Series Preview: Friars Honoring Their Vow To Silently Suck


The Accidental Tank: I ranted about this in my NL West season preview, but let me reiterate that Padres GM A.J. Preller is an idiot in my book. He got hired and immediately went ahead and traded the entire Padres farm system during the 2014/15 offseason for Craig Kimbrel, Matt Kemp, Derek Norris, Wil Myers, and Justin Upton. He even signed James Shields for the rotation. They went for it in 2015. And…they were mediocre. It was a complete failure. And after the season he traded Kimbrel to re-stock the farm system and let Justin Upton walk in free agency. But he didn’t do anything to improve the club. Now the Padres are among the worst teams in the league, and they seemingly have no clear direction from the top. We hear all about these teams that are intentionally “tanking” like the Braves, Reds and Phillies. But A.J. Preller doesn’t seem to get an ounce of criticism for accidentally tanking in 2016.

Padres Lately: The Padres have a crummy record at 11-17. The Padres are 24th in runs scored, 29th in OPS, and 28th in home runs. The “blame the ballpark” excuse can only be used for so long, especially considering the Padres already moved the fences in at Petco a couple years ago. It didn’t help much. The Padres were supposed to be built on rock solid pitching. But their team ERA is 4.23 and ranks at 19th in the league.

Now despite all those negative stats on the season, they just finished winning consecutive series against the Dodgers and the Rockies. Those series wins say more about the struggling Dodgers and inconsistent Rockies than they do about the quality of the Padres team. That being said, the Padres pitching staff has performed much better lately.

Pitching Matchups:

Game 1: Jacob deGrom vs. Colin Rea

Rea is a 25 year old righty pitcher with 11 career starts. He tossed a quality start and got the win against LA last week, but overall this year he’s been mediocre with a 4.61 ERA in 5 starts.

Last June, Jacob deGrom pitched 8 scoreless 2 hit innings with 8 K against the Padres at Petco. He was decent last time out against the Giants giving up zero earned runs over 6 innings, but he did let up 4 walks.

Game 2: Noah Syndergaard vs. Drew Pomeranz

Drew Pomeranz was once a highly touted prospect, but has never lived up to the hype. He spent the last two seasons in Oakland, so the Mets have limited experience against him. He is off to a nice start to the season with a 2-3 record and a stellar 2.48 ERA. He took a hard luck loss in LA last time out going 7 innings and giving up just one run. He also struck out 10 Pirates in April over 6.2 scoreless innings. He’s a lefty, so we shall see which of our lefty sluggers Terry decides to rest.

Thor faced the Padres twice during his rookie season going 1-1. He got rocked at Petco. Despite his 10 Ks in that game he gave up 7 runs and 10 hits over 4 innings. But in New York, he went 8 scoreless 3 hit innings and struck out 9 Padres.

I’m Watching You: Hopefully between starts the Mets have worked with Syndergaard on holding runners on base. The Reds and the Giants ran all over Thor in his last two starts. The Padres are a team that will run and use speed as a weapon. That being said, Thor’s issue has less to do with the teams he’s been facing and more to do with his inability to hold people on base. He should probably just strike everyone out so this won’t continue to be a problem.

Game 3: Bartolo Colon vs. James Shields

Bartolo had his shortest and most horrendous outing of 2015 at Citi Field against the Padres. He got yanked after 2.1 innings, 10 hits, and 6 runs. That being said, he’s been the Mets most consistent pitcher so far this season. He’s matching the early season success he had last year. It doesn’t matter much because the game is in San Diego, but Bartolo needs to adopt “I’m Too Sexy” as his warmup song. It’s possible he already has, but if not he needs to do it immediately.

James Shields may be 1-4 so far this season, but his 3.23 ERA is great. He’s had 5 quality starts and he’s gone 6+ innings in all 6 starts. He went 1-1 against the Mets in 2015, but he went 7 innings and gave up 3 or fewer runs both times. The current Mets have historically had very little success against James Shields. Curtis Granderson has by far the most experience against Shields. He’s 8 for 64 with 2 home runs. Asdrubal Cabrera is 6 for 24 with a home run and Duda is 2 for 6 with a home run. Yoenis Cespedes, Michael Conforto, David Wright, and Neil Walker are a combined 1 for 19 against Shields.

Game 4: Matt Harvey vs. Andrew Cashner

Cashner is 2-2 with an ugly 4.85 ERA this season. He tossed a quality start against the Rockies last time out. Lucas Duda is 2 for 8 against him, Grandy is 2 for 9 with a home run, Wright is 1 for 7 with a home run.

Matt Harvey did not face the Padres in 2015. At this point we’re nearing broken record status, but maybe this will be the week where he starts to turn his season around.

Things To Look For:

Hot Padres: Matt Kemp is batting .299 with 8 home runs. Maybe he’s rediscovering some of the magic from his 39 home run 2011 campaign? It’s more likely he’s having one good month. Wil Myers is hitting .304 with 5 home runs. I wouldn’t say Melvin Upton (The Lesser Upton) is “hot”. But he’s hitting .244, and he’s hit a few doubles and a couple dingers. He’s certainly been better than the piece of garbage we all got used to over the past few years.

Early Spring Shopping List: So after a month of baseball, I’m already preparing my in season Mets roster shopping list. I definitely think this roster could use another big time reliever, a right handed hitting bench bat that plays 1B/OF and a major league catcher. You may notice I didn’t specify major league starting catcher or backup. The Mets really need Travis d’Arnaud to come back and stay healthy. I want him to play on the Mets, and I want him to be the impact player that we’ve all seen. And even if we wanted to trade him and go in a different direction, right now his trade value is at an all time low. It’s hard to imagine the Mets pursuing a starting caliber catcher like Jonathan Lucroy, Carlos Ruiz, or even the Padres Derek Norris mid-season. But if d’Arnaud is actually out forever and Kevin Plawecki continues to do nothing at the plate, the thought needs to be entertained.

Speaking of trades, so far this season Jonathan Papelbon has sucked for the Nats and the Yankees have sucked. If the Yankees keep stinking, how terrible is it going to be when they flip the Mets off and ship Aroldis Chapman to the Nationals at the deadline? Pretty pretty pretttty terrible.

Young and Hungry, Old and Tired: I was thinking this morning how it’s funny that the young guns Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz are absolutely dealing to start the season and the slightly more experienced Jacob deGrom/Matt Harvey have battled injuries, diminished velocity and some command issues. I’m not sure what to conclude from that other than the youngest guys have a lot to prove and seemingly have come out of the gate super hungry. Jacob deGrom and Matt Harvey have a little more mileage, they blasted to all time high inning levels last season, and also they have the experience of surviving a full season. So maybe they are both starting slow due to the wear and tear combined with a conscious effort to conserve their energy for the long haul. With Harvey, it’s clearly more about the wear and tear. But deGrom is really smart, and I’m sure we will see him kick it into a higher gear as we move later in the season. I hope all four of them are performing at the highest level down the stretch when it matters most.

Tonight: The Nationals kickoff a series against the Cubs tonight. Hopefully the Cubs can remind the Nationals that they play in the NL Least and send them into a tailspin. Tonight, we kick off this 4 game set and an 11 game road trip. I don’t envy the Mets and their inevitable jet lag. For Christ’s sake I commute 30 minutes, and I battle subway lag daily. But I’m sure they’ll all just grab coffee/amphetamines and get this series started on the right foot.

Advertisements

MLB’s First World Problems: Qualifying Offers and “Tanking”

tanking

All offseason I’ve read about how the current MLB qualifying offer system as well as the practice of teams “tanking” are hurting baseball’s competitive balance while simultaneously damaging the integrity of the game.

Before I douse the hyperbolic flames supposedly engulfing MLB as a result of these two hot button topics, let me give some background on both of them.

Qualifying Offer System: The qualifying offer system is the means by which MLB ensures that a team losing a significant player to another team in free agency has a chance to get a draft pick back as compensation, thereby promoting competitive balance. Under the MLB qualifying offer rules implemented in 2012, a team can make their own prospective free agents a “qualifying offer”. A qualifying offer is a one year contract with a salary based on the average of the top 125 contracts (this offseason it was 15.8m). If a player accepts the offer, he returns to his team on the one year deal at the pre-determined salary. If he rejects that offer and signs elsewhere, the team he leaves receives draft pick compensation from the team he joins. The draft pick compensation sent by the team signing the free agent is generally their first round pick unless they were among the 10 worst teams. In that case their pick is protected and the team losing the free agent would get a supplementary pick at the end of the first round.

Consensus Gripes: For the league’s elite players, it’s an easy decision to reject these qualifying offers since the players stand to receive higher average salaries and longer term commitments on the open market. The mid-level talent has a more difficult choice because the salary being extended on the one year qualifying offer may be higher than the average amount they stand to earn in free agency, but they have to weigh that against the possibility of receiving a longer term commitment on the open market. The gripe has been that the association with draft pick compensation has significantly hurt the value of certain free agents and often times prevented these players from receiving the long term deal they anticipated.

My Beef: Listen, there is no denying that the tie to draft pick compensation has hurt the value of certain free agents this offseason. The most prominent example of a player still unsigned who is supposedly being affected by the qualifying offer is Ian Desmond, a SS with a strong albeit flawed track record. Desmond has been one of the most productive offensive SS in the game between 2012 and 2015 hitting 19 or more home runs in each season. However his defense is nothing short of awful. He grades out as one of the worst defenders at his position over that timeframe. And last season in his walk year, his offense fell off as well. He hit .233 with a .674 OPS. He also failed to steal 20 bases for the first time since 2011. A month ago, there were more examples of solid players still seeking employment which highlighted the alleged impact of the qualifying offer on the market. But in the last 2 weeks, pitcher Yovani Gallardo and CF Dexter Fowler signed 3 year 35 million dollar deals with the Orioles. One could argue these deals were slightly below market value, but in my opinion they were close enough that both signings dealt a blow to the qualifying offer detractors.

But let’s operate under the assumption that the markets for Fowler, Gallardo, and Desmond were negatively impacted by the qualifying offer. Maybe these players aren’t getting the contract offers they want because front offices are currently overvaluing draft picks. Maybe they aren’t getting paid because teams are valuing defense so highly that they prefer to divert resources towards players that have a strong defensive track record. Hell, the offensive resume of Jason Heyward isn’t that far off from that of Dexter Fowler. But Dexter Fowler has always been a below average defensive CF and Heyward got 184 million dollars primarily for his glove. Another possible explanation for the lack of offers could be that teams are simply using the qualifying offer system as an excuse to actively drive down the price tags for mid-level free agents. After all, there are unlimited examples of teams getting burned by handing out long term deals to mid-level players of this ilk. Two outfielders that comes to mind are Michael Bourn and Nick Swisher who both signed 4 year deals with the Indians during the 2012 offseason. Both were mid-level talents in their early 30s that signed long term deals, and both turned out to be complete busts.

The reason Gallardo, Fowler, and Desmond failed to get their desired contracts is probably some combination of all the factors I mentioned above. But do we really want a remodeled draft pick compensation system that ensures these types of players continue to get overpaid in free agency? After all, expensive guaranteed contracts for players that go bust are among the most debilitating obstacles for a mid-market club to overcome. Teams have been overpaying mid-level players based on their past performance for a long time, and quite frankly its been refreshing to see less of that under the current rules even though it’s been an unintended consequence of the system.

I’ve also seen the claim that the qualifying offer unfairly impacts small market teams because of how important the draft is to their long term strategy. They are less inclined to go after a player tied to draft pick compensation because they stand to lose the first round pick as well as the pool money associated with their slot in the draft. This argument makes sense, but I am not exactly sure how a new system would fix the disadvantage of small market teams. Jon Morosi put forth some interesting hypothetical proposals that could be considered under the new CBA. Generally speaking, any new proposal would limit the number of teams forced to give up their pick by creating a system that disincentives the extension of a qualifying offer. I may be going out on a limb here, but if we create a new system where the tie to draft pick compensation is less prevalent, and therefore the market for mid-level players is no longer depressed, wouldn’t the expanded market for these players lead to the small market teams being priced out anyway?

And all you have to do is look at the NFL to see how much worse things could be. At least MLB’s problem only has a minor financial impact on the mid-level talent. In the NFL, the best players can be extended the exclusive franchise tag which is essentially a one-year contract for an amount no less than the average of the top five salaries at the player’s position. In that situation the player cannot negotiate with other teams on a longer term deal. In a sport where injuries are so prevalent and prime earning years are so scarce, you would think such a owner/team friendly tactic would be contested by the NFL Player’s Union in their CBA. But it still remains intact and regularly stops some of the NFL’s best players from cashing in at the earliest possible point in their career. Let’s at least be grateful that under our current CBA, former star players like Albert Pujols, Alex Rodriguez, and CC Sabathia can get significantly overpaid well into the twilight years of their career.

I just think in the end, the qualifying offer dilemma is such a first world problem in the sports world. The financial impact to these mid-level players is so insignificant when you look at it with the backdrop of a baseball industry with players making billions.  Despite that fact, the MLB Players Association will surely overhaul the entire system to get these middling talents what typically amounts to one extra year of guaranteed money.

Tanking Controversy Overview: I went into this in some detail in a February 9th post. I think the claims being made across the league that teams are actively “tanking” to rebuild their franchises are being overblown by the owners of big market MLB teams because they don’t like sharing revenues with rebuilding clubs.

There are undoubtedly a large number of teams in the league currently in the midst of a rebuilding effort. This is nothing new. It just so happens that the current rebuilding teams are using what the Cubs and Astros did as their blueprint for success. These two teams spent 3-5 years among the worst in the sport and collected high draft picks as a result. With the talent they acquired through the draft and through trades, the Cubs and Astros have returned to a competitive state once again.

As I pointed out on February 9th, the MLB draft doesn’t have a top heavy talent distribution with a diminishing overall player value as you get lower in the first round. And there’s been very little recent evidence to show that a top pick in the draft guarantees a star player. This “tanking” phenomenon has really been just the latest example of how intelligent executives find a way to game the system. Before 2012, the MLB draft did not have a rigid slotting system with spending caps. So the most talented players would demand extremely high bonuses that were loosely regulated under league rules. As a result of that, players represented by agents like Scott Boras would frequently make their bonus demands known before the draft and the small market teams that had high picks would literally pass on the top talent because they could not afford to meet their contract demands. It wasn’t a matter of gaming the old system because it was essentially rigged in favor of the big market clubs. In order to rectify this competitive imbalance, Major League Baseball negotiated a slotting system in 2012 that assigned teams spending caps according to where they pick in the draft. Just like that, the league made it impossible for big market teams to buy the draft. And now the best talent is consistently and appropriately being selected at the top of the draft board.

Consensus Gripes: So the tanking argument centers on the belief that teams who know they won’t be competitive in the coming season are refusing to add talent through free agency and are purposely designing flawed rosters to ensure they get top draft picks which are allotted the largest spending limits. And it is pretty clear that this is going on to varying degrees in the sport.

My Beef: What’s the big deal? We know why the Union is mad. They don’t like that the “tanking” teams are not spending on mediocre free agents that can marginally improve their team. The big market clubs/owners are mad because the “tanking” teams aren’t reinvesting shared revenues in their on field product.

But do we really want a league full of Padres, Rockies, White Sox, and Tigers? These are mediocre teams that are refusing to embrace the reality that their team is not going to win as currently designed. When these teams suck in 2016, do they deserve more credit than the “tanking” Braves and Brewers because they ultimately spent some money on free agents and fielded a slightly less flawed roster? Do we want to discourage rebuilding? 3 to 5 years of poor play that leads to 3 to 5 years of success seems more desirable than 6-10 years of mediocrity. Just look at the Rockies. The Rockies stink. The Rockies could trade Charlie Blackmon and Carlos Gonzalez for 5 prospects, but instead they are doing some kind of half-assed rebuild. They traded Troy Tulowitzki and Corey Dickerson, but kept the rest of their players electing to be mediocre again. What if the league designs a system that discourages these types of rebuilding strategies? Would it stop trades for prospects like the ones where the Mets traded R.A. Dickey and Carlos Beltran to net Noah Syndergaard, Travis d’Arnaud and Zack Wheeler?

And again this is such a first world problem relative to other sports. In a league with incredible parity, do we really want to make massive overhauls to the way teams set themselves up for sustainable success? Just look at the NBA and the real tanking problem that exists there. We talk about MLB tanking, but in the NBA, fans get upset when their dog-doo team wins one game in the final week of the season if it changes their draft lottery odds. We talk about how tanking in MLB hurts the competitive balance, but did we even take a second to look at the state of the NBA? Right now NBA fans looking for a conservative investment would be better off blowing out their 401k and “investing” in a Cavs vs. Warrior NBA Finals matchup. If you are looking for a little more risk, but still an overall conservative position, just bet on the Warriors to win it all. I mean it’s almost laughable for MLB owners, executives, and experts to be complaining about the MLB competitive balance when the NBA legitimately has a guaranteed champion in February.

In the end, I am not denying the existence of these two issues in MLB. They exist and when the collective bargaining agreement is renegotiated next year, changes will undoubtedly be made to address them. All I am saying is, when your sport has the most powerful player’s union, the most parity, and 9 billion in revenue, let’s just make sure we don’t overhaul things too much. After all, the owners and executives will all just find a way to game the new system anyway.

Update (2/25/16): Since I posted this, Yovani Gallardo supposedly failed his physical with the Orioles despite having no major known medical issues. As a result his 3 year 35 million dollar deal became a 2 year deal with an option. I think this goes to my claim above that teams are using the qualifying offer system as an excuse to actively drive down the price tags for mid-level free agents. I player with no market for his services and no injury history agrees to a market rate contract and then promptly fails his physical providing the signing team with more bargaining power? Sounds very fishy. Also Dexter Fowler backed out of a 3 year deal with the Orioles to return to the Cubs on a 1 year deal. To me this says very little about the qualifying offer and more about Fowler following his heart like Cespedes did with the Mets. But trust me the lack of market for both players is going to be blamed fully on the qualifying offer.

Weekly Roundup: Clippard Scurries Off; Cry Baby Owners Hate Sharing


Clippard Scurries Off To Arizona: Well after more than 6 months of darting along the subway tracks, battling pigeons for food scraps, and being chased by stray cats, Tyler Clippard (aka Rat-Face, aka Splinter) has officially departed New York City for Arizona where he’ll now need to be on the lookout for rattlesnakes, coyotes, and other dangerous desert predators.

Clip was arguably one of the most unusual free agent cases this offseason. Other than Darren O’Day (2.31 career ERA) and Joakim Soria (2.58 career ERA), Clippard had the best resume of any reliever available. Yet he had to settle for a 2 year deal. We saw O’Day sign a 4 year deal, Soria sign a 3 year deal, and Tony Sipp sign a 3 year deal. Even Ryan Madson, who was never as effective as Clippard in his career and had been out of baseball from 2012-2014 due to injury, scored a 3 year deal. Yet for some reason teams were scared away from Clippard because his K/9 was slightly down in 2015 along with his velocity in September. I guess the experts have their reasons for being down on Clippard, but I wish him the best. He had a bad World Series but so did the entire Mets team.

Cry Baby Owners Hate Sharing: There were a lot of articles written last week about all the “concerns” MLB owners have with the number of teams that are “tanking” and how it negatively impacts the integrity of the game. The owners want to put a stop to it and plan to talk about it during the next collective bargaining negotiation and blah blah blah.

Translation: The owners of big market MLB teams don’t like sharing revenues with small market teams that are rebuilding.

First of all, “tanking” in baseball is not a real thing. Unlike the NBA and NFL draft, the MLB draft doesn’t have the same top heavy talent distribution with a diminishing overall player value as you get lower in the first round. Ken Griffey Jr. was the first number 1 overall selection in the draft to ever get elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Second, the Astros have seemingly become the poster child for the success of MLB teams that “tank” because they had the worst record for 3 straight seasons (2011-2013) and then made the playoffs last season. As a result of their horrendous stretch from 2011-2013, the Astros drafted Carlos Correa, Mark Appel, and Brady Aiken first overall in three consecutive drafts. Correa may wind up being one of the best position players in the league. That being said, Mark Appel just got traded for reliever Ken Giles and the Astros never even came to terms with Aiken on a contract. So it’s hardly fair to attribute their success last season to their “tanking strategy”.

Finally, we all need to stop living in a fantasy world. This has nothing to do with “tanking” and everything to do with the big market teams being bitter that they can no longer buy the top young talent in the draft. Remember how the system used to work? No? Well before 2012 there wasn’t a rigid slotting system with spending caps. So the most talented players would demand extremely high bonuses that were loosely regulated under league rules. As a result of that, players represented by agents like Scott Boras would frequently make their bonus demands known before the draft and the small market teams that had high picks would literally pass on the top talent because they could not afford to meet their contract demands. A prominent example was in 2004 when Jered Weaver, a consensus top 3 pick fell to the big market Angels at 12 because of his anticipated bonus. Small market clubs like the Rays, Brewers, Rockies, and Pirates all passed on him.

In order to rectify this competitive imbalance, Major League Baseball negotiated a slotting system in 2012 that assigned teams spending caps according to where they pick in the draft. Just like that, the league made it impossible for big market teams to buy the draft. And now that the best talent is consistently and appropriately being selected at the top of the draft board, the big market owners want to turn to…ping pong balls.

They say, “The draft isn’t working! Let’s just toss away the entire system and make it a lottery!” After all, that’s the only way they’ll have a chance to get that precious top slot money.

It’s a complete joke. If tomorrow the owners were allowed to stop sharing revenues with the small market “tanking” teams, the complaints about the integrity of the game would cease overnight.

Final Mets Notes: It was reported last week that smokeless tobacco could be banned from Yankee stadium and Citi Field this season. Great. The last thing we need is Matt Harvey having nicotine withdrawal fits on the mound come April.