Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Watching Elias

The Voice of Reason™ is often very happy with this year’s Twins seats, which are near the right foul pole. That’s because it’s often the area Michael “Dimples” Cuddyer patrols. And because of a complicated collective bargaining agreement and a secret formula, I think she’s going find herself giddy in September. Here’s why….

It sucks for a baseball team to lose a really good player as a free agent. So, as part of the collective bargaining agreement, Major League Baseball and the players union have put in place a system to compensate teams (and their fan base) that lose really good players.

At the end of each season, MLB’s statistical partner Elias ranks all the players using a top secret formula as either Type A, Type B or no ranking. If a team offers a one-year, market-fair contract (i.e. offer them arbitration) to their Type A and Type B players, but the player signs with another team, the team gets extra high draft picks in return. For instance, if they lose a Type B player, they get back a pick between the first and second round of the draft (called a supplementary pick).

It’s even more serious for the Type A players. If they lose one of them, the team not only gets a supplementary pick, it also get a very high draft pick (usually a first or second round) from the team that signed away their player. This can also help the team retain that player, since teams are not eager to give away these picks.

For instance, the Twins were able to re-sign Carl Pavano last year in part because he was Type A, but not really a superstar. Teams don’t want to give up those picks unless they’re getting a superstar. The Twins had the inside track in re-signing Pavano because they were the only team that wouldn’t need to give up a high draft pick for a player perceived as good, but not great.

The top secret formula for determining these rankings isn’t published, but has worked hard to reverse-engineer it, and has a fair amount of success accurately predicting the rankings. (You can find the latest here.) These are of special interest to Twins fans, because outfielders Jason Kubel and Michael Cuddyer are both impending free agents, and (seemingly) both straddling the border between Type A and Type B status, though in different ways.

Kubel is the highest ranked Type B American League outfielder, just one spot back of the Type A players. Since he missed a couple of months due to injury, a good September could get him into the Type A list. Kubel isn’t a superstar, so just like Pavano last year, that might make the difference between him staying or going.

(By the way, another player who has been moving up the list is Jim Thome. He’s just one spot away from being a Type B free agent. That means that if the Twins hadn’t traded Thome, they might have received a supplementary draft pick for him if he signed with another team as a free agent. That’s no small loss, and it might be part of why the “player to be named later” hasn’t bee named. If the Indians get that supplementary pick, hopefully the Twins will get a decent prospect back.)

Cuddyer’s situation is murkier and significantly goofier. For the last few months, he’s been listed solidly in the Type A players. That changed a couple of weeks ago, when he was suddenly listed in the middle of the Type B players. Historically, rankings don’t change that fast, so it looked like there must be a mistake.

Except that the next week he had moved up just a couple of notches and was still a clear Type B. Also of interest for those two weeks was that his position had changed: he was a first baseman and not an outfielder. To some extent the two positions are grouped together, but could that explain why the sudden decrease? Was he just the wrong position?

A little further research confirmed that the new designation of “first baseman” had been correct. Over the last few weeks, a series of starts at first base meant that he had more starts there than in the outfield over the last two years. Since that time (those rankings last come out a week ago), he had started in the outfield several times, so as of yesterday he had ONE more outfield start than at first base.

The new rankings aren’t out yet at, and of course we’re not sure just how accurate they are. Finally, a lot of this is speculation. But if this is what it looks like, the Twins need to make very sure that Cuddyer is getting more starts in the outfield than at first base in September. And I expect The Voice Of Reason™ will make sure we use our seats this month.


This is one of about a dozen offseason issues about which I talked to Aaron Gleeman last night on our Gleeman And The Geek podcast. It also include what free agents the Twins might target if they lose Cuddyer and Kubel, and what they might do to overhaul the Twins middle infield. You can find all the podcasts here or listen to it on iTunes.


JimCrikket said...

Maybe I'm being dense, but what difference does it make if Cuddyer is a 1B or an OF? Elias lumps the OF, 1B and DH in to one group and based on the criteria listed, no defensive metrics are applied to this particular grouping... so what does it matter whether he's a 1B or OF?

TT said...

Capps is currently a type A free agent. I think is likely to stay there. But this might be a situation where the Twins would prefer for him to be a Type B.

The question for the Twins is whether to offer him arbitration. As a Type B, he would be likely to get a multi-year contract from someone as a closer. As a Type A, teams might not be willing to sacrifice a first or second round draft choice to sign him.

The Twins may make the arbitration decision based solely on whether they are willing to pay Capps for a year. But if they are on the border, the risk of him accepting arbitration increases if he is a Type A.

TT said...

An interesting question for you, as the Twins "budget guy", is what is left in the budget if Kubel, Cuddyer and Capps are all offered arbitration and accept. Because, until they turn down arbitration, the Twins are going to have to assume those numbers in their budget when making any other moves. Including whether to pick up Nathan's option.

JimCrikket said...

I can't imagine the Twins offering Capps arbitration, regardless of his Elias standing. They could try to work out some kind of extension with him if they feel he's worth keeping (just as they might with Nathan before they have to decide on his option).

Should Cuddyer or Kubel attain Type A status, offering arbitration is a no-brainer. Even if they accept (which seems unlikely to me), there's nothing that would preclude trading one or both before the arbitration process works itself out.

Anonymous said...

I don't think Thome being a type B free agent is a big deal. First, he'd have to play next year which isn't a given. Next, he'd have to be offered and decline arbitration. Not a given either.

TT said...

Jim -

I curious. Who do you think will be the Twins closer next year?

It looks to me like they have two options, Capps or Nathan. The alternative is to go outside the organization. That is going to be more expensive in $ or cost them some real players in return.

Of course, they could decide they are going to hand the job to someone internally, but there isn't anyone I would want to see them doing that with.

Anonymous said...

They could always trade Span for a closer

JimCrikket said...

TT - I'm actually starting a series of posts concerning the Twins' options on the free agent market over at our Knuckleballs blog and the post on pitching will go up over the weekend sometime (assuming I finish writing it).

But to answer your question briefly, I'd give about even odds that the Twins' closer will be from the outside via free agent acquisition (not all of the possibilities are $10 million guys) or Joe Nathan on a new 2-3 year contract for less annually than his $12.5 million option price.

They could look at other internal options (Perkins or maybe converting one of their failed starters?), but imo they won't go in to Spring Training without a leading candidate with some closing experience.