The Futility Infielder

A Baseball Journal by Jay Jaffe I'm a baseball fan living in New York City. In between long tirades about the New York Yankees and the national pastime in general, I'm a graphic designer.

Friday, January 22, 2010

 

This and That

In today's Prospectus Hit and Run, I examine the fates of Orlando Hudson and Randy Wolf after the Dodgers failed to offer them arbitration, thus surrendering the right to first round draft picks and supplemental first round compensation picks in each case, hardly chump change. The decision wasn't out of step with the industry trend; only 10 out of 26 Type A's were offered arbitration.

Still, given the long odds that either would return to the Dodgers given their desire to receive well-deserved multi-year deals, the decision was surprising and rather enraging. But one reader of my last piece on the Dodgers' offseason took issue, asking, "I disagree with the idea that Hudson wouldn't have accepted arbitration. He most likely would have and would be due a raise. And would Wolf really be off the market right now were he not free?" I thought it was a question worth a closer look, given that Wolf signed a three-year, $29.75 million deal with the Brewers, but that Hudson remains at large.
At this point, all 10 of the Type As have signed contracts for 2010. Seven of them did so with new teams, thus costing their signing teams either a first-round or second-round draft pick...

The sample sizes are obviously small here, but I think we can make some inferences. Let's start with the guy who signed. Given the perception that Type-B free agent Andy Pettitte had no plans beyond returning to the Yankees, Wolf was clearly the second-best starting pitcher on the market after [John] Lackey. He'd even had a better year than Lackey both by traditional standards (the latter was 11-8 with a 3.83 ERA in 27 starts) and the more advanced metrics. The next tier down, both performance and dollar-wise, appears to be Joel Pineiro (two years, $16 million with the Angels) and Jason Marquis (two years, $15 million with the Nationals), a pair of Type B free agents who are both low-strikeout worm killers coming off their best seasons in at least half a decade. As is Wolf for that matter, though he's considered less of a one-year wonder because the perceived value of his 12-12, 4.30 ERA, 0.5 WARP 2008 showing is boosted by his late-season run with the Astros.

The team that signed Wolf was the Brewers, who managed to go 80-82 while finishing last in the league in starter ERA (5.37) and SNLVAR (8.0), and thus in dire need of rotation help. As it happens, the Brewers finished with a record more or less at the point of inflection where the marginal dollar value of an additional win starts to climb, so it doesn't take too great a leap of faith to suppose that they might have been willing to rationalize the punting of the draft pick handcuffed to Wolf had he been offered arbitration. Perhaps that would have lowered their bid on the pitcher somewhat, but I don't think it would have lessened their desire for a multi-year deal. Even if the entire Milwaukee option wasn't on the table if Wolf had been offered arbitration, it's certainly possible that another team which fancies itself a contender (correctly or not) might have been willing to make that same choice. The Mets come to mind, and in a world where they also sign Bay, Wolf would have only cost them a second-round pick. Perhaps the Angels, who having lost two Type As were already going to net compensation picks, would have valued his services more highly than Pineiro. All it takes is one team.

As for Hudson, while he lacks the versatility of [Chone] Figgins and [Marco] Scutaro — the other infielders in this set, neither of them perfect comps—he's got a longer track record of above-average play than either. He's stuck in a strange market, though. Consider that the Giants, who at 88 wins finished near the summit of the marginal dollar value of a win curve, chose to lock up the similarly aged but significantly inferior Freddy Sanchez for two years before the World Series even ended, rather than wait to see how the market unfolded. Then, of course, Brian Sabean moves in mysterious ways. Sanchez underwent season-ending knee surgery to repair a torn meniscus, and the word on the street this week is that he just underwent shoulder surgery, threatening his opening day availability. Maybe they should have had Boston's doctors give him a physical.

...At this juncture, Hudson probably would have been better off had he been offered arbitration and accepted. His comments about Torre — which weren't over the top by any means, but were critical — certainly fueled the impression that he had no desire to return. The Dodgers may have taken them too personally, leading to a suboptimal business decision. Hudson found himself in the bargain bin last winter because he (and/or his agent, Paul Cohen) misread the market by searching for a long-term, big-dollar deal during an exceptionally tough winter. He's apparently seeking a larger payday to make up for last year's shortfall, though he did wind up making about $8 milllion thanks to his incentives. A report linking him to the Nationals suggests he's asked for $9 million for 2010. It's not that he's not worth it; at an average of 4.3 WARP per year over the past four, he is. But with none of the big-money contenders particularly in need of a second baseman, the O-Dog is out in the cold.
Switching gears for the second half of the piece, I examine the Hall of Fame case of Jim Edmonds, who earlier this week expressed a desire to mount a comeback after sitting out all of last year. Edmonds' JAWS case is actually sound; he ranks as the seventh-best center fielder of all time thanks to strong defense as well as offense; his scores (66.2/ 46.5/56.4) are substantially ahead of the JAWS standard (68.3/44.0/56.1) and well ahead of recent electee Andre Dawson (59.6/40.2/49.9).

But Edmonds has a few things going against them, starting with a short career in which he accumulated "only" 1881 hits and derived a fair amount of his value from walks. The writers haven't elected an expansion era (1961 onward) player into the Hall with less than 2000 hits, and they've poorly served high-OBP guys like Tim Raines, Ron Santo and Bobby Grich, all of whom rank among the very best players at their positions outside the Hall. Furthermore, Edmonds never won an MVP award and never led the league in anything. Regardless of how his comeback fares, I don't see his candidacy getting the reception it deserves when the time comes.

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