Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Bell, Harang Offered Arbitration

First, a bit of self-promotion.  I'm providing a couple of articles for the Baseball Digest website on the Padres.  The first went up on the site Tuesday, and yes - it's yet another 2011 season review.  If you have some time I hope you surf over there and take a read.  You can link to it from here

Baseball Digest is the oldest baseball magazine in the US, currently published 6 times a year.  They are trying to expand their on-line presence, which includes content different from what appears in the magazine.  Thanks in advance for reading.

Back to the Padres.  Since the news came out a week ago, on the day before Thanksgiving, I missed it, but it included some of the news we've been waiting for.  San Diego offered arbitration to Heath Bell and Aaron Harang.

The Bell decision has been discussed ad nauseaum both here and on other forums.  Based on how the closer market has initially played out (see the contract offer to Ryan Madson and contract signed by Jonathan Papelbon), Bell will likely make around $10M to pitch in 2012 regardless of where he toils.  For a Padres team likely to not have a payroll north of $50M, his salary represents at least 20% of the total team payroll.  That is a lot - especially considering he will throw less than 80 innings next season. 

From a PR perspective the Padres were forced to offer arbitration to Bell.  He is the biggest name draw currently on the roster.  He has previously stated he wants to pitch here and the Padres can use all the good PR they can get.  From a practical perspective, because of their limited financial assets this team has to build through the draft, and getting the 2 compensation picks for Bell is a must.  Now the team has to hope he both does not sign a free-agent deal with someone else before 9 December and declines arbitration, so they get those picks.

Which brings us to Harang.  Did you know he was a Type B free agent?  He led the Padres in wins but was only worth 0.6 WAR according to Fangraphs (1.9 by Baseball Reference).  This arbitration offer is really interesting to me, but from a social perspective vice a baseball one.  Recall that the Padres held a mutual option on Harang for 2012, at $5M.  Aaron wanted to return but San Diego declined to pick up his option.  Now they've offered him arbitration.

So basically what they're saying is, 'We wouldn't mind having you back, but we think you're worth less than $5M, and what we really want is the draft pick.'  I'd have loved to be a fly-on-the-wall for the conversation between GM Josh Byrnes and Harang's agent.  Can you even have that discussion without insulting the player?  The poetic-justice outcome here would be for Harang to accept arbitration and get a pay bump north of the $5M he was to have received if the option had been honored.

Heath Bell's contract resolution will be more extensively covered, but I for one can't wait to see how Harang's arbitration case plays out.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

LeBlanc to the Marlins

The Padres announced yesterday they had traded Wade LeBlanc to Miami for catcher John Baker.

About 2 months ago I talked about doing a series of stories on what I would do as the Padres GM.  As usual those posts never materialized, mostly because I suck at time management.  I may still get to them - I hope to get to them - but one topic is now off the table.  I had intended to discuss trading LeBlanc for a back-up catcher because that's about what I thought San Diego could get for him.  I can't prove it; I never documented it anywhere; but it's true nonetheless.

LeBlanc is one of thousands of guys who have utility in a major league organization but are never going to contribute much on a year-to-year basis.  That sounds like a knock on him, but it really isn't.  Wade LeBlanc's talent level is such that he successfully made it to the Majors and has thrown almost 300 ML innings over parts of 4 seasons.  He's in the top 1% of all people playing baseball.  The Elite.

The problem was his skill set was never going to get him out of the spot starter/possible long man role, nor get him off the shuttle from the big club to AAA.  In 2010, the lone season he spent most of his time in the majors, he made 25 starts, threw 146 innings, and struck out 110.  He also allowed a whopping 24 HR over those 146 innings, or a dinger every six innings.  In 54 career appearances (52 starts) he allowed 44 HR.  It was never a question of if Wade LeBlanc would allow a HR - it was a question of when.

By ERA+ he was below average every year less 2008 (103).  By Fangraphs WAR last season was the first one he didn't post a negative number (Baseball Reference is somewhat more forgiving, crediting him with 0.7/0.3/0.2 WAR each of the last 3 seasons).  With the Padres currently projecting a rotation of Latos/Luebke/Stauffer/Richard/Bass there was no room for him at the inn. (Ed. Note:  Dustin Moseley would also be a candidate for the rotation assuming he re-signs wtih the Padres.)

The Padres get John Baker in return.  He has 104 PA in the majors the last 2 seasons, and missed virtually all of 2011 while recoverng from right elbow surgery.  In 2009 he played in 112 games and posted a .271/.349/.410 line, good enough for a .333 wOBA and 99 wRC+.  He'll be 31 when this season starts.

San Diego had to do something to protect Hundley.  Rob Johnson was released, Kyle Phillips posted an OPS+ of 56 in thirty-six games, and Luis Martinez isn't ready.  As a back-up option, they could do worse.  Baker is also left-handed.  I can't imagine the Padres will platoon Hundley - that would really be dumb - but Baker will give them another left-handed option off the bench besides Mark Kotsay.

Wade LeBlanc will likely not be long remembered.  He was, however, a useful piece of the puzzle for the last 4 seasons, be it as a long reliever, a spot starter, or a regular starter due to injury.  If he becomes a mainstay in the Marlin rotation I would be the first one in line to congratulate him on his success.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Bell Through the Papelbon Glass

You may have heard about Jonathan Papelbon's 4 year/$50,000,058 contract with the Philadelphia Phillies.  You may have also heard the Phillies initially offered incumbent closer Ryan Madson $44M for those same 4 years.  What does this all mean for Heath Bell returning to the Padres?

Using Fangraphs WAR (fWAR), and looking only at the years since Bell became the primary Padres closer, we find that Papelbon was worth 6.2 WAR from 2009-2011 (2.0 in '09, 1.2 in '10, 3.0 in '11).  Over that same period, and looking at only the free-agent closers, we get this list:
  • Bell 4.8 WAR
  • Madson 4.3 WAR
  • Broxton 3.7 WAR
  • K-Rod 3.0 WAR
  • Nathan 1.9 WAR
If you agree with Dave Cameron's supposition that free agents will be paid approximately $5M per win per year, the Phillies actually paid about the right amount - they're paying for 2.5 wins per year on that contract, and Papelbon has averaged 2.43 wins over the past six years.

It would also mean Bell's 1.6 average WAR over his past 3 seasons is worth about $8M per.  He made $7.5M last season and posted a 0.5 WAR season, so perhaps he would be satisfied with that.  Not likely, based on what the Phillies offered Madson.  Amaro's $44M for 4 years way over-estimated what Madson was worth based on past performance.  It will, however, likely set the market for the men on the above list - more so than what Papelbon got.

What's it all mean for Josh Byrnes and the Padres?  They're screwed.  If they offer arbitration and Bell accepts, he's likely to get between $11M and $12.5M next year, which would be about 25% of the Padres intended payroll for 2012.  Tying up that much of your payroll in a guy who hasn't thrown more than 70 innings since becoming the closer (or ~5% of the total innings Padres pitchers will throw in 2012) is ludicrous.  If they don't offer him arbitration they will lose the two draft picks they would get for Bell (he's a Type A free agent) when he signs somewhere else.

Bell's not coming back.  I believe the Padres will decline to offer him arbitration based on how this free agent market is playing out.

Update:  There's a story about Heath Bell in today's UT.  In the story there's a money quote:
Bell said accepting arbitration is still an option, although it doesn’t seem as strong an option as it was before.
“I have to weigh all my options,” said Bell. “I don’t know what I’m going to do. But it seems like there are going to be some very good options soon. And after everything that has happened with the Padres, I don’t know what is going on.
“They lost the general manager (Hoyer) and the guy (Jason McLeod) responsible for building the future Padres through the draft.”

That sounds like a man who's resigned to leaving.

The story also says the Padres would receive the two comp picks if he signs with another team, even if they don't offer him arbitration.  Can anyone confirm that's true?  Assuming it is, why in the world would the Padres offer Bell arbitration?

Update #2:  From Twitter, arbitration offer must be made in order to get the comp picks if a Type A/B free agent signs with another team.  Caveat - if the FA signs before the arbitration offer deadline (this year 8 Dec), then even if an offer was made the picks are forfeited.  Thanks to @PitchersHit8th, @JonDoble, and @Dathan7 for the assist in clearing this up.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Quick Hits

Couple of things on this holiday Friday:

- Padres unveiled the 2012 uniforms Wednesday night. Lots of reactions out there, ranging from from 'meh' to 'Outrage!' I'm finding myself in the meh camp. Other than a wish they'd left the Friar in an ecumenically correct habit, I can't get fired up about the modification.

Fans build strong attachments to teams when the team is successful over a sustained stretch of time. San Diego has never really had that. The closest they came, in my opinion, was from 1996 to 2007, and they changed their unis during that stretch of success. So changing them now is par for the course. Whatever.

- I have a Veterans Day post up at I-70 Baseball, if you're interested.

If you have today off, enjoy it. And thank a Vet if you run into one.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Headley vs Freese

Flashing a little leather. Even when the ball is ruled foul.
 David Freese is the reigning NL NLCS and World Series MVP.  A lot of wailing and gnashing of teeth has appeared recently regarding the 2007 trade of Freese to St Louis for Jim Edmonds.  Let's separate fact from fiction.  Freese became the Cardinals third baseman in 2009.  Chase Headley became the Padres full-time third baseman the same year.  How do the two men stack up?

Headley came to the majors as the next great Padre power hitter, and he charged out of the gate.  Headley hit HRs in 2 of his first 4 games after being called up for good in 2008.  Since?  He hit 34 HR in his next 517 games.  Freese didn't make it to the majors with as high of a set of expectations as Headley did, but he's hit the ball about as well.  Freese's OPS+ (116) is slightly better than Headley's (105), but their career slash lines are pretty close:
  • Freese .298/.354/.429
  • Headley .269/.343/.392
Freese hits for a higher average and more power.  Most will assume his power numbers are a product of playing at a more hitter-friendly park, but the reality is Busch is only slightly less of a pitcher's park than Petco.  You read that correctly.  So the edge on pure offense goes to Freese.

Defensively the edge goes to Headley, and it's not particularly close.  In his three years as the everyday starter he has excelled with the glove.  Chase Headley was ranked the #1 defensive third baseman on the Dewan Plus/Minus scale (which can be found at Bill James' website), saving 19 runs.  Last season he was 10th but still credited with saving 2 runs in his 113 games.  Freese, on the other hand, has never had a positive runs saved number.  This year he was -1.  Last year he was -4.  If you watched any of the World Series, you saw Freese get eaten up by several ground balls to third.  He looked slow.  And no, I am not counting the pop up that hit him in the head in Game 6.  Headley in a rout.

Then there's the injury bug.  In his three major league seasons, Freese has yet to play 100 regular season games.  Over the same span Chase Headley has yet to play LESS than 100 regular season games. San Diego suffers from a systemic lack of infield prospects.   Suppose Freese had stayed with the Padres and reached the majors, with Headley having been moved.  The Padres would have had to have someone play almost as many games at third as Freese did.  Could you see Jesus Guzman trying to man the hot corner for the 40% of the season Freese is on the DL?  Better offensively, worse defensively.

Because to his injuries, Freese lags Headley in fWAR.  For the 3 years in question Freese's WAR is 4.4.  Headley's is more than double that (9.1).  It's what we expect given the disparity in playing time and defense.

What is the point of this exercise?  To show that Headley has been a better bet than Freese over the past 3 years in terms of defense and durability.  The Padres have been better off with Headley at third than they would have been had Freese taken over the hot corner.  Those recently bashing Kevin Towers for that late 2007 trade have lost sight of this fact.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Padres beat the Cardinals

Apologies for the hiatus.  Baseball's playoffs got in the way.

This won't be a long post.  Just a quick explanation of what's going on that I can't pack into 140 characters.  Many/most of you probably know I have two blogs that I author:  this one, and Stan Musial's Stance, which as the name implies focuses on the Cardinals.  As much as I would have liked to keep both going, it became increasingly difficult to put up well-thought out commentary on both sites.

Well as well-thought out commentary as you're ever likely to get from me.

Once the Cardinals completed their exhilarating run to the 2011 championship, I took a hard look at where I should focus my attention and the Padres won out.  This area is my home now, I see significantly more Padres games on a yearly basis than Cardinal contests, and I'm immersed in Padres source material from the SDUT and XX1090 (as well as my fellow Padres bloggers).

This may be the first time the Padres have beaten out the Cardinals at anything.

So here we go.  There are a lot of good Padres blogs out there and I hope you add this one to your rotation of weekly reads.  I will be posting as my schedule allows but promise at least 2 posts per week.  The occasional Cardinal-themed post may appear - hopefully that won't put you off too much - but the majority of topics will be Padres commentary and SABR-focused articles on the team.

Thanks in advance for reading.   Looking forward to interacting with you.