Yu Never Know…

December 19, 2011 Leave a comment

Baseball’s big Christmas announcement is supposed to come this afternoon; finally, after what feels like a decade of waiting (it’s actually close to that, time in the twitter age is measured differently, like dog years…), Nippon Ham Sandwiches are going to announce who posted the high bid for the latest Japanese pitching sensation, Yu Darvish.

Late last week, word spread – I want to say like wildfire, but the internet’s more like wildfire mixed with napalm – that the Jays had posted the high bid for Darvish, which would make him my fourth favourite Japanese import after: sushi, everything David Chang learned about Ramen, and Mr Miyagi.  It also, frankly, makes me a little squeamish, as the history of Japanese pitchers (Nomo, Irabu, Dice-K) isn’t exactly the Kobe beef of baseball.

But, the interweb being what it is, over the weekend the tide started slowly ebbing away from the Jays.  Rumors, innuendo, and whispers of executives assistant’s dog walkers have permeated the national consciousness and made conclusive evidence as eavasive as a puddle in the desert.

What we are left with, are tweets like the following ones from Buster Olney:

Something else being seen as possible clue that TEX is winning bidder (again, this is speculation): TOR stayed in Latos conversation late.

And then this re-tweet:

@Buster_ESPN saw bobby v at his restaurant on Saturday. He said its not toronto. Gm told him they weren’t big bid. Also thinks tex.

Retweeted by Buster Olney

Now, I’m not picking on Olney, he’s a legend in the field and does tireless work compiling information for baseball lovers.  It’s just that his tweets came in this morning and were so emblamatic of how rediculous (and awesome) awaiting breaking news on Twitter can be.

Starting with the first tweet, the idea that Toronto staying in the Latos conversation is a sign of anything is patently absurd. Do you what it’s a sign of?  That Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos loves acquiring high upside players who still have service time remaining.  Latos is four years away from free agency, which makes him a perfect addition for a team on the cusp of making a three or four year run of contention.  There’s no real reason that should be affected by placing a bid on Darvish.

And then there’s the second quote: now, I have no idea who @howrhee, so I have no reason to doubt his honesty, but… There has been no leak about which team placed the winning bid. None. So, howrhee is telling us that the Boston GM Ben Cherington knows who won the bid and has told his skipper? Seems plausible that a GM would tell his skipper, except that if Cherington knows, then other people within the Boston franchise know (Larry Lucchino and Tom Henry at the very least) and, well, this isn’t an organization with a recent track record of keeping secrets.

Or maybe it’s not that Cherington knows who the high bid was, but merely that the Jays didn’t bid that much? And how would he know that?  AA’s reign as Jays GM has sort of been the antithesis of Boston’s peach schnapps induced blabfest.  Nobody knows what AA’s doing until it’s done.  But @howrhee’s tweet would have us believe that the Jays’ GM is telling secrets out of bed to one of his division rivals?  Hhmmm…

Besides, if the Sox brass know, then other teams know and with any secret, the more ears that hear, the mouths that wag.  Which again, isn’t suggesting that it’s Toronto, not Texas, just that, perhaps, as Jim Bowden tweeted,

Blue Jays GM, Rangers GM, Agent for Darvish have all told me that NO ONE KNOWS except Commish Office, Japaneese League & Nippon who won bid.

As hard as it seems to believe in this day and age, we have to accept that we just simply don’t know.  And, frankly, I don’t know why that’s such a surprise, I mean MLB’s commissioner’s office is awesome at keeping secrets, well, unless they’re about dubious failed drug tests…

Paul to the Clippers, Too Much? Too Little? Too Soon?

December 16, 2011 Leave a comment

I think, maybe, just maybe, that Chris Paul has finally been traded. The news broke Wednesday, it hasn’t yet been rescinded, so perhpas we can assume it’s good. Although, you know, at this point I wouldn’t blame you if you wanted to wait until July 1st before making any firm proclamations.

Oddly enough, the hold up stopping this deal from going through earlier in the week was Eric Bledsoe… uhmmm… ok. Don’t get me wrong, I like Bledsoe, I think he’s got some real upside potential, but he’s a backup point guard. Still, I guess that was the breaking point for the Clips, so the league backed off forcing him to be in the deal and accepted a package of Eric Gordon, Chris “About to be Flipped Somewhere Else” Kaman, Al Farouq Aminu, and an unprotected Minnesota T-Wolves draft pick.

Now, first of all, I like this trade for the Hornets. I like it, I don’t love it. There are still a couple variables in play before I can give it the all important “blogger thousands of miles, that nobody’s ever heard of,” nod of approval. First, what’s Stu Jacks, er… I mean Dell Demps going to do with Kaman? The Cro-Magnon center is a free agent after this year, which means if they aren’t flipping him, then it’s really a two player plus pick deal. Second, where’s that Minnsota pick end up?  The last first round pick the Clippers traded away ended up being the first pick in the draft (more on this in a second), and of course the Wolves have a propensity for picking at the top end of the draft – from 1989 through last year the Wolves drafted in the top five nine times. Twenty-three drafts nine top five picks and, oh yeah, they lost three #1s at the start of the millennium because of Kevin McHale’s free agent subterfuge – so, that’s a pretty good chip in a loaded draft, except…

I’m not convinced the Wolves will be so horrible this year. Despite David Kahn’s desire to stock his team with 37 point guards, there’s actually a solid chance the Wolves are respectable. They fired the overmatched Kurt Rambis and replaced him with Rick Adleman, who is a seasoned, professional coach. They have the makings of a decent roster, and they have a slim-fit Kevin Love. Lets be clear, I’m not suggesting they’re a playoff team, but I wouldn’t be horribly shocked to see them finish .500 and provide the Hornets with a 11-14 pick, instead of a top five pick.

If the Hornets don’t flip Kaman for anything, then a year from now their package for Chris Paul could be the 13th pick in the draft, Aminu, and Eric Gordon (more on this too).  At that point, I’m not sure its a win for the Hornets. Of course, if they flip Kaman to Sacramento for a pick and Minnesota sucks, then it’s a different story.

I’m not sure I love it for the Clippers either. Well, no, that’s not true.  This is a major win for the Clippers. They’re bringing one of the top five players in the game to the Staples Center. They basically snatched him out of the Lakers finger tips, and he’s a player who will work perfectly with their current star Blake Griffin. So, it’s a big, BIG win, but… did they really have to give up Gordon?

Now, lets not make Gordon out to be the second coming of Pete Maravich. He’s good. He might even, as Bill Simmons keeps saying, be the best shooting guard  in the league under the age of 25, but that statement says more about the dearth of great young two guards than it does about Gordon. He’s a borderline all-star who’s never sniffed the playoffs. Great players take their team to the playoffs, even if they don’t go far after that (see Paul, Chris). Like I said, Gordon’s good and he’s young enough to get better, but his upside is more Joe Johnson than Kobe Bryant.

That said, I’m not sure that the Clippers had to give Gordon up for Paul – and if they don’t lose him in the deal, well… damn.  The Hornets had to deal Paul, and since the league had already sabotaged one good trade, there just weren’t a lot of other deals out there for the Hornets.  First of all, PG might be the deepest position right now. Second, most teams are afraid of putting themselves in the same position the Hornets were in.  So, you basically had the Clips deal, the Warriors offering pieces that weren’t Steph Curry, and…?!? I mean, if Kevin Martin, Luis Scola, and Lamar Odom wasn’t enough, then the Knicks weren’t getting Paul with Iman Shumpert, Landry Fields, and James Dolan’s band.

It seems like the Clippers could have told the NBA’s negotiating team that the deal was the T-Wolves pick, Aminu, Bledsoe, Kaman another Clippers 1st and take it or suck our left… That’s how it seemed the Clippers were going to play it earlier in the week when they balked at the league’s asking price and then put in a bid for Chauncey Billups.  Billups wasn’t going to be a long term replacement for Paul, but LA certainly could have gone into the season with a backcourt rotation of Chauncey, Eric Gordon, Mo Williams and waited for the Hornets’ panicked calls around the trade deadline.

And, speaking of Williams, doesn’t this deal make the Clippers’ trade for Williams last year even worse?  I know it was a long, long time ago, but LA gave up their first rounder to Cleveland in exchange for a league average PG.  That pick of course ended up beating the lottery odds to become the top ping pong ball.  It was a bad pick when they made it, a worse pick on lottery day, and an even worse pick now.  Don’t you think that the Clippers package for Paul could have used that #1 pick (Kyrie Irving)?

With Gordon going to the Hornets, the deal is still a win for the Clippers and it does set them up for a nice little run, but I think they could have waited and kept Gordon. A Clippers starting lineup of Paul, Gordon, Caron Butler, Blake Griffin, and DeAndre Jordan, with Billups a super sixth man, would have pushed the Clips to challenging for the Conference title.  Instead, I’d put them behind (in no particular order) the Mavs, Zombie Sonics, Grizzlies, and – for at least one more year – the Lakers and Spurs.  So, a win for LA, but in typical Clipper fashion, a bumbled victory.

David Stern, Chris Paul, and the Big Market-Small Market Conundrum…

December 13, 2011 Leave a comment

It’s easy to get caught up in the hysteria of this hyper compressed NBA offseason; after all, in less than a week we’ve had Chris Paul traded to the Lakers, Chris Paul not traded to the Lakers, Chris Paul possibly almost traded to the Lakers again, the Lakers trading Lamar Odom to Dallas and thus ensuring that Chris Paul will not be traded to the Lakers, Chris Paul about to be traded to the Clippers, Chris Paul not about to be traded to the Clippers, Chris Paul about to be traded to the Clippers is still possible, and, as of this morning, the Clippers no longer pursuing Chris Paul about to be traded to the Clippers.  It’s exhausting.  And, frankly, if you’re a fan of Chris Paul’s Hornets, it’s probably a little nauseating.  While it feels like something HAS to happen with the Chris Paul hysteria this second, in reality there are still several months for the Hornets brass to gather and sift through trade offers.

At least that would be the case if it were Hornet officials who were actually in charge of deciding the future of Chris Paul.  Instead that luxury seems to fall to David Stern.  Proving himself to be a hands-on owner in the mold of Michael Heisley, Stern has inserted himself front and center in the Paul circus.  Reports of possible trade scenarios no longer begin with, “New Orleans GM Dell Demps is asking for…” but rather begin with, “the NBA front Office is asking for…” And what should be frightening to fans of the Hornets, well besides the thought that former Grizzlies GM Stu Jackson is leading negotiations for Stern, is that the price being demanded by the league is so exorbitant, that nobody can meet it.  That might be fine if there were a chance the Hornets could resign Paul this summer, but there isn’t.  He’s gone.  So, the best thing the franchise can do, is make a good trade and get back some pieces in exchange for their departing superstar.

The first trade that Demps lined up would have been a good deal, it would have kept the team competitive and in contention for a playoff spot.  The league nixed it, ostensibly because it didn’t include enough young talent, but in reality becuase it involved sending a big star to a major market immediately after the end of a lockout theoretically about restricting the ability of the big market teams to poach all the big stars.  Now, the problem is that Stern was so widely lampooned for turning that deal down, he has to actually kill in whatever trade the Hornets accept.  So, instead of approving a realistic and good offer from the Clippers – one that probably had more upside than the Lakers deal, although a dimmer immediate future – the NBA just keeps asking for more and more and more…

I think they’ll find a deal, and I think they’ll find a deal this week, but the longer this stretches on, the uglier it potentially gets.  What I still don’t understand, is how sending Paul to the Clippers is not sending him to a large market, when last I checked they play in the same building – let alone market – as the team that Dan Gilbert went apocalyptic about acquiring Paul.

This underscores what I mentioned the other day, that the large market-small market thing is really just a red herring.  What this is actually about is protecting the incompentent organisations from losing the talent that came to them through the fluke of the draft.  Take the five most notorious examples from the past two years:

  • LeBron James
  • Chris Bosh (and yes, we can quibble over him, but the Raptors thought of him as a franchise guy)
  • Carmelo Anthony
  • Dwight Howard
  • Chris Paul

Now, the only thing that their organisations did to “deserve” them, was be shitty enough to earn a pick in the top 4 of the NBA draft.  That’s how they earned these guys, so lets not make it out like these desperate small market teams have scoured the earth, found these rare looking lumps of coal and sat on them for 90 years until they became top ten basketball players.  No, they were crappy organisations, who were lucky enough to get a top pick in a good year (versus say in a year when Kwame Brown or Andrea Bargnani is the top prospect).  This sense of entitlement that Gilbert and the “small market” owners have to these players is misplaced and slightly asinine.

Then there’s the whole defecting the small market for the large market problem, which of course wasn’t a problem until last year.  But can we look closer at this problem?  What do all five of those teams have in common?  With the possible exception of Denver, outside of their superstar, they suck.  Not like, oh we’re probably not winning a title this year, but outright we might not win 20 games suck.  The year Michael Jordan retired from the Bulls (the first time), they still won 55 games.  How could they do that when they lost thier superstar?  Well, they still had Scottie Pippen, Horace Grant, Steve Kerr, Toni Kukoc, and Phil Jackson stalking the sideline.  In other words, they’d actually, you know, assmebled good players around their superstar.

Last year, after LeBron left the Cavs, they surged all the way to 19 wins.  The Raptors?  Well they just tore through the league, on their way to 22 wins.  Don’t tell me that the Cavs and Raps had put good players around their stars.  And then there’s Orlando.  Look at some of the moves made by Orlando GM Otis Smith over the last five years in an attempt to build a winner around his Superman.  You tell me which one you looked at, the day it was announced, and thought, “wow, that’s a great deal for the Magic.”

  • 2007 – Signed free agent Rashard Lewis to massive 118.2 million – 6 year contract.
  • 2007 – Signed restricted free agent Jameer Nelson to 35 million – 5 year contract.
  • 2007 – Traded Trever Ariza to the LA Lakers for Brian Cook and Maurice Evans.
  • 2009 – After making the NBA finals, allowed Hedo Turkoglu to leave via free agency and instead used that space to trade Courtney Lee, Rafer Alston, and Tony Battie to New Jersey for Vince Carter.
  • 2010 – Signed backup to your backups, backup Chris Duhon to a 15 million four year deal.
  • 2010 – Signed the ghost of Quentin Richardson for 7.5 million over three years.
  • 2010 – Traded Rashard Lewis’ bloated contract to the Washington Wizards for Gilbert “The Gun-toting Clown” Areans’ bloated contract.  This might have been a lateral move, except of course that Arenas has an extra year and 20 million on his deal (since amnestied).
  • 2010 – Tried to make up for the mistake of two years ago, by trading Marcin Gortat, Vince Carter, and Mkael Pietrus to Phoenix for Jason Richardson, Earl Clark, and the bloated, stubbed out cigarette remains of Hedo Turkoglu.

None, right?  And it’s not like I’m some master talent evaluator, I can barely find matching socks in the morning.  No, these were just blatantly bad deals from the get go.  What the Cavs and Magic did, was make it rain like Patrick Ewing at the Gold Club, assuming that giving large contracts to middling talent – or fading talent – was the same thing as building a championship squad around your star.  For all of their current cries of being “small markets,” each has had a payroll in excess of 90 million in the past five years.  That’s New York Knicks territory.

So, the problem arose, not because they weren’t able to spend, but because they weren’t able to spend intelligently.  Thus, their star wanted out.  It’s not like big markets don’t have the same problems.  At the start of the 2007 season Kobe Bryant famously demanded to be traded, and he was a phone call away from being shipped off to Chicago.  Instead the Lakers fleeced (sort of) the Grizzlies in a deal for Pau Gasol and well, you know the rest.  Did the Lakers keep Kobe because they’re a big market?  No, they kept Kobe because they made a smart move to surround him with a top fifteen talent.  And yes, it helps when you’re trying to stop your star from leaving if you can find Chris Wallace to trade with, but…

On the reverse side of the coin, you have three small market teams that managed to keep their stars: San Antonio, Portland, and Oklahoma City.  Tim Duncan’s obviously the poster boy of staying with a small market team and small market whiners say that he’s a special case, but why?  He was courted as a free agent and he chose to stay with the Spurs, because they’re a wicked smart organization that gave him the best chance to keep winning titles.  Pretty simple really; perhaps if they’d surrounded him with the likes of Mo Williams and Anthony Parker instead of Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, maybe TD leaves for the big money deal offered to him by – gasp – the Orlando Magic.

Kevin Durant, well the press has made him out to be the anti-LeBron because he re-signed with the Zombie Sonics last year, but that’s unfair to both guys and, frankly, just a lazy narrative.  First, LeBron re-signed his first time up too, and second if Durant’s team wasn’t being run by Sam Presti, he might have made a different choice.  The point is that he’s on a team with Russel Westbrook, James Harden, Serge Ibaka, Eric Maynor, and Kendrick Perkins.  Plus, the Zombies haven’t destroyed their cap structure to assemble that talent.  So, Durant stays because there’s something worth staying for.

Finally, three years ago, before his knees when tits up, when Brandon Roy was a free agent, he didn’t flee Portland for a larger market, why?  Because they were young, they were talented and they were building something (and sure it’s since come crashing down, but despite that they to win 48 games last year with their best player a shell of his former self).  Now, you could counter that Roy wasn’t a superstar, and maybe he wasn’t in name recognition, but between 2007 and 2009 he was better than Carmelo or Bosh.  So, even if his name lacked the cache of those other guys, there were plenty of smart GMs who would’ve loved signing him.

To say that those five superstars left their teams because they’re small markets misses the point – especially as Miami is a mid-market franchise, albeit in a desirable location.  It wasn’t the size of the market, but rather stupid team management that led to the superstar wanting to leave. I’m sorry Minnesota, Sacramento, Washington, Cleveland, and whoever else is crying poor, but it’s true.  If you want to compete with the Lakers, you need to be smarter than them (given that mind boggling Lamar Odom trade this really shouldn’t be that hard)

Which brings us back to the Hornets, who were a second round playoff team last year.  Now, admitedly they just lost thier second best palyer as well, but if they lose Paul for nothing, how many games do you think they’d win next year?  15? 18? 22?  It’d be Charles Dickens bleak.  The Hornets Paul problem isn’t because they’re a small market, and it’s not because New Orleans isn’t a desirable place to live – it’s New Orleans for f***s sake – it’s because Paul watched the team sign a washed up Peja Stojakovic, trade away Tyson Chandler twice, and acquire freaking Willie Green.  They were poorly run and then bought by the league.  What’s the upside of hanging around for more?

All of which makes this Paul trade the most important deal in Hornets franchise history.  So, I can understand Stern holding out for a great deal, what I can’t understand is having Stu Jackson negotiate that deal.  That’s the sort of bush-league move that a small market team makes…

Fans of Birds and why they’re Dumb…

December 10, 2011 Leave a comment

Sports fans are morons.  I say that fully admitting that I’m one of them, and with the realization that it’s a somewhat polarising and subversive statement.  Obviously the fans who are empowered in their rightouesness would argue that it’s just me that’s a moron, but seriously, we’re dumb.  It is, after all, in the nature of fandom.  We’re fanatics and thus cannot always see the forrest for the trees.  Depending on our personal inclination, we think that either everyone on our team is the second coming of Mickey Mantle, or that they’re the second coming of Mickey Mouse.  It’s what makes Laker fans think that a deal of Andruw Bynum and Luke Walton will get them Dwight Howard.

I assume that it has always been so for fans, but the good old interweb just exacerbates the problem of fandom, giving people hidden perches from which to spout obnoxious nonsense (again, I firmly acknowledge the pot calling the kettle nature of this post).  As an example of what I mean, look no further than this week’s reaction to Albert Pujols leaving his “hometown” team to sign with the LA Angels.  The reaction by Cardinal fans was akin to if Pujols had burned the city down and pissed on the ashes.

Actually, what he did was make a life decision.  A life decision that he’s perfectly entitled to make.  Lets be clear about something Cardinal fans, Albert Pujols isn’t FROM St. Louis.  He didn’t choose to live there, nor did he owe the town anything.  As a result of drafting him, the Cardinals and their fans received 11 phenomenal years of baseball.  Eleven years that rank among the two best career starts in league history (guess the only player to have more WAR in his first 11 years?).  Eleven years that included ten top five MVP finishes.  Yes, I said TEN, and the only year he missed out on the top 5, he finished 9th.  He hit 445 home runs.  He won five out of six fielding bible awards (and yes, only one Gold Glove, but that speaks more to absentee selection process of that award than Pujols’ fielding ability), and he was the leader of a team that won 7 division titles, three pennants, and – oh yeah – two world series.

That’s pretty darn good folks.  That’s a career.  And, when his time came, when he was an unrestricted free agent, able to choose where he wanted to live, for whom he wanted to play, and how much money he wanted to play for, Albert picked what he suited him and his family.  You can scoff at the money, say that St. Louis’ offer was rich enough – and it was – but, 34 million is a pretty significant difference, however rich you are.  But, that’s beside the point, the point is that it’s his decision, a decision he earned by playing out his contract.

What smart fans would do, is say, “damn it’s hard to see him go, but thank you Albert for elven amazing years.”  What moron fans do, is burn his jersey, question his loyalty, and take to the internet to defile him and question his integrity.  Loyalty.  That great word that only works one way.  Guess what Card fans?  St. Louis actually isn’t Albert’s hometown, he’s not from there (is that a shot at LeBron?  I’m not even really sure), he doesn’t need to be loyal to there and hasn’t he been loyal enough already?  He did after all sign a below market deal with his last contract; a contract by the way that covered those two world series.

He could have left long ago.  Be thankful to what you got, be gracious and accept that this is his right. That doesn’t mean you don’t have to mourn, but don’t be ugly about your grief. I’m pretty sure every other franchise in baseball would be happy to have those 11 seasons from Albert and then lose him to another franchise for what will inevitably be his decline phase.

Of course, I started this by saying that fans are morons, not that Card fans are morons.  And, that’s because there’s another group of fans that right now are basically making asses of themselves.  And, unfortunately, they’re a fan base to which I firmly belong.  Last week Jays fans, desperate for the team to sabotage it’s longterm prospects by tying itself financially to the world’s largest vegan, started an online petition to “force” Rogers to sign Prince Fielder.

It’s actually kind of quaint if you think about it.  The group threatens Rogers, a telecommunications giant, with cable and internet cancellations if the coporartion doesn’t intercede with the baseball team and force Jays’ GM Alex Anthopoulos to sign the robust first baseman.  They do understand that it’s going to cost at least a 160 million (and possibly significantly more) to ink Fielder.  Seriously, that’s A LOT of cable subscriptions…  Anyhow, you can see the form here and, well, like I said, it’s sweet that they think this will actually work, but really it’s just dumb.

First of all, I know that each one of us armchair GMs know what’s best, but  – really?!? In his first couple years in charge, AA has taken one misstep: he traded Mike Naopli (5.6 WAR) to Texas for Frank Francisco (0.5 WAR), and while I didn’t like the deal at the time, it had solid foundation.  Otherwise, Anthopoulos has merely built one of the five worst farm systems into one of the five best; acquired Colby Rasmus, Yunel Escobar, and – best of all – Brett Lawrie; signed Jose Bautista to an under-market contract; and – oh yeah- convinced the Angels to take Vernon Wells’ entire contract.  I understand that you know what’s best for this franchise and that you think giving 150-200 million dollars to a guy who might weigh 350 pounds in five years and will be DHing in three is a solid plan, but don’t you think, that maybe, just maybe, Anthopoulos has earned the right to take a different path?

It’s like these fans don’t remember the Vernon Wells – Alex Rios era, or the Roger Clemens era?  Instead of following the prudent and meticulous path set forth by AA, they want to open up the vault for a kid named Prince.  Look, I get excited by the thought of Prince in the lineup.  A 3-4-5 of Bautista, Prince and Lawrie might be the best in baseball and he is an awesome hitter and buoyant personality, but why risk your one massive contract on a body that just doesn’t seem built for the long term.  While the Jays have money, their pockets aren’t quite at New York or Boston depth for eating mistakes.  Signing Prince seems great now, but ultimately it just doesn’t make sense, which is something AA understands and keeps articulating.

So, why don’t we just accept that he knows something about what he’s doing and leave him be?  Oh right, because we’re fans, and we’re morons…

Categories: Baseball Tags: ,

The Trade that Wasn’t, or How David Stern stepped in Poop..

December 9, 2011 Leave a comment

Oh the NBA, how I missed you.  I mean, even when you somehow manage to salvage the negative publicity of a lost season, you still manage to shoot yourself in the foot with an audaciously absurd and stupid move to cancel the proposed trade of Chris Paul to the Lakers.  I get it, really, I do… your ownership group almost sabotaged the season on the pre-text that you wanted to implement competitive balance (which is a bit of a red herring anyhow, but that’s another story, for another day…), when in reality what you actually wanted was to ensure as much money in your pockets as possible.

Now, basically minutes after the deal was ratified, the team that you collectively own – in a small market – is trying to send its best player to basically your league’s biggest market (in terms of combined size and success).  If you let it pass, then your rhetoric about small market teams is shown to be what it was: bullshit.  So, I can see how the knee jerk reaction is to torpedo the deal – especially when you have this moron sending subversive emails.

On the other hand, this actually was a good deal for the Hornets (not to mention the Rockets), and – despite picking up one of the top five players in the league – an odd trade for the Lakers.  I don’t know that I’d go quite as far as ESPNs John Hollinger in trashing it (insider), but he’s right that leaving your team with only the unrelaible Andrew Bynum as a big man is a huge mistake.  Now, maybe the Lakers were going to swap Bynum for Orlando’s Howard, but if the Magic were going for that, then the league has bigger problems than this Paul deal.

An even greater mistake is the league stepping in to sabotage the deal for “basketball reasons.”  Honestly, I don’t even know what basketball reasons are, and if you follow any NBA writers on twitter, neither does anyone else.  It’s like David Stern just stepped in a flaming bag of poop on his front stoop, only he’s the one who put the bag there.  I’ve argued in the past that Stern, while one of the three greatest sports commissioners of all time, desperately needs to step down and I think that the last five months only compound that fact.  The best example of this was a tweet yesterday (that I can no longer find, so I apologize to the author) that compared the damage done in the last two years by Stern to his legacy to a certain narcissistic indecisive, self photographing football player.

Stern’s league now has three teams grieving the cancellation of a perfectly legal – and legitimate – trade, another team accusing a fifth team of tampering and a sixth team whose owner cannot stop sounding like an ungrateful and petulant toddler when his toy was taken away.  Worst of all?  None of these shenanigans involve Donald Sterling – which should serve to remind Stern of the words of wisdom from the great philosopher Calvin, “That’s one of the remarkable things about life.  It’s never so bad that it can’t get worse.”

Ah Calvin – the 6 year, not the protestant – always there to remind us of the salient points in life.  The NBA looks pretty stupid right now, but hey, it can always get worse!

Oh NBA, I missed you.

A King’s Ransom: Albert Pujols, The Angels, and a lot of Money…

December 8, 2011 Leave a comment

Boom… just like that the biggest dynamo in baseball’s winter free agent frenzy fell.  All week, as the threat of a hostile Miami takeover swirled, there remained rumors of a third team interested in St Louis slugger Albert Pujols.  Is it the Cubs?  The Rangers, the eerily quiet Yankees?  Nope, it was the Angels.  And damn, were they serious.

250 million serious.

Plus another 75 million for CJ Wilson.  That’s a big day of spending.  Not quite the Yankees dropping 423.5 on Mark Teixeira, CC Sabathia, and AJ Burnett (and yes, I smiled as I wrote AJ Burnett there), but a big day of spending all the same.  More importantly, it’s a shot straight across the bow of two time defending AL West champion Rangers.  After all, Wilson was the Rangers’ ace this past season, a 6 win pitcher for a team that won the division by 10 games.  The swing of him alone would have made the Angels at least co-favourites going into next year.  When you then add in the greatest right handed hitter of the last 50 years, well, you have something going.

Which is good, because the Angels need big returns early on this investment.  That’s because as great as Pujols has been for the last decade, he’s almost certainly not going to be that great for the coming one.  He probably wont even be half as great.  The Angels are paying a King’s ransom for a man in the process of abdicating his throne.

Fangraphs’ dollar value section (which uses WAR to calculate a dollar value that a player provided a club in a single year), determined that over his last ten seasons with the Cardinals, Phat Al was worth 297 million, however that number was bouyed by seven seasons in which the firstbaseman posted a WAR over 8.  Over the last four seasons Albert’s WAR has gone from 9.1 to 9.0, to 7.5, to 5.1.  Now, 5.1 is still very, very good, but it makes Pujols more Mo Vaughn than Lou Gherig.

To put it in further perspective, Pujols’ 2011 WAR was tied for 26th in all of baseball: with Brett Gardner.  Lets pause so that that can sink in… TWENTY SIXTH… BRETT GARDNER.  Now, don’t get me wrong, I love Gardner more that most, but… are you going to pay him 25 million a year?  20?  15?  Maybe 12?

I know, Pujols’ numbers last year were anchored by a horrendous start.  He had a .755 OPS, with 9 home runs on June 1st and finished with a .906 OPS and 37 homers.  But at 32 years old, moving to a pitchers park, in the harder league, what’s the upside in Pujols’ numbers?  Does his WAR get back to 2010s 7.5?  Is that a best case scenario?  And where does it go from there?

As Jeff Passan tweeted earlier today, in the years before he turned 32, ARod hit .306, .389, .578 in 154 games per year.  In the years since?  .284, .375, .521 in 124 games per year.  It’s that last number that’s perhaps most important.  It’s hard to post large WAR if you aren’t on the field.    Pujols, like ARod when he signed his big deal, has been a bedrock of good health, never missing more than 19 games and averaging 155 per, but he’s entering a phase of life where the body starts to break.  Just look to ARod’s hip for evidence of the  capriciousness of the post 32 body.  Now, obviously the comparison isn’t perfect, because ARod plays a far more physically demanding position, but as someone whose 32 year old back is aching right now, I can tell you that Father time’s a bitch.  Seriously.  And that’s looking at the issue on THIS side of the deal.  What happens in 2017, when Pujols is 37?  Does he suddenly become a 25 million dollar DH?  Is his bat still worth 5 wins, or has it drooped to 3?  And that’s – gasp – only half way through the contract.  What happens in the second half of the deal?!?

After adding Wilson to incumbents Jered Weaver, Dan Haren, and Ervin Santana, the Angels may well have the best rotation in the AL, and with Pujols they finally have a serious bat in the middle of their order, so I can’t entirely fault them for essentially ensuring a spot in the playoffs for the over the next four years, but there will come a day when they rue this contract.  I hope for their sake it’s in 2020, not 2016.

 

Theo’s Credit Card Needs Clipping…

September 27, 2011 Leave a comment

On September 1st, the Boston Red Sox were in first place in the AL East, a half game ahead of the New York Yankees and 8.5 ahead of the Tampa Bay Rays.  Alas for the Fenway faithful, the season doesn’t end on September 1st and, well, you know how things look now, on September 27th for those same Sox of Red.  If Boston’s collapse should culminate in their missing the playoffs, there will, of course, be thousands of words over the next few weeks calling for the heads of various members of the organization, whilst simultaneously casting blame; as one of the worst collapses in baseball history, there is plenty of blame to go around.

Ultimately though, I think it’s important to remember that this collapse is largely fluke.  By which I mean that if the Gods played this season over again a 100 times, the Sox probably only collapse like this the one time.  Part of this collapse is injury, part of it is just regression to the mean, and part is just the nature of baseball, but mostly it’s just obscurely bizarre.  For the lords of Fenway, it’s important for the Sox not to overreact to a strange situation.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that you don’t sit back, assess and ask yourself, “where are we going?”  As a Jays fan I obviously hope that where the Sox are going is to a fourth place finish, but in reality, where they are going is to the free agent market.  Perhaps in search of a shortstop, maybe a starting pitcher (or three), some bullpen help, a corner outfielder, or even a third baseman might make some sense… There are concerns, probably not as many as September might have exhibited, but there are some.

The problem here, is that while asking where they are going, the Sox should also be asking, who’s going to get them there?  Because if their destination is the free agent market, I think it’s fair to ask whether Theo Epstein is the right man to drive that bus.

Don’t get me wrong, I think Theo Epstein is one of the top three or four GMs in all of baseball (behind, like everyone else, Andrew Friedman), but he does have a propensity to whiff on big money contracts.  And, not just whiff, but whiff horribly.  Like Carl Crawford flailing at a Justin Verlander fastball.  Just look at the current state of the Red Sox rotation, obviously they were expecting a better September from Josh Becket (1-2, 5.48) and John Lester (1-3, 5.96), and Clay Buchholz being healthy probably helps, but when the season started the Sox were spending 16 million on John Lackey and 10.33 on Dice-K.

That’s not the bad news.

When next season begins, the Sox will still be spending 16 million on Lackey and 10.33 on Dice-K.  That’s because they were both signed to big money long-term deals by a franchise that theoretically espouses big money long term deals (see Martinez; Pedro, Lowe, Derek; and Damon, Judas).  Lackey was given 82.5 million for five years and Dice-K was given 52 for 5, but of course Dice cost 50 million just for negotiation purposes, so… Ughhh…

And those two aren’t really the exceptions of Theo’s free agent dalliances.  Remember Edgar Renteria (40/4)?  What about Julio Lugo (36/4)?  Mike Cameron (15.5/2)?  Sock favorite John David Drew (70/5)?  And, perhaps most terrifying of all, what about… Carl Crawford (142/7)?  Doesn’t that contract send shivers up your spine?  I mean, I know that Crawford was a great player, but shouldn’t the Sox have given pause to the fact that he’d once only ever posted a WAR above 6?  And that so much of his WAR total was related to his sterling defense in left field, where the Sox won two titles with Manny Ramirez basically making daisy chains.  I know that defense is the new undervalued thang, but… surely there should have been some examination about whether Crawford’s offense was really worth 142 million and if not, did his defense with 81 games in left at Fenway really warrant making up the fiscal difference?

Now, I whole heartedly agree that it’s obnoxious (albeit fun) to use 20/20 hindsight to make yourself look smart and an organization dumb, but a lot of these moves were questioned at the time.  Drew?  Cameron?  Heck, even Lackey wasn’t the slam dunk some people thought.  And 142 for Crawford?  Well, that just seemed like a lot of money for a player the Yanks were comparing to Brett Gardner.

Theo’s done solid work drafting guys (Pedroia, Ellsbury, Lester, Buchholz, Papelbon, Bard, heck, even Lowrie) and it’s hard to argue with the trades that brought in Curt Schilling, Beckett and Mike Lowel, Victor Martinez, and Adrian Gonzalez, but right now, the only good free agent signing I can think of, was when the Sox gave Adrian Beltre 10 million to come and rebuild his value.

Ultimately, I think that Theo’s strengths as a GM outweigh his flaws, but if they miss the playoffs, while the deluge of misanthropy falls from Sox fans like bombs from the sky, the precocious GM had better take a long look at his history in Free Agency and determine where exactly it is that he’s going wrong.  Like their high payroll brethren in the Bronx, the Sox can afford to swing and miss on a few contracts, but Boston has about 70 million of dead weight on their payroll this year.

And while that might not be the exact reason they’ve had a September collapse for the ages, it isn’t exactly helping their cause to send John Lackey out to the mound every fifth day.

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