Saturday, December 15, 2012

Recent Movement: Part 1

Baseball's Winter Meetings may be over, but it doesn't mean the shopping has stopped. We are only a few weeks away from the biggest gift giving time of the year, and it seems like Baseball's general managers have gotten the message. Recently, a number of big names have found new homes, and I have taken it upon myself to evaluate these deals. So, let's get started.

Greinke In Dodger Blue
Dodgers sign Zack Greinke to a 6-year $147 million contract: Yes, the moment we were all waiting for. Greinke represented the largest domino out there; once he signed, we would see every other pitcher on the market begin signing contracts. Greinke's contract makes him the highest paid right-handed pitcher ever, and the contract's average annual value of $24.5 million surpasses the C.C. Sabathia's $24.4 million AAV as the record for a pitcher on a multiyear contract. The Dodgers had money to spend, and they went for the gold. Greinke joins Josh Beckett and Clayton Kershaw atop the Dodgers rotation, giving them a solid 1-2-3- punch that every playoff team needs. Greinke's contract will take him through his age 34 season, which means the Dodgers will get Greinke's production before it begins to seriously slip due to age. PECOTA forecasts Greinke's future value as such:
2013 3.5
2014 3.5
2015 3.4
2016 3.1
2017 2.9
2018 2.6
Average 3.17
Median 3.25
If we extrapolate those forecasts to value in dollars, this deal should benefit both Greinke and the Dodgers. Greinke has proven he can pitch in both the American League (Kansas City Royals and LA Angels) and the National League (Milwaukee Brewers). There is little to say about Greinke's production or this contract, as it seems as though both sides accomplished their respective goals. Greinke becomes a very very rich man who will be in annual contention to make the playoffs, and the Dodgers acquired the top-tier starting pitcher they needed to complement fellow ace Clayton Kershaw, making a big splash with their newfound deep pockets. The Dodgers and Rangers were both vying for Greinke's services, but the Dodgers came out on top. Choosing LA over Texas makes sense for Greinke given that Dodger Stadium ranks tied for the 25th least hitter friendly park in the majors (Park factor of 0.867) while the Ballpark in Arlington ranks as the 4th most hitter friendly park in the league (Park factor of 1.183).
My Grade: A (Greinke and the Dodgers both wanted this union. The Dodgers look to have paid a reasonable amount, while Greinke made a solid career choice, choosing a more hitter friendly home park over the exact opposite.)

Pirates sign RHP Jason Grilli to a 2-year $6.75 million contract: The most fascinating part of this deal is that former MLB outfielder Gary Sheffield represents Jason Grilli. Apart from that aesthetic aspect of this deal, the Pirates sured up their bullpen by bringing back the 33rd best reliever in MLB in 2012 according to Fangraphs calculation of Wins Above Replacement. For comparison's sake, let's look at both Jonathan Broxton and Raphael Soriano, who ranked just better than Grilli last season. Soriano remains a free agent, but he did turn down a qualifying offer ($13.5 million/1 season) to test the waters for more money, showing that he thinks his services are worth more than $13.5 million per season. Broxton recently signed a 3-year $21 million contract with the Reds, which puts his worth at about $7 million per season. Grilli's new contract will net him about $7 million over two years. See the difference? The Pirates made out great here.

Jonathan Broxton 58 6.98 2.64 79.2% 3.03 1.3
Rafael Soriano 67.2 9.18 3.19 88.0% 3.32 1.2
Jason Grilli 58.2 13.81 3.38 82.8% 2.8 1.1
The pirates retain a veteran back end of the bullpen pitcher who strikes out hitters at a great rate, and does a good job of keeping base runners from scoring. Grilli is durable, putting up the same number of innings pitched as Broxton who is 8 years Grilli's junior.
My Grade: A- (The Pirates are taking a chance on an older reliever who has never posted K/9 numbers like he did in 2012. It probably points toward some regression, but even still, this is a very team friendly contract. Given the Pirates young arms in the rotation, giving Clint Hurdle a reliable righty in the pen is a solid move.)

Twins sign RHP Kevin Correia to a 2-year $10 million contract: This deal isn't a blockbuster, but I'm sure we can find something interesting here. Correia is a replacement level pitcher who has the ability to "eat innings". Correia was lucky to get a 2-year contract given his less than stellar production over the last few years, but if any team were to sign the veteran, the Twins make some sense. While many of us think of Target Field as a pitcher's park, in reality it is the 10 best hitter's park in the Majors. This means that Correia's numbers could take even a greater turn for the worse in Minnesota. He'll be pitching in a hitter friendly park while simultaneously moving from the NL to the AL. This deal heavily favors Correia since he'll be getting paid an AAV of $5 million, which equates to about 0.9 wins per season, a number, that given his recent production, will prove difficult for Correia to achieve.  On the other hand, if Correia puts up solid first half numbers in 2013, he could be a perfect trade deadline candidate as he has a team friendly deal with a full year of control for 2014. If his production continues to decline, the Twins have essentially signed a place holder until recently acquired young pitchers like Trevor May and Alex Meyer are ready to play big-league ball.
My Grade: C- (A lot of ifs are involved here. He could turn out to be a valuable asset, but too much of the evidence points towards the opposite. Correia is making way more money than he's likely to be worth, so from his side, this deal is an A.)

Kevin Youkilis
Yankees sign 3B Kevin Youkilis to a 1-year $12 million contract: It was no surprise to anyone when the rumors came in about the Yankees being in hot pursuit of Kevin Youkilis. Youkilis represented the best free agent option at third base, and with Yankees 3B Alex Rodriguez out for at least the first half of 2013, the Yankees would settle for nothing less than the best available option. Last season the Red Sox replaced Youkilis with a younger model, but shipped him off to the Windy City. In Chicago, Youkilis got back on track, returning from an injury to post solid numbers (109 wRC+, .339 wOBA, and .188 ISO). PECOTA projects Youkilis to return to his former self, 3.9 WARP, .303 TAv, and .374 OBP. Youk, known as the "Greek God of Walks", has always provided value by getting on base at well above average rates, while providing enough power to compensate for his utter lack of speed. The Yankees gain a versatile veteran who gets on base, and might produce more value than a healthy A-rod would. Youkilis is looking to show the league that he hasn't lost a step despite a down year in 2012, hoping to net himself a multi-year contract beginning in 2014. 
My Grade: B+ (This deal works for both sides. Honestly, the Yankees should have made a longer commitment to Youkilis. A-rod is as close to a sunk cost as a player can get, and if Youkilis can replace Rodriguez for the next 3 seasons, it might seriously benefit the Yanks. This deal gives the Bronx Bombers some options, as Cashman and company can let Youkilis go after 2013 and either make a deal for another third baseman, or risk going with A-Rod in the future. Youkilis gets a healthy contract, looking to justify a multi-year deal going into 2014.)

Ichiro Suzuki
Yankees sign OF Ichiro Suzuki to 2-year $13 million contract: At 39 years old, Ichiro is not the superstar he once was, but he's still a viable MLB outfielder. After performing miserably at the plate in Seattle last year, Ichiro resurrected his hitting production in NYC, going from a .261/.288/.353 slash line as a Mariner to a .322/.340/.454 slash line in pinstripes. The biggest difference in Ichiro's approach to the plate between his time in Seattle and New York in 2012 was that in NYC, Ichiro became more selective. His swing percentage dropped from 49.8% to 46.6%, which caused an increase in hitter's counts. By becoming more selective, Ichiro saw more fastballs, and thus began to put the ball in play in places that allowed him to reach base safely. He his more home runs in New York (thank you short porch), and hit the ball on the ground more often, causing his infield hit percentage to double. The biggest drop off between his play on the west coast and his play on the east was Ichiro's defense. He posted a +13 DRS in Seattle while compiling a well below average -7 DRS playing in the New York outfield. This is a wild swing in defensive abilities, but given the difference in total plays made between Ichiro in Seattle and in New York, the difference in defensive efficiency can be explained by a massive difference in sample size. In the few plays Ichiro made in New York, he didn't perform well, but had he made 4 times as many plays, his top-notch defense would have shown through. The Yankees don't have a proven lead off hitter, but the combination of Brett Gardner, Derek Jeter, and now Ichiro Suzuki should serve as suitable fill-ins. The most surprising part of the deal is that Ichiro found a contract offer for more than 1-year, but after rumors surfaced that the Phillies has offered Ichiro a similar contract, the Yankees were forced to pony up an extra year in order to retain Ichiro's services.
My Grade: B (The Yankees get a cheap option to play the outfield well who uses his speed and savvy to get on base and create runs. Ichiro got the ever illusive 2nd year despite being 29 years old. This isn't a perfect deal since Ichiro's age points towards a decrease in future production, and the Yankees have other needs to fill.)

Reds sign 3B Jack Hannahan to a 2-year $4 million contract: This isn't a biggie, but it is worth noting. The Reds recently acquired Shin-Soo Choo from the Indians via trade, but with the likelihood of the Indians bringing back Scott Rolen decreasing by the second, Hannahan makes a find replacement. Hannahan is a solid defender at third base, putting up a positive DRS in all 5 of his MLB seasons. On the other hand, FRAA, used by Baseball Prospectus, shows that Hannahan has always been a top defender, posting a 16.1 and 10.9 FRAA in 2011 and 2012 respectively. As far as back-up infielders go, Hannahan will serve the Reds well. Hannahan's splits show a huge disparity between his ability to hit right-handed pitching over left-handed pitching. Hannahan posted a 100 wRC+ vs. RHP last season, but an abysmal 40 wRC+ against left-handers. Look for the Reds to put Hannahan in the starting lineup when the Reds run up against right-handers. 
My Grade: B+ (I like this deal for both sides. Hannahan was essentially left out to dry by the Indians, but Cleveland is all about rebuilding at the moment, and a solid platoon third baseman would only take up a roster spot for the Indians. For the Reds, Hannahan represents half the answer at the hot corner. Hannahan will platoon with Todd Frazier, an up and comer for the Reds on the left-side of the infield.)

That's all for this edition of free-agent frenzy, join us next time when we discuss the Josh Hamilton signing, as well as others. 

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