ALDS Tigers Athletics Baseball

That did not work out as Jim Leyland hoped

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Presented with a tough first-and-third with no outs situation in the bottom of the ninth Saturday in a scoreless Game 2 against the A’s, Tigers manager Jim Leyland.

1. Chose to forgo using his best reliever
2. Chose to walk the bases loaded
3. Chose not to use a five-man infield

Obviously, none of that worked out. With Rick Porcello on the mound, Stephen Vogt hit a line drive single past shortstop Jose Iglesias to end the game and even up the ALDS at one game apiece. Let’s look at those calls one a time.

1. Tigers closer Joaquin Benoit has a lengthy history of pitching in non-save situations and pitching more than one inning at a time. He’s one of two rocks in the TIgers pen, along with lefty Drew Smyly (who had already worked in the eighth tonight). Curiously, it didn’t appear that he even got up in the pen, which could suggest there was a physical issue at play. Benoit did get four outs on Friday, but since he needed just 17 pitches to do it, he would have been available tonight under normal circumstances. If there was no physical issue, it’s safe to say that Leyland was reserving him in the hopes of a save situation.

It was also a bit curious that Jose Veras was nowhere to be found in the ninth.

2. Right-hander Al Alburquerque was the reliever who gave up the singles to put runners on the corners. Ready in the bullpen to replace him were left-hander Jose Alvarez and Porcello, another right-hander. Leyland had four realistic options at that point with left-handed hitter Josh Reddick due up and fellow lefty Vogt on deck.

  • Allow Albuquerque to face Reddick with runners at first and third.
  • Bring in Alvarez to face Reddick or whomever might pinch-hit for him.
  • Walk Reddick, bring in Alvarez to face a pinch-hitter, almost surely Derek Norris
  • Walk Reddick, bring in Porcello to face Vogt

Letting Albuquerque face Reddick was almost surely Leyland’s best bet for a strikeout. Alburquerque had already fanned two batters tonight. He struck out 70 in 49 innings during the regular season. Reddick just fanned three times in Game 1 and 86 times in 385 at-bats for the season.

On the other hand, Porcello versus Vogt was the best bet to induce a grounder.

Really, it should have come down to how Leyland felt about how well Alburquerque was throwing. Albuquerque had already made 22 pitches, which is a typical outing for him. He might have had one more strikeout in him, but the fact that he had just allowed two hits certainly worked against his cause.

I thought they should have gone after Reddick, as poorly as Reddick has performed. Still, the walk wasn’t such a bad idea. The odds were against them either way.

3. What I don’t get: Porcello was brought in to get the grounder, so why not help him out with the fifth infielder? That Don Kelly, an experienced infielder, was already playing left field meant the Tigers wouldn’t have even needed to go to the bench to make the move. The Tigers infield has very limited range at the corners — which is what got them into the mess in the first place tonight — and Kelly’s presence could have made a difference.

Alas, in this case, it probably wouldn’t have. Vogt hits left-handed, so Kelly likely would have been stationed to the first base side of the diamond. Vogt’s liner ended up whizzing right past shortstop Jose Iglesias to his left. Iglesias probably wouldn’t have been in any better position to snare it with the extra man.

So, no, I’m not going to trash Leyland for all that went on tonight. I would like to hear why neither Benoit nor Veras was up in the pen, though.

Report: Koji Uehara close to signing with the Cubs

BOSTON, MA - OCTOBER 10:  Koji Uehara #19 of the Boston Red Sox pitches in the eighth inning against the Cleveland Indians during game three of the American League Divison Series at Fenway Park on October 10, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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Evan Drellich of the Boston Herald reports, citing a source as well as Nikkan Sports, that reliever Koji Uehara is close to signing a one-year, $4.5 million deal with the Cubs.

Uehara, 41, finished the 2016 season with a 3.45 ERA and a 63/11 K/BB ratio over 47 innings. He missed some time in the second half with a strained right pectoral muscle. When Uehara returned from the disabled list on September 7, he tossed 11 scoreless innings with 12 strikeouts and two walks through the end of the regular season. So there’s at least some evidence, albeit in a very small sample size, that Uehara has stuff left in the tank.

The Cubs recently acquired closer Wade Davis from the Royals. Uehara would join Hector Rondon, Pedro Strop, Carl Edwards, Jr., Justin Grimm, and Mike Montgomery in what is once again a very deep bullpen.

MLB implements another player-unfriendly rule, this time targeting draftees

CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 28:  MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred speaks to the media before Game Three of the 2016 World Series between the Chicago Cubs and the Cleveland Indians at Wrigley Field on October 28, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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Jon Morosi of MLB Network and FOX Sports reports that the MLB draft has a new program in which the top-50 pitching prospects are asked to undergo a voluntary pre-draft MRI on their throwing arm. At first glance, it seems reasonable because, hey, pitchers are injury-prone and players sometimes hide injuries. It would feel bad if my favorite team drafted a lemon!

The reality is that this is just another player-unfriendly rule that shifts financial risk away from the owners and onto the players. The players, in this case, are often not wealthy and are about to begin life in the minor leagues where they earn less than $8,000 per year. Signing bonuses help alleviate some of the immediate financial discomfort of minor league life.

The pre-draft MRI is “voluntary” with quotes around it. Choosing not to undergo the MRI will only give prospective teams more reason to be skeptical of one’s durability. It’s a lot like those voluntary workouts in football that aren’t so voluntary due to superior and peer pressure. You don’t show up, you’re lazy, entitled, a bad teammate, etc. In this case, a pitching prospect refuses to undergo the MRI, it’s because he’s hiding an injury.

Ian Anderson was the first pitcher taken off the board in the 2016 draft, going to the Braves at No. 3. He got a $4 million signing bonus. Let’s say this new MRI program had already been instituted and Anderson refused, or something came up that caused the Braves to change their minds. Anderson’s draft stock falls, let’s say to 21 where the Blue Jays took T.J. Zeuch with a $2.175 million signing bonus. Falling 18 spots in this case costs Anderson about $2 million, perhaps more because he loses a lot of negotiating leverage. Maybe he falls further, even to the second round.

In a column for FanGraphs nearly two years ago, Nathaniel Grow showed that, as a percentage of total league revenues, player salaries have been declining since the early 2000’s. In 2002, player salaries made up 56 percent of league revenues. In 2014, it was only 38 percent.

In isolation, the MRI program isn’t a big deal. The injured player loses stock, but another player moves up to take his place and earns a bit more money. As part of the bigger picture, however, this is part of an ongoing trend in which owners abdicate financial risk and push it all onto the players. The new collective bargaining agreement, for example, capped international signings at $5-6 million per team per year. That removes any incentive for overseas stars like Shohei Otani from coming over to play Major League Baseball. If he wanted to anyway, he would make much less money than he otherwise would on an open market. The amateur draft itself is almost entirely risk-avoidant for owners and it’s terrible for the players because they, too, would earn much more on an open market. And let’s not forget how owners have fought tooth-and-nail to keep minor league salaries suppressed.

Diamondbacks owner Ken Kendrick once paid $2.8 million for the Honus Wagner T-206 baseball card. Let’s not act like these owners can’t afford to shoulder the risk on young pitchers.

EDIT (4:40 PM EST): As I’ve seen others mention it, it’s worth bringing up the Astros/Brady Aiken issue. The Astros took him first in the 2014 draft, but they took issue with his elbow health. The two sides had agreed to a $6.5 million signing bonus, but the Astros wanted to reduce it to $5 million as a result. Aiken didn’t end up signing with the Astros. He underwent Tommy John surgery and was later selected by the Indians 17th overall in the first round of the 2015 draft. He got a $2,513,280 signing bonus.