Category: In the News

An impossibly hot stove and an embarrassingly long absence

The stove is hot, people. HOT! And as Every Time I Die once said: I been gone a long time. Sorry about that. I finished the first term of my last year of graduate school. It was probably the hardest one, and it should be smooth sailing from here on out.

I’m also pretty proud of a research paper I just completed regarding the probability of future success of minor leagues. The results are robust and I couldn’t be more pleased. It was a school project, so I didn’t have time to make it nearly as complex as I would have hoped, but it’s something I plan to further investigate in the coming days, weeks, months, what-have-you.

Anyway, there is plenty of news flying around as well as plenty of analysis. I’ll do my best to recap, but surely I’ll miss some things:

And I’m ignoring all the prospects involved as well. Marcus Semien, Austin Barnes, Jairo Diaz and others got shipped. I can only imagine a whole lot more action will be happening soon, as there still are teams with surpluses and deficits at all positions and some big-name free agents left on the market, including Max Scherzer and James Shields.

It is clear, however, that the Cubs  and Blue Jays intend to more than simply contend. I would say the Marlins intend to as well, but I don’t even think they know what they’re doing, let alone we do. The White Sox are looking like a trendy sleeper with some key pitching additions (LaRoche is also an addition, but far from what I would call a “key” one), but they are far from a championship team.

But with so much more yet to happen, maybe it’s best to wait and see. There are obviously some ballpark and team-skill implications that will affect all these players’ projections, but I’ll get around to those in 2015.

I’ve finished my preliminary set of pitcher projections. I’ll share them but they’ll see some refining by the time March rolls around.

I’m also looking at how my projections fared last year. That will come in the next couple of days.

Keep your ear to the ground, people. Or to the stove. Never mind. Terrible idea. You’ll burn yourself. Just keep it to the ground.

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Stock watch: Rajai Davis up, Gausman down

I wrote about Rajai Davis as a legitimate must-draft fantasy option a couple of months ago. Now, with the news that Detroit Tigers outfielder Andy Dirks is ailing, Davis looks to have left field all to himself.

Davis has finished 100th and 112th on the ESPN player rater in 2012 and 2013, respectively, while going largely undrafted both years. He swiped 45 bags in 360 plate appearances last year. That’s insane. He has also seen his power spike the past two years, and he’s not a complete loss in the batting average department, making him more than a one-trick pony.

There’s still a possibility that the Tigers shop for a platoon partner for Davis for the 12 weeks of the season Dirks is expected to miss. But… why? It’s only 12 weeks. Tristan H. Cockcroft of ESPN stated the possibility is there because of Davis’ poor split against right-handed pitching. But it’s not that bad. Granted, he’d be much more effective hitting only lefties — to the tune of .294/.354/.425 for his career — but the extra at-bats against righties could maybe help the guy improve, if not at least bolster his counting stats to the detriment of his batting average.

Worst case scenario, Davis is still a platoon guy who gets 300 to 400 at-bats, aka 35-ish stolen bases and a neutral batting average. However, if he gets left field all to himself until June, the extra 100 at-bats he may earn make him all the more attractive.

Meanwhile, the Baltimore Orioles’ signing of the fallen Johan Santana has all but blocked rookie Kevin Gausman, who stumbled in his major league debut but caught himself after a move to the bullpen. The strikeouts are there and his control is excellent, but he’s now blocked by Wei-Yin Chen, Santana and Korean import Suk-min Yoon for the No. 5 starter spot. There’s an excellent chance that Bud Norris and Chen flail as the fourth and fifth starters as well as Santana never regaining form and reaching the majors, meaning perhaps a mid-season move to the rotation. But, for now, Gausman is buried, and it’s incredibly unfortunate to fantasy owners.

Stay tune for my preseason rankings as I list the top 15 catchers, first basemen, second basemen, third basemen, shortstops and closers for 2014. I will also return with more bold predictions before the season’s start.

Now go watch some spring training!

Casey Close deserves a raise

Round of applause for The Richest Man in Baseball, pitcher Clayton Kershaw. This is not necessarily true, at least not on a nominal level. But after signing a seven-year, $215 million contract yesterday, Kershaw became the first MLB player in history to earn $30 million or more per year.

All is fine and dandy, for I think, as does everyone else, that Kershaw will age gracefully through what will be a fine Hall of Fame career (barring injury, of course — knock on wood). But can we take a step back here and give Casey Close, Kershaw’s agent, a pat on the back? Or a cuddle? Or a national holiday?

Somehow, Kershaw managed to swing a seven-year deal. Who cares, right? WRONG! It’s absolutely brilliant: Kershaw will be 32 when his contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers expires, basically smack-dab in his prime, or maybe right at the beginning of his descent. Thirty-two, and if he at all resembles the pitcher he is now, he will likely command another long-term (read: eight-year) contract. He’ll get paid another $18 million a year until he’s 40 by some poor, unsuspecting team (read: the Philadelphia Phillies) and will reap the benefits of his historic greatness even as he declines in his mid-30s. Conversely, if he signed a 10-year contract, the popular theory among journalists, it would expire after his age-35 season — not exactly a prime time to be fishing for a new contract, especially if he has declined significantly, reminiscent of poor Doc Halladay.

In retrospect, it makes perfect sense for Kershaw, and it doesn’t hurt the Dodgers to cut the deal short. They’re cutting years off the end of the contract that carry much more risk than the early years.

Genius. Genius, I tell you.

And who knows what this means in regard to Masahiro Tanaka. The Chicago Cubs are allegedly underdogs in the whole thing, too. (I guess they have to do something right after their mascot fiasco.) It’s not even fun to speculate anymore. Someone sign him already!

A look at international players’ value, or “Might as well give Tanaka his Yankee jersey now” (Updated Jan. 14)

Let’s avoid all talk about who’s right or wrong in the Alex Rodriguez debacle, spectacle, three-ring circus, what-have-you. I liked the White Sox as sleepers to win Japanese phenom Masahiro Tanaka‘s services this winter. Now that A-Rod is suspended for 162 games, though, the New York Yankees will have something like $24 million in payroll freed up for 2014.

Although the Yankees were allegedly among two or three frontrunners in the bidding war for Tanaka, it appeared to me their payroll would pose a huge obstacle if they truly wanted to obey the luxury tax threshold. But Rodriguez’s suspension blows everything wide open, upgrading the Bronx Bombers’ status from Possible to Probable.

Updated Jan. 14, 2014: The Angels are a distant third to the Yankees and Dodgers, and with Los Angeles looking to extend pitcher Clayton Kershaw… well, the deal is as good as done. Although, in defense of the L.A. teams, Tanaka has mentioned he wants to play on the west coast.

As for the White Sox… get ’em next time, boys. Keep looking for those good deals. I tell you what, every high-profile international signing in the past three years has been a winner.

It is commonly accepted that each win a player provides in value (a “win above replacement,” for those just piecing two and two together) has a market value of about $5 million, although Lewie Pollis at SB Nation argues it is closer to $7 million. Even using the quick-and-easy (and lower) $5 million as a benchmark, the value (by means of WAR) of the 2013 performance of every notable international player in MLB exceeded the average annual value (AAV) of his contract:

Yu Darvish: 5.0 WAR ~ $25 million (AAV: $18.62 million)
Hisashi Iwakuma: 4.2 WAR ~ $21 million (AAV: $7 million)
Yasiel Puig: 4.0 WAR ~ $20 million (AAV: $6 million)
Hyun-jin Ryu: 3.1 WAR ~ $15.5 million (AAV: $6 million)
Leonys Martin: 2.7 WAR ~ $13.5 million (AAV: $4.1 million)
Yoenis Cespedes: 2.3 WAR ~ $11.5 million (AAV: $9 million)
Norichika Aoki: 1.7 WAR ~ $8.5 million (AAV: $1.65 million)

Let’s note here that the AAV for all the players listed above exceeded their actual 2013 salaries. For example, Martin made $3.25 million last year, and Ryu made $3.33 million. Thus, even Cespedes, with his disappointing production compared to 2012, still managed to be a boon for his team, and he should only improve from last year.

It’s a small sample size, but hey, the results seem pretty substantial so far in the post-Dice-K era. Don’t be surprised when my fantasy team has Jose Abreu, Alexander Guerrero and Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez on it.

Rumors: White Sox looking at Tanaka (updated Jan. 9)

Update is at the bottom of the post.

According to ESPN Insider, the New York Yankees and Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim aren’t alone in looking at the Japanese ace Masahiro Tanaka. It appears that the Philadelphia Phillies and Chicago White Sox have joined the mix.

In a matter of months, the White Sox went from boring and terrible to interesting. Now they are absolutely fascinating.

They have made the best moves this offseason, far and away, basically acquiring center fielder Adam Eaton for diddly squat, dealing closer Addison Reed before he got too expensive and signing Cuban first baseman Jose Abreu who, if he is even moderately productive, will prove to be an incredibly valuable commodity.

Now the Sox have squared up their crosshair on Tanaka, another international superstar who will likely be undervalued, even despite all the hype. Because of incomplete information about foreign professionals, teams simply can’t tell if a pitcher will be a stud or a dud, no matter his pedigree. This risk factor causes teams to discount a player — I can guarantee you Yu Darvish will greatly exceed the value of his contract over its duration — and I think all dealings with Tanaka will be no different.

Maybe I’m the only one, but I think the White Sox are now the frontrunner to sign Tanaka. They have clearly demonstrated they are rebuilding, and so far they are doing it in all the right ways. They were not afraid to spend to get Abreu, one of the biggest bats to ever come out of Cuba.

And now, here presents a similar situation, where a team with nothing to lose has a shot to come out on top in a bidding war that involves two (former) powerhouse teams trying to curb their payrolls. The Yankees and Angels are both threatening to surpass the luxury tax threshold this year, and signing Tanaka would almost certainly push either one over the edge by the season’s start. The White Sox, on the other hand, have plenty of wiggle room, and I imagine they would be willing to dish out another six-year deal like Abreu’s.

They’re building a team that will be relevant not now, but in three years. Add Tanaka to the mix, and they’ll be more than relevant — they’ll be contenders again. Maybe it’s a bold prediction. But I can’t tell you how excited I will be if it proves to be true.

Updated Jan. 9, 2014: The Chicago Cubs, Seattle Mariners, Los Angeles Dodgers and Arizona Diamondbacks all plan to look at Tanaka as well. The Mariners are making big moves, but their outfield needs more help than their pitching staff, and an investment in Nelson Cruz may be the better move. The Dodgers have shown they’re not afraid to spend, but they also already have one of the best rotations in the majors and may be less inclined to pay up. Of this group, that leaves the Diamondbacks, Phillies and Cubs. The D-backs have made some decent moves this offseason, but I think they’ll get overshadowed. As for the latter two, I think they are merely posturing, simply tossing their names into the mix. However, the Phillies did sign Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez, so perhaps they’re willing to further test the international talent pool.

Angels sign Mulder what are you serious

Surprisingly, the Angels actually upgraded their rotation by signing pitcher Mark Mulder. Huzzah!

I gotta say, a couple of trades have disappointed me strictly because I have fewer sleepers to tout. New veteran presences will likely cut into the playing time of Atlanta pitcher Alex Wood and St. Louis second baseman Kolten Wong, both sophomores and ranked prospects, and that makes me sad, yo.

Braves sign SP Gavin Floyd
I would cry buckets if I was traded from the White Sox to the Braves. Floyd may flirt with fantasy relevance, but I think the bigger impact befalls Wood’s status as a starter. Unless the Braves wanted to waste their time squeezing Floyd into the bullpen, Wood will probably return to a late-inning role until further notice — bummer news for prospect fans and anyone who saw serious flashes of talent during his short stint as a starter last year. I think the Braves’ depth chart still has Wood listed as the No. 5 starter, but I expect change soon.

Floyd’s preseason rank: Not draftworthy
Wood’s preseason rank: Late-round bench-stash at best

Cardinals sign 2B Mark Ellis
Wong’s plate discipline and speed made him a very enticing low-tier middle infielder with upside, but not anymore. He should platoon with Ellis as Matt Carpenter assumes third base duties. Bummer, man. Given Ellis’ relative competence, I doubt Wong will ever win the job outright, either, barring injury.

Ellis’ preseason rank: Irrelevant
Wong’s preseason rank: Irrelevant… for now

Yankees sign 2B Brian Roberts
This is mainly here for comic relief.

Roberts’ preseason rank: No. 2 DL slot

Speaking of second basemen, when are the Mariners going to trade Nick Franklin?
Seriously, they could get a decent return for him, given he’s under team control for a while. MAKE MOVES, PEOPLE!

Choo, Ibanez, Johnson, Balfour, NOT Balfour… and more

I am so far behind, guys. I’m sorry. Really. But hey! Happy holidays! Spend it with the people you love, and if you can’t, be sure to think about them, for they are probably thinking about you, too.

Anyway, yeah, I’m way behind. I’m going to list a handful moves that have been made, in case you were not aware of them, and I will elaborate on the ones that are most intriguing.

Angels sign OF Raul Ibanez
I mean, they needed someone to fill the role of Old Left Fielder once Vernon Wells left. This deal isn’t that bad, though, because the Angels signed the aging outfielder to a one-year contract rather than for two or three years. He won’t hit 29 home runs again, but the power isn’t a fluke, either considering he has surpassed 30 home runs twice since his age-33 season. I expect something more like 19 home runs, but I think he has mid-20s upside as well, as long as he can stay healthy. Ibanez seems like he’s got some Duracell in him, though. He’s the Energizer Bunny.

Preseason rank: Low-tier or backup OF

Astros sign SP Scott Feldman
Feldman is even more irrelevant in fantasy than he used to be.

Twins re-sign SP Mike Pelfrey

Athletics sign RP Jim Johnson
Orioles sign RP Grant Balfour… but fails his physical
This was an interesting pair of moves, considering each player was signed independently of the other for roughly the same price. Balfour is the better pitcher, though, as evidenced by Johnson’s volatile percentage of converted saves. (Balfour, however, does walk a batter too many for my taste.) It was recently announced, though, that Balfour failed his physical and was thus not signed by the Orioles. I don’t know much more about it, but I’m guessing it has to do with his age, considering I heard little (if nothing) about any ailments Balfour experienced in 2013. I have a feeling this will turn into a Mike Napoli type of situation, where a team will get him for a bargain and cash in. In the meantime, he’s teamless. But I wouldn’t let the size of his next contract influence my ranking of him.

Johnson’s preseason rank: Mid-tier RP
Balfour’s preseason rank: Mid-tier RP

Athletics receive SP Drew Pomeranz and RP Chris Jensen, Rockies receive SP Brett Anderson
Say goodbye to any chance of Anderson living up to his potential ever again. Meanwhile, Pomeranz just went from lost-cause prospect to fringe starter-slash-fantasy sleeper. Pomeranz put up great numbers in the minors because being banished to the pitchers’ hell that is Coors Field and has always had good stuff: 10.0 K/9, 3.4 BB/9, 0.5 HR/9. See that? Pomeranz used to be great at limiting home runs. And the high walk rate is negligible with a strikeout rate like his minor league rate. Pomeranz has underwhelmed since getting the call in 2011, though, let alone being humiliated last year in 16 starts. I won’t be surprised if he garners little credence in preseason ranks for 2014. But if the Athletics give him a legitimate shot at the No. 5 spot in the rotation, things could get interesting. I’m not saying he’s worth drafting, because he doesn’t look anything like the pitcher he once was in the minors. But a change of scenery, especially away from Colorado, could be exactly what Pomeranz needs

Pomeranz’s reseason rank: Barely a top-100 starter
Anderson’s preseason rank: Barely a top-100 starter

In other news…

Merry Christmas!