M’s 40-man moves, Winter Leagues, and a Fairly Large Trade
So today’s been interesting.
1: The M’s, like all clubs, protected four players from the looming Rule 5 draft by placing them on the 40-man roster. They’ve selected Logan Bawcom, Ji-Man Choi, James Jones and Stefen Romero, leaving two open spots on the 40-man. JY talked about all four, and the two guys most are talking about as potential Rule 5 losses, in his preview the other day. That means there are a few marginal high-minors big-tent “prospects” who won’t be protected – Brian Moran was in this situation last year, and he went unselected despite a remarkable, eye-popping year in 2012. He’s the same guy, pitching off an 85-86mph fastball and striking out tons of hitters, but he sprouted some platoon splits this year and yielded a few more home runs. The sheen is off somewhat, but he’s still a guy who’s pitched very effectively in the Pacific Coast League for nearly two seasons and could presumably help someone as a back-of-the-bullpen arm, but there’s not much projection. I’ll admit that I still hope Moran makes his MLB debut in an M’s uniform, just because there’s something cool about a fly-ball/strikeout lefty throwing 85 and somehow making it work. As JY mentioned, Moran’s got an odd delivery, but it’s not one that’s really conducive to the LOOGY role – it’s very over-the-top, which helps explain the lack of splits in 2012. Sounds nice and all, but it’s probably keeping him out of a big league role, as a drop in arm-angle and a slider would make him much more of a traditional, Lucas-Luetge-esque LOOGY. I think the obsession with defined roles for non-closers is often hard to jusify, but in this case, we’re asking a big league manager to give the ball to a mid-80s lefty and NOT play match-ups with him. Someone may, someday, but I don’t think it’s that surprising that no one’s bit yet. Here’s hoping he has a bounce-back year and gets a look with the M’s in the late summer.
The other “snub” was IF Ty Kelly, the former Orioles farmhand the M’s got for Eric Thames in a waiver deal last summer. Between the IL and PCL, Kelly racked up 100 walks despite minimal power (his career OBP> his career SLG%). He’s a good utility-man candidate, so could conceivably stick with someone, but without power, above-average defense or good speed (3 SBs for Tacoma, but 7 caught-stealing), it’s not clear how any team would use him at the big league level next year. That’s not to say he’s worthless – with Stefen Romero moving to the OF and with a raft of IF promotions the past few years, the M’s could use some IF depth in the high minors, and a bench guy with some patience probably sounds better than it ought to for the OBP-starved M’s.
Congratulations to Bawcom, Choi, Jones and Romero – I haven’t said as much about them, as Jay covered it already, but it’s a testament to some hard work by each player and by the M’s player development staff. Bawcom struggled a bit when he first came to the org (in the Brandon League deal), and wasn’t great in the Arizona Fall League. But a solid season for Tacoma and good stuff make him a good choice to protect. Choi’s defensive limitations and voluminous injury history don’t change the fact that he can hit. If he’s healthy, he could put up decent numbers for Tacoma. Stefen Romero is one of those great draft bargains that Tom McNamara comes up with from time to time – a 12th round pick after an injury-shortened career at Oregon State. He had an up and down AFL this year, but has some pop (a HR in Arizona registered as the hardest-hit ball of the circuit, according to Trackman data. The HR left Romero’s bat at 110mph); as I mentioned recently, his success against Michael Wacha (1-2, with two well-stroked line drives) looks much better in retrospect than it did at the time. He’s got a ways to go, but given his potential and the open slots, this move makes perfect sense.
2: Speaking of the Winter Leagues, it’s been something of a disappointing campaign for the M’s. Danny Hultzen’s injury meant that the M’s lacked a really high-ceiling guy, as Jesus Montero’s the guy with the best prospect resume actually playing, and that resume’s only worth looking at if you pretend his big league tenure never happened, something many M’s fans are actively trying to do. Carson Smith (another guy who looked great in both pitch FX and Trackman) is still a very good relief prospect despite so-so numbers (obligatory small sample warning) which just goes to show that Smith didn’t really have much to gain this fall. Of the guys who did, a few took a step forward – Dominic Leone hit 97mph fairly regularly, and showed solid control in his innings for Peoria. His very hard cutter at around 90mph looks like a good pitch, and though he made some mistakes, Arizona’s a place that punishes missed location a bit more severely than most. He had scouts talking throughout the year, and he backed it up on a bigger stage this fall. Chris Taylor had a brilliant first few weeks in Peoria, and while he faded a bit down the stretch, he showed that his presumed ceiling of a glove-first utility IF was too low. Splitting time at 2B/SS and with great speed, he could add value as a bench player, but could work his way to a starting role as well. On the other end of the spectrum, we find Patrick Kivlehan, the guy I said had the most to gain from his AFL experience as any player on Peoria’s roster. He slugged .213 in 61 AB with a K:BB ratio of 17:3. It…it could’ve gone better.
3: The Alex Rodriguez saga has been a thoroughly ugly affair, pitting two towering ego with limitless resources against each other in a battle to discredit the other. It’s easy to hope they both succeed and get back to watching the Seahawks, but the NY Times story on the case a few weeks ago was absolutely riveting. Today, A-Rod walked out of an arbitration hearing when a judge refused to compel Bud Selig to testify. MLB clearly won that particular battle, but as Wendy Thurm’s great recap for Fangraphs makes clear, the Arb hearing (despite being ‘binding’ and the final step in adjudicating discipline according to the CBA) won’t end the matter. Rodriguez will certainly appeal to the federal courts, and even if he loses both in Arbitration and the courts, this is shaping up as a very Pyrrhic victory for MLB.
The conduct outlined in the Times article, and repeated by Rodriguez’s attorneys is pretty shocking, and while MLB can constrain the Players’ Association’s response for now, it’s probably going to be an issue when the CBA’s renegotiated. As today’s hearing showed, the Commissioner’s office sometimes sits above the arbitrator, and the anti-trust exemption means it’s really tough for players to seek any sort of remedy outside of the CBA. None of this mattered before, and it’s amazing the lengths to which Selig’s willing to go to ensure it matters in the A-Rod case. It’s not like Congress ever seriously debates the anti-trust exemption, and no, Congress isn’t going to be moved by A-Rod’s pleas that he’s being railroaded, but we’ve got an absolute trainwreck of a case (buying evidence, witnesses switching sides, etc.) that show that, in this specific instance, the fruits of that exemption have been put to, well, questionable use. You don’t have to feel sorry for A-Rod, but this has gone about as poorly as it could’ve for both sides.
4: So, there was a trade today. Dave’s got a couple of posts on the deal at FG. The deal can certainly work out well for both teams; both are contenders, and both fixed a weakness for 2014 through this swap. It allows the Rangers to make a space for one of baseball’s biggest prospects in Jurickson Profar, while it may allow the tigers to extend Max Scherzer and replace Omar Infante. You can make a case that Detroit “wins” thanks to that flexibility, and I think it’s a great argument, but that doesn’t mean I’m looking forward to seeing Prince Fielder in Arlington next year.
Still, I find it incredible how quickly Fielder’s contract turned ugly. The statheads would say it was obviously too high from the day it was signed, and I’m patting myself on the back for that a bit, truth be told. But Fielder was young, he’s incredibly durable, and had a very good 2012 before slumping a bit in 2013. It was self-evidently not an anchor, and while the Tigers threw some money in, Prince Fielder had a market, even with a lot of money and a lot of years remaining. Still, I wonder if we’ll come to see the Fielder deal as some sort of peak in the value of pure power hitters on the open market. The Pujols deal may end up looking worse in time, and the Ryan Howard contract is still so bad it’s basically in a separate category, but throw in Mark Teixeira and you’re looking at a lot of dead money for 1Bs. As Dave’s mentioned, this is part of a trend where contracts have lengthened, showing that teams are holding the line on single-year salary and stretching their commitment over time instead. But while Fielder’s deal isn’t going to seriously impact Robinson Cano’s negotiations, I wonder if we may not see many deals like, say, Joey Votto’s extension for a while. We won’t really be able to see for a while, not until the very reasonable extensions for young players like Arizona’s Paul Goldshmidt run out, but the fact that the Reds will be paying Votto $25m in 2023 looks odd, and Votto’s a much better hitter than Fielder. Basically, will this lead to a re-valuation of good-not-historically-great ballplayers?
These things seem to go in cycles. The Mike Hampton contract haunted owners dreams, and thus frustrated agents of free agent pitchers, for years. The rising tide of revenue, extensions buying out some pre-arb years as well as free agencies, and the corresponding willingness of teams to “eat” some bad years on the back end of contracts changed all of that, and so long term deals for guys like Justin Verlander, Felix Hernandez raise fewer eyebrows. Hampton, Darren Dreifort and, to a lesser extent, Kevin Brown, seemed to be the poster children for the baseball truism that pitchers are simply far more risky investments. But as you survey the baseball landscape, it certainly seems less true than it once was. Barry Zito’s contract was silly, but it’s nothing compared to the Ryan Howard extension, and you can make a case that the Carl Crawford and Matt Kemp deals would be more damaging to a team (er, as long as that team isn’t the hyper-wealthy Dodgers). That’s kind of a separate issue from the very healthy and still youngish Prince Fielder, but I wonder to what extent teams would say that pitchers really are more risky for these 8-figure contracts. It’s possible I’m still scarred by Franklin Gutierrez’s collapse, and Chone Figgins…whatever the hell that was. Still, just as some of the received wisdom of sabermetric studies of the draft (HS pitchers are terrible, college 1Bs are awesome, college>>>>HS players) slowly became less and less predictive, I wonder if this (or 2010-2012) marks another inflection point, or if cable deals will make all of it irrelevant for a few more years.