Winter meetings preview: AL teams

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bay fielding.jpgJust a couple of quick sentences on what each team may be looking to do this week.
Baltimore – The Orioles are on the lookout for a couple of corner infielders, a starting pitcher and a closer, but with youngsters on the way, they’re more after veteran stopgaps than building blocks. Felix Pie is on the block and could bring bullpen help.
Boston – Upgrading from Jason Bay to Matt Holliday makes even more sense now that the Red Sox have surrendered their first-round pick with the Marco Scutaro signing*. Roy Halladay’s name will also come up frequently, and the Red Sox will explore a Mike Lowell trade. If Lowell goes, it’d open the door for an Adrian Beltre signing.
*The Cards would still get Boston’s first-round pick in such a scenario, but for the Red Sox, the draft-pick cost for Holliday is merely a second-round pick.
Chicago – Ken Williams is full of surprises, but the White Sox don’t have a lot to work with after doing their shopping during the season and landing Jake Peavy and Alex Rios. A Bobby Jenks deal doesn’t appear to be on the agenda, but it can’t be ruled out. The White Sox still need an outfielder and a designated hitter, but they could wait and bargain hunt to fill both spots.
Cleveland – The Indians will be thrifty this winter, so while they need some veteran bats to provide protection at first base, second base and in left field, they’ll probably wait for price tags to fall. If they can find a way to turn some of their exceptional minor league depth into a young starting pitcher, they could pull the trigger.
Detroit – Likely to be one of the most active teams at the meetings, the Tigers still have Curtis Granderson and Edwin Jackson up for grabs. They’ll also be talking to relievers and shortstops, though it looks like they hope to re-sign Fernando Rodney and Adam Everett. Don’t expect to see anything happen with Miguel Cabrera.
Kansas City – Excepting Zack Greinke, the Royals’ most expensive players –Jose Guillen, Gil Meche, David DeJesus and Kyle Farnsworth — are all available. So are Mike Jacobs and John Buck, though they’re expected to be non-tendered. Cheaper options like Alberto Callaspo and Brian Bannister are out there as well. The Royals are going to need a starter, an outfielder or two and maybe a DH.
Los Angeles – Having lost Chone Figgins, the Angels might now make a push to get a John Lackey deal done. Halladay and Bay are other potential targets with the team having room for one big contract. GM Tony Reagins will also continue his attempts to find a new home for Gary Matthews Jr., though it’s proving to be an extremely difficult task.
Minnesota – The Twins still have a need at second or third or both, and there simply isn’t a better fit for Beltre if Minnesota could just come up with the money. GM Bill Smith will also likely be charged with getting rid of Glen Perkins, who is at odds with management.
New York – GM Brian Cashman is playing things close to the vest so far. The Yankees are in on Halladay, but perhaps not on any of the big three free agents: Holliday, Lackey and Bay. The Yankees will be in touch with their own top three free agents: Andy Pettitte, Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui. They may be the top candidates to ink Cuban defector Aroldis Chapman, but there’s nothing to indicate he’s close to signing.
Oakland – The A’s are going to be in on some free agents after all, as they made clear with their bid for Scutaro. Troy Glaus is one who makes sense for their lineup. They have a bigger need when it comes to starting pitching, though. To free up some cash, they may trade or later non-tender Jack Cust. They also have relief depth to use in the hunt for help.
Seattle – The first order of business will be to announce the Figgins signing, but the Mariners won’t stop there. They’re still capable of putting together strong bids for Lackey and Bay, and they’ll be on the lookout for a first baseman, perhaps Nick Johnson.
Tampa Bay – The Rays remain at the center of the Milton Bradley talks, with Pat Burrell likely to move on if a deal is struck. They could also trade Dioner Navarro, who is a non-tender candidate following the Kelly Shoppach acquisition. Carl Crawford and B.J. Upton do not appear to be available.
Texas – It remains unclear just how much financial flexibility the Rangers possess. They’re reportedly discussed Kevin Millwood with the Orioles, and if they could dump his salary, they’d have a better chance of upgrading their lineup. Jermaine Dye is believed to be a top target. However, with ownership still up in the air, they may be forced to remain quiet.
Toronto – A Halladay deal is very unlikely to get done at the meetings, but there will surely be talks. The Jays also have other business to worry about. They’re looking to move Lyle Overbay (to Seattle?) and pick up a catcher and an outfielder. They can afford to part with a reliever or two to fill one of the holes.

Don Mattingly thinks pace of play can be improved by changing views on strikeouts

Miami Marlins manager Don Mattingly sits in the dugout prior to a baseball game against the Los Angeles Dodgers in Los Angeles, Monday, April 25, 2016. (AP Photo/Kelvin Kuo)
AP Photo/Kelvin Kuo
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Marlins manager Don Mattingly has one potential solution to the pace of play issue: change the way people value strikeouts, the Associated Press reports.

Strikeouts have been rising steadily since 2005. Then, a typical game averaged 6.30 strikeouts. In 2016, there were 8.03 strikeouts per game. There are many explanations for this phenomenon. For one, teams are searching specifically for young pitchers who can throw hard — like triple-digits hard. They figure they can teach them the other pertinent skills in the minors. Second, Sabermetrics has shown that a strikeout is only marginally worse than an out made on a ball put in play. Sometimes, the strikeout is preferable, especially if there’s a runner on first base with less than two outs and a weak hitter at the plate. Sabermetrics has also shown home runs to be the best and most efficient way to contribute on offense. Furthermore, younger players tend to focus more on power in order to get noticed by scouts. Unless it’s paired with other elite skills, a scout isn’t going to remember a player who hit the ball into the hole on the right side, but he will remember the kid who blasted a 450-foot homer.

Here’s what Mattingly had to say:

Analytically, a few years back nobody cared about the strikeout, so it’s OK to strike out 150, 160, 170 times, and that guy’s still valued in a big way. Well, as soon as we start causing that to be a bad value — the strikeouts — guys will put the ball in play more. So once we say strikeouts are bad and it’s going to cost you money the more you strike out, then the strikeouts will go away. Guys will start making adjustments and putting the ball in play more.

[…]

If our game values [say that] strikeouts don’t matter, they are going to keep striking out, hitting homers, trying to hit home runs and striking out.

Simply believing strikeouts are bad won’t magically change its value. However, creating social pressure regarding striking out can change it. Theoretically, anyway. Creating that social pressure is easier said than done.

There is a dichotomy here as well. Home runs are exciting. Strikeouts and walks are not. Often, though, the three go hand-in-hand-in-hand. A player actively trying to cut down on his strikeouts by putting the ball in play will also likely cut down on his strikeout and walk rates. There doesn’t seem to be an elegant solution here. Wishing for fewer strikeouts, walks, and homers doesn’t really seem to give way to a more exciting game.

Sean Doolittle: “Refugees aren’t stealing a slice of the pie from Americans.”

ANAHEIM, CA - JUNE 25:  Sean Doolittle #62 of the Oakland Athletics pitches during the ninth inning of a baseball game against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim at Angel Stadium of Anaheim on June 25, 2016 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images
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In the past, we’ve commented on Athletics reliever Sean Doolittle and his girlfriend Eireann Dolan’s community service. In 2015, the pair hosted Syrian refugee families for Thanksgiving and their other charitable efforts have included LGBTQ outreach and help for veterans.

Athletes and their significant others have typically avoided stepping into political waters, but Doolittle and Dolan have shown that it’s clearly no concern to them. In the time since, the Syrian refugee issue has become even more of a hot-button issue and Doolittle recently discussed it with Mike DiGiovanna of the Los Angeles Times.

I think America is the best country in the world because we’ve been able to attract the best and brightest people from all over the world. We have the smartest doctors and scientists, the most creative and innovative thinkers. A travel ban like this puts that in serious jeopardy.

I’ve always thought that all boats rise with the tide. Refugees aren’t stealing a slice of the pie from Americans. But if we include them, we can make the pie that much bigger, thus ensuring more opportunities for everyone.

Doolittle, of course, is referring to Executive Order 13769 signed by President Trump which sought to limit incoming travel to the United States from seven countries: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. A temporary restraining order on the executive order was placed on February 3, a result of State of Washington v. Trump.

Doolittle spoke more about the plight refugees face:

These are people fleeing civil wars, violence and oppression that we can’t even begin to relate to. I think people think refugees just kind of decide to come over. They might not realize it takes 18-24 months while they wait in a refugee camp. They go through more than 20 background checks and meetings with immigration officers. They are being vetted.

They come here, and they want to contribute to society. They’re so grateful to be out of a war zone or whatever they were running from in their country that they get jobs, their kids go to our schools, they’re paying taxes, and in a lot of cases, they join our military.

Around this time last year, Craig wrote about Doolittle and Dolan not sticking to baseball. They’re still not, nor should they be. Hopefully, the duo’s outspokenness inspires other players and their loved ones to speak up for what’s right.

[Hat tip: Deadspin’s Hannah Keyser]