What they're saying about the Ryan Howard deal

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Ryan Howard happy.jpgI said plenty yesterday, but so did a lot of other people. Here’s some of it, starting with the sort of hyperbole that may inspire ESPN to place Jayson Stark under psychiatric evaluation for the next 72 hours, and ending with Matt Swartz at Baseball Prospectus, with what is probably the most middle-ground take I’ve seen.

  • Jayson Stark: It’s quite a tale, all right, for a player who looked as if he was
    going to be blocked by Thome from ever playing in Philadelphia, who
    didn’t get a chance to play every day until age 25, and who only got
    that shot because Thome hurt his elbow in July 2005.But once
    Howard got his chance, he decided to turn himself into his generation’s
    Babe Ruth at the plate.
  • Rob Neyer: The Phillies have done a lot of things right over the last few years.
    But this is a big bowl of wrong.
  • Kevin Kaduk: Even if you’re not fully convinced it’s a deadlock that Howard will turn into David Ortiz  over the next three years . . . you have to wonder why GM Ruben Amaro felt the need to do this deal almost two years earlier than necessary.
  • The 700 Level: Will Phillies fans in 2016 bemoan the $25 million Ryan Howard is
    getting paid that year? Perhaps. But most Phillies fans can barely make
    plans for next weekend let alone five years from now. That’s why Ruben
    Amaro Jr. gets paid to make important, long lasting decisions like this
    one. It’s amazing how every Joe on Twitter turns into a soothsayer on
    days
    like today. Only time will tell if this one pays off down the road. Until
    then, enjoy watching Ryan Howard play first base for your Phillies.
  • Phil Sheridan: Everybody wins. Come to think of it, that pretty much sums up Ryan
    Howard’s time here.
  • Matthew Carruth: When the news first broke and the details started to emerge, I was
    tempted to fill this entire article with just me laughing. My co-writers
    convinced me that while an appropriate response, that was not quite
    informative enough so I have relented and will actually map out the
    value of Ryan Howard’s new extension. I’m laughing pretty hard, though, in case
    you wanted to picture it.
  • David Murphy: I’m not surprised that they decided to sign Howard now, but I would’ve
    thought that any deal would come only as a result of some obvious
    concessions on Howard’s part.
  • Jonah Keri: 5 years, $125 million for Ryan Howard!!! A
    financial quagmire that’ll make the Iraq War look like a slap fight [note: pro-Howard comments don’t have the market cornered on hyperbole].

  • Balls, Sticks and Stuff: Once you get past the initial feel-good wave and you really start to
    examine the contract, things get a bit scary. Think about it, when Ryan
    Howard is in his mid/late-30’s, he’ll be getting paid like one of the
    best players in baseball when the chances of him actually being that
    type of player are slim.
  • Matt Swartz: If you listened to the roar of the sabermetricians, you would think the
    Phillies had thrown nine figures at Juan Castro . . . On the other hand, if you listened to the roar of the old-school
    writers, you would think the Phillies had stolen an MVP off the market
    at a discount . . . The reality is that Howard falls somewhere between these two extremes.
    The contract is far from spectacular, but it is unlikely to be an
    albatross.

A fun project for which I’ll try to make the time later today:  tracking the reactions of those who support this deal against those same people’s reactions to the Alex Rodriguez contract. I have this feeling that it would lead to a pretty interesting lesson about how much value there is to being a likable player when it comes to media treatment of your mega-deal.

Kevin Gausman to start Opening Day for the Orioles

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The Orioles have tabbed Kevin Gausman to start on Opening Day, April 3 against the Blue Jays at Camden Yards, MASN’s Roch Kubatko reports. Chris Tillman started the previous three Opening Days for the O’s. This will be Gausman’s first Opening Day nod.

Gausman, 26, finished the 2016 season with a 3.61 ERA and a 174/47 K/BB ratio in 179 2/3 innings. The Orioles selected him in the first round (fourth overall) of the 2012 draft and moved him through their minor league system quickly. Gausman debuted in the majors in May 2013.

2017 Preview: Detroit Tigers

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Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2017 season. Next up: The Detroit Tigers.

I feel like every year, for the past several years, our Tigers preview has been some variation of “do the Tigers still have a run left in them with the Cabrera-Verlander core?”

If you’re tired of reading that one I have some bad news for you: it’s the same dang story this year as it has been every year. A great pitcher and a great hitter, a very solid supporting cast, a handful of holes that could be critical weaknesses and enough to make them look strong enough to contend but not enough to contend strongly, if that makes any sense.

Let’s start with the pitching. Justin Verlander returned to Cy Young-caliber form in 2016, thanks mostly to health and a big, big leap in his strikeout rate, suggesting that it was health and not an overall decline which harmed him in 2014 and 2015. He’ll lead the way again, followed by Rookie of the Year Michael Fulmer, who was a wonderful surprise last season. The back end of the rotation is problematic, however, with Jordan Zimmermann and Anibal Sanchez stinking up the joint for most of last year and young Daniel Norris suffering through injuries. For the Tigers to contend, they’ll need at least one of those veterans to return to their old form — or someone like Matt Boyd or Mike Pelfrey to, well, not be Matt Boyd and Mike Pelfrey– and for Norris to be healthy.

Fine, let’s say Verlander and Fulmer repeat their 2016 success and say that Norris is a strong, healthy and effective number three. Who then does Brad Ausmus turn the ball over to in the late innings? If you think the overall take on the Tigers is rehashed from year to year, well, the same goes for the pen. It, as always, is a liability in Detroit. And it’s not going to be terribly different than it was last year. Francisco Rodriguez will close. A couple of Wilsons in Alex and Justin. Shane Greene. Maybe one of the veteran starters who doesn’t make the rotation. The always interesting Bruce Rondon. It’s not terrible but it’s not the strongest bunch in the world and it’s being handled by a guy in Ausmus who has yet to show that he can get the most out of a less-than-steller relief corps. You can Google the phrase “Tigers bullpen woes” and find results from every season for most of the past decade. You’ll probably be able to do it again this year.

The offense, of course, is fantastic, at least at the top end. Miguel Cabrera is still an MVP-caliber player and even when his decline begins he’ll be better than almost any hitter in the game. Ian Kinsler is still low-key excellent. Nick Castellanos took a big leap forward last year. J.D. Martinez is going to miss the first month or so of the season with a sprained ligament in his foot, but he’s in his walk year and will likely be fine once he returns. Justin Upton has always been super uneven and has always failed to meet the insane expectations he set early in his career, but as he showed late last season, he’s capable of carrying a team for a stretch. I’ve been saying it for a pushing a decade, but one of these years he’s going to put it all together.

The big question is going to be the bottom third of the lineup where catcher James McCann, shortstop Jose Iglesias and center fielder Tyler Collins all look to be offensive liabilities at the moment. A bigger than usual year from any of them could help matters greatly.

Of course all of this — the strong lineup with critical holes, the rotation that starts well but has question marks and the spotty bullpen — has been the Tigers story for years. It’s a story that could end happily with 85-90 wins, a playoff spot and a bunch of seasoned veterans getting hot at the right time and riding it to glory. It could just as easily get sprinkled with a slow start or a few injuries and result in a 75-80 win season like they had back in 2015.

In the past, that would lead to yet another “wait until next year.” This year, however, you get the strong sense that there is no next year if this year is disappointing. There was talk that the Tigers could sell off veteran parts this past winter, but they didn’t. Then longtime owner Mike Ilitch, who was seen as a man who pushed to win now despite the costs, passed away in February. It’s not hard to imagine his son giving different instructions to GM Al Avila if the Tigers don’t get off to a fast start this year. It’s not hard to imagine the great unwinding of the core that has kept this Tigers team in contention for so long if 2017 is a disappointment.

I’m still optimistic, though. The Indians are the class of the division but the Royals are likely taking a step back and the Twins and White Sox are not yet a threat. I won’t predict October glory for them, but I think, barring major injuries to key players, the Tigers will be playing meaningful baseball in September.

Prediction: Second place, American League Central