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Ranking Baseball’s General Managers

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I'll bet you don't know who this is, but I think he's baseball's best GM.  Photo AP via mail.com

I’ll bet you don’t know who this is, but I think he’s baseball’s best GM. Photo AP via mail.com

I was listening to a baseball podcast this past week about General Managers in baseball and heard an interesting fact; it has now been more than two years since an MLB General Manager has been fired.  Sure enough, the last GM fired was Houston’s Ed Wade in November of 2011.  There is a GM with less service time (Rick Hahn of the White Sox), but he rose to take over the job for long time GM Kenny Williams, who was promoted to executive VP of the team.  So all in all there’s been decent stability among baseball executives in the shorter term.

I’ve had a draft version of a “GM Rankings” post written for nearly three years.  Why so long?  Because I started the post, got distracted, and then no less than seven general manager positions were filled/replaced in two very hectic weeks following the end of the 2011 season.  There’s no way you can judge how well a GM has done with just a few months on the job, so there was no point in trying to rank the GMs when a quarter of them were un-rankable.

Well, now we’re two plus years onwards from October 2011, each of those seven new GMs has had two seasons and three off-seasons to show their vision, and I think its time to revisit my rankings.

Below is an attempt to rank the GMs, #1 to #30.  Beware: this is a massive post.  6,000+ words.  I may have over-done it a little bit.

To me, a successful GM balances several factors all at once:

  • Winning at the major league level (obviously).
  • Total payroll outlay (in the context of free agency and use of your payroll budget)
  • Player development/Farm system rankings
  • Trades and industry opinion and reaction on moves made to build your team

Now for the caveats to keep in mind to the above GM goals:

  1. Purposely NOT winning on the field: In some cases you get carte blanche to purposely be awful on the field after years of mis-management and get a pass (see Houston Astros and the Chicago Cubs, along with several other teams to a lesser, less obvious extent).
  2. Payroll discrepancies/Major market GMs: To me, generating the best or 2nd best record in baseball with the largest payroll isn’t proving anything.  In fact, if you do NOT make the playoffs despite such a massive payroll (as the Red Sox didn’t do in 2010 and the Yankees didn’t do in 2012), then if anything you’re really failing as a GM.  So payroll versus success counts heavily to me.  As you’ll see below with the rankings of the GMs from the profligate teams.
  3. Farm system usage caveats: In some cases you sacrifice your farm system to make acquisitions to help you win now (like what the Milwaukee Brewers did in 2011 and what Toronto has done for the last couple of years).

I created a GM rankings spreadsheet where I track all sorts of interesting information that you use to judge GMs (the link is also along the right hand side of the blog), and where I tried to quantitatively judge the 30 GMs.  The spreadsheet has GM tenure, market size, ownership meddling factors, Farm system rankings, 2012 and 2013 payroll versus W/L rankings, plus my attempts to quantify three facets of a GM’s job: MLB success, Trades and FA moves and the Farm system.  I will freely admit; i am paying significantly more attention to performance over the past three  years than performance over the past 10.  Maybe that’s fair, may be not.  But it hurts a long-time GM like Brian Cashman who guided his team to the playoffs year after year (but, see Cashman’s write up for my reservations on GMs of massive payroll teams).

I’m classifying the GMs into rough tiers:

  • The Elite: The best GMs in the game, who have balanced payroll, on-field success and development the best.
  • The Excellent: a group of ten or so GMs who are all excellent at what they do and are mostly interchangeable up and down the order.
  • The Middle-ground: a group of  GMs that happens to include three of the biggest spender teams and the bottoming-out teams that are difficult to judge.
  • The Concerning: GMs who for various reasons are struggling right now.
  • The Underperforming: the bottom few GMs who for various reasons are easy targets for bloggers based on their moves and their teams.

It is really hard to rank these guys 1 to 30 without someone nit picking the order, but I would argue with you if you told me that some one in the bottom tier was actually “good.”  It wasn’t as easy to do these rankings as I thought it would be; in fact every time I’ve come back to this post i’ve ended up moving around the GMs, to the point where I’m just declaring victory and publishing.  I like the top and bottom of these rankings, but if you wanted to argue that the guy I’ve got ranked 22nd really should be 18th, then I probably won’t disagree.

Lets give it a shot:


The Elite

1. John Mozeliak, St. Louis.   What more can you say about the model franchise of baseball and its leader/architect?   The #1 farm system last year, a huge percentage of its players home-grown, in the playoffs three of the last four years, a win and a runner-up in that time, and all while maintaining a payroll outside the top 10 in the league.  This team survived the FA loss of the game’s best player (Albert Pujols) by returning to the playoffs the subsequent year and leading the league in wins in 2013.  Can’t ask for much more than that.  Mozeliak is my choice for the best GM in the game over two other more famous candidates in the elite category.

2. Andrew Friedman, Tampa Bay.  Is there any argument that Friedman is this high? He took over in 2005 and within three years had the league’s best record.  They’ve won 90+ games four years in a row in the league’s best division.  He’s done this despite routinely having one of the lowest payrolls in the game, despite off-loading talent as soon as it becomes pricey, by stockpiling draft picks (11 of the first 75 picks in the 2011 draft), and by signing his key players early on to incredibly club-friendly contracts (see the deals that Evan Longoria and David Price signed pre-arbitration).   In fact, I daresay that the success the Rays have had in the draft was a driving force behind richer owners (hello, Mr. Jerry Reinsdorf) pushing for bonus limits on the amateur market.  In 2013 the team had the 3rd lowest payroll in the game but still made the playoffs ahead of the Yankees (who spent nearly FOUR TIMES as much as the Rays).  Many would say these facts by default put Friedman #1 and I wouldn’t argue; only the drop-off in his farm system this year keeps him from overtaking Mozeliak.  Call these two GMs 1 and 1-a.

3. Billy Beane, Oakland.   The league’s 2nd longest tenured GM is likely to retire as its longest, since he owns a stake in the team and has re-made his approach to building teams in the last couple of years to great success.  This ownership stake affords Beane the job security that he wouldn’t have otherwise, and has afforded him the time he needed to find his next “market inefficiency.”  After some lean years following the “Moneyball” period in the mid 2000s, Beane has turned the A’s into a two-time defending AL West defending champion (a division with two of the most profligate spending teams in the game).  His new team-building method seems to be around wheeling-and-dealing, and he’s been good at it.  He turned over a significant amount of his 2012 team and won even more games in 2013.   The ding on Beane may be his farm system; Oakland has struggled to develop players lately and some may argue that Beane’s ranking should be slightly lower as a result.  I’ll say this though; being successful in the league when routinely putting out payrolls in the $55M-$60M range (where his 2012 and 2013 teams sat) by default makes you one of the best in my book.  

The Excellent

4. Jon Daniels, Texas Rangers.  Texas made the 2010 World Series with the 27th highest payroll in the major leagues.  That in and among itself is enough to earn Daniels his street cred.  However, his 2013 payroll had ballooned to $125M and they got unlucky by missing out on the playoffs by one game in 2013.  Otherwise two World Series trips in four years is still nothing to shake a stick at, and the fact that they didn’t win game 6 of the 2011 World Series still amazes me.  Daniels’ reputation is on the line though in a big way; his moves for Prince Fielder, for Shin-Soo Choo and for Alex Rios will be tested in 2014.  The team will need everything it can get out of its (mostly) home grown rotation thanks to unfortunate injuries already suffered this year (Derek Holland tripping over his own dog).  I give Daniels a ton of credit for accomplishing what he did with a $65M payroll; can he continue to do it with a $130M payroll?  The bar only gets higher.

5. Walt Jocketty, Cincinnati.  I still wonder how he got fired in St. Louis.  He made the playoffs 6 years out of 7, including a World Series win.  Then the year following he gets canned.  In Cincinnati, he inherited a reigning NL MVP Joey Votto but made some shrewd acquisitions (Mat LatosAroldis Chapman), and drafted well (including selecting Mike Leake, who has yet to spend a day in the minors).   The Reds play in a small market but have made the playoffs 3 of the last 4 years and continue to develop good players (Billy Hamilton and Tony Cingrani being the latest two studs).  Jocketty is in a lofty rank now; we’ll see how things go after the loss of Shin-Soo Choo this past off-season and the slight turning-over of the roster we’re now seeing.  If the Reds continue to make the playoffs, Jocketty should continue to get a ton of credit.

6. Ben Cherington, Boston Red Sox.  Normally I’m really skeptical of GMs for teams with $175M payrolls who have success.  But it is difficult to argue with what Cherington has done since taking over the reigns.  He completely undid a ton of the damage that his predecessor had done by offloading two horrible contracts (Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez) and one malcontent (Josh Beckett) on the Dodgers and actually receiving prospect value back.   He has quickly built the Boston farm system back to where it is one of the best in the game (they have as many top 100 prospects as any organization out there).  And they just won the World Series.  Cherington loses some credit for the disastrous Bobby Valentine hiring that led to the even more disastrous 2012 season … but he also recognized the faults with both the team and the manager and led a complete 180 degree turnaround.  And I laughed at Cherington’s almost comical chasing of closers (as documented in this space in June 2013).  But a title erases a lot of criticism.  Boston remains well positioned going forward but will be depending very heavily on the fruits of their farm system in 2014 and beyond.  If Boston turns these high value prospects into another playoff appearance while driving down payroll, Cherington’s ranking will only rise.

7. Mike Rizzo, Washington Nationals.  Rizzo took over for the disgraced Jim Bowden in March of 2009 and had quite a job ahead of him.  The team on the field was on their way towards losing 100 games for the second year in a row and the farm system was dead last in the majors.  What has Rizzo done since?  The team improved 30 games in the win column between 2010 and 2012, the farm system was considered the best in the game just two years on from Rizzo’s hiring (it should be said, thanks to two straight #1 overall picks resulting in two of the most dynamic players in the last 20 years being available to us), and now has two drafts and two off-seasons worth of work under his belt.  He has brought a new mind-set to the draft, focusing on quick-to-the-majors college arms instead of nebulous tools-y high school players.  He also has managed to work with the sport’s most notorious agent (Scott Boras) and successfully handled the two most high-profile draftees (arguably) in the history of the game.  He has completely re-made the Nats roster in the past two years (only 3 members of the opening day roster 2009 team are still with the franchise).   I’ve questioned his roster construction at times, feeling like he over-emphasized defenders at the expense of offense (running Michael Morse and Josh Willingham out of town), and he obsessed over a leadoff/CF type until he got one (Denard Span, trading away our best starting pitching prospect at the time), but a 98-win season smooths over a lot of criticism.  Other pundits place Rizzo even higher than I have; 7th seems like a good spot to be until we see if this team can get back to the playoffs.   If the Nats falter again in 2014 and don’t achieve something in this “window,” Rizzo’s tenure and the 2012 season may be viewed simply as an aberration instead of a well built team.

8. Frank Wren, Atlanta Braves.  A couple years ago you would probably have Wren ranked in the middle of the pack at best.  He clearly botched both ends of the Mark Teixeira deals, essentially turning Texas regulars Elvis Andrus, Neftali Feliz, Matt Harrison and catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia into a year of Teixeira and Casey Kotchman.  Imagine how good Atlanta would be right now if they still had the 3 core members that remain in Texas.  That being said, you cannot argue with where the Braves have been going.  With middle-of-the-road payrolls and an awful TV deal the Braves have a team with a lot of home-grown talent that won the NL East by 10 games last year.  His rotation is young and home-grown (Minor, Beachy, Medlen, Teheran), his team full of home-grown talent (with Freeman, Heyward and Simmons leading the way).  And they have the best bullpen in the game.  On the down-side, there are questions about some of his recent signings (BJ Upton and Uggla in particular), the farm system hasn’t quite come back from its 2010 rankings (thanks to so much of the talent it generated), and I’m not sure anyone really likes Atlanta’s 2013 off-season.  So, we’ll give Wren credit for the past few years and indicate a note of caution going forward.

9. Neil Huntington, Pittsburgh Pirates.  I’m not sure if I’ve got him too high, but I’ll say this: after getting Pittsburgh to the playoffs (and a winning record) for the first time in a generation, Huntington has them in the right direction.  His moves to build last year’s team were excellent, the team has a ton of home-grown talent yet still has one of the best farm systems in the game, and should continue to be a success in the NL Central.

10. Sandy Alderson, New York Mets.  How can anyone involved with the New York Mets over the past 10 seasons be considered a success?  Because long-time baseball insider Alderson has done well with what he was handed and has the Mets heading in the right direction.  In the past three years their farm system has grown in leaps and bounds, going from the bottom third to nearly a top 5 system.   He got great value in trade for R.A. Dickey, has drafted and developed well, and we started to see the fruits of that player development with last year’s all-star game starter Matt Harvey.   He’s finally rid of the awful contracts that his predecessor handed him ($43.6M of the team’s $93M payroll last year was dead money to just two guys: Johan Santana and Jason Bay.  Almost 50%) and has bought conservatively this off-season while Harvey recovers and more of his young arms matriculate.   If the Mets ownership ever decides to start spending money again and this team’s prospects come to fruition, they could be a force.

11. Brian Sabean, San Francisco Giants.  Sabean is the longest tenured GM in the game, is unabashedly “old school” and is consistently mocked for his signings and moves.  I thought his Tim Lincecum deal was ridiculous, I couldn’t believe the amount of money they guaranteed Hunter Pence, and more than a few people are questioning the Michael Morse deal.   San Francisco’s farm system is weak and has been for years (after contributing MVPs and Cy Young winners, it should be said).   To all these naysayers I say this: Two World Series titles in the last four years.  The goal of every team is to win the title, and his teams have done it twice in four years.  The Yankees have one title in the last 15  years.  So you have to give Sabean some credit.  11th seems about right.  Not too high, not too low.  He’d have been much higher had his team not imploded in 2013.

12. Chris Antonetti, Cleveland Indians.  Antonelli has subscribed to the same “wheeling and dealing” mechanism for building teams that Billy Beane has done, and it turned a perennial doormat Indians team into a 2013 playoff team.  They play in a small market and have an $80M payroll, and Antonelli has taken their farm system from awful to respectable in the last three years.  So the system is improving as is the on-the-field product.  So far, so good in Cleveland for Antonelli’s tenure.  I’m hesitant to push him much higher because i’m convinced the Indians succeeded in 2013 on the backs of several very awful divisional rivals (for example; the Indians were 17-2 on the season versus the White Sox but only 4-15 versus the Tigers, quite a swing for a 90-win team; if they were that legitimate a team they would have been much closer to .500 against their divisional winner).  So slightly above the median looks good.

The Middle-Ground

13. Jeff Luhnow, Houston Astros.  Three years ago Houston was an 88-loss team with a $90M payroll and the 29th ranked farm system.   To his credit, Luhnow has reversed at least two of those factors in a big way; he has cleared the decks of the awful contracts that boat-anchored the Astros under his predecessor.  Of course, at the same time he’s turned the Astros into a 110-loss team and, for the first time since the dead-ball era, last place three years running.  So what has Luhnow done?  Inside of two years he’s gone from the worst farm system to the best on the backs of #1 overall picks Carlos Correa and Mark Appel.  Soon they’ll likely add Carlos Rodon to that stable, giving this team a fearsome set of players to roll-out within a couple years.  So how do we judge Luhnow?  Right about in the middle; he’s set out to do what he needed to do; if his foundation leads to on-the-field success Luhnow will be counted among the best GMs in the game for laying out the roadmap and sticking to it.

14. Brian Cashman, New York Yankees.  Some say that just the mere fact that Cashman has survived as long as he has in the shadow of the Steinbrenner family ownership of the Yankees should be proof enough that he is among the best GMs in the game, and certainly higher ranked than he is here.   Fair enough.  But here’s the inescapable facts: his farm system is deteriorating, the most significant player on the 2014 team actually developed at home seems to be Brett Gardner, they had a $225M payroll last year and didn’t make the playoffs, their rotation will pivot mostly on a 40-yr old’s career renaissance, and their starting 2014 infield played a combined 200 games last year.    And they’re being saved only by the grace of Bud Selig‘s hatred for Alex Rodriguez, whose suspension “saves” the team $25M this year (quickly spent on their new “#3 starter” Masahiro Tanaka, to whom they guaranteed more than $175M dollars).  I dunno; maybe Cashman should be lower.  They have made the playoffs 4 of the last 6 years and have a title, and Cashman’s early tenure record speaks for itself .. but at what point do you notice that the team hasn’t done very much since the “core four” have entered their decline phases and begin to wonder if Cashman isn’t just a guy with a big checkbook instead of a good GM?

15. Dave Dombrowski, Detroit Tigers.  Lots of on-field success thanks to Dombrowski sticking to his plan; he took over the year the Tigers lost 119 games.   It is worth noting that 3 years later they were in the world series.  Now he’s gotten them into the playoffs three years running, to which he’s due plenty of credit.  But his farm system has hit rock bottom, he’s spending a ton of money, and he’s making very questionable moves.  The industry panned his Doug Fister move (even if it seemed to greatly benefit the Nats) and people questioned his Prince Fielder for Ian Kinsler move.  They were weird moves for a “win now” team.  Perhaps I should give Dombrowski more credit, but his 2013-14 off-season knocked him down a number of pegs for me.  If they miss out on the playoffs to an up-and-coming Royals team, he’ll suddenly be on the hot-seat.

16. Ned Colletti, Los Angeles Dodgers.  Seriously, how do you judge the job Colletti is doing right now?   His team’s payroll went from $95M in 2012 to more than $216M in 2013.  He’s got $57M tied up in three outfielders not named Yasiel Puig right now.   You almost got the impression that Colletti called up Boston and just said, “Hey, I’ll take every sh*tty contract off your hands right now … i’ve got money to spend and I don’t care how we spend it!”  On the bright side, somehow the Dodgers have kept a reasonable ranking with their farm system throughout all of this, but the skill involved with paying everyone on your team $20M/year is close to nil.  As with Cashman, I wonder if Colletti is ranked too high even here.

17. Dayton Moore, Kansas City Royals.   Other mid-market teams (Oakland, Tampa, Pittsburgh) have shown a ton more accomplishment on the field than Kansas City; why hasn’t Moore’s teams done better?  He’s been in his job nearly 8 seasons and the team spun its wheels for seven of them.  Signings that didn’t pay off and fizzled farm system talents defined this team for years.  Finally Moore went all-in, trading the best prospect in the game (Wil Myers) for a package of pitchers to help the Royals get over the hump.   Between 2012 and 2013 they added $21M in payroll and these players and gained 14 games in the win column; just enough for … 3rd place.   The industry entirely believes Moore was fleeced by Tampa Bay, and the trade looked so bad at the time that pundits wondered if Moore wasn’t getting some pressure from above to “win more now or get canned.”  But it didn’t take Myers but the next season to win the rookie of the year award, and he may be a player that Kansas City fans rue for a generation.  I think Moore may not be long for the job, and with good reason; why hasn’t he been able to win when guys like Huntington and Beane have?

18. Terry Ryan, Minnesota Twins.  Ryan has been with Minnesota for-ever; hired in 1994.  He stepped aside and then was re-hired in 2011, and is now in a rebuilding phase.  The team let go one of its faces of the franchise last off season (Justin Morneau) and is going to begin a big youth movement this year.  They’re going to be bad, but perhaps not Houston bad thanks to a couple of (odd?) starting pitcher signings.  Help is coming; Ryan has built on of the best farm systems in the game and it features two of the top 5 prospects out there (Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano).   Perhaps it isn’t fair to rank Ryan here with Luhnow higher, but Ryan was partly responsible for the downfall of this team and the abhorrent starting rotation of last year.  But once their MVP-grade talents arrive at the majors, Ryan’s work of rebuilding the farm system should be rewarded.

The Concerning

19. Josh Byrnes, San Diego.  Byrnes inherited a 90-win team that surprised but which was getting ready to hit a transitional stage.   Byrnes got some good prospects from the Adrian Gonzalez deal and some more in the Mat Latos deal, but they havn’t turned into wins on the  Three straight years of 71-76 wins has spirits dampened in San Diego.   Now their MLB team looks poor, the farm system is good but drifting, and they’re talking about another rebuilding effort.   He’s only a couple years in but things aren’t looking up; his division includes a team that is spending 4 times what he can spend.

20. Kevin Towers, Arizona.  So here’s my summary of Towers’ tenure in Arizona so far: he continues to drive away players and prospects who aren’t “gritty” enough for him, trading them for 50 cents on the dollar.  His farm system has gone from good to middle of the road.  His payroll is rising … and yet his team is winning the same number of games.  And yet both he and Kirk Gibson just got contract extensions.  Why exactly does anyone think Towers and Gibson are doing a good job right now?   How many more games would they have lost had they not magically found a 6-win player in Paul Goldschmidt (an 8th round pick) last year?

21. Jed Hoyer (Theo Epstein), Chicago Cubs.  I know Hoyer is the GM, but lets be honest; this is Epstein’s team.  The Cubs hired Epstein for him to re-make the franchise as he did in Boston.  Except that Epstein left Boston in a huge mess, with a slew of very bad contracts and an even worse clubhouse.  Now he’s come to Chicago and made some questionable moves (the Edwin Jackson signing, the Anthony Rizzo fan-boy pursuit, etc) while not making other more obvious moves (why is Jeff Samardzija still on this team if they’re “rebuilding?”).  To their credit, they got value for Alfonso Soriano, only one of the most untradeable players in the game.  And they’ve gotten a pass to rebuild the farm system, which is now ranked in the top 5 in the game and should start to bear fruit.   Now, that farm system is loaded with hitters, and with Wrigley’s comfy stadium the Cubs may be offensive juggernauts in no time, but they still need pitching.  How will the Hoyer/Epstein team handle that?  Hopefully not with more signings like the Jackson deal.

22. Michael Hill, Miami Marlins.  The one huge caveat that goes with the Miami GM job is this: Jeffrey Loria is probably the most hands on owner in the game, and you almost can’t judge this GM’s ability based on who is calling the shots.  The only other owner who seems to have as much pull is, ironically, ranked next.   Miami loaded up for 2012 in their new stadium and had completely dismantled things before August.  Now they’re a $50M payroll team with some superstar prospects .. but a middling farm system and questionable direction.

23. Dan Duquette, Baltimore Orioles.  Duquette has had an odd off-season; his owner 86′d two of his signings thanks to questioning the “medicals,” which insiders point out is Peter Angelos‘ method of nixing deals he doesn’t like.  Must be frustrating.  Instead Duquette is now signing every re-tread FA who can’t find a job thanks to the CBA’s draft pick compensation issues, punting draft pick after draft pick.  The O’s did make the playoffs in 2012, thanks to an unsustainable record in one-run games, and have had a decent run of success out of their farm system (Manny Machado should be mentioned in the same breath as Trout and Harper frankly), but are they on the right track to get back?

24. Dan O’Dowd/Bill Geivett, Colorado Rockies.   The Rockies have a very unique front-office structure right now, resulting from an August 2012 shake-up that left industry insiders questioning the roles and the message coming from the team.   Nonetheless, the direction of the Rockies leaves something to be desired.   They’ve drifted on the field, employed questionable starting pitching usage strategies, and generally are treading water.  Their farm system is starting to look up though; will that be enough to compete in a division with the Dodgers?

25. Alex Anthopolous, Toronto Blue Jays. Anthopolous took over for the maligned JP Ricciardi after the 2009 season.  In the time since, he traded Roy Halladay, acquired Morrow, traded for Escobar and Jo-Jo Reyes, acquired Rajai Davis, and perhaps most impressively offloaded the albatross contract for Vernon Wells.  He had an 85-win team in the hardest division in baseball with a 70M payroll for 2011.  Then he went for it, emptying the farm system (which was one of the league’s best in 2011) to acquire the likes of R.A. Dickey and the whole slew of ex-Marlins.  Now he’s got a massive payroll, an underperforming team and empty cupboards in the minors.  All the good work he did to prepare Toronto for battle in the AL east has gone for naught unless last year was just a big huge adjustment period for all these newly acquired veterans.

The Underperforming

26. Doug Melvin, Milwaukee Brewers: Melvin is an interesting case; the Brewers purposely bottomed out their farm system to make a playoff run in 2011, the last year before they lost Prince Fielder and their fortunes would change.  And change they have; the Brewer’s player development efforts have not moved off the bottom of the league (their farm system is either last or dead last on every pundit list) while their on-the-field record has dropped (they’ve gone from 96 to 83 to 74 wins in the last three years).   Now they’re the 4th best team in their division and it isn’t close, and it is unclear what their plan is going forward.   They’ve got quality players at certain places, but have made odd signings (losing their 1st round pick last year to sign Kyle Lohse of all people).  You can’t help the Ryan Braun situation, and they got unlucky with injuries (Corey Hart in particular) so perhaps this ranking is unfair.  But I still feel like the Brewers are adrift in terms of strategy and thus Melvin’s ranked this low.

27. Jerry Dipoto, Los Angeles Angels.  The worst or 2nd worst (along with Milwaukee) farm system in the majors for the past few years.  One of the largest payrolls in the league giving them a 78-84 record last year.  Over-paying for aging slugger (Albert Pujols) after aging slugger (Josh Hamilton) while inexplicably signing one of the worst statistical starters in the game to a multi-year deal (Joe Blanton) and entering last season with a clear and obvious rotation issue.  Dipoto earned the absolute worst “quantitative grade” in my GM ranking xls, trying to measure the three GM factors of on-the-field success, farm system development and trades/FA signings.  The only reason I don’t also rank him last is because i’m not entirely convinced that Dipoto isn’t a decent executive who’s being told by a highly-involved owner (Arte Moreno) to sign all these guys.   But, there’s really no reason that a team playing in LA and who is spending three times what his divisional rival Oakland is spending isn’t consistently finishing ahead of them in the standings.

28. Rick Hahn (Kenny Williams), Chicago White Sox.  What can you say?  The White Sox lost 100 games with a $118M payroll last year and have had the worst (or near to it) farm system in the game for years.  The White Sox organization is in a bad way, and i’m not sure why Williams’ stewardship was rewarded with the “promotion” to team president.   They lost 18 games in the win column from 2012 to 2013 and it is hard to see how they’re going to be any better this year.  It does seem though that they are undergoing a “rebuilding effort,” in that their payroll seems like it will be $40M less this year versus last and they’ve moved some of their bigger salaries in “rebuilding mode” moves (Alex RiosJake Peavy).  So perhaps its slightly unfair to have Hahn so low, if he’s entering into a purposely bad period.  Nonetheless; this set of executives got the White Sox where they are now, so their low ranking is earned.

29. Ruben Amaro, Philadelphia Phillies.  I’ll admit that i’m probably biased here.  While i’ve given credit to other GMs whose teams have had success in the past several years, i’ve not given Amaro the same benefit of the doubt.  And that basically comes down to several, clear facts; Amaro has destroyed the Phillies with multiple long-term deals for declining players, most notably Ryan Howard‘s contract (widely considered the worst dollar for dollar contract in the game).  His team 3rd highest payroll in 2013 and nearly lost 90 games.  His recent FA moves have been laughable (Delmon Young and Michael Young?  John Lannan as his sole pitching move last off-season?  His ridiculous contract extension for Carlos Ruiz this past off-season?).  His heels-in-the-ground obstinant refusal to adopt any understanding or acceptance for analytics or modern statistical approach to his job makes me wonder just how asleep at the wheel his owner is.  He’s let his farm system lapse while his on-the-field product falters.  He puts out mixed messages in regards to his direction (Cliff Lee mentioned in trade rumors?  Are the Phillies going to rebuild or not?).  But the coup-de-grace for me is the news that just came out that Amaro’s organization has purposely attempted to sabotage college kids who spurned the Phillies last summer, ratting them out to the NCAA out of pettiness, spite or vengeance.   Despite their WS win and appearances in the last 6 years, I cannot for the life of me figure out why Amaro still has a job at this point.

30. Jack Zduriencik, Seattle Mariners.  Zero playoff appearances in his tenure.  His farm system has pushed out all the talent it apparently has to give and now is in the bottom third of the league with more than a few “busts” (notably Justin Smoak and Dustin Ackley vastly underperforming).  A 90 loss team last year, and he’s just gotten done committing hundreds of millions of dollars in contracts yet likely has only improved his team a few wins, thanks to a fundamental lack of understanding of what it takes to build baseball lineups (he seems to be depending basically on 3 rookies in his rotation for 2014).  And it seems that Zduriencik not only is poor at his job, but he may have depended on deception (if not outright fraud) to get it, thanks to the reporting of Geoff Baker at The Seattle Times last off-season.  One only needs to look at his method of building teams to notice that he has no concept of defensive capabilities and he seems to collect 1b/DH types without consideration of how many runs they’ll be costing him thanks to sub-par defense (Michael Morse and Raul Ibanez at the corner OF positions last year, his plans to play Logan Morrison and Corey Hart in the OF this year).  How long before Robinson Cano is a brooding $200M boat anchor on this team as they continue to lose 90 games year after year in a division dominated with better GMs and bigger payrolls?  All these facts contribute to my ranking Zduriencik last.

 


Here’s some other links relevant to this discussion, for your perusal.  Wiki’s list of all 30 GMs.  Baseball America’s excellent Executive database.  Scout.com’s Kiley McDaniel ranked the GMs by job security in Jan 2014.   Buster Olney posted a “Peer Review” of GMs back in 2010, but its mostly obsolete with all the movement since.  Still somewhat interesting to hear what GMs are saying about each other anonymously.

Finally some other rankings lists that I could find (and their top 5):

  • Dan Szymborski‘s top 5 Dec 2013: Beane, Friedman, Daniels, Mozeliak, Rizzo (from a chat).
  • MLBtraderumors ran a poll in April of 2013 where you can vote, and the top 5 crowd-source vote-getters are: Beane, Friedman, Mozeliak, Cashman and Sabean.
  • The NYPost’s Ken Davidoff ranks GMS every off-season and he came in with Friedman, Beane, Daniels, Dombrowski and Mozeliak in Dec 2013 (he has Cashman way too high, but he is a NY-based writer and focuses on the entire body of work).
  • Rantsports.com’s GM Power rankings from Aug 2013 (which I think are misguided mostly because of how low Beane is): Daniels, Cherington, Friedman, Huntington, Antonelli
  • And lastly this oddly titled “Sexiest GMs” ranking from Dec 2012 caused some laughs at the time.  Towers, Beane, Moore, Cashman, Hoyer.

Thoughts?  Think I have some guys too high and some too low?  Discuss in the comments.

 

Written by Todd Boss

February 26th, 2014 at 8:03 am

Posted in Baseball in General

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Gold Glove Awards review with Advanced Metrics

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Andrelton Simmons put up what most consider the best defensive season of 2013.  Photo via espn.go.com

Andrelton Simmons put up what most consider the best defensive season of 2013. Photo via espn.go.com

The recent years have been a rise in all sorts of statistical analysis in the game of baseball (as we all know), and one of the more important areas of research has been the measurement and tracking of defensive metrics.  The data we have at our disposal is not yet infallible, but the data has opened our eyes to the real impact that some major leaguers have on the defensive side of the ball.

We’re all quite familiar with the WAR-based arguments that have completely consumed last year’s AL MVP award voting as an example of modern statistics helping to shape the selection of a traditional award winner.  However, up until 2013, the Gold Gloves remained an award that was given out without practically any consideration given to any advanced metric, and the awards have been embarassed in recent years with some amazingly inept selections.  The two most laughable selections of recent memory were Rafael Palemeiro in 1999 (given a Gold Glove for his play at 1B despite the fact that he only played 28 games in the field that  year) and Derek Jeter in 2010 (a year in which he posted a -5.1 UZR/150, was dead last among all 59 AL shortstops in Total Zone Total Fielding and had the selection was openly mocked by the normally staid Baseball-Reference.com website).   Even the more defensible gold gloves over the past few years have been considered “wrong” by the stat-crowd, to the point where a number of national writers openly mock the awards and go out of their way to “ignore” th em.

This concerns me as a fan, and as someone who is keenly interested in the Hall of Fame merits of players.  I absolutely believe that when it comes time to judge players on the whole of their careers, that individual awards such as the Gold Gloves, MVP and Cy Young awards matter.  I want these awards to be relevant and properly awarded.

Two things have happened lately that give me hope:

  1. Bill James and a varied panel of baseball writers, statisticians in the field and former players now vote on The Fielding Bible awards each year.  The 2013 Fielding Bible awards are not league specific; they recognize the best in the majors at each position each year.
  2. The Gold Glove award committee for the first time in 2013 has incorporated a statistical element to the traditional surveying of players and coaches to choose the award winners.

(All winners/leaders listed below are on one common Google XLS here.  Listed are the winners of the GGs, Fielding Bibles, and then the leaders in each league by position of these Defensive stats: UZR/150, DRS, FRAA, and Total Zone.  I haven’t gone into the various definitions and pros/cons of these stats; I have a planned off-seasondefensive statistical overview post where I’ll go into greater detail).

First off, if you believe that the Fielding Bible panel has picked the best possible awardees, then you’ll be happy to note that every Fielding Bible award winner also received a Gold Glove this year.  Here’s the Fielding Bible winners by position for 2013:

Pos Fielding Bible Winner
C Yadier Molina, STL
1B Paul Goldschmidt, ARI
2B Dustin Pedroia, BOS
SS Andrelton Simmons, ATL
3B Manny Machado, BAL
LF Alex Gordon, KC
CF Carlos Gomez, MIL
RF Gerardo Parra, ARI
P R.A. Dickey, TOR

Now, here’s the Gold Glove winners, with the Fielding Bible award winners bolded:

Pos AL GG Winner NL GG Winner
C Salvador Perez, KC Yadier Molina, STL
1B Eric Hosmer, KC Paul Goldschmidt, ARI
2B Dustin Pedroia, BOS Brandon Phillips, CIN
SS J.J. Hardy, BAL Andrelton Simmons, ATL
3B Manny Machado, BAL Nolan Arenado, COL
LF Alex Gordon, KC Carlos Gonzalez, COL
CF Adam Jones, BAL Carlos Gomez, MIL
RF Shane Victorino, BOS Gerardo Parra, ARI
P R.A. Dickey, TOR Adam Wainwright, STL

As you’ll see below by looking at the various defensive metrics out there, most of the Gold Glove winners were merited.  In fact, there only seems to be one egregiously bad selection here (which we’ll get to below).  Nearly every other winner was at the top of one or more of the advanced metrics available by position for his league:

UZR/150 leaders per league (again, with Fielding Bible winners bolded):

Pos AL UZR/150 NL UZR/150
C
1B Mike Napoli, BOS Anthony Rizzo, CHC
2B Ben Zobrist, TBR Darwin Barney, CHC
SS Yunel Escobar, TBR Andrelton Simmons ATL
3B Manny Machado, BAL Juan Uribe, LAD
LF David Murphy, TEX Starling Marte, PIT
CF Colby Rasmus, TOR A.J. Pollack, ARI
RF Shane Victorino, BOS Gerardo Parra, ARI
P

Defensive Runs Saved leaders per league:

Pos AL DRS NL DRS
C Salvador Perez, KC Wellington Castillo, CHC
1B Mike Napoli, BOS Anthony Rizzo, CHC
2B Dustin Pedroia, BOS Darwin Barney, CHC
SS Pedro Florimon, MIN Andrelton Simmons, ATL
3B Manny Machado, BAL Nolan Arenado, COL
LF Alex Gordon, KC Starling Marte, PIT
CF Leonys Martin, TEX Carlos Gomez, MIL
RF Shane Victorino, BOS Gerardo Parra, ARI
P

FRAA Leaders per league:

Pos AL FRAA NL FRAA
C
1B Eric Hosmer, KC Paul Goldschmidt, ARI
2B Ian Kinsler, TEX Donovan Solano, MIA
SS Nick Franklin, SEA Andrelton Simmons, ATL
3B Manny Machado, BAL Nolan Arenado, COL
LF Andy Dirks, DET Carl Crawford, LAD
CF Alejandro De Aza, CWS Brandon Barnes, HOU
RF Shane Victorino, BOS Hunter Pence, SF
P R.A. Dickey, TOR Andrew Cashner, SD

And lastly here’s the Total Zone Total Fielding leaders:

Pos AL Total Zone Total Fielding NL Total Zone Total Fielding
C Matt Wieters, BAL Yadier Molina, STL
1B Mike Napoli, BOS Paul Goldschmidt, ARI
2B Dustin Pedroia, BOS Brandon Phillips, CIN
SS Jayson Nix, NYY Andrelton Simmons, ATL
3B Manny Machado, BAL Juan Uribe, LAD
LF Alex Gordon, KC Chris Heisey, CIN
CF Jacoby Ellsbury, BOS Denard Span, WAS
RF Shane Victorino, BOS Norichika Aoki, MIL
P R.A. Dickey, TOR Patrick Corbin, ARI

So, after looking at all these leaders, lets talk a bit about the Gold Gloves and ask ourselves whether they did a good job representing the best defenders this year.  Position by position:

CatcherSalvator Perez is as good an AL pick as any; the only other AL catcher in the mix is Matt Weiters.  On the NL side, Jadier Molina has earned his reputation and backs it up on the metrics side.  His only challenger being the little known Wellington Castillo from Chicago.

1st Base: Hosmer and Goldschmidt seem as good of picks as any; only Mike Napoli and Anthony Rizzo seemed close in either league.  Napoli may have been a better pick than Hosmer on the weight of the evidence.

2nd Base: There’s several decent candidates who were not honored, but I don’t think anyone is arguing vehimently against either Pedroia or Phillips as the winners.  Darwin Barney may be the most egreiged candidate.

Shortstop: the amazing Andrelton Simmons led every possible statistical category; there was no chance he was losing.   J. J. Hardy‘s selection wasn’t bad per se, but as you can see from the above tables four different AL shortstops led each of the four statistical measures.  None of them was Hardy though, making you wonder if his gold glove was slightly on reputation.

3rd Base: One day Manny Machado will move back to short (maybe) and challenge Simmons for the title of “Best Shortstop in the Game.”  But for now he has to settle for easily being the best defensive 3B in the game.  As with Simmons, Machado led every possible defensive measure at his position.  On the NL side, the choice of Nolan Arenado was a sound one, with only Juan Uribe really challenging him.  Thankfully the award didn’t go to someone like David Wright or our own Ryan Zimmerman based on reputation.

Left FieldAlex Gordon was a sound choice; the NL choice of Carlos Gonzalez may have been a disservice to one Starling Marte.  However, picking individual positions for the OF is somewhat tough, especially for the corners.  Fangraphs lists RF winner Gerardo Parra as a left-fielder for some reason.

Center FieldCarlos Gomez is a great pick (and is one of the reasons I posted my “Why no MVP support for Gomez” post in this space, which by the way, got almost no reaction from the readership…).   Adam Jones was nearly dead last in some of these range metrics and unfortunately has gotten this award via reputation (and his arm; still one of the best) as opposed to performance.   Jones is clearly the “Derek Jeter” of 2013, and the voters really erred badly on his selection.   Its hard for me to say who I would have preferred; Jacoby Ellsbury is the biggest name among the four guys who led the four different defensive numbers, but Ellsbury’s arm is weak (nearly last of any CF in the league) and a better candidate would have been Leonys Martin.

Right FieldGerardo Parra and Shane Victorino are the leading candidates for their leagues and both selections are warranted.  I know that Hunter Pence led the NL in FRAA, but his arm is awful (one of the worst of any RF in the league), so that has to count against him.   In fact, Victorino was as good as or better than Parra in most of these metrics (with the exception of Arm; Parra has one of the better arms in the league).  I’m guessing its arm strength that tipped the Fielding Bible balance to Parra.

Conclusion: I think the Gold Gloves did a pretty good job in 2013 of identifying the best overall defenders at each position.  With one significant exception (Adam Jones).  I think its time the sportswriters who have been purposely ignoring the awards come back into the fold.

 

Ladson’s Inbox 10/4/13

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Wouldn't it be nice to see Price in a Washington uniform?  photo unk via strikesportsnetwork.com

Wouldn’t it be nice to see Price in a Washington uniform? photo unk via strikesportsnetwork.com

Nothing like a Bill Ladson inbox to start off your week!  This one is dated 10/4/13 and was posted late friday.  As always I write my response here before reading his and edit questions for clarity and conciseness.  Here we go.

Q: This past season, Adam LaRoche had a .403 slugging percentage, which might fly at shortstop, but not at first base. Do you think that Tyler Moore is good enough to be in a platoon with LaRoche, or should the Nats go after someone like James Loney to start most of the time?

A: Adam LaRoche‘s season was a disappointment for sure.  In addition to the noted poor slugging percentage, I’ll give you two more interesting stats.  He posted a bWAR of 0.9 for the year, which is only slightly better than the bWAR of 0.7 posted by Billy Hamilton during his two weeks of base-running terror in September.  And he ranked 20th of qualified first basemen in the league in terms of fWAR for the year.  James Loney put himself in a position to get a decent contract this year, with a nice slash line, a 118 OPS+ and a 7.2 UZR/150 at first.  But Loney’s problem is that he just doesn’t hit for enough power.  The Nats need LaRoche’s power, and I think at this point they stick with what they have for one more year and hope he rebounds.   I don’t think Tyler Moore is ready for prime time and will continue to be a power RH bat off the bench.  Lastly; who is taking LaRoche off our hands if we decide to replace him?  We’d have to pay most of his salary, get little in return, and I just don’t see this management team doing that.  Ladson agrees.

Q: How does Ross Ohlendorf fit in with the Nationals’ future plans? I see him as a great No. 4 or 5 starter.

A:  Ross Ohlendorf is in an interesting spot.   He was signed as a MLFA this past off-season, but did not accrue enough service time to get to 5 full years, so I believe he’s still tied to the club.  He should be arbitration eligible, and (per springfieldFan’s big board work) seems to have 2 options left.  So, on the one hand he pitched pretty well for us and I’d definitely tender him a contract for 2014; he’ll be relatively cheap even through arbitration.  I see him competing for the 4th/5th with the other obvious candidates (Karns, Jordan, Detwiler, Roark), but his longer term history as a starter in 2011 and 2012 does not inspire confidence.  His new motion helped him to a 3-1 record with a 3.52 ERA in 7 starts this year, but ultimately I see him settling into a long-man role similar to what he had this year.  Ladson agrees; he’s arb eligible but doesn’t seem like he can stick as a starter.

Q: I feel like the Nationals should go after center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury. How do you feel about that?

A: Nope.  Jacoby Ellsbury is a nice player, but I feel like he’s somewhat of a one-season wonder.  Look at his career homer records and tell me how he hit 32 in 2011 when he’s never hit more than 9 in any other season??  Doesn’t that outlier scream out PEDs?  Plus he can’t stay healthy; he missed 30 games this year, half of last year, basically all of 2010.  He’s a Scott Boras client who is already making noise about getting more for Ellsbury than he got for Carl Crawford.  Would you pay $150M for 7 years of Ellsbury??

But here’s the other thing; as with LaRoche, this team has a center fielder under contract for 2014!  If the Nats want to make a change in center they’ll be selling somewhat low on Denard Span.  Personally I wouldn’t mind putting Harper in center, acquiring a big bopper for left and adding some muscle to this lineup.  But I just don’t see Mike Rizzo doing that and admitting defeat on the Span acquisition.  Ladson points out that Span’s great finish means he’s clearly not in line to be replaced; organizationally they have to be hopeful that his 2014 will resemble more closely the end of 2013, not the middle.  Fair enough; I can get on that bandwagon.

Q: Have you noticed how similar the home run swings of Wilson Ramos and Andres Galarraga are? Every time Ramos goes yard, he reminds me of The Big Cat.

A: I had not noticed, but sure, whatever.  No real question here otherwise.  I like Ramos, and he’s finally showing signs of durability after an injury-plagued career.   This is the kind of hard-hitting question that Ladson is known for taking.

Q: Do you think the Nationals should go after another pitcher or two during the free agency period?

A: I think the Dan Haren experience may have scared them off the FA market for a bit.  And this coming off-season’s FA market for Starting Pitching is really thin.  After spending $13M each of the last two years for Haren and Edwin Jackson (and getting bWARs of -0.1 and 2.0 respectively) the Nats have to be thinking that there’s better ways to spend money.  I wouldn’t be surprised in the least to see another deal similar to the Gio Gonzalez deal, where we package a slew of close-to-the-majors players together for one decent-to-good pitcher.   The problem would be finding such a team; Oakland’s current slate of young starters mostly struggled this year and none of them are arb-eligible yet.  Maybe Tampa lines up; not only do they have to deal with David Price‘s rising salary but Jeremy Hellickson is arb-eligible for the first time too.  Hellickson took a major step back though in 2013; would Tampa use this to their advantage and keep him at a lower arb-number for one more year instead of selling low?   Would you trade, say, Karns, Roark and Kobernus for Hellickson?  Too much?  Too little?  Ladson says he could see them going after a pitcher either on FA or in Trade.

Q: Will Jhonatan Solano be the backup catcher out of Spring Training or will the Nationals try to bring in someone else? 

A: This is one of the bigger questions for this team this coming off-season: do the Nats go into 2014 with Ramos and a minor league call-up as his backup, or do they go for a veteran backup?  I’m guessing they may go the veteran FA route; there’s a ton of catchers on the FA market this year.  Jhonatan Solano may have peaked as a player: his AAA slashline as a 27 yr old this year was .214/.245/.279.   He’s been bouncing between AA and AAA since 2009.   Sandy Leon seemed like he was the future answer, but he bottomed out this year too after looking great in 2012.   I’d go with a veteran backup (Kurt Suzuki is a FA …) and wait out the kids one more season.  Ladson thinks FA route.

Q: Do you think a new manager will be able to change the hitting philosophy of the team and play more small ball instead of over-swinging and trying for home runs all of the time?

A: Is that the perception of this team’s offense in 2013?  That they over-swing all the time?  I think they just don’t hit well in the clutch.  Small-ball is a century old concept mostly debunked by modern stats in the game as being out-dated strategy.  Honestly, I want a manager who stands up for his players, who keeps them in line, who isn’t afraid to order a bean-ball when it is called for, and who doesn’t come across as a feeble old man (sorry Davey Johnson; that’s how I interpreted your last season).  Ladson says the hitting has settled since the firing of Rick Eckstein and the hiring of Rick Schu. 

Q: I think that left-hander David Price would be the ideal arm to add to the Nationals’ rotation. If he is willing to agree to an extension, do you think that he would be a good fit for the Nationals?

A: Price would be a great fit on every team in the majors.   Duh.  The problem is extracting him from Tampa.  Tampa is shrewd, drives a hard bargain, and wants to win every trade.  They’re not exactly the best team to try to negotiate with.  We’ve had this argument on this site many times; what would it really take to get Price out of Tampa?  Giolito, Jordan, Kobernus and Rendon maybe?  Would you make that deal or is that too much?

Of course, that being said … ask yourself this; was starting pitching *really* the reason this team failed in 2013?  No I don’t think it was.  Yes, the team was 10-19 in Haren’s starts … even if they’d finished .500 in Haren’s starts they were still out of the WC game.  No; this team took a significant step backwards offensively.  So the way to fix that should be to address the offense.  Problem is; all 8 starting fielders are under contract or under team control for 2014.  What do you do?  Get a couple of bench guys who can hit?  How does that help?

Ladson punts with his patented ‘lets see what happens’ line.

 

Ladson Inbox 8/12/13

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The drumbeat to move Zimmerman to first continues.  Photo AP via tbd.com

The drumbeat to move Zimmerman to first continues. Photo AP via tbd.com

Hey, its been a while since MLB Nats beat reporter Bill Ladson did an inbox.  With the Nats season now relegated to “playing for pride,” I’m guessing this inbox is going to be chock full of questions about the future.  Lets dive in.

As always, I write my response to each question before reading his, and edit questions for clarity/conciseness.  All stats mentioned are as of 8/13/13.

Q: Do you think the Nationals could trade Adam LaRoche, move Ryan Zimmerman to first base, Anthony Rendon to third base and sign a free-agent second baseman like Robinson Cano?

A: Wow, that’s a lot of moving parts.  Lets take this wish list of proposed personnel moves one by one:

  • Trade Adam LaRoche: we’d likely not get a whole heck of a lot for a 33 turning 34 year old first baseman who clearly took a step back in 2013.  LaRoche currently ranks 22nd among league-wide first basemen in wRC+, barely above the league average.  By way of comparison, Mark Reynolds is ranked 25th and was just flat-out released after passing through waivers.  So, no I don’t think there are a lot of teams out there willing to pony up the $14M he’s owed next year ($12M in salary, $2m of a buyout of his 2015 option).   This signing has really set the team back offensively.  Though to be fair, Michael Morse (who would have slotted in at 1B had the team not been able to re-sign LaRoche) is also posting about the same wRC+ numbers and has missed half the season with yet another injury.
  • Move Ryan Zimmerman to first base: yes I think this is going to happen eventually, but not this off-season.  I think you handle the transition of a gold-glove winning player off his chosen position carefully and with consideration to the clubhouse ramifications.  I don’t think it played well in Texas’ clubhouse when a former gold-glove winning shortstop Michael Young was moved to third against his wishes, and he made way for a superb defender in Elvis Andrus.  Zimmerman would be making way for a relative unknown (though presumed gifted) defensive replacement.  I think the Nats brass is chalking up 2013′s subpar defensive season to Zimmerman’s lingering shoulder issue, which has exacerbated his already problematic throwing motion and associated mental issues.  I see Zimmerman giving it a fresh start in 2014, and if it becomes clear it isn’t working out we look at spring training 2015 as a position transfer.
  • Move Anthony Rendon to third: it likely happens eventually.  But him moving to third has to wait for the first two bullet points to happen, so again I’m predicting perhaps 2015.  I think more time at 2B will give him more confidence and his errors will subside.  So far his range at 2B is passable (UZR/150 of 0.5 in 448 innings), but that’s a far cry from what Danny Espinosa was offering there (UZR/150 of 12.0 this year, which would have been good for 2nd in the league.  He posted a 9.9 in a full-season last year).  But, by the time Rendon is set to move to 3rd he may very well just stay at 2nd.  He seems like he’s the right size and shape to play 2nd.
  • Sign Robinson Cano.  There’s no question Cano will be the marquee FA this coming off-season, but I don’t think he signs with Washington for two main reasons.  First, the Yankees just cannot let the one remaining good offensive player they have leave, and I believe they’ll over-pay him to stay.  Secondly, whoever signs Cano is making a potentially classic free agency mistake; overpaying a guy in his down years.  Look at the 9 figure deals signed lately for position players, and look at how many of them are almost immediately regrettable.  Albert PujolsRyan HowardJosh HamiltonCarl Crawford and our own Jayson Werth.  All of those deals routinely listed as the worst contracts in the game.  I believe Mike Rizzo is smart enough and forward thinking enough not to hamstring the team with another contract.

So, my answer to this scenario is “not going to happen.”  Ladson says “call me in the off-season.”

Q: How do you defend your previous support of Danny Espinosa?

A: Um, you can’t. Espinosa has now had nearly 1600 major league plate appearances and has a career slash line of .230/.303/.396.  He just cannot hit batting left handed (career splits: he’s 40 batting points and 75 slugging points lower batting left-handed).  He’s hitting .219 in AAA since being demoted.  He faces serious concerns about where his career is going right now.  Yes he’s a great defensive player, but that only gets you halfway to a MLB job these days. Ladson says Espinosa has been hurt this whole time and when he’s healthy he’s good.  But he also admits that Espinosa’s time playing full-time for the Nats is probably at an end.

Q: Is Denard Span a bust?  He has a low on-base percentage and he hasn’t been stealing many bases.

A: Yes, I think its safe to say that Denard Span has been a bust.   He never really stole that many bases (17 last year, career high of 26), but certainly he has posted much better OBP numbers (.342 last year, .350 career).  What has happened to him in 2013?  Who knows.  He has stated that he likens this year to his rookie year, having to learn a whole new league of pitchers.  That could be fair; and could lead to a rebound in 2014.   I do know this; .313 OBP from the lead-off spot just doesn’t cut it.  To make matters worse, his defensive stats have dropped off too; his UZR is down, his DRS is down.  That’s really not a good sign; you can put up with a #8 hitter batting .260 with no power if he provides great value in the field.  If not, then you’re better off bringing up a minor leaguer to see what he can do.  This is another concern for Rizzo heading into the off-season; is this a one-off, an adjustment season for Span, or is this the start of his decline phase?   Ladson extolls Span’s defense, admits he’s not getting on base and postulates the Nats could go after Shin-Soo Choo in the off-season to replace him.  I think Ladson needs to look at the defensive numbers on Choo before advocating that; he’s dead last in UZR/150 for center-fielders right now, by a significant margin.  Now, if you got Choo and moved Bryce Harper back to center?  I’d be for that 100%.  Make Span your 4th OF, wave good-bye to Roger Bernadina and move on.  

Q: Do you think Drew Storen will be traded? His relationship with the Nationals doesn’t seem the same since he blew the save last year against the Cardinals during the National League Division Series.

A: Traded?  No.  Re-called and put into a lesser bullpen role?  Absolutely.  I think once Drew Storen fixes whatever mechanics issue that has been plaguing him, he comes right back to a Ryan Mattheus type role in the pen.  Storen’s ERA in Syracuse is unsightly so far (unlucky small sample size; he’s given up 4 runs on just 7 hits), but he’s got 11 k’s to 0 walks in 6 innings.   AAA hitters aren’t exactly challenging him, if he’s struck out half the guys he’s faced.  If the team was considering him in trade … you’d have to think they would want to get him back up to the majors to regain value anyway.  Ladson thinks he can regain value and can be a MLB closer again.

Q: Will the Nationals consider going after Michael Morse when he becomes a free agent at the end of the year? He would have helped the Nats’ offense this year, splitting time between the outfield and first base. What do you think?

A: As much as I like Morse and have complained about losing him … you have to realize who he is.  He’s an oft-injured slugger who has no position on an NL team.  If we signed Morse, where exactly does he play?  I guess you could platoon him with LaRoche at first or with Span in the outfield … but as a righty he’d play bat twice a week.   I think Morse signs on as a DH with an AL team for surprisingly low money.  If Seattle offers him a Q.O. I’d be shocked.   Ladson doesn’t think he would have helped the team, nor does he see any way he gets signed.

 

Ask Boswell 7/1/13 Edition

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Desmond; trouble-maker Photo Drew Kinback/Natsnq.com

Ian Desmond; trouble-maker. Photo Drew Kinback/Natsnq.com

Another month, another .500 record for the Nats.  At the halfway point they’re 41-40, on pace for a fantastic 82-80 record.  Well, the Cardinals won the World Series a few years back making the post-season 83-79, so maybe all is not lost (sarcasm).  Though, the last couple days have seen unprecedented offensive output (they’ve scored 10+ runs twice in a row after only having done it once prior).

Bryce Harper is back after missing nearly 5 weeks of games (and hitting badly through another 4 weeks in May of them before that), and promptly hits a homer in his first AB off the D/L.   With Harper’s inclusion, we’ll finally see the “ideal offensive lineup” that I touched on last week.  On paper, a 2-7 of Werth-Harper-Zimmerman-LaRoche-Desmond-Rendon looks really, really good.

In this light, lets see what kind of baseball questions Tom Boswell took in his pre-holiday chat on 7/1/13.  As always, I’ll write my answer here before reading his to avoid bias and edit questions for clarity (since a lot of the “questions” he takes are rambling complaints about this or that).

Q: Are the Nationals as a team missing the “spark” they need to rally for the playoffs?

A: I’ve talked about the outflow of “chemistry” this team lost when Michael Morse was dealt before.  I’ve also speculated in this space before about whether or not this team has too many “uber serious” players.   In many ways winning consistently creates “chemistry” but I also think the reverse is true if you don’t have the right guys with leadership voices in the clubhouse.  Is the return of one hitter (albeit their best) going to change the tune for this team?  Boswell notes that the team faces a significant hole: 6.5 games in the division, 5.5 games just for the wild-card coin flip game.

Q: Thoughts on Taylor Jordan?  Does he get a 2nd Start?

A: See here for my post over the weekend on Taylor Jordan, and Yes he gets a 2nd start.  He only gave up one earned run.   Lets see what Boswell said: Boswell has a good point: he liked Jordan, thought he had potential .. but then noted that this team needs to go 50-31 to make the playoffs and you’re not going to go 50-31 with a rookie as your 5th starter.  

Q: With Werth appearing to be injured, do you see Davey moving Harper to right and Werth to left field?

A: Well, this is one of those “veteran manager” moves from Davey Johnson that gets me sometimes.   I believe that Jayson Werth is inarguably a lesser fielder than Harper (who would be playing center for nearly every other team in the league by virtue of his range and arm).  Harper’s arm is one of the best in the league.  He’s younger, faster and covers more ground (excellent range per UZR/150 numbers in center last year).  So why is Werth in right?  Because he’s the vet.  Harper won’t take over RF until Werth advances in age or gets a new manager who isn’t afraid to move him and his 9 figure salary to the position he should be in.  I disagree with Boswell’s opinion on this one; he thinks Werth is the more polished OF and that Harper got hurt playing RF.  As if he wouldn’t have run into a wall eventually playing elsewhere.

Q: Do we need alterations to the Balk rule?

A: At some level yes.  I think there’s a huge difference between some slight bobble in your motion and a blatant attempt to deceive the runner by “flinching” or doing a purposeful stop-start head motion.   Its the difference between inadvertant and purposeful deception.  And the embarassing umpire “Balking” Bob Davidson needs to be reigned in.  Plus, nearly every left-handed pitcher uses a “balk move” to first on a regular basis, almost never stepping directly at the bag.  And when was the last time you saw a right-hander get a balk call for throwing over to first while bending his right leg?  But, in the grand scheme of things I’m not sure the Balk rule is the great scourge of our modern game (see ball-strike zone consistency, instant replay, ongoing PED issues, and salary discrepancies making the league a group of haves and have-nots).  Boswell doesn’t understand the Balk but loves it.

Q: At what point do Zimmerman’s errors accelerate the conversation to move him to 1B?

A: We can start talk about moving Ryan Zimmerman the moment that Adam LaRoche‘s contract runs out.    Anthony Rendon can play 2B in the interim and eventually move back over to his natural position.  Before then?  Somebody would have to get seriously hurt or traded in order to make any modifications to our infield.   Boswell points something out I didn’t think about: Zimmerman is playing very shallow because his arm strength is shot … hence why he made those two errors in the saturday Jordan start.

Q: Should we look to trade for Nolasco?

A: I had to laugh; the questioner also asked if the Marlins would pick up his salary.  Haha.  Have you not see the M.O. for Jeffrey Loria by now?  Hoard every nickle in every deal.   That being said, I think we’d have the biggest chance of trading intra-division with Miami versus anyone else; they seem to be amenable to take back less in return for taking salary off their hands (see the Willingham/Olsen deal a while back).

A better question; should we be forcing a trade for pitching at all?  Even with the Dan Haren issues all year the team is 5th in the majors in ERA (10th in adjusted ERA+).   Of course, the four teams above us are all either divisional rivals or challengers for the wild card.   But the point is this: you need to fix what’s wrong, and the pitching overall isn’t what’s wrong.  Its offense.  Its bench production.  Its hitting.  Trade for something that helps fix the problem.  Boswell just talks about how we have enough money and how we shouldn’t give up any decent prospects.

Q: Is there a stat that shows how many a player’s errors relate directly to runs scored?

A: Unearned runs?  Except I’ve never seen someone directly tie the two together.  Therefore probably not, because this type of research likely will have a Sabre-tinged analyst immediately say, “I’m not doing that because Errors are not the best way to measure fielders.”  Then they’ll point at (in this case speaking of Zimmerman) his UZR/150 (an awful -20.2 for 2013 thus far), his Defensive Runs Saved (strikingly he’s actually cost the team 2 runs so far, projecting for a -4 rDRS for the year) or his Fielding Runs Above Average (FRAA) which measures out at 3.0 so far in 2013, slightly above average.   My narrative on Zimmerman’s steep decline this year in range and defensive metrics goes as follows: nursing leg injuries and forced to play further up, Zimmerman’s not making the plays he normally would, which is being reflected in his UZR decline.  Meanwhile FRAA correctly measures that he’s still a slightly above average fielder.  Boswell doesn’t know.

Q: With Harper coming back, I’m assuming that Rendon slides down to seventh. Is that the best place for him? Also, is he too good of a hitter to bat seventh? With Ramos coming back soon, does this make the Nats a much more dangerous offensive team?

A: I’m not so sure I’d move Rendon down; he’s the absolute prototypical #2 hitter.  He hits to all fields, he’s especially good at hitting to right, he’s got a .360 OBP, and is a great tablesetter for the 3-4-5 guys.  No, I think you move everyone else down a spot.   Of course, that being said, if you had a manager with any cajones, he’d move Werth to the #7 spot since everyone else in this equation is a better hitter right now.  But it won’t happen, so either Ian Desmond or Rendon likely moves to #7.

With Wilson Ramos back as I’ve noted in this space, yes this should finally let the Nats put out their best, strongest lineup.   Boswell says Werth bats #2, pointout his OBP is .330.  I’ll now point out that that OBP is 10% less than Rendon’s right now.  But I can’t argue with Boswell’s point that Rendon could use the pressure taken off of him … until you remember that Harper didn’t seem to have any issues batting #2 all year last year.   Update: Boswell called it right: Werth is batting #2 upon Harper’s return.

Q: Why would Davey claim the Lerners want him out?

A: That’s a reasonable conclusion from reading Mike Wise‘s article over the weekend.  He seems to intimate that the ownership group is frustrated with the team’s performance this year and puts some of it at Johson’s feet.  At least that’s the way Johnson interprets it.  Boswell has an interesting point; he says this is a young team and the owners want a manager who can be here for 5-10 years … Johnson is 70 and they don’t see him as the solution.

Q: Should Yasiel Puig be an all-star?

A: If it were me, absolutely yes I’d make Yasiel Puig an all-star, give him an at-bat later in the game.  He’s been electric, he’s been the best hitter in the league for half this season.  He’s still hitting .436 through 100 at bats!.  Having him at the game just makes it more of a fan draw.  Boswell thinks he’ll be a late injury replacement.  I hope so.

Q: Which team has more wins at the end of 162, O’s or Nats?

A: Easy; the Orioles.  They’ve already got a 10 game head start.  I don’t think the Nats are going to be 10 games better than Baltimore in the 2nd half.  Boswell punts.

Q: Did Desi violate the unwritten code yesterday by slamming a home run into the restaurant when the Mets had a position player on the mound?

A: No way.  Of all the unwritten rules out there, the one that is unassailable is that a batter gets a legitimate chance to get a good swing in at the plate no matter what the score.  There’s limits (you can’t swing out of your shoes on a 3-0 pitch when winning by 10 runs) but I don’t see how Desmond’s bomb counts.   Boswell says Desmond’s HBP earlier negates all rules.  Not sure I agree with that reasoning unless the HBP was in any way possible deliberate.  Later on another questioner notes that he thought the Desmond HBP was definitely deliberate; I turned the game off when the Nats knocked out Wheeler, figuring they had it sewn up, and didn’t see the fracas.

Q: Why haven’t media such as yourself chastised the Nats for the foolish contracts given to Werth (injury prone, strikeout prone, shaky defensively), Soriano (too much to pay a closer who is not automatic), and Haren? In Philadelphia, all three contracts would have been regarded as somewhere between bad and stupid.

A: Wow.  Well, not to re-hash the same reasoning we’ve had over-and-over about these guys, but here goes:

  • The Werth deal was an over-pay but also re-established Washington as a player in the FA market, reestablishing credibility that had been destroyed by years of Loria and MLB ownership incompetence.  Remember, the same off-season Carl Crawford signed for MORE money and has produced a total of 1.8 war in the last three seasons combined, yet we don’t hear as much about how “stupid” the Boston organization was for that signing.  Why does Boston get a pass but Washington doesn’t?
  • Rafael Soriano was a luxury item, but I’m not sure its fair to say he’s “not automatic.”  He’s blown 3 saves in 24 chances.  Jim Johnson leads the league in saves and he’s blown 5.  Craig Kimbrel has a 1.48 ERA and he’s blown three himself.  I have no problems with Soriano and his contract (other than my general stance against paying top dollars for closers in general … but it wasn’t my money).
  • Haren looked like a good signing at the time, was a good risk, and frankly there’s no such thing as a bad one year contract.  It wasn’t like we were the only people bidding on him; he was in demand.

Giving power hitters on the wrong side of 30 5 guaranteed years at $25M each?  Now that’s a “stupid” contract.    Boswell chastises the Philly fan for his media’s overreaction to anything, defending the moves as I have.

Ask Boswell; 12/17/12 Edition

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Is he staying or going? Photo: Rob Carr/Getty Images

Another Ask Boswell edition, dated 12/17/12.

As always, I type my response here before reading his answer (which sometimes leads to non-answers, since Tom Boswell sometimes doesn’t directly answer the same question i’m answering), and I sometimes edit questions for clarity.

Q: What is it going to take to settle this MASN Mess?

A: Probably a huge check to Peter Angelos to buy out his 90% stake in MASN.  But I like the approach baseball is taking; clearly Angelos has himself an incredibly one-sided deal, and clearly the whole “we’ll renegotiate in 5 years” turned out to be a gigantic mess.  Because its now drug on for more than a year with Angelos predicably low-balling the team while other teams out there get multiples of millions of dollars more per year than the Nationals are getting.  Wendy Thurm at fangraphs.com posted a great review of all 30 team’s RSN contracts.  For comparison purposes the next closest Market sizes to Washington (based on 2008 MSA) are Miami and Houston.  Miami gets $18M/year in a very bad deal, Washington is getting $29M/year, and Houston just negotiated a $80m/year deal.  Detroit, which is smaller still than Washington, is getting $40M/year in an old deal that expires in 2017, though they’re likely not to rise too much because of the economic conditions of their market.  What does all that mean?  Clearly Washington is no New York/Boston/Los Angeles, but clearly the team needs more than $29M.

I hope Fox Sports comes along, buys out Angelos and negotiates individual terms with the two franchises.  Will it happen?  Probably no, probably never.  Perhaps the solution will be a change of ownership in Baltimore, and Bud Selig (or whoever the commissioner is at the time) tacks on a clause of the switch to split off the RSN.  I could see that happening.

Boswell says it will take time, anger, and maybe even Selig imposing his whole “best interests of the game” clause.

Q: Who has the most frightening lineup in baseball ( Angels, Dodgers, or Blue Jays)?

A: Hmm.  The Angels now feature no less than SIX guys who have hit 30 homers in a season; Trout, Pujols, Trumbo, Hamilton, Morales and Wells.   That’s some incredible offense (even if Vernon Wells‘ time is past).   The Yankees and the Rangers were 1-2 in Runs Scored, Slugging and OPS in 2012 but both will be weakened by injuries and FA defections in 2013.  The Dodgers lineup “seems” potent, but includes a significant number of question marks.  If everyone plays to their potential, then yes the Dodgers could be fearsome.  But its more likely that  Crawford struggles and that Adrian Gonzalez continues to appear as if his best days are past.  Lastly Toronto may have a great middle of the order but they can’t match the Angels for up-and-down the lineup power.   The additions of Jose Reyes and Melky Cabrera aren’t going to help them catch the Angels.  Boswell says Toronto is best.

Q: With Hamilton->Los Angeles, are the odds of LaRoche leaving higher?

A: I think the ongoing stalemate over contract length plus Texas suddenly being majorly in the market for a middle-of-the-order lefty bat to replace Hamilton should have Nats fans worried (or rejoicing, depending on your viewpoint) that Adam LaRoche may be plying his trade in Dallas the next few years.   I would not be surprised to see LaRoche sign a 3 year deal in Texas right now.  Is that the end of the world for the Nats?  No … I think the team will do just fine with Michael Morse playing first and Tyler Moore getting backup reps in LF and at First.  Others have pointed out that Morse’s lefty/right splits are nearly identical and it doesn’t matter that we wouldn’t have another lefty in the lineup.  And (not that the average fan cares about this point) it would save a bit on payroll, perhaps allowing the team to augment/buy something they may need at the trade deadline.

Q: With all the FA stars seemingly ending up in the AL, are the Nats better just by attrition?

A: A fair point.  But the NL Dodgers have certainly bought their fair share of talent too.  As a Nats fan, you have to be happy about the decline of our divisional rivals in the past few months: Marlins fire-sale, Mets basically turning into a mid-market team (and traded away their Ace in RA Dickey this week), and the Phillies making one curious acquisition (Michael Young) after another (Ben Revere).  Washington has improved this off-season, and if they can stave off the injury bug that hit the offense last season they could improve on 98 wins in 2013.   But I also think St. Louis will be just as good, I think Cincinnati has improved, and of course the Dodgers could be scary if all their talent comes together.  Boswell thinks so, but also has stated before that the WS now goes through Los Angeles.

Q: Is there something amiss in the MASN contract legally, since Angelos has not accepted what should have been stipulated in the contract?

A: It sure seems so.  Ever since Angelos got the team, his legal background seems to have Selig spooked.  I wonder if this is why Selig has not pressed more for a solution to this situation.  Boswell thinks that the search for a MASN buyer could be indicative of a permanent stalemate in the contract talks.

Q: Will Philadelphia fans forgive Lannan for breaking Utley’s hand?  Should the Nats batters be worried when he returns?

A: Yes the Philadelphia fans will forgive and forget; remember, most fans just root for the laundry.  Whoever is wearing the jersey is a friend, everyone else is foe.  I don’t think our batters should be too worried; I’m sure they look forward to facing John Lannan.  He’s not exactly the second coming of Cy Young after all.  Boswell says that Chase Utley brings the HBP on himself by virtue of his hitting too close to the plate.

Q: You’re Mike Rizzo: Do you have another big move up your sleeve, either a trade of a FA signing? Or are you satisfied with what you’ve got, and standing pat?

A: I don’t think the team has any more major moves; Mike Rizzo left the winter meetings early because his work was done.  I can see a couple of players getting moved for prospect depth, and perhaps an under-the-radar signing for a right handed reliever to compete for a spot in spring training (ala Brad Lidge last year), but that’s it.  This team is who it is right now.  Well, once the LaRoche situation is resolved anyway.  Boswell agrees.

Q: Who you got for more wins this year, Angels or Dodgers?

A: Dodgers.  Easier division, more talent added.  The Angels have to deal with both Oakland and Texas, and look to have a significantly worse rotation so far in 2013.  The Angels can’t improve much from 89 wins, but the Dodgers can definitely improve on 86 wins.  Boswell didn’t really answer; he says both make the playoffs but neither makes the WS.

Q: Was it the # of Years that convinced Hamilton to go to Los Angeles?

A: I think it was partly a sense that Josh Hamilton felt he wasn’t wanted in Texas, and then mostly from there the right destination in terms of team and guaranteed dollars.  Some cynics out there in the baseball world say that the team doesn’t matter; that players only follow the money.  I don’t believe that necessarily.  Money issues equal, If you had to choose between a franchise on the brink of the playoffs, in a warm-weather city like Los Angeles versus a team that hasn’t contended in years in a crummy weather city (thinking Seattle, another rumored destination), where would you choose?  Boswell says Hamilton isn’t worth 5 years but didn’t answer this part of the question otherwise.

Did the Nats call up the wrong OF?

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Harper knows he's ready; is the Media? Photo GQ magazine Mar 2012

As the rest of the free world now knows, Bryce Harper has gotten called up to give the incredibly weakened Nats lineup some potential offense.  Sometimes moves can be planned and orchestrated (such as keeping Stephen Strasburg in the minors in 2010 past the super-2 deadline), and sometimes your hand is called.  With Michael Morse out indefinitely, and with the most fragile $100m player this side of Carl Crawford (aka, F.O.T.F. Ryan Zimmerman) heading to the DL yet again, this team suddenly is without 55-60 homers and 200 RBIs in the middle of its order.

So, we’ll roll the dice with the 19-yr old Harper.

But, should the team really have called up a much more mature, much more MLB-ready member of the Syracuse Chiefs?  A guy who is currently putting up this line in AAA: .278/.354/.556 with 6 homers in 20 games?  A guy who has hit 30+ homers in two successive seasons, at two successive levels of the minors and is currently on a pace for more than 40 in AAA?  Yes I’m talking about Tyler Moore, a 16th round draft pick who has come out of nowhere to become (arguably) this team’s 3rd best hitting prospect in the minors today.

Yes, I know he’s a 1B primarily, and he’s just started taking reps in LF.  But after watching Xavier Nady lumber towards balls in LF and watching Mark DeRosa turn routine RF fly balls into adventures, how much worse could it be to stick him out there instead and juggle Harper with Werth and Ankiel in CF and RF (matchup dependent)?  Scouts and pundits have routinely discounted Moore’s abilities, and Mike Rizzo‘s scouting trip last week apparently made his mind up for him, so perhaps there’s a method to his madness.  Maybe Moore really isn’t an OF option despite his LF experiments.  We’re not watching him game in and game out, just typing out blog posts from our dining room table.

Either way, the Nats should get at least a more competent batter in the line-up.  If Harper comes up and starts blasting the ball all the better.

Boswell Chat 10/3/11: My answers to his Baseball questions

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The Nats season may be over, and the Redskins may be 3-1 (thus implying that 98% of local sports radio be devoted to the minutae of the team), but i’m hoping Tom Boswell takes some baseball questions still during his normal monday morning chat.

Questions are edited for clarity and space, and I write my answer before reading Boswell’s.  We’ll only address baseball-related questions.

Q: Was the last day of the 2011 baseball season the greatest day in baseball history?

A: Well, considering that baseball’s been played for 150+ years, and we’ve only lived to see and judge 25-30 years of it, and we’ve only had baseball readily available on TV to the extent where we could truly appreciate a night like what happened … its tough to say its the best ever.  Yes absolutely though it was the best in recent memory.  Boswell agrees.

Q: Thoughts on the Red Sox’s parting ways with Franconia and possibly Epstein?

A: The Red Sox spent an awful lot of money … and ended up with an awful lot of injuries to those well-paid players, especially in the rotation.  In September they were basically without 3/5ths at one point of the opening day roster.  No team can survive that, especially one that has traded so many of its prospects lately to acquire the hitting talent it has.  Terry Franconia has been there a while and, while its probably not his fault the team plummeted as it did, he’ll take the fall.  Theo Epstein: I’d think he’d want to stay and try to get one more WS win out of this team.  Unfortunately it probably isn’t happening any time soon: his team still has a bunch of under-performers under contract for 2012 and looks to be stuck with a bloated payroll without many impact players, again.  Boswell thinks Franconia got the short end of the stick, and that any firing of Epstein would be a major over-reaction.  Agreed.

Q: Did the Orioles “over-celebrate” by beating the Red Sox on the last day?

A: Maybe so.  But its hard to fault the team for playing and winning a playoff-caliber game.  Boswell didn’t answer this part, but did talk about Matt Moore and how good he’s looked.  Moore was the subject of an analysis post I did over the weekend.  He looked fantastic and could be a secret weapon for Tampa Bay this playoffs.

Q: Will the Red Sox find someone to manage their club as good as Franconia?

A: Probably not; there’s a ton of good candidates out there but in all likelihood we won’t see a major discipline guy taking over.  Odds are that we’ll see a bench coach or someone within the organization.  Boswell says if Valentine goes, expect even more drama.

Q: (Great Question): should a team’s success factor into the Cy Young and MVP voting?

A: Cy Young: no.  It shouldn’t matter how the team does.  If a guy is the best pitcher in the league, he’s the best pitcher.  Yes “Wins” are a flawed statistic, giving credit to a pitcher for only half the battle in winning a ball game.  But mostly pitching is an individual, mano-y-mano embarkment.   MVP?  Yes I believe the team’s position in the standings has an effect.  Simple question; how can you be the Most Valuable Player in the league for a team that is 20 games under .500?  I just don’t think you can be.  If you’re not leading a team to the playoffs, or playing meaningful games 100% of the time, then it doesn’t matter how valuable you are to your own team, let alone the rest of the league.  Boswell posits an argument i’ve never heard; batters get 650-700 plate appearances but starting pitchers face > 1000 batters.  Good argument; still not enough to get me to consider pitchers for MVP awards.

Q: How did a supposedly great analysis team like the Red Sox err so badly in the Carl Crawford contract?

A: Carl Crawford was a nice player in Tampa, but it was always going to be a risk putting someone who wasn’t used to the pressure cooker of baseball in Boston or New York who wasn’t used to it.  The Red Sox vastly overpaid for Crawford, feeling as if they had to pay him more than the Jayson Werth contract, and they ended up with a lesser player.  Boswell points out some interesting observations; Crawford’s power is to right, he never pulls the ball and his asset in defense is speed.  All three of those points are completely negated by playing in Fenway.  Could get ugly in Boston.

Q: When are the Nats going to re-sign Ryan Zimmerman?

A: I’d guess after NEXT season.  Despite the supposed pressure to get him re-upped on a big contract, he already IS on a big contract.  And that contract runs through 2013.  So he’s still got two years on it, so no point in talking about it or worrying about it.   Boswell says the team should push this, but guesses Zimmerman waits until he has a good start to 2012 to negotiate from strength, not from the weakness following a sub-par year as he had in 2011.

Q: Did Davey Johnson have a bad road split?  Is he going to be the 2012 manager?

A: Just did some quick analysis: the team had 38 road games after Johnson took over and went 18-20 in them.  That’s actually better than their overall 36-45 record on the road all season.  I don’t know why there’s stories about a manager search; why wouldn’t he come back to manage in 2012?  Boswell notes he went 40-40 after the initial 3-game series loss to the Angels.

Q: Thoughts on Jose Reyes’ sitting down to protect his average?

A: Bush league.  Ted Williams, he is not.  If your manager takes you out to give the home crowd a chance to give you one last cheer, that’s acceptable.  To ask out of a game after bunting for a hit is akin to an NBA player purposely missing a shot to get an extra rebound so as to get a triple-double.  Boswell agrees.

Q: Do the Nats need to get a high priced FA starting pitcher?

A: Well.  Lets answer the question this way.  Yes, they need another FA pitcher, but there’s not one available this year that will be worth the money.  This season’s crop of FA starters is weak and the two big money teams both desperately need starting pitching and will be driving prices WAY up on guys like CJ Wilson and Edwin Jackson, far over what they’re worth.  I think the team needs to stay out of these feeding frenzies.  2013′s crop is far better, and we also have enough pitching depth to possibly work a trade.  Boswell says its a tough call then reminds everyone we went after Greinke hard and couldn’t believe the deal was turned down.

Q: What do the Nats do with the leadoff position for 2012?

A: Amazingly, they go into this off-season with pretty much the same issue they had LAST off season.  They need a reliable lead-off hitter, and they need a reliable center fielder.  They’d love to get one guy who can do both jobs.  Personally, I think a trade is happening this off season, with the team going after BJ Upton again, pitching Tampa Bay to save the $6-$7M they’re going to have to pay him in his last arbitration year.  There’s a couple of FA center fielders of note, but they’re under performers or injury risks (David DeJesus, Grady Sizemore being the two names i’d think about).  Might as well roll the dice with one more year of Rick Ankiel. Boswell notes that Goodwin and Rendon could be hitting 1-2 in a couple years.  Not exactly the question that was asked.

Q: Have the Nats considered moving Desmond to CF, and sliding Espinosa to SS and playing Lombardozzi at 2B?

A: Hmmmm.  I havn’t seen this particular formation postulated.  I’d say this is a no-go because Lombardozzi looked 110% overmatched in his September call-up and may have a ceiling of utility guy.   But its an interesting question.  What about Lombardozzi in center?  The question is; can he hit leadoff?  Boswell doesn’t think Desmond can ever be a good enough leadoff hitter.

Q: Do the Nats make a run at Terry Franconia?

A: No way.  Johnson is just as good a manager.  You stick with what you have.  Boswell agrees.

Q: Is CJ Wilson worth giving up our first round pick in free agency?  What about Pujols or Fielder?

A: Yes …. but he’s not going to be worth the sky-high salary that he’ll be offered by the Yankees to come in and help restore their pitching staff.  Both Pujols/Fielder would be great in the short term but would likely be albatross contracts before they’re said and done (as A-Rod’s already looks, and as Ryan Howards looks like it will be).  Boswell says he likes our current arms more than Wilson, and says Morse at $4M is better value than Pujols at $25M.  True.

Q:  What do you make of the way the Nats finished the season?

A: Very promising … with some caution.  Beware September success, since your young guys often times are playing other team’s younger guys.   The only meaningful games we really played in September were against teams in playoff races (Atlanta).  I will say that the big take away from this finish was just how poorly the team fared by giving starts to Livan Hernandez and Jason Marquis.  Once those guys were removed from the rotation and replaced with our upper end prospects, the team won and won frequently.  Boswell agrees, pointing out that this team got to 80 wins, only one of which was by Strasburg!

Q: Were the 80 wins ahead of your expectations?

A: Absolutely.  I can’t find any proof of this, but I think 72-75 wins was considered a great goal for 2011.  80 wins, a 10 game improvement over 2010 (itself a 10 game improvement over 2009) is a huge win for this team.  Another 10-game improvement suddenly puts this team squarely into Wild Card competition, and another 10-game improvement in 2013 puts us as World Series contenders.  I think this is a great path and a great goal.    Boswell predicted 72 at start, bumped to 77 mid-season.

Q: What does the Nats focus on in the offseason? SP or CF/Leadoff guy?

A: I always classify off-season priorities as follows: Fantasy, Reality and Less Likely.  I’ll post a more detailed post about this after the WS is over, but Fantasy for me is Pujols or a frontline Starter, Reality includes attempting to find a center fielder and then filling in some holes in the bullpen and on the bench.  Boswell didn’t address.

Q: Who do you think is on the trading block for the Nats? Lannan has been getting a lot of play lately? Would BJ Upton be the best option for us?

A: The Nats clearly have pitching depth, and have more major league ready starters than they have spots for.  Lannan is an underrated starter and could be a good #3 or #4 starter for a contender.  Problem is, the Rays have zero need for a starter like John Lannan and it would probably cost the Nats a much better prospect to pry loose someone like BJ Upton.  I’d like to have Upton but don’t want to burn a high-end prospect like Norris or Rendon to get him.  Boswell correctly points out that Lannan is undervalued by other teams besides us, who don’t see his improvements and every day accomplishments.  Upton is a wild card for sure.

Q: Could the Nats go after an “Impact” bat, like Michael Cuddyer?

A:  Cuddyer isn’t really an impact bat in the same vein as Pujols or Fielder.  I don’t see a spot for Cuddyer, who can play a bunch of positions but everything he can play is a position we’re ably filling right now (RF, 2B, 3B, 1B).   Boswell thinks our hitters are scheduled for a rebound.

Q: Are the Phillies vulnerable?  Can the Brewers make a run?

A: Phillies don’t *seem* vulnerable, not with 3 shutdown arms and a 4th who would be most team’s best hurler.  The Brewers look like they could go far, with a good balance of pitching and hitting.  Boswell says that the Card’s 3 potent hitters could make things dicey for Philly.

Q: What is the best WS match up for TV?  What’s the best matchup for the true fan?

A: TV: the two biggest markest clearly (NYY vs Philly).   For the fans?  It’d be nice to see two long-suffering franchises go at it (Detroit-Milwaukee).  I’d like to see big money versus little money (Philly-Tampa), which would also match the two best pitching staffs.  For offense-minded teams it’d probably be Texas (or NY) versus St. Louis.  NYY-St. Louis is great for traditionalists; these are the two teams with the most WS victories.  Boswell likes it when non-traditional powers get into the series.

Wow, that was a lot of baseball talk.

Rizzo’s off-season todo list: where do we stand?

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Mike Rizzo answering the latest question about where the money is coming from for the Werth contract. Photo: centerfieldgate.com

Each year heading into the off-season, I make up a transactional “to-do” list for the team (as if I were the GM).  Essentially you look at the roster and kind of work backwards.  Based on the way things looked at the end of 2010, the Nationals seemed set on:

  • C (Pudge, Ramos)
  • most of the infield: 2b (Espinosa), SS (Desmond), 3B (Zimmerman)
  • LF (Willingham)
  • 3-4 starters (Lannan, Marquis, LHernandez, Zimmermann), and
  • several relievers (Clippard, Burnett, Storen)

So, given this, here’s what I listed as off season priorities and where we stand post the Winter Meetings (and counting all the rumors and scuttlebutt we’ve been hearing):

Fantasy

  • Power hitting reliable RF
  • Top-of-the-rotation Starting Pitcher
  • Better Centerfielder/Leadoff Hitter

1. In what was easily the most surprising move this team has done since relocating from Montreal, we acquired a front-line marquee FA in Jayson Werth, satisfying the “power hitting RF” fantasy requirement.  Yes there are concerns about the contract’s length and value, but hey, we’re a better team for getting him.

2. Rizzo has definitely made mention of wanting to acquire a “top of the rotation” starter but they are hard to come by this off season.  Cliff Lee is the target, and from there the list dwindled quickly to include guys who were middle of the road veterans with question marks (Vazquez, Pavano), FA starters that weren’t exactly planning on going anywhere (Lilly, Kuroda, de La Rosa, Arroyo, Garland, Padilla) and incredibly risky alternatives (Webb, Darvish, Francis).

3. Lastly, despite my desire to upgrade from Nyjer Morgan in center and leadoff (for reasons that include discipline, chemistry and performance), Rizzo seems set on the guy for the time being.  I would not be surprised to see no more movement in this area.  I advocated trading Willingham to Boston for possible spare-part outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury in a previous post, but despite Willingham’s offensive capabilities Boston may also value defense and may not really be interested in acquiring more bats this off season.

Reality

  • First Baseman
  • 1-2 Veteran FA pitchers
  • Utility Middle Infielder

1. Acquiring a first baseman included the possibility of re-signing Adam Dunn, despite all indications that it was never to happen.  Rizzo clearly will take less power for more defense at first, and we seem destined to sign Adam LaRoche (after missing out on Carlos Pena, the player I was absolutely sure we’d get).  Frankly, for my money I’d rather have LaRoche.  He’ll sign a 2 year deal for less than any of Dunn, Pena, Konerko or Huff would have signed for, he hits for power and he is a plus defender.  I think he’s perfect until we figure out if Chris Marrero or someone even more remote (like high-A stud hitter and Nats minor leaguer of the year in 2010 Tyler Moore) becomes a possibility.  A final thought; I do NOT want to be left with Derrek Lee as the solution.  He’s a right handed hitter on a team that is now full of them.  Zimmerman, Willingham, Werth all righties; we need a lefty slugger to break up the middle of our batting order.

2. I still see the acquisition of one or two veteran FA pitchers on the horizon.  I can see us (unless someone foolishly offers him $10M) signing Brandon Webb on a one year flier.  I can see us re-signing Wang to a minor league deal with an invite to spring training.

3. The backup middle infielder is a lower priority but still important.  If Desmond/Espinosa are holding down the starting spots and Alberto Gonzalez is begrudingly serving as the primary glove-man backup, we still need a second player that can do middle infield.  Willie Harris has been that player but he really tailed off last season.  Adam Kennedy served as the backup for the right side of the infield but he clearly wants to start.  I was lobbying for Pete Orr as a nice cheap candidate; he had always produced for us when called up, could play 2nd, 3rd or even outfield.  But he signed elsewhere as a minor league FA.  Perhaps the answer is a prospect to be named (Lombardozzi?) or a FA signing.  I like David Eckstein to team him up with his hitting-coach brother but he probably wants a starting job too.  And Eckstein wouldn’t make sense unless we traded one of Desmond/Espinosa (still a possibility; see later).

Less Likely

  • FA Closer
  • Trade for a Veteran pitcher
  • 1 veteran bullpen presence

1. There are a couple closer-types on the FA market and I can now see the Nats picking one up ala their deal with Matt Capps to cover for Storen as he grows into the spot.  Jenks, Dotel,Gregg, Hoffman, Soriano, Wood all available (Soriano a type-A though, so we wont’ get him).  I think this would make for a good piece of business and could serve as a useful trade chip mid season.

2. I can see us working out a trade with Tampa Bay to acquire Matt Garza.  Tampa wants to get rid of payroll, not add it, but perhaps we can pre-arrange a one-year deal with Willingham and flip him to Tampa.  Washington could eat some of the salary and Willingham would slot nicely into the left field spot recently vacated by Carl Crawford.  Tampa may like this deal since Willingham projects to be a type-A free agent and would net them 2 picks when he leaves (you have to think Willingham wants to get at least a 3-year deal when he hits the FA market based on his age and his proclivities for injuries).  Of course, getting rid of Willingham also puts a hole into OUR lineup, one that looks pretty promising when we get a power hitting lefty first baseman.  And we certainly would like to get some compensation picks to continue to rebuild the farm system.  More likely Tampa would ask for someone like Desmond, which would be a tough trade to swallow for a team that hasn’t really developed that many marquee players in the last 5 years.  We could trade Desmond, acquire Garza, move Espinosa to short (where he’s a better fielder anyway) then sign a short term 2nd baseman like David Eckstein or Orlando Hudson until one of our high-end 2nd base prospects (Lobardozzi, Rick Hague or Jeff Kobernus) is ready to go.

3. Lastly, with not one but TWO arms picked up in the rule5 draft, the likelihood of us acquiring any veteran bullpen arms seems nil.  Perhaps we re-sign Peralta as a long man, but we have plenty of cover there in Balester and Stammen.  We have all the arms we could want coming up (Kimball, Carr, Wilkie all project as mid-bullpen arms, and the AA team is filled with good arms with no place to move up to with so many AAA starters on the 40-man) and we have three great live arms in Storen, Clippard and Burnett already in place.

It has been a pretty fun offseason to track thus far for Nats fans.  I can’t wait to see what happens next.

Nats should trade for Jacoby Ellsbury

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Rizzo; go get this guy! Photo Bosoxinjection.com

The Red Sox’s signing of Carl Crawford to a 7yr, $142M contract (a contract undoubtedly pushed skyward by the Nats Jayson Werth deal a few days earlier)  makes for a rather imposing possible Red Sox Lineup in 2011.  Here’s a probable opening day lineup:

  1. 2B Dustin Pedroia (R)
  2. LF Carl Crawford (L)
  3. 1B Adrian Gonzalez (L)
  4. 3B Kevin Youkilis (R)
  5. DH David Ortiz (L)
  6. RF J.D. Drew (L)
  7. SS Marco Scutaro (R)
  8. C Jarrod Saltalamacchia (S)
  9. CF Jacoby Ellsbury (L)

Now, one thing is immediately apparent with this lineup.  They are incredibly lefty-heavy through the heart of their order.  And in a division with CC Sabathia, probably Andy Pettitte and potentially Cliff Lee on their main competitor, this could be rather bad during key divisional games.

Clearly the Red Sox need to get some righty help in the heart of their lineup.  Enter Josh Willingham.

Trade Proposal: The Nats trade Willingham and a decent prospect (perhaps one of our AA pitchers) to the Red Sox for Jacoby Ellsbury.  Crawford slides over to center for Boston, Willingham plays left, and you have Mike Cameron as your late inning defensive replacement outfielder.

Ellsbury is exactly what the Nats need; leadoff center fielder who shows more promise and more self control than our current leadoff/CF Nyjer Morgan.  He lost most of 2010 to injury but in 2009 lead the league in stolen bases and would give us good defense in center per his uzr/150 rankings.  He’s cost contained (not yet arbitration eligible) and we’d control him for at least 3 more years.

Willingham’s approach at the plate fits the Sabremetric-thinking Red Sox; he has a high OBP, sees a lot of pitches and puts up a good OPS when healthy.  He is defensively challenged but left field at Fenway might be the best place in all of baseball to “hide” a crummy defender.  He’d give the Red Sox a righty presence in the middle of the lineup and replace a 9th place hitter with a middle of the order hitter.  He’s in the last year of arbitration but still projects to be relatively cheap (by Boston’s standards), probably earning around $6M/year.  He clearly wants to set down roots and could be a nice 3 or 4-year signing in Boston.

With Willingham, here’s a Potential Boston lineup:

  1. 2B Dustin Pedroia (R)
  2. CF Carl Crawford (L)
  3. 3B Kevin Youkilis (R)
  4. 1B Adrian Gonzalez (L)
  5. LF Josh Willingham (R)
  6. DH David Ortiz (L)
  7. RF J.D. Drew (L)
  8. SS Marco Scutaro (R)
  9. C Jarrod Saltalamacchia (S)

Now they go R-L alternatively for the first 6 hitters, and if Saltamacchia catches or if Varitek gets some ABs they both switch hit and could slot above Scutaro to give even more flexibility.

Who says no first?