Monday, January 31, 2005

Cork? What Cork?

So, the Sosa saga stops as he's soon swinging for the Os. (Yeah, I'm trying to be too cute.)

I read reaction from about 1,000 different places on this over the weekend. And I cannot understand why anyone would think this is a bad deal for the Orioles. (Yeah, I thought Sosa to the Nats would've been a bad deal, but that was under different terms.)

First, what'd the Os give up? Hairston--an excellent defensive second baseman, who knocks the hell out of left-handed pitching, but stays as healthy as Nick Johnson. They're also giving up Mike Fontenot, a left-handed second basemen, and Dave Crouthers, a right-handed pitcher. While both are on the top-10 list of Orioles prospects, that's more of a commentary of the state of their system. They both have potential, but no one will ever mistake them for hall-of-famers.

How much are the Orioles paying? I've read about 15 different accounts. For the sake of argument, I'll say $12 million dollars. And the key is that it's a one-year commitment. Sosa waved his contract option as part of the deal. He'll be a free agent at the end of the year.

What are the Orioles getting? They're getting an aging slugger who's clearly on the downside of his career. But, this is a guy who, despite being injured for a few weeks and despite having a rapid decline in his stats over the last few years, still hit .253/ .332/ .517.

Everyone has focused on the decline and the crazy salary he's earning this year. We're getting hung up on stuff that's not that important for next year. The Orioles aren't paying him $25 million. They're paying half that. And the despite his rapid decline, he was still a very good offensive performer last year (when he was healthy). Yes, there's a chance he could completely fall off the cliff, but isn't there also a chance that if he's healthy physically and mentally, with the change in scenery, that he can reverse the decline? I don't expect him to go bonkers and hit like he did back in 1998, but is a .260/ .350/ .530 line unreasonable?

Remember, they haven't committed to him beyond next year. If he flops, all they'll lose is cash, which was just burning a hole in their pocket anyway. (And you know damn well that the money was not going to go towards scouting and development--and it's debatable what the marginal improvement would be anyway.) If he succeeds, he propels the team further and further above .500.

The trade wasn't made in a vacuum. Off Wing Opinion links to two blogs that analyze it as if it were. One focuses on the value of Sosa and says he's overpaid for his performance. Well, duh. And the other says it's a waste because he only adds three wins to the Orioles projections, which still places them third.

I've got a stack of Bill James books on my bookshelf and I love reading about statistics. But these are two examples of what happens when that's all you focus on. As Bill James once analogized in one his abstracts: they can't see the forest for the trees.

The Orioles needed to do something. They've been getting killed for their ineffective attempts to sign players this off-season and, when faced with increased competition from DC, they do need to be aware of what's going on to the south. If they continued to let the public perception fester that this was a cheap franchise that wouldn't do what it takes to win, it would be detrimental to this year's box office--and probably long-term as well. They needed to make a move to energize the fans and to assure them that the Orioles want to stay competitive.

That's why Sosa's salary is irrelevant. You’re not paying the player for performance. You’re paying him based on his value to the franchise, which includes off-the-field ability. So, even if he’s worth just $5 million (which seems slightly low to me anyway), he’s most definitely worth the $12 million in advertising, marketing and operations revenue. I’m sure there’s a factory in the third world churning out orange Sosa jerseys right now.

As far as the claim that it’s a bad signing because it’s only going to get the Orioles to 84 or 85 wins… Huh? Is 84 wins a failure? You don’t think there’s a difference between finishing under .500 and finishing over? What if the Orioles get lucky and exceed their Pythagorean win total? What if Randy Johnson gets hurt? Could the Orioles win 92 games and sneak past the Yankees? Definitely. Is it likely? Nope, but ya never know. And that’s what’s great about baseball.

They haven’t done them yet this year, but check out Diamond-Mind’s seasonal projections from past years. They’re typically the most accurate forecasting system. They run 1,000 seasons or so and just about every team makes the playoffs, even the dregs. All it takes is for one team to play over its head and some others to play below expectations. Flukes can happen. (Just ask the 2003 KC Royals.)

That’s why it’s important for the Orioles to try to maximize their wins, especially when they’re doing it at little risk. They didn’t give up anything of true long-term use to the franchise, just some cash for one year. And we know that cash is something that’s not in short supply with Peter Angelos.

7 Comments:

  • Frankly, this is a terrible trade for the Cubs.

    They're getting something they don't need (a second baseman) and giving up something they need more of: power hitters and corner outfielders. They haven't even really replaced Alou.

    Who, pray tell, is going to play the corners in Wrigley now?

    By Blogger Yuda, at 1/31/2005 12:13 PM  

  • From what I saw, they're going after Magglio Ordonez (The Orioles were his biggest suitor) or Jeromy Burnitz. Either one is a downgrade, but Magglio's the better alternative--if he's healthy. A HUGE if at this point.

    By Blogger Chris Needham, at 1/31/2005 12:19 PM  

  • Excellent post, Chris. I said so on my blog, but I'll add it here too.

    As for your question, Yuda, Phil Rogers was on ESPN Radio the other night and said that: [1] the Cubs were likely to get Burnitz, because [2] the Tigers have offered Maggs way more than anyone else (5/55?), and he's likely to choose them.

    By Blogger Basil, at 1/31/2005 1:00 PM  

  • Remember, there's something else brings Sosa brings to the Orioles. He'll be a major draw at the gate. With the Nats around, the Orioles suddenly lose the prestige of being the team of the nation's capital. No more president thowing out the first pitch. No more leading off the DC local news sports reports. The Orioles attendence has slowly been sinking. For the first nine years of Camden Yards, the birds were either first or second in attendance. For the last two years, they've been fifth. Last year was the first time in seven years that the AL East didn't finish in the exact same rank ordering. If Toronto had finished in third instead of fifth, that would have made seven straigh NY-Bos-Tor-Bal-TB finished. What are the odds of five teams finishing the same way for seven straight years? (rhetorical question, btw). That makes for boring baseball. The Sosa deal was made with the Nats in mind.

    By Blogger Viper, at 1/31/2005 1:16 PM  

  • Viper, Bingo! It's a great move for the Orioles just for the energy aspect--even if it doesn't work out on the field.

    By Blogger Chris Needham, at 1/31/2005 3:52 PM  

  • So if the Cubs sign Burnitz and not Ordonez (which is what it sounds like above), is Burnitz somehow going to play both corner outfield positions?

    If not, they're still short a player -- and that's not even accounting for the fact that Burnitz looks to be done anyway.

    By Blogger Yuda, at 2/01/2005 10:16 AM  

  • Geez, does this look like a Cubs Blog? ;)

    I heard that Burnitz was a done deal. I'm not sure what their other outfield options are. I don't know if they want to play Hairston in the OF--he played there quite a bit last year--because they still have Walker. (And I think they re-signed Grudz'k.)

    By Blogger Chris Needham, at 2/01/2005 10:20 AM  

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