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Do I have to write an Alex Rodriguez opinion piece?

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All A-Rod, all the time.  Photo John Munson/The Star-Ledger via nj.com

All A-Rod, all the time. Photo John Munson/The Star-Ledger via nj.com

I’ve got Alex Rodriguez over-load.

Here’s links that summarize the past week’s rumors and activities in the A-Rod case: first he was going to get banned for life, then we were down to MLB “seeking” to ban him for life, then MLB and A-Rod were negotiating a suspension, then he faced a minimum 214-game suspension, then officially it was a 211-game ban, which of course he immediately appealed.

So, what do I think of all of this?

Honestly, I’m happy A-rod is fighting this.   You know why?   Because I want to see exactly what evidence MLB has here.  MLB basically went out and BOUGHT this evidence, they went out of their way to pursue via a sketchy legal strategy the Biogenesis guys in order to get evidence with which to pursue these players.  Something about that just doesn’t sound kosher to me.  Clearly the evidence is compelling (why else would have Ryan Braun and the 12 other players just rolled over and accepted their suspensions?) .. but its all secret right now.  I hope A-Rod forces discovery and forces this evidence and all the mechanisms that went into procuring it to the light.

If he (or any of these other 12 players who just accepted suspensions) used the substances, where’s the proof?  Are there positive tests?   Why is it “bad” for A-Rod to attempt to cover things up but its “ok” for MLB to pay to “uncover” the evidence?

I mean, don’t get me wrong,  I’m certainly not excusing A-rod here, nor do I think he’s clean.  But something is just not right about the lengths to which MLB is going after the guy.  There’s a CBA in place with pre-agreed upon punishment for PED violations; 50 games for one positive test, 100 games for two.   How does MLB arrive at exactly “211” games?  Where is that number in the CBA?  Plus there’s this: so far we have ZERO positive tests for any of these guys, and they all seem to be just taking well timed suspensions so as to either a) be able to get back for the playoffs or b) not extend into 2014 if possible so their free agency market isn’t impacted.

Initially he was to be “banned for life.”  For what??  Pete Rose gambled on the outcome of games in which he was a participant.  Members of the 1919 Chicago White Sox fixed and threw games to for profit.  Those are “ban for life” types of offenses.  Steve Howe‘s “lifetime ban” only followed SEVEN different suspensions, all for known test failures, and even that “lifetime ban” was rescinded.  How is whatever A-Rod could have possibly done here on the same level as these situations?  Doesn’t this seem like MLB and Bud Selig in particular are specifically going after Alex Rodriguez?

I dunno.  Maybe its because I detest Selig and everything he and his cronies do to the sport I love.  Maybe its because I detest how Baseball operates with its little backroom deals and constant deceptions about finances and player movement.  Maybe its this ridiculous anti-trust exemption that has outlived its legal usefulness for about 50 years yet continues to protect the interests of multi-millionare team owners.

I’m entirely convinced Selig is colluding as we speak with the Yankees owners to ban A-Rod.  I’m entirely convinced Selig coordinated league wide collusion to get Barry Bonds out of the game (Bonds had a 169 OPS+ in his final season; you mean to tell me there was NO team that could have used his bat, even on a free agency flier?  B.S.)  Selig enabled a huckster in Frank McCourt to run the Dodgers into the ground and still profit by hundreds of millions of dollars.  Selig enabled Jeffrey Loria to destroy a baseball market inside of 2 years, and this after Selig gifted the Florida franchise to Loria and allowed him to pillage the Montreal franchise on the way out.   Selig continues to inexplicably force the Oakland A’s to play in an awful stadium in order to protect San Jose “territory rights” that Oakland themselves GAVE to San Francisco years ago.  And it was Selig who gave this sweetheart/ridiculously short sighted MASN TV deal to placate Peter Angelos which is now, in a completely predictable turn of events, locked in a stalemate with the two sides $100M off.  Baseball teams cry about poverty but privately make tens of millions of dollars on the backs of tax payers in publicly funded stadiums.  It is entirely slimy and reprehensible.

Slimy and reprehensible.  Just like A-Rod, in all likelihood.

Maybe I shouldn’t care at all; two sides, each slimier than the next, duking it out to preserve, what exactly?  A-Rod’s incredibly over-paid salary?  A-rod’s “place” in the history of the sport, long since destroyed along with every other hall-of-fame calibre player form the last 30 years?  The sanctity of the game, long since lost at the altar of home runs in the late 90s and early 2000s?  Or is it the zealotry of a manipulative commissioner who works at the behest of and makes decisions driven by cheapskate-but-millionare owners trying to save a buck or two while trying to save themselves from themselves?

A bit cynical, I am about this.

 

Written by Todd Boss

August 7th, 2013 at 6:50 am

Ask Boswell 4/29/13 edition

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Loved Zimmermann’s 1-hitter last week. Photo AP/Manuel Balce Ceneta

We havn’t done an Ask Tom Boswell chat response in a while; I started one from last week’s chat but ended up deleting it.  Nothing really to add to what Boswell was responding.

Here’s the 4/29/13 edition, after an up and down week with the Nats; getting swept by St. Louis and then taking three of four from Cincinnati behind some of the best starting pitching we’ve seen in a while.

As always, I’ll write a response here before reading Boswell’s, and will edit questions for clarity.

Q: Did Strasburg learn anything from watching Gio’s and JZimm’s efficient starts against the Reds?

A: We talked a bit about Stephen Strasburg‘s issues last week in this space.  I’m not sure what he could have learned from Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmermann‘s consecutive 1-hit outings that he didn’t already know; get ahead of hitters, throw first-pitch strikes, use your whole arsenal.  Cincinnati is a good hitting team, but Atlanta is better.  At least we have the distinct pitching matchup advantage in game one (when the struggling Julio Teheran goes for Atlanta).  Boswell repeats both my points here; first pitch strikes and a favorable Teheran matchup.

Q: Why is blocking the plate by the Catcher now suddenly such an issue?

A: I think it starts with the horrible injury suffered by Buster Posey; a needless debilitating injury that took out an MVP candidate and cost him a year off his career.  Locally, we all remember Chase  Utley‘s cheap shot on Jesus Flores, which essentially cost him two years and a job in the majors.  And I think it is the general climate in sports today to try to avoid concussive injuries at all costs in the wake of the very scary CTE studies that are out there and may change the very fabric of Football as we know it.  Every time there’s another injury, another collision the drumbeat gets louder.  Just because catcher collisions have always been a part of the game doesn’t mean they’re right.  I’m in favor of eliminating the play, and If I was a MLB manager i’d advise my catchers to give the runner half the plate and try to avoid injury.   Boswell agrees.

Q: Why isn’t Solano catching any games?

A: Two reasons: Kurt Suzuki by virtue of the off/on schedule with Wilson Ramos for the first couple of weeks is relatively rested and can catch 6 straight days.  The other?  Jhonatan Solano just isn’t as good of an offensive option, and with the whole team struggling at the plate why put a guy in who is clearly overmatched?  The guy only has about 100ABs above AA after all.  Boswell says the last thing you should do when struggling is bench a veteran for a rookie, especially at catcher.  Ramos returns from the DL tonight so its a moot point.

Q: If you were betting on a team to win the next World Championship in DC who would be that team?

A: You have to think its the Nats right?  Redskins are lookup up with RGIII but aren’t a complete team yet and may be a couple years off (and no more salary cap penalties) from putting together a SB team.  The Wizards may not be relevant for another decade.  The Caps are hot and may go for a decent run in the NHL playoffs, but those series are such coin flips that if they couldn’t win when they were the league’s best regular season team, its hard to see why they’d win now.  Lastly DC United is just getting back to some respectability after years of decline, but winning an MLS title over some of the powerhouses in the league is a tall order.  Boswell says Nats, Caps, Skins.  Doesn’t even mention the other two franchises :-)

Q: Any chance Bud steps in ala with the Dodgers and Frank McCourt and forces Loria’s to sell the team?

A: I think there’s a chance, but something “illegal” would have to happen.  Selig was able to force McCourt to sell when the league was being embarassed and the team was clearly suffering financially because of mis-management.  Selig has allowed Loria to already do several unsavory things to fan bases in both Montreal and Miami, so its hard to see what else could happen.  However, if this supposed SEC investigation finds real evidence of fraud and the team is sued, I can see Selig stepping in and forcing Loria out.  Boswell doesn’t really answer the question.

Q: When he gets sent down next week, would you be surprised if he played second base exclusively given that Espinosa is now struggling with the bat and glove?

A: Anthony Rendon was ALREADY playing multiple positions in the minors this season, starting mostly at 3B but also getting a few games at 2B and at least one at SS.   But I don’t think Rendon would be Danny Espinosa‘s replacement; Steve Lombardozzi would be.  If Espinosa were to be sent to the DL, Lombardozzi starts and then Rendon probably gets called back up to provide some infield cover.  Boswell thinks Rendon could make the transition, but needs more minor league time.  He also talks a lot about Espinosa vs Lombardozzi and (in my opinion) overrates the defensive value of Espinosa a bit.  In the age of rising strikeouts, it isn’t as important to have Gold Glove calibre fielders everywhere.  This is just a partial answer that may need eventual expansion in a blog post of its own.

Q: Mr. Boswell, why did Davey insert Rendon instead of Lombardozzi (following Ryan’s injury) into the lineup and why did he not allow Tyler Moore to start Sunday with Cingrani on the bump?

A: Good questions, both.  I think the team likes Rendon’s defense at 3B more than Lombardozzi or Chad Tracy, so that makes sense at least against lefties.  Why didn’t Tyler Moore play against the tough lefty Tony Cingrani?  I do not know.  You could see Adam LaRoche‘s o-fer a mile away going against the second coming of Randy Johnson (Cingrani’s now has 37 Ks in 23 MLB innings).  Perhaps veteran preference/veteran blind spot on the part of Davey Johnson?  Boswell agrees at least with the LaRoche assessment.

Q: Have the Nats have over-managed Strasburg (in terms of pitch counts, innings limits and pitching to contact) since his injury and gotten into his head?

A: I don’t see Strasburg’s issues being a result of lack of confidence.  If that was the case we’d be seeing 3ip-8 run explosions, not “first inning bad then lights out for the next 6 innings” outings.  Have the Nats over-managed him?  Perhaps; we know Strasburg didn’t like the 2012 shutdown but I supported it (as did the surgeon who performed the damn operation, nobody ever remembers).  I think Strasburg also understands the value of getting hitters to hit your pitch instead of going for blow-em-away Ks every time.  Call it “pitch to contact” but I like to call it “making them hit your pitch.”  You want to try to get a great swing in after falling behind in the count?  Fine; hit my 97mph inside fastball for power, or try to drive my 94mph sinking 2-seamer on the outside corner.  I’ll tip my hat to you if you do.

But Strasburg misses his spots; his command has not been great.  97mph flat on the corner is good; in the middle of the plate is bad.  He’s been missing in the middle way too much.  Boswell defended his column, saying Strasburg needs to “keep it simple.”

Q: What does the team do with Henry Rodriguez?

A: So far this year we’re seeing nothing but “bad” Henry Rodriguez: more walks than hits, too many base-runners, and too many pitches that he just has no idea where they’re going.  He only threw FOUR of Seventeen pitches yesterday for strikes.  Luckily for him, its only a “wild pitch” if someone advances right?  Because some of those pitches were just ridiculous.  I’ll chalk it up to the wet conditions, as (likely) will management.

What can they do with him?  As often repeated in this space, he’s a human roster logjam.  The team has been forced to carry him and his Jeckyl and Hyde pitching for 3 years now because he was out of minor league options when we acquired him.  We’ve invented nebulous DL trips to stash him in extended spring training.  He’s now the lowest leverage guy on the bullpen, when he should be in the mix for 7th and 8th inning opportunities.  But the thing is, there’s not really a guy in Syracuse who is beating down the door to come up.  Maybe Erik Davis, who has pitched really well in AAA and has shown why the team put him on the 40-man.  Or perhaps the team could call up one of its veteran lefties (Fernando Abad or JC Romero) in a pinch.  But I think we’ll see at least another month of H-Rod trying to find his way before that happens.

Boswell raves about his career BAA (.211).  To that I say this: he has now for his career walked 91 batters out of 606 plate appearances.  That’s 15%.  6.1 bb/9.  I’m sorry, but how can you have a reliever with those kind of walk rates be put into any close game?  You can’t.  So in my opinion there’s better ways to use the 7th bullpen slot.

Q: What’s a good ratio for balls to strikes?

A: I’ve always used 60% strikes to pitches thrown as a benchmark for a good outing.  In Jordan Zimmermann‘s 1-hitter he threw 59 of 91 for strikes, or 64%.  In Yu Darvish‘s near perfect game in early April he threw 78 of 111 pitches for strikes for 70%.    Boswell says 65% is a good goal; honestly that’s a bit too high for me realistically.

Q: Do you think Soriano’s presence is helping or hurting Storen?

A: Good question.  Drew Storen‘s struggles so far are really baffling; how do you go from a career 1.099 whip in your first 3 seasons to a 1.7 whip in 2013?  And it isn’t on walks; he’s giving up a ton of hits.  Perhaps it is mental; when Rafael Soriano himself has been a non-closer, his numbers have never been as good than when he’s getting the Saves.  Perhaps Storen is struggling to adapt to this mindset so far.  It also could just be small sample size syndrome too; its only April 29th after all.  Boswell basically says that Storen isn’t a kid anymore and that he should “man up.”

Q: What are Harper’s MVP chances looking like right now?

A: Pretty good.  MVP voting usually starts with “the best players on the best teams” and then whittles down from there.  Bryce Harper is clearly the best hitter on what should be a playoff team, and has been making a game-wide name for himself so far with his performance.  If Washington wins the division and Bryce keeps playing like this, he’s a shoe-in.  However, some guy named Justin Upton has been just as strong; if Atlanta wins the division Upton may be the name people vote for.


Nats Off-season News Items Wrap-up 12/25/11 edition

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Welcome to Washington Mr. Gonzalez. Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images via cbssports.com

This is your semi-weekly/periodic wrap-up of Nats and other baseball news that caught my eye.  No better time than today to publish, since there’s not much else going on Christmas day.

Nationals In General

  • Bus Leagues Baseball profiles Matthew Purke, with a nice scouting report and recap of his journey to the Nats franchise.
  • Nice little bench move here: Nats claimed infielder Carlos Rivera from Philadelphia’s waivers and stuck him on the 40-man.   He theoretically can play both SS and 3b, though reports are that his SS defense is suspect.  I’m not going to nit pick moves like this and the Mike Cameron signing; our farm system kind of has a gap in terms of player development from the last Bowden draft years, so we are missing these roster-augmentation players that otherwise would be filled from within.  Soon though with the college-heavy drafts of the past couple years we should have all the spare parts we need sitting in AAA so that we’re not signing mid 30’s utility players and claiming mediocre players.
  • Welcome to 2012’s version of Jerry Hairston; Mark DeRosa to sign with the Nats and be our super utility guy.  Can’t argue with the move; he fills a need, is willing to be a bench player, and can play a bunch of positions.
  • Congrats to ex Nat Jason Marquis, who looks to sign a deal with Minnesota.  I’m glad he’s landed on his feet after a freak fractured tibia just after we traded him last year.
  • Obviously the big news this cycle is the Gio Gonzalez move.  Frequent readers here saw a very healthy discussion in the past week in this space.  I’ll post some reaction links here not posted elsewhere: Buster Olney‘s blog (the take away for me is how badly Oakland’s fans seem to be reacting), Jim Bowden‘s video reaction and his description how the deal went down (the interesting takeaway being how the 2nd player thrown into the deal from Oakland’s side turning the tide).  Keith Law values our prospects highly and says we overpaid.  Another prospect-heavy analyst John Sickels analyzes our outgoing prospects (surprisingly Sickels says the A’s got “fair value” instead of calling it a loss for the Nats as Law did).  Here’s Tim Brown‘s reaction, plus Ken Rosenthal‘s original report.  Lastly, fangraph’s David Fung graphically analyzes projected WARs and determines that we gave up nearly twice the value in future production, which involves quite a leap of trust that all four of these guys pan out to their potential.  Lastly, here’s Baseball Prospectus’ take on both sides; not nearly as glowing for the 4 prospects gained as I thought they would be.

Free Agents/Player Transaction News

  • Roy Oswalt is considering one-year deals, immediately bringing nearly every MLB team into the discussions.  I’d love to have him on the Nats but suspect that he may end up in a situation that makes it easier for him to get one more relatively lucrative FA contract.  I.e., an easier division that’s closer to home.  Imagine him in San Diego against weaker NL west teams.  With the Gonzalez signing though, my guess is that we’re out of the FA pitcher race.
  • Interesting take on the Yu Darvish bidding results and the Toronto loss from Buster Olney (insider only), intimating that all the talk about the Toronto interest was overblown.
  • Great points by David Schoenfeld on espn, pointing out another similar article on Grantland, talking about the “Prospect Mania” that has become the norm in baseball over the past 10 years.  Ironically, this same issue was seen in our Gonzalez deal; are our prospects really that good, or are we over-valuing them and their potential?

General Baseball News

  • College Baseball Newspaper announces its pre-season Collegiate All American team.  From first glance, Florida looks really strong (4 guys on the first team, another four on the 2nd team, wow).  South Carolina returns two all-american starters, virtually guaranteeing weekend series wins all year.  Finally Texas has 2 first team, 3 second teamers just in its rotation.  Too early to predict Florida versus Texas in the Omaha final in June 2012?
  • George Washington, a lesser Div-1 baseball program that has given the Nats some later-round org players in recent years, is renovating Barcroft park in South Arlington, where they play their home games.  They’re putting in artificial turf, nicer facilities and a nicer snack bar.  Nice.  It was already a nice place to see good collegiate baseball; now it should be this much better.
  • Documentation/Actual testimony from a player who won an appeal of his PED positive test.  Latest rumor I read about Ryan Braun is that he was taking something for an STD.  I can’t find a link so perhaps its just that; a ridiculous rumor.
  • Good, non-hysterical analysis of the new CBA’s winners and losers from Basball America’s J.J. Cooper and Jim Callis. Callis continues with this analysis of the impact on big and small market teams.
  • Man, I can’t wait to see this soap opera in Spring Training; former Marlins manager says that Hanley Ramirez won’t go to third easily.
  • Nice shirt, Mike Napoli.  (NSFW, in other words, “Not Safe for Work.”)  Not really; you can barely see the “R-rated” part.
  • I wonder why they left the field?  A current picture of Detroit’s old stadium.  We were in Detroit 3yrs ago and drove by this stadium as it was only in partial de-construction.
  • LA Dodger’s plans to sell dealt a blow by a bankrupcy judge.  Or were they?  I’m not entirely clear how this ruling affects anything frankly.  As long as Frank McCourt is removed from the picture, I think everyone will be happy.

General News; other

  • Categorize this in the “people who don’t have a sense of humor, ever” department: Pat Robertson found the hilarious Tim Tebow skit on SNL last weekend “disgusting.”  Hey Pat; I find your opinions on race, discrimination, acceptance, tolerance, and your stated stances on the reasons that Hurricane Katrina, the Haitian earthquake and 9-11 happened to be “disgusting” as well.
  • This link was ironic for me, in that my family just had the same discussion about what is the best Xmas movie of all time.  Jim Caple presents a 64-team bracket for Xmas movies.  I think the selection committee screwed over “Scrooged,” giving it only a 9 seed.  In another bracket, its a regional winner :-).


Ask Boswell 11/14/11 edition

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Glad to see the Ramos situation handled with no violence or harm. Photo ESPN screengrab via wvec.com

I somehow missed last week’s Tom Boswell chat; brain fart I suppose.  Either that or I got caught up in work and life and never got to it. However he only took three baseball-related questions this week, so I dug back and answered last week’s chat too.

Here’s the 11/14 version.  Despite Redskins meltdown, he did manage to squeeze in some baseball and Nats related questions.

As always, I edit the “questions” for clarity and pen my own response before reading Boswell’s.

Q: What are the chances that the kidnappers in Venezuela took the wrong person?

A: The implication being, why kidnap Wilson Ramos when he’s the one with access to all the money.  Wouldn’t it be better to kidnap (say) Ramos’ brother or another relative, then squeeze Ramos for cash?  Answer: yeah that does make more sense frankly, unless the kidnappers had plans of grandiose and were thinking that the Nationals franchise or MLB in general would pay a multi-million dollar ransom.  Boswell notes that we may eventually find out, as it is in Venezuela’s best interest to get to the bottom of the story to preserve their winter league.

Q: Why would any MLB player return home to face the violence or risks that Ramos did?

A: A sense of country, a sense of pride, home-sickness, visiting family, or a sense of loyalty to the grass roots programs that enabled the player to make it.  Take your choice.  Foreign players returning home in the off-season will never stop.  Boswell doesn’t really answer.

Q: Worse Owner: Snyder or McCourt?

A: McCourt by far; he took a cherished franchise and bankrupted it for personal gain.  Snyder has done nothing but vastly increase the value of the Redskins.  In that respect he’s one of the BEST owners out there.  So what if the Redskins are headed for another sub .500 season; the stadium is still sold out, idiots, er I mean “Redskins Fans” are still paying $60/day to park, and a hot dog and beer at the stadium still sets you back nearly $20.  If you want change, stop giving Snyder thousands of dollars and stop going to the games.


Here’s the 11/07 version.

Q: Since the Nats are a year away, do the pursue Grady Sizemore as a stop gap and if he plays well trade him and get value like Matt Capps?

A: That’s not a bad idea in theory, but in reality I’m pretty sure Sizemore‘s days of being a productive and (more to the point) reliable outfielder are done.  The Nats NEED a center fielder; they don’t need another experiment (Nyger Morgan) or another stop-gap (Rick Ankiel).  I’ll bet Sizemore doesn’t get more than a veteran FA deal (1yr, $1.5M) based on his injury history.  And he’ll go to a team that already has OF coverage and could use him as a DH or a 4th OF.  Boswell says forget Sizemore and look at Coco Crisp.  Or wait til the Rays non-tender BJ Upton and go after him.  I concur.

Q: Why are the Nats looking for a #3 starter, like Mark Buehrle? It seems like they have more than enough pitching between Strasburg, Zimmerman, Wang, Detweiler, Lannan, Peacock, Milone.

A: A good question … unless you don’t really trust your rookies.  Detwiler had a few good starts in September, but the previous two years of trials didn’t turn out so well.  Peacock and Milone similarly looked good in September … is that enough?  Buehrle is a known quantity, a better pitcher than most of the above, and would allow the team to enter 2012 with a relatively veteran rotation.

Another angle; sign Buehrle (or Oswalt for that matter, the goal with both is the same; to find a vet innings eater who can win) and non-tender Lannan.  This saves $4M or so, and then you have Detwiler, Peacock and Milone compete for #5.  I’m not saying this is a wise direction at all mind you; Lannan is a known quantity as well.  A sub 4.00 era who allows more base-runners than you’d like but who gets results.  Boswell notes that with Wang‘s signing, we don’t NEED another starter but may end up with one.  And he says don’t sleep on Yu Darvish, who apparently the Nats brass has been asking about for years.  Great.

Q: How accurate is Adam Kilgore’s article projecting the Nats salaries?

A: In my opinion, he was probably guessing low (he guessed $62M prior to any Fa signings).    Per my own calculations I project the Nats salary rising from last year’s $68M range to at least $72M before any more FA signings after Wang.  I’ve got $49M in guaranteed salaries to guys already signed for 2012, plus $15.9M for arbitration raises, plus around $6.7M for the min-salary guys.  This also assumed we were tendering both Lannan and Gorzelanny.  But this is all hypothetical anyway.  In reality the only number that matters is the payroll ceiling given to Rizzo by the Lerners. Boswell hadn’t read it and didn’t comment, then went off on a tangent on Davey Johnson’s pirate ship.

Q: What do you think the Nats will do with Norris? It looks like his path is blocked due to Wilson Ramos.

A: I’d say that eventually they trade Jesus Flores to bring up Norris, then allow Norris to compete with Ramos for starts.  There’s never a bad thing with having depth; it allowed the Twins to trade Ramos to acquire a resource they felt they needed in Matt Capps, whether or not you though it was a poor trade or not.  So eventually maybe Norris becomes trade bait as well.   Boswell didn’t really say what he thought would happen to Norris, just that its a good thing to have this “problem.”

Q: Hey Boz At what point do you have to look at Jose Reyes as the catalyst the Nats need?

A: Hopefully, never.  As I opined here, Reyes played well above career values in his contract year and seems sure to regress and disappoint.  Boswell agrees, noting also rumors of character/clubhouse issues that led to the Mets collapse a few years ago.

My 2011 End-of-Season award Predictions

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Justin Verlander’s season is one for the ages. Will it net him both a Cy Young and an MVP? Photo unknown origin via rumorsandrants.com

Last year (not to pat myself on the back or anything) but I went 8 for 8 in predicting the end-of-season awards for MLB.  In 2010 though, most of the major awards were relatively straightforward, even the Managers of the year being pretty obvious, so perhaps it wasn’t that great of a feat.

Here’s my predictions for 2011.  There’s been enough discussion about these awards in the media, with enough differing opinions, that its going to be interesting to see how this plays out.  This time through, there’s enough controversy about who really “deserves” the two MVP awards that I’ll be offering up some distinctions between who I think will win and who really should win.  I wonder if sometime soon we won’t have to make that distinction.

  • AL MVP:  Who I think will win: Justin Verlander.   In a year where none of the four playoff contending teams really had a break-out candidate, I think the voters will give it to a pitcher for the first time in 25 years.  I don’t agree with it: I don’t think pitchers should be eligible for MVPs (a topic for a future blog-post), but Verlander’s season was clearly a step ahead of the normal pitcher’s season.  As for Jacoby Ellsbury, his 30/30 season and his single-handed effort to drag his team into the post season almost earned him the nod, but when Boston missed the playoffs I’m guessing Ellsbury’s candidacy took a nose dive as well.  Curtis Granderson‘s fade in the 2nd half after a blistering first half costs him, despite a fantastic season overall. Adrian Gonzalez also started out w/ a monster first half, but faded down the stretch.  Jose Bautista would get more consideration if he was playing for a better team.  Miguel Cabrera quietly had a fantastic season but he’s completely overshadowed on his own team by Verlander’s great season.  Who really should win? Batista if his team was relevant at all.  He was clearly the best AL offensive player this year and put up historic stats.  But, the modern MVP isn’t about guys who toil in the 2nd division.  If they wanted to give the equivalent of a “Cy Young” to the “best hitter” in the league, Batista would be the winner hands down.  The definition of the MVP comes into consideration yet again.  Who probably would have won if his team didn’t collapse and miss the playoffs? Ellsbury.
  • AL Cy Young: Justin Verlander, with a no-hitter and dominance day-in and day-out, first to 20 wins and the pitching triple crown.  Jered Weaver, Josh Beckett get some 2nd place consideration (despite Beckett’s late season injury and subsequent beer and chicken distractions).   James Shields became a new pitcher in 2011 and could get some top 5 votes. CC Sabathia will get votes since wins play so heavily.  Felix Hernandez won’t get the votes he got last year.  CJ Wilson had a great season leading Texas to back-to-back titles; thankfully for him the voting for this award came in prior to his post-season meltdowns.
  • AL Rookie of the Year:  Jeremy Hellickson had wins and a great ERA and should be the pick.   Michael Pineda looked like a lock until fading in the 2nd half, but Hellickson’s toiling on the East Coast (media bias) and in the AL East (legitimately more difficult than the teams Pineda normally faced) gives him the nod.  Mark Trumbo put up some comparisons to Wally Pipp for Los Angeles and gives the Angels another big bat going into 2012.  Jordan Walden (closer for the Angels) had a fine season.  Ivan Nova quietly put his name into the mix with a 16-win season.  Justin Smoak, perhaps Dustin Ackley, Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Aaron Crow could get mentions.  Zack Britton started strong but disappeared in the 2nd half.  There’s so many good candidates this year, the voting may be pretty close, and any of the above names could get some top-5 votes.  But Hellickson should be the winner.
  • AL Mgr:  Joe Maddon‘s magic show of a managing job, with a completely new bullpen, huge loss of talent and nearly halving of his team’s payroll from the 2010 version of the Rays yet still sneaking into the playoffs should be your winner.  Manny Acta, who had the Indians in playoff position for a bit after last year’s 93-loss season in the first half, gets some consideration.  You could mention the job Ron Washington did to get his team back to the WS despite losing his ace pitcher.
  • (Unofficial “award”): AL GM: This award begins and ends with Andrew Friedman, who had the Rays in the playoffs with a payroll 1/5th of his competition.  It just doesn’t get any better than that.  Dombrowski in Detroit gets some credit for trades that paid off well, and Daniels in Texas gets some longer term credit for continuing to build a good young team.
  • NL MVP: Who I think will win: Ryan Braunled his team to the playoffs and overshadowed his cleanup hitter down the stretch.   Matt Kemp hit the cover off the ball all season but his team went nowhere during the season of the McCourts, and there’s little precedent for players from the 2nd division winning the MVP unless they have an outer-world season.  Jose Reyes had a great (contract) year, but his team is faltering and he was hurt by injuries.  And, his little ploy to guarantee the batting title on the season’s final day certainly turned off some BBWAA members.  Andrew McCutchen had a breakout season but the Pirates swoon will cost him.  Lance Berkman will get some consideration but will be difficult to select since he’s (arguably) the 3rd best player on his own team.   Prince Fielder also had a monster year and could take votes away from Braun, but without a clear candidate in the competition I’m guessing Fielder comes in 3rd.  Justin Upton came out of nowhere (as did his team) to put his name in the discusion and likely is a top-5 finisher.  Who really should win? Kemp clearly, but for the same reasons Batista won’t win, neither will Kemp.
  • NL Cy Young:  Clayton Kershaw won the NL pitching “triple crown” (Technically, he tied for the league-lead in wins with 21) for a team with a losing record on the year.  That’s tough to do.  Roy Halladay, having his typical dominant year with 6 CGs at the break, certainly deserves the award but i’m guessing voters want to reward someone new.  Cliff Lee isn’t having a half-bad season either.  Cole Hamels and Jair Jurrjens should be in this conversation but tailed off in the latter part of the season.  Ian Kennedy should get some 4th and 5th place votes for his fantastic season, finishing 21-4 for the surprising NL West winning Diamondbacks.
  • NL Rookie: Craig Kimbrel, who broke the rookie-save record before the all star break and is one of the top closers in the game right now will win despite what people may think about saves and reliever value.  Freddie Freeman is in the conversation.  Phillies starter Vance Worley has come out of nowhere to go 9-1 to start the 2nd half.   The Atlanta rookies (including Brandon Beachy) could go 1-2-3.  Hometown candidates Danny Espinosa and Wilson Ramos certainly deserves some notice and may get a few 5th place votes here and there, but you can’t hit .230 and expect to win the ROY award.
  • NL Mgr: Kirk Gibson in Arizona for a worst-to-first turn around.  Clint Hurdle of Pittsburgh, with his 2010-worst team over .500 at the all star break is 2nd.
  • (unofficial award) NL GM: Milwaukee’s Doug Melvin wheeled and dealt his prospects into two front-line starters and a first place team out of last year’s 77-win team.  You can also give some credit to Towers in Arizona (though a lot of the work there was due to his predecessor).

Thoughts?  There’s plenty of opinion pieces out there with these predictions, though most were published at the end of the season.  Get ready for two weeks of award over-analysis as these awards are given out by the BBWAA starting November 14th.

Nats Off-season News Items Wrap-up 11/11/11 edition

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All other news items are meaningless until we know if Wilson Ramos is safe. Photo Al Bello/Getty Images via federalbaseball.com

Here’s a weekly wrap up of Nats-related news items, along with other general interest baseball articles, with my thoughts as appropriate.  (Note: these news items are more or less chronological, with me going back and adding in clarifying links as needed.  Hence the Ramos news is towards the bottom, having happened late in the Saturday-to-Friday blog post news cycle i’m using, despite clearly being the most important item to the team right now…)

  • MLB’s Bill Ladson reports that the Nats have interest in Roy Oswalt, late of the Phillies.  I don’t think its a serious interest frankly; yes Oswalt would be nice to have and would be a better member of the rotation than either Detwiler or Milone (your probable #5 starters right now), but I suspect that this is just Mike Rizzo claiming interest in every good FA.  I’m sure if you asked Rizzo if he was interested in Pujols he’d say, “yes!”  But its not worthy of an 800 word article.
  • Nice start in the AFL from Sammy Solis on Friday 11/5/11: 9 K’s in 4 scoreless innings.  He gave up 3 hits and 3 walks though, so not an entirely clean outing, but that many strikeouts against an AFL hitting all-star lineup is good.  Also on the night, Matthew Purke had a 1-2-3 inning, progress considering what he’s done earlier in the AFL.  Solis’ next start wasn’t as clean, 3 runs in 3 innings for the loss.  We’ve all been cautioned not to read too much into any stat line coming out of the AFL; its the end of a long season, the pitchers are tired, the hitters are tired, its a hitters league in hitters ballparks, etc.  So perhaps I’ll stop trying to analyze performances in Arizona.  I’d like to see some progress, some decent scouting reports about Purke specifically, but Solis, who just finished a full season, probably isn’t a concern.  Especially if, by previous accounts, he’s working on a new curve ball.
  • For anyone who cares about our neighbor franchise in Baltimore, their GM search did not go very well.  The lost out on their (presumed) top choice Jerry Dipoto to the Angels, then had their #2 choice Tony LaCava turn down the job.  Why?  According to Danny Knobler, owner Peter Angelos refused to clear out his cronies in the front office, so LaCava declined the job.  Now we hear that the #3 candidate DeJon Watson has pulled out, seemingly because (according to allegations in this post) he was only being interviewed to satisfy minority-consideration requirements out of the front office.  Wait, it gets better; Boston assistant Allen Baird declined to even interview for the job.  Finally on 11/6, former Montreal and Boston GM Dan Duquette signed on for the job.  Still, what a joke; at what point does Angelos look in the mirror, and look at the 15 years of destruction he’s done to what was once the best team and best franchise in the sport, and admit to himself he needs to change his ways?  I don’t have a reference necessarily, but recall an article discussing this decline of the once proud Orioles as a classic case of successful business executive in one field (in Angelos’ case, law) obtaining a sports franchise and then immediately assuming (because of ego) that because he was successful in business, he will be successful in sports ownership.  You see this clearly with Dan Snyder‘s tenure of the similarly once-proud Redskins.  How do the Orioles get out of this mess?  Unfortunately, it may take the untimely death of Angelos to get some movement towards reality in the ownership group.
  • Is it just me, or is the Oakland franchise heading for some dark days?  Per Ken Rosenthal, they’re taking offers on nearly any player on the team, their entire OF and DH are free agents and not likely to be pursued, and they may look to actually pare salary from last year’s 21st ranked salary team.  The A’s have a slew of younger arms that all put up good numbers (albeit in a pitcher’s ballpark), and could be entertaining phone calls on some of their arbitration-eligible starters.  Perhaps the Nats, who have a history of trading with Billy Beane, could flip some prospects for someone like Trevor Cahill or Gio Gonzalez, both entering the first year of arbitration and sure be in the $3M range (Rosenthal’s article says Cahill is signed long-term, but its not in Cots).  Or, they could pursue a non-guaranteed deal with Dallas Braden, who clearly will be non-tendered coming off major shoulder surgery but who could be the next Wang-like reclamation project.  Lastly, Brandon McCarthy is a free agent,  and pitched pretty well in 2011 when he wasn’t hurt.  He could be another injury-reclamation, low-cost acquisition.
  • Frank McCourt, as we all know by now, is selling the Los Angeles Dodgers.  About time.  But did you also know he’s selling the Los Angeles Marathon?  Question: how do you “own” a marathon?
  • Silver Sluggers announced on 11/2/11:  No Nats mentioned, hardly a surprise.  Michael Morse was never going to beat out the NL outfield trio of Kemp, Braun, and Upton, who may finish nearly 1-2-3 in MVP voting.  No room in the NL outfield for Lance Berkman either.
  • Thanks to Nats blogs District on Deck and NationalsProspects for pointing out BA’s published list of all 500-something Minor League Free Agents.  There’s several very familiar names on the list (Garrett Mock, JD Martin, and Shairon Martis to start) and it could be interesting to see if these guys try their luck elsewhere.  I’ll probably put together a re-cap of these FAs along with my commentary culled from my minor league review articles later on.
  • My former teammate and GM/coordinator of the collegiate wood bat franchise Antonio Scott just got enough backing to enter his team into the Cal Ripken league for next season.  His team, which generally tries to recruit from historically black colleges and also spends a great amount of time reaching back into the DC youth baseball community, will partner with Gallaudet University and play at their new facility.  Great news for Antonio and for youth baseball in the District.
  • Per Byron Kerr, Baseball America released top 10 prospects for NL East teams on 11/6.  Here’s the BA link directly for the Nationals.  The rankings show just how good BA thinks our 2011 draft was, and more or less mirrors the Fangraphs.com ranking that came out earlier this off-season.  Here’s 2010’s rankings for comparison.  There is some complaining in the Natmosphere about the over-ranking of our 2011 draft crop, but (as I pointed in in comments on other blogs) there’s little argument in ranking Rendon, Purke, Godwin and Meyer over the guys most likely ranked 11-15th in our system (guys like Hood, Kobernus, Marrero or Smoker).
  • The next great hope from Cuba: Yoenis Cespedes. Wants $30M contract, projects as a center fielder (albeit with a poor arm) and a #5 power hitter. Of course, the Nats have their name listed as “interested.”  One wonders if the Yuniesky Maya experiment will color their opinions of the next great Cuban question mark.
  • I found a random blog related to Cuban baseball; here’s their reaction to Cespedes’ FA announcement.  All I can say is, wow.  Can’t say I’ve ever seen a blog post calling someone the “N-word” for pursuing a free agent contract.
  • Awful news coming out late Wednesday: Wilson Ramos kidnapped in Venezuela.  This is, as noted in Adam Kilgore‘s article, a growing trend in certain South American countries.  Lets hope its done for a quick buck and Ramos is returned unharmed.  The call to return home in the off-season is large for latin american players; I wonder how much incidents like this (along with other well publicized incidents of late involving family members of other prominent baseball players, as well as numerous accounts from pro Soccer players and their families) will force teams to “strongly advise” against their players returning to latin america in the off season.  Ryan Tatusko, Nats farm-hand and fellow Venezuela Winter League participant, blogged about his thoughts of the safety issues in the country.
  • Rob Neyer scanned and published (with Bill James’ consent) the first set of Baseball Analyst articles edited and written by James back in the early 80s.  You can save-as all the PDFs and cover art JPGs.
  • Great, great Nationals Prospect chat by Aaron Fitt at Baseball America, in the wake of their top 10 for the system.  Lots of interesting nuggets of opinion from Fitt.  Unfortunately Baseball America is subscription only but its worth the $30/year for content like this (as is ESPN insider).
  • Why are the Phillies getting ready to give Ryan Madson $40M+??    And why would the Nationals POSSIBLY be involved in the bidding for a $10M/year right-handed reliever when we already have that, in spades, at a fraction of the cost??!  That would be a colossal waste of money.  Closers are a colossal waste of money in general (google Joe Posnanski and the history of the save for his excellent article on how team’s save percentages are virtually identical through the  years despite the rise of highly paid closers.
  • My 2 cents on the entire Sandusky/Paterno/PSU mess: I couldn’t have said it better than Tom Boswell said it on the front page of the WP on 11/10. Paterno may not have done anything “illegal,” but he certainly did not use his best judgement throughout the years, allowing Sandusky to continue to be in the good graces of the program.  And that is why Paterno doesn’t have a job any more (as opposed to being charged with a perjury felony like the administrators who lied to the Grand Jury).  Just a sad event all around, for the victims, for Paterno (who found himself in an impossible situation) and for the Penn State students and alumni who are not exactly distinguishing themselves for not seeing what poor judgement was used by their icon throughout the years.

Nats Off-season News Items Wrap-up 11/4/11 edition

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Wang re-ups for his 3rd year in a Nats uniform. Photo from Washington Nationals photo day.

Here’s a weekly wrap up of Nats-related news items, with my thoughts as appropriate.

  • MLBtraderumor’s Tim Dierkes announced that the cutoff for this year’s “Super-2” status is 2 years, 146 days.  This cutoff means that two (and possibly three) Nats players made the cut and will be in line for a 4th arbitration season.  Jordan Zimmermann made it by 8 days, Tyler Clippard by 2 days (!), and Roger Bernadina (at least according to Amanda Comak‘s calculations; he’s missing from Dierkes’ list).  In Bernadina’s case, it may not matter, as he’s out of options for 2012, isn’t likely to make the roster anyway and seems a certainty for a non-tender.  We’ll save salary speculation for a future post as we get closer to the arbitration dates.  11/1 update: Dierkes responded to my comment in this blog posting and said that his personal calculations determined that Bernadina missed the cutoff.
  • Tim Dierkes is a busy man; he has a series of FA analysis by position and posted his Center Field analysis over the weekend.  Considering that the Nats have been looking for a quality center fielder essentially since moving to Washington, the analysis is a good read.  The news isn’t good; Dierkes only projects ONE viable CF FA candidate: Coco Crisp (quotes later in the week though confirm that Crisp wants to stay on the west coast, making him a less likely candidate).  He mentions Grady Sizemore as being worth a flier but no guarantee to be healthy.  There’s some “thinking outside the box” candidates, guys who are older and who could hold on to CF for another year, but if the Nats were to do that we might as well either go with Jayson Werth in center or re-sign Ankiel.  Trade potential BJ Upton is still there, and I’m sure he’s still available for the right price.  Perhaps the Nats could package a bunch of prospects for both Upton and Shields.  One other interesting name to consider: Melky Cabrera.  Nice season, nearly a 20/20 guy.  Getting a bit expensive for KC… maybe we could flip them some pitching surplus.
  • Sammy Solis has marginally improved as the AFL has gone forward, putting in a 4ip, 1run performance on Oct 29th.  Meanwhile, what is going on with Matthew Purke?  In three appearances through 10/29 he’s given up 11 runs on 10 hits in 3 1/3 innings.  Not good.  We may have to just shield our eyes until spring training.
  • Bill Ladson reported on a conversation he had with Mike Rizzo about the Nats off-season plans, and the takeaway seems to be that the team “has made no promises” to Adam LaRoche about playing time in 2012.  I just have a hard time believing that the team plans on just ignoring 1/8th of their payroll (LaRoche’s $8M salary on last year’s $68M payroll) by signing a replacement.  Rizzo pursued and signed LaRoche for a reason; good defense and adequate bat.  At least, that’s the idea.  Personally I have a hard time believing that Albert Pujols is leaving St. Louis, and I’ll bet that Fielder stays in the NL central as well (perhaps replacing Carlos Pena in Chicago as Theo Epstein‘s first big signing).
  • ESPN’s Buster Olney believes the Nats will look at Grady Sizemore, recently having his 2012 option declined by the Indians, as a center field option.  I suppose Sizemore is no more of a risk than it would be to resign Rick Ankiel, or to experiment with Werth in center and a player to be named (Laynce Nix?) in right.  It would be ironic to see Sizemore come back to the team that drafted and developed him, only to trade him in an incredibly damaging deal for a few months rental of Bartolo Colon.
  • Taken from a link in the previous Olney posting, the “Field of Dreams” property in Iowa used to make the movie of the same name is being sold.  Visitors come by the thousands even to this day to see the makeshift field built into a century-old farmland.  What I find neat is the apparent unassuming nature of the owners and the fact they’ve never really attempted to commercialize the property.  In that respect, it reminds me of Cooperstown, which I visited for the first time this past summer (blog post in the works with pictures) and found to be amazingly quant and un-tarnished by the type of tourist-driven revenue generators you find at other places in this country.
  • A post courtesy of Rob Neyer‘s blog about the seemingly imminent move of the Astros to the AL West points out a salient points the Houston fan base would have to put up with; more 9:05pm local starts as the team travels to play new rivals on the West coast.  This likely will badly affect their TV ratings.  Will the Astros take to having new divisional rivals in the Angels, A’s and Mariners well?  It doesn’t seem to have really hurt the Rangers, who have the same issue.  One has to think an intra-state, intra-divisional rivalry with the Rangers would be fantastic for both teams though.  Imagine 18 games and state bragging rights at stake for a state that takes its bragging rights (in all matters, both sports and non) very seriously.
  • All 8 of our free agents filed as soon as the FA filing period opened, as reported by Adam Kilgore.  I’ve got a post coming up on thoughts on the 8 free agents and which I think we should look at resigning.
  • Jon Heyman‘s first off-season column addresses some of the main “questions” facing baseball this off-season and he includes answering some of the major FA rumors.  He lists the Nats as favorites for both Prince Fielder and CJ Wilson.  Signing both would instantly add $30M of payroll to a team that already projects at somewhere in the $65M already basically allocated (we owe $45M in guaranteed contracts on the books now, probably somewhere in the range of $13M to clear our arbitration cases, and the rest being minimum salaries to 40-man guys).  Are the Lerners ready to step up and pay this kind of money?
  • Heyman’s article also notes that the last remaining issue in the MLB contract negotiations relates to Draft Slotting.  Bud Selig has been pushing hard for this, as he feels smaller market teams get screwed by agents who know bigger market teams will pay the money for their guys.  Meanwhile the league is apparently read to ditch free agent compensation picks as a bargaining chip.  Certainly the union has to like this (especially for relievers, who get labeled type-A and suddenly can’t find work).
  • Dodger Fan’s long nightmare may be over: Frank McCourt is apparently willing to sell the team for $1B in a deal that seems to completely remove him from gaining any additional benefit from the team (meaning, he has to divest the parking lots he was threatening to keep control over).  Now if only Bud Selig would consider a decent replacement owner instead of one of Selig’s friends or whoever greased his palm most recently … ah modern baseball.  11/2/update: maybe there won’t be a Selig-appointee; apparently the team will be sold at auction.  Great!  That means an owner not necessarily hand-picked by Selig and his cronies.  I’d love to see Mark Cuban get involved but apparently he was approached a few months ago and backed out.
  • Baseballamerica.com had a front-page feature on the Nats on 11/1.
  • FanGraphs’ top 15 Nats prospects wasn’t too surprising (also posted 11/1).  I’m amazed how high AJ Cole is (called the top pitcher in the system, barely eclipsing the promise of both Alex Meyer and Matthew Purke).  And I’m amazed how far Derek Norris has fallen.  The article also points out something rather interesting: the Potomac rotation could be Meyer, Purke, Cole, Ray and then someone like Selik.  Wow.
  • SI.com’s Ben Reiter put out his list of the top 50 FAs available and has the Nats on Jose Reyes and Coco Crisp, but not Prince Fielder or Edwin Jackson.  I guess I wouldn’t complain if we got both or either guy; either would ably fit into the lead-off spot that we’ve struggled with for years (and if we got both put them 1-2 … and move both Espinosa and Desmond’s .220 batting averages to the bottom of the order).
  • And here’s Tim Dierkes’s top 50 FA list with guesses on destinations: He has the Nats mentioned as an interested party with most of the top names and signing only CJ Wilson of his top 50 list.
  • And here USA Today’s Paul White‘s top 50 FA list, with the Nats projected to land Coco Crisp, Freddie Garcia (?!?) and Chein-Ming Wang.   His comment as to why we’d sign Garcia?  “Short term fix while the kids develop.”  It makes one wonder if he’s seen the state of our starting pitching frankly.  There’s little reason to doubt Milone or Peacock (or some combination of both) being able to fit into the 5th starter.
  • Ron Dibblewow.
  • Gold Glove winners announced; there doesn’t seem to be any egregiously bad winners like there was last year (Derek Jeter).  There were some complaints from the likes of Rob Neyers about the AL shortstop selection, using the Fielding Bible awards as his source.  But lets face it; the voters for the golden gloves probably spend about 20 seconds on it, when handed the form while dealing with a gazillion other items in September after a long season.  They’re voting reputations, not Uzr/150 results.  In fact i’d wager that fully 75% or more of the voters couldn’t tell you what Ultimate Zone Rating is or how it measures defensive capabilities.
  • SI’s Joe Sheehan puts out a nice overview of each division’s “state of franchise” post, and his thoughts on the Nats are interesting.  He has no idea if the team is going to be spooked byWerth’s contract and poor production, and suggests trading Tyler Clippard for a CF.
  • Chien-Ming Wang has officially re-signed with the team, per this SI article late Wednesday night.  We got details thursday: 1yr, $4M with some incentives.   That’s a bit more than I predicted (I was thinking something in the range of $2.5M as a guess).  But it still seems like a good deal, all things considered.  I’ll take a $4M #4 pitcher versus the $7.5M Marquis cost, and he seems like he could very well improve on his 2011 performance.
  • Byron Kerr has a rather effusive article on Sammy Solis (calling his fastball “lethal” and “high-velocity?”  Sorry Byron; he’s got #3 starter stuff, not Randy Johnson-esque power) and his efforts to learn a new pitch; a regular curve-ball.  Solis has used a knuckle-curve that spins/breaks more violently, but is harder to control.  He’s reached the point in his career where he needs alternatives to fastballs and change-ups that he can count on, and hopefully this helps him to the next level.  This is a common theme; high schoolers with merely upper 80s stuff can routinely get away with blowing the ball by most of the opposing lineups of weakling 16-18yr olds and sometimes experience a reality check when going up against hitters who can make the adjustment.
  • The Nats exposed Brian Bixler to waivers (i.e., designated him for assignment to remove him from the 40-man) and he got claimed by the Astros.  Not a major loss (he had a 47 ops+ last season), but still someone who could have helped out next year had he passed through to our AAA roster and been able to be “stashed” in Syracuse.  Best of luck to him.  His position is easily replaced from within from someone like Lombardozzi, or on the FA market similar to our 2011 signings of Hairston and Cora.
http://www.mlb.com/milb/stats/stats.jsp?pos=P&sid=l119&t=p_pbp&pid=545357

Re-alignment? The easiest solution will be to ADD 2 teams.

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Bud Selig failing to hear calls for him to retire. Photo: ajc.com

(Note: if some of this looks familiar, it is because I started this post in a long-winded answer in a recent “My answers to Boswell’s chat” post).

Ever since Buster Olney posted a June 12th Article raising the topic of “Divisional Realignment,” every baseball columnist and blogger on the internet seemingly has posted their own 2 cents on which team should move leagues and why, opined about how year-long interleague play would be the death of baseball, and other interesting topics (my very fast 2 cents on the pressing questions: move Houston to AL West, who cares about interleague play, and make DH standard in both leagues).  The topic came up again at the all-Star game, with Selig talking about “minor” realignment in the future and other topics.

However, what if re-alignment isn’t the best solution to the problem at hand?  Yes, it is more difficult to make the playoffs from the NL in general (by virtue of having 16 teams to the AL’s 14) and in the NL central specifically (with 6 teams and a lot of money being spent by a couple of them).  Certainly as compared to the AL west with only 4 teams.

Instead of going two leagues of 15 teams each, why don’t we just ADD two more teams to the AL?

If we’re already talking about adding a 5th playoff team to each side via a 2nd wild-card, why not add 2 more teams and have an NFL-style league configuration and playoff structure.  8 divisions of 4 teams each, with 4 division winners and two wildcards in each league.  The two wild cards play the lesser two divisional winners, much like in the NFL, giving the two best divisional winners a weekend bye and some semblance of an advantage.  If the season ended on (say) a Wednesday, the two wild-card series occur Fri-Sat-Sun with the divisional playoffs to run starting the following Tuesday.  It isn’t adding that much time to the playoffs and should be doable.

(Note: other pundits have mentioned this same idea.  Keith Law and a blog run by The Common Man have both made mention of the possibility of expanding.  Baseball America just posted a missive that leads to the same concept (equal teams in both leagues) but suggests contracting two teams (can’t see that happening, sorry.  Too much value in each team to just get rid of them).

Lets talk about the logistics and questions of this:

Which two cities get new teams?

The two current largest metropolitan markets without major league baseball teams right now are Portland and San Antonio, and for a variety of reasons they make the most sense to select.  The San Antonio-Austin corridor is growing rapidly and has a large population base of immigrants that enjoys baseball.  Portland is a large sophisticated area that only has one major sports franchise, and has a natural wealthy owner in Paul Allen to buy and own the franchise.

Honestly, the two largest US or Canadian cities without baseball are Montreal and Vancouver, but after the complete debacle of the Expos leaving Montreal I’m guessing that Canadian baseball will never get an expansion team again.  Vancouver couldn’t keep an NBA team so I’m doubting baseball makes sense up there either.  Mexico has a well attended Mexican League, with attendance in the 350,000 for some teams, but the exchange rate issues and current safety issues in the country make it a no-go.

If we were being completely realistic in terms of  a population per baseball team, then both New York and Los Angeles really would be the two expansion targets.  You could put a team back in Brooklyn (or perhaps Long Island) and then put a team in the Riverside area (which by itself has a larger population than places like Phoenix, Seattle, Minneapolis, and San Diego).  However, none of the teams in either market is likely to give up any of their local revenues or TV networks to allow in a third team.  So we have to move elsewhere.

A slight potential issue: Portland doesn’t currently support even a AAA franchise.  San Antonio/Austin supports several baseball teams and would be a more “sure thing” (The San Antonio Missions is a AA team and the Round Rock Express, north of Austin, is AAA).   I don’t believe Portland has any semblance of any pro baseball team; the closest I could find is a Short-A team in Spokane.  If you’re using AAA attendance as a bench mark (here’s links to the International league attendance figures, and the Pacific Coast League), then your best bets are cities like Louisville, Indianapolis, Sacramento and Albuquerque.  Of these cities, only Indianapolis and Sacramento are really large enough MSAs to make sense.  Moving to any California city is problematic because of the current budget nightmare there.  Indianapolis is interesting but may struggle to find a fan base sitting in-between Cincinnati and Chicago.

Lots of people talk about somewhere in North Carolina as a potential spot.  An area of the country far away from its two closest MLB teams (Washington and Atlanta).  Durham hosts a AAA franchise ably enough.  The problem would be (as pointed out by Baseball America pundits, who are based in the Research Triangle) that the Triangle area supports a large number of minor league teams, a thriving set of collegiate baseball programs, and a big wood bat league, and a MLB team would probably harm attendance at all of these well supported clubs.

So lets assume for the sake of this argument we’re expanding to Portland and San Antonio.

How would we change the divisional structures to move to 8 divisions of 4 teams each?

The American League is much easier to re-configure than the NL.  Here’s how the AL might shake out with two new teams and 4 divisions:

AL East Boston NY Baltimore Toronto
AL South Tampa Bay Texas Kansas City San Antonio
AL Central Cleveland Detroit Chicago Minnesota
AL West Seattle Los Angeles Oakland Portland

This plan would preserve most of the major rivalries in the AL while creating some new ones.  The AL East and its two juggernaut teams continue to do battle 18 times a year, but the addition of two wild cards means that Toronto and Baltimore have no more excuses.  Tampa moves out of the AL east but goes against two like-minded franchises in terms of building on youth in Texas and Kansas City.  The AL South has a bit more travel, but Tampa’s strong TV ratings should be maintained with 8pm start times instead of 7pm during its many central time zone trips.  San Antonio builds an instant in-division rivalry with their Dallas neighbors.  The AL Central keeps its four core teams that have gotten used to competing against each other and are all very geographically close.  Finally, the AL west gets an instant Seattle-Portland rivalry while keeping all its games on Pacific time.

The National League has a couple more re-configuration challenges, as we’ll see.  Here’s one potential configuration:

NL East Philadelphia Atlanta NY Mets Washington
NL “South” Florida Houston St. Louis Colorado
NL Central Milwaukee Cincinnati Pittsburgh Chicago
NL West San Francisco Arizona Los Angeles San Diego

The NL East, Central and West all make plenty of sense.  The only fault of this plan is what to do with the collection of teams that end up in the NL “South.”  Clearly, Colorado is not a “southern” team and is two timezones away from its divisional rivals.  This means a lot of divisional games for Florida end up starting at 9pm.  This plan also moves your marquee NL franchise (St. Louis) away from its longtime rivals in Chicago. It may be better to try to maintain a bit more geographical sense and keep rivals together.

You could do something a bit more radical to NL teams and longer term divisions, like this:

NL East Philadelphia Pittsburgh NY Mets Washington
NL South Florida Houston St. Louis Atlanta
NL Central Milwaukee Cincinnati Colorado Chicago
NL West San Francisco Arizona Los Angeles San Diego

Here, the Pirates join the NL east, which joins the two Pennsylvania teams together for a nice little rivalry, plus keeps the four closest North east teams together.  Atlanta joins the south allow Florida and Atlanta to stay close together.   Houston and St. Louis are relatively close as well.  This plan eliminates Colorado from having the 2-time zone divisional rivals; there’s just no natural spot for Colorado to go unless you completely re-made the league and created a 4-team division with Colorado and the 3 Texas teams.  The only downside to this plan is that St. Louis loses its divisional history with long-time NL teams Milwaukee, Cincinnati and Chicago.

Here’s another attempt, trying to keep the four longest running NL central teams together somehow:

NL East Philadelphia Pittsburgh NY Mets Washington
NL Central Colorado Houston Atlanta Florida
NL Midwest Milwaukee Cincinnati St. Louis Chicago
NL West San Francisco Arizona Los Angeles San Diego

This may be your best solution.  Florida and Atlanta stick together but must travel to Colorado.  The NL Midwest now has four of the oldest teams in the league staying together.  Colorado, Houston and Florida stay together, as three of the newest teams in the league.

Would the various rooting interests all approve 2 more teams?

Probably.  Here’s several groups who have input:

  • Players Union: Two more MLB teams means 80 more full time jobs for union members, so the Players Union would approve.  Plus, hundreds more minor league players get jobs and keep their dream alive.
  • 2nd-tier American cities: Two more teams has the cascading effect of adding in somewhere between 10 and 12 minor league teams.  Two AA cities will get promoted to be AAA cities and there will be more cities out there that get teams that they may have always wanted.
  • MLB Owners: would love to pocket expansion fees from two new wealthy owners buying into the league (especially Frank McCourt right about now).  I’d guess expansion fees would be somewhere in the $400M-$600M range, split 30 ways.  Easy money.  The difficult part the Owners would have to accept would be the carving up of TV areas and loss of local revenue for the owners of the Houston and Seattle franchises.
  • MLB Hitters: would probably like expansion, which dilutes the pitching pool and aids hitting.
  • Fans: will get more wild cards, more playoff teams, a structure that makes sense and seems fairer (no more 16/14 team split leagues).

In fact, the only groups that i’d guess would NOT be in favor of expansion would be Baseball Purists, who gripe at every change in the game and probably still want to live in the 60s-era, no playoffs pennant winners go to the World Series.  To them I say this: Baseball used to be the National Pastime, but it has been passed by clearly by Pro Football, College Football, and arguably both professional and collegiate basketball in terms of casual interest.  You cannot sit by in situations like this; you must be proactive.  Casual fans love playoffs, love the drama, and by keeping more teams involved in pennant races you keep fans coming to the ballparks for more teams, later into the season.

So, why would expansion NOT work?

I can think of a couple major reasons.

1. Splitting up of existing TV markets.  We saw what happened when Washington moved into a city that Baltimore “owned” already: Angelos gets handed a regional network and a majority ownership stake.  This could give Angelos a massive future revenue stream while permanently hampering the Nationals franchise.  This point can’t be emphasized enough; the primary reason the Yankees and Red Sox can spend what they spend is exactly their ownership stakes in the YES Network and NESN respectively.

We’re subsequently seeing a battle now between the league, the owner of San Francisco and the Oakland franchise as the Athletics attempt to move.  The Giants “claim” the San Jose market (despite it being a comparable distance away from San Francisco in terms of geography and driving time in the busy Bay Area Peninsula region as Washington is from Baltimore), and do not want to give it up.  The Athletics could move further south down the Bay to a city like Fremont (a northern suburb of San Jose), but this would put the majority of the San Jose metropolitan area 20-30 miles from a stadium.  The A’s might as well move to Sacramento.

Any existing major city that could be considered for expansion is already “owned” by one of the existing MLB franchises.  See this Map of the US by regional network ownership as a reference point: Seattle has already “claimed” Portland and most of northern Oregon as its own, and San Antonio is claimed by BOTH Texas and Houston (who also claim the entirety of Louisiana).

I think asking existing owners to give up territory in their Regional Network map could be a complete roadblock for expansion into any area.

2. Viability of new Markets.  Continuing to use Portland and San Antonio as expansion markets would immediately make those two cities among the smallest MSAs in baseball.  They would both be larger than Milwaukee, but would be smaller than other notoriously struggling franchises (in terms of revenue) such as Kansas City, Pittsburgh, and Tampa Bay.

However, market size and revenues are not on a linear relationship.  A lot has to do with the quality of the stadium, the stadium location and the performance of the team.   The Florida Marlins had the lowest 2009 revenue (according to Forbes) yet play in Miami, the 6th largest metropolitan area.  Clearly the poor stadium is a major factor to their lack of attendance, but the fans also seem to be turned off by the perpetually shady owner Jeffrey Loria.  It will be a very interesting case study to see how the Marlins do once they move into their new stadium, which should give the fans a better experience and give the Marlins a better revenue stream from luxury boxes, concessions, parking and naming rights.

There is continual complaints from fans and players in Tampa Bay (here’s a recent article that summarizes the issues they face, but the same issues are repeated over and again in the two local papers down there) over the sorry state of attendance at their games.  Despite being a newer stadium, the constructors of the St. Petersburg stadium made several errors in terms of luxury box flexibility and stadium accessibility.  Fans down there attest to this fact; the stadium is impossible to get to, so they stay at home generally and watch.  Tampa has historically had great TV ratings but awful in-person attendance. This year (per the above article) despite still being competitive the Rays are drastically down in attendance and TV ratings, possibly a reaction to a perceived white-flag season after dumping so many free agents last year.  Florida’s economy is in the tank, and there will be no new stadium financing (especially after Loria’s fleecing of Miami).  So Tampa is facing the very real possibility of moving themselves.  They’ve even recently had talk of declaring bankruptcy in order to force a new stadium discussion.

If there are existing markets that clearly cannot support baseball, then how can we add two more teams?

In the end, Would I like to see expansion? I think expansion makes more sense than splitting up the leagues and doing interleague every day.  If the TV revenue issues can be resolved and somehow these smaller market new additions find stadium deals that make them financially acceptable, then expansion makes the most sense.

Written by Todd Boss

July 13th, 2011 at 1:32 pm