Sunday, February 19, 2017

Just how "controversial" was Jon Singleton's deal?

Jake Kaplan talked to Jon Singleton yesterday about his removal from the 40-Man roster. Singleton was predictably pragmatic about the transaction after hitting .202/.337/.390 in Fresno...

I kind of just took it for what it is. Obviously I had a down year last year. So I figured that I had some kind of consequence. But it is what it is.

I mean, what's he gonna say? "I should have gotten called up in 2016 at least once?" (That actually may be true, given the struggles the Astros endured at 1B in 2016, but whatever).

Still, Kaplan wrote this intriguing line:

Singleton, 25, is in major league spring training as a non-roster invitee. Under the terms of the controversial five-year extension he signed in June 2014, the left-handed hitting first baseman will make $2 million this season despite no longer being on the major league roster. 

So let's talk about the "controversy" surrounding the Singleton deal.

At the time the deal was signed, there was controversy. First, some background: Prior to the 2014 season, Singleton was ranked #82 in Baseball America's prospect rankings. He was ranked #57 by Baseball Prospectus, and #50 by MLB.com. This ranking is two years removed from his 2012 season in Corpus in which he - four years younger than his competition - hit .284/.396/.497.

He mainly spent 2013 between Double-A and Triple-A, missing 50 games due to the now-famous suspension for marijuana. Still, in the linked write-up, ESPN's Jerry Crasnick's lede described Singleton as "a rising star in the organization and the team's first baseman of the future." It was a blip, right? His numbers suffered in 2013 after the suspension, which followed a month-long stay in a rehab facility, hitting .230/.351/.401. As time went on, though, Singleton got better. After cratering in July 2013 (.178/.274/.300), he finished strong to end the 2013 season. From July 31 to the end of the minor-league season Singleton hit .268/.398/.400 - signaling, to me (and maybe others, who knows) that his eye was there, the hit tool and power would soon follow. But there was still work to be done.

Singleton described his journey in March 2014, three months before his extension and subsequent call-up:
At this point, it's pretty evident to me that I'm a drug addict. I don't openly tell everyone that, but it's pretty apparent to myself. I know that I enjoy smoking weed, I enjoy being high, and I can't block that out of my mind that I enjoy that. So I have to work against that.

The deal with the Phillies for Hunter Pence was considered a slam-dunk for the Astros, given Singleton, Cosart, and Domingo Santana's inclusion. Josh Zeid is secondary to the argument. Singleton had a hiccup with the 50-game suspension, but certainly seemed to overcome it in early 2014. Singleton opened the 2014 season with something to prove. When Singleton got called up to Houston - after signing his extension - he was hitting .267/.397/.544. At Triple-A. In his Age 22 season. Half of his hits were for extra-bases.

And so the Astros offered Singleton a deal he, apparently, could not refuse. The guaranteed deal was for 5yrs/$10m. The incentives included in the deal could push it to $35m. It was the first long-term extension for a player with no Major-League experience in baseball history.

But was it controversial?

It didn't sit well around the league. Noted Red-Ass Bud Norris - who didn't play for the Astros at that point - was decidedly not happy.
Wish the (sic) Jon listened to the union and not his agent. 

His agent, Matt Sosnick (the subject of a very good book by Jerry Crasnick), also came under fire from another agent, who told Chris Cotillo:
Sosnick is always looking to lock players up to protect himself so his players can't leave. Not in the best interest of the players.

And: Other agents really hate this deal for Singleton, who is repped by Matt Sosnick. "Disaster deal," one said.

So...the "controversy" seems to lie in Singleton leveraging long-term earnings for security. Beyond The Box Score wrote:
This new contract doesn't pay Jon Singleton much more than he'd make with reasonable arbitration predictions, and it pays him little enough that the team will squeeze lots of surplus value out of the guy - potentially by a large amount. If Jon Singleton is a star, then this will be an Evan Longoria/Mike Trout type of steal. If Jon Singleton is another Ike Davis, then this was still probably a great move by the Astros. 

FanGraphs wrote:
It goes without saying that this deal is a huge potential boon to the Astros. If Singleton turns out to be a quality player, he would have gone well beyond $35 million in his arbitration years and first free agent season, but if Singleton busts, they're only out $7 or $8 million above and beyond what they would have paid by going year to year. 

Both sides have benefited from the Singleton deal. Singleton has made $5.5m to date, and will get $2m in 2017 and 2018, with a $500,000 buyout in 2019. That amount of money is guaranteed. He won't be arbitration-eligible until 2019. So the Astros essentially gave him $9.5m for his pre-arbitration years with $20.5m for three arbitration years. He just has guaranteed money in the bank as opposed to going year-to-year. 

Let's also remember the time frame in which the Astros and Singleton signed the deal: They were coming off three straight 100+ loss seasons, including a 2013 that saw 111 losses. It was rock bottom. Yet the Astros had a plan. Let's not forget the reports that the Astros and Dominguez were close on a 5yr/$17m deal at the same time. Three months before signing Singleton, Ken Rosenthal broke that the Astros had offered George Springer a 7yr/$23m deal that would have bought out his arbitration years and one year of free agency. 

Had all three players (Singleton, Dominguez, and Springer) taken their respective deals, only the Springer deal would look like a win. Even with Springer's $3.9m salary in 2017 he will have "only" made just over $5m through his first three seasons. Springer is on track to eclipse the Astros' 2013 offer, but will need $18m over the next four years to do it. 

Rosenthal was critical of the Astros despite Chris Archer and Yan Gomes signing virtually the same deal with the Rays and Indians, respectively. Archer's deal was "the most guaranteed money" given to a player with less than a year of service time. Fox Sports' Joe Reedy said the Gomes deal was a "win-win for both sides." It was two months before the Singleton deal.

If Singleton never plays in Houston again, he will have received $10m for 420 Major-League plate appearances (no, seriously) with a .171/.290/.331 slash line. No chance he gets $10m in arbitration for that. And there's no amount of league minimum to get to $10m. Singleton won. The Astros were identifying young players to lock up for the next phase of their rebuild. Both sides assume risk: the player, again, gets immediate financial security at the expense of making more in arbitration. The team is giving guaranteed money to unproven players. That's not controversial, it's just a gamble. The "controversy" lies simply in that it was the Astros. 

Note: This post gets a massive assist from the invaluable Astros Twitter follow @BigTKirk , who asked the question about how controversial Singleton's deal actually was. 

Sunday Morning Hot Links

*Brian T. Smith wrote about A.J. Hinch in Year 3:
Jim and Jeff have been great to me. But I know this sport - sports - is about winning. I know that the expectations, as they raise, the microscope starts to come to me. And to be honest with you, I prefer it to be on me than I do the players.

*Yulieski Gurriel: Starting first baseman. Also, Gurriel also admitted suffering from fatigue as he got used to MLB's daily schedule.

*Brian McCann is learning the details of his pitching staff.

*Speaking of catchers, the Astros asked Garrett Stubbs to add weight this offseason. This is something that has never been asked of me.

*Tyler White will play first and third base this Spring in an effort to increase his versatility.

*Palm Beach Post: The new Spring Training facility is a hit.

*The Astros didn't crack FanGraphs' Top Ten Transactions of the Offseason list.

*Yordano Ventura's final weeks were filled with turmoil.

*Why weren't Mookie Betts and Mike Trout drafted earlier?

*Blake Swihart's throwing issue and the fragility of baseball careers.

*Check out the Indians' Beep Drill

*Inside Pablo Sandoval's complete reshaping of his body.

*The Yankees and Dellin Betances are not exactly getting along

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Saturday Morning Hot Links

Today is the first full-squad workout of the season!

*Lance McCullers is experimenting with a couple of new grips on his changeup, a pitch he hasn't thrown much in his first two seasons with the Astros.
Everything I throw is hard, hard, hard, and I'm trying to get a little 'stop and go' in my game, a little more 'pitchability,' so to speak.

*Carlos Correa, who will be out for a couple of days after getting his wisdom teeth removed, is ready to improve upon last year.
I want to be a better hitter than I already am, and I feel like I can do that. I can get so much better. 

*Carlos Beltran is looking towards October.
This team is really, really close to winning...I have to have the opportunity to play in October. That's what it's all about...Once you get to October, anything can happen. I feel like this team is going to give me that opportunity.

*Brian T. Smith wrote an erotic column about Beltran.

*Will Harris says the Astros have a chip on their shoulder:
Pitchers and catchers are here and I don't think as a whole we maybe didn't hold up our end of the bargain last year. You give us that little extra chip on our shoulder and give us something to prove, it could be something that could push us.

*Brian McCann is already pleased with Dallas Keuchel's delivery:
It's exactly what I thought it would be. The angles he creates are special. He gets the ball to move late, he gets the ball to stay on the plate until the end and then it falls off, and he can do it to both sides. 

*The Cardinals have paid the $2m to the Astros, apparently.

*Jon Singleton talked about being removed from the 40-Man roster after hitting .202/.337/.390 in 2016.
I was only disappointed at myself because of the year that I had. There was no one to blame but myself. 

*MinorLeagueBall asks if Ramon Laureano is the best Astros OF prospect.

*Five things to know about the Buies Creek Astros.

*Goose Gossage: Still a douche.

*Meet the latest boy genius of baseball.

*Here's a good article on the challenges facing Fitzgerald's.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Some thoughts at the opening of Spring Training

This is the year for which we have been waiting. Three years removed from the famous Sports Illustrated "2017 World Series Champion" cover*, five years removed from the draft that brought Carlos Correa and Lance McCullers into the organization. This is the time.

*Note: I still have not read this article. It has sat in my Pocket queue for three years, undisturbed. I just can't bring myself to read it. Maybe after the season has ended, or before Game 6 against the Cubs. 

We - as a fan base - have been laughed at. Those three years of 100+ losses (each loss more creative than the last) were absolutely brutal and between the losing, the Butt Slide, the Blocked Bunt, and the secondary stories that seemed to plague our favorite team - CSN Houston, Brady Aiken, getting freaking hacked by the Cheatin'-Ass Cardinals - the media took square aim at how the Astros were doing business.

2014 was fun simply because they didn't lose 100 games. 2015 was the most fun I've had as a fan since 2005, based largely off of Dallas Keuchel's home performances, Chris Carter's best Babe Ruth impression in late September, and Colby Rasmus's October heroics. 2016 came, and we all thought that was going to be The Year. It was not The Year. They couldn't overcome the slow April and the continual losses to the Ramgers. They couldn't overcome having a black hole at the bottom half of the lineup. They couldn't overcome Carlos Gomez looking like he'd won a contest to play center for a Major League team. They couldn't overcome not making a move at the Trade Deadline for a starting pitcher. They couldn't overcome Keuchel and McCullers' subsequent injuries.

There were bright spots, though! The Yulieski Gurriel signing. The rise of Alex Bregman. Another monster season from Jose Altuve that shows he's actually getting better. A full year of Carlos Correa. Another Luhnow draft that, while it doesn't immediately feel like the 2012 draft (but honestly, what could?), brought in another round of talent to the system.

Now the Astros have a lineup that, on paper, is among the best in the game. Maybe it's the best lineup since...2004? The rotation still does not feature Jose Quintana or Chris Archer, but maybe - MAYBE - it is good enough to win games with the expected offensive production. This is the year to be optimistic.

But I'm not optimistic. I'm a nervous wreck. Until the Astros can prove over a full season that the black magic of the Rangers for the past three seasons has been a fluke, I'll be skeptical. I won't settle down until the Astros clinch the division, and then a whole new bundle of nerves get to rear their ugly head. Because we've been down this path before. The 2015 ALDS against the Royals was the absolute worst because - as reliever after reliever allowed bloop after bloop in the 8th inning - I thought, "Yep. Knew it." And then I almost wrecked the rental I was driving.

So yes, the Astros are presumably better in 2017 than they were in 2016. Brian McCann *should* be an upgrade over Jason Castro. Josh Reddick *should* be an upgrade over Jake Marisnick. Carlos Beltran *should* be an upgrade over Colby Rasmus. All of these things should be true. When Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa talk about Carlos Beltran in basically a reverential whisper, that's exciting. And don't get me wrong, I am excited about the 2017 season. But it's nervous excitement, and I don't know what to do with it.

Friday Morning Hot Links

*The Astros put Springer's locker right next to Carlos Beltran's locker. Springer:
There really isn't a thing that I say that I'm not going to try to learn from somebody like (Beltran). I mean, he's been around forever and has played in some crazy games and has a lot of experience. So hopefully, I can just be a sponge around him and all of the other guys who are here and learn. 

*Altuve is excited, too, about Beltran's arrival.

*Hinch isn't going to rush into naming the Opening Day starter. But I'm betting $10 that it isn't Charlie Morton. Hinch:
I understand (announcing it this early) if everybody was fully healthy and had finished the season healthy. I certainly have a plan in place that I expect it to be. But we've got some tests to answer when it comes to getting over last season's health issues and into the season. 

*Guess Carlos Correa had his wisdom teeth removed.

*Dallas Keuchel was supposed to throw a bullpen session yesterday, but got sent home with the flu. This season is already over.

*Ken Giles put on an untold amount of muscle over the offseason. In his second year with the Astros, Giles feels more comfortable.

*Preston Tucker, after shoulder surgery in September, has been cleared to resume baseball activities.

*Cool story from Astros Future about Jon Kemmer's rise through the system, from his fiance's perspective.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Thursday Morning Hot Links

It's the first full Spring Training edition of 2017!

*A.J. Hinch's Spring Training plan is designed to make players tired and sore.

*Hinch is excited about the balance of the 2017 Astros.

*Dallas Keuchel's shoulder didn't feel right the entire season. Keuchel:
From the get-go, coming into spring training, it wasn't right. But I was telling myself I could push through this and get through it. That wasn't the case. I actually hurt the team more than helped out. 

Hinch, on Keuchel's struggles:
He took it on the chin a few times, but he also pitched a couple of good games, as well. He didn't have an entirely wasted season...I think he learned a lot about himself.

*Lance McCullers is working on a more compact throwing motion.

*Collin McHugh doesn't have any beef with the Astros after going through - and winning - the arbitration process.

*Day 1 and here's an eyebrow being raised: Evan Gattis received an anti-inflammation shot in his shoulder. Gattis:
It's just been a little sore, a little more sore than usual. So we just kind of nipped it in the bud, especially with a lot of volume coming up. I'm not too worried about it.

WE'LL BE THE JUDGE OF THAT, EVAN GATTIS.

*The Astros are extending protective netting all the way through the dugouts on both sides of the field. Corpus Christi is doing the same thing at Whataburger Field.

As someone who has an irrational fear of getting hit in the face with a foul ball, I applaud this decision.

*Here's a behind-the-scenes look at the new Spring Training facility

*John Sickels' Top 200 Prospects List features nine Astros, headlined by Francis Martes at #29, with six in the top 100.

*Former Astros prospect L.J. Hoes was suspended 50 games without pay for a second violation of a drug of abuse.

*Money may not be the only reason the Rangers let Yu Darvish walk after 2017.

*Late Tigers owner Mike Ilitch paid Rosa Parks' rent for years.

*Football hooligans in Russia are trained, organized, and violent.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Monday Morning Hot Links

Pitchers & Catchers report on Wednesday so, if you were participating in the Astros County Fitness Challenge, Stage 1 ends Wednesday. Be sure to send me a message with an update to be eligible to receive the prize.

*Hopefully everyone will shut up about payroll for a bit as the Astros are projected to be north of $120m in 2017. Luhnow:
We're probably going to have roughly a league-average payroll this year for the first time in a while, and I think that's going to continue to increase. And that helps. You need to fuel the fire, and we've got plenty of resources right now. 

*Tyler White is excited about another opportunity with the Astros:
It was a hit to my pride when I got sent back down. But I wasn't ready mentally to deal with the struggles I faced in the Major Leagues. Physically, I was there but mentally it's such a different challenge. 

*Max "Snakebit" Stassi is ready for another crack at Spring Training after basically a lost 2016 season:
It was an up-and-down year last year. In Triple-A, I didn't get off to the start I wanted to, and I felt like it was just kind of an uphill battle. With my hand, getting the strength back in that, it took a while...I learned a lot about myself, though, and I feel like defensively I got a lot better, too. Some tweaks I made in my stance. I look at it as a positive, though. You know what you did wrong, you know what you did well, and you know what you need to continue to work on to become a successful major league player. 

If Stassi does not make the Opening Day roster, he will have to pass through waivers to return to the organization.

*Maybe you've seen the PECOTA projections for 2017. Keep in mind it's a "projection" and not necessarily a "prediction," but it sure would be nice for this to be the year the two sort of line up.

*Ken Rosenthal says the biggest question for the Astros is whether they'll add a top-flight starting pitcher.

*You wanna buy Lou Gehrig's Westchester County house?