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Reflections on the Dawn of Preller

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.

 

[RA Rowe]

 

 

Spending is Saving on Yasmani Tomas

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.

[RA ROWE]

The 2014-15 Padres Offseason in Reality

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.

Adios, amigos.

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.

 

[RA ROWE]

 

Why Hiring A.J. Preller is the Turning Point

A.J. stands for Amazing Judgement. (Photo courtesy of mighty1090)

I’ve said for a number of years that I wish Billy Beane was the Padres GM. This is hardly a breakthrough, I think most people who understand the game inside the business of the game feel the same way. Most people think he’s just smarter than everybody else, but that’s not the whole story.

Being smart is great, but for your smarts to consistently win out over hard-working, intelligent competition, you can’t just cast in any direction, you have to have a core methodology. But in baseball, everyone copies your core methodology in short order, once it’s proven to work. That means the core methodology has to be to create an environment where trends begin, and where you always pivot in order to find the next trend by the time the league catches up. Beane’s greatest skill is keeping this environment charged.

Meanwhile, the Padres have been clueless about the reality of their own situation, grasping at straws (the kind of straws with soggy knees who are better suited as a DH). They have failed to develop any kind of method for themselves to target talent. This is why they’ve failed to sustain the brief glimpses of success they’ve had. Essentially, when you’re not trying out a theory and seeing if it works or fails, you can’t know what part of what you are doing is working or failing.

But the sequence of events leading up to the A.J. Preller era show that maybe that the Padres’ days of spinning their wheels are over. And Preller seems to be exactly the guy to get things moving. For me, it all started with an email from Ron Fowler:

“We are terribly disappointed in the team’s offense this year and staying the course (waiting for a turnaround) is becoming less appealing as the ugly losses continue.”

After ten years of virtually unwatchable offense, I had rarely heard anything but excuses. But when Fowler’s chubby fingers graced our internet with that digital caning of the club’s position players, I was finally hearing someone with the power to change things actually convince me they hated that and wanted much better.

More importantly this quote reflects an understanding of how bad things really are. This is new for the Padres and incredibly significant.

Josh Byrnes got canned and on the hunt for a new GM we went. The self-aware candor from the Padres continued as Mike Dee gave an interview about why the decision to send Byrnes packing was made (interview recapped here). He said great General Managers have a vision and that the Padres need to have a blueprint for success.

This reinforces that the original Fowler email might not just have been an angry swipe of the claws, but a considered and lasting understanding that building an organization that can achieve sustained success requires efforts to be guided by a thesis statement.

The hiring process for the new GM highlights another aspect of how the Padres have begun to establish they may have made a material change for the better.

In the final week of the hunt the field had essentially been narrowed to two names. Billy Eppler and A.J. Preller. As I anxiously gnawed on the backgrounds of each candidate I began to view the decision as a fork in the road. With Eppler, I became horrified at the possibility that this break in the clouds might just be a brief interlude of sanity before a comic thrust back into business as usual.

Any hope that things might have changed could have been drowned in the toilet if they had chosen Eppler, a man who has family ties to the Padres organization and is buddy-buddy with evil slug, Kevin Towers. Eppler’s most notable experience is as an Assistant GM with the New York Yankees, an organization that has spent the last 10 years masking spectacular failure in drafting and development by burning small continents of money.

This means Eppler has no experience achieving results of any kind, and could not possibly understand how to create the kind of ecosystem of ideas Billy Beane has cultivated and sustained all these years. Choosing Eppler would have been like playing the same track we’ve been blaring for decades on a different radio. I feared this most of all, because it would be “so Padres” to cluelessly pull the trigger on more of the same full-spectrum misery to which we have been captive, basically forever. The two candidates represented such different possible futures to me, I even started to become almost paranoid about how the name “Eppler” was like some taunting, demonic anagram of “Preller.”

But they did not choose Eppler. When I heard this news, I truly felt like I had been freed from something horrible I thought would never end. All the perceived change of  the past few weeks gained more traction and I felt the deep, core tingling, hot juice blast of a better tomorrow. I, a man of 27, learned what if feels like for a girl.

Interviews with A.J. Preller produced quotes, which fueled my beautiful little ember of hope into a small flame. I don’t want to get bogged down in the particular quotes, as the interviews can be readily digested around the internet by you, dear reader, but the Padres Social Hour interview and the press conference to announce the hiring in particular, provided the kindling.

The most obvious thing about Preller is that he is not a groomed, TV-ready lozenge of bullshit, he’s a baseball guy. Obsessed with talking and watching the game, he acknowledged that advanced stats are to be considered equal building blocks as tools and approach in “talking about the game.” He strongly emphasized high ROI methods of player acquisition as the only means for an organization to create sustained success. The Padres’ market and current state of disarray both happen to demand this approach.

He spoke about the importance of knowing your own players. This is crucial to making sure you trade overvalued assets and hold onto those, which have more value than others perceive, as well as making better decisions about who you extend (like probably not Cameron Maybin, whose bat path resembles a very steep sided parabola).

He did something almost no people are good at, inside or outside of baseball, inside or outside of the Padres front office: he admitted a time when he was wrong. He explained that in Texas he had originally written off “make up” entirely, before realizing that guys with certain make up are much more likely to make the strides in development needed to become impact Major Leaguers. This shows he is testing a hypothesis and objectively analyzing whether it fails or not, and then reevaluating his position based on real life. There will be no hand-wavy strategies crapped out of a late night drinking session with an old frat buddy.

But the most important thing he did was talk about how you always have to find new ways to win talent and ballgames. He acknowledged that creating the dynamic I have so loved in Billy Beane’s Oakland Athletics, is a vital aspect of running an organization. He explained that you have to be the club generating innovative strategies, but that you also have to understand that the rest of baseball is going to swarm to that idea if it works. This means that you have to move on to the next idea by the time they get there. I call this the “head of the snake” mentality. By the time the body gets to where the head was, the head is farther along.

By revealing that his staff will be working hard to understand itself and the game better than anyone else, he made me feel, for the first time since 1998, that I can entertain the possibility of the Padres winning a World Series before I am bones in the dirt.

The ownership group gets it. They get it so well that they actually chose the right guy and hopefully, they give him the power to be that guy. If that is what is about to happen with the Padres, then welcome to the Enlightenment. Things are going to be different.

[RA ROWE]

The Astros Revamp “Rebuilding”

George Springer | AP Photo/Matt Slocum

George Springer | AP Photo/Matt Slocum

Right now the Astros are losing a lot of games. But they’re doing everything else right. In fact, they’re even running their business well, earning record profits last season. There is a plan in place. The Astros are rebuilding. But what does that really mean? First, lets move beyond some bad habits organizations have that relate to “rebuilding,” which have caused it to become regarded as a dirty word.

Theoretically, rebuilding just means sacrificing present mediocrity for future strength. That’s a trade that it seems even the casual fan would be willing to make. The problem is that the term gets used in so many different situations where an organization is either not committed to rebuilding, is just using the term loosely as a PR mechanism, or is simply incompetent.

When the Marlins run  a tight budget as they skim revenue sharing money into their pockets behind the mask of “rebuilding,” or when the Royals execute bad plan after bad plan in a cycle of perpetual misery, it’s easy to see why rebuilding has become equated with flat out sucking.

Meanwhile, the Padres are a small market team that has recently stagnated around the middle of the pack, only good enough to continue fooling themselves into thinking they are just shy of a postseason birth. This means they never really invest in the players needed to complete the process of turning their “rebuild” into a “win now.” But it also prevents them from blowing the damn thing up and starting over. The additional Wild Card slot in each league has expanded the group of teams susceptible to this trap, while the uncertainty of the play-in game has made it more dangerous.  This indecision characterizes the later phases of what was supposed to be a rebuild, and the plan ends up failing because it isn’t adhered to.

The Astros however, have a well developed strategy and the franchise seems to understand that they must commit their entire organization toward their renaissance. This is what has the potential to make Houston’s rebuild like no other we have seen before.  Let’s take a look at what a rebuild is supposed to be, while charting Houston’s progress.

Phase 1 – The Dump

You start by backing up the wrecking ball. Most clubs rebuild because they suffer from some combination of the following: “we stink,” “we’re broke,” “we’re old.” Certain steps preceding the dump are more passive, such as letting good role players walk, and significantly cutting back on free agent signings. But when this phase shifts into high gear, it’s about trading for prospects, which means that the dump necessarily coincides with the second phase of the rebuild; “Stockpiling.”

But first, here are some key events from the Houston’s “dump” phase.

2006 – Jeff Bagwell retires, Roger Clemens & Andy Pettite file for free agency.
2007 – Craig Biggio retires.
2010 –  Roy Oswalt, Lance Berkman traded.
2011 –  Michael BournHunter Pence traded
2012 –  Carlos Lee,  Wandy Rodriguez, Brett Myers traded. Club sold to Jim Crane. Moved to the American League West.
2013 – Jed Lowrie, Bud Norris traded.

Phase 2 – Stockpiling

Sometimes teams chicken out after the dump, largely because fans can be shortsighted and start howling because they don’t understand the reasons behind the moves the club is making. But if teams fear alienating their fan base by losing in the near term, they aren’t thinking critically enough. A franchise that communicates their plan and then executes it will maintain a degree of support the whole way. I think the Astros are an example of this openness.

This aversion to proper communication means that teams have generally followed through on the “get cheap young talent” portion of the plan. But few teams have committed so fully to the “lose a bunch of games” part like the Astros have. And to better illustrate what all that losing has the potential to earn an organization, let’s examine a couple of recent trends and some changes within the economic structure of Major League Baseball that the Astros have leveraged in order to thrive while stockpiling.

First, with PEDs largely out of the picture, players are once again declining drastically in the second halves of their careers. This makes it harder to grab talent off the open market. Second, with the influx of TV money into the game, teams are resigning young players with greater ease, thereby depleting the supply of age attractive free agents with peak years ahead of them. Anybody with a cursory understanding of economics, will have noted we’ve swiftly covered both the supply and demand sides of the value equation.  The increased value of controllable talent has made premium prospects much harder to trade for, especially if you plan on using aging veterans (which have decreased in value) as trade chips. Thus, rebuilding clubs must increasingly rely on the draft, and signing Caribbean teenagers in order to build large caches of young talent.

But rules governing how much teams can spend in the draft and abroad have also made things easier for losing teams. The worse you play, the higher you pick in the draft, and the larger your pool of bonus cash becomes. With what amounts to a slotting system in place, the Astros are able to get number one talent for an affordable price. In 2012 Houston used their larger pool of draft money to get a bargain at number one with Carlos Correa, and parlay the extra cash into Lance McCullers in the compensation round. The limitations of the pool also prevented the Pirates from spending enough to sign Mark Appel in 2012. The next year the Astros snapped him up for a fair price, paying about a million dollars under slot for the Stanford righty.

Here is a list of players the Astros have stockpiled via trade, draft and international signings.

Trade
2010 – Jonathan Villar, Brett Wallace
2011 –  Brett OberholtzerJon Singleton (AAA), Jarred Cosart, Domingo Santana (AA)
2012 – Robbie Grossman, Matt Dominguez
2013 – Chris Carter, Brad Peacock, Max Stassi, L. J. Hoes, Josh Hader (A), Dexter Fowler

Draft
2008 – Jason Castro (10th overall)
2010 – Delino DeShields (8th), Mike Foltynewicz (19th)
2011 – George Springer (11th)
2012 – Carlos Correa (1st), Lance McCullers (41st)
2013 – Mark Appel (1st)

International Signings
2006 – Jose Altuve (Venezuela)
2010 – Michael Feliz (A-) (Dominican Republic)

Phase 3 –  Afterburners, Engage!

Houston is now well positioned in terms of talent. All that will be left to do once they cultivate that talent into a young core will be to then push the club over the top by spending some intelligent money. But a lot of teams blow it here.

GM’s have all the freedom in the world to do smart stuff that doesn’t cost their club much money. But the reason some organizations get into rebuild mode in the first place is because of an unwillingness to spend at any time, including when it counts. These clubs continually run up against the wall on the home stretch because they never had the intention of completing the cycle.

Other teams just don’t know when or how to spend. Maybe Seattle is a good example. Before they dropped $240MM on a great player in Robinson Cano, they really only managed to promote a few pieces of their big league core. They also didn’t acquire quite as many impact position players as they needed to during stockpiling, which means they lack the depth of minor league talent to justify pulling the trigger.

But the Astros are smarter. They hire great baseball minds like former Baseball Prospectus writer Kevin Goldstein (Director of Pro Scouting) regardless of what cobwebbed convention dictates. This decision was so progressive it was even lightly mocked by the usually forward thinking internet set, as Grant Brisbee quipped that the new market inefficiency might be “wordsmithing.”

It’s funny, when people talk about the “new” market inefficiency, what they are really talking about usually amounts to just doing things correctly. But the reason they don’t talk about it in that context is that what constitutes correct changes based on the circumstances the game is in at any given time. It also changes based on what state an organization happens to be in. What makes the Astros special is that they understand themselves in relation to the landscape of baseball and are smart enough to turn that into action. Come to think of it, that’s why the Cardinals are where they are today. I also think this is why the success the Astros are having in rebuilding is not being talked about that much outside of prospect circles. Because just doing things correctly simply doesn’t seem that revolutionary to us, but as we’ve seen in examining the spotty track record of rebuilding efforts over the years, it actually is.

[RA ROWE]

How to Be Worse than Teams That Are Trying to Lose Part 1: The Phillies

Introduction

No introduction. No frills. I’m not wasting your time garnishing these shit steaks. Here are the 2013 salaries and win totals for four bad baseball teams:

add headers

 

The Phillies actually outperformed their pythagorean W-L record by 8 games, so you could easily think of them as a sub-70 win team.

Miami and Houston are openly trying to lose, slashing costs and making money while stockpiling prospects. There is a plan in being executed. Houston in particular is doing this very successfully and I have no doubt they will increase their payroll radically when they feel they have their core established and their window begins to open. The Marlins… we’ll see.

The draft system and economics of the game happen to be very favorable to this strategy at the moment and if I were running a franchise that lacked a young core and a well stocked farm system, I would strongly suggest it to my bosses. (Look for an article on Houston coming soon).

Back to Chicago and Philadelphia. What you want to ask here is if somewhere between 1 and 11 more victories than Miami should be costing Chicago and Philly $85MM and $120MM respectively. Unless you’re a Dubai oil billionaire and have no idea how much stuff costs, you probably don’t think so. How did it happen?

The Phillies

The basics:
– Dedicated huge sums of money and prospects to secure a core of aging, injury prone veterans.
– No production from the farm system
– Jonathan Papelbon
– Inability to take defensive value into account.

Trade Overview:
Players traded away to get Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt, Hunter Pence, Ben Revere and Freddy Garcia:

Travis d’Arnaud, Kyle Drabek, Michael Taylor, Carlos Carrasco, Jason Donald, Lou Marson, Jason Knapp, J.A. Happ, Anthony Gose, Jonathan Villar, Jonathan Singleton, Jarred Cosart, Josh Zeid and Domingo Santana, Trevor May, Vance Worley, Gavin Floyd and Gio Gonzalez.

Prospects returned for trading away Cliff Lee, Hunter Pence, Michael Young and Shane Victorino:

J. C. Ramírez, Phillippe Aumont, Tyson Gillies, Nate Schierholtz, Tommy Joseph, Seth Rosin, Josh Lindblom, Ethan Martin and Rob Rasmussen.

The prospects the Phillies have traded to get major chips around have been largely disappointing to the teams on the receiving end, which is a testament to the club’s evaluation of its own players. But the fact that for Cliff Lee, Hunter Pence and Shane Victorino they received no impact prospects is an abject failure.

Ethan Martin still has sky high walk rates (5.21 at AAA in ’13) and Phillippe Aumont’s are downright insane (9.59/9 in AAA and 6.05/9 in the Majors). Tommy Joseph saw time at AAA, but was limited to 36 unimpressive games last year due to a concussion and related symptoms. Even prior to his injury, he fell somewhere between a bad and lackluster hitter at previous levels of the minors.

The System:
As far as the home grown talent the Phillies have held onto, since 2008 the system has left them with little more than Darren Ruf, Tyler Cloyd, Freddie Galvis, John Mayberry Jr, Domonic Brown and Cody Asche.

Ruf is a DH, and not a particularly promising one. Cloyd is a back-of-the-rotation starter. Galvis is a replacement level utility player. Mayberry is a replacement level fourth outfielder with no defensive value or speed. Cody Asche may yet be the best of the group, having put up solid numbers with peripherals to match in the high levels of the minors before holding his own in a late call-up last season.

Domonic Brown is a mirage. Don’t let one good half with the stick fool you into thinking he will be the cornerstone of any future winners in Philadelphia. In the outfield Brown is brutally ugly, hobbling after balls like a man twice his age. He cost his squad more runs defensively (-15.9 per Fangraphs) than he created on offense in 2013 despite hitting 27 home runs. He is a dead pull hitter, whose ISO after the break was .121, as compared with .262 in the first half. He doesn’t walk, run or field, which means the only thing he lacks in terms of being an ideal extension candidate (based on the Phillies’ philosophy of chucking money around) is that he is not yet 35 years old.

Spending Dumb on Old:
If the farm system has been the belly ache of this franchise, their willingness, no eagerness, to throw money into a wood-chipper for aging players has been it’s throbbing ulcer. This is a team that voluntarily rostered Michael and Delmon Young last season after already featuring extreme defensive potholes in left field and at first base.

And if you think they’ve learned from their mistakes (Ryan Howard contract), let’s call to light the most recent investments the Phillies have made.

– Chase Utley, age 35 –  2/$27MM extension with 3 vesting options, worth $15MM each.
– Carlos Ruiz, age 34 – 3/$26MM extension with a team option for a fourth year
– Marlon Byrd, age 36 – signed as a free agent, 2/$16MM with a vesting option on a third year.

Add to that a rapidly declining Jimmy Rollins (age 35), who is entering the final year of an extension signed in 2011.

On the pitching side, $45MM is a lot of money, but Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels are both damn fine pitchers. However, no closer is worth $13MM a year. Jonathan Papelbon has provided 2.4 WAR in two years, for which the Phillies have payed him $24MM. That’s a bargain compared to what they’re paying Howard, so maybe they can’t even tell how obscene it truly is. Papelbon will get $26MM between this season and next, before his deal ends.

Let’s take a second to swing wildly away from this topic and then swiftly, if not jarringly back to it.

When I was in college I went through a phase where I was “looking for answers” of a spiritual variety and I explored a host of options. During this year-long folly, I was once told “you may say you worship one thing, you may even believe that you worship it, but if your actions tell another story, well then that’s what you really worship.” And while the concept of worship has outlived it’s usefulness for me, this is still a valuable piece of logic.

Based on what the Phillies practice, what would we say they believe? What should we think, based solely on their actions, that they are trying to do?

They are trying to establish a core of players in their mid-thirties, all of which are either badly damaged goods, have been busted recently for PEDs, and who have defensive values, which are either negative or rapidly approaching zero. They would like, as often as possible, to do this without hedging their bets with young talent in the pipeline.

Now that’s the presentation to give in your interview for a GM job! Can’t you just see the stock photograph of two teams of businessmen in black suits shaking hands under the florescent bathed cubicle rows, outside the conference room where the guy with the folder under his arm just hash tag fucking nailed it!

Above all the aforementioned failures and shortcomings of the organization, the most damaging of all is that the Phillies don’t know when they have been wrong so often and for so long, that they need to trade the valuable pieces they have in order to start rebuilding. This lack of critical thinking and self-awareness leaves them treading toilet water and it ultimately means, that as grotesque as the Phillies have been to look at for the last couple years, the next three should be like doing a google image search for skin diseases. Enjoy.

Continued in Part 2: The White Sox

[R.A. Rowe]

Kevin Towers: On Both Sides

There is something I have always known. It is a truth that is to me, so unquestionable in every regard, and yet somehow still seems blurry for many. I feel like Darwin in the Galapagos: alone with my discovery, knowing much of the world will continue on as before, in spite of it.

Kevin Towers is Two Very Different General Managers

I have been saying it since I was 13; a bitter Padres fan, disappointed by an awful season, following a brutal World Series loss at the hands of the unstoppable 1998 Yankees. Kevin Towers has always had one great skill, which is to evaluate pitchers. This makes him one of the most proficient executives in the game, when it comes to building a bullpen from nothing. He did it many times in San Diego. The problem is, that an entire bullpen is likely worth about as much as one average position player in terms of WAR.

Towers has always been employed by ownership groups weary of signing huge free-agents, which makes drafting well all the more imperative. Unfortunately this is an area of incompetence. He is incapable of picking diamonds from the rough, and while proudly referring to his scouting pedigree, if you read between the lines, even he seems to admit that his greatest weakness is evaluating position players.

For the last two months he has been broadcasting this deficiency in high definition, while also showing that his ability to handle the task of managing a pitching staff is untarnished.

I’m not going to grade each move, because I don’t think that makes any sense, but here is the rundown.

Traded Chris Young for Heath Bell and Cliff Pennington.
Heath Bell got too much money from Miami (3yrs/$27MM). Closers are easy to come by, their impact on the game is minor, and Heath Bell isn’t a very good one. But with Towers only taking on $8MM of the remaining $21MM on Bell’s stupid contract, it’s a safe move. He could be a solid setup man, but nothing more.

As for the rest of the trade, Young had become expendable with Adam Eaton looking very polished in his debut. But the fact that the Diamondbacks returned no talent in the form of cost controlled prospects ranks this as the first of three trades in which Towers sold a talented player for fifty cents on the dollar. Meanwhile the A’s have again stolen a useful piece for another underdog campaign.

Pennington is a good defender, but awful with the bat (65 wRC+ in 2012), and will serve as a utility infielder with Didi Gregorius likely getting the shot as the everyday man.

Signed Cody Ross 3yrs/$26MM
A decent corner outfielder with pop, yes. And he is likely to find Chase Field very hosbitable. But for a club who, at the time had four starting-caliber outfielders and a built-in fifth in young, cheap A.J. Pollock, spending dough for Ross is bizarre. Even given the club’s desire to deal Justin Upton or Jason Kubel. An outfield of Kubel, Eaton and Parra, or Parra, Eaton and Upton is a fine one. It’s not that bringing in Ross hurts the club, but putting money into positions of strength, rather than weakness could. Unless the D-Backs deal Kubel, I’m not seeing the rationale here.

Signed Brandon McCarthy 2yrs/$15.5MM
Going into the offseason, the market for starting pitchers had the potential for three great bargains. Shaun Marcum, Brandon McCarthy, and Dan Haren. Of course there are risks associated with all three, but the arm with the most favorable dollars to worries ratio is certainly McCarthy, 29. Towers diagnosed the situation perfectly, bringing in McCarthy, a pitcher tailored for success in Arizona, to make up for the loss of Daniel Hudson until July or August. Concerns over his head injury are an overreaction. A history of shoulder issues is the reason for the discount.

Traded Trevor Bauer and two others for Didi Gregorius, Lars Anderson, and Tony Sipp.
I don’t think Trevor Bauer stands much of a chance of living up to the hype. I just don’t see a way that his command improves as much as it needs to for him to be even a number 2 in the big leagues. But I think there are clubs who still think he can be a top of the rotation pitcher. The problem with this deal is that Towers sent him to one of the clubs that doesn’t.

The Reds and Indians sent a paltry package to Arizona, including a surplus shortstop in Didi Gregorius. His bat was below average at AAA, he rarely steals a base, and he is only above average defensively. He can hold down the position, but will not be impressive in any facet of the game. How Towers could not manage to snag a surplus shortstop from a talented mix of four players, spanning the minors in Cleveland’s organization is beyond me. The deal netted Cincinnati Shin-Soo Choo.

Rule of Thumb: Trading a high ceiling starting pitcher just to help another club get an outfielder is a poor tactic for competing with the juggernauts in your division (SF and LA).

Traded Justin Upton and Chris Johnson for Martin Prado, Randall Delgado, Nick Ahmed and Brandon Drury.
Towers was able recognize a good trade package for Upton when offered one, agreeing to send him to the Mariners for Nick Franklin and Taijuan Walker, both very good prospects, Walker being elite. But Upton blocked the trade; Seattle being one of four teams on his no-trade list. The talent involved in the M’s package was more a reflection of Seattle’s desperation than any skill on the part of Towers. Just this offseason The Mariners essentially traded John Jaso for Michael Morse, signed Raul Ibanez and Jason Bay, and traded Jason Vargas for Kendrys Morales, giving them six DHs (including Jesus Montero). The M’s are arguably still bat starved, but now can claim to have six of the game’s worst defenders as well. But back to Towers…

After signing Cody Ross while already in possession of Jason Kubel, Gerardo Parra, Upton, and Adam Eaton, Towers had to unload an outfielder. With zero leverage, he eventually parted with his extremely talented 24 year old superstar and an average third baseman (Johnson), for one year of Martin Prado, a third competitor for the fifth spot in the rotation (Delgado), a shortstop who stands a decent chance of never making the big leagues (Ahmed), a minor league reliever (Zeke Spruill) and a non-prospect first baseman (Drury). With Upton’s name being dragged around in shit every 3 days, it was only a matter of time before they had to give him away for free.

Now rumors are circulating that there will be two complementary moves as a result of this deal.

Signing Prado to a 4-year extension.
This is the stranger part of the Upton trade. With 22-year old Matt Davidson mashing at AA last season and destined for AAA Reno in 2013, my original thought was “why in the hell would you sign Martin Prado to an extension?” But there are two possible reasons. Maybe Towers is thinking of keeping Prado on as an outfielder after Davidson debuts, declining Kubel’s mutual option for 2014. Or perhaps the club will not resign Aaron Hill, when his contract expires after 2013. Prado has been a comfortably above average defender at 2B, 3B and in LF over his career. He is also one year younger than Aaron Hill.

Still, better to acquire a cost controlled young player than a guy you have to extend just to make a deal come close to being worth it, and to avoid giving up a draft pick.

Dealing Ahmed for Rick Porcello.
This obviously would not be a one-for-one swap, in fact I will be somewhat surprised if this comes together at all. But if Skaggs, Corbin or Delgado are involved in the deal, I guess I also wouldn’t be shocked if they agree on something. If I’m Dave Dombrowski, I’m trying for Skaggs. On the surface, shipping one of those cost-controlled arms might seem unintelligent, but when you have a solid surplus, it starts making some sense. Porcello’s ground ball rate, FIP, K/9, BB/9 and HR/9 are all trending in the right direction, he’s only 24 and he has been very durable.

The Prescription

You see? Kevin Towers has a plan, and he is trying to execute it, but he just can’t fight his nature. Some of the moves on the pitching side are savvy, and could really pay off, but any value they create is undercut by the clueless valuations of the position players traded away as well as the position players brought in. To summarize, Kevin Towers traded Chris Young, Trevor Bauer and Justin Upton for a utility infielder, a declining reliever with a bad body, a below average shortstop, a lefty specialist, a sixth starter, Martin Prado, a handful of boring prospects, and a couple of guys who have no business thinking of playing in the major leagues. At this point in Towers’ career, where we are seeing the same mistakes occurring again and again, it’s time he is required to have a strong assistant GM tasked with evaluating position players both inside and outside the organization. That is, if the Diamondbacks don’t bag him after the season, when the Snakes finish 4th.

Where Free Agency is Heading

Baseball as a game has been changing between the lines for as long as the game has been played. Since the beginning of free agency alone, we have seen an era of speed on artificial turf give way to a game of power in beautiful, classic parks. That age, too has come to pass and we enter a period of balance, with due attention paid to defense and baserunning. Baseball as a business has boomed, and as TV networks are built in its service, it booms again. But strangely, the richest clubs do not have as much of an advantage as they did before. Indeed the era of balance has reached into baseball’s economics as well.

The Pioneers

In 2008 The Tampa Bay Rays found themselves analyzing how to build upon the success they had just achieved, having made the World Series after enduring a decade of humility in the cellar of the AL East. They could not spend their way into perpetual contention like the Red Sox and Yankees. Nor could they trade away the young talent that had just won them an American League Championship, in exchange for established stars; at least not sustainably. They struggled now with question of how to retain their own players, as they headed toward the open market. They would solve this problem for themselves in a way that would have wide influence on the league and could be permanently altering the nature of how organizations and players approach free agency.

The Past

Traditionally, the transformation from draftee/signee, to prospect, to Major Leaguer, to free agent would have unfolded like this: A franchise drafts and signs a player out of high school or college, or at the age of 16 internationally. Then the player works his way up to the Major Leagues, where the club enjoys 3 years of very fixed cost performance, followed by modest increases in pay (compared to free agents) through arbitration, each year for the next three seasons. After these six years of “club control,” the player becomes a free agent, and in the case of the young star, the player hits the open market at age 28 or 29 with considerable ability to earn prime wealth during his prime years.

The Era of “Prime Shrink”

During the PED era a star player’s prime could last from ages 28-36 – perhaps longer – during which he could possibly sign 2 rich free agent contracts. One at the end of the club control phase, and one after the expiration of the first free agent deal. One major aspect of the astronomical sums paid for free agents surrounding that era was the fact that the player could be expected to sustain a high performance plateau into his mid 30s.

Now, a player’s prime again lands within a sweet spot of about 28-32, with a natural decline coming more surely. This means that players reaching free agency at age 28 are far more likely to live up to a rich new deal than players reaching free agency at the age of 32 or older. This fact is still not being totally reflected in the market for players over 30, but it is being reflected in how general managers are dealing with players still under club control.

The Present Trend

in April 2008, after just half a season in the big leagues, Evan Longoria signed a $17.5MM, 6 year contract extension, and signaled the beginning of an era. The Rays had began to buy out years of club control and arbitration years at a cost slightly higher than they would have payed, if they had let the player reach arbitration naturally. But they also began buying out several free agent years at a substantially cheaper price than the player would have commanded on the open market. In 2011 Matt Moore became the most recent of the Rays to signin this way. After a phenomenal call-up and post season, he signed a 5 year extension worth $14MM, plus three club options, which could bring the total contract to 8 years and $37.5MM.

The rest of the league took swift note. One month after the Rays inked Longo to his extension, the Brewers locked up star leftfielder Ryan Braun for 8 years and $51MM. A year later, the Nationals got third baseman Ryan Zimmerman signed to a $45MM pact covering his arbitration years, as well as 3 free agent seasons. Even the Pirates, one of the most poorly run and perpetually underfunded clubs in the league, managed to extend star center-fielder Andrew McCutchen for 6 years.

But the clubs aren’t the only party benefitting from this wave of early extensions. The players realize that $30-50MM after one or two years of productive baseball, has the ability to make them a rich man for life. They know that nothing is guaranteed in professional athletics, and the security of tens of millions of dollars today, outweighs the appeal of an uncertain jackpot 4 or 5 years down the road. The players union has made no effort to work against this practice, and we have yet to see a club get truly burned by one of these deals. So, thus far it appears both sides have found something equitable and secure about doing business this way, which seems to suggest it will face no obstacles in its proliferation.

What is Next

With the rise in club friendly extensions, a lot of great players will not hit the open market until they turn 30, 31, or 32. This, coupled with the increasing ineffectiveness of aging players, means that lengthy, super-rich contracts like the one Albert Pujols received last year from the Angels, are going to become increasingly rare. It’s a long shot, but if aging superstars become a market inefficiency, watch for Billy Beane to exploit this in order to fill out his rosters for a couple of years.

Additionally, as teams who have extended young stars fall out of contention, they will be able to garner considerable prospect hauls by trading players under such club-friendly pacts. This incentive to trade in the service of rebuilding quickly could lead to a rise in trades, that see teams entering or already within contention selling quality prospects for players in their mid-20s. Whereas the Yankees model of buying high-priced, aging stars should see a steep decline.

With aging stars no longer looking as attractive to teams, more short-term deals can be expected for players 32 and older. Players like Shane Victorino probably could have expected to get a longer deal in the past, instead of settling for 3 years at $39/MM, as he did this off-season. So concerned are teams that players are going to break down sooner, that Victorino was talked about as a fourth outfielder in rumors this winter. Meanwhile, even guys that are just comfortably above average, who hit free agency at age 28 can expect ferocious competition for their services. Anibal Sanchez is certainly an example of this phenomenon.

The Test of Time

Early extensions are still young, but already seem entrenched in the economy of the sport, and appear poised for a long stay. Their tests will come, as players who turn out to be one year flukes, or as players who end up extremely limited by injury become beneficiaries of the practice. In the 2000s advanced statistics changed baseball strategies regarding what to spend money on. Now, we can watch a chain reaction started by their most ardent disciples, the Rays, do the same by maximizing returns based on when, in a player’s career arc, to spend it.

[RA Rowe]

Mentoring Troubled GMs: Josh Byrnes

I recently volunteered some time to a very important cause. MLB has set up a network of mentors for at-risk GMs in inner-city neighborhoods. I drew the tough task of mentoring a troubled but talented young fellow named Josh Byrnes. It should be noted that I think the chap has potential, and has pulled off some killer trades. But some of the peripheral stuff that got him fired in Arizona may be resurfacing. In our first meeting I bought him a Happy Meal and made sure to give him some good advice.

1. Closers Are Easy to Find

If your team doesn’t have much money, don’t sign an injury-prone closer with middling stuff to a long term deal. Did you know that anyone can close? It’s true! Any league average reliever can be installed as closer and achieve success at the position. Carlos Marmol and Brian Wilson are great examples of shitty pitchers who get lots of those “Saves” everyone still thinks are so neat. $7MM a year for Huston Street? Brad Brach, Miles Mikolas, Dale Thayer; just stick one of ’em in there. It’s all about opportunity.

Here’s a related tip: It’s best to have your top setup guy be the best reliever in your pen. That way you can deploy him when you need to prevent runs most, rather than just when leading in the ninth inning. The Giants kept Sergio Romo as their 8th inning guy even after Wilson went down, instead turning to Santiago Casilla in the 9th, because Romo is more dependable.

2. Short on Cash? Save For What’s Important.

If your team doesn’t have much money, then don’t sign an injury-prone (geez this sounds familiar) leftfielder who is 20 runs below average on defense. Carlos Quentin’s WAR was worse than Jamey Carroll’s last year. Oh, did you just barf in your mouth? Me too. Yes, $30MM over three seasons for Quentin is a bargain to the market in general, but sort of irresponsible when you have a franchise player you need to re-sign.

3. It’s okay to non-tender bad players.

Why tender a bad defender (lousy at 1B and horrific in the outfield), with a terrible track record of health at a position of organizational depth? Matt Clark is already rotting at AAA. If you would have just protected Nate Frieman instead of Jaff Decker in the rule 5, you’d have had another younger, healthy option within the organization, for less money. Freiman and Clark also both carry the added benefit of having had success at baseball recently. Something neither Decker nor Blanks can claim.

4. In the Rule 5: Protect Players Other Teams Might Actually Select

Decker will never have any value at the MLB level. Did you really think another team would be so desperate for a bad bodied corner outfielder who produced an ISO of .109 last year that they would put him on their Opening Day roster? Having more than a one-step plan at any given time would help with these kinds of moves.

5. Have more than a one-step plan.

Two or even three-step plans are much more complicated, but trust me, it’s worth the extra work. Don’t just do stuff so it seems like you’re working.

6. Get the Most Out of Trading Prospects

Don’t trade a top of the line hitting prospect (Anthony Rizzo) for a fireballer (Andrew Cashner) and then not turn him into a starter. Just make sure that when Cashner comes back you put him in that rotation, Byrnes-y.

7. Don’t Overreact.

The kind of disaster that you faced last year with pitching depth is probably never going to happen again. You don’t need starting pitching depth, you need a right-fielder. Will Venable is a platoon player whose platoon partner, Chris Denorfia, is a horrible defender.

Here are your internal candidates for the rotation: Clayton Richard, Edinson Volquez, Anthony Bass, Casey Kelly, Eric Stults, Tyson Ross and Jason Marquis. Plus, Cory Luebke, Joe Wieland and Andrew Cashner will be coming back from injury before the All-Star break to add depth as the season goes, should a string of injuries unfold.

I’m not counting Robbie Erlin becuase you don’t want to start his service-time clock just yet. But since you already had to start Casey Kelly’s I’m expecting him to be in the rotation in 2013.

8. No More Brother-Brother Shit

You’re not writing scripts for Disney movies. I know that Joe/Tyson Ross are your first set of brothers, but the organization has been doing this for years and nobody thinks it’s cute anymore. (Chris/Tony Gwynn, Edgar/Adrian Gonzalez, Marcus/Brian Giles, Scott/Jerry Hairston.) Come to think of it, the sons of former big leaguers thing needs to be shut down, too. Unless the player is actually good, this is just a sad cry for attention.

9. Don’t Extend 36 Year-Old, Replacement Level Players

Are you kidding me!? Mark Kotsay!? You have Venable, Denorfia and Guzman on this team. You could have kept Tekotte (he hits left-handed). Kotsay has been at or below replacement level for five out of the last seven seasons. You couldn’t just let him walk? Don’t say it’s because of leadership intangibles, that’s what coaches are for. Players need to contribute value on the field.

10. Get Bats

If you had non-tendered Venable and Blanks, and not extended Street ($7MM), then not signed Jason Marquis, you could have signed Brandon McCarthy or Dan Haren, and then packaged a surplus young SP for a rightfielder. For some inspiration, call up Billy Beane a call and ask him to tell you about how he stole Josh Reddick. I’m not sure what the Pirates wanted for Starling Marte last season, but it might have been worth it.

For an organization that struggles dearly to lure FA hitters, you have to develop and trade for offense. Let the pitchers flock to their paradise as they will naturally want to do.

Conclusion

All in all Josh-y, you have done a very good job at coming out ahead in trades. But the rest of the decisions need work. See, there’s a reason your job title is not “Trade Master.” You have to learn how to manage the team in general. See what I did there? Let’s talk again soon huh, Red?

[RA ROWE]

Dodgers: $240MM of Uncertainty

Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

Over the past six months, the Los Angeles Dodgers have sent a clear message to their fans and their competition, as to how they will be conducting business moving forward. The approach is simple: “Spend Huge.” It is as un-nuanced a plan as can be devised, but even still, there are many question marks twisting behind the classic, rigid serifs of the linking “L” and “A,” and not just for this year.

The Rotation

The Dodgers have a 1-2 punch that will rival that of the Giants, after adding Zack Greinke. But after the new righty, the drop-off is steep. Chad Billingsley strained his UCL in the middle of last season. And fact that this injury has healed without surgery should not entirely settle concerns about the stout right-hander. UCL strains are a warning sign that the ligament is compromised.

Speaking of compromise, Josh Beckett will almost certainy be in the rotation to start the season, and I find it interesting that even among the most optimistic Dodger fans, there is little delusion about how mediocre a pitcher Josh Beckett is. He has been sliding for some time and depending on how that trend continues in 2013, the Dodgers may be forced to slide him out of the rotation.

The Dodger’s also signed Korean lefty Ryu Hyun-jin to a six year deal worth $36MM. But it remains to be seen whether he will actually be capable of starting in the big leauges. And given the fact that his fastball sits at about 91 mph, it will be interesting to find out if he can do anything more than stick as a left-handed specialist. The deal looks like a steal for a 25 year-old starter, but $36MM is a lot to spend for a LOOGY.

As far as any question marks with Greinke go, do not pay them any heed. The righty is one of the most consistent and competent pitchers of the last five years. He is a fierce competitor and has a clean, athletic delivery, which has helped him maintain ace stuff. Those members of the media that still point to his history of anxiety issues are simply ignoring the fact that this young man has excelled amid the constant pressure of the Major Leagues, without significant incident, since 2006.

The other thing the rotation has going for it is that Los Angeles still has Chris Capuano, Ted Lilly, and Aaron Harang on their roster. So, even if Beckett and Ryu fail, the floor for the rotation remains high. If nothing else, this should make for one of the more fascinating position battles when spring rolls around.

Declining Stars

IHowever if you want to talk about stars with issues, Los Angeles has plenty of conversation starters. After signing Andre Ethier to a decent, but questionable deal, Ned Coletti stole Adrian Gonzalez and Hanley Ramirez from limping Goliaths in exchange for major salary relief. In 2013, the Dodgers will pay Carl Crawford enough money to make Mitt Romney blush, and they will hope that 2011 was an aberration. Crawford is the biggest question mark, but that’s okay. At worst he should be a league average left-fielder with some speed. What the Dodgers can’t afford is for Adrian Gonzalez’s power to continue to fade, while Hanley Ramirez continues to swing more and more recklessly.

A-Gon’s isolated power (ISO) has been consistently sinking from a lofty .270 in 2009, to .164 in 2012, finishing just ahead of Mariners 3B Kyle Seager.  A whole season of the .145 figure from his time with the Dodgers last year would have placed Gonzalez between Norichika Aoki and Neil Walker. Meanwhile, at shortstop, Hanley Ramirez saw his production rebound nicely from a disastrous 2011 campaign, but swung at pitches out of the zone 30.5% of the time, his first season breaching 30%. It’s easy to pitch around a batter who swings at pitches out of the zone. Meanwhile Hanley’s defense was 10 runs below average for the third straight season at shortstop, and was nearly as poor at third base.

The Money

You knew it was coming. Last month it was widely reported the Dodgers were close to completing a $6B dollar TV-deal with Fox. What has been less widely reported is that the Dodger ownership group may have misunderstood the language in their deal with MLB, regarding what income is put into the shared revenue pool. The Dodgers believed that their ownership stake in the network would have protected all but $1 billion of the TV deal from revenue sharing. The actual figure is twice as large, according to Forbes. This has the Dodgers scrambling to figure out how to maximize television revenues, perhaps abandoning the deal with Fox entirely. This should send Dodgers fans into a bit of a panic, and has already sent me rolling on the floor laughing.

Dodger fans can be as proud as they want that their team is now seemingly flush with cash, and they can be as proud as they want about what this team may accomplish on the field. But I hope that Dodger fans realize that they is not much to be proud of regarding the way this team was put together. It was not built with cunning and patience, but with blunt force. This is why L.A. has to gamble on stars with problems. Adrian Gonzalez and Hanley Ramirez could just as easily crush this team as carry it. Aside from the Zack Greinke signing and Matt Kemp’s extension (both total no-brainers), there are no reasons to dispense “Coletti for Mayor” bumper stickers. The bright side is that the gunslinging mentality that has changed the Dodgers completely, may not have any effect on competitive balance in the NL West.

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