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December 27, 2004

Prospectus Triple Play

Boston Red Sox, Cincinnati Reds, San Diego Padres

by Baseball Prospectus

Boston Red Sox

  • End of an Era: The starting pitchers the Red Sox have gained and shed through free agency thus far:
    
    Added            VORP      Status
    David Wells      40.3      2 yr/$8MM ($10MM incentives)
    Matt Clement     36.9      3 yr/$25MM
    Wade Miller      21.8      1 yr/$1.5MM ($3MM incentives)
    
    Lost             VORP      Status
    Pedro Martinez   51.2      Mets; 4 yr/$53MM
    Derek Lowe       -11.5     Rejected arbitration
    
    The Red Sox refused to give Pedro Martinez the respect he was demanding by guaranteeing a fourth year, and subsequently lost him to the Mets. Martinez's skills have clearly slipped, but at this point in his career, he still can conservatively be considered a superior number-two starter.

    The questions will remain about his shoulder, but should the Red Sox have been as concerned as they were about Martinez's health? He has thrown 199 1/3, 186 2/3 and 217 innings in the three seasons since his injury-shortened 2001. Furthermore, although Martinez threw more innings last year than he had since 2000, he did not have a single Category IV (122-132 pitches) or V (133 pitches and up) start, and had a stress rating of 11, which is to say he wasn't overworked at all. Martinez was worked much harder in 2003 despite throwing fewer innings, posting a 43 stress rating and made three Category IV and one category V start. Part of Martinez's struggles in '04 can perhaps be traced to the beating he took under Grady Little's tutelage. Smart usage by Mets manager Willie Randolph and the comfort of facing the opposing pitcher could certainly help Martinez regain his customary sub-3.00 ERA in New York.

    Last season the Sox had 1 and 1A at the top of the rotation in Curt Schilling and Martinez. After the signings of David Wells, Matt Clement and Wade Miller, the Sox are left with Schilling and a stable of solid 3rd starters. Does this make them better off?

    2004 Rotation (VORP): Schilling (72.9)/Martinez (51.2)/ Derek Lowe (-11.5)/Tim Wakefield (9.4)/Bronson Arroyo (24.7) Total VORP: 146.7

    Projected 2005 Rotation (VORP): Schilling (72.9)/Wells (40.3)/Clement (36.9)/Miller (21.8)/Arroyo (24.7) Total VORP: 196.6

    Adding Wells, Clement and Miller gives the Sox a much deeper rotation, as they can move Wakefield or Arroyo to the bullpen and have insurance if Wells or Miller breaks down at some point (which is a pretty safe bet heading into '05). There is a steep drop from Schilling to whoever is tabbed as the number two man, but little decline in quality moving from the two through five spots, especially if the Sox keep Arroyo in the rotation and move Wakefield into the swingman role.

    Wade Miller was perhaps the best pickup of the three starters signed by Epstein. There is a lot of risk involved in signing him--he is currently rehabbing a rotator cuff injury that caused him to miss the second half of '04--but also a potentially high reward. He has posted a better than 2-to-1 K/BB ratio in his three full seasons (2001-03), and last year had a VORP of 21.8 in just 15 starts before getting hurt. Because of his injury history, Miller came cheap, and he could solidify the two slot in the rotation if his rehab goes well. At the least, the Sox should extract 100 or so above-average innings (he threw 88 2/3 last year) from Miller, which in the insane market for pitching that has characterized the 2004 off-season is worth more than what Epstein paid.

    If You Can't Beat 'em...: Remember who made the last out of the historic 2004 World Series? Of course you do--the same player who was up last in the 1997 Series, Edgar Renteria. Renteria swapped red jerseys this off-season, choosing to leave the Cardinals for a four-year, $40MM deal with Boston, with an $11MM team option for 2009. Renteria has been a little overrated ever since that single in the bottom of the ninth beat the Indians in Game Seven, and his spectacular performance in 2003 (.330/.394/.480, 75.3 VORP best among NL shortstops) reinforced that notion. The fact is, Renteria's established level of performance is much closer to his 2004 line of .287/.327/.401, which was good for a 27.3 VORP that ranked sixth among NL shortstops. Defensively, by most metrics Renteria comes out a little below average; he was -11 RAA last season, exactly average in 2003 and -14 in '02.

    Renteria still has a lot of value, but it seems that the Red Sox have paid him to repeat his 2003 campaign over the next four years. That type of performance isn't going to happen as he passes into the beginning of his decline phase (he'll be 29 in '05), especially given the importance of speed in his game. Giving him a shorter deal would have been ideal, as Boston prospects Hanley Ramirez and Dustin Pedroia are waiting in the wings to fight for the job.

Cincinnati Reds

    End of an Era, Part II: Examining the Reds' actions in the free-agent market:
    
    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/$1.25MM
    
    After 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            -4.6
    
    Are 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.

San Diego Padres

    One and Done: A look at the Padres' free-agent situation:
    
    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.

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