Friday, November 30, 2007

Transaction Recap: Mets, Nationals

Mets receive: OF Ryan Church, C Brian Schneider (Rating: 2/10)

Nationals receive: OF Lastings Milledge (8)

What was Omar Minaya thinking? I give Omar a hard time on R-D because I don't like how he gets credit for turning around the Mets franchise when he was simply authorized to spend more money on Carlos Beltran and Pedro Martinez than other teams. In my book, inheriting Jose Reyes and David Wright from the previous regime is not a feather in your cap.

Minaya's acquisitions haven't even done that well. Beltran has been fine, but Pedro's deal has been a disaster, Paul Lo Duca and Carlos Delgado have turned into pumpkins, and Shawn Green was a terrible idea right from the start. Scott Schoeneweis might get cut before 2008 despite being owed another $8 million. Minaya does get credit for Oliver Perez and John Maine, but neither is as good as his 2007 ERA.

Back to this deal. Milledge and Church have similar projections for 2008, so why is the deal so bad? Because Milledge is a young 23 next year and should get much better in the next five years for the Nats, while Church is already 29 and past his peak, with less service time remaining. Schneider is a backup catcher stretched in an everyday role, and the Mets just "won" the right to pay him $10.3 million over the next two years, including the insult of a $500,000 "assignment bonus" for being traded.

In a sane trade, Schneider would have played the role of Mike Lowell in the Josh Beckett-Hanley Ramirez trade: the unattractive girl you pretend to like in order to get at her hot friend. Looking at this deal, it certainly seems as though Minaya viewed Schneider as the equalizer.

But there is a bright side for the Mets: As a player traded in the middle of a multi-year contract, Schneider has the right to demand a trade after the 2008 season or become a free agent. So there is some chance he spares the team of the need to pay him $4.9 million for 2009.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Transaction Recap: Twins, Devil Rays

Twins Receive: RF Delmon Young, SS Brendan Harris, CF Jason Pridie (Rating: 5/10)

Devil Rays Receive: SP Matt Garza, SS Jason Bartlett, RP Eduardo Morlan (8)

It certainly seems like the Rays' new management team "gets it." For two years, they've ditched some dead weight (Mark Hendrickson, Toby Hall, Joey Gathright, Jorge Cantu, Seth McClung, Ty Wigginton, Greg Norton), receiving useful players (Justin Ruggiano, J.P. Howell, Grant Balfour) in return. In 2007, they spent pennies on the dollar to ink Carlos Pena, Akinori Iwamura, and Al Reyes; key pieces of a competitive 2008 squad. Now, Tampa has pulled off a nice trade that gives them an outside chance of contending for a playoff spot.

For the past several years, the team has been stockpiling hitting prospects, plus a few live arms. In 2007, Tampa put together an above-average offense, a pitching staff that led the AL in strikeouts...and a defense that might as well have waved a red cape at the ball in lieu of a glove.

This trade greatly improves the Rays' defense at two positions without really hurting the 2008 offense. Delmon still has tremendous potential, but his power hasn't developed yet and his plate discipline is unacceptable, leaving him a well below average bat for a corner outfield spot--despite what the Rookie of the Year voters think.

As for his defense, you can look all day and not find a metric that thinks he'll be a plus fielder in 2008. Add it up, and despite his ceiling, Young doesn't project as a star, or even a league-average player, next year.

In exchange for Young, the Rays added two players who should be above-average contributors right away. Matt Garza is a big-time young pitcher who's a good number 3 starter now and could easily become a good number 2. Scouts and statheads alike are impressed with his upside, and he immediately provides a big upgrade for the Tampa rotation, especially since he might boot Edwin Jackson out entirely.

The trade is being billed as Young-for-Garza, but the Rays made a big upgrade at shortstop as well. Bartlett's .700 career OPS is no great shakes, but he brings a great glove with him. According to the Fielding Bible ratings, he's saved more runs from 2005-07 than any shortstop but Adam Everett, even though Bartlett has played only 313 games in that span.

CHONE projects Bartlett at +13 fielding runs next year, and Harris at -8. (The Harris number might be conservative, since he was far worse than that in 2007.) Give Harris a 5-run edge with the bat, and that's a net gain of 16 runs. Bartlett has accrued more service time than Harris, but that doesn't matter a whole lot, because he's not the kind of player you build around long-term and he won't cost a lot in arbitration.

As for the throw-ins, Morlan is a AA reliever with a very live arm, and could be the Rays' closer of the future. Before you start thinking that's a good thing, remember that the last man to hold that tag was Chad Orvella. Pridie had a great year with the bat in AAA, but his stat line looks very much like a batting average-driven fluke. If he's really over the injuries that plagued him in 2005, there could be some value here, but he's not the heir apparent to Torii Hunter just yet.

Despite their league-worst 66-96 record this year, Tampa is ready to contend. Though the AL East remains a tough division, the Red Sox and Yankees both look closer to 90-win squads than 100. If the Rays put together 85-win talent--and it looks like they're close--they have a very real shot of sneaking into the playoffs through a combination of player development and good fortune. As we know, once you get there, anything can happen.

Even though this was a great deal for the Rays, it wasn't a terrible move for Minnesota, assuming this is part of a cohesive plan to rebuild. The trade makes them significantly worse for 2008, but it does give them a potential superstar and a possible long-term center fielder. However, if the team isn't trying to contend right now, they MUST trade Johan Santana and Joe Nathan for packages of young studs. The Twins have control through 2010 of Young, Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, and Francisco Liriano. Between those four and the players received in a potential Santana or Nathan deal, they should have the core to make a run or two in the next three years. But making this deal and then holding onto those two doesn't make a lot of sense.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Transaction Recap: Reds, White Sox

Reds: Signed RP Francisco Cordero to a 4-year, $46 million contract (Rating: 6/10)

White Sox: Signed RP Scott Linebrink to a 4-year, $19 million contract (2)

Why am I giving a much higher grade to the Reds, who spent twice as much to sign a good reliever as the Sox spent to sign a "good" reliever?

1. Francisco Cordero is much better than Scott Linebrink

Even though Jon Daniels may not think so, Cordero's peripherals are still above those of the average closer, and he was the biggest impact pitcher left on the market with Mariano Rivera returning to the Yankees. Reds fans, would you really be much happier throwing that same contract at Kyle Lohse or Carlos Silva?

Meanwhile, Linebrink's numbers are all trending in the wrong direction, and the Sox will be lucky if he performs at the league average during the life of his contract. Throwing $19 million at him is just gratuitous, especially if you ask Dan Szymborski.

2. The Reds are addressing a spot of greater need

Cincinnati's 2007 bullpen was just terrible. Dave Weathers was serviceable as a closer, but his strikeout rate keeps eroding, indicating the end is near for him. No one finished 2007 with a K/BB ratio significantly better than 2:1, and several bullpen regulars had an ERA over 5.00.

Meanwhile, the White Sox are nowhere near as bad off. Bobby Jenks is one of baseball's best closers. David Aardsma and Matt Thornton had poor ERAs in 2007 but promising peripheral stats (better than Linebrink's). Mike MacDougal had a down year but is coming off a highly effective run in 2005-06. The Pale Hose had areas of much greater need than this.

3. The Reds are in a much better spot to contend in 2008-10 than the White Sox

Yes, I really just went there. The 2008 South Siders look every bit as bad as this year's 73-89 edition; I'd be mildly shocked if they top 80 wins without a major move. Rather than rebuild the roster, they've simply brought everyone back with an extra year of age-related decline, and despite what Kenny Williams thinks, that doesn't make them a year better. Furthermore, unlike Cincinnati, they face stiff competition from the rest of the division, especially Cleveland.

Meanwhile, the Reds are poised to make a run at the division crown for the next several seasons. Here's the 2008 Reds lineup, along with each player's projected OPS (per Bill James):

CF Josh Hamilton .979
2B Brandon Phillips .757
RF Ken Griffey .840
LF Adam Dunn .923
1B Joey Votto .914
3B Edwin Encarnacion .856
SS Alex Gonzalez .724
C Dave Ross .773



B Jay Bruce .965

I'll take the Under on Hamilton and Bruce, but that's still a group that's going to kick ass and take names next year. On the mound, they have a solid 1-2-3 in Aaron Harang, Bronson Arroyo, and Matt Belisle. If Homer Bailey develops as expected, that's a good enough rotation to win, especially in the NL Central.

Are the Reds now the favorites in the division? I won't go quite that far, but they're definitely running close with Milwaukee and Chicago, and I wouldn't be too surprised to see them play in October.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Transaction Recap: White Sox, Angels

White Sox: Traded SP Jon Garland to Angels for SS Orlando Cabrera and cash (Rating: 2/10)

Angels: Same trade (5/10)

You don't often see trades where neither team really comes out ahead, but I think that's what we have here. The Angels, once stocked with shortstop prospects, have no one who's really ready to step in and take Cabrera's place, unless they opt for a short-term free agent signing. Acquiring Garland helps their rotation some, but he's not a big upgrade over Joe Saunders or Ervin Santana. Basically, this move only makes sense if the Angels plan to make a big move later in the offseason, either by trading Santana or signing a certain free agent. Though the trade created a hole rather than filling one, the Angels did acquire the better player, so there's something to be said for that.

If the deal made little sense for the Angels, it made Zero Kelvin sense for the Sox. They just spent $4.5 million to re-up a defense-first shortstop who can't hit, so why not bring in an even higher-paid one? Wasn't Garland supposed to be worth a top prospect in trade? Didn't the Sox just win 72 games with an old team, indicating that they should rebuild rather than get even older?

Cabrera had a "career year" in 2007, hitting .301 and winning a Gold Glove. There are only a few problems with this:

- Cabrera didn't walk or hit for any power--as usual--so his OPS was just .742
- This was his best year offensively since 2003
- At 33, he's well past his prime
- His defense has slipped to league-average; the Gold Glove was won on his reputation

Depending on whether you ask ZIPS or Bill James, Cabrera is due for a .701 or .709 OPS next year, well below the .750 league average for shortstops. Toss in no decline in his defense--an optimistic view, if you ask me--and you have a 5-runs-below-average shortstop at a cost of $7.5 million after the cash throw-in.

Remember, the Sox had to trade away a player (who ostensibly had value) to acquire this incredible bargain of a contract. Your grandfather is right: A dollar really doesn't buy what it used to.

What's really pointless about this deal is that it doesn't accomplish what should be the Sox's prime objective: Acquire young, cost-controlled talent. The Sox could have cashed in Jermaine Dye and Mark Buehrle for prospects at the trade deadline, or let them walk and collected compensation picks in the draft. Instead, they signed both to overpriced deals, giving the team a fighting chance at .500 for 2008, along with a less optimistic outlook for 2009 and beyond.

Even though I'm not Kenny Williams' biggest fan, I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, since he could probably still collect draft picks when Cabrera leaves as a free agent after 2007. That was before I read this:

"Last year did not sit well with any of us. I'll be damn if we're going to go through that again. We will aggressively pursue a championship," Williams said.

Look out, Cleveland. Williams thinks Orlando Cabrera represents aggressive pursuit of a championship, the kind of player who single-handedly takes a team from 72 wins to 95. As a Chicago native, I'm deathly afraid he thinks the next step is to throw $90 million at Torii Hunter to take them from 73 wins to 75.

By the way, I love how quickly everyone has forgotten PECOTA's 72-90 preseason projection for the Sox--one which nailed their win total exactly. The story linked to in this FJM post is now gone from the Web, and everyone within the Sox organization seems to be treating 2007 as a one-season fluke. That's fine as a PR move--you can't tell your fans you're already giving up on next year--but once that philosophy starts to guide your roster moves, it's time to forget 2005 and hire a new GM.

Quickly.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Defense-Independent Award Voting?

Brian Bannister finished third in AL Rookie of the Year voting, even appearing on Keith Law's ballot. Though Bannister had outwardly good numbers, he was buoyed both by strong run support and impeccable defense.

Though the BBWAA still thinks W-L records are the bee's knees, nearly every intelligent analyst now ignores them when filling out their ballot. This is a good thing, but I wonder if we aren't extending this concept far enough.

Thanks to Voros McCracken and others, we've known for some time that a pitcher's ERA is heavily influenced by the defense behind him as well as plain dumb luck. If a pitcher--let's call him Ryan Canister--pitches worse than his competition but benefits more from luck and defense, does he really deserve an individual award for that?

Brian Bannister's xFIP (fielding-independent ERA) was 5.14, near replacement-level. He certainly was nowhere near as effective as Jeremy Guthrie (4.41 xFIP) or Daisuke Matsuzaka (4.42 in 40 more innings). But it's votes that count, and the same voters who ignored Ryan Braun's defensive numbers seem content to ignore Bannister's peripherals.

That's not a big deal, because awards are meaningless. Just don't draft Bannister in your 2008 fantasy league, because he's in for a serious sophomore slump.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

I am so sick of hearing this

"The Orioles do not want to trade Miguel Tejada to a division rival."

YES THEY DO.

The Orioles have no chance to compete during the life of Tejada's contract. The ideal Tejada trade would be one that not only gives the Orioles some useful young players, but also depletes the talent base of their division rivals for the year 2010.

WHICH IS EXACTLY WHAT THEY WOULD ACCOMPLISH BY TRADING TEJADA TO THE YANKEES.

Given the choice between:

a) your division rival having Miguel Tejada when you're not a contender, or
b) your rival having Phil Hughes when your team is good

Which one is really more damaging?

Rant over.

Transaction Recap: Phillies, Astros

I'm going to try this feature again this year. Who needs readers when your blog has pizzazz?

Phillies: Traded OF Michael Bourn, RP Geoff Geary, and 3B Mike Costanzo to Astros for RP Brad Lidge and IF Eric Bruntlett (Rating: 6/10)

Astros: Same trade (Rating: 7)

This is a polarizing deal. Nate Silver loves it for the Astros, while Keith Law is stunned they didn't get more for Lidge.

I'll come down in my usual spot, in between. Bourn does not look set to become an everyday center fielder, though he makes an excellent fourth outfielder. In any case, the combination of Bourn in center and Hunter Pence in right does not look like an overall improvement from Pence and Luke Scott.

Costanzo's stats and scouting reports indicate that he is not ready to be a major league average third baseman right now, even though Nate may think so. He has the potential to get there at his peak, but for now he looks like a fringe starter, certainly not someone the Phillies are eager to throw out there every day as a 2008 contender.

The centerpiece, of course, is Lidge, an interesting case study in how DIPS can fool the best of us. Even some intelligent analysts were taken in by Lidge's 2006, when he posted his usual dominant rate stats, but some terrible luck sabotaged his ERA. Lidge has settled in as a 3.25 ERA pitcher, short of his dominant 2004-05, but still easily good enough to close in the NL.

As for the psychological damage from the Pujols home run, I'm not buying it. If giving up a homer to Albert can turn one of my pitchers into a 12 K/9, 3 K/BB machine, I'm sending my whole staff out there to throw BP for the Cardinals.

I do have a bone to pick with Nate's method of valuing Lidge's 2008 season. He says that if Francisco Cordero--a good comp for Lidge--receives four years and $40 million on the open market, we should fairly value Lidge at $10 million for 2008. This is flatly incorrect. If a team had the choice to sign Coco for 4 years/$40MM or 1 year/$10MM, they take the one-year deal all day. In fact, most teams would rather shell out $15 million for one year. The short-term deal serves these functions:

- Reduces the risk of injuries or performance decline
- Provides a higher likelihood of draft pick compensation at the end of the contract
- Provides compensation picks three years sooner

Furthermore, signing Cordero would cost the Phillies their first-round draft pick, while trading for Lidge does not. Thus, I think it's more accurate to say that Lidge is saving the Phillies $9 million (or more) and a first-round pick. That's a hell of a lot better than it looks from Nate's perspective, though it still may not justify giving up three useful young players.

However, the trade has a big fringe benefit for the Phillies, in that they can now move Brett Myers back to the rotation. Since Myers was about as good in relief as Lidge, they're essentially trading for a number 2 starter, which makes the deal look a lot better for them. It's not exactly fair to credit this move to the trade, since it was the correct move anyway, but c'est la vie.

What do you get when you put all that together? I call it a push for the Phils, and a win for the Astros. The Phillies probably added two 2008 wins in this deal, which is a big boost for an NL contender. The Astros got a good return and showed that their franchise is moving in the right direction, rather than trading a bounty of young players for one year of Jason Jennings.