How the Atlanta Braves are breaking the first rule of building a publicly funded stadium.
It may feel like centuries ago to Atlanta fans, but midway through 2014 the Braves appeared poised for another mid-'90s run. They had won 96 games the previous season, were in first place as the July trade deadline approached, and fielded a young, talented core of exciting young superstars under club control well into the future.
Then a sputtering offense and a late-season collapse ended the year on a dismal note, Atlanta’s 79-83 record putting them in a tie for second place but a whopping 17 games behind the Nationals. Rather than retool for a quick turnaround, the Braves fired general manager Frank Wren in September and took a radical approach to remaking the roster, trading off many of those young, exciting players to replenish the farm system and slash payroll. Not just Justin Upton and Jason Heyward—both creeping up on free agency—but Evan Gattis, Craig Kimbrel, Alex Wood and Andrelton Simmons, not to mention Cameron Maybin, who’d been acquired in the first round of sell-offs. There are rumblings, too, that Atlanta's shopping Freeman, a 26-year-old first baseman entering year three of an eight-year, $135 million pact, and anyone else owed money. (General Manager John Coppolella says otherwise).
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As the role of the GM has grown since the 1970s, how exactly have qualifications for the position changed?
As the role of the general manager has transformed over the years, so too has the background of the general manager. With the amount of money at stake, the advent and escalation of free agency, and the increases in front office size and responsibility, it's not surprising that teams have dipped into the Wall Street hiring pool to find today's prototype GM. But just how much has the GM profile changed over the years?
Go back to the 1970s and guess the profile of the typical general manager. Maybe you're thinking about a former player turned scout turned front office executive, a hard-nosed traditional baseball type who probably had one (or two) of those Dogs Playing Poker paintings hanging in the old stadium office, and who probably looked like a slightly more athletic version of Jack Arnold from The Wonder Years. You're not totally wrong—if that's what you were thinking—but research has revealed that the '70s were a crazy time in baseball front offices. Perhaps not surprisingly, one overarching stereotype doesn't cover 'em all. Like, say, these guys:
After pushing the proverbial all-in last winter, what do the Padres actually have now?
Rarely has a new GM treated his roster so much like a blank canvas as A.J. Preller did last winter. He traded liberally from his own farm system, committed to uncharacteristically large payrolls well into the future, and signed or traded for every famous name he could—acquiring the first five names on his Opening Day lineup card, along with his Opening Day starter and the back of his Opening Day bullpen. He covered the middle of that canvas but, in the absence of more time or resources, left the corners unfinished. The masterpiece was a counterfeit, and the Padres lost 88 games and their long-time manager. No rebuild in the 21st century looks more like a fantasy-baseball roster flurry than this one did.
What went wrong? It's not so simple as to say Preller's acquisitions disappointed. It's also not so simple as to say that the few holdovers that remained weren't good enough to support a playoff push. It's simple enough to say it was both.
In the eighth inning, the Astros seemed to be daring them—and the Royals are not noted for their baserunning timidity.
Something strange happened in yesterday's Astros-Royals game—well, a lot of strange things probably happened, but one of them particularly caught my attention. Astros' closer Luke Gregerson entered the game in the eighth inning after Houston's bullpen blew a four-run lead, bringing with him a glacially slow delivery.
This piece originally appeared on BP Boston, Baseball Prospectus' local site for all your Red Sox needs. And be sure to visit BP Wrigleyville and BP Bronx for Cubs and Yankees analysis as well.
There probably exists no chapter buried deep inside general manager Ben Cherington’s copy of The Red Sox Way: A Blueprint for Winning in the 21st Century entitled “Finish Last in the Division Every Other Year.” Yet that was Boston’s fate in both 2012 and 2014, two of the three years Cherington’s been at the helm.
How the Yankees and other teams are breaking the international signing system.
With the recent signing of 16-year-old Colombian outfielder Bryan Emery, the New York Yankees completed a Shermanesque raid of Baseball America’s international top prospects list, nabbing a staggering 10 out of the top 30 (and four of the top 10!) players available for the 2014-2015 signing period. And they did so while setting ablaze what’s left of Major League Baseball’s international spending rules, a system that was implemented when the CBA was redesigned in 2012 in part, however clumsily, to curb international spending and promote competitive balance.
Emery is, like most young international prospects, more project than finished product, with an expected big-league arrival time around the midpoint of Giancarlo’s Stanton’s 13-year contract extension, and that’s if everything goes right. As Ben Badler describes, “there’s breakout potential given the swing and tool package, but it may take him time for his game skills to catch up.”
More interesting than Emery, who was apparently targeted for the Padres prior to Josh Byrnes’ dismissal as general manager in June, is the Yankees’ international strategy in general, which essentially boils down to “sign everyone.” It’s a strategy New York has used in major-league free agency a time or two, but one they’ve generally neglected in the international realm, perhaps because major investments in young foreign talent take time to pay dividends, something that hasn’t always fit the Yankees’ win-now-at-all-costs blueprint.
Part of the goal of the 2012-2016 CBA was to limit spending on amateur players, with soft spending caps instituted in both the Rule 4 amateur draft and the international amateur market. While most general managers, scouts, and baseball executives (and anyone else with a say in the matter) opposed the spending restrictions, team owners generally welcomed the prospect of writing smaller checks to unproven talent. The players’ union, for all of its strength, is historically flimsy when the bargaining rights of non-union players are concerned.
Under the current rules, teams are assigned international signing bonus pools based on records in the previous season. In the 2014-2015 signing period, for instance, the international bonus pools range from just over $5 million (Houston Astros) on the high end to $1.87 million (St. Louis Cardinals) on the low end. Each team receives four slot values ranging from No. 1 to No. 120 plus a $700,000 base, allowing clubs to trade bonus pool dollars for other players or slot values. The Cubs and Braves, for example, recently completed a trade that netted the Braves an additional $800,000 in international bonus pool flexibility.
One last look at the decision to hold Alex Gordon, from every angle.
A single play in the 2014 postseason captivated the baseball world: Alex Gordon’s three-quarters trip around the bases as the Giants’ outfield botched Gordon's line-drive single in the last inning of the World Series. And how could it not? Game Seven, two outs in the bottom of the ninth, down by one, and Gordon—the Royals’ best hitter—facing the suddenly untouchable Madison Bumgarner with a ring on the line. Nate Silver, immediately after the play ended, tweeted the following:
Do starters who are worked hard in college get injured more often in the minors and majors?
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Dustin Palmateer once played division III junior college baseball, finishing with a career batting average below the Mendoza Line. He now writes about the game. You can reach him via email.