Baseball Notes for December 10, 2012
If you happen to follow many baseball writers on Twitter, chances are your timeline was blowing up this past week. With MLB’s winter meetings taking place in Nashville, Tennessee, there was a lot of activity, as more free agents were taken off the market. Heck, there was even some trading going on. It was all part of the dance as we get closer and closer to the start of spring training.
***Perhaps the most shocking move to come out of the winter meetings was the Red Sox giving a three-year, $39 million deal to outfielder Shane Victorino. The Red Sox have publicly declared their new distaste in giving out large contracts of lengths exceeding more than three or four years. Apparently they are content with grossly overpaying players on shorter-term deals.
Part of the outrage stemmed from ESPN’s Buster Olney tweeting that one team executive had previously guessed Victorino would be lucky to get a one-year deal for $6-7 million. The 33-year-old switch hitter is coming off the worst season of his career, hitting just .255 with a .704 OPS. Most troubling were his struggles against left-handed pitching, as he hit just .229 with a .629 OPS against them in 2012. It’s a big financial gamble on a player who might only be platoon-worthy at this point in his career. Such moves can get a GM fired or called a genius for seeing what others couldn’t.
***The average MLB salary hit an all-time high of $3.2 million in 2012. The average has climbed nearly $1 million in the past decade and speaks well to the solid financial foundation of the league and their labor agreement with the players. Right now there is plenty of money to be made on both sides, and with new tv deals giving teams like the Dodgers stupid money, there may be no end in sight to this trend
***The downward spiral of Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez does not seem to have hit rock bottom yet. It was announced that he will be having surgery later this winter that will keep him out until at least the All Star break, when he will be approaching his 38th birthday.
A-Rod’s OPS has declined precipitously for six consecutive seasons, dropping almost a total of 300 points. The Yankees should not hold their breath expecting to get much from him during the next five seasons, when they owe him $114 million. Fortunately for them, they apparently are insured for the majority of that amount, softening the blow of their terrible investment. It’s appropriate to call it a terrible investment because giving a 10-year, $275 million contract to any player that age (32 at the time) should never be considered a wise decision.
***One of the players being eyed to replace Rodriguez is former Red Sox player Kevin Youkilis, who was reportedly offered a one-year, $12 million deal by the Bronx Bombers. It’s another curious decision by the Yankees. They already have their backs up against the wall with payroll issues and trying to manage aging players in decline. Adding the soon to be 34-year-old Youk, who looked like toast last season (career-worst .235 batting average and a strikeout every four at-bats), would seem to be compounding their problems instead of helping them.
Stats from FanGraphs.com show some reasons for Youk’s decline. His .268 BABIP suggest he either encountered some bad luck or lost bat speed. His 8.9 wFB (Fastball Runs Above Average) seem to indicate lost bat speed, as that mark is a far cry from the 35.5 mark he posted as recently as 2009.
Other than perhaps deciding to reunite with former manager Terry Francona in Cleveland, it’s unclear that Youk could expect to receive any other offers that could top the Yankees for one season. If he truly doesn’t think he is nearing the end, taking the contract might be a good way to show he still has some gas in the tank and then go out against next offseason to get a multi-year deal.
***The San Francisco Giants brought back two of their most important players from their 2012 World Series team. They re-signed center fielder Angel Pagan to a four-year, $40 million contract, and gave second baseman Marco Scutaro a three-year, $20 million deal. Although the team may ultimately come to feel that they overpaid for these two players, neither deal is outrageous, and it makes sense to retain players who were so key to their close-knit and efficient group.
Scutaro is 37. Middle infielders don’t always age well and it’s unlikely he will come close to matching the .362 batting average he had in 61 regular season games after coming over in a trade from the Rockies last summer.
Pagan has been sneaky-good over the past three seasons, totaling a combined WAR of 10.1 He is a good defensive center fielder, has speed, and has surprisingly even splits as a switch hitter. If Victorino can get the kind of money he got, the Giants should feel no shame for what they gave Pagan
***After a lot of speculation, the Texas Rangers traded infielder/DH Michael Young to the Philadelphia Phillies for reliever Josh Lindblom and a minor league pitcher. It has to be a bittersweet moment for Young, the Rangers and their fans, as he is on the short list of the greatest players in the history of the franchise.
Despite a .301 career batting average and 2,230 hits, Young’s production fell off a cliff last season. His -2.4 bWAR was among the worst in baseball and put him well below the value of a replacement-level player. Never a great defensive player, he is now nearly unplayable in the field, yet will be the Phillies 2013 starting third baseman.
You have to wish the best to Young and hope that the trade works out for both sides. The Rangers are picking up at least half of his salary, showing how much they wanted to jettison their former leader, in part to create more playing time for their prospect savant, Jurickson Profar.
*** The Dodgers, aka Scrooge McDuck, struck again, doling out a six-year, $147 million contract to free-agent starter Zack Greinke, the largest ever given to a right-handed pitcher in baseball history. Los Angeles has put on a spending spree this past calendar year that may be unmatched in baseball history. With their owners having deep pockets and a new tv deal that will bring in an income exceeding the GDP of many small nations, there seems to be no boundaries for the new-age Dodgers. Their financial exploits have been oohed and ahhed at by people, but down the road such spending may be the provocation for stricter salary cap rules or, heaven forbid, a bone of contention in a future labor dispute.
It will be interesting to see how Greinke fits in with the Dodgers. Not because of his supposed aversion to the spotlight, but because of the possible chemistry issues of such a motley crew. I have not put much stock into all the talk about how his anxiety issues would supposedly prevent him from being successful in certain environments. Clearly, only Greinke and certain team officials know what (if any) his limitations are and what he needs (if anything) to successfully navigate on a day-today basis. So many people heard the word “Anxiety” and simply wrote off Greinke as being unable to operate on an MLB mound unless he was playing for the smallest market teams. By joining the Dodgers and their Fabrege-esque collection of talent, he is walking into a literal storm of expectations, media presence, and attention. Clearly there was no insurmountable concern on his part of that of the Dodgers before the deal was struck. Hopefully that will be a lesson learned for some of the judgers out there.
Andrew Martin is the founder of “The Baseball Historian” blog where he posts his thoughts about baseball on a regular basis. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also reach him on Twitter at @historianandrew.