Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Best and Worst Acquisitions of 2007 (Poundfoolish Edition)

What sets the Twins apart from most franchises is that they avoid sinking both large sums of money and years at free agents. Instead they rely on internal development (Mauer, Cuddyer, Kubel, Morneau), well-timed trades (Young, Castillo, Stewart) and the occasional place-holder one-year contract (Rogers, Hernandez) to bridge them from season to season. Conversely this fiscal restraint can prove detrimental to a fan base when star free agents are allowed to walk or demand trades. The blowback usually comes from some fans who request the easily identifiable superstars and local heroes to be on the field.

Spending large amounts of both years and dollars on Torii Hunter and Johan Santana, obviously two players that would have aided in winning in 2008 and 2009, would have been beneficial in the immediate future however towards the later years of the contract, the Twins could burdened by injuries, aging and overall decline in performance. As people like to point out, there is yet to be a pitcher that has signed a $100 million dollar contract that a team has not regretted in the end.

The Twins have (usually) had the foresight to have candidates ready when another exits (exception: centerfield). In cases where there are no viable candidates internally, general manager seek out potential suitors on the free agent market which grows increasingly more expensive as the desired commodity is limited. Had they decided to find Hunter's replacement on the free agent market, they could have ended up paying anywhere from $7 million (Cameron) to $12 million (Rowand) to $18.1 million (Jones) as season -- all grossly inflated rates.

Here are some of the other acquisitons made prior to 2007 that we as a Twins collective can be glad we did not invest in:

Adam Kennedy | 2B | St. Louis | -5 WSAB | $2.5 million

How Acquired: Signed three-year, $10 million dollar deal

In the first year of a three-year contract returning to the team that drafted him as the 20th overall pick in 1997, Tony LaRussa and the St. Louis Cardinals were not too pleased with his prodigal return. Long been known for his glove at second (he has a career 4.54 range factor), Kennedy struggled to find himself in his new Midwestern home. In April and May he held a batting average of .229. His season bottomed out in June where he hit .172/.238/.172 in 64 plate appearances. He somewhat rebounded prior to a season-ending knee injury at .219/.282/.290, well below his career average of .275/.329/.390.

Kennedy is due $3.5 million in 2008 and $4 million in 2009. Which if improvement doesn't happen rapidly, the Cardinals organization could be choking on a $7.5 million dollars. Kennedy skipped the Cardinals Winter Warm-Up prompting LaRussa to comment, "This year, I just don’t think we have that margin (to let a player play out of a funk). Adam is a key guy in that mix. So I expect him to return to his winning player form. But he needs to make sure he dots all the I’s, and not coming (this weekend)
is I hope his first and only mistake."

Danys Baez | RHP-R | Baltimore | -2 WSAB | $5.5 million

How Acquired: Signed a three-year, $19 million dollar deal November 27th, 2006.

After the 2006 season concluded, Baltimore's brain trust determined that the team's bullpen needed the most attention. The team when out and signed Danys Baez, Corey Bradford and Jamie Walker to three-year deals worth a combined $41.5 million. Instead of alleviating an already dreadful bullpen, the three posted a franchise worst 5.71 era. Baez exacerbated the problem: In 53 appearances he went 0-6 and accumulated a 6.44 era with 3 saves.

Blessed mercifully by an injury that would require Tommy John surgery on September 15th, 2007, Baez will miss the entirety of his second year under the contract.

Adam Eaton | RHP-S | Philadelphia | -2 WSAB | $7.2 million

How Acquired: Signed a three-year, $24.5 million dollar deal (with mutual 4th year option at $9 million) on November 30th, 2007.

Eaton came off a season with Texas where injuries and rehabilitation limited his innings to just 65. His 7-4 record with a 5.12 era was good enough though for the pitching-hungry Phillies who signed him during the off-season to a potential $33.5 million dollar contract. Able to start 30 times for the first time since 2004 then with the Padres, Eaton was hit hard and never really acclimated to his new team. He finished with a 10-10 record in 30 starts but had a terrible 6.29 era (113 earned run, 3rd worst in the NL) and gave up 30 home runs (4th worst). All this in only 160 innings of work.

In 2008, the Phillies are still committed to him but have said that he will have to battle out for the fifth spot in the rotation against JD Durbin and Mr. Anna Benson (who recently signed a minor league deal).

Rich Aurilia | INF | San Francisco | -2 WSAB | $3.5 million

How Acquired: Signed a two-year, $8 million dollar contract on December 4th, 2006.

This is one of those instances where as a general manager you simply get robbed. Aurilia came back to San Francisco from Cincinnati where he finished a very successful season hitting .300/.349/.518 with 23 home runs. Then again, had the Giants front office performed their due diligence they may have realized that the Great American Ballpark was a much better hitting environment than At&T Park. But no one could have anticipated the steep decline in 2007 where Aurilia hit .240/.304/.368 with 5 home runs in 329 at-bats. Of course Aurilia's 2006 season was significantly out of the norm from his previous production and he was also approaching his mid-30's. Two facets that might have been consider prior to giving a two-year contract to.

One appealling aspect of Aurilia's 2006 campaign was that he absolutely mashed left-handed pitching in 2006 hitting .347/.406/.680 with 11 home runs in only 165 plate appearances. This alone would be reason enough to enlist a batter. Only in 2007, Aurilia's abilities greatly plateaued at 35 years old. Instead of hitting lefties as he did with Cincinnati, he slumped hitting .240/.265/.411.

Jason Schmidt | RHP-S | Los Angeles Dodgers | -1 WSAB | $12.5 million

How Acquired: Signed a three-year, $46 million dollar contract on December 8th, 2006.

On November 3rd, 2006 Sean McAdams wrote a piece of precautionary prophecy, quoting one unidentified GM as saying "We could be looking at some regrettable deals in a couple of years." A month later, the Dodgers sank $46 million and three-years into Jason Schmidt. Without a doubt, along with Barry Zito, Schmidt was the premium arm on the market last offseason. From 2001to 2006, Schmidt compiled an 84-47 record (a .641 wpct) coupled with a 3.44 era while with the Pirates and Giants. When considered during the off-season, Schmidt seemed like a low-risk signing.

Around spring training there were tell-tale signing of lingering arm problems, such as a decrease in velocity that Schmidt tried to brush off: "I know what it takes in Spring Training and I don't think about velocity now," said Schmidt, who has two more exhibition starts before he takes the ball in Game 3 of the regular season in Milwaukee. "It's not only about being ready for April 1 but for June and July and August and throughout an entire season. I feel fine."

After 3 starts Schmidt proved to be not fine. His shoulder needed surgery (again). This time there is concern that he will not be able to recover considering his accelerated age of 35: "The Tommy John success rate is 82-85 percent for returning to the previous level, while the success rate for labral tears is about 70-75 percent," said Stan Conte, Dodgers trainer and medical director. "The qualifier is that the studies only focus on labral tears and a lot of pitchers have a combination of injuries."

Nevertheless, the Dodgers are on the hook to pay $34.5 million dollars over the course of the next two seasons, with or without his services.

Juan Pierre | OF | Los Angeles Dodgers | -1 WSAB | $7.5 million

How Acquired: Signed a five-year, $44 million dollar contract November 22nd, 2006.

Next to pitchers, centerfielders seem to be the next big free agent cash crop. Seth Mnookin wrote an article for Slate questioning the practices of the general managers. Essentially, general managers preach frugality and quality is driving their decision yet their actions say something completely different. Mnookin cites the Dodgers signing of Pierre as such evidence.

Pierre is a one-tool hitter: He hits singles. No more, no less. In 2006 he led the National League with 156. For an encore, he led the league with 164 (of 196 total hits) in 2007. He doesn't walk (4.6% bb%), but he also doesn't strike out either (5.1% k%). And he certainly doesn't have any power (.060). He would be the ideal lead-off candidate only if his .331 on-base percentage wasn't the second-lowest among Dodgers starters. It is a shame that the Dodgers vastly overpaid for an eight-hitter.

Jay Payton | OF | Baltimore | -1 WSAB | $4.5 million

How Acquired: Signed a two-year, $9.5 million dollar contract December 11th, 2006.

As you might have guessed by now, the Baltimore Orioles are not the exactly wizards of the free agent market. The Baez contract - in addition to his bullpen compatriots - scream ill-advised. Even as they attempt to make a somewhat frugal maneuver, it backfires in their beaks. Jay Payton had a blue-collar season for the Oakland A's in 2006. In 557 at-bats, Payton hit .296/.325/.418 with 10 home runs. He shows little patience (3.7% bb%) but he doesn't strikeout a lot either (8.9%). That said, Payton lives and dies by the type of contact he makes and where the ball lands on the field. In 2006 he held an average of .313 on balls put in play. His high line drive rate (22%) assisted in achieving a near .300 batting average.

The Orioles probably saw his nifty batting line and figured that since that was close to his career of .281/.325/.432, he must be able to replicate that. Unfortunately between his decline on line drives (15%) and the placement on the field (.271 babip), Payton and the Orioles saw his hitting slip to .256/.292/.376. Payton could rebound, but it is still a gamble of a contract rather than a sure thing. Payton told his former hometown paper that he'd like to play until he is 40. It is a game of chance with Payton.