February 2013

Quick Hits: Qualifying Offers, Gardenhire, Booty

The MLBPA's Michael Weiner calls MLB's qualifying offer system "mostly good" but imperfect, Mark Feinsand of the New York Daily News reports (on Sulia). Weiner expresses concern about the fact that Kyle Lohse is currently without a team, and suggests that Michael Bourn and Adam LaRoche might have gotten bigger contracts if not for the qualifying offer system. Weiner says "there will be discussions" about improving it. But, Weiner says, the system reduced the number of players whose free agency status was connected to draft pick compensation from "over 30" to nine.

In the 2012 draft, however, teams only lost nine picks as a result of signing free agents, and only three of those picks were first-rounders. In 2013, the qualifying offer system will reduce the number of lost picks only slightly. Three teams (the Nationals, Braves and Angels) have already lost their first-rounders, and there could be another when Lohse signs. The Indians, meanwhile, will lose two later picks for their signings of Nick Swisher and Bourn.

Here are more notes from around the majors..

  • Twins manager Ron Gardenhire isn't concerned about the fact that his contract expires after the season, reports Bob Nightengale of USA Today. "I'd like to stay here," says Gardenhire. "If it works out, it works. If it doesn't work out here, will I manage somewhere else? Well, I know I'm not ready to quit being a manager." The Twins lost 96 games in 2012 after dropping 99 in 2011.
  • Buster Olney of ESPN argues that MLB should ban home-plate collisions. Olney quotes a source who puts the dollar value (based on the value of a marginal win) of blocking home plate at $125K, and points out that the Giants lost far more than that when Buster Posey missed much of last season with an injury sustained in a home-plate collision.
  • The Marlins and Diamondbacks have discussed the status of pitcher Josh Booty, Steve Gilbert of MLB.com writes. The 37-year-old Booty is a non-roster invitee to Diamondbacks camp, but the Marlins drafted him with the fifth overall pick in 1994 and signed him with the idea that he would not pursue football. After he retired from baseball to play quarterback at LSU, the Marlins placed him on the restricted list, meaning that they technically still own his rights. Diamondbacks president Derrick Hall says the Marlins won't worry about it, however, unless Booty establishes himself as a potentially credible big-leaguer. "The Marlins are OK. They said go ahead and use him how you want in the spring," Hall says. "Their concern is if he's Major League material, they either have the right to him or the right to a trade. That's OK, we'll cross that path when we need to."

National League Notes: Cubs, Pirates, Wells

Manager Dale Sveum is prepared for the possibility that the Cubs could be sellers again at the July 31st trade deadline, Carrie Muskat of MLB.com reports. Sveum said he hopes to be in contention but will understand if the team needs to re-focus on 2014. "If your team is out of it, to start building and getting a healthier organization, unfortunately or fortunately, that's part of the business," he said. Here are some more notes from around the National League…

  • Tom Singer of MLB.com explains that the Pirates would probably like to lock up core players such as Neil Walker and Pedro Alvarez. While Walker would presumably like to stay with the Pirates, his hometown team, retaining him will be expensive, as Singer outlines. Alvarez, a New York native, might like the idea of playing for the Yankees in Singer's view. 
  • Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com hears that Kip Wells looked good throwing for Phillies people yesterday (Twitter link). Wells, who started seven games for the Padres last year, had good off-speed pitches, Heyman writes.
  • Adrian Gonzalez said that he couldn't be happier to be playing for the Dodgers, Bill Plunkett of the Orange County Register reports. "I'm really really happy and excited to be here and really excited about where the team is heading and what we have an opportunity to do here," Gonzalez said. The Dodgers acquired Gonzalez from the Red Sox in a blockbuster trade last August.

Poll: Which Team Will Rebound In 2013?

Most teams re-build over the course of multiple years, but it’s possible for teams to improve dramatically from one season to the next. The Orioles and Athletics increased their win totals by at least 20 games from 2011 to 2012, surprising many on their way to berths in the American League playoffs. One year later, it’s time for some of last year’s worst teams to dream about contending.

Seven teams won fewer than 70 games in 2012, the Marlins, Cubs, Astros, Rockies, Red Sox, Indians and Twins. While clubs like the Marlins and Astros are expected to continue struggling at the MLB level, other teams, like the Cubs, Red Sox and Indians, made aggressive moves during the offseason. Which club has the best chance of rebounding from a disappointing 2012 showing and contending for the postseason in 2013?

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MLBTR Chat Transcript

Click here to read this week's MLBTR chat transcript.

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Why I Chose My Agency: Jay Bruce

Reds right fielder Jay Bruce is a longtime client of Sosnick Cobbe Sports.  I spoke with Jay Monday night about his agency choice.

How he first came into contact with Sosnick Cobbe Sports:

I spoke with some guys from around Beaumont, Jason Tyner and Kevin Millar, they told me I should start speaking with advisors [prior to the 2005 draft]. First guy on that list was Toby Trotter from Sosnick Cobbe Sports. And this was before all the hoopla started, all the big games and national scouting combines. They were one of the first groups to come in. I was a little bit under the radar. I met with Toby, and everything about him pretty much added up to me to a guy I wanted to work with.

On being advised by the Boras Corporation prior to Sosnick Cobbe:

I also interviewed ACES and the Boras Corporation. Everyone knows who Scott Boras is. Boras is known for having the biggest players in the game, the most heralded players in the game. Being a 17 or 18-year-old naive high school student, I went with the name.  A couple of months before the draft, a lot of scouts came up to me at the Texas Scouting Association game, and told me, "We just want to let you know that you are probably cutting out a third to half of the teams in baseball by choosing Scott Boras." I started thinking about it, and I went home, talked to my parents, and they said, "You have to go with your gut. If baseball is what you really want to pursue out of high school, then you probably need to re-evaluate your choice." I thought about it, and I'm still kind of ashamed to this day, my mom called Jim Pizzolatto [his contact at the Boras Corporation] and let him know that I was going to switch agencies. I still see Jim sometimes and we're very cordial, and I don't think there's any hard feelings.

On why Boras didn't work for him:

This is no slight on Scott at all or anything that they did, because they are one of if not the best at doing their job for their players.  It wasn't anything necessarily that they did wrong, but I wanted to take a different approach to the way I "marketed" myself, because they didn't want me hitting for any scouts, they didn't want me filling out any information, they were really really pushing me to go to college. Some guys, that works great for. But I wanted to give myself the chance to be drafted as highly as I could, and they didn't need to push me to go to college, because had I not gotten drafted in the first round out of high school, I was going to college. I signed a letter of intent to go to Tulane University, and I was going to honor that. I had no problem going to college.

It was just not as open of a relationship as I would have liked. They just didn't seem like the way that I wanted to represent myself, they didn't sit well with me. I like talking to people, I like really giving people the impression of myself, from myself. I like people to know what they're getting. They want to keep the distance with high schoolers, I think, between the scouts and the player. Which for a lot of guys, it works, but I just wanted to give myself the opportunity to make the best impression I could on all these people.   They never did anything wrong to me, but I just decided to go back to Sosnick Cobbe. They made the best impression, and they were straightforward. It became a relationship that kind of transcended business a little bit. A lot of people don't like to mix business with friendship, but if I can trust someone that I consider a friend, I can trust them to do business.

On how Matt Sosnick retained Jay's business after Toby Trotter left the agency:

After the draft, I was in the airport going to instructional league. Toby and Matt called me up. Toby said "Hey Jay, I just want to let you know that I'm leaving the agency." He had prayed a lot about it and decided he wanted to do something else. Matt said, "I want to let you know that I am going to be the guy you deal with now." If it wasn't for Matt being on the phone, I probably would have switched agencies and been done with it.

He made me feel like I was a priority. Matt was on the phone and made it an easy decision for me, and that was the true start of what I consider a great relationship both on and off the field. That showed how Matt is as a person. That means a lot to me. He takes a genuine interest in my family and really goes beyond the job description. That's important to me, but it's not important to some people and I completely respect that. I really value my relationship with Matt, and he's also done a great job, so it works out. I definitely understand that if he didn't do a great job for me and we were friends, it would be a little tougher to move on or even have that conversation. I consider him a friend, but he does an unbelievable job with contract negotiations.

On the six-year, $51MM extension Bruce signed with the Reds in 2010:

I was interested in getting something worked out. It kind of became more of a trend, teams locking guys up. I talked to Matt, and he had pretty amicable talks with the Reds. Matt has a very good understanding as far as the numbers and comps and stuff like that. He did a good job and communicated with the Reds well and was really up front with them and let them know I wanted to get something done. The Reds were accommodating as well. Matt relayed what I wanted to them and we got the deal done.

I signed the contract extension with the Reds, and Matt provided the information that allowed me to make a decision that I felt was right.  Matt does a good job of providing information that allows you to make a decision on your own, and that's something that I really like.

On Jay's relationship with Matt and the agency:

The personal side of it is as important to me as the business. I enjoy working with him as a person and I enjoy our relationship as friends, too. Anyone who has talked to Matt knows, he's an incredibly bright human being. He provides me a lot of perspective on things that otherwise I might not even really know about. I think over the years we've created a relationship with a very open line of communication. Over the years he's been an open book and so have I. There's no beating around the bush.

I wasn't just a number, and that was huge to me. That's how I conduct my life. It's an extension of yourself. If people deal with Sosnick Cobbe Sports, and they know that I deal with them, I want them to say, "Oh, that's Jay Bruce's agency. I can see why.

On big vs. small agencies:

A lot of times, the agent and the player don't have much of a relationship outside the business part of it. And if you don't have a contract, there's really not a ton the agent does. They facilitate endorsement deals, but as far as the day-to-day stuff, there's really not a ton to talk about. I never talked to Scott Boras when I had them. If you take the baseball part out of it and think about small companies vs. big corporations, there's more personal service at a small company. I think quality at the smaller agencies has probably gotten much better over the years because the information available to them now is a lot more than it was.

It's hard to go away from the big agencies. It's hard to not go with the proven names of the industry. I'm glad that I gave Matt and those guys a chance and I'm glad that they sought me out as well. I couldn't have asked for anything more.

Check out our first entry in the Why I Chose My Agency series, where Matt Holliday discussed his relationship with Boras.

AL East Notes: Yankees, Chamberlain, Drew

There's no denying that David Ortiz has been the game’s top designated hitter over the course of the last decade. You arrive at the same conclusion whether you use home runs, OPS or wins above replacement; no one has been better than Ortiz. Yet the rest of the designated hitters in the AL East aren't nearly as imposing: Adam Lind, Luke Scott, Travis Hafner and Wilson Betemit. Here are the latest links from the division…

  • MLBPA Executive Director Michael Weiner told reporters, including Mark Feinsand of the New York Daily News, that he has his doubts about the Yankees’ plans of avoiding the MLB luxury tax by 2014 (Twitter link). "I imagine Mr. Steinbrenner is sincere when he says that, but like a lot of things, I’ll believe it when I see it," Weiner said, in reference to managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner.
  • Mike Axisa of River Ave. Blues expects some team to give Joba Chamberlain the chance to start next offseason, when the right-hander hits free agency. Axisa suggests a two-year, $10MM deal such as the one Carlos Villanueva signed could be enough to land Chamberlain. Don’t expect the Yankees to sign him for that kind of money, though.
  • The Red Sox didn't sign free agents just to trade them midseason, Nick Cafardo writes in a mailbag at the Boston Globe. However, Cafardo could imagine the Red Sox trading Stephen Drew if Jose Iglesias blossoms into a passable offensive contributor.

Javier Vazquez Won’t Join MLB Team In 2013

Free agent right-hander Javier Vazquez won’t pitch in the Major Leagues this coming season, Ruben Rodriguez of El Nuevo Día reports (on Twitter). Vazquez, who will also miss the upcoming World Baseball Classic, has been dealing with an injured right knee. James Wagner of the Washington Post confirms that Vazquez won't pitch at the MLB Level in 2013, suggesting he could soon retire instead (Twitter links).

Vazquez drew interest from many teams this winter, including the Nationals, Red Sox, Rays, Royals, Mets, White Sox and Phillies. The 36-year-old ACES client last pitched at the MLB level with the 2011 Marlins, when he posted a 3.69 ERA with 7.6 K/9 and 2.3 BB/9 in 192 2/3 innings. He had his right meniscus repaired by one of the Marlins’ team doctors approximately one month ago.

With Vazquez unavailable, teams interested in adding starters could turn to free agents such as Carlos Zambrano, Chien-Ming Wang and Roy Oswalt. Kyle Lohse, the top free agent available, would require the forfeiture of a draft pick. The trade market could include pitchers such as Chris Capuano, Aaron Harang, Luke Hochevar and Zach Britton.

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Royals Notes: Shields, Davis, Tejada

The Royals are looking for their first .500 finish since 2003, and there's optimism that the team could surprise people following a busy offseason. Here are the latest Royals-related notes…

  • Though the Royals were reluctant to part with Wil Myers, Jake Odorizzi, Mike Montgomery and Patrick Leonard to acquire James Shields and Wade Davis, they made the trade. As Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports explains, club officials including GM Dayton Moore found it easier to approve the deal once they realized their farm system would still be deep.
  • Moore says he learned from his former boss, longtime Braves executive John Schuerholz, that general managers must be prepared to take risks. “If you focus on what you’re giving up, you’ll never make a deal,” Moore told Rosenthal. “It will paralyze you.”
  • The Royals didn't know it at the time, but the Diamondbacks, Rangers and Rays worked on a three-team trade that would have sent prospects to Tampa Bay, Shields and Davis to Arizona and Justin Upton to Texas. The Rays discussed this trade at the same time as they discussed possible deals with the Royals.
  • Rival executives question Moore's decision to trade Myers, one of the game's top position player prospects, following a 72-win season. Yet as right-hander Jeremy Guthrie notes, “you can only stockpile prospects for so long.”
  • The Royals face questions at second base, in the rotation and on the bench, Bob Dutton of the Kansas City Star reports. New additions Miguel Tejada and Elliot Johnson were acquired with the expectation that they'd make the team, though that's not absolute.

GMs Advise Students With Front Office Aspirations

It's an email that lands in the MLBTR inbox often: an ambitious high school student dreams of being a Major League GM one day, and asks us for advice.  I decided to ask a bunch of people who would know: current GMs and assistant GMs.  Top execs from 17 teams responded to MLBTR's query: What one piece of advice would you give to a high school student who hopes to work in baseball operations one day? 

Get around the game as much as you can.  There's no substitute for watching and talking baseball.  You've got to love the game enough to want the lifestyle that comes with it, and the family sacrifices on the back end.  Play as long as you can, go to as many games at all levels as possible, talk to whomever you come across, and read what you can. The market is increasingly flooded with job applicants with analytical backgrounds.  The way to differentiate yourself is your feel for the game, and your people skills — a good education and analytic skill set aren't enough.  – Jon Daniels, Rangers General Manager

Play baseball until someone tears the jersey off your back.  - Dan Duquette, Orioles Executive Vice President, Baseball Operations

1. Read mlbtraderumors.com daily. 2. Play as long as you can. 3. Watch as many games as you can. To tie points #2 and #3 together, I do think it is important to learn by watching and playing…not just studying the game.  - Josh Byrnes, Padres Executive Vice President, General Manager

Follow your passion.  As much as anything these jobs are a way of life that often require both resiliency and unconditional love of the game.  In the end all types of skill sets and backgrounds work – but those that are rooted in true passion for the game are those that will last the longest.  – Jerry Dipoto, Angels General Manager

Study hard! If you are a player, study the game and players.  Seek out experienced coaches and managers, to learn to evaluate players and teams.  Spend time with scouts to understand how they evaluate and what is important to them in their position.  Study the use of analytical data to combine with your baseball knowledge.  If you do not play, study the game and statistics.  A statistical background will help you get in the door for an interview.  In today’s front office, it’s a prerequisite.  Go to as many games as possible, ask your high school coach if you can be the team assistant. Experience the game as closely as possible.  You need to know the common language of the game to increase your credibility.  Overall, understand that a career in baseball is a constant learning experience and the game changes.  Be open-minded to learn throughout your career.  - Bill Geivett, Rockies Sr. Vice President – Major League Operations

It’s like anything else in life: prepare in case the opportunity comes, but do not assume or expect anything will happen.  There is no magical formula to find work in baseball operations and there are so many qualified individuals who don’t get opportunities.  I think if you ask anybody who works in baseball operations they will tell you that luck, even in the form of just being in the right place at the right time, played a big part in their career.  The key is to put yourself in the best position possible and be prepared so that if fortune smiles upon you that you are able to make the most of that opportunity.  – John Coppolella, Braves Assistant General Manager



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Quick Hits: Diaz, Lohse, Yankees, Chamberlain, Cubs

Major League Baseball's investigation into the age of Cuban shortstop Aledmys Diaz is still ongoing, multiple sources tell Ben Badler of Baseball America.  Diaz has been presenting himself as a 23-year-old, which would make him exempt from the international bonus pools.  However, previous documentation of his age would indicate that he is 22 or possibly as young as 21.  If MLB determines that Diaz presented any false documentation, the league could declare him ineligible to sign for one year.  Here's more from around baseball..

  • Kyle Lohse has only his union to blame for his predicament, opines Brian MacPherson of The Providence Journal.  Because the players' association gave in to owners' demands that draft bonuses be reined in, teams are more protective of their draft picks than before.  Yesterday, ESPN.com's Buster Olney wrote that AL talent evaluators are concerned about his track record in the league.
  • Yankees pitcher Joba Chamberlain has re-opened the debate on whether he would be better utilized as a starter or a reliever, writes Mark Feinsand of the New York Daily News.  The Yanks avoided arbitration with the oft-injured hurler on a one-year deal this winter that includes a bonus for games finished.
  • Kerry Wood is getting a taste of coaching with the Cubs in spring training, but he has no aspirations of pursuing it as a full-time job right now, writes Jesse Rogers of ESPNChicago.com.
  • Cubs president Theo Epstein would obviously like to see his club be competitive in 2013, but he will quickly discard his short-term assets if the playoffs aren't in sight, writes David Haugh of the Chicago Tribune.