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May 16, 2008

UTK Wrap

Not Just the Usual Suspects

by Will Carroll

I thought I'd left the days of doing Time Value of Money calculations behind, but the spate of recent low-service, high-dollar contracts is getting me back to the days when my lack of math skills probably cost me some commission. The signings of Evan Longoria, Scott Kazmir, Ryan Braun, and others are turning the way we think about low-service baseball players on its head. These deals go well beyond what former Indians GM John Hart was trying to do in the early '90s, which was mostly centered on achieving cost certainty and avoiding arbitration. Instead, these contracts are more about fairly valuing talent and avoiding distractions with the cost certainty a nice secondary value. I'm sure we'll see more of these deals as they work out far more often than not. The interesting thing is taking a look at the values of these deals versus the MORP calculated by Nate Silver's PECOTA projections. In almost every case, the teams are getting the better end of the deal, though it's not as if becoming a multi-millionaire is ever really a bad outcome:

Scott Kazmir: 3 years, $28.5 million / MORP: $56 million
Evan Longoria: 6 years, $17.5 million / MORP: $81 million
Ryan Braun: 8 years, $45 million / MORP: $103 million (estimated; MORP only goes seven years out)
David Wright: 6 years, $55 million / MORP: $104 million
Hanley Ramirez: 6 years , $70 million / MORP: $106 million
James Shields: 4 years, $11.25 million / MORP: $49 million
Troy Tulowitzki: 6 years, $31 million / MORP: $66 million
Fausto Carmona: 4 years, $15 million / MORP: $46 million

The totals is $273.25 million dollars, or just less than the next 10 years of Alex Rodriguez, which seems fair to me. That's without taking option years into account, though it's clear that in almost all of these contracts, the team is the clear winner.

Who else might be the right kind of player for this kind of deal? Names like Tim Lincecum, Alex Gordon, Justin Upton, and Dustin Pedroia come to mind, but it wouldn't surprise me in the least if we saw these deals get offered to someone in the minor leagues, if it's the right kind of player. I'm not sure I'd lock up a young pitcher like Clayton Kershaw or David Price-injury risk is just too high for any young pitcher to go beyond the length of Kazmir's deal-but would it have been wrong to have signed Justin Upton to such a deal last year? The Rays need only look at Eric Hinske or Rocco Baldelli to understand the risks, but they've been able to accept those.

Powered by Facebook, on to the injuries:

Scott Kazmir (0 DXL/0)
Kazmir has been seen as an injury risk since before he came up. Much of that reputation rests on the incorrect story that Rick Peterson, based on a biomechanical study, didn't believe he could "fix" Kazmir. It's simply not true. Sure, Kazmir is a smallish pitcher that throws very hard, but his mechanics tend to be consistent and clean. He's young and the Rays have watched him closely, limiting his innings and pitch counts, and monitoring his workload in hopes of getting him through the injury nexus unscathed. He'll still have around 700 innings on his arm at the end of his age-24 season, and that's a lot, though looking back at people who've had to absorb that kind of workload, it's a mixed bag. You have guys like Steve Avery, Alex Fernandez, and Doc Gooden, but also guys like Roger Clemens, Greg Maddux, and Carlos Zambrano. The Rays know the risks better than anyone and are also as well-equipped to deal with those risks as any team.

Vernon Wells (45 DXL/$2.4 million)
The Jays keep taking hits in what was seen as a make-or-break season for this latest version of J.P. Ricciardi's plan. Instead, they've lost Vernon Wells until the All-Star break, which isn't going to help them. Wells fractured a bone in his wrist on a diving catch. Replays of the play don't elucidate things much, but it's the kind of thing that happens, and the kind of thing that happens more often on turf, albeit less often than in the past. Wrist injuries tend to sap power and bat control, two things that Wells can't afford to lose. The Jays will shift Alex Rios over to center field in the interim, and using the newly-acquired pair of Kevin Mench and Brad Wilkerson to pick up the additional playing time in the outfield corners. Wells' eventual return shouldn't involve any significant difficulty, and with the new technology available, seeing him active at the end of June isn't out of the question.

Mark Teixeira (0 DXL/0)
On the list of "things not to do in a contract year," getting a case of back spasms is in the top ten. Teixeira suffered the problem in the first game of a doubleheader in an odd manner: he told Mark Bowman of MLB.com that he felt it first when covering the bag. Most notably, he said that "it felt like he was on artificial turf." That the Pirates would be keeping the turf very hard over there goes against all logic, considering the injury problems of Adam LaRoche-or does it actually help explain things? Greg Norton, who filled in for Teixeira, also said the surface was hard. I asked a source with the Pirates about the surface there, and he confirmed it: "it's like concrete." We'll need to take this into account, as well as note it in case anyone else has problems after playing there in the future. If there aren't changes made, teams might have to consider dealing with playing at PNC differently, giving some guys with knee and back problems some days off there. Teixeira didn't miss much time with the injury, but it's something to watch going forward. Bobby Cox is one of the best at spotting his regulars to keep them productive.

Alex Rodriguez (15 DXL/$2.3 million)
"Days Expected Lost" seems like something that's self explanatory, but as a new metric, I'm continuing to explain it and try to show you how to get to the "at a glance" level of comfort with it. One thing it's designed to do is to note when players take longer than expected to heal. While it can change when there's new information about an injury, it doesn't change just because a player is taking longer to come back. Alex Rodriguez is a case in point, with the Yankees taking his recovery from a quad strain very conservatively. The injury itself doesn't appear to be any worse than was initially thought; it's the plan that's shifted. He'll miss the Subway Series and now has next Tuesday's game with the Orioles as his targeted return.

Ryan Doumit (15 DXL/$0.3 million)
If there's one early success that Neal Huntington could point to as a real sign that the Pirates organization has changed, it would be the way they've handled Doumit. At this time last year, he was living in an Indianapolis hotel, checking out every day because he expected the call to go back to Pittsburgh, a call that didn't come for quite a while as it turned out. He's an adequate catcher defensively, but the Pirates' previous administration was convinced that they could fill their hole in right field with Doumit or maybe Brad Eldred. Now he's back behind the plate, he's still an average catcher at best, but his bat more than makes up for it. It's hard to blame his injury-an apparently fractured thumb-on his defensive shortcomings; it was an awkward play on a high pitch that hit the tip of his thumb. The fracture is in the tip-or distal, the doctors would say-rather than in the joint, so it shouldn't take so long to heal, but the pain will be the biggest issue, since it's the thumb of his mitt hand. Manager John Russell said he had a player last year who went through this-I think it was Dusty Wathan, though I couldn't confirm that-so he's got more experience than anyone else I know with this. Doumit has been injury-prone in the past, but this injury is one of those things that simply happens. The Pirates will go with Ronny Paulino in the interim.

Jeff Keppinger (60 DXL/$3.3 million)
I'm not sure if Keppinger is gritty or gutty, but people really seem to root for him. After it was announced that he'd fractured his patella, there was a flood of email, almost all stating something along the lines of, "Man, I was loving watching him finally getting his chance and succeeding!" Oddly, Keppinger was getting that chance because Alex Gonzalez was out with a compression fracture in his knee; Keppinger fouled a pitch directly off of his kneecap (the patella) and crumpled. Imaging confirmed the fracture, and Keppinger is expected to miss up to two months. That leaves the Reds scrambling; Gonzalez is nowhere near a return from his knee problem, and Brandon Phillips is the only guy on the roster with significant experience at short at any level, although Jerry Hairston Jr. has played there as a utilityman over the years. To replace Keppinger, Paul Janish is headed up from Triple-A. It's cases like this that show just how important even a rough metric like Injury Cost is for assessing lost value. The actual dollars lost on Keppinger is $134,000 because his actual rate of pay is just above the minimum, but his production is worth far more than that.

Rich Harden (0 DXL/0)
You know that scene in Bull Durham where Crash tells Nook not to think? That came to mind watching Harden's start on Saturday. He was clearly in his own head during his first start back for the A's, thinking about everything and not being able to find that natural, automatic "flow" that's necessary to pitch effectively. He wasn't effective, but he made it to his 90-pitch limit, his team won the game, and, most importantly, he recovered well after the start. Harden didn't have his control, but he did have his mid-90s velocity. As I said before he came off the DL, I expect Harden will be able to hold it together and put together at least a couple of months of solid pitching. First thing's first: he'll need to get his command back, which I expect will happen next time out.

Joe Borowski (30 DXL/$0.7 million)
Borowski not only made it through the week without a setback in his throwing program, but it went so well that he'll end this week on a rehab assignment and could be back by this time next week. He showed both control and command to go along with improved velocity, but most importantly he seemed to have no trouble with recovery between sessions. Since stamina isn't really an issue for a pitcher like Borowski, his rehab assignment will be short and mostly focused on pitchability, according to sources. There's some question about how he will be used once he gets back to Cleveland, but most believe he'll resume his duties as the closer very quickly, and Eric Wedge has said as much in the past.

Pedro Martinez (60 DXL/$3.0 million)
There aren't many one-name guys any more, the stars who you just have to say their first name, and everyone knows who you're talking about. Albert, maybe. Manny? Only if you say "being Manny" behind it. Pedro is simply Pedro to most people, and the more I look at his career, the more I see Sandy-as in, Sandy Koufax. The difference is that Martinez has been able to overcome his shoulder problems due to the advances in sports medicine between the late '60s and the mid '00s. Forty years of trial and error, art and science, have allowed Pedro to do things that we can only wonder about with Koufax. He's scheduled to throw an extended spring training game on Wednesday at the Mets complex in Port St. Lucie, and he has had no problems with his hamstring since beginning to throw in earnest. He should be back with the Mets in very early June. I'm putting my money where my mouth is on this one: I just picked him up in my fantasy league.

Freddy Garcia (90 DXL/0)
Ken Davidoff has already broken down how Garcia went from a scrapheap extra to hottest pitcher on the market. The problem is that the switch is one of perception, based on equal parts desperation and fiction. A healthy Garcia is an upgrade for some teams, but he's only an upgrade if he's back to his previous levels. Unfortunately, there's no evidence that his shoulder has recovered enough to the point where he'll be the guy that helped the White Sox win a World Series, or even back to the simply useful version of himself that he was in previous stops. Garcia turns 33 soon, as Davidoff notes, and he's been in decline long enough that it's going to take a lot to convince me that he's any better than someone like Bartolo Colon (who is just now throwing again in the Boston farm system) or Jon Lieber. That throwing session that will happen for scouts "sometime soon" is going to be the key. I can only hope your fantasy team isn't quite as desperate as some real teams seem to be. You may ask, why the zero injury cost? Because he's unsigned.

Quick Cuts: Blake DeWitt's back spasms seem to have given Joe Torre the chance to use Russell Martin at third base more often rather than opening the door for Andy LaRoche. ... The A's could be without Santiago Casilla, one of their best relievers. He left the game on Thursday with what is being called a forearm strain; it looked like an elbow to me. ... Nick Johnson has a torn tendon sheath in his wrist. He'll be sidelined "a while," though sources are all over the place on how long and how it will affect him once back. Dmitri Young will come off of the DL to replace Johnson. ... Chipper Jones will miss a day, maybe two, with a mild groin strain. That's just Chipper being Chipper. ... Kyle Lohse has soreness in the back of his shoulder. While he's been pitching through it, it bears watching. ... Clay Buchholz hits the DL with a broken nail (an injury that sidelined A.J. Burnett earlier this year), though the Red Sox are looking to limit his innings anyway, and are coming up on a deadline to call up Bartolo Colon, who pitched well Thursday in Triple-A. ... The Brewers bullpen continues to struggle, and David Riske heading to the DL with a strained elbow won't help matters any. ... Tanner Scheppers, a projected top 10 pick in the upcoming draft, is out with a stress fracture in his shoulder. I don't know which bone, but none of them would mean something good. ... Could Brandon Webb win 30? It's possible, but unlikely barring some amazing luck and Bob Melvin juggling to find him a couple of extra starts. The question then would be could he do that and stay fresh, though any decision like that is a long way off.

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