ESPN is way off with its early free agent calls

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By division, here’s a list of teams I can see opening up the wallets for a $10 million-plus-per-year pitcher this winter:

Blue Jays, Orioles, Red Sox, Yankees
Royals, Tigers, White Sox
Angels, Athletics, Mariners, Rangers
Marlins, Mets, Nationals, Phillies
Astros, Brewers, Cubs, Pirates
Dodgers

And here’s a list of the elite pitching free agents available this winter:

Zack Greinke

I think it should go without saying that demand is going to exceed supply in a big way.

And that’s why ESPN’s Jim Bowden and Dan Szymborski look kind of foolish for a couple of their early calls.

Edwin Jackson is, in my mind, pretty obviously the No. 2 pitching free agent available this winter. He’s 29, he has practically the same ERA as Greinke the last three years (Greinke has a 104 ERA+, Jackson is at 102) and he seems to be on the upswing, if K/BB ratio and WHIP count for anything. I’ll be stunned if he has to settle for less than $48 million over four years this winter and my guess is that he gets something closer to $70 million over five years.

ESPN’s insiders aren’t thinking that far ahead, though. Bowden, in his column, says Jackson has only “proved himself to be a solid No. 3 or No. 4 starter.” He labels the Royals as the best fit for him, putting the Indians and Marlins as alternatives. He obviously doesn’t think the bigger spenders will go after him. But then, that’s the typical lack of insight one gets from Bowden.

(Bowden also has Fernando Rodney going back to the Angels or maybe the Giants or Dodgers in his column, not realizing that the Rays are just going to exercise their $2.5 million option on his services.)

I expect a lot more from Szymborski, and it’s rare that he disappoints. However, he lists Jackson and B.J. Upton among his five free agent bargains, ones “that won’t break the wallet.” And while I agree that those two look like better values than several other top free agents, there’s no way, no how that either goes off at a bargain price.

This winter is going to reveal that there’s a lot more money to be spent than quality players to spend it on. It’s going to take a lot more digging to find any bargains

The Mets are a mess

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The Mets lost again on Thursday afternoon, suffering a 7-5 defeat at the hands of the Braves. It’s their sixth consecutive loss and the club is now in last place in the NL East. Not exactly the start the Mets envisioned.

Matt Harvey got the start, but lasted only 4 1/3 innings. He gave up six runs on five hits and five walks with only one strikeout. After the game, Harvey said he was tight and that he threw yesterday expecting to start on Friday instead, per Matt Ehalt of The Record. Sounds like no one communicated to Harvey that he’d be starting this afternoon until it was too late for him to properly prepare.

Harvey started because Noah Syndergaard was scratched due to a “tired arm.” Syndergaard blew reporters off after the game, according to Mike Puma of the New York Post. Puma then added that Syndergaard ripped Mets P.R. guy Jay Horwitz for letting reporters approach him.

By the way, the Mets also lost outfielder Yoenis Cespedes to a hamstring injury. Not much else can go wrong in Queens.

Joey Votto isn’t on board with the latest fly ball trend among hitters

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If you haven’t heard, fly balls — not ground balls or line drives — are all the rage among hitters these days. Tigers outfielder J.D. Martinez summed it up perfectly last month when he said, “I’m not trying to hit a [freaking] line drive or a freaking ground ball.” The goal is to maximize damage. Last year, for example, fly balls became hits about 17 percent less often than ground balls (7.4% versus 24.6%), but hitters had a slugging percentage more than twice as much as on ground balls (.539 versus .267). This refocusing has helped hitters like Martinez as well as Ryan Zimmerman reinvigorate their careers.

Reds first baseman Joey Votto, who is as much a student of new age analytics as anyone in the game, doesn’t feel that this approach is necessarily a good one, as Zach Buchanan of the Cincinnati Enquirer reports. Votto said:

Where I get concerned is the guys that make this attempt and burn out too much of their time and don’t get a chance to be their best selves, and either don’t make it to the big leagues or don’t perform their best in the big leagues because they’re always attempting this new style of hitting. I see it with a lot of guys. Everyone tells the good stories, but there’s a lot of s—ty stories of guys who are wasting their time trying things.

Votto added that while the fly ball approach is working right now, pitchers will soon adapt and the fly ball approach won’t be so good anymore. And he’s right. Baseball has always been a game of adjustments. For example, as teams have gotten comfortable with shifting their infield, hitters like the Cubs’ Anthony Rizzo and Kyle Schwarber have both dropped bunts down the third base line for easy hits. Knowing that hitters are aiming to hit fly balls now, pitchers may stay higher in the strike zone more often as one possible solution.

Votto is just trying to stay as well-rounded as possible. He says that he wants to become “unpitchable.” Votto wants to be like Angels outfielder Mike Trout, whom he describes as a guy “who can do absolutely anything he wants” and “at all times [has] all options.”

So far, Votto is having another productive season despite a relatively pedestrian batting average and on-base percentage. He’s hitting .238/.330/.563 with seven home runs and 16 RBI in 94 plate appearances. Coincidentally, he’s been hitting way more fly balls than usual as he’s currently carrying a 42.3 percent rate compared to his 33.1 career average, according to FanGraphs. His line drives are way down to 16.9 percent compared to his 25.4 percent career average.