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November 30, 2004

Prospectus Triple Play

Baltimore Orioles, Colorado Rockies, New York Mets

by Baseball Prospectus

Baltimore Orioles

  • Garage Sale: Call us cruel if you will, but that seems to be an apt description of the Orioles' 2004 free agent class: mostly old and useless, and not likely to sell for much.

    
                   '04 VORP  '04 Sal.  Status
    -----------------------------------------
    David Segui        4.3    $7.0MM   Filed
    Omar Daal          DNP    $4.5MM   Filed
    Marty Cordova      DNP    $3.5MM   Retired
    Buddy Groom        6.8    $3.0MM   Filed
    B.J. Surhoff      16.7     $800K   Filed
    Luis Lopez        -7.7     $365K   FA after cut from 40-man
    Jose Leon         -5.3     $305K   FA after cut from 40-man
    Robert Machado    -7.0     $300K   FA after cut from 40-man
    Darnell McDonald  -3.5     $300K   FA after cut from 40-man
    
    

    The Orioles aren't looking to bring any of these players, except Surhoff, back in 2005. What they hope instead is that the passing of names like Segui and Cordova caps the purging of the old guard of bloated contracts from their roster. The performance of Miguel Tejada and Javy Lopez is helping to ensure that the old unpleasantness is not immediately renewed. Sidney Ponson, on the other hand....

    With money to burn, who will the Orioles look to sign? Tops on their list is Carl Pavano, scheduled for a December 6 visit to Camden Yards. Pavano's merits have been detailed elsewhere on this site, but we'll add this: he is an excellent example of a player over whom scouts and statheads will clash, and his great 2004 will give the scouts more ammo. You might look at Pavano and see a guy who's been healthy and effective for a full year exactly once in his career, with a declining strikeout rate and a career year probably helped by a fluky low BABIP. I might look at Pavano and see a workhorse with the cojones for big-game success and some serious heat that he can bring again and again.

    This writer will throw a dissenting voice into the mix and say that there is something to what the scouts see. Some pitchers are just late bloomers, and don't deserve to have their history held against them too strictly. Unfortunately, the attention being lavished upon Pavano right now all but guarantees that whichever team signs him will fall prey to the Winner's Curse.

  • Decline and Fall: There are two Gibbonses in the big leagues. John is retired and manages the Blue Jays. Jay turned 27 this year and plays right field. Would you believe that John had the higher VORP in '04?

    Here's the younger Gibbons' line for the last three years:

    
           AVG   OBP   SLG  VORP      Salary
    ----------------------------------------
    2002  .247  .311  .482  17.0    $232,500
    2003  .277  .330  .456  26.5    $375,000
    2004  .246  .303  .379  -1.7  $2,600,000
    

    Gibbons figures to make around $4,000,000 in arbitration this winter. If he could return to his 2003 form, that wouldn't be all that bad, especially for a one-year commitment; look where that 2003 VORP would have placed among corner outfielders in '04:

    
                    VORP     Salary
    Kevin Mench     29.0     not yet arb-eligible
    Matt Lawton     28.1     $7,250,000
    Sammy Sosa      27.9     $16,000,000
    Craig Monroe    26.7     not yet arb-eligible
    GIBBONS '03     26.5     ($4,000,000)
    Geoff Jenkins   26.1     $8,737,500
    Matt Stairs     25.1     $1,000,000
    Shannon Stewart 24.4     $5,500,000
    Luis Gonzalez   23.7     $8,250,000
    

    It's not the easiest thing in the world to find a 25+ VORP. (We ought to note that this is not the most scientific way to be looking at our question; there were better bargains further up the VORP scale.) Still, Gibbons' 2003 screams CAREER YEAR!, especially when you consider that he's now trying to come back from a torn hip flexor and a bulging disc. He says he's OK, but with Magglio Ordonez, Jermaine Dye, Richard Hidalgo and Moises Alou all available, the O's may try to deal Gibbons, and might non-tender him if they can't.

    That wouldn't be a bad move. Gibbons wouldn't see four million a year as a free agent; the only attractive thing about keeping him at that price is the one-year commitment.

Colorado Rockies

  • Thanks, Jim: Here at Rockies PTP headquarters, we're proud to bring you another Hypothetical Conversation About Vinny Castilla, this one between Rockies GM Dan O'Dowd and Eric Goldschmidt, Castilla's agent.

    GOLDSCHMIDT: Hi, Dan, it's Eric. Listen, I've got a two-year, $6.2 million guaranteed offer on the table for Vinny. You know he'd really love to finish his career in Colo-
    O'DOWD: (click)
    GOLDSCHMIDT: Hello?

    The Rockies would have kept Castilla for the right price, but you can be sure that price didn't go anywhere near what Nationals GM Jim Bowden offered. That raises the question: didn't Bowden learn anything about Coors Field miracles when he brought Dante Bichette to Cincinnati?

    The Denver Post reports that fans bombarded the Rockies with complaints after Castilla left for D.C. Just grit your teeth and ride it out, Mr. O'Dowd. You did the right thing.

  • You Scratch My Back: Word is that the Rocks are after Rangers outfielder David Dellucci. This is a good time for Dellucci to be on the open market; he's always been a useful contributor, and he just set career highs in homers (17) and RBI (61) in 331 at-bats, his second-most ever. (You might call his .242/.342/.441 line Jay Gibbons-esque.)

    The left-handed Dellucci has been almost exclusively a platoon player: in the last three years he's put up a 782 OPS in 683 at-bats against righties, and a paltry 378 OPS in an equally paltry 93 at-bats against left-handed pitchers. Signing Dellucci wouldn't square much with the Rockies' stated goal of getting Brad Hawpe, who is also left-handed, more playing time, unless they plan to platoon Hawpe with Matt Holliday in left. (It's an open question whether right-handed hitters have unique individual platoon ratios, but if they do, the early returns on Holliday might discourage this move; he actually hit righties much better in '04. Hawpe, on the other hand, has hit for dramatically more power and average against righties in the minors.) As much as the Rockies are looking for a cheap free-agent pickup in right field, don't expect Dellucci, if they land him, to be the end of their winter shopping.

    As for Dellucci himself, this is a great move. With a couple hundred Coors Field at-bats to work with, he might hit 20 homers, and those along with his "team player" reputation could help land him a multi-year deal to cushion the blow of his decline phase. He'll be 32 next fall, you know, and supersubs don't last forever.

  • Who on the Chacon?: They're not saying anything, of course, but the Rockies seem to have no intention of letting Shawn Chacon wear the purple and black in 2005. He's arbitration-eligible, and since he served as Colorado's closer this past year, even his 7.11 ERA won't keep him from getting the big money. That 7.11 ERA, in addition to his questionable long-term health, makes him a bad bet for a cash-strapped club like the Rockies.

    Chacon was a decent starter before 2004, and Orel Hershiser is known as one of the best pitching coaches in the business, so Texas is interested, and could be a good fit. Hershiser has gotten a lot of the credit for Ryan Drese's success, which he brought about by getting Drese to use a two-seam, sinking fastball instead of trying to be Roger Clemens Lite by throwing high fastballs by everybody. Chacon's problems have been twofold: his pitch selection, and command of his secondary pitches, have not been good, but he also has been wild with his mid-90s four-seamer. That works when you're facing Punch and Judy eight-hole hitters, but not against major leaguers with discipline. Is there a Ryan Drese inside Chacon? It looks like Colorado is perfectly happy to let Texas find out.

New York Mets

  • Big Ticket: Move over, David Dellucci. Get outta here, Jay Gibbons. This is New York, where only the brightest stars shine. Remember that Onion headline, "Yankees Ensure 2003 Pennant By Signing Every Player In Baseball?" The Mets are trying to beat them to the punch, it seems, expressing interest in almost every major free agent on the market.

    International borders are no boundary, as GM Omar Minaya met Pedro Martinez for dinner in the Dominican. When it comes to star power, being under the control of another club has also not gotten in the way, to which Minaya's well-hyped feelers for Shawn Green and Sammy Sosa attest.

  • Like Bikinis, What They Don't Show Is Even More Important: Before you rush to start pre-production for "Bring 'Em Back Alive: The Omar Minaya Story," let's remember two things: one, the Mets have some payroll flexibility, which makes it only natural that they'd look at some of these players; two, the Mets operate in New York, which means that every time Minaya lifts a finger, no small number of scribes take note.

    What's curious, though, is that the Mets have not, as far as we can tell, spoken to players at the position where they have perhaps the most glaring hole: first base. Carlos Delgado, the best free agent first baseman, hasn't heard a thing, and neither has Richie Sexson, who's a Comeback Player of the Year waiting to happen.

    Given their publicized interest in the other free agents, we can cue up the Speculat-O-Tron and tell you this could mean either that the Mets have decided to stay away from those guys entirely and find a more bargain-basement option to fill first base, or that the Mets are hoping that their interest in the other big free agents will cause them to be snapped up first, and that the Mets can nab their first sacker of choice later.

    Lost in the shuffle is the Mets' perplexing offer to Al Leiter: the small sum of four million dollars guaranteed, plus three million in incentives, for one year.

    We don't blame Leiter for being a little miffed. His ERAs as a Met, dating back to 1998: 2.47, 4.23, 3.20, 3.31, 3.48, 3.99, 3.21. OK; that doesn't tell the whole story; his walk rate has increased in each of the last three years, while his strikeout rate has declined from 6.8 in 2002 to 5.4 this year. And Leiter's labrum shows its age. Spurred by his own comments, in this space we've said that 2004 would like be Leiter's last year due to the pain in which he pitched at times, even despite the excellent results. He is not going to repeat 2004; he may not even come close.

    But four million guaranteed? The pitchers the Mets are pursuing-or, in the case of Kris Benson, have already signed are far more expensive, and not necessarily that much better:

    
                Leiter    Radke    Pavano    Martinez    Benson
    -----------------------------------------------------------
    2003 VORP    31.3     32.8      28.1       74.4       -0.6
    2004 VORP    46.2     60.1      62.4       51.2       22.4
    Price       1/$4MM    3/27      4/40       3/39      3/22.5
    
    *prices for Radke, Pavano and Martinez are expected market value
    
    

    (We didn't mean to draw attention to that Benson contract again. Honest.)

    Leiter's clearly not as good as any of those other three, but is he that much worse? Given his recent strong performance, doesn't the fact that he only needs a one-year deal an asset? Sign Pavano or Martinez, and in three years your ace might be chilling on the DL or in the Dominican on your dime. Sign Leiter, and in three years he's your color analyst, and a damn good one at that, if his work on Fox this fall is any indication.

    You might say that Leiter can't be expected to repeat 2004, but neither can Brad Radke, whose 60.1 VORP was his best in five years. Pavano is a risk, and while Martinez hasn't fallen apart yet, his 3.90 ERA in '04 was the highest of his career. We're not saying Al Leiter is Cy Young, just that for a one-year risk, he's not so bad, and deserves more than the Mets are willing to pay.

    To add insult to injury, the Yankees seem primed to grab him, ensuring that whatever success he does have in 2005 will still make headlines in the Big Apple.

    In an off-season where the Mets' flirtation with the big names has grabbed all the headlines, the silence surrounding their first-base hole and their brusque treatment of Leiter have slipped under the radar, suggesting that these sagas are far from complete.

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Premium Article Prospectus Matchups: T... (11/30)
<< Previous Column
Prospectus Triple Play... (11/26)
Next Column >>
Prospectus Triple Play... (12/03)
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Premium Article Can Of Corn: Firing Of... (12/01)

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