Three weeks and counting to Opening Day, but you'll still want a chatty dose of baseball therapy with Russell A. Carleton.
Russell A. Carleton: Beware, beware the Ides of March. It's chat time!
Mookie (Shea): If the mets get off to a bad start, how soon do you replace Manaya and Manuel? Do you consider breaking up the team and try trading the tradable assets like Maine, Pelfrey? Beltran?
Russell A. Carleton: You shouldn't fire a manager or a GM based on a slow start. Minaya and Manuel's record are fairly well-established, and 40-50 games isn't going to tell you a lot more than you know now. My guess is that the Mets will stumble a bit out of the gate. Losing Carlos Beltran and Jose Reyes for a month isn't a good recipe for success. If they deserve to be fired, fire them now. As to whether to break up the team, I would shy away from trading Maine/Pelfrey. The Mets, being a New York team, still have the ability to give over-paying contracts to veteran free agents (see: Bay, Jason) who aren't worth what they're being paid, but are still good solid contributors. They could actually reload quickly.
tommybones (brooklyn): The set-up man most likely to be a full time closer by June 1st is _____________ ?
Russell A. Carleton: Does Matt Guerrier count? The answer to this is probably "the guy who's on the team of the closer who has a season ending elbow injury." June 1st is a very quick deadline for a team to switch closers. Most of the time, teams are a little more sheepish about it...
KC (KC): do you trade Gil Meche for future usable parts if you were a smart GM? how about if you were KC's current GM?
Russell A. Carleton: Zing!!! I have a better question. Where exactly is the line of people just dying to trade for Gil Meche? If someone wants him and will give something useful, then yes trade him. Maybe someone will panic at the trading deadline. Maybe Miley Cyrus will answer my e-mails.
Noah (Kalamazoo): What's with the Twins locking up pre-eligible players? The option years for both Blackburn and Span don't seem that favorable, and perhaps both players have already hit their ceilings...is this just a prelude to a Mauer signing and the Twins are just trying to get some cost certainty?
Russell A. Carleton: If Span has hit his ceiling, that's still a pretty good ceiling! I'm a fan of both players. Span gets on base and plays a decent outfield. Blackburn is allergic to walking batters. I'm guessing that a little bit of both ideas (Mauer and cost certainty) went into the mix. The Twins can protect themselves against both players winning huge arbitration numbers, and can in good accounting conscience begin offering Joe Mauer something approaching fair market value.
Tim (Tampa): Okay, so in what universe exactly would a Pujols for Howard deal actually happen? Would we all be wearing evil goatees?
Russell A. Carleton: Let's strip away the names Ryan Howard and Albert Pujols for a moment. A team with a view to win now upgrades one of their position players to a nicer model on a shorter-term contract, even despite the fact that he'd be a two-years-and-gone guy. The other team is in some longer-term financial difficulty and realizes they won't be able to sign their really good player. So, they trade for a slight downgrade who's a little more financially manageable for them and can be signed longer-term so that they don't completely lose out if the original guy leaves in two years. These trades happen from time to time, but they're usually among mid-range players. That said, I don't think this particular deal will happen, but I don't think it's illogical, Captain.
Wendell Kim (3rd): I loved your article on 3rd base coaches but can you distill it down into one or two things I should remember when coaching 3rd. Send more of the guys when I'm unsure? Were you serious that I would do a good job to just send everyone?
Russell A. Carleton: My daughter hates taking her vitamins, but it's good for her, so I put up with the crying and the mad face. Wendell, even when everyone is criticizing you, know that there are people out here who appreciate you. I don't know whether you actually thought it all through or just like to wave your arm, but you had the right idea. If you want it in two sentences: "Send them all. It's actually a better strategy than the one being used in MLB today." Some of them will get thrown out, and the fans will place too much emphasis on that emotionally (because something that they had was taken away), but the goal isn't to make the fans happy with you, but to score more runs. It's not exactly correct to say "send them all" is the best strategy. But the waste from "send them all" is the less than the waste from the "but they'll all laugh at me if this guy gets thrown out!" approach.
John (DC): First, I thoroughly enjoyed the game theory article today, and thanks, as always, for the chat. Do you think the nats should give the season ticket holders what they want (paid for?) and bring strasburg up quickly, or should they keep him in the minors to delay his arb clock (on the logic that this years team will stink with or without him)?
Russell A. Carleton: Funny enough, I wrote a piece on that very subject today over at our partner ESPN's TMI blog. (I think they're still editing it as I type this...) It's easy for me as someone who is not a Nats fan to say "delay that clock!" It's the most logical thing to do, as the Nats won't win this year with Strasburg, and for a team that will probably have to over-pay a few free agents in the next few years, they could do for some cost savings. I wouldn't don't envy the Nats' front office folks though. The pressure to bring him up to the MLB level must be unbearable.
dangor (New York): Who are a few breakout sleepers and busts for fantasy purposes?
Russell A. Carleton: Every chat I get this question and I'm always loathe to answer it, because to really answer it, I would want the answer to be based on a study of the factors that go into sudden changes in performance. There are a thousand fantasy baseball sites out there that have this type of list and their guesses are about as good as mine at this point. And that's all I would be doing. Guessing.
tommybones (brooklyn): Speaking of Mauer, the odds of him signing the biggest contract of all times with the Yanks is ______?
Russell A. Carleton: The depressing thing is that I'd put the odds around 25%. From a purely "I love this game" perspective, I like that Joe Mauer plays in Minnesota. And I want to believe that he really does want to stay in his home town and keep some brand loyalty to the Twins. But the Yankees will have an opening at catcher soon, Jesus Montero or no... and they will have gobs of cash because they are the Yankees... it sounds like a decent match.
John (jaha california): surprise good and bad teams this year?
Russell A. Carleton: I'm still bearish on the Marlins. Yes, they are young and they out-performed their expectations last year, but they're due for a regression. Everyone is writing the Angels' obituary and the Mariners' victory speech for the AL West. It will be closer than you think.
Cheese (DC): Why not. Who are your preseason top 5 in the AL and NL MVP races?
Russell A. Carleton: In the NL, it's a 3 horse race between Albert Pujols, Chase Utley (someone give the man an MVP!), and Tim Lincecum. Although I'm a fan of keeping pitchers out of the MVP award...
In the AL: it's predictable and boring, but A-Rod is healthy... in the non-Yankee division? Victor Martinez? I'm trying desperately to come up with names that weren't in the top 7 of last year's ballot so I can appear hip and trendy. The sad truth is that if you want a pre-season top 5, look at the post-season top five from last year.
Ron Lewis (Atl): Any big 2011 free agents that you particularly like? Crawford, CLee, Webb, DLee? Who should I hope my team signs. These days it seems like a big contract is almost always a bad deal. Holliday, Bay,
Russell A. Carleton: Well let's see here. There's this guy named Mauer who looks pretty good as a free agent. (Oh, I know, the Twins are probably going to sign him. Other names that I would love to have on my favorite team: Victor Martinez, Adam Dunn, Jayson Werth, and maybe a guy like Wilson Betemit. The big stars in position players mostly have options or are likely to be signed before they get to free agency. The free agent crop next year, isn't a place to find game changers, but there are some good, solid players in that bunch. On the pitching side, CLee and BWebb are welcome in my clubhouse any day of the week. Preferably, every fifth day. I also still believe in Matt Capps, and he'll be available to the highest bidder.
mattgabby (NYC): What do you think of the Mets just throwing Ike Davis and Robin Tejada out there everyday and see where the chips fall? How can they ever assume Reyes & Beltran returning to 07/08 numbers?
Russell A. Carleton: Well, their other option is to go get a guy like Gary Matthews, Jr. (Oh right...) They're in bad shape with all the injuries and there's just no way around it. Why throw bad money after good? Reyes's condition is a thyroid problem which is correctible with proper treatment and meds, so there's reason to believe that he'll be OK. Beltran is breaking down with age. In general, I would say throw the kids out there and see what happens. Why not? Sometimes you just have to accept that things aren't going to be perfect.
Matt (Chicago): Do you see the Cubs going into full rebuilding mode if this group proves again to be injury-prone and underachieving? I can't imagine a full-blown youth movement in that market.
Russell A. Carleton: Should they do it? Yes. Will they? No. And I have no doubt that this group will be injury-prone and under-achieving. The Cubs are chasing the past, and I don't see who the person would be to come in and say "hey let's start over here."
myshkin (Santa Clara, CA): So, what are the factors that go into sudden changes in performance?
Russell A. Carleton: If I had the answer to that one, I'd be a very very wealthy man.
Nater1177 (Levittown): About the 'delay that clock' stategy. With more and more teams adhering to this philosophy in recent years, doesn't this mean that teams are going to have to start to wait longer to bring these kids up? If everyone is waiting and fewer kids clocks are starting, then the amount of days required to be Super 2 elegible should be decreasing shouldn't it?
Russell A. Carleton: Yes, the Super 2 number would decrease, and I suppose it becomes a bit of a cycle. (Teams hold players down in AAA longer, number goes down, teams wait longer, number goes down.) I think this is a symptom of a much bigger problem. Teams are doing logical things to address the fact that the competitive balance is off. The bigger issue is the competitive balance.
tommybones (brooklyn): If Mauer does happen to join the Yanks in 2011, does the Mauer, Tex, Cano, Jeter Arod infield stand as the best ever assembled?
Russell A. Carleton: A-Rod will end up in the Hall of Fame (steroids and all), Jeter probably will too. Mauer is on the right track, and Tex looks like a "if you believe in a really big hall" sort of case waiting to happen. Even factoring in age-related decline for A-Rod and Jeter, it's still a heck of an infield in 2011. I'm hard pressed to think of a better one taking into account all 5 positions.
Tim (Tampa): Very happy to hear the pick up on the Star Trek reference. What are your thoughts on the idea of Francisco Liriano taking over the closer's role for the Twins if Joe Nathan can't come back?
Russell A. Carleton: My wife and I have gone through the entirety of Voyager and DS9 together. We're on season 5 of TNG. Nerd pride!
Liriano was a reliever for a while (and a good one), then they moved him to the rotation. But he also had a big ouchie. I'd like to see what he can do before I install him as a closer/high leverage guy. You can't just assume that he'll revert to his old form in the pen.
John (DC): Thanks for the Strasburg answer. Do you have any thoughts on how much a front office should listen to their fans (as opposed to how much they actually do)? I want my team to win in the future, but I am, you know, paying for these tickets.
Russell A. Carleton: I'm not immune to the fact that people are impatient and that front offices feel that pressure too. Although my work in psychology shows me that people often over-estimate the size of a reaction that will come from someone else. As a Sabermetrician, I prefer to study things with the single-minded goal to win the game, even if it makes the game less fun to watch. It won't make me the most popular person in the room in the short term, but if you can develop the thick skin to ride that out, the people will come back.
Ed (Cranford, N.J.): How long do you think Matt Capps stays as closer in Washington? Do you think Scott Hairston has much value this year?
Russell A. Carleton: The whole season for Capps. Who will come and take the job away from him? Did Scott Hairston ever have much value?
SaberTJ (Cleveland, OH): What's your take with the Indians' and Branyan? Would it not be better for their development to start LaPorta and Brantley all year long?
Russell A. Carleton: From what I understand in the Cleveland media, Branyan was a move to delay Brantley's arb clock. Branyan has a good first name, though. So, I approve.
Asinwreck (Chicago, IL): It was a happy surprise to see the term "unintended consequences" in the title of a BP article, since it leads to long-term analysis of trends in many aspects of the game.
Have you (or anyone on staff) have read Edward Tenner's work on the unintended consequences of technology? He suggests that the safety equipment in football has lead to more devastating injuries because of the chances it allows players to take. Do you have any interest of applying that kind of analysis here?
Russell A. Carleton: I've not read his work, but I heard an interview with Tenner. I'm very interested in the idea of unintended consequences, and more generally in Sabermetrics, how to get our theories into actual practice. It will take a better understanding of how things like unintended consequences actually develop.
Charles (St. Louis): An article (http://www.stltoday.com/stltoday/sports/stories.nsf/cardinals/story/7DBE20B59037B860862576E6000C8A44?OpenDocument) today about the Cardinals' Colby Rasmus discusses his (and other rookies') difficulties in "fitting in" in the St. Louis clubhouse/how it's not a good environment for young guys and potential effects on performance.
Russell A. Carleton: I haven't read the article, but I'm going to hedge a bit on this. There is evidence that a toxic workplace environment in other occupations reduces performance, but no one has done this in baseball. I've mentioned before that if I (or someone who had the proper training) had access to multiple MLB clubhouses, then the theory and instrumentation for studying this sort of effect is already out there. I do believe that there could be an effect, but I also wouldn't take a player's word for it either.
tommybones (Brooklyn): Sticking with Mauer for a minute, do the Twins deal him if they don't sign him to an extension by the deadline, even if they are in the race? Or do they risk losing him for picks and nothing more?
Russell A. Carleton: A veteran who's going to free agency and definitely not coming back should be traded if there is a market. Yes, it's a public relations nightmare waiting to happen, but you can't manage with your emotions. (Edit: if they are out of the race... If they are still in it, I would say keep him and take your chances. They don't come around very often.)
Michael (Detroit, MI): I liked the article you did in January on managers' tendencies to steal bases. Any chance we'll see a follow-up piece answering some of the questions raised in the BP comments to that article?
Russell A. Carleton: I have a file with all of my article ideas. That's in there. I've gotten good feedback both from the comments and behind the scenes. I hope to have a chance to go deeper into the topic.
Michael (Detroit, MI): Is there any way to quantify how much better or worse various organizations are at developing their talent? In other words, can we ever separate out drafting success from farm system development success from success developing prospects after they make their MLB debuts?
Russell A. Carleton: Intriguing question. I suppose it's just an engineering problem, but it would be a massive one to untangle. Perhaps we might look at various swing diagnostics or Pitch F/X charts as players emerge from HS or college, but that would require getting all that data. I don't think right now, we have the data to do this, but I don't see why it would be impossible.
Matt (Chicago): Do the Cards have the depth to withstand an injury to one of their Big 4(Pujols, Carp, Wainwright, Holliday)?
Russell A. Carleton: Does anyone have the depth to withstand losing Albert Pujols? They're still a decent team without one of those four guys, and they play in a division that always seems to come down to "who doesn't want this division title least?" But the Brewers are on the ascent and the Cubs, even with as many problems as they have, are still a force. They get knocked down from favorites to win the division to neck-and-neck fighters for the crown.
tommybones (brooklyn): Is there anything really wrong with having a rookie with a HUGE bat as your full time DH? I'm thinking Montero in 2011. Seems people like to think they should deal him if he can't catch because Tex is at first, but if his bat is as good as they claim, who cares?
Russell A. Carleton: Well, considering that DH stands for designated hitter, it would stand that you would want a guy who is a good hitter designated for that spot. I have no objections.
buffum (Austin TX): Russ Branyan:Jake Delhomme::Matt LaPorta:Brady Quinn?
(Prolly not: LaPorta can play a second position, but damn.)
Russell A. Carleton: Who are these Jake Delhomme and Brady Quinn of whom you speak? (yes, I know who they are...)
Matt (Seattle): Regarding best infields ever, the Big Red Machine is pretty tough to beat.
Russell A. Carleton: Concepcion vs. Jeter. Rose* vs. A-Rod*. Bench vs. Mauer. Interesting matchups.
tommybones (brooklyn): Can you come up with a single cogent explanation why the Giants re-signed Molina at the expense of Posey for 2010?
Russell A. Carleton: Arb clock? The other one is the over-reliance on the "proven guy."
Jim Leyland (Marlboro Country): Who will I end up picking as the back two in my rotation? Who should I pick? Does anything so far this spring tell me what to do?
Russell A. Carleton: Spring training stats tell you very little especially early, when you're talking about guys going 2-3 innings against a bunch of reserves. I'd reserve judgment until the end of the month.
Russell A. Carleton: Thanks to all the folks who sent in questions. Perhaps we'll do this again in the near future.