Saturday, November 18, 2006

Transaction Recap: Blue Jays, Orioles, Phillies

I'd like to begin by recommending this piece by Joe Sheehan of Baseball Prospectus, which not only outlines his comments on the $51.1 million for Daisuke Matsuzaka, but also includes comments from Nate Silver on how the new CBA is contributing to the mind-boggling free-agent salaries this year. The Cliffs Notes version: It's justifiable for a team to spend 25-30% more for the same player this year than last.

Blue Jays:

Signed DH Frank Thomas to a 2-year, $18 million contract

This continues a trend that began last offseason, where the Blue Jays are looking to add expensive, famous players. In addition to last offseason's overspending for A.J. Burnett and B.J. Ryan, the Blue Jays traded for Troy Glaus, but in doing so they gave up a less expensive, better player in Orlando Hudson, for the "privilege" of paying Glaus $34 million over three years, plus a player option for 2009 that will only be exercised if Glaus suffers a significant decline between now and then.

This is simply too much money, even in the inflated market of this offseason. Thomas will be 39 and 40 the two years of this deal, an age where players usually decline steeply and get injured frequently. Thomas' PECOTA comparables from before 2006 include many all-time greats, like Willie Stargell, Harmon Killebrew, Willie McCovey, Frank Robinson, Mark McGwire, and Johnny Mize. All were basically finished by age 40, even though many were still going strong through 38. That's the reality for big, injury-prone 1B/DH types: they don't age well.

Thomas has significant shortcomings. He is totally unable to play the field, so he's useless for interleague road games and World Series road games, should those arise. His injury struggles are well known, and he is a huge laibility on the basepaths at this point, which turns many of his doubles into singles, and often strands him on the bases when a more athletic player would have scored. Thomas may post a .900 OPS next year, but it will be the least valuable .900 OPS in baseball.

If the Blue Jays make the playoffs once in these two years, the contract may well be worth it, but it doesn't look like they're really at that level yet, unless they make some more moves between now and April. In terms of pure return on investment, $18 million is too much to pay for the 5-7 wins they can expect Thomas to contribute.

Orioles:

Signed RP Jamie Walker to a 3-year, $12 million contract

Just a terrible signing. What do the Orioles have to gain by adding a short-relief lefty specialist? Walker is the last piece of the Orioles' puzzle, not the first, and adding him will not substantially improve their 2007 outlook. Perhaps the Orioles did not witness his meltdown late last season: From August 1 through the playoffs, Walker pitched 20 innings, with 15 strikeouts, 7 walks and an eye-popping 7 HR allowed.

For his career, Walker has been very effective against lefties but quite mediocre against righties, making him a decent asset as a LOOGY for a team in contention, but not Baltimore. He has allowed 1.4 HR/9 for his career, a very high number for a good pitcher and one that will only get worse after leaving the spacious dimensions of Comerica Park.

Phillies:

Signed 3B Wes Helms to a 2-year, $5.45 million contract

I've seen worse signings. Helms is not a great player by any shakes, but he can mash against lefities and survive against righties, and should contribute a couple of wins per year, which justifies a $2.7 million salary for a team in contention. There's not much else to add; Helms is a known commodity, and no one really expects him to hit .322 again, though his 2007 rate stats could look solid if he logs most of his time against lefties.

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