Archive for Braves

TP on Thin Ice?

Maybe Andruw Jones and Jeff Francoeur will never improve; but if they do, Terry Pendleton doesn’t look so hot.

Star-Telegram

Hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo is what makes the Rangers attractive.

“These guys have the system,” Jones said. “The hitting coach they’ve got, they work on the things they want to. We’ll see what happens.”

Third baseman Michael Young still expects Jones to have a good season, no matter where he ends up playing.

“He and Rudy have worked hard together,” Young said. “He’s not going to get a hold of Rudy’s system overnight, but he’s definitely got the ability, the experience and the know-how to master the system.”

AJC

During a three-day November tutorial with Rangers hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo in Texas, Francoeur changed the position of his hands, opened his stance a bit and widened his feet. The changes were to simplify his approach, improve his balance and help him see the ball better.

Thoughts on Garret Anderson

The Braves signed Garret Anderson to a one-year $2.5 million deal yesterday. What do I think of this deal? Here is what I wrote to a friend via e-mail last November.

I think the Braves would be wise to pass on [Will Ohman], because they need to get a better team before they start picking up veteran relievers. I am so afraid that they’re going to sign AJ Burnett and Garret Anderson. I’ll breathe easier when/if those guys are on another club.

I have changed my mind on Anderson. I was afraid that the Braves would sign him early and to a much bigger contract, possibly for several seasons. The outfield is better, and at a low price. I’m just going to have to live with Joe Simpson praising his Hall-of-Fame credentials for the rest of the season.

Frank Wren deserves credit for a successful offseason. While problems with potential acquisitions of Peavy, Furcal, and Griffey dominated the news coverage, the actual acquisitions of Derek Lowe, Javier Vazquez, and Kenshin Kawakami have made the Braves a playoff contender.

Addendum: Jayson Stark sums up the team’s improvement.

A Lesson in Bilateral Monopoly Bargaining

In the 2007 draft, the Braves selected UGA closer Josh Fields in the second round. He didn’t like the offer he got—niether did his agent, Scott Boras—so he went back to UGA for his senior year.

Negotiations between his agent, Scott Boras, and the Braves — as they are wont to do when the infamous Boras is involved — got hairy. A few weeks into the process, the Braves called Fields directly and gave him an ultimatum: sign now or talks would go dead until August. He didn’t sign. Talks went dead. And the more he hung around Athens, the more he prayed about it, the more he considered the logistics of the deal, the more staying seemed like a better option. “It just became a no-brainer,” Fields said. “It felt right to come back.”

One report indicates that the offer he rejected was likely between $400,000 and $450,000.

Fields had a good senior season, and was selected in the first round by the Seattle Mariners. Though the negotiations have been long, yesterday Fields agreed to a deal between $1.5 and $2 million.

Not every man could turn down nealy half-a-million; but Fields did, and it was the right decision. Scott Boras does know what he’s doing.

Is Francoeur Worth $4 Million?

Jeff Francoeur and the Braves swapped arbitration figures yesterday, and there is a significant spread between their salary expectations.

Coming off a season during which he hit .239 with 11 homers and a .359 slugging percentage, Francoeur is asking the Braves for $3.95 million. The club has offered the 25-year-old right fielder a salary of $2.8 million.

Is Francoeur worth $4 million to the Braves? The quick answer is yes, absolutely, and it’s not even close. Despite all the flaws in his game and his failure to meet misplaced expectations, he’s still a major-league baseball player. Even during his awful 2008 season, his marginal revenue product (MRP) contribution for his play in the field was approximately $12 million. This may seem like a lot, but all major-league quality baseball players are valuable assets. During the first six years of service, the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) limits player compensation, and that is why we can easily say that many players are worth more than they are being paid.

However, that is not really the relevant question here. We want to know what he can expect to get. After completing three years of service—I’m simplifying here, because the exact criteria are complicated—players are eligible for arbitration. Each team and player submits salary figures that represent options to an arbitration panel. After a brief hearing, the panel decides which side’s figure is most appropriate and the player is awarded that salary: there is no compromise. The no-compromise requirement is designed to encourage the parties to negotiate a solution, or risk the other party’s preferred outcome.

The criteria for determining a player’s worth are set out in the CBA.

(12) Criteria
(a) The criteria will be the quality of the Player’s contribution to his Club during the past season (including but not limited to his overall performance, special qualities of leadership and public appeal), the length and consistency of his career contribution, the record of the Player’s past compensation, comparative baseball salaries (see paragraph (13) below for confidential salary data), the existence of any physical or mental defects on the part of the Player, and the recent performance record of the Club including but not limited to its League standing and attendance as an indication of public acceptance (subject to the exclusion stated in subparagraph (b)(i) below). Any evidence may be submitted which is relevant to the above criteria, and the arbitration panel shall assign such weight to the evidence as shall appear appropriate under the circumstances. The arbitration panel shall, except for a Player with five or more years of Major League service, give particular attention, for comparative salary purposes, to the contracts of Players with Major League service not exceeding one annual service group above the Player’s annual service group. This shall not limit the ability of a Player or his representative, because of special accomplishment, to argue the equal relevance of salaries of Players without regard to service, and the arbitration panel shall give whatever weight to such argument as is deemed appropriate.
(b) Evidence of the following shall not be admissible:
(i) The financial position of the Player and the Club;
(ii) Press comments, testimonials or similar material bearing on the performance of either the Player or the Club, except that recognized annual Player awards for playing excellence shall not be excluded;
(iii) Offers made by either Player or Club prior to arbitration;
(iv) The cost to the parties of their representatives, attorneys,
etc.;
(v) Salaries in other sports or occupations.

The exact rules seem to place great emphasis on the most recent season; however, the “length and consistency” of career provision does open the door for mention of past performance. I don’t know the extent to which arbitrators are allowed to consider the quality of play from past seasons. Still, it seems that Francoeur’s bargaining position will suffer from having his worst season just prior to arbitration.

On his side is his 2007 Gold Glove Award. It is certainly a significant achievement that is eligible for consideration. However, once you bring up defense, his most-recent season is brought to light. And according Plus/Minus, 2008 was a poor defensive season for Francoeur: he made 17 fewer plays than the average right fielder, ranking him 30th in the league.

How about his “public appeal”? Jeff Francoeur has been the team’s most popular players for the past few seasons. Only recently have some fans turned on him; but even with that, he still remains popular. He’s a local boy who excelled when he was first called up, and fans still remember this. But how do you measure his popularity without resorting to press comments and testimonials, which are barred? Attendance likely isn’t going to help, as the team’s attendance fell by nearly eight percent last season. I’m not sure if marketing reports like a Q-Score are admissible, but if they are I think this information is going to have to carry the day if Francoeur is going to win his case.

I have done some analysis of player salaries during arbitration years, but I haven’t gone that in depth. In my book, I report that position players tend to receive 77 percent less than their estimated marginal revenue product during their fourth through sixth years of service (estimated). Based on his previous three-year average of his MRP ($13.78 million), that puts his expected salary at $3.17 million. Based on his past season alone, his expected salary is $2.84 million. The Braves appear to have the better offer on the table.

The estimates I present are rough, but I believe they are biased in Francoeur’s favor. I’m estimating his worth on the median difference in player salaries from their MRPs during four-to-six years of service. Francoeur is only entering his first arbitration hearing and therefore ought to be on the low side of this average.

The Braves Get Lowe

Finally, a bit of positive news for Braves fans. The team has supposedly agreed to terms with Derek Lowe on a four-year $60 million contract.

The Braves didn’t appear to be interested in Lowe early in the offseason. Whether this was a plan of playing hard-to-get or a desperate reevaluation when the other options fell through is difficult to know….well, actually it isn’t. ;-) I feel that Lowe has been an under-appreciated pitcher. I estimate him to be the ninth most valuable pitcher over the past three seasons.

Over the next four seasons, I estimate Lowe to be worth $57 million, which is close to what he will receive from the Braves. The rotation is now looking like Lowe, Javier Vazquez, Jair Jurrjens, Kenshin Kawakami, and some combo of Charlie Morton, Jo-Jo Reyes, Jorge Campillo, and Tommy Hanson. Now, if the team can get an outfield bat, they may be in business.

So, Why Don’t You Tell Us How You Really Feel?

I nominate this for Tyler Cowen’s “Markets in Everything” series.

ebay

SELLING THE HEART AND SOUL OF ONE USED ATLANTA BRAVES FAN. For 25 years I have proudly stood by my team in the good seasons and the bad. I’ve been around for worst to first and I was there when Sid slid. I grew up listening to Skip, Pete, Don & Joe call the games and felt like I had lost a family member when Skip left us. I have always been proud to call the Braves MY TEAM no matter what. When the Braves allowed John Smoltz to leave for Boston they allowed the heart of the franchise to walk right out of the front door and should be ashamed of themselves. Money should not have been an object in these negotiations…John Smoltx IS the Braves. The ownership and management of the Atlanta Braves should be ashamed of themselves, not only have the let down themselves, their team, and the city of Atlanta but they have shattered the core of the Braves family. Upon selling my support for the Braves I will no longer attend games, watch them on TV, listen on the radio, or follow them online. I am unable to support a team who so haphazardly gave up the FACE of the franchise. This is a sad day for Atlanta and for Braves fans everywhere. Congratulations Boston you just recieved THE CLASS ACT of major league baseball and he will literally pitch for you until his arm falls off. 100% of the winning bid for this auction will go directly to the John Smoltz foundation. The focus of The John Smoltz Foundation is to serve and fund organizations that change the lives of children and adults in a profound and positive way. The John Smoltz Foundation is dedicated to making a difference in the lives of people who in turn will pave the way for others to do the same.

Here’s an image from Talking Chop.

talking chop

I wouldn’t get too down. A year ago, Atlanta residents felt similarly about the Falcons.

C’mon Braves, At Least Be Honest

Before I get started, I am on the record defending the Braves’ decision to not match Boston’s offer for John Smoltz. I think it was the right move; and, even though many disagree, I think it should be understandable from a business perspective. So, why is the front office botching the PR of this difficult decision in a way that makes the organization look even worse?

Here is the response of CEO Terry McGuirk.

“John is a great guy,” McGuirk said. “He follows his own head, and I just don’t know what’s going on with him right now. We’ve offered less of a guarantee, but we’ve offered a substantial guarantee. Coming off an injury like this, we feel like it’s the right thing that we should be doing [in regards to the incentive-laden offer].

“We’ve offered him a package that would get him in the $10 million range, if he were to pitch a full season and pitch well. For him to walk away from that and to go to another place, I’m just shocked and surprised.

“I read today in something that his agent said the other set of incentives [from the Red Sox] were ‘more attainable.’ If John Smoltz pitches like John Smoltz pitches, I think [the Braves’ incentives package] is attainable. If he’s not healthy, it’s not going to happen.”

Supposedly, the Braves had a contract on the table for $2 million guaranteed, with a $1 million bonus for being on the active roster and an additional million for every month that he spends on the active roster. On it’s face, McGuirk’s statement is literally true. If Smoltz is on the roster opening day through the entire season, he would receive a total of $9 million ($2 million base, $1 million roster bonus, and $6 million for every month he is on the roster). I think it is fair to say that this is in “the $10 million range, if he were to pitch a full season.” However, this ignores the reality that Smoltz is not capable of pitching the entire season.

Rehab will most likely keep Smoltz off the active roster until late-May/early-June according to all the reports that I have seen. Thus, Smoltz’s contract would have maxed out at the $7 million which has been reported in the press. The Red Sox are guaranteeing around $5 million before another $5 million in incentives even kick in, and the incentives appear to activate with lower thresholds that are congruent with Smoltz’s recovery schedule. The difference between the Sox’s and Braves’ offers is $3 million, not $1 million, as McGuirk seems to insinuate—or maybe he thinks $7 million in the $10 million range.

We also have the following quote from GM Frank Wren.

“We were willing to pay John as much or more than the Red Sox to pitch,” Wren said early Thursday evening. “We just weren’t willing to pay him as much as the Red Sox were to not pitch.”

Again, this is misleading. I think it refers to the fact that the guaranteed bases represent the biggest difference between the two contracts. But, unless the Braves were offering greater marginal incentives than the Red Sox, the statement that the Braves are paying him “as much or more than the Red Sox” to pitch is incorrect. Let’s assume that the Red Sox and the Braves have the same incentive plan on the table ($1 million roster bonus plus $1 million per month); thus, here is what Smoltz will get in millions of dollars according to his time on the roster.

Months	Braves	Red Sox
0	$2	$5
1	$4	$7
2	$5	$8
3	$6	$9
4	$7	$10

Wren is apparently referring to the first derivative of the incentive schedule. For both teams, the change in the salaries with roster time is identical; however, Smoltz clearly gets more income from the Red Sox when he doesn’t pitch and when he pitches. Being healthy for the Braves wouldn’t get Smoltz up to the salary that he would earn with the Sox. Technically, what Wren said could be true—we don’t know the exact details of the Sox’s incentives—but from Smoltz’s perspective his he still gets more from the Red Sox even if he is healthy. Now, if the Braves had offered $2 million base with $2 million per month pitched, then being healthy for the Braves could get him a salary equivalent to what the Red Sox offered.

Why are the Braves doing this? I’m no PR expert, but I think it’s time for the Braves to scale back the whiny commentary. When the offseason started, I didn’t expect the Braves to have a healthy Smoltz on the roster in 2009 nor to acquire Rafael Furcal. Yet, fans are now up in arms complaining about the failure of the team to get these guys on the roster.

In Furcal’s case the team cried foul over alleged agent misbehavior. It doesn’t matter who is at fault. In both cases the team should have just said, “We tried to acquire a player that we thought would help the team; however, financially we were not willing to meet the salary demands without sacrificing the long-run competitiveness of the team. We wish him well, and we will continue to pursue other avenues to pursue the team.” This doesn’t eliminate fan disappointment, but I think the negative effects of the rejection wouldn’t linger in fans’ minds as long as they have because the team engaged in a meaningless blame game.

So Long, Smoltz

According to numerous reports, John Smoltz will be joining the Red Sox for a guaranteed $5.5 million plus the potential for $4.5 million in incentives. This has already started an uproar in Bravesnation, because Smoltz has basically gone out of his way to deny his interest in other teams to fans. I’ve heard him on the radio a few times assuring fans that he planned to stay.

From a team-quality standpoint, I really don’t see what the big deal is. John Smoltz is not just slightly hurt, and $5.5 million is a lot of guaranteed money to cough up for an injury risk. He didn’t just get his knee scoped. He’s about to turn 42, and he’s coming off major shoulder surgery. Yeah, I know he’s throwing off the mound, yadda yadda yadda, but that’s a long way from being the dominant pitcher he has been over the past few seasons.

From 2005–2007, he was basically a $15 million pitcher—one of the league’s best, and I don’t want to understate this. From the reports I’m reading, Smoltz’s injury should keep him out for the first third of the season. So, if he returns to his old starting form immediately after his return, he’ll be worth about $10 million—two-thirds of a $15-million pitcher. That’s the level at which incentive bonuses max out. However, the incentives cannot be based on quality, and must be determined by awards or quantity-of-play benchmarks. I suspect the incentives will be based on the latter considering that the Red Sox bonuses have been defined as “more attainable” than what the Braves offered. I think it’s more likely that if Smoltz does reach innings-pitched goals it will be at a performance level closer to a third or fourth starter rather than as his old dominant self. Thus, if he doesn’t trigger the incentives, he’ll be getting paid a lot to pitch very little; and if the incentives do kick in, I doubt the amount paid will match the performance.

The Braves supposedly had offered $2 million with incentives increasing the total to $7 million. I would not recommend that the Braves offer more than this. It’s easy to forecast Smoltz being on the hill in October, but there’s also a decent chance that he’ll be sitting on a gold-plated butt cushion in the dugout.

I don’t think Frank Wren deserves the heat that he is going to get for this. The Braves have paid Smoltz $130 million over his career. Smoltz wanted more, and I don’t blame Wren for passing. Signing and not signing Smoltz both have risks, and I think he gambled on the right side.

Should the Braves Take a Chance on Andruw Jones?

It appears that Andruw Jones will be leaving the Dodgers within the next few weeks. Given Jones’s affinity for Atlanta and manager Bobby Cox, and Atlanta’s need for outfield help, a reunion seems possible. While it all comes down to what the Braves have to give up to acquire Jones, I think that Andruw is risk worth taking.

There is no denying that Jones was bad last season—a line of .158/.256/.249 is about as bad as you can get. This was preceded by a poor 2007 performance of .222/.311/.413. Is Andruw Jones even worth the league minimum? I think so.

I still believe that Andruw’s 2007 was largely a product of back luck, and that he should rebound. The table below lists Andruw’s performance in several areas from 2004–2006 and 2007–2008. The former years are good years, while the latter two are not.

Year	AVG	OBP	SLG	Iso	K rate	BB rate	+/-
2004	0.261	0.345	0.488	0.227	22.76%	10.99%	?
2005	0.263	0.347	0.575	0.312	16.67%	9.52%	?
2006	0.262	0.363	0.531	0.269	18.98%	12.26%	+27
Mean	0.262	0.352	0.531	0.269	19.47%	10.92%	+16
							
2007	0.222	0.311	0.413	0.191	20.94%	10.62%	+22
2008	0.158	0.256	0.249	0.091	31.93%	11.34%	-4

Though 2007 was not up to Andruw’s previous level, it was still a reasonable fluctuation below his typical performance. Jones’s average was way down (the most variable hitting metric), and that explained a good bit of his decline in OBP and SLG. His isolated power was down too, but .190 is respectable. His defense (as measured by John Dewan’s Plus/Minus) was a few plays above his average over his previous three seasons. It was a good bet that Jones would be a decent player who would outperform his 2007. The Dodgers apparently agreed as they offered him a two-year, $36 million deal.

Then 2008 happened. It is easy to view 2008 as a continuation of 2007; but, Jones didn’t continue to decline, he collapsed. This wasn’t aging, Jones went from being an elite baseball player to being below major-league caliber. Even his defense suffered. I believe that Jones’s knee injury—which forced him to spend a large portion of the season on the DL—combined with poor conditioning, adjusting to a new team, and even a little bad luck caused Jones’s problem. I believe that these are all correctable.

I have seen Jones compared to other guys who never panned out like Rubin Sierra—Jones’s “most similar” player from age 21–27. That is a worthy comp, but I think of Jones like Mike Lowell. He was a very good player who just looked awful during his age-31 season in Florida. The Marlins basically forced the Red Sox to take him in the Josh Beckett deal. At the time, I was certain Lowell was done, but it turns out that Lowell had some good baseball left in him.

I think there’s some good baseball left in Andruw Jones. At 32, he is on the downside of his career, but player career paths look more like Stone Mountain than the Matterhorn. If he’s healthy and motivated, I think he’ll be a serviceable major-league outfielder. Is he worth the full value of what the Dodgers owe him? I doubt it, but that should be irrelevant to his new team. If the Braves could get him for the $5 million he will be paid next season, I’d jump at it. Especially, considering that the Braves outfield needs some players. The 2008 Andruw might be the real thing; and if that is the case, you eat the contract and write it off as a risk that didn’t turn out. But if his problems are behind him, he’ll be a bargain.

UPDATE: Of course, this pops up on BTF right after I posted.

Report: Andruw Jones Quits Winter Ball

just a few lines to let you know that andruw jones left his team for good, and is not coming back, the reason is that his wife is sick, but the real reason for me is that the team asked him to leave. He was struggling here, only a .148 ave, slow in defense

What If…

David O’Brien explains why the Braves might be reluctant to sign an outfielder to a long-term deal.

Among hitters, I just don’t think the Braves have any desire to give a three-year or whatever contract to a poor defensive outfielder like Pat Burrell or Adam Dunn. Not that they couldn’t use the homers (they obviously could), but I don’t think they want to go long-term with a guy who’d block one of the younger outfielders a year or two from now, namely Jason Heyward, their top position-player prospect.

What if, just what if, Francoeur were to get his career back on track in 2009? Then a year or two from now, when Jordan Schafer or Gorkys Hernandez is in CF and Francoeur’s a fan-favorite again in RF, do you just assume you’d be able to shed the salary of a Burrell or Dunn and open a spot for Heyward?

If the Braves are thinking long-term (and they are), they’ve got to plan accordingly, to have room for the prospects they’re grooming now in a farm system is back to a healthy state with a lot of legit prospects who’ll be in the upper tiers this year, not a farm system where most of the best prospects are in rookie or A-ball the way they were a year or two ago after the Teixeira trade.

What if Jeff Francoeur gets his career “back on track”? By getting back on track does he mean a below-average corner outfielder or plays like he did after he was first called up? I suspect the latter, and I think that is very unlikely. I mean what if Chipper Jones bats like he did in 2004? It’s not good policy to base decisions on unlikely scenarios.

But, let’s say Francoeur does blossom into a star, and Heyward, Schafer, and Hernandez are ready to join the team in 2010. Well, then you trade from a surplus in one area for a more-desirable basket of players. I consider this to be a nice problem, and I don’t worry about this potential occurrence. Having Jim Thome when Ryan Howard was ready to play wasn’t a problem for the Phillies.