Friday, February 26, 2010

A.L. West Off-Season: Team by Team

Los Angeles Angels

Nov. 6:  Angels re-sign Bobby Abreu to a two-year contract worth $19 MM, with a vesting option for 2012.
Abreu’s $5 million contract for 2009 was (over-)reported as the biggest bargain of the offseason.  And it may have been.  Abreu brought much-needed plate discipline (.390 OBP) to a team that has never actively sought high-OBP players.
The snag is that Abreu has gone from under- to over-rated very quickly.  His power is basically gone.  He hasn’t hit more than 30 homers since 2001, and hasn’t hit more than 20 since 2005.  His 15 blasts in 2009 are a more accurate predictor of his future.
Granted, when combined with an excellent approach at the plate, 15 homers is enough.  The more immediate problem is Abreu’s declining defense.  He wasn’t as good as his reputation in his younger days and is quickly degenerating to designated-hitter status.  If that day comes in the next two years, it will be the Angels’ problem to deal with.  Because if his on-base skills slip, he could end up being a below-average DH.
The lesson here is that the same player who’s a bargain at 1/$5MM may not be one at 2/$19MM.

Dec. 16:  Angels sign Hideki Matsui to a one-year contract worth $6 million.

The Angels aren’t expecting Matsui to be anything more than an above-average DH, and that’s right in line with his skill set at this point in his career.  He would have been a good fit back in New York, but the Yankees already have too many DH-level players.  The Angels (sans Vladimir Guerrero) don’t have the same problem.
Even if Matsui’s days as a productive hitter are behind him (and I don’t think they are), his performance in the World Series was one hell of a going-away present.

Dec. 24:  Angels sign Fernando Rodney to a two-year contract worth $11 MM.
Rodney has great stuff, but his history as a closer is somewhat checkered.  He has a pretty high walk rate for a late-inning reliever, which was made worse by a drop in his strikeout rate in 2009.  It doesn’t look like he’ll be displacing Brian Fuentes as closer, but he’s still a rather expensive gamble even as a middle reliever.

Jan. 22:  Angels sign Joel Pineiro to a two-year contract worth $16 MM.
The Angels weren’t able to beat out the Red Sox in their bid to retain John Lackey, so they settled on mid-rotation starter Pineiro.  If Pineiro can retain the groundball mastery he showed last year in St. Louis, it will be a worthwhile investment.  But I’m not too optimistic; Pineiro’s breakthrough came under the tutelage of pitching coach Dave Duncan, and it’s uncertain if that progress will carry over to a new organization.  Plus, Pineiro’s great 2009 was the first year he was consistently productive since 2003.  I’m ambivalent.

Jan. 25:  Angels sign Maicer Izturis to a three-year contract extension worth $10 MM.
My concern here is that Izturis isn’t really an everyday player, and three years is a long time to commit to a backup, even a good one.  Izturis seems young, but he’s actually 29, and he sports a career batting line of 278/343/393.  He does have modest power and patience for a middle infielder, but one has to wonder what his long-term role will be in an organization that also employs Erick Aybar, Howie Kendrick and Brandon Wood.

Oakland Athletics

Dec. 3:  A’s trade Jeff Spencer, Ronny Morla and Matt Spencer to Cubs for Jake Fox, Aaron Miles and cash.
The real target for Oakland is Fox.  The team hasn’t yet been able to fully close the book on the Eric Chavez era, but the acquisition of Fox may be a sign for the better.  Fox’s skill at third is just passable, but then GM Billy Beane has employed a few butchers in the field before just to get their bat in the lineup.  The only question is how much of Fox’s minor-league will carry over to the majors at age 27.
Taking Miles, a backup infielder who can’t really pay short, was the price for getting Fox, I suppose.  The club did get $1 million from the Cubs to cover his salary before flipping him to the Reds (see below).

Dec. 23:  A’s sign Coco Crisp to a one-year contract worth $5.25 MM with a club option for 2011.
Defense is still the byword for the post-Moneyball A’s.  But how much defense will Crisp provide?  He’s played just one full season out of the last four, although that’s due to ineffectiveness as well as injuries.  His offense has cratered since he left Cleveland, leaving him as a good-but-no-longer-elite center field backup.  The team already has one of those in Rajai Davis, leaving open the question of why they would target Crisp as one of their rare forays into the free agent market.

Jan. 16:  A’s trade Scott Hairston and Aaron Cunningham to the Padres for Kevin Kouzmanoff and Eric Sogard.
Apparently, Jake Fox is not the 2010 third baseman for the A’s.  That role goes to newly-acquired Kouzmanoff, the “Crushin’ Russian” (though he’s actually Romanian, I believe).
Kouzmanoff posted a record .990 fielding percentage at the hot corner last year, which is good but masks his limited range.  His offense does make him perfectly acceptable for the role, with the A’s hoping that he’ll recapture his potential away from Petco (for his career:  236/287/388 at home, 284/328/477 on the road).

Jan. 26:  A’s sign Ben Sheets to a one-year contract worth $10 MM, plus performance bonuses.
Here again the team makes an unusual foray into the free agent market, especially considering the risk inherent in Sheets.  The maddening righty is absolutely dominant when he’s healthy, but keeping it together for an entire season is problematic.  Sheets was reportedly very impressive in his off-season workout, and the fact that the A’s so rarely take such a risk is in itself a sign that they have great confidence in him.  But I have my doubts about any 31-year-old who hasn’t pitched in a year.

Feb. 1:  A’s trade Aaron Miles and a PTBNL (or cash) to the Reds for Willy Taveras and Adam Rosales.
Rosales was the real target here, with Miles and Taveras switching teams in a mutual salary dump (the A’s promptly released Taveras, not wishing to corner the market on speedy, punchless outfielders).
It seems that the A’s want Rosales as a utility man, hoping that he’ll find some of the hitting stroke he showed in the minors.  Having watched the 27-year-old all year with the Reds (213/303/317), I’m pessimistic.

Seattle Mariners

Oct. 30:  Mariners announce that Kenji Johjima has opted out of the last two years of his contract to return to Japan.
Considering that Johjima hit 247/296/406 last year with the M’s, GM Jack Zduriencik might very well have kissed the costly catcher flush on the mouth when he heard the news.

Dec. 8:  Mariners sign Chone Figgins to a four-year contract worth $36 MM, with a vesting option for 2014.
I think this was one of the better free agent deals of the off-season.  Yes, the M’s are really counting on Figgins to reproduce his career year of 2009 (.395 OBP against a career rate of .363), but even if Figgins’ walk rate comes back to earth, he’s still quite valuable due to his great defensive flexibility.  Plus, he’s an especially good addition to the OBP-starved Mariners, who really needed a consistent table-setter.

Dec. 15:  Mariners trade Phillipe Aumont, Tyler Gillies and Juan Ramirez to the Phillies for Cliff Lee.
This is a pretty steep price to pay for one year of Cliff Lee (who will likely opt for free agency after 2010), but I don’t think it’s unreasonable.  This is mainly because the three prospects they gave up are good, but not irreplaceably good.  And Lee is a top-line starter of the sort that is rarely available by other means.  Putting him in pitcher-friendly Seattle next to resident act Felix Hernandez has put the Mariners at the top of the division.

Dec. 18:  Mariners trade Carlos Silva and cash to the Cubs for Milton Bradley.
I’ll see your headache and raise you mine.  I think this is a very good move for Seattle, especially since Silva is just a sunk cost not likely to recover any value at all.  Bradley, on the other hand, has a good deal of upside.  His attitude precedes him by a light-year or so, but his record is better in smaller markets with less pressure and a sure hand managing him.
All the talk about Bradley’s huge decline in Chicago was really just misplaced anger about his off-field issues.  Yes, his home runs dropped from 22 to 12, but he still had a .378 OBP, which no one – least of all the Cubs – should sneeze at.  He also stayed relatively healthy despite playing in the field every day, appearing in 124 games.  If his power only rebounds somewhat, and he manages to ignore the reporters, then GM Zduriencik will have salvaged something quite useful from predecessor Bill Bavasi’s biggest blunder.

Jan. 8:  Mariners sign Franklin Gutierrez to a four-year contract extension worth $20.25 MM with a club option for 2014.
Indians General Manager Mark Shapiro recently stepped up into the role of President, turning GM duties over to longtime assistant Chris Antonetti.  I can’t say for sure, but it may have been out of sheer embarrassment for offering Gutierrez as a throw-in in the deal that netted him Luis Valbuena and the immortal Joe Smith.
Gutierrez is the best defensive center fielder in baseball, and even that might not be sufficient praise.

Jan. 21:  Mariners sign Felix Hernandez to a five-year contract extension worth $78 million.
I’m obligated to inform you about the risks inherent in a long-term contract for a 23-year-old pitcher with nearly 1000 big-league innings already on his arm.  Even so, one simple baseball truth is that if you get a pitcher as good as King Felix, you better f***ing hold on to him.

Jan. 29:  Mariners sign Eric Byrnes to a one-year contract for an indeterminate amount (likely the league minimum).
Consider the phrase “at any cost.”
It’s thrown around fairly often as something of an afterthought.  Variations include “money is no object” and adjectives such as “priceless.”  But I don’t think we understand what we’re saying.
From a simple economics point of view, everything has a cost.  We could certainly argue some extreme examples, such as our own lives or the lives of our family, but even then I think that eBay has taught us that even a human life has a certain cost, at least for some people.  Any business that produces dangerous products has, on some level, determined the relative cost of one human life (and if they don’t, a civil court will happily oblige.  Right, Mr. Toyoda?).
Instead of such misguided absolutes, we should recognize that – with a few notable exceptions – we are guided more by a cost threshold.  It’s more of a gray area than an absolute line, but we can usually recognize the extremes.  An object’s desirability does not exist in the abstract; it’s determined greatly by price.  We’ll take almost anything that’s cheap, but if the same object is expensive we don’t want it anymore.
This is likely not news to you.  But it is, I think, news to many baseball observers.  Because we often speak of just how desirable a certain player is.  I’ve come across dozens of polls this off-season asking if I would want “x” player on my favorite team.  Or do I think “y” player is great or not.
Well, how much do they cost?  Any player (even Albert Pujols) can be overpaid.  Whether or not I want someone on my team depends entirely on how much he is paid.  Would I want Pujols on the Braves?  Sure.  Would I pay him $50 million a year?  Of course not.  $30 million?  Probably not.
Would I want Eric Byrnes on the Braves?  Probably not.  Would I want him if he only costs the minimum?  Perhaps.  The difference in the two is the difference between the way the Diamondbacks and the Mariners treated Mr. Byrnes.
Someone’s value changes if their salary does, even if it’s the same ol’ player.  Keep this in mind the next time your team targets a free agent.  At what point (amount) does the player cease to be a good value?  And how many teams are willing to surpass that amount to obtain the player, even though he is – by definition – less valuable?
This is confusing, I know.  My biggest fault is that I try to say too much at once.  So consider this as merely food for thought.  Just something to keep you occupied as you watch Mr. Bay and Mr. Holliday this year.

Feb. 1:  Mariners sign Ryan Garko to a one-year contract worth $550,000.
If you have a second, look back at my previous article on the N.L. West and read what I had to say about Mr. Garko.  (Don’t mind me, I can wait).  Dum de dum dum … are you back?  Thanks.  This is what I mean when I say that Garko can have some value.  The Mariners are paying him just a bit more than the minimum and didn’t have to give up a prospect to get him.  They, like the Giants, need him because they really need to shore up their offense and don’t have Brian Cashman’s checkbook.  Plus, they won’t install Garko as their everyday guy and expect him to be more than he isn’t.  Just another object lesson in the relative skill of different baseball organizations.

Feb. 3:  Mariners sign Casey Kotchman to a one-year contract worth $3.52 MM.
Kotchman will be the designated glove for whatever Frankenstein’s First Baseman the M’s end up with.

Feb. 6:  Mariners sign Erik Bedard to a one-year contract worth $1.5 MM with a club option for 2011.
Bedard is as big an injury risk as you’ll find.  But his potential is still such that he’s worth a flyer.  I may not have been willing to plunk down $1.5 million, but it’s certainly better than giving up Adam Jones.

Texas Rangers

Dec. 10:  Rangers trade Kevin Millwood and cash to the Orioles for Chris Ray and a PTBNL.
Closing the book on another less-than-successful deal for a free agent pitcher.  To be fair, though, Millwood was Maddux-esque compared to Chan Ho Park.  I do wonder why the Rangers, who are contenders this year and need pitching, felt compelled to make this move.  Money, yes, but they turned around and spent that money on other guys.  Viz:

Dec. 10:  Rangers sign Rich Harden to a one-year contract for $7.5 MM with a mutual option for 2011.
Big bucks, big bucks, no whammy, no whammy, STOP!

Dec. 22:  Rangers sign Darren Oliver to a one-year contract worth $3.5 MM, with a club option for 2011.
The Rangers do have some live relief arms, but they could really use a stable hand back there, especially if Neftali Feliz moves to the rotation.

Jan. 11:  Rangers sign Vladimir Guerrero to a one-year contract worth $6.5 MM, with a mutual option for 2011.
Guerrero’s reputation is fearsome, but I’m worried about what he’s going to look like when he’s trying to cover that huge strike zone with an ever-slowing bat.  If it’s any worse than last year (295/334/460 in just 100 games), then it’s a disappointment.

NEXT UP:  The American League Central

As always, I owe all of the contract information (and a great deal of gratitude) to Cot’s Baseball Contracts.

1 comment:

Branan Whitehead said...

"Big bucks, big bucks, no whammy, no whammy, STOP!"

Blew tea out my nose.