Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Alex Anthopoulos' first moves

Yesterday was the second anniversary of the hiring of Alex Anthopoulos as the Toronto Blue Jays general manager. During the next couple weeks, we’ll be chronologically going through his transactions and looking at the results of each one.

On October 3, 2009 the Toronto Blue Jays announced that their vice-president of baseball operations Alex Anthopoulous would become their new general manager after the dismissal of J.P. Ricciardi.

Anthopoulos’ first order of business was figuring out who would be brought back as major league free agents and who was not to come back to Toronto. Major leaguers, Kevin Millar, Marco Scutaro, Rod Barajas were all granted Free Agency. As was John McDonald, although he would be re-signed on November 25th to a 2 year, $3 million contract. He was a slightly above replacement level (WARs of 1.1 and 0.9 during those two seasons) before his trade with Aaron Hill for Kelly Johnson. That trade will be covered in a future post.

Kevin Millar retired from baseball after being release by the Cubs after the 2010 spring training. As a platoon player in Toronto, he didn’t provide even replacement level value with a WAR of negative 0.7. Barajas had played well for the Jays during his two seasons with WARs of 1.5 and 1.0, but by signing with the Mets, he would allow the Jays to receive the 41st pick in the 2010 draft as compensation. Scutaro was very good for the Blue Jays with WARs of 4.1 and 5.5 in 2008 and 2009. He also became the bigger prize, by letting him go via free agency, the Jays received the 34th and 80th picks in the 2010 draft when he signed with the division rival Red Sox for two years at $12.5 million.

Scutaro during his two contract years with the Red Sox put up WARs of 2.5 (oWAR of 2.3, dWAR of 0.2) and 1.4 (oWAR of 2.5, dWAR of -1.1) and OPS+ of 92 and 110. Offensively, he was everything the Red Sox wanted him to be, adding 2 wins in each season but his defense regressed in 2011 and lessened his value. It will be interesting to see if the Red Sox buyout his option year at a cost of $1.5 million or keep him on for $6 million this off-season. As for Barajas, he was moved from the Mets to the Dodgers in August of 2010 and put up an OPS+ of 97 and a WAR of 1.2, great value for his contract..

Looking at these stats, both players were above average after leaving the Blue Jays, with Scutaro adding 2.5 and 1.4 wins in the two seasons of his contract and Barajas a combined 1.2 wins above replacement level between the Mets and the Dodgers. The average cost per win has been estimated by some to be around $4.5 million meaning that both these players were bargains for their new teams. However, the Red Sox did give up the 80th pick in the draft along with the salary to sign Scutaro.
Was there ever a chance either of these players would have re-signed with Toronto? Tough to know, however they both would have been useful players for the Blue Jays, tomorrow let’s look at how they were replaced in the lineup.

Monday, October 03, 2011

The Vernon Wells Trade

It’s not often that one transaction is said to cost a general manager his job but in the case of Angels GM Tony Reagins it is said that this is exactly the case. Reagins thought the Angels were one good outfielder away from making the playoffs and in the off-season, he came together with two other teams to acquire exactly that in Vernon Wells. The outfielder was once a 5th overall pick in 1997 and had manned centre field for the Toronto Blue Jays since 2002. In 2003, he finished 8th in MVP voting and won a silver slugger. The next season he won his first of 3 straight Gold Gloves, however he had not given the Jays above replacement level defense in 3 years according to the dWar stat. He was coming off an All-Star season of 30 home runs and an OPS of .847 but even though there was no clear replacement at his position the Jays were willing to deal him because of the 4 years left on his contract at $21 million or more per season (of which the Jays paid $5 million for the first season).

In the end, Reagins traded two players catcher Mike Napoli (flipped for Frank Francisco making this a 3 way trade) and outfielder Juan Rivera. The Jays essentially dumped his contract, receiving about Replacement Level performance from the combination of Rivera and Francisco (however they may keep Francisco or add a compensatory draft pick after this season).

In sports and in the bedroom, it is always important in a three-way to make sure that all parties end up satisfied with the outcome. In this case, it is pretty obvious that the Angels did not end up being satisfied. Looking at the short term, they shipped out two players making $11 million and received $5 million in cash from the Blue Jays, therefore Vernon Wells’ salary difference was of only $7 million for the 2011 season. Just like renting a movie starring Jennifer Aniston instead of seeing it in theatres, It was still an overpayment…Vernon Wells, spent the majority of his time in LF, a defensive position with less value than his usual home of CF, had an OBP of .248, a SLG of .412 (An OPS of .660 for those scoring at home) and a batter VORP 4.0 (tied for 306th in the league). He still had 25 home runs, a category in which he ranked 2nd for the Angels. Juan Rivera, dumped in favour of Wells, actually had a higher OPS during his time with the Jays (before being again dumped, this time to the Dodgers), .666, and had a VORP of 4.7. When looking at Wins Above Replacement, Rivera made the Jays 1.2 wins worse during the 2011 season while Wells only made the Angels -0.3 wins worse. Was it worth the $7 million to add the .9 wins to their lineup? Well, was the switch worth the 5 dollars you spent at Blockbuster….errr…the local video store?

But wait! The Rangers also gave up another player in this trade…Mike Napoli! He was seen by the Angels as a sub-par defensive catcher (negative dWar value in three straight years) however the Rangers still had him start 57 games there along with 45 games between first base and designated hitter. Napoli rewarded them by hitting 30 home runs (the type of power that Wells was expected to bring to the Angels lineup) and showing increased patience at the plate for an OBP of .414. His OPS was of 1.046 which would have placed him second in the American League if he had enough at bats to qualify and he added over 5 wins to the Rangers lineup. The defensively sound Jeff Mathis had the majority of at bats at catcher for Anaheim and had an OPS of .484…which makes Wells look like a stud in comparison. If you’re looking for him on the VORP leaderboard, scroll down…lower…lower…did you get to Adam Dunn yet? Yes? Ok just a bit higher…there he is resting at 1154 of 1173 with a VORP of negative 7.6…his Wins Above Replacement showed with a decent value of only costing the Angels 0.3 games The rookie Hank Conger who was seen as the reason Napoli was no longer needed was not much better with an OPS of .638 and VORP of 5.6 and a WAR of 0.3. Bobby Wilson also took at bats at catcher for the Angels, and was equally unimpressive with a WAR of 0.1.

Why did Tony Reagins “resign”? Well in this trade, he gave up almost 5 wins while adding $7 million in salary for the 2011 season. He also added $69 million in future salaries…however it is important to note that his team did finish 10 wins above .500 and 2nd in their division. The Rangers ended up the big winner with a player who added over 5 wins to their lineup above replacement level while the Jays essentially gave up Wells in exchange for freeing themselves of over $76 million in player commitment. Some of that saved money went into a long-term contract for Jose Bautista but the Jays will have to hope for a better performance in centre field from Colby Rasmus or a newcomer if they hope to contend and forget about their long-time centre fielder. In the end, this was seen as the trade of the year by one general manager, Alex Anthopoulous, and he wasn’t even the one who added the most wins in 2011 in this transaction.

Sunday, October 02, 2011

So Hollywood ruined Moneyball...

I finally got around to seeing Moneyball last night and can't say that I loved or hated it. For anyone who hasn't seen it, stop reading now, but know that if you go and enjoy the movie as a Hollywood fulff piece, you should like it...if you're a hardcore fan of the book, fan of sabrmetrics or want to see lots of baseball scenes...forget it.

Why didn't I like it? Because the movie essentially starts in Mark Shapiro's office where Beane is negotiating for a player, Shapiro agrees only to have his fat special assistant disagree, and Shapiro agrees...this stuff happens in baseball, the GM can't know every player on the office. BUT then Billy Beane finds this fat assistant, figures out he's a disciple of Bill James and hires him away. This is where the movie lost me, for the benefit of short attention spanned movie watchers, Aaron Sorkin has molded together Paul Depodesta and JP Ricciardi into one character that is hired by Billy Beane during the off-season immediately before the "Moneyball season". Worse, "Beane" immediately buys into what Peter Brand is selling. Choosing to listen to him before his top scouts 3 weeks into his tenure into the front office and choosing the replacements for Giambi, Damon and Isringhausen on what seems like a whim.

I wasn't expecting a great history of sabrmetrics or anything but to make the most difficult decisions in baseball seem as easy to make as they do in this movie is like if "The Social Network" had Zuckerberg create the facebook we know today in 5 minutes.

Don't get me started on the fact that Beane all of a sudden begins speaking to players and making them buy into the whole OBP thing. They chose and trained these players to do exactly that, it's not like the players would all of a sudden listen to their general manager because he knows all.

So if you want to see an entertaining movie, go ahead go see Moneyball but don't expect anything like the book. The best chapter "the Trade Deadline" is portrayed in the movie and is a great scene that ssticks to what was written in the book. But there is a lot of silent brooding parts meant to get Brad Pitt an Oscar nomination including an awkward drive at the ending. However, the newly added ending scene is a great nod to real life. Ironic that I saw this movie minutes after my blackberry went off telling me that Theo Epstein may no longer the Red Sox gm.