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December 12, 2003
Winter Meetings Report, Day One
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:
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: