December 27, 2017


Manny Machado is a very good baseball player. He is in the last year on his Orioles' contract. He will hit the free agent market at the end of 2018 with Bryce Harper as one of the best available free agents.

Last season he hit .259, 33 HR, 95 RBI, 9 SB, .310 OBP and 3.5 WAR.  His career WAR is 27.9.

He wants to play shortstop instead of third base. At the Winter Meetings, his name surfaced around the time of the Giancarlo Stanton rumors. Apparently, Baltimore was shopping their star player to gauge the trade market.

So casting a fat worm in a slow free agent pond made news. The surprising fact that the Cubs and White Sox made offers for Machado.

The White Sox are in full re-build mode. The team would have to give up two quality pitching prospects to rent Machado for one season makes no sense (unless you sign him to a long term contract). But the White Sox have never guaranteed more than $69 million in any deal. Machado will be looking to break the $200 million mark (he will only be 26 when he hits free agency). Yes, the White Sox have ten quality arms in the minors so they can trade from strength. But on the other hand, pitching is so scarce it may be more valuable to hold on to the top prospects.

The Cubs trading for Machado makes even less sense. Why would you give up three years of contract control of a Baez or Russell for a one-year of Machado? The Cubs have the bats if the current players live up to their potential. If the Cubs have $200 million to toss around next off-season (which is doubtful), reports have their target being Harper and not Machado. And the fact that Rizzo, Bryant, Hendricks and other core members will have contract increases plays a major factor against the Cubs signing an expensive free agent.

Currently, the Orioles have cooled the trade speculation. But apparently the White Sox made the best offer but it was rejected by Baltimore whose owner tends not to let good players be traded off his roster.

It is true that the White Sox need good hitting prospects to balance out their system. It is true that the Cubs need top pitching prospects to fill in gaping needs. In theory, the Cubs and White Sox are perfect trade partners but the Quintana deal was a once in a decade thing.

If Machado gets traded, it will be at the trade deadline if the Orioles are woefully out of the pennant race. But the odds favor Machado ending his contract term in Baltimore.

December 21, 2017


The Miami Marlins are a trash can fire that is soon to spread throughout baseball's reputation.

MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred insisted Wednesday that the commissioner’s office was not aware before the sale of the team that the Marlins’ new owners planned to dramatically slash payroll, a fact disputed by two people directly involved in the negotiating process.

In a combative interview on ESPN Radio, host Dan Le Batard told Manfred: “We are starting with a lie” when Manfred said he did not know the plans of new owners Derek Jeter and Bruce Sherman during the approval process.

“I’m not going to have you call me a liar!” Manfred said.

In Chicago, we were acutely aware of the sale process when the bankrupt Tribune company sold the Cubs to the Ricketts family. MLB has strict financial review of any team bidders. MLB has rules in place on team debt ratios and ownership capital requirements. MLB also has access to team financials in regard to revenue sharing and luxury tax formulas. It also has had to step in to actually advance payroll for several clubs in the last decade. Every bidder needs to provide MLB with a detailed business plan so owners who vote on the franchise transfer can be assured that the new owners will not bankrupt the team.

Two people directly involved in the sales process said that Jeter and Sherman were required to tell other owners their intentions with payroll during the approval process, and that they informed the other owners that payroll would be cut from $115 million to the $85 million to $90 million range, with $85 million used at times and $90 million other times in those discussions.

Last year’s team would have cost about $140 million if it were kept together. The Marlins’ current projected payroll for 2018 stands at about $94 million after the team traded Giancarlo Stanton, Dee Gordon and Marcell Ozuna.

Pressed by Le Batard about whether he was aware of Jeter’s plan, Manfred said: “No. We did not have player specific plans from the Miami Marlins or any other team during the approval ownership process. Those are decisions the individual owners make. We do not approve operating decisions by any ownership, new owner or current owners. As a result, the answer is no.”

Just as any bidder does due diligence to set its offer price, MLB does a due diligence on potential ownership groups, including their background, business skills and financial deep pockets. MLB was aware that the Jeter group borrowed more than $400 million of the sale price. With that debt load, the bank would need to have security and covenants for timely principal and interest payments over the short term of the obligation.

Besides Jeter coming to town to burn down the roster, Marlins fans were upset that Jeter kicked out fan ambassadors and terminated a long time scout while he was in the hospital. The new ownership immediately dismissed four well-known Marlins executives:  special assistant to the president Jeff Conine, who goes by the nickname Mr. Marlin, and three special assistants to the owner — Hall of Famers Andre Dawson and Tony Perez, and former manager Jack McKeon, who led the Marlins to the 2003 World Series championship.

Jeter was also criticized for not attending the Winter Meetings. Jeter also avoided the press after the Stanton trade. 

However, this week Jeter held a tense town hall with season-ticket holders Tuesday night. He was taken to task by angry fans. Jeter was under fire for selling off the team’s best players in a payroll slashing move that agent Scott Boras called MLB’s “pawn shop.” The Giancarlo Stanton trade for a nominal return angered fans as well as the Marlins have also traded notable big-name (and big-money) players like Dee Gordon and Marcell Ozuna this offseason.

Several fans questioned Jeter's moves and motivation. One fan mocked the $1.2 billion sale of the Marlins, saying Jeter spent "$1.2 billion and then ran out of money," ESPN reported.

Another fan told Jeter: "You act like you ran out of money. You're not going to win here with dancing girls. You're going to win with ballplayers who know how to win. The fans are alienated. They're upset. That's what you're dealing with here."

One memorable exchange involved "Marlins Man," a Marlins fan famous for traveling around the country to various high-profile sporting events and being seen on television wearing bright orange Marlins gear. He told Jeter he wouldn't pay high prices for a "triple-A team."

Marlins Man also asked to be more involved with the team. Jeter apparently drew laughs by offering to let him throw out the first pitch if he renewed his season tickets on a 10-year plan.

At times, the meeting got messy. The Miami Herald reported a crying fan told Jeter they could have signed a pitcher and contended for the playoffs, to which Jeter asked which pitchers they could have signed. When Jeter told fans to be patient, an older man said he didn't have many more years left.
The Marlins have posted a losing record for eight straight seasons and have not made the playoff since 2002. Jeter tried to explain his rationale to the angry fans.

"You can't throw money at a problem and dig a bigger and bigger hole and not have any depth in the organization,'' Jeter said. "You have to build from the bottom up. "I hear your pain. I know you've been through a lot. But we're trying to build something that is sustainable, and this is the only way to do it."

Other teams have announced rebuild plans (such as the Astros, Cubs and White Sox) with the expectation to fans that there would be some lean years ahead.  But Jeter's plan was crude, arrogant and condescending to fans without a clear explanation of how ownership is going to create a championship team. Trading away all your good players for no real value not only hurts the fan base but destroys clubhouse chemistry. Several Marlins players are now demanding trades because the roster has been gutted to be not competitive in 2018.

When former owner Jeff Loria owned the Marlins, he was a laughingstock in the league. He was crude, brash and blind to the needs of his own fan base. He once sued his own season ticket holders who complained they were not getting what they had been promised. With the sale of the franchise, fans thought they would be getting an owner with a new vision for the future. Instead, they got a harsher version of the former hated owner, Loria 2.0.

And MLB gets a major hit to its reputation for allowing a new owner to crash and burn a franchise within a few weeks of taking it over.

December 19, 2017


You will soon hear the rumblings by agents about collusion.

Collusion in sports is where teams actively get together to adversely impact player contracts and benefits.

In this off-season, not one free agent player has received more than a three year contract.

The largest pitching contract had been Chatwood's three year, $38 million deal.

The hot stove league has been very cool, especially with top name pitchers like Darvish and Arrieta looking for 5 or 6 year deals near the $200 million range.

But the climate around baseball front offices has changed. Sabermetrics has given general managers new tools to evaluate (and in negotiations, de-value) players performance. The new CBA rules regarding the penalties for breaching the luxury tax threshold in multiple years have made even big money teams like the Yankees and Dodgers punting many player contracts to get under the $195 million cap.

In addition, teams now believe major league "controllable" assets are more valuable than established free agent veterans. Fans have come around to believe in a team's "rebuilding" process to go through some very bad years on the road to a championship (see, the Cubs and the Astros).

The new rebuild model has a focus of developing a young core of position players that a team can control for six full seasons. In conjunction with that model, expensive starting pitching is being replaced with more bullpen arms. Last season, only 15 starters threw more than 200 innings. The rise of using bullpen arms in the 5th inning of games is becoming routine. Relievers are less expensive than starting pitchers (even though this off-season most of the moves have been overpaying relievers in two year deals).

Because starters have had long term deals with the fear that the back end is dead money, teams are tentative to overwork them in spring training and during the season. The result has not stopped injuries and TJ surgeries.

Very few teams have pitching depth in their minor league system. The White Sox are the exception. If a team can develop their own starting pitching, it can effectively save hundreds of millions of dollars in payroll obligations. Those savings could be used to pay for a stud free agent to fill a final roster need (a Bryce Harper or Manny Machado).

Teams have become much more principled in their decision making processes. In the past, only Jerry Reinsdorf had a strict rule not to sign a starting pitcher for more than 4 years. And when that rule was not followed, the Sox got burned (example, Jon Danks).

In the past, teams expected their rotation to handle more than 68 percent of the innings thrown during a season (1000 of 1458 IP). Now, it is down to 60 percent which puts another 125 IP on the bullpen. In order to cope with this production issue, teams may think about going with a 6th starter to take those 125 IP or have one or two long relievers capable of throwing 3 or 4 innings from the pen.

The only other way is to adapt pitching philosophy to get more outs. The Athletics had a development strategy that every pitcher in their system had to learn to throw a change-up. The change-up became the team's dominate strike out pitch. Last season, high power teams like the Cubs were caught off-guard by curve ball pitchers. It is said that any major league hitter can hit a fast ball. It is harder to adjust to a slide or straight curve ball after a fast ball sequence.

The star free agents may have to wait a long time this off-season before signing new deals. This plays well with teams who are looking for a discount in years and in average annual pay from players.

December 13, 2017


One of the main objectives of any sports' general manager is to take an objective view of his team's performance, then spend the off-season to upgrade positions lost or of need.

Objectively, 2017 Cubs fell down the sink hole with inconsistent hitting, poorer defense than 2016 and worn out pitching down the stretch.

The team lost two starting pitchers, a closer, bullpen arms and back up catcher.

The team has major needs in the pitching department (2 starters, a closer and relievers).

The team also needs to find consistent .300 hitters to balance out the feast-or-famine hitters. A traditional lead off hitter would be nice, too.

As it currently stands, Tyler Chatwood was signed to be a starting pitcher. He projects to be a back of the rotation arm. So does he replace Arrieta in the rotation? No. Does he replace Lackey? Maybe. But the other starter on the depth chart is AAA Eddie Butler. He does not appear to replace or upgrade either Arrieta or Lackey.

The Cubs signed reliever Brandon Morrow. He is projected to be either the set up man or closer. Is he an upgrade over Wade Davis? Probably not. Morrow was the workhorse for the Dodgers in the playoffs, throwing in 14 of 15 games. As we have seen in the recent past, managers who abuse pitchers at the end of their contracts usually have a bad next season (example, Chapman).

Drew Smyly was signed to a two year deal, but he had Tommy John surgery last July so he may not even pitch in 2018. (The current Cubs philosophy of signing injured pitchers and pay for a year of rehab without production is very odd.) You really cannot count on Smyly being a starter or reliever.

The Cubs acquired reliever Dario Alvarez. Is he an upgrade from Hector Rondon? No. Alvarez has only 56 major league appearances.

As we stand today, none of the Cubs off-season moves have objectively upgraded the roster.

What still bothers many is that the Cubs could have made a major upgrade by trading for Giancarlo Stanton. Objectively, Stanton would have been the best outfielder on the Cubs roster. He would have only cost one 25 man roster player (Baez or Russell) and two minor leaguers.

Unless the front office believes that they have internal solutions to their roster problems. But just counting on a player to have a "rebound" year is more hope and an position upgrade.

A Stanton trade would have opened up second base to be platooned by Happ and Zobrist. Heyward would have been moved to center with a platoon with Almora. Schwarber and Happ could platoon in left field. And Stanton would have anchored the line up at clean up spot, protecting Rizzo.

It is still early on a slow hot stove winter, but clearly the Cubs still need to upgrade several positions.

December 11, 2017


Well, a Giancarlo Stanton deal got done. And the Cubs were no where in the neighborhood.

The Yankees made a fantastic deal to acquire the power hitting MVP.

Yahoo Sports summarizes the deal: The Marlins will receive veteran second baseman Starlin Castro, Yankees No. 9 minor league prospect,  right-hander Jorge Guzman and infielder Jose Devers in exchange for Stanton and approximately $30 million. The New York Post reports the $30 million will only be paid out in full if Stanton elects not to opt out after the 2020 season. The Yankees will absorb the remaining $265 million left on his contract.

With the price break the Yankees are getting in the deal, it is likely the Yankees will be able to avoid going over the luxury tax threshold in 2018. After offloading Castro’s $7.57 million salary and taking into account the $25 million Stanton is due next season, the club is looking at a payroll increase of just under $17.5 million. The $30 million the Yankees receive from Miami will be paid out in $3 million installments to help offset the luxury tax restrictions each year.

Pitcher Guzman is expected to break into the big leagues as soon as 2019. The 21-year-old pitched exclusively out of the rotation for Low-A Staten Island last season with a 5-3 record in 13 starts and a 2.30 ERA, 2.4 BB/9 and 11.9 SO/9 through 66 2/3 innings.

Devers, 18, was also included in the deal. The shortstop/DH made his first foray into pro ball in 2017, slashing a combined .245/.336/.342 with 13 extra-base hits and 16 stolen bases in 216 PA for the Yankees’ rookie-level affiliates in the Gulf Coast League and Dominican Summer League.

The Marlins were desperate to unload Stanton's contract and the Yankees got a bargain fire-sale price for the one of the best hitters in baseball.

As I said previously, it would not have taken much to get Stanton on the Cubs roster. And Stanton would have solved a major problem in the Cubs everyday lineup: consistent hitting for average and power.

The Marlins only received a starting second baseman,  the Yankees fifth best pitching prospect, and a low level minor leaguer. Miami also lost a great deal of production: Castro hit .300, 16 HR, 63 RBI with a 2.0 WAR as compared to Stanton's .281 BA, 59 HR, 132 RBI and 7.6 WAR.

Look at this way: would you trade Javy Baez, No. 4 prospect SP Alex Lange and a low Class A minor leaguer for Stanton?

Of course you would. That is the basic cost the Marlins were looking to take to get rid of Stanton. So I am surprised that the Cubs were not a factor in the Stanton trade discussions. Yankees GM Cashman made the deal of the year.

December 8, 2017


The news broke early this morning that should have the Cubs front office changing everything they planned for this off-season.

Yahoo Sports quotes a Miami-based host for SiriusXM who has been all over the Giancarlo Stanton story, reported that the reigning NL MVP will not approve a trade to either the Giants or the Cardinals.   Stanton has a full no-trade clause in his 13-year, $325 million deal with the Marlins so he has all the leverage on where he will go.  He is under contract control through the 2020 season.
Furthermore, the report says Stanton "would" accept a trade to four teams and they’re the four teams that were in the ALCS and NLCS: the Dodgers, Yankees, Cubs and Astros. 

Clearly, Stanton wants to win NOW.

What the Cubs need to do is make a strong pitch for Stanton NOW.

Here is the argument for a blockbuster trade for Stanton I made on August 16, 2017:

1. He is young.
2. He is proven hitter.
3. He immediately makes any lackluster batting order better.
4. He is under long term control.

And his contract is such that if the market in 2020 is $30 million per year (Harper potential deal, now probably more than that figure), then he will opt out - - - and the team acquiring him by trade now is only out $77 million.

For the Marlins to take the PR hit to trade their star player, Miami will need to get a substantial return for Stanton: cheap controllable major league players and top prospects.

In the current situation, the Cubs may not have enough assets to acquire Stanton, who would be the perfect solution to the left field platoon situation.

The package the Cubs would have to offer to get Stanton:

1. Baez or Russell.  A controllable middle infielder with defensive skills is a premium position. One would think Miami, catering to Latin market, would prefer Baez's versatility over Russell (including injury history).

2. Schwarber. Even though Theo-Jed adore their Baby Ruth wannabee, there would be no position left for Schwarber if Stanton is acquired (since Heyward's best position is Gold Glove RF).  Miami could use Schwarber as a trade flip to an AL club for more prospects.

3. Almora. The Marlins need to market hometown players to their fans. Almora is young and talented to be a long term marketing piece.

4. Edwards. The Marlins would prefer to get a starter (like Hendricks) but the Cubs cannot spare one. A bullpen piece with some upside would off-set the weakness in Cub farm prospects since Edwards has a major league track record.

5. One of the Top 4 pitching prospects (De La Cruz, Albertos, Alzolany, or Lange) and/or International Bonus pool money.

If you look at this possible transaction from a long term Cub prospective, Stanton fills a need to provide offense, solidify the outfield and give protection to Bryant and Rizzo in the batting order.
It is also an affordable transaction.

The Cubs have $55 million in contracts coming off the books at the end of the year (net $46 million with Quintana's salary for 2018). Stanton's salary in 2018 is $25 million, leaving $21 million to sign a free agent starting pitcher.

As a footnote to the argument, the Cubs would have to either extend the opt out clause with Stanton or pay less in major league talent for a potential 2-year contract (maybe three players and a prospect). The Cubs spent $13 million/season on Chatwood to be the 4th starter. So the team is still under budget (but with several key roles to fill including the closer position). 

But this is a one-in-a-generation type move. The three years Stanton has to his opt out is the prime years for the current Cubs core. It also fits into the time frame for the Cubs to attempt to launch their own Cubs channel. Stanton is a superstar who solves a major problem in the current lineup: a consistent hitter that other teams fear.