Neal Huntington: jerkin' his players around

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Twice last week Pirates’ GM Neal Huntington said that he would tender closer Matt Capps, and all other arb-eligible players a contract: “At this point, our plan is to tender all eligible players,” he said on Monday. He repeated the phrase almost verbatim on Wednesday.  

Last night: no contract tendered to Matt Capps.

As Aaron mentioned last night, this is a pretty cheap move by the Pirates. Capps took a step back last year, but he’s a solid pitcher who could easily rebound, and his arbitration number would not have been bank-breaking. He’s going to make someone’s bullpen better next season, and there’s no reason why it shouldn’t have been Pittsburgh’s.

But more than cheap, this is just petty. It’s easy for us to think of players as mere names on a spreadsheet, but you can bet that Matt Capps was wondering about his future these past few weeks and took some comfort in hearing his boss say that he was going to be offered a contract. If Huntington wasn’t planning to offer him one, he shouldn’t have jerked him around by saying he would — twice — last week.

This is the sort of thing the players notice. At the very least you can bet Capps’ suddenly former teammates noticed, and will be increasingly loathe to trust Pirates’ management going forward.

Justin Turner is a postseason monster

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A not-insignificant amount of the Dodgers’ success in recent years has to do with the emergence of Justin Turner. In his first five seasons with the Orioles and Mets, he was a forgettable infielder who had versatility, but no power. The Mets non-tendered him after the 2013 season, a move they now really regret.

In four regular seasons since, as a Dodger, Turner has hit an aggregate .303/.378/.502. His 162-game averages over those four seasons: 23 home runs, 36 doubles, 83 RBI, 80 runs scored. And he’s also a pretty good third baseman, it turns out. The Dodgers have averaged 95 wins per season over the past four years.

Turner, 32, has gotten better and better with each passing year. This year, he drew more walks (59) than strikeouts (56), a club only five other players (min. 300 PA) belonged to, and he trailed only Joey Votto (1.61) in BB/K ratio (1.05). He zoomed past his previous career-high in OPS, finishing at .945. His .415 on-base percentage was fourth-best in baseball. His batting average was fifth-best and only nine points behind NL batting champion Charlie Blackmon.

It doesn’t seem possible, but Turner has been even better in the postseason. He exemplified that with his walk-off home run to win Game 2 of the NLCS against the Cubs. Overall, entering Wednesday night’s action, he was batting .363/.474/.613 in 97 postseason plate appearances. In Game 4, he went 2-for-2 with two walks, a single, and a solo home run. That increases his postseason slash line to .378/.495/.659, now across 101 plate appearances. That’s a 1.154 OPS. The career-high regular season OPS for future first-ballot Hall of Famer Albert Pujols was 1.114 in 2008, when he won his third career MVP Award. Statistically, in the postseason, Turner hits slightly better than Pujols did in the prime of his career. Of course, we should adjust for leagues and parks and all that, but to even be in that neighborhood is incredible.

In the age of stats, the concept of “clutch” has rightfully eroded. We don’t really allow players to ascend to godlike levels anymore like the way we did Derek Jeter, for instance. (Jeter’s career OPS in the playoffs, by the way, was a comparatively pitiful .838.) Turner isn’t clutch; he’s just a damn good hitter whose careful approach at the plate has allowed him to shine in the postseason and the Dodgers can’t imagine life without him.