Friday, July 28, 2006

On Pop Quizzes and Tough Questions

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Milwaukee Brewers trade OF-Carlos Lee, OF-Nelson Cruz and a PTBNL to the Texas Rangers for P-Francisco Cordero, OF-Kevin Mench and OF-Laynce Nix.

Word had it that yesterday Milwaukee Brewers GM Doug Melvin would decide whether to

a) trade away Carlos Lee or
b) make a run at the Wild Card.

It appears today that he chose

c) all of the above.

This isn’t your usual “free agents for prospects” deal. Melvin gained some pieces for next year, since the Brewers will either hasvea contract or own the rights of all three players in 2007. But none of the players are likely to be particularly valuable after 2007.

Instead, he gained some help for THIS year. My guess is that Mench will replace most of Lee in the outfield, and ex-closer Cordero will be given an opportunity to fix the closer spot for the Brewers, which has been a real problem spot for them. Furthermore, the trade of minor leaguers seems to favor the Rangers, strangely enough, with Cruz outplaying Nix in AAA.

It's bad news for Twins fans, anyway you slice it. It appears the trade market had one less seller than we thought, and the Rangers were never thought of as buyers. I suppose it's some consolation that the four teams the Twins are really competing with (White Sox, Yankees, Red Sox and Tigers) ended up with him.

The question in Twins fans minds is probably “Could Terry Ryan have made this deal?” The answer is probably “Yes”, but Juan Rincon would likely have had to be included, and it’s not clear the Twins had a comparable player for Mench (perhaps Rondell White, depending on whether Melvin believed in him).

This is another key example that the market for solid bullpen help has gone through the roof since the end of last season. Contracts to mediocre acquisitions like Kyle Farnsworth and Flash Gordon last winter demonstrated that teams were valuing relievers far more than they had before. A majority of the trades as we’ve approached the deadline have involved relievers as well, with last week’s Reds/Nationals trade being the prime example of what one can get for decent relief.

Which raises a question that Twins fans haven’t asked much in the past. Would the Twins move Rincon or Joe Nathan in a trade? Don’t cop out and throw out the name of Jesse Crain – the opposing GM won’t. It’s a question that will be asked this weekend as teams look for a third or fourth team for a complicated swap. And it’s a questions that has likely been answered already by Terry Ryan, and maybe asked by Doug Melvin.


JimCrikket said...

Which raises a question that Twins fans haven’t asked much in the past. Would the Twins move Rincon or Joe Nathan in a trade?

In a word, "no".

The Twins have discovered a formula that has resulted in a winning percentage of roughly .800 over an extended period of time. If TR makes that deal, the lack of Rincon in the pen is just as likely to COST the team a playoff spot as it would be that having Lee would enhance their chances.

brianS said...

It would depend on the player and the contract. For a rental? No. For a rental plus a good corner OF prospect or two at the AA+ level? Probably.

Both Rincon and Nathan are under contract for next year with, I think, club options for 2008. That makes them pretty valuable -- worth a lot more than a rental.

But either is replaceable. Entering a game with the bases empty and the lead and getting three outs before losing the lead is a skill that is not nearly as rare as many fans seem to think.

brianS said...

Oops. My bad. Rincon's contract is only through this year.

Hmmm. He's making, what, $900K this year? On the open market he's got to be worth upwards of $4m-$5m, right?

I changed my mind. Rincon for a rental is probably a decent deal, assuming the other club picks up a chunk of the pro-rated salary difference.

ubelmann said...

On the open market he's got to be worth upwards of $4m-$5m, right?

Kyle Farnsworth got signed last offseason for 3 years/$17M. I'd bet Rincon could get at least 3 years/$21M. He could also easily be someone's closer. Heck, imagining what the Tigers would be like with Rincon instead of Todd Jones (2 years/$11M) is downright scary.

Usually, I'm down with bullpen arms being expendable, but Rincon and Nathan are really on a short list of the best in the game, and there's a lot of value in that.

frightwig said...

Rincon is a lot better than Francisco Cordero (of the 4.81 ERA, 1.32 WHIP), and 4 years younger, too. If the Rangers can get one of the prime players on the trade market in exchange for a package that includes Cordero, I'd say Jesse Crain is definitely a viable trade chip.

Really, I'm unimpressed with the Brewers' end of this deal. No prospects. Just an ordinary corner OF and mediocre reliever, and a 25 year-old CF in AAA who seems to have marginal offensive ability.

brianS said...

Agreed, agreed. My (revised) point about Rincon is that he should be considered a rental at this point.

Is Terry Ryan going to pony up more money for Rincon than he is already locked in on for Joe Nathan? It seems somewhat unlikely.

Rincon is excellent. But Neshek and Crain both seem like plausible setup men in the short run. So the question is, who provides the greater marginal value to the end of the season -- Rincon or a big right-handed bat who can play LF and DH?

Okietwin said...

I would not want TR making a trade involving any of the teams "regulars" right now including the bullpen arms. We are a lot different team than the Rangers. They are hovering around 500...clinging to staying in the race in a bad division. The Twins are 18 over....trying to compete with the likes of the WS, Yankees, Tigers and Jays. We cant afford to mess with the formula right now. The Rangers can tinker away.....

One of the reasons for the hot streak is we have what TK used to call 7 inning games. We get to the lead in the 7th and Rincon and Nathan are automatic. I dont think we can assume that would be the case with other arms in those slots.

Greg said...

This is to clarify some confusion about Rincon’s status next year. It is true that he is not under contract for next year but he IS NOT a free agent unless the twins fail offer arbitration. Next year will be the first year he is eligible for arbitration so his 900,000 contract will likely increase drastically. The Twins will get him much cheaper through the arbitration process then they would if they had to sign him as a free agent so having him in that situation is a value to the twins or any team that may trade for him.

brianS said...

Greg makes an important point.
On the other hand, binding arbitration is not the same thing as serfdom. While the player cannot solicit competing bids for his services, he most certainly can offer a portfolio of comps.

To wit:
Kyle Lohse, $3.95 million in 2006
Joe Nathan, $3.75 million in 2006, $5.25 million in 2007, $7+ million in 2008

and outside the Twins family

Mike Timlin: $3.0 million in 2006
Julian Tavarez: $3.35 million in 2006
Brad Lidge: $3.95 million in 2006
LaTroy Hawkins: $4.4 million in 2006
Flash Gordon: 3 years, $18 million
Keith Foulke: $7.75 million in 2006
Jason Isringhausen: $8.75 million in 2006

HrbekIsMyHero said...

Arbitration also considers how many years you have been in the league. None of the guys you cited above are "comparables" to Rincon because they are veterans with far more service time than he. Good rule of thumb in re: arbitration--first year/super two...player rarely exceeds 3MM contract even as a superstar (a la Mauer, Morneau)...Cuddyer would have reached 1.5MM as a Super Two had they gone to arbitration last year. Rincon would get somewhere between 2 and 2.5 MM for 07 if they don't do a longer term deal. His arb year is his second (4+ years of service time) where players get closer to market average, but there is still a depressed salary figure...(for Mauer, Morneau think 6 - 7 MM). Third year arb (5+ years service time) money is close to league norms for veteran players, meaning Rincon would probably get the 3 MM or so comparable to the set up guys listed in the above post. For Mauer, Morneau, 3rd yr arb probably brings them into the 9 - 11 MM per year range prior to free agency.

So...Rincon is NOT a rental. You can figure the Twins control his services for two years and will pay approximately, note the word approximately, 2.5 MM in 07 and around 3 MM in 08.

brianS said...

HrbekIsMyHero, I'm not sure I follow all that. I'm not being snarky, just admitting ignorance.

reading from the 2002-06 CBA, there would seem to be room for either your interpretation (limitation of comps to players with roughly similar experience) or mine (any player is a potential comp).

From the 2002-06 CBA (p. 29):
The arbitration panel shall, except for a Player with five or more years of Major League service, give particular attention, for comparative salary purposes, to the contracts of Players with Major League service not exceeding one annual service group above the Player’s annual service group.
This shall not limit the ability of a Player or his representative, because of special accomplishment, to argue the equal relevance of salaries of Players without regard to service, and the arbitration panel shall give whatever weight to such argument as is deemed appropriate.

HrbekIsMyHero said...

Dude, wasn't trying to be snarky either, and I don't claim to be an expert on arbitration, but that phrase you dug up (cool, btw) seems to indicate that unless you have five plus years in service, comp players must be no more than one service "group" (that of course is the key phrase...i would guess it means years of service, but I wouldn't be the farm on that). That would jibe with what I've been told re: arbitration prior to the sixth year of service, which more accurately resembles market value. I'll stick with my rambling (though you obviously got the jist of it) analysis/explanation until proven otherwise. Laughs.

brianS said...

Don't worry. I didn't take it as snarky on your part.

re-read the phrasing from the CBA, however. It says that the arbitration panel shall give particular attention to comps with 1 additional year of service. But it then immediately clarifies that the panel shall give "whatever weight...appropriate" to other comps.

this seems to give plenty o' leeway for Rincon's agent to bring up Kyle Farnsworth's $5+ million per or LaTroy Hawkins' $4.4 million or Flash Gordon's $6 million per. Those contracts would seem to pretty well frame the open-market value of a top setup man capable of being a closer, which pretty well describes Rincon.

That's not to say that he would win such an argument. I haven't done a full search on setup man contracts. One could counter-argue that there are many serfs out there capable of providing comparable performance. Of course, I don't see why THOSE salaries should be relevant in binding arbitration.

Anonymous said...

The trade for Lee was the equivalent of the Twins dealing Lohse, Ford, and Kubel.

Cordero is a mess, who knows what he'll do from one day to the next, Nix seems to be nothing special from what I've seen of him. However, Nix is better then Mench who is really nothing mroe then a DH that is well known because he is too lazy to figure out what size of shoe he wears to go with his big head. Ever since his 7 homers in 7 day binge, Mench has done a whole lot of nothing. It was a Yankee style swindle by the Rangers while the Brewers got nothing but mediocre players back for one of the games elites.

The Twins have more pitching prospects then they know what to do with. Realisticly, without giving up Garza, Terry Ryan could've dealt for Lee, Soriano, and another bat or for an arm. The only thing keeping the Twins from being a contender instead of a chaser is a Gm that has no clue and is unable to pull the trigger on anything.

Anonymous said...