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 Baseball-Reference.com, 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.