Why I Don’t Want Miguel Tejada
Last night, news broke that Miguel Tejada is unhappy in Baltimore and has requested a trade.
Immediately, every fan in the Seattle area who is still pissed that the M’s didn’t sign him two years ago began concocting trade scenarios in which we could rectify the mistake and bring Tejada to Safeco Field. Well, I’m not part of that group. Not only do I not want the Mariners to trade for Miguel Tejada, I wouldn’t swap Yuniesky Betancourt for him in a one for one deal.
And no, I’m not insane. Put the straightjackets away.
Let’s get past the labels here. Forget that Betancourt is “unproven” and Tejada is “a star”. Let’s evaluate what we actually think they’ll do on the field the next four years.
Tejada hit .304/.349/.515 in 162 games last year. Depending on which runs conversion formula you want to use, that performance was worth about 100-110 runs of offense. We’ll use Runs Created just for consistency and give Tejada credit for the full 110 runs on offense.
Betancourt hit .256/.296/.370 in 60 games last year. His offensive value in his given playing time was 22 runs, which would project out to 60 runs over a full season.
Ignoring park effects, Tejada was worth about 50 runs more than Yuniesky Betancourt offensively in 2005, projected over a full season’s playing time. That’s substantial, no doubt.
This gets a little trickier. The defensive ratings for Tejada are mostly consistent, placing him right around average. Baseball Prospectus has him at 3 runs below average. From 2000-2003, UZR (the best system out there, in my opinion) had him as exactly average. Chris Dial’s range system had him at 3 runs below average. The outlier in the metrics is David Gassko’s RANGE system, which has him at 25 runs over an average defensive shortstop in 2005. I’m not buying that it’s the only system that picked up on his defensive greatness, especially considering the scouting reports on his glove have been generally mediocre. So, we’ll accept that Tejada is something like an average defensive shortstop.
Due to sample size issues, we don’t really have good data for what Betancourt is defensively. Even the most ardent supporters of defensive metrics would like two full years of numbers to draw any conclusions, and with Betancourt, we only have about 1/6 of that. The defensive data we have on him simply isn’t reliable. However, I think most of us would agree that he’s fairly good with the glove. To what degree, though, we can’t really quantify, so I’m going to take the conservative route and give him credit for saving 10 runs over an average defensive shortstop in a full season. In reality, he’s probably better than that, but I’m erring on the side of caution here.
Adding offense and defense together, and assuming no change in performance from either player, the difference between the two players is about 40 runs over the course of a full season.
40 runs. Trading Betancourt for Tejada, straight up, if neither player changed one bit from their 2005 season, would net the Mariners approximately 40 runs. This number is the absolute best case scenario for Tejada supporters. It assumes Tejada, in his age 30-33 seasons, won’t decline one bit, which as we’ll see in a second, is quite the reach. It assumes that Yuniesky Betancourt won’t improve at all with the bat. It assumes that Betancourt’s glove is only solid, and that he’s not really an elite defensive player. And, lastly, it assumes that there’s no difference in run scoring environments between Safeco Field and Camden Yards.
We know those assumptions aren’t true. Let’s try to quantify how much we’re overstating the case, point by point.
Miguel Tejada is heading into his age 30 season. He’s far from over the hill, but he’s also undoubtedly on the downside of the career development arc. Not every player follows this arc, but as a general rule, trading for a player hoping he’s the exception is folly. Tejada’s most comparable player, according to both Baseball Reference and PECOTA, is Vern Stephens.
Stephens, also a shortstop, hit .295/.361/.511 as an SS in his age 29 season, almost a dead ringer for Tejada’s 2005 season. The next year, at age 30, .300/.364/.501, basically an identical line, but he did so in 40 less games. It would be his last season of any impact. At age 31, he hit .254/.343/.383 in 92 games, and he was reduced to being a role player for the remainder of his career.
It’s not just Stephens, either. A look through most of Tejada’s comparable players shows a similar trend. Cal Ripken, Joe Torre, Travis Fryman, Buddy Bell. They all endured serious decline, to the point of losing most of their value, in their early thirties. There are a few success stories, such as Bobby Doerr, but they are overshadowed by the clear trend of decline for a player with Tejada’s profile.
Prior to the 2005 season, BP’s PECOTA projection for the next 5 seasons had Tejada holding steady through the 2006 campaign, then losing 8.5 percent of his value in 2007, 8.5 percent more in 2008, and 8.2 percent more in 2009. The projection for Tejada essentially costs him about 7 runs per season in decline from 2007-2009.
Again, thanks to sample issues, we don’t really have the same kind of data as we do with Tejada. However, Betancourt is almost a certainty to get better offensively, even if only marginally, as young players who reach the majors at his age almost always improve to some degree through their age 28 seasons. How much improvement we should expect is up for interpretation. I’ll go with a modest 3 percent improvement each year for the next four years, which is in the ballpark of what players often compared to Betancourt experienced. It’s not a huge improvement-2 runs in in 2006, 3 runs in 2007, 5 runs in 2008, and 7 runs in 2009-but it’s still significant enough to mention.
I used the 10 runs above average marker for Betancourt in the intitial comparsion, even though I think that’s low. Elite defensive shortstops, by most metrics, are 25-30 runs above average defensively. That’s more the range I tend to think Betancourt falls into, but without any real evidence, I’m reluctant to use those kind of numbers in the comparison. If you happen to think Betancourt is one of the best defensive shortstops in the game, however, feel free to add 10-15 runs to Yuniesky’s side of the ledger to account for the difference in glovework.
Starting with Tejada, the myth that Camden Yards is some kind of bandbox has been perpetuated in the media, but it simply isn’t true. Overall, Camden has skewed slightly towards pitchers historically. In 2004, Tejada hit better on the road than he did at home. This year, his numbers were better at Camden, but there’s no reason to think that’s evidence that he benefited from his home park, as much as it was likely just the way things shake out in smaller samples. We shouldn’t penalize Tejada at all for his offensive performances coming in Baltimore. We should, however, note that Tejada is exactly the kind of hitter that Safeco can destroy; a right-handed fly ball pull hitter. There’s almost no way he would be able to sustain his offensive performances while playing half his games in Seattle.
Betancourt, on the other hand, certainly deserves a boost to his offensive numbers to account for Safeco Field. Because of its low scoring environment, runs are simply worth more in Safeco than elsewhere. Betancourt’s offensive line in Safeco helps his team win just as much as if he had hit ..275/.320/.400 in a neutral park. The run difference in his translated line is about 5 runs. Again, not a huge difference, but a significant enough one to mention, especially when combined with all the other false assumptions we had to make to get Tejada to the +40 mark in the first place.
Run Value Conclusion
I realize reasonable people can differ on some of these points. I’m sure people will quibble with PECOTA’s projected decline or Betancourt’s defensive evaluation. That’s why I broke out each questionable piece. This way, you can make your own evaluations on how much value you think Tejada adds over Betancourt. The most optimistic scenario, for Tejada, is a 40 run improvement. Depending on your interpretation of the other factors, it could be as low as 15 runs next year.
Essentially, you’re looking at a possible range of performances from both players. Extreme Tejada Fans should assume a 40 run improvement if the M’s made the swap straight up, one for one. Extreme Betancourt Fans should expect about a 15 run improvement. More normal folks will fall somewhere in the middle. That’s where I am. I’d probably expect a total net of about 25 runs in 2006 if the Mariners swapped the two shortstops.
Now, we get to the critical point we have yet to mention: salary. Tejada has 4 years and $48 million left on his contract. Betancourt has 3 years and $3.3 million left on his contract. Assume he gets a decent size paycheck in 2009, we’ll say that Betancourt’s total cost for the next four years is in the $8 million range. So, on average, you’re paying an extra $10 million per season for Tejada. $10 million buys you somewhere between 15-40 runs.
That, folks, is an awful deal. There are several formulas out there, including one published in this year’s 2006 Hardball Times Annual, that place the value of a win at about $2 million. It’s generally accepted that 10 runs is generally equal to 1 win. So, let’s do the math.
40 Run Tejada: $2.25 million per win
A slight overpay, but not a significantly bad one.
30 run Tejada: $3.33 million per win
A definite overpay, and a problem contract.
20 run Tejada: $5 million per win
An albatross contract, one of the worst in baseball, and a player who keeps you from winning.
10 run Tejada: $10 million per win.
Russ Ortiz style debacle.
So, there you go. The range of possible outcomes of swapping Betancourt for Tejada, straight up, range from “not the worst deal in the world” to “franchise crippling”.
There’s no way to justify that trade from an on field performance stand point. None whatsoever. The difference in value Tejada is likely to add over the next four years is dwarfed by the difference in salaries. Yuniesky Betancourt, at $2 million per season, is worth more than Miguel Tejada at $12 million per season.
Championships aren’t won by acquiring stars in their decline finishing out free agent contracts. Just say no to Miguel Tejada.