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

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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 12/2/13 edition

19 comments

 

The drumbeat to have Morse back continues.  Photo hardballtalk.nbcsports.com

The drumbeat to have Morse back continues. Photo hardballtalk.nbcsports.com

Happy Thanksgiving!  Apparently I didn’t realize how long between posts it had been (nearly 2 weeks).    I didn’t go anywhere or anything; just hunkered down for the holidays, entertained the in-laws, and found myself with very little non-work computer time to delve into hot-stove season issues.

Thankfully, we have a Bill Ladson inbox to get us going this week!  Dated 12/2/13.

(Note: I was mid-way typing this post when the Doug Fister news broke … so its a day later than I wanted it to be, and I edited this to be relevant).

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

Q: I’ve heard about so many big-market teams being out of the Robinson Cano sweepstakes. What about the Nats? They did swing a shocker of a deal in Jayson Werth, and Cano could be the signing that brings the World Series trophy back to the beltway.

A: Several national writers (including this latest, most comprehensive viewpoint from Paul Swydan on ESPN insider just this week) are making the same point.  In simple terms, sign Robinson Cano, move Anthony Rendon to third, move Ryan Zimmerman and his scatter-arm to first, and put Adam LaRoche out to pasture (or, more likely, a trade for 20 cents on the dollar).   I’d love the move in the short-term but would absolutely hate it in the long term.   Its really simple: the guy’s 30.  He wants to be paid for the next decade as if he’ll never age.   His anticipated 10 year $200-and something million dollar contract will immediately be at the top of the list of albatross contracts in the league.  You just can’t do it, not if you want to maintain finacial flexibility to extend the core of this team (Strasburg, HarperDesmond to name three) and maintain some sort of a budget.  (Oh, by the way, I have always maintained the Jayson Werth contract was a “statement contract” to the league, an overpay that legitimized this franchise as a FA player after years of being a laughingstock in the league under Jim Bowden and inept league ownership.  So, i’m not entirely sure I’d use Werth’s deal as any sort of predictor of Mike Rizzo‘s intentions).

Hey, it isn’t my  money.  If Ted Lerner‘s ok with spending $150M or more a  year … maybe i’d be on board.  But man, 3 or 4 years from now when Jayson Werth is hobbling around the outfield earning $20M plus, Zimmerman’s at $15M/year and possibly clogging a 1st base spot, each of Desmond, Gonzalez, Harper, Strasburg and Zimmermann earning 8 figure deals, a Cano $25M/year albatross is clogging your payroll, and the team starts telling its fans that they’re standing pat or depending on signing middling free agents to try to “win” next year (you know, like the Phillies), I think you’ll regret this contract.

Ladson thinks the team could be in on Cano, and could use Rendon as trade bait for a pitcher.  *sigh* well, we’ll see what happens.

Q: Do the Nats have any interest in a guy like Raul Ibanez to fill the fourth outfielder/power-left-handed-bat-off-the-bench role? He’s over 40, but a veteran with outstanding work ethic. His 2013 season’s numbers suggest that it might be worthwhile to take a gamble on him for one year, if he’s willing to accept a reasonable salary and less playing time. Your thoughts?

A: I just do not see it.  Would you trust a guy who suddenly spikes his performance at age 41?  Rizzo needs to go younger, not ancient.  Raul Ibanez makes sense to sign a series of one year deals with AL teams that can DH  him as long as he proves his worth until he’s retired.  Ladson says the nats need a 4th OF who can man center; a good point.

Q: With the way that Ryan Mattheus hurt his hand last year and then struggled mightily after being activated from the disabled list, is he in the Nats’ bullpen plans for 2014?

A: I think Ryan Mattheus may be on the outside looking in come April 1, 2014 after his performance and injury in 2013.  Without any other moves, you have to think right now the Nats bullpen has 4 locks (Soriano, Clippard, Storen and Stammen), one loogy (from within or outside), one long man (Ohlendorf or a 5th starter competition loser) and one spot up for grabs.  Mattheus is the current leader in the clubhouse for that spot .. but he’ll face competition.  Right now, if Christian Garcia is healthy he’s proven to be more effective than Mattheus.  If Garcia can’t go, then Mattheus probably has the spot locked up barring any more signings.  He could face some competition from guys in the minors like Nathan Karns (if the team decides he can’t find a 3rd pitch and converts him to a reliever… though this probably doesn’t happen until 2015 at the earliest), or possibly from new 40-man addition Aaron Barrett.  For right now i’d say he’s the 7th guy but he needs to produce at 2012 levels to keep his job over Garcia.  Ladson agrees with me, I guess.

Q: Just wondering, do you think No. 2 prospect Lucas Giolito will get an invitation to Spring Training with the big club?

A: Nope, not this year.  No point.  He’s yet to play a day in full-season ball; he needs to stay in the minor league section and get his full work, not languish on the MLB spring training bench getting an inning every other day.  Now, if he shoots up the system in 2014 and ends in AA, then yeah a spring training invite for 2015 could be in the works.  Ladson agrees.

Q: After reading all these trade rumors, I feel like the Nationals are going to make a huge move this offseason. Do you feel it would come as a bat or as a pitcher?

A: Even before the Fister deal, I still would have said a Pitcher.  Even though I don’t think pitching was our problem in 2013 (a tease for a draft blog post with some interesting stats that I have in progress).  The problem with trading for a Bat is this: there’s just no obvious place to upgrade.   Not unless you move a guy like LaRoche or Span (our two least productive bats last season) and make a hole for someone coming in.  Ladson really goes out on a limb and says ‘it could be both.’

Q: Why not bring back Michael Morse for the extra power on the bench and replacement forAdam LaRoche from time to time?

A: I think the book on Michael Morse has been written by now: he can’t stay healthy, he’s a liability in the field, and he needs to be able to DH.  He’s just not an NL player anymore.  A quick look at the depth charts in the AL shows a couple of teams that could take a flier on Morse.  The problem is that two of the teams with the most need for a DH (Seattle and Baltimore) both had Morse last year and he washed out.  Maybe his last shot could be with a team like Oakland or Houston, teams with limited budgets willing to give last-chances to guys like Morse to resurrect their careers.  Ladson repeats his last Morse answer; Morse wants to be an every-day player and at Washington he’d be  a bench player.

Q: With Stephen Drew being a Scott Boras client, could you see the Nationals signing him, having him or Ian Desmond transition to second base? It could solidify the middle infield with veteran stability, couldn’t it?

A: Why in the h*ll would you purposely take a plus defender shortstop (whether it be Stephen Drew or Desmond)  and waste him at second base?   That’d be dumb.  That’d kind of be like what Texas is doing to Jurickson Profar.  Despite the oft-repeated mantra that the “Nats are Scott Boras‘ b*tch” if you check the records we’re not even the team with the most Boras clients.   And most of our Boras clients were guys we drafted irrespective of who represented them.  I’m really tired of reading the cliche that any and all Boras clients are Nats targets because we for some reason feel obliged to deal with him.  I’ll tell you this; I’d rather be friendly with Boras than unfriendly; he represents serious talent in this game and if we can get access to his players more easily than an antagonistic GM, we’re in a better positions.  Ladson doesn’t think Drew would want to switch positions either.

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.

 

Roster construction of 2013 playoff teams

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I like doing this post every year (here’s 2012′s version, here’s 2011′s version), looking for trends in baseball’s most successful teams.  How do the best teams generally construct their rosters?

Borrowing from last year’s post, there are four main ways teams can acquire players:

  1. Draft/Development: The player is with the original team that drafted him.  In the case of international free agents, if they’re signed as 16-year olds they are considered in this category as well (i.e. Jose Fernandez is a developed player despite being acquired as an international “free agnet” while Yasiel Puig).  It could be better defined as “Club developed players.”
  2. Trade MLBers: The player was acquired by the team by virtue of trading an established MLB player.  Most of the time these days, this means the player was acquired as a prospect (since most trades seem to be of the prospect-for-established player kind).
  3. Trade Prospects: The player was acquired by the team by virtue of trading prospects.  This is essentially the reverse of #2.
  4. Free Agency: The player was acquired in free agency.  This category also includes several other types of acquisitions: waiver claims, Rule-5 draftees and cash purchases.  These three categories are lumped together since all three indicate that a team has acquired a player with zero outlay in terms of development or prospects.

Sometimes these trades get a bit muddled; if you send a combination of major and minor league talent to the other team, which category does it fall under?  But for the most part trades are simply categorized.

Now, here is the summary of roster construction and “Construction Strategy Category” for all 10 teams that made this year’s playoffs.  I only count the “core players” on a team for this analysis.  The core players is defined as the 5-man starting rotation, the setup and closer, the 8 out-field players, and the DH for AL teams.  I didn’t extend this all the way to the 25-man roster, figuring that these core 15-16 players are the main reasons teams win and advance.  That and huge chunks of the bullpen and the bench are either fill-in FAs or draftees and it would skew the analysis of how teams really got to the playoffs.  Here’s the summary (the table is sorted by count of Draftees):

Team Drafted/Developed Traded Prospects Traded MLBs FA/Waivers Constr Method
Boston 7 1 0 8 #4
Detroit 5 4 2 5 #2/#4
Oakland 3 1 7 5 #3
Tampa Bay 6 1 4 5 #1
Cleveland 4 1 7 4 #3
St. Louis 10 2 2 1 #1
Atlanta 8 0 5 2 #1/#3
Cincinnati 9 2 2 2 #1
Pittsburgh 5 3 3 4 #1/#3
Los Angeles Dodgers 3 4 1 7 #4

So, what are these four Team Construction Methods?  Lets go one by one:

Method #1: Build from within nearly 100% (Tampa, St. Louis and Cincinnati the best examples, Atlanta and Pittsburgh to some extent): Two great fact points drive this team construction for two of the best example teams in this category:

  1. 18 of St. Louis’ 25 man post season roster was drafted by the team and is still with the team.   Another 5 total guys were acquired in trade (including Adam Wainwright who was acquired more than a decade ago).
  2. When Roberto Hernandez got a start this past April, it broke a nearly 8-season long trend of Tampa having every one if its starts being taken by a starting pitcher developed in house.

These are easily the two best examples in the game of success from almost entirely in-house player development.  St. Louis has one core Free Agent (Carlos Beltran and only two on its entire playoff roster).  Cincinnati isn’t too far behind with its sole major FA acquisition on this year’s roster being Aroldis Chapman.   Atlanta and Pittsburgh do qualify for this (Atlanta has a huge number of home-grown players), but also have made enough trades/signings to create their current rosters that they don’t entirely fit here fully.

Method #2Ride your developed Core and use your prospects to acquire big names: Detroit (to a certain extent).  Detroit has a good core of home-grown guys to which they’ve augmented by trading prospects and major FA acquisitions to arrive at their current incarnation; a very good, very expensive squad.

I continue to classify Washington in this category as well, 6 of our core 15 were drafted and another 3 were acquired by flipping our prospect depth.

Method #3: Wheel and Deal: Oakland, Cleveland entirely, then Atlanta & Pittsburgh to a certain extent.  Is roster-turnover the new market inefficiency?  Oakland’s 2013 team featured an entirely new infield from last year’s 2012 AL West winning team.  Only 3 of Oakland’s core 16 players were home-grown this year.  Billy Beane’s M.O. of wheeling and dealing is paying major dividends; his trades of established major leaguers to acquire prospects has resulted in two AL West divisional crowns in a row.  Meanwhile Cleveland has adopted some of the same strategy, with just one real home grown starter and a whole batting order assembled via trade and free agency.

Atlanta and Pittsburgh each have done their fare share of major trades/signings lately, with Atlanta ending up with Justin Upton and Pittsburgh ending up with 4/5ths of a rotation thanks to big moves.  So while both teams have their cores in player development, smart transactions have made big differences in their 2013 playoff pushes.

Method #4Spend what it takes to win: Boston, Los Angeles Dodgers and Detroit to some extent.  Certainly no one can argue with Los Angeles’ planned path; they more than doubled their team payroll from 2012 to 2013 by taking hundreds of millions of dollars off the hands of … Boston, who still remains in this category despite a large bulk of their core 16 being home grown.  You just can’t have a $150M payroll and not be categorized as a “spend what it takes to win” team.  Detroit’s owner has opened up the pocketbook time and again to try to buy a winner, so they aren’t entirely in this category but they’re getting close.

 


So, what’s the *right* way to build your team?  I guess it depends; clearly all four of these methods can result in playoff appearances.  Perhaps its better to look at the downsides of each method:

Method #1 depends on a long track record of consistent player evaluation and drafting.  St. Louis, in my opinion the best franchise in the game, has a great track record.  Their 2009 draft alone produced 5 of their 25 man roster, and Michael Wacha was a 2012 draft pick who shot to the majors and may be the steal of that draft.  But getting there takes time and talent; to me clearly teams like the Cubs and Houston are re-booting in order to get to this point.  It tests the patience of your fan base and your RSNs (as Houston is learning).  Kansas City has tried this method for years and years and has had little luck.  Seattle went this route mostly and a slew of big-name prospects have failed to really pan out.  So you need great player development and some draft-day luck.  The new CBA is going to make this method harder and harder to do.

Method #2 is slightly less harrowing than going entirely by method #1, but does depend on finding trading partners and finding matches for your spots.  This is where I classify the Nats right now; we have a good core of home-grown guys earned on the backs of several years of last place finishes/high first round draft picks.  And now we’ve parlayed some prospect depth into two key members (Gio Gonzalez and Denard Span).  The downside of this method basically is that your farm system gets depleted very quickly.  Washington’s farm system went from the best in the game to being ranked in the low #20s after matriculations, losses of first round picks and the two big trades.  Suddenly your team has no big-time rising prospects, your major league team has no reinforcements coming, and you soon devolve more into category #4, spending hand over fist to extend your stars and to fill in holes.  Kind of like where Philadelphia is right now.

Method #3 can go bad, fast.  If your trades don’t work out … you look bad, quickly.  You’re also buying yourself some known down years (think what Miami is doing; they clearly punted on 2013 while trading away a ton of salary and major league assets).  That can be tough on the fan base; Oakland and Miami’s fan bases already have their own problems, but Cleveland struggled to sell seats this  year even on their way to 90 wins.

Method #4 can go bad, fast as well … and expensively so.  Only three of the game’s 11 most expensive teams made the playoffs this year.  The Yankees got 85 wins for their $228M in payroll and look like they may be in trouble for a time to come.  Philadelphia?  73 wins.  The Angels and Giants were losing teams.   Free Agents are generally being paid for what they DID, not what they’re going to do.  And Free Agents are almost always in their late 20s/early 30s, entering their natural decline years, and invariably are going to be overpaid for their performance.  If you want to build your team through FA, consider that new estimates value a “win” at roughly $7M on the open market … meaning that to build just a 90 win team through free agency would cost more than $300M in free agent dollars.  Or about what Robinson Cano wants this off-season.  There will continue to be high-payroll teams of course (that RSN money has to get spent somewhere), but I feel as if the industry is going to get smarter about these long term deals.  One look at the Angels last few off-seasons should give you every bit of proof you need to know; hundreds of millions committed to aging sluggers, several very productive prospects traded away chasing glory, and the Angels (even with the best player in the game at $500k/year) look lost.

I think the answer to “which way is best” really resides in the skills of the organization at large.  You can succeed using all four methods … its just how *long* can you continue to succeed?

Ladson Inbox 9/26/13

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Could the team deal LaRoche to improve at 1st? Photo Rob Carr/Getty Images via bleacherreport.com

Could the team deal LaRoche to improve at 1st? Photo Rob Carr/Getty Images via bleacherreport.com

Phew.  I was running out of things to talk about lately.  Well, other than the ridiculous John Feinstein article this week or perhaps a missive on what a bunch of a-holes the Atlanta Braves seem to be.  The federal end of year cycle has consumed all my time recently, so I’ve been late to post end-of-season minor league pitcher reviews.  We’ll get there; its a long winter.

But thankfully a gift arrived via an unexpected Bill Ladson inbox dated 9/26/13.  Lets see what questions Ladson took this time around.  As always, I write my response here before reading his and edit questions for clarity.

Q: How disappointed were you in the 2013 Nationals?

A: Not so much disappointing as frustrating; when you’ve claimed “World Series or Bust” and your team isn’t gelling correctly, why not try to do more to fix the problem mid-season?  What was the sum total of the changes this team tried to make after it was clear the team was consistently playing .500 ball?  Replace a hitting coach?  Demote a couple guys who deserved demoting?  Trade for a 25th guy/bench player?  I dunno.  Why massively increase payroll and sign luxury players like $15M closers and then do nothing when the team is clearly mired in a malaise for 4/5ths of the season?  Ladson says he was disappointed too.

Q: What do you consider the team’s greatest need in the offseason?

A: A better question may be this: where *can* you upgrade this team as it sits now?  There’s not a single starting fielder who is a FA or who really needs to be replaced.  The two worst performing hitters (Span and LaRoche) are both under contract for 2014.  I’ve already seen quotes that say that Rendon will have “competition” for 2nd base next spring; from who exactly?  Lombardozzi and his 68 OPS+ or Espinosa and his 27 OPS+?  Right.  How about the starters?  The 3 main guys are not going anywhere.  Getting rid of Detwiler would be selling very low.  It seems clear from the FA market and from the Haren experience that the team should have a #5 starter competition between RoarkJordan and Karns.   How about the bullpen?  Not really; maybe you tweak it and find a 5th or 6th guy who may pitch better than Mattheus did this year, but by and large the bulk of it already seems set (Soriano, Clippard, Stammen all seem like locks, Storen will be given a chance to rebound, one from Ohlendorf/Roark probably fits in nicely as a long-man, and your lefties Abad and Krol have both been good).  So you’re left with bullpen scrubs and the bench.  Not exactly high-impact spots to improve.

I was talking about this with friends recently; one thing I’d do if I was GM would be to sign Shin-Soo Choo.  He posted a .424 OBP with 21 homers for Cincinnati from the leadoff position this year.  Career .389 OBP.  You put him in LF (since his defense in center is atrocious) and install Harper in center where he belongs.  Dump Span somewhere, anywhere.  Instantly you get power and a significantly improved OBP at the top of your order.  The knocks on Choo are that he’s older (30 this year), that he doesn’t hit lefties (true … but his OBP split versus lefties is STILL higher than Span’s season long OBP, even given the run he’s had the last 6 weeks), and that he’ll be expensive.  A move like this likely never happens; Choo will command probably 4/$40M or more, and I doubt the team wants to pay him that much or block an OF spot given the guys coming up.

I wonder if we’re not going to see something bigger and unexpected happen.  A big trade that opens up a spot and lets the players move around.  Or a big FA signing that forces a trade of one of these entrenched players.  Because otherwise its hard to see how this team dramatically improves this off-season.   Ladsons says the team needs dependable loogies, bench and the back of the rotation.  Safe, obvious statements.

Q: Do you think Adam LaRoche will be traded after this season?

A: I don’t see it; I think LaRoche is a team favorite.  Rizzo wants plus-defenders manning the positions and that’s how he views LaRoche.  But here’s a dirty secret; LaRoche wasn’t that great this year defensively at 1st.  His UZR/150 was negative, he was ranked 18th among first basemen with more than 500 innings at the position this year, and only slightly better than the very sedentary Ryan Howard and equally glacial Chris Davis on the year.  And we have all seen his throwing arm; accurate but weak.  But if you jettison LaRoche, who’s taking him after he hit just .230 this year?  And who are you replacing him with?  The FA crop is weak; who on that list would you want?  Mike Napoli maybe?  He can rake … but he also probably earned himself a ton of dough with his performance in Boston this year.   Ladson says LaRoche is going nowhere.

Q: Why don’t the Nationals sign Michael Morse? He has been injured, and they could get him for a cheap price.

A: …. and they’d play him, where exactly?  He can play left field and first base, and last time I checked we’ve got those positions covered.  I like Michael Morse like every one in DC else but he was *awful* this year.  And he picked an awful time to do it; age 31, in a contract year, playing in the relative media obscurity of Seattle.  If he had just hit a couple bombs down the stretch for Baltimore, maybe that would have helped.  Now you have to wonder if he’s just looking at a minor league deal.  Would the team consider him for a bench role?  Probably not, he likely still considers himself a starter and may not handle the bench well.  Ladson says it isn’t happening.

Q: Is Cal Ripken Jr. managing the Nats next year just a rumor or a realistic possibility?

A: Just a rumor.  What experience does Ripken have managing?  He’s not like other former players like Don Mattingly (who cut his chops watching the great Joe Torre for years in New York) or Ryne Sandberg (who worked his way up the minors and earned his job in Philadelphia).  I’d be worried about him being completely out of his element.  What proof is there that he can handle a pitching staff or manage a game?  Give me a serious, experienced, no-nonsense guy to manage this team and get the guys in line after this year’s season-long drift.  Give me Matt Williams.  Ladson says it isn’t going to be Ripken.

Q: Do the Nats have any interest in signing Robinson Cano?

A: Not at these prices; he reportedly wants 10yrs/$305M!!  And already turned down 6/$144M.  Phew.   I wouldn’t pay him $24M/year in his decline years.  He’s no doubt a great player; is he that good?  Whoever signs him (Dodgers?) is going to really, really regret any deal longer than 6 years.  Well, unless it IS the Dodgers, who may make a complete mockery of the game in the next few years in terms of payroll.  Fun fact: The Dodgers already are committed to $165M in payroll next year … for just ELEVEN players.  They still have to handle arbitration for Clayton Kershaw (who may command $20M) and fill out the rest of the lineup.    Ladson also mentions this contract demand.

Q: How about Jayson Werth as player-manager next year? It worked for the Senators, after all, with Bucky Harris and Joe Cronin.

A: Well, if we don’t Cal Ripken can manage, what makes you think Werth has any such qualifications either?  Baseball has come an awfully long way from the days where teams thought a player/manager was a workable idea.  Now a-days, the money involved and egos involved almost necessitate an experienced, veteran guy for nearly every team.  Ladson thinks Werth would make a great manager.

Q: What do you think is the main cause of the Nats’ struggles this season, and do you think they will be better next year?

A: (see upcoming blog post that I’ll hit “publish” on when the season is over).  Ladson says in order injuries, bullpen, bench, and St. Louis.

Q: At this point, how would you handicap the likely 2014 Nats managerial candidates?

A: Who knows.  Is this really the pressing issue on the minds of Nats fans like Ladson makes it out to be?   Somehow I don’t think its going to be anyone on the current field staff (sorry Randy Knorr).  I think it will be either a big-name manager who gets the axe this off-season unexpectedly (Mike Scioscia or Joe Girardi would be decent choices) or a former player that Rizzo knows (which is why I keep coming back to Matt Williams).  Ladson says Knorr is the leader but also mentions Williams and Trent Jewett.

 

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.

 

One Team Hall of Famers: a dying breed?

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Chipper Jones at his retirement game.  Photo via lostthatsportsblog

Chipper Jones at his retirement game. Photo via lostthatsportsblog

I was listening to a podcast this past weekend and the host mentioned something in passing related to Chipper Jones being the last of a dying breed: one-team Hall-of-Famers.  In the modern age of free agency, we’re seeing iconic players such as Albert Pujols (and in other sports lately, Paul Pierce and Peyton Manning) switch teams mid-to-end of their careers and sullying their legacy in their original city.

It got me thinking: who in baseball right now are the best remaining chances of guys being one-team Hall of Famers?

Using the Current Baseball-Reference Active career WAR leaders as a guide to finding players (and using Baseball Prospectus’ Cots Salary database to quote contract years), lets take a look.  The players are listed in descending order of total career WAR.  The first few names are obvious.  Then there’s a group of younger guys who have yet to play out their arbitration years and who could easily jump ship and sign elsewhere in free agency; i’ll put in a complete WAG as to the chances of the player staying with one team their entire career.

Hall of Fame Locks and Likelys

1. Derek Jeter, New York Yankees.   100% likelihood he retires as a Yankee, and 100% likelihood of being a first ballot hall of famer.

2. Mariano Rivera, New York Yankees.  As with Jeter, he’s 100% to retire as a Yankee (having already announced his retirement) and should be a first ballot hall of famer as inarguably the best late-inning reliever the game has known.

3. Yasiel Puig, Los Angeles Dodgers.  Just kidding.  Come on, you laughed.

4. Joe Mauer, Minnesota Twins.  Its hard to envision someone being more of a franchise player than Mauer; born in Minnesota, High School in Minnesota, 1st overall draft pick by the Minnesota Franchise.  Massive contract with full no-trade through 2018.  I think Mauer will be a Twin for life.   Hall of Fame chances?  Looking pretty good; already has an MVP and has a career .323 BA for a catcher, pretty impressive.

5. Robinson Cano, New York Yankees.  He’s about half way through his career, but his numbers and accolades keep piling up.  Pretty soon we’re going to look up and he’s going to have 400 homers and a career BA above .300 as a 2nd baseman with a slew of top 5 MVP finishes, and we’ll be asking ourselves where Cano ranks in the pantheon of baseball 2nd basemen.  Here’s the canonical list of 2nd basemen elected to the hall of fame in the last 50 years: Roberto AlomarRyne Sandberg, Rod Carew and Joe Morgan.  Do you think Cano belongs there?  Now, will Cano stay a Yankee?  We’ll soon find out: he’s just played out his two option years and has not been extended.  Are the Yankees preparing to let him walk?

6. Justin Verlander, Detroit Tigers.  He’s struggled this year as compared to his typical lofty achievements, but he already owns the career trifecta of awards (RoY, MVP, Cy Young).   He’s signed through 2019 with a 2020 option, at which point he’ll be 37.    He probably won’t get to 300 wins but he could broach 250 with excellent career numbers.  Will he stay with Detroit?  It seems like a safe bet.

Honorable Mentions: Juston Morneau: early numbers supported it, but he has aged fast.  Update 9/1/13 traded away from Minnesota in a waiver-wire deal; no longer eligible.

 

Borderline Hall of Fame Guys

1. Todd Helton, Colorado Rockies.   He turns 40 in August, has played his entire career with Colorado and is in the final year of a two-year deal.  His production has vastly tailed off the last two years and I can’t see him playing again after this season.  But, we haven’t heard any retirement news either, so I wonder if he’s going to be one of these one-teamers that tries to play one season too long.  Chances of Hall-of-Fame:  33%.   I think he’s going to have the same issues that Larry Walker is having; despite a career 134 OPS+ his home OPS is nearly 200 points higher than his road OPS, and I think writers will believe him to be an offensive juggernaut borne of Denver.

2. Chase Utley, Philadelphia Phillies.  He’s struggled with injuries four seasons running now, but otherwise has great career offensive numbers for a 2nd Baseman.  Even if he gets healthy, he may fall short of the Hall of Fame for similar reasons to those of Jeff Kent.   And, Utley doesn’t have an MVP.  However, Utley may be falling off this list because his name is prominently mentioned in trade-rumors if the Phillies decide to sell.

3. David Wright, New York Mets.  He’s in his 10th season with the Mets and is signed through 2020, so his chances of being a career one-teamer seem high.  Not 100% though; He’ll be 37 at the end of this deal and may want a couple more seasons; will he be productive enough and stay healthy enough to earn another short-term deal that late in his career?  Is he trending towards the Hall of Fame?  Probably not; he’s got plenty of All Star appearances, Gold Gloves and Silver Sluggers but relatively little MVP love.  In this respect he needs his team to be better.

4. Jimmy Rollins, Philadelphia Phillies.  Rollins is the subject of a long, long running joke amongst my close friends.  One die-hard Philly fan made his argument that Rollins was a sure-fire Hall of Famer, and the rest of us mocked him for being such a homer.   In reality, his Hall of Fame case likely ends up being really debatable.   He has a smattering of career accomplishments but not nearly as many as (say Barry Larkin, the most recent elected SS).   Now, does Rollines remain in Philadelphia?  Probably; he’s signed through 2015, at which point he’ll be 37.  I can see Philadelphia keeping him on board with a 2 year deal at that point.

 

Too Early to tell Guys

1. Felix Hernandez, Seattle Mariners.  Signed through 2019 for just absolutely ridiculous money (he’ll make $27M in the year 2019).  Of course, he’s just 27 now so he’ll still have some career left by then.  Will he stay in Seattle?  A good bet.  Will he continue to look like a hall-of-famer?  Also a good bet, despite his velocity loss.   But like any other guy who’s only 27, its hard to project 10-15 years down the road, especially for pitchers.

2. Dustin Pedroia, Boston Red Sox.  Pedroia doesn’t seem like a guy who is mentioned in the same breath as hall-of-famers, especially when compared to Cano above.  But here’s what Pedroia has that Cano doesn’t: A Rookie of the Year award AND an MVP award.  Pedroia has bounced back in 2013 from a couple of injury-plagued years and has put him self back in position to gain MVP votes if Boston makes the post-season.  Will he stay in Boston?  Seems like hit; he seems like a classic career Red Sox Captain-in-the-making.

3. Ryan Braun, Milwaukee Brewers.  Great production, career accolades, signed to a long-term deal for a mid-market team.  He has all the makings of being a classic one-team Hall of Famer …. except for the small fact that he’s a) already tested positive for banned substances and b) is becoming public enemy #2 (behind Alex Rodriguez) because of his arrogance in being caught up in the Biogenesis scandal AFTER beating the testing rap.  He could win 3 more MVPs and I don’t see him making the hall-of-fame until some veteran’s committee 75 years from now posthumously puts in all these PED cheaters of the 90s and today.

4. Evan Longoria, Tampa Bay Rays.   He’s signed with options through 2023.  He’s always on the short list of the best third basemen (offensively and defensively) in the majors.   He’s already had a series of all-time highlight moments in his career.  But from a cumulative accolades stand point, he’s very much lacking.  While he won the 2008 Rookie of the Year award, the closest he’s come to an MVP is 6th, and his 2013 All-Star snub means he’s only appeared in the game 3 times.  I think he’s going to need a run of healthy, strong seasons to really put his name in the HoF mix.

5. Ryan Zimmerman, Washington Nationals and Troy Tulowitzki with Colorado: both guys are here for the same reasons: they are each team’s ”Face of the Franchise” and are likely never going to play anywhere else.   They’re both signed to very long term deals.  In Zimmerman’s case, he’s a local guy.  As for Hall of Fame chances, right now they look very negligible for both players.  Not because they’re not good, but because both are too inconsistently injured to put together the full seasons needed to stay in the minds of all-star and MVP voters.  They are what Longoria is heading towards: injury plagued solid players who are the cornerstone of their teams for a 15 year stretch.

6. Joey Votto, Cincinnati Reds.  Here’s a fun fact: Votto trails our own Ryan Zimmerman in career war despite being a year older.   He’s signed with Cincinnati with options through 2024, at which point he’ll be 41, so he’s almost guaranteed to be a one-team guy.  Will he accumulate enough accomplishments to be a Hall of Famer?  So far so good.  He’s one of the most feared hitters in the league and seems to be getting better.

7.  Matt CainCole HamelsJered Weaver: all three of these guys have nearly identical career WARs, all are signed for relatively long-term deals, all are on most people’s shorter lists of the best starters in the game, and all are between 28-30 right now.   But ironically, I don’t see any of them as hall-of-famer calibre talent when compared to the next small jump up in talent in the league right now (see the next player).

8. Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers.  It is foolish to speculate on the Hall of Fame chances of a 25 year old pitcher.  But Kershaw seems to be a safe bet to sign the largest pitcher contract in history with the nouveaux-rich Dodger’s ownership group, so he could continue to pitch in the cavern of Dodger stadium for another 10 years and start to really approach some hall-of-fame mandate numbers.  Ask yourself this; who would you rather have for the next 10 years, Kershaw or Stephen Strasburg?

 

Summary: In all of baseball, just two HoF one-team locks.   A couple more good bets for being career one-teamers but by no means HoF locks.  So yeah, it seems like the one-team hall-of-famer is going the way of the Reserve Clause.

My 2012 End-of-Season award Predictions

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Mike Trout is a shoe-in for Rookie of the Year. Will he add AL MVP as well? Photo Gary Vasquez/US Presswire via espn.com

I’ve had a good string of predicting MLB’s major Post season awards in this space.  In 2010 I went 8 for 8.  In 2011 I again went 8-8 in predicting MLB’s awards, though I missed on predicting the unofficial Sporting News Executive and Comeback Player of the year.   I don’t have much confidence in going 8-for-8 this year though; the AL MVP seems way too close to predict, and I have no idea how the Cy Young awards will go.

[Editor Note: I write this in phases over the course of the season, and finalized it in early October.  After I wrote this piece some of the awards have already been announced; Sporting News announced Comeback Players of the Year last week.  I'll put up another post talking about my guesses and which awards I got right and wrong in another article once all awards are announced in November.]

Here’s a sampling of major baseball writers’ and their predictions that I could find ahead of my publishing this article: Tom Verducci, Ken Rosenthal, Bob Nightengale, Jonah Keri, and Jayson Stark.  Here’s the Fangraphs.com staff picks, heavily statistically weighted as you’d expect.  As you will see, even the national writers are all over the road with their predictions.  Here’s HardballTalk’s Matthew Pouliot‘s theoreticall ballot, with some contrarian picks.  Seamheads’ Andrew Martin has the typical sabre-slanted ballot.

Before reading on to my predictions on 2012′s winners, a statement to prevent arguments in the comments section.  These are my guesses as to who will WIN the awards, not necessarily who DESERVES them.  Invariably there’s a player who plays on a non-playoff or losing team but puts up fantastic numbers (Matt Kemp for the 2011 Dodgers, perhaps Mike Trout this year) who a number of loud pundits say “should” win the MVP.  Well, the fact of the matter is that the current voter base absolutely takes into account the circumstances behind a player’s production, and places more value on batters who are in a pennant race.  As do I.  The MVP isn’t the “Best Overall Batter Award,” which would end a lot of these arguments (since, the Cy Young essentially is exactly the “Best Overall Pitcher Award” and thus is easier to predict); its the “Most Valuable Player” award, and I agree with many who believe that a guy hitting .370 for a last place team isn’t nearly as “valuable” as the guy who hits .320 and leads a team deep into a playoff race.  It is what it is; if we want to change it perhaps the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA, whose awards these are) needs to add a category or clarify their requirements.

Secondly, when considering the Cy Young, invariably there’s one pitcher who puts up comparable numbers to another, but one plays in a weaker division so the same Sabr-focused pundits make their holier-than-thou proclamations about how the voter base failed in their picks.  And their points are valid.  But this is a prediction piece, not an opinion piece, and the fact of the matter is that current voters are still mostly old-school and put value on things like “Wins” and “ERA,” stats that most Sabr-nerds think are useless in evaluating a pitcher.

So keeping those two points in mind, Here’s my predictions for 2012:

  • AL MVP: Miguel Cabrera.  Despite the massive amount of internet baseball material devoted to talking about how great a season Mike Trout has had (mostly looking at his WAR values historically), I still see the voter base placing emphasis on three major points:
    • Cabrera plays for a playoff team, Trout does not.   The fact that the Angels will finish with a better record than the Tigers, or that the Angels clearly played in a harder division?  Immaterial to the old-school voter base.
    • Cabrara won the Triple Crown.  And most Triple Crown winners throughout history also won the MVP.  The fact that the triple crown is based on 3 relatively flawed statistics?  Irrelevant to the narrative of the achievement itself.  It remains an incredibly difficult achievement to accomplish in modern baseball’s era of specialized hitters (Ichiro for batting, Adam Dunn for homers) to hit for both average and power in the way that Cabrera consistently does.  (Rob Neyer posted thoughts about this topic, quoting random people on the internet with various takes).
    • Cabrera had a monster finish, Trout did not.  Cabrera’s OPS in the run-in months was over 1.000 each of July, August and September.  Trout peaked in July but was merely above average in the closing months.   Your finish matters (as we’ll see in the NL Rookie of the Year race discussed later on).

    Opinions like USA Today’s Bob Nightengale‘s exemplify the bulk of the voter base right now.  A few years ago the writers were smart enough to award Felix Hernandez a Cy Young with nearly a .500 record by recognizing more of the advanced metrics in play, but the Cy Young’s definition is a lot more specific than that of the MVP.

    This is nothing against Trout; the Angels were 6-14 when he got called up and finished 89-73.  That’s an 83-59 record with him, a .584 winning percentage that equates to 95 wins, which would have won the AL West.  Trout was the undeniable MVP for me nearly all season.  You hate to say it, but when the Angels faltered so did Trout’s MVP candidacy.

    The rest of the ballot?  Adrian Beltre and Robinson Cano get some typical “best player on best teams” votes.  I’d give Josh Reddick some top-5 votes too.

  • AL Cy Young: David Price, by virtue of his 20 wins and league leading ERA, will squeak out the win over last year’s winner Justin Verlander. The statistical crowd will point out that Verlander was just as dominant in 2012 as he was in 2011 (when he unanimously won), and that his significantly higher innings total and lead in Pitcher WAR should get him the award.   However, as with the AL MVP you have to take into account the voter base.   Price won 20 games, that he pitches in a tougher division, that he beat out Verlander for the ERA title.  Plus, and I hate to say it, but Price is the “sexy pick,” the guy who hasn’t won before.  Verlander is the known guy and sometimes you see voters being excited to vote for the new guy.  Its kind of like the Oscars; sometimes an actor wins for a performance that wasn’t the best as a way to “give it to the new guy.”  Certainly this contributed to Clayton Kershaw‘s victory in 2011 and we may see similar behaviors again.  There might even be an east coast voter bias in play.  Jered Weaver, Chris Sale, Jake Peavy, and Felix Hernandez all get some top-5 votes, possibly finishing in that order behind Price and Verlander.
  • AL Rookie of the Year: Mike Trout, in what should be an unanimous vote. He could (if the MVP vote goes the way many thinks it should) become only the 3rd player ever to win both the MVP and the RoY in the same year (Fred Lynn and Ichiro Suzuki being the others).  In the conversation: Yu Darvish (who certainly did not have a BAD year, but drifted mid-season), Yoenis Cespedes (who would win it in most years), Matt Moore (my preseason guess; I’m still shocked he displayed virtually none of the dominance of the 2011 post-season during his 2012 season), Will Middlebrooks (who made Kevin Youklis expendible within just a couple of months of arrival), and amazingly Tommy Milone (who was nearly unhittable in his home stadium and continued his performance from the Nats in the end of 2011).  A couple other names in the conversation: Scott Diamond and Jarrod Parker.
  • AL Mgr: Buck Showalter should get this this award for taking a team that should be a .500 ballclub based on pythagorean record and put them in the playoffs for the first time in a decade.  I also think he wins because of east coast bias, since certainly what Bob Melvin and the Oakland A’s pulled off is nothing short of fantastic.  Robin Ventura may have gotten some votes had the White Sox held on, but may be the 3rd place finisher.
  • (Unofficial “award”): AL GM: I almost hate to say it, but Billy Beane. The A’s were supposed to be awful this year, having traded away most of their starting rotation (as explained further in this Aug 2012 post here) and let most of their hitters walk.  Instead they acquire a couple of good pieces from Washington, sign the exciting Cespedes to go with a few bottom-barrel FAs, and overcame a 13-game deficit to win the powerhouse AL West.  A great story.
  • (Unofficial “award”): AL Comeback Player of the Year: It has to be Adam Dunn, right?  How do you go from the lowest qualifying average in history to career highs in homers and not get votes.  Jake Peavy may get some votes after two injury plagued seasons, but he was pretty decent last year and isn’t exactly coming out of nowhere like Ryan Vogelsong did last year.

Now for the National League:

  • NL MVP: Buster Posey‘s strong finish, combined with his team’s playoff run and his playing catcher gives him the nod over his competition here.  For much of the season I thought this award was Andrew McCutchen‘s to lose, but his fade and Pittsburg’s relative collapse from their division-leading mid-season costs him the MVP.  The rest of the ballot? Ryan Braun may be putting up MVP-esque numbers but the fall out from his off-season testing snafu will cost him votes (both in this race and for the rest of his career unfortunately). Johnny Molina getting some press too, for many of the same reasons as Posey.  Joey Votto probably lost too much time to be really considered, but remains arguably the best hitter in the league.
  • NL Cy Young:  R.A. Dickey was the mid-season choice, was challenged late but his 20th win combined with his fantastic ERA for a knuckleballer makes him the winner.  Amazingly, Dickey has pitched most of the season with a torn abdominal muscle, making his season accomplishments even more impressive.   Johnny Cueto makes a great case, leading the playoff-contending Reds, but he slightly sputtered down the stretch.  Clayton Kershaw quietly had a fantastic year, leading the league in ERA, but as we saw with David Price above, I think the voters like to vote for the new guy.  Kershaw got his Cy Young last year; this year is Dickey’s time.  Other names in the top-5 mix: Matt Cain, Cole Hamels, Gio Gonzalez and perhaps even Jordan Zimmermann (who got some mid-season attention by virtue of his excellent July).  I have a hard time giving the award to a reliever, but the numbers Aroldis Chapman and Craig Kimbrel are putting in as the closers of Cincinnati and Atlanta respectively may be enough to at least appear in the top-5.  Lastly, the odd case of Kris Medlen; his WAR puts him in the top 10 despite only having 12 starts.  Is this enough to give him some votes?  Maybe some 5th place votes here and there.  But look out in 2013.
  • NL Rookie of the Year: Bryce Harper, who won his 2nd rookie of the month in September, finished incredibly strong and took advantage of late-season fades from his two biggest competitors to win this award.  The National media buzz on Harper/Trout was never greater than during the season’s last month, and while games in April count the same as in September, the lasting impression is made by he who finishes strongest.   Wade Miley has a great case but I think falls short.  Cincinnati’s Todd Frazier has had a great season and was beating Harper’s numbers across the board, but he sat once Scott Rolen came back and faded down the stretch.   Milwaukee’s Norichika Aoki has had a nice season at age 30, coming over from Japan.  I don’t think guys like this (or Darvish, or Ichiro Suzuki for that matter) should qualify as “rookies” but rules are rules.  Anthony Rizzo, Wilin Rosario, Matt Carpenter, and Mike Fiers also put up good rookie numbers and may get some 5th place votes.
  • NL Mgr: Davey Johnson.  Nobody had the Nats winning nearly 100 games.  Had the Pirates not collapsed perhaps we’d be talking about Clint Hurdle. Don Mattingly had somewhat of a transitionary team playing great early, but the mid-season influx of high-priced talent, and their subsequent collapse costs him any support.
  • (unofficial award) NL GM: Mike Rizzo, pulling off the Gio Gonzalez trade, signing Jackson in a deal immediately lauded as a great move and quickly putting together a team that looks to be 15-20 games improved over 2011.  We thought they’d be in the mid-80s in wins; who thought they could be pressing for 100??
  • (Unofficial “award”): NL Comeback Player of the Year: Buster Posey.  He went from a season-ending injury to an MVP season.  In other years Adam LaRoche may get some looks here, but not in the face of what Posey has been doing for San Francisco.  Lastly I had Johan Santana on a short list for this award until he was lost for the season in the aftermath of his 134 pitch no-hitter on June 1st.  At at point he was 3-2 but with a 2.38 ERA.  He finished the season 6-9 with a 4.85 ERA and was shut down on August 17th.  Are we sure that no-hitter was worth it?