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Friday 21st Jul 2017

My original focus in writing this article was to delve into the FAAB chess game played among owners in two National League-only industry leagues as the result of the first major interleague trade of the summer, with lefty Jose Quintana moving from the White Sox to the Cubs.

While that will still occur and will hopefully be illustrative, I want to begin with an admission from a veteran winner of many such competitions, including NL LABR 2016. Derek Carty came into this past weekend with the most FAAB in both NL LABR and NL Tout Wars. In another oddity, in both industry leagues, Carty was exactly 35 points out of a share of the lead.

So, the question was, with the FAAB hammer, does he swing now, or hope for an even better prize in a week or two?

It appeared that Carty’s strategy was the latter, as he did not bid on Quintana in either league.

However, the reason was not what I expected it would be, but let’s be honest, we have all been there – or we are liars.

“Kind of afraid to admit it, but I don't have Quintana right now because I dropped the ball,” Carty explained. The combination of his birthday celebration and taking his first weekend off from work since February led to him losing track of time. As a result, he did not get any bids in.

So, with Carty out of the picture, what happened with Quintana in each league and why?

Let’s look at the top bidders in the context of each league’s standings and their remaining FAAB as of this past Sunday.

NL Tout Wars

The only teams with a realistic chance to win are:
Gray Albright: 105 points
Tristan H. Cockcroft: 95.5 points
Scott Wilderman: 83.5 points
Everyone else: 70 points or less.

Owners with the most FAAB coming into the weekend:
Carty: $897
Mike Gianella: $880
Cockcroft: $866
Scott Wilderman: $861

Other than Cockcroft, the names are a mismatch, but I was sure that industry league winners Carty and Gianella were not about to let Tristan H. snatch the prize. I was half right.

While there were a number of triple-digit bids, the real battle was between Gianella and Cockcroft. The former bid $866, just enough to edge the latter’s best-possible offer. With Cockcroft second in the league standings, Gianella did all of his mates a favor by the keep-away. Of course, having Quintana on his staff is not a bad result for Mike, either.

Gianella had motivation, but it was not blocking on his mind.

“I'm not going to win, but I do want to avoid the FAAB penalty,” Gianella said.

Mike is referring to Tout Wars’ stick, used to keep owners engaged all season long. Those who finish with less than 60 points in the league standings are docked FAAB money the next season. The amount withheld is $10 per point under 60, on a base stipend of $1000.

Gianella went on to explain further.

“With Johnny Cueto and Kyle Hendricks out and with most of the injured hitters and Starling Marte back, pitching seemed like the best place to put my resources. There are no guarantees that anyone better than Quintana will be traded over, so I took my shot,” the NL 2014 champion concluded.

NL LABR

The situation was similar here as in Tout, in that three teams are head and shoulders above the others in the standings:
Steve Gardner: 97 points
Eric Karabell: 90 points
Glenn Colton and Rick Wolf: 89.5 points
Everyone else: 67 points or less.

Owners with the most FAAB coming into the weekend:
Carty: $115
Dalton Del Don: $109
Karabell: $92
Colton and Wolf: $90

So, the question coming into the bidding was whether Carty or Del Don - or both - would block Quintana from landing on the Karabell or Colton/Wolf rosters.

With the second-most FAAB in NL LABR at $109, Dalton Del Don got his man. “Only” 10 of the league’s 12 owners placed offers.

Not knowing that Carty would be sitting it out, Del Don bid his entire kitty, when $92 would have been enough to beat everyone other than Carty - even Karabell on the tiebreaker.

The by-product of his aggressive winning offer will be costly for Del Don. Currently in last place, 10 ½ points out of 11th, he lost his ability to add any further free agents to plug gaps for the entire remainder of the season. This is due to LABR’s $1 minimum bid rule.

Well, that wouldn’t necessarily be true. If one of his drafted players is injured for the season, he could cash him in, which is how he got over the $100 starting point in the first place. However, it is too late for Del Don - and everyone else. One LABR-unique rule is that no FAAB rebates are offered after the All-Star break.

Further, FAAB cannot be traded in LABR, leaving him in a tough spot with no way to replenish his free agent kitty. That lost $17 was valuable, but he does own Quintana, so there’s that.

Del Don was primarily focused on getting the best player in the here and now.

“As anyone who plays in ‘only’ leagues knows, the waiver wire is always barren,” Del Don said in an understatement. “After losing out on a couple of bids early this year, I decided to hoard my FAAB and wait for the trade deadline and nab an American League player coming over to the NL. My team is in a lot of trouble, whether it be due to injuries or my poor auctioning, so I'm fairly desperate, especially in pitching.

“Quintana has a long track record of success despite his slow start this year, and a move to the NL and the Cubs should help (his first start was a 12:0 K:BB ratio gem). And more importantly, I love grabbing a player now as opposed to the trade deadline, as I'll get a few extra starts, which was one of the main factors in me bidding 100% of my FAAB,” he concluded.

Playing 'What If?'

I couldn’t help but ask Carty what he would have done had last weekend been a regular one in his life.

“I probably would have just gone +1 on the next highest possible and then fished around for trades, since I'm fairly well set for pitching in both leagues,” Carty said.

In other words, in both NL Tout and LABR, Quintana would have moved from the real trade market to the fantasy one!

In closing, thanks to Gianella, Del Don and Carty for sharing their motivations with this league competitor – and all of you.

Brian Walton was the 2009 National League Tout Wars champion, scoring the most points in the league’s 18-year history. He also holds the all-time NL Tout single-season records for wins and saves. His work can also be found daily at TheCardinalNation.com. Follow Brian on Twitter @B_Walton.

There is no better way to stop me from clicking on an article this time of year than to read a headline whining about “All-Star Snubs”.

It is a stupid premise promoted by those out of touch with reality. Being selected to the All-Star Game is supposed to be for the elite. Even if there were 100 players per roster, some supporter of player number 101 will surely deliver an impassioned “fact-based” argument why his guy was jobbed. Boring.

The fact is, MLB has done a pretty good job of diversifying the All-Star selection process among fans, players and managers – while keeping their own hand on the rudder, as well.

With that off my chest, I will talk about a different kind of snu… er omission.

MLB’s All-Star Game remains a first half-only event. In terms of individual accomplishment, nothing that happened between last July and October is taken into account for All-Star selections. This is inherently wrong.

This is hardly a new concern. Over a half-century ago, MLB experimented with two annual All-Star Games, with the second one held in the fall. Not unlike the NFL Pro Bowl of today, the timing of the later contest made it a logistical challenge and it soon faded away, apparently due to a general lack of interest.

I get that nothing is going to change any time soon no matter how long I hold my breath. So, instead, I will turn my energies to recognizing second-half 2016 performers who also made a good first-half case to become 2017 All-Stars, yet were not selected.

To do that, I simply ran lists of the top individual performers since the 2016 All-Star Game and looked at those who were not named to this year’s AL and NL squads. My population consists of the 139 hitters with at least 500 plate appearances since last July 12.

Here are the two-half year top 10 leaders in key categories not invited to Miami.

Home Runs – Only four of the top 11 long-ball hitters made the All-Star teams. These seven did not, including three of the top four in MLB. These are clearly no longer the Bonds/McGwire/Sosa days. Interesting how even in a down time, Manny Machado makes the top 10, tied with Jedd Gyorko. Jedd Gyorko? The guy who was traded straight up for Jon Jay?

  HR MLB rank
Khris Davis 47 1st
Brian Dozier 41 T 2nd
Jay Bruce 38 4th
George Springer 37 T 5th
Edwin Encarnacion 37 T 5th
Manny Machado 36 T 10th
Jedd Gyorko 36 T 10th

RBI – Seven of the top 10 were recognized – a better showing. Notice how that old warhorse Albert Pujols made a very strong showing on the list. Yes, I am surprised, too!

  RBI MLB rank
Albert Pujols 113 4th
Khris Davis 107 T 6th
Jose Abreu 106 T 8th

Batting Average – Eight of the top 12 were in Miami.

  BA MLB rank
Jean Segura 0.338 4th
Freddie Freeman 0.333 6th
Dustin Pedroia 0.319 T 10th
Ender Inciarte 0.319 T 10th

On-Base Percentage – Like with RBI, only three of the two half-years’ top 10 were not invited.

  OBP MLB rank
Freddie Freeman 0.442 3rd
Kris Bryant 0.393 8th
Miguel Cabrera 0.389 10th

Slugging Percentage – Now here is where it gets really interesting. Nine of the top 10 sluggers are All-Stars. Freddie Freeman probably would have been had he not been injured, but based on his success plus the fact he came off the DL in time to play the final week of the first half, he should have been on the NL team, anyway.

  SLG MLB rank
Freddie Freeman 0.677 1st

OPS – Ditto on what I said just above about Freeman, though Miguel Cabrera deserves a very honorable mention. Like Pujols, perhaps we buried him too early.

  OPS MLB rank
Freddie Freeman 1.119 1st
Miguel Cabrera 0.924 10th

Brian Walton was the 2009 National League Tout Wars champion, scoring the most points in the league’s 18-year history. He also holds the all-time NL Tout single-season records for wins and saves. His work can also be found daily at TheCardinalNation.com. Follow Brian on Twitter @B_Walton.

As you probably know, this column is (supposed to be) about rules. Most times, the rules are written and clear for everyone to see. Other times, there are unwritten rules, with just as serious ramifications if violated.

As a result of the latter case, Chicago Cubs catcher Miguel Montero is temporarily in employment limbo. Let’s look into what happened and speculate why.

Cubs starting pitcher Jon Lester has a problem known by even casual fans of the game, being extremely uncomfortable throwing behind runners at first base. As a result, smart opposing baserunners take advantage with longer leads. Of course, that invariably leads to more stolen base attempts and more steals, which fairly or unfairly are also charged to the catcher.

However, when the matter of a Cubs starter not managing the running game properly finally blew up publicly, the target was Jake Arrieta, not Lester.

This matter came to a head on Tuesday night after the Nationals stole seven bases in seven attempts against the duo of Arrieta and Montero, in a game the struggling Cubs lost, 6-1. Trea Turner had four of the seven. In post-game comments to the media, the catcher threw his battery mate under the bus, claiming Arrieta was slow to the plate, thereby making the steals easier to accomplish.

One reason the frustration may have built up is that the veteran Montero has yet to throw out even one baserunner trying to steal in 2017. All 31 to have tried were successful. You don’t need me to interpret that stat for you.

While Montero may have been technically correct in his assessment of Arrieta, even if so, he broke one of sports' most sacred unwritten rules - to always back your teammates publicly. The catcher took the potentially most explosive course of action - short of confronting his pitcher face-to-face, perhaps. Calling out his teammate to the media is about as smart as answering affirmatively when his wife asks him if her new dress makes her look fat.

Instead of taking the high road by not commenting, one of the Cubs’ leaders doubled down on the airing of dirty laundry. First baseman Anthony Rizzo blasted Montero in his own remarks to the media, calling the catcher “selfish” and his comments “unprofessional”. Rizzo also drew an unfavorable comparison between Montero and starting backstop Willson Contreras.

Right again, but the fact Rizzo lashed out himself to the media signaled to me there was a growing fissure in the World Champions’ clubhouse that needed immediate attention.

To that end, action was quickly taken. On Wednesday morning, the club designated Montero for assignment, giving the Cubs 10 days to determine his baseball-playing fate – likely a trade. His roster replacement will be Triple-A catcher Victor Caratini.

So, was Montero really, really stupid (like most seem to agree) or is he crazy like a fox?

His outburst certainly tainted forever the inherent trust so important between pitcher and catcher and turned at least some of his Cubs teammates against him.

But what if Montero doesn’t care? What if he wanted out of town?

No, not because his teammates were scheduled to appear for the second time at the White House Wednesday morning, with their second President! What if he still believes he should be an every-day player – or at least a more active reserve – and decided to force his way out?

For the six years prior to his acquisition by the Cubs before the 2015 season, the now-33 year old had been Arizona’s regular starter behind the plate. The Venezuelan native had twice been named a National League All-Star, including his last season as a Diamondback, in 2014.

By his second year with Chicago, Montero was pushed into a reserve role by the emergence of Contreras. The late career rebirth of folk hero David Ross, Lester’s personal catcher, shoved Montero further into the background.

Last summer, as the trade deadline approached, there were rumors that Montero might be moved, but he remained with the club that went on to win the 2016 World Series, famously breaking the 108-year title drought.

Just maybe, Montero wants to celebrate his 34th birthday, just ahead on July 9, with a new team. After all, his career playing window is rapidly shrinking.

I want to be clear that I am not defending Montero’s actions – just simply wondering if he is really as reckless as he appears on the surface.

My suspicions were heightened when Montero issued a glowing three-part farewell via Twitter to his 154,000 followers, just moments after his banishment was announced. No anger or bitterness was evident, nor was there even a hint of an apology or even any remorse.

“To the city of Chicago Dear fans, today I say goodbye to the greatest fans. I want to thank you for the support.
“It was an awesome ride. Winning the World Series was simply fantastic. Thank you to my teammates - good luck to everyone of you.
“Thank you also to each staff member, it was an honor to play for the Chicago Cubs organization. Chicago will always be in my heart”

To those who think Montero’s reputation will be tarnished by the Arrieta incident, I am not buying it. Contending teams should line up to grab him, especially if he clears waivers, keeping the Cubs on the hook for the vast majority of his remaining 2017 salary of approximately $7 million.

While this divorce may appear especially messy, I predict both parties will quickly realize the benefit of a fresh start – an outcome that Montero himself clearly brought to a head.

Brian Walton was the 2009 National League Tout Wars champion, scoring the most points in the league’s 18-year history. He also holds the all-time NL Tout single-season records for wins and saves. His work can also be found daily at TheCardinalNation.com. Follow Brian on Twitter @B_Walton.

(All images © Brian Walton/The Cardinal Nation)

Unless you have experienced Tebowmania first hand, you just cannot relate.

Many in his home state of Florida built the first wave as the University of Florida star helped his school win two national titles and he personally brought home the 2007 Heisman Trophy. Those are also his career highlights to date, however, as a number of subsequent failures at the professional level led the quarterback to move to the broadcast booth as a commentator.

While keeping one foot in the booth on football weekends, Tebow decided late last summer to give professional baseball a whirl as well. The New York Mets anted up a $100,000 signing bonus, or roughly what a college underclassman drafted in the 13th or 14th round might receive. The difference is those college juniors are 20 or 21 years old, while Tebow will turn 30 next month.

My initial direct exposure of Tebowmania occurred last September 28, while I was covering St. Louis Cardinals instructional league camp. The young Cards were traveling to Port St. Lucie to take on the Mets that afternoon.

Initially, I did not realize that day happened to be Tebow’s very first game against external competition as a Mets outfield prospect. That completely altered the complexion of the entire day - to say the least.

As soon as I pulled into the Tradition Field (now First Data Field) parking lot, I saw way too many cars for a complex game and to one side, at the start of the path to the back fields, there was a tent with a souvenir stand, selling what else? Tebow 15 jerseys! (Remember, this is the instructional league!)

Tebow jerseys 640 8142

Usually, 6 to 8 scouts would be an unusually high number of attendees for an instructional league game. Tradition Field put that to shame for the Tebow show with my estimate of 16-18 present and double that in media members between writers and photographers, including a number of them down from the Big Apple.

Since Tebow was playing left field, many of the photogs hung down that baseline fence, with their big lenses capturing his every move. One national writer had to shake fire ants off his legs, having inadvertently stepped in the wrong spot.

Photogs 640 8195

Mets assistant media relations director Ethan Wilson was present, having come in from New York just to direct traffic. The quantity of scouts and media members were dwarfed by the count of fans at the game. My estimate is several hundred. That is exponentially more than the few family members at best who might be at a normal complex game such as this.

It was a pleasant coincidence that the Mets’ blue and orange colors align perfectly with the University of Florida hues – the same that Tebow wore there.

I have been to literally hundreds of minor league complex games in my career and am 100 percent confident that I had never seen fans with banners – until now.

Tebow banner 640 8319

As many may recall, lead-off man Tebow parked the first pitch he saw over the left-center outfield fence. I can honestly say I experienced another first. I have never, ever seen an on-field celebration in the first inning of any baseball game in my entire life – until then.

It also had to be the first film from any instructional league contest in history to be featured on ESPN SportsCenter. That is how crazy Tebowmania can be.

Tebow cele 640 8240

Just a few weeks later, I was in Phoenix, where the Mets had pushed Tebow into the Arizona Fall League, despite just a handful of days of instructional league game action versus external competition under his belt. Hitting against pitchers who were at least Double-A seasoned - and with some even having made their MLB debuts - it was no surprise that Tebow was not ready for the level of play in the AFL, where he batted .194 in 71 plate appearances.

Still, I expected no matter what Tebow did this spring, he would be assigned to their high-A Florida State League team in St. Lucie to open 2017. Placing Tebow on an organization-owned team seemed a ticket and merchandise-selling bonanza waiting to happen.

Instead, the Mets threw me a curve, starting the left-handed hitter a rung lower, at Columbia of the Class-A South Atlantic League. After 244 plate appearances over 64 games led to a .220 batting average and three homers there, it was deemed good enough by the Mets to promote Tebow to St. Lucie last week.

With Tebow proving the push, Columbia leads the 14-team Sally League in average attendance, at just under 5,300 per game. That compares to the 2017 league average of slightly less than 3,500 per and Columbia’s 2016 average attendance of about 3,800 per contest.

As the show moved to St. Lucie, the Mets drew 5,700 for Tebow’s first series with Palm Beach this past week. That per-game average of about 1,900 does not sound like much until you compare it to the 1,420 the Mets averaged per game in 2016.

If this demonstrates anything, it is that Tebow puts rear ends in seats.

Since .220 was good enough to get him promoted once, the oddsmakers have actually released odds on whether Tebow can be promoted three more times this year and make his MLB debut in 2017. Bovada will give 4/1 odds on “yes” and 1/4 for “no”. Honest.

So if you are in Binghamton, Las Vegas or even Flushing Meadows, it seems only a matter of time until Tebowmania reaches you. You can bet on it!

Brian Walton was the 2009 National League Tout Wars champion, scoring the most points in the league’s 18-year history. He also holds the all-time NL Tout single-season records for wins and saves. His work can also be found daily at TheCardinalNation.com. Follow Brian on Twitter @B_Walton.

The slide rule has to go.

No, I am not talking about the sticks that nerds used as late as the 1960s to do complicated calculations - before the invention of the hand-held electronic calculator sent them the way of the buggy whip. These slide rules have already been relegated to museum pieces.

I am suggesting a similar fate is needed for Major League Baseball’s rule to protect catchers and other vulnerable defenders from dangerous base runners.

Don’t get me wrong. I am all for safety, and personally, I have no issue with the intent of the rule as it is written today.

The problem is that those charged with putting teeth behind it and dealing with its after-effects do not seem to want to do that. As a result, a rule exists that is worth less than the paper it is written on.

Of course, the current event that sparked this column occurred on Monday. Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo appeared to alter his path at the last moment, crashing into Padres catcher Austin Hedges and knocking him out of the game with a bruised right thigh. Rizzo was called out at the plate because the falling Hedges held onto the ball.

San Diego manager Andy Green called it “a cheap shot”. As one would expect, Rizzo defended his actions, calling it “a hard slide”.

Don’t worry, I am not going to go where 99 percent of analysts have gone with this story. You see, it is completely irrelevant whether or not you or I believe the play was legal. It doesn’t matter what fans in Chicago or San Diego think.

MLB’s judge and jury, the only person who has a vote on the matter, confirmed that Rizzo indeed committed a rules violation.

Joe Torre, who is in charge of discipline for MLB, readily admitted the slide was illegal. When the two spoke, the Hall of Famer said he told Rizzo the collision violated Rule 7.13. It states “a runner attempting to score may not deviate from his direct pathway to the plate in order to initiate contact with the catcher (or other player covering home plate)…”

Even so, Torre declined to punish Rizzo, saying there is "no precedent” to do so.

Uh, Joe, did you not know that anytime there is a new rule, there is never going to be a precedent – until someone steps up and establishes it. Really, could there have been a better time than this to do so?

If one wanted to send a clear message to baserunners to not drill catchers, this was the time.

Instead, the only “punishment” mandated for Rizzo taking out Hedges was to be called out – and since he was out, anyway, he gets off with zero penalty for a slide that was clearly illegal.

By making the decision to do nothing in what seems a very cut-and-dried case, Torre has essentially neutered the slide rule.

After all, who wouldn’t risk an out in return for taking out the opposing catcher?

If not for Rizzo, how could discipline for an illegal slide be administered to anyone? By ducking putting any teeth behind Rule 7.13, Torre has established his precedent. Any penalty that would be issued down the road to others would correctly be labeled as selective in nature.

It seems to me that it would be better to have no rule at all than give lip service to one that is in reality just wallpaper. Better yet, establish a clear penalty schedule for violations, taking the selectivity out of it entirely. Something needs to be done.

Brian Walton was the 2009 National League Tout Wars champion, scoring the most points in the league’s 18-year history. He also holds the all-time NL Tout single-season records for wins and saves. His work can also be found daily at TheCardinalNation.com. Follow Brian on Twitter @B_Walton.

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