ATR: Ask the Reports Answers Your Baseball Questions: Realignment, Ross to the Red Sox, Izturis to the Jays, Breaking Up the Rays and Remembering Matt Garza
Monday November 12th, 2012
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Jonathan Hacohen: I will admit that this is a great time of year. I love speculating on free agency signing and the trades that are coming up. But I am getting to the point that there are three words that I no longer feel like speaking: Hamilton, Greinke and Upton. You know exactly who I am talking about. The most popular catches on the market: free agents Josh Hamilton, Zack Greinke and B.J. Upton (with his brother Justin Upton apparently available on the trade market). My flavor is lesser lights, like Mike Napoli, Joakim Soria, Hiroki Kuroda, Ryan Madson and so forth. I really think that someone will get a steal in Mike Napoli. I also think that someone will be very frustrated with Edwin Jackson. And if a team gives Anibal Sanchez anything close to the reported $90+ million that he is seeking- get ready for a Vernon Wells contract disaster to appear.
With all the talk of free agency and hot stove, remember that the WBC qualifiers are still being played. Groups 3 and 4 are set to do battle, starting in 4 short days. Panama and Taiwan are the lucky venues that will be hosting these upcoming classic games. My picks to qualify for the 2013 World Baseball Classic? Panama in Group 3 and Thailand in Group 4. A very balanced group of countries that will be competing and in a short series, anything can happen. I like the addition of Johnny Damon to the Thailand squad, I really think that he will be a difference maker. Those are my two cents at least.
So enough talking- more asking! It’s time for Ask the Reports.
Now let’s get to your top questions of the week:
Q: This is the most interesting article that I have read in a long time. I agree totally that the present situation is ridiculous and your suggestions make a lot of sense. I am not a big fan of the cross over games, I like both systems but they don’t excite me when teams are playing in the other league. Naturally as a Canadian I am a Blue Jay fan and think your suggestions would be both interesting and create some new enthusiasm among the fans and spectators.Keep those kind of ideas flowing. Ed
JH: Thank you for the kind words Ed. Much appreciated. The MLB realignment article you are referring to was published in May 2011 and is one of our most popular pieces to-date. There is no question in my mind that the current system is broken and requires adjustments. This article was published before the announced move of the Astros to the AL West, which was met with great criticism at the time. To me, it is a great move for everyone. The Astros get a change in scenery and a natural rivalry with the Rangers. The Astros ballpark was made for AL ball and will prove to be a natural fit. Plus, the uneven split of four teams in the AL West and 6 teams in the NL Central is now eliminated. But more changes are needed in baseball, with realignment being the first key step. From there, I would love to see relocation for teams that will not get the support they require from their areas, as well as expansion for 2 more cities. If we were to move to a 32 team MLB, the 16/16 split could allow for four divisions of four teams each. That could eliminate the daily interleague play that everyone is dreading. Two more teams would also add more money in the pockets of the owners and add a bigger fan base to Major League Baseball. As a Canadian who loves the Blue Jays, I wonder how you would feel about the Jays moving to the NL. Crazier things have happened.
Consider this point that I have raised on many occasions. When the proposal was made to move a NL team to the AL, did anyone volunteer? Nope. Not a single one. The Diamondbacks fought the proposal tooth and nail. No one, from the Pirates to the Reds wanted to go the AL. Yet, if you offered an AL team to the NL, there would be a stampede. The Rays are the perfect example. How great would they look in the NL East, in the same division as the Marlins. Truth be known, there should be an AL and NL North, South, East and West- with the Marlins and Rays in the NL South. But that is a topic for another day. The bottom line is that change comes slowly in baseball, and you have to start somewhere. Clearly I wasn’t crazy when I hatched my scheme, as the Astros will be in the AL West next year. Now, if only the Orioles and Nationals could be in the same division, Yankees and Mets…etc… baseball alignment would make more sense. Divisions should be based mainly on geographical proximity, with some competitive balance considered. So I will tell you this: as long as I am breathing, I will continue to come up with ideas. The baseball brain will never stop.
Q: I really like that signing for the Jays (INF Maicer Izturis) Larry
JH: Our number one fan is back. Welcome Larry! I believe you just celebrated your first wedding anniversary. How are things on the home front? A great point you bring up Larry. While I am not terribly excited about Izturis, he is a nice little pickup for the Jays. He will be essentially a younger Omar Vizquel for the Jays. He may end up taking the second base or shortstop job, while also backing up at third. At 3-years and $9 million, the Jays made a low risk investment in their infield. You know you won’t get much pop (34 career home runs) or average (.273 lifetime). The good news is that Izturis has hit .290 or better on more than one occasion and can reach the magical .360 obp plateau. Getting out of Anaheim should help his game, as Toronto has a far better offensive park. Izturis can steal some bases, as evidenced by his 17 steals last season. What the Jays will get is some very solid defense, positional versatility and a chippy #8 hitter. With Adeiny Hechavarria the likely shortstop going into 2013 (so long Yunel Escobar as he is likely to be traded), second base is a prime position for Izturis. His career high in games was 122 in 2011. Izturis should break that number in 2013. Plus with Jose Bautista there to show him the way, Izturis might be a breakout candidate next year. So I don’t have high expectations for Izturis, but I certainly see how the move works for the Jays. At worst they have a solid utility player. At best, they have an excellent full-time second baseman or shortstop. Win-win in my books.
Q: How much longer can the Rays keep their star pitchers together? Diane
JH: What time is it? The answer is…time is up. We ran a piece this week on whether the Rays will trade Price or Shields. Now people have speculated that Jeremy Hellickson could be on his way out, with Scott Boras as his agent (meaning big dollars ahead). But with Hellickson being unable to leave as a free agent until 2017, I think the Rays will hold onto him for a couple of more years at least. James Shields will make $9 million this upcoming season, $12 million in 2014 and then would be eligible for free agency. David Price is arbitration eligible and is not eligible for free agency until 2016. A quandary for the Rays to say the least. Price is 27 and Shields is about to turn 31. Price is obviously the superior pitcher. But with his talent comes a big price tag soon. The Rays could be looking to shell out $15-20 million for his services in the near future. Shields, while relatively at a reasonable contract, still will be too rich for the Rays come 2014. So what is the team to do? If their financial situation does not get better (i.e. attendance), the team will end up losing both pitchers in the future. That is the sad reality of being a Rays fan. Just ask an A’s fan or a Marlins fan how that feels. Miguel Cabrera just won the triple crown- what do the Marlins have to show from his trade? The Rays cannot afford to make the same mistake with a trade of one of their two aces.
So what will happen likely is that James Shields will be traded this offseason for some offensive help. Hopefully the Rays make the playoffs. From there, David Price might stick around until 2014 and Jeremy Hellickson until 2015. The Rays have something truly special going and it is a shame that they will not be able to keep their pitching staff intact. Yes, they have many quality arms still coming up to the bigs that need rotation spots. But it will be very hard to replace Big Game James or Price. These two pitchers are horses, key starters to build a team around. I will be very sad to see one of them go this offseason. The economics of baseball can be a cruel state of affairs sometimes.
Q: David Ross signing. I don’t get it. Pablo
JH: Pablo my man, tell me this. Has anything that the Red Sox have done lately make sense? This team has been confusing everyone for the last year in a bit. This move is a bit curious, considering that the team has two catchers that they were apparently high on (Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Ryan Lavarnway). Consider this though: Salty will be 28 in May and a free agent in 2014. Lavarnway is 25 and under team control until 2018. Ross has bounced around for several years, playing for 6 teams over an 11-year span. Heck, he even played 8 games for the Red Sox back in 2008. So $6 million for a .238 lifetime hitting backup catcher you may say? Perhaps. But check out the last four years in Atlanta for Ross. .269 average, .353 OBP and .463 SLG. Pretty solid numbers. He will be 36 in March (yikes), but Ross is considered the top backup catcher in the game. So the million dollar question is: who is Ross mentoring- Salty or Lavarnway? From all accounts, Salty will be the one to go. A Rob Deer behind the plate, Salty hit a whopping 25 home runs in 121 games, but at the expense of a .222 average, .288 OBP, and 139 strikeouts. Salty rarely walks and he is all hit or miss. Considering that the Red Sox have likely no interest in extending him much longer, the move to Ross makes sense actually.
Here is the plan for the Red Sox. Firstly, they will dangle Saltalamacchia this offseason. If someone pays a high price, then great. Platoon Ross and Lavarnway. If Salty isn’t moved, play him and Ross in 2013 with Lavarnway waiting in AAA for one more season. See what Salty can do. If he fails in 2013, let him walk and call up Lavarnway. With another year of seasoning under his belt, maybe he will be ready to explode. If Salty excels, then the team can always trade Lavarnway and lock up Salty. So the Red Sox have bought them some insurance. They have a solid backup in Ross that can start multiple games if called upon. He is known to call a good game and pitchers enjoying working with him. The Red Sox apparently were not comfortable with going with Salty/Lavarnway going into next season. Remember, catching is a key component to good pitching. You need a solid receiver back there. A good move considering the numbers Ross has put up in recent years. If he can replicate those for two more seasons, the Red Sox would be thrilled. $3 million per season for a great backup is nothing to sneeze at. Let’s give the Red Sox some credit. They locked up a good player for themselves for two seasons. Unsure? Ask the Braves. Believe me, they are far from pleased to let Ross go. Now the Red Sox can concentrate on their next needs: first base, outfield, starting pitching, relievers…their shopping has only begun.
Q: Remember Matt Garza? What are the Cubs going to do with him? Steve
JH: The Cubs have certainly painted themselves in a can’t-win position. After a solid 2011 campaign (10-10, 3.32 ERA in 31 starts with a 1.258 WHIP), Garza was a hot commodity. Going into the start of last year, same thing. But the Cubs waited. They waited and they waited. Apparently to get full value for Garza, they felt they needed to wait until teams were ready to let go of their top prospects. But as the typical story of pitchers these days goes, Matt Garza got hurt and only made 18 starts. He’s got a birthday coming up this month (November 26th, happy birthday Matt!) Apparently this month Garza is to be checked out- as he currently sits on the 60 DL with a…gulp…elbow injury. You know I hate to say it, but with the amount of pitchers having gone through Tommy John surgery in 2012, you never know. Unless Matt Garza comes back healthy and productive, he has no trade value whatsoever. Who knows if he will even pitch next season? If Garza returns, the Cubs could likely move him by the deadline. But any team that acquires him will not get a draft pick if he leaves as a free agent. That is part of the new rules of free agency. Thus Garza had much more value this season compared to 2013, even before the injury. Now, as Garza sits in limbo, the Cubs hold damaged goods. If Garza cannot return to start the season, the Cubs may end up losing him otherwise to free agency. This is a lose/lose proposition for Chicago, a gamble that did not end up paying off. I don’t think Matt Garza’s career is over. He is still young and can develop into an ace one day. But as far as the Cubs go, that boat has basically sailed. If Garza stays in Chicago long-term at a reasonable rate, the team will do well. Will that happen? I doubt it. Not when the Red Sox, Jays, Yankees, Dodgers and so many other teams are out there willing to throw money to any pitchers that become available. The morale of the story? When you have good young pitching that you know you are planning to trade, then trade them when they are going well. Any injury can appear at any time with pitchers. Never gamble- take the sure trade if you can. Still unsure? Check out our Tommy John Tracker and study the number of pitchers that went down in 2012 alone. Pretty scary stuff.
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Jonathan Hacohen is the Founder & Lead Baseball Columnist for MLB reports: You can follow Jonathan on Twitter (@JHacohen)
Posted on November 12, 2012, in The Rest: Everything Baseball and tagged ask the reports, Atlanta Braves, atr, baseball, baseball questions, boston red sox, chicago cubs, david price, david ross, james shields, jarrod saltalmacchia, jeremy hellickson, maicer izturis, matt garza, mlb, mlb realignment, ryan lavarnway, tampa bay rays, theo epstein, toronto blue jays. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.