|NEW YORK METS|
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David Wright and Jose Reyes, New York’s twin
cornerstones, will both be 23 in 2006. Combined with Carlos Beltran,
who turns 29 next April, New York has a young offensive nucleus that should be the
foundation in Queens for years.
Despite that youth, the Mets have approached the marketplace with a “win-now”
philosophy, primarily due to ace right-hander Pedro Martinez, who
will be 34 next season. Prior to signing his four year, $53 million deal before last year,
the conventional wisdom was that Martinez had about two seasons of pre-eminent
performance left in the tank. Martinez’s strong showing for the Amazin’s last year
dispelled much of the fear that his 3.90 ERA for the 2004 World Champions was the final
achievement of a shredded arm, but there were still danger signs in the 2005
performance–Martinez failed to strike out a batter per inning (208 K in 217 IP) for the
first time since 1995. Clearly, the premium unleaded is running a bit low, and Mets fans
should be thankful the pesky toe
problem may keep Martinez from expending invaluable innings in the World
It is not only Martinez’s situation that has the Mets looking to gear up for a 2006
championship run. The team’s pitchers in general are an aging lot–the aggregate staff age in 2005
was 31.9, oldest in the National League. Martinez and Tom Glavine,
who will hit 40 next season, combined for over half of the wins above replacement level
racked up by the starters, 13 of 25.2 by SNLVAR. The rest of the rotation isn’t much younger–2006 will see Steve
Trachsel turn 35, Kris Benson 31, Victor
Zambrano 30, and Jae Seo 29. Combine that with a bullpen
point man in Billy Wagner who will be 34, and you’ve got a team
whose key arms are in the danger zone in terms of attrition concerns.
With the core of the pitching staff liable to be fully operational for only another year or
so, the Mets justifiably felt compelled to trade a significant
portion of their future, in the form of Yusmeiro Petit and
Mike Jacobs, to the Marlins for first baseman Carlos
Delgado. Delgado adds to the age issues in that he will be 34 when he dons
orange and blue, but he remains a fearsome hitter, as slugging .582 in the death valleys of
Dolphins Stadium and putting up a NL-third best .333 EQA attests. His presence will significantly help New York capitalize on whatever the
Martinez/Glavine duo can produce next year.
The acquisition looks especially good in light of James Click’s recent article
looking at replacement level as the level of production a new player actually replaces.
Patrons venturing into Shea Stadium last season were witness to a peculiar
phenomenon–at the spot on the diamond normally occupied by the first baseman, light
was refracted by an area
of space-time with a gravitational field so intense its escape velocity exceeded the
speed of light. In other words, the Mets had an abyss at first base. New York’s first
basemen last year were the worst in the majors by VORP and
Player AVG OBP SLG HR BB SO VORP PMLVr Mets 1B: .227 .303 .391 21 59 97 -8.7 -0.290 Delgado: .301 .399 .582 32 72 121 71.7 0.343
Led by the new Royal Doug Mientkiewicz, Mets first basemen ranked last in OPS, runs, hits,
total bases, and RBI. The respective PMLVr figures add up to .633 runs of difference per
game between Delgado’s 2005 production and what Minky and Co. achieved, an
enormous figure (10 runs roughly equals one win). Based on the VORP differential, New
York would have gained about 80 runs of offense with Delgado in the fold. Of course,
Delgado’s cumbersome glove–seven runs worse than replacement level last
year–would have negated a portion of the improvement, but even a more conservative
estimate of six additional wins would have made the final day of New York’s 83-win
season meaningful. With the recent research done
by Nate Silver on the increased economic value of marginal wins that will likely bump a
team into the playoffs, the $41 million the Mets owe Delgado over the next three years
looks to be a worthy investment.
Adding to the benefits of Delgado’s presence is Shea’s kindness towards lefthanded
batters. Although Shea is known as a solid pitcher’s park, that reputation has been built
on its ability to cripple righthanded hitting–as reported by Dayn
Perry, the lefthanded park factor for home runs between 2002-04 was an inflationary 115, as
compared to a brutal 77 for righties (100 is neutral). Adding Delgado will give the Mets
five lefthanded swingers against righthanded pitching, with Cliff Floyd
and the switch-hitting Beltran, Reyes and Kazuo Matsui, putting them in
position to glean every advantage from their home venue.
A less inspired acquisition was New York’s second trade with the
Fish, for catcher Paul Lo Duca, who is due $12.5 million over the
next two years. Lo Duca has been overrated since his first full season in 2001, when he
put up a .917 OPS and a 0.405 PMLVr, second best in the majors behind Mike
Piazza. Lo Duca has not come close to even half that rate of production since
then (his next best PMLVr was 0.142 in 2002), and his endemic second-half fade is well
documented (.782 first half OPS, .652 second half over the past three
Lo Duca has proven to be a valuable asset when at full strength, though, and the Mets can
get the most out of their catching situation by frequently utilizing more-than-capable
backup Ramon Castro, whose .756 OPS in 209 AB last year trumped
Lo Duca’s .714 in 445 AB. New York needs to recognize Lo Duca’s inability to perform
over a full season and set up a timeshare at the position by treating Castro as the slightly
lesser half of a two-headed backstop, similar to what the Reds executed so
successfully last year with Jason LaRue and Javier
Valentin. Playing Castro regularly will help keep Lo Duca spry in the
midsummer heat, so that he can earn his clutch reputation by banging a few RBI gappers
in a September pennant race.
James Click contributed research for this article
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It’s not too uncommon to see a team overhaul three-fifths of their starting rotation. But in a span of sixteen days, the Rangers have introduced three veteran pitchers likely to fill the top three rotation slots. And GM Jon Daniels might not be done. We’ll work in reverse chronological order, because the more important deals are more recent.
- The Big One: The Rangers agreed this week to pay Kevin Millwood $60 million spanning five years. Last year’s American League ERA champ might not enjoy the perils of The Ball–er, Ameriquest Field in Arlington, but when healthy (and he usually is) he’s a stabilizing force. He just turned 31 on Christmas Eve, so we’re not dealing with Kevin Brown here. Equally important, while the deal has been advertised as five years and $60 million, the Rangers worked in a vesting option for the fifth year. If Millwood can’t stay healthy enough to reach the innings benchmarks (details were not available at press time), the Rangers have covered themselves pretty well.
- So long to the long, tall Texan: On December 20–and technically, this trade still hinges on Akinori Otsuka‘s physical–Texas dealt Chris Young, Adrian Gonzalez and Terrmel Sledge to San Diego for Adam Eaton, Otsuka, and catching prospect Billy Killian. As Joe Sheehan alluded the other day, this is a deal that could swing wildly in favor of either team due to the relative youth and promise of the involved players. For Texas, they assume some payroll in Eaton and Otsuka–but those two combine for just over $4 million in 2006. Eaton, however, is potentially a big expense a year from now when his contract expires–quite a contrast to Young, who is still five years from free agency.
Both Eaton and Young busted out of the gate in 2005. Young’s ERA bottomed out at 2.78 on June 13. Through June: 16 starts, 94.2 innings, 3.33 ERA, 81/21 K/BB. From July forward: 15 starts, 70.0 innings, 5.52 ERA, 56/24 K/BB. Eaton likewise hit the wall in June. To quote The Newberg Report:
Two months into his 2005 season, Eaton was among the best pitchers in baseball. Through his first 13 starts, he was 9-1 with a 3.18 ERA, 61 strikeouts and 23 walks in 79 1/3 innings of work. He then strained a flexor tendon in the middle finger of his pitching hand in his 14th start, sat out for seven weeks and returned to pitch 10 more times, going 2-3 with a 5.74 ERA in that span (37 strikeouts and 19 walks in 47 frames). He apparently had difficulty regaining the grip on his plus curve, which emasculated his mid-90s fastball.
- And a Padilla in a pear tree: First came Vicente Padilla, acquired from the Phillies for Ricardo Rodriguez. It doesn’t take a “player to be named” sticker to know that dealing Rodriguez isn’t much of a fee: he’ll be 28 next year, can’t seem to stay healthy, and after four years of starting sporadically for Cleveland and Texas he’s combined to strike out 104 batters in 206.7 innings while yielding 75 walks, 224 hits and 33 home runs. Of course, Padilla hasn’t exactly been a model green light himself, but at least he’s had success. The Phillies may have non-tendered him if they hadn’t found a trade partner. Texas could have tried to wait out the waiver deadline, but Padilla’s price as a free agent would have almost certainly made whatever he gets in arbitration look like a bargain (he made $3.2 million last year, and precedent calls for a modest raise). It’s a low-risk move. We can only speculate whether changing leagues and coaching staffs will benefit Padilla; the bottom line is that he needs to stay healthy and regain his control.
Vicente Padilla Year GS IP ERA HR/BF BB/BF K/BF AVG/OBP/SLG G/F SNLVAR 2002 32 206 3.28 .019 .061 .148 254/309/367 2.56 5.4 2003 32 209 3.62 .025 .071 .152 251/313/413 1.95 5.1 2004 20 115 4.53 .031 .072 .163 267/328/458 1.83 1.7 2005 27 147 4.71 .034 .113 .157 260/349/456 1.81 2.8
- Rotation renovation station: Unfortunately, these additions coincide with the exodus of Young and Kenny Rogers, the steady hands of last year’s staff. The writing was on the wall for Rogers, true, but we shouldn’t ignore his contributions last year. Frankly, if Millwood next year can match Rogers’ 195 innings and 3.46 ERA from 2005, the Rangers can’t be disappointed. For this exercise, let’s say Eaton replaces Young. Since we can’t really pinpoint who Padilla pushes out, we’ll use Rodriguez, although keep in mind that James Click tabbed Texas’ “replacement level” starting pitcher at 1.6 Support-Neutral Runs Above Replacement SNLVAR). In other words, Padilla is theoretically ousting a better number five starter than Rodriguez, which reduces the value of this addition.
SNLVAR 2005 2004 2003 2002 2001 (+) Kevin Millwood 5.7 1.5 5.6 6.1 2.2 (-) Kenny Rogers 4.0 3.6 3.0 5.2 1.0 (+) Adam Eaton 2.3 3.0 3.6 0.6 2.4 (-) Chris Young 3.6 0.6 --- --- --- (+) Vicente Padilla 2.8 1.7 5.1 5.4 --- (-) Ricardo Rodriguez 0.2 0.8 0.8 0.3 ---
- Rocket town? And if that Clemens fellow fancies the Rangers enough to zoom up I-45 every fifth day in his Hummer, maybe the team could spin him a cool $30 million for a year of his services. Is a million per start enough? Is the five-hour commute too stressful? Might President Bush pull some strings and throw in Air Force One for the Rocket’s personal use? Would the Astros listen to offers for Koby Clemens?
The Kansas City Star reports that Brian Anderson is close to a deal with Texas (he is rehabbing from elbow surgery and could join the team at mid-season). Maybe, just maybe, before Spring has sprung, the rotation will be completely overhauled. Can the Rangers turn over all five starters in one winter? Stay tuned.