Friday, 3 January 2014

Trading Adam Lind and Signing Stephen Drew: an Unappreciated Option

To put it lightly, Adam Lind did not have many supporters in Blue Jays land after the 2012 season. Following a stellar 2009 where he hit .305/.370/.562 (140 wRC+), Lind fell from grace hard and fast:

2010: .237/.287/.425 (89 wRC+)
2011: .251/.295/.439 (95 wRC+)
2012: .255/.314/.414 (96 wRC+)

As bad as Lind was, it wasn't entirely his fault. He held his own vs. LHP in his breakout 2009 campaign, but it became painfully obvious as time wore on that he should be used exclusively vs. RHP. Giving him plate appearances vs. LHP was entirely defensible in 2010 since, again, he held his own in 2009. In 2011, after his atrocious 2010 performance, much less so. By 2012 it was borderline insane, but alas, the wisdom of John Farrell dictated that he be trotted out against lefties once again. Adam Lind failed because he was put in a position to fail. The manager failed him and so did the team, to a lesser extent, for not stepping in. Thankfully the Jays got it mostly right in 2013 and Lindy did what Lindy should have been doing all along:

2013 (421 PA vs. RHP): .309/.385/.539 (151 wRC+)
2013 (521 PA overall): .288/.357/.497 (132 wRC+)

100 plate appearances vs. LHP is still too much, but the team finally made something of an effort to shield him from same-side pitching (outside of a bizarre two week stretch where they thought it was a good idea again). Lind was put in a position to succeed and he did. He re-established himself as a useful big league piece. But he also established himself as a viable trade candidate.

The Proposal

Trade Adam Lind, move Melky Cabrera to DH, and run a platoon of Anthony Gose and Kevin Pillar in left field.

Gose and Pillar in Left

The first thing that comes into question is the viability of a Gose/Pillar platoon in left field. Average offense for left field over the past three seasons is as follows:

2011: .256/.320/.409 (99 wRC+)
2012: .258/.325/.422 (103 wRC+)
2013: .252/.320/.399 (99 wRC+)

So slightly above overall league average, which was 96-97 wRC+. Here's how Gose and Pillar performed in their short major league stints thus far:  

Anthony Gose: .243/.306/.379 (86 wRC+) vs. RHP over 265 PA (2012-2013)
Kevin Pillar: .235/.297/.382 (86 wRC+) vs. LHP over 37 PA (2013)

Both samples are quite small, with Pillar's being ridiculously small to the point where you can't really glean anything from it. The next best thing would be his batting line vs. LHP in the minors. Over 179 PA split between Double-A and Triple-A, Pillar hit lefties to the tune of 387/.419/.577 this year. That line is propped up by a .422 BABIP, and while he did have a high line drive rate (25.3% vs. an approximate average of 17.5% ), he won't produce close to that level in the big leagues. The point here is that he demolished LHP in the upper minors and is likely to hit lefties well enough at the major league level to justify being part of a platoon. With Gose, you're hoping his 2013 performance vs. RHP is more indicative of what he can do. His above overall line is brought down by a reverse platoon split in 2012, but in 2013 he posted a .287/.306/.481 line vs. righties. We're still dealing with small samples though, at 103 PA in 2013. There's a reasonable chance Gose and Pillar could combine to provide average offense for the position in 2014. It would require them to take a step forward, but 95-100 wRC+ isn't out of reach.  

Gose and Pillar would also likely add value in the field and on the basepaths. Everyone is familiar with Gose's ridiculous speed, both in the outfield and on the bases, and his cannon arm at this point. Add good instincts to the mix and you have a player who was touted as having gold glove calibre defense in center field (here's one reason why). Some have soured somewhat on Gose's defense, but given the lofty heights he started out at, he still stands to provide value with his glove. Pillar's tools aren't as loud, but he's a strong fundamental player with good reads/routes, average speed, and a solid arm. Shifting over from center field, he'll likely add some defensive value as well.  

Looking at production as a whole (hitting, fielding, baserunning), there's a good chance the two combine to give the club above average production at left field. A more conservative estimate, where they still provide above-average value in the field and on the bases but don't quite hit to average for the position, would still probably have them providing average value. The Jays received no value in left field last season (0 fWAR), so average would be a pretty big upgrade (although a healthy Cabrera is likely something of an upgrade too). A platoon with Gose and Pillar in left field seems viable.  

Cabrera at DH

Another advantage here would simply be getting Melky Cabrera out of the field. He was worth somewhere between -5 (DRS) and -7.3 (UZR) defensive runs last season. In 77 games. Considering how low the bar is for defense in left field, that's quite an accomplishment, and the eye test certainly confirms that description. This sums things up nicely.

In fairness he was banged up all year and had a benign tumour removed for his back in September, so he likely wouldn't be that bad again this season if he's healthy. But he certainly hasn't been much of an asset there the last few seasons either. Maybe it's best if the team tells him to save his legs and to just go hit, especially if he's still not running well.

Average at DH in 2013 was .255/.338/.427. Cabrera would have to hit something like .290/.340/.430 for the bat to play, but that should be attainable if he's 100%. It is perhaps somewhat optimistic on the power production given how his 2013 season went, however, a healthy Melky in Rogers Centre should hit for more power than he did last season (when he was presumably generating little power from his lower half). Much like last season, there's also the chance that he starts looking more like the player everyone saw with the Royals and Giants a couple years ago. But that isn't necessary for him to be a solid DH. 

The Trade Return

Nailing down the value derived from trading Adam Lind is the tricky part. The Jays have two options; the first is to accept a small return and send ("dump" is such an ugly word) his entire salary the other way. Assuming the team doesn't pay part of Lind's salary in a trade, that leaves them with an additional $7 million to spend this offseason. Hey, that's a decent amount of money, even in today's ridiculous market! The problem is that the team needs someone useful to spend it on. A move like this made a lot more sense earlier in the offseason when many targets were still on the board. Mark Ellis and Jarrod Saltalamacchia both represent upgrades over what the Jays currently have at second base and catcher, and both are making less than $7 million this season. Alternatively, those additional funds may have given the Jays enough flexibility to go after Scott Kazmir and still have enough left over in the budget to go after a starter like Ubaldo Jimenez.  

One target that is still available is Stephen Drew. The market for the free agent shortstop has been practically non-existent, which may seem surprising at first, but less so when you consider his skillset (undervalued), his injury history (extensive), and to a lesser extent his age (going on 31) and the fact that he's tied to draft pick compensation. That isn't to say the Boras client is going to come cheap but, like Michael Bourn last season, he may come at a bargain. A realistic (if not somewhat optimistic) projection for the incumbent Ryan Goins likely falls somewhere in the 0.5-1.0 win range for 2014. Over a full season, Stephen Drew is likely worth at least 3 wins. Locking up Drew to a 3 year deal with an AAV in the $8-9 million range would certainly represent an upgrade at a reasonable price if the team can convince him to shift over to second base. Both of those things may be easier said than done, and the injury concerns are legitimate, but it could end up being a great value sign if the Jays can pull it off. Second base goes from being a question mark to a strength, and the money Anthopoulos came into the offseason with is still there to go after a starter. 

The second option is for the Jays to eat part of Lind's salary and ship him out for something more useful. The Pirates balked at the idea of Neil Walker for Adam Lind, but if Anthopoulos offered to eat $5 million of Lind's salary and packaged him with a good prospect (Tirado or Norris), Pittsburgh may be inclined to listen. Milwaukee is looking for a first basemen and Rickie We-[negative 45 Defensive Runs Saved over the last two seasons + declining bat double combo of suck]-nope, nope, nope, nevermind.  

Adam Lind was worth 1.8 fWAR last season and if you believe he can repeat his 2013, that's what you're losing. Is the value from a Gose and Pillar platoon over Melky in left field + the value of keeping Melky healthy (if there is any) worth more than 1.8 wins? It's hard to see it. I think there's value there, but I'm not comfortable saying 2 wins worth. There are some secondary benefits, such as not having to earmark a bench spot for a Lind platoon partner (who very likely could end up being a player with little to no defensive value) and completely eliminating the threat of seeing Lind vs. LHP again. But whether or not this scenario makes sense ultimately depends on what the team can get back for Adam Lind or what the team can do with that additional $7 million. If it allows them to sign Stephen Drew without dipping into the starter money, that's a win, and the team should pounce.There are a lot of moving parts here and there is risk involved, but at the same time this presents an opportunity for the club to address its needs without creating a hole in the major league roster. 

It just happens to be a little... "creative."

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Express: A Quick Thought on Munenori Kawasaki and Being Realistic

Munenori Kawasaki is back! Earlier this afternoon it was reported that the fan favourite had re-upped with the club by signing a minor league deal. But while some rejoiced, others groaned “here we go again.”  

On one side, there are those who are taking this signing for it is and having fun with it. This move doesn't materially improve the team's chances at securing a playoff berth, but it provides some much needed depth at shortstop. On the other side, there are those who want to remind everyone that Munenori Kawasaki is not a good player. While there is certainly merit to what this is side is saying, it goes a little too far when his on-the-field value is dismissed entirely.

Shooting Down the “Clubhouse Guy Only” Myth

League average SS (2013): .254/.308/.367 (85 wRC+)
M. Kawasaki (2013): .229/.326/.308 (78 wRC+)

Kawasaki's bat is nothing to write home about, but you can say that about a lot of shortstops in baseball right now. Looking at his line in isolation will make you cringe, but when you look at what the position in general is doing, it looks a lot more acceptable. In fairness, he did show a fairly wide platoon split last season and the overwhelming majority of his plate appearances came against RHP, so it may be appropriate to adjust down. But we are talking about a 54 PA sample and a .194 BABIP. That seems unreasonably low, even if you think he's more of a .230-.250 BABIP hitter vs. LHP than a .300 BABIP hitter. We're splitting hairs now and he'd still be horrible vs. LHP with some positive regression, so I'll just say I think he's a safe bet to be in the 70-75 wRC+ range if he gets close to 300 PA again (let's hope he doesn't though).  

Defensively he graded out well enough by both DRS (2) and UZR (0.4) and provided some value on the bases as well (2.1 runs by FanGraphs). Put it all together and you're looking at a player who was worth somewhere between 0.8 (fWAR) and 1.3 (bWAR) wins over 289 PA over last season. Would he maintain that pace over 600 plate appearances? No. Is he a starter? No. Is he a guy whose value lies solely in his clubhouse presence? No.  

The reason why Kawasaki is valuable to this team is because, should something happen to Reyes again (knock on wood), he's not going to kill you, whereas the guys who were next in line before this signing just might. He's not nearly the game-changer that Reyes is, but he's not a black hole either. Reyes is the type of player who pushes you towards the dream and changes the fortunes of your franchise. Kawasaki is the type of player that keeps you in it until you get him back.

Even if he's only a glorified insurance policy, he has value beyond his off-the-field antics. He may not deserve the praise he gets sometimes (or even the 500 words I gave him here), but he does deserve more than "clubhouse guy only" status.   

Friday, 20 December 2013

Taking a Closer Look at a Colby Rasmus Extension

Colby Rasmus just had an outstanding season. In a year where Adam Jones made his third All-Star Game appearance and Jacoby Ellsbury secured a $153 million deal, Rasmus was right up with his AL East counterparts in performance. Colby's 4.8 fWAR was second only to Ellsbury's 5.8 fWAR in the division. He was even better than Ellsbury on a per-PA basis, on pace for 6.3 fWAR over a full season (600 PA). Unsurprisingly, he was also Toronto's best player, despite playing only 118 games. It was indeed an outstanding season for Colby Rasmus.

What happens now? With Rasmus only a year away from free agency, the Jays have some decisions to make. According to Bob Elliot, Rasmus is “on the market” and “has been offered to two teams” as the club looks to address its needs in the rotation. Anthopoulos denied putting Rasmus on the market, saying that every player is available, but that the return would have to overwhelm the Jays to act. While the trade option has been explored, the extension option has gotten less play. So what would a Colby Rasmus extension actually look like?

Tale of the Tape

Two recent comps that stick out immediately are B.J. Upton and Adam Jones.

Colby Rasmus:

Contract: projected $6.5 million salary in final year of arbitration (free agent after 2014)
2012: .276/.338/.501, 130 wRC+, 4.8 fWAR, 4.8 rWAR (age 26 season)

B.J. Upton

Contract: 5 year/$75.25 million free agent contract (November 2012)
2012: .246/.298/.454, 108 wRC+, 3.1 fWAR, 2.9 rWAR (age 27 season)

Adam Jones:

Contract: 6 year/$85.5 million extension (May 2012)
2011: .280/.319/.466, 109 wRC+, 2.5 fWAR, 3.2 rWAR (age 25 season)
2012: .311/.357/.601, 196 PA, at time of extension (age 26 season)

Rasmus vs. Upton

First, let's see how B.J. Upton and Colby Rasmus stack up. WAR per season: 

The first thing that sticks out is that they both followed a similar trend in performance from their age 22 to age 25 seasons. However, Upton followed that trend at a higher level of performance. Their best seasons (age 23) are somewhat comparable; 4.0 fWAR for Rasmus vs. 4.8 fWAR for Upton. But the key difference lies in their age 24 seasons. It was the low point for both players in that range, with Upton putting up 2.2 fWAR and Colby putting up 0.5 fWAR. At worst, Upton was still a regular. At worst, Colby was close to being a replacement level player. They both rebounded somewhat in their age 25 seasons, but Upton did so by a larger margin, which is also worth nothing.

The relevant ages for comparing where they were going into negotiations are Colby's age 26 (2013) and Upton's age 27 (2012) seasons. This is where Rasmus has the advantage. Heading into free agency last offseason, Upton had essentially stagnated, but was still a productive player. Colby saw a huge spike in performance and, as we know by now, is coming off a season where he produced like an All-Star. 

The way in which Rasmus and Upton attained those totals is also somewhat similar. 

C. Rasmus
B.J. Upton

Upton: .242/.317/.436 (2010-2012)
Rasmus: .276/.338/.501 (2013)

A large part of the difference in the batting lines above can be attributed to the fact that Rasmus posted a much higher BABIP. Beyond that, we see a common theme; lots of strikeouts, a decent number of walks, and power. The Upton line gives us a good idea of what Colby might be when some BABIP regression does inevitably occur, given the similarities in their profiles. In fact, that batting line is nearly identical to what Steamer and Oliver are projecting for Rasmus in 2014:

Steamer: .248/.321/.450
Oliver: .246/.319/.451

The only difference is a slightly higher slugging, which we should expect since Rasmus has indeed hit for a little more power than Upton in the past (see ISO above). We may be on to something here!

Rasmus vs. Jones

Next up is Adam Jones. Lets start by looking at cumulative WAR. Age 26 is the relevant season for both players; Jones signed his extension in the middle of that season and Colby has just completed his age 26 season.

Again, there is something that stands out immediately. Through their age 25 and age 26 seasons, Jones and Rasmus were nearly identical in terms of cumulative WAR. The difference lies in how they got there. Single season WAR by age:

We know the story of Rasmus at this point. Great, bad, bad, great. Adam Jones, on the other hand, takes the opposite path. He starts out as a young, below average player, delivering 1.6 wins in each of his 22 and 23 seasons. The young, below average player improves and becomes an average player over his age 24 and 25 seasons, putting up 2.6 wins in each of those seasons. Finally, in his age 26 season, he delivers on his promise and explodes, performing at an All-Star level. We can't take the 4.3 fWAR he put up in his age 26 season at full face value, as he signed his extension in the middle of the season. But given the fact that he was hitting .311/.357/.601 at the time of his extension, I think it's safe to say it looked an awful lot like a breakout.

The path these two players followed in arriving at the same point matters. Adam Jones got 6 years and $85.5 million. He was a young player who was full of tools, showed consistent improvement, and proved that he could make adjustments at the major league level. His breakout was expected. I'm sure the Orioles will go even further and say it was fated. It just made so much sense. So when it happened, it was easier to accept it as something real and lay down a mountain of cash to hold on to it. How many people felt this way about Rasmus heading into the 2013? The tools and youth were certainly there, but all we got from 2011-2012 were flashes. The consistency and logical progression are absent in his path and that makes his second breakout harder to accept as something real. He could have just as easily had another subpar season in 2013 and almost nobody would have been shocked.

To be more succinct, Adam Jones was a far less risky proposition and got payed accordingly. If Rasmus wants to cash in at that level, he's going to have to be the same, and that means putting up another good season in 2014.

The Decision 

As things stand now, the most I'd offer Rasmus is 5 years and $62.5 million. That might feel like a low-ball offer given the season he just had and what free agents are getting on the market, but there's just too much volatility in his performance to make a significantly higher guarantee at this point. The middle ground between his great and not-so-great seasons is still a good player, but the problem is he's only performed to that level once, and it was his rookie season all the way back in 2009. Since then he's either been amazing, or just bad. Normally I'd have more faith in a player being able to attain that middle ground, but given the inherent risk in his profile, it's not at all a sure thing. B.J. Upton, who as alluded to earlier has a very similar profile at the plate, fell apart out of nowhere in 2013 and was below replacement level. 

Of course leaving it at that would be unfairly negative, and there is a chance he can be that good, middle ground, 3.0 win player over the next five years. Otherwise, why even offer $62.5 million, right? That leads us to the other option; wait. Make him an even lower maximum offer that is further below market and hope that he takes it because he's comfortable playing in Toronto and wants the guarantee over the free agent experience. If he doesn't take it, which would likely be the case, agree to a one year deal or go through the arbitration process and reassess mid-season. Anthopoulos himself has alluded to this as a possibility. If Rasmus continues to produce in 2014, suddenly it goes from another one year blip to a continuation of a second “breakout” campaign and the team might be more comfortable giving him a sizable guarantee. It'll certainly cost them more to extend him at that point though. Given his proximity to free agency and the fact that he would, presumably, be raking, Rasmus' camp might even want something north of the $85.5 million guarantee Adam Jones received. Waiting might be prudent, but it could also end up being very costly.

Between the rotation, second base, finding a platoon partner for Adam Lind, and filling the bench, the decisions the Blue Jays have left to make have been written about extensively this offseason. Don't forget to add Colby Rasmus to that list.