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2016 MLB thread. Baseball is upon us! Royals are the champs - Page 298

post #8911 of 73405
If you voted for Miggy you simply don't get it. You don't get how runs are scored, how they are prevented and how playoff caliber baseball teams are built. It's a very simple litmus test for your baseball IQ, and it seems that the BBWA failed it.
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Instagram. | just my art and photography. #NT will follow back. Also Flickr.
post #8912 of 73405
Thread Starter 
Phillies at the center of free agency.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
The Phillies are competing with many other teams for free-agent outfielders, but as this market plays out, they figure to get either their top choice or at least one of their top choices. There is no absolutely perfect fit in the way that Roy Halladay was a perfect fit. But there are a lot of good options for Philadelphia, and the domino it pushes in the center-field market may be the first to fall.

Consider the options ...

B.J. Upton

Why he fits: He would give the Phillies a superlative center fielder with speed, power and youth; Upton is 28 years old, the youngest of the free agents whom the Phillies are seriously considering. He is a right-handed hitter who could help balance out a lineup that tends to be a little too left-handed, with Chase Utley and Ryan Howard. He could lead off against lefties for the Phillies, given his .792 OPS against them in 2012. And unlike some of the other candidates, the perception about Upton is that he still has a chance to get better, and more consistent, than he's been so far; he may still be developing.

Why he doesn't fit: His strikeouts -- 169 this past season -- could be a concern, given the presence of Howard, who also produces more than a strikeout per game. Teams can live with one hitter like that, but two big-time strikeout guys can wreck rallies; just ask the Rays, who had difficulty getting production with Carlos Pena, Luke Scott and Upton hitting in the middle of their lineup. The Phillies undoubtedly will ask questions about whether Upton would be comfortable playing in Philadelphia and how he would handle the inevitable booing. Friends of Upton say they think he would be fine there and cite the presence of new Philadelphia hitting coach Steve Henderson -- who served as Upton's hitting coach in Tampa Bay -- as a big plus.

What he does well: Field his position. In recent years, Upton has ranked among the best center fielders in a lot of defensive metrics.

What he doesn't do well: Hit hard throwers. According to, Upton batted .168 against power pitchers last year, with no homers in 107 at-bats.

The biggest hurdle to making a deal: Other teams are interested, including the Braves, and Upton will be expensive. With Torii Hunter, it was about picking the right place. With Upton, it may all come down to the bidding.

Angel Pagan

Why he fits: Pagan is an energy player and a leadoff hitter, and the Phillies could really use both of those elements of his game. Last season, the Philadelphia leadoff hitters ranked 20th in OBP at .318; Pagan had a .338 OBP for the Giants. Pagan, 31, would presumably hit more home runs in Philadelphia than the eight he had for San Francisco last season; he had 61 extra-base hits for the Giants. As a switch-hitter, he could help to balance the Philadelphia lineup. He had a .799 OPS against right-handers and a .737 OPS against left-handers. Pagan can run -- he had 29 stolen bases -- although he's not regarded as a burner.

[+] Enlarge

Kelley L Cox/USA Today Sports
The Phillies could use Pagan's glove and ability to lead off.

Why he doesn't fit: Pagan doesn't have the kind of track record that someone like Josh Hamilton or Michael Bourn has, so to sign him, the Phillies would have to take a leap of faith that Pagan's next four or five seasons (presumably, that's the kind of deal it would take to sign him) would be more like his past two seasons than his first years in the big leagues. Pagan is generally regarded as an average defensive center fielder -- although he fared better in the UZR/150 metric in 2012 than Shane Victorino or Upton, and only two outfielders were given credit for more out-of-zone plays than Pagan.

What he does well: He hit well in later innings last season, suggesting he reacts well to pitching changes. In high-leverage situations, he batted .346.

What he doesn't do well: He hasn't hit well in Philadelphia in 26 career games there.

Biggest hurdle: It may be that the Phillies or some other team will make an offer to Pagan, and then the Giants, who just won a championship with Pagan playing center field, will swoop in to match or improve upon the offer.

Shane Victorino

Why he fits: They know him, of course, and know he can be part of a championship team. He's a good outfielder, he's a switch-hitter, he hammers lefties, and given his disappointing 2012 season -- during which the Phillies traded him -- his price tag has to be lower than it was last spring, when he wanted a five-year deal.

Why he doesn't fit: If the Phillies re-sign Victorino, it's not going to feel like an inspired choice for their club executives. They had Victorino for most of last season, and both struggled. They can't change anything with Howard or Utley or Jimmy Rollins, given their contract situations, and after finishing 19th in the majors in runs, it figures they'll want to change something.

What he does well: He is an incredibly efficient base stealer. Over the past three seasons, Victorino has 92 steals in 107 attempts, including his 39/45 SB/CS for the Phillies and Dodgers in 2012.

What he does not do well: He is not a high-OBP guy, having posted a .321 in '12.

The biggest hurdle to making a deal: The Phillies' need for a shake-up.

Josh Hamilton

Why he fits: On his best days, he's the best left-handed hitter in baseball, with the sweetest swing and the most power. Even in a season in which Hamilton was scrutinized and criticized for the valleys among the peaks of his performance, he clubbed 43 homers and drove in 128 runs. The home park in Philadelphia wouldn't be that different from Texas -- and anyway, he could hit anywhere, when focused and locked in; his OPS at home and on the road were almost identical. He's also a decent outfielder, though maybe not in center.

Why he doesn't fit: Let's start with the secondary concern. He would be an imperfect fit as an everyday center fielder; he rated the second-worst in the majors defensively in the UZR/150 metric last season.

But in the Phillies' internal discussions about Hamilton, the most significant question is about the risk -- about the possible unknowns with his off-the-field conduct, and about his tendency to lose his concentration for weeks at a time, which was highlighted in his on-the-field collapse down the stretch last season. One Philadelphia official said he would have no problem agreeing to Hamilton's annual salary demands, which are in the $20-25 million range, but he, like other executives, just isn't comfortable committing to more than a relatively short-term deal of, say, three years.

What he does well: Hamilton is, at his best, the pre-eminent power hitter in the majors. Over the past five seasons, he's got 142 homers and 506 RBIs, and he was the centerpiece of a team that played in two World Series.

What he doesn't do well: His impatience at the plate is legendary. Nobody in the majors swung at the first pitch more often than Hamilton in 2012, a problem/habit that led to a whole lot of empty at-bats. He had 208 plate appearances that ended with the pitcher ahead in the count, compared to 188 when he was ahead, far too few for a hitter as dangerous as he. Contrast that with Miguel Cabrera: He had 263 plate appearances end with him ahead in the count and 194 when the pitcher was ahead in the count.

The biggest hurdle: The contract ask, relative to the risk/reward.

Michael Bourn

Why he fits: The Phillies need help in the leadoff spot, and Bourn would do that, and he would improve their defense; last year, Bourn was one of the best defenders at any position, ranking No. 1 overall in FanGraphs' UZR/150. And the Phillies know Bourn, a player they drafted in 2003, developing him before he was traded to Houston in the deal for Brad Lidge five years ago, and understand what a great teammate can be. Bourn is coming off what was a good season, overall, for the Braves, although he had a significant dip in offensive production in the second half, when he hit .225. Scouts believe Bourn was playing through injury.

Why he doesn't fit: Money. Bourn is likely to get the second-highest salary among the free-agent outfielders, behind Hamilton, and agents expect that Bourn -- who turns 30 next month -- will get a contract of at least five years. There are other imperfections, as well. Bourn is a left-handed hitter and the Phillies could use a right-handed bat, and with Utley's power diminished, Philadelphia might be looking for a little more bang for its buck with this signing. Bourn is more of a slash-and-burn hitter.

What he does well: He's among the best baserunners in the majors, having led the league in stolen bases in three different seasons.

What he doesn't do well: For a player whose game is built on speed, his on-base percentage is probably not optimal. His career-high is .363, and he was at .348 last season.

The biggest hurdle: It would probably feel really good for the Phillies to get Bourn back in the fold, knowing the type of person that he is. But the contract ask, relative to his extra-base production, might just be too high for Philadelphia.


• The Phillies are looking for power in 2013, writes Bob Brookover.

• The Marlins signed Juan Pierre, who has 2,141 hits, to end a week in which they got lambasted in public opinion.

And here's more from Dan Le Batard, who writes that the Marlins look foolish and immoral. From his column:

The Marlins spent money like drunk rock stars at the winter meetings on whatever free agents happened to be available, abandoning their core principles with a recklessness that, while exciting, was not only out of character but also debaucherous. This cruel and random sport's history is littered with expensive failures who thought it mattered to win the offseason. The Marlins did this to create a buzz that is now long forgotten, replaced instead by something the customers view as betrayal and deceit. This is actually the perfect team for the state of Florida, where we specialize in foreclosures.

Any healthy relationship has a foundation of trust, but here is where we are with our dysfunction: We don't trust middle management to get the right players. We don't trust upper management to keep those players if by some miracle they are the right ones. And we don't trust upper, upper management to fire middle or upper management for failing to acquire or keep the right players.

• The Arizona Fall League was decided on a protested call.

• The Jays are just about prepared to announce the identity of their next manager.

Moves, deals and decisions

1. Rymer Liriano is emerging as the Padres' right fielder of the future, writes Bill Center.

2. The Tigers have no plans to strike a deal with Anibal Sanchez.

3. The Cardinals' needs are simple for 2013, writes Bernie Miklasz. I think the St. Louis to-do list might be the shortest in the majors this offseason.

4. The Reds are bumping against the limits of their budget, as John Fay writes.

From John's story:

I was on a beach in Belize when I saw the report that the Reds had interest in Michael Bourn. I was shocked to learn that. Turns out, so was general manager Walt Jocketty. "You think we can afford him?" Jocketty said. Bourn will probably get at least $15 million a year over five years or so. With Billy Hamilton close, signing Bourn wouldn't make sense if the the Reds could afford him.

5. The Indians describe their payroll situation as fluid, writes Paul Hoynes.

Four key market forces at play.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Only 20 days have passed since Sergio Romo struck out Miguel Cabrera to end the World Series, but this offseason has already generated one of the biggest trades in history and some aggressive signings. There are many market forces at play, baseball officials and agents report. Among them:

1. The Sticker Shock
In the first days after the free-agency period began, agents presented their asking prices to general managers -- huge numbers, in many cases, such as Anibal Sanchez asking the Tigers for a deal in the range of $100 million. These suggested retail costs have been enhanced, of course, by the anticipated influx of cash into the market this winter.

The response of club executives has been a mad search for the best bargains on short-term deals; we are seeing the kind of deals in November that we typically see in January. This is why Oakland quickly jumped on Bartolo Colon on a one-year, $3 million deal, why the Rays pushed aggressively to get Joel Peralta locked into a two-year, $6 million deal, and why Scott Baker got a solid, one-year $5.5 million deal just six months after he had Tommy John surgery, and why so many teams are pushing for the low-cost options such as Jeremy Bonderman.

It won't be until after the best bargains are cleaned out, some executives believe, that the clubs will seriously start to consider the more expensive options of Sanchez, Kyle Lohse, et al.

2. The Prospect Love
Twenty years ago, most teams probably would've swapped a young, unproven minor leaguer such as Jurickson Profar for an established star such as Justin Upton without hesitating. Remember the day when the Mariners aggressively dealt for reliever Heathcliff Slocumb, dealing a couple of unknowns (at that time) named Derek Lowe and Jason Varitek?

Times have changed, and the perceived value of prospects has skyrocketed, almost to a point that some executives believe teams have started to cling too tightly to young players. "They're still prospects," one GM said this week, "meaning that anything can happen. You still don't know whether they can play in the big leagues."

A recent example: The market value of Texas infield prospect Mike Olt soared during the summer as teams scrambled to identify trade targets. The Rangers -- who have built a championship-caliber team through their player development -- kept Olt through the July 31 trade deadline, then called him up in August. Olt struggled in 40 plate appearances, going 5-for-33 with one extra-base hit, and rival officials believe his value on the open market took a major hit just from that that first brief showing.

Speaking generally -- and not specifically about Olt -- an NL executive said, "Sometimes, keeping a prospect feels like the safe thing. But that doesn't mean it's the right thing [to do.]"

Upton is an established big leaguer, and he is available, in the right deal. But to date, nobody has come close to meeting the Diamondbacks' asking price.

3. The Desperate Team Syndrome
The teams that typically drive the winter market -- the Yankees, the Red Sox, etc. -- don't seem to be playing that role. Rather, it's the teams starved for success. The Mariners are thought by agents to be in this mode, aggressively shopping around at a time when they are under a lot of pressure to do a big move. The Indians are in need of a big shakeup because of their search for good young starting pitching, which is why they are expected by other GMs to be in the middle of the trade market (Asdrubal Cabrera, Shin-Soo Choo, Chris Perez). And rival executives sensed that Toronto GM Alex Anthopoulos was itching to do something big, to push the Blue Jays back into relevancy. "He has been fishing around hard," said a friend.

He caught some Marlins, and, on Friday, Anthopoulos landed Melky Cabrera.

The surprise for me about Cabrera's signing was that he didn't take a one-year deal rather than two years. You knew he was going to get offers, in spite of his 50-game suspension, because baseball executives and owners are all trying to win and get the best players on their rosters, plain and simple. But if he had taken a one-year offer and gone through 2013 without a positive drug test, he could have made a case that what he accomplished over the past two years was legitimate -- then hit the market next fall with his value re-established.

But with the two-year deal, Cabrera gets the security of his first significant multiyear deal -- the $16 million, guaranteed -- and he goes to a great city with a relatively low-key media contingent, to be part of what is perceived to be a really good lineup. And by taking the two-year deal, the thinking is that this will remove the pressure on Cabrera to jump out to a quick start in 2013, to re-prove himself. He can hit the market again after a couple of seasons, at age 30.

The speed the Blue Jays have put together for their roster could be breathtaking:

SS Jose Reyes
LF Cabrera
RF Jose Bautista
1B Edwin Encarnacion
3B Brett Lawrie
CF Colby Rasmus
DH Adam Lind/Rajai Davis
C J.P. Arencibia
2B Emilio Bonifacio/Maicer Izturis

But keep in mind that the Blue Jays still have work to do because of the roster surpluses they have at catcher and in the outfield, with John Buck, Lind, Davis and Arencibia all candidates to be dealt. Davis is signed for next year, at $2.5 million.

Getting Cabrera adds intrigue to the Blue Jays' lineup, writes Bob Elliott.

4. The Dodgers
They loom over all talks this winter, like the hungriest uncle at the Thanksgiving feast, with the greatest hunger of any team we've seen since George Steinbrenner's Yankees in the first days of free agency in 1976.

The Dodgers are poised to get at least $150 million per season in local TV revenue, let alone the money they get from attendance or national TV dollars or any other source of income. No wonder the team just doesn't seem to care about painting within the lines of the economic structure laid out by the other 29 teams.

GM Ned Colletti has told some of his peers how different it is to operate under the current parameters: The working orders are essentially to make the team better, regardless of cost.

Some other teams thought the Dodgers' deal with the Red Sox was crazy -- but Dodgers' executives really didn't care how that trade was perceived. L.A. negotiated one of the first deals of the offseason with reliever Brandon League, a three-year, $22.5 million deal that has been widely panned within the industry as a clear overpay. Similarly, rival executives were stunned by the Dodgers' $25.7 million bid for a young Korean pitcher.

The bottom line to all of this: If the Dodgers target a player using their current methodology, they will win the bidding. The Yankees are increasingly concerned about painting within the lines, and so are the Red Sox and the Cubs and other big-market teams. Those boundaries don't really exist for the Dodgers, it appears.

The Rangers want Zack Greinke and are willing to be aggressive. The Angels want to keep Greinke. But ultimately, rival GMs predict, if the Dodgers intend to sign Greinke, they will get him. L.A. is also bidding for Hiroki Kuroda, whom they know well from his previous time with the team. "Cost is no object for them," said a GM. "They are playing a different game than the rest of us right now."


• It would be a shock if the Marlins don't trade Giancarlo Stanton sometime in the next 20 months because he's not happy with the team's dealings and it would be a stunner if he agreed to a multiyear deal with the team.

And hey, if the Marlins want to get the most value in return, sooner is always better than later; they might as well deal him now before his salary really starts to climb. I really don't think Stanton will be traded this winter, but the Marlins' officials certainly couldn't offend more folks than they have already if they did.

• The Nationals had dialogue with B.J. Upton. One reason he's an imperfect fit for Washington is that he's a right-handed hitter -- and the Nationals already have a lot of right-handed hitters.

• Baseball's climate is right for more salary dumps, writes Joel Sherman.

• Torii Hunter is the latest player to join the Tigers' hunt for a championship. A possible Detroit lineup:

CF Austin Jackson
RF Hunter
3B Miguel Cabrera
1B Prince Fielder
DH Victor Martinez
LF Andy Dirks/Avisail Garcia
SS Jhonny Peralta
C Alex Avila
2B Omar Infante

Pretty good. And the outfield defense will be greatly helped by Hunter's arrival.

Moves, deals and decisions

1. Scott Fletcher is among the candidates to be the hitting coach of the Red Sox, writes Michael Silverman.

2. The Orioles hired another national cross-checker.

3. The Phillies have a couple of options at third base, writes Jim Salisbury.

4. Pitching is still the priority for the Twins.

5. The Brewers also are still exploring the pitching market, said assistant GM Gord Ash.

6. Matt Garza has been cleared to pitch.

7. The Royals confirmed some minor league signings.

8. Sometimes, picking a manager is about getting the right guy rather than the best guy, says Pat Gillick.

9. Lance Berkman has a job lined up at Rice.

10. The Marlins hired their coaches.

11. The Rockies filled out their coaching staff, as Patrick Saunders writes.

12. The Padres traded for Tyson Ross.

Wilpons should re-sign Dickey or sell Mets.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
R.A. Dickey looked a little shaken after winning the Cy Young Award the other night, and you can't blame him, given the crazy journey that has taken him to this place -- the failures, the crushing disappointments, the renewal of a dream, and stardom, so late in his baseball life.

He thanked the New York Mets profusely for giving him a chance, for believing in him. He is a deeply thoughtful and sincere person, and he meant every word.

The backdrop to all of this, of course, is the ongoing debate about what the Mets will do with him -- sign him to an extension beyond the 2013 season, when he'll make $5 million, an incredible bargain, or trade him? The Mets have talked with other teams about a possible deal after not being thrilled with Dickey's asking price during negotiations.

Here's the bottom line: If the Mets don't figure out a way to re-sign the 38-year-old Dickey, the Wilpon family ought to sell the team. Seriously.

I'm sure the Mets are getting some trade interest from other teams, and maybe they will be offered some useful prospects. But it's very doubtful that another club is going to offer a star prospect for a knuckleball pitcher not far away from his 40th birthday. You might get a B-plus prospect, but the Mets aren't going to get Jurickson Profar for Dickey.

I'm sure that Dickey's contract demands -- whatever they are -- probably scare the Mets for the same reasons other teams won't give up prospects. He's old. His primary pitch is effective when thrown right, but a disaster when thrown poorly. The Mets' fears, deep down inside, would be shared by any other team in their situation: Dickey could go from the best pitcher in the NL to one of the worst very quickly if he can't throw his quirky pitch the right way.

But you know what? They're the New York Mets. They exist in the biggest market in the world. They aren't the Miami Marlins. They're not the Tampa Bay Rays. They should be able to take some risks, especially after next season, when Johan Santana's contract is set to expire.

I don't know exactly what the Mets are offering Dickey in an extension, nor exactly what he is asking for. But if the Mets put an aggressive two-year offer or a respectable three-year offer in front of him, I doubt he would turn it down. Because of his history, because of his journey. He appreciates everything he's gotten to this point. He's not trying to get a Zack Greinke deal, or a CC Sabathia contract.

And if the Mets fret over possibly overpaying Dickey, they can console themselves with the knowledge that they have been fortunate enough to greatly underpay the right-hander over the last couple of seasons and into next year. He's been an incredible dollar-for-production value.

He's coming off an historic season, for which he won the Cy Young Award. He presents zero risk as a person, because of his tremendous integrity.

Sign him. Pay him. Give the fans a reason to watch the team. The Mets have taken their payroll from $144 million to $92 million over the last two years, and it's probably going to remain in place or go down a little in 2013, depending on the moves they make. They should have the financial flexibility to feel good about re-signing Dickey to a multiyear deal beyond next year, and if their current financial circumstances prevent the Wilpon family from giving a well-earned extension to their breakout star and fan favorite, they should just unload the team to somebody who will operate it like the big-market club that it is.

Awards wrap

When you fill out an award ballot, you are looking for something that will clarify the decision for you, something that will simplify the choice. And I'd bet that the writers of the AL and NL MVPs were looking for that trap door out of making a difficult choice. I know, because I've been there.

Buster Posey versus Ryan Braun was a difficult choice, statistically. Braun had the better overall numbers, but I'd be willing to bet that some writers were fretting over the idea of putting him at No. 1 on their ballots given the events of last winter, when he had a positive PEDs test overturned on appeal.

But the fact that Posey's team made the playoffs -- and Braun's team did not -- provided that trap door. That made it easy. Through history, team success has played a significant role in the MVP voting. Just ask the ghosts of Ted Williams and Joe DiMaggio.

And the same was true for the AL MVP voting. Front-office types thought it was an absolute no-brainer for Trout to win, and those in uniform thought Cabrera was a ridiculously easy choice. But when the Tigers made the playoffs and the Angels didn't -- voila -- the easy out appeared for the writers. I don't blame some of them for taking it, because the Cabrera/Trout decision was an impossibly difficult choice.

Posey added an MVP trophy, writes Ann Killion.

Andrew McCutchen finished threw in the voting. Yadier Molina finished fourth.

Miguel Cabrera's win was for the fans, and a defeat for stat geeks, writes Mitch Albom. Major leaguers know Cabrera is the MVP, writes Lynn Henning.

Trout couldn't quite catch the award, writes Bill Plunkett.

Adam Jones finished sixth in the AL voting.

More trade fallout

• Before the Miami Marlins finished their megadeal, they talked to the Arizona Diamondbacks about Jose Reyes.

• Bud Selig says he's reviewing the whopper trade, but also is sending signals about which direction he is going with this.

Jeffrey Loria has created roadblocks for the Tampa Bay Rays, writes Gary Shelton.

Now David Samson says the Marlins will keep Ricky Nolasco. Not surprising, given the heat the franchise is taking. From a baseball standpoint, it would make complete sense for the Marlins to dump him, because they're not going to contend, but Miami is facing a lot of scrutiny lately for its payroll level.

Moves, deals and decisions

1. Jeffrey Loria makes the Wilpons look good, writes Ken Davidoff.

2. Ben Cherington ought to offer free agents massive one-year deals, writes John Tomase.

3. The Cleveland Indians have seen the price tags in the outfield market jump, writes Paul Hoynes. I'm guessing that Shane Victorino gets his best offer from the Indians.

4. The Atlanta Braves signed Gerald Laird to a two-year deal, and they played host to B.J. Upton on Thursday.

5. Soon enough, the Rangers will be adding fuel to the hot-stove fire, writes Randy Galloway. The Rangers are getting an idea of what will happen with Josh Hamilton, says Jon Daniels.

6. Ian Kinsler is open to changing positions. From the story:

"I think it's definitely possible," Kinsler said of a potential move. "I don't want to look that far into the future; I want to look at right now. But I don't see why it couldn't happen. Whatever it takes to win games. [Michael Young] has been very valuable to the club in his role. I want to be of value to the club any way I can. If that comes about, it's definitely something I'm willing to listen to." Kinsler will make $13 million in 2013, $16 million in 2014 and $2015, $14 million in 2016 and $11 million in 2017. The club holds a $10 million option for 2018 with a buyout of $5 million. If Kinsler plays all six years, he'd average $13.3 million per year. His five guaranteed years, however, are worth an average of $15 million.

The Rangers' top prospect is infielder Jurickson Profar, a natural shortstop who is also playing some second base this season at Double-A Frisco. Though only 19, Profar could be ready for the major leagues by next season. If so, the Rangers could potentially discuss moving Kinsler to the outfield to replace either Josh Hamilton or Nelson Cruz, both of whom can be free agents in the next two years.

7. Bud Selig supports the Chicago Cubs' strategy.

8. Cincinnati Reds GM Walt Jocketty opened up about the his plans. He's not signing Michael Bourn.

9. Brandon McCarthy has been cleared to resume all baseball activities.

10. Cleveland continues to ask for a significant return on shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera, with other clubs balking, and now interested executives are wondering if those demands will be gradually reduced, as we get closer to the winter meetings.

Hunter's deal a sign of inflation?
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Late this season, Major League Baseball completed new broadcast deals with ESPN, Fox and Turner Sports that will roughly double the amount of money the league receives from those three networks beginning in 2014. Couple those contracts with increasingly lucrative local TV deals, the highest regular-season attendance since 2008, the success of MLB Advanced Media, the new CBA's restrictions on how much teams can spend in the draft and on the international market, the trend toward locking up young players before they become free agents and the Los Angeles Dodgers' apparent willingness to make their fans forget Frank McCourt by becoming big-time buyers, and the stage appeared to be set for significant offseason inflation.

It's been less than three weeks since Sergio Romo struck out the AL MVP looking to end the World Series, and only a few prominent players have signed. However, the players who ink early have the potential to help dictate what the next few months might look like, and if an influx of cash was burning holes in baseball teams' pockets, we would expect to see the new market rate reflected in the early returns. Although it's too soon to say with any certainty what the rest of the winter will look like, we can examine the first few signings for any evidence that a new spending boom has begun. Here's a selection of deals signed so far compared with the contracts comparable players commanded last winter:

Torii Hunter, RF
Signed by: Detroit Tigers
Contract: Two years, $26 million
Comparable player: Carlos Beltran (signed by St. Louis for two years, $26 million)

The Los Angeles Angels decided not to make Hunter a qualifying offer, a decision that seems somewhat defensible after he settled for two years at a little less than the qualifying rate. (Granted, he wouldn't have commanded the same contract had he cost his prospective employer a draft pick.) Hunter has averaged 3.3 WARP over the past three seasons, compared with a three-year average of 2.5 for Beltran before last winter. However, Beltran had a slightly better two-year projection when he signed than Hunter does now. Although he came with more injury concerns and arguably offered less clubhouse leadership, Beltran was a couple of years younger and boasted the better peak by far. The two received identical deals, which suggests that, in this case, $13 million might have gone a little less far this year.

Brandon League, RHP
Signed by: Los Angeles Dodgers
Contract: Three years, $22.5 million
Comparable player: Frank Francisco (signed by the Mets, two years, $12 million)

League is probably the strongest evidence in favor of inflation so far. Only two relievers got three-year commitments and contracts larger than League's last offseason: Jonathan Papelbon and Heath Bell, both of whom were older than League but had much more successful track records. League's 123 ERA+ and 58 saves over the past three seasons compare closely to Francisco's 121 ERA+ and 44 saves from 2009 to 2011. Given League's age and superior durability, his annual salary doesn't actually look that unjustifiable compared to Francisco's, so it's not as if his signing was completely inconsistent with the standards established last winter.

Still, the third year was a little lavish: as Jeremy Affeldt said after League signed, "There's a market established." The Dodgers wasted little time in living up to their newfound free-spending reputation. Now they'll have to hope they'll be happier with League than the Mets were with Francisco.

Jeremy Affeldt, LHP
Signed by: San Francisco Giants
Contract: Three years, $18 million
Comparable player: Jon Rauch (signed by the Mets, one year, $3.5 million)

Like League's, Affeldt's deal would have qualified as the third largest awarded to a reliever last year. The lefty has been about as consistent as relievers come during his time in San Francisco: He has a small platoon split, and he gets both ground balls and strikeouts. On the surface, his past three years don't look so different from Jon Rauch's when he signed last winter, either performance-wise (117 ERA+ for Affeldt, 113 ERA+ for Rauch), workload-wise (175 IP for Affeldt, 179⅔ for Rauch) or age-wise (both 33).

Affeldt is left-handed and has more grounders going for him, which helps account for the discrepancy between their contracts, though the southpaw's bank account may have benefited from San Francisco's post-Series high. Affeldt's contract isn't crazy, but it's hardly a steal. Still, this offseason hasn't been totally devoid of affordable contracts for relievers, as Joel Peralta and Oliver Perez have re-signed with the Tampa Bay Rays and Seattle Mariners, respectively, at reasonable rates.

Melky Cabrera, OF
Signed by: Toronto Blue Jays
Contract: Two years, $16 million
Comparable player: None

It's not every offseason that the list of available free agents includes a 28-year-old outfielder who played so well through mid-August that he finished the year as one of baseball's most valuable players despite sitting out the rest of the season with a PED suspension. No player fit that profile last winter, but Jason Kubel signed for two years and $15 million after two seasons of roughly replacement-level play, which gives you some sense of how big a bargain this could be for Toronto.

There might not be many believers in a repeat of 2012 (as much because of a fluky BABIP as the positive test), but if Cabrera can provide his 2011 production, he'll be well worth the money. There was always a sense that Cabrera would sign a short-term, below-market deal and attempt to remove the testosterone stigma before cashing in on his next contract, but it's somewhat surprising that he agreed to two years. It's hard to say whether that can be traced to teams' lack of confidence in Cabrera or Cabrera's agent's lack of confidence that teams would be willing to spend this winter.

David Ross, C
Signed by: Boston Red Sox
Contract: Two years, $6.2 million
Comparable player: Ramon Hernandez (signed by Colorado for two years, $6.4 million)

Ross has been a better defender and hitter than Hernandez was in the few years leading up to the contract he signed last season, but he's also played more sparingly and had the platoon advantage more often. The two were both 35 when they signed, and they got nearly identical deals.

Scott Baker, RHP
Signed by: Chicago Cubs
Contract: One year, $5.5 million
Comparable player: Erik Bedard (signed by Pittsburgh for one year, $4.5 million)

Baker spent the 2012 season recovering from Tommy John surgery; Bedard had a better performance record but -- if anything -- even more injury risk. Both starters got make-good, one-year offers, but Baker's was a bit better.

Bartolo Colon, RHP
Signed by: Oakland Athletics
Contract: One year, $3 million
Comparable player: Bartolo Colon (signed by Oakland for one year, $2 million)

Colon is a year older than he was last time around, and his 2013 ended early due to a suspension for testosterone use. He did pitch well when healthy, but the expectations for a 40-year-old Colon can't be as high as they were for the 39-year-old edition. He got a raise nonetheless.

Other evidence

Hisashi Iwakuma and Maicer Izturis don't have perfect 2011-12 free-agent analogues, but neither one signed for a sum that raised any eyebrows (two years, $14 million for Iwakuma; three years, $9 million for Izturis). A few players whom many media members expected to receive qualifying offers -- including Hunter, Edwin Jackson, Angel Pagan and Mike Napoli -- didn't, suggesting that the industry's sense of the market may have been a bit more conservative than the public perception. There's also the fact David Ortiz and Jake Peavy, who would have been among the most high-profile free agents had they hit the open market, re-signed with their teams for amounts that would have been at or even below the market rate last winter rather than test the waters.

It's possible that the free agents who signed early were the ones least inclined to take a hard line in negotiations, and that we'll see an uptick as the winter wears on. All in all, though, the evidence suggests that so far we're seeing spending roughly in line with what we saw last offseason. Last winter was marked by a number of megadeals that could have kicked off an even more irresponsible spree, but it's looking more likely than it was a few weeks ago that we could be in for a short-term plateau instead of a rapid rise.

Bold 2013 predictions for pitchers.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Baseball's offseason is well under way, with trades, signings and much fun already, and there promises to be plenty more in the coming months. So, on the heels of last week's Bold hitter predictions blog, let's check out the players who make their living throwing the baseball. And remember, saying R.A. Dickey is going to have a good year isn't exactly bold. Saying Jon Niese will have that type of season is (not that I believe that!).

New York Yankees: It's not bold enough to say Mariano Rivera (knee) returns and saves 40 games, though he will. What else can I say? That Phil Hughes allows 40 homers? That's totally believable, but I'll say David Phelps holds down a rotation slot and provides 175 innings with a 3.75 ERA. He's better than most realize.

Baltimore Orioles: With his new strikeout rate looking legit, Jason Hammel overcomes knee problems to make 28 starts, winning half of them with a sub-4.00 ERA. He'll lead Orioles pitchers on the ESPN Player Rater, not their "pitch-to-contact" closer.

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Joy R. Absalon/US Presswire
Matt Moore posted a 3.01 ERA after the All-Star break in 2012, with 79 K's in 77 2/3 innings.

Tampa Bay Rays: Lefty Matt Moore will be a steal in drafts. He'll be taken well after the first 20 starting pitchers are gone, but provide the fine numbers that were expected of him in 2012. Look for 210 strikeouts. Oh, and I'm actually buying a "good" season from the new and improved Fernando Rodney, including an ERA around 2.40.

Toronto Blue Jays: Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle are nice additions for the Blue Jays, but a healthy Brandon Morrow and Ricky Romero -- you can't tell me he wasn't hurting all year -- top the Jays' rotation. Morrow returns to the 200-strikeout level, while Romero, a major sleeper, returns not to his 2011 numbers, but the solid 2010 version.

Boston Red Sox: The Red Sox certainly did get something in the salary-dump trade with the Dodgers. Right-hander Rubby De La Rosa makes the team out of spring training and takes over at closer when Andrew Bailey gets hurt. You know that's coming. De La Rosa thrives as the closer, then moves to the rotation in 2014.

Detroit Tigers: Justin Verlander has a Cy Young-caliber season yet again but doesn't win 24 games, so he is overlooked in the voting. Wait, that happened this week. OK, too obvious. How about I say a healthy Doug Fister matches Verlander's performance with a 2.75 ERA and 17 wins.

Chicago White Sox: After a rough couple of seasons, John Danks will be worth owning again in 2013. He'll post an ERA under 4 in his 30 starts. It was bad luck in 2011, and an injury in 2012. Sadly, I think Danks will make twice as many starts as Chris Sale. Be careful there.

Kansas City Royals: A sleeper strikeout guy to own for the second half of 2013 is right-hander Felipe Paulino. Definitely invest when he returns from Tommy John surgery. Also, spend an AL-only pick on Kelvin Herrera, the team's future closer.

Cleveland Indians: Chris Perez will be traded any day now, opening the closer role for Vinnie Pestano, who will save 35 games. Zach McAllister leads the staff in wins.

Minnesota Twins: Man, there are some poor pitching staffs in this division after Detroit! Is it bold enough to state rookie Kyle Gibson, who isn't really an ace, leads the team with 12 wins and 140 strikeouts? The only Twins pitcher with 100 strikeouts in 2012 was Francisco Liriano, and he was dealt in July.

Oakland Athletics: Time for some of these rookies to break your heart as sophomores! Buy on Jarrod Parker and A.J. Griffin. Sell on Tommy Milone and Dan Straily. Ultimately, Brett Anderson will throw 200 excellent innings and win 16 games, leading the staff.

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Kevin Jairaj/US Presswire
Alexi Ogando posted a 13-8 record, 3.56 ERA and 1.14 WHIP as a starter in 2011.

Texas Rangers: Yu Darvish will be the ace, and a Cy Young Award contender at that, but watch Alexi Ogando deliver 175 strong innings, plenty of strikeouts and an ERA of 3.25, with no second-half fade this time.

Los Angeles Angels: New No. 3 starter Kyle Lohse continues to prove his late-career numbers are no fluke, as he wins 15 games with a 3.30 ERA. C.J. Wilson, now healthy and mechanically fixed, wins 19 games.

Seattle Mariners: Lefty Danny Hultzen shakes off his Triple-A control issues to make the staff in April, and throws a Buehrle-like 200 innings (and for the next 15 years), but with more strikeouts and an ERA of 3.50.

Washington Nationals: Nothing bold about giving the Cy Young Award to Stephen Strasburg, but he'll strike out 242 hitters, post a 2.38 ERA and win 21 games. Yeah, he's that good. And Gio Gonzalez will win just 11 games, though his numbers will look pretty similar to 2012. Hey, not all the bold stuff is positive!

Atlanta Braves: Well, everyone wants to know about Kris Medlen. He's not among my top 10 pitchers, but he should be solid enough for 200 innings, a 2.90 ERA, 165 strikeouts and 14 wins. Can't complain about that, right? And Julio Teheran makes the rotation and provides 140 worthwhile innings.

Philadelphia Phillies: Don't bet against Roy Halladay. He falls outside the top 20 starting pitchers on draft day but returns to posting Cy Young-level numbers. Oh, and Phillippe Aumont becomes a top setup man and saves 10 games when Jonathan Papelbon needs a DL stint for a strained ego.

New York Mets: Jon Niese, Cy Young contender! OK, I'll stop now. But he is actually getting better, and will post career bests of 210 innings, 175 strikeouts and a 3.10 ERA.

Miami Marlins: Who's left? Well, poor Jacob Turner will be the lone Marlin to win 12 games, and he'll add a 3.75 ERA and 140 strikeouts. He will be worth owning in many leagues.

Cincinnati Reds: Aroldis Chapman makes the rotation, dominates in April, misses half of May because of elbow soreness, and then will be treated like Strasburg was in 2012, with an innings limit. And we'll all laugh. But those 172 innings will be terrific ones.

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Joy R. Absalon/US Presswire
Chris Carpenter still has a little something left in his tank.

St. Louis Cardinals: Chris Carpenter goes undrafted in fantasy leagues, but wins 15 games over 200 innings with a 3.70 ERA. Don't bet against him and his buddy Halladay!

Milwaukee Brewers: Problems abound here. After Yovani Gallardo, no Brewers starting pitcher will be a must-own in standard leagues. Not Marco Estrada and Wily Peralta … even closer John Axford will falter again. Jim Henderson saves 21 games to lead the team.

Pittsburgh Pirates: Speaking of closers, the Pirates wise up and trade Joel Hanrahan before it's too late -- he's merely a luxury when you have other pressing needs -- and rookie Victor Black (who?) saves 28 games.

Chicago Cubs: I love the Scott Baker signing. He doesn't pitch until May, but still wins 10 games with a 3.50 ERA. No other Cub will have an ERA that low and win double-digit games. Matt Garza gets traded to the Angels in December.

Houston Astros: Yes, I know they are now in the American League, but we're going in 2012 division order (and finish) here. It will be a long year in Houston, but Bud Norris does bounce back with 13 wins and 180 strikeouts, and Mickey Storey takes over closing duties and saves 20 games.

San Francisco Giants: I'm buying on Tim Lincecum (3.60 ERA, 200 strikeouts) and Ryan Vogelsong. And Madison Bumgarner, too. But not Brian Wilson. Rookie Heath Hembree takes over closing duties in late April and saves 36 games. Wilson's beard will finally have to be cut when a Matt Kemp line drive gets lost in it.

Los Angeles Dodgers: A rejuvenated Josh Beckett wins 16 games with a sub-3.00 ERA and 180 strikeouts. Enjoy that home ballpark, fella. And Kenley Jansen saves 40 games. Brandon League for three years? Really? Come on!

Arizona Diamondbacks: Trevor Bauer is not traded this offseason, but lefty Tyler Skaggs has the better season in 2013. Watch rookie Chase Anderson make the rotation mid-season and thrive, too.

San Diego Padres: Andrew Cashner wedges in 24 starts around two disabled list stints, but man, those starts will be good. Expect major strikeouts. Casey Kelly, the top prospect two Adrian Gonzalez deals ago, also shows major promise in his 14 starts.

Colorado Rockies: First of all, their ridiculous starting pitcher strategy is eventually abandoned. Phew. Then Jorge De La Rosa and Jhoulys Chacin each win 12 games, with ERAs better than 4 and 150-plus strikeouts. No, really.

Cabrera a worthwhile gamble for Jays.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
The Toronto Blue Jays appeared to be done after the big, expensive trade with the Miami Marlins earlier this week, but I'm guessing GM Alex Anthopoulos couldn't pass on a good deal when he saw one, reportedly signing Melky Cabrera to a two-year, $16 million deal that's under half of what Cabrera would have made had he not failed a PED test in July.

Cabrera is a contact hitter whose value has jumped in the last two years because more of the balls he has put into play have fallen in for hits. He's not selective, with modest walk rates, and he doesn't have much power. But he has very good plate coverage and generates lots of line drives (which are very likely to become hits) and ground balls (more likely than fly balls to become hits). For Toronto, he'll play left field, where he should have average range and add value with his arm. He was dogged by makeup questions even beyond the failed test, but those things tend to disappear when you're playing well.

The Cabrera signing also gives the Jays cover to send Anthony Gose to Triple-A Buffalo this year. Gose is a plus runner and fielder who has made big swing adjustments but is still too impatient and struggles badly to pick up breaking stuff; a Triple-A stint will allow him to develop in a sane hitter's environment. The net gain for Toronto is probably in the range of three wins over the passel of mediocrities the team used in left field during 2011 -- more if Cabrera can pick up where he left off in 2012, which I doubted even before his suspension became public.

I generally avoid being too involved in analyzing the specific salaries involved in free-agent deals because the dollar value of a player's production is tied to things we don't or can't know, like how much an extra win is worth to that specific franchise, or roughly how many games the team is going to win in each season of the contract.

Every team has its own revenue function: wins determine revenues, but one extra win is worth more to the Baltimore Orioles than it is to the Tampa Bay Rays, but probably less than it is to the Los Angeles Dodgers -- and a team's 75th win is likely to be worth less than the same franchise's 90th win. The Blue Jays look like a team that's going to win 85-plus games, so the wins Cabrera likely provides will be worth a lot, but the variance in his performance makes it a little tricky.

Just using Fangraphs' WAR for a shortcut, the version of Cabrera we have seen in his career, up to and including his disastrous 2010 season in Atlanta, wasn't worth close to the $8 million a year he'll receive from Toronto in each year of the new contract. The Blue Jays are betting that the previous version of Cabrera is gone and that he can at least be something close to what he was in 2011, when he had his first of two big jumps in his BABIP (from .288 to .322) and was worth just over four wins above replacement, a number that would make him a bargain at his salary.

His BABIP jumped again (to .379) in 2012, but that isn't going to be taken seriously because he was caught using testosterone. However, if he suddenly becomes, say, a .350 BABIP guy with no other change in his skills, the Jays just got an All-Star on the clearance rack. A 10 percent chance of that, plus maybe a 40 percent chance that he can perform as he did in 2011, and say only a 25 percent chance that he goes back to being a waste of a roster spot almost certainly adds up to more than $8 million in expected value for the Blue Jays -- unless the whole team tanks or the value of a win to Toronto is far lower than I think it is.
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Thread Starter 
Houston Astros Top 15 Prospects (2012-13).
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
The Houston Astros entered the season with a weak minor league system and I ranked it 27th overall (out of 30) back in March 2012. Since that time, though, General Manager Jeff Luhnow and his staff have worked hard to improve the system through trades – and at times getting back impressive value for modest MLB talent – while also having one of the best amateur drafts of any team in baseball. The result is a much-improved system that boasts more depth, as well as a number of high-ceiling prospects. The list below was fairly straight forward for me 1-8 but then got muddied with 12 to 15 prospects in play for the finally seven available spots with the 9-15 slots. Players considered in that range, that did not make the list, included the likes of Domingo Santana, Jonathan Villar, Nolan Fontana, Marc Krauss and Kevin Comer.

#1 Jonathan Singleton (1B)

20 665 152 31 24 105 155 7 .274 .388 .482 .389

Opening Day Age: 21
2012 Level: AA
Acquired: 2011 trade (with Houston)
Projected 2013 Level: AAA/MLB

Singleton was the key prospect in the trade-deadline deal that sent Hunter Pence to Philadelphia in 2011. The deal also brought in fellow Top 15 prospect and pitcher Jarred Cosart, as well as outfielder Domingo Santana who just missed the list. Singleton has moved methodically through the system since the trade and spent all of 2012 in double-A where he posted a 146 wRC+ (He created 46 more runs than the average hitter in the league).
Singleton has impressive power and he showed that in 2012 by breaking the .200 isolated slugging mark for the first time in his career at .213 (Anything over .200 suggests the player is a “slugger”). He also showed patience and a solid eye with a walk rate just shy of 16%. The big knock on Singleton throughout his career has been his propensity to strike out and 2012 was no different; he whiffed at a rate of 23.6%. A contact I spoke with said he was not worried with the strikeout rate because Singleton offsets it with power and high walk rates. “It’s not a major concern,” he said.

The contact said Singleton definitely has above-average power, and placed a future 60 grade on it, but would almost rate his hit tool above it. “It has a little length but it’s a pretty swing,” he said, adding that the 21 year old can handle balls on both the inside and outside corners,thanks to above-averageplate coverage. “It makes him very dangerous.”

Although he’s mostly been known in the past for his offensive exploits, the contact I spoke with said Singleton has the chance to be a plus defender. Previously, in an effort to find a place for his bat to play with Ryan Howard entrenched in Philly, the prospect had been given time in left field despite being a natural first baseman. Singleton will remain at first base for Houston. “He’s really plus at first base,” the talent evaluator said, adding that he has long arms and legs, stretches well, with good hands. “He creates a big target.”

Singleton will move up to triple-A to begin the 2013 season and should spend most of – if not all of – the year in the minors with an eye on assuming the big league first base job in 2014. “He might be the best first base prospect in all of baseball,” the contact added.

Additional Notes

2012 saw Singleton begin to tap into his power potential at the Double-A level. In 2010, I wrote he was a cross between James Loney and David Ortiz. Now, mentioning Loney and Singleton in the same sentence sounds like a slight, but the former Dodgers first baseman was a league average hitter at the time with some perceived upside. Singleton easily has the highest floor on this list and his ceiling may be second only to #1 overall pick Carlos Correa. While I completely understand his being ranked in the top spot, I’d probably roll the dice on Correa due to position scarcity and my feeling Singleton will peak as an above average offensive first baseman, but fall short of elite level production. (Mike Newman)

#2 Carlos Correa (SS)

17 204 49 14 3 12 44 6 .258 .305 .400 .328

Opening Day Age: 18
2012 Level: R/R+
Acquired: 2012 draft (1st overall)
Projected 2013 Level: A

Correa was the first overall pick of the 2012 amateur draft as a high school shortstop out of Puerto Rico. The decision to nab the youngster allowed the club to obtain one of the best talents in the draft and to save money for later-round over-slot signings (providing better depth in the system). I’m told Correa was also an attractive player to the organization because he’s a high-ceiling player who should be ready for the majors right around the time the organization is looking to legitimately compete again after going through its rebuilding process.

A talent evaluator I spoke with said Correa is intriguing because he’s a middle infielder who projects to hit for both average and power. The contact cautioned, though, that it would take time for the hit tool to develop but he already flashes raw power potential and has an idea of what he’s doing at the plate. “The swing works,” he said, adding that Correa is a bright, hard-working player who wants to get better. Getting more specific, he said the shortstop needs to take more pitches and curb his aggressiveness while also improving his hitting mechanics, including the timing of his load and subsequent stride.

As for his defense, the talent evaluator said Correa showed solid defensive abilities at shortstop because he’s able to do a little bit of everything but his body may eventually dictate a move to the hot corner. As a teenager, he already stands 6’4”. “(Correa) has the tools, skills, and foot work to stick at shortstop, but size could eventually necessitate a move to third base where he could be a plus defender,” the contact said. Once he taps into his raw power with the necessary adjustments at the plate Correa could flash the prototypcial power that teams covet from third basemen.

The young prospect is getting more seasoning while playing in the Puerto Rico winter league and will likely open 2013 in low-A ball. He should move somewhat smoothly through the system and could be ready for the majors around 2016.

#3 Delino Deshields Jr. (2B)

19 637 154 25 12 83 131 102 .287 .389 .426 .375

Opening Day Age: 20
2012 Level: A/A+
Acquired: 2010 draft (8th overall)
Projected 2013 Level: A+/AA

DeShields Jr. entered pro ball with impressive pedigree as the son of a former 12th overall draft pick and 13-year big league veteran. A first rounder himself, junior hasn’t been able to solve the minors as quickly as his father – who did it in three years – but he had a breakout 2012 season that saw him steal more than 100 bases.

DeShields strikes out a fair bit for someone whose game is built around speed but he also walks a fair bit and shows gap power despite his 5’9” stature. A talent evaluator I spoke with likened his frame to that of a running back and said it also reminds him of Colorado Rockie Eric Young Jr., another speedster whose father played in the majors. The same contact said he had DeShields being clocked under 4.00 secs to first base from the right side of the batters box, making him a pure 80 on the 20-80 scale for his speed. “He can steal first base and second base,” he said, also highlighting the pop, which comes from a quick, short swing. “He has the power to hit 10-15 home runs in the majors.”

What DeShields needs to improve on, though, is a refined approach and better pitch recognition of breaking balls, both of which could help him trim his strikeout rate. He also has some fine tuning to be done at second base after spending time in the outfield as an amateur. “He’s turned into a pretty good little second baseman,” the talent evaluator said. “He was a little rough at first.” He also said DeShields’ arm strength is fringe-average to average and that his hands “are good enough.”

DeShields has a chance to develop into an impact, game-changing talent and he should open 2013 in high-A ball but could taste double-A before the end of the season. It should be at least two years before he challenges Jose Altuve for the title of Astros second baseman of the future.

Additional Notes

From being one of the most disappointing prospects I saw in 2011 to a 100 SB stand out, Delino DeShields Jr. re-established himself as one of the best prospects in the Astros organization. From video, I can’t help but be impressed by how much his swing length has shortened from last season. Lowing his hands has done wonders in terms of allowing for more consistent, hard contact which is an excellent sign. (Mike Newman)

#4 George Springer (OF)

22 666 173 25 28 75 176 37 .300 .386 .535 .400

Opening Day Age: 23
2012 Level: A+/AA
Acquired: 2011 draft (11th overall)
Projected 2013 Level: AA

A contact I spoke to about Springer summed up the prospect’s offense with this statement: “He swings very hard and because of that – when he hits the ball – it goes a long way.” The outfield prospect, and former first round draft pick, is currently in the process of turning his raw athleticism into pure baseball skills. As the contact mentioned, he flashes plus raw power but that comes with high strike out rates (more than 26% in 2012).

The talent evaluator said as Springer gains more confidence as a baseball player more improvements should follow, adding that the prospect has the potential to have all five tools be average or better, with the hit tool the biggest question mark. On the surface, Springer, 23, had an outstanding offensive season in high-A ball in 2012 but he was also playing the in the California League for a team known for having one of the Top 5 most offense-boosting parks in minor league baseball. Springer showed power (.240 ISO), speed (28 SB) and some patience (11.2 BB%). His .316 was aided by an unsustainable .404 BABIP.

Defensively, Springer should develop into a plus defensive center-fielder. The contact I spoke with said the Connecticut native makes playing center field look easy thanks in part to plus speed, and that he also possesses a plus arm. “He makes highlight reel plays.” It was noted that, if need be, Springer has the arm and power potential to profile well in right field.

He still has work to do, especially at the plate, and double-A will represent a huge challenge for him in 2013, although he showed very well in the Arizona Fall League. The talent evaluator did not seem concerned about the prospect’s future. “The swing-and-miss will always be part of who he is… but he’s going to be a dangerous hitter.”

#5 Lance McCullers Jr. (P)

18 8 8 26.0 20 2 10.04 4.15 3.46 3.47

Opening Day Age: 19
2012 Level: R/R+
Acquired: 2012 draft (2nd round)
Projected 2013 Level: A

McCullers Jr. is a prospect that makes me feel old. I was a fan of his father when he was a dominant, innings-eating reliever for the San Diego Padres between 1985 and 1988. Junior was the 41st overall selection of the 2012 draft and he was born one year after his father retired from the major leagues.

Thanks to the new signing deadline for draftees in 2012, the Astros got McCullers under contact in time to make eight starts. He showed decent results, although he struggled with both his command and control at times. Questions have dogged the young pitcher over the past two years over his ability to stick as a starting pitcher due to concerns over his delivery. A contact I spoke with wasn’t concerned. “Any time you throw that hard and your arm is that whippy… you’ll always have people who say he’ll be better as a reliever,” he said, adding, “He shows everything necessary to be a starter but ending up in the bullpen will be neither a surprise nor a disappoint… He has the stuff to dominate in ‘pen.”

McCullers is best known for having a power fastball that can sit in the mid-90s and touch 100 mph. The talent evaluator I spoke with also had nice things to say about the prospect’s potentially-plus slider,which is also referred to as apower slurve. “It’s very hard to hit it when he locates it… It’s a hard, bitting pitch… with diagonal tilt,” the contactcommented. McCullers’ third pitch is a solid changeup.

With a strong spring training, the 19-year-old McCullers could make a play to open 2013 in full-season A-ball, although a little more seasoning in extended spring training would not hurt his development. He has the ceiling of a No. 2 starter, or possibly a high-leverage reliever.

Additional Notes

McCullers was a different pitcher in person than I was expecting given his reputation as a big arm with limited secondary offerings. At 92-94 MPH, touching 96, his fastball was a bit flat. However, his changeup was better than I expected and I perceived him as having enough feel for the pitch to consider him a three pitch guy instead of a future bullpen arm with a fastball/slider. (Mike Newman)

#6 Jarred Cosart (P)

22 27 26 132.2 134 3 7.26 4.07 3.73 3.42

Opening Day Age: 22
2012 Level: AA/AAA
Acquired: 2011 trade (with Houston)
Projected 2013 Level: AAA/MLB

Another part of the Hunter Pence trade from 2011, Cosart has seen his prospect value fluctuate throughout his career despite always flashing good, raw stuff. Inconsistencies and injuries have plagued him but, as a talent evaluator pointed out, the pitching prospect made a lot of strides in 2012 and answered questions and concerns over his ability to stick in the starting rotation.

“He’s looking more like a starter than he ever has,” the contact said, adding that Cosart did a better job of inducing ground balls and having quick innings. “He wasn’t trying to strike everyone out.” The hurler, who has always had electric stuff, improved his command last season and also started throwing his curveball a little harder, which created a crisper break to it. Cosart’s fastball can sit in the mid-90s and touch the upper 90s. His changeup, which he doesn’t use a ton, has a lot of potential.

On the down side, Cosart struggled a bit with blister issues and missed a few starts, totalling just 114.2 innings on the year. The 22-year-old also continued to show inconsistent control of the strike zone. To help make up some innings, and to continue working on smoothing out his game, Cosart was assigned to the Arizona Fall League where, as of the time of his writing, he had a 6.50 ERA with 25 hits and nine walks allowed in 18.0 innings.

After reaching triple-A at the end of 2012 and making six appearances there, Cosart should return to the same level in 2013 but could see time in the majors in the second half of the year. If all goes as hoped, the former 38th round draft pick – and Texas native – could develop into a No. 2 or 3 starter for the Astros. The contact added, “He just needs to just continue to keep the ball down in the zone and throw strikes.”

#7 Mike Foltynewicz (P)

20 27 27 152.0 146 11 7.40 3.67 3.14 3.82

Opening Day Age: 21
2012 Level: A
Acquired: 2010 draft (19th overall)
Projected 2013 Level: A+/AA

Foltynewicz, 21, was one the club’s first round draft pick in 2010 – along with fellow Top 15 prospect Delino DeShields Jr. – and signed out of an Illinois high school. He turned his back on an opportunity to play college ball at the University of Texas. Like a lot of cold-weather pitchers, the young hurler was a step behind some of his fellow prospects in pro ball, causing him to repeated A-ball in 2012 – and the results were much improved.

At 6’4” 200 lbs, Foltynewicz has a strong pitcher’s frame and provided more than 150 innings of work for Lexington this past season. If everything breaks right for the pitcher – or rather, if nothing breaks – he could develop into an innings-eating No. 3 starter for the Astros. Foltynewicz features a low-90s fastball that can touch the mid-90s but it has better movement and more consistent command when he takes a little off the pitch. His go-to offering is a changeup and he also features two breaking balls – of which his slider is the most promising.

Although he doesn’t have a huge ceiling, Foltynewicz could develop into a valuable piece of the puzzle for Houston as it looks to develop a reliable and competitive big league staff. He should move up to high-A ball in 2013 but may spent only a short time there after pitching two seasons in Lexington, and also to limit his exposure to the offensive-happy California League.

#8 Rio Ruiz (3B/DH)

18 152 34 11 1 16 32 2 .252 .336 .400 .343

Opening Day Age: 18
2012 Level: R/R+
Acquired: 2012 draft (4th round)
Projected 2013 Level: A

The selection of first overall pick Carlos Correa not only brought the best overall talent available into the system – in my modest opinion – but it ensured the Astros had enough money and cap space to sign a number of other high-ceiling talents, including Ruiz. The club went about $1.5 million over slot to pry the Scott-Boras-advised third baseman away the University of Southern California.

The California prep star – in both baseball and football – slid to the Astros in the fourth round (in part) because of a blood clot in his neck that required surgery and wiped out much of his senior year of high school. Because of the missed time, Ruiz took part in a number of private workouts for big league clubs prior to the draft. The Astros were clearly impressed with his performance.

After signing, he appeared in 38 games at two rookie ball levels and produced solid numbers, considering his age and lay-off time. He hit just one home run but slugged 11 doubles. Ruiz also showed a solid eye with 16 walks. A contact I spoke with said the California native possesses a “natural swing” and 55-60 power potential from a grade standpoint. “He’s a left-handed hitter with a premium swing… that is very pleasing to the eye… It’s a big-league swing,” he said, adding, “He also has power, although it’s not gaudy power.”

As for his defense, there is work to be done to ensure he develops into even an average big league third baseman but the talent evaluator I spoke with said Ruiz displays good arm strength and he plays third base “well enough.” The infield prospect should open 2013 in A-ball unless he struggles enough in spring training to convince the organization that he needs some more seasoning in extended spring training. It may take some patience but my contact was enthusiastic about Ruiz’s future. “He has a good chance to play third base and hit in the middle of the order.”

#9 Carlos Perez (C)

21 416 103 28 5 41 55 3 .285 .360 .438 .360

Opening Day Age: 22
2012 Level: A/A+
Acquired: 2012 trade (with Toronto)
Projected 2013 Level: A+/AA

I’ve personally followed Perez closely since his time in the Dominican Summer League with the Toronto Blue Jays organization and when I brought up his name to a talent evaluator I was told that he was “a big fan of his.” The contact went on to say that the young catcher had a solid, well-rounded package.

Perez will likely be known as an offensive-minded catcher even though he’s no slouch behind the plate. He has strong forearms that he uses to generate gap power and he’s still learning to tap into his full raw power potential, although he’ll never be a huge home-run guy. “He’ll run into his fair share of home runs,” the talent evaluator said. The young hitter is still too aggressive for his own good at times but he has solid contact skills and struck out just 55 times in 97 games.

On the defensive side, Perez has made significant strides over the past two seasons in A-ball. “He can really catch and the pitchers love throwing to him…” the contact said, “He throws well and [the arm] is average, if not more.” He should develop into an average or better MLB receiver.

At worst, I see Perez spending a number of seasons as a big-league back-up catcher but the contact I spoke with said the Venezuelan definitely “has a chance to be an everyday player” thanks to his solid approach at the plate and defensive potential. Perez will likely spend a couple months in high-A ball Lancaster before taking the big prospect step to double-A. He could reach the majors in late 2015 or early 2016.

#10 Nick Tropeano (P)

21 38 27 173.0 158 13 9.57 2.71 2.97 3.06

Opening Day Age: 22
2012 Level: A/A+
Acquired: 2011 draft (5th round)
Projected 2013 Level: AA

Tropeano is a cool story. The right-hander pitched at a college in the northeast with a modest baseball program and he pitched mostly in the upper 80s with his fastball, occasionally touching 91-92 mph. One contact said he was a command/control pitcher who often pitched backwards. After less than a year in professional baseball the fifth round draft pick was throwing in the low-90s with regularity and even hitting the mid-90s.

Tropeano suddenly became very interesting as someone with the mentality of a command/control pitcher but the pure stuff of a mid-rotation starter. He can spot his fastball with ease and also baffles hitters with a potentially-plus changeup and a developing breaking ball. When I asked a contact what caused the improvement in his fastball he said it could have been any number of things from moving from cold weather state to added experience to professional coaching – or a combination of all three.

Along with solid stuff, Tropeano also has a deceptive deliver and varies hitters’ timings. When asked what the pitching prospect needs to work on, a contact told me that he still has some work to with his command, which is currently a step behind his control. “He has enough deception that it helps him get by with poor command,” the contact said, adding that the breaking ball also needs to improve for Tropeano to be a front-line starter.

After splitting 2012 between two A-ball levels and also pitching well in the Arizona Fall League, Tropeano should move up to double-A to begin 2013 and he could reach the Astros by late in the year or early 2014.

#11 Robbie Grossman (OF)

22 577 129 28 10 77 121 13 .266 .376 .410 .361

Opening Day Age: 23
2012 Level: AA
Acquired: 2012 trade (with Pittsburgh)
Projected 2013 Level: AAA/MLB

I’ve ranked Grossman favorably over the past couple of years but remain conflicted over his ultimate ceiling and big league role. He has a number of offensive weapons but he lacks the true power that teams look for from a corner outfielder. On the plus side, he can play all three outfield positions, gets on base at a crazy clip, has gap power and can run a little bit.

Despite my trepidation, a contact very familar with Grossman believes he’ll be a regular contributor in the majors. “I believe Robbie will earn the opportunity to be an everyday player; whether he makes the [mechanical] adjustments to his swing will determine his playing time at the major league level.” he said, adding, “Offensively, he has the best eye for a hitter with his experience that I have seen in a while. His game continues to evolve but he has to hit fewer fly balls and use all his tools to succeed at the upper levels.”

On defense, Grossman has played a lot of center field but has an average arm and modest range and reads/routes. “He still has room for improvement in each area,” the contact stated. “Defensively, he is a corner outfielder in my eyes. He takes pride in his defense.”

There aren’t a ton of big league outfielders that match Grossman’s switch-hitter profile and mentality as a grinder who wants to play and play hard. He should open 2013 in triple-A and could reach the majors by mid-to-late season, although he’ll face plenty of competition for a promotion/playing time from the likes of Marc Krauss, George Springer, Che-Hsuan Lin, Austin Wates and Brandon Barnes. He doesn’t do anything flashy but Grossman could surprise a lot of people thanks to his wide range of abilities.

#12 Asher Wojciechowski (P)

23 26 26 137.0 121 3 7.23 2.36 3.15 2.89

Opening Day Age: 24
2012 Level: A+/AA
Acquired: 2012 trade (with Toronto)
Projected 2013 Level: AA/AAA

The 41st overall selection of the 2010 draft, Wojciechowski has had an inconsistent pro career to this point. The Blue Jays organization attempted – on more than one occasion – to smooth out his delivery, often with disastrous results. Questions over his ability to stick in the starting rotation have haunted the right-hander since his pre-draft days because of his delivery, as well as his lack of a reliable off-speed pitch.

A talent evaluator I spoke with said Wojciechowski did very well after coming over to the Astros in a trade for and getting promoted from high-A to double-A. “He performed great and his velocity jumped a tick or two,” he said, adding that Wojo was up to 94 mph and had a variety of pitches that he can throw strikes when eveything is clicking. He doesn’t have the most athletic build but he looks strong, which bodes well for his durability.

Personally, I’ve followed the rigth-hander’s career since the 2010 draft and took in one of his starts with the Astros in September. Early in this game he was fighting his arm slot and flying open, which caused his pitches to stay up in the zone. None of his pitches stood out and his delivery looked like a collection of parts; it was not smooth at all. Something clicked, though, in the second inning and he looked like a completely different pitcher. His pitches showed movement and were crisp; his arm worked well. It all fell apart again in the third inning, though. Throughout the majority of the game I saw nothing but fastballs and curveballs. The changeup was missing in action.

The contact I spoke with said Wojciechowski has the ceiling of a No. 4 starter or “a very useful bullpen guy.” I personally feel his future is in the bullpen, due to his delivery issues, and lack of a reliable third pitch and his mentality. With a solid two-pitch combo, which includes slightly-above-average fastball velocity, Wojciechowski could develop into a solid seventh- or eighth-inning reliever.

#13 Colton Cain (P)

21 23 23 110.2 109 14 6.18 3.50 4.64 4.91

Opening Day Age: 22
2012 Level: A+
Acquired: 2012 trade (with Pittsburgh)
Projected 2013 Level: AA

Cain was an above-slot signee for the Pirates during a 2009 amateur spending spree but he failed to live up expectation in the organization. He was flipped to Houston last season during the Wandy Rodriguez traded that also netted Robbie Grossman, and he will look to re-establish his top prospect rating in 2013.

A scout I spoke with said that the Pirates organization teaches pitchers to pitch to contact, focus on commanding both sides of the plate and avoid running up the pitch counts. As such, a move to the Astros organization – and a possible change in developmental philosophy – could allow Cain to breakout with a more dynamic pitching approach. “He has the stuff to throw harder,” the scout commented.

Cain has a repeatable delivery with clean arm action and has command of the fastball. He has a big, strong frame and should be capable of providing a lot of innings as a No. 3 or 4 starter. What he needs to do, though, is continue to improve his secondary stuff after dominating high school opponents with his fastball alone. I’m told he used to throw more of a slurve but has not developed both a curveball and a slider.

If Cain can round out his repertoire and sharpen his repertoire than he has a chance to reach his potential, although his ceiling has been lowered since his draft year. The Texas native could receive an assignment to double-A in 2013 with a strong spring but is probably at least a year away from contributing at the big league level.

#14 Adrian Houser (P)

19 11 11 58.0 53 1 8.38 3.57 4.03 3.01

Opening Day Age: 20
2012 Level: R+
Acquired: 2011 draft (2nd round)
Projected 2013 Level: A

Houser is yet another member of the recent wave of high-ceiling prep arms coming out of the state of Oklahoma. He was the 69th overall selection of the 2011 amateur draft as a second-round pick and has produced solid numbers throughout his pro career.

At 6’4” 205 lbs, Houser has a solid pitcher’s frame and manages to get a good downward plane on his pitches, which helps him produce above-average ground-ball rates. His control is currently ahead of his command. His repertoire includes a fastball that sits in the low 90s and he flashes a solid curveball. His change-of-pace remains a work-in-progress. A two-way player in high school, Houser is a little bit behind other pitchers that focused solely on the bump but the athleticism should benefit him in the long run and help him field his position well.

A contact I spoke with referred to Houser as a strong kid “with good stuff” who has a chance to be a No. 2 or 3 guy. He also added that the jump from short-season to full-season ball will be a big test for the right-handed prospect. Houser should spend the year pitching for Quad Cities and will likely spend the entire year there. With more depth in the system now, the Astros organization can afford to be patient with young pitchers like Houser.

#15 Rob Rasmussen (P)

23 27 26 142.0 141 12 7.54 3.42 4.25 3.81

Opening Day Age: 24
2012 Level: A+/AA
Acquired: 2012 trade (with Miami)
Projected 2013 Level: AAA/MLB

Rasmussen is another guy that falls into the muddled group of 10-12 guys that could be ranked in the 11-15 range. The lefty ranks up on my list due – in part – to personal familiarity with him, having followed him since his college days.

A scout I spoke to about the former UCLA pitcher sees a big league role in his future. “I think he’ll be able to get people out at the big league level but he’s got to get the ball down,” he said. “He’s up to 94 mph with two breaking balls. The little dude works his tail off.” Two concerns brought up were his lack of deception, as well as his command/control issues – although he has few red flags in his delivery.

Because Rasmussen has a short, slight build, it’s difficult to project him as a big league starter, although he’s been extremely durable in the minors by pitching almost 300 innings during the past two seasons. He’s also known for being competitive so he could have the perfect makeup for a reliever. I heard a loose comp to lefty reliever J.P. Howell, formerly of the Royals and Rays.

If Rasmussen can find a way to get on top of the ball and create downward action on his pitches while also harnessing his breaking balls, he could be a valuable piece of the Astros bullpen as soon as mid-to-late 2013.

Melky Cabrera Follows Marlins to Toronto.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
During the 2012 regular season, Blue Jays outfielders combined to be worth 4.6 WAR, which was tied for the sixth-lowest total in baseball. Nearly all of that came from Jose Bautista, who was terrific and then injured. The Blue Jays have some young and talented outfielders in-house, and if they were rebuilding, they might guarantee those players some time. But this week’s mega-trade with the Marlins signaled that the Blue Jays would like to win “sooner” instead of “eventually”, so now they’re going to guarantee some time to Melky Cabrera.

On Friday, the Jays signed Cabrera to a two-year contract worth $16 million, according to Enrique Rojas and later confirmed by others. The deal is not yet official — just like Toronto’s other big deal — but there’s little reason to believe it won’t become official after Cabrera’s physical, so now we analyze.

I will refer back once again to a post by Dave Cameron, looking at the 25 best free-agent values, according to Dave Cameron. The FanGraphs audience projected Cabrera for a…two-year contract, worth…$16 million. The clairvoyant live among us. The clairvoyant are us, collectively. The beginning of Cameron’s remarks on Cabrera:

First off, I don’t think Melky would even want a two year deal at this kind of price.

The consensus expectation, as far as I could tell, was that Cabrera would sign somewhere for a year in an effort to re-establish his value before re-entering the market. Cabrera didn’t sign a long-term contract with Toronto, but he signed for twice as long as people thought he would.

Cabrera, as you know, was having a big 2012 season with the Giants. Cabrera, as you know, had his big season with the Giants interrupted and ended by a 50-game PED suspension. Hence the one-year contract expectation. By signing Cabrera, and by signing Cabrera for two years, the Blue Jays are taking a chance, but they aren’t taking that much of one, really.

Adrian Beltre signed a five-year contract with the Mariners immediately after his incredible, historic, 48-dinger season with the Dodgers. Critics said that Beltre would never repeat that season again, but of course, the Mariners weren’t paying him to repeat his 2004 season over and over. If the Mariners paid Beltre as if they were expecting a bunch of his 2004 seasons, he would’ve landed the biggest contract in history. He got $64 million. The Mariners were more paying Beltre to be what he was in 2002-2003, and what the Mariners paid for was what the Mariners got.

Likewise, the Blue Jays aren’t paying Cabrera to repeat his 2012, and they aren’t even paying Cabrera to repeat his 2011. According to our numbers, the last two years Cabrera has been worth 8.8 WAR over 268 games. If the Blue Jays were paying Cabrera to be that sort of player, they might’ve guaranteed $16 million over one year or $32 million over two years. They’ve opted for half that, and Cabrera has accepted.

Do you know what an outfielder needs to be to be worth $16 million over two years as a free-agent acquisition? Something in the general neighborhood of league-average. Even slightly worse than that, or league-average and injury-prone. Cabrera was that sort of player in 2009 with the Yankees, when he posted a 94 wRC+. He was just kind of average at everything. If Cabrera could be that guy for two years, the Blue Jays wouldn’t have made a bad investment, and if Cabrera could be better than that guy for two years, the Blue Jays would have made a solid investment.

To say nothing of the Blue Jays’ current position on the win curve — extra wins to them right now might be worth more than extra wins for many other teams. The Blue Jays see an opportunity to compete in the AL East right now, and they’re going after it, which makes the Cabrera move a lot more interesting than it would be if Cabrera signed for a year with some cellar-dweller. Cabrera could once again play a prominent role in a pennant race.

In Toronto, he and Bautista will flank Colby Rasmus, in an outfield with massive error bars. You might be wondering why Cabrera signed this deal in the first place. For one thing, we don’t know much about Cabrera’s market. For another thing, the Blue Jays are obviously a lot more appealing than they were a week or a month ago. And for a third thing, is it that bad a deal for Cabrera, really? Let’s say he signed somewhere for a year and $6 – 8 million. Let’s say he performed well. What would he expect a year from now? $10 million a season? $12 million a season? And what if he didn’t perform well? Then his value would be shot and his next-year expectations would be drastically lowered. This gives Cabrera some degree of security, and since he’s only 28 years old, it’s not like this is his last chance at a big free-agent contract. If he plays well with the Blue Jays, he’ll get paid well in 2015 and beyond.

For the sake of contract comparison, earlier this week Torii Hunter signed for two years and $26 million. Last year, Carlos Beltran signed for two years and $26 million. Jason Kubel signed for two years and $15 million, and Coco Crisp signed for two years and $14 million. The suspension obviously dealt a blow to Cabrera’s market value, and you can see how the Blue Jays might feel they have a potential steal on their hands. And they probably don’t even have to worry about potential PR fallout since whatever negatives might accompany Cabrera will be offset and then some by the excitement of seeing a front office work aggressively to build a winner. Blue Jays fans aren’t going to be worried about Cabrera’s suspension; they’ll be thinking about how Cabrera might help them get to the playoffs for the first time since Paul Wilson and Nomar Garciaparra were drafted.

We don’t know what effect Cabrera’s PEDs had on his performance. We don’t know if PEDs contributed to his big 2011, with the Royals. We do know that Cabrera’s hitter profile hasn’t really changed that much over the years — he has the same tendencies as ever, and the last two years his BABIP has skyrocketed. Cabrera’s 2010 with the Braves was particularly ugly, and it stands as a reminder that Cabrera isn’t guaranteed to be a decent investment, but if Cabrera meets only his career totals, he’ll be fine, if not better than that. And if he exceeds them, he’ll be an asset paid less than Chone Figgins.

We were waiting to see who might take a chance on Melky Cabrera. The answer is Toronto, where Alex Anthopoulos doesn’t seem to be afraid of anything. Not that there’s a whole lot here in particular to be afraid of. At two years and $16 million, Cabrera doesn’t even have to be good to be worth it. And Cabrera could be really good.

The Five Average-est Position Players of 2012.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
It has been a fun and exciting week of awards and the debates around them. Now it is time to get serious. We have just finished celebrating the best players of the 2012 season, whether or not one agrees with those officially recognized as such. Snarky jerks (present writer very much included) have had fun at the expense of the worst. Only one task remains: acknowledging those in the middle, the most average position players of 2012. One might think this is no big deal. I disagree. Isn’t the bulls-eye right in the middle of the target?

This award has been given for long enough that I guess we can call it a tradition. We can find how close a player is to average by subtracting the replacement runs from his runs above replacement (Wins Above Replacement prior to being converted to wins), which leaves just hitting, baserunning, fielding, and positional adjustment for each player. That number is the player’s total runs above or below average, so the absolute value of that number gives us his distance from average. (I do not do this for pitchers because the way that pitcher value is calculated makes it less amenable to a simple treatment.)

Obviously, if one does not buy into one or more of the components involved, this does not really work. One should not take this too seriously — once one converts to “absolute” runs, we have pretty much made the transition to a junk stat, anyway. This is just supposed to be a fun exercise to take a quick look at the different ways being average might manifest itself.

Only players who qualified for the batting title in 2012 are eligible. Before getting to the middle, here are five who just missed the cut: Shin-Soo Choo, Freddie Freeman, Yonder Alonso, Chris Davis, and Curtis Granderson.

Now for the top/middle five. The number of parentheses is the absolute runs the player is from average. Yes, going to two decimal places is pretty ridiculous, but again, this is just a fun little junk stat, and it also shows just how clsoe the race to mediocrity was this year.

5. Mike Aviles (1.40). In 2011, the always-streaky Aviles slumped crazily for the Royals, and with Alcides Escobar on board, Dayton Moore went to his traditional move: selling late and low. Aviles actually hit pretty well for the Red Sox to end 2011, and when Boston traded playoff-hero-to-be Marco Scutaro, Aviles slipped into a stopgap starter spot at shortstop.

While he started 2012 hot with the bat, he streaked down pretty quickly after that. Aviles is a hacker with an allergy to walks, and while his contact skills are good, they are not elite. When the power is not there, that does not add up to much with the bat when the hits are not falling in. Despite a dreadful year with the stick (74 wRC+), Aviles again showed that he could play decently at shortstop. Although Royals fans probably remember Aviles getting picked off in ridiculous fashion more than once, he is actually above-average when it comes to taking the extra base. This year, it all added up to average production. Aviles is no “mistake free” Chris Getz, though.

4. Jason Kubel (0.76). As one would expect, the move out of Minnesota’s cavernous home field to the National League and the Diamondbacks’ hitter’s paradise jump-started Kubel’s bat. In one way, Kubel’s bat got worse — in particular, his ability to make contact seemed to fall apart, as reflected in a strikeout rate over 26 percent. However, when he did make contact, he crushed the ball (.253 ISO, 30 home runs). A 115 wRC+ seems low for a player with 30 home runs, but that is sort of how Kubel’s year went. At least according to UZR, he was not as bad as one might expect in the field, which allowed him to be pretty much an average player for the Diamondbacks. Not bad for the money. I suppose if Kubel was any better, Kevin Towers would have already traded him for a middle reliever.

3. Garrett Jones (0.75). Jones’ raw 2012 hitting numbers made him look a bit like Kubel without the walks. After slumping through May, Jones crushed the ball for most of the rest of the year, and finished with 27 home runs. He was not much of a fielder at either first or in the outfield, nor did he draw any comparisons to Secretariat. Still, power is power, and the Pirates could have used a few more “only average” players to surround Andrew McCutchen.

2. Paul Konerko (0.12). One less-frequently discussed aspect of the Chicago’s contract with Adam Dunn is that it prevents Konerko from sliding over to the designated hitter slot full-time, which is probably what he should do. His glove is pretty poor at first base. Of course, even a DH has to run the bases, another thing that hurts his value.

It is too bad, since, as a hitter, many would agree that Konerko has one of the best approaches in the game. He manages to combine a good eye with better-than-average contact, and even with his power declining (.188 ISO, down from .272 in 2010 and .217 in 2011), he hit very well this year: .298/.367/.486 (131 wRC+). Konerko is underrated as a hitter, but his poor glove and base running limit his value, and as seen in his utterly average 2012 overall numbers.

Drum roll, please.

1. Kendrys Morales (0.07). Talk about a close race, just .05 runs! I really do not know what all the Trout-Cabrera stuff was about when this award was up for grabs (also, the NL MVP was a much more interesting). Morales had his first full year free of injury in 2012, and his role going into the season was ambiguous. First base was taken by some free agent whose name I can’t remember, and designated hitter was (at the time) mostly meant to be for Mark Trumbo if he did not manage to play third.

However, once Trumbo found his way to the outfield with Alberto Callaspo staying at third, Morales became the primary DH. A .273/.320/.467 line may not seem great for a designated hitter, but it is a sign of the run-environment times (as well as the Angels’ very pitcher-friendly park) that it still ended up being well above average at 118 wRC+. Morales is not the most patient hitter, as he swings away while not making contact all that frequently. However, he hits for enough power to make his overall offensive production pretty good. Add in a little bit of fielding (he is actually a pretty good first baseman when he gets to play there) and his not-great base running, and one gets the most average player in baseball. That is not bad at all for a player who made around $3 million in 2012. Congratulations on winning the last big off-season award of the season, Mr. Morales.

If this doesn't prove MLB MVP voters are hard headed then you need your head examined.

Recognizing Austin Jackson.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
I’m not overly interested in MVP postmortems. I’m happy it’s over, and we can move on to other things. But, yesterday’s results have inspired me to do one final post attempting to help a center fielder get the recognition he deserves for his 2012 season. And that center fielder is Austin Jackson.

24 different players were named on the 28 AL MVP ballots. Austin Jackson was not among those 24 players. Not a single writer saw fit to even throw him a 10th place bone. Seven writers found room for Alex Rios. Four found room for Jim Johnson. One found room for Raul Ibanez, which… you know, let’s just move on. But no one jotted Austin Jackson’s name down even once, even though he was quite clearly one of the 10 best players in the American League this year, no matter what way you choose to view baseball.

There were 83 players who got at least 500 plate appearances in the American League in 2012. Here is where Jackson ranks among those 83 in a variety of offensive statistics:

BA: .300 (12th)
OBP: .377 (8th)
SLG: .479 (21st)
wOBA: .371 (11th)
wRC+: 135 (13th)

He was a high average and on base guy who also hit for decent power, and on a per at-bat basis, he was a top 15 AL hitter this year. A DL stint in May limited him to 137 games played, but even still, his 617 plate appearances rank 35th in the AL this year. He was, for the most part, an everyday player. If you combine quantity and quality by translating wOBA into wRAA, Jackson comes out #12 in the AL. His two week stint on the DL doesn’t really affect his standing among AL hitters much.

And, of course, he played center field, and by pretty much any method you choose to evaluate him, he was pretty good at it. He has good range and can run down balls in the gap, and whether its the eye test or UZR, Jackson grades out as an above average defender relative to his peers. Once you factor in that his peers are already above average defenders, it becomes pretty clear that Jackson was one of the more valuable defensive players in the league this year. If you prefer numbers, he comes out 24th in position-neutral fielding (UZR plus the positional adjustment).

In other words, that top 15 hitter was also a top 25 defender. He isn’t a great baserunner, so he’s not a true “all around” star like some other unnamed AL center fielder was this year, but he was a good hitter who played good defense at a premium position. And, of course, if you like intangibles, his team made the playoffs, and they probably wouldn’t have without him.

In terms of why he got ignored, it’s not the position he played, or the context he played in. After all, it’s not like center fielders as a whole were discriminated against. Four of the top 10 finishers were center fielders, with Adam Jones being named on 24 ballots and Yoenis Cespedes being named on 14. Alex Rios, who used to be a center fielder but has now shifted over to a less demanding corner position, was named on seven ballots, despite being a worse hitter and playing for the team whose collapse allowed Jackson’s team to win the division.

At the end of the day, the only obvious explanation for why Jackson didn’t appear on a single ballot – RBIs. He finished 50th in the league in RBIs — because he hit leadoff, of course — and wasn’t particularly close to Trout, Hamilton, Jones, or Cespedes in that category. Voters much prefer driving in runs to scoring them, and Jackson’s spot in the line-up didn’t allow him to drive in enough runs to get noticed.

Which is just too bad, because Austin Jackson had a really terrific 2012 season. I guess if we recognize that, it makes it harder to continue to claim that one player carried the Tigers into the playoffs by himself, but I’m okay with that. Jackson did more than his fair share, and deserves recognition for his outstanding season. He didn’t get it yesterday, but hopefully people around the country noticed that he turned himself into one of the game’s best overall players.

Toronto Blue Jays Top 15 Prospects (Updated).
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
I published the Jays Top 15 prospect list just over a week ago but it already undergoes a transformation thanks to the (still unconfirmed) blockbuster trade between Toronto and the Miami Marlins. Justin Nicolino (5th), Jake Marisnick (6th), and Adeiny Hechavarria (10th) slide off the list and head to Florida while Anthony DeSclafani, another member of the trade, was in the 16-22 range and could very well make the Marlins’ upcoming Top 15.

#1 Travis D’Arnaud (C)

23 303 93 21 16 19 59 1 .333 .380 .595 .415

Opening Day Age: 24
2012 Level: AAA
Acquired: Trade (2009)
Projected 2013 Level: AAA/MLB

The young catcher entered 2012 as the Jays’ top prospect and he did nothing to change the lofty status, although a knee injury ended his season prematurely in June. Had he not been injured d’Arnaud likely would have made his big league debut when MLB incumbent J.P. Arencibia suffered a fracture in his hand.

d’Arnaud has the potential to be both an above-average hitter and fielder. One talent evaluator said the prospect was likely ready for the big leagues but stressed his value was behind plate and that it wasn’t overly likely that he would see time at other positions in an effort to get his bat into the lineup. Despite Arencibia’s offensive challenges the organization remains committed to him as the starter behind the plate because of the trust he’s built up with the pitching staff. The organization also recently re-signed backup Jeff Mathis to a two-year contract extension (plus an option) suggesting that d’Arnaud could become trade bait as the organization is openly working to improve the big league club – especially the pitching staff.
When I saw d’Arnaud play I was a little surprised by his lack of energy on the field – both on offense and defense. With that said, he showed good athleticism sliding to his right to block a wild pitch and also while fielding a ball out in front of home plate. If he’s still in the organization in April of 2013, d’Arnaud will head back to triple-A at the new affiliation in Buffalo and will look to continue polishing his game while awaiting a big-league opening.

Additional Notes

After four-plus years writing about prospects from a first hand perspective, Travis D’Arnaud is still the best all-around catching prospect I’ve seen in person. If he can produce like Ryan Doumit (.275/.320/.461) with league average defense behind the plate, he’s a definite upgrade over incumbent JP Arencibia who could be flipped to fill a need elsewhere. (Mike Newman)

#2 Aaron Sanchez (P)

20 25 18 90.1 64 3 9.66 5.08 2.49 3.41

Opening Day Age: 20
2012 Level: A
Acquired: 2010 draft (34th overall)
Projected 2013 Level: A+

Sanchez, the 34th overall pick of the 2010 amateur draft, spent the majority of 2012 pitching in low-A ball at the age of just 19. Despite his youth, he overpowered the older competition with a strikeout rate of 9.66 K/9 and just 64 hits allowed in 90.1 innings. Healthy all season, Sanchez’s innings were limited by Toronto’s development plan that relies on tandem starters in the lower levels of the system.

The right-hander has elite stuff, including a fastball that can hit the upper 90s, but his command and control are currently below average. One talent evaluator asked about Sanchez, though, wasn’t worried because his pitches have so much natural movement to them and he’s still learning to harness his pitches after his fastball jumped a full grade between 2011 and ’12.

The evaluator said the California native could still be a very good pitcher even if his command/control doesn’t improve, suggesting he could be an average big leaguer pitcher with 40 control and a potential star with 50 control. The same evaluator said Sanchez’s solid delivery and arm action should help him harness the ball better as he grows as a pitcher and gains more experience. He also said the young pitcher could end up with three plus pitches (fastball, curveball, changeup).

Additional Notes

In conversations with scouts at the ballpark, no prospect generated more buzz than right-hander Aaron Sanchez. Player comps included Matt Garza on the low end and Justin Verlander, “if everything broke just right.” Another scout mentioned he was shocked he lasted so long in the 2010 draft after seeing him pitch in person. (Mike Newman)

#3 Noah Syndergaard (P)

19 27 19 103.2 80 3 10.59 2.69 2.60 2.21

Opening Day Age: 20
2012 Level: A
Acquired: 2010 draft (38th overall)
Projected 2013 Level: A+/AA

Syndergaard has come a long way since being considered a “signability pick” during the 2010 draft. A late bloomer in high school, the tall Texan’s velocity now sits in the mid-to-upper 90s and can touch triple-digits. He also possesses above-average control for both his age and experience level.

The issue with the right-hander, though, is his secondary stuff. Both his curveball and changeup currently grade out as below average and questions remain about their future potential. A talent evaluator asked about Syndergaard’s secondary stuff commented, “The curveball has come a long, long way… it is, at times, average,” He also stated that the young pitcher is toying with a slider and referred the changeup as “OK.” If the secondary pitches don’t improve then Syndergaard could develop into a shut-down, high-leverage reliever who could dominate on the strength of his ground-ball-inducing fastball.

When I saw him pitch in May it looked like he was getting out in front of the curveball and dragging his arm behind him – making it almost impossible for him to throw it for strikes. He also was not doing a good job of holding base runners. The tall Texan should move up to Dunedin in 2013.

Additional Notes

One scout I spoke to commented Syndergaard’s fastball had the potential to be “Mat Latos Good.” And while that’s high praise, his secondary offerings lagged significantly behind earning a high leverage reliever projection from this particular contact. The number three ranking is deserved if one believes Syngergaard develops into a mid-rotation starter. If not, then Osuna, Nicolino and Norris should be higher than the big right-hander. (Mike Newman)

#4 Roberto Osuna (P)

16 12 9 43.2 32 2 10.10 3.09 2.27 2.79

Opening Day Age: 18
2012 Level: R+/A-
Acquired: 2011 international FA
Projected 2013 Level: A/A+

Osuna rose up the depth charts more than any other prospect in the Jays system in 2012 and the organization now considers him as valuable as fellow young hurlers Aaron Sanchez, Noah Syndergaard, and Justin Nicolino. The teenaged Mexican hurler burst onto the prospect landscape when he struck out 13 batters and allowed just one hit in 5.0 innings of work during his debut in the Northwest League in late July.

He’s a big, strong 17-year-old who spent part of 2011 pitching in the Mexican League against players capable of playing at the double-A and triple-A level. Osuna’s fastball gained a full grade between signing in 2011 and opening the ’12 season. He regularly sat 93-95 mph with his fastball after previously scraping 90. One talent evaluator saw him hit 96-97 mph with Nicolino’s pitchability. “He’s absolutely legit,” was the comment given.

Watching Osuna pitch reminds me of a young Bartolo Colon, a former Montreal Expos pitcher. When I saw him, Osuna struck out nine batters in 5.0 innings in the Northwest League finals, and allowed just two hits. He worked quickly, showed good command and is mature beyond his years. He seemed to favor the curveball to the changeup but I felt the latter pitch was better on that night. Osuna will likely move up to the Midwest League in 2013 – although he’ll be just 18 – but will be on the same restrictive innings program that the young starting pitching staff in Lansing was on in 2012. He has the ceiling of a No. 2 or 3 starter.

#5 D.J. Davis (OF)

19 266 57 10 5 27 70 25 .250 .355 .386 .356

Opening Day Age: 18
2012 Level: R/R+/A-
Acquired: 2012 draft (17th overall)
Projected 2013 Level: A-/A

The Jays’ 2012 first round draft pick, Davis is an electric young player with pure 80 speed that helps him both in center field and on the base paths. He played at three different levels during his pro debut, topping out at the college-aged Northwest League with Vancouver. Although most scouting reports fixate on the speed, a front office representative told me that Davis’ bat could become a plus tool with time: “It’s a simple swing and it’s quick… the power is the one tool that maybe gets overlooked with D.J. He’s got very strong hands and will show you raw power.”

I personally saw him play at the end of the year in the Northwest League and his speed was exciting. He almost legged out a one-bouncer to the third baseman, who played the ball perfectly. Davis showed a well-balanced stance at the plate and has a simple load. He does tend to rely on his quick hands too much in his swing, though, and could stand to incorporate his lower half more consistently. After receiving some playoff experience with Vancouver, Davis is set to open 2013 in full-season ball with low-A Lansing. Consider current Jays outfielder Rajai Davis to be the floor for D.J..

#6 Daniel Norris (P)

19 13 12 42.2 58 4 9.07 3.80 8.44 3.81

Opening Day Age:
2012 Level: R+/A-
Acquired: 2011 draft (2nd round)
Projected 2013 Level: A

When the Jays organization lost out on signing its 2011 first round draft pick it freed up some cash to sign Norris, who was considered by some to be the superior prep pitching prospect anyway. He didn’t pitch after signing and made his pro debut in 2012 in advanced-rookie ball.

His numbers may look bad on the surface – a 7.97 ERA and 44 hits allowed in 35.0 innings – but he allowed a BABIP of .367 and had a FIP of 3.80. His strikeout rate was also outstanding at 9.77 K/9 and his control rate was average at 3.34 BB/9. Norris was moved up to Vancouver at the end of the season and made two final starts. One talent evaluator liked what he saw from Norris this past season: “I saw Norris twice this year and he was excellent both times… I think the big inning got him a few times and I see the high ERA as more of a product of bad luck than lack of quality pitching (or) stuff.”

The southpaw has some work to do on ironing out and repeating his delivery but his changeup made huge strides during the year and projects as a plus pitch. His fastball sits in the low 90s but can tough 94-95 mph when needed. With a strong spring Norris could move up to low-A Lansing.

#7 Sean Nolin (P)

22 20 18 101.1 81 7 9.59 2.40 2.04 2.91

Opening Day Age: 23
2012 Level: A+/AA
Acquired: 2010 draft (6th round)
Projected 2013 Level: AA/AAA

One of the biggest surprises of the 2012 season was the emergence of Nolin. As one front office person stated, “I haven’t seen him on any top prospect lists yet, but he should be.” The southpaw missed some time due to injury but he blew through high-A ball with a 2.19 ERA and 90 strikeouts in 86.1 innings. Nolin, 22, also made three starts in double-A.

He has a big, strong pitcher’s frame and could develop into a No. 3 or 4 starter depending on the development of his secondary stuff. He’s very aggressive with his fastball that sits in the low 90s and it can touch 93-94 mph. His curveball has a shot at developing into a plus pitch but his changeup was referred to by the evaluator as “a work in progress.” It was also suggested that, if the repertoire cannot be improved upon, Nolin could be a successful “power lefty coming out of the ‘pen.” He should return to the starting rotation at the double-A level in 2013 and, if he can stay healthy, he could reach the majors by the end of the year.

#8 A.J. Jimenez (C)

21 112 27 4 2 5 13 2 .260 .297 .375 .304

Opening Day Age: 22
2012 Level: AA
Acquired: 2008 draft (9th round)
Projected 2013 Level: AA/AAA

Travis d’Arnaud is easily the best catching prospect in the system but Jimenez also has a chance to be an everyday big league backstop. The Puerto Rico native was considered a Top 3 round talent in the 2008 draft but slid to the ninth round due to concerns over an elbow injury. He played through the issue until his elbow finally gave way in 2012, resulting in Tommy John surgery after just 27 double-A games. Jimenez should be ready to return to double-A at the beginning of 2013 but he may have to DH until his elbow is fully rehabbed, likely in May or June.

I watched Jimenez play shortly before his injury and he was utilizing a wide, well-balanced stance at the plate. His approach was clearly designed to generate line drives, rather than over-the-fence power and he was relying heavily on his hands. He was stabbing a bit at the ball and needed to stay back more. Known as a very good defensive catcher – with a strong, accurate arm – Jimenez was a little lazy with his receiving in this game. With no runners on base, he was setting up very late and didn’t give a target with his glove; he allowed the pocket of his glove to point down to the ground, rather than out to the pitcher as a target. On the plus side, he was very quiet behind the plate and gave the umpire a great look at the ball.

#9 Marcus Stroman (P)

21 15 0 19.1 16 1 10.71 4.19 3.26 2.89

Opening Day Age: 21
2012 Level: A-/AA
Acquired: 2012 draft (22nd overall)
Projected 2013 Level: A+/AA

Stroman would have placed a little higher on this list had he not tested positive for a performance enhancing drug, resulting in a 50-game suspension that will significantly cut into his 2013 season. The first round draft pick out of Duke University in 2012, Stroman is an undersized right-hander whose future big league role is still undetermined by the organization.

He has a compact delivery but there is some effort to it. He has relatively long legs and they’re clearly quite strong. When I saw him pitch early in his pro career he was dropping his elbow a bit, causing command and control issues. When he’s going well Stroman shows a fastball that sits in the mid-90s and also utilizes a promising slider that could have a future 65-70 grade.

When I saw him pitch Stroman showed some impressive fastballs with explosive arm side run. However, I struggle to envision the right-hander as a big league starter. He has the potential to develop into a high-leverage reliever and should open his 2013 season in late May at the high-A level and could move quickly if he shows more consistency with his delivery.

#10 Santiago Nessy (C)

19 203 43 9 9 16 54 0 .236 .305 .434 .334

Opening Day Age: 20
2012 Level: R+/A-
Acquired: 2009 international FA
Projected 2013 Level: A

Nessy was a big ticket international signing back in 2009 but has moved slowly (by design) and spent the past three years in short-season ball. He played the majority of 2012 in advanced-rookie ball but received a late-season promotion to the Northwest League to experience playoff baseball with Vancouver, although he was over-matched in six regular season games and sat on the bench during the post-season.

Nessy’s greatest asset as an offensive player is his raw power and he could hit 20+ home runs in the majors with regular playing time. However, high strikeout rates will limit his ability to hit for average – which sounds a lot like current Jays catcher J.P. Arencibia – but Nessy has better plate discipline – although it’s far from perfect and his pitch selection needs work.

The catching prospect has made huge strides on his defensive game, thanks in part to the work he’s done with former big leaguer, and current minor league manager, Sal Fasano. Although Nessy has a large frame, much like Fasano did, a talent evaluator told me the prospect is very flexible and can provide pitchers with extremely low targets and an above-average arm. He was referred to as a “legit catcher” and his ability to speak English well (along with Spanish) gives him added value.

#11 Matt Smoral

Opening Day Age: 19
2012 Level: INJ
Acquired: 2012 draft (50th overall)
Projected 2013 Level: R+

Despite the new amateur draft budget limitations in 2012 the organization managed its money extremely well and came away with some players that other teams deemed unsignable under the new rules. Smoral was one of those players and he turned his back on a scholarship offer from the University of North Carolina thanks to a $2 million signing bonus. The teenager did not play after inking his contract due to a foot injury that was suffered prior to the draft – and caused him to slide to the 50th overall pick.

The lefty stands 6’7” but has good body control for his age and experience level. His fastball sits in the 89-94 mph range and he also shows a promising slider. His changeup remains a work-in-progress. Said one front office person familiar with Smoral, “I love how the ball comes out of his hand. I believe he can be explosive when he reaches his ceiling… He has a chance to be a power fastball/slider combo guy.” The organization was hoping to have him on the mound for the fall instructional league but was going to be very cautious. He should open 2013 in extended spring training before heading to rookie or advanced-rookie ball.

#12 Alberto Tirado (P)

17 14 14 48.0 32 0 7.31 3.19 2.63 2.89

Opening Day Age: 18
2012 Level: R/R+
Acquired: 2011 international FA
Projected 2013 Level: R+/A-

Tirado was acquired during the same signing period as fellow Jays prospects Wuilmer Becerra, Dawel Lugo, Jesus Gonzalez, Jairo Labourt and Manny Cordova – and received the smallest signing bonus – but he could end up being the best prospect out of the bunch.

After seeing his fastball range from 87-91 mph when he signed, Tirado has now seen his velocity jump to 93-95 mph. He also has a curveball, changeup and slider, which the talent evaluator I spoke with rated as his second-best pitch. I was told that the organization lowered the prospect’s arm slot from three-quarter to low-three-quarter and it added depth to the power slider. Tirado skipped over the Dominican Summer League and came to North America to play as a 17 year old, which speaks to how highly the organization views him as a prospect.

With that said, he’ll be handled cautiously and will likely open 2013 in extended spring training before returning to the Appalachian League or, possibly, the Northwest League. He’s a long way from realizing his full potential and his lack of size is the biggest detractor from his ultimate value.

#13 John Stilson (P)

21 30 22 104.1 110 8 7.85 3.62 3.88 3.78

Opening Day Age: 22
2012 Level: A+/AA
Acquired: 2011 draft (3rd round)
Projected 2013 Level: AA/AAA

Stilson was a potential first round pick out of Texas A&M before injuries scared teams away and he fell into Toronto’s lap in the third round of the 2011 amateur draft. The organization gambled half a million dollars after doctors reviewed his medical history and felt his shoulder could be rehabbed and surgery avoided.

Stilson’s shoulder was not an issue in his pro debut in 2012 and he pitched a total of 104.1 innings. After beginning the year as a starter, the Texas native finished the year in the bullpen to ease his innings total and that will likely be his future big league role due to the health concerns and his full-effort delivery.

Stilson’s fastball works in the low 90s and can hit the mid-90s. He also flashes a plus changeup. His breaking ball has the chance to be average. A contact I spoke with feels that the right-hander will excel in any role that he’s given. “I love Stilson’s competitive fire. He’s a winner,” the talent evaluator said. “He’s got good stuff and goes right after guys.”

After pitching 50 innings at double-A in 2012, he should return to that level to open the 2013 season but he could reach both triple-A and the majors by the end of the season. If he reaches his ceiling, Stilson could be a high-leverage reliever with closer potential.

#14 Kevin Pillar (OF)

23 620 184 29 7 43 83 59 .328 .378 .439 .373

Opening Day Age: 24
2012 Level: A/A+
Acquired: 2011 draft (32nd round)
Projected 2013 Level: AA/AAA

Pillar is one of those players that doesn’t have any plus tools but he gets the most out of his abilities. In fact, his hit tool may be the only above-average tool that he possesses. A 32nd round draft pick from 2011, Pillar has made the most of his opportunity after flying under a lot of radars.

In college, Pillar was known most for his defense but a talent evaluator I spoke with gave a 50 grade on the outfielder’s defensive abilities. He also gave the same grade for the speed tool even though the California native stole 51 bases in 60 attempts last season, mostly due to savvy base running. “He’s one of those prospects that grows on you,” the contact said. “He’s a good baseball player… that can barrel up balls and steal bases even though he’s an average runner… And he’s a great team guy.” I personally like to give a Reed Johnson comp for Pillar.

The outfield prospect hit .323 between two A-ball levels last season and drove in 91 runs despite having just modest gap power and not being considered a run producer. Assigned to the Arizona Fall League, Pillar was hitting .407 with eight steals in his first 13 games. In a game I personally witnessed during the season,he hit a no-doubt grand slam into the center-field stands on a1-1 pitch while utilizing a low-maintenance stroke that was short and quick to the ball.

Because of his strong season and outstanding fall performance, he should open 2013 in double-A and could see some major league action before the year is out — especially now that the depth in front of him has thinned with the recent trade of fellow prospect Jake Marisnick to the Miami Marlins.

#15 Christian Lopes (2B)

19 246 62 17 4 17 40 6 .278 .339 .462 .362

Opening Day Age: 20
2012 Level: R+/A-
Acquired: 2011 draft (7th round)
Projected 2013 Level: A

Although four years younger, Lopes is similar to Pillar in the sense that he doesn’t have a tool that screams “plus” but he does a little bit of everything and should hit well for a second baseman. The young prospect did not play after signing in 2011 but he reached short-season A-ball with Vancouver at the end of ’12.

Lopes had an above-average offensive reason in advanced rookie ball with a 127 wRC+ and he showed more power than expected with a .204 isolated slugging rate. He also controlled the strike zone well for a young player and showed decent defensive skills at second base despite a fringe-average arm, average hands and average range. A contact I spoke with said he wasn’t surprised with the success Lopes had last year. “He’s confident, he can hit and he’s a baseball rate,” the talent evaluator said. “Coming into the spring of 2011 we felt he was one of the top high school bats (available in the draft). I think he can be an everyday second baseman with offensive abilities.”

When I saw Lopes play I noted his low, squat stance that gave him a solid base at the plate. He has an open stance and stands close to the plate, which causes me to question his ability to handle pitches on the inner half of the strike zone. With that said, he showed a quick bat and his swing was short to the ball. Toronto likes to be cautious with its prep draftees but Lopes should be ready for full-season ball in 2013 after just one year of short-season action. He still needs a fair bit of polish but the prospect could be ready for the majors around 2016.

post #8914 of 73405
Originally Posted by Osh Kosh Bosh View Post

If you voted for Miggy you simply don't get it. You don't get how runs are scored, how they are prevented and how playoff caliber baseball teams are built. It's a very simple litmus test for your baseball IQ, and it seems that the BBWA failed it.

You stand high on that mighty soap box... let 'em hear ya!!!!
Instagram: backyardlobo
Instagram: backyardlobo
post #8915 of 73405
Thread Starter 
Handicapping the Josh Hamilton market.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
This is what Josh Hamilton achieved in 2012: 43 homers, tied for the second-most in the majors. One hundred twenty-eight RBIs, which ranked second in the majors. One hundred three runs; only seven players scored more. He finished fifth in the American League MVP voting.

This is what Hamilton somehow simultaneously achieved in 2012: He managed to create more questions about him, about his value, about the risk of signing him.

Somehow, evaluators are asking questions such as this -- Will Hamilton go into operation shutdown if you give him the contract that he's looking for? He seemed to struggle to maintain his focus in a lot of games and weeks last year, so will he simply drift off once he gets an enormous contract?

All of this makes for the most unique set of circumstances for any free agent since the system began in 1976, a mix of raw power and doubt and extraordinary natural ability and rumors. Anybody who tells you he or she knows exactly how this will end up is apparently the only person who thought in early December 2011 that Prince Fielder would land with Detroit.

I asked a handful of baseball officials and invested agents to venture an educated guess on where Hamilton will land -- and all but four of them split their votes, which tells you a lot about how wide-open and uncertain this situation appears to be:

The results:

Texas Rangers: 4 votes (Two full, four half-votes)

How this would happen: As Hamilton floundered down the stretch, some members of the Texas organization became completely fed up with what they perceive to be his unreliability and his wildly inconsistent at-bats; he swung at the first pitch in his at-bats at a higher rate than anybody in the majors. In the Rangers' wild-card game loss to the Orioles, he saw a total of eight pitches in his four plate appearances.

But the Rangers also know all about his potential impact; Texas had never been to the World Series before Hamilton joined the team, and then Hamilton was their best player as they reached the Fall Classic in 2010 and 2011. They know better than anybody about the state of his off-field issues. The Rangers are prepared to pay Hamilton a lot in salary, but it seems likely that they will limit the length of their contract offer.

Remember, though: The Rangers have a lot to offer Hamilton beyond dollars. He knows the front-office staff, knows manager Ron Washington, knows the coaches, knows the players. He knows the media, and wouldn't face nearly the kind of scrutiny that he would if he played in Boston or New York. If he played for the Yankees, any off-field incident would play out on the back pages day after day after day.

The Rangers know Hamilton; he knows them. And there could be a lot of value in that for both sides, in working out a new deal.

One evaluator who gave a half-vote for the Rangers wrote this: "He needs big money -- an average annual value for somewhere between $25 and $30 million depending on the years he is (or is not) guaranteed. Texas still needs a big power bat and despite how things ended it worked well for both sides when he was there."

Milwaukee Brewers: 3 1/2 (Two full, three half-votes)

How this would happen: The Brewers don't have the resources to give Hamilton anything close to the Prince Fielder-type money he is said to be looking for. What they do have, as written here Oct. 16, is a support system that he trusts and a lot of answers to the questions about Hamilton's reliability.

If Hamilton gets the kind of massive offer he wants, the Brewers don't have a chance. But if the questions about Hamilton's substance abuse crush the bidding for him, leaving him to choose among a group of similar three-year or four-year deals, then Milwaukee could be in play. And at least two agents believe that the tipping point for Hamilton will be on whether somebody offers him three years, or four. "Nobody is giving him more than four years," said one agent.

One talent evaluator guessed the Brewers will win, adding that he thinks Hamilton will get $125 million over five years.

"But I wouldn't be surprised with something completely outlandishly expensive or closer to $100 million," the evaluator added. "It's a very unique case."

Boston Red Sox: 1 1/2 votes (One full, one half-vote)
How this could happen: The Red Sox have money available, they have a need for an outfielder, and if the bidding for him is limited by teams afraid of the risk-reward equation, Hamilton could evolve from an expensive option into a pretty good value signing.

Said an NL evaluator: "He could be Boston's impact hitter and would absolutely torch the Yankees. He could easily transition to LF in that ballpark and eventually DH once David Ortiz leaves. In fact, Boston has had experiences with 'special cases' that needed extra attention like Manny Ramirez."

Seattle Mariners: 1/2 vote

How this could happen: The Mariners, now more than a decade removed from their last playoff appearance, are viewed as desperate by rival executives this winter. Ichiro Suzuki's contract is off the books, and Chone Figgins was cut; they need a lot of help to contend in an increasingly competitive AL West, and Hamilton could, in theory, be the anchor to their lineup. Besides their deal with Felix Hernandez, the Mariners have relatively few salary obligations beyond the 2013 season.

Hamilton would be a good fit, but presumably, the Mariners would have to go above and beyond all other bidders in order to land Hamilton, given the current state of the franchise -- which could mean an offer of at least five or six years.

By the way: Seattle GM Jack Zduriencik said recently that the Mariners aren't targeting Hamilton.

Baltimore Orioles: 1/2 vote

How this could happen: The Orioles have the money, they could play Hamilton in left field, and he might be more interested in playing in Baltimore now that the team has become a contender again.

By the way: I think there's little-to-no chance the Orioles get seriously involved in these conversations, because of Hamilton's addiction history. Owner Peter Angelos has nixed many deals in the past, based on the recommendations of team doctors, and so he would probably have a lot of hard questions about what kind of toll Hamilton's past drug use took on his body.

Mystery Team (1 vote)

How this could happen: The price gets so depressed in the Hamilton bidding that some team swoops in and makes what it considers to be a high-value deal. If this sounds nutty, remember how the Phillies shocked the baseball world by signing Cliff Lee, and how the Tigers landed Fielder.

My pick: It's the safe play, but I'd guess -- and that's all it is, a guess -- that he'll go back to the Rangers. Because I don't think any team will extend itself far beyond Texas in the bidding, given the inherent concerns.

Moves, deals and decisions

1. The TV deal that the Los Angeles Dodgers are talking about is worth $6 billion. In other words: Luxury tax; what luxury tax?

2. The Atlanta Braves are waiting on B.J. Upton's decision, writes David O'Brien.

3. The Dallas Morning News places odds on Zack Greinke landing with the Rangers in this piece.

4. The Red Sox are focused on Mike Napoli.

5. The Nationals don't have any pressing needs, says GM Mike Rizzo. He's right. St. Louis is in the same situation.

6. That said: The Cardinals are looking to enhance their left-handed relief, writes Derrick Goold.

7. This could be a busy week for the Phillies, writes Jim Salisbury. I agree with Jim; by the end of this week, Philadelphia could have its center fielder.

8. Within the same piece there is word that Ryan Madson is in serious talks with the Los Angeles Angels. He's a perfect fit for them: Experience as a closer and as a setup man, and presumably, as he comes back from major surgery, he won't be too expensive.

9. Andy Pettitte has started his offseason workouts.

The writers' Hall of Fame conundrum.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
The Hall of Fame ballots for the 2013 class are expected to be mailed to voters Monday, and within the same envelope, there also will be pages containing concise career biographies for each of the candidates.

For Roger Clemens, there likely will be mention of his seven Cy Young Awards, the eight years in which he led his league in ERA, the 354 career victories, the 4,916 2/3 innings and the 4,672 strikeouts.

Next to Barry Bonds' name, there will be a citation of his 763 career home runs, more than anybody else in baseball history, and his 2,227 runs, 2,935 hits, 2,558 walks, 514 stolen bases, seven Most Valuable Player Awards and eight Gold Gloves. The numbers for Sammy Sosa and Mike Piazza and the rest will be similarly presented in neutral language.

But as Mark McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro and Jeff Bagwell can attest, that list of career highlights doesn't contain the information that a lot of writers -- anywhere from 45 to 88 percent -- will view as the litmus test to judge whether the player is worthy of induction. In the mini-résumés, there will be no mention of steroids or human growth hormone or testosterone or pills or hypodermic needles.

McGwire has acknowledged he's used performance-enhancing drugs. Palmeiro was suspended for testing positive for steroids. Bonds acknowledged using, but not knowingly. Clemens says he didn't do a damn thing; the same with Piazza. Sammy Sosa would answer if he understood the question, as he indicated on Capitol Hill in 2005, but his English is operational only in daily conversations and in commercials. There is no hard evidence that Bagwell used, but to date, he has been convicted annually by a large core of writers because they suspect he was a juicer, given his past muscularity and friendship with Ken Caminiti.

As far as Major League Baseball is concerned, McGwire and the other Hall of Fame candidates are all merely former players in good standing. McGwire served as a hitting coach for the Cardinals before recently being hired by the Dodgers. Bagwell has done work for the Astros, and Clemens and Bonds have personal services contracts with their former teams.

As far as the Baseball Hall of Fame is concerned, McGwire and the others are candidates in good standing. They'll be listed on the forthcoming ballot, eligible to receive votes -- and if they get enough votes, they'll be inducted. (Pete Rose, on the other hand, was never on a Hall ballot after being banned by Major League Baseball for betting on his team's games; he must get special permission to make any appearances on behalf of the Cincinnati Reds.)

It's the writers, and the writers alone, who are the bottleneck.

In the past, baseball writers have sought clarification from the Hall of Fame on how they should handle the steroid era candidates. If they are looking for guidance, maybe they should take a cue from Major League Baseball. Commissioner Bud Selig hasn't stripped any records or accomplishments -- with the one exception being Melky Cabrera's voluntary withdrawal from the 2012 batting title race -- and he hasn't banned Clemens or Bonds or Sosa. Before Game 1 of the World Series, Bonds walked into the Giants' clubhouse without being stopped by security, and that will continue to be the case.

Maybe the writers should take a cue from the Hall of Fame, which always has taken an open-minded stance that it's a museum meant to document history, with all that entails. The Hall is not some Never Never Land, where everybody stays young and pretends the players are perfect in everything they do. You can walk into the Hall's research facility and ask for all the information it has on steroid use in baseball, and you won't be thrown out for asking the question; rather, the folks who run the museum will always do their best to educate you on the game's history as best they can.

And part of the game's history is that pharmaceutical drug use has been a part of the sport for many years and will continue to be. Over time, the capability of the drugs increased, and so did the use of them, almost entirely unchecked.

We can all debate about who should've done what to stop this, whether it was the union leaders or the owners or the clean players or the dirty players or the writers.

What cannot be debated is that over a period of more than 50 years, dating from the first use of amphetamines around the end of World War II into the early part of the 21st century, the institution of baseball generally did not respond to a rampant growth in the use of drugs. The union leadership didn't respond. Major League Baseball didn't respond. The players -- current Hall of Famers among them -- didn't respond. Loose rules that were in place were not enforced.

In that vacuum, many, many players chose to use drugs, from the so-called red juice to good ol' fashioned steroids. Many, many did not. We'll never know exactly who did what, when they did it and what the precise impact was on their respective careers -- and those of other players.

What we do know is that thousands and thousands of games were played, with thousands and thousands of players aided in one way or another by drugs, legal and illegal. We already have a Hall of Fame that includes former PED users, given the decades-long influx of amphetamines.

To stop a few of the participants at the door of a museum of history seems absurd, because the history occurred, whether we like all of it or not.

So the baseball writers ought to get out of the way rather than acting like overzealous crossing guards empowered by their ballots. The writers' work should always reflect history, not determine legacies; that's the work of the players, the good and the bad.

Other thoughts

" Some executives believe that among the players who were given qualifying offers, Rafael Soriano and Adam LaRoche are the most likely to be hurt by the fact that they are now attached to draft-pick compensation.

The Washington Nationals would like to work out a new deal with LaRoche, so the compensation issue might not impact him much in the end. But in Soriano's case, it seems the New York Yankees would greatly prefer that he sign elsewhere in order to get a draft pick -- and it's unlikely they would take him back, one way or the other.

" It's very early in the offseason, but a team that is viewed as having the toughest offseason, so far, is the Minnesota Twins. They are starved for pitching, and given their lack of payroll flexibility and the player composition of their organization -- a handful of highly priced stars with relatively thin talent around them -- rival evaluators believe it'll be a long, long road for the Twins as they work their way back into contention.

Moves, deals and decisions

1. The Tampa Bay Rays may be looking for five front-line position players if they non-tender Ryan Roberts and others, writes Marc Topkin.

2. The Texas Rangers are still talking with Mike Napoli. So are the Seattle Mariners.

3. Remember when the Boston Red Sox made their whopper deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers and purged some salary, and the talk was of a measured rebuilding for Boston? Well, you knew that as the offseason grew colder, the fans and media would want more -- more star power, in particular. And today, Michael Silverman is calling for the Red Sox to make big moves. John Farrell thinks everybody should trust the plan, writes Scott Lauber. The Fort Myers mayor seems to be having second thoughts about the investment in Red Sox infrastructure.

4. The Baltimore Orioles have been quiet, but it's not time to panic, writes Peter Schmuck.

5. The Yankees could benefit from some veterans, writes Joel Sherman.

6. The Orioles have lost DeMarlo Hale to the Blue Jays, writes Roch Kubatko.

7. Bob McClure might land a spot with the San Diego Padres, writes Bill Center.

10 concerns for 10 contenders.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
The Toronto Blue Jays were the first team to jump into winter with an early hammer, but some general managers and agents say that their sense of the market is that others are waiting. Waiting for the prices to drop, or waiting for more opportunities to pop up, or waiting to see how much urgency they need to have.

A lot of consumers may have stampeded through doors today, but most baseball GMs are just waiting. "I think it's going to be slow going," said one long-time agent earlier this week.

The teams will have to move eventually, because there are major holes to be filled among the perceived contenders. The San Francisco Giants have been talking with Angel Pagan, but aren't sure they want to give him as many years as he wants in his next deal, and they believe that they'll work out something with Marco Scutaro to return as their second baseman. If San Francisco retains those two players, most of their heavy lifting for the winter will be done.

Here are some other issues that perceived contenders must address.

1. Tampa Bay Rays: Middle of the lineup

As respected as this organization is -- really, the Rays are the polar opposite of the Miami Marlins -- they still probably don't get enough credit for the annual makeover they must undergo. Every winter, the Rays have to try to reconstruct some semblance of a bullpen and everyday lineup with the few dollars they have remaining, while clinging to their young starting pitching. Their ability to piece together bullpens despite their financial limitations has been almost miraculous, but they haven't been quite so lucky in getting production from their chosen position players.

Carlos Pena was a bust last season and so was Luke Scott, and now B.J. Upton is gone. So the Rays must find help at first base and in the outfield and at DH. As usual, they'll wait for some of the more expensive veterans to come off the board and then sift through the likes of the secondary options such as Mark Reynolds, if he's not tendered a contract by the Orioles, or Travis Hafner, who gets on base when he plays.

2. Los Angeles Angels: Starting pitching

The stakes for the Angels in their talks with Zack Greinke are incredibly high. They let Dan Haren go and traded Ervin Santana, and as of today, their rotation is comprised of Jered Weaver, C.J. Wilson -- who is recovering from elbow surgery -- and Jerome Williams. The 24-year-old Garrett Richards could also be an option. Rival executives say the Angels' farm system is very thin, and if they lose in the Greinke bidding, they will be left to scramble among the secondary options in the free-agent market -- viewed by some GMs as incredibly overpriced -- or to look for trade for some pitching in the bargain-basement bins.

3. Texas Rangers: Power hitter

By the time Josh Hamilton signs his next contract, he probably will be the most scrutinized free agent ever. Talent evaluators are not only reviewing his on-field performance, they are asking a lot of questions about his off-field life as well, and whether his absences are about baseball injuries or personal demons. There are some executives who privately say they are comfortable offering him a three-year deal, with significant protective language written into the deal by the team. We don't know yet if any team will step up and offer him a deal of four or more years.

And we don't yet know precisely what how motivated the Rangers are about bringing back Hamilton. As frustrating as he has been at times for the Texas staff and his teammates, he has been incredibly productive, and he is one of the Rangers' few left-handed hitters.

The Rangers have to sort their other options -- what to do about their middle-infield logjam, and whether they should step up their pursuit of Justin Upton. Pure speculation: Adam LaRoche, the 33-year-old left-handed hitter who clubbed 33 homers for the Washington Nationals last season, might be an interesting option for them, to give them something of a safety net in case Hamilton goes elsewhere.

Whatever happens, they're going to need lineup help.

4. Milwaukee Brewers: Starting pitching

What the Brewers accomplished in the final two months to get back into the playoff race was remarkable, but the bottom line is that three-fifths of their opening day rotation -- Zack Greinke, Shaun Marcum and Randy Wolf -- is gone, and the Brewers need help around Yovani Gallardo, Mike Fiers and Marco Estrada.

5. Baltimore Orioles: Starting pitching

They'd like to retain Joe Saunders, of course, but whether it's Saunders or others, they're going to need to upgrade. The Orioles have a decent core coming back, with Jason Hammel, Wei-Yin Chen and the very underrated Miguel Gonzalez. Steve Johnson opened some eyes last season, Zach Britton had some good games down the stretch and Brian Matusz will either build on his tremendous stint as a reliever and move back into the rotation, or he may have found a home in the bullpen. There will be a time in the near future when top prospect Dylan Bundy becomes a serious part of this conversation, but it's hard to imagine that he'll open 2013 in Baltimore.

6. Atlanta Braves: Center fielder

They reacquired Jordan Schafer early in the offseason to give them some depth at the position, but they'll need a front-line guy, whether it's B.J. Upton or Dexter Fowler (through a trade), or maybe even Michael Bourn, if he goes back to Atlanta with his salary expectations a little lower.

7. Oakland Athletics: Shortstop

It's pretty incredible to think that the Athletics' offseason labors would be just about completed in late November, but that's where they are. The Athletics have left the light on for Stephen Drew, if he needs a place to stay at a lower salary than he wanted a month ago, and Oakland might be in the mix for Asdrubal Cabrera -- although the Athletics, generally speaking, are loath to trade the type of starting pitching Cleveland has been asking for in return. Oakland's shortstops were 28th in the majors last season in OPS, ahead of only the Twins and Mariners, so any change may help.

8. Detroit Tigers: Closer

Jose Valverde's collapse at the end of the season created a huge hole for the AL champions, and they'll need to patch it over. Rival executives assume that there will be a day when agent Scott Boras appeals to the Tigers to work out something on Rafael Soriano, the best available closer, but to this point, there's no indication that Detroit is prepared to spend big dollars on a closer. There has been a lot of speculation that youngster Bruce Rondon could be an internal option for the Tigers, but remember, he has never pitched in the big leagues, and his command in the minor leagues has been spotty (26 walks in 53 minor league innings last year).

9. Philadelphia Phillies: Center fielder

The presumption among some agents is that the Phillies are in position to be the most aggressive among this group of free agents, whether it's in signing Pagan, B.J. Upton or Bourn. Their window for winning a championship with their aging core is closing, so they might as well go for it.

10. Boston Red Sox: More, everywhere

They could use some more help with their starting rotation, and with their bullpen, and with their lineup; more, more, more, in what should be a very competitive AL East. After signing Jonny Gomes, they still remain open-minded about working out a deal with Cody Ross, and they are in play for Mike Napoli and others, as they consider options for first base.

For the readers: Where are your biggest concerns about the team you follow?

Moves, deals and decisions

1. The New York Mets just never learn, writes Richard Sandomir, after word broke that the Steven A. Cohen -- one of the club's new minority owners -- is under investigation.

2. Josh Johnson is open to the idea of an extension with the Blue Jays, writes Brendan Kennedy.

Orioles finally free-agency players.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Syd Thrift spoke with a Southern drawl, his voice and delivery so distinct that if Looney Tunes had ever needed a replacement for Mel Blanc and his characterization of Foghorn Leghorn, Syd would've been the perfect guy to take the role.

I wasn't in the room when Thrift uttered his immortal line about the Orioles' plight more than a decade ago, but because his voice was so memorable that I can almost hear the words as if I was there: "It's like we're offering Confederate money," Thrift said.

For more than a decade, the Orioles had been a baseball disaster, failing to contend, failing to compete. And time and again their offseasons have played out in the same way: They have been slow to make offers, and when they finally have made offers, they learned that they have been used as a stalking horse -- a means for a player and his agent to get a better deal elsewhere. Then, late in the offseasons, the Orioles have picked up some of the last remaining free agents, like the last turkey leftovers late on Thanksgiving days, the scraps. Somebody else has always gotten the market's drumsticks.

But there is a different feeling about the Orioles in these first months after they made the playoffs for the first time in 14 seasons. Agents and players are waiting on them, with some players hoping to work out deals with Baltimore.

"It's winning," said a longtime agent. "Period. That's what it comes down to."

He described his current work with a specific client, and mentioned that their discussions about possible desired landing spots have included the Orioles. "If Buck [Showalter] is responsible for the winning, then I think you can say Buck is responsible for players wanting to go there," he said.

The Orioles are looking for rotation help, and want to re-sign Joe Saunders, whose price tag may have been more sharply defined by the three-year, $25 million deal that Jeremy Guthrie got with the Royals; a two-year deal with Baltimore, for a similar annual salary, might be in line with the current market. The Orioles have talked about adding a bat -- but they are not expected to be in the conversations with Josh Hamilton. As with a lot of other teams, there is great concern about the risk with the slugger.

The Orioles had been in on Jonny Gomes, but there hadn't been any hard follow-up.

So which teams currently have Confederate money, in the eyes of some agents? The Marlins, for sure, especially after Mark Buehrle has essentially called them liars. The Indians, who are going through another round of restructuring. And the Pirates. "If the Pirates had finished better, I think you'd see more interest in them from the players," said the same agent.


[+] Enlarge

AP Photo/Ben Margot
Right-handed dead pull hitter at Fenway in a division full of lefties? Check.

• No team does a better job assessing the impact of a home ballpark better than the Red Sox, an AL general manager said the other day, citing the examples of Kevin Millar and Cody Ross. Fenway Park has the most unique conditions in baseball, with the Green Monster and the expansive right field and the Pesky Pole.

A left-handed hitter who tends to pull the ball wouldn't fit, but a right-handed hitter who is a dead pull hitter -- like Gomes -- does fit. Gomes, who turns 32 today, got the first big multiyear contract of his career, signing for $10 million over two years after making a total of $5.5 million in his first decade.

Sixteen of Gomes's 18 homers with the Athletics last year were hit to left field, and the other two went to center field. In a division with CC Sabathia, Andy Pettitte, Mark Buehrle, Ricky Romero, Matt Moore, David Price, Joe Saunders (in all likelihood), etc., yes, it helps to get someone who can do damage against lefties.

The Red Sox locked up a good guy in Gomes, and the money turned out to be really good for him. And if you think that Boston overpaid on Gomes, at two times five, well, just wait a few weeks -- his salary is going to be a lot closer to major league average than you realize, with the expected bump in salaries this winter.

• Bryan LaHair's deal with the SoftBank Hawks was for $4 million over two years, and the Cubs get $950,000 for the sale price, a good deal for all involved. LaHair has the word "All-Star" on his résumé, and for some agents, it was not surprising that SoftBank had made a move on a noted player. There had been talk earlier this offseason that the Hawks intended to make an aggressive move on a major league veteran free agent, like a Mike Napoli or a Kevin Youkilis, and include an offer they couldn't refuse, like $15 million to $20 million for one year. But if something like that happened, there would have been a lot of concern over how it would have impacted player salaries in Japan. For now, that big move hasn't been made.

An agent was asked: What if SoftBank had made a whopper one-year offer to your client? "Let's put it this way," he replied. "We'd be eating a lot of sushi today."

• Scott Kazmir's second scheduled start was rained out on Wednesday, but in his first start, he had six strikeouts in four innings and his velocity was up. He is being scouted by a number of teams, including the Indians.

• Chris Heisey is eligible for arbitration for the first time in his career this winter, and he has been a good player for the Reds. Rather than go through the arbitration process for the first time, it would make sense if Cincinnati were to work out a multiyear deal with Heisey, of two years or three. The same could be true, by the way, for A.J. Ellis and the Dodgers.

Moves, deals and decisions

1. Buehrle believes he was lied to by the Marlins. He can join the club.

That's why the saying goes: Get it in writing.

2. Torii Hunter likes the Detroit lineup.

3. Kyle Gibson hopes he's on his road to recovery, writes John Shipley.

4. The Brewers will be holding their annual clubhouse sale next weekend.

5. Dewayne Wise signed with the White Sox. He had a nice season in 2012 and is rewarded for it.

6. The Phillies' priority is signing a center fielder.

7. Russell Martin is waiting for the Yankees to make their pitch.

Royals following a plan for 2013.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
The view that teams take now is much wider than it was in the past, based on statistical evaluation over years rather than a handful of innings. But it's hard to overstate how much Jeremy Guthrie's 14 starts for the Royals last summer meant to his value.

At the time the Rockies traded Guthrie to Kansas City, he had a 6.35 ERA and had been demoted to the bullpen. If he had finished the year with Colorado and gone into the market with those numbers, he probably would've been among the large colony of starting pitchers looking for a one-year deal.

Instead, Guthrie threw well for the Royals, posting a 3.15 ERA in 91 innings, a performance that was much closer to what he did with the Orioles and made his time with Colorado look like an aberration. For this, the Royals rewarded him with a three-year, $25 million deal that was spoken of as a fair price in the front offices of some other teams. Considering the current market, and considering the fact that Guthrie is 33 and a solid bet for 200 innings annually, some rival officials thought the dollar-for-production equation was more than reasonable.

Having added Guthrie and Ervin Santana, the Royals will continue to look for another starting pitcher, with a willingness to consider trading some minor leaguers rather than anyone from their every-day major league lineup. And while Royals officials still view the team as a work in progress; evaluators with other teams think of them as an intriguing collection of talent -- especially their bullpen.

Late in the season, Adam Dunn mused about the strengths and weaknesses of other clubs, and he mentioned that the Royals' collection of relievers was the best he had ever seen. The numbers back him up. The Royals finished sixth in bullpen ERA, at 3.17, and averaged almost a strikeout per inning. Because of K.C.'s rotation issues, the bullpen was forced to work a whole lot, but Kelvin Herrera generated a WAR of 2.4, highest on the staff, striking out 77 in 84.1 innings. Greg Holland had 91 strikeouts in 67 innings. Tim Collins punched out 93 batters in 69.2 innings. Aaron Crow was an All-Star two seasons ago.

The Royals' hope is that Santana, Guthrie and the soon-to-be-acquired third starter will stabilize the rotation, and the every-day lineup -- loaded with young players -- takes a step forward. Specifically, K.C. needs Eric Hosmer to rebound from his rough sophomore season, to serve as a damage partner for Billy Butler in the middle of the order. If Royals manager Ned Yost is looking for an example to cite when he first speaks with his players in spring training, he could talk about what the Orioles accomplished. Baltimore had one starting pitcher who made more than 20 starts during the regular season and the Orioles still made their way to the playoffs, in a very competitive AL East.

The Royals' rotation could be more stable than Baltimore's rotation last year, and they play in a weaker division, as rival officials note. "They're a team to watch," said an AL GM.


• Guthrie's deal is backloaded, as Bob Dutton writes. Sam Mellinger thinks the Royals should be audacious moving forward. From Mellinger's piece:

With the roster constructed as is, the Royals project to about a $70 million payroll. That's an improvement over last year, but still comfortably in the bottom quarter of baseball.

Even while the Royals have perhaps the worst TV contract in baseball -- their own fault more than market size, by the way -- baseball's revenue sharing is such that they should be able to spend $75 million to $80 million fairly easily. At that level, any operating loss would be minimal and more than offset by recent profits and the franchise's value more than tripling from Glass' purchase price.

This is where general manager and owner must work together, to trust in each other. If Moore has to dip into the team's wealth of prospects to acquire a frontline pitcher through a trade, then it's his job to find the right guy. Tommy Hanson, James Shields, Rick Porcello. Someone.

• This is a fascinating story about baseball's work in the secondary ticket market, from Jay Cohen.

From his piece:

John Davis, the vice president for ticket sales for the Cincinnati Reds, said the relationship with StubHub "provides valuable insight and data into the secondary market that we wouldn't have otherwise.

"Teams are provided a clear picture as to nuances of the secondary buyer by pricing categories, proximity to the ballpark, and timing in regards to time of purchase and the actual game," Davis said. "All these factors are extremely helpful in understanding our fan base, how best to message to them, and how to properly price our tickets."

Any new deal between the sides could have a much different feel without one of baseball's most popular franchises.

A person familiar with the situation told The Associated Press that the New York Yankees are planning to opt out if baseball signs another deal with StubHub. The person said the Yankees would announce their own arrangement at some point soon.

The person spoke on condition of anonymity because of the ongoing contract negotiations.

The Yankees groused about StubHub when they had some empty seats for some of their home games in the playoffs. The actual effect of their absence from any new arrangement is uncertain, since fans still would be able to buy and sell Yankees tickets on the site -- the consumer may not notice much of a difference.

• The signing of Hiroki Kuroda brings a lot of relief to the Yankees, who believe that his return increases the likelihood that Andy Pettitte will put off retirement and also come back for next year. They don't know exactly when CC Sabathia will be ready, but the rotation should be pretty good, again:

1. Sabathia
2. Kuroda
3. Pettitte
4. Phil Hughes

Ivan Nova and Michael Pineda will be the leading candidates for the last spot in the rotation, and the Yankees also have David Phelps, a sinkerballer whom rival evaluators see as a really useful option.

• The Mariners turned the page on the Chone Figgins era.

• On Tuesday, teams settled on their 40-man rosters. Here's a rundown of some of the machinations:


• Rays moves.

• Rangers moves, from Gerry Fraley.

• Indians, including a move of Matt LaPorta, who was the centerpiece of the CC Sabathia trade.

• White Sox moves.

• Twins moves.

• Oakland moves.


• Braves moves.

• Phillies moves.

• Pirates moves, including Tony Sanchez.

• Cubs, who moved to cut Bryan LaHair, who is looking to work out a deal in Japan.

• Brewers moves.

• Dodgers moves.

• Padres moves.

Moves, deals and decisions

1. A Matt Harrison extension is a priority for the Rangers.

2. Jeff Wilpon says the Mets want to re-sign R.A. Dickey and David Wright. He says he's more optimistic the team will retain the two.

3. The Jays are still looking for a top-of-the-rotation starter, and this is an opportunity for the Mets, writes Joel Sherman.

4. Arnie Beyeler was named Boston's first-base coach.

5. With a glut of second basemen, the Orioles traded Robert Andino. Wrote here last week about how Buck Showalter is encouraged by the offseason work of Brian Roberts.

6. The Jays introduced John Gibbons, as Bob Elliott writes. He's a safe bet, writes Ken Fidlin.

The Jays' ownership's attitude was: Go for it.

7. The Tigers are looking for more defense at shortstop, writes Lynn Henning, who nominates Danny Worth. If Detroit signs Stephen Drew, a trade of Jhonny Peralta could follow, writes Tony Paul. You wouldn't blame the Tigers for working to upgrade their infield defense, and it can't happen at first or third base, given the presence of Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder at the corners; it has to happen at shortstop.

8. The Tigers cut Ryan Raburn.

9. The Cubs are one of the teams looking at a closer from Japan.

10. The Rockies traded for an infielder.

11. Adam Kennedy still wants to play.

Ready to rebound in 2013.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
During the offseason, free agents get most of the attention. They're the ones that we know are available, and if they've made it this far into the winter without re-signing with their old teams, they're the ones probably looking for a change of address. However, free agents aren't the only players that teams can acquire without giving up a lot in order to get them.

Every year, there are a group of players who change teams because their prior organization didn't want to give them the raise they were due in arbitration. They're usually coming off poor seasons but are due significant raises anyway, as arbitration rewards players heavily for playing time, even if they didn't earn that playing time.

Last year, the poster boy for this situation was Angel Pagan, whom the New York Mets sent to the San Francisco Giants in exchange for Andres Torres and Ramon Ramirez in a change-of-scenery trade. Pagan was brutal in 2011 (.694 OPS) and was set to earn nearly $5 million in arbitration, so the Mets shipped him west rather than pay for the hope he would bounce back. He did bounce back, of course, and the Giants found themselves a quality center fielder at a marginal cost, while Torres was one of baseball's worst regulars and Ramirez was barely mediocre out of the bullpen.

Which players have the chance of being 2013's Angel Pagan? Here are three candidates.

Rick Porcello, RHP
Because the Tigers broke Porcello into the big leagues before he was legally allowed to drink, it's easy to forget that this four-year veteran doesn't turn 24 until two days after Christmas. He's never lived up to the hype he got as a prospect, but slowly but surely, Porcello's markers have been trending in the right direction.

He set career highs in both strikeout rate and ground ball rate in 2012, but even more encouragingly, his velocity jumped nearly 2 mph, and he was regularly topping out at 95 for the first time as a big leaguer. The improvement was masked by mediocre results, but those were primarily caused by a .344 batting average on balls in play, and considering how dreadful the Tigers' defense was, that's a number that is unlikely to be repeated with any other set of teammates. While his 4.59 ERA won't blow you away, his 3.91 FIP suggests he was much better than his raw stats suggest.

Because he qualified for "Super Two" status, he's already on his second trip through arbitration, and he'll get a raise from the $3.1 million he made last year, probably landing somewhere close to $5 million for the upcoming season. The Tigers have already publicly stated that they're trying to re-sign Anibal Sanchez, and they'd have Drew Smyly to fill the No. 5 spot in the rotation if they retain Sanchez or replace him with another veteran hurler. By moving Porcello and his $5 million price tag, they could free up some money to throw at Sanchez, and give Porcello a second chance in front of a defense that is a little more supportive of pitch-to-contact strike-throwers. Without a legitimate out pitch, he's unlikely to develop into an ace, but Porcello's got a chance to settle in as a quality midrotation starter, especially if he maintains his new velocity.

Drew Stubbs, CF
As a first-time arbitration-eligible player, Stubbs isn't likely to be available because the Reds can't afford to give him the $3 million or so he'll likely be awarded. Instead, he's likely to be available because the Reds simply want a better center fielder. He still strikes out far too often for a guy without big-time power, and his .277 OBP last year has the Reds looking for a new leadoff hitter. However, Stubbs is a quality defender and his core stats -- walk rate, strikeout rate, and isolated power -- were all basically identical to his 2011 marks, when Stubbs was a productive player for the Reds.

If he bounces back even a little bit offensively, he could be a league-average player, and at 28 years old, he still has a bit of upside left. While there are a lot of free-agent center fielders available, a team looking for a lower-cost option could do a lot worse than Stubbs, who offers enough power, speed and defense to be useful for any team that can get past his problems making contact. The strikeouts aren't going away, but a flawed player is not a useless player, and getting Stubbs out of Cincinnati might just be the second chance he needs.

Ryan Roberts, 3B
Roberts fell out of favor in Arizona quickly after a breakthrough 2011 season, and with Evan Longoria hobbled, the Rays picked up Roberts to help provide infield depth for the stretch run. For most teams, keeping a $3 million utility infielder around wouldn't be a problem, but the Rays are on a notoriously tight budget and already have a similar, younger player on the roster in Sean Rodriguez. Paying two reserves arbitration salaries is a luxury that Tampa Bay might not be able to afford, and parting with Roberts would free up more cash to pursue offensive upgrades than dealing Rodriguez.

While a comparison to Pagan likely overstates his potential, he's a similar style of player in that he gets value from being decent at a wide range of things rather than having any one standout skill. He makes decent contact, has some power, draws a few walks, plays a good third base, and has enough versatility to also cover second base or the outfield. Even if he doesn't have another 2011 season in him, he's got enough skills to be a decent stopgap third baseman, and given the slim pickings available on the free-agent market, picking up Roberts and putting off a long-term solution for another year isn't a terrible option.

Five Hot Stove lessons.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
We all have lots to be thankful for this week, and hopefully baseball is only a minor part of that list. But throughout the game, teams are thankful for decisions they made this year that turned out just as well, or perhaps even better, than they thought they would.

As we move deeper into Hot Stove season, we can benefit from looking back on some of those decisions, and how they may apply this winter.

Don't ignore Japan: Marquee Japanese players like Yu Darvish still create a good old-fashioned media circus, but other Japanese players tend to get overlooked, and that can be perilous. Certainly not all Japanese players have succeeded, but this past year two Japanese players -- Norichika Aoki and Hisashi Iwakuma -- made successful debuts, and starting pitcher Hiroki Kuroda enjoyed a resurgent year with the New York Yankees.

Aoki in particular proved valuable in Milwaukee, as his emergence gave the Brewers the opportunity to move Corey Hart to first base, a move that gave the team's roster a much cleaner look. Aoki was also one of only six players to tally both 30 doubles and 30 stolen bases in 2012 while making only $1.25 million. He'll make that much again in 2013, and the Brewers have a team option for the same amount for 2014.

New Japanese free agents Kyuji Fujikawa, Hiroyuki Nakajima and Kensuke Tanaka may not be household names, but the 2012 seasons of Iwakuma, Kuroda and Aoki (and of course, Ichiro Suzuki) serve as a reminder that learning about our Japanese counterparts is more than worth our time.

Can it be all so simple?: While it sometimes seems as though teams can win a pennant with one big signing, that's rarely the case, and everyone needs backup plans.

For example, when the Rangers signed Darvish last winter, it looked as though they had an embarrassment of riches in their rotation. With Darvish, Scott Feldman, Neftali Feliz, Matt Harrison, Derek Holland, Colby Lewis and Alexi Ogando in tow, the Rangers had seven starting pitchers for five slots, and that wasn't even counting prospects such as Martin Perez and Neil Ramirez. But things didn't quite work out so smoothly down in Arlington. As it turned out, nine pitchers made at least five starts, and only three of them made 25 or more. Two of those nine -- Ryan Dempster and Roy Oswalt -- had to be imported during the season, as the Rangers battled injuries to Feliz, Holland, Lewis and Ogando, while Ramirez didn't progress as expected at Triple-A.

The lesson? Things are never as neat and clean as they appear on paper, and the teams that take pains to fill out the back end of their 40-man and Triple-A rosters will eventually be rewarded.

Don't max yourself out: Of course, in order to keep stocking the cupboard with low-cost free agents to save for a rainy day, teams need to make sure they don't max themselves out financially. When the Boston Red Sox added Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford to an already bloated payroll before the 2011 season, they drew dangerously close to their payroll ceiling, and last winter were forced to bypass deals for Oswalt and possibly other free agents.
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Mark LoMoglio/Icon SMI
Sometimes cheap free agents -- like Fernando Rodney -- are the best ones.In fact, they had to shed salary, trading eventual playoff hero Marco Scutaro for scrap just to free up cash. As a result, the team was unable to seek upgrades over Daisuke Matsuzaka, and not only had to suffer through 11 of his starts, but also 18 from retread Aaron Cook. The duo combined for 29 starts, but just 0.1 WAR. Oswalt wasn't himself last season, but he certainly would have been an improvement over Cook and Matsuzaka. The Sox solved this problem when they cleansed their payroll by dealing Gonzalez, Crawford, Josh Beckett and Nick Punto to the Dodgers, and with visions of Cook hanging sliders dancing in their heads, they are unlikely to box themselves in financially again. Keep that in mind as you're shouting at your computer that your team isn't coming close to its supposed payroll ceiling this winter -- they may need the money later.

Don't be afraid to trade prospects: Of course, just having available resources isn't enough -- teams need to be willing to give a little to get a little. For the second straight year, the Detroit Tigers found a pitcher via trade who helped them reach the postseason. In 2011, it was Doug Fister, and this past season it was Anibal Sanchez. Did they pay a good price to get him?

Oh, indeed -- 12 years of Rob Brantly and Jacob Turner may end up being a steep price. But neither of those players was likely to be a factor for Detroit during its playoff push, and in Sanchez they acquired a pitcher who wasn't cowed by New York's big stage. His shutdown performance in Game 2 of the American League Championship Series put the Yankees back on their heels, and they never regained their balance. Sanchez is now a free agent, but the Tigers also got a year-and-a-half of Omar Infante plus a 2013 draft pick in the deal, which helps take some of the sting out of losing Brantly and Turner, both of whom had encouraging debuts in south Florida. Then again, the sting will be minimal, as the goal of any midseason trade is to help a team go deep in the playoffs, and Sanchez was a big reason why the Tigers were able to do just that.

The bargain bin is worth your time: If a team scores big on the free-talent market, it may not have to make prospect-sacrificing trades come July. Usually the bargain bin is loaded with $3 "Hard To Kill" DVDs, but every once in a while, there will be a $5 "Shawshank Redemption" at the bottom of the barrel.

This past season, the Tampa Bay Rays found their $5 Shawshank when they snatched up Fernando Rodney. When Tampa signed him back in January, the industry collectively shrugged its shoulders, as Rodney had washed out with the Los Angeles Angels in 2011 thanks to the fact that he walked more batters (a whopping 18.7 percent of them) than he struck out (17.3 percent).

But despite all of the walks, Rodney never stopped generating tons of grounders during his time in Anaheim, and after a minor tweak to his mechanics (dropping his leg kick) and a shift of where he stood on the mound, the walks vanished, and he shot arrows with zest all the way to October. Each winter, a team's pro scouting department and number crunchers come together to find players who might be primed for a similar rebound, and if they strike gold this winter, then come next Thanksgiving, they'll be as thankful as the Rays are right now for Rodney.

Keys for Japanese players in MLB.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
In November of 2010, the Minnesota Twins bid $5 million for the privilege of negotiating with Japanese infielder Tsuyoshi Nishioka, who had been posted by his NPB team, the Chiba Lotte Marines. The 26-year-old was coming off a season in which he'd hit .346/.423/.482 (BA/OBP/SLG), leading Japan's Pacific League in batting average, hits, runs and total bases.

Nishioka had won three Japanese Gold Gloves, and the Twins, whose astute scouting had led them to six division titles in the previous 10 seasons, envisioned him as their starting shortstop. After winning the bidding, they spent an additional $9 million to lock up Nishioka for the next three seasons.

Last December, the Milwaukee Brewers submitted a winning bid of $2.5 million -- half of what the Twins had bid for Nishioka -- to negotiate with Yakult Swallows outfielder Norichika Aoki. It took $2.5 million more to secure his services for the next two seasons. The 29-year-old Aoki had posted a much more modest .292/.358/.360 line with just four home runs in his final Japanese season.

Compare the two players' posting fees, contracts and prior-season statistics, and you'd conclude that Nishioka was clearly the superior player. But we know what happened next. Nishioka flopped, hitting just .215/.267/.236 in 71 games and 254 plate appearances in the majors across two seasons and spending most of the second year in Triple-A (where he continued to hit poorly). His .021 isolated power (SLG-AVG) for the Twins was the lowest of any hitter with at least 250 career plate appearances since World War II. Mercifully, he decided to return to Japan rather than stay in Minnesota for another season, taking the Twins off the hook for the third year.

Aoki, on the other hand, was a surprise success, boasting the best offensive season of any Japanese rookie since Ichiro Suzuki. He hit .288/.355/.433 with 10 homers and 30 steals, ranking fourth among NL rookies with 2.5 WARP and finishing fifth in the NL Rookie of the Year voting. He was also the first Japanese position player to see his home run total rise in his first season stateside.

Nishioka was coming off a BABIP-based career year, while Aoki had just completed his worst-ever effort, so perhaps it shouldn't have come as a shock that both players weren't quite what their most recent seasons suggested. Still, even well-informed analysts felt that Nishioka could help a team like the Twins.

His struggles, and those of other disappointing imports who preceded him, have taught major league teams that NPB stardom doesn't always translate into MLB success. However, the tantalizing talent on display in Japan motivates major league clubs to separate the players whose skill sets are well-suited to the majors from those who would be hard-pressed to sustain their success in the U.S.

One of the top NPB players angling for a move to the majors this winter is Seibu Lions infielder Hiroyuki Nakajima, whom the Arizona Diamondbacks reportedly see as a potential solution at shortstop.

The 30-year-old Nakajima hit .311/.382/.451 -- not far off from his career line -- for the Lions last season, falling short of the Pacific League batting title by a single point and ranking second in the league in on-base percentage and fourth in slugging. He's a free agent, so Arizona (or any other team) can make him an offer without going through the posting process (last year, the New York Yankees won the rights to negotiate with Nakajima with a $2 million bid but couldn't come to an agreement). But how can the Diamondbacks decide whether Nakajima is another Aoki or the next Nishioka?

Nationality aside, no player's performance is completely predictable; promoting a prospect from the upper minors or even signing an established free agent comes with considerable risk. However, when projecting the performance of a Japanese player, teams have to try to anticipate not only how well he'll handle a higher level of competition, but also a different style of competition and, crucially, the culture shock that comes with living and playing on a new continent.

Former Los Angeles Dodgers general manager (and current Baseball Prospectus columnist) Dan Evans signed both Kazuhisa Ishii and Hideo Nomo before the 2002 season and has scouted extensively in Japan, so he's well aware of the evaluation problems posed by NPB players. The league's introduction of a standardized, MLB-like ball in 2011 removed one complication, but Evans can still pinpoint several factors that make it more difficult to assess how a Japanese player might fare in the majors, including different playing surfaces and pitcher workloads, "conservative" team tactics and approaches at the plate designed to combat pitchers who lead with their breaking balls to exploit the league's larger strike zones.

According to Jason Coskrey, who covers baseball for the Japan Times, major league teams attempt to limit risk by targeting a particular type of position player.

"Guys who can consistently handle an MLB fastball are the sort of hitters who can thrive," Coskrey says. "Leg kicks are prevalent [in Japan], but they can elongate a swing. [Major league hitters] have to deal with pitchers with better stuff pounding the strike zone."

Of course, it's not always easy to tell which players can handle major league fastballs without actually seeing them stand in against big league pitching. Teams can draw some conclusions from performance in international competition, against the hardest-throwing Japanese pitchers, or even in private workouts, but forecasting a full season's stats requires teams to extrapolate from a player's swing and approach at the plate. That makes it all the more important for teams to do their homework before committing to an NPB player. As Evans warns, "You need to get a lot of looks on these guys to have the best chance of getting the player right."

As the relative size of the Nishioka and Aoki bids (and the regrettable fees for Daisuke Matsuzaka and Kei Igawa in late 2006) suggests, posting fees are an imprecise predictor of big league success. However, a player's position can offer some hints about how he might respond to relocating.

Evans believes that the transition is toughest on middle infielders and starting pitchers.

"Middle infielders suddenly play on different infield composition, as instead of mostly all-dirt or artificial turf infields, they are playing on infields that include a lot of grass and different dirt composites," Evans says. He likens the challenge to "taking a golfer out of Florida and asking him to putt on California's greens for the first time," which could explain why a player like Kazuo Matsui, who won four Gold Gloves in Japan, lasted only one error-filled season at shortstop in the majors.

Starters, meanwhile, must learn to take regular turns in five-man rotations after years of pitching with six or seven days of rest. As Evans acknowledges, that "can be a difficult adjustment, as it involves teaching your body to respond to a different throwing routine and also getting used to working on a different calendar entirely."

Some Japanese infielders and starters have made it in the majors -- it helps to be Yu Darvish -- but it's probably not a coincidence that the most successful position player imports have been outfielders (Ichiro, Hideki Matsui, Aoki), while a number of infielders (Kaz Matsui, Nishioka) and starting pitchers (Hideki Irabu, Matsuzaka, Igawa) have been notable NPB busts.

Evans thinks relievers have the best chance of replicating their production, since their roles differ little across leagues. The numbers back up his belief: A 2009 study at Baseball Prospectus by Clay Davenport revealed that while Japanese starting pitchers suffer a 20 percent performance penalty after arriving in the majors, Japanese relievers are almost unaffected. The historical struggles of Japanese infielders might be bad news for Nakajima, but the success of relievers like Kazuhiro Sasaki, Takashi Saito and Koji Uehara bodes well for longtime Hanshin Tigers closer and fellow free agent Kyuji Fujikawa, who Evans believes will "be a standout reliever immediately."

However, Nakajima may have one factor in his favor that is as vital to a transplant's success as it is difficult to identify: good makeup.

The stats suggest that the level of play in NPB, while inferior to that of the majors, is more advanced than that of Triple-A: Players who move from Triple-A to NPB tend to see their performance suffer (after adjusting for run environment). However, most Japanese signees, unlike other foreign players, go directly to the majors, leaving them little time to acclimate to their new surroundings. That means making quick adjustments to circumstances that are impossible to simulate, including a new language and a new mode of travel (planes instead of trains). Those off-the-field challenges could contribute to an effect Davenport dubbed the "homesickness factor," a detectable difference between how players do in their first and second seasons overseas.

These peripheral pressures don't affect all imports equally: The size of the market matters, as does the level of support a team is prepared to provide. According to Evans, one of the worst things a team can do to a player attempting to make the transition is add to the burden by "getting rigid" and "drastically altering his game and/or routine."

"If the player was a star in the NPB game," Evans argues, "chances are he is pretty good at preparing himself and also understands how to compete using his skills." Thus, Evans advocates letting players who've become accustomed to preparing in a particular way continue to do so unless their routines are so radical that they distract their teammates. And while it's hard to say with certainty how a player will handle the demands of a move from NPB to the majors, Evans believes that "a personality that allows for adaptation and change in major elements of their daily routine" is a crucial quality.

Coskrey calls that quality "the mental strength to adjust."

"Not even all U.S. players can adjust to the MLB culture and the increase in level of play," he observes. "Now try that while being in most cases the only person in the organization that speaks the language you do, or has had the same experiences, or is as far away from his family, or can't find small things like the food he likes ... Now make that adjustment when even things on the field, which is the place you feel most comfortable, are also a little foreign to you."

According to Coskrey, Nakajima "has the mental makeup to do well. He's a guy who's really open to new things, really open to being coached and the type of player I think won't really have too much trouble adjusting to the lifestyle."

Coskrey believes that while Nakajima might not be Aoki's offensive equal, he's both a better hitter and better prepared for the mental strains of the move than Nishioka was. To carve out a career beyond the NPB, he'll have to be.
post #8916 of 73405
Longoria signs 6 yr. $100 Million extension.
Hip Hop is dead. There is no "savior".
Hip Hop is dead. There is no "savior".
post #8917 of 73405
Thread Starter 
- Mets being the good old Mets caving and giving Wright a 7th year.
- Madson deal may be finalized by the end of the day with LA.
- Brian Wilson is probably going to be non-tendered.
- Mo should sign this week.
- Braves might close with BJ this week.
- And the big news, KC is shopping Wil Myers...rumored to either be for Lester or Shields.
post #8918 of 73405
Carlos Ruiz suspended 25 Games for Amphetamine
post #8919 of 73405
I think this year will be the first year of a very disturbing trend that will allow less than HOF caliber players getting inducted into the HOF. There are reports that Biggio is likely to be voted in this year.

I want you to try read this out loud and not laugh: Craig Biggio is a first ballot Hall of Famer, but Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens are not.

Stop laughing. Now.
post #8920 of 73405
Being a dodger fan, I ****** hate Ruiz mean.gif
Hearing these numbers thrown out there for Greinke have going eek.gif
I know he's good, but not THAT good. Can somebody shed some light on his stats/career.

Looks like the dodgers are going to sign a 5-6 billion dollar tv deal eek.gifeek.gifeek.gif
I see them overpaying for players and not giving any damns, a gift and a curse eyes.gif
post #8921 of 73405
Originally Posted by mr jordan04 View Post

Being a dodger fan, I ****** hate Ruiz mean.gif
Hearing these numbers thrown out there for Greinke have going eek.gif
I know he's good, but not THAT good. Can somebody shed some light on his stats/career.

Looks like the dodgers are going to sign a 5-6 billion dollar tv deal eek.gifeek.gifeek.gif
I see them overpaying for players and not giving any damns, a gift and a curse eyes.gif

You guys have the perfect gm for all that overpaying
post #8922 of 73405
BJ Upton to the Braves... I dont eeeeeven wanna see the final contract numbers
post #8923 of 73405

5 / 75.

…Veni, Vidi, Vici...


…Veni, Vidi, Vici...

post #8924 of 73405
wow man. wow. how does he get that much bread
post #8925 of 73405

"Potential", I guess.

…Veni, Vidi, Vici...


…Veni, Vidi, Vici...

post #8926 of 73405
BJ Upton is the Braves biggest FA signing since Maddux in 1992. I hope he can produce, the trio of Heyward, Freeman, and Upton pimp.gif
post #8927 of 73405
pimp.gifpimp.gif Upton !!! Hopefully he puts in work for us

But all that money laugh.gifmean.gif
post #8928 of 73405
Thread Starter 
Originally Posted by GUNNA GET IT View Post

wow man. wow. how does he get that much bread

Pretty big contract year. They need him *shrugs*

DLand, I agree with you 100%. Jack Morris and Lee Smith sick.gif

I'm really hoping Edgar, Raines, Bags and Trammell can get in this year?
post #8929 of 73405
will Greinke really get 25 a year?? nerd.gif
post #8930 of 73405
Anyone who give Greinke close to 25 mil is out of there ******g mind. laugh.gif
post #8931 of 73405
Hopefully Pettitte can stay healthy..

2010 started amazing at 11-2 and got injured. Missed 2 months

Last year started off decent for a year off and for the role he was being asked to do and missed 3 months.

Still not convinced with the Yankees rotation of CC-Pineda - Kuroda - Pettitte - (Nova or Hughes)

Something seems to be missing. I think Pineda would be a better #3, but that's me.
Twitter - @EssentialShow
Instagram - MarshallLaw518
Twitter - @EssentialShow
Instagram - MarshallLaw518
post #8932 of 73405
Originally Posted by Proshares View Post

Originally Posted by GUNNA GET IT View Post

wow man. wow. how does he get that much bread

Pretty big contract year. They need him *shrugs*

Go Look at BJ's stats.

I'll give u the tear he went on in 2nd half of season but he was sleep walking the entire first half of the season

BJ still my guy tho nthat.gif
post #8933 of 73405

welcome to the Braves BJ nthat.gif

post #8934 of 73405
Thread Starter 
Originally Posted by GUNNA GET IT View Post

Go Look at BJ's stats.
I'll give u the tear he went on in 2nd half of season but he was sleep walking the entire first half of the season
BJ still my guy tho nthat.gif

I know BJ's stats and the tear in the second half is what folks are gonna remember, esp with their little run almost catching NY/Baltimore. He was swinging for the fences all year, I doubt his plate discipline flew out the window that fast, he's been a .350 OBP guy his whole career. They're gonna pay for his prime years, I don't think it's that bad of a deal.
post #8935 of 73405
Thread Starter 
B.J. Upton deal a win for Atlanta.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
B.J. Upton's five-year, $75 million deal with Atlanta looks like a winner for both sides. It's a solid return for a player coming off a disappointing year, while the team gets the top position player available in free agency this year for his ages-28-to-32 seasons, meaning they get most of his offensive peak without locking up much of his decline phase and don't have to worry too much about him losing enough defensive value to have to move out of center field.

In Upton, Atlanta gets an above-average defender in center with plus raw power and some past history of plate discipline, although he became much more aggressive in 2012 in what I assume was an effort to boost his power numbers as he headed into free agency. Upton can't touch Michael Bourn's glove, but he's less of a dropoff than any other possible successor to Bourn and makes up for the defensive drop-off with his power, although he's never been able to translate that raw ability -- which should produce 30-plus home runs -- into performance over a full season, with 2012's total of 28 his new high.

Upton had been a patient hitter prior to this season, with an OBP of .346 in his five full seasons as a starter before 2012 and walk totals ranging from good to outstanding, so there's performance upside here if he returns to his old ways of working the count. There is still performance risk with Upton, who's only had one season, 2007, in which he put all of his offense skills -- power, patience and speed -- on display at once, but he still has the physical tools and has shown all of those abilities separately over the years since that breakout season.

Atlanta's biggest organizational weakness right now is a dearth of quality position-player prospects in its farm system, with no one capable of playing a major league-caliber center field anywhere on the horizon, making Upton a very strong fit. The Braves are still short a hitter, with Juan Francisco and his career .297 OBP (removing IBB) looming as the everyday third baseman, but even right now their offense should be slightly above the median, more than enough for their run-prevention strength to make them strong playoff contenders, assuming Sam Holbrook isn't working in October.

This move raises the stakes for the Phillies, who were seen as one of the favorites to land Upton, as well as the team most in need of what he offered: defense, power, some OBP and an age that doesn't start with a "3." The remaining center-field options all bear higher risks, with Michael Bourn, Angel Pagan and Josh Hamilton all older than Upton and more likely to end a five-year deal in left than in center.

The Rays, meanwhile, can make Desmond Jennings their everyday center fielder while giving some of the excess playing time to Brandon Guyer, who missed most of 2012 after labrum surgery but has a history of strong performances in the minors. Assuming they don't add another outfielder, the loss of Upton would probably cost them about two wins over the course of a full season even with the improvement I expect to see from Jennings in 2013.

Agents to watch at winter meetings.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Make no mistake -- Scott Boras is always the headliner among agents at baseball’s annual winter meetings.

He loves the limelight and will make sure to walk by the media area at optimum times and hold court. He’s always entertaining, and his strong and often controversial opinions make the TV cameras' red lights go on and writers fill their notepads. This year will be no different with his representation of free agents Michael Bourn, Kyle Lohse and Rafael Soriano, among many others.

However, there’s been a not-so-subtle changing of the guard. For decades, high-profile agents like Tom Reich and Adam Katz, Ron Shapiro, Jim Bronner and Bob Gilhooley and Randy and Alan Hendricks often stood front and center with Boras, dominating the meetings from behind the scenes. But now, larger corporations such as CAA and SFX have taken over a lot of the game’s player representations.

Regardless, the game’s top power brokers will gather this weekend at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel in Nashville, Tenn. Here is a quick glance at some of this year’s most important agents to watch:

Excel Sports Management | Lead agent: Casey Close
Top free agent: Zack Greinke | Others: Andy Pettitte, Scott Hairston, Jeremy Guthrie (recently signed three-year, $25M deal with Royals), Casey Kotchman, Jamey Wright Greinke's likely suitors: Los Angeles Dodgers, Texas Rangers, Los Angeles Angels and Washington Nationals

Background brief: After beginning his career at IMG and accruing 20 years of experience, Close joined Excel in 2011, partnering up with Jeff Schwartz and Mark Steinberg. Their client list is cross-sport, ranging from Derek Jeter and Clayton Kershaw to the NBA’s Paul Pierce, Blake Griffin and Deron Williams, as well as golf’s Tiger Woods.

Style/strategy: They are well-prepared, engaging and have a tremendous track record. They operate in a very private and professional manner and seem to attract the kind of players who handle their own business the same way. Excel is particularly good at recognizing its clients’ value and market and often gets top dollar for its clients. Excel's honest, straightforward approach has gained the respect of the industry.

Problems/barriers in negotiations: There are not a lot of clubs that have the financial wherewithal to play on Greinke.

MVP Sports Group | Lead Agent: Dan Lozano
Top free agent: Nick Swisher | Others: Brian Wilson, Jonny Gomes (recently signed two-year, $10M deal with Boston)

Swisher's likely suitors: Boston, Atlanta, Philadelphia and Texas

Background brief: Lozano boasts 24 years of experience, negotiating some of the game’s largest deals, including Albert Pujols’ $240 million deal with the Angels last December and Joey Votto’s $225 million contract extension with the Cincinnati Reds during spring training. The two deals totaled more than half a billion dollars, a record for any agency in any one offseason.

Style/strategy: Lozano and his staff are hard-working, loyal, passionate and treat their clients like family. His firm uses a stealth approach, as demonstrated by the Albert Pujols negotiations last December, when the Angels swooped in to get him at the last minute. Lozano doesn’t play games, preferring direct and straightforward negotiations with club executives. He always comes extremely prepared with top-notch communication skills.

Problems/barriers in negotiations: Swisher’s poor postseason performance could undermine the fact he’s had eight straight years of 20-plus home runs.

Reynolds Sports Management | Lead agent: Larry Reynolds
Top free agent: B.J. Upton | Others: Torii Hunter (recently signed a two-year, $26M deal with Detroit)

Upton's likely suitors: Atlanta, Philadelphia, mystery team

Background brief: Reynolds possesses 28 years of experience as an agent, and prior to negotiating Hunter's recent two-year deal, he got him a five-year, $90 million contract with the Angels in 2007, which was then the largest contract in club history.

Style/strategy: Reynolds makes a concerted effort to tailor each negotiation to the player and club he is dealing with. He spends a great deal of time studying the negotiating styles of the club executives in order to formulate the best plan to maximize the player’s compensation. Reynolds has a wide array of knowledge of the collective bargaining rights, performance comparables and how to stretch the present market. Negotiations can get adversarial and difficult depending on the situation. At the same time, Reynolds always tries to be reasonable and isn’t afraid to close deals earlier in the process than most agents.

Problems/barriers in negotiations: Getting a sixth year for Upton could be difficult.

Paragon Sports International | Lead agent: Brian Grieper
Top free agent: Mike Napoli

Napoli's likely suitors: Red Sox, Rangers and Mariners

Background brief: Paragon is a medium-sized baseball agency with offices in Miami, Los Angeles and Chicago and represents some of baseball’s top young talent and prospects. Grieper has cultivated relationships with club officials at all levels over a decade in the agent business. Many of these officials have gone on to become GMs, assistant GMs and scouting directors.

Style/strategy: Grieper stresses open dialogue, intense preparation and creative analytical and statistical analysis. He develops personal relationships with clients through trust and loyalty. The quality of representation was best illustrated when Grieper made Napoli -- who he has represented since high school -- the highest paid catcher during arbitration, earning him a one-year deal worth $9.4 million. His raise of $3.6 million is the second highest in the history of third- or fourth-time eligible hitters, ranking behind only Prince Fielder. Grieper is very direct and accurate with information, and he negotiates in a respectful and professional manner.

Problems/barriers in negotiations: Napoli is best suited with an American League team because of his value being able to DH along with playing first base and catcher. Obviously this could limit the number of teams that bid on Napoli’s services.

For more on Michael Moye, who is representing Josh Hamilton, check out Jerry Crasnick’s piece today.

Making sense of the HOF character clause.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
The so-called character clause is at the heart of the debate over what to do with the Hall of Fame candidates who have been linked to performance-enhancing drugs.

The criterion sent to the voters annually (including this week):

Voting shall be based upon the player's record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character and contribution to the team(s) on which the player played.

It is apparent from the voting that a majority of the writers who have cast ballots for the Hall of Fame in recent years have applied that wording literally in determining what to do with Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro and even Jeff Bagwell. Presumably, this is what they will do in assessing the candidacies of Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Sammy Sosa and others this year.

Brad Horn, the Hall of Fame's senior director of communications, recently explored the origin of that wording. Later today, the Hall will post his written piece on its website:

Character, Sportsmanship, Integrity Long Included in Formal Rules for Election

From the first formalization of rules for Hall of Fame election proposed in 1944 and adopted in 1945, the National Baseball Hall of Fame has always called for "sportsmanship" and "character" as part of the necessary criteria needed to earn a spot in Cooperstown.

In August 1944, a Hall of Fame memo outlined the informal policy that had existed for Hall of Fame voting from its origins in 1936. Paul S. Kerr, then treasurer for the National Baseball Museum and Hall of Fame, stated that Alexander Cleland, instrumental in the voting process since the Hall's first election in 1936, listed general rules that "those worthy of Hall of Fame election should be selected from the ranks for ability, character and their general contribution to baseball in all respects."

While the necessary 75 percent of all ballots cast has been required for election from the beginning, so too appears the inclusion of character as a determinant for the Hall of Fame.

With the formal adoption of rules for 1945, as proposed in bylaws for the National Baseball Hall of Fame Committee in December 1944, the Committee authorized the BBWAA to "hold elections for the purpose of electing members to the Baseball Hall of Fame." The rules, which at the time called for elections once ever three years starting in 1945 and then later amended to elections every year starting in 1946, outlined the qualifications eligible candidates needed to have for consideration, having completed their active careers as players, even if they were still connected with baseball.

"They shall be chosen on the basis of playing ability, sportsmanship, character, their contribution to the teams on which they played and to baseball in general."

Though slight modifications have transpired in the nearly 70 years since, the model for Hall of Fame election has always remained one defined by character and sportsmanship.

The 2013 ballot will be formally released at noon today, Ben Walker writes.

Marvin Miller's legacy

I'll just add one more voice to the din: It's incredible that Marvin Miller is not in baseball's Hall of Fame, because his impact on the sports landscape -- not just baseball -- is undeniable. In fact, if you were to draw up a list of the most influential figures in professional sports history in this country, he'd probably rank somewhere in the 6-to-10 range.

Grudges loomed large in the Hall of Fame voting for Miller, Richard Sandomir writes.

Murray Chass wonders if Miller can now get into the Hall of Fame. Tom Powers remembers detesting Miller.

Miller was baseball's rainmaker, Mark Whicker writes. He earned the respect of others, Fay Vincent writes. From Fay's piece:

Marvin Miller called me about six weeks ago to say goodbye. He told me he had terminal liver cancer and wanted his close friends to know. He did not want us to view the news as tragic. He was 95, he said, and the last two years had been difficult. That call was as remarkable as Marvin was.

Here's Miller's obituary, written by **** Goldstein, from the New York Times.

Rumor mill

• One person involved in the Zack Greinke talks believes that in the end, the pitcher could get a deal larger than the seven-year, $161 million package that CC Sabathia got from the New York Yankees, which is the record for pitchers.

And remember this: If the Dodgers sign Greinke -- or even if they don't -- this deal will have a direct bearing on the forthcoming negotiations with left-hander Clayton Kershaw, who is clearly regarded as the better pitcher. Kershaw is in line to be eligible for free agency after the 2014 season, at age 27; if he actually hit the open market, the Yankees, Red Sox and other teams would be in position to make strong bids, if they wanted to.

But the Dodgers, in free-spending mode, will presumably work out a long-term deal with Kershaw before that happens. Following this order of business, however (not finishing a Kershaw extension before getting involved in the Greinke talks), will likely to cost the team a lot of money.

The Dodgers' new TV deal has the baseball world in an uproar. There are also a lot of folks who don't think the deal is worth in real present-day dollars what it has said to be worth.

[+] Enlarge

AP Photo/Chris Bernacchi
The ball is now in David Wright's court.• The New York Mets have a huge offer on the table to David Wright, and now it's up to him to decide whether to stay, John Harper writes. A new pact would be a win for the Mets and Wright, Ken Davidoff writes.

Really, the decision now comes down to this: Does Wright want to remain with the Mets?

Some rival evaluators believe that if the third baseman hits the market next fall after having a 2013 season similar to what he had in 2012, at age 30, he might be hard-pressed to get a massive nine-figure contract from another team because he's not an elite power hitter. Last season, he hit nine homers in 339 plate appearances on the road.

And if Wright -- an incredibly competitive person and a natural leader -- decides he wants to play elsewhere, you really couldn't blame him. The Mets have been a disaster in recent years, and it's unclear when they'll have a chance to be an elite team again -- if ever, during his playing days.

• The Detroit Tigers have let other teams know they're willing to talk about trade proposals for Rick Porcello, and similarly, rival clubs have gotten the sense that the Boston Red Sox would be very ready to move Andrew Bailey for the right offer. But given that Bailey is coming off an injury-plagued season, his trade value is relatively low, and so the odds of Boston dealing him -- and accepting that scant return -- are also very low.

• Friends of Cody Ross believe that the Red Sox are in the lead for his services -- for a three-year deal -- but there wasn't talk over the weekend.

• Tony Paul doesn't think the Tigers should spend on Rafael Soriano. I'd respectfully disagree. Mike Ilitch, owner of the Tigers, has never run his team as a model of financial efficiency, spending his own money freely in an effort to win a championship. If he's still working in that mode -- and there's no reason to think he isn't -- then Soriano makes sense. The Tigers have a lot of great parts, from Justin Verlander to Miguel Cabrera to Prince Fielder to Doug Fister, but have a massive, glaring hole in their bullpen, and this was exposed in the World Series.

Soriano is the best closer available and has been a good reliever for years, and it makes more sense to sign him -- so long as he doesn't stick to the demands of four years and $60 million -- than to go into next season thinking that the unproven Bruce Rondon will be able to fill this role. The Tigers have a championship-caliber engine and frame, but still need that valuable piece at the back end of their bullpen to run smoothly.

• One very interesting possibility for the Red Sox that may develop later this week: Brian Wilson. The New Hampshire native will likely be non-tendered by the Giants, and he could land with the team he followed as a kid. Unlike a lot of candidates, there wouldn't be any doubt about whether he could handle the market, and presumably he'd be looking for a short-term deal as he re-establishes his value.

Chooch's error

• Carlos Ruiz will miss the first 25 games of the 2013 season, after testing positive for Adderall. He issued a statement:

"I am sincerely regretful for my mistake in taking a prohibited stimulant. I apologize to my teammates, the Phillies organization, and the Philadelphia fans. I will serve the imposed 25-game suspension to begin the season and I look forward to returning to the field and working toward bringing a championship back to Philadelphia in 2013."

Given the rules in place, this was at least the second positive test for Ruiz (an initial positive test for amphetamines does not trigger a suspension). Really, it'd be nice if busted players would dispense with the empty apologies; it'd be more genuine if they just issued these words in a press release: What can I say? I gambled that I could beat the testing and got caught.

Adderall has become the athletes' drug of choice, Larry Stone writes.

Moves, deals and decisions

1. The Minnesota Twins are talking about bringing back Francisco Liriano. Hey, why not -- he knows them, they know him, and the Twins are desperate for pitching.

2. The Milwaukee Brewers announced some promotions.

3. The Chicago White Sox rounded out their coaching staff.

4. The Chicago Cubs signed Scott Feldman to a one-year deal.

5. In a sense, Aroldis Chapman is a tremendous acquisition for the Reds, John Erardi writes.

6. It's unlikely that the Detroit Tigers will make a blockbuster deal, \Lynn Henning writes.

7. The time is now for the Kansas City Royals' David Glass to increase the team's payroll, Sam Mellinger writes.

8. The St. Louis Cardinals have made a shift with their farm system, Derrick Goold writes.

9. Justin Upton should play where he's wanted, Nick Piecoro writes.

10. The San Francisco Giants' negotiations with Marco Scutaro and Angel Pagan are slow-moving at this point, Henry Schulman writes .

11. The Los Angeles Angels worked out their agreement with Ryan Madson.

12. The Texas Rangers are set to meet with Mike Napoli.

13. The Houston Astros' VP of marketing stepped down.

14. Ron Borges thinks the Red Sox should trade Jon Lester now.

Braves take gamble with Upton.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
On Aug. 10 of the 2012 season, B.J. Upton had 10 homers, to go along with a .298 on-base percentage. At that trajectory, he was on pace for a season of 15 homers, 155 strikeouts, a .378 slugging percentage and 30 stolen bases. It wasn't long after that that a long-time general manager guessed that Upton's deal in free agency would be for about two years and $16 million, or possibly as much as $18 million.

But Upton smashed two homers on Aug. 11, in the Rays' 112th game, and over Tampa Bay's last 50 games he clubbed 18 homers. There's no way of knowing precisely what that burst of power did for Upton's value in the market, but it's probably safe to say that the rush of offense seemed to help significantly.

And by Thursday evening, we should see Upton standing on a podium, wearing a Braves jersey, having made the deal of a lifetime -- five years, $75.25 million, with the help of his highly respected agent, Larry Reynolds. Upton was the youngest of the center fielders on the market, at age 28, and the Braves stay young with this. Their lineup could look something like this by mid-May, after Brian McCann comes back from shoulder surgery:

POS Player (Age)
CF B.J. Upton (28)
3B Martin Prado (29)
RF Jason Heyward (23)
1B Freddie Freeman (23)
2B Dan Uggla (32)
C Brian McCann (29)
LF ?
SS Andrelton Simmons (23)

The Braves had the best defensive center fielder in the majors in Michael Bourn, and Upton has been viewed as a plus at his position, as well, something you need in spacious Turner Field.

Atlanta signed Upton to the biggest free-agent contract in its history in spite of a lot of numbers and concerns that have been red-flagged in other organizations.

1. His declining on-base percentage, which has dropped almost 100 points over the past six seasons.

2007: .386
2008: .383
2009: .313
2010: .322
2011: .331
2012: .298

2. The strikeouts. Upton has racked up 934 over his past six seasons, in part because of his acute struggles against power pitchers. If you use the definition provided by -- the top third of the pitchers in the league in strikeouts plus walks -- Upton hit .168 against power pitchers last year, with no homers in 121 plate appearances. After Wednesday's signing, rival evaluators mused over Fredi Gonzalez's challenge of trying to place Dan Uggla and Upton in the same lineup, given that Uggla is a very similar hitter to Upton -- streaky, with a lot of strikeouts.

3. His declining defensive metrics. There is no perfect measure of defense, but FanGraph's UZR/150 evaluation of Upton is right in line with more advanced metrics used by individual teams.

2007: 7.0
2008: 8.4
2009: 7.5
2010: 1.9
2011: 1.6
2012: -3.2

To repeat: Defensive metrics are tricky, and it may well be that the Braves had a much stronger evaluation of Upton.

4. The peaks and the valleys. His offense comes in bursts, and rival scouts have thought for years that Upton tends to get down on himself. In recent years, the Rays were open to listening to offers for Upton, as he got more expensive, and no team -- not the Braves, not some other club -- aggressively moved on him.

This whopper investment by Atlanta seems incongruous with how the industry has viewed Upton in recent seasons, and you wonder if the Braves might've been better off chasing Chris Young -- who was acquired by Oakland from Arizona a few weeks ago -- in a deal earlier this offseason. His age (29) and production has been very similar to that of Upton, he's regarded as a better defensive outfielder, and -- most important -- he's owed only $10 million over the next year, with an $8.5 million salary in 2013 and a $1.5 million buyout on an $11 million option for 2014. The Braves probably would have been better off overpaying in a trade for Young rather than assuming the risk of the massive deal with Upton.

But the opinions on Upton are scattered, and an NL evaluator offered a different perspective.

"He is the most talented player in the free-agent market and somebody I think will age well," the evaluator said. "He is continuing to improve. Most free-agent signings pay players for what they have done, but when you sign Upton, it's about what he will do.

"On top of that, things in the market are changing. Jonny Gomes just got a multiyear deal with an average annual value of $5 million, while setup guys like Brandon League and Jeremy Affeldt are getting paid between $6-8 million per year. Baseball just signed a new labor deal last year and got a lot of TV money this year. There was value in the Braves' striking early, before the market really took hold, because some of these contracts may get out of hand."

The Braves don't have a lot of outfield depth in their farm system, and they will now look to fill their left field position. Dexter Fowler could be an option as a trade target, just as Denard Span could be. They also could look to sign Shane Victorino, writes David O'Brien, although it's hard to imagine that Victorino will get anything less than three years and $27 million, given the financial shift in the sport.

Upton's Twitter account had an avatar change -- to a Braves logo, as Marc Topkin writes.

• The dominoes from the Upton signing will naturally fall toward Philadelphia now, because the Phillies were in on Upton. Now their options have shrunk, and given Upton's deal, Michael Bourn has a stronger position to ask for more, and Angel Pagan can reasonably expect a four-year deal for something in the range of $45 million to $50 million. Victorino is still on the market, as is Josh Hamilton.

The Phillies' search continues, writes Bob Brookover. Upton's signing may be a blessing in disguise for the Phillies, writes David Murphy.

New York moves

• Yankees GM Brian Cashman met with Andy Pettitte's agent at the GM meetings a few weeks ago, and Jim Murray told Cashman then that he had an inkling that Pettitte would come back for another season. The conversations about a 2013 contract started then, Murray recalled. "The feeling was, 'look, let's be prepared, let's get something in place,' " Murray said. "We worked on it between then and now, talking fairly frequently."

But what Murray did not do, for weeks, was to press Pettitte for an answer on whether he wanted to pitch in 2013. When Pettitte was ready, Murray had a sense of the deal he could get from the Yankees.

"Andy was like, 'Let's do this,' " said Murray. "If Andy's not 100 percent committed to doing something, he's not going to do it."

Pettitte is getting a substantial raise over last year.

• The Mets are waiting to hear from David Wright on their $140 million offer, writes Andy Martino, and in chatting to a number of agents and officials who aren't involved in these talks, I found them unanimous in this thought: Wright will take this offer. "How can he turn it down?" said one agent. "There's no guarantee that he'll get that a year from now."

It is completely within Wright's power to look for a better chance to win, given the Mets' troubles, and if he turned down the offer and veered toward free agency, you couldn't blame him. But the name I kept thinking about, after hearing about the enormous offer to Wright, was Juan Gonzalez. He famously turned down a $151.5 million overture from the Detroit Tigers when he was exactly the same age as Wright, 29, and then never got anything close to that after an injury-plagued season -- a decision that cost him about $100 million.

• The Pirates are going after Russell Martin. But if there's not much difference between the bids of Pittsburgh and the Yankees, the choice will be simple for him.

Moves, deals and decisions

1. Carl Pavano would like to return to the Miami Marlins, as Joe Capozzi writes.

2. The Texas Rangers traded for a reliever.

3. David Glass is willing to increase the Kansas City Royals' payroll. Here's a breakdown of the Royals' payroll, from Bob Dutton.

4. The Cincinnati Reds will have an innings limit for Aroldis Chapman.

5. The Cleveland Indians moved to cut Rafael Perez.

6. The Pirates made some trades.

7. The Boston Red Sox raided the Yankees' staff for a coach.

8. The Orioles are interested in bringing back Koji Uehara. The O's traded for Danny Valencia.

9. The Red Sox could build their next great team if they deal Jon Lester for Wil Myers, writes Brian MacPherson. Wrote here yesterday about Brian Wilson as an interesting possibility for the Red Sox. Scott Lauber has more here, but to be clear: As of now, it appears that Andrew Bailey is in line to be the Boston closer.

10. The Washington Nationals are weighing their options for their spring training home.

11. Adam LaRoche's negotiations with the Nationals have gone slowly.

12. The Oakland Athletics signed Pat Neshek.

13. The Los Angels Angels finalized their deal with Ryan Madson.

Evan Longoria keeps it under control.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Truth be told, Rays general manager Andrew Friedman doesn't really remember much about Evan Longoria from the first time he watched him play.

Friedman, in preparation for the 2005 draft, had gone to watch a college shortstop named Troy Tulowitzki and was in awe of a pregame fielding drill that Tulowitzki went through. Longoria, a teammate of Tulowitzki, had been a part of that, with the two infielders playing off each other a little bit, like dueling banjo players. But the game started and Friedman focused on Tulowitzki.

The following year, however, Friedman and the Rays locked in on Longoria, drafting him third overall and starting a working relationship that apparently will last decades, in light of the contract extension that was announced Monday. Longoria has always been precocious, Friedman said after the news conference, with an understanding of himself and what he was and what he wanted and what the team is trying to do. During his news conference, Longoria gave the impression he's someone who had spent all of his 27 years studying the business of baseball.

Friedman remembered that when Longoria signed his first professional contract in the summer of 2006, he did what all first-round picks do: going to the big league ballpark of the team that picked him before working out with the team for a day.

That day is an exciting moment for draftees, their first on-field exposure to their first set of professional colleagues. The pitchers will throw in the bullpen, and typically, they will overthrow their fastball, trying to impress. The hitters will get into the cage, knowing that all eyes of the major leaguers are focused on them, and they will try to muscle up on the ball and crush 800-foot home runs.

Not the right-handed-hitting Longoria.

"He took a very under-control batting practice," Friedman recalled. "He was hitting line drives to right field, moving the ball around. He's serving the ball to all fields."

In fact, he was so under control in batting practice that a coach walked over to Friedman and raised some concern. "Wow, this was our first-round pick?" the coach asked. "Does he have any power?"


Along with the defense, the maturity and the understanding of the responsibility that comes with being the face of a business.


• From ESPN Stats & Information, the most wins above replacement for a position player since 2008, Longoria's first season:

Albert Pujols: 35.4
Ryan Braun: 30.2
Chase Utley: 29.1
Evan Longoria: 28.5
Adrian Beltre: 28.0

The Rays are betting on Longoria, says Stuart Sternberg. The deal carries risks for both sides, writes Tom Jones. The two sides are smart to get it in writing, writes Martin Fennelly.

• Sources say Andy Pettitte is close to finishing a new deal with the Yankees, which would be the second big domino for them to fall this offseason. Their priority has been to hold their pitching together, and they've been able to do that, re-signing Hiroki Kuroda and now (barring a total reversal) Pettitte.

• As Jeff Keppinger has gone through free agency, he has had two-year offers in the range of $7 million to $10 million. The interested teams: the Diamondbacks, Cubs and Rays. Keppinger recently got hurt in an accident at home.

• Teams are concerned about Dan Haren's hip condition -- not a problem with his back, which was an issue during the 2012 season -- and this is tempering interest in the veteran right-hander. He's incredibly respected and will get an opportunity to pitch, but whether he'll get a highly lucrative offer, in light of those concerns about his health, remains an open question.

• Some teams have looked at Stephen Drew in various capacities, but some evaluators who saw Drew in the last half of 2012 say his defense was still a work in progress, as he recovers from his devastating ankle injury of 2011.

Moves, deals and decisions

1. There is a perception among other teams that the Royals are looking to capitalize on the value of prospect Wil Myers right now -- to the point that questions are popping up about why the Royals want to trade him.

The reason could be as simple as this: Trading Myers gives the Royals their best chance at landing a good and relatively young pitcher, while at the same time allowing Kansas City to keep its developing group of young major league position players intact.

The Red Sox have discussed a possible deal with Kansas City involving Jon Lester. He is the perfect type of pitcher for the Royals to invest in: He's still in the first portion of his career, he's under contract and he has a chance to be pretty good. Plus he's left-handed.

2. Adam Kilgore examines the other side of the question of whether the Nationals should stand pat.

3. Russell Martin is getting some interest.

4. The role of a Cardinals official has been expanded.

5. The Phillies have other options if they fail to sign B.J. Upton, writes Bob Brookover.

6. The Reds have continued their talks with Jonathan Broxton.

7. Rob Deer has joined the Cubs' coaching staff.

8. The Blue Jays picked their coaching staff.

9. Jeff Keppinger broke his leg.

10. Kevin Correia is among the pitchers whom the Rockies are looking at.

11. The Giants have bullpen options other than Brian Wilson, but they still want him back, and because he might take another season to get back to what he was before. And a deadline looms Friday, Henry Schulman writes.

12. The Angels are seriously talking with Ryan Madson, and that makes sense, writes Mark Whicker.

13. Don't be surprised by the Mariners' pursuit of Mike Napoli, writes Geoff Baker.

Best contracts in baseball.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
If you are a fan of one of 29 franchises in baseball, Nov. 26, 2012, will go down as a sad one in your history of being a baseball fan. It was the day that you saw your dreams of watching your favorite team acquire peak-year Evan Longoria circle down the drain.

For fans of the 30th franchise, the Tampa Bay Rays, Monday afternoon was quite a bit brighter, like your birthday, multiplied by Thanksgiving, to the power of that day you found $20 bucks in the laundry. B.J. Upton is all but gone, James Shields is likely gone in the near future, but Evan Longoria, the crown jewel of the offense, is staying put.

The Rays signed Evan Longoria to a $100 million extension, keeping Longo from hitting free agency until at least the end of the 2022, which ends right around the time his birthday cake snags its 37th candle.

Longoria's first long-term deal with the Rays was an obvious coup. Even with the team having him under contract, the six-year, $17.5 million guaranteed and the three option years picked up as part of the extension (another $30 million) were a tremendous savings over what the team would have to pay him otherwise for that period. By Baseball Reference's reckoning, Longoria has 28.5 WAR through age 26, already essentially half the career of a player with a reasonable, though not a slam-dunk, Hall of Fame argument.

So, just how good is this contract? Obviously, it's unlikely to be quite the bonanza for the Rays as the first one, but even considering the fact that Longoria's coming off an injury-plagued season and there's substantial risk when it comes to projecting a player 10 years down the line, the Rays still pulled off a contract that's advantageous for the franchise's future.

ZiPS projects Longoria to have another 42 WAR left in him, enough to push him to right around 70 WAR, a number that would put him seventh or eighth all time among third basemen, depending on how you choose to treat Paul Molitor's 1B and DH time. Not too shabby.

More to the point, assuming $4.9 million for a win in the free agent market in 2013 and 5 percent yearly growth (a fairly conservative number based on the past three-plus decades of free agency), ZiPS estimates Longoria's 2017-2022 performance (the length of his extension) to be worth roughly $132 million at that point. Projection systems aren't known for rampant sunny optimism, so that's not with Longoria remaining a star, but having a very ordinary decline phase with plenty of missed time, with a .250/.338/.437 line over that time period.

Best deals
The top 15 long-term deals in MLB, based on projected value versus remaining salary while accounting for inflation.

Player Surplus ($M) left
Evan Longoria 65.4
Ryan Braun 45.0
Trevor Cahill 41.8
Matt Kemp 40.0
Dustin Pedroia 38.6
Johnny Cueto 37.9
Andrew McCutchen 37.7
Miguel Cabrera 34.7
Erick Aybar 32.3
Carlos Santana 31.9
Matt Moore 31.8
Ryan Zimmerman 29.4
Jose Bautista 27.4
Gio Gonzalez 26.4
Jered Weaver 26.0
If there's one thing pundits have done in history, it's underestimate where baseball's salaries will go. If baseball's free-agent contracts only increase by 5 percent a year over the next decade, which would be the slowest decade of growth yet for baseball, what you can buy for $10 million today should be expected to cost a hair over $16 million 10 years from now.

So, where does Longoria's contract situation stand among profitable contract situations in baseball? To answer this, we projected the expected WAR and dollar value for every player in baseball signed to at least through 2015 (see table). We also included players with 2015 options if the team would be projected to benefit by picking up the option year. Overall, we used the same methodology we used last year to calculate the biggest financial burdens in baseball.

Taken by itself, Longoria's extension would rank ninth in net surplus for the team out of 88 contracts I projected. Including the dollars Longoria is scheduled to make in 2013-2016, Longoria ranks as the best long-term contract in baseball, at a surplus value of $65 million, comfortably ahead of Ryan Braun at $45 million.

Following Braun comes Trevor Cahill of the Arizona Diamondbacks, projected to be paid $42 million less than he is projected to have made in his last two years of arbitration and then free agency. Cahill may be a surprising name, but he is due only $13.2 million over the next two years, with two team options worth a total of $25 million. Also, he's still just 24 years old and his upside remaining has to be considered in the calculation. Matt Kemp comes next at $40 million. He's just that good.

One thing that most of the bargain long-term contracts in baseball (and these include estimated arbitration awards, not simply assuming free agency) have in common is that they're young stars, signed before free agency. This isn't a new idea -- John Hart very notably was doing this with the Cleveland Indians 20 years ago -- but it's confirmation that it's still an extremely profitable move to make. Unlike inefficiencies in player evaluation, baseball's reserve system, which guarantees a team six full years of service time from a player if they want it, is a built-in advantage for teams. This trend is likely to continue, and the longer the Atlanta Braves and Los Angeles Angels wait to sign Jason Heyward, Freddie Freeman and Mike Trout, the worse a deal the team is likely to get. The closer the riches are, the less incentive players have to sign an advantageous deal. Even those pernicious plenipotentiaries of penny-pinching, the Pittsburgh Pirates, got the memo and signed a deal to keep Andrew McCutchen in town (projected surplus value: $37.7 million).

On the flip side, Ryan Howard retains last year's position as the biggest financial burden in baseball -- his megacontract is a year gone, but his injury time has caused a bit gloomier playing time projection, resulting in a negative surplus value of $76 million. Alex Rodriguez retains the No. 2 position at minus-$67.2 million and Albert Pujols is next, thanks to 2012 representing a futher decline rather than a bounce-back after a down 2011.

Almost exactly 15 years ago, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays launched their franchise by signing someone else's Hall of Fame third baseman, Wade Boggs. The Tampa Bay Rays have done better and got their own. Enjoy watching Longoria over the next decade, Rays fans, because the rest of us are crying today, just a little bit.
post #8936 of 73405
I love how there are two articles in the same post that completely contradict each other. laugh.gif

"BJ Upton deal a win for Atlanta"

and then

"Braves take a gamble with Upton"

Didnt read the articles yet. Just thought that was funny.
post #8937 of 73405

On what planet is BJ Upton the best position player available this offseason?

post #8938 of 73405
Thread Starter 
laugh.gif well I gotta post all POV's of it.

Welcome back Dirk laugh.gif

For the length of the contract they're both getting, IDK if it's that much of a gap.
post #8939 of 73405

I like Upton but hell, 75 mill for him? No ******g thanks.


The potential argument can't be used. He's been in the league way too long. Feasting on those NL arms compared to the AL east will help, but he got paaaaaiidddddd. 


Crazy to me, I wouldn't have ever given him bread like that.

post #8940 of 73405
Thread Starter 
I can see it. But a lot of people don't realize how incredibly hard it is to hit for power in Tampa. I think he'll hit at least 30 next year. Like the article said, you're getting $15mm for his 4 prime years and not paying for any of his decline years. I'll give him 5 years before I give Josh 5 years and I love Hamilton. He'll always be average defense with 30/30 speed and power with low BA.
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