Friday, September 24, 2010

David Ortiz' Complaints

David Ortiz seems to want to have his cake and eat it too. I'm not sure if these quotes are creating a shit storm on sports talk radio up in Boston (it wouldn't surprise me, since it normally doesn't take much), but they did rub me the wrong way.

1. When asked if he'd take a pay cut to stay in Boston, Ortiz indicated that he wouldn't, saying “I don’t feel like going anywhere else but if I have to, I have no choice.” He also said that he'd already taken a pay cut five years ago, when he signed his 4 year, $52 million extension.

2. According to Rob Bradford at WEEI, Ortiz doesn't want a one year deal, because he wouldn't be "comfortable".

First off, Ortiz didn't take a pay cut in 2005. According to the irreplaceable Cot's Baseball Contracts, his salaries since joining the Red Sox before the 2003 season have been $1.25 million and $4.6 million. After the 2004 World Series victory, Ortiz agreed to a two year extension worth $5.25 million in 2005 and $6.5 million in 2006. An option year was included, but the Sox again extended him, this time for 4 years and $52 million ($12.5 million per, plus $6 million in signing bonuses) through the 2010 season. So it is a little hard to stomach him saying that he took a pay cut to stay. Sure, that first extension was a bit below market value, but the second was near the top of the pay range for full time DHs. As a point of comparison, Hafner signed a four year, $57 million extension during the 2007 season, despite the fact he was still under contract for another year and a half. Since that deal the market for full time DHs has plummeted. Adam Dunn, who is essentially a DH at this point, signed for 2 years, $20 million before the 2008 season. Hideki Matsui and Vlad Guerrero had to settle for one year, $6 million on the open market, despite the fact that Matsui was coming off of a 28 home run, 90 RBI season.

Second, I don't know how the Red Sox could possibly go with a two year deal without a pay cut. It would be an insane over pay to go with a two year, $25 million deal, considering the fact they could just take one year at $12.5 million. I know he's the face of the franchise, but left handed sluggers can go from a stud to the proverbial glue factory in a year. I've written about it with the Howard deal, along with lots of other folks who are an awful lot smarter than I am. As a side note, I love the concept of a baby albatross. Two years for $20 seems reasonable to me - Ortiz gets his $12.5 million option picked up, with $7.5 million for 2012. That $7.5 million would be about market value for an older designated hitter. In his bounce back 2010, Ortiz has been worth $11.5 million, although he was only worth $13 million in 2008 and 2009 combined. When a player's production matches his salary one year out of three I just don't know how you can possibly go ahead and sign them up for another three years at that same salary. I think the Red Sox are smart enough to realize this; I hope David Ortiz is too.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Mariners DHs

For the season, Mariners' designated hitters are hitting a robust .190/.267/.384. That batting average is worse than thirteen pitchers in the NL with a minimum of 40 at bats. The OBP is worse than nine different NL pitchers. But the Mariners' designated hitters really do shine in the slugging department, as only two NL pitchers top their .384 number. Both of these two pitchers beat the Mariners designated hitters across the board, and pretty handily too. So just who should the Mariners go out and add as their 2011 designated hitter, since they obviously felt that Jesus Montero wasn't up to the task...

Dan Haren (.364/.375/.527) and Yovanni Gallardo (.268/.339/.554). Haren has been lucky on balls in play (BABIP of .422), as have many of the pitchers who are outperforming the hapless Mariners DHs, but I believe that Yovanni Gallardo is a better hitter than the Seattle DH composite. His BABIP is not particularly high, and his career numbers in 181 (.221/.260/.429) at bats top the dreadful stat line compiled in Seattle. Maybe the Mariners should argue for the elimination of the designated hitter in the future. It certainly doesn't seem to have helped their offense at all this year.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Looking ahead: Offseason Contract Decisions

The Red Sox came into this season with a whopping $161 million worth of salaries. Combined with shared expenses and other costs, this puts them well above the luxury tax threshold. Fortunately, they do have a lot of money coming off the books this season, however, many of these players are at key positions and have been the Red Sox best performers.

Mike Lowell is the only name that is sure to go. At $12.5 million this year, Lowell obviously didn't earn his salary. However, I would guess that the Red Sox knew this was a risk signing an older third baseman to a three year deal. Lowell has already announced that he will retire, a\s he doesn't enjoy being a part time player. Lowell was a key contributor in the 2007 championship, perhaps even more important than Josh Beckett was that year. Congratulations, Mike, for a nice career and for knowing when to call it quits.

The other key decisions are for David Ortiz, Victor Martinez, and Adrian Beltre. The Red Sox hold a team option for Ortiz in 2011 at $12.5 million, just under his salary of $13 million this year. In April, it seemed inconceivable that Ortiz' option would get picked up, but since his April struggles he's been one of the most consistent offensive players on the tea, with an .897 OPS, his highest since 2007 and is the second best OPS by an AL DH, behind Baltimore's Luke Scott. The nice thing about Ortiz' option is it is only a one year commitment. While a similar offensive player such as Adam Dunn might be available for approximately the same amount of money annually, it would probably take a 3 year commitment to sign any of the DH types hitting the free agent market this year. According to several sources, the Red Sox have decided to pick up Ortiz' 2011 option. However, Jon Heyman of Sports Illustrated had discussions with other executives who speculated that the Red Sox might try and work out a two year, $20 million extension with Ortiz instead. That wouldn't shock me, although I'm not sure if Ortiz would be willing to sign a two year deal. Going with a big, left handed slugger in his 30s is a risky proposition, as I showed following Ryan Howard's big extension, so I don't think the Red Sox would consider going to three years.

As an aside, the decline of the DH really has been remarkable. Six teams have DHs hitting .250 or below, including the Mariners' incredible line of .190/.266/.342. This is for a position whose only job is hitting and the Mariners managed to put players in the lineup whose contribution was 26 runs BELOW replacement level. For those who are unfamiliar with the concept, replacement level is essentially how well you'd expect freely available talent, such as minor league free agents, to hit. Of course, the Mariners are not alone - the Tigers, Royals, Rays, White Sox, Angels, and Blue Jays also had their DHs produce at replacement level or worse.

The next big decision for the Red Sox is for Victor Martinez. Martinez currently has the second best OPS for a catcher in the AL and has been a big contributor on offense. Playing a premium defensive position, Martinez still is able to put up an .800 OPS and provides a lot of lineup protection against left handed pitchers (1.159 OPS vs lefties). Martinez expressed interest in signing an extension coming into this season, but also recently turned down the Red Sox two year offer. Reports say that the Sox are a little hesitant to go to a three or four year deal as they're unsure how long Martinez can stay behind the plate. Interestingly, Mike Napoli, the player who the Red Sox claimed on waivers this summer but were unable to work out a deal for, would serve a similar role. He's a switch hitting, offense first catcher who also mashes lefties. Because of his defensive struggles, Napoli seems to have lost favor with manager Mike Scioscia and could be trade bait over the winter. Napoli would be under team control for 2011 and 2012, but would be fairly expensive as he's entering his third arbitration year, as he was a super 2* player. Martinez could be looking at a three year, $40-45 million dollar deal, potentially eating up a lot of the money freed up by Lowell's expiring contract.

Adrian Beltre is also a free agent this winter, and also has been one of the most important position players for the Red Sox. According to FanGraphs's valuations, Beltre has been worth an incredible 6.9 wins for $27.7 million worth of value. He has played his usual excellent defense, saving more than 10 runs over the average third baseman for the third year in a row and the fourth time in five years. His bat has also woken up, after moving away from cavernous Safeco field for the more friendly confines of Fenway, upping his OPS from .750 in his four years as a Mariner to .935, the ninth best OPS in all of baseball. That isn't to say that Beltre will repeat his 7 win season, but he certainly looks like a star player again. While he'll never have a great batting eye, his hand eye coordination is preposterous. I've seen him hit at least two different homeruns, essentially from one knee. Scott Boras looks like a genius now for getting Beltre to sign for a one year, $10 million deal now. An awful lot of teams, particularly in the AL West, have big holes at third base and could be willing to spend lots of money to fill them.

I don't think the Red Sox will be able to keep all three of these players without extending their budget. Their salary coming into this year was an already record $168 million, $25 million than there previous high. I believe that Theo Epstein and the Red Sox were trying to "bridge the gap" to the new prospects by signing older, more expensive players to shorter term deals. I don't think the Red Sox want to be in a position where they're over the luxury tax threshold in 2011 as well, as the penalties increase with successive years over the threshold. Despite getting Lowell off the books, shedding salary will be very difficult without letting one of these three players go, as players such as Josh Beckett, Kevin Youkilis, and Daisuke Matsuzaka will all be receiving raises of $1 million or more and Papelbon will be going into arbitration for the third and final time.

Keeping Ortiz seems like a fait accompli at this point, but if I had to pick between Martinez and Beltre, I would go with Beltre. I think the two will end up with similar contracts this offseason, and Beltre has the upside to be a super star. It seems weird that a 7 win player in New York or Boston gets overlooked, but Beltre's combination of defense and hitting doesn't get enough credit. Beltre ought to be a legitimate MVP candidate and his WAR (wins above replacement) trails only Josh Hamilton in the AL.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Meet your Red Sox September call ups

Once the calendar hits September 1, the major league rosters expand from 25 to 40 men. It is a quirk in the rules originally designed to allow for teams to get a look at players for the future. However, it is undeniable that some players, particularly relief pitchers, can have a huge impact on pennant races. For a great example of this, take a look at K-Rod's run in September and the playoffs during the Angels World Series title year. Sadly, the Red Sox call ups won't likely be having any pennant impacts this year, but it is a good time to get to know some of the prospects.

Because of the injury stacks in center field, we've actually already seen most of the upper level outfield talent the Red Sox have at one point or another. Kalish is up and is nearly an everyday player, the stories of McDonald and Nava have been well covered, and we also had a brief look at Reddick earlier in the season. With a call up yesterday, Reddick is back up for the remainder of the season and figures to split time in the outfield. In the game tonight Reddick didn't start, but subbed in for Drew in RF.

The other big call up is Lars Anderson, the former top prospect. Coming into this season there were several question marks about Anderson, but he answered them with a big start in AA
and held his own in AAA Pawtucket this summer as well, posting a .262/.340/.428 line over 400 at bats. Allow me to pat myself on the back for nailing his September call up, although it probably has a lot more to do with Youkilis' injury than Anderson's numbers. Anderson started at first base against the Rays tonight, going 0-4 with two strikeouts.

The other minor league player getting his first shot is Robert Coello, who like Anderson made his major league debut tonight. Unfortunately things didn't go well for Coello either, as he was tagged for 3 hits, two walks, and three earned runs over just one third of an inning of relief. Coello is a recent conversion to pitching, having failed to stick as a catcher in the Reds organization. Because of that, he's still very raw and has a tendency to walk a lot of batters. Originally a starter, Coello was converted to relief towards the end of the minor league season and had great success in the role. Hopefully the Red Sox will be able to get a good look at him and see if he'll be able to stick at middle relief.

A completely made up trade rumor

According to Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports, Colby Rasmus is really unhappy with Tony LaRussa, going so far as requesting a trade. LaRussa has given away a good deal of Rasmus' playing time to the recent AAA call up Jon Jay (no, not that John Jay) because of Jon Jay's "savy", essentially referring to Rasmus' struggles with strikeouts this year (32.7% of his PA, 3rd worst in MLB behind two of the biggest all or nothing hitters in baseball - Mark Reynolds and Adam Dunn).

Despite the massive spike in strikeouts (up from 20% last year), there really is an awful lot to love about Rasmus this year. His jump in strikeouts has also been accompanied by an increase in walks, from 6.9% of his PA to 11.5%, allowing for a respectable OBP of .349, despite an average of only .264. Perhaps most importantly, Rasmus seems to be trading strikeouts for some very impressive power (.230 isolated power, which is slugging percentage minus batting average, and a .495 slugging percentage), especially for an up the middle player. Out of all full time center fielders, only Vernon Wells has a higher isolated power and no other full time center fielder had a higher OPS. To top it all off, Rasmus has played slightly above average fielder according to both the ultimate zone rating (UZR) as well as John Dewan's plus/minus system.

Personally, I think LaRussa is nuts for antagonizing the third best hitter on his team, especially considering that the Cardinals have an emerging star who is putting up these impressive numbers at 24 and would be under team control for another 4 seasons. But, Tony LaRussa works in strange ways. You can't argue with his track record, but I still think he's kind of nuts. This is a man who wears sunglasses during all games so his eyes don't give away anything about the signals he's giving baserunners.

Again, this is a completely unfounded rumor, but you have to wonder if the Red Sox and Cardinals would consider swapping "problem" outfielders, sending Ellsbury to St. Louis in exchange for Rasmus. The Sox front office has shown they have no problem with strikeouts if you're producing runs, and LaRussa has always valued, perhaps over valued, speed guys. The big impediment to any deal might be service time and age. Ellsbury, though hardly old, turns 27 on September 11 and is three full years older than Rasmus. As such, he doesn't really have a ton of growth left in his game - I doubt he's to be able to markedly improve on his 2009 numbers, particularly in the power department.

Rasmus, on the other hand, is only 23 and has tantalizing power for a center fielder. If he can learn to get the strikeouts down to similar numbers to his rookie season without giving up the power stroke he could be a superstar. Of course, he may need to cut down on his strikeouts in order to maintain some of his gains this year - Rasmus' overall numbers are buoyed by a .331 average on balls in play. Based on some off the cuff estimates and some guesses (25% K rate, 10% BB rate, similar 2B, HR, 3B/PA rates as this season) I ended up with a .261/.335/.474 projection. While an .800 OPS is very good for a center fielder, it falls well short of superstar level.

The other complicating factor is money. Next season, I believe that Rasmus will still be a prearbitration player, making only about $400,000 (poor guy), while Ellsbury will be arbitration eligible for the first time. Ellsbury's "lost" season will certainly depress his value, but with all the negatives stacked towards Ellsbury (age, cost, length of team control, injury history) in the end the Red Sox and Cardinals might not match up. If you're Theo Epstein I think you have to give the Cardinals GM a call about Rasmus in the offseason.

Friday, September 3, 2010

A few links that caught my eye

Manny Delcarmen was lit up in his first appearance with the Rockies, resulting in what R.J. Anderson declared was "the most exciting inning of the night".

The Red Sox Beacon has a nice article on Felix Doubront in the bullpen. Given the Red Sox depth at starting pitcher and the weakness in the 'pen, I agree with their assessment that Felix could be in the bullpen to stay.

Baseball Prospectus has an interview with new top prospect Anthony Ranaudo.

And perhaps best of all, Joe Posnanski, who gets my vote for the best sports writer out there right now, has an article about Jeter's future defense, offense, and pay than fills me with glee.