Friday, January 24, 2003
Around the MajorsWith Ivan Rodriguez signing yesterday, all of the big name free agents are officially off the market.
The biggest remaining names are probably Kenny Lofton, Kenny Rogers, Reggie Sanders and Chuck Finley.
All the big names might be snatched up, but there are still some very interesting signings taking place, as teams try to find a few bargain bin gems to fill out their roster.
Some of my favorites...
Steve Avery signed a minor league contract with the Detroit Tigers.
Yes, that Steve Avery.
In the early-90s, Steve Avery was one of the hottest young pitchers around.
As a 21 year old, he went 18-8 with a 3.38 ERA for the National League champion Atlanta Braves.
He followed that up with a 29-17 record over the next 2 seasons (1992 and 1993) with ERAs of 3.20 and 2.94.
Avery pitched 200+ innings in all 3 seasons and then *poof* it was gone.
At 23 years old, he was all washed up and he'd never pitch 200 innings in a season again.
There are many possible reasons why Steve Avery's career went downhill so fast, including injuries and overuse and all that other stuff.
But, the one thing I would like to suggest as a reason for his decline is his strike out rate.
Frequent readers of this blog have heard me talk about how important it is for a pitcher to have the ability to strike batters out.
It is a good indicator of short-term success and it is almost essential for someone to sustain long-term greatness.
Steve Avery's strike out rate was never very good and I believe that is a huge reason why his star faded so quickly at such a young age.
A pitcher that does not strike a lot of batters out can certainly have a lot of success if they do very well at the other two keys for pitching: walks and homers.
Avery had pretty good control, particularly in 1993 when he walked on 43 men in 223 innings.
The area that he excelled the most in was his ability to keep the ball in the ballpark.
After giving up 21 homers in 210 innings in 1991, he gave up only 14 homers in 1992 (233 innings) and 14 homers in 1993 (223 innings).
For whatever reason, after 1993, Avery started to give up a lot more homers.
He served up 15 in only 150 innings in 1994 and then 22 in 173 innings in 1995.
If you add it all up...
In his 3 good seasons (1991, 1992 and 1993) Avery pitched a total of 667 innings and gave up 49 homers.
That's a rate of 1 dinger every 13.6 innings.
In the next 6 seasons (1994-1999) he pitched 773 innings and served up 87 dingers.
That's a rate of 1 homer every 8.8 innings.
When you aren't striking a lot of guys out, you simply can't afford to start giving up homers at such an increased rate.
Hindsight is always 20/20, but I would like to think that if I had been running this blog back in 1993 or so, I would have pointed out the fact that Avery's low strike out totals were a possible bad sign for the future.
Of course, I was only 10 in 1993, so I was probably more worried about GI Joe and He-Man and that sort of stuff.
Avery hasn't pitched since 1999, when he walked 78 batters and only struck out 51.
If he makes the Tigers, it will be a minor miracle.
I'll be rooting for him.
The Red Sox signed Dave Nilsson to a minor league deal.
Yes, that Dave Nilsson.
Back in the early-90s, Dave Nilsson was one of the hottest young pitchers around.
Oh wait, that was Steve Avery.
Nilsson was actually a pretty good catcher/DH for the Brewers from 1992-1999.
His last season with them was his best, when he hit .309/.400/.554 in 115 games.
I am not quite sure of all the details, but I believe Nilsson, who is from Australia, wanted to play for them in the Olympics or something, so he took a leave from the Major Leagues.
After which he went to Japan to play and struggled badly (I couldn't find the exact numbers, but they were bad).
Now he's back and he could have a chance as a DH/1B/C/Pinch-Hitter for the Red Sox, although they seem to have a tremendous amount of DH-types on the roster already.
Nilsson is a career .284/.356/.461 hitter, which works out to an adjusted OPS+ of 110, which is pretty good.
He is a lefty, as is David Ortiz whom they just signed too, so I'm not sure how he'll fit in.
In any event, it was a nice little low cost, low risk pickup by the Red Sox and I wouldn't be surprised if Nilsson had 200 good at bats for them in 2003.
I mentioned Boston signing David Ortiz, which they did (officially) yesterday, for 1 year and $1.25 million dollars.
As a Twins fan I have seen Ortiz play hundreds of times and I had mixed feelings when he left the Twins earlier this off-season.
On one hand he is oft-injured and has never really been a great hitter, even when healthy.
On the other hand, he shows so many flashes of potential and he is still fairly young.
However, the Twins have way too many 1B/DH-types in the organization to lose much sleep over not having David Ortiz anymore.
That said, he can definitely be a very productive player.
A lot of Twins fans talk about how horrible Ortiz is defensively, but I have to say that I always thought that he was very underrated with the glove and very far from the disaster most thought of him as.
I think he is very capable of playing first base, although he's even more at risk of getting injured if he plays the field.
David Ortiz could slug .475-.500 against right handed pitchers in his sleep, which is exactly what the BoSox are counting on him to do (although they will likely allow him to be awake for most at bats).
His success against lefties has been far less consistent:
Year AB AVG OBP SLGThat is some serious decline against lefties.
I am inclined to believe that 2000 was pretty much a fluke.
I remember that year, Ortiz absolutely murdered lefties and it seemed like he was hitting a double in almost every at bat.
He didn't hit for much home run power against them (only 1 homer) but he hit a ton of singles and doubles.
It seemed like he could pull just about any inside pitch thrown by a lefty in 2000.
But the last 2 seasons, he has been very bad against southpaws.
I think at this point the best option for a team with David Ortiz would be to platoon him, playing him almost entirely against right handed pitching.
The Red Sox are in a good position to do that in 2003, because they have Julio Zuleta, a right handed 1B/DH (I told you they had a lot of those) that does very well against left handed pitching.
There has also been some talk of using Doug Mirabelli, their backup catcher, as a DH or first baseman against lefties in some games.
Mirabelli has been crushing lefties for years and really deserves to be a full-time platoon player against them, whether it is at catcher, DH, 1B or wherever.
Mirabelli versus lefties from 1999-2002: .290/.401/.600 with 13 homers and 6 doubles in 145 at bats.
It gets even better if you only look at his last 2 years against lefties:
2001 = .283/.367/.717
2002 = .364/.440/.750
Now, he has had very limited at bats in both of those years, so all the small sample size warnings definitely apply.
Still, Mirabelli deserves a shot to start every time the Red Sox face a lefty and I think he'll get that shot in 2003.
No column about minor transactions would be complete if I didn't mention the Twins newest acquisition, Jose Cabrera.
Cabrera spent 2002 pitching horribly for the Milwaukee Brewers.
He started the year as a reliever and was pushed into the starting rotation for 11 starts because the Brewers were awful and their rotation was even worse.
The Twins had been talking about signing Rick White or Mike Fetters, both of whom I would have liked a lot more than Jose Cabrera.
White signed with the White Sox yesterday, which makes it even worse.
Cabrera pitched 103 innings for Milwaukee with a 6.79 ERA.
He was equally bad as a reliever (6.56) and a starter (6.99).
And after the All-Star break he was absolutely horrendous (9.52 (!) ERA in 40 innings).
I usually try to look for positives in players, things that they can do well if limited to certain roles.
I'm having a hard time finding something like that to say about Cabrera.
He gave up a .945 OPS against righties and a .944 OPS against lefties.
He didn't strike many batters out (5.3/9 innings).
He gave up a ton of homers (1 every 4.4 innings!).
And he even walked a lot of guys (3.1/9 innings).
To find a positive for Cabrera, I had to go all the way back to...2001.
He pitched for the Atlanta Braves and pitched very well.
Of course, there are thousands of otherwise mediocre pitchers that have come through Atlanta and had success, in large part because of the magic of Leo Mazzone.
Cabrera pitched 59 innings for Atlanta in 2001 and had a 2.88 ERA.
I think that if the Twins use Cabrera in a Mike Jackson-role in 2003, he could be reasonably successful.
For those of you wondering, a Mike Jackson-role would be defined as the 2nd righty out of the bullpen, responsible for getting a couple of batters out in the 6th or 7th inning every few games.
If he could pitch 50-60 innings with an ERA under 4.50 in 2003, I think the Twins would be pretty happy.
What they really should do is forget all about Cabrera and give a bullpen job to Grant Balfour, a minor leaguer that I think could be a very good reliever.
From 1999-2002, Balfour pitched 302 minor league innings and struck out 345 batters, which is a wonderful K rate.
And you already know how important I think that is.
I'm hoping Balfour won't lose out on a job in 2003 just because he isn't a "veteran" like Jose Cabrera.
After all, how does one become a veteran if he can't get himself a spot in the big leagues?
I wanted Rick White, I got Jose Cabrera and I'd rather have Grant Balfour.
It's fun to be a Twins fan.
*****Comments? Questions? Email me!*****
Thursday, January 23, 2003
The Pudge Meister.
The King of Pudge-ville.
Sorry, I just felt like doing that for some strange reason.
The Florida Marlins inked Ivan Rodriguez to a 1 year year contract yesterday, for $10 million dollars.
I definitely did a double-take when I first saw this move and even now that I know it's true, I think that maybe baseball has entered some sort of bizarro world. Up is down, right is left, bad is good and the Florida Marlins are signing future Hall of Famers for $10 million dollars.
Not too long ago the Marlins were sending their best hitter to Japan, partly in order to clear payroll.
I say partly because it appears as though Kevin Millar was very interested in going to Japan, although you've got to think the Marlins convinced him at least a little bit.
They replaced Millar with Todd Hollandsworth in left field, which is a huge downgrade.
It's too bad they didn't keep Kevin Millar.
With him in left field and The Pudge Meister behind the dish, that offense might have scored a few runs.
Instead, here is their "projected lineup"
CF Juan Pierre .230 EqAThat is an awful lineup.
The Marlins seem think that, despite all the home runs being hit and runs being scored in this era of baseball, the way to win games is by stealing bases.
Unfortunately for them, that's not a real good strategy and a lot of these speedsters suck at the plate.
If everyone repeats their 2002 performance, the Marlins will have 4 spots that are solidly above average: first base, catcher, third base and second base.
And then the other 4 spots are way below average, including center field, left field and shortstop, which all have the potential to be among the worst in the league.
For more on the awfulness of the Marlins' offense, check out what I wrote about their craptastic outfield last week.
Back to Pudgy-Pudgeman for a moment.
Here are his numbers for the past 5 years:
Year G AVG OBP SLGWhile on the field, Rodriguez has been an excellent hitter every year.
The problem is that he hasn't been on the field as much as he would have liked for the past 3 years.
But, that's what happens when a catcher plays 153, 150, 145 and 144 games in 4 consecutive seasons.
Rodriguez is a special player and proved to be extremely durable, but catching is so tough on the body and a human being can only take so much before they break down.
Here is what I wrote about Pudge in my look at the top free agents way back in November:
Catchers on the wrong side of 30 usually don't get more durable with age, especially when they have as many innings behind the plate as Rodriguez does.
I don't think Pudge can be counted on to catch 140-150 games a year anymore (and he probably never should've been).
His hitting is showing no signs of slowing down and for team that is willing to play him like a "normal catcher" (100-110 starts a season) he would be extremely valuable.
The Marlins have a very good backup catcher in Mike Redmond (.305/.372/.387 last year).
In fact, before they signed Rodriguez, I was expecting Redmond to have a very good season as the starter.
So, they should be in a position to play Rodriguez like a normal catcher, giving him plenty of days off, with Redmond behind the plate.
I like signing Ivan Rodriguez to a 1 year deal, but I don't think the Marlins doing it will really have any effect on anything significant.
They have too many awful spots in their lineup and while their pitching staff is young and very talented, I don't think they will be good enough to off-set Juan Pierre, Alex Gonzalez, Todd Hollandsworth and Juan Encarnacion making up 50% of the lineup.
If nothing else, it should be an interesting season for Rodriguez, as he will no doubt try to prove that he is capable of being healthy for a full-season and will also try to continue being the offensive force he has been for the past several years.
And who knows, maybe come the trade deadline, the Fish could flip Pudgywoogy to a contender for a prospect or two and turn their short-term investment into a some long-term help.
In other news...
I haven't touched on the this subject since I have been busy getting back into the flow of school and everything, but I don't see how I could ignore it, so I won't.
Baseball Prospectus announced last week that they will soon be adding a "premium" portion to their website, at a cost of $40 per year.
Over at Baseball Primer, there has been a ton of discussion about this new development and the general opinion is split, to say the least.
Some people appear to be angry at BP for deciding that they want to try to make some money off of their awesome website.
One thing I have noticed over the last year or so is that any website that is really a great one eventually moves to some sort of premium or subscriber system for at least some of their content.
During last year's college basketball season, I used to check CollegeRPI.com every single morning to see the new, updated computer rankings.
Apparently I wasn't alone and a lot of other people enjoyed the site.
This year, the site's owner decided to move it to a pay service and I did not subscribe.
However, I am not angry and I certainly can't blame any website that decides their time, energy and quality product is worth some money.
People pay money for newspapers and books and magazines, so I don't see a problem with a website that produces a lot of good, readable content charging for that service.
I certainly won't tell anyone what to do with their money, but I will say that if you have enjoyed BaseballProspectus.com as much as I have over the last several years, it is certainly worth $3 dollars a month to continue getting it. Plus, it sounds as though they will be producing even more than their usual amount of content for the new premium service, which is good news.
I am a college student with no job and no income whatsoever, so spending $40 on something is a big decision.
That said, my "budget" for whatever money I do have is almost completely reserved for baseball stuff.
Books and websites and fantasy teams and everything else.
And if you have some money set aside for baseball products, you can't do much better than Baseball Prospectus.
Late last night I subscribed to BP's new premium site and shelled out the $40.
I also pre-ordered their 2003 book for $20.
So, I will be spending $60 on Baseball Prospectus stuff in 2003.
I am confident it will be worth it.
If you're interested in learning more about BP's premium content, click on the following link:
State of the Prospectus
"Aaron's Baseball Blog Premium"
That has a nice ring to it, don't you think?
Okay, maybe not.
I would like give a special "shout out" to my little cousin Amy.
A budding young actress, Amy just got the lead in the school play, Alice in Wonderland.
Amy is a 5th grader and was chosen over some much older competition (like 6th, 7th and 8th graders).
She's the best mimic I have ever met and is occasionally too good, particularly when she is mimicking yours truly.
Break a leg Amy! (that's what I'm supposed to say, right?)
*****Comments? Questions? Email me!*****
Wednesday, January 22, 2003
So, how was your first day of school?Not bad, thanks for asking.
As you may or may not already be aware of, yesterday was my first day of classes for second semester.
My first class of the day was a foreign language.
It is "intermediate" level, as I took "beginning" last semester.
Much to the chagrin of the students in the class, semester 2 is being taught by a new teacher.
We really liked the old one, she did a great job and the class was lots of fun.
The new teacher? I am not sure what to make of her yet.
She came into the class, said hello and then proceeded to have a monologue similar to Charlie Brown's teacher in all of the "Peanuts" cartoons.
Something along the lines of "Wa...wawawa...wawawawa...wawa...wa...wa...wawawaw...wa...wawa...wawawawawawawawa...wa."
Apparently she took our looks of confusion to mean we were simply contemplating what she had said, so she stepped it up a notch and continued, "!@#$%^&**&^%$@#$%^&*&^$@$%&."
At the end, she asked, "Any questions?"
I hadn't understood more than about 3 things she said the entire time, so I had obviously couldn't even figure out what the general subject she was discussing was, let alone ask a question about it. And, looking around, I was not alone.
Later in the class, we were asked to get into groups of two and complete a little exercise.
We were given a list of 15 occupations (doctor, teacher, musician, actor, etc) and told that the situation was a "Norah's Ark" type of thing, where the world was sort of coming to an end and we'd have to get on a boat, etc.
Anyway, the point of the exercise was (I think) to choose the 3 people that could help us the most in a situation like that and then describe (in this foreign language) why we think these people we picked would be the most helpful.
So, I get myself a partner and we start working on this thing.
We chose a doctor, a carpenter (to build the "ark") and a grocer (because apparently in this fictionally place, we decided that he will be able to bring the food from his grocery store on the ark, or something like that).
We start writing down the reasons why we chose those 3 people, when my partner stops for a moment, looks at me and intiates the following exchange:
HIM: Maybe we should have chosen the beauty contestant.
HIM: So we could [have sexual intercourse with] her.
ME: Oh. Um...I think the doctor is probably a better choice.
HIM: Yeah, you're probably right, cause we might get sick or something.
Just so you are clear about this, that conversation took place between 2 students at an insitution of higher learning.
After my first class, I had to walk about 50 miles to my next class.
Luckily I have about 40 minutes in between the two classes.
Unluckily, I live in Minnesota and it was like 5 degrees today and somewhat windy.
Sometimes I feel like I am a perfectly sane person and then I remember that I live in Minnesota and am doing so of my own free will and I remember how crazy I must be.
My second class went without major incident, although I did do one interesting thing.
The class is "Mass Media Ethics" and the professor asked us to name one specific ethical situation that we were interested in learning more about.
I replied that I was interested in learning about how to deal with sources that insist on being "anonymous" and what the details on dealing with that were.
He asked me why I was interested in that and I said, "Well, I read a lot of baseball writing and there is a guy on ESPN.com named Peter Gammons that constantly has trade rumors that come from un-named sources..."
How baseball obsessed am I?!
After that, I traveled to my 3rd and final class of the day.
And this is where it really got interesting.
The name of the class is "Intermediate Literary Non-Fiction," which tends to bring out a "unique" assortment of people.
This class was a motley crew if I ever saw one, and I am including myself in that statement.
A few of the highlights...
The teacher is a woman that appears to be in her late 50s, but it very likely about 38 years old.
She just has that "weathered" look, with the stringy, shiny grey hair and no evidence of makeup in the last 20 years.
I am not saying that there is anything wrong with her look, if she likes it, then good for her.
It's just interesting.
I had a photography teacher in highschool that had the exact same look, right down to the hair and the painter's pants.
I would call it the "semi-crazy and cooky old hippy chick" look, but I could probably be convinced to change it to something more catchy.
Anyway, in her introduction to the class she mentions that "she is interested in bringing all different types of religions into the class discussion," at which point I re-check my schedule to make sure that I am in the correct room for a NON-FICTION WRITING CLASS!
Moments later she explains that she is "a sucker for anything spiritual"and that will also play a large part in the class.
I again re-check my schedule.
After assuring myself that I was in the correct room, I took my usual glance around the room.
This is always a fun experience, particularly in a small class like this (about 20 people).
We were all seated in a big circle of chairs, so it made my inspection very easy.
Across from me sat a young man with blonde hair, wearing blue jeans and a grey sweatshirt. He looked like a perfectly normal, bland human being, much like myself, until I noticed that he was wearing red nail polish on all 10 of his finger nails.
I continued my glance, but was quickly interrupted when an older man, probably around 50, stood up and hurriedly told the teacher that he needed to go to the bathroom.
As he was leaving the room, I noticed a rather large spot of moisture on the crotch of his grey sweatpants.
I just assumed that a grown man of 50 (or so) wouldn't pee on himself and then ask to use the restroom while in a non-fiction writing class, so I waited for him to return to the room, hoping for some sort of clues or an explanation.
He returned, with the large, damp spot still intact and later told everyone that he was taking some medication that was a diuretic.
I immediately felt bad for the man, because he had in fact peed his pants in the middle of a college class.
However, I obviously didn't feel that bad for him, seeing as though I have now reported it to my entire, massive audience.
Meanwhile, back in baseball world, there were some interesting transactions (although no reports of anyone peeing on themselves)...
The Twins and Doug Mientkiewicz agreed to a 1 year deal worth $1.75 million dollars, thus avoiding arbitration.
I've never been Mientkiewicz's biggest fan and I think the Twins will be making a big mistake if he is still their first baseman in a few years. That said, for right now, Mientkiewicz is a perfectly good first baseman for a team like the Twins.
Here are his numbers for the past 2 years:
Year G AVG OBP SLG HR 2B BB EqA WARP(WARP stands for "Wins Above Replacement Position")
If Mientkiewicz could hit like he did in 2001 every year, I would love to have him as my first baseman.
Unfortunately, his batting average dropped 45 points last season and, because he doesn't hit for much power, a lot of his offensive value went with it.
He did partially off-set the dropoff in batting average by walking quite a bit more.
Mientkiewicz had a good walk rate in 2001, walking 1 time for every 8.1 at bats.
In 2002, he upped that quite a bit, walking 1 time for every 6.3 at bats.
I absolutely love Mientkiewicz's defense. I think he is the best first baseman I have ever seen.
And, in the back of my mind I guess I am holding out hope that he can become a John Olerud-type of player, although realistically, that isn't likely to happen.
To do so, he would have to walk 100 times a year, add 10 homers to what he is already doing and keep his average around .290.
Quite simply, that aint gonna happen.
But, for 2003 and possibly 2004, Mientkiewicz is the best option the Twins have and I definitely think he can be a league average 1B for the next couple seasons.
In fact, I think Mientkiewicz is going to have a very good 2003.
Keep in mind, that prediction is not based on even one shred of statistical evidence or anything other than a gut feeling.
I think his average will be closer to .300 than .260, I think he'll hit 15+ homers and walk 80+ times.
Along with his awesome D, that would make him a very nice player for the Twins.
The Rockies signed Jose Hernandez to a 1 year deal for $800,000 dollars.
Jose Hernandez will make $800,000 dollars in 2003 and the only reason that figure won't have another 0 tacked onto it (making it $8,000,000 for those of us that aren't real good with numbers and stuff) is the fact that Hernandez strikes out an incredibly large percentage of the time.
Hernandez was the best shortstop in the National League last season, but for some reason the fact that he makes most of his outs by way of strike out, instead of a groundout or a pop up, has kept teams from being interested in him.
This is a great signing for the Rockies, but it looks at though they might screw it up by playing Hernandez at third base.
Hernandez is an above-average defensive shortstop and his offense at that position is extremely valuable.
Shift him to third base and he'll probably still be a good defender, but his offense will be a whole lot less special compared to the other third basemen in the NL.
I understand the Rockies have Juan Uribe and they want him to be their future at shortstop, but you've got to have serious doubts about a guy that hits .240/.286/.341 while playing in Coors Field.
Uribe was the worst offensive shortstop in baseball last season.
At the beginning of the free agent period I wrote about Jose Hernandez and the lack of offers he was likely to get.
But even then I never suspected he'd have to settle for a 1 year deal worth under a million bucks.
Here is a snippet of what I said back on December 8th:
It is actually amazing to me the lack of attention Hernandez is getting on the free agent market.
The guy had an awesome season.
Don't believe me?
Check out these numbers for 2 Major League shortstops in 2002:
Player AVG OBP SLG HR 2BPlayer A was named the Most Valuable Player of the American League and Player Z just got released by the Brewers.
Baseball is a funny game sometimes.
See ya tomorrow and please, if you are ever in a class with me, don't do anything even remotely embarrassing or strange, because I will be forced to report everything to my readers.
*****Comments? Questions? Email me!*****
Tuesday, January 21, 2003
Back to schoolToday is my first day of classes for the second semester.
Whenever I come back from any sort of vacation from school, whether it is a week or a month (like I just had) I inevitably get depressed.
It isn't so much that I dislike school, as much as I just really like sitting around my house with my dog, watching TV, messing around on the computer and basically doing absolutely nothing of any value.
Now, I am back at the dorm.
Instead of lounging around my house, I am sitting in a 10x12 room.
Instead of hanging out with my dog, I am hanging out with a bunch of guys that have to be told to not leave food in the hallways and to flush the toilet.
I am still watching TV, but the set is about 30 inches smaller.
And I already told you about my computer problems.
All that and I haven't even touched on the fact that I now have to wake up at a reasonable hour every day and attend classes and do homework at night!
I really want to write about baseball for a living when I "grow up," but if that doesn't work out, I am perfectly happy living the life of someone that is independently wealthy.
I believe my true calling in life is to wake up around noon, sit around a house with a dog and a big TV and do absolutely nothing all day long and then eat Chinese food at night.
Anyway, as you can probably tell from my ramblings, I am not in a great mood.
Plus, there isn't much going on in the baseball world and I am on a computer that I don't like, so didn't write an article for today.
Please forgive me.
In the meantime, check out what I wrote about Torii Hunter yesterday or take a stroll through the archives.
I'll be back tomorrow to tell you all about my first day of school!
By the way, this site went over the 25,000 visitor mark yesterday.
*****Comments? Questions? Email me!*****
Monday, January 20, 2003
4 years, $32 million
As most of you are probably aware of, Torii Hunter and the Minnesota Twins agreed to a 4 year/$32 million dollar contract a couple days ago.
This is quite obviously very big news for Twins fans, but I did not write about the signing over the weekend because a) I generally do not write new columns on the weekend and b) my Winter vacation is over and I have been busy getting ready to move back to school, which I did last night.
So, I was all set to write up a big, long column about Mr. Hunter's new contract from my "writing center," otherwise known as my 10 x 12 dorm room.
But then I remembered something: I had already devoted several thousand words to this subject back in October.
I went back into the archives (which I encourage everyone else to do also, it's fun and you can read the stuff you missed the first time around) and I re-read what I had written about Hunter and a possible long term contract 3 months ago.
Everything I said then still applies now, my feelings on the issue have not changed at all.
Plus, it is kind of interesting to see what my thoughts on the issue happened to be long before the Twins and Hunter actually agreed upon a contract or even starting negotiations.
So, sit back, relax and enjoy the re-publication of my entry from October 15th, entitled...
That's Torii with Two Eyes"I'm not sure when we will talk, or how soon, but I'm willing to talk now." - Twins CF Torii Hunter on a possible contract extension.
One of the negative aspects of having a successful team, particularly a successful, young team, is that players start to want/deserve big raises in salary.
Last off-season, the Twins tried to work out a long-term contract with Torii Hunter, but were unable to do so.
And it probably will end up costing them about $15 million dollars, at least.
Torii Hunter was the Twins' best player in 2002.
He plays a key defensive position (perhaps the key position) and he plays it very well.
He hits for a good average.
He hits for power.
He steals bases.
The only thing he doesn't do very well is draw walks, but I guess you can't have everything.
If the Twins were the Yankees and they had a $120 million dollar payroll or even if they were the Anaheim Angels and they had a $65 million dollar payroll, signing Hunter to a long-term deal would be a no-brainer.
But the Twins are the Twins and their payroll looks like it will be in the $40 million dollar range for the forseeable future, which means they have to make incredibly smart decisions when it comes to paying large amounts of money to players.
From what I have read, the starting point for a possible deal is approximately $30 million dollars over 4 seasons.
This seems, to me at least, like a very conservative estimate.
Darin Erstad signed a 4 year deal for $32 million dollars less than 2 months ago, and while he is a great defensive centerfielder, he isn't even in the same league as Torii offensively.
So let's assume that a possible deal would be closer to 4 years and $35-$40 million.
First of all, the length of the contract, 4 seasons, is a very good one for the Twins.
Hunter just completed his "age 26" season, meaning he was 26 years old for the majority of the 2002 baseball season.
That also means that he is in the middle of his "peak" years as a baseball player.
A player's peak (his best performance) usually occurs during his mid-to-late twenties.
Signing a player to a long term contract that takes him past his early thirties is often a huge mistake, particularly for a team with a very low payroll and particularly for a player that relies on his speed and athletic ability to play his defensive position.
But a 4 year deal would cover his age 27, 28, 29 and 30 seasons, which is absolutely perfect as far as the Twins are concerned.
So, the length of the contract, assuming it is for 4 seasons, is perfect for the Twins.
Which leaves two important issues in deciding whether or not this deal is a good one.
1) What will Torii Hunter's level of performance be for those 4 seasons.
2) Is that level of performance worth the money they will be paying him.
Unless you consider yourself a Miss Cleo type, it is going to be pretty difficult to answer #1.
However, by looking at his age and his performance so far, a pretty good idea of his future performance can be established.
As I said before, Hunter is just entering his peak years, so his performance should be expected to go up or stabalize, but not go down (barring injuries, of course).
Here are Torii's relevant hitting stats in his career:
A couple of notes first...
His 2001 and 2002 stats are from full seasons with the Twins and are unchanged.
His 1999 and 2000 seasons are from partial seasons with the Twins and have been prorated to match the same amounts of playing time as 2001 and 2002.
Year ABs PAs .AVG .OBP .SLG HR DB T BB
1999 557 611 .255 .309 .380 13 25 3 37
2000 571 608 .280 .318 .408 10 24 9 31
2001 564 603 .261 .306 .479 27 32 5 29
2002 561 604 .289 .334 .524 29 37 4 35
Aside from the amount of walks he draws, Torii Hunter has had almost the prototypical "career path."
His power, both in doubles and home runs, has increased throughout his MLB career as he goes from young, developing player to an established player in the beginning of his peak.
His average has gone back and forth slightly, but has maintained the same basic level (.260-.280) throughout.
If Torii continues along the typical career path, as he has so far, he will likely experience similar seasons as he had in 2002 during the next several years, with perhaps one or two seasons (likely next year and 2004) that would be slightly improved over 2002.
But let's just say, for the sake of simplicity, that Torii puts up 4 seasons of .280/.325/.500 (which is slightly worse than he did this season).
Is that worth $8 million a year to a team with a $40 million dollar payroll?
Ah, but before we answer that...
Some of you may be saying, "Excuse me, Mr. Walks and Homers, aren't you forgetting about a little thing called defense?!"
Ah yes, defense.
Actually, for a guy who considers himself a big fan of the Billy Beane style of offense (walks, on-base%, homers, etc) I am a pretty big believer in having good defense, at least at key positions.
Last season, Torii Hunter had one of the best defensive years that a centerfielder has had in a long time.
He ran down everything that got hit into the air at The Metrodome and, with the Twins' flyball pitching staff, there was a lot to run down.
He was fast, athletic and fearless, with good instincts, which is the recipe for a perfect centerfielder.
This year however, something was a little "off."
Torii had a lot of balls bounce off the end of his glove and even more balls go shooting a foot or two past him and into the gaps.
He is definitely still a very good defensive centerfielder, capable of making some wonderful plays, but I think he is slightly slower and/or less athletic in the field, possibly because he bulked up a little bit or maybe because of a minor injury or two that is limiting his mobility slightly.
In either case, it is a little worrisome when a great defensive player declines noticeably from one year to the next.
Here are his defensive stats from the last 2 years:
Year ZnRt RngF
2001 .904 3.29
2002 .897 2.70
Now, the difference between making 3.29 plays per game (which is what Range Factor measures) and 2.70 plays per game might not seem like a lot, but over the course a of 162 game season, that is a difference of nearly 100 outs, which is a huge amount.
But the amount of plays a fielder makes is dependent a lot upon the flyball-groundball nature of the pitching staff.
It is very possible that the 2002 Twins pitchers did not allow as many flyballs to be hit into centerfield, in which case Hunter would obviously make less plays out there.
However, Zone Rating only accounts for the balls that are hit into his zone (centerfield).
If 5 balls are hit into Hunter's "zone" and he catches all 5, he has a 1.000 ZR, if he catches 4, he has a .800 ZR...it is just like a batting average.
So, not only did Hunter make significantly fewer plays than he did last season, he made less plays on the balls that were hit into his zone than he did last year.
Like I said, he is still a very good defensive CF, but he didn't play at the same level that he did in 2001.
Okay, so what do we have?
A guy who just finished his age 26 season.
He has shown significant improvement each of the last 4 seasons offensively, adding power each season.
He has not shown any improvement as far as plate discipline goes, however.
He had an outstanding defensive season in 2001, but regressed a small, but significant amount in 2002.
Even with the regression, he was still an upper level defensive centerfielder.
The 3 main issues that I have touched upon in regard to a possible contract for Hunter are:
1) The length of the deal.
2) The cost of the deal.
3) Hunter's performance during the deal.
I already said that I think the length of the deal, assuming it is for 4 years, is the best possible scenario for the Twins.
They get him for his 27, 28, 29 and 30 seasons, which are the middle and end of his peak years.
Okay, so length of the deal = GOOD.
We just finished looking at what I think Hunter's performance over the next 4 seasons is likely to look like.
I would guess that, as a whole, his next 4 years will be slightly less than his performance this season, with one or maybe two of the 4 years being significantly better (his "career year").
Defensively, his decline from 2001 to 2002 scares me a little bit.
26 year old centerfielders don't usually get better as they age, especially when they are showing signs of getting worse.
But Hunter is still near the top of the list of defensive CFs.
I would expect him to continue to be in the upper level of CFs for at least the next couple of seasons and, at worst, regress to being an average CF at the very end of the contract.
So, Hunter's expected performance during the 4-year deal = GOOD.
Which brings us to the final component, the money.
Sometimes I wish I was a fan of the Yankees, just because it would be a whole lot easier deciding who to re-sign when you have $120 million to spend each year.
But while playing with a tight budget can be a pain in the butt, it is also an interesting challenge.
I believe that in the current market for players, signing a top of the line centerfielder for $8 million dollars a season is perfectly acceptable, even with such a small budget.
By signing Hunter for the next 4 seasons, the Twins won't have to worry about (arguably) the most important defensive position on the field and they can be confident that they have one-ninth of their lineup, and more important a middle of the order, right handed, power threat, in place.
Okay, so cost of the deal = GOOD.
Let's get Hunter signed.
I think 4 years at $35 million sounds pretty fair for both sides.
Cross "centerfielder" and "#5 hitter" off of the list of things to worry about for the next half decade, and let's move on to the things that need worrying about...
*****Comments? Questions? Email me!*****