Trading R.A. Dickey would be a bad move by the Mets
R.A. Dickey’s Cy Young-winning season was one of the few bright spots for the Mets in 2012. (Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Earlier this week, R.A. Dickey made history by becoming the first full-time knuckleballer to win a Cy Young award, beating out Clayton Kershaw in a race that probably should have been closer than it was given the narrow differences between the two pitchers’ performances. The narrative of a pitcher in his mid-to-late 30s coming back from the brink of oblivion, mastering a trick pitch and winning 20 games for a sub-.500 Mets club was difficult for voters to resist, and in a statistical dead heat, it was enough to carry him over the top.
For as much of a feel-good story as Dickey’s accomplishment is, the reality is that his Cy Young award may drive him out of town. The Mets, who went 74-88, are amid a rebuilding process and still facing financial limitations after a season in which general manager Sandy Alderson was forced to cut payroll from $142.8 million to $94.5 million. They saved a few dollars by buying out Jason Bay, and have around $56 million committed to just five players (Johan Santana, David Wright, Frank Francisco, Dickey and Jon Niese) not including those under club control, with Alderson not expected to be allowed to go much higher than $90 million for the coming year. Dickey will make just $5 million via the club option that the Mets have already exercised, and the combination of that low cost and his current age (38) likely means that his trade value will never be higher. Even so, the Mets should resist dealing him unless they’re blown away with an offer.
Psychologically, trading Dickey would be a crushing blow to Mets fans, who have endured not only two harrowing late-season collapses that cost them playoff berths followed by four straight losing seasons, but also the trade of Carlos Beltran, the free agency departure of Jose Reyes, the ups and downs of David Wright, the crash and burn of Oliver Perez, the demise of Mike Pelfrey, the ugly behavior of Francisco Rodriguez, the bad optics of the Omar Minaya/Jerry Manuel regime, the Wilpon/Katz ownership’s connection to the Madoff scandal and so much more. Dickey, a former first-round-pick-turned-journeyman who joined the Mets organization in 2010 and soon became an ace, has been one of the few positives, providing a source of pride for the organization and its fans when he took the mound every fifth day.
If everything must go, here’s what Marlins have left
Ricky Nolasco could be the next established player shipped out of Miami. (AP)
Beginning with their midseason trades and going though Tuesday’s blockbuster trade, the Marlins have now shed the salaries of 13 out of their 14 highest paid players from their 2012 roster. Since the trade went down, plenty of anger has been directed at owner Jeffrey Loria — on whose watch two of the franchise’s three roster teardowns have occurred — some of it rather hyperbolic. “Loria broke the public covenant of a new stadium and dropped napalm on the sport in South Florida,” wrote the Sun-Sentinel‘s Dave Hyde, who advised the owner to follow his newly-traded players out of the country.
Despite the exodus, Miami’s current slashing of payroll doesn’t represent the deepest cut in team history. In the immediate aftermath of the trade, the team has $32.5 million committed to seven players for 2013, according to Cot’s Baseball Contracts, and not one of its other players is eligible for arbitration this winter. Assuming $490,000 per player for the remaining 18 spots — the major league minimum — that’s another $8.8 million, which would take their payroll to $41.3 million, a 59 percent drop from last year’s $101.6 million Opening Day payroll. By comparison, the 2006 Opening Day payroll was down more than 75 percent after Loria’s (temporary) failure to bend Miami-Dade taxpayers to his will for a new ballpark led him to direct general manager Larry Beinfest to cut salaries to the bone — the sharpest percentage drop in payroll since at least 1988.
For as much housecleaning as they’ve done, the Marlins may not be done yet. Here’s a quick look at the meat still remaining on this particular fish carcass.
Ricky Nolasco (2013 salary: $11.5 million)
The going-on-30-year-old righty is now the team’s de facto ace following the departures of Josh Johnson, Anibal Sanchez, Carlos Zambrano and Mark Buehrle. In fact, he’s the only Marlin remaining who made more than 12 starts for them this past season. That isn’t likely to last long, given that Nolasco’s salary makes up more than one-third of Miami’s current payroll, and that his services should be in demand because of the cost certainty on a contract that runs only through next season.
For Marlins, fire sales and cynicism in South Florida are nothing new
Mike Piazza spent one week as a Marlin in 1998 and was part of two megatrades in the team’s first fire sale. (AP)
After committing $191 million to a trio of free agents last winter, nearly doubling their payroll in anticipation of the opening of their new ballpark and bringing in a manager who was louder and more offensive than their new orange jerseys, the Marlins didn’t waste much time in knocking down the house of cards they’d built. Prior to the July 31 deadline, with Miami sinking under .500 and more than 10 games back in the NL East standings, it unloaded Hanley Ramirez, Anibal Sanchez, Omar Infante and several others in five separate trades. In October, the Marlins dumped Heath Bell, the least successful of those pricey free agents, and on Tuesday night, they sent both Jose Reyes and Mark Buehrle, the other two, to Toronto as part of a 12-player blockbuster that also cost them ace Josh Johnson, starting catcher John Buck and outfielder Emilio Bonifacio.
Alas, this isn’t the first time the franchise has dramatically slashed payroll and shed a slew of productive players in a short period of time. But where the popular perception is that the Marlins conducted fire sales in the immediate aftermath of their shocking World Series victories in 1997 and 2003 and then rose from the ashes to contend again, the reality is much messier. For all of the cynicism with which the team has conducted its business, the shrewd swapping of general managers Dave Dombrowski (1993-early 2002) and Larry Beinfest (since then, though with a variety of titles) stands out, as it has enabled the team to return to contender status despite owner Jeffrey Loria’s slash-and-burn style.
Perhaps it shouldn’t surprise us, given that the Marlins were conceived in cynicism in the first place. They entered the National League in 1993 along with the Colorado Rockies as part of a cynical ploy by the other 26 owners to raise cash to help offset the $280 million settlement the owners agreed to pay the players for colluding to avoid competitive bidding on free agents in the winters following the 1985, 1986 and 1987 seasons. Wayne Huizenga, the Marlins’ first owner, paid a $95 million expansion fee for the franchise.
Dodgers’ spending spree not over yet
Los Angeles has expressed an interest in adding free-agent Kevin Youkilis to help shore up its infield. (US Presswire)
When the Dodgers engineered their blockbuster swap with the Red Sox in late August, their new owners made it clear that money was no object in their attempt to build a winning team. In acquiring Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, Josh Beckett and Nick Punto, the team took on over $270 million in salary commitments from 2013 through 2018, none of it at a discount. That money was in addition to the $31.5 million in future salary they accepted when they acquired Hanley Ramirez in late July.
Already, the Dodgers’ commitments for the coming season are nearing $200 million — a threshold previously breached by only the Yankees — and based upon a number of reports that have emerged since the kickoff of the free agent season, they’re prepared to go even higher. Where they differ from the Yankees, who have exceeded a $200 million payroll in each of the past five seasons and in six of the past eight, is the apparent haphazardness of their plans. It’s as though general manager Ned Colletti is firing wads of cash out of a t-shirt cannon into a crowd of free agents, unconcerned about where it lands.
That appears to be particularly true when it comes to the team’s outfield. Recall that last November, Los Angeles signed Matt Kemp to an eight-year, $160 million extension, a move that made some sense given his age, and looked shrewd in light of the $200 million-plus contracts that Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder and Joey Votto signed over the next six months. In June, the team granted pending free agent Andre Ethier a five-year, $85 million extension that looked sane relative to the seven-year, $126 million Jayson Werth contract but otherwise appeared to be an overpay, particularly given Ethier’s struggles against left-handed pitching, which haven’t ceased; he hit .222/.276/.330 in a career-high 239 plate appearances against them this year. Read More…
Qualifying offers add new wrinkle to free agency
The Nationals, Giants and Phillies could all be potential destinations for center fielder Michael Bourn. (Brad Mangin/MLB Photos via Getty Images)
One of the bigger changes in the Collective Bargaining Agreement players and owners agreed on last winter was a change in the structure of free agent compensation. Out went the much-despised Elias Type A and Type B rankings and offers of arbitration, which determined the level of draft pick compensation a team was entitled if it lost a free agent, and acted as a drag on player mobility. In came a new, simplified structure involving a one-year qualifying offer which teams had to make to free agents in order to net a draft pick if they departed, the value of which is determined via the average annual value of the top 125 contracts; this year, it’s $13.3 million. Last Friday was the deadline for teams to make such offers, and this Friday at 5 p.m. ET was the deadline for players to accept them. No players accepted the qualifying offer, though they’ll still be permitted to re-sign with their old teams.
Under the old system, the top 20 percent of free agents as determined by Elias’ formula were designated Type A free agents. Teams who signed them would lose a first-round draft pick in the next summer’s amateur draft unless it was in the top 15; then it would cost their second-round pick. The team losing the player would receive that pick as well as an extra “sandwich pick” between the first and second rounds of the draft. Teams who signed Type B free agents, the next 20 percent of the class, wouldn’t lose a draft pick, but teams who lost those players would receive a sandwich pick. The catch was that teams had to offer a player arbitration in order to qualify for the pick, locking them into a commitment whose salary would be determined by the same process to which pre-free agency players are subject. Particularly as teams began to gain fuller appreciation of the cost of losing a first-round pick, the process worked against Type A non-closer relievers. Teams would sometimes agree not to offer arbitration to certain players in order to ease their departures.
The new process eliminates the distinction between Type As and Bs and the rest of the pool, and the qualifying offers aren’t even binding. While there’s risk involved in offering some players a one-year, $13.3 million deal — which would have constituted a significant raise for an Angel Pagan or a Mike Napoli very likely to receive a longer-term deal — a player turning it down can still negotiate with his old team if he rejects it, as can a player to whom a team didn’t make a qualifying offer, quizzically enough. In the end, just nine players received qualifying offers, one of whom (David Ortiz) has since agreed to terms with his team on a two-year deal. Here’s a closer look at the remaining eight:
Replay, expanded rosters among hot topics at GM meetings
Cries for replay grew in frequency and volume after a blown call during the ALCS. (AP)
The general managers meetings kicked off in Indian Wells, Calif., on Wednesday, giving GMs a chance to conduct business face-to-face with each other — often laying the groundwork for later trades — and to consider potential rule changes. Among the topics up for discussion this time around are the increased use of instant replay, new rules regarding September roster expansion, and the possible introduction of protective headgear for pitchers. While the specifics of how such changes would be implemented are up for debate, the major concepts discussed have plenty of merit, and we should expect some of these changes to be implemented in time for the 2013 season.
The GMs are discussing an expansion of the system beyond the so-called boundary calls that can be used to determine whether a potential home run cleared the fence or landed in fair territory. Replay for such situations using available television camera angles was introduced in 2008, and despite concerns that it would cause too many delays, game times haven’t varied by more than a minute from year to year since the system was introduced. The Collective Bargaining Agreement reached between owners and players last winter allows for an expansion of the system to aid fair/foul and trapped ball calls, but MLB failed to reach an agreement with the umpires’ union in time for implementation this season.
In late August, MLB began testing the camera-based Hawkeye System (used in tennis) and the radar-based Trackman system (used in golf broadcasts), and tested them further during the Arizona Fall League. Which system will be used is one of the items for discussion, though MLB executive vice president Joe Torre has said both systems have limitations: “We still have a question if that’s going to work for baseball. I’m not saying it can’t be adjusted or they can’t make it work for our game. It works for tennis. But let’s face it, a tennis court is only so big, and it’s easier to cover than [the area] we have. But the technology is certainly interesting enough to look at it and see if it works for us.”
Bay’s disastrous three-year stint with Mets finally comes to an end
Jason Bay hit just 26 home runs with the Mets over the past three years. (AP)
Even as some teams prepare to enter expensive long-term entanglements with free agents, cautionary tales abound. Case in point: On Wednesday, the Mets released Jason Bay after negotiating an early end to the four-year, $66 million contract he signed in December 2009 — a deal that still had one year remaining. The team will save a bit of money, free up a roster spot, and avoid further distraction that can come with marginalizing a highly-paid player, while he can search for a new team with which he can attempt to revive his flagging career.
Bay didn’t look like a particularly bad bet when the Mets signed him. In his age-30 season with the Red Sox in 2009, he had hit .267/.384/.537 with 36 homers, 94 walks and 119 RBIs, a season that was worth 5.9 Wins Above Replacement Player and wasn’t out of context with his recent production. Though he had passed through the hands of the Expos, Mets and Padres before establishing himself at the major league level with the Pirates, from 2004-2009 he had hit .280/.375/.519, averaging 30 homers, 99 RBIs and 4.6 WARP. Concerns about his lackluster defense in the outfield (which other metrics liked less than Baseball Prospectus’ Fielding Runs Above Average) as well as the standard caveats about players on the wrong side of 30 certainly applied, but nothing suggested his collapse was imminent.
Alas, he never came close to delivering any kind of value for the Mets, much to the dismay of their front office and fans. In three seasons during which he averaged just 96 games and never played in more than 123 due to injuries, he hit just .234/.318/.369, with an average of nine homers, 41 RBIs and 0.4 WARP. The injuries were a significant part of the problem; he sustained a whiplash-induced concussion after running into an outfield wall on July 23, 2010, one the Mets failed to identify until after he had played for two more days and flown with the team — handling that rightly drew criticism. The Mets were initially hopeful he would miss only a few days, but he didn’t play again all season. He missed four weeks the following year with an intercostal strain, and in 2012 was limited to just 70 games due to a broken rib and yet another wall-induced concussion, batting just .165/.237/.299 with eight homers.