The Sunday Ramble
The Winter Meetings are here! The Winter Meetings are here! Plus, the Royals hire an assistant pitching coach, J.J. Picollo talks to FanGraphs and some more thoughts on the Hall of Fame.
Happy Winter Meetings!
Starting on Sunday, it’s the first time the event has been held since 2019. The pandemic canceled it in 2020 and then the owners did the same (insert your own joke about viruses here) the following year. I don’t know about you, but this is like the best baseball thing between the end of the World Series and probably Truck Day. Damn glad it’s back.
Give me the blockbuster trades, the insane free agent signings and the Rule 5 draft. MLB Trade Rumors will be set as the browser homepage. The subscription to Sirus/XM is current so MLB Radio will be streaming all day. The MLB Network will be on in the background. I do love a good hotel lobby stand-up. Can’t wait to overload with information from Passan, Rosenthal, Gammons, Stark and fine…even Heyman. And if you haven’t subscribed to this newsletter yet, exactly what are you waiting for?
I mentioned insane free agent signings…The Rangers didn’t wait for the Meetings to start before they set the entire hot stove on fire. One year after spending over $560 million in the free agent market to solidify their infield (and win 68 games), they unleashed another massive contract on Friday, signing Jacob deGrom to a five-year $185 million deal. That’s a hefty chunk of change for a 35-year-old with a gnarly recent injury history. I suppose that last year’s spending spree was just a prelude. They have now committed $121 million in 2023 to four-fifths of their starting rotation and their middle infielders.
Free agency is a dangerous game, for obvious reasons. The Rangers, however, are all in. Never mind the fact they won just three more games than the Royals last year. It’s a helluva experiment. One I’m not sure is going to work for them. Bless their hearts for trying, though.
Royals news ahead of the Meetings comes to us courtesy of the official hiring of Zach Bove to be the Assistant Pitching Coach.
Bove, poached from the Minnesota Twins, is just 34 years old. He was on staff at his alma mater, the College of Central Florida, serving as pitching coach from 2013 to 2018. He developed six pitchers who were drafted by major league clubs, with his greatest success being Nate Pearson who was selected in the first round of the 2017 draft by the Toronto Blue Jays.
Bove joined the professional coaching ranks in 2019 when he was the pitching coach of the Gulf Coast League Twins. From there, he headed up “special projects” in 2020 and moved to the role of assistant minor league pitching coordinator starting in 2021.
I don’t know much about Bove other than what you read above, but I’m going to make the assumption that he’s a guy who popped on the radar as they conducted the pitching coach search. His coaching pedigree suggests a guy who has applied himself and worked his way up the ladder. If the Royals turn this whole pitching development thing around, he’ll be in line for a pitching coach job down the road.
General Manager J.J. Picollo gave an interview to David Laurila at Fangraphs this week.
David Laurila: You’ve addressed this previously, but it’s nonetheless the best way for us to start: Given that you worked alongside Dayton Moore for many years, what will differ philosophically with you in charge?
J.J. Picollo: “Culturally and fundamentally, there will be a lot of similarities, because it’s just baseball and how you run an organization. That said, we want to be a little more open-minded to different ways of improving our roster, and utilizing our roster. Player acquisition… a lot has been made about being transactional, but I think that can be overstated. When you’re transactional, you’re just trying to make your team better. If it makes our team better, then we’ll be transactional.
The shadow of Moore will be long. It’s what happens when one guy was in charge as long as he was. It’s also what happens when his former second-in-command gets promoted to the top spot.
I do like that Picollo hasn’t shied away from discussing changes that need to happen and how he will diverge from his predecessor. The open-mindedness about improving the roster, how they will use the entire active roster…and the aforementioned development of pitchers.
Laurila: You’re obviously aware of the criticism your organization has received regarding its pitching development program. What are your thoughts on that?
Picollo: “I think what needs to happen is mostly at the major league level. We’ve examined what we’re doing developmentally. And by no means do we think we’re perfect in developing pitchers, but I believe we had the third-highest number of pitchers from the 2018 draft in the major leagues. When you compare what they’ve done to other teams, we’re a top-five development system. It’s just that they haven’t had the success at the major league level, as a group, that is needed for us to compete at the top of the division.
Yeah…Going to have to quibble with the “top-five development system” comment. Pushing your minor leaguers to the majors is a development success on one level, but when they’re getting their lunch handed to them on the regular in the majors, it takes a certain, let’s say detachment from reality, to insist your organization is a “top-five development system.” You gotta have some major league success to plant that flag.
I won’t quibble with the majors being where a lot of work needs to be done. The draft class of 2018 has had some decent minor league success collectively. The majors has been where they’ve seen that development stunt, and in some cases go backward.
Hey, new pitching coaches may not solve all the problems, but it’s a step in the right direction. They’re finally trying something new. That’s the difference between the old leadership and the new. Who knows if it will work, but I can’t fault the process.
Ken Rosenthal dropped an interesting nugget in his Winter Meeting preview at The Athletic:
Salvador Perez is close with new White Sox manager Pedro Grifol, his former catching instructor and bench coach with the Royals — so close, it stands to reason that the Sox might at least think about asking for Perez in a trade.
Rosenthal goes on to note that the Royals aren’t shopping Perez, teams aren’t inquiring about Perez and if there was a trade percolating, it probably wouldn’t be to a team within the division.
As Picollo mentioned in his FanGraphs interview, there’s been a lot of urging for the team to be more transactional, but the fan base adores Perez and this would be one transaction too far. While his productivity declined last year, he was still better than league average at the plate and has been so in four of the last five seasons he’s played. On the flip side, he’s a 33-year-old catcher next season with plenty of mileage on his knees and had a Tommy John surgery. The thumb injury last summer sapped his power and cost him time, although his recovery powers continue to dazzle. He’s owed $64 million over the next three seasons. The return on Perez just wouldn’t be that great, no matter the potential trade partner.
Then again, a lot of his improvement at the bat in recent seasons is down to his work with hitting coach Mike Tosar, who was named to Grifol’s staff in Chicago. Perez is a 10-5 player, meaning he has veto rights over any trade. If he was going anywhere, it would probably be to the South Side.
Perez’s name may surface again this week because the connection is so strong, but that’s just writers throwing names around. Picollo said he would be transactional if it made the team better. With a trade value that’s not so great and what he means to the team, I can’t imagine Perez is going anywhere.
The meetings kick on off Sunday night as the Baseball Hall of Fame Contemporary Era Committee meets to vote on a slate of eight candidates for enshrinement. We’ve known the candidates for a few weeks. This week, we learned the panel of 16 who will debate the merits of those players. From CBS Sports:
Hall of Famers: Chipper Jones, Greg Maddux, Jack Morris, Ryne Sandberg, Lee Smith, Frank Thomas and Alan Trammell
Executives: Paul Beeston, Theo Epstein, Arte Moreno, Kim Ng, Dave St. Peter, Kenny Williams
Media: Steve Hirdt, LaVelle Neal, Susan Slusser
Candidates need 12 of 16 votes to get into the Hall. Each voter can vote for just three players. It’s fun to peep the makeup of the panel and see if we can guess the results. (Spoiler: We can’t.) The players are all peers of those on the slate which probably dooms Barry Bonds, Rafael Palmiero, Roger Clemens and probably Albert Belle. Although I would argue those candidacies were doomed no matter who was on the panel representing the Hall of Famers.
The executives are an interesting mix. You would think that Theo Epstein and Kim Ng would lean a little more analytical in their thinking, but I have a difficult time thinking that opinions are going to be swayed if someone has some ground to make up.
In Jay Jaffe’s excellent Hall of Fame Casebook, he recounts how the veterans’ committees of the past served to act as something of a “good old boys club” where several undeserving players won enshrinement because they were friends of the committee. We saw it in action a few years ago with Harold Baines getting in. Maybe Chipper Jones and Greg Maddux as ex-Braves make a case for Dale Murphy, but that three-vote rule limits any kind of effective lobbying, I think.
I’ll revise my initial guess to say that Fred McGriff gets in. I also continue to believe Schilling will get elected.
The other Hall of Fame news since we last Rambled was the release of the 2023 ballot.
One of the things I will miss when Twitter crumbles into the dustbin of social media history will be Ryan Thibodaux and his Tracker. At least he maintains a webpage.
I don’t see any slam-dunks on this year’s ballot. Carlos Beltrán will get in I think, but the writers will make him sweat a few rounds before enshrinement. He’s the only first-year candidate who will get support. At first glance, I don’t know how any of the first-year guys aside from Beltrán get the required five percent to stay on the ballot for a second year.
Among the returning candidates, Scott Rolen is good money for enshrinement but he may be a year or two away. He got 63 percent last time, but maybe with no clear favorite, he sees a big enough bump. It’s probably the same for Todd Helton, but add another year to his wait behind Rolen. Helton came in at 52 percent last year. This is a ballot that is quite different from the stacked editions of a few years ago.
Maybe as we get closer to the deadline, I’ll do a deeper dive into the candidates and mock up a ballot myself.
Thanks for reading. Have a great Sunday.