Living in Arizona means I’m among the fortunate whose season runs just a bit longer than most everyone else but even ours comes to a close eventually. The Arizona Fall League Championship Game signals the igniting of The Hot Stove season which runs until pitchers and catchers report in February.
The Winter Meetings concluded this past week and while it’s still nothing more than a glorified happy hour, there were more trades made than in the past three combined and the foundations were set for more after the holidays. As I predicted, the Veteran’s Committed failed to elect anyone, although the underrated Tony Oliva made a surprising run, missing by one vote, as did Dick Allen. If one thing should be obvious at this point with the VC it’s time to put an end to the Gil Hodges love-fest. He was never a good candidate to begin with, either traditionally or sabermetrically and is even less so now forty-two years after his passing.
Growing up in the frozen Northeast I’d always be desperate for off-season news. There was no ESPN or internet or sports talk radio, so whatever was in the local sports page was welcomed no matter how small or infrequent the information was. Nowadays information is everywhere either through blogs or social media sites trying to be the next big thing. We even have teenagers on Twitter claiming to be “insiders” which pushes the envelope to the limit if you ask me.
Billy Beane has taken more than his share of negative feedback on some of his most recent transactions and while most of it is deserved, it’s also defensible. As the A’s General Manager, Beane’s job is the same as any other businessman, put out the best product as possible while staying under budget. Beginning in 2005 however, Beane began wearing two hats; one his manager of operations lid he’d been wearing since 1997, the other as part-owner, which meant he now reports to himself to some degree.
I’m currently reading the biography of a former major league executive and in one passage he speaks about going through the same things Beane has been, working for a lame duck franchise and intentionally ‘devaluing the product” so as to make the transition to new ownership smoother. The A’s gave up on Josh Donaldson two years before arbitration because they didn’t want to price themselves out of a decent return. They traded a potential All-Star shortstop to rent Jeff Samardzija for two months. They traded their top lefthanded power bat for a scrub infielder who may never play major league ball regularly. We’ve seen examples of “devaluing” in the past, Montreal, Texas, Arizona and San Diego come to mind, and even the current Mets situation qualifies. Teams aren’t going to lay out financial committments they can’t keep or someone else doesn’t want.
The myth of Moneyball aside, Beane understands the process better than most of his peers because he played the game, which gave him the ability to see unseen skills in a player that don’t show up on a spreadsheet. I used to be anti-Beane myself, but I’ve come to learn over the years he’s trying to balance the budget of a business without hurting his own bottom line.
Time to give the guy a break.
The close of the Winter Meetings signals the beginning of the off-season “dead zone”, as most team offices close until after the first of the year, which means there are few conversations and even fewer transactions. What we start to see is the various blogs and websites publishing their own top prospect lists. For a minor league junkie like myself I like reading about players I haven’t seen yet, but I also have to take that information with a grain of salt because in all likelihood the person doing the writing hasn’t seen him either.
Baseball America started the list process in 1992 and over the years built up a long list of respected baseball people (myself included) that did see players and could offer legitmate information above batting average and strikeout rates. Since then other reputable sites including our parent site have hired their own group of former scouts and personnel to write about what their experienced eyes tell them.
“I think Player X is a top 20 prospect”
“Because he had a X stat in a pitcher’s park in a hitter’s league”
“Why is Player Y not on your list?”
“Because my formula says he’s not as good as others think”
“What is your formula”
“Can’t tell you”
Word to the wise. Find someone you like and who thinks like you do; Jonathan Mayo, Bernie Pleskoff, John Sickels, whoever, and stick with one or two.
Too much information really does cloud the waters because it’s hard to swim through.
This past Wednesday evening the ugly side of social media and the internet played itself out once again, and once again the only people who were affected did nothing but read it.
I think it was Jayson Stark who said; “The best thing about the internet is it gives people a voice who otherwise wouldn’t have one, the worst thing about the internet is it gives people a voice who shouldn’t have one,” and that statement yet again has been proven to have some truth to it.
I won’t mention any names here because the last thing I want to do is give any more time to people who’ve already exhausted their fifteen minutes. It started simple enough, a re-tweet from a follower written by an individual with “MLB” as part of his handle. Look at my Twitter friends and followers (@prospect_pulse), most of them are associated with baseball in some capacity and that accounts for probably 80% of my interactions, so I thought nothing of it. As time passed and the tweet continued to be moved around, I received another re-tweet, this time from an account that had “ESPN” as part of its tag, so I figured there was some legitimacy to the story.
Well, I found out maybe twenty seconds later, it wasn’t. The ESPN account was a fake, and the initial “tweeter” was a high school kid who, according to his profile, is a “major league insider.”
So, we all got taken, and badly.
Now, stuff like this has happened before; just a few weeks ago ESPN Baseball writer Jerry Crasnick was the victim of a fake Twitter account, and with the Winter Meetings taking place next week, I’m sure we will see situations like this again. These things happen so frequently that I’ve gotten into the habit of looking at unfamiliar users account profiles and follow lists as a way to check their credibility even if I trust who sent it to me. I didn’t this time for reasons I can’t explain, and I got burned.
What really ticked me off though was after the story turned out to be false, our intrepid “reporter” placed the blame on his source. Now, anyone who is in this media/reporting/evaluation field has been burned before, it’s the nature of the beast. Some details, especially those involving baseball trades or signings can change at the last minute and even immediately after the fact, as was the case years ago with the deal that sent Johan Santana to the Mets.
I can’t blame a source because they didn’t write the story or post the tweet, I did. It came from my account or my email address, to turn around and throw someone I trust under the bus just because I’m embarrassed to have egg dripping from my face is not only unprofessional, it’s flat-out disrespectful. Here’s another thing, most team connected personnel have a small list of outsiders they consider trustworthy enough to share information with, so if something does end up public, they’ll know pretty quickly, or at least have a good idea of who sprung the leak, at which time you’ll no longer be on their list.
Trust and respect is a two way street.
Now on to some other things.
*I’m concerned that authorities in the Dominican Republic will charge Texas Rangers prospect Ronald Guzman with the death of a motorcyclist who died after colliding with Guzman’s SUV this week.
*I believe the Veterans Committee will once again pitch a shut-out next week, selecting no one for induction off their ten man ballot.
*I was on Twitter last night when the news of the Josh Donaldson trade broke and it’s mind-boggling to me how anyone can think the Blue Jays won the deal. First, it’s way to early to make the suggestion, and second, using sabermetrics to defend your position isn’t going to win any arguments. To suggest Donaldson is “the second most valuable player in the American League over the past two years” just shows how poor a stat WAR really is. After some thought, though, this is my takeaway; Donaldson turns 29 next Friday and has played two major league seasons. As an evaluator, I don’t buy into someone being a late bloomer, Donaldson is clearly a guy who’s taken advantage of regular playing time, but for Billy Beane to trade him still a year away from arbitration and four years away from free agency tells me far more about his future than his stat sheet does.
It goes further than that, Beane is one of three General Managers (Jerry DiPoto, Ruben Amaro Jr) with major league playing experience. I said on Twitter last night what Beane does with his trades is “like taking candy from a baby” because while his other twenty-seven counterparts were in college studying things useless in running a franchise, Beane was studying baseball. He knows things which can only be learned from his experiences on the field, and the myth of Moneyball aside, he’s managed to stay competitive despite playing his home games in a sewage facility and having a budget slightly higher than my daughter’s allowance.
*I still believe the Yankees will find a way to get rid of Alex Rodriguez before Spring Training. I know if I was a player there is no way I’d want him back in our clubhouse after the things he said last off-season, and I’d feel the same way if I had Brian Cashman’s job. The Yankees over the past ten years or so have made some monumentally stupid financial decisions, eating $61 million dollars will be a drop in the bucket to some of them.
As a trained chef, I know the best way to save money on meat is to trim the fat, I think the best thing the Yankees can do to improve their quality is to “trim the fat” from their roster.
Living in Arizona gives an advantage in that the baseball season is a couple of months longer than it is for those in, say, Buffalo, with pitchers and catchers reporting in mid-February and the Arizona Fall League running until the second week in November.
As I was driving home from the AFL Championship Game last Saturday in Scottsdale the realization that baseball was really over for three months hit me, and with it came a sense of sadness that I’ve felt leading into every off-season for the past fifty years. To come home from work and not be able to flip on the TV to watch a game, or listen on the car radio while running Saturday errands is like trying to quit smoking, it’s just not that easy. Baseball will return soon enough, our first tournament with Perfect Game comes in January, but until then it’s going to be hard adjusting to a different routine even though I’ve been trying to adjust since Lyndon Johnson was President.
You’d think I’d have figured it out by now.
I was talking with friend (and fellow SABR member) Barry Bloom in the press box before the Championship game about his off-season plans. Barry’s a lifetime BBWAA member whose been covering Major League Baseball since the early 1980’s. After a brief vacation he’s heading to San Diego for the Winter Meetings and then back home to Arizona to ponder his 2015 Hall of Fame ballot. Now a senior writer for MLB.com, Barry covered the San Diego Padres for over twenty years with the Union-Tribune and to say he takes his voting responsibility seriously would be an understatement.
For those who know me, either through the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) or my other writings around the web, I’m a “small Hall” guy; I believe the Hall of Fame is for the super elite, those players, managers, umpires and executives who had a hand in changing and impacting the game and whose accomplishments and statistics are recognizable even without mentioning their name.
Our conversation turned to the upcoming Veteran’s Committee ballot scheduled to be voted on and announced in San Diego during the Winter Meetings on December 8th. The VC is considering candidates from the so-called “Golden Era,” those whose main contributions to the game took place between 1947-1972.
Among the candidates is Dick Allen, the 1972 American League Most Valuable Player and long considered one of the best players not yet enshrined in Cooperstown. When I brought up the subject, Barry’s first question to me was, “What makes Dick Allen a Hall of Famer?”. I was taken aback a bit by that, if only because I thought after first seeing the ballot Allen was the only candidate I’d vote for. He said the only guy he sees having a chance is Howsam because of what he did in putting together the great Cincinnati Reds “Big Red Machine” franchise of the 1970’s.
The converstion drifted onto the purpose of the VC, personally I think it should be disbanded altogether, although Barry made a good point about this year’s managerial electees needing a spot to be considered. Over the years, the Veteran’s Committee is responsible for many of the more egregious selections, especially during it’s early days, when players were elected more on the fact they were off field bar hopping buddies than their on field performance.
I was part of a Twitter debate on just this subject recently, specifically with fellow SABR member Graham Womack, founder and editor of the great website “Baseball: Past and Present.” Our conversation started with players who were elected without ever appearing on a BBWAA ballot (see?) and eventually turned to a debate on which guys we’d kick out if we had the chance.
We can’t do anything about removing players, after all we’re not responsible for them being put in to begin with. However, there’s a long-standing public mindset that thinks it’s OK to elect a poor candidate based on the ideal of, “Well, if Player X is in than Player Y should be in too” and that just doesn’t work for me.
Players have to be retired five years before they can appear on their first ballot, this is to essentially let the elements of favoritism fade away (although that didn’t work in the case of Kirby Puckett) and then, starting this year, remain on for a maximum ten years. No one becomes a better player fifteen years after he retires, if you can’t get in after ten years then you’re obviously not worthy, so there is no reason to consider you anymore.
The Hall of Fame is fine the way it is. No one has come up with a better way of doing things over the seventy year voting history, and I doubt there’s something on the horizon to change my mind.
The recent tragic death of Cardinals outfielder Oscar Taveras and his girlfriend puts into perspective what we forget sometimes; that athletes and celebrities are human beings and are subject to the joys and sadness of life just as we are. Because of their standing in the public eye, their failings are painted differently than if the same things happened to you or I if for no other reason than the media coverage it generates.
The loss of a young player with obvious star potential certainly grabbed our attention for awhile but for most of us I think we’ve moved on by now, although there is the maybe factor with this being something to remember for the rest of your lives.
One February morning in 2002 as I approached the freeway exit to go to work at about 5 am I could see the flashing lights of emergency vehicles in the distance. My first thought was they were in the opposite direction lane from mine so I wouldn’t be tied up in traffic, and as I approached it became clear something bad had happened. The vehicles were gone, the tow trucks and ambulances were gone, all which remained was the State Police Accident Investigation team. When you see those guys with their tape measures and flashlights walking and even crawling around looking for evidence it’s never a good sign.
Only later on did I find out that was the accident that killed San Diego Padres players Mike Darr and Duane Johnson. Since I drove by the exact spot on my way home it was something I thought of every day. As time went on though it became less and less and got to the point that it almost never happened, maybe during spring training I’d think more about it because of the timing, but after ten years it was hardly a thought anymore.
There is one case, however, that I do think about from time to time despite it being over forty years since it happened.
I grew up in southwestern Connecticut and there was an Eastern League franchise that played in nearby Waterbury. For years I’d go to games with my dad and grandfather and as I got older my mom would sometimes drop me off while she ran her errands and I’d just hangout and watch alone. For a few years in the late sixties the teams we had weren’t very good, especially in 1968 and 1969 with the Indians. The Giants started the franchise for Waterbury in 1966 and outside of Bobby Bonds I was too young to remember much about them. The Indians left Waterbury after the ’69 season and were replaced by the Pittsburgh Pirates. This was a good thing, the Pirates had played the previous two seasons in York, Pennsylvania and had won the Eastern League championship in ’69, so we were excited to get a good team.
And that’s exactly what happened.
The 1970 Pirates won the EL title in a one game playoff over the Reading Phillies and featured a number of future major league stars including Richie Zisk, Gene Clines and Bruce Kison. Our favorite player though was outfielder Zelman Jack.
Jack was a power hitter and with Charles Howard and Zisk made for a formidable lineup, but the part we liked the most was he had a great smile and attitude and would always talk with the kids waiting outside the tunnel entrance to the field and would sign anything.
Looking back, he wasn’t a major league caliber player, he played minor league ball for seven seasons and in 1971 returned to Waterbury at the age of 25, nowadays he would have stopped being a prospect a long time ago.
But what did we know, we just liked him, whether he’d ever play in the majors never crossed our twelve year old minds.
December 26, 1971, the day after Christmas and two days after my 15th birthday, I walked into the living room and as was my custom stole the sports section of the paper from my father. I sat down and looked at the headline, then flipped the fold over to see the bottom half of page one.
And there it was. “Jack, 25, Killed in Fall.”
It hit me like a ton of bricks, to this day I still can’t describe my exact feeling outside the fact it felt like losing a family member. I read the article but couldn’t process anything, and I remember going back and reading it again and again just to see if maybe I was missing something or that it wasn’t really there to begin with.
I still have the clipping.
Someone reading this likely has those same feelings about Mike Darr, and in twenty years those feelings will be just as strong, and in thirty years someone will have the same strong feelings about Oscar Taveras.
Take my word for it, it’s OK. I take out the clipping from time to time and read it and one thing remains the same; Zelman Jack is part of my childhood and an integral part of my love for baseball that won’t ever go away.
For which I’m forever grateful.
I have to say I was both surprised and disappointed at Adam Dunn’s recent decision to retire. He hit .201 over his four seasons in Chicago with 720 strikeouts in 528 games, poor numbers even by the previously established standards Dunn set for himself over his first ten major league seasons.
His lifetime On-base Percentage of .364 is the same as Mark Teixeira and is higher than both Robinson Cano and Ryan Howard, among others. His lifetime Slugging of .490 is the same as Reggie Jackson and puts him inside the top 140 players of all-time, but mention Dunn and the average fan thinks of two things; whiffs and really long homers.
He’s third on the all-time list with 2359 and over his fourteen year career owns five of the top twenty highest single season totals in history. He also had six forty homer seasons, five consecutive, and two other seasons of thirty-eight and finished his career with 462, which places him 35th on the all-time list. Through the negatives of the low average/high strikeout totals, Dunn manged to remain productive outside the long-ball, scoring 100 or more runs three times, driving in 100 or more six times and walking more than 100 eight times.
After homering for Team USA in the 2001 Futures Game, Dunn went to Cincinnati to start his big league journey and homered nineteen times in sixty-six games and after a couple of season totals in the twenties started his streak of forty plus in 2004 with a career high forty-six.
Dunn’s twenty-two homers this year was his lowest ever total in a qualifying season, as was his seventy-one walks, so it seems clear that maybe he was slowing down just enough to make it impossible to have him in the lineup everyday especially when he had no defensive value.
Dunn is young enough still to turn things around (he turns 35 in November), and as a free-agent would have the earned right to choose the best hitting environment and lineup in which to play. We’ve seen guys in their mid-thirties come on again after some down time, David Ortiz comes first to mind, you could probably put Albert Pujols on that list too.
Dunn’s decision clearly isn’t about money, he’s made about $112 million over his fourteen seasons. Career milestones also aren’t a factor, three more seasons would make him a lock for 2000 hits, 400 doubles, 1400 RBI and 1600 walks. It would also make him a lock to pass Jim Thome and Reggie Jackson for the all-time strikeout crown, but there’s one mark he could reach with just one average Dunn season and it’s arguably the most prestigious number in our sport.
The 500 Home Run Club.
Dunn needs thirty-eight homers to reach the plateau, and most likely would need to play into early 2016 to reach it.
For selfish reasons I’d like to see him hang around and get it done just to piss down the leg of the BBWAA. There are twenty-six members of the club and no non-steriod guy who’s reached the mark has ever been excluded from the Hall of Fame. Now, I’m not saying at all Dunn is a Hall of Famer or that he should even receive serious consideration, but it would certainly make the voters and suits in the Commissioner’s office squirm in their chairs for awhile.
Just for fun.
I know it would make Dave Kingman smile.
Chuck Johnson @prospect-pulse
Over the past ten years or so I’ve traveled around the internet looking for a place to call home. Just like in real life, some neighborhoods are better than others and sometimes what you see isn’t always what you get. I even tried to build my own place once but that didn’t go so well either.
From the very beginning at ArmchairGM and on through Bleacher Report, Dugout Central, New York Baseball Digest and Big League Magazine, writing about baseball has always been a therapeutic break from the daily ups and downs of life. There were high points and low points in each stop and just like in the real neighborhoods I’ve lived in I learned a lot and still have friends today despite not visiting the old places in many years.
I learned long ago writing is like having a long conversation with yourself. Instead of sitting around within a group and having them be your editors and critics you rely on the little voice in your head. I’ve also learned along the way feedback is a gift; good and bad. Negative feedback shouldn’t be taken personally despite its outward appearance to the contrary, it just means someone disagrees with my point and that I didn’t do a very good job expressing it.
What the little voice is telling me now is it’s time to give this a go again. I don’t know about building my own place, so I figure I’ll just rent for awhile and come back to a place I’m familiar with. Hopefully you’ll find it a welcoming place to visit as well.
Derek Jeter played his last game recently, and as he walked off the field for the last time the thought crossed my mind that this was something we won’t ever see again, especially as a Yankee fan.
The succession of legendary players who have left a permanent mark not only on Yankees history but baseball history stretches back to the Iron Horse, Lou Gehrig. Not forgetting the most iconic player of all time, Babe Ruth, but one should remember he spent some time playing in Boston before heading to New York.
Gehrig overlapped Ruth, who was followed by Joe DiMaggio, who was followed by Mickey Mantle, who was followed (briefly) by Bobby Murcer, who was replaced by Thurman Munson who was followed by Ron Guidry and then Don Mattingly and then Jeter.
I’ve been a Yankee fan a long time; I remember Mantle and Murcer and Munson but also Len Boehmer and Kevin Maas and Deion Sanders. I was a passenger on the wagon long before the band got on and even during the down years there was always someone to drive it, someone you had no problem watching and paying money to see.
Thanks for reading
Chuck Johnson @prospect_pulse
Dear National Baseball Media ~
With all due respect, Astros fans and bloggers would like for you to shut up about the Astros. Quit writing, quit opining and quit tweeting. In particular, please shut up about the Astros payroll and how it’s supposedly a slap in the face to The Integrity of the Game™.
Believe me when I tell you that Astros fans are well aware that the team lost 213 games over the last two seasons. We are painfully aware of that fact. We are also aware that the Astros will have the lowest payroll in, gasp, all of Major League Baseball. And you have done an admirable job hammering home ad naseum the fact that Alex Rodriguez will make more in 2013 than the entire Astros 25-man roster. Got it. At least I haven’t seen the hackneyed, tired and cliché “Houston, We’ve Got a Problem” headlines yet. (Seriously, it’s time to retire that one and come up with something a tad bit more original.)
For those of us in Houston, those of us who follow the team re-build closely, this year’s payroll is a non-issue. But for a few casual fans who don’t understand the whole concept of a major re-build, no one has really even been talking about it. Until now. Now that national baseball pundits have started claiming that the Astros payroll will somehow compromise The Integrity of the Game™.
The most prominent naysayer was Peter Gammons who tweeted out that it is “Houston’s plan to have no payroll, lose, get the 1-2 pick 4 years in a row and still steal revenue-sharing $.” Buster Olney also piled on implying that the Astros were not even trying to win and comparing the team to Shoeless Joe Jackson and Pete Rose in how the team was damaging The Integrity of the Game™.
Anyone who believes that the Astros are planning to lose and not even trying to win has not met this man.
Bo Porter, the new manager of the Astros, is an intense, driven man. He is a charismatic leader. He is a demanding task-master. He is an excellent teacher. In short, he is the perfect manager to inspire, motivate and get the absolute maximum effort from this team. Plain and simple, he will tolerate nothing less. I think this team will end up surprising a few people with their aggressive, hard-nosed style of play.
As to the payroll, are the Astros supposed to spend money just to spend money? That’s exactly how you end up paying Carlos Lee almost $19,000,000 to hit a grand total of nine home runs while blocking the ability to fairly evaluate whether or not Brett Wallace will be a part of the team going forward. At this point in the re-building process, it is more important to evaluate prospects than it is to sign free agents to long-term, high dollar contracts. The vast majority of Astros fans understand that and agree with General Manager Jeff Luhnow’s strategy of signing low-risk, high-reward one-year free agents. Until the team figures out what holes need to be filled from outside the organization in order to complement the talent coming up through the ranks, signing long-term (expensive) free agents could very well prove to be counter-productive, resulting in blocking prospects and tying up resources that would be better utilized in further building up the minor league system.
Let’s look at a few of the free agent signings from the winter and why I’m glad they didn’t sign with the Astros:
- Houston could have signed Shane Victorino to $13,000,000 a year for three years or Michael Bourn to an average of $12,000,000 over four years (and that’s without even getting into the Josh Hamilton’s and B.J. Upton’s of the world). Instead they are signing Rick Ankiel to a modest, incentive-based one-year deal while they wait for George Springer and Domingo Santana to get more experience.
- Houston could have signed 32-year old Jeff Keppinger to an average of $4,000,000 a year for three years or could have given 37-year old Marco Scutaro $20,000,000 over three years. Instead they signed Ronny Cedeno to a one-year contract while Marwin Gonzales and Jonathan Villar get more experience, and are giving 23-year old Matt Dominguez the chance to be an everyday third baseman for the team. Dominguez has already shown Gold Glove caliber defense and appears to be on the cusp of breaking out with the bat as well.
- Houston could have signed Lance Berkman to DH for one year for $10,000,000. Or they could do what they’re doing – add Carlos Pena at less than a third of that to establish a veteran presence and give Brett Wallace the opportunity to share the first base/DH duties with Pena. If Wallace can establish himself as a DH, he will be able to stick with the team when top prospect Jon Singleton joins the team later in the season.
- Houston could have signed 33-year old Jeremy Affeldt to $18,000,000 over three years. Instead they are signing 34-year old Erik Bedard to a fraction of that, hoping to catch lightening in a bottle while minor league lefties Dallas Keuchel, Brett Oberholtzer and Rudy Owens gain more experience.
- There were a number of huge free-agent contracts for right-handed pitching this year. Jeff Luhnow instead opted to go the low-risk, high-reward direction with Brad Peacock, Alex White and Phil Humber while we wait for Jordan Lyles, Jarred Cosart, Paul Clemens, Jose Cisnero and others to get more experience.
It’s funny that, in looking at all the angst over payroll, it is the the Astros that are taking heat for ruining The Integrity of the Game™ by re-building the team efficiently, while the Yankees are given a free pass in the comparisons as if paying A-Rod $114,000,000 over the next five seasons is good for The Integrity of the Game™.
I truly believe that the Houston team will surprise a few people with their play this season. And while it looks to be another tough season for the team, it will be a valuable season in terms of evaluating and developing prospects. In any event, when all is said and done, the Astros and their fans will have the last laugh. With players like Jon Singleton, Delino DeShields, Carlos Correa, Domingo Santana, George Springer, Lance McCullers, Rio Ruiz, Mike Foltynewicz, Jarred Cosart, Nick Tropeano and Jonathan Villar on their way, Houston is poised to field a strong team of home-grown prospects for many years to come. And that, my friends, is very good for The Integrity of the Game™.
Earlier this week, I looked at what the Astros and Blue Jays each netted as a result of the July 2012 10-player trade that sent Astros RHP Brandon Lyon, RHP David Carpenter and LHP J.A. Happ to the Blue Jays in exchange for major-leaguers RHP Francisco Cordero and OF Ben Francisco, and minor-leaguers RHP Asher Wojciechowski, C Carlos Perez, RHP Joe Musgrove, RHP Kevin Comer and LHP David Rollins. From that trade, only Happ remains with the Blue Jays, but not only are the five minor-leaguers still an integral part of the Astros farm system, four of the five appear on Jonathan Mayo’s recently released Astros Top 20 list on MLB.com.
RHP Asher Wojciechowski tops Mayo’s list at #15. He is also the most advanced player on the list, having excelled in his introduction to AA after the trade. In eight starts for AA Corpus Christi, Wojciechowski was 2-2 with a 2.06 ERA and a 1.008 WHIP. According to Mayo, Wojciechowski has a plus fastball and curveball, plus a changeup that is evolving into what may also be an above-average offering. He is projected to be a workhorse and Baseball America puts his ceiling as a #2 starter.
And while Wojciechowski looks to have a promising future, I wondered if he would ultimately prove to be the linchpin of the trade or if one of the other prospects might emerge as a key player in the trade. I discussed this with Mayo last week and got his thoughts on three of the four remaining prospects from the trade.
First we talked about RHP Joe Musgrove and RHP Kevin Comer, two intriguing high school arms drafted by the Blue Jays in the first round in 2011 who are just embarking on their careers. According to Mayo, “They both have tremendous potential and upside. I think that if it comes together for them, they have higher ceilings than Wojciechowski does.”
Comer, who Mayo ranks at #17 in the Astros Top 20 list, signed late in 2011 and did not pitch until 2012. He came to the Astros late in the season as the player to be named later and only pitched six innings for the Appy League Greeneville Astros, but had a respectable first season for Toronto’s rookie league Bluefield team, putting together a 3-3 record with a 3.95 ERA and a 1.177 WHIP. Still very raw, scouts like him for his solid mechanics and repeatable delivery and expect him to, at a minimum, have three average major league pitches.
Musgrove is ranked by Mayo at #19. In 2012, Musgrove was limited to 17 innings pitched due to a muscle strain in his shoulder, but had a solid debut in 2011 with a 4.01 ERA and a 0.987 WHIP in nine games (seven starts). Musgrove at 6’5″ 230# profiles to be a sturdy innings-eater. Add in an above-average fastball, and a curve and splitter that are projected to be at least major league average and you can see why scouts like him.
Mayo went on to talk about the risks and rewards of signing high school pitchers, “Loading up on high ceiling high school arms is the highest risk, but it’s also the highest reward more often than not. Obviously, there are a lot of exceptions, but a lot of the time the guys that end up being the top of the rotation types are those high ceiling high school guys. The nature of development dictates that those kind of young arms are the biggest wild card there is.”
C Carlos Perez is currently ranked by Mayo at #20, “I kept him in the 20 for a reason. There’s enough there to like. Sometimes with catchers, it can take a while. There’s a lot that you’re learning. So I tend to be a little more patient in waiting for catchers to develop. Not everybody’s Buster Posey.”
Mayo continued in his assessment of Perez, “He is at worst a back-up and a good one because not only does he have a good arm, but he also moves well behind the plate. There’s plenty of guys that catch and have strong arms and they can’t do anything else and what good does that do [if] it takes them too long to get rid of the ball and their footwork’s all messed up and things like that. He does all those things well so that will get him to the big leagues. How much he hits will really determine whether or not he’s an everyday guy or a decent back up.” Perez hit .275/.358/.447 in the Low A Midwest League before the trade and .318/.368/.409 in 26 games after the trade with High A Lancaster in the California League.
The final piece of the puzzle is lefty David Rollins. Although Rollins isn’t ranked as a top prospect, he had an impressive season at Low A in his second professional season, putting up a 7-4 record with a 2.98 ERA and a 1.252 WHIP in 24 starts. Since Rollins wasn’t on Mayo’s radar, I contacted Rollins to find out a little more about him and this is what he told me, “My pitch repertoire consists of a fastball (2 and 4 seam), curveball, slider, and my favorite, the circle change. I’d say my changeup is my best pitch. I can command it well and it helps keep hitters off balance. I’ve been working a lot this off season on my curve ball. I stopped throwing it this past season because I lost confidence in it. I’m steadily gaining it back and ready to see it in a game situation. I have been doing a lot of long tossing and band work to get arm strength so I can gain velo. The movement on my fastball and off speed help me get ground outs and pop ups so I just need to learn to command them all to be successful.”
When asked about his strengths as a pitcher as well as what he needs to work on, Rollins stated, “I would have to say I keep the hitters off balance well. I now recognize if the hitter doesn’t hit something well, I’ll go to that pitch. Also I have been working on a pick-off move and it is now in my arsenal of things I have worked the kinks out of. The main thing I need to focus more on and to improve is the command of my pitches and I have been working hard this off season to do that so when I go into spring training I’ll already know the feel for all my pitches.”
It is doubtful that all five of these prospects will end up contributing to the Astros at the major league level some day simply because the odds are against even one prospect making his mark, much less five of them. But I like the talent and potential that GM Jeff Luhnow added to the farm system in this deal – a durable AA righty, two high ceiling high school draftees, a great defensive catcher with a promising bat and an up-and-coming lefty with a plan. Any one of these players could make the Blue Jays rue the day that they agreed to this trade.
Thanks to Jonathan Mayo for taking the time out to talk to me. Mayo’s Prospect Watch for 2013 can be found here. For more on the Astros minor league system, visit What the Heck, Bobby? or follow me on twitter @whattheheck57.
Yesterday, @ProductiveOuts posed the following question:
Which got me thinking, why would a team trade their best prospect when they have a team that won’t be near its peak for 2-3 more years? @ProductiveOuts (I’m not sure if it was Ian or Riley, so I will act as if the are one entity) and Craig Goldstein gave a number of responses which were all plausible, but which one is correct? Note: It was pretty apparent that none of us like the idea of dealing Wil Myers, something Craig noted here.
(1) @HypeProspect – They know something we don’t.
This is the Occam’s Razor answer, assuming that the Royals know something about Myers that other teams don’t know and want to use it in their favor.
Why is it makes sense: Because we really don’t know what teams know and teams absolutely know things we don’t.
Why it doesn’t make sense: It has become increasingly difficult to totally hide a prospect’s misdoings (think Matt Bush), his performance was so strong and his future is so bright that Baseball America named him their 2012 Minor League Player of the Year.
(2) @ProductiveOuts – Conflicting priorities and pressures that are leading to a terrible decision.
This answer is much more nuanced than the first possibility, but still relies upon Occam’s Razor. The Royals were surprise team in 2011 and their fans became increasingly excited about the next few years. The 2012 Royals struggled despite getting full seasons out of many of their young players, such as Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, and Alcides Escobar, and significant contributions from many young players, such as Salvador Perez and Lorenzo Cain.
Why it makes sense: You may notice that there were no pitching prospects listed, as their prospects have not been able to add value at the Major League level. John Lamb (torn UCL – Tommy John surgery in 2011), Mike Montgomery (general ineffectiveness in the high minors), Chris Dwyer (general ineffectiveness in the high minors), Danny Duffy (torn UCL – Tommy John surgery in 2012), and Noel Arguelles (general ineffectiveness in the high minors) have combined for 133 innings across 26 starts at the major league level, all of which have come from Duffy. There sits Dayton Moore, watching an offense that is ready for prime time (and has reinforcements on the way in the form of Bubba Starling and Jorge Bonifacio) and only sees three pitching prospects left in the minors that look like they may pan out, 2012 #1 pick Kyle Zimmer, Yordano Ventura (whose short-for-baseball stature and lithe frame make him look like a reliever), and Jake Odorizzi. Moore realizes that to compete, he needs more quality starters and has a glut of outfielders, which means he should trade the one that can bring the largest haul: Wil Myers.
The Red Sox should take [the Myers for Lester] offer and run. Same for the Rays with Shields.
(3) @cdgoldstein – Their window is shorter than you think, and they may have brought up their core too soon.
This one builds on the previous option, as the Royals’ surprise contention in 2011 made it seem like a good idea to bring up Hosmer and Moustakas earlier than a point that would have allowed the Royals to squeeze out an additional year of team control.
Why it makes sense: It rests on facts and getting a pitcher for the next few years would vault the Royals to the top of the AL Central to battle with the Tigers (who are aging rapidly). The addition of Odorizzi (who looks ready for the majors on opening day) and Zimmer (shortly thereafter) would mean the Royals suddenly have the makings of a solid rotation to go with their offense.
Why it doesn’t make sense: The Royals window is basically 2014-2016, and it may make sense to let Myers play a season to see what happens. This seems like a panic move made by a fantasy baseball owner.
(4) @ProductiveOuts – Dayton Moore does not know how to build a major league team, but he knows he can build using the minors.
Moore was a scout who worked his way up to the Director of Personnel Management then Assistant General Manager with the Braves. This is his first time as a GM.
Why it makes sense: Moore has done an absolutely amazing job drafting (even if it helps that he has consistently had top picks) and has made some questionable moves at the major league level, including Melky Cabrera for Jonathan Sanchez, extending Jeremy Guthrie, and trading for Ervin Santana.
Why it doesn’t make sense: Moore has clearly realized the Royals need pitching to compete and has traded to get it. He dealt what he viewed as an extra part that wouldn’t be around in a few years in Cabrera to get Sanchez, then dealt the struggling Sanchez to get Guthrie. Guthrie’s contract isn’t much more than the Dodgers gave Brandon League and the Reds gave Jonathan Broxton. Moore also gave up little to get Santana.
So where does that leave us? Sure, Moore would be crazy to deal Myers, but flags fly forever and even “can’t miss” prospects often miss.
Until next time, follow me @HypeProspect.
Tampa Bay Rays second baseman/right fielder/shortstop Ben Zobrist has been one of the most productive, versatile, and underrated players in baseball over the past five seasons. It is amazing to see how the man called Zorilla went from a non-prospect to compiling nearly 26 WAR over the past four seasons.
Zobrist grew up in Eureka, Illinois and attended Olivet Nazarene University in Kankakee, Illinois for three years where he pitched, and played shortstop and second base. In the summer after his Junior season, Zobrist played outfield for the Wisconsin Woodchucks of the Northwoods League, where he was voted team MVP as he led his team to the Northwoods League Championship. At the end of the season, Zobrist was named a Small College All-American at second base. For his senior year, Zobrist attended Dallas Baptist University in Dallas, Texas, which has produced a number of baseball players, including Lew Ford and Freddy Sanchez, where he played shortstop.
Zobrist was drafted by the Houston Astros in the 6th round, 184th overall, of the 2004 draft, immediately in front of Cla Meredith. Zobrist signed quickly, as is common with college seniors who were not drafted in the first few rounds, and was assigned to the Tri-City Valley Cats of the short-season A New York-Penn League. Zobrist displayed a keen batting eye, solid contact rate, and enough range to stay at shortstop en route to a 339/438/463 season where he walked 43 times and struck out only 31 across 310 games. After the season, Zobrist was named to the short season A All-Star team, as Baseball America ranked Zobrist the #5 prospect in the New York-Penn League and the #16 prospect in the Astros organization.
For 2005, Zobrist opened the season with the Lexington Legends of the full season A South Atlantic League, where he continued to put up solid numbers, hitting 304/415/413 across 310 plate appearances before being promoted to the Salem Avalanche of the high A Carolina League, where he continued his torrid hitting, putting up a 333/475/496 line with 37 walks and 17 strikeouts. After the season, Baseball America ranked Zobrist as the #16 prospect in the Astros system and said that he has the “Best Strike Zone Discipline” in the Astros’ system.
For 2006, Zobrist was assigned to the AA Corpus Christi Hooks of the AA Texas League, where he continued to hit, putting up a 327/434/473 line before being dealt to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays with Mitch Talbot in exchange for Aubrey Huff and cash. As a show of respect for the prospect status of Zobrist and Talbot, ESPN referred to the Devil Rays’ newest acquisitions as “two minor league prospects” and did not refer to them by name until the fifth(!) paragraph. Zobrist played for the Durham Bulls of the AAA International League for the next two weeks, when he was called up by the Devil Rays to play shortstop. Zobrist appeared in 52 games, putting up a 224/260/311 line for the remainder of the season. After the season, Baseball America ranked Zobrist as having the “Best Strike Zone Discipline” in the Texas League, but did not rank him otherwise as he had exhausted his prospect eligibility when he lost his rookie status. Despite only playing 83 games for Corpus Christi, Zobrist was named to the Texas League All-Star team as its Utility player (the All Star at shortstop was Brandon Wood).
In 2007, Zobrist opened the season as the starting shortstop for the Devil Rays but struggled early, and was sent down to AAA Durham Bulls when he had a 159/156/222 line after the game on May 10. While in AAA, Zobrist hit 279/403/455 before being promoted to start the July 30 game against the Toronto Blue Jays. Zobrist played in most of the games until August 18, when he strained his right oblique, ending his season. Zobrist’s final line for the 2007 season while playing for the Devil Rays was a disaster, as his 155/184/206 line created an OPS+ of 4, one of the worst in the major leagues for all non-pitchers.
In 2008, Zobrist was slated to become the “super utility man” for the newly minted Tampa Bay Rays when he fractured the top of his left thumb, forcing him to miss the first month of the season. After a four-game rehab assignment for the Vero Beach Devil Rays, Zobrist returned to the Rays, playing inconsistently but hitting well enough to put up a 267/353/400 line through May 28. Zobrist was sent down to AAA Durham and promoted reliever Grant Balfour. Zobrist was only in the minor leagues for about a month, as he started the June 25 game against the Florida Marlins, going 2/6 with a home run. For the rest of the season, Zobrist hit 251/338/514 with 12 home runs, the most he hit on any level to that point (in fact, Zobrist’s previous high was eight total in 2007). Zobrist’s final line for 2008 was 253/339/505, good for an OPS+ of 120. By this point, many viewed Zobrist’s defense at shortstop as sub-par and his “super utility” role took hold, as Zobrist appeared in 35 games at shortstop, 14 in left field, eight at second base, five in center field, two in right field, one at third base, and two at DH.
In 2009, Zobrist’s “super utility” role continued, though he was primarily a second baseman and a right fielder, with as he appeared in 1,044 of his 1,209.1 innings (86.4%) at one of the two positions. Zobrist flourished in the rule, putting up a 297/405/543 line with 27 home runs and 17 stolen bases, being elected to his first MLB All-Star Game and placing eighth in the MVP vote, despite having a WAR higher than the winner, Joe Mauer (about 30% of Zobrist’s WAR was attributable to playing second base). Zobrist was also the Tampa Bay Rays player of the year.
After his breakout season, Zobrist and the Rays began negotiating a new contract. Though Zobrist was not yet eligible for arbitration, the Rays are well known for signing players to team-friendly extensions that guarantee financial security for players. In late April, Zobrist and the Rays agreed to a three year extension that left his 2010 salary at $438,100, but increased his salaries to $4.5 million in 2011, $4.5 million for 2012, and $5.5 million for 2013. The Rays also received a $7 million option for 2014 (with a $2.5 million buyout) and a $7.5 million option for 2015 (with a $500k buyout). Zobrist struggled out of the gate, putting up a 241/327/356 line in April, then a robust 352/400/514 line in May. Zobrist’s struggles continued as he put up a 177/294/293 line after the All-Star break en route to a 238/346/353 line for the season, with his batting average and home runs dipping significantly. Zobrist’s defensive flexibility – he played 371 innings at second base and 749.1 in right field out of his 1294.2 – kept his value high, as his 4.2 WAR was fueled nearly as much by his defense (1.4 dWAR) as his offense (2.5 oWAR).
Zobrist bounced back in 2011, putting up a 369/353/469 line while playing second base in 79% of his 1348 innings (not counting his time at DH) and right field the rest of his time playing.
In 2012, Zobrist has his to a similar line as 2011, putting up a 271/376/466 through September 26 while playing mostly right field (42% of innings). The interesting thing about Zobrist is that he shortstop for 26% of innings, a position he has not played for any extended period of time since 2008. Zobrist has been the Rays’ primary shortstop since August 9, during which he has hit exceptionally well, putting up a 311/378/518 line, well above his career 260/254/441 line.
But what should we expect from Zobrist going forward? Is he the 260/354/441 player his career line suggests? If he the 300/400/500 perennial All-Star that his recent play suggests? I think he is neither. I this he’s closer to the 269/369/457 line that he has put up from 2009-2012. Sure, Zobrist won’t be a Hall of Famer, but in an era with hyper-specialized bullpens, a player who can hit and play multiple positions that require real defensive ability has a lot of value. The Rays should be commended for trading for him and, possibly more importantly, being willing to give him time to develop.