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November 9, 2005

Prospectus Notebook

Diamondbacks, Red Sox, Cubs

by Baseball Prospectus

ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS
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New GM Josh Byrnes didn't even have one week at his new post before he had to respond to unsubstantiated trade rumors. This particular rumor, perpetrated first in the LA Times featured three principals: Manny Ramirez, Darin Erstad, and Troy Glaus. Byrnes squashed it immediately.

Byrnes is known for his preparation in evaluating all potential decisions, so that he put the kibosh on this rumor came as no surprise:

Arizona gets:
Other players & Prospects from Boston
Other players & Prospects from Los Angeles of Anaheim

Boston gets:
Darin Erstad
Troy Glaus

Los Angeles of Anaheim gets:
Manny Ramirez

The trade is hard to break down definitively because the compensation for the Diamondbacks was never made clear. We can look at what losing Glaus would mean to the Diamondbacks. Glaus turned in a respectable, but not spectacular season with the bat. His 45.4 VORP ranked 2nd on the D-Backs, 29th overall in the NL, and 6th overall among MLB third basemen. However, Glaus is no longer putting up the "Troy Glaus" numbers he put up in 2000 and 2002, when he was superior both offensively and defensively. His poor defensive performance, according to BP's defensive metrics, meant that he was only Arizona's 7th best player:


2005 Diamondbacks
Player           BRAR   BRAA   FRAR   FRAA   PRAR    WARP1
Brandon Webb       -9    -12      3      2     85      7.7
Craig Counsell     20      0     35     13      0      6.1
Javier Vazquez     -2     -4      1      0     65      5.9
Shawn Green        35     15     17      3      0      5.8
Luis Gonzalez      36     16     13      2      0      5.4
Chad Tracy         41     25      8      0      0      5.4
Troy Glaus         42     24      3    -10      0      5.0

All seven players are under contract for next season, with Glaus due $9.25 Million. If the D-Backs were to trade Glaus, they could move Chad Tracy to third, leaving an outfield configuration of Shawn Green, Luis Gonzalez, and Carlos Quentin. Though Quentin may not start the season in Arizona, this would seem a fair outlook for the '06 season in general, as Quentin has little left to prove in Tucson (.301/.422/.520, 72 BB/71 K in '05). If he were to not start in Phoenix, the team could use Luis Terrero or Scott Hairston, among others as a temporary placeholder.

So what would this look like on the field? Using MLVr, we can project how many runs each configuration would be worth:


Pos  Current    05 MLVr   06 MLV*   Possible   05 MLVr   06 MLV*
3B   Glaus         .185       30    Tracy         .267       43
OF   Green         .138       22    Green         .138       22
OF   Gonzalez      .121       20    Gonzalez      .121       20
OF   Tracy         .267       43    Quentin       .111^      18
                     Total   115                    Total   103

* Assuming 162 games played
^ Estimated translation based on 2005 minor lg stats (available soon)

The hypothetical difference here, 12 runs, is minimal and likely not worth the $9 million dollar difference in salary between Glaus and Quentin.

There are other benefits to this deal as well. First, Byrnes, Gebhard, Rizzo, and Co. could take the money saved and spend it upgrading in other areas--the Snakes would do well to get some help on the mound. Second, there are the "other players and prospects" they would receive. LA of Anaheim has some top shelf prospects, and Boston's farm system is in much better shape today than it was two years ago. Given that Byrnes just came from Boston, he is the right guy to harvest that talent.

Byrnes has said he will be active as he reshapes the D'backs. Though he has squashed the Ramirez rumors on his end for now, the glacial pace at which the winter may progress in Boston should afford him time to examine any potential deal and revisit it. While it may be preferable for him to deal Gonzalez or Green and keep Glaus in the fold, Glaus has more appeal at this point and would bring a better bounty. Looking at this scenario though, one thing is clear: any trade involving Glaus will help make the Snakes a better team in 2006 and beyond, given that Tracy is flexible defensively, Quentin is waiting in the wings, and that Arizona could spend Glaus' salary elsewhere.

--Paul Swydan

BOSTON RED SOX
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The Theo Epstein soap opera has certainly been entertaining--coming, as it did, complete with a melodramatic "Together we can rule the Red Sox Nation as father and son!" revelation--but now that the dust has settled, the Beantowners find that they still have to do all the winter housekeeping that comes with the front office job. After all, just because one of the main players quits, doesn't mean that the Mind Game is over.

Yeah, we plug because we care...

Whoever is chosen as the next General Manager in Boston is going to need some quick answers to some difficult questions:

  1. How much, if anything, do we pay Johnny Damon?

    The free agent market for center fielders is thin gruel this winter and, like it or not, Damon is likely the best thing out there:

    
    Free Agent CFs
    Name             Age   PA    VORP   WARP
    Johnny Damon     31   688    49.2    5.5
    Kenny Lofton     38   406    33.0    4.5
    Preston Wilson   30   576    24.9    2.9
    Bernie Williams  36   546     7.3    3.1
    
    
    The options available in trade aren't all that palatable, either--displaced center fielder Mike Cameron (VORP 22.5, WARP 2.4), the most frequently-mentioned name on the market, still has to prove that he is recovered from his season-ending collision with Carlos Beltran. Given that any substitute for Damon would have to face fan backlash for replacing one of the most popular Red Sox from the 2004 Championship team, it might be ill-advised to take chances on potentially-damaged goods.

    The question with re-signing Damon isn't so much what his 2006 performance is worth to the Red Sox, but will it be worth what they pay him for 2007, 2008, or even (gulp!) 2009? Here are Damon's WARP projections from his 2005 PECOTA player card:

    
             WARP   Attrition   Drop
    2005      7.2      1.8       0.0
    2006      5.7     13.0       5.4
    2007      5.1     21.7       8.0
    2008      4.0     40.0      19.8
    2009      3.0     52.0      30.1
    
    
    Damon's actual WARP in 2005 was 5.5, in part because of a spate of injuries that cost Damon both at the plate and in the field. PECOTA saw Damon performing up to that level through 2006, then falling off. The Attrition rate signifies the chance that a player's plate appearances will drop off by 50% or more, while the Drop rate gives his chances of disappearing from major league rosters altogether. Both rates take a huge jump between 2007 and 2008--PECOTA thinks that it's more likely than not that Damon isn't a full-time player in 2009, and gives a 30% chance that he isn't even in the league by then.

    In the end, the conundrum is so perplexing that the Red Sox might just wish they didn't have to field a center fielder at all this season. The Yankees would certainly go along with that...but the rest of the league might not be so accommodating.

  2. What do we do if Curt Schilling and Keith Foulke don't come back?

    Following up on some things we've discussed before, the injuries to Keith Foulke and Curt Schilling cost the Red Sox somewhere on the order of 13 wins, compared to their 2004 performances (Foulke lost 5.4 games' worth of value, as measured by WXRL, and Schilling 7.7 games by SNLVAR). Ensuring that there's at least one top starter in the rotation and an ace reliever in the pen should be a high priority for the next GM.

    While Schilling seemed somewhat recovered at the end of this season, going 3-2 with a 4.02 ERA in his last six starts, there's no telling if the soon-to-be 39 year old will return to his 2004 or even 2003 form next season. The options for landing a starting pitcher who can give the Red Sox what they received from Schilling in 2004 are limited--free agent Roger Clemens, would fit the bill, but will cost a ton of money and likely would be unwilling to leave the NL Champion Astros, even if the Red Sox offered a one-year contract in the $20 million range. The other top free agent pitcher, A.J. Burnett, has never approached Schilling's level of performance. Heck, he's been hard-pressed to approach David Wells's or Tim Wakefield's level of performance.

    Regarding Foulke, the next GM has to count on more than simple recovery from injury, as his poor performance in 2005 seems to have eroded the confidence of fans, management, and even the player himself. While we sometimes give short shrift to the so-called "closer mentality"--that is, the idea that some pitchers have a special mental quality that makes them uniquely suited to protect three-run leads in the ninth inning--we're not so ready to dismiss the value of self-confidence in any major leaguer's performance of their duties.

    The Sox likely won't have all season to determine Foulke's fitness for duty, since his option for 2007 becomes guaranteed after his 52nd appearance of the season.

    If Foulke can't return to his former glory, the question is whether or not to look within the organization for a replacement. On the free agent market, there are plenty of pitchers with provenů"closability," if you will. Billy Wagner, B.J. Ryan, even former Sox like Todd Jones and Ugueth Urbina (if he can shake those pesky attempted murder charges) are out there, for the right price. Internally, "unproven" but talented youngsters Jon Papelbon and 2005 first round pick Craig Hansen could be counted upon to pick up the slack.

  3. Where do we trade Manny?

    Short answer? Nowhere. This is just a dance that Manny Ramirez and the Sox have to go through from time to time. Now and then Manny feels glum and wants to be traded, the Sox go through the motions of accepting his request, and in the end they kiss and make up.

    The long answer? The good thing about being the Red Sox in this situation is that Ramirez's prospective suitors are the ones who have to get creative, most likely having to bring a third or even a fourth team into the negotiations to net the Red Sox the right amount of swag, and to perhaps pull a Mike Hampton-style deal where half of the league winds up paying some part of Ramirez's salary. More good news is that, because of the rise of Omar Minaya and Arte Moreno, at least two well-funded franchises look at Ramirez and see a marketable Latino superstar, rather than a malcontent with savant-like batting ability.

    As the Sox showed at last year's trade deadline, the key is that Boston's free to walk away if the ransom they're offered isn't great enough.

  4. What's the Blistex for?

    You'll have to find that out on your own. Anyone who wants to take Christina's suggestion and help out the next Red Sox GM out can simply send some Blistex to the Red Sox Offices on Yawkey way, care of Larry Lucchino. We kid because we care, too.

--Derek Jacques

CHICAGO CUBS
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It was a tough year on the North Side. The Cubs finished 10 games below PECOTA's projection of 89-73 and missed out on the eminently obtainable wild card berth. To make that underachievement more painful, the oft-abused second team of the second city turned into the antithesis of the stumbling Cubs, as the White Sox stole their rival's lovable persona and ascended to the top of the baseball universe. Early returns from the off-season have been similarly discouraging--Chicago threw three years and $15.5 million at closer Ryan Dempster, whose 33 saves gild a 4.83 career ERA and continued command issues (42 unintentional walks in 92 innings this year; 1.43 WHIP). On Tuesday, the Cubs also re-signed Neifi Perez for two years at $5 million, extending the union between Perez and manager Dusty Baker that was responsible for much of the Cubs' 2005 run-scoring woes (and perhaps a lost MVP opportunity for Derrek Lee).

Chicago has targeted free agent shortstop Rafael Furcal, and could still bring back Nomar Garciaparra for a short-term deal. Both would be key moves that would keep Perez out of the everyday lineup, but the team also has pressing issues in the outfield. If left alone, Matt Murton should capably man left field next season, but right field is empty after the club declined Jeromy Burnitz's $7 million 2006 option.

A bigger question lies in center field, which was a huge part of the 2005 collapse. Corey Patterson paced Chicago in negative VORP, totaling 10.6 runs below replacement in his 483 plate appearances. After his age-24 2004 season, in which he hit .266/.320/.452 and hiked his walk rate, optimism abounded for a breakout 2005. Patterson never got on track, however, and things grew sour when his frustration led to late-season apathy at the prospect of playing winter ball. Patterson, whose batting eye reverted to its old form this year, would certainly benefit from a fresh start in an environment not infused with Dusty Baker's free-swinging mantra. The Cubs seem committed to granting him a change of scenery rather than paying a sizeable arbitration reward (he received $2.8 million last season), and even with Patterson's value at an all-time low, could probably package the former phenom for some proven outfield help, with Juan Pierre a rumored possibility.

Have the Cubs learned anything from Patterson's organizational downfall? Consider his potential replacement, 20-year-old Felix Pie, who played at AA West Tennessee in 2005. Pie shares Patterson's position, left-handed bat, speed, prospect hype and, troublingly, lack of plate discipline. Here are the two players' aggregate minor league numbers (excluding Patterson's 2005 demotion to AAA).


Player    TPA   AVG  OBP  SLG HR SB CS UBB UBB%  K  UBB/K
Patterson 1420 .281 .336 .498 49 79 31  93 6.5  265  0.35
Pie       1545 .298 .357 .462 27 81 46 112 7.2  312  0.36

Patterson flashed more minor league power, while Pie has shown a greater ability to get on base. Much of that OBP is a product of batting average--Pie's high strikeout numbers, while not troubling in isolation, are an indication of a lack of strike-zone command when combined with his low unintentional walk rate. Adam Dunn struck out almost as much as Pie in the minors (18% of plate appearances to Pie's 20%) but had a 0.80 UBB/K ratio, which has carried over to success in the majors.

The Cubs called Patterson up to stay in mid-August 2001 at the age of 21, despite his .308 OBP and .698 OPS in AAA at the time. GM Jim Hendry felt pressure to advance Patterson because the team's regular center fielder, Gary Matthews, was an offensive sinkhole, and the Cubs were clinging to a slim lead over the Astros in the central. A similar situation could very well play out next year, with the tables turned on Patterson, as Hendry has said Pie will be given a shot to win the job. Just because Patterson's plate discipline stagnated after being rushed to Wrigley at age 21 doesn't mean Pie will also fall flat with the same treatment at the same age, but the Cubs would be wise to not tempt fate. Pie's minor league profile indicates he could certainly stand to get acquainted with hurlers in the Pacific Coast League, with the hopes that the fledgling tools-hound's natural progression includes greater discipline.

So where does that leave the Cubs in the outfield? The best free agent options are Johnny Damon and Brian Giles. Giles could conceivably man center for a time before switching to right if and when Pie merits the starting job or the Cubs deal for another flycatcher, and would significantly bolster an offense that ranked last in the National League in walks and 11th in OBP. Chicago's focus on Furcal likely means Giles and Damon will sign elsewhere, leaving a lower tier of players like Jacque Jones, Preston Wilson, Juan Encarnacion, and Kenny Lofton. In the event that the Cubs land Furcal, Garciaparra could potentially move to the outfield in order to stay in Chicago, an option that seems outlandish until you consider an alternative scenario with Jerry Hairston Jr. patrolling an outfield corner. The lack of suitable options makes it imperative the Cubs creatively and aggressively address the construction of their 2006 outfield, so they aren't left with the temptation of relying on a still-maturing Pie to shoulder the premature load that Patterson unsuccessfully bore.

--Caleb Peiffer

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