2007 Fall and Winter League Spotlights

Nate SchierholtzIn the final post of this three-part series, I take a look at the fall and winter leagues. Major League Baseball may wrap up by the end of October, but that is when seasons begin in Arizona, Hawai'i, Mexico, the Dominican Republic, and Venezuela. A diverse set of players participate in these leagues, and a certain number shine. Though there are many others worth mentioning, here are 30 players whose performances are noteworthy. They are organized by league they played in, and a brief introduction to each league is included as well. The parentheses () next to a player's name includes the rating they have based on the stats they have accumulated in the league, followed by their rating according to their minor league numbers in the 2007 regular season.

Arizona Fall League

As you will notice, nearly half of the players highlighted in this post come from the Arizona Fall League (AFL). In essence, the AFL is like the Futures Game that takes place All-Star Weekend, except with more teams and for an entire month. With so much young talent on display, the AFL gets the most coverage of any post-season league. However, since it is only a month long, it is also possible for players to perform drastically above or below their capabilities. For the most part, I focused on the players who performed the absolute best, and even though many performed equally well in the AFL, they are not of equal talent.

RP Mitch Stetter (107, 77/89), Brewers - Stetter's ERA was mysteriously high in the minors, given his impressive numbers. However, he still got a quick look at the end of the season in the majors, and then Milwaukee sent him to the AFL, where he absolutely dominated. A 6'4" left-hander, Stetter definitely deserves to be in Milwaukee's bullpen next year. His numbers suggest he could be the 2008 version of Hideki Okajima (80).

OF Sam Fuld (106, 58/75), Cubs - Fuld was named the AFL MVP, as he should of been with the numbers he put up. With that being said, he played well over his head in the league, and still is not a real interesting prospect. He should start the year in AAA, but will likely get called up at some point in 2008.

RP Dewon Day (99, 66/77), White Sox - Chicago picked Day up in the minor league phase of the Rule 5 Draft a couple years ago, and have unearthed an interesting prospect. Day racks up a ton of strikeouts, but he also racks up a ton of walks. His numbers were much more impressive in the AFL because he cut down on his walks. My guess is that his Fall League performance was a bit of a fluke, but if he continues to show improved command in Spring Training, he may find himself on the opening day roster. Actually, even if his control is erratic he may still wind up on the team. His strikeout numbers are impressive enough to overcome his great weakness.

SP David Purcey (96, 61/78), Blue Jays - Toronto's pitching staff is quite strong, so there is not much of a path for Purcey to crack the majors. However, trading A.J. Burnett (82) may change that. Purcey is no blue-chip prospect, but he should be on the radar at this point.

RP Calvin Medlock (96, 64/81), Rays - Medlock started 2007 in the Cincinnati organization, but was one of the pitchers traded to Tampa Bay for 2B Jorge Cantu (66/77). Medlock is yet to make his Major League debut, but between the Rays atrocious bullpen last season and his success in the fall league, he is in good position to make the Rays opening day roster in 2008.

RP Fernando Hernandez (94, 60/82), White Sox - Fernando is still probably a year away from the majors, but he had a very good year in AA and followed that with a terrific AFL performance. He should be ticketed for AAA for sure in 2008, and may make the majors at some point during the year.

SP Jake Arrieta (93), Orioles - Arrieta was a draft choice this year and only played in the AFL. It will be interesting to see where Baltimore puts him next year, because I am guessing they sent him to the AFL just to give him some pro experience. I doubt they expected a performance quite this good. He did not even allow a run.

OF Brett Gardner (92, 63/81), Yankees - Trade rumors have circled around OF Melky Cabrera (76/86) and OF Hideki Matsui (84), and the team is less than thrilled with OF Johnny Damon's (79) 2007 performance, especially defensively. So, it seems potential outfield spots in the Bronx may be opening up in the next year or two. Gardner has great speed, and has also flashed good hitting ability. He may develop into a solid leadoff hitter, though he is still at least a year away from really pushing for a spot in the majors.

RP Brian Anderson (91, 52/73), Giants - San Francisco already has a pretty good pitching staff, so Anderson does not figure to get much of a look this year. However, his Fall League performance was good enough to merit consideration from other teams in trades which could net the Giants some much-needed younger position talent.

OF Nate Schierholtz (88, 74/87), Giants - The Giants are not completely devoid of young position talent. Nate Schierholtz had a great year in AAA, and he backed that up with a great AFL season. He should be ready to contribute in the major leagues now, though the Giants seem pretty set in the outfield with Randy Winn (80), Rajai Davis (79/85), Dave Roberts (70), and their big free agent signing, Aaron Rowand (84). I would look to trade Winn to a team needing a centerfielder (perhaps the Braves?) and get a couple decent prospects in return (perhaps SS/OF Brent Lillibridge (62/79) and someone else?). Maybe the Braves have no interest in Winn, but Schierholtz should be starting somewhere in the Giants outfield on opening day, and there is no spot for him right now.

OF Travis Snider (85, 46/80), Blue Jays - Really, at 19 years old after a season in A ball, Snider should still be a long way from the majors. However, his AFL performance is tantalizing. He did play in a pitcher-friendly league, and exploding in 2008 after this fall league performance is not out of the question. Snider probably played beyond his actual abilities right now, but he clearly was not outmatched despite being one of the youngest players in this league.

3B Evan Longoria (83, 63/85), Rays - Any hesitancy the Rays may have had handing the hot corner over to Longoria in 2008 seem to be squelched by his fall league performance. Only an injury could stop him from starting for the Rays on opening day at this point.

OF Matt LaPorta (81, 47/78), Brewers - The Brewers top pick in this year's draft (and #1 on my 25TW list) got a little pro experience after signing, and then got more of a look in the fall league. Camparing favorably to guys like Travis Snider and Evan Longoria in a month-long season is not enough to make LaPorta a great prospect himself, but it is a promising start.

3B Matt Tuiasosopo (77, 51/76), Mariners - Tuiasosopo failed miserably in the fall league last year, so while his performance was not spectacular, it was a huge leap forward. His best attribute is his plate discipline, and if he ever shows some power his stock will go up considerably.

Hawai'i Winter League

The Hawai'i Winter League is kind of like the AAA version of the AFL. Teams are only allowed to send a certain number of players to the AFL, and often if they have other younger players who they want to get an extended look at, they ship them to this league. The Hawai'i Winter League has only four teams, and interestingly a high number of Japanese players populate these rosters. Still, a few players from major league teams are worth taking a look at.

SP Blake Wood (90, 46/77), Royals - There were some Japanese pitchers that were better than Wood, but I am guessing they already have commitments to play in Japan. Wood was the best hurler from the states, which probably says more about the talent level of this league than it does about the Wood. He had a nice year in A ball, and a very nice season in Hawaii, but that is the general them with Wood. He is a nice-looking pitcher, but not a great-looking one, and his fantastic performance in Hawai'i does little to change that.

OF Michael Wilson (88, 45/67), Mariners - Wilson had enough of a breakout year in 2006 that the M's felt the need to protect him with a 40-man roster spot. However, if it is possible for a player to un-break-out, Wilson did that in 2007 by seemingly losing all hitting ability. The only thing that salvaged his rating was his tremendous power. Now, in Hawai'i, Wilsons seems to have re-emerged again. His raw power is about as good as it gets, but everything else about his game is checkered with question marks. Because I am not sold on the quality of competition in this league, I am not convinced Wilson has turned it around.

C Matt Wieters (79), Orioles - Wieters was easily the highest profile player in Hawaii, but his performance was not eye-popping. In fact, given that players like Wood and Wilson were significantly better, it is somewhat disappointing that Wieters did not make a stronger showing. However, this was his first taste of pro baseball after sitting around for over three months. Wieters likely had some rust to shake off.

Mexico Winter League

Mexico also has a full summer season, but in the winter some major league players migrate south to join the Mexican stars. Latin America and Japan get plenty of publicity for the baseball talent they produce, but Mexico should not be overlooked. Because this league features many veterans, the competition is much stiffer than in the AFL or Hawai'i. Also, the season is longer, so the performances are a bit more telling of a player's true abilities. Looking at this league, there are several Mexican players that I think are good enough to earn at least bullpen and bench roles in the majors, and I take the time to highlight one pitcher in particular. There were also some players who for sure will be looking to make MLB squads in 2008.

RP Adrian Ramirez (92) - A number of Mexican pitchers have made strong showings in this league, but I chose to highlight Ramirez in particular for a couple reasons. First, he is still young, as he turned 24 in October. Second, he is a left-handed reliever. Listed at 5'6" and 185 pounds, Ramirez is not exactly an imposing figure on the mound, but he obviously does something that makes him hard to hit in an underrated league. Some team should give this guy a look.

SP Dana Eveland (88, 75/88), Athletics - Acquired in the Dan Haren (86/89) mega-deal, Eveland is one of the newest A's, and should have a very good chance to make the A's starting rotation out of spring training. He was injured most of 2007, so my player rater uses his 2006 numbers to determine his rating. If Eveland's Mexico numbers are any indication, it appears he has recovered from his injury well, and should be more than ready to compete in spring training.

1B Jason Botts (84, 71/80), Rangers - Botts has received some fairly long looks in the majors the last couple years, and with 1B Mark Teixeira (87/90) gone figures to have a chance to stay in the majors for all of 2008. He certainly has not hurt his chances with his showing in Mexico this winter.

1B Brian Myrow (82, 78/83), Padres - Myrow has only received nominal looks in the majors the last couple years, in 2006 with Dodgers, and 2007 with the Padres. However, his minor league numbers suggest that he could be a real contributor if given the chance. At 31 years old he is not exactly a prospect at this point, but he is good enough to be on a major league team. Myrow has not shown much power in Mexico, but his .464 on-base percentage is sensational. At worst, he should be a good left-handed pinch-hitter.

Dominican Winter League

The Dominican Republic is a great baseball country, but the winter league is strengthened by the number of players shipped to it by MLB teams for further development. Often, these players are making some major transition, such as from starter to reliever, or from bench player to everyday starter. Also, some players looking for one more chance in the big leagues will perform here, hoping to catch the eye of some MLB team.

RP Julio Manon (92, 73), Athletics - At 34 years old, Manon is a player who is not a prospect, but he also has not logged much time in the majors. He did appear in 23 games for the Expos in 2003, and 22 games for the Orioles in 2006, but his cumulative major league numbers are not that impressive (4.66 ERA, 1.70 WHIP). Manon is not on the A's 40-man roster, so his affiliation with the organization is loose at best. The bottom line is that some team with thin relief pitching (Orioles, Rays, et al.) should give Manon a try.

RP Oneli Perez (91, 62/82), White Sox - Chicago had a couple young relievers light up the AFL, but this young reliever should not be overlooked. He posted great numbers in AA, and figures to be in AAA to start 2008, with a pretty good chance to see some action in the majors before the season over.

OF Vince Sinisi (90, 70/81), Padres - I have read some rumors that the Padres are interested in trading for OF/1B Xavier Nady (76/78) to serve as their top bench player, getting spot starts in the outfield and first base. While I am a fan of Nady, I think Sinisi is an in-house option the team should seriously consider. He had a solid year in AAA that suggests he is a good bench option, and he has backed it up with a huge winter league. Between Sinisi and Brian Myrow (refer to the Mexico League section for more on him), I think the Padres bench is in solid shape as is.

RP Francisco Cruceta (90, 73/85), Rangers - Faithful Rainiers fans may remember Cruceta from 2006, when he led the PCL in strikeouts while pitching for Tacoma, earning a fleeting glance in the majors with the Mariners. The Rangers picked him up off waivers last offseason and he pitched in Oklahoma the entire year, eventually getting switched to the bullpen. He has pitched exclusively out of the bullpen in the Dominican and looked very good. Texas would be wise to give Cruceta a very long look in Spring Training, because he is good enough to contribute to their bullpen.

SS Erick Aybar (74, 62/77), Angels - There is not much about Aybar's offensive game worth getting excited about, which is precisely why I am taking the time to point him out. Aybar, according to Angels manager Mike Scioscia, will get the first chance to replace SS Orlando Cabrera (79). Simply put, he will be a huge offensive downgrade. The Angels would be much wiser to give INF Maicer Izturis (79/83) the starting job, even despite the injury concerns.

Venezuela Winter League

Venezuela's winter league is quite similar to the Dominican Republic's winter league. Even though I do not think there is much of a difference in the talent level between the two leagues, I would send prospects to the Dominican if I were a major league team because of the ongoing political unrest in Venezuela (several years ago the M's pulled Gil Meche out of this league because the political tension was so high). Still, there are players in this league fighting for roster spots that have made strong showings.

RP Francisco Butto (92) - Butto has never appeared in the majors, but was with the Yankees in 2006 and made it as high as AAA. A native Venezualan, he played in the Mexican summer league this past season, where he had a 3.27 ERA with 51 strikeouts in 44 innings pitched. Running his 2006 numbers through my player rater yielded a 56 rating, with a peak of 75. Though I doubt Butto has suddenly transformed into an incredible pitcher, his performance is noteworthy, and considering he is only 27 years old it looks to me like he has developed into a potential middle reliever.

SP Sean White (87, 65/72), Mariners - Most that are paying attention to M's in the winter leagues have focused on Brandon Morrow (75/86) and Ryan Rowland-Smith (73/84) as they have been stretched out to prepare for potential starting rotation spots. However, under the radar, Sean White has also been stretched out, and his WHIP is comfortably under 1.00 for the winter league season. White's already slim chances to make the M's starting staff effectively went to zero with the signing of Carlos Silva (75), but if he does not make the team as a reliever he has shown enough to merit regular starts in AAA.

INF Edgardo Alfonzo (86) - At 34 years old, Edgardo Alfonzo's best days are well behind him. However, in his prime, he was a pretty good player, and it looks like he still has a little something to offer. If the Mariners are serious about bringing someone in to compete with 2B Jose Lopez (68/81) for the starting job, they should give Alfonzo a look. They likely would only need to give him a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training, so there would be no risk at all. I do not think Alfonzo is as good as Lopez, or maybe even the recently acquired Tug Hullett (66/78) at this point, but I think Lopez would perceive Alfonzo as a legitimate threat. A veteran like him could push Lopez to start realizing his potential, and he is the ideal option because he would not require a guaranteed major league contract.

2B Jose Castillo (86, 62/70), Marlins - Castillo was with the Pirates in 2007, and as his rating suggests, did not perform real well (even the Pirates let him go, enough said). He took a step backwards in 2007, but at 26 years old he could still take a couple steps forward. Florida is considering moving Castillo to third base, but they also are toying with the idea of switching 2B Dan Uggla (76/80) to third and keeping Castillo at second, since he is considered the superior defender between the two. Personally, I would stick the better of the two defenders at third base, because it is a more demanding defensive position. That decision is made even easier because Uggla is the incumbent at second. Ultimately, Castillo will not be in the lineup at all if he hits as poorly as he did in 2007. However, looking at his career numbers and strong showing in winter ball, he appears to be poised for a bit of a rebound.

These are only 30 of the hundreds of baseball players performing in these leagues. If history is any guide, huge performances in these leagues lead to better opportunities in spring training, which leads to major league opportunities and success for a couple players each year. The dynamic of watching older guys trying to squeeze one last chance competing against young guys just getting their feet wet as a professional adds a certain character to the winter leagues that even AAA does not have. The collision of prospects at all levels in the AFL is special to that league as well. Every league has at least a couple diamonds in the rough; the only question is if teams find them and give them a chance. They may not be stars, but a quality pinch-hitter or middle reliever is worth something.

2007 25TW List Early Returns

Eric SogardThis year, for the second straight year, I compiled a list of college players that the Mariners should consider drafting. I expanded the list from 15 players to 25, but once again none of the guys on my list were selected by the Mariners. They were all drafted though, and in my second end-of-the-year post looking at prospects, here is a look at the early returns for the 2007 25 to Watch (25 TW) list:

25. SP David Newmann (N/A), Rays (4th Round, Pick 1, 125th Overall) - Newmann did not appear at all at any level, so there is not much to say.

24. C/1B Josh Donaldson (53/85), Cubs (Compensation Round, Pick 18, 48th Overall) - Donaldson is listed as a catcher by some and a first baseman by others, so I cannot tell which place the Cubs are using him primarily. He was a catcher in college, so my guess is that he still is primarily a catcher. Regardless, Donaldson put on an offensive show in Boise, batting .346 with a .470 OBP and .605 slugging.

23. SS Dominic de la Osa (N/A), Tigers (10th Round, Pick 27, 331st Overall) - He did not sign with the Tigers, opting to return to Vanderbilt for his senior season. However, de la Osa did play in Cape Cod League over the summer, and did not fare well at all (his batting average was barely over .100). Still, he is an early candidate to make the 2008 25 to Watch.

22. SS Todd Frazier (48/79), Reds (Compensation Round, Pick 4, 34th Overall) - Frazier started out in short season A ball, and then got a brief call-up to low A for the final week of the minor league season. The only thing that kept him from being much higher than this on my list was a worrisome strikeout rate, but so far he has actually cut down on his strikeouts without losing much power. In 182 at-bats between short season A and Low A ball, Frazier batted .319 with a .405 OBP and .538 slugging, with a respectable 26 strikeouts.

21. OF Corey Brown (44/76), Athletics (Compensation Round, Pick 29, 59th Overall) - I had a very hard time figuring out where Brown went in my rankings because he excelled in all facets of the game except for one glaring hole...the incredible amount of strikeouts. I should have known he was destined for the A's. Brown batted only .260 with an alarming 77 strikeouts in 213 at-bats in short season A ball but, like any good Athletic, he got more than his fair share of walks (.379 OBP), and when he made contact, he made it count (.545 slugging). In many ways Brown looks like the next Jack Cust.

20. SP Adam Mills (44/76), Red Sox (8th Round, Pick 20, 264th Overall) - Mills pitched out of relief in short season A ball, so he only got 35.1 innings of work in 14 appearances. However, he only gave up 32 hits, 9 walks, and 3 homers while striking out 37. He was hard to rate also because he exploded his senior year at Charlotte, but to this point it looks like he might be more than a one-year wonder.

19. SP James Simmons (51/77), Athletics (1st Round, Pick 26, 26th Overall) - The A's really put the pedal to the metal with Simmons by starting him out in AA. His numbers aren't overwhelming (29.2 IP, 36 Hits, 8 walks, 23 strikeouts, 3.94 ERA), but considering they started him so high, the statistics are admirable. It seems like Oakland wants Simmons ready to take over a starting spot in the majors by opening day 2009 at the latest.

18. SP Cory Luebke (46/78), Padres (Compensation Round, Pick 33, 63rd Overall) - Luebke started in short season A, but dominated and was moved up to low A. He was impressive there as well (27 innings, 29 hits, 5 walks, 30 strikeouts, 3.33 ERA), and ending up getting two starts in high A, where he struggled. Still, three levels in three months is impressive.

17. SP Ross Detwiler (35/69), Nationals (1st Round, Pick 6, 6th Overall) - Detwiler did get to pitch one inning in the majors, but he is far from ready. Detwiler was overpowering in rookie ball, but only so-so at best once getting called up to high A.

16. SP Josh Collmenter (44/74), Diamondbacks (15th Round, Pick 9, 463rd Overall) - I did not expect Collmenter to last as long as he did in the draft, so I was curious to see if he would be as good as I thought he was heading into the draft. To this point, I would say so. Collmenter made 14 appearances (12 starts) in short season A ball and went 6-3 with a 2.71 ERA and 1.22 WHIP, striking out a respectable 57 batters in 66.1 innings, and giving up only 4 home runs.

15. SP James Adkins (51/82), Dodgers (Compensation Round, Pick 9, 39th Overall) - Los Angeles was ambitious with Adkins and started him off in low A, where he pitched the remainder of the summer. He pitched in only 26 innings, but posted a 1.04 WHIP with better than a strikeout an inning. Adkins is another candidate from this class to begin next season in high A.

14. SP Nick Chigges (46/79), Yankees (13th Round, Pick 30, 424th Overall) - I figured Chigges would last because he played at a small school, but he made plenty of noise in short season A ball. In 55 innings in short season A ball, Chigges posted a 2.29 ERA on the strength of a 1.16 WHIP, 10.15 K/9 rate, and only 3 home runs allowed.

13. C Mitch Canham (41/70), Padres (Compensation Round, Pick 27, 57th Overall) - Canham did not fail, but he did not excel like many of the 25TW did. He hit a respectable .293 with a .379 OBP in short season A ball, but did not show much power, and his strikeout rate went up noticeably as well. Even with such a small sampling size, the two of those combined suggests that the switch to wooden bats has slowed his bat speed considerably. On the other hand, since it is such a small sample size, Canham could have simply had a slump. Next year should provide firmer answers.

12. 2B Tony Thomas (51/86), Cubs (3rd Round, Pick 3, 97th Overall) - Tony really exploded this past year at Florida State, and I was tempted to put him even higher on this list. His torrid hitting continued in short season A ball, where he batted .304 with a .404 OBP, .544 slugging, and added 28 stolen bases in the equivalent of about a third of a season. His strikeout rate was high, but all the positives cannot be ignored.

11. SS Josh Horton (44/72), Athletics (3rd Round, Pick 26, 90th Overall) - The A's did not push Horton as hard as Simmons, but he accumulated most of his at-bats in low A, a level higher than most play the half-season after being drafted. Horton showed very little power (.352 slugging), but he is transitioning to wooden bats, and played in a pitcher-friendly league. On a positive note, his eye was every bit as tremendous as it was in college (.279 average with a .417 OBP in low A). Horton was destined to be an Athletic with his offensive game. More power would be preferred, but that should come as he gets more comfortable with pro ball.

10. SP Travis Banwart (47/79), Athletics (4th Round, Pick 26, 126th Overall) - I went on a small tangent draft day about Banwart and Detwiler, because there was supposedly no question that Detwiler was the superior pitching prospect, even though his numbers were not as impressive as Banwart's in the same conference. It is hard to compare their pro performances thus far because Detwiler bounced all around, but in 45 innings in low A ball, Banwart struck out 41 batters, allowed only 2 home runs, and had a 1.02 WHIP. At the very least, Banwart is off to a nice start in the pros.

9. SP Will Kline (37/67), Rays (2nd Round, Pick 1, 65th Overall) - Kline got 9 starts in the and posted a 4.97 ERA in 29 innings pitched. He had good strikeout and walk rates, but quite simply he was hit significantly harder than in college. Given the ambivalent results in too small of a sampling size to make any conclusions anyway, there's not much more to say other than check back and see how he fares next season.

8. SP Tony Watson (46/78), Pirates (9th Round, Pick 4, 278th Overall) - On draft day, by the sixth round or so I was checking the results because I was sure I had missed Tony Watson getting drafted. I was that surprised to see him fall as far as he did. When the Pirates drafted him, I went as far as to say I think he'll prove to be better than their first round pick, Daniel Moskos. To this point, Tony is living up to my hype. Moskos struggled in short season A ball (1.97 WHIP), while Watson flourished to the point that he got a call-up to low A for his final three starts. Overall, in 13 starts as a pro, Watson had a 2.79 ERA, and struck out 58 while only walking 8. He does give up way more fly balls than ground balls, which may mean he'll eventually give up more than his share of home runs, but to this point he has not. I still say he was a steal at this point in the draft.

7. SP Nick Schmidt (41/72), Padres (1st Round, Pick 23, 23rd Overall) - Schmidt pitched only seven innings before developing a serious elbow injury that required reconstructive elbow surgery. He's already expected to miss all of 2008.

6. 2B Eric Sogard (41/70), Padres (2nd Round, Pick 17, 81st Overall) - Sogard was so-so at best for the month he spent in short season A ball, but got promoted to low A anyway, where he struggled to the tune of a .657 OPS. His strikeout rate did not go up much, but he clearly did not square up the ball too often. Maybe things will be different next year when he gets a chance to settle in at one level.

5. SP Bryan Henry (31/59), Diamondbacks (12th Round, Pick 9, 373rd Overall) - Like Tony Watson, I was stunned that Henry lasted so long. However, it looks like there was good reason that Henry did. In 12 starts, he posted a 5.28 ERA, allowing a whopping 13 home runs in 58 innings, as well as a .302 opponents' batting average. His strikeout to walk ratio was good, but pretty clearly he was catching too much of the plate. Of all 25 on this list, Henry is my early pick for most likely to not make it to the majors.

4. C Matt Wieters (N/A), Orioles (1st Round, Pick 5, 5th Overall) - It was challenging enough for the Orioles to sign Wieters, and he ended up not playing any baseball before the end of the regular season. He is playing in Hawai'i though (check back tomorrow for the Fall and Winter League post to see how he has done). He will be much more interesting to look at next season.

3. 2B Tyler Mach (43/74), Phillies (4th Round, Pick 19, 143rd Overall) - Mach got off to a red-hot start, but slumped by the end of the season. Overall though, his numbers were pretty good. He spent the summer in short season A ball, batting .287 with a .362 OBP and .441 slugging. Given how hot he started, it was disappointing that he did not have better numbers at the end of the season.

2. SP David Price (N/A), Rays (1st Round, Pick 1, 1st Overall) - Price was another signing that came down to the wire, and he is yet to appear in a professional game.

1. OF Matt LaPorta (47/78), Brewers (1st Round, Pick 7, 7th Overall) - LaPorta didn't get much of a chance to play, but it was feast or famine with the small opportunity he got. In 88 at-bats in short season A-Ball, LaPorta had 8 double and 10 home runs, but also 22 strikeouts! All in all, he ended up accumulating a 1.142 OPS in those 88 at-bats, so I would deem it a success. However, it's quite the statistical line to look at. LaPorta also played in the Arizona Fall League, where he batted .241, but with tremendous power once again. In fact, in 227 pro at-bats, LaPorta has 18 doubles, 1 triple, and 18 home runs. However, he also has 58 strikeouts. LaPorta's strikeout rate reduced noticeably over his college career, so it is fair to believe that he can improve it as a professional. However, even it doesn't, his raw power alone is stunning.

Based on early returns, the 2007 25TW list is not much different than the 2006 version. It likely lacks a stud as good as Tim Lincecum (89/93), but few draft classes have a guy like that. Still, Thomas and Donaldson both are off to great starts, and the only player that struggled mightily on the list was Bryan Henry. At best, any player on this list played the equivalent half a season, so it is way to early to give up on anyone, or proclaim them a superstar. However, as a collective whole, the early returns are decent.

Yesterday, the list was 15 long. Today, 25. Tomorrow, I will look at 30 players who have excelled in fall and winter leagues. Some of the names will be repeats (like LaPorta and Wieters), but not many. Some will be veterans who have shown they have a little left in the tank, but most will be young guys trying to crack the big leagues for the first time. Check back tomorrow to see who makes the list.

2006 "15 to Watch" Update

Tim LincecumOctober and November proved to be quite hectic for me, and as a result three posts that I have been planning to write for a long time stayed on the back burner. Now, with 2007 nearly complete, it seems fitting to look back at the 2007 season that was with those posts I put off. The first (this one) is a look at how the players on my 2006 "15 to Watch" (15TW) List fared last season. Tomorrow will look at the 2007 "25 to Watch" (25TW). Finally, Friday I will highlight players who have stood out in the fall and winter leagues this off-season. This is a great way to finish out the calendar year because young guns that make noise in the majors in 2008 will likely have made some noise in the minors in 2007.

Now, on to the 2006 15TW. Honestly, this list started as a day project only about a week before the draft. I was convinced that, as a general rule, the best baseball players in college tend to become the best players in the pros. So, I set out to find the best players in college and I came up with the list of 15. Most of the 15 prospects I highlighted back in 2006 now have a full professional season under their belts, so it is time to take a look and see how they fared:

15. 1B Whit Robbins (39/64), Twins - Robbins was impressive the summer after getting drafted, but he struggled mightily in high A. He hit for absolutely no power, and ultimately his season was cut short by an injury. Maybe the injury caused all his problems.

14. 3B Evan Longoria (63/85), Devil Rays - The Rays are moving Akinori Iwamura (73) to second base to make room in the lineup for Longoria next year. He is an early favorite to be the Rookie of the Year, though I think he will not end up winning the award. I see Longoria's year being similar to the one Alex Gordon (72/83) just completed. Regardless, Longoria has bolted through the minors and is one of the better position prospects in baseball right now.

13. OF Chad Huffman (54/80), Padres - Rather quietly, Huffman hit very well in high A and earned a mid-year promotion to AA, where his numbers dropped significantly (.269 average, .362 OBP, .793 OPS). Still, if Huffman continues to progress at his current rate, he could be in the majors by 2009.

12. INF Luke Hopkins, Blue Jays - He did not play at all last season after playing every day in short season A ball in 2006. I cannot find any information on Hopkins, so I do not know what has happened to him.

11. 1B Ryan Strieby (44/75) - Strieby did not fare well last year, but bounced back considerably from his 2006 summer. Strieby's numbers were not outstanding (.253 average, .342 OBP, .769 OPS), but they were pretty solid, especially for a 21-year old in a pitcher-friendly league.

10. SP Brad Lincoln, Pirates - Like Hopkins, Lincoln did not play at all this year, though I know Lincoln did not due to an injury.

9. SP Steven Wright (44/72), Indians - Wright's home run rate in low A was high, but the rest of his numbers were impressive enough to convince the Indians to promote him to high A mid-season. However, Wright struggled in high A, though ironically his home run rate went down a ton. Even after a full season's worth of numbers, the drastic difference between the numbers at the different levels makes it hard to say how good Wright is.

8. SP Wade LeBlanc (56/82), Padres - LeBlanc is one of the more underrated pitching prospects in baseball right now. He was very impressive in high A this year, earning a promotion to AA where he was impressive as well. Baseball America ranks LeBlanc's slider as the best in the Padres' farm system, and it should propel him to AAA in 2008, if not all the way to the majors.

7. OF Jon Jay (48/74), Cardinals - Jay looked great last year, but he struggled some between AA and high A in 2007. He only accumulated 228 at-bats total, so it appears that he was limited by an injury.

6. OF Cole Gillespie (49/74), Brewers - Much like Jay, Gillespie looked unbelievable in 2006, but to a certain degree struggled in 2007. Cole batted only .267 in high A, though he still showed good plate discipline and good speed on the bases. He is already 23, which is a relatively older age for someone in high A too. Gillespie should be in AA next year, and he will need to produce at a pretty high level to be a legitimate prospect.

5. SP Max Scherzer (62/84), Diamondbacks - Max just about did not sign with the D'Backs, so he almost was on the 2007 25TW list. Upon signing and dominating for a few starts in high A, Scherzer spent his summer in AA, where he showed quite a bit of promise. Scherzer has overpowering stuff, as evidenced by a high strikeout rate with low hit and home run rates, but he does not have great control yet, as evidenced by averaging a walk roughly every other inning. He's much like Brandon Morrow (75/86), though more raw.

4. SP Eddie Degerman (51/78), Cardinals - At 23 years old after a fairly strong showing in short season A ball, I am not sure why the Cardinals started Degerman in low A this year. However, they did, and he dominated, eventually getting called up to high A. Eddie's walks went up a ton, but he was still pretty tough to hit. Looking at his numbers, his 5.93 ERA in high A should have been much lower. I would start him in AA next year and see how he does in a league where he is not one of the older members, but to this point St. Louis does not seem quite as interested in pushing him.

3. 1B Craig Cooper (51/78), Padres - Cooper does not have as much power as teams like to see in a first baseman, but he hits for great average with pretty decent gap power. Cooper's lack of power may keep him from being a great prospect, but his pure hitting ability should not be ignored. He will likely start next year in AA, and may be pushing for a bench spot on the Padres by 2009 or 2010.

2. SP Andrew Miller (67/81), Marlins - Originally drafted by the Tigers, he was one of the keys to the deal that landed Detroit 3B Miguel Cabrera (88/92) and SP Dontrelle Willis (70/78). It did not take Miller long to make the majors, and especially considering he is now on the Marlins, he is in the majors to stay. Miller has been a highly regarded prospect since his junior year at North Carolina, and his stuff is among the best in the game. Most see him as a future star, though just to play devil's advocate, for fun compare Miller and Jeff Weaver (63). The starts of their careers are awfully similar.

1. SP Tim Lincecum (89/93), Giants - I raved about Lincecum before the 2006 draft, and was not happy when the M's passed on him. Fortunately, Morrow looks like a really good pick, but he's still not better than Lincecum. Tim has exceeded all expectations, and is already one of the best pitchers in the majors, regardless of age. The combination of his diminutive stature, funky wind-up, and blazing fastball are what he is known for, but it is his curveball that has made him so successful in such short time.

The 2006 15TW List was largely the product of sitting at a computer and staring at stats for only six hours. It was a rather rudimentary statistical analysis, but the results thus far are promising. It helps that Lincecum has already hit it huge. By 2007, I had my player rating formula, and I used it to compare way more college players in a much more formal, impartial way. The rating system was what allowed me to feel comfortable expanding the list to 25 players. Check back tomorrow to see if the early returns on my 2007 25TW list measure up to these 15.

Rangers Acquire Josh Hamilton

Josh HamiltonThe Rangers, needing a center fielder and an impact bat, killed two birds with one stone today by trading with the Reds for OF Josh Hamilton (84/88). In return the Reds received SP Edinson Volquez (70/86) and RP Danny Herrera (59/82). By now, Hamilton's story is well-known, from his free-fall into drug abuse to his subsequent resurrection that is a storybook tale of heartwarming perseverance.

Rather quietly, the Rangers and Reds have both had productive off-seasons. Between signing Milton Bradley (69, though with no injury factor 89) and trading for Hamilton, Texas has upgraded their offense significantly. The return of 3B Hank Blalock (85/88, though I think this rating is a little high) from injuries should make a big difference as well. The Rangers still have a weak starting rotation, and they will feel the loss of Volquez. However, when a team nearly loses 100 games they tend to have many holes, and filling all of them in one off-season is highly unlikely. At this point, starting pitching is the Rangers' one glaring weakness. It is a major weakness to have, but they are down to only one weakness, and they at least have some young starters.

As for the Reds, they clearly needed to upgrade their pitching. They started by shelling out a ton of money for Francisco Cordero (89), coincidentally a former Ranger, and he is a massive upgrade to their bullpen. At 32 years old I doubt the monster contract he got will look good by the end, but for now he is a major improvement. Now, with this trade, the Reds have added a young starter that upgrades them immediately and should develop into a number two punch behind underrated staff ace Aaron Harang (89). Furthermore, Herrera is not ready right now, but he looks like a pretty decent southpaw that could be ready to contribute in their bullpen as early as mid-2008.

This trade makes sense for both sides, especially the Reds. The Rangers further weakened a weakness by trading Volquez, but they also addressed a glaring hole by adding Hamilton. The Reds had a surplus of outfielders, so it made sense to use that to gain a starter, especially one as young and promising as Volquez. Ultimately, both teams should be pleased with the deal.

Updated Rating Formula!

The last week and a half or so I have been working on improving my rating formula. This led to some changes in adjusting ratings for lower minor league levels, but more importantly, I now have a system for projecting how good any player will become, regardless of the age or minor league level! I have not thoroughly tested the system with historical data, but the testing I have done is promising enough to start using it. The changes allowed me to project peaks for Carlos Silva, Brandon Morrow, Cha Seung Baek, Horacio Ramirez, and Sean White in the post below, whereas with the previous formula I would have not been able to include any indicator of future improvement for any of them.

M's Splurge for Silva

Carlos SilvaAfter losing out on Hiroki Kuroda (72), it did not take long for the Mariners to turn around and offer the money to another starter, Carlos Silva (75/77). The deal is reportedly for 4 years, $48 million, which is staggering for a pitcher who had a 4.19 ERA and a losing record last season.

In Silva the Mariners are getting a good, though not great, pitcher. He does not walk many batters, but does not strike out many either. He tends to pitch deep in to ballgames, in large part thanks to the high number of strikes he throws. At the press conference, Silva seemed excited to have the chance to pitch in Safeco Field because he believes his style of pitching fits the ballpark much better than his previous home, the Metrodome. In theory, what he says is true, but looking at his home/road splits last year, he was by far better at home. Bavasi at the press conference also talked about how Silva was a big catch, but that rings a little hollow after the team spent a month going after Kuroda, including a visit to Japan. Quite clearly, Silva was not in the M's plans until Kuroda picked the Dodgers.

With that being said, if the Mariners had to spend $48 million on either Kuroda or Silva, I would pick Silva for a couple reasons. First of all, he is five years younger than Kuroda, so the odds of him staying productive for the entire length of the deal are much better. However, on a much more basic level, I think Silva is a little bit better pitcher at this point. The general perception is that Kuroda is a front-line starter, and while that may have been true when he was in his prime, he is not anymore. He is a solid starter, much like Silva.

Ultimately though, it is gut-wrenching watching the Mariners pay $12 million a year for a guy worth approximately $6.2 million according to my pay projector. Silva does upgrade the rotation, but not to the point that paying five and a half MILLION more than fair value is justified. I have quite a bit of faith in Brandon Morrow's (75/86) abilities, and since it was going to take this kind of money to sign a decent starter, I would have taken my chances with him as the fourth starter, and handed the fifth starting position to whoever looked the best out of Ryan Rowland-Smith (73/84), Cha Seung Baek (73/78), R.A. Dickey (64), maybe even Horacio Ramirez (55/62), and maybe even a couple darkhorse candidates, Robert Rohrbaugh (65/82) and Sean White (65/72). Carlos Silva is better than all of these pitchers, but it seems likely to me that someone out of that list is good enough to be a decent starter.

Carlos Silva was not worth $48 million, even to a team like the Mariners that could use him. He will be looked at much like Bavasi's other "big" free agent pitchers, Jarrod Washburn (74) and Miguel Batista (76). All three improve the Mariners, so it is hard to call them bad signings. However, they are all also making way too much money, so it is hard to call them good signings as well.

M's Sans Kuroda, A's Sans Haren

Hiroki KurodaThe baseball world did stop for the release of the Mitchell report, but just barely. The Hot Stove League continues to simmer with activity, with pitchers finally on the move. The two highlights were clearly the Dodgers signing Hiroki Kuroda (72), and the A's trading Dan Haren (86). Here is a look at both of the moves, from an AL West perspective:

Dodgers sign SP Hiroki Kuroda to a 3-year, $35.3 million deal - Between Bavasi and McLaren's trip to Japan, a Japanese catcher, and a reportedly larger deal offered than the Dodgers, I thought the Mariners were the front-runners for Kuroda the whole time. Most, especially the M's front office, see Kuroda as a big loss, but all things considered, I am very happy he decided to sign elsewhere. While it would be nice to see the M's add another solid starter, I would rather give the younger players already on the roster a chance before overpaying for free agents like Kuroda, Carlos Silva (75), and Kyle Lohse (73).

Athletics trade SP Dan Haren (86) and SP Connor Robertson (62/73) to the Diamondbacks for SP Dana Eveland (75/84), SP Greg Smith (62/75), SP Brett Anderson (43/86), OF Carlos Gonzalez (53/76), OF Aaron Cunningham (51/85), and 1B Chris Carter (40/83) - This trade is fair...sort of. I felt all along the A's absolutely would not trade Haren unless they were certain they were getting more talent in return for what they were giving up. Clearly, they did. The popular perception is that Gonzalez, the D'Backs best prospect according to Baseball America, was the key to this deal. However, I think the real key was Dana Eveland, who can replace Haren immediately and has a good chance to be just as good as him a couple years down the road. Anderson, Cunningham, and Carter also look impressive, and Smith looks like he will be a solid bullpen arm. Basically, if any of the five outside of Smith pan out for the A's, it will be a fair deal, and the odds are more than one of them lives up to their potential. As for Arizona, they now have one of the finest 1-2 starting punches in all of baseball, and they used their loaded farm system to avoid trading any major league contributors. They may have given up more talent than they acquired, but that is what a strong farm system allows a team to do.

Broussard Dealt to Rangers

Ben BroussardLast Wednesday, the deadline to tender arbitration-eligible players, the Mariners traded 1B Ben Broussard (74) to the Rangers for 2B Tug Hulett (66/77). Though this is a small deal, there was much more behind it than a simple swap of talent. Most likely, the M's were not going to tender Ben Broussard, which means he would have become a free agent. So, that means they were likely shopping him around to see if anyone was interested in acquiring him. Obviously the Rangers were, and they gave up a relatively anonymous minor-leaguer.

First off, while Tug Hulett may not have superstar written all over him, he is a better player than the type that usually are received in trades like this. Tug provides some needed depth in the infield, and he is good enough to push Jose Lopez for the starting job in spring training. He will be a welcome addition to the team. More importantly though, with Ben gone there now is a need for a left-handed bat on the bench, preferably with a little power. That job should be Jeff Clement's (70/83) to lose. McLaren was clearly impressed by him in September, and the general consensus seems to be that his bat is too good to leave in the minors at this point. Clement will most likely be the third catcher, but the team can afford to do that if they keep both Willie Bloomquist (68) and Mike Morse (69/81).

The Broussard trade may have been small, but it gave many implications about the complexion of the 2008 Mariners. It looks like the youth movement is going to continue, which is worth getting excited about. The system is a little better than advertised, and it looks like baseball will begin to find that out.

Mitchell Report Released

Baseball's day of judgement came today with the release of what perhaps will go down as the climax of the steroid era, the Mitchell Report. The report was detailed, long, and did implicate specific players of steroid use. I watched Mitchell's press conference, Bud Selig's press conference, and lastly Donald Fehr's, and I have had a chance to skim the report in its entirety. Here is what I see in the report.

I will start with Mitchell's press conference. As would be expected, he basically outlined the introduction and overview of the report with his prepared speech, but there were a couple of things he said and emphasized that I thought were in particular good. First, he talked a great deal about how baseball needs to move forward, and not get tied down by digging into the past. Even before having a chance to look at the document, I found those words to be very encouraging. Mitchell certainly delves into the past in the report, but ultimately it is about steroid use in general, both how usage became rampant in the game, and how to effectively curtail it. Reading the media coverage leading up to the Mitchell report, I was concerned that this part of the investigation was secondary to unearthing names of big-name users. However, the Mitchell report does focus on fixing the problem, not just identifying it, and he made this clear by the way he wrote the report, and through his press conference today.

Secondly, I was greatly encouraged when I heard Mitchell recommend that Selig not take punitive action against any players named in the report, at least based solely on the report's findings. This was the ultimate signal to me that the report is not intended to be a document that looks back into the past and doles out punishment, but rather looks into the past with an eye towards the future of the game. Clearly, to me, George Mitchell had the best interests of the game at the forefront of his mind during the investigation.

Not surprisingly, Bud Selig received the Mitchell report quite positively (he was the one that commissioned it). Selig was quick to thank Mitchell and his investigative team for the exhaustive job they did, and basically dubbed the report the "tell all" account of the steroid era. Also, Selig did not reject Mitchell's recommendation that penalties not be assessed to players implicated in the report, but he did say that he would review each player implicated, and decide punishment on a case by case basis. It seemed that he had set himself up for a lashing, courtesy Donald Fehr at the MLBPA press conference.

To my borderline astonishment, Fehr was rather subdued with his reaction. He started by acknowledging the issue at hand, even going as far to say that in hindsight action probably should have been taken sooner to combat steroid usage. Fehr also pointed out that the union agreed to stiffer testing when approached seriously about adding it by the owners, and he also made it clear that the MLBPA had not been allowed to see the report in advance, as the owners had, despite his requests. Since he obviously had not had time to read and digest it, all he really added beyond that was that the union would represent and support/defend the players with any actions taken based on this report. Fehr only appeared to be flustered with a question near the end of the interview. I could not hear the question, but with his his response he basically said he could not answer the question yet because he had not had a chance to read the document before needing to make a public statement about it.

It seems likely to me at this point that the owners had hoped that the Mitchell report would blame the players for the steroid problem. I know Selig said at his press conference that he took heat from the owners and players for commissioning the report, and that he hoped the players would participate because they would put the good of the game in front of protecting themselves, their teammates, and the locker room code of conduct. Maybe Selig is telling the truth and he misjudged what would happen badly, but it seems feasible to me that the owners wanted to look like they were the catalysts by commissioning this report, and by acting unilaterally it made participation by the players quite unlikely. So, regardless of the finding, owners could say they were the ones who led the charge, and regardless of the findings they could wag their fingers at the players for not cooperating. Selig supported my theory even further when he stated he would look into suspending players named in the report on a case-by-case basis, even though Mitchell made it clear he hoped that would not happen.

Throughout this process the MLBPA was not treated fairly. Selig should have met with Fehr about commissioning the report beforehand, and tried to work with them instead of dictating to them how things would be. The MLBPA may have still hated the idea, but the best chance they had to get legitimate participation by the players was to include the MLBPA in the process, instead of forcing the commission upon them.

However, what struck me as the dumbest decision was not allowing the MLBPA the advanced preview like the owners got. The reason given for allowing advanced readings was to ensure that no terms of the Collective Bargaining Agreement were broken, and if that truly was the reason then the MLBPA should have also had a chance to review it beforehand. Instead, Bud Selig had a few days to digest the report and prepare for questioning, whereas Don Fehr realistically had no chance to react today, limiting the greatest potential source of dissent. Ultimately, as Fehr said at his press conference, this says a great deal about the relationship between the two parties. They are drifting apart again, and negotiations when the current CBA is up just became more difficult.

Aside from the issues between the players and owners, the Mitchell report has its issues too. I would have limited the players specifically named to those that have either public admitted performance-enhancing drug use, or ones that confessed it to the Mitchell investigation team. This would have limited the named players to: Jason Giambi, Jeremy Giambi, Randy Velarde, David Segui, Larry Bigbie, Tim Laker, Adam Piatt, Chad Allen, Wally Joyner, Paxton Crawford, Ken Caminiti, Jose Canseco, and Dan Naulty. This list lacks shock value, but narrowing the list to these players would have limited many of the validity issues being raised, and I think it still illustrates the scope and gravity of the problem, especially if the rest of the players named in the report were not removed, but given pseudonyms.

Ultimately, George Mitchell did what he was asked to do. He made an all-encompassing report about steroid use and drug testing in baseball to the best of his abilities. The section about steroid use among players was essentially an anthology of all that has been reported over the past several years, which should not be surprising given how tight-lipped players remain. There is hardly enough information in the report to charge most of the players implicated, but that was not the point of the report anyway. Mitchell hoped to outline the past to the best of the abilities mostly to help him make informed, beneficial recommendations. Admittedly, Mitchell constructed the past largely on second and third-hand accounts, but where there is smoke there is fire. He was not trying to nail a bunch of players with this report; he was trying to illustrate the wide scope of the problem given the resources he had. There is a difference.

The other thing that struck me was the strained relationship between the players and owners. The more I read the report, the more I got the sense that if they were on better terms the problem would have never got to this point. Mitchell detailed some shady tricks the owners tried to pull with drug testing in the 1980s, which has to stick in the back Fehr's mind. Even more discouraging was reading about labor negotiations in the early1990s though. Thanks to their tense relationship, they could not even see eye to eye on economic issues, and never got to the point where drug testing made it into discussions. What would have happened if the two sides had a better working relationship and had been able to bring up drug testing back in the early 1990s is hard to say. However, given how bad things got unchecked, and how quickly they have improved once stiffer testing was added to the CBA, it seems likely the Mitchell report would never have been needed.

Mitchell Report Looms

George MitchellAs teams prepare to tender or non-tender their arbitration-eligible players (the deadline is this Wednesday), the focus in baseball is far from personnel decisions, though not so far from personnel. It appears that Major League Baseball received the Mitchell report tonight, and it is being read over to make sure no terms of the Collective Bargaining Agreement have been violated. This is believed to be the final step before it is released to the public, and the widespread belief is that it will be officially released Thursday. I tend to steer away from writing about other people's writing, but Howard Bryant on ESPN.com wrote a rather lengthy piece about Mitchell's investigation that can be read by clicking this link. Bryant does a solid job of both outlining the key people within the investigation, and the feelings wrapped up in the investigation. My response to this article is what follows.

There are enough opinions about the Mitchell report floating around to bury the facts. So, I will start by doing my best to summarize what is known, and then go from there. After reading the article, combined with my own cursory knowledge of the report that I have through bits and pieces reported by the media, here is my basic understanding of how the Mitchell report has come to fruition:

  1. Major League Baseball asked George Mitchell to investigate steroid use in baseball. Major League Baseball promised Mitchell that they would not limit or hinder his investigation in any manner.
  2. George Mitchell formed a team to help him investigate, consisting mostly of members of his own law firm.
  3. Mitchell began by trying to interview players. He did not have the power to subpoena, so no player was obligated to speak with him. No players were willing to speak, so Mitchell turned to other sources, namely the commissioner's office staff, team employees, and sources outside of baseball with knowledge of steroids.
  4. The investigation took a turn last April when former New York Mets employee Kirk Radomski pleaded guilty to steroid distribution. Radomski sold steroids to a number of players from 1995 to 2005 according to federal prosecutors. As part of his plea bargain, he agreed to assist in Mitchell's investigation. As a side note, Radomski is scheduled to be sentenced in February.
As far as I can tell, that is all that is truly known about the Mitchell report right now. Anything outside of the scope of these four bullet points is based on some sort of conjecture, which gives an idea of how many conclusions people are drawing right now. That is not to say that conjecture is bad, but it is important to identify it as such.

Facts are always a great place to start, and they often beg questions. The Mitchell Report facts are no different; they raise many important questions. Below is the one question from each fact that I think is most important:
  1. Why did Major League Baseball ask George Mitchell to investigate steroid use?
  2. Why did George Mitchell select an investigation team that consisted mostly of members from his own law firm?
  3. Why didn't the players cooperate with the investigation?
  4. How did Radomski's cooperation impact the Mitchell investigation?
Here is where my conjecture begins:

Why did Major League Baseball ask George Mitchell to investigate steroid use?
The simple answer is because baseball wanted someone to look at the steroid problem and suggest ways to fix it, restoring credibility to the game. However, owners and the MLBPA had already stiffened drug-testing policies in the collective bargaining agreement twice before Selig asked Mitchell to do an investigation, so there were already efforts being made to address the problem. Clearly, baseball did not need this report to take action, so there must be some other motivation. In 2005, congress held a hearing about steroids in baseball, and basically threatened action unless baseball did something to clean up the game. On the heels of the congressional hearings, baseball stiffened their drug testing (the second of the two CBA amendments referenced earlier), and later announced the launching of the Mitchell report. Congress has been quietly waiting since. George Mitchell is one of only a handful of people who have connections to both congress and baseball, so he was a logical fit, especially given that he was a member of the Blue Ribbon Panel that looked at the problems with baseball's economic model in the early 1990s. To me, it is fairly clear the Mitchell report is the owners' response to the scrutiny of congress.

Why did George Mitchell select an investigation team the consisted mostly of members from his own law firm?
This one is simple. People, when asked to assemble a group of any sort, tend to reach out to people they know that they feel are qualified.

Why didn't the players cooperate with the investigation?
This one is not too difficult to answer either. History has shown time and time again that the players and owners do not get along very well. Thanks to owners' attempts to collude decades ago, the MLBPA tends to assume that anything suggested by the owners is somehow meant to rob the players of something for the benefit of the owners. However, despite the uneasy relationship between the two sides, they avoided a work stoppage when the last Collective Bargaining Agreement expired, and then in an unprecedented move amended the CBA to stiffen drug testing when it had become apparent that steroid use was a major problem. Furthermore, when congress told baseball to take further action, the players once again agreed to even stiffer testing, amending the CBA in place yet again. The players felt they had been more than cooperative in the whole process, so when Major League Baseball (a.k.a. the owners, led by commissioner Bud Selig) came to them and told them that an investigation into steroid use was being launched and they were expected to cooperate, they were less than thrilled. Given what they had already done to address steroid use, and the great mistrust they have in owners, they saw no benefit in complying, especially when the investigation was not given the power to subpoena.

How did Radomski's cooperation impact the Mitchell investigation?
This one is tougher to speculate on. However, it is fair to assume that baseball players were the most likely to be able to provide names of players who used to steroids. Therefore, it is also fair to assume that without the player's cooperation, the Mitchell investigation had few, if any, names linked to steroid use. Thus, when Radomski was charged with steroid distribution, it seems likely that the Mitchell investigators saw him as their best chance to get names of players who used steroids. If Radomski did supply names, it would follow that the Mitchell investigators would then interview other athletic trainers and strength coaches in hopes that they would supply more names, which "sources" (whoever they are) have claimed was the case.

So, to recap, from the four facts known about the Mitchell investigation came four questions, from which the following implications about the report can be made:
  1. The Mitchell Report is the owners' response to congress' look at steroid use in baseball.
  2. George Mitchell's investigation team is comprised of people that he knows, and that he feels are qualified to do a good job.
  3. Players did not cooperate with the investigation because they felt they had already addressed the issue accordingly, and they do not trust the owners.
  4. Radomski was likely the first person with direct ties to steroids to supply the investigation with names of players who used steroids.
These conclusions beg more questions, but this is a blog post, not a full-blown essay, so I will stop here and begin to wrap things up. Clearly, the investigation was hampered by the lack of cooperation from players, but the players had good reason not to participate. If the owners' main concern in this report was getting to the bottom of steroid use in baseball, they likely would have gone to the MLBPA and together figured out the structure of the investigation, to ensure that players would cooperate. Instead, the commissioner acted unilaterally and dictated to the Don Fehr and the MLBPA how things would be, implying they are more interested in something other than ridding the game of steroids. Most likely, the owners are more concerned with escaping blame than getting to the bottom of the problem.

It would not be the first time the owners have used an "independent study" to try get what they want. Look no further than the Blue Ribbon Panel Report, which concluded that baseball needed revenue sharing, and that poor teams needed to build new stadiums to compete. Interestingly, George Mitchell was part of this panel as well, but the owners actually attempted to add many owners of poor franchises to the panel, obviously in hopes of influencing the panel's decision to add revenue sharing. The owners wanted to add revenue sharing, but needed an "independent study" to gain credence. Their blatant attempt to skew the results was rejected by the panel, though the panel still came to the conclusion desired. Revenue sharing has greatly helped baseball, but the main point I want to illustrate here is that the owners do what they can to twist reports to suit their desires.

I will withhold judgement on the Mitchell report until I get a chance to see it for myself, but there are some ominous signs. Given the owners' history and how they went about commissioning the Mitchell report, it seems likely that the owners are most interested in making sure this report does not blame them, whether it actually offers viable solutions to the steroid problem or not. Ominously, many of the trainers and coaches quoted in the Bryant article expressed frustration over the Mitchell investigation, because they were never asked for their input on how to solve the problem. According to them, the interviews focused on identifying specific players who did steroids, supporting the theory that the whole point of the report is to assign blame.

However, it should be noted that Bryant does not support the Mitchell investigation, and the article he wrote is slanted. To start with, he includes speculation that Mitchell's selection of investigators from his own firm is some great plot by the owners to ensure they will not be blamed, which I find to be quite a stretch. It seems quite clear to me that Mitchell would pick members from his own firm for innocent reasons, as I outlined earlier in this post. In addition, Bryant's inclusion of the far-fetched theory that Mitchell leaked information about Paul Byrd's HGH use to help the Red Sox win did not do much for his article either (though he did include quotes both agreeing and disagreeing with the conspiracy). Still, despite the bias inherent in the article, Bryant raises some valid issues, even if he does not use the most valid of evidence to back them up.

Ultimately, the credence of the Mitchell report will not be decided by how many players are linked to steroid use, or who is found to be at blame. This report should be about ridding the game of steroids, so it should only assign blame insofar that it aids in identifying the problem at hand that needs to be solved. At this point, it is hard to tell if the investigation really has fixated on assigning blame, or if the media has fixated on this portion of the investigation. Either could be true. The answer will come on Thursday.

2007 Rule 5 Draft

Here's a pick-by-pick look at the 2007 Rule 5 Draft (position, name, rating, team drafted by):
  1. P Tim Lahey (47), Devil Rays (subsequently traded to White Sox) - Lahey has good size at 6'5" and 250 pounds, and between that and Chicago's affinity for flame-throwers, my guess is that Lahey possesses a power arm. However, he hasn't shown an ability to strike a high number of batters out. He was a decent AA reliever last year, and the White Sox would be making a mistake if they hold on to him.
  2. P Evan Meek (55), Pirates - Meek is from Bellevue and went to Bellevue CC, so I can't help but root for a local guy. He is a somewhat promising reliever, but he's also not quite ready for the majors. However, the Pirates roster isn't exactly a spoil of riches, so Meek has a good chance to stick in their bullpen.
  3. P Randor Bierd (65), Orioles - I really like this pick. Baltimore's bullpen was atrocious last year, and Bierd was dominant in AA last year. He's good enough to contribute to many bullpens, but he'll especially be a welcome addition to this staff. His chances of staying and contributing are excellent.
  4. P Jose Capellan (23), Giants - Capellan is really hard to project because he played in short-season advanced rookie ball last year, five levels below the major leagues. His numbers are fantastic, but it's hard to imagine he can make such a huge jump successfully.
  5. P Carlos Guevara (62), Marlins (subsequently traded to Padres) - Guevara is one of the better picks of the Rule 5 draft, but the Padres pitching staff is already strong, so I wonder if he will make their roster. He was picked out of the Reds organization, and given how bad Cincinnati's bullpen is, I don't understand why they did not have him on their 40-man roster.
  6. P Sergio Valenzuela (34), Reds - Maybe there is a reason the Reds' pitching staff is so bad. They don't protect a pitcher like Carlos Guevara, but do have the room on their roster to add a guy like Sergio Valenzuela. There's no way this guy will make their staff. He's horrible. His ERA was an even 7.00 last year, and he split time between high-A and AA.
  7. 3B Matt Whitney (51), Nationals - Whitney showed great power last year, belting 32 homers and 30 doubles. Overall, his numbers are solid, but they were accumulated between high-A and AA. He's not major league material right now.
  8. P Wesley Wright (53), Astros - Wright, a southpaw, is intriguing. He's difficult to hit, as evidenced by a low batting average against and high number of strikeouts. However, he also walks quite a few hitters, and he's a little prone to giving up home runs as well. Looking at his numbers, it looks like he has really good stuff, but little control. I'm sure the Astros see him as a specialty lefty though, so he has a chance to stick even if he should not.
  9. P Fernando Hernandez (58), Athletics - Fernando fits the moneyball mold: low walks, low home runs allowed, and a high strikeout rate. He could be a decent option as a mop-up man right now, with the potential to be more in the future. I'm not sure he is good enough for the A's to keep him, but he should get a chance to make the team.
  10. OF Brian Barton (59), Cardinals - I kind of like this pick. Barton has shown good plate discipline in the minors, and a little speed. I don't know how good his defense is, but if it is good he could be a nice defensive replacement/pinch runner off the bench, with the chance to develop into a solid fourth outfielder.
  11. P Randy Wells (62), Blue Jays - Wells had a 4.52 ERA in AAA last year, but he is better than that number suggests. He struck out a bunch of batters, and has a chance to stick on Toronto's staff as a mop-up man out of the bullpen.
  12. P R.A. Dickey (64), Mariners - Dickey is 33 years old, which is significantly older than most Rule 5 draft picks, but he still has plenty of intrigue. Dickey has been working on mastering a knuckleball that past couple years, and he seemed to really start to get command of it the second half of last year. He'll get a look as a number five starter, and considering his competition is Ho-Ram right now, he's liable to get it. He'd also be a nice long reliever.
  13. P Steven Register (53), Mets - Register saved an impressive 37 games in AA last year, but that statistic is misleading. He was good, but not great, and I do not think he is good enough to earn a spot on the Mets.
  14. P Michael Gardner (57), Padres - Gardner had a nice year in AA, most notably allowing only 1 home run in 81 1/3 innings. I would keep Guevara over Gardner though, and I'm not sure there is room for either, much less both, on the Padres staff.
  15. P Travis Blackley (64), Phillies - Pat Gillick continues to collect every prospect he loved when he was with the Mariners. Honestly, Blackley is one of the best players picked in this year's Rule 5 draft, and between the Phillies' relatively weak pitching staff and Gillick's adoration of him, he has a good chance to stay with the team.
  16. OF Garret Guzman (57), Nationals - Guzman was drafted out of the Twins organization, and given their offensive struggles, it would not be the first place I would look for offensive talent in the Rule 5 draft. Guzman is not bad, but he's not real good either.
  17. 2B Callix Crabbe (69), Padres - The Padres really did their homework for this year's Rule 5 draft, as evidenced by three selections, and their ability to pick up a hidden gem like Crabbe. At first glance, his numbers aren't impressive, but he doesn't really have a weakness either. He has always shown good plate discipline, but added more power this past season. Moreover, second base is a glaring hole for the Padres right now, and they do not want to sign a free agent that will block Matt Antonelli's path. Crabbe is no savior, but the only pick that may have been better than this one in the whole draft is Randor Bierd.
  18. P Lincoln Holdzkom (52), Phillies - Holdzkom split time between AA and AAA, and appears to have pretty good stuff, but a lack of control. He's not major league material at this point.
There are a number of players from this Rule 5 draft that have the potential to be productive major league players. Most of them aren't quite ready for the majors, but Bierd, Dickey, Blackley, and Crabbe all appear to be, at least in some capacity. Whether this year's bunch has a guy as good as Johan Santana, Dan Uggla, or Shane Victorino, time will tell.

Dodgers Inexplicably Sign Jones

Andruw JonesI was sure that Andruw Jones was going to sign a one-year deal somewhere and test the free agent market again. Simply put, I did not think any team would give him an offer close to what he was demanding for more than a year, given the disappointing year he just had, and his once stellar defense that continues to decline at an alarming rate. The Dodgers proved me wrong, giving him a two-year deal worth a total of $36.2 million. The deal reportedly includes a $12.2 million signing bonus, with base salaries of $9 million in 2008 and $15 million in 2009. It also includes a no-trade clause.

Andruw Jones, according to my hitter rating formula, was a 72 last year. That makes him worth approximately $5.2 million on the open market. However, his agent, none other than the notorious Scott Boras, argued that the whole body of Jones's work had to be considered. Boras conceded that Jones had a down year, but even in his worst year he had 26 home runs, 94 RBIs, and another gold-glove year. Taking Andruw's career numbers and plugging them into my hitter rating formula, he registers an 80, which is worth about $9 million on the open market. Even if a team believed his defense is second to none (which is far from true at this point; he is living on reputation), he would have to cover multiple outfield spots at the same time to earn the money the Dodgers gave him. There is no justification whatsoever for the money Andruw Jones received.

What's even more ridiculous is that Jones doesn't even improve the Dodgers. He is actually a downgrade! Without Jones, the Dodgers were looking at starting Andre Ethier (79), Juan Pierre (79), and Matt Kemp (80). With Jones, Kemp and Ethier will likely platoon in right field, which is a shame because both are good enough to start for them right now, and they both have promising upside. It's unbelievable that the Dodgers willingly paid $36.5 million for a downgrade.

The only way signing Andruw Jones make a shred of sense is if Los Angeles uses Matt Kemp to acquire a great starting pitcher. They likely have the pieces to get a big deal done, but Matt Kemp was reportedly already a part of all their packages, so I wonder if L.A. will actually sweeten their offers with Jones in the fold. I really don't get the Dodgers at all. They have a ton of tremendous young talent, but they are reluctant to give any of it a chance to play in the majors, and they are also reluctant to trade any of it. They are rendering their greatest asset useless. Between the young talent they have and vast resources they have because of the market they are in, they have no excuse for continually being mediocre.

Cabrera and Willis?!

I was confident that Miguel Cabrera would be dealt at the winter meetings (to the Angels, if you happened to read my last post), and it would not have surprised me if the Marlins moved Dontrelle Willis either. However, both in the same deal...to the Tigers? Did the two sides seriously come to an deal in a matter of hours, after rumors had circled around both Cabrera and Willis for the better part of the past two years? This deal is stunning, both in its magnitude and rapid consummation. Trades just don't fall into place this quickly in baseball these days, especially ones as monstrous as this.

The Marlins were certainly interested in trading Cabrera and Willis, but they were being slow and methodical with trade talks, making sure to get the best offer they could for both. This was definitely the right approach, especially given how important it is for the Marlins to continue to reload with uber-prospects if they have any hope of competing with their limited funds. So, since they accepted this deal so quickly, they obviously were blown away by the package. Here is a brief look at all the players they acquired:
  • OF Cameron Maybin (46/84) - To say the least, Maybin is an impressive prospect. He clearly wasn't ready for the major leagues last year, but he was only 20 years old. Maybin is the kind of gifted athlete that scouts drool over, but make no mistake, his stats show that he is a darn good baseball player too. It's hard to not imagine Maybin becoming a star, though he's not going to be a star next year. Ideally he would be in AA or AAA to start the season, but I'm not sure the Marlins have the luxury to do that.
  • SP Andrew Miller (67) - Miller, like Maybin, is seen as a star in the making. A year in AAA would not hurt him, but he can hold his own in the majors now, and he will certainly be in the Marlins' 2008 rotation. I'm not quite as sold on Andrew Miller as most though. I see the potential, but he got hit a bit harder and gave up a few more walks than I expected to see out of him, even in the minors at some lower levels where he was playing guys the same age as him. He's going to be a good starter, but I'm hesitant to guarantee that he is going to be great.
  • RP Eulogio de la Cruz (58/78) - Eulogio lights up the radar gun to the tune of triple digits, which almost by default makes him an intriguing prospect. However, even with an overpowering fastball, he hasn't been real overpowering in the minor leagues. He has starting experience, but he looks to me like a serviceable reliever at best, with the added bonus that the crowd will check the radar gun after every pitch when he's in the game.
  • C Mike Rabelo (62) - Rabelo isn't even a prospect anymore at 27 years old. I know the Marlins were looking for a catcher, but Rabelo is a marginal backup at best.
  • SP Dallas Trahern (55/79) - Trahern's numbers are pedestrian, but he did post them at only 21 years old in AA. He could develop into a dependable starter a couple years down the road.
  • SP Burke Badenhop (46/84) - Like Rabelo, I don't see Badenhop as a piece that added much to this deal. Though he has shown good control and an uncanny ability to keep the ball in the ballpark, his low strikeout rate at a low level where he is a bit older than most his competition is quite worrisome.
Here is an even briefer look at who the Tigers acquired:
  • 3B Miguel Cabrera (88) - His defense and burgeoning waistline may be common areas of criticism, but his accomplishments at the plate at 24 years old compare favorably to A-Rod's. As good as Cabrera has been, he may still be four years away from entering his prime. Now he will continue to develop in a lineup loaded with offensive talent, and the things he could potentially do are flat-out scary.
  • SP Dontrelle Willis (70) - The D-Train clearly had a down year, but he is still young, and he was still a workhorse. I've though Willis is overrated for a couple years now, but with that said I think he will bounce back some this year, he is better than Andrew Miller right now, and the city of Detroit should have no problems falling in love with him.
I'm up well past my bedtime, but I am still trying to fathom this deal, and just how good the Tigers are now. Incredibly they have added Edgar Rentaria, Miguel Cabrera, and Dontrelle Willis while only losing Andrew Miller off of their 25-man roster. They were good to start with, but now they have to be considered a bona fide championship contender. As for the Marlins, they just gutted a roster already picked fairly clean. At the least they are really young, really cheap, and really talented. Though it is hard to argue with a deal that nets Cameron Maybin and Andrew Miller, I'm surprised the Marlins accepted the trade so quickly. Personally, I feel that Miguel Cabrera alone might have been worth Maybin and Miller, though I probably would have settled for Maybin and a couple other good-looking prospects.

Despite all the players involved, this trade really boils down to Cabrera, Willis, Maybin, and Miller. It is up to Cameron Maybin to develop into the next Miguel Cabrera, and Andrew Miller to be the next Dontrelle Willis for this trade to be fair. Miller has a good chance to fulfill his expectations, but I think Maybin is doomed, even though I think very highly of him. The problem is that Miguel Cabrera is just that special. At Maybin's age, Cabrera hit .268 in the majors with a .793 OPS (for comparison, Maybin batted .143 with a .473 OPS), and proceeded to explode into a premium offensive player over the next two seasons. Even with as high as Maybin and Miller's ceilings are, they are both going to have to reach their full potential rather quickly to make this a fair trade. Even with prospects as great as those two, the odds are against that happening. The Marlins must see things differently, but they are really playing with fire with this trade. I don't think they understand how special Miguel Cabrera is.

2007 Winter Meetings Predictions

Miguel CabreraThe Winter Meetings are almost here, and with them will come some notable trades and free agent signings. This year could be especially good because there are some very big names being dangled by ballclubs. Here is my best attempt to provide some bold, yet realistic, predictions:
  • The first big story is going to be Johan Santana, and if the rumors are true, a final decision on whether to trade him or not will come in the next 24 hours. It is being reported that the Yankees have submitted their final offer, and have told the Twins they must accept it by tomorrow or it will be rescinded. The Twins have been smart about these trade discussions, and have the Red Sox and Yankees in a bidding war that has reportedly brought Phil Hughes and Jacoby Ellsbury, both thought to be untouchable at first, into the discussion. However, it is clear at this point that both teams have submitted their best offers, and now it is up to the Twins to decide if either offer is worth pulling the trigger on. Of course, even if Minnesota agrees to one of the deals, Johan will likely only waive his no-trade clause if he gets a contract extension that makes him the highest paid pitcher in baseball history. I'm sure there are split opinions within the Twins organization on whether to pull the trigger or not, and between that and the difficulties of hammering out an astronomical contract in short amount of time, I think somehow or another Johan Santana will still be a Twin when the meetings are over.
  • Miguel Cabrera will not be a Marlin by the end of the meetings. Not much has come out about him in the past week, but I believe a deal for him is far from dead. It sounded like the Angels had come all the way up to the Marlins' full initial asking price for Cabrera, and all of sudden the Marlins decided to ask for a bunch more to make the deal happen. This ticked off the Angels, but the two sides will likely strike up conversation again at the winter meetings. Personally, I think the Marlins are willing to take the Angels offer, but really like what the Dodgers could potentially offer. My guess is that Florida is trying to create a bidding war between the two of them to extract as much as they can out of one of the teams for Miguel Cabrera. It's good, hard negotiating, which is what the team should use with such a valuable player as Cabrera. The only question is if they were so hard that they turned the Angels off for good. It seems like the Angels are hell-bent on winning though, sparing no expense and guarding no prospect, so I think it would nearly be impossible for the Marlins to disgust the Angels so badly that they would lose all interest in Miguel Cabrera . Unless the Dodgers decide in the next few days that Clayton Kershaw and Matt Kemp can go to the Marlins, I expect to see the Marlins trade Miguel Cabrera to the Angels for Howie Kendrick, Jeff Mathis, Joe Saunders, and Reggie Willits.
  • The Mariners will walk away from the winter meetings with a new starting pitcher. The rumor tonight is that they have given Hiroki Kuroda a 4-year, $44 million offer, and I believe he will accept that. In addition, Kuroda will be the biggest free agent signing that any team makes during the winter meetings (not a real bold prediction looking at the free agents available). Even if the M's don't land Kuroda, they will trade for someone. They are not leaving these winter meetings without a new starting pitcher.
  • No one will walk away with either Joe Blanton or Dan Haren. Anyone who has read Moneyball and remembers Billy Beane's trading rules knows that he will never do a deal because he needs to. The Mets are the logical fit, but they do not have the pieces to get a trade done now that they got rid of Milledge, because I doubt the A's care about Carlos Gomez's speed all the much. The only reason Beane is entertaining offers for either pitcher is because the free agent pitching market is so weak, and so many teams seem desperate for pitching. Beane understands the principle of supply and demand, and that he has the kind of high ground that allows him to leave the bargaining table unless he gets everything he wants. The bottom line is that a team will have to blow away the A's to acquire either Blanton or Haren, which no team is willing to do.
  • The Rangers will be rumored to be after Orioles starter Erik Bedard, but not come close to acquiring him. Admittedly, I am pulling this one completely out of thin air, but it makes too much sense and I am trying to make bold predictions. Texas desperately needs starting pitching, wants to make a splash this off-season, and has plenty of money to burn since Torii Hunter did not sign with them. There are already murmurs that Baltimore will listen to offers for Bedard, and even if Texas never actually inquires, at the very least some reporter will make this Bedard-Texas connection and spin it into an inside scoop.
There are five bold predictions for the winter meetings. Whether any of them are correct will be known by Wednesday.