Major League Baseball 2014: Spring Training edition

“People ask me what I do in winter when there’s no baseball. I’ll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring.” – Roger Hornsby

We’re in the thick of Spring Training, where we really learn nothing about teams other than who had players get injured at Spring Training, and what the final rosters are. Either way, it beats the hell out of the eternal winter we’ve been suffering through!

I want to make a note about the passing of Dr. Frank Jobe, who pioneered the Tommy John surgery procedure. He was 88 years old, and the BBWAA failed once again to recognize greatness while it was still with us. Their failure to include him in the Baseball Hall of Fame while he could have been here to see it is yet another red mark on their name (I’m still bitter about Ron Santo and Buck O’Neil). Jobe’s work revitalized the careers of hundreds of pitchers and other players. Hell, you could make an argument that the most recent expansions couldn’t have been possible without him, at least without a severe drop in overall talent level. The ultimate purpose of the Hall is to preserve the past for future generations, but missing the opportunity to recognize and thank the living for their tremendous accomplishments and gifts to the game is a tragic poverty.

But on to baseball. I’m watching just a few storylines this spring. I’ve been interested to see where Ervin Santana ends up - his free agency has just been a giant clusterfuck. This draft pick compensation business just doesn’t seem to make much sense. But there’s a lot of blame in Santana’s lap. Looks like he’ll likely end up in Atlanta, who can never seem to catch a break with their rotation. They always seem this close to putting together a starting five that could be really impressive, but something happens. Hanson, Beachy, Medlen and then Beachy again.

I think the Orioles are getting ready for another run like they had in 2012. Their offense is slowly building to one of the best starting nine in the game (depending on how a post-PED Nelson Cruz shakes out), and if their young arms in the rotation develop quickly, they’re going to win the East. I thought their 2012 season was a blast to watch - how many 1-run wins did they squeak away with?

And of course, I’m watching the Royals rotation situation. Hochevar going off for Tommy John surgery may be a blessing in disguise. If it gets Davis out of the rotation, it’s a net gain. And if Ventura gets that slot and succeeds, I’m going to be happy. (Conversely, if Odorizzi gets a rotation spot for the Rays and does well, I may have to be put on suicide watch. “Oh, you want the best player in the minors AND these promising pitching prospects for a star pitcher who we’ll unlikely be able to sign for the period in which we’re projecting to make our playoff push? Sure!”)

So what have you been paying attention to? What are the stories you see emerging?

Toronto, predictably, has terrible pitching.

The story of the spring right now is whether Toronto or the Orioles will sign Ervin Santana, who, for reasons I admit I don’t totally understand, could not find anyone to give him a multi-year deal despite being a good pitcher for years now and is apparently willing to accept a deal more or less approximating the qualifying offer he already turned down from the Royals. Santana has fired his agent so who the hell knows what’s going on; there are rumours the agent (the Dickensian-named Bean Stringfellow) was shopping Santana at 5 years for $100 million and, predictably, got no bites.

Getting Santana will not make the Jays a contender even if he pitches well. They were a bad team last year and have changed very little, so I do not know why one would expect them to not be a bad team again. The standard answer in Toronto is “last year we had lots of injuries” which is technically true but

  1. The difference between “lots of injuries” and “the number of injuries a team in MLB usually has anyway” does not explain how bad the team was. they were 74-88, which is very bad. The team’s biggest position player injury was Jose Reyes and his replacement played surprisingly well. Many starting pitchers were hurt but few of them were any good anyway.

  2. Toronto has lots of injuries EVERY year. It’s a feature of the team, and is getting to the point that it suggests the team has subpar training and conditioning, but they don’t change the personnel in that regard so why would anyone expect it to change?

  3. A lot of the people Toronto is counting on to not get hurt are guys who get hurt a lot. It’s time to accept Brandon Morrow is just a sore-armed pitcher and always will be.

I’d put them as better than last year but something like 82-80.

I used to follow most of MLB, but as I get older, I’m mostly AL East-centric, with a nod to the Angels, owing to my college days in LA.

The 2014 AL East remains a mystery to me.

The Boston Red Sox enter a brave new world, continuing to avoid expensive FA’s and going with kids and castoffs to supplement their top players. I’m very high on Xander Bogaerts at SS… he’s talented and appears to have maturity beyond his age of 21, which should enable him to perform in a very tough market. Jackie Bradley Jr. appeared to have been given the CF spot to succeed Ellsbury, but Grady Sizemore has looked great, so far, and today he’ll be playing back-to-back games fro the first time in ST. I’ve been down on Will Middlebrooks at 3rd, but it may just be me. Like most teams, the Sox chances in 2014, will come down to the health of their starting pitching, with Doubront, the only starter who’ll be under the age of 30 by season’s end. Sox do have a lot of young pitching-prospects in the minors, but none of them has impressed so far this Spring, so all the talk about their potential could just be raindrops and lollipops.

The Tampa Bay Rays, appear to be the pre-season favorites, although they’ll miss Hellickson for a couple of months. Note to the OP, I watched Ordizzi vs the Sox in yesterday’s ST game, and he got hit hard, and kept the ball up. The Rays’ farm system appears to be drying up, and I don’t think they’ll pull off another theft like the Shields trade with the Royals.

I’ve been fooled too many times by the Toronto Blue Jays over the past dozen years (I let JP Riccardi pick my pocket)

It would be nice to see the Orioles rise again. Camden Yards is a great place to see a game, and I’ve made the trip many times. Hope to see it hopping.

Meanwhile Tanaka looks better than I expected at this stage, which gives hope to the Yankees, but their infield makes me ill and I’m less than impressed with their bullpen.

Right now it looks like the total spread between first and last in the division could be just a dozen games.

In other news… The Angels enter the season with no starting pitching depth, and a thin bullpen as well. Trout will be great, but Hamilton is already injured and Pujols is coming off injury and looks old. If anything bad happens to either CJ Wilson or Weaver, the only meaningful games they’ll be playing after June will be with the Astros in a battle for 4th place in the AL West.

And speaking of the Astros, I placed a bet on the over/under win total, and got the total of 63.5. Betting on really bad teams to not suck so much usually turns out poorly.

correction: Rays’ pitcher Ordizzi s/b Odorizzi

I thought their over/under was like 58.5 a few weeks ago?

It’d be interesting to go back over the last 10-12 years, see how Vegas set the over/under for the worst team in baseball, and how that bet would have panned out. I think it’s generally the case that the worst teams aren’t as bad as you think they will be, because a terrible team can always replace the bozo who starts 1-5 with a 7.91 ERA and improve with very little effort. It’s not always that easy of course because you might be organizationally committed to someone and not have the political capital to replace him as soon as you should, but I don’t think the Astros have a lot of political capital invested in anyone. There’s a replacement level of talent you can always dig up somewhere. The Astros have certainly plumbed the depths of awfulness the last few years but it has to get better.

Right now almost every sportsbook gives the highest over/under in baseball to the Dodgers, which makes sense to me.

That was the opening line and it rose over 60, I believe. I made my “arrangement” with a “local entrepreneur,” who’ll probably lay it off. I wish they had local sports books at Foxwoods or Mohegan. I don’t play cards because I can’t deal with more than one bad beat, and all other casino games are either a ripoff or boring (watch me win $115 in just over 14 hours of play.) But a sportsbook could keep me coming back.

I think in Houston’s case they’ve sucked long enough and are forced to make a real effort to win more this year. TV ratings are near zero.

Ervin Santana signs with Atlanta - a great fit for his groundball-inducing style.

Not many notable free agents left - Stephen Drew and Kendrys Morales are pretty much it, among those who can actually help a team.

You may see more FA’s take the qualifying offer in the future, given those guys as cautionary tales.

So question - after Santana’s year is up, will the Braves get a compensatory draft pick by whoever signs him, just like the Royals will this year from the Braves?

If they make a qualifying offer next offseason, yes.

What’s the minimum a qualifying offer can be?

It’s the average of the top 125 salaries in the game ($13.3M this year). No minimum, it’s a flat rate with fixed terms. One year, straight cash, no bonuses or other clauses.

It’s one of those rolling averages - the average salary of the top hundred and twenty-five earners this season. Last year was $13 million and change.

The qualifying offer for the 2014 season was $14.1 million.

Not one player accepted it.

Which makes sense; you’d only offer it to a player who is at least good enough to probably command that much otherwise, and if they’re good enough to command that much otherwise there’s very little incentive to accept the mandated minimum one year deal with no sweeteners. Hiroki Kuroda only signed for a couple million more, though.

Ervin Santana signs with Atlanta instead, with the Braves looking to replace Kris Medlen.

Obviously, it is very difficult to understand how the Blue Jays could win anything this year or why they are forking out almost $140 million - they are projected to be the eighth most expensive team in baseball - for a team with such dismal chances.

In other news, I keep watching the Indians win spring training games and find myself wondering where teams that finished in first place after the spring historically have wound up after the regular season. I know the answer in my heart, but I want to keep up hope.

And as for my other team, despite all of the talent on the Dodgers roster, I still can’t help but feel like our season depends a lot on whether or not Kemp makes a comeback. I just don’t know about that outfield.

Why hasn’t Morales signed yet? I know he can’t really play the field anymore (limiting him to AL teams), but with so many teams hurting offensively somebody’s got to open their wallet.

They do not feel he is worth giving up their first round draft pick.

Because Morales was given a qualifying offer by Seattle, signing him now means you lose a 2015 first round pick.

Morales had a pretty good year last year but he’s 31 and his leg is in worse shape than Long John Silver’s. He’s a high risk to give up that pick for. He was a fool to decline Seattle’s offer.

Not only was he a fool to reject the offer, but the Mariners were fools to even extend the qualifying offer. Morales is just a DH, which cut down on potential buyers by half. David Ortiz, a much more proven hitter, has been paid in the $12 - $15 million range, and, in recent years has been playing on just 1 or 2 year deals.

I can understand why a FA passes up on $14.1 mil per year if he’s looking for a longer term deal and is willing to take a lower AAV. But I don’t know of many teams willing to offer more than a 1 year deal to a pure-DH. And you don’t want to forfeit a #1 draft pick for a one-year rental.

What I don’t quite understand is why Stephen Drew is still on the market. He passed up $14.1 for one year from the Red Sox, but would have taken a 3 year deal at something around $10 - $12 mil AAV. He already played under a 1 year deal ($9.5 mil) in 2013, to show that he was back from injury.

Before last year, a team had to offer it’s players (going to FA) arbitration, instead of a qualifying offer, in order to get a draft pick compensation if the player signed elsewhere. But the biggest difference, is that under the new CBA, a team signing a FA (that’s been offered a QO) not only lose a pick, it also loses the dollar allotment that was assigned to that pick as part of it’s aggregate money pool for the entire draft. So, any team that signs Morales, will lose approx. $1.7 mil in it’s signing pool for amateur FA in 2014. Before this stipulation, you could always mitigate the loss of a #1 pick, by drafting a hard-to-sign amateur (like a Boras client or a HS kid that had a scholarship offer to a good program) in a lower round and then overpaying above slot.