Kap's Corner

Cubs Choose Not to Offer Arbitration to Harden

Tonight is the deadline for clubs to offer salary arbitration to their free agents. And for the Cubs, that means they have decisions to make on a handful of players, including starting pitcher Rich Harden and closer Kevin Gregg.

I have learned that the Cubs have informed Harden and Gregg as well as outfielder Reed Johnson that they will not be offered salary arbitration meaning that if those players sign with another club the Cubs will get no draft pick compensation.
Rich Harden.jpg

The Cubs have elected not to offer salary arbitration to starting pitcher Rich Harden whose injury history made it likely he would have accepted it putting the Cubs on the hook for a big salary.


The Cubs had an opportunity to trade both Harden and Gregg to the Minnesota Twins at the end of August but felt that being only 5 games back in the Wild Card race they did not want to wave the white flag of surrender. That was a tactical mistake because now the Cubs will lose both guys for nothing when they could have had a couple of prospects from the Twins.
Their competitiveness to stay in the race was admirable but misguided because the Chicago Cubs had no chance of contending in September of 2009.
The Cubs have resigned one of their other free agents in left handed reliever John Grabow who agreed recently to a two year deal for 7.5 million dollars That leaves a trade of Milton Bradley along with adding perhaps another arm to the bullpen at the top of Jim Hendry's to do list at next week's Winter Meetings in Indianapolis.

I for one believe that with Ted Lilly coming off of shoulder surgery and the uncertain performances of both Carlos Zambrano and Ryan Dempster based on 2009 the Cubs must also add another starter to the mix. Right now, their rotation sets up as Zambrano, Dempster, Randy Wells, a rehabbing Lilly who will not be ready when the season starts, and a collection of unproven arms such as Jeff Samardzija and Andrew Cashner. Plus two back end of the rotation/long reliever types in Sean Marshall and Tom Gorzelanny.

That doesn't exactly set up as a championship level rotation on paper so it becomes important for Hendry to find a way to add a solid starter this winter. The Cubs are a veteran laden team and if they truly believe that they can contend in 2010 and with the veterans they have and the division they play in they should be able to, then they must think like a champion.

That means upgrading a starting rotation that has more questions right now than answers. Manager Lou Piniella enters what appears to be his final season at the helm with one mission and that is to win right now. He doesn't have an eye on the future and he is not interested in developing young players for the future. So if that is the game plan then give him a chance and make the one move that is key to success in the major leagues and that is having a dominant starting rotation.

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MB21 said:

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Dave, can you explain what you mean by uncertain performances from Zambrano and Dempster? I know you've recently started getting interested in the advanced metrics that help us and MLB teams evaluate ballplayers.

Dempster's xFIP in 2009 was actually lower than than it was in 2008. We know that pitchers give up home runs on 10% of their fly balls. Deviation from this is the result of luck. All xFIP does is normalize home runs per fly balls to 10%. Dempster xFIP in 2008 was 3.94 and in 2009 it was 3.86. The only difference was that in 2008 only 7% of his fly balls left the park while it was 11% in 2009. 10.1% is his career average, which is right in line with what we know about fly balls. I keep reading people saying Dempster didn't have as good a 2009 as 2008. Well, the Cubs didn't pay him to be that good. If they paid him based on his 2008 he'd have gotten something like a 7-year deal for $150 million. If you park-adjust his numbers he was worth 4.1 wins last season, which is about $20 million in value. The end results weren't as good as 2008, but that was nothing but luck.

Zambrano put together his best season since 2005 or 2006 last year. So he didn't have as many wins. That's not his fault. Wins are a product of pitching, batting, defense and baserunning. Zambrano's FIP was his best since 2004. Granted, that was mostly lucky as only 6% of his fly balls left the yard, but his xFIP is the best since 2006. Zambrano actually had one of the better seasons in his career DESPITE the injuries.

Dempster had the 23rd best xFIP among qualifying starting pitcher in baseball while Lilly ranked 30th and Zambrano 40th. If we ignore the luck involved in home runs per fly ball and just use FIP, Zambrano ranked 18th best, Lilly was 20th, and Dempster had the 34th best among qualified starting pitchers in all of baseball. The top 30 would be your supposed aces. The Cubs arguably had 3 of them last year.

However, let's consider Lilly's 3.65 FIP in 2009. His FIP the previous 3 years was 4.79, 4.16 and 4.41. The 3.65 stands out as much as Ryan Theriot's on-base percentage stood out in 2008. Lilly had a really good 2009, but he's not that good. Lilly's defense was actually average behind him. Using Statcorner's xRR we see that Lilly's defense was 1 run below average. The defense behind Dempster was 9 runs below average and for Zambrano it was 7 runs below the expected number of runs he should have allowed.

Lilly allowed only a 17.5% line drive rate, which is incredibly lucky. Normal is 20%. His career mark is 20.5%.

The Cubs have 2 so-called aces in Carlos Zambrano and Ryan Dempster. Both of them had very good 2009 seasons. Lilly had a really good 2009, but he simply isn't that good. If we look at Bill James' pitcher projections, here is what he (Baseball Info Solutions) projections for the Cubs starters:

Pitcher: FIP
Dempster: 4.03
Zambrano: 4.09
Wells: 4.20
Lilly: 4.40

dat cubfan daver said:

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Great post! But it would seem no amount of reasonable statistical analysis can deter Kap from his vendetta against Carlos Zambrano.

MB21 said:

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I've decided I'll keep an open mind. If Kaplan really is interested in learning more about baseball then there's a chance he can be persuaded with evidence.

David Kaplan said:

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Dat: You need to get a clue. MB21 makes a compelling argument. he has stats to back up his thoughts. And I am trying to learn more and more about the sabermetric side of the game. But first let's address your idiotic comment. I don't deal in vendettas. You can disagree with my opinion but your parrotting of other people's ridiculous idea only serves to make you look foolish.

dat cubfan daver said:

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Kap, I appreciate your response, but I'm not sure whose ridiculous idea you think I'm parroting. My vendetta comment is merely a personal opinion gathered from listening to your radio show and reading your blog.

You've repeatedly attacked Carlos Zambrano to the point of calling for his outright release. Meanwhile, you've repeatedly been shown that, among other things, judging a starting pitcher on wins and losses and a small sample of playoff appearances isn't really fair.

Obviously, Carlos has some anger and personal training issues that he needs to address. But just because he hasn't lived up to YOUR expectations doesn't make him a failure. An objective analyst has to be able step back and see the bigger picture revealed by the stats: Carlos Zambrano has been a very good and productive pitcher for the Chicago Cubs over the course of his career. That's really all any knowledgable fan can ask for. I don't let his occasional bouts of bad behavior bother me and have a hard time understanding why you and so many other media people (not to mention fans) do.

I used to enjoy your radio show because I felt you were one of the few reasonable on-air sports personalities in Chicago. But you've really gone over the edge on this issue and need to reconsider your position and take a more balanced approach. We're all Cubs fans and we're all frustrated, but there's no need to take that frustration out on any one player - and that really appears to be what you're doing.

David Kaplan said:

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I appreciate you listening to the show and I understand your frustration as a Cubs fan. However, when you say that "Carlos Zambrano has been a very good and productive pitcher for the Chicago Cubs over the course of his career. That's really all any knowledgable fan can ask for" that is where I disagree with you. I don't care how productive he was in 2003, 04, 05, 06, 07, etc....I look at what we can reasonably expect him to do in 2010 and based on his inability to control himself and to get into the best possible shape he can I have serious concerns. Carlos Zambrano has tremendous physical skills but he is not taking full advantage of the ability that he was given. Yes, he has some spectacular moments but he also has had some spectacular failures. He has not lived up to the contract that he signed in August 2007. Has he earned more than the Cubs paid him over the course of his career? Yes. But lately Carlos has struggled. Can he turn it around? I just sat together with him for a Bears game and he told me that he is excited for 2010 and he looked to be in great shape. Here's hoping that he can lead the team both on the mound and in the clubhouse because as a veteran that is what the Cubs are counting on him to do.

His secondary numbers from 2009 indicate that he did not pitch as poorly as his overall numbers and his perception might indicate but you cannot deny the fact that he has been extremely disappointing over the past couple of seasons. Can he turn the negativity around? Absolutely but a lot of it is up to him.

dat cubfan daver said:

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Well, Kap, I can absolutely deny that Big Z has been "extremely disappointing over the past couple seasons." He pitched almost 190 innings in 2008 with a sub-four ERA, threw a no-hitter and helped his team make the playoffs. And he actually didn't pitch that badly in the postseason - it's kind of hard to succeed on the mound when your defense lets you down. And, as MB21 points above, Carlos didn't have all that bad of a 2009 either, though the injuries are starting to pile up and I do agree that he's got to keep himself in better shape.

Now, about his contract, yeah, according to Fangraphs at least, his production hasn't quite matched up with his salary. But, again, this goes back to expectations: Baseball players aren't paid based on their performance AFTER a contract is signed. They're paid based on their performance (and age and injury history) BEFORE the contract is signed as well as the fair market value for the position in question. So many Cubs fans drive themselves crazy waiting for Z to "become an ace." Well, maybe he's not an ace. Maybe he never will be. Boo hoo - he's still a very good pitcher that the team is better with, than without.

Last, a serious question if you care to answer: Is Carlos aware of some of the things you've written about him? Do you ever get nervous seeing him in person knowing you've called for his trade and his release? Based on reactions I've seen during postgame and locker room interviews, he takes remarks like that pretty personally. to Again, I'm just having a hard time understanding why you've taken such an emotional stance against this particular player.

David Kaplan said:

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Legitimate stats but you have to realize that not every decision can be based on stats only. At some point you also have to look at work ethic, etc before you make a decision. Milton Bradley is a perfect example. His numbers actually aren't as bad as people would lead you to believe. However, he was such a problem for the team that his production isn't all that he is being evaluated on. Agree? I am working hard at the statistical breakdown side of the game but you cannot just rely on that side. Thoughts?

MB21 said:

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I definitely agree, but there are more limitations on how we can use things like being a problem or lack of work ethic. The reason is that we don't know the impact of those things. Few people have ever considered this, but why do we immediately think guys like Bradley are bad for the team? Couldn't it be that they actually improve the team? I'm not arguing that is what is done here. I'm just saying that we really have no idea. I'd assume a happier clubhouse is a better work environment that might lead to more production, but it might not be. Derrek Lee and Ted Lilly had remarkably good years for their age and they did that despite Bradley being on the team. If Bradley is to blame for the team's overall struggles as some have argued, then how is that 2 players getting up their in age turned in the quality of performance those two did?

I expect MLB teams to rely on all kinds of information. Some of it will be statistical, some will be scouting, and some will even be psychological and medical. These teams are privy to that information if they want it. People like you and I are not. I don't want MLB teams to make decisions when there is information they do not know. I feel the same way about writers and fans. The one thing that we can learn about this game is the statistical side of it. You and I will never be scouts. We'll never have that eye that they have. it's a skill and if you're like me, you're never going to be skilled enough to be of much use. I wouldn't give my scouting report to anyone because I'm not qualified.

so yeah, I agree that decisions can't be based on stats alone. They shouldn't be, but people like you and I aren't making decisions for MLB teams. Those who are have a mountain of information that you and I are unaware of and are better suited to make such decisions.

joeydafish said:

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Kap, "Tactical mistake" and "Misguided", thanks for succintly stating Hendry's job tenure with the Cubs. (great job of "writing between the lines")A good GM would have traded both Harden and (especially) Gregg to ANY TEAM (in a heartbeat) at 5 games out of the wild card race and have gotten SOMETHING in return. Of course a good GM would not have signed Gregg in the first place...or Soriano to EIGHT years...or Bradley at all...or Miles...or...

Kerry said:

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The Cubs had an opportunity to trade both Harden and Gregg to the Minnesota Twins at the end of August but felt that being only 5 games back in the Wild Card race they did not want to wave the white flag of surrender.
By Gregg, do you mean Heilman? There was never any indication that Gregg was on waivers, much less a trade possibility to the Twins.

David Kaplan said:

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No, from what I was told the deal was for both Harden and Gregg.

Kerry said:

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Then why does it say Heilman on the Cubs website? There's never any mention of Gregg with Harden, just Heilman.

http://chicago.cubs.mlb.com/news/article.jsp?ymd=20090831&content_id=6716540&vkey=news_chc&fext=.jsp&c_id=chc

David Kaplan said:

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Not every guy who clears waivers is made public. Just because the name isn't leaked to the media doesn't mean that a player wasn't put on waivers.

backslap said:

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on a side not Kap isn't about time TBS let Chip Caray go. He is the poster boy for nepotism.

Kodak11 said:

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I agree that the Cubs need another starter.

The club needs to make a strong run for Haladay. And in order to get him, they're going to have to accept Vernon Wells in a deal. He's overpaid and he hasn't lived up to his contract and never will, but he is a solid player and a good person.

The Cubs should make an effort to trade Fukudome, Bradley, Myles, Vitters, Marshall, and Cashner to the Jays for Haladay and Wells. That may not quite get it done, but I think it would be close. The Jays want out from under Wells' contract.

Let Blanco back up short. Sign Randy Winn to a worthy contract and wait for the trade deadline to add a reliever or two.

EK said:

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Come on. Why in the world would the Jays even consider something like that? Bradley, Koske, and Miles for Wells is terrible. And then you are basically saying Vitters, Cashner, and Marshall for Halladay? I think there are far better prospects out there being offered for him. The Cubs farm system is terrible. And I once again find it amusing to read comment that Sterlin Castro is now "untouchable". Please, didn't we go through this already with Patterson and Pie?! No prospect should be "untouchable", especially when they were developed by the Cubs!

MB21 said:

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From what I've been told nearly every player is placed on waivers shortly after July 31st to at least gauge interest in that player from other teams. I know some teams do that so they can get a head start on any trade talks they may consider in the offseason.

cc002600 said:

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While these new stats are interesting, I'm always amused when people quote Bill James' projections like they are gospel or something.

There are so many unpredictable, intangible factors that will affect a player's performance like injuries, luck, personal issues, team performance, weather conditions, a person's character or desire, etc. that make those projections so meaningless, IMO.

To me, its as useful as a 3-dollar bill. I could throw a coin in the air and probably be just as accurate as him, at the end of the day. It would be like asking Tom Skilling to predict the weather 6 to 9 months out.

It makes for fun talk in the winter, but please don't put much stock in them.

MB21 said:

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Nobody is quoting them as gospel. Anybody who knows anything knows there is a lot of variance in the projections. Just look at each players stats from season to season! That doesn't mean we should ignore them. What do you suggest? We put all the free agent names in the hat and then sign the first 5 we draw? If there's no such thing as being able to project performance, then why on earth would teams waste time and money signing guys like A-Rod? There's an obvious answer to that, but I'll let you work it out for yourself.

cc002600 said:

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Hey Kap,
Any chance the cubs try to re-sign Reed Johnson ? I think he's real good extra OF to have on your team. I know he has back issues that they are worried about, but it wouldn't cost them tons to bring him back. Plus, they really need a right handed hitter off the bench.

EK said:

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Kap/Others -

My question is why Hendry is unwilling to offer arbitration to Harden. Worst case scenario is he accepts and the Cubs are "stuck" with him for one more year at maybe 10 million. Yes, that is a lot of money, but based on the money Hendry has thrown around already it seems absurd not to do this when we can use another arm! If he declines arbitration then it is my understanding the Cubs would get TWO supp. 1st round draft picks. It really seems like a no lose situation, but yet again Hendry is going to mess this up! He has no problem coughing up 7.5 million (over two year) to a below average lefty reliever but can't risk 10 million on a potential stud?

Can't we just stuff Hendry and Angelo in the trunk of a car and send them off to a different stats?!

joeydafish said:

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Hmmmm...a trunk...sounds a little too much like Goodfellas.
But at least you're thinking! I agree completley with your view on Harden and Hendry. Compared to the "risks" Hendry has taken with Soriano, Fukodome, Bradley, Miles, Heillman, Gregg...all of which have come back to bite him, offering arbitration to Harden (when the team actually needs SOMEBODY with any DECENT credentials for the starting staff)seems to us "fans" as a no-brainer. Again, I don't see how this man retains his position unless there is somebody similar to him above him and we're stuck with Hendry like Hendry stuck us with Soriano, Fukodome and Miles?? God NOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!

Kodak11 said:

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EK: You are aware of how bad Wells’ contract is right. I’m sure the Jays would love to package him in a deal with Halladay just to get rid of it. So, they’d have to take the total four years of Fukudome and Bradley. I think it’s closer to being reasonable than you give it credit for. The trade is not 3 players for one guy and 3 others for another. It’s six for two.

EK said:

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Kodak:

Yes, I agree with your logic that the Jays would love to dump Wells salary. But in your scenario you are asking the Jays to take on the bad contracts of Fukodome and Bradley in exchange for Wells. Whether you really want to break it down this way or not, it's easier to view in these terms. Maybe they would do that, I really have no idea. But none of that really has anything to do with the Cubs getting Halladay. The only part of your deal the Jays would look at for Halladay would be Cashner, Vitters, and Marshall. And I'm pretty sure based on the other offers mentioned in the media that this package would be no where near enough.

Now if the Cubs wanted to take on Wells contract and only give up either Fukodome or Bradley then maybe the Jays would listen a little more closely, but the Cubs would never do it.

To me it makes far more sense to just offer Harden arbitration! Halladay is a pipe dream.

PK88 said:

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Roy Halladay on the Cubs? Are you Being serious?

Roy Halladay has 10-5 rights. He'd have to accept a trade to the Cubs. I've heard no idication that he'd be interested in the Cubs. I've heard his agent say he'd like to pitch for the Yankees or Red Sox so it's a good bet that he'll end up in NY or BOS.

berselius said:

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I think it's more that

1. Halladay wants to play for a contender
2. Halladay will want an extension added to his contract before okaying a trade

The good thing is that Halladay makes any fringy contender (like the Cubs) into an instant contender merely by being on the team. He's an elite pitcher.

This really is the time for Ricketts to make a splash - the Cubs will be losing two core players from this team after 2010 - Lee and Ramirez (opt-out clause). The other big contracts (Soriano, Zambrano, Fukudome) will be older after 2010 as well. I know Halladay doesn't fit into the paryoll numbers bandied about, but when you consider that

1. Soto, Soriano, and Ramirez will have bounceback (or at least largely healthy) seasons from last years numbers
2. The Cubs had a winning record last year, despite an apocalypse of injuries. offensive players performing below expectations, and nearly the entire starting staff having DL stints.
3. Rich Harden's and Milton Bradley's 2009 production should be replaceable. You could argue that 2010 Rich Harden + MB could *more* than replace his 2009 numbers, but that's a different can of worms that I don't really want to get into here.

The core of this team is still pretty good, and adding someone like Halladay (or Holliday) would push this team into the 90+ win range that would lead to contention, not to mention playoff $$$

arch21002 said:

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Cubs shouldn't have traded Harden in August, but shouldve offered him arb. now. He likely wouldn't accept arb. and you get two picks for him. If he did accept you get a guy who can be a terrific #3 or #4 pitcher in your rotation for one more year. Losing him for nothing is borderline criminal IMO.

Kodak11 said:

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I submitted the Halladay post because I don't hear the Cubs involved in rumors for him at all. The fans and writers should be making it known that this Cubs team needs an ace. Halladay is available. They should go get him.

I do not believe that the Cubs have the prospects to match any offer the Angels, Red Sox, or Yankees make (I could be wrong there).

However, I don't think any of those four teams would be willing to take on Wells' contract. If the Cubs are willing to do that, and Toronto is willing to take Bradley and Fukudome, there is a possibility for a deal here.

Kodak11 said:

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I submitted the Halladay post because I don't hear the Cubs involved in rumors for him at all. The fans and writers should be making it known that this Cubs team needs an ace. Halladay is available. They should go get him.

I do not believe that the Cubs have the prospects to match any offer the Angels, Red Sox, or Yankees make (I could be wrong there).

However, I don't think any of those four teams would be willing to take on Wells' contract. If the Cubs are willing to do that, and Toronto is willing to take Bradley and Fukudome, there is a possibility for a deal here.

*dan bradley said:

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So who's playing CF? 2B? Where has Bradley gone? Lets focus on all of this first, before we go after Halladay. Especially if we all seem to think (i don't) that Z will have another spectacular year.

Kodak11 said:

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Wells plays CF. Fontenot and Baker share 2B again.

There is room for a deadline deal if the deal I proposed gets done.

The Cubs only take on about 3.5 million in 2010 as a result of the deal I proposed. However, they take on 98.5 million total dollars as a result of Wells' contract. That's why I think Toronto would be eager to do this deal.

EK said:

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Even the Red Sox offered Billy Wagner arbitration and he declined! Once again we are seeing the difference between a well run organization (Red Sox) vs one run by an idiot in Jim Hendry. Thanks a lot Jim, it's not like we needed two extra 1st round draft picks since our system is so stocked with talent....

joeydafish said:

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EK, you are so correct!! I can't think of another GM
that spends so much time & resources just to correct
HIS OWN FRIGGIN' MISTAKES!!! Please Ricketts family, for
the love of all that's 101 years holy bring in a shrewd,
insightful GM. At least a GM that knows the history of a
one Milton Bradley, that Soriano is a butcher in the outfield,
Miles can't play as well as a single A player, Gregg throws
too many homerun pitches...you know a GM...with half a brain
would suffice!

cc002600 said:

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I'm not saying that projections aren't important, of course they are. I just find it amusing when I see so many people quote Bill James' projections with such reverance as if he has some sort of magic crystal ball or that he's a genius. I will bet if I took the average of the last 3 years performance, normalizing for injuries, I bet my "projections" wouldn't be that much different than the almighty Bill James. Come on, this isn't rocket science, its baseball. Please.

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