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Friday 21st Oct 2016

Just before the All-Star break last year, I wrote an article for our friends at USA Today on the proliferation of rookie pitchers in 2015. The truth is by the time the season was over, no less that 150 pitchers had made their debut in 2015 according to Baseball-Reference.

To me, that suggests that Major League GM's are more than willing to give a shot to a draft pick moving up through the system. Certainly, if we look at the Mets and the Indians, both teams have fantastic young rotations, but just about every franchise boasts a hot young arm on the verge of domination. Daniel Norris. Aaron Nola. Carlos Rodon. Henry Owens. All seem on the verge of big things at The Show and on our fantasy rosters.

In a way, this makes sense to me. For example, the Dodgers gave Kenta Maeda $3 million a year on an eight-year contract worth a maximum of $90 million including incentives to pitch for them. 

Maeda is hardly a rookie at age 28, with eight professional seasons played for Hiroshima, over which he went 97-67, 2.39 over 1509.6 innings. Maeda had fine control in Japan, with 1233 strikeouts to 319 walks with 1263 hits for a 1.048 WHIP. But, at 6'0", 154 pounds, I am not sure how a young man with 7.9 strikeouts per nine innings will fare hurling in a league where strikeouts, fastballs, and power largely rule the roost.

Irrespective, the Dodgers signed Maeda and installed him in their rotation, and at present the import is the #3 starter for the team (behind Clayton Kershaw and Scott Kazmir), ahead of both Alex Wood and Mike Bolsinger. Now, it is true both Wood and Bolsinger ran out of gas last year, but still, Wood was a decent 12-12, 3.84 over 189.6 innings while Bolsinger went 6-6, 3.62 over 109.3 frames. Note too that the Dodgers also have Brett Anderson, who went 11-9 over 189 more innings last year (staying healthy for the first time in the last six years) as well as Brandon McCarthy and Hyun-jin Ryu (who missed all of last season due to injury), giving the team as much depth in the rotation as anyone.

While I do understand a team cannot have too much pitching, I don't understand a long-term commitment to an unknown quantity like Maeda despite already having 45-plus wins and a sub-4.00 ERA over nearly 700 innings among Wood, Anderson, Ryu, and Bolsinger.

And, it is not so much that I mean to pick on the Maeda signing, for it seems a lot of pitchers of questionable skill sets have received some fine contracts. Kazmir, for example, has had a nice couple of years, but $16 million a year? Or J.A. Happ, who now gets $12 million a year after establishing himself as a 33-year-old with a career 62-61, 4.13 record with a 1.367 WHIP?


Anyway, in looking at the remaining arms, let's look at this year's Jamey Wrights, in other words, pitchers who manage to keep a job despite a prolonged inability to get hitters out at critical moments. Although, Wright did emerge as an effective middle guy at the very end of his odd career, so though I am happier for the Major League teams to go to their systems before signing any of these guys, you still never know.

Tim Lincecum: How it hurts to put Timmy, whom I scored during his glorious NL heyday, winning back-to-back Cy Youngs, but Timmy has lost it. Velocity or not, he has not adjusted and learned the Tim Hudson method of transitioning from throwing to pitching. The truth is, Lincecum (and as I have written before, Matt Cain) no longer own batters in critical spots, and as a result I would not trust either of them (note Cain is still a Giant).

A.J. Griffin: Such a waste, for Griffin could pitch pretty well at first before his arm fell off. He hasn't pitched in the Majors since 2013, and allowed 46 homers over 282.6 innings with the Athletics. And now we have to trust that his arm is ok and he won't allow gopher balls. Ha.

Mark Buehrle: OK, the thing with Buehrle is what you see is what you get, and what you get is 200 innings with a 3.98 ERA, a 1.32 WHIP, and 129 strikeouts. In some leagues--like H2H formats--that is worth a lot, but not so much if you are in a straight roto league, unless your league is way deep. Then the innings can help you, especially if you can stream, for Buehrle is streaky and can be exploited accordingly.

Mike Minor: Ouch, what happened here? Minor advances in skills, hits the skids with a 6-12, 4.77 over 145.3 innings last year, and the Braves let him go? Once again, a lesson in how tough it is to make it. However, maybe there is some Luke Hochevar in Minor somewhere with a nice middle relief career ahead of him.

Doug Fister I don't know why I have never felt I could trust Fister, for his numbers between 2011-14 are really pretty good (51-38), but here is the lanky (6'8") righty waiting for a chance after an iffy (5-7, 4.19, 1.398 over 103 innings) 2015. Fister is just 31 and surely will sign somewhere and actually might prove to be the best bargain among the basement treasures of the unsigned veteran hurlers of 2016. Depending upon where he signs, for a couple of bucks in an AL or NL-only format, I might be willing to take a flier.

Baseball, like politics and religion, never lacks for both variance of opinions and complete clarity of said view, irrespective of the divergence of said perspectives.

I will say that I applaud the addition of the wonderful Ken Griffey Jr. and Mike Piazza, who was a core piece on a couple of the best fantasy teams I ever had, to the sacred walls of Cooperstown.

Of course, as usual, there were those two absolute hits, but a lot of moaning and misses as fans and pundits all chime in on who should make it, and why.

I try not to get too wrapped around those pros and cons, though like everyone else, I have a list of players I think should at least merit more consideration than they seem to ever get, or have gotten.

Jim Kaat, with his 284 wins and 17 Gold Gloves (including 11 in a row) for example, or Tommy John, who not only bagged 288 wins, but lent his name--now reduced to initials--and body to the surgery that was an experiment on him but routine today. Darrell Evans, who smashed 414 homers, including 40 for Detroit at the age of 38, not to mention hit 40 in each league, and, well, see how many players did that--and was for awhile among the all-time RBI (1354) and walks (1605) leaders. Or ,Bill Buckner, who likely would have had 3000 hits had he not played with such reckless abandon. 

But, the thing is times and numbers have changed, and where 400 homers and 250 wins were the old barometers of my youth for Hall inclusion, those numbers seem to have fallen as the game has become a full-time year-round job, something it was not during the entirety of my youth. Now, 500 homers, 300 wins and 3000 hits are the baselines for the most part.

Not that I am feeling nostalgic, for while there are indeed more games played per team these days (162 as opposed to 154), there similarly were four-man rotations, meaning at least for starting pitchers, those who lasted had at least as many opportunities to establish numbers commensurate with today's top hurlers.

Although, in saying that, the game has changed and while innings and wins might be part of the equation, only Walter Johnson and Cy Young live in the all-time strikeout list Top 20 with the remaining hurlers all beginning their careers in the 60's or later.

I know the idea is to try to stay empirical and logical when applying some sort of reasoning to our HOF selections, but in the end, for most of us, our judgement is spoiled or enhanced in one way or another. 

For example, I get how good Curt Schilling was as a money player, but I have heard him talk enough, and think he is such an asshole that I could never vote for him, while the much cooler Mike Mussina is a no-brainer.

I still have a hard time with the inclusion of Jim Rice, who did give a fine .298-382-1451 line over 16 seasons. Not that Rice was not a great and feared hitter, but Dwight Evans, who hit .272-385-1384 over 20 years, was arguably THE defensive right-fielder with the best arm in baseball for more than a decade. Why one, and not the other?

Like I said, it is so subjective and we all filter, but if there is glory in the history of baseball, and joy in the watching of it, then there is almost something understandingly familial about arguing about those moments of joy and glory.

As with the All-Star selections, which are sort of a mid-season microcosm of the HOF arguments, I tend to try and shrug it off and enjoy the discussion.

For the record, I could vote for up to 10 players for the IBBWA (Internet Baseball Writers of America), and here is who I selected, and why:

Barry Bonds: Yeah, I know the HGH arguments, but he was the most dangerous hitter in baseball for at least five straight years, and if you take away 200 of his home runs because they are considered suspect, he still hit more than just about anyone else. Surly, yes. But Bonds was the dominant hitter of his time, period.

Ken Griffey Jr.: Kind of self-explanatory, but I am happy to report that I witnessed Junior's Major League debut, including a ringing double he hit off Dave Stewart in his first at-bat.

Edgar Martinez: I think Edgar was the best pure hitter of the 90's in the AL (their answer to Tony Gwynn). In other words, the George Brett or Rod Carew of the decade.

Mike Mussina: 270 wins is pretty good these days. In fact, the advantage the pre-70's hurlers had was that bullpens were used so differently in the past. Had Moose pitched in the 50's with those totals, he might even be a first ballot guy.

Alan Trammell: Along with Lou Whitaker, Trammell made up the best middle infield combination of the mid-70's into the mid-80's on a more than dominant team. 

Billy Wagner: 422 saves make him the most dominating left-handed closer ever. Good enough for me.

Note that I voted for Tim Raines, Jeff Bagwell and Mike Piazza in the past and they are in the IHOF. I will likely never vote for Schilling, Sammy Sosa or Rafael Palmeiro. As for Roger Clemens, he is part Mussina and part Schilling, so make a case.

Because that is indeed one of the best parts about all this HOF fuss.

I wonder how motivated teams are to sign players before midnight of a given year for tax purposes?

Obviously, in the big business of sports, that has to be a factor in signings. But I swear, much like Diane loves reading "People" magazine when she gets her nails done, I find the transactions page to be so delicious it is hard to resist. 

Surely, I have written enough "Life and Death in the Transactions", and now the newish "Rotobituaries" columns to more than hint at this fascination.

But, as I was pondering what to write on the fun and light side this first Saturday of the new year, I could not resist looking at what the Major League clubs did during their final business cycle before the calendar and the new season start to truly sync.

Scott Kazmir: Almost 32, no one has resurrected himself in the Majors as efficiently as Kazmir, who truly has learned to pitch where he used to throw. The Dodgers actually got a decent price tag ($18 million for three years) but I fear Kazmir is not the cog the team needs to make things work. Aside from being lefty heavy, a hard thrower--from the right side--is where I would spend my bucks were I the Dodgers. Or, I would groom from within. Kazmir will go 12-12, 3.98, which is ok, but not worth $18 mil.

Mike Leake: It is an understatement to say I was unimpressed with Leake's brief tenure in San Francisco. He is four years younger and around $4 million a year cheaper than Kazmir, and has pretty good WHIP totals (1.271 over 1083.6 innings). Going to the smart Cardinals, Leake will be under contract until he is Kazmir's present age. That seems like a better deal to me.

Michael McKenry: Hmmm. The Rangers have a 31-year-old right-handed hitting catcher in Robinson Chirinos who has a .232-24-81 line over 204 games, with a .301 OBP. So, they sign a 30-year-old right-handed hitting catcher who has a .239-29-103 line over 308 games with a .319 OBP. Maybe there is an archetype the front office understands that is beyond me. Truth is, I am OK with Chirinos as a $2 number two backstop in an AL-only league, but, well, I guess these two are interchangeable Lego parts?

Brendan Ryan: Released by the Cubs, Ryan did have a glove, but that was never worth .234-19-203 over 879 games with a .610 OBP. Only was one Mark Belanger.

Tim Stauffer: The Diamondbacks signed Stauffer, who has done nothing but promote hope in fantasy owners since 2011, to a minor league deal. I hope they did do this as insurance in case Zack Greinke, Shelby Miller, or Patrick Corbin struggle, because I think they will be disappointed.

Alexi Ogando: It seems teams' confusion about what to do with Ogando (not to mention health) has provided the same issue with fantasy owners. Is he a starter or reliever? Could he be a closer? Well, despite two relatively crappy seasons, Ogando probably fits in with the Braves as a set-up guy, and somehow, I think he becomes a good deal for a buck you can dump, as necessary. Ogando's strikeout numbers were moving up, and chances are he will not pitch in pressure situations and the righty does have a 1.205 WHIP over 471.3 frames.

Jerry Sands: Remember in 2011, when Sands hit .288-29-88 for Albuquerque and was the Dodgers' next big thing? Six years later, the White Sox grabbed him off waivers. Good luck with that.

Nate Schierholtz: Schierholtz is a guy I saw a lot of scoring Giants games, before he became a platoon banger with 21 home runs for the Cubbies in 2013. The magic dust wore off in 2014 as he split the year between the Cubs and the Nats and then it was a year in Japan. Now he's in line for a reserve gig in Detroit. The outfielder, who will be 32 next month, has one of the best arms in baseball, and can be way streaky. But in a substitute role with the Tigers, Schierholtz might be a nice cheap $1/reserve pick, at least for as long as the hot streak lasts.

Henderson Alvarez: Billy Beane is as good picking talent from the island of lost players as anyone, and Alvarez is a savvy crapshoot. Alvarez sucked (and was hurt) most of last year, but at 25, a year removed from a fine 12-7, 2.65 season, Alvarez might fit in just fine in any number of roles in Oakland. Jury out: will return a verdict in March.

Hello all, and I trust you had a happy holiday.

Today's piece will be brief, and pretty much focus on Strat-O-Matic, a simulation as opposed to roto or fantasy ball, but a game no less difficult and for certain, no less fun.

One of my leagues is currently in the process of drafting 35-man rosters. This is a Hall of Fame league, with 25 teams participating.

The Summer League of Champions holds a complete redraft every three years, and this is one of those years. The format is a snake draft in order of finish, and each team is allowed to draft ten players from the Strat-O-Matic Hall of Fame set.

Then to add to the fun, we select a specific season and toss those players--this year it happens to be 1948--in with the remaining HOF guys, and from there we complete our rosters.

Usage is strictly enforced such that players cannot exceed the number of innings or at-bats indicated on the Strat-O-Matic card for the player, and players can only play a defensive position for which they have a rating. That means Vada Pinson can only play center field, while Bobby Murcer can play left, right, third, and second (though Murcer's defense in the infield is not particularly good).

My previous two years in the league, I played with a core that was largely inherited, meaning the basic team was not my vision of what would work.

The trouble with this league, however, is the talent pool is so deep that it is totally possible to have Vladimir Guerrero and Orlando Cepeda on your bench. What that means is a lot of hits and runs, and that no lead is safe, as in I lost eight-run leads at least twice last season.

Right now, we are about two-thirds of the way through the draft, and bearing in mind that there are so many hitters and great players available, I want to reveal the strategy I am trying to employ, and that I hope will make me successful.

What I reasoned is that I might have great starting pitching, but keeping the likes of Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig off base on a regular basis is next to impossible. So, my entire construct has gone not so much to eliminate hits, which is almost impossible.

However, I realized I can do everything I can to keep runners from moving up a base, or getting an extra roll of the dice, which is sort of like getting an extra swing on the real diamond.

So, within the construct of Strat, here are the things I looked at to build successfully.

Defense: Strat uses defense, so I tried to grab the top fielder I could at every slot, period.

OBP: In conjunction, I tried to get the player with the best on-base numbers who had the best defense.

Arms: Outfielders and catchers are given a rating with respect to the quality of their arms, so again, I tried to get the most effective arms available, coupled with great range and OBP.

Speed: I have also looked for fast runners, both to get to balls on defense, and to help me get an extra base when I am at-bat. Similarly, the fast guys have a better base running rating. So again, getting such a player, like Ed Delahanty, who has power and on-base numbers, can steal, runs the bases well, and has a great arm is the path.

Holding Runners: For my pitchers, I looked carefully at their ability to hold runners, figuring with a good catcher, even if a player earns a hit, he will not be able to steal as easily.

DP Support: Additionally, I looked for the highest ground ball ratings for pitchers, knowing that with my good defense, there is a good chance that if a ball is hit in the infield, the runner will be eliminated via a double play.

That is the essence of my team and while I do have excellent hitters, only two of my drafted players--Ron Santo and Eddie Murray--look like they can hit 30 or more homers. Everyone else is at best in the teens, unlike most of the other squads in the SLOC.

But, I am thinking, as noted, that Strat, like baseball on the diamond, is about extending at-bats for as long as possible. That means as a defensive plan, the objective should be to allow as few pitches as possible to my opponents. So, I am theorizing that a team built upon removing the steal, run, or hit, thus keeping the offensive damage to a minimum, is the way to go.

At the same time, with an on-base and speedy team, I hope to exploit the very things when my team is at bat that I want to discourage while my team is in the field.

As usual, with such strategies, it sounds good, but if you have followed my writing, you know I am not afraid to try things, and this approach makes sense.

I just hope it works, for it is as noted, three years before the cycle starts over again.

Our mates at Rotowire held their annual experts mock earlier this week, and with the push of the button, Derek Van Riper hit the randomizer, generating the draft order.

I was actually logged into the site. In fact, I was actively engaged in a chat, so it wasn't until Derek noted that "Lawr should be on too with the first pick," did I realize the refresh of the page had put me in the #1 spot, and that the clock was, and had been ticking.

Not like who I should take was a big puzzle, at least among the top Mock picks going into 2016.

Clearly, Mike Trout, Bryce Harper and Paul Goldschmidt, with maybe a long-shot to Clayton Kershaw, are the top-tiered best players out there at this moment in time and space.

But, I was on the clock, with about 20 seconds to go, and up until Derek's announcement that I did indeed have the top pick, I truly had not considered who I wanted, or why.

Truth is, I never really know who I will take when in any draft going in. There have been times when I did target a player should he fall to me in rounds or cost. I have played with different rosters and targeted picks during mocks, but most of the time, my teams are built around the first star player who falls my way. And, I tend to build around that guy accordingly, depending upon what is available when, and where I think I can exploit the player pool at the expense of my league mates while boosting my roster and stats.

So, to the conundrum of who to take on short notice.

I admit that I do think Trout is fantastic, as is Harper (I have a foul ball he hit at the Arizona Fall League a few years back), and well, Goldy is indeed golden (note I never considered picking Kershaw in this instance simply because pitching is so deep).

There is not much need in reviewing the numbers of each player as they are all well known, but, I do like looking at the 162-game mean that Baseball Reference includes for each player, so here is the bottom line:

Paul Goldschmidt (27, five years of play): .299-30-107 w/17 steals, 102 runs, and a .930 OPS.

Mike Trout (24, five years of play): .304-35-99 w/28 steals, 112 runs, and a .956 OPS.

Bryce Harper (23, four years of play): .289-31-79 w/12 steals, 104 runs, and a .902 OPS.

Now, I do like Harper, but I quickly dismissed him as a choice mostly because of a combination of less years of play and the fact that he is a young player just coming off a break-out season and as he grows and adjusts--and as pitchers adjust to him--there might be some ups and downs in his stats. And, I do not mean that as a dismissal. Harper is a great pick, but the bottom line is he has not been as productive and consistent day-to-day over his time in The Show from the start, as have his counterparts.

Now, it is true that Trout's initiation to The Show was lumpy. Don't forget that .220-5-16 40-game span in 2011, and those numbers are indeed factored into Trout's 162-game average, but he has been deadly ever since. (Also note that as of right now, both Trout and Goldy have exactly the same number of career walks with 361.)

But, I went with Goldschmidt for these reasons:

1) Goldschmidt does not make the highlight reels like Trout, but he is ever so steady, and somehow, even if the end numbers are the same, steady is more reassuring to me.

2) Goldschmidt is going into his peak years, and though it is hard to imagine him getting better, I am betting there is a 40-homer season in there, and I would not be surprised if it was this season.

3) Goldschmidt is playing on a team that just spent a wad on Zack Greinke, and then mortgaged a chunk of their future to get Shelby Miller. Arizona clearly intends to contend, and that pitching boost should give the team--already pretty good at scoring runs--some incentive and expectation that they will succeed, and Goldy will be at the center of it all.

Meaning, as good as he has been, he could well rise to the occasion and push to that next level and 40 homers and all that goes with it.

So, I took Goldschmidt.

And, even though it is not quite Christmas, if we had the actual draft next week, and I had the first pick, I would do the same thing.

What a fun and wild Winter Meetings week this was, with trades and signings, all of which are of interest to us all. The  proverbial dessert of the meetings is the Rule 5 draft, which took place Thursday.

The Rule 5 draft involves signed players who have been property of a team for five years who have never been to the Majors and who are not protected on the 40-man roster. Such players can be drafted by another team (draft order is worst record to best for teams participating). The selecting team pays the player's original team $50,000. The caveat is said player must remain on the active Major League roster for the entire season or be offered back for $25,000.

Still, drafted players can make at worst a cheap place holder in deeper fantasy leagues (they usually fetch no more than a dollar) and sometimes surprise, a la Geronimo Berroa. However, the notion that the player must stick with the roster all season makes for a gamble that promises the allure of a full season in the Majors (note, though, that doesn't always happen thanks to the DL and other tricks).

Anyway, let's take a look at this year's Rule 5 spoils (unless otherwise noted, picks are out of high school).

Tyler Goeddel (3B/OF, from Rays to Phillies): First round pick in 2011, Goeddel has a .262-31-244 line over four years with 108 swipes and a .337 OBP (172 walks to 388 strikeouts) and goes into next year as a 23-year-old with a pretty good mark at Double-A last year of .272-12-72 with 28 steals. Goeddel is big (6'4", 186 lbs.) and played a lot of outfield last year, and a lot of third the year before because the outfield would likely be his home. He has some interesting skills, but nothing earth shattering. Fifth outfielder at best for 2016.

Jake Cave (OF, from Yankees to Reds): The Yanks sixth rounder in 2011, like Goeddel, Cave had a nice enough season at Double-A Trenton last year (.269-2-37 with 17 steals) but like Goeddel, doesn't have much to offer but a cluster of pretty good lesser skills, suggesting a bench role at best. Whether you like Jay Bruce or not, Cave is not a replacement.

Evan Rutckyj (P, from Yankees to Braves): A 16th round pick in 2010, Rutckyj, (would he challenge for the "eyechart" nickname?), became a reliever in 2013 and has 365 punch-outs over 377 innings. The problem is the 373 hits and 191 walks (1.496 WHIP), although those numbers got better once the 6'5" lefty moved to the pen. Over 111.3 relief innings, he earned 140 strikeouts to 58 walks with 101 hits (1.426 WHIP) with a couple of saves. Set up and situational are the words that come to mind, but you never know. Not worth a roster spot. 

Luis Perdomo (P, from Cardinals to Rockies, then to Padres): The Dominican import has questionable 16-31, 4.16 totals over 316 minor league frames. The righty has whiffed 270 over that span, but allowed 351 hits and 94 walks (1.408 WHIP), so it was hard to see how that could work at Coors. However, the Rocks moved Perdomo to San Diego right away for the ubiquitous "future considerations,' although I am not sure Petco helps much either. Per Brian Walton, the expectation is Perdomo winds up back with St. Louis.

Colin Walsh (2B, from Athletics to Brewers): Mostly a second baseman, though he played a chunk of third and left over his career, Walsh was originally drafted by the Cardinals (13th round) in 2010, out of Stanford, meaning at 26 he is much longer in the tooth. The Cards flat out released Walsh in 2013, and the Athletics picked him up, only to lose the prototype Oaklander to the Brewers. The middle infielder has a modest .278-16-377 line over 564 games, with a solid .395 OBP (377 walks to 439 strikeouts), 51 swipes, and 351 runs. Over 191 Triple-A games, Walsh held his own over 47 games in the PCL, hitting .272-2-18 at Sacramento last year, and he could be just fine as a cheap middle infield crapshoot in an NL-only format.

Jabari Blash (OF, from Mariners to Athletics): At 26, Blash is another older selection, one who was drafted by the White Sox (29th round) in 2007, the Rangers (9th round) in 2008, and finally the Mariners (8th round) in 2010 out of Miami-Dade. With a solid .870 OPS over 551 games, Blash's bottom line is .256-109-340, but the whiffs (303 walks to 614 strikeouts) are the issue. Not sure what the Athletics will do with him, but they did judge Mark Canha well enough last year, so who knows?

Josh Martin (P, from Indians to Padres): Matriculated at Samford University in Alabama, and selected first by the Pirates (25th round) in 2011, then for good in the tenth round a year later. He is big (6'5", 230 lbs.) and a potentially dominant reliever with 265 strikeouts over 258.3 innings, with nine saves and an excellent 1.008 WHIP (74 walks, 207 hits). Martin does give up the dingers (25) but he is certainly worth tracking, if not a stash in a deep format.

Joey Rickard (OF, from Rays to Orioles): Selected in the ninth round in 2012 out of the University of Arizona, Rickard is now 24 and had a very good line of .283-13-139 over 359 games, with 209 runs and 73 swipes. Rickard played 29 games at Durham last season and posted a solid .360 average and .390 OBP. He is another who could be a good stash.

Deolis Guerra (P, from Pirates to Angels): Maybe the most interesting pick, Guerra fared well on my Top 250 Prospect List following his 6-7, 2.20 record at Hagerstown in 2006 as a 17-year-old. But alas, very little came to fruition for Guerra, who was signed by the Twins in 2007, re-signed in 2013, and the Pirates inked the 6'5" right-hander in November, 2014, and now Guerra goes to the Angels. His career has shown flashes, but few, so as much as I would like Guerra to succeed, I doubt he will.

Joe Biagini (P, from Giants to Jays): San Francisco grabbed Biagini in the 26th round of the 2011 Rule 4, out of UC Davis (my partner Diane's alma mater), and he has posted the okay stats of 29-30, 4.06 with 365 whiffs over 448 frames. He did comport well at Richmond last year with a 10-7, 2.42 line, but as a 25-year- old at Double-A, that is to be expected.

Matthew Bowman (P, from Mets to Cardinals): The Metropolitans' 12th round pick out of Princeton in 2013, Bowman logged 176.3 innings at Triple-A the past two years with a 10-18, 5.10 line with 109 whiffs and a 1.599 WHIP. It is easy to see why the pitching rich Mets would not need to protect Bowman, but I am not sure what the Cardinals see in him.

Daniel Stumpf (P, from Royals to Phillies): A lefty, Stumpf was Kansas City's ninth round pick in 2012 out of San Jacinto College, and he functioned primarily as a reliever in the Royals system, posting ten saves under a 20-23 record with a 3.21 ERA. He struck out 308 over 311 innings, and notched an excellent 1.182 WHIP. He has only pitched as high as Double-A, and did okay there (5-4, 3.21, 76 whiffs over 71 frames), so I would be leery.

Chris O'Grady (P, from Angels to Reds): The Angels' tenth round pick in 2010 out of George Mason, O'Grady is another big guy (6'4", 220 lbs.) who is also a lefty. Another reliever, O'Grady bagged four saves at Arkansas over 49 innings before moving up to Salt Lake for 8.6 innings. He has pretty good control with 198 strikeouts over 210.3 innings with just 52 walks and 195 hits (1.174 WHIP) and, well, anything might go with the Reds and their pen this season.

Zach Jones (P, from Twins to Brewers): Kansas City drafted Jones in the 24th round in 2009, but Jones continued to San Jose State where the Twins nabbed him in the fourth round in 2012. Another reliever, the 25-year-old has the best resume of the Rule 5 picks with 33 saves and 186 whiffs over 130.3 innings to go with a 9-7 record and 2.83 ERA. Jones has not hurled past the Double-A level, but he does have pretty good credentials.

Blake Smith (OF/P, from White Sox to Padres): The Dodgers drafted Smith out of UC Berkeley in 2009, where he played in 515 games as an outfielder but really has worked as a reliever since 2013. During the 2015 season, L.A. traded Smith to the Pale Hose for Eric Surkamp. Blake makes the third Rule 5 who landed with San Diego, which should mean some interesting roster decisions, but as for Smith, the 28-year-old throws hard with 137 whiffs over 134 innings but has control issues with 75 walks over that span.

Ji-Man Choi (1B, from Orioles to Angels): Hit .302-35-211 over 335 minor league games, with a .280-8-52 line over 109 Double-A games. Choi has 180 walks to 222 strikeouts (.404 OBP) and an excellent .886 OPS in the Minors. With C.J. Cron and Albert Pujols in tow, it is hard to figure where Choi fits in (remember, the Angels picked up Guerra as well), but Choi is an interesting reserve stash in Ultra Leagues.

If you are a Packers fan, life did not get any better than the final play of Thursday Night's game.

If you are a Lions fan, well, it doesn't get any worse.

If you are a football fan, you have an opinion about the last sequence of plays--and maybe others--which have you upset with officiating and match-ups and so on. At least that is what I get from the chunk of tweets I saw after the "Rodgers-Squared Magic Catch."

I understand. 

As a Raiders fan, I have endured the Immaculate Reception. As a Dodgers fan when I was young, I endured the team's 1962 meltdown against the Giants, and later, as an Athletics fan, I endured Kirk Gibson's homer.

Sports are funny things. So are rules, and to complicate matters, referees are human and cameras don't lie. Well, cameras don't lie for the most part.

To me, though, the reality is that the Lions were not victimized, nor were the Packers being rewarded by the league or any such nonsense. I don't think the facemask was a bad call, though I do think Rodgers-squared, as fantastic as it was, was largely tinged with luck.

The thing is, the Lions had numerous opportunities to put the Packers away, and they couldn't do it. This is nothing new. Aaron Rodgers is good at late game winning drives. 

However, the bottom line is that Jack Tatum's spike wasn't quite good enough, nor was Dennis Eckersley's slider, and on Monday, Devin Taylor's tackle wasn't quite perfect enough.

It all reminds me of Ron Washington's comment about Jeremy Giambi's lack of slide during Game 3 of the 2001 Divison Series: "You have to finish the fucking play," said Ron.

That is right. There is no room in competitive sports for sentimentality. If you want to win, you must step on the throat of all challengers until you have no more. Because, if allowed an extra pitch, or play, or shot, irrespective of the contest, that really gives just more chance for things to go wrong.

It is well known--well, I hope it is--that I am not a fan of instant replay. And, it is not that I don't want the refs to get the calls right, but as often as not, it is hard to definitively read the disposition of a play with instant replay. (Although to be fair, the slo-mo replay clearly showed Taylor's hands giving a tug to Rodgers' helmet.)

But, after the penalty, Green Bay still had to complete a 70-yard Hail Mary when everyone on the planet knew that play was coming. Despite that, the Pack pulled it off.

So, the bottom line on Thursday was that Detroit was neither cheated, nor robbed. Per Wash, the Lions didn't "finish the fucking play." 

Where do I start?

With the two most exciting sporting events I have witnessed live?

With the fact that in the early 90's I was a season ticket holder for the Golden State Warriors for three years. It just so happened that the Warriors had Billy Owens, Mitch Richmond, Chris Mullin and a chunk of great young stars that made it look like Golden State would be the team of the decade going forward?

With the fact that bad management and coaching destroyed that team for the next 20-plus years so that in frustration I gave up my tix and vowed never to watch or attend another game?

With Stephen Curry and his mates?

Ok, so I started, and indeed I have to admit baseball and football have always been my first loves, hoops being at best marginal. But in 1993, my friend Mark Berenberg (a serious hoops aficionado) talked me into a quarter share of Golden State tickets for the coming season.

It was great. I knew the Warriors were not that strong at the time, but I knew they had Run TMC (Tim Hardaway, Richmond and Mullin) and were a sellout every game. I also knew the team traded Richmond for top pick Billy Owens in 1991, breaking up the high-scoring troika, but adding a big power forward to the team would push the team towards a championship.

After adding Chris Webber, with Mark, and our friend Richard Kweller, we bought in, and 1993 seemed too promising to believe when the Warriors swapped Penny Hardaway and three future first rounders (sigh) for the rights to the big (6'10") Michigan sophomore who, when drafted, did not like playing center.

However, the Warriors beat the seemingly invincible Knicks, and later the Orlando Magic, who featured Shaquille O'Neal

That game with Orlando was easily the most exciting and intense sporting event I have ever seen, and that includes a lot of baseball games, featuring a perfect game, a pair of All-Star games and a bunch of post-season affairs. I saw Willie McCovey's final hit, Rickey Henderson break the stolen base record and Dallas Braden's perfect game.

But, nothing matches the final ten minutes of that game. Actually, it was the final minute, which stretched into ten minutes, and saw the Warriors, down by five, return to win after Shaq fouled out and Latrell Sprewell blocked the final shot (that almost looked like goaltending).

The fans inside the Oakland Coliseum were on their feet the entire time, screaming and stomping such that it felt the mezzanine level of the Arena was moving with each bounce, shot, and pass.

However, after that the wheels fell off. P.J. Carlesimo was hired. Sprewell choked him. Owens never panned out. Mullin and Webber and Richmond were traded. And, it just seemed unconscionable to me to keep watching such awful mismanagement, so I swore off basketball in person and on TV. Period.

I stayed away, faithfully, at least till a guitar lesson in the middle of last year when Steve (that would be Steve Gibson, my teacher) told me I really had to check out Stephen Curry.

It was not until the final game against Cleveland was starting up last June, principle sort of went out the window, at least for a game. That is till the other night, for in the discipline of blocking basketball from my psyche, it has not occurred to me to look till it was noted the other day that Golden State was on the verge of going 16-0.

So I watched, kind of in amazement. Maybe this team is as good as the one I discarded could have been? Maybe better, but certainly Steve was right when he said Curry was good. So is the entire team.

I guess what I am saying is, when I said, "I would never watch you again, Golden State, I did not really mean never, and I am back, if you will have me?"

By the way, the second most exciting sporting event I ever attended was a high school championship basketball game that pretty much ended the same way as the Warriors and Magic.


As the winter meetings approach, the big league teams have already been busy trading parts and tinkering with rosters, so let's take this nice little pre-Thanksgiving lull to take a look at the Hot Stove (where maybe the stuffing is warming) and think about the impact.

Leonys Martin (to the Mariners from the Rangers): Seattle is trying to retrofit a bit to a younger lineup after going in that direction and then being waylaid in the wake of the Robinson Cano signing. Martin, who has pop and speed, and fell flat in Texas last year, should benefit from a new start, and the Northwest could be a nice place to start. Martin looked like an AL verson of Starling Marte until last year. A new scene might bring some of that back.

Aaron Hicks (to the Yankees from the Twins): Interesting acquisition for a team sitting on Jacoby Ellsbury, Brett Gardner and Carlos Beltran, among others, ready to chase flies. I am guessing Hicks winds up getting the playing time while Gardner or Ellsbury is swapped, and Beltran plays 87 games.

Craig Kimbrel (to the Red Sox from the Padres): Arguably the best closer goes to the team seemingly most obsessed with finding a closer, Kimbrel should be a fine addition in Boston. However, the cost was two very fine prospects in outfielder Manuel Margot and shortstop Javier Guerra, both of whom should figure in the Friars 2016 mix. Kimbrel will be a top AL closer as well in a deal that does help both teams, it seems.

Francisco Rodriguez (to the Tigers from the Brewers): Detroit's search for a closer has been much more futile than that of the Red Sox. K-Rod turns 34 next year and has been pretty steady over the past 14 years, so this could steady the slot until someone home grown appears in the Motor City. Expect 30 saves and remember, he is easier to watch than Fernando Rodney.

Jose Pirela (to Padres from Yankees): For young (18) but untested Ronald Herrera, the Pads now have more infield possiblities than just about anyone, and some of those involved (Jedd Gyorko, Cory Spangenberg, among others) could evolve into a solid infield. The question for Pirela is where can he see daylight.

Jonathan Villar (from the Astros to the Brewers): Villar, with 42 big league swipes, is sort of the American League's Dee Gordon, with good numbers as a minor leaguer (.261 average, .337 OBP and 252 steals). 

Erick Aybar/Andrelton Simmons (Angels to Braves and vice versa): Everyone knows how much I like Aybar, who is consistent (.276-6-55 with 19 steals over 162-game career mean) and, well, Simmons is a defensive whiz who has a little pop (17 homers in 2012) but not much else (.666 career OPS). The Angels are good at scoring runs, so the pressure should be off both guys to do their thing. I like this both ways.

 Cameron Maybin (Braves to Tigers): Maybin is so tempting but still never puts it all together. But, he is now on a team with Miguel Cabrera and J.D. Martinez, so much like Simmons, he will need to just settle in, play some defense and get on base, letting his mates drive him in. He is still just 28, so time to step into those peak years at the right place and time.

Jesse Chavez (A's to Blue Jays): Chavez did everything that was asked of him in Oakland, and filled the gaps, but whether anyone likes it or not, he is not a 200-inning starter. He is great as a spot starter, fill-in and long pitcher but gives the impression he is more than that. Liam Hendriks (whom Oakland got in exchange) has a lot more upside. Chavez will not remain in the Jays rotation, no matter how much we like him or want him to.

I always kind of crack up when my friends suggest that with the baseball season over, with the fall comes some down time. Surely, there is football to distract me from the respite suggested. But, those of us in the industry know that the span between now and the crazy culmination of travel and drafts that accompany spring training and the start of the season is not long.

Aside from writing profiles (if you ever want to prep for a draft or auction, try writing a few hundred!), this is the time of year that articles and projections and analysis and mock drafts with comments are all coordinated and sent off for publication. So far, I have participated in a couple.

Since we are essentially four months from the chaos of March, there have been surprises in the mocks I have witnessed. So, in order to whet your appetite a bit, as well as get your brain moving for the spring, here are indeed some of the surprises.

Carlos Correa (SS, Astros): Correa was a top five pick in both mocks, which makes him the hottest rookie I can remember. (Yes, Mike Trout did make a splash, jumping to being a top pick in 2013, but remember he lost some luster with a rugged first show in the Show in 2011). Such is the path of a 21-year-old shortstop with an .857 OPS. I guess we better get used to it.

Charlie Blackmon (OF, Rockies): Two mocks, and in both Blackmon was grabbed in the second round. Huh? It was Rotowire's Derek Van Riper who pointed out the .797 OPS with 31 doubles, 43 swipes, 17 homers, and 93 runs that make Blackmon pretty good across the board. Seems like he is getting better, too.

Kris Bryant (3B, Cubs): Not a big surprise, but Bryant is now more sought after than Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista. Not sure if that makes sense just yet, but for sure he is a first rounder thus far.

Kyle Schwarber (OF/C, Cubs): Qualifying at backstop boosts Schwarber some, but he was grabbed by the third round in both leagues, ahead of picks like Brandon Crawford (20 homers at short is not bad) even though steals are not out there in Schwarber's crystal ball. I do love the guy, and have no issue with this in a way, though I would like to see a full season before I can figure out whether Schwarber is Matt Stairs or Adam Dunn (neither meant as an insult at all).

Miguel Sano (DH, Twins): Again, taken in the second round in both mocks, which is a lot of stock and upside faith to put on a kid with just 80 games under his belt, but what can you say?

Mookie Betts (OF, Red Sox): If Betts and his .291-18-77-21 line warrants a first-round selection, suddenly Blackmon, maybe a round later with equal power and extra steals, seems to be a steal.

Xander Bogaerts (SS, Red Sox): 196 hits last year, and nowhere to go but up, in theory. Bogaerts did slip to the third round. But again, that is a nice jump from last year.

Brian Dozier (2B, Twins): Dozier was a third-round pick last year in at least one mock, and repeated that with his return to mid-20's homers out of the keystone slot. Call me doubtful, but that looks like drafting out of scarcity to me, but reality is reality.

George Springer (OF, Astros): With Springer, as with just about everyone listed above not surnamed Dozier or Blackmon, a lot of stock in drafting early on is rooted in upside.

Since no wave of prospects like those who emerged in 2015 has ever occurred in baseball with the volume of last season, it is hard to assess which of these young guns will earn their draft price. They all could, but my guess is some will fall, suffering the Sophomore Jinx.

However, if you are indeed looking for some bargains as you begin to think about drafting in the spring, nominating the young guns early might leave some solid cheap vets for you to feast upon.

For the 15th year, I find myself in Phoenix participating in the BaseballHQ First Pitch at the Arizona Fall League for a long weekend's worth of seminars, fall baseball, and even some golf this year. But the best part is seeing dear friends, most of whom have grown up in and around the fantasy industry that has now taken hold of our culture.

It is pretty amazing to me, and I suspect to all of us. But here we are, and yesterday, for the 12th time, the participants of the XFL assembled to draft our 2016 teams.

The XFL has a $260 salary cap, allows for 15 keepers, and to compensate for the nebulous nature of rosters at the end of the season, we hold a 17-round expansion draft within a week of the season beginning. At that time, we can acquire prospects, who if retained have an initial $1 salary that increases by $3 a season indefinitely. As examples, I have Yoenis Cespedes at $13, now in his fifth year, and Matt Kemp at $31, in his 11th.

That combination of constraints makes for some interesting auctions, with generally strange and expensive runs of backstops, and peculiarities that found both Jhonny Peralta and Pablo Sandoval costing just a buck as part of the end game.

A few weeks back, I did list my keepers in prepping for the draft, but since I now have a team, here are the results. Note the bold F indicates the player was frozen, and I left the comments made in the earlier article.

Robinson Chirinos ($4, C): Hit ten homers over 273 at-bats last year, and I was keenly aware just how goofy the catcher costs can go, so I was happy to break the ice for my team, nominate Chirinos early, get him cheap, and move along.

Jason Castro ($13, C): Castro wound up being the last good everyday backstop, forcing my backstopless mates to pony up almost as much for the pleasure of Chris Iannetta.

Ryan Zimmerman ($13, 1B): I wanted Adrian Gonzalez, but $42 was more than I cared to spend, so I adjusted and grabbed Zimmerman, hoping he is settled at first and maybe healthy for the first time. And, Zimmerman did hit .311-11-39 over the second half, so maybe that mojo is back for the 30-year-old.

Jedd Gyorko ($10F, 2B): At value, but Gyorko salvaged a lot with his strong second half (.259-13-43) and since he qualifies at both second and short, it's worth the power gamble for a guy who could bang 30 big flies.

Kyle Seager ($21F, 3B): Pretty steady power source at third. Close to value, but still can squeeze a few bucks profit, and Seager might still have a monster year in his bat.

Marcus Semien ($4F, SS): Cheap gamble for a little speed and some power. Will look to kick his totals up next year.

Rob Refsnyder ($4F, MI): Another prospect gamble, but like Semien, Gyorko and several others on my team, their salaries only increase $3 a year as they were drafted as minor league prospects and promoted through the league.

Nick Castellanos ($10F, CI): Another former prospect, Castellanos is like a lot of the players on this list: great minor league numbers, lots of potential, but I need it realized, ideally this year.

Matt Kemp ($31F, OF): Again, close to value, but there have been big years in Kemp's stick, and he has certainly been very hot the second half of recent seasons. Kemp was another guy whose salary advanced to the tune of $3 a year and I am just not ready to let go yet (maybe that is the problem?).

Yoenis Cespedes ($13F, OF): Another salary control, if Cespedes can come close to his 2015 numbers, he will be a bargain and a half.

Gerardo Parra ($1, OF): Don't ask me. I hadn't planned on getting Parra. In fact, I nominated him for a buck and heard crickets. I don't expect another .291-14-51 season with 14 steals, but for a buck, I suspect Parra will give me a profit.

Jacoby Ellsbury ($10, OF): Don't ask me, redux. I needed speed, and Ellsbury was nominated for a buck, so I bumped it to $10. I hoped maybe I could grab Ellsbury for $15, but again, crickets with Ellsbury falling to me for $10. And, with the die cast, there were a few mumbles of "damn, I should have bid more."

Alex Rios ($5, OF): My last player acquired. If I can get 450 at-bats, that will be good for the price.

Prince Fielder ($26, UT): Almost as much of a shock as Ellsbury and Parra, after A-Gone went for $42, I just figured Fielder was too much to imagine. That was one reason I went for Zimmerman, who was nominated a lot earlier than the Prince. But, I guess money was tight later in the draft, and that Utility slots had been mostly populated, and that combo allowed me to grab Fielder at a more than modest price. My team's struggles in this very difficult league have been well- documented over the past few years, but if I have a ticket out of the cellar this year, the bargain prices I got for Fielder, Parra and Ellsbury will be the ticket.

Zack Greinke ($32F, P): Easy to justify based upon his 2015. At least I have an ace going into the draft.

Marco Estrada ($6F, P): A cheap endgame pick last year, Estrada certainly showed his stuff. The question is can it carry into 2016? I hope so.

Hector Santiago ($7F, P): Pretty much the same as Estrada, but younger.

Edinson Volquez ($9, P): I have always liked Volquez' stuff (I scored him at ATT his rookie season) and he has been pretty good for the last two years. Now 31, and a cog of a championship team, I am guessing Volquez is going to have a fine season as an experienced veteran.

Brandon Finnegan ($3, P): I couldn't freeze Finnegan, but I was happy to get him back. A hard-thrower and part of the Johnny Cueto trade spoils, Finnegan will go right into the Reds rotation barring something goofy. I think the first-round pick in 2014 is going to be really good.

Rubby De La Rosa ($1, P): Last pitcher, had a buck, deep draft, worth a gamble. With 14 future picks in March (I froze three minor leaguers in Hunter Renfroe, Billy McKinney and Aaron Blair), I can probably cover a few of the above slots as necessary.

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