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Big Trades Not Having Desired Impact on AL Contenders PDF Print E-mail
Articles of Configuration
Written by Brian Walton   
Saturday, 30 August 2014 00:00

A wise baseball man once suggested that sometimes the best trades are the ones never made.

If you are in the front office of the Detroit Tigers or Oakland A’s, off the record you might reluctantly agree.

In a relatively quiet year for mid-season trading, these two American League clubs were perceived to be the big winners. However, the standings beg to differ.

On August 3, the Tigers landed former Cy Young Award winner David Price from Tampa Bay. Many analysts felt the cost was far too cheap for one and a half seasons of one of baseball’s most elite hurlers.

As I write this on the 27th, Price set a new record, but it was not a good one. Against the New York Yankees, he allowed nine consecutive hits, a new low-water mark for any Cy Young winner in the history of the game. Price was pulled after yielding eight runs in two innings.

Price had been very good in his four initial starts wearing the Detroit uniform. Despite a 1-1 record, his ERA was 2.35. Yet his new team seemed to be crumbling around him from almost the moment he arrived.

In all fairness, correlation does not equal causation. Still, since the trade, the Tigers are 10-13, having lost 7½ games in the standings and yielding first place to the Kansas City Royals. How is that for a difference-maker?

On the West Coast, resident genius Billy Beane acquired three starting pitchers for his Oakland A’s. He gave up plenty in return, including arguably his best hitter in Yoenis Cespedes and his best prospect in Addison Russell.

Russell helped fetch Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel from the Chicago Cubs on July 5 while the primary return for Cespedes on the July 31 non-waiver deadline was three-time AL All-Star Jon Lester, a former 19-game winner and owner of a World Series ring with the Boston Red Sox.

The Oakland story is similar to Detroit. Two of the three new pitchers have been fine, but their team has tanked.

Lester is 3-1, 2.50 in five starts with the A’s. Samardzija is pitching around his career average at 4-3, 3.86 in ten appearances in his new club’s rotation.

Hammel’s apparent deal with the devil may not have been transferable from Chicago. With the Cubs, the right-hander was 8-5, 2.98 and on his way to a career-best season at age 31. On the other hand, his Oakland experience has been a disaster. Hammel is 1-5 with a 5.77 ERA in eight starts and was temporarily removed from the rotation.

Worse has been their team results. On July 5, Oakland was in first place by 3 ½ games and sat 19 games over .500. On the 31st, they were 25 games over .500 with a 2 ½ game divisional edge.

This month, with their shiny newly-reconfigured staff, the A’s are just 11-13. More importantly, they have lost their lead in the American League West standings to the resurgent Los Angeles Angels.

There is still a month for these pitchers to more fully adjust to their new surroundings and perhaps, for their new teammates to adjust to their altered roster.

Then again, no matter what happens, I cannot help but wonder how the AL landscape would have looked had both Detroit and Oakland simply stood pat.

Sure, it is generally far more laudable to do something rather than create the appearance of doing nothing, but the standings don’t lie.

Brian Walton was the 2009 National League Tout Wars champion, scoring the most points in the league’s 16-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, 30 August 2014 09:21
 
Did They Have to Cheat to Prosper? PDF Print E-mail
Articles of Configuration
Written by Brian Walton   
Saturday, 23 August 2014 00:00

Despite it being front and center in Major League Baseball headlines just 12 months ago, I can only remember the identities of three of the Biogenesis 13. Still-suspended Alex Rodriguez is a no-brainer, but don’t worry – this is not another A-Rod-themed article!

Can you come up with two other names, not counting Ryan Braun, who had already been slapped down?

As I write this, the other two headliners are leading off “MLB Tonight,” but for entirely good reasons.

Baltimore outfielder Nelson Cruz launched a home run deep to left field, helping his first-place club to a convincing road win over the White Sox. It was his 32nd blast of the season, then tops in the American League.

250 miles away in St. Louis, shortstop Jhonny Peralta’s line drive to left field brought home Matt Holliday for a Cardinals walkoff win over the Cincinnati Reds in extra innings. It was his second RBI of the night and 55th in 2014, just five off the team lead. Though Peralta’s home run total is just half of Cruz’s, his 16 long balls still lead the light-hitting Cardinals by four. With six weeks to play, he already owns the team’s all-time single season record for homers by a shortstop.

In addition to their 50-game suspensions served to close the 2013 regular season, Cruz and Peralta had another shared experience. They were both free agents this past off-season, though their paths taken were very different.

It started with Cruz turning down a one-year qualifying offer of $14.1 million for 2014 from his prior club. Peralta was let go with no compensatory strings attached.

Not wanted back in Detroit amid whispers his effectiveness at shortstop was nearing its end, Peralta was still the premier free agent at a very important skill position. Looking to break their pattern of seven starting shortstops in the seven prior seasons, the Cardinals quickly made a $53 million commitment to sign the 32-year-old. The four-year deal was announced just before Thanksgiving.

Amid considerable criticism for signing a player coming off suspension to such a lucrative contract, John Mozeliak begged to differ. The Cardinals general manager said his team was acting within the rules to improve and asserted it was not their role to serve as “morality police.”

While there were rumblings from some quarters to increase suspension penalties by legislating some kind of contract restriction in years and/or dollars to recently-suspended players, nothing visible has yet come from it.

As quickly as Peralta found a home last winter, Cruz’s experience was just the opposite.

As Cruz left the Texas Rangers, it was thought he might score as much as four years and $65 million on the open market. Though rumors suggested interest from the Seattle Mariners, among other clubs, the outfielder turned out to be about as popular as the Maytag repairman.

By mid-season, it was a very different story. In fact, the 34-year-old was the starting designated hitter for the American League in the All-Star Game.

Who would have guessed that result when Cruz was still jobless as players were reporting to spring training?

Having to accept a one-year, $8 million contract with $750,000 in incentives was a major defeat for Cruz, but for the Orioles, it may be the single best bang-for-the-buck signing in the entire game this year.

Based on his results in 2014, it will likely turn out to be a one step backward, two steps forward maneuver for Cruz.

If Cruz makes it back onto the open market this winter, Biogenesis will be further in our collective rearview mirror.

It stands to reason that his performance in 2014 should enable him to follow Peralta with a longer-term deal - but without the same criticism, given he now has one strong post-suspension season under his belt.

Last off-season, could anyone have assumed that Peralta and Cruz would have a combined 49 home runs by mid-August this year?

Makes you wonder why they ever bothered to fool around with Anthony Bosch, doesn’t it?

 

Brian Walton was the 2009 National League Tout Wars champion, scoring the most points in the league’s 16-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 Wednesday, 27 August 2014 22:23
 
Informal Rules Can be Confusing in Fantasy, too PDF Print E-mail
Articles of Configuration
Written by Brian Walton   
Saturday, 16 August 2014 00:00

With more and more of our baseball time taken up in preparation for the upcoming NFL season, some of the differences between the unwritten rules between the two sports have been recently brought into the forefront of my thinking.

I am not talking about such “rules” in the real sports – moves viewed with universal disdain that virtually no one would defend them. For example, in football, going for a two-point conversion when already up by 40 points in the fourth quarter or calling for a double-steal when up by nine runs in the ninth inning. Tony La Russa was fond of calling it “respecting the game.”

In the fantasy world, those problems do not exist – nor do the avenues of direct retaliation – such as a fastball drilled into the hip of the first batter of the next inning. That was also a common La Russa team reaction.

Some of these unwritten rules in our games are less clear and can be most perplexing.

Here as we reach mid-August, with 4 ½ of the six-month MLB schedule complete, we can pretty clearly see which teams in our fantasy leagues have a realistic title shot and which do not.

In keeper baseball leagues, many owners of non-competitive teams in 2014 made this assessment long ago and executed trades more with the future than the present in mind. Assuming the deals are fair, they are rarely controversial, as the ebbs and flows over time are understood and generally accepted.

However, in any league, owners are expected to compete until the end – or are they?

In National League Tout Wars, a prominent industry league, penalties were enacted to incent owners to fight through game 162. Finishing below a pre-defined point threshold leads to an owner being taxed one dollar of FAAB the next season for each point below the line.

In an industry keeper league, the Xperts Fantasy League, or XFL, the next season’s draft used to be in the inverse order of the prior year’s standings. That actually led to certain teams trying to lose points late in the season to improve their draft position – sort of like when NBA teams are accused of tanking to help their lottery chances. Certain owners were benching starters, keeping injured players active and the like in a legal, but ethically questionable attempt to alter fate.

As a result, the XFL rules in this area had to be flipped to almost the opposite of the prior implementation. The following year draft order was changed to 2, 3, 4, etc, 14, 15, 1. In other words, only the league winner was disadvantaged the next season and in the process, there became a clear reason to want to finish second instead of third, for example.

But here comes some of that inconsistency. In FAAB leagues, I have experienced some team owners in contention expressing concern about teams out of the hunt continuing to aggressively bid on players as the season nears its end.

I guess they feel it is more chivalrous for the losers to step aside for the winners. I don’t buy it.

I am in the also-ran group in NL Tout this year, with considerable money remaining. I will continue to compete to the best of my ability, whether in first or 11th place. For the life of me, I cannot imagine why any reasonable person would expect otherwise, but they are out there.

Fantasy football can be just the opposite.

Because of the head-to-head nature of the pigskin game and the relatively limited number of matchups each season, teams that quit trying are invariably attacked violently by their peers.

After all, if I had to play the eventual weak sisters early in the season when they were still interested in their teams, but my main competitors did not draw the quitters until later in the year, I would be upset. Picking up an easy late-season win over a team with a blank roster or a crew of injured players active could decide the title.

So, fantasy football’s unwritten rule is to “compete to the end,” while the answer in some corners of the fantasy baseball world is “maybe not.” That is not the case where I play, however.


Brian Walton was the 2009 National League Tout Wars champion, scoring the most points in the league’s 16-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, 16 August 2014 07:55
 
When Fourth Place is First Loser PDF Print E-mail
Articles of Configuration
Written by Brian Walton   
Saturday, 09 August 2014 11:13

Coming into Major League Baseball’s non-waiver trade deadline, my FAAB total in National League Tout Wars left me in a tenuous position.

Of the 12 league competitors, I had the third-most money. It was not necessarily my plan. I just hadn’t won enough bids this season to spend more. The fact that Joe Panik at $18 is my biggest buy to date says it better than I can.

Of my original $100, I had used $54, but received $6 in reclaim for an injured, dropped player, leaving me with $52. I said that was third-most, but in reality, I was tied with Seth Trachtman at that amount. Since he is higher in the standings, I would win any tiebreakers between us.

That was clearly not the problem, or should I say, problems.

First of all, there is Mike Gianella. In early June, my friend from Baseball Prospectus engineered a trade in which he acquired $50 in FAAB. The beauty of the deal was that Mike gave up Kris Bryant, a player he had earlier acquired as a free agent for just $1. As you know, two months later, Bryant is still in the Minors and Tout is a re-draft league.

Even with normal spending during the season, Gianella came into the deadline period with a huge hammer - $122. In what seemed unusual to me, no other owner hung around the $90-$100 range.

In fact, the next largest total was just $66, held by Steve Gardner of USA TODAY.

You can quickly do the math. Gianella was in a position that he could bid $67 to win one player and $55 on another. That would be enough to take the first- and third-best free agent – assuming maximum bids are made.

That means in reality that I was in fourth, not third, in the league FAAB pecking order.

Here is where it gets really ugly for me.

Despite the flurry of trade activity across MLB, only three prime players came over to the Senior Circuit this past week.

In fact, one could argue there were only two. No one will dispute the pedigrees of pitcher John Lackey, now a St. Louis Cardinal, and Asdrubal Cabrera, a new member of the Washington Nationals.

The third is possibly damaged goods – a 2013 American League All-Star followed by a disappointing first half and most recently, coming off a disabled list stint due to a knee problem. Oh yes, and Justin Masterson’s velocity is down this season, too.

So the question is whether the other new member of the Cardinals rotation was worth my maximum bid. Normally, I would say, “probably not.” But the reality is that if I somehow managed to escape the Gianella-Gardner gauntlet, not only does Trachtman also hold $52, Phil Hertz was right behind at $51.

Speaking of Hertz, I have to digress for a moment.

Phil is the master of the “sweetener,” a process in which he asks for a few dollars of FAAB ostensibly to balance out a trade. Of the four league deals this season in which FAAB has changed hands, Phil was the cash recipient in three. (The other was the aforementioned Gianella windfall.)

To top it off, Hertz made a trade on Sunday afternoon, eight hours before the deadline. He dumped Chris Young for $3 FAAB. My spirits dropped upon reading the deal was done.

I have been conditioned to receive a note from Phil every weekend, offering the guys he plans to drop that night in trade. In this case, he got a bite.

I feared the $3 would allow Hertz to leap ahead of me in the FAAB queue this week, but alas, the money cannot be used in the same week in which it changes hands.

If Gianella, Gardner and Gianella nab Lackey, Cabrera and Masterson, Phil would have the hammer next week – or would he?

There is another factor that would give me the edge going forward for any waiver wire trades into the NL, or so I thought. With Cliff Lee apparently out for the season, I decided to put in a Sunday night FAAB reclaim.

Had Lee cratered before the All-Star Game, I could have recovered all $27 I spent on draft day. Unfortunately, in the second half, I get back only half, rounded down, or $13. (To be honest, half of the money back in the second half is more than fair. I think the league policy is too liberal, but right now, I will take the cash.)

Even if I would spend $52 on Masterson, $13 would give me enough pocket money for minor acquisitions for the remainder of the season. Otherwise, I might carry the FAAB hammer myself.

So I bid $52 for all three players: Lackey, then Cabrera, then Masterson. I got none of them, with all going for exactly $53 each. Cabrera went to Gardner with the other two joining Gianella, just as I expected.

Even my FAAB reclaim gambit fell short. While I now have $65, it still isn’t the maximum amount. Turns out that Trachtman pulled his own Cliff Lee move with a more costly player out for the year, Paul Goldschmidt. As a result, Trachtman added $19 to his war chest and currently has me outflanked by $4.

In other words, I have to hope for at least two waiver trades of decent players from the American League into the National League during the same week. Otherwise, I will have wasted a boatload of cash by not having bid aggressively enough during the first two-thirds of the season – or holding more money for the non-waiver deadline.

The worst place to be is caught in between, where I currently reside. No one put me there, however. I did it to myself. Maybe you can learn from my mistakes better than I can. I sure hope so.

 

Brian Walton was the 2009 National League Tout Wars champion, scoring the most points in the league’s 16-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 Sunday, 10 August 2014 02:00
 
Less-Prominent Beneficiaries of the Trade Deadline PDF Print E-mail
Articles of Configuration
Written by Brian Walton   
Saturday, 02 August 2014 00:00

As the non-waiver trade deadline across Major League Baseball approached, the rumor mill was extremely active with scores of names potentially in play. With at least two dozen deals actually becoming reality, much of the focus since has been on the headliners changing teams.

This is rightfully so, with big names including David Price, Austin Jackson, Yoenis Cespedes, Asdrubal Cabrera and Chase Headley - not to mention three-fifths of the Red Sox rotation in Jon Lester, Jake Peavy and John Lackey - changing teams.

Yet there are some less prominent players who should benefit as a result of the trades, as well, whether directly or indirectly. I will note a handful of them here, as they are more likely available in your leagues.

Indirectly – Oscar Taveras, OF, Cardinals

St. Louis manager Mike Matheny was in a tough spot. Allen Craig, a proven player with over $30 million remaining on his contract, had been struggling all season long. Top prospect Oscar Taveras had shown he was ready for the Majors, but his only route to playing time would be at Craig’s expense.

By shipping Craig to the Red Sox in the Lackey trade, Cards GM John Mozeliak eliminated Matheny’s decision-making on this matter. Taveras will be the Cardinals' everyday right fielder going forward. While the left-handed hitter may bat seventh initially, he should move up in the order once he gets his feet firmly planted.

Directly – Jake Marisnick, OF, Astros

Despite a tantalizing combination of power and speed, the former Marlins top prospect could not establish any traction in two earlier trials with Miami, batting just .175. Dealt to Houston in the Jarred Cosart trade, Marisnick should receive everyday playing time in centerfield the rest of the way.

Directly – Zach Walters, SS, Indians

Though the Tribe has dispatched the former Nationals infielder to Triple-A initially upon his acquisition for Asdrubal Cabrera, Walters should displace journeyman Mike Aviles up the middle very soon. After he does, he should hold down the job for a long time. The 24-year-old switch-hitter has already mastered Triple-A.

Indirectly – Stephen Vogt, UT, A’s

No one player is going to replace Cespedes in the Oakland lineup, but the versatile Vogt should be at the front of the line to receive additional playing time. Eligible at catcher, first base and outfield in many leagues, the left-handed hitter is batting .351 with 23 RBI in just 151 at-bats. This is qualified support until we see how Sam Fuld and Jonny Gomes play in the new Oakland mix, but my suspicion is that both will be reserves.

Directly – Tommy Milone, SP, Twins

Though Billy Beane scores heavily in many corners due to his trade wizardry, the move of Milone to the Twins in return for a player he let go not too many weeks ago in Fuld is curious to say the least. Milone was squeezed out of the A’s rotation a month ago despite good numbers – a 3.55 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 61 strikeouts and 26 walks in 96 1/3 innings. The left-hander was initially assigned to Triple-A Rochester, but I cannot see that lasting very long.

Directly – Joe Kelly, SP, Red Sox

Despite good numbers in each of the past two seasons, Kelly had to come to camp and re-earn his rotation spot in both of the subsequent springs. Though he allows a lot of runners, the right-hander doesn’t let too many come home and can throw 95 mph. With the young arms at the top of the Cardinals system, Kelly’s long-term future in St. Louis was cloudy, but the current Red Sox offer nothing but opportunity.

Directly – Nick Franklin, SS, Rays

Because Ben Zobrist was not moved at the deadline, Franklin was sent to Triple-A upon his acquisition from Seattle. Though Franklin continues to rake against minor league pitching, he could manage just a .214 average in two partial seasons in the Majors. The switch-hitter should receive a chance with Tampa soon.

Indirectly – Joaquin Benoit, RP, Padres

When Huston Street was sent to the Angels, Benoit was considered to be the next to go in the Padres’ fire sale. It did not happen, at least yet. In the meantime, Benoit is continuing his exceptional pitching for San Diego. All he needs is more opportunities for saves, though that seems unlikely.

 

Brian Walton was the 2009 National League Tout Wars champion, scoring the most points in the league’s 16-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, 02 August 2014 09:44
 
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