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Since my birthday falls a few weeks after Opening Day, I’m frequently treated to early baseball-related gifts. My parents, for instance, renew my MLB.tv subscription every year in early March. My future wife, since she works at a video game store, pre-orders me MLB The Show. While I’ve gotten plenty of use out of MLB.tv this year, the copy of The Show has collected plenty of dust. As of this writing I haven’t played it in at least a month, probably more.
A friend of mine puts it best when he says, “Baseball and video games but not baseball video games.” I might have disagreed a few years ago, but in the recent past I’ve grown tired of The Show. The games take forever to play, and it takes a certain endurance to get through a season. Even then, once you do get through a season the off-season stuff — the stuff that nerdy baseball fans like me are supposed to enjoy — is full of flaws. There is little joy in building a team in The Show.
For years I’d heard about a computer-based baseball simulation engine called Out Of The Park Baseball. I never bought it, though, mostly because I already had The Show or the 2K game or MVP. Why spend money on a second baseball video game, especially one where you can’t actually play the games? Yet the curiosity always lingered. So last year, seeking a way to kill time before bed, I bought a version for my iPad. It definitely kept me occupied in times of boredom, so when the folks at OOTP offered me a review copy of their full computer-based program this year I jumped on the opportunity.
What baseball fans will love about OOTP is its attention to detail. You take charge of a major league franchise and are tasked with managing its entire system, from the majors down to an international complex. Each team’s owner has a personality, which affects budgets and other concerns. In other words, you have guidelines within which you must operate, just as a real-life GM would. The result is a game that should keep armchair GMs satisfied for hours on end.
MLB The Show is practical with its rosters. Each organization has a major league team and two minor league levels, with a reserve of players dubbed A-level. That’s fine and good, since the emphasis in The Show is actual gameplay. In OOTP you take charge of hundreds of players at every level of the minors, and the minor league levels are quite accurate. You’ll have a AAA, AA, A+, A, short-season A, and Rookie ball teams (though there doesn’t appear to be much of a differentiation between A+ and A).
Throughout the season you’ll have to promote and demote these players, accounting for their performances, their morales, and their potentials. If that seems like a gargantuan task, it certainly is. Thankfully, you can also modify your settings and let the computer take over many of those tasks. Letting the computer take care of the day-to-day lineups at both the MLB and minor league levels will save you plenty of time and frustration. As long as you control who is on the roster, that’s usually enough.
OOTP rates its players on what amounts to a scale of 1 to 10, representing their rating with stars. Half a star is really a rating of 1, and five stars is a rating of 10. Each player has both an actual talent rating and a potential rating. Both are subject to change at any time, which is pretty realistic. After all, a player with a 10 potential who doesn’t pan out will see his potential decline. But a player with a two-star actual rating and a 10-star potential could be a future star.
What stands out in OOTP is the subjectiveness of the ratings. Each team has a scouting director, and ratings are based on that specific person. You can toggle between your scouting director’s ratings and OOTP’s internal ratings, but it’s not as though OOTP’s ratings are the “true” ratings. This essentially means that your scouting director is the most important aspect of your organization. Find a good one and you’ll uncover hidden gems around the league and trade for them on the cheap. Employ a poor one and you’ll grow frustrated that your five-star potential player is hitting .200 in AA.
Personnel and front office
Just as in the bigs, you have to hire coaching staffs at every level of the minors. These coaches all have different ability ratings: teach hitting, teach pitching, and teach fielding, in addition to handle veterans, handle rookies, and handle players. Pick the wrong personnel and you can ruin player development and performance. Given the long process of finding personnel actually interested in working for your minor league teams, this can be maddening. (See nitpicks below.)
While you don’t do everything a GM does, you do have full control of baseball operations. This means setting scouting budgets, working within your given budget, and keeping tabs on basically every aspect of the organization. And make no mistake: just because you win doesn’t mean your owner will increase your budget. For two straights seasons my owner had expectations of a mere winning record. In both seasons I made the playoffs. The results? Budget increases of under $200,000.
On the franchise level you can also set your team strategy. This includes overview stuff, like favoring prospects or veterans, offense or defense, etc. You can also set strategy for nearly every aspect of in-game play. This goes into ridiculous detail, letting you set strategy for innings 1-3, 4-6, and 7-9 in nine different trailing or leading scenarios. Want a manager that plays it by the SABR book? You can make sure that he does that at every juncture.
(Almost) Realistic trade engine
In many sports video games, you can trade quantity for quality. Throw in enough mediocre players and a team will trade you a star. Anyone who played MVP 2004 knows this; you can assemble an All-Star team in that game with little effort by trading two or three meh players for Albert Pujols. In OOTP there is still a level of quantity for quality, but it’s not nearly as egregious.
There is no way you can get a four-star player, for instance, without including a three-star player or a five-star prospect. Even then, you’ll have to throw in more. One feature I love is the “make this work now” button. Click it, and the computer will run through your roster and find players the computer will accept. But don’t expect that to be some scrub. Almost always it will be a player of high ability or potential, at least in the computer’s eyes. Every once in a while you might get lucky and they’ll choose a player that they like but your scouting director does not.
You can also choose to shop around your players. That searches the league and finds one-to-one offers for the player. In very few instances will you find a good deal here, but it’s a quality starting point. It at least shows what teams might be interested, and the kinds of players they’re willing to sacrifice. Just don’t try to pry a four-star starter from a team in win-now mode, or try to dump an expensive player on a team in rebuilding mode. The computer takes that into account, too.
Draft and international free agents
The OOTP engine handles the MLB draft and international signing period pretty accurately. In early June you’ll draft from the created pool of amateur talent. Each player has a certain bonus demand, sometimes slot but more often a quite higher number. Teams have to work within their draft pool budgets, and players tend not to sign unless you meet their demands.
The international process can be a huge pain in the ass. Again, you’re dealing with your scouting director’s subjective ratings, and very few of the available players have high potential (both from your scouting director and OOTP’s ratings). That means a ton of teams compete for the top talent, almost always pushing the top players’ bonuses above your international budget. And yes, there are penalties for exceeding your pool, so if you make that big signing this year you’re limited the next year.
(Not to mention, you’ll get weeks of emails letting you know that another team made a better offer. So you go in and top that offer, only to be notified a day later that you have to increase it again. This goes on for weeks, sometimes into mid-August.)
At almost any time you can get a report on any aspect of your franchise or league. Looking for the top minor league systems? That’s an easy option in the league menu. You can go quite further, though, and assess the strength of each team’s system. The report takes seriously three minutes to generate, but it lets you know where every team ranks at every position.
The two most useful reports, in my mind, are the Minor League Report and the Player Development Report. The former runs through all of your minor league rosters and provides quick-take stats and notes. The notes let you know if a player is over his head or due for promotion. The latter lets you know about changes in your players’ abilities and potentials. It comes out a few times a year, and it can be a frustrating experience. No one wants to see their five-star first-round draft pick drop to a four-star potential. But it’s better to know that and have a better understanding of your organization.
I needn’t pontificate on injuries to Yankees fans. In the past two years in particular we’ve seen nearly every starter on both sides of the ball land on the disabled list.* Chances are you won’t see every starter on your OOTP team hit the DL, but if my experience is any indication you will have to deal with at least a dozen DL trips every year. In many instances those will be 60-day DL trips, and if they occur in late in the year they certainly can wrap around into the next season.
* Robinson Cano, Russell Martin, Boone Logan, Rafael Soriano, Nick Swisher, and Ichiro Suzuki are the only starters of consequence who avoided the DL in the last two years. Swisher, if I remember correctly, missed some time with nagging injuries last year. Phil Hughes did technically start this season on the DL, though he didn’t really miss a start. Note, too, that only two of those players have spent all of 2012 and 2013 with the Yanks.
In my second season two starters required Tommy John surgery. The worst injury, though, I blame on my future wife. One moment she was playfully mocking me for “playing with my ones and zeroes team.” The next moment my ace starter went down with a torn something or other, putting him out nine months — meaning the playoffs and a sizable chunk of the following season.
A game with such attention to detail sets a perhaps unrealistic level of expectations. There are a number of small quarrels I’ve had with the game playing through my three seasons. Clearly they weren’t deal breakers for me, but I’d have enjoyed it a bit more if I had these little features.
Lineup and rotation suggestions. If you want to get through some seasons and rebuild a team, you pretty much have to let the computer set your daily lineups and pitching rotation. It’s not a big deal for the most part. The computer tends to put your best hitters in the middle of the lineup. Yet there are some instances when I want to bench a certain player, or swap pitchers in the rotation and bullpen. But as long as the computer controls those aspects, you can’t do that. That means you have to either deal with the computer’s lineups, or else control lineups and rotations manually, which will slow down your season.
Computer trade proposals. It’s great that the computer can initiate a trade with you. Ideally, it opens up opportunities to improve your roster. But the computer proposes the most outlandish trades. They’re all incredibly one-sided, to the point where you don’t even want to negotiate. No, I won’t trade you two five-star prospects for your three-star third baseman making $15 million per season.
Minor league personnel. Need to fill your short-season A hitting coach position? Good luck. It doesn’t appear that the available personnel is listed in any particular order, so you never know which coaches aren’t willing to work for that particular level — and the lower the level the smaller the pool of willing coaches. You have to click five or six times to see if the coach is even willing, so it can be incredibly frustrating to find coaches for all of your teams.
This review already sits at over 2,000 words, and I could probably go on for another 6,000 describing every aspect of the game. Honestly, 2,000 words is a few too many, but I feel strongly enough about OOTP that I’ll let it stand. The overall notion is that the game brings ridiculous, and mostly accurate, detail to the game. You’re in control to a degree I’ve never seen from any baseball simulation engine.
The attention to detail can be straining at times. You’ll spend a lot of time tinkering when you really just want to get on with your season. And if you’re like me, you’ll have to put down the game for a week because you’re just tired of so much control. But if you’re like me you’ll also come back to the game after that week away. It’s just too addictive.
You can buy OOTP Baseball 14 for Windows, Mac, or Linux. It costs $39.99.
Following a disappointing off-season and a 1-4 start, everyone has to be pleased with the Yankees’ 10-7 record. For the past 12 games they’ve shown plenty of life and have received contributions from newcomers and holdovers alike, even unlikely holdovers like Francisco Cervelli. The team has, in short, been incredibly fun to watch — against right-handed pitching, at least.
Given the roster composition, along with the absences of Derek Jeter, Mark Teixeira, and Alex Rodriguez, we expected the Yankees to struggle against left-handed pitching. But in the early goings it’s been especially painful:
Against RHP: .303/.369/.540 – .908 OPS in 449 PA
Against LHP: .210/.279/.318 – .596 OPS in 221 PA
The only two regulars hitting lefties remotely well are Vernon Wells and Brett Gardner. Two guys expected to contribute against left-handers, Kevin Youkilis and Ben Francisco, have a combined 4 hits in 35 AB, with a Youkilis double as the lone extra base hit. Ichiro — Ichiro! — has out-hit every non-Wells RHB against lefties, and he’s just 4 for 14 with a double. Perhaps most sadly, Robinson Cano is just 4 for 26 with 10 strikeouts against lefties.
The good news is that some of this will likely even out. Youkilis in particular has hit lefties well in the past, a .918 OPS in more than 1,200 career PA. But even if he, Cano, and even Eduardo Nunez improve against left-handed pitching, the Yankees still have issues. In particular, they’re starting Ben Francisco as the designated hitter. Little good has come of this, and little good may come in the future.
For the first few years of his career Francisco was an average hitter, but in the last few he’s taken a nosedive into mediocrity. He’s certainly not as bad as his .111./238/.111 line suggests, but he might not be any better than his .242/.317/.373 line from the past two years. There’s also the issue of his history, which suggests almost no platoon split. In fact, he has hit for similar averages and OBPs against righties and lefties in the past, but with less power against lefties. He’s certainly not someone you think of when searching for a platoon DH.
The question facing the Yankees is, what are the alternatives? They brought Juan Rivera and Matt Diaz into camp as potential threats against left-handed pitching, and they cut both in favor of Francisco. Diaz was scooped up by the Marlins but Rivera remains on the free agent market, but he seems an unlikely target; if the Yankees thought they could perform in the role of platoon DH they would have kept one of them over Francisco.
That leaves slim pickings for an upgrade. Few, if any, teams are willing to make deals at this point. Even the worst teams (non-Houston division) fancy themselves contenders. Even if an eventual non-contender has a right-handed bat that the Yankees could use, a deal remains unlikely for at least a month or two. The good news, if it counts as any, is that any Francisco replacement does not need to actually play a position in the field. Francisco has logged all of three innings in the outfield this year. They just need someone who can swing a bat.
While the pickings are slim, they aren’t nonexistent. Three names stand out as players who could actually help this team against left-handed pitching.
If the Yankees prefer a player who can also stand in the outfield, Almonte might be their man. After a quality season in AA last year, which included 21 homers and 23 doubles in a pitcher-friendly park, he has gotten off to a torrid start in AAA, .275/.424/.412. Impressively, he has walked 14 times to just 9 strikeouts after walking just 25 times with 103 strikeouts last year. It’s still early, so we don’t know if Zoilo has improved his approach or has just had a hot couple of weeks. But he’s a switch hitter who can play defense, meaning he might have some value to the major league club.
When an injury prone player is healthy and producing, the time might be ripe for promotion. Adams has always possessed talent, but ever since an ankle injury in 2010 he hasn’t been able to stay on the field. Although he did accumulate 383 PA last year, he had one day off and one day at DH per week. It kept him healthy, but also kept him off the field for a good deal of time. Still, he produced. And in the early goings this year he’s producing even more, .342/.444/.500 in 45 PA. Might it be time to eke out anything they can get at the major league level? It would be a shame to see them DFA Francisco in a few weeks, only to see Adams also succumb to injury. Might as well call him up now while he’s actually playing.
A strong spring had people wondering if Mustelier could contribute to the big league club, but a bone bruise on his knee in late spring has kept him on the shelf. I haven’t read anything about a potential return date, so for the time being Mustelier is not an option. But when he returns it’s difficult to see him as being a worse option than Francisco. He makes contact and has decent power, and perhaps he won’t be overmatched by MLB pitching. But for now that’s something in the distance.
I wrote a whole paragraph about Casper Wells and his quality numbers against left-handed pitching — which could become even better on a non-Seattle team. Unfortunately, between composition and publication the A’s acquired Wells from the Blue Jays. So there goes that idea. I have to think, given Wells’s superiority over Francisco, that the Yankees would loved to have acquired Wells. He might be the last decent RHB available until June.
Later in the year the Yankees will have more opportunities to improve against left-handed pitching. A Mark Teixeira return will be a start. If Curtis Granderson can show some power against LHP that will help some more. An Alex Rodriguez return is too far into the future, and too uncertain, to consider at this point. The Yanks will have some decent trade chips in July, but for now they’ll have to go with lesser options to fill the void. Almonte or Wells could make a positive impact on a team that is just reeling against left-handed pitching.
You’re already familiar with the standard defensive stats. Load up any player’s FanGraphs page and you’ll see plenty of them laid out for you: UZR and DRS primarily, along with some other experimental stats and of course the traditional ones. Where these stats have always fallen short comes at perhaps the most important defensive position. Other than stolen base rate, we don’t have many solid ways of measuring catcher productivity.
Part of the problem in evaluating catchers involves the number of variables involved. Does he call a good game? (Does he call the game at all?) Can he frame a pitch to steal his pitcher strikes that would have, with a less skilled framer, be called balls? How many potential wild pitches can he keep in front of him? Does he have the footwork necessary to make quality throws to second — and does he have a strong and accurate arm in general? And then we have the general, overarching question: how does he handle the pitching staff? That can be reworded as, do the pitchers like throwing to him?
While stolen base numbers are readily available, they don’t reflect solely on the catcher. If you read Jonah Keri’s article on stolen bases, you see that runners go on pitcher movement. If the pitcher has any deficiencies when delivering the ball with men on base, the catcher will likely have poor stolen base numbers. If a staff has more than one or two pitchers who are poor at holding on runners, a catcher could have numbers that teach us nothing about his true throwing abilities. That leaves us with even less an understanding of a catcher’s true defensive abilities.
In the past few years a few researchers have attempted to quantify some aspects of catcher defense. In 2011 Max Marchi got the ball rolling on catcher framing. (Though my main man Dan Turkenkopf attempting framing analysis three years earlier.) A few months later Bojan Koprivica studied catcher blocking skills. In between those two Mike Fast released his extensive report on catcher framing. Somewhere along the way, Baseball Info Solutions started tracking how many runs catchers can save by throwing out runners and preventing them from stealing in the first place (Stolen Base Runs Saved, or rSB, which can be found on FanGraphs). A little over a year ago, Max Marchi tried to put it all together. So we are making progress. It’s just difficult to tell what’s accurate at this point.
Earlier this week, James Gentile of Beyond the Boxscore explored a simpler catcher framing metric. While the results are interesting, there was one part of the article that stuck out to me. Via a Ben Lindbergh article Gentile points to a recent Baseball Tonight podcast, in which Jose Molina discusses his framing. Remember, Molina comes out on top of almost every framing study, which is presumably a big reason why the Rays signed him to a two-year contract after the 2011 season, despite his flaws on offense. For his part, Molina credits none other than Tony Pena and Joe Girardi with his phenomenal receiving skills.
It was 2008. Mike Mussina and Tony Pena, with Joe Girardi, the coaches there. But mostly Tony told me that if I turned a little bit side to side, either way, either corner, I’m going to get more strikes. With Mussina, he wasn’t throwing that hard at the time. So I was always open to learning new things. We worked on it, I got a little bit better at it. And it started working. I guess it worked, right? It was 20 wins for him that year, so it just worked, and from that point on, I think I took advantage of that.
This should come as little surprise. Pena has always been known as a knowledgeable guy who works extensively with the Yankees’ catchers. Molina had always carried a reputation as a quality defender (but that could have been the Nichols Law of Catcher Defense). But given the numbers Gentile presents, it does appear that he picked up a little something from Pena and Girardi. Of the top 10 catching seasons since 2002, Molina holds four spots, and all but one came after the Yankees acquired him. The lone standout is 2007; Molina became a Yankee that July.
One of the reasons people lamented the loss of Russ Martin centers on his framing abilities. He ranked right behind Molina in Mike Fast’s study, and watching him everyday in 2011 and 2012 helped confirm that evaluation. The man was swift behind the plate. At the same time Francisco Cervelli, Martin’s replacement, is seen as a poor receiver who stabs at the ball rather than cradling it — not to mention his poor stolen base results. And forget Chris Stewart. The Yankees acquired him last year with an eye towards his defensive reputation. Yet in a season-plus I haven’t noticed Stewart display any standout skills behind the plate.
A look at Gentile’s numbers yields a different result. In his top 10 catchers since 2002, the list that Jose Molina owns, you’ll see both Cervelli and Stewart. Cervelli’s 2011 season ranks No. 2, while Chris Stewart’s 2012 ranks No. 8. So perhaps there was a reason the Yankees let Martin walk after last season without as much as a courtesy offer. Perhaps they believed that they already had two capable catchers on staff.
(And maybe, though we’ll hardly know it, the pitchers prefer throwing to Cervelli over Martin. It sure seems that way for CC Sabathia, who used Cervelli in 2010 and 2011 and Stewart in 2012.)
This isn’t to say that these stats are definitive. Again, the position of catcher involves more complexity than any other. But it is nice to see that at least one method of evaluation appreciates the catchers the Yankees currently carry. Though having Pena and Girardi work with them could be the most valuable aspect of all.
Just because apps share a name does not mean they are equals. Last week I reviewed MLB At Bat for Android and came away thoroughly impressed. Yet that app has a few differences from its iPhone and iPad counterparts. Since I use an iPad and not an iPhone, I figure reviewing the iPad app is a bit more appropriate. It represents another win for MLB Advanced Media.
The most prominent feature of MLB At Bat for iPad is Gameday. When you open the app you go to that screen by default. When there are no games playing you’ll see a rundown of the previous day’s scores on top, with the first game recap in the middle of the screen.
Here you can read the game story from each team, right from their MLB.com beat writers. You can check the box, the play-by-play, and watch video highlights. Each player’s name is clickable, so you can pull up a quick player card with his numbers from that game, plus a few select splits.
One thing I’ve always liked about Gameday in iPad is how they use the real home stadium in the background. And by real, I mean the rendered version from the MLB The Show video game. You don’t get accurate representations of each individual batter, which would be a neat effect. But overall it’s a neat little feauture.
When live there is perhaps no better Gameday interface. You can view lineups, box scores, play-by-play (including scoring plays), and more right from the Gameday interface. It also gives you the pitch-by-pitch breakdown of the current at-bat.
My only complaint here is that there is no way to check the play-by-play in the archive. MLB has generally cut out pitch-by-pitch Gameday breakdowns in all formats, which is a shame.
As you might imagine, the stats interface is a bit more robust on a tablet than it is on a smartphone. Since there is more screen real estate they can afford to provide more than the basics. When you click on the stats tab you’ll go right to the 2013 MLB player batting leaders. It might not be the FanGrapsh leader board, but it’s also not the archaic stats pages we’ve seen in the past.
It contains your typical counting stats, plus triple slash stats and OPS. It would be super nice to have OPS+ in there, therefore turning it into something like Baseball Reference. But all considered, this isn’t half bad. Sorting is as easy as tapping the stat at the top of the screen.
Click on a player’s name and you’ll go not to a new screen, but to a pop-up. That’s nice, because it keeps you on the stats screen. The player card has a quick summary of biographical information, a small stats screen that contains just AB, HR, RBI, AVG, and OBP, plus fantasy news.
There are a few ways you can manipulate the results, beyond sorting by clicking. You can toggle between player stats and team stats by clicking at the top of the page. You can also filter by position and league. Looking for a different season, or perhaps spring training and postseason stats? You can click on the Timeframe tab and find those. Again, it’s not what we expect given the huge stats databases on the web. But it’s much better than in years past.
The news section is either redesigned for 2013, or else I never checked it in 2012. It’s actually a great interface, resembling tablet aggregation apps like Flipboard and Zite. It defaults to general MLB news, and you can flip through multiple pages of the day’s top stories. Click the MLB News tab at the top of the page and you can select team-specific feeds — with your favorite team on top, of course.
I have to say that the new interface has me using the News feature much more often than I have in the past (considering I never used it last year). Since I use Zite and Flipboard often, the interface is familiar and welcome. The stories are laid out in traditional columns, too, making the reading even easier.
Perhaps my favorite feature of the news section is clickable video. If you see the play button, you can click it and the video will play right inside the news section. You can go full screen with another touch — the video will automatically minimize when it’s done, leaving you back at the news screen. I’m genuinely excited for this news app this year.
Yes, you can hook up your MLB.tv account to At Bat for iPad. In fact, I can’t imagine having At Bat without my MLB.tv account. Tablets are simply wonderful for streaming video. MLBAM has clearly prioritized streaming video, and has improved the quality of its feeds in recent years. The feed on the At Bat app is especially awesome, because it doesn’t use Flash. Honestly, the continued use of Flash for desktop streaming makes me never want to use it. We can only hope they adopt an HTML5 web streaming standard for 2014.
When you play your video you’ll have to overlay options. The first is for box score and play-by-play, which you can show and hide by dragging from the right side of the screen. The second sits atop the screen, filling otherwise black space. It’s the day’s scoreboard. You can use this to switch among any number of games. It gives you the base-out situation and score, so you can flip to any game at its most intense.
What has become an essential accessory for At Bat on my iPad is Apple TV. Yes, you can access MLB.tv from it, but that’s not the best use. If you have an Apple TV, you’ll notice a little triangle in the controls panel. Click that and you can send the feed right to your TV. As you might expect, it looks superb on plasma TVs and other HDTVs. It always amazes me a little that we can stream high-quality video on our TVs. It’s truly a sight to behold.
The advantage of using the iPad over the Apple TV interface, of course, is navigation. It’s just easier to flip between games on your iPad, given the scoreboard controls. At just $99 for the Apple TV unit, I’m not going to complain much about price.
As with the Android version, MLB At Bat for iPad is free to download, but requires a $20 subscription to access its features. MLB.tv premium runs $120 for the year, and is a must-have for baseball fans.
Perhaps the policy had been in place previously, but the first time I remember Brian Cashman mentioning it was during the spring of 2007. In camp that year the Yankees had two important players who were set to hit free agency following the season: Jorge Posada and Mariano Rivera (plus A-Rod’s looming opt-out situation). Instead of talking contract with them before the season and therefore keeping them out of the free agent picture, the Yankees instead opted to wait, saying it was policy to not extend contracts before free agency.
At the time the policy was sensible enough. It allowed them to remain flexible. If a player got hurt before the end of a contract, they weren’t on the hook for any additional years and dollars. Once the players did hit free agency, the Yankees had a whole pool of players from which they could choose. At a time when many small and mid market teams let their best players hit free agency, the Yankees stood to take great advantage.
In the past six years the situation has changed quite a bit. Those small and mid market teams have bigger budgets now, thanks in part to the revenue sharing program. They’re using those dollars to lock up their best players to long-term deals. Here is a list of significant extensions in recent seasons. (Free agency dates in terms of, would be a free agent following the XXXX season; option years in parenthesis.)
|Player||Orig. FA||New FA|
|Joey Votto||2013||2023 (24)|
|Buster Posey||2016||2021 (22)|
|Cole Hamels||2012||2018 (19)|
|Justin Verlander||2014||2019 (20)|
|Matt Cain||2013||2017 (18)|
|Ryan Zimmerman||2013||2019 (20)|
That just covers the $100-million-plus extensions. Adam Jones, Andre Ethier, Ian Kinsler, Yadier Molina, Starlin Castro, Miguel Montero, Andrew McCutchen, Gio Gonzalez, Alex Gordon, and Madison Bumgarner, among others, also got extensions that take them past their original free agency dates. Given the rash of recent extensions, the younger of that group could see further extensions before they reach that already delayed free agency date.
Another name will soon join the $100-million-plus club: Elvis Andrus. This morning Jon Heyman reported that the Rangers and Andrus were nearing an eight year extension worth $120 million, which will keep Andrus under contract for the next 10 years at $131 million total. This comes when the Rangers still have two years left on Andrus’s current contract and also have baseball’s No. 1 prospect Jurickson Profar waiting for a chance. There goes another player the Yankees can’t acquire via free agency.
The days of acquiring superstar talent via free agency seem like a distant past. This past off-season there was little superstar talent freely available. It was essentially Josh Hamilton, and he went to the Angels with all of his flaws. If you look at next year’s top free agents you’ll notice that one of them is already off the board, and the rest have plenty of downside. After Cano there are injury risks and older players, but generally there isn’t a superstar present. It’s Cano by his lonesome. The 2015 free agent list looks bleak as well. There’s Clayton Kershaw, but he appears to be nearing a mammoth extension. The only player that looks halfway useful for the Yanks is Asdrubal Cabrera, but even the Indians appear willing to spend money these days.
The old policy doesn’t work in the new world. Teams simply aren’t letting their best players reach the point of free agency. They’re offering security in exchange for some level of savings from full market price, and the players are jumping at the opportunities. When the Yankees let their own players hit free agency, they’re not longer creating flexible situations. They’re essentially driving up those players’ prices. Unless they have an in-house replacement, chances are they’re going to lose production in the deal if they don’t re-sign the player.
All of this, of course, goes back to Robinson Cano. The Yankees have apparently thrown out their policy and have made a significant offer to Cano, but apparently it’s not enough to get the deal done. With Scott Boras that’s expected, but then again Andrus is a Boras client. There remains a small chance the Yankees can work out something with Cano before November, but given his status as the league’s best second baseman, combined with possible interest from the newly rich Dodgers, it doesn’t seem like a strong possibility.
Hindsight suggests that the Yankees should have started working on an extension for Cano after the 2010 season. Unfortunately, that’s also when Cano hired Boras as his agent. Boras did come to the Yankees with the idea of ripping up Cano’s current contract and negotiating a new one, and at this point that appears to be an option the Yankees should have considered. They now face losing not only their best player, but their only star player — one who has no apparent successor. (As a superstar, not as a second baseman.)
Where will the Yankees be next year if they lose Cano? They’re then back to relying on Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez to be their superstars. Much as I like both of them and appreciate what they contributed to the 2009 World Series team, it has become apparent that their lineup-carrying days are over. The free agency market is bare. Teams aren’t willing to trade premium talent for prospects any longer. If the Yankees want to continue having a star in their everyday lineup, it will mean ponying up huge dollars, and probably nine or 10 years, for Cano.
Perhaps in a few years the situation will change and star players will either hit free agency or get dealt to a big market team that offers an extension. For the time being, the emphasis is on developing premium talent in the minor leagues. The Yankees are greatly disadvantaged here, given their annual draft position. But that’s a topic for a different post.
It’s been a while, but Mike and I are back with a special season-opening podcast. As you can imagine, we have plenty to talk about.
- The injuries that changed the face of the Opening Day roster.
- The roster construction on offense.
- A little segue about Billy Eppler’s rise in the organization.
- The pitching construction.
- That awful 40-man roster situation.
- The competition.
Podcast run time 1:15:49
Here’s how you can listen to podcast:
- Download the RAB Radio Show by right clicking on that link and choosing Save As.
- Listen in your browser by left clicking the above link or using the embedded player below.
- Subscribe in iTunes. If you want to rate us that would be great. If you leave a nice review I’ll buy you a beer at a meet-up.
- Subscribe to the RAB Radio Show RSS feed
Intro music: “Die Hard” courtesy of reader Alex Kresovich. Thanks to Tyler Wilkinson for the graphic.
Opening Day might remain the holiest of days for baseball fans, but there are other dates to celebrate. Pitchers and catchers reporting, though essentially eventless, serves as a concrete reminder that baseball is coming. Another date that stands out for many fans: the first spring training games. For all of us, it’s our first chance to see our boys in uniform.
We all have different rituals and celebrations that go along with these dates. For the first game of spring training, I celebrate by installing the latest version of MLB At Bat on my smartphone. Since switching (back) to Android last fall, I had the pleasure this year of adding the MLB widget to my home screen. Since we’re a few days away from real baseball, it seems like as good a time as any to dig into the latest At Bat and see what it brings to the table.
Just to be clear up front, my review is based on the Galaxy S3. As long as you have Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich or higher, though, it should function almost exactly the same whether you’re using Motorola, LG, or HTC phones.
MLB knows its fans. While many of us enjoy action from all around the league, most fans prefer to monitor the home town team above others. As always At Bat allows you to choose your favorite and then places them atop the scoreboard. They also become the default score on your widget. It might seem small and simple, but it’s a key feature.
The team homepage received a facelift this year, and so far has been an excellent hub for updates. In addition to the next-game information, it has a featured box with stories and video — and there don’t appear to be any pre-roll ads before the video. Below that there’s a full video clip section, with news, schedule, shop, tickets, and stadium information. Finally, there is a section to check the current roster and standings.
The team homescreen is somewhat reminiscent of Windows 8 on smartphones. It’s all based on tiles, and there are plenty of tiles you can scroll. I haven’t used this feature in the past, but I plan to this year for sure. Information about matchups, video clips, and quick schedule access make it a sensible hub.
When you click into At Bat, your default screen is the league scoreboard. Atop you’ll see the Yankees game for the day, if they have one, followed by the rest of the league in start-time order. Again, this is fairly standard, as is the ability to flip to different dates. You’ll get the situation, too, including bases, counts, and outs. Click on that diamond, and you’ll see options for Gameday, audio, video, and box score.
While the scoreboard screen is nothing new, it is remarkable for the amount of information it displays in a single screen. The default refresh rate (more on that in a moment) means you’ll be up-to-date, almost to the second. Easy access to various ways of enjoying the game makes this the perfect default screen. It’s a big winner for At Bat this year.
Gameday, audio, and video
I’m digging the Gameday interface this year, which includes a useful navigation bar at the top*. Flipping among the live Gameday broadcast, the box score, the play-by-play, videos, and the defensive alignment is quick and simple. When connected to WiFi and 4G LTE networks there is hardly any load time.
*This might or might not be new on Android; I was using the iOS version last year.
Other than that, Gameday is pretty straight forward, as it always has been. It’s been pretty crappy for spring games from what I’ve noticed, but it should get plenty better once the real games start.
As always, you can hook up your MLB.com account to At Bat and get the audio and video streams of every game. Again, with 4G LTE running the S3 the video feeds are better than ever. I imagine this is the same on most LTE-enabled phones. The larger screen size of modern smartphones also adds to the effect. While watching a game on the 4.8-inch scree of the S3 is far from ideal, it’s light years better than the 3.5-inch screen of the iPhone (pre-5).
News, standings, and more
One thing you might notice when using At Bat is that the menu button does not function at all. I’ve grown very accustomed to using that virtual button to bring up menus full of settings, but At Bat has done away with that. Instead their menu is entirely contained in the top navigation bar (which also contains listings for audio and video). From here you can access the array of MLB.com offerings, including news, standings, video, stats, and more.
The stats screen could certainly use some work, but of course that’s coming from a guy who used to write for FanGraphs. It’s not that I need wOBA inside the At Bat app. Hardly. Instead, I’d rather see a better display method for the stats. Under the stats pages you can check leaders in a huge number of categories, including OPS. In other words, not great, but serviceable.
The individual player pages, on the other hand, leave much to be desired. While they have neat little things like last 10 games and splits, the whole layout is just not useful. The only stats they give you are games played, at-bats, home runs, RBI, average, and OBP. That goes for both the summary page and the stats-specific page. I understand MLB caters to a more general crowd, but having at least the traditional AVG/OBP/SLG would be a huge help. Then again, with people using this for fantasy purposes, and with economy of space being an issue, it’s understandable why it works this way. That doesn’t mean I have to like it.
Before I installed At Bat and added the scoreboard widget to my home page, I’d get almost two days’ worth of battery out of a single charge on my S3. Ever since installing, I get about 20 hours’ worth before having to recharge. That’s because of the settings on the At Bat widget. If battery life is a concern for you, you might want to go update those settings.
There are separate refresh rate settings for scoreboard and the widget, so you can keep the scoreboard updating every 15 seconds while you have the app open. You can refresh the widget every 15, 30, or 60 seconds. The 30-second option seems to save a decent amount of battery life, but practically you can probably deal with once-a-minute updates.
While it’s off by default, I also recommend you turn off the Gameday Scout option. It claims to provide “color commentary on gameday discussing statistical trends and tendencies,” but anyone who has seen it knows otherwise. A typical “scout” observation: “Phil Hughes is having trouble finding his control, as he has walked two this inning and has three balls on Lind.” Ya think?
Free, but not
While the MLB At Bat for Android app is free to download at Google Play, it does require a $19.99 subscription. That gets you all the features except live video. You’ll need a MLB.tv Premium subscription to get that. It’s the one purchase I know I’ll make every year.
Brian Cashman and Co. have been spending a good deal of time at the local junk yard, searching for scraps that can perhaps fit into their Frankenstein of a 2013 roster. At this point, given the many weaknesses, any available player represents a potential upgrade; even Vernon Wells could prove better than fellow scrap heap additions Ben Francisco and Brennan Boesch.
Today a few teams lumped a few more players onto the scrap heap. Looked at from the perspective of the defending AL East champs they normally wouldn’t merit consideration. But with these Yankees, anyone is in play.
Lyle Overbay: The Red Sox signed Mike Napoli to play first base, but with the issues they discovered during his physical they sought a MLB-caliber backup plan. That turned out to be Lyle Overbay, whom they signed to a minor league deal in late January. Had he made the Red Sox it would have been his fifth team in the last four years. Today they cut him loose, so he’ll be seeking a different home for that fifth team.
With David Ortiz starting the year on the DL, it seemed that Overbay had a chance to make the Sox roster. Apparently they think they can get more out of Mike Carp and perhaps some of their younger players. For his part, Overbay hit well in parts of two seasons with Arizona, but has generally struggled since 2009. He could provide a temporary solution at first base, perhaps platooning with Juan Rivera. Given the Yankees’ vulnerability against left-handed pitching, though, it seems more likely they’ll stick with the right-handed bat.
Tyler Greene: If the Astros cut a player, he’s not likely to be of much use to any other team. Ask 30 baseball pundits who will have the No. 1 pick in the 2014 draft and all 30 will guess Houston. Why would the Yankees have any use for a player the Astros couldn’t even use? Because at shortstop the pickings are slim.
If Derek Jeter opens the season on the DL, Eduardo Nunez becomes the starting SS with Jayson Nix backing him up. If Nunez’s throwing problems persist and he’s no longer a viable option at SS, Nix isn’t a guy you can really play there every day. That leaves Reegie Corona as the next option on the depth chart. Greene, a 2005 first-round pick, hasn’t hit a lick: .224/.292/.356 in 689 MLB PA. In the minors his only real successes came in the Pacific Coast League, where Bubba Crosby once hit .361/.410/.635. Yet he’s still a likely upgrade over Corona, and gives the Yankees a decent defensive option if Jeter remains immobile and Nunez falters.
Ramon Hernandez: He’s not on the scrap heap yet, but it certainly appears he’s headed there. Troy Renck of the Denver Post says that that Hernandez will either be traded or released at some point. He’ll earn $3.2 million this year, and given his abysmal 2012 season, combined with his advanced age, either the Rockies will eat almost all of that in a trade or else be forced to release him.
The Yankees seem committed to Francisco Cervelli to start the season. The disdain for Cervelli is a bit over the top in my opinion, seeing as he does own a career .271/.339/.353 line in about a full season’s worth of PA. Still, that’s spread out pretty far so the Yankees could use a backup plan. Austin Romine will likely need some more time, and Chris Stewart is hardly an option to start. Hernandez was worse last year, but he also suffered from a hand injury. At 37, though, he’s quite a risk. The Yanks might rather go with who they have in camp already than an unknown outsider.
In normal years, we might have laughed off these players. Who needs these old, underperforming players? But with injuries and general lack of depth this year, everyone becomes an option. At this point it would be something of a surprise if the Yankees didn’t sign one of these three players.
In 2007, Vernon Wells became something of a punchline. In his first season after signing a seven-year, $126 million extension with the Blue Jays, he hit just .245/.304/.402. That 85 OPS+ was a far cry from the performances that earned him the extension: a 118 OPS+ in the previous four years. The mockery came to us all too easily.
(Also in 2007: the first time I can remember the “your name’s Vernon” chants in the bleachers. Then again, that was my first year sitting in the bleachers with any frequency.)
After that stumbling block of a 2007 season, Wells came back to produce a 123 OPS+ in 2008, and then a 125 OPS+ in 2010, with an 86 OPS+ in 2009 causing further mockery. Normally it’s not necessary to run down a player’s performance like this, since we can all load up Baseball Reference. But it seems that people have completely forgotten about Wells’s positive contributions and mock only the mediocre and poor ones.
Why shouldn’t we hate the Vernon Wells trade and the $13 million it will cost the Yankees? There are quite a few reasons.
The Yanks are paying $13 million for good reason. The most common reaction I saw to the Yankees picking up $13 million of Wells’s contract: “He wouldn’t get that on the free agent market.” Of course he wouldn’t. He’s also not a free agent. But given his performances the last two years, how did the Angels get the Yankees to pay even $13 million? The answer lies in the distribution.
According to NYDN’s Mark Feinsand, the payments break down in the Yankees’ favor. The Angels will cover $9 million this year, leaving the Yankees on the hook for $12 million. That means the Angels will cover $20 million in 2014, leaving the Yankees to cover just $1 million. It gets better, though: because Wells’s average annual value is $18 million, the Yankees will actually get a $2 million luxury tax credit next year. So yes, taking on $13 million is too much, but it’s what the Yankees had to take in order to get the Angels to cover $20 million next year. It seems like a positive on the whole.
Platoon potential. The Yankees have a weakness against left-handed pitching, especially from the get-go. The addition of Youkilis could help, but he alone will not replace the production of Russell Martin and Nick Swisher against lefties. With Teixeira and Jeter out to start the year, they’re even more vulnerable. For his part, Wells did crush lefties in 2011, to the tune of a .851 OPS — and he was generally terrible that year. For his career he shows much stronger numbers against LHP, so he could help fortify that all-lefty outfield.
He’s healthy for now. After his abysmal 2007, Wells underwent surgery on his shoulder. Who knows how long that was bothering him during the season — he actually produced a .910 OPS in April and had dropped all the way to .735 by the end of May. After his poor 2009 he underwent wrist surgery and came back to produce a quality 2010 season. In 2011 and 2012 he missed 84 combined games with various injuries. Perhaps he can still produce league average numbers in a full, healthy season.
Whenever a team takes a risk on a player, the big qualifier is always whether he will prevent the teams from making other moves in the future. If the $12 million hit the Yankees take this year prevents them from making an upgrade at the deadline, then it’s easy to pan the deal. But in 2014 the deal will actually improve their budget situation. Combined with his platoon potential and his production when healthy, this could turn into a positive for the Yankees.
Seeing those positives is difficult at this point, given Wells’s recent history. On the whole, the trade isn’t likely to work out. There’s just too much working against the 34-year-old Wells at this point in his career. But there are some things to like about this trade. If they can squeeze a few quality months out of him, then it should work out just fine. It’s not like he’s replacing world beaters in Brennan Boesch and Ben Francisco.
The off-season is starting to move along. Qualifying offers have been extended, and the GMs have met for their annual pow-wow. The Yankees haven’t done much, but we’re starting to get a sense of how this off-season will go.
- First up, qualifying offers to Hiroki Kuroda, Nick Swisher, and Rafael Soriano. They’re all expected to decline, which could provide the Yankees with up to three additional picks in the 2013 draft.
- Next is the $189 million situation, which has gotten even more press this week. Mike and I talk about how the Yankees can work to get under that. It doesn’t look good, at least from our vantage points.
- Finally, we talk about the outfield: present and future. There is a lot to like on the farm, but unfortunately those guys look like they’ll help in 2014 at the earliest, with 2015 being more realistic.
Podcast run time 37:23
Here’s how you can listen to podcast:
- Download the RAB Radio Show by right clicking on that link and choosing Save As.
- Listen in your browser by left clicking the above link or using the embedded player below.
- Subscribe in iTunes. If you want to rate us that would be great. If you leave a nice review I’ll buy you a beer at a meet-up.
- Subscribe to the RAB Radio Show RSS feed
Intro music: “Die Hard” courtesy of reader Alex Kresovich. Thanks to Tyler Wilkinson for the graphic.