It has been said that everyone remembers their first. With that in mind, I recently asked a trio of general managers/presidents of baseball operations about the initial trades they made as big-league decision makers. One of the responses began with a refutation of a report.
“Deadspin actually wrote an article about what was supposedly my first transaction,” said White Sox GM Rick Hahn. “That was trading Kenny Williams, Jr. to the Colorado Rockies (in November 2012). However, I didn’t actually do that trade. It was announced a couple of days after I became GM, but Kenny had already put that in place with Dan O’Dowd. It was a good story — it looked like an old-time mob move to settle things with Kenny’s family — but in reality it was all Kenny.
Hahn couldn’t recall his first trade — records show it was Brandon Kloess to San Diego for Blake Tekotte — but he remembers his first transaction and his first major deal. Right after being hired he re-signed Jake Peavy, and the following summer he sent Peavy to Boston in three-team swap that netted Avisail Garcia, Frankie Montas and JB Wendelken.
Reds president Walt Jocketty made his first trade in November 1994 when he was the GM in St. Louis. He remembered it was “a small one” — records show he dealt a PTBNL to Atlanta for Ramon Caraballo — and that his trade partner was John Schuerholz.
Several years later, in 2003, Jocketty and Schuerholz made a bigger trade. They did it the old-fashioned way.
“I traded him JD Drew and Eli Marrero for Adam Wainwright, Jason Marquis and Ray King,” said Jocketty. “We exchanged ideas at the GM meetings over dinner and cocktails, had several phone calls in between, then met at the winter meetings in New Orleans. We had a drink or two that night, then finished the deal off the next day.”
In 2005, the then-youngest GM in either league made his first deal in similar fashion.
“My first trade was for Jon Leicester,” said Rangers president and general manager Jon Daniels. “I traded Clint Brannon, who was an undersized lefthander we’d taken in the draft, for Leicester, who was out of options. (Cubs general manager) Jim Hendry and I made the deal at the GM meetings. We did it at Kevin Towers’ birthday party, at the end of the night.”
Changing teams is part of the game. For CJ Riefenhauser it’s becoming old hat in a hurry. The 26-year-old reliever experienced his first organizational relocation this past offseason. And his second. And then his third.
Originally drafted by Tampa Bay in 2010, Riefenhauser was playing winter ball in Venezuela when he was beckoned from the bullpen and told he’d been traded to Seattle. He found the news “exciting,” but having always been a Ray, he also had “a nervous feeling.”
Riefenhauser called his father — “I had to use somebody’s prepaid phone, because we didn’t have wifi at the park” — and asked him to alert his agent. After the game, he was able to “bang out a bunch of calls and texts” from his hotel, but because of cell service and time zones, he wasn’t able to connect with Mariners GM Jerry Dipoto until two days later.
Less than a month later, in early December, he was on a train when he learned he’d been dealt to the Orioles.
“I was on the Metro North, on my way home from Manhattan,” explained Riefenhauser. “That was kind of surprising. I wasn’t prepared for it, but at the same time, I looked at it as another opportunity. I was going to go out and pitch, and just worry about controlling the controllables.”
The suddenly well-traveled southpaw is now under Cubs control, having been claimed off waivers by Chicago’s North Side squad earlier this month.
“I was a Mariner for three weeks, then I was an Oriole,” said Riefenhauser. “They ended up designating me a week before camp, the Cubs claimed me on a Friday, and I flew out to Arizona that Sunday. It’s been kind of crazy.”
The Royals’ reputation of being anti-sabermetrics is somewhat overblown. They employ talented analysts and, like all teams, utilize data to their advantage. Ned Yost — aka World Series-winning manager New Yost — is nonetheless an adherent of old-school assessment. That much was apparent when I asked him which tools he uses to evaluate pitchers.
“I mostly use my eyeballs,” Yost told me. “[Pitching coach] Dave Eiland looks at all the charts and the spin rates. I look at that stuff too, but for me it’s the eyeball more than anything else. I look at what guys need to improve, the action on their pitches, the finish on their pitches, the life on their fastballs. You can see that with the naked eye.”
I mentioned Chris Young, whose stuff doesn’t exactly jump off the page.
“Everybody is different and Chris Young is 6-10,” said Yost. “With his deception, he can throw that fastball up in the zone all day long and it drives the opposition crazy. It drove me crazy. Why can’t we hit this guy? He’s throwing 86-87 mph and we’re popping up and striking out.”
Yost allowed that he’s asked other pitchers to work up in the zone, as “It’s a good weapon.” Does data, including spin rate, factor into those suggestions?
“Not really,” said Yost. “It’s eyeballs more than anything.”
Joe Maddon believes it is possible to create chemistry. The Cubs manager knows that a lot of people will disagree with that opinion, often because “they’ve never tried to do it before.” He cited building relationships, creating trust, and the interaction that creates an open exchange of ideas. Once that occurs, a winning attitude and culture can follow, and hopefully sustain itself.
Maddon is enamored with the character he sees in his young team.
“These are good people,” opined Maddon. “They’re kind of egoless in a sense. We all have our egos, but there’s that group that’s able to shove it in their back pocket when it’s necessary. I think these guys are of that ilk.”
Just how progressive a manager Dave Roberts will be remains to be seen. The 43-year-old former outfielder has big-league coaching experience, but he’s never been at the helm at any level. His first opportunity will be in a fishbowl. Roberts was hired in November to skipper the large-market, high-expectations Los Angeles Dodgers.
This past week, I had a chance to ask Roberts about bullpen leverage and the third-time-through-the-order penalty. I began with his willingness to use his closer prior to the ninth inning.
“There is definitely a case to be made for that,” responded Roberts. “I’ve had conversations with Kenley (Jansen) about going one-plus. There are a lot of variables, like prior usage, but when you’re in the postseason, you extend closers. I believe there is logic in extending them one-plus during the season, as well.”
What about using his closer in the eighth and then going match-up with his best set-up men in the ninth?
“That’s another conversation,” said Roberts. “If you have their three best hitters coming up in the eighth, there’s certainly a case to be made for using your best relief pitcher at that point. But I don’t think we’re there yet, because we’re very comfortable with who we have in the eighth inning: Chris Hatcher.”
Roberts proceeded to double back, saying there are times he’d like to go to Kenley Jansen for an out in the eighth, then bring him back for the ninth. As for not allowing his starters (the ones not named Clayton Kershaw) to go through the order a third time, Roberts said every pitcher is different and the numbers speak for themselves. He believes it’s the coaching staff’s job to monitor the situation on a case to case basis.
Earlier this week, Red Sox principal owner John Henry told a group of reporters, “We have perhaps overly relied on numbers.” Those words were the crux of a more-expansive critique of recent seasons, and they were interpreted in wildly different ways by a pair of Boston Globe writers.
Dan Shaughnessy’s take was, “Hallelujah. This represents a major win for the tobacco-spitting scouts, and a defeat for the sun-starved pencil pushers.”
Alex Speier, addressing the bigger picture, wrote, “The team has expanded the budget of its analytics department and plans to add staff to that department. Its belief in the ability of analysis to create an edge remains very much intact.”
Rashomon effect, anyone?
Per Matt Eddy of Baseball America, the Royals have signed Jon Denney to a minor league contract. The deal represents a second chance for the 21-year-old catcher. Denney received an $875,000 signing bonus after being selected in the third round of the 2013 draft by the Red Sox, but his career quickly went south. Denney ran afoul of the law the following spring training and was eventually released. To this point in his career, he’s appeared in just 26 professional games.
Considered one of the top high school catchers in the country in his draft year, Denney has a lot of rust to shake off after sitting out two seasons. The odds are stacked against him, but he’s young enough to revive a once-promising career — assuming his maturity level has closed the gap with his tool set.
Mike Trout shared his desire to steal more bases when he met with the media on Wednesday. He also weighed in on WAR, which he professes to not fully comprehend.
“I’ve been here for a couple of years and I still haven’t figured out what that stuff means,” said Trout. “I leave that up to you guys to figure out. I don’t worry about stats. I just play the game and the end of the year my WAR is whatever. That’s what it is. Wins Above Replacement. I know that, but that’s about it.”
And then there was the subject of meteorology. As many of you know, the all-everything outfielder is a bit of a weather geek. Actually, that might be an understatement.
“My girlfriend tells me that I’m crazy, because I’m up every hour seeing the snow fall,” admitted Trout. “I like the stuff, man. I like thunderstorms. Obviously, tornadoes are bad because they wipe out towns and cities.”
Where did the geekdom come from?
“My dad got me into it when I was a kid,” said Trout. ”I always liked to watch snowstorms and stuff, to see what we’re getting. It’s something I like to do for sure.”
Rich Dubroff of CSN Mid Atlantic shared a great factoid yesterday. According to Dubroff, the Orioles have the longest current streak of selecting players in the Rule-5 draft, 10 years, and three of their last four selections are still with the team: Ryan Flaherty, T.J. McFarland and Jason Garcia. Michael Almanzar, who was taken two years ago, is the exception.
If you’re a fan of interviews with former players, Graham Womack has been doing some great ones for The Sporting News. In recent months, Womack has talked to Steve Garvey, Bobby Grich, Tommy John, Jim Kaat, Dale Murphy and Billy Wagner. They’re well worth your time.
Art Spander was a columnist for The Sporting News when it was a must-read print publication in the 1970s and 1980s. He also wrote for the San Francisco Chronicle and the San Francisco Examiner, but he began his career with United Press International. His initial interaction with an MLB player was a doozy.
“It was 1960 and I was just starting out at UPI,” said Spander. “The sports editor for the west coast, Al Kahn, said to me, ‘Hey, can you run down and get some quotes after the game?’ I was 22 years old and eager, so I ran down there. Stu Miller had pitched and gotten knocked out of the box.
“The old LA Coliseum, where the Dodgers played before moving into Dodger Stadium, had doors on every locker, kind of a two-man cubicle thing. I went up and knocked on the little door. Miller opened it and said, ‘What do you want?’ I said, ‘How did you get knocked out of the box?’ He said, ‘Get the (bleep) out of here.’ That was my introduction to being a professional sports writer.”
RANDOM FACTS AND STATS
George Brett, Ken Griffey, Jr. and Tony Gwynn went a combined 4 for 41 against Scott Radinsky. Mario Diaz and Brent Gates went a combined 7 for 7 against Radinsky, who is currently the bullpen coach in Anaheim.
When the 1994 season ended in August due to a players’ strike, the Texas Rangers led the American League West with a record of 52-62.
In 1928, six of the eight teams in the National League had winning records. Only the Boston Braves (50-103) and Philadelphia Phillies (43-109) were under .500.
There have been two people named Lester Bangs in professional baseball. One played from 1915-1929, the other from 1946-1949.
A reminder that the fourth annual SABR Analytics Conference will be held March 10-12 at the Hyatt Regency in Phoenix.
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