Archive for November 2010

Los Angeles Dodgers Sign Jon Garland

November 27, 2010

The Dodgers just signed Jon Garland for 2011 at $5 million with $3 million in performance incentives and a guaranteed $8 million in 2012 if he pitches 190 innings in 2011.  My first thought on hearing this was Garland must want to play in L.A. next year.

The Padres paid Garland $4.7 million in 2010.  He went 14-12 with a 3.47 ERA and an even 200 innings pitched.  The Padres offered Garland arbitration, which meant he likely would have made at least $7 million or $8 million in 2011 through that process.  Given that, you have to think the Padres would have matched or bettered the Dodgers’ offer if the opportunity had been given to them.

My second thought was the Dodgers are going to have a great rotation 2011.  It know looks like the rotation will now be Clayton Kershaw, Chad Billingsley, Hiroki Kuroda, Ted Lilly and Garland.  That looks plenty strong.

I may not be a fan of the Dodgers, but I am certainly a fan of the 2011 prospects for Kershaw and Billingsley.  They are both under 27 and have had consistently fine ratios throughout their careers.

At this moment, you’d have to prefer Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain, but I certainly won’t be surprised if Kershaw and Billingsley ended up with the combined better performance in 2011.  In fact, I’d probably handicap it only 55/45 in favor of the Giants’ aces.

Kuroda and Lilly are getting up there in years, and you have to expect them to decline in 2011.  However, both have been consistently strong in each of the last three seasons, so it’s reasonably likely their combined performance won’t be much worse than 2010, if they stay healthy.

I’m not a big fan of Jon Garland, but it’s hard to see much daylight between him and Barry Zito.  As fifth starters, you could do a lot worse.

As is often (usually?) the case, it will probably come down to which of the Giants’ or Dodgers’ rotation stays healthier.  The Giants’ starters were exceptionally healthy in 2010 (only Todd Wellemeyer got hurt, and that allowed for the promotion of phenom Madison Bumgarner).  You have to figure the law of averages is going to catch up with the Giants in 2011.

Obviously, the Dodgers’ rotation is even more likely to break down, with Garland at 31, Lilly at 35 and Kuroda at 36 next season.  In fact, it may come down to which of the two teams can come up with the best sixth starter if and when someone in the starting five goes down.

Not really surprising the Dodgers would go after Garland.  With the Giants defending World Champions, every team in the division figures it has to have a strong starting five if they’re going to compete in 2011.

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Whoever Signs Adrian Beltre Will Regret It

November 12, 2010

I saw a post on mlbtraderumors.com quoting uber-agent Scott Boras as stating he has never seen more interest in a player than he is currently receiving for client Adrian Beltre.  Most likely, that is just puffery by Boras, who well understands how important it is to throw as much bull up against the wall as possible, since at least some of it will stick in the minds of MLB’s general managers.

One thing is for certain, though.  Whoever signs Beltre will pay top dollar.  That is the first, second and last thing 90% of the players who choose Boras as their agent are looking for.

Whoever ponies up for Beltre will likely regret it.  Don’t get me wrong — on balance Beltre is a fine 3Bman, but whoever signs him will almost certainly pay way more than what he’ll actually be worth for the life of the contract.

Beltre is essentially a great defensive 3Bman, who is no better than mediocre or a little above average as an offensive player, except that he has had two fantastic seasons with the bat completely out of line with his career norms.

Beltre established himself as a major league regular at age 20 in 1999, and for the first two years he absolutely looked like he would be a future superstar, posting OPS numbers of .780 at age 20 and .835 at age 21.

Then he hit a wall, posting OPS numbers over the next three seasons of .720, .729 and .714.  Those are decent numbers for a 3Bman with Beltre’s glove, but hardly what you look for in a superstar or even a player who can carry a team.

At age 25, Beltre finally broke out and looked like he was going to be the superstar everyone had predicted and been waiting on since the late ’90’s.  He hit .334 with 48 HRs and a 1.017 OPS, while playing his home games at Dodger Stadium, a grave yard for hitters.

The Mariners rewarded Beltre with a five-year contract for $64 million after his monster 2004 season.  In the greater scheme of MLB, that really isn’t that much money, and Beltre played reasonably well for the money the first four season as a Mariner, posting OPS numbers of .716, .792, .802 and .784.

Again, you can build a winning team with a 3Bman with those offensive numbers who fields like Beltre.  However, it’s worth noting that the M’s failed to make the post season in any of Beltre’s five seasons in Seattle and finished under .500 three of those five seasons.  Thus, it’s difficult to argue the Mariners got what they were paying for when the signed Beltre.

In 2009, Beltre’s OPS fell to an ugly .683, and given the bad state of the economy, the Red Sox were able to sign Beltre for a one-year deal at $9 million.  The Red Sox figured that Beltre, who was still only 31 in 2010, would have an offensive bounce moving from Safeco Field to Fenway. The Red Sox were right, and Beltre had a terrific season, hitting .328 with 79 extra base hits and posting a .919 OPS.

Odds are Beltre will never post an OPS over .900 again.  Beltre was 31 in 2010, which, at least before the Age of Steroids, was usually the last year of a player’s prime seasons.  Beltre probably won’t be playing his home games in a hitters’ park as good as Fenway next year, and with eight seasons in his career below an .800 OPS and only two above an .850 OPS, you have to figure that Beltre will be lucky to have even one season significantly over .800 on the multi-year deal he’s likely to sign.

The only way I can see Beltre being worth the money he’s going to get on this contract is if the team that signs him is a 3Bman away from post-season success in the next two or three seasons. Otherwise, they’ll likely regret the contract, the same way the Mariners did.

Oakland A’s Post High Bid for Hisashi Iwakuma

November 9, 2010

The A’s have won the bidding for Japanese right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma.  As yet unsubstantiated reports indicate the A’s offered roughly $17 million for his services to the Rakuten Golden Eagles, Iwakuma’s old team.

I became aware of Hisashi Iwakuma back between the 2004 and 2005 seasons.  In 2004, at age 23, he had gone a spectacular 15-2 for the Kintetsu Buffaloes, one of the Pacific League’s perennial also-rans.

It was the second year in a row he had won 15 games, which is a lot given NPB’s shorter seasons, and his great 2004 season positioned him as one of the top young pitchers in Japan’s NPB.

That off-season there was a great deal of conflict in Japanese baseball.  The second division teams were tired of losing money, and the Kintetsu Buffaloes and the Orix Blue Wave, another Pacific League also-ran, decided to merge to become the Orix Buffaloes.

NPB threatened contract to eleven teams, and the Japanese players union finally struck for the first time in its history to prevent the loss of what would have been 8.3% of their jobs.  A deal was eventually worked out to create a new expansion team, the Rakuten Golden Eagles, to keep the Pacific League at six teams.

Here’s where Iwakuma came in.  He was the best player on either the 2004 Buffaloes or Blue Wave, and the new Orix Buffaloes fully intended for him to be their ace in 2005.  Iwakuma had other ideas.

Iwakuma didn’t want to play for the merged team, held out for more money and eventually forced Buffaloes management to let him play for the expansion Golden Eagles.  What impressed me about Iwakuma is that there are not a lot of ace pitchers in their prime who would rather play for what everyone knew was going to be a brutally bad expansion team, instead of sticking with a team that would have the best players from two major league squads.

It was apparently at least in part a matter of principal for Iwakuma (I don’t know if the Golden Eagles ended up paying him more than the Buffaloes were offering — they might have).  I had a feeling then and there Iwakuma, as a player willing to make waves in a culture where that is not highly appreciated, would pitch in MLB one day if his arm held out.

In fact, Iwakuma had his struggles.  In 2005 he went 9-15 with a 4.99 ERA.  However, the Golden Eagles were even worse, finishing their inaugural season a dreadful 38-97 with a team ERA of 5.67.

I suspect Iwakuma was pressing in 2005, trying to do to much and be too perfect for an awful team.  However, a big part of pitching is defense by the other eight players on the field, and the 2005 Golden Eagles were as bad at all aspects of the game as their season record indicates.

He also had a sore arm.  His shoulder was bothering him in 2005, and he had significant arm problems in 2006 and 2007, pitching in only 22 games and 128.2 innings the two seasons combined.

Iwakuma came back with a vengeance in 2008.  He went an astounding 21-4 on a Golden Eagles team which finished the season 65-76.  He did it by setting personal bests of a 1.87 ERA, 201.2 innings pitched and 159 strike outs, as against only 36 walks.

Iwakuma wasn’t as good in either 2009 or 2010, although he did post fine ERAs of 3.25 and 2.82 and had double digit win totals both seasons.

I really don’t know how well Iwakuma will make the transition to MLB.  On the plus side, he’s only 30 in 2011, and he obviously knows how to pitch.  On the down side, he’s a small right-hander (he’s listed as only 170 lbs), who has thrown a lot of innings in Japan and has had arm problems in the past (shoulder and elbow).

One thing that concerns me also is that Iwakuma wasn’t a strikeout pitcher in Japan, never recording more than 159 in a season.  One wonders how he will fare against MLB’s better hitters if he doesn’t miss a lot of bats.

On the other hand, Iwakuma has exceptional control (well better than 3 Ks per walk in Japan), and he doesn’t give up a lot of gopher balls.  Those are skills that will serve him well pitching his home games at the Oakland Coliseum where both home runs and base hits are hard to come by.

He’ll likely need good defense behind him to be successful, because major league hitters can be expected to put the ball in play against him.

All in all, I like the risk the A’s are taking in going after Iwakuma.  While I am generally not one to give a lot of weight to intangibles, Iwakuma is a pitcher who has shown a consistent ability to win even on bad teams.

Of course, there are no guarantees, and the failure of Kei Igawa to establish himself as a major league pitcher means that not every pitcher who has had success in Japan is going to be able to make the transition to the American game.

Looking at Igawa’s stats in Japan and the U.S., one thing stands out to me.  He gave up a lot of home runs even in Japan, and the gopher ball has really dogged him in the U.S.  That shouldn’t be a problem for Iwakuma.

How about a Fukudome for Rowand Trade?

November 6, 2010

I saw a post on mlbtraderumors.com today stating the Cubs are interested in moving Kosuke Fukudome this off-season.  That won’t be easy, given the $13.5 million in 2011 salary Fukudome has coming to him under the last year of his contract.

Nonetheless, the article notes that the Cubs were able to move clubhouse-cancer Milton Bradley last off-season and actually get something out of the deal, so anything is possible.

One such possibility might be a trade for the Giants’ Aaron Rowand.  Rowand has $12 million coming to him in each of 2011 and 2012, the last two years of the five-year $60 million deal he signed before the 2008 season.

If each team is willing to essentially pay the remaining contract of the player they signed in the first place, there could be a deal here.  The Giants would get one year of Fukudome at the price the Giants would have paid Rowand, and the Cubs would essentially get Rowand for free in 2012.

Rowand has more power than Fukudome, at least over the course of their respect major league career, and Rowand might benefit from playing his home games in the friendly confines of Wrigley Field.  Rowand’s got some good will in Chicago left over from his days with the White Sox, and he’s also a better defensive centerfielder than Fukudome.

Fukudome’s one great offensive attribute is his ability to get on base.  Through his three major league seasons, he has a .368 on-base percentage, compared to Rowand’s .335 career OBP.

I’d much rather have Fukudome and his likely higher OBP than Rowand in 2011, so my suggestion may be nothing more than wishful thinking.  However, both teams are looking to move these players, if only to go in a new direction, so it’s not completely out of the realm of possibility.

Of course, if the Giants decide to resign post-season superman Cody Ross, the Giants won’t need another rightfielder, the position at which Fukudome would be most valuable.  There’s always left field, but with another overpaid veteran Mark DeRosa coming back from injury next year and possible re-signings of Aubrey Huff and/or Pat Burrell, there isn’t a lot of room there either.

In other Giants-related news, the Nationals just released former Giant and still right-handed reliever Tyler Walker.  Walker had a fine 3.57 ERA with good ratios in 24 games and 35.1 innings pitched for the Nats in 2010. Walker didn’t pitch more because he hurt his shoulder and didn’t pitch in the majors after June 19 of this past season.

Walker was popular during his time as a Giant, so if his arm is healthy again in the Spring (he’s 35 next May, so we’ll see) and no one else signs him this off-season (quite likely), don’t be surprised if the Giants invite him to Spring Training for a shot at one of their low-cost, bottom-of-the-bullpen slots.

An Abject Apology to Giants GM Brian Sabean

November 2, 2010

Over the years, but mostly 2005 through 2008, I have said or written many things critical of Brian Sabean.  I can’t take them all back now, but I want to publicly state that I was wrong, oh so very wrong.

The first World Series Championship in 53 seasons in San Francisco.

The worst thing any Dodger fan could call the Giants, by far, was “No Ring Giants!”  No longer, and never again!

Now Giants fans have the upper hand, at least until the Dodgers win their next World Series.  Hopefully, that will not be for a long, long time.

Back to Sabean.  I criticized his obsessive love for veterans, guys who were overpaid and on the down-side of their major league careers.  Never again.

I criticized Sabean’s inability to develop young players.  I still recall the year that Sabean signed some over-priced free agent who cost the team a late first round pick, and he said something to the effect that second-half-of-the-first-round picks weren’t worth their huge signing bonuses.

Never again.  His geezers came through in spades, and he produced enough pitching through the Giants’ own organization to build a team good enough to make the post-season and give them a shot at making a run.

There was definitely some luck involved this year.  The 2010 Giants were not as good a team as the Giants teams from 1962 through 1971.  Those teams had Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Juan Marichal, Gaylord Perry, Orlando Cepeda, Jim Ray Hart and Tom Haller, not to mention some huge pitching years from Jack Sanford and Mike McCormick. The Giants had the best regular season record of any franchise in the 1960’s, but just could never close the deal.

Also, the Giants had some tremendous luck in the bargain players they picked up the last two seasons, particularly Aubrey Huff, coming off a bad season in 2009, Juan Uribe, coming off a bad season in 2008, and Pat Burrell,  coming off a bad season plus in Tampa.

The Giants were tremendously lucky yet again with their top draft picks.  Drafting Lincecum, Cain, Posey and Bumgarner all closely enough in time to have them star on the same team was a lot more than any team can reasonably hope for.

None of that matters.  What matters is winning, and the Giants finally did it.

I’ve been a serious Giants fan since 1978, and after the Giants blew Game 6 of the 2002 Series, I convinced myself the Giants would never win a World Series in my lifetime.  That feeling was reinforced from 2005 through 2008 when Sabean spent a couple of seasons too many trying to squeeze one more post-season appearance out of a team core that had gotten too old.

You look at the Cubs and Indians, and until very recently the Red Sox and the White Sox.  An awful lot their fans were born and died without their teams ever winning a World Series, so it was a real possibility.

It’s easier telling yourself your team will never win.  It cuts down the disappoint when they seemingly inevitably blow it.

I’m still in a bit of shock as I write this, but I am very, very happy.