Flawed Elias Rankings set to play key role this winter

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Every year, the terribly broken Elias Rankings play a much larger role than most realize in which free agents signs where and when. Fungible relievers and part-time infielders can see their options dwindle because they’re foolishly classified as Type A free agents. Meanwhile, starting pitchers in line for $30 million-$40 million contract can come compensation free because the statistics the rankings use so badly fail to measure value.
Now that the long secret rankings have been reverse engineered by Eddie Bajek and the results get updated throughout the year on MLB Trade Rumors, I’m hopeful the league will finally get around to reevaluating them. In the meantime, I have some thoughts on the projected rankings this year.
– First, a quick primer. A team that signs a Type A free agent, has to give up its first pick, unless that pick is in the top 15 in the draft. In that case, the team surrenders a second-round pick. Teams can lose multiple picks. The Yankees lost first-, second- and third-round picks last year for signing Mark Teixieira, CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett. Type B free agents require no compensation to sign, but the team that loses them is awarded a newly created pick between the first and second rounds. In both cases, these picks only change hands or are rewarded if the player in question is offered arbitration by his old team.
– The most disturbing rankings this year come in the infield. Orlando Hudson, Miguel Tejada, Marco Scutaro, Placido Polanco and Orlando Cabrera are the Type A free agents. Meanwhile, the infielders likely to get the largest deals — Chone Figgins and Adrian Beltre — are Type Bs. That makes them even more attractive than they were already. Felipe Lopez, Mark DeRosa, Freddy Sanchez and Troy Glaus are also relevant Type Bs.
Cabrera would be in line to be ripped off by the rankings system for a second straight year, but as part of his deal with the A’s last year, he and his agent smartly included a clause that prevented his team from offering him arbitration this winter. Since the compensation goes away once a player isn’t offered arbitration, he can be had without sacrificing a draft pick.
– Because the system treats the positions as equals, the second- and third-tier relievers are always the players most ripped off by the rankings. The league’s 20th best reliever isn’t worth anywhere near as much as the 20th best starter, yet both are going to be Type-A free agents, meaning a team would have to give up a pick to sign them.
The Type-A free agent relievers this year are Jose Valverde, Mike Gonzalez, Rafael Soriano, Billy Wagner, Darren Oliver, LaTroy Hawkins, Rafael Betancourt, Kevin Gregg, John Grabow and Octavio Dotel.
Several of the pitchers won’t be offered arbitration, taking them off the list of pitchers who would require compensation. But a couple probably will be offered arbitration and have to accept it, since no one is going to want to both pay them and sacrifice a draft pick. That’s what Oliver and the Reds’ David Weathers did last year.
– So, that’s 10 free agent relievers who claimed Type A status. On the other hand, just two starters did: John Lackey and Randy Wolf. Andy Pettitte, Rich Harden, Erik Bedard, Vicente Padilla, Joel Pineiro, Braden Looper, Jon Garland, Doug David, Randy Johnson, Jason Marquis, Justin Duchscherer and Carl Pavano are all Type Bs.
Then you have Jarrod Washburn, Tim Hudson and Brett Myers, whose teams won’t even be awarded a supplemental pick if they leave.
Brandon Webb is also set to be a Type B if his option is declined, which is one more great reason for the Diamondbacks to exercise it. The Yankees and Red Sox will definitely be looking at high upside pitchers like Webb, Harden, Bedard, Hudson and Ben Sheets.
– In the first base-outfield sections of the rankings, Matt Holliday, Jason Bay and Manny Ramirez were all clear Type As. Bobby Abreu, Johnny Damon, Vladimir Guerrero and Jermaine Dye were also Type As, but Guerrero and Dye, at least, probably won’t be offered arbitration.

Willie Mays gets a cable car named after him

Major League Baseball hall of famer  Willie Mays, who spent the majority of his career as a center fielder with the New York and San Francisco Giants, smiles as President Barack Obama honors the 2012 World Series Champion San Francisco Giants baseball team, Monday, July 29, 2013, during a ceremony on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington. The team beat the Detroit Tigers in the 2012 World Series, their second championship since the franchise moved to San Francisco from New York in 1958. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
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This is not exactly stunning news, but it’s Willie Mays’ 85th birthday today and any excuse to talk about Willie Mays is a good one. Happy Birthday, Willie!

The pretext is a story in the San Francisco Chronicle about how The Greatest Baseball Player of All Time (my view anyway) is getting an iconic cable car named after him. An icon named after an icon, I guess. The cable car is, appropriately, number 24.

Next month I’m taking my kids on vacation to California and we’re spending a few days in San Francisco. It’ll be a shame when I tell them we have to cancel half of a day’s plans while I make them wait for one particular cable car to come by so they can take my picture with it, but that’s just what they have to deal with given that I’m their dad.

Carlos Gomez calls out a hit piece-writing columnist

Houston Astros' Carlos Gomez (30) reacts after hitting a double in the second inning of a baseball game against the Minnesota Twins, Tuesday, May 3, 2016, in Houston. (AP Photo/Eric Christian Smith)
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Yesterday I wrote about a column written by Brian T. Smith of the Houston Chronicle. It was about Astros outfielder Carlos Gomez, who has had a poor start to the year.

The column, as I noted, was a hatchet job, blaming Gomez for the Astros’ problems despite the fact that Gomez is by far from the biggest of the Astros’ problems. It was particularly bad in that it presented an unedited bit of broken English from Gomez which seemed calculated to cast Gomez in a bad light. Many journalists were critical of Smith in this regard, noting that he could’ve used a translator, could have paraphrased or could’ve done some mild correction via brackets, as is often done with quotes from non-native English speakers.

Last night Gomez took to Twitter to call out Smith himself:

It’s possible to write a column about how a player hasn’t lived up to expectations without being an insensitive jackass. It’s possible to do so even in the sharpest of ways. Smith didn’t do that, however, and didn’t make an effort to try, it seems. Gomez is right to take issue with it. And I suspect that Gomez’s teammates and organization take issue with it too. Which likely doesn’t bode well for Smith getting cooperation from others in the Astros family.

Reminder: athletes are not heroes

Zack Greinke
Associated Press
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This is something of a “greatest hits” piece and it’s topic I’ve talked about here before, but I’m reminded of it again because of Facebook’s memories thing which tells me I wrote about it seven years ago today back when I was still doing stuff at my old Shysterball blog at the Hardball Times.

The topic: ballplayers as heroes. The subject of the 2009 post on the matter was Zack Greinke, who was then beginning his breakout year with the Kansas City Royals. A columnist talked about how uplifting Greinke’s story was, what with him having overcome some struggles with anxiety disorder which had caused him to leave the game for a brief period. In early 2009 he was back, baby, and better than ever and many wanted to turn him into something larger than just a ballplayer excelling at his craft.

In the post I wrote about how, while such an impulse was understandable, it was a dangerous one as athletes have been made into heroes for years and years and, so often, they end up disappointing. Because we built them up so high, however, we don’t see such instances as the mere exhibition of human fallibility. We see them as some greater failure or even a betrayal, which is both ridiculous and unfair to these men and women, even if they have failed in certain ways. They have worked hard all of their lives to be good at a particular sport. They did not promise us glory or inspiration, yet we assume that they owe us those things. Their failures, however they are manifested, are matched by our failures at expectation management.

But it’s even more pernicious than that. Because, as I wrote at the time, when we create heroes, we necessarily create the need for villains and we will go out of our way to find those too, justified or otherwise:

“Hero” is too strong and baggage-laden a word anyway. As [Bill] James notes, it places a heavy burden on young men, and these guys are under such scrutiny day-in and day-out that they really don’t need it. What’s more, the term hero it necessarily assumes its opposite — villain — and demands that we search them out too. You know, to restore balance to the universe and everything. Often — as in the case of A-Rod and Gooden and Bonds and all of the others — they’re the same people, just older . . . Hero creation, worship, and subsequently, destruction has long been a part of baseball. But it’s not an essential part, and in my mind not a desirable part.

Seven years later we’re still doing this. As Bill James noted in his “Historical Baseball Abstract,” “When a young player comes to the major leagues and has success right away, writers will almost always write about what a fine young man he is as well as a supreme talent.” Many of them, like Zack Greinke, will prove to continue to be fine older men, just as they were fine young men. Some will not. Would it not be better if we didn’t get so invested in how fine a young man any one of them is? Or, short of that, if we didn’t act so betrayed and victimized if they turn out not to be such a fine young man?

I like to hear a good story about a baseball player who, by all outward appearances, seems like a good person. But I’m content to give such a story a smile and leave it at that. If we require heroism, there are people who do truly heroic things in the world beyond throw baseballs.

Andrew McCutchen apologies to an official scorer he said should be fired

Pittsburgh Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen (22) watches from the dugout during the seventh inning of a baseball game against the Detroit Tigers on Wednesday, April 13, 2016, in Pittsburgh. Detroit won 7-3.(AP Photo/Don Wright)
Associated Press
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Andrew McCutchen made an error on Wednesday night. He thought he shouldn’t have been charged with one on the play, however, and afterward said “whoever scored that an error should be fired. That’s unbelievable. I did everything I could to catch it.”

It was a dumb comment for two reasons. First, a player “doing everything he can” on a play doesn’t make a misplay not a misplay. The “e” ain’t about effort, man. I realize scoring has gotten somewhat lax in recent years and players are routinely not given errors if it looks like they really, really tried, but there is not an intent element to the crime of making errors on the playing field. If you muff one, you muff one.

It was a dumb comment for another reason, and that’s that it was just not very nice. As we noted when David Ortiz or some others have made publicly disparaging comments about official scorers, it’s the ultimate punching down. These are people who have other jobs, aren’t public figures, don’t get paid a lot and really, really don’t have it in for anyone. Publicly criticizing them is bad enough, publicly demanding their jobs is pretty low.

Thankfully, with a day’s worth of reflection, McCutchen realized that this was the case and apologized. There aren’t public words from McCutchen available, but the club said that he reached out to the scorer and personally apologized. As he should’ve.