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Entries in andrew friedman (2)

Monday
Jun032013

Peter Gammons: Tired Baseball

Last Thursday night, May 30, the Royals and Cardinals sat around in the St. Louis rain past 3 am (Friday, May 31), forcing the visitors to have to arrive in Arlington, Texas past dawn and have to begin a three game series against one of the best teams in the American League.

It was so ridiculous that the umpires, led by crew chief Joe West—who abided by the rules and made everyone wait for more than four hours because it was Kansas City’s only trip down I-70—arrived at their Chicago hotel at 9:40am that morning and were at Wrigley Field around noon for their Friday afternoon game.

Tired baseball

The weather in the first two months of the 2013 season has seemingly been an aberration, from rain and snow and, worst of all, tornados that have ravaged most of the nation. Add on the fact that in the first two months there were 18 games that went at least into the 12th inning. On May 31, the Blue Jays and Padres played 17 innings in four hours and 58 minutes, finishing approximately 20 minutes after the rain-delayed Rays-Indians game in Cleveland.

“Everyone is playing under these conditions, between the one-time-visits schedule and the weather,” said one Boston coach. “I’m not making excuses for any one team. But the fact is we’re seeing some tired baseball.”

LINK: More from Peter Gammons: MLB Sources Say...

“The way it is now, you really need 35 to 37 players before the season’s over,” says Buck Showalter. Of course, Showalter, Dan Duquette and the Orioles masterfully juggle their roster between Baltimore and Norfolk. In many ways, it is born of necessity, because they do not have the big starting pitching horses, especially with Wei-Yin Chen on the disabled list. The ten starting pitchers the Orioles trotted out through June 1 made a combined total of approximately $13M; there are 27 individual starting pitchers around baseball who make $13M or more.

But the Orioles are not alone in their need for 12 and sometimes 13 active pitchers. “We see that more and more,” says Showalter. Problem is, teams that require 12 and 13 pitchers find their benches strapped. Play extra innings, get to bed at 6 am, get up and play the next day…

In reality, baseball’s meet and right banning of amphetimines has made the travel schedule more difficult. While players from the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s decry the Steroid Era and its records, it was a different game in the era of greenies, red juice, etc. Now it isn’t worth the threat of suspension and the loss of pay to use amphetimines, no matter how tired the player might be, or how short the bench may be. Bud Selig has been adamant in trying to clean up the game as much as possible. He has suspended players for the use of amphetimines, and consequently, teams now have to adjust their rosters and some managers have suggested that rosters be expanded to 27 or 28 players.

“Depth is more important today than it ever was,” says Billy Beane, who has tried to fill his roster with 25 players who can play multiple positions and assume a myriad of roles. “The schedule is a huge factor. So are injuries, which may be related to the schedule. It isn’t who necessarily has the best core of star players, it’s who has the best depth and, most important, has the healthiest players.”

Versatility is key

The Tampa Bay Rays' versatile Ben Zobrist.Andrew Friedman and Joe Maddon in Tampa Bay figured this out years ago. The Rays have had a roster dotted with versatile players like Ben Zobrist. They have found ways to keep their pitching healthy (that is, until David Price went on the disabled list in May). The Cardinals also seem to always have depth and flexibility. The Indians added Mike Aviles and Ryan Raburn—versatile and virtual regulars—to combat the schedule. “You’re going to see teams play their prospects at different positions in the minors,” says one general manager.

The Rangers brought up Jurickson Profarand installed him at second when Ian Kinsler got hurt. But when Kinsler returns in mid-June, Profar will likely remain in the majors, playing five days a week between short, second and DH; that can allow Elvis Andrus and Kinsler days off and days as designated hitter in the Texas heat. Thus what we’re now seeing is teams bringing talented young players and breaking them in the way the great Earl Weaver Orioles of the seventies broke in young pitchers, using ultimate starting pitchers like Dennis Martinez, Mike Flanagan, Scott McGregor and Sammy Stewart first as relievers. 

Young talent - young energy

The Red Sox may have been frustrated with what some perceived as Jose Iglesias’s bigleague-itis in Pawtucket, where he was benched, hit .202 and got on base at a .262 clip. But when Will Middlebrooks was disabled with a back injury, Iglesias came up and played third base. Not only did he bat .434 in his first 16 games with a .456 on base percentage and 1.241 OPS, but he fielded magnificently. Now the play is to keep Iglesias when Middlebrooks returns, but play him at short and third. The Red Sox are also planning to work Xander Bogaerts at different positions in Portland, thinking he may add more versatility the last two months of the season. Once Mike Olt proves his early season vision problems are resolved, he may be moved up to the Rangers to add a power bat at third, first and the outfield.

“What these kids bring is necessary depth to teams having to carry 12 or 13 pitchers,” says one general manager. “But when you get young players like Profar or Iglesias, they bring an energy with them. At their age, they aren’t prone to getting tired because of the schedule and the delays.”

Every day, Iglesias goes onto the field to warm up and says, “today we have fun.” They got over the perception that he’s a better player in the big leagues, and what that might mean.

“Jose can help us in a lot of ways,” says John Farrell. “And he can still lean as he goes along.” Profar, ibid. It may eventually come down to the same for Anthony Rendon in Washington or Jonathan Schoop in Baltimore, and teams throughout both leagues.

Friday
May172013

Peter Gammons: Tampa Bay Rays Draft Analysis

This analysis is a provided by Peter Gammons. For more analysis from Peter Gammons you can follow him on Twitter (@pgammo).

It was sometime after Thanksgiving, 2005 that Rays owner Stu Sternberg made official what everyone expected, that Andrew Friedman was taking over the baseball operations of a franchise that had never won as many as 71 games. Friedman was a former Tulane outfielder and had the esteemed Gerry Hunsicker as an advisor, but throughout the game there was the perception that the team once known as the Devil Rays was being turned into a satellite division of MidMark Capital, Friedman’s former employer.

Within three seasons, Friedman sideswiped tradition and hired Joe Maddon as manager and in 2008 the Rays made it to the World Series. In a division with the Yankees and Red Sox and their payrolls, that 2008 pennant began a five year run in which Tampa Bay won 90 games four times, made the post-season thrice and did it with by far the smallest annual payroll in the American League East. No team in the game won more games spending fewer dollars over those five years than the Rays.

What they’ve accomplished has been built around pitching, and Maddon’s astute usage of starting pitching, an organizational throwing and conditioning program that averaged nearly 150 starts a year out of their top five starters, and Maddon’s creativity in patching together bullpens.

In lieu of going out and trading for or signing power hitters, and faced with the reality that they could not afford to keep players like Carl Crawford and B,J. Upton from entering the free agent market, Friedman and Maddon put a premium on flexibility. For example, in 2009, Ben Zobrist, a switch-hitter, hit 27 homers, had a .405 on base percentage and was fourth in the league with a .948 OPS while playing 91 games at second, 59 in right field, 13 at short, 9 in left, 7 in center, three at first base and one at third. “Who could possibly be more valuable than Zobrist?” asked Maddon.

From Sam Fuld to Matt Joyce to Jeff Keppinger, they have patched together lineups from day to day, city to  city, building around the pitching. Maddon maintains that James Shields was a big part of the run from 70 wins to the world series because of the leadership he offered David Price, Wade Davis and, eventually in ensuing years, Jeremy Hellickson, Matt Moore, Alex Cobb.

In 2013 opposing batters are hitting .341 when facing David Price from the right side of the plate at Tropicana Field (30 for 88 at the Trop). There is no questioning Tampa’s ability to find pitching. Granted, Price was a no-brainer in 2007; he was everyone’s number one, a reward for the Rays having the worst record in baseball in 2006. But Hellickson was a fourth rounder in 2005, when Friedman was overseeing baseball operations. Cobb was a fourth rounder in 2006. Moore was an eighth rounder in 2007.

Their professional scouts work to exhaustion, and got them Chris Archer in the Matt Garza deal, Alex Torres in the Scott Kazmir trade, Brandon Gomes in a deal with San Diego for Jason Bartlett and Jake Odirizzi with outfielder Wil Myers in the Kansas City deal for Shields and Davis. Their international scouts found Alex Colome in Latin America.

And in mid-May this season, one scout says the Rays’ AAA rotation in Durham of Archer, Odirizzi, Colome and Torres “may be the best triple-A rotation I’ve seen in five years.”

But there is a flaw in the Tampa system—finding and drafting position players. Sure, they drafted Evan Longoria in 2006, but he was the third pick in the nation, and fell in their laps because the Royals and Rockies picked Luke Hochevar and Greg Reynolds in front of them. They also got Desmond Jennings in the 10th round in 2006. But when one looks at Tampa’s current 40 man roster, and the only positional player they drafted other than Longoria and Jennings is shortstop Tim Beckham, who represents one of the worst draft blunders of the last decade.

The Rays had the first selection in 2008 and took Beckham, a high school shortstop for Georgia. In so doing, they passed on Buster Posey, who not only filled their longtime catching need, but was playing right up the road at Florida State. Some in the organization are said to have been concerned about Posey’s asking price, although they paid Beckham $6.15M. Others wondered whether or not Posey, who was drafted a pitcher out of high school and played shortstop one season at Florida State, would hold up catching and hitting with a build very similar to Brad Ausmus.

Posey went on to win two World Series rings and an MVP trophy four years after that draft, and the Rays continue to look for a catcher. To make it worse, in their final year picking at the top of the draft, not one player picked from the second round on down has spent a day in the big leagues. No position player from the 2009 or 2010 drafts has spent a day in the big leagues, and the side-affect of their major league success is that even if they are one of the lowest-revenue teams, they could go several years after the Beckham choice without a pick in the top ten of the first round.

With the Rays facing a decision on Price’s future in Tampa at the end of the season, presuming the arm problem he felt on May 15 is not serious, the strain on the development of young players will become evern more acute. Even if Myers hits it big, they need catching, middle infield and outfield help, presuming Moore takes Price’s role as the ace of the staff.

What Friedman, Maddon and the Rays have done is to maintain one of the best management jobs of the last decade. They did it without developing a position player since Jennings, but beginning with this June’s draft, they will have to begin to draft and develop position players if their run with the game’s elite is going to continue.