Thursday, March 28, 2013

2013 Predictions

Even though I've been spending most of my dwindling time for writing on crafting pieces for and, I'm constantly irked that I have been neglecting my first source of publication, Summerpastime. Although anyone looking for my opinion on all matters baseball can follow me on Twitter at @summerpastime or on Facebook, Summerpastime was the original source of my baseball thoughts, and it still holds the key to my heart.

Now that that's out of the way, let's get down to business. The Major League Baseball regular season officially begins on March 31st when the Texas Rangers take on the Houston Astros. The next day, Monday April 1st is opening day, at which time every MLB team will have gotten in their first game of the season. Since we have just merely a weekend before beginning the season, I felt it only natural to share my predictions for the 2013 season. I'll first depict each division and share with you a blurb about each team in that division, and provide win/loss totals for each team.

Let's begin in the National League, the senior circuit, which lost a team, the Astros, this season, but retains numerous contenders for the playoffs. Note, this will look like a long post, but it reads quickly.

NL East:

    1.  Washington Nationals
The Washington Nationals have the best team on paper in Major League Baseball. With young stars Bryce Harper and Ian Desmond titillatingly close to breaking out into full fledged stars, the Nationals have a fantastic young core to go along with veterans Jayson Werth, Adam LaRoche, and Kurt Suzuki. General Manager Mike Rizzo had a shrewd offseason adding center fielder Denard Span, starting pitcher Dan Haren, and closer Raphael Soriano, while losing none of the major components that aided in the Nationals 2012 run to the NLCS. This could be the year that Washington hosts its first World Series game 1933 and the first ever in Nationals franchise history. If you watch one game one television this season make it a Nationals game in which either Stephen Strasburg or Jordan Zimmerman start, it'll be worth your while. (103-59)

    2.  Philadelphia Phillies
As a Philly boy, I'm biased sure, but I also objectively see the Phillies taking 2nd in the NL East. While I have little faith in Ryan Howard, I see Domonic Brown breaking out, and Chase Utley staying healthy enough to play in at least 125 games. In addition, while I buy that Roy Halladay will be the 3rd best starting pitcher for the Phillies in 2013, Cole Hamels, and his new beard, will lead the rotation in all the major pitching categories, followed closely behind by fellow southpaw Cliff Lee. In fact, I think Cole Hamels will win the 2013 NL Cy Young Award. I love the signings of Mike Adams and Chad Durbin to stabilize a high ceiling and low floor bullpen featuring Jonathan Papelbon and Antonio Bastardo. Elsewhere in the lineup, I like Carlos Ruiz to continue his torrid pace at the plate, once he returns from his 25-game suspension. Phillies win the 2nd wildcard spot. (90-72)

    3.  Atlanta Braves
Atlanta made one incredible upgrade this offseason, the acquisition of Justin Upton. The Braves made a fantastic trade, one in which they gave up little, and added an incredible talent. In addition, GM Frank Wren added Justin's brother B.J., while promoting prospect Julio Tehran to the starting rotation. The two key losses here are Martin Prado and Brian McCann. McCann will return and provide value, but his absence will be felt. I love Andrelton Simmons at shortstop, but I think it will take 4 months for his offensive game to mature enough to make a difference for the Braves, even though his defense will be stellar for the entire 2013 season. I love their bullpen, but if Johnny Venters spends time on the DL, they will lose what I think is their best asset in relief (due to Kimbrel's forced position as the 9th inning pitcher and Venters' ability to pitch in more high leverage situations). This is a team that will be better in 2014 than 2013. (83-79)

    4.  New York Mets
Ask my Aunt and Uncle who are die-hard metropolitan fans, I'm anti-Mets. Still, this is a team I would pin as one that could surprise. When a team relies on young players, there exists a tendency towards volatility, sometimes good (think the Rays) sometimes awful (think the Nats). The Mets have three of my favorite pitching prospects in Zack Wheeler, Matt Harvey, and Noah Syndergaard even though I can never spell Syndergaard. These three, combined with catching prospect Travis D'arnaud leads me to think the Mets have a great future. The problem with looking towards the future is that the present won't be as pretty. The Mets need help offensively, sporting only David Wright, Ike Davis, and Daniel Murphy as legitimate offensive threats, and Murphy could be someone who could provide a decent prospect in return in a mid-season or offseason trade. Mets fans, I hope you all suffer, but objectively, wait a year or two and this could be a team competing for a wild card spot in the NL. (76-86)

    5. Miami Marlins
The Marlins have a grade A farm system, but I'm worried their AAA and AA squads combined could beat the roster the Marlins currently have ready to open the 2013 regular season. Giancarlo Stanton constitutes the only high-caliber player in the entire Miami lineup. Look for catching Rob Brantley to compete for the Rookie of The Year Award, but much of his consideration is due to his offensive tendencies and ability to be give the chance to play all season. Ricky Nolasco is a sure-fire mid-season trade candidate, and even though he'll get beat up, I like Nathan Eovaldi to take significant steps forward in his maturation in 2013. Don't expect much from the Marlins in 2013. (63-99)

NL Central:

    1.  Cincinnati Reds
This will be the closest division race in the NL, but the Reds, led by my favorite current MLB player Joey Votto, will win the NL Central. I think Dusty Baker is a ruiner of pitchers, and that, more than anything is the best reason for putting Aroldis Chapman in the starting rotation, but even still, the Reds will do fine on the bump. Johnny Cueto and Mat Latos headline this rotation, and they will do so with grace. The Reds trio of Votto, Bruce, and Phillips, combined with new center fielder Shin-Soo Choo won't outscore the Cardinals, but the total package of this team just beats out their foes from St. Louis. While this might be a team that can win the NL Central I question their ability to go deep into the postseason with Ryan Ludwick in left field and only Cueto and Latos making noise in the rotation. (94-68)

    2. St. Louis Cardinals
The Cardinals may finish 2nd in this division, but I actually think they are a more complete team than the Reds. The Cardinals are my favorite for franchise most likely to win now and most likely to win 5 years in the future. The Cardinals gave extensions to Allen Craig and Adam Wainwright, and still sport Yadier Molina as their everyday backstop. With Freese at third, Jay playing everyday in center field, and Carlos Beltran playing the last great season of his career, this Cardinals team has a great chance to make the playoffs. I like the Cardinals' rotational depth, but after Wainwright I don't see a possible ace, whereas the Reds sport two possibles in Cueto and Latos. No Jason Motte for at least part of the season hurts, but the Cardinals won't begin feeling the affects of Motte's absence until June, if he remains out that long. If Oscar Taveras comes up for more than half the season, this team could easily take 1st in the central. (88-74)

    3. Pittsburgh Pirates
Some think the Brewers will place third in this division, but I like the Buccos. I'm high on what looks like a top-5 young core. Starling Marte and Pedro Alvarez will surprise people with their advancements, Alvarez is a candidate to hit 35 home runs, and a 20-20 season from Marte isn't out of his reach. Pitching-wise, this team is in significant need of the additions of young, current Minor Leaguers, Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon. Cole should make the MLB squad this season, but I hope the Pirates make the smart move for the future and keep Taillon till 2014. Adding Cole and Marte into fulltime roles, Russell Martin as the full-time catcher, and Jason Grilli as the closer will propel the Pirates just beyond the Brewers. One other note, look for Gregory Polanco, a prospect, to take another leap forward this season, putting him in the Buccos starting outfield in 2014. (81-81)

    4. Milwaukee Brewers
Ryan Braun, Norichika Aoki, and Corey Hart constitute a solid core, but after that there isn't much to look at. The Brew Crew have a rotation with one legitimate pitcher, Yovani Gallardo, Kyle Lohse, who every baseball analyst sees regressing, and 3 others who are mediocre at best. Rickie Weeks should bounce back, but I don't see him being a top-5 2nd baseman in the NL. Hart is a very good player, but he's out for the first month or two, and with Ryan Braun always hovering between the suspended for PED use and not line, this is a team too volatile for me to predict a winning record. (75-87)

   5. Chicago Cubs
The Cubs have a solid farm system, and a few young players of note including Starlin Castro, Darwin Barney, Brett Jackson, and Jeff Samardzija. On the other hand, the rest of the team is at best average. I like Edwin Jackson, but playing half of his games at Wrigley Field makes me nervous. Overall, the Cubs don't expect to win now, but come 2016, Theo Epstein and co. expect big things. I love their top prospect Javier Baez, but either he or Castro will have to switch positions to make room. If the Cubs can move Matt Garza, Alfonso Soriano, Carlos Marmol, and either Scott Feldman or Carlos Villanueva  within the next 10 months, the Cubs could be well on their way to seizing the top spot in the NL Central in 2016, but not in 2013. (69-93)

NL West:

    1.  Los Angeles Dodgers
I've gone back and forth on the Dodgers more than any team in MLB. This is a team that spent incredible sums of money in the offseason, plans to spend more as time passes, and wants to win more than anything. The addition of Zack Greinke to Clayton Kershaw gives LA the best 1-2 punch in the NL behind only Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels and just ahead of Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner. Their offense won't be top 5 in the NL until June, but once Hanley Ramirez returns from the DL and Carl Crawford gets back into baseball form, this is a scary scary lineup to face. The Dodgers will be better in 2014, with the addition of top prospect Yasiel Puig followed by the addition of Zack Lee in 2015. This is a team prime to make a trade to improve at the deadline, which could make them even more formidable. (92-68)

    2. Arizona Diamondbacks
This is my stretch in 2013. Arizona has undergone a huge makeover, shedding talents like Justin Upton and Trevor Bauer, acquiring instead hard nosed players like Martin Prado, Adam Eaton, and Brandon McCarthy. While there may be a culture change in AZ, this is also a team that has the perfect mix of young talent, depth, and veteran presence to win in 2013. Paul Goldschmidt and Miguel Montero should both have great seasons, and even though Cody Ross and Adam Eaton will begin the season on the DL, the DBacks have built up enough depth to stay the course. Didi Gregorious and Tyler Skaggs will add some midseason energy and talent, giving Diamondbacks a good chance to take 2nd in the NL West. (87-75)

    3.  San Francisco Giants
The Giants are the World Series champions, but they are also an older team. Angel Pagan represents a very good addition, while shedding fan favorite Brian Wilson should be an addition by subtraction. Still, I'm not high on a team that puts so much faith in generating the almost the same lineup as the previous year, especially given their age. I like Matt Cain continuing his consistent efficiency, but Madison Bumgarner could be hit or miss, with the same going for Tim Lincecum. Offensively, the Giants have Buster Posey and Angel Pagan, but not much else to count on. This isn't a good sign, despite sporting one of the best bullpens in the NL. The Giants could easily take 2nd in this division, but I see them finishing 3rd. (82-80)

    4.  San Diego Padres
The Padres may finish 4th this year, but watch out. Jason Parks, the scouting guru at Baseball Prospectus, sees numerous great young pitchers in the Padres farm system as well as one of the best catching prospects in Austin Hedges. Combine those young players with current Major Leaguers Yasmani Grandal, Chase Headley, Jedd Gyorko, Cameron Maybin, and Yonder Alonso this is a team with a solid positional core, and high upside youth pitching core, a good sign for the future. Unfortunately, 2013 won't be a memorable one for San Diego, as they won't score enough or be able to pitch well enough to beat very many NL teams. Look for the Padres to trade another solid reliever this season for prospect, I see Luke Gregerson being that bullpen pitcher. (75-87)

    5. Colorado Rockies
The Rockies, if they stay healthy will score plenty of runs, but no team in the NL will give up as many runs as the Rockies. This won't only be due to playing 81 games in hitter-friendly Coors Field, but that won't help. Juan Nicasio and Drew Pomeranz should take steps forward this season, but they will struggle in doing so. Offensively the key for the Rockies will be getting 150 games from star Troy Tulowitzki, and seeing improvement from catcher Wilin Rosario and Nolan Arenado. This team will lose a lot, so don't expect much. (66-96)

AL East: 

    1. Tampa Bay Rays
The Rays have the best pitching staff, starters and bullpen combined, in the American League. Add prospects Chris Archer and Jake Odorizzi to that, and they not only have talent, but talented depth. This team needs their pitchers to perform well because they probably won't score a ton of runs. Having Evan Longoria in the starting lineup for a full season should help, but after Longoria there is a drop off. I cannot state how much I love Ben Zobrist's combined versatility and talent, but if top prospect Wil Myers doesn't come up, play at least 100 games, and hit for power, the Rays could fall into the 2nd spot in a competitive AL East. Still, their pitching is fantastic, so I see the Rays finishing 1st. (98-64)

    2.  Toronto Blue Jays
The Blue Jays have the best "on paper" roster in the AL, but they also have risk attached to it. Josh Johnson looks great now, but can he sustain that success in August and September? I love the Melky Cabrera signing, but if he gets suspended that will be difficult for the Blue Jays. Jose Reyes must stay healthy for this team because Jose Bautista, Brett Lawrie, and Edwin Encarnacion need runners on base to hit to their full potential. I worry about their bullpen and their health, but one player I think will succeed is R.A. Dickey. Dickey will put up great numbers, contend for the Cy Young, and live up to his well deserved contract. Toronto has improved, and could finish anywhere from 1-4 in this division. (90-72)

    3.  Boston Red Sox
Call me crazy, but I think the Red Sox are on the right path back to winning. They made shrewd moves this offseason, going after veterans who desired higher AAV contracts who were willing to accept fewer years. In addition, the Red Sox retained their draft picks, giving them players who can create a winning atmosphere now, and giving them room to find players to continue that mentality in the coming years. The two key players for the Red Sox are Jacoby Ellsbury and Clay Buchholz who both need to stay healthy and productive. Whether the Red Sox decide to trade or resign Ellsbury they will gain value, making this a franchise on the rise. Jackie Bradley Jr. and Xander Bogaerts headline the next generation, and these two players will do Red Sox nation proud. (83-79)

    4.  Baltimore Orioles
I love the Orioles, but I don't trust them. This is a team prime to compete for the top spot in the AL East in 2014, but I see a step back in 2013. Manny Machado will continue to develop, but he won't blossom until 2014-2015. Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman represent the pitching future, which will be much appreciated given the Orioles current starting rotation that essentially sports 5 #4 starters. Adam Jones is legit, but will see some regression in 2013, and while I like Nolan Reimold to rebound, I'm not sure J.J. Hardy will get on base enough and Nick Markakis will stay healthy enough for the O's to win enough games to be contenders. I like their bullpen, especially Pedro Strop, who I consider the best up and coming bullpen arm in the American League. (78-82)

    5.  New York Yankees
Many writers would spend paragraphs, nay pages, on the Yankees, but I'll explain their dilemma in a few short words. This team is both too old and, most importantly, too injured to succeed. If none of their players spent time on the DL, this team could win 94 games, but if even a few of them spend time injured, this team has significant cellar possibilities. I like C.C. and I like Kuroda, but after that question marks pop up everywhere. Mariano will be great, and I like Robertson, but this may be a very taxed bullpen come August. Offensively, Gardner will have a lot of steals, but not a good percentage because he will force the issue too often. Cano could win the MVP, but he'll have little support in the middle of the lineup. (75-79)

AL Central:

    1.  Detroit Tigers
The Tigers are the same team as last season but better. Closers are nice, but rarely make a big impact, so the decision to go with a "closer by committee" should benefit the Tigers more than hurt them. Adding Torii Hunter to replace Delmon Young may be one of the best moves this offseason, especially since the team will add Victor Martinez into the lineup as well. With a rotation of Verlander and bunch of #3 starters, the bullpen shouldn't be too taxed in the 5th and 6th innings, leading to more bullets come September. Playing a weak division won't hurt either. Oh, and then there's Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder, almost forgot about them. (97-63)

    2. Kansas City Royals
The Royals took big strides to get better in 2013, but found will find out the hard way that they haven't done enough to make the playoffs. KC added a top tier pitcher in James Shields, but gave up Jeff Francoeur upgrade and replacement in the process in Wil Myers. I see a bounce back year for Eric Hosmer, but not enough to even get him to the All-Star team. The Royals will disappoint a lot of KC fans, and it's sad because if free agents would be more willing to come to a team that has a rabid and dedicated fan base, the Royals could win this division. Sadly I don't see it happening. (83-79)

    3.  Cleveland Indians
Terry Francona was this team's best pickup in the offseason, and that's amongst a few other good ones in Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn. I like the Indians future outlook, better than any other team in this division, even more than Minnesota's. Still, this team will produce lots of strikeouts, and their pitchers will pitch far, far too much from the stretch. I like the Indians as team on the rise, especially with top prospect Fancisco Lindor getting better every month. I see this team turning Asdrubal Cabrera into a good trade piece, but not competing with legitimacy for another season or two. Still, Indians fans should be enthused. (77-85)

    4.  Chicago White Sox
The White Sox look similar to last year, except Adam Dunn is older, Alex Rios is older, Jake Peavy is older, and they lost A.J. Pierzynski. Chris Sale will be great again, but not as good as last season, and with few other additions, this team scream "blah" as much as any other in the Majors. Look for new General Manager Rick Hahn to make good moves at the deadline to improve this team for the future, but don't look for production in 2013. (75-87)

    5.  Minnesota Twins
I love the 2016 Minnesota Twins, but the 2013 version will lose a lot of games. If you see one AL rookie this year, take a look at Aaron Hicks who shows great hitting ability, for power and average, to all fields, as well as speed and the best young outfield arm in the Majors. Add prospects Miguel Sano and Oswaldo Arcia to the mix in the coming years and the Twins lineup could become explosive. Still, in 2013, the Twins look to "wait it out" and I expect few wins and many many losses. (68-94)

AL West:

    1.  Texas Rangers
I know the Angels have the flashy lineup and the A's stole our hearts in 2012, but the Rangers have the best mix of both. GM Jon Daniels made the smart move by not resigning Josh Hamilton, and didn't make a big hoopla after losing out on Zack Greinke. Instead, Texas plans on using one of the best, most MLB-ready, farm systems to fill holes. No Michael Young, well how about Mike Olt. Need another star talent to replace the Hamilton's, try the top rated prospect in all of baseball, Jurickson Profar. Add in veterans Lance Berkman and A.J. Pierzynski to the mix and this team has all the right pieces to compete for 162 games. Losing Martin Perez to injury will hurt the Rangers, but I see their pitching to be good enough to last them till at least July, when Daniels can deal for a pitcher to put them over the top, like Matt Garza. (96-66)

    2.  Los Angeles Angels
The Angels continue to be the winners of the offseason, at least in pazazz, but this team still sports some soft spots, like in their bullpen, and at the back of their rotation. Mike Trout will compete, if not win, the AL MVP, and Albert Pujols will have a Pujols-like year, but this team has too many question marks to take first in a difficult division. I like the changes Jared Weaver has made to his delivery, but I'm not crazy about C.J. Wilson. Ryan Madson, if healthy has one of the best fastball/change ups splits I've ever seen, but he has to return from Tommy John Surgery with gusto in order to make a difference. (89-73)

    3.  Oakland A's
Here's the problem. Ask me now and I see the A's finishing 3rd, but ask me tomorrow and I'd say 1st. This team has issues on paper, but when ever we doubt Billy Beane's strategy we become jesters in the court he rules as king. I like the A's outfield, especially adding Chris Young, and their rotation sports good talent and good depth, but this is a team with issues on the left side of the infield that worry me. I have the least confidence in this selection, but I'll place them 3rd nonetheless. I do however see a great season for Jed Lowrie, so look for him to produce, despite finding himself o the Dl twice this season. (82-80)

    4.  Seattle Mariners
This is the easiest selection of all as there is no way the Astros win enough games to take anything but last in the AL West, but it would seem improbable for the Mariners to finish higher than fourth. I see Brandon Maurer as a legitimate AL Rookie of the Year candidate, and I don't see King Felix slowing down, but this isn't a good team. This team has potential, but not enough to make a difference. With Danny Hultzen and Tijuana Walker waiting in the wings, the Mariners could have the best rotation in the AL by 2015, but it won't be until then that they compete for a playoff spot. Player to watch for on the Mariners is Michael Saunders, I think the world of his potential for having a break out season. (74-88)

    5.  Houston Astros
Not much to say here. This team has a $25 million MLB payroll combined, so don't expect much more than 65 wins. I like the addition of Chris Carter, as he will toy with the Crawford Boxes in left field in Houston, but other than the prospect of Jonathan Singleton coming up in July, the Astros have little to look forward to in 2013, 2014, and probably 2015. Wait a few years, Jim Crane and Jeff Luhnow will be laughing at us all when the Astros make the playoffs, but until then you'll see about as many fans at home games as wins on at the end of the year. (60-102)

NL Playoffs: Cardinals beat Phillies in Wildcard game. Nationals beat Cardinals and Dodgers beat Reds in divisional series. Nationals beat Dodgers in NLCS.

AL Playoffs: Angels beat Blue Jays in Wildcard game. Rays beat Angels  and Tigers beat Rangers in divisional series. Tigers beat the Rays in the ALCS.

World Series: Nationals beat the Tigers to win the World Series.

NL MVP: Bryce Harper
NL Cy Young: Cole Hamels
NL ROY: Andrelton Simmons

AL MVP: Evan Longoria
AL Cy Young: Justin Verlander
AL ROY: Aaron Hicks

More than anything else, enjoy the best baseball has to offer, 2013 should be another fantastic season!

Thursday, March 7, 2013


While Summerpastime is and will always be my favorite online location for expressing my thoughts on Baseball, I have been spreading my ideas and writing to two other websites. A Phillies site and an analysis based site Follow me there, and continue to check Summerpastime, you never know when something might pop up. I can also be found on Twitter at @summerpastime and on Facebook at

As always, thanks for reading.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Options For Everyone

The business of Baseball transcends the game in many ways. Oftentimes purist fans want to forget about the business side of Baseball as it takes away from the joy of watching America's Pastime the way it was meant to be watched. On the other hand, like in medicine, philanthropy, and other parts of life, Baseball is a business, no matter how much we wish it weren't. While many heads in the clouds hope that one day Baseball will return to just a bunch of boys playing game after game in the summer sun, the business side of Baseball isn't going anywhere. In fact, embracing the money side of the game can enrich one's fandom. Determining the length, dollar amount, and other parts of contracts makes up such a large part of analyzing the game, that some focus solely on such topics. If your looking for a good website for all things business oriented concerning Baseball check out Maury Brown's website For now, I want to discuss the idea of an option. 

Adam LaRoche
Every player's contract has an average annual value, a yearly dollar amount that when combined equals the total value of said player's contract. So, for example, this offseason Adam LaRoche of the Washington Nationals signed a 2-year contract worth $22 million. He will earn $10 million in 2013 and $12 million in 2014. That $22 million counts as his base salary. Options are one-year additions that teams and players' representatives negotiate on when discussing a contract that have a dollar amount associated with them, but are not guaranteed unless the option is "picked up" or the option vests. Options give teams and players flexibility. Sometimes tacking on an option to a contract can make negotiations run more smoothly, other times they can be deal breakers, causing the two sides to forgo a contract and move on. More often than not, options are useful tools for both a player and the team; giving both sides a bit more wiggle room when discussing contracts involving tens of millions of dollars.

A few different types of options exist, including team options, player options, mutual options, and vesting options. I'll give a quick synopsis of each type, using examples to illustrate the positive and negative affects of each. First, let's discuss the team option. Team options, or club options, are the most commonly utilized form of the option. In his book, "The Extra 2%", Jonah Keri mentions club options when discussing ways in which the lowly Tampa Bay Devil Rays, now known only as the Rays, got the most out of the contracts they offered to top tier players. Keri describes it best when he says, "But with a club option, the team wields all the power. Got a 40-home run hitter? Keep him. Did he turn into Mario Mendoza? Happy trails." Team options give a club's front office complete latitude as to whether to keep or release a player. If an option has a dollar amount that a player would not find on the open market due to attrition in productivity then the team will choose to not pick up said option because no team wants to waste money on a player who isn't worth the money he will receive.

James Shields
On the other hand, using the example of the Rays, tacking on multiple team options onto a contract given to a young player could allow a team to keep said player for relatively less money than that player would make on the open market, making such an option very valuable. For example, when the Rays offered James Shields a contract early in his career, they added three player options on to the end of the deal, anticipating that Shields would only get better with time, and thus giving them complete autonomy when making the decision to keep him or not. Veterans who sign contracts during their prime years rarely allow teams to add club options onto their deals, preferring the other types of options instead, but young players who haven't proven their worth yet, or older players who are on the wrong part of the aging curve accept team options because it leaves some possibility that they could continue playing without becoming a free agent. Oftentimes, if a team refuses to give a player a contract without a club option attached, the player's agent will demand that a buyout clause be attached. A buyout clause is a dollar amount that a team must pay the player if said team decides not to pick up the club option, thereby securing the player some money no matter which way the club decides to go.

Derek Jeter
Now that you understand what a team option entails, let's move on to a player option. Player options are simple; they constitute the exact opposite of a club option. If teams place club options on younger or older players' contracts, player options are more often seen on contracts of players in their prime, or franchise players' contracts. Since the team has the money, front offices rarely want to allow a player to decide whether he will play another year after the base years of his contract have expired. It leaves teams with fewer alternatives, making it more difficult for General Managers and their staffs to plan for the future. On the other hand, some players are just worth it. For example, Derek Jeter, the face of the Yankees franchise, a future first-ballot hall of famer, and a consistently productive player even in his late thirties, had a player option attached to the contract he signed with the Yankees in 2010. The foundation of the contract runs through 2013, with a player option worth $8 million for 2014. Jeter's AAV for the base of the contract is about $17.6 million, significantly more than the dollar amount associated with the 2014 player option. Like club options, player options commonly have buyout clauses linked to them. In Jeter's case, the team has a $3 million buyout option they must pay if Jeter declines the player option for 2014. Player options are rarer than club options, but for a player as important to a one club as Jeter is to the Yankees, teams will do whatever is necessary to ensure that player signs a deal with them.

Conceptually, player and club options have little complexity to them. But wait, there's more. Another type of option seen in Baseball is the mutual option. This type of option combines the aspects of a team option and a player option. Essentially, a mutual option is an option that both the player and team must agree to. Wendy Thurm, a former lawyer, and writer for describes the positive and negative aspects of a mutual option best:

"A mutual option is a hedge against volatility in the market for that player in that particular option year. If the player’s value plummets, the team can decline the option and pay the buyout. If the player’s value rises, he can decline the option and seek a better deal as a free agent. If the player’s value is stable, however, then it might be in both parties’ interest to exercise the mutual option."

So, mutual options give both the team and the player the ability to come together and make a decision. This may seem like the most mature option available because it very well may be. Player and club options give control to one side, shutting out the other, but mutual options, like the negotiation of any contract, allow both sides to have a say. For a good example, let's take Adam LaRoche's contract, mentioned above. In LaRoche's deal, the two sides negotiated a mutual option for 2015 worth $15 million, substantially more than the $11 million AAV of the years preceding 2015. This option, like so many others, comes with a buyout clause. If the two sides don't agree to the mutual option, the Nationals must pay LaRoche $2 million in his departure.

Bobby Abreu
So, we've gone through club options, player options, and mutual options. All that's left is the vesting option. Recently the diligent writers at published a piece about vesting options, publishing with it a list of examples in which vesting options were and were not triggered. A vesting option is the same as the other types of options, except that in order to trigger the option, the player must attain some predetermined level of productivity. For example, the Angels gave Bobby Abreu a vesting option for 2012 that would be triggered if Abreu reached at least 433 plate appearances in the 2011 season. If he did not come to the plate 433 times or more the option would be moot, but if he achieved that minimum number of plate appearances he would be an Angel for another season. We see vesting options pop up most often on the contracts of older players or oft-injured players. These conditions cause instability, and a team doesn't want to be "on the hook" for money if a player cannot prove to the team they can perform on the field. For relief pitchers vesting options often involve appearances or games finished, for hitters we see plate appearances used, and for starting pitchers, innings pitched are most commonly used as a barometer. Sometimes vesting options come with clauses that allow a player to decline said option even if the option has vested, but not all incorporate such provisions. 

So, now you know everything and more about contract options in Major League Baseball. Maybe for some fans these topics detract from the fun and childlike innocence attached to the game, but for most, it offers another fascinating aspect to the non-playing side of sports. So much of the analytical revolution in Baseball combines on-field play with off-the-field decisions made by MLB front offices. No matter your preference, I hope you've learned something, so that maybe, the next time you hear he details of a contract, you might understand them a little better. 

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Call to The Pen

Last season, the Orioles shocked the Baseball world by turning the tables on the usual suspects in the AL East by winning 93 games, nabbing second place in the AL East, and one of the two wild card spots. The O's made the playoffs in 2013, making their way back to the post season for the first time in 1997. After making quick work of the Texas Rangers in the wild card play-in game, the Orioles ran into the Bronx Bombers in the ALDS. The Yankees outlasted the O's, beating them in a decisive game 5 to move on to the League Championship Series.

Since then, the AL East has undergone a make over. The Red Sox ridded themselves of big contracts like Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez, as well as distractions like Josh Beckett. The Sox have since replaced that trio with a group of veterans like Shane Victorino, David Ross, Ryan Dempster, Jonny Gomes, Mike Napoli, and Stephen Drew. General Manager Ben Cherington prudently signed no players tied to draft pick compensation, and predominantly went after players considered "sure things" as opposed to big names and thus big risks.

Across the border, Blue Jays made the deal of the offseason, acquiring Jose Reyes, Emilio Bonifacio, Josh Johnson, and Mark Buehrle from the Miami Marlins in exchange for a bus load of prospects. After  years of prospect cultivation and development, the Blue Jays decided to use some young talent as currency in order to make a run at the playoffs. The Jays added the cherry on top of the sundae by making a second deal, this one for the reigning NL Cy Young award winner, knuckleballer R.A. Dickey. With this infusion of talent and experience, especially in the rotation, the Blue Jays are prime to make the playoffs for the first time since 1993.

The Rays, that scrappy young club from St. Petersburg, continued to rake in the young, talented, cheap, and team controlled players by trading veteran pitchers James Shields and Wade Davis to Kansas City. In Return the Rays received stud prospect Wil Myers along with pitcher Jake Odorizzi. While this deal didn't compare in size or impact to the dealings of the Blue Jays, the Rays secured one of the top MLB-ready talents in the minors without trading AL Cy Young award winner David Price, who's expensive arbitration years just kicked in. While this move might set the Rays back at first, with prospects like Chris Archer and youngsters like Jeremy Hellickson and Alex Cobb vying for places in the Rays rotation, Tampa looks to remain relevant in 2013 as well as the foreseeable future.

The Yankees offseason involved signing a number of older veteran players to short-term contracts, plugging holes, in order to stay under the luxury tax, but also not fall into the cellar of the AL East. The Yanks brought back Ichiro, Andy Pettitte, and Hiroki Kuroda, while adding veteran Kevin Youkilis to man the hot corner at 3rd. While these moves seem a bit desperate on the surface, the Yankees made shrewd moves that should keep them germane in the AL East in 2013. The only hole in the Yankees roster seems to be behind the plate, but the team has all spring training to figure out their backstop issues.

So, with every team in the AL East realistically eyeing the playoffs for the first time in years, what aspect might separate one from the rest of the pack? Last season, the Orioles used their brilliant bullpen to push them just past the Rays into the playoffs, and it seems as though the relief core may be the key to the east once again. In 2013, the O's bullpen put up a combined 6.4 fWAR, which ranked 3rd in the American League behind only the Royals and the Rays. Orioles relievers made quick work of the final innings of a game not by utilizing the strikeout, but instead by inducing more ground balls than any other AL East pen. In addition, the O's gave out few free passes, ranking second, behind only the Rangers, in BB/9.

Red Sox
Blue Jays

The Orioles didn't have the best offense, nor stellar starting pitching, but Buck Showalter's bullpen kept the team in every game, making the Orioles a deadly foe in close games. Unfortunately for Baltimore, their incredible winning percentage in 1-run games and extra inning games came halted in the ALDS in which 4 out of the 5 games played ended with a margin of victory of just 1 run. Given that the Orioles bullpen became their key to success, and the growing parity in the AL East, what have Baltimore's rivals been up to?

David Robertson
The Yankees lost a key part of their 2012 bullpen, righty Raphael Soriano, but they were able to parlay his success into an additional draft pick by offering him a qualifying offer that he didn't accept. Instead, once Soriano signed with his new club, the Washington Nationals, the Yankees picked up a compensatory pick, which turns out to be the 32nd pick in this summers upcoming draft. The Yankees willingly parted with their 2012 bullpen anchor given Soriano's desire for a lucrative multi-year contract, the ability to obtain a draft pick in return, and most importantly knowing that future Hall-Of-Famer Mariano Rivera would return in 2013 to fill the hole left by Soriano. In addition to Rivera's return, the Yankees still have Nate Robertson, the strikeout machine, who has posted a 12.20 K/9, 2.70 FIP, and accumulated 6.0 fWAR since 2009. Between Robertson, Rivera, and a mix of Boone Logan from the left side, the Yankees bullpen should hold up late in games.

Roberto Hernandez
The Rays made some minor changes to their bullpen, but given their recent success, these changes should prove fruitful. Tampa traded ground ball specialist Burk Badenhop to the Brewers, replacing him with Roberto Hernandez, the pitcher formerly known as Fausto Carmona. Carmona, like Badenhop throws from the right side, and more importantly throws a hard sinker that induces a great number of ground balls. Since becoming a regular in the Majors, Hernandez has posted a ridiculous 58.4 ground ball percentage, good enough for a 2.26 GB/FB ratio. Hernandez did most of his previous work from the starting rotation, and while the Rays may ask him to spot start in a pinch, his role will be out of the bullpen where Joe Madden expects him to induce ground ball after ground ball. The Rays also resigned Joel Peralta while retaining the services of All-Star closer Fernando Rodney by picking up the 2013 team option attached to his contract. Add those names to lefty fire baller Jake McGee, and the Rays bullpen looks ready to buttress their young starting pitching for another season.

Koji Uehara
The Red Sox made headlines by signing lots of free agents this offseason, including a few in the bullpen. The Sox signed southpaw, and well traveled, Craig Breslow, now onto his 7th MLB franchise, to a conservative 2-year $6.25 million contract, added former Ranger's righty Koji Uehara for 1-year and $4.25 million, and traded for former Pirates closer Joel Hanrahan. In addition, the Sox will benefit from the return of Andrew Bailey from an injury marred 2012 campaign, especially since Bailey's 2013 will determine how much money the reliever will get paid in his 3rd year of arbitration. Oliver, a projection system created by Hardball Times' Brian Cartwright, projects good numbers from the Red Sox bullpen, especially from Uehara, who I think represents the keystone to success for this relief core. Also, don't forget about Daniel Bard, who many at spring training say is progressing nicely and might fit into the Sox pen around after All-Star break if the team moves a pitcher a the trade deadline.
Name ERA K/9 BB/9 FIP
Koji Uehara 2.99 10.15 1.39 2.74
Joel Hanrahan 3.64 9.90 3.93 3.08
Andrew Bailey 3.99 8.25 3.20 3.12
Junichi Tazawa 3.77 8.67 2.89 3.28
Craig Breslow 3.75 7.93 3.32 3.51
Alfredo Aceves 4.35 7.10 3.44 3.86
Andrew Miller 5.17 8.58 6.34 4.10
Total 3.95 8.65 3.50 3.38

The 2013 Blue Jays bullpen looks eerily similar to the 2012 pen that ranked middle of the road in some statistical categories and poor in others amongst AL teams. They coaxed lefty Darren Oliver to return, and remain hopeful that Sergio Santos can overcome shoulder surgery to return to his level of nastiness by June. The Jays put a lot of faith in their starting rotation, stocking it with work horses like R.A. Dickey and Mark Buehrle, as well as possible ace Josh Johnson. These three starters should lessen the load on the Blue Jays pen, but given Johnson's injury history and Buehrle's age, the Jays may need to call on their relievers in 2013 more often than they expect.

Darren O'Day
How about those Orioles? Did the organization with the golden bullpen do anything to improve on 2012? Instead of adding or subtracting, the Orioles did their best to keep their 2012 bullpen in tact for 2013. The O's avoided arbitration with Jim Johnson and Darren O'Day, two of the most utilized and important parts of their 2012 relief prosperity. The team returns Luis Ayala, Tommy Hunter, lefty Brian Matusz, and Troy Patton, all of whom they hope will continue to perform at a high level. While the O's may not have "upgraded" their bullpen, the team expects to add one if not two highly touted starting pitching prospects in mid-season, Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman. With the addition of these young stars to an already solid starting pitching staff, the Orioles have no need to tinker with a bullpen that already promises to keep men off base, and to induce lots of double plays late in games.

The AL East is a free for all in 2013, with no one team looking like the current favorite. Given that fact, each team has done their best to ensure that their bullpen won't be the one to falter in 2013. Most of a team's success derives from hitting and starting pitching, but with 5 teams so close to each other in talent and projected wins, it may come down to which relief core can hold the lead in the latter third of the game. While we can only attempt to predict which bullpen will be the most valuable in 2013, it is safe to say that the competition for the, most-likely, 2 playoff spots in the AL East should be fierce.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The Newest Tribesman

Michael Bourn
Yesterday the Indians announced that they had come to an agreement with free agent outfielder Michael Bourn on a 4-year contract worth $48 million, or $12 million AAV. The contract has a vesting option for a 5th year worth $12 million pending Bourn reaches 550 plate appearances in the final year of his contract at which he will be 34 years old. When the offseason began, writers, pundits, and experts ranked Bourn as one of the top free agents. On my own big board of top-50 free agents, I had Bourn ranked as the fourth best free agent behind only Zack Greinke, B.J. Upton, and Josh Hamilton. The Dodgers signed Greinke to a 6-year $159 million deal, Upton got 5 years and $75.25 million from the Braves, while Hamilton inked a 5-year $125 million deal with the Angels. Of the top 4 free agents on my list, Bourn received the fewest years and least amount of money. For more on how Bourn compared to free agent center fielders check out my article from earlier this offseason. For more on Bourn's value, check out this recent Summerpastime article.

Essentially, Bourn is a speedy player. Every positive aspect of his game relies on his wheels. He has a good on-base percentage, but to continue as a dominant leadoff hitter past the age of 30, his walk rate needs to rise. Here's a snapshot look at some of the better leadoff hitters from 2012 and where Bourn ranks:

Name Team R SB BB% OBP fWAR
Mike Trout Angels 129 49 10.50% 0.399 10
Michael Bourn Braves 96 42 10.00% 0.348 6.4
Austin Jackson Tigers 103 12 10.90% 0.377 5.5
Jose Reyes Marlins 86 40 8.80% 0.347 4.5

So, given the information we know about Bourn, was this deal a success from his position? Going into the offseason Bourn and agent Scott Boras wanted a contract that totaled higher than $100 million with at least 5 guaranteed years. Instead of that mega-deal he signed for less than half that amount of money, but was able to find 4 guaranteed years with the possibility of a 5th. From this we can garner that getting more years was more important to Bourn than getting the highest AAV possible. Prior to Bourn's new contract agreement, many speculated that he might look for a one-year deal, in the hope that he might find better luck next offseason. I think teams in need of outfielders looked at Bourn as an upgrade, a great defender, a threat on the base paths, but not a player built to sustain such qualities by even age 33. Fortunately, free agents willing to take less money have a better chance of finding a deal because it allows teams with less money to become involved in negotiations. The Indians fit that mold perfectly. Jose Reyes received more money and more years, but he signed his contract at a younger age, he switch hits, and has shown more power than Bourn has. So, the answer to the original question is that this contract wasn't a success by Bourn's original standards, but by any realistic set of criterion $12 million AAV is the perfect fit for a player like Michael Bourn. 

From the players perspective this is the best available option, and he took it, but what about from the Indians' perspective. In 2012 Cleveland lost 94 games, and the last time the team went to the playoffs was 2007, remember the bugs

The Indians haven't been trending well of recent, which resulted in the firing of manager Manny Acta, the hiring of Terry Francona, and the release of former big-time players like Travis Hafner and Grady Sizemore. The Indians of 2013 won't look anything like the team that stormed to the ALCS in 2007, but given the weaknesses in the American League and particularly the AL Central, and the addition of the 2nd wild card spot, the Indians 2013 season outlook continues to improve. 

Since one player cannot turn a 94 loss team into a playoff primed squad, what else have the Indians been up to improve? Chris Antonetti, the GM of the Indians, started his offseason by getting rid of dead weight like Hafner and Sizemore, which allowed him to move on from those well known, but injury hampered, names. Next, Antonetti inserted the Indians into a three-way trade involving the Diamondbacks and the Cincinnati Reds. In exchange for parting with soon-to-be free agent Shin-Soo Choo, the Indians received outfielder Drew Stubbs from the Reds and high-level pitching prospect Trevor Bauer from Arizona. While Bauer is far from a proven commodity, he is young, under team control at a cheap price, and most importantly, loaded with talent and upside. Given the Indians mediocre farm system, Keith Law ranked them 19/30 MLB teams, adding an MLB ready top of the rotation starter like Bauer made the Indians the clear winners of the three-team trade.

Nick Swisher
Next, the Indians made a few minor moves like signing Brett Myers to a 1-year deal as a starter, not a reliever. In addition, Mark Reynolds joined the club to mix in at 1st base and DH. Next the Indians made their biggest splash of the offseason by signing Nick Swisher a 4-year $56 million contract. Swisher has Ohio connections, will make $14 million AAV, and provides a great upgrade in the Indians lineup. With the addition of Bourn, about 32% of the Indians 2013 payroll will go to Swisher and Bourn, but even for a mid-market team, the proportions could be worse. Swisher does every thing the Indians needed, he gets on base, switch hits, has power, and can play both outfield and 1st base. With the addition of Bourn, the Indians have a top of the lineup that could do some serious damage to opposing pitchers, causing them to work harder, throw more pitches, and possibly give up more runs in the process. Given Cleveland's project lineup, 5 starters are projected by PECOTA to have higher .328 OBPs in 2013. Cleveland's new lineup will strikeout more than the average team, but it will also produce more homeruns, a higher on-base percentage, and more stolen bases than it has in the previous 4 seasons.

From a hitting standpoint, Bourn adds run production. With Asdrubal Cabrera, Jason Kipnis, Nick Swisher, Carlos Santana, and Mark Reynolds/Jason Giambi hitting behind Bourn, the Indians and their fans can expect the club to score a lot more runs than they have been accustomed to in recent years. Defensively, the Indians have more options now than before. If Terry Francona, Chris Antonetti, and others want, the team now has the ability to move Drew Stubbs or Michael Brantley for an upgrade elsewhere. On the other hand, a defensive outfield of Brantley, Stubbs, and Bourn would be a vacuum for fly balls.
Name Inn DRS UZR UZR/150
Michael Bourn 3888.2 51 35.3 11.9
Nick Swisher 3201 -5 11.5 4.7
Drew Stubbs 3666 -3 4.8 2
Michael Brantley 2833.2 -10 -12.4 -6.4

Don't be dissuaded by Brantley's poor numbers, he plays a much better left field (8 DRS & 3.4 UZR in 2012) than he does center field. An outfield with Stubbs and Brantley in the corners and Bourn in the middle would have a lot of range, which cuts down on hitters turning doubles in to triples and singles into doubles. Over the course of 162 games, such range could benefit the Indians in a subtle yet vital manner. From the numbers above, Swisher doesn't seem like a bad outfielder, so why relegate him to first base? First, playing a less demanding defensive position might cut down on the possibility of injury. Second, Swisher has average range at 1st base, and has posted a positive DRS (3) since 2010. So, moving Swisher to 1st doesn't hurt in the infield, and it improves the team's overall defense in the outfield. While moving Brantley or Stubbs could help, keeping both might give the Indians the best chance to compete for a playoff spot in 2013.

In Baseball, like all other aspects of life, timing often dictates success or failure. In this case, the timing of the Indians interest in Bourn makes me see this signing as a big win for Cleveland. With spring training approaching and few teams catering to the type of contract Bourn originally wanted, the Indians swept in offered Bourn the security he wanted and snatched him up for a reasonable AAV. While Bourn got the best available deal, the Indians made a smart, savvy, and productive move to improve their club now. Cleveland may not be a hot destination for free agents, but it's considered more highly valued than Kansas City, another AL Central team that improved this winter, albeit through controversial means. This puts Cleveland into the conversation for a playoff spot, a turnaround that 94 loss teams rarely expect. While the two wildcards seem the most likely possibility for Cleveland, I think that the AL West and East are too powerful, and that the best chance the Tribe has of reaching the postseason will be by unexpectedly winning the AL Central. Knocking off the Tigers, who are vastly better than their divisional opponents won't be easy, but given the uncertainty of injuries and other unaccountable factors, the Indians now have a chance. Despite the fact that Bourn rejected a qualifying offer from the Braves, Cleveland won't have to relinquish their first-round pick in the draft as it is protected due to the Indians' abysmal record in 2012. The Indians lost their second-round pick when they signed Swisher, and the acquisition of Bourn causes the team to lose their competitive balance pick, which would have been the 71st overall pick.

The Indians made a great deal here. Most sabermetricians will tell you that Bourn's production will decline in the next few years, and I stand with them, but the Indians are only on the hook for a guaranteed 4 years, and given their lack of other stars, paying Bourn $12 million AAV should be worth it. At the very least, even if the Indians don't make the playoffs in 2013, they should be more exciting to watch, win more games, and thus bring more fans to Progressive Field. On the bright side, Bourn could burn out just around age 34-35, meaning the Indians got the most out of him while they could, another sign that Antonetti made a sly deal. Cleveland got their man, Bourn finally found a team, the rest remains unknown, but that's the fun.