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January 7, 2005

Prospectus Triple Play

Cleveland Indians, Seattle Mariners, Washington Nationals

by Baseball Prospectus

Cleveland Indians

  • "The Negotiators": A lot of movies and television shows have focused on a profession that probably didn't exist a few decades ago: the professional crisis negotiator. This is the person who tries to talk jumpers off of ledges when ordinary street cops would probably say something like, "If you're gonna jump, can't you do it on the other side of the building outside of my beat so I don't gotta do a lot of paperwork?" These people are expert in convincing others not to do rash, silly things that might have long-term negative consequences.

    We at BP are hereby announcing our services as Professional Baseball Crisis Negotiators. Here's how it works: whenever your team is on the verge of doing something with the resources you help contribute with your ticket/merchandise/concession/parking purchases, place a call to us and we will fly in one of our Professional Baseball Crisis Negotiators who will then try to talk the club out of whatever folly they're about to perpetrate. We might do this face-to-face, by appointment. More than likely, though, we'll have to do it from behind a bullhorn, outside the team's offices.

    Had we come up with this idea earlier in the offseason, we would have already made a few trips to Arizona, Washington and New York. Right now, though, the call needs to come in from Cleveland where the Indians are on the verge of signing Kevin Millwood to a one-year deal for $7,000,000.

    Here's what we would shout through the bullhorn to Indians general manager, Mark Shapiro:

    "Mark, you're smarter than this. You are. You know you are. Believe in yourself. You've got the length of service right, Mark. One year. Good job on that part. But think of it this way: if Millwood were worth seven mil a year, wouldn't he be getting more years from some other team? See? That's your tip-off, Mark! He and Scott Boras will settle for one year. Two million, tops. That's how much it should cost to look in that particular box and see if there are any surprises left. Trust yourself, Mark! We're here to help. Let's talk this thing out...what? What do you mean, "what am I doing?" I'm having a conversation with Indians GM, Mark Shapiro--what does it look like I'm doing? Hey, you don't have to cuff me..."
    And so on.

    In the context of the 2004-05 free-agent shenanigans, is Millwood's deal really all that out of line? In a world where Russ Ortiz gets 4/$33MM, perhaps not, but a question mark is a question mark whether it's signed for one year or four. Is a pitcher who has one truly outstanding season in seven tries worth the risk at that kind of money? As we said above, the length of the contract shows the Indians are hedging their bets. Maybe they think they can afford to chuck $7 million on a look-see. A much smarter look-see is the Red Sox signing of Wade Miller for the same length of time but at a fraction of the price.

    Miller and Millwood were fairly comparable in 2002-03 (combined VORP of 67.4 for Millwood and 60.7 for Miller). Both ran into arm trouble last year and missed a considerable number of starts. When they did pitch, though, Miller was superior, boasting a VORP of 21.8 to Millwood's 9.3. Both have comparable strikeout rates (within a quarter-K per nine). Miller is two years younger.

    Millwood, of course, has more "experience." Now, if they were in the first few years in the bigs and playing at the major-league minimum, then experience would count because it's codified in the Collective Bargaining Agreement to be that way. It doesn't have to be that way in the unprotected, free-wheeling, every-man-for-himself world of free agency, though. If the Indians want to reward Millwood for having pitched in the big leagues longer than Miller or because he ripped it up real good back in 1999, then give him an additional 500 EBFB (extra big fun bucks). To our way of thinking, the Red Sox established what the market value is for moderately successful starting pitchers coming off injuries is when they signed Miller to one year at $1.5 mil. Because of that, anything beyond $2 million for Millwood is excessive on the Indians' part.

Seattle Mariners

  • Poking Around: As we've mentioned before, there is a great deal of pride regarding these Prospectus Triple Plays. Those of us who write them come to strongly identify with the triumvirate we are assigned. In this house, we make no bones about it: we are rooting hard for a Cleveland/Washington or Seattle/Washington World Series.

    Just when our hopes start to rise that maybe we'll be sitting in the BP luxury box at RFK Stadium watching the Mariners and Nationals duke it out in late October, Seattle goes and signs Pokey Reese to be their starting shortstop.

    Given that Seattle had three big question marks in the infield, it's nice that they added one player whose performance can be counted on. This much we know about Reese: he's going to field well and he's not going to get on base often or hit for any power. We also know that there's a good chance he will miss a significant amount of time to an injury of some sort. He had three of them last year and missed most of 2003, too. (One thing we don't know about Reese is how often he'll attempt to steal. In his favor, he is an exceptional thief with an 84% career success rate.) Reese has not qualified for a batting title since 2000, so it's interesting that he is getting the nod as the team's starter. If it works out for him, it makes for a nice career transition. He went to the Red Sox last year knowing there was a chance he would be a backup and he got a ring out of the deal. Now he can resume his starting career. Would that all our careers rebounded that well from adversity.

  • The Other Guys: Surrounding the predictable Reese in the infield, the Mariners have these questions:

    • Can Richie Sexson get back to where he once belonged? Will Safeco crush him like a speeding train?

    • Bret Boone: off-year or big signpost on the way to U.S. Highway 86?

    • Adrian Beltre: 2004: one-year spike or booster rocket that got him out of sub-orbital flight of first stage of career? (Please say you noticed the transportation-themed allusions in these three comments!)

    Now that Seattle has tied up the GNP of Sweden at first and third base, is it possible they could find a taker for Scott Spiezio? Last year's free-agent signatory has now been made redundant at not one but two of his favored positions. Furthermore, does Seattle have a need for Spiezio and Willie Bloomquist? The latter has, at least, played shortstop, a skill that will come in handy if and when Reese can't answer the bell.

Washington Nationals

  • Mismatch: In less than two months, a team with "Washington" on its jerseys will be playing against another major-league team. The Nationals host the Mets in their first spring game of the year on March 2. The team will continue to train in Viera, Florida. They are scheduled to play an exhibition game against Bethune-Cookman College, too.

    Haven't you ever wondered how a school like Bethune-Cookman (or Eckerd College, when they used to play the Royals every year) doesn't lose a game like this 41-0, even if the professionals load their lineup with lower level prospects? These are not major colleges we're talking about here. They're fairly small, liberal arts colleges in Florida. Don't get us wrong, this is a pretty cool deal and we wish more major league teams would play these sorts of contests.

    For the record, B-CC has produced one major leaguer, Stan Jefferson, who had his best year while with San Diego in 1987. Eckerd College has produced three big leaguers: Joe Lefebvre, late of the Yankees, Phils and Padres; the incomparable Steve Balboni, late of the Yankees and Royals; and current Oakland Athletic, Jim Mecir.

  • At First Base...: Not that we get our drawers in a pinch over players who strike out a lot, but Nick Johnson had cut way down on his strikeouts from 2002 to 2003, only to increase his rate with the Expos last year. While it wasn't to 2002 levels, it was a jump from last year:
    
    2002: .259
    2003: .176
    2004: .231
    
    These are not drastic fluctuations, but he had more walks than strikeouts in 2003, something he couldn't repeat last year. Anytime somebody who struck out 98 times as a rookie gets to the point where they've got more walks than strikeouts, then that's a good sign. Maintaining it would be even better, of course.

  • ...and at Second Base: By now, most assumed Jose Vidro would be entering his first full season with the Yankees after having been traded mid-way through 2004. That was the prevailing wisdom when the Yankees broke camp in 2004 with only Miguel Cairo and Enrique Wilson to hold down second base. Vidro's was the name most-often mentioned as the their replacement but the deal never happened. Vidro's '04 VORP was comparable to that of 2003, but he'll need to miss fewer than 52 games if he is to be the mainstay the Nationals need him to be. Unlike Johnson, he did manage to repeat his 2003 feat of walking more times than he struck out. More of both would suit the Nationals fine in 2005; the latter because it doesn't really matter and the former because it does.

    All we can say is, "thank goodness les Alouettes returned from the dead." No Habs, no 'spos...at least the people of Montreal got to see a winning season from their CFL team. They went 14-4 but lost in the playoffs. Had they not been reborn in the '90s, Montreal would be a sports ghost town these days. Which makes us wonder: is there any talk of getting Montreal back into the International League? Is there any way a baseball diamond could be shoehorned into Molson Memorial Stadium?

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<< Previous Article
Premium Article Lies, Damned Lies: How... (01/06)
<< Previous Column
Prospectus Triple Play... (01/04)
Next Column >>
Prospectus Triple Play... (01/12)
Next Article >>
The Week in Quotes: Ja... (01/10)

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