Fake trade: Roy Oswalt, Lance Berkman to Mets for Ike Davis

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Mets acquire RHP Roy Oswalt, 1B Lance Berkman and cash from the Astros for 1B Ike Davis, LHP Oliver Perez and SS Ruben Tejada.
Why it works for the Mets:
First, let’s get this out of the way: there’s no way the Mets would trade Davis straight-up for Berkman. Even ignoring salaries, I can imagine a number of Mets fans writing in and saying Davis is the better player right now. After all, the soon-to-be 23-year-old has hit .292/.402/.472 in 72 at-bats since being called up, while Berkman has needed a few strong games in a row to get up to .239/.357/.479 for the year.
Berkman, though, has never finished a season without an OPS better than that current 874 mark for Davis. He’s likely on the decline at age 34, but I think he’s a pretty good bet to come in at around 900 for a couple of more years.
And, Davis isn’t really being traded for Berkman here; he’s the price for getting Oswalt and dumping Perez’s contract. The Mets probably couldn’t just swallow the contracts of Berkman and Oswalt whole. Those two are making $29.5 million this year (about $6 million of which has already been paid out), and Oswalt is guaranteed $16 million next year. Oswalt also has a $16 million option with a $2 million buyout for 2012, while Berkman has a $15 million option for next year with the same $2 million buyout.
Perez is making $12 million this year and $12 million again next year, so this deal, as is, would cost the Mets about $21.6 million, once the buyouts are factored in. I think the Astros would still have to throw in some cash to make it work.
Why it works for the Astros:
Houston GM Ed Wade can’t expect much in return for his stars, given their salaries and the fact that they wield no-trade clauses. If ownership forces him to simply dump the contracts, then the Astros will have to settle for less-than-stellar prospects. If, however, Wade has the flexibility to take a bad contract or two in return, then he could do quite a bit better. There aren’t many teams out there that can just take on Oswalt’s $16 million salary, but if they can shed an $8 million-$10 million player in the process, it becomes more palatable.
That’s the idea here. Davis would immediately step in for Berkman and give the Astros the long-term first baseman they don’t currently have in their system. Tejada is no future star, but I can see him serving as a regular shortstop for 10 years. He’d also play at second base in the event that Tommy Manzella turns into a player or if 2009 first-round pick Jiovanni Mier develops.
Why it won’t happen:
Big contracts and no-trade clauses make trades much more complicated, and this has plenty of both. Plus, the Mets and their fans have taken quite a liking to Davis. And it’s for good reason. Still, I think he’s expendable; he’s going to be an above average regular if he’s not one already, but he’s just a first baseman and one without 35-homer potential.
So, this deal isn’t happening. The Mets may well try for Oswalt alone at some point, with the Astros likely to ask for Jon Niese or Jenrry Mejia in return.

MLB Network airs segment listing “good” and “bad” $100 million-plus contracts

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On Wednesday evening, Charlie Marlow of KTVI FOX 2 News St. Louis posted a couple of screencaps from a segment MLB Network aired about $100 million-plus contracts that have been signed. The list of “bad” contracts, unsurprisingly, is lengthier than the list of “good” contracts.

As Mike Gianella of Baseball Prospectus pointed out, it is problematic for a network owned by Major League Baseball to air a segment criticizing its employees for making too much seemingly unearned money. There’s a very clear conflict of interest, so one is certainly not getting a fair view of the situation. MLB, of course, can do what it wants with its network, but it can also be criticized. MLB Network would never air a similar segment in which it listed baseball’s “good” and “bad” owners and how much money they’ve undeservedly taken. Nor would MLB Network ever run a segment naming the hundreds of players who are not yet eligible for arbitration whose salaries are decided for them by their teams, often making the major league minimum ($545,000) or just above it. Similarly, MLB Network would also never think of airing a segment in which the pay of minor league players, many of whom make under $10,000 annually, is highlighted.

We’re now past the halfway point in January and many free agents still remain unsigned. It’s unprecedented. A few weeks ago, I looked just at the last handful of years and found that, typically, six or seven of the top 10 free agents signed by the new year. We’re still at two of 10 — same as a few weeks ago — and that’s only if you consider Carlos Santana a top-10 free agent, which is debatable. It’s a complex issue, but part of it certainly is the ubiquity of analytics in front offices, creating homogeneity in thinking. A consequence of that is everyone now being aware that big free agent contracts haven’t panned out well; it’s a topic of conversation that everyone can have and understand now. Back in 2010, I upset a lot of people by suggesting that Ryan Howard’s five-year, $125 million contract with the Phillies wouldn’t pan out well. Those people mostly cited home runs and RBI and got mad when I cited WAR and wOBA and defensive metrics. Now, many of those same people are wary of signing free agent first baseman Eric Hosmer and they now cite WAR, wOBA, and the various defensive metrics.

The public’s hyper-sensitivity to the viability of long-term free agent contracts — thanks in part to segments like the aforementioned — is a really bad trend if you’re a player, agent, or just care about labor in general. The tables have become very much tilted in favor of ownership over labor over the last decade and a half. Nathaniel Grow of FanGraphs pointed out in March 2015 that the players’ share of total league revenues peaked in 2002 at 56 percent, but declined all the way to 38 percent in 2014. The current trend of teams signing their talented players to long-term contract extensions before or during their years of arbitration eligibility — before they have real leverage — as well as teams abstaining from signing free agents will only serve to send that percentage further down.

Craig has written at great length about the rather serious problem the MLBPA has on its hands. Solving this problem won’t be easy and may require the threat of a strike, or actually striking. As Craig mentioned, that would mean getting the players all on the same page on this issue, which would require some work. MLB hasn’t dealt with a strike since 1994 and it’s believed that it caused a serious decline in interest among fans, so it’s certainly something that would get the owners’ attention. The MLBPA may also need to consider replacing union head Tony Clark with someone with a serious labor background. Among the issues the union could focus on during negotiations for the next collective bargaining agreement: abolishing the draft and getting rid of the arbitration system. One thing is for sure: the players are not in a good spot now, especially when the league has its own network on which it propagandizes against them.