Ranking the worst off-seasons so far

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Following up the ranking of the five best off-seasons thus far, let’s take a look at the five worst.

26. Minnesota Twins — The Twins won 66 games in 2013 but help is on the horizon. They have one of the best Minor League systems around and it’s only a matter of time before the Twins are fielding a lineup with Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton. But this off-season, the Twins signed Ricky Nolasco, Phil Hughes, and Mike Pelfrey to multi-year deals totaling $84 million. Years ago, the trio might have been deemed underrated, but each has been in the league long enough to establish a track record, and each has failed to live up to expectations. The Twins are essentially gambling $84 million for them to, at once, realize their potential. The Twins could have instead used this money to try to get Masahiro Tanaka and more cheaply gamble on players like Josh Johnson (now with the Padres).

27. Philadelphia Phillies — The Phillies have been trying to unload their albatross contracts — Jonathan Papelbon and Ryan Howard — but have only been the subject of derision. They also added Marlon Byrd on a questionable two-year deal and re-signed Carlos Ruiz to a questionable three-year deal. They are not expected to compete for much in 2014, so it doesn’t make any sense for them to sign free agents closer to 40 years old than 30 years old to multi-year deals.

28. Cincinnati Reds — The Reds won 90 games in 2013 and were a legitimate contender for the NL Wild Card. This off-season, they lost one of their best hitters in Shin-Soo Choo and haven’t done much else. With the defending NL champion Cardinals and the surprising Pirates, the NL Central is the toughest in baseball at the moment. Their options are dwindling and they seem resigned to having a quiet off-season.

29. Baltimore Orioles — The Orioles made headlines for all the wrong reasons recently when they reneged on a two-year, $15 million deal with free agent reliever Grant Balfour. They said that his shoulder problems concerned them even though Balfour has been healthy for six years and got the thumbs-up from two different doctors. This was after a questionable trade in which they sent closer Jim Johnson to the Athletics for the light-hitting Jemile Weeks. While the Red Sox, Yankees, and Rays all made strides during the off-season, the Orioles have had perhaps the most embarrassing off-season in recent memory and haven’t done much in the way of improving the team, either.

30. Seattle Mariners — The ten-year, $240 million deal given to second baseman Robinson Cano isn’t by itself a bad move, but the Mariners needed to do a lot more. They were 71-91 in 2013. Even if you give Cano a lot more credit than WAR does, the Mariners haven’t done enough to be considered a .500 team. There is still time, of course, as Nelson Cruz is still available and the Mariners could get involved in the Masahiro Tanaka bidding. But right now, they’re a fringe .500 team that tied itself up with a gargantuan contract.

The Nats are sniffing around for relief pitching help

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The Nationals began the year with Blake Treinen as their closer. That didn’t last long, and now Koda Glover seems to be Dusty Baker’s man in the ninth inning. He earned a save for the second consecutive game yesterday. Glover has been pretty darn good in the early going, posting a 2.35 ERA and striking out six batters and walking only one in seven and two-thirds. That obviously a small sample size, and anything can happen. If it does, Baker has Shawn Kelley as an option.

Not many household names there, which is probably why the Nationals are reported to be interested in the White Sox’ David Robertson and Alex Colome of the Rays. That report comes from Jim Bowden of ESPN, who also notes that the A’s have a number of guys with closing experience on staff and are likely to be sellers too. The David Robertson thing may have more legs, though, given that Mike Rizzo and Rick Hahn pulled off a pretty major trade in the offseason. If you know a guy well, you call that guy first, right?

As far as problems go this isn’t a huge one. The Nats sit at 13-5 and, as expected by most prognosticators, are in first place in the National League East. The Cubs had some questions in the pen this time last year too. They had the luxury of trying to figure it out before making a massive trade for a closer. The Nats do too, and likely will. But expect them to be a part of any trade rumor conversation for the next couple of months.

 

The big flaw in modern ballparks

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Travis Sawchik writes about the post-Camden Yards generation of ballparks over at FanGraphs. The ones everyone loves because they’re nice and clean and friendly and are full of amenities. And that’s true! They are nice! But they all have a huge flaw: unless you’re in expensive seats, you’re too far away from the action.

Sawchik uses cross sections of ballparks — available at Andrew Clem’s website — to show that fans sitting in the upper decks of ballparks are way higher and way farther back than they used to be at many old ballparks such as Cleveland’s Municipal Stadium, Old Comiskey, Tiger Stadium and Ebbets Field.

A lot of this has to do with an admirable impulse: to eliminate the beams which obstructed the view of many seats in those old parks. If you want to move that upper deck closer to the field, you have to have the beams because one can only achieve so much via cantilever effect. But that’s not the only impulse and probably not the primary one. More expansive lower bowls — which feature more expensive tickets — push the upper deck back and up. As do the luxury suites and club level amenities in between the lower and upper decks. Exacerbating this is the fact that most newer parks are built on vast tracts of land with few architectural constraints. If you can sprawl, you will, which leaves the most affordable seats in the land of binoculars.

I don’t agree with everything Sawchik writes here. He spends a lot of time talking about how much better neighborhood parks like Wrigley Field are and how it’d be better if newer parks were built in neighborhoods. I agree, neighborhood parks are ideal, but the fact is, most places don’t have mass transit like Chicago does. In most cities you have to have a place for 40,000 people to park.

That’s a quibble, though. Mostly, it’s a good look at an important thing most folks overlook when they praise the new parks. Important because, if you don’t have an enjoyable experience at the ballpark, you’re not likely to come back. And if you’re not fortunate enough to be able to buy expensive tickets, you may not have a great experience at the ballpark.