Showing posts with label MLB. Show all posts
Showing posts with label MLB. Show all posts

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Twins trying to tackle pitching problems

The Twins were arguably a worse team than the White Sox last season despite finishing a few games ahead in the standings. Minnesota scored 16 more runs than the Sox, but with the help of maybe the worst rotation in baseball, the Twins yielded 65 more runs.

With a lack of pitching prospects in the pipeline, Minnesota has committed most of its resources this offseason to make its rotation less-bad. They gave journeyman Ricky Nolasco a four-year, $49 million contract, invested three years and $24 million in former Yankee Phil Hughes, and brought Mike Pelfrey back for two years and $11 million.

The Twins might not be done yet as they've been linked to free agent Matt Garza. Even if they don't hand out another big contract, they'll likely look at the free agent leftovers come January or February to see if they can add additional depth.

How far have the Twins come so far? Here's last year's top five starters by games started and their ERAs, and the projected top five for 2014, with their ages and career ERAs:

Kevin Correia (32) 4.18 (31 GS) Correia (33) (4.49 career)
Pelfrey (29) 5.19 (29 GS) Nolasco (31) 3.70 (4.37 career)
Scott Diamond (26) 5.43 (24 GS) Hughes (28) 5.19 (4.54 career)
Sam Deduno (29) 3.38 (18 GS) Pelfrey (30) (4.48 career)
Pedro Hernandez (24) 6.83 (14 GS) Deduno (30) (4.06 career)

Andrew Albers, Kyle Gibson and Vance Worley each made 10 starts for Minnesota last year with collectively awful results.

Even with $84 million invested, the Twins look like they have to cross their fingers here.

It's conceivable that Nolasco figured something out last year. It's also possible that he and Hughes, who is coming off a rough season by his standards, will both be helped by Target Field, which dampens the bats of left-handed hitters. Both have had a harder time against lefties in their careers. Hughes in particular may have been hurt by the short porch in right field at Yankee Stadium.

It's also possible that Pelfrey, another year removed from the elbow surgery he had in 2012, will get closer to his career ERA than the mark he posted last year. And the offseason is still young, so maybe they'll find a better option for the fifth spot than Deduno and the others.

That's a lot of stuff that has to break right for the Twins. That's a lot of wish-casting on pitchers who have never been considered above-average, much less elite, and are entering the age at which players exit the prime of their careers.

Give Minnesota credit for attempting to be more competitive. They went out and invested in guys who fit their philosophy of throwing strikes, who might be a good fit in their park, and acquired them the most expedient way possible by dipping into the free agent pool.

I'm still skeptical that this set of gambles will work out in a way that is a net positive for the Twins. Not when they could have done some more bargain shopping. Jake Westbrook and Bronson Arroyo are two guys who also could have been helped by Target Field. Because they are older, and in Westbrook's case coming off an injury, they would have commanded much less money than Nolasco.

Ervin Santana, Ubaldo Jimenez and Garza -- all still free agents -- might not command much more than $50 million, despite having much more impressive resumes, which makes me wonder why the Twins felt the need to strike so early on Nolasco.

With Nolasco, Pelfry, Hughes and Correia locked into four rotation spots, the Twins have less room to take a flier on other rehab, change-of-scenery, journeyman-filler or last-hurrah projects like Johan Santana, Roy Oswalt, Clayton Richard or Chris Capuano.

A veteran on a shorter deal might also be easier to flip for younger talent at the trade deadline if that's the position the Twins find themselves come July. The current pitching additions won't prevent that.

They will make Minnesota marginally better, and with MLB teams flush with money, none of these contracts will hamstring the team going forward, even if all of them are colossal failures.

Still, I can't help but think the Twins could set themselves up for more long-term value by taking a more creative approach to fixing their pitching.

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.

White Sox turn surplus into starting centerfielder

The White Sox resolved their logjam of starting pitchers by dealing one on Tuesday.

The Sox sent Hector Santiago and a player-to-be-named (probably Brandon Jacobs) as part of a three-team trade with the Diamondbacks and Angels, receiving Adam Eaton.

The 25-year-old left-handed outfielder has been highly touted coming through Arizona's farm system since being drafted in the 19th round of the 2010 draft. After a successful cup of coffee with the D'Backs in 2012 in which he hit .259/.382/.412 over 103 plate appearances, last season was derailed for Eaton when a torn UCL in his throwing arm sidelined him July. He ended up batting .252/.314/.360.

Eaton probably owes his low draft position to his modest stature (he is only 5-foot-8), but the results speak for themselves: In 1,560 minor-league plate appearances Eaton has slashed a .348/.450/.501 line, and has mostly answered questions about his ability to stick in centerfield.

That batting average isn't likely to carry over to the American League, but Eaton still has the offensive tools to be a very good leadoff hitter.

This is a big get for a White Sox team that probably wasn't going to stretch Avisail Garcia in center, and has apparently moved on from the idea of Alejandro De Aza playing there regularly. The Sox are now set to deal either De Aza, or incumbent left fielder Dayan Viciedo. If they don't like the offers for either player, De Aza probably becomes a fourth outfielder and Viciedo likely loses playing time against right-handed pitchers, against whom he's only managed to hit .242/.287/.388 so far in his big league career (vs. .322/.357/.551 against lefties).

As far as the players the Sox gave up, Santiago was a fun player to watch, and a fun player to root for, but despite the huge strikeout numbers (8.7 K/9), he still hasn't managed to get his walks under control (4.5 BB/9), and is too often victimized by home runs (17 allowed last year in 149 innings).

Santiago was not likely to repeat his 3.56 ERA from last year with those factors working against him. It's also an open question if he can handle a starter's workload as last year he wore down noticibly as the season progressed, partially evidenced by his declining K rate each month from May on (10.0 in May, 9.9 in June, 9.5 in July, 6.7 in August and 4.7 in September).

That's not to say Santiago can't improve, the same way Quintana did in a second season spent primarily as a starter. But Santiago was still the rotation's weakest link, making him the most expendable piece the Sox could give up in trade.

Jacobs, an outfielder that came over from the Red Sox in the Matt Thornton trade, only batted .237/.291/.327 at Charlotte after his arrival. The 23-year-old will be eligible to be taken in this week's Rule V draft, though probably won't be selected.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

White Sox, Cubs add relievers

Content to fill out the back of their rosters -- perhaps because neither team anticipates any other major roster-reshaping moves -- the White Sox and Cubs have both added relievers on one-year contracts.

The Sox signed Ronald Belisario to a one-year, $3 million deal. He was non-tendered by the Dodgers earlier this week. Because he has so little service time, the 30-year-old right-hander will be under Sox control beyond this season if they want to take him to arbitration.

Belisario brings speed (not that kind) with his mid-90s stuff, but the Sox probably most value his ability to keep the ball in the park. In his MLB career spanning 265 innings, all with the Dodgers, he's given up only 16 home runs. Without eye-popping strikeout numbers (6.5 K/9 last year) or exceptional control (3.7 BB/9), it will be critical he keeps getting the ground balls. His 1.57 GB/FB ratio is what drives his 3.29 career ERA.

Meanwhile, the Cubs signed left-hander Wesley Wright to a one-year, $1.45 million contract. Another non-tendered player, the Cubs will control him next offseason if he meets expectations as a lefty-beating reliever. The 28-year-old has a career 4.37 ERA. While he does rack up the strikeouts (9.2 K/9 last year), he's often been beaten by the long ball (1.3 HR/9 in his career).

Wright just completed a season split between the Rays and Astros with a 3.69 ERA over 53 1/3 innings. The lefty reliever role seems to suit him as he's held same-handed hitters to a .231/.313/.342 line, compared to the .266/.356/.500 line right-handed batters have tagged him for in his career.

While neither of these moves seems terribly exciting, both the Sox and Cubs probably both got marginally better by aggressively courting players non-tendered by their former teams. In the case of Belisario, the Sox agreed to pay more than what MLB Trade Rumors estimated the player probably would have made in arbitration had the Dodgers decided to go that route to retain his services.

Now it remains to be seen if either player can be part of a surprising season for either team, or at least become and asset worth retaining or flipping at next year's trade deadline.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Moore will be no lame duck for Royals

The Kansas City Royals announced last week that GM Dayton Moore would be getting a two-year extension. His contract, which was set to expire after 2014, now runs through 2016.

Royals GM Dayton Moore.
Setting aside the issue how good or poor Moore is at running a baseball team, giving him an extension is a good idea for the Royals.

It's never a good idea to let a coach, or especially a general manager, go into a lame-duck season. Why? Because you don't want anyone making short-term decisions with the goal saving their job at the expense of the long-term fortunes of the team.

You could argue Moore has already done that, swapping Wil Myers for James Shields last off season. If the Royals hadn't just won 86 games and been on the periphery of the Wild Card chase, Moore might have been looking for a job right now.

Maybe the extension happened a year too late, because here's the thing: No matter how many years Moore has left on his contract, when Royals owner David Glass gets tired of him, he will fire him.

And why not? Moore made only $1 million per year on his original contract. Double that, extend him for five years, then fire him next winter, and the Royals will have wasted only a fraction of what Moore might spend on a low-tier free agent.

In that sense it is a false job security a baseball executive has with a long-term contract, though like most of us, I'm sure Moore and his colleagues aren't averse to being guaranteed some measure of financial security. The investment to keep management focused on the long-term is so modest compared to the downside of rash decision-making, it just doesn't make sense to let a GM twist in the winds of a contract year.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Adam Dunn and the difference between overpaid, useless

With baseball's winter meetings approaching, a fair number of White Sox fans might be wishing for the team to find some way to banish Adam Dunn.

Adam Dunn is vastly overpaid.
With the hoopla surrounding his arrival in Chicago, and the four-year, $56 million contract he was given, it's not hard to see why the Sox shouldn't be disappointed in Dunn. In the first three years of the deal, the lefty slugger has hit .197/.317/.407. That includes a disastrous Year 1 in which Dunn rushed back from an appendectomy and promptly hit .159/.292./.277.

When you sign a free agent in his 30s (Dunn was 31 the first year of his deal), you usually do so with the expectations that the player could very likely decline to the point you're better off punting the last year or so of the contract.

Dunn, however, has had a funny performance arc. The first year was nothing if not calamitous. Then he rebounded to be actually pretty decent in 2012, and was doing the same last year before a crummy September.

What the Sox get from him next year is anybody's guess. Assuming Dunn stays with the Sox -- a good assumption considering he's owed $15 million still for next year -- I think it's fair to say that no matter what happens, his sum total of production will fall short of giving the team any value for it's money. (In fact, both Baseball Reference and Fangraphs calculate his production as being worth negative 1.5 Wins Above Replacement).

While WAR might peg Dunn as being worth less than any guy off the street, is that true? The Sox don't really have another internal candidate to take at-bats at designated hitter who would be an obvious upgrade. That's why they forked over a ton of money for Dunn in the first place.

And Dunn was the team's best hitter last season. That really says more about how awful the Sox's offense was in 2013, but it also indicates that instead of spending resources to upgrade over Dunn, the team might get a bigger boost from allocating those resources to filling another gaping hole in the roster, like catcher, or adding another outfielder.

Going that route might be more palatable than eating Dunn's contract just to give money to someone like Mike Napoli, who like Dunn three years ago, might be the best slugger on the market. The similarities between the two -- including all of the strikeouts -- might just be too much to stomach for fans more eager to see Dunn depart than for someone to take his place.

Dunn will not make good on his contract, even if he could somehow rebound next year to hit. .250..381/.521 like he did before he put on a White Sox uniform. But that's really irrelevant to where the Sox go from here. The only thing that's relevant is trying to maximize what resources they've got on hand.

What they have still in Dunn is a hitter who can likely give them better than league-average offense, maybe better if he's protected from some of the left-handed pitching that's given him problems the last couple years. He's not blocking anybody from getting developmental at-bats.

In other words, the Sox still have a use for him, at least until they actually find a better hitter to DH, or can find a trade partner willing to save them a few bucks by not making them eat all of his salary.

Even if the Sox did make a splash with a free agent outfield addition, and wanted to add that guy and current outfielders Dayan Viciedo and Alejandro DeAza to the DH mix, Dunn's bat would probably still fit into some sort of platoon situation.

It won't be much consolation, but at least he'll still be able to give the team something.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

AL Central might be happy to see more Jason Vargas

The Royals signed left-handed starter Jason Vargas to a four-year, $32 million contract last week, no doubt hoping he'll fill the gap in their rotation left by the likely exit of Ervin Santana, who just turned in a terrific season for Kansas City.

While Vargas, with his 4.30 career ERA, including 4.02 last year for the Angels, probably can't match what Santana just did for the Royals (3.24 ERA over 211 innings), he can maybe improve what Kansas City got from guys like Wade Davis (5.32) and Luis Mendoza (5.36) across nearly 40 mostly poor starts.

To do that, Vargas is going to have to prove he's not the creation of his home parks. Toiling mostly for the Angels and Mariners, who both have pitcher-friendly homes, Vargas has a career ERA of 3.46 when he's sleeping in his own bed. When he hits the road, however, he's been reached for a 5.17 ERA.

There's some talk about how Kauffman Stadium, where the Royals play, is a good fit for Vargas. While the K might keep some home run numbers down, overall it isn't a pitcher's haven like the ballparks in Los Angeles or Seattle.

If the Royals think Vargas might have an advantage in some of the AL Central parks, the proof hasn't been in the pudding:

ERAs vs. AL Central Teams
6.31 vs. White Sox
5.40 vs. Indians
5.28 vs. Twins
4.60 vs. Tigers

It looks worse in each of those teams' home parks. Vargas has been slammed by the Twins for a .386/.440/.603 batting line against (9.16 ERA). The Sox have whipped him for a .283/.333/.554 line (6.45 ERA). The Tigers have mauled him at a .311/.354/.556 rate (8.71 ERA). Only the Indians have been held in check at home by Vargas for a .235/.291/.353 line (1.93 ERA).

Granted, you can divide numbers up into portions so small that they're meaningless. Vargas has pitched no more than 22 1/3 innings in any of those ballparks, though the aggregate picture when all of those innings are combined isn't pretty. Nor is the 5.31 ERA Vargas has turned in over 20 1/3 innings as a visitor to Kauffman Stadium.

Still, the Indians, who last year hit left-handed pitching much better than right-handed pitching, are probably looking forward to getting more cracks at Vargas. White Sox DH Adam Dunn, who at times struggles against left-handers, isn't going to be sad to see more of a guy who he has hit .429/.636/1.286 against in his career. (No type-Os there. Dunn has crushed Vargas.)

That's not to say the past keeps on repeating itself. Maybe Vargas will prove to be resilient. Perhaps now that he's reached his 30s he will remain durable, and is becoming crafty as we're sometimes wont to describe left-handers without great stuff.

I'm not seeing enough evidence of that to warrant the largess of this contract. Even understanding that in today's free agent dollars, $8 million per year isn't all that much, and might be within Vargas' reach to be worth that money, I don't know why the Royals had to rush out to make sure the ink dried on this deal before the end of November.

Not when there are so many better options still available, including a few options that might be better and much cheaper.