Category Archives: Free agent signings

Can Dodgers afford to be patient with Loney?

I’m not gonna put a pretty picture on this.  James Loney put up a sub-.400 slugging percentage last season.

To put that into perspective, there have been 216 seasons of first basemen with more than 502 plate appearances between 2000 and 2009.  The median slugging percentage is .500.  Ryan Garko, despite being such a sub-par hitter for the position, has put up a better SLG% every year of his career than Loney put up last year. Only 16 first basemen since 2000 have had a sub-.400 slugging that (min. 502 AB), Loney and Aubrey Huff were the two to do it in 2009.  Loney did it in the second-most plate appearances (651), with Darin Erstad’s horrendous .371 slugging in 663 plate appearances in 2005 beating him.

Yes, Loney was above average compared to the rest of the league last year  But he was very bad given his position.  In fact, he was the second-worst offensive 1B last year, only ahead of Huff.  Even though he had an above-average on-base percentage for the league, 14 every day starting first basemen (out of 23) had a better on-base percentage.  Even in the one thing that gives him offensive value, he’s below league average for the position.

His one saving grace, and the one reason why fans haven’t turned on him, is that he has potential. Also that the team is winning, but that’s a blanketing statement.

Meanwhile, the core of the Dodgers is getting older and more expensive and this may be their best opportunity for a serious run before the major 2012-2015 crash from the lack of prospects in the minors.

Fangraphs had a very good post about Loney.  I don’t see what other people see in Loney’s swing.  It’s very smooth, but it doesn’t look like he’s loading power.  It looks like he’s deliberately not swinging for power most times.  As the Fangraphs article points out, he’s actually very good at spraying the ball to the opposite field, but he’s not swinging for pull as much as he should be–that’s where his power is.

I always try to keep things in perspective.  Big Klu didn’t come around immediately either.  That’s how it works with prospects.  It’s up to them to reach their potential.

Ted Kluszewski, however, had one above-average power year before his age 28 season. At first base, no less.

Now I’m not saying Loney will turn into Klu. Klu is a comparable, but he didn’t have Loney’s patience and patience is associated with a lot of good things in hitting.  The problem is, if Loney’s best years are still ahead of him, or even three years ahead of him, can the Dodgers afford to wait for that?

First base is a premiere hitter’s position.  Basically you want your best power hitters with no redeeming defensive qualities in these positions, by order: LF, 1B, RF, 3B, 2B, CF, C/SS.  That’s kind of old school theory, but it’s correct. Maybe you’d rather have your worst fielder in RF because fewer balls go there (now there’s a cool study), but 1B is a great position because it doesn’t require much fielding and throwing.

The Dodgers right now are fortunate enough to have the best center fielder hitter in the game.  Take his production and put it at 1B and it’s still valuable. They also have solid to above-average hitting (compared to other players in position) from third base, second base right field, left field and catcher.

Originally I thought maybe moving Ethier to first base and signing a free agent outfielder would be the best, since Ethier is such an awful outfielder. But Manny leaving next year means there’s already going to be one hole in the outfield and there is, right now, no outfielder in the minors that’s prepared to jump to the majors.

There’s a number of decent free agents available in the 2011 free agency pool at 1B and OF: Carl Crawford, Adam Dunn, Derrek Lee, Carlos Pena, Lyle Overbay and the potentially awesome return to Los Angeles of Jayson Werth.  (There’s also the potential of the Cardinals not paying Pujols’ option, and same with the Astros and Berkman, but both ideas are laughable).

The team will also have a number of their players going through huge arbitration hearings over the next three years and will need to value their money properly.  This goes for Kemp, Kershaw, Martin, Billingsley, Broxton and Sherrill, in addition to Loney.

Assuming the core of young talent becomes expensive, a cheap alternative wherever it can be found is necessary.  So Loney, even though he’s not that great offensively, becomes remarkably valuable in dollar terms.

The OF market won’t be so strong that the Dodgers can pick up two valuable outfielders for reasonable prices. The only reasonable solution would be to sign both Crawford and Werth or maybe sign Dunn to play 1B and Crawford or Werth, with Ethier remaining in the outfield.  In that latter one, you’re giving up A LOT on defense.  And that’s assuming the bidding war for those players’ services doesn’t exceed the Dodgers’ budget.

Long story short, the drop in the level of production from

Ethier OF-Loney 1B-replacement OF
to
Ethier 1B-replacement OF-replacement OF

would be too great, and that’s made even worse if the Dodgers’ money woes continue into next year.  The Dodgers would then have to trade Loney, and they’d have to give up more than they get in that.  The only suitable replacement would have to be someone so great, he supercedes Loney and the replacement outfielder’s production–and that’s basically just Pujols.

Alternatively, every free agent 1B on the market has had serious injury issues or just isn’t that good.  The only one I would consider a bigger gain than loss over Loney would be either Carlos Pena or Adam Dunn, though those two aren’t so great to warrant replacing Loney.  (Dunn, fyi, is such a bad outfielder that he almost literally negates his offensive value).

So yeah.  Maybe Loney’s not the best offensive 1B, but he’s the Dodgers’ 1B.  Hopefully he develops into his full potential, but if he doesn’t, he’s still a valuable asset to the Dodgers.

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Financial Considerations: Baseball Money and Spending

Part I — the Overview

Before we start, I’m gonna give a shout out to Cot’s Baseball Contracts.  The people who run it have been an amazing resource over the past two years in baseball contracts.

Baseball is a business.  It always has been and always will be.  Players are commodities and they come with price tags.  You can talk about intangibles and whatever else, but a player is–or rather, should be–valued for what he can produce on the field and baseball is lucky to have such large sample sizes from which to pull.  So let’s talk about baseball and the root of all evil.

First and foremost, let’s start with the hilarious.

The Phillies have $130 million already dedicated to the 2011 season.  Yes.  That’s right.  The year after next year, they’ll be paying at least $130 million, and probably more, in payroll.  That’s regardless of whether or not they have a greater than or worse than .500 record in 2010.  That’s after losing right fielder Jayson Werth to free agency and ditching Jamie Moyer’s contract. That’s not including the four or five arbitration hearings they’ll have to deal with, including starting catcher Carlos Ruiz.  And the kicker: this is more than the Yankees owe to the 2011 season ($116 mil).

Here’s a small breakdown of where that money’s going:

  • Ryan Howard — $20 mil
  • Roy Halladay — $20 mil
  • Chase Utley — $15 mil
  • Raul Ibanez — $12 mil
  • Brad Lidge — $12 mil
  • Jimmy Rollins — $8.5 mil
  • Cole Hamels — $9.5 mil
  • Joe Blanton — $8.5 mil
  • Shane Victorino — $7.5 mil
  • Placido Polanco — $5.5 mil

Some elements of good spending and some elements of bad (very bad).

Halladay at $20 million is pricey, but worth it.  Utley at $15 million is very good.  Victorino at $7.5 million is good.  Hamels, of course, is signed through his arbitration years, and $9.5 million is a steal. It would be revisionist history to say Jimmy Rollins’ $8.5 million (a team option which was accepted in Dec. ’09) was good at the time, so we’ll mark it zero. Because of those contracts and the addition of Howard, a cheap Jayson Werth,

But, of course, there’s some serious problems in there. Howard getting paid $20 mil is ridiculous and about $5-10 million overpriced.  Howard was rewarded handsomely before the 2008 season in his arbitration case, getting $10 million–a little less than what he’s worth.  He put up a  .251/.339/.543 slash line in 2008 and Phillies GM Ruben Amaro rewarded him with a 3-year, $54 million contract.*

*If you need evidence on the over-valuation of home runs and RBIs, Howard is your perfect guy.  Low on-base percentage–mostly because of a low batting average–and some decent slugging helped hugely by his dingers, but he hasn’t put up a line like his 2006 year since that year. The $20 mil per annum contracts should be reserved for the best hitters in the game–your Hanleys and Pujolses.  These guys are the best at patience, hitting for average and hitting for power.  Howard has decent patience and great power, but no average.  Imagine throwing $20 million at Adam Dunn.  Can you?

And then we have the absolute garbage.  The Lidge contract may be one of the funniest of all-time.  It astonishes me that Amaro felt a reliever, even one that had as good (albeit lucky) season as Lidge in 2008, was worth more than his left-fielder.  And as for that left fielder, the Raul Ibanez deal–three years, $30 million–was labeled one of the worst of the off-season.  An aging slugger with terrible defense and type A free agent, Amaro lost four draft picks (failing to offer Burrell arbitration lost him two, signing Ibanez lost him two more; and note: this team was built on draft picks) for only a slightly smaller benefit.  In 2011, his contract will most definitely hurt the team. And then Blanton and Polanco both signed three-year deals this year, both hugely overvalued–and Polanco will be playing a position he hasn’t played in years.  These are all contracts that shouldn’t have been even offered.

And now to digress a bit back to our point, we can’t criticize without seeing what other options were out there and understanding market value for the players.

For one, Adrian Beltre, who is a very, very big upgrade over Polanco in defense and a mild downgrade in offense, received a one year, $9 mil contract to play for Boston this year.* This looks especially terrible when you see Polanco’s three-year slash stats have trended downward and last year he was at .285/.331/.396.

*You can make an argument that this is one thing “big market” clubs have on “little market” clubs, or whatever you want to call them.  Teams with more money to spend can throw more per annum at a player while a team with less money can counter with more years, which ends up crippling the team in the long run.  I’ll get more into that in a later piece.

Pretty obvious that Amaro misspent his money here and cost his team financial flexibility in 2011 and 2012 by not adding a replacement player–whom they already have in Greg Dobbs.  Furthermore, who else was bidding for Polanco’s services?  Why was a three-year offer even offered?  I’ll get more into that in the free agency post.

Market value is a tough thing to figure out.  It’s fickle, intangible and sometimes set arbitrarily by whomever signs the first contract.

And here’s where you, the general manager of a baseball team, have to set your goals.

Where do you start?  Where’s the best place to invest your money?  Where do you draw the line on free agents? On draft picks? When do you go over market value for a player?  What do you have planned in case everything falls apart? How does your team go from basement dweller to a World Series apperance?

This is the start of a new series about baseball finances, divided into several parts.  I’ll be discussing free agency, the rule IV and V drafts, dollar and year values of players and how to best utilize money in different budgets.  Stay tuned.

When do you go over market value?

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Royals sign Rick Ankiel, 1 year, $3.25 mil

“A power hitter with a terrible on-base percentage WE MUST SIGN HIM!!” –Royals GM Dayton Moore.

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Hahaha: Tigers ink Valverde 2 years, 14 mil

This is a great story.

The Detroit Tigers signed Jose Valverde to a two-year, $14 million deal for no particular reason.

This is a team that may not be doing well financially. Before this acquisition, their payroll for next season was already $100 million.  They sunk a bunch of money into the future for a title and they have lost a lot of revenue by not reaching the playoffs.

In what some think was a response to this, they shipped off their best young player, fan favorite Curtis Granderson, to the Yankees as a salary dump.  Curtis Granderson isn’t even making that much:

2010:$5.5M, 2011:$8.25M, 2012:$10M, 2013:$13M club option ($2M buyout)

But we all kinda nodded and said “OK, he’s pretty much the only guy on the team with a heavier contract that was tradeable.”  Seriously, take a look at this.

Miguel Cabrera: $120 mil through 2015
Magglio Ordonez: 2010: $18 mil + 2011 and 2012 options
Carlos Guillen: 2010: $13 mil 2011: $13 mil
Jeremy Bonderman: 2010: $12.5 mil
Dontrelle Willis: 2010: $12 mil
Nate Robertson: 2010: $10 mil
Brandon Inge: 2010: $6.6 mil

And then they immediately about-face and sign Valverde with Granderson’s money.  Even if dumping Granderson wasn’t a payroll move, starting pitchers are going for this kind of money–Joel Piniero may go somewhere for roughly the same price.

Even better: Valverde is a Type A.  The Tigers lose a first round draft pick and a supplemental pick out of this.  For a reliever.

And the cherry on top, courtesy of Rotowire:

There is also an option for a third year at $9 million.

Beautiful.

Valverde is an OK reliever. Not much better than that. He’s had a decent season here and there, but he’s got SAVES and so he’s overvalued.  Now he’ll likely slide into the closer role and be Todd Jones v2.0 for the Tigers, but with a worse defense behind him.

I literally cannot wait to see this.

Edit: ahahaha the Tigers’ first draft pick in the 2010 draft was no. 19.  Picks 16-30 are unprotected by type A free agent signings, so that goes immediately to the Astros.

I literally cannot imagine a worse way to lose your first round draft pick.

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This’ll be fun: Reds get Chapman 5 yrs, $30 mil.?

Jeff Passan just reported through his unverified Twitter account, and Jeff Blair of the Toronto Globe and Mail confirmed, that the Reds have signed Aroldis Chapman for five years, $30 million and holy moly are they setting themselves up for disaster.

The contract will probably be heavily backloaded, but as we discussed in yesterday’s post, control is basically the hardest thing for a pitcher to learn and it’s entirely possible that the Reds will pay all of that $30 million just to develop Aroldis without seeing him reach his potential.

What makes it worse is that the Reds aren’t particularly good at developing pitchers, even worse at teaching control at the major league level.  Homer Bailey and Johnny Cueto both went through the Reds minor league system and both have been less than average at the major league level–most noteably Cueto, who has had two full years in the majors and hasn’t been able to get his hits per nine innings under 9. If there’s any hope, Bailey finally posted his first sub-3 BB/9 season in a significant amount of time in the minors last year.

Both Bailey and Cueto were brought up too early, which may have been the fault of former GM Wayne Krivsky, but Jocketty has a problem with that as well.

And then when they are ready, they’re often abused by Dusty Baker, who doesn’t seem to understand that pitchers shouldn’t exceed a certain amount of pitches in a given year for fear of overuse.  Edinson Volquez was basically gifted to the Reds as a pitcher prepared for the majors and Dusty Baker decided to make him throw 50 more innings than he had ever pitched before.  Now he’s out with TJ surgery.

Bottom line is it’s gonna take time for Chapman to develop and the Reds’ track record for giving talented pitchers a chance to succeed at every level before bringing them up, and then not abusing them when they’re ready, is terrible.  Not to mention, they just gave him twice as much money as Stephen Strasburg, who’s basically ready to go, so their expectations have to place him in the majors soon, if not immediately.

Edit: John Fay, the Reds beat reporter for the Cincinnati Enquirer, is reporting it’s not signed and the deal may be 10 years.

Edit 2: John Fay now says six years with money deferment, Mark Sheldon (MLB.com Reds beat guy) says 5/25 with sixth year option.

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Huh: An interesting counter to the Holliday signing haters

The Cardinals were lambasted for a few reasons for the Holliday signing, whether if it was for the amount of money, the years or that no one was bidding against them.

A poster in the Fangraphs article about the Holliday signing linked a very good article from Hardball Times.

If you scroll down to the middle or so, it states that players who played 10 years and had 5,000 plate appearances 1950-2008 have a very good decline, and 1980-2008 often had peak years between ages 30-33.

From the article:

In the pre-1980 era, for players who have at least 10 years and 5,000 PA in MLB, the aging curve is pretty symmetrical around a plateau stretching from around 27 or 28 to 32. From 21 to 27 or 28 is almost a mirror image of 32 to 38. In the modern era, the player with a long and prosperous career peaks at 30 stays relatively stable until age 33, declines gradually (around two or three runs per year) after that until age 38, and then declines by around five runs per year after that.

Holliday is on pace for that and has six years so far with almost 3,700 plate appearances.

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Matt Holliday, comparables and St. Louis’ $120 million bet

Matt Holliday is a good baseball player.  He hits for very good contact, he hits for good power and he has some patience and defensive value.  He’ll also likely have a regression at some point in his Cardinals career and there’s an outside chance it gets ugly.

The St. Louis Cardinals rewarded him this week, paying him $120 million for the next seven years of service–a good portion of the money will be deferred, without interest, until 2029. So over time, it’ll actually be worth less than 120 million. But that’s still a lot of money and a lot of years.

Don’t get me wrong, Holliday is a very good player. But his peak isn’t that great–take away the park and RBIs and it’s very good, but not impressive.  Plus, he’s half-way through his prime and no one knows how his decline is going to go.  Add in that Jason Bay–a player with a lower batting average, but similar OBP and relatively close power numbers who also benefitted from a hitter’s park for a few years–received a five-year, $80 million deal, nobody was bidding against the Cardinals for Holliday and the contract has a full no-trade clause and this looks considerably worse.

Fangraphs makes some good points about his UZR/150 and WAR and Holliday’s decline, though it seems to suggest his decline will come at a steady, gradual pace, which is … kind. Plus, his WAR and UZR/150 would be more important if he weren’t playing one of the least defensively important postion in the sport.

But let’s ignore the worst case scenario–the possibility of injuries or that Holliday’s had more good luck than bad over the last five years–what’s the best possible case?  That he performs well above-average for at least three or four years and above-average all seven years?

Player A: .323 BA/.390 OBP/ 35-45 HR per season/30-45 doubles per season

Player B: .318 BA/.387 OBP/25-35 HR per season/40-50 doubles per season

Guess which player is which.

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