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Chat: Sam Miller

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Welcome to Baseball Prospectus' Tuesday December 20, 2011 1:00 PM ET chat session with Sam Miller.

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Put off your last-minute Christmas shopping long enough to talk everything baseball with Sam Miller.

Sam Miller: Good day, everybody. Iím Sam Miller, and Iím chatting today. Last time I chatted, you helped me solve The Mystery Of The SkyMall Catalogue. Today, if itís not too much trouble, Iíd like you all to look at this t-shirt and tell me if you can figure out whatís going on here. http://www.kaboodle.com/reviews/oakland-athletics-womens-team-love-t-shirt-by-majestic-select Until recently, that shirt was for sale on the Aís official merch site. No other teams had a similar shirt, so far as I could find. Itís called Oakland Athletics Womenís Team Love T-shirt. The only thing I can guess is that itís a typo? That itís supposed to have ďloveĒ or a heart or something somewhere on the shirt, and say I love the Aís. Is it really conceivable that a shirt would be manufactured with a typo, displayed on a teamís web site and sold for many months? Iíve stared at it long enough. Iíd like you to stare at it to see if thereís a way of decoding it. Thanks. OK, though, here we go with some questions.

Jacob (LA (but not of Anaheim)): So have Angels fans just inherited all sorts of crazy with Pujols and his family? I can respect folks' religious beliefs but the comments coming out of that camp are pretty much that of an insane (wo)man.

Sam Miller: I think my intro got eaten. Sorry, no intro, guys.

The month or so after a player signs with a new city, we tend to get a lot of his wife. I suspect this is intentional Ė showing the playerís family reinforces the idea that he chose the city because heís a family man weighing personal concerns, not just a dude going where thereís the most money. This happened with John Lackey, with Mark Teixeira, with Cliff Lee. Then the wives more or less disappear from the spotlight. Deidre Pujols will be long forgotten by April.

Max (Melbourne, Australia): With the Angels getting Pujols, the Rangers winning Darvish and the Mariners in the hunt for Prince, are the A's really, really screwed or just really screwed?

Sam Miller: Oh, there's the intro. Boy, I'm terrible at chats.

You know when youíre miniature golfing and you have to get it past the windmill? Most mid-market teams are like that, where theyíre trying to line it up so they strike right when their window is open. But the Aís have so little margin that they have to strike when their window is open, and when the Angelsí window is closed, and when the Rangers window is closed, and when the Mariners window is closed. They just keep lining it up and having to back away and waiting for the cycle to run through again.

The best news for the Aís is that free agent contracts eventually look bad, so in four or five years their opponents might have a bunch of bad contracts. They should actually be hoping that the Mariners sign Fielder, because it shifts the Mariners resources closer to the present, when the Aís probably donít care anyway. The bad news for the Aís is that the Angels have enough money that it doesnít even really matter if some of their contracts go bad. They threw so much money away on Gary Matthews, Jr. and Scott Kazmir, and then they traded for Vernon Wells (!), and they still had enough money to sign Pujols for 10 years. Pujols, Weaver and Wilson could all get maimed in a tractor accident and the Angels would still have quite a bit more money to spend than the Aís.

FrankL (cookie-cutter suburb of Atlanta (gag, gag)): A couple of quick questions, choose one or both: The Red Sox appear to be out of money (thank you, boy wonder Theo). Who is your best guess as to closer by mid-season? Madson is still available and this Sox fan can hope. Who or what do you expect the Sox to receive as compensation for Epstein? Or should John Henry just send a note of thanks to the Cubbies and call it all square. Dreams of Garza as comp have certainly faded... Thanks for your time.

Sam Miller: Closers:
5:2 Ė Madson
3:1 Ė Melancon
6:1 Ė Bailey
6:1 Ė Bard
25:1 Ė F. Rodriguez

The compensation thing is just so weird. I'm sure it's normal business, but it seems so weird. He's already there! What leverage do the Red Sox actually have now? I suppose that's a pretty clear indication that it won't be anybody that anybody cares about.

Toby (Target): Best baseball-themed Christmas present you've ever got?

Sam Miller: Hmm. Iím going to whiff on this, probably. Itís hard to remember former gifts on demand. A family friend once gave me a piece of paper that Juan Marichal had signed. Just a scrap, about as big as my pinkie, because that was all the person had with him at the time. I really like that present because it was so worthless, materially speaking. When I was a kid collecting baseball cards, memorabilia became very money-based, like I had this deluded sense that I was investing and that I was somehow wealthy because I got a $7 John Smoltz rookie card in a pack. Baseball-card collecting was fun, but it was a particular sort of laborious fun. That Juan Marichal scrap was just 100 percent unsellable, though, so I never had to worry about it the way I worried about my cards, or about other memorabilia I had. I could just look at it.

One year, I got in trouble and my parents took away all my baseball cards as punishment. I managed to smuggle one card free (Jose Oquendo, 1988 Topps), but the rest were taken and hidden. For Christmas, they gave me my cards back. That was amazing at the time, but now that I think about heyyyyyyyy that present sort of sucks.

For my birthday this year, I got this shirt. I like it: http://www.tauntr.com/content/just-fire-it-through-internet-shirt

What about everybody else? Lay 'em on me.

Spirou (Somewhere near the Big O): 2011 was gonna be the year Brandow Morrow finally arrives.Will 2012 be the year now ?

Sam Miller: One interesting thing about this chat is I have access to the super-secret PECOTA projections that I'm probably not allowed to share. But I might share some. In answer to your question, PECOTA says: No.

I don't think he'll strike out any more batters than he did in 2011. I don't think he'll walk any fewer batters than he did in 2011. I do think he'll allow fewer runs than he did in 2011, and then he'll probably get hurt. Brandon Morrow is the new frustration.

Cris E (St Paul, MN): With bids for the Dodgers due by January 13, have there been any rumors about who might be bidding on the team? Is the fact that he must sell affected the bids? Got any favorite wild cards you'd like to see throw their name in? I'm hoping a couple of mugs of mulled cider put Charlie Sheen in the mood to assemble a tiger team.

Sam Miller: I guess my money is on Magic Johnsonís group: Super local, very popular, business experience, political aspirations, and backed by Stan Kasten, who has already been vetted by the baseball-ownership cabal. My wild card? I guess Iíd love to see Larry David own the Dodgers. Actually, Iíd love to see Frank McCourt with a fake mustache and glasses buy the team. Iím a Giants fan.

George (NJ): It's 2016. Who owns the Mets? The Dodgers?

Sam Miller: Just a guess: The Wilpons survive a few years, benefit from some growth in the world economy and keep ownership of the Mets.

Matt2pt0 (LA): When do Yu reach your breaking point with the puns?

Sam Miller: For most of my adult life, Iíve struggled with the question of whether humans are basically good or basically bad, and whether we are getting better as a species. Lately, Iíve leaned toward ďbadĒ and ďnot getting better.Ē I remember hearing Ozzy Osbourne on Fresh Air a while back and he talked about how, before he became a rock star, he was a burglar and mugger. That struck me: Here was Terry Gross treating Ozzy Osbourne like a totally normal and respectable dude, but Ozzy hadnít changed; his circumstances had changed, and his incentives had changed. If he were still poor, and he could get away with it, he totally would have robbed Terry Gross! Most of us feel like good people because we donít generally do bad things, but we donít generally do bad things because weíre all like Ozzy Osbourne: Generally affluent, generally risk-averse, and fairly rational. We donít need to steal; we have a great deal to lose if we do steal; so we donít steal. That doesnít make us good people.

I feel like a lot of good work had been done recently reducing puns in baseball writing. (Not on MLB.com headlines, but among wittier writers.) But then, over the past month, Iíve just been overwhelmed by Yu Darvish puns. Like, 25 a day? Probably 25 a day, for three weeks, which is nearly one thousand Yu Darvish puns. I have also made (two) Yu Darvish puns. Everybody has made Yu Darvish puns, because the social barriers against them have crumbled, and because Yu Darvish puns are just so eeeeeeasy, and at our cores we canít resist puns that are so eeeeeeeasy. Yu Darvish puns are like steroids in the 1990s: When it gets easy enough, and when nobody is legislating against it, we all lose sight of the individual responsibility to resist evil. And this: http://yupuns.tumblr.com/

That said, I believe there is exactly one great pun for every name, and eventually somebody will discover the perfect pun for Yu Darvish. Usually the perfect pun is surprising, so in Yu Darvishís case it probably wonít have anything to do with You/Yu. Or even Yu/U. I suspect it will probably have something to do with the Japanese Yew (Taxus cuspidate).

HalfStreet (Fairfax VA): I understand that the Nats are talking to the A's about a potential 4-for-1 deal for Gio Gonzalez. What would be a fair package for the Nats to pay? What kind of package would be too much for them to pay? Do you think Gio would be enough for the Nats to contend this year? +1/2St.

Sam Miller: It's always hard to do the math on these in 30 seconds, so I may say something stupid. But PECOTA has Gio producing 3.7 WARP in 2012, so if we think he can hold that he'll be a 15-WARP player over the next four years, and be paid something like $25 million total. So, super valuable. Maybe Norris+Cole+Desmond or Storen? I don't know, that might be light, but it's a guess.

It's possible Gio gets the Nats there in 2012, but 25 games is a ton of games to make up. Really, their window is 2013-2016, unless they also sign Fielder this winter. I think they'll wait a year, consolidate a bit, bump payroll way up and be the next offseason's Marlins.

ericstephen (SB Nation LA): Sam, what player on the Angels, if any, will take the mantle from Jerome Williams as the player to have his name mispronounced for 2+ seasons? My money is on Michael Kohn.

Sam Miller: Kohn is a good one. Jean Segura -- I could see people wanting to class it up and calling him Jean like John, like he's french. A lot of people have trouble with Bourjos as it is. Bourjos is like "museum" or "mirror," where it just doesn't quite sound right no matter how you say it.

Laurie Fine (Syracuse): what's Tampa Bays starting OF in 2014?

Sam Miller: Jennings, Joyce and Travis Snider

Lerry N. (Toronto): Use your Rick Reilly/Bill Simmons sense and complete this sentence: "Mark Trumbo or Albert Pujols at third base is scarier than ________________________________________

Sam Miller: Reilly: Mark Trumbo at third base is scarier than leaving your kids with their uncle Jerry Sandusky for the weekend.

Simmons: Mark Trumbo at third base is scarier than whatever shady business Mr. Miagi was involved in to be able to afford that huge backyard and half-dozen classic cars on a handymanís salary. I bet if Lestor Freaman got up in his business, heíd find out Mr. Miagi controlled the smack market in Encino AND Reseda. A whole bunch of little ninjas working for him, out on the street hollering ďSweep The Leg! I got that Sweep The Leg!Ē

Reilly AND Simmons: Mark Trumbo at third base is scarier than a stripper with an Adamís apple.

I personally donít think itís scary, so much as unlikely and not really necessary. Itís not like the Angels donít have a third baseman. They have Alberto Callaspo, who has produced 8.3 WARP over the past three years. David Wright has produced 9.0 WARP over the past three years. Everybody acts like the Angels have to do something about a third base problem, but thereís no problem. During spring training this year, the Angels should convert Alberto Callaspo to left field, and then convert him BACK to third base, just so it looks like theyíre being really proactive.

Spirou (Somewhere near the Big O): Will the real Melky Cabrera please stand up ? Whatís your opinion of the Melkman coming off what is widely considered to have been a career year ?

Sam Miller: Somewhere in the past decade, this country forgot how to love average players. All the Michael Cuddyers and Aaron Harangs and Jason Kubels of the world are just terrible punchlines now, and any team that signs them has to, like, apologize for it. Poor Melky. Melky is basically a league-average player. PECOTA sees him putting up basically his career slash stats in 2012. That seems right.

Mikell (Chicago): Who won the Padres/Reds trade?

Sam Miller: Edinson Volquez.

Also the Padres.

DDriesen (NYC): If you don't get that shirt, then you really will have a problem with the "I P Phillies" shirt located to the right. [http://www.kaboodle.com/reviews/philadelphia-phillies-womens-team-love-t-shirt-by-majestic-select]

Sam Miller: Would you look at that. What am I missing with these shirts? There's no verb. My shirts all have verbs.

smallmanoncampus (Delta, BC): Tell us the truth, you're a little bit sad about Jeff Mathis leaving, right?

Sam Miller: I'm a lot sad about it. Jeff Mathis was a challenge to all our beliefs, to my beliefs, to Scioscia's beliefs. It's good to be humble about baseball, and I would have gladly watched Mathis for another five or six years just to keep having my preconceived notions about catching challenged.

Cris E (St Paul, MN): I loved that article you pointed out the other day where Dipoto was portrayed as not in the market for the big names. Did Dipoto really get away with that much double talk or was the writer in on things and helping the team sell their story? As a writer do you let a team official say things like that if you suspect it's just a cover?

Sam Miller: In that particular case, I donít even think Dipoto was lying. The Angels didnít plan on getting Pujols, or even really pursuing Pujols, until two days before they signed him. I think Arte Moreno was genuinely irritated with how much of his money had been spent on garbage in the past three years, and I think he was in a place where he found free agentsí contract demands offensive somehow. I really doubt Dipoto had any prior indication that Moreno would approve a $165 million or $170 million payroll for 2012.

As to whether I let team officials say stuff for cover Ė well, sort of. There is an amount of humility we should have about assuming we know what goes on behind closed doors, so I rarely say that theyíre lying about any particular statement. But I do make it clear in general that a) teams have no real obligation to tell us the truth, b) they are probably lying a ton of the time, c) most beat reporters arenít interested in calling them out on this, so d) read everything as though it is spin, told for the teamís self-interest.

Here's the article Cris is referring to, by the way. Ben Lindbergh is the one who unearthed it. http://www.ocregister.com/articles/dipoto-326658-angels-agent.html

AP (Toronto): Can you see any circumstances under which Lincecum, Cain or Hamels might be made available this off-season?

Sam Miller: No. Both teams focused on 2012.

AP (Toronto): Snider in TBay? Once I wrap my head around Anthopoulos selling low on a high-upside talent to a divisional rival, who exactly is going the other way?

Sam Miller: 2014 is a long time from now. By then, I'm just guessing Snider will be a change-of-scenery guy.

Abe Froman (Chicago): Gose have 25 HR potential?

Sam Miller: I didn't think he had 16-HR-in-Double-A potential, so I'm not the most reliable. But 25 in the majors is a stretch.

Spirou (Somewhere close to the Big O): What does the future hold for Jarod Saltalamacchia in Boston.The Red Sox appear to think highly of Ryan Lavarnway and drafted Blake Swihart.Saltyís defense has also cost the team dearly during the debacle at the end of the season.Any thoughts ?

Sam Miller: The fact that they signed lefty-mashing Kelly Shoppach suggests the Red Sox will give Saltalamacchia another year in the big half of a platoon, rather than letting Lavarnway take over. Itís worth noting that PECOTA says Salty will be a 1.0-WARP player in 2012, and that Lavarnway will be a 3.0-WARP player in 2012, and itís also worth noting that the Red Sox are run by smart people.

DDriesen (Now in the bathroom): "P" is a verb and at a Phillies game it might happen in the seat next to you.

Sam Miller: Noted

Mikell (Chicago): Is there any way for the Nationals to acquire Gio Gonzalez without dealing Jordan Zimmerman or Anthony Rendon?

Sam Miller: They can't trade Rendon, at least not yet.

rwinter (Boston): Did the Rangers really screw up by not trading one of Salty, Ramirez and Teagarden when their values were all high?

Sam Miller: In the sense that they didnít trade prospects who flopped, sure. You could say that about every team and every prospect who flopped. Did the Angels err in not trading Brandon Wood when he was a top-10 prospect? In retrospect, of course, but there was no way of knowing that.

The fact that all three of those players flopped in their own ways supports the decision to keep all of them, though, instead of treating them as depth. Catchers have a brutal attrition rate. Baseball Americaís top 100 in 2000 included six catchers: Eric Munson, Ben Petrick, Matt LeCroy, Jayson Werth (Orioles), Steve Lomasney, Ryan Christianson. In 2001: Joe Lawrence, Dane Sardinha, Brandon Inge, J.R. House. In 2002: Mauer, Josh Phelps, House, John Buck, Werth (Blue Jays), Victor Martinez. In 2003: Mauer, Martinez, Jeff Mathis, Justin Huber, Buck.

In 2007, when the Rangers had to make this decision, Kevin Goldstein ranked the catchers in the minors. He named 17 players. These are the 17:

Jeff Clement
Bryan Anderson
J.R. Towles
Teagarden
Hank Conger
John Jaso
Ramirez
Nick Hundley
Tony Recker
Jesus Montero
Brett Hayes
Francisco Hernandez
Lou Palmisano
Landon Powell
Shawn Riggans
Jamie Skelton
Brian Jeroloman

Out of those 17, there are basically one and a half every day catchers, maaaaaaybe another one in Hank Conger, and a DH. We thought the Rangers had three catchers, plus Gerald Laird. In fact, they had Gerald Laird.

Also:
2007 Baseball Prospectus Annual: ďWhen Teagarden is behind the dish, heís one of the top defensive catchers around. If he can stay there, heís Mickey Tettleton with defensive chops.Ē
2008 Baseball Prospectus Annual: ďIf you want to get really dreamy and optimistic, think Mickey Tettleton with Gold Glove-level skills, and you get the picture.Ē

This is why comps are the best/worst.

bradleyankrom (Space): The only acceptable Yu Darvish pun will come if Toronto signs Chad Qualls and it can be said of their offseason, "Q And Not Yu."

Sam Miller: One of my two was "queue and not yu" but it never really came together.

Rob (Alaska): So, does the Pujols signing tell us anything about the state of the union/ economics of baseball post-CBA? I fear a two-tier system to some degree. I mean, for years we were lauding teams like the A's and Rays for figuring out ways to compete on a small budget. But now, thanks to teams like the Rangers and Red Sox, there's a road map for teams with resources to play on both the player development and free agent markets. I fear the Rays are doomed to fade as the A's have done as more teams with means figure it out (Jays, Cubs, maybe the Dodgers under new ownership?). I mean, I know FA acquisitions analytically don't give much surplus value, but as you point out that doesn't really matter to a team like the Angels. I'm sure there's a question in here somewhere.

Sam Miller: I don't think there's a really a word in your question that couldn't have been asked at any point over the past 15 or 20 years. It's the way it is, and it's been, and some teams still manage to break through. You cited the Rays as a team we talked about "for years," but that's present tense! They made the playoffs last year. They have almost everybody good on their team locked up with club options until 2025. The Padres will win a division in the next three or four years. The Mariners, if you count them as small market, will at least be interesting for the next three or four years.

The big disadvantage for teams like the Angels is they HAVE to compete every year. They have to trade for Vernon Wells (or whatever), because top-tier teams don't rebuild. That leads to a lot of long-term burdens, one of which could very easily turn out to be Albert Pujols. The Rays, the Padres, the Blue Jays -- they never have to do this. They can be patient and use their resources a lot more efficiently. Smart small-market teams are like gerrymandered political districts, I think. That's a metaphor that just occurred to me. It still needs to be developed.

Catching prospect (No such thing): So, TINSTAACP?

Sam Miller: Yeah, basically. Exactly.

Did you know that TINSTAAP, one of the most famous BP acronyms, is actually an illusion to a similar acronym held dear by libertarians? There is No Such Thing As A Free Lunch, or TINSTAAFL, was "central to Robert heinlein's 1966 libertarian science fiction novel The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress. The free-market economist Milton Friedman also popularized the phrase, and it often appears in economics textbooks."

Maybe everybody knew that. I didn't.

ttt (Work (ugh)): So will Conger ever get any time with the Angels in 2012 or beyond?

Sam Miller: The Angels are trying to lock Iannetta up, reportedly, so that would say not. The way they wouldn't let Conger hit against lefties, at all, like ever, also shows how limited they think he is. At this point, it's hard to see Conger developing much more as a defensive catcher, so it'll depend on whether Mike Scioscia develops a different attitude toward his backstops.

HalfStreet (Fairfax VA): Word is out that Roy Oswalt will now settle for a one-year contract, instead of the 3-year deal he originally sought. If you are right about the Nats' window of contention really starting in 2013, might Oswalt for a year and an option be better than spending the farm on Gio Gonzalez?

Sam Miller: Speed round, then? Speed round.

A lot of teams have more incentive to sign Oswalt to that deal than the Nationals do right now, so a lot of teams would probably pay him more. The Nationals should just relax and be patient, I guess. Or get Fielder and Oswalt now and then trade for Gio, because who knows, maybe we'll all die by 2013 anyway.

Burt (Canada): A healthy Stephen Strasburg with the CY next year? True or false?

Sam Miller: Doubt he gets to throw the 225 innings or so he would need to.

smallmanoncampus (Delta, BC): Thoughts on the Kubel contract?

Sam Miller: I'd rather have Melky. I'd rather have Kevin Towers make decisions than me, though.

AP (Toronto): Kyle Drabek: Total write-off, or MLB contributor?

Sam Miller: I never liked him, for unspecific reasons, but not writing him off entirely. PECOTA hates him for 2012.

rrydelek (Md.): What do you see next season for Jason Heyward? Is he in trouble in his development?

Sam Miller: I think he'll be something like the third-best player on the Braves.

@SDIdan (Colorado): Any chance the Angels trade Ervin Santana for say, Adam Dunn or Jayson Werth? It's been awhile since a bad trade. - signed giddy Rangers fan

Sam Miller: Almost every bad deal you could imagine the Angels making a year ago would be unimaginable now. It's just such a different front office now. They'll probably end up making a whole new kind of bad move, eventually. But it's sort of a lousy time to root for the Angels to do stupid things. Sorry.

Mikell (Chicago): White Sox have the worst farm system in baseball? True or false?

Sam Miller: Brewers?

Chuck Norris' Right Fist (Choose or Die): Tyler Colvin in Denver or Ian Stewart in Chicago, who has a better 2012?

Sam Miller: Ugh. Uuuuugh. Stewart.

Steve (CA): Does David Carpenter have a legit chance to close for the Astros this year?

Sam Miller: I hate trying to guess what managers are going to do. For what it's worth, "collecting saves" is not a skill that seems to require age and experience.

Cris E (St Paul, MN): Back to the Dipoto article: if you read it closely I think he did know they were going to rampage if the market didn't take off. There were lots of "it doesn't have to stay that way" and "you have to stay open-minded to all the possibilities" and "That being said, if there is the opportunity to upgrade at the major-league level, you always have to pay attention." It's fascinating in retrospect.

Sam Miller: I think all those quotes you cited are the GM equivalent of "um" and "you know" and "like." They're just verbal tics that they use to stall.

DeathSpeculum ('zona): Cahill - Front of the rotation guy? better in 2012? or 2011 what we should expect?

Sam Miller: I don't like him much. I'm not sure there's all that much space between him and, say, Joel Pineiro.

Look Like I'm 3k Richer (Chicago): Ok, I get my season ticket invoice in the mail and it's up 4% or so. My favortie team let aramis ramirez and carlos pena go, and have signed david dejesus and trade for ian stewart. No Yu Darvish. No Albert Pujols. Prince Fielder is a pipe dream. Is there any reason I should pay near the highest ticket prices in baseball for a team that's obviously going to be just better than astros awful in 2012?

Sam Miller: No, unless you like going to baseball parks and watching baseball. Terrible baseball.

Tim (Seattle): I am tripping out right now because of the Yu Darvish situation? Where was the Yankees, the Red Sox, and the Cubs? Aren't the Red Sox obligated to bid on Yu considering their investment on Dice-K? Isn't it wise to spend good money chasing bad money in order to right a ship? Isn't Yu Darvish the mysterious Japanese pitcher we always knew existed, not Dice-K?

Sam Miller: It really is the weirdest thing to have an entire offseason with no Yankees rumors.

OK. That's all. I'm going away now. Go away, everybody.

Sam Miller: .


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