Sunday, November 13, 2011

Thoughts on the NL East

On an evening subway ride and a couple lonely bar stools, recently, I wrote about my feelings (about the NL East)...

Philadelphia Phillies
do not like
In light of Jonathan Papelbon's record-setting deal with the Phillies, the most unbelievable event has to be Papelbon's assertion that winning was more important to him than the money. What a boldfaced lie. For years, he had said that he wanted to set the new record for closers. The Phillies gave him the opportunity to do just that, and suddenly it's not about the money? Please. Papelbon is a knucklehead, and the Phillies have just given him enough money to ensure that future generations of knucklehead Papelbons will be a bunch of stupid, spoiled brats.

Ruben Amaro, Jr. is spending money in all the wrong places. Fifty million dollars for a closer is a gross misappropriation of funds. Why not retool with the best available non-first baseman? The free agent class is remarkably weak this hot stove season, but there are other ways to spend a budget. Bullpens can be built quickly. It certainly isn't easy, but as Kevin Towers has demonstrated for years, and the Rays proved last season, it is possible to build a quality bullpen at the last minute and on a budget.

Better things to do with $50 million than give it to a "proven closer" for 4 years:

- Sign Yoenis Cespedes and have about $18 million remaining to spend on three to five relief pitchers.
- Sign Jorge Soler and have about $30 million remaining to spend on a handful of relief pitchers.
- Sign Yoenis Cespedes and Jorge Soler.
- Sign about 50 of the better amateur shortstops, catchers, and lefties in Venezuela and the Dominican Republic.
- Build a baseball academy in The Netherlands.
- Build a baseball academy in China.

How much would it cost to sign every halfway decent 16 and 17 year old left-handed pitcher in the Dominican Republic? How many are there? 100? 500? 1,000? How much would it cost to scout them and sign the 50 best ones? The top 5 or 10 may cost millions of dollars, but the last 10 or 20 won't cost more than thirty or fifty grand. I am totally pulling this out of nowhere and have no idea. Moments like this make me want a friend like Ben Badler to ask. Omar Minaya would probably have a good answer.

Atlanta Braves
In Atlanta this offseason, Braves management looks like they intend to attend the swap meet, as opposed to the free agent auction.

For once, it seems like the majority of clubs, fans, and media realize the best move is to sit tight and increase the selective nature of free agent bidding. There only a handful of very good "gets" this year, yet they all have pitfalls. How messed up is it that most would agree that the contracts of the top 3 relievers to sign will each be an overblown albatross before the ink dries?

How about the perception of teams and their front offices? I'm guilty of this as much as anyone, but isn't it odd that if a team like the Braves say they won't spend big on free agents, we think they are being savvy, measured, or shrewd, but if the Mets aren't spending, we criticize them for "rebuilding"?

Prado's bat plays much better
at second base than left field.
The Braves are looking to upgrade in left field, while trading excess starting pitching and their own left fielder, who can play a pretty good 2nd base. They already have Dan Uggla at second, so Prado playing out of position isn't helping them as much.

They need some right-handed power out of left-field, and Prado can help someone else by being a good second baseman. We already know the Braves are looking for someone better than Delmon Young in exchange for Prado, as they squashed that rumor last week.

They're also looking for a Greinke-esque return for a Jair Jurrjens swap. That is foolhardy and overpriced for a pitcher who's track record does not compare with the former Cy Young award winning, Greinke. If the Braves can get two or three good to very good prospects for the inconsistent Jurrjens, they should jump at the chance.

Washington Nationals
The heartbreaking story of Wilson Ramos has me becoming a quasi fan of the Nats. Not a real fan, but a quasi fan. I like a lot of their players: Ryan Zimmerman, Wilson Ramos, Stephen Strasburg, Michael Morse, Drew Storen, Jordan Zimmerman, Henry Rodríguez, and I think they're bringing Liván Hernández back. They should be a fun team to watch, especially if Jayson Werth finds the fountain of youth and Bryce Harper is ready to become a man.

It'll be great to see Wilson Ramos back on the field.

In recent years, the Nationals have been big spenders (see: Jayson Werth), and this year is not different. Their one-year deal with Chien-Ming Wang was a luxurious spend, and they arguably should have shopped around a little more. The Nationals are really striving to hit that next level of competitiveness. It'll be interesting to see what they do with the money. A Fielder or Pujols grab would probably do them more good than replacing Ian Desmond with Jimmy Rollins.

New York Mets
Reyes is pea cocking.
As a show of the stigma and unfair criticism towards some teams, how about those Mets? Do the Wilpons know that Sandy Alderson doesn't have to run a small market club? They are rebuilding in front of everyone's eyes when real Mets fans are looking around saying, "Why?" The Mets have all but lost José Reyes, who reportedly is only looking for offers starting at $100 million. The Mets won't go beyond four years, or anywhere approaching the reported 6yr/$90mil offer Reyes received from Miami.

Jimmy Rollins for three or four years could be fun, but definitely is not happening. This is the same team that signed a 32-year old Luis Castillo to a 4yr deal, and a very expensive 31-year old Jason Bay to a 4yr deal, with a vesting option on a 5th. Rollins is 32 years old, and Sandy Alderson is probably the least likely General Manager in the league to sign him.

Lefties pitch forever.
The Mets crossed off Chris Capuano from their list of free agent targets because he wants a 2-year deal. Excuse me? The Mets reportedly believe they are two years away from contending, so they don't want to spend money on expensive long-term deals. My problem with the whole thing is that Chris Capuano is not expensive.

No statistic is an end-all, be-all measure of a player's worth, but Wins Above Replacement (WAR) will be our ruler for now. Taking the average WAR between Fangraphs and Baseball-Reference, these were the Mets' best pitchers in 2011:

R.A. Dickey, 3.7 avWAR
Jonathan Niese, 2.0 avWAR
Chris Capuano, 1.7 avWAR
Mike Pelfrey, 1.1 avWAR

Taking it a small step further, here are the Top 10 left-handed pitchers in the NL East, by 2011 avWAR:

Cliff Lee, 6.8 avWAR
Cole Hamels, 5.2 avWAR
Jonny Venters, 2.7 avWAR
Eric O'Flaherty, 2.7 avWAR
Jonathan Niese, 2.0 avWAR
Chris Capuano, 1.7 avWAR
John Lannan, 1.1 avWAR
Mike Minor, 1.1 avWAR
Antonio Bastardo, 1.1 avWAR
Ross Detwiler, 0.8 avWAR

Capuano isn't the best pitcher in the world. Heck, he's not even markedly better than Tom Gorzelanny, who was 11th on our list, with 0.7 avWAR. Still, he's a proven, left-handed swing man, who should keep pitching at least one win above replacement level for the next few years. A struggling team should embrace whatever talents they can, especially when they may be relatively inexpensive. It is admirable, if the Mets are afraid he could turn into the next John Grabow.

Miami Marlins
On 11/11/11, the Florida Marlins became the Miami Marlins, following suggestions made by Harry Caray and others of his generations.

The Marlins are attempting to make a big splash in free agency, while opening a brand new stadium next season. They want a star, or two, or four, to help Hanley Ramírez, Mike Stanton, and Ozzie Guillen open the new place and sell tickets. It has been reported that the Marlins extended a $90 million offer to Jose Reyes, as well as offers to Pujols, Buehrle, and Madson. They have reported interest in Carlos Beltrán, which makes me wonder, if the Marlins sign Carlos Beltran, a corresponding move would involve trading Logan Morrison for a starting pitcher, right? I haven't seen much speculation on that from the Jon Heyman's of the world.

The GM meetings in Milwaukee are developing a few important stories, mostly about the CBA and new rules for compentation towards teams that lose Type A and/or B free agents after offering arbitration. That's pretty unfair to teams who traded for, or hung onto, players with Type B designation who now will lose their expected return. I don't see how this won't be challenged in at least a few circumstances.

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