Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Transaction Recap: Cubs, Reds, Angels, Dodgers, Yankees, Mets, Marlins

Cubs:

Signed OF Alfonso Soriano to an 8-year, $136 million contract

Reportedly, only the first six years are guaranteed, which makes this a much better contract. Like Magglio Ordonez, Soriano is unlikely to have his option years picked up, unless the buyout costs are big and/or the market price for free agents keeps climbing.

Getting the obvious out of the way:

- The Cubs overpaid
- A lot of free agents are going to get more money this year than they ever would have before

Nonetheless, a lot of people are taking their criticism way too far. The economy of this winter is vastly different from previous seasons; with the new CBA, teams have more incentive to put wins on the board, because each win results in fewer revenue-sharing penalties.

Let's throw away dollar figures for a moment. Your parents like to lament that a fast food hamburger used to cost 15 cents when they were your age, as if this figure were equivalent to 15 cents in today's money. Instead, let's consider contracts in Baseball Bucks (BB). BB adjust for the normal inflation in baseball salaries.

In honor of the biggest spending offseason in baseball history, we'll set 1 BB = 1 dollar in the 2000-01 signing period, so Alex Rodriguez's contract was for 252 million BB. Baseball salaries have roughly increased 10% per year until this year, when they appear to be increasing 25-30%. This means a BB equals a little over 2 dollars this offseason.

Then Soriano's contract, had it been signed in 2000, equates to eight years for 68 million BB, which seems much less unreasonable, even if it is still a long commitment to make to a 30 year old.

A lot of people seem to be under the misapprehension that teams are just going to throw away money this offseason because they have so much of it. The teams aren't being stupid; they are just following simple economics. When revenues increase, the value of fielding a competitive team goes up, and teams are willing to pay more for that privilege. The Soriano deal is the embodiment of the new economics, and we should expect to see a lot more contracts this offseason that would have looked stupid in the past.

Reds:

Signed SS Alex Gonzalez to a 3-year, $14 million deal, and RP Mike Stanton to a 2-year, $5.5 million deal

Traded C Jason LaRue and cash to the Royals for a player to be named later

Another consequence of the new market is that a below-average shortstop will now set you back almost $5 million a year. This deal isn't really so bad when you look at it under a proper microscope, although the Reds aren't getting an impact player, and more than anything, it highlights how stupid the Reds were to give up Felipe Lopez, a cheaper and much better player, for very little return.

Continuing their infatuation with former Nationals relievers, the Reds also picked up Stanton, who's getting a two-year deal on the strength of his 2006. At age 40, Stanton can no longer get righties out, and is strictly LOOGY material. 2 years and $5.5 million isn't a lot to risk in this market, but the Reds probably could get comparable production out of a farmhand.

The LaRue trade was interesting, in that he's a still-useful player who isn't really needed on the Reds. Given that they threw in enough cash to cover half his 2007 salary, the PTBNL is unlikely to be anyone interesting.

Angels:

Signed RP Justin Speier to a 4-year, $18 million contract

Traded RP Kevin Gregg to the Marlins for RP Chris Resop

A truly interesting pair of moves. Given that Gregg is four years younger than Speier and has posted comparable peripherals over the past three years, it's easy to envision a scenario where Gregg has the better 2007-10 of the two.

Speier receives only the second four-year contract for a middle reliever in my memory, joining Steve Karsay. He's certainly a questionable choice for that distinction; his peripherals are good except for an extreme flyball tendency, but he's not the sort of impact pitcher that really sets himself apart from the pack. Of course, middle relievers like that tend to get offers to close somewhere.

Resop is a live arm, but has had extreme bouts of wildness in the majors, and I'd rather have Gregg even though he has already reached his arbitration years while Resop is stuck at the major league minimum until 2009.

Dodgers:

Signed 1B Nomar Garciaparra to a 2-year, $18.5 million contract, and OF Juan Pierre to a 5-year, $45 million contract

Everyone thinks the Soriano contract will be huge for J.D. Drew and Carlos Lee, but certainly the $136 million and the market in general have been a huge boon to free agency's middle class. Players like Pierre would never have seen this kind of money in years past.

The Nomar contract, even after adjusting for the market, looks a bit high for a league-average first baseman with major injury issues, but there weren't many other options, unless the Dodgers were ready to hand the job to James Loney. Nomar's case for the Hall of Fame looks to be all but over, a fate few could have seen coming three years ago.

Pierre's signing will draw a lot of criticism. He is still an asset, but he's not even an above-average performer, and it's sad that we've come to a point where the league average plus significant age-related decline is worth a five-year deal at $9 million per. Still, this contract is going to turn out better than whatever Gary Matthews, Jr. signs for.

Yankees:

Signed SP Mike Mussina to a 2-year, $22.5 million contract

Given the cost of starting pitching, and that it would have cost the Yanks $1.5 million to buy out Mussina's contract anyway, this was a nifty signing. Moose's peripherals are still quite strong, and his performance will likely come within a few wins of Daisuke Matsuzaka's over the next two years, for some $20 million less.

Mets:

Signed Moises Alou to a 1-year, $8.5 million contract

Traded RP Matt Lindstrom and RP Henry Owens to the Marlins for SP Jason Vargas and SP Adam Bostick

They sure love those bad-fielding outfielders in Queens, don't they? Playing between Shawn Green, Cliff Floyd, and now Alou, Carlos Beltran deserves a Medal of Honor if he can get through this season. Though Alou is ancient, he can still hit, and 500 at bats are better given to him than Endy Chavez, or Green for that matter.

I like the trade for the Mets. Though Owens and Lindstrom have shown flashes of brilliance (Owens had 10 BB and 74 K in AA in 2006), neither is particularly young, and I'm guessing Owens would have been Rule 5 fodder if he stuck around. Vargas and Bostick are both young arms of interest, and though each has some issues--Vargas with the long ball and Bostick with control--they have time to work those out.

A brief note on the Marlins: after they went into a full-scale youth movement last year, they have proceeded to trade a bunch of young pitchers for relievers in the 26-28 age range. It will be interesting to see where this is headed.

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