Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Day After

Waking up today made yesterday's events even more surreal.

The two most notable deadlines in baseball, the trading deadline and the signing deadline, produce a lot of action, and typically there is a flurry of activity in the final 20 minutes. Of course, there needs to be a foundation of communication for those final 20 minutes to be worthwhile, which we had established with all of our remaining draftees.

With about 20 minutes to go we received word that AJ Vanegas had decided to attend Stanford. This was a disappointment, especially since we thought so highly of him and his family, but we understood his desire to fulfill that dream. We knew it was a longshot from the beginning, but we still tried to make a compelling case. Our signing bonus offer would have placed AJ among the top ten picks in the country, but that didn't sway his decision. It was clearly never about the money for AJ, and that is admirable.

With about eight minutes to go until the deadline, we heard from John Barbato, our 6th round selection, and within a minute had agreed on a deal that would pay him 1st round money to pass on his commitment to the University of Florida. This was a big and unexpected win. It was expensive, but we feel as though we got a top round talent.

As for Karsten Whitson? I don't think anyone is happy this morning - not the player, not the agent, not the team, and not the fans. With that being the case, it's justified to question how we ended up there.

We had every reason to believe that he would be signing within a few days of the draft (and I mean every reason). Then other people got involved and slowed the process down. Nevertheless, we were still confident that we would get a deal done, especially due to all of the conversations that had taken place before the draft. Once it continued to drag on, we knew that the deadline was the only way that it was going to happen.

When the deadline approached, despite feeling somewhat taken advantage of, we did what every team does in order to get a deal done: we improved our offer to the last dollar. At the end of the day, it was an over slot offer that would have placed Karsten just behind the 8th pick in the country and comfortably ahead of the 10th. However, Karsten did not do what every single other first rounder (who didn't have an issue with their physical) did do: agree to a deal.

At 11:59 eastern time last night, we had over $5 million of offers on the table to three high school players, and they all turned down the money, two of them due to a strong commitment to school. We even had two offers to high school right-handers that would have paid them both like top ten picks in the country! Surreal indeed.

The good news is that, despite having a winning Major League team, we'll have a top pick in next year's draft as compensation, and the industry believes that the 2011 draft class will be much stronger. Also, as in Major League free agency, when someone doesn't take your money, you find another player or basket of players to acquire with that money. A straightforward example is when the Nationals were unable to sign Aaron Crow a few years ago with the 9th overall pick and then the following year took Drew Storen as compensation. Crow is now in A ball with a 5.40 era, while Storen is in the big leagues with a 2.61. So, we didn't sign Whitson, Vanegas, and Dwyer, but now we'll be able to put that money toward other investments either in the draft, internationally, or at the big league level.

Hey, given our organization's track record in the first round, maybe it was time to take a year off!

Seriously, at the end of the day, we were unexpectedly able to sign a handful of players in the 2010 draft in over slot deals, including Cates, Barbato, and Dore. We can also be opportunistic going forward since we expected to spend a lot more money yesterday. Lastly, it doesn't change the fact that from 2007-2009 only the Yankees and Red Sox spent more on amateur players than we did. We planned for that trend to continue in 2010, and we'll plan for it again in 2011.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Signing Deadline

Midnight eastern tonight is the MLB signing deadline for drafted players, so it'll be an active day on the transaction wire.

For our part, last week we were able to come to agreements with two picks: 3rd round RHP Zach Cates and 8th round OF Jose Dore. Both were signed for well above slot money, but we expected that on draft day when we selected them. Nevertheless, it's good to have them signed and in the organization.

We're still working on a handful of other players, including 1st round RHP Karsten Whitson, 6th round RHP John Barbato, 7th round RHP AJ Vanegas, and 15th round OF/1B Sean Dwyer. While we're hopeful to sign these guys, signing more than one of them would be an incredible outcome for us. Whitson, like most of the top half of the first round, has elected to wait until today to make a decision, and the other three were all expecting significant dollars to pass on college, which is the only reason they were available when we took them. Their talent dictated much higher positioning in the draft.

We'll see what tonight brings, but we're not expecting much until the final hour before the deadline.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Two Items

Two quick hits for today:
  • If you're wondering about the August waiver rules, and you know you are, I wrote this piece two years ago to help explain the process.
  • Ever wonder why hitters can't seem to hit Mariano Rivera even when they know what's coming? Here's an interesting video that attempts to explain the phenomenon.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Acquiring Tejada and Ludwick

Most teams approach July's trading deadline with the following plan: let's add meaningfully to our Major League team without trading any member of the Major League team and also holding onto our top prospects. Typically, that's easier said than done, and this deadline had an added degree of difficulty due to the dearth of impact players available.

All of that made acquiring both Miguel Tejada and Ryan Ludwick all the more exciting for us.

Fortunately, our team performance over the course of the first four months not only put us in a position to add at the deadline, but also exposed some of our needs. While our offense has been better than many expected, it could still be better. Owing to our defense and our pitching, we don't necessarily have the need to score five or more runs per game in order to win consistently. To that point, incredibly we're 12-11 when scoring just three runs, and we're actually a pretty good 9-17 when scoring either one or two runs. Much to our frustration, we still haven't figured out how to win when we don't score... we're 0-5 when that happens.

While those results speak volumes about our pitching and defense, there is good news and bad news. The bad news is that while the results haven't been as bad as most teams in those situations, all of those games add up to 52% of our contests. The good news? We're 41-9 when we score at least four runs.

Note to self: score at least four runs more often.

In attacking that problem, we had to notice that we've been much more efficient against LHP this year than RHP. Without even adjusting for our ballparks, we rank 6th in the National League against LHP, so we're an above average offense even before the adjustments. Against RHP, though, we're 11th before adjusting for the parks, which probably makes us close to average. (True, I'm not divulging the statistic we're using for these rankings, so you're just going to have to trust me.)

While the more obvious solution would have been to acquire LHH's, both Tejada and Ludwick have had much success against RHP, and they have the added benefit of providing our lineup a little more balance. This should make it tougher to match up against us and make us less vulnerable to any particular starting pitcher. Yes, both Tejada and Ludwick are decorated veteran hitters with playoff experience, but they also are versatile defensively, play positions of need, and have repeatedly been called some of the best teammates in the game. To acquire one would have fired us up, but to get both...

Now, nothing comes for free, and we did have to part with some solid prospects to make this happen. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised to see both Corey Kluber and Wynn Pelzer pitching in the big leagues as soon as 2011. However, I have two thoughts on that. First, I'm proud of our scouting department and player development staff for finding and developing guys in the 4th and 9th rounds in 2007 that could make this type of contribution to our organization. Second, I hope that every year we're forced to pay such a price to further a pennant run. Sign me up.

Often times the trading deadline appears to be a no-win situation. If you don't do enough to help your team, it can actually hurt the psychology of the team. If you tinker too much, people also get upset. Bottom line: if you don't get into October, some people will inevitably point to what you did or didn't do at the deadline and find culpability. We, however, prefer to judge decisions in the time and under the circumstances in which they were made. Under that criteria, we're thrilled with the additions and look forward to watching this team down the stretch.