(Note: this post continues yesterday’s series, looking at what would happen if the MLB expanded this offseason to 32 teams. Our introductory post is here, so that you can get a better sense of the overall project, and our Round 1 picks are here. TCM’s post on his Brooklyn roster is here.)
So here we are, the morning after the big expansion draft, and your Portland Webfoots (named after my favorite iteration of the same basic name given to several different turn-of-the-last-century minor league teams in the area) have more or less taken shape, with thirty-five players on the roster. But of course that’s not nearly enough, when you’ve got the big-league team plus like seven minor league rosters to fill.
In real life, the teams both would have had a full slate of draft picks, at the end of each round, in 2010, 2011, and 2012, which would certainly help fill out the low minors. And when I look back at the teams a year from now, I think I’ll have to do this, to a certain extent, maybe just the first ten rounds or so — just assign what would have been the last two picks in each round (so picks 1.31 and 1.32, 3.1 and 3.2, 4.1 and 4.2 and so on) to the teams to see what we’d have.
That’s a bit much for right now, though. Today, I’m just concerned with the big club, and what it will look like in 2012-2014. The expansion teams are free to sign free agents beginning in the 2011-12 offseason, just like anybody else, and to make trades. So what do we need? Let’s start by taking a look at the way the current group breaks down, as I see it:
Note: The plan is eventually for Escobar to take over as starting shortstop (and calling up Yamaico Navarro to take his utility spot), but we’re going to start out showcasing Brignac for potential trade partners. Though we might just keep him if neither Escobar nor Navarro looks like a suitable replacement.
Note: This seems most likely to me, but other candidates for the #4 and #5 slots are LeCure and Miller, below, though Miller’s a longshot to be ready at the start of the season.
Other Note: James Shields would look pretty nice at the top of this, huh? Oops.
Charlie Culberson (2B)
Reese Havens (2B)
Yamaico Navarro (SS)
So there it is. We’ve got some big weaknesses:
- The team has five outfielders right now, and all of them bat left-handed. That’s the difference between, on one hand, having an entire front office spending weeks on this draft, and on the other, having one guy spend three to five slightly distracted hours on it. The lineup as a whole is pretty balanced — Rosario, Goldschmidt, and Reynolds are righties and Phelps is a switch-hitter — but we’ll want at least one decent righty-batting outfielder in the big leagues.
- Third base is a potential problem. Bell hasn’t done much to justify another shot at a big-league job, and I think Francisco will hit just fine, but I think he’ll be a defensive liability. As would Reynolds.
- Outfield defense might be a problem. I’ve seen no evidence that Thames can’t handle either left or right, but Duda is a liability in the other corner, which means we need a good center fielder, and I don’t think Reddick is that; he’s played more center than corner in the minors, but that doesn’t seem to be considered his future. Schafer and Saunders are much better fielders who will be given every opportunity to win the center field job — moving Reddick into a corner and either Thames or Duda into a sort of OF/DH platoon situation — but neither has hit at all for at least the last two years, so one of them has to find himself again for the answer to come from within.
Now, some strategy: while Portland is likely to be considered a “small market” by most people, the media market (according to this) measures 22nd in the country, just behind St. Louis and ahead of Pittsburgh (24), Baltimore (26), San Diego (28), Kansas City (31), Cincinnati (33), and Milwaukee (36). And those people tend — more than any of those other cities, from what data I can gather — to be pretty well off, with a high median income, and they love their city. I think this market, as the team gets better and becomes an established part of the city, it’s going to allow for a surprisingly high payroll, much more like St. Louis than most of those other cities.
That said, though, here’s the thing: these weaknesses must be addressed, but on the cheap. Our payroll is very low right now (only Braden and Reynolds will be making significantly above the league minimum, and it’s unclear how long either of them will be around), but that’s the way it should be. It’s a team that just isn’t going to win a lot of games, and signing Prince Fielder or Albert Pujols — even assuming we could afford it, and that we didn’t think Paul Goldschmidt is an integral part of this team — would make it win a couple more games, which still wouldn’t be a lot.
So, no, the goal with free agency and any trades is to (a) build for the future and (b) put a team out there that’s merely respectable, that might keep fans interested, but that won’t tie up a lot of money in 2014 and 2015, when we’ll hope to be in a position to make the sort of big push that will get us into playoff contention. So we’re not going to be fighting TCM over Prince, or J.J. Hardy, or any veteran relief pitchers (though as Keith noted, the Webfoots’ bullpen is pretty good as it is).
No, the guys we’ll go after are short-term fixes that won’t be costing us any significant money at all two years down the line. To address the right-handed outfielder and center field problem, we might see if Mike Cameron (an old favorite) has anything left, at 39, though current signs point to “no.” A more likely fit for that spot is Reed Johnson. Or, if we decide we’re really happy with Reddick, Schafer or Saunders in center and with Reddick/Duda/Thames in the corners, we’ll pick up Jonny Gomes or Austin Kearns to be the fourth OF and a right-handed bench bat (or a platoon partner if one of the corner guys struggles against lefties).
Our target at third base will probably be Wilson Betemit. He’ll be just 30 and has become what looks to me like an undervalued commodity, putting up a .292/.364/.469 line since 2010 (in 525 PA). We’ll look to lock him up for two or three years and, I don’t know, $3 million a year. Depending on how Bell and Francisco do, Betemit can be a full-time third base starter, a platoon partner for one of those two lefties, or a utility infielder.
Oh, and if possible, we want Nick Punto. He signed a one-year, $700,000 contract with St. Louis before this season, injuries have limited him to just 25 games this year…and he’s already been worth (according to the FanGraphs caculations) about five times as much as he’ll be paid all season. If we can get him for anything less than $3 million, we want him. Escobar can go back to the minors to keep trying to learn how to hit, and Punto can be the ultimate utility infielder guy he does so well.
And that’s it, for 2012. 2013, though? That’s a different story. We expect (/hope) Vizcaino, Crosby and maybe Miller will be ready to contribute by then, and the other young guys, led by Goldschmidt and Rosario, will be better; we’ll look to make some moves to take a big step forward in 2013, to get the fan base excited for our potential pennant run in ’14.
And I mean big moves. We note that Matt Kemp is slated to be a free agent in 2013, at just 28, and that he plays for a team that might have a real problem affording him. We’ll be taking all the cash we’re saving from our frugal ways this year, piling it up in neat floor-to-ceiling stacks, and then just throwing it all at Kemp, who I consider to be the most exciting player in baseball, and who I’d like to make a Webfoot for a good six or seven years (actually only about five, but I’m thinking a seven or eight year contract will be necessary to get his attention). If Kemp doesn’t bite or the Dodgers find a way to lock him up, we’ll go almost as hard at B.J. Upton (also just 28). Reed Johnson is a fine CF for a team in its awful inaugural season, but don’t go thinking we’re just a Reed Johnson kind of team. No sir!
We’ll back that up with a big splash at pitcher. There are a ton of them currently slated to come available in 2013, all will be aged 28-32, and the Yankees can’t sign them all. Zack Greinke, Cole Hamels, Matt Cain, John Danks, Francisco Liriano, Jered Weaver, Anibal Sanchez. We ought to be able to get one of those guys. Here we’re looking at probably a four-year deal, paying whatever the market dictates (plus a bit and some concessions, on account of the expansion-team thing); our payroll is still so low right now that, while we don’t want to make the (Brian Sabean, Barry Zito) mistake of thinking that the price doesn’t matter — it’s important for anybody, even a guy like a Greinke or Weaver — we can certainly absorb overpaying just a little.
We’re probably still not going to contend in 2013, but we’ll be a lot better. Joba will come back at some point, one of those second baseman (especially Havens or Altuve) might emerge as a very useful player, and maybe some of the 2010 and 2011 draft picks start to put it together. With two stars in the fold and a couple young guys who look like potential future stars, we’ll be getting (or keeping) the fans excited and coming to ballgames, and priming for our first AL West division title in 2014.