You Play GM: Fixing the MLB
April turns into May and before we know it, May will turn into June, and teams all around baseball will begin talking about "selling" and "buying" at the July 31st trade deadline. Everyone is a buyer in April. Everyone has hope.
No one gave the Astros, the Royals, the Orioles, or the Pirates much of a chance, but after the first calendar month of the Major League Baseball season nearly every team has found its flaws. Even The Yankees have concerns: off to a great start with their early Cy Young candidate, they still sit behind the Tampa Bay Rays in the AL East and have serious issues.
This week I am looking at the problems around baseball. What are they? How should they be fixed?
Below are my diagnoses and prescriptions for the aliments around the league (with some help from my baseball fan friends across the 5cs). Sorry for the AL bias. Post your own suggestions for your own team or any team below in the comments section!
The New York Yankees (2nd in the AL East, 17-8, 1 GB):
I put the Yanks on here for two reasons: 1) Javier Vazquez is a mess and 2) Center fielder Curtis Granderson just hit the shelf, out for 2-6 weeks with a groin injury. After posting a 15-10 record and 2.87 ERA over 219.1 innings last year with a mediocre Braves squad in '09, Vazquez has fallen apart in his second stint with the Yankees with a 1-3 record, a 9.78 ERA and 15 walks in just 23 innings in '10. He hasn't gotten out of the sixth inning once, his start this week will be skipped, and he could ultimately be demoted to the highest-paid-long-reliever-in-baseball position (he's making $11.5 mil this year). The Yankees gave up Melky Cabrera to get Vazquez, which seemed like a steal at the time, but watching Randy Winn (.077 AVG/.077 OBP/.077 SLG in 13 AB) and lefty-mashing yet streaky Marcus Thames (.550/.625/.850 in 20 AB) fill in for Granderson is going to make some fans wish General Manager Brain Cashman could take it back.
My Big Apple Cure: 1) Let the virus run its course, stick with Vazquez and 2) put on a pretty Band-Aid ®, call-up Chad Huffman.
2009 was likely a career year, but Vazquez won't continue this forever. At least let him try to work out the kinks for a month longer; an average Vazquez is likely better than a stellar versions of the internal options in long relievers Sergio Mitre and former "ace" Chan Ho Park, and they certainly aren't long term options.
This is the perfect time for Huffman; we know what Thames and Winn are (pretty mediocre). Keep an eye out on Chad Huffman, recently claimed after the Padres DFA'd him, Huffman is currently with the Yankees AAA affiliate in Scranton. He is struggling a bit out of the gates, but the Padres' 2006 second-round pick and 2009 AAA Home Run Derby champion hit 20 homers in '09 in 135 games at AAA last season. Thames and Winn will be key pieces for the rest of 2010, but this is the perfect audition for a young guy with a high ceiling who can get some at bats without immense pressure on him--he comes up with the understanding that he will be back in Scranton when Granderson returns.
The Boston Red Sox (4th in the AL East, 12-14, 6.5 GB):
Everyone doubted The Nation's ability to score runs in 2010, but the pitching has really been the problem. The Red Sox have given up 134 runs, worst in the AL and 5th worst in all of baseball. Jason Varitek of all people leads the team in slugging (.824) and OPS (1.202) and isn't even an every day player. The Red Sox can't run (9 steals / 4 times caught stealing); only Dustin Pedroia and Jacoby Ellsbury have more than one steal (each with two), and Ellsbury is on the DL. The Red Sox can't stop the run. Victor Martinez has been atrocious behind the plate, catching just 5 of 32 base stealers, but Varitek has lost a step behind the plate as well, catching only 2 of 13. The Red Sox are scoring runs, but David Ortiz (.159/.254/.381) and Martinez (.233/.298/.314) are troubling as well.
My Sweet Caroline: 1) bring back some traditional medicine, make Varitek the primary catcher, 2) put everything on high heat, make Daniel Bard the closer, and then 3) try the exotic fix, trade for Adrian Gonzalez.
Varitek is older but stroking it at the plate right now and has been historically a much better catcher for pitchers than the defensively paltry Victor Martinez. V-Mart would become the everyday DH and catch once a week (or so) with whomever he has the best repport with.
Daniel Bard is the answer in the pen. Jonathan Papelbon has two losses already, and while Bard hasn't been perfect, he throws 99 mph and has struck out 20 in 15 innings, and Papelbon has been luckier than good with a mediocre 1.38 WHIP, walking 9 batters already in just his 13 innings of work.
Papelbon and/or Ortiz and/or Lowell could be moved, along with some minor league pieces and maybe Clay Buchholz, if the Sox can get creative in a three-team trade with the Rangers, Rays, or A's who could all use bullpen help and a veteran right-handed bat and have the farm system to provide the needed prospects to pry Adrián González away from the Padres--this is all, of course, contingent upon the Padres, who currently sit at first in the NL West, selling come July 31st.
The Seattle Mariners (4th in AL West, 11-14, 2.5 GB):
The Mariners can't hit. This is nothing new. In 2009, they slugged only .402 as a team (13th out of 14 in the AL) and their 640 runs scored was the worst in the AL and ahead of only two national league teams, the Pirates and the Padres. Yet their biggest offseason move was to bring in a starting pitcher, Cliff Lee. They parted ways with their best power prospect and replaced Adrián Béltre and the team homerun leader Russel Branyan with a high OBP player in Chone Figgins and the singles hitting first baseman Casey Kotchman respectively.
How to End the Sleeplessness in Seattle: 1) starting hitting the juice, cut Griffey and sign Barry Bonds, or 2) start a bidding war for the 2010 cure-all, trade for Adrian Gonzalez.
Griffey is a great player, a great teammate, and beloved by Seattle, but the team with the worst DH play in the AL the last two years has got to make a change to contend and could do no better than signing the best player of our generation, Barry Bonds. The Mariners DH combination of Griffey, Eric Byrnes, and Mike Sweeney aren't even slugging a mere .200, why not bring a guy in who slugged over .600 for his career and and who didn't have a SLG% under .500 after 1989. Gonzalez is more realistic and could move Kotchman to DH.
The Texas Rangers (1st in the AL West, 14-12, -- GB):
The Rangers have led in all but two games this year and were tied 6-6 in one of those two games, yet they stand at just 13-12.
My Lone Star Solution: don't over medicate, stop sacrifice bunting.
Manager Ron Washington has no problem with bunting early in games and in late innings with a lead--sure fire ways to kill big innings from your offense--even though his team doesn't put the ball in play (13th in the AL with 192 strikeouts). Ranger hitters see the third lowest amount of pitches per plate appearence (3.76) in the AL, and Wash is choosing to bunt most often with one of his best and most patient hitters right now, Elvis Andrus, who is seeing more pitches per appearance than anyone on the team (4.13) other than the injured Nelson Cruz (4.26), the recently activated Ian Kinsler (4.33), and the Rookie Justin Smoak (4.46)--none of whom have played near as many games as Elvis.
The Chicago Cubs (2nd in the NL Central, 13-13, 5 GB):
The biggest problem with the Cubs is that they are too good.
My Cubbie Concoction: stop treating the symptoms, get rid of the aging parts while they still have value.
At 13-13 and second place in the division, most people would suggest they contend, but this is where the Cubs seem to be every year--if not, usually in better shape, and they always fall flat in the playoffs. Derek Lee and Ted Lilly are free agents this winter and Aramis Ramirez and John Grabow will be free to walk in November of 2011; Ramirez and Lee could garner huge prospects, especially if they deal Ramirez this July as he will have 15 months with the acquiring team. This team is not going to win championships; new prospects could join a resurgent farm system for the Cubs which has 5 players in Baseball America's top 100 prospects, and ranks as high as fifth in respected circles for best farm system. Build around catcher Geovnny Soto, outfielders Marlon Byrd, Kosuke Fukudome and Tyler Colvin and future stars in shortstop Sarlin Castro, third baseman Josh Vitters, and a boat load of high-ceiling arms are on their way in.
The Los Angeles Angels (of Anaheim) (3rd in the AL west, 12-15, 2.5 GB):
I don't know where this team is. Anaheim isn't in Los Angeles...I can never find the stadium.
How to Get Angels Back in the Outfield: it couldn't even happen in the movies, Anaheim is in Orange Country, Scrap the "Los Angeles" part...
there is only one team in LA, which brings us to...
The Los Angeles Dodgers (4th in the NL West, 11-14, 5 GB):
Rotation is a disaster and Owner Frank McCourt can't increase payroll while in a divorce battle.
My Miracle for Mannywood: say your goodbyes, rebuild.
The most ready starting pitching prospect, Scott Elbert, who has pitched 26 innings with the big club over the last two years, is struggling in '10 in AAA Albuquerque--strikeout totals (22) are good, but 14 free passes in 18 innings is not going to get you back to the majors. Vicente Padilla is hurt and isn't good anyway, and Charlie Haegar and John Ely are not going to get anyone to the playoffs. Time to let go of Manny, Casey Blake, Rafael Furcal, and Russell Martin.
The Doctor is out -- give us your second opinion!
Editor’s Note: This sports column is a regular feature from “The Nightcap” crew, made up of Ari Zyskind, Nathan Barnett, Dan Campbell, and Kevin Shuai, a group of 5Cers who air a weekly radio sports talk show on KSPC. You can listen in online at KSPCstream.com or KSPC.org (click “Hear us Online via Live365”) every Monday from 8-10 PM. Want to join the radio show next year? We are looking for new people! Email us at nightcapKSPC@gmail.com!