Nationals Arm Race

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

Archive for the ‘josh hamilton’ tag

Who *really* should be in the HR derby?

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Puig would *make* the home run derby.  photo mlb.com

Puig would *make* the home run derby. photo mlb.com

I have to admit it: the home run derby has probably become my favorite part of the all-star game festivities.  That and the futures game of course.  The all-star game itself has devolved into a farce with a slew of issues (I posted a lot of these criticisms in my 2011 Nats all-star piece, and they remain issues today, so no need to go back into them here).  Lets talk about the Home Run derby.

I kind of like the wrinkle of naming “captains,” which for this year occurred on 6/23/14.  But the captains have to pick the right guys.  I hate the format; when a guy like Josh Hamilton is remembered for his epic performance in an early round moreso than the winner, something’s wrong with the format.   But they’re changing it this year.   And the players take *way* too many pitches.  But whatever.  This year’s captains are Troy Tulowitzki and Jose Bautista.  Fans can vote on who they want to see in the competition.

Here’s my ideal home-run derby slate of participants.  In the interest of keeping the competition “small” i’ve limited this to 5 per league:

National League:

  • Giancarlo Stanton: owner of 3 of the biggest 11 homers on the year, on pace for 45+ homers, leading the NL in home runs.  And he wants in this year.
  • Bryce Harper: last year’s runner-up is one of the few players in the majors scouted with 80 power; despite his injury-plagued season he belongs in this competition.
  • Michael Morse: not too many all-or-nothing hitters like Morse, whose name dots the leader board on hittracker.
  • Evan Gattis: you don’t just turn on chest-high fastballs from Strasburg if you’re a plain ole hitter.
  • Yasiel Puig: just because.  Can he do a bat flip after every homer?

Left out:

  • Troy Tulowitzki: He’s in as a captain, but even despite that selection he’s a decent choice: he’s 5th in the majors in ISO and tied for 6th in Homers.
  • Paul Goldschmidt: has the power capabilities and the overall game.  But he’s not nearly as explosive as the guys above.
  • Ryan Howard: He may not merit inclusion based on his performance, but he’s a classic three-true outcomes hitter.  Lefties get him out with ease; i’m sure batting practice pitchers don’t.
  • Todd Frazier: his power numbers spike thanks to playing in Cincinnati, but he’s still got some serious underrated power.
  • Justin Upton: Owner of the 3rd longest homer on the year.

American League:

  • Yoenis Cespedes: gotta let the man defend his crown.
  • Edwin Encarnacion: MLB leader in Homers as of this writing.  Has to be in this competition.
  • Jose Abreu: MLB leader in ISO and on a 40 homer pace despite hitting the D/L.
  • David Ortiz: Owns the 2nd longest homer hit this season and would make a nice homecoming in Minnesota.
  • Mike Trout: He’s such a good hitter, that he could just sit at the plate and hit homer after homer.  And, he just hit a 489 foot homer to take over the longest homer of the year.

Left Out

  • Jose Bautista: He’s a captain, so we’ll list him here.   Otherwise he’s a stretch to make this list.
  • Victor Martinez: he’s quietly one of the best power hitters in the league right now.
  • Mark Trumbo: too bad he’s hurt; he’s a great power hitter to watch.
  • Nelson Cruz: his homer totals may be augmented by playing in Baltimore, but he’s still putting numbers on the board.
  • Adam Dunn: you know he’d be a favorite to win if he was named to this team, but I could only select 5.  He’d be the 6th man in for the AL.

Are these the best lineups you could possibly ask for in this competition?  Who else would you put on this list of power-crazy players?  Jim Caple posted his own tongue-in-cheek version of this same post, worth a read for a quick giggle.  There’s a handful of other DH-only types in the AL (Billy Butler, Chris Carter, Adam Lind, Juan Francisco, etc) who might make sense.

(I used three resources to name these names: the current major league leaders in Homers, the current major league leaders in Isolated Power, and an eyeballing of the leader board for most astoundingly long homers on the year from Hit Tracker Online.  All stats are as of 6/24/14 and may have changed slightly between then and the publication of this post).

Qualifying Offers; are they working?

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In the wake of several posts I’ve seen on the topic of Qualifying Offers (one long-winded piece from the long-winded windbag Murray Chass here, accusing the owners of collusion in the cases of Stephen Drew and Kendrys Morales instead of just understanding the state of the game, another from the more reasonable Jayson Stark here, talking about some potential fixes, and their respective agent Scott Boras whining about anonymous executive quotes in an ESPN article here), I thought I’d do some quantitiative-summary analysis of the Q.O. so far.

I think its fairly inarguable to state that the system isn’t really working how the players envisioned; especially as two decent FAs still sit un-signed.  Clearly the players union did not realize just how much teams are valuing draft picks, to the point where they’d rather keep a mid-first rounder than sign a decent middle-aged free agent.  I also believe that several of the players this past off-season got *really* bad advice on the state of the market for their services, and wholy deserve their fates.  Baseball is changing; we’re seeing metrics highlighting the value of defense, we’re seeing positional flexibility win out over inflexibility, and we’re seeing teams go with youth over veterans even when the cost difference is rather negligible.  That middle-aged, defensively challenged free agents (especially Morales) didn’t see this is entirely on them.  The situation is even worse for players of advancing years, who are not even getting contract offers after decent seasons and are being forced into early retirement in some cases.

Here’s part of a spreadsheet I put together, analyzing the eight guys who were faced with Q.O. decisions after the 2012 season:

Year Player Old Team New Team Draft Pick Forfeited Signing Date Subsequent contract (w/o options) Money up/down per AAV Q.O. Screw the player?
2012 Josh Hamilton TEX LAA 1-22 12/13/2012 5yrs/$125M 11.7 No
2012 Michael Bourn ATL CLE 2sup-69 2/11/2013 4yrs/$48M -1.3 Sort of
2012 Kyle Lohse STL MIL 1-17 3/25/2013 3yrs/$33M -2.3 Yes
2012 Adam LaRoche WAS WAS none 1/16/2012 2/$24 -1.3 Yes
2012 B.J. Upton TB ATL 1-28 11/28/2012 5/$75.25M 1.95 No
2012 Hiroki Kuroda NYY NYY none 11/20/2012 1yr/$15M 1.7 No
2012 Rafael Soriano NYY WAS 1-29 1/8/2013 2yr/$28M (lots deferred) 0.7 Sort of
2012 Nick Swisher NYY CLE 2-43 12/23/2012 4yr/$56M 0.7 No

Arguably, 3 of the 8 players in question were never going to be affected by the Q.O. (Hamilton and Upton because of the known long-term deals they were going to get, and Kuroda for being nearly guaranteed to return to the Yankees).  So, by my way of thinking 4 of the remaining 5 players in the  2012 FA class had their earnings either curtailed or affected by the presence of the Q.O.:

  • Michael Bourn got a longer deal with more guaranteed money, but he got less in AAV than the Q.O. he turned down, so perhaps my view is arguable that he was affected.
  • Rafael Soriano languished on the FA market until the Nats suprisingly signed him; his AAV in “real” dollars was significantly less in its estimate per year than the Q.O. he turned down (most estimates i’ve seen are at $11M/year with all the deferred money in his deal).  I hope Soriano keeps sending his agent Xmas cards; clearly Boras pulled a rabbit out of a hat to get him signed here.
  • Adam LaRoche saw very little interest in his services and returned to the Nats on a discounted deal; meanwhile players with comparable skills but without compensation issues earned more years and more dollars.  Shane Victorino; 3yrs/$39M as an example.
  • Kyle Lohse probably suffered the worst fate; he didn’t sign until a week before the season and for more than a 15% discount per year.  Meanwhile lesser pitcher Edwin Jackson got 4yrs/$52M by way of comparison, without a Q.O. attached to him.

Now here’s the same information for the thirteen players who dealt with (or who are dealing with) the issue after the 2013 season:

Year Player Old Team New Team Draft Pick Forfeited Signing Date Subsequent contract (w/o options) Money up/down per AAV Q.O. Screw the player?
2013 Carlos Beltran STL NYY 1sup-29 12/??/2013 3yrs/$45M 0.9 No
2013 Robinson Cano NYY SEA 2-47 12/12/2013 10yrs/$240M 9.9 No
2013 Shin-Soo Choo CIN TEX 1-22 12/??/2013 7yrs/$130M 4.47 No
2013 Nelson Cruz TEX BAL 2-56 2/22/2014 1yr/$8M -6.1 Yes
2013 Stephen Drew BOS unsigned ?? unsigned unsigned Yes
2013 Jacoby Ellsbury BOS NYY 1sup-30 12/13/2013 7yrs/$153M 7.76 No
2013 Curtis Granderson NYY NYM 2-51 12/??/13 4yrs/$60M 0.9 No
2013 Ubaldo Jimenez CLE BAL 1-17 2/19/2014 4yrs/$50M -1.6 Yes
2013 Hiroki Kuroda NYY NYY none 12/6/2013 1yr/$16M 1.9 No
2013 Brian McCann ATL NYY 1-18 12/3/2013 5yrs/$85M 2.9 No
2013 Kendrys Morales SEA unsigned ?? unsigned unsigned Yes
2013 Mike Napoli BOS BOS none 12/12/2013 2yrs/$32M 1.9 No
2013 Ervin Santana KC ATL 1-29 3/12/2014 1yr/$14.1M 0 Yes

Similarly to 2012, there were several FAs in this class for whom the Q.O. meant nothing: Cano, Choo, Ellsbury, McCann and Kuroda.  So, by my way of thinking 5 of the remaining 8 players had their contracts impacted … but two in a much more visible way:

  • Drew and Morales remain unsigned to this point … and its hard to envision a scenario right now where any team would sign these players until after the Rule 4 draft in early June.  Why give up a draft pick at this point?   On the bright side for both players, there may be a veritable bidding war for their services after the draft, and they could get decent contracts which have (by rule) no further draft pick compensation issues.
  • Nelson Cruz had to take a $6M pay-cut due to his not taking the Q.O., a serious miscalculation of his market by him and his agent.
  • You may argue whether or not Ubaldo Jimenez really got screwed here, since he got $50M guaranteed in a four year deal.  But his AAV is a good 10% less than the Q.O. that he spurned form Cleveland.
  • You can also argue about Ervin Santana, who signed for *exactly* the Q.O. amount once Atlanta lost most of their rotation for the year.  I still say he was impacted because of the amount of time it took and his subsequent service time loss to start the season.

If i’m a future veteran FA … i’d be rather worried.

So, what’s the fix?  Some say that this situation will naturally just take care of itself; next off-season maybe some players will finally take the Q.O. (remember; we’ve yet to have a single player take the offer), which in turn should make some teams wary of offering them in subsequent years.   But by the time this situation naturally plays itself out, it’ll be time for the next bargaining session.

I think the MLBPA needs to (in the next bargaining session) cut the cord on the link between draft picks and free agent compensation once and for all.  The entire reason draft pick compensation was invented was to “help” the little guys who lost free agents to the big teams.  But look at the list of the teams who are generally offering Q.O.’s to players right now: 6 of the 21 total offer’d players were from the Yankees, another 3 from Boston.  Those aren’t exactly teams “in need” of being given more picks in the draft.  In fact, of the 21 players who have gone through this system, by my count just THREE played for a team that I’d qualify as a “small market” (Upton from Tampa Bay, Jimenez from Cleveland and Santana from Kansas City).  Every other player plays for either a major market or a successful team in a mid-sized market.  How is this system “working” as per its original intent, at all??

Maybe the right way of doing things is to punish the big teams for signing FAs … but don’t allow them to “game” the system by subsequently gaining more picks back.   The Yankees signed four Q.O. affected free agents this past off-season … but only really lost one draft pick thanks to them having offered up and received their own compensatory picks for the players they knew they were going to lose anyway.  Why aren’t the Yankees being forced to lose their first four ROUNDS of draft picks?  If you’re in the top 10 in payroll, you only can lose in the draft pick compensation game, not win.

Footnote: Yes I acknowledge that, “in the grand scheme of things” it is really difficult to feel sorrow for a player for “only” earning $8M/year when he could have signed for $14.1M.  And its pretty hard to feel empathy for someone who feels slighted because he “only” got a 1-year 8 figure deal.  In some ways the money figures we talk about remind me of the infamous quote from NBA player Latrell Sprewell, who turned down a contract offer of $21M on the grounds that he “needed to be able to feed his family.”   For the sake of this post, lets dispense with the typical comments I see on the internet about how much money these guys are making as compared to middle-americans who struggle to get by on the median incomes for this country.  Baseball players participate in an economic market just like the rest of us; it just happens to value their talents at levels measured in the tens of millions of dollars instead of the tens of thousands that us normal people are used to.  For a huge, huge majority of professional baseball players, even a few seasons at the MLB minimum is all they’re ever going to see as payoff for years and years of incredibly curtailed earnings in the minors, and I’ll never consider these guys “overpaid.”

My 2014 Fantasy Baseball Team

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Adam Jones; my #1 fantasy draft pick in 2014.  Photo unk.

Adam Jones; my #1 fantasy draft pick in 2014. Photo unk.

As with years past … feel free to skip this post if you don’t care about fantasy.  I know for certain that reading about someone elses’s fantasy sports team can be a bit grating.  But, if you do play fantasy i’m sure you’ll at least appreciate reading the selections and then looking at the team’s strength analysis at the end.

I’ll include a jump line so your RSS feeds aren’t blown out either.

Read the rest of this entry »

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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Ladson’s Inbox 10/23/13 edition

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At least when Williams takes the job, his uniform colors won't change much.  Photo unk via zimbio.com

At least when Williams takes the job, his uniform colors won’t change much. Photo unk via zimbio.com

[Editor's note: I wrote this nearly two weeks ago and forgot to publish it.   Since Oct 23rd, obviously we've hired a manager and crowned a WS champion.  So some of this may sound dated.  In fact, the first two questions are about a topic that's already been settled].

While we wait for the beginning of what looks to be a classic World Series (a rare time when both #1 seeds make the series), Bill Ladson pops up with the latest edition of his mailbag, dated 10/23/13.  Without a manager and with interviewee names swirling, lets see what the tenor of the questions is on mlb.com.

As always, I write my answer here before reading Ladson’s and edit questions for clarity if needed.

Q: Do you think Dusty Baker has a shot at becoming the manager of the Nationals?

A: Nope.  I think Dusty Baker‘s demonstrated obstinance to any modern baseball strategy will prevent him from working for Mike Rizzo.  Rizzo isn’t exactly Mr. Sabrematrician GM, but he seems to know which way the tides are going in the baseball industry (as opposed to, say, Philadelphia’s Ruben Amaro).   Baker may be bound for the broadcast booth come 2014 and beyond, along side other stubborn old-school baseball people like Joe Morgan and Tim McCarver who seem determined to continue the historical narratives of the game.  What are Baker’s primary sins?  Stubborn adherence to the save statistic with Aroldis Chapman, over-use of the bunt, no defensive shifting imagination, and lineup mistakes involving the #2 hitter.  Ladson doesn’t criticize any of Baker’s moves, just notes that the Nats want someone  younger.  Yes there’s that too.

Q: What are the chances of Cal Ripken Jr. managing the Nats?

A: Apparently as slim as Baker’s.  Rizzo (for better or worse) likes his Arizona connections, and that’s why I think it’ll be Matt Williams.  I know that Tom Boswell wrote a fierce rebuttal in either a chat or a column to those who think Ripken is not “qualified” to be a manager … but I still tend to think that modern baseball managers need a maturation time no matter how much time they played or how good they were.  Ryne Sandberg toiled in the minors for years before getting his shot, Williams is a bench coach, Don Mattingly was Joe Torre‘s bench coach for years.  Its kind of the same reason why I don’t think player-managers will ever work again in the Majors; the job is too specialized these days to just put some veteran out there and ask him to do both roles.   Ladson says no-go on Ripken.

Q: When do you think Rizzo will finally give Ian Desmond a long-term contract which he deserves?

A: Good question.  Ian Desmond‘s two consecutive 4 bWAR seasons have probably increased his FA market cap about 10 times over.  You’d be hard pressed at this point to compare Desmond to Elvis Andrus (he of the 8yr/$120M contract) and not finding them to be equals.  Its a balancing act; in April of 2012 this team was wondering if Desmond was going to be released.  Now, two great seasons later we’re wondering if we can get  him to sign for “just” $100M.

My theory on baseball team construction says that you need to lock up your “spine.”  If you have quality players at Catcher, (Starting) Pitcher, Shortstop and Center Field, you lock them up and then fill in around them.  Because good two-way catchers, short stops and CFs are the hardest positions to lock up.  So for me, I want Desmond locked up for the long haul.  Ladson thinks this will happen before or during Spring Training.

Q: I know the Nats insist the offense is set for next year, but do you see any possibility of the team pursuing a big name like Robinson Cano to help improve the offense?

A: Maybe, but I doubt it.  Robinson Cano‘s salary demands given the current state of the game (where draft picks are cherished and teams show they can make the playoffs by building from within on a budget) and the clear mistakes that recent massive deals for aging sluggers (Albert PujolsJosh Hamilton being exhibits A and B) will likely make teams shy away from his contract demands.  The Nationals have to be looking at their current payroll (two 9-figure deals already), look at who they’re going to have to pay in the next few  years (Desmond, ZimmermannHarper, and Strasburg leading the way) and should be thinking to themselves … would we be better served with the low-budget Anthony Rendon versus breaking the bank on Cano?  I would be saying that, and I’d imagine most every other team out there is as well.  I think Cano slinks back to New York for great money, but nothing like $300M.  Ladsons hedges; anything is possible.

Q: I look around with envy at the Braves and Cardinals with their young fireballers. After Henry Rodriguez left, it seems as if the Nationals do not have any relievers who fit that role. Are they in the Minors, and if so, how long until they can contribute?

A: Lord, I think that’s the first time I’ve ever heard someone complain about the team releasing Henry Rodriguez.  The Braves have a lot of firepower … but not in the rotation you’ll note.  MedlenHudson, Minor and Maholm all were relatively softer tossers.  Meanwhile the Nats placed three guys into the qualified top 17 starters in terms of average FB velocity.  So don’t sleep on the Nats.  I’d rather have velocity in my starters versus relievers.   However I will note that only Drew Storen ranked in the top 50 of relievers in FB velocity this year … whereas the Braves had a couple guys in the top 10.

The Cardinals are who they are; the best (or 2nd best with Tampa) franchise in the game for producing pitching.  They’re the envy of every franchise.  But Rizzo is trying; he’s drafted a TON of pitching over the past few years, he’s focused on power arms when he could, and there’s a lot of decent starters rising in our system as we speak.  Not all of them are going to stick as Starters, so we could get more power arms into the bullpen.  Consider Nathan Karns; in his MLB debut on 5/28/13 he averaged 94.4, hit 97.1 as a peak, which would easily put him on page one of MLB relievers.  So help could be coming.  I cannot think of a big-time, known hard-thrower off-hand; the MPH readings we get from the minors are so spotty.  Ladson reports that A.J. Cole, Blake Treinen, Jake Johansen and Jefry Rodriguez as profiling as hard-throwers in the near 100 mph range. 

Q: With Michael Morse available as a free agent next year, would the Nats consider bringing him back?

A: I know this is a common refrain among fans, but after his departure and after seeing what he’s done in the outfield (he was absolutely *awful* in 2013; in 456 innings in RF he posted a -33.1 UZR/150.  Wow), I believe Michael Morse belongs in the AL as a 1B/DH type.  I can’t see him taking a bench role, not after hitting 30 homers just two seasons ago.  I can see him taking a low-cost deal to DH somewhere and try to rebuild some value.  Ladson agrees.

 

Ladson’s Inbox 8/26/13

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ClippardTyler_landing_masn.com

Tyler Clippard has been one of the few bright spots for the 2013 Nats; why isn’t he closing? Photo Masn.

Excellent, I was just thinking that I had nothing to write about and MLB Nats beat reporter Bill Ladson posted a mailbox.  Honestly, if I had a steady stream of people emailing me questions I’d have a field day.  I’d post so much content my hands would melt from carpal tunnel syndrome.  I’d post 8,000 word columsn like what Bill Simmons used to do.  Anyway.

Here’s how I’d have responded to the questions Ladson took.  As always, I write my answer here before reading his and edit questions for clarity/conciseness.

Q: Given the way Dan Haren has pitched since being activated from the disabled list, do you see any chance the Nationals re-signing him?

A: Nope.  Zero.  Zilch.  They’re not going to make another $13M mistake in 2014, not with the way that Taylor Jordan has pitched.  The Nats little splurge last off-season pushed their payroll into unknown territory, and I’ll bet they bring it back (especially since that pocketbook hit brought nothing but a .500 record).  Dan Haren is more likely to get flipped to a pitching starved contender in the next week (unless the Nats stupidly hold out for too many prospects, as seems to be the case) and will be plying his trade elsewhere next season.  Ladson says no as well but then completely hedges his answer, saying that “things could change” and “we should have more information in the off-season.”   Well, can’t that be the answer to every question?  

Q: Why isn’t Tyler Clippard closing? 

A: Because the Nats stupidly gave Rafael Soriano a $30M deal, and he’s a “big name closer” that someone in this team’s executive heirarchy was convinced that we needed.  I don’t think it was Mike Rizzo; this moves smelled like a fan-boy ownership panic move in reaction to Drew Storen‘s NLCS Game 5 meltdown.  The problem with Soriano, as has been well established in his prior stints, is that he’s a whiner, a clubhouse cancer, and a problem child when he’s not used in save situations.  His track record speaks for itself: look at his seasonal performances when he’s a closer versus when he’s not.  He wore out his welcome in Tampa Bay with probably the most easy-going manager in the game Joe Maddon.  We’ve already learned this year he doesn’t work out with his fellow relievers, sits off to himself, isn’t a part of the team.  Great acquisition guys!

We played in the Diamond Dream Foundation golf tournament yesterday and had the opportunity to play alongside former Baltimore Oriole pitcher Dave Johnson, who now does radio work for the Orioles on MASN.  This same topic came up; why isn’t Clippard closing but more importantly; what are the Nats going to do with Tyler Clippard in this coming arbitration hearing?   Johnson said that the save statistic is what the players wanted to be judged on for arbitration hearings, and now they’re slaves to it.  Clippard is having a fantastic season, but isn’t the closer, and he belives that management isn’t going to want to pay him $5-$6M to be a “middle reliever.”  I’m guessing the Nats try to sign Clippard to a 2-year deal this off-season, buying out his arbitration years.

They’ll never do this, but another option for the team is this; trade Clippard to a team looking for a closer, get prospects back, and then his pay becomes commensurate with his role.  But this would significantly weaken the bullpen going into next year needlessly.  Its only money; if the Nats didn’t learn this from last year’s transactions (letting Tom Gorzelanny walk over a couple of million dollars?  Non-tendering John Lannan to save $5m?) then that’s unfortunate.  I’d rather have had a couple of guys getting a ton of money as insurance policies than a $30M closer for a .500 team.

Ladson pointed out curious reliever usage in the last series and postulates that Davey Johnson may have had enough of Soriano himself.  We’ll see if Clippard closes the rest of the way and how Soriano handles it.

Q: Do you think Mike Rizzo would consider hiring Mike Scioscia as the Nationals’ next manager? Looks like his time in Anaheim may be ending.

A: Absolutely.  If the Angels are dumb enough to let Mike Scioscia go, then I agree with Buster Olney and Jayson Stark, who talked about this same issue on the Baseball Tonight Podcast late last week.  They said that if Scioscia is fired, “he’ll have a new job in 0.2 seconds.”   The Angels aren’t losing because of Scioscia; they’re losing because the GM wanted to spend $400M on aging FA bats in Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton while spending about $5 on starting pitching this year.  (I STILL cannot believe the Joe Blanton contract; how does he get a 2yr/$15M contract after the way he pitched in 2012??).  Ladson agrees.

Q: Considering how well Werth has played this year, are we giving up on Span too soon?

A: Possibly.  Or possibly we were just expressing irritation that Denard Span is playing exactly as we feared he would; posting a 91 OPS+ which is nearly identical to his production in 2010 and 2011.   I’m tired of repeating my own opinion on the matter (we didn’t need Span, we could have kept Harper in center, you’re wasting Harper’s defense in left, we could have used Morse’s power, we didn’t need to give up our best starting pitching prospect, defense in LF and 1B is overrated, blah blah blah).   Ladson says that Span has a “friendly contract” and can be dealt.  Sorry; don’t see that.  Rizzo’s way too egotistical to admit a mistake and deal Span now.

Q: Looking to next year, doesn’t Steve Lombardozzi remind you of Chase Utley at second? And what happens with Tyler Moore as either an outfielder or first baseman? Both of these young guys are too good not to get a real chance at starting for the Nats.

A: Steve Lombardozzi as Chase Utley?  Uh; Utley averaged 30 homers in his peak years and has more than 200 for his career.  Lombardozzi has four.  4 homers in his life.  Lombardozzi is a slap hitter, Utley is a middle of the order power hitter.  Other than that, yeah I guess they’re similar.   As for Tyler Moore I guess the questioner either a) hasn’t seen his seasonal numbers or b) has forgotten that the Nats have guys locked up through 2014 at every position that Moore can play.  Unless there’s an injury, the guy is a backup in 2014.  Ladson agrees with me on Lombardozzi.  As for Moore, Ladson seems to think that the Nats might trade LaRoche.  Really??  Who is going to take LaRoche for 2014?  He’s hitting .238 with barely any power for a first baseman.  Who’s taking that contract and giving us anything of value coming back?  Wishful thinking.

Q: Would the Nationals have interest in signing outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury, who is a free agent after this season?

A: I would think not; Jacoby Ellsbury is going to want too much money, we have no place to play him, and I don’t think he’s worth the money.  He had one great season, a couple of decent ones and otherwise is a below-average offensive outfielder.    I think he’s a lock to stay in Boston.  Ladson notes that Ellsbury is a Scott Boras client so you never know what’ll happen.

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.

 

MLB 2013 Predictions

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Opening day has past and I forgot to post the obligatory “predictions” piece for 2013.  Here’s some far-too-early predictions on who makes the playoffs this year.  For comparison purposes. here’s the Si.com Writer’s slate of predictions, with lots of success predicted for our Nats.  My predictions below look awfully similar to Si.com’s Baseball Preview standings too.

(For a trip down memory lane, here’s a link to my 2012 seasonal predictions, and as you may have guessed, I was way off).

  • AL East: Tampa Bay
  • AL Central: Detroit
  • AL West: Los Angeles Angels
  • AL Wild Cards: Toronto, Oakland

AL East Narrative: The year the Yankees died; they’re too old, too dependent on aging arms and aging bats, and did next to nothing to improve in the off-season (though they did just pick up Vernon Wells, the Angels’ 4th outfielder.  Great!)  For a team that makes hundreds of millions of dollars of profits a year from the stadium and their TV station, they seem awfully worried about a few million dollars of luxury tax.  (see *ahem* Los Angeles Dodgers *cough*).  I think Baltimore regresses back to the .500 team they should have been in 2012 (they too failed to appreciably improve their playoff team), and Boston seems stuck in some weird middle-ground for the time being.  Toronto seems greatly improved but falls slightly short of the champ.  Tampa is left standing in the AL East; they won’t miss James Shields that much with their amazing pitching depth and can call up the next version of Trout/Harper in Wil Myers in mid June.

In the AL Central, Kansas City’s short sighted trade will net them a .500 record, but isn’t nearly enough to catch the Tigers, who return their whole rotation, get back Victor Martinez and add a possibly underrated Torii Hunter to add to their formidable lineup.  How they only won 88 games last year still amazes me.  The White Sox could challenge, but what have they really done this off-season either?   On the bright side, all these teams get to feast on Cleveland and Minnesota, both of whom look to lose 90+ games.

In the AL West, the Angels (who had the best record in baseball post Trout-callup) continue where they left off and bash their way to a 90 win divisional title despite serious questions in the rotation.  Texas hasn’t replaced what they lost in the last two off-seasons in terms of either hitting (Josh Hamilton) or pitching (C.J. Wilson, Ryan Dempster, or Colby Lewis)  but should still compete for the 2nd wild card.  But, absent signing Kyle Lohse (too late; he went to Milwaukee) or doing something to augment their starting pitching, I see trouble in the back of their rotation.  Meanwhile, Seattle made one curious move after another this off-season, all to finish in 4th place.  And Houston will challenge the 1962 Mets for futility, to the benefit of the entire division.

Wild Cards: Toronto has bought themselves a playoff team with their wholesale purchase of half the Marlins team.  However, I wouldn’t be surprised to see both WCs come out of the AL west, who get to feast on two pretty bad teams.  For the time being i’ll predict that Oakland and Texas duke it out to the wire, with Oakland pipping them for yet another surprise playoff appearance.  Oakland won the division last year; who would doubt them again this year with a very young pitching staff having one additional year of experience?  I think it comes at the expense of Texas this year instead of the Angels.

How about the NL?

  • NL East: Washington
  • NL Central: Cincinnati
  • NL West: San Francisco
  • NL Wild Cards: Atlanta, St. Louis

NL East Narrative: Despite some people thinking that Atlanta has done enough to get by the Nats, I don’t quite see it.  The Upton brothers are high on potential but so far relatively low in actual production except in fits and spurts.   Philadelphia can make a decent run up to perhaps 88 wins … but it won’t be enough, and reports of Roy Halladay‘s declining velocity are more than troubling.  Meanwhile the Marlins are going to be historically bad; in the past when they’ve done sell-offs they had marquee crops of rookies to rise up.  Not this time; their farm system is decimated and they didn’t really get back the A-1 prospects of all their salary dumps that they should have.  The only way the Nats don’t cruise to a title would be significant injuries in the rotation, for which they have little insurance.

In the NL Central, St. Louis’ loss of Chris Carpenter may be just enough to knock them out of the divisional race, where Cincinnati looks like the most complete team outside of the Nats in all of baseball.   Pittsburgh is a couple years (and a couple of pitching aces in Jamison Taillon and Gerrit Cole) away from really competing, the Cubs are content losing 95 games, and Milwaukee still looks like the same team that barely was .500 last year (even given the Kyle Lohse signing).

In the NL West; who would bet against the Giants at this point?   Despite the ridiculous payroll, I don’t think the Dodgers are really that good and they’re hoarding starting pitchers for too few spots (though, looking at the Spring Training performance of some of these guys … they’ll likely not fetch what the Dodgers need).  Arizona keeps trading away its best players to get marginal prospects who happen to fit Kirk Gibson‘s mold of a “gritty player” … and they seem to be set to be a 3rd place team again.  Colorado and San Diego seem to be in various states of disarray, again.

Wild Cards: Atlanta may be a 96 win wild card.  Meanwhile, despite losing Carpenter the Cardinals can slot in any one of a number of high-powered arms to replace him in the rotation and continue to draw from what is now the consensus best farm system in the majors.  They’ll sneak into the wild card much as they did last year and commence bashing their way through the playoffs.

AL Playoff predictions:

  • WC play-in: Toronto beats out Oakland, whose youngsters will be completely baffled in a one-game playoff versus R.A. Dickey.
  • Divisionals: Toronto beats intra-divisional rival Tampa Bay, while Detroit takes advantage of a weakened Los Angeles rotation and takes a close series.
  • ALCS: Detroit outlasts Toronto in the ALCS on the strenght of its starting pitching.

NL Playoff predictions

  • WC play-in: Atlanta beats St. Louis in the play-in by NOT allowing an infield-fly pop up to fall in this year.
  • Divisionals: Washington outlasts Atlanta in one brutal divisional series, Cincinnati gets revenge on San Francisco in the other.
  • NLCS: Washington over Cincinnati; they’re just slightly better on both sides of the ball.

World Series: Washington’s proclivities to strike out come back to haunt them as the Tigers excellent starting pitchers dominate.   Can’t be too confident in our Nats; i’d love to be wrong and send out Davey Johnson a winner.

Awards: this is just folly to do pre-season awards picks but here’s a quick run through without much commentary:

  • AL MVP: Mike Trout gets the award he should have won last year
  • AL Cy Young: Justin Verlander as he wins 24 games in the weak AL Central
  • AL Rookie; Wil Myers, who rakes once he gets called up in June
  • AL Manager: Joe Madden, who guides Tampa to the best record in the AL.
  • NL MVP: Joey Votto, though I wouldn’t be surprised to see Bryce Harper in the mix either as the default “best player on a playoff team” voting scheme takes over.
  • NL Cy Young: Stephen Strasburg, who won’t have as good of numbers as Clayton Kershaw but gets the nod because of east coast bias.
  • NL Rookie: Jedd Gyorko, though Julio Teheran could finally have it figured out.
  • NL Manager; I have no idea; this usually just goes to the most “surprising” team and I don’t see many surprises in the NL this year.  Bruce Bochy.

My 2013 Fantasy Baseball Team

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Kemp reacts to being Boss' first round pick in my fantasy league for the 2nd year running. Photo unknown via ladodgertalk.com

Editor’s note: feel free to stop reading now if you don’t want to read 4,400+ words on my fantasy baseball team.  I won’t blame you for it.  For those of you who do play fantasy, as I made picks I wrote down who I was considering and who was available per each pick to try to give some context for the pick.  I’ll insert a “jump” line here so that RSS readers don’t have to see this whole massive post :-)

Read the rest of this entry »

Starting Pitching Quality in the WBC

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I keep a little file, periodically updated, that keeps track of “Ace Starters” in the league.  There’s usually right around 20 of them at any one time.  There’s no hard and fast rule as to what defines an Ace; not every team has an Ace.  Some teams have more than one Ace.  Its essentially defined as a guy who, every time he goes to the hill, he is expected to win, a perennial Cy Young candidate, a guy who is acknowledged as being one of the best in the game.

Here’s my list of “Aces” in this league, right now; Strasburg, Gonzalez, Halladay, Lee, Hamels, Cueto, Wainwright, Lincecum, Cain, Kershaw, Greinke, Lester, Price, Sabathia, Dickey, Johnson, Verlander, Hernandez, Darvish and Weaver.    Twenty guys, some arguable with poor 2012 performances (Lester, Lincecum, Johnson, Halladay), some arguable for possibly being one-year wonders (Dickey, Greinke, Gonzalez), but by and large a quick list of the 20 best starters in the league.

How many of these Aces are pitching in the 2013 WBC?  TWO.  That’s it.  Gio Gonzalez and R.A. Dickey are starting for the US.  Not one other US Ace is taking the hill for their country.  The few foreign guys (Hernandez, Cueto and Darvish) aren’t pitching for their teams either for various reasons.

If you asked me to give you the 4 best US starters, right now, the four starters I’d throw in a World Baseball Classic to best represent this country, I’d probably go (in nearly this order) Verlander, Kershaw, Strasburg and maybe Cole Hamels.   If you asked me the NEXT four guys i’d want on the bump i’d probably go Sabathia, Cain, Price and Lee.   After that?  I’d probably still take the likes of Halladay and Greinke before I got to Gonzalez or Dickey.   And that’s only because of the poor 2012 showings by Lincecum, Lester and Johnson; if this was 2011, those three guys are absolutely in the mix for best arms in the league.  So by rough estimates, we have perhaps the 14th and 15th best American starters going for us right now.

Who else does the US team have starting?   Ryan Vogelsong and Derek Holland.  Vogelsong is the 4th best starter ON HIS OWN TEAM, and Holland isn’t much further up on the Texas depth chart.

I’m enjoying the WBC, don’t get me wrong, but you can repeat this exercise for a number of the positional players on this roster too.   Look at the post-season voting last year and look at who is playing on these teams.  No Buster Posey, Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, Andrew McCutchen, Josh Hamilton or Prince Fielder.  There is only one player who got an NL Cy Young vote in 2012 participating (Fernando Rodney for the D.R.).  I think this event needs its best players to play, and I think the league needs to come up with a way of making that happen.  No more injury dispensations, no more excuses for not having the best, most marketable guys out there.

Why in the hell aren’t Trout and Harper playing for the team USA??   This is the best duo of young, marketable players to this this league since the 1998 home run derby.  They’re on the cover of Men’s Health Magazine and Sports Illustrated in the last month.   You use what you have and market the league on the backs of players like this.  Look at the NBA; they market on top of their most recognizable names and they have grown because of it, from Michael Jordan to Kobe Bryant to LeBron James.  Why MLB can’t seem to see the forest for the trees sometimes is just frustrating.  The WBC is growing in popularity; its ratings in Japan eclipsed the TV ratings for the Olympics in that country, and the US games reportedly have gotten the highest ratings for a non-playoff game in TV history).  Team USA needs to catch on.