December 27, 2004
Prospectus Triple Play
Boston Red Sox, Cincinnati Reds, San Diego Padres
2004 Reds Position 2004 VORP Status Barry Larkin SS 26.5 Not offered arbitration Paul Wilson SP 24.6 Re-signed-2 yr/$8.2MM Juan Castro 3B 0.8 MIN; 2 yr/$2.05MM Phil Norton RP 0.6 Non-tendered Darren Bragg OF -0.5 Not offered arbitration Gabe White RP -2.3 Not offered arbitration John Riedling RP -4.8 FLA; 1 yr/$0.75MM Todd Van Poppel RP -6.5 Not offered arbitration New Reds Position 2004 VORP Contract Joe Randa 3B 20.1 1 yr/$2.15MM Kent Mercker RP 18.6 2 yr/$2.6MM David Weathers RP 5.6 1 yr/$1.25MM Ben Weber RP -8.4 1 yr/$1.25MMAfter spending his entire 19-year career in Cincinnati, Barry Larkin has finally cut ties with the Reds. Cincinnati doesn't want to pay for a 40-year-old shortstop on a rebuilding club, while Barry thinks he can still be a starter. It's hard to argue with him; despite being limited to 386 ABs, he put up a line of .289/.352/.419 and was seventh among NL shortstops in VORP last year. Barry can no longer play close to a full season, but he can still help a club. The Nationals are looking to re-unite him with fellow 1995 All-Star Vinny Castilla. It's a shame that Larkin, who has more hits than all Reds except Pete Rose, couldn't end his career in the Queen City.
A Second Tour: The biggest free-agent splash the Reds have made is re-signing the surprising "ace" of the staff last year, Paul Wilson. The former "Generation K" Mets prospect enjoyed his best season in 2004, posting a 4.36 ERA in 29 starts with his best VORP ever. Wilson's peripherals, however, were somewhat less than impressive: 192 hits and 63 walks in 183 2/3 innings, to go along with just 117 strikeouts. Wilson's 2004 performance was less a breakout than a deviation from the mean; his PECOTA forecast for 2004 places his actual performance between the 60th and 70th percentiles of expected performance. Wilson is likely to regress somewhat in 2005, but given his recent history of eating league-average innings, overpaying by two million or so to keep Wilson for the next couple years was a necessary evil. Wilson's signing was important for Cincinnati considering their staff in 2004 was the worst in club history. Cincinnati's 5.19 team ERA was better than only Colorado's. Ensuring that the team's best pitcher, however unimpressive that ranking, returned for next year was an important commitment to addressing that problem.
For Real?: The Austin Kearns experiment at third base ended before it even began, as the Reds inked Joe Randa to play the hot corner in 2005, moving Kearns back to right field. According to Reds GM Dan O'Brien, "...the pace of the progress [Kearns] was making left some question in our minds as to whether or not he'd be ready to handle this challenge on Opening Day of the 2005 season."
Last year, third base was manned by three different Cincinnati Reds:
Player Games Played at 3B VORP Juan Castro 78 0.8 Ryan Freel 56 26.9 Tim Hummel 32 -4.6Are we missing something here? Ryan Freel, who will be 29 in '05, solidified the leadoff spot for the Reds, posting a .362 OBP in 505 at-bats and stealing 37 bases at a 79% success rate. The acquisition of Randa, who will be 35 next year, pushes Freel out of a starting job. D'Angelo Jimenez was re-signed to play second base, and the outfield is stuffed with four starters-Adam Dunn, Ken Griffey Jr., Wily Mo Pena and Kearns. The Reds could have had a cheaper, younger and more productive player at the corner for 2005, but O'Brien went with the "proven veteran." Although Freel may have missed his one window to start--stud third-base prospect Edwin Encarnacion figures to be ready by 2006--he is sure to get plenty of action next year as the Reds' top utility man (Freel played left, center, right and second in addition to third last year).
The one positive of the Randa signing is that it gives the Reds much needed depth in both the infield and outfield, as Freel will be able to sub in for Randa and Jimenez, and will also provide insurance for injury-prone outfielders Griffey and Kearns.
The other Ortiz: The Reds bolstered their beleaguered rotation by dealing minor-league pitcher Dustin Moseley to the Angels for enigmatic starter/reliever Ramon Ortiz. Ortiz had a great season for the Angels in the 2002 championship run, going 15-9 with a 3.77 ERA, 1.18 BR/9 and 162 strikeouts in 217 1/3 innings. Since then, however, he has fallen apart. He had a 5.20 ERA in 32 starts in 2003, and his strikeouts fell by 68. Last year, he was 4-5 with a 5.47 ERA in 14 starts, but pitched much better after being demoted to the bullpen, finishing with a 4.43 ERA in 128 innings of work. Cincinnati is clearly desperate for pitching of any kind, and taking on Ortiz as a project in the rotation is a reasonable risk for them.
The question is, could they have gotten him without giving up one of their best prospects? In 2003, BP wrote that Moseley "understands his craft and has poise and makeup that are off the charts... Barring massive injury, Moseley will be a solid big-league hurler." Moseley will only be 23 next year, and he pitched decently in '04--a 2.66 ERA in eight Double-A starts, and a 4.65 ERA in 12 starts in Triple-A. The Angels were not going to offer Ortiz arbitration, and were on the verge of non-tendering him before the Reds came calling. If O'Brien had a bit more patience, he could have signed Ortiz to a one or two-year deal without having to give up one of the better prospects in a pitching-starved system.
2004 Padres Position 2004 VORP Status David Wells SP 40.3 BOS 2 yr/$8MM Antonio Osuna RP 12.2 Not offered arbitration Rich Aurilia SS 5.1 Not offered arbitration Andy Ashby SP 1.3 Not offered arbitration Brian Sweeney RP 0.1 Non-tendered Robert Fick LF -0.8 Not offered arbitration Alex Gonzalez SS -1.0 Not offered arbitration Dave Hansen PH -3.2 Not offered arbitration New Padres Position 2004 VORP Contract Woody Williams SP 28.5 1 yr/$3.5MM Mark Sweeney RF 14.0 1 yr/$0.575MM Eric Young LF 12.4 1 yr/$1MM Dennys Reyes SP 11.0 1 yr/$0.55MM Rudy Seanez RP 7.6 1 yr/$0.55MM Geoff Blum 3B -10.3 1 yr/???Sense a pattern? GM Kevin Towers knows he has the bottom of the barrel to work with, and he's spending accordingly. Every free-agent contract handed out by the Padres so far has been a one-year deal at the low end of the salary scale, an encouraging sign for a team attempting to rise to contention via homegrown talent.
The one exception is also the Padres' only notable free-agent signing, Woody Williams, who returns to the team he played for from 1999 through August of 2001. You need a little calculus to figure out the terms of his contract, but basically it boils down to this: Williams' base salary in '05 will be $3.5MM, with each start he makes earning him another $125,000, meaning he will make $7.5MM if he stays healthy for all 32 starts. At 15 starts, a 2006 option kicks in at $4MM (with another $3MM possible in incentives), and at 25 starts, the 2006 salary grows to $5MM (with another $2MM possible in incentives). Despite these permutations, this is a reasonable price tag in 2004's escalating pitching market.
Williams has thrown 220 2/3 and 189 2/3 innings the past two seasons, putting up VORPs of 38.6 and 28.5. A flyball pitcher moving to the spacious confines of Petco Park, it's likely that Williams will be effective and healthy enough to have a Padres contract for 2006. Williams, who will be 38 next year, will solidify the rotation by slipping into the four hole behind Jake Peavy, Brian Lawrence and Adam Eaton. The fifth slot will be battled for by recent acquisition Darrell May and rookies Justin Germano and Tim Stauffer, leaving the Padres with some depth if Williams succumbs to the arm woes that limited him to 17 starts in 2002.
Why is Kevin Towers Smiling?: If you've read Baseball Prospectus in the past, you probably know that we're not very fond of the skill set of Terrence Long. It's easy to pick on Long, who in 2002-2003 ate up outs at an astounding rate as Oakland's starting center fielder (he had OBPs of .298 and .290 those two years). Long actually played decently in a reserve role for the Padres, bumping his OBP to .339 and adding 26 extra base hits in 288 ABs. However, the Padres recognized that he was not a regular outfielder, and with Long due to make $4.7MM in 2005, the final year of his contract, Towers sent him together with RHP Dennis Tankersley to the Royals for RHP Ryan Bukvich and the lefty May.
May has been plagued by the home-run ball. He gave up 28 dingers in 131 1/3 innings in 2001, 31 in 210 innings in '03, and an astounding 38 in just 186 innings last year, but he could greatly benefit from pitching in Petco. Whereas batters hit .272 at Kaufman Stadium and teams scored 9.6 runs per game there last year, Petco yielded just a .258 BA and 8.3 RPG. If he wins the job, May could surprise as the fifth starter.
Tankersley's departure is mildly shocking, given he was such a highly regarded prospect. Tankersley appeared to have put his control problems behind him last year, walking a reasonable 37 in 120 innings in Triple-A while striking out 86 and posting a 3.15 ERA. When the Padres brought him up for several starts, however, he wasn't able to get anybody out, and has continually struggled with his control-he has walked 61 in 86.3 big league innings to date. It looks like the Padres got tired of waiting on the 25-year-old to pan out, which could come back to haunt them if Tankersley figures things out with the Royals.
Petco Ain't Coors: The Padres didn't stop with trading away Long. Towers set out with a vengeance this off-season to rid the roster of all unproductive outfielders, which naturally next led to Jay Payton. Payton suffered one of the crueler changes in venue a hitter can endure when he moved from the Elysian Field of Colorado in 2003 to the death alleys of San Diego in 2004. Consequently, all the power he exhibited in '03 evaporated, as his home runs dropped from 28 to eight and his SLG from .512 to .367. Payton isn't quite as bad as he appeared to be in '04, but he won't see the sunny side of an 800 OPS from here on out either. In a swap of unwanted parts, Payton was shipped to the Red Sox along with utility infielder Ramon Vazquez and minor-league righty David Pauley for outfielder Dave Roberts.
Roberts is expected to be made the opening day center fielder for the Padres, and will play regularly against righties. He hit .270/.356/.407 in 263 ABs against right-handers last year, and also stole 38 bases while being caught three times. Roberts' speed game is much better suited for Petco than Payton's gap power. As part of an effective platoon--Eric Young hit .329/.413/.451 last year against lefties--Roberts can be a valuable contributor from the leadoff spot. By trading for one unwanted commodity in Roberts and signing another cheap one in Young, Towers has put together what should be a very productive leadoff position for the Padres in 2005.