The Week Ahead: Wheeling and dealing

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With the non-waiver trade deadline looming on Friday, this coming week
is one of the most exciting of the baseball season. It’s not quite the
World Series, but is not unlike the World Series of Poker.

Player 1: You don’t want to give up your entire minor league system for my pitcher? Fine, then I’ll deal with this other guy.

Player 2: No problem, I think player No. 3’s pitcher is better anyway.

Player 3: Really? Cool!

You know some teams are bluffing, others are slow-playing their
winning hands, while still others are just hanging around, trying to
gum up the works. That is what is so fascinating about the march to the
trade deadline.

Roy Halladay is, of course, the big prize out there. Will he be traded? Sometimes it seems inevitable, other times unlikely. It all depends on the day of the week hour of the day.

Will Doc go to the Phillies? The Red Sox? The Rangers? Would the Yankees (GASP) part with Joba Chamberlain?

It’s enough to make the head spin. And that’s just Halladay.

What about Cliff Lee, the Indians ace who won the 2008 AL
Cy Young award? The Dodgers, Angels and Phillies (if they’re really
giving up on Halladay) appear to be lurking. Will Cleveland also deal
Victor Martinez?

Looking further down the list, teams might be turning to the likes of Jarrod Washburn, who is quietly having his best season since at least 2002, maybe ever.

With the Mariners’ destruction at the hands of the Indians over the
weekend, the departure of Washburn (scheduled to pitch Tuesday) and
Russell Branyan could be imminent. Could a match be found with the Brewers?

And how about the disaster known as the Washington Nationals? Nick
Johnson, Adam Dunn and others could all be heading (they hope) to
newer, sunnier destinations where fans go to games and jersey
adornments are spelled correctly.

And that, friends, is the tip of the iceberg. It will be a wild week, a
rollercoaster of sketchy rumors, breathless television updates and, of
course, terrific Tweets.

We’ll do our best to keep you updated on everything here at Circling the Bases, as well as on our rumors page.

Oh and one last thing: Not to rain on anyone’s parade, but here are five reasons trade deadline deals are overrated. Don’t let it spoil your fun.

More after the jump …

FIVE SERIES TO WATCH

*Yankees at Rays, July 27-29: The Rays have to at least
hold their own in this series to stay within reach. Especially when you
consider that the Red Sox are right there ahead of them, too.

*Astros at Cubs, July 27-29: The Cubs have ridden a
four-game winning streak to the top of the NL Central. But in this
amazingly tight division, the Astros, just two games back, have a
chance to make some noise.

*Dodgers at Cardinals, July 27-30: The Matt Holliday deal
has Cardinals fans buzzing, although the team has not yet taken off.
Now, with a four-game series against the league’s best team
(record-wise), it’s time to deliver.

*Blue Jays at Mariners, July 27-29: Neither one of these
teams appear to be going anywhere as far as the postseason is
concerned, but the trade deadline is another matter. Jarrod Washburn
and Roy Halladay are both scheduled to pitch in this series, and a
number of other potential trade candidates will take the field.

*Phillies at Giants, July 30-Aug. 2: The defending
champions are on a roll, having won eight of their last 10 games. The
surprising Giants are in the thick of the NL wild card race, but this
four-game series could prove crucial.

ON THE TUBE

Monday, 7:05 p.m. ET: Dodgers at Cardinals (ESPN)

Wednesday, 7:08 p.m.: Yankees at Rays (ESPN)

*Saturday, 4:10 p.m.: Yankees at White Sox (FOX)

*Saturday, 4:10 p.m.: Royals at Rays (FOX)

*Saturday, 4:10 p.m.: Dodgers at Braves (FOX)

Sunday, 4 p.m.: Phillies at Giants (TBS)

Sunday, 8:05 p.m.: Dodgers at Braves (ESPN)

*Check local listings

Chipper Jones says the Mets are his pick to “go all the way”

Braves Spring baseball
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Chipper Jones may believe some weird things but he’s pretty savvy and clear-eyed when it comes to analyzing baseball.

Remember back in 2013 how he picked the Dodgers to beat the Braves in the NLDS? And how, because of his perceived “disloyalty,” Braves players had an immature little temper tantrum and refused to catch his ceremonial first pitch? Yeah, that was a great look. If I was more inclined to the hokey and irrational, I’d say that created “The Curse of Chipper” and that it condemned the Braves to two straight years of sucking. Hey, people have built careers on curses sillier than that.

Anyway, kudos to Chipper for apparently not giving a crap about that sort of thing and, instead, saying what he thinks about baseball. Stuff like how he thinks the Mets are going to win it all, saying “They’re really setting the bar and they’re my early-season pick to probably go all the way.”

Keeping in mind that anything can happen in baseball, it’s as good a pick as any other I reckon. Even if it means he has to say that the team who was his greatest rival during his playing career — and whom he thoroughly owned during that time — is better than the one that pays his salary now. Or any other one.

Did Tony La Russa screw Jim Edmonds’ Hall of Fame candidacy?

2011 World Series Game 4 -Texas Rangers v St Louis Cardinals
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Yes, that’s a somewhat provocative question. But it’s still an interesting question, the relevancy of and merits of which we’ll get to in a second. I pose it mostly so I can tell you about some neat research a friend of mine is doing and which should make Hall of Fame discussions and the general discussion of baseball history a lot of fun in the coming years. Bear with me for a moment.

There has long been a war between metrics and narrative. The folks who say that so-and-so was great because of the arc of his story and his career and those who say so-and-so was not so great or whatshisface was way, way better because of the numbers. Those views are often pitted as irreconcilable opposites. But what if they weren’t? What if there was some data which explained why some players become narrative darlings and others don’t? Some explanation for why, say, Jim Rice is in the Hall of Fame while Dwight Evans isn’t despite having better numbers? An explanation, that isn’t about voters being dumb or merely playing favorites all willy-nilly? What if there was some actual quantitative reason why favorites get played in the first place?

That’s the thesis of the work of Brandon Isleib. He has just finished writing a very interesting book. It’s not yet published, but I have had the chance to read it. It sets forth the fascinating proposition that we can quantify narrative. That we can divine actual numerical values which help explain a player’s fame and public profile. Values which aren’t based on some complicated or counterintuitive formula, but which are rooted in the very thing all baseball fans see every day: games. Wins and losses. The daily standings. Values which reveal that, no, Hall of Fame voters who made odd choices in the view of the analytics crowd weren’t necessarily stupid or petty. They were merely reacting to forces and dynamics in the game which pushed them in certain ways and not others.

“But wait!” you interject. “Jim Rice and Dwight Evans played on the same dang team! How does Brandon distinguish that?” I won’t give away all the details of it but it makes sense if you break down how the Red Sox did in certain years and how that corresponded with Rice’s and Evans’ best years. There were competitive narratives in play in 1975, 1978 or 1986 that weren’t in play in 1981 or 1987. From those competitive narratives come player narratives which are pretty understandable. When you weight it all based on how competitive a team was on a day-to-day basis based on how far out of first place they were, etc., a picture starts to come together which explains why “fame” works the way it does.

From this, you start to realize why certain players, no matter how good, never got much Hall of Fame consideration. And why others’ consideration seemed disproportionate compared to their actual performance. All of which, again, is based on numbers, not on the sort of bomb-throwing media criticism in which jerks like me have come to engage.

Like I said, the book won’t be out for a bit — Brandon just finished it — but in the meantime he has a website where he has been and, increasingly will be, talking about his quantification of narrative stuff, writing short articles posing some of the questions his book and his research addresses.

Today’s entry — which is what my headline is based on — isn’t really numbers-based. It’s more talking about the broader phenomenon Brandon’s work gets at in terms of trying to figure out which players are credited for their performance and which are not so credited and why. Specifically, it talks about how Tony La Russa, more than most managers, gets the credit for his success and his players probably get somewhat less than they deserve. In this way La Russa is kind of viewed as a football coach figure and his players are, I dunno, system quarterbacks. It’s something that is unfair, I think, to guys like Jim Edmonds and Scott Rolen and will, eventually, likely be unfair to players like Adam Wainwright and Matt Holliday.

It’s fascinating stuff which gets to the heart of player reputation and how history comes together. It reminds us that, in the end, the reporters and the analysts who argue about all of these things are secondary players, even if we make the most noise. It’s the figures in the game — the players and the managers — who shape it all. The rest of us are just observers and scribes.

Corey Seager tops Keith Law’s top-100 prospect list

Los Angeles Dodgers shortstop Corey Seager warms up before Game 1 of baseball's National League Division Series against the New York Mets, Friday, Oct. 9, 2015 in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Lenny Ignelzi)
Associated Press
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Yesterday it was the top farm systems, today it’s the top-100 prospects from ESPN’s Keith Law.

As Law notes, there’s a HUGE amount of turnover on the list from last year, given how many top prospects were promoted to the bigs in 2015. Kris Bryant seems like a grizzled old veteran now. Carlos Correa too. Eleven of the top 20 from last year’s list have graduated into the bigs. Are we sure it’s only been a year?

So, obviously, there’s a new number one. It’s Corey Seager, the Dodgers’ infielder. Not that everything has changed. Byron Buxton is still number two. This will obviously be his last year on the list. If you want to see and read about the other 98, go check out Keith’s excellent work.

And yes, like yesterday’s farm system rankings, it’s Insider subscription only. There were comments about how much you all hate that and I am sure there will be many more of them today. I get that. No one likes to pay for content. I was somewhat amused, however, by comments that said things like “hey, maybe if we don’t click it, they’ll have to give it to us for free!” Maybe! Or, more likely, the content simply will cease to exist!

It’s good stuff, folks. There aren’t many paid sites I say that about.

Ozzie Guillen to manage again. In Venezuela

Ozzie Guillen Getty
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With Dusty Baker getting back into action with the Nationals and with there being at least some moderate sense that, maybe, inexperienced dudes might not be the best choice to manage big league clubs, I sorta hoped that someone would give Ozzie Guillen another look. Nah. Not happening.

Not that I’m shocked or anything. I can imagine that, under the best of circumstances, a guy like Guillen is hard to have around. He tends to find controversy pretty easily and, unlike some other old hands, Guillen never claimed to be any kind of master tactician. He famously said that he was bored during games until the sixth or seventh inning when he had to start thinking about pitching changes. Refreshing honesty, yes, but maybe not the sort of dude you bring on to, say, be a bench coach or to mentor your younger coaches or to show your hand-picked manager the ropes. Nope, it seemed like Guillen was destined to stay in broadcasting with ESPN Deportes or someone and that his days in uniform were over.

But they’re not over! Guillen was hired yesterday to manage the La Guaira Sharks of the Venezuelan Winter League next offseason. It’s not the bigs, but it is is first on-field gig since he was canned by the Marlins in 2012.

 

Guillen managed the White Sox from 2004-11 and was voted AL Manager of the Year in 2005, when Chicago won the World Series. He may be a bit of a throwback now, but he knows what he’s doing. While I can’t really say that a major league team would be wise to hire the guy — I get it, I really do — a selfish part of me really wants him back in the bigs. He was fun.