Tuesday, August 2, 2022

Predicting and Reflecting on the Orioles' 2022 Trade Deadline

Editor’s Note: I initially wrote this over the weekend, and decided to sleep on it and publish it Monday after work. However, I wasn’t counting on the Orioles pulling the trigger on a Trey Mancini deal so soon. It does make this column a little dated, but it is mostly talking about the bigger trends rather than the specifics, so I don’t think it’s totally invalidated. And I put the time into it anyway, plus I think there are still some interesting ideas, including some things that might become another piece down the line. So I might as well put it out with a disclaimer and a few extra notes added in. I’ll also add something at the end covering the specifics of the Trey Mancini deal.


I’ve been busy lately and haven’t been able to cover the full ins and outs of the season. But I was thinking about the Trade Deadline a little. Not any of the big rumors or prospective trade proposals, though. Instead, it’s something related to my last few pieces, talking about the Orioles and the rebuilding process.

In the time since my last check-in, Baltimore has been on something of a tear (especially compared to their recent history). They’re currently playing .500 ball, fourth in the division and 3.0 games out of the Wild Card race (now 52-51, 2.5 back). Even back in the winter, while I was writing about how this compared to the Astros final season before returning to playoff contention, I don’t know that I expected things to be going quite this well by the trade deadline.

Wednesday, May 25, 2022

The End of Tanking, Post-Script: Evaluating the Start of the Orioles' 2022 Season

We’re roughly a quarter of the way through the season, and the Orioles have been having an interesting 2022 so far. Not a good one exactly, although I don’t know that anyone expected that much from them. But they’ve been on a run of exciting walk-off wins lately, they just called up their top prospect Adley Rutschman, and they’re only 2.5 games back from the Red Sox after even spending a stretch of time ahead of them (sure, it was only fourth in the division, but you have to start somewhere). They’re 18-26 so far (only a 66-win pace), but things don’t feel as hopeless as they did in years past.

And that has gotten me thinking about that long-term rebuilding project that they’ve been on. Which makes sense; I did just write a fairly comprehensive breakdown* of the process this past offseason. And for the sake of continuing that comparison to the Houston Astros and their rebuild, it’s maybe worth mentioning that the 2014 Houston team (the one I considered to be corresponding to this year’s Orioles in the rebuild process) were only 16-28 at this point, with their own exciting then-prospect having recently debuted (although George Springer had already been up for a few weeks by this point in the year).

Granted, none of this is a guarantee that the Orioles will continue on the same trajectory or better. The biggest, final test in their journey is whether they’ll develop their own central core of stars; so Rutschman, Cedric Mullins, Austin Hays, Bruce Zimmermann, et al. will need to need to become above-average or better players, much like Jose Altuve, George Springer, Dallas Keuchel, Carlos Correa, and so on did for Houston. We’ll see if that continues over the next year or so, and I’m not really sure that there’s much else we can do in the meantime other than sit back and watch.

But it does make me think about their other moves this past winter, the ones around the edges of that hoped-for core. That third part of my recap included only a partial listing of all of the Orioles’ 2021-2022 offseason moves, since it was published in late December. However, there weren’t too many more transactions of note, besides the additions of Jordan Lyles and Rougned Odor. Chris Owings and Anthony Bemboom made the roster on minor league deals, and they added Robinson Chirinos on a one-year, $900,000 deal. Bemboom was released last week in anticipation of Adley Rutschman’s contract.

And that’s still bumming me out a little bit. Just like I said repeatedly over the course of that retrospective series, there’s still this lingering sense of “it could have been a little bit better than it is”. As I pointed out in that original piece, the 2014 Astros didn’t bring in a bunch of big free agents or anything, but they did spend some money, and some of those names (Chad Qualls, Collin McHugh, Tony Sipp, Scott Feldman*) were even around on the next successful Astros team.

*Plus, new 2014 acquisition Dexter Fowler was traded for 2015 starter Luis Valbuena.

In contrast, just looking down the 2022 Orioles’ WAR leaders on Fangraphs, most of those new additions are bringing up the rear. Chirinos is at the bottom with -0.8, Owings is next at -0.4 despite limited playing time, Bemboom is at -0.2. Odor was at -0.3 until the last week, with a hot streak that has brought him up to an even 0.0. The 2014 Astros’ position players through the first quarter or so of the season look similar, but their negatives were a little less.

Lyles is the only offseason move that hasn’t been a disappointment; in fact, he’s looking much better than he’s looked in ages. But even then, he was also still just a one-year deal; there’s a better chance he’s back in 2023 than any of those other four, but it’s still not at all guaranteed. And maybe the Orioles will be able to fill out a full supporting cast for 2023 through good development, but it still feels like a more limited approach than what the Astros did. The alternative to that, at this point, is signing a lot of useful bit players in one single offseason, which of course is its own challenge, given that you need to do it all in more or less one swoop.

And it’s especially disappointing given the smattering of rumors that the Orioles were considering making a big splash in the free agent market; that seemed like a reasonable move, given that most big signings would have been around for a few years until Baltimore would be in better position to compete. An Orioles team that had, say, Carlos Correa or Trevor Story (who one-upped Odor’s current hot streak by winning the most recent AL Player of the Week) would not only have a solid core player for the immediate future, but also wouldn’t be giving as many at bats to Odor and Owings.

And even ignoring the big names for smaller signings, closer to what those Astros teams did… I don’t know for certain that the Astros’ 2013-14 signings paved the way for their 2014-15 ones, by indicating to players that they were serious about competing in the near future and all that. But I’ve seen others propose that idea, and I can’t imagine it hurts, if nothing else. Given that there are actual reasons to spread out the signings anyway (less competition with other teams, more chance to try and replace different players, etc.), it just seems like extra incentive. There’s not much to be done about all that at this point though, so I guess there’s no use in dwelling on it.

Ultimately, I don’t know that any of this precludes the chance of a strong end to the 2022 season or successful 2023 season. But it does mean that it feels a little further out of reach than it needs to. Hopefully the rest of the core continues to put up strong seasons, and John Means comes back healthy next year, and so many other things, because these long rebuilding cycles can be miserable and fans need some good news. It just feels like maybe the team is less optimistic about the chance of an imminent turnaround, even though we’ve seen that it can happen.

Saturday, April 23, 2022

The Veterans Committee Has Once Again Changed Their Rules, for Some Reason?

In a complete surprise move, the Hall of Fame announced on Friday that they would be once again changing their rules for the Veterans Committee. This is something that I’ve written about a lot, including a big, two-part article last year, so I figured I would give my thoughts on the update.

I saw some initial confusion from baseball writers (likely because this came out of nowhere and the explanation was a little odd) that the changes were about length of time before a player is eligible. And while that was a reasonable assumption (Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, and company are all finally eligible this winter, and it wouldn’t be the first time the Hall changed their rules to work around them), that wound up not being the case.

Instead, the big change wound up being to the Era Committees. It used to be that there were four divisions focusing on different time periods of the sport and the candidates from those eras: broadly speaking, “Before the 1950s”, “The ‘50s and ‘60s”, “The ‘70s to the late ‘80s”, and “The late 80s and on”. Those divisions seemed a little arbitrary, but I suppose that was bound to happen with any division into eras. Either way, there was a rotation, where each winter, the VC would meet and discuss one or sometimes two eras and their candidates.

That’s generally the framework they’re sticking with now, but they’ve changed the eras up quite a bit. Instead of four periods, we’re now down to just two: 1980 to Present (here named “Contemporary Baseball”), and Pre-1980 (“Classic Baseball”). And the rotation of years have switched up with that change: starting with this coming December, our yearly rotation will be “Contemporary Baseball-Players”, then “Contemporary Managers-Managers, Executives, and Umpires” the following year, then “Classic Baseball” the year after, and then back to the top.

I’m honestly trying to figure out what the driving motivation behind this was and coming up blank? As I said earlier, I don’t blame the people who jumped to “this is to keep Bonds and co. out” since that has motivated Cooperstown policy recently, but I’m not really sure how it would do that. I guess it widens the time period they’re competing with, but only barely. And it’s not like there are a whole lot of other motivations jumping out here.

Overall, this is… I guess marginally better than what existed? It gets rid of the five- or ten-year waits that some of the committees had to deal with, which I always thought was a bizarre choice. I’m a lot less positive about adding a whole year entirely for non-players, though; in fact, in that two-parter I linked to earlier, I verbatim said: “if you do that [split players and non-players into different committees], definitely don’t do what the Hall did from 2008 to 2010 and alternate voting on players and non-players each year, because that was really dumb”. Glad to see they’re taking my views into account here.

I just don’t know that the non-player field is crowded enough at this stage to demand an entire year to itself. The Hall of Stats updated their upcoming elections page following the news, and their best guesses for that 2023-24 voting cycle is: Bruce Bochy, Davey Johnson, Lou Piniella, Mike Scioscia, Sandy Alderson, Brian Sabean, George Steinbrenner, and Joe West. I bet Bochy goes in there, but I also don’t think he would have struggled to get in under the old system. I’ve spoken positively about Johnson’s and Piniella’s cases in the past, but they've also appeared on the ballot several times already (as has Steinbrenner), so I don’t know that I’d call them completely overlooked, either. The other five all have points in their favor, but some big drawbacks, too. I don’t know that any of them excites me a ton, plus most of them haven’t even been retired long enough to feel like we’re missing them on the ballot.

Also, that list is still not a full ballot; I don’t know the last time a VC cycle had only nine candidates. They’ll probably find names to fill it out a little more (I’d bet Charlie Manuel is one, as he’s been on a Vet ballot before), but ultimately, that still feels like a kind of empty ballot. And it’s going to be coming up every three years! Imagine how the 2026-27 ballot will look, with no Bochy (and honestly, no Joe West; for as disliked as he was, he has the career profile of a Hall of Fame umpire, and I bet the VC voters induct him ASAP). I guess there will be a few more strong potential options going forward, as guys like Terry Francona and Dusty Baker hang it up, but the best case here still seems to be “one to two big new names, and a recurring cast of ten or so kinda interesting non-players”, which is honestly usually the least interesting kind of Hall ballot.

And then, there’s the two new eras… I don’t get it. I could kind of see if they had just combined their previous four eras into “Pre-1970” and “1970 to Present”, but I’m not sure what the rationale in moving the line to 1980 was. The most direct negative impact is probably the ‘70s stars, who I think get their next vote pushed back a year and are getting up there in age. I still think Luis Tiant (who’s 81) has a good chance to go in on his next try, and putting that off another year makes me nervous (especially for a player who has been vocal about not wanting to be inducted posthumously). And this would also apply to guys like Tommy John, Bobby Grich, and Graig Nettles. And on top of that, it’s going to be a much deeper ballot now. They’ll also be going against earlier guys, like former Golden Age candidate Dick Allen (who was also nearing induction), or perpetual Early Baseball choice Bill Dahlen, plus any non-players who remain (since they didn’t get their own section like the modern guys, although that’s absolutely for the best).

And then there’s the stars of the Negro League, who get a mention in the Hall’s press release. Their recent re-classification as major leaguers got them renewed attention in this past voting cycle, culminating with 70% of the Early Baseball Ballot being overlooked Negro League players, but it also led to an extra-crowded affair that kept down everyone’s votes. And that’s not even getting into all of the other players who couldn’t even make it into those ten spots; if anything, this era probably needs its own special committee for at least a few cycles, and instead, it’s getting shoved into that wide “Pre-1980” group.

I don’t think it’s all bad. The smaller number of groups means snubs aren’t going to be waiting too much longer for their next chance. And if a good number of players are still getting inducted this way, we could still see some decent churn bringing in more names. But I still wish they had uncapped the ballot sizes and vote limits along with this, which would have probably done even more to fix that issue.

And I still just do not get that non-player ballot; I would bet they’re the big winners here, and I wouldn’t be shocked if we see something like eight or nine (or even more) non-players getting inducted over the next decade (assuming this system makes it that long, and who even knows at this point). Of course, if the VC voters really, really wanted to throw votes over the next few years at guys like Scioscia and Alderson and Steinbrenner and West that badly, maybe it is better to put them on their own ballot like this. It’ll give the players of that era more space, since they seem committed to keeping that vote cap and making everyone compete for those few spots. That’s the thing that would rationalize a shake-up like this the most, in my opinion.

Thursday, April 7, 2022

2022 Astros Predictions at The Crawfish Boxes

Happy Opening Day 2022! As per usual, I contributed to The Crawfish Boxes’ Predictions on the Astros season. I put a lot of thought into it, except for the playoff result. Predicting something that random this early in the year always feels a little silly to me (although I get why everyone does it), so I just went with “the last two times the Astros won the pennant, they lost in the ALCS the following year”. Go check out the rest of it for the good bits, though!

Thursday, March 31, 2022

Predicting Today's Future Hall of Fame Pitchers, 2022 Edition

I would like to begin by noting something big that I completely missed in this year’s article on Future Hall of Fame Hitters: this is my tenth year doing this series! That’s pretty neat!

For those who haven’t read one of these before, a quick overview of the process (before I discuss a trend I noticed in the results). Basically, what I’m doing is finding the median Wins Above Replacement (Baseball-Reference edition) for Hall of Fame starting pitchers by age. So I start by looking at every eventual starter in Cooperstown at 20 arranged by total WAR at that age, pick the midpoint, then look at them all at age 21 and pick the midpoint, and so on, all the way into their 40s. Once I have that trend line, I go and look at how many eligible non-Hall of Famers topped those median marks and didn’t eventually go into Cooperstown (I exclude players still on the BBWAA ballot, since their fates are more up in the air).

Once I have those numbers, I go age-by-age and determine what percent of players over the median WAR at each age go on to the Hall of Fame. So, if there are 20 Hall starters at age 20, and the exact midpoint in their value is 2.0 WAR, that’s our median point. And say that there are 90 pitchers in history who had 2.0 WAR by age 20 and didn’t make it to the Hall. We’d have 10 Hall of Famers out of 100 total 2.0-WAR 20 year olds, so our odds for 20-year-old pitchers over the Hall median for that age going on to Cooperstown is 10%. Also, for the sake of comparing to mostly modern starting pitchers, my searches here are limited to Live-ball era pitchers* (so those that debuted after 1920) who have started in 10% of their appearances.

*Out of curiosity, I actually calculated the median including Deadball Hall of Famers, just to see if it changed things. It’s a lot closer than I thought it would be, but it’s still not great. For the median line including Deadball pitchers, the biggest difference was an even higher peak value, but trailing off a few years earlier. Interestingly, the overall career median including Deadball pitchers was actually 2.0 Wins lower than the Live-ball-only one, thanks in part to the longer careers of Live-ball Hall of Famers.

This year’s look at the pitchers turned up some unusual results. For those who have followed from years past, you might have noticed that the list for pitchers is always a little sparser than the one for hitters. This year takes it to an extreme, however; there are only five active pitchers who fall above the Hall median for their age, and all five are in their 30s. Given that a major inspiration for this series was trying to identify young players on track for Cooperstown, this kind of stood out as an issue (don’t worry, I still covered the WAR leader for each age regardless of whether they topped their age-median, so there is still an article to read).

It’s hard to pinpoint one reason for this dramatic drop-off. Part of it might be the shortened pandemic season, but if so, it’s a little weird that it took an extra year for that to show up, since last year’s article was relatively normal. It’s also unusual that this didn’t seem to be the case for position players, and on top of that, most of the top players by age group would have needed a really good full 2020 season to make up the gap. Maybe one of them could have made it with a Cy Young-caliber effort, but even that’s low probability.

So there’s probably something else at play. It might be the result of more injuries to young pitchers? Or maybe the result of the different approach for younger pitchers these days, focusing on later call-ups and lighter workloads? The Median line for Hall pitchers does start early and aggressively, so a later start can affect a starter years down the line as they have to play catch-up. Given the fact that MLB players seem to be retiring earlier than they used to, would we start to see the best pitchers squeezed on both ends, or would the best of the best continue to last into their 30s? Alternatively, maybe there will be a shift in how pitchers are used as they adapt to the new state of the game, or some rule change to push back at these factors?

Or perhaps the problem is the disappearance of the below-median Hall of Fame starter, slowly pushing the standards higher and further out of reach for all but the best young pitchers? It’s hard to see how that trend might reverse itself going forward, and if younger pitchers aren’t making it as long on top of that, the issue is only going to compound itself. Or maybe Hall voters completely upend how they evaluate starters to account for that, in which case, how useful will it be to look at past Hall of Famers as a method of prediction?

In the end, I don’t know that I have an answer here, and my strategy for now will probably be to see if this becomes a larger trend in coming years, or if this is just a one-year aberration brought on by a confluence of rare-but-impactful events. For now, I’ll keep my current system while trying to brainstorm alternative methods to look at this question in the future.

With all of that preamble out of the way, let’s move onto the age-by-age breakdown. Remember that players are listed based on their age in the 2021 season (so, for example, pitchers in the Age 23 group will be 24 for the upcoming year and working towards the age-24 goal):

Monday, March 14, 2022

Predicting Today's Future Hall of Fame Hitters, 2022 Edition

I’m not going to lie, I thought I would have a little more time to write this. I put off starting this year’s edition of the Future Hall of Fame Series, since I sort of assumed we’d be missing large chunks of the season, and I would have to say something about having shortened seasons two out of the last three years, and then… we avoided the problem. I suppose it’s likely we’ll have a similar issue five years down the line when the brand-new CBA expires, and most of these players will still be around for that… but we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.

For now, though, a quick refresher on what this series does: First, I find the approximate “Median Career by Age” for Hall of Fame players, by looking at all AL and NL* position players in Cooperstown year by year. So I line them up by Baseball-Reference’s Wins Above Replacement at age 20, age 21, and so on, and just follow where the middle of the pack lands.

*I usually omit other major leagues for simplicity’s sake, since they’re usually a little too different to the modern game in their schedule and such. But it’s an issue I sometimes try and revisit; I just haven’t come up with a good way to do it yet.

Then, I look at how many Hall-eligible players in history have reached that median total by the same age, and see what percentage the Hall of Famers represent. So, if the midpoint for Hall of Famers at age 21 is 2.0, with 50 above the line and 50 below; and 100 total Hall-eligible players in history have reached the 2.0 WAR mark by 21, our equation would be:

(50 Hall of Famers over 2.0) / (100 total players over 2.0) = 50% of players to reach the median by this age have gone on to be Hall of Famers

Players are grouped by their ages last season, so the players in the Age 20 group are in the clear through age 20, and will be working on the Age 21 mark in 2022 (and so on). With all of that out of the way, we can begin our breakdown:

Tuesday, March 1, 2022

Killing Time in the Lock-Out: Looking at Extreme Hypothetical Hall of Fame Candidacies

There’s not a lot of on-the-field baseball news going on, so why not play around with a weird hypothetical that’s centered around the Hall of Fame. Today’s question was one I saw a while ago while browsing /r/baseball over on Reddit: would a player who managed to repeat Joe Carter’s 1990 season 25 times be worthy of the Hall of Fame?

For background, 1990 was Joe Carter’s lone season in San Diego before he was traded (with Roberto Alomar) to the Blue Jays for Tony Fernandez and Fred McGriff, en route to Toronto’s back-to-back World Series titles (including Carter’s 1993 Series walk-off homer). With the Padres, Carter had a weird season, picking up a few MVP votes thanks to 24 homers, 22 stolen bases, 27 doubles, and 115 RBI while playing in all 162 games. However, what actually made the season unsual is that, by most other regards… he was actually pretty bad. Baseball-Reference credits him with -1.7 WAR, while Fangraphs goes even further, saying it was a -2.0-Win season.

So this hypothetical player would have 3675 hits, 600 home runs, 550 steals, 2875 RBI (nearly 600 more than Hank Aaron’s record), and regular MVP votes... while also costing his teams somewhere between 40 and 50 Wins over his career. Would that be worthy of induction into Cooperstown?

It’s probably worth breaking down how that season worked, though, because it will matter down the line. A big part of the issue was Carter’s defense; both versions of WAR say he cost his team somewhere around 3 wins just through his defense. And while that’s probably a little extreme, in the way that old defensive stats can be uncertain, it’s also not unthinkable; it was the end of a three-year experiment trying Carter in center field, after largely being a defensive positive in the corner outfield. However, he never really took to the move, and posted negatives numbers in center (to varying degrees) in all three seasons before Toronto eventually returned him to right field.

In a world where his defense looks more like the two previous years, he’s probably around a net-zero instead of a big negative, with bad glovework canceling out the higher defensive value of being a center fielder. And in a timeline where he gets to be an above-average right fielder, he might even be a small positive on defense (even overcoming the defensive penalty of the move).

Of course, that’s only part of the problem, since all of that would only get him to the 0-1 range. The other part of the problem is that Carter’s offense wasn’t as good as the raw number suggested, either. His batting line in 1990 was .232/.290/.391, and while we know today that a low batting average isn’t a deal breaker like it once was, that sub-.300 on-base percentage is still going to be a tough sell. OPS+ marked Carter as 15% worse than a league-average hitter that year, while wRC+ (which is more heavily weighted to the more important OBP) has him a full 20% below league-average.

Carter’s totals were in part due to good health (he was in the middle of three straight 162-game campaigns) and his power and speed in spite of a poor batting eye. The thing that probably got him the most attention though was those 115 RBI, numbers that would have looked even more impressive before the full explosion of the high-scoring 1990s. He finished third in the NL and fifth in the entire league with that mark. It’s also worth noting that no other player has accumulated more RBI in a season while posting an OPS+ below 90.

And you probably already have an idea of how that happened; RBI is an incredibly team-dependent stat. Jack Clark had a .441 OBP (he didn’t have enough plate appearances to qualify for league leader status, but he was 23 points ahead of official NL leader Lenny Dykstra), Bip Roberts had a .375 mark (13th among qualified NL batters), and Tony Gwynn and Roberto Alomar had normal seasons for them (23rd and 32nd, respectively). Carter usually batted fifth or fourth, directly behind some combination of those four. According to Baseball-Reference’s splits, Carter took 361 plate appearances with runners on, tied for 99th-most dating back to 1973 (chosen just because it’s the start of B-R’s complete play-by-play data).

Wednesday, January 26, 2022

David Ortiz is the BBWAA's Lone 2022 Inductee, but Several More Poised to Follow

On Tuesday, we finally got the final part of the Class of 2022 for the Hall of Fame. On his first ballot, David Ortiz reached induction, appearing on just shy of 78% of ballots.
Official 2022 results from the BBWAA

I have a variety of thoughts on Ortiz’s induction, and they’re pretty much all positive. I don’t know that you could tell the story of baseball in the 2000s without mentioning David Ortiz. His bat was fantastic, but he was also a key fixture of the postseason, and a huge personality within the game. You could probably say he wasn’t the best player on the ballot this year, but as I’ve said in the past, I’ve largely given up on caring about the order candidates go into Cooperstown; as long as they’re deserving, it’s fine.

Really, if I have any comments, it’s that I was a little surprised that BBWAA writers were willing to put him in without waiting. I figured that his status as a pure DH might scare off some first-time voters, but after seeing the love he got from writers the last few years and his early returns on Ryan Thibodaux’s Ballot Tracker, I adjusted my expectations (I’m learning, following my shock at Vladimir Guerrero’s strong debut a few years ago; I really thought he would be another guy who would have to claw his way in).

Ortiz will be joining the six Veterans Committee inductees announced back in December, Tony Oliva, Jim Kaat, Minnie Miñoso, Gil Hodges, Buck O'Neil, and Bud Fowler. And of course, if you were here the other day for the launch of my latest Sporcle quiz, Hall of Famers by Birthplace, I’ve updated that as well.

So what of the rest of the ballot? Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens saw their percentages take their largest leaps in years, landing right around two-thirds of the vote. If they still had fifteen years on the ballot, they might have made it; they’ve been trending upwards with newer voters, and I imagine that would only continue. Unfortunately, thanks to the rule change from a few years ago, this was their final go-around on the BBWAA ballot.

However, nothing ever really ends in Hall of Fame debates. They’ll be eligible for the “Today’s Game” ballot of the Veterans Committee starting this December. Their upwards trend with newer voters probably won’t mean much there; I imagine that group will be voters on the older side of things. And this isn’t even getting into the fact that the Hall seems to have much more direct control over that voting body; I wouldn’t be shocked if they don’t even make the official ten-person ballot, as awkward as that’s going to look for them.

Sammy Sosa and Curt Schilling also aged off the ballot. Between those four, plus Rafael Palmeiro, Kevin Brown, and Kenny Lofton (all of whom are VC-eligible for the first time as of this December, I believe), things might get crowded on the ten-person ballot… which is probably why we won’t see most of them. And I don’t even want to know how having even one or two players cuts into everyone else’s vote totals, given how tight the budget of votes is in the process. Either way, I’m excited to see the gradual progress the Veterans Committee has made over the last few years suddenly slam to halt! Or maybe I’m being too pessimistic.

Let’s move on to more encouraging developments. Scott Rolen was once again the biggest winner of the non-inducted set, seeing his percentage jump by double-digits for the third year. Sure, his 10.3-point increase is smaller than his last two years, but this was also a stronger debut class than the last few years (at least, just going by the number of first-year candidates getting votes). He’s just 11.8% shy of induction, and given that the 2023 debuts look closer to the 2020-21 classes than this year (plus there will be a lot more room on the ballots, given all of the names aging off)… there’s a very real chance he’s inducted next year.

Continuing down the ballot, Todd Helton jumped past Billy Wagner, and will be going into the 2023 election as the returning runner-up. Like Rolen, his pick-up wasn’t as big as the last two seasons (just 7.1%), but it was still good enough to tie for the second-biggest pick-up this year, and it got him past the 50% mark. Historically, that’s been a very good indicator for future candidate induction. 23% is probably a little much to make up in one year, so we’ll likely be waiting until 2024 or beyond… although again, we’re going to be seeing pretty unprecedented clearing of ballot spaces next year in a weak debut class, so weird things may happen.

After him, Billy Wagner also passed that 50% line in his seventh try; he now has three more tries to pick up 24% of the vote. For some perspective, three years ago, he was only getting 16.7%. I think it’s pretty likely he gets in on the BBWAA ballot now, especially once you factor in that players in their final year usually get an extra boost from voters, on top of what they normally get from trends. That will hopefully be enough to cancel out any crowding from stronger debut classes.

10% after Wagner, we have Andruw Jones, who passed Gary Sheffield and tied Helton for the second-biggest gain of the year. He’s about 34% shy of induction, which is coincidentally almost exactly what he’s picked up over the last three seasons. Of course, Jones is only in his fifth ballot appearance, so he even has some wiggle room there. Again, I feel extremely confident that his case continues to build to an eventual induction.

Everything after that is a much more open question. Gary Sheffield didn’t make up any ground in try number eight, even ignoring that he likely has a ceiling somewhere around where Bonds and Clemens topped out. Alex Rodriguez debuted at 34.3%, which is coincidentally right around where Bonds and Clemens started out. Jeff Kent and Manny Ramírez both gained less than a single percent in attempts number nine and six, respectively; I imagine Kent at least will eventually go in front of a much more receptive Veterans Committee. And Omar Vizquel saw one of the biggest single-year voting drops in history (-25.1%), following a year of reports on his horrendous behavior (including domestic abuse allegations from his ex-wife, which MLB is still investigating; and the revelation that his firing from minor league coaching a few years ago was tied to sexual harassment of a team batboy, which Vizquel and the Birmingham Barons are still facing a lawsuit over).

And then, we have the bottom of the ballot. Andy Pettitte dropped 3% of the vote, landing around 10%. Jimmy Rollins debuted at 9.4%, which is honestly better than I expected on a still relatively-crowded ballot. I expect he’ll hang around a few more years. Bobby Abreu remained relatively stagnant as well; it’s probably not a great sign that Rollins passed him on his first try, but who knows, maybe he’ll pick up more votes next year from big-Hall voters having more room.

Mark Buehrle and Torii Hunter just finished above the 5% threshold, ensuring they’ll see a third year on the ballot. Meanwhile, Tim Hudson lost 2% and fell off in his second year, and Joe Nathan didn’t quite make it to the line in his first try. I’ve written about Hudson in the past, and it’s a shame he won’t be back. Meanwhile, I’m a little more indifferent to closers in Hall voting at this point, and I don’t know that Nathan is an egregious miss. On the other hand, there’s a reasonable argument he’s the best non-Wagner closer not in the Hall right now, and a 45% difference between them like we see in the voting seems extreme. But back on the first hand, there is still a ballot crunch, and using two of your ten spots on closers with this many good options feels like a hard sell. I don’t know what to make of all that.

Either way, no one below those two will be back next year. Speaking of, as I mentioned, it’s a weaker ballot. Carlos Beltran leads first-time names, and like I said last time, I really don’t know what to expect. His numbers are obviously worthy, but I have no idea how voters will treat him after the Astros’ sign-stealing scandal. My guess is that if it affects voters’ opinions at all, it will be closer to the one-year penalty Roberto Alomar endured than the indefinite purgatory that Bonds and Clemens have seen, but I also don’t really have anything to go off of at this point other than a gut reaction.

After him, there are a few interesting names, but nobody I expect to see serious traction (John Lackey, Jayson Werth, Jered Weaver, etc.). I’m curious if that, plus all of the spots opened up by Bonds/Clemens/Schilling/Sosa leaving, leads to large gains up and down the ballot, even for cases that likely ultimately fall short (like Sheffield and A-Rod).

2024 is the much busier year, with Adrian Beltre at the head as the likely first-ballot choice. Joe Mauer will also get a lot of support, and should be inducted eventually, but catchers have notoriously generally not been first-ballot elections. Chase Utley is also there, and while he should be a Hall of Famer someday, he’s so underrated by large swaths of the baseball press that I wouldn’t be shocked if he lands somewhere in the low 20s for a few years (maybe even lower). David Wright is an interesting might-have-been, and might make it to a second ballot. Given all of those names, plus the relative lack of age-outs in 2023 (only Jeff Kent), I wouldn’t be shocked if the backlog candidates see smaller gains, more akin to what they got this year.

And 2025 will likely be more of the same, with Ichiro Suzuki (easy first ballot) and CC Sabathia (maybe not first-ballot, but I think the writers elect him eventually) debuting alongside a few other interesting names who might pick up some votes. Dustin Pedroia, Ian Kinsler, Felix Hernandez, Troy Tulowitzki, Russell Martin, Brian McCann, Ben Zobrist, and Curtis Granderson all feel like guys who should at least get something in the 5-10% range. I don’t know if I personally would induct any of them (maybe Martin and McCann? I need to think about their framing value a little more; and maybe Felix for his peak?), but they all feel like they deserve a few years of discussion?

Of course, that’s a lot of guys to keep around for only two or three ballots, and I wouldn’t be shocked if they all cancel out. Maybe there will be a bit of room, though, between Rolen, Helton, Beltre, and maybe some combination of Wagner (2025 will be his final year), Jones, Beltran, and Mauer going in by this point. Either way, there isn’t much in the pipeline for the year after that (Cole Hamels, if he can’t make a comeback? Alex Gordon? Ryan Braun???), so it’s not like there’s a lot of pressure to clear out names at that point.

That will bring us to Buster Posey and the players who are retiring this year, which we technically don’t yet have a complete list of, so we should probably cut things off there. In the meantime, congratulations again to David Ortiz and the other 2022 inductees!

Friday, January 21, 2022

New Sporcle Quiz: Hall of Famers by Birth Place

I wanted to do something for the upcoming Hall of Fame announcement, and so, I present a new Sporcle quiz: Hall of Famers by Birth Place. Basically, every state or country currently represented in Cooperstown by a player or manager* is on the list, grouped together by where they were born. All you need to do is list one of them, and you get a full list of every inductee born in the state. You have 12 minutes to think of one inductee from all 46 places (plus three bonus areas for locations represented, but by someone other than a player or manager).

*Pioneers, executives, umpires, and others are omitted for simplicity’s sake, but Negro League players and managers are included.

This can be a little bit weird of a metric, since not every guy is most closely associated with their birthplace; for instance, I will always think of Greg Maddux as “from Las Vegas” (thanks in large part to this fun video), but he wasn’t actually born there, and so Nevada remains one of the few states without a current Hall inductee (for now, at least; but we’ll get to that shortly). However, I don’t know that there exists a perfect answer for this issue, so this is a good enough standard to use, and the end result is fun either way.

As of right now, the quiz is updated to include the four applicable 2022 Veterans Committee inductees (Buck O'Neil and Bud Fowler were inducted as part of the Pioneer/Executive classification, rather than players), and I will update it on the 25th once we know who all the BBWAA has inducted this year.

I also wanted to write something fun to go along with the piece, though. So once you’ve tried it (or before, if you’re okay maybe seeing spoilers), click through as we take a tour through every state and country listed (plus the states that didn’t make it) to determine who might be the next Hall of Famer from each one!

Tuesday, December 28, 2021

What Does the End of the Tanking & Rebuilding Process Look Like? Comparing the Orioles and the Astros, Part 3

This is the conclusion to last week's series, and picks up directly where the last entry left off. Part 1 can be found here, and Part 2 here.

2014 Astros
-Preseason: Traded Jordan Lyles and Brandon Barnes for Dexter Fowler; Released JD Martinez; Signed Chad Qualls, Collin McHugh, Matt Albers, Jesse Crain, Tony Sipp, Scott Feldman, Jerome Williams
-Midseason: Traded away Kiké Hernandez and Jarred Cosart

This was actually a really busy offseason for the Astros. For those who don’t remember, just the season before, Jesse Crain had been an All-Star reliever, and Scott Feldman had been a hot trading chip at the deadline; both were considered some of the top free agents of the winter (although Crain had injuries concerns at the end of 2013 that made him more of a bet on upside than a reliable signing).

Qualls, Albers, and Williams weren’t as high-profile, but they were all still signings, as part of the over $40 million Houston spent on free agents, easily the team’s biggest foray into the market in years (whether you go by total expenditure or quality of top signings). And the Fowler trade was similarly notable; he hadn’t yet reached his peak, but Fowler was still already an above-average everyday player, and the team was giving up on their former top prospect in Lyles to acquire him. At the very least, it sure looked like a “win now” move, compared to the kinds of moves they had been making the last few years.

Unfortunately, they didn’t all pan out. Williams was cut early in the season, Crain never played another game in the Majors, and the Astros had yet another losing season. However, this did end their streak of 100-loss, last-place finishes, with the team improving to fourth place and 72 wins.

The Tony Sipp, Collin McHugh, and JD Martinez moves weren’t as notable at the time, but they wound up big in retrospect (although obviously, one of them was actually a net negative for the team). And the mid-season Jarred Cosart trade was another one that seemed questionable to some at the time, but which clearly paid off; Cosart never looked as good as he did in his 2013 debut, and the Marlins traded away Hernandez after the season. In return, the Astros got Jake Marisnick, Colin Moran (who was the other half of the package they used to acquire Gerrit Cole), and a 2015 first round pick that they used on Daz Cameron (who was later traded for Justin Verlander). Which serves another reminder: a big part of having a good farm system is using the extra depth to acquire players when you need them!

Wednesday, December 22, 2021

What Does the End of the Tanking & Rebuilding Process Look Like? Comparing the Orioles and the Astros, Part 2

This is a direct continuation of Part 1, which can be found here


2012 Astros
-Preseason: Traded Mark Melancon for Jed Lowrie and Kyle Weiland
-Midseason: Traded away Brett MyersJ.A. Happ, David Carpenter, Brandon Lyon, Chris Johnson, Carlos Lee, Wandy Rodriguez, and others for prospects

2012 marked the start of the Astros’ new ownership and front office, as they stepped in on the heels of the franchise’s first 100-loss season. There were again a number of reclamation project signings (Chris Snyder, Zach Duke, Livan Hernandez, Jack Cust…), and a lot of them didn’t even wind up playing a game with Houston. No Clint Barmes-like successes this time.

They did, however, make a trade for a veteran player, sending Mark Melancon to Boston for Jed Lowrie. Lowrie was 28 at the time and had played in parts of four seasons, but hadn’t managed to lock down a regular starting role. He had a breakout campaign in Houston as the full time shortstop, marred only by an ankle injury that cost him a few months.

During the season, the team basically traded away every notable holdover from the previous front office. Brett Myers went to the White Sox for three players (Chris Devenski being the most notable). Carlos Lee went to Miami for more than a straight salary dump. Wandy Rodriguez went to Pittsburgh.

There were also two notable moves that weren’t simply trading away older players. First, the new management apparently had thoughts on J.A. Happ similar to what I mentioned in Part 1, not helped by Happ’s performance since the trade taking a nosedive (or rather, his FIP was rather consistent, but his ERA jumped, likely due in part to pitching in front of a worse defense). He was packaged with David Carpenter (also see Part 1) and Brandon Lyon (another big free agent overpay) and sent to Toronto, in exchange for a seven-player package (although one of those was veteran Francisco Cordero, as part of a salary dump). A lot of those players didn’t pan out, although one of them was Joe Musgrove, who would play key roles on the 2017 squad before being dealt for Gerrit Cole.

The other was trading away Chris Johnson. I remember people making a bigger deal about this at the time, but in retrospect, he was a 27-year-old third baseman with a decent bat and a bad glove. He would play okay for Arizona down the stretch, then the D-backs would flip him and Justin Upton to Atlanta for a big package of players. The Braves would immediately sign him to a three-year deal, which would give them his single above-average season (by Baseball-Reference WAR, at least) and two bad ones. Given that, the Astros probably sold on him at close to peak value; the biggest gripe you could probably put on their side of this whole sequence was that the prospects they got for him didn’t really pan out, either.

2020 Orioles
-Preseason: Mark Trumbo departs as a free agent; Dylan Bundy traded away for prospects; Jonathan Villar waived and traded away; Signed Jose Iglesias, Wade LeBlanc, Tommy Milone
-Midseason: Traded away Rich Bleier, Mychal Givens, Tommy Milone, Miguel Castro for prospects

The Jose Iglesias signing was again one of a number of small pick-ups, and it was the most successful. Iglesias would have a strong season, the team would pick up his 2021 option, then ship the then-31-year-old shortstop to the Angels. That’s basically what you want rebuilding teams to do.

I don’t know what to make of the Dylan Bundy trade just yet; Bundy had long been a top prospect for the Orioles who the team had failed to develop to his full potential (maybe some of it is bad luck or something on the prospect’s end, but at this point, it’s happened so frequently that I just assume it’s due to the Orioles). His 2020 season with the Angels was so good that it got him Cy Young votes, but he struggled hard in 2021. I suppose we’ll see this year if ‘20 or ‘21 was the fluke, but either way, pitchers who look immediately better upon leaving Baltimore is a clear, frustrating trend.

The other two preseason deals really feel like they accentuate some of the difference in the Orioles’ and Astros’ strategies. Maybe Trumbo leaving was inevitable, as he wasn’t exactly some hot trade candidate; but then again, the Astros got something for Carlos Lee. Maybe it’s a shift in philosophy or a change in the league strategies or some other underlying change in attitudes, but it’s a difference all the same.

The other was the Villar dealings; Villar was arguably the best player on the 2019 Orioles, a shortstop who could handle the position and provide above-average offense. He was 28 and entering his final season of control, so he might not be a leader on the next Orioles winning team, but he should at least be able to fetch the team something in return if they shopped him around effectively. Instead, the team waived him at the end of November, basically guaranteeing they wouldn’t have him on the roster in two weeks time. Paying for his raise was never seriously under consideration.

With that, the Marlins were basically able to get him for very little, a former 14th round pick who the GM said could maybe be a back-end starter if he developed right. Because, again, if there’s one thing the Orioles have become synonymous with in recent memory, it’s properly developing their young pitching talents. Again, it’s hard not to look at this next to, say, the Lowrie deal in Houston; sure, he wasn’t going to be in Houston for the long-term either, but the team actually kept him around until they got something for him.

The reliever sell-off is what it is. A good bullpen wasn’t going to fix the other massive holes on this team; we’ll see if the prospects they got ever develop.

Monday, December 20, 2021

What Does the End of the Tanking & Rebuilding Process Look Like? Comparing the Orioles and the Astros, Part 1

I figured that, with the lockout, now would be a good time for an in-depth breakdown. However, this article got substantially longer than I originally planned.  I didn't want to cut any of the information out, and it's not like the lockout appears to be ending any time soon. So instead, I'll be running my whole breakdown in three parts over the next two weeks or so. Check back later in the week for the next part!

I’ve seen a few headlines about the Orioles and their plans for this winter. Most of them say that the team is unlikely to spend big in free agency this year, which… I suppose is understandable. They are a rebuilding team, after all, although something about it stuck in my brain.

But the more shocking reports say that they’re considering trading John Means, which in contrast, doesn’t seem like the type of move a rebuilding would make. Means, who turns 29 in April, has had about as strong first three years as a team could hope; he finished runner up in the 2019 Rookie of the Year race, he’s already been an all-star, he threw a no-hitter last season that might be the best game pitched in team history* (no small feat on a team with the pitching history of the O’s).

*If you go by Game Score, Means’s no-hitter had a score of 99, which as far as I can tell, is higher than any other pitching performance in team history. That’s not a bad opening argument in the discussion, at least!

We can’t really know how serious the team is about this; maybe they’re actively considering offers, or maybe it’s just the principle of “anyone can be moved if a team is willing to overpay enough”. But it did get me thinking about their larger rebuilding process, which has been going on since the trade deadline of the 2018 seasons. Here we are, three and a half years later; how far along should the team be at this point? Are they really still at the “trading away stars for prospects” stage? Or should they maybe be looking at picking up some free agents?

Each rebuild is of course different, and I’m no expert on prospect evaluation. But I did want to compare it to another major rebuild, that of the early 2010s Houston Astros. Partly because both teams started from a similar place, partly because I’m fairly familiar with the Astros’ rebuild, and partly (perhaps mostly?) because Orioles GM Mike Elias was a key part of the front office of those Astros teams. They won’t be identical, but we should see at least some overlap in strategy, right?

When comparing the two, it seemed like the best place to start was during the 2010 season for the Astros, and the 2018 season for the Orioles. That makes it easy to line both of them up chronologically (since we’d be starting at a trade deadline for each team), and both represent the point where both teams really started to dismantle their existing teams (including trades of Lance Berkman, Roy Oswalt, Manny Machado, and others). If we use that alignment, our general equivalencies in this scenario would be:


And as a reminder, 2015 was the year the Astros returned to the postseason as a Wild Card team. Of course, one major complicating factor here is that we didn’t lose most of the 2012 season to a pandemic like we did 2020, but there’s not a ton we can do about that other than to just keep it in mind. However, it’s also worth considering that the Elias administration in Baltimore got an earlier start on their project than Jeff Lunhow and company did in Houston; Ed Wade was the Astros’ GM through the 2011 season, while Elias was already in place for the 2019 Orioles season. I don’t know if those factors balance everything out perfectly, but at least it’s not extremely lopsided in one team’s favor, I suppose.

So, with that out of the way, how do these team’s seasons line up? And is there anything we can learn about where the Orioles should be in the process, and what they potentially should be doing this winter after the lockout?

Sunday, December 5, 2021

The 2022 Hall of Fame Season Starts with a Bang: Six Elected by Veterans Committee

Hall of Fame season is in full swing. The 2022 Baseball Writers ballot is out, and some voters have already submitted their vote (in fact, there are already 9 ballots in Ryan Thibodaux’s Ballot Tracker-and Scott Rolen already has one new voter!). And on Sunday evening, we got our first announcement of inductees for the 2022 Hall Class: the Veterans Committee would be adding six members to Cooperstown.

The selections came across two separate ballots. The Golden Days vote (covering 1950 to 1969) voted to induct Minnie Miñoso, Gil Hodges, Jim Kaat, and Tony Oliva,* while the Early Baseball vote (everything pre-1950) selected Buck O'Neil and Bud Fowler. I have long been critical of the Veterans Committee as an electoral process (for a fairly comprehensive list of reasons, this two-part series from earlier this year is a good starting place), so I want to congratulate them here: this is definitely a good result, in my opinion, even if it’s not perfect.

*Since I always talk about Retired Numbers, I will note here that Miñoso and Oliva are already honored by the White Sox and Twins, respectively. The Dodgers have a policy that a player must be in the Hall to be honored, which has long been the stumbling block for Hodges’s case. Either way, it’s worth noting that the Dodgers’ #14 and the Twins’ #36 were both absent from their rosters this past season, so maybe expect some movement there soon.

If you didn’t go back and re-read my old pieces, one major problem was that contrary to its reputation, the Veterans Committee had generally become too stingy in its inductions. For the last few years, they’ve started to reverse that trend and let in a number of players, including some strong snubs (and non-player Marvin Miller certainly fits into that category as well). Sure, not every induction was an overwhelming win, but I’ll take “correcting some errors and maybe inducting a few too many players” over “never inducting anyone” any day.

This year’s induction is firmly in that category. I even mentioned Miñoso and O’Neil as long-overdue snubs in that older piece that I linked. I am less familiar with Fowler’s case (pre-1900s baseball, especially the earliest days of the sport, is not my strongest sub-topic), but he also seems like a very strong choice. And I don’t know that Hodges, Kaat, or Oliva were my top choices on the Golden Days ballot, but I also think they’re all fine choices, and there are plenty of people who have long considered them snubs.

Perhaps the biggest key for Kaat and Oliva: they were two of the three candidates under consideration who were still alive (the other being Maury Wills). I am not surprised that either was inducted, as both long seemed to be the sorts of candidates who would make it eventually, for a variety of reasons. And if that’s going to be the case, it’s much better to honor them while they’re alive to enjoy it. Unfortunately, that might have been a factor that hurt Dick Allen, who fell one vote short of election following his death last year.

Which kind of gets us into the second half of this topic: this year’s veterans committee really did the best that they could working around the limitations of the system, but those limits were still very present, just out of sight.

For one example, let’s go back and look at the ballot math again. I feel like I break this example out all the time, and I’ll stop beating this drum once it stops being relevant. From the Hall’s press release, we have:

Golden Days Ballot
Minnie Miñoso: 14 votes
Gil Hodges, Jim Kaat, Tony Oliva: 12 votes
Dick Allen: 11 votes
Ken Boyer, Roger Maris, Danny Murtaugh, Billy Pierce, Maury Wills: less than 4 votes

The voting body was comprised of 16 people, so to reach the 75% needed for induction, a player needed 12 votes. Also keep in mind that the voters met and discussed the ballot prior to casting their votes; I wouldn’t be shocked if there had been some discussion of maximizing votes in this year’s discussion.

Because it is genuinely difficult to achieve a result like this in the current system absent that, especially when none of the candidates were unanimous. Voters only get 4 votes, so between 16 voters, there are only 64 total ballot spots to go around. The four inductees this year plus Allen combined for 61 of them. We fell one stray vote shy of the maximum possible inductees.

Which kind of just highlights what’s frustrating about the process. It’s really dumb that Allen falls one vote short again.* It’s also really dumb that the next chance anyone will have to adjust this problem is in five years, the next time the committee will tackle this era (which only serves to underline the importance of getting the living players in this time). And it’s really dumb that the only way to avoid this problem would have likely come at the expense of Hodges, Kaat, or Oliva, since I imagine there were some potential Allen voters who had him as their fifth choice, and would have had to cut someone else to make that happen.

*It last happened on the 2015 ballot. I will also take a brief moment to publicize this new and amazing tool by Hall of Fame experts Adam Darowski and Graham Womack, which is the most complete record of Veterans Committee ballots that exists.

The other ballot faced similar issues, but more extreme:

Early Baseball Ballot
Buck O’Neil: 13 votes
Bud Fowler: 12 votes
Vic Harris: 10 votes
John Donaldson: 8 votes
Allie Reynolds: 6 votes
Lefty O'Doul: 5 votes
George Scales: 4 votes
Bill Dahlen, Grant Johnson, Dick Redding: less than 4 votes

This is what happens with less coordination, you get a lot of spread out votes and fewer inductees. Of course, it’s hard to argue with any of them getting serious consideration; this was especially strong bunch, thanks in part to the renewed attention given to Negro Leagues stars following their recent official classification as Major Leagues (if you’d like to learn more about any of candidates, I highly recommend Jay Jaffe’s series over at Fangraphs). Of course, even more frustratingly, the next time any of these candidates will get another chance at consideration is in ten years (since the Early Baseball group meets even less frequently than the Golden Days one).

Even with all of those frustrations still present and looming over the proceedings, it’s hard to not take this as a win. Some great and deserving players finally got their due, that’s really the most important part; and the Veterans Committee seems to be moving far away from its worst instincts. Hopefully, things keep trending in the right direction and the Hall itself finally institutes some fixes to its process, but at least in the meantime, the voters seem to have recognized some issues and how they could work around them.

Monday, November 22, 2021

A Discussion on Carlos Correa's Free Agency (Plus Some Elaborations)

Over at The Crawfish Boxes, I participated on a site discussion about the Astros’ attempts to re-sign Carlos Correa. You should go check it out! And when you’re done, I have a few more thoughts over here, expanding on my part.

One thing that I mentioned was the idea that it’s better for team building to rely on one star rather than multiple players. It’s pretty generalized, but the example I included does a good job with it: one player worth 5 Wins Above Replacement is more valuable than two 2.5-WAR players, for the same reason those two players are better than five 1-WAR players.

Because it’s not just the one 5-WAR player you’re getting in the first scenario; you still have to fill those other roster spots that the two-player and five-player options. There’s no option to just run a 24-man or 22-man roster. And if you’ve done your job right, those other roster spots should be worth more than 0 Wins, so the actual trade-off is 2.5+2.5 versus 5+(something else).

Of course, the catch here is all hypothetical and cost-independent. When teams have managed to circumvent this, it’s been by more efficiently allocating the same resources. To provide another oversimplified example, if the team that goes for the 5-WAR player doesn’t know what they’re doing and does get a 0-Win player as back-up, while the 2.5-WAR players have higher ceilings (maybe they’re coming back from injury, or have untapped potential or something, so the 2.5 estimate is inaccurate). Of course, that’s a trade-off that will depend heavily on the specifics.

That’s part of the problem with the shortstop question here. We don’t really know the cost specifics yet. Free agent negotiations are complicated. Carlos Correa might want a Lindor-size deal, like Cody reported in the original article, but he’s not the only party deciding this. Another team has to decide to give him that, and while there are other teams trying to sign him to bid the eventual winner up, there are also plenty of other shortstop options for those other teams to consider this winter, including Corey Seager, Marcus Semien, Trevor Story, and Javier Báez. And of course, we largely aren’t going to be privy to any of these processes.

We are dealing with a lot of unknown variables here*, which is why I tend to retreat to the abstracts for now. Or, like I pose during the article itself, it’s especially easy to say “I don’t want Correa Correa at $300 million over ten years, let’s just sign Trevor Story instead” when you don’t actually know what the market for Story is. We can make guesses, like maybe Story will sign for below-market because of his 2021 season, but there might be multiple teams who have that same thought and bid him up anyway (especially if all of them think he’ll bounce back, which might in turn improve his ask).

*And none of this is even getting into whatever changes to the game’s financial structures the new CBA institutes. I’ll be working with what’s in place when necessary for lack of a better option, but the main balance I’ll be getting at is the balance of Player Value versus Dollars Spent, which should be relatively unaffected by any changes.

So, as an outside observer with few specifics, I tend to go with the broadest case; sign the best player you can. In that regard, Seager (who’s a year older) is the only one who matches Correa in peak and age, even with both of their injury concerns. Semien has matched their peaks, especially recently, but he’s four years older than Correa, so any deal for him will be missing out on his ages 27 through 30 seasons and likely comes with more risk as a result. Story and Baez are both two seasons older (so again, you’re losing two peak seasons to work with), and you need to contend with their own questions (Story’s downturn last year, Baez’s lack of a batting eye). Maybe one of them sees their price drop as a result of those issues, maybe there’s something teams see in them that make their specific risks manageable, but again it’s hard to know all of that right now.

And for my final point of the article, there really isn’t anyone like Correa or Seager for the next few years. I had to do a brief scan in real time to keep up with the discussion, but even with more time to go over it, the pickings look pretty slim. Here’s the 2022-23 Free Agent Class; the only players with recent MVP-level performance (leaving aside the players with options, since those will likely be picked up) are Trea Turner and Aaron Judge. Turner as a free agent will be three years older than Correa as a free agent, so you’re again missing out on three peak seasons in whatever deal he signs (in addition to not having a star in his spot for the 2022 season). Judge is a year older than Turner.

The next year is a stronger class, but there isn’t a clear better choice. José Ramírez and Matt Chapman are the most obvious picks, but they’ll be coming off their age thirty seasons (so again, you’re missing out on four years in your deal and forgoing a star for the next two seasons). Cody Bellinger will be 27, but has… whatever has been his issue for the last two seasons; even if he returns to MVP-form, I’d find this two-year valley much more worrisome than Correa or Seager’s injuries. Maybe Manny Machado will opt out of his deal following his age-30 season, but I certainly wouldn’t be putting all my eggs in that basket this early.

(I guess if you make it to 2025, you have a shot at 26-year-old Juan Soto, but even then, you’re gambling on the Nationals not locking him up before then, on top of all other uncertainty that comes with being a free agent deal that will not be starting until four seasons from now. And for the Astros, at that point, Kyle Tucker and Yordan Álvarez’s free agencies will be looming in the next winter, although Jose Altuve and Alex Bregman’s deals will be coming off the books at that point as well.)

As I said in the piece, if it makes you feel better, you can think of it as an incentive to spend on Correa now; there are no stars like him the next few years, no one to worry about missing out on in the meantime. Absent the specifics of the negotiations (a big asterisk, to be sure), there’s no reason not to be trying hard to lock him up right now.