Thursday, December 9, 2010

2010 Winter Meetings: Day Three Aftermath

After watching day three unfold at a snail's pace, the Red Sox delivered a minor shocker last night by announcing the signing of Carl Crawford for seven years at $142M. 

The timing and years of this deal are surprising. Many figured that Crawford wouldn't sign or be approached with a deal to his liking until after the meetings and with Jayson Werth signing a few days earlier for the same number years most figured Crawford would be a lock for eight to possibly ten years! 

With the Yankees locked in on acquiring Cliff Lee it seems as though Boston only had to compete with the Los Angeles Angels for Crawford's services and with the playing narrowed quite substantially, it makes sense that the Sox could acquire a player of this age and caliber and still ward off any further risk that could occur if this contract was extended to 2018 and beyond.


The Crawford signing was good news to the Lee camp since it made the Yankees blink as they've upped their offer to seven years for Cliff Lee.  It's probable that this deal could look like an anchor in a few seasons but on the bright side for us Yankee fans: signing Lee should allow us to keep Jesus Montero since our necessity to trade for a top-end starter seems to have gone down a bit. 

The status of Andy Pettite is still unknown and with the Sox adding another potent left-handed hitter to their mix makes the Yanks need Lee all the more.  Before the Crawford deal, the Yankees were standing firm on six years for Cliff Lee despite mentions of a "mystery" team contacted Lee's agent with a seven year offer.  During yesterday's proceedings, it was reported that GM Brian Cashman received a phone call from Pettite but no decision has been made about his return.  Even with Lee in the fold, Pettite would find room in the Yanks 2011 rotation but with a lot of money tied up to pitchers past '11 (assuming Lee signs), the Yankees will have to make some big decisions with what to do with their three pitching prospects (Dellin Betances, Manny Banuelos, and Andrew Brackman) since the the team is hoping that all three will be MLB ready by 2012.


Yesterday, some minor moves were made as the Mariners signed Jack Cust for one season.  The Royals grabbed Jeff Francoeur for a single season with a mutual option; both players figure to share platoon time with their respective teammates.

The Padres picked up a SS by trading for Jason Bartlett and sending over a few interesting relievers back to Tampa Bay in the process.  One of those relievers, Cesar Ramos did struggle a bit with command last season but he is effective in inducing groundballs and could be an upgrade over LOOGY incumbent Randy Choate


Later today, teams will partake in the annual Rule 5 draft; expect the occasional speedy outfielder along with the handful of left-handed bullpen arms to be coveted.  It will, however, be interesting to see if last season's analyst favorite, Aneury Rodriguez from the Rays, gets picked up.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

2010 Winter Meetings: Early Day Three notes

Judging by MLB Network's constant loop of yesterday's news, it's safe to assume that much hasn't occured since reports came out about a "mystery team" offering Cliff Lee seven years (I think I've watched the Kevin Towers interview four times now...)


Day Two Officialisms:

Ty Wigginton brings his shoddy glove and middling power to Colorado as their right-handed counterpart to Todd Helton at 1B for two years at $8M.  Looking over his 2010 stats, I'm a bit surprised that Wigginton logged in over 300 innings as a second baseman!  Obviously, he didn't do it well but I guess Brian Roberts injury last season put the O's into true desperation mode.

The Mets grabbed D.J. Carrasco for two years at a little over a million per.  I'm surprised the Dbacks didn't elect to try and bring DJ back since he was one of the few Dbacks not burned by the long ball.  He was eligible for arbitration this offseason and Dbacks GM, Kevin Towers, did admit to keeping Carrasco on their "radar screens" after he was released.  I'm guessing that the sudden rise in player salaries this winter may have put a wrench in their plans to re-sign him for a lower rate. 

Joel Sherman has reported via twitter that the Yankees have received the medical information on Russell Martin.  However, no deal has been reached but this should be interesting in terms of how the Yankees are looking towards assembling their team of catchers in 2011. The Red Sox are also interested in Martin's services as their catching situation may also get a bit crowded with Jarrod Saltalamacchia on the roster and the recent re-signing of Jason Varitek. The Mets have also shown considerable interest but that has cooled since they signed Ronny Paulino to one season.

The extent of Martin's late season hip injury will be examined.  If signed, Martin won't come at a bargain rate; the Dodgers did make an offer around $4+M with added incentives.  It's been reported that Martin wants at least $5.5M next season and if signed by the Yankees or Red Sox then decisions will have to be made regarding their catching depth since both Salty and the Yanks Francisco Cervelli project as the odd men out.

Trades talks are heating up for Zack Greinke, some sources are saying that Toronto is on his no-trade list but recent reports have come out that he would be willing to waive this clause to help KC get the best offer.  So far, their camp seems to be waiting on what Cliff Lee decides to do regarding the Rangers.


This morning it became official that Paul Konerko will stay with the White Sox when a deal engineered by Jerry Reinsdorf was reached at three years/$37M.  Watch as the Sox's current logjam at first basemen plays out next season, Dunn probably came to Chicago at least with an understanding that Konerko could return - both rated poor defensively last season and it will be interesting to see who gets the main share of DH-ing duty.

Based on how the market's been heading, I was surprised to see Carlos Pena settle for a one year deal at $10M.  Sure his production was down last season but in a market that gave Ty Wigginton two guaranteed years was this strategy worth it? Assuming he bounces back, he will have plenty of competition in the market next season as Prince Fielder and Albert Pujols (again, assuming he doesn't reach a longterm deal) as a 1B free agent and he will be 34 years old... yikes!

Again, it looks like those pesky Nationals are still running around with their parent's checkbook.  Recent reports have them courting Carl Pavano and looking into possibly trading for Zack Greinke or Matt Garza.  The former, I guess, seems reasonable.  Pavano won't break the bank since the going rate has been three years but looking at the Nationals interest in trading for either Garza or Greinke is confusing since it doesn't follow the logical path of a team still needing to build from within.  Many analysts agree that the Nationals should be serious contenders in the two or three seasons and a lot of that success will depend on how other prospects not named Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper develop.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

2010 Winter Meetings: Early Day Two Notes

The Nationals still seem intent on pursuing Cliff Lee and will need to overpay (again) to give this rumor any credence but it's very tough to see Lee going to a non-contender at this stage of his career.

It will be interesting to see how serious the Yankees become with news that Andy Pettite possibly retiring and with the Red Sox acquisition of Adrian Gonzalez.


The Prince Fielder trade rumors have seemingly fired up again; the latest has the Dodgers as being serious suitors for the big man and have initiated talks by offering RHP Jonathan Broxton and 1B James Loney along with a possible marginal prospect.

I did like the acquisition of Shaun Marcum to help stabilize their rotation next season for the cost of a top prospect seemingly blocked by a group of young and effective positional players.  For the Brewers to contend next season it's important that they add another pitcher in the backend who could be effective in eating up innings but if they trade Fielder then things could become tricky.  Last season, the Brewers saw a resurgance in players like Rickie Weeks and Corey Hart which was necessary in giving them a quality all-around offense.  It's become accepted that this will be Fielder's final season and with him not interested in signing a long-term deal until after the 2011 season, he becomes very diffiult to trade since he becomes nothing more than a one season rental.

I've always felt that the Brewers would be better served to keep Fielder as their cleanup hitter since no quality trade package could be expected.  If Fielder stays and the Brewers find a few suitable pitchers (so far, one has been acquired) then it would serve this team both competitively and financially to prepare themselves to go deep into next season's playoffs. If they flip Fielder for James Loney and Jonathan Broxton, obviously their offense should take a noticeable hit since having a powerful left-handed bat is vital since this team tends to lean a bit far to the right. 

Loney is a good linedrive hitter and is able to make consistent contact but his lack of power and average walk rate limits him.  At best he projects as a quality #2 or #6 hitter.

Broxton is coming off a disappointing season and the Dodgers do seem eager to unload him.  I think Broxton still has the stuff to close and would be a great addition on a number of teams but on the Brewers he would be more of a luxury than a necessity. Also, his status as a free agent after next season must be taken into account since he may not be too excited if expected to time share closing opportunites with John Axford

More notes on the way...

2010 Winter Meetings: Day One

Looking at a few transactions before the meetings officially began:

Red Sox traded RHP Casey Kelly, 1B Anthony Rizzo, OF Reymond Fuentes to the San Diego Padres for 1B Adrian Gonzalez.  The deal became finalized when Gonzalez agreed to an extension of seven years at $154M.  According to reports the contract is not set to kick in until the 2012 season.

Nationals signed Jayson Werth for seven years at $126M.  Obviously the Nationals were forced to overpay for Werth's services and the timing was also a shock since it

Cardinals sign 34 year old Lance Berkman for one season at $8M.  As it stands, Berkman will be patrolling LF and there will be questions as to how he will hold up defensively since he hasn't played the OF with any regularity since 2004.  I still think there may be more to this acquisition and it may not fully manifest itself until after the meetings have concluded.

The Yankees tie up two major responsibilities by signing both Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera

Other transactions that occurred as the meetings began:

RHP Aaron Harang and the Padres agreed to a one-year contract with a mutual option in 2012.  Looking at Harang's abilities he should find himself improving in the pitcher-friendly confines of Petco Park and at $4M next season, this could be a steal.

The Blue Jays traded RHP Shaun Marcum to the Brewers for 2B prospect Brett Lawrie. Looking at his Double-A stats, Lawrie has above average power for a middle infielder.  He will be set to start 2011 in the PCL and he could see his power numbers take another step forward but the Jays will be watching how other parts of his game develop including his plate discipline and defense.  On the Brewers side, Marcum should be a good addition to their rotation since pitching depth is a major necessity and his move to the NL Central should bump up his value considerably.  Marcum does have two more years left before he is eligible for free agency and will be heading for arbitration if a deal isn't reached for next season.

The Dbacks were active yesterday as they traded 3B Mark Reynolds to the Orioles for a couple of bullpen arms in Kam Mickolio and David Hernandez.  Both Mickolio and Hernandez pitch from the right side and are major upgrades to a team that had major bullpen issues in 2010.  In my SB Nation post, I did recommend Mickolio as a possible option the Dbacks should look into but I do feel the Dbacks did limit themselves in prematurely announcing their desire to trade Reynolds since I strongly feel the Dbacks sold low in this deal.  Obviously Reynolds has his issues with strikeouts but his age and reasonable contract combined with someone with above average power and adequate defense could make the O's the winner in this deal.  Last season Reynolds was crippled by a .193 batting average but his low BABIP does point to a probable bounce back up to his expected range around .250.

Later on the Dbacks announced they had come to an agreement with free agents Melvin Mora and J.J. Putz.  Mora will be 39 next season and looks like a minor stop-gap since the deal was for only one season at $2M. Mora doesn't have the power he once had but he will do his part to reduce the team's strikeouts but he was below average with the glove and I don't see any reason why this should reverse itself.  Putz is coming off his best season since 2007 and seems to be past the elbow issues that plauged him in '08 and '09.  The Dbacks signed him for two years at $10M with the intention that he will be the closer. 

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Looking at the offseason and the problems of covering the postseason.

Since I'm still debating a name change for this site, I will direct readers to Part One of a possible three piece series I'm writing at the AZ Snakepit which speculates on a variety of directions Kevin Towers may go as GM of the D-backs.

The first part explores the D-backs bullpen, I'm hoping to have Part Two (which will look at their starting pitching staff) up in the next few days.

Also, I've been asked by the Hardball Times to help out with their postseason coverage. This is an incredible honor and one that challenges me since I've never really done postseason analysis before. Obviously, as a baseball fan I've always been quick to throw out an opinion here and there about each short series but I've never been one to search out articles beyond the occasional recap.

It's strange I am starting to notice more analysis about each given series but most of it treads on the same few themes:

1. Pointing out what mistakes the broadcasters are making: this is such a point of contention and one that is very easy to (justifiably) pick apart (Dave Cameron did this very well, recently, with his defense of Ryan Howard.)

2. How each manager handles or mishandles the team's bullpen and positional platoons.

3. Looking at announcements made regarding the formation of a team's pitching staff and batting order.

4. Shuffling through the stats after the fact - what went wrong in a single player's 20-26 at bats or 4-16 innings from a single starting pitcher.

These are basic approaches but very easy to do in a quick mash-up of 1500 words or less.

Ultimately there is an art here and many writers much better than myself have achieved it or come very close to capturing something much deeper than four simple points I've listed. The one thing that I have trouble coming to terms with is the idea of trying to apply intelligent statistical analysis to a series where too many variables seem to exist.

Recently, Jay Jaffe did a good job of coming to terms with the Yankees recent loss to the Rangers as a microcosm of what was wrong with the Yankees despite their 95 win season. It's laughable to many to watch a team win 95 games and still point out their flaws and limitations - but it's possible. The same day my article was released on THT, Steve Treder published a very fun piece about the 10 great What If's regarding the World Series. It's a great read and really looks at the what could have been if one or two little things went right. It also does nothing to settle the argument about why the best teams never face each other in the World Series... but can that "argument" ever be solved?

I guess the best thing I can do is try to look at these games individually and later see what can be discovered collectively.  I will always be fascinated with how statistics measure how we objectively look at something - whether it be the span of an entire career or what we can expect in the future (be it the direction of a franchise or prospect) but that is different from looking at a span of 4 to 7 games.

I guess that's why I'll always remember one or two things about each series - whether it's Buckner's boot or Gibson's gimpy home run... I guess in a short series I have no choice but to have a short memory span.  Anyway, tonight I'm going to immerse myself in basketball and then I'm going to look at each game of this upcoming World Series and see if I can share something new and insightful.

Enjoy the series.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Arizona Diamondbacks: After the Deadline...

Looking over each trade the DBacks have made since Jerry DiPoto took over as interim GM, I must admit I have mixed emotions.  After the firing of GM Josh Byrnes and Derrick Hall's recent statement about reducing payroll had me predicting a major sell-off; however, the quality of their returns do leave me questioning this organization's long-term strategy. 

It's obvious DiPoto and Hall are looking to stockpile on a lot of young mid-range arms but a few of these trades do seem a bit desperate as many of the players listed below were traded with low returns.

Monday, June 7, 2010

MLB Draft Day 1: Preview with a Slight Mock

Last season I went great lengths to post (yet another) MLB Amatuer Mock Draft.  Looking over those picks I realized I failed to factor in team strategy in regards to the frequency of picks a certain team has in the early rounds to players being established as those able to sign for "slot money" (last season, C Tony Sanchez and RHP Mike Minor come to mind) to those willing to gamble on other options in hopes of a bigger bonus (LHP Tyler Matzek and RHP Jacob Turner, to name a few).

If one wants to correctly pick what each team will do, it's very important to know how each team approaches the amatuer draft: for example, a big market teams like the New York Mets, Los Angeles Dodgers and New York Yankees all differ in how they select amateur talent.  On one side, the Mets are notorious for placing a small emphasis on the yearly draft while the Yankees have directed a higher share of their revenue in targeting more of the higher profile and expensive talent.

It's also important to understand that smaller market teams like the Pittsburgh Pirates, Oakland Athletics, Colorado Rockies and Texas Rangers view the draft as an important step in their team-building process as a larger percentage of their revenue is placed on the draft.

Some teams like the Dodgers and White Sox can be easily predicted; the Dodgers tend to grab up high upside high school talent (usually pitchers) while the White Sox tend to lean towards the more polished and conservative college route.  While other teams with new management like the Blue Jays and Padres can only lead to speculation.  Below, I will attempt to quickly summarize each team in the first few rounds and offer their expected strategy along with the player or players I feel are the best fit.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

The Ballad of Kyle Blanks

At the start of this season any fantasy baseball analyst worth their salt declared that Kyle Blanks should safely hit between 20-30 HR's in 2010. Raw power along with being named the starting left fielder during spring training did help; yet, despite these generous predictions, Blanks was able to stay under the radar in most mixed leagues as other young players like Jason Heyward, Austin Jackson, Colby Rasmus, and Travis Snider recieved more attention.

Last season, Blanks displayed a reasonable triple slash of .250/.355/.514 in 172 plate appearances.  As you can see by those final two stats, Blanks displayed good plate judgement (in correlation to his batting average) along with above-average power.  However, a major problem with his '09 stats were his high K rate of 37.2%.  Throughout his minor league career, Blanks was seen as an Adam Dunn style player (hopefully with better fielding skills) and his growing walk rate showed promise and would work to curtail his high strikeout totals.

During those few '09 at bats, luck did play a part in regards to his very high HR/FB rate of 21.3% along with a high BABIP of .325 despite only hitting with a linedrive rate of 12%.  Of course, small samples sizes must be damned when establishing order in the baseball world but I was able to successfully target Agent Blanks by landing him during the later rounds on both of my mixed-league fantasy teams.

Unfortunately, Mr. Blanks no longer takes up roster space on either of my teams after scoring a triple slash of .180/.311/.375 in 106 plate appearances as of May 11, 2010.  A major problem during these appearances are the 41 strikeouts which comes in at an alarming 46.1%.

Blanks began the season hitting cleanup but has been dropped down in the order to seventh.  So far, the Padres are fielding a competitive team and are lone occupiers of first place but how much longer is the team expected to utilize Blanks' high K rate and his, overall, lack of power?  I say overall because according to Isolated Power score, Blanks is hitting a reasonable .191 and among his 16 hits - 10 have gone for extra bases. 

Yet the sad ballad goes on...

Monday, May 10, 2010

Explain me this...

I may be a bit late to "The Show" but I must say after two months of aggressive advertising and non-stop rotation on the MLB Network.  I, being one of the many faithful doctors here at team transparency, decided to call out once and for all what exactly the advertisers for PS3 MLB The Show 10 are saying?

Case in point:

Why does Kevin Butler keep up this ridiculous charade of not knowing who Joe Mauer is? And to whose benefit does this even... benefit? I understand last year's schitck of 09's coverboy Dustin Pedroia being a bit insulted at his avatar's limitation and Butler acting bewildered when called upon but here the joke seems to be a bit forced and flat.

Also, why does Mr. Mauer possess compromising photos of PS3 executive Kevin Butler anyway??? Did they party in ways that would embarrass most men?  What others photos does Mr. Mauer have and does he intend to further blackmail this executive?  Do they suggest that Mr. Butler is hiding something and the relationship he has with the current AL MVP may be a bit more salacious??

Anyway, it could be funny but ,hopefully, some new and better comedic routine is thought of next season.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

A Brief and Transparent Look at American Hooliganism (a crime of sports fit for both the young and old!)

After all the viral buzzing (Ha! pun partially intended) of yesterday's incident in Philadelphia, the question was posed to us readers: has this ever happened before?

To back up a bit, the incident involved a 17 year old alleged Phillie fan, Steve Consalvi, who seemingly called his father for permission to trespass onto Citizen's Bank Park outfield during the 8th inning of yesterday's game.  After receiving an ambivalent answer from the old man (in the father's defense, he did later call a friend of his also at the game to try to talk some sense to the boy), Steve jumped onto the field and gave chase to stadium officials only to be tasered to the ground.

If anyone cares, the boy did recover and was medically cleared before being charged with criminal trespass but this incident has brought up the legality and potential safety issues of dealing with unruly fans (as well as a few boo's judging by the fan's reaction to this tasering).

Officially, no one has ever been tasered or shot at on the field of a professional baseball game and this includes the scary 2002 incident in Chicago where a father and his 15 year old son decided to attack a Kansas City Royals first base coach with a switchblade.  Drugs and various latent domestic issues were later to blame (although the son, now 23, still counts it as a crowning achievement). 

And even this incident of gross-out proportions earlier this season at a Phillies game could have been argued that tasering the said belligerent WASN'T ENOUGH!

However, in the stands and in parking lots, tasering the unruly has become quite common judging by this list.  But allow me, for a moment, to settle my transparent gaze on an incident involving a fan at an Oakland A's game last August.  During the seventh inning in a game between the Oakland A's and Texas Rangers, stadium officials were alerted to the actions of a drunken fan being profane and beligerent.  The fan was identified as 62 year old Thomas Bruso, and based on the video of the incident, one could draw up many conclusions on whether the use of tasering was valid or not.  Although it is interesting to watch the reactions of the fans becoming unsettled and angry with the police; conjuring up the age-old mantra that violence begets violence. 

*** in a related (or un-related) note, the same Thomas Bruso who was tasered at the Oakland A's game was also involved in a racially charged fight on a public bus earlier this year which was, again, captured on video-phone.  Apparently, this loon is a semi-celebrity in the bay area and his "explanation" of why he fought does seem to purge any shred of credence he previously may have had.

Enjoy, or not.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Opening Day: 2010 MLB Predictions (*including author remarks)

Since predicting the divisional outcomes and winners of MVP's and Cy Young's have become standard among most baseball sites, I've decided to take a stab and offer my own forecasting.

I'll begin with the American League and then follow up with the National League after the jump...

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Three Non-Rookie Pitchers Poised for a Breakout in 2010

Looking at last season's rise of Adam WainwrightMatt Garza and Ubaldo Jimenez as legitimate top of the rotation starters I decided to look for some common traits these pitchers had and see if I could spot some of next season's possible breakout candidates.

Some could argue that Adam Wainwright's breakout came in '08 after posting an 11-3 record in only 20 starts (his 2008 was cut short by a sprained middle finger on his pitching hand) but significant strides made in his K/9 (going up from 6.2 to 8.2 in one season) along with the consistent command of his above average curveball induced more opposing batters to hit groundballs (rose from 45.9% to a career high 50.7% from '08 to '09) as well as an increase in swings outside the strikezone.  Matt Garza was another beneficiary of what can happen when your K/9 goes up almost two clicks (from 6.9 in '08 to 8.5 last season) thereby solidifing his status as a valuable part of Tampa Bay's rotation.  Ubaldo Jimenez always had a promising fastball but his high BB rates kept him from being a legitimate MLB option.  Wisely, the Rockies knew Jimenez had the arsenal to be a starting pitcher (they could have easily took his 4 seam fastball that can touch 100 mph and threw him in the bullpen hoping he could be an immediate closer).  Last season, Jimenez put it all together and the advancements made to his slider and changeup helped to increase his K/9 (from 7.79 to 8.17) and, most importantly, decreased his BB rate (from 4.67 in '08 to 3.5 last season).

Of course other pitchers made considerable leaps from their 2008 to '09 seasons (Zach Grienke, Jon LesterJosh Johnson and Edwin Jackson come to mind).  However, most of these leaps were expected given the status of each of these pitchers going into last season. Below, I have posted three players I expect to breakout after showing some promising traits last season.

Monday, March 22, 2010

WAR and the Joe Mauer Extension

Yesterday Joe Mauer signed an 8 year extension worth $184 million dollars.  By all acounts with Target Field set to open early next month this was a deal Minnesota had to get done if they wanted to be perceived as dedicated to their fanbase.  Breaking down this contract, Mauer will be paid $23 million dollars annually from 2011 till 2018 and will receive full no-trade protection through the duration of this deal.

Now the question is: Will Joe Mauer be worth it? 

This is the fourth largest contract in the history of baseball and one that could financially strap a small to medium market team like Minnesota if this deal goes sour.  Looking over the past four seasons we can break down Mauer's value in terms of wins he generated over that of an average replacement player.  The stat I'm using is called Wins Above Replacement or WAR for short and it seems to be a favorite among the statistically inclined.  Over a year ago, Dave Cameron at FanGraphs wrote a series of articles explaining how this stat is measured and how it can improve in the future and it's highly suggested that you read it to get a detailed explanation.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Remaining Free Agents

Reading Tim Dierkes post yesterday about MLB transactions at this time last year; I decided to examine a few of the remaining free agents and speculate on where they may end up.  Although I don't expect much action to occur from now till Opening Day, but as more pitchers experience soreness and other injuries and platoon possibilities seem likely, it's expected a few teams may be in need of their service.

Hank Blalock: He is listed at 1B but DH may become his true position.  Last season he posted .234/.277/.459 in 462 AB's (which were the most he has seen since the 2006 season).  Besides hitting 25 HR's, Blalock saw career lows in his BB% (5.3) and a major increase in his K% (23.4).  Below I have listed a few other reasons as to why he is still available as well as a few likely scenarios for Blalock as the preseason develops.

Monday, March 1, 2010

2010 Team Analysis: Baltimore Orioles

Baltimore Orioles:

2009 Record: 64-98

General Manager: Andy MacPhail

Manager: Dave Trembley

Organizational Philosophy: in summer of 2007 the Orioles finally said enough is enough and hired a bonafide baseball mind in Andy MacPhail.  Growing up in Baltimore I'm sure it's been a lifelong dream for MacPhail to run the O's and with his the glowing resume yet unassuming demeanor, I'm not surprised that he has quietly and swiftly put this team on the right track.

Early in 2008, MacPhail made a key move by trading popular starter Erik Bedard to Mariners for a slew of key prospects (of which included Adam Jones, George Sherrill and Chris Tillman).  During the '08 season Sherill was featured as the Baltimore closer and, despite his lousy control, was flipped in 2009 to the Dodgers for promising 3B prospect Josh Bell.  Since MacPhail was hired the Orioles have been commited to unloading any valuable palyers that do not fit into their longterm plans and drafting and stocking up on young talent.  In 2010, they may have the best young outfield in all of baseball with Nolan Reimold, Adam Jones and Nick Markasis; however, their division does pose a huge struggle but they could very well soon be adding their name to the list of why the AL East is so dominant.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

2010 Team Analysis: Toronto Blue Jays

Toronto Blue Jays:

2009 Record: 75-87

General Manager: Alex Anthopoulos

Manager: Cito Gaston

Organizational Philosophy: after spending the majority of the last decade spinning their wheels with a below average return on their draft picks and overpriced free agent acquisitions.  The Blue Jays decided to look in-house and reassemble and increase the size and scope of their once-beleagured scouting department.

The former GM J.P. Ricciardi was greeted with good news by sabermetricians when he was first hired in 2001 and took many of the lessons he learned under Oakland A's GM Billy Beane by valuing defense and on-base percentage as a metric for uncovering hidden MLB talent.  Another procedure he learned that eventually backfired was being overally conservative and prefering low-risk college players over raw high school talent come draft day.  This strategy became famous in the Michael Lewis book "Moneyball" and concerning a low-revenue team like the A's; this strategy was best, but Ricciardi had more money to operate and patch up holes via free agency so taking more chances and looking to fill his minor league system with a few high-upside prospects wouldn't have hurt. 

To me, Ricciardi was stuck in the past and when he tried to play the free agent market and lock up a few players long-term, three names come to mind: B.J. Ryan, Vernon Wells and Alex Rios.  Of these three: one is on the verge of retirement, one has been miraculously picked up by another team and the other one continues to bog down the payroll and makes any longterm financial manuverings difficult.  New GM Alex Anthopoulos has been with Ricciardi since 2006 but vows to change the direction of this organization.  He has put a strong emphasis on scouting and player development and has unloaded franchise player Roy Halladay with a percieved degree of success (however, the final analysis depends on how Kyle Drabek, Brett Wallace and Travis d'Arnaud develop).

Thursday, February 25, 2010

2010 Team Analysis: Tampa Bay Rays

Tampa Bay Rays:

2009 Record: 84-78

General Manager: Andrew Friedman

Manager: Joe Maddon

Organizational Philosophy: pity the poor Rays! Here is a franchise doing everything right; they draft well, they scout well, they can crunch numbers and stats with the best of them and they have taken this formula and found success through their miraculous World Series run in 2008.  Last offseason, most analysts figured the Rays had the talent and capability to dominate not only the AL East but all of baseball until 2014. However, youth, regression along with a lack of overabundant finances have conspired with one another and have seemingly transformed the Tampa Bay Rays into a very good but not-quite-good-enough team.

Obviously, if the Rays were in the NL East or AL Central talk would center on them being huge playoff contenders but being stuck in the AL East only makes things harder.  Since coming on board in 2005, GM Andrew Friedman took a directionless franchise and installed a sense of purpose from top to bottom.  Friedman knew the Rays would never enjoy the financial benefits the Yanks and Red Sox shared so he implemented a greater focus on player development that installs talent and depth in pitching and offense.  The Rays also use their resources to find value in players disregarded by other franchises, it's a strategy now used by most MLB teams (Astros and Royals seem to be a few of the exceptions).

Looking ahead to 2010, I do expect the Rays to fully contend despite their unfortunate geographical position on the AL map.  I also look forward to them coming up with new operational strategies not yet shared with the public that will give them advantages to compete against both the two reigning superpowers and all of baseball.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

2010 Team Analysis: Boston Red Sox

Boston Red Sox:

2009 Record: 95-67

General Manager: Theo Epstein

Manager: Terry Francona

Organizational Philosophy: since John Henry bought this team in 2002 and flirted with the idea of hiring Billy Beane as his first GM, the Red Sox have become favorites among statisticians and sabermetricians.  On the financial side, Henry has been a genius in revitalizing the Red Sox franchise and turning them into a major brand name.  Since he purchased them, they have built and sustained a healthy payroll and made a significant profit.

On the front office side, the hiring of Theo Epstein as GM and publically announcing that stathead guru Bill James would come onboard as an advisor made it clear to everyone that the "moneyball" era was here to stay.  Since that time, statistical analysis has evolved past the basic formulas fleshed out in Michael Lewis' 2003 book but the Red Sox (and their later success) were instrumental in giving this minor revolution legitimacy.

As a philosophy, the Red Sox operate as a team of incredibly talented baseball minds that are well-versed in the process of finding market inefficiencies, looking for statistical advantages and locating talent (both here and abroad) showing signs of future MLB success.  The Red Sox have been able to win by using an assortment of strategies such as locating players previously released (David Ortiz) or as marginal free agent pickups (Bill Mueller and Kevin Millar come to mind).  The team also has their fair share of splashy trades (Curt Schilling, Josh Beckett, Mike Lowell, Coco Crisp and Jason Bay) but the bulk of their lineup comes through player development.  Jonathon Papelbon, Dustin PedroiaKevin Youkilis, Jacoby Ellsbury, Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz are important homegrown pieces to this team and with their pipeline emerging more and more intriguing prospects (Casey Kelly, Ryan Westmoreland, Michael Bowden, and Josh Reddick to name a few), this franchise has presented itself as an efficient business model.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

2010 Team Analysis: New York Yankees

New York Yankees:

2009 Record: 103-59

General Manager: Brian Cashman

Manager: Joe Girardi

Organizational Philosophy: when the New York Yankees first bought Babe Ruth from the cash-strapped Red Sox on December 26 1919, they would soon find out that currency would be their favorite weapon of choice.  Since that time the Yankees have utilized their vast financial resource to varying degrees which has recently brought their payroll to all-time MLB high of $209 million in 2008.  Last offseason we saw the Yankees become very active in the free agent market as they acquired high prices players like CC Sabathia, Mark Teixiera and A.J. Burnett; however, with all the money set to come off the books that year, the Yankees actually reduced their payroll slightly to $201 million.

This offseason, many analysts and agents were expecting the Yanks to break out the Steinbrenner Checkbook since players like John Lackey, Matt Holiday and Jason Bay were available and seeking large long-term deals. During that time there were rumors that the Yankees were looking to trim payroll even further but not too many of us believed it. However, with the offseason just about over it became quite apparent that the Yankees were going to refrain from spending and instead focus on acquiring affordable (albeit by Yankee standards) players needed to bolster their pitching and defense.

Since the rise of the Red Sox in terms of embracing statistical analysis and finding market inefficiencies, I believe that Brian Cashman has slowly grown into one of the better GM's in baseball.  His embrace of the amateur draft and international free agent market to bolster their pitching and offense has bloomed towards modest success (I only say modest since the jury is still out on the longterm success on their prized pitchers, Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain); however, their inability to find (non-bullpen) positions for some of their MLB-ready prospects has been a challenge (Austin Jackson, Juan Miranda and Ian Kennedy come to mind and if Jesus Montero doesn't stick at catcher, he could be added as well). Wisely, the Yankees do like to target high-risk/high-reward players through the draft and international market (Andrew Brackman, Slade Heathcott, Dellin Betances and Gary Sanchez) and if these players blossom and if the team has a positional need, they use them and, if not, they become bargaining chips.

Monday, February 22, 2010

2010 Team Analysis: Washington Nationals

Washington Nationals:

2009 Record: 59-103

General Manager: Mike Rizzo

Manager: Jim Riggleman

Organizational Philosophy: after the Jim Bowden implosion nearly a year ago, Mike Rizzo was selected (on an interim basis) to get the Nationals on the right path.  When the Nationals came to be in 2005, the team was bogged down from the remnants of the Jeffrey Loria Expo years (Brad Wilkerson, Jose Vidro, Termel Sledge, etc.), of course that season did have some hope (Ryan Zimmerman and John Patterson, before his nagging injuries got the best of him).

Rizzo was hired by the Nationals as the assistant GM in 2006 after a successful stint as the Director of Scouting with the Arizona Diamondbacks.  Since being named as GM, Rizzo has implemented a strict sense of discipline where rules are set and people are expected to show up on time (standard procedure, right? but tell that to Elijah Dukes when he was fined in 2008 for showing up late to a game after talking with D.C. area little leaguers).  The team also wants to install a sense of winning that begins in the minor leagues and will, hopefully, carry over to the pro club.  Rizzo explains that player development will be a vital part of their process and that having a front office presence among all the minor league affliates will be important while he is running the show.

During his time in Arizona, Rizzo gained the reputation of having a great eye for talent and what skills could translate into future baseball success.  In a recent interview, he has stated that he doesn't have a preference for college or high school players and instead goes for the best possible player.  For a team with a lot of losing seasons one would hope their farm system would be better; after RHP Stephen Strasburg, C Derek Norris, SS Danny Espinosa and future closer Drew Storen, the system gets thin rather fast.  I do have high hopes for Mike Rizzo as a GM and if his philosophy of establishing positive clubhouse chemistry mixed with his keen eye for talent; as long as he doesn't make signing veterans to block MLB ready prospects a habit, then things could improve in D.C. faster than we expect.

2010 Team Analysis: New York Mets

New York Mets:

2009 Record: 70-92

General Manager: Omar Minaya

Manager: Jerry Manuel

Organizational Philosophy: according to the recent 2010 Baseball Prospectus, the lone bright spot of last season was the opening of Citi Field and the revenue it helped generate.  Money, obviously, is not an issue when it comes to baseball in New York but what has become an issue for this team is having an efficient front office along with a structured plan of action that is relayed and understood from top to bottom.

Current GM Omar Minaya has been a long respected scout and talent evaluator.  However, his ability to manage a team of baseball operation professionals and surround himself with smart staff all heading to a defined goal is not one of his strong suits and that is fast becoming a problem.  Last season was a disaster for key members of their team: David Wright's power outage was widely publicized and debated over but major injuries to Jose Reyes (hamstring), Carlos Delgado (hip), Carlos Beltran (knee) and Johan Santana (elbow) brought light to the fact this team had no depth.  It's hard to rely on Jeff Francouer, Daniel Murphy and Oliver Perez along with replacements not fit to be on an MLB club.  The Johan Santana trade in '08 helped to gut a farm system, we learned, that wasn't all that deep to begin with.

When discussing their overall "organizational philosophy" the Mets tend to speak in vague terms.  Hitting, pitching and cultivating young players is good they say but their approach to player development has been very questionable.  Since Minaya has been the GM, the amateur draft has become an event where aggressiveness and imagination is usually left behind.  Most picks have been conservative selections or marred by their refusal to go anywhere near a player who may demand money above slot.  Another disturbing trend involves recently fired Director of Player Development, Tony Benazard, and his preference for rushing young talent through the minors.  Minaya is signed on as GM until 2012 (with two club option years), I'm sure it's a little late in the game to expect a mass restructuring of personnel and a commitment to focus on player development.  Sure, the Mets have some intriguing players in the pipeline: OF Fernando Martinez, 1B Ike Davis, SS Wilmer Flores and RHP Jenrry Meija but something tells me the Mets front office is more focused on winning now (see Jason Bay's recent 4 years/$66 million dollare contract along with the acquisition of Gary Matthews Jr., which the Angels do pay $21 million of the $23.5 million remaining) rather than later.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

2010 Team Analysis: Atlanta Braves

Atlanta Braves:

2009 Record: 86-76

General Manager: Frank Wren

Manager: Bobby Cox

Organizational Philosophy: when Frank Wren took over as GM in 2007 many assumed he wouldn't deviate too much from the way former GM (and current Team President) John Schuerholz's ran things: heavily scout local high school talent with a keen eye on pitching and athleticism, create a sense of team unity as each player moves through the minor league system, develop and/or acquire talented starting pitching but don't overspend on bullpen arms. 

This formula proved to be successful during Schuerholz's tenure and current GM Frank Wren has stuck to this plan for the most part (although his signing of Tom Glavine in '07 offseason did get his first year of supervising the amateur draft off on the wrong foot since it took a pick away from them in the first round; although comp. pick LHP Brett DeVall, who came out of the Florida HS system, is intriguing despite reports that health remains an issue). In terms of spending, he did go a bit overboard during the 2008 offseason.  That spending spree only took half of last season to catch up with them as Derek Lowe failed to impress (4 years/$60 million) and even with Kenshin Kawakami showing he could be a reliable starter in his first season, some analysts do wonder if the 34 year old veteran will be worth the 3 year/$23 million dollar contract he signed. During that same timespan, Chipper Jones came off one of his best seasons and signed a 3 year contract extension worth $42 million.  Jones did start the '09 season on fire but his dramatic decline during the second half had some wondering when the 38 year old would retire.

It's expected for Wren and co. to harness some of last offseason's excessive spending and focus on rebuilding their minor league depth.  During the last few years of Schuerholz's reign, the Braves caught a lot of criticism for not developing the type of pitching prospects Brave fans came to expect.  Former Brave prospects Adam Wainwright, Kevin Millwood and Neftali Perez were shipped off in separate trades while still being developed.  However, last season we saw Tommy Hanson establish himself as one of the NL's most exciting young pitchers and 2010's favorite prospect OF Jason Heyward has fans in Atlanta excited both now and into the future. 

Thursday, February 18, 2010

2010 Team Analysis: Florida Marlins

Florida Marlins:

2009 Record: 87-75

General Manager: Michael Hill

Manager: Fredi Gonzalez

Organizational Philosophy: when agent Scott Boras mentioned baseball's necessity to re-examine their current revenue sharing plan all eyes were on the Marlins and their stubborn stance to keep their payroll among the lowest in all of baseball (from $15 million in 2006 to $36 million last season).  The argument stated that teams keeping a small payroll were collecting large sums of revenue funds paid by certain teams who had the advantage of operating in large markets and not putting any of the money back into their own organization.

Over the years, the Marlins have claimed that their main focus in terms of building a team is through strong starting pitching.  However, when talk centered on giving pitchers multi-year deals, the Marlins claimed it went against their philosophy because of the high probability of pitchers getting injured.  Over the last ten years, the Marlins have displayed a knack for drafting and trading well for prospects.  Below are a few names drafted and/or signed or acquired via trade/Rule 5 over the past decade (Josh Beckett, Miguel Cabrera, Dontrelle WillisJosh Johnson, Jeremy Hermida, Hanley Ramirez, Dan Uggla, Cameron Maybin, Ricky Nolasco, Anibal Sanchez, Sean West, Chris Coughlin, Logan Morrison and Mike Stanton).  In their defense, the team's decision to not extend the contracts and trade players like Beckett, Cabrera and Willis were preemptive decisions as well as financial ones.  In hindsight, the perceived injury risk surrounding Beckett was obviously overblown but Willis' heavy usage and Cabrera's growing waistline were legitimate concerns.

Early in the 2008 season, the team decided to lock up Hanley Ramirez during a good part of his prime years and this offseason had many speculating on the fate of a few arbitration eligible players, specifically Josh Johnson and Dan UgglaRecent reports have team officials mentioning that retaining Johnson and keeping Uggla off the trading block were no brainers, but one has to wonder if the recent stink made by Boras about certain teams suppressing payroll had an effect? Only time will tell if owner Jeffrey Loria will continue to properly fund his baseball operations staff now that he has a new stadium in the horizon or if this is just another pretense on his part until the excitement settles. 

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

2010 Team Analysis: Philadelphia Phillies

Philadelphia Phillies:

2009 Record: 93-69

General Manager: Ruben Amaro Jr.

Manager: Charlie Manuel

Organizational Philosophy: in previous seasons, long before Ruben Amaro was promoted to GM in November of 2008, the Phillies were a team designed to be a future contender.  After a World Series win in '08 and an appearance last season, the future is obviously now.

The question for Amaro and company is how to best maintain this current run of success without stamping an expiration date on it.  In less than one year, Amaro has traded for two high caliber starting pitchers (and, later, flipping one for the other in a three team trade), signed key players to extensions and has turned to the free agency market in an effort to sign veterans as short-term options.  In the first part, the trades for Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay were seen as expensive in terms of the minor league talent it would cost.  For Lee, the Phillies had to trade C Lou Marson, SS Jason Donald, RHP Carlos Carrasco and RHP Jason Knapp; as I reported in my Indians analysis only Knapp profiles (now) as a possible ace, however, recent surgery to his shoulder will have many speculating when he'll be at full strength).  To get Halladay this offseason, Lee was traded to the Mariners along with OF Michael Taylor, RHP Kyle Drabek and C Travis d'Arnaud.  This class of prospects are arguably better but d'Arnaud is 21 and did struggle defensively in '09 during his first full season at catcher while Taylor projects as a .300 hitter with above average power and Drabek has been mentioned as a front rotation starter since he was drafted in the first round in 2006.

These were a lot of young pieces to give away and for a team predominantly in their 30's one has to question if this was truly in the best interest of the organization.  Looking over their recent list of top prospects, the Phillies do have near MLB ready talent in OF Domonic Brown and RHP Phillipe Aumont (acquired along with Halladay from the Mariners) but the rest of the farm is loaded with high-upside low level players.  In terms of player development, this team loves to acquire high-risk high-reward athletes and power arm pitchers.  It's a gamble that doesn't guarantee consistent success but when one of these players hit... they hit big.

Monday, February 15, 2010

2010 Team Analysis: Kansas City Royals

Kansas City Royals:

2009 Record: 65-97

General Manager: Dayton Moore

Manager: Trey Hillman

Organizational Philosophy: since his arrival after the 2006 season, a lot of hope has been placed on Dayton Moore's shoulders in turning this franchise around.  Moore began his baseball career as a scout for the Atlanta Braves and rose quickly through the ranks before becoming the assistant GM under then Braves GM John Schuerholz.  Upon being hired as the Royals GM, Moore made no secret of being a longtime fan of the team and his reputation as a shrewd talent evaluator used to operating under a small market budget made him seem perfect for the job.

During the 2006 offseason, Moore vowed to turn this organization around by focusing more on the amateur draft and international market (two areas the previous administation somewhat ignored) in an effort to strengthen build through player development.  However, the process has been rather erratic as the Royals have been frequent players in the free agent market and made some questionable signings (Jose Guillen, Mike Jacobs, Kyle Farnsworth, Juan Cruz, Rick Ankiel and Scott Posednik) while certain affordable prospects (Kila Ka'aihue, Mitch Maier) were left to languish within the system or traded away (Farnsworth and Cruz replacing Ramon Ramirez and Leo Nunez).  Moore has been widely criticized for saying one thing but doing the complete opposite ("pitching is the currency of baseball" but then using his early draft picks in '07 and '08 to grab bats; it's not fair since it's still relatively early but time will tell if grabbing Mike Moustakas over Jarrod Parker, Madison Bumgardner, Aaron Poreda or Rick Porcello (the latter being expensive, I know) in '07 or taking Eric Hosmer over Christian Friedrich, Andrew Cashner or even 1B Justin Smoak, for that matter, were wise moves).

Instead of taking the example of other AL Central teams in smaller markets (Minnesota and Cleveland), Kansas City seems to have followed in the footsteps of the Ken Williams led Chicago White Sox where overpriced bullpen arms and speedy outfielders are taken despite their price and those lucky to make it through the minor league ranks better impress early and often... I'm sure with three full seasons of Dayton Moore as the GM, Royals were expecting things to be much diffferent.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

2010 Team Analysis: Cleveland Indians

Cleveland Indians:

2009 Record: 65-97

General Manager: Mark Shapiro

Manager: Manny Acta

Organizational Philosophy: since Mark Shapiro took over as GM in 2001, the Indians have utilized the same philosophy practised by previous GM John Hart by focusing on player development and cultivating young talent up the middle.  Due to financial necessity, the team has shipped off some of its high profile stars like CC Sabathia, Victor Martinez and Cliff Lee but the returns are either still being debated (Matt LaPorta, Nick Hagadone and Jason Knapp's run with the injury bug) or underwhelming as the months go by (Jason Donald, Lou Marson, Justin Masterson and Carlos Carrasco can be serviceable players but probably not superstars).  In terms of developing pitching, the Indians have struggled to replace their departing aces as Aaron Laffey's progression has stalled and Jeremy Sowers inability to strike out MLB hitters have caused this team to remain in the rebuilding stage.

Cleveland also faces the same economic hurdles that's causing the Detroit Tigers to reasses their current business model.  Playing in a city overwrought with unemployment and financial instability has sunk this organization among the bottom of all small-market teams.  However, unlike Detroit, the Indians have been fluent in the practice of micro-management and operating with a small budget (last season they committed $81 million to payroll which was their highest budget since 2002; this season they have roughly $50 million spent and that number isn't expected to rise too much).

One factor that makes the Indians front office stand above many others is their ability to effectively marry statistical and scouting capabilities into one forward thinking process.  In 2003 it was revealed that the Indians utilized a confidential computer system called Diamondview which measures a players efficiency and measures the statistical impact expected in order to sell high or buy low on any player.  After the 2010 season, the front office will attempt another shift as Mark Shapiro assumes the role of Team President and longtime assistant GM Chris Antonetti moves into full-time General Manager.  Shapiro will focus on the business side of baseball as they look for new ways to stay afloat financially while keeping their streamline operation at maximum power.

Monday, January 25, 2010

2010 Team Analysis: Chicago White Sox

Chicago White Sox:

2009 Record: 79-83

General Manager: Ken Williams

Manager: Ozzie Guillen

Organizational Philosophy: In a recent interview, GM Ken Williams briefly broke down his philosophy as "you grow pitchers and you buy bats."  To me it's this simplicity along with his utter refusal to gain the respect of SABR mavens and other statheads that gives Williams a bad name among active GM's.  Under the current management, the White Sox seem to have this win now attitude and with current manager Ozzie Guillen favoring veterans and Williams showing an occasional fetish for discarded bullpen fireballers (some of which not suited for the "confines" of U.S. Cellular Field) it's easy to dismiss this organization.  However, looking at their current roster and the youngsters in the pipeline it would be foolish not to give Williams credit for being (at times) a shrewd talent evaluator.

Now, the recent additions of Alex Rios, Mark Teahen and Juan Pierre can be seen as money wasted (roughly, $90 million dollar commitments) but players like Bobby Jenks, Carlos Quentin, Matt Thornton, Gavin Floyd, and John Danks were acquired on the cheap as minor leaguers.  Traditionally, the White Sox love to draft college arms and bats and it's this conservative approach that has kept their prospects and organizational depth to be somewhat boring (although moving Gordon Beckham to 2B along with the hope that Tyler Flowers can stick at catcher gives this team two bonafide stars at scarce positions) but their active presence in the international free agant market has stocked this team with some intriguing high-upside athletic players they hope to have ready in the next few seasons.

Much like the Astros, this team plays in a weaker division that allows them to easily contend each season but for every bargain basement acquisition like Thornton and Jenks we also get some head scratchers like Rios and Pierre hopping on board.  Williams does have a history of giving veterans another chance (A.J. Pierzynski, Jim Thome and Jose Contreras are a few examples) for better or worse but these acquisitions are expensive and gives Ken Williams, et al. the reputation of someone who likes to save a dime and spend a dollar.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

2010 Team Analysis: Detroit Tigers

Detroit Tigers:

2009 Record: 86-77

General Manager: Dave Dombrowski

Manager: Jim Leyland

Organizational Philosophy: Since 2002 the Dave Dombrowski era could be defined as a time when acquiring free agents (Magglio Ordonez), trading for young arbitration eligible players (Miguel Cabrera, Edwin Jackson, Dontrelle Willis) and drafting high-upside and expensive talent via the amatuer draft (Justin Verlander, Cale Iorg, Rick Porcello and Jacob Turner).  All these components have been greeted with relative success as Ordonez and Verlander played a key part in transforming Detroit from losing 113 games to appearing in the World Series within three years while Cabrera, Verlander, Porcello, and (hopefully) Turner are looking to play intragral parts as this team looks to contend now and in the future.

Entering the 2009 offseason, the Detroit Tigers Weblog does a good job of breaking down the teams financial situation.  Obviously some money has to come off the books and recently the team has been quite active in ways not expected a year ago.  The recent economic decline in Detroit and the current and future effects it had on attendance has made cutting payroll a top priority.  Players due for hefty raises were sent off for promising MLB ready prospects in an effort to remain both competitive as well as confront the current situation involving Justin Verlander and keeping him as a long-term fixture (as of this writing Verlander was signed to a 5 year deal worth $80 million).

The recent additions of Austin Jackson, Max Scherzer, Phil Coke and Jose Valverde did effectively shave off about $7.6 million dollars in 2010 (based on the $7 million dollars coming off the books with the departure of relievers Brandon Lyon and Fernando Rodney via free agency and the $5.5 million Curtis Granderson was set to receive and the arbitration raise of $4.6 million due to Edwin Jackson next season).  For the foreseeable future, the Tigers will be in constant flux finding and trying to maintain young quality players at a reasonable price while waiting for expensive options like Dontrelle Willis and Jeremy Bonderman to exit after their contracts expire in the 2010 offseason.  This will give Dombrowski and his front office some leverage but how it eventually plays out is anyone's guess.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

2010 Team Analysis: Minnesota Twins

Minnesota Twins:

2009 Record: 87-76

General Manager: Bill Smith

Manager: Ron Gardenhire

Organizational Philosophy: a lot is riding on the opening of Target Field in 2010 and the promise of increased finances. There has been talk about how the new ballpark won't necessitate an increase in spending but the current increase in payroll ($65 million in '09 and a projected increase to $95 million in 2010) should put some of those fears to bed.  The Twins did indulge in an active offseason by trading for JJ Hardy along with coming to terms with Carl Pavano along with talk that the team is looking to address a few other needs.

The one major increase in spending that does matter is how ownership and management will handle the looming Joe Mauer free agency after next season.  As of this writing no major developments have emerged but I would expect the Twins to move slow and gauge how other teams are handling their young superstars.  Looking at the differences between current GM Bill Smith and former GM Terry Ryan (1994-2007) one does see a major change in how the current management isn't afraid to trade off some of their youngsters in return for other promising prospects and key players (Matt Garza and Jason Bartlett for Delmon Young; Carlos Gomez for JJ Hardy, etc.).  Like the recent situation in Toronto, Smith was also a new GM when faced with either trading or retaining superstar LHP Johan Santana.  Looking back, Smith probably overplayed his hand by trying to get the Red Sox and Yankees to outbid one another but it did shed a light on Minnesota's new management team.

Despite new revenue sources, I still expect the Twins to focus their usual philosophy of scouting and developing players via the draft and looking to fill their roster with cheaper one-year options through free agency.  They have done an excellent job in stocking their farm system with promising arms and they tend to favor athletic outfielders but an aggressive front office is something new and it will be interesting to see how the Mauer situation shapes up if no deal is reached before the 2010 season.

Monday, January 11, 2010

2010 Team Analysis: Pittsburgh Pirates

Pittsburgh Pirates:

2009 Record: 62-99

General Manager: Neal Huntington

Manager: John Russell

Organizational Philosophy: Since Neal Huntington took over the reigns as GM in September of 2007, the Pirates have become more focused on gathering and cultivating young talent and properly using their financial resources in an effort to be more competitive in the future.  It sounds like a simple formula but before Huntington was hired the Pirates were notorious for squandering young talent at the risk of signing expensive mid-tier free agents which only slowed the "rebuilding" process.

Today, the Pirates follow a system similar to how teams like the Texas Rangers and the Jed Hoyer-led San Diego Padres operate through detailed scouting and agressive drafting and heavy talent acquisition.  The Pirates know it would be foolish to outspend most MLB teams in the free agent market but by properly evalutating their players in terms of arbitration and future value they can devise a system where they will sell-high on certain players (Xavier Nady, Nyjer Morgan and Nate McClouth) and buy-low on others (Joel Hanrahan, Ross Ohlendorf, and Jeff Clement).  Not every prediction will pay off but it's a system that will give this organization a chance to get back to their early 90's dominance and possibly stay there.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

2010 Team Analysis: Houston Astros

Houston Astros:

2009 Record: 74-88

General Manager: Ed Wade

Manager: Brad Mills

Organizational Philosophy: Current GM Ed Wade has a long history as a baseball executive, sabermetricians hate him and traditionalists love him and he has never been afraid to trade for someone attached to a big contract (Miguel Tejada). His history of acquiring big closers (Billy Wagner, Todd Jones and Ugeuth Urbina during his Phillie days and Jose Valverde, LaTroy Hawkins and, recently, Matt Lindstrom for the Astros) can be debated due to its mixed success but his tenure with the Phillies does make him seem successful in the long run despite that team never making the playoffs while in office.

Wade is an anomaly; on one hand he is a major spender (as exemplified by the fact that since 2001, payroll has increased every year he has been a GM) and the current Astros owner, Drayton McClane, has long denied that his team needs to scale back and rebuild making a dive into the free agent bin a necessity.  But on the other hand, Wade is quite the shrewd talent evaluator (or at least he employs a good and capable crop of scouts and player development officials) and his drafting and handling of players like Pat Burrell, Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Cole Hamels, Shane Victorino, J.A. Happ and Jimmy Rollins needs to studied and applauded.  Of course, current Astros ownership doesn't put that high of a priority into the amateur and minor league market but I would keep an eye on how Wade handles some of the Astros top minor league talent that were gathered under his watch (Jason Castro, Jordan Lyles, Jiovanni Mier, Jay Austin and Jonathan Gaston).  The 'Stros may hover in mediocrity for the next few seasons but they may be slowly and quietly be building quite the corp of young talent capable to consistently compete in the NL Central (Phillie fans never saw it coming, why should Astro fans?).

Monday, January 4, 2010

2010 Team Analysis: Cincinnati Reds

Cincinnati Reds:

2009 Record: 78-84

General Manager: Walt Jocketty

Manager: Dusty Baker

Organizational Philosophy: since his hire before the 2008 season, GM Walt Jocketty has made simple moves designed to offload veteran players and payroll.  The club saw its attendance decrease from 2.05 milion in 2008 to 1.7 million last season which has directed a lot of the team's current decision making.  Next season the Reds plans to become cheaper while following the philosophy and whims of current manager Dusty Baker which stresses speed at the top of the order and free-swinging aggressiveness along with having the reputation of bringing the most out of his players.

Some critics have pointed to Baker being better equiped to handle a veteran team.  His years as manager of the San Francisco Giants and Chicago Cubs present us with two very different conclusions.  When Baker led the veteran-based Giants, he won three manager of the year awards before stepping down after eight seasons.  Many applauded Baker's professionalism and his ability to create and maintain a positive team atmosphere.  In 2003, the Cubs persuaded Baker to leave his cushy job as an announcer and take over a once hapless organization and turn them into contenders.  The results in Chicago weren't too positive.  A young pitching staff and inability to harness clubhouse disputes left Baker looking inept and unqualified; after his contract expired in 2006 the Cubs decided not to bring him back.

Before Walt Jocketty was named GM of the Reds, the club hired Baker in order to reclaim any previous glory.  The results have, so far, been unfavorable and many of the previous criticisms especially his handling of young pitchers have creeped back into the conversation. The team recently hired Bryan Price as their pitching coach and is expected to be very hands on in terms of directing the pitching staff and possibly counter any of the perceived negative effects Baker has in 2010.  This should be interesting especially from a pitching coach who isn't afraid to be vocal.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

2010 Team Analysis: Milwaukee Brewers

Milwaukee Brewers:

2009 Record: 80-82

General Manager: Doug Melvin

Manager: Ken Macha

Organizational Philosophy: after making its big run late in the 2008 season, the Brewers decided to stand pat in 2009 and trade established players like J.J. Hardy in order to make room for their MLB ready prospects. In the offseason a lot has been made about the hiring of new pitching coach Rick Peterson and his proposed desire to integrate a new philosophy widely embraced during his years on the Oakland coaching staff. 

Peterson's plan calls for the use of extensive computer and video analysis to dissect a pitcher's delivery and find ways to limit injuries and improve overall performance.  The front office is behind this plan and since a lot of money to scheduled to come off the books after the 2010 season it seems the Brewers are moving in the direction by acquiring and cultivating young talent, and in the case of both Ryan Braun and Yovani Gallardo, agressively using their resources to retain players and improve their ballclub through both shrewd money management and performance technology.