30 December 2007

Cooperstown Calling? Notes on the Hall of Fame Hopefuls...

We'll find out in a few days how many, if any new players have been elected to the baseball Hall of Fame this year. For the record, I'm guessing that Goose Gossage finally gets in this year, but unfortunately Jim Rice probably will as well. I expect that Mark McGwire will get about 35% of the vote.

I've long been a proponent of Goose getting into Cooperstown, and not just because he was a Yankee. Why isn't Goose Gossage in the Hall of Fame if Rollie Fingers (and now Bruce Sutter) are? Goose had fewer saves than Rollie, but more than Sutter, and a much better W/L record than either of them. He pitched more innings, allowed hits less often than either of them, struck out batters more often, allowed homers less often, and had a slightly lower adjusted ERA than Fingers, though slightly higher than Sutter (relative to the league) for his career. Goose was on nine All-Star teams to Fingers' seven and Sutter's six. Both Goose and Rollie led their league in saves 3 times, while Sutter did it five times. Rollie and Goose also each finished among the top 10 in the MVP voting twice (Fingers won it, with the Cy Young, in 1981). Fingers was among the top ten in Cy Young voting four times to Goose's and Sutter's 5 times, though Sutter won it once. Rollie and Sutter did each win four Rolaids Relief awards to Goose's one, but this is a kind of contrived award anyway, based simply on statistics rather than value, and statistics that can be manipulated, no less. Heck, Dan Quisenberry won 5 of them in 6 years, it doesn't make him a Hall of Famer.

I think that there are probably two main reasons that Goose is not yet in the Hall. Rob Neyer has argued that in the time it took Rollie Fingers to retire and then to be elected to the HoF, the status of the Save, as a statistic, changed. Managers started using pitchers specifically for the purpose of getting saves, and pretty soon, Goose's 310 didn't look so impressive anymore. At this point, he's only 17th on the career Save list, with fewer than Roberto Hernandez, Troy Percival, or Joe Table, and barely more than Jeff Montgomery.

Rollie and Goose were approximately contemporaries, with mostly overlapping careers, though Fingers ('68-'85) started sooner and retired sooner than Gossage ('72-94), but if Goose had retired two years earlier, he would have had a 2.93 ERA instead of 3.01, and the memory of him as one of the premier stoppers would have been fresher in the voters' minds when voting time arrived. Instead, he stayed a little longer than some of the BBWAA might have liked, pitching into his 22nd season, and still effectively I might add, with an ERA below the league average when the strike hit in 1994. I guess these guys want their favorites to ride off into the sunset as soon as their skills begin to diminish a little, that if you can't be The Stopper you should just stop. It's ironic that the same men who don't elect people like Ron Guidry for not pitching long enough also punish people like Gossage and Bert Blyleven for pitching so long.

My feelings on Rice were outlined in a post a few years ago, and have not changed significantly:

#1 - Jim Rice. I understand that he was very good, but being young enough not to have my opinion tainted by seeing him play, I can go to Baseball-Reference.com, look objectively at his numbers and admit that they are very good, but only borderline for a Hall of Famer. But then I can also visit Retrosheet and see his home/road splits and realize that he was helped a LOT by Fenway Park throughout his career. He hit .320/.374/.546 at home but only .277/.330/.459 on the road. I think you can’t vote for him for the same reason you likely won’t vote for Andres Galarraga (a better fielder with similar career numbers) or Larry Walker (a better fielder with better numbers). Their parks helped them too much.

I would add in Rice's defense that he may be knocked a bit unfairly for all the double plays he grounded into over the course of his career, as it seems that this stat is unfairly influenced by the fact that he played for a lot of teams that had good hitters, which means that thee were a lot of opportunities for him to GIDP, because there was always someon on in front of him. Still, he was slow, which made him both a lousy fielder and a lousy baserunner, in addition to being more prone to GIDP than someone with a modicum of speed.

Rice does not have longevity to cite in his career, so his case for the Hall relies entirely upon the fact that he was "dominant" for a period of time. There's no question that this is true, of course, but he also played half his games in a hitter's haven, and he did the kinds of things that MVP voters otice, like hit homers and drive in runs. What he did not do were things that are almost asimportant but that nobody realized were such a big deal at the time, like take walks and avoid making outs. In fact, in the New Historical Baseball Abstract, Bill James argues that Roy White was actually a better player than Rice, when you adjust for the leagues and parks in which they played, and for the was in which they helped their teams win. Roy White, for crying out loud.

Tim Raines is the only player that's new to the Hof Ballot this year who actually deserves enshrinement, or for that matter, who's even close. His case is ot immediately obvious, because he was not a big RBI man, which the MVP and HoF voters tend to like, and didn't hit many homers for a left fielder. Still, though, he was probably the second best leadoff hitter in baseball history, though admittedly a distant second to Rickey Henderson.

Jayson Stark, in his online debate with Peter Gammons ovr at ESPN.com, argued that if you gave Raines creditfor all the time he missed due to collusion and to the players strikes in 1981 and 1994-95, he would have maybe had the 3,000 hits needed to be a shoe-in for Cooperstown, instead of only 2,605, but I'm not so sure. I projected Rock's performances out over the games he would likely have played in those years and I only found about 150 hits total, including about a dozen homers, in addition to 60 steals and 115 runs or so. In other words, not that much.

If you wanted to, you could even give him about 60 hits in 1980, when he only got a cup of coffee with the big league team, who for some reason thought it better to have Raines playing second base in Denver of the PCL, hitting .354 and stealing 77 bases in 108 games, than to have him in the majors, where their own secondbaseman (Rodney Scott) hit .224 with ZERO homers. Even considerng that he might have hit about .280 or .300 in about 200-250 or so at-bats, Raines only picks up another 50-60 hits, leaving him well below the 3,000 mark.

But forget that. We don't need to play Woulda/Coulda/Shoulda with Tim Raines. We can look at what he actually did, objectively, and see that he belongs in Cooperstown. He was among the league leaders in OBP 7 times, and was still putting up those kinds of numbers in limited playing time in his late 30's. He's 46th in career runs scored, and of the 45 players in front of him, 37 are already in the Hall, and Craig Biggio (#13), Rickey Henderson (#1), Barry Bonds (#3) and Rafael Palmiero (#29) either will be or would be if not for the steroid thing. The others are Pete Rose (#6), who's banned for life, and three 19th century players (George van Haltren, Bill Dahlen and Jimmy Ryan) who had long careers at a time when run scoring was cheap.

Jayson Stark points out:

...did you know Tim Raines reached base more times in his career than Tony Gwynn did -- and that they had nearly identical career on-base percentages? And did you know that every eligible player who reached base as many times as Raines did, and had as high an on-base percentage as he had, is in the Hall of Fame?

Well, technically, he's wrong about that. George Van Haltren scored 68 more runs and had the exact same OBP (.385) but is not in the Hall. Jimmy Ryan scored 71 more runs than Raines with an OBP that was only .011 lower, but is not in the Hall either. But that's beside the point, and I've already explained why. It should also be noted that Rusty Staub got on base more times than Tim Raines, and Gary Sheffield has already passed him on that list. Still, though, Jayson's point (I think) is that if Raines had gotten on base by hits more often and walked less often, he'd have ended up with gaudier looking numbers, without necessarily being any more valuable to his team. If Gwynn's in the Hall, then Rock should be, too.

Others previously on the ballot:

This is my opinion on Jack Morris, excerpts from something I wrote a few years ago:

Jack Morris. Sure he won more games than anyone else in the ‘80s, but that’s a confluence of circumstances more than anything, since he happened to come into his own just as the ‘70s were ending. Seaver, Palmer, Carlton, Sutton, Ryan, Niekro, Fernando, Guidry, Dave Stieb, and a bunch of other pitchers were as good as or better than Morris for most of the first half of his career and Clemens, Hersheiser, Cone, Gooden, Viola, Saberhagen, Dave Stewart, Mike Scott and others were comparable or better than Morris for most of the latter half of his career. No other pitchers of his quality or better happened to come up around the same time and last as long, but being the best of a weak era doesn’t make him one of the best of all time.

Morris was helped by his teams’ success tremendously. From 1979-1990, when he was the preeminent starter for the Tigers, the only team that won more games in those 12 seasons was the Yankees. And he followed that up by pitching his swan song years for three World Series winners and a would-be Wild Card team, the 1994 Indians. Put him on the Cubs for most of that career and you can summarize his candidacy for Cooperstown in two words: What candidacy?

Here are my recycled thoughts on Bert Blyleven:

Bert “Be Home” Blyleven. Besides having one of the best Bermanisms ever, this guy was a heck of a good pitcher. Blyleven’s ERA was better than the league and park-adjusted average in 16 of the 18 seasons in which h pitched enough to qualify for the ERA title. The man started pitching in the majors at 19, and was 37 years old before his adjusted ERA for a full season dropped more than 5% below the league average, and it had done that only once before. His adjusted career ERA (118) is better than that of Hall of Famers Robin Roberts, Gaylord Perry, Fergie Jenkins, Steve Carlton, Don Sutton, Phil Niekro, Early Wynn, and others, I’m sure.

Only twelve guys faced more batters in their careers, and they’re all in the Hall. Only four have ever struck out more of them, and they will all be in the Hall. In the 20th century, only Tommy John, who had the benefit of good teams and pitchers’ parks, has more wins and is not or will not likely be in the Hall, and he’s only got one more.

I just don’t see, based on what they did, not what their teams did around them, how Morris gets in while Blyleven doesn’t.

I do think that Bert Blyleven may actually get in this time, given the trend that his vote totals were taking prior to last year, when he lost a handful of cvotes thanks to the newly-arrived Gwynn and Cal Ripken. Some sportswriters have been coming over to his side, but he may not get enough back before his 15 years of eligibility are up.

Other new notable names:

Brady Anderson
Momentarily held the title of the only player ever to hit 50 homers in one season and steal 50 bases in another, until that greedy Bonds character came by and stole that record, too. Had a nice six-pack and those Luke Perry-sideburns, but not much to offer besides that.

Rod Beck
Speaking of six-packs...the late Rod Beck was a fun player to watch and emminently quotable (he once defended his lack of a workout regimen by saying that he'd never heard of anyone going on the DL with "pulled fat"). He might get a few more votes that you would expect because of his recent death, but he's got no shot.

Shawon Dunston
Speedy guy with a cannon arm and some pop in his bat, but he usually didn't hit for average and he absolutely never walked.

Chuck Finley was named to 5 All-Star teams but never won more than 18 games in a season, never placed higher than 7th in the AL Cy Young voting (and only got mentioned once) and never won a World Series, having left the Angels just before they won it all in 2002. When the most famous thing you ever did was marry the girl from the Whitesnake video, your resume is pretty thin.

Travis Fryman

Made 5 All-Star teams, and hit .300 or better twice, but only played 13 seasons, never scored 100 runs, and for a guy who played his whoe career in the power-mad 1990's, he never hit 40 doubles or 30 homers, which is a big knock against you when you play a power position like third base. Cool first name, though.

David Justice has a very similar resume to Fryman, ironically, though he had more power. He never did score 100 runs though, and only played 14 years, almost a third of them as a DH.

Chuck Knoblauch
It's hard to remember how good Chuck Knoblauch once was, because all we remember now is that he dropped way off when he went to the Yankees and that his defensive yips made everyone remember, and then forget, Steve Sax.

Robb Nen
I always wanted to spell his name "Rob Nenn". Seems like that woulda made more sense. He made three All-Star temas and finished 4th in the NL Cy Young voting once, but that was about it. 300 Save guy grow on trees these days.

Jose Rijo
Talk about Woulda/Coulda/Shoulda. Rijo had a world of talent, but just couldn't stay healthy. Give him credit for trying to make a comeback at 36, after 5 years away from the majors. But nobody's gonna vote for him. When he was eligible back in 2001, he got one vote. Probably from his mom.

Todd Stottlemyre Mel's son and the first guy I ever heard of who tried to come back form a rotator cuff injury with therapy instead of surgery. Didn't work, but you gotta give him credit for trying. Maybe he should have tried steroids...?

Notable/Controversial holdovers...

Harold Baines is a tough case. Well, I don't think so, but some fans might. The guy basically hung around forever, which gives him moderately impressive counting stats (2866 hits, 1628 RBIs, 3942 times on base, etc.) but his averages are weak. For his career, he hit .289 with a modest .356 OBP and a .465 Slugging percentage that is only decent for a power hitter. He hit .300 or better several times, but didn't walk that much and never hit 30 homers or scored even 90 runs in a season. His knees went bad early and he was basically a full-time DH by age 28, so he had no defensive value for more than half of his career. Sort of the Vinny Testaverde of the baseball world, without the color blindness and all those interceptions.

Andre Dawson was a BBWAA-type player if ever there was one. He hit for average, hit homers, stole bases and drove in runs, so they voted for him, ignoring the fact that he never walked, got caught stealing too often, and his knees prevented him from contributing much on defense. His 286 career Win Shares are fewer than Chili Davis, Dwight Evqns or Will Clark, and are only a handful more than Lou Whitaker or Jack Clark. Dave Parker is even lower, at 276 Win Shares, well below the standard set by contemporary sluggers Reggie Jackson and Mike Schmidt.

Tommy John
Good, but not great for a long time, like Baines. Played for a lot of good teams, which helps his win total just like the reverse hurt the totals of Blyleven. People have said that he should get into the Hall, at least in part, because they named a surgery after him, but in reality, if anything, Dr. Frank Jobe ought to get elected before Tommy John does. Having the surgery with his name on it is legacy enough, in my mind.

Dale Murphy was great for about 6 years, playing every game, averaging .289/.382/.530 with 36 homers, 105 RBIs, 110 Runs, 18 steals and 90 walks from 1982-87. But for the rest of his career he hit just .247/.317/.418 with 15 homers, 45 runs, 53 RBIs, 5 steals and an average of only 101 games played per season. And that was more than 1200 games, compared to the 967 he played during the 82-87 stretch. I just can't see voting for a guy who was great for a third of his career and pretty lousy for two thirds of it.

Mark McGwire has Hall of Fame numbers, but also a huge asterisk next to his accomplishments in the minds of many fans. I think he'll get in eventually, but not this year.

The Rest of the Rest...

Dave Concepcion is probably a little underrated, because so much of his value was wrapped up in defense, but is probably a little overrated for having played on all those great Reds teams in the 1970s, so I guess that evens out.

Don Mattingly
A world of talent, but too many back problems, and gets more credit (and more votes) than he deserves for having played in New York.

Lee Smith held the All-time career Saves record for a little while, but then so did Jeff Reardon, Johnny Murphy and Firpo Marberry. Smith wasn't really the best relief pitcher in baseball, probably ever, but he was one of the first and most successful at the one-inning save, and he pitched forever. None of that makes him a Hall of Famer.

Alan Trammell probably deserves more credit than he's gotten, having been overshadowed by Cal Ripken for most of his career, but that doesn't make him a Hall of Famer, either. A good to very good player for a long time? Sure, but only truly "great" that one year, in 1987. Not enough.

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20 December 2007

The December 20th All-Birthday Team

This is a post I wrote two years ago for this very occassion, fortunately before the All-baseball.com server bit the big one and took several months worth of my (and others') work down to computer Hades with it. I've edited it a bit to update it. Hope you enjoy it...

Baseball-Reference.com is a wonderful website. They've got stats for every major leaguer who's ever played, plus managers, and notable personalities from the Hall of Fame, like Negro Leaguers, Executives and even some umpires. They've got the pages for players, teams, franchises and leagues throughout history, even short-lived entities like the Players' League and the American Association. They've got an Oracle of Baseball, which will give you a Six-Degrees of Kevin Bacon type of connection between any two players in history, say, Kevin Barker and Count Sensenderfer, for example.

But one of the coolest things they have is the Birthday Page, wherein you can find every major league player in history who shares your birthday. This being my birthday, I thought I would share with you my All-Birthday Team. These are (in my estimation) the best seasons from players born on my birthday, December 20th, compiled into a team, so that I have sufficient innings and plate appearances to play a 162-game schedule.

Note: OPS+ and ERA+ are the league and park adjusted OPS (On-Base Plus Slugging) and ERA for that season, so you have an idea of what the numbers really mean in context. The .349 batting average Spud Davis put up in 1933, during the offense-crazed Depression Years, does not mean nearly as much as the .352 Cecil Cooper hit in 1980, a relatively down offensive time. Their adjusted OPS numbers (55% better than average compared to "only" 34% better) help to compensate for that. Anywho, this is what I came up with:

Starting Lineup PA Avg OBP SLG R HR RBI SB OPS+
C G. Hartnett (1930) 578 .339 .404 .630 84 37 122 0 144
1B C. Cooper (1980) 678 .352 .387 .539 96 25 122 17 155
2B J. Williams (1899) 689 .355 .417 .532 126 9 116 26 159
3B D. Wright (2007*) 711 .325 .416 .546 113 30 107 34 150
OF O. Gamble (1977) 470 .297 .386 .588 75 31 83 1 162
OF H. Stovey (1889) 634 .308 .393 .525 152 19 119 63 161
OF D. DeJesus (2007) 703 .260 .351 .372 101 7 58 10 89
DH A. Huff (2003) 706 .311 .367 .555 91 34 107 2 139

This is a pretty darn good team. Or at least a starting lineup.

*David Wright had an MVP-caliber season in 2007, so we've replaced his 2005 NL Rookie of the Year campaign with his most recent one. Sadly, David DeJesus has actually regressed a bit since 2005, but at least he played a full season, so we don't have to rely as much on our rather weak bench.

I'll probably hit 2B Jimmy Williams, not to be confused with Jimy (one-M) Williams, erstwhile manager of the Red Sox and Astros, as he has the highest OBP. Though it may seem like he didn't hit for power, those nine homers tied him for 3rd in the NL in 1899, Williams' rookie season. Harry Stovey will hit in the #2 spot, as he gets on base and has plenty of speed, with 63 steals, which were good for 10th in the American Association in 1889, tied with Hall of Famer Bid McPhee and Tommy "Foghorn" Tucker, but well behind league leader "Sliding" Billy Hamilton's 111 base swipes. Unfortunately Hamilton was born in February, so he can't help us. (Stovey also led the 1889 AA in Slugging %, Homers, Total Bases, Extra Base Hits, Runs, RBI and was among the league leaders in several other categories that year, one of the last for the American Association, which folded after 1891.

Cecil Cooper will bat third, keeping the precious little speed we've got together. Hall of Fame catcher Gabby Hartnett bats cleanup. No argument there, I trust. DH Aubrey Huff and 3B David Wright bat 5th and 6th, respectively, giving us a right-left-right stagger in the heart of the lineup. (This way the June 26th team can't bring in Mike Myers to shut us down in a big inning.)

Oscar Gamble and his Afro hit #7, even though he actually has the highest adjusted OPS on the team. Unfortunately he only got 470 plate appearances, and I don't want to have Jim Norris or Jack Manning batting cleanup 200 times, you know? David DeJesus hits 8th and whomever we get to play short will bat last. Alternatively, if we end up in the NL, Huff plays the outfield in place of DeJesus, who goes back to the bench. Speaking of which...

    Bench                PA   Avg   OBP   SLG    R   HR  RBI   SB  OPS+         
C B. Rickey (1906) 226 .284 .345 .393 22 3 24 4 135
IF P. Baumann (1915) 260 .292 .380 .388 30 2 28 9 130
IF A. Ojeda (2007*) 132 .274 .354 .354 16 1 12 1 80
OF J. Norris (1977) 517 .270 .360 .364 59 2 37 26 101
OF J. Manning (1876) 295 .264 .281 .330 52 2 25 0 101
Team Total 6395 .309 .376 .499 971 201 953 171 137

*Augie Ojeda had a "less worse" year in 2007 than he did in 2001, so we've updated his stat line. It's still pretty lousy, but not as lousy as before.

This isn't a terrible bench, as Manning and Norris both had reasonably productive seasons as outfielders, with Norris likely serving as a pinch runner for Hartnett or Huff if we need to eek out a late run. Paddy Baumann played a lot of 2b and 3B in his career as a backup, and hit pretty well in 1915, if not the rest of his life. Augie Ojeda, the only below-average hitter on the team, only makes it because he has exactly the same birthday as me. Branch Rickey will become the first Player/Manager/General Manager in history, making trades from the bench. And speaking of trades...

    Trade bait         PA    Avg   OBP   SLG   R  HR  RBI  SB  OPS+
C B. Henline (1922) 481 .316 .380 .479 57 14 64 2 112
C S. Davis (1933) 540 .349 .395 .473 51 9 65 2 134
IF F. Merkle (1911) 604 .283 .342 .431 80 12 84 49 113

December 20th is blessed with an abundance of catching talent, but no shortstops worth their weight in lead. Not only do we have Hartnett and Rickey, but Butch Henline and Spud Davis were both good or very good at some point in their careers, and there's always a team that needs catching. Maybe I can get the July 23rd Team to trade me Pee Wee Reese or Nomar Garciaparra for Spud Davis. Heck, they could have Henline straight-up for a 1924 vintage Hod Ford. At least I'd have something worth running out there every day. Somebody has to bat 9th, right?

The pitching was not quite as easy to fill out, and whomever we don't trade for shortstop help is going to have to net us a solid reliever or two.

       Rotation            W   L  Sv  ERA     IP     BB   SO  ERA+ 
SP G. Pipgras (1928) 24 13 3 3.38 300.7 103 139 111
SP J. DeLeon (1989) 16 12 0 3.05 244.7 80 201 119
SP J. Shields (2007*) 12 8 0 3.85 215.0 36 184 117
SP B. Laskey (1982) 13 12 0 3.14 189.3 43 88 115
SP J. Manning (1876) 18 5 5 2.14 197.3 32 24 105

*James Shields was, in 2007, not only the best pitcher on the Devil Rays (like being the tallest guy at a Midget Convention) but also one of the 15 or so best pitchers in the American League. Suddenly he's the #2 starter on this team, and things are looking up for the 12/20 squad.

Yes, that's the same Jack Manning who's also a backup outfielder, and I made a point to pick a season in which he was worthwhile as both a hitter and a pitcher.

       Bullpen             W   L  Sv  ERA     IP     BB   SO  ERA+
SP P. Moskau (1980) 9 7 2 4.01 152.7 41 94 89
RP M. Valdes (1997) 4 4 2 3.13 95.0 39 54 135
RP V. Colbert (1971) 7 6 2 3.97 142.7 71 74 97
SP/RP D. Pfister (1962) 4 14 1 4.54 196.3 106 123 92
Team Total 95 73 15 3.39 1518.7 515 797 108

In truth, most of these guys are swing men or long relievers. There isn't a single guy born on December 20th who's got more than a handful of saves in any season of his career. Maybe I can get the November 28th team to part with Dave Righetti, since they have Robb Nen, after all. With Wes Westrum and Heinie Peitz (poor kid...) on the team, they don't really need catching, but Fred Merkle could do a nice job at first base for them.

Well, enough with this exercise in silliness, but if you've got a birthday team that
can beat mine, or better yet, if you have a shortstop or a closer to offer, let me know.

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19 December 2007

Wild, Irresponsible Speculations on the Mitchell Report

Former Senator George Mitchell released his long-awaited report on the use of performance enhancing drugs in major league baseball a week ago, and it's been met by an odd combination of outrage, righteous indignation, and yawns.

On the one hand, Senator Mitchell's assignment was colossal, to sum up the problem of PEDs in MLB and recommend a course of action. On the other hand, he was given almost no power at all with which to accomplish this assignment, whech means that the only cooperation he got was from people who had nothing to lose: Ex-major leaguers, ex-minor leaguers, long-banished clubhouse attendants and trainers, who had been labeled pariahs in MLB anyway, and of course, people from the Commissioner's office. Which assigned this task, as you'll recall.

Not surprisingly, then, there were, well, not many surprises in the report. Sure, Andy Pettitte's name was a bit of a shock, but only the most naieve among us would have assumed that it was just the difference in his workout after Clemens joined the Yankees in 1999 that got him back on track. Slap hitters like Fernando Vina and Nook Logan seem like a bit of a surprise because they don't "fit the profile" of a steroid user, but then we learned from the Jason Grimsley situation that you don't have to actually be any good to be using.

Much of the report consists of re-hashing and detailing events about which we already know: The BALCO scandal, the US government hearings in 2005, drugs being found that seemingly belonged to Manny Alexander, Juan Gonzalez, Ricky Bones, Alex Cabrera, and others. These incidents were uses as springboards to try to conduct other interviews, though the people who would make the biggest splash, i.e. the star players themselves, made little or no effort to cooperate with Mitchell in his investigation. So they didn't. In fact, the players were practically advised by their Union NOT to talk to Mitchell or his associates. In addition, because the Players' Union has beaten the Commissioner's office into submission, even some of the names that Mitchell and company were given during the investigation could not be provided in this report.

The really interesting thing about the reports is not the names in it (there are 86 players named in it, despite their general lack of cooperation) but the names that are not. Jose Canseco said he was suprised to hear that Alex Rodriguez was not named, an accusation which A-Rod vehemently denied. Almost everybody was surprised to see that Sammy Sosa was not implicated. But there are other names, hidden names, if you will, that nobody had really discussed yet:

For example, on page 99 of the report, the arrest of Luis Perez, a former bullpen catcher for the Florida Marlins and Montreal Expos is detailed, including how he turned stool pidgeon on a number of his former customers. In his deposition,

According to [MLB security chief Kevin] Hallinan’s memo, Perez told baseball officials “...that virtually every player on the Marlins was ‘doing something’ ranging from steroids and greenies, to marijuana, etc. He also claimed that every pitcher in Montreal’s bullpen was on some form of steroid.”

This was in September of 2002. It doesn't take a genious to go to baseball-reference.com and figure out who these people were.

Here is the 2002 Marlins' roster, along with a few comments.

2002 Marlins

Vladimir Nunez
Vic Darensbourg
Toby Borland
Tim Raines
Ryan Dempster
Ramon Castro
Preston Wilson
Pablo Ozuna
Ozwaldo Mairena
Nate Teut
Nate Robertson
Mike Redmond
Mike Mordecai
Mike Lowell
Michael Tejera
Marty Malloy
Luis Castillo
Kevin Olsen
Kevin Millar
Justin Wayne
Julian Tavarez
Juan Encarnacion
Josh Beckett
Homer Bush
Hansel Izquierdo
Graeme Lloyd
Gary Knotts
Eric Owens
Derrek Lee
Cliff Floyd
Charles Johnson
Carl Pavano
Brian Banks
Braden Looper
Brad Penny
Blaine Neal
Armando Almanza
Andy Fox
Alex Gonzalez
Abraham Nunez
A.J. Burnett

Very few of these guys had some kind of significant spike in their production at an odd time in their careers, like Sosa did in 1998 or Bonds in 2000. But there are some potential connections here:

Tim Raines was diagnosed with Lupus in July 1999, a disease that is sometimes treated with steroids. Could he have been a link in the chain? it would not have been the firt time he was linked to drugs.

Mike Redmond is an interesting case. He joined the Marlins in 1998, as a 27-year old catcher, about the time that he should have been reaching his peak as a hitter. Despite a career minor league line of .260/.319/.332 and a reputation as a catch-and-throw guy, he hit well over .300 in limited playing time in 1998...and then did that five more times in the next eight seasons, plus a .294 mark last season with the Twins. He's 37 now and has continued to hit (most of the time). Not that a career slugging average of .368 is anything to write home about, but this comes from a guy who never hit better than .287 in a minor league season. Most guys don't get better when they face tougher competition, you know? I'm not saying he was/is using, just that it's worth thinking about.

A lot of these guys had sufferred or were suffering from injuries at that time. Cliff Floyd, Charles Johnson, Josh Beckett, A.J. Burnett, Brad Penny, Carl Pavano, Alex Gonzalez and others either missed time due to injuries in 2002 or very recently before that season. It's certainly possible that one or mor eo fthem, in order to combat their penchant for getting hurt, might have tried HGH or some steroid. But, you know, like Pettitte and Vina, they probably only did it once or twice. Right.

Remember "Roid Rage"? Well, how about this:

In 2006, 2002 Marlins' pitcher Julian Tavarez was suspended for 10 days for punching Tampa Bay's Joey Gathright during an on-field brawl. During Spring Training. That was the 5th of Tavarez' tumultuous career, most of which were for brawling or throwing at players.

The other groub that Perez ratted out was the Montreal Expos' bullpen:

2002 Expos Pitchers
Javier Vazquez
Tomokazu Ohka
Tony Armas
Masato Yoshii
Bartolo Colon
Scott Stewart
Matt Herges
Joey Eischen
T.J. Tucker
Britt Reames
Graeme Lloyd
Dan Smith
Jim Brower
Zach Day
Carl Pavano
Bruce Chen
Tim Drew
Sun-Woo Kim
Ed Vosberg
Scott Strickland

Note that both Graeme Lloyd and Carl Pavano appear on both lists, due to a mid-season trade (including Cliff Floyd and Wilton Guererro, who had previously been suspended for a different kind of cheating), for whatever that's worth.

Matt Herges is mentioned elsewhere in the report as having bought HGH from Kirk Radomski in 2005, but he was 32 years old in 2002 and was struggling a little after a very good 2001 season with the Dodgers.

There are some injury-prone guys here, too, but there are also a few who look like good suspects for PEDs, based on sudden changes in their performance levels.

Dan Smith was 25 at the time, but had been a pro since he was 17, had an unremarkable minor league career and had flopped in two attempts at the majors. But in 2002, he "got it together" and pitched well in AAA, getting called up to the majors, where he continued to pitch well. In 2003 he was awful again, and by 2005 he was out of baseball.

Joey Eischen was a journeyman LOOGY, the very picture of mediocrity, in 2002, with a 4.37 career ERA in the majors. In 2002, however, he went 6-1 with a 1.34 ERA at age 32, and managed to sustain his success for at least a few years, though he fell apart in 2006 and did not play last year.

Other non-pitchers on that team definitely fit the "body type" you'd think of with respect to steroids and/or HGH: Vladimir Guererro and Andres Galaragga at the very least, though there may be others. Just becaus ePerez didn't specifically mention people who weren't pitchers doesn't mean that we should be foolish and think that all the hitters must have been clean.

On a more general note, look at the numbers: The 2002 Ezpos finished the season 83-79, in 2nd place, but 19 games behind the Atlanta Braves. the Marlins were worse, winning only 79 games and finishing 4th, thanks to the hapless Mets. So if the members of two teams as blatantly mediocre as the 2002 Marlins and Expos were rife with PED users, why should we believe that the players on the good teams were innocent? How can we believe that?

We can't, of course. The 102-win Braves had Gary Sheffield, Matt Franco, Kevin Millwood, and Darren Holmes, all of whom get some blame in the Mitchell Report, not to mention likely candidates who have not yet been outed like Javy Lopez, Vinny Castilla, and Julio Franco.

No one is safe. No one is above suspicion.

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12 December 2007

Diminishing Returns: Miguel Tejada Traded to Astros for a Whole Lotta Nothin'

I guess a former MVP and four-time All-Star doesn't buy what it used to. Must be that Fed Rate Cut.

The Baltimore orioles have reportedly traded shortstop Miguel Tejada to the Houston Astros for five players, all of whom will be named later. By me. In this article.

I'd do it now, but unless you're an Astros' fan and/or one of their relatives, you've probably never heard of most of them.

Tejada was signed by Baltimore after his age 27 season, i.e. still in his prime, to a 6-year, $72 million contract. He is owed 413 million eac of the next two seasons, plus $2 million each in 2010 and 2011, part of his signing bonus, which will likely be paid by Baltimore. (Thanks, Cot.) In his first season, 2004, he set a Baltimore Orioles record with 150 RBI (the franchise record is 155, held by Ken Williams of the St. Louis Browns, since 1922). He finished 5th in the AL MVP Voting that season, well behind Vlad Guererro of the LAnahfornia Angels, mostly because the Orioles finished 3rd in the AL East, 78-84.

Miggy finished 15th and 20th in the MVP voting the next two years, and dropped off entirely in 2007, mostly because he missed a month with a broken wrist. That ended the 5th longest consecutive games played streak in MLB history, 1152 of them. No active player has as many as 700 consecutive games. Tejada's offensive production has dropped a bit, with an adjusted OPS of 131 in 2004, then 128, then 126, and only 109 in 2007.

He's still a productive hitter, and could likely hit .285 with 25 homers aand a .360 OBP if he got to play all year. Any drop off he'd experience from leaving Camden yards would likely be mitigated by the fact that the NL isn't quite as good as the AL these days, so his numbers won't likely suffer much. Assuming no long-term detrimental effects from the wrist injury, he should bounce back and put up two more solid seasons with the bat, albeit with some normal age-related decline.

But Tejada was atrocious with the glove this year, 15 fielding runs below average according to Baseball Prospectus, 13th in the 14-team AL in Fielding Win Shares among shortstops, according to the Hardball Times. Maybe some of that was the wrist, and he wasn't running as hard or diving as much for fear of re-injuring it, but in any case, it wasn't good.

The Orioles were thinking about moving Tejada to third base before he got hurt, and it's likely that Houston plans to do the same, despite Miggy's wish to stay at short. The Astros have Adam Everett, who can't hit worth a damn, but is the best defensive shorstop in the major leagues. Plus, the Astros don't have a thirdbaseman, unless you count Ty Wigginton, who would best be used as a DH. On a AAA team.

As for the swag from the trade: the Orioles get OF Luke Scott, RHPs Matt Albers and Dennis Sarfate, LHP Troy Patton, and minor league 3B Michael Costanzo.

Luke Scott: Scott hit .286/.363/.603 with 31 homers in a full season at AAA in 2005, then parlayed a .299/.400/.541 in 2006 into a promotion to the big leagues, where he was even better, hitting .336 with 10 homers in 65 games. He started out a little pull-happy in 2007 and his batting average suffered, but finished strong, hitting .296 after the All-Star Break after hitting just .226 in the first half. He won't be 30 until the end of June, and is only in his 3rd major league season, so he should be a solid and affordable outfielder for a few years, hitting .270ish with power and patience through his arbitration years. Not a superstar, by any means, but then Tejada's not going to be either.

Matt Albers: Albers has only brief stints in the majors, but at age 24, has been in the minor leagues for six years. His experience in AAA th elast two years is also brief, as he's been in the major league bullpen much of that time, but when he did pitch, in 13 starts he had a 3.81 ERA and 69 strikeouts in 78 innings, but also 32 walks. Before that, he dominated AA as a 23-year old in 2006, with a 2.17 ERA in 19 starts (116 innings), including 95 strikeouts and 47 walks. He was more dominant at the lower levels, but no longer strikes out a batter or more per inning, which means he can't allow all those walks without eventually paying for them. He also found it much harder to prevent homers in the majors, allowing 18 of them in 2007 in only 110 innings of work.

He's young still, but he's going to a hitter-friendly park in a better league, and he's probably going to have to do two of the following three things to have any success: cut the homer rate in half, cut the walks per game in half, or start striking out a batter per inning again. Even if he manages one of those, it would only get his ERA down to something like 4.75 or so.

Troy Patton: Patton has the most upside among the players acquired in the trade, if only because he's young and left-handed. He was listed as the Astros' 3rd best prospect by BAseball America last spring, but that was before his so-so 2007 campaign.

He thorws in the mid-90's (or at least he did when he was drafted) with good control (the best in the Astros' minor league organization, according to Baseball America), and is very young, having just turned 22 in September. He's only got two starts in the majors, and for that matter, only eight starts in AAA, so the Orioles will likely give him a chance to win a major league job this spring, but if not, there's no rush. It's not like he's the difference between them finishing 4th or beating out the Yanks and Sox for the AL East crown.

Patton's strikeout rate has been steadily decreasing since he's been a pro, from almost 11 per nine Innings Pitched in the Sally League in 2005, down to 9/9IP in High A in 2006, then a little over 7/9IP in AA, then down to just under 6/9IP in AA this year, and finally about 4.6/9IP in AAA before his major league call-up. So his star has dimmed a bit, and if he loses any more of that, he'll flop in the majors. You just can't come into the majors as a youngster with an average stirkeout rate and expect to succeed, not unless everything else goes perfectly, and it almost never does. He could still have a career, hopefullt as something more than a LOOGy, but I'd be concerned about an injury at this point, if I were the Astros' GM.

Dennis Safarte: A big righty (6'4", 210 lbs), Safarte was doing OK as a starter in the Brewers' system, with high walk rates, but also high strikeout rates and low hit-rates to counter them. The Brewers convverted him to relief last year, and then sold him to Houston, who used him in relief in seven games, wherein he basically blew everyone away, allowing only one run in 8.1 total innings, whiffing 14 and walking only (get this...) one. The Orioles apparently convinced themselves that Safarte had "turned a corner", or something like that, preferring to look at these two weeks of near perfect work and ignore the seven years worth of evidence suggesting that he's probably going to walk about two batters per inning in the majors, if they give him enough chances. He'll be 27 in April, and he's cheap, and the Orioles aren't going anywhere anytime soon, so he's worth a look, but don't expect the second coming of Tippy Martinez, much less Gregg Olson.

Michael Costanzo: Not to be confused with George from Seinfeld, Constanzo is a big boy (6'3", 215) with a big arm and a big swing. He had been part of the Brad Lidge trade and played for Philadelphia's AA team in Reading this year. A pitcher in college, he has the best-rated arm in the Astros farm system, but despite that, Costanzo is not thought to be a gread defensive player, having made 34 errors this year in 137 games at the Hot Corner. His 27 homers led Reading and were second best in the Eastern League, though his 157 whiffs led the league. He's got some patience, with 75 walks, but with such a penchant for striking out, it's unlikely he'll be able to hit much over .240 in the big leagues.

Lots of power, some patience, strong arm, lots of strikeouts...sound familiar?

Costanzo reminds me of Russell Branyan, except that when he was in AA, back in 1998, Branyan was even more patient, even more powerful AND a year younger. Branyan has bounced around to eight different major league teams, and hasn't even gotten 400 plate appearances in a season with one of them. Costanzo is likely going to be moved to the outfield (if he can demonstrate that he's got the range for it) or to first base or DH, assuming he ever gets to the majors. He's got a little time, but will be 24 next year, and if he doesn't cut down on the errors, the strikeouts or both, without losing the homers, he'll never make it. Also, he can't hit left-handed pitching at all.

In total, the Houston Astros got themselves an expensive, but productive, aging star, and they gave up five players of marginal quality. Scott should be a "useful regular" for a few years, and he looks like he might be the best of the bunch. Patton was once a top prospect, but the more he pitches, the less he looks like one. Albers is seeing his top prospect sheen come off a little too, after pitching badly as a starter in the majors and then even worse as a reliever. He's got a lot of work to do just to reach mediocrity. Sarfate is as likely to bean the mascot as he is to pitch 50 solid innings out of a major league bullpen next year. Costanzo looks like Russ Branyan-lite. Looks to me like the Orioles didn't get much for their marquee player.

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06 December 2007

Look Out for Those Tigers...

I think I can confidently speak for the rest of the American league when I say:


Did the Detroit Tigers really just pull that off? Did they really just trade for one of the best hitters in the major leagues, improving what was already one of the best offensive teams in the majors? Did they actually manage to get a 25-year old, potential star pitcher as a throw-in? Do they actually have two (TWO!) All-Star shortstops?

Well, technically one of those, Carlos Guillen, will be a firstbaseman next year, which is OK, because his 859 OPS in 2007 would have been second only to Carlos Pena in the American League, if he'd been a firstbaseman last year. He wasn't. he was an All-Star shortstop, but he'll fit in just fine. That, however, wasn't good enough, so back in October, Tigers' GM Dave Dombrowski traded for the Atlanta Braves' shortstop, Edgar Renteria, a 5-time All-Star himself (though not in 2007, despite hitting .332) to shore up the infield. Can't blame him for not wanting to put the likes of Sean Casey out there next year.

But Dombrowski wasn't satisfied to stand pat with that improvement, which was probably worth two or three wins alone.

In November, he traded a back-up infielder who can't hit his way out of a paper bag, Omar Infante, to the Cubs for Jacque Jones, who had an off year, but is likely to hit .275 with 20+ homers next year if he's healthy.

And then, this week, while everyone else was fretting about where Johan Santana would end up, and whether the Yankees or Red Sox would get him, how much they'd have to give up for him, how much money he would want, and whether or not he would veto the trade...the Detroit Tigers used the diversion to quietly work out one of the biggest off-season trades in history, getting Miguel Cabrera AND Dontrelle Willis for six prospects.

Granted, they gave up a lot, but they could afford to give up a lot. They took on a lot of salary with Jones and Renteria (and will pay out even more when Willis and Cabrera either come up for arbitration or get signed to long-term contracts), but again, they can afford it. In case you couldn't tell by the insane salaries being handed out to pedestrian players (and the ludicrous one going to good players) Major League Baseball is virtually swimming in money these days, and unlike some other teams (the Yankees shall remain nameless), the Tigers aren't crying poor.

There are rumors that they'll flip Willis to the Mets or somewhere else, but if it were me, I would hold onto him for the year. They only got him in this trade because he had an off year and his trade value was low, and they won't get as much as they should for him if they trade him away again. His 5.17 ERA last year was largely due to the bad luck he had in Florida, an unusually high .329 opponent batting average on balls-in-play in 2007 (8th highest in MLB among qualified pitchers, where the league average is about .290 or .300). If he reverts to the norm in 2008, he'll give them 35 starts and 220 or so innings with an ERA about 10% better than average, and will be a veritable bargain at the $9 million or so he'll get in arbitration. They'll get a lot more for him if they wait to trade him until next winter, when he's a 15-game winner, than if they trade him again now, as a 15-game loser.

In any case, the Tigers' farm system is all but bereft of any real talent now that they've given up all of these players to prime the pump for 2008. Briefly, the players they gave up were:

For Renteria: Jair Jurrjens and Gorkys Hernandez

RHP Jair Jurrjens went 7-5 with a 3.20 ERA and 94 strikeouts in 112 innings in AAA this year, then went 3-1 with a 4.70 ERA with Detroit last year. He's 6'1" and 160 lbs right now, so he needs to fill out a little, but he'll only be 22 in January, so there's time for that, and it may help him weather the strain of pitching and stay a little healthier, something that's been a problem for him. His strikeout rate in the minors was decent, his walk rate good and his homer rate excellent, so he could be a nice 3rd or 4th starter.

OF Gorkys Hernandez just turned 20 in September, and hit .293/.344/.391 in the Class A Midwest League this year. That's nothing special in and of itself, but the .293 average was 6th in the Midwest League, and he also stole a league-leading 54 bases (getting caught only 11 times). He's still young enough that he could develop more patience (only 36 walks in 481 at-bats) and as his frame fills out, he should gain some more power.

For Willis and Cabrera: Andrew Miller, Cameron Maybin, Burke Badenhop, Eulogio De La Cruz, Mike Rabelo, and Dallas Trahern.

OF Cameron Maybin was the youngest player in the American league this year, at just 20 years old, and got his first major league hit, and his first major league home run, off Roger Clemens in his second game. Unfortunately, he never got another homer, and indeed, only one more RBI, in the other 22 games he played, hitting a weak .143 overall. The Fish will likely play him in the majors next year anyway, as his .309/.396/.488 averages over 700 or so minor league at-bats suggest that he's close enough to being ready for the Show. Word of warning: he also struck out 206 times in 191 games in the minors, so there will be some growing pains on his way to becoming an All-Star, which probably won't be for three or four years at the earliest, if it ever happens at all. Regardless, he and Miller are the obvious jewels in this trade for Florida.

LHP Andrew Miller looks like he's going to be an awesome pitcher. But looks aren't everything. He's a 6'6" lefty who throws in the mid-90's, and he's only 22. He struck out 117 batters in 142 innings at four levels (High-A through the majors) this year, but he also walked 64 batters and gave up a homer every 8 innings at the major league level. Like Randy Johnson, he may take some time to harness his stuff and develop better control. Hopefully it won't take him until he's 26 to have a decent season, as Johnson did.

Mike Rabelo caught about 50 games in the majors this year, hitting a weak .256/.300/.357, which wasn't much different from the .263/.332/.346 he hit in his 6-year minor league career, spanning over 500 games. He'll be 28 in a month, and is probably as good as he'll ever get, which is to say, as good as a few dozen guys you can normally get off the waiver wire.

Eulogio De la Cruz will be 24 when the 2008 season starts, and he did well enough at two levels (AA and AAA) in 2007 to merit a long look in spring training next year, maybe even a bullpen job. He throws hard despite his size (5'11", 160 lbs), but doesn't have a lot of control or movement, and so he walks too many batters to make it as a starter in the majors (about 4/9 innings in the minors). He could be a short relief guy, but his manager will have to keep him on a short leash, given his control issues.

Burke Badenhop is a big righty (6'5", 220), a polished, college-experienced pitcher with good control (about 2 walks/9 innings in 67 minor league starts) and reportedly an excellent sinker. He'll be 25 when next season begins, but has pitched only 19 innings above Class-A ball at this point, so he'll likely have to prove himself in AA and AAA before being brought up to the majors. On the other hand, he is in the Florida system now, where they have tended to skip AAA entirely if the major league club had a hole to fill, so we could see him in the majors sooner rather than later. Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus thinks he could be a solid #4 or #5 starter in the majors very soon.

Dallas Trahern is a lanky righty (6'1", 190) who just turned 22 a few weeks ago. He has survived on finesse, producing a lot of ground balls with his sinker but not striking out many, even in the low minors. His career minor league strikeout rate is only 4.78/9IP, and his walk rate (2.74) is good, but not excellent. His 3.38 ERA in the minors is largely due to the fact that he's reluctant to give up homers (only 31 in 500 minor league innings) and he's pitched in places that tend to favor pitchers. He's young still, but not many guys learn to throw with another 5 mph in their 20's, so I doubt he'll ever make much of a dent in the majors. Too bad, too. He's got a great baseball name.

So anyway, there you have them, the eight players the Tigers have surrendered in order that they might achieve victory in 2008. It's likely that Magglio Ordonez and Placido Polanco will come back to earth next year, but it's also likely that Jacque Jones will bounce back, and that Curtis Granderson and even Miguel Cabrera should at least stay the same, if not improve next year, and the OF/1B/DH spots have plenty of depth, with Jones, Granderson, Guillen, Magglio, Gary Sheffield, Marcus Thames, and young Ryan Rayburn to rotate through five spots in the batting order.

The starting rotation, RHP Justin Verlander, RHP Jeremy Bonderman, LHP Dontrelle Willis, LHP Kenny Rogers and LHP Nate Robertson could be great, with star potential in three of them (Verlander, Bonderman and Willis) a solid innings-eater in Robertson, and a crafty old lefty in the Gambler.

The bullpen was not great last year overall, but it has a lot of young arms in it, which should only help them next year as they mature.

Even though the Tigers faltered late in the year and finished a seemingly-distant 8 games behind Cleveland in the AL Central, the real difference between the teams (by Baseball prospectus' Third-Order Wins) was virtually nil, and Detroit just added two great hitters and a potentially great pitcher, so the Tribe had better watch out. Not to mention the rest of the Junior Circuit.

Be afraid. Be very afraid.

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03 December 2007

Pettitte Returns to Yankees in 2008...but What About the Rest of the Rotation?

Andy Pettitte's agent, Randy Kendricks, has announced that Pettitte will pitch for the Yankees in 2008, rather than retiring. Yankees' GM Brian Cashman had previously said, when Pettitte declined his $16 million option for next year, that Andy had a standing offer for that amount, whenever he wanted to pick it up. pettitte had said that he would either pitch for the Yankees or retire, but had offerred few hints as to which direction he was leaning, if any.

Kendrick's announcement comes on the first day of the MLB Winter Meetings in Nashville, Tennessee, and as such, is probably no accident. Cashman and the Steinbrothers are trying to acquire themselves a bonafide ace in Johan Santana, the first they will have had since Roger Clemens won the Cy Young Award in 2001. (Pettitte himself won 21 in Pinstripes in 2004, but finished a distant 6th in the CYA voting, and had an ERA over 4.00 for the year.)

But the Yankees have said that they want the bidding to end, and with Pettitte on board, feel confident enough to draw a line in the sand, setting a deadline of today for any deal. They could still go after Oakland's Dan Haren if no deal for Santana is reached. they'd have to give up a similar package of prospects, but would not have to shell out a $150 million contract for him, and would not have to worry about him vetoing a trade. Santana, for his part, has said that he would veto any trade that happens during the 2008 season, which further increases the pressure on Minnesota to act now.

It's possible that the Yankees increased their offer to Pettitte in an effort to get him to commit, though Pettitte, a family man and attested devout Christian, wouldn't likely respond to such blatantly mercenary tactics. Well, maybe for an extra three million.

Pettitte, a slightly better than LAIM pitcher, is there to shore up the rotation, but is decidedly not an "ace". The rest of the rotation consists of Mike Mussina, a once great pitcher who's going to be 39 years old before the week is out and who likely doesn't have much left in the tank, Chien-Ming Wang, whose inability to strike anyone out makes him a risk to implode at any minute, and some combination of youngsters like Joba Chamberlain, Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy and/or Kei Igawa.

In some ways, this could actually help the negotiations with the Twins over Santana, as it takes a little of the pressure off New York to acquire the ace that everyone thinks they need so badly. Even without the trade, they've got Pettitte and Wang both slated to log 200+ innings (we hope) of average to above-average work in 2008, plus some combination of Hughes, Kennedy, Igawa, Moose, and Joba to fill in the other three slots. That's about 700 innings they need to get out of six pitchers, some of whom might be pretty good.

They could (and I think should, though almost certainly won't) turn Mike Mussina into a "Sunday Starter" like the White Sox did with Ted Lyons back in the 1930's. Mussina did much better late in the 2007 season with longer rest, and having an extra couple of days off in between starts might do him some good going forward, making him more effective when he does pitch and extending his career by a year or two. The extra rest might help him go seven innings or more when he does pitch, and most of the young guys in the rotation should be flexible enough to work around him. This of course, will never happen, for two main reasons:

1) It's different. Baseball people detest "different".
B) The Yankee Public would never swallow it. "Dat S.O.B. makes eleven million dollahs and he only pitches once a week!? #&%$@* BUM!!"

In any case, Pettitte's assured presence on the team next year means that Cashman and Co. don't have to sell the farm to buy one workhorse, even if he is the best bred horse this side of Sandy Koufax. I still think that they should give up Austin "Action" Jackson, Melky Cabrera and either Hughes or Kennedy to get him, but if not, they can certainly survive next year without him. It should be noted, though, that the yankees have supposedly told Minnesota that Jackson is off-limits as the third player in the deal, which means that the Twins will have to pick someone like Jeff Marquez, Kevin Wheelan, or Tyler Clippard. Maybe, since the Twins value speed so much and don't seem terribly interested in power, the Yankees can convince them that Brett Gardner would make a good third piece of the puzzle? Probably not.

The real problem is that the likely alternative would be for Boston to get him, in which case the Yankees are in trouble. Boston added their prized CF prospect Jacoby Ellsbury to the trade mix, but then took Jon Lester off the trading block, so things are still at a stalemate. Ellsbury made a splash by hitting .353 in his major league debut, impressive even if it was only 33 games. But Ellsbury's a year older than Melky Cabrera, and has even less power. Their minor league composites are pretty similar.

           AVG   OBP   SLG
Melky .294 .344 .422
Ellsbury .314 .390 .426

Melky started younger, and has a little (very little) more power. He homered once every 53 at-bats in the minors, compared to Ellsbury, who went yard about once every 102 at-bats. But Ellsbury walks more and has a lot more speed, which makes him the better prospect, despite his age and relative lack of experience. If Boston puts Lester back on the table, I doubt the Yankees will have a chance.

In any case, it will be nice to have Pettitte back. I've always liked him, and it would be a shame to see him go.

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26 November 2007

The Santana Question: To Trade or Not to Trade?

Johan Santana is the 800-lb. gorilla.

OK, so he's really like 6 feet tall and 195 lbs, when it comes to contract negotiations, he's King Kong. The man can essentially write his next contract, and his employer, whomever that may be, just has to sit there and take it. The Minnesota Twins would love to hold onto him for another year, not to mention the rest of his career. They'd love for him to be the centerpiece of a championship team, but of course, so would the other 29 teams. Realistically, the Twins are not in the habit of committing scores of millions of dollars to players, even to players as good as Santana.

While their owner, Carl Pohlad, could buy any and all of the free agents he wanted with all the billions of dollars he has, that's never been his style. He's content to let the team pay for whatever the team can afford to pay on its own merits, and that is not likely to change any time soon. And that is not likely to include a pitcher who makes $25 million per year for half a decade or more.

Which means that they've gotta trade him. The "Now or later?" question is fairly easy to answer: Now. The only reason to hold onto Santana for most or all of the 2008 season is if you think he's going to help them to the playoffs. There's no way they'll get more for him in trade next June or July than they will now, so that's not a motivation to keep him. But would a reasonable assessment of the 2008 Twins suggest a team that has a good chance to make the playoffs?

The Twins finished third in the AL Central in 2007, behind the Tigers and the Indians. Cleveland looks like a team that could be very good again next year, and there's little reason to think that the Tigers are suddenly going to go away. Minnesota's pitching was very good last year, with and ERA that ranked 4th in the league, and keeping Santana, they could be even better next year, as some of their young pitching matures. The hitting was atrocious last year, as they finished 12th in the 14-team American League in runs scored, but they're a good bet to improve at a few different positions, if only because some of the players they ran out there in 2007 (Nick Punto, Alexi Casilla, Luis Rodriguez, Rondell White) were so horrendous that there's basically nowhere to go but up. Still, even with a substantial improvement, the offense would probably only be mediocre, and they'll have a hard time beating out the Tigers and the Tribe, much less the Yankees or Red Sox or any other Wild Card contender.

So it's not likely that the Twins will be contenders next year, which means that they ought to just suck it up, take the PR hit they'll get by trading Santana away this winter, and build for 2009 and beyond.

This is good news for the Yankees, for while the other 29 teams would all love to have Johan Santana on their roster, only a handful of them can actually afford him, and the Yankees are at the top of that list. Even fewer of those actually have the type and number of prospects the Twins would require to pry Santana away from them, and the Yankees (along with the Red Sox) top that list as well.

Buster Olney says that Peter Gammons says that the Twins would like a package of RHP Phil Hughes, CF Melky Cabrera, and minor league CF Austin Jackson. Based on name recognition alone, that looks like a heck of a lot of talent to give up for one guy, especially if you're then going to have to give that guy 6 years and something like $150 million. But how much are they giving up, really?

Let's start with the best-known commodity first: Melky Cabrera. The Melk Man has been a Yankee Regular more or less for the last two seasons, and I would say that his production level has been adequate, at best. He's very young, and by the virtue of being a major league regular at age 21 alone, his future looks bright, but based on his skills, I'm not so sure. He actually regressed in 2007 instead of improving, losing a few points in batting average and a lot of walks, without gaining anything in either power or speed.

By most accounts and metrics, he is a good or very good defensive center fielder, but whether his bat will ever come around enough to justify an everyday job on a championship team is another question entirely. My suspicion is that he can make a career out of being "serviceable" in center field, with just enough of a bunch of different skills that he's useful, and no glaring weakness (like being error-prone or striking out too much or otherwise pissing off the management and/or fans) that would justify benching or trading him. As long as he's making something below the major league average salary, he's not killing the team, but once he hits arbitration and free agency, look out. There are not a lot of center fielders who can get away with hitting less than 10 homers a year, and the ones who can have skills that Melky does not, like prolific base stealing or high batting averages. At this point, in my mind, Melky could go either way. He's far from a sure thing.

Phil Hughes, on the other hand, seemed like the closest thing to a sure one the Yankees have had in a long time, at least he did until he came up to the majors this year and took a few lumps. The praise for Hughes as a minor leaguer came from far and wide, and though he did not come to the American League and start mowing down batters like Kerry Wood or Mark Fidrych, his chances f being an excellent major league starting pitcher are still as good as anyone's we've ever seen. Again, anything is possible, but he should still be very good. With that said, he my still need another year of seasoning in the majors before he really gets the hang of it up in the AL, and the Yankees are nothing if not impatient with their prospects.

Austin Jackson, a name with which you may not be familiar, was the centerfielder for their High-A Florida State League team, and he hit .345 in half a year. (The first half was spent at Class-A Charleston, and he was decent there, but not spectacular.) Jackson's batting average and slugging percentage (.566) would have led the FSL if he had enough at-bats to qualify, and he hit 10 homers and stole 13 bases in half a season. All-told, he stole 32 bases in 43 attempts at two levels, and had 53 hits for extra bases in 493 at-bats, all at the tender age of 20. Unfortunately he also struck out 107 times and while he will take an occasional walk, they are just that: occasional. Once every 12 plate appearances or so.

Jackson is a kid, and unlike Phil Hughes or Melky Cabrera, he's a kid that's likely at least two full years away from being a major leaguer, if he ever makes it at all. Right now the best evidence in his favor is a half a season of at bats in the Florida State league in which he blew the competition away, but the list of players who have done that may not be riddled with successful major leaguers. For all anyone knows, he may regress to hitting .260 when he gets promoted to AA Trenton next year, may never learn patience at the plate, or may not be able to handle the defense of center field as he progresses through the ranks. After that .345 and 10 homers in Tampa, his value may be as high as it will ever go, so even if he doesn't go to the Twins in a trade for Santana, the Yankees might be well served to send him elsewhere now, as they did with C.J. Henry.

A variation of the trade from George King of the NY Post (and this is a suggestion, really, not a rumor) has Ian Kennedy in the package instead of Jackson, and this to me seems a lot more costly. Kennedy blew through three levels of the minors last year and then impressed nearly everyone, especially opposing batters, in the three starts he made in the majors before getting shut down for the season with a strained muscle in his back. Long-term, though, he should be great.

So, in short, a trade of Melky, Austin Jackson and either Hughes or Kennedy would be, or should be, a no-brainer for the Yankees. Of course they should do it. One pretty good bet to be a good pitcher in one or two years, on centerfielder who's got some potential but will probably never be a star, and a 20-year old in A-ball with exactly half a season of really nice looking stats? Why wouldn't you make tat trade? The money's not an issue for the Yankees, and they desperately need an ace, especially if Andy Pettitte doesn't return. With Joba Chamberlain and whichever of the two (Hughes or Kennedy) doesn't go in the trade, they've still got a pretty affordable starting rotation in 2009 and beyond.

Which is exactly why that trade will never happen. It's just not enough for the Twins.

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20 November 2007

AL and NL MVP Voting Problems

National League MVP

Philadelphia shortstop Jimmy Rollins won. You know that. Here's something you may not know:

Rollins 162 716 139 212 38 20 30 94 49 85 41 6 .344 .531 .296
Ramirez 154 639 125 212 48 6 29 81 52 95 51 14 .386 .562 .332

Hanley Ramirez had a very similar season to Rollins. Very similar.

He had exactly the same number of hits, and almost exactly the same number of walks and homers, despite getting about 80 fewer at-bats. His batting average, slugging percentage, hits, runs, steals, doubles, total bases, at-bats and some other stats were all among the top 5 in the NL, many of them in the top 2 or 3. Rollins waa similar of course, but he hit for a lower average, lower slugging and lower OBP. he walked less often, stole less often, and hit fewer doubles, though he also struck out a little less, got caught a few less times and hit more triples. He hit one more homer, but needed the help of the best home run park in the majors to do it.

Meanwhile, Ramirez outperformed him in most ways, despite playing in a slight pitcher's park. Unfortunately, Ramirez plays for the Marlins, who had the worst pitching staff in the National League, which means they didn't win much, which means that the voters tended to overlook him when considering their ballot.

I'm not saying that Ramirez deserved the award or that Rollins didn't deserve the award. (Actually, I think Albert Pujols or David Wright deserved it more than either of them.) I'm just saying that Hanley Ramirez deserved to finish higher than 10th.

American league MVP Voting Issues

There's been some heat about the fact that two Detroit beat writers voted for Magglio Ordonez first instead of Alex Rodriguez, as I mentioned yesterday. I read a column over on AOL's sports pages that included a snippet of one of the two writers trying to defend his vote, which was laughable. Here's the quote, or some of it, anyway:

"I saw Magglio play every day. What I saw was a player having an MVP year. I have no quarrel with anyone who voted for A-Rod. He also had an MVP year. But with the injuries the Tigers had and the effort and performance I saw from Magglio, there's no question he had an MVP year."

- Jim Hawkins, Oakland Press, Pontiac, Michigan

I didn't think of this when I was harping on the issue yesterday, but the thing I find really funny about this "logic" is that according to Hawkins, seeing Magglio play everyday told him that he was the MVP. That's it. His subjective experience of seeing Magglio Ordonez play baseball was all he needed to decide to vote for him. But the award is a comparative one, an award given for relative value, not an absolute. That's why it's called the MOST Valuable Player, and not, say, the RVP (Really Valuable Player) or just VP (Vice President, which you'll hafta wrest from Dick Cheney's cold, dead hands.)

This, means, at its logical end, that statistics don't mean anything, or at best that the numbers don't mean as much as the subjective experience of watching him play. Of course, in order to do the necessary comparative work to really vote fairly, to really know who the MVP was, Hawkins would have had to see all of the players play, every day (or at least the ones in contention for the MVP award). After getting home from the Tigers' game each night, he should have watched a tape of the Yankee game, right? And probably the Angels' game and the Red Sox game. Maybe Cleveland. Nah. Heck with Cleveland, he would think.

But nobody does that. Nobody has the time. At least I don't. That's why we keep statistics: So you don't have to watch every game. We can argue about the relative merits of various statistics, to be sure, but Hawkins' argument just throws them out on their ear. By his logic, the NY writers who saw A-Rod everyday could justifiably believe that Alex was the MVP, right? To his credit, Hawkins does not debate this, saying, "He also had an MVP year" without realizing that the logic doesn't work there. Two players, technically, cannot both be the MOST valuable, unless they are both equally valuable, right? But Hawkins doesn't even go that far. He just says, basically, that you can vote for whomever the hell you want to vote for, and getting to watch him play everyday qualifies to you be the resident authority on that player's MVP-ness. So there.

By that logic, someone from the Kansas City Star-Telegram could justify voting for David DeJesus or even Tony Pena for the MVP! After all, he saw them play every day! Who would know better than him? Why should he need statistics? Why would he need to see anyone else's game footage? Based on Jim Hawkins' "logic" a vote for David DeJesus would be beyond reproach, as long as it was from someone who saw him play every day!

Man, I hate Post-Modernism.

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19 November 2007

Good News All Around: A-Rod the MVP, Red Sox Getting Lowell

Just a couple of quick notes on the AL MVP Award...

...no surprise that Alex Rodriguez won it. A little surprised that it wasn't unanimous, but then, I shouldn't be. As long as they can somehow justify it, home-town writers will almost always vote for their guy. The two writers from Michigan both listed Magglio Ordonez first, and while Magglio had a great year, A-Rod was better. How much better? About 9 runs worth, according to Baseball Prospectus' VORP metric. When defense is facotred in, A-Rod wins, hands-down: 11.0 WARP to 8.7, as Ordonez is not much of a defensive outfielder. Actually, if you look at all the candidates, Magglio ties with Ichiro with that 8.7, well behind Curtis Granderson (10.4) and Carlos Pena (9.9). Jorge Posada sat just below them at 8.2 WARP, but nobody else was within two wins or so of that.

Incidentally, Magglio Ordonez' player page on MLB.com says that,

"He, his wife Dagly and three children, Magglio Jr., Maggliana and Sophia..."

How big an ego do you have to have to name not one, but two children after yourself? And one of them a girl?! Poor kid. Well, not that poor.

On the other hand, the Red Sox re-signing of Mike Lowell, who until recently had been rumored to have been courted by the Yankees to play either first or third base, depending on whether or not A-Rod returned, might seem like bad news, but it's snot not. Mike Lowell was coming off the second best year of his entire career, and this at age 33, when most players are starting to slow down, or at best, plateau. Granted, he hit that pretty .324 in 2007, and high batting averages sure do look good in that little box at the bottom of the screen when a guy ocmes to the plate, but in reality, Lowell's 2007 wasn't much different from his 2002 season with Florida, when he was 30 years old, and he hit .276/.346/.471 with 24 homers and 92 RBI's.

Both the high batting average and the high RBI total were due to the fact that he played for the Red Sox in 2007. He hit 6th most of the time, though sometimes 4th or 5th, with David Ortiz (AL-leading .445 OBP) in front of him, not to mention Kevin Youkilis (.390), and Manny Ramirez (.388). As for the batting average, that's an easy one: He hit .276 on the road, but .373 at Fenway Park. That's probably on the short list of the most severe home-road splits (Non-Coors Division) in history!

Looking at it another way, how likely is Mike Lowell to continue to produce like that? Well, coming into this year, Baseball prospectus (who pretty good at predicting these kind of things) thought he would most likely hit .269/.328/.432 with 13 homers and 67 RBI in 489 plate appearances. That was his 50th percentile projection, which means the weighted average of the accomplishments of similar players at age 33.

His 90th percentile was .299/.361/.503 with 21 homers and 85 RBIs, but his actual numbers .324/.378/.501 were notably better than those (Though the homers and slugging matched the 90th percentile projections almost exactly). So let's call what he actually did the "95th" percentile. That seems fair. How likely is it that Mike Lowell, after out-performing 95% of the major league baseball players like him in history at age 33, can do the same at age 34? How likely is it that he'll even do better than the 50th percentile for two of the three years to which the Red Sox have signed him, at about $13 million per?

Not very, I'll tell you that.

So be glad, Yankee fans. When Mike Lowell is coming back to Earth next season, hitting .270 with modest power or worse, at least he'll be the Red Sox problem and not yours.

Your problem is to find a firstbaseman who doesn't hit like an old lady.

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Alex the MVP, Should Stand for Millions inVested Poorly

Well, maybe things are not going to be so bad for the Yankees after all.

It looks like Alex Rodriguez is going to re-sign with the team, despite his having abandoned the contract he had with them and the subsidy they had for him from the Texas Rangers, and despite the Yankees' insisting that they would not negotiate with him if he left. Not that anyone actually believed that, but still. Rodriguez and the Yankees got around the bad PR on that issue by having Alex approach the team through a different agent, in this case, a couple of guys the Yankees know from the investment firm Goldman-Sachs, who helped to broker the YES Network deals.

Does that strike you as odd? It did me. I don't usually think of investment bankers and baseball players in the same vein, but then, there aren't many baseball players who can get contracts that will guarantee them more than the Gross Domestic Products of about half a dozen small countries, are there? I suppose if you've got that much to invest, someone from Goldman-Sachs would love to talk to you, and if they can stake a claim, a "finder's fee" if you will, on the total value of that contract (and why shouldn't they?) then it's obviously worth their while. A finder's fee of 1/2 of a percent is still worth over a million dollars on that $275 million contract.

A fairly obvious, though as yet (I think) unstated observation from this development is that yet another of the long list of Scott Boras Lies has been proven false. Boras had said, among other things, that,

"Alex's decision was one based on not knowing what his closer, his catcher and one of his statured pitchers was going to do," Boras said. "He really didn't want to make any decisions until he knew what they were doing."

That quote came directly from an ESPN.com article, which got it from the newswire. Boras has not said that he was misquoted, and Alex has not denied this.

Trouble is, those three questions have not yet been answered. Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada and Andy Pettitte. Posada has re-signed with the Yankees (to an un-recommended 4-year, $52.4 million deal), but to date, Rivera and the Yankees are still working on a deal, and last week, when Rodriguez came back to the table, Rivera was still holding out for a fourth year. Pettitte opted out of his $16 million offer, and is still undecided as to whether or not he'll come back. If he needed to know about those three before making a decision, how can he be back already?

The one solid piece of information Alex does have now that he did not have when he opted out of the contract is that Joe Torre, his manager for the last four seasons, will not be back. If anything, you'd think that would push him away from New York, right? Torre was so good at taking the heat for Alex, trying to get the sportswriters to put things in perspective, maintaining that whatever ills he was suffering were temporary, even when he was knoblauching the ball all over the infield last season. If Torre's departure wasn't enough reason for him to leave, what would be? (NOTE: I'm sure, that in the public relations love-fest that will inevitably follow the signing of the new, record-setting contract, Rodriguez will tell us how much he loves Joe Girardi, and always has, even though he's never before said a single word about the man in public. You just wait.)

In any case, this much is clear: There were not many, if any, other teams out there willing to pony up the kind of dough that Boras and Rodriguez were seeking when they hit the free agent market. CNNMoney.com's Chris Isidore, who apparently just believes anything Soctt Boras tells him, was wrong about that. As was Boras, for that matter. These days, teams have more money than they know what to do with, but even so, nobody else is rich enough to be able to afford the mistake of spending almost $300 million on one player.

That's right: Mistake.

As good as Alex Rodriguez is, and he's very good, there is no way that the Yankees do not regret this contract before it's over, maybe even before it's half over. As I pointed out a few days ago, when Alex Rodriguez is 38 years old, the Yankees will still have 5 more years and something like $150 million worth of payments to make on this contract, since they tend to be back-loaded. Does anybody in his or her right mind think that any player's age 38-42 years could be worth $150 million?

Think of the greatest "old" hitters in modern history. The ones with similar skills to Alex Rodriguez (average, patience, power, maybe some speed in their younger days) include Ted Williams, Barry Bonds, Stan Musial, Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Carl Yastrzemski, Dave Winfield, Edgar Martinez...pick someone, almost anyone. Very few of them have many full, healthy seasons after age 37. Many of them were productive, at least some of the time, when they played, but they just didn't play enough to justify this kind of money. Among those I listed, only Winfield ever played 150 or more games in a season after his 38th birthday (he did it twice), though several of them are in the 140's. Granted, Barry Bonds did win two NL MVP Awards after turning 38, despite not playing more than 147 games in either season, because he was so damn good when he played. But of course, Bonds had a little "help", i.e. better living through chemistry as Dow used to say, and I don't think we want to count on that in Alex's case.

The reality is that the man is going to get hurt. He's going to have an off year or two or three some time during this ten-year contract. And insurance companies are smart enough not to insure that much money that far off in the future, especially not on a commodity as volatile as a 40-year old baseball player. Which means that when the other cleat drops for Alex Rodriguez, the Yankees will have to eat all of the $30+ million he'll be making that year.

Good thing they can afford it. Sort of.

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05 November 2007

Scott Boras & Alex Rodriguez: Making Sense of the Cents

There has been a lot of speculation as to why Alex Rodriguez decided to opt out of the remaining three years of his contract with the Yankees, and more specifically, why his agent, Scott Boras, chose to announce it when he did, i.e. during the last game of the World Series. Boras has said that he didn't mean to upstage the World Series, and he's "sorry", or whatever, but that's a load of crap, and we all know it. Scott Boras leaked that info (or had someone leak it) exactly when he wanted to, (and then crossed his fingers and prayed that the Red Sox would win that game) so that everyone would know that

A) they were serious about testing the market, and
2) Alex Rodriguez is the most important human being you have ever laid eyes on.

Screw the Red Sox. Screw the World Series. Screw Major League Baseball. Alex wants his money, and he wants it now. Don't believe that garbage about needing to know whether or not Mariano and Jorge and Joe Torre were returning. That was just a convenient excuse to do what they wanted to do in the first place: get ALex out there on the auction block, where he can go to the highest bidder.

Scott Boras never does anything wihtout a design on making more money for his players and ultimately, for himself. He's a master tactician, like Tony LaRussa without the surliness and with better hair. He works his butt off to get his players the best possible contracts, frequently to the dismay of the teams and towns that sign them. He spends hours preparing carefully worded statements and charts and graphs and tables full of specifically selected statistics and other data that will paint his players in the best possible light, even (and sometimes, especially) if that means completely obscuring their true worth.

There are more stories about Scott Boras getting ridiculously and inappropriately lucrative contracts for his baseball players than anyone in any sport you've ever heard of, and with good reason. Sure, he represents some great players, All-Stars, Cy Young and MVP award winners, etc., and has done well for them. Besides A-Rod, he represents or has represented Greg Maddux, Carlos Beltran, Barry Zito, Jason Varitek, Johnny Damon, Eric Gagne, Bernie Williams, Gary Sheffield, Andruw Jones, Kevin Brown and J.D. Drew, to name but a few.

Many of those are or were very good players, but many of them also have created quite a headache for their employers by performing well below expectations while costing their teams millions of dollars. Beltran, Drew and Zito were disappointments in their first year of free agency, though at least Beltran has since redeemed himself. Bernie's contract was an albatross for three of its seven years. After the first two years of his seven-year, record $105 million contract, Kevin Brown waffled between being a Cy Young contender and not pitching at all, doing a lot more of the latter than the former while with the Yankees. Gagne, Damon and Varitek all got hurt soon after signing big free agent contracts.

But two players, specifically, highlight Scott Boras' ability to make teams pay through the nose for sub-par talent: J.D. Drew and Darren Dreifort.

Darren Dreifort earned $55 million from the Dodgers between 2001 and 2005, and he pitched just over 200 innings in those five seasons, winning exactly nine games in the major leagues. He didn't pitch at all in 2002 or 2005. Almost any contract he signed would have been a waste of money, and of course you couldn't have predicted that he would fail so miserably and so completely, so soon. But you could have predicted that a 29 year old with a 39-45 career record and an ERA just over 4.00 (despite spending his whole career in Chavez Ravine), one who had never managed to pitch more than 192 innings in his six, mediocre seasons in the big leagues, would not suddenly be worth $11 million per year. And you'd have been right. For some reason, though Scott Boras managed to cloud the Dodgers' judgment just long enough to get them to sign that ludicrous contract. And for some reason, teams will still talk to him.

But Drew may be the even more remarkable case. Under Boras' guidance, he spurned the Phillies and went to the independent leagues, not because he disliked the Phillies (which, in my mind, is both understandable and a pretty good excuse for not wanting to play for them) but becaus ethe Phils refused to meet his signing bonus demands ($8 million, if I recall correctly). Drew then signed with St. Louis, the following season, for way less than the previous year's demands, and played six injury-plagued, generally disappointing years. He was traded to Atlanta, where he played a solid and mostly healthy season and parlayed that into a $55 million, 5-year contract with Los Angeles. Whereupon he resumed the getting-hurt-and-generally-disappointing-the-fans act. Amazingly, Boras talked him into opting out of that contract after two years, and an organization I generally consider much smarter than the Dodgers, namely Boston, signed him for five more years and $70 million! Oh, and he played worse, and less often. Will they ever learn?

In any case, Scott Boras knows what he's doing. If he can get $55 million for a waste of roster space like Darren Dreifort, imagine what he can do for someone who's actually good, like Alex Rodriguez!

The only reason for Alex Rodriguez to opt out of the (depending on your source) $72 to $90 million he was already guaranteed plus an additional $150 million or more of guaranteed money is that he thought he could get more. He (and more important, Boras) thought they could do better than $222M to $240M for eight to ten years. Heck, they thought they could do better than $252M for ten years, his previous contract. They thought they could get ten years and $350 million out of New York, and if not them, then someone, or they would not have done it. Simple as that. They wanted A-Rod to be the highest paid player both in average dollars per year and total contract dollars, and they wanted it by a substantial margin, so that there could be no mistake who the most valuable player (and the most valuable agent) in baseball are at any time for the next decade.

The Yankees, however, obviously used the promise of non-negotiation as a threat to keep him from going, because obviously they stood to lose a lot if he did. They had a nice, $21 million si\ubsidy from Texas that was forfeit when Rodriguez became a free agent. But Boras, too, stands to lose a lot if the Yankees won't talk to them, because they're the ones who can offer the richest contract, and even if they don't, they're the ones Boras can allege to be offering the richest contract as he negotiates with other teams. He loses a big leveraging tool if everone knows that New York isn't in the discussions.

But the Yankees stand to lose even more if A-Rod and his prodigious talent go to help some other theam to a championship. They'll negotiate with him if they think it's in their best interest, in spite of the chiding they'll take from the news media for going back on their promise to shun him. In the long run, both the Yankees and the A-Rod Camp recognize this and won't let the media backlash get in the way of baseball and the (millions of) bucks.

Of course, $30 to $35 million per season is preposterous, but then so was $25.2 million per year back in Y2Krazy, when A-rod signed with Texas. No there's no real evidence to show that Alex Rodriguez will help prop up your regional sports network, as Boras has been saying, but there is evidence that ALex actually earned his salary last year. Baseball Prospectus has a metric they call MORP, Money Over Replacement PLayer, a measure of how much more a player's worth compared to a freely available talent, based on average salaries, inflation and some other stuff I don't really understand. According to their 2007 formula, Alex was worth about $44 million last year, and of course he "only" made about $23 million, a third of which was paid for by the Rangers, so the Yankees really got a deal, according to BP, anyway.

But for Alex to "earn" his $30 to $35 million per year, he has to have an MVP-type season every year for the next decade. He needs to be worth at least nine Wins Above Replacement for each of the next ten seasons, and thats just not going to happen. Nobody's ever been able to produce like that for more than four or five seasons in a row, and there's no way Alex Rodriguez has found some fountain of youth that has eluded everyone else on the planet for the last 150 years.

Between the ages of 20 and 31, a span of 12 seasons, Rodriguez probably deserved the AL MVP Award eight times. He actually won it in 2003 and 2005, and will win it this year, but probably also should have gotten the award in 1996, 1998, 2001, 2002 and maybe 2000, though that one was a lot closer. He didn't win any of those other five, of course, because too many of the voters don't know what the hell they're doing, but in any case, most people would agree that he was one of the three to five best players in the AL in each of those years, without question. But does anyone with any sense think that he can do that again? Earning two out of every three MVP awards for the next ten years? Let's be realistic, people.

Will he be good? Sure. Great even, at least for a few years. But even if he maintains the kind of production to which we've become accustomed, a .300 batting average, 40+ homers, 120+ runs and RBIs, 20+ steals at high success rate, how long can he be expected to do it? Five years? Six? How long before age and injuries start to slow him down? At the end of the 2012 season, when he's only half way through the $350 million contract that Boras is demanding, Alex will be 38 years old. And more than half of that $350 million will still be owed to him, as these contracts are usually backloaded. Does anyone think that an infielder (probably a firstbaseman by then) in his late 30's and early 40's will actually be worth $35 million per year?

How much more does Boras expect the dollar to fall, anyway?

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