No, He’s Not “Mr. Padre”, but San Diego Just Landed a Star

Finally, just over a week into camp, one of the two superstar free agents has signed a contract. As a Mets fan, Manny Machado signing with the San Diego Padres is about as perfect of a scenario as I could’ve hoped for (you know, because God forbid I expect the Wilpons to fork over the money for a generational talent). As a baseball fan, Manny Machado signing with the San Diego Padres… is about as perfect of a scenario as I could’ve hoped for (You know, because who watched the San Diego Padres before this?). All jokes aside, Machado’s deal has enormous ramifications for all of Major League Baseball — not just San Diego. For starters, Manny just signed the most lucrative free-agent contract in the history of American sports: A cool $300 million over 10 years (Giancarlo Stanton’s 13-year/$325 million deal was an extension). Granted, if we want to get technical, Darren Rovell made it clear that A-Rod still holds the free-agent contract record:


(As an aside; how crazy is it that 2000 was so long ago that we have to adjust for inflation when evaluating that massive deal?)

Anyway, it’s worth noting that the signing is expected to be formally announced later today, so the minutiae of the contract are still unknown, but it includes a limited no-trade clause and an opt-out after the fifth year[1]. A shrewd move by Padres GM AJ Preller, the fifth-year opt-out guarantees that Machado’s prime years align with the emergence of some of the top prospects in the game. With baseball’s best farm system, including 10(!) prospects in MLB’s Top 100, the Padres may have just complemented one of the best young cores the game has ever seen with a 26-year-old superstar. Of course, prospects disappoint all the time, but I’d wager that at least half of those 10 become average-to-good major leaguers and a couple become stars — that’d be the foundation of a perennial contender. Not to mention, the Padres already boast one of the most underrated bullpens in the league and, disappointing on-field performances notwithstanding, have two top-notch leaders in Will Myers and Eric Hosmer. In short, the Padres, who just increased their payroll from $75 million (26th-highest) to around $105-110 million (top-20), are clearly looking to do more than contend for a title after this signing — they have their eyes set on a dynasty[2].

However, as baseball fans anxiously await the arrival of young studs like Luis Urias and Fernando Tatis Jr., there’s another question that needs to be asked: Where’s he going to play? Initially, my gut told me that the Padres must’ve guaranteed him shortstop in order to seal the deal; after all, he’s made it well-known for a while now that he believes that’s his position — despite pretty much every defensive metric saying otherwise. Be that as it may, Tatis, the Padres’ top prospect and #2 in all of baseball, is a natural shortstop. Admittedly, I’ve read differing opinions on whether he’ll be able to stay a shortstop long-term or not, but one would think they’d keep that spot reserved for their young phenom. On Tuesday, A.J. Preller may have just given us our answer: “We think he’s [Tatis] going to be an impact defender. … Our opinion of Tatis, he’s a shortstop. He’s going to be our shortstop. That’s the way we look at it.”[3] It goes without saying, teams change how they view situations all the time, but if we take Preller’s comments at face value, it looks like Machado’s headed back to third base — even if he keeps shortstop warm until Tatis’ call-up.

Naturally, the next question becomes: What do they plan on doing next? As I mentioned before, the Padres increased their payroll by almost 50% with Machado’s contract, but they still sit below the league average of $125 million. Per Jon Heyman, Preller’s not done yet:


I wouldn’t necessarily expect this scenario to play out, but the Padres certainly have the money to spend. Even if they gave Harper a $35 million AAV (Average Annual Value), that’d push their payroll to around $145 million, which is just ahead of the Mariners and Rockies (11th-highest). As one would expect, there are swarms of reporters throwing out their strong beliefs on whether Bryce-to-San Diego will play out or not, but this is the bottom line: Their tweets are just conjecture; it is possible. With Machado putting pen to paper, the ball’s in Bryce’s court.

Obviously, landing two megastar free agents in one offseason would be incredible for the franchise, but it wouldn’t stop the doubters from questioning Machado’s worth. While I don’t think anybody is seriously debating Machado’s on-field play (he set or tied career-highs this past season in AVG, OBP, SLG, wRC+, BB%, HR and RBI), the vast majority of his detractors — including me — take issue with his attitude. For reference, here are his comments before Game 4 of the NLCS:

“Obviously I’m not going to change, I’m not the type of player that’s going to be ‘Johnny Hustle,’ and run down the line and slide to first base and … you know, whatever can happen. That’s just not my personality, that’s not my cup of tea, that’s not who I am.”

Needless to say, the quote is a terrible look for him and, frankly, an indication of an immature, selfish player. Having said that, I haven’t heard anybody mention what he said next:

“Should I have run on that pitch? Yeah … but I didn’t and I gotta pay the consequences for it. It does look bad. It looks terrible. I look back at the video and I’m like, ‘Woah, what was I doing?’ You know, just the emotions of the game. … I’m the type of player that has stayed in the zone, I’m playing and I’m just in the zone.”

Part of the issue with the narrative on guys like Machado and Bryce Harper is that the media often cherry-picks moments and quotes out of context. Does the latter half of the quote excuse the former half? No. But he’s human. In the heat of the moment, he hit a ground ball to the shortstop, got pissed, and jogged to first base. If you’ve played sports, you’ve probably been there too. I know I have — the only difference is I wasn’t in Game 2 of the NLCS. Trust me, I don’t doubt Machado has some growing up to do on and off the field (trying to hurt other players in that same series was far more disgusting than the lack of hustle), but the Padres made the right move in giving him $300 million — a move 29 other teams were scared to make and, I believe, one they’ll end up regretting they didn’t make. For a team like San Diego, who just fell victim to a painfully bad contract last offseason (Hosmer’s 8-year/$144 million deal), they needed a home run… and they just hit a grand slam.

Regardless of your opinion of Machado’s character and intangibles, there’s no denying that he’s a damn good baseball player. According to fWAR, he was the 9th-best position player in all of baseball last year. Since entering the league in 2012, his average slash line is .282/.335/.487 and he hasn’t hit less than 33 home runs since 2014 when he played 82 games. Consistency, high average, power, elite defense (at third base) — that’s the type of player the Padres are getting in Manny Machado. I, for one, am glad he’s going to bring eyes to San Diego. I’m glad the Padres’ ownership decided to capitalize on a market that’s theirs for the taking (Rest in Peace, San Diego Chargers). And I sure am glad that I don’t have to watch him hammer the Mets for another NL-East squad. He’s not going to be “Mr. Padre” — no one will be — but I don’t doubt he’ll be worth every penny… just don’t expect him to run out grounders to short.





Analyzing the Mets’ Offseason: The Seattle Trade

On the whole, the New York Mets have experienced an enormous amount of turnover this offseason — turnover that was sorely needed. Come Opening Day 2019, the young core will remain in place, but the rest of this team will look remarkably different; the revamped Mets feature a new GM, second baseman, catcher, hitting coach, and a host of new names in the bullpen. At this point, the Mets’ key moves this offseason are as follows:

Acquisitions Departures
RP Edwin Díaz (Trade, SEA) OF Jay Bruce (Trade, SEA)
2B Robinson Canó (Trade, SEA) RP Anthony Swarzak (Trade, SEA)
RP Jeurys Familia (FA, 3/$30m) RP Gerson Bautista (Trade, SEA)
C Wilson Ramos (FA, 2/$19m) OF Jarred Kelenic (Trade, SEA)
OF Rajai Davis (MiLB deal) SP Justin Dunn (Trade, SEA)
SP Kyle Dowdy (Rule 5, CLE) RP Bobby Wahl (Trade, MIL)
OF Gregor Blanco (MiLB deal) 2B Luis Santana (Trade, HOU)
OF Keon Broxton (Trade, MIL) 3B David Wright (Released)
SP Walker Lockett (Trade, CLE) 3B Wilmer Flores (Non-tendered)
3B J.D. Davis (Trade, HOU) SS José Reyes (FA)
SP Hector Santiago (MiLB deal) RP Jerry Blevins (FA)
RP Luis Avilán (MiLB deal) RP AJ Ramos (FA)
2B Jed Lowrie (2/$20m) SP Rafael Montero (FA)
RP Justin Wilson (2/$10m) C José Lobatón (FA)
2B Dilson Herrera (MiLB deal) OF Austin Jackson (FA)
C Devin Mesoraco (MiLB deal) RP Jenrry Mejía (Released)

*Italics indicate the player spent the year in the minor leagues last season or was signed to a minor league deal for the upcoming season

Needless to say, this is a pretty hefty list of acquisitions and departures and, believe it or not, the team made several transactions on top of these. However, I felt these 16 were especially significant for both this season and the team’s direction for seasons to come. Let’s break the first of these down further:

Mets Trade OF Jay Bruce, RP Anthony Swarzak, SP Justin Dunn, RP Gerson Bautista, and OF Jarred Kelenic for 2B Robinson Canó, RP Edwin Díaz, and $20 million

When this trade was finalized on December 3rd, it easily became the biggest move of the offseason — and for good reason. From a broad perspective, it officially made the Mariners, an 89-win team a year ago, a rebuilding squad and sent a message that the Mets, winners of 77 last season, are a team set on contending for the World Series. At the same time, the trade signaled the beginning of a new era for the Mets, spearheaded by new GM Brodie Van Wagenen. Without question, Brodie delivered on his promise of a “fearless” Mets team by trading two of the franchise’s prized prospects after only about a month on the job.

First and foremost, we’re going to focus on what the Mets gave up before analyzing what they received in return. Since shipping off Bruce and Swarzak was essentially a salary dump for the Mets, the “only” real cost of the trade was the trio of Kelenic, Dunn, and Bautista. To the casual fan, the thought of two prospects and a young reliever probably doesn’t sound like too steep of a price for the All-Stars the Mets acquired, but it’s actually a pretty significant one.

Dunn, a starting pitcher out of Boston College (BC), was the Mets’ first-round pick (19th overall) of the 2016 MLB Draft. At BC, he had a bit of an unorthodox career, starting out as a reliever for the team and then developing into a stellar starter for the Eagles. Presumably, when the Mets took him with the 19th pick they had visions of him filling out the middle-to-back-end of the super-rotation they’ve currently built with deGrom, Syndergaard, Wheeler, and Matz — or potentially filling the void left by one of them leaving.

Season Team Age IP ERA FIP xFIP
2016 Mets (A-) 20 30.0 1.50 2.88 2.89
2017 Mets (A+) 21 95.1 5.00 4.15 4.35
2018 Mets (A+) 22 45.2 2.36 3.00 3.18
2018 Mets (AA) 22 89.2 4.22 3.37 3.45

*Stat dashboard courtesy of Fangraphs

As you can see in the chart above, Dunn burst onto the scene in 2016, finishing his first professional season (albeit in a small sample size of 30 innings pitched) with an ERA of 1.50. His FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) and xFIP (Expected Fielding Independent Pitching) were outstanding as well. For those of you unfamiliar with those stats, FIP is used to estimate what a pitcher’s ERA would be if he experienced league-average defense behind him, while xFIP takes it a step further and assumes the pitcher also experienced a league-average home run to fly ball rate (surprisingly, home run rates for pitchers generally stay around league average). Because of his draft pedigree and initial success, Dunn’s dramatic struggles in 2017 came as a worrisome surprise. At only High A, he posted a 5.00 ERA in his first full season as a pro and even advanced stats suggested his poor play wasn’t a fluke. Fortunately, he rebounded this past season pretty nicely and pitched his way up to AA, where he finished his 2018.

As a prospect, Dunn doesn’t really jump off the page in any category, but he’s shown the most promise with his fastball, which sits in the mid-90s, and slider. Ranked as MLB Pipeline’s #91 overall prospect, he was a pretty excellent get for the Mariners, exhibiting toughness and a good attitude during his time with the Mets — in addition to his natural ability1. Having said that, given the Mets’ relative strength at the position both in the majors and minors (David Peterson and Simeon Woods-Richardson are two examples of promising pitchers in the system), I see Dunn as a safe, valuable trade piece that Brodie used wisely.

Moving on, Gerson Bautista was the one young Met in this deal that fans have seen play. In his short time in the majors last season (4.1 IP), he got lit up, finishing with a 12.46 ERA, albeit in a small sample size. Bautista was originally acquired in 2017 from the Red Sox as part of the package for Addison Reed; the Mets saw a young player with an exceptional fastball (touches 100 MPH) and took the gamble that he could develop some command. So far, he hasn’t, but given the volatility of relievers, it’s entirely possible something clicks for the young righty while with the Mariners. Clearly, the Mets felt it was the right time to move on, making this a low-risk move for both teams with the potential for a high reward for Seattle. Frankly, this seems like the “icing on the cake” piece Brodie threw in as incentive to close the deal and finalize the trade when they did.

Of course, the prize of this trade from the Seattle perspective was outfielder Jarred Kelenic. Regarded by many as the best high school bat — and one of the top overall bats — in this past year’s draft, the Mets took Kelenic with the 6th pick in the first round. Even though he’s only 19, he’s been praised for his outstanding character and work ethic in addition to excellent tools. Granted, it can be difficult to project such a young player, but the consensus seems to be that he has the potential to be a legitimate five-tool center fielder. Whether Kelenic’s able to remain in center field long-term or not, he still has an arm more than capable of manning right field as well.

2018 Mets (R) 18 12 46 .413 1 9 9 .451 .609 1.060 7.8 % 21.6 % .300 107
2018 Mets (R) 18 44 174 .253 5 33 33 .350 .431 .781 11.0 % 19.5 % .514 192

*Stat dashboard courtesy of Fangraphs

Once he began officially donning the orange and blue in rookie ball, he was exceptional, as seen in the chart above. After getting a promotion to the Kingsport Mets, he came back to earth a bit, but Mariners fans should be very excited for the potential of their new wunderkind. Currently, he’s MLB Pipeline’s #56 overall prospect and although Kelenic’s not expected to even reach the majors until 2022 — which I’m sure factored into Brodie Van Wagenen’s willingness to trade him — his strong offensive skills give him the ability to get there even quicker2.

Now that we’ve taken a look at the Mariners’ future, let’s examine the Mets’ present. One of my personal issues with the public perception of this trade is the idea that Robinson Canó is suddenly a washed up shell of his former self. Yes, he’s 36 years old and, even worse, coming off of a PED suspension. Nonetheless, that’s a surface level assessment of the acquisition. Take a look at his numbers over the last 3 years:

2016 Mariners 33 161 655 .298 39 107 103 .350 .533 .882 6.6 % 14.0 % .318 105 0.2
2017 Mariners 34 150 592 .280 23 79 97 .338 .453 .791 7.6 % 13.1 % .359 128 2.4
2018 Mariners 35 80 310 .303 10 44 50 .374 .471 .845 9.2 % 13.5 % .329 119 4.7

*Stat dashboard courtesy of Fangraphs

During his age 33-35 seasons, Canó hasn’t hit worse than .280, including .303 last season, his suspension-shortened campaign. As a rule of thumb, an OPS (On-base Plus Slugging) north of .800 is an impressive season — Canó’s lowest mark during this stretch was .791. As outstanding as some of those numbers are — especially for a player in his mid-30s — it’s his advanced stats that are most encouraging to me. Generally, advanced metrics and rate statistics are most predictive of what a player will do in the future, rather than counting stats (home runs, runs, RBI) which tend to fluctuate year-to-year. One area that plagued the team last year was strikeout rate; the Mets struck out 22.7% of the time in 2018, good for 11th-worst in the majors. In their new second baseman, the Mets are getting a player that strikes out about 13.5% of the time — an exceptional mark in a league where it’s become cool to sacrifice contact for power. At the same time, Canó — already a dangerous hitter throughout his entire career — has become a smarter hitter as he’s aged. Since 2015, his walk rate’s steadily increased, reaching 9.2% last year.

The last two, lesser-known metrics on Canó’s dashboard are weighted runs created plus (wRC+) and Wins Above Replacement (WAR). I understand that not all fans are familiar with some of these newer stats, so as a quick crash course, wRC+ is essentially a rate stat that holistically looks at each hitter’s offensive production. Compared to average, which measures each hit equally, wRC+ credits a hitter for the value of each outcome (single, double, etc.) and attempts to control for things like park effects. Then, it’s scaled so that a league average hitter’s wRC+ would be 100 and every point above or below 100 is equal to one percent above or below league average. WAR, on the other hand, is a metric that aims to measure a player’s total contribution to their team. Basically, the stat tells you that if a team was to replace Player X with a freely available minor leaguer (a replacement player), Player X’s WAR is about equal to the number of extra games that team would lose as a result of losing them. In Canó’s case, his wRC+ was 136 last season, or 36% better than the average major leaguer. His WAR, 2.9, was so impressive that it was good for 9th-best among MLB second basemen — in only half of a season (WAR isn’t a rate stat, so the longer you play, the higher it tends to be).

For a deeper understanding of just how impressive Canó’s been, let’s take a look at two anonymous player comparisons. Here are the averages, home runs, runs, RBI, OPSs, wRC+, and WAR for Canó and Player A over the past three seasons:


2016: .298/39/107/103/.882/139/6.2

2017: .280/23/79/97/.791/113/3.2

2018*: .303/10/44/50/.845/136/2.9

*Suspension-shortened season

Player A

2016: .243/24/84/86/.814/111/3.0

2017: .319/29/95/87/1.008/155/4.8

2018: .249/34/103/100/.889/135/3.5

In order to make it easier to see the differences between the slash lines, I’ve bolded and highlighted in green categories where each player was better than the other in each season. Overall, I think it’s fair to say that these two players are at least comparable offensively; however, when you consider that Canó bested Player A in both average and wRC+ (rate stats) in his suspension-shortened season, you could make the argument that Canó was better in two out of the past three years. Interestingly, Player A is Bryce Harper. While I’m not going to pretend like I’d rather have Robinson Canó than Harper (they’re not on the same level at this point in their careers), it’s important to keep in perspective just how good of a hitter Canó’s been — especially at second base.

As for the second comparison, we’ll look at the average, OPS, BB%, K%, and wRC+ (all rate stats) for Canó and Player B from last season:


2018*: .303/.845/9.2%/13.5%/136

*Suspension-shortened season

Player B

2018: .316/.837/9.2%/13.2%/135

Once again, I bolded and highlighted the categories where each player outperformed the other, but in the end, they had nearly identical seasons. Player B is actually 2017 MVP José Altuve. Admittedly, Altuve dealt with some injury issues last year, but he still played 137 games and had an All-Star season. Robinson Canó nearly replicated an All-Star season from the (at the time) reigning AL MVP. In evaluating this trade, it’s crucial to understand that Canó isn’t some mid-30s has-been that’s hanging around thanks to past accomplishments — he’s an All-Star second baseman right now that’s consistently performing as one of the best all-around players in the game.

By the way, Cano’s done all of this while remaining remarkably durable (cue suspension jokes). Here are the number of games he’s missed per season since 2007: 2, 3, 1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 5, 6, 1, 12, 2 (he played 80/82 possible games in 2018 due to his 80-game suspension). In 12 years, Canó’s missed more than 6 games once and never more than 12. For a Mets team that’s been absolutely tormented by injuries over the past half-decade, his durability could prove to be invaluable.

Naturally, I can’t discuss this trade without directly addressing Canó’s PED suspension. As it happens, he didn’t actually test positive for PEDs, he tested positive for a diuretic, or masking agent. Masking agents are essentially drugs used to “mask” the use of steroids and, understandably, are banned under MLB’s PED policy. It’s worth noting, this is what Brodie Van Wagenen, Canó’s former agent, had to say regarding the suspension:

Needless to say, Brodie’s privy to information that nobody else — possibly not even the league — is informed of, which adds a bit of an extra wrinkle to this deal. Notably, Major League Baseball’s unable to suspend players for a diuretic unless it can prove it was to mask PED use. With that in mind, Canó didn’t appeal his suspension, meaning one of two things:

  1. He took it to mask steroids and was guilty, or
  2. Because he was injured with a fractured hand at the time, he felt it was better to get the suspension over with, heal, and be back in time to help his team for a potential postseason run.

Essentially, Canó’s either a lying cheater or the ultimate teammate. A few things make the latter unlikely. For starters, there’s the fact that a suspension in baseball automatically disqualifies you from playing in the postseason for that year, which still would’ve hurt his team. On top of that, Canó was probably on his way to Cooperstown before the suspension — his Hall of Fame fate is all but sealed now. Did Robinson Canó take steroids? Probably. The bottom line is, Brodie Van Wagenen didn’t sacrifice his lucrative career as an agent to become the Mets GM and lose. He’s trying to build something. Brodie’s not only building a roster here, he’s building a culture — if he didn’t believe in Robinson Canó the player and Robinson Canó the man, I don’t believe he makes this deal, plain and simple.

Then, there’s the matter of Bruce, Swarzak, and the cash. Canó’s All-Star play notwithstanding, there’s always going to be a ton of red flags when you trade for a player due $120 million over the next 5 years — as is the case here. All things considered, Bruce and Swarzak played the roles of extra cash in this trade, just with the added benefit of freeing up roster spots. By trading Bruce (due $29 million over the next two years) and Swarzak (due $8 million in 2019), and then getting $20 million in cash, the Mets are effectively on the hook for $63 million of Canó’s deal over the next five years3. Putting that in WAR terms, as we discussed before, the Mets are asking Canó for the equivalent of 6-8 total WAR throughout the remainder of his contract — he finished with 2.9 in half of a season last year. In other words, the financials of this deal appear to be a home run for the Mets.

It goes without saying, Edwin Díaz, the grand prize of this trade, was the catalyst for the entire deal. Certainly, there were some sensational relievers on the market this winter, including Craig Kimbrel, Andrew Miller, and Adam Ottavino. Despite that, given the volatility of relievers, most teams will want to stay away from giving any of them lucrative contracts. Ottavino, one of the most sought-after free agents before he signed with the Yankees, is coming off of a fantastic season — but even he is just one year removed from a 5.06 ERA. Rather than squander some of his Wilpon-imposed allowance on one of the top free agent arms, Brodie went out and acquired, arguably, the best closer in the game. Just take a look at Díaz’s career so far:

2016 Mariners 0 4 18 49 0 51.2 15.33 2.61 0.87 .377 83.9 % 46.8 % 14.7 % 2.79 2.04 1.88 1.9
2017 Mariners 4 6 34 66 0 66.0 12.14 4.36 1.36 .236 78.5 % 39.1 % 14.3 % 3.27 4.02 3.94 1.0
2018 Mariners 0 4 57 73 0 73.1 15.22 2.09 0.61 .281 82.5 % 44.4 % 10.6 % 1.96 1.61 1.78 3.5
Total – – – 4 14 109 188 0 191.0 14.18 3.02 0.94 .291 81.5 % 43.0 % 13.2 % 2.64 2.56 2.55 6.4

*Stat dashboard courtesy of Fangraphs

For reference, Díaz’s career K/9 is 14.18, while Craig Kimbrel’s is 14.67. Mariano Rivera’s career FIP was a sparkling 2.76 — Díaz’s is 2.56. Yeah, he’s good. Of course, I’m not saying Díaz is as good or better than the greatest closer to ever play the game (Rivera) or the best closer of the past 5 years (Kimbrel). All I’m saying is that Díaz is an incredibly special player that appears to be writing the introduction to a special career. To those who argue that most quality starting pitchers make high-quality relievers — you’re right. Díaz himself was once a failed starting pitcher; the Mets even developed two great examples of this themselves in Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman. Unfortunately (or fortunately), that argument against the trade is still easily debunked, because if it were that simple, far fewer teams would be scouring for bullpen help. That, and, nobody is closing as well as Edwin Díaz is right now. As far as the volatility of relievers, Díaz has the track record; he’s always been good out of the pen. Yes, I recognize he’s still a young player and three seasons is a relatively small sample size for a career, but I do believe he’s shown enough to justify this trade. The dashboard above speaks for itself: Since becoming a reliever, Díaz has been great and every metric in the world suggests he turned a corner last year.

Keep in mind, the Mets acquired one of the league’s best arms at age 24, on his rookie deal (he’ll be owed around $570,000 this season) and under team control through 2022. The enormous value of that aspect of the trade can’t be understated. It’ll be interesting to see what Craig Kimbrel gets this offseason, coming off a down year for him. Apparently, he’s looking for a 9-figure deal, and in all probability, he won’t be as effective as Díaz will be for the foreseeable future. Even with monumental losses in Dunn and Kelenic, that’s a value that would have me salivating as a GM.

Ultimately, from a broader perspective, this is one of those rare trades that could end up being highly successful for both teams. Most of the deal’s detractors fear that the Mets could get stuck with an aging steroid-user while giving up potential stars, but I legitimately believe the Mariners took on more of the burden in this trade. Undoubtedly, Seattle could’ve gotten more for Díaz had they not attached Canó and his contract; plus, they took on about $57 million in salary, only alleviating about $63 million of the initial $120 million they still owed. Compound that with the fact that prospects flame out all the time, while the Mets acquired two proven All-Stars and this trade begins to look a bit more worrisome for the Mariners. Personally, I believe in the talent the Mariners acquired, especially given their reported mental makeup — an intangible too often overlooked when evaluating prospects. If truth be told, the strong, objective arguments for both sides are indicators that it was, by and large, an even trade. Without a doubt, it could end up painful for Mets fans if they have to watch Jarred Kelenic blossom into the second coming of Ken Griffey Jr., but nobody will care if the Mets accomplish the goal Brodie had in mind when finalizing the deal: World Series.




Moneyball: Major League Baseball’s Headed Down a Dark Path

As though the title of the blog didn’t already give it away, MLB is headed toward a state of disarray, where nearly every team’s trying to be the ’02 A’s (the rhyming was unintentional). At the heart of baseball — of any game, really — is one core principle: You play to win the game. Now, for the billion-dollar franchises we find ourselves rooting for every year, the expectation of fans and responsibility of the organization is that this same principle is carried out on a daily basis, year-round, whether it’s the offseason, regular season, or postseason. But something is threatening the integrity of the game: Greed.

People tend to roll their eyes at the hundreds of millions star athletes are paid to play a kid’s game, so it’s only natural that when it comes to drawn-out contract negotiations — be it through extension or free agency — outsiders blame the players. Why? Because they see them. As fans, we don’t see the owners all of the time, the ones making the vast majority of profits from the “kid’s game”, but we do see the hundred-million-dollar players — the ones whose work brings in the enormous revenues we see in sports today. On the whole, people believe that salaries for professional athletes just go up, and up, and up, and up… but this is a myth. In truth, some salaries have gone up over the years, your absolute stars’. Players like Alex Rodriquez, Albert Pujols, Giancarlo Stanton, and yes, Bryce Harper and Manny Machado as well, will always get paid. But, on the whole, the median MLB salary has gone down every year since 2014:

Sean Doolittle, closer for the Nationals, has been spot-on this offseason in his assessment of the state of baseball. In fact, the interaction above is a perfect microcosm of the disillusionment of casual fans. The thread continued and it’s ironic that Doolittle’s a pitcher, because he hit this one out of the park:


However, it’s this third and final interaction that stands out to me the most:


After criticizing Doolittle for making millions, yet lamenting the state of baseball, “Bird Watcher” defends the owners by saying “it’s a business”. And that’s true, it is. But that statement ignores the fact that baseball — and any professional sport — is a different kind of business. Other businesses “win” by increasing profits or customer satisfaction — in baseball winning and maximizing profits often don’t line up. So, the question becomes, what should the goal of an owner be? Complicated question, but in short, I think a reasonable expectation for an owner would be to try to maximize profits while maintaining the integrity game: Always trying to win.

Yet, in each of the three major sports — the NFL, NBA, and MLB — that notion, “trying to win every year”, is vanishing. You see it in “The Process”, made famous by the 76ers, and tanking; they’re strategies founded on extended losing and subsequently building through the draft. As a competitive, optimistic person this idea of losing now to win later makes my blood boil. I don’t get it. And more importantly, it’s not even a guarantee. Essentially, teams could justify years and years of losing by playing it off as a means of amassing picks or giving young guys a shot. For any fan to accept that is naïve. It’s completely ignorant of the fact that teams whiff on picks, make mistakes scouting, and mismanage player development all of the time. Even the 6ers, who began that Process in 2013, have only recently become contenders after a half-decade of ineptitude.

Around the same time that the 76ers coined “The Process”, the Houston Astros accomplished arguably the most embarrassing feat of any team in the history of professional sports. Like the 6ers, the 2013 Astros decided that they were going to field a historically bad team in hopes of building up the farm system. Their highest-paid player was Erik Bedard, who made a whopping $1.15 million. That’s how the ’13 Astros, the worst team in all of baseball that year (51-111) became the most profitable team in baseball history[1]. Contrary to popular belief, Houston is the fourth largest sports market in the US and the Houston fans refused to give up on their team despite its horrific roster — but the owner, Jim Crane, did. Granted, the Astros ended up benefitting in the long run from their renewed farm system and won the World Series in 2017, but maybe they win two more if Jim Crane had supplemented their young talent with high-profile free agents in 2015 and 2016. Even then, while the Astros made the leap, they’re the exception. The Browns, Marlins, Pirates, and Athletics are just a few examples of teams bogged down by poor ownership, unwilling to go all in on winning.

Unlike the NFL and NBA, baseball doesn’t have a salary cap; it’s the sport of hope. Any given year, a team can decide to go all out on supplementing whatever core it has with high-end free agent players. Yes, the Competitive Balance Tax serves as a soft, de facto cap, but being that 28 of 30 MLB teams don’t come within $12 million of this year’s $206 million threshold, I don’t believe it’s a major issue or deterrent. Despite this, last year we saw some of the brightest stars in the sport, including Jake Arrieta and J.D. Martinez, remain unsigned through the start of Spring Training. This year, Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, two generational athletes who, at 26, are both still ascending as players, remain unsigned as of February 6th. Some fans, maybe even most, see this as two players holding out for more money, and that’s true in a way. However, when you really break down why holding out has become a trend over the past two years, the fault falls primarily on the shoulders of the owners. No player, not even Harper or Machado, wants to be in the dark, at this point in the offseason, on where they’re playing this year. Essentially, this comes down to a lack of aggression by the owners to sign two players, potentially bound for Cooperstown, at 26 years old. Sure, people are going to point to Albert Pujols and Miguel Cabrera as cautionary tales, as each was the best player in baseball when they were signed but drastically fell off soon after. But, honestly, I pay no attention to that, because there’s a monumental difference between signing a player to a massive deal at 26 years old versus 31, as was the case with Pujols and Cabrera. Even in an extreme circumstance, where one or both gets a 10-year deal, Harper and Machado would only be 36 by the end.

Every single team in baseball could sign either one of those players — and every single team would massively benefit from their talents — but about 85% of the league has chosen to not even be in the running. Both the Yankees and Mets, playing in the largest market in the country, could afford either Harper or Machado. As it stands, the Yankees’ total payroll rests at about $193 million, good for 3rd in baseball. It’d be fairly simple for a GM as deft as Brian Cashman to swing a trade for salary relief and sign one of Harper or Machado — the Steinbrenners choose not to. Across boroughs, Brodie Van Wagenen’s done an excellent job adding both talent and depth to the Mets’ roster, but for a team who just made a “win-now” move by trading away two prospects many consider top 100 in all of baseball, it’s important to truly go all-in. Oh, yeah, and signing Bryce Harper costs exactly zero blue-chip prospects. For the Mets, whose total payroll currently sits around $157 million (7th in MLB, not accounting for money recouped through insurance), to go halfway-in by not making a move for one of the top two free agents, it comes off as a disingenuous ploy by the owners to elevate fan interest in the upcoming season. The Wilpons are choosing not to go all-in. Just to be clear, I believe both the Yankees and Mets are serious World Series contenders this year thanks to masterful jobs by Brian Cashman and Brodie Van Wagenen, but for ownership of both New York teams to balk at the opportunity to sign perennial MVP candidates in their mid-20s, that’s an embarrassment.

The thing is, the issue goes so much deeper. At the very least, the high-end free agents know they’ll end up somewhere, with an incredible salary to boot. The fringe guys — non-roster invitees and players that typically round out the end of your 40-man roster — are the people that are being hurt the most. They don’t know where they’ll end up, or if they’ll end up anywhere. Those players are also waiting, with bated breath, to find out if they’ll have a job this season. For a lot of guys, that won’t happen until Harper, Machado, Keuchel, etc. are signed. Simply put, owners are hurting the game — they have too much power. As I’m sure many of you don’t know, when a team goes up for sale, the other owners in the league need to embrace you; collectively, they have the power to refuse any potential owner that doesn’t fit their shared vision for the league. So, the next time you criticize Jerry Jones or Mark Cuban for being too involved in their franchises — at least their trying to freaking win. These owners we have in MLB? Winning’s just extra to them.