Hot Stove Supernova

March 30, 2014

The Hot Stove League started spectacularly with stars changing teams via trade (Fielder, Kinsler) and free agency (Cano, Ellsbury, McCann).  However, the white-hot explosion flamed out well before the players reported for Spring Training.  The final few weeks were marked by teams like ATL scrambling to replace injured stars and perhaps overpaying for mid-level free agents who remained unsigned well-into February (with the exception of BAL’s signing of Nelson Cruz for only 60% of the qualifying offer he rejected from TEX).  Some teams even overpaid for their own players ($54 million for Brett Gardner?)

So who won the off-season?  As anyone who has ever read this site before knows, I do not subscribe to the “he who spends the most wins” theory.   NYY may have invested $450 million in new players, but they still did not even guarantee themselves a spot in the post-season, let alone assure World Championship #28.  Likewise, SEA may have signed the best player, but that is unlikely to buy them  anything better than a 3rd place finish in the AL West – and probably not even that.  TEX was an early leader for the Hot Stove crown, but the shine off the Fielder trade and Shin Soo Choo signing has dimmed considerably with a horrendous rash of injuries.  TEX goes from World Series contender to fighting for its post-season life.

That takes me back to BAL, with the Cruz bargain-basement signing and the last-minute deal for Ubaldo Jimenez.  Add in flyers taken on Delmon Young and Johan Santana and the Orioles are worth paying attention to in the hyper-competitive AL East.  WAS made essentially one move – adding Doug Fister – but with a roster that was already considered one of the best in MLB, adding a solid starter with post-season experience could be all that the under-achieving Nationals needed to fulfill World Series predictions one year late.  Unfortunately, Fister will start the season on the disabled list, but the injury is not expected to cause him to miss more than 5 starts.  It also gives, the Nationals the chance to test a couple of promising rookies (Tanner Roark and Taylor Jordan) without the pressure of needing them all season.  So, adhering to the “less is more” category, I am going with the Nationals as the winner of the Hot Stove League as a precursor to the first World Series title for our nation’s capital since 1924 when the Senators defeated the NY Giants with a 12-inning Game 7 victory.

For the record, I have included below all of my Hot Stove comments from the past four months, which I have removed from Homeplate and replaced with my predictions for the 2014 season.  Click on the Homeplate page to view those, although you already know who I have selected as World Series Champion.

 

 

March 26, 2014

Is it MLB or M*A*S*H?

Spring training is almost over, which is an interesting statement only due to the fact that the MLB standings already show that LAD is 2-0 and ARI is 0-2.   The anomaly of Spring games continuing while seasonal games have already taken place is actually becoming less of an anomaly and more of a tradition.  In the past decade the MLB season has held its first game in several foreign countries prior to the conclusion of Spring Training, including Mexico, Puerto Rico, Japan and now, Australia.

The real news out of Spring Training this year is the number of injuries to players who were expected to have a major impact on their team’s performance this year.  I wrote about this same problem last Spring,  http://www.babesbaseball.com/2013/03/27/part-of-the-game/,  but this year seems worse.

Here are just a few of the season-impacting losses:

Jarrod Parker, OAK, starting pitcher, Tommy John surgery

Brandon Beachy, ATL, starting pitcher, right elbow

Kris Medlin, ATL, starting pitcher, Tommy John surgery

Patrick Corbin, ARI starting pitcher, Tommy John surgery

Matt Harvey, NYM starting pitcher, Tommy John surgery

Aroldis Chapman, CIN closer, facial fractures

If that isn’t enough to make you mutter “Holy Frank Jobe!” take a look at the complete injury list here: http://mlb.mlb.com/mlb/fantasy/injuries/.

After reviewing this list, you may want to rethink your predictions for 2014.  If you have already submitted your picks, I will accept revisions up till Noon, March 31.

In case you did not recognize the reference to Frank Jobe, he is the surgeon who performed the ligament transplant surgery on Tommy John in 1974, which we now call Tommy John surgery.  Truthfully, it should called the Frank Jobe surgery.  Mr. Jobe died just this past month. http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2014-03-06/sports/chi-frank-jobe-tommy-john-surgery-20140306_1_tommy-john-jobe-procedure.

Baseball players owe him almost as great a debt of gratitude (and money) as they do Marvin Miller.

 

March 1, 2014

It’s March, so it must be Spring!  Or is it Autumn?

I know that snow is still falling in New England and once again the temperature will get down into the 30’s tonight even way down here in San Antonio, but the calendar still says that Spring officially arrives in twenty days.  The Vernal Equinox occurs March 20 at 12:57 EDT, to be exact, and this year that is less than 48 hours before the MLB season opens in Australia, where it will just be turning Fall.  So for the first time in MLB history, Opening Day and the Fall Classic will actually occur at the same time.  Does that seem like a weird start to the season?  Here’s what LAD’s Zack Greinke thinks about it:

http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2014/baseball/mlb/wires/02/25/2010.ap.bbn.dodgers.australia.0803/index.html.

When one of the game’s highest paid pitchers describes the official Opening Day game of the MLB season with the words “zero excitement,” you know it could be a strange year.  I’m sure that is not what Bud Selig wants to hear and the LAD front office has spent the past 3 days trying to dispute Greinke’s words.  However, the latest report is that neither he nor Clayton Kershaw will make the trip Down Under.  It will be interesting to see if Selig takes any action over that (remember when David Stern fined the Spurs $250,000 for sending Duncan, Parker and Ginobili home instead of to Miami for the last game of a road trip?)  Perhaps the only people who are truly happy about the trip are the Diamondbacks.  I imagine that they will gladly fly to Sydney for every series with the divisional rival Dodgers if they do not have to face Kershaw or Greinke.

Personally, I wonder whether there isn’t a greater force at work in Greinke’s comments. He is a very low-key guy who rarely speaks, let alone makes controversial comments.  Other than his huge contract with the LAD, about the only other time Zach has made news off the field was when it was disclosed in 2006 that he suffers from Social Anxiety Disorder.

http://socialanxietydisorder.about.com/od/celebritieswithsad/p/zackgreinke.htm.  Although he obviously has gained a measure of control, I can imagine that an exhausting trip to a foreign country at the beginning of the marathon baseball season would be enough to challenge even those who don’t face medical issues.

Chances are this will all be forgotten when MLB and North America enter Autumn in September and the post-season begins. However, if LAD does not pitch its best pitchers and loses these games in Australia and then fails to make the post-season (or loses home field advantage) by two games or fewer, we might be looking back to March 22-23 as the most important games of their season.

February 16, 2014

Is there life outside of Pin Stripes?

I apologize for going almost 3 weeks without posting anything, but I have just been waiting for something to write about that does NOT concern NYY.  Unfortunately, there just is no story in sports like the Yankees and even when I try not to obsess about how much I dislike the organization I am forced to write about them anyway.  Since my last note on the signing of Masahiro Tanaka, the newest Yankee (and the newest MLB player, never having even set foot in a MLB park!), two more events have occurred that should keep the spotlight on NYY all season – off the field as well as on.

First, Alex Rodriguez quietly gave up his fight to overturn the arbitrator’s ruling reducing but affirming his suspension by MLB.  This should be considered nothing less than a total surrender by Rodriguez – a validation of everything that MLB accused him of an invalidation of everything Rodriguez ever said in his defense.  He even changed his story in connection with the dismissal of the suit.  He didn’t continue to claim that he is innocent or that he has not been given a fair trial.  Rather, he said he now thinks a year off will do him good and that he looks forward to renewing his career and preparing for a role in baseball after his playing days are over.

What?  Did the PED’s make him delusional as well as injury prone?  It seems extremely unlikely to me that anyone would ever hire Rodriguez either in a baseball management position or even as a media commentator.  Even so, I assume that there will be some reporters who will report on what Rodriguez is doing off the field in his year in exile.  If I am wrong and he is completely forgotten throughout the coming year, it may be directly caused by his teammate of the past 10 seasons.

The other big news out of NYC this week was that The Captain, Derek Jeter, announced that 2014 would be his last season.  That can’t be much of a surprise, considering that he is still recovering from an ankle injury eighteen months after it occurred. He was limited him to 17 games in 2013 and still hasn’t shown that he is recovered well-enough to play at all, let alone man the shortstop position for a full season.  Add to that the fact that he will turn 40 before the All-Star Break and retirement begins to look obvious.  Still, many seemed surprised by the announcement (including manager Joe Girardi who said he had no clue it was coming).

Immediately articles began to appear asking whether (and some pronouncing that) Jeter is the greatest Yankee ever.  Personally, I find that hard to even discuss, given there are so many to choose from.  What he is the greatest at for certain, however, is self-control.  He has played one of the most important positions on the most important MLB team in the largest media market for almost 20 years without ever being involved in a scandal or hardly even a public disagreement.  That is truly remarkable.  I’m sure he has faults and that much of his persona has been cultivated the way many athletes try to do, but the fact is Jeter succeeded like no one else has.  Call it natural sincerity or innate smoothness, Jeter has it.

I could listen to Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez say exactly the same words and I have no doubt that they would be more meaningful coming from Jeter.  Therefore, I can certainly envision Jeter becoming involved in baseball management (or ownership) in the years to come, and perhaps even broadcasting although I think that is much less likely.  Will NYY try to tie him up with a services contract?  I’m guessing that he wants more responsibility than the Steinbrenners will give him which leads to the very interesting thought of Derek Jeter becoming the face of another MLB franchise.  Can you picture him as the owner of TBR where he lives in the off-season?  Or even more interesting, NYM?

Each of these stories will play-out over many years, but that just assures that I will have to continue to write about NYY and its stars, both during and after their careers.  As a writer, I guess I should be thankful for the endless supply of material.

January 24, 2014

NYY Looks to The Rising Sun To Replace Its Prodigal Son, but will it matter?

To date, I have intentionally avoided commenting on the arbitrator’s ruling affirming but reducing Alex Rodriguez’s suspension by MLB.  As an attorney, I appreciate that the order is not final until Rodriguez exhausts his legal remedies by challenging the alternative dispute resolution process in the official court system.  His chance of success there is slim, but I have seen enough unexpected rulings in my career that I will not foreclose the possibility of his prevailing and therefore will follow the sage advice of Yogi Berra and wait “until it is over” to comment further on the actions of NYY’s erstwhile third baseman.

However, I will not wait to comment on the Bros. Steinbrenner’s actions this week that would make their father proud.  NYY spent $175 million to sign the latest rising star from the land of the Rising Sun, Masahiro Tanaka.  From today’s perspective, after the arbitrator’s ruling, it is tempting to argue that the $22.1 million NYY saved in Rodriguez’s 2014 salary enabled them to sign Tanaka (his 2014 salary is $22.1 million).  However, the total dollars committed to the Tanaka transaction and the likelihood that a large portion of Rodriguez’s remaining $61 million in salary owed by NYY will have to be paid (not to mention the signings of Ellsbury, McCann and Beltran), simply reveal that Hank and Hal Steinbrenner realized that they could not hold the line on their payroll to get below the luxury tax threshold and still face the New York fans and media.  One year out of the post-season and the prospect of many more to come simply was not tolerable to them even with their father not around to remind them to win at all costs.

But whether signing a 25-year old pitcher who has never pitched an inning in MLB was wiser than re-signing your best player of the past 5 years remains to be seen.  And who is going to play third base or second base?  And is it likely that 2 late 30-somethings coming off major injuries will be able to man the difficult shortstop and first base positions for an entire season?  And how does Joe Girardi deploy 6 outfielders and keep them all happy?

Still many, many questions to be answered on the field, but off the field we can now say that NYY is still NYY.  At least some things in life can be counted on not to change, even when the new generation of Steinbrenners insisted that it would.

January 6, 2014

Internet Baseball Writers Association of America Selects 4 for Hall of Fame recognition

The IBWAA announced on Monday that its members had selected Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Frank Thomas and Craig Biggio to its Hall of Fame, joining previously elected Mike Piazza.  http://www.ibwaa.com.

December 31, 2013

Which of MLB’s former stars will really have a Happy New Year?

It is the last day of 2013 but my guess is that for about a dozen former baseball stars tonight’s New Year’s celebration will be put on hold for a week.  On January 8 the Baseball Writers Association of America will announce the results of its annual Hall of Fame election.  As we all know, a player who has been retired from baseball for at least five years and who is named on at least 75% of the ballots cast obtains baseball immortality.  It has always been something of a political process, but nothing like we witnessed last January when the voters pitched a shutout for the first time in seventeen years despite the eligibility of players holding some of baseball’s most cherished records and those surpassing milestones that previously signaled certain entry into the Hall.  Many in that group are anxiously awaiting next Thursday’s announcement, I’m sure.

This year the discussion has been focused more on whether Greg Maddux should become the first unanimous selection rather than whether Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and others should be elected despite suspected use of PED’s.  Either way, it appears certain that someone (and probably more than one someone) who played during the time of PED’s will be enshrined in Cooperstown next July along with the era’s dominant managers Joe Torre, Tony La Russa and Bobby Cox.

I gave my complete explanation last January as to why I hypothetically supported Bonds and Clemens for election (and it certainly wasn’t because I like them).    http://babesbaseball.com/2013/01/09/fame-fortune-fallen-fractured-failure-2013-hof-vote-gets-an-f/.  This year I actually get to cast a ballot of my own as a member of the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America which started its own vote a few years ago.  (www.ibwaa.com).  For the record, here is my ballot in alphabetical order.  There was a limit of ten votes and I used all ten.

Jeff Bagwell, Craig Biggio, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Tom Glavin, Jeff Kent, Barry Larkin, Greg Maddux, Jack Morris, Frank Thomas.

Astute readers will wonder about the vote for Barry Larkin.  Yes, he was elected by the BBWAA in 2012, but he has yet to obtain the required 75% in the IBWAA balloting.  Also, Mike Piazza was elected by the IBWAA voters last year when the BBWAA rejected everyone.

My ballot doesn’t actually count toward Cooperstown, of course.  Nevertheless, I would like to think that revealing it today could provide a little bit of New Year’s cheer for these 10 players who provided me with so many great baseball moments over the past 20 years, even many that made me very upset.  That’s why we love sports – it provides us heroes to worship and villains to hate.  I’d say my ballot is split about evenly.

December 23, 2013

The New Big Tex?

Earlier this year there was quite a controversy in Arlington as the Texas Rangers announced that Jon Daniels’ title had been enhanced from general manager to president for baseball operations.  The current “president” of the Rangers’ organization, Nolan Ryan, seemed to be totally unaware that such a move was to be made.  He remained notably silent for several days, despite intense media speculation about his reaction, before finally announcing that he would remain with the Rangers organization.  That proved to be true, of course, only through the end of the season.  The Rangers’ players barely made it to the parking lot after losing game 163 to TBR before Nolan announced he was resigning without any new position in mind.

So why would the Rangers’ ownership so publicly chose a 35-year Jewish kid from Queens who never played the game over one of the most iconic pitchers (and Texans) in MLB history?  Both Daniels and Ryan had been present during the Rangers’ rise from MLB door-mat to one of its winningest franchises, including back-to-back AL pennants.  Perhaps most surprising about this emergence from 50 years of futility was the success (and swagger) of the Rangers’ pitching staff, a turnaround that was generally credited to Ryan’s famous work-ethic being imparted throughout the Rangers’ system.   Daniels had made some key trades (Josh Hamilton, Cliff Lee) and free agent signings (Adrian Beltre, Yu Darvish), but was he really the mastermind of those deals?

Well, now we know that Daniels very much knows how to make big trades and sign big free agent deals even if Big Tex is not in the office next him.  First he made a stunning deal even before the Thanksgiving holiday by trading Ian Kinsler for Prince Fielder AND $30 million in cash. (Dave Dombrowsky is no dummy, but does anyone doubt that the Rangers got the better of this deal?)  Now Daniels has apparently signed Shin-soo Choo to a 7 year, $130 million deal to play left field and bat lead-off.  (This signing is being widely reported but has not been officially announced or even acknowledged by Daniels).

Assuming the reports are true, can there be any doubt that the Rangers have “won the off-season.”  This MLB experts doesn’t think there is:  http://mlb.mlb.com/news/article/tex/richard-justice-signing-shin-soo-choo-vaults-rangers-to-top-of-american-league-mountain?ymd=20131221&content_id=66125018.    Does that mean they will be winners next October?  We all know that teams don’t win championships in the off-season, whether it is MLB signings in December or high school football signings in February (ask Mack Brown).  Nevertheless, I will be very tempted to pencil in TEX when I make my AL West and AL pennant selections next March.  I have tried not to fall for the off-season hype in years past, and I’m starting early to remind myself again.  I wish I knew Nolan Ryan so I could ask him who he is picking, but he might be a tad sensitive about discussing his former team and the actions of the new sheriff in Arlington.

December 7, 2013

Yankee Restraint?

Yesterday I remarked on how Steinbrenner, Levine, Cashman, et al., were being applauded by most experts for not being suckered into matching SEA’s 10-year deal with Robinson Cano.  I whole-heartedly agreed with that sentiment, while at the same time questioning whether NYY was really exercising restraint or simply reallocating resources – from the infield to the outfield.  I was thinking of centerfield and the very questionable $153 million deal with Jacoby Ellsbury.   However, I woke up this morning to find that there has been an even greater shift in payroll in the Bronx.  Another $45 million has landed in the pockets of Carlos Beltran, presumably to be carried with him from the Yankees’ dugout to right field most games.  This move seems like a knee-jerk to me, and possibly a head-smacker.

NYY has now spent $200 million on centerfield and right field this off-season when those were arguably the only two positions that they had covered with Brett Gardner and Ichiro.  In addition, they already had Alfonso Soriano and Vernon Wells.  If you are counting, that’s now six outfielders for Joe Girardi to choose from.  In contrast, they have lost their second baseman and may lose their 3rd baseman and may not get their shortstop and first baseman back – at least not at 100%.  What’s a manager to do about that? They did sign Kelly Johnson, who is a nice utility guy who can play all infield positions – but not at the same time. Perhaps Cashman knows his pitching staff is so shaky that he will suggest that Girardi play his infield way back, as in the outfield.  Manager shifts are getting more extreme these days.

Baseball purists know that you have to be “strong up the middle,” and certainly the signing of McCann to catch is an upgrade, but I seriously question the wisdom of the Ellsbury and Beltran deals.  I don’t see the magnitude of performance difference between Gardner and Ellsbury that is reflected in their contracts.  I also wonder whether Beltran is due for a break-down, either due to age or return to NYC (he wasn’t nearly as good for the Mets as he was for STL).  Therefore, I believe the money spent on Ellsbury and Beltran would have been better spent on pitching.  Perhaps Cashman just doesn’t think there is good enough pitching available on the free agent market – except from Japan and Korea – or perhaps he is expecting to have even more funds available when Alex Rodriguez’s suspension is upheld.  Either way, these two deals still strike me as aimed at showing that the Yankees are still the Yankees (unrestrained spending) rather than representing savvy roster moves.

December 6, 2013

En Fuego Stove League!

I intended to write a final post reflecting on the 2013 season, but there is a point where recent events are no longer “news” and not yet “history.”  The 2013 MLB season clearly falls into that crack.  It is not news because any baseball fan today is talking about the Hot Stove, not the World Series.  It is not yet historic because we don’t have the perspective of another 10 or 5 or even 3 seasons.  If it happens that BOS wins another championship or 2 or 3 during any of those spans of years, then we will know that 2013 was part of a Red Sox dynastic period.

As if that thought alone was not enough to make NYY fans shiver in the wintry cold, they must at the same time deal with the scorching heat of the 2013 Hot Stove League which is, as Dan Patrick would say, “en fuego.”   Perhaps most Yankee fans don’t feel completely burned by today’s news that Robinson Cano will be wearing teal next year rather than pinstripes. (Most commentators are applauding the Yankees’ restraint – just think about that for a minute!)  However, the realization that a lifelong NYY superstar, and the obvious lynchpin of the roster for the foreseeable future, decided to leave Yankee Stadium to commit to playing the next 10 years of his career in Seattle should certainly cause some burning in the Bronx.

And that is just one story line in a plethora of roster moves teams have made even before the Winter Meetings have begun.  Sorry BOS, but your 2013 World Championship is so yesterday (as is your relationship with Jacoby Ellsbury – did someone say something about Yankee restraint?).  There are so many transactions to discuss that I have to turn my attention to next season and  we will just have to wait to see whether the 2013 actual season or the off-season proves to be the most meaningful.

However, just so we have a historical record to review in the future, I have compiled all my notes from the beginning of the pennant race through to the awards ceremonies (including a new picture of our Royal B.A.B.E. and her proud parents).  This now appears in the Recent Posts column as MLB 2013 RIP.  I hope you will at least take a few minutes to review what was a truly exciting post-season.   Whether it is regular season, post-season or off-season, there is no doubt that baseball remains sport’s greatest game.

(JSR- 2013)

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