Craig Calcaterra

Theo Epstein

Theo Epstein fires back at Scott Boras over the Kris Bryant controversy

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Yesterday Scott Boras, shockingly, took issue with developments which are likely to cause one of his clients — Kris Bryant — to have to wait a year to become a free agent.

If one were cynical, one might say that Boras’ outrage was rooted in self-interest, not principle. But I must say, it’s kind of hard to make that leap. I mean, to do so you’d have to believe that Boras himself is the type who believes in someone using every bit of leverage they have at their disposal, that he’d never strongarm a team with whatever leverage he and his clients had and that his displeasure at the Cubs doing so with their prospect is hypocritical. And perish that thought.

Cubs president Theo Epstein is not all that interested in getting inside Scott Boras’ head anyway. In this Ken Rosenthal column he responds to Boras’ outrage with a verbal shrug:

“Kris Bryant’s development path has absolutely nothing to do with ownership, period. As with all our baseball decisions, I will determine where Kris begins the 2015 season after consulting with members of our baseball operations staff. Comments from agents, media members and anybody outside our organization will be ignored.”

If Epstein had wanted to, he could’ve added that “you know, if Scott Boras clients and other established major leaguers hadn’t agreed to a number of Collective Bargaining Agreements that boned draftees, minor leaguers, and pre-arbitration players, maybe Bryant would have a bit more leverage. But they got theirs and now he’s getting his and that’s the system you all agreed to.” But I suppose Epstein is too polite for that.

As for the merits of the thing: I think it’s kind of disheartening when a team holds a player back like this, especially when the fans are champing at the bit to see him. I hate most monetary calculations disguised as baseball decisions, generally speaking.

But that said, everything I’m reading suggests that Bryant, if he is held back, will only be held back a couple of weeks. A couple of cold weeks in Chicago when the Bleachers aren’t even done being rebuilt yet. And if having a rookie there for those couple of weeks truly make the difference between the Cubs making the playoffs or not, it suggests that perhaps the Cubs aren’t terribly strong to begin with. Because really, how many teams’ playoff chances have ever really turned on a rookie being there for 155 games as opposed to, say, 141? Maybe the Braves with Jason Heyward, which Boras noted. But I can’t really think of many more.

Billy Beane hired as a consultant to a Dutch soccer team

billy beane getty
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Billy Beane has always been into soccer, both personally and professionally. Back when Dallas Braden tossed his perfect game? Beane didn’t realize it because he was running on a treadmill, listening to a soccer match on his iPod, watching the ballgame with the sound down. He has also advised for the San Jose Earthquakes of MLS. He’s buddies with the owners of Arsenal. It’s his main sporting passion outside of baseball.

So this news, discussed over at ProSoccerTalk, is not terribly surprising: Dutch soccer club AZ Alkmaar has hired Beane to be a consultant.

I’d say they’re not selling jeans there, but what the heck do I know about Dutch soccer? Maybe they are selling jeans.

Alex Cobb diagnosed with tendinitis, likely to miss Opening Day start

Alex Cobb
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Rays right-hander Alex Cobb exited yesterday’s start after just three innings because of forearm tightness. The diagnosis is now in: tendinitis. Which has to be considered good news.

The bad news, though, is that he’ll need to be on the shelf for a while, which throws his spring schedule out of whack, with Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times saying that he could miss the first few weeks of the season. Which is not at all cool for a Rays rotation that is already a hot mess, what with Drew Smyly dealing with shoulder tendinitis and Alex Colome having freakin’ pneumonia.

Quote of the Day: some NL exec would start a team with Adam Jones over Mike Trout

Adam Jones
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Assignment to reporters in Arizona: find the source of this anonymous quote in MLB.com’s Lyle Spencer’s story.

The story: asking various executives which player they would choose to build a team around. Most execs chose Mike Trout or Clayton Kershaw, which makes sense. Some chose Andrew McCutchen, which, sure, why not? Others went with young prospects or decided that it was most important to build around certain positions like shortstop or catcher. Which also makes sense. Indeed, it’s hard to truly criticize almost any of the choices here given the hypothetical nature of this exercise and the various ways there are to build a railroad.

But there is one exec — a general manager no less! — who made a choice and a justification therefor which is impossible to get one’s head around:

“Adam Jones is a five-tool guy who comes to beat you every day and is a great leader,” an NL GM said of the Orioles’ center fielder. “I love Trout, but I just love Jones a little more.”

Like I said: picking a pitcher or a catcher or a shortstop or a young prospect over Mike Trout in this exercise is totally defensible. But to decide that you want an MLB center fielder and then not only go with Jones over Trout but to do so on the basis of a head-to-head comparison between the two and a justification of Jones being a “five-tool guy” with, more or less, the will-to-win is a pretty special thing. Especially for a general manager.

Spencer said he did this out in Arizona. The NL GMs in Arizona are, as follows: Dave Stewart of the Dbacks, Jed Hoyer of the Cubs, Walt Jocketty of the Reds, Jeff Bridich of the Rockies, Farhan Zaidi of the Dodgers, Doug Melvin of the Brewers, A.J. Preller of the Padres and Brian Sabean of the Giants. Fans of one of those teams: I am sorry.

2015 Preview: Baltimore Orioles

Buck Showalter
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Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2015 season. Next up: The Baltimore Orioles.

The Big Question: Can the Orioles replace the big bats they lost?

The Orioles had a quiet offseason. Which would be fine for a defending division champ coming off a 96-win season if they hadn’t lost their best hitter and, arguably, their third best hitter in the offseason. Here I’m talking about the DH, Nelson Cruz and their everyday right fielder for nearly a decade, Nick Markakis. OK, calling the 2014 version — let alone the post-surgery 2015 version — of Nick Markakis a “big bat” may be stretching things a bit, but in the two of these guys they lost their two most durable players who were 1-2 in on-base percentage on the club and who combined for 1,388 plate appearances, 54 homers and 158 RBI.

That’s a lot to lose, without a lot brought in to make up for it. The only real addition: Travis Snider. Which is actually pretty OK. Snider is past the point where his once can’t-miss-prospect status matters much, but he did show last year that he can be a solid guy, at least against righties. Not great, but solid, and at age 27 there’s a chance he builds on his nice second half of 2014 and finds a way to put together a nice couple of seasons.

But the real answer to that question is not about who they brought in, but who they get back: Manny Machado, Matt Wieters and, for all practical purposes, Chris Davis.

Machado missed half the season with a knee injury. Wieters missed all but 26 games due to Tommy John surgery. Machado, however, is healthy again and, having already shown he can handle big league pitching at ages 20 and 21, his return to the lineup will be a welcome one. Wieters may start the season a bit late but, assuming no hiccups in his recovery, should be back for most of the year. His arm may be a question mark at the moment but he was hitting the cover off the ball when he went down last year.

Davis may be the most intriguing of the returning triumvirate. He managed 26 homers last season despite a putrid average and OBP, and his suspension for Adderall was the moldy icing on the garbage cake. He claims now that his troubles last year were due to a strained oblique that is now healthy and he has a therapeutic use exemption for the Adderall, which he claims helps his focus. That remains to be seen, but it’s hard to see how he could get much worse than he was in 2014.

So, Cruz and Markakis gone, Snider, Machado, Wieters and an improved Davis in? There are a decent amount of “ifs” in there, but yeah, that’ll do.

What else is going on?

  • While the bounce back candidates are something to wish on, O’s fans had best prepare for a candidate for regression. Steve Pearce was a godsend for the O’s when Machado and, later, Davis went down, hitting .293/.373/.556 with 21 homers in 102 games. You think that’s happening again? Think again. Also maybe think about whether, if Pearce falters, Showalter has the will power to avoid playing Delmon Young more than he should. Young was pretty spiffy last year, but he was also used sparingly. The more Young is used in 2015, the less the O’s plans have gone according to expectations.
  • The rotation remains a strength in 2014. A thousand “can the Orioles win without a true ace” columns were written last year and a thousand more are likely to be written this year, but a team can do just fine without one of those true ace-types as long as they have four or five good pitchers like the O’s have in Chris Tillman, Wei-Yin Chen, Bud Norris, Miguel Gonzalez and Kevin Gausman.
  • Oh, a name was missing from that list, was it? Yes, it was: Ubaldo Jimenez. Nope, last year’s biggest acquisition doesn’t crack this rotation if reasonable expectations hold. But sure, Jimenez could bounce back and be useful. If so, wonderful. Especially in a day and age when pitchers drop like flies. But he doesn’t have to in order for the O’s to be successful, and that’s a nice luxury for everyone who doesn’t have to sign his checks.
  • The Orioles’ bullpen has a lot of moving parts at the moment, including Rule 5 additions and guys without options. But they also have a lot of talent and Buck Showalter has shown that he is the absolute best in the business dealing with the moving parts of a major league bullpen. Really, that’s been the story of this club for the past several years and gives the O’s a big advantage over teams with young, low-experience managers who never had to, you know, learn how to manage bullpens, which is just as much art as it is science, it seems.

Prediction: A lot of uncertainty here, but let us not forget that there’s a lot of talent too. I didn’t even mention Adam Jones above, and he’s pretty great. The defense up the middle is nice. The rotation, as mentioned, is solid. And the O’s have one of the best managers in the game. In a division where everyone else is either down or dealing with some key injuries that should still make them the favorite to win it. First place, AL East.