Buster Olney: Arizona Diamondbacks

Arizona's unrealistic expectations 

May, 21, 2014
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Titles mean far less than practical power, and the simple truth is that Arizona Diamondbacks general manager Kevin Towers lost his power when Arizona hired Tony La Russa. Towers was hired after Jerry Dipoto stepped in on an interim basis after Josh Byrnes was fired in the summer of 2010.

There has been far less stability than success for the Diamondbacks, which is why one rival evaluator mentioned Tuesday that La Russa is probably already working on borrowed time. "He's like the rabbit in a dog race," said the evaluator.

In other words: History tells us that eventually, Arizona ownership will get fed up with him, too, just as it turned on Byrnes and then Towers, despite the fact the team generally played above expectations for a team with a middle-class payroll.

When Byrnes was hired in 2005, Arizona was in the midst of back-to-back seasons in which the Diamondbacks had the worst run differential in the majors.
Jed Hoyer, Theo EpsteinAP Photo/Nam Y. HuhJed Hoyer, Theo Epstein and the Cubs have a multitude of elite position prospects in their system.
CHICAGO -- The Cubs are loaded with position prospects but don’t have much in the way of pitching prospects. The New York Mets are stacked with great young pitching, but they don’t have much in the way of position prospects.

“Which would you rather have?” one longtime evaluator mused.

It’s an interesting question now, in 2014, in a way that it hasn’t been for many years. Because for the last few decades, the pitcher-to-position player exchange rate -- much like the U.S. versus Canada money exchange rate -- has generally skewed to one side; pitching has generally gotten you more in return than position players.

For that reason, rival evaluators were stunned a few years ago that Seattle would swap elite young pitcher Michael Pineda in a deal for catcher/designated hitter Jesus Montero; it smashed against the grain of recent history. For that reason, the Rays were able to get outfielder Wil Myers in return for James Shields and Wade Davis; the Royals desperately needed pitching to ascend.

But as we move within three months of the July 31 trade deadline, is the exchange rate of pitching and position players the same?

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Starters who could hit trade market 

April, 29, 2014
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David PriceJared Wickerham/Getty ImagesThe Rays may trade David Price before he becomes eligible for free agency after the 2015 season.
The Astros traded away Lucas Harrell on Monday, but he won’t be the last pitcher traded this season, of course. The market is a long way from fully developing, from being fully defined by failures and successes.

A long-time executive said last week that he hasn’t received a single trade call yet because a lot of teams won’t know for many days whether they will be buyers or sellers.

But an early forecast of what may develop based on the first results of this season would probably include some of these names:

David Price, Tampa Bay Rays

Tampa Bay decided to keep David Price for the outset of the 2014 season because the Rays didn’t find an acceptable offer for the left-hander over the winter, and because they had reason to believe they could win the AL East. But the Rays' context changed significantly when Matt Moore blew out his elbow and Alex Cobb went on the disabled list. Tampa Bay will be relevant in the playoff races only if its rotation is effective, and as of this morning, the Rays rank 25th in overall rotation ERA, and 24th in innings pitched.

The Rays may well hang on to Price throughout the entire season, in keeping with their history of contending; Tampa Bay has its problems, for sure, but there does not appear to be a powerhouse team in the division, either.

But rival officials continue to believe that Price will be traded some day, given his spiraling salary, and the Rays figure to do their due diligence, at the very least, and answer the phone if interested teams call.

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After the Giants lost Tuesday night by a run scored on a call that everybody now knows was wrong, San Francisco manager Bruce Bochy said all the right things, as Andrew Baggarly writes. From his story:
Even with expanded replay, A.J. Pollock was allowed to be safe twice in an inning when he appeared -- once conclusively appeared -- to be tagged out. Major League Baseball officials expected the replay system would require some tweaks. If the impetus behind this confusing tangle of rules is to get calls right, an overhaul might be more in order.

Not that Bochy, after getting buffaloed in a 5-4 loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks, is calling for that.

"I'm fine with how they are," said Bochy, all but handed a lit match when asked about the replay procedures. "We'll see how it goes. We're in our second game now. Ask me deeper in the season. I may say something, may have an opinion."


I haven't talked to Bochy since the call was made, so I don't know what he's really thinking. But after having talked with a lot of other managers and club executives, this much is evident:

1. Just about everybody is excited about the new and improved form of instant replay.

2. A whole lot of them believe the system would be better without the managers' challenge built into it.

It is through the managers' challenge that the pivotal run was allowed to score on an understandably botched call Tuesday night.

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Ranking strength of early NL schedules 

February, 26, 2014
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Starlin CastroNuccio DiNuzzo/Chicago Tribune/MCT/Getty ImagesStarlin Castro and the Cubs are not getting help from their early-season schedule.

In following Tuesday's column ranking the American League's early-season schedules, Wednesday we have the National League. The teams are ranked toughest to easiest in caliber of early-season schedule.


1. Chicago Cubs

Games vs. teams with records of .500 or better in 2013: 31 of first 40.
Home/away: 18 of their first 40 are at home.
Notables: The Cubs basically get to run an NL Central gauntlet in the first quarter of the season, with 21 of their first 40 games against the Cardinals, Reds and Pirates.

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A predictable bidding war 

February, 6, 2014
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Bronson ArroyoAP Photo/Jaime Henry-WhiteBronson Arroyo isn't among the game's better starters, but some covet his predictability.
Bronson Arroyo has been like baseball’s version of an old, dependable pickup truck. The odometer is well over 100,000 miles at this point, but year after year, he always starts, in all kinds of weather...

2004: 27 starts, 178.2 innings
2005: 32 starts, 205.1 innings
2006: 35 starts, 240.2 innings
2007: 34 starts, 210.2 innings
2008: 34 starts, 200 innings
2009: 33 starts, 220.1 innings
2010: 33 starts 215.2 innings
2011: 32 starts 199 innings
2012: 32 starts 202 innings
2013: 32 starts 202 innings

That's one whole decade of taking the ball on the day you’re supposed to pitch, start after start. An evaluator who works for a team currently bidding on Arroyo says that there will be days that the right-hander might give up a crooked number in the first inning, but when you look up in the fifth or sixth inning, Arroyo usually has been through the lineup twice -- and at the very least, he’s competed, kept your team within range and saved your relievers for the day.

“He’s not a bullpen-killer,” said the evaluator. “Some pitchers just kill your bullpen, but Bronson will get you into the middle of the game. He’s predictable.”

Among remaining starters on the free-agent market

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Top 10 defenses in the majors 

December, 29, 2013
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Manny MachadoMitchell Layton/Getty ImagesBaltimore's Manny Machado earned the American League Platinum Glove Award last season.
There probably has been more focus on evaluating and maximizing defensive efficiency than any other part of baseball in the last five years. If we're looking for explanations about why offensive production has been declining, increased defensive production might be responsible.

In Part IV of our series, we look at the top 10 defenses in Major League Baseball.

1. Baltimore Orioles

The Orioles posted pictures of their Gold Glove winners in their spring training facility, and with good reason: Buck Showalter’s club has continued the organizational tradition -- fostered by the likes of Paul Blair, Brooks Robinson, Mark Belanger, Cal Ripken Jr. and others -- of strong defense. The best of the group is third baseman Manny Machado (“The best at his position, and it’s not close,” said one evaluator), although we don’t know what condition he'll be in during his first months back on the field since having knee surgery.

They have Gold Glove defenders at shortstop (J.J. Hardy), center field (Adam Jones) and at catcher (Matt Wieters). Right fielder Nick Markakis and first baseman Chris Davis are solid defenders, and newcomer David Lough posted one of the best UZR/150 ratings among outfielders with at least 650 innings last season.

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Many teams capable of a big move 

December, 15, 2013
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Shin-Soo ChooJamie Sabau/Getty ImagesShin-Soo Choo is one of the big names still available in free agency, and he has a number of potential suitors.
The Mariners have spent about $250 million this offseason, and the Yankees more than $300 million. Most of the best free agents have come off the board, and as general managers rushed out of the building with the dolphin on the top to catch flights out of Florida on Thursday, a lot of the winter work was done.

But some teams still have room for a big move before the offseason is over:

1. Texas Rangers: GM Jon Daniels says he does not expect any more major moves for the Rangers this winter. But Texas remains in an excellent position in its negotiations with Shin-Soo Choo and Nelson Cruz, because it appears the Rangers are one of the last teams -- maybe the last team -- prepared to spend big money on an outfielder.

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Phillies will listen on Hamels and Lee 

December, 10, 2013
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Cole HamelsHunter Martin/Getty ImagesThe Phillies are reportedly shopping Cole Hamels, which is at odds with some of their other moves.
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- The Philadelphia Phillies are trying to regain their footing after a disastrous 2013 season, trying to get younger while still contending against the Braves and Nationals in the National League East, and they seem ready to try on anything, if they can make all of that happen.

Which could be why they have told other teams that they are willing to consider trades of either of their two best starting pitchers, Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee, as sources say.

Hamels turns 30 later this month, and it was only 17 months ago that the Phillies signed him to a seven-year, $153 million deal; he had a 3.60 ERA last season.

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Top remaining needs for contenders 

December, 8, 2013
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Gardner_Brett AP Photo/John MinchilloThe Yankees could look to deal Brett Gardner in order to improve their starting pitching.
ORLANDO, Fla. -- A lot of teams filled needs in recent weeks, which is why you wouldn’t blame Boston GM Ben Cherington and St. Louis GM John Mozeliak if they spent some of the time here sipping fruity drinks with umbrellas. Their winter work is mostly done.

But many teams have a lot of work to do, which is why executives anticipate a lot of discussion at the winter meetings. The biggest holes to fill for teams that want to view themselves as serious contenders in 2014:

1. Angels: starting pitching

Right now, their rotation consists of Jered Weaver, C.J. Wilson and Garrett Richards. Joe Blanton is under contract, but it’s unclear whether the Angels would give him another shot after his disastrous 2013 season.

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10 biggest holes on contenders 

November, 13, 2013
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A year ago, Marlon Byrd was coming off a season in which he had been suspended for the use of performance-enhancing drugs and was limited to just 47 games, and he eventually settled for a make-good minor league deal with the New York Mets.

Now he's 36 years old and getting a $16 million deal with the Philadelphia Phillies, which speaks to the level of desperation in play for teams wanting to get better, needing to get better.

As baseball executives meet in Orlando this week for the GM meetings, these are the 10 biggest holes that have to be filled among would-be contenders:

1. Texas Rangers: middle-of-the-order bats

Josh Hamilton walked away a year ago, Nelson Cruz is prepared to walk away now, and the Rangers -- who have historically posted top-notch, productive lineups in the way Duke has had good basketball teams -- have a problem. With Cruz, they clubbed 176 homers last season, and without him, they will lack thump.

This is why Brian McCann could make sense for them, or Carlos Beltran, or both. This is why they could be the best match for the Dodgers for an outfielder trade. This is why rival executives believe that if and when Giancarlo Stanton is traded, the Rangers will be at the front of the line and sticking their elbows out.

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Mets' struggles creating value 

September, 28, 2013
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Sandy AldersonRich Schultz/Getty ImagesThe Mets' disappointing season has likely earned Sandy Alderson's club a protected draft pick.
The New York Mets’ loss Friday was the 87th of their season. And it was a really important loss.

With that defeat, the Mets moved back into position to have the No. 10 pick in the 2014 draft -- and if this holds over the last two days of the regular season against the Milwaukee Brewers, the Mets’ first-round pick would be among those 10 that are protected against draft-pick compensation.

This past winter, the Mets’ pick was not protected, which affected their aggressiveness in trying to sign Michael Bourn and others. If they finish the year lined up for the No. 10 pick (or better), it could nudge them into pursuit of one of the better free-agent position players who will be available this winter. If they signed a Shin-Soo Choo or a Jacoby Ellsbury, the Mets would have to surrender only a second-round pick in compensation.

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Why MLB must ban plate collisions 

September, 7, 2013
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Prince FielderAP Photo/Marcio Jose SanchezA hard collision at home plate caused Giants catcher Buster Posey to miss much of 2011.
A talent evaluator who works in baseball imagined the future testimony aimed at a team -- or all of Major League Baseball -- in a lawsuit filed by a catcher seriously injured while blocking home plate.

"'I was told in spring training by my catching instructor that this is something I need to do,'" the evaluator said, imitating the words that any catcher could say. "'I didn't block home one day and he called me a -----, and he said that blocking home plate is something that every catcher is expected to do.'"

The evaluator jumped into another role, imagining himself as the catcher's lawyer: "'What happened next?'"

Evaluator as catcher: "'I blocked home plate, as I was instructed to do, and now I can't walk.'"

This testimony could be especially effective, the evaluator noted, if it comes from someone sitting in a wheelchair, and if you think that can't happen, maybe you should watch this video of the hit that Harrisburg catcher Brian Jeroloman took in a Double-A playoff game the other night, when he was run over by Erie's Brandon Douglas.

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Michael Weiner a true class act

August, 11, 2013
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Brad ZieglerESPN IllustrationArizona pitcher Brad Ziegler makes a Sunday column relief appearance for Buster Olney.
Buster Olney is on vacation this week, so for the second straight year, guest columnists are writing the lead of his column in his absence. Today, D-backs reliever Brad Ziegler chimes in on what makes union leader Michael Weiner such a special person.

This is a crazy game. If you had told me when I was growing up that I'd have at least six seasons of time in major league baseball, I'd have been absolutely ecstatic. While it was always a dream of mine to play, it also always seemed so far out of reach. Yet, here I am, blessed with so many things in my life, including a career that I truly enjoy. There are many other things, too: an amazing family (including the two friendliest dogs in existence), financial security and good health.

Good health -- something I'm thankful for every day. Something that not everyone in this life shares.

One of the most respected people in this game is in the fight of his life, and anyone -- everyone -- who has any part of this game is pulling for him. Players, coaches, general managers, owners, writers, umpires. Everyone.

As many of you know, Michael Weiner is currently serving as the executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association -- our union. And anyone who follows the game also knows that a year ago, Michael was diagnosed with a Stage 4 glioblastoma, an aggressive and inoperable brain cancer.

I've been a player representative for the union since the start of the 2009 season. In the middle of that season, I got a phone call from Donald Fehr, informing me that he was retiring as executive director. After a few conference calls, we selected the obvious replacement that December: Michael Weiner. I hadn't yet met Michael. My agent, Rob Martin, had met him a few times and heard him speak a couple of times, so I asked what he was like. "The man is a human computer," he said. "He can probably quote you the entire basic agreement."

In my time getting to know Michael at various union events or even through casual phone calls, I can honestly say I have seen zero instances to dispute my agent's assessment. However, I can also honestly say that while his knowledge of the basic agreement and labor law in general is impressive, it isn't even close to his best asset.

His best feature is, far and away, who he is as a person. He's a devoted family man. He often speaks of his wife, Diane, and his three lovely daughters, and you can tell how much he cares for them. Furthermore, he genuinely cares about every single ballplayer. Never once has he started a conversation with me in which the first topic wasn't about how my family and I were doing. I'm guessing he's the same way with every other player. Those who've taken the time to get to know him know exactly what I'm talking about.

[+] EnlargeMichael Weiner
AP Photo/Frank Franklin IIMichael Weiner's leadership on the issue of PEDs has been pivotal, writes Brad Ziegler.
As far as his professionalism, there's one thing that has really stood out to me: He genuinely cares about improving the game of baseball. Don't get me wrong, he wants things to be as good as possible for the players. And he can get downright angry and ruthless when he feels like the owners are attempting to encroach on the principles we, as a union, have stood on since our inception. But he also gets the big picture: What is best for the game in the long run?

In my opinion, never has this been more evident than when dealing with our Joint Drug Agreement. Michael has listened to the players. We want the game clean. No more PEDs. Period. We want to be the era that, down the road, is widely accepted as the group of players who cleaned up baseball. We certainly want to punish those who are caught with something illegal in their system, even if it's not intentionally ingested with the mindset of gaining an edge on the field.

As for those who intentionally cheat? Ban them for a year. Or ban them for life. As for voiding their contracts, well, that time may be coming. Players are sick and tired of guys trying to beat the system, and at this point, we have no tolerance. We are tired of this being the focus of our sport, year after year. Baseball is an amazing game -- perfect in so many ways -- and we must keep the attention on the field, where it should be.

It has to be a tough spot for Michael to be in when it comes to this topic. He's supposed to represent all players and get the best possible outcome for them in every situation, right? No. Michael's response: "If they cheated, they should be punished -- I'm just here to help make sure they get a fair trial."

To me, that is someone who genuinely cares about our game and the way it's perceived publicly. We all leave a legacy in life, and he wants the game to be better when his time in the game is over than it was when he first got involved.

I recently had a casual conversation with an MLB general manager. We discussed Michael's medical situation, and he said something that really stuck out to me: "That guy is incredible. He's the best thing that's ever happened to this game."

And even if he said it in passing, I'm not sure he's far off.

Michael's legacy on this game has already been established. And whether he continues to build on it for the next 40 years, or if he's taken from this life sometime sooner, he continues to leave a mark on this game -- and on people's lives -- that won't ever be forgotten. It is an absolute privilege to work alongside you, Michael. And it's an even greater pleasure to call you my friend.

Notes and links (from Buster)

Hanley Ramirez will try out his right shoulder on Sunday. Meanwhile, the Dodgers never lose: After Zack Greinke's strong effort Saturday, they've now won 36 of their last 44. The Rays pulled off a hidden-ball trick.

• The Braves' winning streak ended.

Jordan Schafer was activated from the disabled list, and Fredi Gonzalez intends to use him. 

We had the Braves on "Sunday Night Baseball" the last two weekends, and our crew talked to Gonzalez about how he would structure his lineup down the stretch and into the playoffs. Gonzalez wasn't specific -- and he doesn't need to be -- but I walked away from those conversations convinced that his standards will be simple. He will play the best lineup he believes gives him the best chance of winning, regardless of contract size and track record. He reiterated that the Braves' collapse in 2011 changed the way he thinks, because now he's much more willing to make changes.

If B.J. Upton struggles early in September, he won't play as much in late September, I'd guess, and Schafer's presence gives Gonzalez an attractive alternative, especially against right-handed pitchers.

Brian McCann has a sore knee and was out of the lineup. The Braves' lead in the AL East gives Gonzalez the flexibility to liberally rest veterans such as McCann, and McCann has shown enough this season to demonstrate to teams that might be interested in him in the winter that he'll continue to be a productive player. He might be the most sought-after free agent of the winter, given that he could fit so many teams: Texas, Washington, the Yankees, Boston, San Francisco (with he and Buster Posey sharing catcher/first base duties), Philadelphia, the White Sox, etc.

Miguel Cabrera did it again. His current triple crown standing:

Batting average: .363 (first, by 33 points)

Home runs: 35 (he trails Chris Davis, who has 42)

RBIs: 109 (tied for first with Davis)

• White Sox GM Rick Hahn and the players believe in Robin Ventura, writes Paul Sullivan. 

Ryan Ludwick is nearing his return, and undoubtedly, the Reds need him to come back and produce. The Reds have been a middle-of-the-pack offensive team since the All-Star break. 

Jason Hammel is hopeful that his forearm issue doesn't keep him out a long time. 

Ryan Raburn and Yan Gomes are getting more playing time, Paul Hoynes writes. 

• The Rangers regained first place with help from Alex Rios

Will Middlebrooks is getting a welcome chance to reboot, writes Nick Cafardo. 

Jayson Werth had a really big day

• The Astros are on pace to finish 52-110, with a run differential of minus-242. 

Jacoby Ellsbury led the Red Sox to victory. 

• The Rockies are collapsing, and it's open season on internal evaluations

Adam Eaton has been finding his groove at the plate. 

• The Phillies need to make a decision on Charlie Manuel, writes Bob Brookover. 

In some parts of the Philadelphia organization, it's already taken as a fait accompli that Manuel and some staffers will be let go. But it'll be interesting to see if the logic used in the re-signing of Chase Utley -- he's an important part of the team's history, and he is still productive -- will be used in Manuel's case. Because if the Phillies don't believe Manuel is the best person for the job now, they should've already fired him, and if they think that like Utley, he can still do the job, they should extend him.

Other stuff

• There is a reported BALCO and Biogenesis link: Alex Rodriguez.

The tide has turned when it comes to MLB cheats, writes Tom Haudricourt. 

Rodriguez is on a short leash with Yankees fans, writes Bob Klapisch.

• The ousted St. Louis radio duo of Jack Clark and Kevin Slaten are weighing their options

• Ken Griffey Jr. was part of the ceremony in which he was inducted into the Mariners' Hall of Fame. He's a really complicated person.

And today will be better than yesterday.

Expect blockbuster trades this winter 

August, 8, 2013
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Dodgers celebratingJayne Kamin-Oncea/USA TODAY Sports It would be no surprise if one of these three Dodgers outfielders is traded this winter.
Almost every team held their chips back before the trade deadline, leery of the seller's market that had developed, dubious about the value of the short-term rentals.

The teams working from a position of strength mostly held in place: The Cardinals are loaded and they didn’t make a deal, Boston held its best prospects out of the Jake Peavy trade, and Tampa Bay made one conditional trade for Jesse Crain.

But the summer intransigence has become one more element, among many, that is leading some industry forecasters to predict that there will be an extremely active trade market in the winter -- a blizzard of deals.

Consider all the signs of a gathering trade storm.

1. The upcoming free-agent market is expected to be weak and provide relatively little help for teams seeking an upgrade. Ervin Santana could be the most sought-after starting pitcher, given his solid showing this year and his age (he turns 31 in December), and unless Robinson Cano works out a new deal with the Yankees between now and November, he’ll test a market with few buyers shopping in his price range.

The best of the rest: Shin-Soo Choo, Jacoby Ellsbury, Carlos Beltran, Nelson Cruz, Brian McCann, A.J. Burnett, Tim Lincecum, Phil Hughes, Bronson Arroyo, Ricky Nolasco.

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