Muppet Thoughts

 

The minor league season is over and the Arizona Fall League has yet to begin. Baseball America has begun their League Top 20 lists but they haven’t hit anywhere where the A’s have qualifying individuals. Winter ball is months away (although today it seems as if winter itself is close at hand) and the A’s are being their typical tight-lipped selves regarding the goings on in Instructs. So don’t expect much in the way of minor league discussion in today’s write up. What will I talk about?

 

Glad you asked.

 

Next year’s Free Agent options, the current 2010 payroll and some interesting service time tidbits, why using FIP or any other metric to argue Cahill’s place in Oakland’s 2010 rotation is missing the point, a moment of praise to Rajai Davis’ base running skills and… I don’t know… whatever I bloody well want.

 

If that sounds interesting to you then I’ll see you on the flip side.


 

Let’s talk about money.

 

Money, money, money, money, money, money.

                 

Let’s face it, we live in a capitalist society and (most of us on AN, anyways) in a country with a WTF?!?! economy that makes risky investments a rather unattractive idea. The San Diego Padres, the Texas Rangers and the Chicago Cubs are just 3 recent examples of how quickly an organization’s financial situation can change. The 2009 A’s opened up the season with a $62.3 million payroll and we know that Wolff and Fisher don’t consider the team to be a public philanthropy. The Oakland A’s are a business, and businessmen expect to turn a profit. It is difficult to turn a profit when you have no customers (I learned that in my college economics class) and the A’s have drawn fewer paying customers than any other team in major league baseball. While revenue sharing and national media deals will provide a solid chunk of money for 2010 the A’s do not draw a great deal of income through local TV or stadium licensing, meaning the loss of approximately a quarter million attendees could have an impact on the amount of money the A’s have to spend on player payroll in 2010.

 

Looking at the current roster and trying to anticipate the arbitration cases of 8 different players, it appears to me that the A’s have $38 million committed in salary to next year’s roster. (Keep in mind that I’ve tried to pad that figure, ‘cause it’s always easier to pocket any left over cash than it is to find more cash when the bills are due. Also, I’ve got a bit of a thing for round numbers and counting by quarters.) Let’s look at those arbitration eligible players. Eric Munson and Edgar Gonzalez might be best described as fringe level big league players, but the only way the A’s could insure that they could retain their services for next season would be to offer them arbitration. Otherwise, the A’s would need to release them and try to bid for their services as free agents. I think that is the more likely scenario, as the A’s should be more interested in finding cheap vets they can sign to minor league deals than in keeping replacement-level talent at inflated rates.

 

Santiago Casilla is eligible for arbitration for the first time but the combination of his injuries, his ineffectiveness and the depth of power RH arms in the A’s farm system leads me to believe that AKA Jairo Garcia will be moving on to another team. Joey Devine is coming back from season ending elbow surgery and that will probably keep his 2010 salary down, although I am still penciling in a raise to $750K. Michael Wuertz is due a huge pay bump, at least doubling his $1.1 million 2009 salary. He didn’t get many opportunities to close and arbiters tend to be distracted by shiny things like saves, so I’m figuring he’ll earn a $2.5 million salary for next year. Before I move on to the arby-eligible hitters, I want to point out that Dana Eveland is no longer looking at arbitration for next season. His early season demotion hit his service time tally very hard and he simply doesn’t have the days in to qualify for arbitration. This means the A’s have the option to bring Eveland back at $420K next season. The only downside is it looks like (assuming I’ve counted things right) that the A’s used Eveland’s last option in 2009 and if he doesn’t pitch well enough to make the Opening Day big league roster next year the A’s would have to expose him to waivers before they could send him to the minors. Which wouldn’t be a great loss, but it is a factor to consider before deciding to invest the time and effort in giving Eveland another chance next Spring. Perhaps the coaching and innings would be better served going to another option?

 

 

Scott Hairston hasn’t performed like the A’s had hoped since they acquired him from the Padres but his early season numbers will insure a pay increase for next season. I think his late season injuries and his struggling 2nd half performance will prevent him from doubling his salary but I can see him collecting $2 million next year. Rajai Davis has only a half season of excellence to make him some money and I don’t think that UZR gets factored into the arbitration process but 40 SB is sexy and shiny. I expect Davis to more than quadruple his 2009 salary and earn a $1.75 million payday. Jack Cust leads the A’s in HR and BB but also in K’s and is a distant 2nd in RBI. UZR might not factor in the decision making process but general defensive suckitude does. I think Cust goes from $2.8 million to $4.25 million next season, although I wouldn’t blink twice if that figure went up another half million. But my official guess is 4 and a quarter.

 

Altogether, a $38 million commitment to the 2010 payroll.

 

That means the A’s have some spending money next year. But where to spend it and how much is there to spend? I doubt the A’s are going to bump the payroll beyond the $62.3 million figure from 2009 and in fact I expect to see it drop by roughly $10 million. Where am I getting that low-50’s number? Call it a gut reaction to the state of the team and the AL West, plus the lack of intriguing free agent options. The A’s are looking at a serious influx of position talent by the end of next season and it seems unlikely that the team would invest heavily in free agent vets that could potentially block the young talent and/or become expensive bench options. There are obvious holes in the roster but little in the way of value to be had in the current free agent crop.

 

One of the places where a major investment and change would be welcomed (by the fans, anyway) is at 3rd base. Eric Chavez is in the last guaranteed year of his contract and has barely made it on to the field over the last 3 years. There are at least 4 credible options on the free agent market that could give the A’s an immediate boost at the hot corner. Troy Glaus, Mark DeRosa, Adrian Beltre and Chone Figgins all offer the right mix of offense and defense that teams demand at 3rd base these days. DeRosa offers some defensive versatility and enough bat that his team will be looking to find a place to play him. The downside to DeRosa is he’s a Type A free agent and he turns 35 next February, meaning his decline could come swift and soon. Glaus is coming off a shoulder injury but should be ready to go next Spring and at 33 might be looking for a 1 year deal to re-establish himself before going for 1 last big payday. He’s got enough glove to handle 3rd base should Chavez be unable to make it onto the field and his bat would play well at 1st base in the unlikely scenario that Chavez is healthy.

 

Figgins is intriguing because of his versatility and out of all the big ticket 3rd base options he’s actually healthy! He’ll be 32 next season and is probably looking for a 4 year deal. The cool thing about Figgins is you don’t have to worry about him blocking some stud prospect’s path, he’s got the athleticism and experience to play almost anywhere on the field. The downside is he’s a Type A free agent (yeah, me loving that 2nd round pick) and his name has been mentioned with so many teams that if even half of them are truly interested in him the A’s would be in a bidding war to land him. Beltre is battling injuries this year but he doesn’t turn 31 until the beginning of next season. Still, he picked a bad year to hit like crap. His glove is still top notch but the reality is the A’s gave up on Jack Hannahan (a quality defender at 3rd base and according to UZR a near equal to Beltre) to keep Adam Kennedy’s bat in the line-up. It’s going to take at least a 3 year deal to land Beltre (I’m guessing 3/$27 million but I could be way off) and when you think about it, the A’s would be paying all that cash for Beltre’s bat. Another thing to consider, if you believe in Brett Wallace the 3rd baseman at all, signing Beltre creates a problem. Adrian earns most of his value via the glove; his bat doesn’t play well at 1st base. You could, of course, slide Wallace to 1st base but that defeats the whole idea of him playing at the hot corner. You better decide where Brett Wallace fits in the field before paying Adrian Beltre serious coin.

 

There are a couple other 3rd base options that get brought up around AN on occasion. Adam Kennedy made a decent stop gap option at 3rd base this season and the A’s have already said they’d consider bringing him back. Akinori Iwamura is one of those under-rated gems that everyone knows about and thus the pursuit will resemble a piranha feeding frenzy. Joe Crede is on his way out of Minnesota but he’ll be 32 and is heading towards his 2nd back surgery and are you out of your fucking mind?! 32 and double back surgery describes Eric Chavez, that’s not a pairing we should wish the A’s to make.

 

If the A’s are looking to make a free agent splash, the value looks to be in the starting pitching ranks. If the D’backs decide to bid bon voyage to Brandon Webb I say the A’s need to go all in and offer him a big money deal to bring him to Oakland. Yes, he hurt his shoulder and missed almost the entire season but there was no damage to the labrum and forget about any loss of awesomeness due to changing leagues… his groundball and strike out tendencies will play well in the AL. Barring that admittedly less-than-likely scenario, Justin Duchscherer and Brett Myers might make great candidates for 1 year deals to re-establish themselves in 2010. I mean no disrespect when I say that Duke needs to get his head on straight before trying to pitch again next season. They have said they’d be interested in bringing him back next season but the onus is on Justin getting his life in order. Myers needs to get healthy and I’m guessing a change of scenery would do him good. At 29 he’s still young enough to have more than a few solid seasons if he can get his act together.

 

But do the A’s really need to invest potentially limited funds into the starting rotation? I mean, adding a healthy Brandon Webb is pretty much a no-brainer, especially if you can get him for a discounted rate and not the $20+ million annual C.C. Sabathia is getting from the Yankees. The answer seems to lie in how you feel about Trevor Cahill. If you hear his name and think rainbows and puppies than you’re probably disinclined to spend free agent dollars on a big ticket pitcher. If hearing "Cahill" causes you to grind your teeth than you’re probably wondering why I didn’t list Jason Marquis as a viable free agent option. Me? I think puppies.

 

I’ve heard the arguments for sending Cahill down to AAA to start next season. I personally feel that the best place for Cahill to work on his breaking stuff is at the big league level, however if the coaching staff disagrees then I’m more than happy to yield to their wisdom. But I’m willing to bet Curt Young isn’t spending his time on AN arguing about how Trevor Cahill needs AAA seasoning. The principle argument on AN in demoting Cahill centers around his FIP (or tRA but either number will do) courtesy of Fangraphs. FIP, for those who have ignored this discussion so far but are now drawn in by my dulcet tones, is essentially what we could expect the pitcher’s ERA to be if we could factor out team defense. Fangraphs lists 77 starting pitchers as throwing enough innings/pitching enough games to qualify for their statistical leader board. Hit the button to compare FIP and proceed to the last page, ‘cause as of 9/22 Trevor Cahill ranked last in baseball with a FIP of 5.30.

 

It’s a fairly simple logic stream. You’ve got a young pitcher whom we all knew was being rushed posting the worst luck-independent numbers in baseball. Why waste his service time watching him get his butt kicked when we can send him down to AAA where he belongs? My problem with that logic is, that while Cahill’s FIP score is an accurate interpretation of his 2009 season performance it doesn’t actually reflect how well he pitched this year. We knew that there were going to be days when Cahill was going to get his head handed to him on a platter. The guy had barely any experience outside of A-ball and his mechanics where inconsistent. His minor league performance carried indicators (BB/9 rate) that his game needed more polish. We knew all this and still the A’s put him on their 2009 Opening Day roster.

 

So why are folks so intent on punishing Cahill for living up to our expectations? I looked at the box scores of the 30 games Cahill had pitched in this season, and in 9 of those contests he either allowed 5 or more runs (earned/unearned, doesn’t matter on the scoreboard) and/or failed to pitch a full 5 innings. I don’t care what metric you choose to believe in, there isn’t a baseball fan among us who wouldn’t say that those games represent a failure on the part of the pitcher in giving his team a chance to win. Cahill earned his bottom feeding FIP in those 9 games. When you look at his record of performance you see a wide variation in outcomes and all FIP does is draw a line and say "this is the average outcome". And there’s nothing wrong with that except that it doesn’t provide a full, detailed picture of what Cahill did this season. So I asked a second question: How good did Trevor Cahill pitch this year?

 

Unfortunately, before I could answer my question I had to figure out how I was going to answer my question! A few years back someone (I don’t care whom) started talking about Quality Starts. The basic premise was a SP got credited with a QS anytime he lasted a minimum of 6 IP and gave up no more than 3 ER. This would help balance out those days when a pitcher just got crushed and his numbers would (unfairly?, undeservedly?) drag down his overall line. I don’t know if this was in response to Coors Field or maybe because it was the Steroid era, but while the basic idea had some merit the parameters sucked. 3 ER in 6 IP? That’s a 4.50 ERA, not exactly what I call quality from my SP.

 

So I decided to apply the same basic concept to the 77 SP on Fangraphs’ leader board pages, only this time I made the rules more strict. No more than 2 runs (earned/unearned count the same on the scoreboard) over a minimum of 6 IP. Then I decided to add an extra tier, so 3 runs allowed over a minimum of 7 full IP would also count on the Good side. Then I went over the game logs of every qualifying SP (further explaining the 9/22 cut-off date) and simply added up how many HQS (High Quality Starts… yeah, I expect a point deduction from the Russian judge for my lack of creativity) to see how well Mr. Worst-FIP-in-Baseball pitched.

 

Trevor Cahill pitched 14 HQS, tying him with 8 other SP including Cole Hamels, John Lackey, Scott Feldman and Yovani Gallardo.

 

14 HQS is also higher score than the performances from Andy Pettite, Barry Zito, Brett Anderson, Carlos Zambrano, Clayton Kershaw, James Shields, Rich Porcello, Roy Oswalt and 18 other big league SP who posted better FIP than Trevor Cahill.

 

I am not saying that this means Trevor Cahill is a better pitcher than all these guys. I am saying that on the days when Cahill’s talent outweighed his inexperience he pitched like a legitimate big league SP. And here’s the thing about inexperience, it goes away after a time. The 174 (and counting) IP that Cahill has accumulated this year with the A’s has been an invaluable learning experience for him and it should make him less prone to the epic disasters he created 9 times as a raw and unready rookie. Trevor Cahill is far from a finished project and it may be that next year the A’s will decide that the best place for him to work on his breaking ball or his mechanics or his interview clichés is in Sacramento and I’ll be fine with that.

 

But don’t tell me his FIP dictates the A’s purchase his bus ticket 6 months in advance.

 

One last things as this post has gone far longer than I intended… I mentioned this in another thread but I feel it bears repeating. With a little over half-a-season’s worth of playing time Bill James ranks Rajai Davis as the 4th best base runner in all of baseball. This is counting Davis’ stolen base and base running performance, and on a team lacking in power those skills are very important (even in a non-starting role) to help create runs.

 

Alright, I’ve rattled on long enough. Sorry for the lateness of today’s Front Page write up but folks seemed to be enjoying the Davis and Holliday themed articles already up. Besides, you can’t rush greatness.

 

Or in my case… my typing.

 

And thank you for your support.

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