Archive for the ‘Houston Astros’ category

Atlanta Braves Extend Ozzie Albies

April 13, 2019

In a year of contract extensions, the recent seven-year $35 million guarantee the Braves just gave young 2Bman Ozzie Albies is one of the most surprising at least in terms of the current market.  Scott Boras complained about the recent $100M guarantee that Ronald Acuna received as too far below market — he must be absolutely livid about Albies’ deal.

I waited a day to write about Albies’ extension because I was waiting to see more reporting on why he left so much money on the table, realistically at least $30M to $60M given the new market set by Acuna only days ago.  The contract is beyond team-friendly, with it containing two option years which bring the contract up to a still relatively modest $45M over nine years.

The only thing I’ve seen so far is that Albies wanted the security even a $35M guarantee would bring him and his family.  He also loves playing for the Braves and apparently feels too much loyalty to the team that signed him to a relatively modest $350,000 bonus as an amateur.

MLB star salaries are so high today that part of the answer may be that it all seems like monopoly money anyway.  As my father likes to say, baseball superstars want to get the biggest possible contract as much because it’s like a report card (you’re the best — an A+ player!) as much as it’s about the money.  If a player doesn’t care about getting paid as much as the market will bear, then perhaps $35M is enough, current market be damned.

Still, I hope that Albies’ agent strongly advised him against accepting the Braves’ low-ball offer and told him to wait another year before signing away so much potential income.  The Braves were probably cheap with Albies because the team feels it has already taken on a big risk with Acuna and didn’t want to commit that kind of money to Albies (or any other youngster), whom perhaps the team doesn’t see as having as much upside.

Albies’ deal is reminiscent of the deal Jose Altuve signed back in 2014, long before the current market was set.  That deal ultimately worked out pretty well for Altuve, who signed an extension before the 2018 season that guaranteed him another $150M through 2024.  However, Altuve had to first prove that he was everything the Astros possibly could have hoped for before he got the market rate extension.

The intangibles here are that some players play better when they stay hungry, while other players play better when they have security.  Some players stop working as hard when they get the big contract; others work harder to prove they were worth it.

The other intangibles are health and the ability to keep making adjustments.  Albies reached the majors so young that you have to think he has the ability to make the adjustments.  When a player establishes himself as a major league regular in his age 20 season, about the least you can expect from his career is that of Cesar Cedeno, who was pretty f@#$ing good (taking into account park and league factors) until injuries and off-field issues swallowed up his career.  Cedeno still collected more than 2,000 hits, 550 stolen bases at a higher than 75% success rate, and more than 1,000 runs scored in a low-offense era.

I’m hoping that Albies one day forces the Braves to give him the kind of follow-up contract that Altuve got from the Astros.  We’ll have to wait and see.

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Chicago White Sox and Eloy Jimenez Reportedly Agree to Record-Setting Contract

March 21, 2019

It is being reported today that the ChiSox and their 22 year old prospect Eloy Jimenez have agreed to a record-setting, long-term deal for a player yet to have played even one game in the major leagues.  The deal with reportedly guarantee Jimenez $43 million over six seasons with two team option years for an additional total of $32M.

This deal blows away the $10M guarantee that the Astros gave Jon Singleton and the $24M guarantee the Phillies gave Scott Kingery, the only other two long-term contracts for players never to have played in the majors (excluding Bryce Harper’s first pro contract).  There was a lot of rending of clothing and nashing of teeth by players and the players’ union when the Astros signed Singleton to what appeared could have been a tremendous bargain for the team with a whiff of black-mail that the ‘Stros would have been less likely to call Singleton up if he didn’t sign the seemingly team friendly extension.

But Singleton didn’t make it.  His major league career was a complete flop for reasons likely as much mental as anything else. Singleton was out of pro baseball in 2018 at age 26, which suggests his heart isn’t in it.  In the meantime, the Astros still owe him a cool million for 2019 through 2021, if they didn’t cash out for a lump sum when they released him last May.

In the case of Scott Kingery, even though he was the Phillies starting shortstop last year, the verdict is still out whether he’ll be worth the $24M guarantee.  His .605 OPS meant he wasn’t yet a major league replacement level player in 2018.

I don’t imagine we will hear a lot of complaints from players about Jimenez’s contract.  I mean, how do you tell a poor black kid from the Dominican Republic not to accept a $43M guarantee before he has even played one game in the majors.  Yes, Jimenez did get a $2.8 million signing bonus in 2013, but one would think that money is long gone between taxes, automobiles, living in the U.S., buscones, buying a home for his parents and friends and relatives with their hands out.

The deal here is obvious.  It’s a great deal for the White Sox if Jimenez develops as they hope, the kind of deal that can enable a small market team to build a winner on less money.  Meanwhile, JImenez and his family get a sure thing.  Jimenez could get hit in the face with a fastball, tear his elbow or both knee tendons, or get killed in an off-season road accident back in the Dominican Republic one winter.  He and his family will still get a pay out that will enable them to live like royalty in their homeland for at least a generation or two.  Like Mike Trout‘s extension with the Angels, it’s another win-win.

Some Order Has Been Restored to the (Baseball) Universe

February 20, 2019

It’s being reported that Manny Machado and the San Diego Padres have reached agreement on a deal that will last ten years and guarantee Machado $300 million, with an opt-out after the fifth season, the money fairly evenly spread over the ten year term and a limited no trade clause.  It was a long time in coming, but it sure seems in line with the other free agent contracts already signed this off-season.

I was figuring that unless the teams were in fact colluding, Machado would get at a minimum eight years and a $250 million guarantee, because that would a bargain for the age 26 through 33 seasons for a player of Machado’s caliber.  This is, in fact, what the White Sox offered Machado, although the ChiSox offer also included a whopping $100M in performance incentives and additional years.

That Machado got an extra two years and $50M guaranteed over an eight year, $250M deal seems in line with what the best offer would be in light of the tough negotiating teams have been performing this off-season.  Still, until the deal was finally reported with Spring Training already underway, one certainly couldn’t be sure what Machado would finally get.

I agree with Justin Verlander that signing Machado or Bryce Harper to a long-term deal is actually a good move for a rebuilding team like the Padres.  Even if the Friars need another three years to put together a contender, they’ll still have Machado for another five years (barring injury) of peak or close-to-peak performance.

Paying generational players like Machado or Harper even record-setting contracts tends to be a better risk than signing most other free agents, because they reach free agency younger and their peak performance lasts longer.  Of course, there is risk, since ten years is a lot of time for a debilitating injury to occur.

Machado’s offensive numbers are going to drop playing half his games at Petco Park, but the fact that Machado is not a “Johnny Hustle” type who gets too high or too low may actually be a good thing.  I don’t see Machado losing confidence in his abilities just because his offensive numbers drop off a little.

Now we’ll see what Harper gets, most likely from the Phillies.  I’d guess at least $330M guaranteed and possibly as much as $360M guaranteed over 10 to 12 seasons.

Houston Astros Reach Deal with Michael Brantley

December 18, 2018

It’s being reported that the Astros have reached a two-year deal with Michael Brantley for $32 million.  It’s less than the three years and $45 million that mlbtraderumors.com predicted and significantly less than the three-year $50 million deal the Phillies gave Andrew McCutchen about a week ago.

It feels like the trend the last few off-seasons is that the first of similar players like McCutchen and Brantley to sign gets the better deal.  It also fits in with the recent trend that teams are going to squeeze the second tier free agents like Brantley much more than in the past.

Brantley is coming off a fine 2018 and he still runs well.  But he’ll be 32 in 2019, and he missed a lot of playing time to injuries in 2016 and 2017.  In my mind this feels like a fair deal in terms of the fact that there are a wide range of outcomes for what Brantley’s performance will be over the next two seasons.  It could be a great deal for the Astros if Brantley is healthy and productive, or it could be a waste of $25M to $30M if he gets hurt again or suddenly gets old.

I was very pleased to see that the Mets have signed Rajai Davis to a minor league deal with an invitation to Spring Training.  Davis, now 38, has had a remarkable major league career for a player of his modest professional beginnings.

The Pirates originally drafted Davis in the 38th round, and the Bucs thought so little of him that they included him as the trade piece in a 2007 deal in which they received Matt Morris and all of what was then a very large $12M remaining salary commitment through 2008.  Morris was dreadful for the Pirates, and Davis was immediately useful to the SF Giants.

Unfortunately, Davis got off to a slow start (1 for 18) in 2008, and the A’s claimed him off waivers.  Davis had probably his best major league season for the A’s in 2009, and that firmly established Davis as a major league player in the eyes of MLB teams.  Davis’ base-stealing ability is elite, but, alas, he’s never gotten on base enough to take full advantage of it.

Davis has never been a star, but he’s always been good enough to stick around and play regularly more often than not during the last decade.  The fact that he’s still around at age 38 is a testament to his abilities to take advantage of the opportunities that were finally afforded to him and to play at a consistently decent level that least one major league team thought he was a low cost way to plug a gap in the outfield.  He’s also been able to stay healthy when many other outfielders have not.

World Series Excitement

October 29, 2018

You know who was really excited about this year’s Dodgers-Red Sox World Series, aside from Dodgers and Red Sox fans?  Fox Sports.

If it was up to the network broadcasting the World Series, at least every other World Series would feature the Red Sox or Yankees playing the Dodgers or the Mets playing the Angels or Red Sox, with the Giants, the Cubs, the Phillies, the Astros and maybe the Cardinals, Nationals, Rangers and Braves making the Series just often enough to keep MLB fans from getting too bored.

Obviously, teams from across the country playing in the largest markets make for the highest World Series television rantings.  In fact, the top viewership for the last ten years was 2016, when the Cubs made the World Series for the first time since 1945 and won for the first time since 1908.  The viewership in 2004, when the Red Sox won for the first time since 1918, was even better.  However, none of the BoSox’ three subsequent World Series have drawn as well.

The 1986 World Series between the Mets and Red Sox was the most viewed Series since 1984, and viewership has tumbled steadily since the late 1980’s early 1990’s to the present decade.

My proposed solution to declining World Series viewership?  It’s the same as my solution to a number of MLB’s structural problems — expansion.  You have to grow the pie and get MLB in more markets if you want to increase World Series, play-off and regular season major network viewership.

However, while attendance was good for MLB’s top 12 teams this year, it was way, way down compared to recent seasons for the bottom eight teams.  MLB is going to be reluctant to expand if most of the current small-market teams are drawing poorly.

It might also be time for MLB teams to consider building bigger ballparks so that there are fewer home runs and more singles, doubles and triples.  However, history has shown that fans (in terms of overall attendance) prefer more offense over less offense.

The Current Pitcher Most Likely to Win 300 Games

October 6, 2018

Starting in 2009 and every couple of years thereafter, I have written a piece handicapping the likelihood of any currently active pitcher winning 300 games in his major league career.  The last such post from about two years ago is here.

In my original post, I listed the average number of career wins the last four 300 game winners (Roger Clemens, Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Randy Johnson) had at the end of their age 30 through age 40 seasons:

Average: 137 (30); 152 (31); 165 (32); 181 (33); 201 (34); 219 (35); 235 (36); 250 (37); 268 (38); 279 (39); 295 (40).

This is the age of the last four 300-game winners in the season in which each won their 300th game: Maddux 38, Clemens 40, Glavine 41 and Johnson 45.  In short,  and as you probably already knew, you have to be really good for a really long time to win 300 games.

When I first started writing these posts over a decade ago, I thought we’d certainly see another 300 game winner in my life time.  About five years later, I changed my opinion almost completely.  I now think it less likely than not that any current pitcher will win 300 games, but at least it could still happen, as I explain below.

Here are the current pitchers  I think are most likely to win 300 based on their current ages (during the 2018 season) and career win totals:

CC Sabathia (37) 246

Justin Verlander (35) 204

Zack Greinke (34) 187

Felix Hernandez (32) 168

John Lester (34) 177

Clayton Kershaw (30) 153

Max Scherzer (33) 159

David Price (32) 143

Rick Porcello (29) 135

Madison Bumgarner (28) 110

It’s worth noting that the list of pitcher contains the same 10 as two years ago, which I think is a good sign in terms of one of them reaching 300 wins.

I like Justin Verlander’s and Max Scherzer’s chances of winning 300 the best.  Both are coming off of terrific seasons at advanced ages at which they still had extremely high strikeout rates.  These are the kinds of pitchers who end up pitching into their early 40’s and thus have the chance to eventually win 300 games.

The 12 pitchers to win 300 games after the end of World War II all pitched into their 40’s as follows:

Phil Neikro 48 (in his last MLB season)

Nolan Ryan 46

Randy Johnson 45

Roger Clemens, Gaylord Perry, Warren Spahn  44

Don Sutton, Steve Carlton, Early Wynn 43

Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine 42

Tom Seaver 41

With the exception of knuckleballer Phil Neikro, there is a pretty obvious connection between an ace’s strikeout rate in his respective era and how long he’ll be able to compete at the major league level.  That certainly suggests that Verlander and Scherzer could pitch well into their 40’s.

Verlander has averaged 15.7 wins per season in his first 13 full major league seasons.  If he can average 15.7 wins for his remaining seasons through age 42, he would win another 109 or 110 games, which would put him comfortably over 300 career wins.

Scherzer has average 15.9 wins per season in his first 10 full major league seasons.  If he can average 15.9 wins for his remaining seasons through age 42, he would win another 143 games, which would just get him over 300.

Thus, if either can avoid major injury and wants to keep pitching as long as it takes for a shot at winning 300 games, it could certainly be done, particularly when you take into account that MLB teams would be willing to carry them for an extra season or two at the end if either pitcher has a realistic shot at winning 300 game.

CC Sabathia, Felix Hernandez and Clayton Kershaw have all won a lot of games at their respective ages, but none of the three seems like a good bet to still be pitching at 40, let alone 42 or 43.  Sabathia is likely coming back for another season with the Yankees in 2019, but it’s hard to imagine his big body holding up for as long as it would take for him to win 300.  King Felix’s arm may be shot — we’ll have a better idea a year from now.  Clayton Kershaw is undeniably great, but back problems don’t improve with age.

What all current aces need to improve their chances at winning 250 or 300 games is another round of expansion, which I think could easily add two wins per year to a top starter’s career wins total.

Today’s Tie-Breakers

October 1, 2018

I really like the fact that two tie-breaking games were played today, if only because it means that the National League wild card loser will have to lose two consecutive games before being sent home.

The Brewers have already beaten the Cubs, and it looks all but certain that the Dodgers will beat the Rocks.  On paper, the Cubs looked like a better team than the Brewers, but one-and-done match-ups are more about whose starting pitcher has a better game.

Presumably, the NL wild card game will be played in Chicago, which certainly favors the Cubbies.  However, as the Cubs just learned, anything is possible in a one-game series.  The Cubs and Dodgers look like the only two NL teams with any realistic shot of winning the World Series, but the Cubs could be going home if they lose to the Rockies on Wednesday.

Certainly, the Astros and Red Sox look like the class of the American League, but anything can happen in a short series, and all the teams but the A’s have recent post-season experience.  As for the A’s, they really played great in the second half and made the trades they needed at the trade deadline to make themselves a great team.

The 2018 A’s remind me of the powerhouse A’s teams of the early 1970’s, at least in terms of their everyday players.  They hit for power, many of them will take walks, they by and large play good defense.  Except at catcher, they don’t have many holes in their line-up.

Obviously, the A’s starting pitching is not as good as that of the early 1970’s A’s, but their bullpen has been strong enough to get them to the play-offs.  We’ll see what happens.