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Welcome to free agent nonsense season

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There was a time, not too long ago, when writers like me would write long, angry screeds whenever a person in the game or a member of the media said something that didn’t comport with rationality or smart baseball orthodoxy or whatever. It was at times a fun thing to do — some folks built careers lampooning old school baseball thinking — but it’s pretty passé now. At least if you’re doing it earnestly and being a jackwagon about it. With the possible exception of Hall of Fame voting season, when we consider the past, those old debates are mostly over. The smart guys won and there’s not much worse than being a sore winner.

But we can still smile at silly things, right? The cliches and nonsense which baseball folks tend to utter as place-fillers when talking about the game. Things like this, from Dayton Moore, talking about free agent Eric Hosmer:

“If you told Eric Hosmer, ‘We need you to hit 40 home runs,’ he would be able to hit 40 home runs. He’s that type of athlete,” the Royals GM said. “He’s that smart. He likes to play a complete game. Eric Hosmer will lay down a bunt. Eric Hosmer understands situations. He’s a true baseball player.”

Dayton Moore is a smart dude with a World Series ring, so he knows damn well that if Eric Hosmer could really hit 40 homers by choice, he’d be hitting 40 homers. Heck, maybe he’d hit 500 of them. One for most plate appearances and a few intentional triples so as not to kill the rallies and unduly embarrass opposing pitchers and such. Don’t wanna get greedy. He also probably knows that Hosmer has two sacrifice bunts in his entire career, and has likely not been asked to attempt many more than that for a good reason. If he’s only hitting 25 homers. it’s probably because he’s a 25 homer hitter. No shame in that.

Yet he says stuff like this. Why? I suppose it’s human nature. The question put to him in the context of the article is why Hosmer might be a better choice than J.D. Martinez, who hits more homers. It’s not natural for a person in the game to point out flaws in a teammate, or to even accurately describe someone in a manner that might even seem like a flaw. It’s a fact that Martinez hits more homers than Hosmer. Moore, who has great affinity for Hosmer due to their time together, isn’t wired to say, publicly, “yes, Hosmer has less power, but . . .” so this little bit of silliness comes out. It’s pretty understandable. It’s actually downright sweet. Moore might very well no longer have Hosmer on his team next year, and he’s gonna miss him. I like that. It humanizes booth Hosmer and Moore, really.

But it also suggests to us that a lot of what is said, qualitatively instead of quantitatively, is probably baloney. Even if it’s benign baloney. How good a teammate a guy is, what kind of character he has, his drive and the cut of his gib is all relevant to teams when they evaluate players and all of those skills contribute, however intangibly, to teams winning and losing. But it’s also the case that those traits lend themselves to distortion and overstatement. Sometimes it’s funny, harmless distortion like this. Other times it might serve to obscure something or distract us from something. So much of it is unverifiable and based on word of mouth from often unreliable narrators.

It doesn’t matter too much in the grand scheme of things — if Dave Dombrowski signs Eric Hosmer it won’t be because he thinks he can hit 40 homers on demand — but it’s worth remembering that, when we assess players, there are limits to how much one can take the word of the insiders who know these guys personally. And it’s worth remembering later when fans slag on a guy for not fulfilling expectations, how those expectations were set.

 

Indians trade Corey Kluber to the Texas Rangers

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The Cleveland Indians have traded two-time Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber to the Texas Rangers. In exchange, Texas is sending center fielder Delino DeShields and pitcher Emmanuel Clase to the Indians. There are reports that the Indians will be getting more than just those two players, but no word yet. The deal is pending physical.

Kluber made only seven starts this past year thanks to a broken arm and a strained oblique muscle. When he did pitch he was no great shakes, posting a 5.80 ERA and 44 hits in 35.2 innings. Those were freak injuries that do not suggest long-term problems, however, so there’s a good reason to think he’ll bounce back to useful form, even if it’s a tough ask for him to return to the form that won him the 2014 and 2017 Cy Young Award.

Before his injury-wracked 2019 campaign, Kluber pitched over 200 innings in each of his previous five seasons so mileage could be an issue. For his career he’s 98-58 with a 3.16 ERA (134 ERA+), a 2.99 FIP, and a K/BB ratio of 1,461/292 over 1,341.2 innings in nine big league seasons.

Unless there is cash coming from Cleveland in the deal, the Rangers will be paying him $17.5 million this year and a 2021 option of $14 million pursuant to the five-year, $38.5 million contract he inked with Cleveland before the 2015 season.

DeShields, 27, is a career .246/.326/.342 hitter (76 OPS+) and that’s about how he performed in 2019 as well. He was demoted to Triple-A Nashville in May. Clase, who will turn 22 before next season, pitched 21 games, all but one in relief, for the Rangers in 2019 and will still be considered a rookie in 2020. He has been used mostly as a reliever in the minors as well.

Pending what else the Tribe is going to be getting, this appears to be a light return for a pitcher who, despite his 2019 injuries, should be expected to come back and be a workhorse. Unless there is some real talent coming back, in addition to DeShields and Clase, it would seem to be a salary dump for Cleveland and a steal for Texas. It is likewise perplexing how any of the many, many teams who could use starting pitching — the Angels and the Mets, among others, come to mind — could not top the package Texas offered.

As for the Indians, the commitment to Kluber for 2020-21 is $31.5 million if you exercise next year’s option, $18.5 million if you don’t. He’s one year and a freak injury removed from goin 20-7 with a 2.89 (150 ERA+), 0.991 WHIP, and 215 innings pitched. Cleveland is coming off 93 wins and should contend. Why you trade Kluber in that situation, regardless of the return, is a question they should have to answer to fans who expect to see winning baseball.