Some winter bullets for your reading pleasure…

  • It’s becoming clear to me that Orlando Cabrera and Edgar Renteria are poised to become two of the most overvalued free agents on the market this winter. Cabrera is reportedly seeking a four- or five-year deal, and the Cardinals are said to be mulling over a four-year, $32-million offer for Renteria.

    Better, more cost-effective shortstop solutions are out there. Namely, Placido Polanco and Julio Lugo. Polanco is available for hire, and the D-Rays may wind up non-tendering Lugo. At the very least, he’s available for trade at a nominal cost. Compare the numbers over the last three seasons:

                Age         AVG/OBP/SLG
    Cabrera     30         .275/.325/.409
    Renteria    29         .308/.362/.440
    Polanco     29         .292/.342/.430
    Lugo        29         .271/.333/.399

    Keep in mind that Renteria’s offensive numbers are heavily skewed by his MVP-caliber work in 2003 (.330/.394/.480), which is squarely out of step with the rest of his career. It’s conceivable that he’ll have another season like that, but there’s not much to suggest we should anticipate it. I don’t expect Renteria to match the above levels of production over the next three seasons.

    Likewise, Cabrera’s numbers from 2003 (.297/.347/.460) are boosting his three-year rate stats while also being largely aberrant. On the other hand, Lugo and Polanco have been remarkably consistent over the last three seasons, and expecting production in line with the above numbers seems reasonable. Now let’s use Fielding Runs Above Replacement to evaluate their defensive skills:

               2002 FRAR     2003 FRAR     2004 FRAR
    Cabrera        33            22            14
    Renteria        7            22            10
    Polanco        17*           24*           35*
    Lugo            3            26            21

    First off, Polanco’s numbers were compiled largely as a second baseman, but he’s an excellent second baseman who’s capable of manning short (he did so part-time in 2002). He might not be the defender that Cabrera is at the position, but his bat would likely make up the ground. Renteria simply isn’t all that impressive, despite his Gold Gloves. Of the group, Lugo has been the best defender over the last two seasons.

    We can split hairs over who’s the best shortstop, but the fact that such a debate is even possible tells you all you need to know. If someone takes the step of moving Polanco to shortstop, they and whoever employs Lugo next season will wind up getting far, far more value on the dollar from the position than whoever lavishes Cabrera and Renteria with long-term deals.

  • Like most people, I like the Jason Kendall deal for Oakland. Kendall’s coming off a season in which he led all catchers in plate appearances and logged a .398 OBP. Network Associates is historically pretty tough on right-handed batters in terms of average, which is what much of Kendall’s value is tied up in, so I don’t expect his numbers to be as impressive in 2005. However, Oakland’s risk-averse approach on the base paths will only help him. Since returning from his gruesome ankle injury in 1999, Kendall has been only 69-for-149 in the steals department. In other words, he’s costing his team runs, and he needs to cut it out. On Ken Macha’s watch, he probably will.

    Last season, Kendall was roughly three wins better than Damian Miller, Oakland’s outgoing catcher, and this was in year in which Miller, in terms of EqA, almost reached his 75th-percentile PECOTA projection.

    The A’s are coming off a year in which they finished 9th in the AL in runs scored. They figure to add at least 25 runs with the addition of Kendall, but they’ll be without Jermaine Dye. You heard quite a bit about Dye’s putative comeback last season, but his final numbers (.265/.329/.464) weren’t terribly impressive for a corner defender. It won’t surprise me if Nick Swisher, Dye’s probable replacement in right, comes within hailing distance of those rate stats and provides marginally better glovework.

    Some improvement from Bobby Crosby is a reasonable expectation, and recall that Eric Chavez missed more than a month with a broken wrist last season. Assume better health, and throw in the fact that he’ll be 27 by opening day and coming off a season in which he drew 85 unintentional walks in 577 plate appearances and that long-anticipated MVP season seems highly possible.

    Another place the A’s can make gains is by getting better production from second base. In ’04, Oakland keystoners hit .253/.299/.363, while the AL-average second baseman hit .260/.319/.401. That’s the loss of more than an entire win right there (the league-mean second baseman was roughly 11 runs better than what Oakland trotted out last season). It’ll surprise no one that I’d love the idea of a Polanco in an Oakland uniform next season. He’d be a substantial upgrade, both with the glove and with the bat. The overarching point is that Oakland, by doing no more than they’ve already done, will likely have a better offense next season. By adding even a modestly productive second baseman, they could have a notably better offensive attack in 2005. Considering their looming rotation concerns, they’ll need that.

  • Two years ago, this would’ve been a thoroughly risible question: Is Javy Lopez making a credible Hall of Fame case?

    Prior to the 2003 season, he was a solidly above average, and in my mind underrated, offensive catcher. However, throw his excellence over the last two seasons into the mix and what emerges is a player who’s slowly cobbling together a sound argument for admittance to Cooperstown.

    Consider that Lopez, at this moment, ranks eighth all-time for home runs by a catcher, and he places 17th all-time for total bases by a catcher. Lopez’s career SLG of .502 places third all-time among catchers. His hits total of 1,331 ranks 31st, and his 477 extra-base hits is the 14th-best total of all-time for catchers.

    Needless to say, he needs to stick around for a few more quasi-effective seasons to inflate his counting totals, but he’s already one of best power-hitting catchers in history. He’s certainly not a Hall-of-Famer if he retired today, but he’s within hailing distance.

  • If Luis Gonzalez isn’t fully recovered from elbow surgery by the start of the season, and if the D-backs’ somewhat halting efforts to re-sign Richie Sexson come to grief, then their opening-day lineup could go a little something like this:

    C – Koyie Hill
    1B – Shea Hillenbrand
    2B – Matt Kata
    3B – Chad Tracy
    SS – Alex Cintron
    LF – Josh Kroeger
    CF – Luis Terrero
    RF – Scott Hairston

    You better have extra dot races and especially loud major-key rock music if you want people to show up for this. Bear in mind, this isn’t some circa Sept. 25 “play the kids” lineup trotted out by a team hopelessly out of contention; this is opening by-golly day. There oughta be a law.

Until next week….

Thank you for reading

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