Jason Heyward

Great moments in narrative: the Braves allegedly made a “clear choice” of Freeman over Heyward

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Yesterday the Braves agreed to an eight-year, $135 million deal with Freddie Freeman. They separately agreed to a two-year, $13.3 million deal with Jason Heyward, buying out his last two years of arbitration. Today Jon Morosi draws a conclusion from that:

You could have described this as the Braves committing multiyear contracts to a pair of 24-year-old stars who already have earned their first All-Star selections. But the chasm of more than $120 million tells you what this really was: a choice between the two.

The headline calls it a “clear choice,” and from it Morosi concludes that the team has gone all-in with Freeman, that Heyward will become a free agent in 2015 when his deal is up and that “Freeman is the face of the team.”

Except I have no idea how he can conclude such a thing based on the information currently known.

Nowhere is it reported that the Braves didn’t offer Heyward a deal longer than two years. Indeed, they offered him such a deal last year. Heyward rejected it. That may have happened again. If you’re Heyward it would probably be smart to reject such a thing. He’s coming off of a year which began with an appendectomy and ended with a broken jaw. The two years before that he struggled at times. Despite this he really came on late last year and still has all sorts of promise. And he just turned 24. It is not at all unreasonable to think that 2014 and/or 2015 could be breakout years for him and, if they are, he’s poised to make serious money following the 2015 season. Did the Braves reject him, or did he reject them?

That aside, why is Morosi so certain the Braves can’t extend Heyward at some point before 2015, giving them both Freeman and Heyward as “faces of the franchise?” Dan Uggla and Justin Upton’s deals both run out after the 2015 season. Between them that’s $27 million off the payroll when Heyward hits free agency. Think maybe, if Heyward plays well for two years, that the Braves may find room for him then? I do. At worst it could mean that the Braves have a choice between Upton and Heyward then.

All of this seems like a contrived narrative that attempts to read more deeply into the situation than the facts warrant. Which can be a useful exercise at times if what one is attempting to determine is itself useful. But to do so in the interests of naming “the face of the franchise” seems silly. Especially when the Braves’ chances over the next two years — and they have legitimate chances to contend for a championship in that time — depend on both Freddie Freeman and Jason Heyward.

Marlins acquire starter Dan Straily from the Reds

CINCINNATI, OH - SEPTEMBER 3: Dan Straily #58 of the Cincinnati Reds throws a pitch during the first inning of the game against the St. Louis Cardinals at Great American Ball Park on September 3, 2016 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by John Sommers II/Getty Images)
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The Miami Marlins have acquired starting pitcher Dan Straily from the Cincinnati Reds. In exchange, the Reds will receive right-handed pitching prospects Luis Castillo and Austin Brice and outfield prospect Isaiah White.

For the Marlins, they get a solid starter who logged 191.1 innings of 113 ERA+ ball last year. Straily has moved around a lot in his five big league seasons — the Marlins will be his fifth club in six years — but it was something of a breakout year for him in Cincinnati. The only troubling thing: he tied for the league lead in homers allowed. Of course, pitching half of his games in Great American Ballpark didn’t help that, and Miami will be a better place for him.

Castillo is 24. He split last season between high-A and Double-A — far more of it in A-ball — posting a 2.26 ERA over 24 starts. Austin Brice is also 24. He pitched 15 games in relief for the Marlins last year at the big league level with poor results. He seemed to blossom at Triple-A, however, after the Marlins shifted him to the pen. White was a third round pick in the 2015 draft. He played low-A ball as a minor leaguer last year, hitting .214/.306/.301.

A mixed bag of young talent for the Reds, but stockpiling kids and seeing what shakes out is what a team like the Reds should be doing at the moment. For the Marlins: a solid mid-to-back end starter who may just be coming into his own.

Have Hall of Fame Voters actually made the PED thing More complicated?

Sammy Sosa
Associated Press
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The story coming out of this year’s Hall of Fame balloting is that the BBWAA voters are finally easing their antipathy toward players with performance enhancing drug associations.

Jeff Bagwell — the subject of unconfirmed PED rumors — made the Hall! Pudge Rodriguez, who was named in Jose Canseco’s book and who had a . . . curious physical transformation around the time PED testing came online, made it on the first ballot! Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, whose PED use was well-documented, saw their vote totals advance above the 50% mark, making their future elections look more likely!

It’s an interesting development, and one I’m obviously pleased with, but I wonder if the BBWAA’s new approach to PED guys, while far more forgiving than it used to be, has actually become more complicated in practice.

I ask this because I look way, way down the ballot and I still see Sammy Sosa scraping by with around 8% of the vote. I ask this because I still see Gary Sheffield at 13%. I ask this because when Mark McGwire was on the Today’s Game ballot in December, no one really stumped for him at all. I ask this because, even though Bagwell and Mike Piazza got in eventually, they still had to go through a lot of hazing first and I suspect, if they hit the ballot for the first time again tomorrow, the same arguments and delay would occur with respect to their cases.

In light of that, what I suspect has happened has not been a wholesale surrender of the anti-PED voters. Rather, I think it has been a transformation. One in which a moral test — did he use PEDs or not? — has been discarded as a threshold question and a scientific/physiological test — would he have been great even without the PEDs? — has replaced it. In essence, voters are becoming “PED discounters” in the aggregate. Making calculations as to whether a guy was, in their mind, a creation of PEDs or not.

Such an approach explains these new voting patterns as well as those in recent years.

  • Ivan Rodriguez may have been called out by Canseco and may have noticeably shrunk over an offseason, but his calling card was his defense behind the plate and voters, I suspect, have told themselves that such a thing is not PED-aided.
  • Bonds and Clemens may have been PED users, but each of them was undeniably talented and, if you discount for the PED use, hey, they’re still all-time greats.
  • Sammy Sosa’s case rests disproportionately on homers and, as everyone knows, PEDs = instant dingers, so no, he’s not gonna cut it.

And so on.

As I said, I’m glad that the strict moral test — did he use or not? — is losing its hold on Hall voters. But I do not think the “did PEDs make him who he was test?” is a good approach either. Baseball writers are in no better a position to assess the physiological and performance enhancements caused by pharmaceuticals than they are to be judges of character and morality. Given the identities of players confirmed to be PED users, the old eye test implicit in these cases is famously faulty (Neifi Perez, anyone?). The idea that PEDs only affect home run totals — and not, say, the ability for a player to take the abuse of the catcher position for 21 seasons — is crude and ignorant.

I suppose it’s naive to expect voters to completely disregard PEDs in their assessment of players. It’s a bell that cannot be unrung. But while we may, thankfully, be moving away from a moral test with respect to drugs, it’s been displaced by a scientific test that is no more reasonable in practice.