Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Player Profile: Melky Cabrera

If you liked Casey Kotchman, then you’ll love Melky Cabrera.

Other than the fact that Melky is a league average defensive outfielder whereas Casey is a good defensive first baseman, the two players have very similar skill sets.  The batting approach of Cabrera, like Kotchman, consists of taking a decent number of walks (8% BB rate in ‘09), making contact at an excellent rate (88% contact rate in ‘09), and hitting an extremely high number of ground balls (50% GB rate in ’09).

It’s hard to generate much power when 50% of the balls you put in play are driven into the ground.  This deficiency has dimmed the futures of prospects ranging from Delmon Young to Mark Teahen.

That said, Cabrera is just one skill away from turning into a productive major league batter.  Melky will be 25 going into the season, so he’s still in the growth stage of his career.  It’s not inconceivable that he could start lifting and driving some of these balls as he approaches his peak seasons.

If he doesn’t improve with the bat, he’s little more than a fourth outfielder who could be a nice defensive substitute for Nate McLouth in the late innings.

Monday, December 28, 2009

The Javier Vazquez trade - a week removed

The Braves get Melky Cabrera, Arodys Vizcaino, Mike Dunn and $500,000.  The Yankees get Javier Vazquez and Boone Logan.

This trade dramatically reduces the Braves’ chances of making the playoffs in 2010 - by approxmiately 15%. That’s what makes this deal painful. What makes the deal somewhat more bearable is that there’s a decent chance that it improves the Braves’ payroll structure and overall talent in the long-term. To appropriately assess the merits and demerits of the trade, it will be necessary to consider the cost of making the trade against the potential benefit.

Let’s begin our analysis by considering a counterfactual hypothesis. Javier Vazquez is a member of the Atlanta Braves for the entire 2010 season. When his contract expires at the conclusion of the 2010 season, Frank Wren has to decide whether or not to offer him salary arbitration. For simplicity, let’s assume the Vazquez is offered and declines salary arbitration. Since Vazquez will likely be a Type A free agent, this would net the Braves two compensatory draft picks.

By going down this counterfactual path, we’re able to get a clear picture of the full cost of making this trade. The Braves gave up one year of Javier Vazquez plus two compensatory draft picks and team control of Boone Logan for three more years.
Research shows that these draft picks are worth about $8 million.

The lost value of Vazquez’ contribution is best measured in relation to the player(s) that will replace him. This would either be Kenshin Kawakami or Derek Lowe.

Kenshin Kawakami
[4.7 WAR (Vazquez’ 8-yr average) – 1.7 WAR (Kawakami’s 2009)] X $4.5 million (approximate value of marginal wins) = $13.5 million.

$13.5 million - $11.5 million (Javier Vazquez’ 2010 salary) = $2 million.

Derek Lowe
(4.7 WAR – 2.6 WAR) X $4.5 million = $9.45 million. $9.45 million - $11.5 million = -$2.05 million.

Bumping Lowe out of the rotation instead of trading Vazquez would have actually resulted in a net economic loss for the Braves, which may come as a surprise to the bloodthirsty masses that wanted to completely cut ties with Lowe at whatever cost necessary - but not to the discerning Screaming Indian reader.

We'll assume optimal decision-making on the part of Frank Wren (I know, I know), and say that the cost of losing Vazquez is $10 million because he would have bumped Kawakami, not Lowe out of the rotation.

Let’s estimate that Melky Cabrera will cost a total of $9 million during his three years remaining under team control. Dunn is very similar to Logan in skills, age, and service time, so there can’t be much expectation for profit there. For simplicity, we'll assume the following:

Boone Logan - Mike Dunn = 0

That gives us a final total of the cost of the Vazquez trade at $19 million.

Now, for the benefits.

The Braves got 6+ years of Arodys Vizcaino, 6+ years of Mike Dunn, 3 years of Melky Cabrera and $0.5 million.

Projecting Cabrera’s value in 2010 and beyond is difficult because of role uncertainty and limited (if NY-aggrandized) major league experience, but it’s hard to imagine that he’ll add much (if any) value to the line-up other than as a fourth outfielder and marginal contributor.

So whether this will be considered a good or bad trade may ultimately come down to whether Arodys Vizcaino reaches - or how nearly he reaches - his considerable ceiling.  Much of the burden of recovering this $18.5 million will be placed on his his ability to outperform his pay grade if/when he makes it to the big leagues.

The Braves could rid themselves of a potential albatross of Francoeurian proportions if they were able to flip Melky Cabrera. Talking Chop suggests that Frank Wren would be well-advised to act as quickly as possible while Cabrera still has that brilliant Yankee sheen. I agree. Otherwise, Cabrera may be a candidate to become non-tendered in the coming years, given how much his salary could grow in arbitration. If he’s traded or non-tendered, this trade goes from ‘outside shot long-term win’ to ‘probable long-term win’ for the Braves.

This article can also be found at the Braves Baseball Blog.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Braves sign Troy Glaus to one-year deal

The Atlanta Braves have signed Troy Glaus to a one year deal pending the results of a physical.  Glaus is expected to play first base for the Braves.  This will be Glaus’ first foray into manning first base for an entire season.  His customary position is third base, where most metrics regard him as a poor defender.
Over the past 8 seasons, Glaus has averaged 2.575 Wins Above Replacement, including about 1.25 seasons lost to injury.  Last year, Glaus only played in 14 games for the Cardinals due to a shoulder injury.  In 2008, his last full season, Glaus was worth 5.3 WAR at third base.  The move to first base should help Glaus stay healthy and will limit the Braves’ exposure to his suspect glove work.
The terms of the deal have not been disclosed but are believed to be heavily laden with incentives.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Fantasy Fallout: Brandons Morrow & League Traded

A trade between Seattle and Toronto was announced on Monday afternoon. No, not that one. A new one. One that won't be the lead story on ESPN, but one that's just as interesting to fantasy owners looking for low-risk, high-reward pitching.

The Mariners sent Brandon Morrow to the Blue Jays for Brandon League and an as-yet-unknown prospect. This seems like a pretty good deal for both teams, with the Mariners probably getting the better end of the deal (depending on who the prospect turns out to be).

The Mariners get a guy in Leauge who can immediately step into late-inning relief work, which will be a nice addition for the suddenly contending (if not AL West favorite) Mariners.

The M's could ill afford to have Morrow struggling to find his groove as a starter while Seattle pursues its first pennant in (HOW MANY?) years.

Morrow, Starter: 71 K, 48 UBB, 4.42 ERA, 79 1/3 IP
Morrow, Reliever: 133 K, 73 UBB, 3.65 ERA, 118 1/3 IP

Since the new administration in Toronto has indicated its committment to rebuilding, Morrow's new team may be better suited to provide him an opportunity to consolidate his skills in a starting role. The talent's there, but for Morrow to succeed, health and consistency must follow.

As for League, he leaves a bullpen rife with pitchers featuring "closer stuff" (Frasor, Downs) to one where, well... Let's just say David Aardsma was their closer last year and leave it at that.

League's surface stats in 2009 were abysmal (4.58 ERA), but his base skills tell a different story (9.2 K/9, 2.5 BB/9, 56% GB). While one should always be wary of relievers giving breakout performances in small samples, for Leauge, the success doesn't come out of nowhere. Though his skills have taken a little while to round into form at the MLB level, League once came with top prospect billing.

With Aardsma's track record spotty at best, League is a player you might want to think about about stashing away at the end of your draft. If the opportunity to close knocks, League has the skills to keep the role.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Player Profile: Brian McCann

Brian McCann's 2009 was famously marred by a Lasik surgery that didn't take. One can't help but think that the drop-off from his 2008 level of production had something do with this (.281/.346/.486 in '09, .301/.371/.523 in '08).

The decline in McCann's rate statistics coincided with declines in his base skills (-1 BB%, -4 contact %, -2 flyball %). Still, the drop-off was marginal and to be expected following a season as mammoth as McCann's 2008 - but even so, McCann was still one of the elite catchers in 2009.

Going into his age 26 season and with another offseason Lasik procedure (that will hopefully go much more smoothly), I'd put expectations for McCann somewhere between 2008 and 2009. That's a conclusion with which the industry's leading prognosticators seem agree:

Ron Shandler's Baseball Forecaster: .286/.350/.509
The Bill James Handbook: .291/.362/.511

Assuming he's healthy, Brian McCann's is one of the most stable skill sets in the game. And that has to give comfort to Frank Wren and fantasy owners alike.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Vazquez unlikely to waive no-trade clause

Braves ace Javier Vazquez has been bandied about the MLB trade rumor mill in the past couple of days, mostly related to talks between GM Frank Wren and the Los Angeles Angels. Mark Bowman confirms that sources close to Vazquez maintain that he would be unlikely to waive the clause in his contract that prohibits the Braves from trading him to a west coast team.

This is good news for Braves fans, as the Angels don't have much to offer that would compensate Atlanta for the value that Vazquez should bring to the pitching staff in 2010.

Friday's Braves Buzz

Johnny Damon has interest in playing for the Braves. I can only hope Frank Wren doesn't have interest in paying him.

The Braves haven't contacted Adam LaRoche, who quips to Dave O'Brien via text message, “No talk from ATL that I know of. Guess I should have hit .400 while I was there."

Elsewhere, six players who will likely never make a meaningful contribution to the major league team were signed to minor league contracts.

Derek Lowe & the rush to judgement

Derek Lowe did not have a good 2009. One year after accepting a 4 year, $60 million contract to come to play for the Braves, Lowe is all but being run out of town on a pole. Wren may have no choice but to trade Lowe at this point, as all the trade talk understandably has the veteran righty all hot and bothered.

Though there may be disagreement about the order I have chosen, few would dispute that the following are the Braves' top starters going into 2010.

1) Javier Vazquez
2) Tim Hudson
3) Tommy Hanson
4) Jair Jurrjens

The uncertainty in the rotation arises from the fifth starter spot. Derek Lowe, Kenshin Kawakami, and (maybe) Kris Medlen are Atlanta's most viable contenders for the vacancy. It seems that everyone is assuming that Derek Lowe isn't the Braves' fifth-best starter. I don't think this is a safe assumption.

At minimum, I think Lowe is at least as good as Kawakami going forward (and probably better) and also happens to have a long track record of being an outstanding MLB pitcher. Consider two pitcher-seasons:

Pitcher A: 1.8 K/BB 42%/39% GB/FB ratio
Pitcher B: 1.8 K/BB 56%/26% GB/FB ratio

Which do you prefer? Pitcher B? Me too. You, my friend, have just indicated that you preferred Derek Lowe's 2009 to Kenshin Kawakami's.

Sure, at $15 million a year, Lowe is badly overpaid. But, in a league where contracts are guaranteed, bad investments are sunk costs. And when you're dealing with sunk costs, you have to forget the fact that Lowe is overpaid and go with the best player.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Soriano accepts arbitration offer from Braves

Rafael Soriano was one of only three players to accept arbitration as the deadline to do so came and went at 12:00 AM Eastern Tuesday morning.

It's expected Soriano will be awarded somewhere between $6.5 million to $7 million. Under arbirtration rules, the contract is not guaranteed, but the Braves cannot trade Soriano until after June 1st unless they first obtain his persmission.

Suddenly, the Braves have a deep, expensive bullpen headed by Billy Wagner, Takashi Saito, and Rafael Soriano, who will command a total of about $17 million in 2010.

Frank Wren may try to move Soriano along with Derek Lowe and Kelly Johnson via trade, but Soriano's hefty price tag paired with his difficulty staying healthy over the past several seasons may make him a difficult pawn to maneuver during this Hot Stove Season.

Also returning in the Atlanta bullpen are Peter Moylan, Kris Medlen, Eric O'Flaherty, & Manny Acosta. Boone Logan, Jo-Jo Reyes and either Derek Lowe or Kenshin Kawakami may also figure into the mix.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Braves sign Billy Wagner to $7 million deal

In a vacuum, I don't hate this signing. As J.C. Bradbury points out, Wagner would likely yield more in revenue than it cost to sign him.

But it's the opportunity cost here that worries me, especially given the fact that the Braves rather curiously delcined to offer arbitration to Adam LaRoche. (What was the downside here? That he would accept the arbitration offer, and you would get the best first baseman on the market at relatively little expense?)

The Braves have a dire need at first base this offseason, they won't have much payroll coming off the books, and they've already blown $7 million on a 38-year-old reliever who is just getting back from Tommy John surgery.

We broke down the market for free agent first basemen back in October.

Catch the details of the Wagner signing here.