Tuesday, May 16, 2017

More Preview Material From Cards, Bosox, Indians, Braves and Reds

Cardinals - jclarkbaker
Most of my club returns. Only changes are: waived Derek Cromer (RF) . Did not resign Dick Pedersen (P) , Ronald Sims (CF) , or Christian Robinson (2B) . Vicente Urbina (P)p and Ramiro Cela (3B) were signed to replace Pedersen and Cromer.Jonathan Sparks (1B) and Maicer Martinez (SS) will get the post 20 game call up to replace Simms and Robinson. Both are likely to start.

Red Sox - Spistol
This may be the season the competition catches up to the Red Sox and ends its run of division titles. Offseason moves have mostly replaced lost production from departing free agents, at best -- though the pickup of Javier Brogna (P) does bolster the bullpen. The offense, Boston's specialty during this run, may not be as potent, with Daniel Harper (3B) andHenry Young (DH) replaced by Laynce Taubensee (SS) and Junior Pierce (RF) , respectively. Joan Sprague (2B) will add speed and maybe a little batting eye to the bench after a less-than-stellar minor-league career. The pitching remains aggressively average as always. The only question seems to be how far off last season's 96-win campaign this squad will fall.

Indians - opie5
This squad needed an overhaul - it was a bunch of sluggers (3 or 4 DH's) with little regard for defense. Some of the prospects will make it to the bigs this season but it will take a couple of seasons to upgrade the defense in order to help the pitching staff (there's no ML 2B or SS to be found in the system - love to get one of those positions with my high draft pick). The nucleus of a good team is there - I just have to fill the fringes (and find a #1 SP) to take this team into the PO's. There's actually enough talent to have a shot at a WC - but I'd have to get very lucky to get to that.

Braves - majnunFor two seasons in a row I got too cute, and took half-measures with a team I thought could win it all. As Mike Ehrmantrout would say: "No half-measures." I concede that I will take a hit five seasons from now, but this is too competitive a league to fool around with.

Reds - wrecks
Only a couple of things to add to our preview. We will be calling up Reynaldo Flande (SS) after 20 games, and should have great depth and defense all over the field, as well as an improved bullpen and rotation.

Season 38 Preview: NL North

Season 37 Recap
The Reds arrived in a big way last year, winning the division for the first time since Season 21 and advancing all the way to the NLCS.

Season 38 Preview

Somewhat lost in all the Mets/Pirates off-season hoopla were all the Reds' moves.  They traded for vets Darrell Hughes, Al Rosado, Jaime Aldridge, Justin Zagone, Troy Griffith, and Danny Barr; they may now have the NL's most productive lineup. They improved the pitching for sure, although I'm not sure the rotation compares with that of the Mets, Braves or Pirates.  No doubt, though, Cincy has as good a shot as anyone to be the NL's WS rep.

Meanwhile the Cubbies weren't sitting still.  They added closer David Estrella, C Robert Roberts, defensive SS Alcides Lopez, and short reliever Malcolm Buxton.  Chicago now has a capable bullpen to go with an excellent 4-deep rotation and last year's #4 offense and all-round excellent defense (.987 fielding % and 93/32 on +/- plays).  Yet another team that will likely win more games this year than last.

The Expos look like they're going to trust Rudy House's glove in RF - a perfectly legit move considering the (needed) punch he brings.  Montreal is in the process of becoming one of the youngest ML rosters in Major Leagues, with prospects like Kurt Koch, Dorssys Johnson, Marco Greene, Cam Bando, Hugh Kent, Wilking Benitez, and others heading for the Show in coming seasons.  Not a bad ML roster now, and it's going to get better and cheaper soon.

Milwaukee gets another bite at the top-5 apple this year (#1) after selecting power-hitting infielder Rob Zoltan #3 last year.  The ML team will no doubt take their lumps this year, although they rummaged around in the FA bargain bin enough to keep them above the MWR (I especially liked the Sid Larkin signing).

Cincinnati is just too loaded, I think they'll win handily.  The Cubs may well win 90-95 games, and I could see them getting a Wild Card or missing narrowly.  Some really good teams are going to miss the NL playoffs, and at this point I expect Chicago to be one of them.  

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Season 38 Preview: NL East

Season 37 Recap
The Pirates started slow but eventually came on to win the division for the 3rd time in 4 years, only to lose in the playoffs to the Mets for the 3rd straight year.  New York also started slowly, but got hot at the right time and rode Ruben Ozuna (4th Cy Young, 5-1, 2.56 in the playoffs) and Cecil Bonilla (MVP) all the way to the World Championship.  Washington D.C. looked unbeatable early, help on for a Wild Card, and lost to Cincy in the play-in round. Philadelphia fell 17 games off its Season 36 win total for 4th place.

Season 38 Preview

With the Pittsburgh franchise officially "up for sale," gm blanch13 mortgaged the future for a 1-or-2 year window by trading 3 top-tier prospects for J.B. Hunter, Chris Petkovsek, Adalberto Cervantes, and Enerio Amaro, and then later dealing for Tony Moya. Yes, they'll be good, but is it enough to get past the younger Mets and the ever-tough Nats?

New York responded by dramatically upgrading CF with Dean Whitfield and bolstering the league's best pitching staff with Garrett Ward and Rodrigo Cortes. This is a remarkably talented team - they have 5 potential Sliver Sluggers in the lineup plus the odds-on favorite for the NL Cy Young.  Their only potential flaw is a thin bench, made moreso by the injury to IF Arodys James.

Washington D.C. got younger by moving Petkovsek and Cervantes to the Pirates, and only downgraded a little by getting Leonardo Grimm and Alan Carpenter back.  The Otto Little deal vaulted them into the rare "3-aces-in-the-rotation club, which usually makes you a playoff favorite.  The problem here is the other 2 members of the club are also in the NL East.

Philadelphia had a very good offseason, adding Shigetoshi Shinjo, Felipe Jose, Miguel Valdez, and Yamil Mercado in free agency; and new regulars Davey Ontiveros and Nestor Bautista in the Whitfield trade.  The Phillies will be much-improved this year but are still dealing with the "3-juggernauts-in-the-division" problem.

It's a tough call, but I think the Mets are overall a little more talented than the Pirates.  Mets win the division, Pirates get Wild Card 1, Nats get Wild Card 2 in a squeaker over the Cardinals.

Season 38 Preview: NL South

Season 37 Recap
St. Louis came out on top after a hard-fought season, but fell to the Reds in the Division Round. Atlanta won 93 games but for the second year running found itself out of the playoffs.  After a magnificent 14-year run, Houston finally got old and dropped to 80 wins.  And Florida continued building up its farm system with the additions of Jose Infante (IFA, $12MM) and Clayton Craig (#14 in last year's draft).

Season 38 Preview

The Cardinals win with pitching.  Yes, they have their stars - Esteban Mateo (18-11, 2.60) is the ace and Henderson Cross (7 wins, 1 save, 2.32) is the all-purpose reliever.  But they're also very good at not having anyone blow up - 11 pitchers who threw more than 40 innings last year came in with ERA's under 4. That lets them win 98 with a league-average offense, where Julio Nunez (.290/30/99) is certainly earning his Season 36 free-agent deal.  

Stinging from missing the playoffs in 92 and 93-win seasons, the Braves made a huge splash in the offseason.  They won the Espinosa sweepstakes, of course, but also traded disappointing OF J.B Hunter for promising young 3B Arismendy Johnson (Season 35 IFA, $28.7MM), and then replaced Hunter with Orlando Figueroa for a 4A outfielder and a non-prospect pitcher.  I'd certainly expect at least 95 wins from this team.

With 13 trades, 6 free-agent signings, a couple of waiver claims and 1 Rule 5 pickup, the Astros have morphed from an aging, high-payroll squad to a defense-first, moderate-payroll team in one off-season.  I'm sure they'd like to have much more speed (see Twins, Diamondbacks), but they do have 1 track star (and an immediate favorite for a Gold Glove) in 2B Ken Saunders.  As with all defense-oriented efforts, the big question will be whether they can put up enough runs...RF Alex Field is the only proven run-producer.

Florida has patiently stuck to a youth movement for the entire 5 seasons of the cyben era, and it's close to paying off big.  The current ML squad (with a payroll of only $38MM by the way) will probably get above .500, and the best talent is still in the minors (Sea 35 #4 Donzell Roberts, Sea 36 #46 Rene Bierbrodt, Infante, Sea 36 #2 Tanner Rogers, and Craig.  In another season or 2, there's going to be a new power in the NL.

I like the Braves to regain supremacy in the South. The Cards will be close, and I expect them to be locked all season in a wild-card tussle with 2 NL East teams.  I think it comes down to the last day of the season, with the Nats topping St. Louis for the 2nd Wild Card.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Season 38 Preview: NL West

Season 37 Recap
The Dodgers came out of nowhere (45 wins in a disastrous Season 36) to nip Colorado for the crown and even in a first-round playoff loss, distinguished themselves (they were the only team to win 2 games against the Mets in any of New York's 4 playoff rounds).  The Rockies dropped 7 wins but were still playoff contenders at Game 162.  The Giants posted a nice 12-win improvement, while San Diego continued to stock its farm system with strong #1's (Al Arguelles) and IFA's (Gustavo Javier, Al Tejada).

Season 38 Preview
Dodger SS's committed 26 errors and 5 bad plays (to 6 good plays) last year, which they addressed with the trade for Marcos Profar.  The offense is potentially top-5 (7th last year with 695 runs) behind Jemile Frazier (.268/46/107), Cy James (.305/18/76, 24 SB) and Dan Ross (.275/23/103).  Interesting note:  last year's top OPS'er - Vladimir Washington (.310/21/60 in 406 AB's) - remains unsigned.  The pitching was a vast improvement over Season 36's disaster (ERA dropped from 5.73 to 3.92), but remains a wild-card.  

The Rockies had perhaps the biggest hitting loss in free agency - longtime 1B and face-of-the-franchise Orval Miller (.276, 265 HR's over 9 seasons) bolted for Tampa Bay. Rookie Russell Heilman is the likely inheritor of the 1B job; the Stubby George and Norman Weston-led pitching staff will have to shoulder a little more of the burden for Colorado Springs to contend.

San Francisco badly needs a new direction, and will likely get one at some point under new GM ACEROTHSTEIN.  The prime pieces of the Season 33 Maicer Camacho trade - Douglas Lindor (.731 OPS over 3 seasons) and Yamil Pino (.298 OBP over 3 seasons, although he has played good defense), have been disappointing, and they've squandered too many 1st-round draft choices.  The Giants were quiet this off-season, so don't expect a big surge in the win column.  But do expect some wholesale changes as new ownership's plans unfold.

San Diego will be the West's most-changed squad heading into the season.  They added 2B Ugueth Gonzalez, a move we praised in our free agency reviews.  They tacked on 3 more Type A and B free agents (C Joel Dorsey, 1B/OF Darnell Bell, and OF Rodney Simmons) for peanuts, and added several more nice budget signings.  It looks like they've now got a much more contact-and-batting-eye-oriented lineup ( a nice fit for the ballpark), but can they improve on last year's NL-low 511 (gulp) runs?  And can the no-name staff deliver another 3.43 ERA (5th)?

Given that the top 2 in the division each won just 81 games last year, and the bottom 2 were only 12 and 13 back, this is probably the division most ripe for a surprise.  I think the Dodgers are the best on paper, but I'm going to pick the Padres in an upset.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Season 38 Preview: AL West

Season 37 Recap
Arizona took the world by storm with its defense, pitching, and infield-hits formula (although to be fair, Minnesota has played much the same brand for years) and advanced all the way to the WS before falling to the Mets.  Seattle avenged its Season 36 near-miss with a Wild Card.  Anaheim went through a second re-tooling in 3 years, and Oakland edged closer to total rebuild mode.

Season 38 Preview
The D'backs seek to defend the crown by one, boosting the offense (they've moved Luis Mendoza back to RF and installed Carlos Gonzalez as the DH), and two, replacing Midre Espinosa's innings with Julio Pettit, Doug Stoops and Alex Leach.  I like the moves, although it wouldn't surprise me to see them drop off by a few wins.  Seattle pumped up its farm system with the Otto Little trade; they'll compete, but can they catch AZ without an ace?  Anaheim has fully committed to its youth movement with 6 rookies on the ML roster.  With a total payroll of only $40MM, watch for the Halos to be big players in the IFA market.  Oakland got a couple of prospects for Al Rosado and appears poised to trade other vets like Tony Chirinos, Stevie Foltynewicz, and others.  Their recent drafts have been very productive, netting Kiko Malone in Season 35, Pepe Lopez and Chris Goldberg in Season 36, and Stefen Brock in Season 37 (plus 7 first-round supplementals in those drafts).  Things can turn pretty fast when you build up that many minor-league assets.

Arizona again, as all 3 of their competitors have committed to rebuilding or at least stepping back a bit. Seattle should be the most competitive again. I wouldn't be surprised if they stayed close to AZ all year, or even if they grabbed a Wild Card, but it will take some heroic performances from unlikely players.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Season 38 Preview: AL South

Season 37 Recap
pstrnutbag's Rangers jumped up and grabbed the South for the first time since Season 15.  Theirs was a pretty complete team effort - no hitter had 100 rbi and no pitcher had more than 15 wins.  Tampa Bay finally had to regroup a little after 11 titles in 12 years.  Nashville stayed in the same narrow 68-76 win range they've been in for the last 5 seasons, while Kansas City sought to stay competitive while rebuilding.

Season 38 Preview
Texas had a pretty low-key offseason with just a couple of promotions (C Willie Cruz and CF Thomas Rivera) as their biggest moves.  To give you an idea of how spread-out the Ranger contributions were:  they had 7 pitchers post sub-3.00 ERA's, and 13 hitters drove in at least 20 runs.  They'll need something similar to repeat.  Tampa Bay, on the other had, hit free agency hard.  They signed perhaps the best hitter in this year's class, Orval Miller, rubber-armed reliever Esmil Gonzalez, steady 3B Bart Sanders, and a handful of lower-budget guys.  With Season 36 CY winner Max Mullens and Murray Hudson still topping the rotation, this is a pretty dangerous squad.  Nashville dipped into free agency for Gil Sodowsky but seems focused on developing the farm - some more picks like that one that brought Ichiro Chong (.275/34/75 last year) would help.  After a couple of re-trenching seasons, Kansas City was a major FA player again this year.  They signed everybody's 2nd choice, SP Alex Martin, to head up the rotation.  They got Domingo Chavez to stabilize the bullpen.  They picked up Roberto Ramirez to ignite the running game.  Enough to get them back into contention?  I don't know, but they'll be better.

Forecast:  I'll guess that Tampa Bay scratches their way back to the top of the heap, with Texas right there and getting a Wild Card.  KC will be one of the surprise teams of the season but will fall a bit short of playoff-land; Nashville will be respectable but looks for contention next season.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Season 38 Preview: AL East

Season 37 Recap
The Red Sox won handily again behind Ronnie Burns' .298/48/138 MVP season, but the Yankees improved by 14 wins (to 84) and seem to have momentum.  The Orioles and Indians didn't contend, but both started to make some noise with young, promising power hitters (SS Chip Caminiti and 2B Keith Townsend for the Birds and 1B Desmond Farmer for the Tribe.

Season 38 Preview
It wasn't a super-active off-season for the East...a few smaller trades and free agent moves.  I get the sense it may be time for a changing of the guard; check this preview from Boston GM Spistol:

"This may be the season the competition catches up to the Red Sox and ends its run of division titles.  Offseason moves have mostly replaced lost production from departing free agents, at best -- though the pickup of Javier Brogna (P) does bolster the bullpen. The offense, Boston's specialty during this run, may not be as potent, with Daniel Harper (3B) and Henry Young (DH) replaced by Laynce Taubensee (SS) and Junior Pierce (RF) , respectively. Joan Sprague (2B) will add speed and maybe a little batting eye to the bench after a less-than-stellar minor-league career. The pitching remains aggressively average as always. The only question seems to be how far off last season's 96-win campaign this squad will fall."

Spistol may be trying to emulate z0601's ultra-successful double backflip reverse jinx mojo from last season, or he may be looking over his shoulder at the Yankees.  Led by ace Vin Gumbs and a horde of young infielders, they're going to be really good this year.  One caveat - they're not the Bronx Bombers; they only scored 621 runs last year (16th in the AL).  They need to address that (by trade at this point) if they're going to challenge the Bosox.

Baltimore and Cleveland are far from afterthoughts, but both have had glitches in their rebuilding plans.  The Orioles' last three first-rounders haven't worked out, so even though they have some nice young stars in the Majors, their pipeline is thin.  It's a similar story for the Indians, who didn't have a #1 last year, haven't seen much development from #1 overall (Season 36) Garland Daley, and clearly whiffed on Season 35 #15 overall Ken Quinn.  Both clubs stayed conservative with payrolls this year (presumably to hit the IFA market), but will likely have to resort to free agency to contend next year.

Forecast:  I'm picking the Bosox to win it again...to much offense from 2B/CF with Magnusson and Burns.  Even if the Yanks resorted to wholesale trades at this point, I just don't think they could generate enough runs to overtake Boston.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Season 38 Preview: AL North

Season 37 Recap
The Twinkies took their 2nd straight North crown with a strong 98-win campaign.  The Tigers claimed a wild card, but both North teams were erased in their first playoff series. The White Sox seemed to age quickly, sagging by 20 wins to 76, while Toronto improved to 74 victories but still finished 4th.

Season 38 Preview
The big offseason news here, of course, is Minnesota's max contract for Luis Osuna.  It remains to be seen if they'll use him as a traditional every-5th-day starter or in some other capacity as part of their almost-all-relief scheme.  You can be sure that they'll try to squeeze 250 innings out of him whatever his role(s).  With their infield hits (world-leading 175 last year) and base-stealing (347 - lapped the field), the Twins' offense should be in the 800-850 run range again. Add that to their sterling defense, and perhaps Osuna is the ticket to their first World Championship since Season 14.

The Tigers and White Sox both had busy off-seasons as well.  The Tigers extended themselves right up to their $110MM budget, bringing in Jim Colin as a #2 starter, Dennis Nakajima to bolster the OF, and Tori Hatcher at 2B.  I expect a big rebound for Chicago.  While they made some smart budget FA signings, I think they'll get rebound seasons from a number of their star veterans (Magglio Rodriguez and Addison Johnson, for example, bit had their worst seasons by far last year...at 33 and 31, you have to expect big comebacks).

Toronto made a big jump behind a wave of youngsters last year.  They've reached competitive status but will still be concentrating on farm system development for the next season or 2.  They have 1 or 2 prospects who could help some this year, but the real jump will come when their last 3 #1's - Perry Sutton (Season 35 #1 overall), Wally Gordon (Season 36 #16), and Ernest Erving (Season 37 #5) - reach the Bigs.

Forecast:  I'm picking the White Sox to win the division in a pretty big upset, with the Twins grabbing a Wild Card.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Diamondbacks Offseason: How Free Agency Gone Awry Made My Team Better

I started this offseason with both my Cy Young award-winning SP, Midre Espinosa and my starting LF, Bryant Cashner both turning down my FA re-signing period offers, saying they wanted to test free agency. This would ultimately turn out well for one of them; the other, not so much.

After arb signings, I  went into free agency with about $40M, needing to fill three holes. First I needed a solid SP to replace Espinosa. His 253 IP at a 2.23 ERA and 1.03 WHIP were going to be difficult, if not impossible, to adequately replace.

I also wanted a stud Setup A, as last year's patched together bullpen top three of Mac Rivera, BJ Ulrich, and Enny Lopez was solid but needed to throw more innings. The three combined for 212 IP last season with a 3.15 ERA and 1.21 WHIP. They added 43 saves against five blown saves. The rest of the pen combined for 169 IP with a 5.41 ERA, a 1.54 WHIP, four saves and seven blown saves. Clearly, the back of my bullpen was a weak point. I knew that Stuffy Ponson and his $6.3M salary would return, but I could place him in a mopup role. I still needed to fill 100 IP with better relievers.

Finally, I wanted to improve the offense.We finished third in runs scored in AL last season with 779, but our .725 OPS was only good for eighth in the league. The 155 [SB-CS] helped with that, as did being third in the league in fewest GIDP. Still, I felt it was a bit of a fluke and wanted to bump up the OPS.

Other, less pressing needs included a 12th pitcher to stash in AAA, as I had no one in my minor league system I would want to promote in case of an injury. And though I have budgeted 20/18 for training/medical there are bound to be injuries: Stuffy Ponson (44 health), BJ Ulrich (47), Alex Pomeranz (63) and Patrick Hunter (68) all make me nervous.

I also had no position players in my system that merited promotions to the Majors this season, a product of trading every possible usable piece to form last season's roster. So I needed someone there also, but like the 12th pitcher, it was a secondary need.

Before free agency began I dealt Murray Hellweg, a #1 pick last season, to the Giants for Carlos Gonzalez. I was OK dealing a prospect with possibly nine years of ML control for another who had not reached the majors. In this case I was dealing what I though was a potential #3 SP for a DH and cleanup hitter. The Giants, apparently, valued the SP potential over the limited value of a DH in the NL.

This meant that last year's Silver Slugger DH, Luis Mendoza, would need to move back to RF, and there would be a significant defensive downgrade there. Last year each of our starting OFs won a Gold Glove. Last's year's LF, Cashner, was now gone and Bill Matthews would be slated to move from RF to LF. Cashner had made 15 plus plays again two errors last season, and he was being replaced by Mendoza's lifetime two plus plays, 12 minus plays, and six errors in RF across 290 career games there. This becomes really important when you look at the GB/FB ratings of the top three returning SPs, Patrick Hunter (58), Erv Daley (53), and Alex Pomeranz (47).

Gonzalez then would need to not only cover Cashner's 88 RC last season, but also enough additional RC to make up for the defensive downgrade in RF. Good luck there, rook.

I would have liked to gone after Luis Osuna, the best player available in FA, But I needed one SP, two RP (one maybe a bargain Setup B available after Rule V for less than $2M) and another position player. I had $40M to spend, and I was not confident that I could get anything at the end of Rule V to fill any of those roles. Osuna was obviously going to get a max contract, and although I had a good pitching coach (94) returning, I didn't want to tie up the vast majority of my cash waiting for Osuna to sign during the last two cycles. Too much risk there.

So I decided to go after Espinosa, Garrett Ward, and Christian Robinson in FA, and worry about an 11th pitcher and other needs later. I figured I could get those three for less than $36M, and have room still left to spend on other additions. Ward was a Type B that I felt was the best RP available, and he had averaged over 150 IP the past few seasons. Robinson was someone I felt could provide the same defense as our incumbent 2B, Pascual Estrada, but with an improved offense. Robinson had performed well in season 35 and 36 with 68 and 72 RC respectively, compared to Estrada's 63 last season. He also would be moving from a pitcher's park in St. Louis to a slight hitters park in Arizona.

In the AM cycle Part 1 early Wednesday morning I initially offered Espinosa a four year deal with a mutual option totaling $57M, which was $9M more than I had originally offered him at the beginning of the year. I started Ward off at three years, $21M, and Robinson at 5 years, $31M. At this point I had $12M in reserve and was feeling pretty good with everything.

It took all of two cycles before Espinosa was considering someone else. Thus began a cycle-by-cycle back-and-forth game of "Can You Top This?" Meanwhile, someone jumped on Ward in the PM cycle Part 2. Ward's back-and-forth at this point isn't as severe as Espinosa's, but it is getting mildly annoying. Nothing about Robinson through the day, though, so I am thinking I could sail by with him. Still, I had started out with $12M in reserve and this was quickly dwindling.

Somewhere around here I did inquire with Seattle about the availability of Otto Little, just in case Espinosa's demands became too high. We didn't have a really good fit, though, and crabman understandably wanted to take more time to think about it (he ultimately ended up with a much better deal).

Thursday morning in the first signing cycle I immediately go to the GM/Edit Roster page and slowly look through the player salaries, hoping for a ML one. Only Christian Robinson has signed. I am thrilled with this - part 1 of the three-part plan has gone OK - but I am getting stretched by Espinosa and Ward by now, 24 hours in.

All day Thursday back and forth, nearly every cycle, on both Espinosa and Ward. I don't want to get in the situation of deferring salaries to upcoming years to make the offers work, but I am slowly moving toward that point. Finally, Friday morning, after having an offer for $92M over five seasons (20/20/20/10/20 with a $2M bonus) topped, I needed to back off Espinosa. 250+ IP, ERA in the low twos. Just was not going to happen. He ends up signing with Atlanta in the PM cycle Part 1 for $95M over five years.

The next best available FA SP at this point is Alex Martin, but I think he'll be the go-to guy for everyone who lost out on Osuna (who had signed by now) and Espinosa. So I need another plan. I have 350 IP to fill with the loss of Espinosa and the replacement of last year's poor RPs. There is no other SP on the market that will give me 250 IP, so I need to step up and get a decent 200 IP SP, along with a good 11th pitcher (rather than a $2M bargain).

I thus go after two players, Doug Stoops, with a 3.92 career ERA, who fits the mold of what I like in a pitcher (80+ CTL, VEL, GBFB), and Julio Petit, also in that mold, and who sports a 3.73 lifetime ERA. I always assume that pitchers will perform better than their career average on my team, because we will be fielding a better defense and have a catcher with high PC (80+). Petit threw for 218 IP last season and Stoops 75. Combined with Ward, whose price tag is still slowly escalating, I can get my 350 quality IP I am looking for. It's not Espinosa, but it will do.

I offer Stoops two years at $4.8M per, which he accepts in the Friday PM1 part 1 cycle (same as Espinosa). Even with Ward's ever-increasing demands, I know I'll have a hard time spending all $40M of my available FA money. I never, never go into the first game of the season without spending virtually everything I have (save for a ML injury promotion and enough to sign draft picks). I thus offer Petit a $7M bonus and reduce his salary to $3M/yr for three years. He likes it but waits until the PM2 cycle Part 2 before he actually signs late Friday night.

So Saturday morning I take the lead on Ward with a four year, $48M offer. Yes, ridiculous for a RP, but he can pitch 140+ innings, if I can find that much work for him. And with his 80/89 L/R splits and good supporting numbers, I figure he'll be worth it. And then Saturday morning my offer is topped. Dammit. Losing Espinosa was difficult, but it occurred early enough in FA that I could regroup. What to do now? Ward is 36, showing a slight decline, and I cannot imagine giving him a fifth year, let alone a fourth season without an option. He eventually signed for $51M over three years with a year three mutual option.

But I know it's time for me to back off Ward and get creative. I put my money into two players. The first, Alex Leach, again fits the mold of player I like, and he comes with a 3.49 lifetime ERA. I give Leach a 3 year, $13M contract, which includes another $10M signing bonus. He pitched 71 innings last year, so combined with Petit and Stoops, I reach a little past my goal of adding 350 solid IP from my FA pitchers. Certainly not the way I planned it, but nonetheless getting to where I wanted to be. Even with the downgrade from Espinosa to Petit, overall my pitching staff is much better because of the massive upgrades of Stoops and Leach.

I still have money left over, even after throwing out $17M in signing bonuses to lower salaries in future seasons. So I have been watching JT Whiten through free agency, and he is a good defensive ML SS whose salary demands have dropped to $1.7M on a one-year deal. Since he's only 27, and his defensive skills should not deteriorate until after 30, I offer him four years, $7M, with $3M coming in bonus money. I am now up to $20M in bonus money this year, which should bode very well for next year. Whiten has MILB options left, and 72 patience, so he should be good spending this year in AAA, and taking over a ML role for Ringo Frye next season.

With about $4M still left over, I am looking for a young 20-something pitcher that can serve as my 12th pitcher awaiting an injury call-up. I need someone with options, preferably, and if possible no ML experience, so that I can pay big for their first season, and get close to minimum salary for the next two. No one like this is really interesting to me.

About five minutes before the PM cycle Part 2 I notice that Ricardo Profar is still available, and asking for $3.4M/yr for two seasons. He's a Type A FA, but since I have already signed/offered three Type As at this point, I'd just be giving up a fifth round pick in the draft. I have no real need for Profar, but he's a bargain, and I figure I can use him or trade him. I give him what he wants, and 10 minutes later I pick up Leach, Whiten, and Profar. My $40M is spent. Profar will take the place of Franklin Aaron, who I later traded for a couple of prospects because I feared the ratings drop if I demoted him to AAA.

All in all, free agency did not go nearly how I planned. I did not get Espinosa or Ward, but I ended up with three excellent pitchers, one upgrade at 2B, a backup SS/insurance against injury, and a still-productive Ricardo Profar. As a bonus, I reduced salary costs by nearly $6M/yr in the next three seasons. It is certainly an outcome I can live with.

Day 6 Free Agent Signings

While the biggest names in free agency signed a little early this year, the 3PM cycle still saw lots of activity and significant names.  Here's the rundown:

Philadelphia signs RP Felipe Jose for 4 years, $38MM
Analysis:  Guess this is the guy jclark was referring to.  Expensive indeed, but good - career ERA of 3.39 and OPS-against well under .700.  He's never been stretched out to 140 IP but could probably get there.  I don't think Philly can challenge in the even-tougher NL East this year, but they will be improved...80-85 wins?

Arizona signs RP Alex Leach for 3 years, $13MM ($10MM of it a bonus)
Analysis:  Leach has produced much better number than his ratings might predict (especially the 59 and 63 splits), and I'm not sure why.  He's only thrown 361 innings in his career (even though he could probably reach 150-160 in a season if pressed), suggesting his managers have used him carefully. He's had a couple of low-inning blowup seasons, but has performed well when given regular work (all of the last 3 seasons under 3.00 ERA with 72, 53, and 71 innings).  Not sure how mbriese will use him, but he may have snagged a hidden gem here.

Arizona signs Ricardo Profar for 2 years, $6.6MM
Analysis:  Back in AZ after 1 mediocre campaign in Pittsburgh.  He may have a tough time breaking into Arizona's crowded 1B/DH/OF rotation, although he can still run at age 33, so he fits the plan.  Currently in the minor-league camp, although I think they'll make room for him.

Kansas City signs SP Alex Martin for 5 years, $51MM
Analysis:  Not a bad contract for a guy coming off elbow surgery. Martin has been a good pitcher - a number of 14 and 15-win seasons and a 3.83 career ERA - and will have more good seasons.  This is about the expected price in FA for a pitcher of this caliber.

New York Mets sign P Garret Ward for 3 years, $50.4MM
Analysis: The nature of "arms races" is that both sides just keep adding more weapons regardless of the cost and regardless of the benefit.  The Mets and Pirates have entered an arms race in which both have acquired way more weapons than they need for success.  Long-term, the Mets will outlast the Pirates - they simply have a younger talent core - but I wonder if their over-acquiring on Ward (and more especially, Rodrigo Cortes for 5 years, $54.2MM) will hurt their competitiveness against the more efficiently-spending Reds, Braves, Cardinals (and whatever others emerge over the next couple of seasons).

Whatever happens will be fun.  The Mets now have 12 pitchers on the big club, and given that they'll get about 800 innings from their front 3 (out of about 1450 a 162-game season needs) there are a lot of surplus innings lying around. Will they go with only 3 starters and play a lot of lefty/righty matchups with their 9 (very good) remaining pitchers?  With only 13 position players they'll be wasting some good pinch-hit opportunities.  More likely, they'll continue to use 5 starters and use Ward and Young as long/middle relief.  

Detroit signs 2B/OF Dennis Nakajima for 5 years, $53MM
Analysis:  Nakajima was far and away the best position player left on the last cycle, and the Tigers came away the winners.  Despite never winning a major award (or even making an All-Star game), Nakajima has been one of Major Leagues' best-hitting infielders for 11 years.  I don't think the Tigers are going to like the last 2 years of his contract very much (his age 36 and 37 seasons), but they can walk away from the last year for $3MM.

Pittsburgh signs SP Dick Pederson for 2 years, $9.2MM
Analysis:  The Pirates signed Pederson for 2 reasons: 1) Insurance against a pitching injury, and 2) A couple of potential (short) appearances in a Mets playoff series to face lefty hitters. That's a pretty expensive 5-inning lefty specialist, but that's the nature of arms races.

Houston signs RP Corey Montgomery for 2 years, $6.2MM
Analysis:  A bargain compared to the prices of other middle relievers in this free agency

Detroit signs OF/1B Lou Owen for 2 years, $6.7MM
Analysis:   A solid bargain among the normally high-priced A and B FA's, he looks like he'll share time at 1B with Esmailyn Rodriguez

Chicago White Sox sign 3B Daniel Harper for 2 years, $7.8MM
Analysis:  Backup 3B and OF duty.  The Sox didn't have a very good season last year, but this is the same core group (older to be sure) that won 100+ games every year from Seasons 30-35.  Don't count them out.

Chicago White Sox sign OF Walker Cather for 1 year, $3.65MM

Analysis:  Another nice budget deal for the Pale Hose.  Cather's nearing the end of the line, but still OPS'd .812 (above his career average) for Tampa Bay last year.  The Sox would be overjoyed with .750.

Washington D.C. signs 1B Vin Almonte for 1 year, $1.95MM
Analysis:  Somewhere between a pure backup at 1B and half the vR platoon AB's, depending on how well incumbent 1B Floyd Purcell handled RHP (.735 OPS against RHP last year...not quite up to what you want from a 1B)

Kansas City signs OF Roberto Ramirez for 2 years, $6.8MM
Analysis:  Formerly the Twins' primary scatback, Ramirez has 742 career SB's (just outside the top 5 all-time).  His role is unclear at this point - I can't see him unseating Tamura in LF or Donald in RF.

Philadelphia signs RP Yamil Mercado for 2 years, $8.8MM
Analysis:  Third big-innings middle reliever the Phils have signed in FA...some kind of crazy, Minnesota-like pitching scheme coming?

San Diego signs C Joel Dorsey for 1 year, $1.3MM
Analysis:  Another player who fits the ballpark - high contact and eye, not much power.  Dorsey figures to be the vL catcher.

Oakland signs SP Lonny Rincon for 2 year, $5MMPretty good price for a guy expected to be around a 4.00 ERA, although the ballpark may push him south of that.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Offseason Days 5 & 6: Lull Before The Big FA Signing Cycle

Trades and signings have slowed to a trickle in advance of the PM1 Part 2 cycle this afternoon.  With Osuna and Espinosa already signed to big deals, today's signings may be a bit anticlimactic, but there are still some very good players up for grabs.  Here are our last couple of A/B signings:

Arizona signs SP Julio Petit for 3 years, $16MM
Well, he's not Magglio Espinosa (who is?), but he's not bad, especially at $5.33MM a year.  Career 3.73 ERA over 11 seasons, with just 3 years coming in at over 4.00.  Last year's 2.90 was undoubtedly helped by San Diego's park, but a 3.50 ERA in 200 IP wouldn't be too much to hope for.

Pittsburgh signs IF Carlos Suarez for 2 years, $8.0MM
With Bernie Gennett on board, the Pirates decided to go with a little more offense in their 2nd backup infielder.  He'll be primarily the backup 3B and pinch-hitter.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Inside The War Rooms: How the Moya Trade Played Out From 4 GM's

Houston - the Seller
In total, 11 teams engaged in trade talks for Moya. A few more inquired about his price and were clearly just looking to see if I would dump him for nothing, but 11 in total made a real attempt at acquiring him. 

Of those 11, 3 teams worked hard enough for me to consider moving him - the Pirates, the Mets, and the Mariners. 

The Mariners were rightfully protective of a few of their top prospects, so we couldn't work out an imminent deal and agreed to look at things again once the dust settled after free agency.

The Mets initially wanted to offer a few pitching stopgaps that would not have helped my team for the first few seasons - decent players, but not in the same league as Moya.  After dealing Nestor Bautista and Davey Ontiveros (for Philly's CF Dean Whitfield), there wasn't much left in the cupboard that they could send over for Moya. Still, they offered a fair amount of talent that I may have considered had trade talks for Moya fallen off through the middle of the season. Assuming the Mariners found what they were looking for in FA, the Mets were the top contender 48 hours ago.

Dealing with the Pirates this offseason was a 3-act play. This first conversation we have about Moya includes concern about his ratings dropping sharply this season. A little background on Moya - he's 39 years old and has never been on the disabled list. He has incredibly high durability and makeup, and has dropped 1 overall point each of the past 2 seasons (90 to 89, 89 to 88). 

Anyways, concerns about his staying power stalled talks and we agreed to continue the trade discussion later. In between acts 1 and 2 I make about 6 or 7 trades and I'm feeling better about the upcoming season. Talks with the Mariners are ongoing and the Mets are still in the "lowballing" stage of the trade conversation. We pinged the Pirates again about LaTroy Owen and David Richmond, but can't agree on what the third piece of his side of the deal should be. Trade talks fall apart again and I keep on trading.

The Midre Espinosa sweepstakes turned out to be a big boon to Moya's value. In the matter of a few hours a few new parties become interested in Moya, but their offers are disappointing and ultimately discourage me from moving him at all in the off-season. I think, "What's wrong with just keeping him? He'll still have value mid-season if a deal comes along, and should have an ERA in the low 2s now that I've signed (defensive wiz catcher) Harry Ugueto." The Pirates jump back into the discussion as part of the heartbroken assortment of teams that missed out on Espinosa, offering the same deal I asked for during Act 2. I decline, saying that I'm probably just going to keep Moya, but thanks anyways. 

That's when cbriese (who I've obviously talked to the most during this whole process, but we haven't worked out a deal due to us wanting the exact same type of player) points out the Pirates' Eduardo Chavez (SS), saying that he'd be a great solution to my SS problems. I agreed, but it wasn't enough. Then I took a look at my other options - most other defensive shortstops were either expensive, completely devoid of hitting splits, or a combination of the two. I had already tried dealing for defensive shortstops that other people weren't selling to no avail. Chavez immediately becomes the most attractive option, and all of a sudden this trade solves 3 problems for my team. I offered it to blanch, he accepted, and I think we're both very happy now.

I've made 12 trades so far this offseason, and I'm (hopefully) not done yet. Here's the projected lineup for your season 38 Astros:

C: Harry Ugueto (FA)
1B: [looking to fill via trade]
2B: Ken Saunders (Trade)
3B: Tomas Seanez (Trade)
SS: Eduardo Chavez (Trade)
LF: Ubaldo Maduro (Waivers)
CF: Theodore Argyropoulos
RF: Alex Field

SP1: LaTroy Owen (Trade)
SP2: Delanor Morehead (FA)
SP3: Les Reed (Trade)
SP4: Matty Santana (Trade)
SP5: Patrick Pierce (Trade)

Editor's note:  that's an awesome writeup, love the perspective this offers.  As it happens, cbriese was also influential on the buy side of this deal, although unintentionally, as we'll see in my narrative.

Seattle Mariners - The Contender
At one point (early in the offseason) we were going to go for it, since we had no real solid offers for Little rolling in.  I inquired about Moya to help strengthen my rotation.

I sent Houston an initial offer and Houston countered with a deal involving Addison Unamuno (P) (Season 36 #9) and Stefan Mahaffey(CF) (Season 37 #58) along with another player who I cannot remember. 

Not wanting to give up Unamuno, I countered with Darron Robertson (C) (Season 36 #49) and Houston did not accept the deal. I honestly don't think we ever got real close to making a deal happen, and in retrospect he took a better offer than I had countered with so I am good with the outcome.

NY Mets - The Other Contender
Here is my perspective on talks from my side of things.

Moya was that one player that I saw when I joined Major Leagues that I wish I had on my team. With the change in ownership in Houston, I figured this was my chance to make that happen and add that one piece this team was missing for long term success.

As soon as the season began I inquired to obtain Moya. I knew that I had pieces I could move to get more parts to the team. As much as I wanted Moya to help shore up my bullpen and rotation, I had other needs as well. And yes you heard correctly, my intention was for Moya to work mostly out of the bullpen and be the 4th starter when needed (the front 3 are all big STA/DUR pitchers:  Ruben Ozuna - 310 IP last year, Dante Day - 243 IP, and Daniel Stevenson - 245 IP)

So I basically had to decide where the players I was fine with moving, Ontiveros and Bautista, would go and what I needed to acquire the most with them. In the end getting a young CF (Whitfield) who I can use for the next 5 to 7 years instead of Moya for 2 or 3.

Even though I had traded those assets away, I was still hopeful that I could land Moya. While I didn't have much left to trade, I did still have 1 RP in the minors I could move that I hoped would do the trick. 

Long story short, I was willing to move ML pitchers Grant Young and Jose De Aza and pay for most of their salaries while also adding 3 or 4 other AAAA players to make a deal happen for Moya. I was hopeful when I was told that even though Houston wasn't excited with Young or De Aza, they were better deals than what was being discussed with other teams. I even went as far as adding ML reliever Robinzon Diaz to the mix to get a deal done. As our discussions progressed, it became increasingly clear that I would not be landing Moya. When I was told any deal would have to center around 24-yo ML starter Pasqual Martinez to keep up with the other deals being offered, I walked away. I couldn't justify sending someone I will get another 5 to 7 years out of for Moya.

I was clearly surprised when I saw the deal that was agreed upon came out as I thought I was offering far more value over the long term for a rebuilding Houston team. Even more surprised that he went to a division rival. 

Still wish I had more parts to land him, but in the end I didn't.

Editor's note:  excellent narrative, thanks for the perspective

The Buyer - Pittsburgh
Editor's note: I got wordy with this one - if you only want the Houston narrative, skip down to the "Houston Heats Up Section".  The stuff before is more about the trade of my Big 3 prospects.

I started the season with Moya on the radar of course, but he was certainly not a "must have".  I'm wary of the big ratings declines that come with late-30's pitchers, plus I needed more hitting than pitching help.

And even though I did want to max out my ML roster in an effort to win it all in my last season, I didn't want to hand over a big boat anchor to my successor (in the form of huge contracts for declining players).

OK, stage set, I was willing to trade my Big 3 prospects - Arismendy Johnson, Jimmie Velazquez, and Julio Pena - although promoting Johnson, and even Velazquez, was an option.  I advertised their availability on the WC Sunday at 9:59AM.

Trading The Big 3

The first 2 teams that came sniffing around were Houston and Atlanta.  Houston understandably wanted 1 of my Big 3 for Moya, but I wasn't going to do that and said so.  He tried for the downsell to Jim Colin, but that didn't fit for me.  I said I'd consider Moya for a lesser prospect, and that kind of ended Chapter 1, as mbriese calls it.  This was Monday morning.

Meanwhile, it was clear that I could get Atlanta's J.B.Hunter for 1 of my Big 3.  While I didn't think he was clearly a premium outfielder, he's still young, pretty cheap, and available.  And that's at least one that wouldn't be a boat anchor for my successor.  There were almost no top OF's available in FA - Orval Miller was about it, and I thought he'd get $10MM a year (which he did).  With OF and 1B being my biggest needs, I pulled the trigger on Johnson for Hunter.

The Nationals had also inquired about my prospects (Sunday afternoon), and we quickly targeted Petkovsek and Cervantes.  Those 2 met glaring needs (an on-base machine + a lockdown closer) and were indeed the kind of premium quality guys I was after; the downside was the short window for both - Petkovsek was signed for 3 more seasons but will probably start a pretty steep decline in that 3rd year, and Cervantes will probably head for FA after 2 more seasons.  D.C. wanted 2 of my Big 3 for those guys, which I rejected a couple of times, and he rejected my offers of 1 of them plus a ML player or 2.  

My last shot at that was an offer of Velazquez, who I considered my top prospect, and a couple of pretty good players from my ML roster (Leonardo Grimm and Alan Carpenter), and he accepted. This was also Monday.

Monday morning at 10, kennedrj tc'd saying the Angels were unable to sign their big FA's, so he was considering a rebuild.  By the time I seriously considered anything there I had done the D.C. trade.  I still needed a big righty bat, and was thinking of Milwaukee's Ricardo Pena...I believe I offered Julio Pena + something for him, but didn't hear anything.  I started considering Anaheim's Enerio Amaro despite the obvious huge liability of playing him in RF. Great hitter, reasonable price tag, not terribly old (won't be a drag on next year's owner).  I offered Pena for Amaro and LaTroy Owen (who I thought would be a decent trade chip or guy to stash in AAA as a reserve), and after some minor negotiating, the Angels accepted.  This was late Monday.

Houston Heats Up
I'd added 3 nice hitters plus a closer, plus a pretty fair young pitcher for my big prospects.  I felt like my lineup was pretty set - I was just going to round it out with promotions of 2 or maybe 3 defensive stoppers from AAA (of which I had 4 I thought could hold their own in the majors).

And I had cap room to add pitching in free agency.

Tuesday was arb day - nothing much happening, so at 2:20PM I tc'd mbriese:  "Been close on anything for Moya yet?"

He says back, "Yup. Talking with 3 different teams about him, it's kind of a matter of time now. Hoping I can move him today."

I ask if if he'll wait until Owen comes over to me from the Anaheim trade, and he would headline my offer. mbriese says he'll hold on.

Later Tuesday we exchanged a few specifics - I asked how an offer of Owen, Donaldo Sanchez and Cy James would compare with his other offers.  He says he's only interested in Owen but that offer would tie for his 2nd choice.

A little later he adds that if I'll make it Owen, David Richmond and Matt Bigbie, he'll do it now.

So I'm thinking I'm in the ballpark at least.  I didn't want to give Richmond, because he was by far the best bat of my 4 AAA defensive guys.  I also didn't want to give Bigbie, because in the back of my mind, I knew the Mets had become a very lefty lineup, and I wanted to add lefty pitchers, not give them up (yes, I admit it, the effin' Mets are in my head after knocking me out of the playoffs for 3 straight years).  But I'm in the ballpark.

So we tc'd some more Tuesday, and arrived at a potential deal for Owen, Donaldo Sanchez and Richmond.  I said I'd do that one if I could go out and find another defensive guy reasonably similar to Richmond and would get back to him shortly.

The Unintentional Twist
I wasn't going to do a general search for a Richmond replacement - I had only 1 team in mind.  cbriese in Arizona had earlier inquired about the availability of DH Philip Charles, and had a guy that was a decent Richmond facsimile - Bernie Gennett.  I had originally drafted Gennett and traded him to AZ last year.  I thought he might be available because he didn't see much action last year, and I certainly didn't have any use for Charles.

Anyway, I proposed Charles for Gennett, but cbriese quickly informed me he had found a DH in Carlos Gonzalez, so he was passing on that offer.

Having whiffed on my only viable alternative to Richmond, at 7:55 PM Tuesday I tc'd mbriese:  "I'm gonna pass. Can't see an avenue to get a decent alternative to Richmond, and he's critical to my late-inning defense plan"

And after a couple of more tc's, at 8:38PM he tc's back, "Sounds good. Let me know if you have a change of heart!"

And that closed the book on Chapter 2.

Chapter 3
Free agency started Wednesday, and I felt good about the chances of helping my staff.  There were pitchers available and I had $$ - up to about $20MM, although that would have certainly put a strain on the owner.

I targeted Midre Espinosa, although I was certainly aware he my draw more $$ than I was willing to part with.  Also put out a couple of exploratory offers on other pitchers, including Hector Cruz (keeping in mind I could use another lefty against the Mets).

Sometime Wednesday, maybe midday to early afternoon, Arizona proposed the Charles-for-Gennett trade, adding the note, "I changed my mind".  He later explained that he was going to do more pinch-hitting this year, and was swapping  one of his defensive specialists for a pinch-hitter.  Gennett for Charles.

I accepted, not thinking too much about it, having committed myself to free agency to round out the staff.  I had even waived Donaldo Sanchez - one of the trade chips mbriese and I had talked about - figuring someone would take him off my hands and up my cash available by $3MM (ultimately the Dodgers did).

By Thursday morning I had led for Espinosa for 1 cycle at about $13MM per, but lost the lead in the AM2 cycle.  

It occurred to me I had my Richmond replacement in hand, so I figured it couldn't hurt to ask about Moya again.

At 10:18AM I tc'd mbriese: "what's the latest on the Moya saga? I was thinking I could land Midre Espinosa (P) but underestimated the bidding on him"

At 11:00 AM he says, "I'm actually leaning towards keeping him for now.  That being said, if I get a can't-miss offer for him before the trade deadline this season I'll probably take it. But I just traded for another Richmond type, and I have concerns about Owen's ability to stay healthy long-term."

So I figured that was that, and tc'd back, "OK, thanks. That clears up my immediate direction" at 11:08AM

Finally at 11:34 he tc's me one more time:  "Last ditch offer to see if we can make it work before the season. I know adding Chavez is a big ask, but just wanted to see what you think. He'd start at SS for me this season" and sends an offer of Moya + $5MM for Owen, Richmond and Eduardo Chavez.  

The afterthought deal of Charles for Gennett allowed me to acquire Moya for no one who was going to ever see my ML roster.  Easy call to accept that one.