I prefer organized, flowing pieces, with fully-fledged ideas that lead naturally into one another. I also prefer not having a head cold. You can’t always get what you want. These are the baseball things I’m thinking about tonight:
-The inflated value of draft picks under the new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) has pretty much taken away one of Scott Boras’s favorite paths to maximizing his clients’ earning potential, the one-year “pillow contract.” He got one for Stephen Drew, to whom no draft-pick compensation was attached, but there doesn’t seem to be a path to getting one for Michael Bourn or Rafael Soriano. That’s because, more than ever before, draft picks are important and irreplaceable assets.
They’re also long-term assets. For that reason, if a team gives one up, they want to be sure they’re getting a long-term asset in return. No one is going to sign a player who costs them a draft pick to a two-year deal, much less a single-season one. That’s why I’m coming around to the belief that some teams whom I had initially faulted for not issuing qualifying offers to their free agents (the Texas Rangers with Mike Napoli, the LA Angels with Torii Hunter, etc.) might have known what they were doing after all. Those players got good enough deals to make $13.3-million one-year offers look very reasonable, but if those offers had been made, would those deals still have been available to the players in question? I tend to think not. At a certain point, making that offer forces you and the player into a corner. No one will swallow the poisoned pill, you don’t get the draft pick, and you take the guy back late in the winter when you didn’t really want to do so. The new compensation system, in other words, is doing what it was designed to do well: making sure only the truly elite free agents on the market cost the signing team a draft pick.
-The Oakland Athletics traded Colin Cowgill to the New York Mets, but they still have to make a trade to clear an outfielder this winter, or so it seems to me. Even with Cowgill gone, they have Yoenis Cespedes, Seth Smith, Coco Crisp, Josh Reddick and Chris Young there, and Michael Choice and Grant Green in the wings. One of those guys can at least moonlight at DH, but the surplus is not healthy for a team lacking talent across the infield. Billy Beane needs to find the team that will pony up best for one of his outfielders, and flip that guy to that team. A few possibilities, not thought through to the end but a decent sampling:
-Crisp to the Atlanta Braves for Tyler Pastornicky, Evan Gattis and Cody Martin.
-Choice to the New York Yankees for Eduardo Nunez and Adam Warren
-Reddick to the Chicago White Sox for Carlos Sanchez and a pitcher of some limited value
-Moving on, I have been pondering the Cincinnati Reds’ starting rotation a lot lately, and it hasn’t been an especially encouraging exercise. I know everyone is excited at the prospect of Aroldis Chapman returning to the starting rotation; I am less so. I recall listening to an episode of The Baseball Show with Rany and Joe this summer (starring Rany Jazayerli and Joe Sheehan) during which they were pondering Aaron Crow of the Royals. Joe asked how long it had been since Crow had been a regular starter at any level. Rany responded that it had been a year and a half or more. Joe said: “He might be a reliever now.”
So I think (fear?) it is for Chapman. The modern model of relief apprenticeship doesn’t actually prepare or develop a pitcher for starting duty. Chapman has had at least one foot in the bullpen since mid-2010. It’s hard to see what the last two seasons (of preparing to start in the spring but always relieving, and having to use his third pitch only very, very sparingly) have done to make it feasible for Chapman to reemerge as a starter for Cincinnati. If Chapman does work out, he bumps Mike Leake to Triple-A. Leake might be John Lannan for the Reds next season, the guy you think should not be stashable, but who never exhausted his option years.
The thing is, though, one would still need to project Leake to make a dozen or so MLB starts. Last year, Cincinnati’s top five starters (Johnny Cueto, Mat Latos, Homer Bailey, Bronson Arroyo and Leake) made 161 of 162 starts. That’s not sustainable. You saw as much when Cueto left his NLDS Game 1 start early and didn’t return during the Series. Even if it turns out that the Reds have found the Fountain of Health, Arroyo is at the tail end of his career, and Chapman has all the questions and caveats listed above working against him. The Reds could still be as good or better than last year, with Shin-Soo Choo in town to shore up the leadoff spot and an even moderately healthier Joey Votto. If they fade back to the pack, though, it will be because their rotation is built somewhat less steadily and sturdily than it appears to have been.
-The Detroit Tigers are a whole lot better entering 2013 than they were in 2012. Adding Torii Hunter and getting Victor Martinez back help a lot; so does a full season of Anibal Sanchez. They need bullpen help, but not desperately. They call baseball’s weakest division home, and have some cushion if injury strikes thanks to Hunter, Avisail Garcia, Nick Castellanos, Drew Smyly and Ramon Santiago. I’ll be starting a strength ratings (because power rankings carries miserable connotations) page on the blog soon. Look for Detroit near the top.
-Last item is another piece of blog news: I’m also going to begin a glossary/Trueblood Baseball Dictionary page soon, which will allow me to spend less of your time on expository stuff like what EqA adjusts for. I think it’ll lighten my writing and make things easier to digest. Plenty of other, bigger and better sites have detailed glossaries and dictionaries, but generating my own will help me feel good leaving implicit certain tenets of my arguments going forward. They’ll be made explicit in the new page.Next post: Information Management in Baseball
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