Thursday, March 14, 2013

EXTENDED! Carlos Gomez

By the Brewers. Three years $28.3MM

After coming to the Milwaukee Brewers in the trade that sent J.J. Hardy to the Minnesota Twins, Carlos Gomez endured two seasons in a Brewer's uniform that saw his potential untapped.  He was identified by his flailing swing, low OBP and apparent insistence on swinging at everything in sight.  Then 2012 happened, and Gomez quietly put everything together.  Carlos Gomez was platooning in center field with Nyjer Morgan at the start of the 2012 season, but after Morgan's productivity fell off a cliff, the emerging Gomez was given essentially a full-time position and center.  Carlos Gomez awarded the Brewers for their faith by doubling many of his offense of numbers.  While he still has a way to go in terms of plate discipline, the still young Gomez finding his stroke at age 27 gives the Brewers a lot to be confident about.

There is obviously an implicit risk in extending a player after that player only puts up one year of notable production, but $28.3MM dollars could prove to be a bargain if the toolsy Carlos Gomez continues to improve.  The faith that he will in fact improve over the course of his deal is why the Brewers scrapped their initial one-year $4MM deal, opting instead to buy out three of his free agent years that will cover him over the ages that many players reach their peak.  B.J. Upton and Michael Bourn both signed enormous contracts this offseason that would have been unaffordable by Brewers' standards.  In terms of offense of productivity both of those players were about on par with what Gomez did in 2012.

Assuming Carlos Gomez can stay relatively healthy and avoid injuring himself on wild plays, this deal will be considered a very team-friendly.  It would help Gomez' next contract out substantially if you could learn how to get on base and utilize speed, but his power has become an attribute that can no longer be ignored.  If Carlos Gomez can maintain the arc of his productivity, it will not be a surprise whatsoever to see him as an All Star center fielder.  Using the logic that he can only improve over the course of his peak years, I wouldn't be surprised to see a 30/30 and Gold Glove season at least once over the course of this contract.

Related Reading
Dark Horse: Carlos Gomez

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Offseason Review: The Minnesota Twins

New Twin, the right handed Vance Worley, figures to
be a major contributor to the Twins rebuilding process
After years of sustained Rays-like success on a small to medium sized budget, the Twins collapsed inward on themselves like a dying star.  After dominating their division in 2010 and finishing six games ahead of the Chicago White Sox, the Twins fell to a 63-99 record in 2011.  The end result was a last place finish that was repeated in 2012.  Fortunately for Twins fans, the front office isn't known for patience in the face of mediocrity, and have shifted in to full gear this offseason.  The Twins can't realistically hope to compete in 2013, so while the moves they have made have pro-actively targeted their weakest points (namely pitching), they have largely flown under the radar.  When examining signings and acquisitions pulled off by Terry Ryan this offseason, it's easy to see that his eye was set on looking to the future, not clinging on to the past.

Two consecutive dismal seasons made it obvious that the Twins needed help.  The biggest drought of talent lied in the pitching department, which was met with two patchwork pieces in the arms of Kevin Correia (two years, $10MM) and Mike Pelfrey (one year, $4MM). Neither Correia or Big Pelf are aces who will drastically shift gears, but both pitchers can be looked at as restoration projects capable of performing above being lackluster, and both of them are capable of sticking around if and when the Twins find themselves back in the sphere of relevancy.  The most substantial ground gained in the pitching department was acquired via the trade of two Twins outfielders.  Denard Span was traded in late November to the Nationals for excellent young pitching prospect Alex Meyer, and Ben Revere was sent to Philadelphia in exchange for prospect Trevor May and right-hander Vance Worley, who's being heralded by many as the potential future ace of the Twins.

With the pitching much improved and the focus pragmatically set on future seasons, the Twins inarguably emerge as a winner in terms of offseason strategy.  While Minnesota will almost inevitably be looking up at the Tigers in 2013, they do benefit from what is considered by many as a pretty weak division.  It would be wise for teams like the Tigers to acknowledge their position at the top, and upstart seems like the Kansas City Royals to acknowledge there fragility when considering a farm system as formidable as Minnesota's.  The Twins are managing themselves out of the muck, and doing so with impressive efficiency.  It's hard to imagine them anywhere but in last place in their division in 2013, but I wouldn't expect their recent struggles to haunt them too far beyond that.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Offseason Review: The Seattle Mariners

Seattle's new designated hitter Kendrys Morales
These poor guys.  The Seattle Mariner's have been trying for the past couple seasons to make a splash but have come up pretty much empty.  Safeco Field is an absolute cavern, and consequently a deterrent to free agent sluggers like Prince Fielder or Josh Hamilton, both of whom were courted by Seattle but ended up signing elsewhere.  This offseason they couldn't even bring in Justin Upton via trade even after the Diamondbacks agreed to terms that would ship the slugging outfielder to Seattle for a bundle of premium prospects, including excellent pitching prospect Taijuan Walker.  Not to be discouraged, the Mariners still acquired the services of Michael Morse, Kendrys Morales and a rebuilding project in Jason Bay in hopes of adding some much needed pop to the lineup.  

Seattle's General Manager Jack Zduriencik did flex some of the Mariners spending power by extending their homegrown ace Felix Hernandez through 2019 for $175MM dollars, officially making him the highest paid right handed pitcher in baseball history. This move was criticized by many around the baseball community, but if you consider what the price of premium pitching is, and where it is going, I think you can find a logic in this sign.  First off, there are few better players in baseball that combine age and quality as perfectly as Felix Hernandez.  Secondly, he's a homegrown talent which makes him a perfect candidate to be a player to build around.  Finally, the Mariners farm system is loaded with excellent young arms like Taijuan Walker, Danny Hultzen and James Paxton who can take away invaluable mentorship from King Felix.

The M's are building in to something formidable, and doing so in timely fashion.  The Rangers appear to be on the decline, and there is only so much time before the Angels age and overspending catches up with them.  The most difficult thing that Seattle has to do with manage their own impatience.  By rejecting the trade to the Mariners, Justin Upton may have saved Jack Zduriencik's job.  The Mariners have their ace and they have their cornerstone, now all they have to do is wait for their young talent to develop and then strike.  It's pretty much a guarantee that Seattle won't see the postseason in 2013, but if they can keep it together for a couple more years, their history of mediocrity will be a thing of the past.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Desperation in Pinstripes: What the Yankees Need to do Now.

Curtis Granderson's broken forearm could also be the camel's broken back.
Last year the Yankees didn't quite have the cool and confident look most fans associate them with.  In fact had it not been for Derek Jeter playing out of his mind, Hiroki Kuroda playing beyond his years and the absolute dominance of C.C. Sabathia and Rafael Soriano, the Yanks likely wouldn't have made it in to October.  The Yankees 2012 season ended unceremoniously, with a four game sweep in the ALCS at the hands of the Detroit Tigers.  Now it's 2013 and the Yankees have made no moves to become younger or stronger.  Making matters worse is their almost ambitious lack of depth, an issue that's gravity was made abundantly clear with the injury of Curtis Granderson.  If Brian Cashman isn't panicking about the 2013 season, he should be.

The state of the AL East is no longer what it was, a battle between Bronx and Boston while three other teams scramble for the crumbs.  The Orioles shocked everyone with a wild card appearance, the Toronto went full force in to the offseason acquiring half of the Marlins and 2012 Cy Young award winner R.A. Dickey from the Mets, and the Rays have carved out their own reputation as a team that seems to constantly be able to compete for the top.  As the teams so used to the basement start scratching their way to the penthouse, the Yankees are eroding, and fast.  Even with a decent farm system and a juggernaut budget matched only by maybe the Dodgers, the Yankees are looking dismal.  This is a reality that Yankees fans are not used to, and given the resources they have to work with, it's not one they are going to find excusable either.

Given the rickety situation the Yankees find themselves entering the 2013 season, it seems reasonable to consider whatever happens a wash.  Even if New York makes the playoffs, which is possible given their lineup, strife awaits them entering the 2013/2014 offseason. Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettite are likely candidates for retirement, with team captain Derek Jeter not too far behind. Robinson Cano is all-but-guaranteed to test free agency, and the usually unmatched Yankees budget may have contention in a rebuilding Cubs team and a Dodgers team who isn't afraid to spend like crazy.  The Yankees need to use their position as one of the few teams who can spend on risky contracts and sign Cano to a statement-making signing, or trade him for everything they can get.  There isn't anyone else who's young enough and good enough to build around, and the Yanks inactivity has put them in a downward trajectory that needs to be righted.  The Yank's future as a competitive entity in baseball, and Brian Cashman's future as the General Manager of an MLB team, rests heavily on the back of their MVP-caliber second basemen.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Offseason Review: The Texas Rangers

Does veteran switch hitter Lance Berkman have what it takes
to fill Josh Hamilton's shoes?  Spoiler Alert: No.
Few teams that have as much money as the Rangers do, have had as much recent success as the Rangers have had and preside over a farm system as talented as the Rangers farm system is, emerge from an offseason a notably worse team than they were the year prior.  It would make sense that a team that had such a frustrating collapse, followed by a one-game elimination from the playoffs at the hands of the Baltimore Orioles would want to do something to ensure another return to the World Series.  Apparently this train of thought isn't weighing to heavily on the minds of the Texas Rangers front office.

The Rangers were very inactive in 2013, even after being unable to retain Josh Hamilton or sign Zack Greinke.  One of the more substantial moves made by Texas is the signing of Lance Berkman, a veteran slugger who was on the verge of retirement after injuries kept him out of almost all of the 2012 season.  Another, slightly more sensible signing is of the durable backstop A.J. Pierzynski, who won the AL Silver Slugger award for catchers after putting up a career high 27 home runs in 2012.  While Pierzynski is a likely candidate to add pop to a lineup, and while both of these one-year contracts are low-risk, odds and age wouldn't suggest that these moves are going to be enough to fill the void left by Josh Hamilton and Mike Napoli.  What makes the situation look worse for the Rangers is not who they've signed, but who they haven't.  After waiting on the free agent market late in to the offseason, Michael Bourn was signed to the Indians despite the fact that he was a premium free agent outfielder who's lethal speed could have played well in Rangers Park.  Zack Greinke, this years uncontested best free agent pitcher, actually gave the Rangers a chance to beat the Dodgers offer, but Texas didn't want to budge on offering the former Cy Young winner an opt-out option after three years.

Despite how easy it is to criticize the Rangers for their inactivity, the reality of the situation that they are still a pretty brutal team that's definitely not beyond contending.  The Athletics won the AL West amidst pretty flukey circumstances in 2012 and aren't likely to repeat, and while the Angels have bolstered their lineup with the addition of former Ranger Josh Hamilton, they are relying on a lot of things meshing in order for their superstar laden lineup to live up to it's full potential.  Further increasing the Rangers chances of returning to the postseason is the addition of the Astros, who are going to be Major League Baseball's punching bag for the next several seasons.  Furthermore, their farm system is absolutely loaded.  If the Rangers do happen to find themselves in the hunt, they have a ton of talent that's either major league ready or close to it.  The talent they have that isn't ready to contribute directly to the Rangers in the bigs could be used as a trade chip to real in some big names on the block come July.

Veteran backstop A.J. Pierzynski hopes to retain the power
he found in 2012 in his new stadium.
Assuming the Rangers can move past the loss of Josh Hamilton's presence at the plate and Michael Young's presence in the clubhouse, they still have the potential to be very good.  Rangers fans may have just cause in being upset over the Rangers inactivity, as the addition of a player of Zack Greinke's caliber would have preserved their status as "dominant" as opposed to "very good", but there should by no means be a doom and gloom feeling in Arlington.  Whether the Texas Rangers make it to the postseason or not, it will be determined by a very close margin.  Worst case scenario for Texas: injuries and hesitation in the postseason leading up to 2013 cost them a playoff appearance this season, but up-and-coming talent and a flexible ownership group retain competitiveness for many seasons to come.  Best case scenario: another run at the World Series is a legitimate possibility, and while one slugger has defected to the division rival Angels, an all around solid lineup perseveres and finally gets the Rangers a ring.  Either way, it will be an exciting season in Arlington.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Dark Horse: Brandon Morrow

After three relatively mediocre seasons on an underperforming Blue Jay's team, posting no lower than a 4.39 ERA, Brandon Morrow had flashes of brilliance amidst an injury plagued 2012 campaign.  By season's end, Morrow pitched 124 and 2/3rds innings and posted 103 K's with a 2.96 ERA and a 10-7 record.  

Now it's 2013, and the team that hasn't seen the playoffs since 1993 is poised to end their decade-long postseason drought with a bang.  Brandon Morrow is no longer part of a flailing rotation after Alex Anthopoulos made major moves that include acquiring Mark Buehrle and Josh Johnson from the Marlins and 2012 NL Cy Young R.A. Dickey from the Mets.  Not only do these moves bolster and help repair a previously unreliable rotation, but they provide a veteran presence that can help mentor young pitchers like Morrow.  Additionally, Morrow won't be playing on a team that isn't going anywhere.  The initiative of meaningful competition could logically push Morrow to strive even harder to win.  Assuming Morrow can keep is oblique healthy and keep is K rate up, he will be geared up to complete the break out season that 2012 should have been for him .

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Offseason Review: The Oakland Athletics

Newly acquired Oakland backstop John Jaso will provide
a good hitting presence for Oakland.
Last years signing of Yoenis Cespedes by the Athletics both surprised and drew skepticism from many people, myself included.  The Athletics hadn't been expected to be anything special in 2012, as one of their division rivals (the Rangers) had made it to the World Series the year prior and another (the Angels) had made a huge move in signing Albert Pujols, arguably the best player in baseball at the time.  As it turns out, the A's ended up winning the AL West and made it to the 5th game of the ALDS before getting eliminated by the Tigers.  The result was a shift from an offseason strategy focusing on rebuilding, to one focused on sustaining success.
Hiroyuki Nakajima is just thrilled to be on the Athletics
The Oakland A's, synonymous with the Moneyball concept, clearly weren't going to go out and sign a player like Zack Greinke or Josh Hamilton, so the moves had to be strategic from an economic and baseball standpoint.  Earlier in the offseason, Oakland made moves to acquire outfielder Chris Young from the Diamondbacks and re-sign veteran RHP Bartolo Colon, who was putting up a good season in 2012 for Oakland before getting caught using performance enhancing drugs.  Later on the A's shored up some loose ends like acquiring shortstop Jed Lowrie from the Astros to play utility and platoon the newly signed Japanese import Hiroyuki Nakajima, and trading for good-hitting catcher John Jaso, who was acquired in the three-team trade that sent Mike Morse to Seattle.

While these frugal moves may effectively improve Oakland, it seems probably that a repeat is unlikely.  It may seem unduly cynical to be skeptical of a team's chances when they are fresh off of a division championship, but that championship can be accredited more on happenstance then Billy Beane's strategic prowess.  The Angels, acting completely the opposite of Oakland's stingy nature, signed 2010 MVP Josh Hamilton to an enormous five year contract.  The Rangers fall from the top was due to an unexpected collapse that was in no way predicated on the A's budget.  It's strictly an issue of opinion, but much like the Brewers and Orioles, teams carrying the burden of a small budget do, from time to time, need to stray from there usual spending habits in order to sustain their success.

So with the postseason officially over now that the first spring training game has completed, I can say that I think the Athletics had a just OK postseason.  There are plenty of good players (Sean Burnett and Dan Haren for example) who signed extremely team-friendly contracts, so affordability is not an argument.  Time will tell if the A's will see the postseason again in 2013, but I wouldn't count on it.