Let there be news - Volume 11by Brad Johnson
March 05, 2012
MLB expands playoffs to 10 teams in 2012
The 10-team playoff schedule was agreed upon under the new Collective Bargaining Agreement. However, the 2012 regular-season schedule presented challenges for introducing the new wild card system before 2013. Now we know that there indeed will be 10 teams in the playoffs this season.
The agreed-upon solution was to change the schedule of the Division Series round. The team with the weaker record will host the first two games while the team with the better record will host the final three. This reduces the amount of travel time and therefore shortens the duration of the series. That hopefully leaves enough time for the one-game wild card playoff and any play-in games required to determine the wild cards.
Many who are critical of the new schedule point to the final day of the regular season in 2011. The Braves and Red Sox both were eliminated from the playoffs as part of a pair of epic collapses. It was one of the craziest days in baseball history and the most exciting day I have ever witnessed.
It's correct to say that the drama of that day would have been lost. However, the one-game wild card matchup essentially institutionalizes that drama. It won't be on the same level as last season, but that was a rare perfect storm of baseball bliss.
The interesting thing to watch about the 10-team postseason schedule is how it affects league behavior, especially regarding transactions. More teams will consider themselves in the playoff hunt at the July 31 trade deadline, which should result in a smaller secondary market for talent.
The offseason talent market also will be affected since more teams will view themselves as a few wins from postseason relevancy. Free agents should expect to see a modest increase in the offers they receive.
Rangers sign Jairo Beras for $4.5 million
But how old is he? The Rangers clearly believe Beras is 17, hence the signing, but other clubs and Major League Baseball were under the impression that he is 16. It is now up to the Commissioner's Office to determine whether or not to approve the deal. A suspension of Beras is also a very real possibility.
Beras' age is important because MLB clubs cannot legally sign 16-year-old international players. MLB apparently holds a birth certificate that says Beras is 16 which, if true, is quite damning. The unique aspect of this situation is that Beras could be incentivized to lie about his age in either direction.
I'm going to construct a hypothetical narrative. Suppose that young Beras, or more specifically, a representative of Beras, decides to forge his birth date by one year in order to improve his prospect standing. Things are going along smoothly with that plan until the new CBA clamps a lid on future international bonuses.
What could have been a $5 million or better payday would now be limited to about $2.5 million. But, if Beras were suddenly to become his real age, he could then earn a $4.5 million bonus since teams are desperately binging on talent while they still can.
Maybe that narrative is true, maybe it is not. Maybe Beras is now faking his age to appear older than he really is to take advantage of higher bonuses, or maybe he was faking his age all along and is really a 22 year old. It's impossible to know from our outside perspective, but it should be an interesting story to watch unfold.
Cardinals sign Yadier Molina to a five-year extension
The Cardinals lost Albert Pujols this winter, but they won't be losing Molina next winter. Molina signed a five-year extension with the club worth $75 million. The deal includes a no-trade clause and a mutual option for a sixth season worth an additional $15 million.
Molina has proven durable throughout his career, starting over 130 games each of the past three seasons. He's best known for his defense. He has caught 44 percent of baserunners attempting to steal and is lauded by scouts, fans, and defensive metrics for his ability to frame, block, and handle a pitching staff. 2011 was also a banner year for Molina offensively as his power output was twice that of his 2010 performance.
The total package made Molina valuable to the Cardinals. The club possibly overpaid given how hard it is to remain healthy as a major league backstop. They may have seen the expenditure as acceptable since the secondary market for catchers is typically nonexistent.
Mike Napoli, Miguel Montero, and Chris Iannetta may hit free agency following this season, but none of those players is guaranteed to become available, and their price tags could be high relative to their talent. Given Molina's superior defense over that trio, he likely would have been most clubs' first call during free agency.
Royals sign Salvador Perez to a five-year extension
This deal is sort of the anti-Molina contract, which is ironic since Perez garners some loose comparisons to Molina. Perez is still six years removed from free agency, so the five-year, $7 million contract will take him up to his final arbitration season. The club holds three option years that could boost the value of the deal up to eight years and $26.75 million.
At first glance, it might seem that the Royals are rewarding his .331/.361/.473 line in 158 plate appearances. However, it is really his defensive reputation that has allowed the Royals to invest long-term with the catcher. His offensive numbers were buoyed by a .362 BABIP, and his swing-heavy plate approach probably will force him to make adjustments in his sophomore campaign.
Still, Perez's combination of plus defense and offensive upside should allow him to easily outearn the contract he signed. That's not to say that Perez signed a bad deal. After all, he parlayed a strong 39-game performance into $7 million.
Astros move Brett Myers to the bullpen
This decision has a lot of people in the sabermetric community stumped, but it's not that outlandish of a move.
Myers will shift to the bullpen to give the Astros room to roster Livan Hernandez. That might seem like a crazy statement, but the Astros clearly hope Hernandez can have a positive influence on some of their younger arms like Bud Norris, J.A. Happ, and Jordan Lyles.
With Myers in the rotation, the Astros would have to send Happ or Lyles to Triple-A in order to roster Hernandez. With Myers out of the rotation, the Astros also can play the lottery with a number of non-roster candidates.
The move to the pen also gives the Astros a reliable reliever to finish games. When Myers spent most of 2007 as the Phillies closer, he succeeded by reaching into the mid-90s with his fastball and leaning heavily on his filthy curveball. While it's ancient history, Myers posted a 2.88 ERA, 2.87 FIP, and 2.83 xFIP as a reliever in 2007.
The biggest critique of the decision is that more teams will be looking for overpaid innings eaters at the trade deadline than overpaid relievers. This line of thought may not be supported by evidence.
It seems obvious the Astros will have to eat a substantial portion of his contract for a trade to work. Teams probably would view Myers as a fourth or fifth starter in the rotation. In the bullpen, he could be the kind of high-leverage reliever who can shorten games for his club. He's also more likely to succeed as a reliever since his bulldog mentality and repertoire are known to play up out of the bullpen.
It's a little hasty to conclude that the Astros will find it more difficult to trade Myers as a reliever.
The Padres signed Cameron Maybin to a five-year extension with a sixth year option. The deal guarantees $25 million while the option is worth $9 million ($1 million buyout). Mike Axisa has good things to say about the trade. I wonder if the Marlins, who lack a quality center fielder, would like a refund.
Jason Varitek retired this week. The veteran catcher supposedly wanted a big-league offer from the Red Sox, with whom he spent his entire 15-season major league career. (I'm playing a little fast and loose with 1997 when he recorded one single is his lone plate appearance.)
The Reds signed Sean Marshall to a three-year, $16.5 million contract extension. The deal includes incentives for games started and games finished. The Reds acquired Marshall from the Cubs earlier this winter in exchange for Travis Wood, Dave Sappelt, and Ronald Torreyes.
Scott Sizemore will miss the 2012 season with a torn ACL. The A's hope to replace him with Josh Donaldson.
Grady Sizemore had surgery on his lower back and will miss two to three months.
A.J. Burnett sustained an orbital fracture while participating in bunt drills. He's expected to need two to three months before he returns to baseball activities.
Diamondbacks prospect Tyler Skaggs had some minor shoulder discomfort but has since tweeted that he is fine. He missed a scheduled start this past Saturday.
Freddie Freeman partially dislocated his knee and will miss about two weeks.
Carlos Lee has a right hamstring strain and is day-to-day.
Shaun Marcum is experiencing some shoulder soreness. The Brewers will watch the situation.
Yankees catching prospect Austin Romine is experiencing lower back problems. It sounds like an on-going situation with a herniated disc.
Russell Branyan has back spasms.
Franklin Gutierrez suffered a pectoral injury and may be sidelined until May.
Evan Longoria was hit on the hand by a pitch. He appears to be okay and expects to start on Tuesday.
Follow Brad on Twitter @baseballAteam. Email him at pitchin432 AT Yahoo.com
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