Boston Red Sox

  • Who’s on first? Now we know…: When the Carlos Delgado domino finally fell, the losers in the sweepstakes did the expected, acquiring Doug Mientkiewicz from the Red Sox. In return, the Sox picked up first-base prospect Ian Bladergroen. Bladergroen hit a sharp .342/.397/.595 in low-A last season before tearing a ligament in his wrist. In his two-year minor league career, the 44th-round pick out of Lamar Community College hit .316/.376/.505; he projects as a power hitter with decent plate discipline. The Sox did well capitalizing on the Mets’ desperation and getting good value for an expendable player.

    Though Kevin Millar will get most of the playing time in Mientkiewicz’s absence, plucking Roberto Petagine from the Japanese leagues could be an interesting move (as Jim Baker noted recently, if anyone was going to give Petagine a shot, it was likely going to be the Red Sox). The 33-year-old Petagine last played in the majors in 1998 and had a career line of .225/.346/.371. He then went to Japan and hit .317/.446/.633, averaging 37 home runs and 95 walks per season in six years.

    A true Ken Phelps All-Star, we’ve been yelling for Petagine to get a shot back stateside for years, and the Sox are now getting the past-prime version of the once intriguing hitter. Still, Petagine should be able to back up at first and in the outfield, giving Terry Francona another versatile body off the bench. The Red Sox also signed 37-year-old RHP Denny Tomori to a minor league contract. If you are wondering how Japanese statistics translate to the Major Leagues, we recommend you check out Clay Davenport’s article on page 585 of BP 2004.

  • Starting six?: The Red Sox currently have six starting pitchers battling for five spots. The depth chart on the Red Sox Web site lists the rotation like this:

    1. Curt Schilling
    2. David Wells
    3. Matt Clement
    4. Tim Wakefield
    5. Bronson Arroyo
    6. Wade Miller

    The top three should surprise nobody–Clement would likely be the number two by merit, but the Sox expect to alternate right-left-right. What is interesting is when we use PECOTA to set the rotation, this is how it would look:

    Player        Projected VORP
    Schilling      56
    Clement        38.6
    Arroyo         31.4
    Wakefield      24.4
    Miller         20.2
    Wells          15.6

    The projected regression of Boomer Wells is explained by him turning 42 in May; despite his recent success, few pitchers make it this far intact. The biggest surprise has to go to Tim Wakefield, who is expected to more than double his VORP from last season (9.4 to 24.4). What is more surprising is that PECOTA expects the knuckleballer to pitch 33 fewer innings than last year. Six Opening Day candidates or not, Sox management did well to stack the deck. Curt Schilling’s timetable to start the season seems to change almost daily, and Wade Miller is coming off an injury-plagued 2004. In fact, the Red Sox may need more than just these six to eat up starts this season. Chris Kahrl points out that the Sox made two other lesser-known transactions that may end up coming in handy this season. To add even more depth, they picked up Jeremi Gonzalez and John Halama. Here is what PECOTA expects from these two in 2005:

    Player              IP        EqERA        VORP
    John Halama        82.3        4.97        8.4
    Jeremi Gonzalez    84.7        4.84       11.2

    Both are capable of pitching more than 100 innings and swallowing up some of the starts that will keep the likes of Wells and Schilling fresh in October.

Cincinnati Reds

  • An embarrassment of riches?: Looking at the Reds outfield situation, Reds GM Dan O’Brien denies that he will trade any of his four OFs. Last month, we documented how bad the Reds’ pitching staff looks heading into 2005, Eric Milton or not. Wouldn’t the team then do well to trade one of the outfielders for some pitching?

    If so, who? It’s pretty safe to say Ken Griffey Jr. isn’t going anywhere. The two most desperate teams on the market–Orioles (Sosa) and Tigers (Ordonez)–have already made their moves, so the market for outfielders with bad contracts is drying up quickly. Here is what PECOTA thinks of Griffey in 2005:

    Player           AB     AVG      OBP     SLG    VORP   FRAA
    Ken Griffey Jr.  270   0.265    0.363   0.506   21.6    -5

    The 270 at-bats stand out, but keep in mind that this is a weighted mean projection; Griffey could easily surpass or fall short of this projection. While Griffey won’t ever again be the player he once was, it would be great to see what he can do if he could ever get 450 AB.

    Now let’s take a look at the other three: Adam Dunn, Austin Kearns, and Wily Mo Pena:

    Player          AB   AVG        OBP         SLG       VORP     FRAA
    Adam Dunn      460   0.270     0.395        0.562     42.4     -7
    Austin Kearns  328   0.286     0.388        0.500     29.8      1
    Wily Mo Pena   340   0.281     0.351        0.528     29.3     -4

    Adam Dunn continues to one of PECOTA’s favorites. What’s not to like? Sure, he strikes out a ton, but PECOTA also sees him drawing 90 walks, which may even prove to be a conservative estimate. Dunn is also seen as the safest of the lot, as his collapse rate of 2.8% is the lowest in baseball. PECOTA also pegs Dunn with an 86.5% chance of improving (more than 10% better than anyone else) and a 55.8% of breaking out. Kearns’ health is a question mark, but he could be a major force if he can stay on the field. As predicted by PECOTA, Pena broke out last season, batting .259/.316/.527 with a 23.5 VORP while playing center and right field. As the legend of Wily Mo continues to grow, PECOTA thinks that Pena is going to continue to improve this season.

    So who should go? Maybe none of them. Based on Griffey’s immovability and the fact that Dunn and Kearns are home-grown and still inexpensive, you might expect Pena to be the one to go. But Pena’s still a valuable commodity himself– only 23, cheap, and appears to be getting better every year. Moreover, it’s unclear if a team would ante up a good, young pitcher with 0-3 years of major league service time who’d be a Pena equivalent coming back.

    If they can get full value for Pena, it’s worth pursuing, especially with the effective Ryan Freel able to contribute. Otherwise, waiting on the fragile Griffey or Kearns to get hurt and not selling low may be the best option.

  • Shortstop update: Speaking of Freel, it looked as though he was going to get a chance to back up at shortstop when Anderson Machado‘s injury turned out to be more serious than originally thought, as Machado suffered a torn MCL while playing winter ball. But to fill Machado’s void, the Reds signed Rich Aurilia to a minor league contract. Aurilia is likely to make the team and will compete for the starting spot with Felipe Lopez. Even if he doesn’t start, he’s likely to take at-bats from the younger, faster, more useful Freel.

San Diego Padres

  • Leading off: The Padres’ biggest offensive acquisition this off-season was OF Dave Roberts. The deal will allow the Pads to move Sean Burroughs down in the order, probably to the six or seven spot. Roberts’ speed may make this move seem like a slam dunk, but when we look at the numbers, it’s really not. Here is a look at the production that the Padres got in 2004 from the #1 spot in the order.

    AVG        OBP        SLG        P/PA
    0.288     0.334      0.395       3.63

    Here is where those numbers ranked among all MLB leadoff hitters:

    AVG      OBP       SLG       P/PA
    13        14        11        11

    If judged individually, the leadoff hitter in the Padres lineup would have ranked 111th (in all of MLB) in pitches seen per plate appearance. Also, Padres leadoff hitters were only successful on 69% of their stolen base attempts. Last season, Burroughs hit .293/.343/.366 with 3.64 P/PA in 439 lead-off PAs. Not great, but better than the cumulative totals for the Padres. Will Dave Roberts really be better than this? Here is what PECOTA expects for Roberts in ’05:

    AVG        OBP        SLG        SB
    0.263      0.337     0.353      23/29

    If PECOTA is right, Roberts will be worse than what the ’04 Padres’ leadoff spot provided in terms of batting and slugging averages, and only slightly better in terms of on-base percentage. The projected 40+ point drop in slugging is disturbing, especially given Burroughs’ own struggles to hit for power. On the plus side, the usefulness of Roberts’ speed is augmented by his success in 79% of his attempts–a terrific 81% for his career. Roberts’ career P/PA of 3.83 should also make pitchers work, a plus out of the leadoff spot. At worst this looks like a wash, with the potential for an upgrade if Burroughs wises up and changes his hitting approach, something Padres management desperately wants to see. Burroughs’ method of “slapping at the ball and blocking his hips from firing through” have thus far stunted the moderate power the Padres had hoped to see from him.

    Roberts was the only addition to an offense that ranked 8th in the NL in runs scored. With Brian Giles, Ryan Klesko and Phil Nevin all a year older to boot, the question becomes: where is the offense going to come from? Since we’ve already talked about Burroughs and Roberts, here’s a look at the rest of the order:

    Player       Proj Spot in Order  2004 VORP   Proj. 2005 VORP
    Mark Loretta        2             76.2        37.4
    Brian Giles         3             50.8        45.6
    Phil Nevin          4             46.9        17.9
    Ryan Klesko         5             31.3        22.6
    Ramon Hernandez     7             30.3        17.6
    Khalil Greene       8             37.6        28.6

    Mark Loretta is coming off a career year and isn’t at an age where players continue to get better. With the exception of
    Greene and Hernandez, the others are heading to the backside of their careers. Giles, Nevin, and Klesko are coming off what may be considered off-years, but PECOTA still doesn’t see improvement. While players routinely beat or fall short of their weighted mean projections, it’s an alarming snapshot. Woody Williams and Darrell May figure to help the pitching staff, but the loss of David Wells hurts. Put it all together and the Padres might have a tough time competing with the Giants and Dodgers in 2005, as the roster stands.

  • Minor Deal: At the beginning of the month, the Padres swapped failed first-round picks with the Indians by sending the 14th pick in the 2001 draft, Jake Gautreau, to the Indians for the 26th player taken in the 2000 draft, Corey Smith. The 25-year-old Gautreau hit .266 between Double- and Triple-A last season and was blocked by Sean Burroughs at third and Mark Loretta at second. Smith, who is making the transition to the outfield from third base, hit a paltry .243 between Double and Triple-A in 2004. This could be a case of a deal that helps no one.

–Jason Karegeannes

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