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As the 2011 Draft draws closer, MLBTR will be introducing you to a handful of the top eligible prospects with a series of Q&As. The series debuts today with one of the top college pitchers in the nation.
Vanderbilt right-hander Sonny Gray has "the best curveball in college baseball," according to Baseball America, and ESPN.com's Keith Law suggested last week that he has an outside shot of being the first overall pick this June. According to Baseball America, some scouts wonder if Gray's future is in the bullpen. But with an above-average curve, a 93-96 mph fastball and a change-up, he could become a starter like Mike Minor and David Price, two Vanderbilt products who were selected in the first round.
Gray talked to MLBTR about his size, his curveball and Roy Halladay. Here's a transcript of our conversation:
Rockies third baseman Ian Stewart broke out with 25 home runs last year, and he's raking early on in 2010. The 25-year-old Stewart is Internet-savvy as well – he answered questions for MLBTR's Ben Nicholson-Smith recently and can be followed on Twitter here.
MLB Trade Rumors: You made it to the majors as a 22-year-old. What was the biggest adjustment you've had to make as you've gone from rookie to regular?
Ian Stewart: The biggest adjustment I have had to make is just making sure that I am ready to play every day. Since I got to the big leagues in 2007, I haven't been a starter. I used to come to the field knowing I probably wasn't going to play that day because we had Atkins at third and Helton at first. Todd hurt his back in 2008 so I ended with a lot of playing time toward the end of the year and when Jim Tracy took over last year I played a lot as well. I think those two examples helped me prepare for being the starter during this 2010 season.
MLBTR: It's funny when Dexter Fowler introduces Todd Helton to Twitter in one of the Rockies' new commercials, but seriously – is it distracting to have so much information about you and your teammates online?
Stewart: Personally, I don't think it's that big of a deal. For me, there really hasn't been anything too personal showing up on any website or anything. We have such a good group of guys that I'm not you would find much out about anyone.
MLBTR: What was it like to hear Garrett Atkins come up in trade talks last year, when you would usually be mentioned as the reason for why the Rockies could afford to move on and get younger?
Stewart: Honestly I didn't pay much attention to it. Garrett was a teammate and friend of mine so I hoped he wouldn't have to leave. I realize this is a business though and am grateful for the opportunity the Rockies have given me.
MLBTR: Some people give the Rockies lots of credit for having a homegrown roster. Others doubt that it makes much of a difference in terms of wins and losses. Does the fact that so many players came up through the system together mean the Rockies win more games?
Stewart: This is a tough question to answer because I don't know any different than what the Rockies do here. We have a very special thing going on in Denver. Our whole team has practically all grown up in the minor leagues and big leagues together and I can't begin to explain how awesome that is. Does it give us any kind of an advantage? I don't know. But you definitely won't find a closer-knit group of players anywhere else.
MLBTR: If you were running a major league team, what kind of club would you put together? Lots of pitching? Lots of speed? Lots of power?
Stewart: You forgot defense. I would say a mix of pitching and defense. I feel that pitching and defense wins championships.
Diamondbacks right fielder Justin Upton is currently not among the top 15 outfielders for the NL All-Star Game voting. This needs to change. He's putting up huge numbers as a 21 year-old – .322/.396/.592 in 197 plate appearances with 9 HR and 29 RBI (plus a grand slam tonight). Click here to vote for Upton now! You can vote up to 25 times.
Once you're done with that, how about a Q&A with Upton? He was kind enough to answer questions for MLB Trade Rumors.
MLB Trade Rumors: How much trash-talking goes on between you and B.J.? Who's got more skills as an outfielder?
Justin Upton: Not a lot, we are both very supportive of each other and want each other to do well. When we hang out off the field there is a lot of trash talk and a lot of times it takes place on the golf course. We will trash talk about video games or make fun of each other's clothes, but on the field we are very supportive and only want to see each other do well. As for who is the better outfielder, that is a tough one to answer since we play different positions. But…I'll give that nod to B.J. as of today. He has made some amazing catches so far this year and has made some sick throws…but I am working hard everyday to be a better outfielder and I'm not far behind.
MLBTR: Are you starting to enjoy it out there? I read an article from '04 where you said you did not like the outfield.
Upton: It was an adjustment at first, I mean I played shortstop all my life where you are involved in every play on defense in some way. When I was asked to move to the outfield I was skeptical but the more I played out there the more comfortable I felt and the more I learned about the ins and outs of the position and to be honest I would have played whatever position would have gotten me to the big leagues the quickest. The D'Backs had Stephen Drew at shortstop, so the outfield was the fastest way for me to get to the big leagues. So I was all for it.
MLBTR: You'll be eligible for free agency as a 26 year-old, after the 2013 season. People might draw an Alex Rodriguez parallel, especially with you both being No. 1 picks as well. What are your thoughts on that comparison? Do you think the free agent process will be enjoyable?
Upton: To be honest I don't think that far down the road. I am 21 years old and I am only in my second full season, my goal is to stay healthy and be productive this season. If I do what I know I can on the field, the rest will take care of itself, no use stressing about it now. As far as the A-Rod comparisons, I don't like to compare myself to anyone on or off the field. I can only go out there and be myself, I'll leave the comparing to the media.
MLBTR: Was Larry Reynolds an easy choice to be your adviser, since he was B.J.'s agent? Did you have to fend off a lot of agents coming after you?
Upton: I think most people knew that Larry would be my adviser so I didn't get too many people approaching me. There were a few people that didn't know about my relationship with Reynolds Sports that did approach me but I had been close with them since I was 15 when they were working with B.J. so to me it was a no-brainer. To have that stressful part of the process taken out of the equation it made it easier for me to just deal with playing baseball and getting drafted.
MLBTR: Your first big league at-bat was kind of a low-pressure situation…down 11-0, in San Diego against Wil Ledezma. What was going through your head?
Upton: Low pressure for who? Haha - I was a 19 year old kid in his first Major League at-bat, for me there was a ton of pressure. That was a moment I had waited my whole life for, all the hard work and countless hours of sweat and determination all culminated with that at-bat. It was a dream come true and it was over so fast I don't even remember what I was thinking…I was probably thinking, "get a hit!"
MLBTR: Back in May of '08, Larry Reynolds told ESPN's Jayson Stark he'd worry about your contract stuff the following year. Have there been any preliminary extension talks with the D'Backs?
Upton: I let Larry handle all that stuff, my job is to play baseball. I am not going to worry about the contract stuff, not yet at least. I love playing in Arizona, the fans are great. I love my teammates, we are a close-knit bunch and I know we are going to be competitive for a long time in the NL West. I hope I play here for a long, long time but it's too early to worry about all that stuff. If they wanted to talk long-term deal, I would certainly listen but for now I am just playing the game, having fun and looking to win ballgames.
MLBTR: Your signing bonus was a record at the time, but Stephen Strasburg might quadruple it. What are your thoughts on that?
Upton: Good for him, I hope he gets every penny he deserves. I am very happy with the signing bonus I got and I am only concerned with the D'Backs' draft and getting guys that can help our team going forward.
MLB Trade Rumors: What do you think about Twitter? Do you find it useful? Do you think we'll see writers breaking baseball news on Twitter, given the immediacy of it?
Jayson Stark: I love Twitter. I love following my favorite writers, bloggers and media heroes, and being updated all day long. But here’s the debate I have every day: My personal philosophy is that we shouldn’t be tweeting anything of significance that hasn’t been posted on our sites or published in our newspapers/publications first. So while I might fire a stream-of-consciousness statistical tidbit out there, I would never post a news item unless it had already been reported on ESPN.com first. If other people in the industry feel differently, I’d love to hear their thinking.
MLBTR: How many phone calls go into a typical Rumblings and Grumblings column? Do those columns elicit a lot of feedback from front office people?
Stark: Hmmm. Somewhere between 10 and 1,000, give or take a few hundred. Every week is different, of course. But just looking back at last week’s Rumblings, I’d say we’re talking around 20 phone calls, quite a few emails and a bunch of conversations at the ballpark. I also keep a daily notebook that logs subjects I’m interested in exploring. Not all of them lead to notes, columns or blog items. But they keep me busy, anyway. I don’t know how much “feedback” I get from Rumblings items, but I know people out there are reading it. I’ll put it that way. If someone out there disagrees with my portrayal of his team’s thinking, I’ll often have that person seek me out to let me know how or why he or she disagrees. And I appreciate that. I never want to position myself as someone who isn’t open to criticism or to differences of opinion on any topic.
MLBTR: Was there a moment where you were able to "flip the switch" from Phillies fan to beat writer? Tell us about that process.
Stark: Well, I haven’t been a “Phillies fan” since I was a kid. So it wasn’t as hard as you might think. Once I got into the newspaper business, the idea was to be a professional, not to be a fan. So I actually felt as though I conquered that barrier without much trouble. Now I did grow up in Philadelphia. So I aspire to cover Philadelphia baseball stories from that perspective, and always have. But I try to explain to people all the time that there’s a difference between being a Philadelphian and being a Phillies fan. I didn’t root for the Phillies to win that World Series, for example. But I understood what it meant to Philadelphia that they did.
MLBTR: What compelled you to leave your job with the Philadelphia Inquirer to write for ESPN.com? Back in 2000, were there any signs for you that newspapers were headed toward a decline?
Stark: I’m not going to pretend I wasn’t worried about the newspaper industry at that point. But that’s not why I left. I had a great job, and I’d have been happy to work at the Inquirer, doing that job, for the rest of my career. But who in our business wouldn’t want to work for ESPN and ESPN.com? I was lucky enough to be offered that opportunity, and I’d have had to be the biggest knucklehead in history to have turned down a chance like that. ESPN is an amazing place, where the most talented people in our industry aim for greatness every day. I know exactly how lucky I am to work there, especially given the problems out there in the newspaper industry. But I still love newspapers and the newspaper business, so it pains me to see my friends in the business so worried about what the future holds.
MLBTR: Is it imperative that a baseball writer keep up with the latest statistical advancements? Or should that be optional?
Stark: “Imperative” is a great word. I don’t want to suggest it should be required by law or anything. But our job is to cover the sport and everything that goes with it. Our job is also to understand the sport we cover on every possible level. So I don’t understand why someone who covers baseball would even WANT to ignore the incredible advancements in statistical baseball analysis. The brilliant minds at Baseball Prospectus, Hardball Times, FanGraphs, Baseball Info Solutions, etc. are making a remarkable contribution to our understanding of the sport. Anyone in our business who dismisses that contribution is missing out both on great work and a great opportunity to elevate his or her own knowledge of baseball.
MLBTR: Do we need some sort of baseball media watchdog, in the vein of the now-inactive Fire Joe Morgan blog? Do you consider that type of criticism all in good fun, or is it too harsh?
Stark: In many ways, mlbtraderumors.com is filling that void. Isn’t it? I know your site is interested almost exclusively in hot-stove type topics. But it’s awesome to have someone keep track of the evolution of all the significant hot-stove stories of the day. Beyond that, though, I do expect someone to jump in and fill the media-watchdog void, or maybe a bunch of someones. At least I hope that’s the case. I think criticism is more than just something that goes with the territory. It’s important that all of us aspire to the highest standards possible, and I have no problem with critics who hold us accountable if we don’t meet those standards. I’m not a big fan of mean-spiritedness. I’ll admit that. So if someone does emerge as the ultimate watchdog voice, I’d prefer that it be someone who performs that job with a sense of not just professionalism, but an understanding of the demands of our job. But criticism is an important, necessary part of our business. We dole it out all the time. So why shouldn’t we be open to folks who disagree with the way we do our jobs?
MLBTR: What's up with Jimmy Rollins this year? Is this just a good old-fashioned slump?
Stark: For the most part, I’d say yes. But when a funk goes on for over a month, is it still a “slump?” I think there are a couple of forces at work. For one thing, Jimmy was incredibly geared up for the WBC, got himself totally locked in and clearly was the best player on Team USA. Then I think he got back to spring training, allowed himself to downshift for a week or so and then couldn’t find the game-on button when it came time to push it in April. But what’s really surprising is to see him revert to the kind of impatient, pull-happy hitter he used to be early in his career. I think he’s been so anxious to make something happen, put up numbers and repeat that World Series journey – not necessarily in that order – that he hasn’t allowed himself to exhale, have the kind of quality at-bats he had in his MVP season (or the WBC) and just trust his talent. We often think that winning – and collecting awards – would allow players like this to relax. In his case, I feel as if it we’re seeing almost the opposite force at work.
MLBTR: Your guess at the best starting pitcher who will be truly made available for trade in July?
Stark: At this point, I’d say Jake Peavy. The Blue Jays’ great start makes the Roy Halladay talk moot. I’m skeptical that Drayton McLane would sign off on a Roy Oswalt deal. The Indians hold an option on Cliff Lee, and they don’t have an ace in waiting to succeed him the way they did last year with Lee taking that baton from CC. So Peavy is the one ace out there whose team will have clear-cut motivation to trade him. But here’s my question: Had the Padres been able to pull off that four-team mega-deal last winter that would have involved the Cubs, Phillies and Orioles, they would have gotten seven players back. So doesn’t that Deal That Never Was have to be stuck in Kevin Towers’ head when he listens to offers in July? He isn’t going to get that kind of return in midseason. So it’s certainly possible he’ll wait until next winter to revisit this, hoping there’s a better package out there in December than he’d get in July.
MLB Trade Rumors: What was it like covering the Marge Schott Reds for the Cincinnati Post? I read that she banned you from the press dining room for printing Tim Belcher's criticism of her dog.
Jerry Crasnick: Between Marge Schott, Pete Rose, and Lou Piniella, Cincinnati was the epicenter of the baseball universe when I was there. Marge had this bizarre notion that mediocre food could be used as a weapon, so she banned several writers from the media dining room for unflattering stories. I got the boot after Tim Belcher publicly complained about Schottzie 02 nipping at players and defecating on the field. Belcher actually had pizzas and sandwiches sent up to the press box the next day with a handwritten note. He signed his name at the bottom with a little pawprint beside it. The letter is in a box somewhere in my basement. Needless to say, Tim Belcher remains one of my all-time favorite players.
MLBTR: Related question…as a beat writer for the Reds and Rockies, did you ever shy away from criticizing the team or players knowing that it might affect your access? How does a beat writer deal with that issue?
Crasnick: There's a fine line. You try to maintain the lines of communication with everyone, because it's such a long season. But if the cleanup hitter is batting .180 or the manager just messed up a double-switch, the fans all know it. If you're a homer or an apologist as a beat writer, you'll lose your credibility in a hurry. I would try to inject opinions subtly rather than beating people over the head, but that's not for everybody. I remember writing a story once about the late Bo Diaz, and I said that he hated the media so much, "He'd ask for a blindfold and a cigarette if you tried to interview him.'' Judging from his reaction, Bo failed to see the humor in it.
MLBTR: License To Deal was published four years ago. Have you considered writing another book?
Crasnick: I give it passing thought here and there, but I think it's almost impossible to work full-time and devote the attention necessary to the type of book I'd like to write. I recently read Mark Kriegel's Pete Maravich biography, and I was blown away by the level of detail and the care that he put into it. I'd love to attempt something like that one day, but it's just a far-flung dream at this point. The most important thing is coming up with an idea that you're really passionate about.
MLBTR: How would you describe your role at ESPN? It seems like you're a jack of all trades with features, hot stove info, chats, and analysis. Also, any possibility of you joining ESPN's stable of baseball bloggers?
Crasnick: I think we're all jacks-of-all-trades to an extent. Tim Kurkjian writes for the magazine and the Web site. Jayson Stark does everything well. And Buster Olney writes a blog, does Baseball Tonight, works for the magazine, appears on Mike & Mike in the morning and just did a terrific TV piece for "ESPN:60.'' He must sleep about three hours a night. We have such a wide array of bloggers, with those guys, Peter Gammons, Rob Neyer and Keith Law, I really don't know if there's a niche for me to fill. I'd rather not do it just for the sake of doing it.
MLBTR: Which teams would you say failed to address their needs this offseason?
Crasnick: The teams that spring to mind, for me, are the legit postseason contenders who could use one more piece. Cincinnati needed a right-handed run producer to take the load off Votto, Bruce and Brandon Phillips. The Phillies needed a RH bat off the bench. Cleveland obviously could have used another starter. Given the economic climate last winter, I don't know if there's any club (other than the Yankees) that acquired pretty much everything it wanted.
MLBTR: Any sleepers for us that you feel could be traded this summer?
Crasnick: I guess that leaves out Roy Halladay, Jake Peavy and Matt Holliday, right? It's tough to predict in April, because you have no idea where teams are going to be in June or July. If Seattle is out of it, I can certainly see Jack Zduriencik shopping Erik Bedard and Adrian Beltre. And Andy MacPhail with the Orioles is always looking to parlay veteran pieces into long-term solutions. Did somebody say "Aubrey Huff"? Regardless of what happens, I'm sure you'll see Billy Beane's name crop up in the news coverage.
MLBTR: The Winter Meetings seem like chaos for a reporter. How do you decide which stories to chase? With ESPN's Winter Meetings blog, what kind of lag is there in you submitting a post and it being published?
Crasnick: The winter meetings blog was a great way for us to take information that we'd gathered in the Bellagio lobby (right near the slot machines), hustle back to the workroom and crank it out. Typically, it was posted on-line within minutes. Years ago, you could go to the meetings and entertain the thought of planning out a story or two. But there's such a thirst among fans for "real-time'' reporting now, you have to stay light on your feet. When CC Sabathia sneezes or Mark Teixeira clears his throat, everybody wants to know about it. People can't get enough gossip, rumors and instant analysis, and the success of your Web site and so many Internet sites and blogs is reflective of that.
MLB Trade Rumors: You've been working for the Denver Post since 2002. How has your job changed in the last seven years?
Troy E. Renck: The immediacy of the internet has changed everything. There are times I feel like a wire service because you write a story, then produce a write-through for online and a final for print. But at The Denver Post, breaking news has always been a priority so in that sense it's not a big change. It just happens much faster now.
MLBTR: What are your thoughts on the Rocky Mountain News shutting down? Does that mean you and Thomas Harding of MLB.com are the only two beat writers in the clubhouse?
Renck: As someone who played sports my entire life, I enjoyed the competition. It's unfortunate that a lot of good people lost their jobs. I was at Broadband Sports as a national NFL columnist when it went under, and it was a helpless feeling. Thomas and I are the primary beat writers covering the team and traveling. Thomas is a good friend. We can compete on the beat, then have dinner afterward. That's how it should be.
MLBTR: Did the Rockies get enough back for Matt Holliday in Huston Street, Greg Smith, and Carlos Gonzalez?
Renck: As it stands now, no. The key to the trade is Carlos Gonzalez. Everyone I trust in the game believes he will be a 20-home run hitter in the big leagues, while serving as an above-average corner outfielder. But he has issues that must be ironed out with his swing. He dives into pitches, cutting his swing off. Huston Street won the closer's job, but he will be a trade candidate this season if the team struggles. And Greg Smith, frankly, hasn't had a chance to show what he can do. He's got sick twice during spring, and is battling biceps tendinitis. They wanted him to be the fifth starter, but he won't be a factor in the big leagues until late May at the earliest. Again, Gonzalez is the key to the deal.
MLBTR: Do you see the Rockies attempting to acquire a frontline starter this summer, if the rotation is struggling?
Renck: Very little chance of that happening. In talking to owner Dick Monfort, he said there is no room in the budget for a midseason acquisition. That could change, though unlikely, if the team gets off to hot start and attendance spikes. They really need to get a return on Greg Reynolds or Greg Smith.
MLBTR: How do other teams perceive Garrett Atkins? Can the Rockies swap him for a quality arm at some point? Can you name any pitchers you feel would be a reasonable return for him?
Renck: Other teams like Atkins, but his defense concerns them at third base. The best fit would be in the American League, where he can play third, first and DH. I have always defended Atkins because he's dependable and reliable. Other than David Wright, no NL third baseman has put up better offensive numbers in recent years. Atkins should be able to land a starting pitcher, like a Dustin Moseley or a Nick Blackburn. That said, such a premium is placed on starters, they might have to look for a less refined Double-A prospect.
MLBTR: How about Jeff Baker? Why has the trade chatter around him seemingly died down?
Renck: Jeff Baker is a man without a role with the Rockies. He and Ian Stewart play the same positions, making it even more difficult to find him at-bats. Trade talk died down because the Rockies wanted a fifth starter. That's considered too high a price for a player viewed as a bench player. I would love to see what Baker would do with 500 at-bats, but that's not going to happen in Colorado.
Recently MLB Trade Rumors had the chance to ask a few questions of Twins pitcher Kevin Slowey. Slowey won 12 games with a 3.99 ERA last year in his first full season.
MLB Trade Rumors: Throughout your career, you've had pinpoint control and command. How did this ability come about for you? When you were a kid could you put the ball exactly where you wanted?
Kevin Slowey: I'm not sure there is any real explanation for my command, except that I've been blessed with the ability to throw strikes…It would be like trying to explain how Jesse Crain acquired the ability to throw 97, or how Josh Hamilton can hit a ball 600 feet..It is certainly something I work on, but not anything that I can really explain.
MLBTR: There's a rumor your older brother Dan was the more talented one growing up…what happened there?
Slowey: Haha, he really was the more talented one, and probably still is…especially when it came to chemistry experiments.
MLBTR: The Twins locked up your rotation-mate Scott Baker through his arbitration years with an option on his first free agent season. Are you interested in signing an extension, or do you prefer going year-to-year for now?
Slowey: For now I don't have a whole lot of say in the matter, but if it is ever in my hands I would love to stay with the Twins long term. I like everything about our organization, from my teammates down to the the die-hard fans and hope I can be a part of baseball in Minnesota for a long time.
MLBTR: Did you ever get to meet your favorite player, Andy Van Slyke? How about Greg Maddux?
Slowey: I did, my first spring training during an exhibition game in Lakeland. I've never met Maddux, but I did have the pleasure of watching him firsthand last year in San Diego.
MLBTR: How deeply do you examine your own stats? What numbers do you find the most helpful?
Slowey: Not that deeply to be honest. The best indicator of success isn't always in the numbers, but in my ability to give my team a chance to win every time out there. If I can do that, my stats should take care of themselves.
MLBTR: You had to face Nick Swisher and Milton Bradley in your first big league inning in Oakland. What was going through your head at the time?
Slowey: Haha, a lot. And very quickly too. You don't really have time to enjoy your first game until after it is over and time starts slowing back down again. Those six innings in Oakland felt like they took about 15 minutes…15 minutes I'll never forget.
MLBTR: Do you have an innings target for 2009? You had to overcome a biceps strain to start '08, but got on track pretty quickly in May.
Slowey: Not really… As I said before, isolated statistics don't mean a whole lot to me. If I was out on the mound thinking about how many innings I needed, or how many pitches I had left, I can't imagine I would have a lot of success. As long as I can continue to improve on a daily basis, I'm sure the secondary statistics will fall into place.
Recently ESPN's Keith Law kindly answered a few questions for MLB Trade Rumors. Law formerly served as Blue Jays Special Assistant to the GM, and has spent the last few years as the lead analyst for ESPN's Scouts, Inc. branch. Essential Law links: his MLB draft blog, Stephen Strasburg analysis, his general ESPN blog, and his personal blog The Dish.
MLB Trade Rumors: On occasion, you've revealed information in chats about a player's off-the-field troubles that was not publicly known or hadn't gotten much press. How has this been received by your readers, bosses, and front office contacts?
Keith Law: Some readers get annoyed because they don't want to believe it. My bosses know that I'm meticulous about information like that – I only write about these matters if I believe they are substantially or wholly accurate. For example, the Alcides Escobar story – I have a copy of his daughter's birth certificate with his name as the father, I spoke to the attache at the U.S. Consulate in Panama who has helped Escobar's wife, and so on. I think the Brewers would just like the story to go away, frankly, but it's not going to unless it's addressed.
MLBTR: A related question: when you rank prospects, how big of a factor is makeup? What's the highest number of positions you've moved a prospect on your top 100 (either up or down) due to makeup?
Law: It's only a big factor for me if I think it's really affecting or going to affect the player's production. And even then I would be careful – Robinson Cano had major knocks on his makeup when he was in the minors, and even with his ups and downs he's been a pretty productive big leaguer. If I'd been writing at the time and had given the makeup issues major consideration (he was considered a "dog" by many scouts because he showed little effort, especially in the field), I would have grossly underrated him.
MLBTR: One scout told Buster Olney that Stephen Strasburg is better than A.J. Burnett right now. Do you agree? If not, how close is he?
Law: I think that's a bit hyperbolic, but I do think Strasburg could pitch in the majors right now and would be Washington's #1 starter if they could sign him quickly and stick him in their rotation in June. I'm not saying they have to take another starter at #10, but they could have Strasburg, Zimmerman, and another polished college arm like Kyle Gibson in their 2010 rotation. Shore up the defense a little and they could be in line for a pretty significant improvement in W/L record in 2010-11 with that jump in run prevention.
(Click here for Law's ESPN report on Strasburg, plus video of the young pitcher).
MLBTR: A few years ago you were asked which player you thought would become a star but never did, for reasons unknown. You answered Carlos Pena. Since then he's put up excellent numbers, so who takes the mantle now?
Law: I'm asked this sort of question in chats all the time, but since I didn't start scouting amateur players at all until 2003 – and it might be more accurate to say that I started seeing amateur players in 2003, but didn't learn to evaluate them for some time after that – most of my answers would come from the perspective of my old role as a stat analyst. Andy Marte's probably the best answer I can give, especially since I did see him in his first spring with Cleveland and loved his swing, so he's a case where I could offer both perspectives and still missed on him. And do we have a good idea why Jerome Williams never developed?
MLBTR: I have a feeling that your style of writing may generate more angry correspondence from readers than the average columnist. Have you been able to develop a thick skin? Is there an occasional email or comment that makes your blood boil?
Law: I'm not thick-skinned or thin-skinned, but I do believe strongly in calling out people who take advantage of the anonymity of the Internet to slander people or generally act in ways in which they wouldn't act if they had to write under their own names. Many people, perhaps most, will back off when they realize that their comments are truly public and that the target might see them and choose to defend himself. And I think most readers are unaccustomed to getting responses like that. If people wrote like they believed their targets were reading, they'd be more civil. And civility is a good thing.
That said, I'm amused by how personally some readers take my comments. Why do you care that I said that Joey Bagodonuts is only going to be a fourth outfielder or a fifth starter in the majors? What I say has zero impact on a player's career path, and if you are worried about my analyses affecting a player's trade value, well, thanks for the compliment, but I'm not sure I believe that either.
MLBTR: What's your favorite major fast food chain?
Law: Five Guys, assuming that's "major." I like In-n-Out, but their burgers are not close to Five Guys', and I like Rubio's as well (I used to like Baja Fresh, and then I tried Rubio's). Peter Reinhart, one of my favorite cookbook authors, has written about the biscuits at Bojangle's, so I need to check that out the next time I'm in the south.
All else being equal, though, I prefer to avoid fast food. I like patronizing local places; I like the challenge of finding those restaurants and I believe in supporting establishments that are serving honest, authentic food, food made from fresh ingredients that either preserves cooking traditions or tries to push cuisine in new directions. And I don't like the way major fast-food chains have sacrificed quality, both in the end product but also in the treatment of animals during the process, in the name of driving down costs. Reducing the cost of a high-definition television is one thing, but reducing the cost of a hamburger? I'd rather eat fewer burgers, pay more when I do, and get a much better end product.
Recently MLB Trade Rumors had the privilege of asking a few questions of Diamondbacks GM Josh Byrnes. Byrnes has been at the helm since October of '05, making it to the NLCS in '07.
MLB Trade Rumors: Many players signed for less money or fewer years than expected this winter. Do you anticipate an even more drastic decline in free agent spending around the game for the non-superstar players in the 2009-10 offseason?
Josh Byrnes: In spite of the economic conditions, the industry spent over $1 billion on free agents this off-season and 17 of 30 clubs increased their payrolls. Given the abnormally small rate of inflation (and a good class of free agents), it felt like a very tight squeeze. Certain players probably signed for a lot less than what they have been offered in the months/years preceding their final decision. In a tight economic setting, the stars seem to do better than the good (but not irreplaceable) players.
MLBTR: You were criticized by some for not offering arbitration to Adam Dunn in December, but it turned out to be the right move. How were you able to predict where the market was headed?
Byrnes: Obviously, we considered that particular decision very carefully. It was difficult – especially because the premise of the August trade was based upon draft pick compensation. As we moved toward December 1st, we weighed the risk and reward of offering Dunn arbitration, and we decided that the risk was too great.
MLBTR: Do you have the payroll flexibility to make another Dunn-like acquisition this summer, if the need arises?
Byrnes: We’ll see. Ownership has been very supportive of any responsible expenditure that can help us compete. These are challenging economic times, and we will have to monitor our competitive state and our revenues.
MLBTR: You've talked about the danger of having players with their meters running regarding playing time incentives, and expressed a preference for health-based incentives if any. Do you think health-based incentives carry a similar risk, with a player perhaps unwilling to disclose an injury or go on the DL because it would affect his paycheck?
Byrnes: The non-disclosure of an injury could happen (I suppose), but that is pretty self-defeating for the player. Our fundamental rejection of bonuses centers on two main points: (1) we want to know what our team costs, and (2) we do not want provisions in contracts to be a daily source of angst in our clubhouse.
MLBTR: What is your stance on player opt-outs in free agent contracts? Would you ever allow that?
Byrnes: As a rule of thumb, I would be hesitant to put an opt-out into a contract. We do have a Mutual Option in our Jon Garland contract. To the extent we are able to negotiate Club Options (the reverse of the opt-out concept), we usually provide extra guaranteed money in the form of a buyout to potentially compensate the player for our right to make a choice.
MLBTR: Is there any concern about the team's strikeout total last year, or do you view strikeouts as pretty much the same as other outs?
Byrnes: To some extent, strikeouts are like other outs. But on a young team with many RHH, it can be indicative of our needed growth. Ideally, we want hitters who are tough outs and who are dangerous. If enough walks and homers accompany the strikeouts, the tradeoff can work. Our young hitters have faced some elite pitching in our division over the last two seasons. Now, we need to start applying those lessons.
MLBTR: How do you decide how many innings you'll allow a guy like Max Scherzer to throw, since he's never topped 109 in a season? If he's healthy and the team is in a pennant race would you be comfortable taking him to 200 innings?
Byrnes: Including the Arizona Fall League and instructional league, Scherzer threw around 140 innings last year. We will try to moderate his innings throughout the season and shoot for a range closer to 170 innings.
MLBTR: Have the D'Backs built something similar to the Diamondview database you worked with in Cleveland?
Byrnes: We have not. The Indians actually developed their product after my departure (we had just started to integrate IT into Baseball Ops as I was leaving). With the volume of information at our disposal and the necessary speed of business, we are constantly trying to ramp up our technical tools. The progression from concept to implementation is not an easy one.
Murray Chass covered baseball for the New York Times for almost 40 years, and now his work can be found at MurrayChass.com. Chass answered questions for MLB Trade Rumors over email recently.
MLB Trade Rumors: You could be called a trailblazer with MurrayChass.com, as it’s the first time I recall a veteran baseball journalist going independent while continuing to make calls, report, and do newspaper-style stories. It seems that Tracy Ringolsby and others are following suit…is this the beginning of a trend?
Murray Chass: I think it’s premature to talk about a trend because we don’t know how many newspaper people might follow, but given the state of the newspaper industry and the rapid rate at which jobs and entire papers are disappearing or threatening to disappear, I can see the practice developing.
MLBTR: Why did you create MurrayChass.com? Given that there is no revenue source, is it the sheer enjoyment of writing? What is it like to be free of editors?
Chass: You are right about there being no revenue source, although that might be a reason not too many people would follow. In my case, I decided to take the attractive buyout the Times offered because I figured it might not be offered again. I also didn’t like the direction in which the sports editor was going. But I wasn’t prepared to quit writing. I enjoyed writing baseball columns my last four plus years at the Times and I wasn’t ready to stop. Rather than try to hook on with an existing Web site, I decided to start my own site so I could write the kind of columns I wanted to write. Most of the columns on existing sites are geared to where this player or that is going, and that’s not what I wanted to do.
As for editors, I don’t miss them. They can serve a purpose, saving a writer from mistakes, for example. But I see enough mistakes in the Times, which is heavily edited, so editors aren’t the answer.
MLBTR: Has it affected your access, not being affiliated with the New York Times anymore?
Chass: Not at all. The people who know me still take and return my calls, and others who don’t know me but are aware of my name and reputation do the same. The only thing I have changed is if I call someone I have never talked to I identify myself as Murray Chass from murraychass.com and formerly of the Times. I don’t presume that everybody knows my name.
MLBTR: You’ve said you hate blogs. Is it just certain ones, or do you hate the entire medium? Do you think that, like Buzz Bissinger discovered, there may be a few out there you would enjoy reading?
Chass: I laugh at the whole blog thing now. I think I objected to blogs initially because my newspaper colleagues and I had worked for many, many years learning and polishing our craft, and suddenly anyone who wanted could write a blog on the Internet with no experience, no credibility and no accountability. I have made mistakes occasionally in my Web site columns — fortunately very few — and I correct them. I don’t know that bloggers acknowledge and correct their mistakes.
I don’t read blogs as a steady diet because I don’t have time. I spend too much time as it is working on my columns, talking to people and keeping up with baseball news and developments. Instead of reading blogs, I’d rather spend my time going to concerts and Broadway shows and doing other things to live a varied life.
MLBTR: Regarding sabermetrics and the advanced stats used these days…do you believe it’s possible to fully embrace these stats without discounting the human side of the game? Can a person have full appreciation for both?
Chass: I think the whole statistical analysis thing is generational. Older guys like me have little use for the new-fangled stuff. I’m certainly not the only one. Younger writers go more for the stats stuff. I think baseball people — general managers, for example — have to use all means of evaluation available for their own protection. I would hope that even Billy Beane occasionally listens to his scouts. One of the things I didn’t like about "Moneyball" was the way Michael Lewis put down Oakland scouts. I have great respect for scouts. The good ones are pretty darn amazing.
Perhaps my biggest problem with the stats generation is they ignore the fact that human beings play the game. I think stats have a place, and I use them to bolster a story when called for, but they are not everything and the newer ones have little benefit to most readers.
MLBTR: Some writers rejected the new advanced stats of recent years. Were you met with similar resistance when you introduced more detailed coverage of free agent contracts and labor negotiations?
Chass: That’s a very good and interesting question. Contract coverage for sure. People, including some writers, made fun of my use of dollar signs so often, but today you can’t read a story about free agents as well as non-free agents without seeing what the guy signed for or the amount of the guy’s new contract. I, on the other hand, am less interested in contracts, though I use the information when it is relevant (like statistics).
In labor coverage, baseball writers definitely tried to avoid covering negotiations. They were interested only in the games on the field. In the 1981 strike, the New York Daily News had three baseball writers, but none of them wanted any part of the strike coverage so the News used its newsside labor writer. He didn’t know anyone in baseball, and the owners’ chief negotiator quickly saw him as someone he could feed stuff to and get his spin in the paper. The strike was about half over when the reporter discovered he was being used.
During the 1994 strike the two sides didn’t negotiate for months once the strike began and the NBA was negotiating a new labor deal so the Times had me cover those negotiations. I quickly learned that the NBA writers wanted to cover those talks even less than baseball writers wanted to cover baseball talks. I loved covering labor because it was like being a real reporter, and I loved being a reporter.