Friday, July 30, 2010

8 Things I HATE About the Capps-Ramos Trade

Intro, shmintro. I’m tired, and now I feel sick. Let’s count the eight little balls of hate I’ll be counting as I try to fall asleep tonight.

8. I hate that the Twins apparently didn’t value Wilson Ramos.

And I say that as a guy who argued that most of us are overvaluing Ramos’ trade value just a couple of weeks ago. But he was worth a lot more than this.

I get it – Ramos is expendable because Joe Mauer is signed for $23 million for the next eight years. But that doesn’t make Ramos worthless, and it really doesn’t mean the Twins needed to trade him RIGHT NOW. Ramos doesn’t run out of options until 2012, and he’s just 22. He could spend the next year and a half improving on his .241 batting average, and still just be 24 years old when he needs to start playing in the bigs. And then he could start slowly there, being used as a backup catcher. Or, they could try something a little more creative….

7. I hate that the Twins traded Ramos away just when we figured out that Mauer might need some rest.

If there is one message that that Ron Gardenhire has driven home over the last month, both by his words and his actions, it is that everyone seems to understand that Mauer is much more effective when he isn’t catching every game. This month, he’s resting and he’s hitting. For instance, Mauer has hit three home runs this month and all of them happened the day after he rested or was the designated hitter.

And so Ramos could be viewed as the perfect compliment for Mauer – a catcher and right-handed power bat that can help the lineup even when Mauer is resting or playing designated hitter. And perhaps they could even keep Ramos’ big right-handed bat in the lineup when Mauer was catching. Plus, Ramos would be under the Twins control for almost the entirety of Mauer’s contract.

Or we could just watch Drew Butera and his .214 career minor league batting average. Read those last five words again. And softly weep.

6. I hate that the Twins traded for a position in which they have minor league options.

If there is ONE position that the Twins have plenty of internal options, it’s that of right-handed reliever. We’ve been waiting for Anthony Slama, Kyle Waldrop and Rob Delaney to show what they can or can’t do for months, but the excuse has been that they couldn’t be added to the 40-man roster.

And that excuse was B.S.

The Twins could’ve place Clay Condrey on the 60-day dl back at the beginning of June, but waited until mid-July. And there were a handful of other fringe prospects that the Twins could’ve removed, but they would’ve risked losing them. And they certainly could have made room on the 25-man roster, such as sending down Jose Mijares, if they weren’t so concerned about burning one of his options.

Instead they traded away one of their better prospects for pennies on the dollar. You tell me which is more valuable. The roster moves for the Twins have been pennywise and pound-foolish all season, and the pound came due today.

By now, the Twins should know whether they really needed to trade for another reliever. Instead, we’ve seen Slama up for about a week, making about two appearances. We have no idea how Waldrop or Delaney’s stuff plays.

(And let’s not forget that Pat Neshek is still trying to find his way back up here too.)

5. I hate Matt Capps contract status.

There is a reason that Capps was signed last year as a free agent by the Nationals, instead of being retained by the Pirates, even though he was two years short of free agency.

It’s because the Pirates couldn’t afford to offer him arbitration. That’s because offering arbitration to a closer, especially a mediocre closer with a lot of saves, is a dangerous proposition. Capps has 27 saves for the Pirates last year, and will likely end up with the high 30s this year. That’s 60+ saves over the last two years that he can carry into an arbitration hearing, along with five years of MLB experience under his belt.

I can’t crunch all those numbers, but if the Twins offer Capps arbitration next year, it’ll likely at least double his $3.5M salary this year. And the next year, when he’s a Type A free agent, offering him arbitration could results in a payout approaching eight figures, so there is no guarantee the Twins will want to take that chance. Which means they may not get back those two top draft picks for Capps if he walks.

4. I hate that we are trying to portray Capps as a valuable bullpen arm.

We all know that saves stats are worthless. And even little kids can tell you why ERA is a silly statistic for relievers, so let’s not get too caught up in Capps’ 2.80 mark.

If you want a really basic stat that is fairly useful for relievers, go with Walks plus Hits compared to Innings Pitched or WHIP. It’s often listed, easily figured out, and if you list the relievers for a team in the order of their WHIP, you get pretty close to who is the best and worst are. For instance, here are the Twins relievers (with at least 10 IP) and their WHIPs:

Brian Duensing 1.05
Jesse Crain 1.15
Matt Guerrier 1.17
Ron Mahay 1.19
Jose Mijares 1.27
Jon Rauch 1.36
Alex Burnett 1.51

That’s about right. Duensing has done the heavy lifting. Crain and Guerrier have both been a step below that, but still very good. I’m a little surprised to see Mahay that high, but when you only face one left-handed batter a game, I guess that helps. I’m a little surprised to see Rauch that low, though he’s been hit pretty hard lately. And Burnett’s number got bad enough that he’s back in AAA.

Capps, by the way, has a WHIP of 1.33, which means he’s about the same as Rauch, and not one of the top relievers on this staff.

You can use more advanced metrics, and you find the same thing. I talked a few months back about how valuable Joe Nathan was by introducing Adjusted Runs Prevented ( Those stats will tell you the same thing – and it’s something you already know: Matt Capps is a slightly above average reliever who happens to have fallen into a “closer” role.

But even if you want to argue that he’s better than Rauch, that doesn’t mean much. The Twins already have several guys who are better than Rauch. And that’s not particularly hard to find, provided you don’t get carried away with saves.

3. I hate that the Twins seem to really value the title of “closer.”

I have tried for years to defend the practice of giving guys in the bullpen certain roles. I can confidently state that about 75% of the criticism leveled towards that practice is unfair and knee-jerk. And I’ve consistently defended Ron Gardenhire and the Twins for that practice for several years, because it’s worked.

But there is no defending this. It appears that the ONLY reason the Twins made this trade was because Capps was a “closer.” And not even a closer that anyone can reasonably claim has felt any real urgency, given that he’s been working in the pressure cookers of PNC Park and Nationals Park.

2. I hate the $500,000.

Why? Why would the Twins ask for $500,000 back in this deal? They’re going to need to pay Capps about $1.2M for the rest of the year, so it doesn’t cover the whole salary. They supposedly had money from Nathan’s insurance to help cover additional salary. Why does this matter exactly? What is being paid for? Are the Twins really that cash strapped?

Of course, I’m not sure it matters, because….

1. I hate that this looks like THE move.

The Twins just traded their best trade chip to add the fifth best reliever to their bullpen. What’s more, two weeks ago it appeared that the Twins could’ve had Cliff Lee for Wilson Ramos and Aaron Hicks – and now the Twins have Matt Capps and Aaron Hicks. Plus, it appears our hope that the Twins have money to spend at the trade deadline might have been misplaced. And, of course, there are only 36 hours until the trade deadline.

There are only five words that give me any hope at all about this trade: Shannon Stewart and Bobby Kielty. I’ve been wrong plenty of times before about trades, and that’s the best example. Plus, I generally trust the Twins scouts, as they proved again last year with Carl Pavano.

You can try and talk me down in the comments below. Or, add your own reasons you hate it. I'll likely add to it throughout the day.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Reality Checking the Geek Chorus

Really? 74 comments? I get 74 comments when I try to suggest that the 3-year, $41 million contract tied to Dan Haren’s 4.6ish ERA isn’t a bargain? That’s the cross the Geek Chorus wants to carry?

Hey, I’m game. The Geek Chorus, which is what I'm now calling the comments section, is here to provide a counterpoint – and some comic relief. If you want to argue that we as fans are currently entitled to unlimited funds from the Pohlads due to our support of this team, go for it.

Geek Chorus: Just because you want to trumpet your half-@** analyis, don’t expect the rest of Twins Territory to embrace your Montgomery Burns fetish.

Twins Geek: I don’t know exactly which of Burns’ fetishes you’re talking about – and I don’t want to. But this strikes me as lashing out at a truth. Sort of like a desperate 6-year-old, wanting her Malibu Stacy doll. She doesn’t care what it costs – it’s CHRISTMAS, dammit.

(Oh, and like Malibu Stacy, “Math makes her brain hurt.”)

GC: I’ll give YOU a brain hurt. Ok Poindexter, prove it to me. Prove to me that the Twins aren’t going to have a payroll closer to $120 million next year.

TG: Let’s take a look at the Twins recent payroll spending, shall we? This is according to USA Today (which ignores some signing bonuses, but still):

2006: $63M
2007: $71M
2008: $57M
2009: $65M
2010: $98M

The increase of $33M and 50% of payroll over the last year has an obvious source – the new stadium. Actually, if you take a look back at last season’s TwinsCentric Offseason GM Handbook, you can see where that increase comes from. We did a pretty nice job of predicting it:

Still, you’ll notice that the Twins payroll has basically leveled off since the announcement of the new taxpayer subsidized ballpark. And while MLB (and the rest of the world) has faced a recession during that time, we haven’t seen similar stagnation in other teams’ payrolls. Overall, major league payroll climbed 7% across the board over those two years. If the Twins payroll climbed a similar amount, it would be closer to $77 million this year, $12 million higher than it actually was.

So, given that level, we’ll add a 5% increase for 2010 and another $15 million to $20 million bump from the new stadium. Add all that up and you have 95 to $100 million to spend.

GC: Is your arm OK from patting yourself on the back? So, you’re saying that the entire $33M bump wasn’t solely due to the new stadium?

TG: Actually, no, I don’t care. The truth is that wherever that new money came from, it isn’t coming again. Either it was a result of the new stadium, or it was a result of not appropriately growing payroll earlier and then also getting a smaller bump from the new stadium. Either way – it isn’t happening again.

GC: Posh. How do you know that the $97M was even the limit this year?

TG: Look back at the Orlando Hudson signing. Hudson (and a few other desirable free agents like Felipe Lopez) were sitting out there just waiting for a deal. Hudson was literally the PERFECT fit for this team – a second baseman with multiple gold gloves that could bat second in the order. And yet, he didn’t sign until February 4th for $5 million. And it was reported three days earlier that the Twins couldn’t afford even $3 million.

GC: Maybe that’s just good negotiating.

TG: It’s undoubtedly good negotiating. But it also sounds like (and there were plenty of rumors afterwards to support it) that the Twins had reached their budget at about $95M and were stretching to $97M. After all, if they had money left it the budget, why didn’t they have moved to shore up the bullpen in March when they were freaking out about Joe Nathan’s injury?

GC: Whatever. So they were at their limit. The Twins are making money hand over fist. They’re making far more money than they could have anticipated.

TG: No, they aren’t. Don’t get me wrong – they’re making out like bandits in the new stadium, but what exactly could they have not anticipated? They had to anticipate the seat sales, especially given their season ticket sales of almost 20,000 seats. Their local TV contract is fixed. Their radio contract is fixed. Their national revenues (such as TV) are fixed. Their apparel sales are split with the league. Their corporate sponsorships were set long ago. (Oh, and forget about concessions being a huge moneymaker. That’s not going well.)

Ratings are up? Great – that’s a boon to Fox Sport North. Radio ratings are up? Good news for ESPN 1500 for the $1 million they’re paying the Twins to broadcast their games. (And probably to the Twins for their radio advertising, but this isn’t a bonanza.)

It’s not that the Twins aren’t making great money. They are. It’s that there is NO WAY they are making tens of millions of dollars more than they could have anticipated.

And there is REALLY no way they are going to make tens of millions of dollars more next year than they made this year. Where are they going to make it? Ticket demand always softens in the second year of a stadium. TV is fixed. Radio is up for negotiation, but we’re talking about an increase of a million dollars a year at most (and probably not).

There will likely be an overall increase similar to what we’ve seen from the rest of MLB – about 5%. If the Twins, due to some increased revenue, add another 5%, we’re up to maybe a 10% increase in payroll – which bring things up to about $107M. Which is enough to basically not re-sign any impending free agents, let alone pay a big trade acquisition.

GC: But what about this? Didn’t the Twins already talk about a $120 million payroll?

TG: No, they didn’t. In a feel-good press conference after Joe Mauer signed, LaVelle E Neal said he and Joe Christensen walked away with the “feeling” that maybe the Twins might increase that much, given Jim Pohlad’s joviality at the press conference. Well of course he was optimistic – he had just signed Joe Mauer. That’s a long way from announcing a payroll level.

Payroll level is easy thing to ask the Twins, but they since the Bill Smith era began, they generally haven’t answered it. But a general impression on a day when the LAST thing anyone wants to talk about is fiscal reality is thin soup. I’ll stick to data, thanks.

GC: Especially when it makes you look oh so smart and allows you to defend the do-nothing front office. Pohlad is worth BILLIONS. He should be spending the money.

TG: Uh-huh. Here's 3 rules I live by. You might want to try them.

1) I don't tell George Clooney how to dress.
2) I don't tell Wilt Chamberlain how to meet women.
3) I don't tell the Pohlad's how to manage their money.

GC: Meanwhile Jhonny Peralta is joining the Tigers. How do we respond to that?

TG: Panic, maybe? After all, who wouldn’t want a defensively limited third baseman with a 697 OPS? When you have a shot at that guy, you’re got to pull the trigger.

GC: It’s more than the Twins have done.

TG: It sure is. If only the Twins could dig up a third baseman who could hit. I sure wish we had one of those. Oh, wait….

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Haren Not So Reasonable

More and more when I talk to Twins fans about the trade deadline, I envision the conversation I’ll have with my kids when they get their first credit card. Ah, the freedom! Suddenly you can get those things that were always out of reach. And you’re making more money than you ever did before. Why not go get a Dan Haren? Damn it, you deserve it!

And I’m going to tell them that they actually deserve quite a bit more than that bauble. Especially when they consider the price.

Almost invariably, whenever I have heard Haren’s name mentioned in Twins trade deadline talk, the words “reasonable contract” have been uttered. (We actually had that same phrase in the Trade Deadline Primer. I almost modified it, and didn’t, much to my current chagrin.) “Reasonable” is true if you’re talking about the guy who posted All-Star seasons in 2007, 2008 and half of 2009.

But here are Haren’s stats since the All-Star break last year (over a year ago): 4.61 ERA in 240.1 IP including 38 home runs and (for those of you who care) a 12-13 record.

That’s not terrible. It’s not even bad. At the very least, he’s eating innings, and on the sexier side, there are 235 K and only 51 BB in those 240.1 IP. Of course, he’s also been pitching in the National League.

Would he have been an upgrade on the Twins staff? Sure. Even with Haren’s struggles, it would be like adding a rich man’s Scott Baker, with a little bit better ERA, a better ability to eat up innings, and the same weakness of giving up too many moon shots. And, like Baker, he has some big money coming his way – and that’s what REALLY makes him a rich man’s Scott Baker.

You know how we’re starting to sweat the $11 million that Baker is guaranteed through his next two years? Haren is going to make more than that ($12.75M) just next year. And that’s not the good news for Haren. The good news is that he’s guaranteed at least $29M over the next two years. Or, if his new club prefers, he could make $41M over the next three years.

If a player is a Cy Young candidate (which Haren was nominally last year because of his first half), that’s a reasonable contract. But if he’s posting a 4.60ish ERA and reliably offering souvenirs to the cheap seats, it’s a killer. That kind of money isn’t thrown around easily. There was only one starting pitcher last year who received anything close to that kind of money as a free agent – John Lackey, the biggest name on the market.

That’s why Haren was acquired by a team like the Angels, who have been among the most aggressive spenders for free agents in recent years. (They also were the team that lost the aforementioned Lackey, maybe not so coincidentally.) And it’s also why the package that landed him – a mediocre starter, two decent but not great prospects and a supposedly better prospect to be named later – looks so reasonable.

What would the Twins have needed to put together to match or exceed it? A comparable package might have been something like Nick Blackburn, Rob Delaney, Shooter Hunt and some very young pitcher with a high upside (Deolis Guerra?) as the PTBNL.

Would I be happy if the Twins were announcing that deal tonight? Sure. Just like I am whenever I overspend for a new toy. But I’m not sure I would be happy if my kids did it. And I’m quite sure I wouldn’t be happy this winter, with money tight, when the “reasonable” bill came due.

Unless I had a pennant to show for it.