Friday, September 11, 2009

Debate: Worst Offseason

What good would a blog be without getting to criticize all the shitty decisions GMs make, but only after the fact? Ah, the position of the Monday Morning QB is always a fun one.

Thankfully MLBTraderumors exists to more easily sum things up for me. These were posted at the beginning of the season, but now serve the purpose of allowing me to go through and nitpick every ML organization. When looking at what everyone did this past offseason in order to boost their rosters, I was able to narrow the personal list of candidates for the worst to only two - the Cubs and the Indians.

The biggest problem I have with the Cleveland Indians is that their offseason completely lacked a sense of direction. Going into the season, they had a young team anchored around Grady Sizemore, Victor Martinez, and Cliff Lee that could be aided by youngsters like Matt LaPorta and Anthony Reyes possibly later for some development. In reality going into the offseason, the Indians should have to been building their roster to compete in 2010 because the loss of CC left such a big hole in the team.

Here are the reasons I would have looked to 2010 for a huge championship run:
1. By '10, Sizemore and Martinez are still in their primes. I take the gamble on them staying healthy and coordinate an offense based around them.
2. The Indians held options on Lee and Martinez for 2010, after which they are free agents. What better way to get production out of two of your best players than having them in their contract years down the stretch?
3. The team is formidable enough for 2009, that with the addition of a few cheap vets, the team can at least shoot for the .500 mark. This means that you don't scare away fans by maintaining a semi-competitive team that is set for the next year. Also, if you are close at the trade deadline, maybe you do make a run for it by bringing in a player or two while not mortgaging your '10 season.

And it looked like Mark Shapiro was thinking along these lines. He signed Tomo Ohka to eat up innings on the back of the rotation. He gave Carl Pavano and incentive-laiden deal to do the same; if he pans out well, he can come back for the 2010 run. He brought in Jamey Carroll as a cheap, veteran utility man. He didn't trade Cy Young winner, Lee.

Then he brought in Mark DeRosa. Not a terrible idea since he is like a better Carroll, and Shapiro ultimately paid two cents on the dollar for him. Also, he is a free agent after the season, which frees up room for 2010. Or if DeRosa performs well enough and enjoys the Mistake by the Lake, he stays for the 2010 run. But the move is still a little strange since it is a little unnecessary, in my opinion.

Rewind to two weeks previously, and Shapiro makes the mistake that causes the entire ship to fall apart. For some reason or another, he hands a two year contract worth $20.5M to Kerry Wood that also vests for a third year at $11M if he finishes only 55 games over two years.

This move makes no sense for a young team looking to develop for a year. This is more of a win-now move, which Shapiro had seemed to be avoiding. Instead, he should have been looking to promote Rafael Betancourt, Rafael Perez, or recently-acquired Joe Smith to the closer role to see if any of them work. If so, awesome, the '10 closer is ready to go. If not, no big deal, sign or deal for someone next offseason.

Of course, from there on, the Indians 2009 campaign melted down. Now, they are stuck with Kerry Wood for (most likely) another two years and get to watch him age like a mother fucker. They were also forced by the market to take the deals on the table and trade DeRosa, Martinez, Lee, Pavano, Ryan Garko, and Betancourt - all possibly big pieces of a 2010 run - and completely devastate the relations with their fanbase. All of this happened while keeping Kerry Wood, who should have been dumped to any team willing to take him.

Now, the Indians are loaded with young talent that isn't all major-league ready. They really stand no chance at a playoff run next year since Sizemore and the ever popular Shin Soo Choo will be the only two still left (I barely count Travis Hafner as a player anymore) for what should have been set up as a pretty formidable playoff team. Instead, the Indians now have to set their sights beyond 2010, most likely. By that time... will Sizemore still be in his prime? And what kind of toll will that Wood deal have taken on the payroll for two years?

Talk about a disaster.

But I think it is still nothing in comparison to the mess created by Jim Hendry on the north side of Chicago.

Just look at this offseason for the Cubs, and you can see where all the pieces were set up for an inevitable implosion.

Here are the keys mis-steps Hendry made last offseason:

1. Bringing in Kevin Gregg at closer. Okay, yes, he was able to put up good numbers with the Marlins and seemed less prone to blowing crucial saves. But that was for the Marlins in front of a gentle fanbase that barely tops 5,000. Plus, there was a red flag in his numbers last year, as his K/9 rate dropped while his BB/9 went up at the same time. Not good for a closer. Plus, I never trust any relief pitcher with gimmicky goggle-glasses.
2. Letting Henry Blanco walk. In watching the Cubs over the past few years, it has been interesting watch Hank White work with the staff in Chicago. He has always been a very good game-calling catcher. There is no surprise that Greg Maddux kept him as his personal catcher. Plus, he was a good mentor for Soto. Sure, claw-handed Koyie Hill is super badass, but one can never underestimate the language connection that Blanco and Soto were able to share.
3. Letting young talent walk away for (pretty much) nothing. Fuck it, let's just gut all of our cheap young players this offseason. See ya, Rich Hill, Felix Pie, Ronny Cedeno, and Casey McGehee. This makes total sense after gutting more during the 2008 season when they got rid of Sean Gallagher, Eric Patterson, and Matt Murton. Because you know, overpaying veteran players and not using young talent is the smart thing to do in today's baseball world.
4. Bringing in Aaron Miles. I don't know if the Cubs ever watched the Cardinals, but in this case, it felt like they didn't even know that St. Louis existed. Over the years, it was obvious that Miles cannot do shit unless he plays at least five days a week. He is just one of those players that needs constant playing in order to stay on top of his game. This is why he worked so well in the La Russ system, where everyone is going in and out and staying fresh. Miles is simply a waste of $5M and a bench spot for the Cubs.
5. Dumping innings eaters. Jason Marquis and Chad Gaudin were great end-of-the-rotation guys who could simply keep the bullpen fresh. The salary dump in Marquis did make sense, but the Cubs simply ended up cutting Luis Vizcaino and ate the $3+ they owed him. The point of a salary dump is not to be spending money. This season, Marquis lead the NL in wins for a long time en route to an All Star nod. Gaudin has been solid for the Padres and Yankees as a spot starter and long reliever. The Cubs, on the other hand, have used a variety of pitchers in this role, most recently and notably, El Amigo lover, Jeff Samardzija. Good thing that he was unprepared for the role and may now be uncorrectably damaged as a prospect.

These are all genius aspects of the Cubs' offseason, but the worst by far is the whole Milton Bradley situation.

Going into the offseason, Chicago needed a left-handed corner outfielder. The list of names that Hendry truly narrowed it down to, so it seemed, was Bobby Abreu, Raul Ibanez, and Milton Bradley. I'm also going to throw Adam Dunn into that mix because I'm still not sure why the Cubs didn't consider him. Here is what those four players have done this year and the contracts they ended up signing:

- Abreu (one year, $5M plus incentives): 21 HR/ 91 RBI/ .297 AVG/ .396 OBP/ .434 SLG%
- Ibanez (three years, $31 M backloaded with $6.5M this year, then $11.5M in 2011-12): 30 HR/ 83 RBI/ .278 AVG/ .346 OBP/ .567 SLG% with an All Star selection
- Dunn (two years, $20M with $8M this year and $12M next year): 36 HR/ 96 RBI/ .281 AVG/ .410 OBP/ .560 SLG%
- Bradley (three years, $30M backloaded with $5M this year, $9M in '10, and $12M in '11): 12 HR/ 39 RBI/ .266 AVG/ .388 OBP/ .414 SLG%

When you look at the numbers and then consider all of the clubhouse problems Bradley has caused, his signing becomes the biggest mistake of the offseason by any team, in my book.

Sure, Abreu and Ibanez were old, but this year's Cubs team was built to win now. THIS year was supposed to be theirs. So signing an old fart like either Abreu or Ibanez should have been a non-factor. When you consider Bradley's extensive injury history, I think the age factor becomes even less of a con. The choice of either Abreu or Ibanez would have probably been cheaper and offered better production.

However, I still have no idea why Jim Hendry did not bring in Adam Dunn. He is only one year older than Bradley and would have provided the power bat in the middle of the lineup the Cubs so sorely lacked this year. Plus, think of the marketing possibilities with the Big Donkey and his eventual chase for 500 HR if they had locked him up long-term. The counter argument would be defense, but would you really consider Bradley's flounderings in the outfield to be better than what Dunn could have done? I think not.

I honestly think that Bradley took a surefire division winner and turned them into a $135M disaster. This is why I believe the Cubs wound up having the worse offseason.

What are your thoughts? Do you think any other teams did worse than the Indians and Cubs?

1 comment:

  1. I think this might be one of my favorite posts on our blog.