Archive for November 2009

How Much Will It Cost to Sign Them?

November 29, 2009

Now that Joe Mauer has won the MVP and become the first catcher since at least 1900 to lead his league in OPS, and Tim Lincecum has won his second’s consecutive Cy Young Award, how much will it cost to sign them?

The talk is that the Twins are going to try to convince Mauer to stay in the Twin Cities (he’s from St. Paul, of course), for a hometown discount in the neighborhood of $120 million over seven years.  That’s an awful lot of money, but Mauer could make far more playing for one of MLB’s top eight teams (the Yankees obviously — he’s all-time good.)

There’s also talk that he could make enormous dollars in endorsement deals and advertising if he played in New York or Boston.  You weight that against being a huge star in your hometown.

My guess is that the MVP Award means the Twins will have to come closer to the $180 million, eight year deal that Mark Tiexiera got last year from the Yankees to get Mauer to still agree to a discount.

Tim Lincecum’s agent is apparently talking about going to arbitration, according the SF Chronicle’s John Shea.  There’s also talk that Lincecum’s agent and the union are considering filing for $23 million and one dollar, since that’s one more dollar than what C. C. Sabathia makes now.

The last part is just blather, I suspect, much like Scott Boras’s claim that Stephen Strasburg was a $50 million player.  After priming the market, Strasburg ultimately signed for $15.1 million, and I have a strong feeling that Lincecum’s final arbitration number would come a lot closer to that than the $23 million number above.  His agent’s job is to maximize the actual final contract, and I can’t imagine him coming in with a number that he wouldn’t have closer to a 50% chance on.

As an older man than Lincecum, I’m a big fan of the guaranteed long-term contract.  However, after winning two Cy Young Awards in a row, I can see why they’d want to go arbitration unless the Giants really wowed him on a deal that takes him up to free agency.  I still think there’s a good chance of a long-term deal, because I think that the $23 million dollar is just another attempt to prime the market.

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Money Ball Moves

November 28, 2009

The Red Sox traded for minor league middle infielder Tug Hulett from the Royals today.  Hulett is a guy that Money Ball teams like the Sox would like.  He’ll be 27 in 2010, and he’s coming off three AAA seasons in which he posted OPS numbers of .759, .898 and .857.

Hulett is a better hitter than a lot of major league middle infielders, and at age 27 playing his homegames in a hitters’ park like Fenway, he could give the BoSox a lot of offense at a low price. Fangraphs says his defense is poor.

One final thought on Hulett: if this guy can hit a little, why in the world are the Royals trading him for cash or a player to be named later, when they haven’t had a shortstop that can hit his weight in the last decade.  Maybe the Royals know something the Red Sox don’t, but I sure doubt it.

Meanwhile the A’s signed minor-league slugger Dallas McPherson to a minor league deal.  I thought it was a great move when the Giants signed McPherson early in the 2009 season to a minor league deal, because his numbers in the high minors really did suggest that he was a major league hitter, who’d been derailed by too many untimely injuries.  The deal cost the Giants very little, and they don’t usually go after Money Ball players like McPherson.

As it turned out, McPherson’s back problems didn’t get better, and he didn’t play a professional game for which records are kept at any time in the 2009 season.  As a result, I don’t like McPherson anywhere as much as I did a year ago.  He will be an old 29 next year (he turns 30 on July 23), and players who miss entire seasons after age 27 tend to take big dips in their subsequent production.

The best thing to be said for the A’s signing McPherson, is that he’s very low-cost, and if his body is finally right again, he might be able to give the A’s some power at a bargain price.  However, I suspect that, even if he’s healthy, it will take him at least four months of the 2010 season to establish that he can still mash AAA pitching after missing all of last year.

Fast Takes

November 25, 2009

The Blue Jays resigned good-field-no-hit shortstop John McDonald to a $1.5 million contract for 2010.  It’s still too much money for a player who will be 35 years old and is coming off a career year with the bat in which he still only had only a .655 OPS.  On top of that, he isn’t even the only John Joseph McDonald ever to play in the major leagues — a John Joseph McDonald briefly pitched for the Washington Senators in 1907.  [More recent reports indicate that the contract is two years for a total of $3 million.]

The Giants are apparently considering bringing back catcher Yorvit Torrealba as a replacement for Bengie Molina, while Buster Posey grows into the role as an every day major league catcher.  I remember Yorvit fondly from his prior stint as a Giant a few years back, when he looked like like a promising young catcher who perhaps deserved more playing time.

Now that he’s had that additional playing time, I’m not particularly impressed.  In his four years playing semi-regularly for the Rockies, he’s had OPS numbers of .732, .699, .687 and .731.  These numbers wouldn’t be bad for a catcher playing on any team in MLB except the Rockies.  The Rocks play in the best hitters’ park in baseball by a wide margin, and a catcher who consistently posts an OPS right around .700 playing half his games there just isn’t giving you much offense.  I would expect to Torrealba’s OPS to decline playing semi-regularly for the Giants.

The Tigers are apparently eager to trade pitcher Edwin Jackson, coming off a break-through season at age 25.  The reason: the only one I can see is that Jackson’s ERA got worse every single month in 2009.  From April through October, he posted monthly ERAs of 2.25, 2.34, 2.91, 3.16, 4.45, 5.08, and finally 14.40 in one October start.  Yeesh!

That being said, Jackson had a second-half ERA of 5.07 with 64 Ks and 35 walks in 92.1 innings pitched.  These are not terrible numbers for a 25 year old starter in the AL.  Depending on what the Tigers are asking for him (reportedly, not very much), he looks like a player worth taking a chance on.

Albert Pujols Wins NL MVP Unanimously

November 25, 2009

Again to no one’s surprise, The Great Pujols won the National League’s MVP award unanimously.  Two things come to mind for me, one negative and one positive, although with even the positive comes with an unsettling undertone.

First, the negative: I’m waiting for the steroid allegations to crop up. Following the ARod revelations, Pujols is the one big bopper left who hasn’t been implicated, and I think it’s just a matter of time following this high for someone to bring him down.  Part of it is that now is the time that reporters will be looking for dirt, because it is absolutely peak news value following this career high.

Americans as a whole love to see the mighty brought down to size and then rise up again as long as the fallen giant shows a little contrition and owns up, at least a little bit, to his or her failings.  It’s a theme that goes back at least as far as Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex and Aeschlus’ Agamemnon, although they were a bit harder on their fallen heroes in those days.

I won’t be surprised if Pujols turns out to be enhanced.  He is awfully good and awfully big, and in recent years those players with the drive to be the best haven’t shown a lot of scruples about how they get there.  In other words, some of the signs are there.

On the positive side, the only 1Bmen in baseball history who, I think, compare with Pujols at this stage in his career are Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx, Frank Thomas and maybe Jeff Bagwell.  First base men who hit for average, power and drew a lot of walks.

Of these players, the players that most resembled Pujols in body type were Foxx and Thomas.  This is the down side.  Players as big as Pujols don’t tend to age well.  (Foxx was actually much smaller than Thomas or Pujols, but in his era, he was one of the biggest players in the game).

At the end of the season in which he was age 32, Foxx looked well on his way to beating Babe Ruth’s 714 career homerun total, but he played only full season after that.  Foxx’s heavy drinking added to his aging, but even without it, I doubt he would have played regularly into his late 30’s.

Frank Thomas, perhaps, is a better example.  Through the season in which he was age 30, Thomas played in at least 141 games eight years in a row (O.K., in the strike year 1994, he played in all 113 games the ChiSox played that year, so I’m going to count it).  After age 30, he played in at least 14o games only four times in the final ten seasons of his career.

Pujols will be age 30 in 2010.  At least looking at Thomas and Foxx, I’d sure be willing to shell out to get Pujols on my team in 2010 and 2011, but after that I think it’s a crap shoot.

Pujols runs well for a man his size, stealing 16 bases in 20 attempts in 2009.  However, I’m not sure he’s really fast, as opposed to being a truly great player who really understands the game.  Pujols has now twice stolen 16 bases in a season with a success rate of 80% or higher, but he’s also hit only 14 triples in a nine year major league career.

I’m reminded of Barry Bonds, who didn’t run hard in the last years of his career, even if he could have, but routinely stole bases when the pitcher forgot about him.  In his last six major league seasons, Bonds hit a puny 6 triples, while playing half his games in one of the best triples parks in baseball (AT&T Park’s Death Valley in right center is 421 feet from homeplate, meaning balls hit in that gap roll a long way), but he stole 30 bases in 33 attempts.  Bonds routinely stole second without a throw, because he got such a huge jump off the pitcher when he decided to run.  I suspect a lot of Pujols’ steals come in similar circumstances.

I note that 1Bmen in general rarely play as long as players at other positions.  Mainly, this is because 1Bmen are never particularly fast when young and get downright pokey as they age.  Think Will Clark or Alvin Davis.

As for Lou Gehrig and Jeff Bagwell, both had better body types than Foxx, Pujols or Thomas for long-term success, but neither made to age 40 as professional players.  Gehrig, of course, developed ALS, which effectively ended his career at age 36, while Bagwell developed an arthritic condition in his shoulder, which ended his career several years prematurely at age 37.

Mauer Wins AL MVP

November 24, 2009

No surprise there.  Mauer was the obvious choice, given that the Twins made the post-season, and he led the league in hitting while playing more than 100 games at catcher.

The number that really caught my attention is Mauer’s 1.031 OPS.  How good is that for a catcher in a single season?  Good enough for 6th best all-time, based on my limited research.  Here are the five players who did better than Mauer (with year):

Mike Piazza (1997)  1.069

Jack Clements* (1895) 1.058

Javy Lopez** (2003) 1.065

Bill Dickey** (1936) 1.045

Gabby Hartnett (1930) 1.034

* Jack Clements would not have been considered to have had enough plate appearances to qualify under modern rules (3.1 plate appearances per each game played by team), but he was considered to have played enough to be considered the National League’s third best hitter in 1895.

** Javy Lopez had only 495 plate appearances in 2003, so he falls off some lists.  However, if he had made seven more outs to reach the 502 modern minimum for plate appearances, his OPS would still have been 1.040, so it’s fair to list him ahead of Mauer.  Bill Dickey also just missed the 3.1 plate appearances per game played by team requirement (by five plate appearances), but he was also considered the AL’s third highest hitter in 1936 and would beat Mauer if the additional outs were added to his 1936 batting records.

What can we conclude from this list?  Obviously, Joe Mauer’s 2009 season was one of the best hitting years by a catcher ever.  He’s also on a list that includes some really great hitting catchers in baseball history.

Also, it’s worth noting that all six of these seasons happened in what where among the best offensive years in baseball history.  The mid-1890’s (after the pitcher’s rubber was moved back to its current 60’6″), the period from 1920-1939, and the current period starting around 1995 (after the ’94 Players Strike and the peak steroids era) are the greatest hitting eras in Major League history.

In fact, now that wide-spread steroid abuse is out of the game, power numbers have dropped significantly, and Joe Mauer has a legitimate claim to the best offensive season ever by a catcher.  Of the five players ahead of Mauer on the list above, none actually led his league in OPS during his monster season.  Mike Piazza came closest, finishing second in the NL about 100 basis points behind NL league leader Larry Walker.

Joe Mauer, on the other hand, led the AL in OPS this year by a whopping 70 basis points (Kevin Youkilis was second with a .961 OPS).  According to my research, this makes Mauer the only regular or even semi-regular catcher (Jimmy “The Beast” Foxx led the AL in OPS in 1935 in a year in which he played catcher in 26 games, I have to assume when both of the A’s regular catchers were hurting mightily) to have led his league in OPS since 1900.  That’s an accomplishment that speaks for itself.

Details on Ken Griffey’s Contract with the Mariners; Vizquel Signs with ChiSox

November 24, 2009

Details of Ken Griffey, Jr.’s 2010 contract with the Mariners were reported today.  He will get a guaranteed $2.35 million with incentives, that I’ll describe below, that could bring the deal up to $3.9 million.  As I’ve already written, I have my doubts whether even at this seemingly low price, the deal really makes sense for the Mariners.  Little about the details of the deal make me think otherwise.

Griffey clearly has more value to the Mariners than to anyone else, but I wonder whether that value was mainly in the 2009, when his being back with the M’s was a novelty.  Griffey has been given a lot of credit for turning the attitude in the Mariners’ clubhouse in 2009, but it’s hard to put a value on that.

In 2008, the Mariners went 61-101, and the attitude in the clubhouse was lousy.  In 2009, the M’s went 85-77, and the attitude in the clubhouse was much better.  Was Griffey responsible for the change?

His play as a DH certainly didn’t make a difference: he hit poorly for a full-time DH.  Baseball is full of potential designated hitters, guys who can hit a ton, but kill you in the field. You don’t have to try to find a DH that can hit better than Griffey’s 2009 .735 OPS.

Whether his manner in the clubhouse made the difference is a chicken-or-the-egg argument.  Griffey could have helped with clubhouse attitude which helped the players perform better and win.  Or clubhouse attitude improved because the team played 24 full games better than they did the previous season.

One of the things about “good-in-the-clubhouse” guys is that you are always faced with this sort of unanswerable question.  In my mind, “good-in-the-clubhouse” guys are valuable if they have some concrete, measurable skill that helps the team win.  A few years ago, Mark Sweeney was one of those “good-in-the-clubhouse” veteran players for the Giants.  So good, in fact, that he didn’t blow up when Barry Bonds tried to blame him for his steroid use.

However, Sweeney was also one of the better pinch hitters in the game, which justified his roster spot, aside from his alleged presence in the clubhouse.  The same is true for Twins catcher Mike Redmond.  He may be great in the clubhouse, but for several years, he was a back-up catcher with enough of a bat that he didn’t kill the Twins when Joe Mauer was hurt or needed a day off.

Back to Griffey.  He’s guaranteed $2.35 million and can earn $3.9 million if all of these conditions are met: (1) he gets 400 plate appearances; (2) the M’s draw at least 2.5 million; (3) he stays on the M’s roster the whole year; and (4) he stays off the DL for the whole year.

The only one of these incentives that makes any sense to me is (2).  The whole reason to bring back Griffey is that Mariners’ fans will come out to see him play and/or his presence in the clubhouse will be so valuable that the M’s win and bring in the fans.

As for the 400 plate appearances, Griffey got well more than 400 last year and probably hurt the M’s as a result.  One can assume that to get 400 plate appearances in 2010, Griffey will have to play better than he did in 2009.  It’s a possibility, but if I had to bet I’d guess Griffey’s 2010 will resemble Hank Aaron’s 1976 season (his second and last season with the Milwaukee Brewers).  I’ll grant that Griffey will be two years younger in 2010 than Aaron was in 1976 and that players as a group age better than they once did due to better nutrition and training regimens (and expansion), but Griffey has also experienced a lot more major injuries in his career than Aaron did.

Staying on the roster all year isn’t much of an accomplishment for which to pay, and the requirement that he stay off the disabled list all year long seems a little unfair on the Mariners’ part for a player who will be 40.  If Griffey plays in 110 or 115 games and posts an OPS over .825 in 2010, he’ll be worth every penny of $3.9 million, even if he spends a stint or two on the DL.

Omar Vizquel received $1.375 million to be the White Sox’ back-up shortstop in 2010.  I’m glad to see Omar squeeze out on more year in MLB, but I also tend to think that teams shouldn’t give players at this stage in their careers more than $1.1 million or $1.2 million a year tops.  The reason is that veteran good-field-no-hit players are fungible, and if one asks for much more than $1 million, the team is just as well off finding another of these guys who will accept less.

With Vizquel, he gets a premium for his past Hall of Fame career.  He hit once, so there’s always a chance, no matter how slight, that he might have one good year left with the bat.  At this point in his career, that’s a pretty unreasonable hope.

Another thing you can say in Vizquel’s favor is that there is probably no person better qualified to give your starting shortstops tips on how to get better.  No one has played more major league games at SS, and its probably hard to argue with the assertion that he has been one of the ten best defensive shortstops in baseball history over the course of his career.

The Rangers seemed to appreciate the work he did with Elvis Andris (it helps to have a talented pupil), although it’s also worth noting that they apparently didn’t make a strong effort to bring him back for 2010.  Of course, it’s also doubtful that in their current financial situation, the Rangers could come close to matching the money the White Sox just gave him.

Post-Season Wrap-Up of North American Players in Japan, Part 1

November 20, 2009

It’s time for post-season wrap-ups on my series about the North American players who slugged it out in Japan this year.  For more information on the players discussed here, see my posts from June 17 and June 18 of this year.

Benny Agbyani, Chiba Lotte Marines. He finished out the year hitting .265 with seven HRs in 272 ABs.  His OPS of .767 wasn’t bad, but at age 38 next year and making over $800,000 this year, he won’t be back for another season in 2010.

Chris Aguila, Fukuoka Softbank Hawks.  Long gone after starting the season an awful 4 for 42.

Edgardo Alfonso, Yomiuri Giants. He finished his only Japanese season a brutal 6 for 41 (a .146 average) with two HRs.  His professional career appears to be over unless he can catch on with a team in Venezuala, where he’s originally from.

Scott Atchison, Hanshin Tigers.  He finished off a terrific season as one of Hanshin’s top set-up man, posting a 1.70 ERA with only 20 walks and 81 Ks in 90 IP over 75 appearances.  Reports have it that Atchison hopes to return to MLB in 2010.  Even though he will be 34 next season, his 2009 season in Japan was so good at least one major league team will likely give him a shot.

Aarom Balderis, Hanshin Tigers.  He was absolutely terrible in limited playing time for the Tigers (3 for 29), but absolutely terrific at their farm team, hitting .358 in 260 ABs with a .940 OPS.  He’ll be 27 next year, and NPB Tracker reports that Tigers do not intend to bring him back.  Given the year he had in the minors, I would think another team might give him one last shot in 2010.

Ricky Barrett, Tokyo Yakult Swallows.  Finished his season with a 7.15 ERA over 11.1 innings pitched.  He pitched pretty well for Yakult’s minor league team (2.81 ERA over 32 IP), but at age 29 next season,  the Swallows won’t give him another chance.

Jonah Bayliss, Saitama Seibu Lions.  He had a 3.21 ERA over 19 relief appearances (only 14 IP) after being acquired from the Toronto Blue Jays on July 23, 2009.  Despite the fact that he pitched fairly well, NPB Tracker reports that the Lions don’t intend to bring him back for 2010.

Tony Blanco, Chunichi Dragons.  He was the great success story in Japan in 2009.  As a 28 year old rookie, he led Japan’s Central League with 39 HRs and 110 RBIs.  His .880 OPS was good for 7th in the league.  It wasn’t a good season for hitters in the Central League: Yomiuri’s Shinnosuke Abe led all hitters with a .943 OPS.  Blanco has reportedly already signed a new two-year deal with the Dragons that will pay him a total of $3.6 million.

Hiram Bocachica, Saitama Seibu Lions.  He played very little in the second half, finishing the season with a .215 batting average and 13 HRs in 195 AB’s.  His Japanese career is over.

Jason Botts, Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters.  Only appeared in 11 games for the Ham Fighters in 2009.  His Japanese career is over.

Craig Brazell, Hanshin Tigers.  Brazell hit .291 with 16 HRs in 285 ABs for the Tigers.  However, he drew only eight walks on the season, which kept his OPS down to .817, despite his strong power numbers.  He reportedly wants to return to Hanshin in 2010, but it’s not yet clear if the Tigers intend to bring him back.

Gary Burnham, Jr., Chiba Lotte Marines. He finished the season hitting .218 with little power.  He won’t be back in 2010.

Adrian Burnside, Yomiuri Giants.  A reader would like me to point out that Burnside is an AUSTRALIAN, who just happened to play baseball professionally in the United States for a dozen years.  Duly noted.  After an injury-plagued start to the season, Burnside didn’t pitch at all for the Giants in 2009.  He did pitch 32 innings over 13 appearances for their farm team, but his 4.13 ERA there didn’t impress, and his Japanese career is over, unless another team will give him a shot.