Wednesday, December 10, 2003
DID I FORGET TO CARRY THE 1?
A lot of people in Beantown are pretty excited about the possibility of getting this year's MVP, but aside from the cost certainty and avoiding the hassle of figuring out what exactly Garciaparra is worth, I'm honestly not sure how this makes the club better.
Manny Ramirez 28 WS
Nomar Garciaparra 25 WS
Alex Rodriguez 32 WS
If Red Sox do swap Garciaparra to the Dodgers or Angels, that leaves them 21 WS (or 7 wins) short of last year. (Schilling had 15 WS in limited action, and 24 WS the year before... but that still doesn't make the 2004 Red Sox better or cheaper than the 2003 club.)
Manny might be a headache, but he's the best right-handed hitter in the American League. And he's making about $5M/yr less than A-Rod.
Boston's got some really smart people near the top of the organization: Henry, Lucchino, Epstein, Josh Byrnes, James... they must know what they're doing. Because I honestly don't see the point of it.... not if it's going to cost them Ramirez.
THE NEW BILLY BEANE
When Mike Sweeney signed a surprisingly modest contract extension with the Royals back at the beginning of 2002 (5 yrs, $55M), it contained a clause wherein if the Royals were not a .500 club by 2003 or 2004, he could opt out and declare himself a free agent.
It seemed like a bit of a joke. Sweeney, the club’s best hitter since Brett, seemed to be saying to the people of Kansas City, “Look, I want to stay here, and I’m willing to take less money to do it, but can you blame me for not wanting to spend my career toiling away for a club without the hope of ever being competitive?”
Given those parameters, it’s hard to believe that anyone, even the earnest Sweeney, honestly expected him to still be around in 2005.
Even among the mediocrities in the AL Central, the Royals didn’t seem to have a hope in hell of being competitive, let alone reaching .500, anytime soon. GM Allard Baird couldn’t answer the phone without finding himself short one more of his stars and nothing to show for it but a handful of magic beans.
Since Baird took over the club in 2000, the Royals had gone from a terrible team to a horrible team:
But something happened in 2003. The club blasted out of the gates and started the year by winning their first ten straight, and with Chicago and Minnesota faltering, Kansas City managed to stay at the top of the division as late as August. Despite injuries to Sweeney and Carlos Beltran, they finished the year in third place with 83-79 and only 7 games back of the Twins, their first winning record in ten years. Most importantly, they assured themselves of four more years of Mike Sweeney.
How did this happen? To be honest, I’m still not sure. It was probably a combination of factors. Certainly letting closer Roberto Hernandez, LF Chuck Knoblauch, and SS Neifi Perez all walk away are perfect examples of what you’d call “addition by subtraction”. (And certainly the fact that new closer Mike MacDougal, former DH-new LF Raul Ibanez, and new SS Angel Berroa—the latter one of those magic beans in the deal that sent Jonny Damon to Oakland back in early 2001—all performed admirably as their replacements also contributed to the turnaround.) Manager Tony Pena, hired in the closing weeks of the 2002 debacle, seemed to inspire the kind passion in his players that Larry Bowa must imagine himself doing in his nighttime dreams. Baird stopped taking calls from his nemesis, and instead made some good deals to help an increasingly injury-plague club: starters Brian Anderson and Paul Abbott, relievers Graeme Lloyd, Al Levine, and Curtis Leskanic, and OF Rondell White.
Heck, maybe they just got lucky. According to Pythagoras, the Royals were still a losing club in 2003, having allowed 867 runs while only scoring 836 runs, good for enough only for an Expected Win-Loss of 78-84.
But even 78-84 is a hell of a lot better than 62-100 (or even 67-95, their ExW-L that year).
This off-season, Baird seems determined to prove that last year’s club was not merely the result of luck. First, let’s look at who he resigned:
Baird’s first move was to resign Leskanic for 1 year, $1.375M. Leskanic may not have been the crème of this year’s excellent crop of free agent relievers, but BP’s Relievers’ Adjusted Runs Prevented suggests that we was within spitting distance of the best (15.6 ARP, 24th best in MLB). And given what the Cubs, Mariners, and Yankees paid for Hawkins (22.3 ARP), Hasegawa (27.0 ARP), and Quantrill (22.3 ARP) and Gordon (17.3 ARP)—let alone what Foulke (26.5 ARP) will make with the Bosox or Athletics—Baird made off like a thief. Yes, he’s still recovering from surgery. But it’s an excellent risk for the Royals.
Like Leskanic, Brian Anderson also came to the Royals in 2003 via Baird’s wheelings and dealings. Anderson only had 7 starts with the Royals, but his support neutral winning percentage over those 49.2 innings was .622. Obviously, you’ve got to take sample size into account, and $6.5M over 2 years might be a little steep for someone who if everything goes right might blossom into Paul Byrd, but when Pat Hentgen signs for 1 yr, $2.2M and Kelvim Escobar for 3 yrs, $18.75M, Baird probably paid market value for Anderson.
Baird also resigned longtime Royal Joe Randa to a 1-year deal for $3.75M. Randa may only have a career .260 EqA, but last year his .269 EqA was as good as Aramis Ramirez, and better than Wes Helms, Vinny Castilla, Edgardo Alfonzo, Eric Hinske, Ty Wigginton, Adrian Beltre, Casey Blake, Robin Ventura, Joe Crede, Jeff Blum, Jeff Cirillo, and Tony Batista. In other words, as long as clubs keep moving their superstars away from playing 3B, it’s a really tough position to fill, and Baird was at least prudent enough to only make it a one-year contract.
Yet what really caught my eye was the signing of Matt Stairs. Baird couldn’t compete with the Mariners’ GM Bill Bavasi’s offer of 3 years, $13.25M to keep Raul Ibanez (nor should he have). And while Stairs may not be the answer to replace Ibanez as the everyday LF, he might turn out to be this year’s David Ortiz. In limited playing time with the Pirates last year, the left-handed Stairs hit .313 EqA. (Ortiz hit .316 EqA; Ibanez only .269 EqA.) Stairs isn’t a spring chicken, but he’s a career .290 EqA who’s showing little sign of slowing down. From the DH spot he can give the Royals some much-needed pop against right-handed pitching. Best of all, the deal is 1 year, $1M. (I never thought I'd see the day when I'd say that the Royals have a smarter manager than the Mariners.)
(I'll save comments on the reported Scott Sullivan signing until I see the terms, but even if I'm less than enthused about Sullivan being little more than league average [3.5 ARP this year, -12.4 ARP in '02, 16.6 ARP in '01--yes, relievers are wacky], that's still a substantial upgrade for what was one of the worst bullpens in baseball [-32.2 ARP, 27th place].)
Boy, what book do you think is on Baird’s bedside table these days? No more Jermaine Dye for Neifi Perez deals that’s for sure.
I think it’s time to give Baird some credit. Most of us don’t learn from our mistakes—or at least we aren’t given the chance to learn from them in such a high pressure, high profile job like GM.
And as the White Sox’s ace becomes an Angel, and the Twins lose their best bullpen arms and then spend too much on Jayson Stark’s MVP given their organizational depth in the OF, the Royals are looking more and more like legitimate contenders in the AL Central… If Sweeney can stay healthy, and Baird can hold on to Carlos Beltran (or at least get full value in return, like Minaya did for Vazquez), are the Royals, dare I say it, the favourites?