September 25th, 2016

I’m not at all sure how to put into context what happened today; everything still feels so raw and I had a hard time decide whether or not to actually write this article. But, today was just such a monumental day that I needed to get my feelings out on paper.

Regardless of the fact that I have never met him, and have absolutely no connection to him at all, I woke up to news that no one should ever have to wake up to.

Jose Fernandez has passed away at the age of 24.

It’s still hard to believe that the sentence I just put down is true. It’s not my place to grieve over Fernandez, I give all of my most sincere condolences to his family, friends, teammates, and anyone else who he impacted over his life. But it’s still hard to sit here and try and wrap my thought around him being gone.

Whenever anyone passes away, all of their good qualities shine through because we, as humans, choose to illuminate the good that we do in retrospection. And, that’s exactly what we are doing with Fernandez.

His light literally could not have shown any brighter. Never have I ever seen a Jose Fernandez frown. That infectious smile is absolutely everywhere today, as it well should be. Countless stories have been recounted of his kindness, from rescuing his mother from drowning while defecting from Cuba to spending joyous time with Casey McGehee’s cerebral palsy-stricken child, Fernandez had as big a heart off the field as he did on the field.

On the field? Jose Fernandez was as good as anyone I have ever seen.

Ever since his rookie season in 2013, that wipeout slider and 100 mph heat made Fernandez one of my favorite pitchers to watch. In the live ball era, no one has had a lower FIP than Fernandez’s 2.32 with at least 700 IP.

Even further, Fernandez will be remembered as a part of the Cuban renaissance in baseball. When he debuted, Cubans were few and far between in Major League baseball. Now, between him, Yasiel Puig, Aroldis Chapman, Yoenis Cespedes, Jose Abreu, Aledmys Diaz – and tons others – Cubans are all over the game of baseball, and the United States government has begun negotiating with the former Soviet friend in an effort to mend their relationship.

Now, did Fernandez do this all by himself? No, but he was part of a mini-revolution that may change two countries entirely. And he did all by just being himself.

Jose Fernandez was a star, and he shone as bright as any star has ever shown. It’s almost impossible to hate him because his smile and his joy are just so infectious and genuine, and even on days when he was starting, he would still make time to go sign autographs and talk to reporters.

Baseball lost possibly it’s brightest star today, and I still struggle to find the right words to honor him. But, the game will honor Jose Fernandez by continuing on, and every one of us can honor Fernandez by simply doing his favorite thing.

Smiling.

……….

As heartbreaking as the news was this morning, baseball continued on, but everything just seemed overshadowed by something.

The Mets defeated the Phillies by a massive margin of 17-0 to increase their lead in the Wild Card standings to a full game over the San Francisco Giants and a game and a half over the St. Louis Cardinals. In their dugout hung a Mets replica jersey with Fernandez’s name and his number 16 on the back.

The Los Angeles Dodgers clinched their fourth straight division title with a walk-off home run by Charlie Culberson. Amid all of the joyous celebration was a tearful Yasiel Puig, a fellow Cuban and close friend of Fernandez’s who had also hung a Fernandez replica jersey in the Dodgers dugout.

Combined with all of this was the realization that today was the final home game that the Vin Scully would ever call. A great way for Scully to go out, no doubt, but still a sad day for anyone that has ever listened to Scully and just been amazed by his simplistic greatness.

The greatest broadcaster that there will ever be calls his final game this weekend in San Francisco,  so there are still 3 more opportunities to listen to Scully’s voice before he rides off into the sunset.

But, amid all of the joyous Dodger celebration were Puig’s tears at the loss of Fernandez, and the bittersweet reminder that this was Scully’s final home game.

Every team held a moment of silence before their games in honor of Fernandez. Many players wrote JF 16 on their caps to pay tribute, and close personal friends such as Aledmys Diaz and Jose Iglesias had to be scratched from their respective lineups to collect themselves in such a heartbreaking moment.

There just seemed to be a gray cloud over all of baseball today. In the midst of a heated and chaotic stretch run that has seemingly divided the league, the games didn’t seem to matter today.

The jarring news of Fernandez’s passing serves as a tragic reminder that nothing is guaranteed. Fernandez was supposed to be a long term fixture in the Marlins rotation, a Cy Young contender for years to come, an infectious presence that would lead baseball’s Cuban revolution and make baseball fun again.

I keep finding myself lamenting the fact that I didn’t watch him pitch enough. I didn’t fully appreciate his greatness because I just assumed that he would be there for years and years and years.

Same thing with Vin Scully. I remember when I first heard him and thought he was dry and boring. With age, I learned just how unique and brilliant and special Scully is and, this season, I find myself wishing I could hear him call every game. I’m not even a Dodger fan, but it just will never be right to not hear his voice while watching a Dodger game.

During what was supposed to be one of the most exciting days of the season, baseball endured a heartbreaking tragedy and saw its greatest broadcast of all time call his final home game.

Appreciate what we do have in this great game, because you never know when it might get taken away.

I love you all.

Thanks for reading.

-Ryan

September 25th, 2016

Darren O’Day and Bullpen Market Inflation

The modern bullpen has become, quite possibly, the biggest key to success in today’s league. What used to be 2-3 arms back there ready to put out the fire that a starter got himself into – i.e. the term “fireman” being coined for closers – has now become 7-8 arms, all with highly specialized roles.

I really hope someone corrects me on this, but for my money the modern bullpen was engrained in baseball by Tony La Russa, and made even more imperative during his Cardinals’ 2011 World Series run – highlighted by the NLCS, where Cardinal relievers threw more innings than Cardinal starters.

I remember hearing stories about, specifically, the Oakland A’s of the early 1970’s, and how Rollie Fingers would be sitting off in the bullpen with maybe one or two other guys. His job? Put out any fire that star pitchers Vida Blue, Catfish Hunter or Ken Holtzman got into. Other than Fingers being the closer, there were no defined roles. They just came in when manager Dick Williams told them to.

I am a massive proprietor of the modern bullpen. I love how important it has become, the jobs it creates, the careers it saves, and the strategy it produces and emphasizes. But I bet you if Dick Williams had himself a specified ‘long man’ or ‘LOOGY’ he would have no idea what to do with them.

And he might be especially confused if the team told him that they were paying that ‘long man’ or ‘LOOGY’ over $4 million. But obviously a lot has changed in the 40 years since Williams was managing, and the bullpen has been intensely inflated – in both importance and market value – to the point where spending on your bullpen has become less of an afterthought and more of a priority that must be adhered to.

At the start of the offseason I pegged out what the Cardinals needed to do to put out a successful on-field product in 2016. One of the main things was that they needed to spend on the bullpen. I’d be willing to bet that the phrase, “spend on the bullpen” wasn’t in the vocabulary of baseball executives even 5 years ago.

But today, I look up and see Boone Logan – he of the aforementioned ‘LOOGY’ species, and he of a career 4.55 ERA – making $16 million over 3 years. A guy that is on your team to, more often than not, pitch less than one inning every few days is making comparable money to guys that will go out there and play every single day.

Logan
Boone Logan. Photo courtesy of the New York Post

Why do I bring up the topic of bullpen inflation on this particular occasion? Because one of the specific targets that I had in mind for the Cardinals to pursue at the beginning of this offseason is requesting quite a bit of money.

Darren O’Day wants between $28 and $36 million over 4 or 5 years. To give you a sense of the kind of contract that O’Day is asking for, let’s pretend that he got 4 years for $36 million, an average of $9 million a year.

O'Day
Photo courtesy of the Baltimore Sun

Now compare that to the 6 year, $52 million contract that Matt Carpenter signed two years ago. O’Day would be making an average of about $300,000 more than Carpenter per year. Carpenter, in 3 full major league seasons has accumulated 14.4 total WAR, while in 8 full major league seasons, O’Day has accrued 14.1 total WAR.

Darren O’Day is asking for more money than a guy who plays every day and provides remarkable value every day; which isn’t his fault, but is a perfect example of the kind of near hyperinflation that the reliever market has experienced.

With the current state of bullpens, a guy with 14 career saves in 8 years can command the type of money that a guy like Matt Carpenter makes. I bring up the saves statistic because the highest paid relievers in the game – Papelbon, Andrew Miller, Mariano, Kimbrel – are all established closers. But a 7th or 8th inning guy making that kind of money? Game changer

Granted, O’Day is tremendous in his role, and can provide shutdown relief that can bridge the gap to your highly compensated closer, but is there nothing more important that your $9 million can be put towards?

But, alas, such is the current market. Relievers are in higher demand than ever, and O’Day will get his payday. Could he really every be worth $9 million? In my eyes, no, but for a team like Los Angeles or now Boston that has a dominant closer but porous bridge relief, O’Day could be the savior of their bullpen.

So the bullpen is at a crossroads. It’s added strategy, it’s added excitement, and it’s saved careers; but is your bullpen really worth nearly $43 million like the Dodgers’ pen was? I’m not so sure…

Thanks for reading…

-Ryan

Darren O’Day and Bullpen Market Inflation

The Detroit Tigers and Bullpen Problems

Something that hasn’t been talked about enough with regards to the recent rise to prominence and dominance by the Kansas City Royals is the fall of the Detroit Tigers.

A proud franchise from a proud city that had won 4 straight division titles, with a World Series appearance sprinkled in that run, Detroit has been the class of the American League Central for quite some time now. The Twins have come and the Twins have gone, (and they’re coming again), the White Sox have come and the White Sox have gone, but the Tigers have consistently been there.

The Tigers are in big, big trouble right now. They are an aging team that owes a bazillion dollars to a pair of stars on the wrong side of 30, has the 30th ranked farm system in the league, (that’s dead last, by the way), and finished in the cellar of the very division they ruled for such a long time.

And then their star GM, Dave Dombrowski, was canned and headed for Boston. Why was Dombrowski fired? Because he wanted to rebuild. Because he wanted to help the franchise get back to their winning ways. Unfortunately for him, Mike Ilitch, the Tigers 86 year old owner, understandably wants to win a World Series before he leaves this earth and will not tolerate a rebuild.

dombrowski
Photo by John Wilcox for Boston Globe

So instead of going about the rebuild like, say, the Twins or the Cubs did – that is, really successfully – the Tigers are about to enter a nuclear winter that might doom the franchise for many years to come.

Now, the only real, perceivable issue the Tigers have dealt with over the course of the past 5 or so years is that their bullpen has been bad, rather appallingly so. They have never been able to find an effective closer, and, puzzlingly, have never really gone out and attempted to get one.

Yeah, yeah Ryan we know all of this. Why are you bringing it up now?

I bring it up now because of the recent trades that Dombrowski has made in Boston, and that new Detroit GM, Al Avila, made just about 3 hours ago.

Since he never really went after a closer in Detroit, naturally the first thing that Dombrowski did when he got to Boston was go out and acquire Craig freaking Kimbrel from the Padres. If there were any closer issues in Boston, they have been solved. And Avila went out and acquired Francisco Rodriguez from the Milwaukee Brewers.

K-Rod
Photo by Jesse Johnson for USA Today

Kimbrel needs no introduction, but Rodriguez has quietly been one of the better closers in baseball for the Brewers. Excluding a half season hiatus in Baltimore following a deadline trade, in his 5 years with Milwaukee, Rodriguez has posted a 3.45 FIP to go along with a 136 ERA+ and 9.6 K/9 in 250.2 IP. Those are really solid numbers from a relief ace, something Detroit really knows nothing about.

So Al Avila deserves a pat on the back for going out and finally addressing Detroit’s closer issue. And his acquiring of Rodriguez looks extra impressive when you consider the farm resources and blue chip talent pool that he had to deal from.

As for Dombrowski and Boston, the fans in Detroit are left to wonder why in the hell it took him so long to go out and make a move on a reliever. It was literally the only deficiency the Tigers had during about a 7 year stretch of his tenure, so why didn’t he fix it?

My two cents are that he didn’t want to give up Detroit’s limited farm resources for a potential rental closer, but in Boston he’s got a completely different situation. Boston’s farm system is totally jacked, so Dombrowski had no issues scooping up enough talent to coax AJ Preller into sending him Kimbrel.

But, regardless of what Dombrowski did – or, in this case, didn’t do – during his time in Detroit, Al Avila just made a good move for the Detroit bullpen.

Al Avila
Al Avila. Getty Images

Detroit obviously believes they can contend in 2016, and they are sort of right for thinking that. But this trade won’t really change the fact that they are a team stuck in neutral with a potential nuclear winter, reminiscent of what the Astros went through a few years back, on their horizon.

The Tigers need much, much more than just Francisco Rodriguez to avoid said nuclear winter, and Al Avila had better get hopping if he wants to see his way through it.

Thanks for reading…

-Ryan

The Detroit Tigers and Bullpen Problems