Baseball BeatDecember 08, 2005
Fact or Fiction?
By Rich Lederer

This offseason has been characterized as much by the moves the St. Louis Cardinals haven't made as the moves the San Diego Padres have made. It's a fact that the Padres have been busier than rush hour on the Interstate 5, and it's fiction to think that the Cardinals have done anything other than auction off a bunch of player lockers and urinals from old Busch Stadium.

San Diego got things started last month when they traded Brian Lawrence for Vinny Castilla, and the Padres have remained active ever since. The Cardinals, on the other hand, have been left standing at the altar on more than one occasion.

It's a fact that baseball is awash in money. Teams that understand the sport's new economics are putting this fresh cash to work. Teams that are living in the past are simply hoarding the proceeds from record attendance and new revenue streams. It's not fiction to think there will be errors of omission and commission along the way. As always, throwing money around in an undisciplined manner will prove to be wasteful down the road. But doing little or nothing could be as detrimental in its own way.

Now I'm not one to advocate building a ballclub through free agency. Far from it. I believe in organic growth. It's not only cheaper, but it's more of a sure thing. A team has more control over its destiny by investing in scouting, the draft, and the farm system than relying on expensive trades and high-priced free agents. It's much better to buy at wholesale and sell at retail than vice versa. However, I think there is a time and a place when an organization needs to step up and go get that missing piece of the puzzle.

With the foregoing in mind, I don't find what the Toronto Blue Jays did in signing B.J. Ryan and A.J. Burnett as objectionable as the purists. It wouldn't make any sense to sign one without the other. I mean, if you're going to go for it, then go for it. No use getting caught up a creek without a paddle (or an ace reliever).

As I pointed out ten days ago, Toronto was "one of five teams with winning records in five-plus run differentials and losing records in one-run games." Interestingly, the other four teams were the Cleveland Indians in the American League and the Philadelphia Phillies, New York Mets, and Cardinals in the National League. I'll ask the same question I did before: "Does it make a little bit more sense why TOR, PHI, and the NYM are being so aggressive this winter?" Even the Indians have been active, signing Paul Byrd and, after just missing out on Trevor Hoffman, re-signing Bob Wickman.

The Cardinals? Well, what can I say? Brian Gunn, Redbird Nation writer/analyst and fan extraordinaire, agreed to share an email he sent to me immediately upon hearing that the Cardinals lost out on the Burnett sweepstakes:

Looks like the Jays did indeed get him. Apparently Cards ownership just wouldn't go that extra mile. Damn. Damn. The Cards didn't get (Brian) Giles, they didn't get Burnett, they have no farm system to deal from, they have no farm system from which to find replacements, they didn't get in on the Marlins' fire sale, and they have holes at second, left, right, and in their bullpen. Looks like the end of an era to me...

Given the soaring cost of relief pitchers and the price of entry for "middle of the road" starters, I believe the Blue Jays made out just fine with Burnett. In our Free Agent Preview, we called Burnett the "best starting pitcher among this year's free agent class" and predicted that he would sign for four years and $48 million. We were close. Look, if I'm J.P. Ricciardi (what is it with those initials in Toronto?), I would have no problem giving Burnett an extra $7M for that fifth year. Sure, I'd rather go 4/$44 than 5/$55 but that wasn't gonna get the job done. Just go ask the Cardinals for confirmation on that very fact.

My good friend Brian even weighed in on the Redbirds' inability to trade for Mark Loretta on a day in which it became clear that incumbent 2B Mark Grudzielanek was headed elsewhere.

I was about as sickened at Jocketty's failure to land (Luis) Castillo or Loretta as anything I've heard in a long while. Here are the additional revenue streams the Cards have drawn on recently:

1. An unanticipated total attendance (something like $8 million in revenue more than their projections) due to the final season at Busch Stadium

2. Sale of Busch Stadium memorabilia (most via auction, but well in excess of a million dollars)

3. Postseason money

4. A new, favorable radio deal (because it's in-house, the Cardinals are expected to make much more money off the deal than they did in their last deal with KMOX)

5. Seat license fees (which season ticket holders had to pay to transfer their seats over to the new stadium)

6. Increased luxury box sales (virtually the raison d'etre of the new stadium itself)

7. An expectation that they will sell out every game of the 2006 season (eminently reasonable)

8. A share of the pie divvied up from and other sources

. . .so with all that, what major moves have the Cards made this offseason? That's right -- signing Deivi Cruz and Gary Bennett.

Getting back to the Padres. . .Although I don't understand the thinking behind the Castilla deal or trading Loretta for a 35-year-old backup catcher, I wholly endorse the Giles and Hoffman signings. If anything, the Friars lucked out here. Giles and Hoffman accepted significant discounts to stay at home. Both players live in San Diego and have young kids that they didn't want to uproot. I give both of them a high five for placing quality of life over signing for top dollar. I think more players should use their free agency in this manner.

Here's one for you. Fact or fiction? The Padres trade Sean Burroughs for Adrian Beltre. Fiction. However, it was almost a fact. In March 2004, Dodger GM Paul DePodesta offered Beltre to the Padres for Burroughs. D'oh! Kevin Towers turned him down. Double d'oh! Beltre went on to hit .334 with 48 HR and 121 RBI for the Dodgers in his free agent year, then signed a five-year, $64 million contract with the Seattle Mariners.

Burroughs hit .281/.338/.342 with 3 HR in 223 games and 807 AB during 2004-05. The ninth overall pick in the 1998 amateur draft, who signed with the Padres on the first day of the fall semester at USC, never developed the power he displayed in Little League through his years at Long Beach Wilson High School. He tore up A-ball in his first year as a pro (.359/.464/.479) and was named by Baseball Prospectus as the #4 prospect in 2000, #2 in 2001, and #3 in 2003.

Well, BP's "Prospect of the Decade" was traded on Wednesday for Tampa Bay right-hander Dewon Brazelton, the third overall pick of the 2001 draft. Brazelton has fashioned a career won-loss record of 8-23 with a 5.98 ERA, while allowing more hits than innings and more walks than strikeouts. If there is a lesson to be learned here, it's this: trading highly coveted prospects for proven major leaguers prior to their free agency years is a strategy that shouldn't be dismissed.

Just as emerging growth stocks get overvalued from time to time, so do young baseball players. Portfolio managers and general managers alike should be quick to sell when the price exceeds value. And that's a fact!


Please give me some reason to like the Loretta for Mirabelli trade? I didn't think Loretta's payroll was that high?

Mirabelli's not a great hitter.

What was the motive behind this trade?

I can't give you a reason to like the Loretta-Mirabelli trade unless you are a Red Sox fan.

Loretta made $2.75M last year. He signed a two-year extension with an option for 2005 back in August 2003. I'm not sure how much he will make next year, but it's probably not materially different than what he made last year.

Mark had a career year in 2004. He regressed toward his career norms in 2005, possibly owing to a thumb injury (which required surgery). He was among the worst baserunners (15-for-50 on advancing an extra base on hits while being thrown out a MLB-high five times). His advanced fielding metrics also suggest he slipped a bit defensively. He is a good, solid player but, at the age of 34, is probably entering the decline phase of his career.

Mirabelli, on the other hand, is no spring chicken or great find. He turned 35 last month and has never been anything more than a backup catcher. Doug can hit for power, but, given the change in home ballpark venues from Fenway to Petco, I doubt that he will average a HR every 25 AB like he has for his career.

As far as the motivation for trading Loretta? Well, the speculation has been that the Padres are on the verge of signing Nomar Garciaparra to play 2B. Absent that, I guess they will give rookie Josh Barfield a chance to win the job in spring training.

It was said that this trade was made to free up a little more money for Hoffman.

Nomar Garciaparra

Wow. Hard to imagine him in a padres uni. What will he go for? Only time will tell I guess.

He is from SoCal, or his wife is, so this makes some sense...

what do you think the starting rotation and starting lineup for the cards this year?

Well, here is what it looks like as of tonight:

Eckstein, SS
Edmonds, CF
Pujols, 1B
Rolen, 3B
Bigbie or Rodriguez, LF
Taguchi, RF
Molina, C
Miles, 2B
Carpenter, SP
Mulder, SP
Suppan, SP
Marquis, SP
Reyes or Wainwright, SP

w/ Isringhausen and who knows in the bullpen.

According to a report, Jocketty supposedly has around $8-$10 million left to fill the remaining spots, including some empty spaces on the bench and in the bullpen. As a result, maybe the Cards spend $5M per on somebody like Jacque Jones. He's not a bad option vs. RHP but definitely needs a platoon partner.

No matter what, it's looking pretty bleak for STL fans next year.

Just as emerging growth stocks get overvalued from time to time, so do young baseball players. Portfolio managers and general managers alike should be quick to sell when the price exceeds value. And that's a fact!

Perfect timing! So, Rich, what do you think of the Marte-Renteria deal? When I first heard it I REALLY liked it for Boston, but reading your entry today I'm starting to have my doubts--and Marte is, if anything, even more highly thought of than Burroughs was. The way you spin it, it doesn't sound like a very John Henry thing to do.

Hi Jurgen: I'm not so certain that Marte is more highly thought of than Burroughs was 3-5 years ago. The latter was compared to HOF third basemen like George Brett and Wade Boggs. But that is beside the point. I'm not advocating trading young prospects per se. I'm only suggesting that more GMs should consider trading such players if, and when, they become overvalued in the marketplace.

With respect to the Marte-Renteria deal, my first reaction was that Boston totally ripped off Atlanta. But that was before I read where the Red Sox are kicking in $11 million. Boston will pay $8 million of the $26 million Renteria is owed for the next three seasons and an additional $3 million buyout if the Braves decline his $11 million option for 2009.

In other words, Atlanta is only on the hook for $18M or an average of $6M per year. That contract is below market for a SS like Renteria. As a result, they had to give the Red Sox something in return. However, Marte seems like too much to me. It's not the heist I thought it was initially, but I would side with Boston on this one.

I'm going to have much more on this trade and contracts in general in a couple of weeks. Stay tuned.

I'm going to have much more on this trade and contracts in general in a couple of weeks. Stay tuned.

Thanks! Looking forward to it.

The worst mistake a GM can make with young players is to let them rot on the vine. The next mistake is to squander them for mediocre veterans. The third mistake is to give up talent for another team's young player, only to see them fizzle. You can often get a clue on this when the hype machine starts playing the tune about how great a minor leaguer will be (as if anyone really knows).

A ton of GMs make the first mistake - a ton; there is a fine point at which the player needs to be played or traded - because if they fizzle, you indeed, got nothing for him.

Atlanta may have made the second mistake, but I doubt it..Renteria is better than a mediocre veteran (the contract Boston gave him should prove that, his bad 2005 nothwithstanding); the Braves got him for, as you suggested, a below market salary and dealtt from strength - they have Chipper locked up. Boston, on the other hand, did not deal from strength. They have no SS. And they may have made the third mistake - trading for another team's overhyped youngster - we'll see.

The Blue Jays are going to go all the way this year like they did in 1992 and 93 with the pitching they have today. With Halladay bing first, Burnett, Lilly, Chacin(almost rookie of the year) and Towers, the Blue Jays are going to going to pitch their way to the top of their division. Then with Overbay as their #4 hitter, and with reports of the Blue Jays trying to find another bat, they should be able to win the World Series. This will hopefully show the Yanks and Sox that the Jays can contend and only by spending a third of what the Yankees payroll is.
Go Jays!!!!!!!!

Im from Boston and so far am very pleased with the offseason moves being made by the Red Legs. I'll be the first in line for a Loretta jersey and after trading away Baseball America's #10 prospect, Hanley Ramirez, I'm excited to see us get Andy Marte, #9 on that very same list. This leaves the Sox with a gaping hole at shortstop, which was nothing to be excited about. Until, seemingly on cue, Miguel Tejada goes public with a trade demand. Manny for Miggy...can it be true? Don't get me wrong, if spring comes and Manny is in left I'll be perfectly happy. But if the new Dominican duo in town is Ortiz and Tejada, I'd...well I dont know what I'd do, but it would be something outrageous. How likely is it that come Spring Training I'll be doing something outrageous??

Are there any good comprehensive studies of performance in contract years compared to career norms?