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Ranking Baseball’s General Managers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m classifying the GMs into rough tiers:

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

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

Lets give it a shot:


The Elite

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

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

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

The Excellent

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Middle-Ground

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Concerning

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Underperforming

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

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

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

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

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

 


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

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

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

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

 

Written by Todd Boss

February 26th, 2014 at 8:03 am

Posted in Baseball in General

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Ask Boswell 2/24/14

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You know you want to be there right now.  Photo via wp.com

You know you want to be there right now. Photo via wp.com

The chats come fast and furious; here’s Tom Boswell‘s 2/24/14 online chat.  Not much in this one; i’m thinking we’ll struggle to get to the 50 comments we got on last weeks’ version.

As always, I answer here before reading Boswell’s answer, and freely edit the “questions” for clarity here.  I left out a couple of his non Nats questions this time around.

Q: Predictions on Harper’s line this year?

A: I’ll go .275/.375/.500 with 32 homers.  That’s probably optimistic, but hey, there’s no reason not to project 30 homers for a guy with 80 power.  Boswell went .285/.380/.510 and 30 homers.  Pretty close.  We both just stepped up Harper’s 162-game averages from b-r.com frankly.

Q: Predictions on Fister’s line this year?

A: Now here, i’ll probably be even more optimistic.   I think he goes 17-9 in 200 innings or so, posting a 3.10 ERA and a 1.25 whip.    His K/9 will rise slightly and his ERA will drop thanks to dozens of at-bats against opposing pitchers instead of DHs.   If he can get a couple more wins he’s into Cy Young territory.  Boswell goes 15-11 with a 3.20 era.  

Q: Why is MLB having a hard time coming up with home-plate collision rules?

A: Because there’s no easy answer.  The questioner makes it sound like ASA (as in, the Amateur Softball Association) is so much smarter than MLB because they have a give yourself up rule.  Well duh.  They’re amateurs, as in “these people don’t get paid to do this so lets not build in rules that promote massive injuries.”  My amateur baseball leagues were the same way; “Slide or give yourself up; we all have to go to work tomorrow.”   In the Pros, it isn’t that simple.  One game can decide a pennant, which decides millions of dollars for a team and can change the outcome of a franchise and a fan base.   Honestly, I don’t know quite how i’d write the rules, other than to demand that the catcher not block the plate while demanding that the runner not purposely barge into the guy.  What happens the first time the catcher DOES purposely block the plate and a runner avoids him, only to lose the out and the manager goes ballistic when the old-school umpire fails to properly call the play?  Or the reverse; what happens the firs ttime a runner blasts a catcher who’s giving up part of the plate and somehow doesn’t get automatically called out?  I don’t know; I await the rules like everyone else in baseball.  Boswell is reserving judgement til he talks to more guys about the new rules.

Q: What version of Denard Span will we see this year?

A: I sure hope its the September 2013 edition.  If it isn’t, then at least I hope Matt Williams has the intelligence to quickly move him out of the leadoff spot instead of stubbornly allowing him to hit .220 for months on end from the lineup spot that gets the most at-bats.  Boswell opines about Span and it isn’t positive, but he doesn’t have a guess either.

Q: Does an extension for Trout make sense right now?

A: For whom?  For the Angels or for Mike Trout?  Rumors of a 6yr $150M deal out there for Trout; that’s a $25M AAV buying out one pre-arb year and three arbitration years of Trout.  How does that make ANY sense for the Angels to do?   Even assuming that Trout sents some sort of record for his arbitration years (I believe the record is Ryan Howard‘s 1st year $10M award), he’s not going to come close to that amount over the next four years.  He gets at or close to the MLB minimum this year (call it $550k).  Lets assume that Trout is a $30M player; that’d put his three arbitration numbers at roughly $12M, $18M and $24M.  Under this scenario, the Angels get the next four full seasons of Trout for $54.5 million dollars.  Why would the Angels agree to pay him $100m MORE at this point to guarantee two more years?   Honestly, this is a fantastic deal for Trout and if the Angels offer it up, grab it.   Boswell didn’t even answer the Trout/Angels question.

Q: Projected Nats Bench right now?

A: Well, you need a catcher (Jose Lobatan).  You need an outfielder and we have two under contract for more than a MLB min (Scott Hairston and Nate McLouth).  You need a guy who can play both shortstop and second base .. and for me that guy is Danny Espinosa.  After that you kind of look at what you need in terms of flexibilty off the bench for the last stop.  These four guys include two switch hitters (Lobaton and Espinosa), a righty with some pop (Hairston), and a lefty with some pop (McLouth).  Is Tyler Moore that 25th guy thanks to his prodigous power from the right side?   Is the better way to go with another utility guy like Jamie Carroll or Mike Fontenot?  I don’t know.  I think its Moore for now.  Boswell says Moore for sure and then a coinflip between Espinosa and Carroll; i think its the other way around frankly.

Q: Do Tall pitchers release the ball closer to the plate?

A: Yes of course.  One of the reasons a guy like Chris Young could succeed despite having only an 86mph fastball; the ball was a foot closer to the plate by the time he released it.  I pointed this out when looking at Lucas Giolito‘s mechanics; he’s a huge guy and he takes a massive stride, and I’ll bet he releases the ball a couple feet closer to the plate than some of his peers.   Boswell discounts the advantage tall pitchers have.

Q: Is there “really” a competition for 2nd right now?  

A: Not in my eyes.  I think Rendon is entrenched at 2nd for the next 6 years and Espinosa will be trade bait before we know it.  Boswell says doubtful.

Q: When does Giolito arrive and how does he fit in?

A: Not for a couple more years.  He starts in Low-A with an eye towards mid-season promotion to High-A.  Repeat that in 2015 and he ends the season in AA.  So then you’re looking at an early to mid-season call up in 2016 to keep his service clock off.  That’s a normal progression for a high schooler.   That still puts him in the majors before his 22nd birthday.

How does he fit in?  Well, he projects by all accounts as a #1 starter with a huge arm and big upside.  But the year 2016 could be a pretty significant season for this franchise: Zimmermann, Fister and Detwiler all are FAs that season.   So this team will be looking for starters.  The big 1-2 punch will still be here (Strasburg and Gonzalez) and perhaps one of these FAs to be, but we’ll need reinforcements by that point.  Thankfully we have more than a few already knocking on the door and Giolito could be another new guy joining in.  Boswell hasn’t seen him but reminds us all that he’s only 19.

Statistics and Rentention rates of Arbitration case players

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Remember when the team took this guy to Arbitration?  Photo: Nats official photo day via deadspin.com

Remember when the team took this guy to Arbitration? Photo: Nats official photo day via deadspin.com

Just as the optimism of the new baseball season begins to flourish every February, as pitchers and catchers report and fans start to get excited for the newseason, some teams and players get to experience one of the more unpleasant realities of the modern baseball game; Arbitration hearings.

The 2013 “arbitration season” was the first since 1974 that didn’t feature a single case of player versus club, perhaps a sign that teams are finally understanding just how damaging these cases can be.  Players are forced to sit and listen to their clubs argue just how mediocore or awful they are just to save (in some cases) a few hundred thousand dollars.  The teams use whatever statistical slant they need to prove or disprove their points, depend heavily on out-dated/old school stats (Wins, Saves, RBI) to make their cases, and generally speaking do their best to save a buck.  I read an example of a catcher who was in the top 10 in the league in batting and mentioned that as a stat in his favor, only to watch the team pull out a COMPLETE list of catchers (including guys who had like 10 at-bats) and show that the player wasn’t even in the top HALF of hitting for catchers.  And the team representative stated it with a straight face.  Meanwhile, these same teams generally have no issues signing veteran guys to multi-million dollar salaries to serve as middle relievers, backup outfields or 5th starters.  It seems like a completely demoralizing process and I’m surprised teams even come close to arguing with their players any longer.

However, as it stands now there’s a whole slew of potential cases out there where players and clubs couldn’t come to an agreement ahead of the Jan 17th 2014 deadline.  None more important than the Nats two open cases with Tyler Clippard and newly acquired Doug Fister.

Thanks to Maury Brown of the bizofbaseball.com blog, who keeps fantastic notes on Arbitration case results over the years for the core of the data that I used to make this post.  This link shows all the argued cases from 2005 to 2012 and this link shows the settled cases to 2011 (needs updating; mlbtraderumors also keeps similar information that is up-to-date for 20122013 and 2014).

Commenter Luke S. asked whether there was a relationship between teams who took their players to arguments and eventual retention.  I thought that was a fascinating question, so I did some digging.  Borrowing from Brown’s aforementioned links and then adding in some “player disposition” information, I’ve created an XLS (uploaded to Google Docs here and added to the NAR creation links to the right) that tracks all arbitration cases going back to 2005 with the disposition results.  I’ve cut and pasted the core of the data here (leaving out the salaries and the description of what happened to the player).

Year Team Player Delta Winner Still with club? Depart club THAT year?
2012 Miami Anibal Sanchez $1,100,000 Player No Yes
2012 Washington John Lannan $700,000 Club No Yes
2012 Milwaukee Jose Veras $375,000 Club No Yes
2012 Miami Emilio Bonifacio $250,000 Player No Yes
2012 Baltimore Brad Bergesen $400,000 Club No Yes
2012 Tampa Bay Jeff Niemann $450,000 Club No No
2012 Pittsburgh Garrett Jones $250,000 Club No No
2011 Houston Hunter Pence $1,750,000 Player No Yes
2011 Pittsburgh Ross Ohlendorf $625,000 Player No Yes
2011 Los Angeles Angels Jered Weaver $1,435,000 Club Yes No
2010 Miami Cody Ross $250,000 Player No Yes
2010 Chicago Cubs Ryan Theriot $800,000 Club No Yes
2010 Washington Brian Bruney $350,000 Club No Yes
2010 Houston Wandy Rodriguez $2,000,000 Club No No
2010 Milwaukee Corey Hart $650,000 Player No No
2010 Tampa Bay BJ Upton $300,000 Club No No
2010 Los Angeles Angels Jeff Mathis $600,000 Player No No
2010 Washington Sean Burnett $150,000 Club No No
2009 Washington Shawn Hill $275,000 Player No Yes
2009 Miami Dan Uggla $950,000 Player No No
2009 Tampa Bay Dioner Navarro $400,000 Club No No
2008 Los Angeles Angels Francisco Rodriguez $2,500,000 Club No Yes
2008 Colorado Brian Fuentes $1,450,000 Club No Yes
2008 Washington Felipe Lopez $300,000 Club No Yes
2008 Houston Mark Lorretta $2,150,000 Club No Yes
2008 Philadelphia Ryan Howard $3,000,000 Player Yes No
2008 New York Mets Oliver Perez $1,775,000 Player No No
2008 Houston Jose Valverde $1,500,000 Club No No
2008 New York Yankees Chien-Ming Wang $600,000 Club No No
2007 Miami Miguel Cabrera $700,000 Player No Yes
2007 San Diego Todd Walker $1,200,000 Player No Yes
2007 Washington John Patterson $1,000,000 Club No Yes
2007 Washington Chad Cordero $500,000 Player No No
2007 Los Angeles Dodgers Joe Beimel $337,500 Club No No
2007 Tampa Bay Josh Paul $315,000 Club No No
2007 Miami Kevin Gregg $125,000 Club No No
2006 Washington Alfonso Soriano $2,000,000 Club No Yes
2006 Baltimore Rodrigo Lopez $750,000 Club No Yes
2006 Minnesota Kyle Lohse $550,000 Player No Yes
2006 Colorado Sun-Woo “Sunny” Kim $200,000 Club No Yes
2006 Kansas City Emil Brown $375,000 Player No No
2006 Tampa Bay Josh Paul $275,000 Club No No
2005 Oakland Juan Cruz $260,000 Club No Yes
2005 Minnesota Kyle Lohse $250,000 Player No No
2005 Kansas City Jeremy Affeldt $250,000 Club No No

Now, thanks to some pivot table work in XLS and some other interesting analysis, here’s what we can glean from the 45 cases that have been argued going back to 2005:

  • Clubs are 28/45 (62%), players are 17/45 (38%) in the last nine years of cases.  Per Brown’s overall stats, Clubs hold a 291-214 lead in these cases  historically, a 57% success rate, meaning the clubs are getting better at these hearings over the past decade or so.
  • Washington is the  leading “arguing” club with 8 of 45 cases since 2005.  This is not a category with which we want to be a leader.  I attribute a lot of these cases to an antagonistic former GM (Jim Bowden) who had no issues going to war over relatively small amounts, coupled with a new owner who had a very bad reputation for penny pinching in the early years of his tenure.  That doesn’t absolve Mike Rizzo though; he’s already had 3 cases argued in his four seasons of management.
  • 42% of all cases since 2005 by just 3 clubs (Washington, Miami and Tampa).   The two Florida clubs are both notorious for squeezing money, albeit for different alleged reasons.  Miami because their owner is well established as being in the game for the money, and Tampa because they’ve long since established the revenue issues their stadium situation places on the franchise.
  • 12 of 30 clubs in the game have not had an arb argument/case dating to 2005.  To me, this means 12 of the 30 clubs have figured out that $200,000 isn’t worth destroying a player’s ego.
  • Smallest amount argued over: $125k by Miami in 2007 and $150K by Wash in 2010 w/ Sean Burnett.   Again, no real surprise here that Miami went to arguments over $125k.
  • Largest amount argued over: $3M by Philadelphia w/ Ryan Howard (player won)
  • Biggest player demand: Francisco Rodriguez $12,500,000 (player lost).
  • Biggest club offer ($10M twice; both club wins).  One of these was Washington’s Alfonso Soriano case in 2006.

So, based on these numbers, lets think about the two cases Washington may have pending.  The amount delta with Washington’s two 2014 cases is $3M with Fister and $1.9M with Clippard.  So for comparison purposes, the $3M delta with Fister would tie the largest ever delta argued before the court.   The $1.9M delta with Clippard is large as well, in the top 5 deltas ever taken to arbitration.  Clearly, the team and these players have some serious work to do.  Clippard is seemingly in more jeopardy of losing an arbitration case, thanks to his “demotion” and sudden lack of save opportunities.  The fact that he is easily argued as our best reliever and has some of the best BAA/BABIP stats in the league is meaningless; no saves means less money in front of the panel.   And what a welcome to the organization it would be for Fister to arrive and before throwing a pitch in anger having to hear how crummy a pitcher he is.  I feel its vital to clear these cases up, extend the guys, do whatever you have to do in order to avoid the arbitration hearing.

Lastly, here’s a couple of interesting player retention stats related to those who go to arbitration:

  • Just 2 of 45 players who have argued arb cases remain with their teams to this day; Jered Weaver and Ryan Howard.  That seems like an awfully small number until you consider the nature of player movement in the game.  The fact of the matter is this; players are constantly on the move in baseball, especially once they hit arbitration age where their salaries quickly overshadow their value.  Teams have no issues employing pre-arb guys who are replacement level players.  But once their salaries start jumping up and you have ready made replacements in AAA who cost 1/3rd or 1/4th as much as a 2nd or 3rd year arbitration player, it becomes pretty easy to trade, non-tender or DFA the near replacement level guy.  So while it seems natural to think that players who argue with their teams are more apt to leave … I think perhaps its more common for guys to just end up leaving thanks to the huge churn and burn that exists at the back end of rosters.That being said, I’m sure something could be gleaned by doing this same “disposition analysis” for the 100s of players who settled their arbitration cases without hearings … but that’s just far too large a project for today’s little blog entry.
  • Here is something rather interesting though: 23 of 45 players who argued w/ their clubs were traded or released THAT same season.  Including a number of the Nationals argued cases.  John Lannan lost his arb case in 2012, was relegated to AAA and was non-tendered.  Bruney was released just two months into the 2010 season.  Both Shawn Hill and John Patterson were cut in spring training before their salaries could even kick in.  Felipe Lopez moped his way into a July release the summer after his hearing.   And generally speaking about half of all players who had arguments ended up in new organizations either during or just after the season in which they argued with their teams.  Is this a statement about player-club relations?

Anyway; just some interesting Arbitration Case stuff for you this cold January friday day.  Extend Fister!  Sign Clippard!  Don’t go to hearings!

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.

 

Ladson’s Inbox 2/5/13

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Lots of questions about Gonzalez and Garcia this week. Photo unknown credit.

Hey, what great timing for another Bill Ladson inbox (posted 2/5/13).  Baseball news is light, pitchers and catchers report in a week or so, and I’m not quite ready to continue my Stats series.

As always, I write my answer before reading his, and sometimes edit questions for clarity:

Q: Do you think general manager Mike Rizzo will add starting pitching depth before Opening Day? Does the lingering possibility of a Gio Gonzalez suspension change whom the Nationals would consider acquiring?

A: In Ladson’s 1/22/13 mailbag, some one asked what could prevent the Nats as constructed from winning the World Series in 2013.  I answered Rotation Injuries and Luck.  Well, in the wake of the Miami PED scandal, I guess the third answer may be “PED scandal.”

This is a tough question to answer; Gio Gonzalez has denied the rumors, but the newspaper in question (the Miami New Times) clearly only named Gonzalez because they felt like the evidence they had in hand was irrefutable.  Many other players have not been named.  So as a GM; how do you go about preparing for 2013 at this point?   If Mike Rizzo knows that Gonzalez is getting suspended, you have to think he’s on the horn to his buddy Scott Boras about possibly buying Kyle Lohse, which is clearly the best remaining FA starter.  But Lohse isn’t coming cheap, and likely isn’t coming on a one year deal, and would cost another draft pick (I believe).  The Nats are already topping $120M in payroll; would they go to $135M?

If we think Gio at least gets a pass and the suspension is put off, maybe Rizzo’s recent activities of signing random starters to minor league contracts is going to be sufficient.

Ladson mentions Javier Vazquez and the ever-present rumors of Christian Garcia going to the rotation as possible Gonzalez replacements if he gets suspended quickly.  Probably fair; Vazquez may be a great, cheap alternative.

Q: Everyone is saying that it’s going to be a two-team race in the National League East between the Nationals and Braves. Do you think the Phillies have a shot to contend with both these teams, or is their time done?

A: Boy, its hard to look at the aging, expensive Phillies lineup they had in place in 2012, which suffered injuries and setbacks and creaked their way to a .500 record, and then look at the highly questionable slew of acquisitions and signings this off season (Ben Revere, John Lannan, Michael YoungDelmon Young and everyone’s favorite anti-gay advocate Yuniesky Betancourt) and not, well, giggle at where this team is going.  My favorite baseball joke from the off-season goes like this: “The Phillies wanted to get Younger this off-season, so they signed Michael Young and Delmon Young.”

The two Youngs were both negative WAR players last year, Lannan is a 5th starter, Revere was a backup centerfielder who the Phillies traded some decent assets for, and Betancourt is who he is (though admittedly he’s on a minor league deal and seems at best set to be a utility infielder behind starters Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley).  I see the Phillies being a very bad defensive team with the two Youngs in the starting lineup, I see some serious questions in the back side of the rotation, and I see continued regression and louder complaints about Ryan Howard‘s contract.  Fun times a-coming in Philadelphia.  Ladson actually says that the Phillies will “be improved with Michael Young.”  Bill!  Have you seen Young’s WAR figures from 2012??  He was a NEGATIVE WAR player at both major War sites.  That means he makes your team worse!    Now, he was completely servicable in 2011 … so if you want to make the argument to me that 2012 was an aberration for an aging hitter playing in a hitter’s park, well I guess that’s a stance you can take.  But pretty much every other pundit in the blogosphere has loudly criticized the Philadelphia moves this off-season.

Q: What is the status of Lucas Giolito? When do you see him pitching in D.C.?

A: Tommy John surgery in Late August (I can’t remember the exact date; it was 8/24/12 when I posted this highly-critical article about Lucas Giolito and the situation), so figuring a typical 12-month rehab session before he’s actively throwing again in pro-games basically puts him at the end of the 2013 minor league season.  Which means he’ll be 20 before he really is ready to start his pro career in the spring of 2014.  Figure 4-5 years average case for typical high schoolers to work their way up the systems (perhaps fewer years given his talents and pedigree, as we’ve seen with someone like Dylan Bundy in 2012, who made his way from low-A to AA in his first pro season out of HS and got a late Sept callup to the majors) and we’re probably looking at 2016-2017 before seeing him in the majors.  If, of course, he recovers from surgery, hasn’t destroyed his mechanics, is effective, matures, doesn’t get re-injured, or any of the million other pitfalls that typically befall high school arms drafted in the upper rounds.  Ladson thinks he’s pitching pro games “after the all-star break” and is in the majors in 3 years.  Wow.  That is optimistic.

Q: How do you think Henry Rodriguez will do? And what do you think his role in the bullpen will be?

A: I am, and always have been, pessimistic on Henry Rodriguez.  I hated the Willingham trade that got him here.  He’s forced the team to invent injuries to stash him on the DL coming out of spring training b/c he has no options.  He led the league in wild pitches in 2011 in just 65 innings.  He had a 69 ERA+ in 2012.  At some point when does the team say, “OK, its nice that he throws 100mph.  But enough is enough; we need a reliable pitcher who can deliver when called upon.”  Perhaps Spring Training 2013 is that time.

What do I think his role will be?  I’m sure he’ll look great in Spring Training again, will break camp with the team, and very well may look halfway decent for a while.  But just like every other season, he’s going to have those 3-walk outings where he pitches a 1/3 of an inning and gives up 4 runs, and then the manager will be afraid to use him unless the team has a 5-run lead.  And eventually we’ll call up Garcia to replace him and move on.  That’s my prediction for Rodriguez.  Ladson says the team should “attempt to trade him if he is not impressive this spring.”  Wow, that’s sage advice; if only every team could trade its under-performing players and actually get value back whenever it wanted.

Q: Can you predict Washington’s Opening Day lineup if all available players are healthy?

A: Easy.  I’ll even predict the batting order.  Span-Werth-Harper-Zimmerman-LaRoche-Desmond-Espinosa-Suzuki-Strasburg.  Ladson predicts the same names but in a lineup order that makes no sense from a lefty-righty balance perspective.

Q: After announcing his retirement, do you think Brian Schneider is a possible candidate to replace Johnson as manager of the Nationals?

A: Wow, yet another speculative question about the future Nationals Manager.   He took a question about the manager on 1/28/13, and on 1/22/13.  And on 1/14/13.   I guess people like speculating on the Nats next manager.  Not repeating what i’ve said on the topic before, is Brian Schneider a candidate?  Why would he possibly be a candidate to manage the major league team of a system he left 5 years ago?  Why would the Nats pick a manager who’s never managed a day in his life?   Ladson breathes some common sense on this one.

Q: I think Garcia has to be on the Opening Day roster, so is he in the bullpen or someplace else? Can the 25-man roster accommodate him and all the other pitchers?

A: “Someplace else?”  Like where?  In the outfield?   I like Garcia too, but the team has a numbers problem in the bullpen.  Storen, Clippard, Mattheus, and Stammen have all more than earned their spots.  Soriano is being paid a ton of money.  Duke is guaranteed a spot (he’s the only lefty and he’s got enough service time to refuse a demotion).  Oh, and Rodriguez has no options.  So there’s your 7-man bullpen.  Notice there’s only one left-hander out there; if you believe that you need left-handers to get left-handed batters out, then the bullpen needs to sacrifice one of the righties in order to have a second lefty (Bill Bray?) in there.

The only way I see Garcia making this bullpen is if the team runs out of patience with Rodriguez and DFAs/DLs him, or if the team trades away one of their closer-quality surplus guys, or if maybe someone like Mattheus/Stammen (both of whom do have options) struggles or gets hurt.  Otherwise look for Garcia to get stretched out and get looks as a starter in AAA.  Ladson says he’s confident Garcia is on the 25-man roster …. ok explain it to me then based on the above paragraph.  Who is he replacing?

Jimmy Rollins; time for Philadelphia to sleep in the bed they’ve made.

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Courtesy of Nat Enquirer; this video of Jimmy Rollins classlessly giving the Nats zero credit for having the best record in the majors in 2012.

Specifically, “With us healthy, they’re a second-place team. But we weren’t.”

But that’s the problem that Rollins needs to understand; when you build your team on the backs of aging players … you’re NEVER going to be as healthy as you expect to be.  There’s a reason the Nats didn’t lose ONE start to injury all year; our pitchers are younger and healthier.  Philadelphia has built a rotation of aging stars and free agents.  Cliff Lee missed 3 starts this year, Cole Hamels missed a couple, and Roy Halladay missed 7 or 8.  Those guys are 33, 28 and 35 this year.  They’re not getting any younger and likely will miss starts again in 2013.

How about Philadelphia’s positional players?  Ryan Howard only played 71 games.  Chase Utley only 83.  Placido Polanco just 90.   Carlos Ruiz missed all of August.  Maybe you can argue that the two big names from this list should start 2013 healthy and that may make a difference.  Fair enough, except that Howard is 32, Utley is 33, and both now have a slew of injuries on their resume.  Nobody should assuming those guys are playing 150+ next year.

Meanwhile, Washington had a TON of time lost to injuries in its offense.   Desmond missed a month.  Morse missed two.  Werth missed half the season.  Zimmerman lost a few weeks.  And we went through no less than SIX catchers on the season.  And the team persevered, struggled offensively most of the early part of the year, and maintained its lead.

Philadelphia made its choices, signing major dollar contracts to extend its own guys and to buy its rotation and its key bullpen members.  And now you have to live with those decisions, which leave you with an aging roster overpaying for the decline years of your players.  Meanwhile Washington rode the wave of 100-loss seasons, committed to building its farm system, didn’t overpay for Free Agents, and now sits with one of the youngest teams in baseball (3rd youngest pitching staff and youngest on-field staff), with a below-average payroll and the best record in the majors.

Sour Grapes Jimmy Rollins.  You should get used to 3rd place because its probably where the Phillies reside for the next several years, until you can jettison your ill-signed contracts and start over.

NL East Rotation Preview

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Remember this guy? He’ll be 100% for next spring and may spell a changing of the guard in the division. Photo via AllansGraphics.com

With major moves being made this off-season for the rotations of the NL East teams, we seem set to be in store for some serious pitching duels intradivision in 2012.  How do the rotations stack up, right now?  If the season started tomorrow, here’s what we’d be looking at for rotations:

Philadelphia Atlanta Miami Washington New York
#1 Halladay Hudson Johnson Strasburg Santana?
#2 Lee Jurrjens Buehrle Gonzalez Dickey
#3 Hamels Hanson Sanchez Zimmermann Pelfrey
#4 Worley Beachy Nolasco Jackson Niese
#5 Pineiro Delgado Zambrano Wang Gee
In the mix Blanton, Kendrick, Willis? Minor, Teheran Vazquez?Volstad, LeBlanc Lannan, Detwiler, Gorzelanny Young? Schwinden?

By team, some observations:

  • Philadelphia plans on replacing Roy Oswalt‘s 2011 starts with a call-up who looked pretty good last year in Worley. Joe Blanton looks like the odd-man out and his $8.5M salary may be wasted by virtue of an underrated but saavy acquisition of Joel Pineiro.  The Oswalt trade didn’t give the team what it seeked (a World Series title) but it didn’t cost them a ton in prospects either (JA Happ didn’t exactly light it up for Houston).  They’ve signed Dontrelle Willis for rotation depth.  Still, you can’t argue with three Cy Young candidates at the top of your rotation, and this team remains the team to beat in the division despite injuries (Ryan Howard) and aging (every single projected starter not named Hunter Pence is 30 or older, and Pence will be 29).   The pitching staff was #1 in ERA in the NL and I can’t imagine them dropping far from that.    If Worley performs like he did in 2011, and if Pineiro returns to his St. Louis form, then this is just as tough a 1-5 as last year.
  • Atlanta should have won the wild card last year and seems set to roll out a rather similar rotation this year.  They’ll replace their worst starter Derek Lowe with starts from one of three up-and-coming rookies (I’ve got Delgado slated there now but likely Mike Minor wins the #5 spot in spring training) and should be improved.  Hudson is a year older and hasn’t missed a start in 2 years, but is slow coming back from off-season back surgery and may or may not be ready for opeing day.  The staff was #4 in the NL in team ERA and should do nothing but improve … but there’s some serious injury question marks.  Their incredible SP minor league depth should get them through.
  • Miami has a some major question marks, despite acquiring Mark Buehrle to slot into their #2 spot.  They will cross their fingers on Josh Johnson; if he’s not healthy this team will be really hurt.  Nolasco can be brilliant or awful from start to start.   We still don’t know if Vazquez is retiring or returning; my initial guess would have been that he was too good in 2011 (3.69 era, 106 era+) and too young (reportedly 34 but i’ve never heard of any age-questioning here) to retire.  To provide cover though, the team traded for the volatile but possibly still talented Carlos Zambrano to slot in at #5.  Which Zambrano will they get?  And will his notorious clubhouse antics gibe with new hot-head manager Ozzie Guillen? On paper, a 1-5 of Johnson, Buehrle, Nolasco, Sanchez and Zambrano spells an awful lot of power and a lot of Ks.  They could be tough.  They should improve on last year’s #10 team ERA ranking.
  • Washington just got a lot better, replacing 29 mostly awful Livan Hernandez starts with a healthy Stephen Strasburg and likewise replacing 35 combined mediocre starts out of Jason Marquis and Tom Gorzelanny with newly acquired power lefty Gio Gonzalez and power righty Edwin Jackson. They were 6th in the NL in team ERA, have mostly the same bullpen in place (5th best in the league in ERA in 2011) and seem set to improve.   Chien-Ming Wang seems set for the #5 spot, leaving John Lannan potentially being the most expensive pitcher in Syracuse.   The jeopardy the team now has is an utter lack of starting pitching depth; Peacock and Milone WERE our 2012 rotational safety nets; now we have just Detwiler, Gorzelanny and a couple guys who clearly seem to be AAA starters.  For this reason the team probably keeps Lannan around with the eventual goal of having him provide cover until our next wave of high-end pitching prospects develop.  Either way, this rotation and bullpen look to be improved from 2011.
  • New York faces a grim 2012, not only in the rotation but also in the front office.  We’re hearing reports that Johan Santana is still too hurt to make opening day (though he’s since spelled some of these concerns with his first spring training outing).  Converted knuckleballer R.A. Dickey spent his off-season in a nasty fight with management over his charity climb of Mt. Kilimanjaro.  All their other starters posted ERAs in the mid to upper 4′s (or worse) with ERA+ figures in the 78-82 range.  And there doesn’t seem to be help coming on the Free Agency front (since the team can’t afford to keep operations running without bank loans) or on the prospect front (a quick glance at their AAA and AA starting talent resulted in ONE starter who had a minor league era in the respectable range, an 18th rounder in AA).  I think this team is finishing dead last in 2012 and may lose 100 games despite their payroll.  And to add insult to injury, the owners were just forced to cough up $83 million in a pre-trial settlement over their Madhoff scandal involvement.  Tough times are ahead for the Mets.

What do you guys think?  In terms of Washington, more than a few pundits have stated that the addition of Gonzalez makes the Nats a wild card contender, right now, and that was before the Jackson move finally brought some plaudits from typically cynical national baseball writers when considering signings by this franchise.

Do you think the Nats have now supplanted the Braves as having the 2nd best rotation in the division (as ESPN’s Buster Olney is opining?)  I think they have; I think Atlanta’s starters may be taking a slight step back while our quintet looks to be a solid, young but relatively experienced core.

At this point, what *really* is the Fielder FA market?

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I swear, I wasn't looking for the obvious pun photo of Prince Fielder eating. Photo: The Onion

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know by now that Prince Fielder is looking for a 9 figure contract, that there doesn’t seem to be a lot of suitors for him, and that he keeps being linked to the Washington Nationals, despite sources saying we’re not interested.

So I thought to myself; what *really* is the market for Fielder right now?  Who wants, or more importantly needs, a big-money, big-time hitting, trip-over-his-feet defending at first base Fielder?  Here’s each of the 30 teams organized into categories to help get some clarity:

1. Teams that have long-term, major money commitments to established 1B stars, right now.

These teams are absolutely not in the market for Fielder.   Team and current 1B:

  • Boston: Adrian Gonzalez
  • Chicago WS: Konerko/Dunn
  • Detroit: Miguel Cabrera
  • LA Angels: Albert Pujols
  • Minnesota: Justin Morneau
  • NY Yankees: Mark Teixeira
  • Cincinnati: Joey Votto
  • Colorado: Todd Helton (not that he’s a major committment, but he did just re-sign thru 2013).
  • Miami: Gaby Sanchez (not really a major star, but he was a 2011 all-star and is pre-arbitration)
  • Philadelphia: Ryan Howard

You could quibble with the selection of Miami as not being in the market; after all they were throwing money at Pujols and have committed something in the range of $165M in heavily back-loaded contracts already this off-season.  But I havn’t read a single sentence indicating any interest with Fielder.

You could slightly quibble with Colorado, but if so I’ll say that Colorado also falls into one of the “No” categories below.  Read on.

2. Teams that are so bad, right now, that I couldn’t imagine Fielder actually going there

  • Baltimore

Baltimore.  That’s it.  Anyone that signs in Baltimore is essentially saying, “I want to play for the worst organization in baseball and guarantee myself 5th place finishes for the entirety of my contract.”  Who would possibly go to play there unless they’re a lower-tier FA who wants to guarantee himself a starting job?  Such a shame; this was the highest payroll team in the game in the mid 90s.  We talk about how Bud Selig needs to take away the Mets … how about forcing Angelos to sell this former jewel franchise to someone who actually wants to see them win?

3. Teams that are aren’t in the market for financial reasons

  • LA Dodgers
  • NY Mets
  • SF Giants
  • St. Louis

Obviously the situation with the Dodgers and Mets prevents them from doing such a franchise-altering commitment.  Plus both teams have half-way decent options playing at 1B for them now (James Loney and Ike Davis).   The Giants were at $118M in 2011 and seem tapped out; they have $84M committed prior to their Arb cases, including a potentially record-setting arbitration case with Tim Lincecum.  They’ll easily be above $100M once these cases are said and done.  Lastly St. Louis: if they were willing to pay $25M/year, they would have re-signed Pujols.  So clearly they’ve reached a financial threshold themselves.

I’d also put Colorado in this category; they aren’t exactly a small-market team but they also don’t seem like they’re in the mood to increase payroll $25M/year.

4. Teams that have waved the white flag and are in 100% rebuilding mode

  • Oakland
  • Houston

Both these teams should be obvious just by their mention.  Oakland is going to try to field a $20M payroll team, and Houston has bottomed out and clearly is starting over.

5. Teams that have big-name prospects currently installed at 1B and who don’t seem like they’re in the market

  • Cleveland (Matt LaPorta); also arguably in the “Small Market” category
  • Kansas City (Eric Hosmer); also in the “Small Market” category
  • Seattle (Justin Smoak); also in the “Teams that are really bad” category
  • Atlanta (Freddie Freeman): also in the “Teams that are tapped out financially” category
  • San Diego (Yonder Alonso); also in the “Small market” category
  • Chicago Cubs (Anthony Rizzo): probably more in the “rebuilding mode” category; Epstein likes Rizzo, just re-acquired him and I’d be shocked if they blocked him by getting Fielder.

Most of these teams could fit into multiple categories.  Lots of rumors out there saying that Seattle is a natural landing spot for Fielder but I don’t see it: Smoak is the reason Seattle agreed to trade Cliff Lee, and you don’t just give up on guys like that.  Meanwhile Seattle is now miles behind their divisional rivals and may not compete for a decade.  Why would Fielder go there?

Meanwhile, the Cubs seem like an interesting case.  NL team, NL central team, storied name.  But they didn’t hire Theo Epstein to just make the leap; their ownership clearly realized that their franchise was on the downside both at the MLB level and in the farm system.  Bad contracts, bad clubhouse.  They’re rebuilding for a renewed run in a few year’s time.

6. Small Market teams that certainly don’t seem to be in the market for a $25M/year player

  • Tampa Bay
  • Arizona
  • Milwaukee (else he’d be looking at re-signing there)
  • Pittsburgh

All these teams seem to be pretty self-explanatory.  Maybe Arizona gets into the market, but they’ve gone to great pains to lose payroll, paring it down to just $56M last year while somehow winning the division.  Their highest paid player in 2011 was just $5.8M.  A $25M/year guy doesn’t fit with their team.


So, after all that, Here’s the teams Left: This is the actual Market for Fielder, right now.  Teams listed with their current starting 1B

  • Texas: Mitch Moreland
  • Toronto: Adam Lind
  • Washington: Adam LaRoche

And here’s arguments for and against each team:

  • Pro Texas: they are getting a massive amount of money influx in.  They may or may not win the Yu Darvish sweepstakes, meaning they may or may not have an “extra” $120M or so sitting around in a couple weeks.  Moreland isn’t exactly lighting the world on fire and wouldn’t be an impediment.
  • Con Texas: They don’t NEED more offense; they’ve bashed their way to two consecutive AL pennants by having an offense ranked in the top 3 in pretty much every category.  They had a guy who hit 29 homers batting 7th for them in the off-season (Nelson Cruz).
  • Pro Toronto: they have payroll room.  They can let Fielder DH some of the time.  They have a good young pitching staff they can build on.  Lind hit 26 homers but isn’t blocking them from acquiring someone better.  They do need to improve their offense and he’d fit naturally behind Jose Bautista, giving him even better pitches to turn on.
  • Con Toronto: they’re the 4th best team in the AL East and havn’t made the playoffs since the Wild Card era.  What makes you think they’re going to catch the 3 teams above them, no matter how much they spend?  This has to come into Fielder’s thought process, doesn’t it?  They also don’t have the pitching right now to really compete in the AL East, having traded away their main studs for prospects in recent years.
  • Pro Washington: This team needs offense; we’ve declined in runs scored 3 years running.  Plain and simple.
  • Con Washington: he can’t DH.  We’d be lighting the $8M we owe to LaRoche on fire.  He doesn’t fit Rizzo’s pro-defense concept of finding players.  He may expose a payroll ceiling that the team hasn’t broached before, resulting in the team possibly losing franchise players in the future because “we can’t afford them.”

In the end though, if Texas signs Darvish I’d think they’d be out of the running.  And Toronto hasn’t really shown an inclination to spend Fielder kinds of money, and seem more in a rebuilding phase than a “go for it now” phase.

Which means the Fielder market may be …. just Washington.

What do you think?  Are there any teams besides Texas, Toronto and the Nats that are *really* in the conversation?  Or is Boras negotiating against himself right now?

Ask Boswell 1/9/12 edition

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Tired of Prince Fielder rumors yet? Photo: AP/Morry Gash

Here’s Tom Boswell‘s weekly Monday chat on 11/28/11.  Of the baseball questions he took, here’s how I’d have answered them.  With the Wizard’s 0-8 start there’s a lot of kvetching about NBA.

As always, questions are edited for clarity and I write my own answer prior to reading his.

Q: What is your “take” on Ross Detwiler and could he become a better pitcher than Gio Gonzalez?

A: My “take” on Ross Detwiler is that he’s too frail to stay healthy long enough to be counted on for heavy-duty innings, and that he throws too much across his body to get his breaking stuff to work properly.  Now, throwing across your body isn’t a bad thing (see Johnson, Randy) but Detwiler’s never been consistent long enough to be anything more than an emergency/late season starter for this team.  Can he be better than Gio Gonzalez?  Not really; Gonzalez is only a year older but has 60 more MLB starts, an all-star appearance and the talent to win 20 games in the AL.  If Detwiler was really that promising … we wouldn’t have acquired Gonzalez in the first place.  Boswell says the team likes Detwiler, but Johnson likes a lefty heavy rotation in this division.  But the team already has 5 starters signed to major league contracts, so I can’t see how Detwiler wins anything more than a bullpen spot.

Q: Is Prince Fielder really coming here?  Why is there so little market for him?

A: I’ll answer the 2nd part first; there’s so little market for Prince Fielder for several reasons.

  1. If you look at the top payroll clubs, basically every team either has a long-term 1B commitment (names like Mark Teixeira, Ryan Howard, Adrian Gonzalez, Albert Pujols, Paul Konerko, Justin Morneau, and Miguel Cabrera) or is dealing with topped-out payroll or financial issues (Mets, Giants, Dodgers) that are preventing them from purchasing a big-money star.  So lots of your usual suspects are out.  He’s left trying to convince mostly 2nd-tier payroll clubs to spend like first tier clubs.
  2. His agent Scott Boras is generally the “lets wait and try to build a crescendo of rumors” type of agent.  It has clearly worked in the past … but it doesn’t seem to be working now.  I think Boras’ strategy has run its course to a certain extent and teams are wary of the “mystery team” in on these major players.
  3. Fielder isn’t exactly an adonis of a physical specimen.  He’s got a bad body, hasn’t really shown that he can control his weight, and has a pretty good barometer of his future physical condition in the form of his MLB playing father Cecil Fielder.  Prince may be young and may clearly be a top5 hitter in the league, but teams are not going to want to put up 8  year commitments for a player who may be washed up by the time he’s 34.  To make matters worse, Prince is a below-average first baseman AND only a handful of teams have available money and available DH spots.

Frankly, I think Prince needs to sign a shorter term deal with high AAV, get a team like the Nats to commit and then re-hit the FA market at age 30-31 when he’ll still have value.

Now, is he coming to the Nats?  If I was Mike Rizzo i’d sign him in a heartbeat for 3yrs/$75M.  I’d balk at an 8-year deal.  But, the rumors persist and have been swirling for more than 2 weeks.  So where there’s heat, there’s likely fire.  Boswell says that the key date is Jan 18th, the day that the Rangers either sign or cut bait on Yu Darvish.  If the Rangers suddenly have $120M that they didn’t think they’d have yesterday, they will sign Fielder.

Q: Baseball is set to announce their HOf inductees for 2012 today. Anyone you feel strongly about that should get in? What are your thoughts on Dale Murphy and Don Mattingly?

A: (note that I’m writing this BEFORE the 3pm announcement, so by the time you read this we’ll know who got in and who didn’t)

Who I believe WILL get elected: Barry Larkin

Who I believe SHOULD be in the Hall: Jeff Bagwell, Jack Morris, Barry Larkin, Tim Raines, Mark McGwire, Edgar Martinez.

What do I think about Murphy and Mattingly?  Both suffer from more or less the same issue: they were both great players for very short amounts of time.  Murphy was a better player all in all than we remembered and for four seasons (82-86) was probably THE best player in the game.  Mattingly retired at 33 and was solid but had the same 4-year excellence followed by less flashy seasons.  They’re good players who weren’t transcendent enough to get their own plaques in Cooperstown.  Boswell mostly agrees with the above.

Q: What do you think of this scenario: Fielder signs elsewhere, LaRoche starts out hot, we flip him to Tampa for Upton as Harper takes over in RF and Morse moves to 1B.

A: Sounds great.  Except that this scenario really only serves the perfect world desires of the Nationals.  In reality LaRoche is a slow starter and we may really hear the boo-birds early.  Morse was great in 2011 but most predict a sliding back.  Harper probably needs some MLB adjustment time.  We’ll see what happens.  Boswell likes this scenario. Sure, who wouldn’t?  But it does sound a bit too convenient.

Q: Is there ANY chance Boras goes for something like 3yrs/$75mil for Prince?

A: Yeah, I think there is a chance, as described above.  He’ll push for longer though until the last possible minute, so this won’t play out for a while and we’ll continue to hear rumors for weeks.  Boswell says it’ll “never happen.”  And lays out a doomsday payroll scenario for the team.  Which I don’t entirely buy; we’ve been at $60-65M in payroll for 6 years … despite being in a very wealthy market.  At some point, this team will be good, will draw fans to the park and will increase revenues.  And the payroll should rise to reflect that.

Q: Where are the Nats finding the (approximately) 60 runs they’ll need to add (assuming pitching stays constant) in order to go from 80 to 90 wins?

A: A good question.  Some from Zimmerman, some from LaRoche, some from natural improvements from Desmond, Espinosa, and Ramos, and some from a rebound year from Werth.  That’s a LOT of assumpions.  Fielder would *really* help in the run creation department (he created 35 more runs than Morse last year … that’d be 5-6 wins all by himself).  Boswell echos much of the above.

Q: Where do you (as an assumed HoFame voter) draw the line between admitted and suspected when it comes to steroids and the HOF?

A: If it were me, I’d go based on existing evidence.  That’s all you can do.  And the Mitchell Report is not really “evidence,” but more heresay and he said-she said.  So Palmeiro and McGwire have some warts.  Bagwell does not and it is generally unfair to lump him into the steroid-poster boy club.  Boswell agrees with the above … too bad he doesn’t have a vote to defend year after year.

Q: Given what we  now know about the Steroid era, is there any reason to suspect Cal Ripken of using?

A: (The allegation also being that Ripken was friends with Brady Anderson, whose 50 homer season seems awfully suspicious in hind-sight).  Nobody’s ever said a word about Ripken and PEDs.  You have to think he was well aware of his legacy the closer he got to 2130 games.  I’d be shocked if he was shown to be a user.  Him and Derek Jeter would be probably the two most shocking PED revelations in the history of the game, if they turned out to be true.  Boswell doesn’t think Ripken profiled to a typical user.

Q: Why isn’t there more narrative about how the Werth contract is really killing this team, when considering the future payroll implications of having Werth, Zimmerman and Fielder potentially signed to long term, $20M+ AAV contracts?

A: I’m sure it is internally.  It certainly is everywhere else in the blogosphere.  The Werth contract is pretty indefensible, certainly was at the time it was signed and is even more so now.  I just hope the guy has a bounce back season and really contributes.

Q: How does the TV money rise so much in the MASN deal?  Aren’t viewer numbers abhorrent?

A: Good question.  I don’t know.  Boswell has the answer; the contract is tied not to revenues or ad money, but to comparable RSN sizes in other markets.  And right now Houston and Dallas (our two closest sized cities) get 2-3 TIMES the money out of their RSNs.  I cackle at watching Angelos have to write checks to the Nats, but really wish they’d cancel the contract altogether.  I hate the fact that we’re enriching Angelos day after day.

Q: Why do the HoFame voters suddenly agree to induct a player?  If he’s good enough on the first ballot, he should be good enough on any ballot.

A: Because there’s a cache to being a “First Ballot Hall of Famer” and LOTS of voters exclude guys on the first vote as a result.  There’s never been a unanimous selection, and there never will be.  But there’s plenty of guys who were very good players who got in on #2 or #3 ballot.  Guys like Blyleven and Rice who languish for a decade on the ballot are rare.  Boswell agrees.

Q: Is Toronto a more likely landing spot for Fielder, since they were all-in for Darvish and lost out?

A: Makes sense frankly.  They could be sensing weakness in the Boston and Yankees lack of activity this off-season … Boswell says it makes sense but makes a good point; does Fielder want to commit to Toronto, knowing they’ll get outspent year after year by Boston and New York?  Does he commit to a team that hasn’t made the playoffs since the divisions split?  Would you?

Q: How similar is Harper’s call-up situation to Mickey Mantle’s situation?

A: Not very.  Completely different baseball climates.  Harper has his millions already, and there’s very specific service time implications.  Mantle played under the reserve clause, there was no service time issues, no arbitration, no free agency.  So the Yankees could do whatever they wanted with him year after year.  Boswell doesn’t really comment.

Q: Does Fielder make sense if the Nats are planning on building a cost-controlled dynasty?  The 1998 yankees didn’t have any 30-homer players, let alone a big bopper at $25M/year.

A: Fair.  Lots of Nats bloggers keep coming back to the payroll implications of Werth, extending Zimmerman and buying Fielder.  And they’re fair.  That doesn’t even talk about what to do with other big-time stars we have to deal with potentially.  But i’ll respond by saying this; we don’t KNOW what the owner’s payroll limits are.  All we have to go by is the past payroll figures.  What if this team is just biding its time before blowing out payroll to $120M?  Boswell says this is well put and signs off.