Monday, January 28, 2008

Trade Recap

Cardinals receive: 3B Troy Glaus (Rating: 7/10)

Blue Jays receive: 3B Scott Rolen (3)

I don't know what Toronto was thinking. The Blue Jays already announced that they don't care about their infield defense when they signed R-D punching bag David Eckstein to boost the team's intangibles, forcing John McDonald to the bench. Now they exchange Glaus for an older, worse, and somehow more fragile version...with a bigger contract to boot.

Rolen's defense has held up well through his injuries, but his bat is basically toast. If the Jays wanted a Gold Glove-caliber 3B with a .720 OPS, why not take Brandon Inge off the Tigers' hands? He's more durable than Rolen and was basically available for free. If they wanted a shorter commitment, Pedro Feliz and Joe Crede were waiting for suitors.

Glaus has a no-trade clause, but the Cards should make an effort to deal him, since they're unlikely to contend this year or next. Still, getting out from under Rolen's contract and receiving a decent player in return was quite a coup.

Mariners receive: SP Erik Bedard (3)

Orioles receive: OF Adam Jones, RP George Sherrill, SP Chris Tillman, SP Tony Butler, and RP Kam Mickolio (8)

At least with this deal, it's clear what both sides were looking to accomplish. The Mariners wanted to somehow get Horacio Ramirez out of their rotation, and in that regard, they succeeded. Sure, it might have been easier to simply non-tender Ramirez, but then they would have had nothing to show for giving away Rafael Soriano. (Schuerholz 1, Bavasi -100.)

Meanwhile, Seattle's offense now consists of Ichiro and the Black Holes. That sounds like a cool name for a New Wave band, but it's not the best approach to winning baseball. Their next-best hitter is Raul Ibanez, who gives back two runs in the field for every one he drives in.

The good news for the Mariners is that they have an easy path to the playoffs in a four-team division with no dominant squads. Unfortunately, they're trying to get there with only four players: Ichiro, Bedard, Felix Hernandez, and J.J. Putz. Those experiments rarely end well.

I've heard estimates that this trade makes the Mariners 2-3 wins better for 2008. I'm not even sure I'd be that optimistic. Replacing Jones with a bargain-bin free agent in right field will be a huge blow, and the loss of Sherrill leaves a big hole in the bullpen. Seattle had better hope that Bedard or Felix can personally turn the lead over to Putz in every start, because I wouldn't trust anyone else with it.

You probably know about Jones, one of baseball's top young players, and Sherrill, one of MLB's better relievers when he's healthy. Tillman is the other key to the deal, a B+ (Sickels) or four-star (Goldstein) power pitching prospect. Tony Butler is more of a longshot to make it, but could be a useful back-end starter. Mickolio looks like little more than a throw-in at this point. All in all, this is a pretty good haul for the Orioles, and it could help set the market for a Johan Santana trade.

White Sox: Reportedly interested in OF/DH Carl Everett (-1 million)

This isn't a transaction yet, but it's too good to leave out. Everett? Really? Were both Alomar brothers busy? Did Neifi Perez hold out for a multi-year deal?

If the Sox actually sign Jurassic Carl, even to a minor-league deal, I'm going to laugh really hard.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Transaction Recap

Since I'm back to posting anyway, let's get some recent transactions out of the way:

White Sox: Signed RP Octavio Dotel for 2 years, $11 million (Rating: 3/10)

The money won't cripple them, and Dotel showed some impressive dominance last year. However, he's a humongous health risk, the team is still going nowhere in 2008-09, and the move forced the team to DFA David Aardsma. Anyone who can K over a batter per inning in the AL deserves another look, and I'm sure Aardsma will get one.

Indians: Signed RP Rafael Betancourt for 2 years, $5.4 million, with $5 million 2010 club option (7)

I like the timing of this move. Middle relievers aren't that expensive, but closers are, and there's a good chance Betancourt assumes that role sometime in 2008. Raffy's not perfect--he can't get a ground ball to save his life--but he piles up strikeouts without any walks, and those are the most important skills a pitcher can possess. (Edit: Fixed this comment. I shouldn't stop for a lunch break in the middle of a sentence.)

Rockies: Signed SS Troy Tulowitzki for 6 years, $31 million, with $15 million 2014 club option (7)

I'm normally a bigger fan of deals like this, which buy out the player's arbitration years and lock in cost-certainty. Still, this one is unlikely to save the Rox a ton of money, since defense-first players will likely still be underpaid down the road. However, I do like that they bought out one free agent year with an option for a second, which should be the main goal of this contract from the team's standpoint. Tulo is a damn good player, and it's important to keep those guys around as long as possible.

Tigers: Signed SP Dontrelle Willis for 3 years, $29 million (5) and SP Nate Robertson for 3 years, $21.25 million (4)

Meh. The 2005 version of Dontrelle is never coming back, and Robertson was never that great to begin with. Still, the pay isn't exorbitant, and the Tigers don't have a lot of pitching help on the way.

Rays: Signed SP Jamie Shields for 4 years, $11.25 million, with club options through 2014 (8) and Carlos Pena for 3 years, $24 million (7)

Shields's is a deal I like for several reasons. The total guaranteed money is low, the option years are big bargains, and the deal was signed right before the Rays are about to enjoy a huge defensive upgrade, which will improve the perception of Shields's pitching abilities. Locking him into a long-term contract right before an increase in his perceived value is a nice coup.

It's good to see the team lock up Pena as well, even though they've only bought out one year of free agency. Given that Pena is no spring chicken and he's never hit like this before, this contract seems like a fair hedge against the likelihood that he won't reach the heights of 2007 again.

A key point here is that the 2010 Rays look like they will be right in the thick of the playoff race, but they don't have an impact first baseman in the system and probably can't afford to sign one until they start selling tickets. This deal should solve that problem for the time being.

Poetic Justice on Jeopardy

I know the results of one trial don't separate good decisions from bad ones. Still, one of my favorite things about always being right* is seeing people fail because they take stupid risks.

Thursday's episode of Jeopardy was a great example. Heading into Final Jeopardy, here were the scores:

Defending Champ: $12400
Challenger 1: $12600
Challenger 2: $800

Anyone who is at all familiar with the show should be able to come up with Challenger 2's proper strategy: Wager only a tiny amount or nothing at all. Her only chance to win comes when both of the other players bet big and answer incorrectly. Furthermore, both of the other players probably WILL make large wagers, based on players' tendencies, since their scores are so close to each other. Meanwhile, the difference between $1600 and $800 will surely not be a factor in determining whether she takes second or third place.

For a similar reason, I think it is also wrong for the defending champ to "go all-in" here**. If she does so and answers correctly, she will usually lose anyway if Challenger 1 also answers correctly. By making a smaller bet, she can probably win any time Challenger 1 is incorrect, regardless of the champ's own answer. If the champ makes a large wager, not only might she lose when Challenger 1 responds incorrectly, but she could encounter the nightmare scenario that actually happened, as we will soon see.

The wagers went as follows:

Champ: $12400
Challenger 1: $12345 (cute)
Challenger 2: $700

All three players answered incorrectly, leaving these final scores:

Champ: $0
Challenger 1: $255
Challenger 2: $100

Now what has happened? Both the champ and Challenger 2 have missed out on a free opportunity to come back tomorrow, because they made unnecessarily large wagers. Their prize wouldn't have been tremendous for that day, but the shot to come back the next day should be worth at least several thousand dollars to a good player.

Record of the game can be found here.

* Yes, I say this even after claiming Jason Schmidt was one of the better signings of the 2006-07 offseason.

** Wagering strategy in Final Jeopardy is actually a complex game theory problem. This site offers one take on it. Against a typical player in this spot, however, it is clearly correct for the defending champ NOT to make the maximum wager, because the leader entering Final Jeopardy will almost always bet enough to eclipse twice the score of the nearest competitor.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Idea For a Commercial

(Scene: Roger Clemens is standing on a golf course, holding a cell phone to his hand.)

Clemens: Brian, people are talking.

(Brian McNamee is sitting at home, talking to a speaker phone.)

McNamee: Well, Roger, that's going to happen when you're in your forties and still throwing heat.

Clemens: I'm serious, Brian. I need to know what was in those needles. If you gave me any steroids, just say something now so I can work on damage control.

McNamee: (mouth moving frantically, no sound)

(White text on orange background: 'A dropped call can ruin a conversation.')

Clemens: All right! (Hangs up phone)

Friday, January 11, 2008

Transaction Recap: Brewers

Brewers: Signed CF Mike Cameron to a 1-year, $6.2 million deal (Rating: 9/10)

I love this deal enough to have sex with it. It'd be angry sex, since I'm a Cubs fan, but still.

Free agent signings rarely make more sense than this one:

- Low-risk
- Contending team
- Cascade effect

The third point requires some elaboration. Once Cameron's 25-game suspension is up, the plan is presumably to move Bill Hall to third and Ryan Braun to left, pushing Gabe Gross to a super-sub role.

Cameron is no better than Gross with the bat, but the signing substantially improves the Brewers' defense at two positions. They now have a real center fielder instead of a displaced Hall, and a real third baseman instead of Braun. Even if Cameron only gives them 110 games, the defensive upgrades should be worth around 20 runs. (If you don't believe Braun was that bad last year, I implore you to check out some defensive numbers.) Adding Gross to an otherwise weak bench is probably worth another 5-10.

Yes, the Brewers could have shuffled these players around without signing Cameron, but they didn't have a real center fielder on the roster, unless you want to count Tony Gwynn. It's hard enough to move a player of Braun's talent at such a young age, but even more difficult when you don't have his replacement on hand.

Even without those circumstances, this is a hell of a bargain. Cameron's offensive numbers have been held down by PETCO Park, but he still projects as an average center fielder, offensively and defensively. Why pay $90 million over five years for a slightly better version?

Maybe the Brewers should have sprung for Andruw Jones, but $6.2 million couldn't have bought them more of an upgrade than this.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

What You Can Learn From ESPNEWS

I'm watching the ESPNEWS special on the Hall of Fame election, not so much to follow the elections--since the HoF is stupid--but to see Keith Law completely own Tim Kurkjian and Steve Phillips. I was not disappointed.

My favorite Kurkjian moment: After arguing--twice--that he doesn't believe in changing one's vote from year to year, Kurkjian says that he read enough copy on Jim Rice this offseason to sway his opinion--after voting against Rice the last ten years! 382 homers may not get you in, but apparently being "feared" does.

Even if I had never heard of any of these three ESPN personalities, in about ten minutes I would have sorted out which one was the smartest and most objective. The funny thing is, it seems like Law gets the most hate mail of the three. Maybe that's just because he likes to publish it (often with hilarious consequences).

Saturday, January 05, 2008

R-D Celebrities?

I just got back from watching Juno, and it got me thinking. Getting knocked up is, in a way, a very bad beat. Would everyone be so critical of Jamie Lynn Spears if she had simply admitted to having unprotected sex, without actually getting pregnant from it?

If not, why is it her fault that the father had especially good swimmers?

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Transaction Recap: White Sox, A's

White Sox receive: OF Nick Swisher (Rating: 4/10)

A's receive: OF Ryan Sweeney, SP Gio Gonzalez, SP Fautino de los Santos (6)

From the standpoints of contracts and talent, this seems like a fair exchange. Swisher is a very productive everyday player who's still fairly young and signed to a very reasonable contract--$26 million through 2011. In exchange, the White Sox basically finished off the pillaging of their farm system, although it wasn't that good to begin with.

Gonzalez and de los Santos aren't elite prospects, but it looks like Billy Beane's M.O. this offseason is quantity, not quality. Either way, the A's added two extremely live arms coming off breakout seasons in the minors. Neither is ready for the Show yet, but both have the strikeout potential to be impact starters once they get there. Sweeney was once viewed by some scouts as a top prospect, but now it seems unlikely he'll ever be more than a league-average bat in center or a fringe starter in a corner.

As I've said about previous White Sox acquisitions, the problem isn't what they're giving up or getting, it's what they're trying (and failing) to accomplish. The Sox are still a sub-.500 team, and while this trade got them two wins closer to the playoffs, they're still several acquisitions away from being legitimate contenders, with no remaining prospects to trade. The Sox have bet the farm on an inside straight draw, and that rarely turns out well.

It could have played out differently. Mark Buehrle and Jermaine Dye could have fetched some top prospects in trade, or at least compensation picks when they left as free agents. Chicago could have traded Jon Garland for young players instead of an old, superfluous no-hit shortstop. Several contenders are looking for a corner bat, so Jim Thome and Paul Konerko could have been cashed in for some big-time prospects. Some team is probably willing to exchange a B prospect for a year of Joe Crede.

Sure, if they make all those moves, this year's Sox win 65 games instead of 77. On the other hand, they'd be looking at a potential contender a couple of years from now. Instead, they've chosen to try and recapture the glory of 2005, which will leave the 2010 team with a $100 million payroll and 70 wins.

Hey, at least Kenny was true to his word about aggressively pursuing a championship. You can't get any more aggressive than a scorched earth strategy.