September 16, 2005
DET, LAA, SDDetroit Tigers: As the Tigers stumble to the end of a season that should be considered neither a disappointment nor a success, the team's late-season struggles are beginning to take their toll. Losers of 16 of their last 22, and nearly two months removed from their last day at .500, the Tigers will end the year right around where reasonable predictions had them: 10 to 15 games below .500.
The team's recent poor play is causing tension, though. As Lynn Henning reports, rumors are spreading about who may not be back in 2006, most notably Ivan Rodriguez, who is said to be frustrated with the team's lack of success. Remember that Rodriguez left the reigning world champion Florida Marlins as a free agent to sign with the Tigers, who were then coming off a 43-119 season. The team's 29-game improvement last year and consolidation year in 2005 represent a reasonable path for an organization mired in failure since the tail end of the Lou Whitaker/Alan Trammell era. The Tigers might, if everything goes well, be able to contend for a playoff spot in 2006.
So let's make this clear: if Rodriguez wants to go, the Tigers should do everything in their power to help him leave. Hire movers, get him a relocation consultant, pay for his flights to various cities so he can negotiate terms and find housing. If necessary, tell him they plan to cut payroll and shoot for contention in 2008. Maybe they can get his neighbors to egg his house, or have the paperboy begin depositing the morning news in the pool.
Getting out from under the last two years of Rodriguez's contract would be a boon for the Tigers. Rodriguez is in decline, no surprise for a catcher who was worked very hard in his 20s, and who has caught a whopping 1,803 games in his career. Rodriguez turns 34 this offseason, and the track record of high-volume catchers past that age is terrible. Most catchers who carry that kind of workload are unable to play regularly behind the plate--or anywhere else--after 34; the ones who do generally perform at a reduced level.
Beyond the general trends, consider Rodriguez's recent performance. He has slipped from 7.6 Wins Above Replacement in '03 with the Marlins to 6.6 last year, and is at 5.0 this morning, on pace for his worst complete season since 1993. Much of Rodriguez's value is tied up in his batting average, which at .286 will likely be his lowest since that '93 campaign. He abandoned his mid-career discovery of the joys of ball four this year as well; with just eight walks, he's on pace to become just the tenth player since 1888 to walk fewer than 10 times in a full season of play. He's also in sight of the record for lowest OBP-BA over a full season (since 1889), according to Clay Davenport:
Gap OBP BA Year Ozzie Guillen .010 .273 .263 1996 Ozzie Guillen .011 .284 .273 1991 Candy LaChance .011 .314 .303 1901 Lave Cross .012 .304 .292 1903 Dave Orr .013 .340 .327 1889 George Stovall .013 .259 .246 1909 Don Kolloway .013 .293 .280 1946 Hobe Ferris .013 .254 .241 1907 Virgil Stallcup .014 .268 .254 1949 Hy Myers .014 .331 .317 1922Rodriguez' OBP of .296 is just 10 points higher than his BA.
Rodriguez is a high-risk player who's showing signs of decline and his due to make $19 million over the next two seasons (includes a buyout of 2008). He is exactly the kind of player you want to trade: his perceived value is higher than his actual value.
The major stumbling block to a deal is the absence of a viable catcher in the system. Backup Vance Wilson isn't capable of assuming a regular role, no one thinks of Chris Shelton as a regular catcher, and there are no catchers in the system who could assume a role of any kind on the 2006 team. Even at that, however, offloading the risks and the cost associated with Rodriguez would be a net positive, and the sooner a deal is made, the sooner the Tigers can work on patching the hole created by his absence. They'll be a better team for it.
San Diego Padres: The Pads have the best catcher trio in the NL West this season:
Team Player PA VORP EqA SDN Ramon Hernandez 332 17.8 .261 SDN Robert Fick 215 10.7 .279 SDN Miguel Olivo 113 10.7 .293 ARI Kelly Stinnett 123 10.7 .286 ARI Koyie Hill 84 -0.8 .220 ARI Chris Snyder 339 -5.8 .205 COL Todd Greene 120 3.2 .240 COL J.D. Closser 260 2.8 .235 COL Danny Ardoin 201 -1.9 .221 LAN Dioner Navarro 146 7.0 .272 LAN Jason Phillips 419 2.5 .250 LAN Paul Bako 47 1.2 .232 SFN Mike Matheny 439 13.6 .245 SFN Yamid Haad 23 -4.5 .183 SFN Justin Knoedler 5 0.1 .252With the very distinct possibility that Ramon Hernandez could be leaving this off-season, the Padres find themselves in a surprisingly enviable position. Of particular note are the early returns from the Miguel Olivo trade. Traded to the Pads just before the trading deadline, the well-traveled catcher is doing well in San Diego. Comparing his numbers to his stay in Seattle this year provides a little perspective, as he has eight more hits in 48 less at bats. Still, he has found a home in San Diego, and the Pads do not have to fear the reaper when Eric Goldschmidt comes calling this off-season. This is great news, because Hernandez stands to make a good amount of coin in what will be a weak free agent market for catchers. Add in that he recovered quickly from wrist surgery, is hitting well since his return (12-27), and will getting some free publicity as Fox will be replaying "The Bunt" ad nauseum this October.
With Hernandez back in the lineup the Pads have been able to slide Fick back over to first, giving the lineup more depth. Depth has been a big issue for the Padres this year, as they have been essentially riding Jack Johnson and Tom O'Leary, otherwise known as Brian Giles and Jake Peavy, all season. With Peavy now ailing any added punch on offense will be extremely important.
With a 96% chance of winning the division, it would take a collapse of epic proportions for the Friars to miss the playoffs. All of the collapse talk has been overblown--neither the Diamondbacks, Dodgers, nor Giants have had even a 10% chance of making the playoffs during September. The Pads also don't have to worry about jockeying for position--they will be the number three seed heading into the NLDS. This means that their fate will be determined by the wild-card winner. Should Houston take the wild card, they will be headed to St. Louis, otherwise they will be headed to Atlanta to play the Braves. The good news for Pads fans is that the Pads have fared well versus both opponents--5-1 versus Atlanta and 4-3 versus St. Louis. In general, the Padres have fared well against the NL's finest, going 23-19 versus NL squad's at/over .500--but this includes an 0-6 mark versus Philly. If Peavy can keep it together, the Pads could head into October at full strength, now that Pedro Astacio has been activated, and they also have Adam Eaton, Khalil Greene, and Hernandez back in the lineup. A healthy squad of Friars could make things interesting this October, and possibly make up for a bittersweet regular season.