Sunday, December 19, 2004

An Articulation of the Big Trade

How we conceive of a trade involving numerous components largely depends on how we articulate it. If this trade is "our top reliever, starter, and hitter, plus another starter, for one starter and two scrubs," it obviously doesn't look very good. Let me articulate it in a way that makes sense to me.

Transaction #1: Dodgers trade Brad Penny for Javier Vazquez and $4.5 million.

This part doesn't look bad. Penny is the bigger injury concern, for one. Vazquez has a longer track record, and he's been a much better pitcher - his numbers from 2000-2003 are much better than Penny's from 2001-2004, and his best season was much better than Penny's. Penny is coming off of a better season and is two years younger. However, there's reason to believe that Vazquez simply suffered from a lack of good instruction in the scond half, and that this would be corrected with Los Angeles. This draws the Jeff Weaver comparison, with the caveat that Vazquez' potential is much higher than Weaver's. Vazquez is a fly ball power pitcher, and if the Dodgers do indeed sign J.D. Drew they would have excellent defenders in all three outfield positions, whereas the Yankees had pretty terrible outfield defense last season. That combined with the league differences mean that if Vazquez repeats his pre all-star break performance from last season his ERA should be under 3.00. Additionally, Penny's career high in innings pitched was 205 in 2001, and he's only had one other season with more than 143 IP; Vazquez threw 217.2 or more innings in each season from 2000 to 2003, and was on pace to continue that streak before his disastrous second half in 2004.

From a money standpoint, this isn't a victory, with Penny likely to earn about $6 million this season. If Penny is good in 2005, then the D'Backs will get two seasons of Penny for about $13-15 million while the Dodgers get three seasons of Vazquez for $34.5 million minus the $4.5 million, so the average annual value is only $2-3 million or so higher and the Dodgers get an extra year.

Transaction #2: The Dodgers trade Yhency Brazoban and Brandon Weeden for Mike Koplove and Dioner Navarro.

In terms of the two relievers, as I wrote yesterday there's not a very big difference and the Dodgers might even come out ahead. They do give up the chance of Brazoban's much higher peak, but that's easily swamped by the difference between the two semi-failed 20-year old prospects. Weeden hasn't been able to keep his walk rate low enough to project well, and he spent his age 20 season in low-A. Navarro spent his age-20 season in AA and AAA, and while he didn't hit the ball very hard last season he still has good plate discipline (a K:BB ratio of only 1.3 last season despite being very young for his competition) and could easily regain the line drive ability of his 2003 season. Given that Navarro plays a premium defensive position, this is a major victory from a prospect standpoint.

The Dodgers lose out on six years of Brazoban for three years of Koplove, and Koplove will probably earn $3-5 million over the next three seasons in arbitration. Given that relievers are easier to replace than any other position, the Navarro grab makes this a solid win in my book.

Transaction #3: The Dodgers trade Shawn Green and $2.5 million for Eric Duncan.

A salary dump for a very good prospect. The Dodgers lose a year of Green and gain $13.5 million. However, that's probably more than enough to obtain J.D. Drew, who will almost certainly be more productive per plate appearance, and is far and away the better defender. Drew's injury history makes this a more even proposition, but the fact that the Dodgers also get Drew on hand for several years under this scenario makes it a likely win, even before considering Eric Duncan. Duncan, as I said yesterday, was #18 among all hitting prospects in 2004 according to the future DT's. He draws a good amount of walks, and his doubles power at age 19 suggests his home run power will soon develop. He has to work on his strike-outs, but he's not really behind the curve in that department. Overall, this looks like a win.

Transaction #4: The Dodgers release Kaz Ishii, paying off the rest of his contract.

Here's where the Dodgers take the biggest hit. Unable to unload the disappointing lefty - whose pitch count splits and platoon splits buth suggest he'd be pretty useless as a lefty out of the bullpen and who is not sustantially different from replacement level as a starter - the Dodgers eat his contract to make room on the 25-man roster. Certainly not a win, but not a big loss either.

Overall, if Drew really is next to come, the Dodgers upgrade rigth field and a spot in the rotation talent-wise while trading the injury concern from the rotation to right field. They unload a pitcher who's pretty useless. They don't appreciably downgrade the bullpen in the short term and acquire two very good prospects. The moves increase their 2005 payroll by a factor of (Drew's salary - $8-10 million), depending on how much Koplove and Penny make in arbitration. For 2006 and 2007, they increase the payroll by $21.8 million plus Drew's salary minus the amount they'd end up paying Penny in arbitration for 2006, and in exchange they get two seasons each of Vazquez and Drew instead of one season of Penny.

Then again, the potential Drew signing could be completely mucked, so who knows?

I know I perhaps look like a major Paul DePodesta apologist, somehow desperately seeking to justify his actions. I'm not. The simple fact is that my analytic paradigm is probably similar to his and within that paradigm he seems to be making pretty good decisions, and expecting the ideal is unrealistic.

I think the Drew thing is just Boras trying to extract more from the Tigers. I can't see Depo putting out a four or five year at 10 Mill a year for Drew. He has his value but is such an injury risk, probably uninsurable, that I think it is just a smoke screen. Icaros and I argued about this over at Dodger thoughts and he thinks he's worth the gamble but does Depo? I don't think so.
I'm not as big a fan of Vazquez as you are. His drop in dominance was so large last year from his normal rate and his rise in home rate look to me more like a pitcher with a bad arm then one who just needs a new environment. That is a lot of money for a pitcher who's K rate dropped off the cliff and he's slagged many an innning on that young arm.
Add to the fact that we can't even sign Colborn and we don't even know who our young pitchers are going to be getting instruction from.
Tom M.
Intriguing stuff. I enjoyed it.
Let me, as an old guy who appreciates the insights of the James Gang and their heirs (but who sees the heirs ignoring old admonitions to go cautiously and humbly when applying them, and not ask them to do things they were not designed to do) share my reservations, and
a flesh-and-blood observation or two.
Vazquez (of whom I am not and never have been as great a fan as most folks) is who his numbers say he is for you, until, OOPS, the numbers in the second half of 2004 do not meet your assumptions/expectations - and then they are suspect, apparently no longer generated by the same guy, but by some uncited operation outside him: "poor instruction." Get him away from "poor instruction" and he will surely go back to giving you the numbers that allow you to sail untroubled thru your presentation. Sorta/kinda unpersuasive...
About Vazquez having superior seasons before this last
(and I'm not tryin' to be cute here - it's the heart of the matter, as these old eyes see it - Paul and Co.
have a tendency to be so enchanted with their narrow insights about certain trees, their command and control of imaginatively organized tree-data, that, if they ever had a vision of the forest, and the brain-maps to appreciate its subtlety and overwhelming complexity, it gets lost.) To whit, Brad Penny, in 2003, had the best year a starting pitcher can have -
as he was a critical contributor, regular and post season, on the way to the World Championship!!!!!
I don't give a pale patootie what Vazquez' numbers or
statistical profile suggest he was achieving with the Expos. One of the things Paulie and Co. have a tendency to miss is that there are really two leagues
operating in any season - and the Expos were operating in the lesser one. My Yankee-fan friends, like their obnoxious owner, were determined to see Vazquez (even with added contemporary tools) in fairly narrow ways.
I had actually seen him on rare occasions when a game involving the 'Spos had some inherent drama, and my own take, confirmed on a half-dozen separate occasions over the time-span you chose, told me there was at least a sixty- and possibly as high as an eighty-percent chance he would do exactly what he did in the second half and the playoffs, relative quality of instruction notwithstanding. A healthy Penny (and
as a GM I wouldn't have traded for him - too many red flags about his arm and body) is a far superior addition to a staff - because he has a body of work in the Higher League. Been there, done that - hard history which no collection of data, however dazzling, can substitute for in the ARTFUL world (not crafty, not technical, ARTFUL) of assembling a competitive
roster to play in the Higher League.
I'm amazed and impressed by what Billy Beane has done in Oakland, even a little more in the last couple of weeks. Nothing he doesn't know about the body of the game, and much of its mind. But I begin to sense in his protege' (on admittedly limited data - that's why I say "begin") the same lack I sense in Billy, a lack that may prove fatal to championship aspirations: he
lacks the natal gifts that would let him understand the essential "soul" of the thing...
It's late; I'm old and tired; I hope I wasn't too incoherent. Let me re-iterate that I genuinely enjoyed, and, what's more, learned from your analysis....sanity claus
Interesting. How does this "two league" theory work, exactly? Are there specific teams that make up each league, like the Royals are always in the lower league (Let's call it league Number Two. You know, like the bodily function.) and the Yankees are always in the higher league? I imagine the Marlins have jumped from league to league at least two times. What league is Oakland in?

Tom, I can't read enough of your stuff. I'm glad you were born. I hope you'll do some type of 25-man roster evaluation/prediction in the Spring.

Keep it up. Don't have much to ad. Keep up the good job putting dodgerthoughts posters who get a bit too emotional (myself included) in their places with good logical analysis.

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