Thursday 30 January 2014

Burnett, and Making Sense

So AJ Burnett is apparently open to pitching in a city other than Pittsburgh, which conflicts with news from earlier this offseason, where it was apparently Pittsburgh or retire.  I think Burnett automatically becomes the best option on the free agent market by virtue of this announcement.

For starters, Burnett wasn't offered a qualifying offer by the Pirates.  Whether that's because they thought he was either returning or retiring, or whether they just didn't think he was worth it, I really can't answer.  Don't know Neil Huntington.  The point remains, though, that Burnett isn't going to cost a draft pick to whichever team signs him.  Ubaldo Jimenez and Ervin Santana don't offer the same convenience.

Burnett is coming off a pretty excellent season with Pittsburgh-- a FIP/xFIP of 2.80/2.92, better than a strikeout per inning, and a pretty nice groundball rate of 56%.  Those would all work spectacularly in Toronto.

Burnett, somewhat unfairly, has gotten a bit of a bad reputation over his career as being fragile or injury-prone.  While that may have been true years ago, he's made 35, 33, 33, 33, 31 and 30 starts in the last six seasons, tallying at least 186 innings each year.

Yeah, a lot of those starts in his Yankee days were really bad, but hey.  Career revival.  And it's not like a Burnett signing going sour would ruin the franchise for years-- he's probably only signing a 1-year deal and then retiring, given that those were his two choices before opening his list of teams up.  If he sucks, who cares, he's a free agent at the end of the year.

And he probably wouldn't suck.  Pittsburgh isn't exactly a pitcher's paradise, and the NL Central has been fucking good these last two years.  He responded by putting up 7 fWAR* over that period, including a 4 WAR season last year.

*- Baseball reference has his 2012 being worth 2.2 and his 2013 worth 1.7 WAR.

It's not like it would be all that hard of a sell either-- he already signed here once before.  He knows the city, knows the stadium, probably knows a lot of the players and personnel.  Often times, we hear about guys who don't want to come here, but then get here and really enjoy it-- Burnett already knows what to expect.  No need to exaggerate or try and sell him on the city.  That at least takes part of the trouble out of attracting him here.

I think the biggest thing about this, though, is the fact that there's no clear-cut best option as far as Ubaldo Jimenez and Ervin Santana go.  Burnett has been better than both of these guys in each of the last two years, won't cost a draft pick, and will cost fewer years.  It's theory time:

What if we live in three separate but parallel universes, where the Jays sign one of each guy in one of those universes.  Let's also assume that in each universe, the pitcher that signs in Toronto performs horribly (and let's face it now, this is a real possibility), returning to his 2011 (Burnett) or 2012 (Santana/Jimenez) form.  If Burnett is in fact commanding 1-year, he just leaves at the end of it all and doesn't come back.  If Santana or Jimenez suck, they're either sticking around for at least two more years, or getting traded for pennies on the dollar.

The other options out there aren't as impressive either-- Bronson Arroyo would likely get pummeled in this league, division and stadium.  Jeff Samardzija is going to cost a lot.  Paul Maholm isn't all that impressive.  It goes on.

But Burnett.  My sweet, sweet Burnett.  One year, even at a higher per-season price than Jimenez or Santana, and then it's over.  Money is off the books, and there's room for another, better free agent.  A quick glimpse at the projected 2015 free agent class of starting pitchers, in no particular order:

Homer Bailey
Max Scherzer
Jon Lester
Justin Masterson
James Shields
Johnny Cueto
Brett Anderson
Dan Haren
Yovani Gallardo
Jake Peavy
Brandon McCarthy

Now, obviously not all of those guys are making it to free agency.  Some will sign extensions, others have options that may be exercised.  Some may not be worth pursuing in a year, but others that I didn't list may become worth pursuing.  Trade candidates can pop up from out of nowhere over the next year.

If they're even necessary.  Remember Marcus Stroman?  Aaron Sanchez?  Sean Nolin?  Those guys are in the system already, are sooooo cheap, and apparently need more time.  How does a year sound?

This is no longer a time for upside.  That's there already-- Brandon Morrow pretty much lost a season last year, and has all that untapped potential.  We don't need more potential.  We need sure things.  Dickey and Buehrle are going to throw 200 innings and be OK or so.  Burnett tossing another 200 innings would be outrageous to go along with that.

Thursday 23 January 2014

Garza to Milwaukee for Some Reason

The other shoe is beginning to fall, so to speak.  Now that Masahiro Tanaka has finally signed in New York, we should be seeing the rest of the pitching market fall in to place shortly.  It's begun, today, with Matt Garza signing in Milwaukee for 4 years and $52MM.  That seems fairly curious to me, both in terms of the team, and the amount of money.

Milwaukee, of course, sucked last year, so I'm wondering about their location on the win curve and whether or not this signing makes sense for them.  Baseball Prospectus figures that their record should have been pretty close to .500, based on 3rd order wins (projected runs for and against.)

Consider that while keeping in mind that they missed Corey Hart's bat all year long, Yovani Gallardo is a shadow of his former self (fewer IP, fewer K/9, decreased fastball velocity), Ryan Braun was suspended and only played half a year, John Axford went ahead and got terrible, blowing save after save, and Rickie Weeks definitely didn't bounce back to being good, and they got some very poor production at 1B in a platoon.  If Mark Reynolds and Lyle Overbay can combine to be replacement level this year, that will be a gain for 4 wins.

All in all, it was a pretty bad year for the Brewers.  There were some bright spots though-- Jonathan Lucroy remains solid behind the plate, Norichika Aoki (who has since been traded for lefty Will Smith) was his solid self, Khris Davis should be pretty good, Carlos Gomez had himself a nice breakoutey-type season, and Kyle Lohse was anywhere from decent to pretty good, depending on your definition of what a good pitcher consists of.

Lohse threw something around 200 innings, which he is apparently good for every year it seems.  He posted a 3.35 ERA, which is pretty good.  He also posted a FIP and xFIP slightly over 4, which is decent. Lohse, though, is the kind of guy who is apparently in the business of out-performing his peripherals, which isn't exactly out of the question, especially for a guy who doesn't strike out a ton of batters-- his ERA and ERA- has outperformed his FIP and FIP- (respectively) in three straight years now.  It's easy to say that Lohse has been getting some fortune with regards to his results of the last few years, just by comparing ERA and FIP, but I'd suggest that his 2013 rWAR (3.3) is closer to correct that his fWAR (1.8).

I certainly expect the Brewers to bounce back a bit this year, and the Garza signing should help.  I say should since Garza has a few red flags of his own.  Pretty rarely does someone moves from the AL East to the NL Central and not improve pretty drastically (though the NL Central was pretty god damn good this year).  Garza's first year in Chicago was pretty lights out, but 2012 and the first half of 2013 (i.e. before the trade) were just fair, and his time in Texas wasn't all that much better.

Moving backwards, Garza was worth 2.2 fWAR (1.4 rWAR) in 2013, and 1.1 fWAR (1.2 rWAR) in 2012.  That's certainly not anything special.  Yeah, he was hurt for a lot of that time, but health is kind of a skill.

It's a ballsy signing for the Brewers, but it may be worth the risk.  At $52MM, I figure he'll need to be worth about 9 WAR over the deal to break even, maybe a bit less if the price of baseball keeps going up.  He's been worth 7.2 rWAR and a hair of 9 fWAR over the past four seasons, which probably doesn't bode well for someone on the wrong side of 30.

As far as applying this to the Blue Jays and Ervin Santana or Ubaldo Jimenez, this is probably good news.  With one fewer suitor out there, Santana and Jimenez probably just took a paycut relative to what they were thinking/hoping they would get.  Santana is now apparently hunting for a deal in the $60MM range, despite having hopes of a $100MM+ deal early this offseason.  I would suspect Jimenez is looking for the same, if not more.

Assuming the Jays sign one of those two pitchers, the pricetag is presumably narrowed down; if Garza is getting $52MM, it seems incredibly unlikely to see either Jimenez or Santana get in the $80MM range, as was once considered probable.  Remember that Garza, unlike Santana and Jimenez, wasn't tied to draft pick compensation, which should drop the pricetag a hair more.

Wednesday 22 January 2014

Scattered Thoughts on Tanaka

Are people really outraged about this?  The Yankees offered the guy $155MM.  !!!!  You guys!

I mean, I'm kind of with Stoeten at DJF, though not as aggressively as he is, when he says that he doesn't really believe that there's a 5-year max policy, and that the Jays just have that plastic film over everything that suggests that they're going to bother signing someone to a contract that's too long, and therefore terrible.  What sounds better: "We tried, but we didn't spend enough." or "We like the player, but we only like him at this price and at this length, both of which, were apparently not enough to land the player."  I'm totally not irritated at the idea of signing someone that we don't really know to such a huge deal.

It's just that... well, 7 years and $155MM for Tanaka... it's probably not a good idea.  It might be a good idea.  But it's probably not a good idea.  It's a shit load of money, and it's one of those deals that hurts if it goes bad.  Remember Vernon Wells?  That was only like 7 years and $126MM.  There are definitely some differences between the two in terms of the relative value of a dollar today and eight years ago, but still.

All this suggests that it was just a "highest bidder wins" kind of thing, which, by all accounts, it wasn't.  Tanaka was rumored to prefer LA or NY to any other location for a few reasons, such as location and the apparent opportunity to win now, but also preferring a city having a sizable Japanese population.  It's one thing to suggest we can just throw infinite money at a situation, but if he doesn't care about the difference between the $155MM he got, and whatever the hell any other team offered, biggest offer or not, then what's the difference?

I dunno, maybe I'm too much of an apologist.  We don't know what Tanaka is going to be, though, so there's no real reason to make a big stink about it.

I'm interested to see what Ubaldo, Garza and Santana sign for when everything is said and done.  Based on price and performance though, I'd probably feel pretty good about Ubaldo, Santana and Garza's performance being closer in line with their performance than Tanaka, given that they'll all probably sign deals worth half of what Tanaka signs for.

Thursday 16 January 2014

It Getz Better

This offseason in general has been kind of a letdown, what with the incredibly slow developments in the pitching market, and the lack of Jeff Samardzija acquisitions, right.  That's not to mention that the Jays currently have Ryan Goins and Maicer Izturis slotted in to be the 2B platoon as it stands, 30 or so days before pitchers and catchers report (sidenote: !!!!!), which, to me, might be a bigger problem then the no Samardzija thing.  After all, there's still Tanaka, Garza, Santana and Jimenez to be had-- I left out Bronson Arroyo on purpose-- while the 2B market is all but dried up, now that Cano and Infante are settled in.

Ryan Goins, this past season, gave us .252/.264/.345 over 121 plate appearances, walking just 1.7% of the time, and striking out in over 20% of his plate appearances. That is, of course, terrible.  He made up for it a bit by being worth 6.5 runs defensively, per fangraphs, which translates to .4 fWAR.  Any and all projection systems I've seen don't see a whole lot of promise from Goins though, and we're dealing with some pretty small samples when it comes to the fielding metrics that are making up all of his value.  He seemed pretty outmatched by AAA pitchers, let alone MLB ones, so I think he'd have to be Brendan Ryan-good defensively to ever stick around.

Maicer Izturis is probably not as terrible at baseball as he was this past season, but he's also probably not good enough to be an everyday starter either.  If Izturis wasn't the worst everyday-or-so player in baseball last year, he was certainly close, putting up an astonishingly bad -2.1WAR, though this was kiiind of outta nowhere.  He's hovered around league average for his career until his last year in Anaheim, where what little power he had completely left, as his isolated slugging went from .111 in 2011 to .059 in 2012.  It's not like Anaheim is exactly a hitter's paradise, but I guess he's on the wrong side of 30 now.  The big thing that changed, though, with Izturis, was his defense.  Whether he just didn't take kindly to the turf, has no mobility left, was playing too often in a position that he's not used to, or he just went blind, Maicer Izturis' defensive numbers took a nosedive this past season.  He had graded out as an average fielder for his career through 2012, and had been a well-above average 2B, but he happened to clock in a -26.7 UZR/150 at 2B, and was nearly as bad at 3B too.  Oh, and he sucked offensively too.

It's certainly possible that Goins is good enough defensively that he can provide some value to the team, even if he's bad offensively.  And it's not completely far-fetched that Maicer Izturis isn't the worst player in baseball, and that he regresses back to "somewhat mediocre" now that he's a little more accustomed to the turf.  But given the lack of really solid options for 2B in town right now, and the lack of anything on the market at 2B, it doesn't hurt to have a couple of backup plans.

Enter: Chris Getz.

The Jays have picked Getz up on a minor league deal.  He isn't very good at baseball (relative to other Major Leaguers, of course), but he's certainly not -2.1WAR bad at baseball -- or at least, he won't get the chance to be, the way Izturis did last year, since he was fresh off of signing a 3-year contract.  He doesn't offer much in the way of offense (career 67 wRC+, 52 wRC+ in 2013) or defense (career 2.1 UZR/150 at 2B), but he's not going to kill you either.  He's a halfway decent baserunner, according to stolen base totals (87 of 105 career), so there's at least one nice thing to say about him.

Between Goins, Izturis, Getz and our very beloved Munenori Kawasaki, something, somewhere, is bound to work.  And by "work", I mean not be a terrible, gaping mess of a shitty butt hole.  Which is a giant improvement over last year.

Tuesday 14 January 2014

Never Forget: Shouldergate

Thirteen years ago today, one of the weirder trades in franchise (and perhaps baseball) history went down.  The Jays acquired Mike Sirotka, Kevin Beirne, Mike Williams, and Brian Simmons in exchange for David Wells and Matt Dewitt.

We'll start with what we actually know and are familiar with.  David Wells, who is apparently 183 lbs per his baseball-reference page, had been acquired as part of the Roger Clemens trade.  Clemens was fucking awesome in Toronto over his two seasons, putting up 20 rWAR, but the rest of the team wasn't very good so Clemens asked to be dealt and they burnt it back to the ground, moving Clemens for Wells, Homer Bush, and Graeme Lloyd.  Lloyd left as a free agent after the season, netting the Jays Dustin McGowan and Peter Bauer, despite putting up -0.1WAR as a Blue Jay.

This is getting a bit messy here, but the point that I'm trying to make is that the Jays got 20 WAR over two years from Roger Clemens, and then turned 2 more years of Clemens in to two pretty nice years of Wells, one meh year of Graeme Lloyd, some stop-gapping from Homer Bush, and two high draft picks.

From there, Gord Ash, GM at the time, turned one year (and $9.25MM) of Wells in to a young up-and-comer in Mike Sirotka, who had been worth 8.4 rWAR over his prior two seasons, and had two years of control left, at what amounted to $6.8MM.

Sirotka, of course, never pitched in the bigs again, thanks to a torn labrum.  The Jays protested the trade, claiming that White Sox GM Kenny Williams had not released all information regarding Sirotka, which, the Jays claimed, contained prior knowledge of Sirotka's medical situation.  Their protest was, of course, shooed away by commissioner Bud Selig, claiming something along the lines of "you should probably do your own research on players that you're acquiring" or something.

It's not like Wells was a whole hell of a lot better-- he threw 100 innings and was worth 1.3 rWAR before leaving as a free agent and signing in New York again.  I'm pretty sure most contracts are insured against things like injuries, so from a monetary standpoint, this was probably either a wash or a win for the Sox, since Wells was being paid like a 3 WAR player.  Still, though, there's certainly the argument to made that the Jays could have gotten an actual useful player instead of a broken one, had they known about (i.e. done due diligence on) Sirotka's shoulder.

As for everyone else in the trade-- yeesh.  Total values for each team:

As mentioned, Wells was worth 1.3 WAR for the White Sox before leaving as a non-compensation free agent.
Dewitt was traded back to the Jays for Mike Williams 2 months later, so cancel that part I guess.  Williams, as mentioned, was traded back to the White Sox, but never got past A-Ball.  As far as I can tell, he was released after 2003 and retired.

Sirotka, of course, provided nothing.
Dewitt was released at the end of the 2001 season, and produced 7 more innings of work over his career.
Beirne threw 7 innings for the Jays in 2001, and I remember none of them.  He seems to have made the team out of spring training, threw 4 pretty terrible innings of mop-up, and got sent down, only to be called back up to finish the year in a similar role.
Simmons got 117 plate appearances, again, none of which I remember, and hit a rather pedestrian .178/.239/.280.  He was DFA'ed after the 2001 season, and the White Sox picked him up off waivers, though he never played again in the bigs.

All things considered, I think this kind of situation is something that we're not likely to ever see again, the way trades and free agent deals are held up by failed physicals all the time, though Brett Anderson got traded this winter so, I guess I don't know.  We all knew that Anderson was damaged goods though; Sirotka was supposedly healthy at the time of that deal and had no prior medical issues, at least as far as Kenny Williams was concerned.  Beyond that, a deal where 6 people changed hands and none of them performed well for their new club blows my mind.  Both centerpieces turned out to be duds, and the best of the four prospects OPS'ed like .540 or something over a cup of coffee.

Not terribly surprisingly, Gord Ash was relieved of his duties as GM after the 2001 season.