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December 20, 2000

Prospectus Roundtable

Five Days in the Big D

by Baseball Prospectus

While Chris Kahrl pecks away at his latest Transaction Analysis (look for it this weekend), here's a look at how the Baseball Prospectus staff broke down last week's gathering in Dallas.

Pennsylvania Blues

Keith Law: Can I revise my Pirates essay to make it a comparison of Cam Bonifay to the average Palm Beach County voter?

Rany Jazayerli: As bad as things get in Kansas City--even when we lose out on the only free agent we actually wanted, Tom Gordon--I have to remind myself that it could be worse. I could be a Pirates fan.

$3 million per year for a 38-year-old left-hander [Terry Mulholland]who just posted a 5.11 ERA with Leo Mazzone as his pitching coach.

That was the genius move of the day. $4.875 million a year for Derek Bell was the not-so-genius move.

Let's do some math here:

    $3.000 million: Terry Mulholland
    $4.875 million: Derek Bell
    $3.750 million: Pat Meares
    $6.500 million: Kevin Young
    ---------------
   $18.125 million

That's enough to pay for Mike Mussina or Mike Hampton and have enough left over to sign Frank Castillo or Jeff Nelson.

Joe Sheehan: I'd propose a "worst-signing" contest, but we'd have to split into Pennsylvania and non-Pennsylvania divisions.

Dave Pease: Ed Wade actually rationalized not offering arbitration to Kent Bottenfield by saying "we didn't want to commit that much to a pitcher". Meanwhile, he signs Jose Fricking Mesa for the majority of that, then blows the rest and more on Rheal Cormier. I don't get it.

Derek Bell?!? (giggle, snicker)

JS: What next? Lee Guetterman for two years and $8MM?

Jeff Bower: The Mariners lose their third Hall of Famer in 30 months and I find myself feeling bad for Jeff Hildebrand.

Kevin Appier...and Other Old Pitchers

Gary Huckabay: Kevin Appier, $8-10 million per year. Yikes...if he hadn't been worked like a dog, he'd be worth it.

I guess Gil Heredia is a bargain.

JS: The Rick Reed contract sure looks better, anyway. And Darren Dreifort is going to be a steal at five years and $55MM.

Appier got the money and the headlines, but Steve Trachsel at half the time and a third the salary is a much better idea, no?

Chris Kahrl: Trachsel is a great signing, and one the Rangers should have been ready to match. The fact that the Rangers lost out on Frank Castillo too should make the Alex Rodriguez signing about as neat as the Reds having Ken Griffey Jr. and not contending. Is that supposed to make Seattlites happy?

DP: Trachsel will like the infield in New York...an awesome pickup. I can't peg the Appier signing, except as a "well, we had this eight-figure salary all freed up for Hampton, so let's blow it on the next-best guy".

Except I'd certainly take Dreifort over Appier at this point.

Jeff Hildebrand: I'm finding the flurry of long-term contracts for pitchers rather interesting. There are an awful lot of these that could easily blow up by halfway through the contract.

RJ: Fiscal insanity:

Kevin Appier, 4.52 ERA last year: four years, $42 million
Darren Dreifort, 4.16 ERA last year: five years, $55 million
Andy Ashby, 4.92 ERA last year: three years, $22.5 million
Steve Trachsel: 4.80 ERA last year: two years, $7 million

And my favorite:

Frank Castillo: 3.59 ERA last year: two years, $4.5 million

Yeah, I realize I'm only looking at one season...and ignoring age...and Castillo's injury history...blah, blah, blah.... Kevin Appier is getting paid more than four times as much as Castillo, and I'm not sure I would take even odds that he'll have the better year in 2001.

As mad as I've become at the MLBPA for getting their stars all the coin they can get while ignoring the fate of the rank and file, I can't be more upset than I am with owners who strike out at getting Mike Mussina and Mike Hampton, and come to the conclusion that Appier or Dreifort or Reed are worth just $4 million a year less.

The MLBPA and the agents' brilliant plan--and I'm sure it's a plan--is to have all the lesser free agents wait until the stars sign first. Somebody is going to give Mike Hampton the money he wants. When he gets it, not only does he define the market, but all the teams that lose out on him have money to burn and fewer guys to spend it on. The wise man puts that money in the bank and pulls it out the next time a marquee free agent shows up, but then we already knew that wise men were in short supply in front offices.

Astros/Tigers Trade

JB: Did Randy Smith take a smart pill today or what?

CK: "Stupendously idiotic" comes to mind. I want to blame Tal Smith; maybe Herk Robinson pulled this off via fax.

GH: This stretches credibility. The Astros have some bright people, and Randy Smith loses at Microsoft Hearts.

Mat Olkin: The Astros' new philosophy: "If you can't get along with Matt Mieske, you can't play for us."

Mitch Meluskey would have to have issued death threats to most of the Astros' front office for this to have made any sense at all.

Derek Zumsteg: So that's Roger Cedeno, Chris Holt and Mitch Meluskey for Brad Ausmus, Doug Brocail and Nelson Cruz.

I remember back when I thought the Astros were smart. I wouldn't have traded Meluskey for all three of those guys.

KL: The only explanation I can think of--and I don't buy it myself--is that the Astros think Meluskey's shoulder is permanently fouled up and he's going to turn into Todd Greene.

RJ: You know how Bill Veeck once let the Browns' fans manage the club for a day? Well in Detroit, they let the fans run the club one day every year. Not trusting them, of course, they tried to minimize the damage by putting that day in the offseason.

At least that's the best explanation I can come up with for today's move, since from a medical standpoint it's far less likely that Randy Smith has regenerated brain cells.

This is an absurd trade. Meluskey is 27, four years away from free agency and hit .300/.401/.487 last year. Ausmus is 32, his contract runs out in a year or two and he hit .266/.357/.365 last year. He's also much more expensive. There's no defensive difference or park effect that can make up for those points.

The Astros have to claim that they won this part of the deal, because there's no way they can justify trading Cedeno (26 years old, .383 OBP in an off year) and Chris Holt for two middle relievers, one of whom is 34 and had a 4.09 ERA in 2000.

The Tigers add two OBP machines at key up-the-middle positions without giving up anything of lasting value. In a market as hyped up over middle relievers as this one is, the single best thing a team can do is cash in on that market by selling high on their own middle relievers.

I just never would have guessed the Tigers would be that team.

Michael Wolverton: To add insult to injury, Holt was the one Astro starter who seemed to benefit from the move to Enron Field. He was the best Astro starter at home last year, with a 6.7-5.7 (.537) SNWL record. Unlike Jose Lima, Shane Reynolds, et al, he had never gotten a big boost from pitching in the Astrodome.

Into Thin Air

JS: If The Great Changeup Experiment works, the Rockies will win the NL West; if it doesn't, there's really no one to challenge the Dodgers.

DP: The latter. I'll believe Denny Neagle can pitch at Coors Field when I see it. If the Rox do something dumb, like unload Pedro Astacio for garbage, I don't really catch the upside--Astacio isn't as good as Mike Hampton, but he isn't all that far from him, either.

KL: I think the Dodgers did more by standing pat than most teams did by diving in, and their only external addition (Ashby) is probably another time bomb. I'm not a huge Dreifort fan, but better him at $11MM/year than Appier at similar money.

DZ: You really think that the Dodgers are going to close the gap on the Giants without Davey Johnson? I don't see that happening. Sure, we can wait another year as Livan Hernandez's arm hangs on for dear life, they're old and Russ Davis is a fire hydrant at third base. I still can't see them as being the Dodgers' inferior at this point, being a much superior offensive team (especially with the Dodgers giving up on Todd Hundley, who at least was a bat) and only slightly worse in terms of pitching staffs.

RJ: Why are we writing off the Giants again? They've won the division two of the last three years, they have both the NL MVP and its best player, and even I'm willing to concede there's something funny going on in Hernandez's arm.

CK: I guess I'm in the Rockies' camp, in that I don't see a team with zeroes in center field and at shortstop and not much more at catcher as being all that strong. Three outs in the lineup, plus an iffy rotation?

I agree that it is between the Rockies and the Dodgers.

RJ: I love the Rockies' gamble. It's a big one and could blow up in their faces, but there isn't a pitcher in baseball more suited for Coors than Hampton, and now the Rockies can start using their #1 draft picks to grab hitters in the hope of finding Todd Heltons at other positions. Unlike three years ago, they understand their park better than their players do. Jeffrey Hammonds, take a hike. They can get the same numbers from Ron Gant, even if he isn't all that good.

JH: I'm not sure about that. I don't see too many signs that the Rockies' offense will be anything special. If the experiment doesn't work, it's going to be spectacularly ugly given the lengths of the contracts.

Some Shortstop Signs

KL: OK, Clay, I'm curious: What do you project for Alex Rodriguez in The Ballpark?

Clay Davenport: Projected in Texas with current high offense and a 1.06 park factor:

        AB    H   DB  TP  HR   BB   SO    R  RBI   SB   CS OUT   BA   OBP  SLG   EqA   EqR
2001   575  196   30   3  50   82  111  107  126   21   8  386 .341  .423 .664  .340   130
2002   547  177   28   2  44   80  108  100  114   19   7  376 .324  .410 .623  .327   115
2003   552  186   32   3  45   93  106  107  119   19   7  372 .337  .433 .650  .341   126

DZ: Alex is gone, we're going to be freezing our ass off in the rain under overcast skies until March, and our consolation prize is likely to be Mike Bordick.

I think they're going to trade for a veteran bat at third base, sign Bordick to an expensive short deal, and go from there. If Carlos Guillen is on the field Opening Day I'll be shocked.

JB: Not me. I heard that the team's Promotions Department is looking for a new Mariner Moose, and I bet Guillen can fit into the outfit with some minor alterations.

DZ: That's the other thing...why do teams constantly fire their mascots? The Mariner Moose, for instance, not only has nothing to do with Seattle as a mascot, but gets fired every year and replaced with a less-talented guy, to the point where all he does now is stand on the dugout and clap.

It's a lot like managing the Reds.

JS: The Rangers haven't helped themselves as much as people think...I love Rodriguez, but this team's #2 starter is a ticking time bomb and behind that is even worse. Plus, the team age shot through the roof this month.

DP: Bah. If Galarraga and Caminiti put up their numbers this team is going to bust lots of games wide open.

KL: I actually think the Andres Galarraga signing was OK. Sure, they overpaid, but money obviously is no object to Tom Hicks (what a different tune from last winter) and it is only a one-year deal. Carlos Pena should be ready to permanently inherit the position by late summer. They still have Mike Lamb in the fold for when Ken Caminiti's inevitable breakdown.

The pitching, though.... Pinning your playoff hopes on Darren Oliver, Justin Thompson and Ryan Glynn?

MW: The Ranger rotation isn't in great shape, but I don't expect them to be quite a disastrous as they were in 2000, even in the unlikely event that they stand pat. Kenny Rogers is solid. Sure, Rick Helling's arm might fall off, but that's been predicted for the past several years and it hasn't happened yet.

I like Doug Davis. He was the Rangers' best starter in the final two months of 2000 (yes, damning with faint praise). Thompson is a wild card, of course, and I admit I'm not up-to-date on the progress of his recovery. He was such a great pitcher before the injury I think there's reason for optimism. Glynn doesn't excite me, but not many #5 starters do. Hopefully, Oliver will make his contribution to the team as a three-million-dollar peanut vendor.

If you look at the Rodriguez signing by itself, you could conclude that the Rangers finally understand what free agency should be all about: pay a premium for the elite players, e.g., Barry Bonds and Greg Maddux, instead of bargain-hunting for the Darren Olivers of the world. But then you have to face that they also signed Galarraga, Caminiti, and Mark Petkovsek. The one thing you can say about those three is that they aren't blocking important young players. (I'm skeptical about Lamb, and Galarraga's one-year contract shouldn't interfere much with Pena's career path.)

The only Ranger move this offseason I'd call unambiguously bad is the Randy Velarde trade. It leaves Frank Catalanotto without a place to play and it also could squeeze out Scott Sheldon.

Bubba Trammell for Donne Wall

JS: Maybe now he'll get a chance...Bubba Trammell to the Padres for exactly what the Mets needed, a decent middle reliever (Donne Wall).

Trammell has to be the left fielder, right? Right?

DZ: Nope. Tony Gwynn plays right field--where he'll make Jay Buhner look like a paragon of defensive prowess--while Mike Darr moves to left field. Trammell prays for injury.

JH:I would guess that with Gwynn out there Trammell isn't going to have to pray too hard.

DP: The Pads could trade Eric Owens or get tired of Ruben Rivera very soon after the season starts if not before, and Darr can handle center field.

Of course, Trammell will play at least 81 games subbing for Gwynn and probably pinch-hit for Darr (or even Klesko) with some frequency against left-handers.

CK: Why does a team already paying through the nose for Turk Wendell, Dennis Cook, John Franco and Armando Benitez, not to mention having Rick White around...why does that team need another reliever?

RJ: What's wrong with Donne Wall? There are only five relievers in baseball who have relieved 40 times or more the last three years with ERAs under 3.50 each year: Wall, Trevor Hoffman, Mariano Rivera, John Rocker and Danny Graves. Which one doesn't fit?

Wall is one of the best middle relievers in baseball, so unless his arm is ailing, he's a nice pickup no matter who the Mets have in their bullpen.

I do hope that Bubba Trammell gets a shot, though.

KL: Wasn't Wall hurt for much of last season? I'm not so sure this was a smart move for the Mets; he seems like a big breakdown risk.

OK, I remembered where I found the info on Wall. Here's the report that gets me, from RotoNews on September 20:

"Wall may face surgery on a frayed labrum in his shoulder, the San Diego Union-Tribune reports."

I hunted high and low on Lexis-Nexis, and couldn't find anything after that that indicated that he had had the surgery. (The article to which the report links says it's the underside of his rotator cuff, not his labrum.) If he didn't, he's a time bomb. If he did, rehab is not short, unless they found nothing wrong in there (doubtful). I'm wagering that he didn't have it, since it's not showing up in the media anywhere.

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