Showing posts with label Juan Uribe. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Juan Uribe. Show all posts

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Signing young players an accelerating trend

With left-handers Jose Quintana and Chris Sale now both signed to long-term contracts, the White Sox have two rotation anchors locked into affordable salaries for the rest of the decade.

It's not hard to see the upside for the Sox in making those deals. Sale is among the very best pitchers in the game, and Quintana has quietly been up to the task of No. 2 starter. Both guys are young enough to desire some security, and the Sox have some cost certainty and the flexibility that comes for paying their two best pitchers low annual salaries.

Locking up players before they reach arbitration, with teams sometimes getting discounted free agent years, isn't new. It was sometimes called the Cleveland Model after the Indians of the 1990s gave young players like Albert Belle, Manny Ramirez, Jim Thome and Omar Vizquel long-term extensions instead of taking them to arbitration year-to-year.

More recently, the Rays reaped huge rewards by signing third baseman Evan Longoria to a massive bargain of a contract very early in his career. Longoria's been so good that Tampa Bay went to the next step of extending him again so they can keep him through the 2023 season if a team option is exercised. His new deal is still looked at as a bargain for the Rays.

So if it's been going on for so long, how is this trend now accelerating?

Just look at what the Astros are trying to do right now. In addition to offering a long-term deal to a player who hasn't even reached the majors yet, they've been rumored to be offering their third baseman Matt Dominguez a five-year contract with team option years at the end.

Nothing has officially happened yet with Dominguez, so we're not entirely clear on the Astros' thinking here. One thing for sure is that Dominguez isn't the type of player we usually think about for these early contract extensions.

Dominguez is 24-years old and has a .248/.290/.410 career batting line in 750 plate appearances. He was a first-round pick in 2007 and has an OK glove, but his minor-league career as a hitter (.256/.323/.409) suggests Dominguez is pretty much everything we can expect him to be. That's a capable third baseman who in a good year won't poison your lineup with his bat.

Maybe there's something I'm not seeing here, and he'll surprise almost everyone and become an All-Star-type player. Frankly, I'll be surprised if Dominguez is just still in the majors after his 30th birthday.

Even accounting for how crummy the free agent market has been for third basemen in recent seasons -- Juan Uribe was the (booby) prize there this offseason, Kevin Youkilis and Jeff Keppinger the last -- locking up your own fringe players doesn't yet look like a great idea.

The five years and $17 million the Astros allegedly have on the table for Dominguez is more than Uribe, Youkilis or Keppinger received. Dominguez would make less annually, and offer Houston a pair of option years at around $9 million each if he did get better.

But there's still the reality that Dominguez isn't any better. Or that he goes the way of Mark Teahen, Sean Burroughs, Josh Fields or Kevin Orie, all of whom began their careers with more promise than Dominguez, and none of whom spent their 20s getting better.

Locking in mediocre-to-bad players doesn't really give a team good value. Even if a contract like this gave a team some sort of performance floor -- which it can't guarantee -- and some cost certainty, should the Astros ever look like a contender again, Dominguez's spot will probably still look like an area that could be upgraded. Except then the upgrade is even more expensive when you have to pay the incumbent to go away.

Teams are still smart to be exploring ways to lock up their young players before being priced out of the market for their talents. They might still want to consider where to draw the line when it comes to big deals and continuing to go year-to-year.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Thanks Uribe for the memories, no thanks for a White Sox return

Somehow, despite the White Sox openly rolling with the rebuilding label (ok, I'm sorry, retooling), the team has been linked to free agent Juan Uribe.

Juan Uribe.
Sox fans remember Uribe as the slick-fielding shortstop who was part of a championship team in 2005, who had a terrific offensive year when he first arrived in 2004, who lost his job in 2008 when the Sox acquired Orlando Cabrera and Alexei Ramirez, but still helped save the day for the playoff-bound Sox by filling in at third base when Joe Crede was lost to injury.

Since then Uribe had a couple nice season with Giants before signing a three-year deal with Dodgers. He's coming off a season in Los Angeles in which he hit .278/.331/.438 and played very good defense at third base.

You do have to hand it to Uribe, if you had asked me eight years ago which member of the 2005 Sox would have the best 2013 performance, he might not have been in my first 10 guesses. (Neal Cotts wouldn't have been either!).

Presumably, Uribe would fill the third base hole on the Sox roster, at least as an option instead internal choices of Conor Gillaspie or Marcus Semien.

Except here's the thing. Here are two guys and what they've done the last three seasons:

Player A: .237/.295/.360
Player B: .284/.316/.376

Ok, in this Rob Neyer-patented shell game, Uribe is obviously Player A. Despite a very nice 2013, Uribe wasn't very good during his three years with the Dodgers. That he had a .322 batting average on balls in play -- not an outrageous figure, but certainly well above his career .282 mark -- means Uribe was almost certainly a little lucky to produce as fine of an offensive year as he did last season.

Player B is Jeff Keppinger, who is last year's attempt to paper over the hole at third base with a utility infielder. That was obviously a disaster, though at least a modestly priced one.

The rationale for bringing Keppinger aboard was different a year ago, and I largely agreed with it. The Sox were coming off a season in which they led their division most of the year, were hoping to be good enough to contend, but not so good that a huge investment in third base seemed terribly prudent. So they signed Keppinger for a reasonable 3-year, $12 million deal figuring that if a better option sprang up, they'd have an overpaid utility infielder.

The problem is that Keppinger, like just about everyone on the Sox last year, hit much worse than expected. He didn't fill the hole at third base, and presently looks like he doesn't even have a place on the roster now that Leury Garcia is here. In Garcia, the Sox have a guy who even with limited offensive potential, can probably hit as well as Keppinger last year, but has a fantastic glove all over the field.

With the pretense of being a contender cast to the side, it makes much more sense to see if Gillaspie can take a step forward, or Semien can take a step up, than it does to mess around with another year of Keppinger, or two or three years with a Uribe reunion.

I get that guys from championship teams are remembered fondly. I even understood the desire by many to bring catcher A.J. Pierzynski back -- that's a position where the Sox have another black hole instead of production, and unlike third base, the alternatives there seem even less credible.

Still, it's time to give up the ghosts of past glory. While Uribe returning to the team he helped to a title might make for a good puff piece during spring training, the reality is that he's just not a good fit for the Sox. It's time for Sox fans to just collectively, please, let it go.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Monday quadrupleheader: Best day of the playoffs so far

I have been waiting for a day like Monday. All four divisional playoff series were in action, and this was a quadrupleheader of games that had it all: three one-run decisions, a near no-hitter by Michael Wacha, clutch home runs by Jose Lobaton and Juan Uribe and a bench-clearing incident in Detroit.

There is so much to talk about I could never mention it all in one blog post, but I'll try to touch on a talking point or two from each game.

Oakland 6, Detroit 3

The A's are a team that believes in statistical analysis, so I'm sure manager Bob Melvin was aware of the lefty/righty splits on Detroit pitcher Anibal Sanchez.

For the season, lefties hit .247 against Sanchez, while righties hit at a miserable .207 clip. Accordingly, Melvin loaded his lineup with seven left-handed bats Monday against Sanchez. Three left-handed hitters -- Josh Reddick, Brandon Moss and Seth Smith -- took the Detroit right-hander deep over the first five innings of Oakland's victory, which gave the A's a 2-1 series lead.

The game will be best remembered for a bench-clearing incident in the bottom of the ninth inning. Oakland closer Grant Balfour and Victor Martinez exchanged insults after a foul ball. Amusingly, the crowd mic on MLB Network picked up all the expletives. After order was restored, Balfour nailed down the save. The A's will look to close out the series Tuesday.

St. Louis 2, Pittsburgh 1

Wacha nearly no-hit the Washington Nationals in his last regular season start. In that game, he lost his bid on an infield single by Ryan Zimmerman with two outs in the ninth inning. This time, with the Cardinals season hanging in the balance, Wacha took a no-hitter into the eighth inning before losing it in a slightly less cheap manner -- he gave up a 430-foot bomb to Pittsburgh third baseman Pedro Alvarez.

But the St. Louis bullpen came on to close this one out for Wacha, and the Cardinals tied the series at 2-2 and forced a decisive Game 5 on Wednesday.

You have to wonder why it took the Cardinals four games to send Wacha to the mound. Adam Wainwright is their ace, but after him, Wacha has been St. Louis' next best pitcher. If the Cardinals are fortunate enough to advance to the NLCS, they need to make sure Wacha is in line to make two starts in that series. He really impressed me with his fastball-changeup combination. I think he's a better pitcher than both Lance Lynn and Joe Kelly, at least at this moment.

There will be no debate over who gets the ball in Game 5 for St. Louis. It will be Wainwright. Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle has chosen to start rookie Gerrit Cole instead of veteran A.J. Burnett. I like the move by Hurdle. Burnett was shelled in Game 1 of this series, while Cole was masterful in a Game 2 victory. In a winner-take-all situation, I believe you go with the guy who is pitching best, regardless of experience level.

Tampa Bay 5, Boston 4

The Rays have always been a resilient bunch, and they got off the deck in this game a couple times. The Red Sox jumped out to a 3-0 lead halfway through, but Tampa Bay tied it on a three-run homer by Evan Longoria in the bottom of the fifth inning. 

When Longoria stepped to the plate, the Rays had runners on second and third with two outs. I'm sure some Boston fans are wondering why the Red Sox didn't just put Longoria on with first base open. Conventional wisdom says you don't give teams baserunners with a three-run lead. In this case, I agree with conventional wisdom. But, Longoria is far and away the most dangerous hitter in the Tampa Bay lineup. There's a case to be made that you don't let him beat you and take your chances with the rookie on deck, Wil Myers. The Red Sox pitched to Longoria, and his blast changed the complexion of the game.

Tampa Bay scratched across a run in the bottom of the eighth inning to go ahead 4-3. Boston answered with a run of its own in the top of the ninth off Rays' closer Fernando Rodney. No matter. The Rays got it right back when Lobaton hit a walk-off shot off Boston closer Koji Uehara, who gave up only five home runs all season. Go figure.

The Rays still trail the series, 2-1, but they have life. Game 4 is Tuesday.

Los Angeles 4, Atlanta 3

The day started with a curious decision by Dodgers manager Don Mattingly. He scratched scheduled starter Ricky Nolasco and brought back ace Clayton Kershaw on three days' rest. Mind you, Kershaw threw 124 pitches in his Game 1 victory, and Los Angeles entered Monday's play with a 2-1 series lead. I can understand wanting to throw your ace one more time if you're facing elimination, but the Dodgers were not in that situation. I was really surprised they brought Kershaw back on short rest. It was a move that reeked of needless desperation.

But give Kershaw credit. He threw the ball well once again, allowing just two unearned runs over six innings. However, Braves veteran Freddy Garcia matched Kershaw pitch for pitch, and Atlanta took a 3-2 lead into the bottom of the eighth inning. Facing elimination, if there was ever a time for the Braves to ask closer Craig Kimbrel for a six-out save, this was it. Instead, David Carpenter pitched the eighth inning for Atlanta. It took him two batters to blow the lead. Yasiel Puig doubled and scored moments late on the game-winning home run by Uribe.

Mattingly wanted Uribe to bunt on the pitches prior to the home run. That didn't work out so well, but the home run erased the stink. Suffice to say, I think the Los Angeles manager made a couple of questionable choices on Monday. He got away with them, and now his team is in the NLCS, awaiting the St. Louis-Pittsburgh winner.