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December 20, 2007

Prospectus Today

Holiday Notes

by Joe Sheehan

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I'm not writing on the web as much at the moment because I'm scrambling to complete my work on Baseball Prospectus 2008. I hadn't worked on the book in a few years, instead focusing my off-season efforts on our web site. It's been fun getting back to writing player comments and team essays, and I'm excited about what our 13th annual will look like when it hits shelves in two months.

Today's piece will catch up on some of the stories I've missed over the last week or so. There doesn't seem to be a dead spot in the baseball calendar any more, no post-meetings lull in which few transactions are made. It's become a 365-day sport, which is a lot of fun for us fans and probably a positive for the game itself, but can pose a challenge to writers who wouldn't mind seeing everyone go sit on a beach for a week.

In no particular order…

  • This is a direct quote from an AP story: "The Colorado Rockies bolstered their pitching staff Wednesday by signing righty Kip Wells and lefty Mark Redman to one-year contracts."

    Really, now? "Bolstered"? From Dictionary.com, verb usage, second listing: "to add to, support, or uphold." So I guess the word is appropriate, but there's the implication that these adds have actual value, and I fail to see why two 40-man roster spots and $4.1 million have to be spent on this:

    Kip Redman
    2005: 360.1 IP, 5.00 ERA
    2006: 211.1 IP, 5.88 ERA
    2007: 204 IP, 6.09 ERA

    Where exactly do the Rockies see these trends headed?

  • I got lots of e-mail on last week's piece on the Astros/Orioles trade, most of which included one question: "What about Luke Scott?" I had analyzed the trade without mentioning him, not because I forgot about him, but because I didn't see him as affecting the value of the package. Scott is 29, with a baseball age of 30 next year, and he's a corner outfielder who can't be moved to center field. He doesn't have upside, and all that should matter to the Orioles, desperately needing a complete rebuild, is a player's upside.

    That's not to say that Scott is valueless. He has a career line of .273/.366/.516 in a bit more than a season's worth of plate appearances while playing home games in a park that's unkind to lefty batters. He has shown a very good walk rate and pretty good power in the majors, and he can play either corner spot reasonably well. He hasn't shown that he can't hit lefties-.259/.372/.431 in limited playing time-so he might be a viable full-time option. Of course, this all assumes that he will sustain the performance he had in his age-28 and age-29 seasons (and while moving to the stronger league) as he goes into his thirties. Most players decline.

    Even if he does keep hitting for a .290 EqA or so, what's the point? So he's a five-win player, maybe three wins above the dreck they've run out there, pushing the Orioles from 71 wins to 74. If he plays well he'll get expensive, and by the time the Orioles are competitive again, he'll be approaching free agency, or retirement, or maybe even Social Security.

    Yes, he's an upgrade in left field in the short term, in part because the Orioles have populated left field over the past few seasons with utility infielders, radio-station contest winners, and the occasional farm animal. If you compare Scott's only season of regular playing time with the worst year of Miguel Tejada's career, you get to say that Scott is "better." The Orioles, however, don't fix what ails them by making moves for 30-year-old corner outfielders, which is why no matter how well Scott plays for them, he's irrelevant in evaluating the trade. The Orioles needed to infuse their system with talent in a Tejada trade, and instead they added a little bit of upside and some depth. It's more going-nowhere work from the masters of the craft.

  • I had a similar reaction to the A's decision to trade Dan Haren for six of the Diamondbacks' non-superstud minor leaguers. If the idea is to deal Haren at the top of his value, retrench for the opening of the new park in 2010, and restock a thin system, fine, but don't you need to do that by adding at least one of the top, oh, 15 prospects in baseball?

    Well, this is why you ask Kevin Goldstein about prospects. Kevin pointed out that while the Diamondbacks' package didn't contain the one bright, shining star that you could hang the trade on, it did completely revamp the A's minor-league system; post-trade, three of the A's top five prospects, and four of their top seven, came over in this deal. The A's didn't get Justin Upton or a PTBNL that might become Max Scherzer, but as he put it, they got "everyone else." That's a haul, as it turns out, and for a team that hasn't drafted well lately, a boon.

    For the Diamondbacks, this trade makes them the favorite in the NL West. Haren effectively replaces Livan Hernandez, which is a three- to four-win upgrade in the rotation. He's a bit like D'backs' ace Brandon Webb in that he's a durable power righty who throws strikes. Haren doesn't keep the ball down as well as Webb does, and the move from Oakland to Phoenix could show up in his home-run rate and ERA. That difference is the difference between one pitcher being a #1 and the other being a #2. Together, though, they make the Diamondbacks a dangerous team; if the Snakes figure out how to keep Randy Johnson upright for 140 innings, including 25 in October, there's every chance they could end next year in a dogpile.

  • Carlos Silva to the Mariners, four years, something on the order of $44 million. I get that it's the going to rate for a league-average starter these days, but I'm not sure why you rush out and spend it. Silva's groundball rate is good, but not the way Webb's or Chien-Ming Wang's is. He never strikes anyone out, he struggles to get lefties out, and he's thrown 200 innings twice in his life. Unlike, say, Randy Johnson, Silva also carries the possibility that he'll make 30 starts and just kill you in the process. I'll always take a pitcher who might be good or might be unavailable over the guy who might be good or might be bad. Silva might be a league-average starter, but that's his upside. There's no way for the Mariners to win this deal, and adding him doesn't make them a threat to the Angels in the AL West.

  • Hey, here's a surprise: Congress is looking for easy TV time on an issue with no downside on which they have no grounds to get involved. Who would imagine that Henry Waxman would take an opportunity to get himself on ESPN? It's a shocker, I tell you.

    I've written about the ridiculousness of Congressional involvement on this stuff so many times that I bore myself, so I'm just going to re-run the closing:

    If the argument is that the government should get involved in private behavior for the protection of the young, aren't there better subsets of adults to begin that process with? Or put more bluntly, what is more damaging to more of America's children: baseball players' consumption of PEDs, or parents' consumption of alcohol? Would you affect more lives by forcing baseball players to prove they're not using steroids, or by forcing parents to prove they're not drinking?

    Until that question is answered to my satisfaction, I'd like Congress to go do some real work and stay the hell out of something where they have no interest or expertise.

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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The Class of 2008 (12/20)

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