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Florida Marlins

  • Love Me Tender, Part I: The Marlins have come to terms with a handful of players in the past month:
                        2004 VORP        Contract Terms
    A.J. Burnett           26.8          $3.65MM/1 year
    Paul Lo Duca           26.7          $18MM/3 years
    Guillermo Mota         24.9          $2.6MM/1 year
    Matt Perisho            6.8          $475K/1 year
    Tim Spooneybarger       N/A          $350K/1 year
    Ismael Valdez           3.9          $1.5MM/1 year
    Antonio Alfonseca      22.7          $300K/1 year

    The Marlins tendered Josh Beckett, A.J. Burnett, Paul Lo Duca, Guillermo Mota and Tim Spooneybarger for arbitration purposes, and have managed to sign all but Beckett to deals for 2005. Matt Perisho and Ismael Valdez weren’t going to arbitration–Perisho because he wasn’t asked, Valdes because he’d refused arbitration–but both are back with the Fish in ’05, filling out the back of the bullpen and the rotation, respectively.

    That bit about Antonio Alfonseca looks like a misprint, but isn’t. Increasing focus on the player medical exam is changing the way the offseason plays out. The Marlins found a herniated disc on El Pulpo, and therefore called off Alfonseca’s two-year, $4.75MM deal. Rather than try to find work elsewhere as damaged goods, Alfonseca accepted a one-year make-good contract with the Fish.

  • “Heart and Soul, I Fell in Love with You, Heart and Soul…”: What is it about Paul Lo Duca that has this effect on people? At this point, he’s probably the third-best established catcher in the National League, but that’s more a comment on the migration of elite NL catchers to the AL in the past two years (Ivan Rodriguez and Javy Lopez last offseason, Jason Kendall this offseason) than a wholehearted endorsement of Mr. Heart & Soul’s abilities. Let’s look at some numbers:
    Player          2004 VORP   3-Year VORP   2004 Salary
    Mike Lieberthal   26.8         37.2       $ 7.5MM
    Mike Piazza       29.9         36.9       $16.1MM
    Paul Lo Duca      26.7         26.9       $ 4.1MM
    Ramon Hernandez   30.3         23.0       $ 2.9MM
    Michael Barrett   31.0         17.0       $ 1.6MM
    Jason Larue       21.1         15.9       $ 2.6MM
    Johnny Estrada    41.0         13.5       $ 312K
    Charles Johnson   12.1          9.9       $ 9.0MM

    VORP, you know; “3-Year VORP” is simply the player’s average over the past three seasons. Johnny Estrada and Michael Barrett were 1-2 in the NL catcher VORP standings, but in 2004 both players were producing at this level for the first time. Mike Lieberthal‘s edge over Mike Piazza in the three-year standings is largely a function of health and position; VORP punishes Piazza for all the time he spent at first base in 2004.

    Compare the NL list to the cream of the catching crop in the American League:

    Player          2004 VORP   3-Year VORP   2004 Salary
    Jorge Posada      48.9         53.1       $ 9.0MM
    Ivan Rodriguez    63.1         51.1       $ 7.0MM
    Javy Lopez        56.3         47.1       $ 6.0MM
    Jason Kendall     47.5         40.7       $ 8.6MM
    Jason Varitek     46.0         35.7       $ 6.9MM

    Looking at the overall picture, it’s pretty hard to justify Lo Duca as a $6MM/year catcher. He’s a win or more worse than any of the players who were in that financial neighborhood last year–Lopez, Jason Varitek, Rodriguez, Lieberthal–and he’s not much younger than any of them, either.

    Largely due to his age, PECOTA projects Lo Duca to drop to .272/.329/.387 in 2005, good for a 16.3 VORP. If PECOTA’s right, Lo Duca’s $18MM deal won’t be the most devastating in the history of catching–Charles Johnson‘s contract is still going, and Todd Hundley is the leader in the clubhouse–but it will be a big premium to pay for someone’s sparkling personality.

New York Yankees

  • News, What News? We might as well just skip the Yankees portion of PTP this month, as nothing’s really happened in the Bronx since last month’s edition. Sure, they re-signed Ruben Sierra to a one-year, $1.5MM deal, but that’s neither here nor there. Sierra is not completely undeserving of a major-league roster spot (9.9 VORP in 2004, about a win better than a replacement player), and $1.5MM is not a noteworthy expenditure on a $200MM roster. Proportionally, this is roughly equivalent to signing a player to the minimum on the Expos, Marlins or Indians.

    Bringing Tino Martinez back is supposed to be news, but is this really unexpected? Martinez is the Newman to Jason Giambi‘s Seinfeld, the Prince Humperdink to his Westley. Wasn’t there supposed to be some real news in the New Year for the Yankees?

  • Wait a Minute: Oh yeah, we were forgetting something. Six feet, ten inches worth of something.

    What can we say about Randy Johnson in pinstripes that hasn’t been beaten into the ground elsewhere? He’s the tallest pitcher in franchise history, but that’s pretty much the case anywhere the Big Unit goes. How about another place Randy might make his mark with the Yankees in 2005, the franchise single-season strikeout record:

    Player           Year  Strikeouts
    Ron Guidry       1978  248
    Jack Chesbro     1904  239
    David Cone       1997  222
    Melido Perez     1992  218
    Al Downing       1964  217
    Mike Mussina     2001  214
    Roger Clemens    2001  213
    Bob Turley       1955  210
    David Cone       1998  209
    Whitey Ford      1961  209
    Russ Ford        1910  209

    It’s odd that of the top 11 strikeout seasons in Yankee history, five have come since 1992. Even stranger is that the Yankees are one of just six franchises for which no pitcher has ever broken the 250-strikeout mark in a season. The other franchises are the Orioles and Royals, and three of the four founded since 1993: the Rockies, Marlins and Devil Rays.

    That last fact is unlikely to survive this season. Johnson has broken the 250-strikeout mark in every full season he’s played since 1994, so if he can stay healthy, Ron Guidry is going down. It’s also likely that the Unit could break David Cone‘s mark for strikeouts per nine (10.25, set in 1997), since Johnson has bettered that figure in each of his full seasons since 1992.

    Other franchise records seem out of reach. To reach the franchise career strikeout record (Whitey Ford, 1956), Johnson would have to remain effective, healthy, and in pinstripes until at least the age of 47. To get the season shutout record (Guidry, nine, 1978) the Big Unit would have to best his career high of six in 1998. And to challenge the single-season ERA record (Spud Chandler, 1.64, 1943) Johnson would have to chain Bernie Williams up in a basement for each of his starts.

Pittsburgh Pirates

  • Love Me Tender, Part II: These boys are tendered and signed:
                       2004 VORP   3 Year VORP    Terms
    Josh Fogg            16.2        10.9         $2.1MM/1 year
    Brian Meadows         9.4         7.2         $1.1MM/1 year
    Daryle Ward          10.8         2.8         $950K/1 year
    Kip Wells            17.6        31.5         $3.2MM/1 year
    Jack Wilson          50.6        20.0         $8MM/2 years

    That’s a mixed bag. Daryle Ward signs for about what he’s worth, or at least what it’s worth to see if he’ll ever live up to his potential. Brian Meadows and Josh Fogg are two different flavors of the “proven mediocrity” concept. Health problems aside, Kip Wells was a must-sign, as was Jack Wilson, who we’ll discuss below.

    That leaves Rob Mackowiak and Craig Wilson still to be signed. Wilson has finally gotten the chance to put up full-season numbers in the Show; comparing him to guys like Bubba Trammell and Jay Gibbons, you’d have to say that his value in arbitration starts around $2.7MM. Mackowiak’s value should be in the mid-to-upper six figures. He has decent pop, but his OBP is low and he’s only a competent defender at the corners. Still, 17 homers and 75 RBI could be enough for some arbitrator to make Mackowiak a millionaire. That’s why they give clubs the option of non-tendering a guy.

  • Jack in the Box: Jack Wilson’s two-year, $8MM deal comes after the shortstop’s career year, and buys out his final two arbitration years. Because these are the penny-pinching Pirates, we must ask if four million per year for a (usually) light-hitting shortstop is a proper allocation of resources.

    To save a little suspense, this is a good deal. Forgetting, for the moment, Wilson’s 2004 season, you have a low-offense, excellent-defense shortstop, in his fourth season. The market for such a player was set a few months ago, when Jim Bowden signed Cristian Guzman to a four-year, $16.8MM deal. If you cast a blind eye to the steals column, Wilson and Guzman could be twins. Their career seasons (Guzman’s 2001 and Wilson’s 2004) are almost identical, both share a DiSarcinian loathing of the base on balls, and Wilson has the better defensive reputation. An arbitrator looking at Wilson would see maybe a 2000-2001 Neifi Perez, or the David Eckstein contract, and would almost certainly have turned over $4 million to Wilson, if not more.

    PECOTA doesn’t buy Wilson’s 2004 performance, but it doesn’t have him slipping back to the .250/.300/.350 ways of his past, either. He is projected for a .272/.315/.398 in 2005, good for an 18.5 VORP. Those number match up pretty well with Wilson’s second-half performance in 2004.

    Now, is that worth four million per year over the next two years? Ask Guzman, or Rich Aurilia, or Ricky Gutierrez for that matter. You could definitely do worse.

Thank you for reading

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