Let there be news – Volume 1

Volume 1 – Words that describe what you are reading

This is the first of what aspires to be a long term fixture at The Hardball Times. The goal is simple – to cover the four most interesting news stories in baseball from the previous week.

The coverage will mix links to existing articles with analysis from yours truly. The stories will be chosen as I see fit, which should leave plenty of room for discussion (ahem, bickering) in the comments section.

This weekly report is very much a work in progress – nothing is written in stone and there are no sacred cows here. As such, feedback is imperative. Tell me what worked. Tell me what didn’t work. Tell me what would have worked if only I had a modicum of journalistic skill.

But enough of me. I’m not news. This is (was).

#4 – Reds and Cubs swap Travis Wood, Sean Marshall

Baseball Prospectus’ RJ Anderson (behind paywall) described the deal as “trading with the enemy,” but neither team is likely to lose sleep over the trade.

True, you don’t often see division rivals making a swap, but there is a certain DNA that most intra-division trades possess. On the one side, you will find a team desperate to win now. The other side of the fence features a struggling, rebuilding team.

In this case, the Reds play the talent hungry, win now franchise. Sean Marshall provides the Reds with a hedge in case they cannot sign a free agent closer on the cheap. Excluding Ryan Madson, Marshall is better than all the relievers currently on the market. If the Reds can re-sign Francisco Cordero, they will have a potent bullpen, with Marshall and Nick Masset roving the 7th and 8th innings. If they fail to sign Cordero, then Marshall and Masset will battle for closing duties. Not a bad position to be in.

The Cubs play the franchise that doesn’t care what their rival does this year. They won’t be in the playoff mix, they just want to gobble up prospects and evaluate them.

Travis Wood is the meat of the trade, providing the Cubs with a back of the rotation left handed starter who is young enough to dream on. His results at the major league level have a Jekyll-Hyde look to them. See for yourself.

Dave Sappelt is interesting as a major league ready fourth outfielder. The best thing he has working for him is a high contact plate approach and the ability to play all three outfield positions. RedLegs Baseball has a nice scouting breakdown on him.

Speaking of contact, the third player going to the Cubs, 18-year-old Ronald Torreyes, neither walks nor strikes out. In 306 PA in 2011, Torreyes walked 14 times and struck out 19 times, rates of 4.6 BB% and 6.2 K%. Scouting the Sally’s Mike Newman took a look at Torreyes mid-season.

#3 – White Sox re-sign John Danks

The early reaction to John Danks five year, $65 million extension is to wonder what the White Sox are doing. General manager Kenny Williams announced earlier this offseason that the Sox were entering a rebuilding phase. Danks was considered their most valuable trade chip. Chris Cwik of Fangraphs discussed some of the puzzling aspects of the trade.

There are a few ways to rationalize this contract extension within the context of rebuilding. The White Sox are currently saddled with a number of veteran albatrosses, including Adam Dunn, Alex Rios and Jake Peavy.

Strong rebound performances are not out of the question. In the unlikely event that this veteran trio all challenge for comeback player of the year, the White Sox could find themselves in the playoff picture.

Of course, this decision could have nothing to do with veterans. Danks was a prominent name on the trade block prior to the extension. Williams likely discussed names with several teams. If those talks were unsatisfactory, it makes a lot of sense to pursue a contract extension instead. Buster Olney noted (behind paywall) that the White Sox asking price was “extraordinarily high.”

The White Sox are, after all, a large market franchise. Even with a weak farm system, they could easily rebuild within the next five years. Williams is known for being very active in the trade market. With a few large contracts coming off the books in the upcoming years, he will have some money to spend in free agency or on expensive trade pieces. He also still has Carlos Quentin and Gavin Floyd on the trade block. Both should be worth a couple interesting prospects.

#2 – Rangers win right to negotiate with Yu Darvish

By now, the Darvish news has calmed down quite a bit. The Rangers won negotiation rights with a $51.7 million posting fee. The Nippon Ham Fighters gladly accepted the financial windfall. As THT’s own Chris Lund noted, the rest is speculation.

$51.7 million is quite a lot of money for a posting fee but it is by no means surprising. The Daisuke Matsuzaka posting fee of $51.1 million clearly served as a guideline here. While Dice-K has proven to be a disappointment, Darvish comes with a more impressive resume and better scouting grades.

The posting fee was the easy part. The next step for the Rangers is to actually sign the guy. And that could prove to be a challenge.

Darvish is rumored to be concerned about getting his fair share. He has complained about the posting system in the past and how it depresses Japanese player salaries. Yahoo’s Jeff Passan has some tidbits (bullet point 6).

Let’s explore a hypothetical example. Let’s say that Darvish wants a five-year, $75 million deal. He has little reason to care if the Rangers posted $1 or $100 million to negotiate with him, he wants to be paid. From the Rangers perspective, that pushes the cost of Darvish to $126.7 million or about $25 million per season. Surely, the Rangers do not see Darvish in the same light as CC Sabathia or Cliff Lee? Both sides will have to swallow some pride to reach middle ground.

The other interesting sub-story to come out of this is whether or not the Blue Jays were serious bidders. Initially, it was reported that the Jays had submitted an offer north of $50 million, meaning they missed winning the bid by a few hundred thousand dollars. Then came the rumors that no, the Blue Jays did not submit a bid over $50 million (see Olney article in the Danks section).

Ultimately, all we can do is speculate about what these conflicting reports might mean. Perhaps the Blue Jays had a specific total number in mind. Let’s say, for example’s sake, that the Jays were only willing to pay a total of $100 million over five years. That effectively limits their bid to roughly $40 million. Bidding more would bring Darvish’s payment under $12 million per year. There’s no point winning a bid and spending a month trying to sign a guy if it’s doomed from the start.

#1 – Nationals acquire Gio Gonzalez

With Mat Latos off the trade market, the Nationals targeted the next best pitcher available, acquiring Gio Gonzalez and Robert Gilliam for A.J. Cole, Brad Peacock, Derek Norris, and Tommy Milone.

Early reactions to the trade have been split. Some have praised the Nationals for acquiring a left-hand workhorse to join Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann. Others such as Keith Law (behind paywall) believe that the Nationals gave up a lot of good prospects for a good-not-great pitcher. A few like Mark Hulet and Ben Badler have expressed less common opinions.

The widely varying opinions are probably a sign that the Nationals and Athletics made a good trade.

Gonzalez is a big addition for the Nationals, even if he isn’t the ace they wanted. Injuries are always a risk with pitchers, but Gonzalez has been durable throughout his career. The Nationals will count on over 200 innings from their new pitcher.

The reason Gonzalez isn’t seen as an ace by many is because he walks too many batters due to suspect control. As general manager Mike Rizzo pointed out, his walk rate has improved every year – albeit at a slow pace. Gonzalez could also see some statistical improvement from switching to the senior circuit.

The Athletics have to be pretty excited about the prospect package they received. Cole is probably the best prospect of the bunch, although the furthest from the big leagues. He features a big fastball, struck out nearly 11 batters per nine innings, and limited walks in A-ball. However, an old saying, TINSTAAPP, comes to mind when perusing the notes on Cole.

Peacock is another interesting prospect who took a big step forward over the past season. He gained velocity over the course of the season and now features a plus fastball. Most importantly, he’s major league ready and could feature prominently in the Athletics rotation. He has the potential to develop into a better pitcher than Gonzalez. Potential is one thing, getting there is another. His breaking ball and change up are works in progress and his repertoire might not hold up well on the big stage.

The other major league ready piece, Milone, is one of those guys whose numbers and scouting reports diverge. Advanced command and control have allowed him to prey on minor league hitters, but his stuff is middling and that command and control might not be good enough to carry him at the major league level.

Norris is the hardest to get a read on. He has developed much more slowly than scouts hoped, but might yet be an above average major league catcher. His defense has improved considerably over the years and is now an asset. At the plate, he demonstrates patience and pop but can struggle to make contact. Currently, he strikes out and walks too often to make much use of his power.

Prospect watcher, John Sickels, provided his thoughts on the prospects involved in the Gonzalez trade.

Nothing in this trade is really as good as it appears at first glance. Gonzalez has that walk problem, Cole has a ways to go between now and the majors, Peacock’s repertoire is suspect, Milone’s stuff is mediocre, and Norris’s development at the plate has been slow.

Honorable Mention – Reds Acquire Mat Latos

This trade happened on the 17th which wasn’t technically during this week. The THT staff had a conversation about the Latos trade behind the scenes.

Once again, John Sickels did a nice job breaking down the prospects involved in the Latos deal.

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Comments

  1. PG said...

    Good read. Should be noted that Juan Pierre is a free agent, so the White Sox don’t have to worry about his contract anymore. It was never that suffocating anyways with LA covering most of the bill. Should be interesting to see what De Aza can do in a starting role (assuming Quentin is dealt and Viciedo takes his spot and not Pierre’s).

  2. Fred said...

    A good read – really like the links and ability to pull more info if needed.  Not sure how/when the list was created (a good list nonetheless).  I may have included the Beltran signing in the top 4, but perhaps it was after submission?  I assume Pujols was the week prior to the list? 

    You asked for feedback.  Thus, I would like to see your thoughts on how the moves (and future volumes) impact the races (where appropriate).  For example, does the Gonzales trade vault the Nationals out of the NLE cellar and can/do you see them doing more to become a playoff-competing team?  Same thing for Darvish. Is it enough to keep pace with the Angels or do they need to go and get more (Fielder)?  There were reports that the Yankees were interested in Danks.  How does his deal with the Chisox affect their plans if at all?
    Thanx….I look forward to future volumes.  Out on Tuesdays?

  3. Greg Simons said...

    The Nats have won 59, 69 and 80 games the last three seasons and finished third in the NL East last season.

    They still have work to do to challenge for the division, but their cellar-dwelling days should be done for a while with the Mets in such a mess.  With the Phillies getting older and full seasons coming soon from Strasburg and Harper, Washington should be playoff-competitive in 2013 and beyond.

  4. Fred said...

    That’s kinda where I see them as well…however, they seem to want to spend money…if they go out and get Fielder (for example), they can move Morse to LF (I know, a defensive liability).  wouldn’t that THEN allow them to possibly give the kid a shot in RF, with Werth in CF? They could be one scary team for my Phils to deal with in 2012, let alone later.

  5. Greg Simons said...

    Harper needs more time in the minors.  He dominated Low-A and High-A, but Double-A was a stumbling block.

    If they get Fielder and Harper comes up mid-season or later, they’ll be in good shape to contend in 2013.  That OF defense could be pretty brutal, though.

  6. Brad Johnson said...

    Thanks for the feedback Fred. I’ll keep an eye out for opportunities to insert that information.

    Keep in mind there is a bit of a length constraint. The above is about 1,800 words and includes research as well. Some of that information might be relegated to the comments. I do think the long term goal is to look at interesting angles to stories whenever possible, especially for news that comes out on Monday/Tuesday but still makes the list. For example, rather than breaking down the Gio trade, I might look at how it affected the NLE playoff race.

    The column will be out on Mondays. However, this past monday and the next one are holidays.

    To very quickly answer your questions…

    The Nationals have a lot of moving parts to consider. Is Morse really this good? Will Werth and LaRoche bounce back? What do they get out of Strasburg? Who ends up on the DL? I could see them winning anywhere from 80 to 97 games honestly. Should be a very interesting season for Nats fans.

    I’d take the Rangers over the Angels right now even without Darvish. He certainly helps but probably isn’t a huge upgrade over whatever he’s replacing (probably Matt Harrison).

    The word on the street is that the Yankees plan to look for more warm bodies like Freddy Garcia. They could always go for a return engagement with Bartolo Colon. I think they want to sign one or both of Cole Hamels and Matt Cain next year (complete guess on my part) and hence don’t want to “clog” the rotation with mediocre pitchers.

    I considered the Beltran signing and the Rollins re-signing originally but I found the intra-division trade to be more interesting.

  7. Brad Johnson said...

    I see them firmly in 4th place right now. They’ve had an interesting offseason to date, but realize that they DIDN’T sign Pujols and they DIDN’T sign Wilson.

    Jose Reyes is a great player, but now they have an injury prone star and a disgruntled former shortstop to deal with in the lineup. The rotation is still thin despite Buehrle’s presence. Bell is a nice reliever but who knows how the rest of the unit works out. Most importantly, is Josh Johnson even healthy?

    They have a good, interesting team. They could make some noise despite appearing to be the 4th best team in the division on paper.

  8. Fred said...

    Interesting…I currently see (for 2012)the Fish pushing the Braves for 2nd…but that depends mostly on health and if their starting pitching can do well…Johnson is great when healthy.  Also, while I thought the Braves were the up-and-coming team in the NLE in 2011, I don’t see that now.  I think once they can move on from Chipper, perhaps they can move on as a team.  Their starters concern me and they need a big/consistent bat if they want to contend with the Phils this season.

  9. Brad Johnson said...

    I’ve said this a thousand times about the Braves, they have too many average players. They field a good team, but are incapable of making upgrades in a cost efficient manner. The lack of star power relegates them to the WC hunt in that division.

    I’m known to be overly bullish relative to my peers about the Nats so take my prognostications with a grain of salt.

  10. Fred said...

    I tend to agree with your thoughts on the direction of the Nats…they scare me the most out of the other NLE teams, just not this year (unless they get Prince). IMO, if the Ntas signed Prince, then it makes werth more like the 2008 version.  He had Chase and Ryno to take the pressure off of him…if they replaced that with Zimm and Fielder?  Yikes…

  11. Will said...

    Best case scenario (composed of many “ifs” that are, in and of themselves, quite possible) is that all of the following happens: the Nats stay healthy as a team; Zimmerman, in particular, stays off the DL and without a nagging injury that may have hurt him when he did play last year; ditto for LaRoche; Zimmermann goes a whole season and pitches as well as I think he can (I know, Brad, you think I’m crazy!); Strasburg gets his 160 innings; Desi, Espinosa, and Ramos take a step forward; Werth is somewhere between 2010 and 2011; Wang stops sucking in the first inning of every outing; post-April (or May, I forget) Morse of 2011 is who he really is; and they continue to find enough arms to get to Clippard and Storen relatively unscathed … I’m not going to do a WAR breakdown, but if all of those occured I think they make their case for a spot in the postseason. And again, while I think it’ll take pretty much all of the above, each individually is quite conceivable.

    Though a friggin CF who can get on base wouldn’t hurt, but I don’t really see one for the taking…

  12. Brad Johnson said...

    Will,

    You see the 80-97 win projection I mentioned above? Your scenario is what needs to happen to hit 97 wins. 80 wins would be the opposite of your statement.

    Reality tends to hit mid-points, but I really like the Nats’ upside.

  13. Brad Johnson said...

    Will,

    I’m probably not properly adjusting for context with that 97 win projection. I see the Phillies as an upper 90’s win team, but difference between the bad and good range of the Nats alone would count for maybe 4-5 Phillies wins.

    Now take that principle and apply it back to the entire division from the Nationals perspective. Things get confusing.

    So let me put it another way, the Nationals have a floor of average and a ceiling of very good. I think pitching is more likely to hold back their upside than hitting.

  14. Will said...

    I just don’t think they have the offense to be anything like a 97 win team, but of course I do appreciate and understand your range, which apart from the very top end I agree with…

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