Thursday, November 20, 2008

Quick Hits

I've been spending a lot of time playing Fallout 3 lately (ah, the bounties of being a nerd). Catching up on the last week or so of transactions...

Cubs sign Ryan Dempster for three years and $38 million, plus $14 million player option for 2012 (3)

Four years and $52 million is less than many people thought Dempster could command, but it's important to note that this contract is significantly worse for the Cubs than a simple 4/$52M. In November 2011, if Dempster's 2012 value is anywhere near $14 million, he's going to opt out of the contract. Think A.J. Burnett this offseason or J.D. Drew two years ago. I'd rather make the contract for 3/$42M or 4/$55M than give Dempster a player option that he'll only exercise if he's ineffective or hurt.

Either way, is Dempster worth four years at big money? Probably not. From 2004-07, Dempster worked almost exclusively in relief (which is easier than starting) and didn't manage a K/BB ratio over 2.0 in any of those years. Though his ratios improved greatly this year, they still weren't elite; Dempster's xFIP was just 3.94, good but not great. He's a slight groundball pitcher, but nothing special in that department. Realistically, the Cubs should be happy if Dempster is significantly better than a league-average starter next year, let alone in 2012.

The Cubs are certainly in a position where it's the right move to spend some money, but I'd have shelled out an extra ten million for four years of Derek Lowe, who has a much stronger track record.

Cubs get: Kevin Gregg (2)

Marlins get: Jose Ceda (9)

An outright theft by the Marlins, who acquired Gregg basically for free two years ago and now get a fine pitching prospect in return for one year of his service. It's not like Gregg has improved substantially in that time; if anything, his ratios have gotten worse. What has changed is Gregg's save totals: 61 over the past two years, which apparently caught Jim Hendry's eye.

This move is a potential triple whammy for the Cubs: they lose value in the actual exchange, miss out on signing Kerry Wood--possibly the finest closer on the market--at a hometown discount, and quite possibly could end up with their fourth-best reliever (Gregg) closing for the team next year. Ouch.

Red Sox get: Ramon Ramirez (8)

Royals get: Coco Crisp (7)

Now here's a trade I can see working out for both sides. Crisp was a redundant resource on the Red Sox, but he instantly makes the Royals a better team by taking over for the worthless Joey Gathright. Defensive metrics sometimes disagree on Crisp, but I feel he's an above-average fielder who won't kill you at the plate.

Ramirez is a good sixth- or seventh-inning option for the BoSox. He won't post another 2.64 ERA--that home run rate is bound to regress--but he's cheap and under team control for four more years. They also free up payroll by trading Crisp, who's an unnecessary luxury with Jacoby Ellsbury around.

Giants sign Jeremy Affeldt for two years, $8 million (8)

I'm a fan. Affeldt's been a scouting favorite for years now, and he finally put it together in 2008. I'd expect him to give some of those gains back, but given the outlandish salaries for relief pitchers these days, 2/$8M is a bargain. It's interesting to note that Affeldt is a strong groundball pitcher, unlike the four big closers on the market.

Yankees get: Nick Swisher, Kaneoka Texeira (7)

White Sox get: Wilson Betemit, Jeff Marquez, Jhonny Nunez (4)

This is something of a head-scratcher, given that I expected the Yankees to aim higher (Mark Teixeira, Manny, Dunn, Burrell) to fill their hole in the lineup, plus the White Sox no longer have a Major League center fielder on their roster. (Swisher isn't really a center fielder either, but I'd put up with his poor defense to keep Brian Anderson out of the lineup. I'd even put up with Swisher's bleach-blond goatee to keep Junior Griffey and his iron glove off the field altogether. Well, maybe not.)

I pan most Kenny Williams trades, but every time I do, the pitcher he deals away turns up with some severe injury. Insider trading: no-no in business, yes-yes in baseball. I fully expect Texeira's rotator cuff to snap into five pieces by May at the latest.

Sox fans should hope Betemit is not up for an everyday job, because he's not worthy of one. He might make an okay platoon player at third base.

Yankees sign Damaso Marte for three years, $12 million plus $4 million option for 2012 (7)

I personally think this is a bargain, but I'm not sure why the Yankees didn't just exercise his 2009 option for a cost of $5.75 million, instead opting for two additional years of risk. Maybe they thought (correctly) that Marte's Type A free agent status would give them negotiating leverage, since other teams would be hesitant to give up a draft pick to sign a middle reliever? Whatever the case may be, Marte is a very capable reliever, and easily worth this contract.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Holliday To The A's

A's Get: Matt Holliday (Tentative 4)

Rockies Get: Greg Smith, Carlos Gonzalez, Huston Street (8)

Obviously, Holliday is the biggest name here, so the media have focused on him. What I find most interesting about this trade is that Street seems to be taking a back seat to Smith and Gonzalez, as if the world has forgotten that he was considered a top closer less than a year ago.

Street will be taking over for Brian Fuentes, so it's instructive to compare the two. I'd probably take Street over Fuentes for the next two years--the two years the Rockies will get before Street hits free agency--but I admit it's close. We'll call it a wash.

Fuentes is expected to get a three year deal for about $33 million, so it's fair to estimate it would cost $24 million to sign him for two years. The Rockies will probably actually pay Street $10-12 million for those two years. That's a big surplus, one we shouldn't push aside in evaluating the trade.

Smith was quite valuable to the A's in his rookie year, but his performance was a fluke. He scored well below average on all three of the biggest indicators for pitchers: strikeout rate, walk rate, and groundball rate. That's a pitcher who has no chance to post a sub-5.00 ERA in Coors Field; in fact, I'd bet against him staying in the rotation for all of 2009. Smith still has long-term potential, but he doesn't belong in the Major Leagues right now.

Gonzalez took a big step back this year, with mediocre hitting stats in AAA and an awful MLB debut. Like Smith, he's a long-term project; he's a worse option than Willy Taveras for the 2009 Rockies. However, he still has some hope of becoming an above-average Major Leaguer.

Holliday is the big fish, of course. In writeups of the trade, he's alternately been described as "possibly the best player in Rockies history" and "a product of Coors Field". Neither is accurate: Holliday is a very good hitter, and the talk about his home/road splits is overblown--all players, Rockies or not, tend to perform better at home. (If this isn't true, why do home teams keep winning 54% of their games?) Larry Walker, Andres Galarraga, Ellis Burks...all these guys hit a lot better at Coors than on the road, and all of them kept on crushing the ball after leaving Denver. Holliday is going to be fine in Oakland.

Some people think Billy Beane did this largely for the draft picks he'll receive when Holliday leaves as a free agent after 2009. That's a fair point, but it's an oversimplification. If Street returns to form, he'll be a Type-A free agent after 2010. Smith and Gonzalez could be worth compensatory draft picks down the road. Oakland may have gained two draft picks, but they gave up the potential for others.

The real question here is why the A's are trying to contend in a division they lost by 25 games in 2008. It's actually not the worst idea in the world. The Angels don't have the talent of a 100-win team or even a 93-win team, and they may lose one or both of Francisco Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira to free agency. The A's dealt from surpluses; Street was the only player in the deal who should have been part of their 2009 plans. Still, unless this was part of a larger plan, I think this was too high a price to pay for one year of Holliday.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Jacobs-Nunez

It's a minor trade, but it's the only one we have so far this offseason.

Most of the intelligent reviews of this trade have been negative for the Royals. However, I'm a fan of Kansas City's side. There are two relevant reasons for my stance:

- For Mike Jacobs, a large platoon split is a good thing, not a bad thing.
- Leo Nunez sucks.

Taking these in order...if your first baseman is a fair hitter overall, would you rather he be a fair hitter against everyone, or a good hitter against some pitchers and a terrible hitter against others? Platoon hitters have value for a reason; find Jacobs a right-handed partner (say, Billy Butler) and you're getting decent production from your DH spot at a low cost.

However you slice it, you cannot say that Jacobs is less valuable than a hitter with similar stats and no platoon split. He's still a below-average regular with an iron glove, but if you use him strictly as a DH against RHP, you're in fairly good shape.

On to Nunez: We're talking about a reliever with a career 4.92 ERA who doesn't get strikeouts or ground balls. This is exactly the kind of asset you trick someone into taking off your hands when he puts up a fluke good season. The Royals aren't getting a great return, but they couldn't have expected much better.