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November 12, 2004

Prospectus Triple Play

Atlanta Braves, Tampa Bay Devil Rays, Toronto Blue Jays

by Baseball Prospectus

Atlanta Braves

  • Midnight Train out of Georgia: Here's Atlanta's band of free agents:

    
                           2004 VORP
    RHP Antonio Alfonseca    22.7
    RHP Paul Byrd            16.2
    OF J.D. Drew             79.6
    1B Julio Franco          23.7
    RHP Russ Ortiz           33.1
    RHP Jaret Wright         40.3
    

    Let's hope Bobby Cox shares his Manager of the Year award with Leo Mazzone. How many of us were lining up to have Alfonseca, Byrd and Wright on our staff last season?

    Meanwhile there are some big questions. No one is quite sure what to make of Franco--there aren't a lot of comparables for a 45-year-old position player. And while Drew and Wright were terrific last year, can they sustain it?

    We probably need to give these players the benefit of the doubt. Even if we expect the plexiglass principle to apply, they're likely to be valuable contributors if they return.

    Both players have reasons to stay with the Braves, as well. Wright's career was revived by Mazzone, and one would think he might opt for his tutelage versus leaving for the quick buck. Drew is close to home and just had his first full, productive season. Since he's not likely to be in the Carlos Beltran neighborhood, wouldn't it make sense to stick around close to home? It all depends on how willing the Braves are to reinvest in their projects versus taking on new ones.

  • Smoltz back in the saddle again?: Ruminations abound that John Smoltz may return to a starting role if one or both of Ortiz and Wright depart via free agency. Here's what PECOTA saw for Smoltz in 2004, and what he actually delivered:
    
                  G  IP    H   BB  SO  HR   ERA
    2004 PECOTA  46  75    65  16  72   6  2.83
    2004 ACTUAL  73  81.2  75  13  85   8  2.76
    

    Actually, PECOTA was pretty close to the mark last year, but it rarely has to project the other direction, moving from relief back to a starting role.

    There's little doubt Smoltz would be effective if he can handle the load, but his last full season as a starter was 1999, and he became a disciple of Tommy John shortly thereafter. We've long had the discussion (sometimes an argument) about the relative value of relievers versus starters. Nothing would fuel the fire more than a return to the rotation by Smoltz. What if he could provide 180-200 innings of a 3.50 ERA? Would we accept that instead of 70 innings as a dominant closer?

Tampa Bay Devil Rays

  • Free At Last: As they try and stay within sight of the AL East's powers, the D-Rays have the following crop of free agents:
    
                         2004 VORP       2004 $
    C Brook Fordyce        -6.9         650,000
    LHP John Halama        14.4         600,000
    1B Tino Martinez       30.7       7,500,000
    RHP Todd Richie        -3.5         250,000
    2B Rey Sanchez         -3.5       1,000,000
    

    Only Martinez contributed significant value for the Devil Rays last season. They didn't pick up his option, although there seems to be mutual interest in bringing him back--if the Yankees don't first. If Tampa is truly going to go with youth, they should let let Martinez walk, build around Aubrey Huff at first base and sift through the youngsters.

    The Devil Rays are aggressive about relying on young players, and they'll likely do just that with B.J. Upton and Jorge Cantu. The Devil Rays seem pessimistic about Upton at shortstop, but it would be premature to move him off the position until he clearly proves he's incapable. Despite their naive optimism, the fishies aren't going anywhere soon; they might as well sort out who's are legitimate building blocks for a potential contender down the road. Clay Davenport's Future DTs have him pegged for an eventual .299/.398/.520 and a .313 Equivalent Average; wouldn't that look nice at shortstop? He'll only be 20 next season, so it's far too early to put limits on his future.

    On the pitching side, Scott Kazmir will be interesting to watch. High upside, potentially high risk of implosion. PECOTA seems to like him, expecting him to struggle until being worth 2.7 wins in 2008. He was pegged for a 3.54 ERA and good peripherals coming in to the last year; his actual performance, with a 5.67 ERA and 21 walks in 33 1/3 innings, left a bit to be desired. He did strike out over a man per inning, but there are concerns about him passing through the TINSTAAPP vortex with his violent delivery.

  • Injury:Rocco Baldelli became one of the many ACL casualties this off-season. The Devil Rays will have to explore other options in his absence, since he won't be back to full speed until a while into the season.

    It looks like Joey Gathright will be starting the season in his place. While it will be useful to see if he can play, so far he sure looks like Willie Mays Hays, racking up 134 steals but 42 CS in hhis three minor league seasons, as well as 6SB/1CS in 19 games for Tampa last year.

Toronto Blue Jays

  • Border Crossings: Finally, here are Toronto's free agents:
    
                              2004 VORP
    OF/INF Dave Berg            -5.5
    LHP Valerio De Los Santos    0.1
    1B Carlos Delgado           42.8
    SS Chris Gomez               7.3
    C Greg Myers                -0.2
    C Gregg Zaun                17.6
    

    While there's a mutual interest in Delgado returning to the Blue Jays, suffice it to say that if he does return it will be at a greatly reduced rate. He was almost half the Blue Jays' salary last year, and that won't happen again. Eric Crozier, acquired for Josh Phelps, will provide insurance but it's hard to replace a player of Delgado's quality at any price. He's a good bet for .300/.430/.600 sometime soon, and that ain't easy to find. Put it this way: last year's .269/.372/.535 was a disappointment, and that would be beyond a career year for any of his potential replacements.

    Zaun is the Practicaly Perfect Backup Catcher (PPBC). If he's affordable, the Jays could do worse than bringing him back--he could help provide a cushion as they sort out the futures of Kevin Cash and Guillermo Quiroz.

  • PECOTA Blues: You don't have to look far to see where the Jays' season went south. Their ace pitcher (Roy Halladay) wasn't, and two key everyday performers didn't. Below is each players' PECOTA weighted mean projection and their actual performance:
    
                   2004 Proj. VORP     2004 Actual
    Halladay            48.5              26.1
    Hinske              35.4              -1.4 (Ouch)
    Phelps              27.4               2.7
    
    Phelps is gone, tentatively replaced by new acquisition Crozier. If Delgado goes, Crozier may have first shot at first base. Curiously, Phelps produced a VORP of 7.5 in 80 AB with Cleveland--he looked strikingly similar to early time in Toronto, posting a .303/.338/.579 line.

    Hinkse unfortunately seems stuck on a slow slide to mediocrity. That can't continue. While the new PECOTA projections are still in production, last year's projected 3.0 Wins worth of value for Hinske in 2005 and a weighted mean EQA of .286. If that doesn't happen, don't be surprised to see someone like Aaron Hill (currently playing third base in the Arizona Fall League) being groomed to take his place. If Delgado's gone and Hinske doesn't bounce back, there's the risk that this could be a sinkhole offense.

    That might mean that Toronto needs more from Halladay. PECOTA pegged him for a slide to a 3.84 ERA last year, and he was actually worse than that. Although PECOTA's always been conservative with Halladay, as long as he's healthy there's every reason to expect a return to form next season.

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