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.