Let the Circus Begin?

The Red Sox have reportedly selected and agreed to terms with Bobby Valentine as the next manager and already, player grumblings are being reported by ESPN. Let the circus commence. Lucky Larry, I hope you are ready for this.

By all accounts, Valetine is a smart baseball man, just ask him, and he does have a decent enough track record when you include his Japanese League performance. But, also by all accounts, he tends to be the story rather than just a participant. I’m not sure that is a good thing, in fact I know that isn’t a good thing. I’m hoping time has calmed him and he has found a way to tone things down.

As for Red Sox players being unhappy, who cares and too bad. They get what they deserve given how they handled themselves in 2011 and if they are unhappy, that’s fine by me. Player complaints mean nothing to me, especially when they are generally so petty and out of touch.

Buckle-up I guess.

Now on to things such as players and a coaching staff. I expect the staff will fall into place shortly and the player/roster situation will crystalize during the owners meetings Dec 5-8 in Dallas. Speaking of important dates, straight from the MLB site, here they are:

Dec. 1, 2011
Last day to request outright waivers to assign player prior to Rule 5 Draft

Dec. 5, 2011
5 p.m. ET is last time to outright a player prior to the Rule 5 Draft

Dec. 7, 2011
Last date for player who declared free agency to accept an arbitration offer from former club. Deadline is midnight ET

Dec. 5-8, 2011
Baseball Winter Meetings, Dallas

Dec. 8, 2011
Major League Rule 5 Draft, Dallas

Dec. 12, 2011
Last date to tender contracts is midnight ET

Is The Rotation Full?

The Yankees did some last minute Thanksgiving shopping, bringing Freddy Garcia back on a one-year/$4-$5 million deal. Personally, I would have preferred the draft pick, but it is not a terrible deal. Garcia wasn’t as good as he looked in 2011, but he is a decent back-end of the rotation guy at a reasonable price. The question is, does this mean the Yankees are done shopping for pitching?

On the surface, a rotation of Sabathia, Burnett, Nova, Hughes and Garcia appears to be set, but there are some questions that linger for everyone not named “Sabathia”.

I still think AJ could be trade bait this offseason. Again, the Yankees won’t get much back, if anything, but I could see them offloading his contract. If they sign another free agent or trade for one, I would almost bank on it.

Nova had a great season ERA-wise, but his peripherals were not as good. My biggest worry is his low strikeout rate, but unless he falls off a cliff this spring, he is definitely in the rotation.

Speaking of falling off of cliffs, that’s what Phil Hughes did in 2011. His ERA was worse than his peripherals, but anyway you slice it, 2011 was a huge disappointment. Part of it might have been a natural regression after throwing so many innings in 2010, but Hughes has to pitch well in 2012 to prove that case. Considering his success in the bullpen during the 2009 season, I think he is the most likely guy to get bumped if the Yankees acquire another pitcher.

And of course there is Garcia and the question if he can keep “junkballing” his way through lineups. He is 35 and his fastball averaged 87 mph last year. When the end comes, it will come quickly.

I still think the Yankees upgrade their rotation in some fashion this offseason. I suspect it will be via a trade because the reported free agent prices are insane. (CJ Wilson six years and $120 million??) Expect to learn more when the Winter Meetings kick off December 5th.

It’s A Miracle

What’s the only major sports league in the U.S. to not lose any scheduled games this century due to labor strife? Yup, amazingly the answer is MLB. For all of us who lived and suffered through the 1994-95 labor war, this is a pretty amazing fact. The new CBA assures that we will get to 2017 before we have to worry about a work stoppage and it contains some very interesting provisions.

First, congrats to MLB for getting real HGH testing. They are actually going to use blood tests which is a pretty radical move and a very strong signal that players and owners want a “clean” game.

And it’s nice that MLB finally took a stand on the All-Star Game. Starting next year, players selected to participate must do so, unless they are injured. Sure, there is a potential for some phantom injuries here, but this will hopefully put an end to 80-something players getting selected to the game.

And there are some other good ideas in the CBA. Requiring all players, starting in 2013, to wear a helmet that can protect them against a 100-mph fastball is a safety idea that is long overdue. I wish it had included a clause that every writer who made fun of the original helmet had to stand in the box and see a pitch come at them at 100-mph, but I quibble. Making a 26th player eligible when there is a doubleheader is also a good idea.

But, MLB also screwed a couple of things up. I talked about the Astros and interleague play before, but the new draft/international signing rules will really hurt the teams they are trying to protect. Consider this, in 2011 the Red Sox spent the 10th-most in MLB on their draft pool. The Yankees were 16th. This is the one case where you can’t accuse the big clubs of spending huge amounts, it was clubs like Washington, Kansas City and Pittsburgh. Ken Rosenthal has posted a good piece on it here. By eliminating their ability to spend freely on the draft and internationally, MLB has done two things. First, they have made it more likely that two-sport starts will not choose baseball. More importantly, they have handicapped the smaller market teams in the one area that they were doing well in. Consider this stat from Rosenthal’s piece, in 2011 all the clubs spent a total of $236 million in the draft, or about $30 million more than the Yankees’ payroll. I could be very wrong, but I think this new system will make the Red Sox and Yankees even stronger because they still can spend their money at the big league level and the luxury tax threshold is actually going up to $189 million.

And with that, I am going to put the computer down until next week. Barring any moves, I will be back after the Thanksgiving weekend. I hope all of you reading this and your families have a happy and healthy Thanksgiving.

A Good Argument

I’ve never liked MVP voting. How do you define “valuable”? And, even if you use some advanced statistics to prove that a player is the most “valuable” in the league, does it matter if his team is awful? It seems to me that things would be a lot easier if the MVP award was renamed “best player”. But, it’s not so this is the system we have.

This year, Justin Verlander won the MVP in the AL, despite not even appearing on one of the ballots. The writer who left him off his ballot, Jim Ingraham, made a very interesting argument against pitchers as MVP. Here are his words:

“I’d wrestled with this for a long time. If I was ever going to vote for pitcher for MVP, it would be him this year. He hasn’t appeared in 79 percent of their games, any starting pitcher really doesn’t appear in 79 percent of his team’s games in a year. Would you vote for an NFL quarterback for MVP if he only appeared in three of his team’s 16 games, which would be 21 percent? So that’s part of it. Another part of it is I think they’re apples and oranges. The guys that are in there every day, there’s a grind to a season that a starting pitcher doesn’t, I don’t think, experience the way the everyday position players do playing 150, 160 games.”

That is the most compelling reason against voting for pitchers that I have heard and I think he is absolutely right about it. Starting pitchers don’t appear in enough games to meet the “value” criteria in my mind. Verlander had an amazing season and he was given the Cy Young for it. Instead of burying Ingraham, his fellow baseball writers should take his argument to heart and reform the MVP voting process. Since pitchers have their own award, why not make the MVP a purely offensive award? It won’t solve the problem of figuring out value, but it will make the process a bit clearer.

Manager and Moves

The Red Sox manager search is progressing or at least that’s what they are telling us. Much has been made of Dale Sveum being the choice of new GM Ben Cherington, but not the choice of ownership and how Ben has possibility already seen his autonomy threatened/questioned.

Both the GM and ownership has put on a game face and said it was a collaborative effort and not to look much into the Sveum issue. In fact, I would not have wanted Sveum, not because he isn’t a good baseball man, but I will never be able to forget how tough a time he had as Red Sox 3rd base coach. I wasn’t critical of him at the time, but I know the general fanbase was and just couldn’t get past the issue.

If the choice came down to Tory Lovullo, Gene LaMont or Bobby Valentine, I have no idea who I’d want. Valentine would be the most interesting an at least initially, most fun, but his act gets old and I always think back to his attempt, after being thrown out of a game, to sneak his way back to the dugout with a fake moustache. Great comedy, but perhaps an unwanted distraction from, you know…winning baseball games.

As for player personnel moves, nothing has happened yet. We are between the GM and Owners meetings and things can take time to come together. The Red Sox need rotational depth and a few complimentary part, but I don’t see them needing a make-over, so this could very well be an off-season of minor adjustments. Oh and a closer.

Roster Moves

The Yankees added five players to their 40-man roster yesterday, making those guys ineligible for the Rule 5 draft. Let’s look at each one.

Right now, you would have to give David Phelps and D.J. Mitchell a solid chance of making the club as a starter. Phelps got hurt last year, but compiled a 3.19 ERA in 107 innings at Scranton. Mitchell threw 161 innings and compiled a 3.18. Phelps had better peripherals as he struck out more batters per nine while walking fewer. Phelps, Mitchell, Noesi and Adam Warren (3.60 ERA in 150+ AAA innings) are the types of players the Yankees should try at the back end of the rotation if they do not sign a “bigger” free agent.

The Yankees added two infielders, Corban Joseph and David Adams to the 40-man. Both are second basemen, which is interesting when you consider that Robinson Cano can be a free agent after 2013. Joseph his .275/.350/.413 at AA this year as a 22-year old. Adams will perhaps forever be known as the guy who scuttled the Cliff Lee trade when the Mariners didn’t like his medicals. They were right not to as Adams missed almost all of 2011, But, he came back and played 29 games between rookie ball and Tampa. He is almost 25, so time is not on his side, but he hit very well before getting hurt. Should be an interesting guy to watch.

Finally, the Yankees added Zoilo Almonte, an outfielder with a cool first name to the 40-man. Almonte didn’t do much in Trenton over 46 games, but he hit .293/.368/.514 in Tampa. He is 22, so he has time to develop.

It’s interesting that the Yankees chose to protect all five. Any player taken in the the Rule 5 draft has to stay on the major league roster for the entire season or be offered back to the original club. By protecting five, the Yankees only have one spot open on their 40-man for a free agent. While they could certainly cut a Melky Mesa, Greg Golson or Kevin Whelan, I wonder why they felt the need to protect a guy like Almonte, who seems very, very far from the bigs?

We shall see

Win Some/Lose Some

Two big changes are coming to MLB in the near future- 15-team leagues and another wild card. I view the first development as bad and the second as good. Let me explain.

Creating two 15-team leagues means MLB will be forced to play an interleague series almost every night of the regular season. While this doesn’t mean we are going to necessarily have more interleague games (amazingly they have no idea on that part of this move) it means pennant races will be impacted by interleague play.

To me this is incredibly stupid. This isn’t the NBA or NHL where the teams all operate under the same rules. The AL and NL have a huge difference because one league has the DH and the other doesn’t. Obviously, this always applies in interleague baseball, but consider this additional kicker- September callups. AL teams that have interleague games in September will have a huge advantage over teams that don’t because they can pinch hit, much, much more than during the rest of the season. Consider the 2011 Yankees who called up 6 batters and 7 pitchers September 1st. If they had had an interleague series that month, they would have been able to pinch hit and substitute freely as compared to a series in June. Unless MLB does something like the NHL and require all teams to declare x number of players eligible for each game, this will be a major hurdle in the new system. And don’t get me started on the attendance for a KC-Washington game in April….

It also strikes me as terrible that Houston was the team that got picked to move. I understand that they wanted to lower the number of teams in the NL Central, but if so, wasn’t the obvious move to RETURN the Brewers to the AL? (That’s right kids, the Brewers were an AL team for the first 29 years of their existence, right up until the end of 1997.) I get the argument that Houston isn’t geographically near any of its rivals, but they have a 50-year history in the NL. And, while it is jet travel, these teams travel in a manner most of us can only dream of. Sure, it’s a drag to get on a plane and travel for 81 nights a year, but plenty of people do it without the benefit of chartered planes and five-star hotels.

What I think baseball got right is the addition of a wild card to each league, but with the critical proviso that they will play a one-game playoff versus the other wild card. Baseball instantly made September important for a lot of teams again. Now, winning the division really will matter. Last year’s Boston and Atlanta collapses aside, we have entered a lot of Septembers recently when the divisions and wild card were almost settled. I think back to 2010 when the big question for the Yankees was should they go all out to win the division, or rest players knowing they had the wild card. Now, that choice is obvious. And, the extra playoff spot gives more teams a chance. This is a great idea and it lengthens the playoffs by a single day. Congrats to MLB on nailing it.

What do you think?

Very Interesting

Caught Joe Girardi on Mike Francesca’s show today. Here are some choice moments-

He feels that AJ Burnett is making the transition from thrower to pitcher. (I’ll leave that one alone)

Girardi doesn’t know Montero’s exact role, but he thinks Montero has to “catch some” if he is with the big club. Girardi plans on using a rotating DH next year and he feels that Montero needs to be allowed to develop at catcher as well. (Not sure if this is a stance to drive up his trade value or the truth)

He thinks Joba will be back and contribute next year. (Good!)

Giardi believes Nunez’s defense troubles are because he isn’t used to playing all over the diamond. He feels that the throwing troubles came from playing a different position every day. When he left Nunez at short for a stretch or third, the throwing problems disappeared. He also said he would play him “all over the field” next year. (I think Nunez got a lot better in the field as the year progressed. But, his bat wasn’t as amazing as everyone seems to think it was.)

He has no problem hitting a different lineup against lefties and righties, especially with Cano, but he is going to look at moving him to the three spot permanently.

He mentioned that he needs to “look at” Jeter leading off next year. (Interesting, wasn’t expecting that shot to be fired across Derek’s bow now.)

He was very impressed by Noesi last year and thinks he has a bright future. Mentioned that he was in winter ball to get his innings up. (Glad he noticed that Noesi didn’t throw enough innings last year. Too bad it’s November.)

He thinks we could see Betances and Banuleos next year in the bigs. One of them could force his way onto the roster out of camp. (Good!)

When asked about Posada returning he said, “It’s probably not going to happen”. (No shock there.)

Girardi feels the big thing this offseason is getting a little more “depth” in the rotation. (Yup)

Girardi said he felt Cervelli can play every day in the bigs. (wow)

He Gets His Wish

Since Jonathan Papelbon became a Red Sox, he made it clear he wouldn’t sign a longterm deal while still eligible for arbitration and instead go for the big free agent deal. It appears that happened today with reports the Phillies have signed him for 4 years @ $50mm with a vesting 5th year option (info obtained from MLBTradeRumors.com who in turn got the info from Jim Salisbury of CSNPhilly.com).

With Papelbon gone, the Red Sox are faced with a choice of letting Daniel Bard close or go and sign a proven closer. Top candidates for the latter include Heath Bell and Ryan Madson.

You have to be happy for Papelbon because he got what he always wanted even if it means money was his sole ambition, but the Red Sox have some thinking to do and I don’t think Bobby Jenks is the answer.

A few other notes. I don’t want the Red Sox to sign Carlos Beltran, he is basically JD Drew and won’t stay healthy. I just celebrated the retirement (expected retirement) of Drew, please don’t replace him with his baseball clone. I’d prefer to let Josh Reddick and Ryan Kalish fight it out in right field or give it to Michael Cuddyer if his price tag is reasonable.

Clay Buchholz said something interesting after the season about former Red Sox pitching coach John Farrell. I’m paraphrasing but he basically said, “I talked to him as little as possible because I was afraid of the man.” That probably sums up what went wrong with this pitching staff. The cat went away and the mouse did play. Hoping they get a saber-toothed tiger for the next pitching coach.

The Yankees Will “Talk” To Everyone

More shocking news, the Yankees plan to talk to CJ Wilson. This means that they might actually have a conversation with the best free agent starter on the market. For a team that needs help in their starting rotation this would seem to make a lot of sense.

I kid, I kid and i know this is only an attempt by some columnists to fill their column inches, but really is there anyone the Yankees won’t “talk” to this offseason? They will talk to Albert Pujols and see if he wants a very short-term/low-money contract. When he says no, the talks will be over.

I don’t envy the New York baseball writers this offseason. Barring a stunning turn of events, the Yankees have done their big move this offseason already. The Mets are laying off personnel and seem likely to cut payroll big time. That means, there won’t be a lot real news to chase but those columns still have to get filled. So, expect every rumor to be magnified even more intensely than usual this offseason. By the time February rolls around we will probably have heard the Yankees linked to 95% of the players in baseball. Just keep that in mind before you overreact to any rumor.