Hot Stove Slow Burn

Mostly nothing has been happening on the MLB hot stove because everyone’s attention has been on the International Draft, which began yesterday, January 15. Young, cheap talent gets all 30 MLB GM’s (& their owners) excited. How each team does here, has a huge impact on an organization’s future. This draft has been moved up from July 2, due to COVID-19.

At the major-league level, only the SDP, NYM, ATL & CWS have made any significant roster upgrades, in an attempt to catch the LAD this off-season. As of this publication, the NYY just re-signed DJ LeMahieu (6/$90M), and reportedly just inked RHP Cory Kluber (1/$11M) to replace Masahiro Tanaka.

This treading water still makes NYY the AL favorites, because the TBR dumped ace lefty Blake Snell to the SDP, and HOU is losing free-agent OF’s George Springer (qualifying offer tagged), Michael Brantley, along with RHP Justin Verlander to Tommy John surgery.

When you look at the free agents the CLE, OAK, MIN, TBR are losing, it’s hard to see any of them making a deep run in 2021, without spending some money now. The CHC dumped legitimate #2 starter, Hu Darvish & their back-up catcher to the SDP, for #3 starter RHP Zach Davies & four prospects– none of them pitchers. That dump turned the NL Central into mush.

PHI, TOR & LAA keep saying they’re going to do something, and they might. Plenty of talent available. Trevor Bauer (CIN), JT Realmuto (PHI) & George Springer (HOU) have a qualifying offer (QO) tag on them, meaning they cost a draft pick to sign with another team. NYY offered DJ LeMahieu a QO, and he refused, which gave the Yankees leverage in their negotiations.

If you’ve ever talked about how losing top picks affects a fantasy draft with friends, they’ll all tell you it’s a killer. It’s the same (x10) in MLB. Most GM’s are averse to losing draft picks now. This really limits the market for free agents.

Qualifying offer compensation depends on a complex formula in the CBA, based on revenues, but a team loses either a 2nd or 3rd round pick, (and possibly a later-round pick too) when they sign a QO-tagged FA. This helps recipient teams have great drafts, which puts those organizations ahead of their competition. Example: MIL needs a catcher, and JT Realmuto would work for them, except: 1) their payroll budget isn’t there; and 2) MIL needs their draft picks even more.

The lesson is that the player should almost always accept the QO. It’s becoming more true each winter. Example: RHP Marcus Stroman is smart for accepting his QO. Otherwise, he would have been waiting until after the June Draft as a QO-tagged FA. At $18.9M for 2021, it’s an overpay by the NYM. Next winter Stroman is an unrestricted FA.

Same deal with RHP Kevin Gausman and the SFG. Both teams (Mets & Giants) probably hoped these pitchers would refuse their QO’s, so they could collect a draft pick, but that wasn’t going to happen either way. Unless TOR signs George Springer to a big deal (and they could use him), he could become the next Mike Moustakas, Yasmani Grandal, Dallas Keuchel, Craig Kimbrel, who were frozen-out of free agency by their QO-tag.

The Achilles heel of the NYY is their predominantly right-handed lineup, and fragile/thin pitching staff. Re-signing DJ LeMahieu doesn’t fix that, it entrenches it. Lefty bats are hard to find, as WAS isn’t trading LF Juan Soto, and the NYM aren’t looking to deal OF Dominic Smith. The NYY are too right-handed, and that’s why smart teams like the TBR can run a bunch of tough right-handers onto mound and beat them consistently in 2020.

NYY are now about $10M below the threshold, which they’ve exceeded the past two seasons. Like the BOS in 2020, the 2021 NYY need to stay under that threshold to avoid a huge MLB penalty tax. They’ll need that $10M for call-ups during the season, and possibly a trade deadline deal or two.

This rules out a reunion with RHP Masahiro Tanaka. The SDP are looking for another starter in free agency, and will probably sign him, unless CIN is serious about dealing RHP Luis Castillo. AJ Preller would love to re-acquire the young flamethrower.

It’s coming down to a team making an offer, to nearly any player, who has no other options. If you’re a GM, it’s a buyer’s market for free agent talent, like never before. The question is, how will MLB owners pay for it?

On the field, the LAD & SDP have what it takes to handle the NYY & HOU, with WAS, ATL, NYM & CWS in the second-tier for 2021. Championships are often won in the off-season, and this winter appears to be no exception. Only a few teams are stacked to win a World Series in 2021. The possibility of a third-tier team winning it all is slim, and for a Cinderella, it’s remote.

MLB still hasn’t made a final ruling on the NL DH for 2021, when it’s already the new rule for 2022 & beyond. The universal DH protects pitchers & staff as a whole. It also allows NL rosters to be more flexible. You need both leagues to play by the same rules for it to be a fair game.

All this needs to be understood under the backdrop of the coronavirus pandemic which is raging out of control. Sports stadiums are now being used as mass vaccination centers. Is it ethical to interrupt such a life-saving operation to play baseball?

I have friends as season ticket-holders, and they wonder out loud, “How can owners sell fans tickets to games?” Too many states won’t allow it at this point, with California being the most notable. The Dodgers, Padres, Angels, A’s, Giants, etc, may have to find a new home for 2021, and that’s if there’s even baseball at all. The start of the 2021 MLB season will be delayed for sure, that’s the industry consensus.

Tue 19 Jan 2021 10:30 AM EST

Padres get: RHP Joe Musgrove
Mets get: LHP Joey Lucchesi
Pirates get: OF Hudson Head, RHP David Bednar, LHP Omar Cruz, RHP Drake Fellows from the Padres and C/OF Endy Rodriguez from the Mets

RHP Joe Musgrove was another target of the NYY. Reportedly they were also interested in RHP Luis Castillo, but the Reds GM said he’s not being dealt in a statement on January 17, dedicated to quelling the rabid NY media. The asking price for Luis Castillo was surely too high for AJ Preller. The NYY couldn’t acquire either of these coveted young arms, because they don’t have the prospects. All the speculation on this was fake reporting & east coast bias.

Unlike hired-then-fired manager Carlos Beltran last winter, now ex-GM Jared Porter (pic above) had enough time to leave his mark on the Mets franchise. First there was the Francisco Lindor & Carlos Carrasco for prospects deal with CLE, which has been hyped as the biggest deal of the MLB winter. Really it’s a one-year rental on a star SS, with an expensive 3rd-starter thrown in. It’s a ‘Mookie Betts Lite’ salary dump by comparison, and if the NYM don’t sign Lindor to an extension, the question becomes: What did they give up?

Now the Mets just acquired left-handed 6th-starter Joey Lucchesi from the SDP, just as new GM Jared Porter was fired for sending over 60 explicit emails to women staffers several years ago. This is the Amazing Mess. Who is in charge of vetting, and reviewing resumes for MLB front office & management openings in Queens, NY? Why can’t the Mets keep their pitchers healthy? Why does this high-payroll team finish in the second-division year after year? Why are they so poor defensively? None of these realities are ever taken up seriously by the NY media, in their prognostications, nor by those who own this Amazing Mess.

Sat 23 Jan 2021 1:50 AM EST

MLB great Henry Aaron died yesterday at age 86. Here are my thoughts.

It appears the Joe Musgrove-to-the Padres deal was the final big trade of the MLB winter, the last coveted starter available for prospects. The Reds hoped to deal RHP Sonny Gray (2/$20M remaining), but teams were more interested in Luis Castillo (as discussed), so nothing developed there. This turned GM’s back to free agency, and the market has finally started to move.

Since my last update, CF George Springer signed with TOR for 6/$150M, and OF Michael Brantley re-upped with HOU for 2/$32M. SDP fans are pleased AJ Preller re-signed Jurickson Profar at 3/$21M. BOS nabbed LAD utility player Enrique Hernández for 2/$14M. Notice how position-flexible players like Profar & Hernández are valued today.

The remaining starters in free agency are mediocre, injury risks, and/or old. Masahiro Tanaka is probably the second-best option, after Trevor Bauer. It appears the LAA are going to make the reigning NL CY Young Award winner an offer he can’t refuse. The Angels are the team with money to spend that needs Trevor Bauer most, after recently signing LHP Jose Quintana for 1/$8M.

With the top starters decided, or out-of-reach, the market has turned to relievers. Pedro Baez (2/$12.5M w/ HOU), and Kirby Yates (1/$5.5M w/ TOR) were the most coveted bullpen arms, after closer Liam Hendricks signed a 4/$54M deal with the CWS last week. That shows you what’s left in the reliever market, and how quickly it dries up.

JT Realmuto appears heading back to PHI at ~ 5/$110M, unanimously according to industry sources. Lots of free agents speculated to go back to their old teams. Nelson Cruz (MIN), Marcell Ozuna (ATL), Didi Gregorious (PHI), etc. We’ll see. The Phillies have been slow-played this winter in their quest to re-sign catcher JT Realmuto, to the point where they can’t do anything else until this happens. Realmuto would probably like to sign elsewhere after losing in PHI, but he isn’t getting any other comparable offers.

There are still a bunch of mediocre catchers available, and most teams need depth, but no one can make a move in the catcher’s market until the top guy signs. Until then, just about everyone in need, holds out hope they can get him for cheap. That’s how the Cubs got RF Andre Dawson in 1987 for league minimum salary, if you think it can’t happen.

Now that George Springer & Michael Brantley have signed, the outfielder market will get some movement, for these reasons. But outside of the top remaining players, it’s mostly cheap one-year contracts for these guys at this point. That means it’s time for the Twins, Brewers, Cardinals, A’s, etc, to get active.

Penny-pinching teams are looking for bargains, and veterans are being squeezed out of the game. Matt Kemp, Ryan Braun, Jay Bruce, etc, aren’t getting MLB deals. It’s minor league contracts for these guys, at best. A lot of veteran sluggers are about to announce their MLB retirements over the next few months, they just haven’t accepted it yet.

Summarizing conclusions: The upshot of this is that EVERY team values talent MUCH differently than they did, even as recently as five years ago. Data-driven analytics, started by Bill James in the 1980’s, has opened up new frontiers in competitive baseball. The SDP are now the sexy franchise model, which combines the best of old-school scouting, with metrics & modern money management.

The LAD are the big-market model, but it’s too expensive for most, so teams have to find a different way to compete, and that starts with talent in the minors. Many fans ask, “What’s left of the minors?” That’s another serious baseball question. COVID-19 has encouraged teams to bring up young talent faster than ever, because, 1) they are cheap, and 2) there may be no tomorrow.

Here’s another new GM rule which is helpful to understand. Teams are targeting specific players, in their needs. This means if the targeted player signs somewhere else, GM’s will often leave that market, because the second option(s) at that position isn’t a good fit for the team/organization. Needs are very specific in terms of age, lefty/righty, switch hitters, power, OBP, defense, utility players, stealing bases, etc, whether it’s at a certain position or bench depth. Moreover, money is now too expensive for any MLB owner to waste.

In the end, the game comes down to which GM’s & scouting departments evaluate talent the best? Right now it’s the LAD, TBR, HOU, NYY, ATL & SDP. Here’s another dirty secret the MLBPA doesn’t want fans & their own players to know: the luxury tax is basically a hard cap. The financial & draft-pick penalties get every owner under it after two years, and they don’t ever go back over with the reset, because it’s HARD to get under without breaking up the team. See the Mookie Betts-David Price deal for BOS.

The NYY have signed minor-league contracts with pitchers which they are bringing into spring training to compete for spots [!] on their 26-man roster. This is a team with a $200M payroll. The waiver wire has also been active this winter.  For example: Padres outfielder Greg Allen went to NYY through waivers, to clear roster room for all their big acquisitions, while low-OBP slugger Hunter Renfroe was waived by the Rays, and signed with BOS for 1/$3M. That’s ironic franchise role reversal, from as recently as two years ago.

The Rule 5 Draft had a lot of selections, which surprised some people, but this is how AJ Preller re-built the SDP from winter 2015 through 2018. Saving money, dumping veterans, accumulating draft picks, investing in young talent, properly valuing defense & relievers, being active in the international draft, etc. Basically, leave no stone unturned when it comes to talent acquisition & getting a fair edge. Think outside the box. Exhaust all the less-expensive options before committing to premium free agents. Everyone in MLB has learned, and is applying this method, mostly out of self preservation in 2021. That explains the free agent hot stove slow burn all winter.

Mon 25 Jan 2021 3:55 PM EST

Postscript: Hand job

This is an interesting case in free agency. Elite reliever Brad Hand had a $10M option with CLE after 2020. In a surprise move, Hand was put on waivers by CLE. But he wasn’t picked up, because no one wanted to pay his 1/$10M contract, so CLE had to buy Brad Hand out for $1M, and he became a free agent. Now Brad Hand reportedly has signed with WAS for 1/$10.5M.

Brad Hand gets the million dollars from CLE for the buyout, but has to pay his agent a fee for the new contract & move, so I don’t think he wins in free agency. Brad Hand’s deal with CLE was an AJ Preller contract he signed with the SDP after 2017.

How well did AJP’s player valuation hold up? He nailed it. Brad Hand was selected by Preller off waivers from MIA in April 2016, just before Mike Hill dealt righty pitching prospect Chris Paddack for Fernando Rodney on June 30, because his team needed a closer. Marlins finally have a new GM, but the damage has been done, and it will be a long climb into serious contention for new GM Kim Ng.

I’ll conclude with the Marlins, because they were so much the story in 2020, in being allowed to cancel & reschedule MLB games due to a COVID-19 outbreak among their players & coaches. Instead of forfeiting these contests, as MLB rules instructed, the commissioners office & MLB executives made things up on-the-fly with new “protocol”, etc. The official forfeit score in baseball is 9-0. In football it’s 2-0, basketball 20-0, and ice hockey 1-0.

In a 60-game season, MIA played about half their games as 7-inning double-headers. They were able to plan their rotation & bullpen strategy far ahead of their AL/NL East competitors, who all had to accommodate the Marlins. This was a deciding factor in sneaking the Fish into the post-season in 2020. But it won’t hold up for 162 games, and neither will MLB in 2021 if COVID-19 is still raging, which by all indications it still will be.

Everything I’ve analyzed above is an industry deluded with the irrational idea that baseball can be safely played in 2021. But rational thought no longer matters in politics, it’s only the opinions of the owners that count as ‘authentic news’. MLB is being faced with survival issues, which has completely disrupted the market, despite the clarity that any independent sportswriter can bring to it.

The Fed can’t keep bailing the MLB owners out forever. Without a bailout, or fans in the stands, how are teams going to meet payroll and other big expenses? There are some owners that feel they can manage it, while others are concerned– to say the least. With all this unrest & uncertainty, there’s a high probability of a labor stoppage in MLB this season, which means the minors too.

HoF voting announced tomorrow: I’m a “small-Hall” guy for everything. Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Curt Schilling, Scott Rolen, Todd Helton, Billy Wagner, Andruw Jones & Jeff Kent are all Hall of Famers. I maintain my steroid line from 2012 with “No” to Manny Ramírez, Sammy Sosa & Gary Sheffield. Mark Buhrle & Andy Pettitte are my borderline guys. Omar Vizquel, and the rest weren’t quite good enough.

Final nugget, just breaking: NYY trades a reliever, along with $850K, and a prospect to BOS, in return for NOTHING. Red Sox pick up $8.15M left on Adam Ottavino’s deal, and send a PTBNL to NYY. Yankees are dumping salary to stay under the luxury tax threshold. Poor player-valuation by Yankees GM Brian Cashman, as this contract didn’t hold up at all, like so many others.

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MLB Trade Deadline Notes

Postscript: Thu 01 Aug 2019 01:16 PM EDT

The only blockbusters of this year’s MLB Trade Deadline were the Zack Greinke & Jake Bauer deals. Both were for controllable, elite starting pitchers, which is what wins the World Series. Houston won this Deadline as a buyer, by getting Greinke for 2+ years which means 3 play-off runs. Jake Bauer is only signed through 2020, and the Reds aren’t a play-off team, so they lose. The San Diego Padres won that 3-way deal, by acquiring the best prospect dealt this trade season, while only giving up a young, cost-controlled slugger– of which they had a surplus. Taylor Trammell is in AA, and has star make-up & tools in CF.

Besides me, only AJ Cassavell, the beat writer for the Padres on MLB.com has reported these facts & goings-on accurately. Only prospect guru Keith Law correctly called this as a big win for the Padres. As outlined below, most ESPN & MLB head writers are too biased to provide any objectivity or clarity on what occurred. They represent fake news in sports.

Once again, San Diego Padres GM AJ Preller pulled off the biggest deal of the MLB Trade Deadline. Cleveland’s RHP Jake Bauer was the best value pitcher who moved this trade season, and San Diego landing center-fielder Taylor Trammell from Cincinnati was the best prospect. That’s the name of the game when you are a seller– get the best prospect(s).

AJ Preller did it again, as the Padres receive lefty-hitting CF prospect (#30 MLB pipeline) Taylor Trammell (below) from Cincinnati. The Reds get Trevor Bauer from Cleveland. The Indians get OF Yasiel Puig & LHP Scott Moss from Cincinnati; OF Franmil Reyes, LHP Logan Allen & A-level 3B prospect Victor Nova from San Diego.

It only cost the Padres slugger Franmil Reyes, who slots better as a DH in the AL. Padres have depth in the corner outfield with Hunter Renfroe having a similar profile and being better defensively. Wil Myers has been benched due to poor performance, with a near-40% strikeout rate. He will now get more starts again, which is needed, but Myers is an expensive problem. The San Diego Padres will have to eat contract to move him, and I imagine he was brought up in proposed trade discussions by Preller. The Padres are again stuck with Wil Myers, and expect him to perform better, otherwise he’ll be benched again. They still have CF’s Franchy Cordero & Travis Jankowski as in-house outfield options.

At this point, I will admit that I was wrong about the famous Wil Myers–Steven Souza Jr–Trea Turner deal. AJ Preller gave up the best player, but it was justifiable. He was looking for a franchise player, and Wil Myers had that potential as a former minor league player-of-the-year. Turner has a more limited upside and is an injury risk due to his style. Trea Turner was the best Padres prospect Preller inherited when he took over as GM in August 2014. The Padres farm system was ranked dead last in MLB. Five years later it is #1, by far. This is one of his few mistakes, but it wasn’t too costly.

Trea Turner currently has 11.0 WAR to Wil Myers 9.7 according the baseball reference, so it wasn’t a huge loss, but still the Padres would be better with SS/2B Trea Turner than OF/1B Will Myers. Turner is two years younger. It’s a gamble AJ Preller lost, and that will happen when you have to turn everything over as the new GM of a sad-sack franchise that has never won anything.

General managers in MLB are judged by their colleagues not in terms of straight “wins & losses” on each deal, but in the aggregate. Actions need to coordinate with overall objectives that improve the organization’s chances of winning a World Series– either this year or in the near future. In these terms with the Padres it’s always the future, but now the future is closer than ever. Each year that AJ Preller can continue to acquire the best prospects, the longer and more open the Padres “window of contention” becomes.

AJ Preller played this deadline beautifully– AGAIN. By that I mean for the 4th year running. Since his legendary performance in 2016, when he acquired SS Fernando Tatis, Jr & RHP Chris Paddack for stale beans to the White Sox & Marlins, AJ Preller has been the leading GM in MLB. He locks up the trade market these days, because he has what every other team covets– top prospects in numbers at all levels.

AJ Preller has that blend of “scout’s eye” for baseball, along with analytic understanding of what it takes to win. He has an owner with deep pockets, who will spend on whatever AJ Preller needs. Every trade deadline, or hot stove season now seems to begin with, “Who can make a deal with AJ Preller for some of his top prospects?” But it never happens. Preller and Padres beat writer AJ Cassavell played this Trade Deadline beautifully, by downplaying & stringing the Mets along on Noah Syndergaard (below) trade rumors, all of which came straight from New York.

For the record, the Padres have acknowledged they would love to add Noah Syndergaard to their rotation, but not at the price the Mets ask. Keep in mind it’s the Mets & the east coast media who have been pushing a Thor deal to the Padres for at least 18 months now. Last year I recall it was SS Fernando Tatis, Jr and a few pitching prospects, Chris Paddack, Cal Quantrill, etc. for the mighty Mets hurler. That was the Mets proposal, or something like that…

Unfortunately Thor contracted Hand Foot & Mouth disease around the 2018 deadline, which killed any idea of that deal. The Mets & company tried again this past winter, but Preller decided to go with his young arms, until it’s time to get a real ace. A good GM goes into that acquisition mode when his team is a threat to win the World Series, which the Padres aren’t in 2019.

Nevertheless, the Mets went hard after the Padres farm system again this Trade Deadline, demanding MLB players & prospects this time around for their superhero pitcher with an 2019 ERA over 4.00. Top hitting prospect 2B Luis Urias & CF Manny Margot were floated in the NY/ESPN media, but there was no way AJ Preller was dealing either of them for 2+ years of Syndergaard. How about ace pitching prospects Mackenzie Gore or Luis Patino? These wishful speculations reflecting extreme east coast bias hooked the NY sports media. Preller & his media team fed them enough to remain hopeful, in order to keep them occupied, while he consummated his three-team deal with Cleveland & Cincinnati.

The Amazin’ Mess

So what are the Mets doing? Acquiring RHP Marcus Stroman from the Blue Jays for their top pitching prospects three days earlier was a head-scratcher. Was it to flip him? Why did the Mets keep Stroman from the NY media until after the trade deadline? How can the Mets expect to flip a pitcher they just acquired, for more than they paid, with only three days with which to do it? Doesn’t make any sense, but these are the Mets, so anything is possible.

Of course the industry responded by collectively sitting on their hands, while the clock expired on the Mets. So much for that idea. Stroman now can’t be traded until after the season, making him less valuable. The people running this Amazin’ Mess, behave similarly to those at the Federal Reserve who believe they can will things to happen– through hype & fiat.

The Mets still have too many expensive starting pitchers, for a team that sits in 4th place in the lackluster (over-rated) NL East. Their bullpen is a disaster, offense inconsistent, and defense one of the worst in MLB. Being in the same division as the Miami Marlins keeps them out of last place, while inflating their deluded expectations. This team has no chance of winning in the post-season, yet they are trying to spin their inability to deal Noah Syndergaard (and the rest) for a boatload of top prospects, as a commitment to “winning in 2019.” And people wonder where fake news comes from, and why it exists.

After the Marcus Stroman acquisition, the Mets traded starter Jason Vargas to the Phillies for 26-yo AA catcher Austin Bossart, to compensate for dealing away their two best pitching prospects. I have no idea what the Mets are doing, but what ever it is, it’s going to fail badly. These deals have no chance of turning out well in the short term, or long term.

By mid-day Wednesday, July 31, 2019, the MLB “Trade Talk” headlines led with “Mets pull Thor off trade market (source).” Noah Syndergaard pitched 7 innings last night against the White Sox in Chicago giving up one run, unearned, in a no-decision the Mets won. Syndergaard in 2019: 7-5, 4.10 ERA in 134.0 IP. That’s not an ace, but his stuff is good enough to be priced as a #2 starter with two years of team-control remaining.

The problem is the Mets publicly value Thor as an ace, when in 5 years he’s never pitched 200 innings in a season. Noah Syndergaard is a huge injury risk, and the Mets have a reputation for mishandling pitching. You can not get the NY media/Mets management to admit to any of these facts, nor rationally discuss what they mean.

An analogy that personifies Mets management in this situation is the high school boy who boasts he will only take the prettiest girl to prom. He arrogantly claims he is the stud on the market, and any girl should be honored to be his date. Of course, it’s human nature to reject such chutzpah. So when prom day arrives, and our self-acclaimed Don Juan still has no date, he proclaims to take himself off the market, because he didn’t receive an acceptable offer. All his loser buddies (ESPN, etc) prop him up, as group-think rules in this crowd.

The Mets think they are stockpiling pitching, for when it becomes a “seller’s market.” The problem is that markets move on, and the Mets are stuck with devaluing assets they don’t need, can’t afford, and can’t get return value in trade– due to their own incompetence & intransigence.

Trade Deadline Conclusions

The second Wild Card has changed the MLB Trade Deadline significantly, to the point where 1) there is just one deadline, July 31; and 2) the fact that so many teams remain in contention that it’s hard to determine who is (and who should be) buying or selling. The San Francisco Giants were out of contention a month ago, but have become hot since. Therefore they aren’t trading their ace LHP Madison Bumgarner. The second wild card is within reach.

It’s the right move to hold on, because the Giants wouldn’t get fair value for him anyways. The ace pitching market values prospects above rentals. Expect the Giants to offer Bumgarner a qualifying offer (QO) in November, and it will be interesting to see if he accepts. It will be ~$18M for one year. If MadBum declines, he could end up like Astros LHP Dallas Keuchel, who had to wait until the following June amateur draft for the draft pick compensation to expire for him to sign a fair “free agent” deal.

I haven’t published on MLB since relief pitcher Craig Kimbrel & starter Dallas Keuchel signed with the Cubs & Braves in June. Here’s the bottom line. Kimbrel is toast, and the Red Sox knew it. Kimbrel still got a 3/$43 from the Cubs, which is another disaster free agent overpay for the northsiders. So far in 2019 Kimbrel is: 0-2, 6.75 ERA in 10.2 IP.

LHP Dallas Keuchel signed with the Braves on June 7 for 1/$13, and is 3-4, 3.86 ERA in 49 IP so far. As you can see, the Braves did better here, but still Dallas Keuchel isn’t anything that moves the needle significantly towards them winning a World Series. That’s why teams didn’t want to give up the draft pick to sign either of these pitchers. That’s the risk a free agent takes these days when he declines a QO. The rule is: you need to be worth MUCH more than that pick to decline, otherwise accept, and become a unrestricted free agent next year. Otherwise the QO-tagged player will get squeezed in free agency. A player can only be made a QO once.

RHP Hyun-Jin Ryu of the Los Angeles Dodgers is an example of someone who understood this situation correctly and is now set for his payday, because he was patient and willing to play one more year at $18 million, in order to become a true free agent next year. Ryu didn’t have to wait out suitors that weren’t calling this past winter like Keuchel, Kimbrel and so many others. Maybe that’s why Hyun-Jin Ryu is having a career year, just when he needs one. It’s like he planned it.

Frontline starters Robbie Ray, Madison Bumgarner, Noah Syndergaard, Zach Wheeler, etc were all rumored to be available, and they all stayed put. The fact is all these pitchers have more value to their teams than what they would net in trade return, due to their contracts and/or 2019 performance.

In a last-minute Trade Deadline blockbuster, the Astros acquired Diamondbacks ace RHP Zack Greinke for 1B/OF Seth Beer (Astros’ No. 3 prospect, per MLB Pipeline), right-hander J.B. Bukauskas (No. 4), righty Corbin Martin (No. 5) and infielder Josh Rojas (No. 22). Houston receives $24 million as part of the deal. Greinke has two more years at $35M/year on his contract. The Houston Astros are a smart organization trying to win it again, and this is how you do it. Notice that they held on to their top prospect OF Kyle Tucker. The best GM’s are the ones who can declare certain players & prospects untouchable, and still make deals.

Outside of Stroman, Bauer & Greinke it was the likes of innings-eaters such as Tanner Roark, Daniel Hudson Aaron Sanchez & Drew Pomeranz that led the list of pitchers moved at the deadline. The market had already been set by the Jake Bauer-Taylor Trammell trade, and few teams were willing to or capable of making that kind of deal. That’s why movement in the trade market was so limited.

The truth is that the Mets & Reds had no business obtaining these starters, for what they gave up. These are two 4th-place teams, giving up valuable prospects for one-year pitcher rentals. The Mets decided to make a splash & crapped out, while the Indians & Padres needed a third team to take on Jake Bauer to make their deal. The Reds were there, and they’ll probably be in 4th place next July, shopping Jake Bauer before he leaves as a free agent. That isn’t planning, it’s impulsive buying.

Relievers were also capped by AJ Preller in the form of Kirby Yates (above), the best closer available. For the past two seasons it was Brad Hand. This time, no one made an acceptable offer, so there was no deal for the Padres ace closer. The market followed by going after lower-end relievers at the finish. Lots of middle relievers, bench players, PTBNL & international slot money was exchanged, but few impact players or pitchers. That was the story of this MLB trade season.

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“Fernando (Tatis, Jr)”

Every great player needs a theme song. This kid (age 20) is going to be a great player.

So here’s my “Weird Al” Yankovic version of “Fernando,” the ABBA melodramatic classic…

Note: There’s only the opening two verses in my version, because he’s still a rookie.

“Fernando (Tatis, Jr)”

Can you hear the drums Fernando?
I remember long ago another starry night like this
In the firelight Fernando
You were traded from the White Sox, by an owner who had no clue
We saw the Padres future at shortstop
And waited patiently through the minors just for you

Now you’re in MLB, Fernando
Every hour, every minute seems to last eternally
I was so afraid Fernando
When you tore your hamstring on a painful stretching try
And I’m not ashamed to say
That gruesome injury almost made me cry…

There was something in the air that night
The stars were bright, Fernando
They were shining there for you & me, Padres victory, Fernando
Though we never thought we’d dump James Shields– there’s no regret
If we had to make that trade again
We would, my friend, Fernando
If we had to make that trade again
We would, my friend, Fernando

[Listen to ABBA original 3rd verse in solemn silence for his father; then repeat chorus & fade out..]

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The MLB Free Agency Market: 2018-19

Padres signed 2B Ian Kinsler 2/$8M after the Winter Meetings. The timing here is significant, as Padres GM AJ Preller had to wait out the Rule 5 Draft to make any FA acquisitions with their full foster. As a result, the Padres lost zero players to the Rule 5 Draft, even though they have the top-rated farm system in baseball. Excellent roster management by AJP, who is now seeking a 3B. Currently, the best free agent option at third base is age-30 Mike Moustakas.

The Padres have no interest in Marlins catcher JT Realmuto, despite any “rumors” you are reading from industry hacks attempting to stoke the hot stove. I believe most teams have been put-off by Derek Jeter & Mike Hill’s unrealistic demands. Their problem is they have made so many bad deals in the past year, trading All-stars (& MVP’s) for junk prospects. The Marlins front office keeps thinking they are going to finally hit the motherlode, and it never happens. The other GM’s are all smarter, and that’s a huge problem in Miami. Their only hope at this point is if the Dodgers overpay for Realmuto, which isn’t likely, although although could happen.

Everyone in baseball keeps talking about RF Bryce Harper & SS Manny Machado, but it’s the other end of the free agent market that is the real story. Closer Craig Kimbrel declined a $17.9M qualifying offer (QO) from the Red Sox in November, as he’s reportedly seeking a 6-year deal. When the Dodgers signed hard-throwing ex-Red Sox set-up man Joe Kelly for 3/$25M last week, that sent a sobering message to the Kimbrel camp.

Carrying QO draft-pick compensation doesn’t help Kimbrel’s cause, as really he’s not worth 2/$15M at this point. Plus, who wants to give a valuable draft pick to the Red Sox? Kimbrel will be age-31 next season, with declining efficacy, and everyone saw his dismal performances in the post-season. The Mets & Dodgers are done spending stupid money on relievers, so there goes the market for overpays. Reality is going to bite him hard in January/February, when he will have to accept a concession contract, and it will be his fault. He should have accepted the QO. What kind of idiot on the backside of his career turns down $18M for one year?

Speaking of more stupid, the Mets (77-85 in 2018) have announced their intentions to be competitive in the near-future, by making a flurry of trades and free-agent signings this winter; acquiring 2B Robinson Cano & closer Edwin Diaz from the Mariners, while bringing back shaky reliever Jeurys Familia for 3/$30M. They just signed age-31 FA catcher Wilson Ramos for 2/$19M, which is another overpay.

A Mets “rumor” that has been circulated all winter has them trading RHP Noah Syndergaard to the Padres for all their top prospects. This will not happen, and is another wishful-thinking media-driven narrative. The Padres are probably more interested in acquiring RHP Sonny Gray from the Yankees.

Syndergaard is now arbitration eligible, after making $3M in 2018. His effectiveness is unquestionable, but his leadership & durability aren’t. The question this baseball fan has is: If the Mets are planning to compete in the near future, then why are they so desperate to trade a young Noah Syndergaard? He’s been on the trade block for the last 6 months or so, and no one is biting; so what do all the GM’s know about Noah Syndergaard, that we fans aren’t being told?

As mentioned above the Dodgers are looking for a catcher, after Yasmani Grandal declined his QO. Grandal turned 30 last month, and had a career season in 2018, (.241/.349/.466) in 140 games. The problem is that is defense is very suspect, as shown in the post-season. That’s why the Dodgers let him go. If the Mets preferred Ramos at 2/$19M, then what is Grandal worth? The answer is: A lot less than the $17.9M QO he rejected. Plus, what NL team wants to give the Dodgers their draft pick?

That’s the major bug-a-boo with QO’s, the draft pick compensation. That draft choice could be the next Mike Trout, so teams value it very highly– to the detriment of the FA who rejects the QO. Player arrogance & greed is clouding their better judgment, and their legal council stinks.

Another MLB free agent who rejected his QO is ex-Astros RHP Dallas Keuchel, who isn’t expected to sign until late January– at the earliest. Once again, it’s because the player & his agent have misjudged the market. The draft-pick compensation removes a significant amount of value from a free agent signing, and players have been slow to realize this phenomenon.

The owners & GM’s understand this well, and since they are the ones who hand out the contracts, they control the market. FA pitchers are high-risk, and after the results of signing Hu Darvish (Cubs) & Jake Arrieta (Phillies) last winter, no team wants to get burned like that again.

If a player accepts his qualifying offer, he gets $17.9M for one season, then becomes an unrestricted free agent next year, as a player can only be offered a QO once. Seven MLB players were offered QO’s in November of 2018. Dodgers pitcher Hyun-Jin Ryu was the only one to (smartly) accept his $17.9 million qualifying offer.

Only LHP Patrick Corbin, who signed 6/$140M with the Nationals; and RF Bryce Harper were correct in rejecting their QO’s. The four others: Dallas Keuchel, Yasmani Grandal, Craig Kimbrel & A.J. Pollock all remain on the market, and will eventually have to sign a deal for a much lower average annual value than $18M. In light of this, what do you think of their agents?

The story of this winter in MLB will (again) be the falling free-agent salaries among the 2nd & 3rd-tier groups of players. The paydays they were promised by their agents & union leaders aren’t going to materialize. Younger & more valuable players are starting to realize their worth, and will soon be demanding a bigger piece of the pie. This is setting up to be a major league labor war down the road, as MLB ownership is intransigent about raising minimum salaries, and the MLBPA is a corrupt bureaucracy.

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MLB Predictions: Reviewed

Preface: This is yet another article I intended as a one-off, but the situation changed and required further explanation– thus turning it into a 7,500-word serial. I’m abusing the new time-stamp feature, as you’ll see. First published on September 22, the main contents here are in italics, and deal with the last day of the MLB regular season, and the following two days through the NL Wild Card game on October 2, 2018.

Hall-of-fame Yankees catcher & dugout philosopher Yogi Berra famously pointed out that, “It ain’t over, until it’s over.” Decades later the times are indeed a-changin’, and that’s when a Marxist philosopher who loves baseball comes along and slaps an asterisk on that proverb by clarifying that, “It ain’t over, until it can’t be overturned.”

I’m going to do something that few other sportswriters do, which is analyze my pre-season predictions. There is one week remaining in the MLB season as of this publication, as these screenshots and analysis cover everything through September 21. This can be done because all the serious races have been decided. This piece will take a close look at Pythagorean record (X-W/L) using runs scored & allowed to determine if a team was “lucky” or “unlucky” in 2018. Any team that veers more than +/- two wins from their actual record can be considered either lucky or unlucky. That can tell you a lot about their expectations in this post-season & 2019.

AL East Prediction:
Contenders: Yankees, Red Sox (WC)
Pretenders: Blue Jays, Rays, Orioles

What happened: The Red Sox had the highest payroll in MLB, and are currently 105-49, but their X-W/L says they should be 98-56. That’s still good enough to win the division, but they’ve also been extremely lucky. The Red Sox are the best team in baseball, but not by as wide a margin as some would have you believe. I predicted the Yankees would win this division, so I was wrong there. But I also said that whoever is the Wild Card in the AL East, will win the play-in game, which is the most significant advantage to winning the division. Once you’re past that, then everything is equalized in the divisional round. What I’m saying is that if the Yankees overpower the Oakland A’s in the Wild Card play-in game, which is what I (and most) expect to happen, then it doesn’t matter who finished 1st & 2nd in the AL East. If the A’s win, then I was really wrong; otherwise I’m correct about everything in the AL that counts, except the second Wild Card. I also predicted the Orioles would be a complete joke, and they are. See: Chris “Crash” Davis, and this offensively bad pitching staff.

AL Central Prediction:
Contenders: Indians, Twins (WC)
Pretenders: Royals, White Sox, Tigers

What happened: No brainer picking the Indians, as they are they only good team in this division. They won despite being extremely unlucky, with a record that is 7 wins below their Pythagorean. That means this team is a bit of a sleeper, and with the acquisition of relievers Brad Hand & Adam Cimber from the Padres at the deadline, they are stacked in the pen. The AL pennant is a heavyweight battle royale, and it’s easy to overlook Cleveland. That would be a mistake, as this is one of the best-run franchises in MLB today. The Twins were the second Wild Card in 2017, and looked like strong contenders to repeat to that plateau with their off-season additions, but it never happened in 2018. This division may be the worst in MLB, and it’s why I picked the Twins for the Wild Card. The Rays are better than any non-Cleveland team in this division, and probably would have won the second AL Wild Card had they played in this division or the AL West.

AL West Predictions:
Contender: Astros
Pretenders: Angels, Mariners, A’s, Rangers

What happened: The Houston Astros are like Cleveland, in that they have been extremely unlucky, yet they both won their divisions easily– as expected. The Angels acquired this past winter’s most coveted prize Shohei Ohtani, and have proceeded to wreck him. Ohtani needs TJ surgery on his pitching elbow, yet he is still in the lineup DH-ing, even though the season has long been lost. I thought the Halos could finish as high as second, but they fell to fourth. The Mariners hung around for awhile because they were the luckiest team in MLB this year. Seattle is currently 84-69, with a negative run differential [!], which means they really are a 72-81 team. This is an old team full of holes and payroll bloat, so look for a major correction in 2019 for the Mariners. A big reason Oakland gets the second AL Wild Card is because this is a mediocre-to-weak division. Texas is awful, and will be for a long time now.

NL East Predictions:
Contender: Nationals
Pretenders: Braves, Phillies, Mets, Marlins

What happened: Everyone got this one wrong, as no one predicted a collapse from the Nationals. One warning sign I noted early was the hiring of Dave “Vodka” Martinez to replace Dusty Baker a manager. Baker had to go and everyone knew it, but this is a veteran team with a championship roster. The Gnats needed a manger with experience, and instead they went cheap and hired a rookie with no managing experience– anywhere. I haven’t been a fan of this franchise since they moved from Montreal, because they became just the opposite of what they were. In Canada, the Expos were a savvy small-market franchise that developed players from within, and kept payroll low. In Washington they’ve been a payroll behemoth personified by a front office & ownership that has little brains. I do feel for Bryce Harper, Stephen Strasburg and all the rest, because they deserved better and were ultimately let down by this lack of leadership.

With this collapse in DC, someone else had to step in and win this division, and certainly the Marlins & Mets weren’t capable. A few remaining Marlins fans wondered what might have been, if Derek Jeter & co. hadn’t blown everything up upon arrival. That left it to the Phillies & Braves, with Atlanta having the best roster mix of veterans & young talent. I think the Braves are second-rate to the Cubs & Dodgers as far as NL division winners go, but they deserve credit for stepping up when an opportunity presented itself in 2018. I’ll only change my mind on these Braves when they prove it in the post-season. They’re young & talented, so who knows…?

NL Central Predictions:
Contender: Cubs, Cardinals (WC)
Pretenders: Brewers, Reds, Pirates

What happened: The Cubs won the division, but are starting to look more & more beatable. Their Hu Darvish signing was the worst free-agent deal of this past winter, and will financially cripple them down the road. With that said, they’re still capable of winning it all in 2018. As I mentioned in my pre-season notes, the Brewers made the two best acquisitions of the off-season in free-agent CF Lorenzo Cain & LF Christian Yelich. The prospects the Brewers gave up in the Yelich trade were garbage, as this was the biggest steal of the past winter. That, and obtaining just enough pitching is what got the Brewers an NL Wild Card. The Cardinals managed to hang around until the end, as they always do. This is the kind of franchise they are, in that even when they aren’t particularly good, they can still get by, and they are going to get the second NL Wild Card. Overall this division is mediocre by NL standards, even though it has both Wild Cards.

* Since the Padres are out, I’m rooting for the Brewers this fall.

Update: Sunday September 30, 2018  ~ 7:00 PM

The MLB regular season is over as of this writing, with 162 games in the books; and yet nothing is over in 2 of the 3 National League divisions. In the NL Central, the Cubs & Brewers have 95 wins, while the Dodgers & Rockies have 91 wins apiece. This means a one-game play-off for their division titles, with the losers of each slotting in as a Wild Card.

What this means is MORE slow-down of the MLB action, while we clear these division winners up. The owners & networks are primarily responsible for this, however you may feel. I feel this hair-splitting should be decided by the tie-breaker– which is head-to-head record.

It’s just not that important at this level of mediocrity, so let’s get on with it. We’ve already had 162 games to decide this, and if that’s not enough, then this is how we do it. Everyone knows in advance, so it’s fair. You only need these games to eliminate for the 2nd Wild Card slot, otherwise the best head-to-head record decides all tiebreakers. Clean & fair, and most importantly it keeps everything on track. There are enough games already, so I also will advocate for a 154-games MLB schedule, to balance out for the expanded post-season & multiple play-in games.

The Wild Card is a cheap gimmick and big-market insurance policy. The irony is that it takes the focus away from excellence (Red Sox), and mires the narrative in mediocrity, at least for a while. Now, even after 162 games, the regular season doesn’t go away. It’s still there for 4 NL teams. Of all these deciding games, the only one that actually matters is the Wild Card game. IMO, all these contests should be counted as regular season games, as teams aren’t in the post season until they get to the Divisional Round. That’s what it really is.

Part of the beauty of MLB from 1969-93, was its fair, yet unforgivably cruel divisional format, which only rewarded excellence. Winning the division after 162 games, meant being in the LCS. Everyone else went home. In that era, MLB went from a marathon grind, to high-intensity top-quality action for a pennant– instantly!

The “innovation” of the Wild Card was introduced in 1994, the notorious “Strike Season,” and it’s purpose was/is to allow the Red Sox & Yankees to be in the post-season every year. A big-market team wracked with injuries & under-performance inevitably gets a second opportunity to redeem itself after losing the division.

This series of amputations, once done naturally and cleanly by the format, is today’s MLB play-ins & play-offs; broadcast in slow-motion, and painfully framed in stages by Fox. These are your four-and-a-half hour Sox-Yankees broadcasts, that go well past midnight on the east coast. It summons adjectives ranging from mind-numbing & bombastic to boring & unwatchable.

The AL post-season is East coast bias, while the NL (real baseball) is still in hypothetical land. This fan yawns, “Wake me up for the LCS’s. Enough hypotheticals & mediocrity dominating the narrative. It’s supposed to be clarity, and all quality by now, but we have neither.

Again the narrative is where it shouldn’t be. The AL is the much stronger league, and will be heavy favorites in the World Series, regardless of their NL opponent. Astros, Yankees & Red Sox each won at least a 100 games. Cleveland won 91, and the second AL Wild Card Oakland won 97.  Incidentally, the Rays won 90 games and finished a distant third in the stacked AL East. The Royals & White Sox both lost 100 games, while the Tigers lost 98. The AL Central is a BAD division from second to last.

Home field advantage in the WS is determined by overall record now. It’s very likely the AL will have it, which is significant because of the DH. It is this rule that allows the AL to create powerhouses that crush NL teams head-to-head over time. In a short series the DH advantage is reduced, but is still significant, as the rules are set now.

Home-field advantage in Games 6 & 7 (if necessary), create a window for umpiring & review bias to influence events favorably for the home team. The Yankees & Red Sox have notoriously the most foul-mouthed, invasive & rabidly-out-of control fans in MLB. The umpires & media are all influenced by this set-up.

It’s not just having 4 homes games to the NL’s 3. It’s about having the advantage in the two most crucial games of a close & competitive series. If it’s a rout or sweep, it’s probably the AL doing it to the NL anyways.

I had to update this piece, because I was wrong about how the NL season would end, even with only 9 games to play. The difference between the 9 days that elapsed since this piece was published is that the Cardinals proved they weren’t a play-off team. As a baseball fan, I’m happy the NL West gets a Wild Card, because they deserve it.

The NL East Braves won 90 games, eight games better than the second place Gnats. The Phillies slipped to 3rd in the end, and finished 80-82. Free agent splash RHP Jake Arrieta was a disappointment, and the Phils owe him 2/$50M. The Miami Marlins finished with the worst record in the NL at 63-99. Congratulations to Mike Hill, Derek Jeter & Bruce Sherman on avoiding 100 losses. The Padres won 66 games, second worst in the NL.

In the AL, the Orioles went 47-115, worst in baseball. Forty seven wins means their entire roster was replacement level. To be fair, they underplayed their Pythagorean by eight wins, so they were actually a little better than their record– but still horrible. Everyone expects a major housecleaning operation from top-to-bottom at Camden Yards, but the question remains: What bright young GM, that is needed to turn this shipwreck of a franchise around, will work for this owner? Orioles fans need to fire their owner, by pressuring him to sell. Don’t buy MLB-priced tickets for this AAAA team– I say. Otherwise Angelos will just hire another “Yes man” like GM Dan Duquette. Orioles owner Peter Angelos has been an albatross to this franchise for too long, as he’s the one who is most responsible for the Chris Davis contract. There’s no hope of bringing in the brain-power needed to fix things, with Angelos meddling & in charge.

Mon 01 Oct 2018 05:21:37 PM EDT

Final from Wrigley Field: Brewers win 3-1, and celebrate a divisional championship, punching their ticket to the Divisional Round as the NL’s #1 seed. They will play TBD on Thursday, at a still undetermined time. The Cubs & their fans witnessed all this, but it doesn’t hurt too much. The Cubs can shake it off, and go get ’em tomorrow at Wrigley against TBD @ 8:00 PM on ESPN. It sure is nice to have Wild Card insurance. Keeps the big boys fat & happy.

Meanwhile out west, the Rockies & Dodgers are facing off at Chavez Ravine. There was a time in MLB (pre-1994), when two teams finished in a tie for the divisional title, and it was magic. One game, sudden death, for all the marbles. Back then winning the division meant you eliminated ALL your rivals & arch-rivals, and got to face the other division winner that did the same to theirs. The point is, in real baseball the Cubs would be eliminated right now. They lost Game 163, and that means you go home for the season– by the rules of real baseball. Unfortunately Bud Selig and the rest of the owners conspired with the networks to give fans this version of a MLB “pennant race” & “post-season” back in the 1990’s when no one was looking. As a lifetime fan, I can attest that this version of MLB is much inferior to the old one. It wasn’t broke, yet they had to “fix” it, and that’s arrogance for you.

My solution is to eliminate the Wild Card. The division winner with the best record goes directly to the LCS. The other two division winners face off, best-of-5. Head-to-head record and strength of division would be fair tie-breakers, as needed. Rotate the home field advantage for World Series, NL in even years and AL in odd years; like it used to be, from the time the DH was first introduced in 1973. Then finally, phase out the DH. That’s how you restore competitive balance, by eliminating these “innovations” introduced by greedy & short-sighted owners & their cronies in corporate media.

At Dodger Stadium, it’s 0-0 in the bottom of the 4th. It should be a charged atmosphere in LA right now, but it isn’t. Remember, this is LA and much of the crowd is still arriving. The team & fan mood there is hopeful. Hopeful they don’t have to fly to Chicago tomorrow, but they will if they have to. Can someone please rationally explain to me what the MLB regular season was for, besides making money?

Mon 01 Oct 2018 06:55:09 PM EDT

Right after (or as?) I was signing off, CF Cody Bellinger hit a 2-run HR to get the Dodgers started. Another 2-run homer in the 5th by 1B Max Muncy, and the Dodgers were on their way to a divisional title. Dodgers fans LOVE a blow-out win. It means they can leave early to “beat the traffic,” with little guilt. It turns out I was correct on the NL West after all, and if I even cared, I would loudly proclaim vindication. As someone who follows the NL West, the Dodgers are better than everyone else, even with all those injuries.

So it’s the Rockies who will fly to Chicago for Game 164 to determine who goes to the NL play-offs. When the “tie-breaker” game got to 5-0, Rockies manager Bud Black went with mostly mop-up options in relief, as this game was lost. It’s best to save the premium bullpen arms for the game that actually matters, the Wild Card game. Wade Davis & Adam Ottavino will be ready in the Rockies pen, and that’s how you have to play it if you are Bud Black. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t suck.

The Cubs starter will be their ace, lefty Jon Lester who was maneuvered in the rotation by Joe Maddon weeks in advance to pitch this game if needed. Otherwise he’d have started Game 1 of the NLDS. The Wild Card hurts the Cubs in these ways: 1) if they lose to the Rockies, 2) if they win, they lose Lester leading off the NLDS and can only start him once in the best-of-5, and 3) they yield home field advantage to the division winners.

That’s it, as everything else is equalized, and everyone is 0-0 again after the Wild Card play-in winner is determined. The regular season has been over for 24+ hours now, but we still have a ways to go towards determining the playoff picture. Can you feel the excitement?

The Rockies starter will be either 5th starter, righty Antonio Senzatela; or their ace on short rest, lefty Kyle Freeland. I’m guessing the Rockies go with the latter. This sets everything up in the Cubs wheelhouse, and this is your MLB Wild Card in action. Call it the house edge for the establishment favorites, and even though the Brewers just defeated the Cubs and won their division, I’m already picturing a (re)match-up in the Divisional  Round, and I’m not alone. In a week the Cubs could be returning the favor to the Brewers & their fans in Miller Park.

As for the Rockies, they were the bullies of the NL West in 2018. That’s a Padres fan perspective. They threw at Padres repeatedly (who had no starting pitching to defend their hitters), and broke CF Manny Margot’s wrist intentionally, for no good reason. With that said, I still hope the Rockies beat the Cubs tomorrow, but I know better. The pressure will be on the Rockies to get an early lead, and if they don’t the percentages (and short rest) will likely crack them. It’s baseball, and anything can happen, but you need to be aware of the fix and this is as close as it gets in MLB.

Mon 01 Oct 2018 09:03:19 PM EDT

This consistent unfair bias towards big market franchises can be seen in the post-season seeding in the NL. The Brewers finished 96-67, highest win total in the NL. The Cubs were second highest at 95, but will be the 4th-seed, because they are the Wild Card. Just because, on that. That means the #2-seeded Dodgers (92-71) host the #3-seeded Braves who won only 90 games. The Brewers would surely prefer to face the Braves, and maybe even the Dodgers, but they have no choice, as it’s been decided in advance by the powers-that-be. Note how this leaves the possibility of a Dodgers-Cubs NLCS, which is what MLB & ESPN/Fox want. In the AL they want the Red Sox or Yankees in the World Series every year.

Also note that the AL Wild Card game could have been switched with the NL Wild Card game, as far as the Tuesday/Wednesday dates go. The Rockies, who won 9 of 10 games to end the season in a tie with LA. They haven’t had an off-day since September 20. The A’s @ Yankees is scheduled for Wednesday night, meaning they both get two off-days. Do you believe ANYONE but me has brought up the idea that it would be in the best interests of MLB to accommodate the weariness of the Rockies here? Most ESPN & Fox sports reporters couldn’t name three Rockies players in 10 seconds. In contrast, they know everyone on the Cubs as the background is already done. So who do who YOU like in the big game tomorrow? Also know that the Yankees (& Red Sox) never accommodate anyone for the best interest of all. That’s why they’re so despised. It’s the corrupt power structure behind all this that I despise.

Wed 03 Oct 2018 01:25:41 AM EDT

Cubs-Rockies 2018 NL Wild Card wrap-up: Tons of pitching changes, as this game went past midnight in two time zones, ending at ~1:07 AM ET. Rockies win 2-1, in 13 innings. The starters pitched well, as expected, but were long gone by the time things were decided at Wrigley Field. The Colorado Rockies got a run in the top of the 1st on a sacrifice fly, and ace LHP Kyle Freeland (on 3 days rest) made it hold up through 6.2, leaving the game with a 1-0 lead. On normal rest Freeland probably would have gone 8 IP, and the Rockies would have won 1-0. But instead Rockies righty set-up man Adam Ottavino gave up the tying run in the 8th, and this affair became a battle of bullpens & benches.

Rockies manager Bud Black used 5 relief pitchers, and Joe Maddon used 8 relievers, including 2 starters: Cole Hamels & (losing pitcher) Kyle Hendricks. He also used his entire bench, as many Cubs played multiple positions. Home plate umpire Chris Guccione was solid with balls & strikes, and there were no umpire or replay controversies that affected the outcome. The Rockies play the Brewers in the Divisional Round, which is much more fair to the NL Central champions, versus having to beat the Cubs again. This is a major MLB upset, as the Rockies had every disadvantage you could name, and still managed to beat the Cubs. That’s baseball.

I learn a lot about the hidden nuances of baseball, as compared to those who watch games on television, by following along (as needed) on MLB Gameday. Online is where the numbers of every pitch, the results of all balls put into play, and a running box score are kept for in-game reference. Highlights come soon enough, if one remains alert & patient with the MLB video feed. If you really want to know what’s happening, then you have to do some work, and this is the tool to get it done.

IMO, this is WAAAYYY better than listening to ESPN or Fox announcers, who mostly should be muted while switching to a radio broadcast, if entertainment is the desired goal. Those “golden voices” are mostly gone now, or at minimum, taken off-the-air during modern MLB post-season broadcasts. Their best replacement is Gameday, which gives intelligent baseball fans the data they need, particularly in identifying how pitchers are working hitters and any drop in velocity. Also, as soon as I start seeing inconsistent balls & strikes umpiring, I’m looking at the home plate umpire’s name in the box score. Teams all have vast troves of data on this stuff now.

The best-run franchises in MLB have this in common: they are all well-coordinated from ownership to GM to dugout manager to the players. This extends through the minors & globally. There is little-to-no disharmony in their words & actions concerning the product on the field, or the direction the organization is taking. The GM job is the most crucial, as they must handle the manager & the players, as well as upper-management & ownership– quite a juggling act. Responsibility for an organization’s success or failure most squarely rests on a GM’s shoulders.

A manager needs to understand when he must sit veterans, in order to give playing time to young talent, so an accurate determination of baseball abilities can be made. A GM needs this, so he doesn’t trade away a future All-Star or HoF-er, because he didn’t get enough at-bats or starts as a prospect. When a season becomes lost, organizational priorities change, and the dugout manager must yield extra consideration to the GM, who needs a large-enough sample size to evaluate young players, because growth is involved. Everybody is looking at potential, and grading on improvement. It’s not what you are now, as much as what you can become. That’s the job requirement for at least half the managers in MLB.

A manager’s job is to manage his 25-man roster. That means getting to know, and caring about his players as real people, instead of treating them like pieces of meat. Too many old-school managers crash their roster, or don’t get enough out of the available talent, as they let their egos dictate because they lack brains. It’s a manager’s job to not abuse his pitchers. He needs to know how to build & handle his bullpen, and use his bench. Proper leadership prevents injuries, which always need to be managed, and not allowed to linger on, be rushed back, or go unreported, otherwise they can wreck a roster.

All this requires GM involvement, as players on the 40-man roster are shuffled up & down as depth issues come up. Trade deadline acquisitions are also a team decision for an organization. There needs to be complete agreement on what is needed, and what to give up. Today’s manager needs to be quotable & media friendly, to take the heat off his players and stick up for them as needed. Good managers never trash their players or organization through the media, as all dirty laundry is handled professionally, in house, and in person. In short, winning teams have deep pockets, roster depth, and management that knows how to use it. The Astros are the best at this game right now.

The best teams at this in recent years have been the Astros, Giants, Cubs, Indians, Yankees, Red Sox, Cardinals, Dodgers, Brewers, Braves, A’s, Rays, and Padres. That’s a diverse group as far as winning goes, spread out at different points on the win curve, but if you look closely at these examples of elite MLB organizational management, you’ll see how all these franchises have succeeded, or in the case of the Padres, will be the next to succeed. They consider & play every angle.

As for the AL Wild Card, I hope the A’s win, and then go on to sweep the Red Sox. Wouldn’t it be nice? At this point a fan can still dream of it, so I’m ending this serial here. An ending in the middle. It’s true that baseball holds the key to many of the cosmological riddles of our time and I see great things in it, but it’s also a job and mine is over here. With that said, I’ll finish my remaining thoughts on the game here in italics, and when tomorrow night’s reality arrives, I’ll happily be doing something else & not caring.

The fact is the Yankees would win two-out-of-three of these type games at The House That Ruthlessness Built, if they played a large enough sample to determine. A 33% chance for the A’s may be generous, but it also proves that baseball can be unpredictable. What’s published here is proof of that.

The two-Wild Card format began in 2012, and it was an upgrade as it finally made the Wild Card a play-in game. Before that there was no difference between winning the division or Wild Card, except for seeding in the post-season & draft order. The results in the NL have been either: 1) big-market powerhouses (Giants, Cubs) smashing middling second-Wild Card entries, or 2) a Reds-Pirates type affair. Until the Rockies beat the Cubs in 2018.

The Astros were moved to the AL in 2013, from the 6-team NL Central to the 4-team AL West, transforming that franchise, while finally providing competitive balance (and sensible interleague scheduling) for 30 MLB teams. In the AL since 2012, the Wild Card has been won by: the Orioles, Rays, Royals, Astros (over Yankees) in 2015, Blue Jays (over Orioles) in 2016, and the Yankees in 2017. That’s a lot of AL East participation & winning, you may have noticed. The only year the AL East didn’t have a Wild Card team under this format was in 2014, when the Royals beat the A’s.

Those were (coincidentally) the last years of Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Mariano Rivera, etc, and the Yankees were actually rebuilding. Meanwhile the Red Sox had their two worst seasons in recent history in 2014 & 2015. That gave the Royals a window to win a World Series, which they did in 2015. It was definitely an anomaly in MLB. The Royals have now collapsed, and the Red Sox have since traded the farm to become a win-now heavyweight, which is considered the new “normal” for fall in New England.

Concerning free agency this winter, there is much that can be predicted with accuracy. Owners have been told by their GM’s that they shouldn’t overpay for veterans, unless they are top-tier non-pitchers. See RHP Hu Darvish, who signed with the Cubs, and had been on the DL since, with all kinds of arm troubles. That’s 6 years, $126 million down the drain. It was Eric Hosmer & JD Martinez who were coveted last winter. This year it will be SS Manny Machado of the Dodgers, and RF Bryce Harper of the Nationals. Neither will get anything close to the kind of money that they had hoped for, or been hyped on. Bryce Harper is the youngest, about to turn 26, so he can expect an 8-year deal at maximum money. A few years ago, many owners would throw that kind of offer any age 30-ish slugger.

The bigger problem is that mid-tier free agents are getting far fewer big-money offers than they’ve seen in the past. A 2/$10 million deal is a common FA player deal these days. Many free agent pitchers had to take one-year deals. A 4-5-year deal only goes to free agent performers who are in demand. Last winter was the MLB free-agent market crash, and I reported it on this site. It got me kicked off the MLB.com forum, if you need an idea of how sensitive this issue is. Players of all experience levels in Spring Training 2018 had pointed questions for their MLBPA representatives on this heated topic. Their perspective is that if they’re exploited in the minors, and underpaid as arbitration eligible big-leaguers; then what’s the point of free agency if they can’t get a contract that fairly compensates them for their value– past, present or future? Veterans are now dumped for cheaper options, and never get the payday they were promised by the MLBPA union & their agents. This issue won’t just “go away,” so look for it during the hot stove season.

Back to this post-season & its format, an undiscussed point on big market favoritism that pervades MLB is the World Series home field advantage decider. As mentioned above, it is best overall record that decides home field advantage in the Fall Classic. In the World Series, being a division winner is declared irrelevant by MLB, and it’s suddenly best overall record that decides home field advantage. In the AL, the Yankees & A’s are the Wild Cards. The winner doesn’t get home field advantage in the Divisional or ALCS rounds– if they get that far, but they’ll have home field advantage in the World Series if they make it, because they both had a better overall record than all the NL division winners.

There is no consistency to any of this “logic,” until your realize the deeper bias involved. Every year the high-payroll Yankees & Red Sox slug it out in the AL East, and are often the teams with the two best records in MLB– like this year. This flip in the rules for a Wild Card, allows both the Yankees & Red Sox to have home field advantage in the World Series, whomever the Wild Card may be. This year is was the Yankees. This is significant, because of the DH advantage for the AL.

The DH is a major distortion in the rules of baseball. MLB is the only professional sports organization that has significantly different rules for their competing leagues. The NFL has the same rules for the NFC/AFC, and the NBA the same rules for their Eastern & Western Conferences. Same thing in the NHL and everywhere else, except maybe NASCAR– where the rules change week-by-week.

The DH allows the Red Sox to start HoF-ers like RHP’s Pedro Martinez & Curt Schilling, and move this slot in the batting order up to 3rd, so HoF-hitter David Ortiz can pinch hit for them every time. Instant “Babe Ruth” through the DH, to end “The Curse.” Plus, AL pitchers can throw at anyone they please, without ever having to face retribution at the plate. Ain’t the DH grand? The problem is that it’s unfair to most AL teams that can’t afford to compete at that level of payroll, and it’s completely unfair to NL teams, who can’t carry a DH on their 25-man roster during the season.

That’s why interleague play is dominated by the AL, who win two-thirds of the contests, so of course [!] all the AL powerhouses will own the best overall records in MLB. The AL almost always wins the All-Star Game too, as more power pitching & hitting is required to compete in the AL, due to the DH. For years the All-Star game winner was tied to World Series home field advantage. This reflected the same bias. Now there’s a new method to achieve the same desired results.

The World Series winners are closer to even, with a slight advantage to the AL. Both teams get a chance to adjust their 25-man rosters before the World Series, which can help a NL team add a bat they may need. Since 1995, the first season with the Wild Card “innovation” that was played to completion, through 2017; the AL has won the World Series 12 times, and the NL 11 times. In the 23 All-star games during that span, the AL is 17-5-1. * There was a tie in 2002, at Miller Park with MLB commissioner/ex-owner Bud Selig (now a HoF-er) in attendance. To summarize, in a short series (small sample size) like the Fall Classic, the best NL teams can overcome the DH, but it’s still a disadvantage to them. Over time with a large number of games, the NL gets get crushed by the DH.

What these findings & conclusions on this biased format indicate, is that MLB prefers the Yankees or Red Sox to win the World Series every year, as the rules are all set up to that effect. Don’t forget that the MLB rules committee & replay umpiring is run out of New York, and is supervised by the likes of ex-Yankee manager Joe Torre. BTW, who are these replay officials–specifically? Fans would like their names & faces– for accountability. Everyone else in baseball is accountable for their actions, so why do these replay umpires in New York keep themselves anonymous, hidden & far away? To ask the question is to answer it.

Meanwhile, lookout for replay bias in the post-season, as it’s happened too often in the past for fans to ignore. When a controversial call is made, it overwhelmingly favors the big-market franchise. Those bad calls are glossed over by network announcers, swept under-the-rug by the corporate media, and ended with the ultimate excuse, “the Yankees/Red Sox/Cubs/Dodgers would have won anyways.” On the other hand, when a controversial call goes against one of these big-name favorites, there is hysterical indignation in the ESPN-led sports media for a week.

What I’ve highlighted & exhaustively analyzed here (concluded after the NL Wild Card game), is a lot of really small stuff that no one else talks about, yet subtly works in the background– always to the advantage of the favored franchises. So why is this? The answer is money & TV ratings. In case you haven’t heard, there’s a US mid-term election on November 6, and political advertising has already been paid-for. The last thing MLB and it’s network sponsors want are the Oakland A’s vs. the Milwaukee Brewers or Colorado Rockies in the World Series. That may be an intriguing match-up from a purist standpoint, the problem is there are WAY more greedy politicians than baseball purists running & influencing MLB from behind-the-scenes.

MLB manipulates all this because it needs the Yankees or Red Sox to battle the Cubs or Dodgers for all this to pay off. Professional sports is big money & politics, so Cleveland or Houston winning the pennant would be considered a disappointment in the AL, as would be the Braves winning it in the NL. After the Cubs lost the Wild Card game, it was instantly down to the Dodgers for most MLB executives as far as the NL is concerned. Once you absorb all this, then you are ready to watch the MLB post-season with a fair idea of what to expect, and how it’s going to be called.

NL West
Contenders: Dodgers, Diamondbacks (WC)
Pretenders: Padres, Rockies, Giants

What happened: The high-payroll Dodgers weathered a barrage of injuries, and outlasted everyone in the competitive NL West. The Rockies surprised me some, as I thought the Diamondbacks were better positioned to repeat themselves for a Wild Card run. If you look at their Pythagorean records (ARZ & COL) you’ll see their places in the standing should be reversed, an example of luck factor which you can’t prognosticate in baseball. The Giants doubled down on veterans over the winter in a vain attempt to make another miracle. Look for wholesale roster changes in SF this winter, as they finished fourth. This is still the toughest division in the NL from top-to-bottom.

I’m a Padres fan, so I optimistically picked the Friars to rise to third place out West, but quickly realized this was a last-place team. In 2017 the Padres were 71-91 and finished fourth, but their Pythagorean record was 59-103. I overlooked that Pythagorean, and that’s why I’m emphasizing it here. The reason the Padres overplayed their record by 12 games in 2017 was 1) Andy Green is an elite manager, and 2) LHP Brad Hand had a season for the ages. Andy Green used Hand often & precisely, and he delivered time & time again. In 2017, there were so many situations where Brad Hand came in a serious jam, and he got the strikeout and/or double play ground ball to end the threat. Hand saved his bullpen mates a ton of runs, and made them look a lot better (ERA wise) than they actually were.

It would be an impossible to expect him to repeat that performance in 2018, and Hand wasn’t quite as good this season, although he’s still an All-Star. The Padres dealt him before the trade deadline to Cleveland for Francisco Mejia, the top catching prospect in MLB. The Padres have played Mejia extensively already and are impressed. This looks like a win-win trade, which is what you like to see when this kind of talent is involved.

Final analysis & Padres notes: As we can see, I got some stuff right and other stuff wrong. Most of the right stuff was easy to predict, as not much has changed in MLB. I’ve admitted my errors and shown you that I don’t know everything about baseball. Don’t you wish more sports-media types would do this? It will probably be another year or two before we see significant turnover in the top teams, as the best-run franchises are pretty well established now, and the second-division teams have a long way to go. The fate & direction of the Nationals will be a big story this winter.

The best bet for a surprise NL contender in 2019 will be the San Diego Padres who have the top farm system in MLB, with a few pieces in already place. Wil Myers moving to 3B will be a big help to the Padres, if he can stay healthy and hold down the position. They have top prospect SS Fernando Tatis Jr. and hitting machine 2B Luis Urias ready to fill in their infield. Age-23 RF Franmil Reyes has been a huge surprise for the Padres in this developmental campaign. He fits with CF Manny Margot and LF Hunter Renfroe who has also shown progress in 2018. Same for Austin Hedges, who is now a legit MLB catcher. They’re still probably another year or two away, but you can see it coming if you’re paying attention.

A big factor in the improvement of these young core players was the addition of free agent 1B Eric Hosmer, who sacrificed personal numbers to provide necessary leadership for this fragile team. This definitely took its toll, making him look bad in 2018, but his efforts weren’t lost on Andy Green & real Padres fans. For the first half of the season, Eric Hosmer was the only Padres position player to be healthy & above replacement level.

The reason this team hasn’t lost 100+ games in a season at any time during this painful building process is because of ownership support for A.J. Preller & Andy Green, who are geniuses at what they do. The Padres are currently one game below their X-W/L in 2018, and much of that is due to the bias in umpiring (on-the-field & replay) that has consistently gone against them. The Padres have been repeated victims of inexplicably bad calls, including the worst umpiring call in the history of baseball, which was barely mentioned in the media. It’s taken a few wins away for sure.

Of course, it’s all about pitching in terms of who wins in baseball, and the Padres dumped/demoted their remaining veterans a few months back, and have turned their rotation over to rookies & prospects to see what they have. Young LHP’s Eric Lauer, Joey Lucchesi and RHP Jacob Nix are the starters Green & Preller are watching the most closely. When the waves of top pitching talent start making an impact at Petco Park, the Padres will be a force in the NL. The priority for GM A.J. Preller this winter is to protect his prospects from the Rule 5 Draft in December, and then possibly make a deal for an ace pitcher– if one becomes available.

Tue 02 Oct 2018 01:17:08 PM EDT

Padres Notes Wrap-up:

The San Diego Padres went 66-96, and they saved their best for the last play of the season. Bottom of the 10th against the Diamondbacks, 3-3 tie, one out with Manny Margot on third base after tripling. Rookie catcher Francisco Mejia strikes out swing, but the ball scoots past catcher JR Murphy. Mejia sees this, and runs to first base– like he’s supposed to. Murphy scrambles, gathers the ball, but doesn’t have time to check Margot who is holding with a big lead off of third. Murphy fires to first for the put-out on the strikeout, while Margot breaks for home. When 1B Daniel Descalso double clutches, Margot slides in safely with the winning run without a throw, and the Petco crowd goes wild!! The 2018 San Diego Padres were the craziest 66-win team I have ever followed. It was mostly painful, but it had a few moments like these, enough to keep me coming back in 2019.

1B/OF/3B Wil Myers is a big issue for this organization. He’s now age 27, and had another disappointing season. The experiment at 3B in August/September, didn’t go well. Padres GM AJ Preller now faces the need to fill a position (3B), and move a potential 5th-wheel who is about to become overpaid. Look for the Padres to get creative and move Myers this winter, in a big trade to acquire a 3B and/or pitching prospects. All this depends on the organization’s confidence in Myers being able to play 3B, and his overall character– which I really don’t know. I don’t believe they will make any significant free agent splashes, like they did with 1B Eric Hosmer last winter.

The Mets have been rumored to be interested in dealing RHP Noah Syndergaard, but who knows the asking price, or AJ Preller’s level of interest with his injury history. LHP Clayton Kershaw will remain with the Dodgers, so I don’t see any ace-level pitching becoming available. Best to build from within on that front. We saw last winter (and this season) what free-agent pitchers are actually worth. It’s an overpay, for injury risk & drop-off performance. Young pitchers are premium value, at league minimum rates. The same goes for players/hitters. An organization that has that going has the nucleus for a divisional dynasty that will compete for a World Series. Free-agents & acquired veterans can only fill-in needs, they can’t be the core as they are too costly, and prone to breakdown with diminishing results.

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Always Hustle Until the 4th Out!!

For 150+ years, baseball has had three outs in an inning, and once the third out is called by the umpire, all action is stopped. Everyone from little league on up knows this. But now, that long-standing rule has been changed in practice. Of course, it involved the San Diego Padres, and (of course) the call went against them in New York. Here’s the situation & what happened.

Top of the 3rd inning, Mets lead 3-0, but the Padres have the bases loaded with RHP Zack Wheeler struggling… Two-out single to left by Wil Myers, Manny Margot trying to score from second base is incorrectly called out at the plate by umpire Manny Gonzalez, for (apparently) the third out. This screenshot below is the bad punch-out call.

After Mets catcher Devin Mesoraco shows the ball to the umpire, the incorrect ‘out’ call is signaled by Gonzalez. The inning is (hypothetically) over, but Mets catcher Devin Mesoraco then throws to third base, to nail Carlos Asuaje for the 4th out [!] of the inning. Carlos Asuaje is puzzled, as he thinks he’s heading to the visitor’s [3rd base] dugout to get his glove, because there’s three outs.  Padres manager Andy Green is also puzzled, and challenges the call at home.

After a LONG delay, the call is overturned (Margot obviously safe) and the run scores (3-2), but Asuaje is now deemed the third out– inning over. This is the Mets/Padres at Citi Field on July 24, 2018, with NY replay booth umps. Who are these replay umpires? That should be determined here, for posterity.

Obviously, Mets catcher Devin Mesoraco knew the call at home was incorrect (because it was in front of him), and that’s why he threw to third base. Heads-up play by him, you could say. But how was the runner on second base (Asuaje) supposed to know?

Here’s the MLB write-up, with video of the play & review. Padres beat reporter AJ Cassavell is one of the best in the business, and he clearly defines the replay rules in question and their interpretation.

“Section IV of MLB’s replay regulations covers the placement of runners after incorrect calls. Here are the segments in question: The Replay Official shall place the base runners on the bases he believes they would have reached had the reviewed call been made correctly. … Any doubt regarding the placement of runners should be resolved in favor of the last base legally touched at the time of the challenged call.

Subsequent Calls and Outs: If the Replay Official determines that an incorrect call on the field had no effect on the subsequent behavior or conduct of the offensive or defensive players, the Replay Official shall change the incorrect call, but let stand any on-field calls or plays unaffected by the incorrect call. The Replay Official may not declare a runner out based on a play the umpire believes would have occurred subsequent to the play subject to Replay Review.

[Andy] Green had asked to protest the interpretation of those rules. According to section II.L.4. of the replay regulations, no protest shall ever be permitted on judgement decisions by the replay official. He was denied.”

Carlos Asuaje had these lucid comments, post-game. “I guess the safest thing would be to just stay at second and, if there’s a close play or something, just wait on the base, I really don’t know how else to do that. Nobody’s going to play that ball through — especially with the third baseman standing there. My only move would be to go full-speed and slide into the guy. What if that was the third out at home? What are we going to do? Are we going to fight these guys? I mean, I’m not going to start a brawl.”

Here were Andy Green’s post-game comments. “I don’t know how you think he’s [Asuaje’s] making a full-bore effort to advance to third base. I think it’s a lethargic jog toward the third-base coach, which is pretty customary when the third out of an inning is made. You go hand the guy your helmet. That’s effectively what was happening.”

That’s how you get rooked by the Black Hand. The correct call would have been to send Carlos Asuaje back to second base: two outs, runners at 1st & 2nd base, with Eric Hosmer up. Any replay call that overturns a call on the field must freeze the base runner situation, as everything that occurs after that depends on the call. That’s rational.

Mets pitcher Zack Wheeler was on the ropes, and the umps (on the field & replay) let him off the hook. That unfair & biased call for the home team completely changed the game, as the Mets won easily 6-3. Why aren’t the replay umpires held accountable?

Note that if this situation occurs with only one out, you still have to hustle until the 4th out. For the record, Wil Myers was standing on first base when Asuaje was tagged for the 4th out, so nice base-running Wil. You never want to run into the 4th out of an inning. That’s a new rule. Wil Myers couldn’t possibly run into the fifth out, but he was one of two people who could have run into the fourth out, if that makes any sense.

As we can see, the rules in MLB are now hypothetical, and as far as getting a call goes, it helps to be an east coast team. Mets starter Zack Wheeler pitched 7 innings, allowing only 2 ER, so his trade stock goes up, which is also a factor here. This is what has happened to all sports these days. The traditional rules don’t apply anymore, and it mirrors everyday reality. Only the interests of the privileged count for anything. These “contests” are largely manipulated & fixed. The people & fans have noticed, and it won’t hold up much longer, as there’s too much unfairness & hypocrisy.

Final next-day thoughts:

Baseball is an amazing game because anything can happen, and that’s why we watch. Sometimes you witness something at the ballpark that you’ve never seen before. You can’t say that about most sports.

After thinking about this affair in it’s totality, I’ve come to the conclusion that this is the WORST UMPIRING DECISION IN THE HISTORY OF THE GAME. It’s so, not just because of the blatant bias involved, but also because it violates & distorts the game’s most basic rule to it’s essence, which is, “three outs ends the inning.”

Over & Out

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The Shohei Ohtani Pitch

This piece was originally written as a baseball free-agent signing analysis– but became much, much more. It now reads as a serial, dating November 29 – December 8.

 

The biggest news of this MLB off-season is the soon-to-happen posting of Japanese two-way pitching & hitting star Shohei Ohtani. It will cost one MLB team a $20 million fee, but the winner will likely be getting an ace pitcher, who can also hit like a regular player– at a bargain salary & signing bonus. That has every organization and their fans’ attention. Every team in MLB is waiting to see where he signs before making a significant move.

Where he goes apparently depends on the terms of use & marketability, as all 30 teams get to make their pitch in writing to his agent, per his request. That’s poise & presence, and Shohei Ohtani is a generational talent– age 23. These are the teams that can offer Ohtani the most bonus money according to the new international draft rules:

Rangers ($3,535,000)
Yankees ($3,500,000)
Twins ($3,070,000)
Pirates ($2,266,750)
Giants ($1,835,000) *
Mariners ($1,557,500)
Royals ($1,505,000) *
Marlins ($1,490,000)
Cardinals ($1,247,500) *
Braves ($1,210,000) *
* Teams that exceeded their bonus pool under previous CBA and cannot sign a player for more than $300K [1]

As shown above, the difference in bonus money for Shohei Ohtani ranges from a minimum of $300,000, up to $3.5 million for a few teams. He’ll make many times more than this difference in endorsements, so bonus money isn’t a deciding issue, which certainly irks some big-market behemoths. This is limited form of free agency, and Ohtani is handling it with a maturity that has obviously caught a few franchises off-guard. That makes him even more attractive to those who correctly judge & value talent.

Here is Shohei Ohtani’s summarized questionnaire to all 30 MLB organizations:

An evaluation of Shohei’s talent as a pitcher and/or a hitter;
• Player development, medical, training and player performance philosophies and capabilities;
• Major League, Minor League, and Spring Training facilities;
• Resources for Shohei’s cultural assimilation;
• A detailed plan for integrating Shohei into the organization;
• Why the city and franchise are a desirable place to play;
• Relevant marketplace characteristics.

Facts: an ace pitcher makes an entire rotation & bullpen better. It makes a manager’s job infinitely easier. There are only a few true aces in all of MLB at any given time. This is probably one, who can also hit [!], so he fits best in the NL. Why?

Assuming Shohei Ohtani gets 35 starts for an NL team and he pitches well enough to get 3.5 AB’s per start, this translates into ~125 AB’s over a season. Furthermore, these AB’s come with much less pressure to produce, as compared to DH-ing in the AL. He doesn’t need the extra pressure to produce at the plate, when he’s already considered an ace pitcher. In the NL, his plate production is “bonus,” which makes his job easier, and exponentially increases his value to those teams.

Furthermore, he could pinch hit (left-handed hitter) in every non-start game where a pitcher is removed, allowing the creative manger to maximize his value in versatility. That could be another 100 NL AB’s– at least. If he doesn’t produce at the plate, there’s limited downside in the NL. In the AL, he must produce on the mound and at the plate (at the DH standard) to be perceived as valuable.

Plus the fact he wouldn’t have to face the DH on the mound regularly in the NL. Which would you prefer for career longevity. and better numbers as a pitcher? Shohei Ohtani fits best in the NL and from a senior-circuit fan perspective, it would be nice to see the AL get hurt by their DH (artificial offense) rule once in awhile. They get too many advantages from it already.

There’s been only one Babe Ruth for a reason, baseball is the hardest sport. Even Ruth didn’t do both full-time simultaneously, and that was in the pre-integration era. Being a two-way player is a tough enough task in the easier baseball league, which is the NL. Shohei Ohtani is worth an extra 2-3 WAR per year in the NL because of this.

Everyone is just guessing where he lands, as no one knows the content the any of the teams’ questionnaire responses, or what’s in his heart. But undeniably, this is a brilliant approach for a man in Ohtani’s position.

He’ll likely choose a creative new-school manager & innovative organization. Maximum money is mostly out of the equation, to the dismay of the Yankees, Red Sox, and other big spenders. Any narrative that suggests the American League is Shohei Ohtani’s preferred destination is media propaganda & east coast bias, which favors AL power teams, but ignores inherent baseball logic & statistical analysis.

I’ll list my four National League favorites to land Shohei Ohtani. 1) Cubs have a championship roster and are in desperate need of an ace. They probably can’t win it again without one in their current window. Joe Maddon is a progressive manger, and so is their front office. Lots of media exposure and potential marketing deals in Chicago. One of the favorites, for sure. 2) Cardinals are another smart organization with qualification & need. They desperately need an ace to solidify their young starters, or else they face a rebuild. 3) Brewers need an ace to give them innings so their young starters can keep their arms attached. Their line-up is solid, and front office above average. Milwaukee is a tough blue-collar city.  4) Padres are a dark, dark horse in the media, but a serious contender in this sweepstakes. GM AJ Preller has been aggressive in the international draft, establishing baseball academies in the Pacific rim for just this reason. Ownership will now spend the posting fee, and they have plenty of young talent, as well as an ace manager & pitching coach. Ohtani could play LF for them if he’s serious (and qualified) at being a two-way player. They can only offer a $300,000 bonus.

The rest of the NL teams already have an ace (Dodgers, Nats), or are moving in the wrong direction in the win curve (Mets, Pirates, Marlins, Phillies, Reds), with behind-the-times front offices.  The Diamondbacks, Rockies & Giants have significant payroll issues affecting their rosters, making their attractiveness fleeting at best. The Braves just were sanctioned by MLB over previous improprieties, so that probably eliminates them.

If Shohei Ohtani goes to the AL, it’s the Yankees. The questionnaire sent by Shohei Ohtani to all the clubs asks specifically about game usage. The Yankees can’t really answer that question, because they haven’t hired a new manager as of this publication. [2] Ohtani will be posted in a few days, so the Yankees front office & ownership better decide on the correct skipper (& soon), so they can properly finish their homework assignment. Otherwise, they will surely lose the Ohtani sweepstakes.

So let’s summarize. This is potentially the biggest impact player to come into MLB since CF Mike Trout. That means 8-10 WAR per season, for 6-8 seasons before regression. That is inner circle HoF talent, which smart teams want for a career to be a superstar for their organization. Signing him will require more than the usual maximum money, as it will also entail a mutual agreement; first proof-of-goods by the player, then a career extension deal from the organization when it’s time. Every team has evaluated what he’s worth to them. Shohei Ohtani is methodically doing his evaluation of each organization, to find a best career fit.  I can’t wait to see him go to work on the mound.  Evey MLB fan wants him for their team, but the best fans really only wish him well in his decision….

Update: December 4, 2017– noon

It’s now Monday morning and the Padres are still the name everyone is mentioning on Shohei Ohtani. Or not mentioning actually, as “small market west coast team” is the buzz phrase, providing a fig-leaf of anonymity. Anyways– that eliminates the Dodgers, Angels & Giants. The Oakland A’s are also reportedly out. That leaves the Mariners as an AL team (disadvantage here), who are also a mess organizationally (HUGE problem). The media keeps clinging the the ghost of Ichiro-past, as if that will summon this Japanese baseball prodigy to the northwest. Anywhere but San Diego!! In reality, it is the Padres who will be getting RHP Shohei Ohtani. I know that still sounds impossible to some, but get used to it.

All the other possible-team names keep changing, and are getting no traction, but the Padres stubbornly remain on Ohtani’s list. It’s a mystery? These meetings he’s holding with the other teams are (probably) a formality, which he’s scheduled and will go through, but it’s clear (to those who see) that he’s already decided. This is also a play for time at this point by AJ Preller, with roster crunches and the Rule 5 Draft next week. That’s why the Yankees and the rest of the ESPN-led media are so upset, as they’ve been played by the maestro. It’s been beautiful to behold!

AJ Preller won this prize by out-thinking & out-hustling his opponent GM’s. He’s been the best GM in the game for awhile now, recognized by a few who notice & care. Now a few more will notice this baseball genius. Preller has a long-standing relationship with Shohei Ohtani. Preller even speaks fluent Japanese, as well as Spanish. How’s that for presentation?! Other teams are cry-babying over how they didn’t get a real chance to make their pitch, or they didn’t know what he wanted; while Preller has worked to know this kid personally for years. It’s over: Shohei Ohtani is going to San Diego, and that is why AJP just got a 3-year extension– yesterday. How upset is ESPN & the east coast media? They know all this, but don’t mention it in their write-ups or on TV. They can’t, they’re too enraged, self-interested & bitter…

AJP went into shutdown mode on Shohei Ohtani. There was zero media in the Padres forums concerning contending for Shohei Ohtani, which is what both sides (that mattered) wanted. The only flak or mentions in their forums came from this inquisitive independent baseball writer with too much time on his hands. When posting time came (Friday), AJ Preller flew in under-the-radar, and is about to land the pitching prodigy everyone coveted– for the minimum signing bonus & the $20 million posting fee.

It takes a genius to see the inconceivable and then pull it off. Preller has now won the last two international drafts by a wide margin, seeing how the Braves were recently stripped for their 2016-17 improprieties. Preller did it by spending more than anyone ever thought possible that time around. It was an ingenious strategy that caused great consternation & envy, leading to changes in the CBA rules last winter, with caps now set on international spending. This time around, with the Padres supposedly sitting in the $300,00 penalty box, Preller cashes in a longterm relationship for his organization, landing the biggest prize of them all. That’s magic [!], and Padres fans love it!!

A few points on usage with Padres manager Andy Green, and their ace pitching coach Darren Balsley. Shohei Ohtani is a pitcher first. Pitchers are typically at the mercy of their manager & organization, when it comes to game usage & medical brains. See RHP Mark Prior, who incidentally is now with the Padres front office. The best way for a stud pitcher to avoid a blowout, is to pick an organization that takes medical science seriously and values their players as more than just a piece of meat. An organization needs to take a pitcher’s opinions & philosophy into account on a human interaction level. The Padres now do this. Honestly they are the only team that checks all these boxes, so this choice is perfectly rational for Shohei Ohtani– despite what conventional-wisdom pundits may blather.

Too many old school managers push for too many innings from their young pitchers, while not expecting enough out of their veterans. The new school (correct) thinking is just the reverse, as young arms need extra protection from fatigue, until their arm strength builds up. Veteran starters need to pitch effectively through 6 innings minimum, and better yet into the 7th & 8th, to have much value. Veterans should 1) win games for good teams; and 2) have lower bullpen usage during their starts– as compared to younger starters. The same concept also applies to relievers on their usage scale.

Shohei Ohtani is probably a right handed ace (and no less than a #2), who hits left-handed. Reportedly as a hitter he strikes out a lot, but has good power. Possibly a left-handed Hunter Renfroe [?], meaning he could hit as high as 7th or 6th– on a good team. In any instance it gives him (and his team) an edge on the mound and makes his manager’s job much easier– if used properly. He’ll be giving his team more wins per start in the NL due to this. Baseball is much more interesting & real this way, don’t you think?

The San Diego Padres now jump two steps ahead in their winning curve, and every plan towards winning a World Series just got accelerated. This ship had already been moving faster than the rest in it’s building, and now they have signed the equivalent of LeBron James. In the NL West, Shohei Ohtani will be featured in LA, SF, Denver & Phoenix regularly as they play each other 18 times/season. I imagine the Yankees & Red Sox will now want the Padres to visit their ballparks when Interleague play rotates back around, instead of playing every game at Petco. The Padres are also about to sell 20,000+ new season tickets. How does that grab you?

Monday 6:00 PM

The Padres plan when Ohtani signs with them will be to sign a veteran pitcher to perform well and eat innings. I said it already: RHP Hu Darvish for 4 years for a rotation of #3 Clayton Richard, #4 Luis Perdomo & #5 Dinelson Lamet. LHP Robbie Erlin & RHP Colin Rea sent to AAA as TJ rehabs, waiting if someone falters or goes down, or a 6-man rotation becomes necessary. Plenty of young pitching depth with upside at AA on down, so it only gets better moving forward. No more talk anymore about reuniting with RHP Jhoulys Chacin, which is a nice upgrade.

LHP Brad Hand is the Padres closer, and everyone else will regret not getting him when they had their chance(s). Preller would have dealt him if someone had made a fair offer, but everyone low-balled him. That has a way of motivating players & organizations. A few effective bullpen pieces are also returning, with AJP likely finding the rest at a discount– as usual. RHP Carter Capps is the wild card in the 2018 bullpen mix.

C Hedges, 1B Myers, 2B Asuaje/Urias, SS stopgap FA/Tatis Jr, 3B Solarte/Spangenberg, RF Renfroe, CF- Margot, LF Pirela. In LF the Padres could make a trade for Christian Yelich or Ryan Braun to fill a huge need.  JD Martinez in free agency?  With Ohtani, Darvish & LF; the Padres are a wild card team in the NL West.

Padres will have improved OBP & defense, with a rotation to now match up with the big boys. AJ Preller needs to carefully manage payroll because Ohtani, Margot, Tatis and the rest need to be locked up for this plan to work. Note that neither Hu Darvish nor JD Martinez cost a compensation pick, because they were traded in 2017. In the NL, the Padres will have leap-frogged the Braves, Pirates, Marlins, Cardinals, Brewers & Rockies to be about even with the Diamondbacks, but with more upside. They were already better than the Reds, Phillies, Giants & Mets.

MLB Winter Meetings run December 10-14, and end with the Rule 5 Draft, which Preller takes seriously. I don’t know what the lag time is between signing Ohtani and having to add him to the roster, but it matters, if indeed the Padres are about to close this deal, which I believe they are. As far as the rest of MLB goes, everyone will be sour grapes and hate on the Padres for this. People publicly wish Shohei Ohtani the best, but really want him only for themselves. It’s human nature, but I agree it gets ugly too often in sports (and everywhere else) these days.

Here’s a lesson in cyber-warfare. During spring training 2017, I published an article on the possibility of the Padres acquiring Ryan Braun. It was a theoretical trade piece I wrote, because I had a strong notion that deal was being quietly discussed. Evidently was on the mark, and it exploded that trade possibility. Since then I have had a much-more difficult time posting in all MLB forums. It has required finding and removing an encryption code, which holds-up posts from publication. I was also never allowed to edit in the 5-minute window anymore. It had to be perfect when it was posted, or else I had to delete & repost, or just leave it. Responding to others was limited or impossible. Ghosting & playing with the window in-your-face, are other nasty tactics.

Since about a week ago, I’ve magically been allowed to do everything normally again.

Anyone seen this beauty before?

img {-moz-force-broken-image-icon: 1;}

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Fangraphs published an Ohtani piece yesterday that mentioned the Padres, then immediately dismissed them as a serious option. And this is called “serious” sports journalism? The Hardball Times and the rest are all the same, meaning they’re in denial.

Today it’s a concession piece, that reads as if it’s been wrung out of them, as Fangraphs HATES this, but acceptance is slowly coming as we can see. It feels like outsiders are listening in here (sorta call & response like), don’t you think?  We’re all being played, Black Hand interests lurk everywhere with AJP conducting. Shohei Ohtani the subject, and I the artist narrating.

What is real & fake news? One dialectical discovery I’ve made in this process is the east coast bias is a specific political tendency, with serious reach & power. The puppet masters remain hidden, but their masks are being exposed, layer by layer. They fear & hate this above all.

Tuesday–  December 5, 2017:   ~10:00 AM

“Stability” has become the new Padres buzz word in their media releases. AJP will likely soon get back to scouting for next June’s amateur draft, where the Padres pick 7th. The international draft can be won even when sitting in the $300K penalty box, that is this year’s lesson. AJP is already planning his strategy for the next round, in which the Padres will again be limited to $300,000 max signing bonus. AJP is a baseball savant who outworks everyone else by miles.

BTW, “stability” is another signal for an Ohtani signing, as it means you have an ace, so you can settle down in the acquisition market. Stability in MLB means filling in needs, without making big trades– and then going with it. We’ll see if he actually means this, or if this is just another balloon being floated. Their current 2018 payroll commitments are well-under $40 million. Padres 2018 could be anything from another tough learning year, to a magical one. Certainly it will be more exciting.

The Padres dead money is: Matt Kemp (Hector Olivera), James Shields, Jedd Gyorko; minus KCR money for LHP Travis Wood, and LAD money for Matt Kemp– all of which balances to $6 million in 2018. Another $2M for the Padres in 2019, and that’s it.

AJP got compensation picks for J Upton & I Kennedy; traded Kimbrel for a bounty; then dumped the rest in 2016 including: Shields, Rodney, Pomeranz, M Upton, Kemp, Cashner & Norris; while keeping his best players: Myers, Solarte & Hand. Longtime prospects Renfroe, Hedges & Margot have filled in much better, with more to come. Soon it will be time to step up and fill in some needs, possibly in free agency, since they are acquiring an ace in Ohtani.

When Shohei Ohtani signs in San Diego, the Padres have the money to get a top-tier free-agent starter (ie– Darvish, Arrieta) and a LF bat (JD Martinez), without breaking their budget. This allows them to not have to trade any of their best prospects from their top-rated system. The Padres are about to become “instant contenders,” although knowledgeable fans know this took a lot of hard work. This team will have competitive staying power & upside, which is the last thing Dodgers & Giants want. That’s why this narrative is being dismissed by the biased media.

More reports of the Padres as leading contenders for Ohtani are starting to filter into MLB & ESPN news feeds. They’re going to have to report it, when it happens, after all this hype. Most aren’t thrilled, and certainly don’t understand. Anyone who has read this piece, knows more on this story & the Padres than all the mass media writers contributions– combined!

One week ago, I was the only person in the world (outside of those few who secretly already knew), who considered this deal a possibility for the Padres. I have written this story as it has developed, dissecting every relevant aspect. Normally a writer could expect to sell this story to a major media outlet (when it actually breaks), as this is the authentic account, and people would love to know how it actually happened. The only mainstream “analysis” will be clips, snippets & watered down versions from what I’ve written here. I will receive no references, nor acknowledgment that I was correct all along.

When you are blacklisted, you have to set your expectations differently. There will be no Sports Illustrated or Yahoo for me, only the satisfaction that I unfolded this story in inimitable artistic style in real time, and it will stand over everything else here for posterity. I did it when everyone else either: 1) didn’t have a clue, or 2) was lying.

Tuesday ~12:30 PM

Here’s my comment on this MLB piece concerning Shohei Ohtani’s meeting with the San Francisco Giants bandwagon delegation today.

Reality check for Giants fans: No Ohtani. No Stanton. Still old, contract-laden, and a last-place team. Time to rebuild.

This is fun.  Who’s next?  Working on a haiku for the Dodgers [!].  Seventy (70) people listening in that Giants MLB forum right now. This is how I have to market, promote & distribute myself as a blacklisted artist & journalist. Making money and getting ‘hits’ for others…

Tuesday ~2:00 PM

Source: Angels agree with prospect Maitan

Plan A: Ohtani, not happening

Plan B: top SS-prospect Kevin Maitan

A+ grade GM work getting that money from the Braves, to steal their stripped prospect!  I respect that, in this line of work.

Padres fan cheatsheet for Red Sox haters on the 2016 “AJP Suspension” by MLB

1) The suspension was officially for “undisclosed anti-inflammatories” used by LHP Drew Pomeranz. Pitchers take ibuprofen regularly, so figure that weak stuff out.
2) AJP offered Anderson Espinoza back, and the Red Sox (Dave Dombrowski) refused. They whine either way.
3) Red Sox used ESPN and their media mouthpieces (Buster Olney) to slant national coverage in their interest.
4) Red Sox have a notorious history of whining when they don’t win.
5) Red Sox are the most ungracious winners in MLB, their fan’s conduct is insufferable and that is why they’re hated even more than the Yankees these days.
6) RHP Anderson Espinoza is recovering from Tommy-John surgery, he’ll be back in 2019.

Tuesday 3:00 PM

I’ll publish my haiku titled “Sunday Match-up” now, since it’s unlikely to be seen or appreciated in the Dodgers MLB  forum– which moves at 10-12+ comments/minute, and ejects non-Dodgers fans quickly. Their television market is largely blacked-out, as ~60% of the LA residents can’t watch a Dodgers game on TV.  Thus the intense social media activity, which has more volume than the Yankees, by far. I wonder if the Dodgers brass even considered this to be a negative when they began in this “sweepstakes”?

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A haiku is a Japanese poem, 3 lines in length, with a 5-7-5 syllable structure.

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Sunday Match-up

Kershaw — Ohtani

Padres baseball thus springs forth

It’s best– don’t you think?

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Tuesday, ~5:30 PM

Fangraphs prospect chat today:

Gavin: Where would Shohei Ohtani the pitcher and Shohei Ohtani the hitter fall in MLB Prospect Rankings, respectively?

Eric A Longenhagen: #1/In the 125-200 range

Eric Longenhagen is one of the few baseball analysts in the media I actually respect. He takes prospects seriously, and uses a sound method in his analysis. He has quite an online following. The chat begins with a barrage of questions on Ohtani going to the Padres, which he really can’t answer.

Tuesday, 6:30 PM

Seattle Mariners record in 2017: 74-88

Seattle Mariners payroll obligations– no options 2018-23:

$151.5M $131.7M $108.3M $120.9M $129.2M $108.1M

So where do the Mariners fit in the Shohei Ohtani sweepstakes? They have an important role as the ever-hopeful dupes. The “west coast small market” label is Seattle, but comparable to the real winner– San Diego. This throws enough people off the scent for AJP, who needs until the end-of-the-week or so, to clear the Rule 5 Draft– as previously discussed. Hard to believe that a fringy minor-leaguer Preller is unwilling to part with, and a prospect arm from another organization whom he likes (?), are what’s holding everything up on Ohtani– but there you are.

Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto declined to comment on the current situation, he spoke openly of his team’s plans to pursue Ohtani on his Wheelhouse Podcast two weeks ago.

“We’re not joking around,” Dipoto said on the podcast. “We’re bringing the big guns. We’re bringing the ‘A’ team. When we sit down, we’ll be sitting down with very notable faces, and that is a part of what we want to sell. We want to sell the Seattle experience and what it means to Japanese-Americans, our culture and how this organization has trended so positively when we have the star Japanese player. And make no mistake, this is a star Japanese player. He’s gifted. He’s going to make some team a lot better.”

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Think of the Mariners as the dopey guy who thinks he is about to meet (and possibly win) the most beautiful woman anyone has ever seen, but in reality is being played– as she’s already taken. Even if Dipoto feels he being used (which he is), he still can’t resist, because the prize is too beautiful.

Tuesday 9:00 PM

The Rule 5 Draft is where many GM’s make mistakes that cost their organization, without anyone knowing until much later. AJP got right-handed starter Luis Perdomo from the Cardinals in the 2015 Rule 5 Draft. The Cards sure could use that extra starter now. Last year Preller traded to corner the top three picks [!] in the Rule 5 Draft, and every selection is still with the organization & protected.

Catcher Luis Torrens is an illustrative example of sloppy management leading to opportunistic vulturing. Preller knew the Padres weren’t going to win in 2017, so he gambled on talent acquisition and came up huge. NY Yankees GM Brian Cashman had four prospects Rule 5 drafted a year ago, and three were returned– all are now gone, either washing out or traded away. The fourth guy was Torrens, who now is safely tucked away in the Padres system. Luis Torrens will start in AA or AAA, and be ready for a call-up, as he saw quite a bit of MLB action in 2017. Padres kept three Rule 5 players, and went 71-91, as Andy Green & Brad Hand got them 12 wins above their Pythagorean.

The real reason the Yankees lost this valuable catching prospect is because Cashman was too hasty in signing free agent DH Matt Holliday. There wasn’t even a hot market for him, but Cashman inked him on December 7, 2016. and had to had him to their 40-man roster for the Rule 5 Draft on December 8, 2016, leaving Torrens exposed. If Brian Cashman had waited another day or two on Holliday, he could have avoided this loss. Holliday was worth 0.0 WAR in 2017, and is now a free agent again.

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The Rangers keep being mentioned in the Ohtani mix, but really were a shaky bet (at best) from the start, even when no one knew. When they dumped RHP Hu Darvish at the 7/31  deadline, that killed any chance they could ever have. Darvish was reportedly upset that he was even offered, then ultimately traded to the Dodgers for a prospect haul.  He wasn’t consulted, or asked how he felt about it. The Rangers have 0% chance of re-signing Darvish now, and the only “Ohtani connections” the Texas Rangers ever had, were when AJ Preller was their director of scouting before he came to be GM of the Padres. Those stale ‘connections’ won’t help Texas in this case.

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After the Yankees, the Cubs were the toughest competitor for the Padres in this hunt– in my earlier estimations.  Still a heavyweight but look closely, as this organization is already starting to crumble after its magical 2016 World Series season. RHP Jake Arrieta is gone, and not worth resigning– due to over-usage. Ace closer Aroldis Chapman even voiced his feelings over being abused my Maddon in the World Series after he signed with the Yankees.  Joe Maddon has slipped quite a bit in the eyes of those who seriously evaluate MLB managers, especially after a few Anthony Rizzo dirty slides, which he defended adamantly. Pitching coach Jim Hickey has been a big part of Maddon’s success, and that gets overlooked too much. Cubbies have the resources, but are not as progressive as some would have you believe.

That covers all the candidates, as of today the field has supposedly been reduced to seven (7) teams: Angels, Cubs, Dodgers, Giants, Mariners, Padres and Rangers. I’ve outlined the facts with all the reasoning. Now you decide: fake news or the truth?

Tuesday ~ 10:30 PM (Last post for today)

As typhoon Ohtani starts to zero in on San Diego, AJ Preller is doing what he’s done a few times already, to the irritation of more than a few rival GM’s. AJP is controlling the market, as he’s held the winning lottery ticket from the start, with the 29 other GM’s (more-or-less) in the dark. Recall that AJP managed the 2016 trading window up to the 8/1 deadline in that campaign in the same fashion; dumping junk and grabbing whatever he could get. He glutted the market with mediocrity, thus devaluing everything in its wake. It was a tsunami, and 15-20 teams got washed up in it.

As far as this Rule 5 Draft goes, which is to be held on  December 14th from 9-11 AM in Orlando, FL: there is no way AJP is scrapping any long-held plans for acquiring young talent on the cheap. The east coast media will surely pressure him to get this Ohtani deal done faster, when they figure out what’s been going on here. Leadership means hold fast, when others advise you to yield. All this is why AJ Preller is the best GM in MLB.

Wednesday  December 6, 2017:  ~11:00 AM

When Shohei Ohtani declares his intention to sign with the Padres, the other 29 teams can finally get back to business. The actual signing process involves the Padres paying the $20 million posting fee to MLB, which is then transferred to Ohtani’s former Japanese professional club. When the paperwork is finished & returned on that, then Ohtani is officially released from his Japanese-league contract, and can sign with the Padres. I’m estimating the whole process will take about a week or so. Just as long as Ohtani is officially inked with the Padres by next Friday (December 15), or later. This is so AJ Preller can do his Rule 5 Draft magic, and then make the necessary roster adjustments afterwards, so he doesn’t lose any assets. AJP dosen’t want to pull a Brian Cashman/Luis Torrens boner here.

Of course, the Padres brass will need to appear surprised & completely tickled over this unexpected turn-of-events, when the Ohtani decision is announced. They could never dream of being the recipients of such good fortune [!], but nonetheless it’s true. At that point, everybody in the Padres organization will have to screw on a straight face for the media, in the final act of this affair. By now, astute baseball readers should understand this whole ordeal to be the “Ohtani Affair,” as opposed to “sweepstakes.” There was never any ‘open’ competition, once it was agreed-to by MLB to post Ohtani– allowing him a 21-day free-agency window. When that owners’ agreement was unanimously ratified, the Padres had just won– although no else knew it. That’s the definition of under-the-radar.

More & more, the truth is start to filter into the major media sports news, and especially into the comments section of MLB forums. Most baseball fans are actually ahead of many of the MLB writers and “experts” in their assessments & conclusions. Many eager fans have been digging for days & weeks, trying to find some relevant facts & analysis they can hang their hats on– mostly to no avail. Slowing, but surely the facts & broad outline of events are seeping onto the Internet, somehow [?].

I expect Friday to be the Ohtani announcement day. After that, everyone in MLB packs up & flies to Orlando, for the Winter Meetings, which start on Monday, December 11. Not much left for me to discuss until then. I’ve covered it all, and once again have gotten ahead of the story. This happens to me a lot. I get my hooks into something compelling, just as it’s developing, and then find myself ahead of the curve during my research and writing. This has happened again, so now I will patiently wait for the predicted & inevitable result…

I also feel we are near the end, because this whole affair reminisces my Hurricane Irma Diary. In both situations, I place myself within the actual story, and consciously direct the action– while narrating it to the world. I feel this good-time movie is about to end, as it feels like Midnight Run (1988), in which I am Jonathan “The Duke” Mardukas (Charles Grodin); trapped, compelled, and carried along in a mad adventure that drives everyone crazy. It’s running time is 126 minutes, so it goes on somewhat longer than your typical movie, but you’re never bored; just exhausted, satisfied and relieved when it’s over. If anyone asks for my credentials: Special Agent Alonzo Mosely– FBI.

Wednesday ~2:30 PM

The Padres will end this charade with Seattle & themselves being the finalists. I forecast this list will go from 7 to 2– suddenly. Seattle’s GM Jerry Dipoto is comparable to Midnight Run-character Marvin Dorfler (John Ashton), a useful but greedy tool whom everyone keeps around when needed, but is cut-out when the pie is sliced at the end. Both see success in visions before their eyes, and both are always thinking– just before they crash their planes into a mountain. Dipoto too will be flying home, unfulfilled. All flights are non-smoking now, so I still wonder on that one a bit…

AJ Preller has to repair all this collateral damage which has occurred during this bloody campaign. This whole process was considered “going to war” by all 30 MLB teams. That’s how high the stakes are. Simply understanding AJP’s rationale (as I’ve shown) goes a long ways towards healing for many. Honestly, a lot of teams & their fans behaved very badly during this whole Ohtani-affair. The should be ashamed of themselves and look within, but instead heap derision & scorn at the victors and the prize. These haters all need to be exposed as frauds and shouted-down, permanently. The Ohtani campaign by the Padres since his posting, has been a coming-out party for this organization. Call it a surprise party, if you will.

This franchise is now officially a heavyweight, for the next 6-8 years. No other franchise outside the Yankees & Dodgers can own that statement. Can you imagine Clayton Kershaw facing Shohei Ohtani on the mound, AND in the Padres line-up? It’s happening, as it’s already a haiku. That’s going to be an AL-type batting order 1-9, when he pitches & hits for the Padres. No one in the NL wants to face that, and most in the AL doesn’t either.

Wednesday ~3:30 PM

I’ll admit I’ve had a roaring fun time crashing this Padres private party. I figure that after I get done bringing in Ohtani’s ass, I’ll call up AJP & get my cut of that $300,000, and then open up a nice coffee shop. For all you aspiring bloggers, let me just say that doing what I’ve done requires talent & dedication, as it’s a very tricky business. Over half of new blogs go under within a year. I’m not saying that as your advisor, I’m just saying that if I was your advisor, I’d have to strongly advise you against it, because it’s a very tricky business.

Wednesday  ~5:00 PM

A final significant parallel to this 1988 cinema classic are the surveillance teams. “Are they good or bad guys?” is the question that runs throughout the film. You can now figure out your own scorecard on any covert media activity in the Ohtani affair.

As far as the inner loop for the Padres goes, it starts with AJP & majority-owner Ron Fowler. AJP has been given complete control of baseball operations, so this was his baby all the way. His core group is manager: Andy Green, farm director: Sam Geaney, and scouting director: Mark Conner. They were undoubtedly in on this, early. Their media has been perfectly in-sync, indicating a long-planned & well-executed PR campaign, which went under-the-radar. That means the Padres media was in on it too. Preller unplugged the east coast immediately, particularly when the Yankees (and such) tried to bring out their brass bandwagons. That reduces buzz factor, and that was what the primary interested parties wanted.

The midwest big boys (Cubs & Rangers) have been left on low heat all along. Just being “alive” is consider awesome by some still. The west coast has been split between big & small market size. This put the Padres, Mariners & A’s in one camp; and the Dodgers, Giants & Angels in the other. The A’s were immediately eliminated. The big-market angle has been played as a negative, while small-market as positive. This keeps the west coast on a medium simmer overall. Nice hot stove cooking by AJP.

Wednesday  ~6:00 PM

In poker, it’s how you play em’ that counts. In this game AJP held a straight flush all along, even before the cards were supposedly dealt. The Angels adapted quickly, shifting to the top international prospects which the Atlanta Braves had just lost. That makes the Halos big secondary winners here. Meanwhile, the Yankees, Rangers, etc have all sat on their thumbs waiting for Ohtani to change his mind.

The Angels even used next year’s bonus pool money to make these valuable talent acquisitions. This year’s international talent is going… going… gone [!], and the east coast big boys are still at the table with the biggest piles of unused chips. Who do you spend those millions on now, if you are Brian Cashman or Jon Daniels? It’s only usable until early-July, 2018. Then everyone replenishes & resets, as the next wave of young exploitable intentional talent gets this form limited free agency. All the cream has been signed.

Look at the list I copied & pasted from MLB.com at the beginning of this piece, which showed top remaining international money to spend, by team & amount. Those teams that wished instead of worked, lost all around. You gotta admit it, AJ Preller played this one beautifully.

Shohei Ohtani has handled his interests impeccably, as he was obviously asked to work with the Padres organization concerning the exact date of his signing. His Japanese club the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters of Nippon Professional Baseball’s Pacific League, and all his support staff have surely aided in this. Shohei Ohtani is already proving he’s an accommodating team player, even in making his American star debut.

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I have to keep reminding myself that I need to report the mass media activity, as an accurate representation of what’s happened. Because as soon as this real story breaks, everyone changes their narrative and claims “I knew it was the Padres all along.”  I posted the earlier “Kershaw vs Ohtani AL-lineup,” snippet as a comment in the MLB Ohtani piece this afternoon. At the time, the Ohtani story was positioned second, below Aaron Boon as new Yankees manager, but above yet-another Giancarlo Stanton trade-talk piece. An hour later in the MLB main feed, the Ohtani story was dropped to 5th. Impressive, no?

Wednesday  ~8:15 PM

Bonzai!  I just checked the Padres MLB site and there’s this new article.

Preller expects to be busy at Winter Meetings

From talkin’ trade to the Rule 5 Draft, GM has full to-do list

Preller said. “I get the sense that things are going to start to open up, and you’ll start to see some activity.”

Padres beat writer AJ Cassavell & AJ Preller are just precious together, don’t you think?

I’m sitting in my underwear & t-shirt in central Florida, on the edge of my seat with anticipation…

Actually I’m grateful, as I interpret this as tomorrow. That’s nice, I can finally sign-off for the day. Sayonara.

Thursday  December 7, 2017  ~ 10:00 AM

As expected this morning, nothing new on MLB.com or the Padres MLB site, so I check back with Fangraphs. Fangraphs is baseball analytics site is run by Dave Cameron, who held an online fan Q & A chat yesterday. Here are some relevant questions he fielded on Shohei Ohtani, along with his replies…

12:05 PM
Jack: What team would benefit the most from acquiring Ohtani?

Dave Cameron: Probably the Giants or Mariners, both of whom have questionable futures once their core ages out of contention in the not too distant future.

12:14 PM
Hae-Lo Dee: You’re handed a thousand dollars with the stipulation that it has to be placed on a bet for what team Ohtani signs for. Which team do you put it on?

Dave Cameron: Probably the Mariners.

12:18 PM
Hae-Lo Dee: What do you think the chances are that Ohtani has decided already, but is playing out the decision for no reason other than due diligence?

Dave Cameron: I’d guess he probably had a preference going into this thing, but is open to a team changing his mind.

12:25 PM
Bob: Rank the 7 teams still in on Ohtani in order of probability of landing him (in your opinion).

Dave Cameron: SEA-SF-big gap-LAD-ANA-SD-TEX-CHC

12:33 PM
Matt H: What would a moderately optimistic estimate of Ohtani’s 2018 WAR be?

Dave Cameron: +6

12:59 PM
Dave Cameron: Alright, have to go meet with a lawyer for a bit. Thanks for hanging out everyone.

Fangraphs also published an Ohtani article, making a case for him going to the Cubs. I wrote-up that angle a few days ago, and today it’s dead; but here’s Fangraphs covering it now. Almost every time I go to their site, I get a pop-up window asking me for money. No thanks.

Thursday ~ noon

Why do I keep punishing Fansgraphs, ESPN and the shills at MLB? It’s not just because they are liars. AJ’s Cassavell & Preller lie too, but when I bust them in the comments section of their forums, they’ve learned to notice & react appropriately. They acknowledge my power & influence, and know they can’t fool me– so we’re cool. A lie only hurts, if you believe it.

With Fangraphs and the rest of those fucks, they simply refuse to admit they’ve been busted down to their underwear, and continue to lie as before. This is the same as Trump, Clinton, Bush, Sanders and all the rest of politics, personified and refracted through the lens of media manipulation– known as east coast bias.

====

Today is Pearl Harbor Day. On this day in 1941, Japanese imperialism launched a surprise attack on the US naval base in Hawaii, thus bringing the United States & Japan into conflict. World War II ended with two atomic bombs being dropped on the civilian cities of Hiroshima & Nagasaki. Most Japanese people still consider this horrible act to be a war crime. Most Americans view it differently.

San Diego maintains the largest naval fleet & marine base in the world, so any of this “small market” stereotyping that’s been going on during the Ohtani affair, is completely ridiculous. I often wonder how foreign players feel when the “Star-Spangled Banner” is being played, while they are surrounded by full military trappings & jet fly-overs? Sometimes, I feel like I’m the only one who thinks these thoughts.

I’ve gone back and edited everything from start to finish, correcting all typos and other mistakes, added links, etc. This running summary of events is around  7500 words, spanning a week-and-a-half in time.  The irony of this Ohtani story is that when it “breaks,” this authentic account will be completed, while everyone else scrambles to get their version of the truth published & noticed. That’s how blacklists and fake news interact.

Thursday  ~1:30 PM

This is new, (but listed 3rd) on the Padres MLB homepage:

Report: Padres met with Ohtani on Tuesday
By AJ Cassavell / MLB.com | @AJCassavell

SAN DIEGO — The Padres were the last of the seven teams to meet with two-way Japanese phenom Shohei Ohtani, doing so on Tuesday night in Los Angeles, according to Yahoo! Sports’ Jeff Passan…

It appears that Yahoo! Sports’ Jeff Passan is about to “break the story,” Shohei Ohtani is going to the San Diego Padres! Soon will be “official.” Ain’t that something? I know I’ll be relieved, because if it had been the Mariners or Dodgers, I was going to have a lot of re-editing to do.

Also in the news during this 10-day span: Trump ready to go to war with North Korea; Wildfires burning out of control in California; Massive tax cuts for rich approved by both houses of Congress; Conflicts within US ruling class intensify following Flynn guilty plea; Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israeli capital sparks anger & protests; etc…

Over & Out

Friday, December 8, 2017 ~1:00 PM

There’s an old expression is baseball that goes; it ain’t over until it’s over.

It looks like there are a few clowns who want to go extra innings, when the score is 128-0. I’ve already introduced this Charlie Brown caricature, take a look at his latest weak stuff.

Despite scrutiny, officials expect MLB probe after Shohei Ohtani decision

11:55 AM ET Buster Olney ESPN Senior Writer

This will surely backfire into kamikazee, anti-east coast bias feedback– from fans who know the source.  But that doesn’t mean they won’t try their worst! These rabid dog pack-journalists never will learn, and therefore they must be beaten into submission. That is a valuable lesson. I’m thinking possibly an “undisclosed Rule 5 Draft agenda…”

=====

Still no “official” announcement Shohei Ohtani has chosen the Padres. Likely later this afternoon (IMO), west coast time. The posting & transfer process will then begin. Of course, it’s late on the east coast and already Saturday in Japan, so they’ll get back to it on Monday there, which will be Sunday here. Crazy timing, huh?

Here’s another little coincidence for you. When I went to check the MLB site(s) on Friday morning– December 8, their page format which they have used for the last 5+ years has been completely changed. This is for the main site and ALL the teams; COMPLETELY reformatted, with everything repositioned and jumbled around. People are obviously confused, as the number of comments is way down. Maybe this is due to the fact that many comments’ sections that don’t even load. I try to post something on the latest Stanton piece— forget-about-it!  This gets me thinking…

I click on a few of my links above, and they all load, but only the article [!]– no comments that others & I posted are to be seen. It’s a good thing I saved & published everything I posted, otherwise MLB, it’s writers, and fans wouldn’t have access to what happened during the Ohtani affair. Hey, I’m always thinking.

Friday,  2:18 PM

It would be wise & brave for the Padres war room to agree to whole-heartedly take on this unfair east coast bias, while the iron is hottest. The east coast powers-that-be will never respect the Padres, until they kick a little ass in this area.  Also, what about the kid’s feelings? Speak from your heart when you declare Shohei Ohtani!  This is a watershed franchise moment for the Padres, and a crossroads for MLB.

I can interfere no longer, you must use the force wisely AJP.

Friday,  3:40 PM

If A.J. Preller is a genius (and he is), then what am I?

Wile E. Coyote, super-genius, and it’s just like that Mel Blanc cartoon character, as we both have guile & ingenuity, but ACME keeps sending us defects, so everything always blows up in our faces. We’re both funnier & easier to understand when our voices are heard. It may be hilarious to watch on television, but how many times can you be sent off a cliff, plunging a thousand feet below into a ‘poof’ of smoke, and then dust yourself off still dazed & hungry, trying to figure out another brilliant plan while the brainless roadrunner zooms by again?

Proof: MLB reports Shohei Ohtani signs with the Angels.

Friday, December 8  6:11 PM

I had waited to see if this was a zig-zag by AJP, to short-circuit a potential MLB investigation, but it isn’t. He may still be investigated, even though he lost.  I leave what I’ve published above untouched, as this article is a character study more than anything else, and I have no issue admitting I was wrong about where RHP Shohei Ohtani would land in the end. It appears the Black Hand has stepped in, and there’s nothing anyone can do about that at this time.

The official Padres narrative is now that they lost Ohtani because they didn’t have enough money, and he wanted to DH. That’s just the opposite of what everybody claimed & indicated for weeks & weeks, but now it’s suddenly peddled as the truth.  In a nutshell, the Red Sox were never players here, so their strategy was to foil the apparent victors– the Padres (whom they HATE), forcing Preller to kick Ohtani to his buddy Billy Eppler, or else MLB (Red Sox) would have eventually stripped and sanctioned the Padres. When ESPN media ran out Buster Olney, that was the signal. AJP complied.

The Black Hand message: move along everybody– move along; nothing to see here. This blog has done major damage to MLB, ESPN, many others’ credibility– even the Padres. No apologies to any of them.

That was my ultimate purpose from the start, as I am a revolutionary socialist, against this form of capitalist exploitation. Shohei Ohtani is worth many times more than what he’s getting, and so are all the others. As a Padres fans I would have loved to have him, but wish him well with the Angels. In sum, AJP may have  overplayed his hand [?], and probably should have closed the deal with Ohtani as soon as he could of, instead of concerning himself too much with the Rule 5 Draft. Sometimes you win and sometimes you lose, and sometimes something greater things matters more.

Wile E Coyote is at his wits end, a bit scathed, and “officially” Over & Out in this blog episode.

[Final editing completed 9:52 AM Saturday, December 9. No one is smart enough to figure all THAT out– instantly.]

Buster Busted:

Final image uploaded at 12:13 PM, Sunday December 10, 2017

Final score in extra, EXTRA innings: Angels— 150, as they got Ohtani, Maitan and a few others for being Johnny-on-the-spot, combined with good hustling by GM Billy Eppler. That earns him a promotion to Taipan; Padres-– 50, (for merit in wisely avoiding a bigger trap (set by the Red Sox); MLB & the rest— 0. Ric Size— infinity.

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Trade Deadline Results & NL Round-Up

Sometimes the best trades are the ones you don’t make.

Steve Stone as color man to the late, great Harry Carey used to repeat that quote often on WGN Cubs’ broadcasts. Everyone said Padres GM AJ Preller HAD to trade Brad Hand (below). His value would never be higher! He’s useless on a bad team, etc…

The most coveted & valuable player this Trade deadline (now past), is staying in San Diego. The MLB Trade deadline is about competitive teams gearing up for a World Series run. Everyone talks about ace starters, and they are what’s most valuable during the regular season. But they aren’t what’s available, as RHP’s Sonny Gray (A’s) & Yu Darvish (Texas) topped the list of available starters that actually were traded.

Yu Darvish (above) was costly, even as a 3-month rental, but the Dodgers kept their top prospects. RHP Justin Verlander was even dicier for the Tigers, considering his age and contract owed, so he stayed in Detroit. None were more coveted than Padres ace lefty reliever Brad Hand.

As we all know, every post-season comes down to the bullpens. Aces can no longer pitch complete games with any regularity, so it’s constantly a battle of bullpens from the 6th and 7th inning on. It’s the team that gets the toughest outs (late) that wins, and that means premium value for ace set-up pitchers. Brad Hand is Andrew Miller valuable (with a better contract), so Padres GM AJ Preller valued him accordingly. There was a precedent set the year before by the Yankees GM Brian Cashman, to extract something similar to what he received in dealing Miller (below) to Cleveland & LHP Aroldis Chapman (a rental) to the Cubs.

Also notice in this discussion I haven’t mentioned the value of acquiring a hitter at the deadline. That’s because there is very little. The rule is: acquire only to keep a position from falling into replacement level & adding depth. The exception is: Unless a HOF-bat with some peak years left becomes available. There were no HOF hitters available this deadline.

Don’t “acquire a veteran bat” because basically they’re worthless due to bad defense, which means giving up prospects for something that isn’t an upgrade. That’s why OF’s Jay Bruce, Curtis Granderson, etc… attract so little interest. They’re overpaid, overrated players who perform at (or below) replacement level. Teams like the Mets who don’t understand this get stuck with players like these. One way to screw up a promising pitching core is to pay top dollar to put bad defense behind them, and poor hitters in the lineup. The Braves have the same issue.

AJ Preller controlled the market, by NOT trading the biggest prize. Detroit’s closer LHP Justin Wilson was the best reliever that was actually dealt (to the Cubs).  Baltimore couldn’t deal its lefty closer Zach Britton because of injury issues, as he’s too much of a TJ surgery candidate.  In the end, desperate teams had to scramble back to their second options, or worse. See: Nationals acquire closer Brandon Kintzler from the Twins.

Meanwhile the Padres retained their ace closer for another season– at least. Brad Hand will get a nice raise in arbitration, while still being an amazing bargain, helping the Padres win games they would otherwise lose. Those kind of players are really, really valuable. AJ Preller set a reasonable price, and no one was willing to pay what Brad Hand is actually worth, so no deal was consummated for the plum relief ace of this year’s trade season. Every contender, save one [!] is going to regret not trying a little harder to get Brad Hand at some point this October.

NL Round-Up:

Brewers lost another “must-win” game in their rubber match at Miller Park with the Cubs on Sunday (7-30). Brewers fans can choose to 1) believe in 2017, or 2) notice their righty set-up men all stink, and 3) their starting pitching is breaking down (as usual), with RHP Jimmy Nelson as their only front line horse currently not on the DL. The rest of their starters are mediocre-to-poor. The Brew Crew are also below replacement level at 2B & CF.

Brewers fans love 3B Travis Shaw (from the Red Sox), and especially RF Domingo Santana (above– acquired in the Carlos Gomez & Mike Fiers-to-HOU deal) because they are both young and productive. 1B Eric Thames had a fluky hot start, but has cooled since; proving he’s nothing the Brewers should invest a future in. RF Ryan Braun can’t stay healthy, so GM David Stearns can’t deal him. Braun’s chronic injuries are turning a Hall-of-Fame productive hitter into an albatross contract for the small-payroll Milwaukee Brewers.

There are still too many holes to fill, and neither enough money from ownership to cover to the necessary payroll increase, nor the willingness to pay what it would cost in prospects for Sonny Gray, Yu Darvish & Brad Hand (and that’s just pitching need alone) to stay with the Cubs. The Brewers would be emptying their farm system on what would still be a flawed team, which is a mistake.

The Cubs probably won the NL Central when they acquired LHP Jose Quintana (above) from the White Sox. Acquiring left-handed reliever Justin Wilson and backup catcher Alex Avila from the Tigers at the deadline filled the Cubs bullpen & depth needs. The Cubs have Theo Epstein & Jed Hoyer (below) running the show, which is about as good as it gets for baseball management. They made the best deals to get what they needed at the deadline, and improved themselves the most. Their chances of repeating have increased dramatically, while the cost in prospects was considerable, but tolerable.

The truly bad National League teams all currently reside in last place, and will finish there. These are the Phillies & Reds (no surprise), and the Giants which was unexpected. The Phils & Reds are direction-less, lacking leadership at the top. Don’t expect either of their fortunes to change until there are major front office shake-ups.

The Giants are now facing a complete rebuild, after a successful run in winning 3 World Series championships in 5 seasons. Giants GM Brian Sabean will need to take a long look at his organization this winter, as their championship window appears to have closed. They now have an aging & payroll-heavy roster that needs to be turned over. In many ways they are simliar to the Cardinals, but in a tougher division.

The NL West winner will be the Dodgers, and they will have the best overall record in MLB, which now decides home field advantage in the World Series match-up. More on them below. Both NL Wild Cards will come out of the West, in the Diamondbacks & Rockies– both of which were unexpected.

Of the two, the team more likely to be competitive in 2018-and-beyond are the Diamondbacks, with their ownership commitment and new front office. Arizona’s farm system needs to be rebuilt after the damage former-GM Dave Stewart inflicted upon it, and this limits their ceiling in 2017. They probably don’t have the organizational strength to match the Dodgers or Cubs in October, and will likely have to content themselves with a Wild Card and post-season appearance in 2017. But then again it’s baseball, and stranger things have happened…

The Rockies have a promising young pitching staff, which is carrying them in 2017. They will need to keep it healthy, and (of course) find an ace in order to take the next step competitively. I have my reasons for pessimism, and it mostly centers around Rockies GM Jeff Bridich’s decision making. The Ian Desmond signing (5/$70M) has been a bust for Colorado (-0.9 WAR in 2017, and currently on the DL). Only 3B Nolan Arenado (below), and SS Trevor Story are young enough to build around. The rest are veterans, some of whom are having great seasons (CF Charlie Blackmon & 2B DJ LeMahieu), but will soon be too expensive and in decline. Another example of how poorly the Rockies spend their money is LF Carlos Gonzalez. In 2017: -1.3 WAR (so far) for $20 million. The Rockies are having a great season (by their standards), but don’t expect a repeat of this team’s success in 2018.

As for the rest of the NL, most fit into an amorphic mass of slightly-below-average, veteran-heavy teams including: the Marlins, Braves, Mets, Cardinals & Pirates. Competitively, all these teams are similar to the Brewers as explained above; too many holes in their roster and not enough organizational strength & money to fix them. The Pirates are a typical example. The have the stud in CF Andrew McCutchen (below), but not enough around him. The have some decent young starters, but not enough… I can see how that would be frustrating for a Bucs fan…

The Marlins are impossible to deal with, as long as this team is up for sale. Right now, owner Jeffery Loria (below with NBA star Dwayne Wade) is trying to exploit every advantage in the market to maximize the sale price for his Miami Marlins. That means retaining all valuable assets, so nothing of significant value is moving here anytime soon. This franchise was decimated in 2016 by bad trades, and the tragic death of ace RHP Jose Fernandez.

Padres Update:

The San Diego Padres are again the outliers among the second-division in the NL, but this time in a good way. They are by far the youngest team in MLB, and yet they aren’t the worst. In the spring, the Padres were universally picked by MLB ‘experts’ to end up with the worst record in baseball– ~66 wins projected by most analysts. They currently sit in 4th place in the NL West at 47-58. Their current .448 winning percentage translates into 72.5 wins over 162 games.

The Padres are last in OBP. They have scored only 400 runs, while allowing 533. Their Pythagorean W-L is 39-66, which means the Padres have over-played their W-L record by eight games– so far. Padres are 4-4 in extra innings, and 13-13 in one-run games. Good & bad teams typically split those contests 50-50, which means extreme luck hasn’t been a factor in this over-performance by the Padres.

The reason the Padres record is so much better than their numbers is leadership & coaching. Last season I stated that rookie manager Andy Green was already a top-5 MLB manager. He’s moved up another notch, or two since. Andy Green handled Cubs manager Joe Maddon on Anthony Rizzo’s cheap-shot slide into C Austin Hedges perfectly.

Hedges missed a few days with a thigh contusion, while Cubs 1B Rizzo wasn’t suspended by Joe Torre and MLB. Padres fans weren’t surprised by any of this. Andy Green handled it, by not retaliating. This made headlines as Joe Maddon, Anthony Rizzo and the rest of their supporters looked like a bunch of bush-league blow-hards. Honestly, I was surprised by Maddon’s obtuse commentary & apologetics, after the fact.

The Padres started the season with three Rule 5 picks on their 25-man roster. All three are still with the team, as SS/UT Allen Cordoba (Cardinals) and C Luis Torrens (Yankees) are earning significant playing time for Andy Green. RHP Miguel Diaz (Brewers) is on the 10-day DL with forearm tightness, and may be shut down for the season. In that event, he’ll only need < 2 weeks with the Padres in 2018, before he’s sent back down to the minors. The point is, all three Rule 5 picks are staying with the Padres, and they won’t lose anywhere close to 100 games, despite what the ‘experts’ proclaimed.

Padres GM AJ Preller signed 4 [!] free-agent starters on one-year contracts this past winter, for <$2M each. Trevor Cahill pitched well-enough to be flipped to the Royals with LHP Ryan Buchter (valuable set-up guy) and Brandon Mauer (useless). In return Preller got LHP Travis Wood to start the rest of 2017 and all of 2018 for $1.5 million, along with a few prospects. That’s called getting ahead of the winter free-agent pitching market, while adding depth to your system.

The Padres always presume they can improve a pitcher’s performance, because they have the best pitching coaching in Darren Balsley (above). LHP Clayton Richard and RHP Jhoulys Chacin have performed as expected; innings eaters who get pounded too often. Only RHP Jered Weaver completely busted, and is probably finished for his career. Three-out-of-four on free-agent starting pitchers is an outstanding return-on-investment.

This is a developmental year for the Padres, and a big part of that is keeping their young starters (RHP’s Luis Perdomo & Dinelson Lamet) healthy by limiting their innings. This goes for Perdomo in particular, who threw 146.2 innings as a Rule 5 rookie in 2016. In that sense, the innings absorbed by Richard & Chacin have helped the franchise immensely, making their contracts a tremendous value to the Padres.

AJ Preller (above) has achieved a stunning organizational turn-around since the end of 2015. New manager Andy Green and longtime ace pitching coach Darren Balsley have worked with Preller in this development of young talent at all their levels. The results are now starting to show in the majors, as the Padres aren’t as bad as everyone claimed and what’s more, they’re also getting better faster than most anticipated. The OBP & SLG they lack in their MLB lineup, along with waves of premium pitching talent, are in the pipeline. Player development, as well as injury management & prevention, will determine this franchise’s fate.

Dodgers & Nationals:

A few weeks after the Rizzo/Hedges slide controversy, Los Angeles Dodgers manager Dave Roberts completely lost face in this incident, and was suspended one [!] game by MLB for shoving Andy Green as he was walking back to his dugout. Doc Roberts claimed he felt provoked by what Green had said during their discussion with the umpires.

Dodgers fans should be concerned over Dave Roberts’ volatility & decision-making under duress. It’s suspect at best. It’s easy to manage when everything is clicking, so Roberts looks good now and will probably be voted “Manager of the Year” by the sports-writing media. In reality, he’s not even Top-10, if that tells you anything about what you’re told.

The Dodgers’ post-season hopes depend (as always) on a LHP Clayton Kershaw, who is currently on the DL with a chronic back issue. They’ve got a ton of talent and a loaded farm system under GM Andrew Friedman, and have been the best team all season. They won the Yu Darvish sweepstakes, while retaining their top prospects, so its their pennant to win without mortgaging the future. Sent to Texas were 2B/OF Willie Calhoun, who was the Dodgers’ No. 4-ranked prospect, RHP A.J. Alexy (No. 17) and IF Brendon Davis (No. 27). Good deal for both sides.

The Washington Nationals will win the NL East, but their post-season prospects are dimming. Already righty starter Joe Ross has been lost to TJ. Ace RHP Stephen Strasburg is currently on the 10-day DL. Max Schertzer & Gio Gonzalez are holding the rotation together, but another major injury will likely doom their WS chances in 2017.

Nationals starters (and players) are hitting the DL with regularity again. How bad is it?  Veteran RHP Edwin Jackson is now in their rotation due to injury attrition. Meanwhile the Nationals needed relief pitching help more desperately than any other serious contender. They would have had to deal the best of what’s left in their farm system to acquire Brad Hand. Nat’s GM Mike Rizzo instead acquired A’s relievers lefty Sean Doolittle & veteran righty Ryan Madson, along with Twins closer Brandon Kintzler at the deadline. As a rule, quantity over quality doesn’t work, especially in the post-season.

Nationals manager Dusty Baker (above) is once again pushing to get his injured players back sooner, rather than later: “You’ve got to get them back soon enough to be sharp and effective in the post-season,” Baker said. “Because [if they’re] back … just to be back and not sharp, it’s going to be detrimental to us. But we’d love to have them back, as they’re my starters. I’m hoping that we kind of get them back one at a time in chronological order to help us.” [1]

All this rushing (and useless “hoping”?) with the Nationals ahead comfortably, holding a 13-game lead in the National League East! And people wonder how Dusty Baker wrecks so many arms?

In conclusion, the NL post-season will be wide open with the Cubs having the most complete roster & best leadership, while not necessarily being the best team in 2017. I object to the DH, so I’ll leave the AL discussion– until the World Series.

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Catching Tandems in Focus

AJ Pierzynski_C_Age 39

MLB catchers always need to be discussed & understood as a tandem for their teams. Even the very best need a day (or two) off per week, and all catchers suffer at the plate from the fatigue & grind of the position. An adequate back-up catcher is crucial to late-season success for any team. Conversely, if C is inadequately stocked, this critical defensive position will quickly become an Achilles heel for any team. Exhibit A are the 2016 Atlanta Braves.

Tyler Flowers_C_Age 30

The narrative fed to Braves fans for the 2016 season has been rebuilding, yet ATL GM John Coppolella [on 12-10-15] traded age-24 C Christian Bethancourt to the Padres, for age-26 righty reliever Casey Kelly (2016 thru 8/13: 0-3, 5.82 ERA, 21.2 IP, 1.708 WHIP) & an age-18 (highly-iffy) prospect. The Braves organization & their fans made it clear they were frustrated with Bethancourt’s lack of development, despite his great potential. ATL had seen enough, and they instead went into 2016 with a catching tandem of A.J. Pierzynski (age 39, .216/.233/.301) & Tyler Flowers (age-30, .253/.343/.425, 53G, currently on the DL). Braves as of this writing are 44-73, worst record in MLB. That’s not rebuilding, that’s being stupid and selling a future short.

Craig Kimbrel & Christian Bethancourt

C Christian Bethancourt

Season Age Team G PA   AVG/OBP/SLG
2015      23   ATL   48 160  .200/.225/.290
2016      24   SDP   61 160  .243/.275/.414

The Padres, whom many ‘experts’ mocked as ‘directionless’ went with a catching tandem of Derek Norris & Christian Bethancourt (who is out of options); sending top-rookie catcher Austin Hedges to AAA. Hedges raked, then (unfortunately) broke his right hamate bone. Hedges had it surgically removed. He rehabilitated and returned to AAA El Paso, continuing to mash (65G .340/.373/.635). Austin Hedges always been rated as a top-level receiver. He’s being held at AAA by the Padres because; 1) El Paso Chihuahuas are in first place, and 2) arbitration clock management.

Austin Hedges_C_Age 23

Derek Norris was the Padres starting C in 2016, and had a tough season– for all kinds of reasons, many not his fault. Now the trade deadline is past (contract pitchers sold-off), so Bethancourt is getting more starts behind the plate. Norris remains a solid catcher, which has value. Norris is now arbitration eligible, and will be free-agent eligible in 2019. At age 27, he earns $2.9M in 2016, which is fair, despite the replacement-level batting line of .191/.254/.347. Norris has some pop, but makes too many outs at the plate, to be a championship-level starting catcher. He’s a top-10 defensive catcher and handles pitchers very well. That’s why AJP didn’t just give him away at the 8/1 deadline. Derek Norris is undervalued, in a market that mostly doesn’t understand defense.

Derek Norris_C_Age 27

Defensive runs-saved is a huge inefficiency that has been corrected by leading organizations including the Tampa Bay Rays & 2015 World Series champion Kansas City Royals. For reference, the defensive spectrum runs C-SS-2B-CF-3B-RF-LF-1B-DH. Active catchers, getting extra strikes (and all the rest) for their pitchers are HUGE. C Jose Molina (15 seasons .233/.282/.327) made a career of it, helping good teams win year-after-year, in spite of his punchless bat.

Jose Molina_C

A.J. Preller has a decision to make on catchers Derek Norris and Christian Bethancourt, as Austin Hedges will likely be the Padres Opening Day catcher in 2017. Bethancourt is still young, and has shown much improvement. He might profile more as a back-up catcher, with his rudimentary receivership skills. If he can continue to improve (especially defensively) at the MLB level, he could be just what the Padres need– a caddy for Hedges. Bethancourt’s chase rate (swinging at pitches outside the strike zone) is still too high, hence his low OBP (.275). The power has developed, but it needs to be tempered with a more-patient plate approach. He still swings himself into tough counts, and out of too many at-bats. Winter ball (or some other development league) is probably required for Christian Bethancourt.

Bethancourt can play OF some, which helps Andy Green, and he’s even mopped-up on the mound a few times during blow-outs. Right now with CF Jon Jay still on the DL, the Padres have only starting outfielders (Dickerson, Jankowski, Blash) on their active roster. Bethancourt can play corner OF, if needed. Adam Rosales works the same way, as Andy Green’s utility infielder, with some pop. Ben Zobrist is the championship-level version of this modern utility player. Ask Cubs manager Joe Maddon if this kind of flexibility is valuable?

Ben Zobrist_Utility Man

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Padres Patchwork Pitching

Padres recall veteran right-hander Morrow
Return to big leagues comes more than year after sustaining shoulder injury 8-13-16
Padres manager Andy Green really needs a reliable long man out of the pen, and Buddy Baumann (5.1 IP, 6.75 ERA, 1.688 WHIP) wasn’t the answer. Plenty of reasons to be skeptical on Brandon Morrow being effective again, but at this point it’s try anything.

Brandon Morrow_RHP

[8/13 Results] James Shields vs. Marlins (ND) 3 IP, 10 H, 7 R, 2 HR, 0 SO
Jared Cosart vs. Mets (ND) 6 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 2 BB, 2 SO; 89 pitches, Padres committed 3 errors behind him. Jacob deGrom was a little better. Mets rallied for a run in the 7th inning, off young Padres reliever Jose Dominguez. Brandon Morrow pitched a 1-2-3 8th inning in his 2016 debut. Jeurys Familia brought in to close it out, but 1B Wil Myers homers with 2 outs, tying it at 2-2. Bullpen wars until the Mets manufacture a run in the 11th, winning 3-2.

Current 6-man rotation, all numbers with Padres through 8/13:

Age 28 LHP Christian Friedrich 4-8 W/L, 4.84 ERA, 87.1 IP, 1.489 WHIP
Age 23 RHP Luis Perdomo 5-6 W/L, 6.80 ERA, 94.0 IP, 1.862 WHIP
Age 32 RHP Edwin Jackson 3-1 W/L, 3.62 ERA, 32.1 IP, 1.237 WHIP
Age 28 RHP Paul Clemens 1-2 W/L, 4.03 ERA, 22.1 IP, 1.299 WHIP
Age 26 RHP Jared Cosart 0-0 W/L, 5.03 ERA, 14.1 IP, 1.560 WHIP
Age 32 LHP Clayton Richard 0-0 W/L, 6.75 ERA, 1.1 IP, 3.000 WHIP

Padres starting pitching is already scary bad, keeping in mind that Perdomo & Friedrich need to be shut down by September, or so. Edwin Jackson may well end up as their second-most valuable starter (after Drew Pomeranz– traded to BOS) when the season is over. Cubs are paying the last of his 4/$48M deal, which is nice.

RHP Edwin Jackson & GM Jed Hoyer

Jared Cosart is the intriguing project for Balsley & Green, so Padres fans are looking (hoping) for improvement. He’ll be in the 2017 rotation mix.  Paul Clemens is a long-shot at best, but the Padres are happy to have him. Clayton Richard is a usable arm to help finish this season, while reducing the workload on their young starters and relievers.

Ryan Buchter_lefty reliever

Righty set-up men Brandon Mauer & Jose Dominguez, and lefties Ryan Buchter (pictured above) & Brad Hand are valuable bullpen pieces. They also can’t be overworked. Brandon Morrow (and his like) are on the active roster to get the Padres through the season, so later effectiveness & health aren’t compromised in these young relievers. GM A. J. Preller & Andy Green have a lot more pieces in place, compared to one year ago. They just need to protect their young arms, and develop a few more.

Padres power up, hold off rally to top Mets 8-12-16
Andrew Cashner tonight 5 IP, 9 H, 4 R, 5 BB, L to CWS. In 16 1/3 innings since joining the Marlins, Cashner’s ERA is 6.61, allowing 22 hits and 12 earned runs. Next it’s James Shields against the Marlins; so far 3-7, 6.62 ERA in 62 IP for the White Sox. [see results above] Drew Pomeranz 0-2, 5.26 ERA in 5 starts, 25.2 IP for BOS. Fernando Rodney 1-2, 5.40 ERA 18,1 IP has also been a disaster for the Marlins bullpen. The waivers pick-ups (Edwin Jackson & Paul Clemens) have been better pitchers for the Padres.

RHP Paul Clemens

Nice work by Padres GM A.J. Preller, who has scraped up enough starters (three from the Marlins: Jackson, Clemens & Cosart) to get his young arms through the season, while maximizing their development.  If he needs more, he’ll find them.

Padres, Clemens eye turnaround at Citi Field 8-12-16
Padres have Clemens going for them tonight at Citi Field.  Game on, Mets fans!

Piazza-Clemens 2

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