Beanewatching: How should we evaluate the Kendall trade?

AN has been obsessed lately with the Jason Kendall trade, and rightly so: this trade is huge for the franchise.  But is it good or bad?

Purely in terms of talent, the trade is an obvious slam-dunk huge upgrade for Oakland.  As the headline over Ratto's column so succinctly put it: "One good plus, two good minuses for A's".  So what's not to like?  Why is there a raging debate over whether this is good or catastrophically bad for the green and gold?  It comes down to the "one bad plus" that didn't make Ratto's headline: additional payroll.  Quite a lot of additional payroll.  Is this bad enough to ratchet the value of this trade down from "wonderful" to "neutral," or even to "poor" or (god forbid) "disastrous"?  And what are the proper criteria for determining that?  The following is a lengthly and rather geeky analysis; I hope it's worth the trouble for those who bear with it.
First let's assemble the facts, so far as we can discern them.

Kendall's contract:  $10M, $11M, and $13M over the next three years, $34M total value.  All sources seem to agree on these numbers.

Rhodes' contract:  This is more uncertain.  Numerous sources agree on the total of $9.2M for three years, but I've never seen an authoritative year-by-year breakout of that sum.  The only sources that purport to give year-by-year numbers appear to be simply averaging the total over three years for lack of better information.  However, contracts tend to be backloaded, and both USA Today and ESPN show a $1.8M salary in 2003.  That leaves $7.4M owing over 2005-2006, which is exactly the figure used by Mychael Urban as well as Alan Robinson of AP, so let's go with that.  If anyone has better information, please speak up.

Redman's contract:  Heavily backloaded.  $500,000 signing bonus, $1.75M in 2004, $4.25M in 2005, a player option for $4.5M in 2006 (assuming the club turns down its option at $4.95M).  There's also $250,000 per year in incentives.  I haven't seen these specified anywhere, but I believe the A's mostly stay very basic when they consent to incentive clauses, probably using very realistic innings pitched goals to protect the club a little if the player gets hurt or isn't good enough to stay in the rotation.  So I think we have to consider those incentives as a likely part of the cost of the contract, such that the best estimate of the 2005-2006 costs (assuming the signing bonus was paid up front) is $4.5M and $4.75M, for a total of $9.25M remaining of the original $11.75M.  The 3-year average would be $3.9M, but the remaining 2-year average jumps all the way up to $4.625M.

So Rhodes and Redman together: $16.65M over the next two years.  That's higher than most estimates being used; on the other hand the CC Times has been saying $17.5M, which I have to assume is simply wrong (although you can get there by using the club option number instead of the player option, and if payment of the signing bonus was deferred).  

Now for the additional cash:  Slusser seems to have been the most precise, so let's assume her information is the most accurate until we find out otherwise.  Slusser said the A's pitch in about $1M in 2005 and 2006, but that the overall cash adjustments favor the A's by about $5M, which implies a $7M Pittsburgh contribution towards Kendall's $13M 2007 salary.  (Urban says only $5M from the Pirates in 2007, but I think he may be re-reporting and misinterpreting Slusser's figures.  If not, that's a nasty $2M extra hit for Oakland.)

So the cost of Kendall's contract, counting cash adjustments but disregarding the Rhodes and Redman contracts:
$11M 2005, $12M 2006, $6M 2007, TOTAL $29M, yearly average $9.7M

Net of the subtracted Redman and Rhodes contracts (calculating Rhodes at $3.7M/yr):
$2.8M 2005, $3.55M 2006, $6M 2007, TOTAL $12.35M, yearly average $4.12M

So those are the relevant facts (as close as I can establish them at this time).  But what are we to make of them?

Kendall is better than some here give him credit for.  OBP is the single most important offensive stat, and Kendall's OBP has been a magnificent .390 or better in 6 out of 8 years, with the two exceptions being due to a single lingering injury.  It's also a big plus that his OBP is due more to a high average than lots of walks, as hits are on average more useful than walks.  His high batting average is a well-established core ability, not a short term gift of the trickster god BABIP.  His VORP in 2004 was higher than Varitek's (as was also the case in 2003), slightly ahead of Victor Martinez, and right in line with Ivan Rodriguez' normal VORP (although IRod spiked well upward this year).  It's true that he owes part of his VORP to his large amount of playing time, so that his per at-bat value is slightly less than some of these competitors, but we who watched our incumbent catcher (among others) waste into uselessness from late-season exhaustion should appreciate durability.

Should we evaluate the deal by its net cost (i.e. Kendall minus Redman minus Rhodes minus cash adjustment)?  In that case the question amounts to: Would you sign Jason Kendall to a 3-year $12.35M deal, backloaded such that the first two years cost a little over $6M?  If that's the question, the answer is obviously "Hell yes!  Hell yes!"  But is that the right question?

Now look at it from the opposite pole:  What if you had the ability to simply nuke the Rhodes and Redman contracts, giving them away and getting nothing in return but assuming none of their future costs?  If we assume that to be doable, then going ahead with the Kendall deal is the equivalent of signing him to a front-loaded $29M 3-year free agent deal.  Would that be a good deal?  The answer to that is clearly "Hell no!"  But that's not quite the right question either.

Let's try this thought experiment:  What if you could auction off the Rhodes and Redman contracts, what would you get?  In other words, how much would we have to pitch in to entice someone to simply take the rest of these contracts off our hands, not asking anything in return?

Rhodes signed as a free agent, so he got what the market would bear: $9.2M for three years.  And that was based on the assumption that he was really quite valuable.  Due to the backloading of his contract most of that money is still to be paid, and the per-year average going forward is up to $3.7M.  Meanwhile, Arthur has done an extraordinarily efficient job of absolutely demolishing his perceived value, what with seriously reduced velocity, a rotten attitude, a serious injury, and a passel of neck-swiveling appearances on Baseball Tonight's "Touch-'Em-All" feature.  But let's imagine that some delusional GM out there would still voluntarily pay $3M for 2 years of Arthur's service, that leaves the A's with a $4.2M contribution.

As for Redman, well, grover seems to think the A's wouldn't have to pitch in anything.  Maybe so, but I it seems unlikely to me.  Consider:  When Redman signed, he was a completely free agent (the A's traded for him but non-tendered him so he was free to negotiate whatever the market would bear).  His market value turned out to be less than $4M per year, even when heavily back-loaded.  And that came from the GM perhaps most well-disposed in baseball toward Redman's type (Beane loves lefties even more than most GMs, loves guys who throw changeups, isn't prejudiced against soft-tossers).  It was also coming off his best year, a 3.57 ERA posted in a pitcher's park.  In his only other full season he put up a 4.21 ERA in Comerica Park at a time when that park was configured so as to utterly neutralize right-handed power hitters, Redman's chief nemesis.  Since signing the deal Redman has worked off the cheapest part of his contract, such that his per-year price is up to $4.65M, while moving from a 3.57 ERA to 4.71.  That's the kind of year you can get for a hell of a lot less money than that, and it cannot help but have significantly eroded his perceived value from the previous year.  So his cost has gone up and his value has gone down, and it doesn't stand to reason that someone out there would actually bid higher for him now than a year ago.  Still, I will agree that you wouldn't have to bring the price down too drastically before someone would bite; I can imagine him getting 2 years, $7M if he were a free agent.  That implies the A's could dump him if they were to pitch in $2.25M of his remaining $9.25M

So by my (very hypothetical) line of reasoning Billy could have simply dumped the two contracts by agreeing to eat a total of $6.45M, with some other patsies chowing down on the remaining $10M poison pill.  If that's true, then the real cost of this deal is the $12.35M of additional payroll we're taking on PLUS the $10M we might have been able to discharge without taking on someone else's problem contract.  Is $22.35M for 3 years of Jason Kendall a good use of the A's payroll?  Well, Varitek is going to get more than that, and you can make a solid argument that Kendall is the better player, or at least Varitek's equal (Varitek's reputation is such that I think most people will balk at this conclusion, but the data support it).  But at nearly $7.5M per year, he's not a bargain (although neither is re-signing Chavez or Hudson or Tejada or Mulder; you can't win with bargains alone).  

(By the way, one thing I'm intentionally leaving out of this analysis is the savings we get by not signing Miller, or the savings of Blanton over Redman, etc.  Those are all certainly relevant to how the A's freed up the money that went into this deal, but they're not relevant to whether the deal makes financial sense on its own terms.)

The bottom line is that the A's have seriously improved themselves on the field, but at a premium price.  It may be too high a price, but I think the price is not so grossly out of line as to justify the worst fears of grover and monkeyball.  Time will tell.  If you make different assumptions and judgments than the ones I've made here, you can of course judge this deal as either much worse or much better than I have argued.  Perhaps against my better judgment I feel rather positive about it. Maybe that's because the on-field improvement is so palpable, while it's the other team that has to look at those two bums while talking bravely about "payroll flexibility."  In addition, whether this is an optimal use of dollars or not, you have to assume Billy has calculated that it's something he can afford.  One inference from the deal is that the payroll budget MUST have been bumped at least to the low-to-mid 60s, or this trade would simply be unmakeable.

There's plenty more to consider, but I'll have mercy on any fellow A's-obsessed nut jobs who have mustered the stamina to read this far.  Spring training doesn't start soon enough.