Thursday, November 29, 2012

A Game of Dominoes

Denard Span
First the Braves signed B.J. Upton to a 5-year contract worth $75 million. Now the Nationals have traded for now former Twins center fielder Denard Span. Dave Cameron does a great job summing up the trade at Fangraphs, so I'll spare you the gory details. One thing Cameron makes note of is that the acquisition of Span means the Nationals now have surplus of outfielders. Jayson Werth and Bryce Harper will retain their spots, with Harper shifting to a corner spot, but it leaves no room for Michael Morse. Morse, who was acquired by the Nationals from the Mariners for Ryan Langerhans, has blossomed into a legitimate right-handed masher.

Michael Morse:

Games Played ISO wRC+ wOBA fWAR
2010 98 0.229 134 0.377 1.1
2011 146 0.247 148 0.390 3.3
2012 102 0.180 113 0.340 0.1

Michael Morse
Not only has Morse become a power bat, he's under team control for 2013 at a price of $6.75 million, an undervalued price if he puts up numbers similar to his recent past. The Nationals don't want to get rid of Morse, but now there is no room for him. Well, maybe not so fast. Morse has played 123 games at first base, and the Nationals currently have no first baseman.

OF                     1B
UZR  -21.9 0.5
DRS -4 0

Looking at these numbers from 2012, from a fielding standpoint, Morse not only stops hurting a team when he plays first base instead of outfield, he helps the cause. So, what can we conclude? The simple answer here is, move Morse to first and move on to the next problem.

Nationals fans might be saying, "What about Adam LaRoche?" LaRoche played first base for the National last season, and he did it with extreme proficiency. At the plate, LaRoche posted a 3.8 fWAR that breaks down into a .361 wOBA, 127 wRC+, and a 6.1 UZR. LaRoche is a free agent with whom the Nationals have been in discussions with for a possible contract, but recently those discussions have begun to turn sour. In addition, the most recent news has the Red Sox in talks with LaRoche, another sign pointing towards the Nationals removing themselves from contention to sign him, and to simply move Morse to first permanently to replace the departed LaRoche. 

PECOTA sees LaRoche's 2012 as a bad predictor of his future numbers. According to the system developed by Nate Silver, LaRoche will post something close to 0.7 WARP over the next 3 seasons, with some wiggle room on either side. While LaRoche could be better than PECOTA predicts, he also present injury concerns, and at age 33 he isn't getting any younger. Also, first basemen are very replaceable given the relative ease that comes with playing the position, and the number of power hitters that occupy 1st base. 

So, what will be the next domino to fall? Upton's signing begot the trade for Span, and the acquisition of Span will beget something else. So, let's speculate. The Phillies are thought to be the next team to sign or make a deal for a center fielder in order to keep up with the Braves in the NL East, so could they be involved in the next deal? It would seem as though the options are dwindling for the Fightin' Phillies, but as a team with money to spend, the Phillies still have lots of options. The Phillies could spend big and pay for Josh Hamilton, spend less to acquire Michael Bourn, Angel Pagan, or Shane Victorino, make a trade for a center fielder like Peter Bourjos or Dexter Fowler, or acquire a player at a different position like third base, forcing the team to platoon John Mayberry Jr. and Nate Schierholtz in center field. 

The Braves made a clever and efficient move by grabbing the guy they want at a reasonable price, while the Nationals made a smart move by trading for a center fielder to solve a problem in center field as well as first base, now it's time to see what the Phillies can do to counter. Recently, I postulated that the Phillies should fill the void in center field by trading for the Rockies Dexter Fowler. As of now, I would expand that list to include Angels' outfielder Peter Bourjos. By filling the hole via trade, the Phillies should then sign Nick Swisher to a reasonable contract. Swisher, Fowler/Bourjos, and Domonic Brown roaming the confines of Citizens Bank Park's outfield would be the counterpunch. 

Peter Bourjos
How do Trevor May and Zach Collier for Peter Bourjos sound? On paper it isn't a bad deal for either the Phillies or the Angels. Bourjos is essentially Denard Span, but a little younger, and slightly less expensive. The Angels have a center fielder named Mike Trout; maybe you've heard of him, who makes Bourjos expendable. If the Angels can't can't sign Zack Greinke, having another young pitching prospect in the form of Trevor May can't hurt. The Angels clear more payroll, the Phillies get a solid defensive center fielder with speed who projects to put up and average of 1.7 WARP over the next 4 seasons, and the Phillies have found the proper retaliatory response to the Nats and Braves' moves. 

The offseason can be a mix of a chess match, boxing match, and poker hand all at once. The number of influences on a team that can manipulate the decisions made are vast, and always growing, putting every team on higher alert every successive year. With the winter meetings coming up, a number of free agents are set to sign deals, and many more trades are prime to come about, hopefully including a response from the Phillies.  

It's What We Call A Win-WIn

Yesterday, former Rays center fielder B.J. Upton agreed in principle to a 5-year $75 million contract with the Atlanta Braves. Today, Upton officially signed the contract, and the Braves held a subsequent press conference officially announcing the news. After weeks of scouting, crunching numbers, and meetings, the Braves front office zeroed in on Upton as their first choice to take over for departing outfielder Michael Bourn in center field. At the same time, numerous reports came out speaking of the Phillies desire to sign Upton as well. While the Phillies may have been showing interest in Upton in order to increase the amount of money the Braves would need to pay to secure the former Ray, most in the business took the Phillies as a serious threat. It has been reported that the Phillies would not go higher than 5/55 for Upton (numerator is years/denominator is total amount of money), a sign that they either valued him less, saw some flaws that Atlanta either didn't see or overlooked, or truly want another center fielder, but couldn't be seen not going for Justin's older brother.

Nonetheless, the fact remains that Upton is now a Brave, in he'll remain a Brave for 5 more seasons. The Braves, unlike the Phillies, are not willing to spend large sums of money on free agents. An obvious and germain fact given that the contract they gave Upton is the largest ever shelled out by the Braves to a free agent. Atlanta, being a mid-market team, likes to build through the draft, and use their money to either fill in the rest of the spots on the roster or make a splash with one or two bigger names. Up till now, the team had been using the former approach as opposed to the latter. On the other hand, does this most recent signing point to a team that's going to be very active in free agency? It might, but it doesn't imply that Atlanta is focusing any less energy on building their organization from within.

I recently wrote an article about qualifying offers. Essentially, a qualifying offer is a one-year contract offered by a team to a top-50 free agent. The player then has a specific amount of time to decide whether to accept or not. If the player rejects it, hoping to score a longer more lucrative deal on the open market, his former team will now receive a compensatory pick at the end of the first round of next year's draft. The team making the qualifying offer must be willing to have the player accept the deal. This can be difficult for mid-level and small market teams because the value of this one-year deal is usually high, $13.5 million this offseason.

Now that you're caught up on qualifying offers, I can explain the genius behind the Braves recent moves. First a time line.

1) 2012 season ends, Michael Bourn and B.J. Upton head for free agency
2) The Braves make a qualifying offer to Bourn, and the Rays do the same for Upton
3) Both players reject the qualifying offers allowing them to sign with any team they desire
4) Braves sign B.J. Upton to 5-year $75 million contract

Signing Upton means that the Braves won't be resigning Michael Bourn. When Bourn signs with a different team, the Braves will receive a compensatory pick at the end of the first round to replace the first round pick they lost when they signed Upton. Okay, so the pick they will receive for Bourn won't be as high in the first round as the pick the team relinquished, but they now have a center fielder, and still have a 1st round pick. That's the definition of a win-win situation, perfect for a mid-market team.

A small market team wouldn't have the capital to spend on a free agent like Upton, so the prospect of losing a first-round draft pick doesn't exist. This situation is perfectly depicted by the Rays, who will receive a compensatory pick for losing Upton, but won't relinquish their own 1st round pick as they won't be spending money on a top-50 free agent. A big market team, say the Dodgers, have such a plethora of money to spend on free agents at any given time that the loss of a draft pick is a reasonable price to pay. Really, it isn't a good price to pay because draft picks equal capital as much as money in the bank, but big market teams have the flexibility to care less and spend more.

So, the Braves made out like bandits. They will still pick in the first round, and will have a PECOTA predicted 2+ WARP average player for the next 5 seasons. Some of this was made possible by circumstance. If the Braves hadn't had a top 50 free agent they didn't want to resign, signing Upton would have been more costly. So, while it was a win-win for the Braves, as will all things in Baseball, luck and randomness played a part. Still, let's not forget, the job of good front office personnel is to make the best out of the given situation, something Frank Wren's staff performed exceptionally well.

Now that we have correctly congratulated the Braves for a job well done, what comes next? The Phillies, who supposedly lost out on the Upton sweepstakes, still need to find the team's next center fielder. The list may have shrunk by one, but numerous options remain for Ruben Amaro and the Phillies front office. Josh Hamilton, who I argue should be moved to a corner outfield spot, the aforementioned Michael Bourn, Angel Pagan, and Shane Victorino are all still free agents looking for a home. The team could look to trade to fill the post, with Dexter Fowler, Peter Bourjos, and Denard Span rumored to be possible trade candidates, but that costs prospects, not money. More likely, the Phillies are either looking to make a big splash, something they have been prone to do in the recent history, by signing Josh Hamilton, or have something else up their sleeve. With the winer meetings coming up and Upton now a Brave, the chances of the Phillies having a new center fielder very soon has gone up considerably, only adding to the fire in the hot stove.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Line by Line, Brick by Brick

Giancarlo Stanton
In order for a building to stand without wavering, it must have support from the bottom all the way to the top. Often times when a structure seems unstable, it's time to knock it down and start from scratch. Sometimes that is the most cost effective way to solve the problem. Being able to spot an issue of instability before it comes to the surface can save time, money, and aggravation. The Miami Marlins had a number of motivations behind clearing their team of almost every big contract, even though the team signed 3 of those contracts not one year ago. Sure, some of the motivation is that Marlins owner, Jeffry Loria, wants to continue to collect his revenue sharing checks without paying money to his players in order to gain the largest profit margin possible. To Loria, his team can either profit from the fans that come out to see a winning team, the motivation behind signing Reyes, Buehrle, and Bell last offseason, or through revenue sharing and a minuscule payroll.

While Loria may be stuffing his pockets, while Major League Baseball looks the other way, the Marlins have traded away their best, and most expensive, players before and become winners once again. We've seen this movie, read this script, and know the way it works. (If you want a more detailed description of this process, read this article I wrote here) The Marlins recently traded Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle, and Jose Reyes to the Blue Jays in exchange for a solid catch of prospects. In lieu of this so-called "mega deal", numerous writers, pundits, and fans expect the Marlins to look into trading Giancarlo Stanton. Stanton is still signed to his Minor League contract, so he's fairly cheap for a player who'se put up over 13 fWAR in his first 3 seasons in the Major Leagues. Oh, and did I mention he's only 23 years old?

Stanton is a true talent. He's the prototypical power hitting, middle of the order, masher who'se mere presence in the lineup can change the entire opposing team's game plan. He is big, fast, strong, and can hit the ball a mile, but he remains a Marlin. The Marlins have no need to trade Stanton because he's inexpensive, and by far their best current Major League player. On the other hand, following the trade between the Marlins and Blue Jays, Stanton remarked that given the fire sale, he wants to leave the Marlins as soon as he can. Basically, unless the Marlins can put a winning product out on the field in the next 2-3 seasons, Stanton won't even consider signing an extension, let alone, re-signing with the team when he becomes a free agent in 2017. From Stanton's point of view, this is not only reasonable, but necessary. Stanton wants to win and make heaps of cash, but due to his current contract, he won't that kind of money for a few years.

In my opinion, since the Marlins hold all of the cards in this situation, I don't see the team trading Stanton unless GM Michael Hill is blown away by the package in return. Since the team is currently rebuilding, Hill would want to receive top level prospects, at least one of whom is close to MLB ready. Any team that could successfully trade for Stanton would receive a player under team control for the next 4 seasons, who, according to PECOTA, is expected to produce an annual output of 4.1 WARP per season. Since 1 WARP is worth about $7 million dollars, any team paying Stanton under $28 million would be getting solid value.

To get a look at just how good Giancarlo Stanton has been, consider these facts. Since 1945 only three players have hit more home runs in seasons they played in which they were 20-22 years old than Stanton. They are Frank Robinson, Eddie Matthews, and Alex Rodriguez. Only 6 players had a higher wRC+ in the same seasons, and only 16 players had a higher total fWAR than Stanton in those seasons. Most impressively, Stanton had the highest isolated power of any player since 1945 in their 20 year old, 21 year old, and 22 year old seasons combined. Isolated power is slugging percentage minus batting average, and it usually peaks around 25 to 26 years old. At 23 years old, it isn't unreasonable to conclude that Stanton's power numbers could increase, and his high strikeout rate will decrease, making him quite the formidable hitter. Overall, the only current player with whom Stanton is similar is the Braves Jason Heyward, another young bright talent.

So far, the teams that have been linked to Stanton are the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, Baltimore Orioles, Philadelphia Phillies, and Chicago Cubs. Each team would likely need to give up its top prospect, as well as 2 others. So, here's what I think these teams would have to give up to procure Stanton from the Marlins.

Yankees: The Yankees traded Jesus Montero to the Mariners, but retain a strong and youthful Minor League system, ripe with a number of top prospects. Mason Williams and Manny Banuelos are probably the top hitting and pitching prospects respectively in the Yankees system. Catcher Gary Sanchez might be their top position player, but Williams should be ready to play in the big leagues before the young backstop. Banuelos is coming off of arm surgery, which drops a team's desire to trade for him, but his talent and productivity this far in the minors still makes him a great pickup. Even trading Williams and Banuelos wouldn't get the Marlins to give up Stanton, the Yankees would most likely have to add in a third prospect like Adam Warren, a solid pitching talent who has already thrown a few pitched in the Majors. If the Marlins asked for Brett Gardner, I'm sure the Yankees would have to think twice, but might trade Gardner too. The acquisition of Stanton would give the Yankees incredible meat in their order, and might give them offensive firepower equivalent, if not better than the Angels, Tigers, or Rangers. I'd ballpark the chances the Yankees have of acquiring Stanton at 1:25.

Red Sox: The Red Sox, like the Marlins are rebuilding, but in a different way. The Red Sox are willing to spend money, are always looking to win, and would love to solidify the middle of their order for years to come by trading for Giancarlo Stanton. If the Red Sox were to lose some top prospects, the team could fill those spots via free agency, or look towards winning in the near future rather than the distant one. The Sox system has some talent, especially after trading away some big contracts to the Dodgers in exchange for mostly prospects. A reasonable trade for Stanton would have to include Matt Barnes, Jackie Bradley, and Ruby De La Rosa, if not more. The only reason I'm not putting Xander Bogaerts, the Red Sox top prospect, in the deal is that the Marlins just received a top middle infield prospect in Adeiny Hechavarria from the Blue Jays, which makes Bogaerts less valuable. Even a package like the one I'm proposing might not be enough to sway the Marlins, but those three players could all become above average to dynamic MLB players. I would give the Red Sox 1:30 odds of landing Stanton.

Baltimore Orioles: This situation is vastly different from the first two. The Orioles have recently become viable in the AL East, want to continue that competitiveness, but count on their young players to help, making it more difficult to part with them. For example, the O's brought up top hitting prospect Manny Machado towards the end of 2012 to fill in at third base even though many thought Machado wouldn't be ready for another year. The Orioles currently have the top-pitching prospect in all of Minor League Baseball, Dylan Bundy. His stock will probably never be higher than it is now, but the Orioles would rather bring him up to become the ace of their rotation for the future than trade him. On the other hand, the O's won more than 90 games last season with a mediocre pitching staff, and adding Stanton would give them the power bat they so desperately need in their order. A package of Dylan Bundy and Jason Espisito might coax Miami into moving Stanton, but if the Orioles aren't willing to give up Bundy, they could also offer Jon Schoop, Kevin Gausman, LJ Hoes, and Bobby Bundy, but I doubt even that package would pry Stanton from Miami. If the Orioles are willing to trade Bundy their odds are good, 1:10, but if not, I'd say 1:60 they can acquire Giancarlo.

Philadelphia Phillies: The Phillies used their top prospects a few years ago to obtain Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee (the first time), Roy Oswalt, and Hunter Pence, so their farm system is somewhat depleted. On the other hand, the Phillies have the potential to put together an enticing enough package. Stanton would give the Phillies a power right-handed bat in their small park at a small cost. Stanton plus the Phillies pitching staff could put the Phillies in a good position to win another championship. The Phillies have two ways of compiling the necessary goods to get Stanton. One possible trade would be top pitching prospects Trevor May and Jessie Biddle along with outfielder Zach Collier. Neither Biddle nor May are #1 starter material, but both have #2 potential, while Collier is a young, talented, but inexperienced outfielder who has the potential to be a 20 home run, 20 stolen base type player. Another option would be to trade Domonic Brown along with Trevor May and Austin Hyatt. The Phillies don't have the flashy, toolsy, top level prospect the Marlins would be looking for, but could fill out Miami's pitching prospects, a valuable commodity. I'd make their odds of landing Stanton 1:40.

Chicago Cubs: The Cubs are a team unlike any of those that I've already mentioned. This is a team that is also in complete rebuilding mode. Acquiring Stanton would be a nice coup, would secure sell outs at Wrigley, and might even get the Cubs closer to contending in the NL Central than the team is right now. Since many of the players the Marlins might want already play in the Majors, the Cubs do have more to lose than the O's, Yankees, Red Sox, or Phillies, but shouldn't be considered out of the running. A package deal of Brett Jackson, Jeff Samardzija, and Matt Zczur could do the trick. Jackson is ready to play right now, has shown he can hit MLB pitching, and could fill Stanton's spot in the Marlins order. Samardzija is already a very good MLB pitcher with the sky as his limit. He's also only 27 years old. The only players I could see Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer holding onto no matter what would be recently signed Cuban outfielder Jorge Solar and first baseman Anthony Rizzo, everyone else is on the table. Chances the Cubs get Stanton: 1:30.

Overall, I don't think the Marlins are going to trade Giancarlo Stanton this offseason, but given their recent moves, nothing is impossible when it comes to the fish. A dark horse candidate for acquiring Stanton could be the Tampa Bay Rays, given their amount of young pitching, but add in the recent contract extension given to Evan Longoria with Stanton's incoming arbitration eligibility, and the Rays might not be able to afford the right fielder. Also, don't count out the Rangers or Pirates. Stanton has a legitimate reason for requesting a one-way ticket out of Miami, but he's not in a great bargaining position. On the other hand, the Marlins could complete their rebuilding process by trading Stanton and acquiring 3-4 more prospects. One thing is for sure, never say never when dealing with the Marlins.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Bouncing Back

Looking through the list of free agents this offseason, a few names popped out to me as players who are prime for a bounce back year. This denotes a player who has talent, or has proven efficiency on the field before, but had a relatively disappointing season that pushes them from "in for a payday" to "looking for a job". First I'll outline a hitter who fit this description, then a pitcher, and finally I'll make some predictions as to where said players will play next season.

James Loney: Loney is coming off of a season in which he hit for a .249 batting average, hit only 6 home runs, and put up a very weak 70 wRC+. In his career, Loney has a .282 batting average, 103 wRC+, and .137 ISO. He's put up two seasons in his career with an fWAR above 2.0, 2007 and 2011, and he consistently performs well in high leverage situations as shown by his predominantly positive clutch numbers. So, from a hitting perspective, it might seem like Loney is a player in the beginning of decline. For a number of years he put up solid numbers, and very recently they fell off. This thinking may have prompted the Dodgers to involve him in a trade to the Boston Red Sox, while the idea that Loney's 2012 was merely a minor aberration possible coaxed Boston into accepting him via trade.

Defensively there is much less to speak of. Loney has almost always been a very good defender. All three major defensive stats, UZR, DRS, and FRAA portray Loney as a well above average defensive first baseman. Loney is slightly below average as a base runner, but throughout his career he hasn't caused too many issues on the base paths.

Both the Bill James projections, and PECOTA projections on Baseball Prospectus predict a bounce-back year for Loney. While Bill James doesn't make predictions in the form of wins above replacement, PECOTA has him as a 1.3 WARP player. That would be an increase of 2.7 WARP from 2012 to 2013. In addition, PECOTA has Loney at an .812 OPS, with 12 home runs, and 66 runs scored. The Bill James predictions put Loney at a .743 OPS, with 7 home runs, a wOBA of .319, and an ISO of .127.

Loney's numbers show a player who will improve, especially give his low .269 BABIP from 2012. Some of this was due increases in swing percentage, strikeout percentage, and swing percentage on pitches out of the strike zone. On the other hand, some of his low BABIP is explained by bad luck. BABIP normalizes on a year-to-year basis to around .300, so we can expect a higher BABIP, and thus higher batting average merely based on randomness.

Because Loney had such a poor 2012, and he just completed his 3rd year of arbitration, mid-level and poorer teams will have a better chance of signing Loney while the teams with more money, and thus options, will look for the better, flashier players at the same position. This is even true in 2013 when the market for 1st basemen is distinctively barren. Teams that should give Loney a looksy include the Tampa Bay Rays, Boston Red Sox, and the Seattle Mariners.

The Rays need inexpensive hitting, combined with consistently solid glove work, and a short commitment. Loney fits all three of those categories. He should hit better than the Rays 2012 1st baseman, Carlos Pena, his price tag shouldn't be more than $6 million for the season, and a 1-year contract would suit him well. If Loney can have a the bounce-back year I, Bill James, and PECOTA predict he will, he could use it as leverage to sign a multi-year contract for more money, as he would sign such a deal before his 30th birthday.

Boston needs a first baseman to replace Adrian Gonzalez, but given the awful stock of free agents, Loney's connection with Boston, and his path towards a rebound year, Loney would make sense for the Red Sox as a backup plan. The Sox have money to sign whomever they want, could look towards a trade for the answer, or remain patient and look into filling the vacancy at 1st base later. Loney would provide a solid 1-year stopgap, but it comes down to whether the Red Sox can't find a better solution elsewhere.

The Mariners have a solid infield with Dustin Ackley, Brendan Ryan, and Kyle Seager at 2nd base, shortstop, and 3rd base respectively, but everyone knows Justin Smoak isn't the answer going forward for the M's at 1st base. With prospect Nick Franklin on pace to replace Ryan in the 2nd half of 2013 or in 2014, the Mariners have bright, young players locked into three out of 4 infield spots. Having a sure-handed big target to throw to at first base would be an asset, and while the size of SAFECO field would usually be an issue for Loney, Seattle is moving in the fences. If the Mariners, like the Red Sox, look to use up some clock on finding a long-term option at 1st base, Loney would provide a great place holder at a cheap price.

Daisuke Matsuzaka: Commonly referred to as Dice-K, Matsuzaka came over to the United States from Japan, touted as one of the best pitchers to ever come from the far east. He cost the Boston Red Sox over $100 million is contract money and a signing fee, and didn't even remotely come close to living up to that sum of money throughout his 6 seasons in Boston. Now, Dice-K is coming off his worst season in the U.S. putting up negative fWAR, rWAR, and WARP. His career FIP is 4.37, a number he hasn't gotten close to over the last two seasons. His last 2 seasons were marred with high walk rates, high home run rates, and injuries. Ever since Dice-K stopped throwing his fastball early in the count to get ahead, his walk rates and pitches per plate appearance rates have risen, leading to fewer innings, more injuries, and poorer performances.

Despite two awful seasons, Dice-K had previously put up 10.4 fWAR in four seasons. His 2011 and 2012 were injury shortened seasons, meaning that if Dice-K can stay healthy in 2013, a team could count on him for 2 wins above replacement. PECOTA predicts 1.6 WARP while Bill James has Dice-K at a 4.28 FIP, 150 innings, and an 8.05 K/9. With his potential for a comeback, but also the possibility of another injury-laden season, Daisuke projects to get no more than a two-year deal. More likely he'll end up with a 1-year contract with a base salary of $5 million and some room to increase that number via performance incentives. Teams that should take a look at Matsuzaka include the Milwaukee Brewers, Pittsburgh Pirates, San Diego Padres, and the dark horse Texas Rangers.

The Brewers might consider looking at a better starter like Kyle Lohse, Edwin Jackson, or Scott Feldman, but with Gallardo, Estrada, and Fiers solidified in 3 of 5 spots, Matsuzaka could provide some value in the backend of the rotation. He won't be expensive, and a shift out of the stacked AL East to the less impressive NL Central can't hurt. The team already has fellow countryman Norichika Aoki in right field, which could create a friendlier environment for Dice-K. A signing like this would also give the Brewers a chance to sign a more expensive free agent like Josh Hamilton.

The Pirates fit into the same boat as the Brewers. The Buccos could use a back of the rotation starter at an inexpensive price. The Pirates have Jamison Taillon and Gerrit Cole prime to burst onto the MLB scene, but it's possible neither will be ready for any of the 2013 season. If Neal Huntington wants to move Cole up midway through the season, and Dice-K is either injured or pitching badly, Cole could fill Dice-K's spot. The Pirates, like the Brewers play in the NL Central, and there won't be any pressure on Dice-K like there was in Boston.

The Padres may be moving the fences in at Petco Park, but between Bud Black, and one of the larger parks in the majors, pitchers will still go to San Diego and come out with better stats. The NL West is a nice change of scenery for Dice-K; in fact the west coast is closer to his homeland of Japan. He can fit into the back end of the Padres rotation, live in sunny San Diego, and forget about his recent New England woes. The Padres get will keep putting Dice-K out there if he pitches at least to replacement levels, and if he goes on the DL, they will insert a prospect, no hard feelings.

The Rangers probably don't want Dice-K. To the Rangers he provides them nothing of value. Alexei Ogando would probably be a better option, and won't cost them any money, but I think could be hurting themselves by not looking into it. Dice-K would go to a warmer place, join with fellow countryman Yu Darvish, and be a part of a team that has young talent waiting in the wings, and a need for a 5th starter.

The job of the general manager is to find the most production for the least amount of money. Often times this value comes in the form of players on pace to rebound from a bad season. James Loney and Daisuke Matsuzaka may just be in the decline, accumulating worse and worse numbers until their careers come to a sudden end. On the other hand, given their age, previous success, and limited time due to injuries, both players have chances to be great pickups for a team willing to take a chance on one of them. If I had to predict I see the Padres signing Matsuzaka and the Mariners signing James Loney, but only Dice-K will truly bounce back.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Phixing Philadelphia

By all accounts, 2012 was a disappointing season for the Philadelphia Phillies. After 5 consecutive 1st place finishes in the NL East, the team finished third, with an 81-81 record. Fans spent 5 seasons packing Citizens Bank Park, cheering on their team, getting used to the idea of a winning baseball team in Philadelphia. This past season changed things a bit. The team dealt with multiple injuries to key players like Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Roy Halladay, and Carlos Ruiz. Combine injuries with an aging team that traded many young and talented players in the hopes of upgrading the squad heading into the playoffs, and fans were left with a team that struggled to win.

So, how did the 2012 team differ from Phillies teams prior?

Runs/Game wRC+ wOBA SLG% OBP
2010 4.77 99 0.327 0.413 0.332
2011 4.40 96 0.315 0.395 0.323
2012 4.22 93 0.311 0.400 0.317

2010 -5.9 0 1.36
2011 -10 -59 0.75
2012 -8.3 -8 -0.45

Base running:
2010 4.4 -6.2
2011 -1.4 -9.5
2012 4.5 -9.7

2010 3.93 3.68 19.4% 6.8%
2011 3.24 3.02 21.4% 6.7%
2012 3.72 3.86 22.8% 6.7%

From a hitting perspective, the Phillies have consistently been moving down the charts. Their rate of decline isn't steep by any standard, but for a team that has leaned so heavily on its pitching, even minute drops in hitting production can have significant effects. The Phillies have never been one for considering on base percentage a top priority, but even still, a team that gets on base at a .317 clip probably isn't making the playoffs. In fact, the Tampa Bay Rays had an identical team OBP to the Phillies in 2012, but the reason the Rays won more games is that the Rays had the best pitching in the American League.

Defensively, the Phillies have also fallen by the wayside. Okay, so no one is falling off the impending fiscal cliff to their defensive demise, but the team has consistently become worse and worse in the field. The reason for this is simple. The Phillies have aged, which takes away from range, and certain players weren't good fielders to begin with, like Ryan Howard, anyone who has played left field, and Hunter Pence. Filling holes in their team this offseason should upgrade their defensive efficiency, something important to bolster a pitching staff that still sports numerous aces.

Cole Hamels
The pitching has not changed drastically over the last three seasons. 2011 was a particularly spectacular season for Phillies pitchers as it was the season of the daunting 4 aces, Halladay, Lee, Hamels, and Oswalt. The 2012 Phillies pitched more similarly to the 2010 Phillies, but with pitchers like Halladay and Lee getting older, some regression is possible. On the other hand, the team signed lefty Cole Hamels to a long-term contract, which will keep him pitching in Philadelphia for many more years.

Now that we have looked at the team's past, what about the present and the future? Going into the 2012-2013 offseason the front office has some work to do. After trading center fielder Shane Victorino and right fielder Hunter Pence, the team needs to find replacements for 2 outfield spots, as well as one at third base due to the void left by Placido Polanco. In addition, the team could use to add at least one or two veteran arms in the bullpen to complement the numerous younger possibilities at the team's disposal.

The market this offseason for center fielders is vast. Michael Bourn, B.J. Upton, Josh Hamilton, and Angel Pagan are all options, as well as trade candidates Dexter Fowler and Denard Span. Given the the Phillies recent depletion in their farm system, a trade is less likely than a free agent signing. The team seems to be focused on filling the center field spot, with rumors that they are most enamored by the youngest option of the bunch, B.J. Upton. Hamilton is probably too expensive, and will have to be moved to a corner outfield spot in the very near future, while Pagan's age, and desire to return to San Francisco, may turn off the Phillies. Bourn remains a possibility, but his value is wrapped up in his base running and defense, two factors that diminish quickly with age.

While this free agent crop is filled with center fielders, it is devoid of third basemen. The biggest name is Kevin Youkilis,but after that, there isn't much. In times like these, teams need to find value. Interestingly, the Youkilis is a actually a great option for the Phillies. He may be a bit older, but he's a right-handed bat that can hit for power (.174 ISO), but most importantly, he gets on base (career OBP .384). While Phillies GM Ruben Amaro should consider Youkilis his first option, many other teams will also be clamoring to sign Youk, which will make it more difficult. A lesser known, but valuable option is Jeff Keppinger. Keppinger has bounced around from team to team during his career, but he gets on base (.337 career OBP), and has averaged an fWAR of ~ 1 for the last 5 seasons. Last year he added 2.8 wins to the Rays, playing 1st, 2nd, and 3rd base all at an above average rate. He would cost less than Youkilis, and would allow the Phillies to concentrate money on other spots.

From the bullpen perspective, the Phillies have numerous options. The 2012 Phillies pen was one of the league's best at getting strikeouts (10.05 K/9), but had a below average ground ball percentage. In addition, the team could do a better job getting lefties out. Two pitchers the Phillies should look into are Koji Uehara and Kyle Farnsworth. For a righty, Uehara is surprisingly good at getting left-handed batters out. This is probably due to his devastating changeup that acts similarly to a slow splitter, diving away from lefties. Farnsworth has dealt with injuries, but refashioned himself with a 2-seam fastball that moves and causes many more ground balls. Uahara is more sought after, so his price tag is higher, but both pitchers would fit well into the Phillies 2013 bullpen, and neither would cost too much money.

My best fit, perfect world solution for the Phillies looks like this:

Nick Swisher
1) Use capitol to sign outfielder Nick Swisher. He's a bit expensive, and due to the qualifying offer the Yankees gave him, the Phillies would be forced to surrender their 1st round draft pick to the Yankees. This is a risk, but Swisher does many things well that the Phillies need. A contract in the range of 5 years and $75 million would pay Swisher $15 million per season, a reasonable sum for both sides.

2) Trade pitcher Jonathan Pettibone and shortstop Freddie Galvis to the Colorado Rockies for center fielder Dexter Fowler. The Rockies are looking for pitching and, due to their cluster of outfielders, adding the defensively minded infielder Galvis into the deal could be the key to plucking Fowler. Fowler is entering arbitration years, thus he is under financial control, and provides speed and explosiveness from center field. Platooning Fowler with John Mayberry Jr., who only hits well off of lefties, could be quite productive.

3) Sign infielder Jeff Keppinger to a 2-year contract worth $17 million with a team option for 2015 worth $9 million. He's serviceable, can play all over the infield, and keeps third base warm until prospect Cody Asche improves a bit more on his way to the Majors.

4) Sign Koji Uehara to a 2-year $8 million deal and sign Kyle Farnsworth to a 1-year $3 million contract. Both veteran bullpen arms will do well complementing Papelbon, Bastardo, Aumont, De Fratus, etc... in the bullpen.

Those transactions yield a starting lineup of:
Catcher Carlos Ruiz
1st Base Ryan Howard
2nd Base Chase Utley
Shortstop Jimmy Rollins
Third Base Jeff Keppinger
Left Field Domonic Brown
Center Field Dexter Fowler
Right Field Nick Swisher

Amaro would have added about $31 million to the 2013 payroll, which is pretty affordable for the additions of 5 players. No, these moves don't have the snap, crackle, and pop of flashy moves like signing Josh Hamilton or trading for David Wright, but given the Phillies great pitching staff, it would add value in particularly important areas. Some of those moves aren't completely realistic. Nick Swisher may cost more money, and the Rockies may ask for more to acquire Dexter Fowler, but Amaro should look into fixing the Phillies' problems more with patching than with shiny, fancy new parts. Given the Phillies .500 record in 2012, the team could easily rebound to contend once again for the NL East crown, but needs a bit of work to do so. 

Sunday, November 18, 2012

The Perfect Trade That Won't Happen

It's been a busy week on the hot stove of MLB's offseason. It began with the Blue Jays signing Maicer Izturis to a three-year deal, which was followed by the Marlins/Blue Jays mega-trade resulting in Toronto acquiring shortstop Jose Reyes, pitcher Josh Johnson, and pitcher Mark Buehrle. Next came the Tigers signing Torii Hunter to a two-year contract, and the Braves repairing their platoon at catcher by signing Gerald Laid to a 2-year contract. Following all of that came the Blue Jays signing of PED ridden Melky Cabrera to a 2-year contract.

What can we gather from all of these transactions? The Blue Jays have switched lanes from the middle, to the fast-paced left lane. The Blue Jays have positioned themselves to be the new player in the AL East, joining the Yankees, Rays, Orioles, and Red Sox. Wait, isn't that every team in the AL East? Yep, you got that right. The Blue Jays haven't made the playoffs since 1993, the longest drought in the AL East. More importantly, the team has finished fourth out of fifth in the division in each of the last 5 seasons. The organization thought they had it figured out with J.P. Ricciardi at the helm, but it fell apart, and the team moved on to Alex Anthopoulos. Anthopoulos changed the way the team did business. He built up their international scouting department, changed the way they drafted players, traded off top MLB players for heaps of young prospects, and lowered the team's payroll by 25%.

Last season the Jays had some bright spots and some sore ones. They saw their entire starting pitching staff collapse, including the usually solid Rickey Romero. Hitting wise, things were somewhat more improved. Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion showed great power strokes, along with solid contributions from Rajai Davis and rookie Brett Lawrie. Anthopoulos, and his entire front office, knew they had specific areas in which they needed to improve in order to compete with the likes of the Yankees and the Rays. Signing Izturis, trading for Reyes, Johnson, and Buehrle, and signing Melky Cabrera fill a lot of holes, but I don't think the Blue Jays are done. According to sources like Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal, the Jays want to continue to upgrade their starting pitching. If reports like Rosenthal's are correct, and I think they are, the Jays need to look either at the free agent market or look to make another trade to acquire help in their starting rotation.

Free agent wise, the Jays have some options. Even though their payroll recently rose, the team can afford to take on more money because they have one of the richest owners in Baseball, and are making the push to win now. The best options out there are Anibal Sanchez, Edwin Jackson, Kyle Lohse, and Dan Haren. Both have issues. Sanchez is looking for $100 million deal, and although his stats have been consistently good, I'm not sure he's worth that much money. Jackson is looking to return to the Nationals, but if the Blue Jays are willing to give the nomadic Jackson a multi-year deal, it might entice him to sign with the team to the north. Lohse might fit in Toronto, but, given the market for pitching, his asking price is inflated, and the Blue Jays may be spending money right now, but since AA became the GM, they spend money judiciously, not superfluously. The most interesting free agent possibility is Haren, but my guess is the Blue Jays want more of a "sure thing" than Haren, but I wouldn't count this out as a possibility.

If not free agency, then why not a trade? The Blue Jays aren't averse to making trades, evidenced by their recent acquisition of almost the entire Marlins 2012 starting lineup. I searched through teams that are in need of something the Blue Jays are willing to trade. Toronto has a stockpile of catchers. J.P. Arencibia, John Buck, and Travis D'arnaud are all trade possibilities, but the issue is finding a team in need of a catcher. The one team that desperately needs an upgrade behind the plate is the Tampa Bay Rays. The Rays have an abundance of young talented pitching, which is exactly what the Blue Jays are looking for. Here's the problem, this trade will never happen.

Since Andrew Friedman, the Rays General Manager, became the leader of Tampa Bay's front office in 2006, the Rays have only made 10 trades. That's only a little more than 1 trade per season. This lack of trading is due to the fact that the Rays have built their team from their farm system, and that they cannot afford to take on contracts negotiated elsewhere. Still, the reason the Rays and Jays won't make a deal that would so obviously benefit both squads has nothing to do with the Rays financial woes. The reason is that both play in the same division. Interdivisional trades are rare because no team wants to possibly help a team vying for the same spot in the postseason. This becomes magnified in the AL East because even if both wild card spots were to come from the AL East, 2 teams still wouldn't get in.

Just for the fun of it, let's look at what a trade between the Jays and Rays would look like. The Rays current backstop is Jose Molina, brother of Bengie and Yadier. The Rays owe him $1.5 million for 2013, after which he is set to become a free agent. Molina has never been able to combine hitting success with more than 100 games played in a season, but has proven his worth in gold behind the plate. Baseball Prospectus' Ben Lindbergh wrote about how many runs Molina has possibly saved with his play behind the plate. In the end, the Jays would love to platoon a better hitting catcher with Molina, and more importantly, find a catcher for the future, one that hits well and fields well.

Despite trading away top prospects like Adieny Hechavarria and Jake Marisnick to the Marlins, the Jays still have lots of young talent. Last year, J.P. Arencibia and former Jay Jeff Mathis platooned to combine for 2.1 fWAR for Toronto. Neither was a hitting wizard, but Arencibia provided some power hitting 18 home runs, while Mathis showed replacement level hitting stats. Mathis went to Miami in the aforementioned mega-deal, but the Blue Jays acquired former Marlins catcher John Buck. Buck put up a 1.2 fWAR last season providing his value through his ability to walk, and some solid defense. The Rays don't need a defensively minded catcher, so the obvious choice here has to be Arencibia. He hits for power at a young age, and if he can cut down on his strikeouts, might prove to be a solid all-around hitter in the future. On the other hand, the Rays are not going to trade a pitcher like Jeremy Hellickson, Matt Moore, or Jeff Niemann for J.P. Arencibia. The Rays are all about arbitrage, and an Arencibia for Hellickson deal would be a net loss for the Rays.

Travis D'arnaud
So, what's the solution? The answer is Travis D'arnaud. D'arnaud is a soon-to-be 24 year old stud catcher who hasn't played a game in the Major Leagues. The Blue Jays acquired D'arnaud from the Philadelphia Phillies in the deal that send Roy Halladay to Philly. He has matured as a hitter with the ability to hit for power as well as for average. Last year, D'arnaud hit incredibly well in the hot hitting Pacific Coast League, sporting a 147 wRC+, .262 ISO, .415 wOBA, and improved sub 20% strikeout percentage. Behind the plate, D'Arnaud has shown great athleticism combined with a strong arm. He throws runners out well, and if he improves his footwork a bit, he could become quite an adept defender. The overall message is this: Travis D'arnaud would be a perfect fit for the Rays, as their catcher of the future.

A trade of Jeremy Hellickson for D'arnaud would work well for both sides. Hellickson is under contract for cheap in 2013. He'll be arbitration eligible for the first time in 2014, making him most likely affordable for the next 4 seasons. The Blue Jays could also make him a contract extension offer that would cover his arbitration years. Due to D'arnaud's significant upside the Blue Jays would want to lock up any pitcher they received for their top catching prospect. The Rays would lose a proven young pitcher, but they have a number of young pitchers, some proven, some unproven. The Rays would have a young catcher who could start 75 games for them next season, learn from Jose Molina, and get used to MLB pitching. If he shows sparks of greatness the team could perform their favorite magic trick; the one where the Rays lock up a great young player for cheap early in their career (See Evan Longoria and Matt Moore's contracts for more information).

Another possible trade would be Travis D'arnaud and Rajai Davis for Matt Moore. Moore already has a very team friendly contract, and has shown his talent, as well as his ability to improve on the go. Because Moore has a higher upside, and has a very team friendly contract, the Rays might want a little more from the Jays in exchange for Moore. Rajai Davis is owed $2.5 million next season, a very reasonable price tag, even for the Rays, and he projects to steal 40+ bases next season while playing above average defense (according to Baseball Prospectus' projections for 2013). He could assist the Rays in the outfield, especially with the loss of B.J. Upton to free agency, and as a proven MLB player, he would better justify trading Matt Moore for a prospect who hasn't caught one inning in the majors.

More than personel fits, this is a trade between two teams that need to make acquisitions like these in order to compete. Neither team plays in a huge market, and thus cannot attract top tier free agents. This means that trades are great ways to acquire talent. So, let's see what the Blue Jays rotation would look like was the team to deal D'arnaud for a Ray pitcher.

Rays Lefty Matt Moore
Spot Name Lefty/Righty
1 Josh Johnson RHP
2 Mark Buehrle LHP
3 Brandon Morrow RHP
4 Rickey Romero LHP
5 Jeremy Hellickson RHP
Spot Name Lefty/Righty
1 Josh Johnson RHP
2 Mark Buehrle LHP
3 Brandon Morrow RHP
4 Rickey Romero LHP
5 Matt Moore LHP

Both of those rotations are formidable, even in the AL East.

A deal between the Rays and Blue Jays would help both teams, solidifying the Jays starting rotation, and giving the Rays a catcher of the future. Oh, but just in case you forgot, it'll never happen. Neither team wants to help the other, even if it means getting exactly what they want. Instead, the Jays will probably sign a free agent pitcher like Dan Haren, and the Rays will look to pursue players like Justin Upton or Josh Willingham. It's too bad, but it is reality.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

What's Wright and What's Wrong?

Recently, I wrote about two players who have been mentioned as possible trade candidates this offseason, the Twins Josh Willingham and the Indians Shin-Soo Choo. Both are outfielders, and neither is a true "star". Then there's David Wright. Wright constitutes the polar opposite of Choo and Willingham. He has been the focal point of the New York Mets for years, during the good times and the bad, although Mets fans might say they were all bad. As a third baseman, he plays a premium offensive and semi-premium defensive position, but by playing the hot corner in the big apple, he garners much more exposure than say Chase Headley or Aramis Ramirez.

Going into this offseason, Wright was coming off one of the best seasons of his career, second only to his 2007 campaign. He had previously signed a 7 year $70 million contract that included a team option for 2013 for $16 million. Wright has made about $54 million the last 6 seasons, but he has been worth a little more than twice that amount. Here is a look at his value since signing his current contract in 2007:
2007 8.8 8.1 7.6
2008 7.1 6.7 7.2
2009 3.5 2.9 3.3
2010 4.0 2.5 5.3
2011 1.9 1.9 0.6
2012 7.8 6.7 5.7
Wright's fWAR stats are a bit inflated in comparison to his rWAR and WARP because much of his defense comes from his good range, while his below average arm leads to him not making some plays that average third baseman make regularly. Also, his recent back injuries had hindered his range, but last season, it came back with a vengeance. Nonetheless, let's not be too soured by his 2009-2011 years. Since 2007 Wright has averaged 5.5 fWAR per season, which would be worth ~ $25 million on the open market. That number just exemplifies the extremely team friendly deal he signed in 2007. On a separate note, if the Mets are to regain any semblance of their 2006 selves, they should look to sign their marquee young players to team friendly deals at young ages, like the one they signed with Wright in 07'.

Before I get into what the Mets should do with Wright, I'm going to take a quick look at his production over the last few years. This is to give you a glimpse into what he does best.
2010 0.366 129 0.220 29 131 0.354
2011 0.338 116 0.172 14 115 0.345
2012 0.376 140 0.186 21 143 0.391
So, Wright, unlike many players, provides a team with a great mix of on base percentage as well as power hitting. Relatively, he is a very good run creator, especially given the other players who play at 3rd base like Cabrera, Beltre, and Headley. Wright's ISO has declined recently, but it is a stat that usually peaks in a player's mid 20's, so an almost 30 year old, he's right on track. At the same time, you would like to see his home run numbers remain more constant, especially since the Mets moved the fences in at Citi Field. This would seem to be more of a concern, since he hasn't topped 25 HR since 2010, but given his back injury in 2011, and the change in his approach at the plate in 2012, it isn't surprising.

Change of approach? Where did that come from? Well, after speaking with some very observant Mets fans who are relatives of mine, and then checking out the numbers to be sure, I discovered that Wright definitely changed his approach to at-bats. According to my sources, he began taking strike one without question. At first, this is a good strategy for seeing more pitches, and thus finding a better one to hit. This is confirmed by the decrease in his swing percentage, 41.6% in 2012 compared to a career 43.6% mark. In these cases you would like to see a decrees in swings on pitches outside of the strike zone, but because "taking the first pitch" is not the best way to accomplish this goal, Wright swung fewer times at pitches out of the zone than those in the strike zone. Pitchers began throwing easy to hit pitches to begin at bats, and if Wright took them, he began the at bat in an 0-1 hole every time. As we know from the incredible amount of research, a batter who begins his at bats down 0-1 has a far worse chance of reaching base than one who starts them with a 1-0 count.

As far as base running, Wright has always been a solid base runner, posting positive UBR values in 7 out of his 9 MLB seasons. This included a 1.2 UBR in 2012, a year in which he stole 15 bases, but was thrown out 10 times. It would seem that if Wright just attempted fewer steals, he might very well be a valuable asset on the base paths. Remember, speed diminishes with age, but knowledgeable base running can remain forever.

So, what should the Mets do with David Wright? Currently he is set to play for the Amazin's in 2013 at a cost of $16 million. Was nothing to happen between now and this time next year, Wright would become a free agent following the 2013 seasons. That is one of the least likely possibilites, so let's explore some of the others. First, the Mets could decide to negotiate a contract extension. General Manager Sandy Alderson has said that in the Mets' current situation he would rather not sign players to their 2nd contracts. Essentially he means that he doesn't want to get into negotiations over a contract for a player who's next contract will cover some of their prime as well as a part of their decline. This sentiment points towards an extension that might be heavier on the money side, but light on the years side. By my estimates, Alderson and the Mets would not offer Wright more than a 5-year $100 million extension. That would be $25 million per season (expecting about 5 fWAR), and it would take Wright into the 2018 season, at which time he would be 35 years old. In addition, if third base becomes a bit too much for Wright, and Mets prospect Wilmer Flores becomes their everyday third baseman, Wright could make a smooth transition to 2nd base.

The more likely option, and probably the most sensible one, is to trade Wright. Some might say that Wright is a fixture in New York, the star of the team, and a leader in the clubhouse. Even if all that were true, the Mets are rebuilding, so throw all of those intangibles out the window. This is a business and the Mets need to get back to making decisions based on facts. By picking up Wright's option for the 2013 season, the Mets made the number of teams willing to trade for the third baseman greater than before. Now, a team that would rather not extend him, but wants him for the one-year rental, can be in the discussion. Who might those teams be?

I would bet that the Braves, Phillies, Dodgers, and White Sox would all be in the discussion for Wright. Dark horse candidates might include the Yankees, Giants, and the Athletics. One of the big questions is, would the Mets be willing to trade Wright within the division, or worse, to the Yankees? In reality, the team may only negotiate outside of those teams, but unfortunately for them, some of the best candidates to trade for Wright are the Braves, Phillies, and Yankees. Since I often live in a world outside of reality, I will suspend that feature in order to perform this analysis.

The Braves are perfect for Wright. If you didn't hear, Chipper Jones retired this season, leaving a huge gap at third base. The Braves could move 2012 left fielder Martin Prado to third base, but if so it leaves a hole in left field. The Braves are no big market team, but for a player like Wright they could expend the necessary capitol to extend Wright for a number of years. In addition, the Braves also have pitching prospects coming out of their ears, something the Mets would love to take off their hands. A trade involving pitching prospect Randall Delgado would probably entice the Mets to make a move because a future rotation of Matt Harvey, Zack Wheeler, and Randall Delgado would be a force to be reckoned with. 

The Phillies need a third baseman. They recently resigned Kevin Frandsen, but he isn't the answer. With a mediocre third base market out there in free agency, and their only third base prospect a few years away, the Phillies could make a move for Wright. The team needs right-handed hitters as well, but the problem here will be if the Phillies have the prospects to trade for Wright. While the team has made it clear they want to give Domonic Brown a chance in the outfield, a trade of Domonic Brown and one of their pitching prospects like Jonathan Pettibone would be a fair trade for Wright. While the Phillies make sense here, this may be the least likely possibility due to the NL East rivalry, the Phillies uncertainty to extend Wright, and most importantly the Mets ability to find better prospects in return elsewhere.

The Dodgers have been, and will most likely continue to be the most active team in trades and free agency. They have lots of money, a desire to use it, and they play in the same division as the recent 2-time World Series champion San Francisco Giants. The team has said they are willing to trade right fielder Andre Ethier, and the Mets would love to acquire him. It's no secret that the Mets need outfield help, and Ethier would provide them with some much-needed stability. The Dodgers would probably have to tack a pitcher onto the deal, and trading for a 3B would mean moving Hanley Ramirez back to shortstop, but if hitting is what the Dodgers want, this is their best option. 

The White Sox want to resign Kevin Youkilis, and they have very little as far as prospects go. The White Sox would love David Wright, and they have a desperate need for a third baseman with some pop, but I don't think they have anything the Mets want, making this deal unlikely to happen.
What about the Yankees. After paltry play from Alex Rodriguez in the 2012 postseason, and an obvious decline in his numbers over the last few seasons, the Yankees would love to move A-rod to DH and Wright could be the perfect compliment to Robinson Cano going forward. The Mets are looking for pitching and outfield help. The Yankees could trade Phil Hughes and prospect Mason Williams, an outfielder, in exchange for Wright. Hughes is in his 2nd year of arbitration, but he's young, and if the Mets have any confidence in him, they could look to sign him to a 3-year deal with a fourth year team option for something in the neighborhood of $20 million. Williams projects to be a great all around outfielder, but he probably won't be ready until 2014 at the earliest. In the end, the Mets probably won't make a trade with their crosstown rivals; it might lose them the few fans they have left.

The Giants don't need a third baseman, but David Wright could prove to be a great upgrade for them in a number of ways. The Giants, despite winning the World Series still need more consistent offense. The  Giants have fan favorite Pablo Sandoval playing the hot corner, but with talks of trading first baseman Brandon Belt, the team should consider moving the hefty Sandoval to 1st and trading for a bonafide player like Wright. Add Wright to Buster Posey, Sandoval, and Hunter Pence and the Giants lineup becomes formidabile in the middle of the order. Yes, they would become very righthanded, but lefties hitting for power at AT&T park is something left only for Barry Bonds. The Giants have the money to extend Wright, and they could trade the Mets top prospect Gary Brown, an outfielder, and minor prospect Hector Sanchez, a catcher. The Mets need help in a number of places, but Brown would instantly become their top-hitting prospect and could begin playing in the Mets outfield in 2013. 

Finally we come to the Oakland A's. This is a team that, if they traded for Wright, would be doing so with no intention, or ability, to sign him to an extension. The A's have a solid defensive third baseman in Josh Donaldson, but he doesn't provide much as far as offense goes. The A's have 4 above average MLB outfielders, making one of them expendable. Colin Cowgill is the perfect player to trade. He came over from the Diamondbacks as a highly touted prospect, but his stock has dropped a bit recently. Add him to one of the many young pitchers in the A's minor league system like Sonny Gray, and you have a trade that satisfies both sides. The A's get a hitter to solidify their lineup for 2013, keeping them competitive with offensively minded teams like the Angels and Rangers, while not putting a big dent in the young core they rely on year in and year out. The Mets can instantly put Gray and Cowgill into their starting lineup, one in the rotation and one in the outfield, two spots in which they need help. Wheeler, Harvey, and Gray sounds pretty good as the rotation of the future, and Cowgill has potential to remain in the outfield for years to come. Both guys are cheap and under team control for a long time. 

In conclusion, I originally thought that the Mets best move was to trade David Wright. Now, after looking at their options, I wonder if offering him an extension might be the best thing for their team. Honestly, it all comes down to the money. If Wright demands more than the Mets are willing to pay him, a trade is the only option. Some might say the Mets should wait to trade him before the 2013 trade deadline, at which point a team may need Wright more than now, but the chances that the Mets could land the prospects they want for half year rental aren't high. The Mets have to find a deal that makes sense, if not, they can take a chance at trading him by the deadline or, more likely, they can extend him. One thing is for sure, Sandy Alderson is going to do what he thinks is best for the Mets' future, whether it involves David Wright is history that has yet to be written. 

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Exchange Rate: The Maicer Izturis Signing

Today, the Toronto Blue Jays signed former Angles infielder Maicer Izturis to a 3-year $9 million contract with a team option for a 4th year worth another $3 million. Plain and simple, the Blue Jays needed help up the middle. With Brett Lawrie and Edwin Encarnacion securing the corners of the infield, the Blue Jays knew where they needed to improve. The question is, does this move help the team heading into 2013?

Maicer Izturis has spent the last 8 seasons in Los Angeles, playing various infield positions for the Angels. Over that time he compiled 13.3 fWAR, or 1.9 fWAR per season. Let's round up and say Izturis was a 2.0 fWAR player. He did so from age 25 to 31, which doesn't leave a huge amount for someone who will be playing a premium defensive position for his new team. The Blue Jays need a second baseman more than a shortstop, so it seems like Izturis will be playing on the right side of the infield more so than the left. Here's how Izturis looks over all three types of WAR calculations.


Izturis has been fairly consistent throughout his career. He's made about $13.5 million over the course of his career, but he's been worth about $57.3 million, which shows that the Angels have been getting a great deal out of Izturis. While I congratulate the Angels, none of this information implies that the Blue Jays will end up in the same boat. Let's analyze what makes Izturis valuable because some skills tend to decline with age, while others remain more constant.
Offensively, Izturis can be described as a "just enough" type hitter. 


His wOBA had never dipped below .300 until this past season, which shows consistency, but as you can see from his true average, Izturis is about an average hitter, and nothing better. As far as plate discipline goes, Izturis hasn't varied at all throughout his career, proving that last seasons below career-average offensive production may be best explained by Izturis' low BABIP. The league batting average on balls put in play is always right around .300. but Izturis' career BABIP has been higher, at .337. His .320 BABIP in 2012 is a solid 17 percentage points lower than his career average, which most likely comes from his low infield hit percentage. In 2012 Izturis has a 3.4% infield hit percentage in comparison to his career 5.6% mark. Fewer infield hits could point towards his age catching up with him. Speed declines severely as a player ages, and obviously, due to the server offensive decline last season, Izturis' overall production is tied into his above average speed.

The percent of the time that Izturis swings at the pitch thrown, is about half the league average over the last 8 seasons. Combine that with a league average BB%, and it means that in order to make up for Izturis' diminishing ability to get on base when making contact, he will have to increase his ability to walk. If not, we might see a more serious decline in his offensive production.

Defensively, the story is a bit different. Since we can safely assume that Izturis will be playing primarily second base for the Jays, let's look only at his numbers as a second baseman. 


Since FRAA doesn't differentiate between positions, those numbers are for Izturis' total defense during the given seasons. As you can see, Izturis has been an above average second baseman, providing some significant defensive value in 2009 and 2012. He has the ability to play the position well, and has done so throughout his career. This shows that while his slight decline in speed has affected his offensive production, defensively it hasn't had an effect. Offensively, a small decline in speed led to a significant decrease, but not at all defensively. Thus, Izturis should remain a solid defender, but will need to show some improvement offensively. 

The Blue Jays owe Itzuris $3 million per season, which is equal to less than 1 fWAR per season. So, if Izturis is able to average at least 1 fWAR per season over the next 3 years, we will look back on this as a solid under-the-radar signing. Izturis replaces former Blue Jays second baseman Kelly Johnson, who outperformed Izturis since 2006, but while Johnson has been slightly better, he hasn't been as consistent as Izturis. The Blue Jays are a team looking to take the next step. They need to find a balance between young and veteran players, and Izturis is just a more veteran, consistent option at second base than Kelly Johnson. Stability is sometimes underrated in Baseball, but given a bleak market at second base, the Blue Jays have opted for consistency at a premium defensive position over volatility. 

I would give this signing a B+. The Blue Jays didn't commit too much financially towards Izturis, and also didn't lock themselves into a long-term deal. If izturis can produce at an average of 1 fWAR per season over the next three years, the Blue Jays will have gotten more value out of him than his contract warrants, which is exactly what every team looks for when making a free agent signing. On the other hand, the Blue Jays have some serious issues in their starting rotation, and need to address those problems moving forward in the offseason. If they can improve their rotation, whether it be by trade or signing free agents, this team has the potential to be in the playoff discussion in 2013.