Baseball

It’s mostly been a spring training of gritted teeth, looks of disdain, and exasperated sighs out of Mesa, Arizona. This was not an offseason the filled any Cubs fan with glee, or even hope–of which is something we used to never even approach “E” on the tank–and the actual tossing of balls and swinging of bats didn’t do anything to lighten that. Manny Machado didn’t arrive. Neither did Bryce Harper, and it was only four or five months ago that was a foregone conclusion. In fact, no one arrived except Daniel Descalso and a couple of guys who max out at 30 pitches a week.

Once the Cubs sat out the winter, they also seemed to be sitting out extension season. Which actually made sense, as there was no one pressing who needed to be re-upped. But when your fanbase is already fed up with inaction, anyone doing anything elsewhere is cause to get even more so. Goldschmidt, Trout, Verlander, Arenado all re-upped, and meanwhile the Cubs had ass firmly planted on hands.

Or so it seemed. Today, both Kyle Hendricks and Jacob deGrom extended their deals with their teams. And I think it’s kind of poignant they did so on the same day. Because they’re a lot more alike than you think. And the $13.7M average on this ($12M next year and $14M the three years after to go along with the $7.4M he got through arbitration this year) is actually a steal.

The headline on this is that since 2016, there are six pitchers with a better ERA than Hendricks. They are Chris Sale, Noah Syndergaard, Corey Kluber, Jacob deGrom, Max Scherzer, and Clayton Kershaw. Four of those guys make north of $30M per year or are about to, and Thor will join them soon enough (assuming his arm doesn’t actually splinter into pure gas). To get Hendricks at less than half of that is…well, it’s a trick.

Oh I know. ERA doesn’t mean what it once did. Those guys strike out the world, and figure to for the foreseeable future. There are less variable, if any, with them. Hendricks depends on his defense and movement and deception and his margin for error is always thinner than a pubic hair. I get it. And yet he’s danced on that edge for three seasons now without falling off. Maybe it’s just who he is?

Hendricks may not send everyone back to the dugout immediately with their tail between their legs, but he does have the second-highest soft-contact rate in that same timeframe of anyone. CC Sabathia is the only one ahead of him. Which means he runs a lower-than-most BABIP, or Batting Average On Balls Put In Play (15th). Yes, he’s always had at least an above-average infield behind him. But that’s A) by design and B) given the age of Baez, Bryant, and Rizzo, that doesn’t figure to change. Only second-base would seem to need a refreshing.

Even if you go by FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching), which seeks to take the defense out of the equation, Hendricks ranks 21st in the past three seasons by that measure. Right ahead of names like Bumgarner, Greinke, and Archer. Again, this isn’t really an accident.

If you were just to compare him to another pitcher to sign his extension today another season away from free agency in deGrom, it’s really weird to say. Yes, deGrom has a Rookie Of The Year and a Cy Young to his name, as well as odd capitalization. deGrom is also a year older, and their career ERA+ are 144 for deGrom and 134 for Hendricks. deGrom’s WHIP is 1.07 for his career and Hendricks’s 1.11. Their FIPs are 2.81 to 3.32. No, Hendricks isn’t deGrom, but he’s also probably a whole lot better than just half as good, as their new salaries would suggest. Also Hendricks does have top-3 Cy season on his resume, just for funsies.

And the Cubs need the savings. Cole Hamels is here for this season only. Jon Lester is off the books come November 2020. So will Jose Quintana. And the Cubs have exactly dick coming through the system to replace those guys, with only Adbert Alzolay having any chance of making the rotation, and he missed over half the season last year. The Cubs are going to have to go out and get more pitching, if there’s any to be found given the state of free agency now, and it’s going to cost. Having to not pay Hendricks what he could have easily made an argument for might be a life-saver.

Remember to hit those share buttons. They’re going to take our thumbs!

Everything Else

It’s hard to have a contending team in this age of the NHL without the accompanying panic over future salary cap problems. Every year you don’t get the parade, as the Jets did not last year when they were more than good enough, the fear grows that financial obligations will keep you from getting one at all. You don’t get that many rolls of the dice, and everyone is watching the big money-ticker.

Which leaves the Jets in something of a sore spot with Jacob Trouba. He has been their top-pairing defenseman for years now, in that he takes the toughest assignments and the hardest shifts. While Dustin Byfuglien gets the headlines and the points, it’s Trouba that the Jets have decided to make the foundation, at least on the back end.

Trouba will also be a restricted free agent after the season, This will be the third time that Trouba has entered restricted free agency, and previous negotiations have not always been cordial. His deal before this one was actually signed during the season, as negotiations dragged out past training camp. Trouba is probably in no mood to cut the Jets some slack, and his desire to remain in Winnipeg long-term has always been a doubt. But then…who among us?

And that’s where things get a touch tricky. After the season, Patrik Laine and Kyle Connor are out of their entry-level deals. Laine especially is going to command $10M plus, or so you’d think. There’s no reason he shouldn’t be around McDavid money after his entry-level deal expired. And players may be more inclined to take the William Nylander route than they were before. Connor will not come cheap either, as he’s likely to be coming off back-to-back 30-goal seasons.

The Jets will have $27 million or so in space, so it would seem possible to keep everyone, at least for a short time. But if the three big draws all come back for what you’d figure, that won’t leave a lot of room for role players like Brandon Tanev, Nic Petan or Brendan Lemieux, or Ben Chiarot. And depth is what makes the Jets what they are, or at least it’s a big reason.

Which makes what the Jets judge Trouba at so curious. He’s not a dynamic scorer from the back end. He doesn’t really drive the play, so much as ride along with it. He’s not Subban or Karlsson or Doughty back there. That doesn’t mean he isn’t vital, but if he’s looking for major dollars, that will be the first cudgel the Jets go to in talks.

Another thing the Jets might look at is that in last year’s playoffs, Trouba really struggled with the Knights. The whole team did, to be fair, but throwing up 40% CF%s in the biggest games in franchise history is an odd way of demonstrating you’re the key log in future Cup runs. That was only one spring, and perhaps this one Trouba turns that around.

So what do you value Trouba at? Again, he’s restricted, and we know that no one is going to come with an offer sheet (though the Hawks may want to seriously think about it). If you’re looking at the highest-paid defensemen in the league, all of them score and produce offense. Ryan Suter is ninth on the list now, and though he doesn’t score like he used to, he did when he signed that deal. You have to get to Marc-Eduoard Vlasic’s $7M per year deal to find a player similar in style. Do the Jets fancy Trouba to be that?

Troubs might, which would leave $20M for whatever else the Jets want to do. And they may only get it for one year. Given how things have gone between the two camps, Trouba for sure wants to test what unrestricted free agency looks like. Or he’s going to ask the Jets to make it worth his while to forego that chance for a few years.

A lot is going to pivot on what the Jets and Trouba do in the playoffs. And with every success and dominant performance, it may actually get worse for the Jets.

 

Game #32 Preview Suite

Preview

Spotlight

Q&A

Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built

Everything Else

Heading on vacation for the week, so let’s clear some stuff out before it’s all day drinking and yelling at college friends.

-Late to the train on this, but you can excuse me if I totally forgot the Detroit Red Wings existed. Anyway, they inked Dylan Larkin to a five-year extension, one that will carry a $6.1M hit. This has some bearing on the Hawks, because they’ve made a lot of noise about keeping some head room on the cap for when Nick Schmaltz and Alex DeBrincat, and any other jamoke that decides to have a good year, have to sign extensions themselves. And we know the Hawks are loathe to play hardball. They’ll either basically acquiesce to whatever any player they like wants, or they’ll trade them to Carolina.

Larkin’s deal is going to be something Schmaltz’s agent circles and uses as a starting point. While they’re hardly the same player, their production looks pretty similar. Larkin put up 77 points in his first two seasons, and Schmaltz has put up 80. Larkin is probably the better goal-scorer, but Schmaltz’s 22 is only one off what Larkin did as a rookie and hasn’t matched since.

What will have the Hawks a little worried is if Schmaltz bust out in his third season the way Larkin did, doubling his point-total from the previous season to this one just past. Ok, if Schmaltz did that he’d be a 100-point player so that’s not going to happen. And really, there isn’t too much where Schmaltz can bust. He shot 17.8% last year, and doesn’t appear to be the type who can mutate a 20%+ year. That 17% might even be an aberration. If he produces more shots, that would be an area where you could see the production rise out of. Schmaltz only fired off 1.5 shots on net per game, and just a little under three attempts. It’s not hard to envision playing a full year with Kane where that could go up, and if the percentages remained where they were and he tickles 30 goals he could become way expensive in a hurry.

Larkin also played with only middling talent, though Anthony Mantha is probably slightly more than that. Thomas Tatar really isn’t. Schmaltz is going to get a better platform, and a 60+ point season sees him in the $7 million range. No, it really could. Since The Great Lockout Of ’05, 34 players have managed 140 points or more in their first three seasons. All of them became at least what would be $6 million players today. Here’s the list in case you want to peruse.

-Scott Powers caught up with Brandon Saad’s summer training today at The Athletic. And if you want a lesson in saying nothing while looking like you’re saying nothing, check out the quotes from Brian Keane.

“We’ll track a number of different stats and things that are specific to the type of player that we’re looking at and try to identify areas they’re really excelling at, as well as areas we think they can improve upon,”

Wouldn’t that be every summer program?

“It really starts with the video and assessing all those different things we’re looking at and then start game-planning from there what we can to do to devise a plan for him during the summer.”

Yeah, again, wouldn’t this be every program? Or do most guys just go out and bail hay on some Canadian farm? I guess Saad would be on a Pennsylvania farm but you get the point.

“He can do that especially off a rush or a loose puck play where there’s a turnover and you have someone in front of him. He can use defenders as screens and read where the stick is to change the point of release or create that space for the shot. That’s been something we’ve focused on a lot. But also identifying where to pop in and out of seams and having a sense for when he can use those wheels to hit that seam and time it in a nice way where he’s giving himself a really good opportunity at the weak side or staying outside the pack and then reentering at the right time.”

Doesn’t this all boil down to “getting open?” Sure, changing shooting angles with the puck on your stick is something you can improve and not something Saad does a lot of, but if he doesn’t already have a sense of how to lose himself to the defense, is that something you can just learn?

Anyway, if it improves Saad’s accuracy or gives him a more lethal shot, I guess I’m all for it. Sounds like they’ve been saying what we’ve been saying, but whatever.

-NBC announced it was altering its hockey schedule a bit, which is good news. I guess. I mean the Hawks still appear more than anyone and they suck out loud, but mighty oaks from little acorns. The big news is that “WEDNESDAY NIGHT RIVALRY ARGH BARGH GRAB YOURSELF SPIT AND FART” is going the way of the dodo. Now it’s just “Wednesday Night Hockey” and more often than not will be a double-header. This is good news, as it allows NBC to get the likes of McDavid, Gaudreau, Karlsson, and various California players that are old now on national TV more often without waiting for them to visit the Flyers or Rangers. There will be more of a diverse lineup, as there should be, to highlight teams that are actually good instead of names you might know. If you can believe it, there’s actually a Jets vs. Leafs game on the slate.

Fine, whatever. It can’t hurt, though if they’re still going to have two drunken monkeys in the studio it’s still going to be an annoying broadcast. But at least it’ll be teams you want to watch, instead of more Hawks or Milbury breaking down why you need a Wayne Simmonds to win while he takes yet another dumbass penalty.

All right, jerks. Talk to you next week. Maybe.