All of the AAOP's are great, but I think some of them lack an important ingredient -- vision. These AAOPs tend to read like a hodge-podge of mix-and-match players ruled by the almighty WAR and dollar. Everyone wants the best players and a future dynasty, but choosing between flawed players under a budget constraint forces you to make hard decisions. Vision is what separates good decisions from great ones.
A sustainable and consistently winning team (greater than 90 wins for 5 years).
High Level Plan:
Let us pause for a second and imagine together: what if the 2011 Rays had a $100M payroll going into 2012?
This is our goal for 2014 and 2015: a core of young cost-controlled offensive players, excellent starting pitching from top to bottom with depth, a strong bullpen and excellent defense. Now that we have a goal, we can start thinking about how we're going to get there. Using concrete goals and quantifiable evaluation, I will lay out my plan of execution. Every trade scenario is built on the trade calculator available at Beyond the Boxscore, to make the trades as realistic as possible, as well as using Victor Wong's research which you can see in table form here.
Let me abuse the bold button for a second. The main priority in 2012 is to build our pitching future. We will do this at the big league level primarily by putting our existing pitching prospects in the best possible situation to succeed. That entails focusing on defense, winning, prospect acquisition and leadership.
- Defense: For pitchers, defense matters. Confidence is important for young players, and will be easier to come by from low ERAs, not low FIPs. It's important to cushion some of the growing pains of pitching by bailing out some of a young pitcher's mistakes with good or at least smart defensive play. This is especially important at the catcher position.
- Defensive Goals: An obtainable and quantifiable goal for 2011 is positive UZR, making the 2012 Mets roughly mediocre defensively, a substantial upgrade from the 2011 version.
- Winning: It's hard to quantify, but I believe winning is important for development of players. I believe it's much harder to stay motivated and work as hard when morale is low, when losing is accepted because it becomes hard to throw chairs every day. This is why it has been so hard for teams like the Orioles and Pirates to develop pitching while the Rays and Twins (until recently) have made it seem effortless.
- Win Goals: 84 wins. While it is not necessarily a contending team, 84 wins should put the team in shouting distance in a wild card race, especially if the WC is expanded to include more teams.
- Prospect Acquisition: TINSTAAP. If the bust rate is 75%, to field the two FOR arms we need, then we require between 8 and 12 FOR prospects. Right now, we have five B or better SP prospects.
- Prospect Acquisition goals: An obtainable goal is 8 B or better SP prospects as ranked by John Sickels, at the end of the 2012.
- Leadership: This is hard to quantify, but because everyone in baseball acts like it is important, I (who have never played professional baseball) will take their word for it. In other words, if I'm deciding between two equivalent players, I will take the one with a reputation for mentoring or being a good influence -- through work ethic and/or vocal leadership. The coaching staff is already built with this in mind, with Warthen having done a nice job with Gee and Schwinden, and Collins and Hudgens having done well with Duda, Murphy, Tejada and Thole for the most part. Teufel (3rd base) and Bones (bullpen) have experience with some of our young pitchers from AAA, and have a reputation for being excellent teachers.
- Leadership Goals: TBD. Please comment if you can figure out a way to measure this. Perhaps 1 or fewer arrests or negative clubhouse stories. 2 or more heartwarming stories?
2012 New York Mets:
|In order for the team to win 84 games, Reyes is somewhat of a necessity, since he is the only player at the middle infield position capable of putting up a 6 win season next year. Any combination of middle infielders I tried resulted in at least a 2 win downgrade from just Reyes alone. I sign Reyes for whatever he costs -- the maximum I see him getting is $135M/7. If that's what he costs, that's what he costs.|
|I project Tejada to be +4 UZR at 2B. I think he can actually be better. If he is as elite there as I think, then with his decent and underrated bat, he can be a 4 WAR player at 2nd, easy. I see Placido Polanco: 4-6 WAR in his prime. Tejada really improves the defense a lot (4 UZR is no joke compared to Turner's -10). I know if I'm Matt Harvey, I want to see Ruben, not Ginger or Irish or Havens back there, especially on shallow pop flies to RF, with the dude abiding back there.|
Murphy takes over for Wright. I have Murphy projected as a 3 WAR player at 3B. I think he can be a 0 UZR defensive player at 3rd and possibly better, but he's a 350 wOBA bat whereever he plays. Consider that Evan Longoria was a 363 wOBA player this year. Meanwhile Wright makes $16M this year and next, but his true replacement is Murphy, which means he'd have to be a 6.6 WAR player to be worth his contract for us. This is possible, but not likely. We can use the $15.5M savings to obtain a less risky 3.5 WAR on the free agent market, and use arbitrage to maximize a return for Wright.
Fortunately, Wright will be coveted by any team in contention without a 3rd baseman who operates with a mid-market payroll. Valuing Wright at 4WAR, win-now teams between 82-87 wins will want him the most and be willing to pay the most. These teams are the Dodgers, Tigers and Brewers, with the White Sox and Rockies also possibilities mostly because they were close to .500, but had negative value 3rd baseman. I've noticed that the Reds have been mentioned, but the combination of Cairo and Rolen obtained 4.4 WAR for them. Replacing them with David Wright makes sense if the Reds are run by Yankee fans who demand an all-star at every position. With their pitching problems, I don't think they consider the position a priority this offseason as they are at least one or two starting pitchers away from contention.
However, David Wright's value isn't very high. Being realistic and rating him at 4WAR, with the standard $4.4M per WAR setting, gives about $7M in surplus value after counting for draft picks. Trading David Wright for a type B pitcher isn't the greatest PR, which is what teams probably think he's really worth. However, I am willing to take back bad contracts as long as the player is either a good clubhouse guy or excellent defensively. The White Sox aren't a good fit -- all their contracts are abysmal and their prospects aren't great. The Rockies also don't have a great fit since Wigginton is a putrid defender. The Brewers don't have many good prospects, and while I like Thornburg, Sickels sees him as a reliever long term.
The two teams that make the most sense are the Tigers and Dodgers. The Dodgers are a year from possibly losing Kemp and Ethier, as well as Loney. They won 82 games. With a healthy Wright, they'd theoretically move to 86 and with remaining payroll and rookies Sands and Gordon they could get to 90 wins pretty easily. The Tigers won 92 games, without much help from Brandon Inge. With Magglio Ordonez leaving, they could see Wright as a consolidation move.
The two best trades I could envision on the trade calculator were
|Nothing to see here, move along. Bay for Peavey would be nice, but isn't happening. Bay is worth -22.4M for the next two years at 1 WAR, Peavey is at -11.8 at 2WAR. For that deal to make sense for the White Sox, we'd have to send them 10.6M. I'd almost do that, but thats $31.6M and kills our payroll flexibility and my AAOP fun. To do it in prospects would require two type B hitters (Caesar Puello and Corey Vaughn) going to the WS. Bay, Puello and Vaughn for Peavey doesn't make sense for development though, and I can't stomach giving up prospects for the right to not have Bay. Besides, Bay seems like a quiet decent sort, who knows, maybe he'll break out of this (who am I kidding?)|
|Andres Torres is certain to be non-tendered or traded. I'm betting on him to bounce-back, and even if he doesn't he's still a terrific defensive CF, worth over 2 WAR despite a horrific offensive year. If he does bounce-back offensively, he's an elite 6.8 WAR guy, more likely it's somewhere in-between. He makes much less than Pagan, and in a similar situation except that he didn't lose his fielding ability. He is also under team control until 2014, a switch hitter, and he's been on championship team with young pitching. The main concern is his age, but at 2.2M, it's worth a gamble -- not much downside. Since his value is really low, I'm sending just-another-arm guy like Alvarez, Lujan, Ramirez, or Cruz to the Giants -- everybody likes flame-throwers.|
|Did you know that Thole had a 349 OBP against RHP? Anyways, he's 24, people. Lets not go all crazy, there is little doubt he will improve. Just look at any aging curve. If he improves even a little, he's one of the most valuable commodities on the Mets. I'm willing to save money and prospects in 2012 and bring in a RH backup. If Thole really doesn't improve at all, 2013 is as good a time as any to start looking at replacements.|
|UTIL (3B, 2B, SS)||Uribe||55||5.6||1.8||0.4||0||8|
|Uribe is still a good defender at 3rd and 2B, and capable of playing SS in a pinch, not much offense, but he can start a few games when a prospect is on the mound. Murphy covers 1B.|
|OF (LF, CF, RF)||Pridie||92||-0.6||2.4||0.8||.8||0.4|
|Pridie is the 2nd left handed bat off the bench and spells Torres. I like Pridie to spell Bay every now and then, especially when Familia or Harvey make their debut.|
|OF (LF, RF)||Baxter||123||1.6||-0.5||0.5||1||0.4|
|Arguably, Baxter is going to be the most often used role player. Baxter had a very capable 358 wOBA against right-handers last year. I think he plays a lot in RF with Duda in LF, and Bay sitting against RHP. That improves the defense tremendously while improving the offense. I expect to see a lot of Mike Baxter next year.|
|Hairston is the yin to Baxter's yang. Hairston is apparently the hardest working man in baseball - his work ethic is a marvel -- or so I've been told. I don't know if that really means anything, but his right handed pop and acceptable defense is worth something - like $1.1M, I guess. I'm honestly 50-50 on Nick Evans instead, he's probably just as hard-working. But there's got to be something about "Veteran Leadership (TM)" because I hear it every year. Anyways, I flipped a coin and Hairston won, sorry Nick.|
|Shoppach is the best available defensive catcher -- there is no way the Rays pick up his option -- 3rd best as of July of 2011 according to Beyond the Boxscore. He also had a 349 wOBA against lefties in 2011 and holds a 389 career wOBA against southpaws - an ideal platoon-mate for Thole. He can potentially hit in the middle of the order against lefties, as he did in the ALDS. He also has experience with young pitchers coming from the Rays, as well as is used to winning. I will go as high as a 2 year, $4M deal that takes him through 2013. Ramon Hernandez is NOT signing for less than $6M, Yadier Molina's option will be picked up and nobody else has the combination of experience, pop against lefties and defensive ability -- he'll play every game against lefties and whenever anyone younger than the age of 25 pitches. Jose Molina is the back up plan -- I like Thole enough to be looking for a backup-type guy, we can sign Chris Iannetta next year if Tholappach doesn't work out.|
|Eovaldi is a hard thrower with a four pitch mix. He's got #3 upside as a starter, and infinite upside as a reliever. He spends 2012 in the rotation proving he is just a middling starter with some command issues, and we spend 2014 arguing with Braves fans over whether Eovaldi or Kimbrel is the best closer in the NL east. We can probably obtain Kenley Janssen in a Wright deal, but I'd rather take the guy who has starter ability.|
|Ideally I'd bring in Wei-Yin Chen for $12M/2, but I might go as high as $36/5. I like Chen because I think he's at worst no worse than Hisanori Takahashi, which means a useful middle reliever and spot starter who put up 1.6 WAR for us in 2010. $6M is almost a discount, as Chen is 26 and throws much harder than Tak2 (sits low 90's hits 95). He'll also be rated in the top 100 prospects. Downside risk is really minimal, but he'll probably throw less than 150IP as a starter (Japanese starters have some well-known endurance issues) at a 4.5 or so FIP (he is a rookie so expectations have to be low). I do like him in the rotation, but I also see him as working effectively out of the pen and being a dominant LOOGY or even closer. Tsuyoshi Wada is a backup plan at a much reduced $1-3M/year, who I feel compares a bit closer to Tak2 sitting mid-80's.|
I want an elite and cheap closer for the next two developmental years. The only one who qualifies and seems somewhat available is Joel Hanrahan. His valuation, given 2WAR and 2 arbitration years and type A status is about $10.6M. Reese Havens ($7.2M), Armando Rodriguez ($1.5), and Mike Pelfrey ($1M) makes sense. This trade makes sense for the Pirates because they get a replacement reliever, a decent middle infield hitting prospect, and an innings eating pitcher for the year as well as probably type B compensation. They can move Walker back to 3rd, Alvarez to 1st and Havens to 2nd or even at short. Puello is also an option, but I won't go that high. I'd rather send cash. It's tough to give up prospects, but I think having a relief ace will make the entire bullpen better, and the prospect valuation seems like an excellent offer to pry a cheap reliever away.
I also make a second trade trading Ronny Paulino for Ross Ohlendorf, who I think can be a good reliever in the Tyler Clippard mode (throws hard, throws strikes.) I'll bring Ohlendorf back at $1.5M and start him out in AAA. If he declines, I'll just release the bastard. The Pirates might be interested in negotiating with Paulino, both of their catchers in an option year.
|The next trade is really to get a setup guy with a lot of experience as well as add an impact arm. I'm going to trade Angel Pagan (-$3M), Francisco Martinez ($5.5M) and Juan Urbina ($7.3M) and $3M to the A's for Grant Balfour ($.6M) and Tyson Ross ($14.7M). I think they'll do it for the OF, because there isn't a lot available in FA. I'll add a Schwinden ($1.5M) or Gee ($1.5M) if necessary. The furthest I'd go is adding Marte ($12.5) instead of Martinez and Urbina, I think he'll bump into the lower end of the top 100 this year and be at least a type B. I believe Wilmer will eventually block him at 3rd, and LF and 1B are blocked by Duda and Davis respectively. I'd like to keep Marte though, he's obviously much more valuable than either of the other two. If the A's balk on Ross, I'd be willing to take Josh Outman, who is a similar but older prospect closer to arbitration. He is a lefty though. I could go either way on Ross versus Outman.|
The totals are $94.95M for 37.8 WAR, excluding Carrasco ($1.5) and Ohlendorf ($1M) and the $3M sent to finalize the Pagan for Balfour deal. The full amount is $100M. That represents about 84 wins at 46 wins at replacement level. My projections say this will be an average offensive team, a slightly (very slightly) above average defensive team, and a below average base-running team. Meanwhile, the starting pitching will be roughly 10 WAR, which is about a 2 win upgrade, but still below average in the NL. However, if Familia or Harvey really break out and show dominant stuff, or if Chen and Eovaldi surprise, then we would be in the 12.5 win territory (average or roughly where the Diamondbacks were this year easily). The bullpen, however, at 4.5 wins should be well above average - 5th or 6th in the NL and possibly better, representing an almost 5 win upgrade. I believe this combination of moves puts us best in line for 2013. Although I've given up some prospects in Urbina, Martinez, Havens, Rodriguez, they've been dealt in what I think are reasonable and useful trades, and we've brought in three additional type B or better prospects in Chen, Eovaldi and Lee.