Monday, February 23, 2015


As far as "Hot Takes" go this one will be the hottest.
Cuba has long been America's estranged cousin. We kind of know where they are, but our only contact is some funny Facebook post that they put up every once and a while, but they never respond to any of our messages. We worry about them. We want them back in the family, but we know its going to change everything.

News flew across the internet and the baseball world that the next "Cuban Big Thing" Yoan Moncada has signed with the Boston Red Sox. Early reports have the deal in the $30+ mil range with of course a 100% tax on the end for exceeding the allotment for foreign born players, blah, blah, blah. Bottom line is the Red Sox signed a 19 year old with a tremendous upside and a position TBD for around $60-$70mil. Not too shabby I guess, but then again not my money. So, spend away!!!

The sad part is that it likely marks the high water mark for the fun that has been watching the market for Cuban baseball players. The quantity of high level talent left on the island that is on the cusp of being MLB ready has to be winding down. Other players will come of course, but it won't be the same. With the impending changes in the US-Cuban relationships the whole way that MLB scouts and signs these players is going to change.

There will no longer be these mystery players with grainy game footage, private workouts, and YouTube cookouts. Gone will be the days of discounting Cuban talent because they face pitchers or hitters in their league that wouldn't make it onto a D3 school. However, there will also be no more Jose Fernandez stories of riding a rickety boat to a better life. Also gone will be the stories of players owing smugglers money after they arrive. The Cuban national team will not have worry going to international competitions and coming back with only part of their team. So it won't all be bad.

But be sure, now is the time to enjoy the Yoan Moncada/Cuban Player hysteria while it lasts. Draft him early in all of your fantasy leagues. Be willing to not be outbid in your auctions. Never mind that he has no path to a position right now in the Red Sox organization. Forget the fact that he is likely to open at AA and probably won't get to the Majors this year in any meaningful way. This is not the time time for a level headed approach. Now is the time to react. Give in to the madness, let it bask over you as if its the first time in months that you have seen the sun, because its about to go away forever.

Also, let me know how it goes. There will be haters for this approach. There always is. But you'll be right. Its not about winning this time. Its about enjoying one last ride on the Cuban Mystery Machine...

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Cracking The Preller Code

People forget how strong Willy Wonka's 1970 off season really was

Not every crazy person is a genius, but every genius started out being thought of as crazy. Its the burden of seeing the world in a different way. When you see things that other people don't, they question you instead of questioning themselves first.

This idea plays out in sports all the time. No one thought much of Bill Belichick until suddenly he was a coaching genius. Billy Beane's own people questioned his competency until he created a perennial winner with a payroll the size of a midsized school district. This MLB off season alone has brought into question the operating practices of San Diego's own Mad Hatter AJ Preller.

But I think I've cracked the code. I figured out exactly what AJ Preller is up to out in San Diego. It took a while, but I'm on to him. And now I'm going to share his secrets with all of you.

First, lets take a look some the more notable Padres' off season acquisitions:

12/5 - Signed Clint Barmes
12/18 - Traded for Matt Kemp & Tim Federowicz
12/18 - Traded for Derek Norris
12/19 - Traded for Wil Myers & Ryan Hanigan
12/19 - Traded for Justin Upton
12/20 - Traded Hanigan for Will Middlebrooks
2/11 - Signed James Shields
Padres also acquired a slew of Relief Pitchers in there too, but I'm not going to get too deep into them right now.

Now for the Padres' projected pitching rotation:
1. James Shields (RHP)
2. Andrew Cashner (RHP)
3. Tyson Ross (RHP)
4. Ian Kennedy (RHP)
5. Odrisamer Despaigne (RHP)
Depth: Robbie Erlin (LHP), Brandon Morrow (RHP), Casey Kelley (RHP) Josh Johnson (RHP), Cory Luebke (LHP)

That's a fairly impressive 1-10 of starting pitchers. The top seven on that list should be good to go on Opening Day with Johnson & Luebke still working their way back from TJ surgery, but could line-up nicely in case depth is needed (I'm looking at you Cashner). Kudos to Preller for recognizing the age-old baseball tenet that you can  never have enough pitching. The Padres could be capable of replacing their entire rotation if needed.

The other thing I notice about that group of starting pitchers is that its awfully right-handed. You'd think considering Petco Park's reputation of being notoriously difficult on right handed power that a GM might want a rotation with at least a couple of lefties. Why not let left field do its thing crushing power & focus on keeping down left-handed hitters? It should be noted that Erlin, Despaigne & Kelley are probably in a competition for that 5th spot, but there were LHP options out there this off season in Lester & Hamels (could still still happen, but it feels unlikely right now). Also, given Preller's ability to wheel & deal he probably could have brought in at least one other lefty, but no. What the Padres have is a very right-handed rotation. Why?

Let's look the Padres' projected Opening Day lineup for some more clues:
(This is open to a lot of conjecture, but barring a trade or injury these players will be hitting somewhere in the lineup)
1. Amarista(L)/Barmes(R)
2. Wil Myers (R)
3. Justin Upton (R)
4. Matt Kemp (R)
5. Jed Gyorko (R)
6. Norris(R)/Federowicz(R)
7. Yonder Alonso (L)
8. Middlebrooks(R)/Solarte(R)
9. Pitcher

Notice anything about that lineup?

Seems awfully right handed heavy for a team that plays in a difficult park for right handed hitters doesn't it? On top of that, the only left-handed hitters on this team are holdovers and Preller sent away the Padres' best left handed hitter in Seth Smith (OPS+ of 135 in 521 AB's in 2014). That leaves Will Venable as the only other left handed option off the bench and even after a pretty decent 2012 & 2013 he is the definition of "Replace-Level Player".

Since its inception in 2004 Petco Park has consistently been one of the worst Home Run parks in all of baseball. In fact, Petco has ranked dead last just about as many times as it has ranked anywhere in the teens and never once above 15th. Home Runs aren't the end all be all for a park's offensive potential but it does tell us how many balls are hit where no one can catch them.

A big part of Petco's offense killing nature is the shear size of the park. When the park opened the outfield walls were well over 400 ft in both alleys with the right field foul pole sitting at 375 ft. In 2013 the walls were brought in almost 10 ft all the way around and the visitors' bullpen was moved from foul territory to beyond the outfield wall reducing the playing field size by about 30%. Its hard to say exactly what the effect has been on scoring at Petco since 3 years is a small sample size and the 2014 Padres were one of the worst hitting teams of all time.

Take a look at this graphic comparing Petco to the other parks of the NL West:

You'll notice that Petco is not dramatically bigger than the other parks in the Padres' division. Actually, a case could be made that its smaller than the other parks, especially in left field. Of those 4 other parks AT&T & Dodger Stadium are also considered pitchers parks while Chase & Coors are renowned for their offense.

What then accounts for that difference? Location and climate. If you are standing at home plate at Petco Park you will be facing directly North which puts left field slightly to your NorthWest.

In the map below you will see ocean currents for the entire planet, but focus in on Southern California. You'll notice that the ocean current, the warm air and by default the wind blow South down the California coast. That breeze coming from the West/NorthWest blows over the left field wall.

Figure 1. This map shows the global surface current system under average conditions for winter months in the Northern Hemisphere. Warm currents are shown as solid red arrows, and cold currents as dashed blue arrows.
(This is a map of winter currents, but check & tell me how much the wind changes year round in that part of the country. You can also check for up to date wind direction over Petco or any park.)

What exactly does that all mean? Well, for one it means that a lot of home runs hit to left field (where right-handed hitters tend to hit them) get knocked back by that wind. It doesn't do left-handed hitters any favors either unless the wind can take a fly ball into the right field corner where the outfield wall slants in dramatically. It could also mean that line drive hitters with who work the gaps well could find a nice level of success at Petco.

As I mentioned above, there have been some changes to Petco Park in recent years. Most notably the outfield fences were brought in and the visitors bullpen was moved out of foul territory to behind the outfield wall. This year the Padres are putting in a brand new Jumbotron right out there in left field. Look at the before and after pictures and you tell me which board you think will do a better job of protecting line drives and fly balls from the wind.

Before -

After -

Now we can't be positive what sort of effect this will have on balls hit to left field, but I bet AJ Preller knows. I mean the man set out and learned Spanish so that he would be better at his job. (Learning Spanish would make me a lot better at my day job, but I decided to start a baseball blog instead.) He has to have some idea that this new scoreboard will provide some degree of protection to right handed hitters. Why else would he acquire so many right-handed hitters and roll with a likely all right-handed rotation. He has some prediction about the effect it will have.

Its also worth examining the right-handed hitters that Preller actually landed. For the sake of keeping this reasonable, I'll just look at the big 3.

Wil Myers

Its hard to say exactly what the Padres will get out of Myers. Two years ago he was the highest regarded prospect in all of baseball. Last year he was a bust, then he got hurt and he was a super bust. Myers might have a bad attitude, but he might just be a super talented 24 year who is still figuring it out.

Check out Wil Myers's spray chart 2013-2014 of hit types courtesy of


Granted its a small sample size, but I see a hitter who uses the entire field, has power all over, and takes advantage of both foul lines. Of all the Padres' new players Myers probably has the greatest variance of possible outcomes. What is definitely in the Padres' favor is that Myers doesn't start with arbitration until 2017 and will not hit free agency until 2020. The Padres can easily cut ties if things don't work out or they will have a highly productive and highly affordable player for the next 5 years.

Matt Kemp

We pretty much know the story on Matt Kemp. When he is happy and healthy he is an extremely productive hitter. We know he's got bad hips, but Mike Napoli's got bad hips and it doesn't seem to slow him down any. Kemp base stealing days are likely long gone, but I don't think the Padre's acquired him thinking that he'd be swiping 30+ bags a year.

So, what does Matt Kemp's 2012-2014 spray chart look like for hit types?


Once again I see a player with power to all fields with some gap doubles mixed in there. I also see a lot of doubles down the left field line which considering their distance tells me that the wind shouldn't have too dramatic of an effect on them anyway. Kemp also has quite a bit of experience in Petco Park having spent his entire career in the NL West.

Check out this piece by Tony Blengino at (Matt Kemp and the Petco Problem) if you want a more in depth analysis. Mr. Blengino does not offer a particularly glowing preview of Kemp at Petco, but he does offer that Kemp will likely remain good for 20+ HR seasons (assuming health) through the end of his contract. Since the Padres are only on the hook for 5yrs/$75mil to a 30 year old outfielder it should be a deal that as long as Kemp remains somewhat healthy should be a decent value. Its entirely possible that a 20 HR season from a right-handed hitter might being going for $25mil/year by 2019...

Justin Upton

Justin Upton in an interesting case. Upton is going into his age 27 season (peak for hitters) in a contract year. He's been a fairly consistent player throughout his young career who has remained healthy and has posted a career 121 OPS+ which could certainly increase in the next few years. He doesn't steal bases nearly as much with the Braves as he did with the Dbacks, but there are multiple factors that could have gone into that. Regardless, its probably more reasonable to expect that Upton's SB numbers will be closer to his Braves years than his Dbacks' while he is with the Padres.

And, lets see Justin Upton's spray chart for hit types 2012-2014 one more time for the people in the back!!!


Call me crazy, but Upton's chart looks a lot like what Wil Myers' chart would look like if he had more at bats. Uses the entire field, power all over, and works the lines pretty well. Upton probably has a little more pull to left than Myers, but he also hits quite a few balls right at where that new left field score board will be blocking the wind. I'd also imagine that Upton heads into this year pretty motivated considering that a big year will net him a mega, mega contract as he will be one of the rarest commodities to hit the free agent market, a power hitting righty in his prime.

Now it's possible that its just a happy coincidence that the Padres brought in a bunch of right-handed hitters at the same time that a giant Jumbotron went up in left field. I suppose it's also possible that Preller is just some kind of deranged fan boy who went out and picked up his favorite players because they're "gamers". Hell, its even possible that Preller just acquired all the hitters that were available & gave no thought as to whether they were right-handed or left-handed. Personally, I'd put my money on the Padres having a plan here that no one else saw coming. That might make them crazy now, but time will tell if was really genius.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Reconciling The Closer

Image result for john franco
John Franco "The Closer"

If you are the kind of Fantasy Baseball owner who believes that Roto is the only way to go and that H2H players should just stick with Fantasy Football, this post is not for you. You're still welcome to read it and I hope that you do. You may even find some parts with which you agree. However, its written from a very H2H point of view. So, if you're mature enough to handle it without getting all judgmental join us for the ride. Otherwise, come on back a little later...

I had a friend in college that we nicknamed "The Closer". One of the reasons he drew that name was because he mistakenly aligned himself with a blood thirsty pack of hyaenas who got worked into a frenzy over the smallest hint of weakness. Oh, and also he routinely blew sure things.

Just about every "Closer" story went down the same way. Whether it was a food or beer run or late night with a particularly soused trollop, each time "The Closer" came into the picture he managed to mangle even the surest of things. What's worse is that he would cop to things he didn't even have to just to further cement the validity of the nickname. It got to point where it just made no sense at all.

Counting on "The Closer" to come through in any sort of way felt like watching a Sunday Night Baseball game when you're up by 1.5 pts in Head to Head and the only active player left in the match-up is your closer. You're just sitting there helplessly rooting against a narrow set of possible outcomes because you don't want to have to watch your guy go out there and do his job because if he fails you fail. And God forbid they trot him out without their even being in opportunity for a Save. Only bad things will happen.

Tell me how many other positions in all of fantasy sports are like this? None. No other position can swing from +8pts to -8pts in the course of one single play. Only the Closer can do that. Even the Kicker, the Goddamn dumbest position in Fantasy Football can't do that. Kicker misses a 21 yard kick down by 2 as time expires? Meh, no points for you. Better luck next time champ. But if a closer misses his spot by an inch, up by 1 with 1 on and 2 out? Buh-bye. You'd been better off his herpes flared up before the game and he was a scratch.

Take a moment to think back on your Fantasy Baseball history and try to remember a time when you were super pumped about a Closer you had on any one of you teams. Go ahead. I'll be here when your done...

Yeah, that's what I thought. Maybe you remember a time when one of your Closers had like a 45pt week, but you can't remember who it was can you? Then again, I'll bet you can tell me about the time a KRod meltdown cost you a playoff spot back in 2009. I can tell you all about how keeping Jonathan Broxton in 2010 was an absolute waste of a keeper spot, but I can't even tell you who any of my Closers were in the last 3 Fantasy Baseball seasons.

Those are some of the day to day problems with Closers. The other issue is that probably half of the teams in MLB have a closer situation that is in a perpetual state of flux. The 2013 World Series Champion Red Sox are remembered in part by the insane dominance of their closer Koji Uehara. Its easy to forget that Koji was signed only as a bullpen depth option that offseason and that Joel Hanrahan, Andrew Bailey, and even Junichi Tazawa got a crack at the role before injuries or ineffectiveness put the ball in Koji's hand in the 9th. Let me repeat, a team that won the World Series did so with their 4th closing option who ultimately had a stretch as dominant as any in baseball history.

So, please forgive me if I can't even be bothered to hide my seething contempt for Closers or Relief Pitchers when it comes to Fantasy Baseball (I'm sure many of them are very nice people in real life). All they ever do break your heart, get hurt, and force you to spend so much time on the waiver wire that your boss wants to know why you're always on you computer but never getting any work done. Despite all that, every season we go through the same challenge of trying to figure out which Closer we're going to curse out on a bi-monthly basis.

For me, I approach planning to fill my Relief Pitcher spot on my Fantasy Baseball team a lot like how I approach building my entire Fantasy Football team. Don't stress it, don't target certain players, and don't get caught up in the run. That Closer you reached for in your March draft might well wind up on mop up duty by May. And if you have a league that rewards Holds, then my goodness, why even bother with a Closer? Today's 8th inning guy is tomorrow's Closer and a top next week's trash heap.

The thing that probably irks my chain the most is that Relief Pitcher or Closer isn't really even all that real of a position. All infield positions are clearly delineated and assigned. The outfield in most fantasy leagues is somewhat murky, but outfielders are still outfielders. Nope, not pitchers. We have these guys we call "Starters" and usually they start baseball games, but sometimes in special playoff circumstances they come in for relief appearances. Or more often "Relief Pitchers" are called on to make spot starts. But regardless of when a pitcher enters a game, he is the only player manning that position at that time.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that pitchers are pitchers are pitchers. It shouldn't matter when they come into the game, they are still pitchers. There's no special roster spot for pinch hitters or defensive replacements. I don't have relief Second Baseman. Why should there be a special spot for "Relief Pitchers"? I know its an easy question for Roto players to answer, "Saves is a category. Starters don't get Saves". Well, nuts to you and your categories. The Save is barely even a real stat anyway.

Did you know, that the Save as a statistic is only 45 years old?  That's right, the Save is younger than the average baseball fan. This should be an easy rallying point for all those "baseball purists" out there to get behind, but no. They get all twisted up over the DH or fear of the impending pitch clock. (Quick aside; I spend a good part of my summer around the local AAA team. I will be covering how the pitch clock affects games) Really, the Save is the bastard cousin of the Win. People are wising up the W as goofy stat that the pitcher has little control over, so the Save's day of reckoning is coming.

Until that day, we will all have to live with the Closers and Saves the way that they are. Its possible that I can learn some sort of Zen technique when watching the 9th inning of a close game that will prepare me to accept that the universe will unfold as it should and that my Closer will throw strikes only if it is meant to be. Or maybe I'll finally just put up a chicken wire cage around my television so that I don't have to explain to my wife how that bottle "accidentally" left my hand again.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

How ARod Cheated Us All By Apologizing

Image result for alex rodriguez
Why Alex? Why?

Alex Rodriguez apologized to the New York Yankees. He apologized to Randy Levine for calling him the devil. He apologized to Joe Girardi being a distraction to the team, and he aplogized to the ghost of George Steinbrenner for sullying the Yankee name. ARod did all this while robbing all of us fans of one of the greatest commodities in all sports: a true sports villain.

The narrative of sports villainry is as old as sport itself. We are wired as humans to think in terms of us versus them. Its just the way we are. But in modern times we have satisfied this survival mechanism with our illogical love and devotion to sport and our teams. Take the scene around an Oakland Raiders game for example. That team rewrote the book on how to be bad the last few years, and yet fans still show up faithfully every Sunday in get-ups that seemingly belong onstage with GWAR. If you take a step back it doesn't look all that different from Braveheart, a fictional telling of a maybe real struggle for independence (us vs. them).

That's not the only place where we see the villain narrative in sports. It also appears the niche sports entertainment industry known as pro wrestling. Typically those narratives are pretty clear cut. You always know who the good guys and bad guys are, but in the "non-scripted" areas of sports entertainment the villain narrative can be a little blurred.

I think it was Bill Simmons who put forth the idea that this past Super Bowl was kind of unique in that most of America hated both teams. While I know why lots of people hate the Patriots (success breeds contempt), but for the Seahawks I can only figure its got something to do with how successful they are and how confident they are about it. Still it was two teams wearing the "sports villain" identity and America ate it up. Once again the Super Bowl was the most watched TV event in history (consistent with previous years trends, but still impressive). So maybe we like our villains a little more than we all want to admit.

Therein lies why I am so disappointed that Alex Rodriguez has tried to make amends with the Yankees. If ARod was really sorry for his perceived misdeeds he would have made nice along ago. Instead, like a modern day villain he tried to sue people for no reason. Once he exhausted all avenues (perhaps maybe even a vision quest) then he sat out for his time and now he wants to make nice. All he did by going that route was to neuter himself in the eyes of the Yankees and all of baseball.

I mean really, why should he even apologize now? After Brian Cashman called him fat and signed another thirdbaseman? After the Yankees tried to void has contract and don't want to pay his contractually negotiated milestone bonuses? After Jeter stopped returning his phone calls? (I'm assuming)

No, what ARod needed to do was to go full villain all over this thing. I have no doubt he has been busting his ass this off season to get ready to play baseball. Whatever the PED thing meant, ARod was always a physical specimen and he always worked. No one succeeds in baseball without it.

He should have put the target directly on the Yankees back. Alex knows that the Yankees are a collection of overpaid, aging vets who most people have already written off. He should have come out and said something like "I'm going put this team on my back and carry them back to October" and maybe just to jab them a little extra "I'll do what Jeter couldn't do last year". That would get all of our attention. If the "Hate Scale" on Arod is at like an 8 now, we'd be in uncharted territory after something like that. Like 25 out of 10 or something.

Alex should have come out with some more things like "Chase Headley is a great addition. We need some one to make up a little of Robinson Cano's production at second". Then maybe drop a "Maybe Cash and Joe don't want me to play, but its gonna be awfully tough when I'm hitting .350 in June as a part-time DH on a team 4 games under .500".

Then for good measure he should take Didi Gregorius under his wing. Let him know that "Everyone, the Yankees, the fans they all want you to fail. Except me. I got your back". Slowly but surely, ARod would be able to spread his evil entourage swaying one young player after another until he has gained control of the Yankees locker room.

At that point he could dare Cashman, Levine and Steinbenner to cut him. To send him home due the rest of that $60 mil to collect filling his time as he sees fit. Except that they won't be able to, because ARod will be the only thing separating the Yankees from the playoffs and a third straight year without any October baseball.

Oh how the baseball world would seethe. I would love to see Ken Rosenthal's bow-tie spin every time he got heated talking about ARod's resurgence. Or Dan Shaughnessy's finger wagging at the evil Alex Rodriguez. What about chattering heads on PTI or Around The Horn belly aching about how ARod is disgracing the game while mows through the record books?

And he could have had all that if he hits. If he doesn't hit, well then whats it matter? The Yankees are going to cut him anyway. If he's hitting .200 in June the Yankees will DFA him and he'll be at home collecting his checks anyway. No amount of apologies, public floggings or trips to Oprah's coach will change that. If he doesn't hit he's done.

In other words, Alex Rodriguez has got nothing to lose.

I want so badly to route for ARod to turn the baseball world on it head and deep down so do many of you. You just can't admit it yet. Unfortunately, we probably won't get it because ARod is going to walk into the Yankee clubhouse in February tail between his legs and take his beating. Not a fitting ending for one of the greatest sports villains of our time.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Because Fantasy Baseball

Fantasy is Fantasy

Let me start out by giving the proper amount of credit that is due for this picture. I didn't draw it, I guess the artist in the bottom right hand corner did. But my goodness. Just take a second to admire all that it happening in this masterpiece.

I chose this picture for my 2015 Fantasy Baseball primer because I feel like it nicely represents how I feel at the start of every season. High a top my fire breathing unicorn, a firm grip on my .50 cal Golden Eagle with its barrel is sizzling after a fierce battle and still ready for more.  Then, by mid season I'm scouring the waiver wire for help like its Sunday morning back in college and I'm cannibalizing roaches because the hangover's too much to bear.

I've done prep every way you can imagine. I've done old fashioned research and I've done mock drafts and I've done tiers. More than once I even created  my own "super-secret magic formula" to determine auction and draft values. I've done all this and more only to watch my careful calculations fall short when I'm beat by the league winner who calls me in May to ask if the Brewers are an American League team. (That particular league is a bit goofy, but long standing & worth the price of admission in slanderous emails alone)

That's not to say that I've never won money playing Fantasy Baseball. I have. Not as much as I'd like, but I've been good enough to play for free here and there. And I vastly prefer Fantasy Baseball to that soul-sucking roll of the dice America loves to dry-hump Fantasy Football. (Which I still do participate in, but mostly because I can send mass emails saying things that if they went public would prohibit me from running for political office)

Since predicting Fantasy Baseball is an inexact science I thought I'd take it in a different direction. Instead I'll be nominating 5 players for awards that I have entirely made up. Kind of like any of the MTV award shows, the WWE Hall of Fame or the NFL Honors. We'll reassess at some point this season when it makes sense (Because I have license to make it up as I go along, like DeflateGate).

So without further adieu:

Your 2015 MoBettaBaseball Preseason Award Nominees!!!


Miguel Cabrera -
Miggy has been one of the all time greats up to this point in his career, but all the warning signs are there: a weakened Tiger's lineup, mounting injuries, age 32 season, the body of a bus driver. I like Miguel Cabrera a lot, but if you go to big with him this season you are setting yourself up for disappointment.

Jose Bautista - Since 2010 Joey Bats has been one of the best and most consistent hitters in all of baseball. Except that in 2 of those 5 seasons he played less that 120 games. Coming off a big 2014 he could see a rise in auction price and ADP which for a player headed into his age 34 season could spell disaster.

Corey Kluber - I got nothing but love for Corey Kluber. I took him for $4 last year and rode him all the way to the league championship. But, he saw his innings jump by nearly 90 from 2013 to 2014 and 2 straight Cy Young worthy years while possible is awfully unlikely. I expect him to be a valuable pitcher next year, but if you get crazy for him and he winds up on the shelf for a prolonged period don't come crying to me.

Anthony Rizzo - People be lovin' them Anthony Rizzo this mock draft season. With the .286 BA, 32 HR, & 151 OPS+ he posted during his age 24 season in 2014 its not hard to see why. A second season like this in a Cubs lineup that features a lot of young up and coming talent and Rizzo could establish himself as a stud for years to come. However, its also possible that the Cubs lineup struggles with all of the young pieces that could find themselves in Chicago this summer, and Rizzo drives his numbers down trying to carry a team when he shouldn't have to.

Troy Tulowitzki - If you've ever owned Tulo in a Fantasy Baseball league then you already know. If you've never gone down that road, be my guest. Select the number one shortstop high in the draft or buy him at $30+ and see exactly what happens. Come back and let me know. Please.


I'm not going to get to in depth on any of these guys in this category. I have no inside information regarding how these players go about preparing to do their very difficult jobs. I also pass no judgment on athletes who do things that most of us would do in a heartbeat if it meant multi-million dollar salaries and the praise & accolades from millions of people. I just chose 5 guys who I felt like might have something to prove. No accusations. No evidence.

Melky Cabrera

Brian Dozier

JD Martinez

Evan Gattis

Jay Bruce


Mookie Betts - Betts flew through the Red Sox farm system like he was wearing suede in the rain. Even once he arrived in Boston he didn't look a bit out of place posting a 128 OPS+ in 213 plate appearances in his age 21 season.  He's young, he's good, and he's fun to watch. Worth every penny.

Kris Bryant - Oh my God!!! Kris Bryant is on the Cubs!!! The 2015 Cubs will fulfill the Back to the Future 2 proficy!!! Kris Bryant spells Chris with a K!!!

Carlos Carrasco - Great end of season. Tribe has a way of producing Cy Young winners. Always go go long on young pitching.

Yordano Ventura - Injuries and innings be damned. All I care about is a 24 year old pitcher who is coming of a 125+ ERA season in a pitchers park like Kauffman Stadium. Unfortunately, I won't be the only one.

Andrew Heaney - No one will see me coming here. I mean, how many guys in my league followed this offseason? Can't be that many. I'll slide in under the radar and steal Heaney. Just watch...


Andrew Miller - Andrew Miller started to get some attention during the Red Sox magical 2013 season. Then he broke his leg or something. But he came back nastier than ever in 2014 and was ultimately traded to the Orioles where he was filthier than a hot tub in a rental house. His big 2014 netted him a 4 year/$36 mil contract from the Yankees to be their set-up man, closer? I don't know exactly. What I do know is that all that popularity will likely result in him being drafted way to high.

Jon Lester - I bought Jon Lester last year in an auction league for $7. At the time everybody told me that I over paid. Well, how do you like me now? Jon Lester would have been the World Series MVP in 2013 if David Ortiz hadn't treated the Cardinals pitchers like they called up from Williamsport. It didn't translate into a draft bump the following year, but now people are believers. Obviously, Lester was great in 2014 and after things like the "Jon Lester Watch" his projected value only figures go way up. I've already starting seeing him on a lot of top 10 SP rankings.

Pablo Sandoval - Just like when pitchers go to Petco Park everyone assumes their ERA will drop by a whole point and they'll become instant fantasy studs, people tend to assume that when a hitter goes to Fenway they'll channel their inner Ted Williams. In addition to that way of thinking, he is still in that prime age range 27-32 and was the best available 3b on the market this year with the attention associated with that distinction. Enough owners in your league(s) will bid on the promise and turn a blind eye to the numbers that tell us that Sandoval may have already peaked at 24. (We all have that friend who peaked at 24. Their 30's are not pretty)

Eric Hosmer - People have been buying Eric Hosmer's potential for years. Only year after year they wind up a pocket full of salt for their trouble. Well, he once again snuck his way back into our hearts thanks to a deep Royal playoff run which featured him hitting .351 with a .983 OPS. Its starting to look like a lot of that promise being realized for the 25 year old first baseman which will lure everyone right back in like the Seirenes.

Yasmany Tomas - MLB has got Cuba on the brain. Part of it is all the hubbub over the apparent market values that teams earn when they hit on these Cuban players. That means teams are ready to drop big money on players who might be near MLB ready or might just be internet trolls (There's only one way to find out). The other factor in play here is how mysterious Cuba seems to all us Americans. We know its there. Their people keep showing up in Florida on rafts. Our grandparents may have once vacationed there, but we don't know anything other than its got old cars, great cigars and a baseball league in which many of us could earn a tryout. Some people get excited for the unknown. Then again some people get excited having their bangers & mash squashed by high heels.


BJ Upton
 - No one wants BJ Upton to be bad. We all want him to be good. He could go on a tear in April carrying an otherwise destitute Braves team. Whether or not he sustains that hypothetical production determines whether he takes home the hardware in this category.

Marcus Semien - As of right now he is the likely starting SS for the Oakland Athletics. Billy Beane always looks crazy until he looks like a genius. Seems like a prefect storm for Semien to take off hot out the gate in the 2013 Jose Iglesias mold.

Michael Bourn - As a fantasy baseball commodity there is a lot not to like about Michael Bourn (I'm sure he's a perfectly fine person though). He used to be a good source of steals and average, but now he does none of that, and he bogs down an otherwise fun to watch Tribe team. It just makes too much sense that he would get off to an early season tear and trick all of us into picking him up thinking he's back.

Adeiny Hechavarria - Entering his age 26 season and benefiting from an improving Marlins line-up Hechavarria is poised for an early season surge. Then we'll hear a lot about how "He's figured something out" and "The pressure's off with that line-up". He also had a few hot streaks in 2014 where we started telling ourselves those very things.

Emilo Bonifacio - There's a reason this award is named after him. EMILO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


Carl Crawford -
The Craw-Daddy has always been a perplexing fantasy player. Once he was a young, promise-laden player who started to deliver. Then he got hurt & people forgot about him. And just like that he rose back to the top of fantasy outfielders en route to a big time free agent contract with Boston. Then he got hurt again & he didn't like playing in Boston. So the Red Sox were happy to ship him out west where he landed in the outfield purgatory known as Dodger Stadium. But he's gotta have one more good season in him, right?

Ricky Weeks - I'll be honest here: I don't know exactly what happened to Ricky Weeks. A few years ago he was a must own at 2b, but since 2012 no one will even answer his texts. Last year he did post a 124 ERA+, which was in line with his peak years of 2009-2011. The rub is that he did it in only 286 plate appearances. If someone doesn't do their homework they might look at Weeks as a potential bounce back candidate. After all he's only 32 years old.

CC Sabathia - CC will be drafted in a lot of leagues this year. He's as healthy as he's ever gonna be and he was just so good for so many years. He's got to have just a little left in the tank right? One more year of that good ole' Yankee Magic???

Ubaldo Jimenez - Why would the Orioles give so much money to this guy just last season? If its one thing that the Dan Duquette O's have shown us is that they know how to turn around a distressed asset. Well at the plate anyway. Maybe the Baltimore has a plan in place this year to reward Jimenez for good performances. Like maybe they have a chart on the wall headed towards the clubhouse with gold stickers for each strike he throws..

Josh Johnson - For some reason we keep getting sucked back in with Josh Johnson. There was that one season that he was healthy for the whole year and pitched really well. He's only going to be 30 this year and he's got a do-over year in San Diego with an offense that might score more than 1.1 runs per game. And now that he may have to earn his way into the rotation he's definitely my little secret (again).


Clay Buccholtz
- The Red Sox 2015 rotation has been poo-pooed too much this off season for Buccholtz not to break out again. He's already shown that can be one of the most dominant pitchers in all the game when he's healthy and right. Unfortunately, toddlers have the power to take away his health, and me writing this now may somehow get in his head. He's a sensitive guy.

Cliff Lee - There's two ways that Cliff Lee finishes the year in Philadelphia. One is that he really, just plain likes living there and vetoes any trade (if he has that power). There's some evidence to that since he chose to sign there in 2011 when he could have signed just about anywhere else for similar or better money. The other is that he gets hurt. I'm betting he comes out like the Cliff Lee of old only to suffer the kind of injury that besets 36 year old pitchers just around the time that Philly is looking to finally move him. And its probably what they deserve for not moving on as an organization earlier.

Anthony Rizzo - I've been hearing some chatter for Rizzo as a first round pick. Its not unreasonable considering the year he put up last year, but he is young and has only had that kind of year once. He could very well prove everyone right in April and May and then something dumb happens like a dislocated shoulder. I'm not hoping for it, but it could happen.

David Wright - David Wright is usually better than I remember, but I carry an unreasonable bias against putting Mets on my Fantasy Baseball teams. He usually puts up solid numbers until he gets some sort of nagging injury and Citi Field has never done him any favors. That's not to say that he wont put up some big early numbers in the midst of a gradually improving Mets lineup. Yep, Wright will put up those numbers just in time for one of those little injuries to sap what power he can muster in that warehouse of a ball park only for him to repeat his 2014: 586 PA 101 ERA+

Yu Darvish - No doubt about it, Darvish has been a monster since coming over from Japan 3 years ago. The thing is that many Japanese pitchers seem to hit a wall right around year 3 or 4. I don't know if its the different pitching schedule, the cultural approach, different sized ball, or the innings they put on those young arms before they let them come over here, but it has happened time and time again. If Yu is healthy he'll be the beast you know, if he's not Texas may now share the pain of sitting through a Dice-K start.


Tommy Medica-
Lets be real here for a second. There can be only one. I'll draft him for $1 and hold him for the entire season only to watch him get 50 ABs.

If you've made it this far then you probably know that we're not very big on fantasy analytics around here. What I am big on is hypothetical narratives for Fantasy Baseball players. Those I've got all day.

Want to see an award category added? Drop me a line and I'd be happy to do a 2nd edition. Thanks for reading and be sure to check back as I will letting readers decided my team names this year.

Friday, February 6, 2015

The ARod Files - Chapter 2

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

1:30 PM

His personal cell phone never rang for anyone other than family. The number just wasn't out there, and Bud had always been responsive to communication through his MLB issued mobile. But the random calls had started coming in a few days earlier, usually 2 or 3 times a day.

It seemed to Bud that the numbers were always different, but the area code was the same, 813. Tampa Bay. He knew it from the Steinbrenner days, back when you actually had to dial a phone and not just scroll through and find a name. It was almost nostalgic in a way when Bud thought back to his nearly biweekly calls to the Yankees' Tampa Bay offices during his time as Interim-Commissioner. The calls were so frequent that Bud felt like George was just messing with him, which he probably was.

At first Bud thought it was a wrong number, but the calls just persisted. Deep down he knew picking up that call was probably a bad idea. What if it some young reporter who didn't know the rules trying to cut in line? Or worse, some crazy blogger looking to make hell. Eventually though, the curiosity was too much. Damn the consequences, Bud wanted to know who was on the other end of that phone...


"Beaver" the voice on the other end said quickly, "Its Alligator."

"What?" Bud couldn't have heard that correctly.

Again "Beaver, its Alligator."

"I-I-I'm sorry" Bud had no time for whatever this was "but you have the wrong number."

As Bud pulled the phone away from his ear he could hear the voice on the other end "NO, NO, NO! WAIT, WAIT, WAIT!!!"

Bud put the phone back up to his ear "Yes?"

The voice on the other end whispered "Bud, Its me. Uhhh, Shmalex Shrod-shriguez"

"Alex!?" Selig blurted into the phone.

"Yes, SHHHH!!" the voice shot back "Last time I saw you, you said they were listening. I was using code names"


"Call me Alligator" ARod interrupted.

"Alex," Selig reaffirmed "I never said anyone was listening. You said they were listening. I didn't say anything."

"Right Bud, its what you didn't say. Its better to act like we don't know any way. We don't want to blow our cover."

"What cover Alex?" There was irritation in Selig's tone.

"Perfect Bud. Like there's nothing is going on" The pause was timed so perfectly that Selig could just imagine ARod winking into the phone. "Listen, I followed the clue you gave me. And I kinda feel like I'm at a dead end here."

"Alex, I'm really not following you-"

"Bud, you told me go to Tampa and see what the Yankees wanted me to do. So I came down here and went to the headquarters. Man, its almost as if they knew I was coming. Soon as I got up on the sidewalk in front of the player's door Skip was out there with Cash, Randy, & Hal right behind him. Once I finished hugging it out with every last one of them Randy started in with something about 'How I shouldn't be here' & 'The lawyers on each side had made that very clear'. Skip just said that it wasn't anything personal, but that I had to go."

Selig tension loosed a bit.

ARod went on "Then I told them that you had sent me down here and-"

Now it was Selig's turn to interrupt "Alex. Wait a minute. I just said that-"

"Bud, don't worry I didn't blow our cover." Interrupting was kind of ARod's thing "I told them exactly what you told me to say. I just asked them want they wanted me to do. That's when Hal laid the clue on me. He told me to 'Just get lost'. He didn't have to be so rude about it, but I get it. He's trying to impress Randy, Skip, & Cash. You know, that whole Boss's son thing."

Selig sat back in shock. It was all he could do to keep the phone in his hand. 'What on Earth is going throw his head right now' he thought to himself.

ARod went on "So that's what I've been doing down here. I've just been wandering around Tampa for the last week or so. I don't know, I kinda lost track of the days. I think I read something about this once. Native Americans would go on long trips in the woods to test their man hood and stuff. What's it called... quest!. That's it!! Its like a vision quest, right Bud? You need me to wander around the woods of Tampa to find myself?. Right?"

After a moment lost, somewhere, Selig snapped back. This conversation was really happening. "Alex, where are you right now?"

"I'm at  one of those phones on a pole. You know, the kind you put a quarter into and make a call. Its like a cell phone except it doesn't fit in my pocket and it doesn't have any of my numbers anywhere. I think they're new. I don't get it, but they are good for making calls that can't be traced. At least that's what this dude Andre told me. Andre says he hangs out these pole phones a lot. He says its a good way to meet people, but he's the only person I've met at any of these phones. Anyway, I left the hotel last night around 8:00 and have been wandering ever since."

Mr. Selig, the MLB brand steward kicked in "Alex, this is very important. Have a lot of people seen you wandering around?"

"Oh yeah" Alex answered "Tons of people"

Selig sunk, deflated into his chair. His right hand dug deep into the creases in his brow.

"They've been real nice mostly. A lot of them just wave and yell 'Hey ARod!' They are A LOT nicer down here than they are in New York. But its kinda hard to figure out who you are when everybody is always telling me who I am. Its like 'Who am I supposed to listen to'?"


"Ohhh... Bud... I think I'm starting to get it. We can't go forward until I go forward. Man, I'd be so lost without you right now. You sent me on this vision quest and for that I cannot express enough thanks. You're like my North Star, just leading the way for me."

"Alex, I-"

"Don't worry Bud. I won't let you down. I didn't get to be the greatest player in Major League Baseball history by being a quitter. And I'm not going to quit on you. On this.

I'll complete this vision quest on we'll move on to the phase 2."


"Alligator. Call me Alligator.

Alligator out."

Max Scherzer, James Shields and The Buyer's Market

Oh, uhh... hmm.

Its mid January, two weeks away from the Super Bowl and the MLB Hot Stove has ground to a halt. Normally this wouldn't be much of a problem, except this year 2 of the top 3 starting pitchers available remain without teams or contracts. This sort of "closing time" shenanigans are normally reserved for the Ervin Santana's of the world and not a former Cy Young winner or a 3.50 ERA, innings machine staff leader. So lets take a look at what has happened so far to Max Scherzer and James Shields, and see if we can figure out what to expect going forward.

How did we get here?

For Max Scherzer we need to start with the reported 6 year $150 mil or so contract offer that he turned down back in Spring Training of last year. As usual, the Detroit Tigers made a very competitive offer to one of their own. Had the Red Sox offered anything near that to Jon Lester in March of last year, they'd be no 'Cespedes for the Rest of Us' or 'Hello Mr. Rick Porcello'. All the same, its kind of hard to blame Scherzer for wanting to test free agency. Detroit was his 2nd organization so he was already used to the idea of forwarding his mail to a new city, and since Cy Young winners in their prime don't hit free agency every year Scherzer seemed a solid bet to surpass Detroit's offer. To his part, Scherzer posted a 127 ERA+ with a career high in strike-outs at 252 and innings with 220.1 in 2014. Something any team would want.

That's all well and good, but none of this has provided the seemingly near guarantee that Max's grandchildren will be able to send their kids to college by way of the Scherzer Trust. Part of the problem here is that when a player and his agent let a number like $200 mil start floating around, the market for that player's services becomes very limited. Take for example the current market setter Jon Lester. He wound up with that 6 year $150ish contract that Scherzer originally turned down and he really only had 4 potential and 2 practical suitors.

You would think that the teams in on Lester would also be in on Scherzer considering the numbers and the need, but it really hasn't turned out that way. The peripheral suitors of the Dodgers and the Giants have not been meaningfully linked to Scherzer and it makes a lot of sense. Signing a 30 year old pitcher for 6 years at $25 mil plus per year does not seem like a Andrew Friedman kind of thing to do and certainly doesn't fit into the way the Dodgers have gone about business this offseason. Similarly, that kind of signing doesn't remotely fit into the way the Giants go about building their teams, and its REAL HARD to argue with their results. The Cubs? Forget it. They already got their guy and a lot of factors went into all of that. And if the Red Sox weren't willing to go above 6yr/$140 for their 'own' guy then Scherzer at anything above that just isn't going to happen. John Henry loves his actuaries and since he signs the checks no pitcher over 30 is getting that kind of money.

Traditionally, the elephant in the room when it comes to big free agent signings has always been the New York Yankees. I'm sure that Scott Boras looked at the '14-'15 offseason and saw the Yankees as at least one of Scherzer's potential suitors. Unfortunately, for Boras, Scherzer and Scherzer's great-grandkids it hasn't panned out that way so far. Even with a rotation full of question marks, the Yankees seem to be pretty quiet on Mad Max. 

The Yankees reluctance to dive in head first on Scherzer make a lot of sense when you look at the whole picture of their current situation. Their payroll heading into this season is at nearly $212 mil which is right around twice that of the MLB average and well above the current luxury tax threshold. ( And while the Yankees financial commitments fall off pretty quickly in the next few years, most of Brian Cashman's moves this offseason have been geared towards making the Yankees a younger and more flexible team (Credit where credit is due; Cashman is a very good GM). It just doesn't make a ton of sense considering the rest of the Yankees' offseason that they would get involved in another long term, high priced commitment to a player on the wrong side of 30.

While James Shields did not have an opportunity to turn down a contract as lucrative as the one Scherzer spurned, he does face a very similar situation. Early in the offseason, the talk was that once Lester signed, Shields would find a home shortly there afterwards. That never panned out as Shields's team has floated a 5yr/$100mil expectation which wouldn't seem bad for a pitcher of his pedigree if he wasn't entering his age 33 season. Few of the Scherzer suitors have been seriously linked to Shields at those kind of numbers, although a mystery team (Houston Astros???) has reportedly put a 5/$110 offer on the table. For an in depth look at the James Shields market take a look at The Curious Case of James Shields post that I wrote back in December.

As if the obvious and reported on factors of the 2014-2015 offseason weren't enough to cloud the prospects of both Scherzer and Shields, there are other elements at play here that have created a very unfavorable buyer's market for these two free agents. One issue that both of these players are facing right now is the increasingly understood reality around baseball that paying a player, especially a pitcher big time money into their mid 30's rarely pans out in the best interest of the team. The Red Sox live and die by this strategy. Piggybacking off of that is general downward trend of offense that has been happening league wide. Sure, everyone wants a shutdown 'ace', but with the league average ERA having dipped below 4.00 for the first time since 1992 you don't have to shell out huge bucks for a pitcher who is just above average. ( If you have the time take a look at's pitching top 10s and see how many of those pitchers are either still on their rookie contracts, arbitration eligible or signed to very team friendly contracts. Also, for shits and giggles ask yourself how many of those pitchers are over 30 vs. under 30 and then drop me a comment telling me how badly you want your team to pay Scherzer or Shields $25 mil when they are 36.

But, but, but wait it gets worse! While these 2 high pedigree pitchers north of 30 are searching for the right matches, take a look at the free agent pitcher class coming in the 2015-16 offseason. First up is Johnny Cueto who is coming of a season where he threw 243.2 innings to a 160 ERA+ and 242 Ks. BTW, he will be 30 in the 2016 season. Next is Jordan Zimmerman who owns a career 120+ ERA (slightly better career wise than Scherzer) and will also be 30 in 2016. Similarly Doug Fister hits free agency next year with a career 120+ ERA, but will be 32 in 2016, which is eerily similar to Shields if you pretend for a second that Shields hasn't been good for 200+ innings for 8 straight years. How about David Price? 31 years old in 2016 and the owner of a career 121 ERA+ and a Cy Young, but in 2014 between 2 team he threw nearly 250 innings with 271 K's. Oh, and we can't forget about Jeff Samardzija. While his career numbers aren't all that spectacular he has thrown for over 200 innings and 200 K's the last 2 years and will be 31 in the 2016 season. In addition to these topish level 30ish pitchers the following very solid to up and coming options will also be hitting the market: Rick Porcello (27), Mike Leake (28), Mat Latos (28), Hisashi Iwakuma (35), Yovani Golardo (30), Ian Kennedy (31) and Wei-Yen Chen (30). Not to mention a few former Cy Young winners in Tim Lincecum (32) and R.A. Dickey (41) and quite possibly Zack Greinke(32). Considering the shear glut of option on the horizon, its not hard to see why teams might be reluctant to shell out $200 mil to a guy like Max Scherzer when pitchers of very similar projections are about to flood the market and drive down prices.

What can we expect now?

The reality of this new buyer's market has to be setting in with both the Scherzer and Shields camps. What will be interesting to see is how each of these players respond to this new reality. By now you've probably heard the "Pillow Contract" talk that has surfaced around both these players, but don't buy into that idea. Shields is too old (only in baseball player terms) to be taking on a 1 year deal in hopes of re-establishing his value, while Scherzer won't be doing himself any favors by joining the free agent crowd next offseason.

So, its really going to come down to exactly what each one of these players want to get out of the remaining years of the baseball careers. You will never read a negative word here about a player who chose to take all the money he could when it was available. Baseball players have very short careers relative to the rest of us and when your skills are worth tens of millions of dollars you have every right to cash in on it while you can. But if that was really the case, then you would have to think that James Shields would have already jumped all over that 5yr/$110 that we all heard to much about. 

Lets be real, both these players have been winners for much of their careers and they know the value of that.  Both Scherzer and Shields are in line to make more money than they could ever spend regardless of where they wind up so why wouldn't they want to join a team that gave them the best chance to win. The contenders that we already mentioned (Yankees, Red Sox, Dodgers, Giants, and Cubs) aren't likely to offer the kind of money both of these players are looking for. So we are left with a few other teams that could stretch to spend the money needed, but its unclear exactly how far these teams might go, Included in this group are the Blue Jays, Tigers (Scherzer's got a bit of history there), Angels (stretched pretty far already) and the Cardinals (we've all heard it, but I don't buy it). 

While both of these players might be able to get close to the money they are looking for from teams like the Astros or Diamondbacks, they may be looking for more than just a paycheck. For Shields to go to a team with a consistent shot at winning he may need to look for a contact more in the 3yr/$60mil area. For Scherzer to play for a contender he could certainly land a Cliff Lee like 5yr/$125-6/$150 or slightly more to basically choose where he wants to play for the next 5-6 years. Even though both their agents want to deliver headline grabbing type of numbers, don't underestimate the value of working someplace that you enjoy. When you are already talking about making more money than you can spend in one lifetime, I would think that the value of enjoying your career would mean even more. Then again I make less money in a year than these guys make in a game so its hard to fully understand what shapes their decision making.
For the sake of pure speculation, I'll throw down a few guesses here. I still think that Max Scherzer will sign with the Houston Astros to the tune of about 6yrs/$165mil with options. Boras won't allow him to sign for anything less that Lester and the Astros have money to spend and are closer than people think. Shield I think will take something close to that 3yr/$60mil to play for a contender. If that's his number then the Cubs, Red Sox, Giants, Yankees, Tigers, Blue Jays and even Dodgers are definitely in the picture and will provide him with the opportunity to win every year. Otherwise he can take all the money he can and go to Arizona and hate the game for the last few years of his career.

Neither of these gentlemen have easy decisions in front of them. The money they want is out there, but they certainly have to weigh the value of winning in the equation. Some guys are perfectly fine to punch the clock, collect their check and go home, but most baseball players aren't wire that way. After all, Andrew Miller went on record as saying he felt like it was his duty to get the biggest payday he could. Well, as you may have hear he turned down bigger money from the Astros to go to the Yankees. Miller knew he would make his money one way or another, but he chose the chance to win above all else. If Scherzer and Shields feel the same way then we may have a few more surprises left in the Hot Stove season.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

The ARod Files - Chapter 3

Friday, February 28th, 2014

6:30 PM

A ceiling fan. That must be the difference between a hotel and a motel. A hotel has air-conditioning. A motel has a ceiling fan, but a vision quest takes you some strange places.

Staring up at the fan as it spins and spins pushing the same thick Tampa air around and around I can imagine what it must have been like at the first spring training. No private rooms. No AC. No mini-fridges filled with Gatorade. Just baseball. What I wouldn't give for 'Just Baseball'.

I had been wondering for too long. I knew I had to get off the street. The thin line of reality had long since blurred unrecognizable. So I walked into the first place I saw that offered rooms by the hour.

Who even needs a room for an hour or two? Other visionquesters I imagine. Though I can't really tell. 

I only planned to be here for a night at most, but when I handed the man behind the counter the money he told me I could stay as long as I wanted. The days continued to blend into one another. Each time the room went dark I put a scratch on the wall to mark another day passed. It was my own self imposed prison.

At one point I did step out on the walkway to see if I could tell what time it was. While I was out there a man approached me with a video camera. I assumed he wanted a picture, but he asked me if I wanted to make a hundred dollars. I'm so detached right I'm not even sure what my answer was. Its impossible to tell if he ever even gave me that hundred dollars.

And now, as that familiar orange hue flooded room I knew it was time for the next scrawl. Without a pen, I've been keeping track of the days with a table knife I had picked up during my time on the street. Andre had turned on me and I needed to be able to protect myself.

Ten days on the streets of Tampa had changed me. It was time to take stock of how.

At first I tried to stay away from the Yankees, but the temptation was too great. Baseball was all I knew. Security kept me from entering the facilities through the player's entrance, but they had a clue for me. Bud must have contacted them. The security guard told me that if I wanted to enter the facility I could buy a ticket.

For the next game I bought out the entire Walgreens Deck in right field. From there with a pair of binoculars I was able to read the catchers signs and relay them to my teammates. Right arm up for fast ball. Left arm for offspeed. Some might say that using binoculars to read signs from the outfield is "stealing" or "cheating". But I'm a team first guy. And whatever I can do to help my team win is what I do. 

Unfortunately, the Yankees didn't see it that way. Not this time. By the second inning, Skip was pointing at me from the top step of the dugout and security on me within a minute. Something about how I had to go because I was causing a disruption. I tired to explain that I was just being a good teammate, but they weren't having it.

I left after that. And back on to the streets of Tampa. As I wandered the hours turned into days. The days started to blend into one another. There was only light and dark, light and dark. Gradually my body came in tune with nature, but even this new stage of enlightenment took its tole. I found myself in a lonely place.

Baseball had needed me for so long, but now its like the game didn't even know me. Now I was starting to wonder if I even wanted baseball anymore. From my new plain of understanding I can see all the pieces moving and the ring of baseball had closed with me on the outside. I could continue to fight my way in, but to do so may upset the universe in ways which no one is fully prepared. 

Baseball is over for now. Its time to find find a new purpose. That's why Bud sent me here. But what is that purpose?

Its dark now, but the humidity hasn't broken. The bed is soaked, the pillow's soaked. Its time. I don't know what to do, but I can't stay here. Its time to move. I've got nothing left in Tampa and Tampa's got nothing left for me. 

Monday, February 2, 2015

Which Team Will Be 2015's Kansas City Royals

Small wonder those timely hits were so hard to come by

By now we all know the story of the 2014 Kansas City Royals. A Wild Card entrant who tore threw the American League bracket on their way to one of the most exciting World Series in recent memory. And while the Royals ultimately fell short, they left in indelible mark on the landscape of baseball on down to even the most casual fan.

Its easy to look at the 2014 Royals and to interpret their success as a fluke. A one time thing. But as the incomparable Kevin Malone once said "The fluke is the most common fish in the sea. So if you go fishing for a fluke, you might just catch one." 

Unfortunately, relegating the Royals to 'flash in the pan' status does a huge disservice to the hard work that Dayton Moore did putting that team together over a prolonged rebuilding period. Armed with a deep farm system due in large part to the aforementioned rebuilding, the Royals had a young, affordable line-up full of home grown talent. They also sent valuable players packing when the timing seemed right (Zack Grienke, Wil Myers, etc.) and the return they recieved helped cement their already developing core.

I do expect the Royals to be a very competitive team again this year, but to expect the same type of playoff success would be unreasonable and unfair. It can be done, but I just wouldn't count on it. So lets take a lot at what teams might fit into the 2014 Kansas City Royals mold and make some early February predictions.

San Diego Padres

The Padres should be right at the top of the list of surprise teams, except they won't necessarily surprise anyone this season since they largely stole the first half of the hot stove season. AJ Preller made some big time moves bringing in Matt Kemp, Wil Myers, Justin Upton, Will Middlebrooks (meh), Derek Norris, and Tim Federowicz. While all these guys have their perceived warts in one way or another its awfully hard to argue that the Padres aren't a better team today than they were this time last year. Preller also did all this without terribly dismantling the Padres pitching staff or completely stripping their minor league system bare. 

While both the Royals and the Padres have undergone an extensive rebuilding process that is more or less where the comparisons end. While the Royals did trade away a top flight prospect (Myers) in order to gain some major league established pitchers (Sheilds, Davis) that was really the only time they did that. The Padres made 3 trades of that ilk this off-season alone without adding any starting pitching. Of course pitching was a relative strength of the Padres so that does make some sense, unless the Padres manage to pry Cole Hamels away from the Phillies

Also dissimilar from the Royals, the Padres have not really been able to develop any strong positional prospects. Jed Gyorko may eventually get to Alex Gordon level, but I wouldn't stake my reputation on it. So disappointing have the Padres prospects been that they were willing to part w/ their short stop (DFA'd Everth Cabrera) and catcher (Grandal - decent, but sent packing for Matt Kemp). Meanwhile, the Royals sported such competent to above average homegrown players like Gordon, Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, and Lorenzo Cain.

There's no magic blueprint for Royals type success. So how the Padres got to 2015 by no means excludes them from that type of run. However, I think they have too many question marks for the Padres to be 2015's team. Kemp may never be the same, who knows who Myers really is, and how will Grandal's departure affect the pitching staff to name a few. They'll be a much better team, but probably not better enough.

Seattle Mariners

Now here is an interesting team. The Mariners have seemingly been knocking on the door now for that last few years. Much like the slow build the Royals went through leading up to 2014, the Mariners have been combining some solid prospects with outside acquisitions to put themselves into a position of respectability.

Most notable is the homegrown "Best Pitcher on the Planet" Felix Hernandez and hired gun Robinson Cano. The Mariners are also bolstered by the emerging James Paxton and Tijuan Walker to fill out thei rotation and the recently "Got Paid" Kyle Seager at the hot corner. They've got an extremely solid foundation going forward.

What's hard to know is if the Mariners have done enough to compete in the AL West. The Angels seemed to have figured out their formula to win, and the Athletics are a perennial off-season punchline who manage to prove everyone wrong every year. Texas twins Rangers and Astros both figure to be better in 2015 which will make wins out west very hard to come by. The Mariners certainly have a shot, but this may be a win the division or bust situation.

Miami Marlins

Nobody rebuilds like the Marlins. They've almost made it an art form. How many teams can average a World Series title once every 10 years or so while also alienating the fan base roughly twice every 10 years? These guys are doing something special.

One of the reasons the Marlins have been so successful in short periods has a lot to do with their ability to identify and develop talent. Typically though the Marlins take that talent, win a little and then send those players on their way in an effort to "rebuild" acting like a small market team. I'm sorry, but since when has Miami been a small market? If the Marlins can't make money in Miami, then they are just plain doing something wrong (Oh right, they tear apart their team every couple of years and built an ugly stadium in the middle of a swamp).

Something changed this year though. The Marlins kicked off their offseason not by dealing their marquee player but by signing him to a massive contract extension. Giancarlo Stanton received possibly the largest contract in baseball history from the team that once traded Miguel Cabrera for a box of nickels. The Marlins weren't done there as they went on to add Dee Gordon (a nice compliment to an already emerging line-up) and Mat Latos (An upgrade to an already solid rotation). On paper, the Marlins look to be a fairly well rounded team with a deep well of young players. If they can hold down the fort until Jose Fernandez returns from TJ surgery as projected in early June, the Marlins could be strong contender for the NL Wild Card.

Chicago White Sox

Sometimes we look far and wide for the next big thing when it was right underneath our noses the whole time. A team that closely matches up with 2014 Royals is their very own division mates, the 2015 White Sox. Now the White Sox where World Series Champions just 10 short years ago, but its been a long road out of hell since then.

Unlike the Royals, the White Sox never went through a full bottoming out process as they have floated right around .500 or so over the last decade. However, they have made the most out of their drafting and scouting by building a young nucleus around Chris Sale, Jose Quintana, Jose Abreu, and Alexi Ramirez (Not great, but competent as SS which is harder to find that you might think). The White Sox also went out and significantly improved their line-up by adding Melky Cabrera, Adam LaRoche, Jeff Samardzija, and David Robertson.

Also working in the White Sox favor is the general state of the AL Central. We already talked about the Royals. They'll still be tough, but its hard to predict that they will be better. The Tigers have stopped adding big time players and now appear poised to enter into a downward cycle. The Tribe may be on their way up, but its equally as likely that they are on their way down, and then there the Twins. Oh the Twins. An apparently loaded farm system that still is not ready to bear any fruit. That puts the White Sox in a prime position to rack up some wins and possibly even take down the division.

There you have it. Four teams with the possibility of taking the 2014 Royals' path to (near) playoff glory. There's probably four more teams I could add to this list, but at that point I'd be predicting success for a quarter of the league. That's just silly. If you think I'm an idiot for excluding your favorite team, I'm hardly hiding, Let me know.