Archive for November, 2008

Catching Up on Recent Trades

I enjoy watching the players market during the offseason, which is why I’m disappointed that I haven’t been able to comment more on recent moves due to other commitments. So, I offer a post to catch up on some of the recent deals that I haven’t had time to post on.

— The A’s acquired Matt Holliday from the Rockies in return for Huston Street, Greg Smith, and Carlos Gonzalez.

Matt Holliday is a good hitter, even after you account for playing half his games in Coors Field. Baseball-Reference’s Neutralizer tool shows that his career neutralized batting line is .303/.368/.523/.891 compared to his actual performance .319/.386/.552/.938. Yes, I understand his home/away splits are large, but I think it’s wrong to view his away stats as neutral. In addition to his excellent hitting, he has a few other positive attributes. He is an excellent defender: Plus/Minus has him as the fifth-best left-fielder in 2008 with 11 plays above average. He’s also a good base-stealer, swiping 28 in 30 attempts in 2008. That was his best year, but his career stolen base success rate is 80%.

I have Holliday valued around $20 million. He’s owed $13.5 million in 2009, so there is significant surplus value there. What are the the players the Rockies got worth? Huston Street is a good relief pitcher, but he pitches so few innings that he’s barely worth the salary he’ll receive in arbitration. Though he’s the big name going to Colorado in the deal, I think he’s the least valuable of the three. In the minors, Gonzalez walked too little and struck out too much. He appears to be a good-enough defender to play center field, and he’s young. Smith is on a path to be a back-of-the-rotation starter. Gonzalez and Smith could blossom into much better players or wash out of the league within a few years. The trade appears to be good match for both teams, which is no surprised to this economist.

— The Nationals acquired Josh Willingham and Scott Olsen from the Marlins for Emilio Bonifacio, Jake Smolinski, and P.J. Dean.

This is one of those deals that shakes my confidence in everything I think I know about the baseball labor market. Willingham and Olsen are bonafide major-league ballplayers entering their first year of arbitration. I have Willingham valued at around $12 million and Olsen at about $8 million; both generating significantly more then they will cost to employ. Smolinski and Dean aren’t yet at a level where their stats contain much meaningful information—I don’t put much stock in numbers below High-A ball. Bonifacio has played a small amount in the big-leagues, but he’s still mostly a prospect. His minor-league stats don’t appear to be all that impressive either. What on earth are the Marlins doing?

When I call out teams for making mistakes, it’s mostly for fun. Baseball decisions are complicated with big stakes involved. I think every team in baseball has smart people making decisions that are mostly correct. I don’t buy into the “stupid non-saber GM” model of the world. And to add to this, I think the Marlins have one of the most capable front offices in the league. In my book, I rated Marlins as the best franchise in baseball. If there is one thing the Marlins understand, it’s how to get good young players who are cheap. Instead of asking why the Marlins are doing something crazy, I should be asking “what am I missing?”

On possible explanation is that this is a salary dump. The Marlins don’t want to pay for Willingham and Olsen, even though they are valuable players. Plus, Willingham will be 30 before the start of the season, and Olsen is a bit of a head case. But, this isn’t a satisfying explanation. Why did the Marlins have to settle for the Nationals’s offer? There are 28 other teams who could use an outfielder and a starting pitcher. Teams should have wowed the Marlins with better offers; or, maybe this is the best that Washington would do and the Marlins really wanted these players.

Given the prospect status of the players involved, I have to think that major-league baseball scouts—especially the Marlins scouts—must think highly of the prospects involved. In the past, Florida has picked up guys at low-levels who turned into good major-league players. Dontrelle Willis wasn’t out of short-season ball when he the Marlins acquired him. Hanley Ramirez was stinking up the Boston farm system when he came over in the Lowell-Beckett trade.

I admit it’s not a terribly satisfying explanation, and it is contrived to fit the facts. Maybe my worldview deserves to be shattered This trade could go down as a horrible deal for the Marlins; however, I plan to keep my eye on these young guys.

Why?

NYT:

Three hours into a conference held Monday by Major League Baseball on human growth hormone, the real question of the day emerged when officials from the commissioner’s office and the players union wondered aloud about how effective the current blood test for human growth hormone was if no one had tested positive.

In the wake of last December’s Mitchell report, Commissioner Bud Selig said he would bring together leading experts in the field of performance-enhancing drugs to discuss the barriers of testing for human growth hormone.

HGH is not a performance-enhancing drug. Why is MLB doing this? The same reason I have to attend diversity training: to give the appearance of solving a problem that the public cares about. And in the case of growth hormone, public opinion is at odds with the scientific consensus.

No one would believe MLB if it stood up and stated what exercise physiologists have long known: that there are no ergogenic effects from using HGH. The response would be, “MLB is refusing to fight drugs!” They can’t win that battle any more than throwing a ball around circle to discuss racial feelings is going to cure Klansmen of racism. So, we live this bizarre fiction that HGH does work and that it is worth stopping, despite the fact that it runs counter to findings of scientific studies.

I guess I can’t blame MLB. It’s the cheapest way to fight a public relations problem—that’s all this is. And the sad part is that HGH’s prohibition signals to potential users that it works, and the drug has many bad side effects. If anything, the war on growth hormone will do more harm than good. As I have suggested before, the best solution is to legalize it.

Peavy for Braves GM

As a Braves fan, I’m happy that Jake Peavy seems to understand the opportunity cost of giving up an everyday player versus a prospect.

The subject of Escobar came up Thursday morning between Peavy and his agent, Barry Axelrod. Less than 12 hours earlier, Axelrod had met with Padres General Manager Kevin Towers to get an update on trade talks that had taken place the previous three days at the GM meetings in Dana Point.

“Escobar’s a pretty good player,” Axelrod said. “To be honest, Jake and I have said, ‘If that kind of trade gets made, who plays short for them?’”

“One of the things we will want to look at some point is, ‘Who are you giving up? How much are you weakening your team to make this deal?’” Axelrod said. “If Team X trades three starting pitchers and a starting shortstop to get Jake Peavy, that lessens their chance of being a successful team.”

I don’t like the idea of trading Yunel Escobar or Kelly Johnson for Peavy. You improve your pitching, but at the expense of your hitting. It sounds like Peavy wants to play on a winner. Maybe these players can be replaced with free agents in a way that Peavy cannot be, but I am wary of a team that isn’t yet competitive giving up major-league players.

Stuart Gray

I hadn’t planned this theme, but it’s time for another Charlotte Hornets related post.

I’ve been reading some whispers about potential Royals interest in trading for Jeff Francoeur from DOB.

By the way, I had someone who’s close to the KC organization ask me just this morning what it would take to get Francoeur. He told me that if Dayton and his assistants had a list of the guys they’d like to trade for, Francoeur is atop it. Seriously. They don’t view him in light of this past season so much as they do for the years he was in the minor league system when Dayton was with the Braves, etc. They LOVE his mental makeup and physical talent. Hey, just telling you what I hear.

Seriously? They LOVE his mental makeup, after the juvenile tantrum he threw last year about his being sent down while being the worst everyday player in baseball?

But, that’s not the point of this post. Dayton Moore appears to be fascinated with the farm system he used to oversee. Since moving to the Royals he’s acquired former Braves products Odalis Perez, Tony Pena, Kyle Davies, Brayan Pena, and Horacio Ramirez. It’s not that acquiring these players were necessarily bad moves, but I think that fans should have a right to be worried when a GM seems attached to things that he once saw as great in his mind’s eye. Jim Bowden seems to have a similar fascination in Washington, bringing in Reds products Wily Mo Pena and Austin Kearns (there may have been a few others, but I’m not going to investigate).

This brings me back to the Charlotte Hornets. Dick Harter was the first coach of the Hornets. (Funny aside: I knew a reporter who was involved in breaking the story that Harter would be the first coach. He found what he thought was his home phone number, and called the number in the late-evening to get a comment. A woman answered the phone and the reporter asked “May I speak to Dick Harter.” The woman, who heard “Dick Harder”, screamed and hung up the phone.) Harter felt that the Hornets could be competitive if they could get a good big man, and that big man was Stuart Gray, a man Harter felt was being underutilized by his former team, the Indiana Pacers.

The Hornets eventually did acquire Gray, I believe for a second-round pick, for the 1989-1990 season. Gray came to town and was nothing less than the pure embodiment of a “stiff.” His signature moment involved going berserk against the Lakers and attempting to rip Michael Cooper‘s head from his body by holding him in a death-lock on the floor for a minute or so. Pat Rilely was actually on the floor pulling and kicking Gray to release Cooper. Stuart played in only 39 games for the Hornets. I can’t recall whether he was released or injured, but it was the beginning of the end for Harter who was fired during that season.

This is just one data point in my memory. I’m sure plenty of GMs have used their past experiences to acquire good talent. Still, I would be worried to see such strong attachments to past players who really are not that good. Just remember Stuart Gray.

UPDATE:It turns out that Stuart Gray was not stiff.

Robert Parish

For most fans of a sports team, the fact that the general manager has a large free agent budget is a good thing. The Braves supposedly have $40 million of payroll to add free agents. I agree that bigger budgets are better than smaller ones, but this offseason I’m feeling a sense of anxiety that I haven’t felt in 14 years.

I used to be a huge basketball fan. I devoured college and NBA games. I find the game a bit boring these days, but my passion for the Charlotte Hornets was once strong. I actually skipped class to wait in line for playoff tickets, and was disappointed when I didn’t get any.

Before the 1994-1995 season, the Hornets were on the edge of something great; or at least, fans of the team felt that they were. The team needed another big man, and the front office let the fans know that they would be in the market for the best big-men in the league. That year, Horace Grant and Danny Manning were considered to be the prizes of the big-men free agents. But it seemed that before the free agent signing period had even started, Grant had signed with Orlando and Manning with Phoenix. What were the Hornets to do?

The team seemed to be on the verge of success after advancing to the Eastern Conference Semifinals in 1992-1993. The 1993-1994 team didn’t make the playoffs, and my memory is fuzzy as to what exactly went wrong. But, the nucleus of the team was still in tact, and the front office promised that they would fix the problems and make the team into a contender. With Grant and Manning off the market, there was nowhere else left for the Hornets to turn…. Or, so we thought.

The Hornets weren’t going to leave the market empty-handed, and so they signed 41-year-old Robert Parish. Robert Parish was once a good player, but not from 1994-1996. How devastating. I remember sitting with a friend at a game later that season and he turned to me and said, “Robert Parish is the worst player in the entire league.” He would also embarrass the team off the court with allegations of spouse and drug abuse.

My impressions of his play are probably exaggerated, and maybe Parish wasn’t as bad as I remember. But, the point is that sometimes GMs spend money because they can, and the results aren’t always good. Though more money is preferred to less, sometimes the best strategy is not to spend. Don’t be afraid to put that money in the bank and earn some interest. What you get in return could be a lot better than zero—think double-zero.