Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Transaction Reaction: Jonathon Broxton

The Kansas City Royals sign Jonathon Broxton to a one-year deal worth $4 million, with $1 million in incentives

  • This, to me, is a very interesting deal.  And I like it very much.  The Royals acquire in Broxton a guy who is still relatively young (27), and as recently as 2010, was one of the game's most dominant closers.  It is a bit of a lottery ticket in that the Royals are banking on (1) Broxton will be recovered from the injuries he endured last year and (2) With the injuries no longer hampering him, Broxton will once again be a top-shelf closer.  But considering the market which has developed for top-tier closers (see: Papelbon, Jonathon), this signing of Broxton seems to a wise risk/reward investment.
  • But here's what I think makes this signing all the more interesting.  The Royals already have a closer, and a very good one at that, in Joakim Soria.  At this point, the party line is probably that Broxton is going to be the setup man for Soria.  I don't think so, though.  One reason is simply that as a free agent, I doubt Broxton would sign somewhere unless he thought he was going to get the chance to close.
  • No, I think the Royals have something much more clever in mind.  I'm guessing that this signing of Broxton indicates that the Royals are planning to leverage Soria's value in some way.  And I see two possible avenues for this.
    1. Convert Joakim Soria into a starter.  I would argue that starters are much more valuable to teams than closers, and with a bunch of young stud pitching prospects on their way up, Soria could function as the de-facto veteran ace to lead these young bucks.  Making this transition from closer to starter is not without precedent of success in recent years (see: Wilson, C.J.)
    2. Use Joakim Soria as a valuable trade chip in a deal for something else that they really need.  There is no team in baseball that wouldn't love to have Soria in the fold, so it just depends on where the Royals feel like they have holes.  In fact, speculating whispers about potential trade matches are already starting to surface.  One that I read this morning was Joakim Soria for Colby Rasmus.   Having a young talented hitter like that would certainly beef up the Royals' lineup for years to come.  

Monday, November 28, 2011

"If I Were General Manager..." Series: NL West

If I were the General Manager of the...


-Build around the surprising trio of Kennedy, Hudson and Josh Collmenter.

-Sign a reliable, but cost-effective pitcher to fill in a #4 spot. We're looking for durability and consistency, and preferably someone who will keep the ball down. Joel Piniero might be a reasonable target, and then Joe Saunders becomes a very respectable #5.

-Use a trade or free agency to obtain a slugging left fielder. Carlos Lee would be my target, since the Astros are in full rebuilding mode, but I would also inquire about Kyle Blanks, Allen Craig, Josh Willingham, and Carlos Quentin. This lineup will be treacherous with one additional impact bat and the return of Stephen Drew.


-Move Juan Uribe to the bench, and ask the Padres what it will take to obtain Chase Headley. I'll give up one of our elite bullpen arms for an everyday player, and an underrated impact bat without hesitation.

-Stretch out Blake Hawksworth and make him the fifth starter over Dana Eveland. This will give us at least 3 decent lefties out of the pen, so I'll check in with some teams that are thin on the left side of the bullpen. Target a bench bat or add the lefty into the previously mentioned deal for a respectable third baseman.

-Shop for a #3 or #4 starter in free agency. Obviously, I'll take the #3 starter, since those are bettter....and it's not my money. Even better, I'll overpay to keep Hiroki Kuroda.

-Leave a spot open for Jerry Sands play every day.... Done.


-San Francisco's park dramatically promotes triples and suppresses home runs, so the plan is to cater to those features. I also happen to have a gaping hole at shortstop, so I'll take.......Jose Reyes please.

-Undo the Melky Cabrera for Jonathan Sanchez swap. I would want to keep the pitching depth and go after a defensive-minded center fielder given the afore-dimensions of the ballpark. Coco Crisp or a young speedster... I would settle for someone like Reed Johnson or Ryan Spilborghs via free agency or a minor trade.

-Since the signing of Reyes takes us out of the running for Beltran, we need a cost-effective outfielder. Brandon Belt plays left, Unnamed Speedster in center, and I would stick with Nate Schierholz in right. He has been surprisingly solid with the bat over the last few years, and will give you comparable production to most of the low-tier options in available in free agency. The return of Buster Posey should make this lineup decent enough for the pitchers to win games for us.


-I didn't mind the Jaso for Luebke swap. But to fully take advantage, I would flip Nick Hundley and a prospect I don't like for a high upside shortstop prospect in the lower levels.

-Since we're rebuilding, I would shop Chase Headley and get all I can for them.

-Since Cameron Maybin is still young, I will build around the trio of Maybin, Blanks, and Venable.

-I would make Luke Gregerson the closer from day one. This is not to win games, this is so I can then trade him as soon as the league views him as a "closer" and will give me a good return.

-Save the rest of my money and resources for brighter days, hopefully in about 2-3 years.


-Pencil in Ian Stewart for an everyday role at second base in 2012. I'm expecting a bounce-back year and I promise he'll give you more on offense than he gives up on defense. Kouzmanoff will return at third base.

-Since curveballs and sinkers don't play well in Coors, I will seek out trades for pitchers that have a "heavy" fastball. Guys like Chad Billingly, Fausto Carmona, and Edinson Volquez are my targets. (Unfortunately, the ideal fit would be Ubaldo Jiminez, but I'm still working under the assumption that the Rockies front office knew something about Jiminez that the rest of the league doesn't.)

-Sign Ryan Ludwick or someone similar. He hits the ball hard and in the air frequently, so he should benefit from the environment. He also plays above average defense as a corner outfielder.

"If I Were General Manager..." Series: NL Central

One of my favorite things in the world is fantasy baseball.  (I know, most people prefer fantasy football.  It's okay and all, but really I think its kind of light... Only one game a week for sixteen weeks?  I see it more as a gateway drug to fantasy baseball--the good stuff!)  Anyhow, I love fantasy baseball.  But I'm not alone in this affection.  Fantasy sports have reduced the productivity of workplaces across the board.  The reason for this, I think, is that it gives fans a chance to do the job they have always wanted to do, and believe they could excel at--being a General Manager of a professional sports team.  Drafting players, trading players, picking up free agents.  All in the quest to put together a championship team.

If you are like me, with fantasy baseball, the line between fantasy and reality can sometimes get blurry.  You sit and listen to a Chris Carpenter post-game interview, waiting for him to thank you for having enough trust to start him in a tough matchup.  You wonder if it is appropriate to send Ryan Howard an invitation to a family function.  He is, after all, one of my players.

So anyway... This morning here at The Hottest Stove, we are starting a series called, "If I Were General Manager..."  The premise is exactly what you might expect from the title.  With the GM winter meetings just around the corner, we are going to live out our fantasy, as we go team-by-team and play GM.  By the way, we will only handle the major stuff.  That is to say, there will be no notes about who will be the starting shortstop for the AAA club.

We will handle the task one division at a time, starting today with the National League Central.

If I Were General Manager of the...

  • Milwaukee Brewers
    • Do my best to re-sign Prince Fielder.  He and Ryan Braun formed one of the more formidable duos in MLB.  Without a bat like Fielder behind him, Braun will not see nearly as many opportunities to hit.  The two of them led the team to a division championship this year, and perhaps the good feelings might engender Prince to bring some purple rain to Milwaukee this offseason and lock in long-term with Braun (Signed through 2020) 
    • If I can't resign Prince Fielder, I would give a shot at first base to long-time prospect Matt Gamel, and try to sign a value bat that can play first base everyday, but could also play somewhere else if Gamel works out.  Somebody like Michael Cuddyer would fit the bill here.  If Gamel works out at first, Cuddyer could take third and put McGehee on the bench where he belongs.
    • Lock up Greinke and Marcum to long-term deals.  Along with Gallardo, this would give the Brewers a formidable top of the rotation for years to come.
    • Give Carlos Gomez a shot to start in center field, but sign a veteran backup like Rick Ankiel, Nate McClouth, or Coco Crisp.
    • Find somebody to play shortstop.  I'd probably go defense-first and cheap because it seems like the market is going to price the Brewers out of the top name guys.
    • Build a time-machine and undo the trades in which I gave away Brett Lawrie and J.J. Hardy.  That would be a pretty handsome left side of the infield.
  • St. Louis Cardinals
    • Make Albert Pujols a reasonable offer, and wait to see what happens.  
    • If nobody outbids the Cards, Albert will probably stay.  In which case, only minor moves would be left.
    • If anyone throws crazy money at him, let him walk.  Lance Berkman slides to first base and Allen Craig to right.
    • Figure out a way to dump Jake Westbrook.  Then sign either Roy Oswalt or Mark Buerhle.  Both have expressed an interest in coming to St. Louis, and both would be a marked upgrade.
    • Re-sign Nick Punto as a backup to both middle infield positions, but give the starting jobs to in-house players Daniel Descalso and Tyler Greene.
    • If Albert walks, package John Jay and some other players for an offensive upgrade in centerfield.  Somebody like Adam Jones.
  • Cincinnati Reds
    • Trade Yonder Alonso in a package for an ace starting pitcher.  Their rotation is made up of number two/three guys.  They need a one.  James Shields would be a good fit.
    • Add a veteran pitcher.  Maybe a guy like Mark Buehrle?
    • Sign a third basemen for the long periods of time that Scott Rolen will be hurt (Kevin Kouzmanoff?  Aramis Ramirez?)
    • Make Aroldis Chapman the closer.  He has lights out stuff, but his motion is probably too violent  to take a starter's innings. 
    • Sign a right-handed left fielder like Josh Willingham
    • Have Bronson Arroyo open every game with a rendition of "Wonderwall."  He plays guitar, you know.
  • Pittsburgh Pirates
    • Find good starting pitching and lots of it.  Overpay for it.  Trade for it.  Whatever.  This is a team with some good young position players, but a lot of smoke and mirrors for a rotation.  
    • Sign a veteran corner outfield bat to beef up the offense.  Jason Kubel would be a good fit. 
    • Re-Sign Derrek Lee
    • Pray that Pedro Alvarez remembers how to hit.  Sign a veteran third baseman in case he doesn't
  • Chicago Cubs
    • Slowly start the player development machine.  Hope that prospects graduate to the majors and make an impact soon.  Trade veteran players for valuable prospects.  This team is probably not going to be contending for a title this year, so there is no use fighting for a third place divisional finish.
    • Sign Albert Pujols.  I know this seems to contradict the previous point, but hear me out.  This team will have a lot of money to spend, and they are looking to shake the "we haven't won a world series in over a hundred years" mojo.  Why not start with a proven winner, hard competing, just won a World Series face of the franchise like Albert?  He can be the guy that all the young players look up to and emulate.  The Cubs wouldn't be paying Albert only as a "win-now" player, but as an investment in their future.
    • Only add other players that could be contributing for the long-term.
    • Pay Carlos Zambrano to go away.  Forever.  
  • Houston Astros (soon to be of the AL West, Hooray!)
    • Fire present GM (done.)
    • Trade whatever veteran players I have away for prospects.  But this time, for good prospects.  
    • Wait three to five years.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Injury Bug

If you listen long enough to any casual baseball conversation, a team's losing season is always attributed partly to the injury bug. These dreams of what might have been are often legitimate to a certain extent because with a grueling 162-game schedule, absolutely every team faces a number of injuries. But how can we compare and contrast the injury fortune or misfortune of different teams? How can this even be measured so we know which fans are just making excuses, and which fans have a valid point?

-Should we just list off important players from memory, listing who got hurt last year? Heck no.
-Do we tally up DL stints? Maybe, but some DL stints last for months and some only a few weeks.
-What about tallying up the total number of DL days for each team? You're getting warmer.
Should we check Baseball Prospectus and hope they already did the leg work for us? Absolutely!

Corey Dawkins and Ben Lindbergh wrote a series of columns for BP called "Collateral Damage." They used WAR projections for each player who went on the DL, and calculated the number of days each player missed. This allowed them to determine how much value each team lost to injury throughout the course of the 2011 season ("WARP lost" is their name for the calculation). Unfortunately, these heated "Injury Bug" discussions are going to be a lot shorter in the future now that we have this data. Here at The Hottest Stove, all we have left to do is check out a few highlights from BP's "WARP lost" team rankings and discuss the implications for the coming year:

Some teams had a high number of injuries and were successful despite their bad fortune. Barring major roster changes, we would expect these teams to stay successful and possibly get even better if their luck evens out in 2012.
  • The St. Louis Cardinals dealt with more injuries than 25 of the 30 teams in 2011, and still were able to sneak into the playoffs on the final day. None of the other teams in the top 5 in WARP lost were above .500.
  • The Philadelphia Phillies dealt with a high number of injuries as well, and rode their starting pitching to 102 wins. They'll keep bolstering their roster through free agency and although their players are aging, they seem to fill roster holes pretty effectively during the year.
  • The Texas Rangers also dealt with some key injuries throughout the summer months last year, but got incredibly hot once these pieces returned. The Rangers came within one strike of a World Series championship......twice.
Some teams had their actual talent level masked by high injury totals to key players. Expect a bounce back if these teams are healthy in 2012.
  • The Minnesota Twins were awful in 2011, but who can blame them with injuries to just about everyone. They lost more value to injury than any other team, and by a wide margin. And you know, the Twins without Mauer and Morneau are a little like a mule with a spinning wheel. (He doesn't know how he got it, and darned if he knows how to use it....) Here's the short list of DL stints: Mauer, Morneau, Liriano, Baker, Kubel, Span, Slowey, Thome, Young, Nathan, and Nishioka. The AL central is wide open, and I wouldn't be shocked if the Twins are in the mix next year despite their terrible results in 2011.
  • The San Francisco Giants will take a big step forward in 2012 and put themselves back atop the AL West. If they add a few decent bats, continue to pitch well, and get healthy, 2012 could be a great year for this group. The Giants (6th highest WARP lost) had a high number of injuries, while the Diamondbacks had relatively few injuries (4th lowest WARP lost total). Even though some of this is due to the age of the two rosters, look for a regression and for the AL West to be taken by San Francisco.
Some teams just aren't very good, and it wasn't because of injuries. The WARP lost total is very low on teams where the starters on the roster are very similar to replacement level.
  • The Astros lost the least value of any team in the majors to injury, but this is partly due to the lack of value on their roster. No resurgence is in sight until they draft well and bring in more talent via trade/free agency.
  • The Cubs lost surprisingly little value to injury in a year where they underachieved. Many expected good things from this roster last year, but even with luck seemingly on their side they couldn't get the job done.
  • The Oakland Athletics didn't put much value on the field last year, so they didn't lose much to injury. The moneyball theory is excellent, but if every team is using it AND paying more for quality players it is hard to expect good results.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Transaction Reaction: Joe Nathan

The Texas Rangers sign Joe Nathan to a two-year deal worth $14 million, with a $9 million dollar option for 2014 that has a $500K buyout.

  • I think this is a great move for the Rangers.  I am always against overpaying closers, but $7 million a year for two years seems pretty reasonable given market value.  Plus, after having Tommy John surgery, Nathan is equipped with a fresh elbow tendon.  So while he is old (37), his elbow is not.
  • The real reason I like this move, though, is that I think the Rangers are actually adding value to their roster in two places.  After watching Neftali Feliz implode in the World Series this year, Nathan, who has been one of the most consistent closers in the past decade, could be viewed as an upgrade at the position.  At the same time, though, the Rangers are upgrading their starting rotation by adding Feliz to the mix.  
  • Some have wondered if Neftali Feliz will be able to handle the transition from bullpen to rotation, but what people don't realize about Feliz is that he was actually brought up through the minors as a starting pitcher (and a very good one at that!), and only became a closer in the bigs by necessity.  As a prospect, scouts projected him as a potential staff ace.  In this regard, Feliz's situation reminds me of another minor league starter--turned major league closer--turned major league starter:  Adam Wainwright.  
  • All that being said, I think Nathan will do a good job as a closer, and I bet Feliz will be an excellent starter.  With regard to Feliz, however, I do anticipate a shoulder injury--mine, as I reach for him in next year's fantasy baseball draft.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Transaction Reaction: Clint Barmes

The Pirates signed Clint Barmes to a two-year, 10.5 million dollar deal.
  • I'm not sure how I feel about this deal. I do think the Pirates will benefit greatly from the solid defense, consistency, and veteran leadership that Barmes will bring. Additionally, it's clear the market for middle infielders has trended upward, so the Pirates did a good job of obtaining the guy they wanted for a reasonable price, even though there are a number of teams in need of his services. Apparently the durability and consistency of Barmes proved to be the low-risk exception in a crop of high risk options in the free agent shortstop market.
  • The debatable part of this deal is not the fact that they signed Clint Barmes. It's that they non-tendered an almost identical statistical player in Ronny Cedeno just a few weeks ago, and then paid more to obtain Barmes. The offensive and defensive numbers are eerily similar, so there must have been a personality clash or another kind of clubhouse issue going on. Otherwise, the series of events is a head-scratcher.
Cedeno 2011: .249/.297/.357 UZR/150: 6.8
Barmes 2011: .244/.312/.386 UZR/150: 10.8

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Transaction Reaction: Ryan Doumit

The Minnesota Twins sign Ryan Doumit to a one-year, $3 million contract, with incentive bonuses

  • I like this deal for the Twins.  Very low risk, and Doumit has been a serviceable major league hitter in his career.  In 2011, he posted a .303/.353/.477 slash line.   Doumit plays both of the positions (C/1B) at which the Twins have highly-fragile stars (Mauer, Morneau), and sizes up well as a fill-in starter.  Plus, if Hell freezes over and both Mauer and Morneau are healthy at the same time, Doumit has the versatility to play a corner outfield spot.  

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Astros Moving! But Also Two New Wild Cards in MLB Playoffs :(

So, believe it or not, in a previous post, I advocated moving the Astros to the AL West to even out divisions.  And now it is happening.  Well done!  Now about the Pirates and Braves... (see "Common Sense Division Realignment..." post)

Unfortunately, along with the realignment announcement came another declaration from the commissioner's office that as soon as next year, there will be two new wild card teams in the playoffs, and the two wild card teams per league will meet in a one game playoff.  My complaint about the MLB playoff system has always been the initial round of divisional playoff series is too short at the present best of five format.  The unique thing about baseball is that it is an 162 game grind, where over the course of many months the cream rises to the top.  It always seemed cheap to have two of the top four teams in each league eliminated in a series that is so brief when compared with the duration of the regular season.

But now something even more absurd is being introduced.  A one game playoff.  After pushing through a grueling 162 games, filled with highs and lows, a team now has four hours to decide its playoff fate.  Keep in mind, this isn't the NFL in which a one game playoff makes sense because it is 1/16 of the regular season. For  baseball, a one game playoff is a minuscule 1/162 of the season.

Will the ratings be high?  Probably.  Will MLB make a lot of money?  Definitely.  But the net result is that the league is further cheapening the regular season.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Transaction Reaction: Mark Ellis

The Dodgers signed Mark Ellis to a two-year, 8.75 million dollar contract.

  • This continues the run on low-ceiling middle infielders. With the exception being Hill, we have already seen a few low-tier middle infielders signed early this off-season. His value has always been with his glove, but at this cost I have a hard time justifying the decision. If your team has a triple-A shortstop, you have Mark Ellis in the fold already, and for the league minimum! Instructions: 1) Take your dirt cheap triple A guy, 2) Slide him to second and hope he hits a little and 3) You're in business! 4) Spend your winnings elsewhere... It was thought that Ellis might experience a slight jump in his numbers after leaving Oakland for Coors Field, which did happen temporarily. However, he immediately jumps back into a pitcher's park for the 2012 season.

Monday, November 14, 2011

The Hiring of Mike Matheny Signals Major Changes in Organizational Philosophy

If Tony La Russa were in charge of hiring the next manager for the St. Louis Cardinals, he would have picked Terry Francona.  No doubt about it in my mind.  Why?  Francona is a battle-tested veteran manager who has been there before.  He has the experience.

But Tony is not in charge anymore.  And this hire of unproven Mike Matheny is the first of many manifestations of that reality.  General Manager John Mozeliak is in charge now.  Back in 2007, when the Cardinals fired Walt Jocketty, they announced that the organization was moving to greater emphasize player development, and give young, home-grown players chances to become stars on the big league level.  Unfortunately, they failed to realize that Tony La Russa was still the sheriff in town.  And Tony had long preferred veteran players over rookies, even at times to a fault.  And so the full realization of the shift to the build from within model was put on hold.

But now, things have changed.  In an article in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Mozeliak made a few off-the-cuff comments to beat writer Joe Strauss.  He said that Daniel Descalso is projected as the team's starting second baseman, that he wouldn't mind seeing Tyler Greene as the starting shortstop, and that the backup catcher would be either Bryan Anderson or Tony Cruz.  Simple comments on the surface level, but let me make a few observations:

  • All four of these players Mozeliak is targeting for major roles on the team are home-grown players
  • None of them have ever been every-day starters on the Major League Level
  • There is no mention of a potential plan to bring in a proven veteran (like Clint Barmes or Jack Wilson) to "compete" for either of the starting middle infield jobs (though Mozeliak has expressed some interest in Rafael Furcal if the price is right)
  • Low-ceiling veteran players on the Cardinals roster (like Skip Schumacher or Ryan Theriot) aren't even mentioned as possibilities for the starting middle infield jobs.  In the article Schumacher is targeted for a utility role, and Theriot isn't even mentioned.    
  • Over the past number of years, the backup catcher has always been a crusty veteran (Gerald Laird, Jason LaRue).  This is changing.  
Somewhere, Tony La Russa is rolling over in his metaphorical grave (he's not really dead yet...), as these statement by Mozeliak go against everything the old manager believes in.  But he's not the manager anymore.  As of 11:00am CST, Mike Matheny will be.

By the way, here is the link to the Matheny press conference: http://mlb.mlb.com/video/play.jsp?content_id=6022709&topic_id=6350584&c_id=mlb&tcid=vpp_copy_6022709&v=3

Transaction Reaction: Aaron Hill

The Arizona Diamondbacks sign Aaron Hill to a two-year contract worth $11 Million.

  • I think that this is a tremendous deal for the Arizona Diamondbacks.  Back in the "Value in a Vacuum" column, I argued that Hill was among the best values to be had this offseason.  As a second baseman, he is only two years removed from a season in which he hit .286 with 36 home runs.  That is a "Sandberg-ian" type of production.  Granted, the last two years have not been quite as pretty, but the potential is there, and after he was traded to the Diamondbacks, Hill hit .315 in 124 at bats.
  • In addition, the risk-level on this contract is very low.  $5.5 million dollars?  In MLB terms, that is tuppence (to quote Mary Poppins).  Plus, if for some reason Hill goes through a rough patch or two, they have super-sub Willie Bloomquist backing up both middle infield positions.  
  • By the way, if you were to go to Aaron Hill's page on baseball-reference.com, do you know who they list as statistically the most similar player through age 29 in all of baseball history?  Brandon Phillips.  Just for some financial comps, before having his $12 million dollar option picked up this year, Phillips was reportedly looking for something in the ballpark of $48 Million over four years.     

Saturday, November 12, 2011

"Too Much Moneyball" trailer

It's never too early in free agency to discuss the Yankee's plans....

Thanks to Jest.com for this excellent spoof of the Moneyball trailer.

Transaction Reaction: Jonathan Papelbon and Jamey Carroll

Update: The Phillies do not finalize the deal for Madson, and instead sign Jonathan Papelbon to a 4 year, $50 million dollar deal. This deal also includes a possible vesting year added on if certain benchmarks are met.

  • So it seemed temporarily that the Phillies had read our esteemed blog and re-assessed their closer situation. The deal with Madson was never finalized, and for a few hours it looked as though the Phillies had come to their senses regarding what a closer is worth to a baseball team. $44 million is just too much for a guy with only a short track record of closing, right? Exactly. They decided that the guy they were going to invest $44 million in, wasn't a "sure thing" given the short track record of Madson, so they shelled out an additional 6+ million, and maybe even more if the extra year vests later on to get Papelbon. The six million dollar difference alone is nearer to what a decent closer should make in today's environment. Due to 3-out saves, saves with 3-run leads, and limited use.....the fact is that closer's have far less impact on the game than this contract shows. Baseball Prospectus showed us in 2005 that the closer rarely gets the highest leverage outs of any given game due to their inefficient use. I do think Papelbon will be an above average closer, but any hope that Papelbon will be lights out and make this deal close to reasonable is wiped away by the vesting option for the fifth year. From the Phillies perspective at this point, you either get a guy who performs well that you are overpaying, or a guy that pitches poorly that you are dramatically overpaying for one less year... Not ideal. (Also, do we really know that the difference between Papelbon and Madson is worth 1.3 million a year, plus a possible extra year AND a compensation draft pick? My humble opinion is that the Phillies only compounded their mistake from a few days ago.)

The Twins signed Jamey Carroll to a two-year, $7 million dollar deal. This deal also has an extra year at $2 million that vests if Carroll gets 401 plate appearances in 2013. This extra year vests based on durability, but is actually a player option if Carroll meets the criteria.

  • The Twins plan to use Carroll as their everyday shortstop, which is interesting given his age and recent utility work. However, I like the approach of avoiding the high-risk, upper tier shortstops since they will not be competing within the next few years anyway. This might be a fair deal given Carroll's recent offensive production, but I would think his durability and defense will be a concern at the shortstop position every day. The run on low-level middle infielders has been interesting, and it looks like teams are recognizing the dearth of talent after you get passed Rollins and Reyes. A low-risk move like this allows the Twins to try out young players in a year or two and see if anyone can provide positive value, without breaking the bank with dead money sitting on the bench.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Transaction Reaction: Ryan Madson and Willie Bloomquist

This will be the first of what will be many posts in our "Transaction Reaction" series.  Over the course of the offseason, the day after major transactions occur in MLB, we will be providing evaluative reaction.

  • Ryan Madson agrees to sign with the Philadelphia Phillies for on a four-year $44 million dollar deal
    • This is a horrible move for the Phillies.  I saw this one coming when I wrote in a previous post: "Madson is a good pitcher, but he is going to get a huge contract for half a season of successfully finishing games."  The closer is easily the most overvalued position in baseball and the Phillies just committed not only big dollars, but big years to a guy who hasn't even proven himself to be consistently good at closing games.  I'd like to think with the sort of contract, they could have attracted more proven commodities like Jonathon Papelbon or Heath Bell.  
    • In addition, the Phillies really should have allocated these resources in other places.  Their expensive players are getting older (see: Ibanez, Raul; Utley, Chase; Polanco, Placido) and hurter (see: Howard, Ryan), and the roster is quickly becoming a sinking ship with many gaping holes leaking water.  And they just took their biggest cork and put it in the smallest hole.   I guess they figured that they had the $13.5 million from Brad Lidge's contract already earmarked for a closer...
  • Willie Bloomquist signs with the Arizona Diamondbacks on a two-year $3.8 million dollar deal   
    • I think this is a great deal for the Diamondbacks.  Bloomquist is an established veteran presence on a young team who has proven his ability to play numerous positions, including an extended stint as the starting shortstop last year, while providing decent offensive value.  And the price tag is very affordable.  

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Common-Sense Divisional Realignment Suggestions for MLB Commissioner Bud Selig

I think that in all of sports, there is nothing more universally hated than the present college football BCS bowl system.  It's the only sports system in which a team can go the entire season without losing a game and not win a championship.  Absurd.  It defies all logic.  I would like to think that we could get a group of people in a room, and even if they have never watched college football in their lives, they could come up with a better system.  Because all it takes is common-sense.

This website, though, is not about college football.  It's about baseball, of course!  But like the BCS situation, there are a few oddities with the present MLB format that defy logic.  So, Commissioner Selig, I want to offer just a few common-sense suggestions for you.  Nothing ground-breaking, of course.
  • There are presently six divisions in baseball: NL/AL Central, NL/AL West, and NL/AL East.  Of those six divisions, four of them have five teams, one has six teams, and one has four teams.  Do you see a problem here?  Yep, the divisions don't all have the same number of teams, yielding a competitive imbalance.  The four teams in the AL West have a better chance than the other twenty-six teams because they only have to beat out three other teams (instead of four) to win their division, while the six teams in the NL Central have a worse chance than the other twenty-four teams because they have to beat out five other teams (instead of four) to win their division. 
  • Fortunately, this one isn't a tough one to fix.  Simply move one of the six teams from the NL Central to the AL West, and then all the divisions will  have an equal number of teams.  Ta-Da!  
  • But which one to move?  If only one of the teams in the NL Central was really in a western state... and maybe even had a natural in-state rivalry with one of the teams in the AL West... boy, that would work out nicely.... Oh wait!  Don't the Houston Astros play in the western state of Texas, the same state that the AL West Texas Rangers play in?  (Rhetorical question, but the answer, of course, is "YES!")  The simple solution to the problem is to move the Houston Astros to the AL West.  Speaking as someone who lives in an NL Central city, we won't really miss them anyway.  
  • "But wait!" the hypothetical objector retorts, "if there are fifteen teams in each league, then there will have to be an interleague game played every day."  
  • My response: "That's ok with me."  Plus, this might finally be an excuse to do away with the archaic DH rule.
    • Excursus #1: The Designated Hitter
    • The designated hitter rule was instituted in 1973 as a "stimulus package" for the financially struggling American League.  They figured that by adding the designated hitter, it would allow for American League teams to sign washed-up players who could no longer play the field, but whose name-recognition would still attract fans to buy tickets.  Early examples of this include players like Henry Aaron at the very end of his career.  Seemed like a decent plan at the time.  However, the American League doesn't need this stimulus anymore!  The reason for the designated hitter rule died long ago, and so we should let the designated hitter rule follow suit.   
    • Excursus #2: Inter-League Scheduling
    • Before this World Series, do you know how many times the Texas Rangers played the Cardinals in St. Louis?  I'll give you a hint: Interleague play has been around for fifteen seasons... Give up?  Actually, the answer is zero.  Before the 2011 postseason, the Texas Rangers had never been to St. Louis.  The original draw of Interleague play was the excitement of seeing teams that you normally wouldn't see in a given season.  Because of this, fans expected some sort of rotation in which eventually, over the course of a number of years, every team would visit every other team.  How is it possible, then, that this was the first time the Rangers visited St. Louis?  The answer is what MLB has dubbed the "rivalry" series in which the league has sought to create new rivalries by forcing teams that are geographically close to one another but in separate leagues to play a home and home (six games) with each other every year.  Some of these have been fairly captivating (White Sox/Cubs), but most have quickly gotten stale (Cardinals/Royals).  I think it might be time to say goodbye to the "rivalry" series, and set up interleague play on a purely rotational basis so that every team visits every park.
  • Anyway, back to realignment thoughts... This one is a bit more quirky, and may reveal a bit of O.C.D on my part, but stick with me, and hear my argument out.  After employing my previously mentioned switch of the Astros to the AL West, I think that the Pittsburgh Pirates (NL Central) should switch division with the Atlanta Braves (NL East).  Here are my reasons:
    • 1.) Pittsburgh is further east than Atlanta. 
    • 2.) It could potentially create an interesting rivalry between the Pittsburgh Pirates and Philadelphia Phillies, between two cities that already don't like each other.  I'm actually surprised this rivalry isn't happening at the moment, but perhaps being division-mates will stir the pot.  Now, I know what you might be thinking.  The Phillies have been great and the Pirates have been horrible.  But keep in mind, that the Pirates are on the way up with young talent, and the Phillies are on the way down with old talent.  Perhaps they will meet in the middle
    • 3.) The move of the Braves will give the NL Central the southern presence that they will have lost by moving the Houston Astros to the AL West.  
Well, that's all for now.  I hope that these ideas seem as common-sense to you as they do to me.  I await your rebuttal in the comments section!

Monday, November 7, 2011

MLB Stock Watch

It's tough to evaluate where each team stands prior to free agency. Luckily here at The Hottest Stove, we've got you covered. Before the opinions of fans and owners are skewed by the hype of agents, the whiskey of the winter meetings and the warm tidings of Christmas, let's take a look at each team's overall position moving forward. For this stock watch we've considered a variety of factors including payroll space, current production of returning players, age of the roster, and any big time prospects climbing through the system.

NL East

Braves -Stable. The Braves should expect a bounce back from Heyward this year, and they have some incredible young talent. Beachy, Hanson, Kimbrel, Venters, and Tejeran are all excellent young pitchers, and I think the only thing to watch will be their offensive production. The division will be much tougher this year as the Marlins and Nationals are expected to spend wads of cash to make a run in 2012.

Marlins -Rising. See above. I have heard rumors connecting the Marlins to big bats, ace pitchers, and about everything else. Everyone expects them to make two or three big splashes this winter, and if that happens it will put them pretty close to the Braves and Phillies. Hanley Ramirez and Mike Stanton are just waiting for reinforcements.

Mets -Falling fast and switching to full rebuilding mode. Not only is their pitching terrible even in a pitcher's park, they have expressed pessimism about their ability to retain Jose Reyes. David Wright, essentially their only impact player left, has a monster contract compared to his actual production over the last few years. Even Wright has been rumored to be on the trading block. Lucas Duda, we're gonna need a big year out of you buddy....

Nationals -Rising fast. The Nationals will return a pitching staff including Stephen Strasburg, break out stud Jordan Zimmerman, and lefty Ross Detwiler. They also feature a great bullpen with Tyler Clippard and Drew Storen at the back end. If they spend the money for a few big bats, this roster might be ready to overtake the Phillies and Braves as soon as this year.

Phillies - Falling/Aging. Their roster still looks good on paper, and we'll see if they pay to keep Jimmy Rollins. Their pitching will again make them a contender in 2012, as long as Doc and Cliff Lee remain healthy. However, their offense no longer is the juggernaut we remember. Injuries have cut Chase Utley down to only about 60% of the production from the glory days, and Ryan Howard has declined significantly in each of the last three seasons. They will rely on him more than ever, and let's hope he lives up to his fresh, new contract that starts this year. (The Phillies front office is going to be addressing criticisms about this deal for the next five years, so get used to hearing it.)

NL Central

Astros - Rebuilding. In an amazing feat, the Astros managed to give up Hunter Pence and Michael Bourn without getting much value in return. Such is life in a fallen world.... Kidding aside, I do like some of the Houston pitching. Rodriguez, Norris and some young ones stepping forward could make the pitching the high point of the 2012 season. If I were Ed Wade, I would shop Norris and Rodriguez this winter since the team won't compete while they are in their prime anyway. As Rays VP of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman would say, "Never pay for a fourth or fifth place finish." That's not a real quote...but it makes a lot of sense.

Brewers - Falling slightly. The Brewers still have good pitching, but also will be losing a very "hefty" bat from their lineup. With the fact that their lineup was already pretty thin once opponents got past the fifth spot in their order, it will be interesting to see how they move forward. They probably would have enough money to make an offer to Reyes, but that would leave dramatic holes in the rest of their roster. It's tough to fill the spots from the 6-8 players departing with one big signing.

Cardinals - Stable. The Cardinals will most likely return a very competitive roster regardless of what happens in the Pujols derby. They return a very good lineup, and will add to their starting rotation a 20-game winner in Adam Wainwright. Their incredibly effective and young bullpen will return largely intact as well. If Pujols leaves, the Cards will be able to target a premier middle infielder, additional pitching, or trade for a premier player with a large contract. It's tough not to like their position moving forward. Don't forget that the Cards also have two future aces brewing in the minors should any of their starters take a step backward.

Cubs - Falling. Optimism abounds in Chicago, as it does every year. Bringing in Theo Epstein will inject life into a stalling franchise, and they will have a large amount of money to spend. The problem is that they have an incredible number of needs. "If we add a right fielder, first baseman, third baseman, a few bullpen arms and a few starting pitchers, we're going to be in BUSINESS." This scarcity of quality ballplayers is the primary reason why you won't see Prince Fielder or Albert Pujols wearing the little bear next spring.

Pirates - Falling. While they had a good run last year and still boast some good players, they will not return enough talent unless they spend major bucks in free agency. Keep in mind this is not their modus operandi over the past.....20 years or so. In an increasingly challenging NL central, the Pirates will need to step up their game, and hope for Pedro Alvarez to do the same.

Reds - Rising. If the Reds can straighten out their pitching woes, they will challenge the Cardinals for a playoff spot next year. Unfortunately, what they thought to be a position of strength has now turned into an achilles heel as a number of their young starters have failed to pan out thus far. Votto, Bruce, Heisey, Stubbs and Yonder Alonso make up a solid mix of inexpensive offensive production. If a few young arms step forward and they convince Bronson Arroyo to put down the guitar, this could be a dangerous team.

NL West

Diamondbacks - Rising. Gibson orchestrated a playoff berth without the assistance of starting shortstop Stephen Drew. If they can fill out the back end of their rotation, they will be set up for another solid year. Impact players Ian Kennedy, Daniel Hudson, Justin Upton and the aforementioned Drew form a core that is going to be good for years to come.

Dodgers - Selling/Divorcing. The ownership situation likely will put a stranglehold on any big moves, which is a shame. Any team returning a Cy Young candidate (Kershaw) and MVP candidate (Kemp) deserves better than what we will see from the Dodgers in 2012.

Giants - Falling slightly. The Giants still have a very good roster when you consider their pitching depth. They recently traded Sanchez to bring in Melky Cabrera, but the offense will need a bigger boost than he can offer for them to return to their 2010 glory. The return of Buster Posey will help, but they need to add about two additional bats to make their lineup decent. The combination of aging position players and dead money on the payroll does not bode well for them acquiring the bats they need. With pitching alone, this team may have enough firepower to contend, but their margin for error is razor-thin at this point.

Padres - Falling. They have money to spend, but no one's quite sure who they'll choose to spend it on, given their numerous needs. It is tough to attract premier bats to a place that will cost them production due to the monstrous ballpark. They overachieved and put up decent offensive numbers toward the end of last year, but I'm calling it fool's gold.

Rockies - Who knows-ing. The loss of Jiminez will be felt severely this year. Pitchers with live fastballs are the only ones that can succeed in Coors Field, so of course they sent one of the best fastballs in the league off to Cleveland.... That being said, they should have a respectable amount of money to spend, and if they spend it wisely they could make the West a three team race. Check back here in a few weeks as I'm planning to do a post about how Park Effects at Coors might impact some of this year's free agents.

AL East

Blue Jays -Rising like crazy. I'm buying like crazy. They are rumored to be targeting a premier closer for this off-season, and that says a lot about their plans for this coming year. No one spends money on a closer unless they plan on contending, so watch out Red Sox and Yankees! I'm not sure that any other team has the combination of young, dynamic players and money to spend that the Blue Jays are boasting right now. Their pitching might hold them back, but I expect them to end up with at least one big-time arm before next year begins. They also have one of the most respected GMs in the game in Alex Anthopoulos, so I would guess they will spend their resources wisely.

Orioles - Stable. It honestly depends on what the Orioles choose to spend their money on, but the fact that the O's couldn't even swindle someone into taking their GM position for several weeks is a bad omen for the future. Look for a big step forward from Matt Wieters, who hopes to build on his strong second-half in 2011. J.J. Hardy is also a nice piece, but they don't have nearly enough pitching unless they do something drastic. They will need about thee times as many good arms as they have on the roster now, so the new GM Dan Duquette has some work cut out for him.

Rays - Stable. If they can conjure up enough offense, their pitching is going to be driving rival teams crazy. It's remarkable that teams like Boston and New York with huge payrolls are struggling to fill out a rotation...and resorting to dumpster dives while the Rays are deciding what to do with their wealth of pitching depth. (The answer: Keep it and use them all!!!) Look at this.... Price, Shields, Matt Moore, Jeremy Hellickson and Wade Davis. Young, dirt cheap, and more effective than almost every other rotation in baseball. If you live anywhere near them, go watch them play!!!

Red Sox - Way better than you think. Regardless of the reactionary dismantling of the front office and removal of the manager following the 2011 collapse, this team is about two decent players away from being one of the most complete and scary rosters in baseball. In 2011, this team was dominant for most of the season even with numerous pitching injuries, an abysmal year from Carl Crawford, an extended DL stint for Youkilis, and a lot of beer and fried chicken. They still won 90 games in the AL east. This division will be loaded with talented teams next year, but my early pick is that the Red Sox and the Blue Jays will be battling it out down the stretch for the division title.

Yankees -Falling. We'll see how far those pockets can stretch as they already have an enormous payroll, and will have several needs to fill. The issue is cropping up is the Yankees' continued loyalty to their aging stars. This is the year that Jeter, Rivera and AROD become a glaring negative for this ball club. In addition, check out their starting rotation - CC Sabathia......(cliff). That's not Cliff Lee, it's a metaphorical cliff. The Yankees need about three starters from the free agent or trade market to compete in this division next year.

AL Central

Indians - Falling. Originally, I thought Jiminez was a good addition, but in hindsight the move looks like a desperate push to win in 2011 that didn't pan out. His performance the next few years will have a lot to say about the value of this franchise. Cleveland has to be a bit nervous, and wondering if the Rockies identified his peak and sold him at just the right moment. The Tribe doesn't have much depth, so the pieces they gave up would probably have put them in a much better position for the future.

Royals - Rising. A wealth of young talent will be maturing over the next few years. I'm picking 2013 for a leap forward and a playoff run, but the Royals will be noticeably better in 2012. Butler, Hosmer, Gordon, Francouer, and Moustakas will bring plenty of thump as long as the pitching can keep up. A couple of wise free agent value plays could make this team a contender.

Tigers - Falling slightly. While Doug Fister was a great pick-up to fill out the starting rotation, I think the offense takes a step back in 2012. Austin Jackson is a leadoff hitter who can't get on base, and they will deal with the loss of Magglio Ordonez. Victor Martinez continues to battle injuries as well, so his production is never guaranteed. Unfortunately, Verlander's performance in 2011 was so incredible that even the most optimistic fans will be counting on a slight regression this year. We'll see if this is counteracted by steps forward from Porcello and Scherzer. This is still a pretty good roster, and this division looks to be up for grabs at this point.

Twins - Unfortunately stable. Morneau and Mauer both fell off the map in 2011, and Cuddyer and Kubel might depart in free agency. These losses coupled with their less than stellar rotation, and it might be another long, cold year in the outdoors. The Twins have plenty of needs with marginal or replacement players filling several spots, but they are not expected to be major players in the offseason market. I believe it was Nietzsche who wrote, "Dumpster dives and low-hanging fruit do not a playoff run make." (Again, not a real quote....)

White Sox -Falling for now. A new young manager might be a bright spot, but we'll see what they do with a lumbering, aging roster. I would like to see them add some youth and spend some money to replace the free agents who are leaving. They will need pitching in a big way....and I'm not sure they'll pay to get it this year.

AL West

Angels - Falling slightly. They have a few good pieces (Weaver, Haren, Trumbo, Bourjos) but nothing around them. Mike Trout will add some excitement, and it will be fun to watch him develop. The remaining players on the roster are either aging, light-hitting, or just aren't very good, and the Angels don't seem to have enough resources to replace the major holes they have. Also, since they will most likely be chasing the Rangers for the next few years, a rebuilding project might be in order.

Athletics - Falling. It's hard to lure free agent bats to join your team when you don't have much money and play in a tremendously difficult park to hit in. Perhaps they could sell real estate with all of that space in foul territory....and then call Prince Fielder.

Rangers - Stable. It's hard to argue with back-to-back AL championships. Not only do they have a great lineup and some good young pitching coming up, they have some money to spend in free agency courtesy of their record-setting TV deal. They might land a few decent players, or one big fish and some low cost value plays to add to their already solid roster this winter.

Seattle - Fallen? The fact that I couldn't remember who the fourth team in the AL west was, and had to look it up says more about their stock than anything I could come up with. My memory is fine.....their roster is not.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Value in a Vacuum for the Top Fifty 2012 Free Agents

There is nothing more exciting than the midnight deadline at which all free agents are free to negotiate with every team.  From that point forward, anything is possible.  Your team could dramatically enhance its prospects for success by signing the right free agent(s). Or it could be left without adding a single marquee player, or even worse, agreeing to an albatross of a contract (I’m looking at you, Vernon Wells…)

Now of course this whole free agent enterprise is more complex than simply picking the guys that you want the most, like a fantasy draft.  Each team has to take into account a myriad of factors, including positional needs, available payroll, and whether your team is looking to win now or rebuild. 

But what if we threw all that aside?  What is each free agent’s Value in a Vacuum (VIAM)?  So here is how the exercise works.  You are Team X.  Your budget is the average of all MLB teams.  You have no particular needs that stand out over any other.  Given these factors, what is the value, on a scale of 1-10 (10 being high value, 1 being, well, Carlos Zambrano), of each of the top fifty free agents, considering the sort of contract they will command in this market. 

For this assignment, I am using top fifty free agents list from mlbtraderumors.com, a list as good as any. (Is anyone really going to argue over who is the 50th best versus 51st best free agent?) 

1. Albert Pujols—8—Admittedly, he is getting older and is going to command an enormous contract, both in years and in average annual value (AAV).  But the guy is a proven winner who deeply cares about winning and is maybe the most consistently excellent player in baseball history.  Drop-off is expected, but even his drop-off is better than most guys’ best season.

2. Prince Fielder—8—Comparable in present ability to Albert, and younger, but massive body is a bit of a concern to break down at the back end of the long-term contract he will demand.

3.Jose Reyes—6—Absolute game-changer when he is healthy.  He features all five tools at a premiere position.  The problem is, how many games can you expect him to play?

4. C.J. Wilson—3—Wilson is a very good pitcher.  Unfortunately, in a year in which he is the top free agent starter, you have to pay him--in years and AAV--as an ace, when he is really a high-end number three/low-end two.

5. Yu Darvish—3—Darvish will command at least the sort of money as Matzusaka did several years ago, which was over $100 million combined when both the posting fee and contract are taken into account.  It is doubtful he can live up to that sort of contract.  This valuation also reflects a belief that in general GM’s have overvalued players from Japan.  This is not meant to be a knock against Japanese players, but MLB scouts.  There has only been one Ichiro.  Other than him and Hiroki Kuroda, The rest have underachieved relative to scouts’ expectations.  Think about it. 

6.Edwin Jackson—4—Edwin will probably command a 4-year contract.  But while he has shown flashes of brilliance, those flashes have been overshadowed by a career of mediocrity.  Still, he is young (only 28), and durable.  He could be a low-end number three/high-end four.

7. Jimmy Rollins—5—The value on this one is highly dependent on how many years Rollins gets.  Jimmy is still a good player, and a proven winner.  But he is no spring chicken.

8.Aramis Ramirez—4—Getting older, but still a solid player.  But I wouldn’t overspend, as he has seen prolonged slumps the last couple seasons.  And those slumps could start getting longer…

9. Carlos Beltran—6—With the right situation, and the right length contract (short!), Beltran could be a major offensive contributor.

10. Jonathan Papelbon—6—Papelbon is still a top-shelf closer, though he will command top dollar.  If Boston was thinking outside the box, with their rotational woes, they might consider converting Papelbon to a starter and make Bard the closer.

11. Michael Cuddyer—7—Cuddyer can play nearly every position on the field, and has proven that he can be an all-star offensive player.  Unless someone decides to overpay, Cuddyer could be a major bargain.
12. Mark Buehrle—7—Buehrle is known to be nearing retirement, so he probably wouldn’t be interested in a super-long contract.  Potentially the best starting pitcher value of the 2012 offseason.

13. David Ortiz—2—Someone (Yankees?!?) is going to grossly overpay for this quickly-aging DH.  This could be the year he drops off the table (see: Dunn, Adam)

14. Ryan Madson—3—This is a case of baseball’s overvaluation of closers.  Madson is a good pitcher, but he is going to get a huge contract for half a season of successfully finishing games.

15.  Hiroki Kuroda—7—Getting older, so he probably will only get 1 or 2 years.  Despite his age, however, Kuroda has been strikingly consistent, perhaps even getting better over the last couple years.

16. Carlos Pena—4—Probably won’t get more than a year or two.  Does not really offer much by way of positive value, especially playing first base.  If he can’t get it done at Wriglely Field, then where?

17. Francisco Rodriguez—3—See: Madson, Ryan

18. Roy Oswalt—7—Roy hasn’t always been healthy, but when he has, he has been great. 

19. Javier Vasquez—2—I’ve seen this movie too many times.

20. Heath Bell—7—If you want a closer, this is the guy to get.  Consistent, all-star, great team guy

21.  Coco Crisp—4—Is he still playing?  In all seriousness, if your team is banking on Crisp as a starter, you’ve got big problems.  But maybe as a fourth/fifth outfielder, he could have some value.

22. Hisashi Iwakuma—2—See my thoughts on Japanese players at #5 above.

23. Kelly Johnson—6—After a rough season, if Johnson bounces back , he could be a decent value.

24.  Josh Willingham—4—Slugging corner outfielders aren’t hard to find.

25.  Paul Maholm—3—Low-end four/high-end five starter.  Will get paid like a three.

26.  Grady Sizemore—8—He’s going to be cheap.  You either believe or you don’t.  I’m rolling the dice. 

27.  Bartolo Colon—4—After a successful season, he will be spending his offseason with a celebratory meal.  One long celebratory meal…

28.  Erik Bedard—3—Great when he’s healthy.  All two weeks.

29.  David DeJesus—4—Most teams have a comparable (though much cheaper) player on their Triple-A squad.

30. Jason Kubel—6—The only thing Kubel does well is hit.  But he does it pretty well. 

31. Ramon Hernandez—3—Good player, but in addition to the contract, Hernandez will cost teams a first round draft pick because somehow he is a type-A free agent.  Pass.

32.  Jeff Francis—6—Francis on a one-year deal could be a decent value for a team trying to fill out the back end of the rotation. 

33.  Chris Capuano—4—About the same as Francis, but with lower upside

34.  Ysuyoshi Wada—2—See #22

35. Clint Barmes—4—On a one-year deal, he might be a decent utility player.  But teams might do just as well promoting someone from Triple-A

36.  Casey Kotchman—8—Kotchman is young and had a great season last year.  I’m not sure why there isn’t more interest in him.  Assuming interest stays low, there is great value here. 

37.  Freddy Garcia—4—I’m not a believer in the comeback season, but on a one-year flier, you could do worse.

38.  Aaron Hill—9—Hill had a bad year in 2011, but started to turn it around after a late season trade to the D-Backs.  But keep in mind that he has a mind-boggling offensive performance roughly every-other season.  And last year was the bad one…

39.  Johnny Damon—4—Meh…

40.  Aaron Harang—6—In the right situation, Harang could thrive as a back-of-the rotation guy on a one-year deal.

41.  Jamey Carroll—3—Definition of a replacement level player.  Just pull up a minor leaguer. 

42.  Rafael Furcal—6—When healthy, Furcal is a good player.  And even though it seems like he has been around forever, he is only 33.

43.  Juan Pierre—3—He is what he is.  A light-hitting corner outfielder with some speed.

44.  Frank Francisco—5—Francisco is a good reliever.  He is a good value unless he is paid as a closer.

45.  Jason Marquis—2—No reason to have this guy on your team. 

46.  Joel Pineiro—5—Like Harang (#40) Piniero can eat some valuable innings as a back-of-the-rotation guy on a one year deal

47.  Jonathon Broxton—5—Likely to get overlooked because of health problems.  Remember, in 2010, he was an elite closer.  Risk/reward here.

48.  Joe Nathan—6—Not sure how much he will command, but Nathan is a battle-tested closer with a brand new elbow ligament

49. Kerry Wood—4—Kerry Wood’s career has run its course

50.  Bruce Chen—3—Pass.

Concluding Thoughts:  All in all, this is not a great free agent class.  After the two first basemen, the other top name guys are going to be grossly overvalued and overpaid because of it.  Teams are better off grabbing a couple mid to lower level free agents with some upside on low risk one or two year deals. 

By the way, please feel free to squabble with my valuations in the comments! 

Thursday, November 3, 2011

The Myth of Managerial Experience

I've heard several times already that Terry Francona is the only logical choice for the Cardinals vacancy, largely due to his major league experience and his wealth of success. Both of those are nice attributes, and both fit Francona nicely. He does have recent success.... two world series rings. He does have experience.... managing in the AL east over the course of the last 8 years, and for the Phillies in some down years prior to that. You don't turn the keys of your Ferrari over to someone who's only driven a golf cart, right?

If the question were, "Would Terry Francona be able to handle our managerial opening?" the answer would certainly be "Yes." But the fact is....the answer would be "Yes" to everyone on the Cardinals' list of candidates. We give managers far too much credit. Which of Mike Matheny, Ryne Sandberg and Super Joe McEwing would fold under the weight of a lineup decision or pitching change? Ask Charlie Manuel how difficult the job is, and he'll tell you. "I just write the names on the card."

In fairness, the manager does have some impact on a team's actual record, but the decisions that they make often even out to close to neutral over the course of a year. With the best managers, a swing of a few wins could be expected. So if we consider the best manager in baseball earns his team around one to two wins above replacement......what is an average manager worth? Furthermore, why would we pay several million dollars for the marginal difference between Terry Francona and a Joe McEwing (I'd even disagree that there would be a noticeable difference.) We value players in terms of skills and pay them accordingly on the open market, and everyone loves the idea of finding a young, cost-controlled player. Why don't we ever hear of finding a young, but capable and cost-controlled manager? Kirk Gibson was pretty good in his first year....so was Ron Roenicke. Recent history tells us that new managers can step in and do well.

A more appropriate and rarely posed question is, "What about Terry Francona made him successful during his major league experience, and is this specific to him?" The fact is, Terry Francona had some awful teams in Philadelphia. In his four years there, his best finish was 77-85...good enough for third place in the NL East.

He then went to Boston, and that's where his glory years started. In 2004, Boston won a World Series and Francona was a part of that. But a very small part. Blessed with a top 5 payroll, Theo Epstein's staff and several players who have later been implicated or have admitted to steroid use, the Red Sox finished 2nd in the AL East. This was good enough to fall 3 games back of the rival Yankees and win the wild card. Here's where it gets interesting. The Red Sox met the Yankees in the playoffs and immediately fell down 3-1 in the series, and many people in Boston (Bill Simmons included) were calling for Francona's head. His decision-making was called into question on several occasions early in the series, but that's when the players changed his legacy forever.

By storming back, beating the Yankees in the series and rolling through the World Series, the Red Sox painted Francona into a hero. The revisionist history made all of his decisions correct in hindsight, and Francona was instantly one of the elite managers in baseball about 10 games after being on his way out the door. It's funny how these things are forgotten or adjusted in people's minds. Admittedly, Francona has done well in Boston and added another WS championship a few years later before their recent collapse. But my question is, with the resources and players at his disposal, does that make him better than others on the list? Obviously Boston didn't think so....

The only thing his years of managerial experience tells me is that two storied franchises, Boston and Philadelphia had him and didn't want him. He failed to impress them, and he has therefore failed to impress me.

To revisit the Ferrari analogy.... Would you give the keys to your Ferrari to someone who has never driven a Ferrari? Or do you toss the keys to the guy who has a bunch of experience and has already wrecked two? You probably just interview both of them and make the best decision based on what you hear....

Theo Epstein: A Perfect Cub

The day that Theo Epstein was announced as the new GM for the Chicago Cubs, there was rejoicing in the streets.  He was hailed as a savior for a franchise that hasn't won a World Series in over a hundred years.  Cubs fans thought to themselves, "Things will be different now that we have the hottest name in MLB front offices."  Well, unfortunately for the North Siders, Epstein has already taken his first step in continuing the long tradition of poor decision making that has doomed the Cubs for decades.  

The obvious choice to manage the Cubs is Ryne Sandberg.  The hall of fame second basemen and Cubs legend Sanberg put his ego aside several years ago, and took a minor league managerial job with hopes to someday manage the Cubs big league squad.  He spent several years travelling on buses, staying in cheap hotels, making a small paycheck, as he worked his way up the ladder.  After several years, he won Triple-A manager of the year.  Then, in almost perfect timing, then Cubs manager Lou Pinella announced his retirement.  For once, the stars seemed to align for the Cubs, as the door was seemingly open for Cubs legend Sandberg to step in and lead the team to the promised land.  

But, wouldn't you know it, the Cubs, to everyone's bewilderment decided instead on Mike Quade (who?).  

After the failed Mike Quade experiment, the Cubs made sweeping changes, bringing in Chicago Messiah Theo Epstein to fix everything.  After dismissing Quade, Epstein had a golden opportunity to make all things right by bringing in Sandberg to manage the team.  Once again, the door seemed to be open for Sandberg.  After all, Epstein had nothing to do with choosing Quade over him.

Instead, Epstein made a Cubs decision.  Before even interviewing Sandberg, Epstein dismissed him as a candidate, preferring someone with "managerial or coaching experience at the major league level."  Good decision.  At this point, the rumored front-runners for the Cubs job are legendary household names such as Mike Maddux, Dale Sveum, and of course, Pete Mackanin.  All this from the man who brought you John Lackey at 5yrs/$82.5 mil and Daisuke Matsuzaka at 6yrs/$52 mil + $51 mil posting fee.  Here's to you, Theo Epstein, for continuing a tradition of Cubs futility.

And to Ryne Sandberg, should you become the Cardinals manager, I hope you win a championship, and then thank the   organization for bringing you what nearly two decades with the Cubs could not... A World Series ring.

Will the Cards retain Albert?

The Cards will not overextend themselves to keep Pujols in the fold.  The emergence of young, inexpensive bats such as David Freese and Allen Craig definitely give Mozeliak a great deal of leverage in upcoming negotiations.  Look for the Cards to make a solid offer, put the ball in El Hombre's court, and prepare a contingency for if he leaves.  You know what buys good contingency plans?  $200 million dollars of spending money....