SweetSpot: Cliff Lee


PHILADELPHIA -- It’s been a while since the last Cliff Lee sighting on the Citizens Bank Park mound. He went on the disabled list with a strained left elbow on May 18, which means that he was rehabbing through Memorial Day, Flag Day, Father’s Day, the first day of summer solstice and Independence Day while any semblance of spring training optimism faded for the Philadelphia Phillies.


Lee finally made it back in time for National Baseball Trade Speculation week -- but just barely.


As the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline approaches, Lee essentially has a two-start showcase to help drum up interest among trade partners looking for rotation help down the stretch. For the sake of brevity, let’s just say the first installment didn’t go so hot.


Lee returned to the Phillies’ rotation in a 7-4 loss to San Francisco on Monday. He did get off to an encouraging start with a nine-pitch, 1-2-3 first inning. But the storyline regressed from there. Lee tied a career high with 12 hits allowed over 5⅔ innings and threw 90 pitches -- 59 of them strikes -- before giving way to reliever Justin De Fratus. Although he broke several bats and gave up an inordinate number of bleeders, it wasn’t the type of performance that’s going to make general manager Ruben Amaro’s cell phone vibrate with calls from motivated suitors.


“I thought he showed some rust,” an AL scout said of Lee. “His fastball command was off and he wasn’t nearly as precise as usual. He threw too many hittable pitches, and his overall stuff was flatter than normal. Give him another start before rushing to judgment. He threw strikes, but not with the level of precision he typically does.”

[+] EnlargeCliff Lee
AP Photo/Michael PerezAs rumors about Phillies trades swirled, all Cliff Lee could do was focus on execution.


Contending teams typically want to see more than a two-start cameo before putting their heart into a trade, but it’s not unprecedented for clubs to take the plunge off a limited sample size. In 2013, Jake Peavy of the Chicago White Sox missed six weeks with a fractured left rib and returned to make two starts in late July. That 13-inning audition was enough to convince Boston to trade shortstop Jose Iglesias and acquire Peavy in a three-team deal with Chicago and Detroit at the deadline.


In Lee’s case, money definitely complicates matters. He’s still owed about $10 million this season. Throw in a $25 million salary in 2015 and a $27.5 million mutual option for 2016 that automatically vests if he throws 200 innings next year (not to mention a $12.5 million buyout), and Lee is guaranteed somewhere between $47.5 million and $62.5 million through age 37 or 38. As good as he is, the Phillies are faced with the prospect of having to kick in millions to subsidize him pitching somewhere else.


Lee’s deal also includes a limited no-trade clause that allows him to block trades to 20 teams. According to a baseball source, Lee has listed Atlanta, Cleveland, Houston, Miami, Minnesota, the New York Mets, San Diego, Tampa Bay and Washington as the nine teams he can be traded to without his consent.


Against that backdrop, the Tigers, Pirates, Orioles, Mariners, Angels, Royals, Blue Jays and Giants -- contenders all -- were among a dozen teams that had scouts at Monday’s game. No one can say for sure who was on hand to expressly scout Lee, in part because the Phillies have so many other tradable commodities on their roster.


Outfielder Marlon Byrd is a potential target for teams in search of a right-handed outfield bat. Closer Jonathan Papelbon is being scouted by the same talent evaluators who are checking in on Joakim Soria, Joaquin Benoit, Brad Ziegler, Steve Cishek, et al. Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins could help contending teams in need of middle infield help, but their 10-and-5 service-time rights give them veto power over any deal. And while Cole Hamels’ name has been mentioned here and there, those rumors have never gained any traction.


Anyone up for some good A.J. Burnett, Antonio Bastardo or Kyle Kendrick speculation?


With Jeff Samardzija, Jason Hammel and Brandon McCarthy already traded and Tampa Bay more conflicted than ever about moving David Price because of its recent surge in the standings, the list of available impact starters is slim. But is it slim enough for a team to make a run at Lee even though he looked like a guy who will need a few more outings to round into top form? At this point, it takes a pretty active imagination to envision Lee pitching anywhere other than Philadelphia this season.


Lee, for his part, said he’s oblivious to the Internet buzz. His fastball checked in at an average of 89.1 mph Monday night, slightly below what he was throwing earlier this season. And the Giants recorded three hits against his cutter, a pitch that’s been less effective for him this year compared with recent seasons. So he’ll make some adjustments and hope the results are better against the Arizona Diamondbacks on Saturday.


“I didn’t know how many scouts were here and I don’t care about the rumors,” Lee said. “My goal is to get out there and try to give the team a chance to win. Obviously I didn’t do that as well as I would like. But that’s where my focus is. I could care less about the scouts in the stands or the trade rumors. It doesn’t mean anything to me. I never cared about that. I still don’t.”


Spoken like a man who has been through this routine about a half-dozen times already in his career. Lee was 23 years old in 2002 when he went from Montreal to Cleveland with Grady Sizemore and Brandon Phillips in the big Bartolo Colon trade. He has since been traded from the Indians to the Phillies, from the Phillies to Seattle and from Seattle to Texas, so he understands the importance of being an emotional flatliner in July.


“It’s not my job to make trades and acquire players and all that stuff,” Lee said. “Let them do their job upstairs, and our job as players is to go out there and compete and try to win. It’s really that simple to me. I’m not going to get caught up in trades and all the speculation. I’m a Phillie and I want this team to win and I’m going to do everything I can to help that happen. That’s really it.”


Except that it isn’t -- for the embattled Amaro and season-ticket holders who have grown tired of the product the Phillies are selling and want to see changes. Monday night the focus was on Lee. Tuesday it will shift to somebody else. There could be a lot of action in Philadelphia between now and July 31. Some of it might actually take place on the field.

Moneyball, before Moneyball was cool

June, 7, 2014
Jun 7
7:00
PM ET
One of the best-kept secrets in Cleveland sports is not who the Cavs will take with the first pick in the NBA draft, or who the Browns’ starting quarterback will be come fall. Rather, it is a computer program you've probably never heard of. But for years, the Indians have used a proprietary statistical analysis program called DiamondView. This program aids decision-making for the Cleveland Indians' front office, and it is a reason for numerous highly publicized endings to players' careers with the Tribe, including those of Jim Thome, CC Sabathia, Victor Martinez and Cliff Lee, to name a few.

Before Moneyball, there was DiamondView. As analytics have been adopted across Major League Baseball, DiamondView has stayed exclusive and evolved within the confines of Progressive Field, allowing the Indians to stay competitive as a small-market team during an era of extreme salary inflation.

One of just a few articles about the program was written in the Cleveland Plain Dealer in 2003. When it came to negotiating a contract extension with Jim Thome, the Indians felt uncomfortable offering the slugger more than five years. Thome’s new salary also would have exceeded 12.5 percent of the team’s payroll, a threshold the Tribe brass felt uncomfortable exceeding. General manager Chris Antonetti explained that Barry Bonds was the only hitter in the 22 prior seasons without a major decline in production after the age of 35, and that Thome would play the final two years of a five-year contract at ages 36 and 37.

The Indians were willing to risk three years of Thome playing at age 35 and beyond, but not four. For that reason, the Tribe's hero of the '90s jumped ship and left for Philadelphia, where he got the extra seasons under a contract he sought. In those six seasons of his new deal, three with the Phillies and three with the White Sox after a trade, Thome hit just .265 and missed an average of 32 games per season, numbers down from his Cleveland peaks. The extra seasons the Phillies gave to Thome became a clear overpay for a .245 hitter who could no longer field a position regularly. In his final six Cleveland seasons, Thome posted 29.1 wins above replacement, compared with just 17.2 WAR during his six-year contract. Though still productive into his late-30s, Thome was nowhere near the player he was at his peak, and his contract would have proved problematic for a smaller-market team.

[+] EnlargeJim Thome
Brace Hemmelgarn/Minnesota Twins/Getty ImagesThanks to DiamondView, the Indians anticipated that Jim Thome wasn't going to be worth investing in for as many years as he wanted to get paid.
Instead of paying Thome what would have amounted to $63 million over five years, the Indians spent that money on bonuses for draft picks, along with rising salaries for players such as Sabathia, Jake Westbrook and Matt Lawton. When those players became too expensive for the Indians to afford and too old for DiamondView to believe in their continued success, the cycle started again, with Sabathia, Victor Martinez, and Cliff Lee traded for prospects ahead of their impending free-agent paydays.

The creation of DiamondView was revolutionary because of the program's ability to decipher large amounts of data very quickly, updating its statistical database on a daily basis while also being able to point out trends and other important information. Though this does not sound extremely impressive today with the numerous sports databases at our disposal, DiamondView was a state-of-the-art analysis program upon its inception in spring 2000. In 2003, Antonetti was giddy about the team’s creation of the statistic OPS-plus (not to be confused with OPS+), an early metric used to better quantify and predict offensive performance.

Former Tribe outfielder Matt Lawton was thought of highly by DiamondView, leading the Indians to sign him for four years and $27 million in late 2001. Lawton disappointed in his first two seasons beside the shores of Lake Erie, battling through injuries and inconsistency, but he was an All-Star in 2004 once his health problems subsided. The performance roller coaster that Lawton rode on during his seasons in Cleveland was used as a way to refine and improve DiamondView. This mistake became a teaching point for the database, as it incorporated potential warning signs for future decisions.

Another interesting finding from the early days of DiamondView was how it tracked and forecasted the development of power hitting, and how it appears later during players’ careers. That has been exemplified this season through the power surge of Michael Brantley. The Tribe outfielder has hit nine home runs in 48 games this season after hitting just 10 in 151 games in 2013. His doubles rate is also up, leading to a triple-digit improvement in slugging percentage. Blue Jays first baseman Edwin Encarnacion is another key example of the later-career power surge, as he did not post a slugging percentage above .500 until his age-29 season.

The age of 29 is important to note, as this is the age that the Tribe front office has pinpointed as a player’s performance peak. Generally, players begin to decline once they turn 29, with a slower rate of decline making a player more valuable. During winter 2012, I had the opportunity to travel to the corner of Carnegie and Ontario and visit with multiple members of the Indians' front office. Normally tight-lipped in all aspects, the front-office members who spoke with my game theory class, including Antonetti and team president Mark Shapiro, talked a lot about DiamondView and their reliance on it, even sharing some of the secrets the program has revealed. They elaborated on the importance of DiamondView and divulged some fascinating factoids, as well. This “29 and decline” rule was one of the points mentioned by the analysts and Antonetti during their lectures.

Looking back at the first major trade of a talented Indians starting pitcher during the DiamondView era, Bartolo Colon follows the data strongly. He was 29 when the Indians shipped him to Montreal, with DiamondView proving its worth on both ends. Colon became a free agent after the 2003 season and signed a four-year contract with the Angels. That contract saw Colon post a 4.66 ERA in 96 appearances, including a 5.90 ERA in the final two years of the deal. And I don't think I need to go into detail with the Tribe’s acquisition of All-Stars Cliff Lee, Grady Sizemore and Brandon Phillips in that trade.

Antonetti focused on the trade of former American League Cy Young award winner CC Sabathia in summer 2008, mentioning how top prospect Matt LaPorta was rated highly by both traditional scouting and DiamondView’s analytics. They believed that he had a high probability of becoming a middle-of-the-lineup power hitter with All-Star potential. The scenario played itself out with LaPorta ended up as a bust, most recently being granted his release from a Mexican League team earlier this season. During the meeting, Antonetti mentioned that, statistically speaking, if the career of Matt LaPorta had played out 100 times, he would have been a successful player on 75 or 80 occasions. He also made it clear that there are no do-overs in the real world and that the team had to accept the outcomes handed to them.

On multiple occasions, the front office mentioned that, though computers can give the team an advantage, intangibles may also affect a player’s career path. DiamondView has a database of off-field information on players, but this information cannot be quantified as simply as on-field statistics. Antonetti and Shapiro also stressed that DiamondView is just one tool of many when it comes to player evaluation and analysis. The pair stressed that other important aspects of team building include character, work ethic and team chemistry. It explains the emphasis on good-character player signings, namely Nick Swisher and Jason Giambi.

In my research of DiamondView, it becomes clear that sample size is the biggest factor in the program’s accuracy. The Indians have struggled to draft successful players since the program’s inception in 2000, most likely due to an inability to contextualize the few statistics college players have at a level much lower than any in minor league baseball. With high school sample sizes even smaller than college, the Indians have to rely more heavily on typical scouting. Even just one or two years of minor league statistics lead to a better rate of success for the computer program, as shown through plenty of heists of minor leaguers in recent years. Once a player is part of a professional team's infrastructure, his intangibles can also be better understood. At the macro level, as DiamondView continues to mature and the database absorbs more information, its overall accuracy improves because it can learn from its mistakes.

But has DiamondView been ultimately successful? The short answer is somewhat. Since DiamondView’s creation in spring 2000, the Indians have a record of 1149-1171 (as of May 26, 2014). However, among smaller-payroll franchises, the Indians have the fourth-best record in the time frame, behind only the Oakland Athletics, Chicago White Sox and Minnesota Twins. This means that the brainchild of the Shapiro/Antonetti regime has not been able to fully nullify the disparities that differing payrolls create, but it has allowed the Indians to be competitive among franchises in similar situations.

I am only scratching the surface on DiamondView, what it does and how it helps the Indians succeed on the field. I have never seen the program in action, relying on primary and secondary sources to learn about it. Moreover, Shapiro and Antonetti are two of the best in the business at staying secretive. As a small-market franchise, the odds are stacked against them, with almost no room for error. DiamondView has granted the Indians improved results in the 15 seasons since the program first came to fruition.

DiamondView is a known but not completely understood commodity within baseball, with some franchises even resorting to the creation of DiamondView knockoffs. Former Indians scouting director Josh Byrnes even offered top prospect Carlos Quentin in a trade for a copy of the program. The Indians said no, as mentioned in "The Yankee Years" by Joe Torre and Tom Verducci. Both authors praise the Indians for becoming the first team to adopt a giant searchable database of statistics and information. Antonetti and Shapiro do not get enough credit for being ahead of the curve and adapting to the challenges small-market teams face.

DiamondView was a revolutionary database when it was created, even predating Moneyball. While the secrets exposed in Michael Lewis’ book have been adopted across Major League Baseball, DiamondView’s findings have remained private. The ability for the program to adapt to the evolving nature of baseball’s sabermetric era has kept the franchise consistently competitive among constantly lessening odds for small-market teams.

Alex Kaufman is a rising sophomore at Denison University and a summer intern with It’s Pronounced Lajaway, the SweetSpot blog on the Cleveland Indians. Alex can be followed on Twitter at @NSF_Alex.

Jimenez, Peralta at top of mound efforts

May, 3, 2014
May 3
1:48
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Lots of storylines around the majors on Friday night, as you would expect. With all due respect to Starling Marte (walk-off homer against Toronto) and rookie Jose Abreu (11th homer of the season equals the total of the Kansas City Royals), however, the five most noteworthy performances of the evening occurred on the pitching mound.

1. Ubaldo Jimenez was nothing short of brutal in five April starts, but the big right-hander finally picked up his first win with the Orioles. He did so in dominating fashion, twirling 7 1/3 scoreless innings, while allowing just three hits and one walk in a 3-0 shutout of Minnesota.

More encouraging for Baltimore fans: Jimenez struck out 10 Twins. Before Friday night, he had been walking too many batters (17 in 27 1/3 innings), and the drop in fastball velocity (1.6 mph below last year’s fastball) continues to be worrisome, but the Orioles need an effective Jimenez if they want to stay atop the American League East.

2. Wily Peralta did it all himself in Cincinnati. Not only did the Brewers' right-hander pitch eight shutout innings, but Peralta also doubled in both of Milwaukee’s runs in a 2-0 win. Those RBIs were the first of Peralta’s career.

Milwaukee boasts the best record in baseball at 21-9; its 12-3 mark away from Miller Park is also the best in the league. We are just two days into May, and the Brew Crew has already opened up a six-game lead in the NL Central (9.5 over the last-place Cubs and Pirates).

[+] EnlargeMike Minor
Daniel Shirey/USA TODAY SportsBraves lefty Mike Minor took the loss in his season debut Friday night despite pitching well over six innings.
3. Much ink has been spilled about the early brilliance of Atlanta’s pitching, but you have to think that Mike Minor’s return to the Braves couldn’t have come at a better time. Minor was effective over six innings, permitting two runs on seven hits while striking out four (both San Francisco runs scored on solo homers). Of course, that performance wasn’t enough to out-duel Tim Lincecum, as the Giants won 2-1.

Minor has been Atlanta’s best pitcher since the 2012 All-Star break (87 1/3 IP, 2.16 ERA in the second half of 2012; 13-9, 3.21 ERA in 200+ innings last year). With the clock (possibly) striking midnight on Aaron Harang, and the club now mired in a four-game losing skid, Minor’s return to the top of the Atlanta rotation is welcome indeed.

4. Tom Koehler entered the season as Miami’s fifth starter after going 5-10 with a 4.41 ERA as a rookie last year. On Friday, Koehler pitched seven scoreless innings, holding the Dodgers to three hits in a 6-3 Marlins victory. The win was Miami’s seventh in a row at home; its 13-4 home record is the best in baseball. Also, don’t look now, but the win permitted the Marlins to climb above .500 for the first time since April 9.

Koehler is 3-2 with a 2.41 ERA on the season, but he seems like a good bet to return to Earth any time now. He has issued free passes to almost four batters per nine innings, and that 24/16 strikeout-to-walk ratio does not inspire confidence that he can continue to outperform his peripherals (4.41 FIP, for example).

5. We would be remiss if we didn’t mention the best pitching matchup of the night: Cliff Lee vs. Stephen Strasburg. Strasburg pitched six strong innings, giving up three unearned runs in the first before settling down; he was lifted by manager Matt Williams after only 83 pitches. Lee had a typical Cliff Lee performance, allowing one earned run over seven innings. Things got a little testy in the fifth, when Lee got into a bit of a shouting match with Washington’s Denard Span, after which each player’s posse emerged from his respective dugout to mill around on the field before order was restored.

Finally, we didn’t really need more proof that you can’t predict baseball, but Lee and Strasburg provided it. Lee had issued four walks in his first six starts. He hadn’t walked a pitcher in three years. So what happened tonight? Yep, Lee walked Strasburg on four straight pitches.

You gotta love baseball.

Chad Dotson writes for Redleg Nation on the SweetSpot Blog Network.

SweetSpot TV: Rapid fire!

April, 29, 2014
Apr 29
1:02
PM ET


Eric and myself take questions via Twitter and answer them in this week's edition of rapid fire.

Some big names who could be traded

October, 18, 2013
10/18/13
12:34
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The playoffs are just a couple weeks from wrapping up, which means the hot stove gets turned up to 11. Or something. I might be mixing up my metaphors. There's nothing quite like the flurry of trade rumors and whispers of potential landing spots for big-name free agents. This offseason will be no different as there are plenty of big names who could have new mailing addresses by the time the 2014 begins. Let's run through a handful of them.

Giancarlo Stanton, RF, Miami Marlins
Stanton isn't even 24 years old yet but he's been mentioned in trade rumors seemingly every week for the past two years. Given the Marlins' historical penchant for dealing away every useful player they've ever had, it makes sense. The Marlins signed Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle and Heath Bell in their first big foray into the free-agent market upon the birth of a new stadium, but traded them away less than a year later. They traded away Hanley Ramirez, the face of their franchise. What's so special about Stanton that they wouldn't ship him off, too?

The outfielder is eligible for arbitration for the first time in his career, creating expectations for a significant jump in salary as he earned less than $550,000 in 2013. He becomes a free agent after the 2016 season. The Marlins, who had one of baseball's lowest Opening Day payrolls at $50.5 million, might value a haul of prospects more than Stanton's continued presence in their lineup. Even with Stanton, the Marlins saw a catastrophic decline in attendance in the second year in their new ballpark, so what's to stop them from running the franchise as cheaply as possible on a never-ending stream of pre-arbitration prospects, only to repeat the process ad nauseam?

There has already been a ton of interest in Stanton. Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe reported that Phillies GM Ruben Amaro has inquired on Stanton's availability at least 10 times, only to be rebuffed each and every time. Imagine if the Marlins do make him publicly available. Cafardo suggests the Tigers, Mets, Mariners, Yankees, Orioles, Angels and Red Sox could all join the bidding if Stanton becomes available.

Max Scherzer, P, Detroit Tigers
After years of inconsistency, Scherzer put it all together for a fantastic 2013 season, one which will likely earn him the AL Cy Young Award. There's a ton to like about the right-hander. Among starters, only Yu Darvish missed bats at a higher rate than Scherzer. He cut his walk rate below 7 percent and he wasn't as homer-prone as in the past.

Scherzer, 29, enters his final year of arbitration having taken home a $6.725 million salary in 2013. MLB Trade Rumors estimates he'll earn $13.6 million. The Tigers already have $108 committed to just six players in 2014. If they have a comparable Opening Day payroll as they did in 2013, which was $149 million, they will need to round out the final 19 roster spots rather cheaply, which may make Scherzer expendable. Otherwise, they will need to significantly expand their payroll, perhaps to $175 million.

The only destination for Scherzer would be on a contending team looking for a one-year solution. The Dodgers and Rangers would certainly be among the first two teams to jump into the fray to acquire Scherzer's services, but don't count out teams like the Orioles and Nationals.

Matt Kemp, CF, Los Angeles Dodgers
The Dodgers have a surfeit of outfielders and the oft-injured Kemp could be the odd man out. With Cuban sensation Yasiel Puig breaking out, and Carl Crawford and Andre Ethier under costly long-term deals, trading Kemp and getting out from under his heavy contract might just be the best route to go for the Dodgers.

Kemp spent more than half of the 2013 season on the disabled list due to a plethora of injuries including a strained right hamstring, inflammation of the AC joint in his left shoulder, a sprained left ankle, and recurring ankle and shoulder pain. He had shoulder surgery on Oct. 8 but is expected to be at 100 percent by the start of next season.

The Dodgers would be expected to eat a significant amount of Kemp's remaining $128 million over six years in any deal. Otherwise, they wouldn't get much of a return in terms of high-ceiling prospects and MLB-ready players.

Philadelphia would be an interesting destination for Kemp. Citizens Bank Park has seen fewer fans the past two seasons, as the team has gotten worse and worse. With a new local TV deal on the horizon, dealing for a superstar like Kemp would be a typical Amaro move and it would bring attention back to the team as they attempt to strike it rich, whether with Comcast or elsewhere. Right now, their center fielder is Ben Revere. While he is perfectly serviceable on his own, he doesn't have anywhere near the upside of a healthy Kemp. The Phillies could also play Kemp in right field. The problem is that the Phillies' minor league system is rather weak, especially at the upper levels, so there may not be a match.

Cliff Lee, P, Philadelphia Phillies
Has there ever been a Cy Young Award winner traded more often than Lee? Lee, who played for four teams within a span of one calendar year -- the Indians, Phillies, Mariners, and Rangers -- could be on the block again as the Phillies attempt to create a more competitive roster going into 2014. The Phillies owe $109.5 million to seven players already without factoring in arbitration-eligible players, free agents and pre-arbs. They need at least one outfielder, at least one middle-of-the-rotation starter, a set-up man, and an entire bench. They opened 2013 with a payroll below $160 million, so filling all of those holes with $50 million or less would be quite a challenge.

Trading Lee while he's still at the apex of his value -- he's coming off of a season in which he posted a 2.87 ERA in 222.2 innings while leading the league with a 6.9 strikeout-to-walk ratio -- would give the Phillies their best shot to find a suitor willing to eat the $62.5 million remaining on his contract. In return, the Phillies could further bolster their minor league system and perhaps even add a major league-caliber player to fill one of those holes.

The same teams that would be interested in Scherzer would also have interest in acquiring Lee. Due to the lefty's age and remaining salary, he would require less in terms of impact prospects, which might be more attractive to a team with a less-bountiful system like the Rangers.

Yovani Gallardo, P, Milwaukee Brewers
2013 was the worst season of Gallardo's career. The right-hander put up a 4.18 ERA in 180.2 innings, showing a markedly reduced strikeout rate and diminished fastball velocity. The Brewers owe him $11.25 million in 2014 and have a $13 million option for 2015, but they could choose to move him while he still has value.

Gallardo is clearly a tier or two below Scherzer and Lee, but the fact that he would be under team control for potentially a second year (by the team's discretion only, as opposed to a player or vesting option) is attractive to some teams -- perhaps the Indians, Orioles or Nationals.

Chase Headley, 3B, San Diego Padres
The Padres could have traded Headley after the 2012 season, when he finished fifth in MVP voting thanks to a 31-homer, 115-RBI, .875-OPS output. Instead, the Padres hung on to him, hoping he could repeat his performance and help them compete in what appeared to be a wide-open NL West. Perhaps, even, they could sign him to an extension.

Headley fractured the tip of his thumb in spring training, keeping him out for the first 14 games. The injury clearly affected his power as he was able to muscle out just six home runs in 68 games through the end of June. He wasn't exactly dead weight, but he wasn't anywhere near the MVP-caliber player he was a season prior, either.

Headley took home an $8.575 million salary and now enters his final year of arbitration eligibility. He'll likely earn a salary in the double-digit millions in 2014. The Padres, who opened 2013 with a $68 million payroll, could attempt to trade the 29-year-old before his value declines any more. The Dodgers, Angels, Yankees, Giants, Red Sox and Cardinals would all likely show interest -- particularly the Yankees since the future of Alex Rodriguez hinges on his ongoing legal battles, which could result in a suspension through all of 2014.

Jon Lester/Jake Peavy/John Lackey/Ryan Dempster, Ps, Boston Red Sox
The Red Sox could trade one of their veteran starters in an effort to create space for some of their younger arms. Any of Lester, Peavy, Lackey or Dempster could go.

Lester would be the most interesting as he's the youngest of the group. The Red Sox will assuredly pick up his $13 million club option for 2014, but they could still ship him somewhere for the right price. The lefty turns 30 in January and is coming off a rebound season. He posted a 4.82 ERA in 2012, showing a diminished ability to generate swings and misses. While he didn't fully recapture that ability in 2013, it was an improvement at least.

Peavy is under contract for one more year at $14.5 million. His bounce-back 2012 output (3.37 ERA) is sandwiched by two mediocre campaigns in 2011 (4.92) and 2013 (4.17). He'll turn 33 in May. As such, he might make a more attractive midseason acquisition rather than taking on the brunt of his salary with the chance he could be injured and/or ineffective for an entire season.

Lackey put himself back on the map in a big way in 2013, returning from Tommy John surgery. He posted a 3.52 ERA along with the best strikeout and walk rates of his 12-year career. Lackey will earn $15.25 million in 2014. His injury triggered a club option for 2015 in which he earns just the major league minimum salary ($500,000), which effectively means a team that acquires him prior to the upcoming season would be paying him $8 million per season for two years of control.

Dempster was a complete bust for the Red Sox, having his worst season by defense-independent measures since an injury-plagued 2007. The 36-year-old finished with a 4.57 ERA, forcing the Sox to move him to the bullpen for the postseason. They owe him $13.25 million for the 2014 season. Compared to a year and a half ago, when the Rangers acquired him in a trade with the Cubs, Dempster doesn't have much value, but he is easily the most expendable.

Dexter Fowler, CF, Colorado Rockies
Despite a breakout 2012 season in which he posted a .300/.389/.474 line, Fowler has consistently been a 2-3 WAR player over the last three years. His defense has ranged from slightly below average to well below average, and he is a deceptively mediocre baserunner, successfully swiping bags at a meager 68 percent success rate in 2013. He strikes out a ton and, aside from a BABIP-fueled 2012, doesn't hit for average.

Furthermore, over the span of his career (2,635 plate appearances0, Fowler has been almost entirely been a product of Coors Field. At home, he has hit .298/.395/.485, a line comparable to that of Matt Holliday, as an example. On the road, he has hit .241/.333/.361, a line comparable to Yunel Escobar.

The Rockies will pay Fowler $7.85 million in 2014, and he is eligible for arbitration for his final year after the season. While the two years of control and the potential to lock him up with an extension are both attractive features, teams (except for the Phillies, perhaps) are smart enough to check home and road splits, evaluate defense, and notice his inefficiency on the bases. When the Rockies made Fowler available last offseason, they didn't get any bites for this exact reason. The Rockies will make him available again. It will be interesting to see if Dan O'Dowd adapts by significantly reducing his center fielder's price.

Bill Baer of Crashburn Alley is a regular contributor to the SweetSpot blog.

SweetSpot's 2013 NL All-Star team

September, 29, 2013
9/29/13
12:39
PM ET
I did my American League All-Star team yesterday. Here's my National League squad. A few more tougher calls in the NL.

Catcher: Yadier Molina, Cardinals (.319/.359/.477, 12 HR, 80 RBI, 5.8 WAR)
Two questions: Is Molina a legitimate MVP candidate and how will he fare in the voting? Sure, he's a strong candidate, although I have Andrew McCutchen as my clear No. 1 guy. Due to his relatively low runs plus RBIs total (he has 68 runs scored), Molina would certainly be an unconventional MVP candidate. Wins Above Replacement accounts for some of Molina's defense -- such as throwing out runners -- but can't measure some of the intangibles, such as the confidence he gave to the young St. Louis starters. Molina's offense numbers are similar to last year, when he finished fourth in voting, so I wouldn't be surprised if he jumps up to second this season.

First base: Paul Goldschmidt, Diamondbacks (.302/.401/.553, 36 HR, 124 RBI, 7.1 WAR)
Goldschmidt or Joey Votto? It's not quite as simple as Goldschmidt's 51-RBI advantage as both put up similar numbers otherwise, with Votto having the edge in on-base percentage (.436) and Goldschmidt in power (36 home runs to 24). Both were extremely durable -- Goldschmidt has missed two games, Votto zero -- and solid defenders. The one big difference is an advanced metric called Win Probability Added, a category Goldschmidt led all NL position players in, thanks in part to his .350 average in high-leverage situations and nine home runs in late and close situations (second-most in the majors to Chris Davis). I'm confident Goldschmidt is the right choice here.

Second base: Matt Carpenter, Cardinals (.320/.394/.484, 11 HR, 78 RBI, 6.7 WAR)
An easy choice as Carpenter leads the NL in runs, hits and doubles while ranking in the top 10 in numerous other categories. I'm guessing Molina garners more MVP support, but Carpenter is just as worthy to finish in the top five.

Third base: David Wright, Mets (.308/.393/.516, 18 HR, 57 RBI, 5.8 WAR)
Pedro Alvarez leads the NL with 36 home runs and has knocked in 100 but a .233 average and sub-.300 OBP means he created a ton of outs to generate those runs. Ryan Zimmerman waited too long to start hitting. Chris Johnson hit .321 for the Braves. None were above-average defenders. So almost by default I'll go with Wright, who easily has the highest WAR even though he missed 50 games.

Shortstop: Andrelton Simmons, Braves (.244/.292/.390, 17 HR, 58 RBI, 6.5 WAR)
I've been raving about Simmons all season so I can't change now. Troy Tulowitzki was great once again and relatively healthy (125 games), although he hit 61 points higher at home. Hanley Ramirez was the best on a per at-bat basis but played just 86 games. Ian Desmond flew under the radar year for the Nationals. But Simmons is my guy, even with that sub-.300 OBP. His defense was that good.

Left field: Carlos Gonzalez, Rockies (.302/.367/.591, 26 HR, 70 RBI, 5.1 WAR)
Starling Marte had an excellent all-around season (41 steals, great defense) for the Pirates and Matt Holliday was solid for the Cardinals. Gonzalez's season was similar to Wright's -- if he'd remained healthy, he'd be the obvious choice, but he missed 50 games. Unlike Tulo, he actually hit better on the road, so it's not a Coors-inflated season. I'll go with CarGo just barely over Marte.

Center field: Andrew McCutchen, Pirates (.317/.404/.508, 21 HR, 84 RBI, 8.2 WAR)
Carlos Gomez would be an MVP candidate if he had better teammates. Shin-Soo Choo gave the Reds exactly what they needed, a leadoff hitter who got on base. But this was McCutchen's season as he often carried a mediocre Pittburgh offense and hit .339/.441/.561 in the second half, helping keep the Pirates in the division title race. He's the likely MVP winner and not a "weak" MVP, as some have speculated. His WAR is higher than the past three NL MVPs, Buster Posey, Ryan Braun and Votto. He may not drive in 100 runs or score 100 (he's at 97), but it was the best all-around season in the league.

Right field: Jayson Werth, Nationals (.318/.398/.532, 25 HR, 82 RBI, 4.8 WAR)
A loaded position, and that's with Jason Heyward and Giancarlo Stanton missing significant time. Jay Bruce, Yasiel Puig, Hunter Pence and Marlon Byrd all have their supporters (and Gerardo Parra leads in WAR). The knock against Werth, like Wright and Gonzalez, is that he missed significant time (129 games). But Bruce has a .329 OBP. Puig didn't get called up until June and Pence's monster September (11 HR, 29 RBI) came after the Giants had long been eliminated and arguably against dubious September pitching.

Starting pitchers: Clayton Kersaw, Dodgers (16-9, 1.83 ERA, 8.0 WAR); Cliff Lee, Phillies (14-8, 2.87 ERA, 7.2 WAR); Jose Fernandez, Marlins (12-6, 2.19 ERA, 6.3 WAR); Adam Wainwright, Cardinals (19-9, 2.94 ERA, 6.2 WAR); Matt Harvey, Mets (9-5, 2.27 ERA, 5.4 WAR)
Oh, Cliff Lee is still good. There were no shortage of top starters in the NL as 18 qualified starters have posted an ERA of 3.25 or under, the most since 17 did it in 1992 and 10 more than last year.

Left-handed setup guy: Luis Avilan, Braves (5-0, 1.55 ERA)
Part of Atlanta's dominant bullpen, Avilan fanned just 38 in 64 innings but allowed a .173 average and just one home run. He gets great movement on his two-seam sinking fastball, resulting in fewer K's but a lot of groundballs. Honorable mention to Pittsburgh's Justin Wilson.

Right-handed setup guy: Mark Melancon, Pirates (3-2, 1.39 ERA)
He had a couple rough outings in September, but was dominant throughout the season, first setting up Jason Grilli and then earning 16 saves when Grilli was injured.

Closer: Craig Kimbrel, Braves (4-3, 50 saves, 1.23 ERA)
He did blow four save chances and wasn't quite as statistically dominant as last season -- and still finished with 1.23 ERA and 50 saves.







Found this quote about Cliff Lee in Jayson Stark's latest Rumblings & Grumblings interesting:
"This guy [Lee] has so much money coming. I'd bet 27 teams wouldn't even claim him on waivers because they can't afford him. So the Red Sox have to be looking at the Phillies and thinking, 'What's your leverage?' It wouldn't surprise me if the Red Sox really want him. So would they give up one of their top prospects who's not Bogaerts? Maybe. But they're a team that's set up really well for the future. So they're not going to do anything out of desperation. Why would they?"


Umm ... really? Not to criticize Jayson's source here, but would 27 teams pass on Lee if the Phillies were theoretically just dumping his salary?

We can't count the Phillies, so the executive is suggesting only two teams would be willing to take on Lee's salary. I'm not even which teams the exec is suggesting, the Red Sox? Maybe the Dodgers?

Anyway, let's take a step back. Lee is owed at least $70 million on his contract -- $8 million this year, $25 million in 2014 and 2015 and then a $12.5 million buyout or $27.5 million club option for 2016. If Lee were a free agent, would what it take to sign him for two (and a third) seasons?

Right now, each win above replacement on the free agent market is going for about $4.9 million, according to ESPN Insider Dan Szymborski. $70 million would then be worth 14 Wins Above Replacement; if you pick up the 2016 option, you're talking about 17 Wins Above Replacement. Lee has been worth 17.1 WAR the past two-plus seasons. So this isn't an Albert Pujols or Josh Hamilton contract we're talking about; it's actually pretty reasonable for Lee's current level of ability. There hasn't been any decline in his peripherals and while he does turn 35 in August, he's had no major arm injuries. He's a pretty good bet to stay healthy for the next two or three seasons (of course, the same could have been said of Roy Halladay a couple years ago).

The point is: If Cliff Lee were a free agent, he's like get $70 million, give or take.

And I think more than two teams would be willing to pony up that many. Go through the rolodex: Yankees, Dodgers, Angels, Rangers, Cardinals, Giants. Then think of a club like the Cubs, with guaranteed money past 2014 committed only to Edwin Jackson, Starlin Castro, Anthony Rizzo and Jorge Soler. Or the Mariners, with only Felix Hernandez signed beyond 2014. Those clubs have money to burn the next few seasons. Or the Orioles, who could use Lee this year and will be cutting $25 million in payroll next in Brian Roberts, Jason Hammel, Tsoyshi Wade and Wilson Betemit.

Keep in mind as well that MLB's national TV contracts with Fox, ESPN and TBS kick in next year, increasing each team's annual payout by about $25.

Or the value of one year of Cliff Lee.

I think more than two teams would be willing to take him for free.



Eric and myself check in on the trade deadline. Which teams need to make a move and what would we like to see? And where could Jake Peavy land if the White Sox deal him?
Throughout July we're presenting 30 deals in 30 days: the best trade-deadline deal ever made by each team. We've covered the AL East, NL East, AL Central and NL Central so far, and are now on the AL West.

THE TEAM: Texas Rangers

THE YEAR: 2007

THE SITUATION: The Rangers were in the midst of another losing season, their seventh in eight seasons. Second-year general manager Jon Daniels had a rather unique idea to inject more talent into the organization: Trade first baseman Mark Teixeira, even though he wasn't set to be a free agent until after the 2008 season. Since Teixeira was a Scott Boras client, the Rangers knew he'd test free agency and, in the wake of the Alex Rodriguez contract, they weren't keen on giving out another mega-contract. Why not trade him now and extract more value than they'd be able to get in a year?


THE TRADE: The Rangers' recent run of success has been built on several excellent deadline deals -- Michael Young from the Blue Jays in 2000 for Esteban Loaiza; Nelson Cruz and Carlos Lee from the Brewers in 2006 for Francisco Cordero; David Murphy from the Red Sox in 2007 for Eric Gagne; and Cliff Lee from the Mariners in 2010. But this deal rates as the best one: On July 31, 2007, the Rangers acquired minor leaguers Elvis Andrus, Matt Harrison and Neftali Feliz plus catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia for Teixeira. The prospects were certainly a risk; Andrus was hitting .244 in Class A, Feliz was pitching in the Appalachian League and Harrison had mediocre numbers in Double-A. If anything, Saltalamacchia, who had already reached the majors with the Braves, was the top guy in the deal, Baseball America's No. 36 prospect before the season.

THE AFTERMATH: Teixeira posted a 1.020 OPS with the Braves, but they missed the playoffs anyway. The next year, they'd trade him to the Angels at the deadline, acquiring Casey Kotchman. Andrus, Feliz and Harrison have all been All-Stars with the Rangers and compiled 29.9 cumulative WAR -- although have been of little value in 2013, with Feliz injured, Harrison making just two starts so far and Andrus having a terrible year at the plate. Saltalamacchia didn't pan out in Texas and was later traded to the Red Sox.

Best deadline deal ever: Indians

July, 12, 2013
7/12/13
11:00
AM ET
Throughout July, we're going to present 30 deals in 30 days: the best trade deadline deal ever made by each team. We've covered the AL East and NL East so far and are now on the AL Central.

THE TEAM: Cleveland Indians

THE YEAR: 2002

THE SITUATION: The Indians made the playoffs six out of seven years between 1995 and 2001 but were poised to enter a rebuilding phase. Prior to the 2002 season, they traded second baseman Roberto Alomar, hinting that there may be more moves to come. The Montreal Expos were in contention by the end of June and faced potential retraction in the very near future. The theory was, if the team would soon cease to exist anyway, why not bet the farm and try to win now?

THE TRADE: Bartolo Colon and Tim Drew were traded to the Expos for Brandon Phillips, Cliff Lee, Grady Sizemore and Lee Stevens, who was tossed into the deal to help Montreal avoid a payroll increase. The other three were promising prospects that would restock an Indians farm system that was considered one of the worst in baseball.

THE AFTERMATH: The Indians have made a number of good trades over the years, dating back to 1910 when they acquired Shoeless Joe Jackson for next to nothing. The only bad part about the Colon deal for the Indians is that they inexplicably gave up on Phillips and sent him to the Cincinnati Reds for next to nothing. Phillips, Lee and Sizemore all became stars though. Lee won the Cy Young Award before he was traded to Philadelphia in 2009 in a move that didn't net anywhere close to the return of the Colon deal. Sizemore was one of the team's most popular players before injuries caught up with him a couple of years ago. The Expos eventually finished just four games above .500 in 2002, 19 games behind the first-place Braves. In January 2003, they traded Colon to the White Sox and after the 2004 season left Montreal to become the Washington Nationals.

-- Stephanie Liscio, It's Pronounced Lajaway
When the New York Mets traded Tom Seaver to the Reds on June 15, 1977, Mets fans were so upset they tried to organize a boycott of home games until Seaver would return to Shea Stadium with the Reds in August.

The boycott never materialized, but the fans had a right to be upset. The four young players the Mets received for Seaver -- Steve Henderson, Pat Zachry, Doug Flynn and Dan Norman -- never developed into anything more than minor contributors and the Mets would average 97 losses in nonstrike seasons from 1977 to 1983.

The Seaver deal remains one of the most shocking deadline deals in baseball history. Even though everyone knew Seaver was at odds with Mets management over a new contract and the state of the team, nobody really expected the Mets to trade their franchise icon. That's what makes the trade deadline so exciting -- even if a big name is central to trade rumors, we don't know where the player will land.

The trade deadline was later moved from June 15 to July 31 in 1986, resulting in more deadline trades than occurred with the earlier date. Here are the five biggest blockbusters to happen in July -- not necessarily the best trades, but the ones with the biggest names in deals that sent shock waves through baseball land.

5. July 31, 1997: A's trade Mark McGwire to the Cardinals for Eric Ludwick, T.J. Mathews and Blake Stein.

Why the trade: The A's were floundering in the post-Bash Brothers era, Tony La Russa was already in St. Louis and McGwire was an impending free agent. The A's needed to rebuild and everyone knew they were shopping McGwire, but would they have the guts to trade him in a season in which he had a chance to break Roger Maris' home run record? Yes, they would. The surprising part was the destination: The Cardinals were 51-56 at the time of the trade, 7½ games out of first place and even further behind in the wild-card standings.

Quote: "What I hope is the fans understand we're trying to rebuild this team to a contending level and that sometimes calls for hard decisions." -- A's general manager Sandy Alderson

What happened: McGwire had 34 home runs for the A's but went on a tear with St. Louis, slamming 24 home runs in 51 games to finish with 58, three short of Maris' record. McGwire wouldn't test free agency but would instead sign a three-year deal with the Cards and break Maris' record the next year. The three pitchers the A's acquired never did much.

Similar player today: Let's see: Franchise icon, one of the game's premier power hitters … maybe somebody like the Red Sox trading David Ortiz.

4. July 9, 2010: Mariners trade Cliff Lee and Mark Lowe to the Rangers for Justin Smoak, Blake Beavan, Josh Lueke and Matt Lawson.

Why the trade: Lee had won the AL Cy Young Award with the Indians in 2008 and then dominated in the 2009 postseason with the Phillies, going 4-0 in five starts with a 1.56 ERA. The Phillies inexplicably traded him to the Mariners that winter, but the Mariners were awful and Lee's ability and postseason performance made him the hot commodity on the trade market. The Rangers were in first place on July 9, but hadn't made the playoffs since 1999 and needed an ace to lead the rotation. The Mariners were close to a deal with the Yankees for Jesus Montero -- reports said Yankees GM Brian Cashman had actually called Lee to say a deal was imminent -- before the Rangers relented and finally included rookie first baseman Smoak. Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik didn't seem concerned about trading within the division.

Quote: "We had ongoing talks with several clubs. And at the end, when you're finished and you go another direction, before you consummate a deal, you always go back and tell the other club, 'Hey, look, this is the direction we're going, this is the decision we made.'" -- Zduriencik

What happened: Lee went only 4-6 down the stretch with the Rangers, but Texas won the division easily. Lee really earned his keep in the postseason, beating Tampa Bay twice in the division series and beating the Yankees with eight shutout innings in the ALCS. He did lose both his World Series starts, but the Rangers at least got there for the first time in franchise history. The transformation of the Rangers into one of the big players in MLB was helped by that World Series appearance -- helped by a division rival. As for the Mariners … Smoak owns a .230 career average.

Similar player today: Cliff Lee?

3. July 31, 2004: In a four-team trade, the Red Sox trade Nomar Garciaparra to the Cubs and acquire Orlando Cabrera from the Expos and Doug Mientkiewicz from the Twins.

Why the trade: It's easy now to forget how popular Garciaparra was in Boston, winning batting titles in 1999 and 2000 and driving in 105 runs in 2003, when the Red Sox fell one game short of the World Series. But there were reports that Garciaparra was unhappy in Boston and the Red Sox had come close to an offseason deal that would have sent him to the Dodgers or White Sox and brought Alex Rodriguez to the Red Sox. General manager Theo Epstein was also interested in improving the team's defense, and Cabrera would be an upgrade there. Official news of the deal didn't come down until an hour after the deadline.

Quote: "I think as far as Nomar goes, maybe it was good. Give him some time to clear his head. Sometimes starting over is not so bad. He's going to a great place to play, just like Boston. Now what we need to do is get our team headed in the right direction and I think we have a good chance to do that." -- Red Sox manager Terry Francona

What happened: The Red Sox were 56-46 at the time of the trade, 8½ games behind the Yankees and a game out of the wild-card lead. They would go 42-18 after the trade and while they didn't catch the Yankees they would ride that momentum to a World Series crown. Cabrera hit .294, drove in 31 runs in 58 games and played excellent defense. The Cubs were 1½ games out of the wild card but would fall three games short of the playoffs. Garciaparra hit .297 with 20 RBIs in 43 games, missing some time with an injury (he'd never be completely healthy again).

Similar player today: Popular player, injury risk, impending free agent … how about Chase Utley?


2. July 31, 2008: In a three-team deal, the Red Sox trade Manny Ramirez to the Dodgers and acquire Jason Bay from the Pirates.

Why the trade: The Red Sox were in second place behind the Rays, a game ahead of the Yankees and Twins in the wild-card race, but had grown tired of Manny's act, which had included a fight with teammate Kevin Youkilis, a physical altercation with the team's traveling secretary and, most damaging, several instances in late July of not running out ground balls, perhaps in protest of his contract situation. The Dodgers were 54-53, but just one game behind the Diamondbacks in the NL West. The Red Sox and Marlins were in heated talks, but Boston couldn't pry Class A slugger Mike Stanton away from the Marlins. The Pirates were then brought in, sending two-time All-Star Bay to Boston and receiving prospects Brandon Moss, Craig Hansen, Andy LaRoche and Bryan Morris from the Dodgers and Red Sox in a deal consummated at "3:59 and seconds," according to Pirates GM Neal Huntington (in other words, just before the 4 p.m. ET deadline).

Quote: "The Red Sox don't deserve a player like me. During my years here, I've seen how [the Red Sox] have mistreated other great players when they didn't want them to try to turn the fans against them. The Red Sox did the same with guys like Nomar Garciaparra and Pedro Martinez, and now they do the same with me. Their goal is to paint me as the bad guy. I love Boston fans, but the Red Sox don't deserve me. I'm not talking about money. Mental peace has no price, and I don't have peace here." -- Manny Ramirez, just before deadline day

What happened: Hitting .299/.398/.529 with Boston, Ramirez heated up with the Dodgers, hitting .411 in August and .396/.489/.743 over his two months with the team, carrying the Dodgers to the NL West title and finishing fourth in the MVP vote despite playing just 53 games in the National League. He also got the Dodgers to drop two team options for 2009 and 2010 (although he would end up re-signing with the club). The Dodgers upset the Cubs in the division series but lost to the Phillies in the NLCS. Bay played well with the Red Sox, who lost Game 7 of the ALCS, and hit 36 home runs the following season. As for the Pirates … well, LaRoche was the big prospect but didn't pan out and only Morris still remains with the organization.

Similar player today: Veteran slugger who had fallen from grace … sounds sort of like Alex Rodriguez, if A-Rod were healthy and hitting.


1. July 31, 1998: Mariners trade Randy Johnson to the Astros for Freddy Garcia, Carlos Guillen and John Halama.

Why the trade: The Mariners had won the division title in 1997 but hadn't signed Johnson, an impending free agent who had made it clear he wasn't returning to Seattle. They first shopped him around in the offseason, reportedly turning down a Mariano Rivera offer from the Yankees because a "Mariner official also said there are concerns about Rivera's arm. There were suspicions the 27-year-old right-hander had shoulder trouble late in the season."

Anyway, the Astros were in first place but looking for another starter to complement Mike Hampton, Shane Reynolds and Jose Lima.

Quote: "It's hard to believe, but there was very little interest in Randy Johnson." -- Mariners general manager Woody Woodward. Really, Woody?

What happened: The trade was widely panned, especially in Seattle, where Ken Griffey Jr. said "I was ordered not to say anything." In Houston, manager Larry Dierker seemed critical, as well, suggesting the team was sacrificing the future for the present. Well, Johnson was dominant for the Astros, going 10-1 with a 1.28 ERA in 11 starts, but the Astros would lose in the division series to the Padres. Garcia would be better than advertised (the Mariners had wanted Scott Elarton) and he, Guillen and Halama would help the Mariners to the playoffs in 2000 and 2001.

Similar player today: Imagine a taller Clayton Kershaw with longer hair and a harder fastball and meaner scowl. In other words, the best lefty in the game.

Honorable mention: David Cone to the Yankees (1995); CC Sabathia to the Brewers (2008); Fred McGriff to the Braves (1993); Curt Schilling to the Diamondbacks (2000); Mark Teixeira to the Braves (2007); Scott Rolen to the Cardinals (2002).

Best deadline deal ever: Phillies

July, 7, 2013
7/07/13
11:35
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Over the next month, we're going to present 30 deals in 30 days: The best trade deadline deal ever made by each team.

THE TEAM: Philadelphia Phillies

THE YEAR: 2009

THE SITUATION: The Phillies, arguably much better in 2009 than in 2008 when they won the World Series, needed another top-tier starting pitcher alongside Cole Hamels, who was experiencing uncharacteristic struggles. The Phillies were in serious talks with the Blue Jays for Roy Halladay, but nothing worked out as the Jays wanted top prospect Domonic Brown. GM Ruben Amaro steadfastly refused to trade the young outfielder. Meanwhile, the Indians had fallen from grace after winning the division in 2007. They traded away franchise cornerstone CC Sabathia in 2008 and with fellow lefty Cliff Lee not far away from free agency, they needed to recoup some value in any way they could.

THE TRADE: The Indians sent Lee along with outfielder Ben Francisco to the Phillies for four prospects: pitcher Carlos Carrasco, infielder Jason Donald, catcher Lou Marson and pitcher Jason Knapp. Carrasco was the top prospect in the deal, ranked No. 52 by Baseball America entering the 2009 season. Knapp was a hard-throwing right-hander in Class A who would crack the top 100 entering the 2010 season.

THE AFTERMATH: Lee anchored the starting rotation and helped lead the Phillies to their second straight World Series appearance. He posted a 3.39 ERA in 12 starts with the Phillies during the regular season and a 1.56 ERA in five postseason starts, including a complete-game victory in Game 1 of the World Series against the Yankees. Meanwhile, none of the four players the Indians received have amounted to anything. Knapp suffered injuries and hasn't played since 2010; Carrasco has a 5.31 ERA in 217 major league innings; Donald has a .672 OPS in 603 major league plate appearances; and Marson has been a backup catcher at best with a .609 OPS in 882 PAs.

The Phillies haven't had much to write home about when it comes to trades, having been on the losing end on two of the worst trades in major league history, which sent two future Hall of Famers (Ferguson Jenkins in 1966, Ryne Sandberg in 1982) to the Cubs. The Lee trade, however, has been a franchise trajectory-altering trade in many ways, almost all of them for the better.

-- Bill Baer, Crashburn Alley


The big questions for this season’s All-Star selections as we headed into Saturday’s selection show: Would Yasiel Puig make it? Who backs up Miguel Cabrera at third base in the American League from a strong field of candidates? Who represents the Astros?

But I’m left with this one: Could the American League have chosen a worse, more boring squad?

Remember, the All-Star squads are chosen by a four-tiered system: The fans vote in the starters, the players vote for the reserves at each position, plus the top five starting pitchers and top three relievers, the managers choose the rest of the squad (with their choices limited due to having to name a representative for each team) and then the fans vote again for the final man.

Got all that?

The player vote is the one that usually causes the biggest mistakes. Last season, for example, the players voted in Cubs first baseman Bryan LaHair as the backup first baseman even though he was a platoon player with 28 RBIs at the time of selection. Similarly, Lance Lynn, who had a big April, was voted in as one of the top five starters even though he ranked 28th in the National League in ERA. The ripple effect for selections like those end up causing more worthy All-Stars to not make it. This season, a similar thing happened, most notably with Torii Hunter named as an outfield reserve in the AL.

My quick reaction to this season's American League and National League squads:

Best fan selection: Chris Davis, Orioles. Hardly a household name before the season, his offensive numbers are just too good to ignore, and he’s a deserving starter over Prince Fielder.

Worst fan selection: Bryce Harper, Nationals. The fans generally do a good job -- better than the players -- and while I don’t see Harper as a glaring mistake (I’d put him on my NL roster as a reserve), he did miss significant time with the knee injury. Andrew McCutchen of the Pirates or Carlos Gomez of the Brewers would be a more deserving starter (both should be starting over Carlos Beltran as well).

Most controversial AL selection: Justin Verlander, Tigers. He’s not having a terrific season, with a 9-5 record and lukewarm 3.54 ERA, but I don’t have a huge problem with American League manager Jim Leyland selecting the guy who’s been the best pitcher in baseball the previous two seasons.

Most controversial NL selection: Marco Scutaro, Giants. The NL roster is actually pretty solid, but you can nitpick Scutaro and Allen Craig. With Matt Carpenter being voted in by the players, manager Bruce Bochy didn't have to add a third second baseman, but he did select his guy and take a slot away from a deep pool of outfield candidates -- Puig and Hunter Pence were added to the final-vote group, but Starling Marte, Jay Bruce and Shin-Soo Choo all had All-Star first halves. But, hey, even All-Star teams need professional hitters.

How the Astros screwed the AL: Salvador Perez being voted in by the players as the backup catcher meant Jason Castro was named as a third catcher to represent the Astros. Actually, this is a little unfair, since Castro is having a season equal to or better than Perez’s. But having three catchers on the squad takes a slot away from one of the much more deserving third basemen -- Evan Longoria, Josh Donaldson or Adrian Beltre.

[+] EnlargeMax Scherzer
Tom Szczerbowski/USA TODAY SportsWith the American League's weak pitching staff, Max Scherzer could see a couple innings.
How the players screwed the AL: Hunter rode a .370 April to an All-Star berth, but he’s down to .307 with just five home runs. It’s not a great season for AL outfielders, but Hunter is kind of a joke selection: He ranks 24th among AL outfielders in FanGraphs WAR (0.9). Brett Gardner or Jacoby Ellsbury are better options.

Weirdest selection: Brett Cecil, Blue Jays. The Jays already had Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion, so there was no need to add Cecil. Don't get me wrong, he is having a nice season -- 1.43 ERA, 50 strikeouts in 44 innings -- but this is also a guy with a 4.79 career ERA entering the season. (Granted, mostly as a starter.) Rangers starter Derek Holland was the better choice here.

Team with a gripe: The A’s have a better record than the Tigers yet ended up with one All-Star to Detroit’s six.

Most-deserving guy who didn't make it, AL: Longoria. Seventy All-Stars were named today, but somehow one of the top 10 players in the game didn't make it.

Most-deserving guy who didn't make it, NL: Not including the players eligible in the final-player vote, I'd go with Pirates outfielder Marte or Braves defensive whiz Andrelton Simmons.

Worst final-player vote ever: American League. Choose from Joaquin Benoit, Steve Delabar, David Robertson, Tanner Scheppers and Koji Uehara. Can I go to a dentist appointment instead? Unless you have a fetish for right-handed relief pitchers, this isn’t exactly the best way to get fans enthused about the All-Star final vote. Why not at least have a final-man vote with Longoria, Beltre and Donaldson?

Most predictable final-player vote ever: National League. Is there any way Puig doesn’t beat out Ian Desmond, Freddie Freeman, Adrian Gonzalez and Pence for the final vote?

In a perfect world, Jim Leyland does this: The AL pitching staff is a little shaky, so he should try to ride his top starting pitchers. Assuming Max Scherzer starts, I’d pitch him two innings and then bring in White Sox lefty Chris Sale for two more innings so he can face the top of the NL lineup that would probably feature Carlos Gonzalez and Joey Votto. Yu Darvish and Felix Hernandez take over from there and hand the ball to Mariano Rivera, with Glen Perkins and Cecil used as situational lefties if needed.

Offensively, Cabrera and Davis should play the entire game, as they’ve clearly been the dominant offensive forces in the AL. Frankly, I’m not too thrilled with the AL bench, especially the outfield. Mike Trout and Bautista should also play the entire game. Use Fielder and Encarnacion to pinch hit as needed for J.J. Hardy or Adam Jones. Manny Machado can replace Cabrera in the late innings if the AL is ahead.

In a perfect world, Bruce Bochy does this: The NL squad looks much better on paper. Assuming Matt Harvey starts, he should be followed up with Clayton Kershaw and Cliff Lee (Adam Wainwright is scheduled to pitch on Sunday and will be unavailable). From there, I’d match up -- Madison Bumgarner or Jordan Zimmermann -- and then turn the game over to three dominant relievers: Jason Grilli, Aroldis Chapman and Craig Kimbrel. (Kudos to Bochy for going with all starting pitchers after the mandatory three relievers.)

Offensively, David Wright should play the whole game in front of the home fans, and assuming Paul Goldschmidt gets the nod as the designated hitter, I’d let him and Votto play the entire nine as well. Without a regular center fielder in the starting lineup (although Beltran, Gonzalez and Harper have all played there in the past), I’d get McCutchen in the game as soon as possible, with apologies to Gomez. I’d hit for Brandon Phillips in a key situation with a better bat like Buster Posey or Craig or maybe for Gonzalez against a left-hander (although he’s hit very well against lefties this season).

And Puig? Yes, once he makes the team, I’d like to see him play as well.
The trade deadline has traditionally involved two factions: contenders desperate to plug a hole -- and possibly under pressure from ownership and fans to win now -- and the cellar dwellers looking to add future talent by dumping assets that don't figure into their long-term plans.

There are some subfactors to this dynamic, of course. Small-market teams are less willing to add payroll or trade prospects who could provide inexpensive talent down the road, and big-market teams may make incremental additions merely for the sake of doing something.

I believe it's time for general managers to re-evaluate this traditional line of thinking.

[+] EnlargeCliff Lee
AP Photo/Alan DiazCliff Lee is 9-2 with a 2.59 ERA this season.
Say you're the San Diego Padres. You're 40-46 but only 4.5 games out of first place in the flaccid National League West. Your offense is fine. It's sixth in the NL runs scored, which is an excellent total considering it's playing in Petco Park. The problem is the starting rotation. You could try to get Ricky Nolasco or Matt Garza, and while those two are fine pitchers, Nolasco isn't necessarily a big upgrade and Garza comes with some health risk. The potential difference-maker for the Padres would be Cliff Lee (assuming the Phillies are shopping him and ignoring that Lee owns a complicated no-trade clause).

Traditional thinking says the Padres wouldn't be in the Lee market if it exists; he's too expensive. There's about $12.5 million still owed to him this season plus $50 million over the next two seasons and a possible vesting option. But why cede to the Dodgers the possibility of acquiring Lee? The Padres' farm system has suffered some injuries, but they have a young, inexpensive lineup and probably still have the minor league talent to swing a Lee deal. And if Lee doesn't work out this year? He still has a lot of trade value in the offseason. They're not making a $62.5 million commitment to Lee; they're making a $12.5 million commitment. Any team can afford that, if it so chooses.

The Indians are also grouped into the small-market operations, although their new local cable deal in the offseason was reportedly worth $400 million over 10 years. They're in the race; they need pitching. I'm not sure the Indians have the prospects to acquire Lee -- they're not trading Francisco Lindor -- but the same philosophy applies. Lee is a difference-maker, and they can always trade him in the offseason if they don't want to absorb his future millions.

An even more extreme case for Lee would be the Mariners. They're not in the playoff race, but they could actually -- believe it or not -- be developing a nice offensive core with Nick Franklin, Kyle Seager, Mike Zunino and Brad Miller. The rotation is a disaster behind Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma, however, and all their pitching prospects have disappointed this year other than Taijuan Walker. The Mariners are in a terrific situation contract-wise. Hernandez (through 2019) and Iwakuma (through next season) are the only players signed to long-term deals. Seattle's trouble is attracting big-name free agents to the Northwest. So it has money to burn in the future but not a good avenue to spend it, especially with fewer top players hitting the free-agent market.

So why not trade for Lee? Sure, it will cost prospects, but how have they worked out in recent years for Seattle? If Lee is too expensive, use the same mindset and go after Kyle Lohse or Yovani Gallardo, guys signed beyond this season. Or go after an outfielder on the market like Nate Schierholtz, who has another season before he's a free agent. Sure, that's essentially "wasting" the money owed those players this season on a nonplayoff team, but look at the big picture: How did you acquire talent for the future? Plus, the trade market for these players expands in the offseason. In July, you're negotiating against fewer teams, so theoretically, the cost to acquire the player may be slightly less.

The Pirates are expected to be conservative at the deadline this year. Why? Because they're the Pirates? Because they're a small-market team that's still building? Ask the Nationals how playing for next year can work out. The Pirates have a good team that can win this year. Take a risk and the small financial hit. Is Jeff Locke really this good? Is Francisco Liriano actually going to keep this going? Trade for Lee. Win the division. Go for it. Can't afford him next year? Fine. Trade him to the Dodgers in December.

It's all about creativity. There was a time in the not-too-recent past when few trades were made at the trade deadline. That started changing in the late '80s and early '90s and really kicked in after the Blue Jays acquired David Cone in 1992 and he helped them win the World Series (although that was actually an August waiver deal).

The trade deadline doesn't have to be restricted to contenders. Any team should be looking to add talent.

WARfare, 2013 style

June, 29, 2013
6/29/13
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With the season roughly halfway over, I thought it would be a good idea to dig into the numbers to see what WAR (wins above replacement) is telling us. I'll start with a man who has been at the center of a lot of WAR talk in the last year.

1. Miguel Cabrera is putting that whole Triple Crown thing in the shade.

You probably already know that Miggy is on pace to hit more homers, drive in more runs and hit for a higher average than he did in 2012, when that old-school Triple Crown helped him beat out Mike Trout in the minds of many MVP voters. And, to grossly simplify matters, a lot of Trout advocates relied on WAR as a key element of their case, pointing to Trout's 10.9 WAR to Cabrera's 7.3.

So what does it say about this season that Miggy already has a 4.4 WAR, good enough to run neck-and-neck for the AL lead with Manny Machado? Here, as in the classic Triple Crown components, Miggy's en route to having a better season, but just as Chris Davis might keep him from winning all three elements of the crown while he sets career highs, Machado might keep him from winning his first WAR tiara as well.

2. And another thing about Miggy ...

WAR is sort of like sabermetrics' answer to the philosopher's stone, converting everything -- hitting, pitching, fielding, baserunning, you name it -- into one currency, wins. That said, we know a lot more about being precise about the value of a player's contributions on offense than we do about defense, and simple WAR can mask something truly historic, which is the value of Miggy's year at the plate.

So far, in a little less than half a season, Miggy has cranked out 5.2 offense-only WAR (or oWAR). If he keeps this up over a full season, he would become the first player since Barry Bonds to reach double digits of offensive value in WAR in a single season. Bonds did it three times (2001, '02 and '04), and Bonds was the first person to do it since Mickey Mantle (1956, '57 and '61). There have only been 29 individual 10.0 oWAR seasons, and just six of those have come since integration.

Miggy has a chance to post the single greatest season at bat in the last 50 seasons of American League history -- which Trout hasn't done (yet, but given time ...).

3. Just one pitcher in 10 years has produced a season worth 9.0 WAR or better

And that would be Zack Greinke for the Royals in his Cy Young season of 2009. But this season two pitchers might challenge that mark: Clayton Kershaw of the Dodgers (4.5 WAR) and Cliff Lee of the Phillies (4.6 WAR and counting).

For pitchers, piling up big stacks of value from on-field performance is tough, especially in today's workload-conscious era as teams mitigate risk. But even allowing for that, while there have been 182 pitching seasons worth 9.0 WAR or more, just 30 of those seasons have come since divisional play started in 1969. Or about one every three years in each league, only it's happening even less frequently these days.

So, if we get two seasons like that in the same league in the same year (I'm pretending for the moment that Lee won't get dealt, so play along), it would be pretty rare. Whether that means Kershaw gets his second Cy Young in three seasons, after just missing out last year, we'll have to see.

4. Andrelton Simmons could be putting up the most valuable season afield

In less than half a season, Simmons' defense-only WAR (or dWAR) has been worth 3.0 wins to the Braves so far. That's awfully abstract, of course, and we're all probably much less familiar with -- or confident about -- quantifying defensive value as we are offense or pitching.

But to put that into context, Ozzie Smith's best single-season tally in dWAR was 4.7 in 1989; Mark Belanger's best was 4.9 in 1975. Those two rank fourth and third all-time, behind two Deadball Era shortstops, Art Fletcher (5.1 in 1917) and Terry Turner (5.4, 1906). All four of them played at a time when there were considerably more balls in play, giving them that much more opportunity to mound up piles of a counting stat like dWAR.

So, playing the admittedly lazy game of multiplying everything by two at this stage of a live season, Simmons could top these marks in just his first full season. When scouts, players, ex-players, managers or analysts tell you Simmons is something special, as subjective as you might think those comments might be, and as tricky as defensive metrics might be, that's already being reflected in the data as well.

5. Albert Pujols is arguably the best first baseman of all time.

Say wha ...? Now, I know it's easy for some of you to write Albert off as he struggles through an injury-wracked season, and for some folks it's reflexive to decry the amount of money he's making. But give credit where it's due: He earned a huge payday.

For total career value via WAR, with his current tally of 92.8 Pujols has outproduced every first baseman in history not named Lou Gehrig or Jimmie Foxx -- two hitters who profited from playing in the tiny eight-team American League that had as little going for it by way of competitive balance as it did from integration.

And if you're suspicious about the defensive components of WAR, Pujols still rates third all time behind that same pair in an offense-only tally like Baseball-Reference's Rbat (or Runs Batting). Given that Gehrig and Foxx were beating up on the same small group of pitchers without having to face many of the best (their own teammates), maybe folks should skip worrying how Arte Moreno chooses to spend his money and give an all-time great his due.

All WAR citations rely on Baseball-Reference.com and ESPN.com.

Christina Kahrl covers baseball for ESPN.com. You can follow her on Twitter.

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