Tag Archives: free agency

Blue Jays Take a Smart Risk, Sign Melky Cabrera

For most of the day I stewed over Mitch Albom’s silly defense of Cabrera as MVP and wanted to write about how ridiculous it was, but then lots of other smart people rushed in to fill that void. I decided to let it go and get back to legitimate baseball discussion, and once again, the Toronto Blue Jays are driving the day’s story.

News broke this afternoon that the Jays and GM Alex Anthopolous had inked Melky Cabrera to a 2 year, $16 million deal. To be clear, this is the switch hitting steroid suspended OF, not the other M. Cabrera that is getting all the attention today.

To me, this is a great sign by one of the game’s better front offices. They bought low on an undervalued player.

But the Melky saga is quite complex. He’s had three bad seasons, two solid seasons, and two great seasons. The two great seasons have been the last two, but the most recent one ended with a 50 game suspension for testing positive for steroids (which he admitted to).

How should we value a player like this? What is he worth and what is the risk?

First, it should be noted that he’s only 28, which means his two great seasons came between ages 26-28, which is exactly when you would expect a player to peak. In other words, there is a very logical explanation for his breakout other than steroids.

We also can’t assume he was using prior to this season, because we would expect that he would have taken 1-3 tests during 2011 as well. None of this is perfectly certain, but it is fair to say that Melky is probably better than the very bad seasons and not quite as good as the very good seasons.

It’s very possible that steroids aided his improvement, but there is still a lot of scientific debate about how steroids help baseball players. Some say power, some say endurance, some say there is no real effect.

So assuming he doesn’t get suspended again and is on the field for the next two years, let’s evaluate this for the Jays.

The Free Agent market is set somewhere around 1.0 WAR per $5-6 million. This is an average, but over two seasons, for Melky to earn $16 million he needs to be worth somewhere between 3.0 and 4.0 WAR in my book if we want to account for a range given imperfect modeling.

Over the last two seasons, 34 MLB hitters fell between 3.0 and 4.0 WAR regardless of how many plate appearance they had. In other words, these are the hitters who ended up being worth about what Melky is going to make regardless of how they were used.

I averaged their production and then divided it into two seasons to get an idea of what Melky needs to look like in order to be worth this deal. I should note this is all hitters, not just OF and there is plenty of variation.

Per Season Stat Line:

113 G, 436 PA, 101 H, 11 HR, 49 R, 46 RBI, 8 SB

.260/.329/.414

8% BB, 19% K

(League average defense and baserunning)

That looks extremely doable for Melky in the next two seasons. He needs to hit .260, walk at a league average rate and hit 11 HR per season to earn this contract. He doesn’t need to be the player he was last year, he needs to be respectable.

To give you a sense of this, let’s consider the players in 2012 who hit between .250 and .270 and slugged between .400 and .420.

A.J. Ellis, Coco Crisp, David DeJesus, and Delmon Young. Those players aren’t good defense comparisons to the player Melky needs to be, but he can certainly hit like those guys and be average in the other aspects of baseball if he stays reasonably healthy.

The Blue Jays were willing to bet on Melky not using PEDs again and certainly willing to pay $8 million a season for a player who could easily be worth close to $12 or $15 million if he’s really who he’s been the last two seasons.

This is a solid deal for the Blue Jays and good chance for Melky to repair his image and still have some good years left when he’s ready to hit the market again after the 2014 season.

Tigers Get Their Man, Ink Hunter to a Two Year Deal

I was among the first to call for it and predict it over the last few weeks here at SABR Toothed Tigers, but I won’t take credit for it because of how obvious a fit it was. The Tigers signed OF Torii Hunter to a 2 year, $26 million deal this afternoon to flank Austin Jackson in LF or RF depending on future moves.

This is a phenomenal signing by Dave Dombrowski. Hunter can fill in as the Tigers #2, #5, or #6 hitter depending on how the rest of the offseason goes and he can play a great corner outfield even at 37 years old. Better yet, he can mentor the budding star of Austin Jackson.

Since becoming a regular in 2001, Hunter has had one below average offensive season for his position. He’s a career .277/.335/.466 hitter and has actually been better by those standards as he’s gotten older. Hunter is clearly an offensive upgrade for the Tigers in the corners for the next two seasons as the kids get ready and he does not show any sign of dropping off.

He may start to slow down at the plate, but has only posted a wOBA below .334 once since becoming a regular and had his second best season by that metric last year.

He’s a big upgrade on defense over the Boesch/Berry tandem that got most of the playing time in 2012. He started to lose a step in CF in 2010, but the shift to RF over the last two seasons has been great for him and he’s back to being a top flight defender. For the Tigers, average would have been enough.

But Hunter’s value to me is heavily driven by his leadership and teaching ability. Mike Trout, the Angels phenom, has routinely credited Torii Hunter for his development. Trout’s talented on his own, but Hunter has been there to help him learn some of the nuances of playing defense and being a big league player.

I’m excited to see how Hunter can help Jackson, who is very talented, improve his overall game and turn into a star in centerfield.

I don’t know how much this matters, but in a sport with fewer and fewer black stars, it should help to have Hunter as a mentor to Jackson because he may identify with him. Hunter was a star for the Twins in the early 2000s and seems like the kind of player Jackson sought to emulate. It helps that they’re both from Texas and play a similar style of baseball.

Hunter’s value as a hitter, defender, and leader should be plenty enough to justify the $13 million he’ll make this year and next. He’s never posted under a 2.4 WAR as a starter and is coming off his best season. He’s also moving to a slightly better hitters’ park and gets to hit between Jackson and Cabrera most likely, which should feel familiar to Trout and Pujols, not to mention a slightly easier division.

This was a great signing and an obvious choice, but I have to say it’s one of Dombrowski’s best free agent signings. Kenny Rogers and Victor Martinez come to mind as others, but this is a deal that benefits the Tigers tremendously without being large and cumbersome. Obviously Pudge, Maggs, and Prince were great signings, but those required truckloads of cash.

This deal, like the Rogers and Martinez signings, was for market value. This is a great deal for the Tigers and I can’t wait to see Hunter in the Old English D.

It’s Good to be Zach Greinke

It should come as no surprise to anyone that Zach Greinke is the top starting pitcher on the market this offseason. He may not turn out to be the best value, but he is the best. It helps that Cole Hamles and Matt Cain signed extensions this season, but that doesn’t take away from how good Greinke is. He made my list of aces last month and I’m comfortable saying he would be the #1 or #2 starter on every team except the Phillies.

Most reports seem to indicate Greinke will fetch a deal of 5-6 years worth $95-$120 million. His most recent employer, the Angels are heavily in the running, but every MLB will likely kick the tires. He would make every club better, it will just be a choice of how much you can afford to spend on your rotation.

Some in the media have speculated Greinke won’t fit in a big market because of a history of anxiety and depression, and what is clearly an introverted personality. I think their view is wrong in the sense that he couldn’t excel there, but he might choose a smaller media market because he will enjoy it more.

I think all other things equal, he’d avoid Boston or New York, but won’t rule them out based solely on the media narrative that he can’t handle them.

So if we agree Greinke will command a deal of the size I predicted and that every team in baseball would benefit from having him, who are the likely Greinke suitors?

The Angels are the obvious choice because they jettisoned Santana and Haren to free up the money. They loved him down the stretch there and he would fit in well with Weaver and Wilson going forward. The Angels have the resources, the need, and the familiarity to make them a player.

The Rangers make sense, too. They have the payroll flexibility and could use a reliable frontman instead of their revolving #1 spot of the last few years (Darvish, Holland, Harrison, Lee, etc). The Yankees and Red Sox both need pitching, but Boston seems better able to afford it than New York considering the Yankees’ desire to get under the luxury tax cap by 2014. The Orioles and Blue Jays should be in, but maybe not at the asking price.

Many speculated that the Royals could reunite with Greinke, but adding Ervin Santana’s $13 million seems to have indicated they won’t be making a push. The White Sox could be interested given their push to trade for him in July, but it’s hard to say if their recent extension to Peavy will block out too much money in the short term.

In the NL, the Braves, Cubs, and Dodgers seem like possible fits. Obviously we learned last year that the Mystery Team is usually involved, but this seems like a pretty accurate list of teams that will play big on the right hander.

For me, the team that signs Greinke will be in Los Angeles. It will be the Angels or the Dodgers. Both have the money and the need and both are good environments to pitch in. There will be a lot of teams involved, so predicting the landing spot is tough, but I’d take these two clubs against the field.

It’s not every year that you can add an ace to your staff through Free Agency, and it’s not every year that the market is as soft as it is this year. Translation? It’s good to be Zach Greinke right now.

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