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February 2, 2005

Prospectus Triple Play

Baltimore Orioles, Colorado Rockies, New York Mets

by Baseball Prospectus

Baltimore Orioles

  • Slammin': Neither the Orioles nor the Cubs are saying anything until the deal is official, but word is that the clubs have agreed on a deal that will send Sammy Sosa to Baltimore. All that remains are Sosa's physical and the commissioner's rubber stamp, the latter necessary because the deal includes the transfer of more than a million dollars. A lot more, in fact; sources say that Cubs will pick up around half of Sosa's $17 million salary for 2005, and his $4.5 million buyout for '06. (Sosa's deal actually stipulates that his '06 option vests automatically if he is dealt, but his agent says he's willing to waive that to escape the Windy City.)

    The end result leaves the Orioles with a one-year, $9,000,000 commitment to Sosa. We look at Sosa's 2005 PECOTA forecast--now available to Premium subscribers--to see what we can expect from him. This is one of the tasks to which PECOTA should be especially suited, since Sosa is easily classified as an aging slugger. We find Sosa forecasted for a .259/.351/.515 line in 385 at-bats, good for a 25.3 VORP. (Why so few? This sort of thing happens to aging players, sluggers or otherwise, and Sosa's playing time has been in decline.) That line is a Cubs projection, so knock it down a little for the move to Camden Yards.

    Not so impressive, huh? If it's any consolation, Sosa's breakout rate of 27.5% (the chance that he'll improve on his three-year baseline by more than 20 percent) is greater than his collapse rate of 17.7% (as you may have guessed, the chance that he will fall from that established baseline by the same amount). So chances are that Sosa's decline will be graceful enough, at least this year, and the Orioles may even get lucky.

    One year is not much of a commitment--the least possible, in fact, short of a spring training NRI--and nine million won't break the bank on a contract that short. Still, the wisdom of the move can be questioned. It's not easy, because there are philosophical issues intervening on both sides. To touch on the Cubs' concerns: whether or not it's better to pay $12.5 million for nothing than $21.5 for Sosa (and you might laud this move as an excellent job on the part of the Cubs of recognizing a sunk cost), would they have done it had they not been trying to get rid of their sulking star? The Orioles should ask themselves a similar question: would they trade Jerry Hairston Jr., Mike Fontenot and Dave Crouthers for a player with Sosa's statistical prognosis, but not his Maris-chasing past?

  • Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow: In our minds, the question isn't whether or not the Orioles should have dealt Hairston Jr., but how soon. For reasons that escape us, Hairston's name seemed to be a hot one on the trade market. Here's his career so far:
    
    YEAR AGE   AB   AVG   OBP   SLG
    1998  22   minimal playing time
    1999  23  175  .263  .323  .417
    2000  24  180  .256  .353  .367
    2001  25  532  .233  .305  .344
    2002  26  426  .268  .329  .376
    2003  27  218  .271  .353  .371
    2004  28  287  .303  .378  .397
    2005  29  298* .274* .348* .376*
    
    *PECOTA forecast for 2005, playing in Camden Yards
    
    Not exactly Silver Slugger material. Hairston frustrated the Orioles at second base, but he isn't a worse hitter than Brian Roberts, who took the starting job there after Hairston was injured early in '04:
    
    EqA by Year
    YEAR    JH    BR
    2001  .237  .226
    2002  .255  .234
    2003  .262  .253
    2004  .267  .251
    
    Hairston is two years older and is alleged to play poorer defense at second base, so he became the odd man out. Our guess is that neither of these guys would have had much value at all to other clubs if they hadn't been in competition with each other. The Orioles will miss Hairston's on-base skills, but he's a mediocre player, and if it was his "value" that got them Sosa, then they did well to trade him.

Colorado Rockies

  • Trapped: When it comes to Charles Johnson, the Rockies seem to be acting out of spite. They already plan to start J.D. Closser at catcher, and the slow-footed Todd Greene brings his potent bat to the #2 spot on the depth chart. Now the Rox have signed veteran Tom Wilson to a minor-league contract, and also have Danny Ardoin catching in the minors.

    Now they're said to be interested in Arizona's Robby Hammock, designated for assignment now that Koyie Hill is Arizona's catcher of the future. Johnson has no place to play, but can't be dealt because a trade would trigger a $1 million escalator in his contract. So the Rockies would have to find a club willing to pay Johnson more than $1 million this year in order to get rid of him, and they haven't been able to so far.

    Does Johnson deserve to be this low on the depth chart, or is this just symbolic, to ensure that he doesn't become a distraction? Let's let PECOTA have its say. So as not to let projected playing time interfere with our calculations, which it would if we used VORP, let's look at each player's projected MLVr (Marginal Lineup Value), which is a measure of the increase in runs per game an otherwise major-league average lineup would score by adding this player:

    
    J.D. Closser        .085
    Todd Greene         .100
    Tom Wilson         -.060
    Robby Hammock      -.074
    Charles Johnson     .056
    
    The Rockies have promised Johnson that they won't make him report to the minors if they can't deal him, but would he be content as the third stringer? If not, why not keep him? It's one thing to displace him in favor of young talent...but "Tom Wilson" and "young talent" don't belong in the same sentence.

    For the time being, Johnson just needs to cross his fingers and hope a backstop somewhere sprains an ankle.

  • Fast Track: You'll have to check out Baseball Prospectus 2005 to see where Ian Stewart lands in our Top 50 Prospects, but here's a clue: he's way, way up there. PECOTA projections have him topping a .300 EqA in five years, with Adrian Beltre a top comparable.

    Stewart is a phenomenal prospect. His defense is supposed to be poor, but there's time to work on that. Even jumping from A ball, Stewart would be good for an equivalent line of .249/.319/.430 this year, which would translate to an 816 OPS in Coors Field. The projected starter, Garrett Atkins, is pegged for 811, with shaky defense. If all goes as planned, there will be a new third baseman in Colorado soon, and he'll stay there for a long time.

New York Mets

  • No, It Rhymes With "Lint-Shave-Ditch": Mets fans, we thought a quick course on your new first baseman's last name might help, since you've probably heard it mangled enough in the news. If you remember Andy Stankiewicz, utility infielder of lore, you should probably forget him, because--and please spread the word--unlike Andy, Doug Mientkiewicz does not contain any syllables that rhyme with dank or blitz.

    What matters, though, is how Mientkiewicz will fit into the Mets' lineup, which currently looks like this:

    2B Kazuo Matsui
    SS Jose Reyes
    CF Carlos Beltran
    C Mike Piazza
    3B David Wright
    LF Cliff Floyd
    RF Mike Cameron
    1B Doug Mientkiewicz

    Wright might not get to hit so high in the order above two veterans like Floyd and Cameron, but you can bet that those three, and certainly Beltran and Piazza, will not be hitting leadoff. So here's an idea...why not Minky?

    Reyes' 2004 on-base percentage was a Neifi-esque .271, and he has yet to prove that he can hit consistently in the majors. Matsui's was .331, which is a lot better, but not the mark of a prototypical leadoff hitter. Mientkiewicz put up just a .326 OBP this past year, but in the three years prior, his OBPs were .393, .365 and .387. PECOTA has him pegged for .364 this coming year, albeit without the Shea park factor applied; by contrast, Matsui is at .334 and Reyes is at .304.

    Mientkiewicz is no Carlos Delgado, but he could fill a need for the Mets: they do not have a proper leadoff hitter. The Mets would rather Mientkiewicz had Matsui's wheels if they're going to do that (and it's one reason why they may not), but you can't steal second if you don't get on first, and Mientkiewicz is well-suited to the former task. Ultimately, Mientkiewicz is too little production for too much money, but the Mets can make more use of him than almost any other club.

  • The Unpronouncables: In return for Mientkiewicz, Boston received first-base prospect Ian Bladergroen. PECOTA actually thinks that Bladergroen would give Mientkiewicz a run for his money in 2005:
    
                   AB   AVG  OBP  SLG  VORP  FRAA
    Mientkiewicz  345  .272 .364 .410  12.7    0
    Bladergroen   391  .255 .318 .418  11.4   -6
    
    There's a clear winner here in overall production, but looking strictly at the dollars and cents, Bladergroen comes out ahead. He won't be in the majors at all in 2005 unless something drastic happens, but PECOTA certainly thinks he has talent. How he bounces back from the torn ligament in his left wrist that truncated his '04 season will determine whether he retains his prospect status.

  • Bull&#!: With Beltran on board, the Mets can expect to mash a little bit, and Pedro Martinez wearing blue and orange means that the other starters, with nary an ace among them, now have an outside shot at filling the shoes they're wearing. But Martinez's biggest problem is endurance, and that leads the Mets right into the heart of their biggest problem: the bullpen.

    What does PECOTA think of this crowd? Some of what it cranks out might surprise you:

    
    Player                 ERA     EqERA
    Heath Bell             3.55     3.84
    Mike DeJean            3.97     4.29
    Bartolome Fortunato    4.09     4.42
    Matt Ginter            4.57     4.94
    Felix Heredia          4.28     4.62
    Braden Looper          3.48     3.76
    
    We've shown you both the ERA projection and the Equivalent ERA projection to emphasize the effect of Shea Stadium. It's nothing special, but it's no horror show, especially if minor-league veteran Heath Bell emerges as PECOTA expects him to.

    Would New Yorkers feel so nervous about the Met bullpen if it had an name-brand closer at the back end? Closers are nice, but their impact may be more psychological than real. Looper had his best season in '04, with a dramatic improvement in his control, so he's an asset in the ninth inning. The Met pen is low on star power, but has some depth thereafter. If a reliever is what will separate the Mets from the postseason, then they will have plenty of time to correct that during June and July.

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Premium Article Prospectus Matchups: M... (02/01)
<< Previous Column
Prospectus Triple Play... (01/28)
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Prospectus Triple Play... (02/04)
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Premium Article Prospectus Today: Samm... (02/02)

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