And although still a bit nasty for Houston’s standards, Spring has arrived for the pitchers and catchers of our World Champion Houston Astros! Position players join them on the 19th at The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches for their first full squad workout. The first spring training game set for the 23rd vs The Nationals. Hope SPRINGS eternal. Baseball is back and with that the dreams of all ball clubs as the boys of summer limber up and push to make squads, contracts and championships. Every team is in it, except maybe the Marlins. (Who am I kidding no other team has a shot….GO ASTROS!)
Filthy I tell you, FILTHY.
This season the Astros return the core of the their 2017 roster intact, minus Carlos Beltran (retired), Joe Musgrove (trade to MIA), Mike Fiers (to DET), Luke Gregerson (new closer for STL) and various bench players that have yet to sign anywhere in Maybin, Liriano and Clippard. They also made some key acquisitions to the pitching staff. Gerrit Cole (from PIT via trade) as a starter, and Joe Smith (from CLE Free agent) and Hector Rondon (from CHI Free agent) as relievers. Of course you also get Mr. Upton errr Cat Daddy errr Justin Verlander for a whole season.
Cole projects to be a middle of the rotation arm which essentially means the Astros will have one of the deepest and most talented starting rotations in all of the majors. They will be FILTHY. Verlander, Kuechel, Cole, McCullers and Morton should eat innings, keep you in games. and keep the bullpen rested. Barring injury any one and all of these pitchers will push 20 wins with Verlander almost a lock to get that many. This essentially leaves Brad Peacock and Colin McHugh out of the rotation. Peacock will return to his long relief role while McHugh has been rumored in trade talks with Baltimore. The Astros had been interested in Zach Britton last season to bolster their bullpen however with Britton recovering from a ruptured Achilles he won’t likely be pitching until July.
The additions of Smith and Rondon bolsters an already capable bullpen. Smith struck out 71 batters in 54 innings of work while pitching for both Toronto and Cleveland last season. He has a plus slider that has a lot of movement due to his sidearm delivery and gives the Astros the odd look out of the pen they haven’t had since Pat Neshek left. Rondon likely wants to improve on his performance last year as he struggled with a 4.24 ERA while allowing over a base runner per inning. He also struck out 69 in just over 57 innings of work for the Cubbies. He’s just two years removed from his championship with the Cubs and three years since he saved 30 games. He has a 97 mhp 4-seam fastball and great command of the slider and sinker. He will also bring some toughness to our pen.
The rest of the bullpen remains intact. Ken Giles will be back as the closer much to some people’s chagrin. While Giles seemingly imploded in the playoffs pushing him into a multiple inning role was not what he was accustomed to during the season. With only 4 blown saves out of 38 chances he actually did pretty well during the regular season. He also dropped his ERA by almost 2 runs while striking out 83 in just over 62 innings of work. The base runners remain an issue and it certainly seems like it is an adventure with him but its his job to lose. His fastball remains his go to pitch. Teams will catch up to it occasionally.
Along with Giles, Rondon, and Smith the bullpen will round out with Chris “Devo” Devinski, Will Harris, Brad Peacock and McHugh (barring a trade) as virtual locks while the rest of the spots come down to some questionable situations. Sipp, Gose, Boshers, Gustave, Hoyt, Martes, Paulino, Guduan, Rodgers, Perez, will all compete for the remaining spots. Hopefully a couple of these guys pan out.
The Juicebox Heroes return
The Astros offensively will look to dominate again this season. 2017 saw the team first in almost every major offensive category. Jose Altuve, George Springer and Carlos Correa anchor a lineup that has very few holes. Alex Bregman is a soon to be All Star at third base and Marwin Gonzales returns at his role as super utility man (let’s get him into the All-Star game this season). Josh Reddick, Brian McCann, Yuli Gurriel, Jake Marisnick and Derek Fisher will round out the fielders. Fisher will need to prove he belongs with a glut of talent that will be pushing him in the OF or for the bench spot. Evan Gattis benefits the most from Beltran’s departure as he is slotted to get more at bats as our DH. He should easily improve on Beltran’s average of .231 from the DH spot last season. Gurriel will open the season with a five game suspension for his questionable gesture about Darvish in the World Series.
Altuve will follow up his MVP campaign with hopes of repeating his past success. Having won the batting title 3 of the last 4 years and having over 200 hits 4 years in a row it is hard to believe he has room to improve. Maybe RBI’s? He is possibly the only player in the modern era that has a shot at batting over .400. In the last 6 years he has had 30 stolen bases or more. He’s fast, patient at the plate (except when he drives the first pitch) , hits for power, hits for average, hits lefties, hits righties, hits the fastball, hits on the road, hits the curve, hits, hits, hits and he’s got mad hits like Rod Carew. He even won a Golden Glove in 2015. Mighty Altuve can do it all. He will compete for the MVP again this season. Don’t be surprised if he wins it. He’s a Sure Shot. Again.
Altuve’s middle infield counterpart, Correa will also be looking to improve on his 2017 campaign. His thumb injury was a major concern last season but he overcame it just in time for the playoff run. He showed no ill affects in the playoffs going a robust .288 with 5 HR’s and 14 RBI’s. He will return to his clean up spot in the Astros lineup where he ended up the initial 162 with a .315 BA along with 24 HR and 84 RBI’s . It could have been a whole lot more. Arguably when he got injured last season he, along with Altuve, were both MVP candidates. This season will be his 4th and we still haven’t seen his ceiling. 30 HR power and 100+ RBI’s should become a staple year for him. He also pulled the smooth move and asked his girlfriend to marry him right after clinching game 7 in LA. Hopefully he hasn’t been too distracted. That may be wishful thinking.
The Infield rounds out with a stud youngster, a wily veteran and a should be All Star. Bregman proved last season that he has the talent to be one of the best third baseman in the league. Starting with his grand slam on Derek Jeter night in NY, to his game winner off of Jansen in game 5 of the World Series. He just oozed clutch. His throw out at the plate of Frazier vs NY in the ALCS was also a one in a million throw. Nobody but nobody gets that out. But he did. Don’t forget he hit down in the lineup most of last season, this season he should be hitting in front of Altuve. He will see a lot of pitches to hit which should prevent some of the slumps he has been prone to have over his first 204 big league games. He also went beast mode in the weight room for three months. BAM POW!
Gurriel despite his gestures and Sideshow Bob hair flirted with .300 all year long. He also hit a crucial game tying HR off of Kershaw in game 5 of the World Series. That hit changed that game and it was awesome to see him jog to first while looking at the dugout as if to say. “See. I told ya.” Worries about his glove and handling first base are largely gone now. He is just a good fit for this squad. His numbers were virtually identical to Bregmans. Almost 20 HR, 75 RBI’s .290-.300 BA. Expect pretty much a repeat to those here in 2018.
Marwin Gonzalez plays all infield and outfield positions. Need a Left Fielder? Marwin. Need a Shortstop, 1st base? Marwin. Pitcher? Marwin??? Well this player without an everyday spot probably could pitch after we saw him gun down Bird in Game 1 of the ALCS (After which he spent the night at the hospital welcoming his third child into the Astros family). His HR off of Jansen in game 2 of the World Series was also as clutch as it gets. He didn’t try to pull the pitch. Just swung where it was and tried to drive it. As contract situations loom for this squad many believe Marwin will be the odd man out. If he keeps the power numbers rolling and the average above .300 it will be a tough player to possibly let go. He’s also the only switch hitter left in the lineup which again emphasizes his flexibility. How does a guy that finished 19th in the MVP voting not make the All-Star team?
Outside the Diamond
Oh George. How we love thee. Your World Series MVP run is the stuff that legends are made of. I will note that Hinch stuck with Springer despite his struggles in the ALCS vs the Yankees. Hinch’s confidence was repaid a thousand times over with 5 World Series HR. #SpringerDinger alone was responsible for over $100,000 being donated to #HR4HR the campaign T-Mobile tabbed as Hurricane relief during the World Series. He isn’t the prototypical leadoff batter but he certainly makes it work with 34 regular season HR’s and a .367 on base percentage. He is also a plus defensive player in Centerfield even if he occasionally gambles as he did in Game 5 of the World Series. His play will land him a gigantic contract soon and at least he was rewarded with a raise to break arbitration at 12 million per year for the next two. He is an anchor for this club. His importance cannot be understated. Hinch is right to have him in the leadoff spot because he simply sets the tone.
Josh Reddick will reprise his roll in Right Field. Many will be quick to point out his .169 postseason batting average but that doesn’t tell the whole story on this veteran. His hit to tie Game 4 vs Boston was crucial. His presence in the locker room kept this team focused. His channeling of Ric Flair got the “WOOOOOO”s going for the fans. And his ceremonial wrestling belts gave the team something to strive for daily and kept things loose. A .314 average, 82 RBI’s and his gun in right field didn’t hurt either. I think he was pressing some in the playoffs so he certainly gets the pass there. His numbers should see no significant regression in 2018.
That leaves the Left Field spot which is generally up for grabs. Whereas Marwin was a fixture there throughout the postseason either Derek Fisher or Jake Marisnick will man the short porched area in front of the Crawford Boxes during the 2018 campaign. Marisnick is coming back from injury and more than likely will project as the defensive replacement for late innings or as a pinch runner. Although his average topped out at .239 through the 106 games before injury he did find some pop in his bat stroking 16 HR’s. The interesting situation may be with Fisher. He batted .318 at Triple A last season with 21 HR’s in 84 games. He will need to prove he is ready for the big leagues at the plate but he has the ability to field his position. He will struggle but should nail down a majority of the innings in Left Field barring another player having a stellar Spring.
Brian McCann and Max Stassi look to be our catchers going into the season with Evan Gattis, as mentioned before, primarily working in the DH spot. McCann isn’t the offensive player he has been in the past but he still commands great respect at the plate and certainly knows his way around hitters. His age is a concern and being that he may move on back to Atlanta following this season or next, I would not be surprised to see the Astros make a move in this area. The Astros have shown interest in the Marlins J.T. Realmuto but their asking price thus far has been fairly steep wanting phenom minor league OF Kyle Tucker. Realmuto projects to be one of the best catchers in the league for at least a 5 year window and trading for him might mean sharing some at bats out of the DH spot as well. The other option is signing Astros fan favorite Jonathon Lucroy who is still a free agent. Formerly with the Rangers he likely will want an everyday roll again meaning he might have to take some at bats at DH if he signs here. I don’t think this position is settled as of yet.
Best of the Rest
AJ Reed, Tyler White, Kyle Tucker, Tony Kemp and Max Stassi all look to compete this Spring for a roster spot. Reed, White, Kemp and Stassi have all had at least a cup of coffee in the bigs. None really doing enough to stick. Tucker is the real deal and if he doesn’t make the squad it will be because they want him to develop some more at Triple A. More than likely he will play for the Astros this season as a call up or injury replacement. Reed and White are both vying for the similar spot on the roster so their battle seems to be against each other. Stassi may make it as the back up catcher. Kemp batted .329 in the minors but only .216 in 17 Major league games last season.
I’m just playing a Hinch
A.J. Hinch returns to helm this 101 win team from a year ago. The major coaching change being that bench coach Alex Cora will now be sitting in a dugout in Boston. Hinch really works at being a player’s coach. He worked diligently at creating a great atmosphere and keeping the attitude of his players positive despite injury struggles, slumps and Hurricane Harvey. Does he focus on analytics too much or too little? Is he making the right decisions with making pitching changes too late? Has he ever ordered a hitter to bunt a runner over? 162 different lineup cards? He has the luxury of moving a very versatile lineup around. Why wouldn’t you want to tinker some to keep players both sharp and rested for a long post season run. He may lose a few games by having confidence in his players but sometimes it really truly works out. He will manage this team now with a huge target on its back. He also will have more pitching at his disposal than he has ever had as a manager. Criticism aside he is one of the better managers in the MLB.
Projected Opening Day Lineup and Bench
Verlander, Kuechel, Cole, McCullers, Morton
Giles, Smith, Rondon, Harris, Devinski, Peacock, McHugh, Sipp
Marisnick, Fisher, Reed
2016 showed that even with everything looking good on paper, teams can struggle. 2017 was a special year for the Astros. This season the Astros certainly look like an improved team. They have the makings of a elite dynasty. Teams will be circling their showdowns with the Astros and certainly the teams we played in the 2017 post season all have made incremental improvements. This season will be hotly contested, especially in the post season. I predict they will get to 100 wins again and win their division. They should also be able to repeat their Championship run becoming the first team since the 1998-2000 Yankees to win back to back championships. Go Astros!
Written by Trey Looney
It has already been some time. For most that means the luster may have left a little, the excitement has waned. Maybe a few have even forgotten those moments of despair and struggle throughout October that were eventually overcome. (That is unless you obsessively watch the video of every run the Astros scored in Game 5 of the World Series. That pivotal, roller coaster ride of the century.) It was a great time to be an Astros fan.
A lot has been said too about Houston Strong, about the summer that saw our city soaked to the bones and our World Series bound Astros forced from home. About how Harvey brought a city together, brought a team together to get past their struggles, to prevail. Houston has had their fair share of heartache and, Harvey aside, our sports teams have always struggled. Until now the only glorious rise to the top was limited to the spring times of ’94 and ’95 when Hakeem the Dream Olajuwon lifted the whole of Houston and all of his Rockets teammates upon his back and carried them to the promised land. (Some even believe that because Jordan wasn’t in the league that the ’94-’95 Rockets championships are tainted.) It was a city that was in a quasi sports purgatory. One that had celebrated great victories, great teams and even greater players, but by the grace of the sports gods always came up short. There is a reason that when H-town natives and fans hear the name Frank Reich they shudder and possibly convulse.
Something has always happened. In ’80 JR had a stroke, in ’86 the Mets clipped Hatcher’s heroics. Buddy Ryan punched Kevin Gilbride and the House of Pain became painful for Oiler fans. The Twin Towers came up short vs Bird. Renfro caught that ball but the refs stole that game for the Steel Curtain. The Chicago White Sox (had) swept the Astros in their only World Series appearance. Yao goes down vs LA. They are still looking for the ball Pujols hit off of Lidge. Joe Montana twice gunned Houston down, once with Notre Dame, once with Kansas City. Valvano makes a great story but Phi Slamma Jamma should have never lost that game. Even the Texans, in their most successful season to date, wore letterman jackets to a showdown in New England only to further show Houston sports needed more schooling. Always coming up short. Good enough to say we were close, not great enough to get past, Bad News Bears status, “Just wait until next year…”
That is until now.
When the final out was cast. When the ball was trapped by Altuve and thrown on the infield side of first base. When Yuli gripped that ball in the back of glove. When the Astros beat the Dodgers in the seventh game of the World Series. At that moment there was a weight lifted. Downtown Houston went from below sea level to 10 feet above. At that moment the demons of many Houston failures were let loose. They were gone. Tears flowed, minds exploded, hell froze over (Or at least got flooded from Harvey.) They had won it for Houston. And that also meant they won it for a lot more.
They won it for Mike Scott. For Jose Cruz and Nolan Ryan. For Glenn Davis, Daryl Kile and Craig Biggio. For Shane Reynolds and Jose’ Lima…..Ken Caminiti, Enos Cabell, Richard Hidalgo, Craig Reynolds, Joe Neikro, JR Richard, Sean Berry, Jeff Bagwell, Mike Hampton, Jim Deshaies, Julio Lugo, Gene Elston, Daryl Ward, Octavio Dotel, even Randy Johnson. It was for Larry Dierker, Ricky Gutiérrez, Phil Garner, Terry Puhl, Luis Gonzales, Mark Portugal, Lance Berkman, Art Howe, Roy Oswalt, Cesar Cedeno, Mike Lamb, Billy Wagner, Tim Bogar, Charlie Kerfeld, Scott Elarton, Kirk Saarloos, Buddy Bell, Casey Candeale, Matt Galante, and Brad Lidge. It was for Joe Morgan and Jimmy Wynn, Bud Norris, Jed Lowrie, Moises Alou, Dickie Thon, Brad Ausmus, Don Wilson, Hunter Pence, Miguel Tejada, Bill Spires, Luke Scott, Joaquín Andújar, Chad Qualls, Jason Lane, Bob Knepper and Bob Watson. For Alan Ashby, Eric Bruntlet, Tony Eusibio, Rafael Ramirez, Bill Doran, Pete Incaviglia Carlos Lee, Jeff Kent, Kevin Bass, Bob Aspromonte, Larry Anderson, Danny Darwin, Steve Finley and Derek freaking Bell. For Adam Everett, Wandy Rodriguez, Doug Henry, Curt Schilling, Morgan Ensberg, Carl Everett, Denny Walling, Wade Miller, Geoff Blum, Milo Hamilton, Bobby Abreu, Brandon Backe, Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte, Rusty Staub, Roy Hofeinz, Don Wilson, Bill Virdon, Tal Smith, Doug Rader, Hal Lanier, Joe Sambito, Dave Smith, and Billy Freaking Hatcher. For Pete Harnisch, Chris Burke, Aubrey Huff, Willy Taveras, and Michael Bourn.
It was for Dan Pastorini. For Bum Phillips, For Earl Campbell and Carl Mauck. For Mike Renfro, Bruce Matthews, Haywood Jeffries, Ken Stabler and Warren Moon. For Lorenzo White, Greg Bingham, Dave Casper and Coach Glanville. For White Shoes Johnson, Elvin Bethea, Kenny Borrough and Vernon Perry. For Cris Dishman, Earnest Givens and Lamar Lathon. For Drew Hill, Ray Childress and Jack Pardee. Alonso Highsmith, Mike Rozier, Alan Pinket, Sean Jones and Ray Childress. For Mike Munchak and Eugene Seale. Mike Barber, Cody Carlson and Robert Brazile. Giff Nielsen, Will Fuller and Al Smith.
It was for every member of the Houston Cougars Phi Slamma Jamma.
It was even for Tracy Mcgrady, James Harden and Yao Ming. For Carl Herrera and Ralph Sampson, For the Dream and Drexler…….
It was for the current Astros roster. The one that sweated three years of 100+ losses. That weathered a switch to the AL, Hurricane Harvey, and won in spite of Bud Selig. It was for a city that has taken so much disappointment in stride. It was for people tearing out the walls in their houses while listening to the game. It was for the world, but most of all it was for us, the Houston fans. For all the heartbreak. The champions. Thank you Houston Astros. Thank you!
I originally wrote this article in January of 2015 shortly after the Hall of Fame voting and the announcement of the players to be inducted. I am reposting this article to bring to your attention a very big change in who will be permitted to vote from now on to enshrine players in Cooperstown. Look at the four changes that I call for in how the voting is done. The second one listed has in fact been changed for the 2016 voting! There will be 100 less “writers” allowed to cast a ballot this year. The Hall of Fame has decided that if you have not actively covered baseball for the last 10 years then you lose your right to vote. It is no longer a lifetime privilege. Good job by the Hall of Fame Committee because that one issue really needed to change. The 2016 Hall of Fame inductees will be announced on January 6th 2016. Ken Griffey Jr. is a lock to get elected. Trevor Hoffman may have to wait another year or two.
It was a lot easier in 1936 when the BBWAA ( Baseball Writers Association of America ) first got together to vote in the first class of hall of famers. Those first 5 inductees were Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, Christy Mathewson, Honus Wagner and Walter Johnson. The term “no brainers” comes to mind so you would think that the first class of inductees and the voting that elevated these fine players to HOF status would be without controversy. I looked at the voting for that first class and managed to have a raised eyebrow at what I saw. Cy Young failed to get in by only garnering 49% of the vote? Young had 511 wins pitching over a 21 year career, a record that will never ever be broken. What does a guy have to do to get a little respect? Cy Young was later inducted of course and the award given out each year for the best pitcher in each the National and the American League was named after good old Cy after the 1955 season. “Shoeless” Joe Jackson received two votes on that first year ballot even though he had already been banned for life from the game with no eligibility for reinstatement or election to the Hall of Fame. This was as a result of Jackson’s alleged involvement in the 1919 Black Sox scandal. The scandal implicated 8 players on the Chicago White Sox that were believed to have been losing intentionally and being paid off by gamblers to do so. Joe Jackson was a .356 career hitter during the “dead ball” era and hit .375 with 1 homerun and 6 RBI’s in the 1919 World Series. There have been issues and controversies nearly every year since the voting the Hall of Fame started over 70 years ago.
The 2015 class of Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, John Smoltz and Craig Biggio is a good one for the most part except for Smoltz. John Smoltz is a first ballot hall of famer? I don’t even think he is a hall of fame worthy player at all but to put him in on the first ballot? He had one very, very good season when he won the Cy Young Award in 1996 going 24-8 with the Atlanta Braves. Other than that Smoltz had a very good career not a hall of fame career. When they change the name of the building to the Hall of The Very Good then Smoltz should be a first ballot inductee. Mike Piazza is one of the top hitting catchers of all time and it looks like he won’t get in until his fourth year of eligibility next year. I will get back to the Piazza issue in a moment. Biggio has been labeled a “compiler” by his detractors but I have an answer for that as well. Let’s not diminish a player’s career that included durability, versatility, longevity and productivity over 20+ years because he did not hit 30 homers a year. What Biggio did is very hard to do make no mistake about it. Only 27 other men that ever played the game have reached 3000 hits. I for one will not diminish any of those players careers. What Biggio did is hard to do, it is unique and it is Cooperstown worthy, case closed.
The biggest problem facing the voters the BBWAA is how to handle the steroid era and the players that put up video game type stats during it. It is a conundrum of major proportions but I know what I would do if I had a vote. Players that have steroids attached to their names should be separated into 2 categories.
Category 1 – The users and abusers
These are the guys that have either failed a drug test, admitted using or have such overwhelming evidence against them that it can’t be ignored. The most notable ones are Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro and Roger Clemens. Manny Ramirez and Alex Rodriguez will be eligible in the future and are in the category as well. These players changed the game and its statistical records so much that they have altered the game in a way that can only be fixed by vacating the stats which will never happen. They made the millions and took the health risks and now have to live with the results. No Hall of Fame for these players, ever.
Category 2 – The locker room whispers
The players that come to mind are Mike Piazza, Jeff Bagwell, Gary Sheffield and Jeff Kent. These are the guys that players, fans and writers whispered in corners of the room about but no hard evidence ever came forward. There is a 5 year waiting period after a player retires before he is eligible for Hall of Fame. If the evidence did not present itself during a players long career plus the 5 years after then I have to measure the player based on his performance on the field and steroids does not enter into my thought process.
In addition to deciding what players should or should not be on the ballot there are big problems with the the Hall of Fame voting process. It is riddled with issues that need to change. Here are the main ones that I would like to see changes in:
- Members of the BBWAA select players that are eligible to be on the ballot from a list of all players that have been retired for 5 years. This is done via a “special screening committee”.
I can’t explain how these writers could put Aaron Boone, Tom Gordon, Brian Giles, Tony Clark or Darin Erstad on the ballot with a straight face but they did. No disrespect intended as these players had nice baseball careers but in no way shape or form should they even be considered Hall of Famers. This process needs to be a little more transparent to the public so the fans know how these players are being justified to appear on the ballot.
- Members of the BBWAA that have been a member for 10 years and covering baseball then have a ballot that they can cast. They are permitted to vote for up to 10 players each year.
Some of these members have not been covering baseball for a very long time but once you become a voter it is basically a lifetime job. This makes little to no sense to me. If a writer is no longer actively writing about baseball I think his credentials should be reviewed each year to ensure that the guy voting is qualified to do so. Voting for the Hall of Fame is a privilege not a right. The 2015 voting results revealed that Troy Percival, Tom Gordon, Aaron Boone and Darin Erstad all had support. Each received 2 votes except for Erstad who only received 1. I don’t know if it was 7 different writers that cast these ballots but whoever it was he should no longer have the ability to vote in my mind.
- The board of directors at the Hall of Fame decide how players are elected. Currently and since 1936 they have relied on the BBWAA to vote on players.
It is not 1936 anymore so I think with all the media outlets in our lives today it makes more sense to open up the voting to others. Broadcasters and website writers come to mind. Although there has been some progress on allowing certain website writers gain eligibility to vote I do think more is needed. My real issue here is the broadcasters. Vin Scully has been broadcasting the Dodger games since the 1950’s. The man has met Babe Ruth for crying out loud. He has probably watched more games live and in person then any member of the BBWAA. Scully is a good example of a guy that I feel should have a vote. Others that come to mind here in New York where I live would be Michael Kaye or Howie Rose. Kaye is a Yankees broadcaster and Rose is a Mets broadcaster. I would trust that these gentlemen would take the vote serious and do the due diligence before casting a ballot. It is time for new voices to enter into the process.
- Players stay on the ballot for 15 years and must get at least 5% of the votes each year to remain on the ballot during the 15 years. After that time has passed the only way a player can get in is via the “veterans committee”.
This committee is all living Hall of Fame players and they vote every two years on players that are no longer on the ballot. This is how players such as Bill Mazeroski and Phil Rizzuto got inducted. They both had decent careers but in neither case are they Hall of Fame worthy. Rizzuto should be in as a broadcaster but not as a player. I think it is a dangerous thing when players start to vote on other players. The players and the voters get older and start to get more and more nostalgic about a player’s career which can start to cloud good judgment. I would eliminate this committee. 10 years should be the max amount of time that a player should be on the ballot.
These are just a few of the changes that I would make. The board of directors of the Hall of Fame have to decide what kind of hall of fame they want as well as who should be voting on the inductees. I have visited the baseball Hall of Fame numerous times over the years and it is a great place to recall some of the great players and moments in the history of the game. It is just time to review the entire process to ensure that only the best and most deserving players are being honored.
Jason Heyward after signing an 8 yr. / $184 million contract with the Cubs. Photo by Yahoo Sports.
The mysterious stat known as Wins Above Replacement or WAR as it is more commonly referred to. You hear about it more and more every day in baseball circles as another way of determining a player’s value or impact to the teams win total. MLB sabermetric supporters, writers and analyst are using this stat to judge players more so it seems then using the traditional statistics that have been around since the first pitch was thrown in the 1800’s. I have been trying to understand the relevancy of this “new” statistic for quite some time now and I still have a hard time judging a player using this method. First let’s all get on the same page with a short and not so simple definition of what WAR is.
WAR – “A single number that represents the number of wins a player added to a team above what a replacement player would add.” I will use Jayson Heyward as my example since he was my inspiration for writing this article. Heyward had a WAR of 6.5 in 2015. He was 10th in MLB and Bryce Harper was 1st with a 9.9 WAR. Keep in mind that Kevin Kiermaier had a 7.3 WAR ( good for 7th in the majors ) in 2015 and he hit .260 with 10 HR’s and 40 RBI’s. The caveat here is that the replacement player would be a minor leaguer not a free agent that hit 40 homers or won 20 games last year. It is a player that would replace the player “at minimal cost or effort.” A more detailed explanation of WAR can be found by going to the Baseball-Reference.com website www.baseballreference.com/about/war_explained.shtml
The calculation of WAR is where the fuzzy math starts to kick in for me. I am a firm believer in a player having more value than what his traditional stats are. Some players provide significant contributions in many areas where we, the fans, just can’t go on line and look at a stat for it. The best that I can figure out about WAR is that the stat revolves around runs produced on offense by a position player and runs prevented on defense for the same player combined. More emphasis is placed on defensive play at key defensive positions such as catcher vs. first basemen. In the case of a pitcher it would be more about runs prevented obviously. Sounds great, the problem is that the calculation methods look more like rocket science to me. You or I would not be able to take out our IPhone and use the calculator to figure out a player’s WAR while sitting at the ballpark on a Sunday afternoon. We can figure out a players batting average pretty quickly and sometimes without a calculator. If you want some mind numbing formulas to look at then here is the link to the Wikipedia page where they “clearly” show you how some of the calculations are arrived at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wins_Above_Replacement
How does all this relate to Jayson Heyward? Heyward recently signed an astounding 8 yr. / $184 million contract with the Chicago Cubs. While I was watching the analyst on MLB Network break down the contract one of them indicated that Heyward’s WAR stat may have played a role in the Cubs being so high on him. Let me just say I have no issue with Jayson Heyward’s career or play thus far in baseball. He is a nice player but his stats are not exactly eye popping. He has played 6 seasons in the majors and has averaged .268 with 16 HR’s and 58 RBI’s. He has never driven in over 90 runs in a season. He has only hit over 20 homers in a season one time. He does not score a lot of runs and has only exceeded 90 runs scored once. He does have a .350 career on base percentage and steals around 20 bases a year while playing good defense. His WAR average is 5.18 over the 6 seasons which puts him in the “All-Star” category for the WAR statistic. The WAR status categories are as follows: 8+ is “MVP”, 5+ is “All-Star” and 2+ is “Starter” and 0-2 is “Sub”. Freddie Freeman came up in Atlanta about 1 year behind Heyward and both players will turn 26 in 2016. Freeman averages .285 with 21 HR’s and 85 RBI’s per season with an On Base % of .366 while playing a good first base. He signed an 8 yr. / $135 million contract prior to the 2014 season. His WAR average per season is 3.14. Hmmm, that is only “Starter” status. Could this be the difference in the $50 million gap between the two players? I tell you what I think. I think I would rather have signed the Freddie Freeman deal. He is a better contributor in the key categories and it is far less risk and a lot less money. Keep your wins above replacement I will take the additional HR’s and RBI’s at a big discount thank you so much.
Yoenis Cespedes is a free agent and has yet to sign with a club. The Cuban defector is 29 and has played 4 seasons in the majors. His average seasons look like this: .271 with 26 HR’s and 92 RBI’s. He has driven in 100 runs two times and is widely considered a major force in any lineup. He single handedly changed the Mets offense this past summer. He has an incredible arm in the outfield as well so he contributes on defense also. However, his WAR is only 3.95 which is “Starter” status and not the “All-Star” status that Heyward has. It looks like Cespedes will sign a deal for much less than Heyward did age notwithstanding. There are a few questions that you have to ask yourself. Which player do you think would have more of an impact in your lineup between Heyward and Cespedes? Which player has the ability to carry a team for a few weeks? Which player changes the way the others are pitched to around him? For me this is a no brainer. I will take the big bat of Cespedes and the traditional stats he produces over the Wins Above Replacement that Heyward produces every time. So what is WAR good for? Absolutely nothing in my mind.
I originally wrote this article near the end of the 2014 season. 2015 is now over and we are now officially entering into the off season free agency feeding frenzy. I figured it might be a good time to re-visit the state of the “big contract” in Major League Baseball. Fans want the big players and along with that comes some big risks. I identified 19 out of the top 30 highest paid players in 2014 that were a flop as compared to what they were being paid. Many of those players will never regain the form that earned them the contract in the first place. Be careful what you wish for folks. You just might get it!
Originally written in August 2014:
The numbers are staggering when you start to break them down by the player, years; annual salary etc. $100 to $150 million contracts are becoming common in baseball. However, what is not common is for those contracts to yield productive results from the players throughout the duration of the deal. There is no shortage of contracts in the $150 to $200 million range as well. There are very few over $200 million but some none the less. Every which way you look at the highest paid players in baseball and the seasons that they are having in 2014 you can’t help but scratch your head. Billy Beane, the Oakland A’s general manager, and his “Moneyball” philosophy looks smarter and smarter every day. Moneyball was a book published in 2003, about the Oakland Athletics baseball team and its general manager Billy Beane. Its focus is the team’s analytical, evidence-based, sabermetric approach to assembling a competitive baseball team, despite Oakland’s disadvantaged revenue situation. A film based on the book starring Brad Pitt was released in 2011.
I took a close look at the top 30 highest paid players in MLB for 2014. I was surprised but not shocked at what I found. Keep in mind that in 2014 Mike Trout is making $1,000,000. His big contract of 6 years / $144 million contract starts in 2015. Clayton Kershaw is only making a salary of $4,000,000 in 2014. He appears on the list because he had a huge signing bonus in 2014. His 7 year / $215 million contract starts in 2015. Giancarlo Stanton’s $325 million contract kicks in for the 2015 season. The outcome of those deals will remain to be seen.
|RANK||NAME||TEAM||POS||SALARY||YEARS||TOTAL VALUE||AVG ANNUAL|
|1||Zack Greinke||LAD||P||$ 28,000,000||6 (2013-18)||$ 147,000,000||$ 24,500,000|
|2*||Ryan Howard||PHI||1B||$ 25,000,000||5 (2012-16)||$ 125,000,000||$ 25,000,000|
|3*||Cliff Lee||PHI||P||$ 25,000,000||5 (2011-15)||$ 120,000,000||$ 24,000,000|
|4||Robinson Cano||SEA||2B||$ 24,000,000||10 (2014-23)||$ 240,000,000||$ 24,000,000|
|5*||Prince Fielder||TEX||1B||$ 24,000,000||9 (2012-20)||$ 214,000,000||$ 23,777,777|
|6*||Cole Hamels||PHI||P||$ 23,500,000||6 (2013-18)||$ 144,000,000||$ 24,000,000|
|7*||Mark Teixeira||NYY||1B||$ 23,125,000||8 (2009-16)||$ 180,000,000||$ 22,500,000|
|8||Albert Pujols||LAA||1B||$ 23,000,000||10 (2012-21)||$ 240,000,000||$ 24,000,000|
|9*||Joe Mauer||MIN||1B||$ 23,000,000||8 (2011-18)||$ 184,000,000||$ 23,000,000|
|10*||CC Sabathia||NYY||P||$ 23,000,000||5 (2012-16)||$ 122,000,000||$ 24,400,000|
|11||Felix Hernandez||SEA||P||$ 22,857,142||7 (2013-19)||$ 175,000,000||$ 25,000,000|
|12*||Masahiro Tanaka||NYY||P||$ 22,000,000||7 (2014-20)||$ 155,000,000||$ 22,142,857|
|13||Miguel Cabrera||DET||1B||$ 21,943,026||10 (2014-23)||$ 292,000,000||$ 29,200,000|
|14||Adrian Gonzalez||LAD||1B||$ 21,857,142||7 (2012-18)||$ 154,000,000||$ 22,000,000|
|15*||Matt Kemp||LAD||OF||$ 21,250,000||8 (2012-19)||$ 160,000,000||$ 20,000,000|
|16||Jacoby Ellsbury||NYY||OF||$ 21,142,857||7 (2014-20)||$ 153,000,000||$ 21,857,142|
|17*||Carl Crawford||LAD||OF||$ 21,107,142||7 (2011-17)||$ 142,000,000||$ 20,285,714|
|18*||Matt Cain||SF||P||$ 20,833,333||6 (2012-17)||$ 127,500,000||$ 21,250,000|
|19*||Jayson Werth||WSH||OF||$ 20,571,428||7 (2011-17)||$ 126,000,000||$ 18,000,000|
|20*||Justin Verlander||DET||P||$ 20,000,000||7 (2013-19)||$ 180,000,000||$ 25,714,285|
|21||Adam Wainwright||STL||P||$ 19,500,000||5 (2014-18)||$ 97,500,000||$ 19,500,000|
|22*||David Wright||NYM||3B||$ 19,329,646||8 (2013-20)||$ 138,000,000||$ 17,250,000|
|23||Mark Buehrle||TOR||P||$ 19,000,000||4 (2012-15)||$ 58,000,000||$ 14,500,000|
|24||Clayton Kershaw||LAD||P||$ 19,000,000||7 (2014-20)||$ 215,000,000||$ 30,714,285|
|25*||Alfonso Soriano||NYY||DH||$ 19,000,000||8 (2007-14)||$ 136,000,000||$ 17,000,000|
|26*||Brian McCann||NYY||C||$ 17,000,000||5 (2014-18)||$ 85,000,000||$ 17,000,000|
|27||Adrian Beltre||TEX||3B||$ 17,000,000||5 (2011-15)||$ 80,000,000||$ 16,000,000|
|28*||Josh Beckett||LAD||P||$ 17,000,000||4 (2011-14)||$ 68,000,000||$ 17,000,000|
|29*||Tim Lincecum||SF||P||$ 17,000,000||2 (2014-15)||$ 35,000,000||$ 17,500,000|
|30*||Josh Hamilton||LAA||OF||$ 17,000,000||5 (2013-17)||$ 125,000,000||$ 25,000,000|
The average annual salary for the top 30 highest paid players in baseball for 2014 is $21.1 million. 19 of those top 30 (* next to the 19 players) highest paid players have either been injured for part or most of the season or are having a very unproductive year or both scenario’s combined. Several of them are out for the year. In the case of Alphonso Soriano he is not even playing anymore, just mail him the $19 million and thank you so much. Soriano was released by the New York Yankees earlier this year. The Cubs paid $14 million of that bill and the Yankees are only responsible for $5 million of Soriano’s 2014 salary, a mere bag of shells for the Bronx Bombers. Also keep in mind that the Yankees Alex Rodriguez is not even part of the top 30 because he was suspended for the year for violating the league drug policy. Arod was due to earn $25 million in 2014 which would have put him in the top 5 but due to the suspension the Yankees are only responsible to pay him $3.8 million for this season. Below I have listed a few of the most egregious contracts the way that I see it. My assessment of the worst contracts listed below is based on a combination of salary, age of player, production, team financial health etc. The players are in no particular order. Bad is bad.
Joe Mauer C Minnesota Twins: Contract Status-Mauer is in the middle of an 8 year 184 million contract. He will make $23 million this year. I like Joe Mauer. Everybody likes Joe Mauer. Mauer’s contract? Nobody likes that, least of all the Twins. I think if the Twinkies could have a do over on this one they would never have signed Mauer to this kind of deal. It made very little sense at the time and makes even less sense today. Small market teams like Minnesota have much less margin for error. The contract is an anchor that they are now saddled with. Mauer is often injured and no longer is a catcher. He has been moved to first base in an attempt to keep him healthy. He has never hit 30 homers in a season and never driven in 100 runs. Don’t look now folks but Mauer has been in the league for 10 years. That kind of money at the very least should be reserved for major run producers. Mauer has averaged .313 with 8 homers and 54 rbi’s in the first three full seasons of this deal prior to 2014. That kind of production can be had by many players in the league for about $5 to $7 million a year. Case in point is James Loney in Tampa Bay. He will probably put up the same or better numbers than Mauer in 2014 and he is only making $6 million this year. Loney has a salary of only 1 million but has a signing bonus for $5 million for this year. A difference of $17 million from what Mauer is making.
Ryan Howard 1B Philadalphia Phillies: Contract Status – In the middle of a 5 year $125 million contract that expires after the 2016 season. He will make $25 million this year. In the first 2 years of his contract he was injured and averaged 75 games played with 12 homers and 49 RBI’s. This year in the third year he is hitting .220 with 18 homers and 77 RBI’s. Howard has at least been healthy and producing something. However, he is 34 years old and he simply looks lost against left handed pitching. He will struggle to keep his batting average above the Mendoza line going forward. The Phillies would love to unload him but alas there will be no takers unless the Phillies pay the bulk of the salary.
Jayson Werth OF Washington Nationals: Contract Status – In the 4th year of a 7 year $126 million contract. In the two full seasons of the deal that Werth was not injured he averaged .270 with 22 homeruns and 70 RBI’s. This season he projects to hit about .280 with 17 homeruns and 83 RBI’s. This is hardly the production worthy of over $20,000,000 a year. Werth never drove in 100 runs prior to the Nats signing him to this deal and he still has not done it till this day. This is a good example of an ill-advised signing that made no sense.
David Wright 3B New York Mets: Contract Status – In the second year of an 8 year $138 million deal. This one is off to a shaky start to say the least. Wright has not hit 30 homers in a season since 2008 and has not driven in 100 runs since 2010. He won’t drive in 100 this year either. With 6 years to go and what seems like a cavernous pitchers park in Citi Field I think the only way this one works out is if the Mets move the fences in and hope.
I think you all get the idea. You can do the math on other players like CC Sabathia, Carl Crawford, Matt Kemp, Josh Beckett, Josh Hamilton,Tim Lincecum etc. It is worthy of noting that the Dodgers and Yankees each have 5 players on the list. The Phillies are next with 3 players. In 2001 the Yankees signed Derek Jeter to a 10 year $189 million dollar deal. They got 10 years of all-star play from Jeter for their money. Jeter played every day and produced and was an outstanding post season player. That example is not the norm. 10 years is a long time to guarantee anything in this world let alone athletic performance.
The bottom line for me if I was a General Manager of a major league baseball team is simple. You have two choices to field a competitive team without taking huge monetary risks:
- Teams can try to sign players to deals for a lot less money when the team has control of the player’s future in the first 6 years of their career. If you believe in a player instead of paying him the major league minimum of $500,000 a year you could offer him more money up front to keep him happy and show good faith. However your real goal should be to buy out those arbitration years where the player is more likely to get more money if he has performed well. If you could buy out a year or two of free agency then you are really on to something. The Indians did something like this with Manny Ramirez in the late 90’s. Ramirez was paid the major league minimum in 1994 and 1995. Then he signed a 4 year / $10.1 million deal which was a lot more than minimum and much less than what he might have earned through arbitration. Ramirez out produced that contract by far and away. His next deal was for $160 million. The Astros attempted to do something like this with George Springer but Springer turned it down. The Mets, Cubs and Astros will all be faced with tough challenges going forward trying to keep good young talent.
- Teams can spend more money on scouting and player development for international players that don’t go through the amateur draft like a Yasiel Puig of the Dodgers or Jose Abreu from the White Sox for example. Abreu signed a 6 year $68 million contract with an interesting twist. He has the ability to “opt back in” to the arbitration process when eligible after completing his third season. He is due to make $10.5 million in 2017. If his performance warrants it then he may go to arbitration and get a raise. Puig signed a 7 yr / $42 million contract with the “opt back in” clause as well. Abreu is already out producing his contract as Puig has yet to fully develop. It will be interesting to see how it turns out when they are arbitration eligible.
I think it makes more sense to take risks with smaller amounts of money with multiple players very early in their careers then it does to drop $150 million on one player for 6 or 7 years and hope for the best. Chances are you would be signing that deal with the player after he has already been in the league for at least 6 years so who is to say when his performance will start to go down. Most players by then will be in their late 20’s and you would be signing them to deals taking them into their early to mid 30’s. Robinson Cano of the Seattle Mariners will be 40 years old when he plays the last year of his 10 year $240 million contract. Sounds like a ton of risk on the back end of that deal to me. Teams like the Mets, Cubs and the Astros will be interesting to watch over the next few years. Let’s see how they handle and keep all their young talent. They could be shaping the future economics of major league baseball payroll philosophy. The current philosophy leaves a lot to be desired and is unsustainable going forward.
Recently MLBPA Executive Director Tony Clark indicated that there will be renewed discussions with the league, owners etc. with regards to implementing the Designated Hitter in the National League. The National League is the only league remaining in the world that does not use a DH. You might be shocked to know that nearly all the minor leagues in the National League use a DH. I have long held the position that the DH should have been implemented in the National League back in 1973 when it became a rule in the American League. Contrary to popular belief by the baseball “traditionalist” out there the DH was first proposed in the National League as early as 1891. William Chase Temple, the co-owner of the Pirates first proposed the idea to the National League rules committee. In 1928 the National League president John Heydler also took a swing at it without getting anywhere. The league, owners and managers recognized very early on that the majority of pitchers were simply not competitive at the plate.
There are many reasons at the MLB level that I feel it should be used in both leagues. Making the case for the DH goes far deeper then what is happening at the MLB level. However, I will mention a few of those reasons first and then go into the much deeper ones.
Inter-league and World Series: The use or non-use of the DH creates a disadvantage for American League teams that spend nearly an entire season playing the game one way and then have to change. Where are all the supporters of the “integrity of the game” issues now?
A better product to watch: Sorry National League fans but when I see 7, 8 and 9 coming up in the order in your league it is time to go get a beer or hit the men’s room. Pitchers are generally automatic outs and when they get a hit the announcers laugh and the players in the dugout laugh. What does that tell you? It tells me that a pitcher hitting is not taken seriously in any way shape or form at the MLB level. In over 5000 at bats in 2014 the pitchers hit for a combined average of .124. I am pretty sure that I can do better than that!
Lack of strategy in the game: Don’t you dare try to even use this argument. Nobody spends money on high ticket prices then jumps in their car, heads out to the stadium for several hours and says “boy oh boy, I can’t wait to see Matt Harvey sacrifice bunt in the 7th inning”. People do not watch baseball to see if a pitcher can get a bunt down or to see if a manager will pinch hit for somebody. If that is what you are into then I think checkers should be a spectator sport for you.
I could go on and on with many more reasons related to the playing and watching of Major League games and why the National League should have the DH. However there are more far reaching reasons why this makes sense to finally stop the madness.
I am 50 years old but I can remember my high school and college baseball days pretty well. The pitchers, generally speaking, did not hit in the batting order and that was in the mid 1980’s. The transformation at those levels was probably already well in place by that time. Even the worst pitcher in the majors was likely a star pitcher early on in his life. So as is the case with star pitchers that by the time they get to junior high the emphasis became more on the pitching and not the hitting. As I previously stated this was going on when I was playing high school and college ball over 30 years ago. Unless the pitcher was just an incredible hitter most coaches preferred to keep his star pitcher off the base paths and out of the batter’s box. The coach got the piece of mind that his pitcher had less risk of an injury as well as keeping the legs fresh for the pitching. In addition to that the coach got the flexibility of getting another player on the field in the form of a DH. Right or wrong this is what started 35+ years ago in high school, college and summer leagues all over this country. The results of this change in how games are managed at the lowest of levels has translated into pitchers that are worse hitters today than in 1891 when the subject was first broached by the Pirates owner in the National League.
We have created a scenario where the results could only and have only become increasingly bad. The future MLB pitcher stops hitting regularly at about age 14. Let’s say he arrives in the majors at age 24. To get to that point of high level play you can bet your bottom dollar that the pitcher spent all his time working on pitching and not hitting. Now you are asking that pitcher to pick up a bat and face Clayton Kershaw 3 or 4 times in a game and have some success when the guy has not swung a bat in 10 years. To add insult to injury now you are asking that same pitcher to hit in a game once every 5 or 6 days and be successful at it. This does not make a whole lot of sense now does it ? It is hard enough for back up catchers and the fifth outfielder on a team to do well once a week and they have been hitting there entire lives. Not to mention they take BP every day to hone their skills which pitchers do not do.
It is far past the time for the DH to make its National League debut. I don’t think it is a question of if anymore but a question of when. I think it will be in place in less than 3 years. So get your last final looks at Bartolo Colon taking his hacks folks. All the fans that don’t want the DH should jump out of your seat as much as possible, while you still can, when you watch your pitcher foul off the third strike on a bunt attempt . Soon these non competitive embarrassing at bats will become a thing of the past. It has long past the time for this to happen.
Houston fans know the drill. If you were born here you were weary last night. You were worried even when the Astros went up 2-0. You winced when KC went up 4-2 and even when our ace hit the mound you were sweating out every pitch like a “D” student at a spelling bee. Even after the three run HR Morales blasted to put the game away we still hoped. But secretly we brought up all the demons of Houston sports history. We thought about the 6-2 lead on Monday that was blown, the sweep of the Astros ten years ago in their only World Series appearance, The Buffalo Bills comeback on the Oilers, the fact that our only two championships, the 94-95 Rockets, are belittled by the national media because Air Jordan was retired (We would have beaten them anyway IMHO). All this bled into our minds, and out our eyes as tears fell and washed away our championship dreams. Take heed Houston fans, Astros fans…Our struggle may be real but this team is for real too…
By most standards and predictions this team was at best a 3rd place team in the division but certainly wouldn’t be playing anything meaningful in August much less October. They had been the laughing stock, the joke, the butt of all jokes for seasons full of futility. 100 losses were the norm. It was that short guy and the rest of them who shouldn’t even be on a major league roster. It was who is going to manage that hot mess? Will they even have an All-Star representative? Will their starting pitching even be able to get an out? Bullpen? They strike out too much, can’t get anyone out and will be lucky to get to 60 wins. Fast forward to today.
Our starting rotation produced a 20 game, Kuechel, and a 19 game, McHugh, winner. Fiers pitched a no hitter and Kazmir was AL pitcher of the month in July. Our 5th arm McCullers produced a respectable 3.22 ERA and would have been the winning pitcher had the bullpen not blown the lead Monday. Our team posted the 6th best fielding percentage in the Majors. And our offense was 2nd in OPS, Slugging, Homeruns and 6th in RBI’s and Runs. They set a team record 21 runs scored in a late season tilt versus the Diamondbacks. They also have the probable Rookie of the year and star in the making in Correa who looks to be a fixture at SS for a decade or more at least.
This team broke through in a big way. And despite obvious needs in the bullpen and a high average bat, this team is built to win. They are brash, young, and just got a taste of that postseason honey. They will return most of their core next season and will be among the favorites for another postseason run in 2016. In other words, the sun has set on this season, but hope will spring anew and the Astros for once in a long time will have their fair share of it next Spring. And even though as fans we struggle with being a fan we know this team is and will be for REAL too. Take your trophy and… Wait Til Next Year…
Congrats on a great season. See you next year.
Bad News Bears-The Bad News Bears (1976) Dir. Michael Ritchie
Congrats Astros- ABC Channel 13 Houston