Derek’s thoughts echo those of our inbox right now, so some clarifications.
1. The offer I came up with was Winn, Justin Leone, Jose Lopez, and Rett Johnson for Beltran. If Baird mentions Rafael Soriano, you hang up the phone. Players like Soriano just don’t get traded, and there’s no reason to give him up.
2. The difference between Winn and Beltran’s salary is $5.5 million, but the Mariners are the one absorbing the more expensive player. We wouldn’t have to give them a dime, and there’s no way KC is sending us any money. This is one of the keys to the deal. Bavasi would have to convince Baird of the value that $5.5 million has. Send him graphs on how terrible Mike MacDougal was last year accompanied by pictures of Ugueth Urbina wearing a shiny world series ring and a giant poster showing Urbina’s 1.41 ERA after joining the Marlins last year. Then, remind him that Urbina is still available. Sell this trade as giving them the ability to acquire another impact free agent, so Baird sees it as two major leauge players and the three prospects.
3. Carlos Beltran won’t command as much money as Vlad. He just won’t. He’s an awesome player, but he’s never been an all-star, never hit 30 home runs in a season, only finished in the top 10 in MVP voting once, and never played in the playoffs. He simply doesn’t have the superstar aura that Guerrero does. Beltran also isn’t a right-handed power hitter (the type of player Safeco harms the most), isn’t a right fielder (necessitating Ichiro! to move to center), and is the speed-and-defense type of talent that the Marniers adore. I don’t think the non-pursuit of Guerrero at all reflects an unwillingness to sign Beltran, who I expect to top out at 5 years, $60 million next offseason.
4. If Beltran leaves anyways, and the team is wise enough to offer arbitration, they get at least one, possibly two, first round draft picks, to replace Lopez and Rett Johnson. Yes, I know, the team hates first round picks, but this still has to be a positive consideration for Beltran. The trade also eliminates Winn’s $3.75 million salary in 2005 from the roster, freeing up even more money to make a run at one of the multitude of attractive free agents (Glaus, Chavez, or Garciaparra, to name three).
5. If the Mariners pitchers had a problems allowing baserunners to steal at will, I might give you that Pudge’s improved arm would be a significant upgrade. But its not, and I don’t believe controlling the running game is nearly as important as most people think. However, the Mariners have an extremely fly-ball happy pitching staff, requiring excellent outfield defense behind them to succeed. Beltran is an enormous step ahead of Winn defensively, probably in the range of 10-15 runs, which could be the difference between the end of Ryan Franklin’s career and the smoke-and-mirrors run continuing. This is about building a complementary team, not just assembling an impressive collection of individuals. This team needs a good defensive center fielder, and Beltran is one of the better ones around.
6. The prospects I offered up are not the ones who will be saving the franchise from impending doom once the veterans retire. Justin Leone has no future as a Mariner. Rett Johnson, whom I am a big fan of, has no clear opening anytime soon. He’s stuck behind Soriano in a spot for the rotation in 2004, and will likely have been surpassed by Nageotte, Blackley, and possibly Felix Hernandez in 2005. He’s a right-handed arm in an organization awash with them. Jose Lopez hurts the most, since the team lacks position player prospects, but he’s not an irreplaceable talent. His conditioning issues are a legitimate concern, and at this point, its 50-50 if he can stay in the middle infield through his 25th birthday. Most observers are now penciling him at third base, where his bat simply doesn’t project to make him an impact player. He’s a good guy to have in the system, but not the kind of prospect you refuse to give up on. Remember the Reds valiantly holding on to Pokey Reese and Travis Dawkins before giving away Antonio Perez? In the end, all three have basically become pumpkins. Lopez’s value to the team is at least two years away, and may never come. He’s not worth losing a superstar in his prime over.
7. For the most popular email of the day answer, “would Kansas City make this move?” I think the answer is maybe, if you gave them a great sales pitch on how to put that $5.5 million surplus to use. Convince them of the value of an available free agent to their roster. Get Baird to see Winn + free agent + three prospects for one year of Beltran, and I don’t think he’ll get a better offer. Part of this may be because I believe Baird wants to trade Beltran, rather than suffer the let-him-leave-for-nothing (KC won’t offer arbitration) p.r. disaster next year. It would take a good salespitch, but its a good offer that could both help the Royals this year and in the future. It helps both teams.
8. I also don’t believe Pudge is “free”, talent wise. The difference between his expected $9-10 million salary and the extra $5.5 million the M’s would take on in the Beltran deal is enough to buy a legitimate replacement reliever for Sasaki’s roster spot, now occupied by Mike Myers, and possibly have enough left over to get a real platoon-partner for John Olerud. These are legitimate needs that the acquisition of Rodriguez will make nearly impossible, and lets be honest, there is no way Bavasi is creative enough to acquire answers to these problems without spending money.
9. Acquiring Rodriguez would necessitate that Ben Davis be given away, Carlos Guillen-style, for a minimum salary or non-40-man roster player. While Davis isn’t someone you lose sleep over losing, its another consideration in the negative column for Pudge versus Beltran.
Ah, but here’s the trouble with such a plan.
One year of Carlos Beltran will run the Mariners… say it’s Lopez, Rafael Soriano, Leone, and Rett Johnson, plus Winn to cover CF for them, plus the difference in Winn-Beltran salary, which’ll be… couple million. Then Beltran leaves because he’ll want a long-term deal and if the M’s weren’t considering giving one to Vlad, they won’t be giving one to Beltran either.
One year of Pudge costs a more $ and you get to keep all those guys. Having Soriano on the 2004 team alone makes it a wash, and if anyone on the M’s is smart enough to realize he needs to be in the $@#$@# rotation already, it’s not going to be close.
Also, I’m disagree that defensively the upgrade from Winn to Beltran is better than Wilson/Davis to Pudge. Pudge can still pick them like nobody’s business and he supresses the running game like a election-year prosecuter on smut.
Now ideally, we wouldn’t be having this conversation at all because the rest of the off-season would have been handled well enough that there wasn’t only one real gap in the lineup you can toss someone into. But we are, and that hole is the catching craptoon. I mean platoon.
If we really believe the M’s aren’t going to compete seriously this year, that their chance is to limp into the playoffs in a weakened division — if we’re not going to try and get Edgar a ring he richly deserves — why trade away the players who will keep the Mariners semi-competitive in the rubble of the Gillvasi year?
And I’d like to throw this out there for Howard Lincoln, who is tired of people always complaining that the M’s don’t spend enough money: your team makes more money than anyone outside the Yankees, and you play in a new stadium for free that I pay off every time I drink a beer within the nebulous confines of the district. The least you could do is endure Seattle’s entirely justified complaining in silence while you count your money.
Well, Bavasi is saying the right things about Pudge.
At the P-I, he’s quoted with “If it gets into three, four or five years, we’re not going to be comfortable.”
The Times throws in this quote: “Like anyone else, we have interest in him on a short-term basis. In our opinion, he has had his best years in short-term bursts. In situations where he has a contract coming up in a year or two, he has done well.”
While I like the fact that the M’s don’t sound willing to go more than two years, I feel obligated to point out that Bavasi is pretty much just wrong in the second quote. Here’s Pudge’s OPS+ (percentage above league average after including park effects) and EqA (BP’s formula for a players offensive contributions, also adjusted for park effects) for each of the past seven years:
Year: OPS+ EqA
1997: 114 .282
1998: 120 .290
1999: 125 .292
2000: 152 .318
2001: 130 .293
2002: 123 .295
2003: 124 .293
Thats remarkable consistency sandwiched around a career year at age 28, which was also shortened by injury. For kicks, I asked Nate Silver to run a PECOTA projection (sales pitch: PECOTA’s are available to Baseball Prospectus Premium subscribers and will be featured in BP2004, both of which you should purchase) for Ivan Rodriguez in 2004 based on playing in Safeco Field. Nate said he didn’t use a very heavy park effect for Safeco, so we may need to ratchet these down a bit, but PECOTA’s weighted mean (or best guess, essentially) for Pudge as a Mariner is .287/.344/.478, which is only a slight decrease from what he did last year. PECOTA projects Dan Wilson at .253/.295/.375 and Ben Davis at .249/.321/.413, for what its worth.
PECOTA likes Ben Davis a lot, and I think that projection might be a bit optimistic, but it doesn’t think the difference between Davis and Rodriguez in 2004 is going to be that dramatic. While its true that the 2003 model of the Wilson-Davis platoon was awful and Pudge would have been a humungous improvement last year, I don’t think the difference is likely to be as substantial in 2004. Pudge’s regression, plus even a limited bounceback by Davis makes blowing a ridiculous amount of money on Rodriguez a poor allocation of resources.
On the other hand, PECOTA suggests that Carlos Beltran would hit .284/.361/.491 in Safeco, which surprised me at how low those numbers are. That would represent a significant regression for him, and I’m guessing a large part of that is the Kauffman Stadium park factor being pretty rough on Beltran. This is one example why I’m not a huge fan of blanket park factors, and I’d expect Beltran to put up a line closer to .300/.400/.500, plus the added value of 35 steals at a 90 % rate and some tremendous outfield defense. PECOTA has Randy Winn at .279/.344/.425.
So, positional comparison:
Catcher: Rodriguez versus Davis:
.287/.344/.478 – .249/.321/.413. +.038 BA, +.023 OBP, + .065 SLG.
Center Field: Beltran versus Winn:
.284/.361/.491 – .279/.344/.425. +.005 BA, +.017 OBP, +.066 SLG.
Offensively, the improvements would be about the same, with perhaps a slight edge to Rodriguez because he would likely play more than Davis will, further reducing Wilson’s blackhole effect on the offense. However, all the non-hitting factors go to Beltran.
Baserunning: Huge advantage Beltran.
Defense: Advantage Beltran (positive effect on fly-ball pitchers a big plus).
Age/Upside: Huge advantage Beltran.
Finances: Huge advantage Beltran.
The differences between the 2004 salaries for Beltran and Winn is only $5.5 million, leaving a significant chunk of the Sasaki windfall to be spent filling the hole in the bullpen or improving the bench. Rodriguez would likely command at least $9-10 million for a short contract with the M’s. This would not only leave them with a maxed out budget, but cause them to have to give away Ben Davis in a Carlos Guillen-style “trade”, where you take someone else’s crap for no good reason.
Pudge isn’t a bad option, especially on a two-year contract. Carlos Beltran is just a much better option.