Outfielder Shakedown

Over the past 24 hours, the free agent outfield market has become three names thinner.

1. Ross

First, 2010 NLCS MVP Cody Ross signed a three year, $26 million deal with the Diamondbacks.

It’s an intriguing signing, as the Diamondbacks already had considerable outfield depth. However, this does free up another outfielder (probably NOT Justin Upton) as a trade chip. While his numbers trended upward this year from 2011, he’s 32 as of today, and probably won’t be worth the money at the end of the deal.

In fact, the last time his WAR was above 2 was 2009. However, some of his numbers and accomplishments exceed those of players receiving deals almost as good (Jonny Gomes, Ross’s replacement, for example).

The deal has a club option for a fourth year.

2. Ibanez

During the evening we learned that former Yankee/Phillie Raul Ibanez signed with the Mariners for $2.75 million in 2013.

His postseason heroics, as well as the years he spent in Seattle, likely helped him reach the deal. With incentives, he could be worth $4 million. The most likely scenario is that Ibanez finds himself in a platoon, batting against righties.

3. Swisher

Nick Swisher accepted a 4 year, $56 million offer from the Indians.

I thought that if the Dodgers, Angels, or Yankees offered him something close he might take it. After all, postseason chances are no small thing. Apparently, though, the deal was sweet enough for his taste. Swisher has been a consistent bat, maybe worth $10 million a year, but the Indians wanted him enough to spend the extra money.

Where does that leave the outfield market?

4. Bourn

Michael Bourn is the last big name listed.

Not many teams are biting on Bourn. The Rangers are “interested in” Bourn, but that’s a fairly non-committal statement, and they’re early in the process. Given how this offseason has turned out thus far, the signs lead to Bourn signing for a one-year deal, recouping his losses and taking a shot in free agency again next year.

5. Hairston

On the second tier, Scott Hairston is still available. Hairston is being pursued by at least the Phillies, Braves, Mets and Yankees.

He’s a career .247 player who hit 20 HR for the first time in his career and only maintained a WAR above 2 in 2008 (when he played 112 games). He has yet to make 400 plate appearances. But perhaps he can play 140-145 games.
Especially with the three signings over the last 24 hours, it’s become a thin market, and that’s probably why Hairston is getting such a hard look from multiple teams. He may have more leverage in negotiations than he would have had yesterday.

Phillies Fill Two Needs with Lannan Signing

On Saturday I posted about the pending addition of Mike Adams to the Phillies bullpen.
Within two hours, the Phillies confirmed another signing.

The Phillies signed the non-tendered John Lannan to a one-year deal worth $2.5 million, with another $2.5 million in incentives.
It’s a safe signing for a number 4 or 5 pitcher, and exactly the sort of solid move Phillies fans were hoping would come from the front office. We could see him fall into the number 5 spot to prevent three straight games with lefty starters.

Here are three things to expect, given his status as a back-end-of-the-rotation starter:

1. Innings
Including his stints in the minors, Lannan has pitched at least 180 innings in the last five seasons. That’s the kind of consistency you look for in a number 4 starter. In that regard, this signing is like the acquisition of Joe Blanton back in 2008. Blanton ate innings and kept the Phillies in games, and that’s the realistic expectation here.

2. Ground balls
Lannan has a career ground ball rate of 53.0%. That’s a plus in a stadium like Citizens Bank Park. I’ve heard some discussion about putting Freddy Galvis at third for Lannan’s starts, and depending on how Young re-adapts to the position, there may be something to the argument.

Though his numbers have not been good at Citizens Bank Park, he has not fared well against the Phillies in general (figures below). He obviously won’t have that problem the next time he takes the mound at CBP.

3. Contact
Lannan has a career 4.7 K/9. Don’t expect a lot of swing-and-miss at-bats when he’s on the mound.
This pitching style relies a lot on defense, but hey, it worked well enough for Jamie Moyer, right? Granted, Moyer has a career K/9 of 6.0, but he certainly relied heavily on solid defense.

As alluded to before, there are some intriguing career statistics. Todd Zolecki points out:

Interestingly, he is 3-13 with a 5.53 ERA in his career against the Phillies, but 39-39 with a 3.80 ERA against everybody else. If Lannan gives the Phillies 30-33 starts with a 3.80 ERA they will be thrilled.

Looking at this year’s stats, an ERA of 3.80 would have made a pitcher #46 in that category, in the middle of the pack for qualifying starters – not bad at all for a #5 starter.

Adams and the ‘Pen

In 2011, the Phillies had a great setup man in Antonio Bastardo, but didn’t have a viable closer.
This year, they had heavily-touted Jonathan Papelbon, but due to Bastardo’s struggles and the club’s inability to find a good long-term solution, they didn’t have a consistent 8th inning guy.

The final-innings formula could finally be locked up.

With the two year, $12 million contract for Mike Adams (three years, $18 million including the vesting option), the Phillies appear to have found the solution to this year’s eighth-inning woes.

The Phillies have tried to trade for him before, and many fans have clamored for someone of his caliber. Now, when there are very few alternative options, the club has found a way to lock him up.

Adams’ diagnosis of thoracic outlet syndrome (a rib bone presses against a nerve, leading to pain as well as numbness in the arm) and the resultant surgery this October may have been a deterrent to other interested teams.
The surgery, which includes removing a rib to relieve pressure, was reportedly successful, and the expectation is for Adams to be ready for Spring Training.

As somewhat of an aside on this type of surgery, PubMed Health (link above) notes that surgery can be expected to be successful in 50% to 80% of patients, and about 5% of patients have recurring symptoms after surgery. This will be something to watch for.

Where does this put the bullpen? Obviously, Papelbon and Adams are in. After that, it could be a free-for-all, but here’s the rest of the depth chart as listed on the Phillies’ site:

  • Antonio Bastardo
  • Phillippe Aumont
  • Jeremy Horst
  • Justin De Fratus
  • Raul Valdes
  • Michael Stutes
  • B.J. Rosenberg
  • Jake Diekman

With the addition of John Lannan, the Phillies will have 5 starters. By my estimate, having those seven pitchers should leave five remaining spots in the ‘pen. At least three of those guys will not start the year in the majors.
We’re waiting on a few things here – to name a few, how Stutes comes back after recovering from shoulder surgery and if Bastardo can settle in and be the lefty specialist the Phils likely want him to be.

At this point, the Opening Day bullpen is anyone’s guess. We’ll have to wait for Spring Training to iron out some of these questions.

Greinke for How Much?

We’ve all been duped. What we’ve been told time and again has permeated our thinking, and now we simply accept it as true. We’ve all bought into a theory that starting pitching – especially, spending big bucks on it – will give a team the greatest number of wins.

However, this theory has one giant problem: it just doesn’t add up. When looking at the composition of a team, the percentage of payroll that goes toward starting pitching would appear to have nothing to do with how many wins the team ends up with.

Take a look at some percentages, based on 2012 starting rosters and final results (these are estimates based on USA Today salary records):

Pitching-Wins Correlation

Look at the Rangers, Braves, Reds, and Orioles in particular (you can include the Yankees, too, if you want, though the total they spent on pitching was more than double that of the Braves). Now look at the Phillies, Red Sox, Marlins, and Mets. Notice something strange?

Contrary to what you would expect, the four teams who used less of their budget on starting pitching made the playoffs. There is really only one legitimate excuse as to why the teams who spent more on starters underachieved – injury. While the Phillies were certainly in that camp, though, I don’t think it gets them out of this startling possibility: perhaps the “best” pitchers are not worth their money in comparison to “lesser” pitchers who are still moderately effective.

In the rush for the best available players, teams needlessly bid each other to the sky. Perhaps I’m the lone voice here. Or maybe it’s just me and Billy Beane. But I’m starting to think that the salary of an elite starter can hold a team down – or, at the very least, be far less effective than what general managers are prone to believe.

The Dodgers signing Zack Greinke to a six-year, $147 million contract is indicative of this pervasive mindset. Dodgers ownership decided to throw money at the best available option, justifying the deal by saying it would solidify the rotation and they would continue to stay in games.

I don’t know about anyone else, but if I were trying to be the most efficient with my money (especially if I were in a smaller market), I would much rather take a starter with an ERA half a run higher for a third of the price.

I know there’s a whole lot more to this discussion, but this is one element that just blows me away.

Getting Young

I’ve heard concerns voiced that the Phillies “need to get younger.” We could see some backlash from obtaining Young because, well… he isn’t. But this shouldn’t be too much of a concern for those of us who are looking at this year and (more importantly for this purpose) beyond. Young’s age is not as much of a concern in this transaction as a few other things.

Here are a couple arguments I heard against getting Young:

1. Michael Young’s numbers were way down in 2012.
Okay, yes, they were. He batted .277/.312/.370. But look at the previous four years:

2008 – .284/.339/.402
2009 – .322/.374/.518
2010 – .284/.330/.444
2011 – .338/.380/.474

After hitting better than .300 in each season from 2003-2007, Young has had alternating years in terms of production. While this isn’t necessarily good for the long haul, we could definitely see Young bounce back from a down season, as he has twice before. Young has the stuff, and I think he’ll work hard to produce.

2. Aren’t we supposed to be getting younger?
You don’t want to get younger at a particular position simply to knock the average age of the club down; that would be downright silly. If there’s no one ready to play in the majors within your organization and you think your team has playoff potential, you often need to go outside and bring someone else in who’s ready now. I know a lot of fans aren’t thrilled that he’s 36 years old, but how many third base options are there on the free agent market? It’s definitely one of the thinner positions this year. Young is an upgrade we needed to get to bridge the gap to our younger players.

3. He’s not a good long-term solution.
Fair enough, but we’re not trading for him as a long-term solution. He has one year left on his contract. Some say Cody Asche is the third baseman of the future, and he’s likely only a year or two away from the bigs. We also have other options in the system with a few shortstops who might be able to make the transition for 2014 if necessary.

4. He hasn’t played third base consistently since 2010.
This is likely the most legitimate concern. Over the past two years, Young has played 65 games at the hot corner. Conversely, he has been the DH in 141 games. However, he did receive the AL  Gold Glove award at shortstop in 2008 with a .971 fielding percentage. If he puts in the work over the offseason, his defense should be passable.