Friday, March 9, 2012

Doc Halladay in the Country of Baseball

FTC's exclusive photographer left his camera in Palm Beach yesterday instead of bringing it with him to the Phillies-Pirates exhibition.

[ Failure] tag.

So instead of pictures of a picturesque Florida afternoon, here's a short bit of prose to be included in a future baseball abstract, compiled by the preserved head of Bill James on a Futurama robot body:

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The concourse is a continuous loop at Bright House Networks Field, the spring home of the Philadelphia Phillies. About 5,000 fans sit in seats flanking the infield and foul lines, and another 2,000 observe the game from any standing-room-only angle they choose. Myself, I chose to move about: at first sitting on the grassy berm with some young children that will soon grow up to be violent drunks in Flyers sweaters; then later, I huddled around a table on the concourse, sharing peanuts with an old yinzer who refused to believe I meant anything but Greensburg when I said Greenfield.

And at one point, I found myself standing behind the seats along the third base dugout. Let's assume Josh Harrison was up at that time, giving me an excuse to be easily distracted. Distracted I was, as that section's usher began pointing to the man standing beside me on the concourse, saying "Pitcher? Pitcher!"

I looked at the guy next to me. He was one of the four people in the crowd with dark skin, and his three compatriots of similar complexion were nearby. They were all youngish, and dressed in nice jeans and polo shirts, oblivious to the 90 degree weather. One was listening to his iPod and all four were proficient texters. They looked more like business school bros than redneck fans of the Grapefruit League.

"Pitcher!" the usher continued. "You're all pitchers? You're infield? Anyone outfield?"

As he went to the tried-and-true American alternative to bilingualism-- repeating himself and speaking in a louder voice-- I studied these young men closer. The MLB trademark appeared on the polos where the Alligator should have; one was carrying a man purse with the official stampings of the Phillies on it; none of them admitted to speaking English so long as this indignity persisted.

I was standing next to four of Philadelphia's international signings.

Eventually the young man directly adjacent to me-- the original one pointed at and the only one tall enough to have conceivably been a pitcher-- said "Colombia" to the usher. This ended the old white guy's line of questioning regarding the D.R. He started repeating the phrase "baseball: number one!" as he pantomimed swinging a bat. I returned to studying the prospective talents.

To say they were disinterested in the game isn't entirely fair. You or I would be disinterested in the game (Josh Harrison, Chase d'Arnaud, Nate McLouth and J-Mac all made outs trying to bunt for hits). These young men weren't bored so much as they failed to see the point of being there.

I imagine the parent club comps tickets for new signees and sends them on field trips to see big league caliber ball. The idea, no doubt, is to inspire the youngsters. To show them that with enough hard work, they too can grind their way through the system and eventually take batting practice off Danny Moskos.

When the "Colombians" would look up from their phones and watch a few pitches, it was as if they knew something. Not like a college football quarterback recognizing a defense when looking at NFL film. It was simpler, cockier than that. This game, this situation, this sport was familiar to them. They just needed a bat or a glove to explain it to me. They weren't disinterested; more just resentful. They resented the powerlessness that comes with being a fan, the total lack of agency that we often forget is our reality.

I wondered if any of them would make it. Their odds of washing out are tremendous. I also thought of prospects past and future. Surely they've always been shiftless young savants, right? The only modern touch is the iPhones gifted to them.

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In other news:

I saw Starling Marte smoke a home run. Absolute rising line drive off a very even swing. I don't know why I don't love him, but I don't think he's as untouchable or sure-thing as everyone makes him out to be. Still, it's encouraging to see good swings from guys on the fringe.

Rod Barajas was just a triple and home run away from the cycle when Clint pulled him off second for a pinch runner. Heartless bastard. The good news is that I got to see Tony Sanchez. He's a big kid, but still pretty lean. He had a pretty deep AB before striking out.

I was really excited to see Robbie Grossman walk. He didn't.

I'm not kidding about all the bunt-for-a-hit attempts. They were all spectacular failures (pop up to the first baseman, four hopper to the second basemen on the infield dirt, easy scoop right in front of the catcher, failure to even make contact). Clint needs to break more orbital bones, because these assholes aren't learning.

Jim Thome got a hit and scored a run. I've been convinced I've seen that for the final time several times now. No longer sure.

J-Mac worked fast. I appreciate that.

Cole Hamels motion is more and more the composite of Halladay and Lee's. He's got the upper body smoothness of Lee's, and that slight bend to his leg that Doc has.

I don't need to see much more Nate McLouth.

blah blah bullshit

Article about Duke Welker. Read it.

Then this tidbit in it:

But being in the major league camp could go a long way to help Welker realize those goals, pitching coach Ray Searage said.


"It's about how he interacts and what kind of information that he can absorb from the guys who have played in this game for quite some time," Searage said.


You want the guy to learn how to pitch from some middling major leaguers. I get that.

"Asking questions and watching what they do and see how they go about their business -- see how they warm up, see how they play catch, see how they conduct themselves in drills, see how they treat fans."

In AA the players have NO respect for the fans. Also: is there something that big leaguers do differently when playing catch that I'm not aware of?

"It's a part of the maturity process. It's not so much about mechanics and X's and O's. Those are important, no doubt about it,

Yes... in football, hockey and basketball.

but it's a variety of things that he has to go through in order to be the complete pitcher."

Like treating fans correctly.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Heath Bell is a cool guy...




But he's probably overpaid.
(Yeah, you.)




My dad and I started off the afternoon by sitting in the row behind the Marlin's bullpen. It was clear that certain guys had been told well in advance, that they weren't going to get into the game. They then took to sitting on the fence and chatting it up with the fans.

Heath Bell, Miami's new closer, took it a step further with the help of the equipment manager.

At one point my dad said he knew he was a good catcher but wondered if he was any good as a pitcher.

Bell shook his head, no.

Along with hamming it up, he was also the guy appointed to toss foul balls to the cutest kids in the stands. All and all, a fun dude to sit near.

But as I said, I suspect he's being overpaid.




So is the guy up to the plate in this picture, Yadier Molina.





Here's how the deals shake out:

2012: Bell, age 34, $6m
2013: Bell, age 35, $9m
2014: Bell, age 36, $9m
2015: Bell, age 37, $9m (conditional)

2012: Molina, age 29, $7m
2013: Molina, age 30, $14m
2014: Molina, age 31, $15m
2015: Molina, age 32, $15m
2016: Molina, age 33, $14m
2017: Molina, age 34, $14m
2018: Molina, age 35, $15m (team option)

Bell's contract doesn't put the Marlins in a terrible place for very long; it's just not an appropriate dollar amount for what the guy actually does. As a closer, he'll pitch about 60 to 90 innings. Actually, in Bell's case, he's only ever pitched more than 90 innings once, and only two other times has he pitched more than 70. So, I'm eyeballing it here, but I'm going to say he's worth maybe 1.5 to 3 WAR a season, if nothing about his performance changes. So that's maybe around 6 or 7 WAR for the first $24m if everything goes right and he doesn't become bad on account of being in his mid 30s and overweight (I can attest as a first person witness: dude is a fatty). I don't know. A premiere player who can net 6 or 7 WAR in a single season might be able to convince someone to pay him over $20m as an annual salary. It's happened. But finding a Joel Hanrahan is much easier than a Jose Bautista. Closers come out of the woodwork all the time; elite hitters don't.

As far as Molina's contract... oooof.

Cardinal fans have a really big woody for this guy, and love to say "I think he's actually underrated! Just take a look at his defense."

Okay, easy enough. We just pull up his dWAR, which tells us he's an absolute stud behind the plate. The stats confirm what every analyst says: Yadi Molina is a terrific defensive catcher. But that's all he is, and really, defense only goes so far. Winning 1.5 games more than a replacement catcher solely on defense is not worth $15m.

Also, let's think about this nonsense: he's in his prime now, and the next three years will be decline time, followed by three or four years of hitting the wall time. Being a catcher is really tough work, and erodes away the skills of even the best dudes.

I like Yadi, I think he's very good at what he does. And after yesterday, I like Heath Bell. They're both beyond solid. But neither is getting any better at their jobs. They're just getting paid like it.

This shit will take you back to the 90s!


Want to feel young again?

Go to Florida. It's a wasteland of gated retirement communities and rehab clinics. Guaranteed to bring back a whiff of your salad days.




Like 1998!

When Alex Cora (#13, playing shortstop here) broke into the league. He is now a 36 year old journeyman, trying to make the Cardinals major league roster. That would be his seventh team in 15 seasons. He has a career WAR of 0.8.


Oh hey, and guess who else is down here-- Alex's older brother, Joey!

Joey Cora (#28) is currently the bench coach of the newly re-branded, Miami Marlins. His career as a weak-hitting, middle-infielder ran from 1987 to 1998, and only included four teams and 30 home runs (that would be 10 more dingers than fellow Vanderbilt alum, Pedro Alvarez; currently good for second place on the all time list). He is notable for having been stabbed by some murderous fans he pissed off, crying after the Mariners lost a playoff series, and being the double-play partner of the man walking in front of him in the picture.

That would be none other than...


OZZIE!

Yes, the crazy man from the South Side has taken his talents to South Beach. Good for baseball, bad for the Marlins.

P.S. Joey Cora had a career WAR of 4.5, which summed with his brother's, is still less than Cutch's 5.5 WAR from the 2011 season.

P.P.S. Until they do something truly remarkable on their own, individual accord (and let it be known, I do think Alex will lead the Cardinals in all meaningful categories this year: hits, walks, HRs, RBIs, stolen bases, saves, etc.) the Brothers Cora are going to share a tag on this blog.

This is what a non-roster invitee looks like


I dare say it has a timeless quality to it.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Here's what spring training looks like!

Looks pretty much like your standard paraplegics.

(More to come.)

Great news...


BASEBALL!

As FTC's field correspondent, I can confirm that it is being practiced and prepared for you right now. Just another month, folks. It's coming.

Also, some great news for which you didn't need a field correspondent:


CUTCH!

That's right. Reports of his contract extension are tremendous news. Not only do we have the cornerstone player of the franchise locked up through his prime years, but we have a new reason to trust Huntington. He's been telling us to be patient, that he'd get the money from ownership when the right guy came along. The right guy came along, and Uncle Neal made some magic happen.

How magical is it?

Pretty darn magical. Look at this and assume the guaranteed money is evenly distributed over the first six years (it's probably not):

2012- $8.6m, age 25
2013- $8.6m, age 26
2014- $8.6m, age 27
2015- $8.6m, age 28
2016- $8.6m, age 29
2017- $8.6m, age 30
2018- $14.75m team option, age 31

The alternative would have looked exactly like this:

2012- $0.5m~, age 25
2013- ARBITRATION ($5-7m?), age 26
2014- ARBITRATION ($6-10m?), age 27
2015- ARBITRATION ($8-12m?, age 28
2016- $18m, age 29 and playing for the Phillies
2017- $20m, age 30 and playing for the Phillies
2018- $22m, age 31 and playing for the Phillies
2019- $22m, age 32 and injured for the Phillies
2020- $22m, age 33 and playing for the Phillies
2021- $22m, age 34 and playing for the Giants
2022- $4m buyout exercised by the Giants, $6m salary, age 35 and playing for the Red Sox
2023- $10m, age 36 and playing for the Rockies
2024- $11m, age 37 and playing for the Rockies
2025- ARMY
2026- ARMY
2027- $2m, age 40 and playing for the White Sox

So yeah, we don't have to play any games in negotiating year-to-year extensions via arbitration, and we don't have to watch him leave us in the middle of his prime. Meanwhile, he's getting guaranteed money and will still be able to strike it crazy rich at age 32, should he want to hit free agency and go into his decline years for a big market team. It is a totally fair contract, and makes cutting Hines Ward worth it.

The franchise's best players are super young pitchers, who are all in the low minor leagues. We also have a stud outfield prospect named Josh Bell, and a franchise catcher in Tony Sanchez. In the majors: Jose Tabata could still become a very good ballplayer, Pedro Alvarez is anyone's guess, and Chris Leroux has breakout potential as a pitcher. Outside of those guys and McCutchen, no one else is remarkable. Neil Walker is good, but doesn't have a long, distinguished career in him. J-Mac and Morton have good stuff, but they're becoming too old to be considered projects anymore; more like lightning in the bottle when they work. Hanrahan was super exciting last year, but relievers are all replaceable.

The point is this: the 2015-2017 window is very, very bright. It is incredibly good news that it will be anchored by Cutch, and that we'll get to see him develop into a hell of a ballplayer between now and then.

Good stuff. More spring training pictures to come throughout the week!