Marcus Stroman and other trade deadline thoughts

2019-07-30 MarcusStroman

Marcus Stroman to the Mets—method to madness or madness to method?

As regards the Mets dealing a pair of mixed-reviews pitching prospects to the Blue Jays for their staff ace Marcus Stroman, and the coming trade deadline in general a few observations. Beginning with the one that tells me it seems at least three-quarters of baseball never saw this Stroman deal coming.

Anyone who thought Stroman’s new address would be New York by this year’s new single trade deadline figured it would involve the Yankees, leaders in the American League East, and not the Mets, strugglers to stay within reasonable sight of even the second National League wild card.

Or, if Stroman was going to move on from Toronto, he’d be more likely to land with one or another viable 2019 competitor—say, the Braves, where I seem to recall some observers thought he’d make a better mutual fit if the Yankees really were convinced Stroman was good enough to pitch but not necessarily fit.

But Stroman, who makes his living largely by way of his ability to lure ground balls, is now a Met. So where do we and they go from here?

1. Former major league general manager Jim Bowden, who now writes for The Athletic, says the Mets have no intention of landing Stroman just to flip him for a better package by the close of trade business Wednesday. And the two pitching prospects going to the Jays—Anthony Kay and Simeon Woods-Richardson—are considered solid but not elite prospects, but the Jays believed they weren’t going to get better than them for Stroman when all was said and done.

2. The Mets aren’t a team of elite defenders especially around their infield this year, and yet Steven Matz—returning to the rotation after a brief spell in the bullpen to re-horse—pitched a complete-game 3-0 shutout Saturday night in which his calling cards were a deft blend of breaking and off speed stuff and putting his fielders to work, which for a change they did rather admirably behind him.

3. Matz’s performance may well have had a firm impact on the Mets’ pitching thought. May. They’ve tried since 2013 to cultivate an arsenal of power arms in the rotation and seen, when all is said and done, only Jacob deGrom live up to any expectations. They watched Matt Harvey’s injuries collapse him from a power pitcher to one in search of a new cause and, now, a new team. They’ve seen Noah Syndergaard and Zack Wheeler bring the power without delivering the consistent results.

If the Mets had eyes for Stroman before Matz took the mound Saturday night, Matz’s performance had to have told them it wouldn’t be a terrible idea to add another arm to the rotation that belonged to a young man who uses more than his arm to survive on the mound. Stroman isn’t a strikeout machine; he has the second highest ground ball rate among all Show starting pitchers.

4. Maybe acquiring Stroman begins to get the Mets re-thinking their incumbent defense, too, especially marrying him to Matz in their rotation. Rookie of the Year candidate Pete Alonso forced Dominic Smith off first base, but Smith in the outfield looks almost exactly like the un-natural he is out there even though he hits with authority. Rookie general manager Brodie Van Wagenen’s willingness to take aging Robinson Cano if he wanted closer Edwin Diaz from the Mariners last winter forced Jeff McNeil, their obvious second baseman of the future, likewise into an outfield where he’s about as comfortable as an elephant in front of a mouse much of the time.

5. Diaz has been a mess not entirely of his own making this season, mishandled, sometimes mis-deployed, and while the raw talent is still there the Mets are now rumoured to be shopping him. Cano has four years left on the contract the Mets took on from the Mariners, making him almost an immovable force. Whether the Mets’ contradictory ownership might be willing to take a bath on the deal in order to start moving defensive parts back where they belong is anyone’s guess.

6. With Stroman off the market eyes turned not just upon Syndergaard but the rest of this trade deadline’s pitching market.

The Giants’ unexpected resurgence means Madison Bumgarner isn’t likely to go anywhere the rest of the season, compared to a month ago when the observers and speculators pondered where, not if he’d move on. The Yankees need whatever starting pitching help they can get but the market now seems more constricted—and as much as they’re wary of dealing with the Mets, Syndergaard now might look like an attractive Yankee target. Might.

And the Nationals, like the Giants but at a higher level, have had an unexpected resurgence of late after they were all but written off as dying as late as early June. They ran into a buzzsaw in Los Angeles this past weekend, needing Stephen Strasburg to pitch the masterwork he did in seven Sunday innings to escape with even a single win, but now Max Scherzer—whom all the Smart Guys said had to go on the trade deadline block once upon a time, in large part to bring them badly needed bullpen relief—may find his barking back barking well enough into August.

At first glance, then, it would seem the Nats have a big problem as they prepare to square off against the National League East-leading Braves Monday night. Except that the Braves, who ran roughshod over the league before the All-Star break and still lead the Nats by five and a half games, have suddenly regressed to being only human. Not only have they lost seven of their last eleven, they’ve lost two critical elements—shortstop Dansby Swanson, resurgent veteran right fielder Nick Markakis—to the injured list. The Nats won’t have Strasburg or Scherzer to throw at the Braves this week but the Nats might still gain key ground, anyway.

7. The bullpen dominos began falling over this past weekend, too. Veteran Sergio Romo, once a key to a couple of Giants World Series winners, just went from Miami to Minnesota where the Twins, this year’s American League surprise, just bumped their bullpen up several notches by bringing him aboard. Jake Diekman went from Kansas City to Oakland, a sign the Athletics are gearing up for another wild card run. There are contenders aplenty who need help in the pen and few more than the Nats.

8. If the Jays are rebuilding in earnest, bullpen-longing eyes may be cast upon the surprising Ken Giles. After his 2017 World Series mishap (which wasn’t entirely his sole responsibility) and subsequent personal and mound meltdowns, Giles has rehorsed completely in Toronto. As in, a career year: a 1.54 ERA and a 1.60 fielding-independent pitching rate. Not to mention a 5+ strikeout-to-walk rate and a 14.9 strikeout-per-nine rate.

Yes, the Nats have eyes upon Giles and his Jays pen mate Daniel Hudson. But so may the Red Sox and any other contender who needs a bump among the bulls. Even the Twins, despite landing Romo, might still make a play for Giles at least or, if Giles eludes them, Norman, whose 2.87 ERA and June-July of only four earned runs in 21 innings’ work yanked his trade value up accordingly.

Bowden rates the Stroman deal a B+ for the Mets and a B- for the Jays. It wouldn’t hurt the Jays’ standing to try prying a slightly better haul back for Giles and/or Hudson. And although Giles is dealing with a slight nerve issue in his pitching elbow, wiping out the side as he did in a Saturday night assignment should make his suitors breathe a little easier, assuming they don’t fall tempted to overwork him while he works through it.

9. The Mets may or may not yet have a wild card long shot this year, but don’t kid yourselves: they were thinking as much about 2020 as now when they made their play for Stroman. And since Stroman is under team control through the end of 2020, don’t be surprised if they like what they see from him the rest of this season and start talking extension with him before 2020 begins.

Which might also mean that Syndergaard at minimum, and Wheeler at maximum, may yet have changes of address coming by Wednesday afternoon. And with whisperings that the Red Sox have eyes upon Diaz for their pen, which needs a little help but isn’t as badly mismanaged as the Mets pen has been this year, the Mets should be thinking smart and looking very closely at that Red Sox farm system.

Because the Mets could also use a third base upgrade from veteran Todd Frazier, who’s reliable but beginning to show his age. And as thin as the Red Sox system is for now, AAA third baseman Bobby Dalbec was named both the offensive and defensive player of the year for 2018 in the Red Sox’s minor league award valuations. If the Olde Towne Team wants Diaz for their pen that much, the Mets should all but demand Dalbec in the return haul.

10. Too many teams never quite do what they should when it counts. The Mets, alas, are notorious for that. Even when they’re winning.

 

No tank you very much

2017-07-27 HoustonAstrosWS

So far, the 2017 Astros are one of a couple of  exceptions to the rule thus far that tanking is not a world championship guarantor.

When February got underway in earnest, I asked what you’d say if you knew each major league baseball team, rich and poor alike, is guaranteed about $60 million into its kitty before the regular season even begins. And without having to do a blessed thing to earn it other than existing in the first place.

Not to mention that each major league team would pull down about an average additional $100 million during a season through sources that only include the gate.

At that time the Major League Baseball Players Association thought aloud about pushing for imposing a tax on teams that seemed not to care less about putting even a mildly entertaining product on the field, a product showing the teams had even the mildest concern about trying to win. The MLBPA pondered such a tax costing tankers prime draft pick positions if they continued losing, or at least not trying to win all that much, beyond particular thresholds over certain periods.

Everybody with me? So far, so good. Because the redoubtable Thomas Boswell, the Washington Post‘s longtime baseball sage, has things to say about it. When tanking teams call their tanking “strategy,” Boswell calls it fan abuse:

The idea of trying to lose 100 to 115 games, while claiming it’s a long-term plan for glory, always has been a long-shot notion, seldom born out in actual baseball experience. Of the current 30 teams, 20 have never in the past 50 years lost more than 200 games in consecutive seasons, at least not after you exclude their early expansion-team days. Yet those 20 teams have won 33 of the past 50 World Series, exactly the ratio you’d expect if there was no difference between having a Horror Era and never being truly awful at all.

In other words, the back-to-back 2016 and 2017 World Series winners, the Cubs and the Astros, were outliers when they went into the tank to rebuild from the guts up, over three or four seasons previous, rather than retool on the fly and continue trying honest competition along the way.

Reality check: Unless you’re certain comic-opera teams of legend, or the Washington Generals, losing isn’t entertaining. Boswell notes six teams at this writing on pace to lose 98 games or more this season. In ascending order: the Mariners (98), the Marlins (101), the Blue Jays (101), the Royals (103), the Tigers (111), and the Orioles (111).

They’re about as entertaining as root canal work, southern California traffic jams, and today’s politics of demeaning. Actually, I’ll walk that back a little bit. Southern California traffic jams have occasional amusements.

Among other things the tankers are competing for that ever-popular number one draft pick. “[W]e’re watching a bull market in stupidity,” Boswell writes, perhaps unintentionally offering the emphasis on bull. “And cupidity, too, since all those teams think that they can still make a safe cynical profit, thanks to revenue sharing, no matter how bad they are.”

Since the draft began in 1965, there’ve been 55 number one overall picks. Four became Rookies of the Year, seventeen became All-Stars even once, and three became Hall of Famers. Historically, the draft more often becomes a case of good things coming to those who wait, on both sides of the draft tables.

In today’s terms it only begins with the game’s greatest player. Mike Trout waited until round 25 before the Angels chose him in 2009, and it took him two years to become listed by anyone as a number one prospect. And they’re already trying to figure out the language on his Hall of Fame plaque even though he has one more season to become minimally eligible.

His aging but no-questions-asked Hall of Fame teammate Albert Pujols waited until round thirteen before the Cardinals pounced in 1999. Guess who else went from the thirteenth round of the draft (in 1989) to the Hall of Fame? Does Jim Thome ring as many bells for you as he rung pitchers’ bells?

Those aren’t the only Hall of Famers incumbent or to-be who went well enough below the first round: Wade Boggs (1976)—seventh round. Goose Gossage (1970)—ninth. Andre Dawson (1975)—eleventh. Nolan Ryan (1965)—twelfth round. Ryne Sandberg (1978)—twentieth. John Smoltz (1985)—22nd.

Not to mention a passel of All-Stars who made distinguished careers even if they fell shy of being outright Hall of Famers, including but not limited to: Sal Bando (sixth, 1965), Tim Hudson (sixth, 1997), Jamie Moyer (sixth, 1984), Willie Randolph (seventh, 1972), Jim Edmonds (seventh, 1988), Eric Davis (eighth, 1980), Fred McGriff (ninth, 1981), Jack Clark (thirteenth, 1973), Dave Parker (fourteenth, 1970), Jake Peavy (fifteenth, 1999), Orel Hershiser (seventeenth, 1979), Kenny Lofton (seventeenth, 1988), Don Mattingly (nineteenth, 1979), Andy Pettitte (22nd, 1990), Roy Oswalt (23rd, 1996), and Mark Buehrle (38th, 1998).

And don’t get me started on the number one overall draft picks who barely (if at all) made the Show or didn’t quite survive for assorted reasons. Steve Chilcott (injured severely in the minors), David Clyde (rushed to the Show for two box office-minded starts, then mal-developed and injured), Al Chambers (couldn’t hit with a garage door, couldn’t field with a vacuum cleaner), Brien Taylor (injured defending his brother in a fight), call your offices.

While you ponder all that, ponder something else Boswell points out: A complete team dismantling and rebuilding is only justifable now and then, when it “may be the best of the available rotten options.” But even that runs a risk any team looking to put an honest product on the field should duck: “Rebuild in a few seasons — well, maybe . . . if you’re very lucky. But more likely, you’ll just stink for years and pick the public’s pocket.”

Once upon a time the Red Sox were as long-suffering as the season was long. The cause wasn’t any curse (of the Bambino or otherwise) but boneheaded (and, once upon a time, bigoted) organisational management. But even they’ve had only one season since 1934 in which they lost more than even 93 games.

Even the Cubs—the just-as-long-suffering Cubs, once upon a time—have only three 100+ loss seasons in their history. The third one happened in 2012. Three years later, they were division winners; a year after that, they won a World Series; they’ve since remained pennant competitive if not without a few hiccups that haven’t come within the same solar system as their formerly star-crossed past.

The incumbent Reds franchise has only one 100-loss season to show since they joined the National League—in 1882. Between them, Boswell reminds you, the Dodgers and the Angels have 121 seasons in or near Los Angeles . . . and only two squads between them (the 1968 and 1980 Angels) that ever lost more than 95 in a season. The Yankees haven’t had a 100-loss season since the year the Titanic sunk. The Cardinals haven’t lost more than 95 in a season since Grand Central Station’s first rebuild—a year after the iceberg.

The fictitious New York Knights of The Natural once employed a carnival hypnotist whose sole qualification seemed to be telling the hapless players, hypnotically, “Losing . . . is a disease.” In baseball, it doesn’t have to be terminal, no matter what today’s tankers do or don’t think. Though it seems that way in a place like Baltimore, where the Orioles went unconscionably from an organisation with one of the game’s most admirable cultures to one with one of the game’s most abhorrent.

As Boswell reminds us, the Orioles lost 202 in 1987-88 and went into complete rebuild; practically the only surviving incumbent proved to be Hall of Famer Cal Ripken, Jr. They’ve only won 90 or more games in any season three times since that teardown and had a fourteen-season streak of losing seasons. The franchise that was once the truly hapless St. Louis Browns only ever had a losing-season streak as high as twelve in their St. Louis decades.

The Oriole brand, Boswell knows, became so badly battered that it was no wonder major league baseball finally returned to Washington: “[T]here was nothing for MLB’s other 29 owners to protect by keeping a team off Baltimore’s doorstep.”

“Now it is all different,” wrote one-time New York Post sportswriter and recent editor of Ball Four, Leonard Shecter, after the crazy Mets were crazy enough to win a division, pennant, and World Series in their mere eighth season of play. “Casey Stengel is gone. The players, who try no harder than the old Mets, succeed more often and as a result are indistinguishable from baseball players all over. There is stuffiness in the front office. There is great concern about unimportant things . . . And, worst of all, when the Mets lose, there is nothing funny about it at all.”

Beware the tanking teams saying they’re just looking to the future. They’re nowhere near as entertaining in defeat as the 1962 Mets, the last era of the Browns (when Bill Veeck owned the team), or the 1930s Dodgers.

Ask any Mariners, Marlins, Blue Jays, Royals (never mind the rude interruption of their 2015 World Series conquest), Tigers, or Orioles fans. They’ll tell you. Losing is about as funny as a screen door on a submarine.