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November 23, 2004

Prospectus Triple Play

Los Angeles Dodgers, Minnesota Twins, San Francisco Giants

by Baseball Prospectus

Los Angeles Dodgers

  • Hideo No Mo': A quick look at the Dodgers' free agent situation:
    
                    VORP   '04 Salary   Status
    ------------------------------------------
    Adrian Beltre   90.3    $5.0MM      Filed
    Odalis Perez    48.4    $5.0MM      Filed
    Steve Finley    35.8    $7.0MM      Filed
    Jose Lima       29.2    $1.3MM      Filed
    Jose Hernandez  24.7    $1.0MM      Filed
    Wilson Alvarez  21.4    $1.5MM      Filed
    Elmer Dessens    7.9    $4.0MM      Filed
    Robin Ventura    3.3    $1.2MM      Retired
    Brent Mayne     -5.0    $0.8MM      Filed
    Hideo Nomo     -23.2    $9.0MM      Filed
    Paul Shuey       DNP    $3.9MM      Filed
    Todd Hundley     DNP    $7.0MM      Filed
    
    Dodger fans should breathe a sigh of relief at over $20 million in dead weight coming off the payroll from the bottom of that list. Shedding those salaries offers hope that some of the savings can be used to lock up
    Adrian Beltre, who at least for the moment is apparently having the right words put into his mouth about wanting to stay. Ben Murphy and Jared Weiss' VORP-driven salary prediction formula puts Beltre's next payday at $6.28 million, a number which a) seems very low for a player who was fifth among all major-leaguers in VORP and b) would probably not even elicit a chuckle from Scott Boras at this stage.

    Runner-up in the NL MVP sweepstakes--or winner of the NL MVMP: Most Valuable Mortal Player--after a year which saw him hit .334/.388/.629 with 48 homers, Beltre underwent surgery to remove bone spurs in his ankle three weeks ago. Will Carroll notes that for a 25-year-old, Beltre's got a lot of wear and tear on his body, enough to earn a yellow light in his free agent health report.

    Beyond Beltre, the most hotly-pursued player on the list is Steve Finley, whose agent counts five teams--the Tigers, Giants, Phillies, Orioles and Rangers--as interested, with the Dodgers so far focused elsewhere. One would think that a 28-year-old lefty starter with a VORP in the top 20 of all pitchers like Odalis Perez would be generating more buzz. But his postseason performance (two starts totaling a mere five innings with eight runs allowed) and concerns about his health (a midsummer stint on the DL with an inflamed rotator cuff, and a workload-related red light from Carroll) have apparently diminished his market value considerably.

  • It All Adds Up: The final calculus on GM Paul DePodesta's trading deadline deals:
    
    Out         VORP    In       VORP
    ---------------------------------
    Lo Duca       3.9   Penny     2.5
    Encarnacion   2.0   Choi     -4.1
    Mota          3.3   Mayne    -6.4
    Roberts       2.0   Finley   12.0
    Martin        3.8
    ---------------------------------
                 15.0             4.5
    
    In terms of simple VORP among the comers and goers, the Dodgers did lose out a bit, though Finley proved to be the biggest impact player of the bunch even before that walk-off grand slam. But one of the bigger post-trade contributions by any player affected by these deals--beyond the late-season surge of Shawn Green (a robust .270/.373/.510 over the last two months), at least--came from rookie reliever Yhency Brazoban, who debuted on August 5. Brazoban put up an 11.7 VORP over the last two months of the season, right in line with what Guillermo Mota had done in the four months prior to the trade (24.9).

    A 24-year-old converted outfielder in only his third year of pitching, Brazoban was an impressive part of two other tallies. Credit for the first one goes to former GM Dan Evans, who convinced the Yankees to include him in the Jeff Weaver (37.9 VORP)-for-Kevin Brown (26.4 VORP) deal; the Dodgers won that one in a slam dunk even without considering the fact that they saved some $15 million on that swap over 2004-2005.

    Credit for the second one goes to DePodesta, who, on the cheap, managed a very solid in-season overhaul of the team's bullpen, compensating for the trades of Mota and Tom Martin, the seemingly inevitable loss of Darren Dreifort to injury, and the rotation's failure to eat innings down the stretch. Consider:

    
               LA Debut   VORP   Acquired
    Carrara    07/02/04   19.0   Minor league free agent
    Brazoban   08/05/04   11.7   Recalled from minors
    Dessens    08/22/04    5.5   Trade from ARI + cash for OF Jereme Milons
    Venafro    08/16/04    0.7   Trade from KCA for RP Elvin Nina
    Stewart    08/29/04   -0.2   Trade from CLE for PTBNL/cash
    
    Not everybody panned out to the same degree, but in exchange for those 36.7 runs above replacement they gave up very little. Nina's a 29-year old righty reliever who topped out at Salt Lake City in 2001-2002 and has been on a bumpy ride since then. He put up a 2.50 ERA in 57.2 innings in Double-A Jacksonville and 6.75 in 14.2 innings at Triple-A Las Vegas, walking 34 and striking out 74 overall. The 21-year-old Milons hit .273/.321/.401 in 473 PA at Low-A Columbus, and .205/.256/.231 in 43 PA at High-A Vero Beach. Speed is his only semblance of a big-league asset--he stole 29 bases and was caught 8 times prior to the trade. Neither player's departure is much to get worked up about, especially in the context of moves which incrementally helped the Dodgers reach the playoffs for the first time since 1996.

    If there's a theme in all of this, it's financial efficiency relative to performance. The Dodgers rated a bit better than average in the marginal dollars-to-marginal wins scale, paying $1,807,439 per win. It's worth noting that the payroll figure is based on Opening Day rosters, which included the DL-addled dead weight, while a good segment of the performance was done by a different, less expensive cast of characters as the Dodgers shed some salary via DePodesta's trades. Looking back to their free-agent list, one very real challenge the team faces will be to match the midlevel bargains of the historically erratic trio of Alvarez (35 years old in 2005), Hernandez (35), and Lima (32) without falling into the trap of overpaying for those particular players based on sentiment.

Minnesota Twins

  • Shooting Blancos: Here are the Twins free agents:
    
                     VORP '04   Salary     Status
    Brad Radke         60.1    $10.8MM
    Corey Koskie       25.7     $4.5MM
    Cristian Guzman    14.8     $3.7MM     Signed Montreal 4 yr/$16.8MM
    Terry Mulholland    9.3     $0.6MM
    Henry Blanco       -8.1     $0.8MM
    
    Joe Sheehan, Jim Baker and Chrs Kahrl have already weighed in with a Greek chorusful of scorn for the Expos Nationals signing Guzman to such a ridiculous contract. But where does the loss of their everyday shortstop leave the Twins--besides turning cartwheels behind closed doors?

    Guzman played 145 games last season, leaving little time for any heir apparent to establish himself. Nick Punto (10 games) and Augie Ojeda (5 games) took most of the crumbs left behind, but both saw considerably more action filling in for second baseman Luis Rivas. Ojeda (30 years old in 2005) has shown himself to be an above-average fielder over the course of 86 games at short (a 103 Rate2), and he strung together a nifty-looking 72 plate appearances in hitting .339/.429/.458. Of course, that .298 EQA crept his major league line to .214 overall, which, coupled with his .253/.337/.352 line over 4+ seasons of Triple-A should quell any optimism that he's some hidden jewel. The evidence against Punto, 27, is a bit less damning though not quite inspiring. He hit .253/.340/.319 in 103 PA (a .242 EQA), bringing him up to a career .220 EQA, and at short he's put up a 112 Rate2 over 20 games. While those two players make for adequate futility infielders backups, they still don't stack up as high as Yao Ming.

    The best option from within the organization is 25-year-old Jason Bartlett, acquired from the Padres in a trade for Brian Buchanan back in 2002. Bartlett took a big leap forward with a strong showing in Double-A New Britain in 2003. Though he missed two months with a broken wrist, he was red-hot in 67 games at Triple-A Rochester, hitting .331/.415/.472 and Baseball America rated him the #10 prospect in the International League (accompanied by teammates Justin Morneau at #2 and Jason Kubel at #4).

    It would make sense for the Twins to give Bartlett a shot at the job, with a veteran caddy along if the ride gets rough. Looking over the list in the Giants section, there's likely to be a shortstop for every budget.

    One way or another, the Twins have options far better than the bloodcurdling rumor making the rounds that Rivas might shift back to shortstop, where he played in the minors, with Michael Cuddyer moving over to second base. Depending on where you're reading and which day it is, the Twins will either nontender Rivas, trade him or try to sign him to a multi-year contract prior to arbitration. Say it ain't so.

  • Say No Mauer: It's an idea that's got some traction among the analytical set. He was spotted taking grounders there at the end of the season. And incumbent Corey Koskie's free agency creates the opening. But the Twins don't appear to be thinking in terms of moving catcher Joe Mauer to third base in the wake of his traumatic rookie season. Recall that the 2004 BP Prospect of the Year tore the medial meniscus in his left knee in just his second big-league game. The meniscus was removed rather than repaired, as Mauer missed two months. Soreness and inflammation in the knee sent him back to the DL in mid-July, and the Twins kept him on the shelf for the rest of the season. But while active, he hit like the man in the catalog: .308/.367/.570 in 122 PA. That line was good enough for him to make the Topps All-Star Rookie team (I'll trade you my gum for his card) despite a rookie season that was only one day on the active roster over the minimum.

    Back at the end of September, the Twins did work Mauer out at third base simply to get him moving around, on the possibility that if they reached the ALCS he might be activated. That didn't materialize, of course. Mauer instead went to the Florida Instructional league and felt continued discomfort while squatting to catch. But while their ought to be plenty of concern not only for his repaired knee but for the durability of a 6'4" catcher in general, Twins GM Terry Ryan has said that the plans are that he will be catching again come spring training.

  • Technically Inclined: Speaking of rookies and roster days over the minimum, that technicality eliminated Lew Ford from consideration for the AL Rookie of the Year Award despite his entering the season with only 73 big-league at-bats--he'd passed the 45-day maximum for spending time on the 25-man roster. By virtue of a .294 EQA, Ford put up a 6.2 WARP3 season. Winner Bobby Crosby posted only a .262 EQA but thanks to strong defense, turned that into a 6.5 WARP3 season. Had the two been pitted against one another, it would have been interesting to see whether the outfielder who helped his team to the playoffs beat out the shortstop whose team just missed them, but we'll never know.

    Come to think of it, Justin Morneau, who had 106 at-bats his in 2003, wouldn't have been eligible for Rookie of the Year either due to the service time requirement. A cynic might wonder whether the thrifty Twins--who paid only $1,041,129 per maginal win in 2004, third-lowest in the AL--could be manipulating their roster to avoid paying award bonuses--or, down the road, higher arbitration dollars. Hmmmm....

San Francisco Giants

  • Getting Busy: Checking in on the Giants' free agents:
    
                        VORP  '04 Salary    Status
    J.T. Snow           46.9    $1.5MM      $2.0MM team option picked up
    Marquis Grissom     25.3    $2.1MM      $2.75MM team option picked up
    Brett Tomko         23.9    $1.2MM      $2.65MM team option picked up
    Deivi Cruz          19.3    $0.8MM      Re-signed 1 yr/$0.8MM
    Dustin Hermanson    11.1    $0.8MM
    Dave Burba          8.3     $0.4MM
    Ricky Ledee         6.7     $1.2MM
    Jason Christiansen  2.8     $2.4MM      $3.25MM team option declined ($0.3MM buyout)
    Robb Nen            DNP     $9.2MM
    
    Once again, Brian Sabean has gotten down to business rather quickly compared to other GMs. Not only did he pick up the options on three of his impending free agents, he signed--count 'em--two shortstops before those other needy teams could nab even one. In jumping the gun on Omar Vizquel before the Indians could offer arbitration, Sabean neatly disposed of the team's first round draft pick for the second year in a row. Whether that's a sustained commitment to lopping off both thumbs before somebody else beats you to it, or gambit to avoid overpaying for a first-round draft pick, it certainly is unique.

    Even with those two signings, the free-agent market is absolutely crawling with shortstops:

    
               Age  Team  VORP  WARP3
    Vizquel     38  CLE   35.5   6.2   Signed SFN
    Guzman      27  MIN   14.8   5.7   Signed MON
    Valentin    35  CHA   17.0   5.0
    Counsell    34  MIL    5.8   4.5
    Renteria    29  STL   26.5   3.8
    Larkin      41  CIN   23.1   3.6
    Cruz        32  SFN   19.3   3.5   Signed SFN
    Cabrera     30  BOS   13.7   3.3
    Garciaparra 31  CHN   29.7   3.0
    Clayton     35  COL   20.4   2.8
    Perez       31  CHN   -0.2   2.3   Signed CHN
    Aurilia     33  SDN    5.8   2.2
    Vizcaino    37  HOU    6.5   2.1
    Gomez       33  TOR    7.3   1.4
    Martinez    32  CHN    2.8   1.8
    Reese       31  BOS   -8.1   1.2
    Gonzalez    31  SDN   -3.6   0.5
    Wilson      31  NYY   -7.9  -0.2
    
    (Age is as of July 1, 2005, Team is the player's final resting point in '04). If we factor in defense via Wins Above Replacement Player (WARP3) because it's such a crucial part of their value, there's at least a glimmer of logic which emerges regarding the Vizquel and Cristian Guzman signings, as they were literally the most valuable shortstops on the market according to 2004 metrics. Of course, that's because Edgar Renteria (9.4 WARP in 2003) , Nomar Garciaparra (7.9 in '03) and Orlando Cabrera (7.0 in '03) had comparatively mediocre seasons by their high standards. On this side of the looking glass, the latter trio are still a better bet to outperform the signed duo. And yes, Enrique Wilson is on that list merely for laughs.

  • Nice Work If You Can Get It: Jason Christiansen's three-year, $6.5 million contract is up. For his trouble, the lefty worked a grand total of 67 innings spread over 106 appearances for a performance that was a whopping 1.5 Win Above Replacement. He lost a year to Tommy John on the front end of that deal and was comparatively less brutal in '04 than '03, but even in his meager 36 innings, he found time to decrease the Giants' win expectancy by -0.695 games according to the Reliever Expected Wins Added Report. That was bad enough for third-worst on the team, ahead of only David Aardsma (-0.794), who threw a mere 11 innings, and Matt Herges (-1.606), whose arson was spread over 65.1 innings. In a division lost by two games, every little bit counts. How long do you think Sabean considered that particular option decision?

  • Well, That Explains Everything: Of the 1026 hitters who came to bat in 2004, 213 of them faced tougher pitching than Barry Bonds did, according to the Batter's Quality of Pitchers Faced report (which ranks them by OPS). The pitchers Barry faced gave up an aggregate .245/.326/.394 line. Most of the players ahead of him had only a few handfuls of plate appearances, however. Of the players with 500 plate appearances or more, only five--Ray Durham, Michael Barrett, Rob Mackowiak, Edgardo Alfonzo, and Adam Dunn--faced tougher competition. There must be something about the Giants to that list, as the next 500-PA player down is Pedro Feliz, and Marquis Grissom is only two rungs below that.

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