Free Agency Preview: Shortstops

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Thumbnail image for marco scutaro.jpgFree Agency Preview – Catcher
Free Agency Preview – First base & DH
Free Agency Preview – Second base
Free Agency Preview – Third base
This is part five in a series of columns looking at this winter’s free agents, trade candidates and non-tender possibilities. I’ll be making predictions for the key free agents, but try not to take them too awfully seriously. Here’s the breakdown of the shortstop position.
Marco Scutaro (Blue Jays) – Scutaro, who played mostly second base in the minors, has been cast off by several teams during a career that began in 1996, but at the age of 33, he suddenly emerged as an excellent leadoff hitter and fine defensive shortstop for the Blue Jays. In fact, he was simply too good for Toronto, as he’ll likely jump out of the team’s price range as the best shortstop available this winter. It does hurt that he’s a Type A free agent who is certain to be offered arbitration. Unlike the rest of the free agents here, he’d cost a team like the Red Sox, Tigers or Cubs a first-round pick. Those clubs could target him anyway, and it’s possible that the Dodgers and Mets will look at him as a second baseman. Prediction: Red Sox – three years, $18 million
Miguel Tejada (Astros) – Tejada is also a Type A free agent, but the Astros can’t risk offering him arbitration when he’d almost certainly take it and command a salary close to the $13 million he earned in 2009. While the 35-year-old hit a respectable .313/.340/.455 last season, he had brutal defensive numbers and likely would be of more use as a third baseman than as a shortstop going forward. It’d be no surprise to see him tumble like Orlando Cabrera did last winter and eventually have to accept a one-year deal in the $4 million range. He’d make sense for the Astros, Twins or Mariners at third base. The White Sox could also consider him if they opt to put Mark Teahen in the outfield. Prediction: Mariners – one year, $4 million
Orlando Cabrera (Twins) – After a dreadful first half, Cabrera rebounded to hit .305/.333/.436 after the break for the A’s and Twins. It seemed likely that Minnesota would want him back after his nice finish, but the team has already gone in a different direction by picking up J.J. Hardy. That leaves Boston, Toronto, Detroit, Washington, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh as possible homes for Cabrera. He’s slipped defensively, but he’s still an adequate shortstop and a solid enough option at the bottom third of a lineup. Prediction: Reds – one year, $4 million
Alex Gonzalez (Red Sox) – The wheels aren’t what they used to be, but Gonzalez showed in Boston that he’s still as steady as they come defensively. He also performed much better than expected offensively after being picked up in August, coming in at .284/.316/.453 with five homers in 148 at-bats. Gonzalez can’t be counted on to put up that kind of line over a full season, but he may well be a better option as a starting shortstop than Tejada or Cabrera at this point. He could stay with Boston or jump to the Blue Jays or Tigers. Prediction: Blue Jays – one year, $2.5 million
Khalil Greene (Cardinals) – If it were just the two awful offensive seasons in a row, Greene would be well worth gambling on. Unfortunately, he was just as bad with the glove as he was with the bat last season and every potential suitor is going to be wondering whether he’s still a realistic option at shortstop. Also, there are the psychological issues that put him on the disabled list twice last season. A team with nothing to lose, such as the Pirates, Astros or Nationals, could sign him and hope for the best. He’s just 29, and he still has 25-homer power. Prediction: Pirates – one year, $2 million
Other free agents: Adam Everett (Tigers), Craig Counsell (Brewers), Omar Vizquel (Rangers), John McDonald (Blue Jays), Bobby Crosby (Athletics), Omar Quintanilla (Rockies), Juan Castro (Dodgers), Luis Rodriguez (Padres), Cody Ransom (Yankees), Angel Berroa (Mets), Jason Smith (Astros), Ramon Martinez (Mets)
Everett still has a lot to offer defensively, but the annual 600 OPS may see him relegated to backup status this winter. He’d be nice insurance for a team planning to go with an unproven shortstop (Houston and Oakland come to mind). … Counsell is happy in Milwaukee, and the Brewers have very good reason to bring him back. Expect them to come to an agreement. … Vizquel is content as a backup, just not in Texas. He could fit with the Red Sox, Mets or Cubs.
Trade candidates: Yunel Escobar (Braves), Stephen Drew (Diamondbacks), Cristian Guzman (Nationals), Reid Brignac (Rays), Chin-Lung Hu (Dodgers), Ramon Santiago (Tigers), Robert Andino (Orioles), Tyler Greene (Cardinals), Alberto Gonzalez (Nationals), Brent Lillibridge (White Sox), Gregorio Petit (Athletics), Trevor Plouffe (Twins)
Escobar and Drew are big long shots to be moved. They’ll likely be requested in talks, but neither Atlanta nor Arizona has an internal replacement ready. … The Nationals are ready to shove Guzman to second base, but if anyone wants to pick him up, they’ll certainly listen. They already regret not letting him go when the Red Sox claimed him off waivers in August.
The Rays envisioned Brignac taking over as their shortstop at some point during 2009 or 2010, but he was a modest disappointment and Jason Bartlett has stepped up in a big way. They don’t have to move him, but he’s clearly expendable. … The Tigers like Santiago as a part-timer at shortstop and will probably keep him if they go cheap this winter. If they sign a legitimate starter to replace Adam Everett, then Santiago could be dealt.

Non-tender candidates: Ronny Cedeno (Pirates), Augie Ojeda (Diamondbacks), Anderson Hernandez (Mets), Josh Wilson (Mariners), Luis Cruz (Pirates), Luis Hernandez (Royals), Brian Bocock (Giants)
If the Pirates had come up with J.J. Hardy to go along with Akinori Iwamura, than they probably would have moved on from Cedeno. However, the former Cub was adequate after being acquired from the Mariners last season and he’s only due $1.2 million or so in arbitration. Odds are that he’ll stick around. … The Diamondbacks won’t go to arbitration with Ojeda, but they likely will offer him a one-year deal worth a bit more than the $712,500 he made last season. If he declines, then he’ll be let go.
2010-11 free agents: Jose Reyes (Mets)*, Jimmy Rollins (Phillies)*, Derek Jeter (Yankees), Cristian Guzman (Nationals), Julio Lugo (Cardinals)*, Cesar Izturis (Orioles), Nick Punto (Twins)*, Edgar Renteria (Giants)*, Ramon Santiago (Tigers)
2011 options: Reyes – $11 million ($500,000 buyout), Rollins – $8.5 million ($2 million buyout), Lugo – $9 million (vests w/600 PA in 2010), Punto – $5 million ($500,000 buyout), Renteria – $10.5 million ($500,000 buyout),
2011-12 free agents: Jose Reyes (Mets), Jimmy Rollins (Phillies), J.J. Hardy (Twins), Jason Bartlett (Rays), Rafael Furcal (Dodgers)*, Jack Wilson (Mariners), Yuniesky Betancourt (Royals)*, Ronny Cedeno (Pirates), Augie Ojeda (Diamondbacks)
2012 options: Furcal – $12 million (vests w/600 PA in 2011), Betancourt – $6 million ($2 million buyout)

Wanna work as a baseball broadcaster for free?

Two drake Mallard ducks fly over Lake Erie near the Cleveland shoreline, Tuesday, April 1, 2014, in Cleveland. Warming temperatures have brought a variety of waterfowl to the area as they stage for the northern migration. (AP Photo/Mark Duncan)
AP Photo/Mark Duncan
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(Hat tip to @ItsTonyNow on Twitter for pointing this story out.)

The Madison Mallards are a collegiate summer baseball team in Wisconsin. College players join the league to have an opportunity to showcase their talents for scouts. Though they’re not exactly the New York Yankees, the Mallards do relatively well for themselves. In 2013, they had the highest average attendance among amateur teams, per The Capital Times.

That makes one of their latest job postings seem rather curious. The Mallards are looking for someone to handle both play-by-play broadcasting duties as well as media relations, as seen in this post. Only one problem: the position is unpaid. Here’s the full description (emphasis mine):

The Madison Mallards are looking for an enthusiastic and ambitious individual to join the front office as the Radio Broadcaster.

This position will manage all day-to-day media relations duties and act as the traveling secretary on all road trips. This is a seasonal position, beginning in May 2016 and ending in mid-August. This position is unpaid. The candidate will serve as the full-time radio broadcaster, traveling with the team during the season.

Duties and responsibilities include but are not limited to:
* Write press releases promoting team initiatives including post-game recaps for the team website.
* Coordinate all aspects of team travel including notifying restaurants, hotels, and other teams, getting team orders, room assignments, etc.
* Broadcast all 72 Northwoods League games on 1670 The Zone including pre- and post-game shows, during the regular season (and playoffs if necessary).
* Ability to work long hours, including weekends, as business indicates.
* Strong written and verbal communication skills
* Produce radio commercials for the Mallards and business partners
* Work closely with GM and Corporate Service team to include all sponsor and promotional live reads each gameUpdate the Mallards website daily
* Other duties as assigned by GM

The habit of baseball teams looking for free labor isn’t exactly new. The U.S. Department of Labor investigated the Giants and Marlins in 2013 for possible wage law violations. That included the Giants being investigated for “possible improper use of unpaid interns.” The Giants ended up paying $544,715 in back wages. In a memo that year issued by Rob Manfred, he cited the Department of Labor believing that MLB’s habit of taking advantage of unpaid interns was “endemic to our industry.”

According to U.S. law, a for-profit company can hire an unpaid intern by meeting each of six criteria, according to FindLaw:

  • The internship is similar to training which would be given in an educational environment
  • The experience is for the benefit of the intern
  • The intern does not displace regular employees but works under close supervision of existing staff
  • The employer providing the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern and on occasion its operations may actually be impeded
  • There is no guarantee of a job at the conclusion of the internship
  • Both parties understand that the intern is not entitled to wages for the internship

It would seem that the third and fourth criteria wouldn’t be met.

The Mallards are almost certainly looking for a college student — not a well-credentialed media veteran — looking to add to his or her resume. They are also very clearly looking to take advantage of that student given the plethora of job responsibilities with no pay. Current college students are part of the millennial generation which has increasingly been taken advantage of through unpaid internships. Steven Greenhouse wrote for the New York Times in 2012:

No one keeps statistics on the number of college graduates taking unpaid internships, but there is widespread agreement that the number has significantly increased, not least because the jobless rate for college graduates age 24 and under has risen to 9.4 percent, the highest level since the government began keeping records in 1985. (Employment experts estimate that undergraduates work in more than one million internships a year, with Intern Bridge, a research firm, finding almost half unpaid.)

In a capitalist society, businesses are always going to search for the cheapest source of labor. Considering how bad the economy is and has been for millennials, they’ve had a pretty good time finding it. It’s hard to fault college students jumping at the opportunity to work in an industry they like in the hopes of one day landing a dream job. But as much as those businesses might loathe admitting it, that labor is worth something whether it’s for an amateur baseball team or a major league team.

Joey Votto: “I’d rather quit and leave all the money on the table than play at a poor level.”

Cincinnati Reds' Joey Votto reacts after a swinging strike against Chicago Cubs starting pitcher John Lackey in the fourth inning of a baseball game, Saturday, April 23, 2016, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
AP Photo/John Minchillo
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Reds first baseman Joey Votto went 1-for-4 with a walk and an RBI single in Sunday’s 11-inning victory over the Pirates, but his overall stats remain dour. The 2010 NL MVP is batting a meager .230/.330/.310 with a pair of home runs and 12 RBI.

Votto spoke about his struggles in the first month of the 2016 season and he was quite honest. Via C. Trent Rosecrans of the Cincinnati Enquirer:

“It’s not something I’m OK with. I’d rather quit and leave all the money on the table than play at a poor level,” Votto said before Sunday’s game against the Pirates. “I’m here to play and be part of setting a standard. It’s something I’ve always taken pride in. I love to play at a really high level. So far this year, it’s not been that. I will not be a very satisfied, happy person if I don’t perform at the level that I expect.”

Votto added, “I refuse to accept my peak has [passed], I refuse to accept that my best days are in the past. I’m not there yet. I just don’t see that, I don’t feel that.”

Votto, 32, has eight years and $199 million remaining on the 10-year, $225 million contract extension he signed with the Reds in April 2012.

Bryce Harper struck out four times in a game for the first time in nearly four years

Washington Nationals' Bryce Harper reacts after he struck out during the fourth inning of a baseball game against the Philadelphia Phillies, Thursday, April 28, 2016, in Washington. The Phillies won 3-0.(AP Photo/Nick Wass)
AP Photo/Nick Wass
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Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper has not exactly been strikeout-averse over his five-year career, but he has been pretty good about not bunching them up. Entering Sunday’s game against the Cardinals, Harper had struck out three or more times in a game only 21 times in 533 games. He had registered two four-strikeout games, the last of which occurred on August 21, 2012 — his rookie season.

On Sunday, Harper struck out three times against Cardinals starter Carlos Martinez and once against reliever Seung Hwan Oh for the dreaded golden sombrero. The reigning NL MVP has now equaled his walk and strikeout totals at 17 apiece.

Despite the rough afternoon, Harper still owns a lusty .272/.390/.679 triple-slash line with nine home runs and 24 RBI.

Chase Headley doesn’t think Yankee Stadium is as hitter-friendly as advertised

New York Yankees Chase Headley (12) breaks his bat on a ground out to third during the third inning of a baseball game against the Texas Rangers on Monday, April 25, 2016, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/Brandon Wade)
AP Photo/Brandon Wade
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Yankees third baseman Chase Headley finished April without registering an extra-base hit. Across 71 plate appearances, he registered only nine hits for an uninspiring .150/.268/.150 triple-slash line. Speaking to David Laurilia of FanGraphs, Headley said that Yankee Stadium isn’t as hitter-friendly as many people think it is, and added that the shift has helped to limit his offensive success.

“Everybody talks about how good of a ballpark Yankee Stadium is to hit in, but it’s pretty big with the exception of right field,” said Headley. “The rest of it plays as big, or bigger, than most yards. It’s maybe a better fit for guys who hit the ball high down the line than it for guys who hit the ball like I have for a lot of my career.”

[…]

“Because of the shifting that’s going on now, if you hit the ball on the ground, for the most part you’re out,” Headley told me. “I’m trying to get the ball elevated — I want to hit it hard in the air — and if I never hit another ball on the ground, I’ll be happy.”

According to StatCorner.com, Yankee Stadium is indeed better for left-handed hitters, and particularly so when it comes to extra-base hits. It lists park factors for handedness, setting 100 as average. A higher number means it’s more hitter-friendly. Here are the left-right numbers as of today’s writing:

  • Singles: 101 for left-handed hitters, 102 for right-handed hitters
  • Doubles and triples: 101 LH, 82 RH
  • Home runs: 137 LH, 127 RH

Headley’s hypothesis seems to have some merit. But his claim that shifts have been hurting him doesn’t seem to hold up to the numbers.

babip

Headley’s ground ball BABIP (batting average on balls in play) this season is only .022 behind his career average of .239. As he’s only hit 23 ground balls total this season, the difference between .239 and .217 is less than one hit.

Where Headley’s BABIP is notably lower is line drives. His career average line drive BABIP is .698, but it’s only .333 on nine line drives in 2016. This could be simple bad luck or it could mean Headley is making worse contact. FanGraphs’ batted ball data suggests Headley has been pulling significantly fewer balls (36 percent to his 45 percent career average), and he’s making “hard” contact less often (21 percent versus his 31 percent career average). Overall, there’s been very little change in his ground ball rate versus his fly ball rate.

Headley mentioned to Laurila that if he could, he would try to hit fly balls to the pull side more often. “I’m working on that,” he said.