Assorted New Year’s Musings
I’ve been away, thanks to a combination of work and family duties that I can’t believe I even bring up in light of Dave’s recent post. People often used to malign sabermetrically-oriented writers like Dave as automatons; robots more interested in numbers than the grand arc of a baseball season, or more interested in nitpicking a hit-and-run than in the compelling story of a single game. I’d like to think that Dave’s had a major hand in discrediting that old saw. I’d rather read Dave’s writing here or at Fangraphs than just about anything, and it’s not because his posts are laden with math and statistics. On the other hand, Dave has maintained a blogging pace that puts most professional bloggers to shame, and he’s done it while whipping cancer. I needed a break because “work is hard.” In sum, I think it’s time to bring back the “Dave is a robot” meme.
1: The big story this off-season has been the Rangers and Angels leveraging new TV deals to make a splash on the free-agent (or posting) market. The Rangers replaced CJ Wilson with Yu Darvish while the Angels cashed in their TV revenue for the top free agent hitter and pitcher. Beyond the sheer oddity of a team in the AL West outbidding everyone for three of the year’s most sought-after targets, I’m stunned at how well-timed both the Rangers and the Angels spending sprees are. The Angels new TV contract allowed them to spend more money now, and the addition of a second wild card meant that such spending had a greater chance of being rewarded with a playoff berth. The Rangers built a formidable farm system, then very quickly augmented that homegrown core when their TV contract made such expenditures possible. The M’s renegotiated their contract with FOX Sports (now ROOT Sports) in 2007, and spent the proceeds on the likes of Jeff Weaver, Miguel Batista, and trading for Jose Vidro/Horacio Ramirez. They can renegotiate their current deal in 2015 (or wait until it expires in 2017), but it’s not clear where they’re going to be vis a vis the Angels and Rangers at that time. This isn’t about needing a franchise player or a middle-of-the-order-bat to build around – the M’s need to determine what they currently *have* in order to spend any new money wisely. Is Kyle Seager a starting IF for a contender? Is Caspar Wells a first-division corner outfielder? Is Justin Smoak good?
2: Dave’s absolutely right that a single player doesn’t win a division, and that the M’s should avoid a panic-addled contract offer solely to keep up with the suddenly flush Joneses in their division. Throwing money at a free-agent now may not bring a playoff run, may not bring in fans, and may be a burden down the road. The M’s don’t need to respond, however much it may feel like they need to. Unfortunately, that’s the problem. The fact that the Rangers and Angels seem to have made important acquisitions is almost irrelevant; the problem predates the offseason.
You’ve all seen the ZiPS projections, and Dave’s recap of the ugliness therein. So, uh, how about the CAIRO projections? Any better? Yes and no. ZiPS had three average hitters in the M’s organization in Dustin Ackley, Mike Carp and Vinnie Catricala. CAIRO has Ackley right at average (2 WAR, with a much uglier slash line of .250/.337/.379), Catricala a step back at 1.6 WAR (.233/.301/.360) and Mike Carp as simultaneously the best hitter and least valuable player in this troika (.252/.319/.419). The position adjustment hurts Carp, and the system doesn’t see much in Ackley’s minor league track record to justify a rosier projection. Ichiro looks better in CAIRO, but Kyle Seager looks worse. Smoak/Gutierrez look virtually identical (horrific) in both.
On the face of it, the offense looks even worse than ZiPS – but are the M’s a clear 100 loss team? Well, no. The pitching side of the ledger is better, as CAIRO thinks a bit more of guys like Jason Vargas, Erasmo Ramirez and Blake Beavan. Add it all up, and the M’s come in with a 77 win projection (thanks to a stingy runs allowed of 668, comparable to last year’s 675), and beat out the rebuilding Oakland A’s.
3: So, about those rebuilding A’s… The A’s response to the Angels/Rangers arms race has been to sell off some of their assets, making a young team even younger. Gone are Gio Gonzalez, Andrew Bailey and Trevor Cahill, in return for an army of prospects including Jarrod Parker, AJ Cole, Tommy Milone, Derek Norris, Josh Reddick and Colin Cowgill. I don’t think these were strictly reactionary moves, but the A’s apparently believed that they didn’t have the flexibility to add offense given what they’d committed to Cahill, Brett Anderson, and Kurt Suzuki (not to mention what they’d have to pay Gonzalez/Bailey in arbitration). Without such an influx, they couldn’t keep up with the Rangers and Angels. No, they didn’t have much committed to those players, but these are the A’s, and so they turned them in for another group of talented, pre-arb players. I get it; this may be the best the A’s can do until their situation improves (new stadium, better TV deal, new ownership, move to San Jose), but it’s got to be frustrating for everyone involved. The team developed some good young pitching, and now the best they can do is swap them out for prospects and hope – hope that Jarrod Parker’s Tommy John surgery went well, that Cowgill can be a major league starter and not a fourth OF, that Tommy Milone’s fringy stuff plays in the AL West, etc.
As bad as that sounds, the A’s at least have enough valuable assets that they can make moves like this. They see their window from 2012-2014 closing, and they’re able to acquire some pieces for 2015 instead. That sounds like kicking the can down the road, but if they’re actually able to relocate the can from Oakland to San Jose, they could conceivably add payroll and potentially negotiate a new TV deal of their own (everyone’s doing it). They’re in a better position than many teams, though I’m sure some A’s fans are growing sick of hearing that. The A’s system had been a little thin, with the stumbles of Chris Carter and Michael Taylor, but with Michael Choice, Grant Green, Sonny Gray and now Parker, Cole, and Norris, there’s a bit more for A’s fans to dream on. Still, pushing their window out means increasing risk. The A’s are now hoping that a pitching prospect (danger) develops as expected following his Tommy John surgery (DANGER!). Their prized SS prospect is now a sort-of-prized OF prospect and their top overall prospect has a lot of swing-and-miss in his game. I understand it, and I think I might’ve done the same in David Forst/Billy Beane’s shoes, but attempting to compete in 2015 or so means battling four teams, not three (yes, I know one of them is the Astros, but still) and it means potentially facing three teams with lucrative TV contracts, not two. That there’s no alternative doesn’t make it any easier.
4: As Jeff Sullivan summarizes here, the Rangers TV deal was originally reported to be $3 billion over 20 years, a figure that was subsequently reported to be more like $1.5-1.6 billion. The Angels deal was also supposed to be $3 billion, and was then dialed back to between $2-2.5 billion. I’ve not seen the contracts, but I find it sort of bizarre that so much of the reporting on these deals could’ve been off by so much.
Maury Brown’s post ($)at B-Pro suggests that maybe they weren’t. “In speaking with two sources that were close to the negotiations on the television deal yesterday, they say that the original figure of $3 billion is closer to the truth,” he writes, implying that “escalators” in the deal might account for the variance. These are unnamed “sources” of course, but then, that’s all we’ve ever had. We had “baseball officials” talking about $3 billion, and then we got “assorted media sources” saying it was more like $1.6 billion. It’s difficult to know what’s accurate, and it’s frustrating that these deals are so opaque. If there are escalators or incentives, can someone help a baseball fan out and tell us what they are? These sorts of incentives make all sorts of sense, and I can imagine that they’ve been a part of such contracts for a while now. What I don’t get is why this topic is the province of dueling unnamed sources and expert witnesses and not a matter of public record.
5: For whatever reason, Dave’s post about Jeff Francis immediately made me think of Allen Iverson.
I mean listen, we’re sitting here talking about Francis, not competing, not a revamped offense, not Darvish, but we’re talking about Francis. Not going out there and competing for every game like it’s our last, but we’re talking about Francis, man. How silly is that?
Now I know that I’m supposed to lead by example and all that but I’m not shoving Jeff aside like he don’t mean anything. I know incremental improvement’s important, I honestly do, but we’re talking about Francis. We’re talking about Francis man. We’re talking about Francis. We’re talking about Francis. We’re not talking about the AL West. We’re talking about Francis. When you come to the arena, and you see the M’s hit, you’ve seen ’em try and hit, you’ve seen them give everything they’ve got and score 550 a year, but we’re talking about Francis right now.
6: Happy new year’s to every M’s fan (and baseball fan) out there. I find myself counting the days to spring training like I’m 11 years old, which is strange, because the M’s project to be about as good as the M’s team did when I was 11 years old. I don’t need much from the M’s in 2012, I just need something to replace the memories of a season that began with the passing of Dave Niehaus, saw the M’s bat at historically terrible levels for the second consecutive year, and was capped by the murder of an M’s prospect. As bad as 2010 was, I just don’t want to think about 2011 for a while. Here’s to new things.