Nationals Arm Race

"… the reason you win or lose is darn near always the same – pitching.” — Earl Weaver

Archive for the ‘Baseball in General’ Category

Remember this Weekend

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Scherzer can't pitch a no-hitter every time; at some point this team needs to start hitting.  Photo via thesportsquotient.com

Scherzer can’t pitch a no-hitter every time; at some point this team needs to start hitting. Photo via thesportsquotient.com

If the playoffs started today, here’s what the match-ups would look like (and frankly the odds of this setup changing seem slim; maybe SF catches Chicago for the 2nd WC but otherwise this seems like it will be the line-up):

  • Chicago Cubs at Pittsburgh for the wild card
  • St. Louis hosting the WC winner
  • Washington traveling to Los Angeles.

And in said short series, with the Nats traveling to Los Angeles, they’d likely face Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke again in games 1 and 2.

Here’s what the LA 1-2 punch just did to our hapless lineup, on the road no less where Kershaw has a significantly worse stats:

There’s not a pundit in the game who doesn’t think the Nats aren’t going to win the NL East.  That they’re in first place while their #1, #2, #4 and #5 hitters sit on the D/L is pretty amazing (or, perhaps more to the point, a pretty bad indictment of our division in 2015).  But the toll is being seen; between outings against Kershaw, Greinke and (just before the all-star break) Johnny Cueto, we now see the effect of such a weak offense.  MLB-wide Aces will absolutely dominate the Nats.  To the point where we could have Cy  Young himself throwing and not have a chance.  If there’s just one or two legitimate hitters in your lineup, you can pitch around them and attack guys who otherwise would be in AAA or on the bench.  As we just saw.

The question is this: can the Nats offense turn this around?  We have now seen this team make the playoffs twice, each time with the best record in the league, and then each time flail out of the playoffs while barely hitting.  In 2012 they hit .232/.290/.393 and in 2014 they hit .164/.222/.258.

Yes we plan on getting everybody back.  Most of our D/L guys are on rehab assignments as we speak actually.  Can they get their expected form back and make this team respectable on offense?  Can Jayson Werth regain his stroke despite recovering from a broken wrist?  Can Denard Span regain his batting stroke despite a chronic back issue?  I’m less worried about Zimmerman and Rendon; they just need time and luck to stay on the field despite leg/foot issues, and both those guys profile as the kind of middle-of-the-order hitter that would give the Nats lineup some potency back (not to mention some protection for Bryce Harper).

Will it be enough?  Are you worried about looming playoff match-ups?

 

 

Why do people think Montreal is a viable baseball expansion market?

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Don't think we're seeing Youppi's return anytime soon.  Jpg via Youppi's tumblr page (yes it exists).

Don’t think we’re seeing Youppi’s return anytime soon. Jpg via Youppi’s tumblr page (yes it exists).

Rob Manfred was caught on mike talking about expansion at this year’s all-star game.  He reminded us that Montreal drew 91,000 fans to two exhibition games prior to this season’s start.

Before we even talk about all the other roadblocks to expansion in the current MLB landscape (RSN deals, geographical ownership issues, the lack of actual viable cities, the lack of the cascading downstream need for an additional *twelve* minor league teams/twelve appropriate minor league cities to support two more MLB teams, etc), lets talk about Montreal as a baseball host city.  Because we have plenty of evidence already telling us whether that city really can host professional baseball.

Here’s a table showing Attendance and ranks within the NL for the Franchise:

Year Tm Lg W L W-L% Finish Attendance Rank in NL Capacity Attendance as % of Capacity
2015 Washington Nationals NL East 48 39 0.552 1st of 5
2014 Washington Nationals NL East 96 66 0.593 1st of 5 2,579,389 7th of 15 41,418 76.89%
2013 Washington Nationals NL East 86 76 0.531 2nd of 5 2,652,422 6th of 15 41,418 79.06%
2012 Washington Nationals NL East 98 64 0.605 1st of 5 2,370,794 9th of 16 41,418 70.67%
2011 Washington Nationals NL East 80 81 0.497 3rd of 5 1,940,478 14th of 16 41,418 58.20%
2010 Washington Nationals NL East 69 93 0.426 5th of 5 1,828,066 14th of 16 41,418 54.49%
2009 Washington Nationals NL East 59 103 0.364 5th of 5 1,817,226 13th of 16 41,418 54.17%
2008 Washington Nationals NL East 59 102 0.366 5th of 5 2,320,400 13th of 16 41,418 69.59%
2007 Washington Nationals NL East 73 89 0.451 4th of 5 1,943,812 14th of 16 45,596 52.63%
2006 Washington Nationals NL East 71 91 0.438 5th of 5 2,153,056 11th of 16 45,596 58.30%
2005 Washington Nationals NL East 81 81 0.5 5th of 5 2,731,993 8th of 16 45,596 73.97%
2004 Montreal Expos NL East 67 95 0.414 5th of 5 749,550 16th of 16 45,757/18,264 24.17%
2003 Montreal Expos NL East 83 79 0.512 4th of 5 1,025,639 16th of 16 45,757/18,264 33.07%
2002 Montreal Expos NL East 83 79 0.512 2nd of 5 812,045 16th of 16 45,757 21.91%
2001 Montreal Expos NL East 68 94 0.42 5th of 5 642,745 16th of 16 45,757 17.34%
2000 Montreal Expos NL East 67 95 0.414 4th of 5 926,272 16th of 16 45,757 24.99%
1999 Montreal Expos NL East 68 94 0.42 4th of 5 773,277 16th of 16 45,757 20.86%
1998 Montreal Expos NL East 65 97 0.401 4th of 5 914,909 16th of 16 45,757 24.69%
1997 Montreal Expos NL East 78 84 0.481 4th of 5 1,497,609 13th of 14 45,757 40.41%
1996 Montreal Expos NL East 88 74 0.543 2nd of 5 1,616,709 11th of 14 45,757 43.62%
1995 Montreal Expos NL East 66 78 0.458 5th of 5 1,309,618 10th of 14 45,757 39.75%
1994 Montreal Expos NL East 74 40 0.649 1st of 5 1,276,250 11th of 14 45,757 48.93%
1993 Montreal Expos NL East 94 68 0.58 2nd of 7 1,641,437 13th of 14 45,757 44.29%
1992 Montreal Expos NL East 87 75 0.537 2nd of 6 1,669,127 10th of 12 45,757 45.03%
1991 Montreal Expos NL East 71 90 0.441 6th of 6 934,742 12th of 12 45,757 25.38%
1990 Montreal Expos NL East 85 77 0.525 3rd of 6 1,373,087 10th of 12 45,757 37.05%
1989 Montreal Expos NL East 81 81 0.5 4th of 6 1,783,533 10th of 12 45,757 48.12%
1988 Montreal Expos NL East 81 81 0.5 3rd of 6 1,478,659 11th of 12 45,757 39.90%
1987 Montreal Expos NL East 91 71 0.562 3rd of 6 1,850,324 9th of 12 45,757 49.92%
1986 Montreal Expos NL East 78 83 0.484 4th of 6 1,128,981 11th of 12 45,757 30.65%
1985 Montreal Expos NL East 84 77 0.522 3rd of 6 1,502,494 8th of 12 45,757 40.79%
1984 Montreal Expos NL East 78 83 0.484 5th of 6 1,606,531 8th of 12 45,757 43.61%
1983 Montreal Expos NL East 82 80 0.506 3rd of 6 2,320,651 3rd of 12 45,757 62.61%
1982 Montreal Expos NL East 86 76 0.531 3rd of 6 2,318,292 3rd of 12 45,757 62.55%
1981 Montreal Expos NL East 60 48 0.556 2nd of 6 1,534,564 3rd of 12 45,757 62.11%
1980 Montreal Expos NL East 90 72 0.556 2nd of 6 2,208,175 4th of 12 45,757 59.58%
1979 Montreal Expos NL East 95 65 0.594 2nd of 6 2,102,173 4th of 12 45,757 57.43%
1978 Montreal Expos NL East 76 86 0.469 4th of 6 1,427,007 7th of 12 45,757 38.50%
1977 Montreal Expos NL East 75 87 0.463 5th of 6 1,433,757 6th of 12 45,757 38.68%
1976 Montreal Expos NL East 55 107 0.34 6th of 6 646,704 11th of 12 28,456 28.06%
1975 Montreal Expos NL East 75 87 0.463 5th of 6 908,292 9th of 12 28,456 39.41%
1974 Montreal Expos NL East 79 82 0.491 4th of 6 1,019,134 9th of 12 28,456 44.49%
1973 Montreal Expos NL East 79 83 0.488 4th of 6 1,246,863 9th of 12 28,456 54.10%
1972 Montreal Expos NL East 70 86 0.449 5th of 6 1,142,145 9th of 12 28,456 51.46%
1971 Montreal Expos NL East 71 90 0.441 5th of 6 1,290,963 8th of 12 28,456 56.36%
1970 Montreal Expos NL East 73 89 0.451 6th of 6 1,424,683 6th of 12 28,456 61.81%
1969 Montreal Expos NL East 52 110 0.321 6th of 6 1,212,608 7th of 12 28,456 52.61%

 

Some salient points in time for context (lots of the history stuff is from the wikipedia page for the Expos):

  • From 1969 to 1976, Montreal played in “Parc Jerry,” with a capacity of just 28,456 for baseball.   For the first few seasons, the team drew decently, averaging nearly 50% capacity.  They bottomed out in 1976, going from a 75 win team to a 55 win team.
  • In 1977, the team rebounded in both performance and attendance timed with the move to Olympic Stadium; their attendance more than doubled from 1976 to 1977.  From 1978 to 1983, the team was successful on the field and in the stands, routinely placing 3rd or 4th in the league in attendance and placing 2nd or 3rd place in the division.  This also included the Montreal franchise’s sole playoff appearance, a 3-2 NLDS loss in 1981.
  • Suddenly after 1983, fans stopped showing up and the team stayed mediocre; they went from 3rd or 4th in the league in attendance to 8th at best, 11th out of 12 at worst.
  • In 1991, the team was sold to a new ownership group, and a new wave of players made the Expos very competitive very fast (94 wins in 1993).  However, fans remained ambivalent; even after the 1993 season as the team sat in 1st place for all of 2004 (the season eventually cancelled), attendance went from 44% of capacity to 48% of capacity.  After the players strike, ownership and fan interest began to dwindle.
  • Jeffrey Loria acquired the team in 1999; he failed to get media deals done for the 2000 season, failed to negotiate a new stadium deal, and attendance and fan interest showed: in 1998 the team was dead last in attendance and never left last place of the NL.
  • Baseball attempted to contract Montreal (and Minnesota) in 2001, further adding insult to injury for the remaining Montreal fans.
  • In 2002, MLB negotiated the 3-way transaction of Boston, Florida and Montreal, leaving the Expos as a ward of MLB.  From 2002 to 2004, the franchise was plundered of its staff, its infrastructure, and its willingness to compete.  Furthermore, to “combat low attendance” the team played a quarter of its “home games” in Puerto Rico at a stadium a fraction of the capacity of Montreal’s stadium.
  • In their final seasons in Montreal, the Expos were averaging just 17-20% stadium capacity (not counting the two years traveling to San Juan).  By way of comparison, the Nats first season was at 73% and their last three have not dipped below the 70% capacity marker.

Some quick summary points:

  • The Expos absolute best cumulative attendance season was 1983; the Nats have already drawn more than that on four different occasions.
  • The Nats worst attendance season (2009), was still better than 31 of Montreal’s 36 seasons.
  • The Nats already have the 5 best attendance as a % of capacity seasons.
  • Montreal was dead last in NL attendance for their last 7 seasons in Canada.   You have to go back another 14 seasons before you even find a time when they were in the upper half of the league of attendance.

Montreal was asking for a new stadium as early as 1999-2000, and ran into roadblocks to get public funding in the amount of $150-$200M.  Now new stadiums routinely cost 4-5 times that.  Why would anyone think that Montreal would finance something now?

So, again, considering the known attendance and stadium issues, and not even addressing the RSN and currency issues, why again does anyone think that Montreal is a viable city for Baseball right now?  Yes its a large city (it’d be ranked somewhere in the 10-15th largest city range if it acquired baseball), and yes its a “wealthier” city since its Canada and it houses their seat of government.  But, they *had a team* for 30+ years and didn’t support it, refused politically to build the infrastructure to keep it, and had no local ownership interested in keeping it.

Sometimes I hear about other international expansion sites.  Puerto Rico?  Mexico City??  Do people not understand the financial needs to support a professional baseball team?  You need *wealthy* cities, not places where the median income is a fraction of what it is in the USA (by some measures, Puerto Rico’s is about 30% of the US and Mexico is just 10-15% of the US).

Portland?  San Antonio?  Charlotte?  Virginia Beach?  All nice mid-sized American cities, in some cases already hosting AA or AAA teams.  All *smaller* than some of the smallest markets already hosting MLB teams and struggling financially (places like Milwaukee, Kansas City, Pittsburgh, Tampa, etc).  So I’m not entirely sure how these are great expansion alternatives.  The last two times baseball expanded, it was to major, growing cities that were mostly deserving (Denver, Miami, Phoenix and Tampa).

I dunno; every time I hear about expansion in baseball I laugh.  We still havn’t even come close to figuring out the most recent franchise relocation issues (aka, Washington-Baltimore’s RSN mess) and Oakland & San Francisco can’t agree on who “owns” a city that’s basically equidistantly far away from both stadiums (San Jose).  Now we want to shoe-horn in two more franchises onto a landscape map that’s 100% spoken for?

The reality of the situation is this: the two places it makes the most sense to put an additional team are the two largest cities in the land.  New York and Los Angeles.  Stick a team in Brooklyn and in Riverside and carve up the massive markets in those two cities.  And it’ll never, ever happen.

 

Written by Todd Boss

July 15th, 2015 at 12:03 pm

Nats All-Star review: 2015 and years past

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Harper becomes just the 3rd starter in Nats history.  Photo via fansided.com

Harper becomes just the 3rd starter in Nats history. Photo via fansided.com

Here’s my annual Nationals All Star selection post.

(* == All-Star game starter.  The Nats now have three ASG starters in their history, dating to 2005).

2015

  • Nationals All-Star representatives: Bryce Harper*, Max Scherzer
  • Possible Snubs: Yunel Escobar, Drew Storen
  • Narrative: Harper not only made it in as a starter for the 2nd time, he led the NL in votes, setting a MLB record for total votes received.  This is no surprise; Harper’s easily in the MVP lead for the NL thanks to his amazing first half (his split at the half-way point of the season: .347/.474/.722 with 25 homers and an astounding 225 OPS+).  I guess he won’t be earning the “Most overrated player” award next year.  That Harper is electing to skip the Home run derby in a disappointment; his father is nursing an arm injury can cannot throw to him in the event.  In a weird year for the Nats, the only other regular worth mentioning is newly acquired Escobar, who is hitting above .300 and filling in ably at multiple positions that, prior to this year, he had never played.  Storen is having another excellent regular season … but at a time when mandatory members from each team often leads to other closers being selected (there are 5 NL closers and 7 AL relievers), the odds of him making the All-Star team were always going to be slim.  Scherzer deservedly makes the team and probably would have been the NL starter; he’s got sub 2.00 ERA and FIP and leads all NL pitchers in WAR at the mid-way point of the season.  But his turn came up in the final game of the first half, making him ineligible for the game and forcing his replacement on the roster.

As a side note, the 2015 All-Star game will go down as the “Ballot-Gate” game thanks to MLB’s short-sighted plan to allow 30+ online ballots per email address.  This led to severe “ballot stuffing” by the Kansas City Royals fans, led to MLB  having to eliminate 60 million+ fraudulent ballots, but still led to several Royals being elected starters over more deserving candidates.

 


Here’s past year’s information, mostly recycled information from past posts on the topic but fun to read nonetheless, especially the early years.

2014

  • Nationals All-Star representative: Jordan Zimmermann (Update post-publishing: Zimmermann strained a bicep, and had to withdraw from the ASG.  For a bit it looked like the Nats wouldn’t even have a representative, until Tyler Clippard was named on 7/13/14).
  • Possible Snubs: Adam LaRoche, Anthony Rendon, Rafael Soriano, Drew Storen
  • Narrative: Zimmermann’s been the best SP on the best pitching staff in the majors this year, and thus earns his spot.  I find it somewhat odd that a first place team (or near to it) gets just one representative on the team (as discussed above).  Rendon tried to make the team via the “last man in” voting, but historically Nationals have not fared well in this competition (especially when better known players from large markets are in the competition, aka Anthony Rizzo from the Chicago Cubs), and indeed Rendon finished 4th in the last-man voting.  LaRoche is having a very good season, almost single handedly carrying the Nats offense while major parts were out injured, but he’s never going to beat out the slew of great NL first basemen (Joey Votto couldn’t even get into this game).  Soriano has quietly put together one of the best seasons of any closer in the game; at the time of this writing he has a 1.03 ERA and a .829 whip; those are Dennis Eckersley numbers.  But, the farce that is the all-star game selection criteria (having to select one player from each team) means that teams need a representative, and deserving guys like Soriano get squeezed.  Then, Soriano indignantly said he wouldn’t even go if named as a replacement … likely leading to Clippard’s replacement selection.  The same goes for non-closer Storen, who sports a sub 2.00 ERA on the year.  Advanced stats columnists (Keith Law) also think that Stephen Strasburg is a snub but I’m not entirely sure: he may lead the NL in K’s right now and have far better advanced numbers than “traditional,” but its hard to make an argument that a guy with a 7-6 record and a 3.50+ ERA is all-star worthy.

2013

  • Nationals All-Star representatives: Bryce Harper*, Jordan Zimmermann
  • Snubs: Stephen Strasburg, Ian Desmond
  • Narrative: Harper comes in 3rd in the NL outfielder voting, ahead of some big-time names, to become only the second Nationals position player elected as an All-Star starter.  He was 4th in the final pre-selection vote, so a big last minute push got him the starter spot.   Harper also becomes the first National to participate in the Home Run Derby.   Zimmermann was 12-3 heading into the game and was on mid-season Cy Young short lists in July in a breakout season.  Strasburg’s advanced stats are all better than Zimmermann’s, but his W/L record (4-6 as the ASG) means he’s not an all-star.  It also probably doesn’t help that he missed a few weeks.  Desmond loses out to Troy Tulowitzki, Everth Cabrera and Jean Segura.  Tulowitzki was having a very solid year and was a deserving elected starter, while Cabrera and Segura are both having breakout seasons.  Desmond was on the “Final vote” roster, but my vote (and most others’ I’m guessing) would be for Yasiel Puig there ([Editor Update: Desmond and Puig lost out to Freddie Freeman: I still wished that Puig finds a way onto the roster but ultimately he did not and I believe the ASG was diminished because of it).   Gio GonzalezRyan Zimmerman, and Rafael Soriano are all having solid but unspectacular years and miss out behind those having great seasons.

2012

  • Nationals All-Star representatives: Stephen StrasburgGio GonzalezIan Desmond, Bryce Harper
  • Possible Snubs: Adam LaRocheCraig Stammen
  • Narrative: The two SPs Strasburg and Gonzalez were the obvious candidates, and my personal prediction was that they’d be the only two candidates selected.  Gonzalez’ first half was a prelude to his 21-win, 3rd place Cy Young season.  The inclusion of Desmond is a surprise, but also a testament to how far he’s come as a player in 2012.  Harper was a last-minute injury replacement, but had earned his spot by virtue of his fast start as one of the youngest players in the league.  Of the “snubs,” LaRoche has had a fantastic come back season in 2012 but fared little shot against better, more well-known NL first basemen.  Stammen was our best bullpen arm, but like LaRoche fared little chance of getting selected during a year when the Nats had two deserving pitchers selected.

2011

  • Nationals All-Star representatives: Tyler Clippard
  • Possible Snubs: Danny EspinosaMichael MorseDrew StorenJordan Zimmermann
  • Narrative: While Clippard was (arguably) the Nats best and most important reliever, I think Zimmermann was a more rightful choice.  He was 10th in the league in ERA at the time of the selections and has put in a series of dominant performances.  Meanwhile Espinosa was on pace for a 28-homer season and almost a certain Rookie-of-the-Year award (though a precipitous fall-off in the 2nd half cost him any realistic shot at the ROY), and perhaps both players are just too young to be known around the league.  Lastly Morse is certainly known and he merited a spot in the “last man in” vote sponsored by MLB (though he fared little chance against popular players in this last-man-in voting).

2010

  • Nationals All-Star representatives: Matt Capps
  • Possible Snubs: Adam DunnJosh WillinghamRyan Zimmerman, Steven Strasburg
  • Narrative: Capps was clearly deserving, having a breakout season as a closer after his off-season non-tender from the Pirates.  The 3-4-5 hitters Zimmerman-Dunn-Willingham all had dominant offensive seasons as the team improved markedly from its 103-loss season.  But perhaps the surprise non-inclusion was Strasburg, who despite only having a few starts as of the all-star break was already the talk of baseball.  I think MLB missed a great PR opportunity to name him to the team to give him the exposure that the rest of the national media expected.  But in the end, Capps was a deserving candidate and I can’t argue that our hitters did anything special enough to merit inclusion.

2009

  • Nationals All-Star representatives: Ryan Zimmerman
  • Possible Snubs: Adam Dunn
  • Narrative: The addition of Dunn and Willingham to the lineup gave Zimmerman the protection he never had, and he produced with his career-best season.  His first and deserved all-star appearance en-route to a 33 homer season.  Dunn continued his monster homer totals with little all-star recognition.

2008

  • Nationals All-Star representatives: Cristian Guzman
  • Possible Snubs: Jon Rauch
  • Narrative: The first of two “hitting rock-bottom” seasons for the team; no one really merited selection.  Zimmerman was coming off of hamate-bone surgery in November 2007 and the team was more or less awful across the board.  Rauch performed ably after Cordero went down with season-ending (and basically career-ending) shoulder surgery.   Guzman’s selection a great example of why one-per-team rules don’t make any sense.  Guzman ended up playing far longer than he deserved in the game itself by virtue of the 15-inning affair.

2007

  • Nationals All-Star representatives: Dmitri Young
  • Possible Snubs: Ryan Zimmerman, Shawn Hill (though I wouldn’t argue for either)
  • Narrative: Young gets a deserved all-star appearance en route to comeback player of the year.  Zimmerman played a full season but didn’t dominate.  Our 2007 staff gave starts to 13 different players, most of whom were out of the league within the next year or two.  Not a good team.

2006

  • Nationals All-Star representatives: Alfonso Soriano*
  • Possible Snubs: Nick JohnsonRyan Zimmerman, Chad Cordero
  • Narrative: Soriano made the team as an elected starter, the first time the Nats have had such an honor.  Our pitching staff took massive steps backwards and no starter came even close to meriting a spot.  Cordero was good but not lights out as he had been in 2005.  Soriano’s 40-40 season is a poster child for “contract year” production and he has failed to come close to such production since.  The team was poor and getting worse.  Johnson had a career year but got overshadowed by bigger, better first basemen in the league (a recurring theme for our first basemen over the years).

2005

  • Nationals All-Star representatives: Livan HernandezChad Cordero
  • Possible Snubs: Nick JohnsonJohn Patterson.
  • Narrative: The Nats went into the All Star break surprisingly in first place, having run to a 50-31 record by the halfway point.  Should a first place team have gotten more than just two representatives?  Perhaps.  But the team was filled with non-stars and played far over its head to go 50-31 (as evidenced by the reverse 31-50 record the rest of the way).

Bonds to sue MLB for collusion; Is he right?

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Bonds thinks he was colluded against after his 2007 season.  photo via dailynexus.com

Bonds thinks he was colluded against after his 2007 season. photo via dailynexus.com

In 2007, Barry Bonds played in 126 games (missing half of September but otherwise just getting routine days off throughout the season), put up a slash line of .276/.480/.565, with 28 homers in 477 PAs, good for a a 169 OPS+.  A 169 OPS+ would have led the majors in 2014, for context of how strong an offensive season he had.  He led the league in walks, intentional walks and OBP.  He was an All-Star.  His bWAR on the year was a healthy 3.4 … but was hampered a point and a half by his sub-par defense since, of course, he  was in the NL and had to struggle around left field day in and day out as a 42-yr old.

He entered Free Agency … and never signed a new contract.  His last game was a 0-3 random September performance for a 90-loss Giants team against the Padres and Jake Peavy.

This week, now that Bonds’ remaining legal issues are past, he’s apparently contemplating a collusion lawsuit against MLB, alleging that the 30 owners basically got together and collectively agreed not to sign him.  He alleges that this collusion ended his career pre-maturely.

At the time, there was a massive circus atmosphere surrounding Bonds.  In November of 2007, just after the World Series ended and the FA period officially began, Bonds was officially indicted on federal perjury and obstruction of justice charges.  Even notwithstanding an outstanding federal charge, Bonds had just broken Hank Aaron‘s record and had a massive contingent of reporters following him around game to game, with heavy, serious questions about the extent of his steroid usage still unanswered but being questioned daily.  Bonds was also well known for being a surly teammate and a horrible clubhouse presence.  I specifically recall thinking about a possible signing of Bonds and completely understanding why teams may not have wanted to do so, because of the PR hit.

So, which makes more sense, that 30 MLB owners, each of whom is competing against the others to try to win, would each individually arrive at the conclusion that they’d rather not have a PR nightmare versus having a 43-yr old guy still capable of batting clean-up in the majors willing to play for the MLB minimum?  Or that the commissioner would lead yet another collusion effort against a player?

Who wouldn’t have wanted to add a potential 5-win clean-up hitter playing for less than $500,000??

We should note, by the way, that we are talking about a commissioner at the time in Bud Selig who was directly involved as an owner in *multiple* proven collusion incidents, which resulted in millions of dollars of penalties being paid to damaged players through the 1980s and 1990s.  We’re talking about a commissioner who was also (basically) still an owner, who clearly worked on behalf of the owners, and who had taken a massive publicity hit to his reputation for his role in enabling the whole PED crisis in the first place and (in my opinion) was certainly ready to move onwards from the daily embarrassment that Bonds represented to the league.

Here’s some additional good reading material on the topic: Si.com’s legal expert Michael McCann studied the case back in 2012 and goes far deeper into all these topics.  Yahoo sports’ Israel Fehr has a nice summary with links to other reporters with more analysis.  And Grant Brisbee has a great retrospective on the idiocy of teams who passed on Bonds but who paid other players that off-season.

My 2 cents: i’m almost certain there was some collusion going on … but that it’ll be very difficult to prove at this point, 8 years onward.  And, there’s enough of an argument that can be made that teams made the same decision that the San Francisco owner made before the season was even over; enough was enough with the daily PR nightmare and he decided to go separate ways.  What do you think?

ps: useless fact: did you know that Bonds was just the 6th pick in the 1st round of his draft year?   Going ahead of him was B.J. Surhoff, Will Clark, Bobby Witt, Barry Larkin and a HS catcher who washed out in the minors named Kurt Brown.  Do you think the Chicago White Sox are kicking themselves for getting absolutely nothing out of their first round pick instead of picking Bonds?  Bonds btw nearly has as much combined bWAR as those four MLBers picked ahead of him … and those are not exactly slouches for players, and includes a Hall of Famer in Larkin.

Arizona management: Get off my Lawn!

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Miley must be happy to get out of Arizona.  Photo via soxprospects.com

Miley must be happy to get out of Arizona. Photo via soxprospects.com

A couple of years ago, the Arizona Diamondbacks curiously traded their #1 draft pick from the previous year (Trevor Bauer) for a package of players that centered on the underwhelming Didi GregoriusI posted about the Bauer trade when it happened (Dec 2012) and, frankly, laid the blame at the kid’s feet for working his way out of town.

But since then, we’ve had other incidents involving Arizona players on their way out the door.  To wit:

  • In Jan 2013, the team moved its star Justin Upton for (again) a questionable return (centered on Martin Prado), and the litany of history between the player and the team was documented in the trade recap here via azfamily.com.  This Deadspin link also references Ken Rosenthal‘s reporting, which detailed the team’s issues with Upton: he didn’t play with enough “intensity.”
  • This past July, the team traded starter Brandon McCarthy to the Yankees for a middling Vidal Nuno.  McCarthy’s splits before/after the trade?   He was 3-10 with a 5.01 ERA before the move, 7-5 with a 2.89 ERA after.  And that’s moving to the AL East.  The apparent reason?  Arizona was actively discouraging him from using his effective cut-fastball.

Why do I bring this up?  Because, in the wake of the off-season Wade Miley trade to Boston … guess what?  Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic reported that Miley and the Arizona training staff clashed in the past, and he thinks it led to his out-ster from the team.

And then there’s stuff like this: Arizona management forced some fans sitting behind home plate to change their clothes in April of 2013 … and apparently just did it again.

Arizona finished 64-98 last season, worst in the majors.  Its no wonder they’re so bad right now, given the rate at which they’ve traded young, good, controllable assets for mediocre and expensive ones.  They canned their entire coaching staff last off-season (aka, the “King of Grit” Kirk Gibson) and their GM (Kevin Towers) as a result, hiring Tony La Russa as their senior-most baseball executive and then Dave Stewart as their rookie GM.  Perhaps the hope is that this new regime will stop openly clashing with its players and will value production on the field versus compliance in the clubhouse.

Of course, Stewart didn’t help his case by plainly stating ignorance of analytics to the press this past off-season.  And the new regime’s moves this past off-season didn’t exactly inspire confidence: their major move being the $68.5M signing of Cuban Yasmany Tomas, who apparently can’t actually play 3B and may start in the minors.  And its hard to look at any of the slew of trades they made and say “wow, that was a winner move.”  You almost have to wonder how they’re going to screw up the #1 pick in the 2015 draft this coming June.

All the better for the rest of the NL West, which features two teams with very clear playoff intentions (LA and SD) along with a third (SF) who has only won three World Series in the last five years.

post-posting update: Arizona has defended its forced uniform changing.  Actually they provided an explanation .. it was just someone playing around.  Sure.

another post-posting update: Stewart essentially “sold” two players to Atlanta, including their 2014 1st rounder Touki Toussaint so as to rid themselves of Bronson Arroyo‘s deal.  When questioned about the deal, Stewart was quoted as doubting Toussant’s velocity readings, saying that “Toussant didn’t throw 96.”  And, as noted here, Stewart is right: Tousannt doesn’t throw 96; he throws 98.  Toussant was well known to be mid-90s as a 16 year old two years prior to his drafting out of high school.  And now Toussant is doing things like this: throwing 6 no-hit innings in low-A for his new team Atlanta.  Thanks Dave!

Yet another post-posting update: the organization left $1.7M on the table in the 2015 draft process, a ridiculously large amount of money, enough to buy at least 4 separate 3rd-4th round talents later in the draft.  Just an amazing example of incompetence.

MLB Organizations behaving good … and bad.

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Hamilton's team has hung him out to dry.  Photo via theclassical.org

Hamilton’s team has hung him out to dry. Photo via theclassical.org

Today is a tale of two organizations.  I’d rather talk about that than the opening series loss to the pitiful Mets, featuring a 6 run meltdown from Stephen Strasburg today.

1. Good.  San Diego Padres

Read this piece this week on For the Win (USA Today’s sports blog), linking to a story by Steve Bisheff of the OC Register in SoCal.

Worth a read.  The Padres have re-signed a former minor league prospect every year since 1996 to a contract to give him a small stipend and access to health care after he had a debilitating heart attack on the field.

Its nice to read stories like this.

2. Bad.  The Los Angeles Angels

As has been well reported by now, Angels slugger and contract disaster Josh Hamilton had a drug relapse over the off-season and self-reported himself to the league.  While negotiations were underway to determine what, if any, penalties were to be done, someone leaked pretty much all the details of the situation, drastically violating the confidentiality of the Joint Drug Agreement and hanging Hamilton out to dry.  Which happens; there’s plenty of players who have been labeled “PED users” by virtue of leaked reports of supposedly sealed and/or anonymous testing.  It can be assumed but not proven that the leak came within the Angels organization, based on who reported it (team beat reporters) and who their sources generally are (team officials).

Eventually it was determined that Hamilton would suffer no consequences, to which the Angels president John Carpino was quoted, “It defies logic that Josh’s reported behavior is not a violation of his current program.”   The GM Jerry Dipoto also issued a rather snippy press release, going out of his way to degrade the player.

Wow.  Way to stick up for your player, guys.  I agree with Craig Calcaterra whole heartedly here; this comment was petty, graceless, and completely unnecessary.  And I also agree with his opinion (stated here), that MLB’s subsequent decision not to investigate the leaks is just as abhorrent.  Hamilton has a past; he has an addiction, just like millions of Americans.  He struggles with it, and sometimes slips.  So do we all.  There’s probably  not one person reading who wasn’t once “addicted” to something or another, or who had a bad habit they struggled to break, who cannot relate to his issues.  Nicotine, Alcohol, high-fat foods, whatever.  To show so little sympathy is kind of tough to swallow.

For  years, the union held out against drug testing, in large part because of *exactly* what has continually happened since.  Constant leaks from people (either in the MLB or with teams) who have axes to grind and who give anonymous quotes to reporters, who then dutifully report salacious details with no provable accusations that end up destroying careers (see players such as David Ortiz, Jeff Bagwell and the “back-acned” Mike Piazza for more examples).  This Hamilton example is just one more example.  You can’t put the genie back in the bottle either.

 

 

Written by Todd Boss

April 9th, 2015 at 4:55 pm

Opening Day Payroll, Attendance, Starters & other cool stuff

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Harper's homer and subsequent hair flip was the highlight of the Nats opening day: photo via natsenquirer.com

Harper’s homer and subsequent hair flip was the highlight of the Nats opening day: photo via natsenquirer.com

Every year I try to attend Nats Opening Day.  Since giving up our season tickets, we’ve had to pay (handsomely) for the opportunity, and yesterday was no exception.  For nostalga purposes, we bought into our old section (131) for the home opener and had a great time in the sun.  Too bad Ian Desmond had money on the game and enabled three unearned runs to score.  Oh and our first pinch hitter off the bench?  The powerful and feared Matt den Dekker.  So yeah, this team looks like it may struggle offensively for a bit.

Here’s some fun stuff that I have been tracking for years inre opening day.


Opening Day Payroll; Nats

Counting payroll is always a tough one.  I have a payroll tracking worksheet (now updated for our last three NRI additions and our opening day roster) where I have been trying to estimate the Nats payroll.

Why the discrepancies?   I can’t quite figure out how my and Cot’s estimates are off: I’m counting the $2M option year buyout to Adam LaRoche, while Cots does not.  Taking that out, i’d still be off by about the same amount, only to the wrong side.  My guess is that Cots is missing a min-salary guy somewhere.  Meanwhile USA Today’s estimate is counting the entirety of Dan Uggla‘s 2015 salary of $13.5M towards Washington’s total; If you took that away except for the MLB min portion Washington is responsible for you’d be at $161,518,497 as their estimate.  USA Today’s numbers also don’t take into account the nearly $40 million dollars (net) that the Dodgers are paying players who no longer play for them; their payroll (per USA Today’s estimates) should really be nearer the $270M range.

You know what they say; a few million here, a few million there, and soon you’re talking about real money.


Opening Day Payroll; MLB

Here’s a quickie little XLS where I have the opening day payroll for all 30 teams going back 5 years.  Caveat; I usually depend on the USAToday salary database for these numbers, which have proved to have some issues (as discussed above).

USAToday has the Dodgers at $230M, but that’s before another $40M of payments to former players.  Cots has the Dodgers at $271M, a more accurate figure.  That’s first place by a significant margin.  In second place is the Yankees: $213M-$217M for a team that many feel will come in last last place.

I’m going to update this XLS for Cot’s figures, since USAToday’s are just so bad.

 


Opening day Nats park attendance

Attendance for yesterday’s game was announced at 42,295.  Here’s some attendance milestones for the franchise:

  • Nats park capacity for 2015 seems to be 41,456, an increase of 40 seats from last year
  • 2015’s opening day crowd wasn’t even close to 2013’s: 45,274.  That remains the regular season record attendance.
  • All time record attendance?  The ill-fated 2012 NLDS game 5: 45,966.
  • The first game in franchise history; 2005 in RFK: 45,596, which stood until the NLDS record-setting game.
  • The long-running regular season attendance record was the great Fathers day 2006 game in RFK against the Yankees: 45,157.  That record stood for more than 6 years.

 


Opening Day Starters

Here’s my opening day starters worksheet in Google docs.  Thanks to some turnover at the top of some of these rotations, the two active leaders in Opening Day starts (CC Sabathia and Mark Buehrle) did not extend their leads of 11 and 9 respectively.  The names of note for opening day starts:

  • Leader in Opening day starts who extended their total in 2015: Felix Hernandez, making his 8th.
  • Leader in consecutive opening day starts: also Hernandez, making his 7th total (he missed one earlier in his career).
  • Four pitchers now have 7 opening day starts on their resume: Bartolo Colon, Jered Weaver, James Shields and Justin Verlander.  Verlander’s streak of 7 consecutive starts was broken when he was supplanted by David Price for 2015.  Of these four, it seems likely only that Shields will continue.
  • 12 pitchers made their first opening day start in 2015, including our own Max Scherzer.
  • The most ever?  Tom Seaver with 16.  The most consecutive?  Jack Morris with 14.

 


cool stuff

Qualifying Offers: Are they working? (2015 edition)

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The QO didn't affect Scherzer's next contrct very much.  Photo AP Photo/Paul Sancya

The QO didn’t affect Scherzer’s next contrct very much. Photo AP Photo/Paul Sancya

Last year we did a quick analysis of all the Qualifying Offer-receiving free agents to see if the system was “working.”  (note; from here out I’ll use the abbreviation of QO for Qualifying Offer).

Now that James Shields has signed, there remain no more free agents on the market who received a QO from their former team.  Lets take a look at how the qualifying offers affected the markets for those players who got them this off-season.

Here’s a table of the 12 players who received QOs ahead of free-agency (I hope this table is readable once it publishes…)

Year Player Old Team New Team Draft Pick Forfeited Signing Date Subsequent contract (w/o options) Money up/down per AAV Q.O. Screw the player?
2014 Melky Cabrera TOR CWS 3-81 12/15/2014 3yr/$42M -1.3 Not Really
2014 Nelson Cruz BAL SEA 1-21 12/1/2014 4yr/$58M -0.8 No
2014 Michael Cuddyer COL NYM 1-15 11/11/2014 2yr/$21M -4.8 Sort of
2014 Francisco Liriano PIT PIT none 12/9/2014 3yr/$39M -2.3 Sort of
2014 Russell Martin PIT TOR 1-18 11/18/2014 5yr/$82M 1.1 No
2014 Victor Martinez DET DET none 11/14/2014 4yr/$68M 1.7 No
2014 Hanley Ramirez LAD BOS 2sup-69 11/25/2014 4yr/$88M 6.7 No
2014 David Robertson NYY CWS 2-45 12/9/2014 4yr/$46M -3.8 Sort of
2014 Pablo Sandoval SFG BOS 2-44 11/25/2014 5yr/$95M 3.7 No
2014 Ervin Santana ATL MIN 2-43 12/11/2014 4yr/$55M -1.55 Not Really
2014 Max Scherzer DET WAS 1-29 1/21/2015 7yr/$210M 14.7 no
2014 James Shields KC SD 1-13 2/9/2015 4yr/$75M 3.45 no

It should be noted that for the third consecutive year, not one player who received a QO accepted it despite its ever increasing value ($15.3M for 2015).  Is this “reverse collusion” on the part of the players, not to play the QO game?  For the third year, there were players about whom pundits scratched their heads as to why they chose not to take the offer.  While not as obvious as in 2013 (when both Stephen Drew and Kendrys Morales vastly over-stated the market for their services and were severely penalized as a result), the fact that especially Michael Cuddyer and David Robertson didn’t take the QO remained puzzling.

So, among the 12 players, who was hurt?  In the end, nobody really.

  • Half the players got new contracts with AAVs above the QO figure, in some cases significantly above.  So they’re not being “hurt” by the system.  This list includes Russell Martin, Victor Martinez, Hanley Ramirez, Pablo Sandoval, James Shields and of course our own Max Scherzer.
  • Another 3 players (Melky Cabrera, Nelson Cruz and Ervin Santana) signed longer term deals for slightly less than the AAV of $15.3M.  I say these guys were “not really” hurt since they guaranteed themselves 3-4 years and in each case nearly or more than $50M of earnings.   Each player rightly gambled and guaranteed themselves $50M instead of $15M.

The remaining three players each kind of have extenuating circumstances.

  • Michael Cuddyer (inexplicably) signed a 2yr/$21M deal with New York instead of taking a 1yr/$15.3M deal to stay in Colorado.  There has to be more to this story; why wouldn’t his agent have advised him of taking the QO and then hoping to get a 1yr/$6M deal the following off-season??  Wouldn’t that have been the better play?  Did he want to leave a losing team in Colorado?  (If so, why the heck did he go to the Mets??)  The Mets even more inexplicably gave up the 15th overall pick to get an 35-yr old corner outfielder who played just 49 games last year due to injuries and who has a combined 3 bWAR in the last two seasons.   One can see the nature of the kind of player you can generally get in the mid-first round here.  So while Cuddyer’s AAV is way below $15.3M, because he voluntarily signed the Mets contract he only screwed himself :-)
  • Francisco Liriano declined the QO and then re-signed with the same team (Pittsburgh).  He got a 3yr deal for $39M.  Most pundits would agree that nobody would have given Liriano a $15M/yr longer term deal thanks to his age and injury history, so his taking lesser money AAV but for longer is a smart move for him.  Perhaps the QO limited his market, forcing him to go back to Pittsburgh … or perhaps not.
  • David Robertson declined the QO but got a 4yr guaranteed deal for $46M … as a reliever.  Which is fantastic, considering the volatility of the reliever position in general.  So even though his AAV is far less than $15.3M, he made out big time with the amount of guaranteed money.

San Diego gives up the best draft pick (13th overall) to get Shields’ services for four years, but five teams altogether give up first round picks to sign players.  Boston gives up its two second round picks to play Ramirez and Sandoval on the right side of their infield for the next four years.  A number of very wealthy teams pick up supplemental first round picks (Dodgers, Yankees and Detroit), which (like all FA compensation) kind of seems to defeat the purpose of helping “poorer” teams off-set the loss of marquee players.

Lastly, the order (and pools) for the 2015 draft is now set.   A better look is here, showing all the picks gained and lost.  Houston has the 2nd, 5th and 37th overall picks, 12 picks in the top 10 rounds and has an astounding $17M of bonus money to acquire players.  Washington has just $4.1M to sign its first 10 picks, meaning we’re likely looking at another set of college seniors drafted in rounds 6-10.  More on the draft later on.

So, to answer the question of the day; are QOs working?  This year they seemed to have worked; you can’t really argue that any player was negatively affected and teams that lost players got compensation picks.  You can argue whether the right teams got these picks.

Fyi; the spreadsheet with all this analysis is here: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1UEiZzwWarVP3PfCtZeYTVBqC49dmBut21O7UhB17htQ/edit?usp=sharing

One day on the job … three dumb things already said or done

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ManfredSelig

Out with the old, in with the … same? Photo via nydailynews.com

So, I see that new MLB commissioner Rob Manfred is picking up right where the oft-clueless Bud Selig left off.   On his first week on the job, he was quoted as saying two rather ridiculous things and doing something even dumber:

1. He’s open to “banning defensive shifts

2. He thinks baseball will eventually return to Montreal.

3. He appointed Fred Wilpon to be the head of the sport’s Finance committee.

I don’t think I need to go deeply into why #1 is a ridiculous statement; plenty of others in the blogosphere have done that already.  I’ll just say this: there’s a reason defensive shifts work, and its because batters have become far, far too one-dimensional at the plate.  There’s a very simple, easy method for defeating defensive shifts; bunting.  Watch Robinson Cano bunt for a casual double against a shift in Boston: he barely tried to get the bunt down, just essentially punching the ball towards a vast gap left open by the too-clever Boston infield.  There’s not even a fielder in the camera’s field of sight by the time the ball runs by the bag.  I didn’t see this game live, but i’ll bet Boston didn’t try this shift on him again.  If they didn’t, and I’m the starting pitcher … I’m probably not throwing another pitch until I see a conventional infield again.  As far as Cano goes … its a line-drive in the books right?

And that’s all it will take.  If every pull hitting lefty would just punch a couple of bunts towards the vacated third base position, the defensive shifting probably would drastically reduce.

If you’re *for* the banning of defensive shifts … how exactly would you do it?  Put dotted lines on the field and make players stay in their positions until the ball is pitched?  We’re talking about a game that’s existed for decades without such a need.  How would you police it?  How would you account for players running out of position to cover bunts?  When the pitcher is up, is the 3rd baseman allowed to creep in?  How much?  What if someone fake-bunts and suddenly players are out of their “zones?”  If someone cheats out of position, do you just give the player a ball or a base?  How does that change the decades-old score keeping?  That’s just a few of the implementation questions that would make this a non-starter to realistically force-feed into the game.

Look; if you want to tilt the power back to batters (and that’s what this is really about, right?  Offense is down, strikeouts are up), then do what they did back in the late 60s.  Lower the mound.  Shrink the strike zone (actually … don’t shrink it, just frigging call it like it should be called and stop giving guys who throw 100 a ball off the outside corner).  Or work the ball a little bit so that it plays better (wind it tighter, make the seams lower, etc).  I don’t think you’re going to be able to turn back the clock on match-up relievers, power arms out of the bullpen, etc, but there are things you can do to keep the game on a level playing field.


As far as baseball returning to Montreal … I just can’t see how it would work given the current state of finances in Baseball.   Yes Montreal is a huge city (Just to mention a couple of non-insignificant barriers:

  • RSN TV markets: currently the entirety of Canada’s TV market is “owned” by Toronto, though the area where Montreal sits is “shared” with Boston.  So that means that, much as the Nats had to make concessions with Baltimore to move to Washington, that a franchise would have to buy out these teams’ interest in the Montreal market.
  • Canadian dollar values; this was one of the main reasons the Montreal franchise began to struggle in the mid 1990s; Toronto hasn’t been relevant in nearly the same amount of time.  Why does anyone think this situation will ever change?
  • Montreal as a franchise had some of the best talent in the game in the early 90s but couldn’t escape the generations old Olympic stadium.  Modern baseball franchises depend on modern stadiums; who is going to commit to building a billion dollar stadium in the near-socialistic political climate in Quebec?
  • Oh, and there’s this: the Montreal Expos were dead last in attendance every year between 1998 and 2004, when they finally departed for Washington.  Even in 1994, the year they were 74-40 and were dominating the NL … they were just 11th out of 14 teams in the NL in terms of attendance.   In fact, you have to go all the way back to 1983 before even finding a season where the Expos were not in the bottom THIRD of attendance in the NL.  They don’t draw in Montreal; they never have.  Why would anyone think it’d be any different now?
  • Perhaps there’s relocation possibility to Montreal (in today’s climate, likely from Oakland or Tampa).  But if you’re the Oakland or Tampa owners; are you going to be any better off in Montreal than you are today?  You’d be going to a WORSE stadium situation and would struggle with RSN issues.
  • If you’re going to expand the game to go to 32 teams so you can put a team in Montreal (and its tempting; Montreal is a big city, it would rank just between Phoenix and Seattle in terms of MSA sizes of US cities), then where would you put the 2nd team?   The two biggest cities w/o a major league team right now are Portland and San Antonio … creating a team in Portland would revisit en masse the same Baltimore-Washington RSN issues we’ve already talked about, San Antonio isn’t exactly a metropolis itself, and both team areas would immediately be in smaller markets than places like Kansas City and Cincinnati, teams that struggle to compete because of their own small markets.  Or you could argue that NY or LA should support a third team … yeah good luck with that RSN fight.
  • Not to mention that a 32-team league drastically changes the playoff situation, likely forcing an NFL-like structure where four divisional winners and two wild-cards make the playoffs … thus also implying that two divisional winners have to play coin-flip play-in games against wild-card winners, eliminating the advantage of winning your division and essentially the whole point of the second wild-card as we know it now.

Just don’t see a return to Montreal.


The last point (appointing Wilpon to head the finances committee) is a joke that writes itself.  Multi-millionare owner of a franchise born to mint money in the NY media market has to run his own team like a small-market franchise thanks to hundred-million dollar civil suits against him and is dependent on tens of millions of dollars of bridge loans to keep his team afloat.  Yeah; that’s the guy I want involved with *anything* related to finances.

*sigh*  The more things change, the more they stay the same.  Oh one more thing I forgot: Baseball also felt the need to disband the “Oakland Stadium committee,” just 6 short years after it started and with seemingly nothing accomplished.

Well, at least Selig is out of the picture.  Oh wait, no he isn’t.  He’s going to serve as “Commissioner Emeritus” and draw a $6M annual pension.  Man!  What a game.  How do I get that job?!

Written by Todd Boss

January 27th, 2015 at 10:29 am

What the Cuban embargo easing means for baseball

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No more death-defying defections for cubans like Yasiel Puig.  photo mlb.com

No more death-defying defections for cubans like Yasiel Puig. photo mlb.com

With the sudden and surprising announcement that president Barack Obama plans to “normalize relationships” with Cuba on 12/17/14, one cannot help but wonder how this move will affect the market for Cuban baseball players.

Here’s a smattering of links to post-announcement baseball industry impact analysis:

If you read any of these links, read Olney’s.  Its ESPN insider only, but he extensively quotes one Joe Kehoskie, who has worked as a player agent within Cuba for years.  Kehoskie states some important points, namely and most importantly, the US-Cuba embargo is NOT what was preventing Cuban players from playing in America; it was always the Cuban government.  Proof?  Cuba does not have an embargo against it with any other country with a large organized league (i.e., Japan, Korea, Mexico, Europe, any of the winter league countries, etc) yet their players were barred from playing even in them until just recently.  The Cuban government took these steps just recently to enable its players to play elsewhere; in Sept 2013 Cuban players were allowed to play in foreign leagues, which has subsequently led to a number of additional defections (and rising player contracts) here in the states.  But as Kehoski points out, there’s still huge hurdles to foreign ownership of property in Cuba (preventing the immediate building of academies by MLB teams for example), and it is worth saying that the country is still a communist dictatorship, with huge amounts of government control over the activities of its people.

Lets dream a bit though, and imagine that the Cuban government relents and releases the market for baseball players.  Immediate questions from a baseball perspective include:

  • Can MLB scouts immediately (and freely) travel to Cuba to scout?  It seems so: the Obama press release talked about immediate easing of travel restrictions and stated limits on import/exports (they had to answer multiple questions about bringing back cigars in the press conference :-) )
  • Will the Cuban league negotiate a posting system similar to what MLB has with the Asian leagues?
  • Or, will MLB teams set up their own academies similarly to what they do in the Dominican Republic?

MLB teams will want the academy route clearly; it won’t take but a few million dollars of infrastructure to setup teams and dormitories, and 16-yr olds could be signed for a few thousand dollars outside of harsh international FA spending limits much as they are in the DR.  But the Cuban government may want to do a posting system to help protect its local leagues and to earn much-needed money.   Not to mention the fact that Cuban culture values education and they’d likely be aghast if kids started dropping out of conventional school in their mid teens to enroll in baseball-only academies for a shot at a baseball lottery ticket.  Also, can you imagine billionaire owners negotiating with the cronies of the communist Cuban sports bureaus looking to hoard cash on the backs of their penniless players?

A huge benefit that could start immediately?  The possible return of the Cuban winter league, which used to be the clear preeminent winter league, drawing future hall of famers to the island for a winter vacation.  Now, Havana in the 50s isn’t what it is today of course … but if the Cuban government relents to foreign investment, there’s no reason for Cuba not to turn into another tourist-heavy island nation in the same way that other Caribbean countries operate.

One last thing: I’ve always taken an interest in the World Baseball Classic, and one of the things I’ve always wondered is what a united Cuban team could look like.  In the wake of the 2013 event, I wrote about what such a “politics-free” team could look like.  And now, two years and a number of high-profile defections later, I think a Cuban team could be even better.  Will we get to see a united team in the next version?   Hopefully so; the next WBC isn’t until 2017, by which time we’ll hopefully have a lot more clarity.   If you look at the 2013 version of the unified Cuban team, It lists Jose Abreu as a sub; now we know he’d be the marquee hitter in such a lineup next to Yoenis Cespedes.  And more players are coming.  In fact, you may put a unified cuban team as the 2nd or 3rd favorite in the WBC (behind the DR and USA).

Here’s a quick proffer on what a unified Cuban all-star team could look like right now.  Using the 2013 team as a starter and adding in recent defectees:

  • C: Yasmani Grandal
  • 1B: Jose Abreu
  • 2B: Yunel Escobar
  • 3B: Yonder Alonso
  • SS: Yoan Moncada (backed up by Alexei Ramirez)
  • LF: Yoenis Cespedes
  • CF: Yasiel Puig
  • RF: Yasmani Tomas
  • Starters: Jose Fernandez, Odrisamer Despaigne, Miguel Gonzalez
    (Gio Gonzalez was born in Cuba, but has already played for the US, so we eliminate him from consideration).
  • Relievers: Aroldis Chapman

That’s quite a good squad to start with, even without looking at the lesser Cuban players and/or the guys in the pipeline.

Post publishing link collection: Sports on Earth’s Phil Rogers on the future of the Cuban National team: he basically does a more researched and thoughtful version of the lineup above.  Nathaniel Grow of Fangraphs does his own version of this post in general.   Chris Moran of Beyond the box Score also does a version of this post.  Craig Calcaterra pipes in too.  Thom Loverro puts up his 2 cents.  BusinessInsider quotes super-agent Ron Shapiro and his “sea of questions” regarding baseball players.