Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Advantage Bowden?

It's not often that a transaction is made by Jim Bowden, and I think "wow, what a steal!". But that's exactly what I thought earlier this month when I saw he had conned Florida into giving up LHP Scott Olsen and 1b/OFJosh Willingham for 2b Emilio Bonifacio, and minor leaguers 2b Jake Smolinski and RHP P.J. Dean.

Olsen and Willingham aren't perfect, and they both have serious question marks, but for Florida to give them up for this cheap a package is unfathomable to me. Bowden was widely panned for his acquisition of Bonifacio when that was all he received for RHP Jon Rauch from Arizona at the deadline.

Olsen does come with maturity concerns, but it's important to note that he has started at least 30 games in each of his three seasons. While his stuff was slightly down last year, he posted a reasonable line of 8-11, 4.20. He only struck out 113 in 202 innings, but he's a back of the rotation starter at worst in the NL. In this Nationals rotation he's more of an ace though, considering their best pitcher last year was Odalis Perez.

The Nationals say they acquired Willingham to be part of the outfield, and that might give them their most productive lineup if 1b Nick Johnson is healthy. However, Johnson is rarely ever healthy and Willingham provides depth at that position. Willingham won't hit for much of an average, but has good power and will get on base at a decent clip as evidenced by his
.266/.361/.472 career slash stats. One might expect his power to get a little bump going from Pro Player Stadium to his new home in Washington, D.C.

Bonifacio is the "big" piece that the Marlins are receiving in this deal, and quite frankly, no one should be impressed. He's got great speed on the basepaths, and good range in the field but he doesn't have a bat or good hands to go with those tools. Bonifacio's value will be tied for his ability to hit for average as he did not walk much in his first go 'round with the Nationals. I was actually witness to his first two walks as a National, and it took him 10 games and around 40 at-bats to achieve such a feat.

Smolinski was the Nationals 2nd round pick in 2007 and has transitioned from Shortstop to Left Field, before going to 2b in 2008. He has been injury prone as a professional, breaking his foot on a foul ball in his first season and later tearing both his ACL and MCL in a collision, in addition to suffering a broken thumb earlier this year. It's highly possible however that Smolinski ends up giving Florida the biggest return out of the three players they received in this deal. P.J. Dean was also a 7th round pick, and here is what Baseball America had to say about him:

The Nationals' 2007 seventh-round pick from New Caney (Texas) High—Adam Dunn's alma mater—Dean saw both his stuff and results improve in 2008. He went 4-1, 1.57 for short-season Vermont, compiling 34 strikeouts and 16 walks in 46 innings. The 20-year-old Dean, who could add velocity as he builds to his 6-foot-3, 175-pound frame—already sits 91-92 mph, with life, and touches 94. Presently, his hard curveball and changeup both rate as average.

All in all this looks like a huge win for Jim Bowden and the Nationals. By taking on slightly more money they dramatically improve their lineup and pitching staff, and get themselves some much needed depth. This Nationals team isn't moving from the cellar of the NL East soon, but it's encouraging to see them move in the right direction after extending the likes of Ronnie Belliard and Dmitri Young, failing to capitalize on Rauch, and Chad Cordero and then botching the Aaron Crow selection.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

A New Bronx Bomber

The New York Yankees and Chicago White Sox consummated a deal last week, in which New York received 1b/OF Nick Swisher and RHP Kanekoa Texeira for Util Wilson Betemit, RHP Jeff Marquez and RHP Jhonny Nunez.

The big name is this deal is quite obviously Nick Swisher, who I happen to like. Some of his stats aren't necessarily pretty, but he's a useful player to have on your team, signed to a decent contract (cheap for the Yankees). He is versatile in the field, able to play either Right or Left Field as well as being a well above average defender at 1b. He can also play Center Field in a pinch, but is stretched there defensively. On offense he will give you a patient approach from both sides of the plate, resulting in a good OBP but a lackluster batting average. He had the worst year of his short career last year with slash stats of .219/.332/.410, but is a career .244/.354/.451 hitter. So he maintained his ability to get on base despite the bad batting average, and if he can rebound into the .240 range, his OBP should be a quality on in the .350 range with some pop. He might not be the ideal 1b for Yankee fans, but his defense there should make up for any offensive shortcomings. Additionally, it would be fair to expect the offensive rebound due to Swisher's unfortunate luck last year. His BABIP (Batting Average on Ball In Play) was a terrifying .251. Swisher's career BABIP was only .293 coming into the 2008 season, so it's likely that there is something in his skill set that exposes him to lower than average BABIP's, yet that's still a 42 point drop in BABIP, and that should mainly be attributed to bad luck as his walk percentage, K percentage, line drive percentage all remained within their normal ranges (his LD% actually increased). It is entirely possible that Swisher is experiencing a sudden and dramatic erosion of his skills, but I find that highly unlikely given that he is going to be entering his age 28 season in 2009. How often does someone entering their prime experience a dramatic loss of skills?

The rest of this trade is not nearly as interesting to me. Betemit has had chances with previous clubs, and while there still seems to be some promise and room for growth, it becomes less likely that he will realize it with every passing year. Marquez has been pretty hyped (shocking for a Yankee prospect, I know) but he lacks an out-pitch and relies mainly on his sinker. It's not impossible for someone with his skill-set to pitch well in the Majors, but he only notched 51 K's in 102.2 innings between the two levels. He just doesn't have much margin for error, and would probably see slightly more success as a reliever. Texeira had a nice year this year going
6-3, 1.33 combined between High-A Winston-Salem and Double-A Birmingham in 2008, with 60 strikeouts and 21 walks allowed in 61 innings overall. He has a great slider which he sets up with a low 90s fastball. Nunez came to the Yankees in a trade for Alberto Gonzalez, and is likely the best prospect in this group. He throws a low to mid 90s fastball (as high as 95), and has shown a plus slider, though it remains inconsistent. He was fantastic after coming over to the Yankees, and has shown more promise as a power reliever than as a starter (as the Nationals used him). He went 2-8, 5.22 as a starter at high Class A Potomac, but as a reliever with Double-A Harrisburg and then Double-A Trenton, he went 1-0, 1.65 in 27 innings, striking out 34, and tallied 116 strikeouts in 108 total innings.

In the end I definitely like the deal for the Yankees. It appears that the only thing of value that they gave up is a Double-A relief prospect, and in return they received a switch-hitting, versatile player who can give them the OBP they will need if they fail to retain Bobby Abreu, plus a relief prospect of their own. Bravo to Brian Cashman on this one.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The A's to Contend for '09?

The Oakland A's traded for LF Matt Holliday on Monday, and by all accounts shocked most people. There were rumors that they were in on the Holliday sweepstakes, but for the most part no one took them seriously, or were just plain confused by them. It just didn't seem Billy Beane-esque to give what the Rockies were asking for, for one year of a decently expensive Holliday.

However, this was actually classic Billy Beane. To get Holliday, all Beane gave up was LHP Greg Smith, RHP Huston Street and OF Carlos Gonzalez. Gonzalez was considered the prize of the Dan Haren trade that Beane pulled off last year, however LHP Brett Anderson has to be considered the better prospect right now. What makes this classic Billy Beane is that no one was expecting it. The A's were only 6 games off the Angels pace when he decided to sell on the season last year and trade Rich Harden and then later Joe Blanton. Now, after the Angels wrapped up a 100 win season he decides they're in contention? Well why not? The Angels did only outscore their opponents by 68 runs, which is much more indicative of their talent level than their record is. Additionally, if they fail to re-sign 1b Mark Teixeira, they're even more vulnerable.

Another reason this was a great move by Beane is that, somehow, Holliday's stock was a little low. This was because his splits away from Coors aren't exactly pretty, at .280/.348/.455 for his career. But history has shown that once a player leaves Colorado, his numbers outside of Coors will pick up a bit. And considering that Holliday is a talented player and not someone who benefits purely from the thin air in Colorado, I think Beane knew what he was doing when acquiring Holliday.

On Colorado's end, this trade is tough to analyze because rumor has it that they are going to spin at least Street to another team and possibly Gonzalez, but that Smith is staying. In a vaccuum this is a pretty good haul for one year of Holliday, but I can't look at this in a vaccuum. Gonzalez is a great return, I think he'll do well in Colorado. He stroked a ton of doubles in Oakland during his time there this year, and the power alleys in Coors should only help him there. Additionally, he is a massive upgrade in left field over Holliday. However, the two pitchers don't make much sense to me. Colorado wanted pitching that could help out at the Major League level, and that is what they got, but it seems to me that they didn't acquire talent that was suited to their ballpark. Huston Street is not what he was a few years ago, and while he is solid bullpen material, he has lost some zip on his fastball and is more of a flyball pitcher. While this can be effective in Oakland's forgiving ballpark, it could be trouble in Coors. Lastly Greg Smith had a pretty good year for Oakland finishing with a 4.16 ERA, but he's not exactly the type of pitcher who will succeed in Coors as he finished with only 111 strikeouts in 190.1 innings, and more flyballs than groundballs on the year.

Overall, it's too early to judge for Colorado as they might move one or two pieces from this trade, but I think Oakland did well to get Holliday for mostly pieces that weren't going to be part of their future anyway. Plus, they will get 2 draft picks when Holliday leaves for free agency at the end of this year.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Dayton Moore Continues to Underwhelm

When the Kansas City Royals hired Dayton Moore to be their GM of the future and replace Alan Baird I was a big fan. Moore was tutored by former Atlanta Braves GM John Schuerholz, who was the architect of the remarkably successful Braves teams of the 90s and early 2000s. I thought Moore was a new school thinker who knew how to operate on a smaller budget and would get creative with the roster and payroll. Since then he has made some nice acquisitions, but for the most part I have not been impressed.

What I like most about what Moore has done is invest in the draft. This year the Royals topped all other teams in spending on the amateur draft, coming in at $11,148,000. This was the most ever spent on the draft in MLB history. The majority of that $11 million went to Eric Hosmer, the best high school hitter in the draft. With another $1.25 million going to Tim Melville, a high school pitcher who fell to the 4th round due to signability concerns. All this after spending big on Mike Moustakas, their first round pick a year ago. Spending money to sign talent out of the draft is the best thing a rebuilding franchise could do, and I applaud Moore for investing heavily in young talent. However, despite all this spending the Royals farm system remains threadbare and it will take time for these new players to make their impact.

Where Moore has struggled is at the major league level. One of his first big forays into free agency was to spend $55 million over 5 years on Gil Meche, who did quite well his first season but has predictably regressed some since then. No matter how well Meche did though, it didn't make sense to pay a pitcher $11 million per year when the club wouldn't be contending soon anyway. This overspending on a pitcher is forgiveable as pitching talent is hard to come by, and Meche has been pretty valuable and his contract doesn't look so bad these days, so he could probably be traded without too much of a fuss. Moore then proceeded to sign Jose Guillen last off-season to a stunning 3 year $36 million contract. Guillen was coming off a good year with the Mariners, but it didn't appear that there was anyone offering that much money to him at the time, considering he was a malcontent who had a reputation for blowups. Additionally, he hadn't posted an OPS over 850 since 2003, and while his OPS had been over 800 every year since (excluding an injury marred 2006 in Washington), I can't consider it a good investment to spend $12 million per year on an average outfielder with an attitude on a team that wasn't going anywhere in the next 2 years at the least. I won't even get started on the money or playing time (although that blame should go to the manager) alotted to Ross Gload...

Another area where Moore has not impressed me, and the inspiration for this post is on the trade front. Moore recently co-christened the hot stove league with Florida Marlins GM Larry Beinfest by trading reliever Leo Nunez to the Marlins for first baseman Mike Jacobs. This trade just exacerbates the Royals biggest problem: OBP. They ranked 27th last year, with a team OBP of .320. Jacobs had a good year in the power department, mashing 32 homers and slugging a cool .514. His downfall though,(as if there was only one) is his OBP, where he came in at a sparkling .299. To compound this issue, Jacobs is also a terrible defensive first baseman, one of the worst in the league. And on top of that, the Royals position of strength, is first base/designated hitter with Ryan Shealy still around, Billy Butler still not getting enough ab's, and first baseman Kila Ka'aihue who has nothing left to prove in the minors. Ka'aihue would almost assuredly outperform Jacobs if given the opportunity to do so, but instead the Royals have opted to give up a cheap decent reliever for a below average 28 year old first baseman who will cost them significantly more through the arbitration process. Lastly, Jacobs did hit 32 homers last year, but that was big improvement over his career high of 20, and he can't be expected to duplicate last years "success".

I feel bad for Royals fans, because there was such hope that Moore could right this ship. And while he has gotten Royals upper management to spend money in the free agent market, he is not spending it wisely. He should be looking to make low key moves that will payoff down the line. Signing Guillen for 3 years won't matter because the Royals aren't going to contend in that time period, so it is a waste of money and any production they recieve. Hopefully Moore can correct some of his mistakes, and the draftees should help produce in a couple years, it just remains to be seen whether Moore will be there to see it.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Game 5: Part 2

I realize that the World Series has been over for a while now, but life has been quite hectic, so I just wanted to post a little recap of my thoughts. Nothing that will take up too much of your time, and if you read other baseball sites it very well could just be rehashing what others have said.

The obvious thing about this 3.5 inning game was that it was terribly mismanaged by Rays manager Joe Maddon. I had previously complimented Maddon on his ability to learn from his mistakes in the ALCS, but the problem this time was that he made enough mistakes that there wasn't another game to apply everything he learned. As I predicted before the game, David Price did not come in to start as many people had thought, presumably because of the pitcher spot coming up 4th the next inning. Maddon began with Balfour, but then brought in J.P. Howell to face the Phillies lefties. Howell was able to get out of the inning with minimal damage, and everyone and their mother assumed that if someone got on base, then Howell would be done for the evening, especially with Pat Burrell coming up first in the next half inning.

Well everyone and their mother was wrong, because Rocco Baldelli tied the game up, and the Jason Bartlett actually pulled off a basehit, which meant the pitcher's spot coming up with a man on and one out. Now, at this point, I am screaming at the television for Eric Hinske to come up. The man was unwisely left off the postseason roster until Cliff Floyd went down with an injury in the World Series, and then went out and hit a homer in his first at-bat. Or even Willy Aybar, a switch hitter who had a pretty nice series so far. But what does Maddon do? He leaves Howell in to bunt Bartlett over to second, so that there's a man on second with 2 outs. Then when the Rays inevitably failed to convert the runner, he leaves Howell in to face Burrell, who promptly smashed a double that was a few feet from being a home run. THEN he removes Howell.

How this made any sense is completely beyond me. I mean, even if the manager wanted to make all of this happen, doesn't he have a staff around him to tell him "Joe, this is a bad idea." What is the pitching coach doing this whole time? Why does the bench coach have a job if not to prevent things like this? Are the players not thinking about the correct move in this situation? I know it's not always wise to question the manager, but making someone defend their position isn't a bad thing. It generally leads to the correct move being made, or at least a move with thought put into it.

Well we all know what happened after that, with the Phillies taking the lead, and going on to win the whole thing. It was a great performance by a Phillies team that I continually underestimated, although I still think the Rays win 6/10 times in that series.

I would like to note 2 last things- amazingly, the Rays almost bailed Maddon out in the ninth against Brad Lidge. Ben Zobrist of all people, hit a pitch right on the money, but unfortunately right at Jayson Werth. That hit would have easily brought home Fernando Perez. And lastly, Chase Utley just made an incredible play to throw out Jason Bartlett at the plate on Akinori Iwamura's groundball in the top of the 7th. I'm not sure any other second baseman could make that play. There are a few who have the range to get to that ball, but to make the heads up play of faking the throw to first, and then a one hop strike to the catcher...I am in awe. This guy is head and shoulders above any other second baseman in baseball right now in terms of overall package. I think he's the best defender and best hitter of the bunch.

Anyway, congrats to the Phillies on being 2008 World Series champions! And thanks for getting us to what should be an exciting offseason. The hot stove period very well might be my favorite time of year.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

MLB: Where Rain Happens

So we finally get the conclusion of Game 5 of the World Series tonight. The game will begin at 8:37 pm EST, despite strong winds and temperatures below 40 degrees. It's an interesting situation that we begin with because the bottom of the 6th will start with Cole Hamels at the plate. Obviously Phillies manager Charlie Manuel will pinch hit. Grant Balfour is technically still on the mound, so we can expect to see Greg Dobbs or Matt Stairs to lead off for the Phillies. Most people are expecting David Price to be called upon in this situation because he can go for multiple innings, but the pitcher's spot is due up 4th for the Rays the next inning, negating Price's ability to cover multiple innings. A double switch is a possibility, but it's unlikely that Rays manager Joe Maddon would want to replace anyone in the top 5 of his batting order.

If Charlie Manuel does indeed pinch-hit either Greg Dobbs or Matt Stairs, my guess is that Maddon will opt to go with J.P. Howell. Howell is a lefty, who can also go more than one inning, but isn't as devestating as Price is. This way, if the Rays go 1-2-3 in the top half of the 7th, Howell can continue on and pitch the bottom of the 7th. But if the Rays do get a man on, Maddon can pinch hit without using up David Price. If he prefers to use a 1-inning only guy, he still has Trever Miller, who was pretty effective against lefties this year as well. The Phillies had the best bullpen ERA this year in the NL, but I think the Rays have the better bullpen in the playoffs due to their depth. Philadelphia has 3 good-to-great relievers in Madson, Romero, and Lidge with Romero being a LOOGY. Tampa Bay has Bradford to get grounders, Balfour who is effective to both sides, but better against righties, Wheeler, Howell, Miller, and Price. This doesn't include Edwin Jackson, because he has been a starter all year, and he's only pitched once this playoffs...not exactly a weapon. The Phillies do have other capable relievers such as Condrey and Eyre. I forgot to mention Chad Durbin as a good reliever in the Philly 'pen, and he deserves mentioning as he had quite a good year. However, this has been his first really good season, and Charlie Manuel has used him to get just 1 out in 2 of the games in this World Series, which doesn't exactly show a ton of confidence. I have to give the edge to the Rays in this respect because of the depth they have from both sides as well as having both groundball and strikeout specialists.

On the other hand, I must give the edge in this half-game to the Phillies simply because they have 12 outs to the Rays 9. It will be interesting to see how it all plays out, and what each manager does as both managers have displayed some pretty poor decision making so far in the series. Hope you get a chance to tune in, as this is a pretty unique situation. I know I'll be watching.

Monday, October 27, 2008

ESPN Titles

There will be no in depth analysis on this topic, but I just have to ask...What is with the titles over at ESPN? Currently on the MLB page, there is "Last-Pitch Effort" and "Phill-ing Good". Could they get any more corny? And it's not just the MLB page, they are constantly updating their main page with puns/plays-on-words. They need to hire someone who can make fitting titles for their articles, not just turning feeling into "Phill-ing". That's something better left for random blogs run by people who have a little too much time on their hands... Oh.

Anyway, come on guys...you can do better.