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September 12, 2003

Prospectus Triple Play

Montreal Expos, San Francisco Giants, Toronto Blue Jays

by Baseball Prospectus

Montreal Expos

  • Same Old, Same Old: Major League Baseball continues to drag its feet and spit on whatever shred of integrity it may have left by dragging out the Expos situation. Nutshell: The players want to play 81 games in one city next year, preferably Montreal. MLB wants a split schedule as a way to maximize team revenue; by playing a slate of games in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Monterrey, Mexico, or wherever else they can find local businessmen who'll make guarantees, Bud Selig and company have ensured that the legacy of short-sighted decisions shaped by grubbing for a few million dollars at a time will live on.

    The commissioner's office has no qualms about extorting the Expos to push its agenda either. We'll let ESPN.com's Jayson Stark describe the situation:

    But where will they be playing? Only the Expos' players can decide that. Their problem is that baseball is trying to "convince" them to play another season just like this one: 59 or 60 games in Montreal, the other 21 or 22 games in San Juan, or possibly Monterrey, Mexico.

    The strategy for convincing them is to suggest that if they say no to that split schedule, MLB will have no choice but to slash the payroll. So the implicit message is: "Want to keep this team together? Better do it our way. Or else."

    You can read about the rest of MLB's slimy dealings here. Make sure to have an airsick bag standing by.

  • Keep that Bag Handy: Did we mention the Expos called up exactly zero players from the minor league system at the Sept. 1 roster-expansion date? At a time when they were still in the playoff race? As Terrmel Sledge finished off the second-best season in the Pacific Coast League, with 102 Equivalent Runs?

    To which we can only say, Bud Selig's tenure as commissioner is scheduled to expire in 1206 days, 15 hours, and 50 minutes from now.

  • Wait 'til...: The sudden, glorious run that carried the Expos to an all-too-brief tie in the National League Wild Card race ended as quickly as it started. After playing inspired baseball in front of growing, rocking crowds in Montreal, the Expos again fell flat on the road, going 1-8 against the Marlins and Phillies in Florida, Philadelphia and San Juan. (If there was any doubt that playing in San Juan is akin to a roadie, you needed only watch the recent Expos-Cubs series, where fans cheered louder for the Cubs than the Expos at every turn, except when native sons like Jose Vidro came to bat. Last night's Expo starter Tomokazu Ohka got about two claps when he came to bat in the bottom of the 7th inning, after throwing seven dazzling shutout innings--presumably his parents were in the house.)

    Tony Tavares, Omar Minaya, and Frank Robinson have all been invited back by MLB to run the team next year. With their 2003 playoff hopes dashed, the trio--assuming Minaya doesn't bolt for greener pastures, a move no one would blame him for given the club's mistreatment by MLB--will have to find a way to keep the team intact while letting non-core players go. Dead-weight third baseman Fernando Tatis and his $6.5 million salary will get turfed. You'd expect non-tenders for non-essential players like Orlando Hernandez and Joey Eischen, probably Michael Barrett, and possibly Tony Armas Jr..

    Still, some back-of-the-napkin math has the big five of Vladimir Guerrero, Jose Vidro, Orlando Cabrera, Javier Vazquez, and Livan Hernandez slated to make at least $40 million next year, given Vlad's pending free agency, healthy arbitration raises for Cabrera and Vazquez, the last year of Vidro's contract, and an option in Hernandez's contract that automatically triggers a $6 million salary in '04 once he hits 217 innings this season (he has 214 already, leading the league with seven complete games).

    The Expos do have some decent talent standing by to fill in next season should some big guns leave, including Sledge and Valentino Pascucci, a rare Expos farmhand who knows how to draw a walk. Of course neither player got a chance to audition for the big club this season the way Jamey Carroll and Endy Chavez did--impressively--last September. Thanks again, Bud.

San Francisco Giants

  • They've Got Your Back (But Look Out for the Knife): Jerome Williams is an also-ran in this year's NL Rookie of the Year race between Brandon Webb, Scott Podsednik and Dontrelle Willis, and that's as it should be. But Williams would be getting a little more attention for his fine season if the Giants relief corps didn't pour gasoline on the fire every time he leaves a game.

    Williams has the distinction of receiving the second-worst bullpen support in the majors, behind only Mike Hampton. (The full list of bullpen victims can be found here.) He's turned 17 runners over to relievers this season. From where they were and how many outs there were at the time, those 17 runners should have scored 6.3 runs on average. Williams' relievers allowed 10 of them to score, meaning they added nearly four runs to Williams' ledger compared to what he should have gotten with average relief. Four runs may not seem like much, but it's enough to inflate his ERA .3 runs higher than he deserves: from a 3.21 deserved to a 3.50 actual. If Williams had a 3.21 ERA--compared, say, to Willis's 3.28--he might get a little more buzz in the press boxes around the league, even though his lower innings total should leave him short.

  • Clemente's Heir?: Jose Cruz Jr.'s defense has been all the rage in the Bay Area media this season, and the hype reached a high point recently when Felipe Alou was quoted as saying that Cruz is as good a right fielder as Roberto Clemente. We're all for managers supporting their players in the press, but putting Cruz on the same pedestal as the great Clemente is going a little overboard.

    Don't get us wrong--there's a lot to like about Cruz's play in the field this year. He's shown a strong and accurate arm that's produced 18 outfield assists, second in the majors to Richard Hidalgo's 21. He's made more than his share of SportsCenter catches, and he's quickly learned how to play the bounces off the tricky Pac Bell right-field wall.

    But there's a big difference between having some nice qualities and being Roberto Clemente. Clemente is widely regarded as one of the best right fielders of all time--if not the best--and the numbers support the reputation. Take a look at Clay Davenport's fielding ratings for Clemente and Cruz, specifically the Fielding Runs Above Average (FRAA) column. Clemente saved an outstanding 123 runs over a league-average right fielder during his career by Clay's measures. Cruz, on the other hand, rates a mediocre 12 runs below average (mostly as a center fielder and left fielder) through last year.

    Much has been made in some circles of the fact that Cruz leads major league right fielders in Range Factor. But that stat is doing a better job of measuring the characteristics of the Giants pitching staff (extreme fly-ball tendencies) and the roominess of Cruz's home right field (very) than it is Cruz's fielding. In Zone Rating, which corrects for opportunities, Cruz rates near the bottom of the league.

    Not that Zone Rating is the final word in outfield defense either. Our best assessment of Cruz is that he's found his niche in right field--where he has average range--and with the arm, he's having a fine defensive year. We won't lose any sleep if he wins the Gold Glove Award he's being talked up for. But let's not turn him into a legend quite yet.

Toronto Blue Jays

  • What's Ahead? they aren't the Boston Red Sox, but as the season rolls on the Blue Jays remain one of the most productive offensive units in the game, currently tied for sixth in the majors in team Equivalent Average. Thanks to the long-term deals that Carlos Delgado, Vernon Wells, and Eric Hinske are working under, the team's offensive core will be in place in 2004, but what's ahead for the temps? Let's take a look at their performance this year compared to their PECOTA projections:

    • Catcher: Greg Myers has had the most successful season of any of the Blue Jays' single-season signings. He started the season as a fill-in and will end it with some of the best offensive numbers in the majors--hell, he should have been in the All-Star Game.

      
                  AB   H  2B  3B  HR  BB  AVG  OBP  SLG  EQA
      Actual     311  98  19   0  13  36 .315 .383 .502 .291
      Projected  149  30   6   0   5  24 .212 .329 .373 .247
      

      Myers is beating his 90th percentile PECOTA projection by a large margin, and he and Tom Wilson have been a very good solution for the catching position for the Jays this year; they're both old, but they'll remain affordable in 2004.

      Toronto will have some interest, because Josh Phelps will never play behind the plate again and Kevin Cash will need to take a step forward with the bat to hold down the position on his own (his .234 Major League Equivalent Average performance at Syracuse doesn't inspire confidence).

      Myers and Wilson will be 38 and 33 next year, respectively, but they've probably got another season of .330/.430 performance combined at catcher, and given they should work much more cheaply than marquee free-agent-to-be catchers Ivan Rodriguez and Javy Lopez, so they should fit into the Jays' plans next year.

    • Left Field: Frank Catalanotto was another single-season signing by the Jays this offseason. He started the year like gangbusters, cooled off a bit towards the middle of the season, and has brought his average back to .300 with a recent hot streak.

      
                  AB   H  2B  3B  HR  BB  AVG  OBP  SLG  EQA
      Actual     467 140  34   5  13  34 .300 .353 .478 .279 
      Projected  316  90  19   3   5  31 .285 .356 .413 .272
      

      Catalanotto's performance has been closer to his projection than Myers'--right around the 50th percentile, in fact, meaning he's not playing over his head to nearly the same degree. He's provided an unexpected power source in the top of the Jays lineup. He's also seven years younger than Myers, so he's much less likely to fall off the cliff than Myers is.

      The arguments against resigning Catalanotto are much more well-defined than Myers, though. He was looking for a long-term deal and waited the market into oblivion last year, which helped make the $2.2 million one-year deal with Toronto more palatable. Not knowing much about what the market is going to look like this offseason makes it tough to project Catalanotto's compensation in 2004, but he'll doubtlessly be looking long-term again.

      The Jays will probably not be interested in that, because they've got internal options. Gabe Gross has turned himself back into a hitting prospect with his performance this year, hitting .319 with doubles and some patience at New Haven and holding his own at Syracuse. The team also has John-Ford Griffin, who should start next season at Syracuse.

      Neither of these guys are a lock to be a productive major-leaguer next year, but Gross has the pedigree and skill set to take a step forward next season, and the Jays have some needs they'll be interested in throwing money at in the offseason.

    Next time, we'll take a look at the pitching moves the Jays might make in the winter.

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