Archive for Braves

Why Soriano Won’t Accept Arbitration

When the Braves signed Billy Wagner and Takashi Saito, front office sources made it clear that they expected Mike Gonzalez and Rafael Soriano to reject the club’s arbitration offer. But then Soriano’s agent Peter Greenberg started dropping hints that his client might just take up the Braves on their offer. Why? Some insiders have speculated that Soriano could get $8 million in arbitration, which is more than he might command on the free-agent market.

I think that salary number is a bit high, but let’s assume it’s true. Still, I don’t think Soriano will accept arbitration. And here’s why. Arbitration is good only for one year. If all goes well, he just postpones he gets a big annual salary and postpones his free agency by a year. No big deal, right? Take the money while it’s good, then hit the market after putting up another good season. But, what if things don’t go well? Let’s say his surgically-repaired elbow starts to flare up, or a new injury jumps up to bite him, possibly knocking him out of baseball altogether. Like all players, Soriano’s net worth is tied up in one skill. If it disappears, he’s out a lot of money.

Most of us don’t have our skills valued over such a narrow range. Even if the industry we work in implodes, most skills are transferable to new areas. Not so with baseball. Baseball players often insure against risk by trading higher annual salaries for long-run guaranteed salary. Teams are often willing to oblige, not only because they get the player at a lower price, but because they can diversify injury risks across many players. Some players will get injured, others won’t; the end result is that the team will come out ahead—that’s why insurance is a successful business.

Now back to Soriano. The advantages of free agency include not only forcing teams to compete for your services, but it also opens up more possibilities of long-run contracts. If you were in Soriano’s shoes, would you prefer a one-year, $8 million contract to two years at $12 million, or three years at $15 million? It’s ultimately a personal decision, but I’d have to think that the long-run guarantee is more valuable than garnering a high salary for one year.

I suspect that Soriano is willing to trade some risk for security, which is why I believe that it’s unlikely that Soriano accepts the Braves’ offer.

Update: Or maybe he will. Soriano surprises Braves, accepts arbitration

Braves general manager Frank Wren said nearly eight hours before the announcement that even if either pitcher accepted arbitration, it wouldn’t hinder the team’s ongoing roster moves and pursuit of offense. That statement will be tested in coming weeks.

“We feel protected either way,” Wren said Monday afternoon, and listed two possible results of arbitration decisions by Soriano and/or Gonzalez: “A., they don’t accept [arbitration]. B., they accept and at some point we trade them.

“It’s not a big deal either way.”

But there was no doubt the Braves preferred not to deal with the hassle of trying to trade either of them.

Tim Hudson’s Hometown Discount

The long-awaited announcement of Tim Hudson‘s new contract with the Braves has finally come. The terms guarantee Hudson $9 million a year over the next three seasons, plus a $1 million buyout of a team option for a fourth year. The fourth-year option also pays out $9 million, so the total value that could be paid out is $36 million over four years. The contract voids a $12 million option for 2010, that the Braves were likely going to buy out for $1 million.

Hudson is an interesting player. He’s ranged from good to dominant. He was really pitching some of his best baseball as a Brave right before his injury. The good news is that he pitched well in his return through 42 innings. With a full offseason to recover, I think there is good reason to believe that he will be back to normal; however, the injury risk may have reduced his value somewhat. I proceed to my valuation with this caveat.

If Hudson pitches as he did in 2007 and 2008 over the course of a full season, then he’ll be worth about $12.5 million per year over the next three seasons. Thus, it appears that Hudson is giving the hometown discount that he promised—smart move by Frank Wren and the Braves. This allows the Braves to trade one of its other starters (who will it be?) and still have pitching stability going into the future.

If you see Hudson out and about in the Atlanta area, be sure to say “thanks”—but, please, don’t pester him. Or, maybe throw a little support to the Hudson Family Foundation. He wants to be in Atlanta, and he has strengthened his club by doing so. It’s nice to have you on board for the long haul, Tim.

My Thoughts on Tim Hudson’s Option

Ken Rosenthal reports that Tim Hudson will likely turn down his mutual option with the Braves.

Barring a last-minute, knockout offer from the Braves, right-hander Tim Hudson plans to become a free agent, according to major-league sources.

Hudson’s contract with the Braves includes a $12 million mutual option for 2010. If Hudson declined his end of the deal, he would be free to negotiate with any team.

Other than Angels right-hander John Lackey, the upcoming free-agent class is largely devoid of top-of-the-rotation starters.

Hudson, 34, fits that description when healthy, and he proved that he is recovered from Tommy John surgery by going 2-1 with a 3.61 ERA in seven starts after rejoining the Braves on Sept. 1.

The Braves are likely to exercise their option on Hudson, a decision that must be made within five days of the completion of the World Series.

Last month, I estimated Hudson’s market value, assuming that he is healthy.

Valuing Hudson is a bit difficult, because of his recent past performance. He pitched well in 2007, but his 2006 and 2008 seasons weren’t as good—the latter season was marred by injury. Let’s just assume that 2007 was Hudson’s true-talent level. Given aging and league salary growth, I project Hudson will be worth $11.25 million in 2010. The Braves having an above-average team pushes this value upward a bit, but slower-than-normal revenue growth would lower the value. In addition, injury recovery isn’t guaranteed, which makes him riskier than I have assumed in this analysis.

By the rosiest of scenarios, Hudson will be worth the option. Given the dearth of pitching already owned by the Braves, and the possibility of a weak free-agent market (Update: by weak, I mean talent will be cheaper than usual, not weak in talent), I suspect that the Braves will pass on Hudson’s option.

In summary, I don’t think Hudson can get more than $12 million/year on the free agent market. Maybe, this is posturing: leaked position by Hudson’s agent as a negotiating ploy. Or, if you’re going to be fired, quit first to save face. Most likely, I think Hudson would prefer a long-term deal with another team for less that $12 million a year, and the Braves aren’t willing to offer a favorable long-term deal. Therefore, he’s willing to trade a one-shot above-market deal for a long-run market-equivalent deal.

One thing that I do not think affects Hudson’s value is the available number of starting pitchers on the free agent market. While there are fewer players for teams to choose from (decreased supply), this also means there are fewer teams seeking starters (decreased demand).

Question of the Day

This was originally a Facebook/Twitter post, but I think it’s an appropriate blog post as well:

If the Braves make the playoffs, does Kelly Johnson make the post-season roster?

Yesterday, Bobby Cox used Greg Norton, Brooks Conrad, and Omar Infante as pinch hitters. Reid Gorecki and Ryan Church—whom I assumed was too hurt to play when he didn’t pinch hit, but I guess not—got in the game on defense (RG also pinch ran). And despite the addition of Clint Sammons as the third catcher, David Ross also sat out. Matt Diaz and Adam LaRoche are having their at-bats reduced by hitting at the bottom of the order, while Garret Anderson hits in the five-hole. I don’t get this use of roster resources.

My conclusion: I think it’s unlikely that Kelly Johnson makes a post-season roster.

Braves Attendance Recovers

Earlier in the season, Braves attendance was down about 15% relative to 2008, which was significantly less than the league’s average attendance decline of about 5%. Now, it appears that the Braves have righted the ship. Braves attendance is down 5%, which is actually better than the league-average decline of almost 7%. See Baseball-Reference’s 2008 vs. 2009 Attendance tracker.

Should Chipper Jones Retire?

Chipper Jones says he’ll retire if he continues playing as he has this season.

“I’m certainly not going to stick around for a big contract if I’m not having fun and not producing,” said Jones, hitting nearly 100 points lower than his .364 in 2008. “I’m not saying I’m retiring at the end of this year or the end of next year, but if I become an average player, I’m not sticking around.

“I’m not going to hamstring the ballclub with the money I’m making, and I’m not going to be happy being a mediocre player.”

It’s a noble gesture, but I think he’ll be sticking around. This season he’s posted a .268/.390/.437 line, which is significantly below his career .308/.407/.542. Even in a slump, he’s a well-above-average player. Yes, Chipper Jones is getting older and is no doubt declining, but it would be a mistake to take this season as full-proof evidence that he’s near the end. In 2004 Chipper posted a similar performance decline of .248/.362/.485 before rebounding to bat .332/.430/.585 over the next four seasons.

I remember at that time pundits saying Chipper was done. Having watched Chipper hit numerous at’em balls that seasons, I developed a method for measuring unlucky performance known as PrOPS, which showed that Chipper was underperforming relative to the way he was hitting the ball. (Here is a WSJ article that discusses the development of PrOPS.) The Hardball Times still reports PrOPS. Though it is based on some older numbers, it is safe to consult for examining deviations of PrOPS from OPS. In 2009, Chipper’s predicted batting line is .293/.413/.477—still below Chipper’s expectations, but more in-line with his past performance. Chipper is getting older, but he’s also been a bit unlucky this season.

I expect Chipper will have a better season in 2010, and I’d advise him to take the opportunity to move over to the soon-to-be vacant first base position. I think the Braves made a mistake moving him to the outfield, so I can understand his reluctance to move, but I think he’ll have an easier time at first. There is no shame in moving across the diamond in your late-30s.

And even though he won’t be the Chipper of the recent past, no one expected him to be. We all age, and Frank Wren knew this when he signed the extension. If the Braves want to compete next year, the team is going to need his production, even if it is reduced. An low-.800 OPS is still useful. I’d also appreciate it if fans would lay off Chipper given all his past good play and his willingness to restructure his contract to help the organization.

Should the Braves Pick Up Tim Hudson’s Option?

Like all Braves fans, I was happy to see Tim Hudson make his return to the mound for the Braves last night. This led me to wonder whether or not the Braves will pick up Hudson’s option for next season. If the Braves decide to keep Hudson, they will have to pay him $12 million; if they decline, they must pay him $1 million. Therefore, the cost of hiring Hudson for the 2010 season is $11 million—$1 million is a sunk cost and therefore not relevant. If Huddy’s value is close to this figure, then it may be a worthwhile investment.

Valuing Hudson is a bit difficult, because of his recent past performance. He pitched well in 2007, but his 2006 and 2008 seasons weren’t as good—the latter season was marred by injury. Let’s just assume that 2007 was Hudson’s true-talent level. Given aging and league salary growth, I project Hudson will be worth $11.25 million in 2010. The Braves having an above-average team pushes this value upward a bit, but slower-than-normal revenue growth would lower the value. In addition, injury recovery isn’t guaranteed, which makes him riskier than I have assumed in this analysis.

By the rosiest of scenarios, Hudson will be worth the option. Given the dearth of pitching already owned by the Braves, and the possibility of a weak free-agent market (Update: by weak, I mean talent will be cheaper than usual, not weak in talent), I suspect that the Braves will pass on Hudson’s option.

Postscript: The salary estimates presented in this post—and from now on—are derived from an updated methodology that differs from estimates that I previously presented before my blogging hiatus. The underlying marginal revenue product framework is the same, but the calculations have changed significantly following updated analysis. I shall be presenting this new method in the future.

A Tale of Two GMs

A few years ago, it was common knowledge among Braves fans that one of John Schuerholz’s two main assistants, Dayton Moore or Frank Wren, would be taking over the reigns when Schuerholz stepped down.

In 2006, Moore left the Braves to become the Kansas City Royals’ GM. For reasons that I really don’t understand (possibly because of Wren’s unsuccessful one-year stint in Baltimore) some fans were high on Moore but not Wren. I mean, do fans really understand what goes on inside front offices to hold such opinions? (I am also perplexed when fans develop opinions about the draft, when all they are doing is aggregating the opinions of others)…but, anyway…Moore was gone, and it was Wren who took over prior to the 2008 season.

Wren suffered significant criticism in his first term as GM, which is expected when you take over for a popular GM. After public rebuffings by Jake Peavy, Rafael Furcal, and Ken Griffey—and rebukings by John Smoltz, Tom Glavine, and even John Schuerholz (strangely apologizing to Glavine)—Wren was not a popular man. Some fans were also highly critical of his acquisitions of Javier Vazquez, Derek Lowe, Kenshin Kawakami, and Garret Anderson.

The Braves will likely miss the playoffs this year—though, I have not given up hope!—but Wren deserves much credit for rebuilding the team. All of the above players have played well, though each player has had down points during the season. The team greatly improved the team over last year’s roster, and only Lowe has a contract that may turn out to be a long-term burden. I am particularly pleased with Anderson, who has been exactly league average for a measly $2.5 million. Replacement level—whatever that is—my ass.

The only blemish on Wren’s year—other than the PR hits that are inevitable in his position—has been the rushing of Jordan Schafer and the continued reliance Jeff Francoeur. But, to his credit, he fixed both mistakes.

Moore, on the other hand, has had a disastrous year, and not just in terms of team performance. It began with the acquisition of Mike Jacobs, but the acquisition of Yuniesky Betancourt did the most damage to Moore’s reputation as an up-and-coming GM. His penchant for ex-Braves prospects is understandable, but is becoming embarrassing. He loves Tony Pena so much he can’t even give up on him properly—seriously, he’s being converted to a pitcher? And then there was the Rany Jazayerli incident, which makes Frank Wren’s PR gaffes look like subtle burps behind a napkin.

I really don’t have anything against Moore. I have very little idea of what he does behind the scenes, and for all I know if I had the same information he does, I might have made identical moves in his position. This post is about how the career paths of Wren and Moore have diverged. It’s like seeing Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake many years ago as a power couple and wondering, “what does she see in him?”

As a Braves fan, I have been happy with Wren. I may not always agree with his moves, and I’m not even sure how much power he has. The thing I like most about Wren is his personality. Unlike his predecessor, his is open, honest, and non-hostile during interviews. He stands by his decisions and doesn’t hide from mistakes.

Quick Thoughts

Hanley Ramirez‘s Plus/Minus for the past four seasons: -6, -37, +3, +4.

— Gwinnett Braves next to last in International League attendance, drawing less than their projected annual attendance of over 6,000. Not good when you are experiencing the honeymoon effect of a new park and team. Nice work!

— G-Braves Stadium’s naming rights revert from the County to the Braves on Monday. Braves get first $350K, County gets next $350K, both parties split the remainder. So much for getting $500K to pay off the debt. Lando Calrissian had a better deal with Darth Vader. If I was fabulously wealthy, I would buy the rights and name it Nasuti’s Folly. I encourage use of this name informally.

— Frank Wren deserves much praise for rebuilding the Braves. But, I wonder where the Braves would be if Matt Diaz had been the team’s everyday right fielder from day one and if they hadn’t rushed Jordan Schafer. I estimate that if Diaz and Jeff Francoeur switched their playing time, the Braves would have gained approximately $2 million/year in superior performance.

Excuse Me?

I’m sorry, I know I’m supposed to be taking a break, but I can’t let this pass.

Mark Bradley has finally realized that Jeff Francoeur isn’t going to be a star, and that he has some serious flaws in his game.

It’s time to trade Frenchy.

What could the Braves get for him? Probably not all that much, but that’s not really the point . They’d be better off without him, and he without them.

Way to get in on this early, Mark. What’s next? A scathing critique of foul language and sexism in rap music. If the Atlanta media, which includes Bradley, had had the balls to call out the Braves in 2006, maybe he could have been sent down to the minors to get some work. It’s only been a year since Bradley blasted fans for turning on Golden Boy with a stern lecture.

He’s struggling now, but the belief here, as it would be with any big-leaguer, is that he’ll eventually rise to his established level.

It’s understandable fans would be anxious, especially at a time when the entire team is listing. What’s curious is how quickly we Atlantans seem to turn on the guy from Gwinnett. Has almost a decade of his derring-do, first at Parkview and now as a Brave, bred such contempt? Have we tired of the famous Frenchy? Have we forgotten that, for all his notoriety, he’s only 24?

If that’s the case, then I don’t feel sorry for Jeff Francoeur. I feel sorry for us.

Pretty bold words. Apparently, 2 1/2 years of below-average corner outfield play wasn’t a large enough sample, but 3 1/2 years is. This was my response at the time.

The problem with Francoeur is that the media has been so accepting of the Braves talking points that he is a rising superstar that they haven’t even bothered to notice that Francoeur has always had glaring holes in his game. He was a good high school player? That is no more relevant than the fact that I once hit two home runs in one game for my Little League team. (I still like to bring this up when I can. Yes, they both went over the fence, and I can tell you the names of the pitchers who gave them up: Robbie and John.)

Bradley has the nerve, THE NERVE, to lecture fans on giving Francoeur criticism, which the media neglected to do for three years. In New York, they give grief to players who are far better than Francoeur. Jerry Manuel is making David Wright practice plate discipline, and he has a career OBP of .390. Wright’s slumps are equal to Frenchy’s peaks, but Terry Pendleton just keeps telling Frenchy to “stay aggressive.”

Why didn’t Mark Bradley ask about sending Francoeur to the minors in 2006, when it was clear that he had more to learn? Why didn’t Mark Bradley question Frenchy’s presence in the line-up every day for over two years? I don’t know whether demoting or resting him would have helped, but they were legitimate options that should have been put to the general manager and the manager.

I was thinking this morning as to how easily the Braves could have handled the demotion in 2006. It seemed difficult at the time, but it really wasn’t. David Price was a hero in Tampa Bay, a franchise without any history of stars. Yet, the Rays front office just said, “Hey folks, he’s young. We know he’s done some good stuff up here, but he needs more work.” Some fans were pissed, but the storm didn’t last long.

The problem was that the Braves front office allowed itself to think that his 2005 was exactly what Francoeur was. He was already the star they imagined when he was the Good Face prospect at Parkview: “The Natural.” Baseball professionals shouldn’t allow this to happen. Teenage girls in pink #7 jerseys, yes; but not a GM and his assistants—nor veteran sports columnists.

Maybe Francoeur would be the same player he is, but he should have been sent down in 2006. And if folks like Mark Bradley had been writing with critical pens instead of pompons, maybe this would have happened.