At the end of January, I was fortunate enough to sit down and talk with executives from a couple of clubs, and reader response was heavy and extremely positive. So we’ve imposed once again on the executive of the AL Club who was so generous with his time back in January, and here’s what he had to say as we approach the final third of the season.
Baseball Prospectus: Thanks for taking the time to talk with us again. The readers really liked the last one. I think I received over 300 pieces of mail, many sure they knew who you were.
AL: Anyone guess right?
BP: Several, actually, but the vast majority were way off. What’s been the biggest surprise to you this season?
AL: The Royals, just like everyone else.
BP: How’ve they done it?
AL: Better-than-expected offense across the board. Everyone’s hitting a little better than they have in the past. Tony Pena and crew deserve a tremendous amount of credit. Angel Berroa‘s looked like a potentially great ballplayer. They’re a tough club to beat. That, and Minnesota waited too long to pull the trigger on their rotation.
BP: In terms of inserting Santana?
AL: Yes, but let’s hold on a minute. One thing that’s really pissed me off about Baseball Prospectus is your treatment of the Twins’ front office when it comes to Santana. Whenever a club throws a young kid onto the mound, you guys watch the pitch counts like hawks, and you talk about the Earl Weaver method of using long relief to save the arm of a young pitcher. Then, when Gardenhire actually does what you suggest, every f***in’ writer on your staff, you included, rip into him. That’s bull****.
BP: You said the same thing! You said Santana’s, and I quote, a “stone killer” in the rotation waiting to happen!
AL: And he’s there now! You want to keep him down to 140-160 innings, not throw him to the wolves by putting him in the rotation at the start of the season! The Twins have handled this the right way, and you guys have been way out of line! And me saying that he’s a stone killer is different from me saying he should go into the rotation and throw 240 innings! If someone from a front office tried to do the two-step you’re trying to do, you’d rip them a new a**hole!
BP: If you’re going to contend, you can’t start the season with those five starters with Santana as a deep option in the bullpen. Look at the standings! Reed, Mays, and Radke were powder kegs; we figured they’d be problems rather than strengths, and you can’t waste that kind of talent sitting in the pen!
AL: At least one of those guys should have worked out! Having Santana as a three- or four-inning guy 20 times a year, with a couple of starts and a few lefty/lefty matchups gives you 120 useful innings, and a guy who’s ready for next year. You guys have been selling a line on Santana, no question, and you need to knock it off. It makes you look stupid.
BP: OK, I’ll note your objection and pass it along. Who’s run their team well, and who hasn’t, and why?
AL: The Red Sox stole Kim from the Diamondbacks. That was a great move for them, and a total f***up for Garagiola. Hillenbrand’s the same ballplayer as at least 10 guys they could have had for free. Instead, they give up a quality arm that can work in any role on the club, and they’re going to be clawing for a shot at the Wild Card.
BP: I’m lower on Hillenbrand than most, but I don’t think he’s in replacement-level country by any means. He’s actually hit pretty well, and he’s in his prime.
AL: He’s not bad, but he’s not worth Kim. Hillenbrand’s no mystery.
BP: Any other moves you like?
AL: Sure. I liked the Giants bringing in some bullpen depth for nothing. Ricciardi robbed the Twins blind in that outfielder swap in the long term, but I don’t think the deal’s really that bad for the Twins. They’ve got corner guys that can rake coming out of their ears. I love Kielty, but with the defense of Hunter and Jones, Kielty’s just another corner OF. He needed to move.
BP: Who’s available and underrated? What arms are going to move?
AL: It’s all about salary space at this point. I’d be surprised if the A’s didn’t move Lilly, and they really need to replace Hatteberg, so they might do something on those lines. It’s not like there’s a ton of good arms out there for low prices. I think once one domino falls, you’ll see the rest fall soon thereafter, or an injury may precipitate everything.
BP: Who makes the postseason in the AL?
AL: The Yankees, Mariners, Royals, and Red Sox.
BP: Do any of them need to do anything before that?
AL: No one’s in perfect shape, but they’re pretty solid. The Royals could be buyers for an arm, as could the Red Sox.
BP: Why aren’t Oakland and Minnesota on that list?
AL: Oakland still could be. It’s not coincidence that they get nasty in the second half. Beane will try to go get the bat he needs, but he wants to keep Swisher, which means it’s going to be hard. Oakland needs a bat, because Tejada’s not playing over his head this year, and really, they have no offensive threats against lefties. They play uphill against lefties, even innings guys. Really, Oakland’s been in trouble since Dye broke that leg. That’s a lot of money down the tubes since then. You can’t win a division without an outfielder that would be a good starter for a World Series team.
BP: And Minnesota?
AL: They’ve got too many problem contracts. Not just in money, but in raw talent. Radke, Reed, Mays, and Milton aren’t a strong foundation for a rotation, and if you don’t have an outfield of true bombers, you can’t really have Rivas and Guzman out there every day. Too many holes, and every one of those guys has shown promise, so you keep thinking they’ll improve, but it’s not going to happen. They’re not as good a club as Kansas City is. They need to do the hard thing and lose a bunch of the popular guys who just aren’t very good. That means most of the rotation and most of the infield. But this year, they could still make it, mostly because their schedule is so easy.
BP: Teams to watch?
AL: I love Toronto’s position. They’re out from under everything next year, they’ve got some minor league talent that I love. Detroit’s every bit as bad as their record, throughout the organization. They need to go heavy on the whole set-up and start from the ground up. The White Sox could still surprise people. If they turn into sellers, they could move Buehrle for two or three real prospects, and still win the division.
BP: And Loaiza?
AL: I think he’s for real. I think he’s a legitimate starter.
BP: What’s going on in Tampa Bay?
AL: Baldelli’s going to be a great player, but not for another several years. Other than that, they need a purge and teardown, which probably won’t happen.
BP: Rickey Henderson?
AL: A lot of teams are watching him. The Dodgers waited too long to get him, but if he has a great stretch drive, he could end up signed somewhere for next year. The guy’s in better shape than a lot of 30-year-olds, and it sure looks like he can still play.
BP: Who wins the World Series?
AL: San Francisco.
AL: (laughs) They’ve got too much talent, they’re a very professional group, and for as much press as other front offices get, they’ve got the very best Assistant GM in the game in Ned Colletti. If they get there, they win, and they’re going to get there.
BP: Well, that’s depressing. I guess it could be worse, and the Cowboys could win the Super Bowl, too. What should we watch for in the off-season?
AL: (laughs) Later signings. There used to be a mindset that waiting drove the market in favor of the players. That’s now reversed. I don’t think the smaller contracts were a one-year fluke; I think it’s a real shift in how things are done.
BP: What about talk of collusion?
AL: Collusion means we talk to each other and fix prices. We don’t do that. We don’t have to. We’re just willing to consider more options than we used to, and we have to financially justify the contracts we sign. The world doesn’t end if we don’t get our first choice. The Bret Boone deal was a fair deal, and that’s the model, I think, that we’re going to follow. There is no collusion. Clubs are financially sensible, and collusion doesn’t make sense. The risk is bigger than the gain. You may see huge contracts for players, but they’ll be shorter-term deals. I think the days of really long-term contracts for players is just plain over.
BP: One more question. In the AL, who to watch next year?
AL: Oakland, Toronto depending on who’s in the rotation, Boston, Chicago, Kansas City, Minnesota, Seattle, Anaheim on the fringes.
BP: So, the same bunch as this year.
AL: Pretty much.
BP: Thanks for taking the time to talk with us.
AL: No problem. I want a Premium freebie.