ATR: Ask the Reports Answers Your Baseball Questions: MLB Free Agency Season Is Upon Us!
Sunday November 4th, 2012
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Jonathan Hacohen: Here we go again. We spend the whole offseason waiting and hoping for the MLB season to start. We speculate where free agents will sign, which teams will pull off trades and which teams have reason for optimism once the season. We dissect every move and weigh the dollars/years on each contract. Welcome to hot stove baby! But then the season comes and goes in a flash- then we end up right back to the offseason again. Right back to free agency talk again.
This week we have a nice mix of topics. From covering free agents, to trades, division realignment- our readers really went through the whole spectrum of baseball topics. We couldn’t possibly jump into ATR during free agency season without hearing the names Hamilton, Greinke or Upton? Of course not! So enough talking- more asking! It’s time for Ask the Reports.
Now let’s get to your top questions of the week:
Q: Any chance the Dodgers could get a starting pitcher like Greinke or Shields? Christopher
JH: I had a chance to think about this one Christopher after you threw it out on Twitter the other day. I’m going with my story and I’m sticking to it. The Dodgers have apparently more money that the United States right now. But then apparently so do I. All kidding aside, the Guggenheim group is ready to take on any and all big contracts. They will apparently make the old Yankees look poor. I certainly hope they enjoy paying luxury taxes and forfeiting draft picks if that is the case. Realistically, they will splurge at the beginning and then calm down.
So the word is that the Dodgers would like to add a solid starter or two to their rotation. Will they do it through free agency or trades? My answer flatly is free agency. Take a look at the Mat Latos deal last year and what it cost the Reds. That was nearly the package I had predicted. Here is the article from July 2011 for your reading pleasure. Salaries are of no consequence when it comes to James Shields. He is Big Game James. 31 years old and under team control for 2 more seasons. The Rays can name their price when talking a swap of this magnitude. For example, the Royals would have to part with Wil Myers, Mike Moustakas and 1-2 more prospects to get a James Shields. You see the asking price? Aside from a Felix Hernandez or Clayton Kershaw, James Shields would be one of the most expensive pitchers to acquire on the open market in terms of prospects. But apparently the Rays are looking to move him or David Price. I will believe it when I see it. Shields is the more likely to go in the event of a trade. But his arm would be missed and the effect on the Rays would be detrimental unless they get some guaranteed offense back for him.
The Dodgers to me don’t have the prospects to pull off a Shields swap. Teams that are prospect heavy like the Royals and Jays could do it, but the Rays will not trade in their division (no Toronto) and Shields still has a heavy salary to carry (no Royals). If I was a betting man, the Rangers would be the best pick to get Shields. Maybe the Nats, Cards or even the Braves. But the Rangers make the most sense. They have the best farm system in baseball and the wallet to lock up Shields long-term. As a result, the Dodgers will need to turn to free agency. The biggest pitching prize is Zack Greinke. He comes with his risks, including perceived attitude and previous personal issues. But the Zack Greinke of today is not the same one from many moons ago. He is a confident young man who most wants to win. I would have never sent him to a big market before, but the bright lights of L.A. may work for him. Some surf and sun never hurt anyone. Zack Greinke to the Dodgers? It is growing on me. Because he is so in demand, I can see Greinke getting a 7-year deal. So if his services are up to the biggest bidder, the Dodgers will need to decide if they are prepared to hand Greinke’s agent a blank check. Judging by the Beckett/Gonzalez/Crawford swap, I think we know our answer. Greinke to the Dodgers? Yes, it could very well happen.
Q: How I love Josh Hamilton and his story is one of the best perhaps better than the Movie Rudy. I believe that Josh’s time is up in Texas he has served them well and he will be missed. There is no doubt as great ball player he has his personal issues have to be of some concern. What teams need to do is built into and returns contract Clause that gives them an out if he relapse and returns to being addict again. I have heard The Brewers too. I don’t like the choice. I would prefer Washington -San Francisco and even the Dodgers. To me, Hamilton is a great ballplayer. If things were different with the Yankees, you know he would be playing right field in the Bronx. However we all know under the present conditions this isn’t going to happen but we all can dream. That being said I have a lot of respect for J Narron currently a coach with the Brewers. It has been said by some in my view that Hamilton would be better off in Left or Right field rather than Center Field. I don’t agree with that either as he is a natural for Center field. Another landing spot for Josh could be Atlanta. With Clipper retiring, Josh could be a perfect replacement. In my view, no matter where he goes, the team that gets him has to understand that they must give him unconditional support. If this happens, he will have a great season. It’s my belief that the support that Josh had in Texas prior to 2012. I believe the stories on the negative messages he received from the Texas organization when he was struggling, in particular from Nolan Ryan. Didn’t help the overall situation. It’s clear to me that the Texas organization wants to go in a different direction. That’s fine. Let’s see how they do without Josh. He is replaceable but let’s see them do it. It’s my strong opinion that Texas is due for a big fall and the playoffs in 2012 is just the beginning of that story. Jim
JH: Wow Jim, you have earned the comment of the week for that one! I think to properly answer all your comments, I would need to write several articles on Josh Hamilton. You certainly feel very strongly about the kid and I certainly don’t blame you. When he is on, he is one of the best in the game. It is unfortunate that he experienced the ending of 2012 that he did. If he does leave Texas, it may leave a bad taste in his mouth. Parting on nicer terms would have been more ideal. I will respond to your comments on a point-by-point system:
- The Josh Hamilton story is definitely on part with the movie Rudy. I would love to see that film when it is produced. And believe me, it will definitely happen. Hamilton’s story was made for Hollywood.
- Hamilton’s time is done in Texas. He wants $100 million+, the team wants to go a maximum of 3 years. This is not going to happen.
- I doubt the player’s union would be happy about an “out clause” on a replace/addict. If Hamilton does screw up again, he will be gone from the game. That I believe will void his contract if I am not mistaken. But if he consumes alcohol or acts in a manner that gets him only suspended, it is a different story. A behavior/conduct clause should be included in all players’ contracts. But alas the players’ union is far too strong and will not allow it. To obtain a ruling on “conduct detrimental to the team” when it is included in a contract is still very difficult as to favoring the team. Any organization that signs Josh Hamilton will need to accept the risks that he entails. Plain and simple.
- I like the Milwaukee choice, but only if they get Hamilton for up to 3 years. Having Mr. Narron around will help. But anything beyond that and the Brewers will be in trouble. Josh Hamilton is getting of the age and physical conditioning that he is due for even more of a breakdown. Not a chance that a small market like the Brewers can take. They can’t afford any bad long-term deals. The Dodgers have a full outfield and the Giants will not spend. The Nationals is an interesting pick. I would be very interested to see him there.
- Josh Hamilton the Yankees? Remember that All-Star game Home Run Derby show? I wouldn’t put it past the Yanks to grab him at the last second. I don’t like the fit and I think that Josh Hamilton in New York will be a disaster. The fans and media pressure would be far too much. But the Yanks are due for a splash. It could happen.
- I have heard the Hamilton to Braves rumors. I can’t see the fit in that lineup. Also he needs to be able to DH on occasion. Not going to happen.
- Center field is wearing on Josh Hamilton’s body too much. The move to a corner outfield spot will help and should happen one day soon.
- I agree on the support aspect. Josh Hamilton needs support pretty much 24/7 to ensure he stays on the wagon. Again, the price you pay given his history.
- I don’t want to get into the he said/she said debate. Josh Hamilton’s play at the end of the season speaks for itself. He could have played much better, in the same manner that perhaps the Rangers could have supported him more. In fairness, the Rangers went above and beyond for him during his stay in Texas. At some point, Hamilton has to look into the mirror and take accountability for his play. Period.
- The Rangers are in a funny position these days. After back-to-back World Series appearances, they collapsed to dramatic proportions this year and ended up as one of the Wild Card teams. We all know how that ended up. If the Rangers want to get back to World Series contention, they need stronger pitching. Giants type pitching. Rays type pitching. Thus the trade for James Shields which I think will happen. With or without Hamilton, this team will fall if they don’t pitch at a high level consistently. Sure Hamilton is nice to have, but the team will still score a ton of runs. The money saved on Hamilton can be invested in other needs better. The business of baseball is a cruel one sometimes.
Q: It is all over the news about Lance Armstrong losing all of his Tour De France titles etc. My question is why if every sport strips the athletes of their medals, titles, etc. why does baseball not do the same? There have been several baseball players that have broken records etc. that have stood for some time. Then down the road, you find out that they took steroids and enhancing drugs, but yet their records still stand. My question is why? Alice
JH: Amazing question Alice. I challenge you to find one serious baseball fan that hasn’t asked themselves that very question before. You won’t succeed. This is the debate with Cooperstown and generally dealing with baseball statistics and records. It is the issue that nobody seems to want to deal with. And I will tell you why.
I am going to throw out all other sports in this discussion. In soccer teams are suspended, in college sports trophies and bowl games are stripped. I get that much. But baseball is a different creature. It operates in its own world. For the reason that as long as there has been baseball, there has been cheating. The spitball was in place until 1920 (although many still found a way to use it afterwards). Emery boards. Pine tar in gloves. Corked bats. Vaseline. Baseball players have been cheaters for years. Amphetamines (greenies) were in the game forever until recent years. Everyone apparently took the greenies and now they are illegal. It is one thing when a player takes a known banned substance or cheats. But when something was not illegal at the time, do we frown upon it after the fact? Even when a player cheats, we don’t know how often they cheated and when. Do we void all statistics for that player? What about the team? If we were to remove all stats related to cheating, I don’t know how many stats we would have left in the game. Everyone has a different scale of what is considered clean/dirty baseball. If baseball was an individual sport like cycling or golf, voiding stats would be easy. But if we void a ball player’s stats, we have to think about how that affects the team stats as a whole. Do they lose their wins? What do we do?
This issue was front and center this year when Melky Cabrera was suspended. His play earned him All-Star game honours and helped the NL gain home field advantage in the World Series. Ironically, it was his Giants team that benefitted. People started to scream that the All-Star game score should be taken off the record. That the Giants unfairly earned so many wins to start the year thanks to Cabrera’s strong play in the first half. The list of “recommendations” went on and on. At the end, Cabrera did the right thing by being asked to be removed from consideration for the batting title. His choice. But imagine if he didn’t put in that request and won? Fans would have screamed to the heavens and changes would have likely been made. So I can see the difficult slope we face on voiding statistics (hello Barry Bonds). But the case of a Melky Cabrera batting title or Ryan Braun MVP (if he was found guilty) creates a real issue. What if a player used an illegal substance only once all season? Do we completely banish him from any awards that year? How far do we go? Do they lose eligibility for Cooperstown? Major League Baseball is sitting on the fence on all these issues right now. They are hoping that new drug testing has solved the PEDs issues and that all other problems will just go away. They won’t. MLB has to take a stance once and for all so that we know how cheating in the sports affect records and individual accomplishments. You are right to be confused Alice. We are all confused. But it is very hard to change a system that has been around for decades. It doesn’t make it right, but it is what it is. It is something that all of us as fans of the sport have learned to live with. Hopefully in the next 5 years when many players from the “Steroid Era” become eligible for Cooperstown we will see how baseball will react. My gut says nothing will change and that is sad.
Q: I would like to see them (MLB) do away with divisions and play 14 league teams, 11 games for a total of 154 games. Let the 1st seed play the 4th seed and the 2nd seed play the 3rd seed. Dennis
JH: Dennis, your comment interested me. Now I am not sure if you want to do away with 2 teams, as we are now in the state of 15 teams per league. If we take travel and everything else aside, playing each team in your league for the same amount of games would be more fair. But we are missing interleague play in that equation, which now has to happen almost every day for a full schedule to occur. Then from there, your equation has only 4 teams per league make the playoffs. I guess we lose the Wild Card game and one less team makes the playoffs. Very interesting.
We can talk in hypotheticals, but today I will talk reality. Firstly, MLB will not be contracting 2 teams. If anything, I can see future expansion by 2 teams to bring the total teams to 32. That will allow for 16 teams per league and help get rid of the daily interleague need. Secondly, I can also not see divisions completely eliminated. If we went 16 teams per league, we can move to the 4 divisions system, 4 teams per division. That will create a more intimate rivalry. The schedule does not need to be balanced for balance. I also agree. I do like the double Wild Card teams and elimination game, so I can’t see that going. So Major League Baseball has many decisions ahead of it. But it will all be economically driven. That means more teams, more playoffs, more games and more cash. Maybe a 165 game schedule, but no reductions to 154. Teams do not want to lose that revenue stream. What is good for the game and good for the wallet can be conflicting. Money will win out at the end of the day. When you look at the size of the television deals in place for MLB teams and the contracts that will be given to players this offseason, it should all make sense. Baseball is a business, not a game.
Q: Why is B.J. Upton getting any attention for free agency? He has done nothing to earn anything more than a one year deal! Troy
JH: For a guy that has owned B.J. Upton before on fantasy baseball teams, I can certainly sympathize with your statement. Upton is truly one of the most frustrating players in baseball. He has all the talent in the world, but can never utilize it consistently to become a true superstar. When he hit .300 with 24 home runs back in 2007, we all thought he was ready for the big season. What we found is that he would regress into a .240 hitter with 20+ home run pop. After 8 seasons, his .336 lifetime OBP and .422 SLG is what you will get. At 28 years old though and entering the prime of his career, a team will figure that he is ready to put it together. “I can fix him”, they will say. Every team wants to believe that they have the secret formula, the perfect combination of coaches and atmosphere to turn around a ballplayer. To turn Jose Bautista from a utility player into the home run king. To evolve Ryan Vogelsong into a top game pitcher. Every team wants to turn something into nothing. But it is more efficient to take on players at minimal salaries for those experiments than paying top dollar.
Word is that Upton could receive a 5-year $60 million deal. That is ludicrous for a great defender, inconsistent bat. Superstar money for a non-superstar player is not the way to go. But every baseball agent wants to find that one sucker. The one MLB GM who will give that big contract. They are usually out there. In the worst case, Upton will get a 2-3 year deal for $10 million per season. That is still very good. When a player is in his early 20’s, teams pay for potential. As a player gets older, the teams are supposed to pay for past production and hoping it can continue. In the case of B.J. Upton, he is still young and has all the tools. Teams will look to his potential, rather than his past production. That is a mistake in my book. You are absolutely right in your assessment Troy. If only every MLB GM was as smart as you and I! But before we pass final judgement, let’s see firstly who signs B.J. Upton. Then let’s view his final numbers at the end of the contract he receives this offseason. He may still yet prove us all wrong.
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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 4, 2012, in The Rest: Everything Baseball and tagged ask the reports, atr, b.j. upton, baseball, baseball questions, david ortiz, edwin jackson, free agency, ichiro suzuki, james shields, jose valverde, josh hamilton, kyle lohse, lance armstrong, Major League Baseball, Marco scutaro, mlb, nick swisher, Torii Hunter, zack greinke. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.