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What would a Cuban WBC team look like if everyone could play?

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Cespedes is my all-Cuba cleanup hitter. Photo via Business Insider

Cespedes is my all-Cuba cleanup hitter. Photo via Business Insider

I saw a little throw-away post at USAtoday.com before the start of the 2016 baseball season: there were no less than 23 Cuban-born players on MLB rosters on 2016 opening day.  And even more defected or were signed in the 2016 calendar year.

How awesome is that?  I think its great that we have a huge contingent of Cubans playing in the league again and I wish that a generation hadn’t been lost due to politics.  A good percentage of the teams in the majors now have at least one Cuban on their 40-man roster somewhere, and many have multiple IFA Cuban signees scattered in their lower minors.  Not the Nats though; we got kinda burned by Yunesky Maya and then blew our IFA budget last year on some D.R. players; perhaps they’ll go after some of the rising talent next July 2 window.

I’ve long hoped for a unification of the Cuban National team to compete in the WBC; I think they’d take so much pride in their team it would really add to the event.  However it looks as if the Cuban government will continue to hold a grudge and prevent any defectors from representing their country in the 2017 WBC.  The WBC rosters were announced recently, and we’ll see some of these names in the analysis below for reasons that will become apparent soon.

So, since we won’t get a full-strength Cuban WBC team, I thought I’d take a stab at what could have been.   I did a similar post in March of 2013 but with all the recent defections the roster looks much improved.

 


 

Manager: Fredi Gonzalez of the Atlanta Braves.  The only Cuban-born hall of Famer Tony Perez can be the bench coach.  They can bring out the likes of Tony Oliva and Camilo Pascual to be his assistants; they’re the most decorated Cuban ex-pros still living.

Pitching Coaches: Livan Hernandez and Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez: the brothers re-unite to teach the staff how to throw junk balls and make starts despite being hooked on Marlboro Reds.

Hitting Coaches:  Jose Canseco, Rafael Palmeiro.  These two can double as “Strength coaches.”  :-)

Positional Players:

  • C: Yasmani Grandal, starting catcher for the Dodgers, 2015 All-Star.
  • 1B: Jose Abreu, 91 homers in his first three years in the MLB, Rookie of the Year in 2014, when he also made the All-Star team and won the Silver Slugger.
  • 2B: Aledmys Diaz: debut in 2016 and made the All-Star team; prodution fell off so he “only” finished 5th in 2016 Rookie of the Year voting.
  • 3B: Adonis Garcia: a solid bat for Atlanta at the corner despite debuting at age 30.
  • SS: Jose Iglesias: 2015 All-Star for Detroit after finishing 2nd in RoY voting in 2013.
  • LF:  Jorge Soler: Flipped to Kansas City this off-season, escaping a log-jam in Chicago.  Huge power, yet to reach his potential.
  • CF: Yoenis Cespedes: just signed the largest contract of the off-season; not really a CF but played there nonetheless.  2-time All-Star and Home Run derby winner 
  • RF: Yasiel Puig: despite his demotion in 2016 has the potential to be one of the elite players in the game, which he in-arguably was his first two years in the league.  2015 all-Star.

That’s a pretty solid starting lineup; 6 of the 8 players here have already made a MLB all-star team.  Lots of power; you’d probably have a slugger like Soler batting 7th.  I think you line these guys up Iglesias, Diaz, Pug, Cespedes, Abreu, Grandal, Soler, Garcia, Pitcher.

Reserves:

  • Catcher: Brayan Peña
  • Corner Inf/PH: Yonder Alonso , Kendrys MoralesYulieski Gurriel, Yoan Moncada
  • Middle Infield: Yunel Escobar, Adeiny Hechavarria,  Alexei Ramirez,  Alex Guerrero
  • OF: Rusney CastilloHector OliveraYasmany Tomas, Leonys Martin, Alfredo Despaigne, Yoelkys Céspedes, Victor Mesa

The reserves include a number of solid veteran guys like Alonso and Morales, middle infield cover from the likes of  Hechavarria and Ramires, and plenty of OF coverage from players like Tomas and Olivera.  And one of the top prospects in all of baseball (Yoan Moncada, the centerpiece of the Chris Sale trade this past off-season) can’t even crack this lineup; he may be your starting 3B before long.  Perhaps Gurriel, a decade-long star in the Cuban series, should be starting at third over Garcia; we’ll see how he fares once he gets more time in Houston.  Despaigne is the biggest player on this list who still hasn’t come to the MLB: he opted to take up the Cuban government’s relaxing of rules and has been playing in Japan recently.  Yoelkys Cespedes is indeed Yoenis’ younger brother and is getting some attention for his abilities already.

Starting Pitchers

  • Oridismar Despaignehe’s been knocked to the bullpen in the Majors, but someone has to start for the Cuban team.  Career 4.89 ERA.
  • Raisel Iglesias: posted a 2.53 ERA in 2016 as he transitioned from the rotation to closer.  He’s gotta start for this team though.
  • Roenis Elias: 4th starter for Seattle in 2014-15, struggled/got hurt for Boston in 2016.
  • Ariel Miranda : 10 starts for Seattle last year with a 3.54 era; he may not make their rotation in 2017 but he’ll get time.

So, we’re a little light on starters.  We may be reaching out to some domestic-based pitchers.  Starter Lazaro Blanco just pitched two masterpieces in the Caribbean Series, shutting out the Dominican Republic team for 6 innings then giving up just one run in seven innings in the semis against Mexico.  Their #2 and #3 starters (Vladimir Banos and Vladimir Garcia) weren’t half bad either.  Freddy Alvarez got pummeled in his only series start but is on the WBC roster as a returning veteran and should see time.  Perhaps we should also look at promising 18-yr old Cuban prospect Osvaldo Hernandez, who was just declared a FA and may sign a multi-million dollar deal soon.

Relievers

  • Aroldis Chapman (2009 WBC team member): the most dominant reliever in the game, 4-time All-star
  • Dalier Hinojosa: setup guy with Philly, decent numbers, like a 6th/7th inning guy.
  • Raudel Lazo: lefty reliever with Miami’s farm system; closed for their AAA squad and posted a 1.78 ERA in 2016 in New Orleans.
  • Yaisel Sierra: struggled in AA for the Dodgers, demoted to bullpen.
  • Armando Rivero, RP for Atlanta
  • Yadier Alvarez: LA’s #1 remaining prospect; only in high-A but well regarded.

Past Chapman and Hinojosa, there’s not much depth here either, so again we dip into the domestic-based players.  Cuba depended on three late-innings relievers in the Caribbean series: Livan Moinelo, Miguel Lahera and Jose Garcia.  All three are named to the official WBC roster.

 


In summary, the Consoildated all-Cuban team can bash the heck out of the ball … but will struggle on the mound until the 8th or 9th inning when Chapman can take over.  But it’d be a fun team to watch play!

Did I miss anyone?  Maybe; its impossible to keep track of the dozens of Cuban signings done over the last couple of years.  Pipe up if you see someone mising.

Some references used to make this:

And Peter Gammons just posted his own version of this the day before I published (but weeks after I wrote this).  Compare and contrast his team; i did not cross check to see if I missed anyone.

What the Cuban embargo easing means for baseball

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No more death-defying defections for cubans like Yasiel Puig.  photo mlb.com

No more death-defying defections for cubans like Yasiel Puig. photo mlb.com

With the sudden and surprising announcement that president Barack Obama plans to “normalize relationships” with Cuba on 12/17/14, one cannot help but wonder how this move will affect the market for Cuban baseball players.

Here’s a smattering of links to post-announcement baseball industry impact analysis:

If you read any of these links, read Olney’s.  Its ESPN insider only, but he extensively quotes one Joe Kehoskie, who has worked as a player agent within Cuba for years.  Kehoskie states some important points, namely and most importantly, the US-Cuba embargo is NOT what was preventing Cuban players from playing in America; it was always the Cuban government.  Proof?  Cuba does not have an embargo against it with any other country with a large organized league (i.e., Japan, Korea, Mexico, Europe, any of the winter league countries, etc) yet their players were barred from playing even in them until just recently.  The Cuban government took these steps just recently to enable its players to play elsewhere; in Sept 2013 Cuban players were allowed to play in foreign leagues, which has subsequently led to a number of additional defections (and rising player contracts) here in the states.  But as Kehoski points out, there’s still huge hurdles to foreign ownership of property in Cuba (preventing the immediate building of academies by MLB teams for example), and it is worth saying that the country is still a communist dictatorship, with huge amounts of government control over the activities of its people.

Lets dream a bit though, and imagine that the Cuban government relents and releases the market for baseball players.  Immediate questions from a baseball perspective include:

  • Can MLB scouts immediately (and freely) travel to Cuba to scout?  It seems so: the Obama press release talked about immediate easing of travel restrictions and stated limits on import/exports (they had to answer multiple questions about bringing back cigars in the press conference :-) )
  • Will the Cuban league negotiate a posting system similar to what MLB has with the Asian leagues?
  • Or, will MLB teams set up their own academies similarly to what they do in the Dominican Republic?

MLB teams will want the academy route clearly; it won’t take but a few million dollars of infrastructure to setup teams and dormitories, and 16-yr olds could be signed for a few thousand dollars outside of harsh international FA spending limits much as they are in the DR.  But the Cuban government may want to do a posting system to help protect its local leagues and to earn much-needed money.   Not to mention the fact that Cuban culture values education and they’d likely be aghast if kids started dropping out of conventional school in their mid teens to enroll in baseball-only academies for a shot at a baseball lottery ticket.  Also, can you imagine billionaire owners negotiating with the cronies of the communist Cuban sports bureaus looking to hoard cash on the backs of their penniless players?

A huge benefit that could start immediately?  The possible return of the Cuban winter league, which used to be the clear preeminent winter league, drawing future hall of famers to the island for a winter vacation.  Now, Havana in the 50s isn’t what it is today of course … but if the Cuban government relents to foreign investment, there’s no reason for Cuba not to turn into another tourist-heavy island nation in the same way that other Caribbean countries operate.

One last thing: I’ve always taken an interest in the World Baseball Classic, and one of the things I’ve always wondered is what a united Cuban team could look like.  In the wake of the 2013 event, I wrote about what such a “politics-free” team could look like.  And now, two years and a number of high-profile defections later, I think a Cuban team could be even better.  Will we get to see a united team in the next version?   Hopefully so; the next WBC isn’t until 2017, by which time we’ll hopefully have a lot more clarity.   If you look at the 2013 version of the unified Cuban team, It lists Jose Abreu as a sub; now we know he’d be the marquee hitter in such a lineup next to Yoenis Cespedes.  And more players are coming.  In fact, you may put a unified cuban team as the 2nd or 3rd favorite in the WBC (behind the DR and USA).

Here’s a quick proffer on what a unified Cuban all-star team could look like right now.  Using the 2013 team as a starter and adding in recent defectees:

  • C: Yasmani Grandal
  • 1B: Jose Abreu
  • 2B: Yunel Escobar
  • 3B: Yonder Alonso
  • SS: Yoan Moncada (backed up by Alexei Ramirez)
  • LF: Yoenis Cespedes
  • CF: Yasiel Puig
  • RF: Yasmani Tomas
  • Starters: Jose Fernandez, Odrisamer Despaigne, Miguel Gonzalez
    (Gio Gonzalez was born in Cuba, but has already played for the US, so we eliminate him from consideration).
  • Relievers: Aroldis Chapman

That’s quite a good squad to start with, even without looking at the lesser Cuban players and/or the guys in the pipeline.

Post publishing link collection: Sports on Earth’s Phil Rogers on the future of the Cuban National team: he basically does a more researched and thoughtful version of the lineup above.  Nathaniel Grow of Fangraphs does his own version of this post in general.   Chris Moran of Beyond the box Score also does a version of this post.  Craig Calcaterra pipes in too.  Thom Loverro puts up his 2 cents.  BusinessInsider quotes super-agent Ron Shapiro and his “sea of questions” regarding baseball players.

What could a full Team-Cuba look like without Politics?

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Team Cuba looks good so far; imagine them with Cespedes and all their other MLB stars. Photo wiki/flickr hj_west

I just finished re-reading The Duke of Havana, a great book about the back story of Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez, his rise to the top (and subsequent political fall from grace) in Cuban professional baseball, his escape from his home-land, his rise with the 1998 New York Yankees, and the general politics/life of typical Cubans in the post-USSR era.  Despite the crushing effects of the Fidel Castro regime in Cuba over the last 40 years, the island continues to produce MLB-quality baseball players.  Of course, thanks to the lack of diplomatic relations between the two countries, when it comes time for the World Baseball Classic, we can’t see a unified Cuban team.   Cubans who have escaped to play in America can never go back, and (as detailed in the book), often times leave behind wives, children and family who are subsequently pressured politically by Castro’s hacks.

I wondered what could an all-Cuba team really look like, if MLB players and other expatriots were allowed to re-unite with the current set of known Cuban amateur stars?  Using some of the same methods as in my “All Virginia” post, by searching for those born in Cuba along with some well-known Cuban Americans (per the politics link above), here’s a possible WBC roster of maximum strength for Team Cuba:

Manager: Fredi Gonzalez of the Atlanta Braves.  We’d get Cuban hall-of-famer Tony Perez out of semi-retirement (he was coaching at a small college in Georgia recently).

Positional Players:

  • C: Yasmani Grandal or J.P. Arencibia
  • 1B: Kendrys Morales or Gaby Sanchez
  • 2B: Yunel Escobar or Sean Rodriguez
  • 3B: Yonder Alonso
  • SS: Yuniesky Betancourt or Alexei Ramirez (2006 WBC Team Cuba member)
  • LF: Yoenis Cespedes (2009 WBC team member)
  • CF: John Jay (parents born in Cuba, emigrated to US before birth)
  • RF: Leonys Martin (2009 WBC team member) or Dayan Viciedo

Reserves: Yasiel Puig, Jorge Soler, Alberto Castillo, Jose Iglesias, Juan Miranda, Adeiny Hechavarria, Brayan Pena, Eddy Rodriguez

Best Cuban amateurs (aka, the leading defection candidates): Alfredo Despaigne (just named MVP of round 1 of pool play), Alexei Bell, Yulieski Gourriel,  Jose Abreu (the consensus #1 Cuban amateur prospect right now).

Thoughts: There’s some talent in this lineup; Cuba has developed some power hitters over the past few years but seems to specialize more in middle infielders (most of these reserves are middle infield prospects).  But a potential 3-4-5 of Morales-Cespedes-Alonso is nothing to shake a stick at.  I think this team could score some runs and would be excellent defensively.

Starting Pitchers

  • Gio Gonzalez
  • Jose Contreras
  • Livan Hernandez
  • Yunesky Maya (2006 and 2009 WBC team member)
  • Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez we’ll get him out of retirement; i’m sure he can still throw)

Relievers

  • Aroldis Chapman (2009 WBC team member)
  • Francisely Bueno
  • Raul Valdez
  • Danys Baez (retired in 2011)

Thoughts: So, we’re a little light on pitching, it seems.  We make use of Gonzalez’ first generation in USA status to steal him away from Team USA.  But after him the starting pitching gets light (even if you push Chapman into a starting role as Cincinnati is looking to do in 2013).   Contreras is a career 101 ERA+ guy, Livan may not have a job in 2013 and all nats fans can speak to what Maya brings to the table at this point.  I threw in El Duque despite him probably being close to 50 at this point (B-R lists his birthday in 1965); he was always in great shape and probably could throw a few junk balls up there right now.

Miscellany: Here’s links to Cuba’s 2006 WBC roster, their 2009 roster and their 2013 roster.  And here’s as complete a list of Cuban defectors as I can find on the internet.

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Baltimore

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Oakland
  • Houston

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

And here’s arguments for and against each team:

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

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

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

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

Nats Off-season News Items Wrap-up 12/21/11 edition

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Can’t wait for the first Darvish-Pujols matchup when Texas visits Los Angeles. Photo unknown via beatofthebronx.com

This is your semi-weekly/periodic wrap-up of Nats and other baseball news that caught my eye.

Nationals In General

  • John Sickels does in-depth system reviews, but allows his readers to pipe in about the prospects down on the farm.  Here’s the discussion on the Nats, which (as is apt to happen) devolved into arguments about Bryce Harper.  Still, lots of the usual suspects piped up and offered opinions.  Here’s a link to his preliminary list of Nats prospects.
  • In case you havn’t seen enough scouting reports on our precocious star, here’s another from the blog prospectjunkies.com.  I will say it was refreshing to see this author go out of his way to dispell the whole “Harper is a brat” storyline that most lazy sportswriters pen, without having ever interviewed or even *seen* the guy.
  • I hope this isn’t our starting CF for 2012; Nats sign Mike Cameron to a minor league contract.  I actually don’t mind this deal; yes he’s old and yes his production slipped badly in 2011, but he’s still a high-end defensive player.  Maybe he’s just a cheaper version of Rick Ankiel.  Odds are, as posted elsewhere, that Cameron is a half-season option just holding court until Harper is promoted sometime in June.  Works for me.
  • Hmm.  Reports from Ken Rosenthal that the team is “pushing hard” for Gio Gonzalez, offering Billy Beane a “4 for 1” deal.  Not sure I like hearing that; while he’s got decent stats two years running, there’s some chinks in that armor.  He lead the league in walks last year and gives them up at nearly a walk every other inning.  His ERA jumps nearly a point when he pitches away from the friendly confines of Oakland’s pitcher-friendly stadium.  He’s not an “Ace.”  What four players are we talking about giving up?  If this is anything like the Mat Latos deal, it probably would be something like Detwiler, Norris, a major league arm and a lower minor league arm.


Free Agents/Player Transaction News

  • First Reports on the winning Yu Darvish bid?  $48M.  No, wait, then it was even higher than Dice-K’s bid.  I privately thought he’d eclipse Daisuke Matsuzaka‘s record of $51M (and change) from 2005.   Another nugget from this article; Darvish wants a 5yr/$75M contract.  That’s $120M+ for this guy.  Does anyone still want to argue that he’s worth $120M, when the absolute best FA pitcher purchase in recent years (Cliff Lee) himself got 5yrs/$120M guaranteed from Philadelphia?
  • Who won the Darvish sweepstakes?  First thought to be Toronto, then Texas.  On 12/20 we were confirmed: Texas won with a $51.7M bid.  The AL West is turning into a shootout.
  • Breaking news over the weekend: Cincinnati gets Mat Latos for a package of prospects that includes their uber rising star Yonder Alonso, another 1st rounder in Yasmani Grandal and former ace-pretender Edinson Volquez.  That’s an awful lot for a guy who, while certainly is “good,” isn’t among the elite pitchers of this league.  That seems like more than what Zack Greinke fetched, and he as a Cy Young award to his credit.  It also begs the question; why does San Diego need Alonso?  They already traded for a top-end 1B prospect, Anthony Rizzo.  Alonso was blocked in Cincinnati by Joey Votto and was clearly on the trading block, but San Diego is a curious spot.   Oh I see now: he’s officially listed as a left fielder now.  Except that scouts openly scoff at his abilities to play anywhere but 1b or DH.  The Padres can always put together a competent pitching rotation by virtue of their park; if some of these hitters pan out they could be a very good team, quickly.  Meanwhile Cincinnati gets a good pitcher who hopefully wasn’t under-exposed by pitching in the cavern in San Diego but who most say is a legit front-of-the-rotation ace.  Update: now we’re hearing that Rizzo is in play possibly for Matt Garza.  That’s probably Theo Epstein trying to get his boy back.

General Baseball News

  • An excellent take at Grantland from Jonah Keri, another favored writer, on Steroid use in baseball, inspired in the post Ryan Braun mania.  As it has turned out, Braun’s case isn’t about Steroids, but he does dispute the notion frequently posted on the internet that “no positive test has ever been appealed successfully.”  In reality, according to both players and well-connected writers, no “leaked” positive test has ever been appealed, and that initial positives have been overturned on more than a few occasions.  Here’s a player who says he successfully appealed a positive test himself.  He also links to very interesting articles on testosterone and false positives, one of which (If i’m reading it correctly) notes that about 1 in 4 positive tests is actually a false positive.  I can’t believe any official test is that inaccurate, so perhaps its either old technology or i’m mis-interpreting the story.  Subsequent reports show that Braun’s test was from medication taken for a “personal issue.”  Sounds like Viagra, doesn’t it?
  • Another takeaway from Keri’s article is another pet peeve of mine; the notion that Matt Kemp was a “more worthy” MVP candidate than Braun but that Braun won the award because “his teammates were better.”  That’s one take on the award, IF you interpret the “MVP” to be given to the “best player” in a particular year.  But that’s not the definition of “Most Valuable Player” that most writers adhere to.  Simply put, how can you be the “Most Valuable player” to your team if your team stinks?  If your team already has a losing record, and the star player wasn’t there, wouldn’t that team just have a WORSE losing record?  To me, that’s the essence of the MVP argument; you simply cannot be the most valuable player on a bad team, unless your season is so historically amazing that it stands out on its own merit.  If we want to “invent” a new award, say the “Cy Young” of hitters (almost an uber “Silver Slugger”) so that we can properly award a guy like Kemp, I’d be for it absolutely.  In fact, it would pretty much end these ridiculous arguments that will only continue to get louder as more and more stat-heads who never actually watch games but just interpret advanced statistical tables on websites as if baseball players were robots playing in a nil-gravity vacuum gain admittance to the BBWAA and start voting on these awards themselves.
  • Yet another excellent Grantland.com article, this time analyzing whether or not the Economics of Moneyball still exist.  After this article published, I saw some criticisms of the statistics used on more stat-heavy blogs like Fangraphs.  Not sure why; the article makes sense to me.
  • I sometimes take issue with Craig Calcaterra‘s stuff on Hardballtalk, but his opinion on ESPN Legal Analyst Lester Munson‘s love affair with the abject failure of the Barry Bonds case is spot on for me.  Bonds was convicted of one really shaky obstruction of justice count after years and MILLIONS of dollars of expenses, and was sentenced to 30 days of home confinement.  The prosecutors who led this monstrosity need to be fired, frankly.
  • Ugh.  Bill Conlan of the Philadelphia Daily News, a hall of fame baseball writer, resigns ahead of child molestation charges being filed.  Interestingly, it is the rival Philly newspaper, the Philadelphia Inquirer, filing the charges.

General News; other

  • I like Grantland, and I like stuff that Chuck Klosterman writes.  Here, he writes about the “Triangle Offense” that we’ve heard so much about from Phil Jackson during his time with the Bulls and Lakers.  My takeaway; the Triangle is dying out because (according to Jackson) the league is dominated by me-first scorers (whether they be slash and burn or 3-point specialists) and because the Triangle is considered really complex.
  • Kobe Bryant‘s wife is leaving him, reportedly because she caught him cheating.  Really??  What, that whole incident in Colorado wasn’t evidence enough?
  • In case you somehow missed the front page of cnnsi.com this week, yet another example of the absolute hypocritical nature of the NCAA is on display once again: a former St. Joseph’s basketball player is being held hostage by an (apparently) petulant basketball coach who refuses to grant his waiver to play for another school.  Coaches can change schools like they’re changing suits, but if a player changes they have to get approvals from their releasing school (a conflict of interest if there ever was one) and approval from the NCAA, AND then have to give up a year of eligibility.  How is this possibly fair?  Coaches can coach for 50 years and don’t lose any eligibility; players can only play for four (five if they red-shirt) but have to give up 25% of that time if a situation isn’t right for them.  Every time I read something about college athletics like this (or the UKentucky/Oliver case, or the Colorado WR/snowboarder case, or the entire player images case) I’m more and more infuriated and hope that the organization has to face congressional review.  More links on the topic: lawsuit threatened.  Possibly “the other side” to the story here.  There’s other interesting links to twitter comments and blog op-ed pieces throughout.  Another opinion here.

Ask Boswell 12/19/11 edition

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Would Adam Jones solve our CF issues? Photo unknown via blog.prorumors.com

Here’s Tom Boswell‘ weekly Monday chat on 12/19/11.  Of the baseball questions he took, here’s how I’d have answered them.  With a Redskins unexpected win, I’d think this will be heavy on football, but I thought the same about last week as well.  There were a TON of baseball questions.  Maybe the town is tiring of Redskins coverage, now that they’re eliminated from the playoffs.

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

Q:  Have you heard anything about the possibility of Da Meathook (Dmitri Young) returning to the Nats to be a role player and mentor?

A: No chance.  Dmitri Young was a Jim Bowden reclamation project and no matter how that story may play in the “feel good” category, Rizzo has gone to great pains to rid most of this roster of Bowden players.  It is good to see Young losing weight and looking better though.  Boswell says little chance, that Young really is a DH/PH now and we’re in the wrong league.

Q: Should the Nats consider Carlos Beltran?

A: Again, hard to see.  Beltran was decent in 2011, his first healthy season since 2008.  Ironic that it happened in his walk year.  But he’s already been moved out of CF, and was not really that good defensively in RF.  He’ll want a longer term deal … but we have a certain upper-end RF prospect named Harper coming up who would be blocked.  Beltran makes no sense for us.  Boswell says no chance, then opines on the lack of movement out of the Nats front office.

Q: What do you make of the Nats (non) moves?  Are the Lerners still “cheap?”

A: It was always going to be a weak FA market, and with the Marlins suddenly throwing ridiculous money around and outbidding the team for its targets, it does look as if the team isn’t doing much.  The price of #1/#2 starters has just gotten out of control this off-season (see the unbelievable haul that a low-end #1 guy in Mat Latos just got), so I sense the team is re-evaluating.   Boswell says you can’t be “cheap” after signing a guy to $126M contract.

Q: Does Rizzo deserve an F for the off-season so far? Missed out on Buerle and no CF either.

A: Man, people are impatient.  Maybe the team underbid on Buehrle, but they were NEVER going to go 4yrs and $56M dollars on the guy.  I’m sorry; he’s a #3 pitcher, a soft-tossing lefty who never gets hurt.  That’s NOT an ace, that’s not worth $13M a year.  As for CF, there’s no good FAs out there, so it was always going to be a trade.  Last time i checked its only December and the off-season is only half-way done.  I’d rather stand pat than make a panic buy.  Boswell says Rizzo needs to be judged 5 years down the road on his 2011 draft signings.

Q: Have we seen the last off-season addition?

A: I don’t think so, but the likelihood of seeing a “major” acquisition now seems thin.  It is what it is; 2012’s FA crop was weak and everyone got bid up.  Notice how the Yankees and Red Sox didn’t get anyone either, and BOTH those teams desperately need starting pitching.  Boswell takes his third question on the same topic and just says that if the team hits better they’ll be better next year.  duh

Q: Do you think Endy Chavez could be a decent short-term filler for the Nats in centerfield, or maybe resigning Rick Ankiel, who played pretty well turing the final two months of last season?

A: Well, its too late for Chavez, who signed a deal over the weekend with Baltimore.  I wouldn’t be opposed to re-signing Ankiel but ONLY as a 4th outfielder.  Boswell agrees.

Q: Who’s going to spend the most time in center for the Nats this year? 1. Werth, 2.Cespedes, 3. Ankiel (if he returns), 4. Bernadina (ugh) or 5. someone else?

A: I’ll go with Werth first, but say “someone else” if Rizzo makes his desired trade.  Holding out hope for Upton or Bourjos or someone like that.  Boswell exactly writes what I wrote.

Q: If the Nats are able to sign or trade for a CFer and they bring up Bryce Harper during the season, does Adam LaRoche become the odd man out this season?

A: If Nats get a CFer, then yes eventually it will come down to either Morse or LaRoche making way.  As of now, its hard to see Morse leaving, but you never know in this game.  Morse could break a leg and LaRoche could come back 110% in his walk year, and in June we’ll be singing a different tune.  Boswell thinks LaRoche is mr. comeback in 2012 and will “make the team glad they have a club option.”  Wow, that’s a statement.

Q: Should the Nats really wait til NEXT off-season to hit the FA market?

A: Yes.  Yes.  Yes.  The 2013 FA pool is so much better than this years, that it almost doesn’t make sense to compete and over-pay.  As a longer term fan of this team, I would support and argue for such a move.  Play the kids in 2012 and figure out what you have, then go on a spending spree to make a pennant-contender in 2013.  Boswell says this is exactly what Davey Johnson is advocating.

Q: What are the odds that the Nats do right by the fans and sign Zimm to a Tulo type deal before Spring Training? After watching the Pujols intro in LA, if we have to endure a similar scene w/ Ryan I plan on marching to Nats Park and burn my jersey at the main gate.

A: Lots of repeat questions today.  This question was the Question #1 from last week’s boswell Chat.   Short answer; Nats don’t pursue long term deal with Zimmerman til after next season.  Boswell changes his stance from last week and says the team MUST get it done before the 2012 all-star break.  Why?  Still disagree here.

Q: Is the reluctance to sign Fielder just about money? He is clearly an upgrade over LaRoche at the plate and would instantly upgrade the offense.

A: I’d be reluctant for several reasons.  Money (its a lot), wasted money (on LaRoche), his conditioning (abhorrent for an athlete) and his defensive inadequacies.    He does mash though.  Boswell likes Laroche, says Morse is a good 1B as well, and doesn’t advocate spending $200M on one position.

Q: Remember the knock on Mike Rizzo was that he would have trouble with some of the non-baseball aspects of a GM job (i.e. media)? We’re a few years in and while the Nats are greatly improved, I’m skeptical of Rizzo. He seems like he’s playing out of position — strong on scouting, not so much on other stuff. Does it even matter given the ownership?

A: I still think Rizzo was partly responsible for the Riggleman situation, and should have done a better “people management” job than he did.  But otherwise I don’t have an issue with Rizzo’s performance.  The team has completely turned around in just 2 years under his command; what else do you want out of a GM?  3 great drafts, a 20game improvement on the field?  Are we getting spoiled here?   Boswell agrees, and says that the Werth contract still weighs on him.

Q: Thoughts on the Mat Latos trade? Seems the cost of quality SP is especially high this year—whether you’re Roy Oswalt or the ChiSox looking to trade Danks, the Nats are going to have to spend or give up real value to add that piece to their rotation. Any new developments?

A: The Latos deal is shocking; he’s not exactly a Cy Young candidate in my mind; just a very good, young pitcher.  The Reds gave up two developed #1 draft picks (including a very quick to the majors guy in Yonder Alonso), plus an established (albeit injured) Volquez and another guy for Latos.  That’s a really expensive trade.  Latos better work.  How does that affect the Nats?  It probably scares the crap out of them.  Boswell quotes Jim Bowden’s analysis (?!) and says the Padres may have swindled the Reds here.

Q: Would you be interested in Adam Jones if you were the Nats and who would you be willing to give up?

A: Jones is an interesting candidate.  Good bat but not the best in the field.  I didn’t even consider him a trade candidate in my CF analysis piece but maybe he is.  O’s need pitching, so maybe there’s a fit there.  But, the O’s may not have a ready-made replacement for Jones, who is 25 and still under club control for 2 more years.  So he won’t be cheap.  I’d give up a Detwiler or a Milone but not much more.  Boswell agrees with the trade needs, but says Angelos would never trade with Washington on the off-chance that the Nats looked like they “took” him in a deal.

Q: It’s Opening Day 2012 in DC. Sellout crowd, beautiful weather. Perfect day for baseball. Who’s playing CF for the Nats, & who’s hitting leadoff. For that matter, since I’ve asked you to consult your crystal ball, what’s the pitching rotation?

A: Another repeat question.  Your CF is Werth, with a yet-to-be named 1-yr FA playing in RF.  Rotation is Stras-Zimmerman-Lannan-Wang-Detwiler.  Leadoff is (still) Desmond, because the team hasn’t done anything to replace him.   But i’m still holding out hope that the team a) signs Oswalt and b) trades for Upton.  So we’ll see.  Boswell thinks Harper’s making the opening day roster, and Milone is #5 starter.  I wouldn’t be surprised.