an extension for Choo look like?  Ben Nicholson-Smith of MLB Trade Rumors makes a convincing case that Nick Markakis's six year $66M extension with the Orioles could be used as a model for the Choo extension.
"Nick Markakis, who signed a long-term extension with the Orioles after the 2008 season, then had remarkably similar numbers to the ones Choo has now. Markakis, who also has a strong throwing arm and plays right field, edges Choo in average, runs and homers, but Choo has more RBI and steals and better on base and slugging averages. Markakis' extension could be a model for Cleveland and he will earn $20MM for his three arbitration seasons.
Choo, 28, recently signed a one year deal for $3.975M that allowed him to avoided arbitration in his first season of eligibility.  Choo finished the 2010 season with a .388 wOBA and a 5.6 WAR.

A Mystery Team in January? How Novel!


According to Buster Olney, Vladmir Guerrero has received a one year $8M contract from an unnamed mystery team, but has decided to continue shopping around for the time being.

Really?  So you're telling me that some team met Vlad's demands for a one year $8M deal, and he's still shopping?  I'm not saying Buster is wrong (he's just reporting the information he's being fed), but something doesn't seem right.   As soon as I read the report, two things came to mind.  One, don't Jon Heyman and Scott Boras have the market cornered on mystery teams?  Two, why is Vlad still reportedly talking to the Orioles?

According to recent reports, Vlad was unimpressed by the Orioles "low ball" offer of one year $2M.  If I had an ideal offer from one team, and I was made an insulting offer from another, I would stop negotiating immediately.  That's just me though.  Furthermore, the Orioles have stated they only have $4.5M (maximum) to spend, and they still would like to add another arm to their bullpen.  That pretty much precludes them from getting anywhere close to matching the unnamed mystery team's offer. 

So what's Vlad's upside to continue negotiating when he has a perfectly good $8M offer from another team?  There isn't one.  The problem is that like all great mystery teams, they don't exist.  Vlad hasn't received an $8M offer.  In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if the Orioles were the only team actively negotiating with Team Vlad.  They're using this "offer" to try and gain some leverage on the Orioles.  Unfortunately for Vlad and his agent, this maneuver is so transparent that no one in their right mind (not even Jon Heyman, the master behind the mystery team) believes him.

In a semi-related note, if the Orioles do end up being successful in signing Guerrero, word is that Luke Scott will move to LF, and Felix Pie will be the odd man out. 

Randy Levine De-Friends Chuck Greenberg


If I could compare the Yankees off-season acquisitions to wine, I'd say the vintage is on par with the week old boxed variety. With also-rans like Bartolo Colon and Andruw Jones creeping into the vinegar stage of their respective careers, it is a wonder that the front office didn't go after Fernando Valenzuela and Kirk Gibson.

Yet several months after the Yankees lost out to a refined Cliff Lee Bordeaux, apparently both the Yankees and the Texas Ranger have yet to rinse the taste of bitter grapes out of their mouths. However, instead of directing their angst against Cliff Lee or the Philadelphia Phillies, Yankees president Randy Levine has gotten involved in a media war with Texas Rangers owner Chuck Greenberg. 

Greenberg has publicly stated that he was glad Lee ended up in the NL and not with the Yankees. This comes on the heels of Greenberg's previous comments regarding Cliff Lee not wanting to come to New York because of the fans reaction towards Lee's wife. Rather than letting this go and dismissing Greenberg's words as the lament of an owner who lost the Cliff Lee Sweepstakes, Levine fired back. The Yankees' president called the Rangers' owner's statements "delusional" and that he'll "be impressed when he demonstrates he can keep the Rangers off welfare."

Ouch.

As much as Levine needs to retract the claws and focus on the Yankees upcoming season and their lack of starting left handed pitching, his statements while vitriolic have some validity. The cold hard financial facts are that the Rangers have received revenue sharing for three years running, have taken financing from baseball, and taken advance money from the TV networks.

Also Chuck you might want to remember that you just now completed the purchase of the Rangers with Nolan Ryan and it wouldn't have happened at all if MLB had not stepped in. Although the Rangers made the World Series last year, why don't you try putting a consistently winning team on the baseball field before you start pointing the finger at other ball clubs. Until that time I think Levine has the one up on success here.

Additionally, Chuck Greenberg might want to avoid ridiculous statements like this:
 "We pried the door open a little bit to give ourselves another opportunity. And ultimately the Phillies were able to take advantage of the opportunity we created. While we would have preferred that he'd chosen to go with us, we're real pleased that he's going to the other league."
Ok so what he's saying is that he's glad that the Phillies were able to sweep in and take Lee at the last minute? You created the opportunity for the Phillies so basically they had to make little to no effort? I'm sure the fans of your ball club are thrilled that you seemed more concerned about keeping Lee from the Yankees than actually signing him.

It is this kind of thinking that underscores why the Yankees are the Yankees and the Rangers are the Rangers. You can't be an elite team if you're more concerned with keeping players away from good teams than you are about signing those players to your team. You also can't make money either. The Red Sox made a great acquisition in the off-season picking up Crawford, but I'm pretty sure they wouldn't have intervened to make sure Crawford went to the Colorado Rockies instead of the Yankees if they couldn't attain him. That's because the Red Sox,like the Yankees, care about improving their respective teams rather than getting in a media pissing contest. (For the record Levine never should have gotten drawn into this mess. I thought he was smarter than that.)

My advice to Chuck is to focus on the 2011 season and how the Rangers are going to move on and be a successful team without Lee. Chuck you also might want to make some money while your at it so your fans can stop paying for hot dogs from Aldi's.

Could the Mets Sale Affect Baseball Salaries?


Mike Ozanian of forbes.com posed an interesting question today:  Could the eventual sale of the Mets have an impact on baseball salaries?
"With their current roster the Mets cannot compete with Philadelphia for the NL East or even for a wild card playoff birth. There is no reason for fans to turn out at CitiField. Any savvy buyer knows that they will have to spend a lot of money to quickly improve the team and jack up attendance at ratings on SNY.
This means competition will heat up to sign free agents and other teams will have to either open up their wallets or be outbid by the Mets. After all, isn’t that how the late George Steinbrenner took New York back from the Mets 30 years ago? This is bad news for the other 29 owners but good news for Mets fans."
He certainly has merit, but it's all contingent on the Wilpons ceding ownership and control of the Mets to another bidder.   For the sake of argument though, let's assume that scenario comes true.

According to forbes.com, the Mets are the third most valuable team ($858M) in baseball behind the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox.  Any serious potential buyer will need to prove they can not only have enough money to purchase the team, but also secure financing in order to support it long term.  Furthermore, the new ownership will likely want to make an immediate splash by signing a high profile free agent in hopes of convincing the fan base that he (or she) is serious about securing a third Mets championship.  The easiest way of landing a major free agent is by overbidding for his services.  (Think:  Jayson Werth to the Nats.) This forces the competition to either match/improve their bid or drop out.  If the Mets overbid by enough, most teams will drop out.  If not, they could end up in a bidding war with another team (or teams), thus driving the price higher.  This could (and I stress the word "could") have an affect on comparable free agents for the next couple of seasons.  (Think:  Crawford's contract rate was set by the Jayson Werth market)

While this is a logical concept, it doesn't work in all, or even most cases.  During the 2000-2001 offseason, the Rangers grossly overbid (against themselves) for Alex Rodriguez.  Some in the industry worried his signing could set the new standard for elite players on the free agent market, but they were wrong.  In the ten years following A-Rod's landmark ten year $252M contract, only one contract has eclipsed it in terms of total dollars*:  A-Rod's ten year $275M extension he signed with the Yankees in 2007.  Furthermore, no player has received a contract exceeding $200M.  Albert Pujols is likely the only player who could receive a contract on par with A-Rod's in terms of total value or average annual salary.

* In 2007, the Yankees signed Roger Clemens to a prorated one year $28M deal.  This is the only contract to ever technically surpassed A-Rod's annual average salary.

While Ozanian's theory is not without merit, it remains to be seen whether an aggressive new Mets ownership would have a significant affect on baseball salaries league wide.  It's possible it could have a more localized effect (in terms of how it affects salaries in the National League of NL East), but it's also possible minimal effect would be seen.  Either way, it will be interesting to see how this all plays out.

Wilpons Looking for Minority Owners


UPDATE (1/28/2010 at 9:50 p.m.):  According to Ken Belson of the New York Times, the federal government is seeking $1B (yes, that's billion) in "claw back" money due to them being considered "net winners" in the Bernie Madoff scheme.  This explains why the Wilpons seem to be so eager to sell off a portion of the team.  They need money...badly.

UPDATE (1/28/2010 at 3:46 p.m.):  According to Mets advisor Steve Greenberg (via ESPN's Adam Rubin), there should be a "robust level of interest" at a 20-25% stake in the Mets.  Interesting.  I just happen to be setting the over/under on the Wilpon's ceding control of the team at 20-25%.  Weird coincidence...

Original Post (1/28/2011 at 1:23 p.m.):  You had to know this was coming.  As many of you may've known, Mets majority owner Fred Wilpon was taken for quite a ride by Bernie Madoff.  In the years since, many have speculated about the financial situation surrounding both the Mets and the Wilpon family.  Only now, are we starting to see how dire the situation may be.  In a statement released today, the Wilpons announced that the team was looking for "strategic partners" (read: minority owner or owners) to help ensure that the Mets organization has enough resources (read: cash) to be able to compete and win (read: hopefully reach .500).
"Fred Wilpon, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of the New York Mets, and Jeff Wilpon, Chief Operating Officer of the New York Mets, issued the following statement:
As Sterling Equities announced in December, we are engaged in discussions to settle a lawsuit brought against us and other Sterling partners and members ofour families by the Trustee in the Madoff bankruptcy. We are not permitted to comment on these confidential negotiations while they are ongoing.
However, to address the air of uncertainty created by this lawsuit, and to provide additional assurance that the New York Mets will continue to have the necessary resources to fully compete and win, we are looking at a number ofpotential options including the addition of one or more strategic partners. To explore this, we have retained Steve Greenberg, a Managing Director at Allen & Company, as our advisor.
Regardless of the outcome of this exploration, Sterling will remain the principal ownership group of the Mets and continue to control and manage the team’s operations. The Mets have been a major part of our families for more than 30 years and that is not going to change.
As we have said before, we are totally committed to having the Mets again become a World Series winner. Our fans and all New Yorkers deserve nothing less."
Personally, I think Mets fans gave up on the idea of winning another World Series long ago, but that's besides the point.

In the short-term, this move has little impact.  The Mets will continue to operate as usual, and the team should be able to bring in more than enough revenue to cover the team's payroll and operating costs.  In the long-term, this could mean an organization-wide change.  As someone on Twitter pointed out earlier, teams who try to sell minority stakes in their franchises rarely end up being successful.  In many cases (see Tom Hicks with the Texas Rangers), they end up ceding ownership and control of the entire team.  If that scenario were to come to fruition, it might actually benefit the franchise long term.  The Wilpons have long been criticized for being too "hands on", and I have a hard time trusting anyone that keeps Omar Minaya employed for six years.

Needless to say, it's been an exciting couple of years in the world of baseball ownership.  Between the high profile divorce cases with Dodger and Padre ownership, and the bankruptcy cases with the Rangers and Cubs, never before has it looked so risky to own a baseball team.

Are the A's Interested in Figgins?


UPDATE (1/28/2011 at 3:55 p.m.): A bunch of new updates on Figgins.  According to Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle, while it's possible there have been talks, the discussions are not far enough along to where Figgins has been asked to waive his no trade clause.  To which I have two remarks.  One, it's still pretty early in the game, so it's very possible Figgins won't get shipped to Oakland at all.  Two, Chone Figgins has a no trade clause?  Really?  Who thought that was a good idea?  He's a nice player, but he's not "no trade clause worthy."  If only everyone were as picky with no trade clauses as Elaine Benes was with the Today Sponge...

ESPN's Buster Olney added that a third team could be involved, "perhaps the Blue Jays."  The key word being perhaps, meaning he's either speculating or receiving information from a less than credible source.  More to come, I'm sure.

Original Post (1/28/2011 at 11:19 a.m.):  After putting up a tremendous 2009 campaign with the Angels, third baseman Chone Figgins entered the free agent market as one of the most highly sought after players.   While Figgins was not without his warts (over 30 and lacking power of any kind), there was still plenty to like about him.  As a leadoff man, he exhibited the two most highly sought after qualities:  the ability to steal bases (42) and the ability to draw walks (101).  When you add those skills to his impressive defensive display at third base (16.6 UZR, 22.2 TZ, 31 DRS), it's not hard to see why the Mariners were so excited to sign him to a four year deal worth $36M.

Entering Spring Training, the Mariners came up with a rather unconventional idea.  They decided to move the defensively challenged Jose Lopez from second to third, while moving Figgins, a Fielding Bible quality third baseman, over to second.  At first glance, it seemed crazy, but it was not without logic.  By moving Lopez to a position that was a little less physically demanding, the Mariners hoped to limit his defensive liability.  Figgins, on the other hand, had shown some level of proficiency playing second earlier in his career, albeit in small doses.  The Mariners assumed that since Figgins was such a strong third baseman, he should continue to be average to above average at second base.  As it turned out, they were right on Lopez (8.1 UZR), but very wrong on Figgins (-12.3 UZR).  Furthermore, as a possible unintended consequence*, both players struggled offensively throughout the season with Lopez posting a putrid .268 wOBA (-26.6 wRAA) and Figgins posting a .302 wOBA (-10.9 wRAA).

* I say possible unintended consequence because there's no proof that the position move had any affect on both player's offensive outputs.  It's seems logical though.  Still, that kind of logic falls under the category of conventional wisdom, so a big part of me thinks that I'm stupid for even considering the correlation.  If anyone has seen any studies on whether or not the two factors correlate, please send it my way.  I'd be curious to read it.

Now it appears that the Mariners could be done with the Figgins experiment, and are looking to move him and the $26M remaining on his contract.  This makes a lot of sense.  As non-contenders, its smart for them to shed unnecessary payroll.  This is especially true if that player isn't expected to help the team when they're ready to contend.  The Mariners are still three or four years away from contending, so Figgins fits that description.  Plus, they're top prospect, Dustin Ackley (number seven on Law's top prospect list), is a second baseman.  Based on several reports I've read, he should be ready to be promoted to the big club by mid-season.  As such, it makes more sense to move Figgins now.

According to Joe Stiglich of the Contra Costa Times, the A's might be interested in trading for the former All-Star. 
"Despite the A's busy offseason, indications are that they might not be done shaping the roster. A source with knowledge of the situation said the A's are trying to trade for Seattle infielder Chone Figgins, and that current A's third baseman Kevin Kouzmanoff and perhaps a pitcher could be shipped to the Mariners in return.
The A's pursued free agent third baseman Adrian Beltre this winter, and they claimed Edwin Encarnacion off waivers but didn't retain him. So clearly, they're not completely sold on Kouzmanoff."
Yes, my hero, Billy Beane, has been quite the busy man this offseason.  He's rebuilt his outfield through the trades for David DeJesus and Josh Willingham, and his bullpen through the Brian Fuentes and Grant Balfour signings.  Plus, if Scott Boras had returned any of Beane's calls, it's possible they could have landed Adrian Beltre as well. 

Despite Figgins' lost season, he's still a good bet to bounce back in 2011.  He may not draw 100 walks again, but he should get on base more than enough to justify having in the leadoff spot every day.  Figgins would likely replace Kouzmanoff at third base, which should help restore some of his defensive value.  After a near replacement level season in 2010, I expect to see a 2-3 win season out of him in 2011. 

As the above report states, the Mariners could possibly accept Kouzmanoff (along with another pitcher) in return for Figgins.  He seems to fit the mold of players that the Mariner front office likes:  excellent defense and poor on-base abilities.  Kouzmanoff does have 30 homer power potential, but he's never had the opportunity to hit in a ballpark that showcased his abilities.  Playing half of his games in the land where right-handed power hitters go to die (also known as Safeco Field) will not help his situation.  Still, being with Seattle will likely be a better situation than another season in Oakland.  Based on their aborted attempts with Adrian Beltre and Edwin Encarnacion,* it didn't appear the A's had much faith in Kouzmanoff.  Now, with the Figgins rumors flying, it's pretty clear they're "not sold on him," as Stiglish stated.

I know everyone has anointed the Rangers as the AL West champions for 2011, but we might want to hold off that coronation for just a little while longer.  If the A's can pull off a deal for Figgins, all bets are off.  That division will become a clear two team race.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Santana to be Ready by Spring Training


According to Indians General Manager Chris Antonetti (via Jim Bowden of Fox Sports), Carlos Santana is expected to be ready to play by the time Spring Training starts. 

Last season, Santana was one of the game's most exciting rookies.  Before his gruesome knee injury on August 2nd, he put on an impressive offensive display posting a .382 wOBA with six home runs and an impressive 19.3% walk rate in 192 plate appearances.  Considering his unique combination of power, patience, and solid defense at catcher, I think it's safe to say that the Indians are a much better team with him in the lineup.   Provided he comes back fully healthy, Santana should be a solid 3-4 win player in 2011. 

With Rod Barajas and Dionner Navarro splitting duties behind the dish, you can bet the Dodgers wish they could get a mulligan on the Casey Blake (now 37 years old) trade from 2008.  

Indians Fans Can Relax


On Tuesday, I shared a report by MASN's Phil Wood that said the Nationals had contacted the Indians regarding a possible trade for CF Grady Sizemore and SP Fausto Carmona.  Now, ESPN's Buster Olney reports that conversation never happened.

So what does this mean?  It's means that Buster Olney is now Captain Buzzkill.  Thanks Buster!  You've destroyed one of the only decent rumors around! 

Was that over-the-top?  Perhaps it was.

ESPN's Keith Law Releases His Top 100 Prospect List


Yesterday, Keith Law released his organizational rankings.  Today, he released his annual top 100 prospect list and his top ten in each organization list.  (Sorry, ESPN Insider only.) 

Not surprisingly, Law list starts with Angels OF super-prospect Mike Trout at the number one spot.  Trout appears to be the consensus number one prospect, and for good reason.  Here is Law's analysis on the 20 year old outfielder:
"Trout's performance reflects his outstanding tools. He's an 80 runner, not just fast underway but explosively quick out of the box. That speed, combined with good instincts, gives him good range in centerfield. At the plate, he's an intelligent, disciplined hitter, with very good hand-eye coordination and a direct path to the ball. He has good leverage in his swing with a well-timed weight transfer to his front foot, and strong follow-through, so he should hit for above-average power as well as high batting averages. And Trout consistently gets the highest marks from the Angels for makeup, work ethic, and ability to take instruction."
Needless to say, Law thinks that Trout is going to be a superstar player.  After Trout, Bryce Harper (Nationals), Dominic Brown (Phillies), Jesus Montero (Yankees), Eric Hosmer (Royals), Julio Teheran (Braves), Dustin Ackley (Mariners), Wil Myers (Royals), Shelby Miller (Cardinals), and Aaron Hicks (Twins).  Strangely missing from the list was Rays pitching prospect Jeremy Hellickson who placed second on mlb.com's list yesterday.  Hellickson places at number 14 on Law's list.  Other notables include, Zach Britton (Orioles) at 11, Kyle Drabek (Blue Jays) at 13, Aroldis Chapman (Reds) at 15, Casey Kelly (Padres) at 19, Desmond Jennings (Rays) at 20, and Mike Moustakis (Royals) at 23.

Organizationally, the Rays have the most prospects in Law's top 100 with eight.  The Blue Jays and Royals aren't far behind with seven and six, respectively.  Every team except the Brewers had at least one prospect on the list.  The Cubs and White Sox had the unfortunate distinction of only having one prospect on the list. 

The Orioles Make Official Offer to Vlad


Acccording to Ken Rosenthal, the Baltimore Orioles have offered Vlad Guerrero a one year deal worth somewhere between $3-5M.  While the team hopes he accepts their offer, they are fully prepared for him to turn it down.  Considering the reports of Vlad's recent change in contract demands (at least one year at $8M), I'm not surprised the Orioles are taking that mentality.

As Rosenthal reports in his piece today, Guerrero may have no choice but to sign with the Orioles.  As I failed to point out yesterday, the Angels actually have a DH in Bobby Abreu.  If the Angels ponied up and signed Vlad, they would have to move the defensively challenged Abreu back to LF and Wells over to CF.  This would essentially destroy the benefit (and I use that term loosely) of making the Vernon Wells trade in the first place.

As I pointed out yesterday, now that the Rangers have traded for C/1B/DH Mike Napoli, Vlad isn't a fit in Texas either.  For the Rangers to clear a roster spot for Guerrero, they would have to find a team willing to take on Michael Young and $48M remaining on his contract.  That could prove to be incredibly difficult.  Seriously, who would take on that albatross of a contract?   Hmmm...  Um...maybe...the Angels?  I hear they're always willing to take on a bad contract or two.

That leaves the Orioles.  Considering Guerrero's obvious lack of options, the Orioles are in a great position to name their price, and let him come to them.  Based on the reports coming out of Vlad's camp, he has no intention of sitting out the season.  Eventually, he'll need to settle.  When he does, the Orioles should be in a great position to pick up a good hitter for a bargain basement price. 

Moreno's Not a Fan of Scott Boras


If you were the owner of a major league baseball team and were trying to sign your ace starting pitcher to a long term contract extension, do you think it would be a good idea to publicly insult his agent?  Well, if you're Angels owner Arte Moreno, the answer would is yes.  When asked a question about Scott Boras yesterday, he responded:
“My mother always told me, ‘If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.”
If you're reading between the lines properly, that was code for "Scott Boras is a manipulative tool."  While that may be an accurate statement, was it really necessary for Moreno to share those thoughts with a reporter?  While some might think he his statement showed restraint and diplomacy, his penchant for making offhanded, thinly veiled remarks makes me wonder if he's had this planned for a while.  Besides momentary satisfaction, I'm left wondering what Moreno had to gain by making that remark.  He certainly didn't gain anything with regards to the Jared Weaver negotiations.

So how did Boras respond?
"The Angels organization has been fairly extraordinary, in their handling of the Nick Adenhart situation," said Boras, referring to the pitcher who was killed by a convicted drunk driver after a 2009 game. "The work by [Angels President] John Carpino and [Vice President] Tim Mead is something I will never forget, what that organization did in a most difficult situation."
Say what you will about Boras, but he always takes the high road.  This time is no exception.

Angels, Weaver Discussing Extension


Mark Saxon of ESPN Los Angeles reports that the Angels have opened up discussions with ace Jered Weaver regarding a long-term contract extension.  

Weaver, 28, is entering his second year of arbitration eligibility.  When arbitration figures were exchanged last week, Weaver reportedly requested $8.8M, while the Angels countered with $7.365M.  Weaver made $4.63M in 2010.  With arbitration hearings occurring during mid-to-late February, the two sides don't have a lot of time to come to a multiyear agreement.  If Weaver and the Angels can't agree to terms before the hearings begin, negotiations will likely be tabled until either the All-Star break or next offseason.

It's important to note that Weaver's agent is the one and only Scott Boras.  As I've mentioned a few times before, Boras rarely allows his clients to agree to a contract that buys out arbitration and free agent seasons.  Of course, that's not to say he hasn't made exceptions.  Carlos Gonzalez's seven year $80M deal with Rockies last month is an example of the occasional exception Boras has made.  Typically, though, when he makes such an exception, it's because the team is willing to surrender a significant portion of their leverage to sign the player.  Unless the Angels are willing to do that, the prospects of a long-term deal seem unlikely. 

Jered Weaver finished the 2010 season with a 13-12 record, 3.06 FIP, 9.35 K/9, 4.31 K/BB, and 5.9 WAR.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Prospect Lists and Organizational Rankings


For those of you who are prospect geeks, today was a pretty exciting day.  MLB.com released their list of Top 50 prospects, and ESPN's Keith Law released his organizational rankings

Starting out with the mlb.com list, Angels outfield prospect Mike Trout takes the top spot.  Trout has tremendous upside, and looks to be a true five tool prospect.  With blazing speed, good power to the gaps, and excellent defensive instincts, Trout has all of the makings of a star.  At 19, he still has quite a bit of development remaining, but it wold not surprise me in the least two see him in the majors at some point during the 2012 season.   Rounding out the top five are SP Jeremy Hellickson (Rays), OF Bryce Harper (Nationals), OF Dominic Brown (Phillies), and 2B/OF Dustin Ackley (Mariners).   

In Keith Law's organizational rankings, the Kansas City Royals take the top spot.  This is such a non-surprise, that it's almost anti-climactic.  As I mentioned in my post on the Royals farm system a couple of weeks ago, the Royals have three top hitting prospects in Mike Moustakis, Eric Hosmer, and Wil Meyers, and a plethora of top pitching prospects including Mike Montgomery, Danny Duffy, and John Lamb (among others).  To say that the farm system is stacked is an understatement of mass proportions.  Rounding out the top five are the pitching rich Tampa Bay Rays, the Atlanta Braves, the Toronto Blue Jays, and (surprisingly) the Philadelphia Phillies. 

Yankees Sign Bartolo Colon...Owners of NYC Are White Castle Restaurants Rejoice!


The Yankees finally have the starting pitcher they've been looking for.  Well, not really, but they did sign one of note.  According to Jon Paul Morosi of Fox Sports, the Yankees have signed Bartolo Colon to a minor league contract. 

I think Corrye summed it up best when he texted:  "So apparently Fernando Valenzuela wasn't available..."  He has a  point.  After all, what could the Yankees possibly want from a 37 year old pitcher that's produced a 5.02 FIP and 2.3 WAR in 257 innings over the past five seasons?  What possible value could they get from a washed up pitcher?

In reality, they're probably not expecting a whole lot.  As it currently stands, the Yankees have a pretty shallow rotation with Ivan Nova and Sergio Mitre filling the back end.  Signing Colon is a move to add depth.  In all likelihood, they'll stash him in AAA until someone either gets hurt, or proves to be ineffective.  Considering Colon's low salary (maxes out at $900K if he makes the club out of Spring Training), he poses absolutely no risk to the Yankees.  If he doesn't work out for the Yankees, it's no big deal.  $900K is a drop in the bucket for a team whose payroll typically tops $200M.  If he does provide some value, it's a huge win for the Yankees.  Granted, that scenario is pretty unlikely, but it's still possible.

When you look at the signing from all of the angles, the Yankees really can't lose.

Vlad's Fantasy Land...Population? One


Does anyone want a good laugh?  Good.  Because you're about to get one.

According to Ken Rosenthal, Vlad Guerrero has backed away from his demands for a two year $16M contract.  That's probably a smart move considering it's January, he's 36, and a designated hitter.  Actually, let me rephrase that.  It's definitely a smart move, and it's one he should've made around the start of the New Year.  Still, better late than never. 

So what kind of deal does he have in mind now?  If you said, one year at $8M, you'd not only be correct, but also probably be living in the same fantasy world that Vlad is living in right now.  There is absolutely no way he's ever going to see that kind of money--at least not this offseason.   In a way, Vlad's situation is eerily reminiscent of the situation many American home sellers went through during the first eighteen months of the real estate market crash.  Like the American home seller, he set his price based on information that no longer applied, and then refused to accept the fact that his value was significantly lower than he'd anticipated.  Once he finally realized it, it was too late--and then he didn't cut his price far enough to attract interested buyers!

As far as I can tell, Guerrero has exactly two viable suitors right now.  The Orioles and the Angels.  The Orioles indicated yesterday that they have limited funds remaining to sign free agents.  Unless Vlad reduces his price again, it's unlikely he signs with them.  The Angels appear to have a need at DH now that they've traded away Mike Napoli, but they recently took on $81M of the remaining $86M of Vernon Wells's contract.  Under normal circumstances, I would say that would preclude the Angels from signing Vlad.  But, if they're willing to take on Wells and his ridiculous contract, what's adding a few million more to the payroll.  Right?

As I mentioned the other day, Vlad is in for a rude awakening.  I see him signing for a Manny Ramirez type deal, or possibly even one less than that.   

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Must Click Link: Voros McCracken.

I read a lot of baseball articles, but very rarely do I read one that blows my mind.  Today, I was lucky enough to come across such an article. 

Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports wrote an outstanding piece on legendary baseball statistician Voros McCracken.  For those of you who are stat geeks like me, you already who McCracken is.  For those of don't know, McCracken is the man who created the theory behind Defense Independent Pitching (or DIPS)*, which changed the way we (as fans, analysts, scouts, etc.) view pitching and defense.  The DIPS theory stated that pitchers have control over three outcomes:  strikeouts, walks, and home runs allowed.  Everything else was largely reliant on the quality of the defense behind him and blind luck. 

* His efforts gave rise to the development of multiple important statistics that we regularly use in our baseball discussions, analysis, and search.  BABIP, FIP, HR/FB ratio, and many others all came about because of his research.   

He came up with his theory when he noticed that while an individual pitcher's batted ball rates remained static from year-to-year, the batting average he allowed on balls in play (BABIP) was highly variable.  In certain circumstances, it could swing as many as 70-80 points in a single year.  Additionally, he found that higher quality pitchers didn't tend to produce better BABIPs as a result.  At the time he proposed his theory (in an obscure online newsgroup), most people scoffed at the idea.  They thought it was absolutely crazy.  Over the next couple of years, numerous well respected baseball statisticians including Bill James and the folks at Baseball Prospectus tried to disprove his theory.  While a few of them were able to poke a couple very small holes into his theory, McCracken's work remained largely intact. 

For example, in 1999 Pedro Martinez produced one of the highest BABIPs in baseball at .323.  The very next season, his BABIP was .236.

While Passan's article takes a large look at the impact of McCracken's theoretical work, he spends much time discussing the man's life both before and after his groundbreaking theory changed baseball forever.  McCracken has lived a particularly sad and fascinating life.  He's suffered from depression, lived paycheck to paycheck, and has struggled to find a job within the game of baseball since he left his job with the Boston Red Sox.  Craig Calcaterra said it best in his post earlier today, "just because you're a genius (it) doesn't mean that everything works out well for you."  I strongly urge you read the whole piece even if you're oriented more towards the anti-stat or casual fan sides. 

Jeter to Centerfield? Cashman says...maybe.


Yankee centerfielders. You know their names: DiMaggio, Mantle, Williams, and now....Derek Jeter?
Well if you ask Yankee GM Brian Cashman the idea doesn't sound that far fetched. According to ESPN.com, Cashman told WFAN radio personality John Francesa that should the necessity ever arise for Jeter to move from SS, that centerfield would be an excellent position.

Many question Jeter's ability to play such a physically demanding position for the next four years. Even though he's coming off another Gold Glove season (Jeter has five for his career) anyone who's ever looked at FanGraphs knows Ozzie Smith he ain't. At 36 it's already quite obvious that Jeter's skills and range continue to diminish and it is very doubtful that he'll stay at shortstop for the rest of his career. A move to a less taxing position could also be beneficial to his productivity at the plate as well.

A close analysis of the options demonstrates that center or left field is a decent fit. With A-Rod at third and Texiera at first for the next several years those positions are not options. Second base is possible only if the Yankees don't re-sign Cano to a long term deal, and the chances of that happening are about as likely as me winning Dancing With the Stars. Swisher is locked up in right field for at least another two years and as long as he repeats similar numbers to the '09 and '10 seasons it's likely the Yankees re-sign Swish as well. That leaves Brett Gardner in left and Curtis Granderson in center. In all honesty either one of those positions are possibilities for Jeter although I think it's a little liklier that Jeter would be in left rather than center. It is a somewhat less taxing and Granderson is without question a very good centerfielder defensively so why bump him.

Another option that no one discusses is moving Jeter to DH. This is undoubtedly Posada's last year and it's clear he will be DHing most of the season. Why not move Jeter into that slot once Posada retires? I could see it happening, however the chances aren't great only because Captain Jete is the type of person that wants to contribute in every facet of the game, not just at the plate. Although Jeter is a team guy, I feel he has too much pride to give up a defensive position for just a bat.

The whole thing depends on how bad Jeter becomes defensively, what the Yankees are willing to accept, and what Jeter is willing to do. It's an equation that's not as simple as 2+2=4. The results of moving Jeter to the outfield this late in his career are unknowable. Robin Yount made the transition in the 1980s but it was still in the middle of his career and he won an MVP after the move. That's a once in a generation event that Jeter is not going to imitate. When the day comes for Jeter to make the move to the outfield I just pray it looks more like Ichiro Suzuki moving from right field to center and back, rather than Jose Canseco trying to pitch.

Astros, Rodriguez Agree to Extension


According to Enrique Rojas of ESPN Deportes, the Astros have avoided salary arbitration with starting pitcher Wandy Rodriguez by signing him to a three year $34M contract extension.  The contract which will pay him $7M in 2011, $10M in 2012, and $13M in 2013, also includes a $13M vesting option for 2014 with a $2.5M buyout.  The deal will be finalized pending a physical on Thursday.

Rodriguez, 32, was entering his final year of arbitration eligibility, so the Astros bought out his first seasons of arbitration eligibility.  Many expected Rodriguez to be a valuable trade piece at the July 31st trading deadline with teams like the Yankees and Rangers among the teams most likely to be interested.  Assuming the contract gets finalized (and I have no reason to believe it won't), the odds are fairly low that he'll be traded any time soon.  

Rodriguez has been one of baseball's most underrated pitchers for the past three seasons.  According to D.J. Short of NBC Hardball Talk, only ten pitchers have posted a better ERA over the past three seasons than Rodriguez:  Halladay, Wainwright, Hernandez, Lincecum, Santana, Lee, Sabathia, Greinke, Cain, and Lester.  There are a lot of great pitchers on that list.  Rodriguez's three year ERA is 3.36--and yes, it matches up well with his FIP, so it's not a fluke.  Last season, Rodriguez put together another solid season going 11-12 with a 3.50 FIP, 8.22 K/9, 2.62 K/BB, and 3.6 fWAR.  

Napoli on the Move...Again


It looks like Mike Napoli is on the move again.  According to Jon Paul Morosi of Fox Sports, the Blue Jays have traded their recently acquired catcher to the Texas Rangers in exchange for relief pitcher Frank Francisco.

I have to admit that I'm a little bit surprised by this trade, but that's mostly because it's rare to see a player traded twice within the same week.  Napoli doesn't seem like the ideal fit in Texas.  Currently, the Rangers already have players encumbered at his natural positions with Yorvit Torrealba at catcher, Mitch Moreland at first base, and Michael Young at DH.  Still, despite the positional roadblock, I don't foresee Napoli having any problems accumulating 500 plate appearances next season.  My best guess is that Napoli will serve as the Rangers version of Victor Martinez:  play first base against lefties, split time at catcher with Torrealba, and occasionally spell Michael Young at DH.  I should note that this definitely ends any chance Vladmir Guerrero had of re-signing with the Rangers.

Other than the positional complication, this trade should benefit Napoli.  The Ballpark at Arlington seems to play into his one natural offensive skill--the ability to hit home runs.  With Napoli going into his age-29 season and moving to a ballpark that heavily favors power hitters, it wouldn't surprise me to see Napoli breach the 30 homer threshold for the first time next season.  Also, moving away from the Angels could help Napoli rediscover the patience and plate discipline skills that dissipated over the course of his tenure in Anaheim.   If he can rediscover his ability to draw walks, he would become a much more bigger offensive threat for the Rangers.

The Blue Jays acquiring Frank Francisco strikes me as being a little bit redundant.  After losing closer Kevin Gregg and lefty set-up man Scott Downs via free agency, understandably the Blue Jays wanted to rebuild their bullpen.  In doing so, they retained Jason Frasor, signed Octavio Dotel, and Jon Rauch via free agency, and have now traded for Francisco.  While all four pitchers are quality relievers, I can't help but notice they're all right handed.  Personally, I would've thought that if the Blue Jays were going to trade for another relief pitcher, it might have been a lefty.  Then again, that's just me. 

Francisco's role appears to be unclear at the moment.  Initially, there were reports that Octavio Dotel would close for the Blue Jays in 2011.  With Francisco, a former closer, in the mix, I'm not sure that report remains as true today as it did last month.  Francisco has very good stuff, and tends to miss bats at a high rate.  While he walks a few too many batters to ever be an elite level closer, but not enough that he couldn't be effective in the role over the long haul.  My guess is that he'll be given every opportunity to wrestle ninth inning duties away from Dotel during Spring Training and the first part of the season. 

Frank Francisco produced a 3.12 FIP with a 60/18 K/BB ratio, and 1.0 fWAR in 52-2/3 innings.

Nationals Interested in Sizemore, Carmona


According to MASN’s Phil Wood, the Nationals are working on a “number” of trades, and have spoken to the Indians about possibility of trading for Grady Sizemore and Fausto Carmona.  While I see why the Nationals would be interested in making such a deal, I don’t see how the Indians would benefit, outside of a financial reprieve.

Despite two disappointing, injury riddled seasons, Sizemore is still the Indians best trade chip.  To trade him now, while he’s recovering from microfracture surgery, makes little sense because they’d be trading him at a point where his value is at its lowest point.  At 28, Sizemore has a pretty good chance of fully recovering and recapturing his elite status as a 5-6 WAR player.  If I was the Indians GM, I would give Sizemore an opportunity to prove he’s healthy and productive before engaging in serious trade talks.  While there is, of course, some risk to taking the “wait and see” approach, there’s also tremendous reward.  If he fully recovers and recaptures his status as an elite player, the Indians would be in the position of being able to name their price for Sizemore.  For a struggling small market club with a modest payroll, that’s a great position to be in.*  If Sizemore gets hurt or struggles out of the gate, his value would, obviously, take another hit; thus making a trade even more prohibitive for the Indians.  Still, the potential value gained by waiting is far greater than the potential value lost.  While waiting might be a risk, it’s a smart risk, and one the Indians should take. 
  
* Sizemore also has a very team friendly contract that would help improve his trade value, particularly if he's healthy and productive.  He's due to make $7.5M this season, and the Indians hold an $8.5M option for 2012.

Fausto Carmona enjoyed a bounce back season in 2010 after two dreadful seasons in which he struggled mightily with poor control.  Considering how "pitching poor" the Nationals are right now, it's not difficult to understand why the Nationals are interested in trading for him.  (By the same token, the Indians aren't exactly stacked with pitchers either, and would probably benefit from keeping him around for a few more years.)  At 27, he still has very good stuff, and could recapture his 2007 form if a few things break the right way for him.  He has a three pitch repertoire that features an above average two-seam fastball with heavy sink, an above average slider with good tilt, and a plus change up.  On the negative side, Carmona not only walks a few too many batters, but allows too much contact for my liking.  Still, he induces ground balls at such a high rate that his "negative" traits are almost forgivable.  Additionally, Carmona's contract is pretty favorable.  He has one more guaranteed season, at $6.1M, remaining on the four year $15M he signed prior to the 2008 season, plus options that could extend the deal out to 2014.  Considering the current value of a win (around $5M), the options are extremely team friendly:  2012 at $7M, 2013 at $9M, and 2014 at $12M.  While he is certainly an attractive trade candidate, it almost makes more sense for the Indians to hold on to him considering his age and relatively nominal salary. 

If I were the Indians, I'd stand pat for while.  As I see it the Indians could get substantially more in return for both players if they waited until the July 31st deadline to trade either player.  For starters, pitchers typically bring back more in return at the deadline when fringe playoff caliber teams are scrambling for useful starting pitchers.   Two, for the reasons I've already outlined for Sizemore.  Patience in this case is a virtue worth exercising.

Vlad's Options are Shrinking


The market for Vlad has been eerily quiet all winter.  While I never expected him to be among the most highly sought after free agents, I certainly expected him to be signed by now.  Now, that he's the last remaining big name free agent remaining on the market, reports have finally started coming in fast and furious. 

Today, SI's Jon Heyman reports that the Rangers are out of the running, and the Orioles have "limited funds at this stage" with which to sign him.  At first glance, it seems a little bit surprising that a player who put up a .300/29/115 season would still be trolling the free agent market in search of an acceptable contract at the end of January.  Then, you remember that he's about to turn 36, and that he's completely untrustworthy defensively.  Also, Manny Ramirez, a reasonably close comparable, recently received a one year $2.5M deal from the Rays this past weekend, which probably hurt his value immensely.

It's becoming much more clear to me that Vlad is going to have to settle for a one year deal around $1.0-1.5M with lots of performance based incentives.  Me thinks he shouldn't have pushed his demands for a two year deal for so long.  Otherwise, he might've received a much more favorable contract by now.

Lester Looking Ahead to World Series



As some of you may’ve heard, the Red Sox made some big moves this offseason.  They started out by trading for power hitting first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, and then followed it up by signing Carl Crawford, Bobby Jenks, and Dan Wheeler to free agent contracts.  When you factor in the return of Josh Beckett, Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Mike Cameron, all of whom missed significant time due to injuries in 2010, it’s easy to understand why people in Red Sox Nation are pretty excited about the prospects of this year’s team.  

Peter Abraham of the Boston Globe had a chance to talk with ace starting pitcher Jon Lester at a promotional event for People’s United Bank the other day.  Apparently, Lester is already preparing to pitch deep into the postseason.    

“Mentally and physically, I’m preparing for the World Series,’’ he said. “I’m doing extra right now to make sure my body holds up for late October. You look at the kind of team we have and I don’t see why can’t get there.’’

As a Red Sox fan I love both his enthusiasm, and his desire to prepare his body for additional wear and tear in October.  While his goal of pitching in October should be at the forefront of his (and every player’s) thoughts, I can’t help but wonder if he’s being a little presumptive.  It is only January after all.  Still, I love his confidence.  If the rest of his teammates are as motivated as Lester, the Red Sox could be in for one heck of a season. 

Still, as fans, we shouldn’t get too cocky just yet.  Championships aren’t won on paper in January.  Instead, they’re one on the field in October.  The Red Sox’s impressive offseason won’t mean jack, if they can’t put it together between April and October. Plenty of unexpected things could happen over the next nine months that could derail their season.  It’s important to keep that in the back of your mind.

In 2010, Lester made his first All-Star appearance and finished fourth in the Cy Young Award voting.  He went 19-9 with a 3.18 FIP, 9.7 K/9, 2.71 K/BB, and 5.3 fWAR.