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Playing The Name Game: Spring Training Edition

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Playing The Name Game: Spring Training Edition

Posted on 11 March 2013 by Chris Caylor

This is the first of a two-part spring training edition of Playing the Name Game. This article is targeted at those owners whose drafts (or auctions) haven’t yet taken place. Most of my drafts/auctions have not occurred, which is unusual, based on the comments of several fantasy baseball writers I read and respect. Now, I happen to play in AL-only and NL-only leagues, as I find those leagues more challenging than typical mixed leagues.

NameGame

Regardless of whether the format is draft or auction, fantasy baseball league winners are usually the owners who get the most bang for their buck. Owners who drafted Mike Trout in the mid-to-late rounds, or spent his/her money on R.A. Dickey instead of Tim Lincecum, probably enjoyed finishing in the money in their leagues last year.

The goal of these articles is to identify players who might similarly boost your team in 2013. Let’s jump right in.

First Base

Player A: .299/.344/.463, 18 HR, 108 RBI, 116 OPS+
Player B: .227/.308/.462, 32 HR, 90 RBI, 110 OPS+

Player A is the Dodgers’ Adrian Gonzalez. Player B is Ike Davis of the Mets. Gonzalez has superior talent around him, but his home run totals have dropped each of the past three seasons. At 25, Davis is five years younger and smacked 20 home runs in his final 75 games in 2012. The difference in average draft position, though, is what really struck me: Gonzalez is going in the 3rd-4th round, while Davis is going between rounds 12-16. Why draft A-Gon when you can fortify your middle infield and outfield in the early rounds and get plenty of power from a guy like Davis (or Paul Goldschmidt) later?

Speaking of middle infield:

Second base

Player A: .290/.347/.449, 15 HR, 65 RBI, 20 SB, 112 OPS+
Player B: .257/.335/.379, 14 HR, 76 RBI, 31 SB, 103 OPS+

Player A is Dustin Pedroia of the Red Sox. Player B is Jason Kipnis of the Indians. Personally, I consider Pedroia one of the most overrated players in baseball. The way he runs his mouth, you’d think he was better than the Yankees’ Robinson Cano. But the numbers prove otherwise. Kipnis, meanwhile, will turn 26 shortly after Opening Day and plays for a team that added Michael Bourn and Nick Swisher to its 2013 lineup. True, Kipnis did tail off drastically in the second half of 2012 after a terrific first three months. But the power is developing to complement his 30-steal speed. In ESPN leagues, Kipnis is coming off the board two rounds after Pedroia. That equals two rounds where you can load up on big-time outfielders or an elite shortstop instead. I’m buying.

Shortstop

Player A: .287/.360/.486, 8 HR, 27 RBI, 2 SB, 111 OPS+
Player B: .292/.335/.511, 25 HR, 73 RBI, 21 SB, 126 OPS+

Player A is Troy Tulowitzki of the Rockies. Player B is Ian Desmond of the Nationals. Last year was supposed to be The Big Year for Tulo, as he was entering his age 27 season and coming off three consecutive seasons where he compiled an OPS+ north of 130. Instead, Tulo only played 47 games and missed the final four months of the 2012 season. Entering his seventh season, Tulowitzki has played in 140+ games just three times. When healthy, he is the best shortstop in either league. Unfortunately, that’s become a huge gamble for fantasy owners due to the multiple leg injuries. Desmond is entering his own age 27 season and put up his 2012 stat line despite missing about a month with a dreaded oblique injury, so his numbers could have been even better. Oblique injuries don’t seem to recur with the same frequency as leg injuries. Tulo has the edge in power, but Desmond has better speed, which is more difficult to come by.

Third Base

Player A: .306/.391/.492, 21 HR, 93 RBI, 15 SB, 143 OPS+
Player B: .244/.317/.476, 30 HR, 85 RBI, 1 SB, 117 OPS+

Player A is the Mets’ David Wright. Player B is Pedro Alvarez of the Pirates. Here’s an interesting stat: in 2009 and 2011, Wright combined for just 24 home runs. In 2010 and 2012, Wright smacked a combined 50 home runs. Which Wright will it be in 2013? Will the moved-in fences at Citi Field boost his power numbers, or are the 30-homer days gone for the six-time All-Star? It strikes me as an expensive gamble, given his average draft position in the 1st-2nd round. Meanwhile, in 2012, Alvarez found the power stroke that tantalized the Pirates into making him the #2 overall pick in 2008. Like all Pittsburgh hitters, he tailed off in the second half of the season, but his 53-point jump in batting average (and 178-point jump in slugging) shows that Alvarez has figured some things out at the plate. It looks like the Buccos have finally found their cleanup hitter to protect Andrew McCutchen. And at less than half of Wright’s average auction value, Alvarez should be a major-league bargain for fantasy owners.

Catcher

Player A: .319/.416/.446, 10 HR, 85 RBI, 8 SB, 81 R, 141 OPS+
Player B: .301/.328/.471, 11 HR, 39 RBI, 0 SB, 38 R, 117 OPS+

Player A is the Twins’ Joe Mauer. Player B is Salvador Perez of the Royals. Mauer is now on the wrong side of 30, playing a position that is notoriously brutal on an athlete’s body. That said, Mauer bounced back nicely from a wretched 2011. Mauer is still an elite player, but he lands on this list because he is playing fewer and fewer games at catcher. While the Twins aim to preserve their big-money star, meet the new Joe Mauer: Sal Perez. The Royals’ 22-year-old backstop kept up his impressive contact rate after returning from a knee injury last year and looks like a future superstar at the position. Because he is buried in woeful Kansas City, he may slip a few rounds in your draft or auction. Perez’ 2013 projections are equal to or better than Mauer in every category except RBI. Don’t miss the boat on him.

You may have detected a trend is these five comparisons: I recommend younger, up-and-coming players as better bargains. That isn’t to say you should avoid any of the “bigger” names; only that you should be able to get similar production at a lower cost later in your draft/auction. If it works out, you allow yourself to acquire elite talent at a different position, while another owner might find himself reaching for a backup or platoon player to fill a roster spot.

These are only one man’s opinion. For what it’s worth, though, I did win my league in 2012.

Coming up In Part 2: pitchers and outfielders.

Follow me on Twitter: @ccaylor10.

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Tarnished Todd

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Tarnished Todd

Posted on 19 February 2013 by Chris Caylor

Pro athletes can be enigmatic people. So, too, can the people who cover the games pro athletes play.

ToddHelton

When sportswriters – especially the folks who get paid to cover a team – interject their opinions on their Twitter feed or a blog post, then they become part of the story as well. We see this every year at Hall-of-Fame voting time. Another perfect example in baseball is when an athlete gets busted for using performance-enhancing drugs. Baseball writers love (no, LOVE!) to get up on their soapboxes and rail at the sky about how those players are destroying the game. Just look back at some of the Grade A conniption fits some writers have thrown over Melky Cabrera, Alex Rodriguez, Yasmani Grandal and others.

I don’t begrudge them those opinions, even if I may not share their vitriol. What I ask is this: where is the outrage over a DUI?

Yes, using PEDs is now forbidden in baseball. Yes, using PEDs creates a competitive imbalance within the game and puts an athlete’s accomplishments into question. But does using PEDs put innocent lives at risk the way driving a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol does? While Alex Rodriguez brings embarrassment to himself, the New York Yankees, and baseball as a whole, did he endanger lives the way Todd Helton did a couple of weeks ago?

Simply put: no.

When the longtime Colorado Rockies’ first baseman decided to get behind the wheel of his Ford F-150 truck at 2 am on February 6, 2013, he put lives at risk. His driving was so erratic that police were rightfully called. His mugshot now belongs in the Celebrity Mugshot Hall of Shame. Helton’s iconic moment – fists raised to the sky, shouting in triumph as he catches the final out of the 2007 NLCS – has been sullied with photoshop images of him guzzling wine from an Igloo cooler instead of celebrating the Rockies’ lone trip to the World Series.

Let’s be clear on one thing: no one was injured or killed as a result of Helton’s appalling decision. Thank heavens for that. But it does not excuse his appalling lack of judgment. His apparent motivation for this dangerous drive was lottery tickets and chewing tobacco. Is that worth a human life?

According to the Centers for Disease Control, almost 30 people in the U.S. die every day in motor vehicle crashes that involve an alcohol-impaired driver. The CDC says that translates to one death every 48 minutes. In statistics reported by MADD, Colorado drunk-driving deaths increased 9% from 2010 to 2011. In fact, 36% of Colorado traffic-related deaths in 2011 were drunk-driving related.

Being arrested for a DUI has devastating effects on the offender. Typically, by the time one pays for bail, court fees, penalty fines, and insurance costs, the price tag is about $10,000 – and that’s if you didn’t hit anything or injure anyone (hat tip: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration).

This doesn’t even begin to take into account the devastation visited on a victim. I can’t and won’t even begin to quantify something like that. Ten thousand dollars is pocket change to Todd Helton, who has made over $150 million in his major-league career.

Cardinals reliever Josh Hancock foolishly drove while drunk and died in a 2007 crash. The Angels’ Nick Adenhart was killed by a drunk driver in 2009. So, sadly, there is tragic precedent between drinking and driving and baseball players.

You might think the media would be critical of Helton, similar to how the media excoriated former Cardinals manager Tony LaRussa or outfielder Delmon Young after their alcohol-related incidents.

Sadly, they were not.

Not comparing Helton to Young (who is, by many published accounts, a terrible human being), but local Denver Post writers practically fell over themselves to EXCUSE Helton for his crime. One columnist flippantly began a column thusly: “So now the statistical line for Rockies star Todd Helton reads: 354 home runs, .320 batting average and 1 DUI arrest. Helton is sorry, Denver.” Another has completely glossed over the seriousness of what could have happened in favor of emphasizing that Helton is a “prideful” man who is contrition was obvious before he uttered a single word of explanation to his fans.

When Helton did finally address the media this past Sunday (11 days after his arrest), he was apologetic, but gave no explanation for the delay. Helton refused to discuss why he decided to drink and drive that night, and no media members pushed for an explanation. Helton claims that he has “gotten help” for his “monumental mistake,” yet he would not elaborate what sort of help he is getting. Is it because the investigation is ongoing? If so, then say so.

And is it just me, or did he seem irritated that he had to speak about his DUI at all? Local TV stations also reported that this would be “the first and the last time” that Helton would address this matter. That sound contrite to you? Me either.

No one asked Helton if it ever occurred to him that he could have injured – or killed – a child wearing a Helton jersey or t-shirt. Has Helton considered what such an unspeakable tragedy would do to his legacy? I’d like to know the answer to that question, yet the media has not asked it. Why? Could it be that it is easier to screech and preach about intangible things like the “spirit of the game” or “integrity” than it is to deal with all-too common occurrences in life like drinking and driving, alcohol dependency or automobile crashes? I don’t have an answer. I just wish someone were willing to ask the question.

No questions will be forthcoming from Major League Baseball. Bud Selig has offered no comment whatsoever on Helton’s DUI. The Denver Post has reported that the Rockies do not plan to discipline Helton for his crime, but they did issue a STRONGLY WORDED statement the day after Helton’s arrest. The team used phrases like “extremely disappointed,” “full accountability,” and “severity of the situation.” But an organization that has for years trumpeted how much it values “character” in its players, coaching staff and management, will take no further action other than issuing a statement that essentially says “STOP! Or I’ll say stop again.” Three cheers for hypocrisy, everyone!

Here’s a question for the media, Rockies management and fans: what if it had been a player other than Todd Helton, the franchise icon? What if it had been one of the Rockies’ many young pitchers? A 20-something, perhaps single guy, trying to establish a major league career? Would everyone be so quick to come to that player’s defense, espousing deep insights into his psyche and rationalizing a horrible decision? Or would they be raking him over the coals, demanding his release and entry into a rehab program? Interesting question, isn’t it? The cynic in me has a guess what the answer would be, and the answer is disappointing.

Check out these numbers tweeted by Anthony Witraudo of The Sporting News: “By Sporting News’ count, 12 MLB players, an exec, a bullpen catcher, an announcer and a HOFer have been busted for DUIs since start of 2011.”

Pardon the turn of phrase, but that’s a sobering statistic. The way so many baseball writers harp about PEDs, you’d think the ratio of PED users to DUI arrests was 50-to-1. Again, I ask, where are the priorities of baseball writers? Shouldn’t the DUI issues at least get equal time?

In fairness, the National Football League has a much higher number of players who have been arrested for driving under the influence. But no one grandstands about the prevalence of PEDs in the NFL, either.

Helton said Sunday he is taking “all the right steps to make sure (drinking and driving) doesn’t happen again.” Let’s hope it doesn’t. He played Russian roulette with his massive pick-up truck and got lucky. If it were to happen again, the end result might be a tragedy far more heartbreaking than an athlete caught using steroids. I hope that is something members of the baseball media come to realize sooner rather than later.

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mlbtrade

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Leave the MLB Trade Deadline Alone

Posted on 03 August 2012 by Chris Caylor

In the aftermath of another busy trade deadline in MLB, I have seen a few national baseball writers call for the non-waiver trade deadline to be moved into August. Their primary rationale is the second wild card team, which thus far has achieved its desired goal: to keep more teams in the hunt for the postseason (or at least allow more teams to believe they have a shot, even temporarily). Indeed, eight AL teams are within six games of the wild-card, while five NL teams are within six games. That’s 19 teams with a reasonably realistic chance to play some October baseball – the best kind.

With more teams in the hunt, you might logically conclude this situation would lend itself to more intense, frenzied trading activity. Bidding wars for players conducted by the bottom-feeder teams in an attempt to turn their fortunes around; smaller market teams going for broke by acquiring a stud player stuck on a bad team.

Sadly, that conclusion is incorrect. The new collective bargaining agreement signed in November 2011 changed how the trading game is played. The Bleacher Report article by Zachary Rymer does a terrific job breaking down the details.

In short, Type A and Type B free agents no longer exist. If Team 2 signed a Type A free agent from Team 1, Team 1 was compensated with Team 2’s first-round draft pick. If a Type B free agent were signed, then Team 1 was awarded a “sandwich” pick between the first and second rounds of the next draft.

Example: Ryan Dempster is scheduled to be a free agent at the end of the 2012 season. He likely would have been classified as a Type A free agent. If he signs with a team other than the Rangers, Texas would have received that team’s first-round draft pick AND a “sandwich” pick between the first and second rounds. If Dempster were a Type B free agent, the Rangers would have gotten a sandwich pick only. Under the new agreement, Dempster is strictly a rental. The Rangers get no draft picks if he leaves as a free agent after the season.

From this point forward, pending free agents that spend the entire season with the same team can be offered one-year contracts equal to the average salary of the 125 highest-paid players from the prior season. The team would only get a draft pick if the player turns down that offer and signs with a new team.

The draft pick compensation is completely different now too – picks are now called “competitive balance” picks. I don’t even begin to understand that part of it yet. My brain already hurts from the whole qualifying offer business.

The bottom line: these changes have completely negated any potential uptick in trading activity the second wild card team would have generated. Teams are understandably reluctant to part with young talent (the game’s most valuable commodity) for what might turn out to be a one-game-and-done appearance in the postseason. So some baseball writers suggested moving the trade deadline back to, say, August 15, to allow the races to sort themselves out and the true contenders to emerge. While that reasoning seems defensible at first, there are several reasons to keep the deadline where it is.

First of all, the new draft-pick rules and second wild card are big adjustments by themselves, but they both came about this year. Some teams are proactive; others reactive. Some teams probably did not plan on being in the hunt in 2012 (Orioles, A’s). Some time to adapt should be expected. Major League GMs are smart people (well, except for Dan O’Dowd). I would expect by next July that they will a much better handle on using the new rules to assemble their ballclubs. Let’s see how the strategy develops over the next few years before we start clamoring for deadline date changes.

Second, moving the deadline back lessens the overall impact a player can have with his new team. Jeff Sullivan of SB Nation recently called a trade made at the end of July “skee ball in the dark.” Teams already think long and hard before giving up prospects or younger players for two months of a marquee player (plus October if all goes well). Moving the non-waiver trade deadline into August would be like putting the skee ball targets on wheels. Imagine getting only six weeks’ production from a guy in exchange for six years of team control for each prospect traded away. That is a massive risk. Those 2-3 starts, 5-6 saves or 50-60 at-bats lost in late July/early August might be the difference between reaching the postseason and hitting the golf course. Also, if a player slumps or adjusts slowly to his new team, he has less time to make up for it.

If a team isn’t going to get as much use out of a rental player, they will be unwilling to pay such a premium for one. Accordingly, teams with rental players to trade likely will be unable to obtain the bounty of talent they seek. If they want the draft picks, they will need to keep the player all season and then make him a qualifying offer. Players under team control beyond the current season will become even more valuable.

Finally, trading season in baseball isn’t over. Players who clear thru waivers still can be traded to any team. If a player is claimed, a deal can be worked out with the team that claimed him. Some fascinating deals have happened in August over the years. Cliff Lee is a prime example of a player who could be dealt this month. Cutting the potential August intrigue in half would be a mistake.

Considering the questionable decisions Bud Selig has made in the past – All-Star Game/World Series home advantage, disavowing instant replay, etc. – the idea of changing the non-waiver trade deadline should be dropped ASAP. I, for one, definitely do not want him tinkering with it.

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