Friday, December 2, 2016

Long December: Friday Morning Hot Links

*Jon Heyman says that, without Chris Sale, the Astros may do no better than their 2016 record. Heyman says that the inclusion of Alex Bregman would likely get them to a deal, but a rival exec said "The Astros are not trading Alex Bregman, no way."

*What would it take to land Chris Sale? Jim Callis says it would look something like:
Francis Martes/Derek Fisher/two lower-level high-ceiling prospects; or Martes/Kyle Tucker/Joe Musgrove/one LLHCP. Would you pull that trigger?

*Brian McTaggart, on the possibility of adding a bat, noted only Carlos Beltran as a player they liked.  This piece has a good rundown on a number of Astros.

*Joel Sherman proposes a trade between the Astros and Mets: Evan Gattis and Luke Gregerson to the Mets for Zack Wheeler and Jay Bruce.

*Nori Aoki signed a one-year, $5.5m contract with the Astros on Wednesday.

*People are still working out what the new CBA means for teams. One thing we know, though, is that penalties for exceeding the international bonus pool will remain. The Astros can't sign international free agent for more than $300,000 next year.

*Every clubhouse will have its own chef and every player in Spring Training will get two seats.

*MLBTR has all the reported details of the new CBA neatly organized right here.

*Bob Nightengale has the winners and losers of the new CBA.

*Ken Rosenthal says the new CBA could ultimately hurt the players.

*Jeff Passan: New CBA foretells a labor war and the hijacking of the international draft.

*Coming to Minute Maid Park in 2017: Torchy's Tacos and Shake Shack.

*52 years ago yesterday the Colt .45s became the Houston Astros. Craig Hlavaty has the story of how that came to be, as well as the origins of the Rockets and Texans.

*Jim Crane is going into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame.

*The lawyer/pianist who is changing baseball analytics.

*The rise and fall of former USC athlete Owen Hanson.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Running down the rumors: Wednesday Morning Hot Links

*The Masked Marvel has a good recap of the Astros' additions and subtractions thus far in the offseason.

*Ken Rosenthal reports that the Astros made a big play for Yoenis Cespedes, who ended up signing a 4yr/$110m deal with New York. Which is notable because...

*Edwin Encarnacion will apparently sign with a team soon. The Astros are seemingly hard after Encarnacion, according to the ESPN baseball guysThree randoms tweeted that Encarnacion will sign with the Astros.

*ESPN's Jim Ralph Bowden is reporting that the Astros are among four teams "in full pursuit" of Rich Hill.

*Ken Rosenthal talked to a "rival exec" who believes the Astros are loading up on offense to give them the flexibility to deal talent for an elite starter. *IF* the Astros do sign Encarnacion, that leaves flexibility for someone like George Springer or Alex Bregman to highlight a package for someone like Chris Sale.

*There is cautious optimism regarding the ratification of a new CBA.

*George Springer is ready to play more CF:
I will do whatever A.J. asks me to do. I understand (Reddick's) positioning and understand where I played the last two years, but I'll do whatever it is they ask me and give the exact same effort. 

The Astros have a lot of defensive options in the outfield, between Springer, Reddick, Gurriel, Marisnick, and Aoki.

Springer, on how hard Reddick plays:
He's played a very, very hard style of baseball and that's obviously wanted. He reminds me of almost like a dog. He goes after it until he gets it. Plus, he can throw. 

Definitely need to get a dog who can throw.

*The Mariners are interested in Doug Fister.

*Japan's Shohei Otani could blow up next year's free agency class.

*Houston's Bill Neder won the contest that made the new Houston baseball franchise the Colt .45s. His grandson just won the contest that named Waco's new baseball team.

*Atletico Nacional - the team who was supposed to play Chapacoense in the Copa Sudamerica final before Chapacoense's tragic plane crash - wants to award the title to the grief-stricken club.

Somethings a-happenin' in Astroville

Probably a little late with this post, but I can't help pointing out a couple of interesting developments lately.

The Astros already added some guys...
We already posted something that discusses the additions of Josh Reddick and Brian McCann.  My take, briefly, is that both were left-handed hitters with a higher likelihood of solid 2-4 WAR seasons than the Astros that they replaced - Colby Rasmus and Jason Castro, respectively.  However, with increasing age comes risk - both of the decline-in-performance type, and in the sudden-catastrophic-injury type.  But the Astros managed to add two lefty veterans without losing any draft picks and top-10 prospects, so that is definitely something.

Plus Nori Aoki.  He was claimed off waivers from Seattle.  I seem predestined to leave him out of discussions about the Astros' offseason.  I pretty much forgot about him when writing the above-linked article, and nearly managed to forget about him for this one too.

We haven't managed to get much up on Charlie Morton.  He seems like an interesting cat, and deserves a post of his own over the next couple of weeks.  I promise to get on to it shortly!

The Astros subtracted some guys...
I am not sure what most readers' definition of "major" is.... as in "major free agent".  But Jason Castro was the first of the "major free-agents" to sign this offseason.  Now, either routine grounders to the right side are the new market inefficiency, or Jason had some very real value.  FanGraphs thinks it was the latter - that Castro was underrated, and the Twins pounced in a competitive market to snare his services.  Most Astros fans may respectfully disagree.

There are some other fairly significant departures.  Pat Neshek is a Phillie, in exchange for the dreaded "PTBNL or cash".  Colby Rasmus was probably gone before the Astros boarded their flight for Anaheim to finish the season.  Luis Valbuena is a free agent.  And so is Doug Fister.  That all adds to five departures of players that occupied important spots on the 25-man roster this season.  Three of them were left-handed hitters.

Sneakily, the Astros also subtracted a couple of players from their 40-man roster as well.  Nolan Fontana is now an Angel.  Fontana's stock had dropped, and the Astros have a bit of a middle-infield log-jam, so this was expected.  But the timing was curious - Fontana was DFA'd around the time that teams were DFA-ing roster flotsam to clear spaces to protect players from the Rule 5 Draft.  The time stamp on the above article is from the claim, which occurred a few days after the DFA.  The Astros had open spaces on the 40-man, so perhaps there was no need to cut Fontana at that point.  They could have been trying to sneak him through waivers, hoping that he got through cleanly due to all the activity around the other teams needing to purge their rosters.

As an aside, the Astros also added LHP / Reliever Reymin Guduan and his career 7.16 BB/9 to the 40-man at the Rule 5 deadline.  He could get a serious look at Spring Training, as the Astros always looked a couple of left-handers short in the 'pen in 2016 (thanks, mostly to Tony Sipp's poor season).  He brings triple-digit gas, so there is that.

And, of course, well after the 40-man roster-purges, the Astros pulled the trigger on the highest profile DFA of their offseason - that of Jon Singleton.  Singleton was never a risk of getting claimed, thanks to his famous contract which he signed shortly before receiving the call up that would result in his major-league debut.  Singleton is owned $2MM for each of the next two years, so expect him to be manning first at Fresno in 2017 then Round Rock in 2018, unless he turns things around in a hurry.

So as things currently are...
... the Astros' 40-man roster stands at 38.  For those who struggle with math, that looks to me like two vacant slots are hanging around.  Let's speculate as to how they may be filled...

The Astros have been very active on free agency, being in on all major free agents except Jose Bautista.  According to MLBTR, and only over the last three weeks, they have been linked to Edwin Encarnacion, Carlos Beltr├ín (lots of times), Kendrys Morales, Mike Napoli, and Rich Hill.  They were runner-up in the Yoenis Cespedes sweepstakes, reportedly with some kind of "strong offer" for the left fielder.

Now there may be some inaccuracies within these rumours, but where there is smoke, there is usually fire.  It seems that the Astros are not content to stand pat by adding McCann and Reddick, and get full seasons out of Yuli Gurriel and Alex Bregman.  They are clearly committed to adding another bat in free agency, it seems.  The market may move a bit faster now that Cespedes is off the board, so this may be settled quite quickly, one would think.

Trades are also possible, but if the Astros were to trade (for example) for Chris Sale, then one would imagine that it would involve at least one player currently on their 40-man going the other way.  So significant trades will require the Astros to give something significant up, so I doubt that they are leaving a spot vacant on the 40-man so they can run the medicals on a trade.  A lesser trade - say for perhaps Jay Bruce - may not come at a significant prospect cost, so perhaps the 40-man roster may be needed for something like that.

The next logical place to look other candidates to fill one of the two 40-man roster spots is in the Rule 5 Draft.  Historically, this has been a good place to pick up relievers or back-end starters, and hide them in the bullpen for a year.  This is something that rebuilding teams look to do, and the Astros clearly plan to compete in 2017, so it may not fit their 2017 modus operandi.  Baseball America has a Rule 5 draft primer here, and it seems that the most interesting candidate is utility infielder, Phillip Evans.  MLB.com has and article listing 10 Rule 5 names to watch for, and five of them are left-handed pitchers that may look ok in a few bullpens around baseball.

Finally, as always, the Astros will probably be watching the waiver-wire closely.  Will Harris and Collin McHugh are both waiver-wire pickups, so they may be waiting for someone on their internal list of players to be DFA'd.  Like, perhaps, Chris Carter!  For your Chris Carter virtual brochure, just click here...

Something is a-brewin'.  The Front Office seems to be working hard.  The next week or two could prove to be very interesting.  Or, alternatively, nothing will happen until the next Collective Bargaining Agreement is signed.  Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Talking with Lance McCullers and your Tuesday Morning Hot Links

*Last night we recorded Episode 32 of Lima Time Time with special guest Lance McCullers. We talked Tal's Hill, 7th grade literature, hair products, and Rangers masturbating each other.

*The additions of Morton, McCann, and Reddick prior to the Winter Meetings means that Luhnow & Co. can focus on specifics in Washington next week. Luhnow:
It does make it a little easier in that we've already accomplished a couple of goals. When you go to the Winter Meetings and try to get everything done in three or four days, it can be pretty intense. If we can afford to go to the Winter Meetings focused on one or two complementary moves, that would be the best outcome for us. 

*Jim Callis says that, with a little work on his command and his changeup, Francis Martes is ready for the big leagues.

*The saga, and fallout, of Jon Singleton.

*Minor-league catcher Roberto Pena has signed with the White Sox. The Astros' 7th Round draft pick in 2010 (and son of former Astros catcher Bert Pena) hit .237/.283/.342 in six seasons from the GCL to 15 games in Triple-A. Tyler Heineman and Garrett Stubbs are the highest-ranking catcher prospects in the organization now.

*26-year old RHP Nate Eovaldi has been released by the Yankees. Eovaldi, a Houston native, will be coming off Tommy John surgery as well as flexor tendon surgery. But with velocity increases over the past three seasons (up to 97.1mph in 2016 before needing surgery), a team will surely take a chance on him. Might that team be the Astros?

*Chris Carter and his 41 home runs in 2016 will not be tendered a contract by the Brewers.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Monday Morning Hot Links

*I talked about the Astros last night with Sammy, my friend Joe's 10-year old son, for about half an hour last night.

*You may not have heard of Sammy before, but our guest on Lima Time Time tonight may sound familiar: Lance McCullers, Jr.

*Buster Olney writes that it would be a good idea for A.J. Hinch to tuck Josh Reddick in the #2-hole, and put as much distance between him and Brian McCann in the lineup as possible.

*Ken Rosenthal says that Alex Bregman would have to highlight a trade for Chris Sale.

*Richard Justice gives an overview of the major players and pimps in free agency...dependent on the new CBA being ratified soon.

*Speaking of the CBA, which expires at 11:59pm Wednesday, there are "high hopes" for a deal getting done but the possibility of an off-season lockout remains. Allegedly on the table is MLB cutting the compensation clause of signing big-name free agent.

*Former Astros minor-leaguer, and minor-league manager Josh Bonifay became the Rangers' major-league field coordinator last week. Bonifay was announced as the Astros minor-league player development coordinator in September.

*FanGraphs' David Laurilia wrote in his Sunday links column (scroll down about halfway) that Chris Devenski was 2016's most valuable rookie pitcher.

*This article is missing a pretty major part (fear, violence, terror) of Fidel Castro's reign in Cuba, but here's an article describing the importance of sports - particularly baseball - and culture under Castro.

*SABR: A bomb threat in 1970 gave fans the opportunity to mingle on the field with Twins players.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Black Friday Hot Links

*I spent Thanksgiving Day driving four hours and then getting mad online about Tony Massarotti's Hall of Fame ballot.

*The New York Post's Joel Sherman says the 2017 Astros could be like the 2016 Cubs, and are spending like it.

*The Yankees, Red Sox, Astros and Rangers seem to be the final four for Carlos Beltran. It also seems from that link that the Astros are interested in Mike Napoli as a stop-gap until A.J. Reed is ready.

*Joshua Prager wrote a piece in the New York Times on Ralph Branca, the man who gave up Bobby Thomson's "Shot Heard 'Round the World." Prager is also the author of The Echoing Green, which is simply the best baseball book I have ever read.

*The players who quietly retired in 2016.

Hold My Beer: Tony Massarotti

I thought I was prepared for HOF season. What is HOF season? It's what makes Jesus not 100% the reason for the season. HOF season makes me want to dropkick the Salvation Army change buckets. HOF season makes me want to go take a dump on Toys For Tots dropoffs. Because HOF voters are, in small numbers, illogical. They make their head do their heart's bidding. I don't want to won't do this in every case, but because Boston's own Tony Massarotti published his ballot so early, he gets the horns. Will it give him page views that end up rewarding his own moral two-step? Probably, but if I didn't include the link for you to verify, you wouldn't believe that an adult human could make the logical jumps Massarotti makes. Let's just do this and get it over with.

I'm a yes on Manny Ramirez. I'm a yes on Pudge Rodriguez. I'm a no on Vladimir Guerrero.

Let's table the Pudge discussion for a minute. In 2302 games, Manny hit .312/.411/.585 with 555 homers and a 153 wRC+. Vlad hit .318/.379/.553 with 449 homers and a 136 wRC+. Vlad posted a 54.3 fWAR, Manny - with two more seasons than Vlad - posted a 66.3 fWAR. Most of this has to do with Manny's offensive numbers overshadowing Vlad's, but Manny was a far worse defensive outfielder than Vlad. How bad? FanGraphs has Vlad's defensive rating at -115.0 (which, given Vlad's arm, I admittedly do not understand) but Manny's defensive rating at -276.6. From 1995-2011, roughly the bulk of both outfielders' careers, Andrew Jones was considered by FanGraphs to be the best defensive outfielder in baseball. His rating was 282.6. Now look back at Manny's -276.6 rating. As good as Andrew Jones was with the glove, Manny Ramirez was the baseball Lennie to Andrew Jones' George.

Applying the FanGraphs filter to 328 outfielders who played between 1995-2011, Manny had the absolute worst defensive rating in baseball. Vlad had the 20th-worst. That said, between this time frame, Manny's 620.8 offensive rating is far better than Vlad's 370.2.

Now let me try to explain why.

What's there to explain? If you're looking simply at numbers, Manny Ramirez was a better player than Vladimir Guerrero. Now I understand that - in order to rack up such poor defensive numbers in this time frame - your offense had to justify your statistical liability in the field. If you weren't phenomenal offensively, there was no reason to keep you on the team. Both were great players, Manny was better. What's there to explain?

Steroids were a part of the game, folks - and a bigger part than anyone really wants to admit. Quite simply, there is no way to know who used and who didn't. What we're left with is a guess, plain and simple, no matter what anybody says. 

Superficially this works. What if a guy hit 50 homers in 149 games in 1996, and 159 homers in the other 1685 games in his career. Whispers. Could be an explanation. Could be a prescription. But what if one of your Yes votes actually says Yeah, He Used PEDs and was suspended *twice* for the offense?

And what if one of your No (Vlad) votes hasn't admitted to or ever been found guilty of ridin' dirty, beyond the suspicion of having played in the part of the timeline of baseball history where some players did, in fact, ride dirty?

Just by looking at the years at which Vlad/Manny were at their peak, your "Steroid Era" alarm bells are likely already ringing. But a selective Steroid Era Defense doesn't work. To say it's a "Steroid Era" indicates that the use of steroids was rampant. Otherwise the select few who were deemed to be Dirty would be ostracized from the game's history, not an entire generation of players. So when Massarotti says there's "no way to know who used and who didn't," it's true for a number of players. But not Manny. That's not a "guess," as Massarotti puts it. That's a simple admission. A fact, confirmed by the man(ny) himself.

If you were to ask voters whether they think (emphasis his) Mike Piazza used steroids, I bet most of them would say yes. But the large majority of them voted for Piazza last year, anyway, and that just seems kind of dumb. 

So there are voters who "think" Piazza used steroids, and he was still inducted last summer. "Most" of those voters still said he was one of the greatest players of all time. Piazza was a catcher. Hey Ivan Rodriguez was a catcher, too, and he was implicated in Jose Canseco's seemingly factual account of the Steroid Era. How do you explain that? But Piazza never admitted to using any form of PEDs. Manny did. Yet Massarotti voted for Manny and not Piazza. How do I know this? Because...

Me? I didn't vote for Piazza

That confirms that. But why not vote for Piazza last year, and vote for Manny this year, exactly?

Mostly because I regard (Piazza) as product (sic) of the era. 

Nice grammar, professional writer, but whatever. More importantly: Which era? The one where you don't know who did and who didn't use PEDs, unless they - like Manny - basically admit they did, and then vote for that guy, anyway? Or the era in which there are players who denied ever having used, or were never implicated in using, steroids beyond the so-called whispers...but you don't believe them.

I feel the same of Jeff Bagwell.

Here we go.

If that sounds terribly vague, it is, and I don't blame you for rolling your eyes or pounding your fist. 

Fists. Plural.

The real problem with the steroid era was that it tainted everyone, which makes voting a damn-near impossibility.

But you, Tony Massarotti, are more than willing to vote against Piazza last year, for Manny this year, against Vlad this year, against Bagwell this year (and years previous). You, Tony Massarotti, in a list of Manny, Vlad, Piazza, and Bagwell, will happily vote for the one guy who admitted to using and against the guys who said they didn't. Your "impossibility" is now invalid.

The numbers don't mean anything anymore. 

How about the players of the game you are paid to cover? What's their word worth? Or do you just punish the players whom you do not believe?

(Rafael Palmeiro has both 3,000 hits and 500 home runs, and he's not in.)

Rafael Palmeiro tested positive for stanozolol after wagging his finger and lying to Congress about it. That's why he's not in, Tony.

And the simple truth is that they shouldn't because baseball players, owners, executives, media and fans all contributed to the pollution of the game. 

Oh yes. The "We're All To Blame, So I'll Decide Who's *Really* At Fault" defense. Also: Tony Massarotti has covered the Red Sox - for the Boston Herald and Boston Globe, except for a short break, since 1994, or for the entirety of Ramirez's Red Sox career - And yet he voted for Manny Ramirez. That's notable for a variety of reasons.

So here's what I've been left with: I vote with my eyes and my gut. 

Ah yes. The Neighbor-metrics of baseball media. I'm going to trademark "Neighbor-metrics."

If, as a result, you find my votes, inconsistent (sic), so be it. My job is to tell you what I think and feel - based on my ballot - so that's I do (also, sic).

This is the equivalent of the "I know I'm being unreasonable, so I'll tell you I'm being unreasonable, thus you can't hurt my feelings if you tell me I'm being unreasonable." But with worse grammar.

Which brings me to Manny, who will almost certainly be snubbed by a majority of the voters because of multiple steroids violations and suspensions.

Hold the phone. Manny was suspended for "multiple" steroids violations and Massarotti votes for him. Vlad, Piazza, and Bagwell were - stay with me - *not* suspended or found guilty of even a single steroid violation and he doesn't vote for any of them. Yet Massarotti acknowledges that most of the voting members of the BBWAA will disagree with him precisely for the violations of the criteria that Massarotti acknowledges as valid, yet ignores.

Here's what I can tell you about Manny: he was perhaps the most gifted right-handed hitter I have ever seen, right there with Edgar Martinez (whom I also vote for). 

Okay. So Massarotti has only ever covered American League teams. He's not going to vote for Piazza and Bagwell - National League guys - and Vlad, for some reason. But Edgar is in, so we can ignore Massarotti's "Defense" part of the Hall of Fame argument.

From 1994 through 2000, Ramirez was a centerpiece of the Cleveland Indians lineup that led the American league (sic) in runs scored. From 2001 through the middle of 2008, he was then a centerpiece of the Boston lineup that produced more runs than any AL team other than the New York Yankees. Add it all up and get the single, best middle-of-the-order bat in the American League over what amounted to a 15-year period, and there is no more valuable skill in the game. 

Massarotti is happy to admit that defense and baserunning doesn't matter. Only what you do with the bat matters, regardless of how clean/unclean said player actually was. Get suspended for PEDs - twice! - it doesn't matter. Manny was good, really good. Other players - who weren't ever actually accused of using PEDs - were not as good as the player who was actually suspended for using PEDs, but Massarotti watched almost every day, are not Hall of Famers. Manny is. Got it.

Was (Manny) a good fielder? No. Was he a good baserunner? No. But Manny was so elite in the batter's box that nothing else really matters, and I'm not basing that on his individual numbers. I'm basing it on his swing, his plate disciple, his situational awareness in the batter's box. Manny was a freak, plain and simple, and that was true whether he used or not.

Let me get this straight: Massarotti voted for Manny Ramirez, a great one-dimensional player in an era when offense was so highly valued that it encouraged the use of PEDs - an offense for which Manny was suspended multiple times. But in 2016 he did not vote for Fred McGriff, Gary Sheffield, or even Mark McGwire. McGwire is another player, like Manny, who provided a lot of offense and not much else, also accused of PEDs and declined to "talk about the past" before Congress.

In 2014 Massarotti voted for Maddux, Glavine, and Frank Thomas - all of whom earned Induction. He also voted for Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens. There's no rhyme or reason.

Guerrero? He's close, but he's not quite there. He obviously had tremendous hand-eye coordination, but he lacked plate discipline. 

Vladimir Guerrero struck out in 10.9% of his plate appearances. Manny Ramirez struck out in 18.5% of his plate appearances. But yeah, Manny had a 5.5% edge in career BB% so that means Vlad "lacked plate discipline." Sure.

(Vlad) was fast, for sure, but he was not a great baserunner. And for all the talk about Guerrero's arm, he was not an especially good defensive player. (Ramirez, for what it's worth, actually has more career assists.)

Did we not discuss this already? According to FanGraphs Manny is the worst defensive outfielder of his era. But because he played up against a green tower he could throw more guys out than Vlad did, in Montreal and Anaheim, he's a Hall of Famer and Vlad isn't? This is a terrible, illogical, uneven-handed argument.

So where's my line for induction? Apparently, somewhere between Guerrero and Ramirez.

Two players diverged in a wood, and Tony Massarotti? He chose the one who - despite the multiple failed PED tests - he saw the most often.

As for Pudge, he is a most interesting case.

"Interesting" because Massarotti is about to totally contradict himself.

Between his late-20s and mid-30s, when steroid testing was implemented, his slugging percentage dropped nearly 250 points. (Given the simultaneous changes in his body, that is hard to ignore).

And yet Massarotti is perfectly willing to ignore it as he already voted for Pudge. He'll vote for Manny, as well, whose slugging percentage did not drop presumably because he continued using PEDs ("presumably" because he was twice suspended for PEDs). This is moral gymnastics.

(Pudge) was never disciplined as a hitter. And yet, because he was simply dominant as a defensive player (13 Gold Gloves, including 10 in a row), Rodriguez remained a centerpiece of playoff contenders late into his career, making him of one of the most well-rounded players ever to field his position. All things considered, he was even a good baserunner. 

There are two catchers between 1991-2010 (The Pudge Era) who had a 60+ fWAR: Pudge (68.7 fWAR) and Mike Piazza (63.7 fWAR). According to FanGraphs, Piazza was a far better offensive catcher and Pudge was a far better defensive catcher. Pudge's baserunning rating was -24.9 (Piazza was slightly worse) so that's a pretty terrible qualifier for a shady argument about stats. But Pudge was linked to PEDs while Massarotti has his concerns about Piazza's backne. Let's also not forget that Pudge was a catcher in the AL - who regularly visited Boston, Massarotti's beat - while Piazza travelled in National League circles.

So I guess Massarott's concern with PEDs extends only to what players can do defensively: otherwise Pudge - linked to steroids - gets a vote and Piazza - whispers - doesn't. Only that doesn't work for the Manny/Vlad argument, Vlad - not linked to steroids - was better defensively while Manny - suspended twice for PEDs - was better with the bat. Oh, and if he saw them for more than one inter-league series.

For me, that's good enough. 

Tony Massarotti's "good enough" is terrible logic. This is what Jeff Bagwell is up against: straw men and sight bias.