Making sense of the Pirates-Mariners trade

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OK, I’m still trying to wrap my head around this one. What better way to do that than by writing about it.
Mariners acquire RHP Ian Snell, SS Jack Wilson and cash from the Pirates for C-1B Jeff Clement, INF Ronny Cedeno, RHP Brett Lorin, RHP Aaron Pribanic and RHP Nathan Adcock.
Snell was a bust for the Pirates this year after already seeing his stock decline in 2008, but since he requested and received a demotion to Triple-A, he’s posted an 0.96 ERA and a 47/13 K/BB ratio in 37 1/3 innings. There’s never any way of knowing where his head is at, but he’s still a nice gamble as a 27-year-old with two above average pitches and a reasonable contract. He’ll make $4.25 million next year and there are club options on his deal worth $6.75 million in 2011 and $9.25 million in 2012. It’s those options that make him an especially intriguing pickup. If he struggles, the Mariners are only going to be out about $5 million.
Wilson is a perfectly reliable shortstop who remains well above average defensively at age 31. He’s sort of an odd pickup for a Mariners team that still may trade Jarrod Washburn, given that his option for 2010 is quite unattractive. The Mariners can keep him for $8.4 million then or buy him out for $600,000. Since they don’t have any youngsters ready to take over, they’re best bet would likely be to sign him to a two-year deal. If he’s content in Seattle, he could settle for about $6 million per season. He’ll probably be a type-B free agent, so the Mariners could get a draft pick if he leaves.
Clement is the prize of the deal for the Pirates, even if he’s a month away from his 26th birthday and still hasn’t hit in the majors. He was batting .288/.366/.505 for Triple-A Tacoma this season. The Mariners didn’t think he’d make it as a catcher, and they were probably right about that. It certainly hadn’t helped matters that knee woes had prevented him from getting behind the plate this year. Clement, though, could be a perfectly solid regular at first base, at least against right-handers. A straight platoon of him and Steve Pearce could give the Pirates nice production for under $1 million next year. Clement will head to Triple-A for now, but he should be up next month unless Pearce really takes off.
Cedeno’s presence in the deal is a matter of convenience for both teams. With Wilson gone, the Pirates would have had to either live with Ramon Vazquez’s limited range at short or rushed the recently acquired Argenis Diaz to the majors. Now they have a solid defender who can help get them through the rest of the season and then likely be forgotten about. Cedeno was hitting just .167/.213/.290 for the Mariners, so he’ll have a long way to bounce back in order to avoid being non-tendered this winter. The Mariners no longer had any need for him with Wilson around.
By kicking in the money to cover the salaries of Snell and Wilson for the rest of the year, the Pirates greatly expanded their take quantity-wise, if not necessarily in terms of quality. The way I see it, they essentially bought the three pitchers they’re getting.
I like Lorin as a sleeper. He stands 6-foot-7 and he was 5-4 with a 2.44 ERA and an 87/25 K/BB ratio in 88 2/3 innings for low Single-A Clinton. He doesn’t throw nearly as hard as one would expect, but he uses his size to his advantage with his delivery and his changeup has proven quite useful against lefties.
Pribanic, 22, went two rounds before Lorin in last year’s draft, going in the third. He was 7-6 with a 3.21 ERA and a 54/26 K/BB ratio in 87 innings for low Clinton. He has a quality fastball and he gets grounders, but he lacks a strikeout pitch.
Adcock, a 2006 fifth-round pick, was 5-7 with a 5.29 ERA and a 71/54 K/BB in 102 IP at Single-A High Desert, an extremely difficult place to pitch. He’s not going to make it as a starter, but his fastball-curveball combination might give him some hope once the move to the bullpen comes.
OK, head now wrapped.
I really like what the Pirates did here. Snell wanted out and was going to be of no further use to them, and they weren’t planning on picking up Wilson’s option for 2010. I’m not sure Clement fits into their long-term plans with Pedro Alvarez appearing likely to end up at first base, but he’s someone who could potentially have a lot more trade value in a year than he does now. Lorin and Pribanic are also potentially useful pieces.
For the Mariners, it could all come down to Snell, and they likely could have gotten Snell cheaper if they hadn’t wanted the Pirates to pick up his salary. They didn’t give up any future stars and they may well have helped their chances of contending in 2010, so I don’t have a big problem with the trade. I also can’t really blame Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik for giving up the extra prospects. He’s still paying the price for Bill Bavasi’s generosity, leaving him with little financial flexibility in his attempts to improve his team.

The New Zealand World Baseball Classic team performs the Haka

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It’s World Baseball Classic time again. Just the qualifying rounds. The actual tournament happens in 2017. Qualifiers will happen in Sydney, Australia, Mexicali, Mexico, Panama City, Panama and Brooklyn, N.Y., periodically, between now and September.

The Sydney round just got underway yesterday, so yes, some actual baseball is going on. As I’ve written and ranted before, the WBC is not my favorite thing that happens in baseball and certainly not the most important thing, but it’s pretty fun. Especially when there are displays of enthusiasm and pageantry and the like.

Such as the Haka, which basically every New Zealand sports team does and which never gets old:

 

Down in Sydney, the Australia, New Zealand, Philippines and South Africa teams are competing in a six-game, modified double-elimination format. In the other three qualifying rounds, Mexico, Czech Republic, Germany, Nicaragua, Colombia, France, Panama, Spain, Brazil, Great Britain, Israel and Pakistan will compete. Each qualifying round puts one representative in the WBC.

Those four qualifiers will compete in the WBC itself against countries that performed well enough in the past that they need not submit to qualifying: Canada, China, Chinese Taipei, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Italy, Japan, Korea, Kingdom of the Netherlands, Puerto Rico, United States and Venezuela.

Someone make sure Jon Morosi is well-hyrdrated. It’s gonna be a long year.

Yovani Gallardo and the Orioles are both “optimistic” about a deal

Yovani Gallardo
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Multiple reports Wednesday had the Orioles and free agent right-hander Yovani Gallardo deep in negotiations on a multi-year deal. Nothing has been finalized yet, but Brittany Ghiroli of MLB.com says “both sides appear to be pretty optimistic still.”

Ghiroli adds that the “ball is in the Orioles’ court,” although that may simply reveal her likely source to be Gallardo’s agent. Whatever the case, Baltimore is apparently now willing to forfeit their first-round draft pick to sign Galllardo and he may lead to a domino effect in which they also forfeit a second-round draft pick to sign outfielder Dexter Fowler.

The idea being that if you’re going to cough up the 14th overall pick to sign a mid-level free agent with spring training right around the corner you might as well cough up a lower draft pick to sign a second one. Gallardo has shown signs of decline, including a big dip in strikeout rate, but he logged 184 innings with a 3.42 ERA for the Rangers last season.

Chipper Jones says the Mets are his pick to “go all the way”

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Chipper Jones may believe some weird things but he’s pretty savvy and clear-eyed when it comes to analyzing baseball.

Remember back in 2013 how he picked the Dodgers to beat the Braves in the NLDS? And how, because of his perceived “disloyalty,” Braves players had an immature little temper tantrum and refused to catch his ceremonial first pitch? Yeah, that was a great look. If I was more inclined to the hokey and irrational, I’d say that created “The Curse of Chipper” and that it condemned the Braves to two straight years of sucking. Hey, people have built careers on curses sillier than that.

Anyway, kudos to Chipper for apparently not giving a crap about that sort of thing and, instead, saying what he thinks about baseball. Stuff like how he thinks the Mets are going to win it all, saying “They’re really setting the bar and they’re my early-season pick to probably go all the way.”

Keeping in mind that anything can happen in baseball, it’s as good a pick as any other I reckon. Even if it means he has to say that the team who was his greatest rival during his playing career — and whom he thoroughly owned during that time — is better than the one that pays his salary now. Or any other one.

Did Tony La Russa screw Jim Edmonds’ Hall of Fame candidacy?

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Yes, that’s a somewhat provocative question. But it’s still an interesting question, the relevancy of and merits of which we’ll get to in a second. I pose it mostly so I can tell you about some neat research a friend of mine is doing and which should make Hall of Fame discussions and the general discussion of baseball history a lot of fun in the coming years. Bear with me for a moment.

There has long been a war between metrics and narrative. The folks who say that so-and-so was great because of the arc of his story and his career and those who say so-and-so was not so great or whatshisface was way, way better because of the numbers. Those views are often pitted as irreconcilable opposites. But what if they weren’t? What if there was some data which explained why some players become narrative darlings and others don’t? Some explanation for why, say, Jim Rice is in the Hall of Fame while Dwight Evans isn’t despite having better numbers? An explanation, that isn’t about voters being dumb or merely playing favorites all willy-nilly? What if there was some actual quantitative reason why favorites get played in the first place?

That’s the thesis of the work of Brandon Isleib. He has just finished writing a very interesting book. It’s not yet published, but I have had the chance to read it. It sets forth the fascinating proposition that we can quantify narrative. That we can divine actual numerical values which help explain a player’s fame and public profile. Values which aren’t based on some complicated or counterintuitive formula, but which are rooted in the very thing all baseball fans see every day: games. Wins and losses. The daily standings. Values which reveal that, no, Hall of Fame voters who made odd choices in the view of the analytics crowd weren’t necessarily stupid or petty. They were merely reacting to forces and dynamics in the game which pushed them in certain ways and not others.

“But wait!” you interject. “Jim Rice and Dwight Evans played on the same dang team! How does Brandon distinguish that?” I won’t give away all the details of it but it makes sense if you break down how the Red Sox did in certain years and how that corresponded with Rice’s and Evans’ best years. There were competitive narratives in play in 1975, 1978 or 1986 that weren’t in play in 1981 or 1987. From those competitive narratives come player narratives which are pretty understandable. When you weight it all based on how competitive a team was on a day-to-day basis based on how far out of first place they were, etc., a picture starts to come together which explains why “fame” works the way it does.

From this, you start to realize why certain players, no matter how good, never got much Hall of Fame consideration. And why others’ consideration seemed disproportionate compared to their actual performance. All of which, again, is based on numbers, not on the sort of bomb-throwing media criticism in which jerks like me have come to engage.

Like I said, the book won’t be out for a bit — Brandon just finished it — but in the meantime he has a website where he has been and, increasingly will be, talking about his quantification of narrative stuff, writing short articles posing some of the questions his book and his research addresses.

Today’s entry — which is what my headline is based on — isn’t really numbers-based. It’s more talking about the broader phenomenon Brandon’s work gets at in terms of trying to figure out which players are credited for their performance and which are not so credited and why. Specifically, it talks about how Tony La Russa, more than most managers, gets the credit for his success and his players probably get somewhat less than they deserve. In this way La Russa is kind of viewed as a football coach figure and his players are, I dunno, system quarterbacks. It’s something that is unfair, I think, to guys like Jim Edmonds and Scott Rolen and will, eventually, likely be unfair to players like Adam Wainwright and Matt Holliday.

It’s fascinating stuff which gets to the heart of player reputation and how history comes together. It reminds us that, in the end, the reporters and the analysts who argue about all of these things are secondary players, even if we make the most noise. It’s the figures in the game — the players and the managers — who shape it all. The rest of us are just observers and scribes.