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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.
FOX Sports baseball guru Ken Rosenthal answered questions for MLBTR on Saturday…
MLBTR: I don’t have an official count, but I believe you’ve broken more MLB signings and trades than any other reporter over the past several years. Is it still a thrill for you to break news?
Rosenthal: Oh, of course. It also hurts to lose. So, you’re motivated both ways. I don’t have much of a temper – at least I don’t think I do – but I will occasionally let loose after getting beat. My wife and kids look at me look I’m nuts. And it’s sort of difficult for me to argue the point!
MLBTR: Hundreds of baseball writers are trying to break news, including perhaps your stiffest competition in SI.com’s Jon Heyman and the ESPN crew. Do you share information with other writers? Or is it more of a "every man for himself" situation?
Rosenthal: Everyone for themselves, now more than ever. I don’t share with anyone, and I don’t believe anyone else does, either. Every web site and every newspaper is in competition. And there are so many hard-working baseball reporters, you never know who might come up with something next.
MLBTR: Say you snag a scoop on a signing. What has to happen before that story hits the FOX website? What is a typical amount of time between you confirming the info and it hitting the website?
Rosenthal: The turnaround is incredibly quick, especially if I’m able to give our editors a heads-up that something is coming (which isn’t always the case). I’ve never actually timed it, but I would guess that it takes no more than 1-2 minutes for us to post a story. I would imagine this is true for the other web sites and many of the newspapers as well.
MLBTR: If a team source or an agent gives you information that feels like propaganda to you, do you still run with it?
Rosenthal: My job is to inform my readers, not serve the interest of others. I am no one’s stooge, and my sources know it.
MLBTR: A scoop on a signing or trade – do you have to confirm that with multiple sources? Or is one rock-solid source sufficient?
Rosenthal: Depends. All of us were taught to use multiple sources. However, the business has changed. There are times I will go with a story even if I have only one source. Too often, if you wait for multiple confirmations, you get beat. I do think, however, it is important to be accurate, more important than it is to be first.
MLBTR: These days it seems like every beat writer and national guy has a blog and can publish news instantly. Does that make your job more difficult? Have you considered starting up a blog similar to Jon Heyman’s, where you could drop in a few quick paragraphs on a topic?
Rosenthal: Absoutely, the job gets more difficult by the day, with so many writers in competition. I do live updates like Jon’s during the winter meetings, but if I have a news item in other periods, I just turn it into a story. Not much of a difference, really, in my mind.
MLBTR: You have a fairly unique and very interesting job, at least to the average hot stove junkie. I’ve read that you have three kids – what do they think of their dad’s line of work? Do they share the same passion for the inside side of the game?
Rosenthal: My wife and children do not follow baseball. They are not at all caught up in what I do. Which, for me, is fantastic. They keep me very grounded. My kids are 17, 16 and 13. They’re all busy with their own lives, and my wife is busy keeping them going. C.C. Sabathia, Mark Teixeira, Scott Boras – not on their radar.
MLBTR: Did you enjoy the Winter Meetings this year? Do you have any suggestions on how MLB could improve this event?
Rosenthal: I don’t know that any reporter "enjoys" the winter meetings; they’re pretty intense! As for improving ‘em, I don’t know. Some believe they’re obsolete. Most people in baseball communicate by phone, e-mail or text message. Still, having everyone in one place creates a certain deal-making dynamic, in some cases. The attention is good for the game.
Former Dodgers GM Fred Claire was kind enough to answer questions for MLBTR readers. Fred enjoyed this; we’ll have to do this again in the future. He wrote a book four years ago; my copy just arrived in the mail. Here we go with the Q&A…
MLBTR: What is the best way for a college student to break into a MLB front office, in any baseball operations capacity?
Claire: This is one of the most common questions that comes my way and one of the most difficult to answer for a very basic reason—there are so many young people seeking a position in baseball operations and yet this is a very limited field in an industry with 30 MLB teams. If you want to get a good road map take the time to study the career paths of those involved in MLB at the top levels of team management. You will find a variety of paths to key positions and if you look at recent GM hires in Tony Reagins of the Angels and Bill Smith of the Twins you will see young men who started in rather low level positions (Reagins in marketing and Smith at a minor league team) who worked their way to the top by showing their passion for the game, the ability to learn and the ability to communicate. Both are team players who looked at how they could help their organizations and not how they could advance on an individual basis.
I wish I could say there was an specific academic path that led to a position in the game but that isn’t the case. You need a passion for the game and a willingness to start at whatever level that gets you in the door. The one thing I see quite often with college students is that they have an interest in being a general manager, for example, and yet if you examine their resumes you will see that they are majoring in finance or marketing. This educational background is fine but with this background one should be looking for a job with a MLB team in these areas.
If you look at high profile GMs like Theo Epstein of the Red Sox and Brian Cashman of the Yankees you will see that they started out in low level positions but had the chance to show their ability and advance due to their dedication, intelligence and hard work.
I wish I could give better answers here but I will leave you with this—don’t give up on your dreams to work for a Major League team, build a strong educational background and be willing to pay the price for starting at whatever position that provides an opening opportunity.
MLBTR: Could you tell us about the biggest trade you seriously considered but ultimately did not make?
Claire: I think a “near” trade that comes to mind quickly is a deal in my final year (1998) as the GM of the Dodgers where I felt we were going to be able to acquire Randy Johnson from the Mariners with Hideo Nomo as part of the package. I believe the Seattle front office was willing to do the deal but that Mariner ownership stepped in and stopped the trade in the final stages. I could be wrong because you never know exactly what is happening in the other front office but I had the feeling this deal was a real possibility.
MLBTR: What is the most lopsided (yet serious) trade offer you ever received?
Claire: There were a lot of discussions with other teams in my years with the Dodgers but you tend to forget (at least I did) the deals that simply made no sense.
MLBTR: When you were GM, were there any agents who caused you to shy away from their players because of their demands? Put another way, was there a Scott Boras of your time?
Claire: Scott Boras was in business as part of my time with the Dodgers. I did several deals with Scott, including the signing of Darren Dreifort after we drafted Darren. I always found Scott to be very well prepared as he went into any discussion. There are those who criticize Scott but my response would be “Show me any contract involving Scott where Scott’s signature is the only one on the contract.” Scott never did a deal, and can’t do a deal, without having a Major League team sign off on the deal. If you want to deal with Scott you had been be as prepared as he will be.
MLBTR: What are your feelings on modern statistics? Did you employ any advanced analysis in your time with the Dodgers?
Claire: I find the term “modern statistics” somewhat interesting in that the game on the field hasn’t changed from the most basic standpoint but the way that it is measured and evaluated has changed in a dramatic fashion. I’ve always believed in looking at the best information that is available in making player and team evaluations. During most of my time as the GM of the Dodgers, we employed Craig Wright as a consultant. Craig has been one of the leaders in the field of baseball analytics through the years. I always was a strong believer in on-base percentage through the years even though there are those who seem to believe the statistic was just created as part of “modern statistics.”
Today I’m involved in a baseball venture with Ari Kaplan, a graduate of Caltech (in fact, he has been honored as “Caltech’s Man of the Decade”) and one of the true leaders in the field of technology. You will find a great deal about Ari and has background on the web. I truly believe he has developed the best analytical information that is available to Major League teams and you will be hearing more about this as we move along with our project. Ari and I visited with a number of MLB teams this Spring and basic information on the solutions/programs that Ari has developed can be found at the link: http://www.spraycharts.com/bball.htm.
MLBTR: If you could have been GM for any other organization, which one would it have been and why?
Claire: There are two teams that come immediately to mind, because they were my favorite teams as a youngster while growing up in a small town in Ohio (Jamestown)—the Cincinnati Reds and the Boston Red Sox. I think it’s a great opportunity and honor to be the GM of any team in Major League Baseball.
MLBTR: Who do you consider the best GM in the game today?
Claire: I don’t want to get into ranking the GMs of today but if I had to select one person who I felt has set the right example in the past decade or so it would be Terry Ryan, who stepped down as the Minnesota Twins’ general manager at the end of last season. Terry represents everything you want to have in a GM—passion, dedication, loyalty, intelligence and a true team builder in every way—from the standpoint of his own baseball operations department to the teams he actually has fielded.
Royals starter Brian Bannister recently answered some questions for MLBTR readers. This post concludes the series; also check out Part 1 and Part 2 Q&A. Brian clearly took extra time out to answer thoughtfully, and we thank him for it.
MLBTR: Since you originally went to college as a position player, how do you use your experience in the batter’s box and in the field to your advantage when you’re pitching? Playing in the AL, do you miss hitting?
Bannister: I think it is as important to know how a hitter thinks and operates as it is to be able to throw major league quality pitches. One area I have done a lot of work on is how a hitter sees a pitch, determines its speed and location, and decides whether or not to swing depending on the situation.
To me, there are three types of pitchers that can be successful in the major leagues, each for different reasons. The one thing they share in common is that they all have a deception that makes it difficult for hitters to visually predict where the ball will be when it enters the hitting zone. If you think about it, a hitter does not actually see the ball hit his bat, he loses the ball a certain distance out in front of him and has to "guess" where it will end up. This is why repetition and good eyesight are important for a hitter, and why as pitchers we don’t want to pitch in patterns. Hitters spend hours hitting off of pitching machines and BP pitchers, where there is no deception, and they are very good at it. Here are the three types of pitchers I have seen that can "deceive" Major League hitters and be successful:
1. "Late Movers" – These pitchers have the ability to make the ball move in the zone after the hitter visually loses the ball either more than the average pitcher, in a different manner than the average pitcher, or in a completely random manner altogether. These are pitchers that throw cut fastballs ("cutters", such as Mariano Rivera), sinking fastballs ("sinkers", such as Chien-Ming Wang & Fausto Carmona), split-fingered fastballs ("splitters", such as Roger Clemens, Curt Schilling, J.J. Putz & Dan Haren), knuckleballs (such as Tim Wakefield), or from an arm angle that puts more sidespin on the ball than backspin (such as Jake Peavy). If I could throw any pitch, it would be the split-fingered fastball, because the movement on it is unpredictable and is impossible to hit squarely every time. Unfortunately, it is also the most dangerous on the arm and requires large hands to take the strain off of the elbow. All these pitchers share the ability of having good "stuff", but their ball moves late in the zone more than anyone else in the game and is never straight.
2. "Risers" – These pitchers are the most exciting to watch in baseball, because they have the appearance of "blowing away" hitters. To be a "riser", you have to have exceptional lower body flexibility and be able to pitch under control with a long stride. What "risers" do that other pitchers can’t is they throw the ball on a plane with more upward tilt than average. In other words, their fastball appears to "rise" as passes through the hitting zone. What is actually happening is the hitter sees
the ball, and he predicts that it is going to be lower based on past experience than it actually is. Pitchers that have this unique ability include: Josh Beckett, Jonathan Papelbon, John Maine, Scott Kazmir, Chris Young, Pedro Martinez, and my all-time favorite in this category, Nolan Ryan.
3. "Deceivers" – These pitchers have a unique pitching motion that hides the ball longer than the average pitcher or makes it difficult for the hitter to determine the actual speed of the pitch. Most often, these pitchers are left-handed and stride across their body more than the average pitcher. Young pitchers can work on their deception by trying to keep their front shoulder closed longer, bringing their lead arm/glove in front of their release point, and making sure their throwing arm stays hidden behind the body. Pitchers that have mastered the art of deception are: Johan Santana, Tom Glavine, Erik Bedard, C.C. Sabathia, Oliver Perez, and my favorite deceiver/late mover hybrid, Greg Maddux.
After studying and watching the best pitchers in the game for years, I have come up with these three categories that I believe all good pitchers fit into. If a pitcher is not having success, despite having great "stuff" I believe it is because he is not deceiving hitters the way that the pitchers above do. Major League hitters are in the big leagues for a reason, and it is our job as pitchers to find ways to get them out. Finding out which category you naturally fit into and working hard on developing that deception is the best way for a young pitcher to be successful in the long run.
And yes, I do miss hitting.
MLBTR: Are you familiar with the Batting Average on Balls In Play (BABIP) stat? It’s been suggested that the percentage of batted balls that drop in for hits may be largely out of a pitcher’s control. What are your thoughts on that?
Bannister: I think a lot of fans underestimate how much time I spend working with statistics to improve my performance on the field. For those that don’t know, the typical BABIP for starting pitchers in Major League Baseball is around .300 give or take a few points. The common (and valid) argument is that over the course of a pitcher’s career, he can not control his BABIP from year-to-year (because it is random), but over a period of time it will settle into the median range of roughly .300 (the peak of the bell curve). Therefore, pitchers that have a BABIP of under .300 are due to regress in subsequent years and pitchers with a BABIP above .300 should see some improvement (assuming they are a Major League Average pitcher).
Because I don’t have enough of a sample size yet (service time), I don’t claim to be able to beat the .300 average year in and year out at the Major League level. However, I also don’t feel that every pitcher is hopelessly bound to that .300 number for his career if he takes some steps to improve his odds – which is what pitching is all about.
One thing that I work a lot with, and that is not factored into common statistical analysis, is what counts a pitcher pitches in most often – regardless of what type of "stuff" he has. Most stats only measure results, not the situations in which those results occurred. In the common box score, an RBI is an RBI, but it doesn’t show the count, number of outs, and number of runners on base when it occurred. For me, the area where pitchers have the most opportunity to improve or be better than average is in their count leverage.
Let me give the fans and young pitchers out there one example of a way that I try to improve my performance, this time with regards to BABIP.
Question to myself: Does a hitter have the same BABIP in a 2-1 count that he does in an 0-2, 1-2, or 2-2 count? How does his batting average and OBP/SLG/OPS differ when he has two strikes on him vs zero or one strike?
These are the type of questions that I will come up with and employ in my starts to see if I can improve my outings. For example, here are my career numbers in the counts mentioned above:
2-1: .380 (19/50)
1-2: .196 (20/102)
2-2: .171 (18/105)
0-2: .057 (3/53)
It is obvious that hitters, even at the Major League level, do not perform as well when the count is in the pitcher’s favor, and vice-versa. This is because with two strikes, a hitter HAS to swing at a pitch in the strike zone or he is out, and he must also make a split-second decision on whether a borderline pitch is a strike or not, reducing his ability to put a good swing on the ball. What this does is take away a hitter’s choice. If I throw a curveball with two strikes, the hitter has to swing if the pitch is in the strike zone, whether he is good at hitting a curveball or not. He also does not have a choice on location. We are all familiar with Ted Williams’ famous strike zone averages at the Baseball Hall of Fame. It is well-known that a pitch knee-high on the outside corner will not have the same batting average or OBP/SLG/OPS as one waist-high right down the middle. Here is a comparison of the batting averages and slugging percentage on my fastball vs. my curveball:
The important thing to note is that, with two strikes, if I throw a curveball for a strike, the hitter has to swing at it (and I like those numbers). How does a pitcher use this to his advantage? By throwing strikes and keeping the advantage on his side as often as possible. It seems like such a simple solution, yet so much more emphasis is placed on "stuff" nowadays and this is often not reinforced. When a pitcher who has great "stuff" employs this line of thinking, his numbers will improve to an even greater degree.
So, to finally answer the question about BABIP, if we look at the numbers above, how can a Major League pitcher try and beat the .300 BABIP average? By pitching in 0-2, 1-2, & 2-2 counts more often than the historical averages of pitchers in the Major Leagues. Until a pitcher reaches two strikes, he has no historical statistical advantage over the hitter. In fact, my batting averages against in 0-1, 1-0, & 1-1 counts are .297/.295/.311 respectively, very close to the roughly .300 average.
My explanation for why I have beat the average so far is that in my career I have been able to get a Major League hitter to put the ball in play in a 1-2 or 0-2 count 155 times, and in a 2-0 or 2-1 count 78 times. That’s twice as often in my favor, & I’ll take those odds.