November 6, 2013
ďThe first player thrown in this 2014 XFL draft is roto-fanboy favorite and primary reason the Washington Nationals did not make the playoffs - Dan Haren, for $5.Ē
It was intended as a joke. Granted, I had just landed in Phoenix not two hours before after traveling for 7 hours, and I was running on 2 hours sleep so the joke was probably funnier in my head. And itís true that Dan Haren was dreadful for the first half of last season and that the Nationals never really recovered from it. Truth be told, however, their offense didnít really get on track until August and that losing Mike Morse at the plate and in the clubhouse created a bigger void than the addition of Denard Span could offset. But I honestly expected that people would only chortle or at least titter a little at my commentary, and then erupt into terse bout of bidding that would culminate in a winning bid of at least $9 for a pitcher who over the last 5 years has averaged about a $15 salary.
However there was only silence.
I quickly checked the piece of paper that listed all of the payers who were eligible for this draft to make sure that Dan Haren was indeed a free agent and available for bidding.
My strategy had been to throw him out at the mid-range of his perceived value coming off a down year to see how aggressively teams would a) go after pitching since there were 73 pitching slots open to begin the draft, and b) how much weight the bidding would be on players who were coming off down years but had given reason for optimism with strong second half performances.
Good grief, I thought to myself, is this really happening? Or am I actually still asleep on the airplane and this is just a dream. Quick, check to see if I am wearing pants.
Even the crickets were quiet now.
Surely someone would be interested in Dan Harenís second half where he posted a 1.04 WHIP. Was there breaking news of an injury? Did his arm fall off? Did his back explode? Had zombies eaten his brain?
ďSold, Dan Haren for $5 to Wood.Ē
So this is how my defense of the 2013 XFL championship began. With crickets. Somewhere Sam Walker is snickering and patting himself on the back with a cloven hoof.
By the end, it didnít turn out to be too bad of a draft. It just seemed awful at that moment. And as most drafts are, there are large swings in emotion caused by a number of reasons: getting a player for less than one expected, missing out on a highly-desired player, etc. And the feeling one has walking away when the draft is over is more or less an amplified version of the feelings one has about the last player rostered. If he was someone you really wanted, then the draft went great. If he was less than a second choice than the draft was a disaster. Mine, well, Iíll let you decide.
So without further adieu, here are the players I acquired and my reasoning behind taking them:
Derek Norris, $1: he was one of four catchers I had targeted who had good on-base skills and decent power potential. I had entertained thoughts of re-rostering Joe Mauer fairly inexpensively, thinking that the uncertainty surrounding his concussion would scare people away. When his price went flying past $20 it was time to look at Plan B. Iíve been a Norris-booster for a while and his performance after the All-Star break last year - .333/.400/.556 Ė was a signal to me that now might be a good time to acquire him. I was fortunate that he was available late when most of the catching spots on other rosters had already been filled.
Brad Miller, $10: There were about a half dozen middle infielders I was interested in and foremost among them was Aaron Hill. But when his salary went to my limit ($18) and I still had much of my roster still to fill with big ticket items, I withdrew to go with another Plan B player. Iím not disappointed, as Miller is a shortstop with decent power, a modicum of speed and his career on base in the minors was .409. Spread over three levels last year he hit 23 doubles, 20 homers, 8 triples and stole 11 bases. He doesnít posses exciting tools but like Andrelton Simmons last year he plays well enough to keep the job for a full season.
BJ Upton, $11: I really like BJ Upton coming off a down year for several reasons: 1) the Braves have invested a lot in him and will do everything they can to make sure he doesnít repeat last yearís performance, 2) players often suffer a down year after signing their first big contract but bounce back to previous levels once the pressure of high expectations is off, and 3) the last time he had a year remotely as bad as last year he came back with a .300/.386/.508 slashline with 24 homers and 22 steals. He has the talent to produce some impressive numbers; itís just a matter of getting his head right.
Coco Crisp, $21: Iíve always been a little cuckoo for Coco but I have no illusions about his power outburst in 2013 being the shape of things to come. I am hoping that he reverts to his 15 homer/30 steal old self. Curtis Granderson was the other outfielder I was considering but when his name came up I still had a few pitching slots to fill and there was a lot of competition for the top names and a lot of money still on the table. I did not want to risk losing out on everything so I passed on Granderson, got my pitchers and lucked into Coco.
Dan Haren, $5: As noted before, Haren wasnít in my plans. However, his second half performance is noteworthy and if his back is fully healthy and he can continue on that pace, this might be a steal. Heís a free agent so I hope his agent is scouting only the teams with the best chiropractors on staff.
CC Sabathia, $8: This was another Haren-type selection. I was very surprised he didnít get more interest (at least into double digit dollars) and ended up with the winning bid. Sabathia had a down year all around and I am hoping his drop in velocity over the past couple years is largely due to the fatigue of pitching an extra 20-30 innings in the post-season every year. That was something that the Braves trio of Hall of Famers Ė Maddux, Glavine and Smoltz Ė often mentioned as one of their biggest challenges year after year: overcoming the fatigue from the extra work in the post-season. Heíll get an extra month of rest this offseason so it will be worth watching if his old velocity or some semblance of it returns next spring. If not, I have very little optimism that this was nothing more than a wasted pick. If it does return, however, this could turn out really nice.
Josh Johnson, $1: Johnson was purely a speculative play. Just about everything that could go wrong statistically in 2013 did. His BABIP and homers per flyball were way up and strand rate was way down, all of which resulted in an ERA north of 6.00. However, his expected fielding independent pitching shows his ERA should have been about 3.60. He didnít show any drop in velocity and the arm problem that ultimately shelved him was forearm stiffness, not his elbow or shoulder. Granted, that could be a symptom of a more significant problem but to date it doesnít look like it was a serious issue. More will be known once he resumes throwing. But assuming he takes his free agency back to the National League, presumably on an incentive-laden deal, this could be a nice play. When heís been healthy heís been one of the best starting pitchers in baseball.
Scott Kazmir, $1: This one really surprised me. I was expecting to pay as much as $10 for him. Despite not making the Indians team out of spring training, he was one of the American League leaders in Game Score 60+ games. A game score of 60 or better generally denotes a game in which a pitcher performed exceptionally well. Of Kazmirís 29 starts, 13 of them scored 60 or better. What makes him very intriguing is that the reason for his bad starts was painfully obvious: when he kept the ball on the ground, he was great but when he elevated and gave up a majority of flyballs, he got hammered. Over the second half of the season, he kept it down in the strikezone. His ERA dropped a full run (3.38) and his strikeout-to-walk ratio increased to 4.82 Ks per walk. In September he was even better, striking out 43 while walking only 4. Perhaps most importantly, the velocity on his fastball returned to what it was during his peak seasons with the Rays. If he ends up pitching for a National League team next season, he might have a season comparable to that which CC Sabathia enjoyed when he was in Milwaukee.
Joaquin Soria, $3: This was another speculative play. The Rangers are one of several teams that are willing to take their chances on a closer and wonít pay top dollar to sign a premier free agent for the job. Joe Nathan is a free agent and will probably price himself out of their market, so his likely successor will come from someone already on the roster. Alexi Ogando is one possibility as is Tanner Scheppers. Neftali Feliz spent a season closing but melted down in the World Series and doesnít appear to have the mental foritude for the job. But Soria, who was signed for two years with the idea that he could close should Joe Nathan not return to form, could be the guy. He had the best strikeout rate of anyone in the bullpen and his velocity is almost 100% back to what it was in Kansas City.
Ernesto Frieri, $10: Iím not sure why the Angels continue to fidget with their closer position. Frieri has good velocity and a great strikeout pitch, and his strikeout numbers reflect that. He had two meltdowns that resulted in 8 earned runs being scored in 1 inning pitched last year. Without those two games, his ERA for 2013 would have been 2.79, which is not too far off what heís posted in each of the previous three years. He looked reasonably solid in August and September (combined 3.08 ERA over 23.67 innings with 32 Ks versus 4 walks and a WHIP of 0.971) so I am hoping the Angels will find better things to do with their time this winter than look for a new closer. They certainly have plenty of needs that are more pressing to be addressed.
And last but perhaps not least, Geovanny Soto, $2: This one Iím scratching my head on, too. Yes, it is a good idea to have three or four catchers for the long haul and yes, Soto was ranked 3rd overall in baseball in wOBA over the second half of last season, trailing only Jayson Werth and Mike Trout. And he does have some history of solid performance at the major league level, although that was back in 2008-2010. But, honestly, my brain just shorted out when his name was thrown out. The guy I was thinking of when Ron Shandler tossed out was Dionner Navarro. I thought since Ron needed a catcher he would at least go to $3. I was wrong. What makes it worse is that I still had $20 to spend on a utility spot with players like Victor Martinez, Rickie Weeks, Marlon Byrd, Angel Pagan, Chris Johnson, Derek Jeter, Mike Moustakas, etc yet to be thrown. If Soto returns to his peak then it wonít have been a wasted opportunity. Otherwise, Iím going to blame a lack of sleep.
I take great comfort in knowing that any of my obvious blunders can be at least partially corrected in the spring draft. Hereís hoping for a beneficial hot stove season and a lot more sleep before then.