Nationals Arm Race

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

Archive for January, 2012

Nats Off-season News Items Wrap-up 1/31/12 edition

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Will the team extend Zimmerman, now that Fielder is off the table? Photo AP via tbd.com

This is your semi-weekly/periodic wrap-up of Nats and other baseball news that caught my eye.  I try to publish this about weekly or if it gets up to about 1500 words, so that it’s not to voluminous.

Nationals In General

  • Nats continue to talk about a contract extension with Ryan Zimmerman, according to this and other sources.  I’m not arguing against re-signing him; in fact he’ll be at a discount by virtue of missing so much time last season and being relatively injury-ridden as of late.  The question is whether Zimmerman’s camp would accept anything less than what Troy Tulowitzki got (10/$157M) or Ryan Braun (13/$150M between current and extension contracts) signed.  Here’s a case against re-signing him (though to be fair, the same blog posted a “case-for” earlier).  Lastly on the topic; this fangraphs.com article looking for a good comparable for Zimmerman based on his production and value (the answer?  Matt Kemp‘s 8yr/$160M deal).
  • Nats miss out on Prince Fielder, as he signs a 9yr, $214M deal with Detroit.  Quick hit thoughts: Thank god there’s no more rumors about Fielder to the Nats.  I wanted him and his bat, but not at that price and for that length.  The team dodges an albatross of a contract in a few years time.  Lastly; how in the world is Detroit going to manage that payroll?  Its not as if that city is an up-and-coming, wealthy place.  Makes you wonder just how well-off these baseball owners really are.
  • I guess FA rumors are just meant to be with this team; suddenly we’re in the Roy Oswalt mix.  Now, I’ve said in the past that I like this guy and think he’d be a great fit for the team … but that was before we traded the farm for Gio Gonzalez and offered arbitration to John Lannan.  I’ll ask a simple question; if we sign Oswalt, who makes way?  Last time i checked this team has 5 starters, each signed for 2012 and each with a multi-million dollar commitment.  So this rumor doesn’t make any sense any longer.  Oswalt makes a ton more sense for a team like Texas or Boston, as is noted in the many columns on the subject posted recently.
  • LOVE the Brad Lidge acquisition.  The team needed a middle relief replacement for Todd Coffey and just got one, and for almost no money ($1M base with incentives).  He’s struggled with his health, but when he has been healthy he’s been lights out for the last two seasons (not to mention the rest of his career).  He can close in a pinch, he can help offload high-leverage innings off of Tyler Clippard.  And he can mentor the bullpen guys.  Fantastic signing by Mike Rizzo.
  • Nats will play Georgetown U in an exhibition for the 2nd year running.  Knowing how weak Georgetown’s program is, I wonder just how badly the scoreline will look (last year’s score was 15-0).
  • MLB daily dish is attempting to replicate the Big Board and throw in contract details at this site here.  We’ll see how uptodate this site is kept during the turbulent season of player movement in the minors.

Free Agents/Player Transaction News

  • Jamie Moyer signs a minor league deal with Colorado.   He sits at 267 wins for his career, so the chances of him getting to 300 are relatively slim, but his chances of making Colorado’s rotation aren’t too bad.  Roto World lists their depth chart right now at Chacin, Hammel, Pomeranz, White and Moscoso.  Lots of youth there; White and Pomeranz are both 22-23 and were both relatively awful last  year.  De La Rosa is coming off injury but may not be ready for opening day.  He very well could feature for this team in 2012.

 

General Baseball News

  • Yes I know these “top 5 lists” are mostly national columnists fulfilling writing requirements during the slow January baseball news period, but if the Nats are listed, i’ll post it.  David Schoenfield lists his “Top 5 rotations” in the game and he goes Philly, Angels, Texas, New York and Arizona.  I gotta say; i think he’s vastly overrating the Yankees rotation and I think he’s overrating the Arizona crew as well.  Arizona’s pitchers were more or less awful in last year’s NLDS; not sure I’d count on them in a pinch.  I’d easily put Tampa Bay and San Francisco’s rotations above these two teams, not to mention the possibility of Atlanta’s group gelling and helping that team win 95 games.
  • Marlins apparently ready to sign up for Showtime’s the Franchise, which featured San Francisco last year and was Showtime’s answer to HBO’s Hard Knocks football weekly documentary.  The show was great in 2011, showing the human side of many of the Giants players and was a must-watch in my house.  Of course, showing Miami could be an interesting endeavor; most of the baseball industry speaks badly about Miami’s ownership and senior management group and these documentary shows usually go to great lengths to humanize and gain empathy for all the participants.
  • Jose Bautista claims to have been “random drug tested” 16 times in the past two years, despite any single player’s chances of being randomly tested only being about 3 times in two years (according to the number of tests MLB is authorized to run versus the number of pro players).  As is noted in the link, it looks to me like MLB is taking no more chances with its big home-run hitters.

 

Collegiate/Prospect News

  • First College top 25 posted by Baseball America (more discussion on each team here), and there’s no surprise who’s #1: Florida by virtue of its absolutely stacked lineup (two first team and two 2nd team pre-season all americans by this publication).  No surprise Stanford is #2 behind their presumptive 2012 #1 overall pick Mark Appel, but surprised that Texas and Texas A&M are so low.  I think by the time the CWS rolls around we’ll be seeing these teams, plus South Carolina back in the mix behind their returning friday and saturday starters.
  • The great Kevin Goldstein unveils his top 20 Nationals prospects on Baseball Prospectus.  We all know who went the other way in the Gio Gonzalez trade; what’s more interesting is who now resides in places 16-20.  Clearly he has to struggle to find “prospects” worthy of ranking there, based on his inclusion of Jason Martinson, Matt Skole, Sandy Leon, and David Freitas.  Otherwise the top 12 or so reads as expected.
  • MLB’s Jonathan Mayo announces their top 100 for the whole game.  Bryce Harper #2 behind Matt Moore; no argument there.  Surprised Mike Trout didn’t get more credit.  Most scouting pundits consider the big 4 (to include Atlanta’s Julio Teheran) as almost interchangeable.   The rest of the top 10 are well known; I’d never heard of #7 Jurickson Profar, a shortstop in Texas’ organization who is really young but really promising.  Other thoughts: surprised to see Danny Hultzen so high; I know he was dominant in college but is he slated to be that dominant in the pros?  Other Nats/ex-Nats on the list: Anthony Rendon at #27, Brad Peacock at #75, Alex Meyer at #83, Sammy Solis at #86, AJ Cole at #88.  No mention of Matthew Purke, but no surprise; he needs to have a healthy, strong season to regain his former 1-1 status.
  • My alma-mater JMU is #1 pre-season CAA baseball.

General News; other

  • Those of you who know me may know that i’m also a pretty passionate Soccer fan.  So here’s a fantastic look at the history of soccer through an “All-time fantasy soccer player draft.”   The first round was rather surprising; I know Lionel Messi is a great player now, but he’s got a bit of work before he supplants Pele, Maradona, Ronaldo or even Zidane in my book.  Of course, he’s already a 3-time world player of the year at the tender age of 24, so by the time he retires he may very well have 3 more awards.  Still, the selections (especially from the non-US based journalists who have a better sense of soccer’s history) are a great read.
  • Speaking of soccer, here’s a Grantland article on the conventional wisdom among most American fans that Soccer is boring.  I’ve tired of trying to argue this point with people who have never actually SEEN a live soccer game.  I have a good friend, born and bred in Pittsburgh and who is a die hard Steeler’s fan (in other words, the complete anti-thesis of a typical soccer fan) who I drug to a US Men’s national team game at RFK about 15 years ago.  He fell in love and now follows the european game with similar gusto as I.  I think American sports fans are too impatient, and have been even before the rise of cell-phones, the red-zone channel and highlight shows, to appreciate the beauty of Soccer.  They devolve the game, without really having any personal experience watching a big match or seeing one in person, into the common phrase, “how exciting can a 1-0 game be?”  I’d say to that; imagine a professional football game where there was no field goals allowed, the end zone was only 24 feet wide and there was a player positioned at that end zone at all times whose sole job it was to stop break away runs and passes.  Its simply that much tougher to score.  So most soccer fans know that the excitement of the game is the tactics, the breakdown of individual skill of the attacker versus the individual skill of the goalkeeper, and the near miss.


Ladson’s inbox: 1/16/12 edition

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Lest anyone forget, Zimmerman is under contract for not one, but TWO more seasons! Photo unknown via fantasyknuckleheads.com

Another edition of mlb.com beat reporter Bill Ladson’s inbox, dated 1/16/12. Man you know I’ve been busy at work if I’ve had this canned and ready to publish for more than a week but couldn’t get online to do so.

As always, I write my response before reading his, and sometimes edit questions for clarity.

Q: Why are the Nationals wasting time talking to Prince Fielder when they should be signing Ryan Zimmerman to a long-term contract before it is too late?

A: *sigh*  Why, why, why is it going to be “too late” to sign Ryan Zimmerman to a long term contract if it doesn’t happen right now?  Someone please check Cot’s before asking this question.   He’s signed through 2013!  I don’t believe Prince Fielder has anything to do with Zimmerman; we’re talking about a franchise that has been underspending on payroll by $35-$40 MILLION dollars the past few seasons.  People who claim that the Nationals “can’t afford both” Fielder and Zimmerman are expressing unsubstantiated opinions.  Ladson thankfully notes the fact that Zimmerman is signed through 2013.

Q: What role will Roger Bernadina play on this year’s team? I love the kid’s heart, but the people in power don’t seem so encouraged.

A: Hopefully none.  Nothing personal against Bernadina, but what more can we learn about the guy at this point?  1000 major league plate appearances, an 81 OPS+.  About the only thing he has going for him is that he’s pre-arbitration and is cheap.  This team is offensively challenged and needs outfielders who can slug something higher than .350.   Ladson thinks he’ll be the 4th outfielder, competing with Mike Cameron for center field.  I hope not; can’t we sign a stop-gap right fielder??

Q: Have the Nationals thought about moving Danny Espinosa or Ian Desmond to center field?

A: I doubt it.  What would that solve?  As soon as we moved one to CF, we’ve lost a plus defender in the middle infield with no assurance that they’d be any good in center, and we’d still need to find a solution for whatever position they’ve vacated.  We need to find an outfielder who can hit and put him in play.  Its that simple.  Ladson says nope.

Q: I am still a believer in Desmond although his batting average and power numbers declined last year. He is a big, strong kid who can hit 15 home runs and steal 30 bases if he can be more selective at the plate and figure out how opposing pitchers are trying to attack him. What do you see for Desmond in 2012?

A: 2012 is make it or break it season for Desmond.  Two full time seasons at the plate and he’s regressed each time.  You just cannot put a guy out there who’s 20% worse than the MLB average (i.e., an 80 ops+, his figure for the 2011 season) and be successful in the modern game.  What do I predict?  I think he’ll be similarly poor, will feature 7th or 8th in the order most of the year, and will force the team to look at replacement options starting in the trade season.  Ladson thinks Desmond’s late season surge bodes well for 2012; indeed he was great in the last two months of the season.  Lets hope he’s right.

Q: Assuming the Nats will not sign Fielder, would it be a good idea to sign an outfielder like Johnny Damon? Can you see him as a fit in Johnson’s lineup?

A: No; Damon is limited to playing LF in an easy-to-defend ball park (like Fenway) or a DH at this point.  His outfield arm is beyond weak.  He can hit though; but he has no position on this team.  If we’re going to go with Jayson Werth in CF, I think we should sign one of the good hitters still available in the RF marketLadson agrees with me that Damon is an AL-only player now.

Q: If the Nats acquire Fielder, would it be best for Adam LaRoche to be traded for a bench player who might start once a week?

A: Sure, if they could trade him.  Problem is, if LaRoche needs to be traded there’s not an awful lot of teams that would be interested.  See my post about the Prince Fielder market; maybe we could trade him to a team like Baltimore or Houston, but they’re not going to give us much in return, and we’ll be forced to pay most of his salary in make-weight.  If we sign Fielder, you might as well just release him.  Ladson points out that we’re not even sure LaRoche is healthy at this point.

Q: In all the talk about 2012, I haven’t heard a word about the status of catcher Ivan Rodriguez and right-hander Livan Hernandez. What are the Nats’ plans for those two fan favorites?

A: The wise fan would correctly assume that the lack of discussion about both Hernandez and Rodriguez would indicate that they are no longer in the team’s plans.  Because they’re not.  Both guys are probably out of baseball after 2011, given the calibre of players that remain unsigned so far this off season.  I’m sorry to say: Livan’s precipitous decline in performance in the latter half of 2011 eliminated his candidacy for the 2012 rotation.  And Rodriguez may be a great historical player and first rounder, but he hit .218 last season.  Ladson thankfully agrees.




Incentives, Salary and Steroid use in Baseball

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Hit home runs, make lots of money. Repeat. Photo unknown via deadspin.com

A viewing of the HBO special “Freakonomics,” which turns chapters of the popular book into little mini vignettes, along with a conversation with my father prompted me to investigate the aspects of human behavior with regard to incentives when considering the rise of Steroid use by major league baseball players in the late 1990s.  One of the overriding themes in Freakonomics is that any aspect of human behavior can be predicted by analyzing the incentives facing those persons when making a choice.

So the question here is, were the growing incentives to players in terms of rising baseball salaries directly tied to the growing use of Steroids in the mid 1990s?

Steroids had been around for many years prior to appearing en-masse in Baseball.  The most infamous use came from the East German Olympic teams during the late 70s and early 80s, who systematically doped their own athletes (mostly without the athlete’s knowledge) from 1971 until 1990.  But seemingly only after the 1988 Seoul Olympics saw sprinter Ben Johnson test positive for one steroid and admitted the use of a host of other Steroids, Testosterone and HGH substances did the “Steroid Era” in baseball start.  In fact, 1988 is also acknowledged as the beginning of the era in the Mitchell Report (per Section D of the Summary, pg SR-14).  However, I’d argue that the mainstream usage of Steroids didn’t occur for a few years after (see the rise of 45+ homer seasons below).

Here’s a chart of Mean and Median US household income from 1974-2010, with the Minimum and Maximum MLB salaries, the Average MLB salary, that MLB salary listed as a multiple of the US mean income, and the number of 45+ home run seasons seen per year:

Year Median Income: Current Dollars Mean Income: current dollars Minimum MLB Salary Maximum MLB Salary Average MLB Salary Avg MLB salary as multiple of Mean US income # of 45+ Homer Seasons
2012 $480,000 $32,000,000
2011 $414,000 $32,000,000 $3,305,393 0
2010 $49,445 $67,530 $400,000 $33,000,000 $3,297,828 49 1
2009 $49,777 $67,976 $400,000 $33,000,000 $3,240,206 48 3
2008 $50,303 $68,424 $390,000 $28,000,000 $3,154,845 46 1
2007 $50,233 $67,609 $380,000 $23,428,571 $2,944,556 44 4
2006 $48,201 $66,570 $327,000 $21,680,727 $2,866,000 43 5
2005 $46,326 $63,344 $316,000 $26,000,000 $2,632,655 42 5
2004 $44,334 $60,466 $300,000 $22,500,000 $2,486,000 41 4
2003 $43,318 $59,067 $300,000 $22,000,000 $2,555,000 43 4
2002 $42,409 $57,852 $300,000 $22,000,000 $2,383,000 41 4
2001 $42,228 $58,208 $300,000 $22,000,000 $2,264,000 39 9
2000 $41,990 $57,135 $200,000 $15,714,286 $1,987,000 35 4
1999 $40,696 $54,737 $200,000 $11,494,794 $1,726,000 32 6
1998 $38,885 $51,855 $200,000 $14,936,667 $1,378,000 27 9
1997 $37,005 $49,692 $200,000 $10,000,000 $1,314,000 26 3
1996 $35,492 $47,123 $200,000 $9,237,500 $1,101,000 23 6
1995 $34,076 $44,938 $109,000 $9,237,500 $1,094,000 24 1
1994 $32,264 $43,133 $100,000 $6,300,000 $1,154,000 27 0
1993 $31,241 $41,428 $100,000 $6,200,000 $1,062,000 26 3
1992 $30,636 $38,840 $100,000 $6,100,000 $1,012,000 26 0
1991 $30,126 $37,922 $100,000 $3,800,000 $845,383 22 0
1990 $29,943 $37,403 $100,000 $3,200,000 $589,483 16 1
1989 $28,906 $36,520 $60,000 $2,766,667 $489,539 13 1
1988 $27,225 $34,017 $60,000 $2,340,000 $430,688 13 0
1987 $26,061 $32,410 $60,000 $2,127,333 $402,579 12 3
1986 $24,897 $30,759 $60,000 $2,800,000 $410,517 13 0
1985 $23,618 $29,066 $60,000 $2,130,300 $368,998 13 0
1984 $22,415 $27,464 $30,000 $2,500,000 $325,900 12 0
1983 $20,885 $25,401 $30,000 $2,500,000 $289,000 11 0
1982 $20,171 $24,309 $30,000 $2,500,000 $245,000 10 0
1981 $19,074 $22,787 $30,000 $2,500,000 $195,500 9 0
1980 $17,710 $21,063 $30,000 $2,500,000 $146,500 7 1
1979 $16,461 $19,554 $16,000 $1,170,000 $121,900 6 3
1978 $15,064 $17,730 $16,000 $700,000 $97,800 6 1
1977 $13,572 $16,100 $16,000 $700,000 $74,000 5 1
1976 $12,686 $14,922 $16,000 $700,000 $52,300 4 0
1975 $11,800 $13,779 $16,000 $670,000 $44,676 3 0
1974 $250,000 $40,839 0

There’s several landmark seasons of note in terms of escalating Salaries through this list.  By year:

  • 1975 saw Catfish Hunter become the first “true” Free Agent subject to bidding wars among teams, and signed a 5yr/$3.35M deal with the Yankees that resulted in his league-leading salary to nearly triple the league leading salary from 1974.
  • 1979 saw Nolan Ryan become the first $1million/year player.
  • In 1982 George Foster became the first $2M/year player.
  • By 1989, Kirby Puckett became baseball’s first $3M/year player.
  • In 1992, Barry Bonds hit free agency on the heels of MVP seasons in Pittsburgh and more than doubled the previous high annual salary.
  • By 1996, salaries were rising quickly; Albert Belle signs a $10M/year contract.
  • 2001 saw Alex Rodriguez‘s infamous Texas contract kick in, paying him $22M/year, nearly $7M more per year than the next closest player (Kevin Brown, who signed baseball’s first 9-figure contract).
  • Rodriguez opted out of that same contract and re-negotiated the terms even higher with the Yankees, eclipsing the $30M/year mark by 2009.

Meanwhile, take note of the red-colored years of 1996 to 2001, the core of the Steroid Era.  1996 saw no less than Six players eclipse the 45 home run barrier, including Brady Anderson in a complete aberration year for the lead-off hitter (he hit 50 homers in 1996 but averaged just 19 per 162 game segment and never hit more than 24).  Suddenly in 1998 no less than Nine players eclipsed the mark, lead by the Mark McGwire/Sammy Sosa home-run hitting competition that transfixed the nation and “saved” baseball.  Too bad we now know what America didn’t know then; that both players were using Performance Enhancing drugs to beef up, help power out baseballs and take advantage of a slew of new ballparks that opened in the era that featured cozier dimensions and more offense.

By 2002, enough pressure from the front office towards the player’s union had taken place to start testing, leading to the infamous “anonymous survey” done of players in 2003 that resulted in “between 5-7%” of players testing positive, leading to mandatory testing in 2004.  By 2008 we were back down to homer levels not seen since the early 1990s, and baseball didn’t see a single player hit the 45 homer barrier in 2011.  But historically the damage has been done; the home run leader boards from the time period in question lists like a Who’s Who of steroid accusations, and a generation of middle-aged baseball writers who grew up idolizing the home run leaders of yesteryear now seems set to penalize these players for their drug usage (proven or otherwise, as with the Jeff Bagwell Hall of Fame case).

But, everything I just wrote is known narrative.  Lets talk about the explosion of baseball salaries as compared to the common man.  In 1975 the average MLB salary of $44k was a little more than 3-times the mean US household income, having risen only gradually over the years thanks to the Reserve clause and a non-existent players union.  It was a boon for owners, who kept salaries down and profits high.  But the low salaries also meant that most baseball players were considered “within reach” of the every-man in America.  Players weren’t paid such ridiculously high salaries that they essentially live in a different world from the fans (as is the case today with most professional athletes in this country): these players were considered “just like us” to a certain extent, and frequently had off-season jobs, working along side the same people who paid a few bucks for a bleacher seat to cheer them on.  “America’s Pastime” largely earned that title from being the only sport in town for most of the century, but was also helped along by the “within reach” argument.

By 1980, with the country in a severe recession and gas lines around the block, Joe Public slightly increased his average pay.  However, Baseball players, thanks to the breaking of the reserve clause and the rise of Free agency were seeing a boom in salary hikes.  By 1980, the average MLB wage was 9 times the median income in the country and a few ballplayers were making $1M/year.   This ratio of US income to MLB income grew slightly over the next decade; ten years on in 1990 the average MLB wage was just 16x the US income.  But changes were about to come.  In 1996 the MLB salary multiple was 23-times the US mean, but by 2001 it was nearly 40-times the US mean salary.  The average MLB salary more than doubled inside of these 5 years.  This change coincided exactly with the beginnings of the Steroid era and also mirror the 6 year stretch where the game saw its historical rise in home runs.

So the question is: is this coincidence?  Was the rise in steroid use driven by player’s desires to maximize their earning potential or was it vice-versa (i.e., players discovered steroids could escalate performance, started using and producing and that lead to the quick rise in payroll?)  Or was this all more attributable to weaker pitching driven by expansion and  smaller ball-parks?

I think you can make the case that home run hitters were highly compensated and were commercially the “heros” of the game (remember the “Chicks Dig the Long Ball” commercials?), and other players figured out that Steroids helped pack on muscle mass and enabled themselves to hit the ball further and faster (to say nothing of the fact that steroids enabled players to come back from injury faster and to stay stronger through the season by virtue of added muscle mass), and rode the trend.  Hit 40-45 home runs one year, sign a contract extension the next.  Suddenly the game found itself full of juiced up, highly compensated sluggers with a massive ethical problem.

What do you think?

Sources used:

Year Median Income: Current Dollars Mean Income: current dollars Minimum MLB Salary Maximum MLB Salary Average MLB Salary Avg MLB salary as multiple of Mean US income # of 45+ Homer Seasons
2012 $480,000 $32,000,000
2011 $414,000 $32,000,000 $3,305,393 0
2010 $49,445 $67,530 $400,000 $33,000,000 $3,297,828 49 1
2009 $49,777 $67,976 $400,000 $33,000,000 $3,240,206 48 3
2008 $50,303 $68,424 $390,000 $28,000,000 $3,154,845 46 1
2007 $50,233 $67,609 $380,000 $23,428,571 $2,944,556 44 4
2006 $48,201 $66,570 $327,000 $21,680,727 $2,866,000 43 5
2005 $46,326 $63,344 $316,000 $2,600,000 $2,632,655 42 5
2004 $44,334 $60,466 $300,000 $22,500,000 $2,486,000 41 4
2003 $43,318 $59,067 $300,000 $22,000,000 $2,555,000 43 4
2002 $42,409 $57,852 $300,000 $22,000,000 $2,383,000 41 4
2001 $42,228 $58,208 $300,000 $22,000,000 $2,264,000 39 9
2000 $41,990 $57,135 $200,000 $15,714,286 $1,987,000 35 4
1999 $40,696 $54,737 $200,000 $11,494,794 $1,726,000 32 6
1998 $38,885 $51,855 $200,000 $14,936,667 $1,378,000 27 9
1997 $37,005 $49,692 $200,000 $10,000,000 $1,314,000 26 3
1996 $35,492 $47,123 $200,000 $9,237,500 $1,101,000 23 6
1995 $34,076 $44,938 $109,000 $9,237,500 $1,094,000 24 1
1994 $32,264 $43,133 $100,000 $6,300,000 $1,154,000 27 0
1993 $31,241 $41,428 $100,000 $6,200,000 $1,062,000 26 3
1992 $30,636 $38,840 $100,000 $6,100,000 $1,012,000 26 0
1991 $30,126 $37,922 $100,000 $3,800,000 $845,383 22 0
1990 $29,943 $37,403 $100,000 $3,200,000 $589,483 16 1
1989 $28,906 $36,520 $60,000 $2,766,667 $489,539 13 1
1988 $27,225 $34,017 $60,000 $2,340,000 $430,688 13 0
1987 $26,061 $32,410 $60,000 $2,127,333 $402,579 12 3
1986 $24,897 $30,759 $60,000 $2,800,000 $410,517 13 0
1985 $23,618 $29,066 $60,000 $2,130,300 $368,998 13 0
1984 $22,415 $27,464 $30,000 $2,500,000 $325,900 12 0
1983 $20,885 $25,401 $30,000 $2,500,000 $289,000 11 0
1982 $20,171 $24,309 $30,000 $2,500,000 $245,000 10 0
1981 $19,074 $22,787 $30,000 $2,500,000 $195,500 9 0
1980 $17,710 $21,063 $30,000 $2,500,000 $146,500 7 1
1979 $16,461 $19,554 $16,000 $1,170,000 $121,900 6 3
1978 $15,064 $17,730 $16,000 $700,000 $97,800 6 1
1977 $13,572 $16,100 $16,000 $700,000 $74,000 5 1
1976 $12,686 $14,922 $16,000 $700,000 $52,300 4 0
1975 $11,800 $13,779 $16,000 $670,000 $44,676 3 0
1974 $250,000 $40,839 0

Nats Off-season News Items Wrap-up 1/22/12 edition

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Gonzalez signs a long term deal; we're committed now. Photo Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images via nydailynews.com

This is your semi-weekly/periodic wrap-up of Nats and other baseball news that caught my eye.  Apologies for the delay in posting; new rules on laptop usage at work have thwarted my typical read-sports-news-at-lunch habits.  I’ll have to get creative.

Nationals In General

  • Nats extend Gio Gonzalez for 5 years.  Terms: 5yrs, $42M with two more club options.  A little more than $8m AAV, or in other words what we were paying Jason Marquis.  I’m sure its backloaded somewhat, but I like the deal for two main reasons.  First, we buy out all the arbitration years ahead of time and avoid the arbitration process altogether (which does nothing but serve to bruise the fragile egos of professional athletes over a few hundred thousand dollars of salary).  Secondly, it locks up the player for the longer term and gives the team some stability for the next few years.
  • Jim Callis at BaseballAmerica answered a question about what an updated Nats top 10 prospect list would look like post trade: he’d promote up Destin Hood, Chris Marrero, and Michael Taylor.  Considering what Marrero’s prospect status is now, considering how long it has taken Hood to get the hang of playing baseball, and how far away Taylor is from the majors, I think its safe to say our farm system is officially “thin.”
  • Nice little piece on Bryce Harper from Buster Olney, who relays the well known opinion that Davey Johnson really likes young superstars and predicts that Harper may break camp with the team.  Why doesn’t anyone relay all the facts in this case?  Like the fact that there wasn’t a concept of “Super-2″ when Johnson promoted Gooden and Strawberry and there wasn’t a punitive financial issue lurking by doing so.
  • Great news to see so many of our arbitration eligible guys settled well ahead of going in front of the arbitrator.  These cases don’t help anyone in the long run and end up arguing semantics over a few hundred thousand dollars that the team can clearly pay.
  • Though I havn’t seen any confirmation of this elsewhere, Bill Ladson reports that the Nats are engaged in extension talks with Ryan Zimmerman.  If so, this comes at a relatively good time for the team to be doing the negotiating; Zimmerman’s value is as low now as it has been since before his rookie season, on account of multiple injuries and a lack of overall production.   Which is exactly why I don’t think any long term deal is going to be struck this off-season frankly; Zimmerman would expect a Troy Tulowitzki like deal and I don’t think he’s done enough to earn it.


Free Agents/Player Transaction News

  • The arbitration case to watch this coming off-season will be Tim Lincecum; he is asking for $21.5M for 2012, with the Giants offering $17M.  Wow.  There’s really no case like his out there to use as a precedent; if you think he should earn roughly 80% of his FA value, then $21.5M equates with an annual salary of $26.875/year AAV.  That’s more than Cliff Lee, CC Sabathia or Johan Santana (the three highest paid pitchers at current).  So I guess you have to ask yourself; is Lincecum the best pitcher in the league?  Because he’s about to be paid in line with that title.


Hall of Fame items

  • Not HoF specific, but inspired by it.  David Shoenfield compiles a list of the best players by running 5-year WAR figures to show some enlightening information.  WAR has some limitations over longer terms but I like what it shows for season-to-season value for players.  His point was that some relatively unsupported hall of fame claims appear on these lists.  For me the last couple periods showing guys like Chase Utley and Matt Holliday were kind of eye opening.


General Baseball News

  • Phillies sign Joel Pineiro to a minor league deal.   I know he struggled in LA last season, but at one point this guy was pretty decent.  If he can regain his health and his St. Louis form, suddenly the Phillies might have themselves a pretty good 5th starter option to take mediocre innings away from Joe Blanton.  I’m surprised they were able to get him on a minor league contract.
  • I’ve read bits and pieces about the fall of Puerto Rican baseball before; but this is the first article i’ve seen that really delves into it deeply.  Rob Neyer lists the cause and effect; baseball subjected Puerto Rican’s to the normal draft and almost immediately killed baseball in the country.  This is the lesson/concern about going to an international draft; individual teams won’t cultivate and build off-site academies if they serve to build players who can be drafted by other teams.  This is what happened in Puerto Rico and its probably what would happen in the Dominican Republic, Venezuela and other developing countries.  Its a scary thought.
  • Related to the above Puerto Rican story is this: Cleveland pitcher Fausto Carmona arrested in the Dominican Republic for falsifying his name and age ahead of his big signing.  For all the lamenting of the above Puerto Rican situation … this is yet another example (see Gonzalez, Smiley for Nats fans) of the flip side of the lack of an international draft.  Draft experts and scouting mavens lament the loss of Puerto Rican development and think that the exact same thing would happen in the D.R. if they were included in the draft, and yes its hard to argue differently.  But the down side of having such a “lottery” for 15-16 yr old players in the impoverished D.R. is the continued fraud among players growing up there related to age falsification.
  • Sabre-nerds may decry the lack of statistical science behind it, but Tom Verducci‘s annual “Year After” effect (which has come to be known as the Verducci-effect by others) has had an 84% success factor in predicting either injury or distinct decline in performance for his named pitchers.  The most interesting names on the list are newly traded Michael Pineda, Jeremy Hellickson, and both Texas mid-rotation starters Matt Harrison and Derek Holland.  Holland in particular threw a whopping 77 more innings this year over last.

General News; other

  • Not that any of us needed to read any more about the Jerry Sandusky/Penn State Scandal, but reading Washington Post’s Sally Jenkins‘ front page story with Joe Paterno‘s first interview post-scandal was an interesting read.  Frankly, I don’t buy some of the way the story reads (intimating that Paterno had “little to do” with Sandusky by the time the 2002 allegations came around, for example).  It doesn’t seem like Paterno was really challenged in the interview.  Gene Wojciechowski echos some of these sentiments in this analysis piece here, criticizing Paterno’s convenient stance on the scandal and on the multitude of other stories that have come out about his manipulation of the system and real influence at the university. The real problem is just the nature of dealing with a legend; he worked for Penn State for 61 years and made the university what it is; how do you possibly deal with such a figure, who clearly was larger than the university?  Update: just prior to publishing this, Paterno lost his battle with lung cancer, a quick and unfortunate end to his legendary career.  Its amazing to consider that just 3 months ago, Paterno was still the larger than life legend and nothing bad had ever happened on the campus.
  • I’m sure the real story is somewhere in-between the original story and the “Update” at the end, but there seems to be enough truth in the former to not necessarily believe the latter.  A new Utah high school’s board decided that the student-voted mascot name “Cougars” can’t be used because the name is derogatory towards middle-aged women who hook up with younger men.  Seriously.


Arbitration-eligible Salary Guesses; how close was I?

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Morse's arbitration case (if it gets to that point) would be interesting. Photo Cheryl Nichols/Nats News Network

Borrowing from my “Arbitration Tender Deadline” post from December 12th, here was my salary guesses for our seven Arbitration eligible players.  Note, this was obviously done prior to the Gio Gonzalez trade and included a theoretical salary guess for Doug Slaten, despite my (correct) prediction at the time that he’d be non-tendered:

Player Current or 2011 Contract 2011 2012 2012 guess
Clippard, Tyler 1 yr/$0.443M (11) $443,000 Arb 1 $1,700,000
Flores, Jesus 1 yr/$0.75M (11) $750,000 Arb 3 $800,000
Gorzelanny, Tom 1 yr/$2.1M (11) $2,100,000 Arb 3 $2,800,000
Lannan, John 1yr/2.75M (11) $2,750,000 Arb 2 $4,500,000
Morse, Michael 1 yr/$1.05M (11) $1,050,000 Arb 2 $3,900,000
Slaten, Doug 1 yr/$0.695M; (11) $695,000 Arb 3 $900,000
Zimmermann, Jordan 1 yr/$0.415M (11) $415,000 Arb 1 $1,800,000

This week, ahead of the salary exchanging deadline, we’ve seen the Nats re-sign a slew of their players.  How close was I to properly guessing the salaries of these players?

  • Tyler Clippard: re-signed but terms unknown as of 1/17/12.  My guess matches mostly what our beat reporters are guessing, but as of the time of this post we don’t know the exact terms.
  • Jesus Flores: guessed $800k, signed for $815k.  That’s pretty close, and slightly higher than I thought he’d get.  He gets a modest raise from the $750k he got for 2011.
  • Tom Gorzelanny: guessed 2.8M, he gets $2.7M.  Again, pretty close to guessing correctly, but still surprised he earned such a raise during a year when he went from starter to reliever.  That had to factor into the tempered number (a 2nd year starter in Gorzelanny’s situation probably would get something closer to Lannan’s figure).
  • John Lannan: guessed $4.5M, unsettled as of 1/17/12 so they submitted competing figures: $5M from the team, $5.7M from the player.  Wow; I really under-estimated what Lannan is worth.   If this went to arbitration, I’d have to think the team would win.
  • Michael Morse: guessed $3.9M, unsettled as of 1/17/12, so they submitted competing figures: $3.5M from the team, $5M from the player.  A massive gap; my number is closer to the team’s valuation and I think Morse has really overbid what he’s worth.  I think Morse loses an arbitration hearing (he made only $1M last year and certainly the concern would be that he’s a one-hit wonder).
  • Doug Slaten, as we all know, was non-tendered and recently signed a minor league deal with Pittsburgh.  I’m not sure what the terms of that deal would be if he made the team but would guess its somewhere below the typical veteran minimum line of $800-$850k.
  • Jordan Zimmermann; guessed $1.8, he gets $2.3M in salary.  I was way off here; I guess I figured that his relative youth would keep the salary lower than it may have been otherwise.  This award bodes badly for the team for the next three years; if he’s at $2.3M now he’ll likely push close to $10M by the time he’s reaching his 4th time through.  A good problem to have, honestly.

One last player: Gio Gonzalez as we know was arbitration eligible but signed a 5 year deal late last week, buying out all his arbitration years plus the first couple free agency years.  $8M AAV is a decent club risk, and gets us a #2 level starter for about the same amount of money we were paying Jason Marquis off the open FA market.

I’m especially happy to see most of these cases settled prior to even exchanging figures.  The Lerners are clearly learning (no pun intended) from past arbitration cases that they serve little purpose but to alienate players over (in the grand scheme of things) pocket change.  Lets hope that they can find some middle ground on Lannan and Morse prior to needing to go before an arbitrator.

Written by Todd Boss

January 18th, 2012 at 10:37 am

Nats Off-season News Items Wrap-up 1/14/12 edition

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I’m looking for a contract “This Big!” Photo unknown via iusport.com

This is your semi-weekly/periodic wrap-up of Nats and other baseball news that caught my eye.

Nationals In General

  • Talk about rumors that just won’t go away: Nationals apparently remain the favorites for Prince FielderKen Rosenthal says the sameBuster Olney has a nice overview with pros/cons laid out.  For me (as discussed in the comments of the previous posts), I think he’d be a mistake for 8-10 years, but an absolute steal for 3.  Here’s some thoughts from Tom Verducci, who thinks the Nats are his destination.  And here’s a post that says one of the 3 candidates for Fielder I identified in this space a few days ago (Toronto), is out of the running.
  • Imagine a lineup that goes like this: Espinosa-Werth-Zimmerman-Fielder-Morse-Ramos-Desmond-Cameron to open the season, and then potentially inject Bryce Harper hitting behind Morse and replacing Cameron in the outfield.  That’d be 5 straight home-run hitting threats in the middle of your order, with good L-R balance.  I know he’d be expensive, but that’s a 95 win offense.  It’d be even better if we got a one-year stop gap hitter to open the year playing RF and who we could flip in trade if Harper comes up sooner than later.
  • From Jdland.com: the concrete factory across the street from Nats park is finally coming down!
  • Whoops: Zech Zinicola hit with a 50-game suspension for non-PED drug abuse.  Sounds like Marijuana to me.  I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Nats release him after this, his 2nd transgression.
  • John Sickels‘ new rankings of the Oakland A’s top 20 prospects, post trades this off-season.   6 of the 10 top were acquired in the Trevor Cahill and Gio Gonzalez trades, while three more represent Oakland’s #1 draft picks in 2011 (Sonny Gray) and 2010 (Michael Choice) and 2009 (Grant Green).  Say what you will about Billy Beane, but he’s clearly building a big-time farm system for the future right now.
  • A nice review of the Nationals 2012 outlook from seamheads.com.
  • We lost Doug Slaten.  Now he can go be horrible for Pittsburgh.
  • Good news on both Sammy Solis and Bobby Hanson from Byron Kerr.
  • Adam Kilgore says the team is still talking to Rick Ankiel about coming back as a 4th OF… I wouldn’t be totally opposed to that; he’s essentially the same player we got in Mike Cameron, right?  Only difference seems to be lefty versus righty.
  • Fun little position-by-position exercise: ranking the NL east teams position by position from David Shoenfield.  I must admit though I think he was a bit generous with his Nats rankings in some cases.

Free Agents/Player Transaction News

  • MLBTraderumors is great; they’ve created arbitration tracking pages that will “keep score” of all the cases coming up in Jan-Feb.
  • If you believe Jim Bowden, the Rangers are playing hardball in their Yu Darvish negotiations.  If this falls through … look for pandemonium both on the Prince Fielder front and with Darvish next year when he’s an unrestricted FA and could attract interest from pretty much every team in the league.
  • Makes sense: Marlins plan to aggressively pursue Yoenis Cespedes.  Getting the latest big name Cuban defector can only be a good thing for the franchise as they try to re-build a fan base in a heavily latino/cuban community.
  • Well, the  Yankees shored up their rotation in one 3 hour period on Friday night; trading for Michael Pineda and then signing Hiroki Kuroda.   They went from having three question marks in their rotation to now wondering if AJ Burnett can hold onto the 5th rotation spot.  Wow.  Here’s Keith Law‘s analysis, predictably giving the “edge” to the Mariners in the deal despite the obvious fact that Pineda is MLB proven while the other three guys in the deal, aren’t.

Hall of Fame items

  • Mike Silva becomes one of the very few BBWAA writers with a HoFame vote to publish support for Jack Morris.  I’m sure I’ll be seeing the inevitable Craig Calcarerra blog posting questioning Silva’s IQ for doing so.
  • David Shoenfield has a little missive on the HoFame, voting procedures and comments on how few players are getting elected these days.
  • Chris Jaffe does an excellent job predicting HoFame votes every year; here’s his guess on 2012’s election.  Bad news for Bagwell and Morris, good news for Larkin though.
  • Other interesting HoFame notes: one site in particular collects ballots; here’s a summary of the 80-some ballots she has right now.  Very good support for Larkin.
  • No Bagwell votes here; prepare for the ridiculing.  Danny Knobler and Scott Miller.
  • I think i’m just about fed up with bloggers who see everything in modern baseball through little spreadsheets of data and who never even saw Jack Morris and Bert Blyleven tell me I’m an idiot because i think the former is a better pitcher than the latter.  At some point statistics are just that; numbers that prove or disprove whatever your theories are.  You can’t just ignore 20 years of performance and context of playing in the league by boiling down thousands of innings pitched into one number, whether it is ERA+ or WAR or whatever.   For me, when you talk about whether a player is a Hall of Famer, you look at individual season accomplishments.  Morris basically had 15 seasons of full time pitching.  In 5 of those seasons he was a top-5 vote getter in the Cy Young; that means in 5 seasons those people who covered baseball that season considered him among the best 5 pitchers in his league.   In another two seasons he didn’t finish top 5 but still received votes.  He was god-awful his last two seasons, lowering his career totals.  And there’s dozens of examples of him completing games despite having given up 3-4 runs and sitting on 140 pitches.  Maybe Morris just needed to pitch in the current era, where he would be taken out in the 7th on a pitch count and then replaced by specialized relievers.  Meanwhile Blyleven, in 21 full seasons of starting made exactly TWO all-star games and received comparable Cy Young support 3 times.  I’ll ask again; how can you be considered one of the best of all time if nobody who covered you day in and day out during your career thought you were even among the best of your day??
  • Jorge Posada announces his retirement; the inevitable “Is he a Hall of Famer” articles start.  Immediate gut reaction from me: yes he’s a HoFamer.  Unlike some of his Yankees dynasty team members (Bernie Williams, Andy Pettitte) Posada seems a bit more transcendent in terms of talent and legacy.  A quick glance though at his career stats show some of the problems with his eventual candidacy.  He’s a late bloomer; not playing a full-time season til he’s 25.  However for the 10 seasons he had from 25 to 35 he was fantastic; 5 all-stars, 5 Silver Sluggers and two top-6 MVP votes.  After he turned 35 though he struggled with health and had a relatively poor final season at the plate.  He has no gold gloves and had a reputation for having a very weak throwing arm but had a 121 OPS+ for his career (a great offensive player for a catcher).  His compareables in b-r are heady company (including Carlton Fisk and Gabby Hartnett).  I guess we’ll see in 5 years’ time.
  • Jan 9th 2012: the wait is over.  Only Larkin elected, Morris and Bagwell vote totals rise but still not close.
  • Spreadsheet of all published/known hall of fame votes, with links to explanations.  Interesting to say the least; several blank ballots and several very odd ballots to say the least.

General Baseball News

  • Buster Olney continues his rankings of the top 10s of baseball; this time with lineups.  Predictably its very AL East heavy. Previously he had done rotations, bullpens, infields and outfields.  Links to other lists available from this article (ESPN insider only; consider spending $2/month for it; its worth it).
  • Buster, after finishing the above rankings, publishes his preliminary 2012 top 10 Power Rankings.  Rays #1, Nationals essentially #11/”Best of the Rest.”  Boy this team’s reputation has come a long ways in just a few short years.
  • Jeff Passan‘s A-to-Z discussion on Baseball this off season and in 2012.  I link it since I like most everything Passan writes.
  • Joe Torre joins an ownership group chasing the LA Dodgers … but not the one that Stan Kasten is heading.  Bad move; I think Kasten’s a shoe-in to be Selig‘s pick.
  • This could have a bigger effect than the loss of Albert Pujols: St. Louis pitching coach Dave Duncan is taking a leave of absence from the team to care for his ailing wife.  Duncan has been such a miracle worker for reclamation project starters over the past few years that its hard to imagine the Cardinals pitching staff not to take a dent.
  • The Chicago Cubs franchise potentially takes another hit: Starlin Castro reportedly accused of sexual assault.  Castro returned home for the off-season and isn’t in the country; could this incident prevent him from getting a work visa in 2012?
  • Jonah Keri takes on one of my favorite topics; calling out Billy Beane and showing how he’s closer to being an incompetent GM than he is to his vaunted reputation as the game’s best GM.
  • Great article on Baseball Prospectus about SLAP tears in baseball players (normally pitchers).  The article is very heavy on medical jargon but talks about the different types of tears and surgical remedies.  This is the injury that Chris Carpenter had and recovered from (though I’m pretty sure he ALSO had Tommy John surgery too).
  • Nice book review for “A Unique Look at Big League Baseball.”

Collegiate/Prospect News

  • 2012 AL rookie of the year favorite Matt Moore, profiled at seedlingstostars.com.  This is part of a series of prospect reviews, counting down to #1 and Moore is ranked #4 … but the author immediately caveats it by saying that any of the top 4 could be #1.  I talked about Moore after his playoff start on this site, coming away with a Wow factor that I havn’t had since Strasburg.
  • Scout.com’s top 100 Prospect list for 2012Bryce Harper #3 behind Moore and Mike Trout.  Can’t argue there.  Other Nats on the list include Anthony Rendon (#56).  AJ Cole (#76) and Brad Peacock (#85) would have made us a bit more respectable pre-Gonzalez trade.  Here’s hoping that the Nats “other” big prospects (Meyer and Purke in particular) turn in stellar 2012’s and beef up our presence on the national prospect scene again.

General News; other

  • Article on 10 “trendy sports medicine” fixes.  Including some exotic baseball remedies we’ve heard about recently.
http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2012/writers/tom_verducci/01/13/ryan.madson.prince.fielder/index.html

Ladson’s inbox: 1/9/12 edition

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What is Detwiler's role going to be in 2012? Photo Cathy T via nationalsdailynews.com

Another edition of mlb.com beat reporter Bill Ladson‘s inbox, dated 1/9/12.

As always, I write my response before reading his, and sometimes edit questions for clarity.

Q: Will I be able to watch Bryce Harper in Syracuse this year, or will I have to drive to D.C.?

A: I think Harper starts in AA, moves up to AAA if (as we hope and expect) he starts the year hitting AA pitching well, and then debuts in Washington somewhere in the mid-late June time frame, so as to avoid hitting the dreaded Super-2 status in two year’s time.  Ladson points out what we all keep hearing; that Davey Johnson likes younger players and has a history of going with them early.  However, I don’t think he had to deal with arbitration issues and Super-2 implications back in the early 80s, so at some point the team management has to lay out the financial implications of calling him up too early and say, “Sorry he’s staying in the minors til he clears this hurdle.”

Q: Will there be a battle for the fifth spot now that Brad Peacock and Tom Milone are gone, or is the job Ross Detwiler’s to lose?

A: This is another question that keeps getting asked that I don’t get: John Lannan has been an underrated innings eater for this team for years and was tendered a contract for 2012.  He’s GOING to be in the rotation.  People who think for some reason there’s a rotation competition brewing in spring training are foolish; this team has 5 starters under contract, some for significant dollars or investment, and there’s just no room (barring injury) for anyone else.  Detwiler was the 5th starter favorite until the moment we acquired Gonzalez.  Now he’s clearly either trade bait or a long-man out of the pen.  Ladson still thinks there’s a rotation competition in spring training.  I think he’s nuts.  Technically Lannan has an option and could go down to make room for Detwiler … but do you want to have a $4.9M (his arbitration estimate at mlbtraderumors.com) pitcher in Syracuse??

Q: I’m not sure how you came up with [only] 85 [projected] wins [for the team in 2012] without Prince Fielder. The Nationals won 80 games last year and will have Strasburg for almost a full season, Zimmermann and adding Gio Gonzalez helps. Looking at last year’s rotation, how does that not add up to a 90-plus-win season and a Wild Card birth?

A: I think my initial win guess for 2012 was in the 85-88 games category.  On the face of it, this team should be 10 games improved easily.  But something always happens; you lose a key player to injury, someone under performs, etc.  So you can’t take the best case scenario all the time.  Ladson says the offense needs to improve to get > 85 wins.  Clearly.

Q: I like Prince Fielder, but he doesn’t seem right for the Nats. He can’t be a designated hitter in the National League, and tying up first base interferes with long-term plans for Michael Morse and perhaps even Zimmerman. Why is Fielder being linked to the Nats?

A: Its like deja vu; we’re answering the same questions over and over.  Small sentence answers: You don’t need to have a plus-plus defender at 1B; you need a hitter.  Why are we worried about where our gold-glove Third Baseman will be playing in 10 years time when he’s finally moving away from 3b?   Brooks Robinson played 144 games and won a gold glove (the last of his 16 consecutive awards) when he was 38.  Morse?  Lets find out if he’s more than a one-year wonder before talking about needing to clear room for him to play for the next 5 years as well.  Ladson points out that the rumors fly because Boras works well with the Nats.  Lots will clear up in the next couple of weeks.

Q: How about Raul Ibanez coming off the bench on a one-year deal? He can play one of the corner outfield spots, be a big bat off the bench and help Jayson Werth teach the game to Washington’s young outfielders.

A: Ibanez was washed up last year, both offensively and defensively.  There are better alternatives.  Ladson agrees, but notes he’s been wrong before about the capabilities of bats off the bench.

At this point, what *really* is the Fielder FA market?

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I swear, I wasn't looking for the obvious pun photo of Prince Fielder eating. Photo: The Onion

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know by now that Prince Fielder is looking for a 9 figure contract, that there doesn’t seem to be a lot of suitors for him, and that he keeps being linked to the Washington Nationals, despite sources saying we’re not interested.

So I thought to myself; what *really* is the market for Fielder right now?  Who wants, or more importantly needs, a big-money, big-time hitting, trip-over-his-feet defending at first base Fielder?  Here’s each of the 30 teams organized into categories to help get some clarity:

1. Teams that have long-term, major money commitments to established 1B stars, right now.

These teams are absolutely not in the market for Fielder.   Team and current 1B:

  • Boston: Adrian Gonzalez
  • Chicago WS: Konerko/Dunn
  • Detroit: Miguel Cabrera
  • LA Angels: Albert Pujols
  • Minnesota: Justin Morneau
  • NY Yankees: Mark Teixeira
  • Cincinnati: Joey Votto
  • Colorado: Todd Helton (not that he’s a major committment, but he did just re-sign thru 2013).
  • Miami: Gaby Sanchez (not really a major star, but he was a 2011 all-star and is pre-arbitration)
  • Philadelphia: Ryan Howard

You could quibble with the selection of Miami as not being in the market; after all they were throwing money at Pujols and have committed something in the range of $165M in heavily back-loaded contracts already this off-season.  But I havn’t read a single sentence indicating any interest with Fielder.

You could slightly quibble with Colorado, but if so I’ll say that Colorado also falls into one of the “No” categories below.  Read on.

2. Teams that are so bad, right now, that I couldn’t imagine Fielder actually going there

  • Baltimore

Baltimore.  That’s it.  Anyone that signs in Baltimore is essentially saying, “I want to play for the worst organization in baseball and guarantee myself 5th place finishes for the entirety of my contract.”  Who would possibly go to play there unless they’re a lower-tier FA who wants to guarantee himself a starting job?  Such a shame; this was the highest payroll team in the game in the mid 90s.  We talk about how Bud Selig needs to take away the Mets … how about forcing Angelos to sell this former jewel franchise to someone who actually wants to see them win?

3. Teams that are aren’t in the market for financial reasons

  • LA Dodgers
  • NY Mets
  • SF Giants
  • St. Louis

Obviously the situation with the Dodgers and Mets prevents them from doing such a franchise-altering commitment.  Plus both teams have half-way decent options playing at 1B for them now (James Loney and Ike Davis).   The Giants were at $118M in 2011 and seem tapped out; they have $84M committed prior to their Arb cases, including a potentially record-setting arbitration case with Tim Lincecum.  They’ll easily be above $100M once these cases are said and done.  Lastly St. Louis: if they were willing to pay $25M/year, they would have re-signed Pujols.  So clearly they’ve reached a financial threshold themselves.

I’d also put Colorado in this category; they aren’t exactly a small-market team but they also don’t seem like they’re in the mood to increase payroll $25M/year.

4. Teams that have waved the white flag and are in 100% rebuilding mode

  • Oakland
  • Houston

Both these teams should be obvious just by their mention.  Oakland is going to try to field a $20M payroll team, and Houston has bottomed out and clearly is starting over.

5. Teams that have big-name prospects currently installed at 1B and who don’t seem like they’re in the market

  • Cleveland (Matt LaPorta); also arguably in the “Small Market” category
  • Kansas City (Eric Hosmer); also in the “Small Market” category
  • Seattle (Justin Smoak); also in the “Teams that are really bad” category
  • Atlanta (Freddie Freeman): also in the “Teams that are tapped out financially” category
  • San Diego (Yonder Alonso); also in the “Small market” category
  • Chicago Cubs (Anthony Rizzo): probably more in the “rebuilding mode” category; Epstein likes Rizzo, just re-acquired him and I’d be shocked if they blocked him by getting Fielder.

Most of these teams could fit into multiple categories.  Lots of rumors out there saying that Seattle is a natural landing spot for Fielder but I don’t see it: Smoak is the reason Seattle agreed to trade Cliff Lee, and you don’t just give up on guys like that.  Meanwhile Seattle is now miles behind their divisional rivals and may not compete for a decade.  Why would Fielder go there?

Meanwhile, the Cubs seem like an interesting case.  NL team, NL central team, storied name.  But they didn’t hire Theo Epstein to just make the leap; their ownership clearly realized that their franchise was on the downside both at the MLB level and in the farm system.  Bad contracts, bad clubhouse.  They’re rebuilding for a renewed run in a few year’s time.

6. Small Market teams that certainly don’t seem to be in the market for a $25M/year player

  • Tampa Bay
  • Arizona
  • Milwaukee (else he’d be looking at re-signing there)
  • Pittsburgh

All these teams seem to be pretty self-explanatory.  Maybe Arizona gets into the market, but they’ve gone to great pains to lose payroll, paring it down to just $56M last year while somehow winning the division.  Their highest paid player in 2011 was just $5.8M.  A $25M/year guy doesn’t fit with their team.


So, after all that, Here’s the teams Left: This is the actual Market for Fielder, right now.  Teams listed with their current starting 1B

  • Texas: Mitch Moreland
  • Toronto: Adam Lind
  • Washington: Adam LaRoche

And here’s arguments for and against each team:

  • Pro Texas: they are getting a massive amount of money influx in.  They may or may not win the Yu Darvish sweepstakes, meaning they may or may not have an “extra” $120M or so sitting around in a couple weeks.  Moreland isn’t exactly lighting the world on fire and wouldn’t be an impediment.
  • Con Texas: They don’t NEED more offense; they’ve bashed their way to two consecutive AL pennants by having an offense ranked in the top 3 in pretty much every category.  They had a guy who hit 29 homers batting 7th for them in the off-season (Nelson Cruz).
  • Pro Toronto: they have payroll room.  They can let Fielder DH some of the time.  They have a good young pitching staff they can build on.  Lind hit 26 homers but isn’t blocking them from acquiring someone better.  They do need to improve their offense and he’d fit naturally behind Jose Bautista, giving him even better pitches to turn on.
  • Con Toronto: they’re the 4th best team in the AL East and havn’t made the playoffs since the Wild Card era.  What makes you think they’re going to catch the 3 teams above them, no matter how much they spend?  This has to come into Fielder’s thought process, doesn’t it?  They also don’t have the pitching right now to really compete in the AL East, having traded away their main studs for prospects in recent years.
  • Pro Washington: This team needs offense; we’ve declined in runs scored 3 years running.  Plain and simple.
  • Con Washington: he can’t DH.  We’d be lighting the $8M we owe to LaRoche on fire.  He doesn’t fit Rizzo’s pro-defense concept of finding players.  He may expose a payroll ceiling that the team hasn’t broached before, resulting in the team possibly losing franchise players in the future because “we can’t afford them.”

In the end though, if Texas signs Darvish I’d think they’d be out of the running.  And Toronto hasn’t really shown an inclination to spend Fielder kinds of money, and seem more in a rebuilding phase than a “go for it now” phase.

Which means the Fielder market may be …. just Washington.

What do you think?  Are there any teams besides Texas, Toronto and the Nats that are *really* in the conversation?  Or is Boras negotiating against himself right now?

Ask Boswell 1/9/12 edition

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Tired of Prince Fielder rumors yet? Photo: AP/Morry Gash

Here’s Tom Boswell‘s weekly Monday chat on 11/28/11.  Of the baseball questions he took, here’s how I’d have answered them.  With the Wizard’s 0-8 start there’s a lot of kvetching about NBA.

As always, questions are edited for clarity and I write my own answer prior to reading his.

Q: What is your “take” on Ross Detwiler and could he become a better pitcher than Gio Gonzalez?

A: My “take” on Ross Detwiler is that he’s too frail to stay healthy long enough to be counted on for heavy-duty innings, and that he throws too much across his body to get his breaking stuff to work properly.  Now, throwing across your body isn’t a bad thing (see Johnson, Randy) but Detwiler’s never been consistent long enough to be anything more than an emergency/late season starter for this team.  Can he be better than Gio Gonzalez?  Not really; Gonzalez is only a year older but has 60 more MLB starts, an all-star appearance and the talent to win 20 games in the AL.  If Detwiler was really that promising … we wouldn’t have acquired Gonzalez in the first place.  Boswell says the team likes Detwiler, but Johnson likes a lefty heavy rotation in this division.  But the team already has 5 starters signed to major league contracts, so I can’t see how Detwiler wins anything more than a bullpen spot.

Q: Is Prince Fielder really coming here?  Why is there so little market for him?

A: I’ll answer the 2nd part first; there’s so little market for Prince Fielder for several reasons.

  1. If you look at the top payroll clubs, basically every team either has a long-term 1B commitment (names like Mark Teixeira, Ryan Howard, Adrian Gonzalez, Albert Pujols, Paul Konerko, Justin Morneau, and Miguel Cabrera) or is dealing with topped-out payroll or financial issues (Mets, Giants, Dodgers) that are preventing them from purchasing a big-money star.  So lots of your usual suspects are out.  He’s left trying to convince mostly 2nd-tier payroll clubs to spend like first tier clubs.
  2. His agent Scott Boras is generally the “lets wait and try to build a crescendo of rumors” type of agent.  It has clearly worked in the past … but it doesn’t seem to be working now.  I think Boras’ strategy has run its course to a certain extent and teams are wary of the “mystery team” in on these major players.
  3. Fielder isn’t exactly an adonis of a physical specimen.  He’s got a bad body, hasn’t really shown that he can control his weight, and has a pretty good barometer of his future physical condition in the form of his MLB playing father Cecil Fielder.  Prince may be young and may clearly be a top5 hitter in the league, but teams are not going to want to put up 8  year commitments for a player who may be washed up by the time he’s 34.  To make matters worse, Prince is a below-average first baseman AND only a handful of teams have available money and available DH spots.

Frankly, I think Prince needs to sign a shorter term deal with high AAV, get a team like the Nats to commit and then re-hit the FA market at age 30-31 when he’ll still have value.

Now, is he coming to the Nats?  If I was Mike Rizzo i’d sign him in a heartbeat for 3yrs/$75M.  I’d balk at an 8-year deal.  But, the rumors persist and have been swirling for more than 2 weeks.  So where there’s heat, there’s likely fire.  Boswell says that the key date is Jan 18th, the day that the Rangers either sign or cut bait on Yu Darvish.  If the Rangers suddenly have $120M that they didn’t think they’d have yesterday, they will sign Fielder.

Q: Baseball is set to announce their HOf inductees for 2012 today. Anyone you feel strongly about that should get in? What are your thoughts on Dale Murphy and Don Mattingly?

A: (note that I’m writing this BEFORE the 3pm announcement, so by the time you read this we’ll know who got in and who didn’t)

Who I believe WILL get elected: Barry Larkin

Who I believe SHOULD be in the Hall: Jeff Bagwell, Jack Morris, Barry Larkin, Tim Raines, Mark McGwire, Edgar Martinez.

What do I think about Murphy and Mattingly?  Both suffer from more or less the same issue: they were both great players for very short amounts of time.  Murphy was a better player all in all than we remembered and for four seasons (82-86) was probably THE best player in the game.  Mattingly retired at 33 and was solid but had the same 4-year excellence followed by less flashy seasons.  They’re good players who weren’t transcendent enough to get their own plaques in Cooperstown.  Boswell mostly agrees with the above.

Q: What do you think of this scenario: Fielder signs elsewhere, LaRoche starts out hot, we flip him to Tampa for Upton as Harper takes over in RF and Morse moves to 1B.

A: Sounds great.  Except that this scenario really only serves the perfect world desires of the Nationals.  In reality LaRoche is a slow starter and we may really hear the boo-birds early.  Morse was great in 2011 but most predict a sliding back.  Harper probably needs some MLB adjustment time.  We’ll see what happens.  Boswell likes this scenario. Sure, who wouldn’t?  But it does sound a bit too convenient.

Q: Is there ANY chance Boras goes for something like 3yrs/$75mil for Prince?

A: Yeah, I think there is a chance, as described above.  He’ll push for longer though until the last possible minute, so this won’t play out for a while and we’ll continue to hear rumors for weeks.  Boswell says it’ll “never happen.”  And lays out a doomsday payroll scenario for the team.  Which I don’t entirely buy; we’ve been at $60-65M in payroll for 6 years … despite being in a very wealthy market.  At some point, this team will be good, will draw fans to the park and will increase revenues.  And the payroll should rise to reflect that.

Q: Where are the Nats finding the (approximately) 60 runs they’ll need to add (assuming pitching stays constant) in order to go from 80 to 90 wins?

A: A good question.  Some from Zimmerman, some from LaRoche, some from natural improvements from Desmond, Espinosa, and Ramos, and some from a rebound year from Werth.  That’s a LOT of assumpions.  Fielder would *really* help in the run creation department (he created 35 more runs than Morse last year … that’d be 5-6 wins all by himself).  Boswell echos much of the above.

Q: Where do you (as an assumed HoFame voter) draw the line between admitted and suspected when it comes to steroids and the HOF?

A: If it were me, I’d go based on existing evidence.  That’s all you can do.  And the Mitchell Report is not really “evidence,” but more heresay and he said-she said.  So Palmeiro and McGwire have some warts.  Bagwell does not and it is generally unfair to lump him into the steroid-poster boy club.  Boswell agrees with the above … too bad he doesn’t have a vote to defend year after year.

Q: Given what we  now know about the Steroid era, is there any reason to suspect Cal Ripken of using?

A: (The allegation also being that Ripken was friends with Brady Anderson, whose 50 homer season seems awfully suspicious in hind-sight).  Nobody’s ever said a word about Ripken and PEDs.  You have to think he was well aware of his legacy the closer he got to 2130 games.  I’d be shocked if he was shown to be a user.  Him and Derek Jeter would be probably the two most shocking PED revelations in the history of the game, if they turned out to be true.  Boswell doesn’t think Ripken profiled to a typical user.

Q: Why isn’t there more narrative about how the Werth contract is really killing this team, when considering the future payroll implications of having Werth, Zimmerman and Fielder potentially signed to long term, $20M+ AAV contracts?

A: I’m sure it is internally.  It certainly is everywhere else in the blogosphere.  The Werth contract is pretty indefensible, certainly was at the time it was signed and is even more so now.  I just hope the guy has a bounce back season and really contributes.

Q: How does the TV money rise so much in the MASN deal?  Aren’t viewer numbers abhorrent?

A: Good question.  I don’t know.  Boswell has the answer; the contract is tied not to revenues or ad money, but to comparable RSN sizes in other markets.  And right now Houston and Dallas (our two closest sized cities) get 2-3 TIMES the money out of their RSNs.  I cackle at watching Angelos have to write checks to the Nats, but really wish they’d cancel the contract altogether.  I hate the fact that we’re enriching Angelos day after day.

Q: Why do the HoFame voters suddenly agree to induct a player?  If he’s good enough on the first ballot, he should be good enough on any ballot.

A: Because there’s a cache to being a “First Ballot Hall of Famer” and LOTS of voters exclude guys on the first vote as a result.  There’s never been a unanimous selection, and there never will be.  But there’s plenty of guys who were very good players who got in on #2 or #3 ballot.  Guys like Blyleven and Rice who languish for a decade on the ballot are rare.  Boswell agrees.

Q: Is Toronto a more likely landing spot for Fielder, since they were all-in for Darvish and lost out?

A: Makes sense frankly.  They could be sensing weakness in the Boston and Yankees lack of activity this off-season … Boswell says it makes sense but makes a good point; does Fielder want to commit to Toronto, knowing they’ll get outspent year after year by Boston and New York?  Does he commit to a team that hasn’t made the playoffs since the divisions split?  Would you?

Q: How similar is Harper’s call-up situation to Mickey Mantle’s situation?

A: Not very.  Completely different baseball climates.  Harper has his millions already, and there’s very specific service time implications.  Mantle played under the reserve clause, there was no service time issues, no arbitration, no free agency.  So the Yankees could do whatever they wanted with him year after year.  Boswell doesn’t really comment.

Q: Does Fielder make sense if the Nats are planning on building a cost-controlled dynasty?  The 1998 yankees didn’t have any 30-homer players, let alone a big bopper at $25M/year.

A: Fair.  Lots of Nats bloggers keep coming back to the payroll implications of Werth, extending Zimmerman and buying Fielder.  And they’re fair.  That doesn’t even talk about what to do with other big-time stars we have to deal with potentially.  But i’ll respond by saying this; we don’t KNOW what the owner’s payroll limits are.  All we have to go by is the past payroll figures.  What if this team is just biding its time before blowing out payroll to $120M?  Boswell says this is well put and signs off.




What are non-MLB associated baseball league talent equivalents?

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We all know how good Yu Darvish’s stats are in Japan, but how good is the competition? Photo unknown via beatofthebronx.com

I’ve been working on this post for weeks; now is as good a time as any to post it.  I’ve always wondered, since we hear so much about players’ tearing up winter leagues or hear wonderful stat lines from players coming over from foreign countries (as we are now in the Yu Darvish mania).  So what is the talent-equivalent of the various leagues outside of the conventional MLB-AAA-AA-A-rookie levels?  I did a bit of digging around, asking questions and came up with the following approximations.  Feel free to debate if you think otherwise.

Foreign Pro Leagues

  • Japan: the Nippon Professional Baseball League rates, by various accounts, as a mid AAA-level talent league.  Baseball Prospectus’ Clay Davenport did a stat-heavy analysis in 2002 and concluded that the NPB was at least AAA level, perhaps close to MLB level.  However, the prevalence of mediocre players from the US going to Japan and being super-stars seems to indicate that Japan is no better than AAA, and may be a bit weaker.  And, not to claim this is about talent levels per race, but there have only been a very small number of Japanese-born players who were really impact players upon arriving here.
  • Cuba: per Dave Cameron (mentioned in a chat, need the link) the “general consensus” is that the Cuban pro league is about a High-A level of talent.
  • Taiwan/China: Taiwan had its own thriving baseball league for a bit, but merged it into the main Chinese league in 2003.  Given the small numbers of Taiwanese-born players who have made it to the majors, and the fact that the league serves mostly as a feeder into the Japanese league, its safe to say that the Chinese league is no better than a high-A level of talent.
  • Korea: As with the Chinese leagues, Korea mostly feeds into the Japanese league.  High-A talent levels.
  • European Leagues: Believe it or not, there are thriving baseball leagues all throughout Europe.  They even have multiple levels of play in certain countries (the Netherlands in particular).  However, based on the levels of talent of players that typically play in Europe, its hard to put the talent levels at anything close to our own Rookie leagues.  In fact, I’d suspect that most European pro teams are no better than a low division 1 college baseball program (such as GW or Catholic U’s teams).
  • Leagues elsewhere: there’s leagues just about every where else; wikipedia searches turn up baseball leagues in Australia, Asia, the far pacific.  I didn’t do any research here, assuming that these leagues are one slight notch above amateur leagues in the US.

Winter Leagues

Davenport also did a bit of analysis on the various winter leagues in 2004; I’ve taken his recommendations and adjusted them based roughly on observation over the past few years, since the winter leagues have been shifting in terms of talent attracted in recent years.

Most players who go to winter leagues fall into one of three categories:

  1. Natives of the country looking to provide support for their home town teams and home leagues (the Nats own Ramos, Flores, Pudge, Severino and Perez being good examples)
  2. Players looking to get in additional work after an injury-filled year curtailed their seasons.
  3. Players looking to work on a new pitch, a new swing or some other experimental part of their game.

So, the talent levels in these various leagues are usually all over the road.

    • Dominican Winter League: Seemingly the “best” winter league, having the most ex-patriots playing in the US.  Davenport’s studies from earlier in the decade showed that the talent level is roughly equivalent to AAA talent, an opinion that I still maintain.  Our own Yuniesky Maya tore up the DWL last winter, but struggled to be just a serviceable pitcher in Syracuse all year.
    • Puerto Rico Winter League : seems to be the 2nd strongest Winter League, but with slightly fewer MLBers than in the DWL.  So we’ll call it AAA level, but weaker.
    • Venezuela Winter League: The talent levels have dropped for a while, ever since political turmoil has taken over the country.  This is highlighted especially close to home in 2011 with the Wilson Ramos kidnapping case.  However, Nats farmhand Ryan Tatusko was kind enough to provide his opinion on the talent level and calls it “AAA talent.”   I think at best its a low AAA, as the league is clearly lower quality than Puerto Rico.  This last season’s version of the VWL seemed to be more talented that past versions though; perhaps this league is looking to challenge the DWL for pre-eminence in the winter leagues.
    • Mexican Pacific League: Its really hard to tell; the Mexican summer league is at best A-ball talent, but the winter leagues are quite a bit better, at least per Davenport’s studies.  Now?  I’d guess the MWL has degraded a bit and is probably on a par with Venezuela in terms of talent.  AA-level at best.

 

Other US-based Leagues/Levels

  • Arizona Fall League: the AFL rates somewhere between a AA and AAA level by and large, though for several reasons it rates as a very heavy hitter-league (pitcher workloads and ball-parks mostly).  Most of your pro teams send their top prospects from levels below AA and a number of AA and AAA (and even some guys who have MLB experience).  All told, that equates with a “good” AA league.  And since AA leagues are morphing into being populated with a team’s best prospects while AAA leagues are becoming repositories for “spare parts” for the MLB team, more and more the lines are blurred between AAA and AA in terms of “which team could really beat the other.”  Nationals fans saw this pretty clearly during Stephen Strasburg‘s minor league career; he was hit in AA but absolutely dominated AAA teams that seemed to be populated with backup catchers and backup infielders.
  • Top End Division I College Teams are probably not even as good as a Rookie league team, all things considered.  I had this debate with my father recently, noting that the best Div-1 team this year (South Carolina) was led by a pitcher (Mike Roth) who was a 31st round draft pick in 2011 and only has 11.7 scholarships to use to field a team.  A good chunk of college teams are guys on partial scholarships or are complete walk-ons.  Good college teams may each have a number of pro prospects, but usually only 1 or 2 legitimate prospects.  On the flip side, even a rookie-level team is ENTIRELY comprised of players who were drafted, and will include high school players who signed in lieu of going to college because they were considered good enough at the time to risk signing.  A college team may use a hot pitcher to beat a pro team in a theoretical 3-game series every once in a while, but a team full of professional hitters are eventually going to utterly dominate typical college bullpens, sunday starters and mid-week players.
  • Independent Leagues: probably rates somewhere around a pro rookie-league or slightly higher equivalent.  They’re usually full of guys who got cut from the MLB rosters and a collection of older veterans trying to hang on.  So, the younger players are (arguably) below rookie-league/short-A levels but the veterans are probably in the AAA level, bringing an average to somewhere between a low-A and rookie level quality.

Semi-Pro and Amateur Teams

I’m guessing that when the old Class-B/Class-C/Class-D leagues died out in the 50s, those players then began percolating into what we now see as an improved and thriving College baseball industry, Semi-Pro leagues scattered around the country, and the (now) official Indy league designation.  I always attribute the death of these low-class leagues to the advent of Television, which replaced the (usually) one source of nightly entertainment for small towns across America, which before the mid 50s would have been baseball.

Here in the DC area, there’s a “semi pro” league that is the combination of two long-standing leagues (the “Industrial League” and the “Credit Union” league) that features very good baseball.  Ex division-1 players, ex Pros, good baseball.  Back in the 50s this probably was a class-D level league (assuming that class-B was what has become the rookie leagues and class-C has morphed into the Independent leagues).

Summary

Here’s a table summarizing the above data, along with some clarifications from the comments after-the-fact, in order of best to least quality.

Foreign League US Pro Equivalent Estimate
Japan (NPB) Mid AAA
Dominican Winter League Mid AAA
Puerto Rican Winter League Mid-Low AAA
Venezuelan Winter League Low AAA/High AA
Mexican Pacific (Winter) Low AAA/High AA
Mexican Summer Low AAA/High AA
Arizona Fall League Low AAA/High AA
Atlantic League (Ind) High AA
Cuba High-A
Taiwan/China High-A
Korea High-A
American Association (Ind) High-A
Can-Am League (Ind) High-A
Frontier League (Ind) Low-A
Other Independents Rookie Ball
European (Dutch, Italian) Low Division 1
Other Foreign (Australia) Div II/Div III

Do you agree/disagree with these ratings?  Please feel free to comment and discuss.