We are a fantasy baseball league whose draft is scheduled for April 23. That's a little late, even for us. But given the spate of players going on the DL...

Friday, January 07, 2005

BP on Indians and Mariners

Baseball Prospectus
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Cleveland Indians
"The Negotiators": A lot of movies and television shows have focused on a profession that probably didn't exist a few decades ago: the professional crisis negotiator. This is the person who tries to talk jumpers off of ledges when ordinary street cops would probably say something like, "If you're gonna jump, can't you do it on the other side of the building outside of my beat so I don't gotta do a lot of paperwork?" These people are expert in convincing others not to do rash, silly things that might have long-term negative consequences.
We at BP are hereby announcing our services as Professional Baseball Crisis Negotiators. Here's how it works: whenever your team is on the verge of doing something with the resources you help contribute with your ticket/merchandise/concession/parking purchases, place a call to us and we will fly in one of our Professional Baseball Crisis Negotiators who will then try to talk the club out of whatever folly they're about to perpetrate. We might do this face-to-face, by appointment. More than likely, though, we'll have to do it from behind a bullhorn, outside the team's offices.
Had we come up with this idea earlier in the offseason, we would have already made a few trips to Arizona, Washington and New York. Right now, though, the call needs to come in from Cleveland where the Indians are on the verge of signing Kevin Millwood to a one-year deal for $7,000,000.
Here's what we would shout through the bullhorn to Indians general manager, Mark Shapiro:
"Mark, you're smarter than this. You are. You know you are. Believe in yourself. You've got the length of service right, Mark. One year. Good job on that part. But think of it this way: if Millwood were worth seven mil a year, wouldn't he be getting more years from some other team? See? That's your tip-off, Mark! He and Scott Boras will settle for one year. Two million, tops. That's how much it should cost to look in that particular box and see if there are any surprises left. Trust yourself, Mark! We're here to help. Let's talk this thing out...what? What do you mean, "what am I doing?" I'm having a conversation with Indians GM, Mark Shapiro--what does it look like I'm doing? Hey, you don't have to cuff me..." And so on.
In the context of the 2004-05 free-agent shenanigans, is Millwood's deal really all that out of line? In a world where Russ Ortiz gets 4/$33MM, perhaps not, but a question mark is a question mark whether it's signed for one year or four. Is a pitcher who has one truly outstanding season in seven tries worth the risk at that kind of money? As we said above, the length of the contract shows the Indians are hedging their bets. Maybe they think they can afford to chuck $7 million on a look-see. A much smarter look-see is the Red Sox signing of Wade Miller for the same length of time but at a fraction of the price.
Miller and Millwood were fairly comparable in 2002-03 (combined VORP of 67.4 for Millwood and 60.7 for Miller). Both ran into arm trouble last year and missed a considerable number of starts. When they did pitch, though, Miller was superior, boasting a VORP of 21.8 to Millwood's 9.3. Both have comparable strikeout rates (within a quarter-K per nine). Miller is two years younger.
Millwood, of course, has more "experience." Now, if they were in the first few years in the bigs and playing at the major-league minimum, then experience would count because it's codified in the Collective Bargaining Agreement to be that way. It doesn't have to be that way in the unprotected, free-wheeling, every-man-for-himself world of free agency, though. If the Indians want to reward Millwood for having pitched in the big leagues longer than Miller or because he ripped it up real good back in 1999, then give him an additional 500 EBFB (extra big fun bucks). To our way of thinking, the Red Sox established what the market value is for moderately successful starting pitchers coming off injuries is when they signed Miller to one year at $1.5 mil. Because of that, anything beyond $2 million for Millwood is excessive on the Indians' part.
Seattle Mariners
Poking Around: As we've mentioned before, there is a great deal of pride regarding these Prospectus Triple Plays. Those of us who write them come to strongly identify with the triumvirate we are assigned. In this house, we make no bones about it: we are rooting hard for a Cleveland/Washington or Seattle/Washington World Series.
Just when our hopes start to rise that maybe we'll be sitting in the BP luxury box at RFK Stadium watching the Mariners and Nationals duke it out in late October, Seattle goes and signs Pokey Reese to be their starting shortstop.
Given that Seattle had three big question marks in the infield, it's nice that they added one player whose performance can be counted on. This much we know about Reese: he's going to field well and he's not going to get on base often or hit for any power. We also know that there's a good chance he will miss a significant amount of time to an injury of some sort. He had three of them last year and missed most of 2003, too. (One thing we don't know about Reese is how often he'll attempt to steal. In his favor, he is an exceptional thief with an 84% career success rate.) Reese has not qualified for a batting title since 2000, so it's interesting that he is getting the nod as the team's starter. If it works out for him, it makes for a nice career transition. He went to the Red Sox last year knowing there was a chance he would be a backup and he got a ring out of the deal. Now he can resume his starting career. Would that all our careers rebounded that well from adversity.
The Other Guys: Surrounding the predictable Reese in the infield, the Mariners have these questions:
Can Richie Sexson get back to where he once belonged? Will Safeco crush him like a speeding train?
Bret Boone: off-year or big signpost on the way to U.S. Highway 86?
Adrian Beltre: 2004: one-year spike or booster rocket that got him out of sub-orbital flight of first stage of career? (Please say you noticed the transportation-themed allusions in these three comments!)
Now that Seattle has tied up the GNP of Sweden at first and third base, is it possible they could find a taker for Scott Spiezio? Last year's free-agent signatory has now been made redundant at not one but two of his favored positions. Furthermore, does Seattle have a need for Spiezio and Willie Bloomquist? The latter has, at least, played shortstop, a skill that will come in handy if and when Reese can't answer the bell.

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