Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Deal or No Deal Redux

  • After discussing it for over a week, the Red Sox have finalized a deal with J.D. Drew for 5 years and $70 million. Drew is a better player than overrated guys like Carlos Lee and Alfonso Soriano and, despite the fact that he's pretty much the same age (31), he only got a 5-year deal for less money per year than both of the above. Drew's deal seems to me to be much wiser than the Soriano deal and better even than the commitment to Carlos Lee.
    But the aspect of J.D. Drew that could make this deal a mistake is durability. Despite having a great deal of talent (career 286/393/512 hitter with good defense), Drew has only topped 110 games four times in his 9-year career. J.D. Drew for 150 games is a big bargain at $14 million; but if he plays less than 120 games, he's not at all.
    There's been a lot of doubt surrounding the Drew deal, and while some of it is totally justified, I'm going to come down in favor of the deal. It's not ideal to give J.D. Drew a contract stretching into his age 35 season, but it's much more realistic when you consider the going rate for offense in this market. And I'm not quite as pessimistic about Drew's durability as others. Two of Drew's last three seasons have been his most productive; 2004 with Atlanta (305/436/569) and 2006 with the Dodgers (283/393/498). His 2005 in L.A. only saw him play 72 games, but that was mainly due to a broken wrist rather than nagging injuries.
    Perhaps I'm being overly optimistic, but it seems to me that too much has been made of Drew's lack of durability. It's an issue, but I think it was much more of a problem early in his career rather than in recent years. Yes, he's not going to get any healthier as he ages, but his profile -- an athletic player with good defense and a good batting average -- is a much better bet to age gracefully than the likes of Carlos Lee. Drew is a very patient hitter who should fit in very well in Boston. He'll also have the added benefit of the Designated Hitter, a luxury which he's never had before. That position is currently occupied by David Ortiz, but it would certainly be feasible for the Sox to sacrifice some defense and put Ortiz at first if Drew was day-to-day and couldn't play the field.
    The J.D. Drew deal isn't ideal, and there is the possibility that the Red Sox will regret it, but it makes much more fiscal sense than most of the deals being signed this offseason, including the deal the Sox will eventually reach with Daisuke Matsuzaka.
  • It now looks more and more like Manny Ramirez won't be traded. I know -- a couple weeks ago it was supposed to be inevitable, but now it seems totally evitable. The Sox seem to be asking a high price for Manny -- understandable -- and few teams seem willing to meet it. One of the sticking points seems to be Manny's desire for a contract extension. The Sox assure people that Manny won't make any demands if he's traded, but can we really be sure? Manny's contract is only guaranteed for two years and $38 million; not too shabby for an MVP-level hitter in this year's market. But the contract does have club options for 2009 and 2010 at $20 mil. per. No club in their right mind will exercise them, but many clubs fear that Manny will make a stink if they don't. They also fear that Manny may want a big-time contract extension before he agrees to any trade. The Red Sox are providing assurances that this is not the case, and Manny does seem willing to leave Boston by any means, but you can understand a team's hesitation.
    As for me, I've already gone on record that the Sox should keep Manny. The change in economic climate makes his contract almost seem reasonable, and they shouldn't trade him away unless they're getting a big return. They were rumored to be asking the Dodgers for young reliever Jonothan Broxton (one of the best relief prospects in baseball) along with Matt Kemp and either Andy LaRoche or James Loney. This would be a good deal for Boston and a terrible one for L.A. The Dodgers have balked at giving up so much, which surprises me, given that GM Ned Colletti seems to value young talent as nothing more than a Plinko chip on The Price is Right.
  • The Red Sox also signed shortstop Julio Lugo to a 4-year, $36 million deal. I've always been a Lugo fan, and have pressed teams for a long time to get him on the cheap from the Devil Rays. Well, apparently, the market has finally agreed with my evaluation of Lugo, despite a very disappointing finish to 2006 with the Dodgers (219/278/267, after hitting 308/373/498 in TB). Lugo is 31 years old, and while this is more money than I would have given him, it's not so bad given the context. The Sox may regret that fourth year, but I think Lugo will keep them happy for three years. He's a strong defender with excellent range, and he hits well for a shortstop. He's a career 277/340/402 hitter, although it should be noted that he's done much better in recent years. He's also a fairly efficient basestealer, going 24/33 (73%) last year.
  • The Barry Zito sweepstakes continue, with almost half the teams in baseball expressing interest in one form or another. The only thing we know for sure is that Zito is going to be obscenely wealthy after teh deal is signed. The Mets still look like a good possibility, although the Rangers sound like they're threatening to trump everyone by offering a mega-deal (which worked so well with A-Rod). We don't know anything for sure, and it may be a while yet before Zito (read: Scott Boras) decides.
    There's a real split opinion about Zito among the statheads. I've heard him referred to dismissively as a #3 or #4 starter, which seems harsh, even to me. I've always thought Zito was overrated, since he took home an ill-gotten Cy Young Award in 2003. But I also think he's one of the 10-15 best pitchers in the AL, which sounds more like a #2 than a #4 starter. He won't deserve the contract he gets, and he'll probably be overpaid by as much as $4-5 million per year. He's not the ace that people think he is, but he's not as bad as some think. A lot depends on what you think of his durability (which has been great, but then he's logged a lot of innings on his still-young arm) and which ballpark he ends up in. Arlington would be terrible for Zito, who allows a lot of walks and a lot of home runs. He should be pushing hard for San Diego or New York, somewhere with distant fences and preferably solid defense behind him. It would make a big difference in his ERA.
  • The Padres have signed Greg Maddux to a one-year, $10 million deal. In a world where Adam Eaton gets $8 million a year, Greg Maddux is easily worth $10 million, especially when limited to one-year. Petco Park is a great place for Maddux, as he's been giving up more balls in play as he gets older. Home runs plagued him in Chicago, but he looked much better in Dodger Stadium in the last half of 2006. He should provide stability and some league-average innings-munching to San Diego, who could use it behind Jake Peavy, Chris Young, and Clay Hensley. And if some of his brilliant baseball wisdom happens to rub off on the young 'uns, so much the better.
  • Vicente Padilla agreed to a 3-year, $34-million contract with the Texas Rangers. He's overpaid, etc. etc., but I think he's overpaid even considering the context. The 29-year-old Padilla has only been a starting pitcher for 5 years, and yet he's only had three healthy seasons. He was productive in Philadelphia in 2002 and 2003, then suffered through two injury-plagued seasons before somewhat rebounding in Texas last year (200 IP, 4.50 ERA). The 4.50 ERA isn't too far off from Padilla's level of real ability (his career ERA is 4.06, compiled mostly in the NL), but the 200 innings is a big leap of faith. It's very arguable that Padilla is worth this much money even if he throws 200 innings of roughly league-average ball, but there's no indication that he'll throw 600 innings over the life of the deal. Padilla's hasn't demonstrated an ability to stay healthy beyond last year, and he has some self-destructive issues. On the field, he allows too many walks and is one of the most hot-headed pitchers in baseball (even Ozzie "Attilla" Guillen called him a headhunter). Off the field, Padilla has a rumored drinking problem that is certainly cause for concern.
    Perhaps I'm making too much of this. It's nice that the Rangers limited his contract to just 3 years, when Ted Lilly and Gil Meche (?!) might get four years. But the Rangers don't have any room for speculation in their pitching staff, and they shouldn't be signing contracts like they're contenders.
  • The Cardinals have signed Chris Carpenter to a contract extension/reconstruction that will amount to 5 years and $63.5 million. The money isn't really a problem. Carpenter has proven that he can stay healthy after coming back from Tommy John surgery and withstanding heavy workloads, and if you can get one of the best pitchers in baseball under contract for about $13 mil. per, then you're some kind of miracle worker.
    But Joe Sheehan of Baseball Prospectus put forth an argument that makes sense. Carpenter wasn't due to become a free agent for two more years. The Cardinals were in no rush to sign him up for the 2009-2011 seasons. In fact, considering that Carpenter will be 32 next season and is shouldering a heavy workload, it would seem to be much more prudent for the Cardinals to wait and see what Carpenter looks like in the years to come. It's not the dollars that trouble me -- it's that the Cardinals are playing weather forecaster into the far-too-distant future.
  • A small trade was consummated yesterday, with the New York Mets sending young starter Brian Bannister to Kansas City for closer Ambiorix Burgos. I don't really get this from the Mets' point of view. Bannister is young and cheap, and while he's no Cy Young, the Mets need everyone they have to fill out their starting rotation. They don't need a closer; they have Billy Wagner. They could use a young middle reliever with good upside, yes, but I think they need stability in the rotation even more.
    This is a good deal for the Royals, who get a young option for their barren starting rotation. Burgos will be a loss at closer, but it's more of a loss in potential; Burgos was rushed so fast through the minor league system that he still hasn't gotten used to the big leagues (5.52 ERA in '06 along with 16!! HR allowed in just 73.1 IP).
  • With Ryan Howard taking home the NL MVP award, Albert Pujols was quoted as saying that the MVP should come from a contending team. One could infer that he was referring to himself. It was an uncharacteristic remark from the usually classy Pujols, and he's since offered an apology to Howard. But the event has gotten a lot of play in the media. This happens every time someone in sports says anything challenging -- it will be mentioned and discussed on hundreds of TV and radio shows within 24 hours. Regardless of what opinion the talking heads (or headless voices) put forth, the quote itself will catch fire and take off regardless of the extent of the remark itself.
    This is silly, and it reminds us how we take sports far too seriously. Pujols got mad (justifiably so, I think) and popped off, making a stupid remark that he shouldn't have said. It was a bad move, but he has at least apologized. Luckily, the rest of us don't have a microphone shoved into our faces when we're in the foulest of moods.
  • I heard a rumor that the Reds had offered Mark Loretta a two-year free agent contract. We're talking about the Reds, so we have to step Through the Looking Glass to examine their "logic." Coming into the season, the Reds had Brandon Phillips and Ryan Freel as middle infielders. Since then, they've signed Alex Gonzalez and Juan Castro to be their shortstops (why you need two backup shortstops is beyond me; I'll ask the White Knight). And now they want to bring in another second baseman? As if Phillips and Freel weren't enough?
    But I read somewhere that the justification was that the Reds wanted Loretta to platoon at first base with Scott Hatteberg.
    Do what?
    I know that the Reds think that they need 18 middle relievers and 15 middle infielders, and maybe Humpty Dumpty has assured them of the logic behind that. But I assure you that there is no good reason in this or any reality to make Mark Loretta (285/345/361 in '06, 68 career HR) your first baseman.
    I have to quote a section from Will Carroll's column on Baseball Prospectus here.
    So far, [Cincinnati GM] Wayne Krivsky's not making friends. "He's signing guys no one wants and pushing the bar up." I can't print the rest of the quote from an NL official.
    Thank you, Wayne, for carrying on the proud Cincinnati tradition of Jim Bowden and Dan O'Brien. Somewhere, Marge Schott is smiling.
  • Finally, the fate of Barry Bonds, the best hitter available this offseason, is still up in the air. With the Oakland A's going after Mike Piazza as their DH, it looks more and more likely that Bonds' only real home is in San Francisco. Apparently, his agent is throwing around figures like $18 million for a one-year contract. Even Giants' GM Brian Sabean isn't that crazy. Nobody else is interested in Bonds, and everyone knows it.
    It is odd that no one else is (apparently) willing to take a flyer on what will likely be the best bargain of the offseason. The more paranoid observers might conclude that there's a conspiracy to keep Bonds from breaking Aaron's record. That might be a part of the issue, but I don't think it's an organized conspiracy so much as a personal dislike for Bonds and the hoopla he generates. I myself would sign Bonds for my team, but then I've never met the man, nor have I had to deal with his s***. And we've seen many times before that, in sports, self-interest often overcomes personal dislike. For instance, when pitcher Andy Messersmith filed the arbitration case that eventually led to free agency, the owners wanted to blackball him from the game. But Messersmith was still a good pitcher, and Ted Turner spoiled the owners' machinations by signing Messersmith to play for the Braves (Ted was like that).
    An oft-ignored issue was mentioned by Nate Silver at Baseball Prospectus. He put forth the reasonable fear among baseball executives that Barry Bonds may be going to jail. We must remember that there is still a grand jury investigation pending into Bonds' activities, and it's a big possibility that Bonds might be indicted in the near future. There is certainly, as well know, plenty of evidence against him, be it perjury, tax evasion, what have you. And there would be no recompense for an owner who spends $10 million on Bonds only to see him playing for the California Penal League.

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