Anaheim Angels

  • Against the Grain: As Joe Sheehan noted last week, there is often a disproportionate difference in salary between comparable players eligible for free agency and those eligible only for arbitration. The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim however, are becoming a bit of a maverick and free agency seems no different.

    Paul Byrd was signed as a free agent to a one-year, $5 million deal back in December, while arbitration eligible Jarrod Washburn reached an one-year accord worth $6.5 million. The two make for an interesting comparison in that their three-year translated averages are similar:

    Byrd        K/9  BB/9  K/BB  HR/9   H/9
    2001       3.94  1.93  2.04  0.89  9.45
    2002       4.48  1.15  3.91  1.11  7.18
    2004       5.29  1.17  4.53  1.17  8.66
    AVG        4.56  1.34  3.42  1.08  8.08
    Washburn    K/9  BB/9  K/BB  HR/9   H/9
    2002       5.65  2.32  2.44  0.82  8.11
    2003       4.81  2.25  2.14  1.22  7.60
    2004       4.67  2.11  2.21  1.00  8.48
    AVG        5.08  2.24  2.27  1.02  8.03

    While neither pitcher has a great line, Byrd has made a strong case for being the better of the two over the past three years in which he has pitched. As his strikeout and walk rates have improved. Byrd’s HR rate has increased, but Angel Stadium played better for home runs than did Turner Field in 2004, so there is reason to believe that will change. Meanwhile, it seems the Angels are still paying for Washburn’s 2002 season. The left-hander has dropped almost a whole strikeout per nine innings in the last three years and though his walks have also decreased, it is not enough to make up for a drop in his K/BB ratio, where Byrd is clearly superior. Still, PECOTA rates them about the same, with a 17.7 VORP forecast for Byrd versus 18.1 for Washburn.

    PECOTA also shows Byrd as having a wider range of possible performances, an implicit acknowledgement of his missed time over the past two years. Keep in mind that Byrd didn’t miss a start after returning from Tommy John surgery, and the track record has been good for Tommy John survivors of late. Byrd’s metrics indicate he has a good chance to beat his PECOTA projection.

  • Oh Kendry! The Angels signed Cuban defector Kendry Morales to a six-year contract in early December. Scouting Director Eddie Bane has been on record saying that Morales is ready for prime time. Unfortunately, the Angels have nowhere to put him. The Angels have committed to Dallas McPherson at third base and Darin Erstad just won a Gold Glove at first base. Casey Kotchman seems to have the inside track at designated hitter. The outfield is just as crowded with Garret Anderson, Steve Finley and Vladimir Guerrero, to say nothing of Juan Rivera and Jeff DaVanon.

    So where does this leave the Angels? It probably gives them a good excuse to send Morales to the minors. As an article in Baseball Prospectus 2005 will cover, Cuban baseball seems comparable to the Carolina League, so this does not seem unreasonable. However, based on the track record of disappointing Cuban hitters, there’s a significant risk that Morales’ six-year contract will become an albatross.

Chicago Cubs

  • Metropolitan Rules: As the Mets have been the most prominent team mentioned as having interest in Sammy Sosa, it seems they could be on the verge of ruining the Cubs offseason. Carlos Beltran signing with the Mets not only caused the Cubs to miss out on the best bat on the market, but they also may have lost their best opportunity to rid themselves of Sosa. Beltran strengthens the Mets outfield to the point where Sosa’s bat is no longer necessary.

    Then again, now that Carlos Delgado has finally signed the Mets may have renewed interest in the disgruntled Sosa. Jim Hendry can now put down his bottle of Pepto Bismol and make a deal with the Mets happen. Of course, with the often silent Mr. Hamm now sticking up for Sammy, perhaps there’s room for a happy ending in Chicago after all.

    As it has been since the last day of the season, the one Sosa skipped out on, the situation is confusing. It’s hard to believe that this is the same player who was the face of the Cubs for a five-year stretch, and whose achievements and enthusiasm made him a poster boy for baseball’s renaissance.

  • Ordonez to the Rescue? Even with Sosa still on board, Moises Alou’s departure has left a void in the Cubs outfield. Though he likely will not be 100 percent, there has been talk regarding Magglio Ordonez as a possible replacement. An Ordonez/Todd Hollandsworth platoon could work out very well until Mags is ready to go full-tilt. The Cubs could take advantage of Hollandsworth’s platoon split (.255/.307/.368 vs. LHP and .286/.351/.481 vs. RHP from 2002-2004), as their early schedule promises to include a lot of lefties (Shawn Estes, Doug Davis, Chris Capuano, Eric Milton, Oliver Perez, Mark Redman, etc.). Such a platoon could give the Cubs time to work Ordonez back to full-time duty.
  • A-S-T-A-C-I-O: Conventional wisdom has the Cubs signing Robb Nen to be the closer. Nen’s numbers certainly stack up well, and he played under Dusty Baker in San Francisco, which may be another plus. Other ideas are to make a deal for Orioles closer Jorge Julio, or turn the job over to an incumbent such as Joe Borowski or Ryan Dempster.

    A third option could be turning to Pedro Astacio. While the Cubs have not been included among his list of possible suitors, he could fit well here. He performed well in the Dominican this winter, and the combination of his age and shoulder history make him tailor-made for short outings.

    Here’s how the candidates stack up:

                 K/BB  HR/9  2005 PECOTA VORP
    Nen          2.95   .68      14.7
    Julio        1.71   .91      10.7
    Dempster     1.40   .93       8.8
    Astacio      2.08  1.05       6.7
    Borowski     2.09   .76       4.3

    Nen is clearly superior among this group, though the risk for someone who hasn’t pitched competitively in two years is high. Julio is not only temperamental, but will cost the Cubs prospects, something Jim Hendry has successfully avoided doing. If the Cubs are reluctant to turn the role over to Dempster or Borowski, then Astacio may be a good fit, and he is certainly worth signing even if his shoulder does not hold up.

Milwaukee Brewers

  • New Names, Same Story?: A third of the Brewers lineup will be different in 2005. Let’s take a look:
    Old Brewers        2004 VORP
    OF Scott Podsednik    19.3
    C  Chad Moeller      -10.7
    SS Craig Counsell      8.7
    TOTAL                 17.3
    New Brewers        2004 VORP
    OF Carlos Lee        46.8
    C  Damian Miller     16.8
    SS J.J. Hardy        19.3*
    TOTAL                82.9
    *2005 PECOTA projection

    This is a huge increase in VORP. Assuming runs allowed stays the same, plugging the Brewers ’04 runs scored plus this increase along with runs allowed into the Pythagenport formula would theoretically boost by over seven wins. The masterstroke is obviously netting Carlos Lee, whose VORP for 2004 tops the combined VORP of 29.9 of Scott Podsednik and Luis Vizcaino, the two players dealt away in the trade.

  • Clean Sheets: Ben Sheets is arbitration-eligible this year, and he and Brewers management seem to be at an impasse. Sheets’ agent proposed a $6.5 million contract, which in this off-season’s market seems like a bargain. While there is concern about Sheets’ recent surgery, Will Carroll reported yesterday that Sheets will be ready to go in spring training. With prominent starters such as Roy Oswalt, Carlos Zambrano and 2004 AL Cy Young winner Johan Santana also eligible for arbitration, it will be interesting to see which teams blink, and which teams take their cases to arbitration.

  • Welcome to the Neighborhood: Lastly, a hearty PTP welcome to new Brewers owner Mark Attanasio, whose purchase of the Brewers was recently approved. Lessening the direct Selig influence on baseball should be reason enough to break out the bratwurst. However, with Attanasio claiming he will pump more money into the farm system and the payroll, there’s even more hope (and faith) for Brewers fans. At the very least, Attanasio should buy motorized scooters for the Sausage Race.

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