Did Yuniesky Betancourt cost the Mariners Stephen Strasburg?

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Betancourt Mariners.jpgTom Verducci reminds us today that, but for two games, it would have been the Mariners who would have had the worst record in baseball in 2008 and thus the Mariners — and not the Nationals — who would have had the right to select Stephen Strasburg.  Specifically, going into the final two games of the season, the Mariners had lost 101 ballgames and the Nats had lost 100.  Then something unexpected happened: Yuniesky Betancourt decided to temporarily stop sucking:

That’s when Yuni decided to hit like a young Ken Griffey, Jr. He went 5-for-7 with a walk, two runs and two RBI to lead the Mariners
to 7-3 and 4-3 wins over Oakland. The Nationals clinched the Strasburg
sweepstakes by losing two games to Philadelphia.

Those two
otherwise meaningless Seattle wins changed baseball history. It could be
one of the most costly “collapses” ever to end a season. The Mariners
would be looking at a rotation today with Felix Hernandez, Cliff Lee and Strasburg.

That’s a nice story, but as is usually the case, there is more to it.

For one thing, the Nationals were facing the future World Champion Philadelphia Phillies that last weekend. Philly clinched on Saturday, so they had Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and everyone else out there for that penultimate game (and in that Sunday game the Nationals themselves trotted out what was basically an American Legion lineup, thus negating the fact that Philly rested its regulars). Meanwhile the Mariners were playing an Athletics team that was far worse at the point of the season than their overall record suggested, having basically tanked the entire second half.

And let’s not just blame Bentancourt.  Indeed, in the second to last game of the year, several Mariners knocked the cover off the ball: Kenji Johjima had three RBI and Wladimir Balentein and Miguel Cairo of all people each had a couple of RBI.  They got a rare good performance from R.A. Dickey in the season’s last game and Johjima hit the ball well again that day too.  It was a team effort.

At the time I wrote “The final failure of Seattle’s failed 2008 season was winning this game,
thereby ensuring that Washington will get the first pick in next
summer’s draft.”  And, technically speaking that was correct.  But the “failure” had many authors.

And in a larger sense, wasn’t it better for Seattle to go down in a blaze of glory than to have them tank like some NBA team?  I’m not sure I could keep my love for a team that blatantly laid down for a draft pick. Could you?

What happens with all the players the Braves lost yesterday?

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Yesterday’s unprecedented sanctions leveled on the Atlanta Braves hit them pretty hard, but it also turned a dozen players into free agents. What happens to them now? Who can sign them? When? And for how much?

First off, they get to keep their signing bonuses the Braves gave them. It wasn’t their fault the Braves messed up so it would make no sense for them to have to pay the money back. As for their next team: anyone can, theoretically, sign them. As far as team choice, they are free agents in the most narrow sense of the term.

There are limits, however, because as young, international players, their signings are subject to those caps on each team’s international bonus money which were imposed a few years back. Each team now has a “pool” of finite dollars they can spend on such players and, once that money is spent, teams are severely limited as to what they can offer an international free agent. Each summer the bonus pools are reset and it starts anew.

Which, on the surface, would seem to create a problem for the 12 new free agents, seeing as though a lot of teams have already spent much if not all of their July 2017-18 bonus pools. The good news on that, though, is that Major League Baseball has made a couple of exceptions for these guys:

  • First, the first $200,000 of any of the 12 former Braves players will not be subject to signing pools, so that’s a bit of a break; and
  • Second, even though these players will all likely be signed during the 2017-18 bonus pool period, teams have the option of counting the bonus toward the 2018-19 period. They can’t combine the money from the two periods, but they can, essentially, put off the cost into next year for accounting purposes.

Which certainly opens things up for clubs and gives the players more options as far as places to land go. A club can decide whether or not the guys on the market now look better than the guys they’ve been scouting with an eye toward signing after July 2018 and get a jump on things. Likewise, teams don’t have to decide whether or not to take a run at, say, Shohei Ohtani, burning bonus money now, or instead going after a former Braves player. Ohtani’s money will apply now, the Braves player can be accounted for next year.

The new free agents are eligible to sign during a window that begins on December 5 and ends on Jan. 15. If a player hasn’t signed by then, he can still sign with any club but cannot get a bonus. If a player hasn’t signed anywhere by May 1, 2018, he has the option of re-signing with the Braves, though they can’t pay the guy a bonus either.

Ben Badler of Baseball America has a rundown of the top guys who are now free agents thanks to the Braves’ malfeasance. Kevin Maitan is the big name. The 17-year-old shortstop was considered the top overall international free agent last year, though his first year in the Braves minor league system was less-than-impressive. There are a lot of other promising players too. All of whom now can find new employers.