Nationals Arm Race

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Who is really “trying” this year?

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Is someone going to sign this guy?? Photo via mlb.com

Is someone going to sign this guy?? Photo via mlb.com

We’re in a weird time in baseball.  The players drastically misplayed their hand in the last couple of CBA negotiations, allowing the luxury tax to become so penurious that it now basically functions as a hard cap … but without the corresponding hard floors that would prevent the wholesale tanking we’ve been seeing lately.  This has resulted (along with a couple other factors) in the worst FA market we’ve seen since the days of collusion.

I thought i’d do a little noodling to see just how bad this problem is.

Taking a quick look at 2017 off-season spending patterns and looking at the general activities of teams, here’s what seems to be going on:

Trying and Spending Big

  • Boston: not really a surprise that they’re spending money, with more just announced with J.D. Martinez.  The Boston-NYY wars are back on.
  • New York Yankees: obviously trying … not necessarily “spending” a ton of money on the FA market but spent a ton to acquire Giancarlo Stanton in terms of added payroll
  • Los Angeles Angels, who won the Ohtani sweepstakes, signed Justin Upton to a 9-figure deal and have made moves.
  • Philadelphia: Added nearly $40M in payroll … but in really odd moves for a team that seems like it should just be waiting things out another year.   Does anyone really think they’re a playoff team?
  • Milwaukee: they even bought a compensation-attached FA in Lorenzo Cain, perhaps looking at their division and sensing that a WC run is in the offing.
  • Chicago Cubs: they’re the big spenders this off-season, having more than $50M of payroll AAV
  • Colorado: still spending money in an attempt to get into the NL WC game.

Trying and Spending “some”

  • Minnesota: the most surprising team on this “trying and spending” list; the Twins keep signing guys.  Good for them.
  • New York Mets: they definitely have signed FAs … but they’re not signing marquee guys who might actually help them get better.
  • San Francisco: they havn’t signed a ton of guys, but have “spent” a ton of prospect depth to acquire the likes of Andrew McCutchen and Evan Longoria this off-season.
  • San Diego: in one of the more inexplicable deals of the past few years, San Diego signed Eric Hosmer to a $144M deal so that they can continue to finish 30+ games out of first in the NL West.  But hey, they spent some cash!

So, that’s just 11 of the 30 teams that are actively spending on the FA market.  About a third of the league.   And it includes half the teams you’d project to make the playoffs this year right now (Boston, NYY, Milwaukee, Colorado and Minnesota).

How many of these teams are “done”  spending at this point?  There’s still several QO-attached FAs who are/were expecting $50M or bigger contracts; where in this list above do you see anyone still willing to absorb a $20M/year AAV?


 



Trying but not really Spending:

  • Houston: the defending champs havn’t really had to spend a ton, having acquired Justin Verlander last season to address their biggest need.  They’ve signed just two minor FAs.
  • Arizona: have added about $10M of contracts … but are just augmenting the edges of their surprise 93-win team from last year.
  • Los Angeles Dodgers: the league’s wealthiest team has added a grand total of $3M of salaries for the new  year.  $3M!!
  • Cleveland: successful small market team is just working the edges of their 102-win team and trying to maintain their success while the window is open.
  • Washington: we’re at the luxury tax threshold, it seems like the owners don’t want to go over it, and we’ve added around the edges of the roster only.

Can’t fault these 5 teams for having done the work to put themselves in near-guaranteed playoff position (in fact, they’re probably the “other” 5 teams making the playoffs in 2018).   This has also contributed to the problem; most of the time playoff teams want to get better to get to the next level; half your likely 2018 playoff teams are tapped out and standing pat on last year’s rosters.



Treading water and not spending

  • Oakland: what’s new?
  • Toronto: seem to be in a no-man’s land in a division with two teams absolutely trying; should probably sell off
  • St. Louis: not exactly lighting the world on fire with off-season moves.
  • Seattle: they made a flurry of moves last season and have spent very little this off-season; they cannot outspend or outperform two other divisional teams right now, so are just treading water.
  • Baltimore; as normal, nobody knows what’s going on with this front office.  They’ve bought two veteran 5th starter FA pitchers and … that’s it.
  • Texas: i’m not entirely sure what Texas is doing; they have money to spend, desperately need starting pitching .. and are doing very little.
  • Chicago White Sox: little new spending; they’re like a couple other teams that are coming out of a rebuild and waiting for their prospects to mature.

Most of these teams are staring in the face of a tank job.  Only Chicago is on their way out (well, technically Philadelphia too, who should be sitting here but instead spent $60M on a DH to “play” first base for them in Carlos Santana).  Not one of these teams really can look at their situations or their divisions and say that they’re favored to make a playoff run.



Not Trying/Tanking and not spending:

  • Atlanta: they’re still waiting for all their prospects to grow up; may not be “tanking” but definitely are not spending the money to win in 2018.
  • Miami: we’re all painfully aware of the shambolic sell-off in Miami; yet another stain on MLB for enabling a billionaire owner to suck freely at the revenue trough while not putting anything back.
  • Pittsburgh: traded their franchise player, have not committed one penny of MLB FA dollars.  The chickens have come home to roost in Pittsburgh; we’ll see you in 20 years when you’re relevant again.  They should have sold off last season frankly.
  • Tampa Bay: you don’t trade your franchise player w/o officially waving the white flag.  Maybe we need to contract both Florida teams like certain curmudgeon NY-based columnists have advised
  • Cincinnati: last place last year, payroll flat, no real chance of winning the division == tanking.
  • Kansas City: their grand plan of offering QOs to all their FAs is being killed by the weird circumstances of this off-season, but they’re reading the writing on the wall and gearing for a rebuild.
  • Detroit: like with Tampa and Pittsburgh, jettisoned their franchise player recently and probably wishes they could do even more.  they’re looking at $75M LESS in payroll in 2018 versus last year, and would do more if they could.  It could be pretty ugly in Detroit for a while.

That’s a lot of teams not really trying, or actively shedding players.    And it won’t take much to push some of the “standing pat” teams into this category.

The larger point is that 19 of the 30 teams, for one reason or another, are not spending this off-season.  Two thirds of the league basically went into the off-season not planning on doing anything except roster-fine tuning on the open market.

Great news for the Nats; Miami will be lucky to win 60 games, Atlanta still isn’t trying fully, Philly has done practically nothing to help make the leap, and the Mets seem like they’re going to be in Bernie Madoff-hell for years.  Will they win the division by 20 games again in 2018?  Probably not … but it shouldn’t be close.

 


There’s a slew of other underlying issues that are making the issue worse.  Kiley McDaniel summarized them pretty well in this chat answer from last week:

I think teams have

  • 1) been getting more similar in their methods
  • 2) more careful to avoid long-term deals
  • 3) owners have been getting less involved
  • 4) the league has been getting younger and rookies have been making more of an impact and they’re all cheaper than vets
  • 5) it’s worked out that deals get better the longer you wait, so teams are seeing how much you can stretch that principle, so we were moving toward this gradually.

What made it all happen now was

  • 1) the big market teams are trying to get under the tax for next off-season
  • 2) Boras overplayed his hand but with more players than usual and
  • 3) teams that can spend, big or middle market, want to wait until next off-season to spend huge money when there’s better players.

Sounds like a good summary of the off-season.

Post publishing update: just after I posted this, word comes out that the MLB player’s Union is filing a grievance against four teams for not spending their revenue sharing money.   Miami, Tampa, Pittsburgh and Oakland, four perennial violators of this rule and 3 of which I named as actively tanking.  Frankly, I would have put Oakland as an active tanker too except … they’re so poor right now they have no assets to sell.  Heck, even Mike Rizzo hasn’t been able to swing a trade with Oakland this off-season.

Updated Master Prospect List in Google XLS

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The official Logo of the St. Louis Prospects. Apropos to this post.

The official Logo of the St. Louis Prospects. Apropos to this post.

Since we’ve been talking a lot about prospects, i thought i’d note that I’ve been catching up the Master Prospect rankings list (here’s the direct Google xls link) that I maintain.  Major edits lately:

  • I’ve noted those who have lost Rookie status in 2016: Trea Turner and Wilmer Difo, even if Baseball America and MinorLeagueBall insist on ranking him.  I’m not sure what to do with A.J Cole in this regard, nor Pedro Severino.  Koda Glover still seems to be a “prospect” by everyone’ standards so he’s still ranked.
  • I’ve noted those traded in 2016: Taylor Hearn, Max “future hall of famer” Schrock, Chris Bostick
  • I’ve noted those former “prospects” who were DFA/Waived/released in 2016: Abel de los Santos, Matthew Spann, Cutter Dykstra
  • I’ve noted those post-2016 MLFAs who at some point were ranked: Erik Davis, Paolo Espino, Kevin Keyes, Jason Martinson, Drew Vettleson, Neil Holland, Michael Brady.  If they re-sign, i’ll un-do the “out of the system” categorization.
  • Lastly, we’ve noted those prospects traded in the Winter Meetings: Dane Dunning, Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez
  • I’ve now put in a couple of the early rankings from major pundits that have come out post-2016: BA top 10, minor league ball top 30, MLBpipeline’s top 30 as of the end of the 2016 season, and JP Schwartz’ post-2016 list.  We expect a ton more to hit in the Jan/Feb time-frame.

The Spreadsheet now has more than 100 “lists” from various sources dating to the beginning of the Nats franchise (Nov 2004 BA list, ahead of 2005 system).

Each off-season I generally expect to get 7-8 rankings lists from what I call the “major pundits” who follow prospects:

  • Baseball America/BA Prospect Handbook (J.J. Cooper, John Manuel, formerly Aaron Fitt)
  • Baseball Prospectus (Chris Mellon/Jason Parks/Ezra Wise):
  • MLB/MLBpipeline.com (Jim Callis/Jonathan Mayo/Mike Rosenbaum)
  • MinorLeagueBall.com (John Sickels/Nick Melotte)
  • Fangraphs (Dan Farnsworth, formerly Marc Hulet/Kiley McDaniel)
  • ESPN (Keith Law)
  • Prospect Digest ( Joseph Werner)
  • TopProspectAlert.com (J.P. Schwartz)

I’ve seen other pundits rankings in the past but not consistently year over year like the above seven lists.  If you know of any pundits who i’m missing, please let me know.

This year we’ll start to see a new #1 prospect in Victor Robles, after seeing 47 straight lists with Giolito ranked #1.  Robles becomes the 11th distinct player to be ranked #1 in our farm system at any point.

Enjoy!

 

 

Pre-2015 Draft coverage; mocks and local players

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Swanson seems likely to be 1-1 pick. Photo by Joe Howell.

Swanson seems likely to be 1-1 pick. Photo by Joe Howell.

The MLB rule-4 (Amateur) draft starts on Monday 6/8/15 at 7pm.  See MLB Network for the best coverage.  Since we’re also going to be talking about prep regional results and CWS results early next week, I thought i’d get this draft coverage post out there.  This post has good links to use to see draft prospect rankings, then links to help cover the draft starting monday, then some blurbs on local players of interest, and then links to a bunch of mock drafts.

Draft Coverage so far at NAR for 2015:

Here’s a slew of Draft Prospect rankings : these are NOT the same as mock drafts; see further down for those.

Draft Links of importance

  • MLB.com Official 2015 Draft Central home page.
  • MLB’s Awesome Draft Tracker; you can slice and dice the draft 10 different ways, search by schools and home states, etc.
  • Official MLB 2015 Draft Order (Nats first pick is #58 well into the 2nd round, next #69, then #103, then #134 in the 4th round, and then 134+30 picks there-after.
  • Official Draft Bonus Pool totals.  Astros have $17M (most).  Nats have 3rd least at $4.1M.
  • MLB Draft Database
  • Fangraphs Sortable Draft Board; a great new tool Fangraphs has that lets you slice and dice their top draft board.
  • Baseball-Reference Draft Tools: links to their draft database plus some custom reports.

Now, some news about College Players with local ties

  • Nathan Kirby Lat strain Press Release: UVA’s ace Kirby, considered a mid-to-late 1st rounder, missed a huge chunk of the season with a Lat Strain.  If the cards fall right, he may be able to pitch UVA’s 3rd regional game.  MLB has him ranked #26, as does BA.
  • Mike Matuella, of Great Falls (Georgetown Prep) and Duke, remains a back-end of the 1st round draft prospect but is also rehabbing his own TJ surgery.  He has far less of a track record than other college arms, and may be a crap shoot in the draft.  MLB has him ranked #28, BA #23.
  • Taylor Clarke, who hails from Ashburn (Broad Run HS), was named the CAA pitcher of the year while putting up stellar numbers for the College of Charleston, a trendy underdog pick to reach the CWS.  MLB has him ranked #144, so that’s perhaps a 4th-5th rounder, while BA has him higher at #118.  Here’s a draft profile of him from scout.com.
  • Joe McCarthy, OF for UVA, missed most of the season with a back injury and then hit horribly after wards.  His draft stock has dropped from a supp-1st to probably the back end of the 2nd round.  MLB has him ranked #68, BA #46.
  • Josh Sborz got dumped out of UVA’s rotation but still is ranked #115 in MLB’s pre-draft rankings (projecting to a 3rd-4th rounder).
  • Brandon Waddell had a good season as UVA’s #2 starter … and MLB projects him as a 5th rounder at #163.  BA has him at #153.
  • University of Maryland’s two best draft prospects are Alex Robinson (MLB ranked #124) and Brandon Lowe (MLB ranked #148).  Robinson is #74 on BA’s top 500 list and Lowe is #98 on BA’s list.
  • Radford’s Michael Boyle has pushed his draft stock up with his team’s post-season performance; BA has him ranked #132, which puts him in the 4th-5th round.

Local Prep players of note:

  • Cody Morris, probably the best local player matriculating this year, had to undergo TJ surgery and likely scuttling his draft plans.  Luckily he had already taken a scholarship offer to South Carolina, where he will now presumably attend and rehab to get ready for the 2016 season.  BA still has him ranked #265 but the odds of a team taking him in the 8th round seem slim.
  • A.J. Lee of St. Johns earned his 2nd straight Gatorade DC player of the year award and remains committed to Maryland; I do not sense he is a significant draft prospect and will go to College.  He is not in BA’s top 500 prospects.
  • Ljay Newsome of Chopticon (south of Waldorf) made some noise with his stellar 3-A state final game; he has not picked a college and I wonder if he’s headed for the draft.  He is not in BA’s top 500 prospects.
  • Nic Enright of Steward HS in Richmond (2015 Gatorade player of the year) is signed to Va Tech but ranked #132 by MLB.  Will he sign if he gets 3rd round money?  BA’s got him ranked far lower; #230, in the range of draft rankings where it makes more sense for him to go to school.

Other players of interest to Nats fans:

  • Andrew Suarez, the Nats’ 2nd round pick of last year, had a decent if not spectacular senior season at Miami and may end up getting picked right in the same spot.  MLB has him #75, BA #73.
  • Austin Byler, the Nats’ 9th round pick of last year, is ranked #199 by MLB (but much higher at #115 by BA) putting him in the 7th round or so.  Not too much of an improvement over last year; his senior season was more of the same for him; lots of power, perhaps stuck at 1B so will really have to hit his way moving forward.
  • Skye Bolt, the Nats’ 26th round pick in 2012, had a great UNC career and is ranked #67 by MLB ahead of the draft.  BA has him a bit lower at #106.  Maybe the Nats can draft him again since this is right around where their first 2015 draft pick falls.

Mock Draft Guesses

Sometimes you just can’t help yourself.  I like mock drafts from writers I like.  Since the Nats don’t pick until midway through the 2nd round, there’s no point (like in years’ past) in trying to project the Nats pick.  So here’s some popular pundits and their mocks, with their top 5 predictions (Law = Espn, McDaniel = Fangraphs, Callis & Mayo = Mlb.com, Manual = Baseball America and Crawford = Baseball Prospectus)

  • Keith Law Mock #1: Dansby Swanson, Alex Bregman, Dillon Tate, Brendan Rodgers, Kyle Tucker
  • Keith Law Mock #2: Swanson, Rodgers, Tyler Jay, Tate, Tucker
  • Keith Law Mock #3 (on ESPN podcast): Swanson, Bregman, Rodgers, Tate, Tucker
  • Keith Law final Mock: Swanson, Bregman, Rodgers, Trenton Clark, Andrew Benintendi
  • Kiley McDaniel Mock #1: Swanson, Rodgers, Tate, Kyle Funkhouser, Daz Cameron
  • Kiley McDaniel Mock #2: Swanson, Rodgers, Jay, Bregman, Tucker
  • Kiley McDaniel Mock #3: Swanson, Bregman, Rodgers, Tate, Tucker
  • Jim Callis Mock #1: Swanson, Rodgers, Jay, Cameron, Carson Fulmer
  • Jim Callis Mock #2: Swanson, Bregman, Rodgers, Cameron, Tucker
  • Jim Callis: Final Mock: Swanson, Bregman, Rodgers, Tate, Benintendi
  • Jonathan Mayo Mock #1: Tate, Rodgers, Swanson, Cameron, Fulmer
  • Jonathan Mayo Mock #2: Swanson, Rodgers, Jay, Cameron, Tate
  • Jonathan Mayo Final Mock: Swanson, Bregman, Rodgers, Cameron, Tate
  • John Manual Mock #1: Tate, Swanson, Rodgers, Jon Harris, Tucker
  • John Manual Mock #2: Fulmer, Swanson, Rodgers, Tate, Tucker
  • John Manual Mock #3: Jay, Swanson, Rodgers, Tate, Tucker
  • John Manual Mock #4: Swanson, Bregman, Jay, Rodgers, Cameron
  • Jeff Ellis/Scout.com Final Mock: Swanson, Bregman, Rodgers, Tate, Tucker
  • David Rawnsley/si.com final mock: Swanson, Bregman, Rodgers, Tate, Cameron
  • Chris Crawford Mock #1: Garrett Whitley, Swanson, Rodgers, … the rest behind a pay-wall.
  • Ryan Sullivan/NatsGM final mock: Swanson, Bregman, Rodgers, Tate, Tucker
  • D1baseball.com Mock #1: Swanson … and the rest behind a pay-wall.
  • Jon Sickels/MinorLeagueBall Mock #1: Swanson, Bregman, Jay, Rodgers, Tucker
  • PerfectGame.org’s mock drafts and coverage now behind a pay-wall.

Todd Boss’ Mock draft?  Based on my vast level of expertise (sarcasm) and the thousands of man hours i’ve put in scouting players in person and cultivating industry sources (also sarcasm), I’ll take this as my guess for the top 5:

  1. Swanson: I think Swanson’s post-season hitting combined with his positional flexibility and the decline of all the upper-end college arms that have been mentioned in the conversation for 1-1 (First Aiken & Matuella, then Tate, then Funkhouser and Fulmer) has cemented Swanson’s spot at 1-1.  In other years, he’d be lucky to go in the top 10.  Not this year.  Arizona goes with the least risk; proven college hitter.
  2. Bregman: practically every connected pundit now has Bregman going 2nd.  Houston gets a sure thing and goes prep with #5.
  3. Rodgers: Houston hasn’t backed away from HS players before and get the best one, a SS with power, at #2.
  4. Tate: Tate’s regional performance pushed him back into this lofty level and he’s a better bet than Jay thanks to his reliever status all year.  Colorado likes college arms this high.  He makes the most sense.  If this pick isn’t Tate, its Jay.
  5. Tucker: practically everyone has Houston’s 2nd pick on Tucker, meaning they’re taking two upper-end prep talents.  Plus the Astros know the family; Kyle’s older brother Preston was a 7th round pick by Houston in 2012 and made his debut this year.  Makes too much sense.

So, just so you know, this guess matches the final mocks of Law, McDaniel and Ellis, and is nearly identical to the final mocks of a couple others.

This top 5 means some big time names are available 6-10.  Cameron, Jay, Fulmer, Clark and Harris could very well be in the next 4-5 guys picked.  Funkhouser seems to be slipping.  Also throw the likes of Andrew Benintendi, Tyler Stephenson, and Walker Buehler into the top 10 possible mix.

ACTUAL DRAFT Results added on 6/7/15: Swanson, Bregman, Rodgers, Tate, Tucker.  A number of the experts above had the top 5 pegged.  Yours truly … changed his prediction last minute to match the consensus and “got it right” too :-)

Completed Nats prospect rankings and Org Rankings for 2015

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Now that we’re into the 2015 season, we are officially through the “prospect ranking” season.  I have updated two important prospect tracking spreadsheets that I maintain with a host of links and updated information.

First; the Organizational Rankings Spreadsheet.  I’ve got 59 different rankings now collected of the 30 teams’ organizational rankings over the years.  The big “holes” I have in this spreadsheet are the Baseball America handbooks sent out each January … though it seems to be safe to say that the official released Baseball America rankings in March or April of each year effectively mimics the rankings in the publication.  The rankings go back to 2001, with a link to even earlier Baseball America rankings.  Only BA goes back that far; other experts go back to 2007 (Baseball Prospectus), 2009 (Keith Law/ESPN) and 2012 (MinorLeagueBall.com).

Secondly, a republishing of the Nats Prospect Ranks going back in time.  I’ve greatly updated this spreadsheet from the earlier publishing of it this off-season, now having 79 separate rankings of Nats prospects going back all the way to January 2005.   178 different Nationals Prospects appear on the list, spanning from current #1 Lucas Giolito to the first #1 listed (believe it or not, Mike Hinckley in BA’s January 2005 list).

There’s a separate tab in the XLS tracking the major pundits: Baseball America (J.J. Cooper, Aaron Fitt, John Manuel now, formerly Jim Callis), Baseball Prospectus (Chris Mellon, Jason Parks now and Kevin Goldstein for years), MLB (Jim Callis and Jonathan Mayo), MinorLeagueBall.com (primarily Jon Sickels), Fangraphs (Marc Hulet, Kiley McDaniel), ESPN (Keith Law) and Prospect Digest (Joseph Werner).

As always, if you can think of pundits who i’m missing, i’m always up for more information.  Or if i’m missing links, let me know.  Both these links are also available directly from the “Links” section on the right hand side of this blog in the “Nats Arm Race Creations” section.

Local draft-prospects to keep an eye in for the 2015 draft

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Duke RHP and Great Falls resident Mike Matuella has rocketed up the draft boards for 2015.  Photo via dukechronicle.com

Duke RHP and Great Falls resident Mike Matuella has rocketed up the draft boards for 2015. Photo via dukechronicle.com

For the third year running (here’s 2013’s wrap-up and here’s 2014’s wrap-up of drafted local players) we’re going to keep an eye on “local” draft prospects leading up to the 2015 amateur draft.  By “local” I essentially mean anyone who hails from the DC/MD/VA areas plus anyone who is playing their college ball here.

To compile this list, I looked at rising college juniors and rising prep seniors who made impacts in 2014 or who  have made a name for themselves with summer league performances in 2014.  Here’s a link to the WP’s 2014 all-Met team, which had more than a few juniors, all of whom are mentioned here.  Here’s the roster for Perfect Game’s big summer 2014 showcase, which is the first place a lot of rising prep seniors get scouted.  Here’s a link to Louisville’s 2014 All-American selections, looking for junior all-american nominees.  Here’s a link to the EvoShield Canes 17U Roster, the leading travel team in the area and where a number of these upper-end prospects played this past summer.  Here’s the BaseballDraftReport blog that has been doing some tracking of prep players ahead of the 2015 draft.  Here’s Fangraphs’ Kiley McDaniel “way too early” draft rankings from Oct 2014.  Here’s BaseballAmerica’s first 2015 draft ranking from Mid Oct 2014.  Here’s minorleagueball.com’s “early 2015 draft” prospect list.  Here’s USAToday’s pre-season HS all-american list (though there are no local first teamers).

Local Prep Names to keep an eye on for 2015’s draft:

  • Cody Morris, RHP for 2014 3-A state champion Reservoir HS (Fulton, just south of Columbia).  2014 All-Met, 2014 Louisville All-American, Maryland Gatorade player of the year.  He’s committed to South Carolina but a repeat of his 2014 season could have him rising up draft boards.  Played for EvoShield this summer and was at the PG National showcase event.
  • A.J. Lee, a SS/RHP for 2014 WCAC/DCSAA champion and Washington Post final 2014 #1 team St. Johns (DC) who hails from Millersville.  He was also named to the 2014 all-Met team and was a 2nd team Louisville All-American.  Lastly he was the DC Gatorade player of the year in 2014.  He’s committed to Maryland.
  • Connor Eason, LHP for 2014 Virginia 5-A state champs Hickory (Chesapeake).   Also played for for EvoShield this summer and is a UVA commit.
  • John DeFazio, OF/RHP for Madison HS (Vienna).  2014 All-Met, committed to Virginia Tech.
  • Brody Cook, INF for Riverdale Baptist.  2014 All-Met, committed to VCU.  Played for Demarini Stars this summer.  On BaseballDraftReport’s pre-2015 season watch list.
  • Nathan Eikhoff, who plays for Patriot and was a 2014 All-Met after hitting an astounding .541 in the spring season.  UVA commit.  Played for Demarini Stars this past summer.
  • Harvey Logan, C for 5-A state runner up Douglas Freeman (Richmond).  He was at the PG showcase, played for EvoShield and is an early commit to Wake Forest.
  • Jordan Carr, P for Archbishop Spalding (Severn, between Annapolis and Baltimore).  2nd team all-met in 2014.
  • Ljay Newsome, P for Chopticon (south of Waldorf), 2nd team all-Met in 2014.
  • Stevie Mangrum, 3B for Western Albermarle HS (Charlottesville), was at the PG Showcase.  Committed to Va Tech and played for EvoShield this summer.
  • Kaleb Bowman, RHP for Woodgrove (Purcellville), honorable mention All Met for 2014, played for EvoShield this summer and verbally committed to South Carolina.
  • Danny Blair, CF for Gilman (Baltimore), committed to South Carolina, played for EvoShield and was at the PG National showcase.
  • Evan Sperling, RHP for Grafton (Yorktown/Newport News), committed to UVA and played for EvoShield.
  • Nathan Trevillian, RHP for Amherst County HS (near Lynchburg), committed to Liberty and was at the PG National showcase.
  • Grant Donahue, RHP for Decatur HS in Berlin (outside Ocean City).  At the PG National showcase, played for EvoShield, committed to UVA.
  • Hunter Parsons, RHP for Parkside HS in Salisbury, committed to Maryland, at the PG National showcase and played for EvoShield.   Up to 93 on the gun at showcases.  Could show up on draft boards with a couple more ticks on the gun.
  • Paul Hall, LHP for Maury HS in Norfolk.  Committed to Virginia Tech, up to 90 on the gun, played for EvoShield.
  • James Monaghan, 1B for LaPlata HS.  Committed to Campbell, played for Evoshield’s regional 17U team.
  • Hunter Byrnes, 2B for GW-Danville.  Same HS as last year’s 4th round pick Blake Bivens.  Good athlete (also a star QB) who may not get drafted but could be a good Div-1 player for someone.

I give a lot of weight to playing on the Evoshield Canes, as you can see.  If a guy is on that team, odds are he’s playing Div 1 somewhere.

Local College draft-eligible players to keep an eye on for 2015:  (2014 pre-season Baseball America all-american team link here, 2014 Baseball America post-season All American team here, 2014 Golden Spikes semifinalist announcement here, 2014 Rawlings/ABCA All-American list link here.  2014 All-ACC College Baseball team.  2014 All-CAA College Baseball team.  2014 All Atlantic-10 College Baseball team. All Big South, All Conference USA teams.

  • Mike Matuella, RHP from Duke (via Georgetown Prep HS and Great Falls, VA).  Burst onto the scene in 2014 and is in the mix for 1-1 overall already.  Huge guy (6’6″) with a huge arm (sits mid-90s).  Upper 1st round projection ahead of 2015 season.  Baseball America had this feature on him ahead of the season in mid January.  Here’s a scout.com report from 2/19/15.  He missed a start with a minor injury early on (thanks to persistent 30-degree weather in the area), but has come back and as of the time of this posting has a 0.44 ERA through 20 innings/5 starts for Duke.
  • Nathan Kirby, LHP from UVA (via James River HS in Midlothian) who was a first team all-ACC, 2014 Golden Spikes semi-finalist, a BA All-American, ABCA All-American.  Projected top 10 first round pick pre-2015 season.  So far into the college season, Kirby has lived up to his billing, holding a 3-1 record with a 1.16 ERA as UVA’s friday starter.
  • Joe McCarthy, OF from UVA who hit in the middle of UVA’s order in 2014 and was named All-ACC.  Projected mid 2nd round pick by BA ahead of 2015 season.  McCarthy suffered a back injury prior to the season’s beginning and will miss the first 12 weeks of the season; he’ll have precious few looks to get his draft stock up prior to the Rule 4 draft.
  • Brandon Waddell, LHP from  UVA.  UVA’s #2/Saturday starter was 9-3 with a 2.57 ERA on the year in 2014.  2nd-team All-ACC.  So far in 2015 he’s gotten hit though, holding just a 3.48 ERA through 6 starts.
  • Taylor Clarke, College of Charleston’s Friday starter and breakout 2014 player, hailing from Ashburn and featured previously in the Washington Post.   So far in 2015, he’s only improving his stock, holding a 55/8 K/BB ratio through his first 39 2/3 innings.
  • Josh Sborz, RHP from UVA (by way of McLean HS).  UVA’s #3/Sunday starter in 2014 but has been re-assigned as UVA’s closer in 2015 in favor of former Virginia prep standout Connor Jones entering the rotation.  Thus far at the time of this posting, Sborz has 5 saves but just a 3.00 ERA through 18 innings across 11 appearances.
  • John La Prise, inf from UVA who hit .358 in 2014, but who has only played in 4 games thus far in 2015.  He is on Minorleagueball’s preliminary 2015 draft list, but he was fighting injuries prior to the season and may still be doing so.
  • 3 sophomore All-CAA players from William & Mary: Catcher Ryan Hissey, DH Charlie Gould and RHP Joseph Gaouette.  Thus far in 2015, Hissey and Gould have picked up right where they left off, but Gaouette has yet to appear for the Tribe.
  • Some draft eligible players from U-Maryland: Alex Robinson, LHP, Jake Drossner LHP, Lamonte Wade LHP/OF.  With Maryland’s rising national ranking (#11 in the 3/23/15 d1baseball.com rankings), these guys will continue to see their stock rise.
  • Smaller college guys like Kyri Washington, OF at Longwood and Dylan Nelson, RHP from Radford.

Did I miss anyone?  I’m all ears.

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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What are non-MLB associated baseball league talent equivalents?

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

Editor’s Note: this post was originally published in January of 2012: I have updated it as I have received new information several times since.  But some of the information and statements may be dated based on when it was initially written (like the Yu Darvish comment in the intro).  Over the years I’ve also added in more leagues and more details on existing leagues, including Wood bat leagues and Independent leagues.


 

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

Foreign Pro Leagues

  • Japan: the Nippon Professional Baseball League rates, by various accounts, as a mid AAA-level talent league.  Baseball Prospectus’ Clay Davenport did a stat-heavy analysis in 2002 and concluded that the NPB was at least AAA level, perhaps close to MLB level.  However, the prevalence of mediocre players from the US going to Japan and being super-stars seems to indicate that Japan is no better than AAA, and may be a bit weaker.  And, not to claim this is about talent levels per race, but there have only been a very small number of Japanese-born players who were really impact players upon arriving here.
  • Cuba: per Dave Cameron (mentioned in a chat, need the link) the “general consensus” is that the Cuban pro league is about a High-A level of talent.  I wonder if it isn’t higher though, given the immediate impact that a number of Cuban ex-patriots have had immediately upon their arrival in the US (Yasiel Puig, Jose Abreu being exhibits 1 and 1-a).  I wonder if this will start rising now that the embargo has eased and the Cuban government has begun allowing its players to legally play elsewhere.
  • Taiwan/China: Taiwan had its own thriving baseball league for a bit, but merged it into the main Chinese league in 2003.  Given the small numbers of Taiwanese-born players who have made it to the majors, and the fact that the league serves mostly as a feeder into the Japanese league, its safe to say that the Chinese league is no better than a high-A level of talent.
  • Korea: As with the Chinese leagues, Korea mostly feeds into the Japanese league.  High-A talent levels.  Might be on the rise though, as more and more 4-A/AAA veterans decamp for Korea instead of Japan.  That may be driven more by money than by competition though.
  • European Leagues: Believe it or not, there are thriving baseball leagues all throughout Europe.  They even have multiple levels of play in certain countries (the Netherlands in particular).  However, based on the levels of talent of players that typically play in Europe, its hard to put the talent levels at anything close to our own Rookie leagues.  In fact, I’d suspect that most European pro teams are no better than a low division 1 college baseball program (such as GW or Catholic U’s teams).
  • Mexican Summer League: listed as a AAA-quality league in places like Baseball-Reference, but studies have shown it isn’t anywhere close.  A-level talent.
  • Leagues elsewhere: there’s leagues just about every where else; wikipedia searches turn up baseball leagues in Australia, Asia, the far pacific.  I didn’t do any research here, assuming that these leagues are one slight notch above amateur leagues in the US.

Winter Leagues

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

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

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

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

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

Other US-based Professional Leagues

  • Arizona Fall League: the AFL rates somewhere between a AA and AAA level by and large, though for several reasons it rates as a very heavy hitter-league (pitcher workloads and ball-parks mostly).  Most of your pro teams send their top prospects from levels below AA and a number of AA and AAA (and even some guys who have MLB experience).  All told, that equates with a “good” AA league.  And since AA leagues are morphing into being populated with a team’s best prospects while AAA leagues are becoming repositories for “spare parts” for the MLB team, more and more the lines are blurred between AAA and AA in terms of “which team could really beat the other.”  Nationals fans saw this pretty clearly during Stephen Strasburg‘s minor league career; he was hit in AA but absolutely dominated AAA teams that seemed to be populated with backup catchers and backup infielders.
  • Independent Leagues: generally rates somewhere around an A-ball or slightly higher equivalent, depending on the league.  They’re usually full of guys who got cut from the MLB rosters and a collection of older veterans trying to hang on.  So, the younger players are (arguably) below rookie-league/short-A levels but the veterans are probably in the AAA level, bringing an average to somewhere in the A-ball range.  Maybe that’s overrating the talent level in these leagues: if the guys typically playing there were that good … they’d still be on affiliated low-A and/or rookie league teams.   Here’s some quick estimates by league:
    • Atlantic League: High AA
    • American Association: High A
    • Can-Am League: High A
    • Frontier League: Low A

College Leagues

  • Regular Division I College Teams are probably not even as good as a Rookie league team, when balancing the entirety of the roster’s depth.  I had this debate with my father recently, noting that the best Div-1 team in one recent year (South Carolina) was led by a pitcher (Mike Roth) who was a 31st round draft pick in 2011.  College teams only have 11.7 scholarships to use to field a team.  A good chunk of college teams are guys on partial scholarships or are complete walk-ons.  Good college teams may each have a number of pro prospects, but usually only 1 or 2 legitimate prospects.  On the flip side, even a rookie-level team is ENTIRELY comprised of players who were drafted, and will include high school players who signed in lieu of going to college because they were considered good enough at the time to risk signing.  A college team may use a hot pitcher to beat a pro team in a theoretical 3-game series every once in a while, but a team full of professional hitters are eventually going to utterly dominate typical college bullpens, Sunday starters and mid-week players.
  • Top end Division 1 College Teams, as in teams that are populated with a ton of future Pro talent, are likely the equivalent of the Advanced Short season Short-A leagues like the NY Penn league.  The absolute best Div-1 teams (like a friday night matchup between nationally ranked SEC teams) may broach the equivalent of low-A teams, as discussed in this Kiley McDaniel chat here.   When a college junior is highly drafted, most scouts advise that they go to at least high-A as a first stop, often saying that they’d be wasting their time in Low-A.  Does this imply that high-end Division 1 teams are more the equivalent of Low-A teams?  It seems so, at least at the upper cream of the crop level.  Consider the talent level on the 2014-2015 Vanderbilt team with multiple first round picks; I’d guess that team on a whole could easily compete with some short-league teams comprised mostly of 20th and 30th round college draftees and perhaps higher.  (Post publishing update May 2016: this question came up in quora.com and LA Dodger’s pitcher Brandon McCarthy provided a great answer not to terribly different from mine here.  He thinks the best Div-1 teams would have a chance in a 7-game series against a low-A team, but would probably fall short due to pitching depth.
  • Juco, Division II, Division III: Generally speaking a notch below the low-end Division I teams for obvious reasons.  Perhaps you could make an exception for some of the higher-end Juco leagues out there (like the league that Bryce Harper played in for one year to establish draft eligibility) and claim they’re of a low-division I quality, but that might be a stretch in the grand scheme of things.  So if these leagues aren’t even as strong as a low Division I team, they’re not even close to a pro-level quality.  (Post-publishing update Apr 2016); read the excellent commentary from former Juco player James  Pidutti, who gives some great context for the wide variety of talent in the Juco ranks these days).

 

Summer Wood-Bat Leagues

We have a thriving college wood bat league industry going on, with college players scattering all over the continent to play summer league baseball with wood bats.  Some of these leagues are better than others; you can write a whole analysis just to try to rank the leagues (in fact, I have, but I’ve yet to publish it because I’m not sure I have it exactly right), so I’ll just use general groupings to try to rank these leagues.

  • Cape Cod League: By far the most dominant wood bat league.  These teams are basically Division I all star teams of players, and the numbers speak for themselves.  1100 alumni have played in the majors (about one out of every seven current major leaguers).  More than  half of the first round draftees last  year were Cape Cod players.  They are the self-proclaimed “greatest amateur league in the world” and there’s no argument.  So how would a Cape Cod team fare when stacked up against a pro league?  I’d put these a step above the best division 1 teams and say these are High-A equivalent teams.
  • Northwoods League: After a step down from Cape Cod is Northwoods, who just had their 141st alumni debut in the majors.  The calibre of players is significantly lower than in the Cape: a quick gander at the rosters for 2015 found just a handful of players from “power conference” teams on each roster.  So I’m putting these teams at the same level as a “run of the mill” Division I team, or below a Rookie League team.
  • The next tier of collegiate leagues, including Coastal Plains, New England Collegiate, West Coast, California Collegiate and the Alaska League: less talent than in Northwoods and thus even further away from any pro level.
  • There are many more college leagues not mentioned here that probably rate as having even less talent than the already named leagues.  That includes our local leagues the Cal Ripken League and the Valley League.

Semi-Pro and Amateur Teams

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

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

Summary

Here’s a table summarizing the above data, along with some clarifications from the comments after-the-fact, in order of best to least quality.  (Note; the cut-n-paste below is from 2012; see the descriptions above for some updates to league talents…).

League US Pro Equivalent Estimate
Japan (NPB) Mid AAA
Dominican Winter League Mid AAA
Puerto Rican Winter League Mid-Low AAA
Venezuelan Winter League Low AAA/High AA
Arizona Fall League Low AAA/High AA
Mexican Pacific (Winter) High AA
Atlantic League (Ind) High AA
Mexican Summer High-A/Low AA
Cape Cod League High-A
Cuba High-A
Taiwan/China High-A
Korea High-A
American Association (Ind) High-A
Can-Am League (Ind) High-A
Frontier League (Ind) Low-A
Top Division I (SEC) Short-A
Other Independents Rookie Ball
Division I run of the Mill Below Rookie Ball
Northwoods League Below Rookie Ball
European (Dutch, Italian) Low Division 1
Other upper Tier Wood Bats Low Division 1
Other Foreign (eg Australia) Div II/Div III
Juco Div II/Div III

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