Montero, Darvish, Perez, Colon: AL West Bullet Points for 1/18
1: I have to agree with Dave that Jesus Montero’s bat is likely to be an upgrade, but something short of hall-of-fame level. The list of players Dave compiled includes quite a few guys who were established in the majors at the age Montero is now. Focusing on college-drafted players gets you a pool that’s more similar age-wise, but it presents its own set of problems.
This is yet another reason why the M’s need to have some patience with Montero’s defense at catcher. Dave lays out the worst-case scenario here : if Montero is so bad defensively that his defense eats up the entire 30 run delta, then the extra wear and tear he’d suffer as a catcher makes the decision simple: you DH him. Well, if you’d like to see the best-case scenario, Jonathan Mayo of MILB.com has you covered. Is Montero terrible right now? Yes, but so were some other bat-first catchers that, with hard work, made themselves into simply “bad” or “mediocre” defenders. The M’s have been living with awful defenders at catcher for years now, so the bar isn’t high.
Keeping Montero behind the plate not only maximizes his value from a WAR standpoint, it gives the M’s line-up some much-needed flexibility. A few short years ago, the M’s had an above-average hitter in CF and bought an above-average hitter for 3B/2B on the free-agent market. Today, Franklin Gutierrez is trying to forget an .245 wOBA injury-plagued season, and M’s fans are trying to forget Chone Figgins, who’s coming off an eye-popping .218 wOBA campaign. The M’s have few good MLB hitters, and the ones they’ve got are clustered in bat-first positions. Giving the DH role to Montero means that they can’t use that role strategically – using Smoak at 1B and Mike Carp at DH against a good righty, giving Ichiro a day off in the field, or playing two of Caspar Wells, Trayvon Robinson, Chih-Hsien Chang and Carp. The M’s are working on good hitters at glove-first positions (Nick Franklin, Brad Miller, Tyler Marlette), but in the next year or so, they could add Alex Liddi and Vinnie Catricala, two guys who might benefit from the odd DH appearance. Giving the DH role to Montero full-time limits his future value while making it more difficult to find plate appearances for the plethora of interesting-but-flawed hitters the M’s have on the 40-man.
2: As expected, the Rangers signed Japanese-Persian sensation Yu Darvish to a six year deal worth around $60 million. Reports from Texas have the guaranteed money at a bit under $60m, with the potential value as high as $70m if incentives are met. Interestingly, Darvish would also get an opt out after five years if he performs well. Initially, the deal seemed very team-friendly, even in a situation where Darvish has no leverage (he can’t attempt to sign with another team), but an opt-out and incentive money helps make it a bit more even. Despite the fact that Darvish has (deservedly) surpassed Daisuke Matsuzaka’s record posting fee-plus-contract, I still think this could end up being a solid deal for the Rangers. His projections span a wide range, but nearly all of them have him as a solidly above-average performer. The Rangers took a shot at signing a player who may be one of the five best pitchers on the planet. They spent a ton of money, but Darvish could be worth the money even if he never has an 8-win, Halladay-style season. The Rangers lost the top free agent pitcher in baseball and still got better this offseason.
3: The M’s signed ex-Pirate and Mets hurler Oliver Perez to a minor-league deal today. Perez rode an above-average fastball and a good slider to a 4.5 WAR season with the Pirates as a 22 year old in 2004. Since that time, he’s thrown 700 innings of basically replacement-level pitching – a BB/9 of over 5, an ERA+ of 84 and a grand total of -1.3 rWAR all at the bargain-basement price of $47.1 million. The combination of high salary and near 7 ERAs has made the lefty something of a punch line, and reaction around the blogosphere’s been mixed. But Perez has a lifetime K/9 of 9.1, a K rate of nearly 23%. He’s fallen quite a bit from where he was, but the problem with Oliver hasn’t been missing bats – it’s missing everything else. A case of Steve Blass disease got him released by the Mets last year, and while it doesn’t mean anything, his numbers in Mexico and in the Nationals’ AA side were encouraging. Essentially, Perez is always viewed through the prism of the tripping-balls contract he got with the Mets. Another reclamation project with some encouraging MLB/MiLB history on a minor league deal and we’d be praising Zduriencik’s buy-low strategy. With Perez, the first reaction is always “Ewwww.” I’m not exactly sure why, but I think there’s a stigma attached to anyone who flames out after getting a big contract. We’ve all watched Carlos Silva, so I get it, and while I realize this isn’t strictly necessary: the M’s will NOT pay Oliver Perez 36 million, 47 million or anything close to it. I laughed when I first saw it too, but this seems like a no-risk, medium reward addition to the pile of non-roster invitees.
4: Jamie Moyer signed a minor-league deal with the Colorado Rockies. The 49 year old is coming off of Tommy John surgery, and his home parks in either the NL or the PCL are not exactly pitcher friendly. I know, I know: THIS was the minor-league lefty/non-roster invitee that folks wanted the M’s to make, and there’s a case to be made that he could essentially be another pitching coach in Tacoma, helping Erasmo Ramirez, James Paxton and eventually Danny Hultzen with their change-ups. (The thought of Oliver Perez speaking to any M’s prospects about anything pitching-related is, admittedly, a bit off-putting). I don’t think it’s overwhelming, though. 49 year old Jamie Moyer, in AAA, may not fit in an organization that’s got so much high-minors pitching depth, it made Michael Pineda expendable. I understand that not everyone in the org has the upside of Paxton or Hultzen, and yes, Anthony Vasquez might get a lot of AAA innings, but I can understand the M’s not pursuing this all that hard, and I can understand Moyer looking at organizations that might offer a clearer path to the big leagues. It’s sentimental and nostalgic, but I’m rooting for Moyer, and look forward to seeing him pitch in Cheney Stadium this year (assuming he’s not called up before he gets the chance).
5: The Angels signed Albert Pujols and CJ Wilson. The Rangers have Yu Darvish, and might be closing in on Prince Fielder. The M’s made a huge splash in the trade market by bringing in Jesus Montero. The A’s have traded away Tim Cahill and Gio Gonzalez, and their biggest free agent moves (by dollar amount) are signing Coco Crisp to a 2-year, $14m deal and now signing Bartolo Colon to a 1 year, $2m contract. You can make a case that this is a decent signing for a team that’s just trying to play out the string until Jarrod Parker and the slew of new prospects are ready. But think of how this must look to an A’s fan – two of the team’s best players, gone. $14m given to Coco Crisp, who is in his age 32 season, and coming off a .317 wOBA. Bartolo Colon, who is against all odds NOT a buy-low reclamation project, and is heading into his age 39 year. To top it off, the team has been openly courting a move to San Jose. Each of these moves, in isolation, may make some sense. It’s not like the A’s haven’t addressed any needs – they started the off-season with essentially no outfielders and now have an assortment of possibilities there. But add them together, and this seems like a team that’s out of creative ideas.
That may be harsh, especially given that “Moneyball” was just released on DVD, but not only are big-market teams utilizing some of the same strategies that made Oakland successful years ago, the Tampa Bay Rays are more competitive with a lower payroll in a tougher division. The A’s have been relative successful at cobbling together a credible team, aided by some better-than-expected seasons from Josh Willingham, Coco Crisp, and Brandon McCarthy. They’re still able to get wins out of under-the-radar players, but it’s really difficult to develop a winning organization that way – Willingham’s gone, Crisp is now expensive, and McCarthy has gone from journeyman to rotation anchor, and also must be wondering if the A’s can afford next year’s arbitration award. Again, this is the ugliest stage on the win curve, and we in Seattle have been insulated from the ugliness of a full-scale, budget-conscious rebuilding effort (what we’ve lived through has been, arguably, much worse). Still, some of these deals have to rankle even died-in-the-wool, Moneyball A’s fans. The A’s have no money, might move, and gave $14 million to Coco Crisp. I assume no one wanted the Astros (who signed Jack Cust yesterday to a one-year deal with a team option) in the AL West more than Oakland. The A’s operate under constraints that most teams don’t face, but even amongst the small-payroll, small-market underdogs, are the A’s stand-outs anymore?