Fact or Fiction?
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.
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:
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!