Valuing the 2011 Free Agent Class

As I was reading Jim Bowden’s “Pricing the Free Agents” piece on ESPN last Friday afternoon, I could hear the rising and crashing waves of criticism coming from the Sabermetric/blogging community from over yonder…and by yonder, I mean Twitter.  I know this because I was one of the people dropping snide, snarky remarks about several of his choices.  And though it’s easy to criticize the man who worships at the alter of OPSBI, it’s sometimes easy to forget that he held down the role of General Manager for 15 years with two teams.  As shocking (or even disturbing) as that may be to some of us, he didn’t ascend to that job by accident.  He worked hard to not only reach that status, but also retain it.  Did he make his share of baffling mistakes?  Absolutely.  But he also made some really smart moves that benefitted the ball clubs for which he worked.  While that doesn’t absolve him of criticism, he deserves some respect.*

He has a pretty great sense of humor.  Julian Levine of Giants Nirvana and I made a couple of jokes at his expense on Twitter a few weeks back, and he responded with a light hearted, friendly direct message thanking us for the “shout out.”  Maybe it’s just me, but I thought that was really cool of him.  Also, it allowed me to coin the term “OPSBI’d.”

The reason I’m semi-defending him is not because I want to praise him for being a smart guy or a good writer.  I’m not going to pass judgment on him on either case.  Instead, I find it to be a little cowardly to openly criticize someone else’s work without providing an alternative analysis explaining my position.  To remedy this, I’m going to analyze his list of top 20 free agents, and provide my own analysis.  Please keep in mind that I’m not only far more conservative than the free-wheeling Bowden, but also use a far different methodology.  While I do use fWAR to guide me in helping me determine my valuations, I know and understand it’s inherent limitations.  To help limit fWAR’s biases, I consulted rWAR, WARP, and its components as a check and balance.

1. Albert Pujols, 1B

3 Year fWAR Trend – 9.0, 7.5, 5.1

Bowden’s Projection – 9/$273M

Chip’s Projection – 8/$210M

Projected Value – $191M

The Pujols camp is reportedly looking for A-Rod (10/$275M) money, but I can’t envision a single scenario where he receives anything near that offer.  The Yankees, Red Sox, and Phillies currently have power hitting first basmen locked up indefinitely; the Mets and Dodgers are stuck in financial hell; and the Angels and Giants don’t seem interested in raising their payroll considerably.  That leaves the Cubs and Cardinals as his most likely destinations.  Given the relatively narrow market for Pujols’s services; his “down” 2011 season; and A-Rod’s post signing performance, we won’t likely see a new record set this time around.  It’s too risky.  That said, Pujols is still the greatest hitter in the game.  He should receive a deal that makes him only the second $200M contract player in history.  It’s probably an overpay by $20M overall, but I think the Cardinals pay the premium to keep him in a Cards uniform.

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How would Cespedes fit in?

Matt Imbrogno’s post this morning was a very important reminder that we should be skeptical of the hype on the latest great thing, which ties in very nicely to my post on the shiniest of new toys (not things Matt, come on), Yoenis Cespedes, who just emerged on the scene in the last few days. By now I’m sure most of you have read about the much-hyped Cespedes, a recent Cuban defector and soon-to-be free agent whose representation released an epic (apologies to Joe Pawlikowski, but I think it fits here) showcase video.  Rather than breaking down the 20-minute masterpiece myself, Continue reading How would Cespedes fit in?

Competitive Balance and the New CBA

Yesterday, ESPN’s Jayson Stark argued, correctly, that Major League Basbeall is more competitively balanced than the NFL or NBA. Although I’d argue that the NHL is the most balanced of any of these leagues, I do agree with Stark that MLB is in pretty good shape as far as competitive balance goes. With a new CBA coming any day now (seriously Selig, let’s get on with it!), I don’t think the question that we should be asking is, “Is there some parity in baseball?” but, echoing Fangraphs, “Is there enough parity in baseball?” At Fangraphs, Woodrum writes: The relationship, as Continue reading Competitive Balance and the New CBA

What’s wrong with Melky Cabrera?

There’s no room in the Yankees outfield for Melky Cabrera, which makes the 2009 trade with Atlanta, which netted Javier Vazquez and Boone Logan, pretty easy to swallow, despite the fact that Vazquez was worse on his second turn through the Bronx than he was in his first. Nevertheless, I doubt anybody was terribly surprised when Melky, in noticeably better shape, had a “breakout” year with the Royals in 2011, as he turned the magical age of 27 in August.

According to FanGraph, Melky was a four-win player, and he set career highs in nearly every statistical category:

.305 AVG, .470 SLG, .809 OPS, 18 HR, 44 2B, 102 R, 87 RBI, 20 SB, etc.

By doing so, set the stage for Dayton Moore’s latest fleecing, as he sold high on Melky and bought low on former Giants southpaw, Jonathan Sanchez.

Both Cabrera and Sanchez will be free agents at the end of the coming season, so this trade (which also included a middling prospect going to the Royals) is about 2012 for both teams. Moore is betting that Sanchez will recover from the bicep tendenitis which limited his effectiveness in 2011 and return to the dominant form he showed during the Giants championship run (3.07 ERA, 9.5 K/9, 1.23 WHIP, 193 IP). But, he’s also betting that Melky’s ’11 season was a bit of a fluke. And he has good cause.

In a down year for the usually pitching-rich AL Central, Melky got fat off divisional rivals, posting .339 AVG/.372 OBP/.498 SLG against the central, and .280/.308/.448 against everybody else. He’ll face much tougher run-scoring environments in the NL West. A career high BABIP (.332) also helped to disguise the fact that the ever free-swinging Cabrera took a significant step backwards in terms of plate discipline, posting a career low walk rate and a career high strikeout rate.

The Giants shamefull offense is in desperate need of patience and power, neither of which Cabrera offers much of, even if his 2011 is not a mirage.

Meanwhile, left-handed power pitchers are a dime a dozen, right? Continue reading What’s wrong with Melky Cabrera?

MLB still doesn’t have a competitive balance problem

Jayson Stark of ESPN and Bradley Woodrum of Fangraphs have somewhat dueling takes on competitive balance in MLB, with probably a little bit of truth to both. Stark’s overall point is correct (I’ll go so far as to say baseball probably has even more competitive balance than the NFL at the margins, but that’s largely because no one baseball player is as important as a quarterback is in the NFL), and Woodrum is right that a) money still matters a little bit and b) that the method of looking at how many different teams have won a championship recently isn’t really the best means of looking at this question.

Still, I’m not inclined to ding Stark too much. On the latter point, though the methodology is hardly rigorous, it is the standard by which football triumphalists mostly want to judge things, so I can hardly blame someone for pointing out that the argument fails on its own terms. As to the former, of course money matters! Money always matters, and it matters in the NFL as well, it’s just hidden a bit better, and there’s more money flowing to everyone because their television contracts are so lucrative. The only way money could not matter at all would be if everyone had the exact same amount to spend on all aspects of baseball operations, something that obviously isn’t going to happen, ever.

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Eric Chavez Is Deep, Man

(The following is being syndicated from An A-Blog for A-Rod) I mean real deep.  This time last month he was reportedly “leaning heavily” toward retirement after another season affected by injuries.  And then just a few days ago, there was talk from his agent that Eric Chavez was now not so sure about his retirement intentions and that he would “deeply consider” a return to the Yankees if they were interested.  While these statements from Chavez open up a possible line of discussions related to just how spiritual he is with all this deep thinking and which Tool album Chavez prefers, Continue reading Eric Chavez Is Deep, Man

Shiny New Thing Syndrome

Yesterday, a certain video about a certain Cuban outfielder was released and people went nuts. A guy few people knew existed on Sunday night was a baseball blogosphere and Twitterverse darling by early Monday morning. Over the next few hours, days, weeks, months, etc., there is going to be a lot of digital ink spilled about Yoenis Cespedes…and with good reason. He seems to be massively talented and will probably command a sizable contract. He’s the newest and shiniest thing in a time of new and shiny things. Yu Darvish falls into this category as well, but again, it’s not Continue reading Shiny New Thing Syndrome

Yankees contact agents, hold workout for Cespedes

Though there have been a few moves already, the Hot Stove season is off to a slow start. From the fans’ perspective, most of the action won’t happen until some time around the winter meetings in December, and the current period is largely about laying the groundwork for your offseason. And to that end, multiple outlets have reported that Brian Cashman has contacted the agents of Edwin Jackson and C.J. Wilson/Roy Oswalt (they share an agent) to express interest in the pitchers, and probably to get a sense of what each is looking for in their next contract.

Of course, the Yankees aren’t going to sign all three pitchers, so this is more about due diligence and kicking the tires than anything else. In fact, unless they’re planning on being very aggressive in the Yu Darvish sweepstakes, I expect the Yankees to be very patient this offseason and see how the market shakes out before making any moves. The market for starting pitchers isn’t stellar by any means, but there are enough options that I think the Yankees will wait for the best bargain, rather than jump in with both feet to land any one in particular.

The Yankees also held a private workout for Cuban sensation Yoenis Cespedes, according to Ben Badler of Baseball America. The Marlins are the purported favorites to sign Cespedes once he’s declared a free agent, but the Yankees are very interested in Cespedes as well. Continue reading Yankees contact agents, hold workout for Cespedes