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Archive for the ‘Hot Stove’ Category

During the winter of 1996, the Florida Marlins shocked the baseball world and altered its financial landscape by spending almost $90 million on new players, including $18 million per season for Moises Alou, Bobby Bonilla, and Alex Fernandez. Fifteen years later, the now Miami Marlins are at it again.

Days after celebrating the Marlins’ World Series championship in 1997, owner Wayne Huizenga began dismantling the team.

Two days after signing Heath Bell to a three-year, $27 million contract, the Marlins also reeled in Jose Reyes, who was inked to a six-year, $106 million deal. The combined amount owed to both men in 2012 is almost 30% more than the team paid its entire roster just four seasons ago. And, if rumors are correct, the team isn’t done spending yet, with several impact names like C.J. Wilson, Mark Buehrle and even Albert Pujols reportedly still in play.

Wayne Huizenga’s lavish Hot Stove spending resulted in a World Series title in 1997, but the championship was largely overshadowed by the fire sale that followed shortly thereafter. Almost immediately after Edgar Renteria’s game winning base hit in game seven bounced past the outstretched glove of Tony Fernandez, the Marlins began slashing payroll. Huizenga cited mounting financial losses for his decision to dismantle a championship team, but subsequent analyses suggested the 1997 Marlins were profitable and the fire sale was nothing more than part of a plan to sell the team. It’s impossible to say how much Huizenga’s decision stunted the growth of baseball in South Florida, but the team’s attendance has never come close to the 2.3 million fans who watched the team in 1997.

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When Jonathan Papelbon signed a four-year, $50 million contract with the Phillies, the move was roundly criticized by those who habitually undervalue closers. However, because of his unique track record of excellence, I suggested Papelbon was the worth the premium. After seeing some of the contracts recently handed out to much lesser closers, that assessment appears to have been accurate.

Heath Bell is the latest closer to strike rich on the free agent market.

In one of the first real surprises of the offseason, the Marlins, whose payroll has average $54 million over the last three years, agreed to pay Heath Bell $9 million per season until 2014. Even though he has consistently ranked among the National League saves leaders since being installed as a closer in 2009, Bell doesn’t even come close to matching the peripheral performance of Papelbon, who is three years younger to boot. So, at face value, it seems as if the Marlins are guilty of excess as they plunge back into the free agent market after a long absence (and, if rumors are to be believed, Jeffrey Loria’s wallet could come out a few more times this winter).

Before the Marlins splurged on Bell, the Rangers signed Joe Nathan to a two-year deal worth $14.5 million. Once thought of as an elite closer, Nathan is now in the midst of battling back from Tommy John surgery. If he regains his form, the Rangers could have a bargain, but considering he will be 37 in 2012, it seems as if Texas has taken an expensive gamble.

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Bobby Valentine is the new manager of the Boston Red Sox. For a franchise trying to overcome the perception of dysfunction, that might not have been the best decision. Valentine is alternately one of the most revered and hated managers in all of baseball, so his presence in the volatile powder keg of Red Sox Nation is sure to provide a spark. Whether that’s a good or bad thing is matter of wildly varying degrees of perspective.

Is Boston ready for the song and dance that usually accompanies Bobby Valentine? (Photo: AP)

During his long managerial career, Bobby Valentine has probably made as many enemies as he has won games. And, it hasn’t taken long for some of them to rear their heads. One former adversary, blogger-extraordinaire Murray Chass, recently suggested (with stats to back it up) the Red Sox hired themselves a bona fide loser. Of course, Chass’ post is dripping with personal dislike for Valentine, not to mention disdain for his former employer the New York Times, so his sentiments can be taken with a grain of salt. However, one element of Chass’ hit piece is based on truth: Valentine is a very unpopular figure because of his outspoken, often arrogant manner.

Even though a figure like Valentine in a media market like Boston could become a distraction, likability probably wasn’t item number one on the Red Sox’ wish list. Otherwise, there would have been no need to part company with Terry Francona. However, there is a strong indication of discord within the Red Sox’ organization. If GM Ben Cherington really did prefer Gene Lamont, but was overruled by Larry Lucchino, then the reports of dysfunction within the Red Sox hierarchy might actually be understated. With all the rumors swirling around the Nation, Valentine could turn out to be one of the least controversial figures in Boston over the next few months.

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Last year, the Yankees took a low-risk gamble on Freddy Garcia that paid off handsomely, so this year, they’ve decided to roll the dice again.

Freddy Garcia will be returning to the Yankees’ rotation, but whom will he be joining?

Before the 2011 season, Garcia wasn’t a lock to make the team, much less the rotation, but the veteran right hander wound becoming a key cog, going 12-8 with a 3.62 ERA in nearly 150 innings. On any team, that kind of production from a fifth starter would be exemplary, so it’s not hard to see why the Yankees would want to bring Garcia back on a one-year deal worth a reported $5 million. The only problem is Garcia currently ranks much higher on the Yankees’ rotation totem pole.

You could make the case Garcia was the Yankees’ second best starter in 2011, so, it’s not too farfetched to think he might be the same in 2012. C.C. Sabathia remains the rotation ace, but after the big lefty, not much else is certain. A.J. Burnett has been so bad for two straight seasons that any positive projection has to be considered blind optimism. Also, although the Yankees may be quietly confident about Phil Hughes having a bounce back year, his struggles over the last season and a half are hard to ignore. Finally, Ivan Nova’s breakout 2011 campaign seems to bode well for the future, but the 2010 performance of Hughes is a reminder about how inconsistent young pitchers with little big league experience can be. In other words, the 2012 Yankees’ rotation is full of question marks, and the return of Garcia doesn’t really provide any definitive answers.

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(The following was originally published at SB*Nation’s Pinstripe Alley)

Pitching, pitching, and more pitching. That has become Brian Cashman’s mantra when addressing questions about his offseason plans. But should that be his only focus?

As we enter the process this winter, I don’t anticipate a bat being of need at all. Offense is not an issue that we’ll be focusing on. It will be the pitching. I feel our offense is very, very strong. – Brian Cashman, quoted by Bloomberg, November 2, 2011

Last year, the Yankees offense was very strong in terms of run production. In fact, it was historic when compared to the league average. However, a couple of warning signs are evident (albeit relatively minor) when you take a look under the hood.  As illustrated in the chart below, at the same time the Yankees’ average run total per game spiked, the underlying performance of the offense, as measured by OPS+, dropped to its second lowest level since 2001. Also, although the lineup’s 2011 wRC+ of 113 was healthier than last year’s, it was still off recent highs in 2007 and 2009. Until 2010, the Yankees’ relative run production had an almost perfect correlation to weighted Runs Created and adjusted OPS (r2 of .97 and .93, respectively), so unless the divergence experienced over the past two years is sustainable because of an underlying dynamic (improved base running and lots of homeruns?), Cashman should at least be mindful about the possibility of these lines converging in 2012.

Yankees Relative Offensive Performance, 1996-2011

Note: R/G vs. Lg is the Yankees’ R/G divided by the league average.
Source: fangraphs.com, baseball-reference.com, proprietary calculations

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Since Jonathan Papelbon first became eligible for arbitration, the boisterous closer wasn’t shy about telling everyone he wanted to get paid. Not surprisingly, the Red Sox, who have the gained the reputation as one of the more saber-friendly organizations, weren’t as keen to hand out a long-term deal. So, it really shouldn’t come as surprise that Papelbon is now packing his bags for Philly.

I feel like with me being at the top of my position, I feel like that [salary] standard needs to be set and I’m the one to set that standard and I don’t think that the Red Sox are really necessarily seeing eye to eye with me on that subject right now.” – Jonathan Papelbon, quoted by AP, March 4, 2008

There was simply no way the Red Sox were going to match the 4-year, $50 million offer (with a vesting option) that the Phillies extended to Papelbon. In response to the news that his closer was headed south, new GM Ben Cherington admitted as much. According to Cherington, Papelbon is replaceable, either internally with Daniel Bard or via a shorter, less lucrative deal with one of the many free agent closers who will be looking for a job this offseason.

Within the hardcore sabermetric community, and among those who dabble on its periphery, Cherington’s position has a lot of support. After all, not only are most closers notorious for their inconsistency, but often times the most unlikely relievers have great success for a year or two. Because a closer usually throws 60-70 innings per year, and is often used in low leverage situations (i.e., three run leads in the ninth), the conventional sabermetric wisdom suggests they can’t possibly be worth the kind of money Papelbon will be making over the next four years.

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As the baseball Hot Stove slowly builds from early embers, the Captain’s Blog will be busy identifying the top pitching targets that the Yankees should consider pursuing in a trade. In part one, a game plan to acquire Felix Hernandez was devised. Admittedly, such an acquisition probably falls under the heading of wishful thinking, so just in case that advice proves unsuccessful, one of two backup plans is now suggested (for a link to the other, click here).

Assuming the Mariners refuse to trade Felix Hernandez at any price, and the cost proves too prohibitive for the likes of Gio Gonzalez and John Danks, there are still several attractive options to consider. In particular, a trio of talented young right handers could all be made available by their respective teams, and Brian Cashman should be first line to kick the tires on each one.

Top-10 Right Handed Starters, Ranked by WAR: 2009-2011

Player WAR W L IP ERA ERA+
Roy Halladay 21.2 57 26 723.1 2.53 163
Justin Verlander 18.3 61 23 715.1 3.06 140
Felix Hernandez 16.7 46 31 722 2.73 147
Jered Weaver 16.7 47 28 671 3.03 134
Tim Lincecum 14.3 44 31 654.2 2.87 138
Josh Johnson 14.1 29 12 453 2.64 159
Ubaldo Jimenez 13.7 44 33 628 3.63 126
Dan Haren 13.2 42 32 702.2 3.41 122
Matt Cain 13.1 39 30 662.2 2.97 134
Zack Greinke 12.9 42 28 621 3.33 126

Source: Baseball-reference.com

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As the baseball Hot Stove slowly builds from early embers, the Captain’s Blog will be busy identifying the top pitching targets the Yankees should consider pursuing in a trade. In part one, a game plan to acquire Felix Hernandez was devised. Admittedly, such an acquisition probably falls more under the heading of wishful thinking than a wish list, so just in case that advice proves unsuccessful, one of two backup plans is now presented.

Because of the short porch at Yankee Stadium, left handed pitching has always been a coveted commodity in the Bronx. That’s why last year’s blueprint revolved around the acquisition of Cliff Lee and return of Andy Pettitte. However, when both lefties decided against pitching in pinstripes, it left the Yankees with CC Sabathia as the team’s lone southpaw. As a result, the Yankees ended the 2011 season with only 33 starts by a left hander, one of the lowest totals in franchise history.

Games Started by Yankees’ Left Handers, Since 1919

Source: Baseball-reference.com

Three of the most prominent free agent pitchers (C.J. Wilson, Yu Darvish, and Mark Buehrle) are left handed, so if the Yankees decide to enter the market, they should be able to find a complement for Sabathia. In addition, several lefties may also be available on the trade market. Two of the more attractive options are presented below.

Top Left Handed Starters, Ranked by WAR: 2010-2011

Player WAR W L IP ERA ERA+
CC Sabathia 11.9 40 15 475 3.09 141
Clayton Kershaw 11.4 34 15 437.2 2.57 147
Cliff Lee 11.1 29 17 445 2.77 144
Cole Hamels 10.2 26 20 424.2 2.92 135
Jon Lester 9.8 34 18 399.2 3.36 128
C.J. Wilson 9.4 31 15 427.1 3.14 140
Gio Gonzalez 9.2 31 21 402.2 3.17 129
Ricky Romero 9.1 29 20 435 3.31 127
David Price 9 31 19 433 3.12 123
Mark Buehrle 7.2 26 22 415.2 3.94 109
John Danks 6.9 23 23 383.1 3.99 108
Ted Lilly 5.5 22 26 386.1 3.8 104

Source: Baseball-reference.com

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Now that CC Sabathia has opted against opting out, the starting pitchers available in the 2011 free agent class pale in comparison to the offensive players testing the market. However, there are viable options to consider, including C.J. Wilson, Roy Oswalt, Mark Buehrle, and the soon to be posted Japanese standout Yu Darvish.

Should the Yankees be pumped up about a potential free agent like Yu Darvish, or focus on the trade market instead?

Although Brian Cashman will undoubtedly give careful thought to every prominent free agent starter, more and more, it seems as if the Yankees’ primary focus will be acquiring one in a trade. This strategy makes sense for several reasons. For starters (pun intended), there are heightened risks associated with many of the more attractive free agents (age for Buerhle and Oswalt; lack of a track record for Wilson and Darvish). Because these free agents would likely require a lucrative long-term contract (or in Darvish’s case, a hefty posting fee), a cost-risk analysis might not justify the pitcher’s expected contribution. Besides, in free agency, a team is often forced to pay more for past performance than future value, which especially seems likely among this group.

Another reason why it makes sense for Brian Cashman to explore a trade is because the Yankees have depth in their minor league system, particularly at pitcher and catcher. To some, that might be all the more reason to not make a move, but the recent release of Andrew Brackman is a cautionary tale. Less than eight months ago, Brackman was being touted as one of the Yankees’ three “killer-B’s”, but now he is looking for a job. Part of the reason for that decision was the Yankees’ prospect depth made Brackman’s 40-man roster spot a valuable commodity, but the tall right hander’s rapid fall from grace says more about the unpredictability of pitching prospects.  Although the organization should not be adverse to allowing its own prospects to develop, each and every one should be on the table in the right deal.

With the rationale out of the way, the next step is to determine potential trade targets. Brian Cashman and his Yankees’ brain trust have likely already begun assembling such a list, but just in case they need some help, the Captain’s Blog will be spending the next week highlighting the top pitching trade targets whose acquisition would be worthy of a concerted effort. So, where to start?

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