November 22, 2014

WINTER ROSTER

The Cubs added RHP C.J. Edwards to the protected 40 man roster. The Cubs 40 man roster stands at 39, which means the team has one space to fill via free agency or selecting another team's unprotected player at the winter meetings in December.

It also means that despite the hype of making a lot of moves, the Cubs are probably going to do just one (and most likely not a major move).

# Pitchers B/T Ht Wt DOB
49 Jake Arrieta R-R 6'4" 225 Mar 6, 1986
32 Dallas Beeler R-R 6'5" 210 Jun 12, 1989
22 Felix Doubront L-L 6'2" 225 Oct 23, 1987

C.J. Edwards R-R 6'2" 155 Sep 3, 1991
52 Justin Grimm R-R 6'3" 210 Aug 16, 1988
28 Kyle Hendricks R-R 6'3" 190 Dec 7, 1989
36 Edwin Jackson R-R 6'3" 210 Sep 9, 1983
43 Eric Jokisch R-L 6'2" 185 Jul 29, 1989

Joseph Ortiz L-L 5'7" 175 Aug 13, 1990
50 Blake Parker R-R 6'3" 225 Jun 19, 1985
54 Neil Ramirez R-R 6'4" 190 May 25, 1989

Donn Roach R-R 6'0" 195 Dec 14, 1989
56 Hector Rondon R-R 6'3" 180 Feb 26, 1988
59 Zac Rosscup R-L 6'2" 205 Jun 9, 1988
63 Brian Schlitter R-R 6'5" 235 Dec 21, 1985
19 Dan Straily R-R 6'2" 215 Dec 1, 1988
46 Pedro Strop R-R 6'1" 220 Jun 13, 1985
38 Jacob Turner R-R 6'5" 215 May 21, 1991
67 Tsuyoshi Wada L-L 5'11" 180 Feb 21, 1981
37 Travis Wood R-L 5'11" 175 Feb 6, 1987
53 Wesley Wright R-L 5'11" 185 Jan 28, 1985
# Catchers B/T Ht Wt DOB
12 John Baker L-R 6'1" 215 Jan 20, 1981
5 Welington Castillo R-R 5'10" 210 Apr 24, 1987
51 Rafael Lopez L-R 5'9" 190 Oct 2, 1987
# Infielders B/T Ht Wt DOB
7 Arismendy Alcantara S-R 5'10" 170 Oct 29, 1991
9 Javier Baez R-R 6'0" 190 Dec 1, 1992
13 Starlin Castro R-R 6'0" 190 Mar 24, 1990

Tommy La Stella L-R 5'11" 185 Jan 31, 1989
30 Mike Olt R-R 6'2" 210 Aug 27, 1988
44 Anthony Rizzo L-L 6'3" 240 Aug 8, 1989
24 Luis Valbuena L-R 5'10" 200 Nov 30, 1985
61 Christian Villanueva R-R 5'11" 210 Jun 19, 1991
45 Logan Watkins L-R 5'11" 195 Aug 29, 1989
# Outfielders B/T Ht Wt DOB
8 Chris Coghlan L-R 6'0" 195 Jun 18, 1985
21 Junior Lake R-R 6'3" 215 Mar 27, 1990
20 Justin Ruggiano R-R 6'1" 210 Apr 12, 1982
68 Jorge Soler R-R 6'4" 215 Feb 25, 1992
6 Ryan Sweeney L-L 6'4" 225 Feb 20, 1985
41 Matt Szczur R-R 6'1" 195 Jul 20, 1989


If there are players on the roster "bubble" (could easily be cut or waived to sign another player), there any many to choose from:

Watkins seems to be expendable since the Cubs just acquired LaStella.
Villanueva and Olt seem to be expendable when Kris Bryant hits the majors.
Szczur and Lake have not shown any consistent production to stick as a 5th outfielder.

So the Cubs have potentially five (5) additional 40 man roster spots available to upgrade their spring training roster. But if recent history is any tell, they are not anxious to pull the trigger on any substantial changes. One spot has to go to Bryant. Another spot may be for Addison Russell.

The above roster is the blueprint for 2015. Depth is still an issue. Young players adjusting to the majors is another issue.

As it stands today, the rotation seems to be Arrieta, Hendricks, Jackson, Wada, Wood with Turner, Doubront and Straily as injury replacements. This would be a downgrade from the 2014 starting rotation (Samardzjia and Hammel).

An outfield of Coghlan/Ruggiano, Alcantara and Soler is suspect.

The infield has Castro and Rizzo, but can Baez play better at second? Is Valbuena going to stay as a bench player until Bryant is called up in June - - - or will the team trade him at the winter meetings (thus allowing Olt to be the caretaker)?

November 21, 2014

WHO IS GONNA WIN?

In a financial duel for star pitcher Jon Lester, who is going to win?

The Cubs. The Cardinals. The Braves. The Red Sox.

Fans "think" the Cubs have money to burn on star free agents. But nothing has materialized in the last few years. The powder is not dry; it has blown away.

The Cardinals have an interesting budget twist. With Kyle Lohse only making $500,000 on his last front loaded deal, the Cardinals have his "market value" of $10 million as a starter available plus Shelby Miller's potential arb value (another $6 million or so), so St. Louis has free cap space of $16 million to start the bidding for Lester.

The Braves have a new front office after GM Wren's firing, so there may be some incentive to make a big opening splash. The Braves have had a recent history of injured starters. The Cubs sending back Vizcaino for a nominal second baseman may be some insurance. With Medlin and Beachy coming off Tommy John surgeries, the rotation seems it needs a huge shot in the arm.

The Red Sox can be aggressive and they have the best history with Lester. He always said he would be open to returning to Boston. If so, then the trade was a great one for the Red Sox, who acquired Cespedes from Oakland.

It comes down to which team is ready, willing and able to handle a "bad" big money contract (because 70 percent turn out bad)?

I suspect the tale of the tape will be Red Sox, Cardinals, Braves then Cubs running last in a three horse race.

November 20, 2014

THE DUKE OF SANDWICHES

The White Sox bullpen was horrible last season. A priority was to fix it.

GM Rick Hahn started by signing LHP Zach Duke for 3 years/$15 million.

The immediate local reaction was that was pretty high cost to get a lefty relief pitcher.

Duke posted his best season year for the Brewers with a stellar 5-1 record, 2.45 ERA, 1.125 WHIP in 74 games of relief. A product of the Pirates system, the former starteris with his 6th team in his 10 year career. He sports a career 7.9 WAR, with 1.2 WAR for 2014.

Duke, 31, puts some veteran stability in the young bullpen.  Most would suspect that pitching guru Don Cooper can keep Duke pitching at this year's level.

But the contract seems long and expensive first puzzle piece for the White Sox.

Ever since the Dodgers ownership change, and the billion dollar TV deal (which has gone badly for the cable partner), baseball contract prices have skyrocketed even for marginal players. In Duke's case, if you use $5 million/WAR, his "value" is $6 million for 2015. He took a value discount to get two extra years. Player agents are now more concerned about the number of years than the average salary.

The White Sox bullpen is still its weak spot.  The Depth Chart:

Closer: Petricka
Set Up: Jones
Relievers: Duke, Belisario, Webb, Putnam, Guerra, Cleto, Snodgress, Carroll, Surkamp.

November 19, 2014

RULE 5 CUBS

The Cubs protected 40 man roster stands at 38.

In order to protect minor league prospects who have accumulated enough service time in the minors to be eligible for the December winter meetings Rule 5 draft have to be promoted to the 40 man roster.  However, most likely, the Cubs hold open two major league roster spots for potential free agent signings.

If not, the Cubs can only protect two (2) players from this list. (With teams not taking very many players in the Rule 5 draft, since that player must be kept on the team's active 25 man roster for the entire 2015 season or lose him, the chances of the Cubs losing a player is remote.)  However, the one guy that pops out as a possibility is RHP C.J. Edwards.

CUBS MINOR LEAGUE PLAYERS ELIGIBLE FOR SELECTION IN DECEMBER 2014 RULE 5 DRAFT (last updated 11-3-2014):

Gilberto Abreu, RHP
Gioskar Amaya, INF
John Andreoli, OF
Jeffry Antigua, LHP
Delbis Arcila, OF
Jeffrey Baez, OF
Frank Batista, RHP
Marcelo Carreno, RHP
Zach Cates, RHP
Hunter Cervenka, LHP
Pin-Chieh Chen, OF
Gerardo Concepcion, LHP (Article XX-D player - can elect free-agency if drafted & then later re-claimed by Cubs)
Willson Contreras, C
Blake Cooper, RHP
Wes Darvill, INF
Taylor Davis, C
Alberto Diaz, LHP
C. J. Edwards, RHP
Kevin Encarnacion, OF
Luis Flores, C
P. J. Francescon, RHP
Humberto Garcia, INF
Victor Garcia, LHP
Dustin Geiger, INF
Anthony Giansanti, OF
Jae-Hoon Ha, OF
Marco Hernandez, INF
Michael Jensen, RHP
Austin Kirk, LHP
Matt Loosen, RHP
Jeff Lorick, LHP
Barret Loux, RHP
Dillon Maples, RHP
Andrew McKirahan, LHP
Trey McNutt, RHP (Article XX-D player - can elect free-agency if drafted & then later re-claimed by Cubs)
Alberto Mineo, C
Yoanner Negrin, RHP
Carlos Penalver, INF
Felix Pena, RHP
Starling Peralta, RHP (Article XX-D player - can elect free-agency if drafted & then later re-claimed by Cubs)
Ivan Pineyro, RHP
Austin Reed, RHP
Jose Rosario, RHP
Julio Sanchez, RHP
Tayler Scott, RHP
Rock Shoulders, 1B
Rubi Silva, OF
Brian Smith, LHP
Elliot Soto, INF
Antonio Valerio, C
Yao-Lin Wang, RHP
Ben Wells, RHP
Tony Zych, RHP

November 18, 2014

CHEAPER BY THE PEN

If you are in the camp that the Ricketts ownership is trending towards being "cheap" or "cost effective" in running a major league franchise, then Paul Sullivan's recent column should add wood to your hot stove position.

Sullivan extracts from the last World Series a new vision for how a team can be a contender without an All-Star starting rotation: have a "shut down" bullpen.

Sullivan wrote that the Giants won the World Series this year with a rotation that ranked 16th in the majors, while the runner up Royals team's rotation finished 11th overall.

Sullivan asks this miserly question: So why spend over $100 million on a free-agent starter when an average rotation combined with a few shutdown relievers in the seventh, eighth and ninth seemingly works just as well?
That is the type of "out of the box" thinking that an owner with cash flow problems and large looming construction bills would pounce on.

With relievers David Robertson, Andrew Miller and Sergio Romo are among the free agent relievers in demand this winter, the all project far less in contract costs than a Jon Lester or a Max Scherzer.

Cubs president Theo Epstein believes the Cub already have a strong bullpen with Justin Grimm, Neil Ramirez and closer Hector Rondon in the late innings, making that area less of a priority this off-season.

“One thing I always worry about is looking at the postseason and trying to draw broader conclusions about those teams,” Epstein said. “In the postseason, a lock down bullpen becomes more important because with the off days those guys are available to pitch every day and pitch more than they would during the regular season. And it’s a lower run-scoring environment in the postseason.

“So certain things become more important. But also, if you want to have a good back end of the bullpen, getting a lot of innings out of starting pitching takes the burden off those relievers, and means your best relievers are available to pitch more often and stay healthy.

“I think this was a postseason where maybe the bullpens took center stage more than the starting pitchers, but if you look at what (Madison) Bumgarner did, it also emphasizes just how impactful a true No. 1 on a roll can be in October.

“I just think next year, a (World Series) team may not generate much offense except hit a bunch of home runs, and everyone will say, ‘The long ball is king these days because no one has power.’ You have to be a little careful.”

But the Cubs may not have to go outside the organization to bolster the bullpen. RHP Armando Rivero, who posted a combined 2.22 earned-run average and 1.09 WHIP at Double-A Tennessee and Triple-A Iowa, should be one of the first call-ups if he continues to pitch well.

November 17, 2014

BIG DEAL GRADES

The International Business Times recently graded the top free agent contracts in the last 10 years.

  1. Alex Rodriguez, 32, 3B, New York Yankees, 10 years $275 million: Among the worst contracts ever, considering there is three years left and Rodriguez has totaled just 41 home runs since 2011. Verdict: Bad deal.
  2. Albert Pujols, 31, 1B, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, 10 years $250 million: He hasn’t made an All-Star appearance since leaving St. Louis despite posting good numbers, though well below what he previously achieved. Verdict: Bad deal.
  3. Robinson Cano, 31, 2B, Seattle Mariners, 10 years $240 million: Replicated his BA and on-base percentage, OBP, from the previous year, though his slugging percentage dipped from .516 to .454. Verdict: Undecided.
  4. Prince Fielder, 26, 1B, Detroit Tigers, nine years $214 million: Failed to hit more than 30 home runs in a season after doing so for five straight years and played just 42 games in 2014. Verdict: Bad deal.
  5. Mark Teixeira, 28, 1B, New York Yankees, eight years $180 million: Hit at least 33 home runs with 108 RBI in each of his first three years, but hit .229, averaging 16 home runs and 53 RBI over the next three years. Verdict: Bad deal.
  6. CC Sabathia, 28, P, New York Yankees, seven years $161 million: The team’s ace for four seasons, but he’s been a disaster since opting out and signing an extension, pitching just eight games in 2014. Verdict: Bad deal.
  7. Masahiro Tanaka, 25, P, New York Yankees, seven years $155 million: A Cy Young candidate through two months, an injury limited him to 20 starts and could force him to have Tommy John surgery. Verdict: Undecided.
  8. Jacoby Ellsbury, 30, OF, New York Yankees, seven years $153 million: Led the Yankees in steals and remained healthy for most of the season, but hit well below his career OBP at .328. Verdict: Undecided.
  9. Zack Greinke, 29, P, Los Angeles Dodgers, six years $147 million: Registered two of his three lowest ERA’s with the Dodgers, winning 32 games in two seasons. Verdict: Good deal.
  10. Carl Crawford, 28, OF, Boston Red Sox, seven years $142 million: Boston traded Crawford after a year and a half, and he hasn’t played more than 116 games in any of the past three seasons. Verdict: Bad deal.
  11. Alfonso Soriano, 30, OF, Chicago Cubs, eight years $136 million: OPS never reached .900 in the entire contract. Stolen bases declined as soon as he joined Chicago. Verdict: Bad deal.
  12. Shin-Soo Choo, 31, OF, Texas Rangers, seven years $130 million: Missed 39 games and hit just .242 with a .374 slugging percentage. Verdict: Bad deal.
  13. Barry Zito, 28, P, San Francisco Giants, seven years $126 million: Went from one of the best pitchers in baseball to a back-of-the-order starter. Finished with an awful 63-80 record and a 4.62 ERA. Verdict: Bad deal.
  14. Jayson Werth, 30, OF, Washington Nationals, seven years $126 million: Has a .303 average over the past three years, but he hit .232 in year No. 1 and missed half of the 2012 season. Verdict Bad deal.
  15. Josh Hamilton, 30, OF, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, five years $123 million: Saw his home run total cut in half to 21 in year No. 1, and only played in 89 games in year No. 2. Verdict: Bad deal.
  16. Cliff Lee, 31, P, Philadelphia Phillies, five years $120 million: Started just 13 games in 2014, but was an All-Star in 2011 and 2013.Verdict: Good deal.
  17. Matt Holliday, 29, OF, St. Louis Cardinals, seven years $120 million: Consistently good on winning teams, Holliday has three All-Star appearances since signing this contract. Verdict: Good deal.
  18. Carlos Beltran, 27, OF, New York Mets, seven years $119 million: Injuries hampered Beltran for stretches, but in 3,300 at-bats, he batted .282 with 202 homers -- good numbers but not worth the contract. Verdict: Bad deal.
  19. Jose Reyes, 27, SS, Miami Marlins, six years $106 million: Hasn’t hit .300 since winning the batting title, averaging 28 steals, 79 runs and 132 games per season. Verdict: Bad deal.
  20. Carlos Lee, 30, OF, Houston Astros, six years $100 million: First half of the contract went fine with a batting average well over .300 and 86 total homers, but it was poor numbers from there on out. Verdict: Bad deal.
The results of the Top 20:

Bad Deal: 14
Undecided: 3
Good Deal: 3

A whopping 70 percent of the major free agent signings turn out to be bad deals.

November 14, 2014

STANTON AND DELIVER

Giancarlo Stanton could be argued as the best major league baseball player in the NL (Clayton Kershaw fans excepted). Stanton, 25, has amassed a 21.2 career WAR in just 5 seasons, an average of 4.24 WAR/season. In his first year of arbitration, he was awarded $6.5 million. He has two arb years left before FA in 2017.

He is expected to break the bank either way. Several reports state that the Marlins are hot to get Stanton signed for a long, long term deal. ESPN reports it could be a 12 year $300 million deal, while CBS Sports thinks the number could be 13 years $320 million. This is record shattering territory.

Stanton commands these high numbers because of his consistent performance. Season WAR totals: 2.8, 4.1, 5.5, 2.3, and 6.5.  His career average for a 162 game season: 39 HR, 102 RBI, .271 BA.

If one uses $5 million/WAR valuation, then Stanton being paid $6.5 million in 2014 was a steal. His performance value would have been $32.5 million. Even if Stanton's arbitration award doubles, he is still only getting paid half his value.

So it may be in the best interests of the player (and his agent) to tap the current controlled value into a long term deal. Teams only do long term deals if it is advantageous to it. The Marlins are a terrible dysfunctional organization with a cheap and arrogant owner. The team burned Miami taxpayers on a new stadium deal; had a fire sale of their veteran talent; and even fired Ozzie Guillen early in his contract term (some of that was Ozzie being Ozzie). Stanton is the one and only shining grace for the franchise.

If one uses the qualifying offer amount of $15.3 million as the floor to negotiations for a top player like Stanton, even a short term extension through his arbitration plus one year of FA would cost the Marlins $46 million. It would be a pay increase for the player, but still very undervalued even at average career WAR ($63.6 million). So the team has to pay a premium to keep Stanton for any free agent year. And it seems to top tier number is Kershaw's $25 million per season number.

Stanton could sign a three year extension for $75 million and hit the free agent market at age 28 for an A-Rod shattering next deal. It comes down to reward of a higher pay day against the risk of premature injury prior to free agency.

In 2012, the Marlins had the 7th highest payroll at $118 million. Then the fire sale, and dropped to the bottom at $36 million in 2013 and $46 million in 2014. Even under the short extension play above, the Marlins would be paying Stanton more than 50% of their payroll on one player. Throughout sports leagues, putting so much capital in one player is dangerous and at times, counterproductive (look at the Bulls and injured Derek Rose who eats of 36% of the team's cap space).

But keeping Stanton may be the Marlins only way to save the franchise from total ruin.

I would expect that any long term deal would be stair-stepped in value (putting more on the back end) hoping that the Marlins could catch fire and be playoff competitive (which equates to more gross revenue). A 10 year extension could be (in millions): $15, 20, 25, 25, 30, 30, 35, 35, 40, 40. That makes the deal worth $295 million. Stanton would become a rich free agent at age 35, and depending on his condition, he could get a Victor Martinez final deal of 4 year/$68 million. 

In any event, there will be no charitable tag days ahead for Stanton.

But based upon his statistical value, Stanton has a limited market in trade or in free agency. Very few teams are willing to spend $200 million on one player. Teams would rather keep their top prospects than trade them for expensive veterans. Even the Dodgers and Angels have overspent in the last few seasons, and they now have payroll digestive problems.

A player is worth what the market will bear. Stanton is going to stretch that market to its outer limits.