Billy Beane: The age of “baseball insiders” vs. “baseball outsiders” will soon be over

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Billy Beane has an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal today in which he talks about the changes technology is and will continue to bring to the game and what that will mean for the business of baseball. Note: to the extent you continue to go after stat-oriented analysis using the language of “Moneyball,” you’re woefully out of date.

Beane mentions 3-D tracking systems like Statcast, new metrics and new teaching techniques that will hone and refine player skills and capture the gains from such techniques in new and ever-more-precise metrics. If you’re tech-phobic, put your big boy pants on and wade in so you can at least know the sorts of things you should be upset about.

But Beane’s real point isn’t about any single technology or approach — it’s not like he’s gonna share the stuff his people are working on with the world; he did that a decade ago and still catches hell for it — but how technology will change the culture of baseball, who the people are who will be influential in its future and how they’ll get the information they’ll use:

Technology will create an equally drastic shift in front offices. Aspirants to the front office already are just one click away from decision makers, thanks to social media. It is not uncommon for a blogger’s analysis post to show up in a general manager’s Twitter feed—a level of proximity and access unheard of a decade ago. Many sports franchises are already hiring analysts based on their work in the public sphere; as social media become more targeted and efficient, the line between the “outsiders” and “insiders” will narrow . . . In sum, sport will no longer be the exclusive domain of “insiders,” and the business will be better for it.

Baseball’s insular culture is one its most frustrating traits, and it has been very nice to see it eroding here and there since the advent of the Internet Age and the expansion of the cultures and philosophies in and around the game in recent years. To be sure, there has been something of a backlash to that of late — for example, I would argue that the rise in “unwritten rules” incidents and hostility by some in the world of baseball towards outsiders and the Internet is a defensive reaction not unlike you often see when an old order is in its death throes — but all in all, baseball is moving in a new and exciting direction.

The stereotypical Old Baseball Men are being joined by young baseball men. Young technology men. Young marketing men. And, hopefully, an increasing number of young women fitting all of those descriptions as well. There’s no sense going through life with one hand tied behind your back, and the willingness of people like Beane here, or Jeff Luhnow’s down in Houston or Chris Antonetti in Cleveland and any number of other GMs to look in new places for ideas and people is one of baseball’s most promising developments.

Yankees trade Sonny Gray to the Reds

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The deal was much talked about all weekend and now the deal is done: The Cincinnati Reds gave acquired starter Sonny Gray and lefty Reiver Sanmartin from the Yankees in exchange for second base prospect Shed Long and a 2019 competitive balance pick.

The key to making the deal happen: Gray agreeing to a a three-year, $30.5 million contract extension. The Reds will likewise hold a $12 million club option for 2023. The deal had been struck and a window granted through close of business today to get Gray to agree to the extension and, obviously, he has.

The Reds will get a pitcher coming off of a bad season in which he posted a disappointing 4.90 ERA in 23 starts and seven relief appearances. He was hammered particularly hard in Yankee Stadium but pitched better on the road. Great American Ballpark is not a great pitcher’s park itself but any change of scenery would be nice for Gray, who had become much unwanted and unloved in New York. In Cincinnati he has the assurance of a spot in the rotation and, even better for him, he will be reunited with his college pitching coach, Derek Johnson, who joined new manager David Bell’s Reds staff earlier this offseason. If he bounces back even a little bit, the Reds will have a useful starter at a below market price for four years. If he doesn’t, well, they haven’t exactly gone bankrupt taking the chance.

The Reds will also get Reiver Sanmartin, 22, who started in the Rangers system before being traded to the Yankees. He’s a soft-tosser who figures to be a reliever if he makes the big leagues. He played at four different levels last season, with one game at Double-A and the rest below that, posting a composite 2.80 ERA in 10 starts and 13 overall appearances while striking out 7.8 batters per nine.

The Yankees will get Shed Long, who is ranked as the Reds’ seventh best prospect. The 23-year old second baseman hit .261/.353/.412 at Double-A in 2018 and has hit very close to that overall line for his entire six-year minor league career. He strikes out a bit and may not stick at second base long term, shifting to a corner outfield slot perhaps, but he’s a legitimate prospect.

The Reds get another starter with some upside. The Yankees get rid of a problem and gain a prospect and a draft pick. Sonny Gray gets some job and financial security at a time when it is not at all clear what his future holds. Not a bad baseball trade.

UPDATE: Welp, the Yankees don’t have a prospect anymore. They just traded long to the Mariners for outfielder Josh Stowers. Stowers was a second-round pick in last year’s draft. He’s 21 and batted .260/.380/.410 with five homers and 20 steals over 58 games in Short-Season ball in 2018. He’s ranked by MLB.com as the Mariners’ No. 10 prospect, but now he’s New York bound.