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March 16, 2010

Checking the Numbers

The All Paid By My Former Employer Team

by Eric Seidman and Jeff Euston

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When the Dodgers signed Andruw Jones to a two-year deal worth $36.2 million following his terrible 2007 campaign, their decision was predicated on the belief that the man known for covering the third of the planet that water did not would bounce back in quite the big fashion. His production would help lock up the National League West title, and allow the team to fully reap the rewards of their risk.

It didn't quite work out that way. After going 0-for-4 with two strikeouts on September 9, Jones had notched his 238th and final plate appearance of a season even more miserable than the year prior, having finished with a pathetic .158/.256/.249 slash line.

The club already had an outfield logjam, with Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, and  the recently acquired Manny Ramirez already forcing Juan Pierre to the bench. Regardless of that, in light of Jones' epic failure, the Dodgers didn’t have to think twice about cutting themselves free of his brand of “production” following the season. However, they could not get free from his contract. In order to put the Andruw Jones era in their past, Ned Colletti’s crew worked a deal with Jones' agent, Scott Boras, to defer the remainder of his 2009 salary over the next six seasons, paying him approximately $3.2 million per year from 2009-14. As you might recall, Jones played for the Rangers last season, signing for $500,000 with up to another $1 million in incentives; all the while, he still received paychecks from the Dodgers. He signed with the White Sox this past offseason under a similar deal, and he will still receive money from the Dodgers.

Whether it is a situation like Jones’, or one in which a team kicks in part of a player’s salary to expedite a trade—or simply make a trade even remotely desirable to another party—teams are increasingly adopting the practice of paying players while they are under the employ of another franchise. Sometimes the amounts are nominal, like when the Pirates paid $400,000 to the Yankees as part of the Eric Hinske trade last June 30, while other times the amounts can truly hamper off-season activity, like in the case of the Diamondbacks paying Eric Byrnes $10.6 million this year to play for the Mariners. What would happen if we fielded a team of these players? Could it be competitive? Let’s explore!

The 2009 Squad

Catcher: Ramon Hernandez

There should be a term for players like Hernandez, who somehow end up under the radar despite continuously getting hired. He certainly has, or at least had, talent but much of it has eroded over eleven major league campaigns behind the dish. Playing in small markets like Oakland, San Diego, and Baltimore hasn’t helped his cause either, but then again, the cause in question consists of a substandard on-base percentage, limited skills defensively and pop that has fizzled. After signing him to a multi-year contract, the Orioles decided to cut bait, shipping him to the Reds in December, 2008. To expedite the move, the O’s kicked in a quarter of his $8-million salary. Hernandez is basically a backup masquerading as a starter at this point, so even that reduced rate constitutes an overpayment.

First Base: Jim Thome

Thome is winding down a very productive career, but following a late-season trade from the White Sox to the Dodgers last year, manager Joe Torre didn’t give him many opportunities to prove if he was still capable of producing, using him exclusively as a pinch-hitter. Colletti acquired Thome—and $1.4 million of his remaining $2.4-million salary—in order to give his team the equivalent of the PhilliesMatt Stairs. However, Thome sat on the bench in several situations, including some in the postseason, that made fans remark, “Isn’t this why they got him?” But, hey, at least they only paid $1 million for Thome’s 22 plate appearances.

Second Base: Julio Lugo

The Red Sox really wanted to part ways with Lugo, and found a willing trade partner last season in the Cardinals after agreeing to pay for all but about a pro-rated major-league minimum of the $13.5 million due the shortstop over 2009-10. The Cardinals received a .277/.351/.432 line in 170 trips to the pate, which is very good for a middle infielder before even factoring in they paid him practically no money. He’ll serve as a backup infielder this season, but again, he would have to be pretty bad to not be valuable at the major-league minimum salary of $400,000.

Shortstop: Jack Wilson

To stick around the majors with a career .310 on-base percentage, you have to excel in another area. If that area doesn’t involve power, like with Wilson and his sub-.400 slugging percentage, odds are your claim to fame is defensive wizardry. This deductive reasoning fits Jack Flash perfectly, as he is the embodiment of the light-hitting, slick-fielding shortstop. With the Pirates footing the bill for all but $250,000 of the $7.25 million remaining on his contract as part of a July 29 trade last season, the Mariners received arguably the best defensive shortstop in the game for less than Paul Bako made.

Third Base: Scott Rolen

Almost 35 and often injured, Rolen is nearing the end of a great career. He is still quite productive, however, with fielding metrics continuing to laud his efforts and a slash line in the .270/.365/.465 range. After a hot start in Toronto, Rolen asked for a trade to be closer to his Indiana home, and the Blue Jays decided to pay the entire $3.9 million left on his 2009 salary to make a deal with the Reds work. He might not play beyond this year and he isn’t what he used to be, but he remains capable of reaching base and gobbling up anything in the hot corner.

Outfield: Andruw Jones, Bill Hall, Matt Holliday

We covered Jones above, with the Dodgers paying him in $3.2 million installments from 2009-14. He latched on with the White Sox this off-season in what will likely amount to a limited DH role, and barring a miraculous return to his Atlanta days of yore, it is tough to imagine he will remain employed for much longer. But if his career and life suffers any more abrupt hiccoughs, he could very well end up right in a retirement home following the end of his playing days… with the Dodgers still paying him.

Hall has had an interesting career in that he always seems older than he is and played the veteran utility role to perfection even when he was 25. Milwaukee fans salivated at the potential he displayed in 2006, hitting .270/.345/.553 with 35 homers, but posting OBPs south of .300 and SLGs south of .400 is a bona-fide way to make people forget anything good you used to provide. Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik, formerly the Brewers' scouting director, gave Hall a chance in Seattle last season after the Brew Crew offered to pay the rest of his 2009 salary and approximately $7.15 million for 2010. However, the .200/.244/.333 line in his six-week audition failed to impress anyone, thus ending the Bill Hall era in Seattle.

Holliday’s case is an example of a team sending along cash to pay for a player as a means of extracting a greater return in a trade. Though Holliday’s numbers in Oakland were underwhelming relative to his MVP-caliber performance in the prior few seasons, he still had the talent to produce at an All-Star level, which piqued the Cardinals’ interest. The Athletics, in an attempt to get more for their deadline bait, paid $1.5 of the remaining $5.385 million on his contract. Holliday proceeded to hit what felt like .650/.732/1.231 for the Cardinals, parlaying his performance into a huge deal in the offseason.

Starting Pitchers: Jason Marquis, Ian Snell, Vicente Padilla

None of these pitchers are good enough to front a rotation but they bring to the table different sets of skills and potential that could certainly benefit teams. The Cubs sent Marquis to the Rockies before the season started, paying $875,000 of the $9.875 million left on his contract, an amount that satisfied those with fetishes for perfectly round numbers (hint: one of the authors of this article) everywhere. Marquis proceeded to make the All-Star team and do what he does best—induce grounders, gobble up innings, and not strike batters out.

Snell was discussed last year in the perceived velocity series as a pitcher whose radar velocity exceeded what the hitters were actually seeing in the box, which went a long way towards explaining how someone with such solid “stuff” could look so awful at times. The Pirates, who also sent Wilson to the Mariners in the trade, shipped Snell and all but $250,000 of his $4.25-million salary to the land of Soundgarden. Snell’s 4.20 ERA belied terrible peripherals in his partial season with the Mariners, one wherein he walked 39 and whiffed 37. The Mariners are responsible for his salaries in 2010-11, but don’t be surprised if the oft-hagiographed Zduriencik foots some of the bill while flipping Snell elsewhere should he pitch remotely similar to last season.

Padilla is the exact opposite of the RoboPitcher discussed here earlier this year, as a wild card in every sense of the term. He can shut down the most powerful lineups in the game at times, as he did against the Phillies in Game Two of the NLCS last October, or he can fall prey to the longball and allow hits aplenty, as he did in Game Five. The Rangers paid the remainder of his 2009 salary and the 2010 buyout fee when trading him to the Dodgers, just so they could get rid of what was considered a detrimental attitude.

Reliever: Scott Schoeneweis

Schoeneweis had a rough year, both personally and professionally, with the untimely passing of his wife. As a specialist reliever he didn’t play much and spent the bulk of the season with his family at home. The Mets paid $1.6 million of his $3.6 million salary when they traded him to the Diamondbacks.

Moving forward, here are your 2010 Exes, a roster of players paid to play elsewhere this coming season.

The 2010 Squad

Catcher: Kelly Shoppach.

There’s an old adage about arbitration-eligible catchers: If you have to ask if you can afford him, you probably can’t. But with prospect Lou Marson already arriving in Cleveland and Carlos Santana soon to follow, the Indians didn’t feel the need to pay Shoppach top dollar after a .266 TAv in 2009. Instead, they dealt him and an undisclosed amount of cash to the Rays, who signed the backstop to a two-year, $5.5-million contract.

First Base: Mark Teahen.

With only 34 career games at first base, Teahen is miscast here. But then, the former Royal has been playing out of position for the better part of three years now, bouncing from the infield to the outfield and back again. Happily for Teahen, a trade from Kansas City to the White Sox now has him locked in at his natural position of third base at hitter-friendly US Cellular Field. As part of the deal, the Royals sent $1.5 million to the White Sox, who used the cash to help defray the cost of a three-year, $14-million extension with Teahen and his dog, Espy, owner of the club’s second-most entertaining Twitter account.

Second Base: Aaron Miles.

The Cubs dealt Miles, Jake Fox, and $1 million to Oakland in December, a year after signing Miles to a two-year deal worth $4.9 million. In a not-so-subtle indication of which assets Oakland valued in the trade, the A’s kept Fox and the cash, but sent Miles and his $2.7-million salary to Cincinnati two months later.

Shortstop: Julio Lugo.

The Red Sox put a merciful end to the Lugo era in Boston in July, as described above, and he’ll return as a backup in 2010. As it pertains to the All Paid By My Former Employer Team, Lugo will shift to shortstop in 2010.

Third Base: Bill Hall.

In January, Zduriencik flipped Hall and the cash to the Red Sox in exchange for first baseman Casey Kotchman. Now 30, Hall’s declining TAv does not bode well, but he provides the Red Sox with a nifty deduction in calculating payroll for luxury tax purposes, given that the $7.15 million received in the trade exceeds the $6-million average annual value of his contract.

Outfield: Melky Cabrera, Juan Pierre, Eric Byrnes

The Yankees certainly can afford Cabrera, who will earn $3.1 million this season as a second-time arbitration-eligible player. But he became a useful chip in the Bombers’ trade for Atlanta’s Javier Vazquez. As part of the deal, New York sent $500,000 to sweeten the deal for the suddenly cost-conscious Braves.

The Dodgers dealt Pierre to the White Sox in November, agreeing to pay $10.5 million of the $18.5 million left on his contract.  Unhappy coming off the bench in Los Angeles, Pierre will get the chance to prove that his .308/.365/.392 slash line for 2009 was no fluke. The White Sox will find out at a price of $3 million this season and $5 million in 2011.

Arizona did the right thing in January, recognizing Byrnes was a sunk cost and releasing him. Byrnes will earn $11 million this season, but that money was spent in August of 2007, when Arizona gave the hair-on-fire outfielder a three-year, $30-million extension. The only relevant question that remained was whether Byrnes deserved a roster spot. Given the competition and his age, injury history and lack of production, the obvious answer was, “No.” Now 34, Byrnes signed a minor-league deal with the Mariners, who get the chance to see if he has anything left at a low-risk cost of $400,000.

Starting Pitchers: Roy Halladay, Kevin Millwood, Carlos Silva.

Holding the most attractive chip on the trade market, Toronto GM Alex Anthopoulos enhanced the return for his ace Halladay by including $6 million in cash to the Phillies in the winter’s biggest trade. The deal netted the Jays three highly rated prospects: right-handed starter Kyle Drabek, catcher Travis d’Arnaud and outfielder Michael Taylor (later traded to Oakland for first baseman Brett Wallace). The cash facilitated the trade, at least in part, by helping the Phillies work out the three-year, $60 million extension that prompted Halladay to waive his no-trade rights.

The Rangers will pay $3 million of Millwood’s 2010 salary, giving the Orioles a veteran presence at the top of their rotation at a cost of $9 million. Texas got reliever Chris Ray in the deal and, just as importantly, the payroll flexibility needed to sign starter Rich Harden and backup infielder Khalil Greene. Unfortunately, Greene’s battle with social anxiety disorder prevented him from reporting to spring training, and his deal was voided.

In economic terms, a sunk cost is one that already has been incurred and will not be altered by subsequent decisions. In baseball terms, it’s the four-year, $48-million contract Seattle awarded to Carlos Silva in December, 2007. With two years and $25 million remaining on the deal, even the two years and $21 million left on Milton Bradley’s deal with the Cubs looked attractive by comparison. So in what amounted to a Sunk Cost Showdown, Cubs GM Jim Hendry and Zduriencik swapped problems, with Seattle paying Chicago $9 million for the privilege. Mark your calendar for June 22-24, when Silva and the Cubs visit Bradley and the Mariners in an inter-league series – assuming neither player is traded or released beforehand.

Reliever: B.J. Ryan.

Ryan last surfaced in August, when he pulled the plug on a comeback attempt at Triple-A with the Cubs. Toronto owes the left-hander $10 million in 2010, the final season of an ill-fated five-year, $47 million contract, the largest ever for a reliever.

*******************************

A bad relationship is not much fun. Whether your differences lie with a significant other, an incompetent boss or an annoying roommate, everyone involved can usually see the endgame, and it’s often not pretty. Money tends to only complicate matters, particularly when substantial dollar amounts are involved. Welcome to the world of your local stressed-out general manager.

Maybe the player you drafted and developed isn’t living up to expectations, and you can’t – or won’t – pay his salary in arbitration. Maybe a free agent wasn’t worth the money, after all. But if the player still has some value on the open market, there is an alternative to simply hoping things get better: Find a trade partner. No, you might not get all you want in return. And yes, it might be hard to watch someone you once loved move on, especially if you’re still paying him. But take heart. Trading a problem is one more option than you have in your other bad relationships.

Eric Seidman is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Eric's other articles. You can contact Eric by clicking here
Jeff Euston is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Jeff's other articles. You can contact Jeff by clicking here

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