What is this feeling? I can sense an anticipatory twitching about my person, like a half formed fetal twin attached to my nape, awakening from it’s mutant slumber. Oh that’s right… Baseball season is nigh. And as always there is much to look forward to. Topping my personal list is that the Padres will be watchable if not very good. Kris Bryant will debut. MLB.tv, my favorite product on this earth, is no longer running off a stupid plugin that doesn’t work, and they have enabled ballpark overlay as permanent feature. Plus, we can close our eyes tight and sing from the highest rooftops of our hearts “Matt Harvey is coming back!”
But each year also delivers unto us a bouquet of tantalizingly awful ass roses. The 2015 season is shaping up to be especially rife with the potential for carnage. Here is a rundown of the trainwrecks I am most excited about watching unfold this season.
TV Category: Kirk Gibson
Kirk Gibson is going to be a color analyst for the Tigers TV broadcasts this year. The only possible explanation for this miracle is that the executives at Fox Sports Detroit are trolling the world televised sports. More shocking still is that Gibson has been a TV broadcaster before.
I have documented what an ass clown Kirk Gibson is. But just to quickly recap. Kirk Gibson is an arrogant, ignorant brute. Koko the gorilla doing sign language in a picture-in-picture format as a color analyst makes 34% more sense than allowing Kirk Gibson back into the booth, and that’s not just from the perspective of analyzing the content the gorilla or Koko (zing!) would add to the telecast. I’m talking purely about the ability to smush thoughts out of one’s brain. Gibson appears to be on such a devastating amount of pain medication that he barely makes words. Watch that video. I’ll wait for you.
I think we both understand how that sample falls short of asserting the notion that this man belongs on television. I’m going to be watching a lot of Tigers games just for a dose of the lolz.
Stadium Category: Cubs Bleachers
The Cubs are doing everything right on the field but nothing right off it. Last year they added a stupid mascot and a renovation plan that looks like it was created in 1994 (rant here). This year they decided to wait until halfway through the offseason to start knocking down and rebuilding 5,500 bleacher seats, so they won’t be ready until May 11th at the earliest. Even a one week delay would mean the Cubs would play a full quarter of their scheduled home games with 2,000 season ticket holders out on their asses. Expect lots of angry fans, non-stop meaningless updates accompanied by cameras panning over scaffolding, and most of all: sad home run balls orphaned in the hard hat zone.
Stats Category: Dee Gordon
After Dee’s flukey All Star appearance in ’14 the Marlins proved they have not even the most cursory understanding of advanced statistics by leaping at the chance to acquire this most vile regression candidate. Dee was already an insufferably lucky slap hitter with below average defense when he made that fateful All Star team. But it’s what he did after the break that you, dear reader, should be sitting down for, preferably on a toilet, as the following sentence is not for the faint of sphincter. Dee Gordon walked only four times after the All-Star break. Four! That’s almost impossible to do. That’s 1.6% of the time. His BABIP also came crashing back down to earth for short stints after the break, so all told Dee was below average in the second half.
I really hope the Marlins ice their idiot cake and bat him leadoff.
Prospect Category: Maikel Franco
Much to the delight of the other 29 organizations, Ruben Amaro is still employed. As a result they have essentially stockpiled old newspapers so high there is just a path from the stained, threadbare futon to the crusty microwave and the horrifying toilet.
But best of all, because Cody Asche is a below average runner, fielder and hitter (damn, that’s all the things), Maikel Franco will likely be their starting third basemen. I have long felt he is tremendously overrated and now we should get definitive proof. Franco is a 22 year old who swings way too much, which results in him making a ton of bad contact, and he saw his ISO drop at both AA and AAA after temporarily impressing in the low minors. But because the Phillies have no idea what makes good baseball players, they are hyped about him. Let’s watch their hopeful smile morph into a twisted grimace of agony together!
Media Specatacle Category: Alex Rodriguez
Even Ruben Amaro knows that A-Rod is coming back. It’s been covered to a level beyond what is reasonable. But let me just say how excited I am to watch him try to play baseball. This guy is a 39 year old asshole whose body has been ruined by PED use, and he hasn’t played baseball in two years. But he doesn’t understand what that means.
He’s been alone for two years telling himself how great he still is. He says his mission is to come back and hit 109 home runs to overtake Bonds as the all time home run leader. He’s even been making the rounds, apologizing and in his head everyone is totally buying it.
When he gets back and everyone still hates his guts and he is helplessly swinging through 90-mph fastballs down the dick he isn’t going to understand why. He’s going to be awful, confused and frustrated. I can’t wait to see the look on his face. I can’t wait to see how long it takes before he realizes he needs to give up and go home. But best of all, once he does, he won’t. He’ll hang around all useless and depressing for two years because he can’t walk away from money and the Yankees won’t cut him. This is going to be delicious.
Last Straw Category: Josh Hamilton
Josh Hamilton is the shameless owner of the weakest mind in the game. Every year he comes up with more outrageous excuses for why he’s being an idiot. Let’s recap: Injuries, eyes are too blue, too many energy drinks, quit energy drinks, quit tobacco. Now he’s getting shoulder surgery to repair his AC joint. Despite knowing about the injury last September he and the organization waited until February to make a decision on what to do about it, because sometimes magic things can happen to your bones and cartilage right? Nope.
Now he won’t be ready until around May 1. But I’m sure he won’t use it as an excuse for why he just lazily flaps the bat through the zone regardless of what or where that pitch was, I mean he said so himself, there are no excuses this year.
Pitchers and catchers are reporting soon. Won’t you pop your corn, unfold your lawn chair and sit at the intersection of a broken stoplight with me?
I’ve been leaving reminders for Ruben Amaro Jr. on twitter since August. I took some time to compile my favorites. Come! Let us have a chuckle at a total spazatron.
Reminder to Ruben Amaro: “the signings” is not an adequate franchise roadmap. Please submit another draft by next Friday.
— MLB Hall of Misery (@mlbhallofmisery) February 6, 2015
Reminder to Ruben Amaro: writing directly on the computer screen doesn’t do anything… except ruin your computer.
— MLB Hall of Misery (@mlbhallofmisery) February 6, 2015
Reminder to Ruben Amaro: However you think it works… that’s not how it works.
— MLB Hall of Misery (@mlbhallofmisery) January 21, 2015
Reminder to Ruben Amaro: Just because Tomas has never played in the big leagues before doesn’t mean he’s never played baseball.
— MLB Hall of Misery (@mlbhallofmisery) November 20, 2014
Reminder to Ruben Amaro: keeping mustard in your desk drawer is not a life hack.
— MLB Hall of Misery (@mlbhallofmisery) November 15, 2014
Reminder to Ruben Amaro: Colin Cowherd is a guy on the radio, not your assistant GM on the phone.
— MLB Hall of Misery (@mlbhallofmisery) October 17, 2014
Reminder to Ruben Amaro: No you can’t apply for the DBacks job, you’re already a GM… Where?! Are you kidding?! Philadelphia, Ruben!
— MLB Hall of Misery (@mlbhallofmisery) September 11, 2014
Reminder to Ruben Amaro: straws work both ways. You don’t have to try to figure it out, just put it in your juice box and get out of here.
— MLB Hall of Misery (@mlbhallofmisery) September 3, 2014
Reminder for Ruben Amaro: The cone was for the dog. Why did you struggle so much to resist licking Buckley’s stitches?
— MLB Hall of Misery (@mlbhallofmisery) August 2, 2014
Reminder to Ruben Amaro: The interns are joking. YouTuber, a site that hosts videos of potatoes, doesn’t exist. Find other ways to not work.
— MLB Hall of Misery (@mlbhallofmisery) August 1, 2014
Reminder for Ruben Amaro: Rare steaks aren’t more expensive, it’s just referring to how they’re cooked.
— MLB Hall of Misery (@mlbhallofmisery) August 5, 2014
With the James Shields signing the Padres forfeited their first round pick. But it didn’t have to be this way. Having one of the 10 worst records in the league will gets you a protected pick. The Padres missed the cut by one win.
Had they lost one more game last season they would have finished tied with the Reds at 76 wins. The tiebreaker in this situation is the record from the previous year. The Reds won 90 games in 2013. I don’t think I have to tell you the Padres failed to top that. They would have had the number 11 overall pick (because the Astros failed to sign Brady Aiken last year) and could have signed James Shields without penalty.
But the hard taco shell filled with manure that was the 2014 Padres would not cooperate. By some shitty miracle the team managed to play better in the second half despite allowing Jeff Francoeur, Brooks Conrad, Abraham Almonte and Chris Nelson (a group of players I referred to as the Tanking Crew) to leave streaks on the roster, and despite allowing Alexi Amarista to lead the team in games played.
The faintest mirage that this team was in the hunt for the second Wild Card spot appeared on the horizon for a shimmering second, and that was too much for Bud Black. His hopeless days had made him too eager to see a change coming. He thought he did and never turned back.
When rosters expanded in September the team called up young players that should have gotten playing time regardless of performance. Jace Peterson and Rymer Liriano should have been allowed to take their lumps. But Bud was managing to win, even when it was crystal clear there was no way back into the race.
He tinkered. He played matchups and platoons and kept hot hitters in and chucked in defensive replacements at the ends of close games. His goals were his own. He was not acting in accordance with the needs of the organization. Nobody would have faulted him for letting the callups flail. He could have done it all under the guise of allowing young players to grow, allowing the front office a chance to evaluate those young players.
I know it sounds bad, but it’s okay to root for a negative result today if it helps your organization for years to come. It is also perfectly reasonable to be furious with a manager for trying to win meaningless games when those wins hurt the organization. It is even okay to blame him for the 1 win difference between a protected and unprotected first round pick.
The number 11 pick is worth about $28.8MM according to the Hardball Times. It can get you quality players like the Padres have drafted at number 13 overall the last two years. Players like our best prospect (Hunter Renfroe) and a chip valuable enough to land us Wil Myers (Trea Turner).
Luckily the 2015 Padres shouldn’t even be close to having a protected pick, but we’ve got our eye on you, Buddy, and we’re paying close attention to who gets drafted 11th in 2015. Their career is on you.
Baseball is unique. Because of it’s relatively mellow nature, it can be played nearly every day for 5 months, producing large sample of data. But due to the flukey nature of a single baseball game’s outcome, the sport also happens to necessitate large sample sizes in order to determine which clubs are really better than others in a given season.
So not only can you play a 162 game schedule, you kind of need to, in order to determine who the best teams are. That is the purpose of the regular season afterall.
Unfortunately, the current playoff format, along with a weighted divisional schedule undermines the value of a large sample and could have serious implications for the 2015 Padres.
The Wild Card game provides a real incentive for winning your division, which is good. It levees a disadvantage to the Wild Card team that advances, which is good, too. It kickstarts the playoffs off with a thrilling winner-take-all contest, which is fantastic. The issue is that teams are awarded a spot in this game based on their win-loss record, but they’ve played totally different schedules.
Take 2015 for example.
Teams play 76 games against their own division and just 33 against each of the other two divisions in their league.
If you’re the Marlins and you added some helpful if deeply flawed pieces to a nice young core, you can consider yourself a contender because you get to play 57 games (nearly a third of your schedule) against the shaky Mets, the rebuilding Braves and the clueless Phillies. The 19 games against the Nationals are admittedly no picnic.
But if you’re the Padres, you play 38 games against the World Champion Giants, and the super-talented and super-funded Dodgers. In the NL West even the bad teams, the Diamondbacks and the Rockies, despite being no serious threat to make the playoffs, will at least cause problems for 38 games.
Again, the Padres play the NL East only 33 games compared to the Marlins’ 76. This means that in total, the divisionally weighted schedule accounts for 43 games where teams in different divisions see their schedules diverge.
Interleague play further piles on to the “strength of schedule” problem. The 2015 Marlins/Padres example doesn’t look too out of balance here (the Marlins play the AL East and the Padres play the AL West), but it adds another 20 games to the schedule where the two teams play different opponents.
That brings us to 63 games against competition that differs from the team you are directly competing with for a Wild Card spot. It’s safe to assume those 63 games affect playoff outcomes every season in at least one league. This imbalance, which is at extreme logical odds with the win-loss based assessment of who gets to go to the playoffs, shouldn’t exist. Furthermore, it doesn’t need to.
The only reason the schedules are so damn whacky in the first place is because of Interleague play, which MLB is convinced fans love. The debate over whether that is true is the topic for a different article, but suffice it to say that if people actually do like it, they probably wouldn’t if people actually understood what it’s costing the game.
If Interleague didn’t exist you could use the 20 games you’re currently wasting against teams against whom you aren’t even competing against for a playoff spot and say, play them against teams you actually ARE competing with for a playoff spot!
That would leave us with a 162 game season played against 14 opponents. That’s 11 games against each team in your league, with 8 left over. So you play 12 games against 8 teams and 11 against the rest. This of course also means that one team in each league would always be without an opponent. The solution? Give more days of rest for teams. I have a feeling three extra days off every month or so would be a welcome change for players.
A bit untidy? Yes. But not nearly as messy or stupid as adhering to a system where 38% of your schedule directly interferes with the goal of ensuring the best teams get in the playoffs.
For teams like the 2015 Padres, who are fringy contenders, this incredible imbalance could mean another year without post-season baseball. For the Marlins, it may provide a way to divert attention from five years of stringing fans along with a sequence of front office decisions that were not in the best interest of baseball, mixed in with the occasional bold-faced lie.
What’s that familiar stench?
Sniff sniff… oh boy, looks like it’s Super Bowl time again. Every year I look forward to the Super Bowl because it is almost invariably a glorious rooster tail of diarrhea, a perfect picture of how worthless American Football is. And there is nothing I like better than to do play-by-play of the death of something shameful that people genuinely love. Let’s get straight to the action:
It’s been very well publicized that all but 11 minutes of an NFL broadcast consists of filler shots of standing around, fans, replays and commercials. So.many.commercials. My favorite pie chart in the world has my back on this one.
The idea that American Football is inhumane is also gaining traction in the form of many a brain injury study and an increasingly intelligent discussion and culture surrounding this major problem.
The NFL is simply an exploitative combat demonstration. It ravages it’s players minds and bodies to such an extent that a reasonable schedule of games cannot be played.
Why is that an issue? Because we want to watch the best athletes in the world play more than 16 days out of the year.
In a game like football, where your favorite star plays only half the game, on either offense or defense, and the game action is a total of 11 minutes, nobody actually plays football more than 6 minutes a week. Lolz, six!
Listen, if you can only play a game for 6 minutes, one day a week, for just 16 weeks a year, maybe you don’t have a sport yet. Maybe England got football right the first time.
In an average futbol season, your favorite player is on the pitch 90 minutes a game, 60 times a year. In American Football minutes, that’s the equivalent of 56 seasons. If you don’t feel you’re being swindled by now, you will soon.
If Russell Westbrook played for a playoff team in baseball he’d top 160 games, a basketball playoff team; around 100. And he sure as hell would play for more than 6 measly minutes.
Imagine if LeBron James only played one of every 5 games on the Cavs schedule and then only played 6 minutes before getting yanked off the court. People would be howling for him to get more playing time. But since the NFL is our sacred macho obsession, people laugh when you suggest the format is flawed.
But don’t worry, American Football will die.
American Football, unlike baseball or basketball has no counterculture among the younger generation of people who follow it. There is no intelligent discussion in American Football that rivals the modernity and vibrancy of the dialogue associated with the advanced stats communities, which have sprung up among MLB and NBA fans.
American Football is so saturated with dying macho “virtue” and unquestioning loyalty and science denial that it resembles a religion more than a sport, and lucky for every species on earth, those are all passing ever more swiftly from modern cultures around the globe.
American Football’s most ravenous fans are cavemen, relics of an epoch which celebrated playing through a quality-of-life threatening head injury as an ultimate feat of manliness. Those cavemen will be around for quite a while, but most of us will move on. And without a vital “new school” of thought to take the place of this throng of cock wavers, the cracks will begin to appear.
However, the NFL’s most destructive exodus will occur when, at some point, the players begin to opt out of their horrible conditions. The extremely poor pay compared with other sports, an almost total lack of guaranteed money, the destructive toll the game takes on the players bodies, and the unbelievable appeal of other sports will win out.
Adrian Peterson has said he wished he’d played baseball rather than Brute ball. I suspect many others feel the same way, but aren’t daft enough to say so publicly. Surely former NFL players, who’ve had their bodies and brains dismantled by a short, unprofitable stint in the league must privately advise younger men to reconsider. It’s only a matter of time.
When the players walk out, that is when the sport will truly crumble, because Americans refuse to watch an inferior product. We’re used to the best of the best.
Our baseball, basketball and even hockey league are unrivaled in the world. Conversely, our domestic futbol league, the MLS, has struggled to gain traction because we know it’s an inferior product. It’s glaringly obvious even to a newcomer. I myself became a futbol fan by watching the Premier League, which is widely regarded as the world’s most competitive league top to bottom.
Once American Football has been rinsed of everyone but brain damaged, second rate athletes with no other options, and once our culture has turned away much of the macho bullshit that the NFL feeds off, the only thing that will be left of the NFL will be owners and television executives clinging to something that used to make them lots and lots of money. Sounds a lot like cable to me, and we all know how that story ends.
It might take 30 years, but turn on the Super Bowl next Sunday and I guarantee you’ll see just how much water the NFL has already taken on.
For an extended look at how the Super Bowl is not about football, read my Super Bowl Preview from last year.
When baseball writers started watching Austin Hedges in preparation for the 2011 MLB Draft, pants began to tighten everywhere. If his elite defense and his 6-1 frame weren’t enough to send prospect analysts and pro scouts into full swoon mode, his makeup, work ethic and intelligence surely did. In fact, people got so carried away with all that was (and still is) right with Hedges, they thought, “well there’s no way he won’t figure out how to hit, he’s just so dreamy.”
After consistently underwhelming with the bat outside of a solid season in the Midwest League (full season single-A ball) in 2012, his face has appeared on the cover of Prospect Geek Tiger Beat less and less frequently.
People who are still bullish on Hedges often cite Yadier Molina as the example of a great defensive catcher who learned how to hit in the Major Leagues. I am here today to take exception with that stance and to explain why that will not happen with Hedges and how even if he improves at the same rate as Yadier Molina, that doesn’t mean he will become Yadier Molina.
The most important thing to consider when projecting the possibility that Austin Hedges will improve enough to be serviceable for the Padres, is the fundamental difference between his skill set and someone like Yadier Molina’s. The difference is simple but enormous.
Yadier Molina has the ability to hit the ball extraordinarily often and Austin Hedges does not.
In 2004, at age 21, Yadier Molina had 150 PA at AAA Memphis. He struck out less than 10% of the time. In his whole minor league career Yadi struck out in only 10.27% of his plate appearances. He always had the ability to make contact. He later translated that ability into the skill of making more meaningful contact, while playing at the Big League level.
This natural ability was the foundation of his progress. Hedges lacks that ability, that foundation.
Last year, at age 21, Austin Hedges struck out 19.5% of the time, twice as often as Molina at the same age, and at a lower level of the minors. This K rate pushed his career minor league mark to 17.6%. He is hitting the ball less often as he faces better pitching.
Molina slashed .281/.338/.373 in minor league ball. Hedges has managed .251/.311/.382. Once Yadi got to the big leagues his offense took a few years to improve to the level we hope, in our wildest dreams, that Hedges might attain.
Molina’s career line in the MLB is, however… awfully similar to his career minor league numbers.
Molina has slashed .284/.339/.402 for the Cardinals. Compared to his MiLB numbers, he’s essentially been flat in terms of BA and OBP, with a 7.8% improvement in slugging. Every player is different, but I think most analysts now agree that Hedges’ bat won’t progress significantly from where it is now. However, many think he has the ability to add power. So let’s be extremely generous for the purpose of this exercise and envision a situation where Hedges miraculously maintains his minor league AVG and OBP while also adding the same SLG boost that Molina achieved.
That puts Hedges at .251/.340/.412. If he gets there, his .742 OPS puts him at about the level of Wilin Rosario’s 2014 season at the plate. Combined with elite defense, we’re talking about him landing around 2 WAR.
Again, that is based on the most optimistic assessment of what is reasonably possible for Hedges.
But if you stray from the Molina comparison as I tend to, due to the fact that he is extremely unique, and you think more carefully about why catchers tend to develop more slowly at the plate, you run into another reason why Hedges probably won’t get better.
A lot of catchers do develop more slowly on offense, but why? It’s because they are busy learning to catch and throw and call a game. Now, I’m sure Hedges has had to come along in calling a game, but defensively he was touted as being near Major League ready on draft day. He simply didn’t have as much to learn as other prep backstops.
This means, that for much of his career, the emphasis with Hedges has been on progressing at the dish, rather than behind it. And he hasn’t, which is the next hole in the “he’ll hit” argument. As he has climbed the ladder, his production has gotten worse. He was 20% above average in 2012, 2% above average in 2013 before a short stint in AA. Then in his first meaningful sample at AA, he was 33% below average. For almost every hitter, entering the Major Leagues means another big divot in their numbers. Expecting Hedges to maintain that slash line I quoted earlier is at the precise edge of what is reasonable, but it is incredibly unlikely. He hasn’t even shown he can approach it at AA.
Now, it warrants mentioning that Hedges was 3.1 years younger than the weighted average of that league (per Baseball Reference). But time is about the only thing on Hedges’ side and people around baseball are steadily trickling off the bandwagon as they realize that.
In Kiley McDaniels’ recent article on Padres prospects over at Fangraphs, he included two troubling quotes from people outside of the Padres organization.
“(The bat) could be really light…I started to get nervous about the bat and wondered if he was even a big league backup”
“He’s more like Drew Butera than people want to admit.”
So I skated on over to Butera’s fangraphs page and noticed that in a taste of AA in 2008 very similar to Hedges’ own in 2014, Butera actually produced a season just 20% below average by wRC+, as compared with Hedges’ 33% below. Granted, Butera was 24 at the time, but the substance of the comparison is apt: Austin Hedges is probably not going to be a Major League regular.
While his defense is eye popping, having followed Hedges closely and having seen him flail at the plate in person several times over the last couple years has me thinking one thing: I don’t see it. It sounds like other people are realizing they don’t see it either. If you still think there is a chance, I’m sorry in advance for how disappointed you will almost asuredly be.
But let’s not fret too much. Let us instead adjust our gaze in the direction of Hunter Renfroe. It’s where all the loud sounds are coming from.
I don’t think I need to convince anyone of the upside the Padres have added this offseason.
If Justin Upton, Derek Norris and Matt Kemp produce at the same level as they did in 2014, they will be better than any Padres offensive top three since 2004, when Mark Loretta, Ryan Klesko and Phil Nevin all notched a 129 wRC+ or higher.
If Will Middlebrooks can turn himself around, he could provide as much offensive value as Pablo Sandoval did in 2014 (111 wRC+), while providing adequate defense.
Wil Myers clearly has the ability to be an All Star and produced near that level in the big leagues during his rookie season. Many attribute his down sophomore campaign to nagging injuries, and even typically conservative projection systems like Steamer, which can’t truly account for injuries, think he’ll bounce back significantly.
It’s obvious that this Padres roster has the potential to go to the postseason and it’s important to acknowledge that upside. But it’s equally important to acknowledge the risk associated with this upside.
Kemp has arthritic hips and his defensive stats caved in last season, even as he got better and better at the dish as the season wore on. And we had to give up some serious upside in Yasmani Grandal in order to bring him into the fold.
Norris was bad after the All Star break. As his BABIP regressed to the mean, his BB% was cut nearly in half and his ISO dropped over 100 points.
Middlebrooks and Myers may have produced the best seasons of their careers as rookies, and may never recapture their initial success, with the league having built an effective scouting report against them.
Upton stands a good chance of being a free agent at season’s end.
AJ Preller knows there is risk, but decided to take it on, in order to put together a roster with meaningful upside. The aggressiveness of the terraforming he has undertaken with the Padres forces us to see that he is not afraid to do so. And to me, that’s the real success of the Padres offseason.
Prior to what I have dubbed the Dawn of Preller (the flurry of activity AJ unleashed on the baseball world), the Padres had been obsessed with retaining as many safe, low ceiling players as possible, on the off chance that one of them might surprise us all by producing more than expected. Players like Jace Peterson, Joe Weiland and Reymond Fuentes were sure bets to be utility players, fifth starters and fourth outfielders with a slim chance to be slightly better than that, and that used to scare the Padres away from trading them.
Even scarier to part with were the prospects that had a chance to be above average because of their natural ability, but whom had never actually produced at any level. Players like Dustin Peterson and Max Fried would never have been traded for high upside talent, because of the remote chance they would figure out how to actually succeed in the game, instead of just impressing with raw ability and good bodies.
Regardless of how the team produces on the field this year, and regardless of whether Max Fried becomes a number two starter some day, Preller has demonstrated that he is not afraid of doing what is necessary (not just what is ideal) to generate a roster of major league talent with significant potential.
The end result is that now we get to worry about whether players like Myers, Kemp, Norris, Upton and Middlebrooks will do it again, or keep doing what they are doing, instead of wondering if players like Mallex Smith and Jake Bauers will ever do it at all.
That’s a damn good trade and a sign that the Dawn of Preller is truly upon us.
I recently made my annual trip to the Arizona Fall League. I love the Fall League. If you’ve never been, it is the true hidden gem of pro baseball. If you like Spring Training, you’ll love the fall league. The games don’t matter, so players are loose, but they are working on stuff or making up for lost at bats or innings if they missed time due to injury, and these are premium talents, so these are still tight baseball games played at a very high level. The weather in Phoenix in October and November is absolutely perfect and Fall League day games are attended by around 200-800 people who really love baseball and 100 scouts. Plus tickets are $8. All of this combines to afford one the opportunity to spread out and soak up a terrific experience in a most leisurely manner.
It also allows you to play scout, if you’re so inclined (I am). I always enjoy breaking down prospects when I get to see them live, but I’ve never filled out “formalized” scouting reports before, so this year I figured I’d give it a shot.
Brandon Nimmo, 21
New York Mets
Bat – 60/65
Power – 50/60
Running – 60/55
Baserunning – 60/60
Arm str – 45/45
Arm acc – 65/65
Field – 60/55
Range – 55 in center 65 on a corner
Approach – 55/65
Recognition – 60/60
Type – Spray
Looks a lot like Logan Morrison from afar, but with the leaner frame of a younger player. 6’3 with square shoulders but average size hips. Long arms. Athletic. Smooth, to the point that it actually makes him look like he is not explosive.
Good recognition and contact skills. Knows how to put together and at bat. Doesn’t get fooled. Gets a good jump in the outfield. Takes good routes. Effortlessly made two long runs to catch balls at the track in right center. (I only saw him go to his left).
The arm is clearly sub-standard. His footwork has gotten complicated to accommodate this, it takes him some time to get rid of the baseball. Had three chances to throw runners out at home from shallow CF and hopped soft throws each time.
Definite MLB prospect. Didn’t happen to show any power in the game I saw, looked more like a line drive guy at this stage, but the frame is big and the bat is of quality, which suggests he should at least approach average power at some point. His defense is above average in center at present, but depending on how much he fills out he could slow down a tick and become more of an average defender in center, (plus in a corner). I think Nick Markakis and Christian Yelich are decent offensive comps.
The average fan probably thinks of Cuban outfielder Yasmani Tomas like any other free agent bat, and average fans want the Padres to sign a free agent bat, like they have wanted for a long time. But 15 years of putrid offensive production, unanswered by the front office, isn’t the only reason they should do so.
Most importantly, Tomas will be a great deal. True, Cuban players aren’t the bargain they were when Yasiel Puig signed for only $6MM per year for 7 seasons (gee, doesn’t it seem like the Padres could have afforded that?), but they are still the best discount item out there when you compare them to MLB free agents.
Tomas will likely get a deal a significantly richer than countryman 27 year-old OF Rusney Castillo, who signed for 7/$72MM. From a skills perspective, it seems Castillo, while possessing some raw power, really won’t drive the ball in games very often, because his swing will generate more line drives than loft on low pitches (a la Yonder Alonso).
Given his bat (superior to Castillo’s) and age (23), we’re likely approaching a $100MM contract for seven or eight seasons of work, especially considering the Yankees, Red Sox and Mets are all said to be in on the slugger.
Let’s put the average annual value at $13MM per season for Tomas.
What does $13MM buy you in today’s free agent market? Let’s take a look at some guys who signed contracts last off-season to find out.
Thirteen million dollars is less than a rapidly declining 33 year-old Curtis Granderson makes to put up numbers that barely breach replacement level (0.7 WAR). For a familiar reference point, Cameron Maybin has put up that same WAR this year in approximately half a season, meaning Maybin is twice as good as Granderson, when on the field.
That’s also less than Tim Lincecum made this year to be a mascot for the Giants, while getting shelled out of their rotation (-0.2 WAR).
All in all, the price of a “Win” as defined by WAR was about $6.5MM last offseason. By that math, if Tomas makes $13MM per year, all he has to do to avoid bust status, is be worth the same level of production as Dioner Navarro or Jordy Mercer. Both of those players have generated 2.1 WAR this season.
Even flawed and aging impact Major League free agents like Jacoby Ellsbury and Shin Soo Choo make around $20MM a year to get worse over the course of their contracts.
Now, Tomas isn’t without risk. Obviously, he has flaws like nearly every player. He is said to need some fine tuning in his approach, and as a huge kid at 6’4″ 240, he will probably end up at first base. But the power sounds legit and he makes consistent contact. He also moves pretty well for a big man (at least for now), according to Castillo, who also had nice things to say about his makeup.
But in Tomas, what you will almost certainly end up with is a guy who gets better as his contract matures, and who only needs to produce like Howie Kendrick has this season to give his team a 50% “savings” per Win.
In the position the Padres are in, they need to pursue as many high ROI talent acquisition opportunities as they possibly can. And a big bat in LF would be a great start. Moreover, it would be negligent to let another great bargain, like Puig, Jose Abreu, or Yoenis Cespedes, which the Padres can easily afford, slip away to one of the juggernauts just because they’re intimidated.
With the Padres now beginning to shut the toilet on 2014 and A.J. “Heaven-sent” Preller beginning his tenure, the usual nuggets of filth about how we should “trade for a proven bat” have begun sloshing around as the garbage truck drives off with them. And another seasonal favorite returns as the familiar refrain emanates from a chorus of worms: “sign a free agent hitter.”
I want to know something. How is grabbing a solid major leaguer or two supposed offset the fact that the Padres only have two position player roles that might qualify as “solidified” for a playoff caliber team? And by roles, I mean just that, we’re talking about…
1) Platoon left fielder: Seth Smith
2) Backup catcher: Rene Rivera
The primary candidates to fill the rest of the positions in the field are almost all entering the stage in their careers where they either prove they’re Major Leaguers or they’re gone. Nearly all of them also have to prove they can stay healthy.
First Base: Yonder Alonso – a 92 wRC+ in 288PA, 0.7 WAR
Second Base: Jedd Gyorko – a 63 wRC+ in 339PA, -1 WAR
Third Base: Yangervis Solarte – a 104 wRC+ in 447PA, 1.6 WAR
Shortstop: Everth Cabrera – a 64 wRC+ in 391PA, -0.4 WAR
Center field: Cameron Maybin – a 81 wRC+ in 220PA, 0.9 WAR
Right field: Rymer Liriano – a totally unproven, raw rookie with a lot of tools, who missed all of 2013.
Primary Catcher: Yasmani Grandal – a 94 wRC+ in 345 PA, 0.3 WAR
Small half of the Smith platoon: Will Venable – a 73 in 386PA, 0.3 WAR
The problem with the “sign a bat” strategy (besides the fact that it’s more of a move than a strategy) is that even if the Padres signed two of the top free agents in the class, it won’t be enough to offset the problems everywhere else on the diamond. Though cheaper, it’s a similar waste of time to sign lesser free agents to “rent-a-bat” deals. Bear in mind this would also prevent someone in a “prove it” year from playing.
And all that feeds into the argument against the cries to “trade for a proven bat.”
Of course, most of the specific trade proposals offered by members of the general public are mainly of the “trade depth for quality” variety. The reality is that trades like this don’t exist. As the intelligent among us will point out: if you give from depth you will receive from depth.
Now, sometimes those deals work out, as in the Gregerson for Smith swap, or the trade for Alex Torres and Jesse Hahn. In fact, those are the kinds of trades the Padres should make this offseason.
But the club has no earthly reason to trade prospects to get proven talent, because just as with the “free agent approach” they’d only be adding talent to a loser, at the cost of their future core, which would ultimately only prolong their tenure as the team that gets the 13th pick in the draft.
It’s not a path to a World Series.
The time to sign free agents and trade prospects for proven Major Leaguers is when your team needs a nudge over the hump. The Pirates are a team in this position.
The Padres are nowhere near the hump.
The hump would be Yonder Alonso hitting .280 with 15 home runs and 40 doubles, while Jedd Gyorko socks 25 bombs and gets on base 35% of the time. It would be Cameron Maybin perpetually repeating 2011, and Rymer Liriano having a rookie season you could describe as “2013 Starling Marte with more walks.”
You will know the hump when you see the hump.
For now, Preller’s task is to build a team that can get to that precipice. So what do we do this offseason?
Trade from positions of depth for undervalued commodities - as mentioned above, sometimes you can steal an impact guy if you know they’re just a small adjustment away.With Seth Smith, it happened to be the fact that he just needed a Lasik tuneup. With others, you can diagnose a mechanical tweak that allows a player to tap into his full natural ability (a la Tyson Ross).
Similar to last season, the Padres have a glut of utility infielders. With Chris Nelson, Alexi Amarista, Jace Peterson and Yangervis Solarte all having roughly the same value as Logan Forsythe did last season. There are also a handful of fourth outfielders hanging around. This brings us to Will Venable.
Trade Will Venable – After parts of 7 seasons in the Majors, it’s obvious the results will never materialize. Right field should be Rymer Liriano’s to lose. While raw, he’s much less so than Venable was as a rookie, he’s excellent defensively and has the highest ceiling of any Padres position player prospect.
Disturbingly, Bud Black is still playing Venable a lot. Preller would do well to look to Cardinals GM John Mozeliak trading Allen Craig so that manager Mike Matheny would be forced to play Oscar Taveras as an example of how to remedy this. Now, I’m not comparing Liriano to Taveras, just the situation.
Venable’s value to other clubs is as a fourth outfielder or platoon guy with a solid glove, so expect an appropriately modest return. Abraham Almonte and Jake Goebbert have less trade value and should be able to fill in fine when Venable leaves. Alex Dickerson is also an option.
Get rid of Eric Stults… somehow – Despite the fact that Stults is 34, he is still arb eligible until 2017, so if you can get anything for him, that will be why. If not, he’s a prime non-tender candidate given the depth the Padres have here. Jesse Hahn seems a lock for next year’s rotation and Cory Luebke’s return to the Big Leagues, while far from certain, should take place in 2015. The same theoretically goes for Joe Weiland, Casey Kelly and Robbie Erlin. Keyvius Sampson and Matt Wisler are also options next year, if additional depth is required.
Let Josh Johnson walk – Johnson is a perpetual DL spot where there is plenty of depth… don’t you dare touch that option!
Ditch Carlos Quentin – I struggle to imagine a scenario where a team would be willing to part with anything other than a PTBN for Carlos Quentin. That’s fine. The Padres should eat as much of this contract as they have to, even if that means all of it. Of course, it’s possible there will be no willing trade partners. In that case, releasing him means the roster can be constructed without the possibility of Carlos Quentin built into it, which has more value than retaining him.
Blow up the staff- I won’t bore anyone with another recap of the DL disaster the Padres have become as a result of bad player acquisition policies and a totally incompetent medical staff. The fact that we all know that story so well means heads must roll and the organization’s philosophy must change.
The Padres also need to drastically alter a player development staff and philosophy that have consistently produced scared hitters.
The Major League hitting coaches also need to go. There is no excuse for a full squad of players that either watch or foul off fastballs down the pipe with shocking frequency. The number of obvious mechanical flaws (see: Cameron Maybin’s swing path), and approach deficiencies (see: Gyorko trying to pull everything) allowed to persist on the club is absurd.
Commit to crushing the International Market – This is the fun part.
I know it’s sad for some that the Padres won’t be spending a ton of cash on the free agent market, despite having the funds to do so. But that means A.J. Preller should have no problem convincing ownership to allocate a large chunk of change toward acquiring the best Caribbean talent available on July 2nd. Spending limits be damned, nab four or five of the top 25 guys. In this era of baseball, spending $20-30MM in the dominican is a much better investment for a mid-market team than spending that same amount on the Major League roster.
2015 won’t be the year of the Winner, no matter what Preller & Co do this offseason. But the guys on the roster will either prove it or lose it. The front office will begin to show us if they’re serious about giving Preller the levers he needs to build the core we’ve never had. It can be the year of the Answer, the year of a meaningful turning point.