10 December 2011

Tempest in a Teapot: Teagarden and Eveland

The one thing the Orioles' fan base has is hope.  Hope that with intelligent moves and a slight increase in spending, the Orioles could compete in the American League East.  There is certainly a good core of players in Baltimore with Nick Markakis, Adam Jones, J.J. Hardy, and Matt Wieters.  However, most successful teams win with several players who maximize production...otherwise known as superstars.  Of those four, Matt Wieters is the only one who you could make that argument.  Markakis needs to walk more, Jones needs to get more contact, and Hardy needs to stay healthy.  This is not a combination of guys like Kevin Youkilis, Adrian Gonzalez, Dustrin Pedroia, and Jacoby Elsbury.  It is not a combination of guys like CC Sabathia, Robinson Cano, Mark Teixiera, and the rest in New York.  Nor is it like David Price, James Shields, Evan Longoria, and Ben Zobrist.  The Orioles need some complementary pieces and it wouldn't hurt if a couple of them were superstar quality players.

One avenue to get that type of player is free agency.  Premier players are becoming more and more a rarity on the free agent market.  The Orioles are a middle market team (perhaps barely small market).  Teams like the Yankees pull in about 180 MM in profit from their regional network.  The Angels just signed a deal with their yearly income being at least 100 MM.  From what we know about Baltimore, the base pay is about 30 MM and we do not know how much gets thrown on top of that.  The revenue of MASN as a whole is about 170 MM.  The point simply being that when the higher revenue teams want someone like Albert Pujols, the Orioles simply cannot compete with them.  Teams with higher revenue streams will be willing to hand out inflated deals because they have a greater margin of safety with which to play.  Think about AJ Burnett.  Some of the fan base was upset that the Orioles did not outbid the Yankees and AJ Burnett has shown that he is clearly not an elite pitcher.  He consists of about eight percent of the Yankees payroll.  For the Orioles it would be more like twenty percent of the payroll.  There is just no good reason to leverage your team to that degree.  I am not saying that a team should never invest twenty percent of their payroll in a player, I am saying that when two teams go after the same player that the richer team will force an inflation of cost where it becomes untenable for the lower revenue team to invest in that player.

This leaves trades as a more suitable option for a lower revenue team.  Unfortunately, the Orioles do not have a great abundance of minor league talent.  The team should not let go of their top three: Manny Machado, Dylan Bundy (who really cannot be practically traded until this summer), and Jonathan Schoop.  Beyond those three are a short collection of players who have a solid, but not elite ceiling.  The value drops away rapidly after that.  It is not a strong footing to deal from.

Two deals have been made.  Neither of them are for superstars.  They are minor deals and ones that the baseball world in general has not paid much attention.  This was to be expected as many of the local Baltimore reporters mentioned that trades were going to happen and that no one should get too excited.  The aftermath of these trades illustrates a few things: (1) fan bases pay attention to prospects these days, (2) fan bases understand the abstract value of prospects, and (3) fan bases significantly overvalue their prospects.  If you go back twenty years, these deals would have been met with a decent amount of fanfare.  Taylor Teagarden was a top prospect and Dana Eveland ate people up in the minors earlier in his career and threw a one hitter against the Orioles a couple years back.  I want to dive a little more into the two deals.

Taylor Teagarden (C) for Randy Henry (RHRP) and Greg Miclat (INF)

This is not a very interesting trade.  The Orioles acquired a defense oriented back up catcher with some pop (not much else).  He displays good technique behind the plate which makes his above average arm play better.  He is a strong pull hitter who waits for his pitches when he is at the plate.  Based on the Pitch F/X numbers, it appears that he tries to sit back on fastballs and change ups.  s back up catchers go, he is a solid one.  It  has been reported that Buck Showalter wanted Teagarden, which leaves one hoping that Buck realizes that Teagarden's ceiling is not what it was thought to be when Buck was in Texas.

Randy Henry has been a pitcher that has been brought along slowly in the Orioles system.  He was one of the injury upside selections in the 2009 draft.  He has a plus fastball and throws strikes with it.  It is a pitch that works in the low minors, but his limited repertoire will prove to be a challenge as he advances through the minors.  I had him about 30 deep in my list and the last list I saw from Nick had him outside of his top 25.  For me to have him rated higher, I would have to see him locate his fastball better and, more importantly, develop his breaking ball.

Greg Miclat was taken the year before in the 2008 draft out of Virginia.  He was a slap hitter that had a wrist injury.  The hope was that with a change in mechanics and getting healthy would allow Miclat to show more gap power.  The power never truly arrived and at 24 he will likely make his debut in AAA.  He has shown the ability to handle second base and can fill in elsewhere in a pinch.  He shows good base running instincts.  I had him as the Orioles' 9th prospect and, according to my last conversation with Nick, he had Miclat in the 12-15 range.  We both saw him as a future utility infielder who would have several years in the Majors on the bench.

The argument against this trade is that you can go out and sign a back up catcher and then you do not have to give up prospects.  Some focus on Henry's ceiling as a late inning fireball reliever or Miclat's ceiling of being an average second baseman.  It is ignored how unlikely it is that either event will occur.  Henry lacks pitches and needs to improvement his placement.  That just does not automatically happen.  Miclat's lack of power and lack of top end speed typically means that it is difficult for a player like that to succeed against more advanced pitchers found in the Majors.  Teagarden provides the team with a solid defensive catcher with some power.  Those are not found littered upon the ground.  The value of that profile is not great, but it certainly is not easy to find.  To put it another way, Teagarden has 392 plate appearances and a career WAR of 1.7.  Guys like that pretend they are starters and typically do not sign to catch behind a player like Matt Wieters.  They typically sign where they can start and then show why they have never started extensively over their career.

Dana Eveland (LHSP) for Jarret Martin (LHP) and Tyler Henson (OF)

Dana Eveland has been given lots of chances.  Milwaukee, Arizona, Oakland, Toronto, Pittsburgh, and the Dodgers have all had him in their organizations.  He is a lefty that shows promise with a somewhat sterling minor league record and a MLB career with moments where it looked like everything clicked.  Last summer, Eveland threw 154 innings for the Albuquerque Isotopes with a 4.38 ERA that looks better when it is recognized that the league average ERA was 5.11.  In a handful of innings for the Dodgers (29.2), Eveland struck few, walked fewer, and induced grounders at a rate of 55%.  His xFIP in that stint was 3.60.  I would be hard pressed to say he can do that in 2012 because he just does not have the track record and that he was acquired for not much in return.

Jarret Martin was a 2008 19th round selection and a 2009 18th round selection by the Orioles.  During to injuries, he was not able to entire professional ball until 2010 with 59.2 IP in Bluefield.  He had 110.2 IP for Delmarva last year with a 4.96 ERA (league average was 4.11).  He sports a low 90s fastball and has some touch for a curve and change.  His mechanics need help as he tends to throw across his body which is a major reason why his walk totals are so high.  Neither Nick or myself had him as a top 20 prospect.

Tyler Henson was a 5th round selection in the 2006 draft.  Next year if he is not placed on the Dodgers' 40 man roster, he will be a MiL free agent.  This should be informative with respect to his value.  Henson came into the organization as an athletic player with good power upside.  However, he has not been able to generate a high enough contact rate and he did not show himself to be adept in the infield.  In the history of Camden Depot, we have written about him once.  He is still young at 24 going into next year...I just do not see a great improvement happening.  Henson will provide good AAA filler for several more years and may even see a cup of coffee or two.  I have a hard time seeing anything more than that.

The argument against this trade is that you can Minor League invite players like Eveland as he was invited to the Dodgers' camp last year.  As with the former deal discussed, the argument is really about signing these abstract nebulous players that exist everywhere instead of dealing out lower level prospects.  Some people love Martin's look and that he has the foundation for a good repertoire.  There is just a lot for him to overcome.  It just does not happen.  I have not heard anyone lament Henson's movement, so I think people understand his worth.  So why Eveland and not player X?  Orioles' scouts apparently like him as many teams' scouts have before.  He has been a part of three deals where decent pieces have moved.  Maybe the Orioles' scouts think Eveland has finally put it together and has a higher upside than your typical minor league invite opportunities.  The point being, if he is your guy and you do not have to give up much value to get him, then get him.


Teagarden and Eveland are not big pieces.  They are not going to change the direction of this franchise.  They are not star players.  They are additional pieces likely to be worth less than two wins for the team in 2012.  Eveland may not even make the club.  For a team that will struggle to reach .500, these are inconsequential moves.  However, young pitchers benefit from good defensive catchers and rotations always need arm for innings.  That are useful pieces, but not particularly valuable.

Henry, Miclat, Martin, and Henson are not big pieces.  None of them have superstar ceilings.  Their presence in the organization does not change the future of this organization.  Players like them are needed in every organization, but these players specifically are not needed.  Does that make sense?  A C level or lower prospect alone has little value, but your organization should have a bunch of C level prospects.  Likewise, one lottery ticket is near worthless while ten lottery tickets have value.  It is an odds game.  What differs between lottery tickets and players is that it is possible to differentiate value between players.  They are not the same.  The key here is that the organization needs to trust its scouts in determining that these four players are not likely to provide any meaningful production for the Orioles.  That holding onto them will do little to improve the standing of the team.

That level of sensitivity...the ability to discern between quality C level prospects and non-quality C level prospects is difficult.  People get paid to do that and spend years and years getting better and better.  That is not to say that they are always right, but it should give us all pause when we decide whether or not to so completely and aggressively dismiss any merit to the two above trades.  How much do we actually know?  How comfortable do we feel extrapolating beyond what we know?

Personally, I find the trades to be somewhat pointless.  I do not really appreciate what they both have to offer.  I would prefer John Hester backing up Wieters and keeping both Henry and Miclat.  I am not particularly impressed with Eveland and find it rare that players all of a sudden break out.  That said, the value being exchanged here between these teams is minimal.  I may disagree with the deals, but it is not worth making much fuss over.

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