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December 17, 2004

Prospectus Triple Play

Florida Marlins, New York Yankees, Pittsburgh Pirates

by Baseball Prospectus

Florida Marlins

  • The Butcher's Bill, Part 1: Here's the scoreboard on arbitration offers/signings among the Marlins' free agents:

    Offered Arbitration: Carl Pavano and Ismael Valdez.

    Not Offered: Wil Cordero, Chad Fox, Josias Manzanillo, Mike Mordecai, Dave Weathers.

    "Lost" to Free Agency: Rudy Seanez (Padres), Mike Redmond (Twins).

    Re-Signed: Lenny Harris (minor league contract) and Damion Easley (one year, $750,000).

    Not bad at all. The Fish keep the right to negotiate with Valdez, and get the draft picks when Pavano signs with the Yankees. Cordero and Weathers have already found new homes, while Harris and Easley stay comfortably in the six-figure range where they belong. (Harris doesn't even deserve that, but that's another story.)

  • Leavin' (for) Las Vegas: When the Marlins won the World Series in 1997, owner Wayne Huizenga demanded a new stadium on the spot. When he didn't get it, he ordered that the championship roster be dismantled, and soon thereafter he sold the franchise. The 2003 World Champions haven't been as childish in their approach, but they also haven't been any more successful in convincing Florida legislators to take leave of their fiscal senses and supply them a retractable-dome mallpark.

    Since wheedling, begging, and winning haven't done the trick, now a little old-fashioned arm-twisting seems in order, in the form of an extremely public visit with big shots in Las Vegas.

    That move drew the ire of the mayor of Miami, and apparently the attention of Huizenga, the owner of the Marlins' home field, Pro Player Stadium. Huizenga has told the Marlins that they're out of Pro Player after their current stadium agreement expires in 2010.

    Huizenga's early announcement of eviction is puzzling, at best. Pro Player Stadium plays the role of LeechCo for Huizenga, draining vital ballpark revenues away from the franchise and to Huizenga. He should have absolutely no incentive to want the Marlins to move elsewhere, much less to kick them out. As stadium guru and frequent BP contributor Neil deMause points out, "it's clearly not that Huizenga really wants a crack at the lucrative cricket market."

    The 2010 season is still a long way off, and the prospects of baseball in Sin City are dicey at best. But with the current CBA ending in 2006, the over/under on a team announcing relocation or Bud Selig announcing the need for contraction--with the "homeless" Marlins as possible contractees--falls right around the 2005 All-Star break. Any takers on the over?

  • Bobbing for Pitchers: In last month's PTP, we wrote, regarding the Marlins' decision to let 2004 closer Armando Benitez leave via free agency, "[c]ome January, GM Larry Beinfest will probably go rummaging through the bargain bin for 2005's closer."

    Reportedly, Jack McKeon has selected Guillermo Mota as his 2005 closer, but that hasn't kept Beinfest from hitting the bargain bin anyway, signing former closers Antonio Alfonseca (two years, $4.75MM) and Todd Jones (one year, $1.1MM) to back Mota up.

    By dumpster-diving for these relievers in December rather than January, Beinfest might have paid an unnecessary premium for their services. Let's look at some stats:

    
                VORP     IP    ERA    INR    R&O_E(W)
    Alfonseca   22.7   73.2   2.57   -1.8      0.569
    Jones       13.1   82.1   4.15   -2.8      2.086
    
    VORP you know. INR is from BP's Inherited/Bequeathed Runners Report. It tells you how many inherited runners the reliever prevented from scoring. Jones's -2.8 puts him in roughly the same company as David Riske, Rick White and Lance Carter. If you followed the Cleveland Indians bullpen in 2004, you know that's not a compliment. Alfonseca's -1.8 put him in the same company as…Armando Benitez?

    Well, that's where the comparisons between Alfonseca and Benitez end, unless Benitez has grown a few extra fingers since the end of the season. The tongue-twisting R&O_E(W) tells us how many expected wins a reliever's contribution adds to the team, compared to the replacement level and normalized for strength of opposition. Benitez's 3.980 ranked tenth in the majors last season, while people in the area of Alfonseca's 0.569 mark include the aforementioned Carter (0.626), and LaTroy Hawkins (0.469)--not bad, but not quite elite.

    This stat does give us some surprising results for Todd Jones, a 36-year-old more famous for his homophobia than his pitching, who signed last season with the Cincinnati Reds for close to the minimum. Despite an uninspiring 4.15 ERA on the season, Jones' 2.086 expected wins added put him in the same company as Mota (2.103), Juan Rincon (2.015) and Chad Cordero (2.131).

    Maybe that's what the Marlins had in mind, giving over a million dollars to a guy who's just a year off the waiver wire.

New York Yankees

  • The Butcher's Bill, Part 2: The Yankees' arb-eligible free agents:

    Offered Arbitration: Orlando Hernandez, Jon Lieber, Ruben Sierra

    Not Offered: Miguel Cairo, Tony Clark, Travis Lee, Esteban Loaiza, C.J. Nitkowski, John Olerud, Enrique Wilson.

    Signed: John Flaherty (one year, $800,000).

    The Yankees get more time to negotiate with El Duque, and draft picks from the Phillies for Jon Lieber. Ruben Sierra is an odd player to offer arbitration to, unless it was agreed in advance that he wouldn't accept, then it would simply extend the time for the Yanks to negotiate with him. Sierra's power numbers could lead to a strange arbitration decision otherwise.

    One wonders whether John Olerud would have been offered arbitration in a world where Jason Giambi wasn't a steroid user, but sadly, we don't live in that world. More than enough has been written on that topic, here and elsewhere.

  • One Yankee Fans' Dream: A direct transcript, edited for television.

    Interior, New York Yankee GM Brian Cashman's house. Cashman sits in an armchair, reading scouting reports. Above him on the wall is a framed picture of George Steinbrenner, pointing toward the camera like Uncle Sam. The legend underneath the picture reads, "Shouldn't you be on the phone, Brian?" At a nearby desk, a young boy, Cashman's Son (fictional) sits before a computer, busily clicking on the mouse.

    SON: Dad, what do you think of Tony Womack?

    DREAM CASHMAN (barely looking up from his papers): It's pronounced Woe-Mack. We've been talking with his agent.

    SON (rolls eyes): Whooooa, Mack! I think you should get him. It'd only cost four million dollars.

    DC (amused): Whoa, yourself! A second ago you didn't even know his name, now you want to make him a millionaire?

    SON: I like him. He hits .300, and he steals a lot of bases, and he hits left-handed, just like me.

    DC: He hit .300 once. He's got absolutely no power, and he never walks. Maybe if he was looking for a minor-league deal with an invite to spring training…

    SON (clicking absently on mouse): I don't care. He's clutch. And he made Uncle George cry.

    DC: Womack only hit .250 in that World Series. He was killing the Diamondbacks until the last two games.

    Son, you don't have to call him "Uncle George" unless he's in the room. And we don't talk about Uncle G--Mr. Steinbrenner crying. Never.

    SON (eager to change the subject): What about Jaret Wright?

    DC: Funny, I've been talking to his agent, too. What do they say on the Internet?

    SON: They say $21 million, for three years.

    DC: Where do they get this stuff? For that price, Leo Mazzone should be part of the package. It's crazy!

    SON: The Mets gave Kris Benson $22 million for three years, and he's nowhere near as cool as Jaret Wright.

    DC: The Mets also have neon stick figures decorating the outside of their stadium. That doesn't make it a good idea, though.

    SON: But Dad, Bill Madden says Wright has "electric stuff!"

    DC: I don't know about electric, but he's been injured, a lot. Before this year, the last time he threw a hundred innings was when you were in pre-school.

    SON: That was a long time ago. Still, I don't care, I'm going to get him. (Clicks with mouse.)

    DC: What is this, are you in a fantasy league or something? (Gets up, looks at computer.) That's not a fantasy league, that's my e-mail! You're making real bids, on real players! Oh, my God, what am I going to do!

    Please, just tell me that these are the only ones!

    SON: I never did ask you what you think about Carl Pavano…

    NOTE: This is called a "dream" and not a nightmare, because the alternative is that the Yankees' front office has lost its collective mind.

  • Beware the Loaiza (A Cautionary Tale): Keeping in mind last month's comments about Pavano, a look at the past five years of a dearly departed Yankee, Esteban Loaiza:
    
    Year   IP      ERA   WARP1
    2000  199.1   4.56     6.6
    2001  190.0   5.02     4.0
    2002  151.1   5.71     2.5
    2003  226.1   2.90    11.2
    2004  183.0   5.71     2.7
    
    Sometimes, when a pitcher has a year that is outside their established performance, they've just made a leap to a new level of performance. Other times, they're just a latter-day Steve Stone, doomed to fall to mediocrity (or worse) after a career year. You usually can't tell which is which, so the moral of the story is to be very careful.

Pittsburgh Pirates

  • Won't Get Fooled Again: In an attempt to avoid last year's folly, where the Pirates' system was sacked for five prospects in the Rule 5 Draft, GM Dave Littlefield spent some time packing Pittsburgh's 40-man roster like a man stuffing free mints into his pockets at a restaurant, and making sure anyone who might be left off of it brought back something in return or had as little value as possible.

    Outfielder J.J. Davis was sent to the Expos/Nationals for Antonio Sucre, a tools prospect who didn't have to be protected. Tony Alvarez, Abraham Nunez and Carlos Rivera were lopped off the 40-man to make more space, so that Littlefield could add seven minor leaguers to the roster: first baseman Brad Eldred, pitchers Jeff Miller, Leo Nunez and Matt Peterson, and outfielders Rajai Davis, Chris Duffy and Nate McLouth.

    At the end of the day, Littlefield's frenetic action seemed like much ado about nothing. Even though there were some good prospects available, the Rule 5 draft just was not the factor it was last year, with only 12 players being selected in the major-league phase, less than half as many as were selected in 2003.

    But as Robert Heinlein once observed, "you live and you learn, or you don't live long." Having survived last year's gaffe, you can be sure that no organization run by Littlefield will ever be caught napping on the eve of the Rule 5 Draft again.

  • Au Revoir, Jason Kendall: Ending a three-year quest to be rid of Jason Kendall's six-year, $60 million contract, the Pirates dealt the catcher to the A's in return for pitchers Arthur Rhodes and Mark Redman. Rhodes was in turn dealt for Indians outfielder Matt Lawton, in a straight-up trade, and the Royals sent the Pirates catcher/BALCO witness Benito Santiago in return for prospect Leo Nunez.

    So with the quest to purge Kendall's contract from the roster completed, the question stands: is Pittsburgh better off with Redman, Lawton, Santiago and the money saved than they would have been with Kendall and Nunez?

    On the one hand, it's hard for Pirates fans to accept that Kendall's gone and the team didn't receive a single prospect in return. Lawton and Redman are nothing more than useful veterans, and Santiago is an ancient catcher coming off a horrible year.

    Still, there is some merit to trading for Redman and Lawton. Redman is an innings-eater on a team that would rather overwork a journeyman lefty than send the next Sean Burnett to the surgeon's table. There's always the off chance he'll catch fire and make decent trade bait at the deadline. Lawton brings a lefty bat to a righty-heavy lineup. Although Lawton has decent power, it's likely that the Bucs will use his OBP in the leadoff spot, replacing Kendall in the lineup.

    The larger consideration is that by dealing Kendall for Redman and Lawton, Littlefield replaced one big problem with two much smaller ones. Lawton's on a one-year deal, as is Santiago. Finding takers, or in the worst case, eating these contracts, is something that is simply much easier than it was with Jason Kendall.

  • Prince of the Backstop: Kendall leaves town as the best catcher in the franchise's history.
    
    Player         Games  Runs  Hits  2B 3B HR RBI  WARP3
    J. Kendall      1205   706  1409 256 29 67 471   61.2
    M. Sanguillen   1037   507  1273 180 51 56 509   51.6
    T. Pena          787   307   821 140 15 63 340   39.2
    G. Gibson       1155   294   878 138 49 15 340   35.0
    W. Schmidt       703   207   597  61 19  3 225   18.3
    
    "Games" is the number of games each caught for the Pirates, and WARP3 is the cumulative score for the player's career as a Pirate, regardless of whether he was behind the plate or at another position. George Gibson was a dead-ball era catcher, and Walter Schmidt succeeded Gibson behind the plate. Manny Sanguillen was the reigning champ among Bucs' backstops before Fred Kendall's boy came along. However, the difference between Kendall and Sanguillen in WARP3 is actually greater than it seems--Sanguillen spent much more time at other positions during his Pirates career.

    Besides leading all Pittsburgh catchers in games, runs, hits, doubles, and homers, Kendall also blew away the field in walks (454) and steals (140). Hopefully, the contract that led to Jason's departure won't overshadow his contribution to the franchise.

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<< Previous Article
Premium Article Hang On, Youppi! (12/16)
<< Previous Column
Prospectus Triple Play... (12/10)
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Prospectus Triple Play... (12/21)
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Premium Article Prospectus Matchups: C... (12/17)

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