Archive for February 2017

The Oakland A’s Bargain Basement Sluggers, Part II

February 25, 2017

Yesterday, I wrote a post listing the minor league veterans the A’s turned into major league stars over the last 25 years.  Today, I will state some of my thoughts about the A’s success in locating these kinds of players.

First, the A’s focus on these kinds of players was largely a matter of desperation.  The A’s had three periods, from 1988 to 1992, from 2000 to 2006 and finally from 2012 to 2014, where the team was really good.  Those teams were largely built around prospects that A’s developed themselves mostly through the Draft and amateur signings.  The A’s, however, simply didn’t have the financial resources to compete every year for long periods of time.

You will note that many of the years the players I listed in yesterday’s post played for the team occurred during the periods when the A’s weren’t particularly good.  In other words, when the A’s didn’t have a player they had developed themselves to build around at a position, they looked for somebody cheap they could get a couple of good, or at least adequate, seasons out of until they could develop a younger prospect they could control for five or six seasons.

The A’s financial woes were the main reason Sandy Alderson and Billy Beane got into statistical analysis, the whole Money Ball thing, first.  Starting with Berroa, they realized that sluggers who drew walks but didn’t hit for much of an average and struck out a lot were undervalued and could be obtained cheaply.  Perhaps even more importantly, they realized that minor league veterans who consistently hit in the minors but hadn’t done much in limited major league opportunities, would eventually hit at the major league level if they got more significant opportunities.

That’s certainly no longer the case, as other teams have a much better idea of what these kinds of players are worth. In fact, the success the A’s had in finding Brandon Moss and Stephen Vogt probably had more to do with the A’s greater emphasis because of financial considerations to continue to acquire and give opportunities to these kinds of players, while wealthier teams continued to hire more reliable major league veterans.  I would bet that if I were willing to do the research, the A’s have run through a great number of these kinds of players who never did break through at the major league level.

In fact by 2012-2013, when the A’s found Moss and Vogt, the team had reportedly move on to defense as an under-valued skill around which to obtain affordable talent.  Five years later, most of the other 29 teams have caught up with that angle too, and now teams are looking at pitch-framing, defensive shifts (which make sure-handed, but not very rangy defenders look better), and other more esoteric analyses in order to find a competitive advantage.

One thing that is also interesting to note is that once the A’s had located and developed these kinds of players into stars, they didn’t have much success trading them away for new talent.  The A’s ultimately traded away each of Geronimo Berroa, Matt Stairs and Marco Scutaro.  Stairs and Scutaro had long major league careers after the A’s traded them away, and, while Berroa did not, he certainly looked like a valuable commodity at the moment the A’s traded him mid-season in 1997.  However, the only player of any value the A’s got in return for these three was Jimmie Haynes, a starting pitcher that I bet even many A’s fans don’t remember well today.

Billy Beane famously claimed that the reports that other teams didn’t want to trade with him because he was allegedly such a sharp trader didn’t have a lot of basis in fact.  Many teams have done well in trades with the A’s during Beane’s reign in Oakland, and the trades of Berroa, Stairs and Scutaro are certainly examples.

The Oakland A’s Bargain Basement Sluggers, Part I

February 25, 2017

Earlier this off-season, ESPN’s David Schoenfeld wrote an article to the effect that older sluggers like Brandon Moss were having trouble finding contracts because teams were looking for the next Brandon Moss, i.e. minor league players past the age of 27 who could give a team a few productive seasons at a very low price.  At the time, I opined that the failure of these players to sign so far this off-season had more to the do with these players coming to terms with what teams were willing to pay them, rather than teams trying to find the next player of this type, because. as a practical matter, the next Brandon Moss isn’t so easy to find.

Ultimately, the St. Louis Cardinals gave Moss $12 million for two years, roughly ten times what the next Brandon Moss found now would cost his team in 2017 and 2018.

Schoenfeld’s article also drew attention from fangraphs, which wrote a piece on who would most likely be the next Brandon Moss in 2017.  Not surprisingly, about half of the players fangraphs identified will be playing in Japan or South Korea next year, because they are the kind of no-longer-prospects that NPB and KBO teams look for each off-season.

I still like 27 year old Jabari Blash, whose .914 OPS in 646 AAA at-bats suggests he’s a major league player, even if he hits .220 at the MLB level.  However, the Padres successfully passed him through waivers in January, so my opinion is apparently not shared by any of the other 29 major league teams.

Anyway, it’s all got me thinking about these kinds of players and the team, the Oakland A’s, that has made them famous.  What follows is a list of the players at least 28 years old the year they broke out in MLB, whom the A’s obtained for essentially peanuts in the last 25 years.

1.   Geronimo Berroa (28 years old in 1994; signed as free agent).  Berroa is the first of these players I remember the A’s finding.  He had three and a half terrific seasons for the A’s in which he hit 87 HRs with an on-base percentage well over .350, before the A’s traded him to the Baltimore Orioles.

2.  Matt Stairs (28 in 1996; free agent).  Stairs had one of the great major league careers for a player who didn’t have even 200 plate appearances in a season until his age 29 season.  In four and half seasons with the A’s, Stairs hit 122 HRs and posted the high on-base percentages the A’s were hoping for.

3.  Olmedo Saenz (28 in 1999; free agent).  Saenz was never an every day player in his four seasons with the A’s, but he was a valuable bench player who posted an OPS over .800 in three of his four seasons with the team and who could play 3B when needed.

4.  Marco Scutaro (28 in 2004; claimed off waivers from Mets).  Scutaro wasn’t a power hitter by any stretch of the imagination, but he was an older, undervalued minor league player whom the A’s acquired for peanuts.  He gave the A’s four strong seasons in what turned out to be a long and successful major league career.

5.  Jack Cust (28 in 2007; cash purchase from Padres).  Cust was perhaps my favorite player of the bunch, mostly because he was such an extreme example (at the time) of what the A’s recognized as an undervalued player.  Cust didn’t hit for average, and he struck out a hell of a lot; but in his four seasons with Oakland, he slugged 97 HRs and walked 377 times.  Only a decade later, this type of player is common in MLB, to the extent that teams can find them. There were so many one dimensional sluggers who had a hard time finding contracts mainly because none of them drew walks like Cust, Stairs or Berroa.

[I don’t know what the A’s paid the Padres to get Jack Cust, except that it was peanuts by MLB standards.]

6.  Brandon Moss (28 in 2012; free agent).  Moss is actually the least representative player on this list, as he played regularly, if unproductively, at the major league level in 2008 and 2009.  When he finally put it together for the A’s, he hit 76 HRs in three seasons, before the A’s traded Moss to the Indians.

7.  Stephen Vogt (28 in 2013; cash purchase from the Rays).  It’s somewhat difficult to know whether catchers count, since this is the non-pitching position at which players tend to develop at the latest age.  Even so, he was past the age 27 when the A’s acquired him, he’s hit 45 HRs in his four seasons with the A’s, and he likely cost the A’s peanuts to acquire.

Honorable Mention.  Frank Menechino (29 in 2000; selected from White Sox in minor league portion of Rule 5 Draft 12/97).  Menechino had only one season as an every day player for the A’s (2001), and he hit only .242.  However, he was a 2Bman with a little pop and a .369 OBP that year.  The A’s won 102 games in 2001, so one has to assume that Menechino had to have done something right.

 

Good Article on Sergio Romo

February 21, 2017

Ken Rosenthal wrote a good article on Sergio Romo’s journey to the Los Angeles Dodgers this off-season and the personal issues Romo has been dealing with the last few years.  While the personal issues are not entirely spelled out, three of his grandparents died last year, and he went through a divorce in 2013.

After the divorce, it seems pretty clear that Romo got wild, taking advantage of the money, women and partying that come with being an elite professional athlete.  Perhaps that had something to do with the Giants’ decision to let him walk this off-season?

According to wikipedia, Romo had his first child at age 22, and he likely married young as many ballplayers do.  When suddenly divorced, he probably still had a lot of wild oats to sow.  Romo is also either a first or second generation Mexican American, growing up in Brawley, a place that likely means his family didn’t have much money until Romo hit it big.

It can be a tremendous shock for someone coming from a poor or at least less well-to-do background to suddenly come into major league money in his 20’s.  There have to be a lot people coming at you with their hands out, and the player and his family have no experience dealing with the sudden, and often not particularly long lasting, riches.

I’m not surprised that Romo has had some emotional problems the last few years.  He has always come across as a sensitive guy and a guy who wears his heart on his sleeve, even if he comes across as generally very upbeat.  Tears of a clown, perhaps.

I hope pitching for the Dodgers works out for him.  At 34, he’s getting long in the tooth, and there is always a lot of pressure coming to play for what you consider your home-town team.  His age and veteran experience will at least help on that side of things.  Of course, it will most likely come down almost entirely to whether he can still snap off his sharp-breaking slider with command this coming season.

Increasing Variability in Free Agent Contracts

February 21, 2017

The feeling I get from this year’s free agent signings is that we are going to have greater variability in free agent signings going forward than we’ve had in the past.  What I mean by this is that the best players are going to continue to get more, while the players who are only sort of good are going to get less.

I certainly haven’t done any meaningful analysis of this issue, so I’m just stating my general impression of this year’s free agency period as it reaches its close.

What I think is going on is that as teams get better at calculating a player’s total value, based on offense, defense, base running, etc., they are going to make their free agent signing decisions based on those increasingly accurate valuations.  Players whom a lot of teams value at more than 1.0 wins above replacement, regardless of how each team actually calculates that value, are going to continue to get increasingly large multi-year contracts.  Those players whom the vast majority of teams value below 1.0 wins above replacement, are going to get a whole lot less, either one guaranteed season or minor league offers.

Sometimes, it just takes one team who values a player much more highly than any other team does and is over-anxious to get that player signed early in the free agent period before prices might go up to result in a contract that seems divorced from the player’s actual value.  The Rockies’ decision to give Ian Desmond $70 million this off-season seems a case in point.  In fairness to Desmond, as a shortstop or center fielder, he may be worth the money the Rockies gave him, and it is quite likely he’ll end up playing plenty of games there, as well as possibly 2B or 3B, as many or more games as he actually plays at 1B in Denver, depending on who gets hurt.

Almost all the one dimensional sluggers did surprisingly poorly this year (Kendrys Morales is the one notable exception), because teams saw that a lot of these guys aren’t consistently worth more than 1.0 WAR when you take everything into account.  Also, there are always going to be a lot more available players around each off-season worth less than 1.0 WAR than there are available players worth more than 1.0 WAR.

In a somewhat unrelated note, Dave Cameron of fangraphs.com rates the San Francisco Giants signing of Mark Melancon as his sixth worst move of this off-season, mainly because the guarantee is so large and he believes Melancon only needs a slight drop in arm strength to lose a lot of effectiveness going into his age 32 season.  Cameron thinks the Giants might have been better off signing a couple of less expensive relievers and signing another left fielder.

Cameron certainly has a point, but it seems to me a little like asking a rooster not to crow when the sun comes up.  Everyone in MLB knew the Giants were desperate for a proven closer after their bullpen’s late season and post-season collapses, and everyone pretty much knew that Melancon was going to be their guy, since the Yankees, Dodgers and maybe the Cubs were probably going to price Aroldis Chapman and Kenley Jansen out of their reach.  And indeed, both Chapman and Jansen signed for significantly more money plus opt-out clauses after the Giants signed Melancon.

Brian Sabean & Co. lusted for Melancon and were going to have him, and the $64 million guarantee they gave him was obviously the price to ensure they got him, since there had to be a lot of other teams that wanted an upgrade at closer but knew they couldn’t afford either Chapman or Jansen under any circumstances.

It’s also worth noting that Cameron listed the Dodgers’ signing of Sergio Romo at one year and $3 million as an honorable mention for best move of the off-season.  I understand why the Giants decides it was time to let Santiago Casilla move on, because they had different opinions regarding Casilla’s role going forward and Giants manager Bruce Bochy had obviously lost all confidence in Casilla by the post-season.  However, I still don’t understand why the Giants were willing to let Romo walk away, if he could have been signed late in the off-season for only one year and $3 million.  There’s definitely a strong possibility that Romo signing with the Dodgers for relative peanuts will come back and bite the Giants in 2017.

San Francisco Giants’ Minor Additions

February 19, 2017

In the last month the Giants have made a number of small moves, none of which alone inspired me to write anything, but are now numerous enough for comment.

The Giants signed catcher Nick Hundley for what has been reported as a $2 million guarantee.  The move surprised me a bit at the time it was announced, in that I didn’t think that another back-up catcher would be a priority with the emergence of Trevor Brown and the minor league signings of 4-A catchers Tim Federowicz and Josmil Pinto earlier this off-season.

Signing Hundley also forced the Giants to designate infielder Ehire Adrianza for assignment, who was quickly claimed by the Milwaukee Brewers.  The Brewers then promptly placed Adrianza on waivers again, and he was claimed by the Minnesota Twins.  Either way, the Giants lose a useful 4-A player entering his age 27 season.

However, just as you can’t have enough pitching, you probably can’t have enough back-up catchers, since catchers tend to get hurt a lot.  It’s safe to say, though, that at age 33 Hundley won’t hit as well at AT&T Park as he did at Coors Field last year.

The Giants have signed a couple of relief pitchers on minor league deals, David Hernandez and Bryan Morris.  I definitely like Hernandez better.  He looks like the kind of strong-armed pitcher (494 Ks in 487 career major league innings), who has pitched mostly in hitters’ parks and could get a huge bump in performance as a right-handed pitcher at AT&T Park.

The Giants typically sign at least one reliever on a minor league deal each off-season who really helps the team the next season.  The odds are good in my mind that one of Hernandez, Morris or Neil Ramirez, whom I wrote about briefly earlier this off-season, will be that relief pitcher in 2017.

Most recently, the Giants have signed veteran infielder Aaron Hill to a minor league deal.  With the recent signing of Jae-gyun Hwang, I didn’t think the Giants would sign another infielder.  Obviously, the team thought otherwise, and Hill also replaces the now gone Adrianza.

Hill is certainly a veteran presence of the kind the Giants typically value, and he has some right-handed power potential, although he really hasn’t hit for much power since the 2013 season.  The Giants could still use another right-handed hitting outfielder with pop to compete in Spring Training, but it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen at this point.

 

The Yankees Have No Class

February 18, 2017

Instead of simply savoring their arbitration win over Dellin Betances (he gets the $3 million the Yankees proffered instead of the $5 million he asked for) quietly, Yankees President Randy Levine publicly blasted Betances and his agents today for asking for too much in arbitration.  No class.

A player asking for too much in arbitration is a win for the team, since it means it’s that much more likely the arbitrator will pick the team’s number.  Meanwhile, Betances responded by saying it will be that much easier for him to leave as a free agent in 2020.

Doesn’t management realize the value of a Dominican American star who was born and raised in New York City?  I’m reminded of Joe Dimaggio‘s hold-out in 1938.  Dimaggio had an incredible first two major league seasons, was an enormous star in NYC, a city with a huge Italian American population, and Dimag thought he deserved to be paid what he was worth.

The Yankees didn’t give it to him, because in those days they didn’t have to.  The reserve clause was in its heyday, and a player had no choice but to hold out until eventually accepting very close to the number the team originally wanted to pay him.

Those times have changed, and treating a box office attraction like Betances like an ingrate jerk just makes no sense.  Betances isn’t quite a superstar yet, and he didn’t pitch well in the closer role late last season.  However, I think that probably had more to do with a short-sample size slump/fluke or the  fact that Betances had been worked hard during the immediately preceding two and two-thirds seasons.

In fact, the Yankees may be betting on the fact that they will succeed in burning out Betances in his set-up role before he can become a free agent.  I wouldn’t necessarily count on it.  A player of Betances’ size and strikeout rates tends to blow out his knees and back before his pitching arms.

Mark my words — if Betances eventually develops into the closer one has to expect him to become and he’s healthy three years from now, don’t be surprised if Betances signs with the Mets for less than absolute top dollar in order to stick a nail in Yankees management.

Meanwhile, the Yankees are pretty much guaranteed to have one of their stars far less happy than he should be going into the 2017 season.  It’s just more evidence that the Bombers are far more willing to be mediocre than they were under King George.

More Thoughts on This Year’s 1B/DH Free Agents

February 13, 2017

Adam Lind signed today with the Washington Nationals on a one year deal with a team option for a second season which guarantees Lind $1.5 million.  The amount of the guarantee is just about the lowest possible on a major league deal for a veteran player like Lind (at least in terms of the unwritten MLB salary scale) and is still something of a surprise considering that Lind hit 20 HRs last season and has a proven track record as a slugger.

I’m not saying that Lind should have received a lot more, but even a $2 million guarantee would have represented 33% more than what he actually got.

In the context of this year’s market for one dimensional 1B/DH players, it ultimately was not surprising that no one claimed Byung-ho Park off waivers.  That was certainly what the Twins were counting on.

However, it is still interesting that not even one MLB team thought that Park was worth a $9.25 million gamble for three years of control for a player whom the Twins valued more than twice as highly a year ago.

For Park, starting the 2017 season at AAA Rochester is probably the best thing that could happen to him.  He’ll get to play every day there, continue to work on his newly shortened swing, and likely earn his way back to the Show in 60 or 70 games.  As fangraphs noted just before Park was designated for assignment, there are plenty of things about Park’s 2016 performance to suggest he still has potential as an MLB player if he can make some more adjustments.

Pedro Alvarez is beginning to look like he might be the odd man out, as there can’t be many more landing places given the recent signings of Mike Napoli, Chris Carter and now Lind.  That said, Alvarez was a more productive hitter than Lind last year, so I expect him to get more than a $1.5 million guarantee, although it certainly looks like he now has little hope of more than a one-year deal.

There always seems to be something of a herd mentality in MLB front offices, and I don’t necessarily think that small contracts for this kind of player this off-season means that these guys won’t get better contracts in future off-seasons.  This year’s deals may have had more to do with the glut of these players on the market — in an off-season where there are fewer of them, they may do better.

Also, if some of these guys on one year deals can do better in 2017, or in Chris Carter’s case, have the same season in 2017 that he had in 2016, they’ll get better deals next off-season.