11 July 2011

Cups of jO's: MacPhail on O's International Spending (Part I of II)

Enjoy it.  Today is the beginning of our three day respite from the tiresome burden this season has become.  There have been some interesting developments this season:
  • Matt Wieters has become a full fledged, accredited All Star (and primarily for his defense)
  • J.J. Hardy has said everything and done everything right in wanting to become a well paid Oriole
  • Adam Jones has established himself as a worthy center fielder (who might be better off playing left field)
  • Mark Reynolds has displayed an amazing amount of plus power over the past six weeks.
  • The bullpen has a tight core of Uehara, Johnson, and Gregg
  • The Orioles arguably drafted the best arm in the 2011 draft and the guy has Oriole roots.
Read those again.  They are six good things that have happened for this team.  You cannot ignore them.  Not only are they six good things.  They are six things that should benefit the team next year as well.  Hardy is the only one who might benefit the team in whatever free agent compensation becomes.  Remember . . . good things have happened.


Of Interest...

Steve Melewski asks some pertinent questions of Andy MacPhail in a part I  of a two part interview today.  The focus is on the Orioles' approach to international free agency.  Steve does a good job reporting what MacPhail says, but does zero commenting.  I'll provide the commenting.

  • MacPhail states he is unwilling to dedicate 4 or 5MM to prospects who have never play competitive games.  He says that the efforts they have put forth have resulted in solid upswings of velocity for international players they have signed who are playing in the Dominican Summer League and in the Gulf Coast League.
MacPhail is putting forward the message that international talent is pretty much a crapshoot.  That a player who can sign a 4MM bonus is not worth that amount because we have no idea what he will become.  I do not agree with this.  Fellow talent evaluators are determining these amateurs are good enough to compete with each other and drive the price to those levels.  These fellow talent evaluators come from Ivy League front offices ranging to the very rich (e.g. Yankees, Red Sox) to the not so very rich (e.g. Athletics).  That these teams of varying backgrounds and high analytical effort are into a talent source has to tell you that these amateur talents are likely worth that much money.  To me, insisting on this perspective seems incredibly aloof.  It makes me wonder whether he believes this or that he is refraining from a secondary issue that makes them decide against spending money for high profile talent.

Second, you do have to recognize that there is a growing international presence in the Orioles lower minor league system.  However, we have to remember sample size.  Jonathan Schoop is a name most Oriole fans have become familiar with and hopefully many watched him last night in the MLB Futures game.  Another name in GCL that everyone should write a mental note on is Eduardo Rodriguez.  I have received several positive reviews on him.  Solid 18yo lefty with a good breaking ball and a 90mph fastball with movement.  Beyond that it is difficult to know what is there long term.  When money is spent on the Garrett Atkins and Vladimir Guerreros, but not on the Miguel Sanos, you know there is misevaluation in the organization.  Think about it like this.  What is worth more?  A 3 MM investment on a commodity that might return MLB value for six years at a low cost or spending 5-8 MM for a declining player in hopes the team can reach .500 ball?
  • MacPhail says it makes no sense to spend big money on amateurs who only work out and not play games.
What I found interesting here and the way I read it is that the team is recognizing that the best players are not playing in the Dominican Prospect League.  I agree with that.  Furthermore, this shows that MacPhail acknowledges that the best prospects are indeed getting the big money.  It reads somewhat contradictory.  Although he may not have felt like mentioning it, it seems that the DPL is still a low priority for the team.  It is interesting for a team to say they want to see guys play in games and then goes and largely ignores the only organized league in the country.
  • MacPhail mentions the team was about 17th in spending for amateur talent last year.
This was a slightly confusing statement.  This has to mean 17th in spending when adding together the rule 4 draft and international free agency.  They are around 25th in spending for international free agency.
  • MacPhail thinks Melewski should do an analysis on how many big money IFAs wind up becoming solid prospects.  MacPhail must be unaware that Melewski does not do analysis.
A couple things that are kind of amusing here. (1) The Orioles have done a study on this!  Why is MacPhail saying they have not done one?  Matt Klentak specifically stated they did this.  They hired an outside consultant and did the study.  They found the IFA market was not as cost efficient as the rule 4 draft. (2) The rate for high cost prospects is about 30-40%, which is higher than multi-year declining veterans outperforming their preceding three year average.

There is not to like in MacPhail's answer there.  He cannot be truly unaware of the study because that front office is knit tight from every indication.  Why would he explicitly say he did not do a study, but others should do it?  No idea.  That said, teams who like to do studies (e.g. Blue Jays, Rays, Red Sox, Athletics) are spending freely on talent south of the Great 48.


Anonymous said...

Ugh you're totally right with every thing you say in this article. How can Macphail justify spending 14 million dollars on Michael Gonzalez for two years while he sits back and lets quality international free agents like Chapman, Darvish, Sano and countless others just slip away. I mean, for the money that was spent on Gonzalez and Atkins they could have built two top quality international facilities in countries like, Venezuela, Dominican Republic and Japan. Hell they got Simon out of the Mexican league even that would be a step in the right direction...


VPutin said...

Excellent reporting..you got the facts right!!!!!!!

Bret said...

The first 6 things you mentioned are not exactly jump for joy type things.

1. He is a good player but still not the hitter advertised. Look at his OPS, over the last 3 years, is he really becoming a better hitter (wOBA .330,.303,.323)? If so show me how. His K's have gone done a bit but so has his walk rate from last season and his power isn't what was sold.

2. Good player, no reason to be paying him 10 mill next year when the team is in a complete rebuild (which needs to take place).

3. Not really developing. Plate discipline is no better (worse than 2009), numbers are really the same as last year and 2009 (wOBA .343,.333,.344). I would try to move him while his value is high and he isn't egregiously expensive.

4. Defense is awful and he isn't exactly cheap over the next two years. He is the only guy on the team who walks and has power though so I won't rip on him too much.

5. First two yes, last one no and all should be traded in the right deal.

6. They took the best player, can't fault them but I can't get excited until he actually signs which seems like a big if at the moment.

This is the Titanic at the moment, hard to spin it otherwise.

Go To War Miss Agnes said...

Really enjoyed this, especially the parallels you draw to irresponsible free agent signings. That's the real problem I have. It would be one thing to say, "Our analysis shows investment in IFAs does not produce the same ROI as investment in the Rule 4 draft." Fine. Still don't agree with it because the rule 4 draft offers a much more limited supply, but I get it.

But how you can say this on one hand and then turn around and blow money on Garrett Atkins, who any idiot who has taken both high school math and can use google to find his B-R page can tell was rapidly declining as a 3B in Colorad (much less a 1B in the AL East, or a borderline replacement player in Kevin Gregg, or an aging, superfluous DH in Vladimir Guerrero is really beyond me. And then of course we have the Gonzalez debacle, where we not only wasted big $$ on a reliever but also sacrificed one of those supposed-to-be-valuable draft picks.

If you want to tell me, "we have limited resources and want to spend them in ways to make sure we get the best possible return," I can live with that. But that's not what's going on here. We're talking about roughly $20 million a year over the last two years that has been thrown at guys who EVERYONE acknowledges are nothing but stop-gap guys in the best case scenario! Not even MacPhail would possibly contend that Atkins, Gonzalez, Gregg, Lee, Guerrero, or Accardo were pieces of the future. So why would a rebuilding team waste all that money on stopgaps as opposed to investing for the future? It just doesn't make sense.

One final point: the fact that IFAs might not get you the same return as Rule 4 picks is not evidence that you should simply not sign them. It's probably evidence that you should wade more carefully and allocate a smaller percentage of your budget in the market, but it doesn't mean that you should ignore them altogether. Any decent investor would tell you that you always diversify your portfolio. You invest more heavily in areas where you think you're getting the greatest balance of risk and reward, but you still have your hands in multiple pots.

I've mostly defended MacPhail over the last few years, but this infuriating juxtaposition of no investment in the international market with throwing money at stopgaps (relievers especially) is by far the least defensible aspect of his tenure.

Jon Shepherd said...

Bret-My point here is that in this moment where many fans are throwing themselves off bridges, there is a silver lining. That lining, like any silver lining, is a thin margin. I am not saying that this is something for us to be dancing the streets and thrilled beyond belief and my writing is certainly characterized by a more wholistic perspective. That said, as bad as things are, there are good things that have happened. This is not the band playing while the Titantic sinks. It is the quarter-filled life boats moving away from the ship.

Agnes-Nicely put.

VPutin-Thanks Comrade.