Nationals Arm Race

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

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Qualifying Offers; are they working?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ask Boswell 3/24/14 edition

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Should this man be on this team?  Photo Nats official 2014 via rantsports.com

Should this man be on this team? Photo Nats official 2014 via rantsports.com

Despite there being just a scant week until games start … i’m at a loss for content here!  Fear not; Mr. Tom Boswell always chats on mondays.  Here’s the 3/24/14 edition.  This was a monster chat; he took questions for 3.5 hours.

Q: Steven Souza just had a monster spring: Does he need a year at Syracuse or can the Nats use him now?

A: Some guys here love Steven Souza.  But he’s an outfielder in a system that already has 5 multi-million dollar outfielders under contract, so he’s not going to break camp with the team.  He’s  yet to play above AA and could use some seasoning against the near-MLB quality AAA starters.  But the Nats didn’t put him on the 40-man roster for the heck of it; you have to think he’s going to feature this year to cover for injuries.  He needs some positional flexibility.  He’s listed as a third baseman as well; another position we don’t really need any cover for right now.  Souza’s problem is that he’s a corner player (LF/RF/3B/1B) on a team with a bunch of them already.  So he’s going to have to out-hit a starter to get ABs.  Boswell says the same thing I do about not ever playing above AA.  Lets see how he does in upstate NY in April.

Q: Is Moore going to lose out on his spot to Peterson?

A: I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: if a guy already is on the 40-man (Tyler Moore), then the odds of someone who is NOT currently on our (full) 40-man (aka Brock Peterson) beating out an established 40-man player AND dislodging an existing guy off the 40-man roster seems rather remote.  Besides, are we even sure Moore is making the 25-man roster at this point?  The team already has 5 OFers and needs another guy who can play middle infield, not a guy who can only play a corner.   Peterson is a 1B/OF type, much as Moore is.  Maybe this is all a precursor towards moving Moore to a team that covets him (Houston).  Boswell agrees that Moore is “on the bubble” and then notes that 1B competition after LaRoche is gone will be quite interesting.

[Interlude: someone asked a question about what "Cybermetrics" was.  WAR, OPS and WHIP].  Boswell answered it well, getting in his own dig at WAR while he was at it.

Q: Will Lobaton’s throwing arm add to an already-weak area?

A: Maybe; but I’m not sweating the throwing arm mechancis of our once-a-week catcher.  I’m more worried about whether Doug Fister is going to be ready for 4/1.  Boswell points out that Lobaton’s pitch framing is one of the best … and that if your backup catcher has just one weakness then you’re doing a-ok.  

Q: Who’s the 5th starter going to be?

A: Now I’m flip-flopping again, trying to read the tea-leaves, and I’m guessing Taylor Jordan wins it.  Ironically it will come down to Tanner Roark‘s flexibility; he’ll head to the pen to be the 7th man and he’ll be happy about it.  If Roark were to win the spot, Jordan would be heading to AAA to keep starting and we’d be basically auditioning a kid in the #7 spot (since it seems like Ryan Mattheus is heading to the D/L and Christian Garcia just hasn’t shown he’s got the stuff).  I’m ok with this configuration.   Boswell uses my previous arguments in saying that Roark deserves it and should have it on merit.  We’ll see.  

Q: Are you worried about the back of the Nats bullpen with Storen and Soriano’s shaky spring training stats?

A: Yes.  Short Sample Sizes, Spring Training stats, blah blah.  Soriano has looked awful, Storen not much better.  The Bullpen was the weakest part of this team last year and these guys are making too much coin to be just so-so.  Problem is, if Soriano blows a bunch of saves and loses the closer job, you might as well just release him because his non-closer splits show what a moper he can be.  This is an area to keep an eye on early in the season.  Boswell seems to think Soriano will be fine but worries about Storen.

Q: Are the Nationals vindicated in “Shutdown gate” now that Medlen is going in for a second TJ?

A: Phew,  I tell you this is a topic I’ve avoided because I want to keep my blood pressure down.  But others have certainly chimed in on it (Ted Leavengood at Seamheads.com opined on 3/18/14, as did Thom Loverro in the WashingtonTimes on 3/13/14 and Rantsports.com’s less than cordial website posted its own opinion in the same timeframe).  You’ll notice that nowhere in this list are the blowhards at NBCSports’ HardballTalk, some of the more loud and ardent critics of the Nationals 2012 decisions.  I wonder why; its like it is in the Newspaper business; nobody notices when you print a retraction of a 20-point headline and bury it on page 12 a few days later; all people remember is the headline.

I think honestly my opinion is in line iwth Loverro’s; we won’t really know if the Strasburg plan or the Medlen plan is really “the best” course of action until both guys are retired.  If Strasburg breaks down again, he’ll be in the same place as Medlen.  Yes the Nats plan looks better now that we have Strasburg going on opening day and the Braves will be lucky to have Medlen back and healthy this time next year.  But it still doens’t prove anything about pitcher mechanics and proclivity to injury (another topic that makes my blood boil; people just spouting off internet theories about biomechanics and presenting themselves as experts on the topic … another topic for another day).

An important note from another questioner on the same topic: all four guys going in for their 2nd TJ surgery this spring (Medlen, Brandon BeachyPatrick Corbin and Jarrod Parker had their first TJ surgery AFTER both Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann‘s surgeries.  The Nats approach seems to be more and more vindicated by the year.

Boswell doesn’t really bite at the offer to say “I told you so” but offers a link to a paper at NIH on the topic.

Q: Does Espinosa beat out Rendon?

A: No.  Yes Espinosa is superior defensively; you don’t need the second coming of Mark Belanger at second.  Boswell agrees.

Q: Did Rick Shue really make that big of a difference on this team?

A: Looking at splits both pre- and post- Rick Eckstein/Rick Shue hiring/firing, you would be inclined to say yes.  Was this causation or correlation?  Who knows.  Boswell doesn’t address the second part of a two-part question.

Q: Is the game of baseball headed for disaster thanks to big market dominance, over-emphasis on the teams in the 4 biggest cities and declining popularity?

A: I sense this questioner has a bit of bias.  Yes baseball’s ratings are miniscule when compared to Football’s; ask yourself how Football’s ratings would look if there was a game every night.  Baseball attendance dwarfs any other sport and is rising.  There’s national emphasis on “national” teams sure … but I’ve heard cogent, well put arguments that baseball itself is now basically a regional sport.  A strong sport with strong local ties that don’t translate nation-wide.  As compared to the NFL, where if the superbowl is Green Bay vs New England people tune in because they associate those teams with their star quarterbacks, not with their geography.

The thing that I worry about is the incredible revenue disparities we’re starting to see.  I do believe that the RSN monies that large market teams are pulling in will eventually give way to some sort of small-market owner revolt as the playoffs become the same teams year after year.  Sort of like what we see in European Soccer leagues.  Nobody wants to see that.

Boswell notes some stats about attendance, calls the game booming and also repeats my “regional points.”

Q: How important at the two early-season series versus Atlanta (April 4-6 at home and then April 11-13 away)?

A: I’d like to be a cynic and say something pithy like, “a game on April 5th counts the same in the standings as a game on September 30th.”  But in this case, I think a new manager, a weakened rival and a team that got its *ss handed to them last year by Atlanta will want to make a statement.  It could be damaging if the Braves somehow come in here and take 2 of 3.  Boswell does talk about the opportunity to put pressure on the Braves early.

Q: Is this the year Strasburg puts it all together?

A: It seems like it; he’s in the same place Zimmermann was in 2013 in terms of surgery recovery; I’d love to see him win 20 games.  Boswell drinks the kool-aid and then points out the excellent Adam Kilgore piece in the WP a few days ago on Strasburg; its worth a read.

Q: Who do you think has the most upside between Brian Goodwin, Eury Perez and Michael Taylor? Are the Nats still high on Destin Hood? 

A: A prospect question!  I’d go Goodwin, Taylor then Perez at this point. But if Goodwin plateaus again this summer Taylor will surpass him.  I think Perez has peaked as a late-innings defensive replacement/pinch runner at this point and may be trade-able/DFA able sooner than later.  Hood’s time with the organization is running out; he’s entering his 7th minor league season after hitting just .224 with no power in AA last year.  I’m thinking he’ll repeat and then hit free agency.  Too bad.  Boswell doesn’t sound like he likes any of these guys.

Q: Between the Morse trade (Cole, Krol, Treinen), the Guzman trade (Roark), and the Capps trade (Ramos), plus a few others, it seems like the Nats have made some really good trades. Umm, please tell me that the people who scouted these players before any of us had heard of them are well compensated.

A: Yeah, the Nats pro scouting squad has definitely done some great work as of late.   Boswell notes that scouts are not paid a ton … but that the Nats raided other teams for quality guys by giving them more respect and input in this org.  

Q: Every year the number of pitchers requiring Tommy John surgery seems to be higher than the year before. It has to be clear at this point that the innings limit (alone) is not the answer. When does baseball finally figure this out?

A: Well, what’s the answer then?  You can look at literally every pitcher and find a fault or two with his mechanics; this guy has the “inverted W,” this guy subluxes his shoulder, this guy’s arm isn’t in the right position when he lands, this guy’s arm is too high, this guy’s arm is too low.  Nobody can define what “perfect mechanics” are.  I started pulling up video/images of the career MLB leaders of innings pitched and, guess what, those guys don’t have perfect mechanics either.  Don Sutton?  7th all-time in baseball IP and basically 2nd if you take out knuckleballers and dead-ball guys … and he has a perfect inverted-W in his motion.

What is the answer?  I wish I knew; i’d be the most in-demand pitching consultant on the planet.  When fully 1/3rd of major league pitchers have had Tommy John surgery, and that numbers seems to be rising, maybe the answer is found by looking at the evolving role of pitchers.  Velocity is king now: 30 years ago if someone threw 90 it was special; now its mediocre.  Relievers especially; think about how power arms in the bullpen are coveted now.  Is it possible that the answer to all these arm issues is simply that guys are just trying to throw too hard these days?  That’s not much of an answer though.  We can talk about youth development, over-throwing as kids, AAU/travel leagues and 10year olds going from playing 18-20 little league games to 45 travel-league games a year.  But I’m not sure that’s entirely it; baseball recruits from the Dominican Republic basically did nothing for years except play sand-lot baseball from sun-up to sun-down and that doesn’t seem to affect their longer term injuries….

Or does it?   I wonder if there’s any correlation to the “nature” of a players youth development versus future injury?  American system versus Japanese versus a developing latino country like Venezuela/Puerto Rico or the D.R.?  Excellent post topic.

Boswell totally punts on the question; maybe since there’s no real answer.

Q: Given what Souza has been doing lately, should we focus less on “age appropriateness” in the minors?

A: No.  I think Souza is the exception, not the rule.   If you’re in  your mid 20s and you’ve yet to succeed beyond high A … that’s pretty indicative of what your ceiling may be.  Simple as that.  Boswell points out that Roark is 27 and is a classic “late bloomer.”

Q: Does the news that Scherzer and Desmond declined long-term deals portend eventual trouble for the likes of Strasburg and Harper?

A: No; i think those guys were already going to be trouble.  What’s the common denominator here?  Two words: Scott Boras.  Scherzer == Boras client.  Strasburg?  same.  Harper?  Same.  Desmond isn’t a Boras client but he’s gotta be looking at some of the monster SS deals out there and saying, I’m going to hit the FA market to see what’s out there.  Can’t blame him.  The 2016 off-season is going to be an interesting one for this team.  Boswell mentions the Elvis Andrus contract, as I have many times, as a game-changer for Desmond.

 

 

Ranking Baseball’s General Managers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m classifying the GMs into rough tiers:

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

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

Lets give it a shot:


The Elite

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

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

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

The Excellent

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Middle-Ground

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Concerning

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Underperforming

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

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

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

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

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

 


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

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

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

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

 

Written by Todd Boss

February 26th, 2014 at 8:03 am

Posted in Baseball in General

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Ladson inbox 1/2/14

7 comments

Espinosa's role with the Nats is still a major concern for fans. Photo AP via mlb.com

Espinosa’s role with the Nats is still a major concern for fans. Photo AP via mlb.com

Ah, what a great way to bring in the new year, with another edition of Bill Ladson‘s inbox (dated 1/2/14).

As always, these are real questions from presumably real people, and I answer here before reading Ladson’s answer.

Q: Do you think that Denard Span will be the leadoff hitter, with maybe Ian Desmond batting second? If so, shouldn’t the order be reversed since Desmond is a much better offensive player?

A: The answer to this question goes to the evolving lineup construction question and a rising opinion in the Sabre ranks that states that a team’s “best” hitter should be batting 2nd.  Joe Sheehan discussed why the Reds specifically should have been batting Joey Votto 2nd instead of 3rd in this July 2013 article on SI.com, but his arguments were less about Votto and more about the idiocy of Dusty Baker‘s insistence on batting a sub-par hitter ahead of Votto all year.  The real proof is from Tom Tango in his publication The Book, which is summarized in this 2009 BeyondtheBoxScore post by Sky Kalkman.  Basically the argument is that a #2 hitter is slightly more important situationally than a #3 hitter, based on the fact that the #2 hitter bats more frequently than the #3 hitter, often bats with the bases empty and thus needs to be both a high OBP and a high average guy to be able to either set things up for the #3/#4 guys behind him or to do something with the #1 guy who just got on base ahead of him.

Now that being said, nothing trumps a good OBP in the lead-off spot.  Last year our best OBP guy was Jayson Werth, but he also had the best average AND hit 25 homers.  Hmm; maybe Werth is your #2 hitter right now.   Desmond’s OBP was slightly better than Span’s on the season (.331 to .327), but Desmond hits for a ton of power.  Span is the prototypical lead-off hitter; he’s a lefty, he’s fast, and he normally gets on at a .350 OBP clip (career .351).  So right now if it were me I’d be batting Span 1, Werth 2 and Desmond somewhere around #5.

Todd Boss the Nats manager puts out this line-up opening day: Span-Werth-Zimmerman-Harper-Desmond-LaRoche-Ramos-Rendon-Strasburg.  Good lefty/righty balance, has your best all-around hitter in the #2 hole and your best power hitter in the #4 hole, with Desmond getting more ABs than LaRoche right now and the rest of the lineup cascading down normally.

Ladson posts his lineup, which uses more conventional thinking and has LaRoche batting before Desmond.  I think he’s wrong there; LaRoche was clearly not a better hitter than Desmond and has no business batting ahead of him in this lineup right now.

Q: The Nationals recently signed D.C. native Emmanuel Burriss to a Minor League contract. Is he a viable candidate for a backup role with the club in 2014?

A: I think the Emmanuel Burriss signing was about AAA depth, not a real attempt to find a utility infielder who can contribute at the MLB club.  Look at his 2013 slash line: .213/.270/.221.  Wow, that’s really bad.   Of course, that’s still better than what Danny Espinosa did last  year … Presumably Burriss is competing with Espinosa and Zach Walters for that backup middle infielder spot.  Burriss’s problem is that he’s a minor league/non 40-man signing while both Espinosa and Walters are already on the 40-man … so for the time being I see him with fellow locally-tied minor league signee Wil Rhymes (he went to college at W&M) as Syracuse’s middle infield.  Ladson thinks he’s a candidate but not a starter … and then predicts that the team will be trading Espinosa.

Q: If Espinosa makes the team as a bench player, my concern is his clubhouse attitude. Do you think management shares this concern as well?

A: Great question; who here knows Espinosa personally to see how he may react?  Who here works in the Nationals organization and can effectively judge Espinosa’s character, given everything that’s happened to him in the past year (injuries, performance, loss of starting job and demotion)?  Not me, and presumably nobody reading this, so its all just fan speculation.

So, given that I don’t know anything about the guy, here’s what I think: He has to realize that a) he’s no longer a starter here and b) he’s not even guaranteed a bench spot thanks to his 27 OPS+ hitting last year.  But, he also has to realize that his best shot at this point of regaining a starter job in the majors is going to be to perform, and perform ably, wherever he gets his chance, and thus either improve his trade value to make him more valuable to other organizations or possibly to force his way over someone in the Nats organization.  That chance may end up being full time in AAA but it’ll be better for him if he’s at least a backup in the majors.  If he doesn’t realize these things, then his representation is doing him a massive disservice (and I don’t think Scott Boras is bad at his job).  So my guess is that he’ll swallow his pride knowing he has to be in the majors to show that he can produce in the majors and will embrace his role.

There’s also the small issues of money and  service time; he’s making peanuts in AAA versus what he makes riding the bench in the majors.  And, if he makes the bench for at least 2 months or so in 2014 he accrues enough service time to hit arbitration following next season … which means either a pay raise or freedom to move to another organization where he may not be as blocked as he is in Washington.  So no matter what, it is in his best interests professionally and financially to make the team, no matter what the role, out of spring training.

One last point: just ONE injury anywhere in the infield opens a massive swinging door for him to not only get playing time but likely to start.  He has to be ready.

Ladson says Espinosa works hard and that Jayson Werth would get him in line if he had an attitude problem.  

Q: What is the situation behind the plate? Ever since Ivan Rodriguez retired, it seems that’s been an injury-riddled spot. Why aren’t the Nationals making any moves for a backup catcher?

A: Catcher is an injury-riddled spot for nearly everyone in the league; the guys get beat up and miss time no matter if they’re the best or worst guy in the league.  I’m guessing the team is actively in the market for backup catchers, but so are a bunch of other teams.   I still count 10 catchers out there available in free agency and I’m guessing teams in need are all still jockeying for position with the better and lesser candidates.  I’m sure we’ll sign at least one more guy to be in the mix with Jhonatan Solano, Sandy Leon and Chris Snyder.  Plus there’s this: nearly every catcher who can still crouch will get a spring training gig because there’s just so many arms that need to throw simaltaneously for these teams.  So we’re sure to see more guys sign up.   Ladson says they’re trying to acquire more catcher depth but have been unsuccessful.

Q: How come Zach Walters is not being given a decent shot at making the team out of Spring Training? He has pop and is adequate defensively.

A: I don’t think people are saying that; I think the consensus seems to be that the backup infielder spot is Espinosa versus Walters right now.  Who would you rather have?  I think i’d lean towards one more chance for Espinosa (the guy did hit 20 homers in 2011 after all) and then either trade him or move him out.  The concern with Walters (despite his 29 homers in AAA in 2013) is his strike-outs; they’re pretty high.  You put up with 1 K/game if  you get 30 homers … not if you get 10.  He hit nearly 30 in AAA; can he do that in the majors?  Ladson points out an important note; new manager Matt Williams knows Walters from when they were both in the Arizona system.  Hmm.  Will that have an effect?

Q: Would you try to get Eric O’Flaherty on the Nats if you were Mike Rizzo?

A: I’m not sure I would; he had TJ surgery in late May 2013 (5/21/13 specifically), meaning he’s looking at likely a May 2014 return date.  So he’s likely missing the first 2 months of the season, and even then he’s on a shorter leash next season.  Is this what the Nats need?  My guess is that he re-signs an incentive deal with Atlanta out of some sort of professional courtesy for having gotten injured on their watch.  Ladsons agrees with me and thinks he goes back to Atlanta.

Q: Shouldn’t the Nats bid on pitcher Masahiro Tanaka?

A: Bid yes.  Go crazy and blow $20M/year on the guy?  No way.  Scouting reports thus far seem to indicate that Masahiro Tanaka is good but not Yu Darvish-good.  And this team needs to start thinking about extending its own known quantity guys versus blowing that money on a lottery ticket like Tanaka.  My guess is that a team with deeper pockets (Los Angeles, New York) or a team with more desparation (Seattle) agrees to pay Tanaka just ridiculous amounts of money.   Ted Lerner seems to be indicating we’re nearing the team’s payroll budget and we’re going to start having to get creative fitting in some of these mid-to-upper level talents we have now accumulated.  Ladson doesn’t really consider the merits or consideration of Tanaka, instead just saying the rotation is set.  I’m not sure that was the question.

 

Nationals/MLB Pitching Staff Year in Review; 2013

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Jordan Zimmermann was the real "ace" of the 2013 Nats.  Photo Unk.

Jordan Zimmermann was the real “ace” of the 2013 Nats. Photo Unk.

I began thinking about system-wide predictions for the pitching staffs for the 2014 teams and realized that I heavily depend on doing staff-by-staff analysis to do the predictions.  I wasn’t going to do these review posts this year (mostly because they’re incredibly time consuming) but I also realize they’re a) the best way to do predictions for the coming year and b) the best way to becoming more vigilant in really forming an opinion on all the short-season guys.

So, without further ado, and despite the fact that its mid December and this post should have been done two months ago, here’s the first of many organizational reviews of the pitching staffs of our various affiliates for the 2013 season.  We’ll start with the Majors and move downwards.

Here’s the same version of 2012′s post for a historical review.

I think we all know how the major league squad did, so I’ll try to be brief here for the stalwarts we know are going to be with the team in 2014.  (Editor’s note: “brief” has turned into nearly 3,000 words.  oh well).  A lot of this analysis is for the “Outlook for next season” sections, which help me drive the predictions for all the pitching staffs next year.  All stats are courtesy of either Baseball-Reference’s Washington 2013 page or via Fangraph’s Washington 2013 page.  Also useful here are the Big Board and the Nats Draft Tracker.

Washington starters.  The rotation started the season with Strasburg, Gonzalez, Zimmermann, Detwiler and Haren.  At season’s end it was Strasburg, Gonzalez, Zimmermann, Haren and Roark, though not necessarily in that exact order thanks to skipped starts, ejections/washed out outings and some re-ordering at the all-star break.

  • Stephen Strasburg  had a down year for a supposed “Ace” in this league by conventional stats (8-9, 3.00 ERA) but by most advanced measures Strasburg was still in the top 10-15 pitchers in the league.  He still averaged more than a K/inning, he had the 2nd highest fastball velocity for any starter in the majors (only behind Matt Harvey).  He suffered from incredibly bad run support all year; the Nats scored 2 runs or less in 16 of his 30 starts and he got Losses or No-Decisions no less than 13 times when he allowed two or fewer earned runs and pitched enough to qualify for the decision.  That’s crazy.  With normal run support of 3-4 runs a game Strasburg easily could have had a record like 17-6 with a 3.00 era and been in the running for Cy Young votes.  On the bright side; he made 30 starts in year two post Tommy John surgery, and he should be in full force for 2014. Outlook for next season: 2014′s opening day starter.
  • Gio Gonzalez took a step back from his magical 2012 season and more closely resembled the starter that he was for Oakland in 2010-2011.  Which isn’t a bad thing; he still posted a 3-war season, he was still a 113 ERA+ guy, and he answered the bell every time his spot was up for the 4th year running.   He was a bit more hittable this year, gave up nearly twice as many homers as in 2012 (but in line with his years prior) and we got a glance of what we can probably expect from him going forward.  On the year he was 11-8 with a 3.36 ERA, and like Strasburg he had a number of no-decisions where the team just didn’t score him any runs.  Outlook for next season: 2014′s #2 starter.
  • Jordan Zimmermann had his best season as a pro, posting a 19-9 record with a 3.25 ERA and a 1.088 whip.  This earned him a 7th place Cy Young award finish and likely earned him tens of millions of dollars on his eventual contract extension.  Zimmermann maintained a 4/1 K/BB rate, good for 13th among all qualified starters and even better considering the velocity at which he pitches (9th in the league in vFA at 93.9mph).  A side note on just how amazing Matt Harvey is: he was 2nd in the league in K/BB and FIRST in vFA; that’s a pretty special combination.  Zimmermann seems set to broach 8 figures in arbitration and it may behoove the team to try to work out a contract extension before he hits the open market.  Outlook for next season: 2014′s #3 starter.
  • Ross Detwiler made 8 decent starts in April and May before missing a month thanks to an oblique strain, then made 5 mostly mediocre starts in June before being lost for the season thanks to a herniated disc in his back.  Detwiler’s injury exposed the one glaring weakness in the construction of the 2013 Nationals; absolutely no starting pitching depth.  Much ink has been spilled here and elsewhere on Detwiler’s status for 2014, but I will say this: look at his game logs from the early part of the season and you’ll find that his performance was north of expectations for a #5 starter.  Because of this (and his option-less status frankly), I am predicting for now that he’ll win the 5th starter battle in the spring (more on this after all the organization reviews are done and we talk about 2014 predictions).  The question will be; can he stay healthy and can he keep the job?  Outlook for next season: 2014′s #5 starter.
  • Dan Haren was, as we all know, awful in April, mostly awful in May and god-awful in June.  He hit the D/L for a brief stint in what was an obvious “forced” trip, for when he was asked he didn’t even know for what injury he was being shelved for.  At the time of his D/L trip he literally was the worst or close to the worst starting pitcher in the game by nearly any statistical measure.   Yes he picked up his performance after the D/L trip, but by that point the damage had been done.  He had game after game where suddenly the offense was down 5-6 runs and the game was basically over.  For the year the team was 11-19 in his starts.  Not a great return for the $13M contract he signed.  The Nats didn’t dare to offer him a qualifying offer and his tenure ended with an ironic slap in the face as he pitched one of his best games in his final Washington appearance.   Outlook for next season: signed with Los Angeles Dodgers for 1yr/$10m to be their 4th or 5th starter.
  • Nathan Karns was the first minor league reinforcement starter to get the call (here’s my “first look” post at his 5/28/13 debut).  In three starts he got hit hard: 17 hits and 5 homers that resulted in a 7.50 ERA and a return to AA.  We’ll talk more about Karns in the Harrisburg review.  Based on what I saw, it may be that he’s eventually bound for the bullpen, where he can throw harder for shorter bursts.  But his value as a starter is obvious if he can corral all of his pitches.  Outlook for next season: AAA rotation.
  • Taylor Jordan got the call-up when the team finally lost patience with Haren and sent him to the D/L in June (here’s my “first look” post at his 6/28/13 debut).  Jordan looked pretty good in his 9 starts, posting a 3.66 ERA and a 3.49 FIP.  Not bad considering where he started the year (in Potomac’s rotation).  Jordan was shut down in Mid-August thanks to the organizational innings limit for post-Tommy John surgery pitchers (he threw a total of 142 across 3 levels on the  year).  Now the big question; what to do with him for 2014?  Unfortunately for Jordan (and as we’ll talk about in a moment), his departure opened the door for other opportunistic pitchers and he may have been passed on the organizational depth chart.  For now, I’m predicting that Jordan won’t win the 5th starter job over Detwiler and will be sent to Syracuse to get starts and serve as the organizational starter depth that we struggled with in 2013.   Outlook for next season: AAA rotation.
  • Ross Ohlendorf took a minor league gig with the Nationals to try to revitalize his career and went a somewhat pedestrian looking 4-6 in 13 starts at AAA.  He re-vamped his wind-up and mechanics, threw with some good pace and eventually a streak of good starts led to his June call-up.  He spent the rest of the season as the Nats’ long-man/spot starter, getting 16 apperances and 7 starts in posting a servicable 3.28 ERA.  He seemed to tire when featured as a starter, only going past the 5th inning three times, and Davey Johnson eventually seemed hesitatant to use him because of it.  Eventually, a shoulder strain 15 day D/L trip and a poor spot-start in early September opened the door for others to grab starts (see below), but Ohlendorf remained the emergency starter for the rest of the season.  Outlook for next season: he did enough to get tendered a contract (which he quickly signed; 1yr/$1.25M), and seemingly he will slot back in as the long-man/spot-starter role for the MLB team.  He doesn’t seem to have enough to compete and win the 5th starter competition.  Will the team dump him to AAA as an inexpensive starter insurance policy?  I doubt it for now; they probably opt to keep Ohlendorf as the last guy out of the pen and keep Jordan on regular starts in AAA.
  • Tanner Roark toiled in AAA most of the season, and seemingly was set to exit the organization as a MLFA before earning a call-up in August.  Roark’s body of work both in 2013 and over the past few seasons warranted his call-up, and his mixture of success both in the starter role and in a long-relief role in AAA made him the perfect candidate to replace Ohlendorf when he hit the D/L.  All Roark did upon arriving in the majors is pitch lights-out (a 252 ERA+) in 50 innings mixed with starts and relief apperances.  Here was my “first look” post on his relief debut, and by the end of the season he was putting in a series of effective starts in the rotation.  Outlook for next season: he’ll compete for the 5th starter job in spring but may not win it.  Its hard to imagine a guy who threw 50+ innings of 1.50 ERA ball to NOT make the team the following spring;  I see him as the 6th guy in the bullpen and the first emergency starter in case someone gets hurt.
  • Zach Duke got one spot-start but was mostly a reliever; see the next section.

Washington relievers.  We’ll work the relievers backwards from the closer down the pen, starting with the original 7 guys in the pen to start the season and work from there.

  • Rafael Soriano was a surprise FA signing late in the 2012-2013 off-season, seemingly a Scott Boras special for the Nats.  His signing unsettled the bullpen, brought in a veteran with a history of malcontentness and under-performance when he wasn’t closing (just look at his stats in closer and non-closer seasons), cost a ton of money, and cost the team their 1st round draft pick (which could have netted them quite a prospect, as discussed in my draft review post here).  Other than that, I thought it was a fantastic signing (sarcasm).  For the year he went 43 for 49 in save opportunities, finished 58 games (important b/c his 2015 option vests if he “finishes” more than 120 games), and pitched relatively pedestrian stats for a highly paid closer: 3.11 era, 122 ERA+, 1.230 whip.  Certainly he wasn’t putting up the kind of lights out numbers we saw from other such highly paid closers.   Outlook for next season: back in the closer role, hopefully finishing fewer than 62 games so we can jettison him and his $11M salary.
  • Tyler Clippard returned to his dominant ways of 2011, throwing 71 innings of 2.42 ERA/158 ERA+ ball.  He showed why he’s best suited to keep in the 8th inning role even if it costs him money in arbitration.  He remains the most effective reliever in the pen and is well worth the $6M he seems set to attain in arbitration.  A more interesting question eventually awaits the team; is Clippard going to price himself out of our bullpen?  Perhaps not this off-season but maybe next, he should be moved to a team to assume their closer role and provide value commensurate with his rising salary.  Outlook for next season: back in the 8th inning role.
  • Drew Storen seemed to be the most unsettled by the Soriano acquisition, perhaps coupled with PTSD from his meltdown in the 2012 NLCS game 5.  He was ineffective in April, got it together for a while but then just blew up in July, giving up 14 runs in 9 innings and earning a demotion to work on his (admittedly) inconsistent mechanics.  To his credit, when he returned he was back to normal, giving up just 3 runs in 20 innings to finish out the season.  Lets hope he’s back to normal and can contribute for 2014.  Thanks to his inconsistent 2013, his name isn’t being mentioned as much in trade rumors, so hopefully that gives him some peace of mind this off-season. Outlook for next season: back in the 7th/8th inning role.
  • Craig Stammen continued his excellent workhorse performance as the classic right-handed middle reliever.  He put up a 2.76 ERA in 81 innings over 55 appearances.  Nothing much to say here; the biggest question with Stammen may be what happens NEXT off-season, when he faces the third and fourth arbitration years.  What kind of contract would you pay for him?  Is he going to price himself out of our bullpen?  We’ll see.  Outlook for next season: back in the 6th/7th inning middle relief role.
  • Ryan Mattheus was putting up the expected decent middle relief numbers when he imploded in San Diego in late May, giving up 5 runs in an inning.  In a fit of pique he punched a wall, broke his pitching hand (didn’t he ever see Bull Durham?  Never swing with your pitching hand!) and was sent to the D/L.  More importantly, I think the organization lost quite a bit of respect for him.  He returned two months later but pitched relatively poorly the rest of the season, finishing with a 6.27 ERA.   That’s just not going to cut it, not with the kind of arms who are pushing for spots lower down in the organization.  I think Mattheus will lose the competition for middle relief coming out of spring and will be sent to AAA as reliever depth.  Outlook for next season: AAA bullpen.
  • Henry Rodriguez was his typical self for the Nats early in the season; wild, ineffective and out of options, limiting the team’s flexibility.  Somewhere along the line the team finally gave up; DFA’ing Rodriguez  and somehow working out a trade to get something back (Ian Dickson from the Cubs).  Thus ends a long, frustrating tenure with the team.  The Cubs, for what its worth, DFA’d Rodriguez just 6 weeks after acquiring him, outrighted him to AAA Iowa, where apparently he got hurt after just 3 games and finished the season on the D/L.  He’s pitching in winter ball now so it must have been a minor injury.  Outlook for next season: on Chicago’s AAA team presumably.
  • Zach Duke was inexplicably ineffective for the team in the early parts of 2013, and was subsequently released in early June after the team presumably lost patience with him after an awful spot start and an even more unnerving 4 walk relief outing.   It goes to show you; sometimes you cannot trust small sample sizes.  Duke pitched great in September 2012, awful in April 2013 … but then was absolutely fantastic for Cincinnati down the stretch working primarily as a loogy.  Go figure; maybe our loogy solution was in the pen the whole time.  Outlook for next season: he’s not listed as a FA, so presumably he’s still under contract to Cincinnati right now.
  • Fernando Abad was a MLFA signing last off-season who pitched great for Syracuse and earned a call-up in May.   He toiled in the pen decently most of the year for the big-club but wasn’t considered valuable enough to keep.  The team DFA’d him ahead of this year’s rule-5 draft and then worked out a trade with our favorite GM Billy Beane.  This somewhat surprised me given Abad’s macro numbers for 2013 (3.35 ERA in 37 innings) but not when considering his lefty splits (a .306/.338/.452 lefty-lefty split for the year).  Outlook for next season: in Oakland’s organization.
  • Ian Krol exploded onto the scene for this team, getting a surprise  call-up in June from AA that coincided with the Duke and Rodriguez DFAs.  Here’s my “first look” post on him, pointing out the issue (he really has just one pitch) that would eventually drive him back to the minors.  Still, for a 22-yr old who had no experience above AA, he pitched pretty well; he maintained a sub 3.00 ERA until mid August and finished the year with a 3.95 ERA in 27 innings.  His lefty split numbers: .220/.273/.320.  This was good enough to intrigue Detroit, and Krol was included in the package that acquired Doug Fister.   Outlook for next season: in Detroit’s organization.
  • Erik Davis was Syracuse’s closer in name for a bulk of the season, earning 15 saves while posting a 3.10 ERA in 52+ innings.  He was a Sept 2012 pre-rule5 40-man addition and spent a week in the MLB pen in June before getting recalled for September.  In 10 MLB appearances he gave up zero runs in 9 of them and showed excellent middle-reliever stuff (12/1 K/BB ratio in 8 2/3 innings).  Outlook for next season: AAA bullpen again; he won’t beat out the names above him for the MLB bullpen.
  • Xavier Cedeno was an April 2013 waiver claim off of Houston (of all teams), who spent most of the season in Syracuse (save for a quick June call-up).  In September, he pitched pretty effectively, giving up just one run in 9 outings and 12+ innings for the Nats.  He clearly hasn’t shown the team enough to be counted on as the go-to loogy, considering the Nats off-season trade for Jeremy Blevens and their talk of using the likes of Detwiler and/or Sammy Solis as lefty reliever help in 2014.    Outlook for next season: Syracuse bullpen.
  • Lastly, Yunesky Maya got a call-up to provide bullpen relief, got blitzed, DFA’d and outrighted.  See the Syracuse writeup for more.

Summary

Washington’s rotation was by most measures a top 5-6 rotation in the majors (7th in starter ERA, 6th in starter FIP and 3rd in starter xFIP/SIERA).   Clearly we look to be improved on the rotation side, with Haren’s starts being replaced by the underrated Doug Fister, with a healthy Detwiler and with plenty of reinforcements to back the starters up.  Look for this to continue to be a source of strength in 2014.

The bullpen however was not a source of strength last year, ranking between 17th and 19th in the macro pitching categories (17th bullpen ERA, 19th bullpen xFIP and 18th in bullpen SIERA).  Has the team done enough to improve the bullpen for 2014 by just replacing the under-performers with call-ups and signings?

Ladson’s inbox 12/2/13 edition

19 comments

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ladson’s inbox 11/13/13

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I wonder who we can get for Danny Espinosa in trade?   Photo AP via mlb.com

I wonder who we can get for Danny Espinosa in trade? Photo AP via mlb.com

The Hot Stove League is in full effect; Bill Ladson has done two mailbags in two weeks!  Here’s his 11/13/13 edition, hot on the heels of his last one on 11/5/13.  Lets get to it.  Lots of “what-if” scenarios involving Nats players are already being rumored by big-time names in the industry.  Lets get to them.

As always, I answer here before reading his response and edit questions for clarity if needed.

Q: Do you think Anthony Rendon will be in the regular lineup in 2014, or is there a possibility of him being traded?

A: Honestly, despite Anthony Rendon‘s name prominently being mentioned as a centerpiece for rumored deals for the likes of Max Scherzer and/or David Price, I don’t believe these kind of deals are going to really happen.  I can’t see Detroit trading away Scherzer, not in their “win-now” mode.  And I can’t see Mike Rizzo pulling off a deal with the ultra-competitive executives in Tampa Bay, not after he’s done such a good job re-stocking the farm system and getting everyone healthy.  For now I see Rendon right back as the starting 2nd baseman in 2014, with the Nats facing a tougher decision on what to do with deposed starter Danny Espinosa.  Ladson “doesn’t know yet.”  Thanks for the “going-out-on-a-limb” prediction there.

Q: What do you think about Drew Storen‘s future with the Nationals? And with that said, what do you think the Nats could get back in a trade?

A: I think that as long as this team is competitive Drew Storen (and to a lesser extent this also goes for Tyler Clippard at least for one more year) will stay here and hold down their spots in the back-end of the bullpen.  If we suffer another down year (or, more likely, if we suddenly see an influx of home-grown replacements) these guys and their escalating salaries are ripe for trading to contenders with bullpen holes.  They’re both good pitchers, “closer quality” who aren’t being used in that capacity in Washington thanks to the luxury signing of Rafael Soriano and his $11m/year salary.  What can they bring back?  Well if you use the Matt Capps for Wilson Ramos trade as a blueprint, the team should hope for a near-majors prospect.   I don’t think you can always get that; teams now are far more protective of their prospects than they used to be.  But for either player i’d take a top-10 prospect even if he was further down in the minors.  Ladson says he thinks Storen is getting traded … but doesn’t say when.  But he does mention the Scherzer rumors…

Q: Do you think the Nationals will go after free-agent lefty Eric O’Flaherty to improve their bullpen depth?

A: Maybe.  If they can get him on a minor league/cheap deal sure.  The Nats tried this route last year with Bill Bray (taking a formerly effective loogy in FA who was coming off of injury) and Bray finished the year on the AA disabled list.  So that didn’t work out so well.  I’m sure there’s more than a few teams in the lefty reliever market, and if its like 2012 the Nats might shy away from the prices these guys command.  Remember; they’ve got more than a few decent in-house options already, guys who proved they could pitch last year.  I don’t perceive the “need” to get a lefty reliever in free agency to be as critical for this team as others seem to think.  Yes I know the team is already calling guys (as they should), but somehow I think they’re going to end up shying away from the prices they see (much as they did last  year with their trio of lefty FA relievers).   Ladson says the team wants healthy players, not guys coming off of TJ surgery like Chien-Ming Wang.  Fair points.

Q: Wouldn’t a bench of Steve LombardozziTyler MooreZach Walters and Scott Hairston give the Nationals a balance of lefty/righty bats and much more field flexibility than they have had in recent seasons?

A: This bench, comprised entirely of in-house solutions, would give the team this profile:

  • Two righties , two switch hitters
  • Two corner outfielders  but nobody who could really play center
  • Two middle infielders who could cover at least 2nd, SS, 3rd.   Moore could cover 1st if needed.
  • Demonstrated right-handed power off the bench … but not so much lefty power
  • Just one real proven major leaguer (Hairston)

We just don’t know what to make of Moore at this point in his career.  Great in 2012, awful in 2013.  We know he can hit it a mile … can he do it when he gets just a few ABs a week?  I don’t know.  Lombardozzi fills the “utility guy” role who can plug in at 5 positions … so where does that leave Walters?  I know Walters hit 29 homers last year in AAA; if he replicates that in the majors he’s a $100M player.

Where’s the lefty power?  That’s what this bench misses, and that’s why I think the team looks for some lefty pop off the bench.   Ladson repeats the need for bench power.

Q: Reportedly the Nats are looking for an elite starter, and it’s been said that Scherzer is a better fit than Price because of Mike Rizzo’s history with Scherzer. I don’t understand why a relationship with the general manager makes a player or manager the best choice. What does liking him or knowing him have to do with it? Shouldn’t the choice be made by determining who is the best pitcher for the Nats?

A: Good question.  On some levels, GMs seem to fall in love with the guys they drafted, especially guys they scouted.  We saw this with Jim Bowden‘s obsession with his former players from Cincinnati, and we see it with Rizzo and his former players from Arizona on some levels.  Makes sense right?  How many of us have seen executives hired who brought in “their guys” to help out?  You’re comfortable with the known commodity, guys who you feel like you have a relationship with, guys who you know can get the job done as you think it needs to be done.

But that only explains why Rizzo may like Scherzer moreso than Price at a personal history level.   That has nothing to do with a) the ability to actually make a trade for the guy, or b) the fit for the team.  Now, any team in the league would take a healthy Cy Young winning pitcher, and that’s why trading for either guy will take a significant investment in prospects.  In reality any team in the league would love to have either guy at their pre-FA salary levels; they’re steals.  The “value” of a win on the FA market is now estimated to be about $7M or so; even if these guys are paid double that in 2014 they’re going to produce more than 2 wins.  Ladson speculates that because Scherzer’s agent is Scott Boras that the Nats would for some reason have a better shot at signing him long term.  See, I dont’ believe that either.  If the Nats offer the most money, they’ll get the player no matter who his agent may be.  People like to say the Nats are Boras’ “bitch” team because we sign so many of his players … but if you check the Player Agent database, the Nats have as many Boras clients as a few other teams (Kansas City, Detroit, Seattle, Boston, Baltimore) and most of them are draftees, not FAs.  You’re going to draft the best player no matter who his agent may be.

Q: With Adam LaRoche having a bad season at the plate, do you think the Nationals will end up trading him along with possibly Danny Espinosa and others to the Rays for Price?

A: Genesis of a dumb trade proposal; hey, lets see if Tampa, one of the shrewdest and most forward thinking organization in the majors, will not only take on two of our most disappointing players from 2013 (LaRoche and Espinosa) but also will they take on more than $15M in anticipated payroll for a former Cy Young winner and inarguably one of the best 10 arms in baseball?!  Yeah that’s a great trade!  Hey, lets see if we can trade, oh I dunno, Yunesky Maya and a bunch of guys from AAA who hit .220 to the Dodgers for Clayton Kershaw!  Yeah, that’ll work.

I’m sorry for the sarcasm, but this is just such a stupid trade idea given how we *know* the Rays work that it just isn’t worth addressing.  If you proposed this in a chat with a professional talent evaluator they’d ignore it, or post it just to ridicule it.

The Rays want prospects back.  Always.  They don’t want guys with 8 figure salaries who are already on the wrong side of 30.  Espinosa’s trade value is near worthless right now.  Anyone who thinks they’re going to be the centerpieces of a trade with an organization as smart as Tampa is a fool.

Ladson doesn’t even address the proposal, just saying confidently that LaRoche will be back.

Ladson’s Inbox 10/4/13

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Wouldn't it be nice to see Price in a Washington uniform?  photo unk via strikesportsnetwork.com

Wouldn’t it be nice to see Price in a Washington uniform? photo unk via strikesportsnetwork.com

Nothing like a Bill Ladson inbox to start off your week!  This one is dated 10/4/13 and was posted late friday.  As always I write my response here before reading his and edit questions for clarity and conciseness.  Here we go.

Q: This past season, Adam LaRoche had a .403 slugging percentage, which might fly at shortstop, but not at first base. Do you think that Tyler Moore is good enough to be in a platoon with LaRoche, or should the Nats go after someone like James Loney to start most of the time?

A: Adam LaRoche‘s season was a disappointment for sure.  In addition to the noted poor slugging percentage, I’ll give you two more interesting stats.  He posted a bWAR of 0.9 for the year, which is only slightly better than the bWAR of 0.7 posted by Billy Hamilton during his two weeks of base-running terror in September.  And he ranked 20th of qualified first basemen in the league in terms of fWAR for the year.  James Loney put himself in a position to get a decent contract this year, with a nice slash line, a 118 OPS+ and a 7.2 UZR/150 at first.  But Loney’s problem is that he just doesn’t hit for enough power.  The Nats need LaRoche’s power, and I think at this point they stick with what they have for one more year and hope he rebounds.   I don’t think Tyler Moore is ready for prime time and will continue to be a power RH bat off the bench.  Lastly; who is taking LaRoche off our hands if we decide to replace him?  We’d have to pay most of his salary, get little in return, and I just don’t see this management team doing that.  Ladson agrees.

Q: How does Ross Ohlendorf fit in with the Nationals’ future plans? I see him as a great No. 4 or 5 starter.

A:  Ross Ohlendorf is in an interesting spot.   He was signed as a MLFA this past off-season, but did not accrue enough service time to get to 5 full years, so I believe he’s still tied to the club.  He should be arbitration eligible, and (per springfieldFan’s big board work) seems to have 2 options left.  So, on the one hand he pitched pretty well for us and I’d definitely tender him a contract for 2014; he’ll be relatively cheap even through arbitration.  I see him competing for the 4th/5th with the other obvious candidates (Karns, Jordan, Detwiler, Roark), but his longer term history as a starter in 2011 and 2012 does not inspire confidence.  His new motion helped him to a 3-1 record with a 3.52 ERA in 7 starts this year, but ultimately I see him settling into a long-man role similar to what he had this year.  Ladson agrees; he’s arb eligible but doesn’t seem like he can stick as a starter.

Q: I feel like the Nationals should go after center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury. How do you feel about that?

A: Nope.  Jacoby Ellsbury is a nice player, but I feel like he’s somewhat of a one-season wonder.  Look at his career homer records and tell me how he hit 32 in 2011 when he’s never hit more than 9 in any other season??  Doesn’t that outlier scream out PEDs?  Plus he can’t stay healthy; he missed 30 games this year, half of last year, basically all of 2010.  He’s a Scott Boras client who is already making noise about getting more for Ellsbury than he got for Carl Crawford.  Would you pay $150M for 7 years of Ellsbury??

But here’s the other thing; as with LaRoche, this team has a center fielder under contract for 2014!  If the Nats want to make a change in center they’ll be selling somewhat low on Denard Span.  Personally I wouldn’t mind putting Harper in center, acquiring a big bopper for left and adding some muscle to this lineup.  But I just don’t see Mike Rizzo doing that and admitting defeat on the Span acquisition.  Ladson points out that Span’s great finish means he’s clearly not in line to be replaced; organizationally they have to be hopeful that his 2014 will resemble more closely the end of 2013, not the middle.  Fair enough; I can get on that bandwagon.

Q: Have you noticed how similar the home run swings of Wilson Ramos and Andres Galarraga are? Every time Ramos goes yard, he reminds me of The Big Cat.

A: I had not noticed, but sure, whatever.  No real question here otherwise.  I like Ramos, and he’s finally showing signs of durability after an injury-plagued career.   This is the kind of hard-hitting question that Ladson is known for taking.

Q: Do you think the Nationals should go after another pitcher or two during the free agency period?

A: I think the Dan Haren experience may have scared them off the FA market for a bit.  And this coming off-season’s FA market for Starting Pitching is really thin.  After spending $13M each of the last two years for Haren and Edwin Jackson (and getting bWARs of -0.1 and 2.0 respectively) the Nats have to be thinking that there’s better ways to spend money.  I wouldn’t be surprised in the least to see another deal similar to the Gio Gonzalez deal, where we package a slew of close-to-the-majors players together for one decent-to-good pitcher.   The problem would be finding such a team; Oakland’s current slate of young starters mostly struggled this year and none of them are arb-eligible yet.  Maybe Tampa lines up; not only do they have to deal with David Price‘s rising salary but Jeremy Hellickson is arb-eligible for the first time too.  Hellickson took a major step back though in 2013; would Tampa use this to their advantage and keep him at a lower arb-number for one more year instead of selling low?   Would you trade, say, Karns, Roark and Kobernus for Hellickson?  Too much?  Too little?  Ladson says he could see them going after a pitcher either on FA or in Trade.

Q: Will Jhonatan Solano be the backup catcher out of Spring Training or will the Nationals try to bring in someone else? 

A: This is one of the bigger questions for this team this coming off-season: do the Nats go into 2014 with Ramos and a minor league call-up as his backup, or do they go for a veteran backup?  I’m guessing they may go the veteran FA route; there’s a ton of catchers on the FA market this year.  Jhonatan Solano may have peaked as a player: his AAA slashline as a 27 yr old this year was .214/.245/.279.   He’s been bouncing between AA and AAA since 2009.   Sandy Leon seemed like he was the future answer, but he bottomed out this year too after looking great in 2012.   I’d go with a veteran backup (Kurt Suzuki is a FA …) and wait out the kids one more season.  Ladson thinks FA route.

Q: Do you think a new manager will be able to change the hitting philosophy of the team and play more small ball instead of over-swinging and trying for home runs all of the time?

A: Is that the perception of this team’s offense in 2013?  That they over-swing all the time?  I think they just don’t hit well in the clutch.  Small-ball is a century old concept mostly debunked by modern stats in the game as being out-dated strategy.  Honestly, I want a manager who stands up for his players, who keeps them in line, who isn’t afraid to order a bean-ball when it is called for, and who doesn’t come across as a feeble old man (sorry Davey Johnson; that’s how I interpreted your last season).  Ladson says the hitting has settled since the firing of Rick Eckstein and the hiring of Rick Schu. 

Q: I think that left-hander David Price would be the ideal arm to add to the Nationals’ rotation. If he is willing to agree to an extension, do you think that he would be a good fit for the Nationals?

A: Price would be a great fit on every team in the majors.   Duh.  The problem is extracting him from Tampa.  Tampa is shrewd, drives a hard bargain, and wants to win every trade.  They’re not exactly the best team to try to negotiate with.  We’ve had this argument on this site many times; what would it really take to get Price out of Tampa?  Giolito, Jordan, Kobernus and Rendon maybe?  Would you make that deal or is that too much?

Of course, that being said … ask yourself this; was starting pitching *really* the reason this team failed in 2013?  No I don’t think it was.  Yes, the team was 10-19 in Haren’s starts … even if they’d finished .500 in Haren’s starts they were still out of the WC game.  No; this team took a significant step backwards offensively.  So the way to fix that should be to address the offense.  Problem is; all 8 starting fielders are under contract or under team control for 2014.  What do you do?  Get a couple of bench guys who can hit?  How does that help?

Ladson punts with his patented ‘lets see what happens’ line.

 

Ladson’s Inbox 8/26/13

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ClippardTyler_landing_masn.com

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

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

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

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

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

Q: Why isn’t Tyler Clippard closing? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Johan Santana to miss 2013; a cautionary tale

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Santana to miss 2013 and end his Mets career on a sour note. Photo via wikipedia/flickr user slgckgc

Earlier this month I published an updated version of the “Starter Dollar per Win” analysis that I maintain and update on an annual basis.  In that post, I listed some of the worst free agent starter contracts ever signed (among them Kei Igawa, Jason Schmidt, Oliver Perez, Darren Dreifort).  However I did not mention Johan Santana among these awful deals because it looked like he could at least finish out the last year of his deal and increase his per-win values.

Last week we learned that Santana has a torn shoulder capsule and is likely to miss the entire 2013 season.  This is the last guaranteed year of the 6 yr/$137.5M contract that he signed with the Mets after his fantastic early-career stint with Minnesota and it seems almost certain that he’ll be looking for work elsewhere in 2014, if he continues to play at all (this being a re-tear of the same Anterior Capsule that sidelined him for all of 2011 and his third arm/shoulder surgery overall).

In his 6 years in New York, he had one great season (the first), two entirely missed due to injury, two with good results but still injury curtailed, and one (2012) that was entirely mediocre and injury curtailed after he (foolishly?) threw 130+ innings to chase a no-hitter.  That’s not entirely a great return on $137.5M.

Looking at my “Dollar per Win” analysis spreadsheet, and assuming that the Mets are going to pay him a $5.5M instead of his $25M option for 2014 (the $137.5M number only includes guaranteed money and thus already includes this $5.5M buyout), here’s how he ended up performing on a per-dollar basis for the life of this contract:

  • 109 starts over 6 years: $1,261,468 per start.
  • 72 Quality Starts: $1,909,722 per QS
  • 46 Wins: $2,989,130 per Win.

This contract is now officially “Worse” than the infamous Denny Neagle deal (19 wins for a 5yr/$55M deal) and significantly worse than the even more infamous Mike Hampton deal (56 wins for an 8yr/$121M deal) on a dollar per win basis.

The cautionary tale is a familiar one: we all know that pitchers are health wildcards to begin with.  But guaranteeing many years and tens of millions of dollars to these injury wildcards is lunacy.  (Ken Rosenthal wrote a similar story on 3/29/13 on this same topic).   I now count Thirteen 9-figure contracts that have been given out to starting pitchers in the history of the game, and of the contracts that are closer to the end or finished its hard to find any of them that the signing team would do over again.

  • Santana, Barry Zito, Hampton, Kevin Brown and Daisuke Matsuzaka were all 9-figure deals that did not live up to the money (Matsuzaka’s 9-figure haul includes the posting fee).
  • Matt Cain, CC Sabathia, Cliff Lee and Yu Darvish (again, including his posting fee) are all 1-2 years into longer term 9-figure deals with (admittedly) satisfying levels of performance thus far.
  • Felix Hernandez, Zack Greinke, Cole Hamels and now Justin Verlander as of 3/29/13 are all starting 9-figure deals in 2013 or later.  Adam Wainwright just missed the cutoff; his new deal totaled $97.5M.

How does this affect the Nationals?  Well, in 2017 Stephen Strasburg is likely to become a free agent (lets be honest with ourselves; his agent is Scott Boras, his agent is aggressive to the max, wants to explore every possible free agency aspect, and rarely if ever allows his clients to agree to contract extensions, team friendly or otherwise; Strasburg is going to hit the FA market).  Based on the list of arms above, and assuming Strasburg doesn’t get re-injured in the next few years you have to think he’s going to be in line for a 9-figure deal of his own.  What do you do if you’re the Nats?  Do you pay the man, knowing that the likelihood of a 9-figure deal being a good deal for the team is very slim, or do you let him walk and let some other team pay him that money and assume the franchise crippling risk?

At least it isn’t a problem we have to deal with for a few years :-)