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February 4, 2005

Prospectus Today

Looking Mournfully at the Calendar...

by Joe Sheehan

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Sometimes it seems like pitchers and catchers will just never get here…

  • The Dodgers finally got Norihiro Nakamura to come east. The Japanese third baseman signed a minor-league contract with the team, two years after walking away from an agreement to play with the Mets for $3.5 million a year.

    His value dropped considerably in the intervening years. Nakamura, 31, is past what was pretty much a Mike Schmidt peak in Japan, where he averaged 42 homers a year from 2000-02 with defense and walks. His last two seasons were a big dropoff from those levels, with lines of .236/.357/.459 and .274/.390/.468. With good power, patience and a high strikeout rate, Nakamura actually resembles the current Dodgers third baseman, Jose Valentin. Nakamura is not a Japanese star coming over so much as he is a cheap replacement for Jose Hernandez, someone who can keep Valentin from facing the left-handed pitching that he has never been able to handle.

    Given the pool of players available for what is a pretty important job--Valentin has to be protected, and his defense at third base is an open question--signing Nakamura is an excellent low-risk gamble.

  • ESPN.com does their Hot Stove Heaters a bit differently than they did back when we would do a half-dozen of them. They're not for everyone, but I give them credit for taking a new approach to the concept. It's not always easy.

    This piece about Vladimir Guerrero's throwing arm, by Eric Neel, is an example of the new format. Neel is one of the best things about Page 2, a quality writer who gets the stat side and can also pull off Sunday-magazine features.

    I mention all of this just so I can bring up Jesse Barfield. Barfield had the best applied throwing arm I've ever seen on an outfielder. Guerrero's and Bo Jackson's may both have been stronger, but Barfield is the guy I'd want throwing out a baserunner.

    There's one play that clinches it for me. In the summer of 1991, a dreadful Yankee team was playing a Sunday Night Baseball game in Seattle. This was the nadir of Yankee baseball in my consciousness, as even the frustrating '80s teams had been competitive and featured great players. This was the Mel Hall/Alvaro Espinoza era, a time when Jeff Johnson and Wade Taylor looked like the future. Not good times. Bad times. (I owe Bill a dollar.)

    Anyway, on May 5, the Yankees were playing the Mariners in a game that looked like it would never end. In the bottom of the 14th, tied at three, the Mariners got singles from catcher Matt Sinatro and Omar Vizquel with one out to give them first-and-third. Greg Briley then roped a single to right…and Barfield gunned down Sinatro at the plate.

    Now, Matt Sinatro ran about as well as you'd think he would, which may mitigate the greatness of this feat for you. It doesn't for me. Barfield took a clean single to right field and gunned down a runner trying to score from third base to keep the game alive.

    That, my friends, is an arm.

  • If Magglio Ordonez signs for anything close to what Scott Boras is apparently asking for--five years at more than $10 million per--then the signing team is completely insane. Ordonez had a terrific five-year peak for the White Sox, developing power and plate discipline to go with the .300 batting average he showed up in the majors with.

    However, he didn't become a starter until he was 26, so his Sox seasons were his peak years. He's 31 now, has already lost most, if not all, of his speed, and he missed the second half of last season with bone marrow edema, which isn't exactly a pulled hamstring. He's undergone a series of procedures, including one in Austria, and while people have talked to his doctors, no one has seen him play baseball since June.

    Even if Ordonez were to receive a clean bill of health, the five-year contract for more than $50 million would be a huge risk, because players decline from where he is. Add in the injury risk, and the chance that this contract would end up as an albatross is huge. You can address some of that in the contract, but what do you do when Ordonez is healthy, but slips to .280/.340/.460 with below-average defense in right field? You would think the team that's still paying Bobby Higginson would understand the risks involved in long-term deals to past-prime corner outfielders.

    There's a reason that Ordonez's suitors are coming from the pool of teams who have not been able to grab top-tier free agents this winter. Perhaps the Rangers and Tigers and Cubs should look around at each other, wonder where the Yankees, Dodgers and Red Sox are, and recognize why those teams aren't rushing to give Ordonez long-term, high-money deals.

  • As you've probably noticed, we've been doing a fair share of work with Football Outsiders. The staff over there, which takes a performance-analysis approach to the NFL, will be putting together Football Prospectus 2005. Their Super Bowl preview is up, and it's worth checking out.

    I say Pats, 27-20, myself, but I haven't been very good at figuring out the NFL this year.

Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Joe's other articles. You can contact Joe by clicking here

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Prospectus Triple Play... (02/04)
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The Week in Quotes: Ja... (02/07)

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