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August 5, 2005

Prospectus Notebook

Friday Edition

by Baseball Prospectus

New York Mets: Is there life after Manny Ramirez for the Mets? In his excellent analysis of the blockbuster non-trade, rumored to send Ramirez, Tampa Bay closer Danys Baez and $15 million to the Mets, in return for mis-utilized centerfielder Mike Cameron and jewels of the Mets farm system Yusmeiro Petit and Lastings Milledge, Nate Silver declared: "No matter how you slice it, the deal looks like a terrible one for the Mets." By the methodology proposed in the article, the Mets would "lose" upwards of $15 million--even with the cash they'd have been receiving from the Red Sox--in terms of overpaying for Ramirez's expected performance over the remainder of his contract, losing the valuable rights to Cameron for the rest of his contract, and missing out on Milledge for his pre-free agency years. Given how much PECOTA likes Petit (and dislikes Baez), the trade didn't just look like a disaster for the Mets, it looked like an extinction level event.

So are we saying that Mets' GM Omar Minaya is a numbskull, or to put it more gently, a person who could have an educational discussion with Jessica Simpson about Pollo del Mar?

Not at all. There are a few different reasons why the Mets might be willing to take such a bath for Manny:

  • Parity--A whole lot of the NL seemed to be hovering around the .500 mark at the deadline, making it tempting for a team like the Mets to think they could contend this season. The Mets still have a 16% chance at the playoffs, according to our Playoff Odds Report, better than the Phillies, Marlins, Dodgers or Cubs. At the deadline, there was still the hope that Ramirez could ignite a playoff run, much like Carlos Beltran did for the Astros last season.

  • Disagreement with PECOTA's assessment of the players to be exchanged. PECOTA has the difference between Cameron and Ramirez as only 0.8 wins above replacement over the rest of the season, and even including Baez, wouldn't consider the trade to give the Mets more than a two-game improvement down the stretch. However, recent performance could lead the Mets' GM to credit Ramirez as a much larger improvement over Cameron, seeing how the rightfielder slumped to a .225/.259/.405 performance over the last month, while the Red Sox leftfielder cranked out a .272/.404/.654 in July--when he was willing to take the field. Another reason Minaya might disagree with our projections is because so much of Cameron's value, per PECOTA, is tied to his defense. However, this season Cameron's leather has been unimpressive--good for only a 94 Rate2 as a rightfielder.

  • Marketing--As detailed in the New York Times Magazine, the Mets have made a conscious effort to appeal to the Latino community in the Minaya era, in everything from marketing to player acquisition. Manny Ramirez is not only one of the biggest Latino stars in the game, he's a New York City icon who played his high school ball in Washington Heights. Throughout his career he's had the support of New York's substantial Dominican community.

Analysts from Bill James straight through Alan Schwarz have questioned the effect that any one player has on a team's attendance totals, which would seem to douse the idea that paying $45 million for Manny Ramirez over the next three seasons is shrewd marketing. That is, until you consider marketing to the Hispanic community as targeting a coveted demographic for new team-owned television venture.

Would such a strategy be worth Manny's expensive contract, and the risk of a serious decline? We don't have the data to make such a determination--but you'd have to think someone in the Mets' front office just might.

As the Mets proceed, Manny-less, down the stretch, the team is a grab-bag of good news and bad news. Pedro Martinez is leading the NL in strikeouts, and on a pace to eclipse the 220 inning mark for the first time since 1998. On the other hand, Beltran isn't even living up to his tenth percentile PECOTA projection, with an EqA of .260. Jose Reyes leads the majors in outs made, but at least that means he has stayed healthy enough to lead the league in a counting stat. When the surprises are so evenly mixed with the disappointments, it's the earmark of a .500 team.

--Derek Jaques

Texas Rangers: Alfonso Soriano was seemingly in three places at once this past weekend. He was in Flushing wearing the other blue pinstripes, he was in Minneapolis checking for the next Atmosphere show, he was in Chicago studying his horticulture. But when the Rangers trading carousel ran out of quarters, Soriano was still in the blue, white, and scarlet trying to sweep the Blue Jays. Why? Will Carroll mentioned that the Rangers wanted a Colon package, and in the end no one was willing to give the Rangers that. While the Rangers can't be blamed for trying to leverage their best chip for all they could, did the Rangers get the short end by not moving him at all?

We can not say for certain that the Rangers made a mistake holding on to Soriano, because the packages that were bandied about were too complex. Francisco Liriano or Lastings Milledge may have been the object of Texas' affection, but is it as simple as comparing their futures to Soriano's? Not quite. These were players who were part of proposed package deals, and there were likely a few different variables upon which each proposal hinged. So in that vein, we can't say that the Rangers have more value in Soriano than they would have in any potential trade bounty.

However, we can look at this in a different light. Specifically, how much will Soriano cost next year, in his own light and in comparison with "untouchable" prospect Ian Kinsler. We know for certain the floor for Soriano's salary should he and the Rangers go to arbitration. In Tom Gorman's exhaustive piece on salary arbitration, we find the following rule:

No club may submit a salary figure that is less than 80% of the player's previous year's salary (and 70% of his salary two years' previous).
Since we know that Soriano makes $7,500,000 this year and made $5,400,000 in 2004, the Rangers can submit a figure no lower than $3,780,000. Not that the Rangers would actually do this; we just want to set up some parameters. The arbitration award is likely to be far higher than that:

Year   MLVr   VORP    AVG/OBP/SLG
2004   .024   39.8   .280/.324/.484
2005   .101   32.1   .279/.315/.539

Soriano is having a better year with the stick in 2005, and the Rangers will likely be making up the difference with their checkbooks come winter. Not only is he having a better year than 2004, but Soriano's representatives could also argue that he deserves a significantly higher salary, based on his "special accomplishments." Again, we turn to Mr. Gorman:
This shall not limit the ability of a Player or his representative, because of special accomplishment to argue the equal relevance of salaries of Players without regard to service, and the arbitration panel shall give whatever weight to such argument as is deemed appropriate" (emphasis added). Essentially the player's representative can argue that the player's accomplishments are so unique as to demand comparison to players outside the designated group of comparable players.
Helping Soriano in this type of argument will be the fact that there are no good recent comparable players. Only three players actually went to arbitration last year, and David Eckstein in 2004 serves as the most recent middle infielder comp. Since Eckstein isn't in Soriano's class, the Rangers will have a hard time saying "Soriano is not special, he's just like Player X" and pointing to that player's arbitration settlement.

While it has been noted that Soriano's glove is holding him back overall, that evidence may not come up in an arbitration hearing given that airtight defensive analysis has not been discovered. The bottom line is that Soriano is likely to earn in excess of $10,000,000 in 2006 if he and the Rangers opt for arbitration.

Ian Kinsler on the other hand, will be making the league minimum in 2006. Kinsler has not put together the perfect season in Oklahoma this year, but when you're knocking 18 homers in a park with park factors of 930, 931, and 940 in the last three years respectively, chances are you're ready for the next step. So who will be more valuable? Using Nate Silver's unique PECOTA projections and Marginal Revenue Product formula, we can project their values:


Player    WARP          MRP
Soriano    6.1   $13.054 million
Kinsler    3.3    $7.062 million

Soriano projects out to a figure that may not be an unreasonable outcome of arbitration, and the Rangers could plausibly end up with some value using these figures. However, if Kinsler will be worth over $7,000,000, and will make less than $1,000,000, is that not that a better deal? Don't the Rangers have an obligation to use the difference in these two player's salaries to build a pitching staff? Looking at their 2005 staff, the answer would seem to be a resounding yes. And perhaps they will, as they will have an opportunity to deal him in the off-season. For now, the Rangers are left with the "most overrated player in baseball," and less than optimal payroll allocations.

--Paul Swydan

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