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Yankees take huge risk signing Masahiro Tanaka

I consider it an exceptional idea that a completely unknown commodity who’s never thrown a pitch in MLB could command a 7-year, $155 million contract. But it. It happened.

At the same rate, it really shows just how much extra capital is circulating through baseball, whether through revenue sharing or local/national television rights; it’s amazing. When two Januaries ago Yu Darvish signed with the Rangers for 5 years (plus a player option in 2017 that kicks in if he breaks certain Cy Young Award thresholds), some people felt that was a lot of money (adding in the $51 million Rangers ownership dropped for the right to even negotiate with the Japanese star).

547408_425320790824386_778325_nThe Rangers signed Darvish for six years and $56 million, or five years and $45 million if he opts out of his contract in 2017. Steal. He will be paid $10 million exactly in all of 2014, ’15 and ’16. For perspective, the Brewers recently signed ex-Ranger-who-no-one-really-wanted-back-anyway starting pitcher Matt Garza for four years and $52 million. Right now would you rather have Darvish for three and $30 million (or four and $41 million) or Garza for four and $52 million? Nah, that’s too easy.

Texas is paying a legitimate top of the rotation starter as much money as the Astros signed Scott Feldman for last month. I need to write that again so I can wrap my brain around it: Darvish is going to make the same amount of money as Scott fucking Feldman through 2016, which is especially true since they both pitch in the same state, a state with no tax. Holy shit.

But back to the original point: There’s a lot of money in baseball right now, and the noteworthy financial investment the Yankees are putting into Masahiro Tanaka’s right arm is only the newest illustration in a continuous line of illustrations of this phenomenon. Adding on the $20 million posting fee, that’s $175 million over seven seasons. $25 million AAV.

dhdfhdfThe Yankees have an aging, declining rotation as is, so Tanaka will certainly help them. But while Yu Darvish was a bonafide ace essentially since he entered the league in 2012 (Keith Law predicted before his 2012 rookie season that Yu was going to win the Cy Young, so his success wasn’t unexpected), Masahiro Tanaka has, by most of the scouts I give credibility to, been given a #2 label.

That’s not a bad thing at all, but in relation to other contracts that have been given this offseason, the signing feels more irresponsible than shrewd, and a little desperate, too. But for the evil empire, they should be desperate. Because they aren’t that spectacular, Tanaka or no Tanaka.

Based on Wins Above Replacement, it’s fair to say the Yankees overachieved in 2013 by winning 85 games. By FanGraphs WAR (fWAR), their offense produced +10.4 wins and pitching staff +18.5 wins;

If we add that 29 wins (10.4 + 18.5) to the theoretical 47-win “replacement-level” team, that would suggest the Yankees should have won 76 games last year, which is excessively closer to 75 wins than the 85 they finished the season with. With the additions of Jacoby Ellsbury (7 years, $153 million), Brian McCann (5 years, $85 million), Carlos Beltran (3 years, $45 million) and now Masahiro Tanaka (7 years, $155 million), on paper the Yankees added enough wins to probably make them roughly a .500 team in 2014.

They could win 90 games and surprise me, but the addition of Masahiro Tanaka really only kicked 2-3 wins onto a 79-win team. The Yankees aren’t all that good, and they should continue being not-all-that-good so long as they don’t develop their own pitching through the farm system. And, of course, not being able to lock up a #1 starter through free agency (mostly because nowadays organizations are locking up their aces while they’re young), though they could more realistically use two #1 starters if they plan on competing for a division title this year.

With how relatively strong the American League East is compared to the rest of baseball, I wouldn’t be shocked to see the Yankees finish in last place. Off the top of my head, the Red Sox and Rays are without doubt better than the Yankees, the Orioles and Blue Jays should be competitive… I just don’t see where New York will get its wins with a rotation featuring Kuroda, Sabathia, Tanaka, and little-to-nothing else. Ivan Nova? Maybe? The bullpen shouldn’t be a particular strength aside David Robertson (who is awesome); the offense should be better than league average, but it has its holes, too.

The Yankees have an expensive Stars And Scrubs roster; it’s top-heavy; it’s thin at the bottom of the major league team and most levels of the minor league system. They just don’t have the reinforcements to help them at the moment, which helps explain the apparently dire need to acquire Tanaka. That also goes for Ellsbury and McCann, and Beltran.

It surprises me, but then I think about it and it really doesn’t surprise me that much. Projections are only projections; the season has to play itself out. There’s a beauty in that, and there’s also a beauty in what is guaranteed. Like a contract.

We won’t know who Masahiro Tanaka is until he is ready to show us who he is. He could be better than people expect and be a #1 starter, or he could be a good-but-nothing-special mid-rotation starting pitcher. I wish him health and success in the states, but the Yankees are exercising extreme faith in a pitcher who may be a false promise.

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Untitled #3

There is a good chance Action Bronson is my favorite rapper right now.

I used to be (kind of) up on what was happening on the underground circuit, but I guess as I’ve gotten older I’ve gotten more lazy. That, and I’m not what one would consider a music guy in the first place. I like what I like, and of any genre hip-hop has influenced me most and piqued my interest more than any other type of music.

So that’s where I am.

I wasn’t introduced to Action Bronson until I heard some mixed tape he did that was produced by Alchemist, who’s probably my favorite producer (even over Kanye West). I’ve been a fan since the first time I heard Bronson spit. I don’t know if I’ve heard any track he’s been featured on where he didn’t have the best verse, and his solo work doesn’t lose its edge. Action Bronson rhymes about the usual stuff (i.e. drugs, women, money, swag), but he does it with a playful self-awareness that separates him from his contemporaries.

So here’s a gold star for you, Mr. Bronson.

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Listening to french music and writing about the Rangers

I haven’t been around very much lately. This is for two reasons: (1) There is nothing even remotely interesting happening in the baseball world, and (2) I’ve been pretty busy driving to and from the desert. The casino I’m dealing at right now is, like, an hour away. I’m not complaining or anything, just talking to myself, I guess.

In the MLB world, nothing significant is going to happen until Masahiro Tanaka signs with somebody. The deadline is next Thursday, I think. I remember a couple years ago, when the whole Yu Darvish bonanza was going on, every day I scoured the Internet looking to see if he had already signed with the Rangers. I couldn’t miss it. I’m pretty sure I wasted an entire day at work refreshing pages and looking in on various live-update Rangers forums and chats. I am, with certainty, about as nerdy as they come with the sports teams I follow, but particularly so with the Texas Rangers.

Anyway, the fundamental difference between the diametrically opposing positions Tanaka and Darvish have/had during their signing processes is this: Yu Darvish could only sign with the Rangers, per the posting system agreed upon vis a vis MLB and the NPB; however, Masahiro Tanaka can sign with anybody and, since he is the best remaining player in a pretty anemic free agent class, he’s basically going to re-set the market.

So, it behooves pitchers like Matt Garza and Ubaldo Jimenez not to sign anywhere just yet, because Tanaka — who is expected to receive something in the 6-year, $100-plus million range — can help earn them more money on their next contract. And it stands to reason that whomever of the Yankees, Dodgers, Angels or Mariners do not sign Tanaka, they will probably be in on Garza and Jimenez.

Meanwhile, the Rangers aren’t really getting into much of anything. I’ve heard reports about a possible contract for Jerome Williams or Paul Maholm, who are each capable of filling Texas’s need for a back-of-the-rotation starter to help chew up innings until Derek Holland (in theory) returns.

Regardless, I’m obscurely confident in Matt Harrison to rebound nicely in 2014. I have nada to base this on, of course, but if nothing else I am optimistic because there hasn’t been any bad news as far as his prospects are concerned. Sometimes no bad news is good news. Or maybe that’s all the time.

Obviously I expect another TORP-type season out of Yu Darvish, because he’s just flat out the truth. There is going to be a season — who knows, maybe this season — when Yu Darvish begins to really explode on a national scale. He did finish second in the 2013 Cy Young Award vote, so it’s not like no one is noticing, but there are still factions of people who think his lack of wins says something about him as a pitcher. In two years he’s compiled a 29-18 (.617) record. However, with the types of pitches he possesses, and the magical artistry in which he deploys them, he could end up something like 21-5 some year. And my feeling is the media will treat him like they treated Max Scherzer last year. Like omg! This guy has found it!

With a potential +6.0 win pitcher in Yu Darvish (Steamer projections has him at a conservative +5.0 WAR in 192.0 innings), and perhaps +3.0- to +3.5-win Matt Harrison (Steamer has him at +2.3 WAR in 173.0 innings), those two guys alone could outproduce the rotations in Anaheim (+8.7 fWAR in ’13) and Houston (+7.1 fWAR in ’13) in 2014. It’s not something one should necessarily expect, but it’s certainly not out of the question. Should Martin Perez and Alexi Ogando stay healthy, Texas should maintain as one of the more formidable rotations in the American League, even in spite of Derek Holland’s untimely injury. (When are injuries ever not untimely?)

To be frank, I’m not bothered nor do I really care who the 5th starter is. If it’s Nick Tepesch, who mildly suffered from bad BABIP luck (.309) and a relatively high percentage of fly balls going over the fence (13.5% HR/FB ratio), I’m cool with it. Aside the fact that he’s inexperienced, he’s in his age-25 season — so his peak is still ahead of him — and both his strikeout rate (7.35/9) and walk rate (2.61/9) in 2013 inspire confidence. People may want to look at his 4-6 record or 4.84 ERA and throw him in their mental discard pile, but Nick Tepesch is a true sleeper. You could do a lot worse with your #5 starter.

The other option is Colby Lewis. Someone you’d have to consider the odds-on favorite if he’s healthy. It’s kind of crazy that he hasn’t pitched since June of 2012, fresh off being Texas’s most consistent starter in both the 2010 and 2011 World Series trips. There’s one school of thought that says the deep postseason runs of 2010 and 2011 adversely affected Colby Lewis, because of the added workloads; the other says he’s an old man in baseball years and it’s a small miracle his degenerative hip condition even allowed him to make it this far. I tend to lean toward the latter, but I’m not sure if it’s because Colby will always be remembered as part of the Rangers first two (and only two) World Series appearances, or if it’s that Lewis has already more than fulfilled what he was expected to produce tenfold.

So, yeah. Whether it’s Tepesch or Lewis, it really doesn’t matter. The Rangers will have a strong rotation. Maybe another time I’ll write about the offense, but right now, this is all I’ve got.

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Derek Holland out until mid-season, and what it means for the Rangers

Derek Holland injured his knee from an apparent “freak fall,” though he denies it was actually from playing hockey. Either way, the fact remains the same: He’s out until mid-season and, already before the season gets underway, it’s questionable if he will be able to meaningfully contribute during 2014.

In 2013, Holland enjoyed his most successful big league campaign to date, generating +4.8 fWAR — good for 11th in MLB and 7th in the AL among pitchers — over a career-high 213.0 innings on the bump. His strikeout rate (7.99/9 IP) was a career-best, and his walk rate (2.7/9 IP) is on par with his career-best output of 2012 (2.67/9 IP). Basically, this is one big way of saying “Derek Holland’s great 2013 season is defined by how great his 2013 peripherals were.” But, really, the key to his success was based almost exclusively on his ability to limit his fly balls from leaving the yard; the 8.8% homer-to-flyball rate was by far the best mark of his four years as a starter, down from 14.9% in 2009, 11.0% in 2011 and 15.2% in 2012.

If we played the what if? game, it stands to reason we would say something like Since Derek Holland produced +4.8 fWAR over a full season last year then it means he should produce +2.4 fWAR in a half-season. Kind of. But more like kind-of-but-not-really.

If Ranger fans have learned anything over the last two years, it’s that pitching injuries are impossible to forecast. Pitchers are, inherently, fragile and unable to be trusted. Last season, both Matt Harrison and Colby Lewis were expected to return by the All Star Break, and neither made it back at all; Neftali Feliz was supposed to be back by August, but he was relegated to mop-up duty over only a handful of appearances in September.

Right now, Holland is “expected” to return by mid-season, but, really, no one knows how well his left knee is going to heal. Since he’s a left-handed pitcher, and since his left knee is the one he plants and extracts all his power from, a mid-season return seems — at least to me — awfully optimistic. In that sense, it’s nice that it’s only January, because now is a good time to temper expectations. Odds are, if he does return, it will not be until August or September, and if the Rangers are in the hunt for the postseason, Holland will be no better than a #3 or #4 option.

While there’s nothing wrong with that, there’s also no reason to expect he will magically revert back to his 2013 level of production.

As it stands, the Rangers are not particularly desperate for starting pitching. Losing Derek Holland hurts, no doubt, but it’s also an opportunity for Nick Tepesch to build on a promising 2013 season, and for Colby Lewis — who was signed to a minor league contract — to prove he is still worth a damn. It also means Alexi Ogando will probably start the year in the rotation.

So, if that’s the worst, then Texas figures to start the year with some combination of Yu Darvish, Matt Harrison, Martin Perez, Alexi Ogando and either Nick Tepesch or Colby Lewis in the rotation. Would it look better with Derek Holland? Of course. But this is another classic example of why you can never have too much pitching.

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On Dan Le Batard’s brilliance, and the stupidity of the Baseball Hall of Fame

The Major League Baseball Hall of Fame is a joke.

I wish I could say I have known this for awhile, but I haven’t. Truthfully, up until the point where I was 19 or 20 years old, I thought the Hall of Fame was important, that it did mean something. And to the people who do get enshrined, I’m sure it is important and that it does mean something, but for fans like me — those who care more about talent and production and less about “character” and “good moral standing” — the Hall is stupid, stupid, stupid, and it’s been proven. Again.

Today, the Hall of Fame took away Dan Le Batard’s voting privileges for life, because, in an act to promote change within the voting process, Le Batard turned his vote over to Deadspin.com to let the fans decide which players he should vote for on his ballot.

As an aside, to sports journalists and media juggernauts such as ESPN, for instance, Deadspin is basically the antichrist. It’s a no-holds-bars sports website dedicated to objectivity, constantly questioning and ridiculing all the dumb shit we hear pundits and athletes spewing on television or Twitter or whatever medium is your preference. Essentially, if the people we see giving opinions on ESPN are the watchers, then Deadspin is watching the watchers.

So, for Dan Le Batard to volunteer his vote over to Deadspin — and make no mistake, he volunteered it; Deadspin did not pay him — what he was really doing was selling his soul to the devil. Because that type of thing is a no-no, apparently.

Here is Le Batard’s explanation for why he gave his vote away (link above):

I feel like my vote has gotten pretty worthless in the avalanche of sanctimony that has swallowed it.

[…]

I hate all the moralizing we do in sports in general, but I especially hate the hypocrisy in this: Many of the gatekeeper voters denying Barry Bonds Hall Of Fame entry would have they themselves taken a magical, healing, not-tested-for-in-their-workplace elixir if it made them better at their jobs, especially if lesser talents were getting the glory and money. Lord knows I’d take the elixir for our ESPN2 TV show if I could.

Baseball is always reticent to change, but our flawed voting process needs remodeling in a new media world. Besides, every year the power is abused the way I’m going to be alleged to abuse it here. There’s never been a unanimous first-ballot guy? Seriously? If Ruth and Mays and Schmidt aren’t that, then what is? This year, someone is going to leave one of the five best pitchers ever off the ballot. Suck it, Greg Maddux.

[…]

I’m not sure what kind of trouble this is going to bring me. I imagine I’ll probably have my vote stripped. But I don’t want to be a part of the present climate without reform anyway. Given that climate, doing THIS has more impact than my next 20 years of votes as sanctimony bars the HOF door on the steroid guys. Because, in a climate without reform, my next 20 years of votes will be counted but not actually heard. At least this gets it heard, for better or for worse.

Indeed. And today his vote was stripped.

I especially like his first point, about the moralizing. For about 20 years MLB went through what is now known as the “steroid era,” where many players took Human Growth Hormone (HGH) to get bigger and stronger and recover faster from injuries, and the result was the greatest offensive era in major league history. Naturally (or unnaturally, depending on how you choose to look at it), dudes were tearing the fucking cover off the ball and hitting a shitload of home runs. This is when Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa set the big league record for homers in a season, which was later bested by Barry Bonds. After the strike over the collective bargaining agreement in 1994, MLB had a public relations shitstorm on their hands, so both the league and its sports writers turned a blind eye at what they already knew was happening when all the home run records were being set: Players were doing it unnaturally.

And neither the league nor the writers chose to say a damn thing about it, because it was positive attention for the league. By 1999 when McGwire and Sosa went on their home run binge, it can be argued that the popularity of the sport was at an all-time high.

However, in 2008 (I think it was), MLB decided to start cracking down on steroids and HGH, and all of a sudden the sports writers tagged along. Rather than celebrating all the records that were being broken, they began calling into question the integrity of the players who were setting them.

It was no longer a debate over talent, but, rather, if you did steroids you were a bad person, and if you didn’t then you deserve love and admiration.

The truth is, baseball players are human just like you and me. We’ve all done terrible shit, and we’ve all done good deeds when no one was watching. The people voting on who should and should not be in the Hall of Fame have decided that players like Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa are not human, that they possess less moral fortitude than they themselves do, and that they are above the common fan.

Dan Le Batard, meanwhile, knew exactly what he was doing by giving his vote to Deadspin, or, “the fans,” as it were. He knew he would get his vote taken away from him, and he knew the pompous, sanctimonious fraternity of sports writers would all team up and shit on him for being an arrogant bastard. And by arrogant bastard, I mean he selflessly gave his vote away to fans, even though he knew there would be a heavy media backlash against him.

It’s 2014 for god’s sake. So why the hell are we still allowing a flawed system based primarily on a bunch of baseball writers — who are flawed just like everyone else in the world — to dictate who is and isn’t a good enough person to be in their precious Hall of Fame?

I’m not a huge fan of change, in general. I like the same shaving cream to shave my face with, the same toothpaste, and I still tie my shoes and wipe my ass the same way I always have. That type of change is unnecessary. But where there’s a problem, what then?

Change is the only constant in this world, so MLB needs to start moving along with the times instead of pretending it’s still 1927.

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Bottomless Pit

I come about as expected, really

I don’t think about it often enough, because I’m a selfish, self-centered asshole, but I feel really lucky to have my friends and family, particularly my best friend and my mom. Since the time I truly understood what it meant to be with someone 100% of the way, after I finally realized the world didn’t exclusively revolve around me, on occasion I look at these people like I’m not worthy of them. In the real world, where as a 23 year-old I’m mostly trying to help people who either (a) don’t want my help or (b) couldn’t help themselves even if I could help, I find myself playing the opposite role with the individuals who actually know me. It’s usually not within my means to cede power or control over much of anything, really, but for these few exceptions it’s something I’m comfortable with, strangely.

My dad had this best friend. His name was Floyd. Apparently they went to high school together and, as my dad once told me, did speed regularly. They were close once upon a time. As life would take them, Floyd eventually worked for the government — he and his wife used to work at the Pentagon — and had a shitload of money with a few spoiled, greedy kids to boot, which is usually how it works. On September 11th, 2001, Floyd’s wife died when one of the infamous planes flew into the Pentagon, and Floyd eventually remarried.

What was flummoxing, to me at least, was how little my dad actually communicated with his best friend. When I would answer the phone — back when not every human alive owned a cell phone — Floyd would ask for my dad, naturally, and when I took the phone to him he always sighed and made a face, as if to say Why didn’t you tell him I was sleeping, or something? It’s almost like my dad was blaming me for doing something I thought I was supposed to do, which is pretty dumb.

When Floyd came down with cancer, probably in 2006 or something, he still called the house every week, some weeks more frequently than others. And without fail, every time, my dad made his childish expressions when I handed him the phone, like it was some major chore to talk to his best friend while he underwent dialysis. It just didn’t make very much sense, but then again, not a whole lot my dad does makes sense anymore. Floyd died a few years ago.

Still, I wonder if my dad ever regrets how he basically abandoned his best friend when his best friend very likely didn’t have much of anyone to talk to.

I guess the moral of the story is this: Of the many things I aim to be different at between my father and I, how we each handle our respective best friends is up near the top of my list. I never want to be that guy, doing it that way. As far as friends go, I’m not difficult to get along with, but I’m perfectly happy with the lane I’m already in. I have this obscure way of insulating myself for weeks or sometimes months at a time, but I will never not have enough time for the people who are important to me.

Blind loyalty can be a blessing and a curse, but I’m confident and inevitably comfortable with the choices I’ve made and the people I’ve chosen to be my people. It’s a two-way street, obviously, so my job is to hold true with my end of the bargain.

ER

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Projecting the NFL Playoffs: Wild Card Round Edition

My best friend discovered this song and I like it

Usually I wait until we’re deeper into the week before I rip the Vegas betting lines on NFL games to make my picks. But, being that the playoffs are here, and being that I’m too damn excited to see the Chiefs square off in their first postseason game since a 30-10 drubbing at the hands of Baltimore in 2010, I figured now — Wednesday afternoon — is as good a time as any to make my (probably terribly pathetically horrendous) selections. That, and aside the Bengals-Chargers tilt, each matchup features a mere 3-point spread that shouldn’t deviate more than a point in either direction.

So, there you go. My Wild Card Round picks are after the jump, and, as always, the betting lines come courtesy of bodog.eu, with the ROAD teams in all CAPS.

* * * * * *

Saturday

CHIEFS (+3) over Colts

Am I completely dismissing the Colts’ 23-7 blowout on week 16 in Kansas City? Definitely. Am I a fan of underdogs? Almost always. Am I being irrational by picking my favorite team to win on the road against Andrew Luck? Possibly. And what the fuck is up with all these questions?

Listen, after a 9-0 start the Chiefs had a pretty shitty end to their season. If my math serves me correctly, an 11-5 finish means they concluded the year with just two wins in their final seven appearances, though I can’t hold week 17’s overtime loss in San Diego against them, because they were exclusively playing their backups.

Over their first nine games, the Chiefs’ defense allowed an unprecedented average of only 12.3 points/game, which was on track to be the single greatest defensive season in NFL history. Over their final seven games, the Chiefs gave up nearly two and a half times that average (28.1 points/game), which is really to say they finally had to face Peyton Manning (twice), Phillip Rivers (twice) and the aforementioned Andrew Luck. Three of the league’s elite quarterbacks find ways to fuck with your stupid averages.

The Colts boast a solid offense — 10th in the NFL and 4th in the AFC in efficiency — but if my intuition is even semi-accurate, which is pretty much my entire basis for picking the Chiefs to win in a mild upset, Indianapolis saw nothing but base defense from the Chiefs on week 16. This, mind you, is because at the time the two teams played, Kansas City was essentially already locked into the 5th seed by way of losing twice to Denver, and had they gone balls deep to beat Andrew Luck, they would be forfeiting the element of surprise if they were to meet in the postseason. Which they now are. By giving Luck nothing but standard reads on week 16, the Chiefs can blueprint a defensive game plan entirely separate from what the Colts have already experienced, thus giving the impression of a different team altogether.

It’s going to be close, no doubt, but I’ve got the Chiefs winning, 27-23.

SAINTS (+3) over Eagles

Honestly, I don’t understand why the Saints aren’t the favorite. Drew Brees is perhaps the most accomplished NFL quarterback this side of Manning and Tom Brady, and New Orleans under head coach Sean Payton have a bonafide track record of playoff success. Understandably, the Eagles — winners in seven of their last eight — are the NFL’s hottest team, and are led by three rising stars: Head coach Chip Kelly, quarterback Nick Fowles and running back LeSean McCoy. The line makes sense in that regard, but the Saints have been around the block, and I consider experience to be invaluable this time of year.

Ostensibly, this matchup has all the makings of a shootout. The Saints and Eagles rank 3rd and 4th in the NFL, respectively, in offensive efficiency, and both coaches possess the loose, fun-and-gun style that produces points and makes people love the NFL.

Anyway, in a high-scoring affair, I like the Saints to win, 34-24.

Sunday

Bengals (-7) over CHARGERS

31-21

49ERS (-3) over Packers

24-13