Fire Gardy

Mismanaging games since 2002

Archive for December, 2009

Surplus Value

After the news that Boof has been traded to the Red Sox for a PTBNL or cash, we also learned that the Twins have been actively trying to trade Perkins, and that Casilla is also available. That raised a question in the comments around here, based loosely around this premise:

** If the Twins are unloading backups like this, why would Casilla be “available,” why not try to trade Punto, who is a better player than Casilla, in an attempt to get more in return?**

First, a quick check into their values:

  • Casilla peaked in 2008 with +1.2 WAR, but in 2007 & 2009 he was worth -0.9 and -1.4 WAR, respectively. In his career, he’s been worth a total of -1.0 WAR.
  • Punto peaked in 2006 with +3.1 WAR, and also had +2.6 in 2008. He was +1.3 WAR in 2009. He’s never been below replacement level with the Twins (he did produce -0.1 and -0.2 in 2002-2003 in extremely limited time with the Phillies). In his career, he’s been worth a total of +8.7 WAR.

In addition Punto is at least capable of offering a steady hand at any infield position; Casilla has offered no more than a flashy but subpar glove at second base. It seems to me that there’s little doubt that Punto is the more valuable baseball player. So the Twins would have better luck trying to trade Punto, rather than Casilla, right?

Well, no. Not really.

The first thing to look at is their respective ages: Casilla is 25, while Punto is 32. Casilla could possibly improve and become a useful player at his peak in a year or two. Punto is almost certainly past his peak. Teams will definitely consider that kind of thing.

But the second, and arguably more important, thing: surplus value.

Punto will probably produce somewhere between +1 and +2 WAR this year; it’s possible he has a 2006/2008-esque great year, and it’s also possible he falls off a cliff and reverts to pre-2006 shit-Punto, but neither are particularly likely. At the same time, Punto will be paid $4M, which is right around what a team would expect to pay for 1 win worth of production on the free agent market.

This is important: if a team wanted a player who would provide as much value as Punto does, they could sign someone on the market for the same amount that Punto is making.

Similarly, if the Twins were to trade him, that team would then be paying Punto the same amount that he’s worth. So what kind of prospects can the Twins expect in return? Virtually nothing. Punto’s contract has exactly zero surplus value.

But Casilla is making considerably less. He’s before his prime. You can’t sign athletic 25 year old infielders on the free agent market. It’s feasible to guess that Casilla could be a useful player in a year or two, possibly with more time in the minors. If a team wanted to take a mild risk, they could acquire Casilla and hope to get some good value out of him.

The Twins could probably trade Casilla for a Boof-like haul, ie close to nothing. That represents his value on the trade market right now — but even though he’s a worse player than Punto, he’s worth more in trade.

Something to think about when you’re hoping for a trade or analyzing who your team is getting/receiving. You’re not just looking at the players involved — you’re also looking at their contracts.


Boof gets cut

After Carl Pavano accepted arbitration, the Twins found themselves in a brand new bind — they had 41 players on their 40 man roster. So they had to get rid of someone, and there were certainly plenty of options.* But they chose to cut Boof Bonser, and I can’t say I understand the decision.

* Tolbert if you want to cut the worst player, Keppel if you want to cut the worst pitcher.

Boof pitched poorly enough in 2008 to lose his job, then missed all of 2009 with an injury. The Twins, it’s worth noting, gave him the typical Twins medical advice when he began having shoulder problems during 2008; rest and rehabilitation to waste a few months, then major surgery when it becomes clear rest & rehab never could have actually solved the problem. Hey, it worked for Neshek! So Boof ended up getting the Jesse Crain Special* and missed the year. Of course, he got a year of major league service time for that — just like Liriano and Neshek did — which means Boof would have been arbitration eligible this year, and would almost certainly have cost over $1M.

* That’s the “rotator cuff and torn labrum” surgery that all Twins pitchers seem to need after spending enough time with Rick Anderson. What? Did I say that out loud?

So yes, maybe the move was predicated on money, but it’d only be half a million more than Bobby Keppel makes, and I don’t see a reason to think that Boof couldn’t have bested Keppel’s 91 ERA+ in a long-relief/mop-up role. And given Boof’s arm and stuff and propensity for strikeouts, he certainly had more upside; a pitcher like that could have success as a 7th/8th inning setup man.

I don’t think this move was about money — there’s just not enough of it involved. And I don’t think it’s about talent either — even Gardenhire must know that Keppel’s no great shakes. I’d be somewhat surprised if we haven’t replaced Keppel by the time Spring Training ends.

I think this move indicated something else; that the Twins have soured on Bonser, perhaps much in the same way that they’ve soured on Perkins. I don’t know why they might have given up on him … maybe he put a bunch of weight back on, maybe his velocity is down, maybe he’s not taking well to his workout program, maybe he’s being an asshole, maybe the Twins are being assholes, there are plenty of options. But Boof’s stock has tanked over the last 18 months, and it can’t all be because of performance. (He’d need to have either gotten on the mound, or indicated that he can’t get back onto the mound, for it to be solely or primarily for performance reasons.)

It remains to be seen if there’s any interest around the league. How many teams have a roster spot available for a high-upside strikeout pitcher in his 20s on a minor league contract? Would they be willing to take the risk given his injury history?

If nobody wants Boof, the Twins can keep him at AAA, which is probably what they’re hoping for. But I can’t imagine any reason to take this risk given the option of simply cutting Keppel loose.

What do you think the reasoning here was? Are you happy to see Boof go, or not?


Pavano accepts arbitration

Last night at midnight eastern was the deadline for players to accept or decline arbitration.  Carl Pavano took his sweet time, and acceptedlate last night.  I think this is a good thing for the Twins.  I was afraid they would foolishly give him the multi-year deal he was looking for.  However, but accepting arbitration, we now know that nobody wanted to give Pavano more than a one year deal.  Prior to 09, Pavano pitched just 145 innings over the course of his stay in the Bronx.  He will need to have a second consecutive 200 ip season to prove he is worth anything more than a one year deal. I obviously hope he does that for the Twins in 2010.

We now have 4 of our 5 rotation spots filled.  With Baker, Slowey, and Blackburn taking the other three.  The fifth spot in the rotation will most likely be fought over by Liriano, Duensing, Swarzak, Manship, and Perkins.  I hope Smith tries to trade the last one, as it seems Perkins and Management aren’t getting along.  At this point Perkins is the definition of expendable. We have 4 back of the rotation guys who have major league experience (3 if you think Liriano is a bullpen arm and nothing more).  We don’t need all four of them.  If someone is willing to give us much of anything for Perkins I say we do it.  Ideally we get some pieces that fill a hole, but the best move now is to just clear out the logjam at the back of the rotation and amongst middle relievers.

What do you guys think? Are you excited to have Pavano back? Who should take the fifth spot in the rotation? What should we do with Perkins?


Sano/Jean gets his visa, marks a turning point in Twins history

This is just paperwork at this point, but Miguel Angel Sano/Jean* has received his work visa and will be allowed to travel to the USA and work for the Minnesota Twins.

* When he was negotiating the deal, his name was “Miguel Angel Sano.” When he signed the contract with the Twins, he became “Miguel Jean.” When he got his work visa, he is apparently “Miguel Angel Sano” again. Sano is his mother’s name, and Dominican people typically use their mother’s name out of respect until they come of age and begin using their father’s name — but if you’re in the middle of an identity/age verification process, is this really the type of stuff you want to be doing? I’ll be calling him Sano/Jean for the foreseeable future.

Thus ends the first exciting ordeal of his professional baseball career — the process of proving his identity and age and officially becoming the property of a major league team. As everyone knows by now, Sano/Jean claimed he was 16 years old and few believed him (he’s 6′3″, 190 lbs, and very advanced for his apparent age); the Pirates were said to be most interested in his services, but refused to commit without proof of his age. When MLB said they could verify his identity but not his age, the Pirates submitted a lowball offer to his agent, and the Twins were able to steal him away by taking a risk on him.

“Miguel will pick up his visa on Monday and with that it ends a long and painful process,” [Sano/Jean's agent, Rob] Plummer said. “Many teams were interested in Sano’s talent, but Minnesota always trusted that everything was right and that’s why today they have one of the best young players in the world.”

Sano/Jean will most likely report to the Pacific Gulf Coast league to start his professional career in 2010.

The Sano/Jean signing was, in my mind, one of the three events that marked a turning point in the history of the Twins organization, from the “fill up with low-risk/low-upside middle infielders who can’t hit and supplement with the occasional low-baseball-IQ super-athlete who probably won’t make it” philosophy of the 1990s and 2000s, to a much more aggressive “focus on high-upside talent even if it costs more money and entails considerable risk” strategy that they’ve shown lately with these three moves:

  1. Signing German teenager Max Kepler to the largest bonus in the history of European players
  2. Signing Dominican teenager Miguel Angel Sano/Jean to one of the largest bonuses in the history of Latin American players
  3. Going well above slot to steal Kyle Gibson with the 22nd pick of the draft after he slipped from the top 5/10 due to injury concerns

Obviously, the former strategy has worked well; the Twins rebuilt themselves from the disaster that was the 1990s into a model franchise by following it. But the time for a change had certainly come: it would be virtually (if not completely) impossible for the team to take the next step without focusing on higher-upside prospects. And after the Twins blogosphere clamored for years for the Twins to at least try to take the step from “annually contending within the division but incapable of competing with the top AL teams” to perhaps being able to make a title run and sustain a higher level of success, they’ve finally started to do it.

For now, 2008 and 2009 have been remarkable for the back-to-back Game 163s, and for the transcendent play of Mauer. But by the time Sano/Jean reaches the high minors, 2008/2009 could very well be remembered as the year the Twins changed course and altered their history for the better.

Over the long run, that’s much more significant.

No comments

Figgins might be going to the Mariners, but what does it mean?

With the latest rumor that Chone Figgins is close to signing a 4/$36M deal with the Mariners, I’m left wondering how in the world the Twins aren’t able to top that deal.

Figgins is the top infielder on the free agent market, and very well should have had his pick of suitors this winter — and given his value over the past few years and his stellar glove and his high OBP, the offers should have been pretty big.

I don’t know if the Twins offered him a contract, or talked to his agents, or even showed any interest in upgrading from a Tolbert/Harris platoon at 3B. I really, really hope so, but the Twins are being as secretive as ever* and we simply have no idea.

* That works great if you’re Apple or Google or something, and are constantly doing awesome stuff and springing it on people when they had no idea it was coming, and you keep on doing it over and over again. But when the secrets end up being “we signed Nick Punto to a multi-year deal” or a shit sandwich like “we traded our top pitcher and our starting shortstop for the worst player in the league,” or “we think the team that wasn’t quite good enough last year is good enough next year,” well, it doesn’t work quite as well.

But it’s at least possible that the Twins engaged Figgins; I’d like to hope that they offered him more than 4/$36M — he’s been worth more than $9M in every season he’s been a starter except for 2006, and his skillset figures to degrade slowly over time. I’d say it’s a good bet that he’ll be worth more than $36M over the course of the next four years. Like I said … I hope the Twins offered more than that.

But maybe it wasn’t good enough. People always talk about how “money isn’t always the biggest thing” for some players; that there are other things they take into account, and that the biggest offer doesn’t always get the player. At the same time, though, doesn’t it seem like players always sign for the largest dollar amount? Last winter, Teixeira was considering the Nationals and (moreso) the Orioles because he’s from the area, and they offered him a staggeringly large deal. The Red Sox offered a contract in the same ballpark, and he’d love to play for the Red Sox because he loves their history and their city and he wants to win. And then the Yankees came in, just about Boston’s offer, and it turns out that Teixeira’s dream has always been to wear pinstripes, so in the end he got exactly what he wanted … but he also got the biggest contract that anyone offered him. Is it all bullshit? Maybe. I don’t know.

Today, though, we learn that sometimes players do turn down the biggest offer to go somewhere they like more. In this case, the A’s offered the largest contract to Marco Scutaro, but he opted for the Red Sox instead because he “preferred the chance to win a World Series with the Red Sox.”* So sometimes, money isn’t everything.

* If someone had said that six years ago, what would you have said?

Realistically, of course, Figgins can’t think he has a better shot at a title with the Mariners than he would with the Twins. The Twins are very close to being built to win now, and as a playing situation, slotting into the 2 spot in the order between Span and Mauer can hardly be beat.

Maybe those things aren’t what’s important to Figgins. Maybe he wants to stay on the west coast rather than coming to the midwest. Maybe he doesn’t like the prospect of being the 6th or 7th best player on the team and would rather be the 1st or 2nd best — I think it’s believable that a guy would rather be the biggest fish. Maybe his postseason struggles, and the attention they’ve gotten, have effected him and he’d rather be in a situation where they don’t come up.

At the end of the day, we don’t know. It’s possible that Figgins would have loved to play for the Twins, but they just didn’t call, or they wouldn’t offer enough money, or years. Maybe the Twins do actually believe in Danny Valencia (despite some evidence to the contrary), and don’t want to block him with an expensive signing.

But at the same time, I’m torn. Is it promising that players might actually be considering more than money when it comes to signing long term contracts — thus lending hope to the idea of a Mauer extension? Is it a bad sign that free agents might choose to avoid the Twins, for intangible reasons? Is it a bad sign that the Twins won’t offer enough money to get key free agents, possibly sending a message to Mauer that they’re not dedicated to building a great team around him? Is it a good sign that perhaps they’re saving their money for Mauer’s contract, and don’t want to lock up money they may not have before they know about how much he’ll cost?

The only thing I’m sure about is that it’s a bad sign that I’m worrying so much.

What do you think?


More thoughts on the changing baseball economy

I basically wrote about this earlier this afternoon, but Sheehan’s article about salary arbitration this year is worth quoting:

These decisions, taken as a whole, reflect the evolution of a market. Not every team sees it the same way, but by and large, the industry is valuing experience less, valuing common talents less, and recognizing one of the first principles of performance analysis: talent in MLB isn’t a bell curve, but the right edge of that curve, with a few tremendous talents, and then a large pool of similar ones. There’s nothing special about Randy Winn or Jermaine Dye or Jon Garland, and what separates them from comparable players—experience—isn’t something worth paying millions of marginal dollars for. The industry is getting smarter, and it’s going to make for better baseball for all of us.

That’s exactly right.

This isn’t an issue of “stats vs scouts,” which is apparently how my last article was viewed. This is simply the market for baseball players evolving due to a change in player evaluation in front offices.

Part of that change is certainly due to a difference in evaluation methods — more teams are using statistical analysis to attempt to value both free agents and internal options. Another part of that change is probably economic: the guys signing the checks would rather their employees don’t throw their money around as much as they have in the past.

But, as Sheehan points out, another part of it is that front offices are simply getting smarter. They’ve realized that there really are only a small handful of players worth committing a large amount of resources — either in dollars, years, or roster spots. Beyond those few stars, everyone else in the majors (or, to a lesser extent, the high minors) is pretty close to equivalent. Why would you spend many millions of dollars on one when you can have another for half a million? It makes no sense.

Right now I think the front offices have swung too far in the opposite direction of their free-wheeling ways of yesteryear; this market, like any other, is operating like a pendulum on the way to equilibrium. But even still, the idea that this sort of analysis shows that “all free agents are basically worthless” is disingenuous at best; it smacks of sportswriter-like thinking, that “things were better back then,” and is clearly in opposition of change, no matter how inevitable or beneficial.

Ultimately, I agree with Sheehan (on this). This is going to make baseball better for everyone.*

*Except, of course, for the aging veterans who are no longer the beneficiaries of foolish contracts — but how much do you feel for those guys?


GMs Join Bloggers in the Basement, Mainstream Sportswriters Remain Confused and Infuriated

For the past two offseasons, all the agents (and especially Scott “Ass Face” Boras) have been shouting about collusion between the teams — how else can you explain the fact that mid-30s veterans who were once getting 5/$75M deals have to choose between a 1/$3M deal and retirement? There’s simply no other explanation!

As it turns out, of course, yes there is another explanation. And it’s not “the economy,” which is fun to use as a scapegoat,* but rather it’s the fact that MLB front offices are hiring people who are willing to “think,” or “use a computer,” or other such things that we’ve been told are antithetical to the true essence of baseball.

* I was back in Minnesota for Thanksgiving, and my dad pointed out a tree in our neighbor’s yard which appears to be dying. I blamed it on the economy. Thank you! I’m here all week!

Matthew Leach of discusses it — in very ownership-friendly terms, I might add, which is to be expected of anything posted on — quoting Brewers assistant GM Gord Ash:

It’s a combination of things. Of course there are the general economic concerns, but there is also more data going around, like FIP [fielding-independent pitching statistics], and others that give you a better feel for a pitcher rather than the traditional wins and losses and ERA.

I suppose nobody should be surprised about this — we’re well passed the point where Wall Street analysts have abandoned a hunch and a handshake as a basis for their deals and moved to computer models. Baseball is big business too, and there’s no reason these large companies shouldn’t be taking advantage of whatever mode of analysis is a) the best, and b) currently available to them.

Increasingly, it seems that the only people still resisting the move to a more complete and quantifiable way of measuring and enjoying baseball are the sportswriters.* As Calcaterra notes:

compare [the quote from Gord Ash] to the aggressive dismissal of advanced metrics by the majority of your mainstream baseball writers and ask yourself if the statheads are really as out-of-touch as they’re made out to be. If anything, the geeks and the game’s movers and shakers are speaking the same language.

Well said.

* Also, the managers.

But this leaves me legitimately worried — the Twins front office continues to be a bastion of old-fashioned thinking, having missed several previous new movements in baseball (including “striking batters out is good,” “drawing walks is good,” and “home runs are good”) and continue to play the game like it’s the 70s.* Thus far, there has been no indication that they’re going to get on the “accurate player/value evaluation” boat any time soon.

* Oh, and also as if each team got to play several middle infielders at once. It remains important to have an abundance of utility infielders on your major league roster and throughout your minor league system, right? Additionally, I feel that it’s worth pointing out that back in the 60s and 70s, the Twins were actually pretty forward-thinking when it came to “striking people out” and “hitting home runs.” Too bad that all went away, right?

Is it time to start fearing that the Twins will start signing old, declining veterans to bloated, ill-advised contracts … especially as those same veterans find it impossible to find such contracts in their former pastures? Maybe this isn’t such a great time for the Twins to be boosting their revenue and payroll significantly.


Just give Reusse the buyout

Local curmudgeon Patrick Ruesse posted his annual “Turkey of the Year” column late last week, and it is a doozy. I was originally going to take the high road, but you know us kids, we get bored so I decided to call him out.  He only has one point that I want to address, his labeling Joe Caas a “2009 Special Turkey Guest”.  I’ll let Mr. Ruesse dig his own grave:

Joe Christensen. Gentleman Joe is a Star Tribune baseball writer and also the Twin Cities’ leading advocate for OPS, a make-believe number that Bill James acolytes have embraced. How often must we say this, Joe? Runs scored and RBI mean something; OPS doesn’t.
Um, yes it does Patrick.  It means “on base percentage plus slugging percentage”.  I know this is beating a dead horse, but it must be done. OPS has been widely accepted for  most of this decade as an excellent way to measure a hitter.  Peter Gammons, possibly the oldest man alive, often quotes it for his pieces on ESPN.  A network also know as the World Wide Leader in Sports.  World Wide!!!

I can’t imagine if someone tried to use WAR and VORP in front of Ruesse. He would do one of two things: Freak out, or make a terrible Star Trek joke.  There are many advanced baseball metrics that even I think are a little much, but from a math standpoint OPS is just as simple as batting average.  I am not sure what RBIs measure other than how many times a guy comes up with runners on.  A hitter has no control over that. Unless you are playing with like 4 guys like you did in grade school and have “ghost runners” and you can drive yourself in.

Ruesse just needs to accept that baseball is a heavily statisticized sport, and we will continue to develop more advanced (and better) metrics to evaluate players and teams.  He hasn’t done this, and calling one of his co-workers a “turkey” because he has is just insane. Batshit crazy even.  “‘Get off my lawn!’ journalism” at its finest.



The Indians Have Lost Their Sense of Identity

Remember Jason Tyner? When the Twins had finally had enough of his “perfect Twin” hitting line,* they got rid of him. Since he, of course, sucked … he couldn’t find anyone willing to give him another job.** Then the Indians signed him to a minor league deal and assigned him to their AAA team.

* For newer readers of Fire Gardy, that’s .300/.300/.300 — ie, “they’re a .300 hitter!” but with no plate discipline and no power.

The Indians were roundly praised for the move, and everyone said it demonstrated that the Indians valued more than just winning at the major league level — they’d signed Tyner solely to help their minor league team win, to plug an obvious hole on the AAA club’s roster. That this demonstrated a devotion to winning on an organization-wide level.

Well, they’ve continued along the same path.

The Indians have signed former Twins Brian Buscher, Luis Rodriguez, and Mike Gosling (who was a minor leaguer), all to minor league deals.

Maybe this is more of what they were lauded for with the Tyner move, and they’re filling holes on the AAA club so their players “get used to winning” while they’re in the minors. (The Twins organization does the same thing with their Elizabethton Twins, constantly bragging about the competitiveness of that short-season rookie league team, as if anyone in the world cares.)

Maybe, though, it indicates something more … like the fact that the Indians’ farm system is weak enough that Buscher/L-Rod/Gosling can actually fill holes for them at the AAA level. As you can probably guess, I don’t think these are particularly strong baseball moves.

But if you want to know my real opinion, I think these moves truly are a continuation of the original Tyner move. And it’s not something to be praised.

The Indians, like the Twins, are a small/mid market franchise, with a bottom-third payroll. They, like the Twins, have done a great job of collecting top shelf talent despite lacking the resources it normally takes to do that. For years, the Indians have been one of the model franchises — in fact, I think they’ve done a better job than the Twins have of putting talent on the field.

And yet, the Twins have proved far more successful in this decade. The Indians are surely doing plenty of soul-searching trying to determine why. Maybe Eric Wedge was the reason — so he’s gone. Maybe the Twins have just been doing a better job of filling out the fringes of the roster with “winners,” guys like Tyner, Buscher, and Rodriguez that the manager can trust* with the game on the line.

* Inexplicably, mind you.

I think these moves show that the Indians have lost their sense of direction, or perhaps their sense of identity as a franchise. And while I think that sucks for them … it means that the Twins will probably continue to do (at least) slightly better than “contend” in the division for the foreseeable future.

**Oh … and has anyone else noticed that basically every player the Twins let go can’t find another major league job? That they all go to Japan or struggle to get a minor league deal? What does that say about the organization’s roster construction and player valuation? Something … bad, probably.


Payroll, Joe Mauer, and the 20% Myth

I was reading LaVelle’s blog this morning and there was a friendly discussion in the comments (that isn’t sarcasm, the commenters were actually nice to each other unlike most comment wars on blogs) about whether or not its OK to spend 20% of your payroll on one person. Obviously it came up in regards to Joe Mauer.  LaVelle mentioned in one of his comments that the “rule” started when the Indians didn’t want to pay Manny 20% of their payroll so they let him walk to Boston.

I think if the Twins are willing to have their payroll in the 100 million dollar range, they can afford to pay Mauer 20-25 a year.  I see no reason why the payroll cannot be $100 million.  I’m sure there are some Twins fans who want to win the “Twins way” which is by spending no money, but we now have this fancy new stadium and are ready to play with the big boys.  Minneapolis is by no means a “small market”, small market has just become synonymous with “poor”.  We are one of the few metropolitan areas that has all four major sports. The others being: Chicago, Boston, New York, LA,Dallas, Denver, and Washington, DC.  (Might have missed a few, but you get my point).  The Twins used to be classified as a small market team because they got almost no revenue out of the dome, now they will have a cash cow in Target Field and should spend a good chunk of that money on Joe Mauer. 

I know a ton of Twins fans take solace in the fact that when we lose its only because the Yankees spend more money.  Well, they will always spend more money than us so they can continue to do so if it helps them sleep at night.  I for one would be happier if we lost because our GM or manager made bad moves.  You can fire them.  You can’t fire the owners.  The best thing for an owner to do is open up their pocketbooks and let the baseball people work. If Bill Smith says he can win a world series with 80 million, then give him 80.  If he says he needs 100 then give him 100.

So give Mauer 20% of our payroll, but we need our payroll to be north of 100 million to compete for a World Series title.  That is regardless of whether or not Joe Mauer is on the team.  It is just a reality of the game in this day and age.


Next Page »