Friday, April 22, 2011

Recent Extensions Worth the Risk?

You have probably already heard the news that Ryan Braun signed a five-year extension with the Brewers this week for $105 million. The interesting thing about the deal is that the Brewers already had Braun locked up through 2015, so this extension does not kick in until after 2015.

You probably also know that Troy Tulowitzki signed a lucrative contract this winter that extends him through 2020. Like Braun, Tulowitzki was already locked up for a number of years, so his extension will not kick in for a while.

It is clear that Tulowitzki and Braun are excellent players and certainly good players to have as cornerstones of your organization, but the question I'm asking here is whether or not it's worth extending these guys in this way. Specifically, I'm asking if it's a wise investment to decide to extend players who are already locked up for a number of years.

On the surface it seems fairly wise, especially given the production these two have put up early in their careers. They will also only be in their mid-30s by the time the contract ends, so both the Brewers and the Rockies will be getting the best part of these players' careers. However, that kind of assumption implies that the two are going to continue to be productive, and it also assumes that they are going to stay completely healthy, which is a much more dangerous assumption.

There have been many players who have been spectacular early in their careers but were then de-railed by freak injuries. Mark Prior is the first that comes to mind for me, but there are countless others. I'm not saying that Braun or Tulowitzki are any more likely than any other player to suffer one of these injuries (though Tulowitzki has proven to be injury prone early in his career), only that the risk is certainly there. The problem in giving one of these pre-mature extensions is that the player being extended receives this injury while still playing under the pre-extension contract. These two teams will still be on the hook for a massive amount of money.

Typically extensions are performed by teams who realize that a player is very likely to achieve their ceiling, but has not quite gotten their, so they may as well lock them up before they get to that level and demand even more money (see: Evan Longoria, Josh Johnson, Jon Lester, etc.,). It seems fairly unlikely that Ryan Braun and Tulowitzki have much higher to reach -- and in fact Braun seems to be on a modest decline.

So really, my conclusion here is that I simply don't understand what the benefit is of extending these players while they are still on multi-year contracts. It's entirely possible and in fact probable than Tulowitzki and Braun perform well over the course of their extremely long deals, but there is no reason that these extension deals should not have been delayed until Tulowitzki and Braun were much closer to the end of their respective contract.

What do you think? Do these contracts make sense?

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Should Joe Mauer be catching?

It has long been said that Joe Mauer will stop catching at some point in his career -- though not by anyone in the Minnesota Twins organization. The belief is that at some point, the Twins will decide the wear and tear on his body will become too much, especially given the $184mm invested in him, and move him to another position where he will not get hurt. However, once again, I have heard everyone but the Twins say this. The question is, should he be moved?

Yes, Mauer has missed a number of games with injuries the last three years (and he also missed games in '07 because of injury), and this is a major reason that people argue he should be moved. However, does anyone really know if he will no longer be somewhat injury prone if he DOES stop catching? The answer is no. It may very well be that Mauer is just a guy who ends up on the DL every year, which sucks for the Twins, but he can still be a productive player going on the 15-day DL once every year.

However, that's not my biggest argument agaisnt moving Mauer. The biggest argument I have is that his bat really isn't THAT valuable if you place him anywhere else he can play. Mauer's career .326/.406/.479 line is impressive for sure, but his 81 Home Runs in 3616 Plate Apperances is not. While it's true the Twins could probably deal with a 3B putting up Mauer's numbers, you can bet that they'd rather get some of their Home Runs out of their 3B. Left Field and Right Field -- the other positions suggested for Mauer, are also positions that are typically expected to produce some pop. Shortstop and Centerfield are the only other positions Mauer could occupy and still be considered an elite player at the position -- and neither of those positions is an option for Mauer. So my point here is really that Mauer has maximum value at Catcher, where he is arguable the best in the game right now. Compare Mauer's numbers to any of the other positions he could play, and he's in the middle of the pack.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Manny Ramirez Retires

If you haven't heard, Manny Ramirez has announced his retirement. Reports indicate that he failed another PED drug test, and was informed he would need to serve a 100-game suspension, and he told the MLB he was retiring.

The point of this post isn't really to discuss whether or not Manny Ramirez belongs in the Hall of Fame, because it's pretty clear he does -- if you can get past the PED issue. He is one of the best hitting Outfielders of all time, and he is in the top 25 in Homers, RBIs, and Adjusted OPS. It is difficult to argue against Manny Ramirez's Hall of Fame candidacy assuming the voters eventually decide to let PED users in.

The real point here is how Manny retired. First of all, he didn't inform the Rays first that he was retiring -- the MLB Office had to call the Rays and tell them. That alone is kind of disrespectful on Manny's part, and probably does a little more damage to his already questionable reputation. It also leaves the Rays in an undesirable situation, which I will get to later.

The other thing is that he clearly does not have a PR guy looking out for him. Unlike every other potential Hall of Fame player who has used PEDs, Manny Ramirez was essentialy forced to retired because of his drug use. Other PED usersretired essentially under their own power, and played out their careers after they tested positive. Alex Rodriguez, when he retires, will not be immediatley remembered for PEDs (in theory), for instance. Any time Manny Ramirez is discussed, any biography of him that is ever written, people will be forced to note that he retired after a failed drug test because he did not want to serve the 100-game suspension.

Anyway, that's really it for discussing Manny himself, but the other question here is how the Rays will deal with him leaving. If my understanding of contracts is correct, if a player retires, the otherwise "guaranteed" contract is no longer guaranteed, so at least the frugal Rays are off the hook for the majority of Manny's two million dollar salary. The real issue is that early season trends really seemed to indicate that Manny Ramirez was going to be their full time DH for the most part, somewhere Manny probably could have excelled in the long run (he did start the season rather slow). Manny started at DH for every game he was with the Rays and not dealing with his "family problems" which in retrospect may have dealt with the PED issue. He also got the same amount of at-bats as starters did during Spring Training. So the Rays plan this season was for Manny to get around 450 at-bats, and be a presence in their line-up. Now they don't have that because of Manny's indiscretion, and it is hard to see where they will go from here given that they don't have a huge presence of great power-hitting prospects in their system who are ready to go.

In general, I am sure the Tampa Bay Rays front office is not happy with the way their plan has been dismantled tihs season between Evan Longoria's injury and Manny Ramirez's retirement.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Are these early season trends for real?

It is kind of amazing to me how big of a deal people seem to be making over early season struggles or success of various teams that seem to be defying the various pre-season predictions. Despite the fact that everyone should have a fairly good idea that baseball has a very long season, I have heard in person, and even seen articles online, that are either pushing the panic button (Red Sox and Brewers) or already proclaiming that the division is theirs (Baltimore Orioles).

So the question is, will this early season trends stand up?

Red Sox (0-3): Yes, the Red Sox gave up 11 Home Runs in their opening season series. Red Sox pitching has struggled in the first three games of the season, but is it a trend? Probably not. Jon Lester has a bad April almost every year, Buccholz start was really not that bad, in that he gave up only 5 hits and yes, 4 were homers, but 2 of them were fairly clearly wind blown. The more positive and important trend of that series that may be (at least more) indicative of thigns to come, is David Ortiz's two home runs. He has started horribly the last two years, and his fast start this year is a good sign -- though it certainly does not mean he will not have a prolonged slump at a different time this year. The short answer is, the opening season series for the Red Sox has been overblown as a sign that the team is overrated, and they should certainly compete.

Brewers (0-3): The Brewers issues are not as clearly temporary as the Red Sox, but it still seems likely. The Brewers are missing Corey Hart and Zack Greinke, both of wihch are fairly large losses. Assuming they don't dig too big of a hole for themselves the return of those two will certainly help. It is also pretty much a guarantee that Prince Fielder will get it going. While I dont' see the Brewers winning their division, I can certainly see them contending for it.

Orioles (4-0): The Orioles young pitching so far this season has panned out and the Orioles offense has been as good as advertised. Can the Orioles young pitching continue to produce? I think it would be great if it did, but unfortunately trends indicate that having a rotation filled with such inexperienced guys will probably not pan out, not this year. Next year, it would not be completely shocking to see the Orioles compete in 2012 or 2013 after they get some more innings under their belt. The short answer is, I do not see the Orioles continuing to compete this season, although, as I stated in an earlier post, the Orioles could certainly surprise this season.