Thursday, December 29, 2011

When a Surplus is Actually a Dilemma: The Atlanta Rotation

We've been hearing all offseason long about how the Braves are looking to deal from their surplus of starting pitching to fill some of their needs (outfield, middle infield, etc.) They have already unloaded Derek Lowe, which was a great move. They have since been linked to a number of potential deals involving Jair Jurrjens. Looking at their roster, I do not envy their position. They do not have a surplus. What they have is a guessing game, which will probably result in one of two things: They can play it safe and hang on to all of their pitching depth to see who pans out, meanwhile costing some value since valuable players will spend extra time in the minor leagues. Contrarily, they could look to move Jair Jurrjens or another starter in a trade and rely heavily on unknown goods to produce on a potentially winning ball club. Here's the issue: They have just one starter that threw more than 152 innings last year, and he happens to be Tim Hudson, who will turn 37 years old in July. Beyond that, they have a cast of young pitchers which offer huge upside but have absolutely no big league track record. To reiterate: this is NOT a surplus...this is a scary proposal for any pitching coach.

  • Tim Hudson - 215 innings pitched...well above average in 2011
  • Tommy Hanson - 130 innings pitched in 2011....almost exactly league average according to park neutral statistics on Hanson has the potential to be much better in 2012 if healthy.
  • Jair Jurrjens - 152 innings bait and a regression candidate. Even though he posted a sexy 2.96 ERA, statcorner has him listed as slightly below average based on his peripherals.
  • Brandon Beachy - 142 innings pitched....and statistically the most successful Braves pitcher. He's pitched only 156 innings in his major league career.
  • Mike Minor - 82 innings pitched in 2011, and only 120 in his big league career.... He's had below average results thus far, but Atlanta expects big things in the future.
  • Randall Delgado - 35 innings pitched in 2011 and his entire big league career. Only decent results thus far, and a severe regression candidate based on normalized statistics. Honestly, there's no telling what Delgado can be based on the evidence thus far.
  • Julio Teheran - 19 innings pitched in 2011 and his entire big league career. He is no doubt an incredibly talented super-prospect, but no one knows how long it will take him to find success in the big leagues. He looks to be ready from day one, but it's tough to count on a rookie.

Seven names, and only one solid track record. It will be fascinating to watch how the Braves handle this situation, and do not be shocked to see the Braves play if safe this offseason in order to gather more evidence. As the saying goes, the cream usually rises to the top. The Braves look to have a great rotation as long as they don't unload the wrong guys.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The All "He's Making What?!?!" Team

With all of the long-term, big money deals being thrown around, the question that is always asked is: "How will this deal look in its final years?"  This is ultimately the reason that the St. Louis Cardinals took a pass on re-signing Albert Pujols.  They probably had no issues at all paying him $25 million for the next several years, when he would likely still be performing in his prime.  But with a payroll hovering around $100 million, the Cardinals brass just couldn't stomach the thought of paying a quarter of their payroll to a guy ages 39-42, when there is no way that he could produce $25 million worth of value on the field.

That fear is the spirit of what The All "He's Making What?!?!" Team is all about.  This is a team comprised of the players at each position who will be the most grossly overpaid in 2012 with relation to their expected performance.  Feel free to submit your own nominees if you see someone not on this list.  (All salary information found on Cot's Baseball Contracts)

Catcher-- Joe Mauer ($23 Million)  I hate to put Joe on this list, because I really like him as a player, but $23 million for an oft-injured catcher who will likely play a lot of first base and designated hitter, and has only cracked 20 home runs once?

First Base--Ryan Howard ($20 million)  Howard's numbers have dropped in nearly every major statistical category in recent years.  He is being paid to put up big home run numbers, but hasn't topped 33 in the last two years.

Second Base--Brian Roberts ($10 Million) Roberts has only hit over .300 once in his career (2005), and the last two years he has averaged playing 49 games per season.  He does steal a few bases, but has he has gotten older, his speed has decreased along with his stolen base totals.  Oh, and his slash line last year looked like this: .221/.273/.331

Third Base--Alex Rodriguez ($29 Million) I thought about Chipper Jones ($13 million) here because of his injury-prone-ness, but look at how much A-Rod is making!  There is no way that he will be worth $29 million in 2012.  Unless he figures out a way to "enhance his performance" again...

Shortstop--Derek Jeter ($16 million) Yep, the Yankees round out the left side of the infield here.  I know what you are thinking.  "But he's Derek Jeter!  And he's a bargain compared to Alex Rodriguez!"  I suppose there is some inherent value to his icon status for the Yankees.  But strip away all of that, and you know what I call a poor defensive shortstop who will hit around .300 and steal a few bases?  Ryan Theriot.

Outfield #1--Vernon Wells ($21 million) This was long thought to be the worst, most un-tradable contract in baseball history.  But then Blue Jays GM Alex Anthropolous traded it.  And got Mike Napoli and Juan Rivera in retern.  What?!?!

Outfield #2-- Alfonso Soriano ($18 million)  Sure he'll still pop 20-25 home runs, but so will most left fielders. Soriano's average has hovered right around .250 the last several years, and he has managed to make playing left field look like rocket science.

Outfield #3--Jason Bay ($16 million) A lot of directions we could go here with this last outfield spot, like Carlos Lee ($18.5 million), Jason Werth ($13 million), Torii Hunter ($18 million).  But Jason Bay has been genuinely worthless to the Mets.  Bay, a poor defensive outfielder, was signed to add some mash to the Mets lineup, but since arriving in New York, he has averaged 9 home runs a year and a .388 slugging percentage.

Designated Hitter-- Adam Dunn ($14 million) There were high expectations for Dunn, a perennial 40 home run guy, when he came to the White Sox.  Unfortunately, last year he hit 11 home runs with a .159 batting average.  Yikes.

Lots of good choices for the starting rotation, but we have selected five pitchers who have mixed their unbearably high salaries with poor performance and questionable health (mental health, in the Big Z's case).   Congratulations, guys!

Starting Pitcher #1--AJ Burnett ($16.5 million)
Starting Pitcher #2--Barry Zito ($19 million)
Starting Pitcher #3--Carlos Zambrano ($18 million)
Starting Pitcher #4--Jake Peavy ($17 million)
Starting Pitcher #5--Derek Lowe ($15 million)

For what it is worth, we have mercifully left off the list guys who will likely be earning big dollars to not pitch because of injury (Johan Santana-$24 million, John Lackey-$15.25 million).

Relief Pitcher--Rafael Soriano ($11 million) Soriano has been a decent closer in his career, and his $11 million seems to fit the (crazy) market for closers.  Except he is not the Yankees closer.  He is being paid $11 million to set up for Mariano Rivera.  Pretty expensive bullpen arm, if you ask me.


So, if you were counting, there are three teams with multiple players on this list: The Yankees (4), The White Sox (2), and The Cubs (2)

    Tuesday, December 27, 2011

    The Yankees' Inexplicable Dearth of Starting Pitching

    Happy two days after Christmas!  I trust that by now, most everyone has returned to work with just a bit of that Yuletide glow still lingering...  

    Anyhow, on to baseball!  I was scrolling through some recent baseball stories this morning, and read that the Yankees are probably not going to offer on free agent starting pitcher Hiroki Kuroda. I don't get it.  It is well-documented that the Yankees both (1) spend way more money than anyone else and (2) still have a seemingly endless supply of money rolling in.  Because of these factors, combined with their painfully shallow rotation (Sabathia plus...), I thought for certain that they would be acquiring at least one (if not all!) of the high level free agent pitchers available, by offering them a ludicrous amount of money.  But then Mark Buerhle signed with the Marlins and C.J. Wilson signed with the Angels.  At this point, I thought for certain that they were all in on Yu Darvish (see " 'If I Were General Manager...' Series: AL East).  But then it was announced that the Rangers had the winning bid, and the Blue Jays were likely a close second.  Now, admittedly, the Yankees may have simply been outbid.  But how often are the Yankees bested financially on something that they really want?  Then today, I read that they are probably not in on Kuroda, perhaps the top free agent name left.  So what's the plan?

    If the season started today, the Yankee rotation would look like this:

    1. C.C. Sabathia
    2.  Ivan Nova
    3. Phil Hughes
    4. A.J. Burnett
    5. Freddy Garcia

    Sabathia is great, and Nova had a good year last year, and looks as if he could be a decent #2/#3 in the making. But what about the last three spots?  

    • Phil Hughes had a solid 2010 campaign, but last year he mixed the undesirable qualities of being (1) unhealthy and (2) horrible at pitching.  Hughes is still young, with upside, so I wouldn't toss him aside.  But I also wouldn't count on him the way that the Yankees seemingly are.  
    • A.J. Burnett is both expensive ($16.5 million for the next two seasons) and horrible, with an ERA over 5 for the last two seasons.  For any other team, he would be to expensive to write off, but the Yankees have never been shy about their ability to eat dead money salary.
    • 35 year old Freddy Garcia enjoyed something of a career renaissance last year, but that comes after five years of sub-mediocre pitching, and I'm willing to bet he comes back to the mean in 2012.  We no longer live in an era of baseball in which a 37 year old Barry Bonds suddenly hits 73 home runs.
    All of that to say, I can't believe that the Yankees and their Thurston Howell III money haven't done anything to upgrade their rotation.  Maybe they are bluffing on Kuroda.  Maybe they are going all-in on Roy Oswalt, who is still hanging around.  Maybe nobody wants to pitch in their stupid launching pad of a stadium.  Or maybe they have dumped all of their starting pitching money into genetic research on cloning Rodger Clemens.  All we can do is wait and see.

    Saturday, December 24, 2011

    Transaction Reaction: Carlos Beltran

    The Cardinals signed OF Carlos Beltran for 2 years, $26 million dollars.

    • There's a new "mang" in town. I thought it would take a 3-year commitment to land Beltran, so kudos to the Cardinals' front office for upping the annual value and offering the no trade clause to make this work.
    • The Cardinals are going to be really good in 2012, even without Pujols. Many of Beltran's rate stats were even higher than Pujols' in 2011, so if the Cards can keep Beltran on the field consistently they will be very successful. Jonah Keri of Grantland stated after the Latos trade that the Cardinals were still the favorite in the division, even if they don't make any other moves. Keri be darned, Mo went out and added the second best bat available. The only negative is that the Cardinals will be relying on several players who have missed significant time to injury over the past few years. However, their bench also looks to be strong enough to fill in, much like they did in 2011.
    • This move also gives the Cardinals more flexibility, and the opportunity to improve the defense. Berkman will be shifting to first to fill the void left by Pujols, so Beltran and Craig will be getting most of the time in right field. I expect Beltran to get about 50 games in CF, but his exposure will definitely be limited to smaller parks, favorable pitching matchups.
    • Lastly, don't listen to the narrative about Beltran being a retread. Beltran had one major surgery a few years ago, and has been a consistently elite player since he came back. He logged more innings than anyone in the Cardinals' outfield last year. His age and health is a factor, but his talent should be the story, as evidenced by his OPS and OPS+ that were near the best in the league in 2011.

    Thursday, December 22, 2011

    Hottest Stove Mailbag!!!

    The other day, my family was watching one of the various manifestations of "The Santa Clause" movies featuring Tim Allen. (How many of those movies do we need?  Seriously...)  Anyhow, one of the scenes featured a bunch of letters that Santa had received from children.  And I thought, "I wish that people sent us letters at The Hottest Stove!"  So, we are inviting all of our readers to email us any baseball questions they might want our thoughts on, and in the near future, we will feature your questions with our wise responses in a mailbag post.

    Just email your questions to  Be sure to include a first name and last initial.  We look forward to hearing from you!

    Tuesday, December 20, 2011

    Rangers Win Yu Darvish Posting

    Yesterday it was announced that the Texas rangers were the winners of the Yu Darvish posting, with a whopping bid of $51.7 million.  Keep in mind that this figure is not a contract amount for Darvish.  

    In the Japanese baseball free agency rules, a player has to play nine years in Japan before becoming eligible to sign as a free agent with an MLB team.  However, the player's Japanese team has the option to "post" the player.  What happens is that any team with interest in acquiring that Japanese player has to submit a blind bid (not knowing what other teams have bid) on how much they are willing to pay the player's team for the exclusive rights to negotiate with that player.  After the predetermined bidding period, the winning team with the highest bid is announced.  In the case of Yu Darvish, the highest bidding team was the Texas Rangers with a whopping bid of $51.7 million.  This doesn't mean, though, that Darvish automatically becomes a Ranger.  Rather, because of their winning bid, the Rangers now have a period of thirty days to negotiate a contract with Darvish.  Should they reach an agreement with Darvish, the Nippon Ham Fighters (Darvish's previous team) receives the $51.7 million from the Rangers, Darvish gets whatever money he agrees to in his contract with the Rangers, and the Rangers get Darvish.

    Assuming Darvish does get something worked out with the Rangers, how good will he be?  I read an interesting article on comparing Darvish to the Nationals' Jordan Zimmermann.  That would certainly make Darvish a great get for the Rangers.  The reality is, though, that while people can take educated guesses at how Japanese players will perform in MLB, no one really knows for sure.  There have been some great (Ichiro, Hiroki Kuroda, Hideki Matsui), some mediocre (Daisuke Matzsusaka, Akinori Iwamura), and some horrible (Kei Igawa).  

    What I think is interesting, though, is that when all things are considered, it looks like the Rangers are going to be paying more for Darvish than they would have for retaining the services of C.J. Wilson.  Granted, Darvish is considerably younger than Wilson, but there are a lot of risks here with the unknown.  But after Wilson's postseason struggles, the Rangers decided that they preferred what they didn't know about Darvish to what they did know about Wilson.  

    Monday, December 19, 2011

    "If I Were General Manager..." Series: AL East

    Blue Jays
    • This one seems too easy. With money to burn and a big first baseman available, I add Prince Fielder to the lineup. How many opposing pitchers will want to wade through a middle of the order that goes righty then lefty with Bautista and then Fielder?
    • I make a deal with Colby Rasmus and the skipper. We will hit Colby high in the order (2-hole most days) and play him consistently. If he doesn't see an average of at least 5 ptiches per at-bat, he's gone at the trade deadline. His productive stretches have come when he's drawing walks in front of Pujols, so the same should ring true when hitting in front of my Bautista/Fielder gauntlet.
    • I package a good prospect and a few low-tier pieces for starting pitching. In addition to the prospects, I offer the Astros some salary relief and get Wandy Rodriguez AND Brett Myers to fill out the back of my rotation. This leaves me with Romero, Morrow, Rodriguez, Myers and either Drabek or Alvarez.
    • I make every effort to send Dustin McGowan and Brett Cecil packing in a trade for a closer. Francisco Rodriguez would be a fit if the Brewers will eat a portion of the salary.
    • I'm going into rebuilding mode for now, but this looks to be a relatively short-term project. In separate deals, I move JJ Hardy and Adam Jones. My target is decent young pitching, but not necessarily top-tier. My plan is to add a few young #2 or#3 types to toss in with Brian Matusz, Jake Arietta and Zach Britton. Hopefully these guys can mature together along with Matt Wieters. Obviously, young pitching isn't easy to come by, but teams are always in need of shortstops and center fielders.
    • Not much else on the radar right now, but the plan in about three years will be to fill in some bats around Wieters and the young arms. We can make a quick run with a few well-timed free agent signings over the next few years, but for now we must show some restraint.
    • I 'm going to trade Wade Davis like he's hot. As Dave Cameron of Fangraphs mentioned recently, "Wade Davis isn't good". However, a number of people seem to THINK that Wade Davis is pretty good, so I'll get as much value as I can. Besides, the rotation left over looks pretty stinking good with Price, Moore, Hellickson, Shields and Jeff Niemann. Make me any offer, but I'm going to ask for a decent shortstop.
    • It's a moot point now, but I would have signed Josh Willingham to play right field. You can definitely do worse than having Jennings, Upton and Willingham across the outfield every day. Since Willingham is injury prone, this would also be a good chance to get Brandon Guyer some limited exposure.
    Red Sox
    • Bid like crazy for Yu Darvish. The posting system is a suspiciously convenient loop-hole for big market teams to manipulate their way around the luxury tax. By posting an obscene number to gain exclusive negotiating rights, I lessen the amount of money that actually goes on the books. Darvish (or whoever) is forced to sign with us or wait until next year. For this reason, a billionaire gets his wings each time a Japanese player is posted.
    • I focus entirely on pitching because I only have 2-3 pitchers I can count on. I spend the rest of my money to add Roy Oswalt. The offense is already loaded anyway, so why not stop the other team from scoring?
    • To tie up some loose ends, Josh Reddick he will be playing consistently in the outfield, and Daniel Bard will come into camp prepared to be the closer.
    • This is what makes the AL East interesting. Everything I said about Boston's need for pitching also applies here. Again, Darvish would have made a ton of sense due to the posting process, but I doubt many teams were expecting the bidding to go as high as what the Rangers put up. I look to add two pitchers (both with a name other than Freddy Garcia). Scary thought: If the Yankees go cheap at the back end of their rotation this year, they may end up in third place in this division.
    • Honestly, I love the right side of the Yankees' infield, but I'm not excited about much else. (At least not compared to what the division rivals are working with.) I would make a serious run at Yoennis Cespedes to give them another talented outfielder to line up with Granderson and Gardner.

    Transaction Reaction: Jason Kubel

    The Arizona Diamondbacks sign Jason Kubel to a two-year deal with an option; total value of the deal is $15 million.

    • With the Kubel signing, yet another of the "second-tier" corner outfielders has signed, with both Willingham and Cuddyer signing last week.  My guess is that Carlos Beltran will be signing soon, perhaps as early as today or tomorrow.  The St. Louis Cardinals present the most likely destination at the moment.
    • This is a good move for the Diamondbacks.  Kubel, is a good professional hitter, having posted a career slash line of .271/.335/.459, with an average of 22 home runs per 162 games, and at age 29, he is in the prime of his career.  In going from Minnesota to Arizona, Kubel is moving from a pitchers' park to a hitters' park, which should enhance his numbers.  Kubel represents an upgrade offensively (though a downgrade defensively) in left field over Gerardo Parra, who will likely now move to a fourth-outfielder role, adding overall depth to the roster.
    • A quick glance at the Diamondbacks depth chart (D-backs Depth Chart) shows how this organization has quietly put together a young a talented team, who after making the playoffs last year under Kirk Gibson, should be a force in the NL for years to come.

    Saturday, December 17, 2011

    Transaction Reaction: Mat Latos for Yonder Alonso, Edinson Volquez, et al

    The San Diego Padres will send Mat Latos to the Cincinnati Reds. In return, the Reds will surrender Yonder Alonso, Edinson Volquez, Brad Boxberger, and Yasmil Grandal.

    • With this move, the Cincinnati Reds look poised for a strong run in 2011. With the uncertainty surrounding the rest of the NL Central, kudos to the Reds front office for making a strong move. In Latos, they receive a very young pitcher (24 years old) with #1 or high #2 status. They've been searching for a #1 starter for a few years, and it seems they've finally found their guy.
    • From the Padres perspective, the deal also seems fair. The addition of Edinson Volquez might make this a "steal" due to his potential, but he looks uncertain at this point. Perhaps the larger park will finally give Volquez the confidence to go right at hitters and use his terrific movement to his advantage, rather than walking batters. Yonder Alonso is another player with very high upside as we saw last year, but that comes with a number of question marks in his own right. Alonso combines tremendous power, porous defense and some curious minor league stats which will make this deal interesting for years to come.
    • The fact that the Padres got a few extra pieces shows the Reds' urgency in my opinion. (Boxberger and Grandal offer A LOT more than just throw-ins). Although they gave up a bunch of talent, the uncertain state of the NL central makes this a great deal for both sides. This will definitely be a trade that will, like so many others, be a whole lot easier to evaluate with the benefit of hindsight. I'll meet you for coffee in 2016 and we'll talk it over.
    Additional note: Some Padres' insiders have mentioned the mental make-up of Latos as a source of concern, so we'll see how well he handles the transition from a huge park to a tiny one. However, at 24 years old there's plenty of time to mature.

    Thursday, December 15, 2011

    MLB Power Ranking

    It seems somewhat lazy to me, but nothing gets people talking like a good sports list!  So now that we have reached and passed the last major deadline of the offseason (the non-tender deadline), the following is my ranking of all thirty teams as their rosters sit today (Dec 15).

    By the way, I would invite any of our readers to squabble with my rankings in the "comments" section below this post.  I'll be happy to jump into the fray!
    1. Boston Red Sox
    2. Texas Rangers
    3. New York Yankees
    4. Los Angeles Angels (of Anaheim)
    5. St. Louis Cardinals
    6. Philadelphia Phillies
    7. Arizona Diamondbacks
    8. Detroit Tigers
    9. Tampa Bay Rays
    10. Toronto Blue Jays
    11. Atlanta Braves
    12. Cincinnati Reds
    13. Cleveland Indians
    14. Colorado Rockies
    15. San Francisco Giants
    16. Miami Marlins
    17. Washington Nationals
    18. Chicago White Sox
    19. Minnesota Twins
    20. Milwaukee Brewers
    21. Kansas City Royals
    22. Los Angeles Dodgers
    23. Pittsburgh Pirates
    24. Seattle Mariners
    25. Chicago Cubs
    26. San Diego Padres
    27. New York Mets
    28. Baltimore Orioles
    29. Houston Astros
    30. Oakland Athletics

    Wednesday, December 14, 2011

    Transaction Reaction: Josh Willingham

    The Twins agree to sign Josh Willingham to a three-year deal for $21 million.

    • With both Kubel and Cuddyer as free agents, the Twins needed to add a corner outfielder with some thump, and Josh Willingham fits the bill.  He will never win an MVP, or even be the best player on a good team.  But $7 million a year seems like decent value.
    • Willingham displayed decent power last year (29 home runs/.477 slugging) in a ballpark that suppresses power numbers in Oakland.  He won't get a boost in going to Target Field, another power-suppressing park, but perhaps being in a better lineup will be beneficial.
    • What will be interesting will be to see how the dominoes fall from here.  This was an offseason with a number of "second-tier" corner outfielders--guys like Willingham, Kubel, Cuddyer, Beltran, Ludwick, and recently non-tendered Luke Scott, and Willingham is just the first of many to sign.

    Tuesday, December 13, 2011

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

    Atlanta Braves

    • Assuming they can get over the trauma of one of the biggest collapses in baseball history, the Braves are actually in pretty good shape.  Lots of talented youth and not a lot of holes.
    • With Tyler Pastornicky slotted in to start at shortstop, look for a veteran backup in case he struggles.  Guys like Nick Punto, Jack Wilson, Ronny Cedeno all fit the bill.
    • Keep Martin Prado around, with the plan of having him and Uggla split second/third base when Chipper inevitably retires/gets hurt.
    • Add some mash potential by signing a corner outfielder.  These guys are easily found this offseason--Josh Willingham, Ryan Ludwick, Luke Scott, Michael Cuddyer, Carlos Beltran.
    • Keep rotation intact for now.  That means the top four guys (Hudson, Hanson, Jurjjens, Beachy), plus whichever young stud grabs a hold of the fifth spot.  Jurjjens and Hanson have both been fairly fragile, and will need fill-ins.  Use this year to figure out which of the prospects are "boom" and which are "bust."  Then trade those who are "bust" before anyone else realizes they are not that good. 
    • Also, make sure to frequently tell Craig Kimbrall that he is still really good.

    Philadelphia Phillies

    • The Phils have a lot of money committed to guys who are about to get really old, really fast.  With that in mind, the strategy is do whatever we can to "win now" without getting rid of any young players.
    • Go hard after Michael Cuddyer.  He can fill in for Howard while he is hurt, and can then start in a corner outfield spot when Howard returns.  Perfect fit.
    • In the theme of winning now, while going younger, look into trading with the Padres for Chase Headley (27) to take Polanco's spot at third.  Headley's power has always been suppressed, but in the Philly's park, that power will be exaggerated.  Polanco then becomes a utility infielder
    • Do whatever possible to dump Joe Blanton's salary, and replace with someone much cheaper (Paul Maholm? Zach Duke?)
    • Re-sign Jimmy Rollins, but not to a five-year deal.  Preferably three.  Then tell him to make a  guarantee about the Phillies winning the World Series.

    Miami Marlins

    • Agree to a bunch of outrageous free-agent contracts with big name players that will excite fan base.
    • Sell season tickets to excited fan base.
    • Before first game of season, put a big "Closed Until Further Notice" sign on front of new stadium, and disappear with season ticket-holder money to remote tropical island. 

    New York Mets

    • The outlook is not good for this year, or the next couple years.  That means full rebuilding mode.
    • Trade David Wright for the best collection of prospects that is offered.
    • Trade anything else of value (Jason Bay, Mike Pelfrey) for prospects.
    • Convince Brian Cashman that Johan Santana is healthy, and then trade him to the Yankees.
    • Hang onto Ike Davis as the interim "face of the franchise."  Cash in on as many Ike Davis bobblehead nights as possible.

    Washington Nationals

    • Looking at the National's roster on paper makes me think that this is a team that could surprise some people.  If nothing else, they are really close.
    • Sign Prince Fielder.  He plays first, Mike Morse moves to left, and the heart of the lineup looks like this: Zimmerman, Fielder, Werth, Morse.  Not too shabby.
    • Give Bryce Harper a "chance" to earn a starting outfield job in spring training, but unless he blows up, send him back to the minors for one more year of seasoning.
    • Look to trade for a center fielder with good OBP to lead off.  Perhaps re-ignite talks with the Twins about Denard Span, as he would be a great fit.
    • Look for a seasoned veteran with a good track record of success to lead the staff of young high-upside starters (Strasburg, Zimmermann, Detwiler, etc.).  In terms of free agency, Oswalt fits the bill.  In terms of trading, talk to the Cubs about Garza, the Astros about Wandy/Myers, and maybe the White Sox about Jake Peavy.

    Monday, December 12, 2011

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

    • The Pujols deal will be a huge boost to this offense for the short term. The problem is, even with Albert inserted, the lineup looks to be full of holes. My first order of business is to trade a piece for a legit bat to slip in front of or behind Albert to ensure he gets to swing the bat once or twice a week. (We can't be paying 254 million for a bulky David Eckstein to draw 35 walks per week.) I would make a solid run at Chase Headley.
    • The rotation looks solid with the addition of C.J. Wilson, so no complaints there.
    • Trout needs to play every day. He's ready, but players like Abreu are blocking him. While he's had a good career, Abreu's only strength is his bat (OBP) at this point, and he was BARELY above average last year. Even if Trout is terrible offensively, his glove will make him a better value than anything Abreu can offer at this point.
    • Nothing too exciting here, except for full rebuilding mode. Restock for the future with brighter ballparks, relocation, and a somewhat new fan base.
    • I like the trade involving Cahill. I would also shop Gio to the Red Sox/Yankees and shoot for high upside pieces that will mature to the MLB in about three years to correspond with the new stadium. Also, see if there is interest in Dallas Braden, but hang on to Brandon McCarthy.
    • Sell high on as many relievers as possible, because we don't expect to be holding many leads over the next few years anyway. Ziegler, Bailey, Balfour, Devine.....anyone who will bring a return is out the door.
    • Pray that some offense walks through the door. Building the offense around Scott Sizemore seems like a desperate situation.
    • Move the walls in... then sign Prince Fielder. Actually, on second thought....better get Prince in the door first and THEN move the walls in around him. That would be embarrassing for everyone involved. (Yep, we're doing fat jokes...)
    • Stick with Brendan Ryan at short, and be consistent. Defense first up the middle, but add offense at the corners. What got the M's in trouble was the "defense first" model at every position.
    • The maturation of Mike Carp and Justin Smoak along with the acquisition of Fielder will boost the offense plenty, so I would add a mid-level starter and see where we stand after this year.
    • The Angels won't steal our mojo with a few big signings. We have a huge TV contract also, and a much better offense than the Anaheim Alberts. I go hard after Fielder to make our lineup even more incredible.
    • Feliz definitely moves to the rotation, and Scott Feldman becomes the closer.
    • I wait until near spring training and scoop up the best ground ball pitcher that is available as a 6th starter since we have some young starters and a converted closer that might not be able to take a full workload. Also, I can flip Mitch Moreland and cash for a low-tier pitcher or non-tender candidate if nothing in the scrap heap is to my liking.

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

    Now that the dust has seemingly settled from the winter meetings, it is a perfect time to get back into our “If I Were General Manager...” series.  For a few teams (e.g. Angels, Cardinals, Marlins) the landscape has been drastically altered, and many free agent names are off the board.  But that doesn’t mean that there still isn’t plenty of work to do for teams.  So it is time for me to sit down at the desk of the American League Central general managers and get to work.

    If I were general manager of the…

    Cleveland Indians
    • Figure out what is broken with Grady Sizemore and fix it.
    • Sign a corner outfielder with mash potential--someone like Jason Kubel, Josh Willingham, Michael Cuddyer.  That player could function in a number of roles.  He could share time with both Travis Hafner at designated hitter and Matt LaPorta at first base.  He could function as "backup" of sorts for Grady Sizemore, who will inevitably get hurt/disappoint, starting at a corner outfield spot and moving Michael Brantley to center field.
    • Let Chisenhall and Kipnis start at third and second, respectively, but find someone  who can be a serviceable backup at both spots in case they hit the sophomore slump.  Somebody like Bill Hall or Jose Lopez might fit the bill.
    • Cross your fingers and hope that Ubaldo Jimenez returns to Cy Young caliber form.  You need him to be an ace, especially for the price paid for him.
    Kansas City Royals
    • Stay the course!  Recent publications asserted that the Royals had among the highest concentration of top-tier prospects in history.  Let the young guys play and grow.
    • Shortstop Alcides Escobar could still grow into a solid player, but I’m going to try and upgrade the middle infield talent.  There is not a lot worthwhile on the free agent market, so I will try to acquire some young prospects perhaps not in the center of their team’s plans for the future.  Guys like Tyler Greene with the Cardinals or Gordon Beckham with the White Sox would be on my radar
    • With a lot of big time starting pitching prospects on the near horizon, I’m looking for a veteran starting pitcher to help groom the young guns.  Roy Oswalt fits the bill, and I’m willing to overpay to get him because I’m not just investing in Roy in the here and now, but in the future maturation of my talented young starting rotation.  If I can’t convince Roy, maybe a trade for a guy like Jair Jurjjens would make sense
    • I like Lorenzo Cain enough in CF, but I’d like a guy who can push him for the starting spot, who can also be a decent fourth outfielder.  Coco Crisp? 
    • Having signed Jonathon Broxton as a potential closer, assuming Broxton’s health and trust in Aaron Crow as a fill-in,  look to leverage the value of Joakim Soria, my incumbent closer.  This approach was described in a previous post (“Transaction Reaction: Jonathon Broxton”).   After exploring Soria’s value on the trade market (maybe looking for a starter), look to convert him to the starting rotation, as starters are, in my opinion, inherently more valuable than relievers.  This plan has recently been proven successful in the case of C.J. Wilson with, formerly with the Texas Rangers.  Adding a couple solid starting pitchers at the top of the rotation (Oswalt, Soria) would dramatically enhance the look of this team  
    Detroit Tigers
    • Find a starting second baseman.  I'm working real hard to get Martin Prado from the Braves, and if I can't, maybe I'm hoping the Cardinals non-tender Ryan Theriot.  He's a horrible shortstop, but his defensive is passable as a second baseman.  Plus, he feels like a Jim Leyland kind of player.
    • As I have a number of young, volatile guys (Scherzer, Porcello, Turner) slotted into my rotation, I'm looking to add a number two/three type starting pitcher for depth. Zach Duke, Jeff Francis, Joel Piniero?  Maybe swing a trade with the Cardinals who are trying to dump Kyle Lohse or Jake Westbrook.
    • I'm not thrilled that Brandon Inge is my starting third baseman, but with Aramis Ramirez recently signing with the Brewers, the market at the position is thin.  So look to sign someone like Kevin Kouzmanoff or Jorge Cantu to push Inge.
    • Think about adding another outfielder to the mix, preferable someone who can play centerfield, when streaky Austin Jackson is slumping.  High end would be a guy like Yoenis Cepedes, low end somebody like Rick Ankiel or Cody Ross.

    Chicago White Sox
    •  The White Sox front office has been saying that they are in full rebuild mode.  I do think that it is probably wise to trade some older names for some younger ones, but there is enough talent on this roster to compete, so a full overhaul might be an overreaction.
    • First off, hope that Carlos Quentin can stay healthy.  When he is healthy, he is a game-changer.
    • Also hope that Adam Dunn and Alex Rios can bounce back from horrible 2011 seasons.  They are premier players being paid premier dollars. In order to re-invigorate Dunn for 2012, look to get him in the field more often (even though his defense is brutal), mixing him in at first base and left field, and giving Quentin and Konerko some pseudo off days playing DH.
    • This is the year for Gordon Beckham to finally break out.  He was a big-time prospect that was probably brought up too soon, but the time has arrived.
    • I'm also giving the starting right field job to Dayan Viciedo.  The guy has mashed wherever he has been, so I want to see what he can do with a full-time gig.
    • Try to acquire an outfielder that can help set the table, and can also play center field. Look hard at trying to get speedy table-setter Julio Borbon from the Texas Rangers.  He will give me some flexibility to move other outfielders around as needed, and will do what Juan Pierre was supposed to do last year.  Also check in with free agent Coco Crisp.
    • While I do expect Jake Peavy to get hurt at some point during the season, the plan is to let young stud Zach Stewart take his spot.  But I'm also going to acquire some inexpensive starting pitching depth like Paul Maholm or Zach Duke.
    Minnesota Twins 
    • Pray that Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau stay healthy.  Without the two of them, it will be near impossible to win.  To "bubble-wrap" them, give them both lots of days at DH, and let Ryan Doumit and backup first baseman (see below) fill in.
    • For Morneau insurance, give to sign a veteran first baseman who can provide value.  Carlos Pena makes a ton of sense.
    • Try to re-sign Michael Cuddyer on a hometown discount.  He is a solid player who provides depth at a number of important positions (corner outfield, first, second, third).  But I'm not really expecting to get a worthwhile deal done, because Cuddyer is a hot commodity.
    • Short of Cuddyer, I'm trying hard to add another outfielder with some mash potential on the cheap.  Ryan Ludwick, Xavier Nady, and old friend Jason Kubel all fit the bill.
    • Francisco Liriano needs to fix what is broken, and go back to the guy that made us think it was okay to trade Johan Santana.
    • Old-style Liriano is a great pitcher, but for the sake of his mental health, I'd like for him to be the number two, so I'm working hard to convince Roy Oswalt to join the staff as the veteran ace, bumping Liriano and Pavano to numbers two and three respectively.
    • The middle infield is really weak.  But don't pay an arm and a leg for Jimmy Rollins.  Instead, call the Tampa Bay Rays to find out the asking price for Ben Zobrist.  His production has dropped off since they gave him a multi-year contract.  Also call the Chicago White Sox about Alexei Ramirez, as they are supposedly in rebuilding mode, and the Braves about Martin Prado.
    • There is a lot to be done here, and frankly, there isn't the resources to do all that has been discussed.  Just do as many as possible.

    Sunday, December 11, 2011

    Transaction Reaction: Rafael Furcal and Ryan Braun

    The St. Louis Cardinals sign Raphael Furcal to a two-year deal for a $14 million contract
    • After being traded the Cardinals last season, Furcal was a major part of their playoff push.  He contributed offensively and was a major upgrade defensively at shortstop over Ryan Theriot, who kicked more balls than Morten Anderson
    •    The Cardinals sign this new deal with Furcal upon finding increased financial flexibility after not signing a certain first baseman.  Seems like a reasonable amount to spend on Furcal, if not a bit heavy.
    • This move represents a decent incremental improvement for the Cardinals, as Furcal has always provided good value if healthy (big “if” here).  Talented prospect SS Tyler Greene will now compete with Daniel Descalso for playing time at second base, and will fill in for Furcal if (when) he gets hurt.
    • While the Furcal addition is a good one for the Cards, alone it certainly does not mitigate the loss of a previously-mentioned, but unnamed first baseman.  The Cards still have work to do, and perhaps signing free agent outfielder Carlos Beltran could be an answer.  Another option to increase value on the roster would be trading one of Kyle Lohse/Jake Westbrook, freeing a spot to sign free agent starter Roy Oswalt .

    Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun tests positive for a banned substance, earning a fifty game suspension
    ·         While Braun was not signed or traded, technically, a suspension counts as a transaction.
    ·         The response from Braun’s camp is that he did not test positive for a “performance enhancing drug,” but only a “banned substance.”  Braun reportedly tested with increased levels of testosterone, so I’m not sure how whatever he was taking did not “enhance” his performance.
    ·         So perhaps “beast mode” was really “laboratory mode.”  Braun will appeal the suspension, but if his appeal fails, the Brewers will have to deal with being “pujolsed” (my new term for what happens when a team loses their best player) for the first part of the season.  This would be difficult to overcome, especially after likely saying goodbye to the Purple Rain.  

    Thursday, December 8, 2011

    Say it ain' long, mang (Transaction Reaction: Albert Pujols)

    Albert Pujols signs a 10-year, $254 million with the Angels of Anaheim. It has also been reported that this contract includes "milestone bonuses" that could push this deal up to $280 million.
    • First off, it's a shame that baseball economics rarely allows a historic player to play in one place for his entire career. That said, with any contract of this magnitude it is very difficult for mid-market teams like St. Louis to absorb this kind of risk. $200 million? Absolutely. $220 million? Barely.
    • The Angel's offer for $254 million with incentives as high as $280 is in another stratosphere. It doesn't make sense for the Cardinals when extrapolated out at that level, but kudos to the Angels for pouncing on a truly epic player. The Angels will use this deal and the signing of C.J. Wilson to take advantage of the recent misfortune of the Dodgers. This deal will allow them to put a stranglehold on LA relevance. If this happens, the Pujols deal was a success in their eyes, regardless of his on-field production.
    • From the Cardinals perspective, it's hard to argue with their approach. Find a dollar amount that makes sense, and hold fast to it. Don't bid against yourself and don't allow emotions to foster unintelligent decisions. Kudos also to the Cardinals for the discipline of the front office. They will be rewarded for their efforts with a wealth of resources and flexibility...which will be available in free agency this year, and will return in many years to come. The return of Wainwright and the resigning of Berkman will soften the blow, as long as the Redbirds can add a few pieces and make the 2012 roster as complete as the 2011 version. Look for the Cards to explore outfield free agents and some middle infield trade possibilities. Carlos Beltran, Jason Kubel, Adam Jones, JJ Hardy and Alexei Ramirez all make a great deal of sense at this point, so will see what kind of bullets Mo uses.
    • In summation, the Cards plan on winning plenty of "gangs" without "the Mang."

    Coming Soon... Reaction to Albertageddon

    Here at The Hottest Stove, we are going to wait a bit for the dust to settle before reacting to the Albert signing.  Come back later tonight.  For now, if you are a Cardinals fan, grab the ice cream and the tissues, and watch this video:

    I Can't Believe I'm Writing About the Pittsburgh Pirates

    I've grown weary of the Pujols-palooza.  Real weary.  So I wanted to mention a team that I think has quietly been making some very good, albeit not splashy, moves.  Yep, that's right.  The Pittsburgh Pirates

    • Early in the offseason, they signed Clint Barmes to a two-year $10.5 million dollar contract.  Barmes will never be a game-changer, but he has always been a solid player, and he will slot in as their everyday shortstop.  Given where it looks like the shortstop market is headed, what I initially thought was too much money could turn out to be a bargain.
    • Then, during the winter meetings, they signed two high-upside players for low-cost one-year deals in Nate McClouth ($1.75 million) who used to be a Pirate, and Erik Bedard ($4.5 million).
    Like I said, nothing splashy, but they are efficiently filling holes, as they add to a talented young nucleus.

    By the way, as I am typing this, the news just broke that Albert is singing with the Angels for ten years, between $250-$260 million.  There will be a post up with reaction sometime later today, after some of the dust settles.

    Tuesday, December 6, 2011

    Albert's Pro and Con List

    Before I say anything else, let me just start by saying that I love the winter meetings.  If you are not aware of the winter meetings, or that they are happening this week in Dallas, let me give you a brief description.  The general managers of every MLB franchise agree to gather in one hotel for one week.  In addition to the general managers, there are player agents, players, coaches, owners, and lots of media present.  It is in this highly concentrated environment that the hot stove is never hotter...  

    With all of that being said I should probably write a "Transaction Reaction" piece on Aaron Harang signing with the Dodgers or Matt Capps re-signing with the Twins.  But with all of the winter meetings excitement, those bits of news seem, well, dull.  Instead, I'd like write about what seems to be the biggest story at the moment--the fact that Albert Pujols negotiations are gaining "momentum."  The two teams that are getting hot and heavy are the Miami Marlins and the St. Louis Cardinals.  So what follows is a pro and con list for Albert signing with either of these teams:

    St. Louis Cardinals
    • Pro:
      • He'd be coming back to join a world championship team that will be adding Cy Young caliber Adam Wainwright to the starting rotation
      • He'd be able to remain in an organizational situation that he is comfortable with
      • Quick, think of a list of the games most legendary players... How many of them played their whole career with one team?  There seems to be some inherent cache that comes with spending your entire tenure wearing one uniform
      • Stan Musial style statue outside Busch Stadium
      • The Cardinals are an organization that has proven its commitment to winning and fielding a competitive team over a long period of time
      • The organization itself is an incredibly stable one 
    • Con:
      • I would guess that in the long run, the contract would be smaller (years and/or average annual value)
      • The insult of the Cardinals front office "playing it cool" with regard to negotiations.  Everyone would like to be told that they are needed and couldn't be lived without.  The Cardinals simply have not said this to Albert with words or actions
    Miami Marlins 
    • Pro:
      • Potentially bigger contract (years and/or average annual value)
      • The chance to be the face of a franchise potentially on the rise, with a young core of star players and other star free agent additions
      • The opportunity to play alongside more hispanic players, under a hispanic coach, in a hispanic city.  
      • Exciting new uniforms (not sure if this is a pro or con... Take a look at the uni's and judge for yourself.  I guess it depends upon your sense of style)
      • The chance to join fellow stars Heath Bell (Chris Bosh) and Jose Reyes (Dwayne Wade) in "taking his talents to south beach."
      • I heard somewhere that Albert has a grandmother that lives in Miami.  I guess that matters, if you like your grandma and all...
      • New is always exciting.  Right?
    • Con
      • No telling what this new mix of players and personalities will become (see "Transaction Reaction: Jose Reyes"), especially with the highly combustible Ozzie Guillen at the helm
      • The Miami Marlins (formerly the Florida Marlins) have not proven their commitment to winning over a period of time.  In fact, they have done the exact opposite, twice winning the World Series, and then blowing up the roster
      • There is no telling exactly how stable this franchise is.  They have perennially had one of the lower payrolls in the league, but all of a sudden they are big spenders, and are in on every free agent.  Something smells fishy... (pun intended)
    All of that being said, I suspect  some decision will be made soon.  Winter meetings!!! 

    Monday, December 5, 2011

    Transaction Reaction: Jose Reyes

    The Miami Marlins sign Jose Reyes on a six-year $106 million contract.

    • I have read numerous debates whether the Marlins gave Reyes too much, or if the contract is a bargain.  In my opinion, the answer to this question hinges completely on Reyes' health over the next six years.  When he is healthy, Jose is one of the best, most dynamic, difference-making players in all of baseball.  And he plays a premium position!  The issue, however, is that Reyes has not been completely healthy, suffering numerous injuries and maladies over the past couple years.  Frankly, I'm not a doctor, nor do I play one on t.v., so I am not even going to speculate on his health going forward.
    • What I do find more interesting about this deal, however, is the fact that the Marlins already have a shortstop.  And he's pretty good.  Maybe you have heard of him... His name is Hanley Ramirez.  I suppose the plan is to move him to third base or something.  But is he okay with such a move?  Going forward, this is going to be the interesting part of this signing, as we watch the dynamic between Reyes and Ramirez, one of which is not going to play shortstop.  (I suppose they could both play shortstop at the same time, but that seems like an inefficient arrangement of infielders).  
    • Will Hanley be willing to move?  Will that move affect team chemistry?  Will this signing precipitate trade discussion revolving around Ramirez?  I don't know, but it should make for interesting theater.

    Saturday, December 3, 2011

    Bobby Valentine and the Myth of Managerial Experience Revisited

    About a month ago, I wrote a column called "The Myth of Managerial Experience" in which I outlined two points. 1 ) Having managed before does not necessarily make someone a good manager, and 2) managers have very little impact statistically over the course of a season. Both points will be proved true over the next few years by the marriage of Bobby Valentine and the Boston Red Sox.

    Bobby Valentine has a wealth of experience, and almost no success to show for it. He has managed 15 seasons and does not have a division title to show for it. He did muster an NL Pennant in 2000 with the Mets after a Wild Card berth. I think it's safe to say that Boston will have higher expectations than he's used to.

    In “Baseball Between the Numbers” Baseball Prospectus writers tried to analyze the amount of runs that managers’ decisions have cost or gained their team over the past 40 years. While the book is from 2005 and the metrics need to be taken with a grain of salt, Bobby Valentine cost his team more runs than all but two managers over the past 40 years according to their data. He appears towards the top of each of their “Worst Manager by ___” tables. They also cite him by name as an example of how sometimes a manager can be so bad that it costs the team free agent signings. There's no doubt players will avoid cities where they do not respect the leadership. In my opinion, this is especially possible with Valentine given his strong personality and his terrible work on Baseball Tonight for all the world to see…

    All that being said, Boston has a ton of money and a great roster already in place, so I think they are going to be fine in spite of this hiring. Let's hope that if Boston does have success, intelligent baseball folks attribute it to their wealth of resources and good business model rather than Valentine's leadership. Keep in mind that the Red Sox were on pace to win close to 100 games last year before their pitching injuries and historic collapse. Boston will be successful in spite of Valentine rather than because of him.

    Transaction Reaction: Heath Bell

    The Marlins signed Heath Bell to a 3-Year, $27 million deal. It also contains a vesting option for a fourth year, which would also be at $9 million.

    • First off, it's good to see the Marlins actually signing someone, rather than "expressing interest" in everyone.
    • Heath Bell has been a very consistent and reliable closer, and it seems they got him for a reasonable price, although the number of years is a bit risky for a closer that is moving from Petco to an unknown new park.
    • I personally would not have made this deal because of the extremely high number of quality closers still available in free agency and trade right now. My guess is that teams who decide to wait until near the end of free agency to go closer shopping will be scooping up guys for peanuts. There are only a certain number of closer positions, and none of these pitchers want to end up being the guy who could only land a setup role. This might turn out to be a rare scenario where the teams have all of the leverage over the free agents.