Month: February 2019

Manny Machado agrees to 10-year deal with San Diego Padres

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Manny Machado’s surprisingly long free agency is over. He’s a San Diego Padre.

Finally.

Half of America’s long, national nightmare is over; Manny Machado has agreed to a 10-year, $300 million deal to join the San Diego Padres. The signing comes after months of speculation about where the prized infielder might go, and whether the tepid response to both him and his fellow free agent, Bryce Harper, foretold labor issues to come.

Some of that is a conversation for a different day. For today, the Padres landed an established All-Star to pair with their list of stellar prospects, in particular, Fernando Tatis Jr., the best shortstop prospect in baseball. One would expect Machado to play third and Tatis to occupy short in the bigs, forming a dynamic pair that in time could rival what the Indians have on the left side of their infield.

The key phrase there is “in time.” Right now, the Padres aren’t great. Last year not one single Padres position player and only one pitcher produced more than 2 fWAR. Machado will surely break that barrier next year. Tatis and some others might too.

That’s why I love this move for the Padres. It sets them up wonderfully for when the prospects start to blossom — and make no mistake, that could be soon, probably in 2020. Machado projects to be great for several more years, possibly even deep into the latter half of the pact should he stay in Southern California. Note that he can opt-out of the contract after the fifth year.

The Padres probably aren’t contenders next season, but chances are the Dodgers and Rockies start to feel the heat soon after.

So, what are the Pads getting?

Manny Machado is among the game’s elite infielders. He hits for power, gets on base and has shown flashes of above-average defense (predominately at third base). There’s a reason he signed for this kind of money. He’s young and awesome.

Here are his last few seasons (note that with wRC+, 100 is average):

Season wRC+ WAR
2016 131 6.3
2017 103 2.6
2018 141 6.2

Machado’s bat drives most of his value. He hits for a lot of power, ranking 22nd in all of baseball in isolated power for 2018 and second among shortstops, only a bit behind Francisco Lindor. His wRC+ was first among all shortstops and 9th in all of baseball. He’s a complete hitter, and his 2018 excellence is only a bit better than what we’ve seen in the past. Encouraging, given he’s only 26.

That’s a big part of the puzzle here. Not only is the Manny Machado of the here and now an upper-echelon player, but he’s arguably not even the best he’ll be yet. If we believe that a player’s prime normally rests somewhere in his age 27-31 seasons, Machado is only now turning into the stretch drive of his best years.

With Tatis on the way, Machado gets to slide back over to third base. He reportedly wanted to play shortstop again last season and did so to mixed results in Baltimore and Los Angeles. I’m not sure he was a good long-term bet there. He’s a better fit at third and signing with the Padres presumably removes the question altogether.

I guess we have to talk about the hustle comments, right?

“Obviously I’m not going to change, I’m not the type of player that’s going to be ‘Johnny Hustle,’ and run down the line and slide to first base and … you know, whatever can happen,” Machado said to The Athletic. “That’s just not my personality, that’s not my cup of tea, that’s not who I am.”

It became a big story. Typically I dismiss these kinds of headlines, but considering the commitment in years and cash going Machado’s way, I understand it. Machado isn’t the only player who hasn’t run out each groundball, however. You know who else didn’t at one point this season? Bryce Harper.

Things happen. A groundball isn’t the issue — it’s whether the player gave a team reason to believe he wasn’t worth the huge financial commitment. Clearly that wasn’t the case here.

Credit to the Padres for investing in their team, too. After a disastrous signing last winter — hey, turns out Eric Hosmer isn’t great, who knew? — the team opened the checkbook again to land an actual star knowing the cavalry is on the way — Tatis and Luis Arias and Chris Paddack, etc.

It’s a great move and the right time to do it.

Blue Jays shouldn’t play games with Vlad Guerrero Jr’s debut

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Come on, Blue Jays. Let the kid rake in the bigs.

Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is one of the most exciting prospects in recent baseball history. His name alone breeds excitement — his father is a Hall of Famer and one of the brightest stars the sport had in the last few decades. But his son, who turns 20 in less than a month, is hardly riding coattails; he’s obliterated every level of competition he’s faced so far in his young career.

By any objective measure, Baby Vlad is ready for the bigs. ESPN.com’s Keith Law ($) said his ceiling might be “right-handed David Ortiz.” His personality and his prodigious blasts certainly remind folks of Big Papi.

Just look what he did a year ago in the Blue Jays’ final Spring Training game:

The sport needs him. Not only is Baby Vlad ready to play, but the fans are ready to separate themselves from their cash to see it happen. He’s a marketing dream. Young, charismatic and an extremely dynamic hitter. Homers sell, dudes.

Blue Jays fans are excited. Heck, baseball fans are excited. Baby Vlad’s arrival in the bigs has been unfortunately delayed by some service time machinations, but surely that’s all over now. I mean, he pulverized the minors last season, slugging over 600 percent and getting on-base at a Votto-ian clip. Surely he’s coming up on Opening Day!

You know, I bet the team is getting some cool merchandise ready right now for his —

I’m sorry, hold on. What’s that? Oh. I’m just now getting word that the Blue Jays are not doing that.

“There’s no firm timeline on when he arrives or when he is playing in Toronto for the first time, but we want to make sure he’s the best possible third baseman and the best possible hitter he can be,” Blue Jays GM Ross Atkins told Keegan Matheson of BaseballToronto.com.

What?

First off, Atkins is lying. He’s lying and he knows he’s lying. There isn’t a credible person alive who thinks Vladimir Guerrero Jr. has a single thing he needs to learn in the minor leagues. He’s burned it all to ash. There’s nothing left to study. It’s like telling Genghis Khan he should go back and study how to sack Baghdad again.

Anything less than Major League pitching stunts Guerrero Jr.’s growth and potentially reduces his ceiling. He can’t become the best hitter he can be without hitting Major League pitching.

Yes — the defense is a problem. He’s huge and shows no signs of shrinking. Big deal. If he hits like Frank Thomas it simply doesn’t matter. That’s absolutely no reason to do what the Jays are suggesting.

Atkins lied because telling the truth is untenable. The truth is, the Blue Jays are going to delay calling up Baby Vlad — who will undeniably help the team win games now and sell tickets now — because if they delay his debut far enough into the season, the club pushes his free agency back a year. This happens every year and it absolutely, positively sucks. It hurts the game.

From a contract perspective, sure it makes sense. The Jays get to keep their young budding superstar around for an extra year at far, far below market value. But it breeds discontentment with your fans and that budding superstar. Plus, you know, if your goal is to actually win, having your best players on the field for all 162 games seems like a good idea? But what do I or the countless other writers and players saying the same thing know?

Is service time manipulation worth it? The answer is no. It’s wrong and the teams know it.

Consider what Vernon Wells had to say:

Astros pitcher Collin McHugh chimed in, too:

The Blue Jays are not alone in doing this. The New York Yankees did it with Gleyber Torres last year; the Cincinnati Reds might do it with Nick Senzel this year. It’s a common practice and it should be done away with because it hurts the game.

Also, owners? You might want to start paying attention to the discontent brewing amongst your players. The absurdly frigid free agent market plus the poor treatment of minor leaguers on top of antics like with Baby Vlad are mixing up a cocktail that no one wants to drink.

Bad winds are blowing, folks. The word strike has been thrown around more than once. We could be in for a rough go of it once it comes time to discuss a new CBA in 2021.

As for the Jays, they might sense the temperature in the room and bring up Vlad Jr. to open the season. I hope they do. It’s the right thing for the team, the player, the fans and the sport overall. Make the right choice.

Yankees extend Luis Severino, signing him through 2023 season

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Luis Severino has 40 million more reasons to shout.

The New York Yankees announced today they avoided arbitration with pitcher Luis Severino, agreeing to a 4-year, $40 million contract extension. A club option for a fifth year could keep the young hurler in pinstripes through the 2023 season.

Severino has been one of the best pitchers in the American League the last two seasons, ranking third in Fangraphs’ version of Wins Above Replacement, fifth in innings pitched, fifth in xFIP and sixth in strikeout percentage. He’s also the hardest throwing starter in the entire sport, averaging 97.6 on his fastball. Bottom line: he’s young (he turns 25 in a few days), durable and dominant.

There’s a lot to like here. Severino gets the security of guaranteed money coming in and the Yankees get an ace in his peak seasons for decidedly less than ace money. Patrick Corbin, who’s close to as good as Severino, just signed a 6-year, $140 million deal before his age-29 season that carries him into his mid-thirties. Barring disaster, Severino just signed away that age-29 season.

Given how stingy teams have become, that could prove a costly decision for him once his free agency dawns. But, pitchers get hurt. They get hurt a lot. No matter what happens, Luis Severino has $40 million coming to him. He’s worth much more, but that kind of money changes lives.

The question for the Yankees might be just how good Severino can be. Last season was the tale of two halves:

Half xFIP K% BB% HR/FB
First 3.13 28.7% 6.4% 9.3%
Second 3.06 27.3% 5.3% 15.3%

Looks similar, right? The home run rate spiked in the second half, but the strikeouts and walks aren’t much different and the xFIP even dropped. Well, the ERAs were, um, not so similar: 2.31 vs 5.57.

What gives? Some of it could just be bad luck on balls in play; his BABIP (batting average on balls in play) jumped about one hundred points from .278 to .378. Typically that kind of jump is fluky — it’s baseball, stuff happens.

But can we find anything further under the hood? Severino was hit harder in the second half — less soft contact, more hard-hit contact. Further, if we examine his spin rate numbers for the year, it’s mostly consistent aside from some weirdness with his slider, again in the second half:

Severino Spin Rate

I’m not qualified to say whether that means a whole lot, but could it mean a mechanical problem or an injury?

There was an awful lot of smoke about tipping pitches, and frankly, the evidence is pretty compelling. Pitchers with stuff like Severino shouldn’t get beaten like a drum, but make no mistake, Game 3 of the ALDS was a butt kicking.

Severino’s friend and mentor Pedro Martinez said on the air he had been pitching through an injury. Severino denied it. I suppose only the Yankees and their ace know for sure, but he didn’t go on the injured list.

He was probably tipping his pitches, perhaps in response to an injury or something else. I don’t know for sure. Regardless, he’s one of the best pitchers in the sport and the Yankees just locked up what should be the best years of his career for far, far below market value. If Severino stays even close to how good he’s been so far, it’s a big win for the Bombers.