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January 18, 2011

Transaction Analysis

Votto's Extension and Being Young in New York

by Christina Kahrl

IN THIS ISSUE

National League

ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS
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Agreed to terms with UT-R Willie Bloomquist on a one-year, $1.05 million contract, with a mutual option for 2012. [1/13]
Made Bloomquist's deal official; agreed to terms with LHP Joe Saunders and RHP Aaron Heilman on one-year contracts, and with SS-L Stephen Drew on a two-year contract, avoiding arbitration with all three; designated RHPs Brian Sweeney and Daniel Stange for assignment. [1/18]

You know the drill: Bloomquist plays seven positions, and perhaps three or four of them well. Happily, with everyday regulars at second, short, and center, Bloomquist shouldn't have too much work to do at the positions he can't handle very effectively. Limited to 200 PAs or so as a pinch-hitter, he should do what he's good for, delivering singles, perhaps getting a modest power boost from Banky Bank Ballpark, but not really much more than that, and winding up with a TAv somewhere around the .240s. The Royals felt he was a character signing when they brought him in; his professionalism was supposed to make him a clubhouse role model. The Snakes may feel likewise, but a young veteran lineup and a bench already spiked with veterans doesn't seem to make for the sort of team that needs inspirational leadership from the pine. On a tactical level, it'll be interesting to see if Bloomquist ends up finishing a lot of ballgames at third base via double-switches, because Melvin Mora and Geoff Blum are players made to get swapped out of games, but we'll see how Kirk Gibson sets up and employs his bench now that he has his first official ballclub to operate from start to finish.

ATLANTA BRAVES
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Claimed RHP Anthony Varvaro off waivers from the Mariners. [1/13]
Agreed to terms on one-year contracts with LHP Eric O'Flaherty ($895,000), RHPs Jair Jurrjens ($3.25 million) and Peter Moylan ($2 million), and UT-R Martin Prado ($3 million), avoiding arbitration with all four. [1/18]

CINCINNATI REDS
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Agreed to terms with 1B-L Joey Votto on a three-year, $38 million contract extension, avoiding arbitration. [1/16]
Agreed to terms with LHP Bill Bray on a one-year, $645,000 contract, avoiding arbitration. [1/18]

Was Votto's deal merited? Of course, especially when the market operates on the greater fool theory. To dredge up another first baseman who won an MVP award before reaching his arbitration eligibility, remember that Ryan Howard's compensation via arbitration--with his panel award of $10 million for 2008 comparing quite nicely to Votto's negotiating position right now--and his subsequent arbitration-driven negotiations to get $54 million from his 2009-11 service were the critical considerations in this matter. Between his panel award and the first two years of his initial multi-year agreement, Howard received $44 million over the same period of service time through 2010.

This winds up being a hometown discount deal and then some, because Votto's $38 million is less expensive without even getting into bringing up depreciation via inflation. Even if Howard had lost his 2008 case and his 2009 case, he would have drawn $21 million over those two years. To take this exercise all the way to its conclusion, Howard would have gotten at least another $14 million for 2010 if he'd gone to the panel again and lost again, because nobody offers pay cuts in arbitration any more--when that's called for, they simply non-tender the guy, and skip the panel altogether.

So, compared to Howard's pricing if Howard had lost every arbitration case during the last three years, over the next three years Votto is going to make, at most, $3 million more than Howard would have... without adjusting for inflation. It isn't every day that a young player gets $38 million and you might argue he settled for less, but in a case like this, you really have to wonder if he didn't come to terms quickly for amiability's sake.

Naturally, there's something to be made from the fact that Votto was only willing to go as far as this for a Cincinnati-based commitment. I would say this should not be taken as anything more significant than a player being smart enough to want to get rid of the guaranteed distractions of arbitration, settling for an obvious hometown discount relative to what Howard got, while looking forward to seeing what the market might have to say about his value. That's just sensible, because by that time there are going to be those bidders who didn't get Albert Pujols or Prince Fielder sewn up who will be looking to move beyond the LaRoche segment of the market. That isn't about Cincinnati setting his price, it's about Votto finally being free to set his own.

Unhappily as ever where big-money deals are concerned, though, getting this kind of market-driven bargain isn't enough for some people. There is, of course, the immediate suggestion that Votto "could become priced higher than a small-market team can afford." Excuse me for noticing, but this 'point' naturally seems quite well-timed, what with the current CBA coming to its conclusion after this season. This sort of poor-mouthing is coming from a club that in recent years and with this owner and this GM has been shelling out eight-figure extensions to Bronson Arroyo, Jay Bruce, and Scott Rolen, not to mention the big-money investment in Aroldis Chapman. In addition, nobody currently involved in the organization should pretend that they don't share some responsibility for the multi-year extension for Brandon Phillips, agreed to months after Walt Jocketty "became an advisor" and two months before his predecessor, Wayne Krivsky, was scapegoated. The Phillips deal was and is a massive expense for a good-not-great ballplayer, much like the deal Arroyo signed; if pennies are precious, these are the kinds of commitments to try and avoid.

This 'small-market' team just shelled out $38 million and, if money really were this much of a concern, should count itself fortunate to have gotten Votto this cheaply. If money really were an object, you would think the club would give greater thought to some of its expenses, but that's less the point than the fact that, by the time Votto is a free agent after the 2013, Phillips, Rolen, Arroyo, and Francisco Cordero will all have achieved free agency, perhaps all to wind up in other team's uniforms, and all unlikely to get deals of anything like the same dollar amounts by that time. As a result, the Reds' financial position is such that, come their payroll considerations for 2014 and beyond, affording Joey Votto is very much on the table.

So why bring up the overworked, under-true "small-market" meme? Maybe if reportage didn't involve regurgitating pre-packaged excuses for failure, or to start beating the tocsin for rolling back hard-won gains by the MLBPA on behalf of its members, it wouldn't.

COLORADO ROCKIES
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Agreed to terms with RHP Matt Lindstrom on a two-year, $6.4 million contract with a $4 million club option for 2013; re-signed 1B-L Jason Giambi to a minor-league contract with a non-roster spring training invite. [1/17]

After the big-ticket deals with Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez, there's some element of roster clean-up. Re-signing Giambi might be seen as a necessary evil because the franchise's boom-times budget-busting deal with Todd Helton hasn't paid off anything like its value over the last five years; having a hitter a little more likely to deliver Heltonesque hammering in small doses helps make up for the fact that the original article is less acquainted with it these days. If Giambi shows up in camp still ready to rake, the fact that the 40-man is at present full won't matter quite so much. By Opening Day, somebody's going to be headed for the 60-day DL or have earned his walking papers.

As for the faith in Lindstrom, keeping in mind the fact that Dan O'Dowd dealt for him knowing that arbitration was goint to remunerate him handsomely, as unqualified endorsements go, this represents a major investment in one of the most overrated relievers in the game. Keep in mind, Lindstrom's SIERAs the last three season have moved from to 4.44 to 4.47 to 4.16, and however vaunted Lindstrom's gun readings have been at times, he has managed merely league-average strikeout rates while struggling with his control and his durability. If that sounds exactly like the kind of reliever you don't want to make a multi-year commitment to, you're not alone, but if O'Dowd proves prescient and the Rox find a way to get Lindstrom to deliver over the course of some or all of the deal, you can be sure O'Dowd will deserve some small measure of congratulation.

FLORIDA MARLINS
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Agreed to terms on one-year contracts with RHPs Anibal Sanchez, Leo Nunez ($3.65 million), Clay Hensley ($1.4 million), and Ed Mujica ($800,000), avoiding arbitration with all four. [1/18]

HOUSTON ASTROS
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Agreed to terms on one-year deals with 2B-R Jeff Keppinger, MI-R Clint Barmes, and CF-L Michael Bourn $4.4 million) contract, avoiding arbitration with all three. [1/18]

NEW YORK METS
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Outrighted RHP Ryota Igarashi to Buffalo (Triple-A). [1/14]
Agreed to terms with RHP Chris Young; signed UT-L Willie Harris to a minor-league contract with a non-roster spring training invite. [1/17]
Agreed to terms with RHP Mike Pelfrey on a one-year, $3.925 million (base) contract, avoiding arbitration. [1/18]

Finally getting Young nailed down seems sensible enough--assuming he passes his physical, far from a sure thing--because expectations for Johan Santana's return have bounced around from June to sooner than that, with nothing firm publicly pinned down. Without Johan, the rotation is just the home-grown duo of Mike Pelfrey and Jon Niese, the impossibility of knowing what to expect next from R.A. Dickey, and a whole lot of guesswork. Young's past success is fairly well dated, because he hasn't been healthy enough to regularly man a rotation slot since 2007, but he stands at the front of a group of aspirants to round out the front five that includes Chris Capuano, Pat Misch, Dillon Gee, and perhaps Jenrry Mejia. It's the sort of group which might even inspire thoughts of a Oliver Perez comeback.

Before his 2009 breakdown, Young was good enough to inspire hope back in 2007, the third of the storky right-hander's three seasons of regular rotation work. He broke through for good work in Texas, no easy feat, and wasn't just a Petco paladin after getting dealt to San Diego. As you can see from this table...

Campaign
IP
RA9
SIERA
SOr
Rangers '05 164.2 4.59 3.93 19.6%
Padres '06 179.1 3.61 4.04 22.3%
Padres '07 173 3.43 3.84 23.7%
Padres '08 102.1 4.05 4.42 21.4%
Padres '09 76 5.57 5.36 14.9%

... he was a starting pitcher who was striking out 20 percent of batters, the sort of thing that plays well in any park. But then he missed most of the last two years with shoulder problems, and we don't know what's left of that arm, and whether or not he's going to be able to throw harder than batting practice, or if the curiosities attached to their coming in from a steep angle will just let hitters tee off on him.

Obviously, if he's anything like his former self and throws with anything like his former velocity, though, he'll be useful. Even though it isn't as great a run-suppressing venue as Petco, Citi Field is a great place to pitch if you're a fly ball-generating hurler, despite the deliberately random crannies helping create a few extra triples.

But what about all those fly balls? Allowing for Colin Wyers' observation that there's a diagnostic issue in the data as far as determining what is and what ain't a fly ball (and the relationship with press box altitude), if you look at pitchers from the last 10 years, the only right-handed people with higher fly-ball rates than Young in any one season make for a fairly disparate group: Robert Person, Rick Helling, Jason Schmidt, Paul Abbott, Geremi Gonzalez, and Paul Byrd are the top of the list. There isn't much to hold that group together beyond right-handedness and fly balls; I suppose we could include 'injuries' or 'disappointment' as concepts, but there's a reason why pitching breaks your heart. They stood everywhere from six-feet even (Person) to six-foot-five, threw hard or didn't, starred briefly or didn't, struck people out or didn't.

While I know it's stats-headily orthodox to feel that anyone who generates too many flies ought to draw them, that's a bit too pat for me. It's important to keep in mind that Young has been a one-man outlier over his entire career. When a guy is working from Young's height and with his mechanics, it's simply very physically difficult for an opposing hitter to put the ball on the ground, whatever Young's intent, so I'd check those expectations that a pitcher "must" do something like "everyone" else to succeed. Pitchers like Young and Jon Rauch (or Randy Johnson before them) are examples of how much observations and expectations drawn from entire populations mean considerably less when we're talking about specific pitchers. Rauch has been durable, and Johnson was, while Young has not been, so sky-scraping height isn't even an indicator for injury. There are no worthwhile generalizations to offer up here.

So as signings go, best to be charitable. Young might be able to produce a season a bit better than league-average, with the off chance that he can be something more than that. Insert "if healthy" repeatedly throughout every observation or aspiration, but as a risk-minded upside play, he's an eminently worthwhile pickup in what necessarily has to wind up as an evaluative campaign, for both Young and the Mets.

PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES
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Agreed to terms with OF-R Ben Francisco on a one-year, $1.175 million contract, avoiding arbitration. [1/15]
Agreed to terms with RHP Kyle Kendrick on a one-year, $2.45 million contract, avoiding arbitration. [1/18]

PITTSBURGH PIRATES
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Agreed to terms with RHP Joel Hanrahan on a one-year, $1.4 million contract, avoiding arbitration. [1/18]

SAN DIEGO PADRES
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Agreed to terms for one-year contracts with RHPs Heath Bell ($7.5 million), Tim Stauffer ($1.075 million) and Mike Adams ($2.535 million), 3B-S Chase Headley ($2.325 million), and OF-R Ryan Ludwick ($6.775 million), avoiding arbitration with the lot. [1/18]

SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS
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Agreed to terms on one-year contracts with RHPs Ramon Ramirez and Santiago Casilla ($1.3 million base), LHP Jonathan Sanchez, and OF-R Cody Ross ($6.3 million), avoiding arbitration with all of them. [1/18]

ST. LOUIS CARDINALS
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Agreed to terms with RHP Kyle McClellan on a one-year contract, avoiding arbitration. [1/15]

Christina Kahrl is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Christina's other articles. You can contact Christina by clicking here

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