Thursday, November 30, 2006

AP - off the deep end?

Memo to Mr. Pujols: Next time the Dominican Republic Sports Ministry offers to host a press conference for you, decline.

Obsess much? Of course you do. Why else would your beginning of career offensive numbers be better than anyone else in the history of baseball? A colleague of mine is fond of saying, "Some people succeed because they're destined to. Others succeed because they're determined to." (if he ripped that off from someone else, sorry for not acknowledging the originator). AP succeeds because he's determined to.

I will pass summary judgement on your comments in a moment. But first, let's explore what may have led to this outburst.

Number 5 started this season offensively better than anyone else had started a season in the history of baseball. Until his oblique muscle quit playing well with others, he was on pace to shatter both Bonds' season HR mark and Hack Wilson's season RBI mark.

He went on the DL 5 June, came back 23 June, and didn't hit particularly well the rest of the way to the All-Star Break,and still wasn't passed for the NL HR and RBI lead until JULY. Yet what did we hear going into the AS Break?

David Wright was the NL MVP. Oh, you forgot that syruppy spread on Wright in SI?

Ryan Howard unquestionably played excellent baseball after the All-Star Break, particularly so after Abreu was dealt to the Yankees. He did will the Phillies into the Wild Card race with his bat until the last week of the season, and vaulted himself into MVP consideration. Over the course of the season, his numbers are very good. But let's face it: he won the award based on two months of work, August and September.

Oh, one more item on Howard: in the September series Philly had to have against the Nationals (second-worst team in the NL), the team dropped 2 of 3. Howard hit .250 (3-12) in that series, 1 extra base hit, 6 strikeouts, 1 friggin' RBI. Entered tied for the wild card lead, left 2 back, never recovered. Didn't really carry the team there, did he?

Without Pujols, StL surrenders the NL Central to Houston. Period. End of discussion. Primary Exhibit: September 27 against the Padres.

Let's go a little deeper.

Here are Pujols' CAREER numbers (6 full seasons, courtesy Baseball Reference):

933 3489 748 1159 260 12 250 758 36 17 493 394 .332 .419 .629 2193 31 98 48

Albert's career average, OBP and slugging percentages are better than the average NL MVP since the beginning of divisional play (average MVP numbers: .323/.418/.601).

In fact, since 1968, only 13 times has the MVP's batting average been better than AP's career average, 16 times has the MVP's OBP exceeded AP's, and 14 times has the MVP's SLG exceeded AP's 'average' season.

Basically AP has put up MVP numbers every season of his 6-year career, and only won the award once.

Why has he won just the 2005 award? Well he started his run at the height of the Barry Bonds love-fest amongst members of the BaseBall Writers Association of America (BBWAA). I personally don't think there's any question Bonds was the MVP of the league in 2001 and 2002. I think Bonds won in 2003 due to the 'halo effect' of those two years (his numbers were comparable). 2004 Pujols lost votes because Rolen and Edmonds had such good years it was difficult to determine who was the best player on that Cardinal squad, so sane BBWAA decided to default to Bonds. Insane writers voted Adrain Beltre runner-up. Yep, he who has not hit above .290 or slugged over .500 but for that one summer in 2004, his walk year with the Dodgers.

And that's the other reason AP has but the one MVP award. He is competing for the votes of a bunch of guys who live in the Impulse Zone. Show them the shiny new star (Howard, Wright), give them a flash in the pan (Beltre), and they go all agog.

"Wow, look! A blue car!"

So I can see why AP would be a bit frustrated with the selection process for MVP.

But having said all that, I must say this. Mr. Pujols, you did yourself no favor with that comment yesterday. I respect you immensely for saying what you think, but you will now be portrayed as a whiny little bitch by many sportswriters and various 'Underground sports sites'. You'd have been better off keeping that opinion private and not airing it out to the world.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Transaction update - 4 signings

Looks like the Cardinal front office was awaiting the conclusion of my preview as well. Perhaps they resigned themselves to moving once I passed the half-way point on my preview, because today the club announced the signing of 2B Adam Kennedy, SP Kip Wells, C Gary Bennett, and the recently declared dead Eli Marrero.

As I said earlier, I didn't think Kennedy was the best fit for this team and I still don't. True, he was a serviceable second baseman for the Angels, and as vivaelbirdos pointed out, his paltry .193 average against left-handed pitching is probably an aberration vice a trend. But if Jocketty is really ready to go to spring training with these 8 starters (Pujols, Kennedy, Eckstein, Rolen, Molina, Duncan, Edmonds, Encarnacion) I think he's rolling the dice. Rolen hasn't played a full season since 2003. Edmonds' offensive numbers are declining. We can't expect Molina to hit next season the way he did during 16 playoff games, in all seriousness. So who carries the load on this team if AP has an off-year? Not Encarnacion. Not Duncan. Not Eckstein or Kennedy, two Punch and Judy hitters. Yikes.

I'd have been a lot happier with Loretta at second - good hitter, can drive in a run - as another bat in the lineup to provide offense.

I will say this, though: Kennedy is an upgrade overall over Aaron Miles, who is better suited to be a bench player and provide the occasional off day for the middle infielders.

I guess Eli Marrero didn't drop off the map. Good. Glad to see him garner an invite to Spring Training.

Gary Bennett re-signing is a good move, too. I thought he did well enough last season as Molina's back-up that there was no search for a new #2 catcher necessary. On board that signing as well.

Kip Wells? 57-74? The next Jeff Suppan? We'll see. Dave Duncan has had more projects than Tim Taylor in the starting rotation, with some notable successes (Ken Bottenfield, Suppan, Jeff Weaver, Darryl Kile) and some notable failures (Sidney Ponson, Jason Marquis, Dustin Hermanson, Garrett Stephenson). I don't think Kip Wells is the next Jeff Suppan. I think he's the next Neil Allen - all promise, no results.

I guess time will tell. Until next time.

Monday, November 27, 2006

2007 Free Agency Preview (Part 3) - Left Field

Didn't quite make that 11 Nov deadline, did I? Life lesson for all of you: If no deadline is set, no work will get done. I didn't set a deadline, which meant it was all too easy to blow off the ol' blog. No more.

I will update this blog on Mondays and Thursdays. New articles may appear on the other 5 days if something comes up I have to write about, but most definitely Mondays and Thursdays, starting today.

Which brings us back to our free agency preview. The best thing about procrastinating is, you wait long enough the workload goes down. This is one of the 3 basic tenets of government service ('establish an alibi' and 'when accused, make counter-accusations' being the other two). I previewed the available free agent outfielders in Part Two. Here's their current status:

F. Catalanotto - Signed with the Texas Rangers
C. Lee - Signed with the Houston Astros (for obscene money)
A. Soriano - Signed with the Chicago Cubs (for even more obscene money)
J. Valentin - Re-signed with the NY Mets
D. Roberts - Reportedly signing with the SF Giants (according to the SF Chronicle this past Saturday. That would make sense since he liked playing for Bruce Bochy).
R. Ledee - on the Reserve list (Minors) with the NY Mets.

Jose Cruz Jr, Eli Marrero, and Terrence Long were designated for assignment during the regular season and not picked up by anyone. Terrence Long is still in the Yankee organization (at Columbus), but is listed as a free agent; I think Cruz is playing for Leones de Ponce in the Puerto Rican league; and Marrero has dropped off the map. Which means their careers are probably over. But it also means they can be had for a song. Not a song girl, though - sorry.

This narrows our list of potential replacement left fielders to 12. Let's break down the list:

Bonds (42)
- NO UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES. I don't care if he's one of the great hitters of all time, or that having him and Pujols in the middle of the order would be a devastating 1-2 punch. The man is a cancer in the clubhouse and a genuinely nasty human being. Not on my team.
David Dellucci (32) - appeared in more games as a pinch hitter (69) than at any one position (he played 45 in LF). Hit a measly .200 against lefties; not a good fit for a team that has trouble against left-handed pitching. Made $950K last season.
Cliff Floyd (33) - left-handed hitter who struggles against lefties (.179), so would be a platoon-type situation; not much of an upgrade from last year. A's have expressed an interest (per SF Chronicle of 22 Nov). Made $6.5M last season.
Luis Gonzalez (39) - Still a good hitter (.259 vs left; .277 vs right); had 50 doubles last season in spacious whatever-the-hell-they-call-it-now D'Back Park. BELOW average outfielder. Made $10.67M last season.
Jay Payton (33) - Listed as a RF on, but anyway. Good hitter (.296 vs right and lefthanded pitching). Pretty good defensive outfielder. Versatile; split time at all 3 OF positions last year (62 games in LF, 46 in CF, 45 in RF). Spark guy at the top of the order. Made $4M last season.
Dave Roberts (34) - Odds are good that he'll follow Boch to SF, but I like this guy. Career year last season with SD. .292 vs lefties, .293 vs righties. Played the majority of his time in LF (Gold Glover Mike Cameron covered CF for the Pads), but can play CF well. Made $2.25M last season.
Shannon Stewart (32) - Currently on the Twins' 60 day DL with a strained left plantar fascia (the AP affliction from two years ago). Good hitter (.288 vs lefties, .295 vs righties). Fielding numbers are comparable to Jay Payton. Made $6.5M last season.
Preston Wilson (32) - Spent most of his time in RF with StL, but since Encarnacion is projected to play in right next season he would shift over to left. Good hitter for average (.292 vs lefties, .255 vs righties), but a free swinger of the Sammy Sosa persuasion without the power. Strikes out an awful lot. Average plus fielder; played well in playoffs last season. Made $4M.
Eric Young (39) - Too old at 2B. Also too old in LF, where you run more and have to throw farther.
Ryan Klesko (35) - Think Chris Duncan, but with a bigger contract.
Todd Hollandsworth (33) - Former NL ROY. Not too good against lefties (.174), so would be another platoon situation. Average minus OF (my impression). Made $900K last season.
Rondell White (34) - Mostly a DH last season. Has trouble against righties, a concern since most pitching staffs are right handed. .271 vs lefties, .235 vs righties. Only 176 fielding chances the last 2 seasons, so probably better suited to DH/PH roles. Made $2.5M last season.

After careful consideration of these potential suitors, I think the Cardinals would be best served with a corner outfielder who can also play CF well in case Edmonds breaks down over the next 2 years. Since Dave Roberts will most likely sign with the Giants, this means targeting Jay Payton. I am not aware of any personality (a la Milton Bradley) issues he had in his time with the Mets, Red Sox or A's; so he could well be a good fit in StL. Unfortunately with the way salaries are spinning out of control this off-season (Catalanotto, a spectacularly average outfielder, signed for $6.5M a season with the Rangers), the Cardinals would be forced into signing Payton for similar money - and with the holes in next year's starting rotation, I don't think they can spare that expense. That would mean praying Chris Duncan loses his fear of line drives and learns to play the outfield in winter ball.

This free agent preview is becoming pretty boring, isn't it?

Well the hell with boring. Let's say that Jocketty pursues Payton and signs him for 2 years, $10M, a 20% raise from last year with the A's, but still less money than Catalanotto will make. With the terms of Edmonds' contract disclosed, We need to update our running total:

Running total: $68.45M (11 players)
Add $2M (Edmonds value for 07 actually $8M, not the $6M we projected) and Payton at $5M: $7M

New total (12 players): $75.45M.

Next installment we will discuss starting pitching.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Jimmy's Staying!

As reported today by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Jim Edmonds signed a contract extension through 2008. Terms were not fully disclosed, but it appears he will make somewhat less than $10M per year. Much of the money is deferred, which makes sense given the Cardinals' priority to sign starting pitching for next season.

I think this is a good signing. Yes, I'm aware of Edmonds' declining offensive numbers; he is not the hitter he was 2 years ago. Not even close. But I have felt for a while that at some point, organizations have to show a little loyalty to their employees, folks who have given a lot to the company brand either through excellent salesmanship, sustained superior performance, or that intangible 'leadership' quality. I am not naive enough to think that Edmonds' rah-rah shtick during the playoffs now anoints him as the leader of this team. What worked for a 16-game playoff run probably won't fly during a 162 game season. But Edmonds is a core guy; he's the longest tenured Cardinal on the club, having bled Cardinal Red since 2000; he is (at times) a spectacular center fielder; and although diminished, he still is a dangerous left handed bat. It sends an important message to the current and pending free agents on the team: we will take care of you if you play well for us (Weaver? Suppan? Carpenter?).

It also makes my OF free agent analysis much easier, and the odds of my wife wringing my neck because I spend too much time on the computer much longer. So thanks Walt.

Because terms of his contract were not fully disclosed, I'm going to do some guestimating on it. My assumptions: this is a 2 year deal for $17M. I interpret 'Significant' money deferred to mean $6M this season and $11M next, because that keeps room freed up for starting pitching this season. To update our salary tracker:

Starting point (AP, Rolen, Izzy, Carp, Encarn, Eck, Rincon, Loop, Yadi, Miles): $62.45M.
Add Edmonds @ $6M.

Running Total: $68.45M (11 players).

LF preview/teaser: The list of LF free agent help currently looks like this: Ba. Bonds, F. Catalanotto, J. Cruz Jr, D. Dellucci, C. Floyd, Luis Gonzalez, R. Ledee, Carlos Lee, T. Long, E. Marrero, J. Payton, D. Roberts, A. Soriano, S. Stewart, P. Wilson. R. Klesko, J.D. Drew, J. Valentin, E. Young. More analysis is forthcoming.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

2007 Free Agency Preview (Part 2)

Today, as I have some free time and Veteran's Day off (that's tomorrow - a Federal Holiday. You know, one where the Government says you should not work. Remember to pass that along to your parasitic boss.), I'm going to look at the Cardinal infield and their choices therein for improving through free agency. This wholly unscientific look will be much more incoherent than, say, Jerry Crasnick and Peter Gammons' take, but I'm a fan, I'm not getting paid to do this, so if you don't like it stick it! HAH!

Planning out the infield for my Redbirds is pretty easy (which is why I'm starting there). AP, Rolen, and Eckstein are all signed through next year; AP and Rolen through 2010. So the only holes are 2B and C.

Catcher is a no-brainer. Re-sign Yadier Molina. He is the reason perennial Gold Glove Mike Matheny was allowed to leave and become a Giant (how's that working out, Mike? At least you get to see the circus every day). According to published reports, Molina is not signed for next year. He needs to be. Yadi will never tear it up at the plate; I think if he becomes a .250 hitter (and he should have a world of confidence now following the 2006 playoffs) it's a benefit. Expect him to hit 7 or 8 in the order. He's the everyday catcher because of his defense. And he needs to be signed to a reasonable contract. I think 3 years for about $5M per would be appropriate. I'll say that his first year will be the $3.5M variety, and I'll use that number in my total payroll calculation.

Second Base is a tougher story altogether. StL used (with Hector Luna now in Cleveland) Miles and Belliard for the majority of starts at 2B. Here's a sampling of their work from last year:

Miles (30): .291 (v. Lefties)/.256 (v. Righties), .975 FP, 5.50 Range Factor, .822 Zone Rating (I don't know what ZR means, but I'll throw it in for fun).
Belliard (31): .220/.295, .984/4.97/.794.

Miles is also a switch-hitter which helps him in my opinion. You see that Belliard is better defensively although Miles has more Range (which seems like a ridiculous statement after watching the playoffs). Miles made $350K last season, Belliard $4M. These are the folks Walt Jocketty is looking to improve on next season. I miss Mark Grudzielanek.

As of 0001 (that's midnight for those of you with cushy CIVILIAN jobs) this morning there were 10 (less Belliard) declared Free Agents who listed their primary position as 2B: Adam Kennedy, Mark Loretta, Lou Merloni, Eric Young, Kaz Matsui, Tony Graffanino, Jose Valentin, Chris Woodward, Todd Walker, and Ray Durham.

Let's break down the list:
Merloni: 35. Has been a utilityman throughout his career. Only had 19 At Bats at the ML level in 2006 (Cleveland).
Young: Actually old (39). Played mostly LF for San Diego and Texas. Cannot hit right handed pitching anymore (.134 last year).
Matsui: 31. Rumor mill has him playing in Japan next year. WAY too expensive ($8 mil last season). Can't hit lefties (.119).
30. Left handed hitter, not so good vs the southpaws (.193). .984/4.47/.805 compares favorably with Belliard's numbers. Made $3.5M last season. Former teammate of Eckstein and Spiezio.
Loretta: 35. Professional hitter. .274/.290; .994/4.88/.805 for last year. Lots of interest from the Mets may make him expensive. Made $3.25M with Boston in 2006.
Graffanino: 34. Another utility guy most of his career. .275/.274, .989/4.35/.849. $2.1M last year.
Valentin: 37. Had a career year with the Mets. Can't hit lefties (.219). other numbers look good (.288 vs righties; .988/5.52/.873).
Woodward: 30. Will be coming off surgery in spring training. Not much of a hitter (.226/.209).
Walker: 33. Ex-Cub. Played a lot of 1B this season with the Pads. Death to righties (.302), a sacrifice against lefties (.204). .978/4.57/.835 with the glove.
Durham: 35. Other than Matsui the most expensive guy on the list - made $7M last year with SF. Switch hitter (.341/.277). .982/4.85/.808 with the glove.

Let's start the elimination round!

On a team that struggled against left handed pitching last year I don't think we want another guy who can't hit a decrepit, half-blind lefty. So that eliminates Kennedy, Matsui, Woodward, Belliard, and Walker right off the bat. Salary will be a concern, so Durham's probably out too - I don't see him taking the 'StL pay cut' to play for the world champs. Valentin had a career year (as mentioned), and he's old; great bench guy, not your everyday second baseman. Did I describe a guy my own age as old?!? Yikes. EY is even older, so he's out. Merloni - playing out his career. Out. That narrows the list to: Loretta and Graffanino.

Loretta would be a major upgrade at the position, but he will be expensive. I figure $3.25M will be a starting point, and with Minaya (Mets GM) in play that number will go up to, say, $6M per year. Graffanino is an acceptable alternative - he's relatively cheap, he had a good year at the plate in 2006, he's a defensive upgrade from Belliard and Miles (although his range is not as good as Miles'). Maybe $2.5M per year if we sign him.

In a perfect fan world, though, I'd pursue Loretta. It would fit into their plans if they decide to let Edmonds go and go after, say, Dave Roberts, as their everyday CF. Pursuing Roberts would mean that the team would need another bat in the middle of the lineup - because let's face it, Roberts does not carry Edmonds' power bat, and Encarnacion is too slump-prone to hit #5 behind AP and Rolen. Loretta as your #5 hitter is pretty darn attractive.

Unfortunately, Cardinal ownership hasn't shown any willingness to pay second basemen these kind of salaries. Remember Grudzielanek (I spelled it that time from memory) wanted $1M per year and they told him to get lost? I don't think the team will spend this off-season for a 2B either, not while needing to fill 3-4 spots in the rotation. This means we're looking at a lost-cost alternative, and Aaron Miles will probably be penciled in as the starting 2B come spring training time. He's due a raise from last year's contract; $750K probably isn't out of line for a one-year deal.

So at this point our salary number looks like this:
Starting point (AP, Rolen, Izzy, Carp, Encarn, Eck, Rincon, Loop): $58.2M.
Add Molina and Miles: $4.25M

TOTAL: $62.45M (10 players).

Next, we'll look at the outfield. Comments to this post are always welcome.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Why not call it 'award for the top 3 CF's'?

Recently (as in last week) the Gold Glove Award winners for each league were announced (3 and 4 November, to be exact. I know, I'm slacking - work has been a bitch lately). I don't pay attention to the American League, as it is an inferior league - and don't think I'm not enjoying the fact that that opinion has a lot more credibility since my Cardinals hung a Tiger head on the wall - take THAT, AL homers! But in the NL, I noticed something interesting:

Gold Glove OF: Andruw Jones, Mike Cameron, Carlos Beltran.

Hmmmm. Those guys all play center.

According to their website, Rawlings established the Gold Glove to "recognize the best fielders at each position". So why 3 center fielders? What, no one playing Left or Right displayed superior glove work? They're all a bunch of Reggie Sanders' and Chris Duncan's out there?

I dug a little deeper. It turns out, over the past 27 years (1980 is a nice round number), out of 81 Gold Gloves awarded in the NL, 51 went to centerfielders, 21 to right fielders (Walker 7, Gwynn 5, Dawson 4, Mondesi (!) 2, Abreu 1, Jose Cruz Jr 1), and 9 to left field (Bonds 8, Dusty Baker 1). Voters have only had a true 'best outfield' 5 times over that span, the last time being 1998 (Bonds, A. Jones, Walker).

The AL is even worse. Since 1980, 58 Gold Gloves went to center field, as compared to 19 to right (Ichiro 6, Dwight Evans 5, Winfield 3, Jesse Barfield 2, Buhner, Shawn Green, Dye 1 each) and only 5 to left (Winfield 2, Willie Wilson, Ricky Henderson, and Darren Erstad 1 each). The last time a 'best outfield' was represented in the Junior Circuit was 2000 (Erstad, Bernie Williams, Dye), and the only time since 1983 that a LF, CF, and RF have won the award in the same year.

Since 1980 no 2 left fielders have one a Gold Glove in the same year. Two right fielders have won twice in the NL (1997 and 1987), and 3 times in the AL (1987, 1985, 1984; 1985 4 Gold Gloves were awarded).

I know that left field is typically the weakest outfielder of the three (usually the slowest and possesses the weakest arm), but you can't tell me that no one is playing a decent left at the major league level. Right fielders get more respect, but not like the fellas playing center. Rawlings should either change the election process so voters are required to vote for someone at each position, as the award intended, or change the award for outfielders to read 'best 3 outfielders in the league regardless of position'.

This post would carry more weight if I had a LF or RF who got snubbed this year, but I don't. However you the reader might. Feel free to pontificate in the comments.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

2007 Free Agency preview (Part 1 of 5)

I hope to have all 5 posts done by 11 Nov when the declaration period ends. This post will focus on the StL playoff roster (including Jason Marquis) and their contract status. The Cardinals actually have more than 26 personnel under contract (by my count, 41), but we will focus only on those on the playoff roster (again, plus Jason Marquis).

In the next few days, I'll break down what I think the club should do with each pending free agent by position (infielders, outfielders, and pitching) and finish with potential new signings to fill holes in the roster.

Cardinals under contract for 2007:

Albert Pujols ($15M), Scott Rolen ($12M), Jason Isringhausen ($8.75M), Chris Carpenter ($7M), Juan Encarnacion ($5M), David Eckstein ($4.5M), Ricardo Rincon ($1.45M), Braden Looper ($4.5M).

Pending options: Jim Edmonds (2007 option for $10M, $3M buyout), Preston Wilson (option for 3 years at $8M per through 2009, $500K buyout).

Pending Free Agents (bold indicates filed as of this post):

Infielders: Ronnie Belliard, Aaron Miles, Gary Bennett, Yadier Molina (unconfirmed reports show him under contract for 2007 at $450K), Jose Vizcaino.

Outfielders: Jim Edmonds (filed conditionally today), Scott Spiezio, Chris Duncan (unconfirmed reports show him under contract for 2007 at $400K), John Rodriguez, So Taguchi, Preston Wilson.

Pitchers: Jason Marquis, Mark Mulder, Jeff Suppan, Randy Flores, Josh Hancock, Adam Wainwright (unconfirmed reports show him under contract for 2007 at $350K), Tyler Johnson, Josh Kinney, Anthony Reyes (unconfirmed reports show him under contract for 2007 at $350K), Jeff Weaver, Brad Thompson, Jorge Sosa.

Note that the club has already obligated $58.2M in contract money for next year in 8 players. Add the unconfirmed contract values for the 4 players in italics and that number raises by $1.55M to $59.75M. If they pick up Edmonds' and Wilson's option that number jumps up to $77.75M. That's a lot, considering going into 2006 the total amount obligated in salary was just over $86M, and why there's been soooo much talk about whether or not to exercise the option with Edmonds. My understanding is that either the club exercised its buyout of Wilson's contract, or that option became void when he was designated for assignment by Houston (not sure which - clarification would be appreciated), so I believe that $8M is off the table.

I think Cardinal management needs to realize their final salary number will be between $90 and $100M next season in order to put a competitive product on the field. That's the range I'll analyze their options in as I fill out the roster.

Holes the Cardinals will need to fill for next season: 3-4 starting pitchers, most of the bullpen, 2B, RF, LF, possibly CF.

Next post we will look at infield options.