Drew Fairservice: December 2008 Archives

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The libelous and conjecture-filled offseason is in full swing and the Dutch Ovens are steaming! From every good Hot Stove comes a delicious Hot Knife, guaranteed to make your thinking hazy and unclear. There is a chance that Hot Knives will mess you up like a bad accident.

We here at Walkoff Walk will pack the hole in our crystal ball with some gum and electrical tape and look beyond the Hot Stove. The Hot Knives Report will evaluate the on- and off-field impact of trades and signings (both real and conjured) to teams too busy with their new toys to worry about the cost.

Today, the biggest fish left in the pond: Mark Teixeira.

Here's the thing with Mark Teixeira. He's good. Everyone knows this. He's a fine hitter, excellent first baseman, a solid citizen and churrasqueira enthusiast. He ranked in the top 10 in exotic rate stats like OPS, wOBA (weighted on base average, read more here), BB/K, and WPA/LI in addition to accumulating enough home runs and RBIs to make any old codger's heart sing. He even has good "clutch" stats! He's still only 28 years old.

But for whatever reason, the thought of Mark Teixeira making in upwards of $20 million dollars a year just doesn't sit right. Mark Teixeira is, at the same time, everything that is both right and wrong with professional sports. He goes out, puts forth a "professional effort" offering a "professional contribution", and goes home. He will turn from a small market casualty to a free market mercenary literally overnight. His association with Scott Boras and the doubtless riches he's bound to see will place expectation upon him that he can't possibly match, no matter how well he performs. He's the sabrmetrican's dream and the heart, hustle and intangibles set's worst nightmare. Refreshingly free of any hint of branding, guile, or personality.

The teams in pursuit of Teixeira change depending on the day, but mostly commonly rumoured are Baltimore, Washington, Anaheim, Boston and the Yankees. Only Anaheim would have spared him undue suffering. The microscopes of Boston and New York could vault Tex into the stratosphere of super-stardom that he may just deserve. They are just a likely to provide two ravenous franchises with a focal point for their scorn should he fail to deliver in the manner expected of such a lavishly paid young man.

The Nats and Os are looking for a hometown boy to swoop in and save their moribund franchises. Become the face of the franchise while leading them up from the depths of their respective divisions. A virtual impossibility for any one player, no matter their quality. A task made only more difficult with such a large percentage of mid-level clubs' payroll tied up in one big name player.

Is he really a superstar? Of course he's good, excellent even. He gives his team a significantly better chance to win any time he's in the lineup, but there are plenty of players just like that. He's inferior to Albert Pujols in nearly every way, but who isn't? He's going to be rich (note: he already was) and he'll make your team better. But he will divide the fanbase and send radio call-in bros into paroxysms of fiscal indignation, no matter how many parades he attends.

He is the human Rorschach test, you've already decided how you'll see him.

UZR is the New OBP

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da fence.jpgLet's think back to 2003, when a guy dressed a business book as a baseball book. The book spoke of new and exciting measures of a baseball players worth, mostly as they related to inequities in the baseball marketplace. Unless you're were an old BBWAA hat, who decried Moneyball as deeply encrypted Taliban missives on the destruction of Western civilization. The early Moneyballers found high OBP & SLG guys with "bad bodies" to be both overlooked and underpriced, making them key to low budget success.

Fast forward to the winter of 2008, when high OPS (we're so civilized now) guys are everywhere and commanding huge salaries. As of today, patient sluggers like Adam Dunn, Bobby Abreu, Milton Bradley, Jason Giambi, Pat Burrell and Manny Ramirez are unemployed and sitting by the phone, waiting for their $20 million dollar per year phone call. Meanwhile, guys like Adam Everett, Franklin Gutierrez, and Endy Chavez have all been either signed or traded for. Why? They all offer the same thing: cheap run prevention.

The Rays entire team seems based on this philosophy. Trading away can't miss, big bat-no glove prospect Delmon Young for Matt Garza and team MVP (ugh) Jason Bartlett's defense helped turn the Rays into one of the top defensive teams in baseball in 2008 after being the worst in 2007. The very same Rays who will be the subject a book on their Wall Street ways.

It's no coincidence that good teams have good defensive records, while bad teams do not. When money is no object you can afford to load up on offense and free agent pitching, but those on a budget can improve their overall fortunes quickly and cheaply by simply improving their defense. The Mariners acquiring Franklin Gutierrez while letting Raul Ibanez walk away saves them about $10 million dollars and nearly 50 outs in the field. The budget conscious/steady Moneyballin A's are always among the top defensive teams, and even the big bat, big budget, big loss total Tigers realized the preventing runs is as valuable as creating them by signing Adam Everett.

It would seem the fat, patient worm has turned. The order of the day are toolsy guys that like Nick Markakis, Troy Tulowitzki, Alex Rios and Evan Longoria. They won't put up gaudy Manny numbers, but when you factor his defensive shortcomings and the run savings in the field, their productivity is almost the same. Surely not by coincidence, all these players (save Markakis) have been locked up with extensions long before they reach arbitration. It's all about value, and some misguided fools will throw a bunch of money at Dunn and his ilk, but the smart money is on the guys that prevent as many runs as they score.

The Strawman Cometh

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Just about a week ago, our esteemed leader and co-proprietor noticed numerous baseball writers using the tough economic times as an excuse for the slow off season. Now that the Winter Meetings are officially underway, one can assume the free agent taps are about to gush. But the poor economy isn't a crutch for writers searching for something to publish, it's for ownership scapegoating too! Rob's parting words have a different kind of resonance to people all over North America this week:

Times may be tough in other professions but rich baseball teams are still living high on the hog.

With the creative accounting most professional teams are capable of, it's almost impossible to ascertain the true financial status of your local sports franchise. One surefire way to tell that things aren't going so swimmingly, layoffs! The Arizona Diamondbacks laid off 31 employees at the beginning of November while the Toronto Blue Jays recently released 30 employees from their front office, mostly in the sales department. Even Major League Baseball Advanced Media, the cash cow with revenues in upwards of $450 million bucks in 2007, laid off 4.5% of its workforce yesterday.

No matter what kind of collusive handjob the owners are giving each other; layoffs around the holidays stink. Even in a tepid free agent market, the money being splashed around for the services of a Joe Beimel or Adam Everett must be hard to take for one a newly liberated employee. Limited skill sets be damned, 1% of CC Sabathia's 2009 salary is enough money to cover the pay of at least 4 sales staffers.

The Blue Jays story is especially troubling as their layoffs were among 200 by parent company Rogers on the same day. To give you a sense of Rogers size, consider my cell phone, internet, cable TV, and landline are all from Rogers. Not to mention the all sports radio and television networks with nearly exclusive broadcast rights to Blue Jays games. This is one of the largest companies in Canada, founded and run by one of it's richest men. Until very recently, that is. Rogers (and therefore Jays) owner Ted Rogers died the same day all these layoffs were announced! So giant company in cost cutting mode plus recently deceased owner plus vacant president's chair equals rough times ahead at the Rogers Centre (oh yeah, they own the stadium too.)

Convenient as it may be for ownership to shut down spending and rabbit hole a few more dollars during a tough go, baseball is feeling the economic effects right along with everyone else. While the player replacing his Sub Zero fridge with another Sub Zero fridge because "they old one has a funny smell" may not notice a change in cash flow; someone along the baseball food chain is getting the shitty end of the frank.

Hotassknives.jpg

The libelous and conjecture-filled offseason is in full swing caught in a collusive morass and the Dutch Ovens are steaming! From every good Hot Stove comes a delicious Hot Knife, guaranteed to make your thinking hazy and unclear. There is a chance that Hot Knives will mess you up like a bad accident.

We here at Walkoff Walk will pack the hole in our crystal ball with some gum and electrical tape and look beyond the Hot Stove. The Hot Knives Report will evaluate the on- and off-field impact of trades and signings (both real and conjured) to teams too busy with their new toys to worry about the cost.

Today: the much ballyhooed Jake Peavy. The Dutch Ovens have been lousy with Jake Peavy rumours all winter long. Many deals have seemed to be sure things, only to fall through. Is Jake Peavy going to move? What possible destinations remain?Will this legit ace with a below-market contract change teams?

The early favorite to acquire Peavy's services was Atlanta. They went back and forth, Kevin Towers dropped little breadcrumbs from time to time, but nothing ever materialized. The Braves decided that they were moving on and made a move for Javier Vasquez, a player unlike Peavy in every way. They paid a mighty price to acquire the notorious heartbreaker. With stories now circulating that the Braves will offer A.J. Burnett the five year contract he desperately wants, they're clearly out of the Jake Peavy business. I guess the "pull your hair out with frustration" business is more lucrative.

The Chicago Cubs have emerged as new hope for a Peavy deal. They have the cash to make it happen as well as some good (?) young pieces like Sean Marshall, Felix Pie and Ronny Cedano. Let's not forget their plethora of overrated young pieces like Mike Fontenot and The Riot. This trade may just dissolve under the microscope, with reports detailing that all the talk is being generating in San Diego to a possible third team helping to grease the wheels.

Deals as big as this one are always slow to develop and this one is no different. There are too many factors working against the Padres to allow them to pull the trigger. Peavy's no trade clause removes a substantial amount of the Friars' leverage, the lack of free agent movement has everyone hurrying to wait. The Padres simply won't get the boatload of prospects every team/writer seems to think a #1 stud will yield. Johan Santana was traded, essentially, for Carlos Gomez; an excellent centerfielder that will never be confused with one of the best pitchers in baseball.

So will Peavy move? There's only one place left for him to go. If the Cubs do land the former Cy Young winner, watch out. 2009 could be the year Chet and the Zebrahs finally get their wish: mass ritualistic suicide. They'll find a way to screw up a Peavy, Zambrano, Harden, Lilly, Dempster rotation. Here's lookin at you Samardjakiaksljdfjjazzi!

Colas once again to the delightfully overworked MLB Traderumors