Baseball BeatNovember 26, 2005
Friars Roast
By Rich Lederer

Warren Buffett, the Oracle of Omaha, once said he would rather have one athlete who could high jump seven feet than seven who could jump one. I've always subscribed to that theory as well. Give me quality over quantity any day of the week. I realize price is a factor, but I've learned over the years you generally get more value buying good merchandise than mediocre.

When it comes to baseball, I'll take an All-Star and a replacement player over two middle-of-the-road types. In other words, I would have no problem paying a "difference maker" $10 million per season even if it limited me to giving another guy the minimum ($316,000 in 2005). I believe using one's resources in this manner will generally beat the alternative of paying two average players $5 million each, especially when it involves free agents.

Let me be a bit more specific. I think the San Diego Padres are making a big mistake not signing free agent outfielder Brian Giles. The team had reportedly offered him a three-year deal worth $25.5 million earlier this month, then rejected a proposal from his agent for three years at an estimated $30 million. General Manager Kevin Towers said the Friars valued Giles at a lower price and made the ridiculous statement that they "(didn't) want to put all of (their) eggs in one basket."

According to, San Diego's payroll last year was over $63 million. I didn't major in math but $10 million divided by that sum works out to less than 16%. The average Padre made about $2.5M in 2005. Giving your best player a premium of $7.5M is not all that much in this day and age. And Giles is much more than just the MVP on the Padres. He is one of the most productive players in baseball.

As we pointed out in our free agent series, "the ten-year veteran has essentially been a .300/.400/.550 hitter over the course of his career while averaging 100 R/RBI/BB and 30 HR per 162 games." Aware that Giles' power totals have receded the past few years, we also drilled down and noticed that his road stats ranked 7th in AVG (.333), 1st in OBP (.463), and 20th in SLG (.545), "while placing 6th in OPS behind only Derrek Lee, Jason Bay, Travis Hafner, Albert Pujols, and Miguel Cabrera. Put another way, Brian outproduced Carlos Delgado, David Ortiz, Alex Rodriguez, Vladimir Guerrero, Andruw Jones, and Manny Ramirez on the road." I forgot to mention last time around that these six players are averaging about $15M per year and $12M even if you exclude A-Rod. This information seems appropro now.

Sandy Alderson, San Diego's CEO, called the "San Diego discount" to which Giles' agent referred as a "bunch of baloney." Well, we'll see about that. I'd love to make a wager with ol' Sandy on this matter. I'll match dollar-for-dollar any amount below $30M if Alderson will just give me 50 cents for each dollar over $30M. Giles, an alum of Granite Hills High School in nearby El Cajon, resides in Poway and his parents live in San Diego County. He would like to finish his career with the Padres and is willing to sign for less to stay at home than he could get elsewhere.

The Padres are likely to turn their attention toward free agent outfielders Jacque Jones or Jeromy Burnitz. Jones, a graduate of San Diego High, is a good defensive right fielder and has above-average power and speed. However, he is worthless against LHP (career .227/.277/.339) and, as such, should be used almost exclusively vs. RHP. Burnitz, who also calls Poway home, could be an even cheaper option. He is 37 years old and apparently is eager to finish his career in San Diego. Alternatively, the Padres could go with rookie Ben Johnson, who was the organization's Minor League Player of the Year, or land an outfielder via trade. Texas Rangers outfielders Kevin Mench and Laynce Nix have been mentioned, although neither projects as a replacement for Giles in RF.

A player like Jones would probably cost the Padres about $5 million per year. He and Johnson could make a good platoon combination, but neither is a viable full-time option. In the meantime, Towers traded for Vinny Castilla and his $3.2 million salary next year. The Padres are also on the hook for another $1 million because they agreed to offset most of Brian Lawrence's $550,000 buyout and pay an additional $300,000 to offset his salary. As a result, San Diego will pay in excess of $4 million for Castilla/Lawrence in 2006.

Who would you rather have, Giles at $10 million and a replacement level 3B near the minimum salary or Jones and Castilla at a combined pay of more than $9 million?

           RCAA   VORP   WS   WSAB
Giles        49   65.1   35     23
Jones        -7   17.7   15      4
Castilla     -8   14.2   12      1
RCAA = Runs Created Above Average
VORP = Value Over Replacement Player
WS   = Win Shares
WSAB = Win Shares Above Bench

Nonetheless, Towers believes Castilla's right-handed, pull-hitting power will prove suitable to Petco Park, where Vinny hit three home runs in a three-game series in September 2004. By comparison, Joe Randa and Sean Burroughs -- San Diego's two primary third basemen in 2005 -- hit just three HR at home all year. It will be hard for Castilla not to hit more dingers than Randa and Burroughs, but I have my doubts about him beyond that.

First of all, Castilla's three HR at Petco followed a three-game series in San Francisco in which he went deep twice, so I would argue that Vinny just happened to be on a hot streak more than anything else. Secondly, at the risk of small-sample size, Castilla is just 10-for-42 at Petco (.238/.256/.524). Thirdly, and most importantly, the 38-year-old third sacker has never been much of anything when not donning Colorado pinstripes.

      TEAM   G   AB   R   H  2B  3B  HR  RBI  BB  SO   AVG   OBP   SLG   OPS  OPS+ 
1991   Atl  12    5   1   1   0   0   0    0   0   2  .200  .200  .200  .400   11 
1992   Atl   9   16   1   4   1   0   0    1   1   4  .250  .333  .313  .646   80 
2000    TB  85  331  22  73   9   1   6   42  14  41  .221  .254  .308  .562   42 
2001    TB  24   93   7  20   6   0   2    9   3  22  .215  .247  .344  .591   54 
2001   Hou 122  445  62 120  28   1  23   82  32  86  .270  .320  .492  .812  102 
2002   Atl 143  543  56 126  23   2  12   61  22  69  .232  .268  .348  .616   61 
2003   Atl 147  542  65 150  28   3  22   76  26  86  .277  .310  .461  .771  101 
2005   Was 142  494  53 125  36   1  12   66  43  82  .253  .319  .403  .722   94
Totals     684 2469 267 619 131   8  77  337 141 392  .251  .295  .404  .699   81
OPS = On-Base Plus Slugging
OPS+ = Adjusted OPS (An OPS+ > 100 is above average, < 100 is below average) 

Those totals leave a lot to be desired. But they are even worse than one might initially think. Castilla played for the Houston Astros in 2001, the second year that Enron Park (now Minute Maid) was open. Enron/Minute Maid is known as a hitter-friendly ballpark. The Park Factor for batters was 105 that year. Furthermore, Houston's home field has always been much more favorable to RHB than LHB, and this discrepancy shows up the most in HR totals.

Here is Castilla's career record when he played for teams other than Colorado and Houston:

  G   AB   R   H  2B  3B  HR  RBI  BB  SO   AVG   OBP   SLG   OPS  OPS+ 
562 2024 205 499 103   7  54  255 109 306  .247  .289  .384  .674   76

Castilla's .247/.289/.384 production is well below the average 3B (approximately .260/.330/.420) during these years. As a result, I believe it is fair to say that he is a liability offensively and roughly 20-25% worse than the average hitter outside of Colorado. Castilla was never really any good even when he was good. His numbers just happened to be inflated by Coors Field in the years he was fortunate to play in Colorado.

I would like to go on record predicting that Castilla will not exceed .250/.300/.400 in 2006. Aside from slugging average, those rate stats are not materially different than Vinny's career road totals (.256/.303/.436). Despite what Towers claims, Castilla is not a "middle-of-the-lineup hitter." Or, at least he shouldn't be. In fact, any lineup that features Castilla in the fourth or fifth spot is doomed for failure. As shown, the guy is a stiff outside the Rocky Mountains. Moving to Petco Park, the toughest hitter's ballpark in the majors, is certainly not going to help his numbers. Granted, RFK Stadium is no hitter's paradise, but San Diego's home field suppresses runs -- especially HR -- even more than Washington's.

According to the Bill James Handbook, Petco had a runs index of 77 (meaning it was 23% below the league norm) last year, which was the lowest in either circuit. At 66, San Diego also had the lowest home run index. Moreover, it played to a 51 for right-handed batters. Yes, Petco reduced HR nearly in half for RHB. There isn't a ballpark in MLB that is as harsh on RHB when it comes to going yard.

Unless the Padres are going to punt the next couple of seasons, it seems to me that Giles should be a part of their plans. I'll take a Faberge egg in one basket over a bunch of broken ones anytime. That said, I think Alderson and Towers are going to try and serve the latter sunny-side up. I mean, you might as well be positive about what you're doing -- even if it means be a little wet.

* * * * *

For more on the business of baseball, be sure to read Nate Silver's Lies, Damned Lies: Defending Jeffrey at Baseball Prospectus (subscription required) and Dave Studemund's Avoiding Arbitration and Locking up Free Agents at The Hardball Times. The baseball world has made great strides in analyzing on-field performance. Articles like Nate's and Dave's offer insights into the economics of the game, a nascent area begging for more review, analysis, and discussion.


The first part of your article seems to say that you cant overpay for a superstar. Would you rather have two average guys or one Mike Hampton, Chan Ho Park, Adrian Beltre, or Magglio Ordonez.

Speaking of Magglio, the White Sox "dumped" Ordonez and Carlos Lee and replaced them with average Dye, Igucci, and Piercynski. This seemed to work pretty good for them.

You're putting words in my mouth. I never said "you can't overpay for a superstar." In fact, I actually said, "I realize price is a factor..." and went on to talk about generally getting more value from good merchandise as opposed to mediocre.

You then cherry pick some of the worst free agent signings ever, none of which I advocated. If anything, I went on record opposing the Magglio Ordonez signing last winter when I wrote Put a Tank in Your Tigers?

With respect to Hampton or Park, I don't think there is a person inside or outside of baseball other than their respective families and the owners who signed them who thought those were prudent deals. I also think DePodesta was smart to let Beltre go when the local press and most fans believed otherwise.

My message throughout the article was that Giles at 3 x 10 is a very reasonable price to pay for one of the best players in baseball. All of the free agents you mentioned made considerably more than that even though Giles is better than each and every one. That is a classic definition of value -- getting more for less.

Nice analysis, Rich. I don't think the Padres are going to punt the next two seasons, although as I've said before, it looks to me like they are aiming more toward 2007 than to the upcoming year.

Is anybody in the NL West playing for 2006? Somebody has to win don't they?

Padres are letting recent team history affect their judgement. The recent team history is Ryan Klesko, who is killing the team right now.

They signed this big slugger to a multiyear deal and he has gone bad in a hurry. Steriods (rather the lack thereof) could be a factor.

It must hurt so bad to watch the money go out the door for this guy that they can't bring themselves to sign for proven quality like Giles.

Klesko and even Phil Nevin. Neither of whom earned their big paychecks. They were good players at one time but never as productive as Giles.

Reports locally are that the Padres will announce a 3-yr deal with Giles tomorrow.

Bob: Was anyone playing for 2005 in the NL West?

Here's a link for the Giles deal (SD Union-Tribune).

Thanks, Geoff. It looks to me like Alderson and Towers finally came to their senses. Giles is certainly worth $30 million for three years, as predicted.

You gotta like the deal from the perspective of the Padres. It was structured in their favor. 3 x 9 plus a fourth year at the same 9 with a $3M buyout if the team elects not to exercise its option. They basically gave him a 3 x 10 but gave themselves an option in 2009 at what could turn out to be a very low price.

Kudos to everyone.

Good call Rich. I will renew my season tickets. (I was going to anyway, really).