Jan 14

Billy Beane, the A’s, and Knowing Things

Josh Donaldson

Josh Donaldson (20) was traded to the Toronto Blue Jays in November of 2014. He was pretty good.

Maybe it shouldn’t come as any great surprise that Oakland GM Billy Beane and his staff of brainiacs is reshaping the A’s roster rather than developing. It is. A little. It shouldn’t be, though, if we were paying attention. Since Beane took over as the Oakland GM after the ’97 season, the A’s have climbed from a 65-97 team to perennial contender, finishing .500 or above 12 times and winning the West six times.

That doesn’t make the A’s super special. The Angels have also won the West six times in that same span, but while the Angels haven’t had a payroll below 100 million since 2005 (and averaging 150.8 million since 2012) the A’s have done it by spending on average 56.6 million over the last 15-years. This isn’t about economics. Don’t worry. I’m not going to argue Beane should win a Nobel for achieving similar results while spending half of what the Angels did over the same 15-year period.

No. The A’s tailspin last year was too fresh. Once leading the West by as many as six games as of June 19th, the A’s hit rock bottom and ended up 10-games back, barely eking out the second wild card over rival Seattle. The A’s had the stink of a loser amongst a crowd that likes plucky upstarts and good stories. It was only fitting the Royals came from behind in the wild card game. The A’s were losers.

That just proved it.

Trading Josh Donaldson seemed extreme. Even now, seeing what I’ve seen, I don’t really like the move all that much because Donaldson has been so good since becoming a full time player for good in mid-August of ’12. I don’t care that he’s 29. Entering his first year of arbitration eligibility (as a Super 2) he’ll still essentially be playing for free. Hey, the A’s got Brett Lawrie and Sean Nolin. Whatever.

I’ll just move along.

Then Beane traded Brandon Moss to Cleveland, Jeff Samardzija to the White Sox, and Derek Norris to the Padres. Yoenis Cespedes was jettisoned last season to bring in Jon Lester who signed with the Cubs. Jed Lowrie signed with the Astros, so the starting shortstop was now gone and the A’s still intended to play Eric Sogard.

It’s all good, though. Beane traded for Ike Davis.

So as the baseball world gushes over that trickster Beane for trading for Ben Zobrist and Yunel Escobar and restocking his farm system with live, young arms, it struck me completely by accident that it shouldn’t been tricky at all. The A’s were never that bad that they needed to be dismantled.

Run Differential – Again

As I’ve spent the past few days revisiting the year of the original Jurassic Park and The Sandlot I came across something that was sort of surprising: based on a run differential of +157, the A’s were expected to win 99 games last year. I’m sure it’s been mentioned elsewhere, and I just never caught it. There’s a lot to read. I consume information anymore yet rarely retain it. The modern curse.

99 games is one more than the Angels won last year. To be 11 games short of expectation is extreme. The A’s were damn unlucky.

In fact, as I’ve been waxing pathetic about the 1993 Mets for underachieving based upon expectations (here and here), I failed to notice that the 2014 A’s had the 15th worst residual (difference between actual winning percentage and expected winning percentage) mark since the beginning of the 20th century. Out of 2400 different teams, the A’s were the 15th worst, historically snake bitten.

I re-ran the numbers, determining a new exponent to use in the Pythagorean expectation formula based on all data since 1962. In this scenario, I used 1962 as my delineation point since that was the first year that both leagues played a full 162 game schedule. My new exponent dropped to 1.856, making my formula appear as thus:

\frac{runs scored^{1.856}}{runs scored^{1.856} + runs allowed^{1.856}}

The new formula didn’t change the A’s win expectations very much, but excluding all the early 20th century teams from my list bumped the A’s all the way to 8th in the unlucky list. For fun, I’m including the bottom ten (the Bin Ten?) that failed to meet expectations:

Year Team Run Diff W-L Expected W-L Residuals
1993 Mets -72 59-103 73-89 -0.0887
1986 Pirates -37 64-98 77-85 -0.0798
1984 Pirates 48 75-87 87-75 -0.0747
1967 Orioles 62 76-85 88-73 -0.0740
1975 Astros -47 64-97 76-86 -0.0708
1999 Royals -65 64-97 75-86 -0.686
2006 Indians 88 78-84 89-73 -0.0678
2014 A’s 157 88-74 99-63 -0.0675
1972 Orioles 89 80-74 90-64 -0.0669
1993 Padres -93 61-101 71-91 -0.0642

Great Expectations – Fail

That’s a fairly startling list. The 2014 A’s outscored their opponents by 157 runs, and that’s by far and away the most until way down in my list I hit the 1990 Yankees in the 48th spot, a team that won 91 games with a run diff of 162. Okay, so wow. The A’s ran into some bad mojo last year and things went sideways.

There’s an argument to be made here that Beane and the A’s acted hastily, but to call the A’s unlucky and end it at that isn’t much. Even if it’s kind of historic in its magnitude doesn’t mean all that much. I guess I worry about this nifty little experiment of mine defining an argument rather than using it for support. It’s like that saying about when your only tool is a hammer everything looks like a nail.

My first thought was close games. You can’t outscore teams by that many runs and win all the close games too. It doesn’t really work like that. Going over the game logs at retrosheet.org, the A’s were tied with Toronto as the fourth worst team in the Majors last season by winning percentage in one-run games. The A’s were 21-28 with a winning percentage of .429. That’s bad, sure, but not epically bad. Seattle was 18-27 with a WP of .400 and finished one-game back of the A’s.

In the larger context of things, the A’s 21-28 is fairly tame as far as losing one-run games is concerned. Dating back to 2000 (stopped my search here since it was the first Beane administered team that finished first) the A’s WP of .429 sits 83rd worst out of 450. Okay, bottom 20% but not a real explanation.

That’s all teams, however. The A’s outscored their opponents by a lot. Certainly, they’re unique in that regard.

Eh. For all teams that have outscored their opponents by 100+ runs in a season—teams that are all good teams with pennant aspirations—the 2014 A’s were eighth worst out of 84 teams. Bad, sure, but Atlanta won 101 games in 2003 and owned a worse winning percentage (.405) in one-run games. Since 2000, Oakland was the only team to outscore their opponents by 150 or more runs and fail to win 90. The 2003 Houston Astros team were the next closest to achieve the feat, managing to outscore their opponents by 128 runs and winning only 87 games. That team was expected to win 94 games by run differential and finished a measly one-game back from the Cubs in the Central.

In all of the aughts, there are only six out of 84 teams (or 7%) to win fewer than 90 games while outscoring their opponents by 100 or more runs. It’s an incredibly difficult thing to do. It’s certainly not due exclusively to one-run games.

You also don’t remake a team based on something like that. Records in one-run games are essentially meaningless in determining quality of a ball club. A 15-14 win looks the same as a 1-0 when collating data. For instance, between 2005 and 2009, the Arizona Diamondbacks never once failed to win more one-run games than they lost. In those five seasons, they were an incredible 141-106 in close games (a .571 winning percentage) while having an overall record of 395-415 (.488).

In 2013, the A’s went 30-20 in one-run games, and since 2000 the team has nearly an identical winning percentage in one-run games, .540, as they do in winning percentage overall, .545. Sometimes things happen.

Widening the criteria a bit, I looked at the W-L record where the score was decided by either one or two runs. In that case, the A’s were 10-13 in games decided by two runs, bringing their overall total to 31-41 (.431). That winning percentage was the second lowest for teams scoring over 100 runs. Only the 2012 Cardinals had a worse WP (.394). That team lost to the World Champion Giants in the NLCS. If you’re wondering if it makes much difference if I just look at winning clubs, not necessarily large run differential clubs, the answer is no. For all teams that finished at .500 or above since 2000, the A’s were the fourth worst team in terms of WP in games decided by one or two runs.

So, still bad.

Expanding this out further, games decided by three or fewer runs put the A’s at the top of the list. They were 14-13 overall in these games, making their total record 45-54 for a WP of .455. It’s not unprecedented to not do well in games decided by three or fewer runs and still win in droves. It is uncommon, however, to see a team outscore their opponents by so many runs and have a losing record. The 2007 Yankees did it. They managed to outscore their opponents by 191 runs yet go 36-42 in games decided by three or fewer.

Another thing you typically don’t see is a team win 90+ games while having a losing record in games decided by three runs. It does happen, as recently as 2013 when the Dodgers won 92 games while going 7-13 under these conditions, but they also went 25-21 in one-run games and 26-15 in two-run games. Playing sub-.500 ball in both one and two run games has happened just 15 times for teams winning at least half their games. Only three of those teams—the 2007 Yankees, the 2001 Cardinals, and the 2012 Rays—won 90 or more games and only the 2008 Indians (an 81-81 team) had a losing record in games decided by three runs. The A’s WP of .519 in three run games was the second worst under these conditions.

There are a few ways to look at this, and we can debate whether the A’s were unlucky or just not good enough. I simply found the exercise interesting. I ran the numbers through R, identifying a fairly tenuous relationship between winning percentage and winning percentage in games decided by three or fewer runs. The correlation coefficient was .55, but that was against teams that sat at .500 or better. For all teams since 2000, champions and dregs, the coefficient jumped up to .684. Still not terribly exciting. There is a stronger relationship, though, for wins and WP in games decided by three or fewer: .848. Ideally we’d want that number as close to 1 as possible, but that’s what I’m working with.

Well, here we go. After running a linear regression against predicted wins based upon the A’s actual winning percentage in games decided by three or fewer runs, the A’s were . . . surprise, a 74 win team last season.

Just for fun, I’m adding in a table of what last year’s teams won, were expected to win based upon run differential, and what they would win based on record in three run games:

Team R RA Wins Exp Wins <= 3 Runs
ARI 615 742 64 67 70
ATL 573 597 79 78 80
BAL 705 593 96 94 90
BOS 634 715 71 72 76
CHA 660 758 73 71 75
CHN 614 707 73 70 76
CIN 595 612 76 79 75
CLE 669 653 85 83 88
COL 755 818 66 75 61
DET 757 705 90 86 91
HOU 629 723 70 71 70
KCA 651 624 89 84 94
LAA 773 630 98 96 92
LAN 718 617 94 92 88
MIA 645 674 77 78 80
MIL 650 657 82 80 80
MIN 715 777 70 75 76
NYA 633 664 84 77 90
NYN 629 618 79 82 75
OAK 729 572 88 99 74
PHI 619 687 73 73 73
PIT 682 631 88 87 86
SDN 535 577 77 75 83
SEA 634 554 87 91 82
SFN 665 614 88 87 91
SLN 619 603 90 83 94
TBA 612 625 77 79 72
TEX 637 773 67 67 75
TOR 723 686 83 85 82
WAS 686 555 96 97 90

Wins and Expected Wins

Most of these are relatively close except for Oakland. Based upon their record in games decided by three runs or less, they should have won 14 fewer games, which was by far and away the worst amongst the 30 teams.

Here’s a fancy scatterplot to say thanks for reading:

OaklandI’m not here to explain how things went wrong or why they went wrong or when they did. For all I know, things went exactly as Beane intended them to go because he secretly coveted a corner infield of Lawrie and Davis, which sounds every bit like the traveling vaudeville show in White Christmas.

My whole point is that we shouldn’t be surprised by Beane and the remodel. This team was good enough to win 100 games and then it happened.

Josh Donaldson – photo credit: Keith Allison via photopin cc

Jan 12

Pythagoras, Bill James, and the Mets

Yesterday I was working with simply using a linear regression to determine expected wins based on run differential (runs scored minus runs allowed). What about Bill James’ Pythagorean expectation? So, just to be thorough (sort of) I went ahead and looked at the difference between what the ’93 Mets should have won based on James’ formula and the 59 games the team actually won.

Oy vey.

By Pythagorean expectation, the ’93 team fell from the 36th worst team in Major League history1 to the 12th worst, even accounting for all the number wonkiness from the 19th century clubs. The good news is that there are two teams from the 20th century worse in this regard: the 1905 Chicago Cubs squad that won 92 games was seventh and the 1911 Pittsburgh Pirates that won 85 games. Of course, those are the Cubs that featured the famed trio of Tinker, Evers, and Chance along with Mordecai Brown. The Pirates featured Honus Wagner, Max Carey, and Fred Clarke.

Either by linear regression or PE, the ’93 team should have won 73 games. The residual (recall that residual is the error from the expected win total based on run differential to what actually occurred) based on Pythagorean expectation grew a little worse, however, as it dropped from -0.0849 to -0.0851.

Here’s an updated scatterplot to be thorough:

Pyth_93I even took this a step further and determined a new exponent to use in James’ formula that would more closely align with the actual winning percentages over the years2. For this pass, I eliminated all the teams prior to 1900 since there were fewer games, too much data needed to be cleaned, and honestly, I figured 19th century teams wouldn’t really be of much value. Anyway, after running a linear regression to determine the new exponent, I came up with 1.861.

So, my new formula looks like this:

\frac{runs scored^{1.861}}{runs scored^{1.861}\ +\ runs allowed^{1.861}}

How did the ’93 Mets do? Well, since this is a post about the 1993 Mets and I’m all about schadenfreude, the 1993 team bottomed out.  They were, based on the difference between what they should have won and what they actually did, the worst team since the turn of the 20th century.

And . . . the scatterplot:

Updated Pythagorean ExpectationAnother way of looking at this information is that the ’93 Mets were the unluckiest team over the last 114 years.  Sure.  We’ll call that a silver lining. I like to think the unluckiest ones were those of us who rooted for this team back then.  I do miss Howard Johnson, though.  I loved Ho-Jo when I was a kid.

Being the inquisitive sort, you’re probably wondering what teams exceeded their expected win totals the most over the last 114 years. Since you asked, here’s a top ten list of the teams that exceeded our expectations the most (expected wins are rounded up):

Year Team Wins Expected Wins Residuals
1905 Detroit Tigers 79 65 0.091
1981 Cincinnati Reds 66 57 0.086
2004 NY Yankees 101 89 0.075
1954 Brooklyn Dodgers 92 81 0.074
2008 LA Angels 100 88 0.074
1972 NY Mets 83 71 0.074
1984 NY Mets 90 78 0.072
1981 Baltimore Orioles 59 52 0.071
2005 Arizona Diamondbacks 77 66 0.070
1917 St. Louis Cardinals 82 71 0.069

 Great Results – Not So Great Expectations

Two Mets teams made this list. Redemption! See, book learnin’ is fun.

  1. Technically, we’re discussing professional baseball since the years begin in 1871 and the National League we all know and love wasn’t founded until 1876, but I’ll use Majors here for simplicity’s sake.
  2. All of this can be found in the book Analyzing Baseball Data with R by the way, so it’s not like I’m some math wizard breaking new ground.

Jan 11

In Retrospect, 1993 Mets Still Awful

As if I need further reminders that my high school years were miserable, I discovered today—completely by accident—that the 1993 Mets were the worst team in the last 84+ years (basically since the Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig led 1931 Yankees) in actual wins vice expected wins based upon run differential.

Using a linear regression (trying things out from the book Analyzing Baseball Data with R), the 1993 Mets were expected to win 73 games with a run differential of -72. The Mets, in all of their absolute horridness, managed to win just 59 games. The residual of -0.089 (residual here is the error from the expected win total based on run differential to what actually occurred) is the lowest in the Majors since 1931. The ’93 squad is technically the 36th worst team in this regard, but every team “above” them in the list played baseball in the 19th century except for a 1931 Yankees team that scored 1067 runs, the sixth most in the history of baseball. Ruth and Gehrig each hit 46 home runs that year. Oh, and the ’31 Yankees won 94 games and were expected to win 108 games, which amazingly enough is only one game better than the Philadelphia Athletics actually finished.1

Here’s the scatterplot of the seasons since 1962. It looks the same if you go back further, so trust me on the actual “worst” part:

Mets_1993All of those orange circles are the Mets teams throughout the years, and the one at the very bottom represents . . . well, you get the idea.

It was the 1992 team that Bob Klapisch and John Harper wrote about in The Worst Team Money Could Buy, which was published in 1993. Let’s just say that 1993 wasn’t the best year to be a New York Mets fan.

On the bright side, it was Bobby Bonilla’s best year as a Met. It was also the year Vince Coleman threw firecrackers the equivalent of a quarter stick of dynamite out of a parked car at Dodger Stadium, injuring three including an 11-year-old boy and a 1-year-old girl. You can read more about that team over at Amazin’ Avenue if you want.

Sigh.

At least I can bury the pain of that season with memories of being an awkward teen.

  1. Based on Bill James’ Pythagorean expectation, which is something different, the ’31 Yanks should have won “only” 100 games.

Jan 07

Sigh. Mike Piazza Missed Again.

MikePiazza

Mike Piazza and former manager Tommy Lasorda.

Statistically speaking, when you get all advanced metricky, Mike Piazza’s best seasons were his youthful ones spent with the Dodgers. He produced the best season ever by bWAR for a catcher (narrowly passing Johnny Bench 8.7 to 8.6) and he owns two of the top 13. Both of those were in Los Angeles, in 1997 and 1993 respectively, as he redefined the definition of a catcher from a broken kneed, game manager to an offensive force. He’s one of only five men to hit 40 or more homers playing primarily as a backstop (Piazza and Bench both did it twice), and he owns three of the top 10, five of the top 12, and nine of the top 27 seasons (think about him owning 1/3 of those) ever for homers by a catcher. Not all of those were with the Dodgers. His best three and part of a fourth by bWAR were, though.

I’m not arguing he was better then. I’m not arguing much of anything. I’m just stating a fact. Clearing my throat.

Looking back over the numbers from the years now called the Steroid Era, or the Selig Era as Joe Posnanski does, is similar to scanning the statistics after a season of MVP Baseball set to Rookie. Those 150 stolen bases and 40 straight starts of 15+ strikeouts sure seemed like an accomplishment at the time—you won a trophy after all—but in retrospect, maybe six players breaking Maris’ home run record was a bit much. Well, maybe not. Maybe it jumped the shark when you did it by August.

In that regard, leading into a discussion of Mike Piazza’s best years by presenting his offensive bona fides is akin to offering the savvy sommelier a watered down bottle of Sine Qua Non. Things sure look okay at first glance, but when you dig a little deeper, it’s difficult to swallow and keep down. When Bench led the Majors in homers in 1970 with 45, six players topped 40 home runs that year.1 When Piazza hit 40 home runs in 1997, he was tied for eighth with four others and there were 12 men who hit 40+. Mark McGwire and Ken Griffey, Jr. each hit over 50 with Larry Walker at 49. What the hell do I make of those numbers? They’re so cartoonish it’s impossible to use those as the foundation of an argument. But I’m not arguing anything. I’m just chatting with friends.

In 1972, Bench was the only player to reach 40 home runs. 1999 was the year after the famed home run record chase between McGwire and Sammy Sosa, after McGwire hit 70 home runs, but it still saw McGwire and Sosa top 60 (65 and 63 respectively) and 13 men hit 40 or more with another seven within three of the goal.

At the time I was amazed. Now I’m just amazed that an entire decade of my baseball watching life is a statistical anomaly.

All of this is important only in the sense that yesterday the Hall of Fame voting came and went and Piazza missed the cut. Again. He was close. His overall percentage rose from 62.2 last year to 69.9. He missed election by a scant 28 votes, and if history tells us anything it’s that he’ll likely be elected very soon.

I don’t know how I feel about any of that. I guess I’m upset. Technically Piazza’s best years were his earliest with the Dodgers, but the ones I remember most fondly are the years spent with the Mets. Mike Piazza helped the Mets make the playoffs for the first time since 1988 and the World Series for the first time since 1986. The 1990s were always something of dark time in Flushing for the Mets, and Piazza was part of a team that actually made baseball fun to watch again. No team could every supplant that ’86 squad as my all-time favorite team, but that ’99 team ranks right up there as one of my favorites. I could watch highlights of Turk Wendell and John Olerud all day if my wife let me.

So, I lead in with numbers because a paragraph of rain drop gifs for tears just wouldn’t send the right message.

I imagine a lot of voters are like me and aren’t quite sure what to make of the years where everyone grew to unimaginable proportions with numbers to match. Still, though, after all these years, I wonder if Roger Clemens throwing the bat at Piazza was the first indicator of roid rage or his undeniable douchebaggery:

You’re right. Douchebaggery of course.

I remember in 2001 watching the Mets play the Orioles at Camden Yards. At the time, I couldn’t believe how large both Piazza and Benny Agbayani were. Two of the largest human beings I’d ever seen in person. I felt awful for Josh Towers, the O’s starting pitcher. In comparison, he looked tiny like a high school freshmen. Piazza crushed a homer to center in that game, giving me something to cheer about. I left Camden that night thinking two things: Steve Trachsel really isn’t that awful, and Selig needs to make these fields bigger because the players are outgrowing the dimensions.

Like my thoughts on the matter, this post isn’t entirely coherent. I apologize. I feel a little like Stephen Dedalus from Ulysses. Stream of consciousness.

In my mind, Piazza easily passes the duck test. If he looks like a HOFer then he’s probably a HOFer. I don’t even consider Piazza’s candidacy open for any serious debate. He was amazing and deserves to be in. That he’s now missed election three years running is so absurd that it defies all logic except that entire era is absurd. Luis Gonzalez, a man who weighed about 200 pounds, jacked 57 home runs in 2001, which is three more than Mickey Mantle’s best season and three shy of Babe Ruth’s. So, yeah, it’s difficult to be that outraged over the HOF results when nothing at all makes sense.

I guess I’m not upset. I’m disappointed. Others aren’t going to see Piazza how I do, and that’s fine. I look at the numbers, and I see memories rather than columns and rows. I’m not disappointed with the voters because they did what they did and probably had a good reason for it…unless they voted for Aaron Boone to get in.

I’m disappointed because I can’t summon any level of anger or indignation. Not even an inkling. A part of my baseball watching life has to be discussed almost apologetically, with a sigh and a sad shake of my head, and when an oversight like Piazza missing the cutoff happens again I just shrug and say, “Sure, I understand.”

Whatever. I guess there’s always next year.

Mike Piazza photo credit: iccsports via photopin cc

  1. There were only 24 teams then, so take that into consideration as well. This isn’t a discussion of who was the greatest catcher of all-time, so I’m not going to dive too deeply into these numbers.

Dec 22

On the Phil Hughes, Twins Extension

Phil Hughes (65) pitching for the Yankees.

Phil Hughes (65) pitching for the Yankees.

Phil Hughes probably could have waited another two years, pitched for the relative pittance of 8 million per through 2016, and probably signed an Anibal Sanchez like 5-year/60 million dollar deal at the age of 31, but Hughes and his CAA representative Nez Balelo turned a great 2014 into 42 million guaranteed.

Christmas comes early to the Twin Cities.

Last season, Hughes was one of the top bargain free agent pickups of the year, posting a season full of career bests as a starter across the board: innings pitched, ERA, FIP, WHIP, K/9, BB/9, and HR/9. Taken out of the homer-friendly Yankee Stadium to the neutral Target Field, Hughes tendency to work up in the zone didn’t hurt him as badly as it might have otherwise, and he dropped from 35 and 24 homers the prior two seasons to 16 last year. His HR/9 of 0.7 was his lowest since he was reliever way back in 2009.

It wasn’t all ballpark effects. Hughes relied more heavily on his cutter last year, throwing the pitch slightly over 20% of the time with left-handers finding the pitch particularly difficult as they hit just .195 with one home run. Add in a low to mid-90s fourseamer and a wickedly sharp curve, Hughes struck out a career best 186 batters. I really could watch him throw curves all day. They’re that damn good.

The big story for Hughes was his amazingly low BB/9 of 0.69. It was the third lowest rate for qualified starters since the beginning of the Expansion Era in 1961, and his K/BB ratio of 11.63 set a new Major League record. He walked 16 batters. To put that into perspective, Nolan Ryan walked 200+ twice and 150+ five times. Last season, there were only 36 relievers who walked fewer than 16 batters during the year.

Okay, well, odds are that’s not happening again.

Entering 2014, Hughes’ lowest walk rate was 2.2 set in 2012, and his best K/BB ratio was 3.59 set the same year. Those are probably more reasonable numbers to wrap the mind around, more in line with what the Twins are likely to see from Hughes going forward, and I’d imagine they’d be just fine with that.

They’re making out just fine in this deal.

The big danger for the Twins is that Hughes propensity to work up in the zone eventually bites him as his fastball loses zip. He’ll be 29 next year, and there aren’t any indications that he’s lost anything as his average velocity has remained steady. His workload over the years hasn’t been appreciably heavy—no C.C. Sabathia like 250 inning marathon seasons for instance—and he’s had just one year topping 200. Early in his career Hughes seemed injury prone, but since 2011 he’s missed a total of 16 games (not starts) to injuries. He’s now made 30+ starts in three straight seasons.

There’s always the risk that comes with any pitcher, and the Twins might be buying with rose colored glasses after Hughes’ exceptional ’14. If so, they’re not paying a premium. It sounds like Hughes found a place where he’s comfortable pitching, wanted to stay there for the long term, and gave up money to do so.

I’m all Bob Cratchit and good tidings to all on this deal. No “Bah, humbugs” here.

Phil Hughes photo credit: Keith Allison via photopin cc

Dec 22

Astros Sign Relievers, Make Statement

Luke Gregerson (57) then with the San Diego Padres.

Luke Gregerson (57) then with the San Diego Padres.

The events in this blog happened nearly two weeks ago. I had some thoughts, figured I should share, so here we are.

There’s probably no easier way to add a few wins than to stop coughing up leads, and by that way of thinking, the Houston Astros recent signings of both Pat Neshek and Luke Gregerson make all kinds of sense. The Astros bullpen were tied with Colorado with 26 blown saves—collectively, not just closer Chad Qualls—a total that was 20% higher than both the A’s and the White Sox. Maybe improvement in the bullpen doesn’t completely eliminate that 100 run difference in runs scored and runs allowed from last season, but it narrows the gap, and inches the team closer to the .500 mark.

Nearly 1/3 of the team’s current payroll is tied up in Neshek and Gregerson, an odd bit of extravagance for an Astros team that won 70 games last year. Both players are huge upgrades over the incumbents, and it does make you wonder, along with the Jed Lowrie signing, if Chase Headley had taken their 5-year/$65 million dollar offer (if legit) just how much of a threat would the Astros be in 2015. After designating Gregorio Petit for assignment on the 16th, it’s also worth wondering if he’ll soon be dealt for additional bullpen help. Just spit-balling here. Petit’s a decent utility infielder.

Anyway, after switching to the sinker as his primary pitch, Neshek turned in the finest season of his career. His K/9 jumped to 9.1, which is in line with his career average but well above the 6-7 neighborhood he’d been living in the prior three seasons. In 2013, Neshek threw right-handers his slider about 95% of the time, a total that dropped to just under 54% last season, and for his efforts righties hit a lowly .176/.205/.236 (down from .219/.282/.362 in ’13). Much of Neshek’s improvement came from his ability to handle lefties. Left-handers dropped all the way down to .196/.237/.304 in ‘14 from .315/.367/.556.

I can’t imagine Neshek will even touch that 2.3 bWAR he recorded last year. Not to go all Derrida on you, but as long as Neshek’s season doesn’t near the -0.7 that Jerome Williams put up before being released or Anthony Bass’ -0.8—who Houston will see in their division with the Rangers—it’ll near the two wins. It’s only a two-year deal, with a team option for a third, so if the 34-year old went all fluky in ’14 the damage is at least minimized. He’s at least loads of fun to watch pitch.

Stuff like that has real meaning.

The Astros tied up 18 million over three years for Gregerson, jumps up a few extra million if he’s the team’s closer, and they add another sinker/slider specialist to the pen. Eh. Maybe it’s just me, but Gregerson reminds me of R.A. Dickey when he throws, and nothing about late game situations and knuckleball equates to comfort. Of course, Gregerson doesn’t throw the knuckle, but I’m always waiting for the opposing batters to just say the hell with it and wait for that slow-mo slider to land dead red.

Gregerson, despite my aesthetic hang-ups, is another solid addition, though the decreasing K/9 over the last few years is a disturbing trend. It’s not as though batters have figured him out, though, as his H/9 of 7.2 is at his career mark. Heck, not having him pitch against the Astros might be the best value of all. Houston batters hit a measly .138. Or, four hits (three of those for extra bases!) in 29 at-bats.

There’s a lot to like about the Astros pitching. Dallas Keuchel is improving and turned in a fantastic year (he was in the Cy Young discussion for the first half of the year) and Scott Feldman and Collin McHugh pitched well. They also happen to have a surplus of big-armed right-handers in their minor league system with Mark Appel, Mike Foltynewicz, Lance McCullers, etc. All those first and second round picks of recent years will soon bring a new brand of heat to the Lone Star state.

So, Houston jumps from three straight seasons with wins in the 50s to 70 last season. If nothing else, the signings of Neshek and Gregerson (and chasing Headley) indicate GM Jeff Luhnow believes his team is close to competing. Does that mean we’ll soon see uber prospect Carlos Correa in the Majors soon?

Luke Gregerson photo credit: SD Dirk via photopin cc

Dec 19

Padres Add Upton, Beat Christmas Rush

Justin UptonOn their way to scoring 535 runs last season, a scant 3.30 runs per game, the San Diego Padres outfielders accounted for 227 of them, which was tied with the Houston Astros for fewest in the Majors.1 The only legitimate offensive threat of those wall crashers was Seth Smith who posted his best offensive season outside of Colorado and put up borderline All Star quality numbers in the first half. So, yeah. A do-over for the outfield was one of those tasks to be done, but did anyone expect it to happen in just one week? By the time this is posted, I expect Cutch to be Cameron Maybin / Matt Kemp‘s replacement.

Trading for Upton is one of the many completed by general manager A.J. Preller in the last few days. The trade for Kemp finally became official yesterday, the same day they traded for C Derek Norris and a day after the trade for RF Wil Meyers was announced. They also traded for Will Middlebrooks because they could. Without a dominant team in the West to dissuade them (or at the very least, the Dodgers having enough questions to be vulnerable) Preller and the Padres are saying what the heck and reshaping a roster like terrified parents trying to miss the Christmas shopping rush.

It’s the last weekend before Christmas? My God, the malls will be packed! Call up John Hart and let’s gift wrap this last present.

Even amidst the almost daily reports of the Padres offensive woes—at one point last season, you could have reported that the Padres batters refused to swing and potentially break bats due to front office regs to cut costs and people would have believed it—I thought they had a legitimate chance to contend for the wild card. The starting pitching, even with Eric Stults getting 32 of those, was damn good, and their bullpen led the NL in ERA, was second in FIP, and the team was 60-1 when leading after seven, as reported by ESPN’s Jim Bowden. Subtract one Stults, add one Brandon Morrow, and mix in a whole lot of new bats and the Padres are now much more interesting and much more legit.

Upton is likely a three win improvement over Smith. Asking Smith at the age of 32 to repeat his finest season of his career is a bit much. Preller recognized that and traded for the 27-year old righty who is still most projections. I’m not as sold on Upton as some. He’s streaky and when he gets into one of those funks, the pitcher could throw the ball in underhand and he’d probably whiff or hit a pop-up. When he’s going strong, though, look out. Last April, he mashed eight home runs on the way to hitting .326/.400.641 for the month. He was even better in April of ‘13 when he crushed 12 homers while slugging .734.

Preller will surely find a taker for Smith, too, so there’s no doubt the Padres have more deals in mind. Smith is owed just under 13 million over the next two seasons with a team option in 2017, a salary too much to keep warming pine in case Kemp gets hurt but is cheap enough that other GMs won’t hang up the phone.

I guess with the Padres new outfield, there’s a chance the pitching staff might call a Code Red with all those extra base hits that fall in. An outfield of Upton, Kemp, and Meyers won’t remind anyone of the Royals, and by July I fully expect to write a post arguing that Preller is trying to suppress his pitchers’ numbers for arbitration purposes. It could happen. Don’t tell me a 37-year old is beyond deceit.

Have the Padres improved by 10 wins to place themselves into the NL wild card chase? It depends. I have an unreasonable appreciation for Morrow, so I do think he’ll be a big help, and losing Stults is addition by subtraction. I don’t know what the Rays didn’t like about Meyers, but if he’s healthy he’ll put up decent numbers, and even a win or two from Kemp (put that insane MVP year of his out of your mind) is an improvement over Maybin. I doubt if Clint Barmes is the answer at short, and Derek Norris is an improvement offensively over the recently traded Yasmani Grandal. Middlebrooks is like treading water over Yangervis Solarte, acquired last year in the Headley trade.

What’s amazing in all of this is that the Padres haven’t touched their top two prospects C Austin Hedges or RHP Matt Wisler, though that top 10 has definitely taken a hit.

What’s the Padres next move? Who knows? I hope Preller really gets creative and hires this guy as the new manager.

  1. One positive that comes from those low figures is that the Padres outfielders accounted for 42% of the team’s runs, good for 14th in the Majors for percentage of a team’s runs. Detroit scored the second most runs in the Majors but the outfielders accounted for a paltry 37.6%, or 285 of the 757 runs. It’s all in how you look at the numbers. See? It wasn’t all bad news.

Dec 17

Yankees Re-sign Headley, Capuano

Chase HeadleyI’m a little surprised that Chase Headley only received a 4-year/$52 million deal. As the top remaining third baseman on the market, and a solid bet to actually be worth the money he’ll be paid, I felt fairly confident that he’d average in the 15 million dollar range. Of course, that kind of figure would have been a slight overpay, but it’s raining Benjamins in the bigs these days.

The market never approached 15 per, and the sudden frugality by GMs is the Yankees gain as they locked up a clear position of need at an excellent value. There were rumors that Headley had an offer for 4-years/$65 million, which was quickly dismissed as poppycock, and reports that the Houston Astros had offered five and 65, though I wonder about the latter. 13 million is a lot to leave on the table, no matter how much more competitive he believes the Yankees might be, and with there being no state income tax in Texas . . . you get the idea. Maybe Headley really loves the Chelsea Hotel or ice skating in Rockefeller Center.

Hum some Leonard Cohen, and New York City it is.

By now, everyone knows the Headley story. He was really good, an overnight San Diego sensation, then he was constantly injured and became “Career Year” Hedley or “One-Time” Chase. That’s not particularly fair as he was still worth in the neighborhood of 3-4 wins depending on your WAR du jour, and over the last two years (discounting his extraordinary 2012) he’s recorded the 10th most wins by fWAR (8.0) and 12th (7.3) by bWAR for a third baseman in the Majors.

Kudos, One-Time!

If he hits comparable to how he did after being traded to the Yankees, .262/.371/.398 with six home runs in 58 games, with just enough pop to sit mid-teens while playing solid defense, this deal is a winner. Honestly, I find it difficult to find fault here since Headley will earn his 52 million in the first three years alone (depending on how much a win is truly worth these days) and will play that final year for free. That doesn’t happen all that often in the Bronx, and Brian Cashman should be congratulated for snookering Headley into forgoing Houston’s extra year (if for reals).

Remove Headley’s contributions last season, and the Yankees were seventh in total fWAR for third base in the AL over the last two seasons (sigh, so many prepositions), barely topping the Angels who had a whole lot of nothing there until David Freese turned in passable last year. It’s a similar story if we go back to 2012, the year after Alex Rodriguez decided to get all broken and old. They sit seventh, and with the AL East now suddenly boasting a plethora of talented third sackers, the Yankees needed to re-sign their most valuable infielder (only Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner topped Headley’s 2.8 fWAR for position players) from last year’s team or watch as the Red Sox manage to employ them all and sprinkle them around the diamond.

We can debate all day long if the Yankees have enough to win the division (they don’t) but there’s little debate that an infield of Didi Gregorius, Martin Prado, and Mark Teixeira desperately needed some kind of offense to balance out the .220s Gregorius and Teixeira will throw out. At the age of 34, it’s all hope and medical miracles that Teixeira’s wrist will stop bothering him. I’m fudging a bit here by not including Brian McCann in that group, but McCann is certain to improve upon that .232/.286/.406 line he had last season, especially considering his lifetime OBP of .343. He still hit 23 home runs, which was nice. Add in a full season of Headley, and we’re discussing a group that scores a few runs and competes in the East.

Most interesting to me was the Yankees re-signing Chris Capuano to a one-year deal. Others are more bullish on the Yankees rotation than I am. Personally, I think it’s a group brimming with question marks, so retaining Capuano is a sound move if the idea is depth in case of injury: a near certainty. I hope it doesn’t signal the retirement of Hiroki Kuroda or is meant to fill Brandon McCarthy’s vacated spot. We’re years removed from when Capuano pitched anything close to a regular workload. It was two years ago when he last made 30+ starts.

Five million for Capuano, though, is another thrift store deal for the Yankees, and either something big is in the works or we’re looking at a front office that has seen the state of the organization and is looking to save cash. If it’s the latter, why sign Headley for 13 million per? You take flyers on guys in the four to five million range, like the Padres did with Brandon Morrow, and if they pan out you extend an offer and either receive an extra pick or negotiating leverage. Capuano is 36. Apparently the Yankees are banking that the Mets are in the market for a starter next year.

Chase Headley photo credit: Keith Allison via photopin cc

Dec 15

Catalog Christmas Shopping

So far, in these first few weeks leading up to Christmas, I’ve made pounds of chocolate candies with my mother-in-law; eaten an unhealthy quantity of said candy; introduced Frosty, Christmas Comes to Pacland, Yogi’s First Christmas, and the He-man and She-Ra: A Christmas Special to my daughter; and decided that my next big project is a movie called Puppies and Poinsettias that will be perfect for Hallmark if Debbie Macomber hasn’t written it first.

What I haven’t done, however, is something that I used to love doing as a kid: memorizing the Sears’ Christmas Wish Book.1 Since I refuse to pay the 20 bucks to buy a physical copy of the 2014 Wish Book, and viewing all of the items online isn’t any different than shopping on Amazon, I’m stuck with whatever catalogs are mailed my way this holiday season. Lucky for me, I somehow ended up on the Hammacher Schlemmer mailing list, and I’m passing all of these amazing finds to you: the ones I cherish the most.

So long winter meetings! Hello Christmas! Let’s go shopping.

VaderToaster1.  Evil Empire – For anyone born prior to George Lucas and Hayden Christensen turning the black-clad slayer of billions into a maudlin, love-stricken farce, Darth Vader was a menace more feared by children than Keyser Soze. Alas. One abomination of a trilogy later, and Lucas forced Christensen into one of the most iconic scenes from the Return of the Jedi and Vader is a joke, now safe for the most important meal of the day.

“Here you are, honey. Would you like some Vader toast with those C-3PO’s? How about some metachlorian jam?”

The one-time Vader of the baseball world is the Yankees, and the Bronx Bombers are such an afterthought in the silly season of free agent shopping that we’re left wondering if they’ll even be able to re-sign Chase Headley.

Oh, it’s a sad day.

There was a time when the Yankees set the market and other teams reacted. When the Mets signed Carlos Beltran, I worried it would be the Yankees that swooped in and signed him. Every free agent was linked with New York in one form or fashion, whether by agents whispering their name to drive up the price or the Yankees all-consuming need to swallow the baseball world like a real life Norman Bombardini. When Bombardini says, “Yes. I plan to grow to infinite size . . . There will of course eventually cease to be room for anyone else in the universe at all,” it might have been the Steinbrenner’s talking.

Let’s take a quick look at where the Yankees are today:

  • Their best starting pitcher may or may not be seconds away from Tommy John surgery with the continued use of his splitter, but since he elected to not have the surgery there will always be that lingering doubt if with each next pitch he’ll be out for the upcoming season.
  • 28 starts are gone with Brandon McCarthy signing with the Dodgers and the Yankees sending Shane Greene to the Tigers in the deal that eventually led to Didi Gregorius taking over short.
  • Hiroki Kuroda has yet to decide if he’s retiring for real or returning. At least he hasn’t announced it yet.
  • Ivan Nova will be back a year after TJ surgery. How will he pitch?
  • Michael Pineda missed time, again, for right shoulder issues for the third straight season. He’s missed 2+ seasons due to his shoulder since 2012.
  • C. Sabathia had surgery on his right knee, missed 75% of the season, and is two years removed from being good. But, hey, cheer up. At least he missed having microfracture surgery. That is, of course, because knee surgery and a 285 pound soon-to-be 35 year old isn’t scary enough.
  • Their former closer now pitches for the White Sox.
  • Gregorius hit .226/.290/.363 last season.
  • Alex Rodriguez still wants to return.
  • Is Martin Prado the answer at second?
  • Mark Teixeira is still on the books through 2016, and he hit .216 last year.

Don’t worry about a thing though. They still only have 180 million tied up with 13 players. Paying 9 million a year for a reliever is a move a team capable of competing makes, a luxury move. The Yankees are going to be horrid next year. How about using that money to overpay some so-so starter.

Breakfast in the Bronx.

FauxFireplace2.  Holiday Cheer Not Included – I’ll stay in New York to discuss a team near and dear to me. For years the Mets have been preaching patience. One more year. Just wait until the kids fill out the rotation and the Mets make a run at the NL East. Well, here we are. Matt Harvey will be back in 2015; Jacob deGrom was a revelation; Zach Wheeler will sooner or later figure out how to dominate in the strike zone, and Noah Syndergaard should never, ever be discussed in a trade unless it’s for Troy Tulowitzki.

The Mets big move? Moving in the fences. Again.

What’s the obvious choice when you’re hoping to compete with talented, young pitchers? Move in the fences. For years the team and fans have blamed Citi Field for the lack of offense, so why not move in the fences to make everyone better? Hey, look everyone. We know we haven’t been able to produce a shortstop of Major League quality since the best one in team history signed with the Marlins. At the time I agreed with the decision to let Jose Reyes walk. 6 years/$106 million was way too much money for a guy as brittle as Reyes, but the team could have at least made an attempt to fill his position.

This offseason? Sandy Alderson apparently has a mandate from up high to keep the payroll at 100 million, which is ridiculous. According to Spotrac, the Mets have the 19th largest payroll in the Majors as of right now. They play in the number one media market, the largest city in the United States by population, and are by complete accident a damn icon despite their best efforts to alienate their fans. Never mind the team has pissed away the best years of David Wright’s career on shaky, no defense outfielders (still ongoing) or chasing B-Level free agents because the owners are broke.

The big story now is the team needs to trade one or all of Jon Niese, Dillon Gee, or Bartolo Colon to make way for Syndergaard and/or free up cash to actually sign someone. Why? Once again, they’re the NEW YORK METS. They should have their checkbooks at the ready to sign whomever they damn well please.

Remember those fences after they fall five games short of the second wild card but the Wilpons are pointing to Wilmer Flores’ 10 home runs as proof that the plan is working and look at those kids go. See? We didn’t screw up that Curtis Granderson signing last season! He slugged five more home runs while hitting .230!

In retrospect, doesn’t the Michael Cuddyer signing look more and more like a way to buy on the cheap? It wasn’t about filling a need. They signed a player that nobody else was guying to sign at the very beginning of free agency just so they could get a few years at 10.5 million each. And the Mets get the privilege of surrendering their first round draft pick just to watch Cuddyer play around 110 games a season.

Do you think Wright re-signed for this in 2013? Sure, he got paid, but the front office had to tell him they would do everything in their power to fix this mess. Have they? What’s the level of actually trying?

About 2-2.5?

So, the Mets and all the fans will be sitting before our faux fireplaces, sipping cold cocoa with marshmallow shaped whiskey stones.

The Yankees’ fans can join us. It sure is toasty in here.

BearedBeanie3.  Baby It’s Cold Outside – You wouldn’t know it by the present temperatures (53 in the Windy City and 54 in the nation’s capital) but Chicago gets cold outside in the winter, especially compared to DC. Last year, Chicago received 82 inches of snow, and while that’s about four feet more than Chicago’s average, even the thought of that much snow would send me scampering for the Caribbean until spring.

The Bearded Beanie goes to former Nationals first baseman Adam LaRoche who moved to the South Side to help manager Robin Ventura and the gang make the playoffs for the first time since 2008.

LaRoche doesn’t play first as well as he used to, but he’ll look like Will Clark compared to Jose Abreu. Abreu can DH, and the team improves two positions with a little creativity and the willingness to spend.

LeatherVest4.  Can’t Knock the Hustle – The list of front offices that should smile this widely grows by the day, but Theo Epstein receives this slick, genuine buffalo leather vest. Look at that guy? He’s the coolest cat around.

In an offseason where the Red Sox signed the two best third basemen for around 180 million combined because the available bats are pretty sad, moved one to the outfield, then traded the guy they received from Oakland after they traded their best pitcher to fill the void when that same pitcher signed with the Cubs, Theo Epstein looks as cool as a guy can with his leather vest and perfect hair.

He’s stocked with young position players when that’s all the thing these days, has a legitimate number one to pair with Jake Arrieta after trading away Jeff Samardzija for one of those talented youngsters, and traded for Miguel Montero who is a slight upgrade on Welington Castillo if things break just right.

I think we can cool it on the franchise altering hyperbole after Jon Lester signed, but he’s a nice pick up and will be the best left hander in a Cubs uniform since Ted Lilly left town. That shouldn’t lessen the rosy glow on Epstein’s cheeks as he remakes this franchise into a potential Central bully.

If the Cubs win the World Series, say in three years, should Epstein immediately be put on the Hall of Fame ballot?

If the Cubs do manage to win the Series (cart before horse, I know. Make the playoffs or, you know, finish above .500), can Rob Manfred force Epstein to move to the next embattled franchise that hasn’t won in a while . . . or ever? After Chicago, Epstein can move onto Seattle, Houston, or San Diego.

T Rex5.  Sometimes Old Means Old – This is by far and away my favorite item in this catalog. If you had $100,000 of disposable income, would you buy a life size T-Rex skeleton? Sure. If you’re that loaded, with money at your fingertips, the thought of owning a 15’ tall relic might just be the thing to complete your mansion. If you have that much money, are you flipping through the Hammacher Schlemmer catalog?

Doubtful.

It’s a completely self-indulgent item that misses the mark. People like me aren’t buying that thing. I’m more inclined to go with the light casting gloves that are so dumb that they might actually be useful. No? Not your style. What about these beauties? There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t need to call my broker when I’m out grabbing a smoke in ten degree weather. 80 dollars for that crap? Did I mention that I love, love, love this catalog?  It’s true.

This gift goes to the Minnesota Twins. The old is taken care of with the signing of Torii Hunter. He’ll be 39 next season, and if Minnesota is expecting him to be as feared in the field as he was way back in 2007 they’re going to be disappointed. On the plus side, it’s only a one-year deal, and Hunter is still capable with the bat. He’s a stop gap until Byron Buxton is ready.

No. The delusional part comes in by signing Ervin Santana for 4-years/$55 million with a 2019 option. The money is bad enough. Santana immediately becomes the team’s largest free agent signing in team history and the  second highest paid player behind Joe Mauer If $14 million doesn’t sound that bad, remember Santana will be receiving that early gift over four years. That’s a long time.

I just don’t see it. He’ll be 32 next season, and if the Twins are lucky, they get a #3 starter for those dollars. For significantly less, they could have gone after Justin Masterson and received comparable production if he checks out physically.

The good news is the Twins kept their protected first-round pick to sign Santana. There are always silver linings in these clouds.

Bumble6.  No Herbie? – I have my doubts about this Giancarlo Stanton contract. It’s so heavily backloaded that the Marlins are probably going to end up paying roughly 18 million per over the next six years if Stanton doesn’t beg the team to trade him to whoever is willing to pony up the prospects. Stanton will never see that 325 million.

It’s not going to happen.

After I heard about how the contract was structured, I immediately thought to myself that these are the same old Marlins, and the fans in Miami are soon going to see their team dismantled as their franchise superstar tweets his displeasure. Then, I read this today that made me realize that I’m not the only one calling shenanigans.

Am I the only one irate over this? Probably. I tend to overreact to things. Still, it seems to me to be a reasonable assumption that Jeffrey Loria and David Samson are literally banking on the idea that Stanton will opt out. They have no intention of paying that full contract, so it’s all PR and smoothing of ruffled feathers. “Thanks Miami for all those billions you’ll be paying to fund our stadium!  See, we’re still good guys!”

That truth aside, next year the Marlins will be fun. They already boast one of my favorite players in baseball with Christian Yelich, and then they go and trade for Mat Latos, my now second favorite NL East Matt.

There are so many things I love about that Latos trade for the Marlins, but the main reason I’m glad he’s here is that I’ll get to watch him pitch at least three times a year against both the Nats and the Mets.

A man can consume only so much baseball, and if Latos is part of that fun, then God bless us, everyone!

Eventually the Marlins will let the air out of their intimidating duo, but for right now it’s an all-out sprint for the playoffs.

Well, that’s it for part one. I’ll be back in a bit with more holiday shopping ideas.

  1. Click on 1985 Christmas Catalog and stare at the Transformers page. I did. I can’t even tell you how happy this made me then and just now. When my parents told me to stop watching the USA Cartoon Express and read, this was the very book that I picked up and studied.

Dec 14

White Sox Add Cabrera – Cubs Now on the Clock

"<strongTo call Melky Cabrera a huge upgrade in left field you have to believe the White Sox actually had a Major League-caliber player stationed there last season. The South Siders just improved by at least three wins, and with all their other moves from this offseason, just turned into a .500 ball club. Welcome, AL Central, to the land of mediocrity—where everyone is good enough to win just enough to be uninspiring.

The 2014 White Sox had one of two options in left field: Alejandro De Aza who is typically a safe bet to swipe 20 bags and top double-digit home runs (his 17 homers in ’13 look fluky now) but was traded to the Orioles and played well down the stretch, which was probably irritating to see him rejuvenated in Baltimore; or the mostly right, sometimes left Dayan Viciedo who plays horrid defense, strikes out a lot, but has youth and the promise of 20 home runs to make you believe he’s valuable.

Cabrera will surpass the combination of those two by the end of April and even if he can’t play defense as well as De Aza, he has a strong arm and should keep runners honest. By the final year of this three-year deal, he’ll be more DH than actual outfielder, but that’s a problem to worry about down the road. Is it an overpay?  Eh.  42-45 million over three years is the expected range, and that’s not really all that bad for what Cabrera provides. Look.  If Nick Markakis received 4/45, then 3/42-45 for Melky is reasonable. He’s only 30. It’s not like he’ll limp around left with a replacement hip by year three.

He’ll just waddle there a bit.

Rejoice Chicago! The city of Nelson Algren has become baseball’s focal point this offseason, and it’s a good thing to see. With the Windy City now the home of Chris Sale, Jon Lester, Jeff Samardzija, Jake Arrieta, Jose Quintana, and the strong-armed Cabrera, I look forward to the daily The Man with the Golden Arm references.1 In fact, I demand it. If Algren can’t get some love this season in Chicago by the beat writers, then things have gone horribly wrong. While it’s debatable whether the Cubs and White Sox actually did enough to be real contenders in the escalating Midwestern arms race, it’s difficult to argue that both teams aren’t making an honest go of it.

In the last three weeks, the White Sox have addressed their closer role with the signing of David Robertson, the black hole that was first base, a strong #2-3 starter with Samardzija, and now left field. I’m not as high on Adam LaRoche as some. I doubt he’ll be worth 12.5 million over two years, much less paying him 25 million total over that span, but he’ll be an upgrade defensively at first. Honestly, I think his best asset might just be the attitude he brings to the field. Don’t be surprised if the White Sox infielders start playing with a little more moxie thanks to the “Buck Commander’s” machismo.

Regardless, between LaRoche and Jose Abreu at first and DH, Samardzija, and Robertson, the Sox have added 7-8 wins at a minimum. Are they contenders? Why not. Their rotation is just as good as what the Tigers will be throwing out there when/if they ever decide to keep their good, young pitchers that aren’t rock star famous, the Royals haven’t re-signed James Shields (or found a replacement as he becomes too pricy) and with a few breaks the White Sox are in the 85 win territory.

In the Central, with every team capable of walloping on the other, that might just be enough.

  1. In college, I read a lot of Algren. Couldn’t get enough of him. For my senior thesis, I wrote this short story about a coffee junky that was such a blatant rip off of the dialogue between Frankie Machine and Sparrow from The Man with the Golden Arm that I should have paid Algren’s estate royalties. Except no one but my professors would read it. Sometimes I think A Walk on the Wild Side might be my favorite of his novels, and I try to come up with legitimate literary reasons why this is the case, and then I re-read a line like “The great, secret and special American guilt of owning nothing, nothing at all, in the one land where ownership and virtue are one,” and I feel so foolish for doubting Frankie.

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