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January 6, 2010

Transaction Action

The Holliday Rush

by Christina Kahrl

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ATLANTA BRAVES
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Signed 1B/3B-R Troy Glaus to a one-year, $1.75 million base contract. [1/5]

Suffice to say this might represent a bit of a disappointment, should Glaus and perhaps Eric Hinske end up being the extent of what the Braves accomplish to shore up their offense after having swapped away Javier Vazquez. If there was supposed to be a chunk of change free to do something meaningful, it's probably on the same ledger sheet as the "peace dividend."

I like the idea of grabbing Glaus and seeing if he has a late-career gasp left in his bat, a la Andres Galarraga in 1998 (or perhaps, more pointedly, in 2000), since Glaus is younger now than the Big Cat was then, and never had to go through the epic fail portion of a career the way that Galarraga did in 1991-92. There's also the added notional flexibility that Glaus might provide, say, if Chipper Jones has to take a trip to the DL (better that Glaus play third than Hinske). It's worth noting that Glaus is only heading into his age-33 season, and he was originally a very athletic player, stealing bases as well as playing occasionally superb defense at third.

That said, health's a skill, and one Glaus hasn't always been able to count among his qualities with any great reliability, having missed big chunks of two of the last five seasons, and four of his last seven. Per Cot's, Glaus stands to make as much as another $2.25 million for active days on the roster and however many at-bats he accrues. Even if he's healthy, that's a modest bargain, compared to what other first basemen might be expected to cost.

The real question is whether there's reason to expect that a healthy Glaus can deliver a performance that's anything more than an average bat for first base, and to that, the answer's no. He's been in the vicinity of a first base-average EqA in two of the last five years, just below once (his 2006 season with the Jays) and above it once. The one year he was nowhere close was last year, but 32 plate appearances is nothing to judge a player's performance potential by. So, even if he's completely healthy, it would be hard to suggest that he's anything more than a placeholder at the position. That beats employing Casey Kotchman, of course, but it's nevertheless a relative disappointment, that they're counting on Glaus at first base and Melky Cabrera and Matt Diaz in the outfield. At least in the outfield, there's the near-term expectation that Jason Heyward and Jordan Schafer will push into the picture at some point during the campaign, but at first base, Freddie Freeman doesn't seem like he'll be ready to make an in-season impact in 2010.


CINCINNATI REDS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Signed OF-L Josh Anderson to a minor-league contract. [1/5]

SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Re-signed INF-R Juan Uribe to a one-year, $3.25 million contract; designated SS-R Brian Bocock for assignment. [1/5]

This came directly on the heels of yesterday's filing on the subject of signing Mark DeRosa. The groan you're hearing isn't the sound of Brian Bocock's spirits being crushed; after his happy Opening Day spin in 2008, it was all supposed to go downhill from there anyway. No, if anything, it's the sound of hope dying for guys like Kevin Frandsen or Matt Downs, because beyond Eugenio Velez, how many utilitymen can one team keep? Uribe's been such an unpredictable player over the course of his career that it's hard to know what's next: sure, his BABIP is going to come down from last year's .325, but he could go back to crushing lefties. The sharp drop in his number of pop-ups from his last pair of seasons with the White Sox seems suggestive, but his walk and strikeout rates didn't change radically. He's going to hit for more power than your average infielder, let alone your average infield reserve. If he does that and Edgar Renteria's career remains parked in "dubious utility" territory, he might deserve a larger share of the starts at shortstop, which is worth something in particular to the Giants because none of their infield options can play short and hit, and Emmanuel Burriss might not even be able to play short.


ST. LOUIS CARDINALS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Signed LF-R Matt Holliday to a seven-year, $119 million deal, with a $17 million vesting option for 2017 ($1 million buyout). [1/5]

Whereas the decision to pay Bay for a National League team was in contrast a bit controversial, there's relatively less to complain about here. Perhaps it was a matter of letting the market set the value, but relative to Bay, this is the obviously better deal. Not a bargain, of course, but there's the suggestion that there are deferred payments involved, which the Associated Press has suggested lowers the AAV of the contract to the vicinity of $16 million. So, it's Holliday for less than Bay, but for longer.

Is that a good thing? Let's start by borrowing from PECOTA's picks for Holliday's top comparables: Dave Winfield, Vladimir Guerrero, Moises Alou, and Albert Belle. That's a fine group of hitters, one Hall of Famer, one active player who might earn consideration for the Hall, and a pair of the most feared sluggers of their day, both of whom struggled with injuries later in their careers.

For the sake of argument, let's spin these comparisons out a bit. Holliday's about to turn 30. Winfield's the Hall of Famer and remembered as a player who aged extremely well, but that's more about his achieving the spotlight with some individually tremendous seasons (1984, 1988, 1992). Consistent with that, his 30s were a mixed bag, in that between his outstanding '84 and '88 seasons you've got a three-year run of mediocre performance for a corner outfielder, with Equivalent Averages close to an average clip for corner outfielders. Vladi's still a going concern on the diamond and headed into his age-35 season, so it remains to be seen what he'll contribute (or not) in the next couple of seasons; obviously last year doesn't inspire a lot of confidence, but the four years before were all fine seasons.

The injury-riddled pair are a little more problematic (or cause for concern), because to some extent the careers of Alou and Belle were both undermined by injuries, Belle's cataclysmically, and Alou's serially. Belle had two excellent years left in him after his age-29 season, with two less so book-ending them, and then he was done, remaining an Oriole as a roster ghost forever after. Other than some mid-30s mediocrity in Wrigleyville, Alou never stopped hitting, even as his body started giving out on him at the end. (If anyone wanted to repeat the cheesy stunt the White Sox were given to with Minnie Minoso, Alou seems as good a bet as any; Alou being Alou, he'd probably end up hospitalized after getting a base hit in 2020.)

To look at that quartet's productivity at the plate during the span of seasons for which Holliday's just been signed, let's use Holliday's career Equivalent Average (all-time flavor) as a basis of comparison, and then use an EqA of .290 as a standard for what we could call a top-quality season for a outfield cornerman, and finally .280 as a figure as something slightly above-average. How well did the fearsome foursome deliver? Voila:


             Player-             Player-Seasons = or >
Guy       Seasons aged 30-36    .306    .290    .280
Winfield      7 of 7              2       4       5
Alou          6 of 7              3       4       4
Belle         4 of 7*             2       2       2
Guerrero      5 of 5**            2       4       4
Total        22 of 26            9/22   14/22   16/22

*: Lost his 34-36 seasons to injury.
**: Still active.

So, allowing for the fact that an injury of Belle's magnitude isn't really something you can anticipate, and assuming you've done your due diligence with a meaningful physical, you're looking at a group that didn't exactly reliably deliver performances as good as Holliday's career clip. That's obviously unfair, though, because we're making an unfair comparison of those players in their 30s to Holliday at the tail end of his anticipated 25-29 peak. In that light, I'd suggest the group does really well. There's a year Alou missed entirely in there beyond Belle's three, and you can argue that Belle's last season was handicapped by the beginning of his end. To stick with the broadest strokes, there's anywhere from a 40-50 percent shot per year that any of them would produce a year as good as Holliday's current career clip, and two chances in three that they'd be really good.

Without getting in Holliday's value in the field, I don't think it's implausible to suggest that they stand a very good change at getting at least five seasons in those first seven with an .290 EqA or better, and that's just going off of these comparables. If you note that Holliday's last three spins in the weaker league wound up with his delivering EqAs of .323, .319, and a partial-season .347, it seems that much more likely that he'll be able to perform at or not far below his career rate for a few more years, and not far below it on the downslope of the deal. Assuming he stays in the National League, if he winds up delivering EqAs around or above .290 in at least five of his seven guaranteed seasons, I wouldn't be surprised. That said, his .380 BABIP as a Cardinal was better than any single-season tally as a Rockie in his prime, so seeing him come back towards where he was with the Athletics doesn't seem all that radical as suggestions go.

But does that make the deal worthwhile? Well, last-gen MORP certainly didn't think so, and whatever confections the new crew conjures up, I don't expect next-gen MORP to be substantively generous enough in its interpretations of Holliday's performance record to get us to $17 million per year, or $16 million. So tip your cap to Scott Boras on that score alone. But does that signing Holliday a bad thing? I'd argue that it doesn't, as long as the club's able to afford the other major elements of a contending ballclub.

Here, we're getting into the suggestion of whether or not this helps them get Albert Pujols to stick around after 2011. That was part of the pitch, but human agency has a funny way of providing the odd surprise, not to mention free agency. Two years from now, we'll know if Chris Carpenter's still healthy enough to pitch and encourage John Mozeliak to pick up his $15 million 2012 option. Adam Wainwright will have a good shot at locking in his 2012 and 2013 club options, even with an extension of the BBWAA's ballot for the Cy Young Award to five slots, because he needs a top-five finish in either of the next two seasons. Perhaps it's just me, but if Carpenter's still healthy and effective and Wainwright's locked in, and if Pujols is still cranking at something close to his usual stratosphere, it seems difficult to believe they wouldn't work out a long-term deal with the fourth corner of that foundation. It might tip the team even further into a stars-and-scrubs formulation for the balance of the roster, but that's something they've been able to work with creatively in the recent past, and it isn't a prohibition against future success.


WASHINGTON NATIONALS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Signed RHP Matt Capps to a one-year, $3.5 million contract. [1/6]

So what? I mean, I know some people in Pittsburgh are still lathered up about the club's decision to non-tender the great Matt Capps. Should the Nats really be excited about their commitment to rebuild the Pirates on the shores of the Potomac? OK, to be fair, the Pirates plus Adam Dunn and Ryan Zimmerman... which wouldn't win the NL Central, let alone strike fear in the hearts of Philadelphians.

For all the talk of closer-y moxie and foxholes and all of that, Capps was among the worst relievers in baseball last season, per WXRL if you want to go for a counting stat, and among the 10 worst in MLB in relief-only FRA with a 40 relief innings cutoff. This, from a reliever who the year before was having shoulder problems. If his fastball velocity was back up, that's nice, but it didn't translate into better results, and he talked about having to learn to better trust the pitch. This is your closer? Maybe a change of parks will help, but Capps wasn't really being victimized by the park dimensions in PNC, and his performance on the road was ghastly. It's easy to suggest his ratio of homers to flies will come down; they probably will, given that he was up at 11.0 percent last year. What if he's comes down to his rookie season's rate of 9.4 percent? That's still bad.

I'd argue that, whatever the atmospherics and noise-making about how this is part of a new, strident commitment to self-improvement, this might also be something less than a clean break from the club's scrounging past in finding relief pitching, it's of a piece with last summer's employment of commodities like Joe Beimel and Julian Tavarez and Ron Villone. Beyond Capps, adding Brian Bruney and Eddie Guardado and Doug Slaten seems like a similar exercise; maybe it adds up to an adequate one-year spin, but Capps and Bruney have been fragile and unreliable in the past. The best possible outcome is that, like Beimel, they do something well enough to be flip-worthy before the end of July, but if Beimel repeats last summer's failures, Pirates fans won't even have that to complain about.


Christina Kahrl is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Christina's other articles. You can contact Christina by clicking here

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Prospectus Q&A: Pedro ... (01/06)
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