Saturday, December 06, 2003

It's not a rant, it's an interview

Rich Lederer has his newest interview posted. This one is with Mike Carminati of Mike's Baseball Rants. I disagree with Mike frequently, but he is very knowledgable and it's an interesting interview. Head on over and check it out if you haven't already.

Friday, December 05, 2003

It was the best of trades, it was the worst of trades

Opinions on New York's trade of Nick Johnson, Juan Rivera and Randy Choate to Montreal for Javier Vazquez have ranged all the way from complete and total approval to complete and total disapproval. There are (at least) two absolute facts about this trade.

First, Vazquez has been a great pitcher over the last three seasons. In that time, he has posted a 3.52 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 8.26 K/9IP, 1.97 BB/9IP and 1.05 HR/9IP in 684.2 innings. He's pitched at least 220 innings each season, and his biggest flaw is that he does give up home runs with some frequency. He's only 27 years old and he should be one of the 10 best pitchers in the AL next year, if not better.

Second, Johnson was a great offensive force when he was able to play last year, and he has a chance to become one of the best offensive players in the NL over the next few years. I say offensive force rather than hitter, because he wasn't really a "great hitter" as he hit just .284 with 14 home runs. However, he did post a ridiculously good .422 OBP, which helped him put up a .318 EqA (good for ninth-best in the AL). He is only 25 years old, but he's had problems staying healthy.

Both players are injury risks, but (as somebody else noted somewhere) they are different kinds of injury risks.

Vazquez has been very durable, but he has also been worked very hard and he supposedly doesn't have great mechanics. He's thrown over 14,000 pitches the last four years (just in games) and he seems to wear down at times as he's had two bad months in each of the last three seasons. The risk with Vazquez is that he'll suffer a serious arm injury and miss all or most of the season.

Johnson missed all of 2000 with a broken hand, he missed some time in 2002 with more wrist/hand problems and he played just 96 games last year due to even more wrist/hand trouble. Due to all of that, there are a lot of people who think he either has a propensity for getting injured or that his hand/wrist is going to be a chronic problem. The risk with him is that he'll never be healthy enough to play a full season, missing 20 to 40 to 60 games each and every season and never reaching his true potential.

Larry Mahnken has a very good post about the pros, cons and emotional baggage of this trade.

One thing I'm tired of hearing about this deal is the idea that it means the Yankees have no chips left to trade aside from Alfonso Soriano. Well, the reason for that is that almost every player on New York's roster is really good. As of this moment, the Yankees have no fewer than seven players on their 25-man roster (Soriano, Jorge Posada, Hideki Matsui, Mike Mussina, Jose Contreras, Mariano Rivera and Vazquez) that plenty of teams would love to trade for.

Anyway, yesterday I ranked all of the teams involved in "salary dump" trades based on how well I thought they did their jobs. I might as well update that list after this trade:

1) Boston
2) Minnesota
3) New York Yankees
4) Florida
5) Arizona
6) Philadelphia
7) Montreal
8) Chicago Cubs
9) Milwaukee
10) San Francisco
11) Houston

Stepping back from the quality of the trade for a bit, Alex Belth has a good post about how Yankees fans should stop crying that the end of the world is at hand. Part of what he says is that nobody should have expected the glory days of 1996-2000 to last forever, so fans should just be happy that they still get to root for a good team.

I think, and I may be wrong, that some Yankees fans are struggling with their own perceptions of themselves right now. During that great World Series streak, whenever somebody wrote or said that the Yankees only won because they have more money than everybody else, fans could answer back with, "Sure, the Yankees have a lot of money, but it's not like they just go out and sign the best players every year. Look how many of our players are homegrown!" And they had a point, but now they don't.

Now, the Yankees have "hired guns" at 1B, 3B, LF, RF, three spots in the starting rotation (and maybe four if Andy Pettitte doesn't come back) and every spot in the bullpen except for Rivera. Now, the Yankees really are the team that just goes out and gets the best players every year, and I think a lot of Yankees fans are uncomfortable with that.

Maybe I'm wrong, but that's the sense I get.

Fantasy football

Here's my fantasy football column for this week:

Fantasy football: Go with Vick as your starting QB

I'll have a baseball post up later in the day.

Thursday, December 04, 2003

The art of dumping salary

Since the end of the season, there have been six trades in which Team A traded Player A to Team B in exchange for a player or players who make significantly less money than Player A. I thought it would be interesting to look at how the various teams involved in those trades fared and see what I can determine. Here's a recap of all six trades, in chronological order for your your convenience.

1) Houston trades Billy Wagner to Philadelphia for Brandon Duckworth, Taylor Buchholz and Ezequiel Astacio.

2) Minnesota trades A.J. Pierzynski (and either a PTBNL or cash) to San Francisco for Joe Nathan, Boof Bonser and Francisco Liriano.

3) Florida trades Derrek Lee to the Chicago Cubs for Hee Seop Choi and a PTBNL.

4) Arizona trades Curt Schilling to Boston for Casey Fossum, Brandon Lyon, Jorge De La Rosa and Michael Goss.

5) Milwaukee trades Richie Sexson (and Shane Nance and a PTBNL) to Arizona for Lyle Overbay, Junior Spivey, Craig Counsell, Chad Moeller, Chris Capuano and Jorge De La Rosa.

6) Minnesota trades Eric Milton to Philadelphia for Carlos Silva, Nick Punto and a PTBNL.

So, we can see some interesting things right away. One team was on the sending side of two trades, one team was on the receiving side of two trades and one team was on the sending side of one trade and the receiving side of another trade. Of the five teams that "dumped" players, four of them had winning records last year and two of them made the playoffs. Of the five teams that "were dumped on," all of them had winning records last year and three of them made the playoffs.

There is also an interesting mix of players being "dumped." There are two first basemen who are very similar, an aging starting pitcher coming off three great seasons, an overrated starting pitcher coming off an injury-lost season, a dominant relief pitcher and a young catcher who is about to become more expensive. There is also a very interesting mix of players being sent as compensation, ranging from worthless young players to promising young players to established young players to worthless old players.

First, I want to look at the four teams who have strictly gotten rid of expensive players to see how they did. Let's start with the Astros.

In Wagner, the Astros lost one of the best relievers in baseball, but saved the $8-million he's due to make in 2004 (they actually saved $11-million, because he has a $9-million option for 2005 with a $3-million buyout, so he would have cost Houston at least $11-million had they kept him). He's pitched seven complete season in the major leagues, throwing at least 50 innings with an ERA of 2.85 or better in each season. His worst K/9IP ratio was 10.56 and his worst K/BB ratio was 2.23. He was limited to 27.2 innings, during which he pitched terribly, due to injury in 2000, but he's had three excellent seasons since then and there's no indication that injury is a problem at the moment.

So, Houston lost a great reliever, but it's less of a sting because the Astros had one of the best bullpens in the major leagues last year and Octavio Dotel and Brad Lidge should be enough that the Astros won't be devastated by not having Wagner around.

However, if they don't use the money they saved by trading Wagner, I'd expect them to be worse next year because they didn't really get much talent in the trade. Duckworth will be 28 years old when the 2004 season starts and he had a 4.94 ERA and 1.53 WHIP last season. He only struck out 68 batters in 93 innings while walking 44 batters. He has occassionally shown the potential to be better, but I doubt that he'll turn into anything more than a decent fourth or fifth starter.

Buchholz is 22 years old and spent all of 2003 in Class AA. He posted a 3.55 ERA in 144.2 innings and showed good control (2.05 BB/9IP), but he didn't strike out that many hitters (7.09 K/9IP). That's a slight drop from his 7.32 K/9IP mark in Class A in 2002 and he may have trouble succeeding as he moves up to AAA and the majors if his strikeout rate continues to drop. He's obviously young enough that he could get a lot better, but right now he doesn't look that much better than Duckworth and he probably won't help Houston until 2005.

Astacio is 23 years old and pitched all of 2003 in high Class A. He posted a 3.29 ERA in 147.2 innings and he also showed good control (1.77 BB/9IP), but also didn't strike many people out (5.06 K/9IP). That's significantly worse than the bad 5.91 K/9IP ratio he had in 152.1 innings in low Class A in 2002. If he's having trouble striking people out in Class A, I find it hard to believe that he'll be able to do well as he continues to move up and I'd be surprised if he ever helps Houston.

So, I don't think losing Wagner is the worst thing for Houston, but if they just pocket the savings then the package of players they got makes it an awful trade for them. If they invest that savings into improving the starting rotation, then it could end up being a very helpful trade.

Minnesota gave up Pierzynski and Milton and picked up two major league relievers (Nathan and Silva), a utility infielder (Punto), two pitching prospects (Bonser and Liriano) and a PTBNL. They also have to give San Fran a PTBNL or cash, but the cash is likely to be a small amount or the PTBNL will be rather unexciting.

Pierzynski is as much an opportunity trade as a salary dump. He only made $365,000 last year and, although he will get much more than that in arbitration this year, the Twins could have kept him if they wanted to. However, they have a premier prospect at catcher in Joe Mauer, who most people feel will be ready to be their starting catcher before the end of the 2004 season. So, the Twins had three options. First, they could trade Pierzynski before the season and give the job to Mauer. Second, they could keep Pierzynski to start the season and trade him during the season whenever they thought Mauer was ready. Third, they could keep Pierzynski the whole season and let Mauer wait until 2005 to take over as the starting catcher.

Obviously, the longer they waited, the less leverage they would have had in trading Pierzynski because everybody would have known that they had to trade him soon to make room for Mauer. Keeping him longer would have given them the benefit of insurance if Mauer struggled for some reason, but when you have a tight budget you can't hold onto a valuable commodity like Pierzynski just for insurance.

So, Pierzynski is gone and he will be replaced behind the plate by Mauer. Pierzynski's offense has gotten better each of the last two seasons, and he hit .312/.360/.464 (.824) in 2003 while playing 137 games. Those are very nice offensive numbers for a catcher, and it's difficult to imagine Mauer, as good a prospect as he is, jumping from Class AA to to the majors and duplicating those numbers. The Twins will almost definitely get less offense from the catcher position in 2003 than they would have had they kept Pierzynski, but Mauer is reportedly very good on defense and could be better than Pierzynski there.

Also, the Twins picked up an important player in Nathan. Minnesota knew keeping re-signing both free agent relievers (Eddie Guardado and LaTroy Hawkins) would be impossible, and Nathan gives them a suitable replacement for one of them (which is good, because Hawkins has already signed elsewhere). Nathan had a 2.96 ERA and 1.06 WHIP in 79 innings for San Francisco last year, with a good strikeout rate (9.46 K/9IP) and a walk rate that isn't terrible (3.76 BB/9IP). He does have a bit of an injury history, but I see no reason why the Twins shouldn't be able to pencil him in for around 80 quality innings.

On top of him, the Twins also picked up two intriguing pitching prospects in Bonser and Liriano. Bonser was once a top-notch prospect, but his star has dimmed a bit since then. Still, he's only 22 years old and he posted nice numbers in his brief stint in Class AAA last year. Assuming he starts 2004 in AAA, he will be pitching in a home park that is very nice to pitchers (the Twins farm club is in Rochester, NY, where I live), which might help him develop. I could envision him joining the Twins rotation late in 2004 and possibly developing into a quality middle-of-the-rotation pitcher. Liriano pitched just nine innings last year due to injuries, but he's only 20 years old and has posted nice strikeout rates when he has been able to pitch. As the worst player in the deal, he's a very good gamble.

Unlike the Pierzynski trade, the Milton trade was a straight salary dump. Milton has always excited people with his potential, but he'll make $9-million in 2004, he pitched just 17 innings in 2003 and his career ERA+ is 101. He's not exactly somebody who fits into Minnesota's budget.

With him in Philadelphia, the Twins will have more money available to try and re-sign Guardado and "MVP candidate" Shannon Stewart. They also picked up Silva, who will be 25 when next season starts and had a decent 4.43 ERA and 1.48 WHIP in 87.1 innings for the Phillies, and Punto, who is a cheap replacement for Denny Hocking at utility infielder.

So, to recap, the Twins traded away a catcher for whom they already had a replacement and a starting pitcher who they didn't use at all last year to save a significant chunk of change that they can use elsewhere on the team. While doing so, they acquire two solid relievers, a decent utility infielder and two interesting pitching prospects. All in all, I'd say that's pretty good work by Terry Ryan.

Florida, as everybody knows, just won the World Series and there was a lot of concern that a lot of the team would leave because it was too expensive, like in 1997. Florida's first deal this off-season was to get rid of a high salary, but it was not just for the sake of dumping payroll.

Lee has been a very good hitter the last four years, but he's been underrated quite a bit because of the park he plays in. His OPS's the last four years have been .875, .820, .872, .887, but his OPS+'s have been 122, 113, 131, 135. He's only 28 years old and he also has a very good reputation on defense.

He only made $4.52-million last year, which is a good value for what he provided, but he will make much more than that in arbitration this year after hitting 31 homers and stealing 21 bases. The Marlins decided that he was one of the most easily replacable expensive players on their roster, so they made a trade to replace him right away.

Choi will be 25 years old when the 2002 season starts, and most people expect him to become an excellent hitter. In 2002, he hit .287/.406/.513 (.919) in 135 games in Class AAA, but he struggled in 50 at-bats in the majors. Dusty Baker doesn't exactly like young players, but he gave Choi a chance to play a good amount this year and Choi was hitting .244/.389/.496 (.885) on June 7th when he collided with Chicago's pitcher and hurt himself. He missed about three weeks and, when he returned, he struggled and got less playing time.

Choi finished the season hitting .218/.350/.421 (.771), but I think what he did before the injury is a much better indication of what he can do. If they just let him play next year, I think the Marlins should expect an OBP in the same area that Lee provided with less power. The big question for Choi is whether or not he can hit lefties. His numbers against them were bad last year, but they came in just 17 at-bats. Luckily for the Marlins, they have somebody on the roster who can play first base and hit lefties pretty well in Jeff Conine. Conine's a bit expensive to be part of a platoon, but he'll also probably see some time in the outfield and he's not real a good enough commodity for the Marlins to trade.

Trading Lee also allowed the Marlins to re-sign two other players who were a large part of their success last year. Luis Castillo agreed to a three-year contract worth $16-million and Mike Lowell agreed to a four-year contract worth $32-million. Lowell's contract is contingent on Florida getting a new stadium approved, but he'll be a Marlin for next year at the very least (if the stadium is not approved, his deal becomes a one-year contract with a player option for 2005).

A lot of people have been down on the Castillo signing, but I think it's a good deal for the Marlins. He's 28 years old and he's coming off a season in which he hit .314/.381/.397 (.778) for an OPS+ of 109. That's pretty good for a second baseman, although the Marlins may want to discourage him from trying to steal bases unless he can rediscover the success he had before this season.

Castillo has had some injury problems and he might not age very well, but the Marlins are getting his age 28, 29 and 30 seasons. Those aren't exactly his elderly years. I think they can count on him to post a good OBP, play good defense at second base and help the team win ballgames for the next three years. After that, I'd probably be hesitant about giving him a new deal, but I definitely like this deal.

Lowell was having a very nice season last year when he broke his thumb and missed most of the rest of the season. He finished the year hitting .276/.350/.530 (.881) for an OPS+ of 132 in 130 games. Lowell has steadily improved over the last few years, but he'll be 30 years old when the 2004 season starts and he has a history of fading in the second half of the season. Over the last three years, he's hit .290/.359/.535 (.894) before the All-Star break and .262/.325/.403 (.728) after it, and that's not something that's been skewed by one crazy year because all three seasons have had siginificant drop-offs. That's definitely something to be worried about, but it's still good that the Marlins kept Lowell considering the options at third base through free agency (I suppose they could have moved Miguel Cabrera to third and signed an outfielder).

The Marlins have several more difficult decisions to make, but I like what they've done so far. They traded one expensive hitter to help them sign two others and replaced they expensive hitter they lost with an inexpensive hitter who shouldn't be that much worse.

Milwaukee traded its star first baseman away not so that it could remain competitive, but because he will make $8-million this year and is a free agent after that and they wouldn't have been able to re-sign him. Sexson hit .272/.379/.548 (927) without missing a game last year for an OPS+ of 136. Over the last several years, Sexson's OPS+ has steadily climbed from 102 to 112 to 124 to 130 to 136. He'll be 29 when the 2004 season starts, and even if he doesn't keep getting better he should have several very good seasons in him. So, the Brewers will be losing a very important part of their offense, but they weren't going to win next year anyways.

Let's see what they got in return. Overbay hit .276/.365/.402 (.767) in 86 games last year and will take over first base until Prince Fielder is ready to take over from him. Fielder is only 19 years old and he hit .313/.409/.526 (.935) in 137 games in Class A last year, so he's at least one year and probably two or three years away from becoming Milwaukee's starting first baseman. When that point arrives, the Brewers can trade Overbay if he's shown that he's good enough to be a valuable starting first baseman or they can just non-tender him.

Spivey will be 29 when the 2004 season starts and he will almost definitely be on a team other than Milwaukee by then. After an excellent 2002 season, he hit just .255/.326/.433 (.759) last year. I don't know how much they can get for Spivey, but there's no reason to keep him because Keith Ginter is both younger and better (only by a little bit in each case, but enough to make him better for the Brewers to keep).

Counsell is pretty much just a contract going the other way so that Arizona doesn't take on too much salary. He's an expensive 33-year-old who hasn't hit a lick the past two years. He was pretty good in part-time action in 2000, but that was three years ago and that was the only time in his career that he's been pretty good. He'll either play shortstop until J.J. Hardy is ready or he'll just sit on the bench and take up space. Hardy hit .279/.368/.428 (.796) in 114 games last year in Class AA last year. He'll probably start next season in Class AAA and then move up sometime around mid-season if he's doing well.

Moeller will be 29 years old when the 2004 season starts and isn't terrible for a catcher. He hit .268/.335/.435 (.770) in 78 ghames last year and there have been rumors that the A's are interested in acquiring him. If the Brewers keep him, he will be better than the catchers they had last year. If they trade him, it will be interesting to see what they get in return.

Capuano and De La Rosa will probably be the key to whether or not this trade is good for the Brewers because they are the two pitching prospects whose value is largely unknown at this point. Capuano is 25 years old and spent most of last season in Class AAA, where he posted a 3.34 ERA, 6.81 K/9IP and 2.71 BB/9IP in 142.2 innings. He also pitched 33 less than great innings in the majors. He didn't strike many people out in AAA (or the majors) and he didn't show great control. He did strike a lot of people out in the lower minors, so maybe he can get better. I'm rooting for him to succeed because he's from my hometown (Springfield, Mass.), but I doubt he'll ever turn into anything really special.

De La Rosa is 22 years old and spent most of last year in Class AA, where he had a 2.80 ERA, 9.21 K/9IP and 3.25 BB/9IP in 99.2 innings. He wasn't as good in 24 innings in Class AAA and should go back to Class AAA this season, but he's young, strikes people out and has a shot at becoming a good starting pitcher in the majors.

Nance is a 26-year-old relief pitcher who has had great success in the minor leagues, but hasn't been good in his brief time in the majors. He has a shot at being a decent middle reliever.

Milwaukee has taken a lot of heat over this trade for losing a star hitter, but we won't really know how good this trade is for the Brewers for awhile. We have to see what they get for Spivey, whether or not they keep Moeller and what Capuano and De La Rosa can do. I think it was a pretty good deal for them, because it gives them a lot of pieces they can use to get better. They even got one exciting, young player who could be turning into a good major leaguer around the same time their other exciting, young players start to hit the scene.

Now, let's look at the one team that was both dumping salary and acquiring salary.

Arizona turned Curt Schilling, Lyle Overbay, Junior Spivey, Craig Counsell, Chad Moeller and Chris Capuano into Richie Sexson, Casey Fossum, Brandon Lyon, Shane Nance, Michael Goss and a PTBNL. In doing so, they saved somewhere in the neighborhood of $7-million (give or take a million), which is important to them because they apparently want to lower their payroll from $96-million to $80-million.

The big loss is obviously Schilling, who posted a 3.14 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, 10.07 K/9IP and 1.35 BB/9IP in 781.2 innings as a member of the Diamondbacks. He's 37 years old, but he's still very, very good and Arizona will miss him, especially if Randy Johnson can't at least get most of the way back to the level he was at his first four seasons in Arizona.

The big gain is obviously Sexson, who will vastly improve Arizona's first base situation. Arizona's first basemen last year combined to hit .261/.331/.380 (.712) while playing in a park that helps hitters. Sexson will be so much better than that it's not even funny.

What about everybody else? Well, Overbay was part of that first base disaster last year (one of the better parts, but still a part), so they obviously won't miss him. Spivey and Counsell are infielders they don't need with Shea Hillenbrand, Alex Cintron and Matt Kata around. None of those players are great (and I'd rather they use Chad Tracy at third than Hillenbrand, but that's not going to happen), but Spivey and Counsell aren't anywhere near great either.

In addition to losing those players, Arizona turned Capuano into Fossum, Lyon and Nance (and Goss and a PTBNL, both of which I'm going to assume won't amount to anything). I'd say that Capuano and Fossum have a similar shot at being good major league starters, in that neither of them have a real good shot. Fossum probably has a higher ceiling, but he's also a much bigger injury risk with his slight frame. Lyon and Nance could both be decent relievers, so Arizona did okay turning one potentially helpful young pitcher into three potentially helpful young pitchers.

The net effect of these trades will be to improve the offense (which was horrible last year) a lot and hurt the pitching a lot. If Johnson can return to his Cy Young form, then next year's Diamondbacks team should definitely be better than last year's. If not, then it will depend a lot on what the three young pitchers give them and also on what the three young infielders do. Considering that they had to cut payroll, the Diamondbacks did well to end up with the same number of star players if not the same caliber of star players.

Finally, how did the four teams picking up expensive players do?

Philadelphia has suddenly decided that it can spend a bunch of money. Last off-season, the Phillies signed Jim Thome to a big contract and he rewarded them with a typically excellent season. This off-season, they've traded for Wagner and Milton, who will make $17-million between them in 2004. To get those two pitchers, they didn't give up much -- a fifth starter (Duckworth), a decent reliever (Silva), a utility infielder (Punto) and two so-so prospects (Buchholz and Astacio).

Since the Phillies have decided that they are big-spenders, these deals are fine. Are both pitchers overpaid? Certainly. Can both pitchers help them win games next year? Certainly. Wagner, as I've already discussed, is a dominant closer and is much better than the dreck they used in that role last year. Milton is a bigger question mark.

Milton is 28 years old and is coming off a season in which injury limited him to just 17 innings and, while he has definitely shown potential, he's never really been a great pitcher. Still, he's certainly capable of replacing Kevin Millwood in Philadelphia's rotation. I don't know if he's capable of replacing the Millwood Philadelphia hoped it was getting, but he's got the ability to pitch as well as Millwood ended up pitching for the Phillies. The problem I have with Philadelphia at the moment is that its rotation contains four pitchers who, while young and full of potential, have all been inconsistent. If all four take a step forward and fulfill their promise next year, the Phillies could have a great rotation. If all four take a step back, then Philadelphia's rotation will be a big weakness. Most likely, the top four will be a little above average and the rotation as a whole will be somewhere in the vacinity of average. With a good offense and a good bullpen, that could very well be good enough to make the playoffs.

San Francisco certainly helped itself by picking up a good, young catcher, but I'm not really excited about this trade for the Giants. Pierzynski will probably help the Giants offense, but he could be hurt by that park and he doesn't have a great defensive reputation. To get him, the Giants gave up a good reliever and two decent pitching prospects when they knew the Twins would eventually have to trade Pierzynski. Maybe I'm wrong, but I just don't see this as a particularly good trade for the Giants.

A lot have people have been unhappy with the Cubs trading for Lee because they felt the Cubs were giving up a younger, cheaper player who has a chance to become a better player (or at least as good a player) in the near future. I agree that Choi is a good, young player, but I think it's a certainty that Lee will be better in 2004. Because of that, I don't think this is a bad move for the Cubs.

The Cubs should have gone to the World Series last year, but they didn't. Now, they're trying to give themselves the best chance of getting there in 2004, and there's good reason for them to do that. Next season could very well be the last season that Kerry Wood, Mark Prior, Carlos Zambrano and Matt Clement are all together in the same rotation. Also, Sammy Sosa (and Moises Alou) is not going to get better on offense as he keeps getting older.

Improving their offense and defense at first base and signing a lights out reliever like LaTroy Hawkins are good moves for a team that awnts to win it all in 2004. The Cubs should have the best rotation in the NL, they'll have a good bullpen with Hawkins joining the three reliable relievers they had last year and their offense will be better with Lee at first base and Corey Patterson back in center field and Aramis Ramirez at third base for the whole season. I don't think Choi is too big a prize to give up in order to help your team's chances of winning the World Series next season.

Boston is in the same situation as Chicago in that the Red Sox should have, or at least could have, gone to the World Series last year and they want to give themselves the best shot at getting there next year. I've already talked about how good Schilling has been, so it's obvious that I think his addition to any team would help said team. That the Red Sox were able to add him without giving up anything they were counting on for help in 2004 is a huge plus.

Any one of the three pitchers the Red Sox traded away for Schilling could end up having a very nice major league career, but none of them were going to help the Red Sox win the World Series in 2004. Schilling can, probably more than any other player they could have acquired. In case you can't tell, I think this is just a superb trade for the Red Sox.

So, having gone through all of that, here is how I would rank the jobs done by the nine teams involved in these six "salary dumps."
1) Boston
2) Minnesota
3) Florida
4) Arizona
5) Philadelphia
6) Chicago Cubs
7) Milwaukee
8) San Francisco
9) Houston

Note: As I was working on this, Montreal "dumped" Javier Vazquez on the Yankees today. I'll have my thoughts on that trade tomorrow, and I'll also post my opinion on the Red Sox signing Terry Francona before the weekend gets here.

Wednesday, December 03, 2003

Baseball relieved of collusion suspicions

Last off-season, the free agent market went down dramatically. There were a lot of non-tenders, and that flooding of the market caused there to not be many rich and/or lengthy contracts handed out. All of this resulted in accusations of collusion from the player's association. This year, things were supposed to get even worse. There were supposed to be even more non-tenders and even fewer big contracts awarded. Obviously, the player's association was planning on keeping an eye out for possible signs of collusion yet again.

Well, I obviously don't know all of the inner workings of Major League Baseball, but I think I can safely say that there is no collusion going on, at least not in its most unethical form. One of the suppositions made heading into this off-season was that the great position players and good pitchers would get their money, but the average ones and the relievers would suffer. Well, so far I haven't seen anything to indicate that that's happening.

In the last few days, LaTroy Hawkins signed a contract for three years that could be worth as much as $15-million, Tom Gordon signed a two-year contract worth $7.25-million and Paul Quantrill signed a two-year contract worth $6.8-million.

In case you don't get the point, that's $5-million a year for a very good setup man, $3.625-million a year for a 36-year-old setup man with an injury history and $3.4-million a year for a 35-year-old lefty specialist. Now, don't get me wrong, these are good pitchers and I don't think any of these deals are terrible.

The Cubs had bullpen problems last year and Hawkins is one of the best relievers on the market. Over the past two years, he's posted a 2.00 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, 7.88 K/9IP, 1.71 BB/9IP and 0.51 HR/9IP in 157.2 innings. The funny thing about him is that most people seem to think of him as a power pitcher, but the key to his success has really been his control and his ability to keep the ball in the park. His strikeout rate is good, but it's not outstanding.

At any rate, the only relief pitcher available this year who is clearly better than Hawkins is Keith Foulke, and he's going to get siginificantly more money from some team before this month is over. And really, the only reason Foulke is that much better than Hawkins is (1) he's been great for five years in a row as opposed to two and (2) there's no question about whether or not he can "handle" the closer's role.

The Yankees also had bullpen problems last year, so they went out and signed a righty and a lefty who combined to post a 2.44 ERA and 1.08 WHIP in 151.1 innings last year. Normally, I would question whether or not it makes sense for a team to sign two relievers to fairly large contracts, but the Yankees can really spend as much as they want to. So, if George wants two more relievers, he gets two more relievers. If one or both of them doesn't work out, they can still make a trade this summer.

Also, since the season ended, the Yankees re-signed Felix Heredia to a two-year deal that's reportedly worth $3.8-million, the Red Sox re-signed Mike Timlin to a one-year, $2.5-million contract with a $2.75-million option for 2005 and the Royals re-signed Curtis Leskanic to a one-year contract that could be worth as much as $2.5-million.

In case you're not familiar with those three pitchers, Heredia made $600,000 last year and has a career strikeout-to-walk ratio of 1.54, Timlin will be 38 years old when the 2004 season starts and Leskanic is a 35-year-old with an injury history who didn't pitch at all in 2002.

Again, I don't necessarily have a problem with any of these signings, but if the baseball owners really were colluding, then I think each of these six relievers would have had to settle for at least a million dollars a year less than what they got. And don't even get me started on the contract that Raul Ibanez got if you're trying to argue that there's collusion.

The baseball owners definitely do some shady things, like using the Montreal situation to try and control the market, but I don't think they're really in collusion. I think they (or their GMs) are getting smarter as a whole and realizing that a lot of the players who were making a lot of money can be replaced by cheaper options.

Okay, so that's what I think about that. I also wanted to make a quick point about the New York Yankees. As far as I can tell, this is who is in their bullpen for next season:

Mariano Rivera, Tom Gordon, Paul Quantrill, Felix Heredia, Steve Karsay, and Chris Hammond

And, depending on who they sign for their rotation and whether or not they trade him away, Jeff Weaver might be in the bullpen as well. That would mean that the Yankees would be paying more than $30-million just for their bullpen next season. Whether they can afford more or not, the Brewers will only be paying $30-million for their entire team.

Also, Yankees fans had better hope that George's pocket's really are bottomless, because that farm system isn't going to get a lot of help. Assuming they do sign Gary Sheffield and it either happens before Saturday or the Braves offer Sheffield arbitration, then the Yankees will have signed three Type A free agents (Sheffield, Gordon and Quantrill) before even doing anything about their starting rotation.

People sometimes point out that losing draft picks isn't that important in baseball because you never know who will turn into a good player. However, I think that's why it's important to get as many picks as possible. If you give away your first three or four picks a year, then you severely hurt your chances of drafting somebody who will turn into an impact player.

It's going to be very interesting to see what happens to the Yankees over the next few years. I suspect that there are only two options. One would be that the Yankees go through a decline phase and miss the playoffs a couple times, maybe even in consecutive years. The other would be that they just keep spending and spending until things get so absurd that their payroll is more than 10 times that of the lowest payroll in the majors. Like I said, it'll be interesting to watch.

Update: So, it turns out I'm an idiot who wasn't thinking straight this afternoon because Quantrill throws the ball with his right hand, not his left. Still, I stand by everything else I said.

Tuesday, December 02, 2003

Catching up again

Let's get to all those transactions that happened while I was on vacation.

Red Sox trade for Schilling

Everybody already knows about this trade, but I'm going to give my opinion on it anyway because that's what I do here. The trade, in case you've forgotten, was Casey Fossum, Brandon Lyon, Jorge De La Rosa and Michael Goss for Curt Schilling. Schilling agreed to waive his no-trade clause when Boston gave him a two-year contract extension worth $25.5-million plus a $13-million option for 2007 that becomes guaranteed if he pitches a certain number of innings, I believe.

This is obviously a very good acquisition for Boston. Here is what Schilling has done over the last three seasons:

2001: 256.2 IP, 2.98 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 10.27 K/9IP, 1.37 BB/9IP, 1.30 HR/9IP
2002: 259.1 IP, 3.23 ERA, 0.97 WHIP, 10.97 K/9IP, 1.15 BB/9IP, 1.01 HR/9IP
2003: 168.0 IP, 2.95 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, 10.39 K/9IP, 1.71 BB/9IP, 0.91 HR/9IP

As you can see, those are three remarkably good and consistent seasons. 2002 was his worst season of the three in terms of ERA, but it was also his best season of the three in terms of WHIP and his strikeout and walk rates. He pitched over 250 twice, but was limited to just 168 innings last season because of appendicitis and a broken hand due to a line drive, neither of which is an indication that he's breaking down because he is 37 years old.

A lot of people have been saying that this is a risky move, but that's mostly just sour grapes as those same people would probably be thrilled if he were on their team. One thing a lot of people have been saying that really makes me laugh is that the player most similar to Schilling, according to, is Bret Saberhagen, both for overall similarity and for similarity through age 36.

The thing about similarity scores, however, is that they just compare career numbers and they don't care how those career numbers were achieved. Saberhagen was very good at a very young age, winning the Cy Young award twice by age 25. Schilling, on the other hand, didn't even pitch a full season in the majors until he was 25 years old. Saberhagen was slowed by injuries immediately after winning that second Cy Young award and never pitched 200 innings in a season again. Heck, he didn't even pitch at all in his age 36 season. Schilling, on the other hand, has gotten better as he's gotten older, posting six of his eight best seasons since turning 30.

Schilling's age is a bit of a concern, but it's not a huge concern because it hasn't shown any signs of slowing him down. And the fact that the player he's "most similar" to is Saberhagen does not worry me at all. All that says to me is that if Schilling were to retire today, he would go down as a very good major league pitcher, but not good enough to be in the Hall of Fame, just like Saberhagen.

Some people have also been saying that Schilling won't improve the team by enough to justify the $12-million. The theory is that he might improve the Red Sox by four wins, and that they could use that $12-million to buy more than four wins. I disagree. Once you get to a certain point, I think, you need to pay more for each additional win. You can only fill so many positions with bargains and values before you need to go out and ante up for a legitimately great player. Of course, you could say that the Red Sox already had three legitimately great players, but that's another story.

Also, I think you have to consider that the Red Sox front office is trying to buy post-season wins as well. Could the 2004 Red Sox win as many games without Schilling and with an improved No. 4 and No. 5 starter? Possibly. Would the improved No. 4 and No. 5 starters help in the playoffs as much as Schilling can? Most likely not. I know the Red Sox have to get there first, but having Schilling to go along Pedro Martinez and what will still be a very good offense will make the Red Sox a very dangerous post-season team.

Speaking of Martinez, there is another reason I really like this trade for the Red Sox. If you remember my organizational meeting with Bryan Smith over at Wait Til Next Year, you'll remember that I thought the Red Sox should let Pedro play out his contract in 2004, offer him arbitration next off-season and then let somebody else sign him. Well, Schilling's arrival would make that move even more palatable, because the Red Sox would have a bona fide ace to replace Martinez, assuming Schilling stays healthy (then again, Martinez is more of a health risk than Schilling is).

However, Schilling's new contract extension with the Red Sox may persuade Martinez to accept a contract extension in the same neighborhood. I'm still a little fed up with Martinez and think he's a big risk, especially if he can't dominate in the playoffs even after being coddled all season, but if he's willing to sign for three years at $13-million per year or four years at $12-million per year, then I think he's a risk you have to take.

Now, the other question is whether or not the Red Sox gave up too much to acquire Schilling. That answer will depend as much on what Schilling does in Boston as what the other players do outside of Boston. If Schilling gets hurt and never pitches a complete, effective season for the Red Sox, then the trade is a loss for Boston. If he stays healthy for four years and pitches at the same level he's been pitching, then I don't see how Boston could lose. And, of course, if Schilling helps the Red Sox win a World Series, then nobody would say anything bad about this trade even if the other four players all went on to become Hall of Famers.

Fossum is a big question mark. He'll be 26 when the 2004 season starts and he's spent parts of three seasons with the Red Sox. He was very good in 2002, when he posted a 3.46 ERA in 106.2 innings, including a dozen starts. Many people expected him to be a very nice fifth starter for the Red Sox in 2003, but he struggled to start the season and then had an injury to his left (throwing) shoulder and he finished the season with a 5.47 ERA.

The biggest problem with Fossum is that nobody really knows what role he should fill. Some people think he would be an excellent starter, but he's 6-foot-1 and only weighs 165 pounds, which means he might not be strong enough to start on a regular basis. Pedro is generally considered to be a bit thin for a starter, but he's both shorter (5-11, maybe) and heavier (180 pounds) than Fossum is. Fossum may need to stay in the bullpen and he might even develop into a nice closer, but there's just no way to know where his career is headed at this point.

Lyon was a decent reliever for the Red Sox in 2003, posting a 4.12 ERA in 59 innings. He's 24 years old and might have a nice future in the bullpen (or even in the rotation, although he struggled there earlier in his career), but he's not the type of player you refuse to include in a trade for a stud pitcher. The Red Sox picked him up off the scrap heap before the 2003 season and traded him once during the 2003 season (before an injury sent him back to Boston). If he ends up being a great pitcher, it will be more of a black eye against the Blue Jays for letting him go for nothing.

De La Rosa is probably the most intriguing player the Red Sox gave to the Diamondbacks. He's a 22-year-old lefthander who spent most of this season in Class AA, where he posted a 2.80 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, 9.21 K/9IP and 3.25 BB/9IP in 99.2 innings. He then had a 3.75 ERA, 1.63 WHIP, 6.38 K/9IP and 4.5 BB/9IP in 24 innings in Class AAA. Now, 24 innings isn't much, but it's pretty clear that De La Rosa could use some more time in AAA. He seems to have the potential to be a good starting pitcher, but he needs to work on his control.

Goss, quite frankly, confuses me with his presence in this deal. He's a 23-year-old outfielder who hit .245/.327/.295 (.622) in Class A this year. I wouldn't get all that excited about a 19-year-old outfielder posting a .622 OPS in Class A, nevermind a 23-year-old one. The only good thing I can see about Goss is that he has some patience (34 walks in 319 at-bats) and some speed (29 steals in 36 attempts). The only problem is that he can't hit, which is pretty much the most important thing.

Ultimately, I think the Red Sox got the better end of this deal. But the Diamondbacks did okay considering that they needed to reduce their salary. They lost one of the better pitchers in baseball, but they got three young pitchers who all have some potential in return.

Yankees sign Sheffield, Gordon, Boone and Wilson

I know Gary Sheffield is not officially signed yet, but it sounds like he's going to sign with New York for three years for between $36 and $38-million. The Yankees have officially signed Tom Gordon to a two-year contract worth $7.25-million. They also re-signed Aaron Boone to a one-year, $5.75-million contract and Enrique Wilson to a one-year contract worth $700,000.

Like Schilling, Sheffield is an excellent older player. He's 35 years old, but he's played at least 135 games each of the last five seasons, averaging 145.2 games played over that stretch. Sheffield has hit over .300 in each of the last six seasons, he's posted an OBP over .400 in each of the last nine seasons and he's had an SLG over .500 in each of the last six seasons.

The only problems with Sheffield are that, like most of the rest of New York's roster, he's old and, like most of the rest of New York's roster, he's not great on defense. However, his age isn't a big concern for me because, like with Schilling, it hasn't shown any sign of slowing him down recently. Defense is a bigger concern, but New York had a crappy defense last year and went to the World Series and Sheffield will definitely make the offense better.

The signing of Wilson is just one of Joe Torre's loyalty things. The Yankees could find somebody who does Wilson's job better, and they could probably find somebody who does it better at a cheaper salary, but money doesn't matter to the Yankees and Torre and everybody else on that team likes Wilson. So he stays and he won't likely make a big difference. Unless, of course, the Yankees face the Red Sox in the ALCS again and Torre again decides to use Wilson when Pedro pitches.

The other offensive signing, Boone for $5.75-million, is much more surprising to me. I know this year's class of free agents at third base is awful, but Boone isn't worth that much money and I can't imagine that he would have gotten that much money in arbitration. Again, however, money doesn't really matter to the Yankees, so they sign him and they don't have to worry about him any more. He's not going to hit well (I'd guess he'll hit around .260/.325/.425), but he does play good defense and he can slide over to second base if the Yankees do decide to either trade Alfonso Soriano or move him to the outfield.

With these signings, this is what the Yankees lineup will be next year unless they've got something else in the works:

C: Jorge Posada
1B: Nick Johnson
2B: Alfonso Soriano
3B: Aaron Boone
SS: Derek Jeter
LF: Hideki Matsui
CF: Bernie Williams
RF: Gary Sheffield
DH: Jason Giambi

Now, Giambi will probably play first base some and Matsui and Williams might switch positions, but that's essentially what New York's starting lineup would look like. If everybody were to stay healthy, that team would score a lot of runs, but it would also be pretty bad defensively. Overall, it would probably be a decent amount better than last year. I'd expect Matsui to be better, Sheffield will be better than last year's right fielders and Johnson and Jeter will have a chance to be healthy for the whole season. Williams will probably be a little worse and I think Giambi will be as well, maybe Posada too.

Of course, the Yankees could still either trade Soriano or move him to the outfield and put Williams at DH. Doing that would force the Yankees to either trade Johnson or put a valuable commodity on the bench. As a Red Sox fan, I really hope that the Yankees trade Johnson this off-season. I think he will be a legitimate MVP candidate very soon.

The Gordon signing is a very good one in my opinion. He was near unhittable in 1998 with the Red Sox and then got hurt and missed most of 1999 and all of 2000. He worked his way back in 2001 and 2002 and then pitched 74 innings last year.

Over the last three seasons, Gordon has a 3.28 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 11.44 K/9IP and 3.5 BB/9IP. He walks a few too many guys, but he also strikes out a ton of hitters, which is important when playing in front of a subpar defense like New York will have. The Yankees bullpen was not good last year, but it was hidden by the fact that the rotation pitched a lot of innings and the closer was great. Gordon will help bolster the rest of the bullpen.

Okay, that's all I'm going to get into today. As expected, Boston and New York both improved their teams quite a bit. I don't think either one is near done, so it's not really worth talking about which team has the better roster right now (they just got done talking about which team would win the ALCS on "Mike and the Mad Dog," which is laughable at this point).

I'll talk about a bunch of other things that have happened recently tomorrow.

I'm back

Well, I'm back from Massachusetts, where I had a nice, relaxing Thanksgiving break. Taking an extra couple days off from work and having a real vacation made all the difference. First of all, Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday of the year because of all the family, food and football, so Thursday was great, like it is every year. Then, Friday was one of the best days I've had in a long time.

First, I got a job writing a freelance fantasy baseball column for the newspaper in Springfield (that's where I'm from). So, I don't have a full-time job, but I do have two fantasy columns in good-sized newspapers at the age of 23. I'd say that's not too bad. Although, I would still like to have a full-time job...

Then, a few hours after I saw that the Red Sox had asked for an extension on the Curt Schilling and thought that I would have to wait another whole day, John Henry came on the Sons of Sam Horn message board to personally post a message thanking the fans for helping to bring Schilling to Boston.

Finally, my day ended with me going to the Civic Center with my dad to watch the MassMutual Classic, a riveting college basketball game between No. 4 Arizona (now No. 7) and No. 8 Florida (now No. 2). Just before the second half started, I caught a Florida T-shirt that was tossed into the stands, and then I watched my new favorite team win 78-77 on Bonell Colas layup with 7.3 seconds left to play.

My great week was completed by getting to see some friends from college Saturday night and then getting to watch the Patriots win another heart-stopper to extend their winning streak to eight games and improve to 10-2, which puts them a game ahead of both Indianapolis and Tennessee for the No. 2 seed, plus they have the tiebreaker advantage over both teams.

So, that's what my week was like. I hope yours was just as good. As you already know, there were a lot of baseball transactions this week. I'll have a post up later today talking about as many of them as I can get to.