Trends in Major League Salaries (Tim Lincecum Edition)

3rd year player, or best pitcher in the NL?

Tuesday Tim Lincecum filed an arbitration claim of $13 million dollars.  The Giants countered with $8 million.  He made $650,000 last year, so he’s due for a big raise no matter what.  But if Lincecum wins, what appears to be a big victory for the players may actually be a death knell for dozens of mediocre veteran players looking for work.

Growing up a baseball fan in the 1990s, my impression of salaries was that players were paid for being veterans.  Rookies made very little, veterans made more, and great veteran players made the most.  Baseball rewarded time in the big leagues primarily, and performance secondly.  That made sense to me, as that’s how I understood the real world worked.  Work for the same company for many years, and your salary will go up. 

In this last decade, I’ve seen the rise of a parallel argument for high player salaries.  The new argument is that production is production, regardless of experience level.  This is the basis for Alfonso Soriano, Miguel Cabrera, Ryan Howard, and Tim Lincecum’s large arbitration salary claims.  No one doubted they were, at the time, among the best players in the game.  Their agents, and by extension the Players Union, argued that they should be paid as such.
 
In the last 5 years, teams have realized that arbitration is becoming as costly as free agency.  Thus, shrewd teams like Cleveland (Grady Sizemore) and Tampa Bay (Evan Longoria) have signed young stars to long-term deals which buy out arbitration and a year or two of free agency.  The player gets the security of guaranteed money, and gives up some money they could receive via the arbitration route.  Those contracts are also mutual affirmations of interest in the relationship between team and player, symbolic actions which resonate with fan bases but which may actually have limited value to the participants (Joe Mauer’s impending free agency being the ultimate test of that).
 
But players like Tim Lincecum and Jonathan Papelbon, who do not sign deals but rather keep hitting the arbitration trough, are undermining the notion that experience drives salary increases.  What’s more, they are undermining the entire notion of arbitration.  What is the point of “team control” if arbitration salaries are subject to the same market values as free agent contracts?  Why are the Giants in danger of making Tim Lincecum one of the highest-paid pitchers in the game if they “control” him for four more years?  It’s like the Giants are being forced to make a big free agent signing.
 
This trend is pushing teams to devalue experience and, by extension, losing player loyalty.  The Red Sox have become extremely unsentimental, as evidenced by their exports of Pedro and Manny, and their attempts to rid themselves of Jason Varitek.  Teams are increasingly tapping a rookie over a veteran player if both men contribute the same win shares to the team.  Why pay more for the same results?
 
I believe the Players Union is running a significant risk here.  Pushing the arbitration system to such extremes is a transparent grab for a bigger slice of the billions in revenue inundating baseball.  But making arbitration so expensive will only encourage teams to abandon mediocre veteran players in favor of cheap rookies.  This trend appeared in the great number of unsigned free agents last off season.  It isn’t collusion – in fact, it is the reaping of a crop the players have sewn.
 
We may not be too far from a point where major league teams are comprised of a few all stars making $10-$30 million a year, and a lot of rookies and veterans willing to play on the cheap.  Free agents will be evaluated by their wins added, and the market rate for a win will determine the deals they are offered.  “Paying your dues” in the league before seeing big money will be 2+ years of service time instead of 6, as your free agency will really start with your first arbitration hearing.  Promising young players will sign their first big contract after 2-4 years of service time, and hope that they are still all-stars when that contract runs out.
 
And the Players Union, which clamours that the market should dictate players salaries, will get exactly what they ask for.  Baseball, like the NFL, will be a game where you need to grab your money fast.  Not because a linebacker can land on your knee and end your career, but because there will always be a rookie with no service time waiting in the minors to take your roster spot.
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Reboot: The Pirates’ Movement for .500

We already know that the Mariners have made a remarkable turnaround following the switch from the dunderheaded Bill Bavasi to this era’s Billy Beane, Jeff Zdurflip. So now we come to face the Pittsburgh Pirates who have suffered losing seasons something like the past 236 straight years. The final straw leading to now-GM Neal Huntington’s hiring was the regime of David Littlefield.
Littlefield left several Buc prospects open for the 2003 Rule 5 draft despite room on the 40-man roster and sure enough 5 of them were gone within the first 6 picks. Other teams had had their eyes on the foolish Pirate’s gems, but had to settle for nothing or something less appealing. Oh, and then the Pirates didn’t even select anyone despite all the ridiculous space they had on the 40. Littlefield also traded away several big-talent players (Aramis Ramirez, Sean Casey) for basically nothing, but also managed to get some gems occasionally (Jason Bay). In the real draft he was apparently given carte blanche to make the most boneheaded decisions ever. Admittedly, he had little money to work with for those Boras-type bonuses, but still, how can you not draft Wieters. From the 2002 draft I will supply you with a list of names and you shall select the lame-o they selected: BJ Upton, Fielder, Swisher, Kazmir, Hamels, Bullington, Cain, Francouer. Success!
Towards the end of the ’07 season someone finally decided this continuing crapfest wasn’t good for business and so Littlefield out, Huntington in. Soon after the team began a transformation…and by transformation I mean most of the veteran starters were traded and hordes of prospects came flowing into the minors. Nealio also managed to convince ownership to at least up the money for scouting, development, and drafting (salary/bonuses) of players. The payroll still remains at one year of A-Rod.
The past two drafts have seen a total of $18.7 million tossed out for young blood including a couple of seven figure bonuses for a 6th rounder and an 8th rounder (hmm, better be worth it). They have also signed a couple of Indians (real ones, not Native Americans) who were winners of a game show so that Pittsburgh can become India’s team (sure!) and a South African, but on the whole have expanded their scouting scope a great deal (for the better).
From December 7th, 2007 through November 3rd, 2009 the Pirates made 15 trades gutting their team of their bigger names in return for promising to not-so-promising prospects. And here they are:

DATE IN OUT TEAM
12/07/07 Marino Salas, RHP
Kevin Roberts, RHP
Salomon Torres, RHP MIL
03/26/08 Tyler Yates, RHP Todd Redmond, RHP ATL
07/25/08 Jose Tabata, OF
Ross Ohlendorf, RHP
Dan McCutchen, RHP
Jeff Karstens, RHP
Xavier Nady, OF
Damaso Marte, LHP
NYY
07/31/08 Andy LaRoche, 3B L
Bryan Morris, RHP L
Craig Hansen, RHP B
Brandon Moss, OF B
Jason Bay, OF (Manny) LAD, BOS
08/21/08 Robinzon Diaz, C Jose Bautista, 3B TOR
12/10/08 Jason Jaramillo, C Ronny Paulino, C PHI
04/15/09 Delwyn Young, 2B/OF Eric Krebs, RHP LAD
06/03/09 Gorkys Hernandez, OF
Jeff Locke, LHP
Charlie Morton, RHP
Nate McLouth, OF ATL
06/29/09 Eric Fryer, OF
Casey Erickson, RHP
Eric Hinske, OF NYY
06/30/09 Lastings Milledge, OF
Joel Hanrahan, RHP
Nyjer Morgan, OF
Sean Burnett, LHP
WAS
07/22/09 Argenis Diaz, SS
Hunter Strickland, RHP
Adam LaRoche, 1B BOS
07/29/09 Jeff Clement, C/1B
Ronny Cedeno, SS
Nathan Adcock, RHP
Brett Lorin, RHP
Aaron Pribanic, RHP
Ian Snell, RHP
Jack Wilson, SS
SEA
07/29/09 Tim Alderson, RHP Freddy Sanchez, 2B SF
07/30/09 Kevin Hart, RHP
Jose Ascanio, RHP
Josh Harrison, 2B/OF
John Grabow, LHP
Tom Gorzelanny, LHP
CHC
11/03/09 Akinori Iwamura, 2B Jesse Chavez, RHP TB

And now we run the numbers:
-19 Players Out, 33 Players In
-9 Pitchers Out: 5 Righty, 4 Lefty
-19 Pitchers In: 18 Righty, 1 Lefty -that is a worrying number.
-1 Catcher Out, 3 Catchers In: I mention this because they drafted a catcher (Tony Sanchez) with their first ’09 pick and he is now their 3rd ranked prospect (Baseball America Org. Ranks).

This is a Gorkys...a jedi?


-Jose Tabata (#2), Tim Alderson (#7), and Gorkys Hernandez (#10) are acquisitions that also feature in the top 10.
-Jose Tabata – Best Hitter for Average, Dan McCutchen – Best Changeup, Argenis Diaz – Best Defensive Infielder and Best Infield Arm, Gorkys Hernandez – Best Defensive Outfielder.
-Andy LaRoche, Brandon Moss, and Delwyn Young all played over 100 games for Pitt in ’09. The extent of their use can be debated, but they still have time on their sides.
-Ross Ohlendorf, Charlie Morton, Jeff Karstens, and Kevin Hart all started 10 or more games for Pitt in ’09.
-Incoming batters (7 of them, not counting pitchers) made 2173 plate appearances for the club in ’09.
-Incoming pitchers (9 of them) threw 523.2 innings for the club in ’09.

Other notables for the future that the Pirates drafted are Andrew McCutchen (deserving of ROY consideration last year), Pedro Alvarez (soon to push Andy LaRoche out of 3rd), Tony Sanchez, and Brad Lincoln (a Littlefield bright spot, nope, they passed on Lincecum). At this point the Pirates minor league system must be busting at the seams with players who all require playing time to sharpen their futures. The Iwamura trade is curious since the Pirates have young players who can play his two positions so you have to wonder if he is trade fodder for sometime later on, say some LHPs come trade deadline time?
The real problem is upside. How many of these players will hit the high point of their upside and is that enough to make the Pirates a real contender some 2-5 years down the line? You can read all the scouting reports you want on a player and come away thinking the world of every single one of them, but the reality is that it could just keep them at the status quo wherein they develop a few bright spots that get traded away for prospects every trade deadline as they wallow in the basement. They have poured more money into the Latin American talent market and this is where they can finally push themselves out into the open (let’s call that .500). Playing in the NL Central is also a bonus, since if you catch a weak Cardinals team then a mid 80’s win record could land you the division.
The sky is the limit with a ton of unfinished prospects, of course the other limit is last place.
At least they have a plan, though.

The Full Deal: The Doc For A Boatload Of Prospects

Everyone is focusing on the recent deal of Cliff Lee out, Halladay in, but keep in mind that the Phillies traded for General Lee in the ’09 season meaning that they have shipped out 7 prospects in return for Halladay, Ben Francisco, 3 prospects, and cash. Cliff Lee negates himself overall.

Additionally, keep in mind this concerning prospects. According to Baseball America’s Organizational Prospect Rankings of April 1st, 2009 (so, pre-trades) running from Texas at #1 to Houston at #30, the Phillies were #12, while the Mariners were #24.

Net IN:
Ben Francisco is a backup OF for the Phillies. Generally backup OFs tend to be defensive, but BenFran is a below average fielder and the Phillies starters were all above average last season. BF has good power, but he doesn’t hit for average and his OBP is neither great nor bad (in 3 PAs he will hop on board once). I would think this spot could be used to bleed in a prospect since Raul Ibanez is a year older.

Roy Halladay is basically the best pitcher over the past decade. Ok, you can make a case for Zack Grienke over the past couple years, but no one really comes close to Halladay for the full 2000’s (Santana has unfortunately fallen prey to the Mets syndrome – “I will regress”). He moved from the AL East where he was pretty damn good to the NL East where he could be pretty damn better.

$6,000,000 will get you Cliff Lee for 2009, the next two seasons of Pudge or Jason Kendall, or almost Oliver Perez for 2008. If the Phillies have set a cap for themselves for 2010 and Halladay is getting $20 million per year from 2011-13/14 then that makes and increase of $10.25. So they will either be raising that cap a bunch in 2011 or attempting to shed salary.

You may only take as much as you can compress into a baseball.

Tyson Gillies played all last year at high A and showed remarkable improvement in batting for average, getting on base, and speed. His power seems limited to doubles and triples (speed helps) and he plays OF (CF). In Baseball America’s Organization Top 10 Prospects for the Mariners from last year (update comes Jan. 22) he didn’t make the top 10 but was listed as Fastest Baserunner and Best Outfield Arm.

Phillipe Aumont is the gem for the Phillies in this trade. He split 2009 between high A and AA displaying great K rate but struggling slightly in AA. In Baseball America’s Top 100 Prospects from early 2009 he is ranked #93. Unfortunately there are usually two or three other Mariners ranked ahead of him, but the Phillies weren’t able to wrangle those better choices. In the top 10 org. prospects he was #3, the top pitcher, and the Best Fastball. He can start, but is apparently being bred for bullpen duties. He is also 6’6″.

JC Ramirez, also known as Juan Ramirez, was the second best pitcher prospect in the Mariners org. and #5 prospect overall. He spent 2009 in high A with less than appealing numbers.

Overall: Halladay – Great, Cash – Whatever, 3 Prospects – Restocking system with 2 low-minors guys and 1 better guy who is a bullpen pitcher – Not Good.

Net OUT:
Carlos Carrasco (to Cle) hit BA’s Top 100 at #52. In their Jan 6, 2009 top 10 Phillies prospects he was #2 and had Best Fastball and Best Change-up. He has shown success at every level of minor ball and even made 5 starts for the Indians…going 0-4 with an 8.87 ERA and 2.28 WHIP. He’s not there yet, but is the best prospect out of the 10 involved in these trades.

Jason Knapp (to Cle) came in at #10 in Phillies org. rankings. He has had some troubles in his A ball adventures between Philly and Cleveland, but his K rates are great and his FIP (Fielder Independant Pitching) in comparison to ERA suggests less than decent defense at his back. He has had some shoulder issues.

Lou Marson (to Cle) hit #66 on BA’s top 100 and was #3 in the org. with Best Strike-Zone Discipline and Best Defensive Catcher to boot. He has seen limited time in the Majors (76 PA), but his OBP is usually better than average to Beane-desirable. There isn’t much power and his BA has zoomed all over the place in his minor’s life (.243 to .314). He would have been at best a backup on the Phillies or a starter for anyone signing Jason Kendall or Pudge. Cleveland already has a talented catching prospect so Marson will either enjoy the backup life or get traded again.

Jason Donald (to Cle) weighed in at #69 on BA’s top 100 and #4 in the Phillies org. He is an infielder (SS) who could hit for average before bottoming out at AAA or due to injury. He has also shown excellent plate discipline in the lower minors, but has less than average power (or average power for middle infield). His plate/injury troubles at AAA could just need time for him to play it out or he could just suck against better competition.

Travis D’Arnaud (to Tor) was the next best catching prospect for Philly. He was #7 in the older BA Philly org. rank and in the newer one he bounced up to #4 and took Lou Marson’s old Best Defensive Catcher status. He is young for a catcher and his offensive abilities have been fairly loopy in his few seasons of low minors. He did display a surge in power this past year.

Kyle Drabek (to Tor) is a name that I’ve heard in every trade rumor for the Phillies for some time now. He jumped from #5 to #2 in the org. ranks and held Best Curveball for both. Given some more time in the minors (at AAA) he should develop into quite a nice top-mid rotation pitcher.

Michael Taylor (to Tor to Oak) moved from #6 to #3 in Philly’s org. rankings and has been their Best Power Hitter for both of those rankings. He has displayed the ability to hit for power, average, OBP, and run. He unfortunately is missing out on great defensive ability, but would make a reasonable RF/LF. There is a good chance that he’ll see modest to significant time in the Bigs.

Overall: From the earlier Organization Top 10 Rankings the Phillies traded 7 of those. The other three were J.A. Happ (who will most likely not see the same level of success) and two OFs (Domonic Brown – #1 twice now (remember what I said about bleeding in new talent over Ben Francisco) and Zach Collier – dropped off second ranking). They traded away significant prospects, but some of them have enough question marks/injuries that this could still be a major steal.

Over-Overall:
Trading away large amounts of your farm system really sucks. Replenishing it with less than equal prospects is better than doing nothing but still kind of sucks. Look at it this way – 4 better ranked prospects from the #12 system were turned into 3 lower ranked prospects from the #24 system. Yes, Lee was in the final year of his contract and making $9 million would push the Phillies over some arbitrary cap limit they have, but look at the (better) alternative. Keep Lee (paired up with Halladay!) and when he walks get two great draft picks. Trade one of the less necessary starters…Blanton is due for a raise in arbitration and that would cut payroll slightly…for some of those prospects (not as great as a Lee haul, but better than nothing). Two draft picks plus 2-3 mid-grade prospects with upside seems like a better deal here. I respect wanting to keep a farm system stocked and payroll at reasonable levels, but at the same time, biting the bullet and putting yourself in prime position for a WS run (rematch) seems like a no-brainer.
Right now the only thing that went right is that the Phillies upgraded Cliff Lee into Roy Halladay and no team in the NL has made any significant enough moves yet to put them ahead of the Phillies.

The Cycle: Mets Play Winning Baseball in 2012!…?

One of my friends has developed a theory that the Mets have fallen into a baseball cycle wherein they advance in the playoffs every 6 years. And a quick look at the past decade gives us no reason to argue otherwise:

2000: 94-68, lose WS to bat-tossing Clemens’ Yanks.
2003: 66-95, low point of sucking.
2006: 97-65, lose NLCS to suddenly hot, crappy Cards.
2009: 70-92, injuries prevent Mets from blowing season late.
2012: ??-??, despite massive success they lose somewhere in playoffs?

Now comes the fun part where I try to picture what the 2012 non-crappy Mets will look like. Fortunately there are a few tools at my disposal to futz around with their farm system and free agents.

Using Cot’s Baseball Contracts we see that the Mets have a few players under contract in 2012 and several more under arbitration. (contracts in millions)

SP: Johan Santana – $24
CP: K-Rod – $17.5 option based on performance (somehow this will probably be enacted, but this contract is just ridiculous)
3B: David Wright – $15.25
Arbitration Players (will be signed, possibly to extended contracts)
OF: Angel Pagan
SP: Mike Pelfrey, Fernando Nieve
RP: Sean Green, Brian Stokes

First up, just looking at what they currently have, I piece together a team assuming they only sign or let go their own players and/or promote prospects. We all know this is very unlike the Mets, but bear with me as this will lay a foundation that I can gradually tear apart.

C: Josh Thole – Has no power, but can hit 1 for 3 every game.
1B: Ike Davis – Has shown promise and power. Could be up for 2011 season. And he can field.
2B/SS: Jose Reyes will probably be re-signed, but the Mets have an odd amount of prospects at SS, so one or two or all of them will be converted to 2b or traded for crap. Jordany Valdespin gets credit as the only actual 2B prospect, but the SS’s in no particular order are Wilmer Flores, Ruben Tejada, and Reese Havens (one of these three would be manning second).
3B: David Wright
OF: The Mets will make the odd decision of re-signing Carlos Beltran to another ridiculous contract, fortunately he will make less than $17mil per year. Fernando Martinez takes one corner. Jeff Francoeur gets signed for 3 years at the stupid lopsidedness of $5, $10, $15. If not then one of the aforementioned SS’s moves to OF.
Bench: Angel Pagan is 4th OF, Nick Evans is a 1B/OF, Daniel Murphy is worthless as a fielder and finds work as DH somewhere else, another one of those SS’s gets a backup infielder job, Jefry Marte is a defensive infielder, Omir Santos is a useless crapbag so pick from Francisco Pena or Rene Rivera, neither of whom may amount to much at all.
SP: Johan Santana, Mike Pelfrey, Jon Niese gets to pitch a full season in the majors!, Oliver Perez is useless and John Maine will get dumped after missing most of any other season he gets signed for, most minds have Jenrry Mejia and Brad “I wish his name was Steve” Holt as the next best arms in the system.

Now pitching for your New York Mets.

RP: K-Rod finishes his stupid contract, Fernando Nieve plays long-man, Brian Stokes and Sean Green stick around until management realizes they aren’t all that great (which means they stay forever), Eddie Kunz and Bobby Parnell fight out for being the other crappy reliever, Pedro Feliciano and/or Pat Misch get to stay around for being lefties (Misch can also play the long game).
Coach: Jerry Manuel is no longer the coach following 2010. New guy will be…flashback to 2000! Bobby V!

The mustache is key.

GM: Omar Minaya has a weirdly impossible stranglehold on the position that he can’t lose unless the Mets go 0-162.

Ok, so we know that the Mets tend to trade away 90% of their prospects. Therefore this team will never exist. Also there will be a few free agency periods for the Mets to massively overpay players. I can assure everyone that that will happen (Matt Holliday is drooling). Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a list of Free Agents leading up to the 2012 season, but many places have lists for 2010 (which is now) and 2011. This team assumes that the Mets will overspend in the next two seasons so that they can’t sign anyone major for 2012.

C: Mauer and Victor Martinez are free agents after next season. Theoretically the Mets could jump the gun and trade their farm system to the Twins right now and use Thole as the backup (unless he is part of the trade). If not they obtain Ramon Hernandez at some point to split time with Thole (and teach him).
1B: Derek Lee and Carlos Pena are also free agents after this season (I’m guessing Pujols will be extended). Going by past signings, Derek Lee is the older, more injury-prone player and therefore the Mets’ next 1B!
2B: There are some rumors about Luis Castillo moving in a three team trade that nets Lyle Overbay. I doubt that will happen, but I do think Castillo might be gone at some point soon (even though he was one of the few healthy starters) and Orlando Hudson will be ours!
SS: Jose Reyes gets re-signed. Or he gets moved with one or more (probably more) prospects for Carl Crawford. If Reyes leaves I think this is one of the few times the Mets develop a prospect far enough that he becomes something useful.
3B: DAVID WRIGHT LEARNS TO READ!
OF: Beltran, Holliday, and Crawford (possibly) are all massively overpaid. Holliday has his last useful (fielding) season in 2012. If not Crawford then Francoeur and Pagan split time.
Bench: Angel Pagan, Nick Evans, Julio Lugo, Jorge Cantu, Josh Thole.
SP: Santana, Pelfrey. Linked with Lackey and Wolf so far this off-season, but those are mistakes waiting to happen…meaning the Mets sign at least one of them. Erik Bedard might be a nice surprise (until he gets injured). Brandon Webb is a free agent after next season, but the Yankees might as well call dibs now. Jon Niese and Jon Garland (surprise crappy pitcher move, akin to Tim Redding experiment) may also have some time in the rotation.
RP: K-Rod, Stokes, Green. Kiko Calero, Scott Shields, and an assortment of in-house options fill out the bullpen.
Coach and GM: Does it even matter? This is destiny! Hooray being slightly less than the best!

Possibility...or the future?