More Werth Woes; Ankiel’s Back, Sort Of

by Jason Epstein

I think it’s safe to say that Jayson Werth has had an offseason to forget.

In early December, the Nationals outfielder was convicted of pulling a Sandy Berger, not by stuffing classified documents into his dress socks but for reckless driving — that is, getting clocked by a Virginia state trooper doing more than 105 mph on the Beltway. The presiding judge proceeded to sentence Worth to ten days in jail. (His appeal of the conviction is slated to be heard on February 3.)

Of greater significance for Nats fans, the Washington Post reports that Werth will “undergo surgery on the acromioclavicular joint in his right shoulder [tomorrow] and will require two to three months of rehabilitation, which could put the veteran’s availability for opening day in jeopardy.”

The shoulder first became an issue for Werth in early August after he banged into the right field fence while making a catch

In other Nats news, Mike Oz of Big League Stew informs readers that the club has hired Rick Ankiel to serve as its “life skills coordinator” for its minor-league affiliates, presumably to counsel players on how to keep their heads on straight while attempting to make the climb to the big leagues. Oz cites a Nats senior official’s Tweet saying that Ankiel’s unusual professional baseball career arc played a role in the decision to hire him for the position, and then adds:

Ankiel arrived in the big leagues in 1999, throwing gas for the St. Louis Cardinals while he was just 19. He threw 33 innings that season, striking out 39 batters and proving himself an exciting prospect.

The next season, he was a Rookie of the Year runner-up, but he famously cracked in the postseason and couldn’t throw strikes. He was even worse the next season, getting sent all the way down to rookie ball because of his control problems. In three Triple-A appearances in 2001, he walked 17 batters in 4.1 innings. Ouch.

Ankiel needed Tommy John surgery in 2003, returned to the big leagues briefly in 2004, but things got interesting in 2006, when he decided to reinvent himself as an outfielder. He had a great arm and could hit, so it made sense. He was never an All-Star, but lasted seven seasons as an outfielder for the Cardinals, Kansas City Royals and Atlanta Braves among others, before retiring in 2013.

According to the Post’s James Wagner, Ankiel, who spent his 2011 and 2012 seasons on South Capitol Street, will “roam the system beginning in spring training.”

Cooperstown Vote: The Right and Wrong

by Jason Epstein

Learning yesterday afternoon that Randy Johnson (97.3 percent), Pedro Martinez (91.1), John Smoltz (82.9), and Craig Biggio (82.7) crossed the 75 percent threshold needed to get voted into the Hall of Fame constitutes very good news for the National Pastime, as these four players were most deserving of entry.

That’s not to say that Smoltz was obviously more deserving than either Mike Mussina and Curt Schilling, as Ben Lindbergh of Grantland pointed out the other day.

Oh, and what on earth were the 49 eligible Baseball Writers Association of America voters who didn’t check the box next to Pedro’s name thinking?

The less cheerful news is that the game’s greatest hitting catcher of all time, Dodger and Met great Mike Piazza, fell short by a tick over five percent.

Similarly:

  • While the game’s most successful base stealer among players with at least 600 attempts, Tim Raines, received considerably more votes than last year, he’s still 20 percent away from Nirvana with two years of eligibility remaining;
  • The first baseman with the 21st-best OPS of all time, Jeff Bagwell, is less than one percentage point ahead of Raines;
  • Two lights-out pitchers, Mussina and Schilling, who respectively sport bWAR over 16 and 14 wins higher than Smoltz (82.7 and 80.7 vs. 66.5), received only 24.6 and 39.2 percent;
  • Arguably the greatest designated hitter ever, Edgar Martinez, who’s mired at 27 percent;
  • A shortstop, Alan Trammell, whose play during an offense-neutral era is still comparable to Cal Ripken, Derek Jeter, and Barry Larkin, is fading with barely a quarter of the votes necessary.
  • Three perfectly cromulent candidates, Jeff Kent, Fred McGriff, and Larry Walker, received 14, 12.9, and 11.8 percent respectively.
  • Two of the best to have played the game, regardless of any PED use, Barry Bonds (36.8) Roger Clemens (37.5), saw little change from last year’s balloting.

As a diehard fan of the Amazins, the snub of Piazza irritates me most of all. Okay, the Hall’s pathetic insistence on a ten-name limit has resulted in an abundance of worthy names for too few spots has hurt some of the borderline candidates, but why isn’t a catcher who posted a .308/.377/.545 slash line over a 16-year career feeling the love?

As the kool kidz on Twitter like to say: #smh.​

Will Leitch of Sports on Earth cuts right to the chase:

Mike Piazza and Jeff Bagwell are left out simply because . . . well, because they used to stand next to people who confessed to using PEDs, or happen to be people who were unliked.

In essence, one curmudgeonly sportswriter-turned-blogger’s obsession over “backne” and an otherwise forgettable book’s quote from a player who never shared a clubhouse with Piazza have taken their toll. 

Newsday’s David Lennon explains why it’s silly to punish Piazza: 

We’re not saying he wasn’t because we don’t know for sure. After covering the sport for almost 20 years, I can’t tell you with 100 percent certainty who did PEDs unless they actually failed a drug test or copped to it. Even then, would we be able to determine when they began using and for how long?

Short of a player mapping out the timeline for us, and showing us a syringe, the answer is no. But we’re not trying to be Piazza’s defense lawyer — nor should he need one. It’s not like he was ever suspended or disciplined for PEDs, and his name didn’t appear in the Mitchell Report.

Piazza, however, is being punished anyway by a few dozen BBWAA members who don’t think he’s a Hall of Famer — or at least not yet, like he still has a toll to pay for access to Cooperstown. I respect those differing opinions, and again, we’re not proclaiming innocence or guilt here.

But if you’re keeping Piazza out because of the specter of steroids, what’s going to change in the next year or two?

But if you’re still suspicious how a 62nd-round draft choice of the Dodgers, whose selection was supposedly effectuated as a favor to his godfather, Tommy Lasorda, Amazin’ Avenue’s Dan Lewis provides a perfectly lucid explanation:

First, look at [a veteran member of the Major League Scouting Bureau's] physical description [from the spring of 1986]. “Large arms and forearms. Big hands. Broad shoulders. Solid long legs. Very young. Still possible growth left.” He’s 6′3″ tall — and only seventeen years old. He’s going to be big.

Then, pay attention to the abilities — “above [average] power potential.” If you look at the numerical ratings, he’s given a 4-6 in the power department—below average now (he’s 17!) but with potential to be above average in the future. The summary specifically states that Piazza has “potential above average long ball pop” and is “worth [a] selection on bat and power.”

So why wasn’t he selected? Because he was a right-handed hitting first baseman who couldn’t do anything else. . . . 

The idea that Mike Piazza’s power came from nowhere is a farce, one based on spurious claims and amateur dermatology amounting to exactly nothing in the way of actual evidence. If you want to know what changed, it wasn’t his ability to hit homers. Learning to cut down on the strikeouts and take a few more walks certainly helped, but above all else it was his transformation from an inadequate first baseman, where offense is a requirement, to an adequate catcher, where offense is at a premium.

I hope to see you in upstate New York in the summer of 2016, Big Mike.

More here, here, and here.

Reveille 1/5/14

by Jason Epstein

Good morning afternoon.

Here are several links from the past week that will make your first Monday of 2015 at the office a bit more bearable:

  • Three years ago, Joe Guzzardi of Baseball: Past and Present profiled a “promising young outfielder toiling in the low minor leagues” in 1952 whose dreams of becoming a big-league star were dashed after just one professional season, thanks to a concussion. The man in question would later become a political star, serving three teams as the chief executive of the Empire State. Rest in peace, Governor Cuomo.
  • Ben Buchanan of Over the Monster points out that piercing the $189 million luxury cap for 2015 won’t severely hamstring the Red Sox going forward, as the impending free agency of six players after the season is scheduled to free up $55 million.
  • While an intern for MLB International, Ben Weigel of Beyond the Boxscore was assigned to assist the MLB Ambassador’s Tour of Australia, featuring Sydney native Grant Balfour, and explains what transpired over the nine days of activities and the impact the tour may have on the sport Down Under.
  • One saber-friendly writer who is bullish on the Royals for the coming season is Christina Kahrl at ESPN’s SweetSpot:. For example, she approves of Kansas City general manager Dayton Moore’s signing of players with power potential:

Moore’s solutions might put the Royals in better shape than if he’d simply tried to maintain the status quo. Credit him for being like a latter-day Whitey Herzog and using last year’s wins to help purchase multiple big improvements. Rather than get carried away with Lorenzo Cain’s postseason heroics or Jarrod Dyson’s speed, he didn’t leave full-time slots open for both guys in the lineup, with Nori Aoki leaving. Instead, he addressed the Royals’ power outage by signing Alex Rios (.166 career ISO) to man right field and Kendrys Morales (.189 career) to DH. Adding power in traditional power slots might be the oldest formula in the transactions playbook, but who said there’s anything wrong with the classics? Add in Rios’ value on defense, and the Royals didn’t sacrifice much more than Glass cash to help keep a good thing going. 

That’s it. Have a walk-off week!

Don’t Blame Me, I Wanted to Sign Kodos

by Jason Epstein

Via CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman: The Pirates have won the bidding rights for standout infielder Jung-Ho Kang:

The winning bid was reported to be $5,002,015.

The Pirates and Kang will now try to negotiate a deal. Reports have suggested he may be amenable to a three- or four-year deal for around $5 million per year.

Pittsburgh wasn’t seen as a likely contender for Kang since its infield looks pretty solid, especially after picking up Sean Rodriguez to back up shortstop Jordy Mercer and has Neil Walker for second base and Josh Harrison for third base. But Kang has big-time power, and he hit 40 home runs in 117 games for the Nexen Heroes last year, and he is seen as versatile.

So what are the odds that this T-shirt be all the rage at PNC Park next season? 

More here.

Reveille 12/22/14

by Jason Epstein

Good morning.

First, a brief comment:

In many respects, the late George Steinbrenner was a less than honorable human being, as Fay Vincent, Dave Winfield, and numerous team employees will attest to anyone listening. However, one of King George’s pet causes was a most worthy one and, thankfully, survived his passing in 2010: the Yankee Silver Shield Foundation:

For 32 years, Steinbrenner’s Yankee Silver Shield Foundation has provided for the education of the children of New York City police officers, firemen and Port Authority employees who died in the line of duty, and will do so for the family of NYPD officer Rafael Ramos, gunned down by a cold-blooded killer Saturday along with his partner, Wenjian Liu.

The foundation will pay for the education of Ramos’ son, 13-year-old Jaden, and another son who is in college.

Liu, who was recently married, had no children.

Steinbrenner started his foundation in 1982 after seeing a news account of four children flanking their mother and folding an American flag at the funeral of their father, an NYPD officer who had been killed in the line of duty.

It should be noted that Officer Ramos was a diehard Mets fan, but I’m pretty sure he would have appreciated this heartwarming gesture. (Here’s hoping the Wilpon family, who have a controlling interest in the Mets, step up in some way as well.)

Rest in peace.

With that having been noted, here are several links from the past week that will make your Monday at the office a bit more bearable: 

For the third straight offseason — and I didn’t really check the offseasons before that, either — the Orioles made it through the Winter Meetings without a major move. So far, it’s Wesley Wright and only Wesley Wright, and that just happened. Nick Markakis is gone. Delmon Young is gone. Cruz is with the Mariners. As of now, the top first baseman on their depth chart is Christian Walker, who had a .335 on-base percentage in Triple-A last year. The Orioles thought they were going to bring Markakis back on a four-year deal. Instead, they’re looking at Steve Pearce, everyday right fielder, and Alejandro De Aza, leadoff hitter.

Their needs are obvious: At least one more corner player. Could be a left fielder, right fielder, or a first baseman. If the Orioles want to keep Chris Davis in the field, their options are wide open for a DH. If they start the season with this permutation, it will be stunning. There just aren’t as many options as there once were, of course. Michael Morse is gone, Melky Cabrera was never a serious consideration, Billy Butler signed early, the White Sox scooped up Adam LaRoche . . . it’s starting to look like it’s trade or bust for the Orioles.

Bringing Delmon back and waiting for March wouldn’t be much of an offseason plan. That isn’t what the Orioles are going to do, right?

Right?

  • Alex Hall of Athletics Nation approves of Oakland general manager Billy Beane’s latest deals, involving starter Jeff Samardzija to the White Sox and catcher Derek Norris to the Padres.
  • Speaking of the Samardzija trade, Beyond the Boxscore’s Scott Lindholm congratulates White Sox GM Rick Hahn for bringing the South Side back to life.
  • Via Matt Lombardo of NJ.com: In a recent radio interview, Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr. revealed that perhaps it would be best for the organization if struggling 35-year-old first baseman Ryan Howard and what remains of the albatross of his contract left town, presumably in a trade. (To be sure, I know a number of Philly fans who pray every night that Amaro will move on as well.) Here’s the crux of the admission:

“We’ve talked to Ryan,” Amaro said in an interview with 97.5 The Fanatic’s Mike Missanelli on Friday afternoon. “And I told him that in our situation it would probably bode better for the organization not with him but without him. With that said if he’s with us, then we’ll work around him. We’ll hope he puts up the kind of numbers that we hope he can and we’ll see where it goes from there.”

While may have speculated that the organization would be best off to move on from Howard this winter, this is the first public admission from anyone in the front office — and the general manager nonetheless — that the team has designs on making a trade. . . . 

Moving Howard could prove to be a tall order given the remaining $60 million remaining on his contract. If Amaro is in fact serious about a trade, the Phillies would be wise to find a suitor sooner, rather than later, regardless of the potential return. Howard is closing in on full 10 and 5 rights that would kick in this May which would give him veto power on any deal.

Even before Howard reaches that status, he already has the authority by virtue of his limited no-trade clause, to veto a deal to 20 teams.

  • Why must shortstop prospect Trea Turner wait until mid June to play for the Nationals, asks Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports? Turner, the first-round draft choice of San Diego in 2013, was part of the three-way trade between the Nats, Padres, and Rays centered around 2013 Rookie of the Year outfielder Wil Myers. According to Rosenthal, “Major League Baseball rule 3(B)(6) states that a drafted player cannot be assigned to another club for one year after signing his original contract,” meaning that the 21-year-old will be wearing Padres colors for much of 2014 before switching uniforms.

That’s it. Have a walk-off Christmas and New Year’s Eve! The next Reveille will come your way on Monday the 5th.