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December 12, 2003

Prospectus Today

Winter Meetings Report, Day One

by Joe Sheehan

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New Orleans (BP) - I really, really, really love gumbo.

So regardless of what happens over the next few days, what big trades get made, what bad signings occur, or whatever other events may transpire, I'm going to have a hard time wiping the smile off my face.

Red beans and rice, too. Did you know they have that here?

Anyway, the overture to Winter Meetings 2003 was loud and mildly obnoxious, as the Yankees ran their 2006 payroll to something in the $14 billion range by trading Jeff Weaver for the rest of Kevin Brown's contract. I confess that my first reaction to the story was that it was false; after all, the rumor indicates that the Yankees will deal two prospects with Weaver, and the Yankees don't have two prospects.

Nevertheless, the deal will probably happen, which might lead the Red Sox to complete the Alex Rodriguez trade, which will force the Yankees to sign Vladimir Guerrero, which will cause the Red Sox to invade Ontario, to which the Yankees will respond by signing every male in the Western Hemisphere between the ages of 14 and 58. (And Jesse Orosco.)

The strangest part of it is that I don't think the Brown trade was the best pitching acquisition by an AL East team yesterday. The Blue Jays signed Miguel Batista to a three-year, $15-million contract, and I'm about 75% certain I'd rather have his next three seasons, and an extra $10 million a year, than Brown's at his price:

                  Batista                            Brown
      Age   SNWAR  WARP    K/9   K/BB   Age   SNWAR  WARP    K/9   K/BB
2001   30    1.3    5.0   5.81   1.50    36     2.7   4.4   8.09   2.74
2002   31    1.7    3.5   5.46   1.60    37     0.2   0.8   8.20   2.52
2003   32    3.8    5.1   6.61   2.37    38     4.9   7.9   7.89   3.30

Kevin Brown is old and he's missed a lot of time over the last few years. Batista didn't throw many innings in his 20s, and is improving. The gap between the two in 2003 was exaggerated by the contexts in which they played; when you look at Support-Neutral or translated metrics, you can see that the true difference between them isn't nearly as great as their ERAs would indicate.

Don't like that comparison? I can understand that, but remember that Brown puts more balls on the ground than Trung Canidate, and he's moving from one of the best middle infields in the game to the worst. I'll predict right now that Brown has his highest batting average against and his most hits per inning since 1994, and is among the AL leaders in singles allowed. (I have no place else to put this, so I'm putting it here: Ditto for Paul Quantrill. His ERA is going to at least double, and he might give up 100 hits in relief.)

I'm actually not convinced Weaver is the disaster he's made out to be, and it's not hard for me to see a scenario where even he's better by Support-Neutral Statistics than Brown over the next two years. The difference in the two environments--Yankee Stadium, in the AL East, in front of Derek Jeter and Alfonso Soriano, versus Dodger Stadium, in the NL West, in front of Cesar Izturis and anybody, even Alex Cora--is virtually impossible to overstate.

As with almost every move the Yankees have made since losing Game Seven of the 2001 World Series, this is a transaction that adds age, payroll and name value, while being of moderate, even dubious, baseball value. Kevin Millwood would be less expensive than Brown, less of an injury/decline risk, and less susceptible to the Yankee infield defense. But he's not as famous as Brown, and fame has a lot of weight with Yankee upper--very upper--management right now.

The Yankees are devolving into parody. The $200 million payroll is nearly a reality, and the thing that hadn't happened during the dynasty--the Yankees using the gravitational pull of their revenue to acquire whomever they wanted--now is the modus operandi.

The Brown deal may have been a reaction to the departure of Andy Pettitte, who signed one of the most heavily backloaded contracts you'll see; more than half the payout, $17.5 million, comes in the last year of the deal. The left-hander makes the Astros better, though, giving them a top three that can match up with that of the Cubs in what should be a good race in 2004. I think this is Drayton McLane's last hurrah. Whether the Astros win or lose next year, I don't think he'll be writing those checks to Pettitte in '06.

Not everything revolves around the Yankees:

  • The Royals signed Benito Santiago for two years and Matt Stairs for one. Stairs is a hitter, the kind of left-handed power bat the Royals could have used last July. For a million bucks, he'll provide a .290 EqA in 400 at-bats. That helps. I think I'm supposed to dislike the Santiago contract, and he might decline to the point where he's not helping, but he's a huge upgrade over everything the Royals have had behind the plate since moving Mike Sweeney. He doesn't have to be great; PECOTA pegs him for an .259 EqA, which would be a substantial upgrade over Brent Mayne, Jamie Quirk and the rest of last season's motley crew.

    Rany Jazayerli thinks Allard Baird is a real solution for the Royals. I disagree, but these two signings are a pretty good use of limited resources, and data points in Baird's favor.

  • More good news for the Royals: the White Sox dealt with the loss of Bartolo Colon by giving Mark Buehrle a three-year, $18-million contract. Buehrle has been going backwards in each of the last two seasons, and already has a lot of mileage on his arm at 24. The Sox didn't buy out any years of free agency with this deal, although they hold an option for 2007 at $9.5 million. I'll happily fade the action on whether they exercise that; the option on Yahoo Serious' biopic has a better chance of being picked up.

  • The questions of who knows what, when do they know it, and are they allowed to know it hang over the Marriott this weekend. Tim Marchman takes a good look at collusion in this piece.

    I look forward to seeing where this goes over the next couple of days.

  • The Seattle Mariners now have Raul Ibanez under contract for the next three seasons at a total of $24.25 million, or about $8 million a year. (Winn's third year is actually a mutual option, and as with Buehrle, I'll happily book the action on whether a 32-year-old Randy Winn will do any better than $3.75 million.)

    Meanwhile, Mike Cameron is a free agent.

             Ibanez            Winn           Cameron
           Age    WARP      Age    WARP      Age    WARP
    2001    29     2.0       27     2.3       28     8.8
    2002    30     4.2       28     6.9       29     6.9
    2003    31     3.7       29     5.6       30     8.3
    

    Just for snicks:

             Suzuki
           Age    WARP
    2001    26     9.0
    2002    27     8.1
    2003    28     7.8
    

    Ichiro Suzuki is a better player than I give him credit for. Mike Cameron is just as good, and Raul Ibanez isn't in the same conversation.

    The market for baseball players may be getting more efficient as a whole, but at a granular level, there's a lot of really weird stuff happening.

    It'll keep happening. I'm back tomorrow with more from the Bayou.

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

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