Thursday, December 25, 2008

On Logic and Barry

Well apparently I've gone out and upset someone, quite possibly ticked them off. That's fine, often times during a discussion individuals let their passion and opinion trump logic. Yesterday I reviewed an article over at the Hardball Times. An article which seemed to ruffle a bunch of feathers and even got 'voted down' at Ball Hype (something I have personally never seen from a THT article). That said, there was a very interesting discussion at Ball Hype in regards to this column. About 10 people chimed in with responses to the article, only one of whom was truly agreeing with the author (although I recognize that people are more likely to speak up when they disagree then when they agree).

The author of that piece decided to chime in himself, disregarding many of the comments made and shutting down only those that he can illogically skew - albeit, these were the typical rejections that are met with this discussion.

The discussion at hand is, Why did teams refuse to sign Barry Bonds? The author believes there is a simple ethical explanation, although it doesn't hold much weight when you break it down (something I will do later).

What I am writing about is a few issues I have with the authors rejection of logic.

First, the author ignores the cases in which baseball has turned its eye to 'bad behavior'. Between the message board at Baseball Think Factory (I encourage you to flip through them, it is a great and educated discussion) and at Ball Hype, there are mentions of a parallel between Pacman Jones and Elijah Dukes.

While Pacman Jones is clearly not a model citizen, Elijah Dukes isn't really reeking of parental approval - although truth be told, I imagine Dukes doesn't care. Not being one to typically dive into the personal lives of the sport I love, a post at Ball Hype states,
"Baseball sure likes to pick and choose its ethical battles, then...Drunk driving is a much greater evil than steroid use. And do you really believe that anyone would hesitate picking up Urbina if he weren't in prison?"
Isn't that the sad truth. I think back to a story when Milton Bradley asked a police officer if he knew who Bradley was. This invariably led to Bradley leaving the Indians, but in the midst of baseball's off season, we see Bradley is one of the most sought after free agent outfielders. More so then perfect records of Adam Dunn, Pat Burrell, and Bobby Abreu.

Or how about when baseball's good guy, Albert Pujols, was named in Jason Grimsley's affidavit? How quickly was that brushed aside by baseball? How many reporters jumped on that story discrediting Pujols for his miraculous climb up baseballs ladder?

The author then turns this morality issue on an axis, providing factually defunct examples. One such example, "Basketball refuses to do anything about pot use, because it would decimate the league."

Decimate the league? I know we hear some about marijuana issues in the NBA, but of the 500+ players in the NBA, are there more then 10 arrests a year? I mean, how many NBAers played in the Olympics? How many of them have tested positive for marijuana? Were those not most of the best players the NBA has?

At worst, I'd say marijuana use in the NBA is worth monitoring, but extremely far from being a cause to 'decimate' the league. I'd say STD's have a better shot at doing that.

The next error, "Has any baseball team ever tolerated the number of criminals, or even a small percentage of same, accumulated by the Bengals of recent vintage?"

Answer, no. Bravo! But I would like to further my answer with a question to the authors question: Has any other football team ever tolerated the number of criminals, or even a small percentage of same accumulated by the Bengals of recent vintage?

Answer, no. The Bengals were a special case. A team that went after 'bad seeds' as they were under valued on draft day. A team that had perpetually lost for nearly two decades that was looking for any semblance of progress.

The fact there, however, is it sort of worked for the Bengals. If only for a moment.

This is where logic chimes in loud and clear. The author obviously does not know specifics about what he is talking about. He understands ethics, but cannot argue popular culture to save his life.

The author takes the following stab at me,
"Brandini, on the other hand, adopts the ridiculous argument that because baseball was a little late adopting a wholly unnecessary rule against what was already ILLEGAL under US law, Barry wasn't cheating. Baseball, like the rest of society, is bound by the doesn't have to specify that every felony is prohibited by baseball too. This may be the lamest of all the Bonds defenses."
First, my assertion that Bonds wasn't cheating is based on him not breaking any of the rules of the game of baseball. In baseball, a pitcher can throw a ball at a hitters head and get a 'warning'. Whereas here in the West, if one were caught throwing a ball at an individuals head, I'm more then certain a restraining order would at least be placed on the thrower.

This is not to say that all laws in the US do not apply to the world of baseball, although that is a questionable assertion in and of itself. For example, if one were to purchase and use steroids in Mexico, would they be breaking a US law? Would this then make it acceptable for one to use steroids, as long as they did them in legal settings?

Second, I did not claim that Bonds was not cheating simply because baseball was 'behind' in making its rules. In fact, I argued that baseball was pushing the use of steroids (and I used a source too! Wow! What a concept!).

That being said, my point was that 'cheating' is breaking the rules of baseball, not society. If Ken Griffey Jr was a negligent parent, would this mean he is 'cheating'? Obviously that is a stretch, as being a poor parent has nothing to do with baseball performance, but I wonder how much the author knows about steroids and baseball performance? On a scale of 10 to -10 do we think he would rate in the positives or the negatives?

He does, however, attempt to know the relationship between performance and steroids (something not even Bill James is able to conclude on). Here the author reasons, "Drunk driving may or may not be worse than illegal steroid use, but unlike steroid use, it doesn't provide a competitive advantage, now, does it?"

First, how many terrible players have taken steroids and still ended up being terrible? All we know is that there are some players who allegedly took steroids that had 'breakout seasons', although it is simply an assumption that the player had this breakout season due to the steroids. If all one needs to do to provide reasonable is to suggest a player who did not improve while taking steroids, how about Alex Sanchez? Breakout seasons happen for all sorts of reasons. To argue that every steroid user had a breakout season is to simply ignore facts.

Second, how do we know that driving drunk does not improve a players ability? Yes, this is a stretch. But think of the pressures a player puts on himself during a baseball season. If the player decides not to go out to the bar, or maybe head home a little early, is it unreasonable to think that a couple drinks wouldn't relieve him of some stress?

The author continues with a lengthy explanation of his justification. But he presents a major error in his first example. One that I need to point out.

The scenario,
"The presumption of innocence has nothing to do with rightly concluding that someone is guilty of misconduct when the evidence is overwhelming. Let us presume your companion, standing right next to you, suddenly ran up to someone on the street and strangled him right before your eyes, in broad daylight, then came back to you and said, "I'm sorry you had to see that, but I just had to kill the guy." Would you later maintain that there was a question whether he had actually committed the murder? In the eyes of the law, your deadly companion would still be technically "innocent," because a jury hadn't pronounced him guilty. But this wouldn't mean that there was the slightest doubt that he committed the act, and it would be unreasonable, indeed absurd, for you to claim otherwise. The huge amount of documentation and testimony gathered in the book "Game of Shadows" places Bonds perilously close to the status of your fictional companion. At a certain point, the presumption of innocence concerns only process, not truth."
Let's put this into some different perspectives.

The first, the 'murderer' has a clean record, is a model citizen, and has a good relationship with the district attorney. The 'witness' has a long record, is a narcotic user, and has little to no references to speak of.

Would a judge find the 'murderer' guilty based on the claim of the 'witness' in this scenario? Probably not.

Let's spin this around. We're got the 'murderer' who has a fine record, but isn't well liked. The 'witness' doesn't report the issue immediately, but has a decent track record and most people like him.

Chances are, that even without raw evidence the judge won't be able to find the murderer guilty, but on an off day, evidence be damned.

Let's put this into baseball perspectives now. In scenario number two, the 'murderer' is Barry Bonds, the 'witness' are those belonging to the media.

Now I'm not going to say that Barry Bonds did not to steroids. What I am going to say is that I'd like to see some more evidence before passing judgment. While there is plenty of quality evidence, I'm still not sold. I won' argue for or against it nor will I tell people they are wrong for going either way, but I won't watch FOX News, those people probably do.

With all of that said, there is no way a person can call Barry Bonds a 'cheater'. If Barry was the only player to use steroids, sure, but he wasn't. In fact, he wasn't the first, nor will he be the last. Did Bonds break some ethical standards? Sure. But how many people wouldn't take the same efforts to be the best they are? This is occurring in academia. It is occurring in medicine.

However, this does not make what Bonds did as 'ethical'. So the author has a marginal point. What Bonds did was unethical. So too were the actions of the majority of baseball. Thus, the question to ask then, 'is it ethical to pick a scapegoat?' While many of us may do so currently, that doesn't make it right.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Barry Bonds is Unethical?

Over at the Hardball Times there is a well-written, albeit illogical, rationale regarding why teams did not sign Barry Bonds for the 2008 season. THT writer John Brattain has spent much of the season putting together a series of asserting that MLB has intentionally avoided Barry and done so wrongfully.

To start, I will reaffirm everyone that I am an official Barry Bond apologist. I always thought the needle-throwing incidents, while humorous, were inappropriate and appeared to align with jealousy and envy over anything else. That is, I simply do not feel that the chance that Bonds did steroids was worthy of the scrutiny that he received (keep in mind, this 'chance' has increased exponentially in the last 4 years, although it still is not confirmed with any legitimate evidence).

Barry Bonds is still a phenomenal ballplayer. If the court of public opinion had not already drawn up their verdict regarding Bonds' alleged steroid use, the 2007 season should have went a long way in guiding Bonds to innocence. I mean, how many 43 year old ballplayers put up a wOBA of .429? A non-park adjusted rate that would have been good for number six in all of Major League Baseball had Bonds qualified. Keep this fact in mind.

All that being said, in similar fashion to John Brattain, I do feel as though Bonds would have helped a number of teams in the 2008 season. His impending trial would not have affected how many games he played, at worst giving Bonds some much needed time off from the baseball world.

While there is a legitimate reason to believe that the fans of the teams Bonds could have helped would have been disappointed regarding the signing of Barry Bonds. But how many of them would have truly turned their backs on their favorite MLB franchise? How many of them wouldn't have come pouring in through the turnstiles in the midst of a postseason race in August and September? How many of them would have rejected the playoffs because of speculation?

If, of a teams fan base, more then five percent were truly against the Bonds signing so much so that they would bail from following the team, I would be surprised. While it may take some time to warm up to Barry, even in the worst of lights, his game would have created enough buzz to forget, at least temporarily, why people hated the best player of all time.

Back to the article at hand. Jack Marshall is labelled an 'ethicist', a questionable moniker if there ever was one. This, in my opinion, is the equivalent of the faux pas it would have been for a professional snowboarder to call himself a 'pro' a decade ago. This is like religions battling over who is going to be saved. This, is an interesting profession, and comically un-ethical.

Getting to the article, the author asks, "Are baseball commentators really so disconnected from the ethical imperatives of the game?" He mentions these 'imperatives' later, but they are a joke. He claims that these 'imperatives' are obvious due to one case, the Red Sox potentially avoiding the drafting of Clay Buccholz due to a high school incident. I don't think I need to remind everyone how that turned out. Yes, the Red Sox still drafted Clay and he has vaulted up the clubs prospect rankings.

Now I'm not a 'logicist', but has the author not heard of negotiation tactics? Is he also 100% certain that this is factual? Could this not simply been one of the 'cons'? Nope, not according to the author. It is an open and shut case in his opinion.

It's too bad jumping to conclusions is ethical.

The author also fails to properly report facts. "Can anyone imagine a pro football team hesitating for one second from drafting a promising prospect because of something like this?"

Yes, there is a penalty for teams drafting players with a 'history' if that player gets into trouble with his drafted team. There is also a strict personal conduct policy in the National Football League. What does baseball have?

The author asks another question, "Do they really not grasp what signing Barry Bonds, for any amount of money or no amount at all, would have meant?" To which he himself never really answers, maybe I can piece some sort of logic together.
"[S]igning Bonds in order to make the playoffs would have been a dubious and foolish deal for any team, even if one buys the questionable assumption that he would have played well enough to hold up his end of it."
'Questionable assumption'? Based on what? Yes, Barry would have been 44 years old in 2008, but is this author really trying tell me that it was likely that Bonds would fall off the map as a designated hitter? We would be talking a fairly substantial fall as well. That is, Bonds' non-park adjusted wOBA of .429 would need to plummet nearly 100 points in order for him to be worse then the league average designated hitter.

The author then points to the Mitchell Report as his evidence why teams were justified in avoiding Barry. We do recall that the major sources in the Mitchell Report were essentially drug dealers, right? Either way, as a lawyer and an ethicist I find it depressing that the author is: a) taking the opinion of a drug dealer, and b) acting upon Napoleon Law (guilty until proven innocent). How ethical is it to circumvent due process and figure that a person is guilty based on a tiny amount of evidence?

In case you thought it was hilarious that the author tried to suggest that Bonds wouldn't help a team, you might want to cover your eyes for this next doozey.
"Cynics may scoff, and Barry himself couldn’t care less, but baseball is the one professional sport that carries with it a duty to the American culture. Character counts in America, and baseball is bound by history, tradition and its role in legend and myth to make certain that character counts on its playing fields as well. Baseball players, as Bill James quite accurately stated, are paid to be heroes. The sport does not have the raw physical display of football, or the speed of basketball, or the simple-minded appeal of soccer. What it does have that no other professional sport even values very much is integrity, or at least an appreciation that integrity is important."
Carries the duty of American culture? I think the author means Melanophobia, right Houston?

Let's skip through the bulk of that quote as much of it comes off as ignorant and comical. But let's tough on 'integrity'. Is the author really trying to tell us that the baseball executives, journalists, and fans of the 90s truly thought steroid use was 'ethical'? There was no integrity at the height of the steroid era, there was a campaign to encourage hitters to take more steroids.

It has been well documented that teams shifted their focus towards weight training in light of the home run explosions. In Howard Bryant's Juicing the Game the author has multiple sources suggesting teams use to provide amphetamines for its players. Baseball has integrity? Since when?!?
"But the Mitchell Report, released a year ago, was a crystal-clear announcement that the sport was banishing its ethical ambiguity on the matter of performance-enhancing drugs."

Crystal clear? Taking the word of a man with a gun to his head is 'crystal clear'? I'm sorry, but I really cannot understand how one can make that conclusion. What the Mitchell Report did was name some names and force it down the public's throat. For a couple years prior to the Report, baseball had been attacking its steroid problem head on. Not a whole lot has changed since the Report, at least nothing that is 'crystal clear'.

"Cheating was not cool, and cheaters were not welcome. The conduct was officially inconsistent with the values and best interests of the game (as it had, in fact, always been), and the owners, players, teams and fans were hereby expected to heed that fact."

How is Bonds a 'cheat'? Did he break any rules? Did he do something out of the ordinary? Let's agree that he did PED's, was this against the rules of baseball? Were they throwing the book at Bonds' peers while Bonds invariably threw his teammates under the bus? What logic can one have to assert that Bonds 'cheated'? How would one define 'cheat' or 'to cheat' in order to conclude that Barry in fact did cheat?

The fact is, Bonds did not 'cheat', he simply was an amazing player would benefited from baseball turning a blind eye. This isn't like a student copying off of a peers test when the teacher isn't looking. This is like driving over the speed limit and then slowing down in areas where police officers typically park. This is like not properly counting your change at the grocery store not noticing that the cashier gave you an extra 50 cents.

According to the author,
"A team could employ one of the many mediocre, borderline or journeyman players whose names appeared in the Mitchell Report without making the implied statement that it was endorsing and rewarding a cheat."

Well, according to the author, it is because Bonds broke records. The author asserts that Bonds did so on the back of PEDs and PEDs alone. It would come as no surprise if the author believes Bonds was using in 2007, and probably still is today.
"[H]is career stood for the proposition that steroid use could turn a great player into a super-human juggernaut, shattering all previous limits; that they could allow players to improve dramatically when historically athletes began to decline; that the drugs could lengthen their careers, make the players become more valuable to their teams, and earn them millions more dollars than they would have earned otherwise—and they could get away with it."
A 'great' player? Lance Berkman is a 'great' player. Chipper Jones is a 'great' player. Barry Bonds was historical prior to any steroid allegations. He was historical prior to even becoming a feared home run hitter. Had Barry Bonds retired after the 1999 season he would have been a Hall of Fame no-brainer, and would have went down in history as one of the best hitters of all time.

What did the steroid use do? Honestly, we don't and won't ever know. In 2006 and 2007 Bonds was 42 and 43 years old. During these years, which are labeled as 'post-steroid', Bonds was still in the upper echelon of hitters in all of baseball. Wait?!? Players aren't supposed to do that sort of stuff, he must have been still using.

As we can see from Bonds' age 42 and 43 season, clearly his career would have been long no matter what. In fact, there is a legitimate argument to be made that steroids have shortened his career. I mean, isn't rapid degeneration of muscles, joints, etc one of the main reasons steroids aren't prescribed more frequently?

Also, isn't there a legitimate argument that steroids took money out of Bonds' pocket? Think about it. While Bonds was making a lot of money, how much more would he have made if there wasn't a Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire, or juiced up pitchers?

The author then goes about an interesting scale called the Cognitive Dissonance Scale. In summary, this scale is a popularity index. For example, I love apples, but hate bananas. I find out apples are bananas and begin to like apples less, and bananas more.

What I don't see is how this relates to Barry Bonds.

The author is telling us that Mets and Jays fans (and other 'also ran' franchises) would feel better in October watching other teams in MLBs playoff then their favorite simply because of an accusation?

Let's put it this way, maybe I am in the minority, but October 2008 was half as enjoyable as October 2007 because the Indians were not in the post season. This, coming from an individual who simply loves baseball and doesn't spend an intense amount of time following a single team.

That said, there is very little the Indians could have done to get into the playoffs that would have pushed me to the brink of not cheering for them. Very little.
"I would not continue to follow or support the team if it embraced the warped ethics of Barry Bonds and the steroid apologists by signing him. I would, I am quite sure, actively dislike the team until a new regime took over, and it would probably never regain my previous level of loyalty or good will. Cognitive dissonance dictates that the team’s unavoidable decline on the value scale would also pull down others associated closely with it, such as its players, management, and major league baseball itself."
This is interesting. The author discussed the Clay Buchholz issue and seemingly had no issue with that. The Red Sox employed David Wells recently, and we all know how little Wells stands up for. What about the team acquiring Paul Byrd for the playoff run? I'm sure there are many other scenarios where players have had questionable ethical considerations, so why is Barry any different? Why would Bonds affect this authors fan-ship?

This is sounding more of personal vengeance then logic. Logic, would suggest that you stand up for what is wrong no matter what. Personal Vengeance is taking a stance when it suits you. One is ethical, the other is wishy-washy.
"Sure: some factors could raise a player’s score: cooperating with Mitchell (Giambi), apologizing (Pettite), minimal use (Paul Byrd), not being good or healthy enough to matter (lots of guys). But Bonds had many factors that deepened his negative score: greed, warping the records, encouraging other players to use by his success, arrogance, embarrassing the sport through his prominence, and more."
Greed? How was Barry greedy?

Warping the records? The ones he would have already 'warped'?

Encouraging other players to use by his success? Right, because Barry was at the forefront of steroid chemistry. Bonds was the first one to stick a needle in his backside. Bonds was only successful through the addition of drugs.

Arrogance? Oh, because Bonds doesn't like the media.

Embarrassing the sport through his prominence? The author is talking about the prominence which Bonds did not create himself.

Is it ethical to have a pre-conceived notion prior to writing a piece of this sort? The author asserts that a team adding Bonds would be making a 'questionable assumption' that Barry would add offensively, yet has nothing to back this up (ie his previous season in the Majors which was among the best in all of baseball).

This is a maddening article writen by a non-baseball mind about a non-baseball subject. It is depressing that such a legitimate site as the Hardball Times would post such a piece of garbage.

People are welcome to have their opinions, but have something to back it up. Has some logic and reason. Don't step into the pool when it is the thing everyone else is doing (ie hating Bonds and steroids) and step out when the story is under the radar (ie Paul Byrd and steroids). Be a man! go all in, or don't go at all!

Friday, December 12, 2008

Analysis of a Coast to Coast Blockbuster

By now, we've all heard of the 12 player, 3 team blockbuster that occurred on Wednesday Night between the Mets, Mariners, and Indians. In fact, I even posted a breakdown of the trade Thursday morning, so if you haven't heard of it yet, you probably aren't reading this.

So we're got 12 players, being exchanged between three teams, from two different leagues. My first impression, good on the Mets for getting another highly talented relief pitcher while maintaining each of their top prospects. In addition, I'm impressed with what the Indians did, although disappointed with the return (I'll explain this later). However none of this means that I feel as though the Mariners lost out on this deal.

So let's look further...

The Mets received JJ Putz, Sean Green, and Jeremy Reed. All three players came from the Mariners, which leads me to believe this trade could have occurred without the Indians. However, the Mets weren't too interested in trading any of their young, good players, so matching up with the Indians was necessary.

JJ Putz had an awful season in 2008. He was injured for much of the season and when he was active, he hardly looked like the healthy Putz from previous seasons. This injury plagued season seemed to come a year late, as Putz was hurt for much of Spring Training in 2007. Despite having a strong season in 2007, was this a precursor to 2008? Or was 2008 purely based on not being healthy?

Prior to investigating the numbers, I believed 2008 was a result of the injuries Putz endured. It seemed that everytime he would get things figured out, he would head back to the disabled list. Obviously, then, 2008 was a result of Putz's overall health.

Not so fast. In 2007 Putz saw a slight uptick in his walks and a decrease in his strikeouts. Both remained as phenomenal rates, in fact, among relievers with at least 60 innings pitched, only one had a better strikeout to walk ratio. Nevertheless, Putz did regress in this area and I'd like to know why.

As excellent as Pitch F/X data is, it isn't 100% accurate. When 'naming' pitches, it becomes even less accurate, as it sometimes confuses pitches based on velocity, rather then break. Thus, it is difficult to simply look at pitch velocities and draw a conclusion, or assert that a pitcher certainly went away from a pitch (as is the case with Putz).

However, one of the things that Pitch F/X (and FanGraphs in particular) do an excellent job tracking is pitch by pitch data. At FanGraphs, they log a statistic called 'O Swing %' (OS%), which is the amount of pitches outside of the strike zone that are swung at. This is a statistic that sticks out to me with Putz from 2007 and again in 2008.

In 2006, Putz had an OS% of 31.1%. This is an outstanding rate, and a seemingly unsustainable one (although this statistic is more representative of the pitcher then it is luck or otherwise). Even still, Putz's OS% dropped to 24.7% in 2007, good enough to drop him from the second best down to the sixty-fifth (among relievers with 60+ innings pitched). Needless to say, this is a substantial drop and obviously had to do with Putz's drop in strikeout rate and raising the walk rate. Although as I mentioned, both statistics were still phenomenal.

However, as the 65th rated reliever in OS%, this could be the beginning of a trend. That is, with a decrease in OS% also created a drop in Swing % (S%, a statistic which states the percentage of pitches that are swung at in total).

2008 appeared to coalesce the situation, where Putz's medicore OS% caused a mediocre S%.

Possibly this was a matter of Putz not figuring out his changeup in Spring Training, eventually ditching it, and then not creating the same sort of batter confusion that may have been the case in 2006. However, this also could be the league figuring out JJ Putz. Keep in mind that in 2006, Putz came to Spring Training with a new split finger pitch, one that he has begun to rely on more with each successive season. One that maybe is not so surprising to big league hitters as it was in 2006 and 2007.

In other words, I'm less thrilled with Putz's potential then I was prior to writing this.

The next piece the Mets received, Sean Green, is one of those durable, simply okay relievers. Green does not throw the ball very hard, but he does well with what he has. That being said, Green is probably more roster filler then he is legitimate reliever. The Mariners don't mind losing him, and it doesn't hurt the Mets to add him as depth.

Lastly, the Mets added failed prospect Jeremy Reed. He is a scouts dream, owning plus tools, but a sabermetric nightmare, failing to perform at the highest level. However, at age 27, having absolutely conquered triple A (in essentially four different seasons), Reed is not a terrible gamble to take. At worst, he's probably an even exchange for what the Mets gave up (read: Reed will be a sufficient 4th/5th outfielder).

The Indians simply tagged along in this deal, they allowed for the Mets to not have to give up any of their top prospects, and added enough to make the Mariners want to make the deal. For the Indians, this was also a necessity. The team has too many outfielders and too few roster spots. While the Tribe would have been just as well dropping David Delucci, it doesn't seem likely that Mark Shapiro is willing to admit defeat on that mistake.

That being said, in acquiring Luis Valbuena, Shapiro does appear willing to admit the mistake he made in acquiring Josh Barfield, otherwise the Tribe would give the 26 year old a legitimate shot at playing second base.

Valbuena is a fine acquisition in his own right and provides the Indians with a great deal of flexibility on their infield. With remaining options, Valbuena can be sent down to the minors, or he can man second base, which would move Asdrubal Cabrera to short, and Jhonny Peralta to third, improving the infield defense, as well as solving the third base crisis.

As for Valbuena the hitter, there isn't really much to expect with him. He offers a solid eye at the plate with minimal power and adequate speed. Valbuena will never be an everyday top of the order hitter, but if his glove remains strong and he can provide a league average on base percentage, the Indians have themselves the makings of an excellent middle infield. If not, my hatred for David Dellucci will continue to grow.

The other player Cleveland received is side-arming relief pitcher Joe Smith. As a player who went from college to the Majors in a little over a year, Smith is a solid reliever that will help what was a weak Cleveland bullpen in 2008. Smith will never be a closer, and would be stretched as a teams top setup man, but he should fit well with how the current Indians bullpen is configured.

Additionally, he is a player with option years remaining, which certainly comes as a benefit for this club.

Trading Gutierrez for Valbuena and Smith is probably a little on the low end. As a team that was pressed to make this trade by Spring Training, it is understandable why Shapiro jumping at this.

The Mariners received a team's worth of players in exchange for four bodies. Two of the players the Mariners received have a great deal of value, one is bench fodder, and the other four are all 'wait and see' types. But let's look closer at what they received.

Franklin Gutierrez was one of my favorite Indians. While he will be 26 years old as of Opening Day, I still see a vast amount of potential in him. Even if the offensive tools do not come to fruition, Gutierrez should be one of the best center fielders in all of baseball next season. There are very few Indians fans, scouts, and stat heads who would disagree with such a claim.

The major problem with Gutierrez is his ability to take a walk. However, he did a great job in cutting back his strikeouts in 2008, which could be a sign of things to come. Even the best of outcomes still means that Gutierrez is a Mike Cameron-type, not one to build around, but good enough to be on a winning team (and excellent for a losing one).

The most impressive part of this deal may be the fact that the Mariners actually improved their closer, that is, if Aaron Heilman accepts his role in the bullpen. If he does, there is reason to believe that Heilman could be as good, if not better, then JJ Putz, at a substantially lesser cost.

However, Heilman will need to cut down on the walks and get his ground ball percentage (GB%) back to his normal rates, thus lessening the chance for home runs.

Endy Chavez was an interesting addition to this deal. I'm not entirely sold on why he would be added, but he isn't a terrible 4th outfielder. Chavez is an excellent fielder, but does not bring much to the plate. For my money, I'd much rather give Wladimir Balentien the playing time.

In terms of the prospects, let's first look at Maikel Cleto, the 19 year old starting pitcher who should start the 2009 season in high A ball. Cleto was not discussed on anyones prospect lists entering the 2008 season, although his performance this year should change that and land Cleto on the Mariners top 20.

Cleto is armed with a hard hard fastball that regularly reaches 97mph. He is still considered as raw, although his control is extremely impressive for a pitcher of his age. That being said, he is still 2 or 3 years away from the Majors, and another 2 from being a reliable contributor. As Christina Karhl at Baseball Prospectus wrote, if Minaya wins a World Series in that time, it won't matter what type of pitcher Cleto turns into.

The next prospect I want to take a look at is Ezequiel Carrera, the 21 year old lefty hitting outfielder. As the case with Cleto, Carrera is extremely raw, and still a considerable way from the Majors. In fact, with how raw he is, and his distance from the Majors, he's a long shot to be a contributor.

Right now the reports are putting Carrera as a 'Juan Pierre plus power minus the speed'-so maybe Ryan Freel is a better comparison. But again, he's still fairly raw, so it's rather difficult to judge what type of player the Mariners received here.

Jason Vargas is probably less valuable then a bullpen catcher at this point. He's coming off of a season in which he didn't pitch until the Arizona Fall League as he recovered from hip surgery. Once upon a time Vargas was an interesting prospect, and he isn't a terrible gamble to take at this point, but the Mariners can't be banking on anything more then him being a LOOGY.

The final chip in an endless stack is Mike Carp. Carp is a first basemen that repeated double A as a 22 year old. Repeating the level did Carp wonders as he saw all of his numbers improve, the best of which was his plate discipline which looked outstanding this season.

As a player that projects as a high on base, low power first basemen, Carp does not have incredibly high value. However, he certainly can be useful to the rebuilding Mariners as a Lyle Overbay/Ryan Garko-type.

With ALLL of that said, am I moving from my original statement that the Mets won? Not necessarily. We're still talking about a team that did not give up a lot. However, this deal, despite getting Major League talent, is still about potential, even for them.

That is, Putz is far from a sure thing. If baseball has figured him out, then Putz is worthless. If it was just a matter of Putz not getting a feel for all of his pitches due to being hurt, then the Mets have one of baseballs best bullpens. Reed and Green are marginal acquisitions that will have minimal impact on the club.

For the Indians, this was a great trade as it has the potential to pay immediate dividends. Even if these players do not contribute immediately, the Tribe moved Gutierrez before it became too late and at least have something to show for him.

The Mariners have the potential to be big time winners. They will be patient with their acquisitions and allow the players to force their way onto the Big League roster. If Putz flops, this will be an incredible swap no matter what. If Putz bounces back, this was a weak swap, even if the trade market on closers is poor.

Overall, I'm sticking with the Mets as the winners in this deal, but marginally. If Putz flops they didn't spend a lot to get him, so it won't hurt the long term future. What it will do, however, is hurt the Mets in 2008 as they could have went after a lower ceiling player that is more reliable-I'm thinking Joe Beimel or Juan Cruz.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Trades That We Could Have Done Without

The 2008 MLB Winter Meetings have wrapped up and while there was some action, many of the headlines were either predictable or were not the ones everyone was looking for. This entry will review three trades that went down in a little over 24 hours in Las Vegas-three moves which were largely unheard of prior to being finalized.

The first move occurred late Tuesday evening, as the Cincinnati Reds shipped Ryan Freel and two prospects to the Baltimore Orioles for Ramon Hernandez.

This isn't a move that I particularly agree with for the Reds and one I feel as though they sold themselves short on. While the return is fine, it is the direction of the return that I question.

First, Ramon Hernandez has had some success as a Major League catcher, he is only two years removes from posting a park adjusted .367 weighted on base average(wOBA*). In fact, 2006 marked the end of a four year streak where Hernandez's wOBA* did not go below .351, and reached as high as .373. This four year stretch marked a period where Hernandez was one of the top hitting backstops in the game.

Hernandez also gets points for being an adequate defensive catcher-think, a slightly superior Victor Martinez.

To get Hernandez for what the Reds did is a fine swap. A couple months ago I suggested the Orioles move Ramon to the Detroit Tigers for middle infield prospect Scott Sizemore. To me,
this was more about dumping salary in hopes of acquiring Mark Teixeira.

However, what I don't understand is why the Reds wanted to pay this type of money for Ramon Hernandez when they could have brought in Josh Bard to have at least an equal offensive season. That said, the same argument can be proposed to me with my idea for the Detroit Tigers acquiring Hernandez.

For the Orioles, this move was more about clearing a way to get Matt Weiters into the bigs then it was in receiving anything of worth. That being said, the O's did well in bringing aboard the versatile Ryan Freel, and two low end prospects that are worth the gambles.

Ryan Freel can essentially play any position in the ballpark (save catcher). This versatility is probably his best asset, and one the Orioles will be certain to take full advantage of. That being said, for a player without a full time role, he is also somewhat overpaid, earning $4M, plus the $2M the Orioles sent to the Reds for Hernandez's contract. Freel will presumably become a fan favorite in Baltimore as he was in Cincinnati and Joe Fan will call for Freel to start after he dirties his uniform in the top of the ninth in a blow-out.

Of the two prospects Baltimore received, Brandon Waring is the one I feel has the greatest long term potential. John Sickels rated him as a C+ prospect entering the 2008 season and would probably drop him back a notch entering 2009. Waring is an all or nothing power hitter that simply needs to work on his discipline at the plate.

While Brandon will be 23 as of Opening Day, it would not be surprising to see him hitting double A pitching by the end of this season. If he can successfully move to that level, there is hope for his future. As of now, Waring is more organization filler then legitimate prospect.

The other prospect, Justin Turner, is a 24 year old middle infield prospect that projects more as a utility player then anything of real worth. Justin has posted a wOBA of approximately .360 throughout his Minor League career. If he can maintain that mark into the majors, he would certainly rate as an above average middle infielder.

However, like Waring, Turner is at best a fringe prospect and one that is hardly worth tracking at this point. Neither are terrible players to have within an organization, but both are more future bench players then everyday hitters on a winning team.

Even still, this trade was more about addition by subtraction then it was adding actual pieces. The Orioles saved themselves a chunk of change and manage to improve their team, as well as finally beginning 'life-after-Cal'. This trade also provides the Orioles some insurance if they so choose to deal Brian Roberts, which would be another positive bonus. In other words, the Reds win on this one.

That being said, I don't see why the Reds went after Hernandez, even at this cheap of a price. If the club manages to boost his value due to hitting in the lesser league in a joke of a ballpark, possibly he can be spun for something of worth at the deadline. If not, this trade was commenced simply to take time out of my life to write about-thanks!

The second move nearly gave me a heart attack. This move saw the Pittsburgh Pirates trading Ronny Paulino to the Philadelphia Phillies in exchange for Jason Jaramillo. While you may be asking yourself how I nearly had a heart attack, I can explain, although I am not justified. You see, I had thought I read 'Ryan Doumit'. "My bad".

Ronny Paulino is nothing special, but he is an adequate backup catcher. He had one good season-his first as a full time back stop-and has since been a roster filler.

It is interesting, however, that the Phillies would want Paulino in the first place.

Although the same can be said about the Pittsburgh Pirates. I suppose being younger, cheaper, and under control longer made Jason Jaramillo attractive to the Pirates, but I'm certain the club could have gotten a similarly productive backup that holds the same qualities that Jaramillo holds.

Despite not wanting to award a winner for this deal, I suppose I'll give it to the Pirates. Jaramillo and Paulino appear to be relatively interchangable. Thus, the cost, 'youth', and team control makes Jaramillo slightly more valuable. Although Paulino will hold value in his own right, being a more experienced backup for a winning ballclub.

Lastly, the Detroit Tigers and Tampa Bay Rays uncovered the most secretively deal of the Winter Meetings, swapping Matt Joyce for Edwin Jackson.

There had been rumblings that the Rays were looking for a left handed bat, but there was not a word about Joyce. The Tigers, known to be in the market for a closer, presumably made this deal as a part of a bigger deal down the road.

But let's look at what the two teams got in this swap.

The Rays brought aboard a big time power bat in Matt Joyce. The 24 year old posted an isolated power (ISO) figure of .240 despite hitting in a pitcher friendly ballpark. This ISO contributed greatly to Joyce's .378 wOBA*, an excellent figure for any player, let alone a rookie.

Joyce is also blessed with being an outstanding defensive right fielder and will combine with Carl Crawford and BJ Upton to form what will far and away be baseball's best defensive outfield.

However, Joyce also has a problem not striking out. While Joyce saw his strikeout rate drop upon his Major League arrival, his rate still stood at a poor 26.9%. Despite being excellent at taking walks, Joyce's inability to control the strikezone will be his downfall.

In exchange for Joyce, the Rays moved Edwin Jackson, clearly a spot for David Price and selling high on an immensely gifted pitcher. I can still remember the hype surrounding Edwin, the hype that only grew as he won his debut against the best pitcher at the time, Randy Johnson.

The following seasons Jackson struggled with both his control and health. When Jackson was healthy, he was being shuffled around the Dodgers organization, getting a cup of coffee, then being sent down to double A.

The Dodgers eventually grew tired of all the promise and eventually traded him to the Tampa Bay Rays. Jackson was packaged with fellow failed prospect Chuck Tiffany in exchange for eventual blow-up relievers Danys Baez and Lance Carter.

Jackson split the 2006 season between triple A and the bigs, although his control issues persisted. The Rays staff must have noted the problem, as they had Jackson throw 11% fewer fastballs in 2007 then 2006. Jackson's walk rate declined and he began to rebound.

2008 will certainly go down as Jackson's breakout season. While his strikeout rate took a major hit, Jackson's walk rate dropped to a much more managable rate. Jackson logged a career high in innings pitched and became a reliable starter for the Rays.

Entering 2009, Jackson was all but gone from the Rays rotation, if not to the bullpen, then to another organization. Here we are today, with the 25 year old now sporting the old english D and a lock for the Tigers rotation.

The Tigers have done a lot to improve their infield defense for the upcoming season. Comerica is, by all standards, a pitchers park. If Edwin can manage to bump up his strikeout rate and keep his walk rate down, the players behind him should be good enough to help Jackson build on what was a career year.

While I am more bullish on Jackson then I am on Joyce, the fact remains that this was a better trade for the Rays then it was for the Tigers-at this point. That is, Joyce will fill a hole for the Rays and do so at a high level for an affordable price. Conversely, the Tigers moved one of their few remaining trade chips to add to what is already a surplus.

True, the Tigers rotation is lacking after the top two (maybe three), but with the money owed to both Dontrelle Willis and Nate Robertson, the Tigers are better served taking their lumps and hoping one of them figures it out then adding a third or forth starter.

What will make this more tolerable for the Tigers is if the club manages to move one of Willis or Robertson for a player worth more then Joyce. If not, this is more of a move for the sake of making a move, then it is improving the club for 2009.

Coast to Coast Blockbuster

Here's how the trade between the Seattle Mariners, New York Mets, and Cleveland Indians shakes out:

Analysis to follow...

Rule V Draft Primer

Tomorrow marks MLB's Rule V draft, a draft where unprotected players can be had by any team for a fee and a roster spot. Of course, teams do a good job at protecting their most valuable assets, there are players who slip through the cracks, most notably being Johan Santana and Josh Hamilton in recent years.

That is, players signed at age 19 or older have 3 years of minor league eligibility before they must be added to a team's 40-man roster. If they are not added to the roster before this time, they will be eligible for the Rule V draft. Similarly, players signed at age 18 or younger with 4 years of minor league service become eligible for the draft if not added to a teams 40 man roster.

Another caveat in the rules, if a player is selected, he must stay on the teams 25-man roster for a full year after being selected. If he is left off the roster for one reason or another, the player will be returned to his original club-a la Matt Whitney, now with the Washington Nationals.

Typically, 'toolsy' middle infielders or left handed pitchers are the ones to be selected in the draft. The thinking is that a young, high upside middle infielder can, at worst, be a defensive replacement for a year, then be returned to the minors for another year or two of seasoning. The same with a left handed pitcher, who can be used in situational roles, as the Twins did with Johan Santana at first.

Over at Baseball America, a complete listing of all the players available for the Rule V draft is posted. It is a ridiculously long list, one that I had a tough time believing. While very few will go name by name through the list, it would have been helpful had BA gotten an intern to go through the list linking every player to at least their player profile page. First Inning has a tool for such, unfortunately it did not work-or fortunately for my desire to sleep.

I did, however go through the list searching out all of the players aged 21 and under. I will go over my findings in a moment.

While there is unlikely to be another Santana or Hamilton in this years draft, there are a handful of very intriguing young players. Tim Dierkes at MLB Trade Rumors highlights some of the players that are most likely to be selected in the draft, we're talking predominantly ex-top prospects who simply did not work and have run out of time with their respective clubs.

From that list, there are three players that specifically stick out to me. Those being Chuck Lofgren from the Cleveland Indians, Donald Veal from the Chicago Cubs, and Eduardo Morlan from the Tampa Bay Rays.

After a breakout season in 2006, Chuck Lofgren took a minor step back after being promoted to double A the following year as a 21 year old. While his numbers were not terrible in 2007, they were never good enough to warrant serious consideration for promotion. The Indians again started Lofgren in double A for the 2008 with the expectations that he would at least make a splash in triple A, if not making the big league club at some point.

Obviously this never happened as Lofgren's control-which was never a strength to begin with-took a further step back. While Lofgren has the stuff and the body that makes scouts drool, he also is a continual source of frustration. A team will certainly take a look at him at the back end of their bullpen hoping to iron out any mechanical flaws. I still really like Lofgren and think leaving him unprotected was a terrible decision-at least David Dellucci is still in town.

Donald Veal was once an untouchable prospect.Veal is a straight up power pitcher with a power pitchers body. The left hander sits in the low 90s but can touch 96 on occassion. His delivery could be tinkered with, but in all, Veal could very well be a change of scenary pitcher. The fact is, most teams are currently running out worse pitchers with the fifth spot in their rotation.

The most promising player is Eduardo Morlan.Received from the Twins as part of the Garza for Young deal, Morlan can presumably be owned for $50,000 and then stashed on the disabled list for much of 2009 season. While not technically injured, according to Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus, Morlan lost 3-5mph off his fastball this season and took a significant step back from 2007.

While 2008 was a fine season by anyones standards, it was certainly an off year for Morlan who saw his strikeout per nine drop from over 12.00 down to 8.62. Morlan managed to put up a decent walk rate, the loss in velocity sends up some serious red flags. That said, I'd be willing to take a shot at the 22 year old giant.

Another interesting prospect comes in the form of wooden-shoe wearing Loek Van Mil. Van Mil is a 7'1" dutch right hander who reaches 97mph on his fastball. Control has been an issue for the 24 year old, but considering how raw the prospect is, he may be worth bringing into Spring Training to see what he's got.

Also stealing headlines is Indians first basemen, Jordan Brown. Brown could probably be an alright bench player, but unfortunately the hopes of him developing into a legitimate power hitter are long gone. Armed with a stellar eye at the plate, Brown will be picked with one of the first few spots in the draft and owned the duration of the 2009 season.

As I mentioned, I took a look at the class of Rule V eligible players aged 21 and under. My thinking was that these players are young enough where a season of cage work and instruction may actually improve their long term futures. Unfortunately, this theory has not worked out in the past, as many high ceiling youngsters have been taken, only to fall on their faces after not hitting for a full year.

Of my list of 20 players whom I saw fit to being drafted, here are my top 5:

Edgar Osuna - 21 years old - Left Handed - Starting/Relief Pitcher - Atlanta Braves

Osuna has some phenomenal statistics, starting with a 9.69 strikeout per nine and a walk rate on the low end of the spectrum. While he took a step back in his advancement from rookie ball to A ball, we're talking a kid with a fair amount of potential.

I can't find much regarding Osuna's stuff except that he has a changeup which he uses as an out pitch. John Sickels recently rated him as a C+ prospect calling him a 'sleeper'.

Luis Ortega - 21 years old - Right Handed - Starting Pitcher - Washington Nationals

How Ortega's season has gone unnoticed in a weak Nationals farm system is beyond me. Nevertheless, the 21 year old put up strong numbers against inferior competition during the Dominican Summer Leagues. Ortega struck out more then a batter an inning while maintaining an incredible walk rate.

Without accurate scouting reports teams will certainly shy away from this player. However, if his stuff pans out, he certainly could be the next Joakim Soria.

Luis Sumoza - 20 years old - Bats and Throws Right - Outfield - Atlanta Braves

The second Brave to make this list, Sumoza is an outfielder with a boat load of power. Despite having only a few hacks above low A ball, Sumoza is a player that I would give a long look at, potentially giving him the occasional platoon-like at bats. At age 20, his development may stunt, but better stunted in my system then growing in another.

Ivan Nova - 22 years old - Right Handed - Starting Pitcher - New York Yankees

Nova entered the 2008 season ranking as the #18 prospect in the Yankees organization. Considering the incredible strides Nova took while moving up a level, the kid seems more then poised for a breakout season.

In 2008, Nova saw his strikeout rate jump from 4.89 to 6.60. While only a marginal amount, his base on balls dropped as well.

Adrian Aviles - 19 years old - Bats and Throws Left - Outfielder - Los Angeles Dodgers

Adrian hasn't done anything special. He has performed at a league average rate against equally as young competition. However, Aviles is the youngest player on this list and could easily be the cheapest draft pick a team could land.

While there are a few more players I would strongly consider picking up, these are the top 5. None of these players are likely to find their way on a Major League roster this coming season, so it will be fun to see how each player developes with their current ballclubs in 2009. It will be interesting to see who, if any, crack top prospect lists entering the 2010 season.

Enjoy the draft tomorrow.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The OLIB's First Birthday

A year has gone by already?

I've got to say, when I first started this thing, it was wishful thinking to believe it would last a year. I never anticipated posting daily or even having more then a handful of posts or so a month. But here we are, full circle, 216 posts later.

Obviously a lot has gone on, not only here at The OLIB but in baseball in general. There really isn't much need to reflect upon either, given the fact that if you are interested you can search the entire sties database.

After a year, I am pleasantly surprised with the amount of readership. While I am not on the cusp of obtaining any corporate sponsorship, the fact that I have averaged over 20 readers per day since the websites Opening Day means a lot.

Below are the stats from the past year, courtesy of SiteMeter, a surprisingly free stat counting website.

Nearly 8,000 visitors since Opening Day, whether or not that is something to be proud of, I really do not know. Needless to say, I'm impressed.

The first time I broke 1000 readers, I had a mini-celebration. In stead of taking the bull by the horn, however, I let personal issues get in the way en route to a whopping 5 posts for the month of August.

I rebounded in September. Although the hits were slow to come, I continued churning out posts and began brain storming for the future. This led to another busy month in October, coupled with the most hits the site has seen in a given month.

While not breaking a single month record for views, November followed suit in cracking 1000 readers, a milestone I hope for as a minimum from this point forward and am currently paced for entering the 13th month of The OLIB's existence.

Thank you to everyone who has come and read anything on this site. Whether you have agreed or disagreed with whatever I have had to say, your viewership is greatly appreciated.


Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Contemplating Speculation

Despite the fact that we are still two months away from pitchers and catchers meeting for Spring Training, there is plenty of action going on. The Winter Meetings signal the actual start to free agency, where the majority of big name free agents will either sign their contracts or begin to put the specifics of an upcoming contract down.

This is a time where General Managers beginning checking off items from their shopping lists, where the off-season plan either comes to fruition or is the start of 'plan B'.

But the most exciting part of Major League Baseball's Winter Meetings are the rumors, the speculation. This is the time of year where a team can do nothing and find fans turning against them. This is where fans should figure out exactly how invalid the majority of rumors are.

Let's kick it off with the most outlandish one:

Kansas City will trade Zach Greinke to the Atlanta Braves for Jeff Francouer.

There's two side to what is an obviously inaccurate trade rumor. First, if this trade is literally on the table and the Braves front office is not running to Bud Selig with the details, they should be kicked out of the league. There is not an easier move to make then this speculated one.

That being said, if the price tag on Greinke is as low as a player such as Jeff Francouer then the front office of 28 other Major League teams should be burned down. Literally. There is not a reason for any team to not want to make a move such as this. At 25 years old, Greinke may well be one of the most valuable players in baseball.

True, a Tim Lincecum is obviously worth more and there are plenty of other pitchers and hitters that are making the low salary that Greinke is. However, how many of them would cost a player with as little value as Francouer? The 24 year old with a career .318 wOBA (which is brutal for an outfielder).

The only nugget of truth here is that Dayton Moore openly wants Francouer. However, even Moore, Frenchy's biggest fan, wouldn't send Greinke in this deal. That said, it's safe to assume the conversation went more along the lines of,

DM - I'm interested in bringing Jeff Francouer to Kansas City.
Frank Wren - He's expendable.
DM - How much?
FW - Let's start with Zach Greinke.
DM - Let's stop talking.


DM - If I give you Zach Greinke would you be willing to move Jeff Francouer?
FW - I'll even give you my Blue Man Group tickets!!!

Also, do we really think that Dayton Moore would want to add another outfielder? Is his job as General Manager not already difficult enough that he wants to create more log jams?

Interesting rumor number two - Jermaine Dye leaving Chicago. The Reds already shot down the speculation that Dye would come to town in exchange for Homer Bailey, how far are we from Frank Wren shooting down a Dye for Tommy Hanson swap. Wait, did I just start a rumor?

Certainly Kenny Williams is trying to move Dye, but I think the understanding of that is clouding the better judgement of reporters. That is, why report a rumor of a trade that you wouldn't do?

The rumor that won't die - Jake Peavy joining the world's greatest pitching staff.

Everyone is reporting this and everyone has a different story. Long story short, whatever you read in the next 12 hours is false. There may be pieces that are accurate, but for the most part we are hearing a couple of names from different people. Interestingly, the team that is reported to give up the best player is easily getting the worst package in return.

That being said, ignore everything you hear until you come home from work on Wednesday.

An accurate rumor - Matt Weiters is being handed the starting backstop job in Baltimore, and Ryan Freel is going to get an orange uniform dirty. Freel goes to Baltimore for Ramon Hernandez.

This trade doesn't make sense for the Reds, but neither did the big contract they handed out to Eric Milton. Maybe the Reds don't have a plan?

I also wonder why the Orioles aren't looking for a prospect in return instead of Freel. Although the possibility of another Red prospect going to Baltimore makes some more sense.

There's lots going on, most of which can be ignored. Needless to say, this is a very exciting time of year.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Rangers move Laird to the Tigers for Prospects

Late friday evening, the Detroit Tigers and Texas Rangers came to terms on a deal that would send Gerald Laird to Detroit in exchange for two pitching prospects, Guillermo Moscoso and Carlos Melo. My first impression of this deal, is that the Tigers received a good haul for what can be considered as wildcard type prospects.

Even though I initially felt as though the Tigers had come out on top in this deal, I was curious why they set their sights so low. A friend later pointed out that this trade was made for defensive purposes and defensive purposes alone. In which case, this was probably as good as the Tigers could have gotten.

However, the Tigers have to have a concern regarding Gerald Laird's durability. At 29 years old, it has to be troubling that Laird has not once played a full season. In 2007, the season in which Laird had his career high in plate appearances, he also had what is arguably the worst offensive season of his career.

That being said, if this trade was indeed made for defensive reasons, then certainly this career wOBA (Weighted On Base Average-more on that later this week) catcher is a fine player to add. Durability, however, is still a cause for concern.

While Laird has never truly been given an opportunity to be an everyday catcher, he also has not done an incredible amount in earning that job. While Laird is a fine defensive catcher, he still needs to show that he can be excellent as a full time catcher.

Laird did not cost the Tigers any of their top prospects-the few that the organization does have. What Laird did cost the Tigers is a hard throwing pitcher that is close to being Major League ready, and a youngster with an incredible ceiling.

The first, and closest player to the majors, Guilermo Moscoso is an absolutely interesting acquisition. Moscoso was signed out of Venezuela as a 19 year old. It was not until two years later that he would make his professional North American debut.

Since this time, Moscoso has provided an outstanding strikeout rate, coupled with an equally as impressive walk rate. There is, however, concern that his success has been more a product of performing against younger competition, as at 25 years old, Moscoso has only thrown 34.2 innings above A ball.

That aside, those 34.2 double A innings were outstanding. Posting a 6.25 stikeout to walk ratio at any level of baseball is outstanding. It will be interesting to see how Moscoso developes and is certainly a player that the Tigers will regret moving.

One order of concern, durability. Moscoso has never exceeded 100 innings in a professional season. Couple that with his performance thus far in the Venezuela Winter League, albeit in a small sample.

The second player is equally as intriguing, although very far from the Majors. Carlos Melo, the 17 year old from Dominican Republic is a name to remember. The kid is already registering a fastball between 92 and 96mph. Melo registered 61 strikeouts in 49 innings, good for 10 strikeouts per nine innings-an excellent rate at any level.

As expected from a raw and electric teenager from Latin America, Melo struggled with his control, registering 3.5 walks per nine innings. This is not a dreadful statistic, but certainly one that Melo will need to work on in order to build his stock.

As I initially suggested, this looks like a win for the Tigers. However, I am inclined to assert that the Rangers got the best part of this deal through adding a very nice long term piece in Melo. Further, I wonder if the overall value of Laird will be significant than any one of a number of free agent catchers. While Laird will certainly be the best defensive catcher, is that enough to make up for his offensive short comings.

Additionally, I gather that the pitching starved Tigers will regret the loss of Moscoso, specifically if Jeremy Bonderman can not return from his injury and if Armando Galarraga can not repeat his unexpected success.

That being said, the Tigers are better behind the dish entering Opening Day of 2009 then they were entering Opening Day of 2008. The club also saves some money in the process.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

It's Arbitration Day

Those who were offered arbitration have the remainder of today to announce whether or not they are accepting arbitration. There were 24 players who were offered arbitration and presumably each one will accept, subsequently receiving a one-year contract with an assumed pay raise. There are some more specifics which occur during the arbitration process, and I'll touch on that later.

For now, however, let's look at who was offered arbitration and what that means.

Of the 24 players offered arbitration, nine were hitters. This list is headlined by Manny Ramirez, Mark Teixeira, Raul Ibanez, and Milton Bradley. Also received arbitration were Casey Blake, Orlando Hudson, Jason Varitek, Orlando Cabrera, and Mark Grudzielanek.

From the headliner list, I can see both Ramirez and Ibanez considering these offers. While both would prefer to sign long term contracts, the top heavy depth in this years free agent class for outfielders means neither player may get the dollars they are looking for. Specifically, Ibanez, a type A free agent and arguably less valuable then free free agents Adam Dunn, Pat Burrell, and Bobby Abreu.

That is, since neither of the aforementioned trio was offered arbitration, teams do not have to worry about losing a first round selection. Since the performance and subsequently contract demands will extraordinarily similar, it is tough to imagine a team giving up the salary plus a high pick for Ibanez.

The same can be said about Varitek, Cabrera, and Grudzielanek. In the case of these three players, there are similarly talented players available without the cost of giving up a draft pick.

Manny is an interesting case. Here is a player, who if he accepts arbitration will receive a contract exceeding $20M. While Manny would be running the risk that at his age the contract he signs will be his last, he also has to be confident that a single year at $20M is greater then the average annual salary of a three year or more contract would provide. One has to wonder if player for next years salary would be enough to keep the incredibly talented Manny motivated.

In what is a deep free agent pitching class, there may be some interesting decisions among the arbitration eligible pitchers. In all, 15 pitchers were offered arbitration. While CC Sabathia, Oliver Perez, and Jon Garland from the starters, and Francisco Rodriguez, Brandon Lyon, Juan Cruz, and Brian Fuentes will certainly decline arbitration, there are players who have some tough calls to make.

Derek Lowe comes to mind in this case. While he is at a similar point in his career to Manny, in that any contract could conceivably be the last contract, the fact remains that he is likely to make more in 2009 through arbitration then by signing a three or four year contract. There has been plenty of speculation regarding interesting teams, and Lowe has had a long enough career where an extra million or two over the next couple of seasons may not make a big enough deal to risk a major injury.

Another interesting case is Ben Sheets. Here is a pitcher that has been extrmely vulnerable to injury. Entering September, Sheets was having the dream 'contract year' season. He hadn't missed a start and had been performing at a very high level. In all honesty, between he and Sabathia, teams would have been excused for more aggressively pursuing Sheets.

Then the wheels fell off. Sheets suffered an injury in a start on the first of September, and never really got all the way healthy. Sheets tried to pitch through the pain, but failed and didn't even make it onto the Brewers post-season roster.

There is no doubt that this will affect the contract that Sheets is offered, in both length and value. This then raises the question, does Sheets accept arbitration, taking a lesser raise and hopes for a full season in 2009 where he can work to increase his value, or does he simply take the best three or four year offer and run, knowing full well he won't be healthy for the duration of his contract?

AJ Burnett is in a similar position, although it is more clear that he feels as though this is going to be the final contract of his career. That is, Burnett's agent has let it be known that AJ is willing to take a lesser average annual salary in exchange for a fifth year on the contract. While much of this is simply jockeying for position, the Yankees have suggested they would be willing to go no more then four years. Given that Burnett also voided the final two years of a contract that would have paid him $24M from the Blue Jays, it is clear the pitcher is concerned about his ability to maintain his value over the long term.

Paul Byrd is a player who could conceivably accept arbitration. At this point in his career, it is unlikely anyone offers Byrd a multi-year contract and being on an organization with as great of a chance to win as the Red Sox have has got to be a nice bonus for the elder stateman.

Additional fringe players include relievers Darren Oliver, Brian Shouse, Dennys Reyes, and David Weathers. Each of these players are on the fringe of being valuable and may be better served waiting another year when there isn't a KRod, Fuentes, and Chad Cordero.

Cruz is another interesting case, albeit one that will certainly decline arbitration. That is, I am curious as to what sort of contract he would receive if he accepted arbirtation.

There was much made about the Cubs not offering Kerry Wood arbitration, and at first I completely agreed with the mob mentality that suggested this was a foolish decision. However, digging deeper, I realized this was the correct decision to make.

The initial argument was made that the Cubs threw away draft picks by not offering arbitration. This is simply false. Consider the depth of the free agent closer market, where Wood could conceivably be as highly ranked as #1 but as low as #5 or 6. His agent may then suggest that Kerry accepts arbitration and waits a season to go into the market, where he would undoubtedly be one of the top two closers available.

Further, given that Wood is coming off of a year in which he made $8M+ after incentives, his arbitration figure would be close to $10M, if not higher. While $10M is probably the figure he would make annually as a free agent, that he wouldn't be the Cubs closer means they would be paying a premium for a set up reliever.

That aside, Wood's agent may have also advised Kerry that another healthy year as a high leverage reliever will lead teams to forgetting about his failures as a starter. Remembering Wood as a starter may cause teams to be apprehensive to dish out a long term contract.

Thus, there is not a simple conclusion that the Cubs threw away draft picks as Wood was probably 50-50 to accepting arbitration.

Also, consider what that would have meant for the Cubs, owners of one of baseball's most phanatic fan bases. Hendry would have been asked, 'Why are you paying Kerry like a closer while not having him close?' Given that Carlos Marmol is the superior option as the teams closer, Wood's contract would have only muddied what should be an obvious decision.

Furthermore, let's not forget how fragile Wood has been over his career. Imagine the reaction of Cubs fans if Wood was hurt at some point during Spring Training?

All that being said, Hendry took the safe route in not offering Wood arbitration. While he does not receive the obvious benefits of arbitration, he also avoids the equally as damaging side affects of Wood accepting arbitration.

Another positive comes in the fact that Hendry has had these last weeks to decide what to do with the $8-10M that Wood would have cost. Given that the club does not need a closer, Hendry could bring in two relievers and an Adam Everett for the cost of Wood.

I did, however, find it interesting that not one of Abreu, Burrell, nor Dunn were offered arbitration. While I can acknowledge the argument behind Abreu (too costly, too old) and Dunn (unaffordable and unnecessary for the DBacks), Burrell's omission surprised me.

There is little doubt that Burrell would decline arbitration. He is at a stage in his career where a multi-year contract is the minimum requirement.

However, even if Burrell accepted arbitration, the Phillies could certainly afford him. In addition to this, there is a legitimate argument (especially with the news of Chase Utley) that the Phillies need Burrell in order to compete. Considering that the ballclub squeaked into the playoffs to begin with, voluntarily losing a major piece of the clubs offense was not a wise decision.

Teams await the news of whether or not their impending free agents will accept arbitration. They await this news to understand what type of draft they will have lined up for 2009, as well as what holes they need to fill this offseason. The Hot Stove is officially firing up and the excitement of baseball's offseason is just beginning.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Khalil Greene Traded to the St. Louis Cardinals

"The San Diego Padres continued their firesale today, trading Khalil Greene to the St. Louis Cardinals..."
If there was ever a reason to disregard the baseball coverage from network media in Canada, this is it. The Padres continued their firesale today? Continued? As in, this is the first move they have made? As in, the final details of the trade (at the time of the comment) are yet to be announced meaning we don't even know exactly what the Padres are receiving for Greene to be certain this actually is a firesale, and not simply a trade?

The fact is, the Padres are looking to cut payroll. This is presumably a trade that signals a step of that process. But to have the ignorance to suggest that this is a part of the firesale, is to simply ignore the facts.

To this point, the Padres have directly been responsible for sending three players to free agency (Josh Bard, Chip Ambres, and Shawn Estes). Let's face it, only Bard has a chance to truly be missed and could be termed as a cost cutting move-albeit minimally.

The Padres also declined to offer arbitration to Trevor Hoffman. While Hoffman is still an effective closer, it's tough to argue with the Padres' front office deciding against bringing him aboard. Even still, this wouldn't be considered a 'firesale' move in the least bit.

In what is arguably the most 'non-fire-sale-y' move of the offseason, the Padres picked up the 2009 option of Brian Giles. This was a fairly easy move to make, and when everything is all said and done, Giles may be with another team on Opening Day, but the fact remains, he is still with the club.

So too is Jake Peavy, one of the hottest discussed names of the 2009 Hot Stove League. While one can't blame the Padres for not backing down from their current asking price of Peavy, if they were truly involved in a 'firesale' this move certainly would have been made by now.

With all of that being said, how can anyone suggest that the Padres have continued their firesale? It's debatable whether the Padres are legitimately involved in a firesale.

That rant withstanding, the Padres and Cardinals have officially come to terms on a deal that will send Khalil Greene to St. Louis in exchange for relief pitcher Mark Worrell and our favorite PTBNL (Player to be Named Later).

Let's take a look at what is clearly a win for the Cardinals.

Khalil Greene is coming off of a down season, which is typically the perfect time to act on a trade. While Greene has never been one to display an incredible amount of patience, his power and league average contact rate is enough to overcome what will otherwise be a pathetic on base percentage.

Much has been made about Greene's move away from PETCO Park, and how much better he performed on the road then at home. Similar to the case with Matt Holliday, it is lazy analysis to suggest that Greene will perform up to par with his road measures, although the deviation does give us a footing to begin with.

EQA is a statistic that takes into account league and park factors. The statistic is meant to read similar to batting average, in that a mark over .300 is considered good to great, and a mark under .260 is considered worse then league average. The one thing EQA does not consider, however, is if a player was simply unlucky.

Looking at Khalil's career EQA, we see a player that rates as slightly worse then a league average hitter, owning a career mark of .258. However, as we all know, statistics can oftentimes not tell an entire story.

That is, if we see a hitter with a .258 EQA, a simply assumption is that he has performed as frequently above league average, as he has below that mark. This, however, is not the case with Khalil Greene. Looking at the seasons where Greene was a full time member of the Padres, we can see that in four of his five seasons, Greene's EQA has been above .258, only once did his mark fall below that line-well below at that.

Can we then consider this figure to be an outlier? Certainly. While Greene did increase his strikeout rate in 2008, he also provided a line drive rate higher then his career mark. In other words, while we may have expected his batting average to be slightly lower then in previous season's, his .215 mark this year was well below where it should have stood, and subsequently lowered his EQA.

However, if we are going to eliminate a low outlier, should we not eliminate an otherwise high outlier? Of course. In 2004, Greene's rookie season, he provided a career high EQA of .281. While this is not as much of an outlier as his 2008 season, it is far enough from his next best season to predict that it will be a career high. Whether a weakness was noted in Greene, or something altered in his approach we truly do not know, but the fact remains that this is a season that was potentially a career best.

All that being said, we now have 3 seasons of data to look at, 3 nearly identical seasons in terms of EQA. From 2005 to 2007, Greene posted an adjusted OPS of .759, .781, and .813, good for an average of .791.

Entering his age 29 season, it is doubtful that Greene will begin a downward spiral so soon, thus, one could predict that his adjusted OPS would be around .791. Compare that to a 2008 league average OPS of .714 and we have one of the better short stops in the majors. In fact, only 6 teams had a cumulative short stop OPS above that figure, including St. Louis' 26th ranked .635.

A .791 OPS is probably wishful thinking for Greene, but there is little doubt in my mind that he won't exceed his non-adjusted 2005-07 OPS of .745.

As for Greene the fielder, he's probably closer to being a gold glover then an iron glover. That said, he's still a middle of the pack fielder that may surprise a few inching into the top 7.

In exchange for Khalil Greene, the Padres will receive right-handed, sorta side-arming reliever Mark Worrell. This certainly is not a bad pickup by the Padres given Worrell's Minor League track record, however, this can't possibly be as much as they could have received for Greene.

While repeating triple A, Worrell posted a dominated line of over 12 strikeouts per nine innings. At 25 years old, Worrell is a borderline old prospect, although being drafted at age 21 is partially to blame for such.

After being drafted in the 12th round of the 2004 first year player draft, Worrell signed quickly and showed that he was more then capable of handling Minor Leaguers. In 37 innings split between rookie and A ball, Worrell allowed 10 runs, while strikeing out 55.

The 2005 season saw Worrell facing high A hitters for the duration of the year. While Worrell's strikeout rate took a marginal step back, his walks were down and Worrell was displaying the tools that allowed John Sickels at Minor League Ball to rate him as a C+ prospect, citing his 'live arm' as evidence.

2006 was Worrell's first action against men. While Worrell's ERA took a step in a negative direction, his strikeout and walk rates both improved. Sickels again rated him as a C+ prospect, again sitting as the 16th best prospect in the Cardinals organization.

2007 saw another promotion for Worrell, but one that he appeared not ready for. Worrell posted a worse strikeout and walk rate then he had in the previous two seasons despite lowering his FIP. His work in the 2007 season knocked him from Sickels' 2008 prospect list.

Despite being promoted to the Major Leagues at the end of the 2008 season, Worrell's walk rate again rose. This time, however, he coupled an increasing walk rate with a tremendous spike in his strikeout rate. It was because of this spike that Worrell has again become an interesting prospect.

Worrell should flourish in San Diego. As a pitcher who throws 89-90mph from an unusual angle, he should have just enough to provide the Padres with a nice long term arm out of the bullpen. With some decent fielding behind him, and a spacious PETCO outfield, Worrell will never have more value then he does entering the 2009 season. He does, however, have options remaining, which means the Padres have the luxury of not having to carry Worrell on their 25-man roster.

What this also provides San Diego with, is a bit of salary relief for the 2009 season. The $6.5M they save on Greene can now be used to help justify keeping Jake Peavy around for a while, or simply helping with the handful of arbitration eligible players the club has.

In all, for $6.5M and a slightly above average young reliever, the Cardinals picked up a top half short stop. Also, consider that if the Cardinals do not extend Greene-something I would begin working on immediately-there is a very good chance that Greene is at least a Type B free agent, which would net the Cardinals a compensatory draft pick, inside the top 100.

Considering that Worrell had little value to the Cardinals for the 2009 season, and that they flipped a 12th round pick for a potential 3rd rounder is reason enough to consider the Cardinals winners in this deal. That they received a top 12 short stop at a below market price is further evidence of victory for the Cardinals front office.

What I would like to know, however, is what the Orioles and Tigers were doing during these negotiations?

Oh, and TSN, from this point forward you can now refer to moves made by the Padres as part of a firesale.
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