Thursday, February 10, 2011

Missing the Grade

By The Common Man

The Common Man really didn’t want to write today, at least not about this. He’s getting ready for his big gig on the SweetSpot blog next Monday. But he just couldn’t let Jayson Stark’s offseason grades for the NL West go by without saying something. After all, Jayson gave the Padres a C and the Dodgers a B+ for their efforts this Winter, while TCM ranked the Padres #1 overall in their offseason execution, while Los Angeles fell to #17.

The Common Man knew lots of students in high school and college who never really applied themselves like they could have to their studies. They were smart, they knew it, and they got by on acceptable marks while biding their time until bigger and better opportunities came around. Meanwhile, TCM also knew classmates who would turn in a flurry of paper, assignments and extra credit, pandering to the teacher and reciting back what they had just been told, verbatim. They didn’t learn anything, but they looked like good students. Most of those guys and women are in middle management now. The other guys, the underenthused, tend to be running non-profits, getting PhDs, working for think tanks, and advising US Senators. Jayson doesn’t seem to know the difference.

Stark writes,
“Here's another team that has to be evaluated in the context of what it had to do in the real world versus what it would have loved to do in a dream world. The Padres had no choice but to trade Gonzalez this winter. None. And the deal they made ought to look great some day. The trouble is, that day isn't coming any time soon. So it's hard not to think they're bound for a big step backward in 2011.”
If Jayson’s point is that the Padres will be worse in 2011 than they were in 2010, there’s little doubt of that. But The Common Man rejects the idea inherent in Stark’s analysis that a team who makes a short-term retreat in the interest of long-term competitiveness and stability has had a bad offseason. Indeed, by Stark’s logic, the Angels have had a strong offseason because they’ve brought in Vernon Wells and have marginally improved over last year. Yes, Adrian Gonzalez is gone. And he is a special player. He’s been replaced in the organization by Casey Kelly (who Keith Law ranked as the 17th best prospect in baseball), Anthony Rizzo (#38), and Reymond Fuentes (who is the #7 prospect in the Padres’ impressive system). Prospect mavens were universally positive about this package of players. Acquiring them will help the Padres to be major players in the NL West in 2012 and 2013, which despite what Stark thinks, is coming pretty soon.

And it’s not like they’re punting 2011 either. To replace Gonzalez, the team found a stopgap solution at 1B (at least until Kyle Blanks and Rizzo are able to take over the long haul). They also replaced some of his overall production by upgrading (very cheaply) to Jason Bartlett at shortstop, Orlando Hudson at 2B, and Cameron Maybin in CF. They did it by trading marginal and fungible relievers, giving up no draft picks, and shelling out a total of less than $8.5 million. That upgrade is going to ease some of the sting of losing Adrian, especially as it improves their defense and as Maybin finally gets an extended shot by an organization that knows what they’re doing.

Meanwhile, the drop off from Harang (assuming he’s healthy) to Garland is fairly negligible. Garland won 14 games last year and pitched exactly 200 innings. But his strong ERA was significantly aided by his ballpark, and his FIP of 4.41 is much more indicative of his natural abilities. Despite his injury struggles last year, Harang posted a 4.60 FIP. And, while the Garland signing with the Dodgers was a good one, Harang is likely to provide much better value for the money ($3.5 million base salary) than Garland is.

Stark praises the Dodgers, on the other hand, saying
“Thanks to a much-needed advance on their TV money, the Dodgers weren't paralyzed by their ownership debacle after all. So once he was freed from captivity, GM Ned Colletti burned up the old Transactions column all winter -- signing 11 free agents to big league deals and another 15 to minor league deals.”
It’s true, the Dodgers were busy. But what did they buy? It looks like quantity over quality. They smartly re-upped Hiroki Kuroda to a one-year deal before the pitching market took shape. The deal with Ted Lilly was expensive and probably over-long given that he is the exact same age as Carl Pavano (did that just blow your mind?) and has pitched 50 fewer innings over the last two years. But it was not entirely unreasonable, and Lilly is a good pitcher.

That said, both Kuroda and Lilly were not true additions, given they were with the team at the end of last year. Garland at $5 million and one year is not a terrible investment. But the Juan Uribe deal is a real scary prospect, given that he’s over 30, he’s got nothing like plate discipline, and he is penciled in to play a new position (2B) in 2011. And all those outfielders the Dodgers acquired? If you assembled them together you’d get a good player. But Tony Gwynn can’t really hit, Gabe Kapler can’t hit righties, Marcus Thames can’t hit righties OR field. They have not solved their lingering LF problem, so much as they have created a seemingly infinite number of questions about it. And don’t get The Common Man started about the wisdom of handing out a three year, $12 million deal to a reliever whose strikeout rate has fallen in each of the last three years (Matt Guerrier).

Meanwhile, they have marginally upgraded their roster (but not really fixed any of their problems, especially since Uribe pushes one of their best 2010 players, Jamey Carroll, to the bench) at the expense of their 2012 and 2013 squads. Because of that advance, whatever money the Dodgers were going to receive from FoxSports is now either gone or substantially reduced. That means less revenue to pay salaries going forward.

And while Rafael Furcal does come off the books after this year, the team will have huge arbitration increases from Andre Ethier, Chad Billingsley, and Matt Kemp (amongst others) in 2012, while facing an $8 million jump from the salaries of Guerrier, Lilly, and Uribe. Thy can say goodbye to Furcal and Casey Blake, but then they need to find either a new SS or a new 3B, since Uribe (especially by then) won’t be able to cover both spots. And they’ll also likely have to replace Kuroda, Jonathan Broxton, Hong-Chih Kuo, and James Loney while continuing to pay Manny Ramirez and Andruw Jones a combined $11.5 million to play elsewhere.

Finally, any team that thinks that holding onto Rod Barajas over (even a surly and disappointing) Russell Martin over $1.25 million deserves to be docked more than a few letter grades.

It’s true, in 2011, the Dodgers will probably win more games than the Padres. But it wouldn’t shock The Common Man if it didn’t happen. And, even if they do, they probably will not win enough to slip past both the Giants and the Rockies and will have done it at the expense of being able to field a competitive team in the seasons beyond that. And Jayson Stark will have to look back and wonder why he didn’t buy into Microsoft while it was still in some college dropout’s garage.


Andrew said...

Is it just me, or are people using the word "fungible" a lot more since Francesa made an ass of himself?

CajoleJuice said...

The second paragraph just made me depressed. What was the rest of the post about?

Chip said...

Ned Colletti might be the worst GM in baseball. (I say might because Dayton Moore and Brian Sabean still have jobs.) The Uribe signing was tragic; the Martin for Barajas switch was baffling; and giving $4M a year to a near replacement level reliever on the wrong side of 30 was just misguided. Still, nothing was more disturbing than their decision to leave LF open for most of the winter, and then fill it with the cornucopia of crap they chose to fill it with. Honestly, if it hadn't been for the Angels, I'd say they'd be in the running for worst offseason of the year.

This is just another in a string of poorly thought out articles by Stark. The All Underrated Team was pretty awful as well.

Robert said...

Yes,"fungible" is a good. Also:
"Due Dilligence"
"Sunk Cost"

Avenger-in-Chief said...

Good analysis TCM.

I'm worried that Harang won't be able to log the innings that Garland did but outside of that the Padres did well, all things considered.

Jayson Stark... I don't know what to say, other than the Dodgers don't worry me so much.