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January 18, 2006

Prospectus Notebook

Dodgers, Cardinals

by Baseball Prospectus

LOS ANGELES DODGERS
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While the pretend LA team seems preoccupied with their courtroom battle, the real Los Angeles team has been busy making moves this off-season. Let's take a look at the moves made since we left off, focusing only on Major League acquisitions:

  • Traded Milton Bradley and Antonio Perez to the A's for Andre Ethier

    That Billy Beane and Co. were able to get Perez thrown into a deal that was so clearly a PR/team chemistry move makes it that much worse for L.A. By combining Perez with Marco Scutaro, the A's now have a very adept offense/defense combo of infield utilitymen. Bradley brings all of his Bradley-esqueness to the Oakland outfield, where he should be a good addition as well. The Dodgers' end? Well, Ethier did revive his career in Texas this year, but prior to this season he had hit just eight home runs in 622 professional at-bats, and his 18 in a full season at Midland are a mark against, not for, his prospect status. Ethier isn't one of the Dodgers' upper echelon prospects, and the deal leaves more 25-man roster holes to fill. A loss for the Dodgers.

  • Signed Bill Mueller

    This was an interesting contract for two reasons. First, that Mueller's "signing bonus" will be paid in 2008, after his contract has expired. Second, that a player of Mueller's caliber was able to secure not only a limited no-trade clause, but also an "assignment bonus" trade kicker if he is traded. Mueller brings a lot that the Dodgers did not get from their third basemen in 2005. Mueller's career Rate of 100 will better the '05 Dodger third base mark of 94. Offensively, the Dodgers ranked 17th in third-base VORP production (13.5), and Mueller should help boost that mark as well, should he stay healthy. That, and not his ability, has always been the big question mark. The Red Sox either were very fortunate and/or managed Mueller very well in this regard, but we're still talking about a player who played in 111 games or less in three of the past five seasons and has creakier knees than Dot Matrix.

  • Signed INF Nomar Garciaparra to a one-year contract

    Joe Sheehan already has this one pretty well covered.

  • Signed Kenny Lofton

    This deal seems like a good one taken in isolation, as long as Lofton is able to replicate his 2005 production. But at age 39, and coming off a season that saw him surpass his 90th percentile PECOTA forecast, is that likely? Certainly, the Giants of recent past have made a living signing veterans the industry considered to be washed up, and Ned Colletti was part of that braintrust, so maybe he saw something last year in Lofton that points to a deal worth $3.85 million. Lofton was given almost $1 million more than Bradley earned in his '06 contract from the A's, which should make for a fun little comparison as the year progresses.

  • Signed Brett Tomko

    Only once in his career has he achieved a sub 4.00 ERA or DERA. That year was 1997, his rookie season. In his 1427 1/3 career IP, he has amassed a grand total of 2.4 SNLVA. He has pitched at least 190 innings in each of the last four seasons, and that's what the Dodgers are paying for. At a salary of $1.2 million or even $2.5 million, maybe that's not so bad. At $3.6 million or $4.1 million--his respective salaries in 2006 and 2007--his salary becomes greater than his utility, and Tomko becomes a poor investment. Tomko simply isn't that good.

  • Acquired RHP Jae Seo and LHP Tim Hamulack from the New York Mets in exchange for RHP Duaner Sanchez and RHP Steve Schmoll

    This was a good move for the Dodgers, as Mr. Jaffe pointed out in his latest chat. Hamulack and Schmoll aside, Seo had roughly twice as much value as Sanchez last year, and would have been the Dodgers best pitcher last year.

  • Acquired RHP Danny Baez and RHP Lance Carter from the Devil Rays in exchange for RHP Edwin Jackson and LHP Chuck Tiffany

    Huh? Certainly Baez isn't without his merits. He finished 11th in WXRL and 14th in ARP in 2005, after finishing 25th and 31st in those categories in 2004. However, while Baez' strikeout rate has been declining, his walk rate has been increasing. Carter's story is not much better. In 2005, he was one of 111 pitchers who pitched more than 50 innings. Of the 111, Carter ranked 94th in ARP (-1.1), 105th in WXRL (-.466), and 98th in LEV (.78). He almost walked more than he struck out, and he surrendered more than a hit an inning. What's more, if the Dodgers thought they needed help in their bullpen, then why did they trade Sanchez? To give up the likes of Jackson and Tiffany makes the trade even more curious. Jackson may not have the luster he once did, but last year was only his fourth year of pitching. In addition, there is a case to be made that the previous Dodgers regime rushed him to the Majors, as he went from A ball at 18, to AA and then the Majors at 19. When the Dodgers sent him back to Double-A Jacksonville during '05, he did show improvement. Tiffany is also a pretty good find, has struck out 279 batters in 211.6 innings, and will only be 21 next year. Tampa's -41.11 starting pitcher VORP in 2005 ranked 29th, ahead of only Kansas City, and picking up Jackson and Tiffany should help them dramatically in this regard in years to come.

--Paul Swydan

ST. LOUIS CARDINALS
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Immortality: Former Cardinals reliever Bruce Sutter was elected to the Hall of Fame by the Baseball Writers Association of America. On his 13th ballot, Sutter added 56 votes to cross the 75% line and become the first pure reliever ever honored in this fashion.

In what was a short career, Sutter came to prominence with the Cubs, winning a Cy Young Award for them in 1979. It was with the Cardinals, however, that he won a championship. Acquired in exchange for Leon Durham, Ken Reitz and Ty Waller in the winter of 1980, Sutter helped the Cardinals to the best record in the NL East in strike-shortened 1981, then threw more than 100 innings in 1982 as the Cardinals won the East by three games. He came up big for the Cards in the NLCS, throwing 4 1/3 shutout innings against the Braves, with a win and a save in the three-game sweep. His World Series wasn't as memorable (four ER in 7 2/3 IP), but it was he who got the last out in Game Seven, helping the Cards to their first title since 1967.

The debate rages over whether Sutter is a worthy Hall of Famer, but there's no arguing that at his peak he was a dominant relief pitcher. He is a key part of the Cardinals' history, and now, a recipient of the game's highest honor, the second member of that 1982 team (along with Ozzie Smith) in the Hall. His plaque will show him wearing a Cardinals hat.

Answers: In the last Cards Notebook, we looked at the three holes the Cardinals would have to spend their offseason filling: two outfield slots flanking Jim Edmonds and one in the rotation. They did just that, albeit in a low-profile fashion that carries a lot of risk.

First, the Cardinals made a minor deal at the winter meetings, swapping Ray King to the Rockies in exchange for Larry Bigbie and Aaron Miles. Bigbie was a disappointment in two time zones last season, putting up a combined .239/.301/.346 line for the Orioles and Rockies in his age-27 season. It was his second down year in a row since his .303/.365/.456 performance in '03 for the Os. Bigbie has little star potential, and his complete failure to hit after a trade to Colorado last year has to be taken seriously. However, he's a good defensive outfielder with some doubles power and a decent walk rate, and he'll cost just $900,000 in 2006. It's an infinitely better idea than signing Jacque Jones would have been.

Not as low-risk, but unfortunately about as low-upside, was the decision to invest $15 million in three years of Juan Encarnacion. Like Bigbie, Encarnacion is considered a good defensive outfielder (although his Davenport numbers do not reflect this--below average in every season since 1997, and -32 FRAA for his career). He had a batting-average spike in '05, jumping to a .287 mark that was the second-best of his career, a figure that drove his .287/.349/.447 overall line and a career-high .280 EqA. The rest of his game remained unchanged, however; Encarnacion doesn't walk enough or hit for enough power to be an asset unless he's hitting .280 or higher, and he's not shown an ability to do that consistently. He's also not a threat on the bases any longer: 11 SB/9 CS the past two seasons combined.

Encarnacion has the better reputation and the more recent history of productivity, but it's Bigbie who's likely to help the Cardinals more in '06. The most likely scenario, however, is that neither player has much of an impact, and that Walt Jocketty has to scramble in the summer to fix at least one hole on an outfield corner.

Perhaps the most intriguing puzzle piece--and certainly the biggest one--is Sidney Ponson. Released by the Orioles following two seasons of lousy pitching and even worse personal behavior, Ponson represents the latest opportunity for Dave Duncan to resuscitate a veteran pitcher's career. The heavy-set right-hander doesn't have the talent to be Chris Carpenter redux, but if he can stay out of trouble off the field and take the mound every fifth day (prior to '05, durability was Ponson's main strength), he can be an asset for a Cards' team that has little in the way of rotation depth. There's no guarantee here; Ponson's peripherals have been mediocre since the first half of 2003, he's overweight, and it may be that not even the great baseball environment in St. Louis can get him to change his lifestyle. But the combination of a relatively talented pitcher with Duncan is familiar enough to make this marriage one of the more intruiging subplots of the spring.

The Cardinals have a top-heavy roster, with three of the brightest stars in the National League in Albert Pujols, Scott Rolen and Jim Edmonds. When you start that far ahead of the competition, just putting a league-average team on the field everywhere else is enough to push you into the high 90s in wins. (The Seattle Mariners of the mid-to-late 1990s, the last team structured similarly, failed to do this in some years.) Bigbie, Encarnacion and Ponson won't be impact players, but if they can just be average ones--and all have shown that ability--the Cardinals will be better equipped to ride their stars to a third straight division title.

--Joe Sheehan

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