Thursday, February 28, 2013

The Battle of the Birds

Last week I looked at the Red Sox. It was close but the Jays should triumph over the Bean Towner’s. Today I want to take a look at the Orioles.

The TV colour guys are going back to last year when the Orioles did a great job of coming up thru the pack unnoticed, in stealth mode. At the end of the season they were, I think, the best team in the MLB going 16 and 5 – splitting their last series with the Jays. They were a team that had wildly different numbers. They had the most strike out by hitters and they ranked 28th in OBP. Also they had seven hitters strike out 100 or more times. The long ball was one of their few strong points. In spite of it all, they made it to the postseason. In the off-season they made almost no changes to their line-up.

Again, I will be using the numbers I feel best reflect the most accurate assessment for both the offense and defense, ERA+ for pitchers and OPS+ for hitters. It, as a single number, includes the most information that is useful.


The Orioles starting pitchers had an ERA+ of -117.8 and a WHIP of 1.274. The starters have just 17 combined years in the MLB. The whole of the pitching staff had an ERA+ of 109 and WHIP of 1.291. This compares to the Jays – starters for 2013– ERA+ of 114 and WHIP of 1.264. Both starting rotations have two lefties. Closer, Jim Johnson, had an ERA+ of 170 and WHIP of 1.019, very impressive. So it looks like the Orioles have slightly better pitching.  I hope not. The Jays still need a year mostly free of the DL.

For position players the OPS+ -108.7, OBP -.364 and BA of -.266. Their MLB career numbers are OPS+ -100.5, OBP -.318 and BA of -.262. Rookie sensation, Manny Machado, only played in 51 games, had 191 at bats producing an ERA+ of 98. And for the Jays we have an OPS+ -111.8, OBP  -322 and BA of 265.6. The OPS+ shows that for ballpark adjustments the Jays get on base more often.

These are just numeric comparisons. As any Jays fans know, anything unpredictable can happen to the season.  Numbers do not make a team. There are way too many variables. The Jays have made their moves in the offseason and I, for one, am very happy with the roster in every aspect. The Orioles have chosen to stay the course. They may be right. They got close last year. And who knows, maybe Buck Showalter is a miracle worker. Baseball Prospectus has the Orioles dropping to the bottom of the AL East for 2013, with only 74 wins. I hope so, but doubt it.  They are young but have the tools to compete. The Jays have seven All-Stars to the Orioles’ four – none in the starting rotation.

They will not finish like the Jays did last year. But they will certainly finish behind us.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Who Has the Best Heart (of the Order)?

In my last post I discussed which teams will likely have the best starters on the mound in 2013. Now I'm going to look at which teams have the most pop in the middle of their batting order.

For the sake of simplicity I'll use 2012 home runs, RBIs, and batting average. These are my picks for most pop. I shall begin with the senior circuit.

The Braves
Justin Upton  17, 67, .280
B.J. Upton  28, 78, .246
Jason Heyward  27, 82, .269
Freddie Freeman   23, 94, .259
Dan Uggla  19. 78, .220
Brian McCann  20, 67, .230

The Dodgers
Carl Crawford  11, 56, .255   (2011 numbers – he hardly played for Boston last year)
Matt Kemp  23, 69, .303  
Adrian Gonzales  15, 86, .300  (2011 numbers – he hardly played for Boston last year)
Hanley Ramirez  10, 44, .271
Andre Ethier  20, 89, .284

The Brewers
Rickie Weeks  21, 63, .230
Ryan Braun  41, 112, .319
Aramis Ramirez  27, 105, .300
Hunter Morris  28, 113, .303 (in Double A)
Carlos Gomez   19, 51, .260

The Cardinals
Allen Craig  22, 92, .307
Matt Holiday  27, 102, .295
Carlos Beltran  32, 97, .269
David Freese  20, 79, .293
Yadier Molina  22, 76, .315

A few comments on the above. In adding two Uptons the Braves have moved up in the world in power. Jason Heyward had just 32 home runs (combined) in his first two seasons. Last year was the first time since he was a rookie than Dan Uggla did not hit 30 home runs. (He hit 27 as a rookie.)

Last year was actually more normal for Matt Kemp than his great 2011 numbers – 39, 126, .324 had been. In Braun and Ramirez the Brewers had the best and fourth best sluggers in the NL. Allen Craig was fifth in Slugging. I was thinking that Carlos Beltran's .269 was way below average for him, but he only hit over .300 three times – in 2001, 2009 and 2011.

And now the American League’s best – in my opinion.

The Tigers
Austin Jackson  16, 66, .300
Torii Hunter  16, 92, .313
Miguel Cabrera  44, 139, .330
Prince Fielder  30, 108, .313
Victor Martinez  12, 103, .330 (his 2011 numbers)

The Angels
Mike Trout  30, 83, .326
Josh Hamilton  43, 128, .285
Albert Pujols  30, 105, .285
Mark Trumbo  32, 95, .268

The Yankees
Derek Jeter   15. 58, .316
Robinson Cano  33, 94, .313
Mark Teixeira  24, 84, .251
Curtis Granderson  43, 106, .232
Kevin Youkilis  15, 46, .236

The Blue Jays
Melky Cabrera  11, 60, .346
Jose Bautista  27, 65, .241
Colby Rasmus  23, 75, .223
Edwin Encarnacion  42, 110, .280
Brett Laurie  11, 48, .263
Adam Lind  11, 45, .255
J.P. Arencibia  18, 56, .233

A few comments to add to the AL stats. The Tigers should be able to maul even more opponents after adding Torri Hunter  and getting back Victor Martinez, who missed all of last year due to knee surgery. The hitting coach says he looks “unbelievable” at the plate in Florida.

Mike Trout led the league in steals with 49 and was third in Slugging. How rare is that! Edwin Encarnacion was fifth in Slugging.  I was thinking that Josh Hamilton didn't play all that many games last year, but he was above average – for him. Here are his career totals ... 90, 156, 89, 133, 121, 148. The Yankees say Curtis Granderson will be out 10 weeks. They hope (?) ARod will be back around the All-Star Break. He's the kind of player who brightens a clubhouse just by leaving it.

In addition to their much heralded improvement in pitching, the Jays could be pretty scary at the plate too, especially if Melky Cabrera can hit without juice, Jose Bautista stays healthy, and Brett Laurie hits like he's been expected to.

Let the games begin.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Springtime: a new season starts and a storied career ends

Yesterday, a few moments after 1:00 p.m., I couldn’t keep the smile off my face as the game time music began and Jerry Howarth gave his customary intro to the Blue Jays first grapefruit league game. I’d been listening to the pre-game show (with an excellent interview by Mike Wilner of Mark Buehrle and R.A. Dickey) since 12:30, but now we were 2 or 3 minutes before the ball would be thrown in an actual game. To say that I had been going through severe baseball deprivation the past month is putting it mildly.

To hear those usual ballpark sounds, the crowd noises, the crack of the bat, and with the more intimate minor league park (Joker Marchant Stadium), a bit of the actual chatter of the players. Even though the weather wasn’t really talked about (other than the cogent fact that it was very windy towards the outfield), but I could almost feel the warmth and see the deep green of the ball diamond. And it “felt” great, let me tell you.

When listening to a ball game on the radio – my preferred way to experience games when not at the park – you still have a lot of time to think about other things. It’s one of those things that makes baseball such a great game to follow – unless you don’t like being along with your thoughts.

What I will often do during the break between innings is to cruise the baseball news out on the Internet. I ran across some interview video of Joe Garagiola’s retirement after 57 years in broadcasting. That’s on top of a 9-year baseball career. Do you think he knows baseball?

I don’t remember Joe as a ball player, but I do remember him as a baseball broadcaster and frequent guest and host on TV shows where his very quick wit and easy manner of communicating made him so memorable. I hope I’m not wrong, but Joe has always seemed to be such a great guy, you wanted to get together with him over a few beers and talk about baseball, the universe and everything.

So, a new season is just getting underway with an enjoyable month in Florida or Arizona to get our fan chops in gear as we listen to the Major League players and minor leaguers who hope to be Major League players shake off the rust, try some new things and prepare for (hopefully) the next six month’s worth of games.

At the same time, another storied career has drawn to a close. Joe isn’t gone, but his presence in ballparks across the country will be missed. Since he’s just such a great storyteller, I think it’s only right to close this post with Garagiola’s own words and what better way to do it than leaving ’em laughing?

Click here: Joe Gargiola retirement news conference clip.

Friday, February 22, 2013

How the Jays and Red Sox Stack Up?

As Rick said in his latest post, “It takes 25 guys to get to the World Series.” In 2012 the Jays needed everybody and anybody they could find last season. But, over all, it did not work and was pretty miserable. This is a new year. Many pundits out there are saying that the Red Sox should be in contention this season. The Yanks are weak and the Rays are unimproved and the Orioles are still a cypher. More on those later.

 I want to compare the Red Sox to the Jays last season. With all the many staffing changes, what is different for this upcoming campaign? I am only going to compare the starters and how they might affect this season and how they performed last season. For this comparison I am using only WHIP and ERA+ for the pitching staff. WHIP is comparable to OBP for a hitter. It indicates how a pitcher keeps hitters off the field. ERA+ is the pitchers earned runs adjusted for each park and averaged for all pitchers to 100. This is one of the best ways to compare pitchers from different leagues and parks. I feel that these are the best numbers with which to compare overall performance.

Here is the formula: ERA+= 100*(2- ERA/lgERA). The 2012 campaign for both the Jays and Red Sox was miserable. The actual numbers for pitching are as follows. The Jays had a WHIP of 1.39 and an ERA+ of 92. The Red Sox 1.371 and 92. So over all, just as the season played out, both teams were below the league average and were virtually tied at the end of the season. These numbers include all the adjustments that were made to compensate for all injuries the Jays sustained. For 2013, the Red Sox have four All-Stars on their five-man rotation: Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, Felix Daubront, John Lackey, and Ryan Dempster. Only Daubrant has not yet been an All-Star.

Comparing last year’s numbers, this rotation had a WHIP of 1.40 and ERA+ of just 86.2. The Jays have four All-Stars: RA Dickey, Mark Buehrle, Josh Johnson and Rickey Romero. The number two starter, Brandon Morrow, has yet be to chosen. The Jays with this new improved rotation had a WHIP of 1.264 and ERA+ of 113.6. The Jays have upped their game from 92 to 113.6. The Red Sox on the other hand have gone down to 86.2. They lowered their ERA+ for the 2013 season. One season does not make a career. The MLB career records for the 2013 starters might be of some encouragement. The Red Sox have a WHIP of 1.30 and ERA+ of 105. The new improved Jays are 1.30 and 113.

So the Jays have got it here and should be much better over the year with this starting rotation. Much has been said already about the ages of some of the starters. It should be noted that the total MLB career years for both the 2013 Jays and Red Sox is 41 years each. The CL – closer – comparison is interesting. Casey Janssen had a whopping WHIP of .086 and ERA+ of 168. The new CL for the Red Sox, Joel Hanrahan had a WHIP of 1.274 and ERA+ of 138. Both good, but Janssen certainly wins this one.

The Jays, as everyone has figured, should be the class of the field and especially in the AL East. Pitching beats hitting, I hope. On the other side of the plate, I am using BA, OBP and OPS+ to compare both teams. I think that OPS+ is best as an overall indicator. It accounts, like the ERA+, for variation in ball parks and plays up a batter’s “contact, power and patience” as noted by Fan Graphs.

Here is the formula: OPS+= 100*(OBP/LgOBP+SLG/LgSLG-1) Again, the stats are from 2012 for the new 2013 rosters for each team.

The 2012 stats for each team are as follows: The numbers for the Red Sox position starters was BA - 263.6, OBP - 338, and OPS+ - 109.2. For the Jays it was BA - 265.6, OBP - 322.3 and OPS+ at 111.88. Only the OBP is slightly higher for the Red Sox. Not much of a difference. Comparing the MLB career years, the Red Sox are at BA - 265.4, OBP - 342,6 and OPS+ - 111.3. The Jays are at BA - 260, OBP - 329.2 and OPS+ -109.2. The MLB years of service are for the Red Sox 69 and 60 for the Jays. The Jays have a younger team and maybe the Red Sox, with the older team will have deterioration in their skills. Every year that is said of the Yankees. The Red Sox have five All-Stars and the Jays have three. The Jays have more consistency in OPS+ from the likes of Encarnacion, Bautista and Reyes. The Red Sox have it with Pedroia, Napoli and Ortiz. Unfortunately, I think the Red Sox have a slight edge in position players and the Jays certainly the big edge in pitching staff. I hope to be proved wrong with the position players. I think there is a very good chance I will be.

As stated at the beginning, I have chosen to view the starters only. It will take all 25 and more to get through to a playoff position. The odds favor the Jays because of pitching. The “ifs” to the up coming season are almost too numerous to enumerate, but here goes.

  • Will Melkey Cabrera be okay off the ’roids and be even half as productive as last year?
  • Will Josh Johnson be able to fully adjust his mechanics?
  • Will Janssen be able to start the season strong after shoulder surgery?
  • Is Ricky mentally ready to be fifth on this rotation and ease his anxiety?
  • Will Brett Lawrie settle down with Mark DeRosa as a guide?
  • Will anyone be able to help Colby Rasmus to settle on a consistent way to approach the plate?
  • Can Adam Lind live up to expectations?
  • Can someone persuade Ontario to allow pit bulls?
  • Will the Astros throw everyone under the bus? 

Stay tuned. It will be a great year for the Jays.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Chemistry

I’ve been seeing more than the usual spring training talk about particular teams’ chemistry, both in the media but also from a lot of bloggers and fans. Since I follow the Blue Jays more closely than other clubs, I know you could drown in the ocean of ink, real and virtual, that’s been spilled on this topic.

You know the type of comments: “You can’t expect a bunch of self-entitled, conceited millionaires care about anyone but themselves.” “When teams try to buy their way into the post season, it seldom works. There's no chemistry.” “The Jays shouldn’t fool themselves. All those players they got from Miami didn’t have a very good season last year, did they? It won't happen this year, either.”

It makes me wonder if any of these people have actually played on a really good team. I suspect they’ve never played on any team.

Martin and Jackson going at it.
Yes, expensive teams often have as much trouble as everyone else making the season-long grind to make it into October ball. Yes, some expensive teams have had dysfunctional clubhouses. But I really don’t think you can put any of that non-success onto the fact that a lot of the players have huge salaries. Let’s face it: any player on a major league team is making a lot more money than the average Joe.

If you could get nearly every ball player to speak openly and candidly about the way they feel about playing the game and what they want out of it, I am certain that the first comment would be how much they want a World Series ring. Making a bankful of money would be no higher than third on their list of goals, I’ll bet.

Back in their early years when they were young, starting to play baseball, they were like every other kid who plays. Remember? You imagine you’re whatever player is your favourite; you’re coming up to the plate in the World Series with the score tied, or maybe your imaginary team is down, and the only thing you want to do is win that game. I don’t believe that ever changes. It would be the very rare player who’s only in it for their paycheck – at least until their team is eliminated.

I’ll be you that everyone in the Jays, Dodgers, Braves or Angels clubhouses is focused right now on somehow getting to October ball. They all know what it will take, and the fact that they’re on a team. One player can’t get a team to the promised land, not even half a dozen can. It requires nearly every man on that 25-member roster, as well as the manager, coaching staff and front office, plus good luck on the injury front, to get to where they all want to be. If they desire it badly enough, it really doesn’t make any difference who likes who and how well people get along.

The same two guys in the same season...
Many championship teams have had personal issues among players. Remember those great Yankees teams during the Billy Martin years? There were screaming matches, shoving, even fisticuffs in the clubhouse and dugout. They managed to win, didn’t they?

“Team chemistry” is overrated. Talent, followed by passion and commitment to doing the job right, plus a lot of hard work (not to mention luck) are the only things that will get a team to the playoffs. Whether all, or most, of the players on a team get along well together is immaterial. It’s a nice thing to have – but it won’t get you that ring.

Professional ball players know this. It’s only when excuses for a season’s failure is needed that “chemistry” or lack thereof is brought up. It’s not a legitimate reason. It’s a dodge.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Has Toronto Got the Best Starters in Baseball?

As a Yankee fan I am quite envious of the starting rotation the Blue Jay management has put together. Is it the best in baseball? Maybe. In this entry I am going to attempt a quick analysis of what will probably be the best rotations in both leagues. 

First, the National League. The award for depth may go to the Los Angeles Dodgers. After all, they have Clayton Kershaw, 14-9, 2.53 and a 1.023 WHIP last year. They have Zack Greinke, who was 6-2, though it has now been three years since his great 2009 season. There is the possibility that Josh Beckett (7-14, 4.65) will have a comeback year. And, they still have Aaron Harang (10-10), Chris Carpenter (12-12), and Ted Lilly (5-1).

As a wild card, the Dodgers, who will have the biggest payroll ($225 million) in baseball history this year, have signed beefy left hander Hyun Jin Ryu (pronounced Ree-Yoo) to a beefy $62 million contract. Ryu led the Korean Baseball League (which has never sent a player directly to the majors) in strikeouts five of the last seven years and went 98-52 with a 2.80 ERA. GM Ned Colleti has never seen him pitch but, since Ryu's contract states that he cannot be sent to the minors, Colleti will have to be delighted with him.

The Cardinals were fourth in ERA in the Majors last year. They were second in FIP (fielding Independent Pitching), and fifth in adjusted (league and ballpark) FIP. They have Adam Wainwright (14-13, 3.14), Chris Carpenter, who was great in 2009 and 2010, and Jake Westbrook (13-11). But Kyle Lohse (16-3, 2.86) is still an unsigned free agent. Without him their rotation lacks depth.

Better, in my view better are the Phillies with their big three of Roy Halladay, who is coming off an awful year (11-8, 4.49) but knows how to pitch, Cole Hamels (17-6, 3.05), and Cliff Lee (6-9, 3.16). They also have Kyle Kendrick (11-12, 3.90) and John Lannan, who was 4-1 in his only winning season.

Still better are the Braves. They have Tim Hudson (16-7, 3.62) as their horse. Kris Medlen was terrific down the stretch (9-0, 0.97 with a 0.80 WHIP) as was Mike Minor, who had a 2.21 ERA and a 0.86 WHIP from July 5th on. The Braves also have lefty Paul Maholm, Brandon Beachy coming off Tommy John surgery, and prospects Randall Delgado and Julio Teheran.

Perhaps the best in the NL are the Washington Nationals. Phenom Steven Strasburg was 15-5, 3.16 before they sat him down. Gio Gonzales was 21-8 (.724) and 2.89 but is looking at a 50-game suspension for his ties to the Biogenesis clinic. The Nats acquired Don Haren (right) who, since becoming a full-timer in 2005, has the fourth most wins, the second most strikeouts, the eighth best WHIP, and the second best strikeout-to-walk ratio in the game (according to ESPN). His numbers were way down last year though and he has had back and hip problems.  

Washington also has Jordan Timmerman (12-8, 2.94) and Ross Detwiler (10-8, 3.20) and prospect Matt Purke. They did lose Edwin Jackson - but he was their worst starter last year (11-10, 4.03). Depending on how Haren does and what happens to Gio Gonzales, they could be the best in the National League and maybe the best overall.

As for the American League, even without James Shields (15-10, 3.52) the Tampa Bay rotation looks pretty good.  They had the best ERA in the AL last year and still have Cy Young winner David Price (20-5, 2.57),  Matt Moore, 2011 Rookie of the Year Jeremy Hellickson, (10-11), and Alex Cobb (11-9, .403).

The Yankees top three of C.C. Sabathia, Andy Pettitte and Hiroki Kurodi are solid, if the first two stay healthy. Ivan Nova and Phil Hughes are pretty good in the four and five slots, though Nova has proved more dependable than Hughes. Will Michael Pineda, for whom they gave up so much, achieve stardom? If so, the Yankees might have a top-notch rotation.

More likely to be great are Detroit's starters. You can pretty much count on Justin Verlander. They gave Anibal Sanchez (left) $80 million on the basis of a 3.77 ERA and a 7.6 WAR over the past two years. Max Scherzer led the majors in strikeouts per 9 innings and Doug Fister, in spite of an oblique injury, had a 3.10 ERA and a WAR of 9.1 over the last two seasons. Those four are all in the top 40 in fWAR in the majors.

Rick Porcello has been the subject of trade rumours (he would be higher than a fifth starter on most clubs). He did not have a stellar 2012. His ERA was 4.59, opponents hit .310, and his WHIP was a career-high 1.531. He still got a raise though. Say, is there a lot of money in baseball? Drew Smyly started last year as the Tigers' fifth starter and ended up 4-3, 3.99 with a 1.268 WHIP. Detroit's rotation is solid.

And that brings us to Toronto, where Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey (20-6, 2.73) will get the ball on Opening Day. The Jays got two specialist extra catchers to handle his knuckle ball - even though J.P. Arencibia wants to catch Dickey. Josh Johnson was just 8-14 last year but shone in 2009 (15-5) and 2010 (11-6). Mark Buehrle was 13-13 for Miami with a 3.74 ERA. Lifetime his ERA is 3.82, but that was in the NL, it could be closer to 4.00 in the American League.

The bonus for Toronto is that they have those three guys plus Brandon Morrow (10-7, 2.96) and Ricky Romero, who is bound to do a lot better than last year (9-14, 5.77) when there was so much pressure on him. The two have been making fun of the fact that (though former top line starters) they are now the best four and  five guys around. They may well be.

In summary, I say that Washington has the best rotation in the senior circuit with the Phillies, Braves, and Dodgers battling for second. In the American I give the nod to the Blue Jays, with the Tigers, Rays, and Yankees vying for second. Who knows how things will go. Like Rick and John, I can't wait for the season to begin.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Will the real Tim Lincecum please stand up?

Next week that annual harbinger of spring being right around the corner gets underway as baseball players from near and far gather in Florida or Arizona and go through their annual team tune-ups, more commonly known as Spring Training. I don’t imagine that it’s as big a deal in those places that really don’t experience the low temperatures and snow of the northern part of the continent, but up here in the frozen north, let me tell you that ball fans really count the days, because we can vicariously enjoy that warm sun shining down on the ballplayers every day as they stretch, do drills, even just play catch on the green ball diamonds that only very seldom feel the kiss of the dreaded white stuff.

With not that much news in the early going, coverage is limited to clips as outlined above, plus player interviews and pontifications of talking head, well, pontificators.

It’s all lovely stuff for us baseball-deprived fanatics, but the warm glow wears off pretty quickly, at least until the grapefruit and cactus league games get underway.

So what I look out for and enjoy are those quirky stories that begin to spring up like so many daffodils once the festivities are underway.

As is my usual practice if I haven’t settled on a topic for my weekly offering here at Late Innings, I glanced at the mlb.com website first thing this morning. Amazingly, something sprang out immediately, one of those great quirky stories that add a lot of colour to spring training.

Tim Lincecum has decided on a new look.

2012 was not kind to him. Like Ricky Romero of the Jays, he seemed to battle himself for most of the season, so much so that he wound up pitching out of the bullpen in the post season. The former first round draft pick, who’d barely played a year in the minors, had previously been a two-time Cy Young winner and led the NL in many categories. It had to have hurt and puzzled him a lot to never get his 2012 season off the ground. Obviously, changes had to be made. There’s the pride factor in the need to have a much different 2013, sure, but another small item also on the agenda is that Timmy’s contract is up at the end of the season. A pitcher, no matter how good he can be, who isn’t doing the job is not going to get that big payday.

So during the off-season, since there didn’t seem to be anything physically wrong, Lincecum has worked very hard to improve his mechanics and the strength of various body parts. He feels that it’s paid off, and we’ll all know for sure when he toes the rubber during spring training. A lot is on the line so you know he’ll be trying his utmost in hopes of a return to form – and a healthier bank account in 2014.

The interesting sidebar is the extreme makeover someone has suggested to him. The photo above shows Tim “The Freak” Lincecum in his early career prime. Yes, he did stand out in a baseball crowd. However, now Tim looks like this. One of his teammates, Ryan Vogelsong (love that name. It means “Bird song” in German) joked that Lincecum now looks “12 instead of 15”. You know what? He’s right. In this photo he could pass for half his age (he’s currently 29).

I don’t know who suggested the glasses, since from what I’ve read, they’re non-prescription. He only needs the plastic pocket protector, a buttoned-up shirt and Star Trek decals on his locker to fit perfectly into the persona of a high school dweeb. Bet Tim could sit down in a 10th Grade chemistry class and not look out of place.

Is this intentional, or is this just his attempt to look more serious-minded and worth a big investment at the end of the season, either by the Giants or some other team if he becomes a free agent? If so, it’s a complete failure.

Personally, I would have had him grow a beard and encourage him to squint nastily from the mound, ala Dave Stewart. The way Tim appears now, he looks more like a ball boy than one of the dominant pitchers in the game. Physically, he’s not going to dominate anyone.

Lincecum is one of the great pitchers currently in the game. I sincerely hope his control returns and overpowering stuff again dominates hitters in the NL. The result of a great 2013 could even lead to a third Cy Young Award.

From the way he looks now, Timmy’s certainly well on his way to winning the Cy Strange Award...

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Could sanity suddenly be breaking out in Major League Baseball?

With Alex Rodriguez yet again under microscopic examination for PED use, one of the hot topics of side conversations is how the Yankees can possible get out from under the $114 million they still owe him under his current contract.

Mark Teixiera
No matter which way you slice it, A-Rod never was going to deliver the value for money this contract represents. The Yankees also gave Mark Teixeira one of these ridiculous contracts (8years/$180 million) – but at least he recently admitted in a Wall Street Journal interview that there is no way he can justify it.

That’s sort of refreshing, isn’t it? I’m waiting now for Albert Pujols to admit that he should have gone for the (relatively) smaller paycheck the Cards were offering and stayed in St. Louis. I am not holding my breath on that one, though.

Huge contracts for extended periods of time have been the norm in the game for the elite-level players for many years now and the figures get mind-bogglingly silly in a big hurry. For those of us on the outside looking in, we easily see the insanity of Detroit giving someone like Prince Fielder $214 million for nine years or the Angels throwing $250 million for ten years at Albert Pujols. Will these players ever be able to remain in the upper echelons of baseball production for those lengths of times? Most pundits simply shake their heads, and for us outsiders, it just seems sheer lunacy. My guess is that both of these teams in a few short years will be experiencing the same buyer’s remorse the Yankees are now undergoing.

But that was last off-season.

Josh Hamilton, arguably the biggest free agent position player available signed a contract, again with the Angels (where are they getting all this cash?), for exactly half of the Pujols deal. Now Hamilton comes with a checkered past, so it’s logical he wouldn’t rate what his teammate did, but doesn’t this contract seem much more sensible? You can certainly feel more comfortable as a team owner, knowing that your newly-signed player will more-likely be playing at a high level in five years than he will a decade later.

Of course, the Braves blow my sanity thesis out of the water with their signing of B.J. Upton to a five-year, $75 million deal. Is Upton worth it when he’s only hit .300 one time in his career and has seen declines in BA to the point where he hasn’t hit over .250 since 2008. But please notice that this deal, too, is for less time.

The Red Sox, God bless ’em, also made an odd signing, giving Shane Victorino a three-year, $39 million contract after one of his worst seasons. The thinking by them here, no doubt, is that at 32, last year’s performance with the Phillies was an aberration, but you’ve got to wonder. I like the Jays’ two-year deal with Melky Cabrera for $16 million. If he keeps his nose clean (and even the impending PED scandal A-Rod’s entangled in can’t hurt him because he was already suspended and served his time), this contract certainly does not carry the same kind of risk that the Sox are taking with Victorino. Are they indulging in a bit of magical thinking, perhaps?

Those are some examples from the current off-season. Regardless of the sensibility of some of the contracts, you will notice one important factor: suddenly the length of the contracts offered have been halved or better. It is a small step towards financial sanity and has probably sent major shockwaves through the ranks of baseball agents, but I believe it is a good sign.

The Yankees can certainly afford the silly contract they gave Rodriguez if needs must, but there are other teams that have thrown around their future money with joyous-seeming abandon. The Tigers are not a large-market team and they could well rue the day Fielder joined their roster. I’d hate to see teams run into major financial difficulties because they didn’t use their heads when signing players.

Heck, I might as well close with the really major feature of this year’s off-season: the Yankees didn’t make any huge deals and actually reduced their salary by a good deal to get under the $189 million dollar cap. If the team occupying one of baseball’s penthouses is starting to watch the nickels and dimes, watch out!

Better (financial) times may be ahead, and while I hate to say it, Bug Selig’s plan to bring parity to baseball has chalked up one more victory.