Ken Rosenthal's Hall of Fame ballot is A-OK

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Trammell.jpgKen Rosenthal says that he usually limits his Hall of Fame ballot to two or three elite candidates, but this year he votes for nine guys:
Roberto Alomar, Barry Larkin, Edgar
Martinez, Fred McGriff, Bert
Blyleven, Andre Dawson, Tim Raines, Lee Smith, and Alan Trammell. 
Rosenthal is only one voter, but since he has so many guys in it I want
to talk about, let’s use his ballot as the jumping off point.

At the outset, let me say that the fact that he included Alan Trammell
— my first and truest baseball love — entitles him to absolution for
any of his past ballot sins. Seriously Ken, you could dedicate the rest
of your life to getting guys like Dave Parker and Bernie Williams
elected and I won’t go too hard on you in light of that Trammell vote.

But beyond my baseball crushes, there’s a lot to like here.  It’s a big
ballot, sure, but it makes sense. Larkin and Alomar seem like
no-brainers to me. You know my thoughts on Blyleven. As I said
yesterday, I won’t cry if Martinez doesn’t make it this year because
people still need to screw their DH-heads on straight, but I think he
belongs.  In my mind Raines is a sure Hall of Famer too, for all of the reasons Joe Posnanski outlined a couple of weeks ago.

Which brings us to McGriff, Dawson and Smith. I’m going to put off
talking about Smith for now because I’m not sure I have really come to
grips with what to do with one-inning closers who were anything short
of uber-elite like Eckersley, but I promise to devote some thoughts and
words to the subject soon. So, for the time being no on Smith.

That leaves Dawson and McGriff. I think they’re much closer calls than
the others and I’m not 100% sure what I’d do with them if the ballot
was staring me in the face today. Let’s talk through this.

I think I’d lean yes on McGriff. Given that he straddled the low-offense
80s and high-offense 90s, his statistical case flies under the radar,
with his best seasons coming in lower run-scoring environments. 1989
was his best full season (1994 may have been his absolute best but was
cut short). That year he hit .269/.399/.525 with 36 homers. That may
elicit a yawn by more recent standards but at that time those were MVP
numbers. If he had played in places outside of Toronto and San Diego
during those early years he probably would have actually won one.

Dawson: I loved the Hawk. Great man. Got royally screwed over by
collusion and should have made a hell of a lot more money in his career
than he did. Was under-appreciated for what he was in his time, but may
be a bit overrated now if that makes any sense.  Ultimately I don’t
think I could pull the lever for him due to his .323 on base percentage
which would be historically low for a Hall of Fame outfielder, and
lower than the average player of his day. And I’m not buying Dawson and
Rosenthal’s argument that he could have had a higher OBP if he had been
told it was important. Not making outs is pretty fundamental to the
game, and that’s what OBP is. I don’t think a player as smart as Dawson
needed anyone to tell him that.  Upshot: Dawson makes my Hall of Very,
Very Good, but he does not make my Hall of Fame.

The last slot on Rosenthal’s ballot was empty, and he says who it could
have been but wasn’t: Mark McGwire. Like I said, I’ll accept this in
light of the love for Trammell, Blyleven and his refusal to put Jack
Morris on his ballot, but I think McGwire belongs. I will point out,
though, that Rosenthal’s comment on the matter — “The more we
learn about the Steroid Era, the better we understand just how
deeply performance-enhancing drugs were entrenched in the
game’s culture” — suggests that he and maybe others will soften on
McGwire over time and realize that he was a man of his time. That,
though he probably cheated, he was doing it in a league full of
cheaters, and thus didn’t have some obscene advantage like is currently
portrayed.

So like I said: good ballot. Not perfect — none is — but one that I could almost see myself filling out.

Six of seven players decline $17.9 million qualifying offers

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Dodgers pitcher Hyun-Jin Ryu was the only one of seven eligible players to accept his $17.9 million qualifying offer. Bryce Harper, A.J. Pollock, Craig Kimbrel, Patrick Corbin, Yasmani Grandal, and Dallas Keuchel each rejected his, officially making them free agents. Teams that had their QO’s rejected will recoup a draft pick once the player signs elsewhere.

That Harper rejected his QO comes as no surprise, as he is expected to strike perhaps the largest free agent contract in baseball history. Though the free agent market has been less lucrative lately than in previous years, the combination of Harper’s elite talent and his age — he’s only 26 years old — makes him a primary target for more than a handful of teams. Harper reportedly turned down a 10-year, $300 million contract extension offer from the Nationals, so that would seem to be a baseline.

It is also not surprising that Kimbrel, 30, turned down his QO from the Red Sox. Despite a so-so showing during a championship run, Kimbrel is still young and talented enough to land another lucrative contract on the free agent market.

Keuchel bet on himself in turning down the Astros’ QO. He’s been solid since winning the AL Cy Young Award in 2015, owning a 3.77 ERA across 83 starts over the last three seasons. However, he turns 31 years old at the beginning of 2019, and his already mediocre strikeout rate declined even further this past season, so there may be some skepticism about his ability to perform over the course of a multi-year deal. Keuchel will still get one eventually, but his market may be slower to develop.

Pollock, soon 31 as well, will be the outfielder most coveted once Harper is off the market. When he’s healthy, he’s a dynamic five-tool player. However, Pollock hasn’t played in more than 113 games in a season since 2015, so that may be a red flag. Pollock ended 2018 batting .257/.316/.484 with 21 home runs, 65 RBI, 61 runs scored, and 13 stolen bases in 460 plate appearances while playing above-average defense according to various defensive metrics.

Grandal, 30, could’ve gone either way with his QO, but ultimately chose to decline. He had a disappointing postseason, both offensively and defensively. Given how humans are prone to recency bias, it stood to reason that his October performance could have hurt his market. The catching position, however, is rather weak and Grandal stands out in a market that is otherwise focused on Marlins catcher J.T. Realmuto. Grandal did swat 24 home runs with an .815 OPS in 140 games for the Dodgers this past season.

Corbin, 29, was the most obvious QO decline after Harper. The lefty is coming off of a career year, finishing with a 3.15 ERA and a 246/48 K/BB ratio in exactly 200 innings. Corbin is the best free agent pitcher on the market this offseason. The Yankees have been seriously linked with Corbin even before the season ended.

Ryu likely chose to accept his QO because of his age and injury history. It would have been a gamble to pursue a multi-year deal. He did, however, make 15 starts during the regular season to the tune of a 1.97 ERA with 89 strikeouts and 15 walks in 82 1/3 innings. Those are great numbers. And most clubs would have been smart enough to look beyond his 5.21 ERA in the postseason, which has more to do with a leaky bullpen than his own personal failings. Still, it’s hard to fault Ryu for playing it safe and taking the guaranteed $17.9 million for one year.