News, notes, and links: Matz fallout, vaccine rule changes, Moreno hype, and more!
A quick one on Steve Cohen, Steven Matz, vaccine rules, Gabriel Moreno, minor league housing, and more.
There has been a somewhat surprising amount of fallout, not necessarily all from Toronto, here on Wednesday after it was reported on Tuesday night that Steven Matz will be a member of the St. Louis Cardinals next year, having signed a four-year, $44 million contract with the club. So let’s talk about it!
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We’ll just do a quick one here, but I think there are a few things worth diving into here on a Wednesday afternoon…
Steve Cohen is mad
The too-online owner of the New York Mets made it clear on Twitter on Wednesday morning that he was not happy with the fact that Matz, who many speculated might have some interest in returning to Queens, instead had his agent do a great job of creating a bidding war that led to a team, the St. Louis Cardinals, somewhat improbably offering a four-year deal.
In a series of tweets, Joel Sherman of the New York Post explained that he had spoken to Cohen on the phone and that “He was angered that the Mets were pursued by Matz and his agent — not vice versa — and told the Mets were Matz's first choice, that there was unfinished business with the Mets and he wanted to return.”
Sherman went on to directly quote Cohen on the matter:
“Most relationships I have had with agents have been wonderful. The conversations have been good, they really have been. But here this was different. This was something so over the line. I can’t imagine what the agent was thinking in the context of how they reached out to us and the reasons they wanted to come back. I have ever [sic] had an agent do that before with me.”
How on earth does Cohen think this stuff works? That players pick out one team, say they’re their first choice, and then that’s it? Why even have an agent if that’s how the process works?
Granted, there does seem to have been a communication breakdown of some sort.
My heart would change pretty quickly if a team offered me another $11 million too!
Kevin Goldstein of FanGraphs put together a great series of tweets about a negotiation during his time with the Astros that provides some good context for what may have happened with the Mets and Matz.
Like three off-seasons ago, the Astros had interest in a free agent pitcher. Not a huge name. Kind of a mid-range type with a big name agent. I had the negotiation. We spoke two or three times, and I informed the agent that we were going to make an offer in the next 24-48 hours. We huddled back as a group and agreed internally on an initial number to throw over to them. I planned on calling the agent in the morning to make the offer and we’d go from there. Instead I woke up that morning to people tweeting about this player signing somewhere else.
To be fair, the player signed for two times what we were going to offer, so hey, awesome for him. Still, I was annoyed that we didn’t even get a chance to make the offer, and frankly, just wondered what I personally did wrong in terms of communication. So I called the agent. We had a great conversation about what went wrong and it turned out we both had some misunderstandings on the nature of the talks and in the end we ended up thanking each other in the end and I certainly learned some things.
I guess my point is, if I have one, that I hope the post-signing talk between Cohen and the agent was at least productive in terms of future talks, but I also wonder why Cohen is handling negotiations on a deal in the 4x11 range in the first place.
I love the end of this thread, because Kevin is totally on point. Why on earth is the owner this involved on a deal that in terms of average annual value would have represented something like only five or six percent of the Mets’ 2021 payroll?
Beyond that, this kind of stuff is clearly why Ross Atkins is always so adamant about having all kinds of alternatives laid out in front of him. Things can shift pretty quickly on you — as the Jays saw last winter with the Michael Brantley situation, which I tend to believe was most likely a case of there being a handshake agreement in place with the Jays that the Astros swooped in at the last possible second to beat. (Though, like anyone outside the front office and Brantley’s camp, I obviously don’t know what actually may have happened there.)
Quality of competition
There was some interesting online discussion about what to make of what happened to Matz in the second half of 2021, starting off with this tweet.
Now, the fact that those are teams with losing records doesn’t mean that there weren’t plenty of tough lineups and hitters that Matz had to face. But there’s something else that this over-simplified breakdown misses.
The truth here probably lies somewhere close to the middle, but I know which side I think it leans toward. For one thing, Matz isn’t being paid like a guy expected to continue on pitching like his second half anyway. Back in March, Dan Syzmborski of FanGraphs wrote about what teams paid for a win in free agency last winter, explaining that in recent years a win has cost about $7 million. For the Cardinals, that means to justify the money Matz will need to be worth about 6.3 wins over the life of the contract, or about 1.5 WAR per year. That’s… pretty much exactly what he is.
It’s also true that there were changes he made over the course of 2021 that might make a team think they can get even more value from him than that. For one, he started throwing his sinker more often, and really dropped the usage of his slider.
He also made a pretty significant change to where he stands on the rubber.
This isn’t to say that Jays fans should be mad that the team was unwilling to go to four years with him — MLB Network’s Jon Heyman tweets that they made a three-year offer, adding that the club is still hoping to reunite with both Robbie Ray and Marcus Semien. I think that’s still a risk best reserved for pitchers who are a little closer to elite, or have track records that are a little less volatile. But I don’t think writing off his success as being largely due to the competition he faced in the second half — and assuming this is something that the Cardinals simply missed — is the way to feel better about the Jays not bringing him back.
A couple of good thoughts on the Matz deal from Shi Davidi:
In case you missed it, federal minister of public safety Marco Mendocino announced last week that the national interest exemption that allowed unvaccinated NBA, NHL, and MLB athletes to enter Canada will no longer be in place as of January 15.
The Blue Jays reached 85% vaccinated status back in June, and according to a recent Sports Illustrated piece got up to 93% vaxxed by the end of the year. It’s not clear whether that figure means a 93% rate among the club’s travelling party as a whole (including coaches and other staff) or just players, but if it’s players that would mean two members of the 26-man roster were unvaccinated.
Depending on who they are, this could create a tricky situation for the Blue Jays. (I’m suddenly reminded of Bo Bichette’s comment last April about having “long-term antibodies” from an asymptomatic case of COVID he had at some point — though it’s important to be clear that his stance wasn’t necessarily anti-vax, saying at the time that “it’s not necessarily an immediate decision for me” but that “a lot of guys should be getting it and hopefully we can get some protocols lifted for the team.”)
The policy change could be even trickier for some of their opponents, though. According to SI’s piece, “as of September 15th, the Jays were one of 24 MLB teams with an 85% or higher vaccination rates.”
But yes, this could impact the free agents the Jays pursue as well.
Would be extremely funny if the Jays picked up a bunch of extra wins in 2022 because teams like the dumbass Red Sox are unable to send a bunch of their players across the border, wouldn’t it?
• Another day, another heap of praise for top Jays prospect Gabriel Moreno. This time it comes from a scout who spoke to the Athletic's Zach Buchanan about the top performers in this year's Arizona Fall League. Moreno ranked first on that list, with a scout saying, “He’s a future superstar.” Buchanan seems to believe that tracks, suggesting that Moreno seems like an actual good hitter, not just a good hitter for his position, and adding a comment from a scout who says, “the game is so easy for him.” It’s hard to overstate what massive development his breakout has been for the Jays this year.
• Shi Davidi elaborates on his above tweets, writing that the trade market may be the route the Jays choose to go when it comes to adding to their rotation. “Based on their actions so far, they’d like a starter in the $8-12 million range and are seeking an elite add as a compliment,” he writes. “Whether getting one of Ray or Semien back cuts them off to the other is a good question, and one infielder is a definite need.” Indeed. He also notes that the Jays so far have remained disciplined in their valuations. That’s something that may need to change as the market continues to dwindle, but over the last couple of winters the Jays have at least shown they should be willing to do just that.
• Great piece on MLB’s move to finally provide housing for minor league players from Marc Normandin over at Baseball Prospectus. He explains the piece on Twitter thusly: “MLB's plan to provide housing for minor leaguers is mostly good on the surface, which tells us something vital: they are afraid of the players organizing, and this is meant as an attractive concession to stop that from happening.”
• Lastly, there was a great chat on Monday’s edition of The FAN Drive Time between Ben Ennis, Stephen Brunt, and eventually Shi Davidi about the rumblings around Rogers potentially selling the Jays — something I wrote about earlier in the week. Brunt and Shi are clearly pretty up to speed on all this stuff. Give it a listen.
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