Sunday, January 23, 2011


While the mainstream media is playing up the fact that the Tampa Bay Rays have signed Manny Ramirez and Johnny Damon to one-year deals, a much more important transaction is tearing up the analytical baseball sphere. Long considered an albatross, the contract of Vernon Wells has actually been moved. To where, you may ask? Anaheim, where Goofy roams, there's no debate about what Pluto is (he's a dog, right?), Mickey is still king and dreams come true. For the Angels, however, this offseason has been anything but a dreamland. On Friday they may have just created a nightmare, in fact.

Coming off of a stellar, out-of-this-world 2003 season, the Blue Jays knew they had something in Vernon Wells. After 2006, they knew they had to lock up the budding star long-term. The 2006/7 offseason was a rather tumultuous one, however, with Barry Zito signing his infamous 7/$126 deal with the Giants while the Cubs signed Alfonso Soriano for 8/$136. Given the inflated market of the era, the Blue Jays gave Wells a deal that blew a lot of people away, signing him for seven years and $126 million guaranteed. At that point, he really only had two "outstanding" seasons under his belt. Yes, he played solid defense in centerfield without question, but he had been somewhat up and down with the stick. So why the huge deal? Everyone else was doing it, so why not the Jays? At least that seemed to be the reasoning.

An injury shortened 2008, a disappointing 2009 and a slight bounce-back 2010 later, and the Blue Jays were willing do whatever it took to get out from under what many regarded as the worst contract in baseball. Making matters worse, the contract was severely back-loaded and Wells still has 4 years and $86 million coming his way. That's big money, especially for an aging centerfielder who can't run 'em down like he used to and is inconsistent at the dish. Who in their right mind would trade for this scenario? The Angels, that's who.

After getting spurned by this year's biggest free agents, the Angels were clearly desperate to bring a big name to town. Carl Crawford and Adrian Beltre decided against Anaheim and they were never really in the heart of the Cliff Lee negotiations, leaving Anaheim in an unfamiliar position: they were in the middle of an offseason where they didn't make a splash. Instead of inking a big name free agent this time around, they decided to send off the left out Juan Rivera and slugging (and not much else) Mike Napoli in exchange for the completely over-priced Vernon Wells. Well Anaheim, you made your splash, now what?

While Vernon Wells isn't likely to be worth more than about $50 million of his $86 million dollars left on his deal, the Angels are one of the few teams who can actually afford to overpay for a player. This should give them a stellar outfield with Wells likely in left, Peter Bourjos in center and Tori Hunter in right. This also allows the aging and declining Bobby Abreau to fill the DH role for the Angels. Overall, the Angels are stacked and adding Wells only helped that cause, as long as he's productive.

Remember, there's a reason why the Jays didn't want to pay this guy. You never know if you're gonna get the .265/15/65 Vernon Wells or the .305/35/100 version. There's a big difference and as long as he gravitates towards his former all-star self, there won't be a problem. But if he continues to get hurt, fails to hit and doesn't age very well (he'll be 35 in the final year of his deal) then the Angels may be kicking themselves for years to come. They were obviously desperate to get something done, now let's just hope it doesn't come back to haunt them and become a nightmare deal.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Oakland's Offseason Grade: A Of Course!

Quietly, Oakland has done a nice job of building their roster this offseason. While other teams have stolen the headlines, the A's are making low risk moves to bolster a team that already has some solid, young pieces. Last season, Oakland was 81-81 last year, finishing nine games behind the Rangers and holding their own in the division. While they didn't light up the scoreboard and score a ton of runs, they were consistent on the mound with a good nucleus of young starters and a decent bullpen. Apparently Billy Beane isn't satisfied as he's added some pop and helped the pitching staff this winter.

Its been well documented that the A's made a hard run at Adrian Beltre, only to get spurned and see him go to a division rival in Texas. Since they didn't get their "big fish," Oakland has made several smaller additions. They added David Dejesus to play left field, Josh Willingham to play right field and Hideki Matsui to DH. Dejesus could hit second, behind Coco Crisp. A combination of Matsui and Willingham will likely hit fourth and fifth. Its not a "murderer's row" but in the AL West, it will be competitive. Expect Oakland to move up from 11th in the AL in runs scored in 2011.

The pitching staff has seen improvements as well. Brandon McCarthy was recently added and could serve as the fifth starter. While adding a fifth starter isn't exactly earth-shattering news, one has to remember that the A's have a solid core of young pitchers in Dallas Braden, Gio Gonzalez, Trevor Cahill and Brett Anderson. Rich Harden will be in the mix, too, depending on his injury situation. The bullpen got help from free agent signee Grant Balfour who came over from the Rays where he's been very impressive. Recent reports are that the A's are moving agressively on lefty veteran Brian Fuentes, as well. They've got an established closer in Andrew Bailey and solid contributors in Craig Breslow and Brad Ziegler. Add Balfour and potentially Fuentes and Oakland may have one of the best bullpens in baseball.

The AL West will be a tougher division in 2011. The Rangers will be very strong again and offensively dangerous. Their pitching will suffer with the loss of Cliff Lee and it will be interesting if CJ Wilson can have a similar season in 2011. The Angels will have Kendry Morales back and should be better this season, too. The Mariners will be weak again but hope to bounce back somewhat and King Felix can shut anybody down. Oakland will have strong chance to contend in 2011 and they haven't had to overly inflate their budget to do it.

Oakland's offseason grade: an A!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Michael Young gets no love!

As the Rangers prepare to overspend on Adrian Beltre out of desperation, one player is taking yet another on for the team. Michael Young is a perennial player. You can count on his numbers like clockwork and he almost never gets seriously injured. Almost anybody would sign up for a .300/.347/.448 line over a ten year period from a middle infielder, yet Young remains one of the most underappreciated players in the league.

It started when Young moved from second base to shortstop when Alex Rodriguez was moved in 2004. Young performed relatively well there despite not having the greatest range in the world. When Elvis Andrus came up in 2009, Young moved from short to third base to make room for the prospect. Now that the Rangers are likely bringing in Beltre, Young will have to move from third base to designated hitter. Even though he's going to be 34 next season, Young has plenty of athleticism to continue at third and is probably moving to DH prematurely.

After losing out on the Cliff Lee sweepstakes, the Rangers seem desperate to make a splash. Beltre will hit with more power than Young and play better defense but isn't likely enough of an upgrade to offset the cost incurred in signing him and the lack of defensive help that the Rangers will experience by taking Young out of the field. While he isn't a magician with the glove, he still has fielding value.

Young is one of the "good guys" of Major League Baseball. He doesn't complain, he doesn't take at-bats off nor show up unready to play. He gets along with his teammates, is a leader in the clubhouse and has played the game with dignity for a decade. Once again he is taking one for the team by shifting to DH before his athleticism declines to the point where he is relinquished to that role. Some franchise players would complain about this and demand a trade or make a scene in the media. Unsurprisingly, Young has remained quiet on the situation and is handling it like a true pro because he thinks it may be the best thing for his team.

Kudos to Michael Young for taking yet another one for the team and being a pro's pro. While he largely goes unnoticed, I appreciate Michael Young in an era of Tweets and Sportscenter. Stay classy, Michael Young.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

At Least The Nationals Are Trying

When baseball once again found a permanent home in the Nation's capitol, it was a great day for Major League Baseball. Then the Nationals showed up. Coming from Montreal where the Expos had been a perennial laughing stock, the franchise clearly had some rebuilding to do. While it's been ugly at times, the Washington Nationals are becoming relevant again and its definitely a good thing. America's game should be well represented in Washington D.C. and the Nationals may be just be pulling this off in the near future.

Potential is a word that is way overused in sports discussion. In it's purest form, potential simply means that a positive outcome may result from a particular situation. What isn't stated is that a negative outcome may also result from that same situation. This is why its important to note that the Nationals are trying to become relevant in baseball again, because of their potential, but refrain from making predictions about their win-loss totals in the near future. Washington is loaded with potential and could soon be a major player in the National League. Unfortunately, they could also squander it away, have players fail to perform or become perpetually injured and never show up on the radar. Potential is a dangerous word.

Focussing on what could go right, the Nationals are in good position to start contending. While they will be a player in the NL East in 2011, the team could be very dangerous in 2012. Phenom Stephen Strasburg will miss 2011 after undergoing Tommy John surgery to repair his elbow, but should be lighting up the radar gun in 2012. Top pick Bryce Harper could also be playing in the bigs by then, depending on how he performs in the minor in 2011. He's young but extremely talented and should move the system quickly. Young players like Nyjer Morgan (OF), Drew Storen (RP), Ian Desmond (SS), Danny Espinosa (2B) and Roger Bernadina (OF) should help bring up the talent level of the Nationals all over the field.

Adding to the infusion of talent are free agent acquisitions Jayson Werth (OF) and Adam LaRoche (1B). These two give the Nationals the power options they've been missing. When added to All-Star third basemen Ryan Zimmerman, these two high-profile free agents give Washington a solid core of proven players. This team is loaded with offensive talent and should score a ton of runs this season, especially if they can get the first two batters of the lineup, likely Morgan and Desmond, on base with regularity.

The problems lie within the pitching staff. Strasburgh won't be pitching this season so the rotation will be thin on talent. Livan Hernandez is an innings-eater but not a true ace by any means. Jason Marquis can be good if healthy but after signing with Washington before the 2010 season and then pitching to a 2-9 record with a 6+ ERA before being shut down for the season by injury, its safe to say he was a disappointment. If he doesn't bounce back this year, it will definitely hurt the Nationals ability to contend. Jordan Zimmerman has talent but is young and unproven while John Lannan is inconsistent. Washington is a still a contender for Carl Pavano and this would be a big help for the young Washington rotation.

The bullpen has gotten better for Washington with Drew Storen helping shore things up. Tyler Clippard and Sean Burnett, who recently signed an extention, have also helped the Nationals hold onto late-game leads. Chien-Ming Wang is a reclamation project that could help if he resurrects his career with Washington, which is a long shot but worth the gamble. Doug Slaten helps round things out and solidify the bullpen. While they could definitely use a dominant late-inning arm, the Nationals are in decent shape.

If they land Pavano, which I would say is a 50/50 proposition at this point, the future lineup and rotation could look like this:

1. Nyjer Morgan (CF)
2. Ian Desmond (SS)
3. Jayson Werth (RF)
4. Ryan Zimmerman (3B)
5. Adam LaRoche (1B)
6. Roger Bernandina (LF)
7. Ivan Rodriguez (C)
8. Danny Espinosa (2B)
9. Pitcher

This lineup will definitely score runs. If and when Harper comes up, which is a risky thing to try to predict since he hasn't played much pro ball yet, I would expect Werth to move to left field and Harper to take over in right, replacing Bernadina in the lineup. With Pavano and Strasburg in the mix, the rotation should look like this:

1. Carl Pavano (R)
2. Stephen Strasburg (R)
3. Livan Hernandez (R)
4. John Lannan (L)
5. Jordan Zimmerman (R)

The thing that jumps out immediately is the lack of left-handed starting pitching. Jason Marquis' deal ends at the end of 2011 and I don't foresee him being brought back. Hernandez will also be a free agent after 2011 but the Nationals could try to retain him.

If the Nationals can land Pavano, get Strasburg healthy and not see dropoff from key producers (R. Zimmerman, Werth, Morgan and LaRoche), they will be a force to be reckoned with in 2012, if not sooner. For a while there, Washington was just plain terrible. Progress is being made and the Nationals are full of potential. While nothing is set in stone, at least the Nationals are trying.