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November 17, 2004

Prospectus Triple Play

Florida Marlins, New York Yankees, Pittsburgh Pirates

by Baseball Prospectus

Florida Marlins

  • Off the Hook: Here are the Marlins' free agents:
    
                       VORP   '04 Salary    Status
    Carl Pavano        62.4     $3.8MM      Filed
    Mike Lowell        53.6     $8.0MM      Re-signed (3 years, $25.5MM)
    Armando Benitez    33.1     $3.5MM      Filed
    Damion Easley      13.4      $300K      Filed
    Rudy Seanez         7.6      $300K      Filed
    Ismael Valdez       5.9      $800K      Filed
    Dave Weathers       5.6     $3.9MM      Filed
    Mike Redmond        3.8      $840K      Filed
    Chad Fox           -1.2     $1.3MM      Filed
    Mike Mordecai      -2.8      $425K      Filed
    Josias Manzanillo  -3.5      $300K      Filed
    Wil Cordero        -3.8      $600K      Filed
    Lenny Harris       -5.0      $400K      Filed
    
    Marlins testing free agency come in three flavors. There's the "Have You Considered Retirement?" crew, guys who the Marlins apparently signed in hopes of motivating Miami's AARP population to come out to the ballpark. Lenny Harris (40), Josias Manzanillo (37), Mike Mordecai (36) and even "youngsters" like Wil Cordero (33) and Chad Fox (34) might want to take their below-replacement-level performances in 2004 as a sign that they should be thinking about life after baseball. Florida seniors with a taste for baseball can still be lured by the prospect of Jeff Conine Bobblehead Day.

    Then there are the Spare Parts. Mike Redmond, Ismael Valdez, Rudy Seanez and David Weathers are the definition of useful, albeit replaceable, talent. Free agency for these guys means another opportunity to go shopping for a six-figure contract. Damion Easley turned in a nice performance, playing five positions for this club, but this is precisely the kind of player for which a team like the Marlins can't overpay.

    The third group is the Contributors: Mike Lowell, Carl Pavano and Armando Benitez. The Marlins moved quickly to lock up Lowell after he toyed with using his contract's out clause to become a free agent. If the Marlins' brass decided that they could only sign one of these three free agents, Lowell was the right choice. Benitez will likely move on from Southern Florida, just as the Fish let Ugueth Urbina go after his tour of duty in teal. Come January, GM Larry Beinfest will probably go rummaging through the bargain bin for 2005's closer. That is, if Jack McKeon doesn't decide that Guillermo Mota is up for the job.

    That leaves Carl Pavano. The big question for his off-season suitors is: was Pavano's performance this year a sign of greater acedom to come, or just a blip on the screen? Pavano is still relatively young (he'll be 29 in January), has demonstrated the ability to toss 200 innings per year over the past two seasons, and is a Proven Playoff Performer(tm) with a 2-0, 1.40 ERA postseason in 2003 and a high-profile World Series start. Sounds like "Show Me the Money!" time, right?

    Not so fast. Let's look at some of Pavano's stats:

    
    YEAR     WARP1    EQBB/9   EQSO/9
    1998      2.8      2.6      4.6
    1999      1.9      2.3      5.3
    2000      3.8      2.3      5.2
    2001      0.1      3.0      6.8
    2002      1.5      2.3      5.6
    2003      4.0      1.7      5.6
    2004      8.2      1.6      5.2
    
    You know WARP1. The last two columns are Pavano's walk and strikeout rates normalized via Clay Davenport's Translations.

    Looking at WARP1, one of these seasons doesn't look like the others. Pavano doubled his previous high WARP1 value in 2004, while maintaining a flat strikeout rate in the mid-5's. Carl had an excellent 2004, but those don't look like the peripherals of an ace pitcher. Pavano may just have discovered a way to become the righthanded Jaime Moyer, but he's going to ask teams for a lot of money to prove that he can repeat this performance. Triple Play's advice: don't open the vault doors, guys, you might just wind up paying Curt Schilling money for Brian Lawrence performance.

  • The Sophomore What? You're probably sick of reading about what a bad-ass Miguel Cabrera is, but just bear with us for one last one. These are your 2003 NL Rookie of the Year vote getters:
    
                               First            2003    2004
    Name               Team    Place  Points    VORP    VORP   Change
    Dontrelle Willis    FLA      17      118    40.6    27.2   -13.4
    Scott Podsednik     MIL       8       81    48.0    15.2   -32.8
    Brandon Webb        ARI       7       73    49.3    22.2   -27.1
    Marlon Byrd         PHI       0        6    34.9     2.6   -32.3
    Miguel Cabrera      FLA       0        3    13.9    54.0   +40.1
    Brad Lidge          HOU       0        3    17.0    39.0   +22.0
    Jeriome Robertson   HOU       0        2     3.6   -12.2   -15.8
    Jose Reyes          NYM       0        1    21.6     4.7   -16.9
    Ty Wigginton        NYM       0        1    22.3    19.8    -2.5
    
    Except for the two young men who tied for #5 in the voting, Cabrera and Brad Lidge, those were some slumpin' sophomores in 2004. Last year's Rookie of the Year, Cabrera's teammate Dontrelle Willis, lost a third of his value. He was one of the lucky ones. Brandon Webb, who probably should have beaten out Willis, lost more than half of his value. Marlon Byrd went cliff-diving towards replacement level; Lidge's teammate, Jeriome Robertson, was swept up in the undertow and wound up back in Triple-A. The Brewers would gladly trade Scott Podsednik's 2004 stolen-base prowess for even an inkling of the batting skill he showed in 2003. Jose Reyes couldn't stay healthy or perform near his 2003 level, while Ty Wigginton managed to keep a fairly even keel in mediocrity.

    In other words, nice work, Miguel and Brad.

New York Yankees

  • For Distinguished Service in Failing to Apply the Heimlich Maneuver... Before we proceed to never mention the Yankees' four straight elimination-game losses in the 2004 ALCS again, we here at BP feel the need to recognize the unique blend of incompetence and bad luck it took to cough up the biggest comeback in Championship Series history to your most hated rivals. Just because we favor the scientific process doesn't mean we don't enjoy a good scapegoat when one is available. Accordingly, we're going to award some lucky New York Yankee the 2004 ALCS Least Valuable Player Award.

    There are many outstanding candidates for the distinction of ALCS LVP: Derek Jeter, Tony Clark, Kevin Brown, Javier Vazquez and Tom Gordon are merely finalists in what was truly a team effort. Brown and Vazquez are eliminated because, for all their incredible suckitude (tandem ERA of 13.97), the two combined only managed to contribute to a single Yankee loss. The same rule applies to Tom Gordon (8.10 ERA) who, while he blew the Yankee lead in Game Five, only managed to help widen the margin of defeat in Game Seven. Jeter (567 OPS, two errors), is excused from this discussion by reason of plenary indulgence. Whether said indulgence comes from the Pope, the Commissioner's office, or directly from Tim McCarver himself is unknown.

    It was Tony Clark, in the fullest way possible, who presided over the Yankee collapse. Clark actually missed out on Games 1 and 2 of the series, which, naturally, the Yankees won. Clark posted a 333 OPS in 21 horror-filled plate appearances, stranding 13 baserunners. In 43% of those plate appearances, he failed to put a ball in play, instead preferring to make his outs strikeouts. A strikeout might not be worse than any other out, but it does treat us to Buster Olney's unique sabermetric stylings.

    The Award, a Golden "How to Perform the Heimlich Maneuver" plaque, will be delivered to Clark wherever he is playing next season, hopefully far away from any Yankee fans.

  • The Best Things in Life Are Free: Here are the Yankee free agents:
    
                     '04 VORP   Status
    Orlando Hernandez  27.6      Filed
    Jon Lieber         27.3      Filed ($8M team option declined)
    Miguel Cairo       22.4      Filed
    Esteban Loaiza     16.4      Filed
    Ruben Sierra       10.2      Filed
    John Olerud         7.6      Filed
    Tony Clark          6.1      Filed
    John Flaherty       3.8      Filed
    C.J. Nitkowski      1.7      Filed
    Travis Lee         -3.0      Filed ($3M team option declined)
    Enrique Wilson     -7.9      Filed
    
    The good news is that even 11 strong, this class doesn't touch the core of the Yankee team. The bad news is that the core of the Yankee team is signed until each member is almost forty. Long-term contracts mean that before a single free agent is signed, the Yankees have $176 million committed to 17 roster slots in 2005.

    Loaiza, Nitkowski, Wilson, Clark and Lee are all probably banned forever from the Yankee clubhouse, not even allowed to return for Old-Timers Day. The Yanks would like both Lieber and Hernandez to come back in '05; Hernandez's shoulder problems mitigate our enthusiasm about him a bit, while Lieber we'll discuss in greater detail below.

    That leaves four veterans who could have roles with this team. Sierra and Flaherty are both overrated options whose biggest asset is their familiarity. Olerud provided decent production (within his limitations) down the stretch this year, but rumors abound of a big return to the Bronx by Tino Martinez.

    Cairo raises some of the same questions as Carl Pavano does, just on a much smaller scale. Cairo's .276 EQA in 2004 sticks out like a sore thumb from his career performance (.249 EQA). The question of whether Cairo's bat is for real takes on added significance since Miguel is no longer an above-average fielder. The tendency with this team would be to bring in a name player like Jeff Kent to play the keystone. Another year of Cairo might not be a cost-effective alternative, but there's no need to make a long-term commitment.

  • Option Declined: Was it a smart idea for the Yankees to decline the 2005 option on Jon Lieber's contract? Obviously, the Pinstripers believe that either a) they can re-sign Lieber for less money, or b) they can get a similar performance from a more inexpensive/desirable pitcher.

    First off, when trying to determine what Jon Lieber is worth, we can look at some comparable players (courtesy of PECOTA and Baseball-Reference.com):

    
                      Age 34 Salary   Year      VORP
    Shane Reynolds     $7,666,667     2002       2.2
    Andy Ashby         $8,000,000     2002      26.0
    David Wells        $3,766,667     1997      40.3
    Charles Nagy       $6,000,000     2001      -5.7
    Kevin Tapani       $4,000,000     1998      18.1
    
    The best fit, performance value-wise, looks like Andy Ashby's 2002, when Ashby was making the exact amount of Lieber's declined option. On this list, Shane Reynolds and Charles Nagy provide a stark reminders that investing big money in 34-year-old pitchers may not be quite as safe as putting it in T-bills.

    Now, looking at the above list, most of those contracts came from an era before the latest CBA and the depressed salaries we've seen since then. How about some recent performances that resemble Lieber's, by VORP and innings pitched:

    
                      Year     VORP       IP     ERA     Salary
    Woody Williams    2004     28.5    189.7    4.18     $8.0MM
    Jason Johnson     2003     28.4    189.7    4.18     $2.9MM
    Kelvim Escobar    2003     28.2    180.3    4.29     $3.9MM
    Jose Lima         2004     28.0    170.3    4.07      $300K
    JON LIEBER        2004     27.3    176.7    4.33     $2.7MM
    Paul Wilson       2004     24.6    183.7    4.36     $3.5MM
    Mike Hampton      2004     24.4    172.3    4.28    $14.6MM
    
    Confused yet? Booting the low figure (Jose Lima's minor-league contract) and the high figure (Mike Hampton's Rockies contract), you're left with Woody Williams, making $8 million, and a number of younger players playing in the $3-4 million range.

    To muddy the waters even further, we'll use the salary-prediction formula developed by Ben Murphy and Jared Weiss on Lieber:

    
    (.94 x Current Salary) + (VORP x $17,500) = 1st year salary after free agency or
    
    
    (.94 x $2.7M) + (27.3 x $17,500) = $3,015,750
    
    That seems a little low. One thing all this data seems to agree on is that no one is likely to throw a contract worth more than $8 million per year at Jon Lieber this winter. So it looks like the Yankees made the right choice. Now, whether signing Lieber to a three-year contract worth $6 million per year would be better than simply giving Lieber a one-year, $8 million deal...well, that's a topic for another PTP.

Pittsburgh Pirates

  • Only the Lonely: The old saying is that there is no such thing as a free lunch, but this off-season, in Pittsburgh, it might as well be that there's no such thing as a free agent. This is a short list, folks:
    
                       VORP   '04 Salary   Status
    Jose Mesa         17.9      $800K      Re-signed (1 year, $2.5M)
    Brian Boehringer   2.0        $2M      Filed ($3M team option declined)
    
    Boehringer is exactly the kind of guy to whom the Pirates shouldn't pay top dollar, but then again, so is Mesa. His contract isn't so much excessive as overly optimistic. Mesa's peripherals (78 hits in 69 1/3 innings, 4.8 K/9) don't give us big hope for the future, despite the nice ERA and saves figures he posted in 2004.

    How they build a bullpen is one of those less-known general manager IQ tests, less celebrated than an appreciation of OBP, but almost as telling of the GM's team-building skills. Pirates GM Dave Littlefield has seen numerous examples of the Pirates taking other organization's castoffs and turning them into usable relievers (Mesa, Salomon Torres and Brian Meadows are examples), yet he's still investing $2.5 million of the club's limited resources in a 39-year-old former washed-up closer.

  • Arbitrary Decisions: The lack of free agents on the roster invites a look at the next financial frontier: arbitration-eligible players.
    
                       VORP
    Jack Wilson        47.8
    Craig Wilson       38.6
    Kip Wells          17.6
    Josh Fogg          16.2
    Rob Mackowiak      12.5
    Daryle Ward        10.3
    Brian Meadows       9.4
    
    There are no easy non-tenders in this group, except perhaps Meadows. Los Dos Wilsons--Craig and Jack--could wind up before arbitrators coming off their best seasons. Jack Wilson just won the NL Silver Slugger Award at shortstop, and should have won the Gold Glove. Craig just did what we'd always said he'd do if given regular playing time, undisturbed by Derek Bell, Kevin Young, Reggie Sanders, Matt Stairs or Bill Robinson. Daryle Ward is also coming off what's perceived as his best year, based primarily on Ward's red-hot May (.375/.418/.722 in 78 PA). Will the Pirates pick up on the fact that he posted a .305 OBP in his "breakout" year? Josh Fogg and Kip Wells, the twin children of the fantastic Todd Ritchie trade, present different challenges. Fogg simply hasn't been all that good over his career, looking at age 27 like a journeyman innings-eater. Meanwhile Wells, who has shown much greater potential, had his worst season and only managed to throw a third of an inning after a mid-August DL stint for elbow inflammation.

  • Plundering the Rookie of the Year Award: Jason Bay became the first Rookie of the Year in Pittsburgh Pirates history. As Nate Silver pointed out, the player he beat out for the honor, Padres shortstop Khalil Greene, held slight advantages over Bay in BP's advanced statistics, but Bay won.

    How close have the Pirates been to winning the award in the past? We looked at every Pirate top five (and one top six) finish in the Rookie of the year voting over the past 20 years:

    
                            Rank/
                    Year   Points   VORP   Winner          VORP   Best         VORP
    Warren Morris   1999    3/69    28.3   S. Williamson   35.5   P. Wilson    40.9
    Kris Benson     1999    4/5     30.1   S. Williamson   35.5   P. Wilson    40.9
    Rich Loiselle   1997    4/22    16.3   S. Rolen        49.9   Winner
    Jason Kendall   1996    3/30    23.7   Hollandsworth   24.7   E. Renteria  33.3
    Al Martin       1993    5/6     29.4   M. Piazza       68.5   Winner
    Tim Wakefield   1992    3/29    20.3   E. Karros       18.8   R. Sanders   27.9
    Orlando Merced  1991    2/53    25.2   J. Bagwell      49.2   Winner
    Mike Dunne      1987    2/66    35.0   B. Santiago     43.8   Winner
    Barry Bonds     1986    6/4     21.4   T. Worrell      26.5   B. Ruffin    29.2
    
    It doesn't look like any of these Pirates deserved the award. Each year, either the winner or another player had a better season. The closest call happened in 1987, when Mike Dunne (13-6, 3.03 ERA) fell before Benito Santiago's .300/.324/.467 rookie campaign. In 1996, Jason Kendall was just as good as Todd Hollandsworth, although second-place finisher Edgar Renteria was better than both. In 1992, half a season of Tim Wakefield was actually a better choice than a lifetime of Eric Karros, but any bad feelings the flutterballer might hold against Karros can't begin to match the anger of second-place finisher Moises Alou (24.4 VORP) or Reggie Sanders, who was actually the best rookie of the lot.

    As for that sixth-place finisher, Barry Bonds had a fine rookie season in 1986, but he didn't beat out Todd Worrell for the prize. Still, Bonds' place in the voting beat out other Hall of Fame-bound Pirates, like Willie Stargell and Roberto Clemente, whose rookie seasons didn't even put them in contention for the prize.

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