How many trades, signings or possibilities are floated during every hot stove season that common sense would dictate have little or no chance of coming to pass? How many different scenarios are said to be “close” or “near completion” or any other adjective to describe where certain things stand only to see them scatter to the winds and be conveniently forgotten as if they’ve never happened? On Jake Peavy alone, we’ve had more than our fill of deals that were on, then off; on, then off; on, on, on, off, off, on, off, onoff, onononononoffoffoffoff; over and over again and it’s not only tiresome, but instead of drawing interest to baseball’s off season, it creates a culture of doubt in what’s really happening, and mistrust for those that are supposed to be getting the information directly from the participants.
A few days ago, in addition to the story of C.C. Sabathia signing with the Yankees, Rotoworld.com reported that the Yankees were also close to signing Derek Lowe to a long term contract. It’s known by now that Lowe is still out there and the Yankees actually came to terms with A.J. Burnett instead of Lowe. Burnett, who was said to be preparing to sign with the Braves, jumped on the Yankees more lucrative offer. This isn’t to pick on Rotoworld alone because the other sports outlets—-ESPN.com; Fox Sports; Sports Illustrated—-have come up with stories detailing what’s going on with various franchises only to see their reports either proven to be completely erroneous or missing crucial details.
For every reporter who’s accurate (Fox’s Ken Rosenthal’s been on the money; SI’s Jon Heyman’s pretty good), there are dozens of things floating around about which team executives act bewildered when they hear of them. It’s fun when these rumors start to pop up and get fans excited, but how many of them actually come to pass? How many of those deal that were “90% done” are forgotten and disappear moments after the story is published.
There are the tedious (Jake Peavy’s ongoing soap opera with the clueless Padres); the premature (Yankees trade Melky Cabrera to the Brewers for Mike Cameron); agent-created (Scott Boras should try his hand at unambiguous fiction); and the absurd (Manny Ramirez ponders retirement if his contract demands aren’t met—-“I’ll show you!!!”—-holding his breath like a spoiled child). It’s very easy to start a rumor and have people run with it and most are coming from the supposed “insiders” who have access to what teams are trying to do. This creates demand for more information, but the continuously inaccurate reports are doing the exact opposite because after awhile, those that are hungry for the latest rumors get tired of the runaround and just ignore everything until they see a press conference with the relevant players standing in front of the logo for their new team as they put on the hat, try on the uniform and pose for pictures with their new bosses.
A good strategy is one that I’ve specifically gotten away from: I don’t believe a deal is done until I see the press conference; unless that happens, I avert my eyes with the thought in mind that if I look at them for too long, the inaccurate rumors are going to turn me to stone.
- Phillies and Jamie Moyer are both wrong in their haggling over money:
The Phillies are right in being reticent to commit a large amount of money for a pitcher who’s 46-years-old even if said pitcher went 16-7 for a World Series winner. Jamie Moyer’s right to say that his age shouldn’t have anything to do with the Phillies doling out a comparable contract to other pitchers who’ve put up numbers similar to Moyer’s in recent years. Where this is going to lead is anyone’s guess.
On the surface, it’s likely that Moyer is going to want to return to the Phillies to pitch in his home state on a team with a good bullpen and lineup in an atmosphere where he’s liked and respected; but that doesn’t mean a deal’s going to get done. If Moyer were ten years younger and put up the numbers he did in his time with the Phillies, how much would he get on an open market where guys like Oliver Perez are asking for $15 million a year?
Perez—-who is either as dominant as Sandy Koufax or as wild as Rick Ankiel in his last, lost days as a pitcher—-is probably going to get nearly double what Moyer’s going to get based on nothing more than Moyer’s age and that he gets by on a “fast” ball that goes so slowly that it looks like a Bugs Bunny cartoon (1-2-3 strikes, you’re out; 1-2-3 strikes you’re out—-all three swings coming on the same pitch). If the Phillies are thinking that Moyer is going to be made into a sap because of his age and the benefits he receives for being with a team with such a good supporting cast, they may be making a big mistake.
In looking at his gamelogs, wh
ile he’s not a 220-inning guy, Moyer was effective enough that he could realistically have won six more games and ended with over 20 wins. While it’s true that veteran pitchers tend to hit a wall at a certain point no matter how smart they’ve been (I’m thinking of Orel Hershiser in his last season with the Dodgers), Moyer hasn’t slowed down; with the way he pitches using intelligence, varying pitches and control, there’s no reason to believe that he won’t be effective for at least 2009. Another important aspect of Moyer is that he’s a quiet leader in the clubhouse with a surprising feistiness that translate into his knocking hitters back with that 80 mph fastball, and he’s been a great influence on the Phillies young pitchers, especially Cole Hamels.
If the Phillies think they’re going to get Moyer back simply because he’s from the area, they may be making a similar mistake as the Twins made with Jack Morris in 1991. Morris signed a one-year deal with his hometown team and observers acted as if it was this heartwarming story of a pitcher returning home; winning 18 games; a World Series; and a World Series MVP with his heroic and historic 10-inning performance in game seven of that classic series. That heartwarming story turned out to be a business decision for both sides as Morris parlayed his season with the Twins into a lucrative two-year contract with a team about as far from Minnesota as a guy could get in another country entirely with the Toronto Blue Jays.
As for the Phillies, they do have a right to ask for a bit of a discount on what Moyer would get if he were ten years younger and was shopping his wares on the open market. His age is what it is and there is that possibility that his body will start to break down due to that age regardless of how conscientious he is about staying in shape.
Moyer should be in demand from teams who want everything he has to offer on and off the field and because he’d be a short-term investment. The Cardinals, Mets, Marlins and Braves off the top of my head come to mind as teams that would want to bring Moyer onboard. If the Phillies keep messing around, they may lose a key part of their championship team and live to regret it, even if he is 46-years-old.
- Where does the objective analysis end and the self-justification and retribution begin?
As far as the ESPN bloggers go, Keith Law comes up with useful tidbits much of the time. He’s a bit heavy on the stats and his analysis of players gets a bit technical (to the point of making me wonder whether he’s ever picked up a baseball or has just memorized certain buzzwords like “bars his arm” or pitches “breaking on two planes”, etc.); and his endless scouting reports on minor league players occasionally sound like he’s regurgitating stuff he’s accumulated from other sources; but that’s neither here nor there. My biggest issue is the blurred line of where his analysis ends and his self-interest begins.
When A.J. Burnett signed with the Yankees, Law wrote the following blog, entitled, While a bit of a risk, Burnett has a huge upside:
Burnett has No. 1 starter stuff — sitting in the mid-90s with a hammer
curve, a plus changeup he should use more, and a cutter he just started
using in the last year or so to give hitters another thing to worry
about. He has no major weaknesses on the mound. He’s not prone to the
long ball, not too wild, he gets hitters on both sides of the plate out
and he misses a ton of bats.
There are two major drawbacks to a Burnett signing of more than one
year. One is that he doesn’t always pitch up to his stuff; last year,
he had a 4.96 ERA at the All-Star break, and over three years with
Toronto he didn’t post a single-season ERA under 3.75. Yet he finished
his three years in Toronto on a tear, with a 2.72 ERA, 105 strikeouts
against 29 walks in 94 1/3 innings, and dominant outings against the
Yankees (four starts, 32 1/3 innings, five earned runs), Rays (two
starts) and White Sox (one start) after the 2008 All-Star break. If he
pitches like that over a full season, he will be a Cy Young contender.
But he hasn’t pitched like that over a full season at any point in his
career, and he has only pitched like that in years when he had a
significant financial incentive to do so (his walk years and his last
The other is the frequency with which he takes the mound.
Burnett has, with some reason, earned a reputation as a pitcher who
will only pitch if his arm feels 100 percent, even though most pitchers
pitch from time to time with some soreness or mild discomfort. Burnett
has had only one serious arm injury in his pro career — the blown
elbow ligament that cost him most of the 2003 season — but has missed
time with “minor” arm problems that never required surgery. As a
result, he has thrown only 200 innings in a season three times (the
aforementioned years when there was money at stake), and has only made
30 starts in a season twice. An optimistic forecast would only give him
125 or so starts across the five years of this contract with the
A.J. Burnett is far more than a “bit” of a risk at $82.5 million over five-years. He’s a major risk at that amount of money and with his history. The fact that Burnett has had “only one serious arm injury in his pro career” only makes his frequent trips to the disabled list seem all the worse because his amping up his performance and durability when there’s a lot of money at stake indicates that with a guaranteed amount of money that he’d never been able to spend in five lifetimes, he might find even more reason to sit on the DL for months at a time.
I’m not a fan of questioning another person’s pain threshold. As much as Carl Pavano was ridiculed for how he got injured and the nature of his injuries (bruised buttocks for example); and the disinterested way in which he went about his rehab until this past year, I don’t know if anyone could say that there was nothing wrong with Pavano and that he was making things up to stay off the mound and go to the beach. Other players might have gone on and tried to perform with Pavano’s issues, but that depends on the individual.
Personally, I don’t think that Burnett is going to even come close to fulfilling that contract and what the Yankees are expecting from such a talented, highly-paid pitcher. His history is there for everyone to see and to think that he’s going to suddenly—-at the ages 32-37—-become Steve Carlton in terms of durability, is insane. Add in that players can no longer use “little” helpers like amphetamines; or “big” helpers like PEDs and what they’re going to get out of Burnett is an open and legitimate question from beginning to end of the contract. My main issue with Law is what I read between the lines of what he writes and says.
Law was with the Toronto Blue Jays as a Special Assistant to GM J.P. Ricciardi when they signed Burnett to a five-year, $55 million contract after the 2005 season; one would assume that since Law is such a supporter of Burnett, part of the reason he thinks he’s a “bit of an injury risk” is an attempt to save face for the first two underwhelming, injury-plagued years Burnett spent in Toronto. Also, whenever the subject of Ricciardi is broached, you can almost feel the underlying sniping from Law toward his former boss. It’s hard to find what exactly happened between Law and the Blue Jays, but it’s obvious reading between the lines that it wasn’t an amicable parting.
I’m not claiming to be above partisan politics here. Everyone knows I’m a Mets fan; that I can’t stand this over reliance on statistics above all; that there are certain people in positions of power in baseball who have proven to have neither the aptitude nor the intelligence to be in those positions, but I at least try to stay objective and do a good enough job (I think). Do you think I want to be giving constructive advice to the Braves, Phillies and Yankees as to what they should do to improve their teams? Of course not, but I do it anyway.
It’d be the easiest thing in the world to suggest to the Braves, “Yeah, you should bring Tom Glavine back; yeah, it’s smart to gut the farm system for Jake Peavy; oh no, why wouldn’t you spend a chunk of cash on Burnett since he’s finally figured it all out,” but that would diminish whatever credibility I think I have. And if the Padres make a smart move in trading Peavy—-as much as I can’t stand what they represent from Sandy Alderson on down or the embarrassingly inept way they run their franchise—-I’ll be the first to credit them because it’s required to swallow crap once in awhile to maintain loyalty and any semblance of credibility.
Is Law able to do this? Given the obvious nature of his antipathy toward the Blue Jays, I can’t help but wonder where the objective analysis ends. And given the mess Ricciardi’s made, does Law even need to find ways to dig at his former boss? I don’t think so.
- The Mets bullpen could be “Devastation Inc.” with J.J. Putz, Francisco (K-Rod) Rodriguez and…Billy Wagner?
No one’s mentioning it as a possibility because Billy Wagner’s Mets career is believed to be over, but what happens if his rehab goes as well as B.J. Ryan’s did as he returned from Tommy John-surgery eleven months later? Wagner had his surgery in September and given the fact that the Mets have acquired not one, but two closers in the past week, who’s to say that Wagner won’t be able to return in time to be activated in September of 2009 and potentially be on the post-season roster* (*if applicable, these are the Mets we’re talking about) to give the Mets a trio of closers to pitch in the playoffs and possibly shorten the game to six innings?
After the disappointing way everything turned out with his injury essentially costing the Mets a playoff spot and his failures in 2006 and 2007, perhaps the idea of helping the team and closing out his career in 2009 (or p
erhaps getting another lucrative contract elsewhere) will inspire Wagner to push his rehab the way Ryan did and come back in time to be a part of a Mets team that is going to be in the thick of the playoff race; if he can contribute anything at all, he could be the difference between winning a championship or coming up short yet again.