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December 19, 2012

Rumor Roundup

Wednesday, December 19

by Daniel Rathman

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Apart from an entertaining press conference in Oakland, where general manager Billy Beane and his new shortstop, Hiroyuki Nakajima, took turns calling each other “extremely sexy and cool,” Tuesday was a boring day on the Hot Stove. To liven things up, here’s a look at two chips that could soon fall, and a long-shot trade scenario involving the Dodgers.

Edwin Jackson bidding down to Cubs and Rangers
Jackson made his big-league debut with the Dodgers in 2003, at the age of 19, and during his first decade in the majors, he has donned seven different uniforms. Instead of threatening Octavio Dotel’s record of 13 organizations, though, Jackson wants to settle down. And ESPN’s Jim Bowden believes he’s on the verge of doing just that.

When teams begin to publicly drop out of the running for free agents that they were openly pursuing, that’s often an indication that the player of interest is nearing a decision. Bowden reported on Tuesday that the Padres moved on from the 29-year-old Jackson when his contract demands reached four years, leaving the Cubs and Rangers to fight over a player that general manager Josh Byrnes deemed unworthy of such a long-term commitment. In addition to expecting a resolution in the coming days, we can also deduce that either Theo Epstein or Jon Daniels has floated a proposal worth at least $48 million over four years, based on this tweet from FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal noting San Diego’s ceiling.

Chicago and Texas became logical destinations for Jackson when Anibal Sanchez and Zack Greinke spurned the Cubs and Rangers, respectively. Most of the five-year, $75 million offer that Epstein reportedly put on the table for Sanchez could be reallocated to Jackson, assuming that the pursuit of Sanchez was rooted in a desire to add an expensive starter, as opposed to a specific affinity for the Tigers right-hander. Meanwhile, Daniels may view Jackson as part of “Plan E”—a consolation prize to Greinke, Josh Hamilton, and James Shields, with desperation brewing in Arlington as the biggest names slip away.

Last week, Sam Miller put together a 12-question blind quiz to gauge your preference for the player-valuation systems published here (WARP), at Baseball Reference (bWAR/rWAR), and at FanGraphs (fWAR). As was the case with many of the players in Sam’s sample, your opinion of Jackson depends on your metric of choice:

Metric

2012 Value

Three-Year Value

Value Since 2007

WARP

0.9

6.8 (2.27 per year)

9.0 (1.5 per year)

bWAR/rWAR

1.6

6.1 (2.03 per year)

12.1 (2.02 per year)

fWAR

2.7

10.4 (3.47 per year)

16.8 (2.8 per year)

Before we move forward, a note on the columns in the above table: I used 2007 as the initial cutoff point, because that was the first season in which Jackson made more than 13 starts. The three-year mark is more arbitrary, but it is both the beginning of Jackson’s rapid-fire tour of the majors—he was traded from the Tigers to the Diamondbacks during the 2009-2010 offseason—and the boundary between his 4.00+ FIP days and his more recent, sub-4.00 FIP performances.

If you go by WARP, then in 2012, Jackson ranked 84th among qualifying starting pitchers, in the same neighborhood as Brandon McCarthy and Joe Blanton, who both recently signed for $15-16 million over two years. If you go by bWAR/rWAR, then he placed in the mid-60s, and if you go by fWAR, then he slides into the low 40s. Using the three-year average, WARP and bWAR/rWAR are roughly on the same page, while fWAR—valuing Jackson’s 2010 and 2011 campaigns at 3.9 wins apiece—tacks on 1.2-1.5 wins annually, compiling a 10.4 win total that puts him between Johnny Cueto and Madison Bumgarner. A similar trend continues when you add on the 2007-2009 period, with the systems’ opinions continuing to diverge over time.

Considering that the reported offers to Jackson are in the $12-13 million-per-year range, the teams bidding for his services view him as roughly a two-win pitcher, in line with the WARP and bWAR/rWAR three-year average, and believe that he will continue to produce at that level (or a bit below, if you adjust for inflation and the spending environment) through at least the 2016 season, when he will turn 33. Jackson has not suffered an arm-related injury since the 2004 season, and he has not required a disabled-list stint since that two-month absence, so his durability is not a pressing concern. The former National has a bit more mileage on his arm than the average 29-year-old, given his teenage debut, but there are no signs of imminent decline.

And yet, Jackson has never secured a hitch for longer than two years. Last offseason, he was forced to settle for an $11 million paycheck from the Nats just two weeks before spring training. And, as recently as six days ago, the Rangers—one of the two apparent finalists for his services this winter—were dragging their feet about issuing a three-plus-year bid, per CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman, who confirmed Bowden’s report of the Padres’ decision to bow out yesterday afternoon.

Assuming that the Jackson situation, which is being managed by his representatives at Legacy Sports (led by Greg Genske), is indeed coming to a head, Heyman’s tweet on the 13th could mean one of two things. Daniels may be wary of making a four-year commitment to Jackson, in which case the Cubs are the favorites. Conversely, he may have wanted to downplay his interest in an effort to slow down the bidding, and then trump the highest offer on judgment day, a scenario that would lead to the Rangers coming out on top. If the team-dropping-out clue proves prescient, we will find out soon enough.

Rangers hosted A.J. Pierzynski on Tuesday
Speaking of Daniels, Jackson isn’t the only free agent on his mind this week. According to Bruce Levine of ESPN Chicago, Pierzynski traveled to Arlington on Tuesday to meet with the Rangers brass, as he continues to search for a new home. The White Sox are expected to move forward with Tyler Flowers behind the dish, barring a significant discount.

The 35-year-old Pierzynski (he turns 36 on the 30th of this month) logged a .287 TAv last season, his best offensive output in a decade, compensating for poor defensive work to deliver 2.5 WARP. He’s not likely to smack 27 home runs again, considering that the total represented a career high and was more than triple his 2011 production, but a move to Rangers Ballpark would help. And while Pierzynski’s -2.2 FRAA suggest that his always-shaky glove work continues to erode, he graded out as a slightly-better-than-neutral pitch framer in Mike Fast’s study from 2007-2011, an element that FRAA does not incorporate.

Adding Pierzynski would only be one step in Daniels’ revamped off-season plan, but with the current catcher depth chart listing the likes of Geovany Soto, Konrad Schmidt, and Luis Martinez, it might be an important one. A left-handed hitter, Pierzynski amassed a .300 TAv against right-handed pitchers last year, and he owns a .274 mark versus northpaws for his career. That balances well with Soto’s .297 lifetime TAv against southpaws, and would help the Rangers by hiding the former Cub on the bench when opponents throw a righty, no small feat given his .229 career TAv against them. A true platoon might be ideal, but Pierzynski would project to pick up some at-bats in the designated hitter slot, based on Levine’s report.

Signed to a two-year, $8 million deal in December 2010, Pierzynski earned just $6 million for his efforts last season, and he should be in line for a raise. But his agent, Steve Hilliard, faces a market with limited demand, since most teams are already set at the catcher position. Chicago Tribune columnist Phil Rogers mentioned the Yankees as a possible destination at the Winter Meetings, but Brian Cashman appears content to move forward with rookie Austin Romine, unless Pierzynski is willing to settle for a one-year pact. Heyman speculated that the Dodgers could be in play, but Ned Colletti seems inclined to start A.J. Ellis, who also enjoyed a breakout year in 2012.

Thus, the Rangers are currently Pierzynski’s best bet for a contract equal to or better than the $17 million over two years that the Pirates handed to Russell Martin. Unless Hilliard drums up more interest, Pierzynski—despite peaking last season—should be available at a reasonable price.

Could the Dodgers trade Andre Ethier?
Mark Feinsand, the Yankees beat writer for the New York Daily News, heard from a source that Colletti was “shopping” his right fielder, whose five-year, $85 million extension kicks in for the 2013 season. Rosenthal backed Feinsand’s story at first, but backtracked just minutes later, when an insider told him that Colletti “will listen,” but has “zero intention of trading him.”

For now, this rumor appears to be a lot of smoke and very little fire. If that changes, though, it could have implications for Michael Bourn and Nick Swisher, who would happily welcome a big spender into their pools of suitors. Rosenthal speculated in the afore-linked post that the Mariners might build an offer around Franklin Gutierrez, but it’s unclear whether that hypothetical is connected to the two American League teams that his source mentioned.

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

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