Saturday, August 21, 2010

Was Dan Duquette Right?

Roger Clemens is back in the news. Federal indictments and the threat of jail time seem to do that. Clemens has been charged with one count of obstruction of Congress, three counts of false statements to Congress, and two counts of perjury. There are six counts in all and each count is a felony, which is punishable by five years each for a grand total of up to 30 years in prison. Clemens and his trusty attorney, Rusty Hardin, have their work cut out for them. The question I keep having is: "Where did Roger Clemens go wrong?" Was he always a steroid user? Was his 1984 Rookie of the Year and 1986 Cy Young and MVP Awards tainted as much as his Cy Youngs he won in Toronto (1997-98), the Bronx (2001), and Houston (2004)? His major league total of 354 wins cannot be ignored, nor can his total of more than 4,600 strikeouts. Like Barry Bonds, his career records demand that you talk about him.

Did Clemens go wrong after he left the Red Sox? Boston General Manager Dan Duquette made his infamous quote that Clemens was in the "twilight of his career" when the Sox could not re-sign Clemens. It has been 14 years since the quote and does not look nearly as bad as it was portrayed by the media to be. What's more, Duquette may have been exactly right. 

Clemens's next contract ended up paying Clemens $52.15 million over six years for a per-season average of $8.69 million. Up to Duquette's comment, Clemens had been averaging about $5 million a season over the last few seasons with the Red Sox. One thing is for sure, Duquette only needed to look at the back of Clemens's baseball card to surmise he may have been washed up. Would you offer Clemens 60% more money for the next five years if his last four seasons looked like this?

Down the stretch in his final season in Boston, he tied his own Major League record by striking out 20 Tigers in one game. He led the league in strikeouts in 1996 and strike-shortened 1994 season was solid. But, his 1993 season (4.46 ERA) and his 1995 season (1.436 WHIP) were awful by his standards. Clemens blew up at the Duquette's accusation and looked like it was the main motivating factor to pressing on to his next stop. Toronto, in the same division as Boston, was a perfect place for Clemens to plot his revenge. After two Cy Young seasons in Toronto, he was traded to the Yankees, where he pitched for another five seasons. It was seven seasons of revenge for Clemens within the division against the Red Sox and their fans, who turned against him. Was his career renaissance based on adrenaline and revenge or was it based on something more?

In his 13 seasons with the Red Sox, Clemens had five "great" seasons and three more "good" seasons. Was Clemens a Hall of Famer? At the time, no. He was 192-111 with a 3.06 ERA. Not bad, and his 2,590 strikeouts would garner some votes. At the age of 33, he would have pitched a few more seasons and may have had a slight uptick before the inevitable pre-Steroid Era mid-30s age-induced decline. I am sure you can determine the average decline for a major leaguer and even though Clemens was above-average, how many more wins would he have? 40? 50? Clemens would have stuck around on the ballot for several years, but he would not have made the Hall of Fame.

After Boston, Clemens pitched 11 more seasons following his 33rd birthday. His career numbers with Boston and after Boston show some similarities. The hits he allowed per nine innings stayed about the same, as he allowed 7.6 hits per nine innings in his Boston years and 7.7 hits per nine after he left. His strikeouts per nine went up from 8.4 in Boston to 8.8 in his post-Boston career. Considering the explosion of offensive numbers in the Steroid Era, the fact that Clemens's ERA only went up by 0.15 earned runs per nine innings is suspicious.

All Duquette was saying was Clemens was entering the type of decline that was common for players his age to encounter during the life of that next contract. Adrenaline and revenge are a potent mix, but steroids and HGH have a little more staying power.


Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Kovalchuk's Box

Before Pandora was a planet in Avatar, or a cool iPhone app, it was a box that you did not want to open. The meaning is the same across the board. In Avatar, Pandora was a planet that humans should not have trolled. The iPhone app, like many others, is an addictive time waster. Ilya Kovalchuk’s first Devils contract, rumored to be a 17-year deal worth $102 million, was denied by an arbitrator last week after being challenged by the NHL. Kovalchuk is a free agent again, but the NHL may not be stopping there.

Four other contracts have been rumored to be called into question as Kovalchuk-like contracts, or as Justin Bourne calls them, “Kovalcontracts”. Three of the four “Kovalcontracts” are contract extensions that take effect this upcoming season. These contract extensions belong to the Bruins’ Marc Savard, the Flyers’ Chris Pronger, and the Canucks’ Roberto Luongo. One other contract is already underway: the Blackhawks’ Marian Hossa. These contracts were picked from the litter because of their similar structure, but how alike are they?

First, the structure of the Ilya Kovalchuk’s denied contract that was offered by the Devils:
  • 2010-11 through 2011-12 (2 seasons): $6 million per season
  • 2012-13 through 2016-18 (6 seasons): $11.5 million per season
  • 2018-19 (1 season): $7.5 million
  • 2019-20 (1 season): $6.5 million
  • 2020-21 (1 season): $3.5 million
  • 2021-22 (1 season): $750,000
  • 2022-27 (5 seasons): $550,000
The key issues with this contract is the term, which would expire in 2027 when Kovalchuk was 44 years old, and the precipitous drop-off of dollars during the back-end of the contract. The loophole in the Collective Bargaining Agreement is that if a player retires, the cap hit is removed from the team. With the average salary number constituting the cap hit, back-loading these contracts are a nice way for the team to pay out more money than is counted against the team’s ability to sign players. A provision was put into the CBA to count the cap hit for a retired player if the deal takes effect after the player turns 35 years old. However, for these ultra-long-term deals that take effect before the player turns 35, ultimately eschewing future free agency and causing a marriage between team and player, the loophole exists and it has been exploited by NHL franchises.

If we dissect Kovalchuk’s denied contract, the first year is an “average” year by this contract’s standards, as $6 million is the average of the 17-year/$102 million deal. The number goes up to $11.5 million (+91.7% change from previous season), which would be somewhere near a “max” contract the NHL would allow, which is 20% of the salary cap figure for a season. The salary cap is at $59.4 million for the 2010-11 season and $11.5 million works out to 19.4% of the total cap number. Conceivably, this number may change, as the salary cap is redefined from year to year and the provision may change for the next labor contract, which would take effect no earlier than the 2012-13 season. A drop-off to $7.5 million (-34.8% change from previous season) and $6.5 million in consecutive seasons is not that appalling, considering Kovalchuk would be aged 36 and 37, respectively.

The drop-off between season 11 of the deal is worse, as Kovalchuk’s pay would fall from $6.5 million to $3.5 million in 2020-21 (-46.2% from previous season), almost halving his salary. The final thud in the contract is the following season (2021-22), when the pay falls from the millions to the hundreds of thousands, from $3.5 million to $750,000 (-78.6% from previous season). This was the eye-opener and, more so than the length of the deal, should have caused the NHL to have heart palpitations. If the Devils offered similar dollars throughout the life of the ultra-long-term deal, such as what the Islanders offered goaltender Rick DiPietro, the NHL would most likely not have investigated the legality of the contract. It was the lower amount of money in the final six seasons of the contract that was most responsible for its rejection. With the diminutive salary figures in years 12 through 17 of the contract, there was an overwhelming probability Kovalchuk would retire before playing out the contract, as only a handful of players have still played the game at the highest level at the age of 44.

Also, after 11 years of the deal, 96.6% of the total dollars in the deal were paid out. At that point, the percentage of length of the contract (64.7%) was greatly outpaced by the percentage of total dollars paid by that point in the contract. The difference between the two percentages was 31.9%, which is staggering and defines a “front-loaded” contract. Think of it as a rollercoaster. You start to climb the initial hill, and the higher you go, the more you will have to have to fall quickly at the end of the ride because the start and the end of the ride has to be at the same height. If a player makes the same amount for an entire contract, the rollercoaster is completely level. A perfectly acceptable contract is one where the first couple of years are a little less than average, the middle of the contract is a little more than average, and the last couple of years are a little less than average. This makes for a nice hill in the middle for a very easy-going coaster. Kovalchuk’s contract has a rapid rise and an even more extreme fall.

The NHL drew the line in the sand for these types of contracts, sure to be addressed in the next labor agreement. In the meantime, executives, player agents, and fans can only guess where that line truly is.

For term, let’s draw the line in the sand at 40 years old, beyond which the term would be prohibitively long for the realistic possibility of a player fulfilling the length of the contract, never mind the difficult task in finding someone to insure the guaranteed contract. For dollars, let’s raise the red flag when the drop-off of any year-over-year salary is more than half of the previous season’s salary. For the variance between term and money paid out to that point in the contract, let’s set the variance at 25%, by which if it reaches this number or goes over, we will call it a “front-loaded” contract.

Kovalchuk’s denied contract hits all of these sweet spots: the term concludes when Kovalchuk is 44 years old and season 12 of the 17-year deal caused a 78.6% drop-off. For Kovalchuk, Years 1 and 2 were level and Year 3 started the climb up to Year 10. Year 11 started the downward spiral and Years 12 through 16 represented a free fall. For the five seasons that represent Years 7 through 11 of the deal, the variance between term and money paid out to that point in the contract is over 25%.

Now, to the other four player contracts questioned as a result of the denial of Kovalchuk’s contract:

Marc Savard (Bruins) - 7 years/$28.05 million extension taking effect in 2010-11
  • 2010-11 through 2011-12 (2 seasons): $7 million per season
  • 2012-13 (1 season): $6.5 million
  • 2013-14 (1 season): $5 million
  • 2014-15 (1 season): $1.5 million
  • 2015-16 through 2016-17 (2 seasons): $525,000
  • The line in the sand: Term (39 y.o. at end of deal), Dollars (2014-15 is a 70% drop-off, 2015-16 is a 65% drop-off), Front-Loading (2012-13: 30.2%, 2013-14: 33.8%)
  • Prediction: The drop-offs in this contract is enough cause for this contract to be DENIED. The Bruins are looking to trade him, so if this is denied, it may work out in the Bruins’ favor, who are trying to get under the salary cap.
Chris Pronger (Flyers) – 7 years/$34.45 million extension taking effect in 2010-11
  • 2010-11 through 2011-12 (2 seasons): $7.6 million per season
  • 2012-13 (1 season): $7.2 million
  • 2013-14 (1 season): $7 million
  • 2014-15 (1 season): $4 million
  • 2015-16 through 2016-17 (2 seasons): $525,000
  • The line in the sand: Term (42 y.o. at end of deal), Dollars (2015-16 is a 86.9% drop-off – worse than Kovalchuk), Front-Loading (2013-14: 28.2%)
  • Prediction: The extension was signed before Pronger turned 35, but the extension takes effect around his 36th birthday. So, retirement will not ease the burden of the cap hit, but the drop-off is worse than Kovalchuk, as the final two years of the deal are about one-eighth of the fifth season’s salary. I am predicting this will be DENIED on those grounds.
Roberto Luongo (Canucks) – 12 years/$63.9 million extension taking effect in 2010-11
  • 2010-11 (1 season): $10 million
  • 2011-12 through 2017-18 (7 seasons): $6.7 million per season
  • 2018-19 (1 season): $3.4 million
  • 2019-20 (1 season): $1.6 million
  • 2020-21 through 2021-22 (2 seasons): $1 million per season
  • The line in the sand: Term (43 y.o. at end of deal), Dollars (2019-20 is a 52.9% drop-off), Front-Loading (no seasons above 25%; highest percentage in 2017-18: 22.4%)
  • Prediction: I think this will be APPROVED because though the deal goes until Luongo turns 43, the drop-off is smooth enough to be approved.
Marian Hossa (Blackhawks) – 12 years/$63.3 million new contract starting in 2009-10
  • 2009-10 through 2015-16 (7 seasons): $7.9 million per season
  • 2016-17 (1 season): $4 million
  • 2017-18 through 2020-21 (4 seasons): $1 million per season
  • The line in the sand: Term (39 y.o. at end of deal), Dollars (2014-15 is a 70% drop-off, 2015-16 is a 65% drop-off), Front-Loading (2012-13: 30.2%, 2013-14: 33.8%)
  • Prediction: The drop-off of the dollars is enough to deny the contract. The contract is also excessively front-loaded, which is also grounds for dismissal. But, the biggest sticking point of this or any contract under suspicion is that one year has already been played under this agreement. If they reverse the validity of this contract, the Blackhawks would have played the 2009-10 season with an illegal player for 57 games, in which the Blackhawks earned 77 points (36-16-5), not to mention the 16 wins in 22 games in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. If they deny this, expect fire and brimstone from just about everyone. So, I predict the NHL will figure that “discretion is the better part of valor” and APPROVE the contract.
It is very conceivable that the Marc Savard and Chris Pronger contracts could be overturned.  I think the other two will be upheld.  Roberto Luongo's deal is the lightest offender of the four and Marian Hossa has already played a season under his crazy contract.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Sports With The StatMan #72: Show Notes

We analyzed the rivalry series of the past weekend (Red Sox/Yankees, Mets/Phillies). The Sox are keeping pace and inching closer to Tampa for the Wild Card. The Rookie of the Year races were spotlighted in the AL and NL. Also, Jets camp is a soap opera perfect for Hard Knocks. And, we kicked off our 2010 StatMan NFL Preview with a look at the NFC West and AFC West.

This is a new way of putting together the notes for our show.  Instead of summarizing the show, I will try to break the show down into smaller pieces so you can listen to the segments of the show that interest you.  

Here is the list of topics we talked about:
  • 00:00-00:30 - Show Intro
  • 00:30-12:00 – Two rivalry series over the weekend
    • 00:30 – Phillies take two of three from the Mets at Citi Field
    • 04:30 – Red Sox split at Yankee Stadium
    • 10:00 – Terry Francona has kept the Red Sox in the race
  • 12:00-14:00 – On Tap: Around the League
  • 14:00-18:00 – On Tap: Jets talk and 2010 StatMan NFL Preview begins
  • 18:00-24:30 – On Tap: Kovalchuk is a free agent again; possible ramifications for the Devils
  • 24:30-29:00 – Show Information: upcoming episodes, how to find the show, recent blog posts
  • 29:00-31:30 – Red Sox upcoming series and pitching probables
  • 31:30-35:45 – Yankees upcoming series and pitching probables
  • 35:45-42:30 – More Phillies-Mets talk: Mets bullpen issues
  • 42:30-44:30, 46:00-46:30 – Mets upcoming series and pitching probables
  • 44:30-46:00 – Phillies upcoming series and pitching probables
  • 46:00-57:00 – MLB: Around the League
    • 46:30 – Big Series in the next week
    • 48:15 – Cardinals-Reds brawling at the top of the NL Central
    • 50:15 – AL Central foes Twins-White Sox are very similar teams
    • 51:00 – Strasburg returns and gets pounded by the Marlins
    • 52:15 – Rookie of the Year races in AL/NL
  • 57:00-1:00:45 – Show Recap and Information: how to get in touch with the show
  • 1:00:45-1:35:15 – 2010 StatMan NFL Preview (2009 actual record/2010 predicted record)
    • 1:00:45 – NFC West: Arizona (10-6/7-9) – Is it finally time for Matt Leinart?
    • 1:05:00 – NFC West: St. Louis (1-15/5-11) – How good a pro will Sam Bradford be?
    • 1:08:15 – NFC West: San Francisco (8-8/8-8) – How will Michael Crabtree fare in his first full season?
    • 1:10:30 – NFC West: Seattle (5-11/6-10) – Will Pete Carroll bring his USC success to the Pacific Northwest?
    • 1:14:00 – NFC West recap
    • 1:14:30 – AFC West: Denver (8-8/8-8) – How will Elvis Dumervil’s injury impact Denver’s defense?
    • 1:20:00 – AFC West: Kansas City (4-12/6-10) – Will the running back by committee work in Kansas City?
    • 1:23:45 – AFC West: Oakland (5-11/5-11) – What will Al Davis do next?
    • 1:28:15 – AFC West: San Diego (13-3/12-4) – Can Phillip Rivers finally get it done?
    • 1:33:45 – Big Questions recap, predicted standings, next week’s preview
  • 1:35:15-1:36:00 – Show Information
  • 1:36:00-1:43:45 – MLB: Fantasy Update – Last 7 days (Carlos Gonzalez/Brandon Morrow), Season-to-date (Albert Pujols/Adam Wainwright)
  • 1:43:45-1:46:15 – Show Close: Recap and Next Week’s Preview
Join us for our next episode (#73) of "Sports With The StatMan" on Wednesday, August 18th, at 9pm Eastern on BlogTalkRadio.  The ways to find the show are:
  • Show page:
  • iTunes: type in "Sports With The StatMan" in the search
Also, follow the show on Twitter ( and read the Random Musings blog (

Friday, August 13, 2010

Have Injuries Taken Their Toll?

There has been a lot of talk about the devastating injuries that have befallen the Red Sox and Phillies. Despite it all, both teams are not only alive, they are well in the chase for their respective Wild Card and division leads. But, how many injuries have they really had through the first four months? compiled a list of man-games lost from injury by each major league team and the results might surprise you. In games through Sunday, August 8th, the Red Sox are not first, second, or third in man-games lost, but their players have lost more time than any of the other local teams. The Red Sox place fourth behind Oakland (909 man-games), Washington (885), and the Los Angeles Angels (686) with 672 man-games lost this year from 18 players. The 18 players that have missed time are second in baseball behind Oakland (20). The amount of players is more concerning because of how pervasive the injury big has bitten the Red Sox this season. Three of their starting staff has spent time on the DL, as only Jon Lester and John Lackey have avoided injured status. The right side of the infield has missed significant time and Kevin Youkilis will make sure the amount of man-games lost will be at least one per game, as he is out for the rest of the season. The one healthy starting outfielder in the early part of the season was the perennially fragile J.D. Drew.

Still, even with all of these injuries, as of Wednesday, the Red Sox (66-49) were five games behind the Yankees (70-43) for not only the American League East lead, but also the best record in baseball. The Sox are 17 games over .500 with players like Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury, Josh Beckett, and Victor Martinez missing significant time. Of these four, everyone but Pedroia is back and the second baseman may return as soon as this Sunday. Yes, the Red Sox have some injuries, but Youkilis and Mike Cameron are the only current DLers that play pivotal roles on the team.

The Phillies have seemingly have had more injury issues than anyone, but look at’s list and the Phillies are only tied for 17th in baseball in man-games lost with 402 games. They have the second-fewest amount of man-games lost per player (23.65), which means that the Phillies have had a lot of players with injuries to make up those 402 games. Philadelphia is tied for third with 17 players, one less than Boston’s 18 players. So, the injuries have been just about as pervasive, but they have not missed nearly as much time as the infirmed Red Sox players. The right side of the Philadelphia infield is currently down in Ryan Howard and Chase Utley. The rest of the infield has had stints on the DL, including Jimmy Rollins, who missed a month of time twice this year. While the top of the Phillies starting rotation has been safe, Jamie Moyer is out for the year and the bullpen has been in shambles with either Brad Lidge or Ryan Madson being out for the first half of the year. But, Chase Utley has been cleared to swing a bat, Ryan Howard is returning next week, and Shane Victorino will return to the lineup on Thursday. Moyer’s elbow injury is the only season-ending injury and the Phillies should be well by September.

The Phillies (63-50), despite these injuries, are only 2½ games out in the National League East and a single game behind San Francisco for the Wild Card. The bullpen is pitching better than they have all year. The team turned a negative with Moyer’s injury to a positive by acquiring Roy Oswalt at the deadline.

The comparison between the two teams shows that while the Phillies have had their share of injuries, the Red Sox have been hit harder by their bumps and bruises and have persevered better through it all. But, the Phillies will most likely be healthier in September and are more poised to make a postseason run because of the division in which they play.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Flying Off The Rails

The 2010 season for the New York Mets has been a rollercoaster.  The fans have been taken for a ride and I am not just talking about the sky-high ticket and concession prices.  The season started terribly as they started off 4-8 when they returned from a road trip to face the Chicago Cubs.  Enter Ike Davis.  Davis was a defensive whirling dervish early, as his patented flip into the Citi Field first-base dugout became commonplace.  The Mets were hot and catapulted themselves into first place before the end of April riding an eight-game winning streak.  The Phillies came into town as the calendar turned to May and embarrassed the Mets’ two hottest starters in Mike Pelfrey and Johan Santana.  The Mets limped along for most of May until the final two games of the first Subway Series against the Yankees.  Two wins there and a series shutout against the Phillies and the Mets were up and running again.  The high lasted until late June, as the Mets carried the play by starting the month 13-2 and entering the last series of the month 17-6.  But, the last series of the month was the only series outside of the United States.  The series in San Juan against the Marlins would become the turning point of the entire year to this point.

The Mets salvaged the last game of the three-game set, but the artificial turf was held responsible for Jose Reyes’s oblique injury, which included him going on the Disabled List and breaking the continuity to the lineup the Mets had enjoyed since Davis debuted in April.  From that fateful series in San Juan to the All-Star Break, the Mets were 0-3-1 in series, only gaining a split of a four-game series at Washington.  After the Break, the Mets hit the West Coast.  Those trips typically undo the Mets and the trip just about undid the 2010 season.  In San Francisco, the Mets were stymied by their talented starters and lost three of four, winning the last game on Sunday in extra innings that was only in extra innings because of a bad “out” call at home plate in the home ninth.  The hitters suffered in San Francisco and the whole team busted in Phoenix.  Arizona swept the Mets and set the tone in the first game with a 13-2 spanking by a last-place team against a road-weary Met squad.  In Los Angeles, Jason Bay suffered a concussion and has not returned since the diagnosis.  Neither have the Mets after losing three of four at Chavez Ravine.  They are 5-7 since the trip and have only won one series since San Juan.

From the highest of the highs in June to the lowest of the lows in San Juan and the West Coast, the rollercoaster season has now officially gone off the rails.  The Mets were not buyers nor were they sellers at the Trading Deadline, which left them in limbo and minimized whatever impact this deadline could give them, either for this season if they wanted to make a playoff push or for future seasons by netting prospects for use in the future.  The team that was supposed to compete at least for the Wild Card this year has been reduced to playing out the string and the questions are already being posed about why this happened.  Some picked the Mets to be a .500 team.  I picked them to win the Wild Card with 89 wins, which was a few games better than most prognosticators.  I based my prediction on several factors:
  • The acquisition of Jason Bay
  • The rebirth of David Wright and Jose Reyes
  • The maturation of Mike Pelfrey and Jonathon Niese
Jason Bay has been a disappointment in his first year.  Most free agents who come to New York need a year to get their feet wet.  Next year will be pivotal for Bay’s overall success in New York, but this year was a feeling out period for both the player and the fans.  David Wright has returned to his former self after psyching himself out of playing at the new Citi Field.  The poor production stayed with him on the road and in the field last year, and when you add a scary beaning by Matt Cain late last season, he had a lot to overcome.  Wright has come through valiantly this year.  Jose Reyes made a cameo last season and missed the first series of the year, but he has played well in May.  He has been streakier this year and his defense has hit a slump lately, but he is hardly the cause for the Mets’ overall struggles.

The real reason has been the pitching.  The problems have been the lack of execution by the staff and the lack of planning by General Manager Omar Minaya.  Mike Pelfrey started to be the number two pitcher he was slated to be last season and this season in April, but he started to teeter in May and fallen way off in June and July.  Since June 13, Pelfrey has had only one quality start in his next nine starts.  He is partly to blame for his rocky performance since May, but the problem really lies with Minaya.  You could look at Minaya’s inactivity to get an established top-of-the-rotation starter to slot behind Johan Santana in each of the last two offseasons and the last two trading deadlines as a challenge made to Pelfrey to mature before our eyes.  You could also look at the inaction as making the best of a bad situation.  But, there is no reason why the Mets have to be in a bad situation.  Minaya was the one who put the Mets in the bad situation.  The Mets have one of the highest payrolls in baseball and Minaya used $36 of that payroll over three years to sign Oliver Perez before last season.  Even at his best, he would never be considered a number two starter.  For what Perez has actually been, he deserves to pitch every fifth day in Triple-A Buffalo.

Jonathan Niese has done the opposite of Pelfrey, starting slowly and really coming on since a stint on the Disabled List in late May.  As of his most recent start on August 6th, he was 6-3 since returning from the DL with 9 of 12 starts being a quality one and allowing more than three earned runs only twice in that span.  He has been a bright spot on the staff along with R.A. Dickey, but they are mid-rotation pitchers.  The Mets have watched the Phillies trade for Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay, and Roy Oswalt in the last 12 months while holding on to their top prospect, Dominic Brown.  The Mets may not have had the minor league talent to make those deals, or maybe the Mets wanted to hold on to their talent, but you could say the Mets were two arms away from factoring in this year’s pennant race: an established starter and an eighth-inning reliever.  Those arms did not have to be attained this past July.  The seeds for this failure were sown a year and a half ago.  By now, the pitcher would have been in his second season in New York, acclimated to the media, the new ballpark, and the demanding fans.  

The time has already passed for this season’s team.  Who knows if Ike Davis, Jonathon Niese, Ruben Tejada, Jenrry Mejia, Fernando Martinez, or Josh Thole will have a big impact on the big-league club or will be used as trading chips down the line, but the Mets gave up their 2010 season because they are betting on their upside.

Stay or Go: 2010 MLB Trading Deadline

On the Sports With The StatMan show before the MLB Trading Deadline (#69, 7/23/10), we played “Stay or Go” and predicted which players rumored in trade talks would stay with their clubs or change teams at the deadline. A lot of big names were rumored to be traded and we had our share of deals made, especially right up against the deadline, but I expected more movement of big names. Overall, I was 10-4 on my predictions.

Here is the list we discussed on the show. First, the players I thought would STAY with their current teams:
  • Roy Oswalt: I predicted he would STAY with the Astros because I thought the asking price was too high. (GO: He was traded to the Phillies in the biggest deal of deadline week.)
  • Dan Haren: I predicted he would STAY with the Diamondbacks because of his no-trade clause including several contending teams. (GO: The Angels traded for Haren, which may not have helped their pennant hopes in the end since they were playing catch-up before the Haren deal was consummated.)
  • Adam Dunn: At last check before the show, he was trying to work out a long-term deal with the Nationals. I thought he would STAY and be part of the solution in Washington. (STAY: Dunn is still playing for Washington and they are still working on that deal.)
  • Jayson Werth: This was a tough one, as you could see the Phillies holding on to him to make a run at the NL East or ship him out to lure some more pitching. That being said, I thought he would STAY, mainly because of the bat needed in the lineup with Chase Utley out until late August. (STAY: They couldn’t part with a middle of the order bat with Utley (and now Ryan Howard) out of the lineup).
  • Fausto Carmona: I was betting on upside when I said he would STAY with the Indians, as Carmona does have significant upside. (STAY: Maybe the Indians realized they could not get anyone back with more upside than Carmona?)
  • Dan Uggla: He has a big power bat and I thought he would STAY with the Marlins because of the new stadium that is a season and a half away. (STAY: The Marlins kept their dynamite middle infield of Uggla and shortstop Hanley Ramirez intact.)
  • Corey Hart: The Brewers were asking for too much for someone who was a part-time player when the season started. His values were pushed to the extremes, so I thought he would STAY. (STAY: His power has leveled off, but he has been a more complete player in the last couple of months.)
  • Brett Myers: FOX Sports reported the Astros would have to be “overwhelmed” to trade Myers. The Astros like to hang on to their guys, so I predicted he would STAY. (STAY: Myers and the Astros are talking long-term deal.)
Now, for the players I thought would GO on to a different team:
  • Ted Lilly: I thought he would GO from the Cubs to a contending team. He was able to block a trade to 10 teams, so conceivably, the Cubs only had 20 teams to work with. (GO: He was traded to one of those 20 other teams, the Dodgers.)
  • Jake Westbrook: He was a veteran pitcher on a bad team, which is perfect for a possible move. I thought he would GO from the Indians. (GO: The Cardinals came calling and Westbrook rounds out the pitching staff nicely. He went in a three-team deal with Cardinal OF Ryan Ludwick going to San Diego.)
  • Mike Lowell: He was not getting playing time, so I predicted him to GO from the Red Sox. Detroit was looking for a third baseman after the injury to Brandon Inge. (STAY: Good thing he stayed. Kevin Youkilis is gone for the year and Lowell will get most of the playing time at first.)
  • Jeff Francoeur: From power source to a platoon player, Francoeur was my pick to GO from the Mets after Carlos Beltran returned to the lineup. (STAY: Jason Bay was injured in Los Angeles and has not returned to date. He may miss the rest of the season. In the meantime, Francoeur is getting regular at-bats again, but he might still get moved in August if he clears waivers to make room for young outfielder Fernando Martinez.)
  • Octavio Dotel: Most contenders need bullpen help and Dotel was the best closer on a bad team this year. These guys normally get moved, so I picked him to GO from the Pirates. (GO: The Dodgers did this last year with George Sherrill, who has faded into fantasy oblivion. The same now applies to Dotel.)
  • Kerry Wood: I thought he would GO from Cleveland by the end of July, not even waiting for a possible August deal that could happen since he would have most likely slipped through waivers. (GO: The Yankees turned Wood from a closer to a possible 8th-inning guy, which would turn Joba Chamberlain to a spare part.)

Monday, August 9, 2010

The Islander Fan’s View of the Kovalchuk Saga

Islander fans were given false hope when a simple inquiry by General Manager Garth Snow was taken to mean the Islanders were involved in the bidding for Ilya Kovalchuk’s services. An Atlanta Thrasher for all but the last 27 regular season games and first playoff round last year, he was a New Jersey Devil until his free agency started on July 1st. Kovalchuk’s demands were made plain for any General Manager to see. He wanted $100 million. As with a lot of big name free agents in this salary cap age, the teams that would be willing to spend it did not have the cap room and the teams that had the cap room would not spend so much money on one player.

The players in the market for Kovalchuk were believable except for the Islanders. The Devils were in the running to sign him long-term and had the advantage of seeing him fit in well with the team, scoring 27 points in those 27 games and he was one of the few players that had a good playoff series in the Devils’ 5-game loss to the Flyers in the first round. The Los Angeles Kings were also very interested in Kovalchuk as the Kings are ready to move from a lower-level playoff team to an elite team in the Western Conference. But, that kind of money was too rich for the Kings under the salary cap. Enter the Islanders. They have nothing but cap room, even when you consider some of the youth coming due for their next contracts over the next couple of years. The Islanders could easily afford Kovalchuk in a 10-year/$100 million type of deal. But, this would have been about as out-of-character as Garth Snow would have been in his entire Islanders’ management tenure to date.

Instead of channeling his inner Mike Milbury, Snow was patient and only “inquired”. But, the speculation started and Islander fans hopped right on the bandwagon. Did the Islander fans feel used? Maybe. Did they think they honestly had a chance? Yes. Owner Charles Wang has shown a propensity for making the unthinkable deal. Alexei Yashin was signed to a 10-year deal before the 2001-02 season. Rick DiPietro signed a “lifetime” 15-year contract before the 2006-07 season. The Yashin experiment ended in a buyout the Islanders are still paying to Yashin. DiPietro’s deal was the first of the “lifetime” contracts to franchise players. Since the deal was signed, it looked like a sound deal for the Islanders, but several injuries later, the deal has been laughable as the Isles continue to wait for DiPietro to get healthy.

While the fans may have thought Snow or the media toyed with their emotions, it was probably a good thing the Islanders did not reel him in. While Kovalchuk would have fit within the cap, he did not fit what the Islanders were trying to do, which is to build from within and grow together. Kovalchuk would have pushed the fast-forward button on the rebuild, which is not a bad thing. But, Coach Scott Gordon’s rules certainly would have had to have been different for Kovalchuk. With one player so far above the others in pay and NHL accomplishment, the player would have his own rules.

After a long, drawn-out process of courting, offers, pulled offers, and counteroffers, the Devils managed to sign Kovalchuk to a landmark 17-year/$102 million deal. But, even before the press coverage to announce the signing, the NHL was in touch with the Devils, letting them know they would fight the validity of the deal. Now, it is before an arbitrator to make a decision on whether the contract will stand. The decision is due by the end of the day on Monday. It is just as well the Devils or another team gets Kovalchuk. The biggest issue for Islander fans over the next 17 (or fewer) years is not that he is not an Islander, but that the Isles will face Kovalchuk six times a season for the next several years.

So, how should you root for the arbitration decision if you are Islander fan? Hope the arbitrator overturns the decision and declares Kovalchuk a free agent. Then, hope Kovalchuk and the Kings can figure out a way to work things out quickly before a team who is willing to pay Kovalchuk’s asking price, somehow clears up enough cap room to sign him. It would be tough, but the Rangers could always try to move salary and sign him. Having Kovalchuk inside the division would be the biggest problem, whether it is with the Devils or the Rangers.

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