Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Funny Manfred would say, "Inject"

Rob Manfred has been the commissioner of Major League Baseball for less than a month and already he is making me very nervous.  It is apparent that he is not happy about the current state of offense in the game. In an interview with Karl Ravech, Manfred said he wanted to "inject some offense into the game." Interesting choice of words there, Mr. Commissioner.
There have been five historic ways to "inject" offense. There is expansion where teams are added and the talent pool of good pitching gets floated with pitchers who would not ordinarily make the cut. It is not a coincidence that Roger Maris hit 61 homers the year of an expansion. Although Bud Selig did mention expansion on his way out, anything imminent is not in sight.
The second historic way to increase offense is to lower the mound. This was famously done after 1968's historic "Year of the Pitcher." With the constant threat to pitcher's arms, this one sounds dangerous to consider.
The third way to increase offense is to fudge the baseballs. Many theorize that the flood of home run balls after the last baseball stoppage had less to do with steroids and more to do with the baseball.
The fourth way is to mess around with the strike zone. Calling it tighter helps offense. Calling it looser helps the pitchers (hello Tom Glavine).
And finally, there are performance enhancing drugs. And that is why I got such a kick out of Manfred's choice of words. Injecting is something baseball has tried very hard to eliminate from the game.
While all five of these scenarios change the game to a degree, they do not, of themselves, change how the game is played. The rules of play stay the same except for measuring the mound. What Rob Manfred is talking about is to change the rules of play. And that does not make me a happy camper.
I do not like less offense as an observer of the sport. Lord knows, I have ranted over the current state of strikeouts in the game. I have hated the sight of player after player refusing to try and stop the infield shift. But I also have followed the sport long enough to know that offense and pitching are cyclical to a degree and the conditions of this era will not be the same as the next.
As someone who would rather not see a bunch of .230 hitters with .290 on-base percentage who strike out 150 times a year, I do not want to fiddle with the rules of play just to make more runs happen. I don't like artificially changing the rules to change the game. Pitch clocks make me squirm in the same way.
But, William, you might ask, haven't they already changed rules like the Buster Posey rule at home plate and the take out side at second? Well, yes. But in the case of the former, you are protecting players (which worked by the way) and a player still has to try to score while the other team tries to prevent it. In the latter, you are simply enforcing base line running rules already in place.
But eliminating shifts is a totally another ballgame. You are limiting teams from placing their fielders where they desire to place them. This is a huge and fundamental rule shift that limits what a team can do defensively. Are infielders going to have boxes like coaching boxes where they have to stay? That would be ugly.
As others have already pointed out (Dave Cameron for example), BABIP hasn't changed all that much with the exponential growth in the use of shifts. The biggest problem in baseball is that there are less balls in play than ever before. Strikeouts have never been higher in the history of baseball. So what's next then? If you want to inject offense, change a strikeout to four strikes. No thank you.
How far can you take this once you start this kind of tinkering? Are you going to force teams with big ballparks to bring in their outfield walls? Are you going to eliminate how many relief pitchers a team can use?
The interview brought up the subject of there being a lot of smart people in the game. Those smarts have figured out how to use data to place fielders where batters tend to hit most of their balls in play. Those same people have figured out how to exploit batters for more strikes and swings and misses.
Just as smart people have brought the shifts to baseball, the same smart people can find ways for offenses to beat those shifts. Players with big swing and miss potential will not always be in vogue. Like I said, these things are cyclical. Let the game progress naturally. Baseball will always be about the intrigue of how one team tries to get an edge to beat its opponent. Just leave it alone.
The interview linked above was the first time we got a real chance to hear from Rob Manfred. And frankly, it was a little chilling to hear his mindset of artificially adding offense to the game. It is a terrible idea to change the way baseball is played on the field and doing so should always be done with extreme caution and care.
Performance Enhancing Drugs were such a problem because in many people's minds, it altered the outcomes of statistics in what has always been a traditional game. It was the artificial enhancement that people objected to. "Injecting offense" has the same artificial feel and to me puts such artificial means in the same category as PEDs. Please don't go there, Mr. Manfred. Just don't.

Sunday, January 04, 2015

The BBA and me

This must be my morning for mixed feelings. I just wrote about the Dan Haren situation and now I am writing about the Baseball Bloggers Association (BBA). If you haven't heard by now, the BBA has a new president in Niko Goutakolis and he has asked me to be the vice-president. Goutakolis seems to have the energy and ambition to run with this thing and that is a good thing. He asked me to take my position as Veep to balance the young with the old. The old would be me.
I owe a lot to the BBA. Through my association with the association (which works if you think about it), I have "met" lots of people I treasure on Twitter and have even met a few in person. A good chunk of my regular readership comes from these folks I have come to know through the BBA.
As such, I became a chapter president of one of the largest chapters in the BBA and did what I could to promote the writers that were under me. I did link posts, etc. I would like to think it helped, at least a little bit.
But I have also become one of the BBA's most vocal critics in the past few years. Frankly, I was disappointed...so much so that I gave up my chapter presidency because I didn't see the point.
The Baseball Bloggers Association has always been a great idea. It was founded by a very good and very popular man and through his skills grew to include some pretty high-octane writers as well as providing a place for up and coming writers to have a voice and a community. As the world was moving from printed media to online markets, the BBA was timed perfectly to form an association of those of us who developed our online niche.
But a few years ago it bogged down. The founder had small children, his own business and another association around his team that occupied his time. It is understandable that he ran aground on personal resources to take the BBA to the next step. He stepped down and that did not bring improvement. 
A post I shared here led to an upheaval of sorts and the founder took back the presidency and hope was raised. But his time constraints had not eased or changed and sometimes the entrepreneur is not the guy to take a company to the next level.
So here we are after basically four years of stagnation and deflation. Other groups have passed us by. There has been no spark and no energy. We have not gone to the next level but have had our roof bowed by really heavy snow.
Mr. Goutakolis has repeatedly asked me to make a statement. I'm not quite sure this is what he had in mind (wan smile). I agreed to be his vice president for two reasons. First, there is still that measure of gratitude for what my membership has meant to me. Second, if I was going to be vocal in my discontent, how could I not want to be part of the solution if there is one?
So far, I like the energy and communication I see from our new president. I hope he can get the BBA moving. There is so much to be done. The BBA needs to be a real mechanism for promotion of its members. It needs to rebuild its reputation within the baseball writing community. The BBA needs to focus on quality writing and be judicious in who can join. There needs to be avenues of cooperation and perhaps even regional meetings to bring writers together. Perhaps there should be a fee involved to be a member so there is a budget to accomplish something.
There needs to be better structure to voting for awards and participation by members is not optional. Either you participate in these votes or you are not a member. Our press releases need to become news. As our members move up in their writing careers, we should be featuring them and taking some credit for the advancement. Our involvement with the BBA should mean something on our resumes.
On the personal side, Niko Goutakolis' request of me couldn't have come to me at a lower ebb. After writing nearly 4,000 long form posts over the last eleven years, I'm a little toasted and have had a bit of a block in my writing in the last few months. I have always been nothing but prolific, but have struggled to put up posts lately. Perhaps at my low energy cycle, it would have been fairer to Mr. Goutakolis if I had politely declined.
But I didn't. There is a certain "put your money where your mouth is" that goes along with my acceptance. Therefore I am willing to give this a try and support our new president.
He's got a tough row to hoe, to use a trite expression. After years of stagnation, it's now or never for the BBA. Either we take the next step or it becomes meaningless to continue. I will do what I can to help. Let's give this thing a push, shall we? Perhaps it is not too late to find the torrent in the stream.

Dan Haren owes baseball nothing

Or does he?
I have been having this internal debate about Dan Haren's position about pitching for the Marlins for about two weeks now. Every time I get a handle on how I feel about how he is handling this trade to the East Coast, my emotions turn the other way.
We can all understand Dan Haren's desire to stay close to his family on the West Coast and he signed his free agent contract out there to facilitate his desire. Family is a noble thing. I once turned down a sure $160 grand job in Georgia because I did not want to leave my daughter behind. I get it. In fact, I should get it more than most.
One of the main differences in my situation and Haren's is that I was not under contract. I did not sign a piece of paper in good faith that said I would perform XYZ expectations in return for a financial gain. Haren did sign such a piece of paper.
He has made perfect use of the collective bargaining agreement to earn himself $71 million in his career playing baseball. He is signed another $10 million to do so again in 2015. His contract did not include a no-trade agreement although there is some murkiness as to what was promised him when he signed.
In fact, Haren has earned $35 million in the last three years being a less than league-average pitcher. In this age of pitching, his FIP has been over four for three straight years. But that's not really fair as he is more or less getting paid what he couldn't make when he was younger and was really worth something as a pitcher.
He has already told the Marlins (according to the linked story) that he doesn't want to play there. He is basically asking them to trade him back out West. All this speculation has caused mlbtraderumors.com to put up a poll on where he will end up. The biggest choice so far is that he will retire. Really?
Has he made enough money to throw away $10 million? For all his lack of success the last three years, he is a strike-throwing machine who has made thirty-plus starts ten years in a row. That kind of durability will get you a good contract somewhere on the open market once his obligation for 2015 is over.
Would he really leave all that money on the table? If the Marlins cannot, or will not trade him, would he just quit? Or would he sit out a year? Why can't he just rent out a bungalow in Miami for a season and move his family there? He certainly has the money. It is a temporary inconvenience for the family en route to millions of dollars of potential earnings.
The decision would seem to be easy. Miami has a spacious ballpark. One can see Haren building back his reputation as a starter and freeing him to play his hand in 2016.
Let's think about Miami's position for a moment. They already have their $10 million from the Dodgers. They got paid whether Haren pitches for them or not.  If Haren sits home with his millions, they still have their money and won't have to shell it out. If he plays for them, they can pencil in 30 starts, which is still something.  Or they can trade him and get value knowing that a trade partner would basically pay Haren nothing to pitch for them.
What would you do if you were the Marlins? Frankly, I would call his bluff. If you want to throw away $10 million smackers, have yourself a nice day. The collective bargaining agreement between the players and the teams is pretty fair. And the fact is that he is under contract.
So what happens if Haren sits out the year? What should baseball do then? Should he be allowed to play 2016 when he effectively broke his contract? I don't know the answer to that and what the provisions are for that circumstance.
What I do know is that I am no closer to resolving this moral dilemma for myself. I know it doesn't matter what *I* think. But I am sure that I am not the only one thinking about Haren's situation.
Where I am, basically, is where I started. Dan Haren has made his millions and owes no man anything and can walk away if he wants to. He owes baseball nothing except for that contract he signed in good faith. That contract and the fact that baseball has been the means of his family having the lifestyle they lead swing me over to the other side of the moral reading.
Thus, my conclusion is wishy-washy. Dan Haren owes baseball nothing, but yet again, he owes baseball everything.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Who are the Tampa Bay Rays now?

We have become so used to the Tampa Bay Rays being the smartest kids on the block that last year's down season seemed unreal. Now, after a turbulent off season that has seen two pieces of the brain trust leave for greener pastures, are the Rays still the Rays? Well, they still have Evan Longoria and Tropicana Field, so there's that. But who or what is this team now?
The body blows actually began last year when David Price was dealt to the Tigers. Price, more than any other Rays player was the face of that team. His presence on Twitter, his personality and, of course, his talent on the field made him a star. A bit of the genius luster came off on what was perceived to be little return for Price with the trade.
As soon as the 2014 season was over, Andrew Friedman bolted to the Dodgers. Friedman was long considered one of the best front office people anywhere. His departure also created a loophole in Joe Maddon's contract. Maddon opted out and after a brief courtship and bidding war, he has now gone to manage the Cubs.
Whether the reputation is earned or not, Maddon had become the model of what a great manager was supposed to look like. He was the master motivator and innovator. He helped turn what was a devil of a franchise into a winning one. He made other managers over-manage to try to keep up with him. If Friedman was one part of the brain, then Maddon was the other along with being the heart of the franchise.
The spigot stayed open after Friedman and Maddon. Jeremy Hellickson is gone. Wil Myers (in a shocker) is gone. Joel PeraltaRyan Hanigan and Matt Joyce are gone. Jose Molina finally tipped over the age scale.
This should go without saying, but time will tell on how these trades all work out. But from this early standpoint, only two of all those prospects netted by all those trades are ranked by Baseball Prospectus. Add them to the Price trade haul and all the deals feel more like salary dumps than strategic moves.
David Price's departure hurts, but the pitching still looks like the most impressive part of this team. Alex Cobb has become a star. Chris Archer was terrific until it seemed like he hit a wall in the second half. He should benefit from that experience. Matt Moore will be back in the early part of the season. Jake Odorizzi can be as good as Hellickson or better. Drew Smyly has a chance to be very good. The only real question in the rotation is Alex Colome, but he is a highly rated prospect who has shown poise in his two cups of coffee.
The bullpen needs to get a healthy Jake McGee back but, otherwise, has some good arms, especially in Brad BoxbergerKevin Jepsen and Ernesto Frieri can make the group formidable.
And so the pitching looks solid at least with perhaps a hole or two that time will sort out. But the offense, already 14th in the American League last year in OPS has taken more of a hit than the pitching.
I cannot understand giving up on Wil Myers, but perhaps they had their reasons. Longoria was finally healthy and played all 162 games. But his output offensively was surprisingly mundane. Desmond Jennings has to be considered a disappointment thus far. Ben Zobrist has been great, but will be 34 in 2015. Other than those guys, there is a whole lot of meh in the rest of the lineup.
Kevin Kiermaier is a very good player but his offense faded a bit at the end and he will need to prove himself again in the lineup. James Loney is useful, but behind these five guys previously mentioned, the lineup as it stands now does not scare anyone.  An unproven Steven SouzaDavid DeJesusRene Rivera and Yunel Escobar round out the group.
The other bothersome thing about the offense that is currently constructed is that it is overly right-handed in a park that seems to favor left-handed batters more. Both catchers are right-handed and of a really weak bench, only Nick Franklin is a switch-hitter who shows some promise and is at least young enough to emerge from the group.
With the Rays' 2014 finish, perhaps some of the mystique was already gone on these upstart Rays. After an impressive run of success, everything came to a screeching halt last season and only a late-season surge prevented them from fighting the Red Sox for the bottom spot in the AL East.
A year later, with their GM and manager gone and several players becoming more expensive gone as well, it is difficult to gauge who this team is now. Has the sun set on this Rays team or is a new dawn about to begin? The former seems more likely than the latter, but time will tell. The only thing that is sure about the 2015 Rays: They will feel really different.

Sunday, December 07, 2014

Tripping through the transactions

Way back in the early days of this site, I used to do my own unusual take on the MLB transaction wire. It was mostly for my own amusement as the ratio of people who thought the posts were stupid to those who liked them was about 12 to 2. But, what else is there to do when the snow is blowing and it is six degrees outside? You have to do something when living in the frozen tundra. For old time sake and for my amusement, I bring you my own particular spin on this week's transaction wire.
  • First Ibarra your pardon since this is my take when Edgar Ibarra gets signed to a minor league deal by the Angels. He hopes to barra a cup of coffee at least.
  • Ryan's pitching career is officially in the Dempster. But have no fear, the man landed on his feet and Ryan Dempster will work in the Cubs' front office.
  • Drew Butera is in the market for a new job as he was designated by the Dodgers. Chicago has a Butera Market so maybe he should go there. Or, since he is already in LA, he should apply at Barclay Butera. Heck, he might catch on in the furniture business.
  • Ryan Lavarnway is the reason Butera lost his job. Now Ryan will have to learn the Dodgerway. While in LA, he could do a new show called Lavarnway and Shirleyway.
  • Shane rode off in the sunset but Yankee fans of Shane Greene yelled, ""Shane! Come back!" Now he can say to Yankee players he didn't like, ""I hear that you're a low-down, Yankee liar."
  • Meanwhile, the Yankees got Didi Gregorius. His last name reminds me of "Gregarious." But to Matthew Kory, it reminds him of Gregorian. I'll go with Matty and hope that the Yankee fans will be chanting his name. I don't think I can say, "Didi," with a straight face though and will call him, "Mariekson."
  • And that's all they need in Arizona is another Robbie Ray of sunshine. But the best pun came from Diane Firstman who said on Twitter, "Diamondbacks / Tigers trade talks were Leyba intensive." That was a good one.
  • In the Danish language, "Barme," means bosoms. Does that mean that the Padres have taken Clint Barmes to heart by signing him?
  • On the signing of Kevin Cash as manager, one of the folks on Twitter I follow had the best line. I wish I could remember who it was, "This is the first time the Rays have used Cash to improve." Killer.
  • It's a good thing he is the Cubs' new first base coach instead of a third base coach where Cubs fans could either think his decisions were Dr. Jekyll or Mr. Brandon Hyde.
  • It doesn't matter if you are a Star Trek Picard man or a Kirkman as Texas signed Michael Kirkman to a minor league deal.
  • It's not the same guy, but the Rangers also signed Alex Rodriguez as trainer of the AZL Rangers. Frightening to think of A-Rod as a trainer.
  • Happy Braves fans are on a Markakis Island if still happy hearing recent signee, Nick Markakis, needs neck surgery.
  • After the Royals agreed to terms with Luke Hochevar, they hope Luke will be a force for good in the bullpen.
  • The Twins brought back Torii Hunter home. But while Torii might be a Hunter of gays because of his religion, it apparently doesn't stop him from cursing out a reporter.
  • I thought the trade between Seattle and Toronto exchanging Michael Saunders for J.A. Happ was a big win for the Blue Jays and Happ-less for the Mariners.
  • Speaking of the Blue Jays, they took a flyer on Justin Smoak. The fact that Justin was once considered a great prospect makes me wonder if those scouts were smoaking something funny.
  • Things were not beachy for Brandon Beachy as the Braves non-tendered him.
  • The Red Sox definitely left their heart for Juan Francisco as he didn't last very long on their roster.
  • Apparently, the Royals did not think Francisley Bueno was bueno enough as he was non-tendered.
  • The Dodgers hope Darwin Barney's offense will evolve as they signed him to a deal. But it wasn't a lot of money so the contract should not become a big dinosaur.
  • The Mets will not be forever Young after trading Chris Young last year and non-tendering Eric Young, Jr. this week. But they can be for-Everth young if they sign the non-tendered Everth Cabrera to be their shortstop.
  • Things were not caviar and champagne for Chaz Roe as he was non-tendered.
  • And finally, a pitcher left in a David Huff as the Yankees non-tendered David Hassle Huff.
Lord, I do apologize...

Saturday, December 06, 2014

Hero worship versus sports as entertainment

It has not shocked me in recent weeks to read stories about Jayson Werth getting ten days in jail or the varied reports on people like Bill Cosby or Adrian Peterson. Those who are fortunate enough to become very good at high visibility skills such as sports and entertainment are artificially built as superstars. But they are people. Just as we are all people.
Hero worship has never been a problem for me. From the earliest age, I seemed to have a build in knowledge that we are all created equal. And as much as it pains the modern person, those ideals came from a Judeo-Christian mindset. I happen to believe them. We are all just people muddling our way through life as best we can. At its basest level, we all are birthed in a bloody mess and eat and poop and sleep...even star players and entertainers.
I did have heroes growing up. I loved Mickey Mantle and Mel Stottlemyre and others. But my hero thing was based on enjoying what they did on the ball field and the familiarity of having watched them regularly. I've written myriads of thousands of words on Derek Jeter as a fan of his game and not not on his "mystique" or image.
Much of hero worship has come from writers and journalists. The Old West was a real starting point as writers built false images of Davy Crockett, Wyatt Earp and outlaws like Billy the Kid. Sports writers carried on that tradition and built legends out of Babe RuthTed Williams and Hank Aaron. Jeter is just the latest to be lionized beyond reality.
You see it with this image of Torii Hunter as the ultimate team guy and we on Twitter now have a lot of fun at poking holes at "scrappy" players. The bottom line is how a player performs and how his team fares, but we still have writers who make a living creating legends that go beyond results.
Part of the reason stat-based writers have risen to such heights is that in this post-Watergate era, many have swung the other way and love when icons are brought down from the lofty spots they hold in public imagination. Ryan Howard became a lightning rod between the myth-makers and Howard's RBI totals and stat-based writers who poked holes in his game.
So we have kind of come to a weird place in the history of public perception. There are those looking for demons behind every celebrity's tree and those that are still creating icons. Both still sell, which makes it all that much more confusing.
When I first moved to northern Maine and went back to school (some twenty-four years ago now), I worked at a hotel for three years. That will open your eyes about the human race. George Mitchell was the second most powerful man in the country at the time and used to call for a room. If reservations were full, his handlers would insist I find a place for him.
My answer was, "Let me give you a list of the reservations and you can tell me who I should tell not to come."
The answer was always, "Do you know who George Mitchell is?"
My answer was always, "I don't care if he is the Pope, I don't have a room."
I once had to deal with a national news correspondent for one of networks. One day he came down the elevator and asked how much the paper was. I said, "For you, it's free." His answer was that just because he was on TV, I didn't have to give him a paper for free. I told him politely that all of our customers get a free paper and that's what I meant.
The actor who played the lead on the early television show, Dark Shadows, stayed for a week. Every single day I had to show him how to get to the hotel restaurant.
They are all just people. Just like we are all just people. When I hear writers talking about those suspected of using Performance Enhancing Drugs (PEDs) as, "Cheaters," it gets to me because they were just people making a decision about what could make them more money more effective at what they did. Which of us would avoid that decision if it could mean millions of dollars and the Majors versus the Minors? Apparently, a large share of the baseball player population made that decision. Few resisted. And yet we judge those we know about because of that same George Mitchell. Funny that.
When I view sports--particularly baseball as that is my wheelhouse--I view and am entertained by the performance in the scheme of the game. I view actors in a movie the same way. They are skilled people performing a skill-seeking task. I watch a good carpenter the same way. Performance is entertaining. Skill is entertaining.
But skill has never equaled a higher grade of person for me. I admire the work of a great carpenter, but I don't think that carpenter is better than the person who makes a mean sundae at Friendly's.  And frankly, the president of the United States can be of any skin color, gender or sexual orientation as long as they do a good job.
Having such a view means that I am not heartbroken when Ryan Braun gets caught or fall for stories about how great a guy Torii Hunter is.
People are people. Those who get paid a lot of money are just like you and me. Just like us, they make a thousand decisions a day and just like us, some of those decisions can be costly. I try very hard not to judge others and I will not judge players or famous people who get caught up in scandal. There is a higher power who will do that judging.
And on the other side of the coin, I do not build idols of gold for players or the famous because they are skillful at a high-profile career. They either entertain me or they do not. Nothing more and nothing less. I encourage you to view them this same way and teach your children the same way. We are all created equal. Some just get paid better than others.

Thursday, December 04, 2014

The Orioles are leaking

General Managers are only as good as their team's performance in the past season. Dan Duquette was genius last season as the Orioles surprised everyone with blowing out the AL East and making it to the American League Championship Series. Duquette brought in pieces that worked perfectly such as Nelson Cruz and Andrew Miller. But so far this off season seems to show a general leaking of talent as Cruz, Miller and now Nick Markakis have been allowed to sign in greener pastures. Will the Orioles be one and done?
Such a pronouncement in December with almost five months of the off season yet to come would be misguided. But the Orioles have allowed at least six wins of offense and two wins of relief pitching to head out the door. In the long run, these decisions may be wise as the total expense of those players long term might be painful. But in the short term, Orioles fans might be getting a little antsy.
The Red Sox and Blue Jays have improved themselves greatly thus far--at least on paper. The Yankees have been spinning in place and the Rays seem in disarray (but with a still promising rotation). If you compare teams in the AL East, you have to look at the Orioles as an 89-win team after losing that talent. Can they make it up in other ways? Perhaps.
The team still has a strong core in Adam JonesJ.J. HardyManny MachadoChris Davis and Matt Wieters. There are questions marks among that group. Can Davis bounce back off a disappointing season and stay clean? How will Wieters respond after missing so much time with a rebuilt elbow? Can Machado's knees hold up or is this a chronic season to season thing? But let's, for now, assume that those folks will all contribute ably.
The starting staff will return all the same pitchers back into the mix even though Bud Norris has had his name rumored in trades all winter. They are not a great rotation, but with good defense, they get the job done. The loss of Miller will hurt, but the bullpen was pretty good before he even got there and that same cast is back for another season.
With that much stability (barring injuries), how can the production and play of Markakis and Cruz be made up?
Markakis is probably the easiest to replace. No knock on the guy as he has been a very good player for the Orioles. But his offense has only been about seven percent better than league average and that is not as hard to replace as you think. The most obvious answer seems to be Dariel Alvarez, the Cuban refugee the O's signed in 2013. He has raked pretty consistently in the minors and while he is not that patient a hitter, he does hit enough to replace Markakis if his minor league play is an indication.
The only other minor league options such as Mike Yastrzemski and Josh Hart are still a year or two away.
Harder to replace is Nelson Cruz. While Cruz never saw a pitch he didn't like to swing at, his power is a high commodity in today's market. How do the Orioles close that gap? To me, expecting Steve Pearce to repeat his season last year also seems to be dicey. So that is a lot of power to replace.
Let's say that Wieters comes back as good as he was. That is a plus total of 17 homers over the five he hit last year before he was hurt. If Chris Davis can be somewhere between his monster 2013 and disappointing 2014, he could hit 35 homers and add seven more to the total. Platooning Davis with Christian Walker might produce the same results with a better overall batting average.
I'm not sure Jonathan Schoop will ever develop into an effective MLB hitter. His thirteen walks for all of 2014 are a red flag to me as it led to a .244 OBP. But he could add another six homers to his total of 14 last season. And add to that a bounce-back power year for J.J. Hardy who was way below his career yearly homer output last season could make up some more.
If all of that goes well, which, of course, is a big if, the Orioles could make up the power lost by Nelson Cruz. Whether they can overcome the lack of Cruz's presence in the lineup is a very big question.
Like I said, there is a lot of off season left to go and I'm sure Dan Duquette is not going to stand pat. Adding Melky Cabrera or someone of that caliber might still be a possibility.
But even if Duquette stands pat, as I have outlined, the Orioles might be okay as is. The core is still there. For the most part, a team built on defense and a winning attitude instilled by Buck Showalter could keep the Orioles in the mix. Only time will tell if this General Manager will go from hero to bum or whether he was shrewd to let those players walk when he did. I wouldn't count the Orioles out.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Lewis Wolff and John Fisher are bad, bad men

Look around baseball and you will see entrepreneurs and smart business people who have purchased baseball teams. Oh, there are some who might have inherited their money but for the most part team owners have gotten into a position of owning a team because they were very good at business. Once they become baseball owners, the expectation is that they are supposed to forget all of that and bring a city a winner at all costs. Take the Josh Donaldson trade as an example.
The two owners of the Oakland Athletics, Lewis Wolff and John Fisher were roasted last night and this morning because Billy Beane traded away Josh Donaldson for a cheaper Brett Lawrie and three prospects. If you don't believe me, check out this article by Jason Leskiw for a major media outlet. How dare Wolff and Fisher save money and run a good business!
But is the assumption this is a money dump realistic? When I looked at the deal last night, I saw a 24-year-old player with upside in Brett Lawrie, two really good prospects and a so-so prospect traded for arguably the best third baseman in the American League if not in baseball. While both players, Donaldson and Lawrie, are heading to arbitration for the first time this season, Lawrie will turn 25 in January and Donaldson, 29 a month from now.
Lawrie has been hurt a lot. Donaldson has been healthy. At least that is the line some angry Twitter people have given me when I said I liked the trade for both teams. The implication is that Donaldson is a "gamer" and Lawrie a "poser." I don't know how you justify or quantify that, but okay. Donaldson does stand to make more in arbitration. But then you have two really good prospects in Kendall Graveman and Franklin Barreto and the throw in of Sean Nolin. Not a bad haul for Donaldson if one or two of those prospects can be helpful.

Lawrie has shown much upside defensively and while he may not be in Donaldson's class, he isn't in the dunce category either. Donaldson has compiled 16.6 rWAR by the age of 28. Lawrie, 11.7 by the age of 24. Doesn't that make this trade look a little better?
People forget that Donaldson was acquired from the Cubs back in 2008 in a deal very similar to this one. Donaldson was a prospect too for the Cubs and I bet there was a lot of consternation when Billy Beane traded away Rich Harden to get Donaldson and three other prospects. Of the four, only Donaldson panned out (though Matt Murton has had a great Japanese career).  Harden was never the same and has been out of baseball for years.
First of all, you cannot judge trades until years after the fact. But with the instantaneous cyber world we live in, people are dying for page views and social media followers by making judgement pronouncements immediately. And one of those is to blast the owners for "forcing" Billy Beane to manage his assets efficiently.
It's okay for the players to be business people. It's okay that their agents are charged with maximizing the players earnings. But it's not okay for baseball owners to do the same thing. Why do the owners in Tampa get a pass and the ones in Oakland scorn? Both have lousy stadium issues and low attendance. They both do the best they can while trying to keep a profit margin. Anyone who thinks owners should not care about making money is misguided.
The sons of George Steinbrenner are facing similar scrutiny. Why aren't they countering the moves made recently by the Red Sox!? Why aren't they spending money like crazy to get back on top!? Old George would never allow the Yankees to go two years in a row without making the playoffs! Um...remember the 1980s?  And the team payroll for the Yankees is just as high or higher under the sons as it ever was with The Boss.
The big complaint in Oakland is that the A's haven't made the World Series. The theory is that if Wolff and Fisher would spend a little more, that World Series would have been in reach. It doesn't matter that the team has won 277 games in the last three seasons, by golly, the goal is to win it all.
Money does not make that happen. A lot has to fall in place for a team to get hot at the right time and win short series to get to the biggest of all short series and win it all. Peter McGowan, the owner of the Giants doesn't like to throw money around either and he has won three titles. All three had people scratching their heads. Getting to the playoffs is hard enough. Winning there is a crap shoot.
I understand that Josh Donaldson was a beloved player in Oakland. I understand that he has been an MVP candidate two years in a row. I also understand that his defensive skills play a large part of his value and I do not trust the current way those defensive skills are valued. I do agree that Donaldson is a great fielder. But give me a better way to quantify it.
Jason Leskiw says himself in his diatribe that Josh Donaldson played hurt most of 2014 and had to wrap his shoulder like a pitcher. Think about that for a second. Yeah, he played almost every game, but at what cost and how will that influence his game moving forward? Who knows.
I don't believe Wolff and Fisher had any part of this deal. Billy Beane made the deal. Billy Beane has made a lot of deals. A lot of them turn out pretty well. Why don't we let this one play out for a couple of years before we start painting a picture of Beane as browbeaten by greedy, Scrooge-like owners.