• Fred Wilpon is on his way out as Mets owner

    Posted 11 hours ago

    Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

    With the announcement of the Mets new ownership group it’s a dream come true for many fans… but a lesson in being careful what you wish for. 

    On Wednesday afternoon, Bloomberg reported that Fred Wilpon, owner of the New York Mets since August of 2002, will be moving to a minority ownership stake, selling up to an 80 percent share in the organization to billionaire Steve Cohen (a current minority owner).

    Although the process will be a slow one, and the deal is reported to keep Wilpon as current principal owner at the helm for the next five years, Cohen will have more and more influence over the course of the next few years until he ascends to the top position as majority owner in 2024.

    Cohen is from Long Island, and has been interested in purchasing a Major League franchise for some time. His unsuccessful bid to purchase the Dodgers from the McCourts positioned him to invest in the Mets as a minority owner. Cohen is a self-made billionaire, who founded hedge fund SAC Capital Advisors in the early 90s. While the business boomed, ethics violations and guilty pleas of fraud and insider trading by the business led to record finds. Though the organization paid a then-record fine related to fraud and insider trading, Cohen has done exceedingly well financially.

    My esteemed colleague and legal expert Sheryl Ring will have more on Cohen and SAC’s legal troubles in another article, but at a high level, it’s not a great look that MLB will overwhelmingly approve an owner implicated in fraudulent finances and insider trading. At a time when labor relations are strained, and whispers (and shouts) of collusion appear in the press weekly, the optics are simply not good.

    Though it seems the Wilpons have led the Mets for decades, Fred Wilpon only became a majority owner in 2002, when he purchased a 50 percent share from Nelson Doubleday with whom he was a 50/50 partner. In that time, the Mets have had some success on the field, but continued to remain a foil to the Yankees near-perennial big-spending, on-field success, and pennants.

    Personally distracted and financially affected by the Bernie Madoff Ponzi scheme, the Wilpons appeared to put in an austerity plan while they licked their wounds after being bilked out of millions of dollars in Madoffs’ phony funds.

    During their ownership tenure, the Mets made the playoffs just three times in that 17-year stretch. Though the new ownership structure started off strong with the acquisition of Carlos Beltran and former Cy Young winner Pedro Martinez, it took several years for New York to ascend to the top of the NL East.

    2006 was a highlight year for the Mets, as they finished with a strong 97-65 record and made it to game seven of the NLCS (the infamous Beltran strikeout). It took a further nine years before the Mets made it back to the playoffs, and in that time they finished more than 17 games out of first place in six consecutive frustrating and futile seasons. On top of the on-field failures following the game seven loss, 2008 led to the dismantling of Madoff’s scheme, and an austerity program driven by the Mets front office.

    During this period of cheapness and non-competitiveness, the Wilpons executed on the grand opening of a new stadium, Citi Field (aptly named for a bank that in the process of burning to the ground at the time amidst a broader financial crisis). A fine and much-needed stadium was a great distraction for a team mired in mediocrity that had been playing in an antiquated home park.

    Opening day at Citi Field in 2009 included much fanfare for a team that had been playing in the dilapidated Shea Stadium for decades. While Citi Field has a lot of character and great views and good energy, there was a distinct and conspicuous absence of Mets history. Dodgers fan-boy Fred Wilpon and company opted to celebrate the Brooklyn Dodgers more than the New York Mets, without so much as a hallway, wing, or staircase named for any of the Mets greatest players. It was a slap in the face to Mets fans, who appropriately and unsurprisingly generated backlash at the affront.

    On the field, the Mets managed to somehow make it to the World Series in 2015 despite being a .500 team in late-July. The 90-win Mets took the Dodgers to the brink in the NLDS, prevailing in five games (sorry Fred), and then had their way with the favored Cubs, whom they swept in the NLCS.

    The Mets met their match in the red-hot run-and-gun Royals. Though New York led late in all five games, they lost four of them thanks to a bullpen that simply could not keep a lead.

    Overall, the Wilpon tenure of ownership will likely go down as a negative period for Mets fans. Mired by dozens of games out of first place for many of their years at the helm, and encumbered by financial hardship, scandal, and pettiness, Mets fans’ inferiority complex in the city and in the division reared its ugly head regularly as the team struggled to retain relevance.

    Adorned with a ‘small market’ moniker, the new ownership group can allay all fears by spending on good players on the free agent market and locking up strong, young talent. Whether that is the reality remains to be seen, as this may buck the trend for all MLB teams at the moment—a moment when it seems all 30 teams are on an austerity plan.

    ***

    Steven Martano is an Editor at Beyond the Box Score, a Contributing Prospect Writer for the Colorado Rockies at Purple Row, and a contributing writer for The Hardball Times. You can follow him on Twitter at @SMartano

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  • Ian Happ, 2020 Fantasy Baseball Sleeper

    Posted 23 hours ago

    Lucky I just bought hyphens in bulk from Costco. I’m gonna need them for this sleeper. Here goes, Ian Happ is a post-post-post-post-post-post-post-post-post-post-post-post-post-post-POST-post-P-O-S-T-p-to-the-ost-postpostpostpost-post-hype sleeper! Ian Happ has burned you in the past. I get that. He’s burned me. Is he a whatcha-talkin-bout-Willis, you-can’t-be-serious, how-deep-is-this-league-where-he’s-even-drafted, you’ve-lost-your-mind, seriously-are-you-ill-in-the-head sleeper? Last year in a Manfred-sticking-Capri-Sun-straws-into-baseballs season, Happ played in 58 games and only hit 11 homers. Good news is he was out of single digits so I didn’t have to spell out his home run number. The bad news, Tommy La Stella out-homered him in three games. For calling Ian Happ a sleeper again, there’s a giant melon sitting on my lady-like shoulders and it’s unclear if there’s anything inside the cantaloupe. Oh, and he hit .264 with only two steals so there’s nothing coming from other categories. Only remarkable thing here is how bleh Happ was. I’m really selling this sleeper hard, huh? Worst sleeper in the history of sleepers. “Or,” Mr. Reversal Question pokes his head in, “…is it?!” So, what can we expect from Ian Happ for 2020 fantasy baseball and what makes him a sleeper?

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  • Baltimore Gets Quantity for Bundy

    Posted 1 day ago

    In early June of 2012, my friend Ryan and I drove south on the Pennsylvania Turnpike to Wilmington, Delaware for the first half of a Carolina League doubleheader, because Dylan Bundy was matched up against Yordano Ventura. The two were so dominant that the seven-inning game was over in an hour and a half, and we had time to hightail it back to the Lehigh Valley for the second game of a doubleheader there (Mark Prior pitched in relief for Pawtucket). Afterward, a scout who now works for a team in a national capacity told me he thought Bundy, who was 19 at the time, could have pitched in the big leagues right then.

    Bundy would reach the majors later that year, however briefly, before a rash of injuries would prevent him from pitching in Baltimore again until 2016. It was an ironic twist in what is perhaps this decade’s greatest baseball “what if?” career, because when the Orioles drafted Bundy in 2011, they asked him to scrap his dominant cutter in order to keep him healthy. This was the equivalent of baseball pseudoscience, an old wives’ tale. We were still in the dark ages of player development, and perhaps no dungeon was more medieval than Baltimore’s.

    I’m not here to assign blame to anyone, nor would I call Bundy’s career to this point — 7.2 WAR over four full seasons, basically a No. 4/5 starter — a failure, but in high school, Bundy was throwing 100 mph and had a 70- or 80-grade cutter and curveball which, if you classify his pitches a certain way, is basically what Gerrit Cole works with right now. Through some combination of incompetent player development and sheer bad luck, Bundy went from a dominant, polished high schooler with three elite pitches to an oft-injured, low-90s righty who, for a while, used his changeup most often among secondaries.

    There are countless tales like this across all sports, from Len Bias to Marcus Dupree, and in many ways the fact that Bundy still became a viable backend starter despite his trials makes his story more frustrating than tragic. At age 27 and with two arbitration years remaining, Bundy was acquired by the Angels last night in exchange for four minor league pitchers. He is good enough to help reinforce the middle/back of a quite young Angels rotation that has been marred by injuries for each of the last several seasons. Bundy will slot into a group consisting of some combination of Shohei Ohtani, Andrew Heaney, Griffin Canning, Jaime Barria, Jose Suarez, and Patrick Sandoval.

    The new Orioles regime, which comes from Houston’s pitching development factory, appears to have bettered Bundy in their one year of oversight. Bundy’s release point was altered last season in a way that created more movement demarcation between his four- and two-seam fastball, which helped the two-seamer’s movement better mimic that shape of Bundy’s changeup.

    This is the type of developmental coherence that Baltimore will apply to the bevy of pitching prospects they acquired from Anaheim in exchange for Bundy. We’re perhaps better served to look at these new minor league arms — Isaac Mattson, Zach Peek, Kyle Bradish, and Kyle Brnovich — as a group rather than individually, because they all share similar qualities.

    For a few years now, forward-thinking teams have been acquiring pitchers who create vertical movement on their fastballs. There are several variables, visual and measurable, that feed into vertical movement. Pitchers with vertical arm slots or who otherwise find some way to backspin their fastballs are often the ones who create it, so let’s take a look at all four pitchers Baltimore got back in this deal.

    Notice a trend? This is the mechanical archetype prevalent in Houston’s farm for the last several years. All of these guys have vertical arm slots or hand positions (Brnovich less so, but he has the best breaking ball of the bunch) that help create fastball movement best suited for the top of the strike zone. Bradish is the most extreme of these, as his slot is in Oliver Drake territory. There are longer reports and some pitch data over on the Angels 2019 Board page. All of these prospects will be in the 35+ or low 40 FV territory on the Orioles list, whenever we happen to post it this offseason.

    It makes sense for Baltimore to acquire quantity over quality right now, diversify risk and apply the same player dev concepts that have kept Houston’s system flush with viable big league pitchers for the last several years to hopefully make good relievers out of this group, probably so they can be swapped again later for something more.

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  • Cole Hamels signs a one-year deal with the Braves

    Posted 1 day ago

    Photo by Quinn Harris/Getty Images

    The Atlanta Braves signed yet another free agent to a short contract.

    The Braves remained busy this offseason by signing Cole Hamels to a one-year, $18 million contract. Jeff Passan of ESPN was the first to report the news, and according to Bob Nightengale, the Phillies, White Sox, Giants, and Rangers were all among the teams trying to woo the veteran lefty. Ultimately, the Braves were the highest bidder, and they’ve now found a replacement for the innings they got from Dallas Keuchel.

    Hamels missed time with an oblique injury in 2019, but when he was on the field, he was his usual self. He finished the season with a 23.2 strikeout percentage, 3.81 ERA, 4.87 DRA, and 3.0 RA9-WAR over 141 innings. Looking forward to 2020, Steamer projects Hamels for a 21.7 percent strikeout rate, 8.4 percent walk rate, and a 4.52 FIP over 161 innings. That works out to a 2.0 RA9-WAR which would narrowly be his second-worst season. That goes to show just how consistently good Hamels has been through his career.

    Though he has lost a tick of velocity, Hamels is still striking out a batter per inning and getting as many swings and misses as he ever has. He hasn’t changed up his pitch selection much in 14 years. The only difference is that he throws the sinker slightly less often now. Hamels has struggled a bit more with walks since leaving the Phillies in 2015. While it will be interesting to see how his walk rate is affected by throwing to Tyler Flowers or even Travis d’Arnaud rather than Willson Contreras, Hamels hasn’t been helping himself by throwing fewer strikes in general.


    FanGraphs

    With Hamels, the Braves currently have a starting rotation of Mike Soroka, Mike Foltynewicz, Cole Hamels, Max Fried, and Sean Newcomb. That group represents a solid-enough starting five depending on whether they get the good Foltynewicz, but another starter wouldn’t hurt. The Braves already figure to eclipse their 2019 payroll after signing Will Smith, Chris Martin, Darren O’Day, Nick Markakis, Tyler Flowers, and Travis d’Arnaud this winter. RosterResource estimates their 2020 payroll to be around $142 million this year, so getting another pitcher from free agency isn’t out of the question. What remains to be seen is if the Braves are willing to commit long-term to upper tier starters. The starters still on the market who project to be as good as Hamels or better will require multi-year deals, but the Braves seem reluctant to guarantee multiple years to players in their 30’s.

    After all of their short-term deals this offseason and after they signed Josh Donaldson and Dallas Keuchel to one-year deals last season, the Braves have established that they don’t want to commit themselves to free agents long-term but they are more than willing to spend on the short term. The longest contract they have agreed to this year is Will Smith’s three-year deal. The Braves, then, are onto a new kind of risk aversion. It’s easy to predict what Cole Hamels will do next year. It’s tougher to say what Zack Wheeler, for instance, will look like in four or five years.

    It’s hard to find fault with the Hamels signing. Inking Hamels to a one-year deal is less likely to change the direction of the franchise for the better than signing Zack Wheeler to a five-year deal, but it’s also less likely to blow up in their faces. It undoubtedly makes them better in 2020. They’ll worry about 2021 next year.


    Kenny Kelly is a writer for Beyond the Box Score and McCovey Chronicles. You can follow him on Twitter @KennyKellyWords.

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