Three-year deal excessive for Phil Hughes.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
The Minnesota Twins needed bulk for their rotation, which was a solid justification for the four-year deal they give Ricky Nolasco, a mid-rotation starter on a good team, earlier in the week.
That's not sufficient to justify the three-year, $24 million deal they just gave Phil Hughes, a fifth starter on a middling team who might be best cast in a relief role because hitters make too much good contact against his fastball.
Hughes has underperformed relative to his peripherals (and advanced metrics like FIP and xFIP) over the course of his career, with wide disparities in two of the last three years, in large part because those metrics make assumptions about what hitters will do when they make contact against a pitcher that don't apply for Hughes.
His fastball is pin straight and he tries to work up in the zone with it, so he's been line drive- and homer-prone throughout his career. The Yankees tried at various times to get him to work with a two-seamer or cutter so he'd have a fastball option with life or sink, but neither was ever consistent for him and he remains a fastball-heavy guy who is regularly beaten on his primary pitch because it doesn't move and he can't locate it well side-to-side.
Hughes spent most of 2013 working with a short, soft slider that he couldn't command, losing the low-70s curveball that was his potential out pitch when he was still a prospect so many years ago, and he's never had a solid third pitch. He doesn't even get right-handed hitters out consistently -- they've hit .289/.330/.520 against him over the last three years -- because he can't effectively spin the ball away from them. While Target Field isn't as homer-friendly as Yankee Stadium, it dampens left-handed power far more than right-handed power, which doesn't help Hughes as much as it would a typical right-handed pitcher because right-handed batters use him for batting practice.
The Twins needed another starter even after the Nolasco signing, and giving Hughes one year and $8 million would have fit, although it would have been more than he was worth to a team that is still likely to lose 90-plus games with him in the rotation. A three-year deal implies that the Twins believe he's fine as is, or that the adjustment needed to make him a consistent 2-3 WAR starter is something simple and easy. That could be true, but it seems unlikely given what the Yankees already tried with him; after 780 major-league innings, he's no better than he was when he first reached the majors, and in some ways is worse.
I thought he'd want a one-year deal this winter, with an eye toward putting up a better line in 2014 and shooting for a bigger deal next winter. This contract seems to split the baby: It's security for Hughes, but cuts off the potential upside of a 4-ERA, 190-inning season in 2014 that might have gotten him four years and $40 million-plus next December.
For the Twins, however, there's more downside than upside, as they're paying him to be the pitcher he hasn't been since 2010, a season when he posted the lowest line drive rate and BABIP of his career. The odds are pretty good that that Phil Hughes isn't the one who'll walk through the clubhouse doors in Fort Myers in February.
Free-agent pitchers feeling the squeeze.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Some of the teams that targeted starting pitching thus far in free agency, like the Giants, Royals and the Twins, have done some or all of their winter work choosing from the free agents with mid-sized contracts. Ricky Nolasco, Jason Vargas, Josh Johnson, Tim Hudson and Dan Haren have come off the board.
The starting pitchers who only require short-term deals of three years or less -- Bronson Arroyo, Scott Kazmir, Phil Hughes, Bartolo Colon -- will find landing spots. If Hiroki Kuroda returns to MLB next season, he likely will return to the Yankees, given that he’s attached to draft-pick compensation.
But it’s increasingly unclear which teams will make up the market for the three starting pitchers who appeared destined to get the three biggest deals of the winter: Ervin Santana and Ubaldo Jimenez, who were both given qualifying offers by their respective teams and are therefore attached to draft-pick compensation; and Matt Garza, who is not attached to draft-pick compensation.
The game of free-agent musical chairs is playing out, and that trio is still looking for landing spots, perhaps for a number of reasons.
1. The wait for Masahiro Tanaka. The rules regarding free agents from Japan are still being negotiated, and may not be resolved for a few weeks. The Yankees, Dodgers, Angels and Rangers could be among the teams bidding on Tanaka, in part because the cost of signing him won’t have the same luxury-tax implications that it would to sign MLB free agents. In the past, the posting fee for pitchers from Japan -- $51 million for Daisuke Matsuzaka, for example -- has not been subject to the luxury tax, a loophole in the past system that has angered some small-market and mid-market teams.
2. Trade alternatives. David Price is available, and so are Jeff Samardzija and Brett Anderson and others. For any team concerned about paying high-end free-agent prices, there are other options in the market.
3. The respective histories of Jimenez, Santana and Garza. Their careers have been anything but seamless. A year ago, in fact, Jimenez was a major question for the Indians, and as late as June 7, he had an ERA of 5.03. A year ago, Santana was on the verge of being non-tendered by the Angels, before he was swapped to the Royals. Garza didn’t pitch in a major league game for 10 months, from July 21, 2012 until May 21, 2013, because of injuries.
Of course, Jimenez dominated in the second half of 2013, with a 1.82 ERA after the All-Star break; Santana had a very good season for the Royals, with a 3.24 ERA; and Garza had a respectable ERA of 3.82 and a WHIP of 1.24 for the Cubs and Rangers in 2013.
4. Draft-pick compensation. For Jimenez and Santana, that will limit potential bidders, because there are teams that simply will not consider giving up a top pick.
Consider the whole market for starting pitchers:
Anthony Gruppuso/USA TODAY Sports
Ervin Santana's strong 2013 hasn't turned into big dollars yet.
Boston: The Red Sox have a surplus of starters.
Tampa Bay: They are looking to deal Price because they can’t afford him, so Garza, Santana and Jimenez probably wouldn’t fit, anyway.
New York: The Yankees are interested in signing one or two starters, and the fact that they have already surrendered their first-round pick to sign Brian McCann could make someone like Santana a better fit. But Tanaka fits their luxury-tax situation better, and Santana has a tendency to give up fly balls, which makes him less than an ideal addition for Yankee Stadium.
Baltimore: The Orioles need to sign a starting pitcher, but have a well-documented budget crunch and are waiting for prices to drop.
Toronto: They need at least one starter, but the Jays might be more interested in a trade for Samardzija than a high-end free agent.
Cleveland: The Indians are ready to sign a free agent and will probably get one of the available free agents. But unless Jimenez’s price drops significantly -- say, by half -- then the Indians probably wouldn’t seriously consider a reunion, because they are lined up to get draft-pick compensation, just as the Cardinals were with Kyle Lohse last winter. And if the Indians are going to invest big money in a starter, Justin Masterson might be a more likely candidate.
Detroit: The Tigers have a surplus of starters.
Minnesota: They wanted to add another free agent after the addition of Ricky Nolasco, but appear more interested in a modest investment along the lines of a one- or two-year deal for Hughes.
White Sox: It’s unclear how much they would spend for a veteran starting pitcher.
Kansas City: The Royals have already fired their biggest financial bullet in signing Vargas.
The Angels: The need is certainly there, but the Angels are said to be bumping against financial concerns, and their farm system is desperately thin.
Oakland: If they sign Colon or another starter on a short-term deal, Anderson would become more available for trade discussion.
Texas: Re-stocking their lineup is the Rangers’ greater concern, and Tanaka might be a better fit.
Seattle: The Mariners have indicated to others that they will add a closer, two power hitters and a high-end starting pitcher this offseason. So it makes sense that one of the three of the trio of Jimenez, Santana and Garza will wind up in Seattle.
Astros: They have indicated they’re ready to spend more. We’ll see.
Phillies: Their rotation needs help, but whether they’re willing to spend significant dollars remains to be seen. The Phillies would appear to be a candidate to sign one from the Ubaldo/Santana/Garza trio.
Nationals: Washington needs to replace Dan Haren in their rotation, but they could have a big bill due in a long-term deal with Jordan Zimmermann -- and do they give up a pick to sign Jimenez or Santana? That remains to be seen.
Marlins: They don’t seem to be a candidate to spend big on a starter.
Braves: Atlanta is overloaded by the pending arbitration cases for its current roster, which is why it lost out on Tim Hudson.
Mets: They have been looking more at second-tier and third-tier free agents.
Pirates: If A.J. Burnett doesn’t return, they’ll need a replacement, but it’s hard to imagine them investing a huge part of their payroll in a free agent starter, unless the market comes back to them.
Reds: They have to replace Bronson Arroyo, if they don’t re-sign him, but they are intent on trying Aroldis Chapman as a starter.
Cubs: Their executives already seem to regret the signing of Edwin Jackson, and given that the team probably won’t contend in 2014, they aren’t a great candidate to spend big on their rotation again.
Cardinals: You may have heard: They’re loaded with young pitching.
Brewers: They gave up a draft pick to sign Lohse last winter; would they do it again?
Padres: They’re betting on Josh Johnson, and on the return of Cory Luebke.
Giants: They signed Hudson, and re-signed Ryan Vogelsong; they may be tapped out. The Giants’ rotation seems complete, writes Alex Pavlovic. They saved a little money with the way this deal worked out.
Rockies: They’re telling agents they don’t have much to spend.
Diamondbacks: They’d like to add a starting pitcher, and have talked about Samardzija and Price trade possibilities. But they don’t appear to have a lot of financial flexibility.
Dodgers: See below.
This is the landscape, and if you’re Ervin Santana and your asking price is said to be over $100 million, this may be a frustrating winter, in which your best options might be closer to what Jason Vargas got than Matt Cain. It’s always about supply and demand, and the demand may not be what the best free agent starters had envisioned.
• Mark Saxon writes about the Dodgers’ rotation and the question of whether or not its settled. Another name to remember in all this is David Price, who may well be traded this winter, and on paper, the Dodgers are potentially the best match of any team -- if they’re willing to give up the prospects that Tampa Bay would require to get the left-hander.
I’d respectfully disagree with Mark on one thing: I don’t think it’ll be difficult for them to deal with the Josh Beckett/Chad Billingsley surplus, because as we saw with Ted Lilly last year, if the Dodgers think somebody else is better or that a veteran isn’t healthy enough, they won’t pitch him, regardless of track record.
• Bringing back Stephen Drew makes sense for the Red Sox, writes Scott Lauber.
In my opinion: It makes sense only for a year at a time, or two at the most, if the price is right for them. There is absolutely no reason for the Red Sox to extend beyond that, given the presence of Xander Bogaerts and Drew’s injury history. Boston gave Drew a qualifying offer; he rejected it. And some rival officials around baseball wonder if the Red Sox might prefer the draft pick over re-signing Drew on a short-term deal.
• The Royals could’ve announced Dayton Moore’s two-year extension anytime they wanted, and they chose to do it on the day after Thanksgiving, when the news is saturated with football and Black Friday shopping, and when a lot of the world is way too busy to notice.
Moore has done well for the Royals, in an era when rebuilding a team with a small-market or mid-market sized budget can take five or six or seven years. The Royals went short of going all in with Moore, writes Sam Mellinger.
• Robinson Cano says he never asked for $300 million.
Moves, deals and decisions
1. Marc Topkin reported on Twitter that the Rays are close to re-signing the pitcher once known as Leo Nunez.
2. As expected, the Dodgers and Hanley Ramirez are working on an extension.
• The Twins and Royals are paying different prices in their effort to catch the Tigers, writes John Lowe.
• The Pirates don’t platoon as much as other teams, writes Travis Sawchik.
Ike Davis and the arbitration conundrum.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
If you were to draw a line to trace Ike Davis’s hand movement when he was in his deepest slumps, it would look more like something from a kid’s maze than mechanics of a successful hitter. The hands went down, then up, then forward, and by the time he got through all of that his timing would seem more serendipitous than anything, as Keith Hernandez spoke of here after Davis broke an 0-for-24 slump in May.
Davis is just 26 years old, but after hitting 19 homers in 2010 and then batting .302 in 36 games in a 2011 shortened by injury, he hit .227 with 140 strikeouts in 2012 and only .205 in 2013, amid questions about whether his swing is fixable. But Davis’s salary is climbing, through service-time driven arbitration, and he’ll be set to make something just south of $4 million in 2014.
There may have been a time when Davis would’ve been a candidate to be non-tendered -- and the deadline for teams to tender contracts, formally, is midnight Monday. But the financial context has changed enough that increasingly, clubs appear willing to pay well (or overpay) for players under control for one season at a time. The working mantra of the 2013-2014 winter seems to be: There’s no such thing as a bad one-year deal.
Even if the Mets follow up on some of the trade conversations they’ve had and move Davis (Colorado could be a possible landing spot, as well as Tampa Bay) -- the idea of paying him $3.5-4 million in a one-year obligation isn’t regarded as a reach; the Mets would find a taker for Davis. Because if he bounces back, he could be a good value, and if he doesn’t, well, some other team would just dump him next winter.
The Yankees doled out $85 million to sign Brian McCann, and Cardinals committed $53 million to Jhonny Peralta; Nelson Cruz, Jacoby Ellsbury and Shin-Soo Choo are looking for tens of millions of dollars; Robinson Cano is looking for close to $300 million.
So somebody will place a small-bore bet on Davis and hope that he can work through the maze of his hitting mechanics, and fix his swing.
I asked rival evaluators for feedback on Davis, his swing and the question of whether it could be fixed. Their answers:
Evaluator No. 1: "[His swing has] leaks and hitches. Tough to be consistent; can have hot streaks but tough to count on over a period of time. He has a good feel for the strike zone and has above average pull loft power. Solid defense, needs a change of scenery but arbitration value can be an issue."
Evaluator No. 2: "It’s just a high maintenance swing which has gotten longer and slower over the past couple of seasons. It seems like his hands continue to creep further and further down his front side from a couple of years ago. He's always had that hitch, but he's not getting his hands to a good hitting position early enough to create the kind of separation between his hands and lower half that he needs in order to drive the ball to all fields, and to stay back against a change of speeds.
"He bails pretty badly with his front side against left-handed pitchers, which is partially a result of his swing being long and him feeling like he has less time to commit against them than against right-handed pitchers, which limits him mostly to his pull side against southpaws -- not real pretty. He still seems to have the physical ability to be a productive left-handed bat at first base against roght-handers in particular, which is why I'm sure there will be plenty of interest in him if he becomes a free agent, but more efficient mechanics in the box will have to be a focus for him."
Evaluator No. 3: "Non-tenders are tricky -- it's tough to predict each team because it's so hard to know what they value or may be thinking. It's almost as if non-tenders are done on a different level because one man's trash is another's treasure.
"I think the Mets will tender Davis -- but I don't think he will ever hit consistently enough. I think he will be one of those guys that might give you 20-30 home runs, but will do so with a ton of strikeouts and a very low batting average. He's not unlike somebody like Russell Branyan, but maybe he gets more exposure because he plays in New York and was first-round pick."
Evaluator No. 4: "Swing is high-maintenance. Tough to fix things on the fly but I wouldn't go so far as saying he will never hit that way. He varied his setups a lot last year. I don't think he will be non-tendered and I would be surprised if he is but certainly not impossible."
• The Pirates will decide whether to tender an offer to Michael McKenry.
• Andrew Bailey is awaiting word on whether he’ll be tendered a contract.
• The Royals have some decisions to make, writes Bob Dutton; Chris Getz may not be tendered a contract.
Sam Fuld has today’s date circled.
George King writes that Robinson Cano must ask himself: If the Yankees don’t re-sign him, where will he get the money he wants?
Wrote the other day that Cano’s side asked for a nine-year deal at $28 million a year -- a total of $252 million -- with a vesting option for a 10th year, at $29 million.
• To date, only one of the 13 free agents given a qualifying offer has agreed to a new contract -- Brian McCann.
Moves, deals and decisions
1. The Twins spent $73 million on starting pitching in the last week, and Phil Hughes is part of that. He took a modest-sized three-year deal rather than betting on himself for a bounce-back year in 2014 and hitting the market again.
2. The Orioles acquired a catcher.
• There are three areas of concern for the Red Sox, writes John Tomase.
• The Tigers' farm system is said to be low on starting pitching.
• Paul Hoynes addresses a bunch of Indians-related questions here.
• Justin Morneau isn’t ruling out the possibility he could wind up back with the Twins someday.
• Jon Daniels knows he must be patient with Jurickson Profar, writes Tim Cowlishaw.
• **** Monfort offered details from the Rockies’ financial situation to Troy Renck. From Troy’s piece:
This past season, the Rockies ranked 24th in baseball in opening-day payroll, a figure Monfort calculated at $84 million — his accounting includes in-season call-ups and free-agent additions — which amounted to 49.4 percent of the team's $170 million in revenue. Monfort framed those figures in context with his business model, saying it's his rule of thumb to spend "50 percent of revenue on the players' salaries."
For the 2014 season, he said he's willing to stretch the payroll to about $95 million while attempting to add an impact bat, a starting pitcher and another reliever to join veteran LaTroy Hawkins, who was signed last month.
Given that baseball's new TV deal begins next season, that $95 million payroll seems low. After all, each team will receive $54 million next year as part of baseball's eight-year, $12.4 billion national television contract, including $27 million in additional money based on the previous contract.
To explain his thinking, Monfort, for the first time, provided The Denver Post with a line-by-line budget. He also explained why he isn't about to spend all that new TV money next year.
He said he is planning to receive $8 million less, or $19 million, believing a chunk will be kept for baseball's central fund to compensate for last season. MLB said it was going to hold back money this past year for the central fund, but after owners complained, the money was not withheld, leaving Monfort to believe extra money will be withheld next year.
"I don't know if other clubs are looking at it like that, but we are," Monfort said. "We have been told (as owners), and I don't know if it is scare tactics or not, that (each team) will pay that back this year. The way we are budgeting right now is that not only are we not getting that extra $4 million (like last season) but we will be paying back the $4 million from last year."
The $18 million is additionally siphoned, Monfort explained, to pay $5.5 million to the MLB credit line for past loans, $5 million for player raises and $3.5 million to cover projected revenue loss from not having the Yankees and the Red Sox play at Coors Field, series that drew huge crowds this past summer at inflated ticket prices. That leaves approximately $4 million to $5 million in "new" money, and the ability to add about $11 million to the payroll, he said.
Some teams won’t provide that kind of detailed financial information to the media out of concern for other clubs; if one team releases its information, the pressure increases on other teams to do the same. The fact that the Rockies chose to do this says something about the current level of pressure they feel to spend.
The New York Yankees and Player X.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Detach the name from the performance and just call him Player X.
In 2011, he was limited to 99 games, but when he played, he was an above-average performer relative to others at his position, hitting .276, with an .823 OPS.
In 2012, those numbers dipped slightly, as he continued to battle more injuries; Player X had a .783 OPS, while seeing a predictable regression in his defense.
Because of offseason surgery, Player X was limited to 44 games in 2013 -- and he showed some pop. His OPS slid only slightly, to .771, although the questions about his ability to play regularly in the field continued to grow.
Player X is 38 years old, and as he deals with a condition that can be degenerative, he has missed 221 games the past three seasons. When he plays, he is still an above-average-to-average offensive player, compared to others at his position. In the small sample of games he played in the field in 2013, one defensive metric has him as average.
In short, the pure performance evaluation would be: Player X can be a productive player, although there are significant questions about whether he will be healthy enough to be counted on.
There is more to the equation than baseball production, however. So much more.
Player X is Alex Rodriguez, and his lawsuit count for 2013 may be in the neighborhood of his home run total for the year (seven), after all the papers are filed before the start of 2014.
One of the defendants is the Yankees' team doctor. By season's end, Yankees general manager Brian Cashman acknowledged he was concerned about having conversations with Rodriguez because he fretted that his words would become fodder in a legal case. If A-Rod returns to the Yankees, a lot of folks in the organization will be walking carefully around him, out of fear that something they do or say might lead to them to taking an oath in a courtroom.
The Yankees owe Rodriguez $86 million over the next four seasons, a financial commitment that may be lightened if an arbitrator rules against him and sustains some sort of suspension, and if that ruling stands up to any inevitable legal challenge that Rodriguez may mount.
I don’t think it matters. I'm guessing – and that's all it is, a guess -- that Rodriguez has played his last game for the Yankees.
If Rodriguez is ordered to serve the full 211 games in his suspension, I think they'll cut him upon completion of his sentence. If his suspension is reduced, I think they'll cut him. If he wins his case outright, I think they'll cut him.
Because Rodriguez may have reached the tipping point in his career in which his potential production for the Yankees is outweighed by the potential downside for the organization.
Let's say, for argument's sake, that Rodriguez won his arbitration case and was ready to play at the start of spring training. For 38-year-old Player X, a good season in the summer in which he turned 39 might be 120-125 games, 15 to 20 homers and an OPS in the range of .750-.770.
A full season for Alex Rodriguez also would promise to include the spectacle of a news conference at the outset of spring training, just as the Yankees are focusing on the 2014 season after failing to make the playoffs in 2013. We in the media would chase him around for updates on his play and on the progress of lawsuits against others in the organization and Major League Baseball.
Whether the Steinbrenner family wants it or not, A-Rod will be the face of the Yankees whenever he plays for them again. Some teammates were privately fed up by the daily circus that swirled around A-Rod in the last two months of last season, as they were trying to hang in the pennant race.
My guess is that the Yankees will decide: uncle.
My guess is that after the arbitrator makes his ruling, they will make peace with the idea of writing him a big check, paying him off and moving on without him.
Jhonny Peralta and many others have shown that folks in baseball will forgive a PED history if there is the promise of exceptional production. Heck, A-Rod showed that in 2009, after his admission that he used PEDs early in his career. His teammates stood for his news conference in Tampa, in support of him, and after that they went back to business, because Rodriguez was still an elite player. If he had been a fringe player, he would have been cut long ago.
But Player X -- A-Rod -- can no longer be counted on for star-level production, in the latter half of the 10-year contract he signed after the 2007 season. And unquestionably, his presence will have great potential for distraction.
George Steinbrenner seemed to subscribe to the theory that there is no such thing as negative publicity, particularly in his first 15 years of ownership of the Yankees. But I wonder if even Steinbrenner -- who was suspended from baseball himself -- might have grown weary of the A-Rod headlines, and severed the relationship by now.
Winning mattered most to Steinbrenner, and as it is with a lot of older players, it's no longer a sure thing that Player X -- Alex Rodriguez -- is more of a help than a hindrance.
News and notes
Dr. Christopher Amad, the Yankees' team doctor, answered some of Rodriguez's charges in court documents that were filed.
• The Orioles are willing to talk a trade of closer Jim Johnson, writes Eduardo Encina.
• The Giants are nearing a deal with Ryan Vogelsong.
• Miguel Cabrera has told the Tigers he wants to play first base.
Moves, deals and decisions
1. The Orioles have signed one free agent, and are pursuing bigger names, writes Roch Kubatko.
2. Phil Hughes is likely to get a two-year deal. I’m not sure why a two-year deal would be better for Hughes than a one-year deal, unless there is some doubt about what's possible. A one-year bet on himself would allow Hughes to go back into the open market next fall.
Depending on the Angels' assessment of his stuff, he could make a lot of sense for them, given their glaring need.
3. Luis Cruz is headed to Japan.
• Howard Lincoln talked with Ryan Divish about the search for Chuck Armstrong’s replacement.
• Will Middlebrooks is looking for improvement.
• The Phillies should keep Kyle Kendrick, writes Ryan Lawrence.
• Bernie Miklasz filled out the Cardinals’ lineup card.
• The Jhonny Peralta signing irks Reds fans, writes Paul Daugherty.
'Rule of 10' hurting Hall of Fame voting.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
The worst thing about the Hall of Fame voting has become the career dissection that accompanies it annually.
Jack Morris threw almost 4,000 innings in his career, including his 13 starts in the postseason, and along the way he finished in the top five in the Cy Young voting five different times. But every year for the last 14, as his candidacy for Cooperstown induction is measured over and over, there is loud and out-of-context and overstated conversation about what he wasn’t. I get the debate, and yet still hate that there has to be a discussion every December about whether a respected player like Don Mattingly, Dale Murphy, Lou Whitaker or Alan Trammell -- who all had incredible careers -- is worthy.
It’s a practice that seems unnecessarily excruciating. Imagine if they did this with the Oscars, and for 15 years the folks who created "The Shawshank Redemption" had to listen to renewed talk about why it just wasn’t good enough.
But the problem in the Hall of Fame voting now is that the supposed worthiness of the candidates is not the only factor that now must be considered by a significant percentage of voters. Now a chunk of voters -- mostly those who have voted for players linked to PEDs -- have to decide who among the growing number of candidates is worthy of one of the 10 open spots on the ballot.
To review: By rule, eligible writers can cast votes for up to 10 players in a given year. Because there have been no final decisions, no consensus reached, on players like Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, etc., the list of candidates with Hall of Fame-caliber numbers has lengthened way beyond 10.
The question of whether to vote for the likes of McGwire is debatable. As I’ve written here in the past, I believe the institution of baseball looked the other way on steroids for a period of about two decades, and in that vacuum of oversight, MLB’s steroid problem erupted, with an enormous percentage of players choosing to use either to gain an advantage or to keep up with peers they knew were using. Whether we like it or not, this is what the sport became through the failure of leadership, and I find it unconscionable to apply retroactive morality on a handful of individuals, among thousands, with a Hall of Fame ballot. I’ve voted for McGwire, Palmeiro, Clemens, Bonds, etc. I don’t see the Cardinals or Cubs or any other team giving back money from that time; I don’t see the Red Sox or Yankees returning their championship trophies. And the reality is that there are probably already more than a few PED users in the Hall of Fame, because there really is no way to know who took what and when.
Based on voting history, my view on this is in a distinct minority, and that debate continues.
But it is indisputable that there will be candidates who will be hurt by the ballot limit of 10 this year. Among the players eligible for selection, I count 17 who I would vote for -- but I’ll have to leave off seven.
Here are four players who I think could be particularly affected:
1. Morris. You hope that his Hall of Fame qualifications are evaluated solely on his career performance -- and because this is his last year of eligibility, I will be sure to include him among the 10 players I vote for. But other voters facing the 10-player squeeze might handle their ballots differently.
As with many candidates, Morris’ vote percentage has climbed from year to year, reaching 67.7 percent last year, close to the 75 percent he needs. If his vote total dips, this will be a notable piece of evidence that the Rule of 10 has damaged the process.
2. Mike Mussina. I’d vote for the right-hander, who had a 3.68 ERA while pitching his entire career in the AL East, in an era in which offense exploded. But he almost certainly won’t get in on his first year on the ballot, and you hope that the Rule of 10 doesn’t cost him so many votes that he fails to attract the 5 percent he needs for continued consideration.
I’d like to vote for him -- but I think he’ll be among the seven Hall of Fame-worthy players I will have to leave off my ballot.
3. Jeff Kent. The rationale that applies to Mussina can be attached to Kent as well. He was Hall of Fame-worthy, in my view, but he doesn’t have the slam-dunk resume of a Greg Maddux and so Kent’s candidacy should have a chance to marinate.
But it may not if he doesn’t get the necessary 5 percent -- and he may well lose votes because of the Rule of 10. I’d like to vote for him; I will not, because of the ballot limits.
4. Mark McGwire. As the debate over the steroid era candidates has played out, his vote percentage has gradually dropped, from a high of 23.7 percent to the 16.9 percent last year. With Mussina, Maddux, Tom Glavine, Kent and Frank Thomas hitting the ballot this year, McGwire is in jeopardy of falling below the 5 percent threshold.
If the writers’ collective stance on the steroid-era candidates changes (if Bonds, Clemens, Mike Piazza or Jeff Bagwell becomes the tipping point) it would be a shame if McGwire couldn’t be considered not because he didn’t have a lot of success, but because he lost too many votes this winter due to the Rule of 10.
• The Twins’ signing of Ricky Nolasco has a chance to be Minnesota’s version of the Cubs’ Edwin Jackson deal, with the team quickly regretting its investment of about $50 million. But Minnesota’s attendance has dropped from 3.2 million in 2010, in the first year of Target Field, to 2.5 million last season, and the Twins’ pitching has been horrific. Nolasco at least has a chance to be something of a rotation stabilizer until Minnesota develops its own frontline pitching. Last year, the Twins’ rotation was almost half a run worse than that of any other team in the majors.
Meanwhile, the Giants are moving toward to a deal with Ryan Vogelsong, Henry Schulman writes. All along, the Giants have been open to the idea of bringing back Vogelsong, at a price with which they were comfortable.
The best starting pitchers still on the market:
1. Matt Garza
2. Ubaldo Jimenez
3. Ervin Santana
4. Bronson Arroyo
5. Scott Kazmir
• Ryan Braun broke his silence. He had dinner with Dino Laurenzi Jr.
If I were a close friend of Braun, I’d ask him this open-ended question: Going forward, what do you want?
If his goal is to protect his fortune -- which absolutely is his prerogative -- then he should say little or nothing about the PED stuff. Clemens and Alex Rodriguez and others have fought to clear their names or win back favor, and cost themselves millions -- and in the case of Clemens, he wound up being prosecuted and tried (and cleared).
If, on the other hand, Braun’s goal is full redemption, he should answer all questions as completely as possible.
Here’s the full transcript from Todd Rosiak.
• Robinson Cano will get his money, writes Ken Davidoff.
• Will Middlebrooks is in Boston’s plans.
It makes sense. Consider these two lines of performance:
Player No. 1: 32 homers, 103 RBIs, .294 OBP, .462 slugging.
Player No. 2: 34 homers, 100 RBIs, .294 OBP, .453 slugging.
The line from Player No. 1: Middlebrooks, in the first 169 games of his career. Player No. 2: Mark Trumbo’s numbers in 159 games in 2013.
Moves, deals and decisions
1. With Manny Parra signing with the Reds, the Nationals’ options for left-handed relievers are shrinking. Parra decided to stick with a good thing, writes John Fay.
2. The Royals released an infielder.
3. Ted Lilly has decided to retire after 15 years and 130 career victories.
4. The Rockies are eyeing Justin Morneau.
Brian McCann has a huge passion for baseball, writes Any McCullough.
The Tigers are turning to speed and defense, writes Lynn Henning.
Jose Altuve won’t play winter ball, writes Jesus Ortiz.
The Cardinals had the money to go after Jhonny Peralta.
Brewers should shop Ryan Braun.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
When rumors circulated last week that the Milwaukee Brewers might consider trading left fielder Ryan Braun, it generated a ton of interest around the sport. After all, this year's free-agent market is largely devoid of top-level offensive thump other than Robinson Cano, and an elite hitter like Braun would fit nicely into the lineup of nearly every contending team in baseball.
Milwaukee general manager Doug Melvin quickly shot down the rumors and further defused the talk by discussing the potential of moving Braun to right field next year.
So while it seems the Brewers might not have any plans to move him, I would argue that they should reconsider that stance.
This has little to do with Braun's performance-enhancing drug troubles, though that's certainly a part of the story. It has a whole lot more to do with the fact that Braun turned 30 last week and plays for a team that has gone from 66 to 79 to 88 losses in the past three years and is stuck in a division that had three 2013 playoff teams and a Chicago organization that's maybe only a year away from seeing its crop of highly touted prospect bats start to arrive.
With a thin starting rotation and one of the weakest farm systems in the game, Milwaukee is probably in for a tough few years. The Brewers can finish in last place just as easily without Braun as with him.
Milwaukee is years away
The Brewers could hang on to Braun as he ages and the team rebuilds, all the while dealing with ticket holders who feel as though they've been betrayed, or they could give both themselves and Braun a fresh start. Those who insist that Braun's baggage will prevent other teams from wanting to acquire him are mistaken; over the past three years, including his shortened 2013, he has been one of the 10 most valuable players in the game. It's naive to think that other teams wouldn't jump at the chance to add that skill set.
Over the past five seasons, these are the 10 best hitters according to wRC+.
1. Miguel Cabrera 169
2. Mike Trout 163
3. Joey Votto 163
4. Ryan Braun 152
5. Albert Pujols 150
6. Jose Bautista 149
7. Prince Fielder 147
8. Matt Holliday 147
9. Joe Mauer 147
10. Buster Posey 140
That's especially true because the current market is set up in such a way that acquiring talent via trade is often more efficient than via free agency, since the sport is both flush with television money and limiting where teams can actually put that money to use. Knowing that signing Cano -- who is a year older and will cost a draft pick -- is likely to top $200 million, Braun's contract looks almost reasonable.
For example, San Francisco outfielder Hunter Pence, seven months older than Braun, signed a five-year deal worth $90 million to remain with the Giants in September. That's an average annual value of $18 million for a solid player heading into his age-31 season who had never been more valuable in a season than Braun until 2013, when Braun played only 61 games.
By comparison, Braun heads into his age-30 season with seven years and $117 million left on his deal, a lower average value of $16.7 million. (That doesn't include a $4 million buyout of a 2021 option but also doesn't account for the fact that $18 million is deferred through 2031 at no interest, lowering the value.)
If Braun were on the open market, he would almost certainly match his current deal's total value and perhaps get more. That's the case despite the ugliness surrounding his controversial failed drug test, successful appeal and ultimate suspension that cost him the final 65 games of 2013, an elephant in the room that can't be ignored.
But the truth of the matter is that as much as fans may dislike it, major league teams value talent over rap sheets. Just this month alone, Marlon Byrd, Jhonny Peralta and Carlos Ruiz -- all with PED-related suspensions in the recent past -- signed deals that roughly equaled or exceeded their entire career earnings to date, and Nelson Cruz is likely to do the same soon.
The annual inflation in salaries factors into that somewhat, but it's mostly that they were among the best options on the market and were paid accordingly, despite the black marks on their records. Front offices want to win games, not act as the sport's morality police.
Low supply of superstars
Braun's reputation is likely tainted forever, but the fact is that there's no simple pill or cream that can account for a No. 5 overall draft pick hitting the way he did from the start of his career, not when he is one of just 21 players in history to have a .400 wOBA in his 20s (minimum 4,000 plate appearances).
In other words, his combination of talents is nearly unmatched on the market, and he would be a fascinating trade chip were he to become available. Over the summer, Jim Bowden wrote that Braun is still by far the Brewers' most valuable asset and would be considered second only to Cano if he were a free agent this winter.
While the Mets are often mentioned when his name comes up, it's actually teams like Pittsburgh, Kansas City and Seattle that would immediately be able to get into the game for a talent that usually eludes them on the open market. The Pirates and Royals desperately need a power-hitting corner outfielder as they attempt to capitalize on their breakthrough 2013 seasons, while Seattle is constantly looking for offense and has money to spend. (Braun has a no-trade clause, but those are easily negotiated around.)
The Pirates, Royals and Mariners all have the high-end prospects that the Brewers desperately need, and a Braun trade would help jump-start the rebuilding process while ridding Milwaukee of a PR problem.
As we've seen on the market so far this winter, PED busts aren't creating a drag on value, and making Braun available could do wonders for Milwaukee's future.
The myth of the power fix.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Nelson Cruz is the kind of free agent who comes with a ton of red flags.
He's heading into his age-33 season, has been historically injury-prone -- having suffered a collection of injuries that tend to reoccur -- and has played in more than 130 games only once in his career. Although he has played in a hitter-friendly ballpark in Texas, his career on-base percentage is .327, and over the past three years, it's just .319. He's not a particularly good defensive player and could very likely have to move to DH in a year or two. Oh, and he's coming off a 50-game suspension after being connected to the Biogenesis performance-enhancing drug scandal.
With all that in mind, Cruz is reportedly looking for a long-term contract after turning down the Rangers' qualifying offer of $14 million for 2014.
There are plenty of valid reasons for teams to avoid paying big money to Cruz, but he didn't make a mistake in turning down the Rangers' offer of arbitration, as he knows that he possesses a skill that is becoming rarer and rarer in today's game: right-handed power.
Over the past three years, only 13 right-handed hitters in the game have hit at least 80 home runs, and Cruz is one of those 13. The growing scarcity of power, especially from the right side of the plate, will lead a team to give Cruz a hefty contract. After all, basic economics suggest that the rarer something is, the more it should cost, and Cruz is one of the rare power hitters on the market this winter.
However, I'd like to suggest that baseball teams should not pay a premium to acquire power hitters simply because we've moved into an era where offense is harder to come by. Just because home run hitters are now more difficult to find does not make them significantly more valuable now than they were when everyone could jack 20 bombs a year.
Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images
Seattle learned that adding power doesn't always mean adding wins.
Let's deal with the scarcity issue first. Yes, there is now a lower supply of home runs than there used to be, and when supply goes down, price usually goes up, assuming demand holds steady. However, a baseball game is not a very good model of economic theory, because the scoring system of baseball is not designed to reward scarcity. If events were valued based on how rare they were, the triple would be baseball's ultimate hit, as there were 4,661 home runs but only 772 triples last season. Of course, no one thinks triples are more valuable than home runs just because there are fewer of them, because the currency of baseball is runs, not scarcity of events.
At the end of the day, the only thing that really matters is how many runs a team scored and allowed in a given game. Even over a full season, the standings usually track very consistently with total runs scored and runs allowed. How you score runs does not really matter so long as you do. Home runs certainly help in that regard, but they don't become exponentially more valuable simply because they become more scarce.
Without boring you too much with heavy math, many of the modern statistical models are based on a concept called linear weights. Linear weights models take every event that happens over the course of a season and assigns an average run value to each event based on the run environment of that season. So, when offensive levels are high and there are lots of baserunners, home runs are more likely to occur with men on base and result in multiple runs scored than solo home runs, so the run value of a home run is higher in offensive booms than it is when pitching is dominating.
This is true of pretty much every offensive event, not just home runs. The value of reaching base goes down when it's less likely that the guy behind you will drive you in. So, what we should care about are the changes in relative values between things like singles and home runs in different run environments. To illustrate these changes, here's a graph created by my colleague Steve Staude, for a post he wrote earlier this year.
Notice how the blue line for singles and the green line for home runs move in near unison over time, as offense ebbs and flows into and out of baseball. They don't move in perfect lockstep, but they move very similarly in nearly every era of the game, including the one we're living in now. There have been times in baseball history when the value of a home run and a single have differed from their norms -- specifically, the dead ball era, when no one could score and a home run was one of the few ways you could guarantee some offense -- but at anything close to normal levels of run scoring, the relative value of the home run and the single don't change much at all.
Now, you might wonder why you should care about what linear weights has to say about this, because the game is played on the field and not on some spreadsheet, or so I've been repeatedly told. While it is certainly true that the game is not played on a spreadsheet, the fact is that models built on linear weights have proved to be very accurate estimators of run scoring. If these models built on linear weights were undervaluing the effects of home runs, we'd expect teams that hit a lot of home runs to outperform the models' expectations.
But that is not what we actually find.
In 2013, the top 10 teams in home runs combined to underperform their expected runs total by an average of 3.7 runs per team, while the bottom 10 teams in home runs combined to outperform their expected runs total by 9.2 runs per team. The team with the largest difference between actual runs scored and expected runs scored was the Cardinals, who scored 61 runs more than their linear weights would suggest; the Cardinals finished 27th in MLB in home runs, with just 125 long balls on the season.
Meanwhile, the biggest underachiever in run production was the Tampa Bay Rays, despite finishing 11th in the majors in home runs with 165. But perhaps no team in baseball offers a more severe warning sign against overvaluing players like Cruz than last year's Seattle Mariners. After struggling to score runs for years, the team loaded up on one-dimensional power hitters -- Cruz types, essentially -- in an effort to boost their offense. Their major offseason acquisitions included trades for Michael Morse and Kendrys Morales along with free-agent contracts for Raul Ibanez and Jason Bay. They traded defense for offense and bet big on the value of the home run.
It sort of worked, as they hit 188 long balls, more than any other team in baseball besides the Baltimore Orioles. However, the Mariners scored only 624 runs, 22nd-most in baseball. They, too, underperformed their expected runs total based on linear weights, even though their offense was relatively prolific at hitting the ball over the fence, as their lack of ability to get on base meant that 63 percent of their home runs resulted in only one run, and it takes more than a bunch of solo home runs to win baseball games.
Cruz will hit home runs for whoever signs him to a big contract this winter, but he won't do much else, and the reality is that players who hit home runs and do little else to help a team win just aren't particularly valuable players overall. Rather than focusing on labels like "power hitter," teams simply should seek to maximize their run differential. Cruz might do a thing that not many can do anymore, but the things he can't do make him a mediocre player and unlikely to be worth the contract he'll get this winter.
Nolasco signing necessary for the Twins.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Ricky Nolasco's four-year deal with the Twins almost seems cheap given its average annual value of just over $12 million, with a club option that could vest and become a player option that could make the contract a five-year, $61 million deal in the end. For the Twins, the timing seems odd, as they're not going to contend in 2014 and probably not in 2015 as they wait for their bevy of high-end hitting prospects to reach and adjust to the majors, but given the lack of starting pitching prospects on their full-season affiliates, signing a player such as Nolasco actually may have been necessary.
Nolasco seemed to have turned a corner right after the Marlins dumped his salary on the Dodgers in July for three fringe relief prospects, posting a 2.07 ERA across 74 innings before three awful starts ended his year and scared the Dodgers out of using him in their Division Series rotation. When he was on, he was working heavily off his fastball, adding and subtracting from it similar to the way his teammate Zack Greinke did, and finishing hitters off with his slider, leaving the curve and changeup as occasional show-me weapons. When he shies away from establishing the fastball, he's far less effective, and often ends up in that situation because his fastball doesn't have great life and is prone to hard contact. It's an interesting signing for Minnesota, a team that has long preached pitching to contact, because Nolasco throws a lot of strikes but doesn't exactly want to encourage hitters to square up his fastball.
The Twins' projected rotation for 2014 was pretty sparse, both in quality but also in quantity, something Nolasco, who has a long history of durability, addresses right away. (How sparse? The Twins aren't returning a starter who posted an fWAR over Kevin Correia's 1.3.) Even 200 innings at a league-average level makes a huge difference to the Twins in the standings and, more important, in how they can use the rest of their staff. If they want to bring Kyle Gibson along more slowly by limiting his innings or giving him two months in the bullpen, it's easier to do that.
But the two to three added wins they get from Nolasco won't make them contenders; they're waiting on the development of Oswaldo Arcia and Aaron Hicks, and the arrivals of Miguel Sano (who probably sees the majors this fall), Byron Buxton (maybe early 2015), and Eddie Rosario (same). When those guys develop, the Twins could have a scary lineup; but by then, Nolasco will be 34 and there's a good chance he's already started to lose some value by that point in the deal.
For 2014, at least, he's their best starter, adding two to three wins of value through his performance, and perhaps helping more than that by reducing the odds that the Twins will blow out their bullpen through overuse.
The risk and reward with Haren
Dan Haren's one-year, $10 million deal with the Dodgers came in a little pricier than I expected, which is probably a function of him signing with Ned Colletti and the Infinite Payroll rather than the market overestimating his value. Haren has the command and the splitter to pitch successfully with reduced velocity, and showed that in the second half of 2013, making him another "good if healthy" guy who's ideal for a one-year deal that could set him up for a larger contract next offseason.
The Dodgers only need Haren as a fourth starter, behind Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, and Hyun-Jin Ryu, so if he's even league average he's helping the team, and I think he has an excellent chance to be more than that. Ryu was much less effective his second and third times around the league, so Haren could pick up the slack if Ryu can't make an adjustment to hitters who started to figure out his delivery. Haren also provides a buffer in case Chad Billingsley and Josh Beckett, both coming off arm surgeries, aren't healthy or effective in 2014, and the Dodgers do have prospect Zach Lee likely a half-year or so away from being ready to contribute as a fifth starter.
If Haren can make 30 healthy starts, he'll be one of the bargains of the offseason. The Dodgers just have to accept the risk that he's nothing close to that, given his hip issues and volatile performances in 2012 and 2013.
Analyzing the Pirates-Padres swap
The Pirates and Padres swung a minor trade earlier this week as the Padres were clearing spots on their 40-man roster in advance of the roster freeze date. (Players who aren't added to the 40-man by that date, but who have sufficient time in pro ball, become eligible for selection in December's Rule 5 draft; some players who might be selected are Yankees right-hander Danny Burawa, Astros left-hander Alex Sogard and Red Sox right-hander Luis Diaz, any of whom could hang around as the 12th man on a major league staff in 2014.) The Pirates seemed to get the slightly better end of the deal here, although the cost includes the two spots on the 40-man required to protect the players they just acquired.
The Padres' decision to deal 2008 sandwich pick Jaff Decker was a slight surprise, as he has put up strong OBPs all over the minors when healthy, although he has missed a lot of time because of injuries and is limited to the outfield corners on defense. His approach is beyond patient to the point of passive, as he gets himself into good hitters' counts but doesn't take advantage, often letting fastball strikes go by when he should be ambushing them. Still just 23, Decker got a cup of coffee in the majors this past season and could see a fair amount of major league time in 2014 for a Pirates club that could use an OBP boost. They also picked up big right-handed reliever Miles Mikolas, a strike-thrower without a real out pitch, but the kind of middle man who can do well in front of a defense, such as the Pirates', that converts a lot of balls in play into outs thanks to great positioning.
The Padres get Alex Dickerson, the Pirates' third-round pick in 2011, who doesn't have to be protected from the Rule 5 draft for another year. Dickerson played mostly right field in 2013, a season where he hit a mediocre .288/.337/.494 in Double-A; that's not good enough for a bat-only prospect who'll probably end up in first base in the majors. I like Dickerson's pure hit tool quite a bit, and think he could hit .290-.300 in the majors, but he's not a patient hitter and has just average power, which isn't enough to play every day at first for most teams at this point. He might be the good version of James Loney, a player who hits for average without big power with some struggles against left-handed pitching, unless Dickerson finds another grade or two of power between now and next winter's roster protection date. A year of hitting in El Paso will help his superficial power numbers, but that can also make properly evaluating him more difficult.