Kirby Puckett

Kirby Puckett

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Philly's Bizarre Strategy

     Things are looking good as a Timberwolves fan. Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns have reinvigorated the franchise. Right now they're 7-8 after going 16-66 last year. Contrast that with the Philadelphia 76ers. At the moment they're 0-16. Last year they started off 0-17 en route to a 18-64 season. It's all because of GM Sam Presti's radical strategy of bottoming out for a high pick to potentially get a franchise player. It's a good strategy in theory, the more top picks you have the more likely you are to get a great player, but history says it just doesn't work.
     The draft started in 1950, and since then the worst five teams were the '12 Bobcats, '73 Sixers, '93 Mavericks, '98 Nuggets and '87 Clippers. The Bobcats ended up with the number two overall pick and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. They've made the playoffs once since then as an eight seed in 2014 when they were swept by the Heat. The Sixers were rewarded for they're abysmal season in '73 with Doug Collins. 'Nuff said. They went on to make the playoffs four years later but mainly because they acquired Julius Erving. After the Mavericks went 11-71 in 1998 they didn't end up with Chris Webber, who went number one that year, but Jamal Mashburn. They would make the playoffs eight years later The Nuggets chose Raef LaFrentz, the Clippers took Reggie Williams. I could go on and on. My point is just being terrible doesn't work.
     Need some more evidence? The top ten leaders in the NBA's average draft position is eighth overall. Yeah, it includes a few number one picks, most were outside the top five.
     Obviously the ultimately goal for any franchise in any sport is to win a championship. If the Sixers are planning on doing that it will have been in a pretty uncommon way. Last year's champs, the Warriors best player was the seventh pick in his draft. (exactly one pick after Jonny Flynn. Damn you David Kahn) They took their second best player 11th. They took their third best player 35th. The finals MVP was an offseason acquisition. Before the Warriors the Spurs were champions. They had the first pick in 1997 when they took Tim Duncan and haven't picked in the lottery since then. Before that the Heat rode LeBron, Wade and Bosh to two straight Championships. Going back to 2011, the Mavericks beat the Heat. The Mavs hadn't drafted in the lottery in ten years. The two years before that the Lakers won with Kobe Bryant, who had been there since 1996 and Pau Gasol, who they had gotten in a lopsided trade with Memphis. If you want to go farther back than that, the Celtics won in 2008 after trading for Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen.
     In one paragraph I just went back to 2008, using a few minutes of sloppy research and a bunch of thoughts of the top of my head to point out how every champion was formed. They all had one thing in common: they were built on more than just drafting. So Sam Presti can keep dealing away every tangible asset for more picks, but the Sixers could have the most desolate future of anyone in the league.
Oh yeah, I forgot about you Brooklyn Nets.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Signing an Asian Prospect, Attempt Number Two

     As you've likely heard by now, the Twins have won the rights to negotiate with Korean star Byung-ho Park with a bid of $12.85 million. This is the second time, the Twins have won the rights to an Asian player, the first being the infamous Tsuyoshi Nishioka. The Twins signed the highly touted Japanese middle infielder on December 16, 2010 and released him on September 28, 2012. Between those dates he hit .215/.267/.236. He also had a WAR of -2.4. In other words, you and I contributed more to the Twins than he did in that span. Go ahead and give yourself a pat on the back.
     I spent the day researching Park and found out several things. 1. He flips his bat after almost every homer. This will irritate the crap out of Brian McCann when Park comes to the big leagues. Needless to say, this is a good thing.* 2. It is incredibly fun to watch someone hit homers and throw his bat as far as he can all while a very excited man screams in Korean in the background. 3. As for how he actually plays, it's hard to tell from just highlights, but there were several times he demonstrated the ability to hit the ball hard the other way. He can also field pretty well for someone his size (6'1", 236) so I wouldn't be surprised if Mauer played more DH this year.
*After I wrote that it came out that Park won't be flipping his bat in the majors. Disappointing.
     A few days after getting the rights to Park the Twins traded Hicks to the Yankees. It was a fine deal for both teams, the Twins ended up with catcher John Ryan Murphy. Murphy should help the Twins' abysmal catching situation, with Kurt Suzuki batting .240/.296/314 last year. Murphy, a former second round draft pick, batted .277 last year in 67 games in 2015. Those two will likely begin the season platooning behind the plate but I could the job gradually becoming more and more Murphy's as the season progresses.
     While I like that Terry Ryan's addressing the catching problem, I'm going to miss Hicks. All of last year I wanted to see the outfield combination of Rosario-Buxton-Hicks. All three of them can fly and have powerful arms. Now it's looking like Sano will be put in one of the corner outfield spots with Rosario filling the other and Buxton in center. That's not an awful idea, Sano's young and athletic enough that I think he can handle the outfield, I just have two major problems with it.
     The first is how much the outfield defense will suffer replacing Hicks with Sano. I mentioned above how much ground the Rosario-Buxton-Hicks trio could cover, and the Royals have taught us how underrated it is having three good fielders in the grass. More importantly, Hanley Ramirez and the Red Sox have taught us how miserable it can be having an inept corner outfielder. While Sano will almost certainly be better than Hanley, we won't know for sure if he can make the adjustment until the season starts.
    My second issue is that who they traded. After the Twins acquired the rights to Park, it became clear Hicks, Plouffe, or Rosario would have to go. I love Trevor Plouffe, he's a fine player and has turned himself into a reliable hitter and decent fielder in the last few years, but this is the best we're going to see from Plouffe. He's been in the league for five years and he 29 years old. The Twins had a nice surprise year last season but they're still a few years from contending. And Plouffe will never be anything but solid, hitting around .240 with homerun numbers in the low 20s and a lot of doubles.
     Meanwhile Hicks is only 25 years old and had a breakout season last year, hitting .256/.323/.398 and a red-hot stretch in July when he hit .346/.424/.577. More importantly, Hicks has two elite skills that Plouffe lacks. One is fielding. Plouffe has improved at third base throughout his career but he'll never be Manny Machado there. Hicks on the other had has always been a terrific fielder, posting a UZR of 2.4 last year. The other skill Hicks has is speed, last year he was 13-16 on stolen bases. Plouffe has less than 13 stolen bases in his career.
     The Twins made one good move, which lead to an extremely questionable one. We'll see how this plays out.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Free Agency Preview

Zack Greinke
David Price
There isn't a ton to say about these guys. They're both great, and they're both going to get a ton of money this offseason. For Price, all signs are pointing to him signing with the Cubs. As for Greinke, I would be very surprised if he did anything but the stay with the Dodgers. For the most part, I'm against giving pitchers big contracts. They almost always end badly. That said, if they sign with the Cubs and Dodgers respectively, it won't be too bad because those are both teams who have chances to make the playoffs during their time there. Bottom line: If you have a roster with a chance to go all the way soon, go ahead and sign him, if not, don't. It will end badly.
Johnny Cueto
Cueto self-destructed during the last half of the season, but because of two good starts in the playoffs, he's going to get paid like none of that happened. As ridiculous as that sounds, it's still a good gamble. He's only 29 and his time with the Royals could have been just a hiccup. As I mentioned, above, it's rarely a good idea to sign a pitcher to a long contract, but teams may have no choice for him. He'll get a big deal from someone contending.
Mike Pelfrey
His performance the last few years makes him an ideal fit for the Yomuri Giants of the Nippon Baseball League in Japan.
Jordan Zimmermann
Much like everyone else on the Nats, Zimmermann had an underwhelming season last year, going 13-10 with a 3.66 ERA. That said, even if he never comes back to his 2014 form, he's a reliable number two or three starter for any team looking for a starter but doesn't want to spend a ton of money, like Baltimore.
Matt Wieters
Wieters will never fulfill the expectations people had for him as a rookie, but he's a solid bat from the catching position if he's healthy, batting a career .258/.320/.422. The Twins have been rumored to be interested in getting him, needing somebody after Kurt Suzuki's disastrous season. Wieters excels in Suzuki's biggest weakness (and there are a lot of them) which is throwing out runners. Wieters threw out 31% last year, which would've been eighth in the league if he had qualified. I wouldn't be surprised if he got around three years for 31 million.
Chris Davis
After and unprecedented 53 homer season in 2013 and the follow up year from hell, we have a pretty good idea of who he is. He'll give you power, walks and not a lot else.
Yoenis Cespedes
The second half MVP is drawing interest from the Giants and Angels among others. He's a candidate to get 200 million.
Denard Span
Span was on of the reasons the Nationals disappointed so much last year, injuries forced him to play just 61 games. He was steady in those, however, batting .301/.365/.431. The Mets are supposedly interested in him. If he goes there he'll likely get something like the 4 year $60 Million deal they gave Curtis Granderson.
Dexter Fowler
Fowler is an interesting case. Along with having one of the best names in the league, he's flown under the radar for several years now, as a leadoff hitter and speed threat for several horrible Rockies and one Astros team. That changed this year when he was the catalyst for the power-hitting Cubs. He'll be 30 next year, so he should be good for the next few years.
Jason Heyward
Heyward's been in the league so long it's easy to forget he's only 26. Up until last year he was underperforming, always playing solid, but being capable of doing so much more. Last year he received whatever treatment the Cardinals give all of their players and became the guy he's been teasing us with since 2010: The statistician's best friend who draws a ton of walks, steal bases and cover a ton of ground in center field. I'd argue that he has the most value of anyone in this class.
Justin Upton
If I were a GM, there would be several rules I'd have for myself which I would make sure never to break. These are things like "don't sign a pitcher for longer than four years unless you absolutely have to" and "Don't give up on your prospects too soon". I mention this because another one of them would be "never sign or trade for a member of the Upton family under any circumstances". The are unrelentingly inconsistent, sign them and they will disappoint. Some sucker will give Justin 100 million. I'm betting on the Nationals. After a season from hell last year, Mike Rizzo is going to be making some big move this offseason, and they've got the money for it.