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January 10, 2013

On the Beat

A Change in the Process

by John Perrotto

The result of this year’s Hall of Fame voting was a disappointment to so many people on so many levels. It was a disappointment to the fans, especially those of such players as Craig Biggio and Jack Morris, who both seemed to stand a good chance of receiving the minimum 75 percent of the vote needed to gain election. It was such a disappointment to people inside that game that both Commissioner Bud Selig and Players Association Executive Director Michael Weiner were compelled to release statements. It certainly had to be a disappointment to the merchants and residents of Cooperstown, who count on the induction ceremony to generate a large amount of revenue for the village. And, despite putting up a brave front, it had to be a disappointment to Hall of Fame President Jeff Idelson because induction weekend plays a large part in supporting the non-profit foundation.

Being one of the 569 people who took part in the Hall of Fame voting this year, I feel kind of guilty to have let so many people down. However, not to pass the buck, it is guilt by association rather than anything I did wrong. I checked nine names on my ballot, more than in any of the other 14 elections that I participated in, and did not shy away from players who have been tied to PEDS, such as Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens.

Despite the uproar over the voting results that were announced Wednesday—I was afraid the great Casey Stern was going to have a stroke live and on the air on MLB Network Radio on SiriusXM—I still believe the Baseball Writers Association of America should continue to be the solo proprietors of the Hall of Fame voting. However, I also believe it is time for the BBWAA and Hall of Fame to reform the process.

The requirements to be eligible to vote for the Hall of Fame are that someone must either be, or had been, a member of BBWAA for 10 continuous years. There is nothing wrong with that on the surface, but there is a problem once you dig deeper and find that a number of 10-year members haven’t written about baseball regularly for years. Furthermore, some haven’t stepped foot in a ballpark in years and others don’t even follow the game anymore. They continue to vote because they see receiving a ballot every December as a status symbol.

The BBWAA has spent a great deal of time in the last year in examining its rolls in an effort to weed out those who it feels no longer meet the guidelines for admission to the association. With that in mind, it is time for the BBWAA to begin weeding out the list of Hall of Fame voters. The association needs to figure out a way to make sure the right people are voting on the highest individual honor that a baseball player can ever receive.

Secondly, the BBWAA and the Hall of Fame need to change the rule in which members of the electorate can vote for no more than 10 candidates in a given year. The 10-man limit was never an issue for me before but it was this year. While I stopped at nine, there were 15 players to whom I gave strong consideration. The ballot will become even more crowded next season when Tom Glavine, Jeff Kent, Greg Maddux, Mike Mussina, and Frank Thomas become eligible for election for the first time. The limit should be raised to at least 12 players, and perhaps 15.

To say the Hall of Fame voting process is broken is too strong of a statement. However, it is need of some repairs, which can be made with a little bit of willingness to change a system that has been in place since 1936.

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Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez is scheduled to have left hip surgery next Wednesday, which is a rather unique way for A-Rod to celebrate my birthday. It will be the second time Rodriguez has had hip surgery, as he had the right one repaired during spring training in 2009. Rodriguez returned to action in May that season but won’t be back until after the All-Star break this time because of the torque placed on the left hip when he rotates it during his swing.

Yankees general manager Brian Cashman has downplayed the idea that Rodriguez’s career could go into further decline following this surgery. Perhaps that is wishful thinking, since Rodriguez has five years and $114 million left on his 10-year, $270-million contract and the Yankees have been acting like a small-market team in their quest to reduce their payroll to under the $189-million luxury tax threshold by 2014.

One American League scouts says he doesn’t see the Yankees getting much of a return on the rest of their investment in Rodriguez. The numbers certainly support that idea, as Rodriguez’s WARP has gone down every season since 2007, from 8.3 to 6.7 to 5.0 to 4.9 to 2.8 to a career-low 1.2 in 2012.

“He hasn’t been a superstar for four years now,” the scout said. “He’s still an above-average third baseman, but that is mainly because it’s a weak position throughout the industry. To think he’s going to come back and be the A-Rod of his prime after having major surgery is ludicrous. The Yankees, if they really admit it, will be happy if he is still just a decent player for a few more years.”

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The Nationals won their stare down with Adam LaRoche, re-signing the first baseman to a two-year, $24-million contact with a club option after he had held out for two months in hopes of three guaranteed years. La Roche had a career-high 3.6 WARP last year and a .303 Total Average.

LaRoche is one of the “victims” of the new free-agent compensation system that is part of the latest collective bargaining agreement. Any other team signing LaRoche would have been required to give up a draft pick after he declined the Nationals’ $13.3-million qualifying offer. One AL front-office type from a team that “kicked the tires” on LaRoche believes the Nationals made a good deal with the 33-year-old.

“He’s a reliable run producer in the middle of the lineup who plays good defense,” the FOT said. “I think two years is just the right amount for length of contract. You go beyond two years and I’d worry that he would be a drag on the payroll.”

The re-signing of LaRoche leaves Michael Morse without a spot in the lineup, and the Nationals are trying to trade the first baseman/outfielder for a left-handed reliever after failing to retain Sean Burnett as a free agent. However, one NL scout says it is buyer beware for anyone trying to trade for Morse, who can become a free agent at the end of the season.

“He’s a heckuva hitter, but he can’t play defense and he’s become very fragile, so you can only pencil him in for about 120 games a year,” the scout said. “Considering you’re only going to have him one year, I wouldn’t give up a frontline player or a top prospect for him. I think the best thing the Nats can hope for is an OK lefty reliever and some salary relief, which would give them some more money to play with if they need to make a move sometime during the season.”

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That the Rangers guaranteed Lance Berkman $11 million on a one-year contract with a club option raised many eyebrows inside the game. Berkman will be 37 on Opening Day and is coming off a season with the Cardinals in which he had 97 plate appearances and two knee surgeries. While it’s tough convincing front-office types or scouts that the price is right, a surprising number of them do believe Berkman can have a very good 2013 for the Rangers.

“They are doing the right thing by DHing him,” an NL scout said. “They shouldn’t play him in the field at all with the shape his knees are in. If they keep him at DH and make sure he’s rested, he could do very well. He’s always been a good hitter, and the ballpark in Texas will only help him. I don’t know if he’ll have the kind of year he had with the Cardinals (in 2011), but I could see him having a good year … but $11 million is a lot of money to risk.”

Berkman had a .341 TAv and produced 4.0 WARP two years ago, though his Fielding Runs Above Average was an ugly -10.9 when the Cardinals won the World Series. His career TAv is .317.

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The Indians are going to see if they can resurrect left-hander Scott Kazmir’s career after signing him as a free agent. The two-time All-Star will be given the chance to win a spot in the rotation even though he pitched just 1 1/3 innings in the major leagues in 2011 with the Angels, then spent last year in the independent Atlantic League with the Sugar Land Skeeters. (He was a rotation mate with sideshow act Roger Clemens late in the season for a franchise that brought back the bullpen cart.)

While it’s a little hard to believe because he seems to have been around forever, Kazmir will turn just 29 on Jan. 24. However, that is not enough to give hope to an AL scout who watched Kazmir pitch three times last summer.

“He doesn’t have anything left,” the scout said. “He’s just one of those guys who peaked very early in his career and flamed out. He hasn’t been a good pitcher since 2007.”

John Perrotto is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see John's other articles. You can contact John by clicking here

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