July 2, 2012
Non-Transaction Analysis: New-Money Ball
“Ned, it’s Brian. Listen, I saw you got blocked on Carlos Lee this week. Yeah, I got a player who’s almost as good, and costs quite a bit less. Contract expires this year. We don’t even want any prospects back. And he can play center field! Yeah, definitely. Aaron Rowand. Good guy. Good hustler. Face like a skillet. No, right, we did waive him, so you just pick up the money we owe him and we’d do our best to encourage him to...”
Gosh, it’s hard to do an analysis of a deal that didn’t happen. It’s hard to do an analysis of a deal that does happen; without being in the rooms, without knowing each team’s budget forecasts, cable contracts, scouting assessments, ambitions, etc., what can we say for sure? Now throw in the facts that are obscured in a deal that doesn’t happen: how much cash was coming over, most notably, but also whether there were other players involved that never made it into the rumors, and whether there were any further plans for the players who would be replaced. So let’s start with that big ol’ disclaimer: we don’t, at this point, know how much cash the Astros were going to pick up. If the deal was Carlos Lee plus all the money, well, that’s a lot different than Carlos Lee plus none of the money. Did you know the money is an important part of analyzing a deal? It is! Now you know. We don’t know the money, so we don’t really know the deal.
“Ned, it’s Jerry. I was just looking around on Baseball-Reference, and did you know that Carlos Lee is the no. 9 most comparable player through age 30 for Vernon We...”
1. Carlos Lee would presumably have replaced James Loney. Carlos Lee is a better hitter than James Loney, but only vastly overvaluing the current year against other recent years would convince you that he’s a vastly better hitter than James Loney. Since 2009, Lee has a 108 OPS+, and Loney has a 100 OPS+. Since 2010, Lee’s edge is 104 to 98. PECOTA forecasts a .275 TAv for Lee the rest of this season, and a .272 TAv for Loney. There’s also some concern that Lee’s park-adjusted stats don’t fully reflect how much his production depends on his home turf. Over the past three seasons, the Astros as a team have an OBP about 15 points higher at home, and a slugging percentage about 27 points higher. Lee’s OBP in that time is 27 points superior at home, his slugging percentage 58 points. In fact, if we want to just keep adding up numbers until they create a striking dichotomy, we could look at Lee on the road over the past three years and compare that slash line to the man he’d be replacing. Let’s do that!
And then there is defense. First baseman Carlos Lee’s positive integers on advanced defensive metrics never seemed believable (especially in his first exposure at the position), and they have dissolved this year; Loney, meanwhile, still fares well on the major metrics, including ours. (Tom Tango’s fans scouting report pegs Loney as about 10 runs better than Lee, if you prefer the assessment of a few dozen pairs of eyes.)
“Mr. Colletti, yes, hello, this is the Greek government. We are prepared to offer you one certified God of Walks if you will pick up the remaining money that we owe. I should tell you that we owe a lot.”
2. One trade does not make a trend, but the timing of the near move—late June—is a bit interesting in the context of the new postseason rules. The Dodgers could have waited until mid- or late-July to figure out where they are in the standings, to decide whether they really need another player to make the playoffs, and to save a few bucks on less-important July games when what they really want is to have the player during very-important October games. Last year, there were three deals in June: Mike McKenry was traded, Mark Ellis was traded, Sergio Mitre was traded. Trades in June 2010: Jake Fox, Dontrelle Willis, Conor Jackson, Russ Branyan, and some guys you’ve never heard of. But this year, three fairly substantial deals were agreed upon (and two fully consummated) in June, with Kevin Youkilis and Jim Thome moving and Carlos Lee nearly so.
So the Dodgers, the White Sox, and the Orioles didn’t wait until the trade deadline. The trade deadline period is now moving forward, basically all the way to the conclusion of the amateur draft. This is very good news for websites that focus on MLB trade rumors.
“Yes, Mr. Colletti. My name is Casey, uh, MISTER Casey. Mr. Blake Casey. Yes, I’m the general manager of a team in Canada, near Niagara Falls, you probably wouldn’t know it. But right now we have a tremendous player named Casey Blake who you might be interested in. Oh you know him? Yes, then you know what a winner he is! No prospects needed in return. You just need to pick up his salary. Oh, his salary? It’s uh seven... teen? million. Seventeen million. Yes, no prospects.”
3. I have a friend who is an agent. The thing about this friend is that he will argue almost any silly point to show me why a certain player is worth a big stupid contract. He did this before he even knew I wrote about baseball. It had no relevance to his job, or to the players he represents, but he would still make hysterical observations about left-handedness and winning percentage and moral relativity and all sorts of weird things just to make his point. This, I realized, was not agent bullshit. This was him believing these things because, after some time on the job, agents have to believe these things. It’s in their financial interest to believe these things. Yesterday, I overheard this friend talking about the Dodgers’ deal with Yasiel Puig. “So stupid,” he said. “Way overpaid.”