WTNYDecember 24, 2003
The Night Before Christmas
By Bryan Smith

Not much is doing in baseball as GMs and agents tidy their stockings, but the fun never stops for us bloggers. In fact, a personal favorite blogger, Rich Lederer, wrote a whole post yesterday proving an inaccuracy in a statement I made in yesterday's article. I wrote that Lopez is "far and away the 3rd best catcher in the last 20 years, and probably top 20 all-time." He proves that Lopez is not the 3rd best at all, and actually argues for 5th.

First, Rich points out what I didn't, that the top two are Mike Piazza and Pudge Rodriguez, then argues on the behalf of Jorge Posada and Jason Kendall. He uses the stat RCAP, or Runs Created Above Position, in showing that Javy stands 9th since 1984, and is 32nd on the all-time list. I used slugging percentage against league average for catchers to see that Lopez was ninth all-time, which led me to my drastic statement. I will concede the fact that Lopez might not be top twenty, and I'll even say that Jorge Posada is better than Loez. But Jason Kendall?

Kendall Career: .304/.385/.422 64HR 526RBI 620R in 4032AB
Lopez Career: .287/.337/.502 214HR 694RBI 508R in 4002AB

In basically the same amount of at-bats, Lopez has hit 150 more home runs than Kendall, and brought in 168 more runners. His lead in slugging makes up for the gap in OBP, although some systems (Aaron Gleeman's GPA) would refute that point. Anyhow, I believe Kendall's recent dip in productivity gives Lopez the edge here. While I made an indefensible statement glorifying Lopez, I refuse to believe that Jason Kendall is a better catcher.

And while I wrote about the tough opponents in the AL East yesterday, reader John Geer gave me a list of some career splits for Javy and his new enemies:

Vs. Schilling: .300/.333/.425 1BB/10K in 40AB
Vs. Pedro: .318/.375/.455 in 22AB
Vs. Brown: .160/.160/.320 0BB/7K in 25AB
Vs. Vazquez: .233/.294/.267 3BB/12K in 30AB
Vs. Lieber: .227/.227/.409 0BB/6K in 22AB

So, in 139 at-bats against American League pitching, Lopez is hitting .252/.283/.374, and that doesn't even include Mike Mussina, Roy Halladay, Jose Contreras, Derek Lowe, etc. Needless to say I'm not bullish on Javy in 2004, and now Rich has steered me into conceding Javy is the second best catcher in his division.

Moving in another direction, the Alex Rodriguez deal reached its deadline last night, and the Majors' best player will not be moving to the Northeast. I've written sparingly on this trade due to my own skepticism, and now Yankees fans can rejoice. The backlash we'll hear about from the Boston clubhouse should be harsh, and those who once yearned for Terry Francona's position are likely content.

Boston is still far and away the second best team in their division, and barring any freak breakouts, should win the Wild Card in 2004. The main competition will come from the loser of the A's v. Angels war, and I don't think either offense can match the Sox firepower. I'm very disappointed with the Players' Union now that this trade has been pronounced dead, and a friend pointed out to me that this more than violates the "free markets for free men" philosophy that free agency was argued for. Rodriguez will stay in Texas and remain an MVP candidate, but we'll likely hear trade rumors in every winter until his contract ceases. Tom Hicks doesn't show the enthusiasm for winning he once did, and only Kerry Wood will be able to transform this franchise into a .500 club. Unfortunately for A-Rod, that's a battle that will be fought in a year, while Alex will be spending another year in purgatory.

Wood most likely will never leave Chicago though, as Jim Hendry is currently negotiating a long-term contract. The Cubs' GM did have time to make another move yesterday, signing the best second basemen on the free agent market left, none other than postseason hero Todd Walker. Todd turned down better offers from different teams for the chance of winning, and signed a one-year, $1.75M deal. Here's a look at Walker's meaningful splits from 2003:

Overall: .283/.333/.428
Vs. RH: .301/.352/.448
Road: .243/.285/.355
2nd half: .271/.324/.434

Walker played inspired baseball in Fenway Park, but shouldn't have a hard time adjusting to the dimensions at Wrigley Field. His role with the Cubs isn't set in stone, although I would imagine something like Walker plays second against right-handers, and Alex Gonzalez will play shortstop against southpaws. Mark Grudzilanek will then shift through the middle infield positions accordingly. Walker will also give Derrek Lee the occasional day off as well.

Jim Hendry is doing a fantastic job giving Dusty Baker the team that Baker will thrive with, not giving a role to a young hitter. The Cubs may not have the money to sign Pudge Rodriguez anymore, possibly sending him to Los Angeles.

Finally, a few more transactions that deserve at least a moments time...

Phillies sign Shawn Wooten- Wooten will actually fill the Tyler Houston role with Philadelphia, hopefully without the drama with Larry Bowa. Wooten will probably let Thome have the day off against some southpaws, keep Todd Pratt to a pinch-hitting role, and might even fill in at third if necessary. His hitting has declined in each of his last three seasons, but his bat is one that easily deserves a bench role.

Diamondbacks sign Steve Sparks and Shane Reynolds- Not exactly the replacements I would have guessed for Curt Schilling and Miguel Batista, but Garigiola is trying, right? This Arizona team will not be very good next season, although their offense will be the best it's been in years. Both these pitchers are terrible, but Sparks is the type that might have a five game run allowing only 3 runs or something.

Pirates sign Chris Stynes- Stynes isn't a great hitter, although he does have the potential to put up Mark Loretta-type numbers and make Dave Littlefield look smart. The Pirate roster is beginning to take shape, although the team is still in need of one more outfielder.

Braves sign Antonio Alfonseca and Armando Almanza- Yikes! The Braves bullpen is going to be hideous after John Smoltz next season, what with Jaret Wright, Alfonseca, Almanza, Will Cunnane, and Jung Bong. Who would have guessed that Leo Mazzone would be missing Roberto Hernandez by the All-Star Break?

Brewers sign Ben Grieve- Milwaukee will have a very interesting lineup next year, and the Grieve move set it in stone. Barring any earth-shattering move, this will be the Brewers lineup on Opening Day...

1) Scott Podsednik- CF
2) Junior Spivey- 2B
3) Geoff Jenkins- RF
4) Ben Grieve- LF
5) Wes Helms- 3B
6) Lyle Overbay- 1B
7) Chad Moeller- C
8) Craig Counsell- SS

The bench will include Gary Bennett, Keith Ginter, Bill Hall, and Brady Clark. And yes, the Brewers will field the worst team in the National League next season.

And with that, I leave you. I won't be posting on Christmas, although I am hoping to have a weekend post on Friday. My readership has grown in the past month, and I want to thank all of you, and wish you all a very Merry Christmas. God Bless all of you.