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Blame It on Byrnes PDF Print E-mail
Articles of Configuration
Written by Brian Walton   
Saturday, 28 June 2014 00:00

I would like to blame Josh Byrnes, but it would not be fair to pile on a guy who has twice been fired from one of the 30 best jobs in Major League Baseball by the age of 44.

So, I will more appropriately take the blame myself, instead.

Last week, I wrote about a key element of my plan to improve my place in the standings of National League Tout Wars. In a nutshell, I want to acquire young prospects before they are promoted to the Majors.

While I have had some successes in my approach, two examples of pitching mistakes I made came to light this week. One involves Byrnes.

About a month ago, the then-general manager of the San Diego Padres was quoted as saying that he was impressed with the pitching of right-hander Odrisamer Despaigne and more than hinted that the 27-year-old Cuban expat could get a look in San Diego soon.

Granted, San Diego is not an offensive powerhouse by any stretch of the imagination, but any starter worth a darn who pitches half his games in Petco Park is worth having. (Or is it that anyone who pitches half his games in Petco has to be worth a darn?)

Now perhaps Byrnes was engaging in a bit of hype-building. After all, in early May, he had committed a million bucks of his team’s owners’ cash on the pitcher and things were probably already not going too well at the office.

No matter, as the praise seemed justified. At the time, Despaigne had dominated in his first two professional starts - in a known hitters’ circuit, the Double-A Texas League. He allowed just one run on four hits and struck out 12 in 7 2/3 innings. A promotion to Triple-A quickly followed.

That was good enough for me. I made an uncontested bid of $1 (zero dollar bids on minor leaguers are not allowed in Tout) and carried Despaigne for a week on my active roster generating no stats, as required by league rules.

I then parked Despaigne on my bench for the next three weeks while watching his results every fifth day at El Paso. It was not pretty to say the least.

Despaigne pitched beyond five innings just once in five Triple-A outings. Worse, he was battered for 20 runs in 23 2/3 innings for a 7.61 ERA. If that wasn’t bad enough, his supporter Byrnes was sacked in San Diego.

I dropped Despaigne 10 days ago, and in the process, added another speculation play, Atlanta catcher Christian Bethancourt (I guess that roster spot is dedicated to those with long names).

I should know by now that things in San Diego often do not go as expected, especially this season. To that end, the Padres soon encountered a run of pitching injuries. Specifically, the shoulder problems of Andrew Cashner created a rotation opening filled by none other than the aforementioned Despaigne.

Now sitting on NL Tout’s waiver wire, Despaigne’s impressive results in his major league debut were wasted. All he did was shut out the team with the best record in the National League at the time, the San Francisco Giants, on four hits over seven innings.

Needless to say, Despaigne should generate considerable bidding activity this coming weekend and surely will not go for $1 this time.

It is of little solace that some scouts suggest that Despaigne lacks swing and miss stuff and may have trouble once he becomes known around the league. I know I could have at least enjoyed his honeymoon period.

To be honest, I might not have written this article had the Despaigne situation been an isolated incident.

Instead, just a couple of days later, salt was rubbed in my wounds by the organization I cover for a living, the St. Louis Cardinals.

The club lost 40 percent of its starting rotation on Monday when shoulder ailments pushed Michael Wacha and Jaime Garcia to the disabled list. While Carlos Martinez - who is on my Tout roster – took one spot, the Cards had no obvious choice for the other.

The club made a bold move, promoting the 19th overall selection in the 2013 draft, left-hander Marco Gonzales, straight from Double-A to a major league starting berth. It had been over two decades since a similar move occurred in the organization.

Gonzales lost two major recognition opportunities in the process. He had to give up his starting assignment in the Texas League All-Star Game as well as his invitation to the MLB All-Star Futures Game, to be held in Minneapolis on July 13. Somehow, I don’t think he minded.

Though Gonzales yielded five runs in five innings in his MLB debut, I liked what I saw from the 22-year-old. He had a 2:1 groundball advantage and three strikeouts, including a very impressive punchout of the hottest hitter in baseball in Troy Tulowitzki. Gonzales should also receive a mulligan since his debut was in Coors Field, a tough assignment for even a seasoned veteran.

Perhaps I am being too hard on myself for not having anticipated Gonzales’ arrival. I have been very aware of his talents, but did not expect the Cardinals to bring him up until September at best. Those plans clearly changed in one day – the day after our most recent free agent period ended.

As in the case of Despaigne, I expect aggressive bidding from my Tout peers will result in Gonzales landing on a competitor’s roster.

Can I somehow blame that on Byrnes, too?

 

Brian Walton was the 2009 National League Tout Wars champion, scoring the most points in the league’s 16-year history. He also holds the all-time NL Tout single-season records for wins and saves. His work can also be found daily at TheCardinalNation.com and thecardinalnationblog.com. Follow Brian on Twitter.

 

Last Updated on Sunday, 29 June 2014 07:28
 
Re-Setting Realistic Goals PDF Print E-mail
Articles of Configuration
Written by Brian Walton   
Saturday, 21 June 2014 00:00

By the time a baseball season is nearing the completion of its third month, the realistic title chances of any team is pretty well understood. I am not suggesting any league race is over this soon nor that I have perfect predictive powers. Yet when you are good, you know it by now and when it just isn’t your year, well, that is painfully obvious.

The latter case is where I reside in National League Tout Wars for 2014. At some point down the line, I will revisit my fatal mistakes made on draft day, but not yet. I am still competing.

Saturday marked an important milestone for me as it marked the first day since April that my team was not in the league cellar. I am more than willing to celebrate any victory, even a small one.

The core of my roster remains the same - seriously underachieving veterans with solid prior track records. A few are starting to show life, but plenty continue to stink.

As recently as last week, I had eight players on the disabled list. I am grateful for the unlimited in size DL that is in place in Tout, but to be honest, most of my players on the shelf are not difference-makers.

Well, none of the members of my injured corps are difference-makers now, but I had hoped that the likes of Cliff Lee (older), Jedd Gyorko (younger) and Carl Crawford (injury-prone) would have been important contributors. It has not been $58 well spent on the trio.

Unlike some leagues, the inverse order of the standings has no relevance in Tout – other than to break ties in the weekly free agent allocation bidding process. Because trades are doubly-difficult to execute in industry leagues, the free agent market is my only hope of injecting fresh blood into a tired roster.

One major challenge is that most of the elite prospects likely to be called up this season across the National League are already rostered. Many have been since the start of the season, as I detailed in this earlier article.

What that means is that I have to dig deeper and search harder than my very knowledgeable competitors. That is far from an easy task, but I have few, if any, viable alternatives.

I need to digress for a moment and mention that Tout has an important feature that encourages players not to give up and to compete until the end. For the next season, FAAB money is docked from all finishers who end up below pre-defined point targets.

In my case, if the season ended today, I would be 10 points short of that minimum and therefore, would be penalized $10 from my $100 FAAB stipend for 2015.

I should mention that one of the Tout governing board insists that this feature is not a stick, but is instead a positive motivator. While I am fine with the feature and the reasons for its implementation, I strongly disagree with the happy-talk spin.

If FAAB rebalancing was really a benefit as he insists, the best teams would be given more money the next year instead of docking cash from the poorest-finishing ones.

At any rate, the rules are what they are.

They don’t encourage me to just walk away and sign up for second-half or monthly leagues. They don’t make me want to shift my attention to short-term gratification that can come from daily leagues.

Don’t get me wrong. If you favor those formats, go for it. In my case, I signed up for the marathon and I am going to finish it the best I can.

I am not just going to stop at getting 10 more points to protect my 2015 FAAB. I want to finish in the upper half of the league. That is my revised target for this season.

The way I will get there is by smart waiver wire acquisitions.

It was a small thing, really insignificant, except to me. A one-sentence e-mail from a competitor this Monday congratulated me. “Once again, you appear to be ahead of the curve,” he wrote. In this case, he was referring to my acquisition of Atlanta catcher Christian Bethancourt the night before.

The rumor originated from MLB.com’s Atlanta beat writer Mark Bowman on Sunday evening that the Braves are considering calling up their top prospect catcher.

If brought up, Bethancourt would not be nailed to the bench as are most MLB reserve catchers. He would need to play every day. To make that happen, the by-products of such a move would be the benching of a multi-million dollar player in B.J. Upton and the shift of incumbent backstop Evan Gattis to his spot in left field.

Though sitting the elder Upton would be dramatic, the Braves have stepped up to a similar underachiever by playing prospect Tommy La Stella ahead of expensive veteran Dan Uggla.

Further, the Braves have fallen behind the Washington Nationals in the National League East and if the season ended today, Atlanta would not be a Wild Card, either. So action may soon be warranted.

Though the Braves later denied Bowman’s story - an interesting set of circumstances since they all ultimately work for the same enterprise - when I read it on Sunday night, I decided to act.

While Tout allows $0 bids for major leaguers, any players still in the Minors cost a minimum of $1. This was intended to slow speculative bids for prospects. Another related penalty is that the claiming team has to absorb a week of no stats before the acquired minor leaguer can be moved to the bench.

Whether the reason was because I was the only one who heard the Bethancourt rumor or because no one else wanted to take the hit to acquire him, my $1 bid was uncontested.

I was willing to pay the price in hopes that Bethancourt can contribute in the second half at a position at which my team is especially weak.

I am not under the illusion that he is going to vault into consideration for the NL Rookie of the Year Award, but if I make enough small Bethancourt-like moves, I can still make something of this season.

As you look at your teams, I encourage you to do the same, not literally, but to assess what you can do to become competitive if you are not. And if you are in contention, identify and execute a plan to reach the top!

Brian Walton was the 2009 National League Tout Wars champion, scoring the most points in the league’s 16-year history. He also holds the all-time NL Tout single-season records for wins and saves. His work can also be found daily at TheCardinalNation.com and thecardinalnationblog.com. Follow Brian on Twitter.

Last Updated on Saturday, 21 June 2014 10:26
 
Are Long-Term Deals for Young Infielders Working? PDF Print E-mail
Articles of Configuration
Written by Brian Walton   
Saturday, 14 June 2014 00:00

Last week, I wondered aloud where the five-year contract given to Jon Singleton before he appeared in a single Major League game may lead. In reality, the outfielder and the Houston Astros did not get there alone.

Long before Singleton, clubs have been giving players contracts earlier and earlier in their careers. Let’s look at how a few of them are working out.

Specifically, I have been watching three players, all second basemen, who received long-term contracts recently. They are Jedd Gyorko of the San Diego Padres, Jason Kipnis of the Cleveland Indians and Matt Carpenter of the St. Louis Cardinals.

Based on results in the early going, it is hard to justify their combined 18 to 21 contract years of commitment totaling at least $140 million.

Oldest of the three at 28 years old, Carpenter was a five-year college player at TCU after Tommy John surgery. Drafted by St. Louis in the 13th round in 2009, Carpenter reached the Majors midway through the 2011 season as a third baseman.

Playing six different positions for the 2012 Cardinals, Carpenter cobbled together 340 plate appearances. Continuing a proficiency he displayed in the Minors, where he had a career on-base mark of .408, Carpenter extended his past into his present by logging an impressive .392 OBP. He finished sixth in the National League Rookie of the Year voting.

Blocked by David Freese at the hot corner and with his club needing help at second base, Carpenter successfully initiated an on-the-fly position change for 2013. Not only did he prove his mettle with the glove, the left-handed hitter went on to lead the league in hits, falling just one short of 200. Carpenter also paced the circuit in runs scored and doubles.

In recognition of his emergence, Carpenter was recognized with his first All-Star selection, a Silver Slugger Award and a fourth-place finish in the National League Most Valuable Player voting.

More importantly, St. Louis validated the performance with a long-term contract offer to a player who had barely two years of major league service. This March, the two sides came to terms on a heavily-backloaded deal that will keep Carpenter in a Cardinals uniform through at least his age 33 season, 2019.

The base commitment is $52 million over six years. Carpenter received a $1.5 million signing bonus, $1 million in 2014, and then salaries of $3.5 million, $6.25 million, $9.75 million, $13.5 million and $14.5 million. In 2020, the Cardinals will have an $18.5 million option on his services, with a $2 million buyout. He gets a $500,000 payment if traded from now through 2017 and $1 million if dealt during the remainder of the contract.

Carpenter would have been first-time arbitration eligible next season, so this deal covers his first two years of free agency, or third if the option is exercised.

With Freese traded away to the Angels, the Cardinals moved Carpenter back to his long-time position of third base for 2014. While many observers expected an even more comfortable hitter at the plate, this season did not start that way.

Carpenter got out of the blocks slowly – very slowly. A month and a half into the schedule, his line was a pedestrian .256/.356/.319/.675. In the month since, Carpenter has improved his season line to .294/.385/.385/.770. Still, that OPS is down over 100 points from 2013. Remember that last point, please.

With five and a half contract years to go, the Cardinals have to hope the 2013 Carpenter is what they will see the rest of the way. Time will tell.

Now 27 years of age, Kipnis was originally drafted by the Padres in the fourth round in 2008 but did not sign until the next season after the Indians re-drafted him in the second round. Like Gyorko, he was a highly-regarded prospect before reaching Cleveland in July 2011.

In his first full year in 2012, Kipnis launched 14 home runs and plated 76 in 152 games. The left-handed hitter increased those totals to 17 and 84, respectively, last season and he earned an All-Star berth. Kipnis’ line was a solid .284/.366/.452/.818.

The Tribe, which originally offered the first multi-year contracts to arbitration-eligible players two decades ago, did it again.

With slightly over two years of MLB service, Kipnis originally had to accept his club’s offer of just over the minimum salary of half a million dollars this season. But just a few days into the 2014 regular season schedule, the team tore up the deal.

In its place was established a new contract for six years, $52 million (sound familiar?) plus a 2020 option for $16.5 million or a $2.5 million buyout. Like Carpenter's, the deal starts low and escalates heavily in the later years. The contract buys out Kipnis’ first two years and perhaps third of free agency.

In 2014, the left-handed hitter has been plagued by bad luck, an oblique strain that cost him almost the entire month of May. Kipnis has just three home runs and 19 RBI in 40 games. His OPS is down 110 points from last season’s .818.

Like Carpenter, Gyorko was primarily a third baseman coming up through the minor leagues only to be blocked at the position and moved to second base as a Major Leaguer. Unlike Carpenter, Gyorko was considered a top prospect since being drafted in the second round in 2010.

The right-handed hitter made the 2013 Padres out of spring training and began his MLB career at the age of 24. A successful rookie season followed, during which Gyorko launched 23 long balls and plated 63 in just 125 games.

Just as Carpenter was sixth in the NL Rookie of the Year vote in 2012, Gyorko finished in the same spot in 2013.

That rookie showing was enough for the Padres. They quickly negotiated a six-year deal plus an option year with the 25-year-old that was announced two weeks into this season. Gyorko is guaranteed over $35.5 million through his first year of free agent eligibility with a salary that escalates by several million annually. San Diego can keep him in 2020 as well for another $13 million or $1 million buyout.

2014 has not been kind to the West Virginia native as he literally limped onto the field. Gyorko managed just two hits over his first six games on the way to a dreadful start that had him at the bottom of all NL hitters.

By June, the Padres were threatening to demote their second baseman to the minor leagues. Not three days later, it was disclosed Gyorko had been suffering from a case of plantar fasciitis in his left foot. It is the same challenging-to-heal malady that ruined Albert Pujols’ 2013.

Gyorko went onto the disabled list on June 6 with a line of .162/.213/.270/.482. One has to wonder if San Diego wishes they had waited a bit longer to pull the trigger on the big contract.

In fact, one might have to ponder the same question for all three. Will Singleton soon join them?

 

Brian Walton was the 2009 National League Tout Wars champion, scoring the most points in the league’s 16-year history. He also holds the all-time NL Tout single-season records for wins and saves. His work can also be found daily at TheCardinalNation.com and thecardinalnationblog.com. Follow Brian on Twitter.

Last Updated on Saturday, 14 June 2014 11:08
 
We Don’t Have to Take a Singleton Risk PDF Print E-mail
Articles of Configuration
Written by Brian Walton   
Saturday, 07 June 2014 00:00

As much as we try to make fantasy baseball model the real thing as much as possible, one difference has been highlighted in recent days – the long-term contract.

In most keeper leagues, an owner has to deal with escalating salaries, but when things go awry, a player can be unceremoniously released. As painful as it might be, the fantasy owner can cut bait, and in doing so, is absolved of future financial commitment.

That is not the case in Major League Baseball. In fact, clubs are lining up to take larger and larger portions of risk in return for the potential of saving cash down the road. The idea of buying out arbitration years in return for several free agent seasons following, pioneered by then-Cleveland general manager John Hart in the early 1990’s, has morphed into what may become a monster.

Hart realized the only way his mid-market Indians could hold onto their home-grown stars such as Carlos Baerga and Manny Ramirez was to lock them in with long-term contracts a number of years prior to free agency. The club could secure that commitment by paying more money up front to players who at the time were probably only making MLB minimum salary.

Unlike in fantasy, the commitments being made now, coming earlier and earlier in players’ careers, are binding and inescapable. Instead of just covering the arbitration years – seasons four through six in the bigs – these new deals are now also buying into the first three years of a player’s career as well.

That is a period when player salaries are traditionally kept under tight team control, usually in the $500,000 to $1 million annual range. It is also a time in which many contenders fall by the wayside, proven to be major league pretenders instead.

singletonA new high (or low, depending on your perspective) occurred earlier this week. On Tuesday, the Houston Astros announced a five-year deal with top prospect Jonathan Singleton that guarantees him $10 million over the next five seasons. The contract offers the potential for Singleton to expand his earnings to as much as $35 million in total through options and incentives.

The rub is that Singleton was preparing to suit up for his very first game in the major leagues. His only track record was in the minor leagues. Increasing the risk is the 22-year-old’s checkered past with drugs and alcohol. Of course, that may be one reason the player readily accepted such an offer so early in his career.

For clubs, these kind of contracts are all about risk mitigation. In this case, the rebuilding Astros appeared to be willing to take the chance that Singleton will not become Joe Charbonneau in return for what would be a very team-friendly contract if he becomes the next Albert Pujols.

In all fairness, there has been a negative backlash to the Singleton deal from some other agents, worried that the overall market for pre-free agent players would be pulled down due to this contract. That may prove to be the case or it may not.

At least there is a practical limit to these cradle signings. A few years back, after a rash of draftees demanded and received Major League contracts to come to terms, MLB prohibited the practice. If you remember the name Zack Cox, then you know this continued example of owners creating rules specifically to protect themselves from themselves was a good idea.

For those of us being fantasy general managers only, we should be relieved we don’t have to carry such risk over the long haul.

 

Brian Walton was the 2009 National League Tout Wars champion, scoring the most points in the league’s 16-year history. He also holds the all-time NL Tout single-season records for wins and saves. His work can also be found daily at TheCardinalNation.com and thecardinalnationblog.com. Follow Brian on Twitter.

 

Last Updated on Saturday, 07 June 2014 09:04
 
Adding La Stella? Fuggedaboutit! PDF Print E-mail
Articles of Configuration
Written by Brian Walton   
Saturday, 31 May 2014 00:00

The exceptional knowledge of our own Lord Zola has been demonstrated countless times over the many years Mastersball has been in place in its various representations. In no manner has that been proven to be truer than in the area of gaming theory.

For example, just recently, Todd determined there was more to say about the various weekly transactions across the industry showcase leagues of Tout Wars and LABR. He stepped into the void with his insightful "Todd's Take," in which he shares his unique perspective focusing on FAAB strategy, game theory and league dynamics.

Among his remarks last week in reference to our common league, National League Tout, was the following: “I'm in this league along with Brian and the thing I see is our competitors are not afraid to stash current minor leaguers even though as Brian points out, you're taking a goose-egg for a week as rules require all acquired players to be active…”

The context was speculative $1 bids on minor leaguers Kris Bryant, Casey Kelly, Odrisamer Despaigne and Allan Dykstra. The first three were still in Double-A, though the Cuban right-hander Despaigne has since been promoted to Triple-A.

On Wednesday, another prospect introduction occurred when Atlanta tacitly admitted what we have known for some time – that Dan Uggla should no longer play every day. The Braves brought up top second base prospect Tommy La Stella and skipper Fredi Gonzalez promptly installed him into the lineup.

This subject returned to my consciousness again because of Lord Z’s strong advocacy of La Stella this spring. In his NL Tout closing vow just last week, Todd added this. “Looks like I have some work to do - scouring the minors for possible call-ups before they occur.”

Well, in this case, we all are weeks too late. Even Todd was trumped when La Stella was taken by Gene McCaffrey of Wise Guy Baseball - back on draft day, in the reserve rounds. McCaffrey has held onto La Stella for the two months since, despite burning one of his four reserve spots the entire time.

There is no need to feel sorry for Zola, as he passed on La Stella at least once as the reserves were selected. I know that because the second baseman was McCaffrey’s second pick. The first time through, he took Dodgers’ uber prospect Joc Pederson! (To his credit, Lord Z made another good round one selection in Wilmer Flores. My choice of Jacob Turner was less inspiring, however.)

This gobbling up of prospects is not a new phenomenon in NL Tout. Believe it or not, it used to be worse.

After all, there are only a few ways to improve one’s team during the season and none are sure things. Trades are difficult to engineer and the price is high. Holding FAAB waiting for interleague trading from the American League to the NL usually ends in disappointment.

A few years ago, so many prospects were being hoarded while still in the minors that the Tout governing board made a decision. Reserve rosters were slashed from six to four. This would make early prospect speculating more painful, they reasoned.

While that logically has to be the case, I am not sure I would even call the change a speed bump.

After all, I should know. I have been holding Oscar Taveras since bidding $3 for him at the draft. I am hoping that when the Cardinals play on the road in June interleague play, we will finally see Oscar’s MLB debut. Of course, he will have to make hay in a hurry (or strategically stab more pins in his Allen Craig and Matt Holliday voodoo dolls) to be assured of remaining north of Memphis through the summer and fall.

I am not alone. At least six NL prospects were taken – not in the reserve rounds, but much earlier, during the main phase of the draft. They received winning bids totaling $17, but have remained in the minors through the first third of the season.

Putting aside all the Kellys added to rosters since the season began, here are eight of the National League prospects who have continued to be hoarded in NL Tout since draft day:

Gregory Polanco, OF, Pirates, $5 – Tristan H. Cockcroft, ESPN

Alex Guerrero, 2B, Dodgers, $4 – Steve Gardner, USA TODAY

Archie Bradley, RHP, Diamondbacks, $3 – Mike Gianella, Baseball Prospectus

Oscar Taveras, OF, Cardinals, $3 – Brian Walton, Mastersball

Andrew Heaney, LHP, Marlins, $1 – Peter Kreutzer, Ask Rotoman

Joc Pederson, OF, Dodgers, (reserve) – McCaffrey

Maikel Franco, 3B, Phillies, (reserve) – Gianella

Jon Gray, RHP, Rockies, (reserve) – Derek Carty, Fantasy Insiders

If you are looking to invest in a National League prospect, the above players are especially noteworthy as they have held the confidence of their NL Tout owners since March.

In multiple cases, including outfielders Polanco, Taveras and Pederson, there is strong suspicion their MLB clubs have been artificially keeping them in the minors despite obvious need. The motivation is financial – to hold off until the Super Two deadline passes, which should occur very soon. This maneuver could enable the teams to avoid several million in arbitrated salary in two years.

Other NL Tout-drafted prospects since cut loose include:

Kris Bryant, 3B, Cubs, $1 – Kreutzer

A.J. Cole, RHP, Nationals, (reserve) - Kreutzer

Andrew Lambo, 1B, Pirates, (reserve) - Cockcroft

Matt Wisler, RHP, Padres, (reserve) – Phil Hertz, BaseballHQ

Albert Almora, OF, Cubs, (reserve) – Scott Wilderman, onRoto

Jameson Taillon, RHP, Pirates (reserve) – Wilderman

As noted above, Bryant has already been re-acquired in Tout. Others may still come onto the big league radar this season - with the exception of Taillon (Tommy John surgery) and Almora (still in high-A ball).

Footnote: Within 30 minutes after I posted this article on Friday night, Taveras' promotion to St. Louis was announced. My view is that with Matt Adams on the disabled list and interleague play just ahead, Taveras will be given at least two weeks to prove he belongs. If he gets out of the blocks well, there could be no looking back.

Brian Walton was the 2009 National League Tout Wars champion, scoring the most points in the league’s 16-year history. He also holds the all-time NL Tout single-season records for wins and saves. His work can also be found daily at TheCardinalNation.com and thecardinalnationblog.com. Follow Brian on Twitter.

Last Updated on Saturday, 31 May 2014 14:09
 
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