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The Non-Decline and Fall of the San Francisco Giants

The Chicago Cubs, hinting that this year they may have magick stronger than The Goat, recently brought the San Francisco Giants’ even-year playoff dominance to an end. It was an offensively offensive series; add the two teams’ OPS together and you’re just 100 points better than David Ortiz. The low-velocity Giants staff struck out a batter an inning, and both lineups walked at a lower rate than the unwalkable Royals. My working theory was that this series represented the final demise of the already waning power of the current edition of the Giants, and that the next chart-topping version of Big Head Bruce and the Monsters would have mostly new musicians. Turns out that this theory is only partially correct.

Your 2016 San Francisco Baseball Giants were actually a little better than the world-beating 2014 squad, at least when resort is had to statistics:

Stat                                            2016 (MLB rank)            2014 (MLB rank)

Position Player fWAR                   26.7 (4)                                  23.0 (9)

SP fWAR                                          15.0 (5)                                  10.1 (21)

RP fWAR                                           2.1 (22)                                  1.4 (24)

Position Player wRC+                    98 (t12)                                   99 (9)

SP FIP-                                              96 (t7)                                    104 (19)

RP FIP-                                              97 (20)                                    98 (18)

Run differential/game                    +0.51                                      +0.31

Let’s pause a minute to consider the bullpen numbers, which are the very essence of “meh” both years. The Giants have had the reputation of having a good, cheap bullpen. It’s certainly cheap: Sergio Romo is the plutocrat of the unit at a relatively unimposing $9 million. But “good” is more of a stretch; the Giants relievers have delivered value pretty much consistent with what they’ve been paid.

Some commentators have carpeted Bochy for his bullpen usage during the NLDS, but (perhaps because I’m not actually a Giants fan) I take a longer view. The miscellaneous roadies Big Head Bruce has had to work with will hardly make anyone forget The Nasty Boys, but he has often been able to squeeze value out of them when it’s mattered most. In order to maximize value out of this motley crue (I’m in town all week — try the garlic fries) Bochy has had to be very active in the late innings, and the more decisions any manager has to make, the more that will go wrong.

Giants general manager Brian Sabean has correctly recognized that in Bruce Bochy he employs one of the best tacticians in the game today. Sabean has maximized the value of this skill by handing Bochy a collection of misfit bullpen toys and saying “here, you figure this out.” On most nights Bochy does, but every once in a while he fails, as happened in the star-crossed six-pitcher 9th in Game 4. If you want to see what a bullpen meltdown looks like in graphic form, here it is. (Younger or more sensitive Giants fans are advised not to click on that link.)

My guess is that Bochy has had a few other bad bullpen nights, but most of those have happened when the East Coast was already asleep. When you happen to have a bad night nationwide, people may be a little too inclined to draw definitive conclusions. (I do not cut Buck Showalter this kind of slack. Bochy has a bunch of semi-interchangeable parts that present numerous non-obvious choices. Buck doesn’t.)

But back to our regularly scheduled program: the 2016 Giants were, by most measures, a better squad than the 2014 one. This is a roster that’s peaking, and perhaps fell victim to what will soon be a storied Cubs team, or (more prosaically) to the bad luck inherently possible in a short series. So the Giants can look forward to an extended run of playoff contention!

Or not. The Giants are heading in full sail toward the dragon-pocked part of the map. This an old team — the Giants have the sixth-oldest set of position players in the majors and the oldest pitching staff. They have just two regular players under 27, Madison Bumgarner (still just 26) and Joe Panik (25). To borrow a Casey Stengel line, in 15 years Bumgarner may be in the Hall of Fame. In 15 years, Joe Panik will be 40.

The Giants’ farm will provide little aid. Their system has just two MLB top-100 prospects, with the best being the positionless Christian Arroyo at #79 (though the excellent Bernie Pleskoff is less hostile to his defense than I am). Austin Slater isn’t in the top 100, but he raked at AAA at age 23 with good plate discipline, so he may be able to fill the outfield spot Angel Pagan is likely to vacate.

On the bright side, the contracts of Jake Peavy and Pagan expire this year, taking $26 million off the books. Romo and Santiago Casilla will be departing for broadcasting careers as well, taking $15 million more of liabilities with them. The Giants need one or two outfielders and starting pitching, but especially with respect to the latter, next year’s free-agent class would make a cow laugh. The 2018 list is a better one, but between now and both free-agent classes likely interposes a new collective bargaining agreement, so there’s enough fog to compel Sabean to operate his lights on low beam.

And the competition isn’t sitting still. Regardless of how the hated Los Angeles Dodgers fare in the NLCS, they are poised to compete for a while. The Rockies have an exciting core of young talent, even if casual Rox fans despair of the team at the moment. The Outlaw A.J. Preller merits a blog post all his own (say, there’s an idea!), and while the Padres seem to have a bit of transmission loss between talent and wins, some improvement there is possible as well, especially if Tyson Ross can make a successful return from thoracic outlet surgery. (What? You say there’s another team in the NL West? Hmm … I’ll research that and get back to you.)

So the Giants may be stalling or even slipping backward in a division where at least two of the teams are making progress. The Giants have a good but mostly older core which could use the kind of help that free agency and prospect trades are unlikely to provide in 2017. So 2016 may indeed be the last gasp of this once-in-a-while mighty franchise, at least for the moment. Sabean has pulled a whole warren of rabbits out of his hat during his long tenure, but in 2017 he’s going to have to dig deep.

Perhaps there will be a powerful goat looking for work …

The 2016 All-WAR Team

The regular season is over. The playoffs are upon us. Award season will soon be rearing its head. Let’s take a very simple look at each position’s resident WAR leaders. All WAR data taken from FanGraphs.

1st Team
National League American League
C:  Buster Posey
1B: Freddie Freeman
2B: Daniel Murphy
3B: Kris Bryant
SS: Corey Seager
LF: Christian Yelich
CF: Dexter Fowler
RF: Bryce Harper
C:  Jonathan Lucroy
1B: Miguel Cabrera
2B: Jose Altuve
3B: Josh Donaldson
SS: Fransico Lindor
LF: Jose Ramirez
CF: Mike Trout
RF: Mookie Betts
TOTAL: 43.9
AVG: 5.5
TOTAL: 51.7
AVG: 6.5
2nd Team
National League American League
C:  Wilson Ramos
1B: Anthony Rizzo
2B: Jean Segura
3B: Justin Turner
SS: Brandon Crawford
LF: Starling Marte
CF: Charlie Blackmon
RF: Stephen Piscotty
C:  Salvador Perez
1B: Edwin Encarnacion
2B: Robinson Cano
3B: Manny Machado
SS: Carlos Correa
LF: Khris Davis
CF: Jackie Bradley Jr.
RF: Adam Eaton
TOTAL: 35.6
AVG: 4.5
TOTAL: 36.8
AVG: 4.6

I have excluded the DH as to keep both leagues’ data as similar as possible for comparison.

Interesting notes:

  • The AL has a much higher WAR overall and per player.
  • The top NL outfielders had a rough year with WAR. Not only do they total 12 WAR (2/player) less than the AL; outside of the C position, they are the lowest in the NL.
  • The NL players account for 79.5/285.5 WAR or 28% of the NL WAR total. While the AL accounts for 88.5/284, or around 31% of their total.

I find it particularly interesting that you only have to go two deep before finding players who didn’t manage a 3 WAR seeing as a 3 WAR is generally considered a solid MLB starter.

Players WAR 2016 (971)
WAR 7.0+ 6.0 5.0 4.0 3.0
# Players 5 13 23 47 62
% of League .5% 1.3% 2.4% 4.8% 6.4%

It’s not hard to see how truly exceptional the top players in the league are when compared to their peers across a 162-game season.

What sticks out most to you?

On Jose Fernandez and The 2016 Cy Young

You all know what happened this past Sunday. One of my — and the game’s — favorite players died. Selfishly, I was upset. I never knew the guy, and my team, the Atlanta Braves, had recently thrown at his head. But now he’s gone. He leaves behind a legacy that won’t soon be forgotten — Dave Cameron can’t wait to tell his children about Jose Fernandez, and the Marlins are going to retire his number so that little kids who attend games will forever ask their parents about Number 16 — but I think Max Frankel summed it up perfectly on Sunday: this sucks.

A few days have passed and baseball had its Jose Fernandez wake on Monday, and Dee Gordon hit the most important and magical home run of his life. But I still feel like Jose Fernandez is around. I am not going to try to do any sort of tribute article; I simply would not do a good job if I tried. Someone a year younger than me dying leaves me a bit scatterbrained.

Instead, I’ll try and write a baseball article, which I think will be difficult and awkward, but necessary. The realization crept into my head today that Jose Fernandez is going to appear on Cy Young ballots. The voters list their top three pitchers and Fernandez leads the Majors in fWAR, is second in strikeouts, and while he sits eighth in ERA, he actually leads the league in the two primary ERA predictors, FIP and xFIP. He was among the top handful of starting pitchers in the game in his first real season back from Tommy John.

Now, human voters, likely struggling through the same feelings I am, are going to be forced to wrestle with Fernandez’s place on the ballot.

If he were markedly better than his comrades, it would be an easy decision to honor him posthumously as the National League’s best pitcher. But it’s a great class again, and tragedy aside, it would still be a nail-biter of a vote.

So the voters are faced with an uncomfortable question: does symbolism have a place in Cy Young voting? If a writer felt that Fernandez had the second-best 2016, does he get a nod to the top in deference to the legacy?

I don’t know. I don’t know what I think. I think I know how I feel.

I feel that Fernandez deserves all the recognition. I’m not sure if it’s possible to separate Fernandez’s story from the Cy Young vote. Everyone’s story plays a role in awards voting — it’s just usually a subtext rather than a centerpiece. Fernandez’s story was already part of what made him so special. Were he alive, that story — his recovery from TJ surgery, and of course the accompanying charisma — would have played a meaningful role in the voting.

But now the “story” is a tragic centerpiece, not the subtext. Writers will have to grapple with that as they consider Fernandez’s candidacy alongside Max Scherzer’s dominance, and Clayton Kershaw’s perseverance.

In some way, Fernandez’s 2016 season deserves to be celebrated. It’s a situation that is sure to make for a somber and uncomfortable awards dinner. There will be someone missing no matter how the voting plays out.

One idea that keeps floating to the fore is a “Jose Fernandez Award.” It seems to make all the sense in the world and could help voters decouple their desire to honor the man from the sanctity of the Cy Young. But maybe the Cy Young isn’t some sacred award to be bestowed only upon the very best pitcher by given concrete metrics. No. The nuances and reasoning behind voting for a given player are subjective. Baseball, and particularly baseball voting, have a way of reflecting the circumstances of a particular year. Jose Fernandez’s story is now linked to this particular year.

So let’s give him the Cy Young. Let’s make an award in his honor, too. Who is really going to complain about that?

Why Is There No Version of wRC+ Including Baserunning?

Would someone be so good as to please implement this for me? This statistic can and should definitely exist and would be easily derivable from the stats FanGraphs already has. Yes, there is the offensive runs above average figure, but this is not a rate stat, and is not scaled to 100. What the people want is a wRC+ rate stat for offense that includes baserunning — for why should baserunning be excluded if what we want to know is who are the best offensive players on our team, which certainly includes their contributions on the bases or the lack thereof? (I’m looking at you Wilmer Flores; I saw you thrown out three times on the bases in a single game last week.)

I think the argument is clear for adding a baserunning-included linear weights rate stat, and one which is park- and league-adjusted, and one on the intuitive, familiar, and non arbitrary 100 point scale. (I prefer wRC+ because the scale of wOBA seems entirely arbitrary and unintuitive in meaning.) I don’t think the user should need to try to cobble together figures on their own and perform division to determine various players’ offensive contribution per plate appearance, if they have a simple question, such as “Who are the best 8 or 10 or 12 or 14 offensive players on our team, in their careers, or this season?” Despite all the stats given to us, I don’t really see one that answers this without my performing calculations.

That’s right; I have figured out how to calculate this myself, but it would be nice to have it automatically calculated. Here’s how you do it. (There is probably an easier way than this, but this is the way I figured from the materials available.)

Take the Players (Park/League Adjusted) Batting Runs above Average (listed at the bottom of the page under Value, or subtract baserunning runs from offense runs) and divide by wRC+ the percentage above average, converting wRC+ to a percentage and subtracting 100 (i.e. for a wRC+ of 104, divide by .04). This will give you the League Average Batting Runs in the player’s plate appearances. Now that you have this figure, simply add back in the Offensive runs above average (or the Batting Runs above average + Baserunning runs above average) to get the total park- and league-adjusted linear weights runs for the player including baserunning and hitting. And of course, to get our wRC+ baserunning-included statistic, we simply now divide by the league-average runs (which we already calculated, and which has the park and league adjustments built into it because of how it was calculated) and we arrive at the desired baserunning adjusted wRC+. Voila.

As an illustration, take Curtis Granderson, who I have down, as of September 15 having a career 117 wRC+, and a sum total of 192.9 Offense Runs, and 50.9 Baserunning Runs. By the way, we should immediately see that his career wRC+ is going to be seriously under-rating his overall offensive contribution since roughly 1/4 of his career offensive runs above average derive from his good works on the bases.

1) We start by subtracting the Baserunning runs from the Offense runs to get the Batting Runs above average (You can skip this step if you look down under value, where this stat is listed, though you can probably calculate it faster than you can scroll if you’re like me):

192.9 – 50.9 = 142

2) Next, since a wRC+ simply means his batting was 17 percent above league average for his career (park-adjusted), we divide the batting runs only by .17 to get the league-average batting runs, park-adjusted:

142 / .17 = 835.29

3)  Next, we add back the player’s total offensive runs above average, to the league-average figure over that span, park-adjusted for where the player played already, to get the player’s total park- and league-adjusted runs, including baserunning.

835.29 + 192.9 = 1028.19

4) Last, but not least, simply divide by the figure we arrived at in step 2 (the park-adjusted league-average runs a player would have produced in however many plate appearances) to arrive at your magnificently complete new baserunning-included wRC+:

1028.19 / 835.29 = 1.2307, or 123 on the 100 point wRC+ scale.

Thus, in the case of Granderson, his ostensible wRC+ of 117 is significantly under-playing how much better than average he’s been over his career on offense, relative to his opportunities, since his “true” wRC+, including baserunning, is actually 123, not 117.

I can’t see what the argument for baserunning not being included would even be; I understand why one would also want the batting-only figure, but the batting + baserunning figure is surely also important to know, and if I had to only have one, to my mind, I’d unequivocally take the figure that gives total offensive contribution relative to opportunities and adjusted by context, rather than a partial figure that tells me only about batting. Luckily, there’s no real reason to choose; we can and should have both.

You might now be thinking, wait, what about below-average players? (I momentarily had this trivial thought, but the negative runs above average, and the percentage wRC+ below 100 will cancel out, of course.)

A demonstration, using the aforementioned lead-footed Wilmer Flores as our exemplar. Flores, has -7.0 batting runs above average for career, -2.8 Baserunning above average, -9.8 offense above average, and a 95 career wRC+. Here I’ve skip step 1 by just finding Batting Runs on the bottom of the page.

  1. -7/.05=140 (which represents league average runs in Flores’s career plate appearances, including adjustments)
  2. 140-9.8=130.2 (the number of offensive runs Flores actually contributed, including his base-running miscues.)
  3. 130.2/140=.93 or a wRC+ of 93, once we appropriately dock Flores for his base-running.


Now, while this isn’t that complicated for me to calculate, I propose this, or something like it be implemented for a total wRC+ that includes baserunning. Obviously it could be calculated for season stats too just as easily. If you have baserunning runs, Offensive total runs, and wRC+, the figure I’m looking for can easily be implemented. Thanks for reading.

Ask Not for Whom the Bell Tolls; It Tolls for the NL DH

Depending on the news outlet, the designated hitter coming to the National League is either a foregone conclusion, or something that will never, ever happen.  Regardless of which outcome is true, it’s still a fine idea to think about, and it’s also fun to try to identify which current 2016 teams might most benefit from the inclusion of a DH spot on their roster.

To create a manageable list of names, I searched for player-seasons since 2013 that resulted in an offensive runs above average (Off) value of 25 or greater, a defensive runs above average (Def) value of -5 runs or less, and filtered for National League teams.  My thinking was that by FanGraphs’ own rule of thumb, 25 Off is a notch below great, and -5 Def is starting to make its way into the poor range.  The results are as follows:

Player Qualifying Seasons
Paul Goldschmidt 4
Freddie Freeman 3
Joey Votto 3
Jayson Werth 2
Andrew McCutchen 1

This is interesting for a couple reasons.  The first of which is that this once again proves that the answer to pretty much any question about baseball can be “Joey Votto.”  The second of which is that most of the names on this list are generally thought to be acceptable, sometimes even exceptional, fielders.

Andrew McCutchen’s lone appearance on this list is somewhat of an outlier: a -8.6 in 2014.  He’s been below average defensively in the past, but this is his low water mark for the past five years, going beyond the lower boundary of my arbitrary cutoff of 2013.  I think that we can ignore this for another reason: his bat doesn’t play at DH going forward at 2016 levels of production, rendering his inclusion moot for this purpose.  His contract extends to 2017 with an option for 2018, so I doubt we’ll see NL DH at bats for McCutchen on the Pirates before then.

Jayson Werth shows up twice, but outside of his defensively tremendous 2008 season, I don’t think that anyone would put him in the company of elite defenders.  Like McCutchen, Werth also is only under contract until the end of the 2017 season, which would qualify him for a maximum of one year of Nationals DH service.  I think that he can be dismissed from the list.

In his first full season with the Braves in 2011, Freddie Freeman was a disaster at first base (-23.6).  He was better in his second year with a -13 Def.  He’s gotten better over the intervening years, with his high water defensive mark coming in 2015 with -3.9 Def.  He has gone from an awful defender to a below-average defender, and playing for a Braves team that won’t be good for a couple years will probably stay at first even with the inclusion of a DH spot.  But, being that he is under contract until 2021, should the DH rule be put into effect, we may see him getting meaningful at bats as a DH before the end of the decade.

Signed through 2018 with a club option for 2019, Paul Goldschmidt’s defensive rating seems to be a victim of positional adjustment more than anything.  His worst defensive performance was -11.5 Def in 2012, his first full season in the MLB.  Since then his performance has been within the run adjustment for his position, outside of this current season.  He is on pace to have a truly bad defensive year in 2016.  But, he’s not even the most eligible DH candidate on his own team.  The Diamondbacks would likely be better served putting Yasmany Tomas at DH and let Goldschmidt continue to play most days in the field.

The third first baseman on the list is Joey Votto.  Like Goldschmidt, he is penalized heavily for being a first baseman.  But, dissimilar to Goldschmidt, he is on the wrong side of 30 and signed to an immensely long and expensive contract.  Of all the teams with players on this list, the Reds might be one of the best-positioned to take advantage of the DH immediately.  Outside of a magnificently terrible start to 2016, Votto has shown that he is still an offensive juggernaut, with a skillset that doesn’t seem to be deteriorating at all.  His defense, on the other hand, peaked in an injury-shortened 2012 season and has gotten progressively worse in each full season he’s played since.  For the 2016 season he’s performed at his worst in the field, with a -13.6 Def.  He accounts for 100% of the Reds’ currently committed payroll for 2021, and is still signed for two more years beyond that.

I’m sure there are more teams that would benefit from the addition of the DH, and I’m sure there are teams that would acquire other talent to man their DH positions.  Realistically, I think that most teams would end up using the DH much the same way as it’s been used in the AL for decades: as an extension of a hitting career, and a half day off for players while still keeping their bats in the lineup.  But, among the teams that met the criteria laid out above, I think that the Reds would be the team most suited to immediately improve through the designated hitter.

Of Glass Hammers and Paper Tigers

I grew up watching baseball in the late 80’s and early 90’s.  It was the antecedent micro-era of hyper-inflated monsters roaming the field, destroying baseballs with mere flicks of their pharmaceutically-enhanced forearms.  What I mean to say is that I have a skewed perception of the home run.  It runs deep: Even after years of conditioning myself to not see the home-run number as a major thing, but rather a minor piece of a much larger whole, I still get impressed by big numbers.

In talking to a friend of mine, I was wondering who had the most home runs, but the smallest net benefit to a baseball team.  After all, my whole life I’ve been hearing about guys “doing damage,” and disregarding whatever other detriments they may have as long as they can sniff out them ribeyes.  I started pretty basically, searching for players who had hit 35 or more home runs and amassed 3 or less WAR, and how many seasons they had accomplished this Herculean feat.  This achievement has been completed 68 times in baseball history, so to do it multiple times is a thing in its own right.  The leaders are as follows:

Seasons Player


Adam Dunn


Dave Kingman


Sammy Sosa


Carlos Delgado


Cecil Fielder


David Ortiz


Manny Ramirez

Interesting!  A little unsurprising that Dunn is up there, given that he was one of the harbingers of the “Three True Outcome” player, and was never known as a defensive maven.  But he had some good seasons!  I remember them being good; surely he couldn’t be as bad defensively so as to totally wipe out his offensive contributions.  It turns out, that no, no he was not.  Of those five seasons, he had a collective WAR of 8.1, from .6 WAR to 2.9 WAR.  Not a world burner, by any means, but not terrible.  One season he barely qualified for this haphazard study!  Certainly a one-dimensional player, but the kind of guy you’d like to have if the price were right.

Let’s take a look at the other five-season player on the list.  Dave Kingman was known for one thing: hitting home runs.  His nickname was “Kong,” presumably because he…consumed baseballs like they were giant bananas?  Kidnapped and absconded with them to the tops of large buildings?  Or it was alliterative and evocative of power.  One of those, take your pick.  Of his five seasons on the list, two were completely decent: above-average wRC+, WAR above 2, traditional numbers of a kind that the writers would like.  His worst two seasons, however…man.  It’s some bad news on all fronts in 1986 and 1982: below-average wRC+ (86 and 97), negative WAR (-.8 and -.5), but still the writers would have been pleased with his performance.

The point of all this, I suppose, is not to say how bad Adam Dunn and Dave Kingman were at baseball.  Quite the opposite!  They were great, at a very specific thing, which was to beat the bejesus out of a baseball until nothing was left but its constituent atoms.  By traditional counting stats, Dunn is T35 and Kingman is solo 40 on the all-time HR leader board.  This is very good!  Collectively, they have hit as many as 904 home runs more than anyone reading or writing this article.

The point, as always, is to make observations about edge-case phenomena and give them a snarky name for future use.  To this end, I am proposing that a player hitting 35+ homers while accumulating 3 or less WAR be referred to as the “Dave Kingman Glass Hammer” award.  As an extension of the Glass Hammer, I am also proposing the “Ryan Howard Paper Tiger” award, for when a player completes a Glass Hammer, but finishes in the top five of the MVP voting (see Ryan Howard, 2008 for further data).

The Critical Importance of Dylan Bundy

The Orioles are a playoff contender. They also have a rotation than can best be described as “aspirational.” Their starters rank 19th by fWAR as I write this, and too many of them put more fear into Buck Showalter than they do the opposition. You may be asking yourself “Self, has a team with a rotation this bad ever won the World Series?”

Well, ever is a really long time, but I did check in on the World Series winners over the last 10 years, and the answer is: why yes. It’s happened twice in fact: The last two Worlds Series winners (Royals and Giants) also had mediocre starting-pitching production, ranked 22nd and 23rd by fWAR (respectively). The Giants, at least, had Madison Bumgarner, who amassed nearly 4 WAR, won all seven games of the Series, and hit two homers in each game. Ok, not all of that sentence is true, but the Giants clearly had an ace, a horse they could ride to victory.

The Orioles rotation is a lot less ace-y. Chris Tillman sits at 2.4 WAR right now, good for 31st in the majors. Kevin Gausman may reach 2.0. No other O’s starter will.

This resembles the Royals 2015 rotation more than that of the 2014 Giants. The Fighting Yosts had two 2+ WAR starters: Yordano Ventura and Edinson Volquez. Like those Royals, the O’s have a relentless offense (though relentless in a much different way), and a quality bullpen (both 5th in reliever WAR).

Both rotations also received a key midseason reinforcement. In the 2015 Royals’ case it was Johnny Cueto, who put up an unimpressive 4.76 ERA in his time in KC, but did contribute 1 WAR. With the Royals, Cueto went over 6 innings per start with a 4.06 FIP, giving the bullpen some rest and pushing the radioactive Jeremy Guthrie to the margins of the rotation. The Royals had three 1+ WAR hurlers in the second half: Ventura, Volquez, and Cueto.

The Orioles similarly received a rotation boost after the All-Star break, but via roster re-deployment rather than trade. On July 17 Bundy made his first major-league start. Against the punchless Tampa Bay Rays, Bundy surrendered four runs in just 3 1/3 innings. He struck out four, walked three, and coughed up three dingers. In the space of about an hour, Bundy’s ERA jumped more than half a run.

And it’s been heading down ever since. In his last five starts, Bundy has posted a 1.84 ERA, a .472 OPS against, 32 Ks in 29 innings, and just four walks. Those three homers the Rays hit are still the only ones he’s yielded. These aren’t joke teams Bundy’s been beating: of his last five opponents, only the White Sox’ offense serves comfort food.

In the second half, Bundy trails only Tillman in starter WAR for the O’s. He and Tillman will both reach 1. It seems unlikely any other O’s starter will. Using the 2015 Royals as a model, the Orioles can have success down the stretch and into the postseason with three decent starters. The only candidates are Tillman, Gausman, and Bundy. This puts a lot of heat on a guy with just six major-league starts.

Are there alarm bells? In moving to the starting rotation, Bundy’s velocity has actually increased. His home run rate (1.65/9) is worrisome, but in sample sizes this small it’s dangerous to draw any conclusions from that. He’s doing something new with his curve, probably a key part of his recent success. He’s a achieved a whiff rate in August with the curve that’s almost twice that of any other month in his career. He’s also using his sinker more. These are good things, but any time an injury-prone pitcher makes this many changes at once, it’s possible that he’s rolling the dice with his soft tissue.

The biggest warning sign is probably the innings. His 70+ IP this year amount to just under a third of all his innings in organized ball. In one sense this was expected: Bundy was supposed to get to the majors with relatively minimal minor-league time. However, it’s taken him nearly five years since being drafted to get to 241 career innings (across all levels). No one expected that.

There isn’t a lot of history to go on here; Bundy doesn’t have many comps. There are good reasons for that. Forty years ago the medical advances that have made Bundy’s continued baseball existence possible did not yet exist. Moreover, prior to free agency, it would not have made economic sense for a team to incur those costs even if it could have. Back then, baseball was like Verdun: throw people at the enemy’s trenches and maybe enough of them will survive to take the objective. If not, order up another division and try again. In the baseball context, that meant if a young pitcher’s arm failed, you sent the kid home with a positive reference for his future employer, and gave the next kid the roster slot.

No team can afford to be so cavalier with its pitchers today, at least the ones with significant ceilings. Bundy is, in theory, the unobtanium of baseball: a young, cost-controlled, electric arm. The Orioles’ patience with him to this point is thus admirable, but hardly visionary. It’s more a reflection of how baseball has changed than of the merits the organization.

But the interests of the young pitcher and his employer do not always coincide. Bundy finds himself in a situation similar to that of Steven Matz, a situation in which Bundy’s long-term future and the Orioles’ immediate future may be incompatible. He is critical to whatever hopes the O’s may have of reaching, much less going deep into, the playoffs. Bundy’s heart wants him to continue starting well into October; whether his elbow agrees remains to be seen.

But no matter what fate awaits the O’s and Bundy, 29 other franchises are watching the Bundy story unfold. He will be the comp for the brilliant yet jeopardized young arms of the future. For the front office there is the remote but tantalizing prospect of competitive advantage: The franchise that finds a reliable way to fix those wings will undoubtedly take flight.

My Ongoing Conversation In My Head About Aroldis Chapman

What ails you now, brain?

Well, I still feel icky watching the Cubs after their trade for Aroldis Chapman.

Even after watching the last few games? Chapman’s been basically as good as advertised.

Actually even more so. Looking at pictures of the team celebrating with Chapman bother me and I wonder about whether the Cubs have mortgaged their souls. There’s one of my favorite young players Addison Russell, high-fiving unrepentant “I’m only sorry because of the gun” wife-choker Aroldis Chapman.

Look, you have to look at this from a baseball perspective. This is a borderline defensible deal. On the one hand, the Cubs gave up a LOT for Chapman, but they also had less relative value of those pieces. The Cubs want to win now, and the Yankees can afford to stock up on pieces to win later. The price of high-leverage lights-out relievers is high. I might think the deal looks imbalanced, but the Cubs stockpiled prospects for this very reason.

OK, but you can’t talk about this in terms of “a baseball perspective”! Clearly the reasons this deal makes you queasy have nothing to do with just baseball. Also in terms of BASEBALL reasons, doesn’t this feel like you’re defending Billy Beane’s terrible Donaldson trade? Or the Astros’ terrible Ken Giles trade?

OK, but when it’s the bottom of the 9th in the playoffs with two men on, are you going to want Aroldis Chapman’s 105-mph fastball against your team or for your team? This is more like the Michael Bourn-Brad Lidge deal. Giving up a lot in the future for one additional piece right now.

Yeah but that also means that when the Cubs go cheering in celebration at that big win, they will be running into the arms of a man who probably choked his girlfriend and then fired a gun multiple times into his garage. Are you OK with that?

Well, you still listen to James Brown, don’t you? You still love “Ignition (Remix)” (surely far more stomach-churning in context). You still watch Woody Allen movies. You still enjoy Degas’ paintings. Can’t you separate the act from the person? Look at that helpless swing from Jose Abreu in the face of a 91-mph slider following a 105-mph fastball and tell me it’s not art!

Yes, but that doesn’t mean that you need to make choices to pursue people who have done awful things. It’s one thing if the world accrues some sort of benefit from this work. Here, only the Cubs do! I can appreciate his fastball on the Yankees, thanks. And on top of that, Aroldis Chapman’s fastball is extraordinary but he’s not somehow irreplaceable. Hector Rondon has been as good this season.

OK, but last time I checked, Mr. “I Think Criminal Defendants Shouldn’t Have Stigma Forever,” you think we should let people who have served their time reenter society, find employment, vote, and be citizens without having the stigma of “ALLEGEDLY” in front of their names for the rest of their lives. We don’t know what happened that night. Chapman was not indicted, and he served a suspension in his job. Why can’t he just be another player now? Why must his collateral consequences last forever?

Well, obviously some categories of crimes we deem worse than others, and you proclaim that crimes that reinforce the patriarchy and misogyny are worse crimes. And do we really think Chapman’s changed? His general comments on the incident are not those of a repentant person and are pretty much a non-apology apology.

OK, but Matt Bush drunkenly ran over a guy’s head with a motorcycle and he plays baseball. Jose Reyes is out there playing baseball. And if what you care about is misogyny, I’m sure that MLB is full of misogynist guys if you ask. Everyone loved Kirby Puckett! Bobby Cox was a lovable grump! And those guys all hit their wives.

That’s hardly a defense. This gets back to what I said earlier: do we need to affirmatively seek out guys with that history? And on top of that, the Cubs paid a lot for the guy! Way more than the Yankees traded back in the offseason. It implies that the Cubs do not care about his past at all. Does this mean that hitting your girlfriend depresses your employability right after it happens, but not eight months after it happens?

Yes basically! Time and penalties separate us from our past indiscretions as a society. It’s not that time somehow heals the wound, but it’s a return to normalcy.

But I don’t want players who commit domestic violence to be normalcy!

Yeah, but when it comes to a collision of your conscience and baseball, why does your conscience only worry about this aspect of Chapman? Do you expect all businesses to have these high-minded ideals? If you do, where are people who do something you think is terrible supposed to do? Go work in the landfills and live under a bridge? If anything, the economics make it easier to let prior bad acts become history. Jhonny Peralta went from PED user to good SS for the Cardinals. Baseball execs are analytical thinkers in a zero-sum world. Your gain is someone else’s loss. SOMEONE will be employing Aroldis Chapman; your moral stance does not change that.

But the Cubs were supposed to be different! They’re my team! A lovable fun team of goofballs who wear fun costumes and play fun-loving pranks on each other and definitely don’t beat their wives.

OK, one, that’s wrong. Remember Starlin Castro? You think those sexual assault allegations just went away? And he was such a lovable scamp! Sammy Sosa had accusations of spousal abuse. Mark Grace has many a DUI to his name. And second, the Cubs are not heroes. They are, as you often say, millionaire jocks in their early 20s playing a child’s game for your entertainment. Do you expect them to reflect your values?

I guess we all have to accept that our heroes are mercenaries wearing cute outfits and our beloved sports teams are just billion dollar businesses.

There, now sit back and enjoy the baseball.

BUT THAT’S EXACTLY THE THING. Baseball is supposed to be an escape. It’s pure and beautiful and keeps us from thinking about our impending deaths. I want to enjoy it guiltlessly. Why can’t it also have a conscience?

Because baseball is not apart from the world; indeed it almost always reflects the world around it. Baseball is messy and full of flawed humans and you need to accept that.

Why must we accept all those flaws, though? That’s where I think you’re wrong! We celebrate Roberto Clemente and Hank Aaron and players with hearts. We celebrate Branch Rickey for selecting Jackie Robinson because we think his conscience was right.

But he only did it because it “made good baseball sense.” Which this deal makes too. Baseball is inherently immoral. We recognize Clemente, but Kennesaw Mountain Landis and Pete Rose and Ty Cobb are all celebrated too.

OK, but your answer cannot be “not as bad as Ty Cobb” every time.

Fine but modern baseball is not much better. Should I list the terrible working conditions for minor league players? Should I get into these baseball “academies” in poor countries? Terrible stadium deals that rob the public?

Agh! I guess I’ll just feel a little gross about my Cubs this year and a little queasy about any potential playoff glory being tainted by the 50% chance that Aroldis Chapman will be the focus of the big celebration, but only slightly less gross than I should feel about baseball itself?

Yeah that’s about right.

At least I can feel good about hot dogs and apple pie right?

Yeah, about that

The Yankees Made the Right Move

The New York Yankees had already announced that they were shopping star closer Aroldis Chapman, and this week it was announced that they had officially traded him to the Chicago Cubs in exchange for 19-year-old prospect Gleybar Torres, pitcher Adam Warren, outfield prospect Billy McKinney, and a fourth player to be named later. The recent hot streak the Yankees had struck had brought up questions on whether or not they were buyers or sellers, and a move of this caliber certainly appears (at least at its surface) to mean that the Yankees are announcing they are officially sellers, with more moves possibly in the works. There are also questions regarding why Torres was the primary prospect in the deal, when the Yankees already have both a good shortstop in Didi Gregorius, and impending holes at first base and right field at the start of next season. However, I believe that the Yankees shipping off Chapman was almost an intrinsic net positive for them, and here’s why:

1. The Yankees needed to prioritize Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances. One of the more intangible aspects of those two pitchers is that they don’t quite have the superstar status that Chapman does, partly due to the fact that Chapman’s 105 MPH fastball potential is exciting; it’s almost the pitching equivalent to Giancarlo Stanton’s 500-foot home-run potential. The trio of Yankees relievers are undoubtedly three of the best in the MLB: Betances, Miller, and Chapman are 3rd, 2nd, and 1st in FIP- since the start of the 2014 season, and 1st, 4th, and 7th in WPA/LI in that same time frame, respectively. Miller was an obvious keep, as he is signed through the 2018 season and for $9 million per year he is giving the Yankees terrific value. Betances will be up for arbitration this winter, so he also isn’t going anywhere either and will most likely still deliver great value. If the Yankees keep Chapman, then miss the playoffs, then keeping him was pointless unless they wanted to sign him to a long-term deal. Paying both of them also means they have less money to spend on a bat, something they will certainly need to do. Letting Chapman go makes the most sense here for sure.

2. Good teams don’t win close games, because good teams don’t play in close games. The Yankees offense has struggled immensely this year, and while the Yankees can end a game which they are winning through six innings, they forgot the most important part of that strategy: Having a lead after six innings. The Yankees’ poor offense has meant they have been in a lot of close games, and they are 2nd in the MLB with a 16-9 record in one-run games. It would be more beneficial for the Yankees to improve their rotation and their lineup though, because their bullpen can’t blow a lead if they don’t even have one. Torres and McKinney are hardly ready for the MLB yet, and obviously there are no guarantees that they will even evolve into star ballplayers. However, they can also now be used as trade chips in the future if need be, or even be used in a trade this season. Or, who knows? Maybe they’ll both become stars and will start for New York within the next five years. When the Yankees are freed of Mark Teixeira, Carlos Beltran, and CC Sabathia this offseason, they’ll have some money to spend, and now they’ll be able to spend it on having a more complete team.

3. Adam Warren is no chump. His 141 FIP- this year hardly disproves that, but his 88 FIP- in three years with the Yankees from 2013 through 2015 does. More importantly, Warren gives the Yankees innings. He has the ability to start, and he can also give more than one inning coming out of the bullpen. Obviously he’s no Aroldis Chapman, but throwing Warren out there in the 6th or 7th is hardly a risk, and ending a game with Betances/Miller is still essentially game over. If they have more offense then having Warren around to eat innings becomes more valuable than having Chapman around to save some games, but having him sit on the bench any time the Yankees don’t have a lead after six.

At this point, it is clear that the Cubs are going all-in on winning the World Series this year, and felt that Chapman was the missing piece of the puzzle. They also have confidence in Addison Russell, Ben Zobrist, and Javier Baez to secure the middle infield for the next X number of years. With the Yankees, it’s a little bit more complex, and considering every aspect of this trade is what tells us that it makes sense, and that it was the right move. The Yankees have always been known as buying their teams, and not building them, as their payroll consistently ranks among the highest in the MLB. There’s no saying they’ve completely abandoned that strategy, but at least here they find themselves selling in a very smart way. They weren’t going to benefit from potentially signing Chapman in the offseason, so instead of just losing him and his contract they figured they’d add pieces along the way. I’m not saying the Yankees have won the trade, because in my opinion you can only judge the intelligence of a trade by the information that was present when the trade was made. Considering everything we know right now, Yankees have made a very intelligent move, and it sets a precedent for more intelligent moves in the near future.

The Yankees’ Bad Decisions and How They Can Reverse Them

Before this season, everybody knew that the Yankees wouldn’t exactly be in contention this year.  But nobody could have predicted the extent to which their performance would dip — especially in hitting.  They have gotten an amazing performance from Carlos Beltran (wRC+ of 132), but that’s about it.  Oh, and Beltran has been a complete flop at fielding, managing to accumulate a -10 DRS only halfway into the season.  To offset his defensive issues, the Yankees can’t move him to first base, because he’s blocked there by Mark Teixeira, who’s earning $22.5 million a year.  And it’s not as if Mark Teixeira is earning his fat paycheck, either.  As of of the All-Star break, he has a -1.1 WAR.  So with Teixeira’s $22.5 million paycheck this year and less-than-desirable performance, trading him to make room for Beltran at first base is not an option.

So what about moving Beltran to DH?  Or moving Teixeira to DH and having Beltran play first?  A bit of a problem there.  See, Alex Rodriguez is right now occupying the DH spot.  And he’s earning $20 million this year while hitting .220 with a -0.7 WAR.  And while, theoretically, the Yanks could move Alex over to the hot corner to make room for Beltran, there’s the small problem of Chase Headley, who’s earning $13 million a year.  And while, yes, the Yankees could trade Chase Headley, who holds enough value to be desired by some clubs, nobody in the Yankees front office wants to even think, much less see, this scenario:  Almost 41-year-old Alex Rodriguez bumbling around the hot corner, feebly trying (and failing) to convert routine ground balls into outs.

So Beltran will be staying in right field until the inevitable happens:  one of the many 30-year-olds on the Yankees gets injured.  Some of those those 30-year-olds — Beltran, Texeira, and Rodriguez — combine to have a -0.3 WAR.  That is well below league-average.  Their earnings on the other hand…$57.5 million combined for 2016 alone.  Paying $57.5 million for -0.3 WAR.  However way you look at it, that’s a bad deal.  A really bad deal.  And that’s only three of the 25 people on the Yankees roster.  And you can be sure that the other 23 aren’t a general manager’s dream.  Quite the contrary.  Let’s go position by position and see exactly how horrible the Yankees’ hitters are when compared to their salaries.


Position: Players: Combined Salary: Combined WAR:
Catcher Brian McCann, Austin Romine 17.5 million 1.5
First Base Chris Parmelee, Rob Refsnyder, Ike Davis, Dustin Ackley, Mark Teixeira 27.9 million -1.1
Second Base Starlin Castro 7 million -0.4
Third Base Chase Headley, Ronald Torreyes 13.5 million 1.1
Shortstop Didi Gregorious 2.4 million 1.5
Right Field Carlos Beltran, Benjamin Gamel, Aaron Hicks 16.1 million 0.6
Left Field Brett Gardner 13 million 1.0
Center Field Jacoby Ellsbury 21.1 million 1.4
DH Gary Sanchez, Alex Rodriguez 20.5 million -0.8

So the Yankees’ payroll for hitters alone is $139 million for 2016.  Although that is a big sum — a gigantic sum — it wouldn’t have been noteworthy if the big names had performed and driven the Yanks to a playoff run.  Instead, though, those big names have performed terribly (except for Beltran) and the Yankees have almost no chance of making the postseason.

Right now the MLB is averaging six million dollars per 1 WAR.  That may sound like a lot, but compared to the Yankees it is nothing.  Since it is halfway through the season, their 4.8 combined WAR is 9.6 on a full-season scale.  139 million divided by 9.6 is 14.5.  That means that the Yankees are paying $14.5 million per 1 WAR.  That is more than two times league average.  Although they are overpaying for many players, the big blows come from five players only:  Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, Carlos Beltran, Brian McCann, and Jacoby Ellsbury.  All these players signed their mega deals after one of, if not the best season in their careers.  Except for Beltran, who got a three-year deal, all these players signed deals for five or more seasons.  Here is the rundown on their salaries.

Alex Rodriguez:  Alex’s deal is probably the stupidest of all other Yankees deals in history.  He was signed to a 10-year deal with the Rangers in 2001, and was traded to the Yankees in 2004.  His contract would then expire after the 2010 season, when he would be 35 years old.  But the Yankees, for some reason, decided to renew his contract two years before it expired, in 2008.  If the Yankees had signed him to a new five-year deal, that would not have been too bad.  But instead, the Yankees signed him to another 10-year deal worth 275 million dollars, $25 million more than his former deal.  So now he is signed through the 2017 season, when he will be 43 years old.  If the Yankees would have only agreed to let A-Rod go after the 2010 season, they would have avoided all the bad/OK years of his career, which, incidentally, started in 2011.

Mark Teixeira:  In 2009, the Yankees signed Mark Teixeira, who was coming off of a 6.9 WAR season, to an eight-year, 180-million-dollar deal.  To be fair, it was not a bad signing for the Yanks.  Teixeira was 29 in his first year as a Yankee, and got a 142 WRC+ while accumulating a 5.1 WAR.  Then the next year he dipped to a still-respectable 3.4 WAR.  But he was on a downwards path.  After one final good year in 2011, he slowly declined into what he is now: an expensive waste of a perfectly good roster spot.  But don’t condemn the Yankees for that.  Yes, they probably slightly overpaid for a .250 average/30 HR first baseman, but it wasn’t a horrible signing.  What was bad about it was the deal itself.  Not the money involved or the years.  The reason.  Why did the Yankees need a first baseman?  The year before the deal, 2008, Jason Giambi hit 32 homers and had a 131 wRC+ at first.  Yes, his deal was up after the season, but the Yankees could have easily re-signed Giambi without having to pay him $180 million.  So the Yankees didn’t need Teixeira.  They just wanted him.  And that is the same trap they’ve fallen into ever since the dawn of free agency.

Carlos Beltran:  The Yankees signed Beltran to a three-year deal worth $45 million in 2014.  At the time, he was 36 and coming off a good season with the Cardinals.  In fact, it was a great season — hitting-wise.  At defense, there is no way around it.  He was simply terrible.  He made almost all of the plays he got to, but he didn’t get to many.  He couldn’t run fast if you pointed a gun at him.  And somehow, for some reason, the Yankees expected him to play outfield for three more seasons — until he was 39.  And guess what?  It hasn’t worked out too well.  His hitting has been very good, but that hitting value has been stripped from him by his terrible fielding.

Brian McCann:  In 2014, the Yankees signed Brian McCann to a five-year deal worth $85 million.  At the time, it seemed like a good deal; a catcher who could hit well, signed for only $17 million a year.  In any other circumstance, that would be considered a good deal.  A great deal even.  But there was one problem.  It was a 30-year-old catcher they signed for five years.  A 30-year-old catcher who most likely wouldn’t survive two more years crouching behind the plate every inning for 140 games a year.  So for two years, they Yankees got a good deal.  But this year is the third year of the deal.  And surprise, surprise, your 32 1/2-year-old catcher is not performing too well behind the plate.  -6 DRS there.  And, frankly, his hitting is just not good enough to compensate the bad fielding behind the plate.

Jacoby Ellsbury:  In 2014 the Yankees gave Jacoby Ellsbury a 153-million-dollar, seven-year deal.  Ellsbury, who was 30 years old in 2014 and had a history of getting injured, was coming off of a 5.0 WAR season.  But that was mostly due to his well above-average speed.  He used it to his advantage on the basepaths and in the outfield.  All that is fine and good, but there is one problem:  Speed is the first tool to disappear from a player’s repertoire because of age.  And the Yankees’ deal with Ellsbury started when he was 30.  And after a 39-steal year for the first year of the deal, Ellsbury unsurprisingly swiped only 20 bags in the second year.  He used to consistently have 10 DRS every season; now, with the loss of his speed, that 10 has turned into zero.  And aside from steals and defense, Ellsbury doesn’t hold much value.  He hits about five homers a season, and is good for a .280 average.  And five homers, a .280 average and 20 steals is not worth 21 million dollars a year.

So where do the Yankees go from here?  Beltran, Teixeira, and Rodriguez’s contracts will all end this year or the next.  Then they are stuck with only Ellsbury’s and McCann’s.  McCann’s expires in 2018, and, realistically, the Yankees can deal with $17 million a year for two more years.  And with the way Ellsbury’s been playing this year, the Yankees can easily trade him for a small prospect and pay half of his remaining contract.  So if they trade Ellsbury the Yankees will be left with an (almost) clean slate at the end of this year.  How do they fill it?  Here are some suggestions on what and what not to do.

1.  Stay away from pricey free agents ages 31+.

2. Make sure not to sign any player who will be 37+ at any point during the deal.

3. Pay attention to the draft.  For the next few years, the Yankees won’t be very good, so they should make use of their high draft picks and start developing prospects, rather than just buying overpriced free agents.

4.  Only buy value-high, salary-low free agents, i.e. Ben Zobrist.

5.  Stay away from deals spanning eight years or longer.

Let’s get more in-depth with these five bullet points.  Oh, yeah, there’s a sixth:

6.  Get a new G.M.

So let’s get more in-depth with these six bullet points.  1. Stay away from pricey free agents ages 31+:  This rule should be one the Yankees know well by now.  After breaking this rule many times with no good results, this rule should be a relatively easy one for the Yanks to swallow.  Remember, the rule states “pricey free agents,” so that doesn’t include older players (35-36; as you will see in the next bullet, signing Jamie Moyer is forbidden) who still retain some value and can be signed for cheap.

2.  Make sure not to sign any player who will be 37+ at any point during the deal:  It doesn’t matter if this deal is for three years or for 11.  The message is clear:  older players are at higher risk of either sharply declining or getting injured.

3.  Pay attention to the draft:  For most of their history, the Yankees lived in an era of no free agents, so they were able to rip the poor teams of their great prospects with the promise of good money.  Now, when almost every team has enough money, and those who don’t (Rays, Astros, Marlins, Pirates) are smart enough so that they won’t give away their prospects, this strategy is much harder.  So the Yankees switched their focus to high-priced free agents.  This new “strategy” has had its ups and downs.  Most of the ups came earlier, when teams didn’t try to retain their stars after the six years of cost-control.  Now, with many stars (Stanton, Strasburg) being offered luxurious extensions by their teams, most of the talent never hits the free-agent market until much later, when it is not worth much.  So, with extreme reluctance, the Yankees must turn their attention to the draft, an event they have somewhat ignored over the past years.  Although they do make an effort to sign players and do draft players with good potential, they have not made a real effort to dig deep and find hidden gems.  Remember, Mike Piazza was drafted in the 62nd round.  And furthermore, they must not be tempted to trade away these hidden gems they worked so hard to get in return for a major-league player with not half the talent as the prospect.

4.  Only buy high-value, low-salary free-agents:  In years past, this strategy would have worked wonders for the worst team in the league who has a small budget.  Imagine:  who would sign a .272 hitter with 10 homers to a 56-million-dollar contract 10 years ago?  Almost nobody.  But just this year, Ben Zobrist received that contract.  And according to WAR, he should have received more.  Here is a list of smart free agents for after the 2016 season:

Catcher:  There are three good catchers eligible for free agency after the 2016 season:  Jonathan Lucroy, Wilson Ramos, and Matt Wieters.  Out of the three, Jonathan Lucroy and Matt Wieters will most likely be the most wanted.  So that leaves Wilson Ramos.  He is 29 and a solid backstop with hitting potential.  Smart buy:  Wilson Ramos

First Base:  There are actually no standout smart buys at first base.  Justin Smoak, Carlos Santana, and Sean Rodriguez are all options.  The one who has the most value when compared the the estimated price, though, is Sean Rodriguez.  He is also one of the youngest first baseman of all free agents.  Smart buy:  Sean Rodriguez.

Second Base:  Most of the second base free agents next year are way above our target age.  The few that are in our age range are Gordon Beckham, Chris Coghlan, Daniel Descalso, and Neil Walker.  We can safely say that Gordon Beckham and Daniel Descalso are off the list, simply because they don’t provide the value to be a smart buy.  Neil Walker’s price will have shot way up after the amazing campaign he is having this year, so that leaves us with Chris Coghlan.  Chris, who is 32, holds loads of value as he can play second base as well as corner outfield positions.  He is also having one of the worst seasons of his career as of now, so he will be really cheap come the season’s end.  Smart buy:  Chris Coghlan.

Third Base:  At third there are only a few free agents in the Yankees’ age range.  They are Luis Valbuena, Justin Turner, and Martin Prado.  Luis Valbuena is eliminated, because he is too big and awkward to stick at third base.  Somewhere in his near future he will be transitioned to first base.  So that leaves us with Justin Turner and Martin Prado.  These are both good value picks, but Justin Turner must be eliminated.  He will be way too expensive, two years removed from the best season of his life (so far) and part of a playoff contending team.  Martin Prado is our smart buy for third base.  He has been amazingly consistent his whole career, and coming from the Marlins, his price tag will be relatively low.  Smart buy:  Martin Prado.

Shortstop:  There are only four shortstops available after the season ends, and three of them fit the basic criteria:  Alcides Escobar, Erick Aybar, and Ruben Tejada.  Ruben Tejada is the first elimination, as he does not have enough experience in the big leagues to validate his performance.  Alcides Escobar also must go, because he is most likely going to be re-signed by KC.  And even if he is not, his price will be driven up by their bids.  That leaves Erick Aybar.  He is consistent, and hardly ever injured.  He is also mired in a huge slump right now, which will significantly drive down his price.  Smart buy:  Erick Aybar.

Right Field:  There is simply no other competition for smart buy.  Josh Reddick has amazing defense in right, can hit very well, and is only 30 years old.  He is also playing for the obscure Athletics right now, which will drive down his price.  Smart buy:  Josh Reddick.

Left Field:  There are so many standout left fielders going into the 2016-2017 free agency that they will all drive down the price of each other.  That will allow the smart buy to be a big player.  The big left field names are Michael Saunders, Matt Holliday, Ian Desmond, and Yoenis Cespedes.  Matt Holliday is too old, so he’s out.  Yoenis Cespedes is too fluky, and can be injury-prone, so he’s also out.  That leaves us with Ian Desmond and Michael Saunders.  Both of these players are having breakout seasons so far.  Ian Desmond offers more flexibility in the field, as he can play shortstop, second base, and all the outfield positions, including center.  Michael Saunders might be a little cheaper, but it is hard to tell.  It was close but Ian Desmond is our smart buy for left field.  Smart buy:  Ian Desmond.

Center Field:  There are three very good possibilities:  Carlos Gomez, Dexter Fowler, and Austin Jackson.  Dexter Fowler would be a very good pick almost any other season, but he is having a breakout year so far for the Cubs, so he’s out.  Austin Jackson, on the other hand, is having one of his worst seasons ever.  The problem with him is that he doesn’t seem capable of ever making a return to the player he used to be.  He is coming off three straight seasons in which he failed to hit higher than .270.  So Carlos Gomez it is.  He has struggled mightily with the Astros, but that is probably just the effect of playing in a huge ballpark rather than in hitter-friendly Milwaukee.  Smart buy:  Carlos Gomez.

DH:  With many players to choose from, the only player that really catches the smart buyer’s eye is Pedro Alvarez.  He hasn’t found much playing time with power-packed Baltimore, so that will bring down his value significantly.  Smart buy:  Pedro Alvarez.

Starting Pitchers:  With so many choose from, there will be five smart buys for starting pitchers.  There are many soon-to-be free agent starting pitchers ages 28-31.  Smart buy #1 (note:  smart buy number does not imply any greater value for pitcher):  Brett Anderson.  Coming off an injury but with many years of experience with him, Brett Anderson is a great pick for any team.  Smart buy #2:  Jaime Garcia.  So far he has been OK this season, but very consistent.  A very good pick for any team looking for a cheap starting pitcher with a high ceiling.  Smart buy #3:  Jeremy Hellickson.  Hellickson has never had a horrible year in his career.  Although he did have one 5.00 E.R.A. year, he still had a positive WAR.  And aside from that season, he has been pretty good, but not good enough to warrant a big contract.  Smart buy #4:  Matt Moore.  Moore is a dependable, extremely young left-hander.  In fact, he is one of the youngest starting pitchers on the market for next year.  Smart Buy #5:  Ivan Nova.  Although he’s had a rough year so far, you have to love the potential!  He is only 30 years old, and best of all, he’s on the Yankees right now, so they have easy access to him.

Those are all the smart buys.  I am not suggesting that the Yankees sign every single one of those players, but three of four of them wouldn’t hurt.  In fact, they would most likely help the Yankees turn their club around quickly — much quicker than anyone projected them to.

5.  Stay away from deals spanning eight years or longer:  This rule will help prevent the Mark Teixeira deals, the Alex Rodriguez deals, and the Jacoby Ellsbury deals.  This way, if a player is signed for five years, and only performs well for three years of the deal, the Yankees only have to deal with two bad years.

6.  Get a new G.M:  Brian Cashman simply hasn’t gotten it done.  He was given a good team with an unlimited budget and has turned it into one of the worst clubs in baseball.

Hopefully, the Yankees will use their bad experiences to their advantage and become one of the smarter teams in baseball, a la the Astros, Rays, and Pirates.  With the help of these rules and suggestions, they can become the most dangerous team in the MLB, with money and smarts.