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Jack Z’s Reign as “Genius” GM Comes to an End PDF Print E-mail
Articles of Configuration
Written by Brian Walton   
Saturday, 29 August 2015 00:00

On Friday, Jack Zduriencik was fired as general manager of the Seattle Mariners. It was not an unexpected move as he was leading one of Major League Baseball’s biggest disappointments of 2015. The M’s were 10 games under .500 at 59-69 and 12 games out of first place after showing renewed promise by winning 87 games last season.

Since, the club had added proven hitters in Nelson Cruz and Mark Trumbo, yet manager Lloyd McClendon’s club is only four games out of last place – just ahead of another surprisingly poor performing team in Oakland.

In Zduriencik’s seven years at the helm of the American League West organization, the Mariners managed just one other winning year, way back in his first season of 2009.

Managers who preceded McClendon included Don Wakamatsu and Eric Wedge – both having departed under very tumultuous circumstances. The former essentially faced a player revolt and was fired while the latter walked out because of the trying organizational working environment.

Back near the very beginning – in 2009 - is when my long-held uncomfortable feelings about Jack Z began – more than anything because of what others were saying about the then-still unproven GM.

Still, there seemed no doubt that Zduriencik had earned his shot at the big chair. His success leading Milwaukee’s scouting operations had brought the Brewers an impressive nucleus that included Ryan Braun, Prince Fielder, Yovani Gallardo, J.J. Hardy and others. In fact, in 2007, he had been the first non-GM to be named Baseball America’s Executive of the Year.

He came into Seattle with a reputation as being an ideal meld of old-school scouting and new-wave analytics.

After a huge turnaround in 2009 during which the Mariners improved by 24 games over the year before, the “Jack Z is a genius” movement gained significant momentum, apparently fueled by special love from the saber community.

In March 2010, a Fangraphs article anointed Seattle as baseball’s sixth-best organization. One of the many reasons cited was the organization’s hiring of well-known sabermetrics analyst Tom Tango. The closing: “After years of being a joke, the Mariners have made one of the most impressive turnarounds in recent history.”

That same month, Sports Illustrated ranked Zduriencik, with barely a year on the job, as the #5 GM in all of MLB. Author Tim Marchman stopped just short of genius worship, calling Jack Z. “one of baseball's most highly regarded minds.”

Reality was far harsher. That season, the Mariners went on to win 61 games and lose 101, the team’s worst record since way back in 1983. So much for pronouncements.

It didn’t get much better over time, with the team taking until 2014 just to get back to .500.

Perhaps the most damning criticism of Jack Z’s reign was included in a December 2013 Seattle Times report, “Dysfunction at the top: Eric Wedge, others point to trouble in Mariners’ front office.” The article included charges made by former special assistant Tony Blengino.

Blengino, who had worked for Zduriencik for the Brewers and Mariners, had been fired earlier that year. As such, one might question his motives. Yet, Blengino minced no words. He asserted that he wrote "virtually the entire job application package Zduriencik gave the Mariners in 2008, depicting a dual-threat candidate melding traditional scouting with advanced statistical analysis.”

“Jack portrayed himself as a scouting/stats hybrid because that’s what he needed to get the job,” Blengino said. “But Jack never has understood one iota about statistical analysis…”

The Seattle Times article went on to assert that “Numerous unhappy scouts and executives have quit or been fired by the Zduriencik regime.”

"‘They’ve humiliated people they’ve let go,’ a then-current scout told the Times. ‘And the ones still here hate it. They hate the way they’re treated.’"

Speaking of scouting, his supposed strength, Zduriencik has stumbled, rightfully taking heat for his three fruitless top-five picks. They include Dustin Ackley (second overall in 2009) and Danny Hultzen (second overall in 2011). It is too early to call Mike Zunino (third overall in 2012) a bust, but the catcher has clearly disappointed. In fact, just one player Zduriencik drafted in his years in Seattle has become an All-Star - third baseman Kyle Seager.

Zduriencik’s free agent acquisitions (starting with Chone Figgins through Robinson Cano), and trades (for Cliff Lee and sending away Michael Pineda for Jesus Montero among others) also did not make his clubs a regular contender. Instead, each year extended Seattle’s second-longest playoff drought in MLB, stretching back to 2001.

And ultimately, that continued futility is what led to Zduriencik’s firing. Whether he is a genius or more likely something less, the teams he assembled simply did not win.

Here’s hoping his successor is given a chance to truly chart his own path before any unreasonable labels – whether positive or negative - are placed on him.

Brian Walton was the 2009 National League Tout Wars champion, scoring the most points in the league’s 17-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 and thecardinalnationblog.com. Follow Brian on Twitter.

Last Updated on Saturday, 29 August 2015 09:06
 
Stars Returning from Injury May Offer Final-Month Value PDF Print E-mail
Articles of Configuration
Written by Brian Walton   
Saturday, 22 August 2015 00:00

An interesting feature of Tout Wars is FAAB reclaim. An owner can request reimbursement of money spent on any player taken on draft day if he goes onto his MLB team’s disabled list. The cash rebate is 100 percent until the All-Star break and 50 percent after.

When first introduced, the trigger for FAAB reclaim was placement on the 60-day disabled list. The thought was that the 60-day DL was often used for players out for the season, which dovetailed with the original intent of the rule. Unfortunately, it was not a foolproof approach since the 60-day cannot be used by MLB squads until their 40-man roster is full. As a result, some players out for the season never made it to the 60-day.

Tout then swung the pendulum the other way, changing the rules to allow FAAB reclaim on any disabled player, even if he spends just the minimum 15 days out. To safeguard against any potential funny business, a stipulation was added that requires the drafting owner to pay the full original price if he later wants to try to buy his cashed-in player back.

As mentioned in this column recently, Baseball HQ’s Phil Hertz set off a bidding war when he turned in David Wright for FAAB reclaim just before the break. A few weeks later, Hertz figured out a twist with his next injured star. Rather than turn Pirates infielder Josh Harrison in for $18 FAAB, Hertz traded Harrison to USA TODAY’s Steve Gardner for more than the reclaim amount, $20. Both owners were happy, as Hertz received more cash and Gardner paid less than if a bidding scrum for Harrison had ensued the next week.

Two players who generated no interest after their respective FAAB reclaims come from the St. Louis Cardinals – first baseman Matt Adams and ace right-hander Adam Wainwright. It was not surprising as both were deemed out for the season after surgery – Adams with a Grade 3 quad strain and Wainwright with an Achilles injury.

As a result, Wainwright was cashed out by Lenny Melnick in early-May and Adams by Gene McCaffrey that same month.

While some of my peers are holding money hoping for difference-makers in September call-ups, I decided to spring into action now based on snippets of information that the two might make it back during the final month, after all.

While Adams has been out, the Cardinals have received very little production from the first base position. Mark Reynolds was a major disappointment as has deadline trade acquisition Brandon Moss. Rookie Stephen Piscotty was called up to play first, but is now stationed in left field due to Matt Holliday’s injury.

In other words, the Cardinals need Adams’ bat as soon as he can get ready.

Adams has progressed to the point he is hitting and fielding. When I learned he would be heading to Florida this week for rehab, I was ready to jump. My fear was that others were reading this too, so I bid most of my remaining cash, $25. As it turned out, I was alone in my interest, paying just $1 due to Tout’s Vickrey rule.

Wainwright has been saying all along that his goal was to return in 2015. Most, including me, wrote off the talk as coming from an overly-optimistic player. However, this past week, it was divulged that Wainwright is throwing from 90 feet and may be cleared to go back on the mound in a couple of weeks. Even if he returns in the final month, it could be as a reliever. Yet his success in that role in 2006 was enough for me to spend $1 and take a week of no stats now.

It is also worth noting that both players can be moved to the Tout disabled list next week and I can reuse their active roster spots on other free agents until after they are activated by St. Louis. Since the two cost me a total of just $2, I still have the third-most money in the league.

In other words, the limited risk and potential considerable upside in September made going after these two veterans a no-brainer move for me.

If your league rules allow adding disabled players and stashing them without penalty, consider such moves with players like Wright, Harrison (activated Friday), Adams and Wainwright. You may be glad you did – compared with waiting for kids who may never come and if they do, may not cause a blip on the final-month radar.

Brian Walton was the 2009 National League Tout Wars champion, scoring the most points in the league’s 17-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 and thecardinalnationblog.com. Follow Brian on Twitter.

Last Updated on Saturday, 22 August 2015 10:14
 
Choosing from Among the Scraps PDF Print E-mail
Articles of Configuration
Written by Brian Walton   
Saturday, 15 August 2015 00:00

As I noted previously, coming into Major League Baseball’s non-waiver trade deadline, I had the fourth-most money remaining in National League Tout Wars. With only three players of significance moving into the league – Yoenis Cespedes, Jose Reyes and Brandon Moss – it was the worst possible place for me to be.

While the three hitters generated winning bids of between $78 and $75, I was forced to remain on the sideline with my $74. I was out of the action for that particular week, but not dead yet.

This past week brought the first wave of MLB’s scratch and dent sale, otherwise known as waiver trades. Generally, the only players to clear waivers and be dealt are older players with contracts so ugly that no one else would want them.

So it was with Cleveland and Atlanta. The Braves shed one bad deal in Chris Johnson for two in Michael Bourn and Nick Swisher. This deal would have been an absolute blockbuster in 2010, but in 2015 it is more about disposing of distressed assets between two teams out of the playoff picture.

Though I took over the FAAB hammer this week in NL Tout, it was not a comfortable lead. Gene McCaffrey was just one dollar behind with Scott Wilderman holding $60.

My decision was whether to potentially spend my entire $74 on Bourn, wait in hopes of another waiver trade later this month for a better player coming into the Senior Circuit or take a hybrid approach.

The latter would be to go for both Bourn and Swisher in a conditional pair of bids, knowing I would get at least one of them and have $12 or so remaining for other bids later.

A sticking point for me is that I do not see the two players as equals. I think there could be a gulf in performance between Atlanta’s two new outfielders. Swisher has a bad knee and had been rehabbing in the Minors. Even upon his return, there is no assurance he will be an every-day player for the Braves. On the other hand, Bourn enjoyed a brief resurgence in July, with a .300 average and five steals, almost as many as the first three months combined.

I could see leverage to pick up a couple of quick points in the standings in stolen bases with Bourn and perhaps make a bit of headway in runs scored. Opportunity to gain points with Swisher seemed less certain.

Considering that imbalance and with no confidence a better player will move from the AL to the NL later, I went ahead and rolled the dice. I made a simple $74 bid on Bourn with no contingencies. After all, they would not be necessary.

As it turned out, McCaffrey inadvertently helped me. Looking at the category standings, my guess is that he valued steals less than power. Further, knowing he could not get Bourn, he focused his efforts and money on Swisher, instead. Gene bid $61, just enough to edge out Wilderman’s highest potential bid.

The end result is that neither McCaffrey nor I had to spend our entire remaining balance because Wilderman was only willing to go $32 on each of the new Braves. He won neither. Now with $59, Wilderman is the new carrier of the FAAB hammer, waiting to see what the next week’s trades may bring.

With Wilderman unwilling to flex his financial muscle this time around, it fell to Tristan H. Cockcroft to become the enforcer. His $45 bids for Bourn and Swisher set the $46 price paid by me and McCaffrey under Vickrey rules. With $52 now remaining, second-place Tristan holds the second-most money going forward.

I am delighted the cards played out this way. Expecting to be price enforced on Bourn and be stuck with $0 FAAB for the remainder of the season, instead I still have $28. That is plenty to work with the rest of the way. In fact, only six of my league-mates have more money.

My initial assessment is that this particular dumpster dive move could pay off.

Brian Walton was the 2009 National League Tout Wars champion, scoring the most points in the league’s 17-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 and thecardinalnationblog.com. Follow Brian on Twitter.

 

Last Updated on Saturday, 15 August 2015 09:23
 
Cespedes is a Hot Potato in Tout Wars, too PDF Print E-mail
Articles of Configuration
Written by Brian Walton   
Saturday, 08 August 2015 00:00

In his brief time in the Major Leagues, barely three and a half seasons, Yoenis Cespedes is already wearing his fourth uniform. The most recent change was the Cuban's non-waiver deadline move from the Detroit Tigers to the New York Mets.

The outfielder was also primed to move to his second National League Tout Wars team in just two days last weekend – until the deal unraveled due to a rules violation that surprised some and angered others.

With the second-most money remaining last weekend, Lenny Melnick acquired Cespedes for $78 of his remaining $82 for the season. Tout’s free agent period ends each week on Sunday evening at midnight Eastern.

Inside of 24 hours, Melnick had participated in a major trade, sending his newest star to Phil Hertz of BaseballHQ on Monday. His take was young Pirates ace Gerrit Cole.

There was a problem, however. The Tout Wars constitution specifically states that the weekly deadline had passed. In fact, the trade and weekly FAAB deadlines are the same.

“All free agent bids and trade transactions must be communicated to the SWAT by 12:00am ET Mondays (midnight Sunday),” the rules state.

While the trade could still be executed, in effect the two players, Cespedes and Cole, would have to remain on their old teams for the next seven days.

Melnick appealed, noting that the SWAT for his league had allowed Monday trades to stand in the past.

However, there is a higher court. Four Tout leaders make up the leagues’ governing board, called the LLC. They backed the constitution and nullified the swap – for that week.

One of the LLC members, Peter Kreutzer, admitted that, “This rule may not have always been followed in the past, but these have been the rules for some time. Editorial note: I'm not sure why. It doesn't make sense to me, but that's a discussion for another time,” he concluded.

At that point, rather than wait a week for the trade to go into effect, Melnick called it off entirely. A bewildered Hertz still wanted to proceed.

Though Melnick’s decision was initially represented to me as being based on concern over potential injury during the upcoming seven days, there was more to it than that alone.

“Never know what develops during week,” Melnick replied in shorthand. “Cespedes is who was requested so deal took 3 minutes to make. Also, since I’m only interested in K and wins, another 1 or 2 pitchers may emerge. Also have an offer for another pitcher who may be (a) Cole equal at a lesser price.”

After further discussion between Hertz and Melnick, the two decided to let the Cespedes-Cole deal stand, after all - unless there is an injury before Sunday, that is.

Interestingly, another trade - between Patrick Davitt and Cory Schwartz in the Tout Mixed Auction league - was pushed back last Monday for similar reasons.

Due to the attention on this rule, Kreutzer says he will work to change it during the offseason. He believes the weekly trade deadline should be either noon or the first game on Monday.

After thinking about this some more, I am not so sure, however. In re-reading the Tout rules further, I think I understand why the deadlines are as they are – at least in this specific case.

All players acquired for FAAB are required to spend a week on the active roster of the acquiring team. An immediate trade, such as with Cespedes, would nullify this.

That does not mean that almost all other trades could not occur on Monday, though.

As always, my thought in sharing details from my league is for you to look at your leagues’ rules to potentially avoid such problems by making changes ahead of conflict.

Brian Walton was the 2009 National League Tout Wars champion, scoring the most points in the league’s 17-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 and thecardinalnationblog.com. Follow Brian on Twitter

 

Last Updated on Saturday, 08 August 2015 07:41
 
Timing is Everything PDF Print E-mail
Articles of Configuration
Written by Brian Walton   
Saturday, 01 August 2015 00:00

With the trade season upon us, those of us in non-mixed leagues wait with anticipation for deals that move stars into the American and National Leagues from the other circuits. These top players added into our available pools could be the difference maker for contending fantasy clubs trying to reach the top - or offering hope for non-contenders trying to become relevant.

This past Sunday, the on-and-off trade of Johnny Cueto from Cincinnati to Kansas City was finally consummated. Two of the players heading the other way are young pitchers John Lamb and Brandon Finnegan.

Several of us in National League Tout Wars are in need of pitching and hoped to acquire the new Reds hurlers during our weekly transaction period Sunday night at midnight. Tout rules allow the addition of players currently in the minor leagues for a $1 minimum bid.

Phil Hertz of BaseballHQ made a bid for Lamb and I took a shot at Finnegan, as both players were listed on the league website among available minor leaguers.

While both winning bids were successfully processed by the league software, they were nullified on Monday because of conflicts with the Tout constitution.

“There is no restriction on the types of players who may be bid on: Majors, minors, foreign leagues are all okay, with the exception of players on another Tout Wars active or reserve roster, or players on the 40-man roster in the opposite league (for the AL-Only and NL-Only Tout Wars leagues)…”

Both Lamb and Finnegan were 40-man roster players with both organizations. Though they moved from the AL to the NL on Sunday, the stats provider does not run its updates until overnight. As a result, it is generally accepted that Sunday MLB transactions are excluded from Tout transactions that evening.

Yet the prior point was not rendered fully explicit in the constitution. And there was a further complication. At some point, the league software had been explicitly modified to ensure that all minor leaguers in either league appeared on the site as eligible. No one could recall when and why this change was made.

In effect, even after the MLB trade, in Tout Wars, the players remained in their old leagues through the Sunday midnight transaction deadline. Lamb and Finnegan should not have been listed as available.

So when all was said and done, the league leaders ruled that Lamb and Finnegan (as well as Cueto in the American League) will not be available for acquisition in Tout until the following Sunday.

The message for you and your leagues is to not only understand the rules, but when in doubt, err on the side of action versus inaction. In this case, even though Hertz and I did not end up acquiring Lamb and Finnegan, we did not know that for sure at the time.

Further, our action helped drive a needed clarification to the league constitution and change to the player eligibility lists. Simply put, Sunday transactions will be ineligible for Sunday night inclusion in the bidding process.

Take a look at your leagues to determine if this subject could lead to similar confusion and if so, look to close the gaps before they turn into points of contention.

Brian Walton was the 2009 National League Tout Wars champion, scoring the most points in the league’s 17-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 and thecardinalnationblog.com. Follow Brian on Twitter.

Last Updated on Saturday, 01 August 2015 08:36
 
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