Thoughts A Week Before Pitchers And Catchers Report to Camp

It is pretty wild to think that spring training will begin next week. The offseason has flown by. Admittedly, 95% of my sports focus was on the San Francisco 49ers and their incredibly fun season. Luckily, baseball went into hibernation after the winter meetings so my football craziness didn’t prevent me from missing anything significant. I guess MLB was waiting for my 49ers to choke a Super Bowl title away to kick back into full gear. I appreciate the much needed distraction. Here are some thoughts as I slowly recover from one of the worst sports moments of my life.

1. Challenging the Global View of The Betts Trade: We all had a pretty strong inkling this was going down, but it is still pretty mind blowing that it actually happened. Mookie is easily a top-five player in the league. There are clearly no baseball reasons for a premiere franchise like the Boston Red Sox to trade their franchise player. This was a financial decision made by one of the most profitable franchises in the league.

Boston’s offseason plan was crystal clear following two personnel moves. The Red Sox fired Dave Dombrowski this winter because team brass believed he overspent for a title. That reasoning is absurd, illogical and insulting. While all of these descriptions are true, Red Sox ownership decided it was time to move on. They turned to former Rays executive Chaim Bloom to steer the franchise towards financial austerity and prudence. Generally speaking, a team isn’t hiring a former Rays employee to go on a shopping spree. His directive was to get under the luxury tax. With the Betts/Price deal, Bloom was able to accomplish this in only a couple of months on the job.

There is no denying this trade was essentially a salary dump of one of the game’s best players, but don’t count me in the group that will proclaim this is bad for the game. This IS the game in 2020. The industry has been operating in this manner for years now. Outside of the Miami Marlins, with an ownership group that should’ve never been awarded the team, every major league franchise can afford big time contracts. The Rockies can afford Arenado. Cleveland can afford Lindor. The Red Sox can afford Betts. They just refuse to do it, because they can refuse to do it.

This is the current economic structure of the game. Unfortunately, the CBA gives teams the power to conduct business in this manner. I am a staunch player supporter. Until the public knows all of the owners’ financial information like we know the players’ contract details, the owners will always have some cover in their selfish decision making. Do I like this reality? No. Do I have to look at player movement decisions through this lens? Yes. The MLBPA has to do whatever it can to improve these labor situations for its members.

Even from an on-field perspective, it is hard to believe this is bad for the game. Mookie Betts landed with another behemoth. The Dodgers are every bit as valuable a franchise as Boston. Los Angeles has been the class of the National League for years. Many people have spent the last few offseasons trashing the Dodgers for not being aggressive. They’re finally aggressive and the dialogue focuses on Boston’s loss. The state of the game can’t be that dire when an elite team acquires an elite talent and plans to do everything they can to extend said player. It’s bad for the franchise who foolishly gave up on that great player.

If we include all of the participants in the transactions, we get an even clearer picture of how the game didn’t suffer from the Betts deal. The Minnesota Twins are a better team with Maeda. The Angels are a better team with Joc Pederson. It feels like a leap to lament the state of the game when three of the four participants in the deals improved their rosters.

We should also consider the player’s own agency when it comes to these deals. These trades are almost always viewed through the team’s perspective and rarely the player’s perspective. It is quite possible that Mookie Betts didn’t want to be a Red Sox long term. Or at the very least, he was going to be a career Red Sox only on his terms.

If we are to believe the reporting on Mookie’s future, he clearly wants to enter the market and help his fellow union members. Many of us clamor for the players to be more proactive with their careers. Mookie is doing just that. He fulfilled his six-year responsibility and he was solely going to serve his own interests moving forward. That would be the right attitude to have. This trade is clearly driven by financial reasons on the team’s behalf, but it is a possibility the player was making it clear he was prepared to move on.

At the end of the day, we are still going to watch the games. When March 26th rolls around, we’re all going to forget our laments of the business side of things and obsesses over every pitch, hit and managerial decision. Yes, there are clear issues in the industry that need to be resolved. The on field product remains strong. Ultimately, that is what will keep us going.

2. Thriving In The Details: The Yankees are the best team on paper. This still feels accurate even with Betts moving on to LA. The Yankees rotation projects to be elite. Their bullpen remains imposing. The projected lineup is devastating. While all of this is true, there is still room for roster improvement. I have long held onto the belief that championship teams win titles in the details. Yes, great teams need elite level players, good health, leadership, and fortune. They also maximize their roster spots with the best players available for the roles that need to be filled.

In particular, the primary back up middle infield role is one area that could use an upgrade. The Yankees are pretty shallow in that department. In letting Didi go to Philadelphia, the team chipped away at depth in a crucial area of the field. The decision also limits DJ Lemahieu’s versatility. This is fine if there was a proven and capable major leaguer to back up both second and short. They simply do not have that on the current roster and this seemingly works against the team’s approach to roster building.

The obvious in house candidates are Tyler Wade and Thairo Estrada. There is nothing that I’ve seen from Tyler Wade’s offensive profile that suggests he could be an average player if Gleyber or DJLM goes down for an extended period of time. Baseball Savant rates him similarly to players like Garrett Hampson, Adam Engel and Phillip Ervin. FanGraphs projects him to slash .224/.289/.322. He did improve his plate discipline in 2019, but it’s not clear what he can contribute offensively. The glove is good. The speed is great, but even then the Yankees are a team reliant upon power and good baserunning isn’t predicated upon raw speed.

It is hard to project Estrada because he only had 69 PAs last season. He did have some nice moments filling in from time to time, but is there anything that we saw to suggest he could produce on a consistent basis? He doesn’t have eye popping minor league numbers either. If I had to choose between Estrada or Wade, I would lean towards Thairo because there is some more power in the bat. I wouldn’t feel great about either guy.

The Yankees spent $324 million dollars for Gerrit Cole. This is as clear a sign the team is going all in this season to win a championship. When you make a considerable investment like the Cole contract there shouldn’t be any what-ifs on the roster. Each player on the 26th man should be a competent major leaguer. Brock Holt would be a solid addition to the club. You know that he will make consistent baseball plays, will get on base and provide solid defense. You’re looking for reliable play from the back up position, not a learning curve. Holt can provide that better than Wade or Estrada.

3. No One Year Deals?: It is a little surprising that the Yankees haven’t played in the one year deal market. They signed a few minor league deals, but no short term major league contracts. Both Didi and Dellin signed for one year with the Phillies and Mets respectively. One can assume the money was a little too rich for the Yankees especially considering what they spent for Cole, but there were smart short term deals they could’ve pursued. Eric Thames, Jose Iglesias, Asdrubal Cabrera and Jason Castro all signed for one year at relatively low money. All of them would have been solid additions to the roster.

It appears the Yankees are content with their in house options and will look to add before the trade deadline once they get a better feel for the team. It is always better to acquire talent with just money, but that isn’t totally how the Yankees operate.

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16 Comments

  1. Brian

    Betts didn’t actually want to leave, he just wanted to force the Red Sox to stop trying to pay him less than what he felt he was worth. They offered extensions that were always $100 M less than what he was looking for. And then a narrative gets continually pushed by media he didn’t want to be there really. He never said that and I believe he confessed to Jim Rice he never wanted to leave. Maybe he finally gets the $420M contract he was allegedly looking for after this year, and the last five years are really ugly, and then Boston looks like geniuses. Maybe LA or the team that he lands with next year get a WS and multiple deep post season runs out of it anyway, and Boston continues to be middling during that time. If I was a Sox fan, it wouldn’t be worth it to me.

  2. Flynn

    Dear lord.. Haven’t even started the season and Paxton is on the shelf for 4 months.. I can;t deal with another season of injuries

  3. If owners want to field a low payroll and pocket the profits, there’s nothing the MLBPA can do about it. The only way to counter this type of greed is for fans to stop supporting the team (don’t go to the games, don’t watch on TV) and players to reject going to the team (if they can). Randy, you say “The on field product remains strong. Ultimately, that is what will keep us going.” rings hollow for Red Sox fans. One day it might be our turn.

    • Randy

      The Red Sox fans are going to watch the Red Sox this season. They are not going to turn their collective backs on the team.

      • Brian

        They won’t completely turn away, but in the seasons prior to 2018 when they were bad, NESN rating really sagged and empty seats became more noticeable at Fenway. The dirty secret is that Red Sox fans actually as fair-weather as nearly any other fan base. And I think people care at least as much (if not more) about the Patriots now. If the Sox are floundering a bit come July, all attention will shift to Patriots with the start of training camp.

  4. RetroRob

    Chaim Bloom was brought in to do exactly this. He also won’t be there long. He’ll reset the Red Sox, and Henry will blow him out the door. Not sure he’ll make it through year three. Maybe Henry is now on an every-other-year GM plan.

    As for the infield depth, the Yankees either a) Believe strongly in the two infield option (Wade and Estrada), or b) Are waiting for the right deal to open up. If it’s the former, I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt as they’ve been very good at identifying which players to keep and which to move of late. Tyler Wade of Thairo Estrada filling for a game a week, or even for a couple of weeks if one of DJLM or Gleyber is injured is fine. Biggest concern is a significant injury. I prefer not to discover if the Yankees faith in these two guys is warranted!

    • Randy

      Yeah, just count me in the group that wants absolutely nothing to do with Tyler Wade in any capacity.

  5. DanGerw

    I’m torn on the Betts trade.

    On one hand we lament letting Cano walk for nothing from a team clearly in decline. And Boston won 84 games last year, far from good enough to win the ALE. Plus, there’s still a chance they pull a Chapman and resign Betts after trading him for high end talent.

    On the other, Boston brings in half a billion in revenues and is valued at $3.2B (granted, revenue doesn’t always equal profits). There’s no way Boston couldn’t keep Betts if they really wanted, they don’t want to. It’s also weird to fire Dave D for doing exactly what you hire Dave D to do, which is gut the system to win a trophy.

    I guess in the end I agree with Randy. It’s a savvy baseball move but that doesn’t mean I’m thrilled with it. I’d be more upset if it was a true salary dump a la Stanton but they did get quality return.

    Maybe I’m just mad at the MLBPA for being so ineffective. I have zero sympathy for billionaires crying poverty.

    • Randy

      The more I think about it the more I’m disappointed in the MLBPA leadership. They really created an opportunity to for this to happen. Owners are billionaires by being greedy assholes. You can’t give them a chance to behave like that.

      • The owners can behave like that if they want to – this is a capitalistic system and the owners call the shots. The luxury tax gives the owners an incentive to reduce payroll, but the owners could still reduce payroll even if the luxury tax was abolished. They could still say “Our budget allows for only 190 million in payroll, otherwise we lose money” – they’d be lying, of course, but they will say whatever they want. Fans have got to stop supporting clubs that put an inferior product on the field.

  6. DJ Lemeddardhieu

    1. As I said in the last post, Randy, the Dodgers just won the World Series. And hats off to them for doing this instead of resting on our laurels like we always do. And it’s a win win win win win for the Sox because they get to rebuild with great young players and hurt us at the same time. There were some jumping for joy in the last post and they’ll be regretting that come October. We were already going to win the division anyway Mookie or not Mookie. He was no threat on the Sox. He was like Trout on the Angels. Great player surrounded by crap. On the Dodgers he’s surrounded by a World Series winner.

    2. No they aren’t and paper isn’t reality. This is the problem with these sabermetrics is these math nerds put into a spreadsheet who’s going to win the WS and it never turns out that way because that’s not how the game is played. Dodgers are now the team to beat. Nationals a close 2nd. I’d put us 3rd now that the Astros can’t cheat as blatantly anymore.

    3. I’m not. Hal saved up all his coupons for a decade to sign Cole and isn’t going to spend another penny on this ballclub. Dellin shoulda been re-signed. Didi we can do without. I’d rather give Ford, Tauchman and Wade a chance than sign an old bloated veteran to a 1 year deal. Those never work. Remember Kevin Youkilis? Kelly Johnson? Stephen Drew? Kendrys Morales? Chris Carter?

  7. CountryClub

    It’s a small sample, but Wade did appear to finally figure out who he is at the plate in his final call up last year. If that player was for real, I’d be fine with him getting 30 or 40 games at 2b or SS if an unfortunate injury occurred.

    A lot of what you wrote regarding the other teams in the Betts trade is accurate. However, it’s still bad for the game when one of THE franchises dumps a top 15 player in his prime because they don’t want to pay him market value. They’re used to their homegrown players taking discounts to stay there. He refused to do that. Good for him.

    And ultimately, the financial situation the players are dealing with is the fault of the union. They fought for the wrong things in recent years and foolishly let the owners institute a cap. You can say it’s not a cap, but that’s exactly what it is….a soft salary cap. Plenty of us knew it when it went in and almost everyone knew it when the penalties were increased with the last CBA.

    • Randy

      I don’t trust September numbers. And I don’t think he did anything of note in those games. I’m a noted Wade hater so there isn’t much someone can say to convince me he’s serviceable until he actually produces over a significant stretch of time.

      We really don’t know all the details behind this trade. Maybe Mookie didn’t want to be there long term and hinted as such. It is possible that he just wanted to move on from Boston.

      Yes, the union leadership bears a lot of responsibility for that awful CBA. I agree 100%.

      • Mungo

        Totally agree. The MLBPA agreeing to these changes in the CBA has reduced the players’ share of the pie while lining the pockets of owners. Now, I have no issue with owners trying to maximize their profits anymore than I have with players trying to get every last dollar. The problem here is the players agreed to this so they need to begin moving the needle back in the other direction. MLB has created a situation where they have an entertainment business built around competition that now has a large segment of the teams not trying to compete, and even the wealthiest of teams trading away highly competitive and entertaining players (Betts), who they should be building around for the next decade. Trying to engage a younger audience? Hard to see how this will help the Red Sox’s younger fans be more engaged.

        As for the lack of one year deals, I think this all comes down to the luxury tax. The same reason the Red Sox dumped Mookie Betts is the same reason the Yankees haven’t added any one year players, or a back up middle infielder. They first want to move Happ to see how much flexibility they have. It’s paralyzed them to some degree. If they knew for sure the couldn’t move Happ they probably would spend a little more. Maybe.

        • Randy

          Yeah, I think there needs to be more discussion focusing on how bad the MLBPA leadership is. I don’t want to blame the players because it’s not really their job, but Clark is terrible. He opened the door for this and the owners kicked it down.

          That is a good point about the luxury tax. I would say that if you’re over it or close to it just blow by it. They’re going to be a tax payer either way. A couple million bucks isn’t going to drastically change much.

  8. There is an inherent conflict in your position, Randy. On one hand, you are pro-labor (players) and want to see them make a lot of money. That’s all well and good, but you also would like mediocre or even bad teams to pay all that money to keep their homegrown talent – even if said talent can’t help them win.

    Would you spend hundreds of millions of dollars on something that doesn’t accomplish the goal you have in mind? Even if you had billions in the bank, the answer would be no. So how is it surprising that teams decide to sell their stars once they have determined they aren’t in a position to compete? The most efficient use of an expensive asset that can’t help you is to… sell it.

    I think a lot of the outrage comes from a nostalgic view of baseball in the past where superstars spent their entire career with a single team. But players in the past, even accounting for inflation, were paid just a tiny fraction of what they are paid now due. The Reserve Clause kept them from having any negotiation leverage. You can’t have it both ways. Either you have the old game where players were paid essentially like doctors or lawyers and stayed with a team forever. Or the new game where they are paid like hedge fund managers and are deployed in the most efficient manner possible.

    You do make one great point though. Mookie Betts didn’t disappear off the face of the earth. He isn’t going to run off and play in some Asian league. He’s still playing MLB. In the aggregate, the quality of the MLB product is unchanged, because he’s still there – just playing for a different team.

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