Throw It Like a Ballplayer

providing baseball commentary and ponderings since April 2010

Posts Tagged ‘mlb’

Carlos Silva in 2011: A Big “So What”?

Posted by dannmckeegan on March 6, 2011

There could be a reason for a team to jettison a big, fat, bloated contract, even if there is positive value of some sort to be gained from the player’s performance. The Cubs might be in such a situation this year. They owe Carlos Silva $12 million plus a $2 million buyout (less the money Seattle threw in with the Bradley trade). And Silva was good for half a season in 2010. But the Cubs have a fairly reliable set of starting pitchers in Ryan Dempster, Matt Garza, Carlos Zambrano and Randy Wells. No Phillies, surely, but more than competent.

They also have a stable of youngsters seen as starters in the near future: Andrew Cashner, Casey Coleman, Jay Jackson, Christopher Carpenter, Trey McNutt, James Russell, and Austin Bibens-Dirkx all are at worst Triple-A starters in 2011. More than one probably has MLB-level stuff right now.

Seven names. Five spots in Iowa’s rotation. And that doesn’t include Hung-Wen Chen and a few guys bordering on filler/fading prospect. McNutt can probably thrive for a while beating up on the Southern League. Carpenter, Jackson, Russell, and Bibens-Dirkx could all use full seasons at Triple-A as pure starters. Both Cashner (power) and Coleman (sinker) showed some flashes in the majors last year and are capable of pitching at that level, if not thriving as a starter.

So now we have Carlos Silva’s big, fat contract pushing not one, but two or maybe even three young players away from the proverbial catering table. Silva’s ceiling is what he did last year: good luck on his sinker leading to some 5-6 inning starts and some time missed due to injury. His downside, we know, is a repeat of Seattle. If we consider that one of the kids will displace him at some point anyway, simply out of basic roster need, then it doesn’t make sense to keep him on the active or 40-man roster. Even if he can reproduce his 2 WAR 2010 this year, we have to weigh that (likely in 100-130 innings) against potential harm done to prospects not being challenged.

Keeping a guy like Carlos Silva around in a situation like the Cubs currently have is akin to telling a high school sophomore with an A- average that he has to repeat geometry because a senior with a C average and a case of senioritis blew off and failed world lit and didn’t graduate. You don’t punish the sophomore. You promote him normally and figure out how to accommodate the “demote” after everything else is in place. Silva’s getting his money either way. Is his projected 2011 performance (approximated as a WAR value) actually more valuable than a lesser performance by another player this year but an improved probability of stronger production (approximated by WAR value) in future years by one or more of those prospects?

If the Cubs see all of those prospects as MLB talents, then they would be doing less than due diligence if they failed to explore every means of challenging them. It’s not just for the Cubs themselves, but also to shore up added trade value. Is Player X worth more at age 23 with a 3.5 K/BB and 2.25 ERA at Double-A or a 3.2 K/BB and 3.25 ERA at Triple-A? If a guy smokes a league he has to repeat, then the response is, “He should be doing that. He’s playing too low.” It is preferable to see struggles and adjustments at the next level. Carlos Silva might be making that more difficult for the Cubs this year.

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Soriano: Not Yet an Albatross.

Posted by dannmckeegan on March 5, 2011

A quick note on Fonzie’s crazy contract with the Cubs: So far, he’s been paid a total of $56 million, according to Cot’s ($9m in 2007, $13m in 2008, $16m in 2009, and $18m last year). In that time, he has produced a total of 14.1 fWAR, for a per-win cost of $3.97 million. Considering he produced a replacement-level performance during an injury-riddled 2009 season, that’s a pretty fair price.

Even if we add his $8 million signing bonus to the $56 million paid to date, his cost is $4.54 million per win. That price appears to be within the realm of reason.

While he is highly unlikely to maintain a $4-$4.5 million/win pace through the life of his current contract, his production has actually been less of an albatross than it’s made out to be. He is under contract through 2014 at an annual salary of $18 million ($72 million still owed). He would have to produce 16 to 18 WAR over than span to keep pace.

But let’s consider $5 million per win to be an upper threshold for the per-win average cost between 2007 and 2014 (i.e., assume that the price will continue to climb slightly). Dividing the contract’s total value by this per-win cost, we see that Soriano has to produce a total of 27 WAR over the life of the contract to hit $5 million/win. 30 WAR would place him at approximately $4.5 million/win.

So to reach this ballpark, Soriano has four years to produce between 13 and 16 WAR. While it is a safe bet that he will not be able to accumulate enough playing time (given the Cubs’ OF prospects and his own aging/injuries) or have enough defensive improvement (try, try again) to put up 4 WAR/season, a line similar to his 2010 output would likely keep him close to 3 WAR/year.

If, after the 2014 season, Soriano has produced the following annual WAR tallies:
2007 – 6.9
2008 – 4.3
2009 – 0.0
2010 – 2.9
2011 – 3
2012 – 2.7
2013 – 2.2
2014 – 2.0
he will have accumulated 24 WAR in exchange for $136 million, thus earning $5.67 million per win. A 2-win season in 2014, at age 38, would be a big surprise. But it would be equally surprising to see him either forced to the bench or retirement at that point. And once the contract is down to one or two years, an AL team in need of a power-hitting DH would possibly be interested in a discounted trade. If the Cubs have Brett Jackson, Matt Szczur, and Tyler Colvin (for example) penciled into their 2014 outfield, they won’t be worrying about payroll and can pay half of his final year spent elsewhere.

Barring a complete and utter late-career collapse (unlikely), Alfonso Soriano will likely end up being a noticeable but not atrocious overpay. If managed wisely, the club’s payroll won’t be negatively effected by his presence. If he can produce a simple .250/.310/.470-(20-25 HR)-(55-75 RBI) line for the next three years, he’ll have actually been a halfway decent investment. Considering the in-house options (Matt Murton, Angel Pagan, Micah Hoffpauir, Jake Fox, Jason Dubois, Matt Camp, Bobby Scales, Brad Snyder, Jim Adduci, Sam Fuld…) of recent vintage, it seems like Soriano has filled the corner outfield power gap that many teams do nowadays struggle to fill.

Remember: the albatross is a portent for good. It wasn’t until Coleridge’s mariner killed the bird that ill luck gained sway. The albatross is only hanging from around one’s neck when it is dead. Soriano: not dead yet.

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He’s not my type, anyway

Posted by dannmckeegan on November 9, 2010

The Elias Sports Bureau has released their newest fall rom-com, the 2010 MLB player rankings. A surprising knee-slapper, this year’s dramatic flourishes are supported but not overshadowed by some dark humor. But that’s not to say that some true knee-slappers aren’t right there for an attentive audience. What’s your type, MLB front offices? This plot follows a rag-tag group of statisticians and programmers who share a love of baseball and cruel jokes. Providing Old Man Selig with a numerical rank for all of the free agents out there, “Bud” Selig uses his power and influence to rank the top scorers as Type A or Type B. They are free for the signing…but with a catch. [More after the jump] Read the rest of this entry »

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The NL MVP Race: Yo, Adrian

Posted by dannmckeegan on September 20, 2010

I was reading Dave Cameron‘s piece over at FanGraphs asking if Colorado SS Troy Tulowitzki should be the NL MVP in 2010. The one caveat I have with mentioning Tulo (or CarGo) in the same breath as park-adjustments in 2010 is that another top candidate, Joey Votto, plays in a park in which a man can hit a home run into the Ohio River.  But at the same time, park factors are integral to looking at SD 1B Adrian Gonzalez‘s candidacy. Read the rest of this entry »

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Say it ain’t so, Doc

Posted by dannmckeegan on August 27, 2010

Stephen Strasburg of the Nats got the bad news from Dr. James Andrews. He’ll get a second opinion from Dr. Elliot Yokum, but that’s like asking two different choosy moms if they both choose Jif. Natstown Jesus will be going under the knife and missing, most likely, all of the 2011 season. It would hardly make sense to rush him back for a pointless September in 2011. The goal is probably for Strasburg to be ready to go on Day One in 2012. Top draft pick Bryce Harper might be ready by then; Ryan Zimmerman should still be driving the lineup; Jordan Zimmermann and Drew Storen should be integral cogs in the pitching staff. If all goes well, Strasburg will return a triumphant ace and bring Natstown deep into October, someday.

It’s funny. Mocking the Nats isn’t nearly as fun as mocking the other perennial non-contenders. I think it’s because Washington has a clear idea of what it takes to win and what they will have to do to accomplish it. Combine that with the potential for a strong fan base if they can bring home some success and star power, and they might actually have a bright future.

Maybe KC, Pittsburgh, et alii will also make an effort to compete. Pittsburgh has a lot of young players – Andrew McCutchen, Jose Tabata, Alvarez, Daniel McCutchen to name a few – but who knows how long they’ll actually be kept. Cynicism deserves its say in Pittsburgh, until proven otherwise.

And cynicism also will have its say for Strasburg and Natstown. Why? Simply because the hype was always too great. It works nicely as a metaphor that the ulnar collateral ligament in the elbow in which all of D.C.’s baseball hopes were invested, is no more. It tore. It could not stand the strain. To the surgeon’s table, and under the knife. Not for repair, but with replacement. The hopes won’t be discarded, however, like so much frayed and damaged tissue. The hopes will be rekindled out of the same cloth, the same dirty laundry, that all baseball fans cheer for. The home whites with the angular font and unreliable spelling. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow. But someday, there’ll be a winner in D.C. For now, the wait is merely extended.

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Who’s Who Behind the Plate, pt. 2

Posted by dannmckeegan on August 7, 2010

…wherein the author examines the high minors of the Chicago Cubs, in particular those players whose primary position is catcher.

Welington Castillo (http://blogs.desmoinesregister.com/dmr/wp-content/uploads/2010/07/icubs.jpg)Chris RobinsonRobinson ChirinosSteve Clevenger

Beyond Geovany Soto, Koyie Hill and Welington Castillo, there are several catchers in the Cubs’ farm system that are legitimate major league prospects.  There also are those who appear to be farm fodder at this point, as opposed to real prospects at the position.  There is little to no information available on DSL players beyond basic stat lines.  I’ll provide as much depth, in brief, as possible, as well as give a quick onceover to those who no longer are Cubs system catchers.

Triple A – Iowa Cubs

Welington Castillo; Chris Robinson; Mark Johnson

I dealt with Welington Castillo a few days ago.  Read about him here.  In brief, he possesses decent power at the plate and a strong arm behind it.  His broader defensive skills are in question, while his free-swinging ways have downgraded his ceiling to a Miguel Olivo-type career, as opposed to the Ivan Rodriguez-type player the Cubs hopes they were signing back in the middle of the last decade.  Expect to see him on the MLB roster in a matter of weeks, if not days, given the minor ligament soreness Geovany Soto is experiencing and the fact that Koyie Hill is about as good a hitter as Jon Garland.

Chris Robinson, left, shakes hands with P/WR Jeff Samardzija

At twenty-six years of age, Chris Robinson is having a rough go in his second trip through the Pacific Coast League.  Debuting for the Tigers’ short-season low-A affiliate in 2005 as a third round draft pick, Robinson made his way to the Cubs’ system in the middle of the following year, the return in the trade that sent Neifi Perez to Detroit.  A right-handed hitter, Robinson doesn’t have much pop (career .359 SLG) or patience (101 BB in 1620 PA, 6.2%).  After a surprising .326 average in 331 plate appearances at Iowa in 2009, Robinson’s stock has plummeted just as far as his 2010 offensive production has.  He’s hitting only .228 with a .584 OPS in 204 PA.  Even in 2009, his best overall season as a pro, he drew just 13 bases on balls.  He also has caught only 24% of attempted base thieves since the start of the 2008 season.  However, at the start of this season, Lou Piniella and Jim Hendry kept him in camp through the final cut to reward a strong spring.  Piniella emphasized to Paul Sullivan that, at the time, Robinson looked to be the emergency call-up if either Soto or Hill were to go on the DL.  This was surprising, as both Castillo and fellow-farmhand Steve Clevenger, Robinson’s 2009 platoon partner at Iowa, had been considered more highly rated prospects.  With just three weeks remaining in the minor league regular season, Robinson would need to play just about every day to match his games played and plate appearance totals from 2009.  With the progress of those next to and behind him, that’s not likely to happen.  Robinson might remain in the system as Just Another Guy, but his chance to get a cup of coffee with the Cubs likely passed when neither Geo nor Koyie came limping out of the gate.

Out of respect for a longtime member of the Brotherhood of Backup Backstops, I’ll give a brief write-up to Mark Johnson (not pictured), a 34-year-old left-handed hitter who began his professional career in 1994 as the White Sox’ first round pick.  He’s played parts or all of 8 major league seasons and 14 minor league seasons for six different organizations (White Sox, Athletics, Brewers twice, Cubs twice, Diamondbacks and Cardinals), amassing 332 games and 1102 plate appearances in MLB and 3568 plate appearances over 933 minor league games.  For about six weeks at the start of 2010, Johnson rode Iowa’s bench, picking up one pinch hitting opportunity and playing the field in another game.  He singled, scored, struck out, had no one attempt to run on him, and found himself out of a job on May 27th.  It’s likely the end of the road for Johnson, but at least he gets to say he led his team’s position players in hitting and on base percentage in his final season.

Double A – Tennessee Smokies

Robinson Chirinos; Steve Clevenger

Robinson Chirinos

Robinson Chirinos has been in the Cubs’ farm system since he was 17 years old.  That was way back in 2001, when he was a defensively deficient and offensively raw utility infielder in the Arizona rookie league.  He played over 500 games before ever making it higher than high A Daytona.  In 2007, he split the year between the Florida State League and the Smokies, committing 9 errors in 39 games while putting up a weak .629 OPS for Tennessee.  At the urging of Cubs player personnel V.P. Oneri Fleita, Chirinos began to transition behind the plate in the 2008 season, catching 2 games in rookie ball and 18 at Daytona in addition to 55 on the infield between those teams and the Smokies.  In 2009, Chirinos caught 65 of the 81 games in which he played, primarily at Daytona, committing 6 errors, allowing 7 passed balls and throwing out 24 of 86 (28%) thieves on the bases.  He also had by far his best offensive season as a pro, throwing up a slash line of .294/.396/.519 with a career high 11 HR and, for the second straight year, having a 1:1 K/BB ratio.  Earning a spot on the Tennessee team coming into 2010, Chirinos also turned heads at Baseball America, who graded him as the Cubs’ best defensive catcher.  So far in 2010, all he’s done is start the Southern League ASG, earn multiple offensive player of the week awards, and carry a .316/.407/.578 line through the first week of August.  He’s walked 40 times to just 33 strikeouts in 307 plate appearances, as well as hit 15 home runs and 22 doubles.  He’s second on the team in total bases despite being sixth in plate appearances.  Defensively, he has 7 errors in 536 chances (.987), 5 passed balls and a 30% CS rate.  Having turned 26 two months ago, Chirinos is no spring chicken by baseball standards.  He is, however, getting close to MLB-ready.  While likely never a star and probably not a starter, he projects as a potentially strong all-around backup for a few years that might serve as solid trade-bait this coming off-season.

Steve Clevenger

Steve Clevenger’s name has fallen on this list just as far as he has on the organizational depth chart.  Late in 2009, this 24-year-old with a lefty stick was figuring out AAA pitching for the first time during 66 games played with Iowa after a torrid start early on in Tennessee.  A career .300/.360/.390 hitter in the minors, he was a seventh rounder by the Cubs back in 2006, the same draft in which the team took Jeff Samardzija and Tyler Colvin.  A singles hitter with walk and strikeout rates hovering around 10% apiece, he’s only been able to squeeze 200 plate appearances and 43 games behind the plate back at AA Tennessee.  Through no fault of his own, he was the odd man out when someone had to give way to Castillo’s promotion.  Expected to be the long side of the platoon with Chirinos, Clevenger started as slowly as Chirinos was hot and has been playing catch-up ever since.  He’s at .277/.319/.351, numbers more similar to his first trip through the Southern League in 2008 than the .364 average and .976 OPS he put up in the first month down there in 2009.  Clevenger’s first season with the Cubs saw him at the keystone is short season low-A at Boise, but he hasn’t played an inning there since.  In addition to those 63 games at second, he played first in 82 games between 2007 and 2009 while catching just under 200 to date, catching 29% of runners while allowing just 14 passed balls and 15 errors as a catcher.  Given what we know about the careers of Paul Bako, Brian Schneider, and Gregg Zaun, a catcher with even the potential to hit over .200 from the left side will be given every chance and then some to make it.  Expect Clevenger to stick around the system, a la Koyie Hill, for at least a year or two more.

Prognosis

Chris Robinson, most likely, is near the end of his tenure in the upper minors.  The Cubs are hardly a top-5 system, but they do have solid players who have excelled at lower levels.  Room has to be cleared, and that generally means that age gets the boot.  While he is the same age as Chirinos and has been a pro for a shorter period of time, Chirinos’ recent positional transition and rapid development – along with his improving offense and respectable slugging – should make Chirinos Iowa’s starter or someone else’s farmhand come next Februrary.  It’s hard to imagine that Welington Castillo will be anywhere other than Alfonso Soriano‘s sofa in the coming weeks (sorry, Starlin – time to get your own place).  Clevenger likely will be shuffled back up to Triple A Iowa.  There are some intriguing options at catcher in the low minors.  Michael Brenly, Jovan Rosa, Luis Flores, Jonathan Mota and others might be ready to move up one or more steps, with their Augusts, winter ball stints, and spring training performance (if applicable) will determine what the upper minors look like.  Count on Castillo to back up Soto unless he looks absolutely feeble and over-matched as 2010 comes to a close.

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