14 February 2012

Jorge Arangure Jr. on the Orioles' International Effort

A little less than a year ago I read an article Jorge Arangure, Jr. wrote on Andres Reiner and his role in helping the Tampa Bay Rays establish themselves in Brazil.  What struck me most about the article was this passage:
Even harder to believe is that the Rays have so far spent zero dollars on the construction of the academy [in Brazil near San Paulo].  The 2.5MM project has been subsidized by both federal and local funds.  Tampa Bay's only financial commitment is for the upkeep of the academy, which could be anywhere from 500k to 1MM per year, for the next five years.  Tampa Bay won't even have to spend a dime on players' medical care since all Brazilians are covered through the country's universal health care system.
I do not believe the Orioles have established an academy in any country other than the Dominican Republic.

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In light of Dan Duquette's effort in acquiring international talent, I decided to ask a few writers, well-versed in these areas, to share some of their thoughts.  Yesterday, I posted an interview with Yoo Jee-ho on the recent troubles experienced by the Orioles when they signed an amateur without informing Korea's amateur governing body, the Korean Baseball Association.

Today, we have the writer mentioned in the short excerpt above, Jorge Arangure, Jr.  He currently is on ESPN's international soccer coverage, but was on the international baseball circuit before then and still dabbles on that subject.  Those with with a steel trap for a memory will recognize him as a former baseball writer for the Washington Post covering the Orioles.

Jon Shepherd: What do the Orioles need to do to make it have a dependable international presence and how long does it realistically take to accomplish that?

Jorge Arangure Jr.: For one, they need to have consistent leadership in that area. For a few years now, they've shuffled around several people with little success. The Fred Ferreira hire probably solves that problem, but you have to wonder whether Ferreira is so far removed from the current Latin American scene that it ends up hurting the team's efforts rather than helping them. A lot has changed in how players are signed in Latin America since the days when Ferreira first stepped foot on the island.

One thing you can't do is simply spend to make the proverbial "statement." I don't think that really works. Several teams have done it and not accomplished anything out of it. What I'd do is increase the team's scouting presence in the DR. For a while, the Orioles have relied on the same group of scouts in the area. That has to change.

I still have my doubts as to whether Peter Angelos really believes in that market. The Orioles have never signed a high-profile, big-name international player. I'm just not sure Angelos likes the risk that comes with that market.

JS: Andres Reiner provided the acclaimed model for acquiring talent out of an emerging market by establishing an academy in Venezuela for the Astros.  Upon leaving the Astros, he set the foundation of a similar plan for the Rays to find useful players in Brazil.  So far, the Orioles appear to be taking a different path by holding try outs and plucking players who perform well.  For a team that is not incredibly cash flush, which approach makes more sense for them?

JA: Well I'd argue with the point that the Orioles aren't flush with cash. I think they are a pretty good revenue team. They simply choose not to spend it in the Latin America area. Having said that, I believe the Orioles have enough money to try both methods. I'd say the Rays vision for Brazil is highly ambitious. It takes a very organized team to pull it off. Everything we know suggests the Rays are that type of team. Everything we know about the Orioles suggests they are not.

JS: The Orioles have been involved in a fiasco by signing a Korean high school player without notifying the country's ruling body.  Why do you think this event has caused more of an uproar than when the Red Sox signed Junichi Tazawa from NPB?

JA: Most importantly, you're talking about two different countries. Tazawa is Japanese, so that's an entirely different baseball federation. The problem is that the Orioles either (a.) Didn't know the rules in Korea, which is troubling in itself because it could suggest that Duquette and the older scouts he's hired will have some catching up to do in regards to learning the regulations of each country, which could essentially back track their hunt for international talent; or (b.) they knowingly broke the rules, which of course is troublesome for all other sorts of reasons.

The Red Sox asked for and received permission from the Japanese baseball federation to sign Tazawa after he had graduated. Not only did the Orioles not ask permission, they also signed a player who had not yet graduated from high school, which is a big misstep.

JS: Do you think the prospects and their families potentially think poorly of the Orioles organization, limiting opportunities for the team to acquire talent in the future?  Have there been comparable events that happened in Latin America?

JA: I'm not sure this fiasco really hurts the Orioles in the eyes of the players themselves, but it makes them targets in the eyes of the baseball federations. The positive for the Orioles is that this type of system really only exists in Asia. Teams don't have to deal with baseball federations in Latin America.

JS: Based on your knowledge, who is doing the best job attracting and developing international talent?  What is this team doing that is so special and remarkable?

JA: I'd say the Rangers are probably at the top of the list. No team spends as much money as they do. But not only are they financially committed to Latin America, they also have the most manpower in the area. It's rare when I make a trip to Latin America and don't see a Rangers scout at a workout. It's rare when I'm in Latin America and I don't see one of their top execs there. They spend the money, but they do so after having done the work.

13 February 2012

An Interview with Yoo Jee-ho About the Orioles and South Korea

Sajik Stadium in Busan
If you have been following the Orioles' signing Kim Seong-Min and that signings' aftermath, you know the name of Yoo Jee-ho.  He has been reporting for Yonhap News Agency on how the Korean Baseball Organization (KBO), the governing body of two professional leagues in South Korea, and the Korean Baseball Association, the governing body of amateur baseball in South Korea, have reacted to the Orioles not abiding to the agreement in place for MLB teams to sign amateur talent.

Jon Shepherd: How much of a presence does Major League Baseball have in South Korea?

Yoo Jee-ho: A few teams have been sending scouts to Korean high school and college (or university as we’d like to call it here) tournaments in recent years. Some are based in Korea or others may be stationed somewhere in Asia and travel here for some big tournaments. More young players have signed with big league clubs in the last two, three years than in the past (almost a dozen since 2009).
As far as helping KBO developing baseball programs, I am not aware of any MLB involvement in that regard. I personally don’t see it as something MLB absolutely has to do here. But critics of MLB teams’ signing young Korean prospects may feel differently.

JS: Are certain teams viewed more favorably than others by players and families?

YJ: I am not sure if any one particular team is more favored than others by players and parents. But I’d imagine it’s probably the same with kids in other countries dreaming of playing in the majors.  They would all want to play for the Yankees, Red Sox, Dodgers, or other storied ball clubs. Would young players take less money to play for, say, the Yankees, rather than for the Pirates? I doubt it, and it’s not just the money. I think these players will take any opportunity that they can get to join a major league team and have a chance to play in the big leagues someday. 

JS: Can you briefly explain what has transpired between KBO, KBA, and the Baltimore Orioles?

YJ: It really is a long story and I will try to make it short. 

The Orioles signed Kim Seong-min to a minor league deal in January. The KBO, which runs the top baseball league here, claimed that the O’s didn’t go through the “status check” as detailed under the KBO-MLB player contract agreement. An MLB team interested in a Korean amateur or pro must, through MLB commissioner’s office, “check” that player’s status and availability with the KBO.
 
If I may digress a bit and delve a little deeper into this, MLB teams, following the status check, must receive KBO’s approval to sign an active professional player here. But they can sign amateur players as long as they go through the status check. And even KBO officials say status checks are just a formality.  With pros, KBO can say, “Nope, you can’t talk to this guy because he’s under contract and his current team doesn’t want to let him go.” But with amateurs, the most KBO can tell an interested MLB club is, “He will be eligible for the KBO draft next year. We hope you don’t engage this player.” But that doesn’t prevent the MLB team from signing him.  Against this backdrop, the KBO now wants to tweak the agreement to ban MLB clubs from signing amateur players at all.
 
Back to the situation. The KBA, which is the local baseball governing body, has suspended Kim indefinitely from playing or coaching in Korea, and that was in accordance with a local rule. Underclassmen (student-athletes not currently in the final year of their study, at high school or college) must not contact domestic or foreign professional teams. In Korea, a new school year starts in March. Kim was just about to enter his senior year in high school.

The KBA also banned Orioles’ scouts from attending KBA-sanctioned games, such as national high school and college tournaments. It has also warned that other MLB teams that fail to take proper steps in their dealing with prospects will have their scouts banned from Korean games.
I think this will definitely affect MLB’s relationship with KBO and with Korea as a whole. Other teams must have taken notice of this development. KBO and KBA obviously have their own interests, but I think they have taken steps that will likely be seen as being too restrictive.

JS: In your opinion, what changes to the existing agreement between KBO and MLB would be best for the development of baseball as a professional sport in South Korea?

YJ: I don’t think banning MLB teams from signing Korean amateurs is the answer. MLB wouldn’t agree to this sort of change anyway.
 
Here’s the one change that I think may work.  When a player is drafted by a KBO team out of high school, the player has a one-month window to choose between going to college or signing with the KBO team. In my opinion, you can allow MLB teams to engage and possibly sign such players after that one-month period ends. Tampering will have to be prohibited, of course.  KBO teams will reserve the priority to negotiate and sign such players. So MLB teams will be looking at either a KBO rookie or a college freshman to sign.

It’d be easy for big league clubs to lure top talent by coming in with loads of cash, right? Not so fast. Not every teenage player will want to go overseas to play for different reasons (fear of culture shock, language problems, simply wanting to stay home close to family, etc). Plus, top young guns get six figures in signing bonus from KBO teams and MLB teams may or may not want to match that to take them.  In other words, if the money is right and they’d rather stay home, more Korean players than you’d think will choose to stay with the KBO.

This bit of change will mean a limited window for MLB teams to sign. But I think it will work both ways because a) young players, having already been drafted, will have a KBO team to fall back on if talks with MLB teams don’t go well and b) MLB teams will have a better idea of how much they want to pay players given their draft position (i.e. Should we pay this kid $500,000 when he was only drafted 10th overall in Korea? Should we spend that money on some other prospect from elsewhere?)

JS: There has been some debate in the United States as to how good of a player Kim Seong-Min is. Do you have any information on his abilities? 

YJ: He had an excellent 2011. Kim pitched 74 2/3 innings in 21 games, won eight games, and posted an ERA of 1.39. In August, at a national high school tournament, Kim went 3-0 with a zero ERA and 19 Ks in 22 innings to win the MVP.
 
Kim was considered the top lefty in high schools over here and since he had another high school season ahead of him (before the Baltimore deal), local scouts felt that Kim could improve even more and eventually become a first-round draft choice in the KBO.  His fastball tops out at about 89-90 miles per hour, and he also throws above-average changeup and curve. Obviously not overpowering, but he’s got decent command. Any left-hander with his upside and stuff is a valued commodity here, but I myself was surprised to see him snatched up by a major league team. Maybe the O’s scouts saw something in him.

JS: Will this incident affect the Orioles ability to sign premier players from South Korea?

YJ: For the foreseeable future, absolutely. (Poor Dan Duquette. The guy loves Korean players.) Their scouts are banned from going to Korean games and that will obviously limit their ability to assess talent here. Duquette has apologized for “unintentional breach of protocol” but I don’t think the KBO is that much interested in apologies. Rather, the KBO wants to change the agreement to at least limit the outflow of young talent from here. In a way, the O’s move may affect all MLB teams’ ability to scout and sign premier young talent in Korea.

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To stay on top of the Kim Seung-min situation and Korean baseball in general, follow Yoo Jee-ho on twitter and at Yonhap News

12 February 2012

Cup of jO's - MiL Position Players Signings

Here is a quick rundown of the MiL position players the Orioles signed this off season.

Catchers
Zach Booker (26) - Has played six games in three years.  He literally is a player-coach.
Allan De San Miguel (24) - An Aussie who has spent his entire career with the Twins.  Organizational.
Ronny Paulino (30) - First time in six years that he knows he is heading to AAA.
Dane Sardinha (32) - This is likely his ninth straight year in AAA.

First Basemen
Nick Johnson (33) - One of the best hitting prospects in the last 15 years, injuries derailed career. Overcoming wrist injury.
Jeff Larish (30) - Strong AAA bat that silences in the Majors.

Second Basemen
Travis Adair (24) - Show a good bat in high A, but struggled mightily in AA and cut by Texas.

Shortstop
Carlos Rojas (28) - Spent last four years in Orioles organization providing AA and AAA depth.
Steve Tolleson (28) - Solid utility bat who will likely appear in Baltimore at some point this year.

Third Basemen
Matt Antonelli (26) - A once promising prospect, Antonelli signed a MLB deal thanks to his MiL OBP.

Outfielders
Scott Beerer (29) - Pitcher turned hitter due to arm issues, shows some contact and power skills.
Antoan Richardson (28) - Plus speed and decent OBP skills.

11 February 2012

Cup of jO's: Orioles Pitcher Whiff Rates

Another short post today...the following graph depicts the swing and miss rates for batters when they choose to swing at a specific pitch.  The pitchers included below are on the Orioles 40 man roster and appeared in an MLB game last year.  Each line represents 10% whiff rate.

09 February 2012

Cup of jO's: Joe Mahoney is Tall

Sexson shows the benefit of size.
Joe Mahoney is 6'6.  That is pretty tall for a first baseman.  How tall is it?  In the history of the game there have been 10 first basemen who have been 6'6 or taller.  Here is that list:
Richie Sexson 14.4 rWAR, 1367 games
Tony Clark 11.8 rWAR, 1559 games
Damon Minor 0.2 rWAR, 136 games
Ron Jackson 0.2 rWAR, 196 games
Cotton Nash 0.0 rWAR, 13 games
Julio Zuleta -0.3 rWAR, 79 games
Desi Wilson -0.4 rWAR, 41 games
Brad Eldred -1.3 rWAR, 85 games
Don Gile -1.3 rWAR, 58 games
Howie Schultz -2.7 rWAR, 470 games
This list in and of itself does not impart a great deal of information about how successful Joe Mahoney could be.  Nick wrote this on Mahoney this past fall:
Joe Mahoney is a bat-first corner defender likely to end-up at first base or designated hitter, full time. He has some length to his swing, a not-insignificant leak entering his weight transfer and a moderate to heavy backside collapse, depending on the at bat. Prognosis? It's unlikely contact will be Mahoney's strong suit, and he could be quickly exposed at the Major League level, if not Triple-A. He projects as a bench bat or Four-A player.
In discussions about Joe Mahoney entering his age 25 season and how he has not yet been able to tap into his power potential, it has been argued that players with such immense height require extra development time in order to be able to successful control the strike zone.  However, I am not so sure about that.  Richie Sexson established himself as a big league player at the end of the 1998 season at the age of 23.  He really did not harness his power stroke until he was 22.  Tony Clark established himself in 1996 as a 24 year old.  Clark's power emerged as a 22 year old.

I think it is fair to say that of the players of his dimensions who have been successful, Mahoney is two to three years behind them.  That said, I am not sure that grouping players on the extreme ends of height is a useful exercise.  It is more prudent to stick to traditional scouting on this one and it pretty much says something similar, which is that Joe Mahoney is likely to have more in common with Julio Zuleta than Richie Sexson.

08 February 2012

Cup of jO's: 2012 Composite Orioles Prospect Rankings

It has gotten to that point in the year when we can do some composite rankings.  I decided to throw this together when we had a question on Joe Mahoney and how the Depot is not very high on him.  Mahoney certainly is an interesting player.  There seems to be a dichotomy between the two national ranking sources I used (Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus' Kevin Goldstein) and the two more local sources (Nick Faleris and Tony Pente).  Both the local sources do not see Mahoney as a top 20 player whereas Goldstein and BA ranked him 12th and 13th, respectively.  Perhaps more importantly is that general consensus that the Orioles system is top heavy like a lollipop.  Dylan Bundy and Manny Machado profile as elite talents with Jonathan Schoop as fringe elite.

The rankings below use an average of the four sources rank to determine a mean rank.  Any players not found in a particular source's top 15 were considered 'unranked' and assigned a rank value of 20.  The column to the left has many scouting reports for the players listed below.  Simply click on the name to the left.

2012 Orioles Composite Prospect Rankings

1. Dylan Bundy
    Mean - 1; Low - 1; High - 1
2. Manny Machado
    Mean - 2; Low - 2; High - 2
3. Jonathan Schoop
    Mean - 3; Low - 3; High - 3
4. Nicky Delmonico
    Mean - 5; Low - 4; High - 6
5. Parker Bridwell
    Mean - 6; Low - 4; High - 7
6. L.J. Hoes
    Mean - 6.25; Low - 5; High - 10
7. Jason Esposito
    Mean - 6.75; Low - 5; High - 8
8. Dan Klein
    Mean - 8.75; Low - 8; High - 10
9. Bobby Bundy
    Mean - 10.25; Low - 4; High - unranked
10. Clayton Schrader
    Mean - 13; Low - 9; High - unranked
11. Xavier Avery
    Mean - 13.25; Low - 8; High - unranked
12. Michael Wright
    Mean - 14.25; Low - 10; High - unranked
13. Eduardo Rodriguez
    Mean - 14.5; Low - 11; High - unranked
14. Ryan Adams
    Mean - 15.25; Low - 9; High - unranked
15. Glynn Davis
    Mean - 15.5; Low - 9; High - unranked
A couple quick notes:
  • There is apparently industry agreement on the first three talents: Dylan Bundy, Manny Machado, and Jonathan Schoop
  • The most volatile ranking is Bobby Bundy who was ranked as high as fourth (by Nick Faleris) and unranked by Baseball America.

06 February 2012

Jason Hammel is Jeremy Guthrie

A 5 point ERA isn't good enough to be a competitive big league pitcher and we've got numerous pitchers on the roster in that area.
Dan Duquette said that in the presser that also announced that he traded Jeremy Guthrie for Jason Hammel and Matt Lindstrom.  That statement was not in reference to Guthrie who crossed over the threshold to 5.04 in 2009.  It was likely a shot at Jake Arrieta, Brad Bergesen, Chris Tillman, and Tommy Hunter.  It was also not likely in reference to the newly acquired Jason Hammel who has a career 4.99 ERA (h/t Mike Bonsiero).  However, that is just so much of a near coincidence that I had to mention it.

Although I do not believe they will perform equally, the main bet here is that Jason Hammel and Jeremy Guthrie are not all that different from each other.
                            rWAR         fWAR
Jason Hammel     5.5              8.8
Jeremy Guthrie   8.9              5.8
After seeing these numbers one might ask first: how are rWAR and fWAR different?  Well, rWAR uses total zone data and is based on the concept that the pitcher is responsible for BABIP.  The other method assumes that the way to measure pitching is by normalizing in the form of Defense Independent Pitching Statistics.  Using that frame of reference, fWAR probably hurts him due to Guthrie's tendency to give up fly balls and home runs while rWAR considers him to be responsible for generating a lower BABIP.  Hammel is benefited by fWAR for his K rate and low walks (last year through was not kind) while rWAR thinks he was a bit hittable.  If you are a staunch believer in pitchers controlling their BABIP fate (even in lieu of the strikeouts that typically relate to low BABIP) then you are likely to think that Guthrie is an above average pitcher who is worth 10MM.  If you are a fWAR guy, then you might think Guthrie is average to below average and worth about 7MM.  Strangely, that was basically the difference between the two arbitration values for Guthrie.  In the end, the Rockies signed him to a 8.2MM deal while the Orioles have Hammel and Lindstrom for 8.5MM.

I tend to lean more in the fWAR direction, but am open to the idea that we know very little about how pitchers affect how well balls are hit.  In other words, I see no issue in weighting rWAR and fWAR equally for pitchers.  This would suggest that, yes, Jason Hammel is worth as much as Jeremy Guthrie.  However, Hammel's 2011 gives me some pause and it probably would for anyone who fully embraces fWAR.  In 2009 and 2010, Hammel enjoyed 3.9 fWAR each year.  Last year, it dropped to 1.0.  Much of this was due to his strikeout rate dropping 30% and his walks jumping up 51%.  Meanwhile, rWAR zealots would not be too worried as a drop in BABIP compensated for those and netted him his best rWAR over the last three years with a 2.0.  Maybe it is a push.

If you take the above to heart and find Hammel and Guthrie equivalent then a second control year of Hammel and Matt Lindstrom are just gravy.  Lindstrom is a 96 mph four seamer and slider guy.  He has historically had some trouble with lefties, which makes sense based on the pitches he has.  Lindstrom is a solid back end arm and is also under team control for two years.

So...why do I not like the trade if it looks like a push in so many ways?

It kicks the talent can another year.  Guthrie's worth has been converted into Hammel and Lindstrom.  Hammel's peripherals last year concern me.  I am not certain that he all of a sudden gained an ability to depress BABIP rates.  I more believe that he has lost his ability to strike batters out.  In that regard, I do not see a Guthrie for Lindstrom trade being worthwhile as it places too much value in a somewhat hittable flame thrower.  I think this move runs counter to building this franchise into a winner.  Young, cost-controlled talent would be preferable even if that talent had a low probability of being a difference maker.

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Addendum

Dan Duquette mentioned that Jason Hammel pitched better away from Coors field and that would enable him to throw 200 IP instead of the 170 IP he has been hitting.

Has Hammel performed better away from Coors' Field?
              Home           Away
2009       5.73              3.13

2010       4.07              5.71

2011       5.20              4.28

05 February 2012

What does Manny Ramirez offer the Orioles?

Watching Manny hit his 500th HR off Chad Bradford
Manny's path has never appeared to make sense to others, but that path has been suggested as perhaps leading through Baltimore.  This has resulted in the expected gnashing of teeth.  Acquiring Manny would seem familiar with the moves the Orioles have made in the last decade, such as picking over the remains of Sammy Sosa, the second coming of Raffy, and Vladimir Guerrero.  All have had Hall of Fame quality careers, but there is not much reason to have thought any of them would be a game changer.  Additionally, Manny is Manny.  His actions often appear incredibly self-centered and aloof, such as the story of how he once left a game early, took all of the Dominican style food a teammate's mother had made for the team and then replaced it with Italian takeout.  That is a weird and wonderful story.  You could also go with the whole him refusing to play in 2007.  At first look, there does not seem to be much for the Orioles to be interested in him.

Performance Issues

Fifteen players since 1972 have played as designated hitters during their age 40 season with over 100 plate appearances.  They break into four easy categories.
Good
Dave Winfield (1992) - 3.7 rWAR
Edgar Martinez (2003) - 3.5 rWAR

Average
Brian Downing (1991) - 2.5 rWAR
Harold Baines (1999) - 2.3 rWAR

Role Player
Jim Thome (2011) - 1.4 rWAR
Paul Molitor (1997) - 1.4 rWAR
Reggie Jackson (1986) - 1.3 rWAR

Replacement Level and Below
Tony Perez (1982) - 0.3 rWAR
Frank Thomas (2008) - 0.0 rWAR
George Brett (1993) - -0.4 rWAR
Matt Stairs (2008) - -0.7 rWAR
Ken Griffey Jr (2010) - -0.8 rWAR
Eddie Murray (1998) - -0.8 rWAR
Hal McRae (1986) - -0.9 rWAR
Dave Parker (1991) - -1.4rWAR
What differs Manny from these players is that he did not see any significant time during his age 39 season with only 17 plate appearances over five games.  In fact, it is actually quite rare for any starting caliber player at 1B, LF, RF, or DH to log in less than 50 plate appearances in one season and then come back for another.  Since 1991, it has happened twice for players in their 30s.  Darren Daulton lost his 1996 season to injury.  His OPS+ in 1995 was 101 and it rose to 121 in 1997, which was his final season.  Xavier Nady is the other occurrence.  He slugged a 127 OPS+ in 2008 for the Pirates and Yankees, lost 2009 to injury, and then hit at a 75 OPS+ clip for the ChiSox in 2010.  That is a sample size of two with one doing quite well and the retiring while the other probably should be retired.  However, it should be mentioned that most players in their 30s who log less than 50 at bats do not come back the following year.

From the older player who missed a year perspective, Manny does not look like a good buy.  ZIPS projects Manny as a 241/342/363 hitter.  If such a hitter was able to spend a full 695 plate appearances at that level as a DH, he would have earned near a replacement level with a 0.5 WAR.  That is an upgrade from Vlad's 0.1 WAR over 591 plate appearances and 7.6MM.  Manny's last full three seasons also show some reason for concern when looking at isolated power (ISO):
2008: .270
2009: .241
2010: .162
That free fall is slightly worse than pre-Oriole Garrett Atkins (.185->.165->.116).  Anecdotally, I have rarely seen a three season free fall in ISO turn around 180 degrees.

With this performance history it is difficult to see how a team could offer anything more than a Minor League invite without any promises.  The Tampa Bay Rays looked at the same data set, minus the extra year of aging and not playing, and only gave Manny a 2MM MLB contract.  They apparently were the only ones interested in promising him a full salary.  Tampa Bay also did not have knowledge of the events that would transpire during the 2012 season.

The Suspension and Then it Got Worse

Most players in their 30s who play very little have injuries or performance issues as the cause for the reduction in playing time.  Manny's issue was for testing positive for an unnamed (as far as I am aware) performance enhancing drug.  It was the second time he had tested positive for a banned substance.  He had served a 50 game suspension with the Dodgers in 2009.  This being the second time, he was to serve 100 days.  Instead of serving that time, Manny retired and fled the lime light.  As it was reported, Manny's desire to evade any uncomfortable situations struck his teammates, the media, and the fans as him being extremely selfish and immature.  It is the meme that has followed him throughout his playing career. 

It got worse in September.  Police in Weston, Florida were called to Manny's home.  His wife had called and claimed that they were having an argument.  That argument resulted in allegedly slapping her, causing her to fall and hit her head on the headboard of their bed.  Upon arrival, she told the deputy that she called the police because she feared the situation would escalate.  Manny was arrested on the charge of domestic battery.  He entered a not guilty plea at a hearing in October.  His next court date is schedule March 28.

Conclusion
The Orioles do not have much to gain or lose here.  Manny could come to Spring Training, go to court at the end, and do whatever he may plea to while serving out a 50 game suspension (MLB and MLBPA compromise) as technically a minor leaguer.  He would then spend a couple weeks in the minors trying to work off the rust.  You could expect him in an Oriole uniform in mid-June.  That would give him six weeks to show off any hitting ability that could reward the Orioles with a fringe prospect.  Again, the best case scenario is that Manny plays six weeks, earns about 300-500k, and nets you a fringe prospect.  The worst case scenario is that Manny is awful, but stays on the straight and narrow.  This would force the Orioles to cut him and swallow 1-1.5MM.

Signing Manny should not cause a gnashing of teeth.  This move would be a far cry from MacPhail's eagerness to send replacement level veterans off with a retirement package.  However, I do not see much point in signing a 40 year old who took off last season, is in a downward trajectory, has alienated many of his previous teammates, and has an open court case on the charges of domestic battery.  

04 February 2012

Brian Roberts is Not a Sunk Cost

When I start to write about Brian Roberts I think about the article I wrote when he signed his extension.  I initially used an aging model I created based on the aging patterns of second basemen.  It projected Roberts to be replacement level in 2012 and then performing in 2013 at such a level that he would have had to have been released.  That model was run right after his 2008 season in which he performed at an All Star level and could have been considered one of the top second basemen in the game.  I hesitated and decided instead to use a model based on middle infield aging.  I pulled a punch.  The article still stated that Roberts' extension was a poor idea, but it irritates me that I wrote more what I felt than what I thought.  Whether good or bad, tick off three years on the clock and it no longer is a concern for me.  Well, it is not as much of a concern because part of me still feels bad writing this.  I think I have become more hardened as evidence by what I wrote last March on him.  I like Brian Roberts.  I also think he should be removed from the 40 man roster.

Sunk Cost

Sunk cost is an economic concept that is much ballyhooed and much misunderstood.  You may have seen such players as Vernon Wells, A.J. Burnett, or Barry Zito referred to as sunk costs.  This is an incorrect application of the term.  Off the bat, their contracts would be the sunk cost, not them.  Second, the term refers to making a payment that cannot be recovered.  The sunk cost fallacy refers to a situation where someone feels too invested having made a sunk cost and throws more money into the effort.  Throwing good money after bad idea is considered irrational.  Here is an example:
Lets say you bought tickets to take your eleven year old kid or maybe a niece to see Disney Princesses on Ice.  Somehow in the few months between buying those tickets and the date of the show, your young blood relative realizes that going to this show will bring about teasing from her friends.  At this point, the money has been spent and nothing good will come from it.
Now, that is almost a sunk cost.  That example is similar to that of Wells', Burnett's, and Zito's contracts.  What would make the above example a true sunk cost is if Disney folds with no show and no refunds.  That is a true sunk cost.

The above example is not quite like the Brian Roberts contract situation.  More accurately:
Lets say that your niece and maybe even you being nostalgic are looking forward to the Disney on Ice show.  You buy your tickets, you eagerly await for the date of the show, you get to the arena, buy your favorite junk food and maybe a souvenir or two, and sit down for the show.  Fifteen minutes in to the show both you and your niece realize that this is the opposite of fun and you both are miserable.  
This is a sunk cost.  You cannot scalp the tickets.  What comes next is the interesting part.  Having spent money on the show, do you sit and watch the show even though it is not enjoyable?  Based on a plethora of studies over the past 20 years, two thirds of you will likely stay put and have a horrible night.  The other third will go get ice cream or fudge a couple blocks away at the inner harbor and call it a decent night.  Why will the majority stay put?  Emotional attachment to cost allocation.  This is the Brian Roberts Contract Scenario.

The Man

Brian Roberts has been Mr. Oriole for the 2000s.  He shifted from shortstop to second, fought off the more acclaimed Jerry Hairston Jr. (who was then traded for Sammy Sosa), and gave the Orioles the solid kind of lead off hitting that the 1990s Orioles enjoyed from Brady Anderson (minus a little bit of power).  His 2005 and 2008 seasons were at very good starting all-star level years.  He was exciting on the base paths and always seemed to start a rally with a double in the gap.  Roberts has been solid.  So solid and so much identified with the Orioles that Andy MacPhail's team extended Roberts a year prior to his free agency to a four year, 40 MM extension.  It was a contract that overshadowed the one Orlando Hudson, who slashed 305/367/450 in 2008, signed within a few weeks.  That one was for one year and at 3.3MM.  During the same period (2010-2013), Hudson will be paid 22MM vs Roberts' 40MM.

While Hudson's skills at second base have deteriorated, he has managed to appear in 245 games over the past two seasons and is expected to be manning second base for the Padres for the next two years.  Brian Roberts has been less fortunate.  In 2010, the fate of second base aging began to materialize for Roberts.  Roberts had issues in Spring Training with abdominal muscle strains and a bad back.  These issues continued throughout the season and left him with 59 appearances where he kept up his typical offensive performance.  However, his defense looked shaky.  This was the first year of his four year extension.  In 2011, illness, his back, and concussion symptoms led him to having a choppy Spring Training and only 39 appearances.  He was shut down in the middle of May.  His issues with concussions have been so bad that he was unable to make it to the 2012 Orioles FanFest.  For a player who has done so much for the community, it was surprising he was unable to attend.  To expect someone who cannot make a flight and deal with the chaotic nature of FanFest . . . to expect that person to play at a professional level is quite optimistic.  Sadly, I think it is clear that Brian Roberts' contract is a sunk cost.

Conceptual Value for a 40th Man

During the off season there is no 60 day disabled list.  Roberts must stay on the 40 man roster which effectively makes it a 39 man roster.  This issue is relative.  The 40th man on any roster is not likely to be of great use to a team, but it does prevent a team from potentially getting looks at certain fringe players in Spring Training.  There is benefit to that.  There is benefit to having Pedro Florimon Jr on the team.  There is benefit to having Kyle Hudson on the team.  There is benefit to having Rick VandenHurk on the team.  One thing is clear, the team is not losing anyone of great significance.  None of these guys will take you anywhere, but the first two provide depth in case of injury.  VandenHurk may provide you with a decent enough arm if the Spring proves treacherous for the Orioles' pitchers.  Additionally, sometimes a player just sort of figures things out.  Simply put, the 40th man is a low probability, low ceiling player. 

The difference between Roberts and the 40th man is that the 40th man can actually stand out on the field and potentially do one or two things adequately.  Roberts cannot lace up.  A year in and still suffering from concussion symptoms is not a promising thing.  In baseball, we've seen how concussions have ended Ryan Church's career and have severely impacted Justin Morneau's.  In hockey, we have seen what Sydney Crosby is going through.  In football, the data is coming out that is yielding more evidence that teams do not adequately protect players from the effects of concussions.  This past year, we have even seen reports showing that high school soccer players show some concussion effects in relation to simply heading a ball.  It has been truly an amazing and terrifying time these past few years with understanding the chronic effects of these kind of brain injuries.

That said, the comparison between Roberts and a 40th man is not truly a fair comparison.  The more fair comparison would the 40th man vs. a MiL invite who becomes the 40th man.  The difference between those two is not truly great.  They are likely the same person.  Pedro Florimon, Jr. was put on waivers, claimed by the Twins, put on waivers, passed through, and is now in the Twins' minor league system.  Kyle Hudson is a non-roster invite to the Rangers' camp.  Rick VandenHurk is likely to find something similar somewhere.  It appears that the idea that Roberts is preventing roster flexibility is likely one that is true in conceptual terms, but not in true application.

Brian Roberts is Not a Sunk Cost

My analytical side is informing me that Brian Roberts' contract is a sunk cost that does not affect the team to a significant degree (meaning significant in an abstract way).  However, even though the contract is a sunk cost, Brian Roberts is not.  Roberts has value to this organization in other potential capacities.  The problem I see with the current situation is that Roberts is a great person who has done wonderful things for the organization and the community.  The contract is an unfair burden to place on him because it carries with it the expectation that he needs to get back in shape to play.  The best thing I can see doing would be to buy him out and give him a place in Brady Anderson's chain of command in player development.  From all accounts, Roberts is has a strong work ethic when it comes to fitness, he comes from a committed baseball family, and he seems to enjoy Baltimore.  It would be solid to keep him in the organization.

In terms of a buyout, you can go two ways.  Pay him now in a lump sum or convert it over to a long term deferred deal.  If he trusts his investment team, you could probably buy him out now for 18MM instead of 20MM over two years.  That appears somewhat marginal in terms of cost cutting.  A long term deferred deal could look like 3MM/year over ten years or 2MM/year over twenty years.  The long term deal would be useful to the club in the near term, saving the team 7-8MM a season.  That is money that could be well spent on player development or even an average player.  I think this is a solution that would benefit both parties.

Of course, this discussion is unimportant if while on the disabled list with concussion issues the insurance plan the team has on him is favorable.  If insurance is paying the club anything more than 20% if Roberts' salary then it makes sense just to keep him on the 40 man roster.  The terms of such an arrangement may be so that Roberts cannot do other things that would be helpful such as instructing players or scouting.  If that is the case, then a buyout between the Orioles, Roberts, and an insurance company would make it far more difficult. 

03 February 2012

Orioles sign Jeff Larish

According to a tweet from Oakland Athletics beat reporter Jane Lee, former A's first basemen and DH, Jeff Larish, 29 years old, has signed a minor league deal with the Baltimore Orioles.

Larish, who hasn't played in the majors since 2010, has batted a career .224/.308/.380 with  in three seasons with the Detroit Tigers and the A's. 

Lee mentioned in her tweet that Larish announced his signing with the Orioles via his Facebook page.

Editor - 
He has played 331 games at AAA with a slash of 269/359/475.  Last year, Larish played half a season at Lehigh, the AAA affiliate for the Phillies.  In July 2011, Larish broke his leg and tore several ligaments in his ankle while trying to score from second.

30 January 2012

In what cities could MLB expand?

Previously, I touted the New York metro area and Connecticut as expansion areas.  Those arguments relied on a few difficult to foresee events: (1) the New York and Boston teams agreeing with new encroachment, (2) a multi-stadium home format would work until a real stadium could be built, and (3) proper infrastructure exists to support a new stadium.  The main problem with that idea was that there is not an overwhleming demand of locals to bring more baseball into those areas.  That means that no one could mount enough of a cause to get ballot measures passed to appropriate money to build a stadium.  Even if private funds were put in place, public funds would need to be tapped to put improvements on infrastructure to get people in and out of games.  Infrastructure is the main issue that is killing the Rays down in Tampa.  It is just so difficult to get to their stadium if you live in Tampa.  Connecticut and upper New Jersey have similar issues.

If those funds could not be put in place then MLB would wind up having teams that floated around the existing baseball stadiums as well as barnstorming AAA and AA stadiums in a sort of boutique fashion.  That idea might be too different for some people.   Think of it this way, if the Bowie Baysox stadium was dressed up with a 10 MM renovation, would you pay $50-150 instead of the normal $8-75 you pay at Camden Yards?  Would that level of intimacy work?  It would be a major risk.

In light of that, I decided to look at more traditional locations for expansion.  The following list was devised based on what cities were previously entertained with expansion and relocation opportunities.  For statistics, I will be using the same method I used when suggesting that you actually can argue the Orioles are a small market team.

Charlotte
TV Market - 25th
Radio Market - 24th
Population - 731k; 18th in US
GDP - 103MM; 2.6% growth

Charlotte has several things going for it as a potential MLB city.  First and foremost, it has a modern stadium in Bank of America Stadium, home of the Jacksonville Jaguars.  This provides a large capacity structure where a team could eek out a few seasons before a sufficient stadium could be constructed.  Not all stadiums can house a football team, I am assuming this one can.  Second, Charlotte has a corporate culture.  Seven fortune five hundred companies call Charlotte their home.  This includes Bank of America (134.2B revenue; 9th overall), Nucor (15.8B; 157th), Duke Energy (14.3B; 173rd), Goodrich (7.0B; 337th), Sonic Automotive (6.9B; 339th), SPX (4.9B; 460th), and Ruddick (4.4B; 498th).  Additionally, 50th ranked Lowe's (48.8B) is a half hour up I-77 in Mooresville, NC and Family Dollar (7.9B; 302nd) is 20 minutes away in Matthews, NC.  This means that there is a strong corporate base to buy season tickets in the area.  Charlotte's TV and radio market is better than five current MLB teams each.  It has a strong population that is steadily growing and a growing GDP.

Indianapolis
TV Market - 26th
Radio Market - 40th
Population - 820k; 12th in US
GDP - 92.8MM; 3.6% growth

Indianapolis share a few things in common with Charlotte.  It has a similar TV Market, a slightly larger population, a similar growth in commercial products, and a football stadium that should be able to be converted into a temporary home for a baseball club.  However, there have been yearly cries by the ownership of the Colts about how Indianapolis is a not a cash flush area.  It may just be ownership looking for a better deal similar to what Irsay did when he took the Colts out of Baltimore (or when Modell took the Browns out of Cleveland for that matter).  One difference between Charlotte and Indianapolis is corporate presence.  Indianapolis has two Fortune 500 companies bringing in a revenue of 81.9B within the city limits: WellPoint (58.8B; 42nd) and Eli Lilly (23.1B; 115th).  Cummins (13.2B; 186th) is located an hour away in Columbus, IN.  Charlotte has corporations headquartered around the city that pull in 2.5 times as much revenue as the ones around Indianapolis.  That reduced foundation makes for Indianapolis to be a potentially worthwhile MLB city, but with poorer footing than Charlotte.

Las Vegas
TV Market - 40th
Radio Market - 32nd
Population - 584k; 30th in US
GDP - 80.2B; -1.9% growth

Las Vegas is commonly mentioned as a location for an MLB team either by expansion or relocation.  In fact, Bud Selig considered Las Vegas a finalist when determining where to move the Montreal Expos.  It sounds like a good idea.  Vegas was going through a period of rapid growth until smacked down by the recent economic crush.  Lots of tourists with free time visit the city and may be interested in watching a game.  The concerns were that the city has a high level of flux, which would make it difficult for a baseball team to take root and there was some concern over the need for gambling establishments to take a major investment in the franchise.  Why gambling establishments?  There is not much else there in Las Vegas.  The city can claim three Fortune 500 corporations: Caesars (8.8B, 277th), Las Vegas Sands (6.9B, 342nd), and MGM Resorts (6.0B, 380th).  In addition to a poor corporate presence, Vegas would have the worst TV Market in the game, which is where a lot of the money is at, contracting GDP, and no suitable stadium for a team to begin play.  There just is not enough money in the city to prime the pump for a MLB team to move in.

Orlando
TV Market - 19th
Radio Market - 34th
Population - 238k; 79th
GDP - 94.2B; 2.4% growth

Orlando has a few things going for it and a few reasons why it hasn't been tapped for a team.  It has a solid low second tier TV Market and the region is rather prosperous.  What has hurt the city is that much of the money is in entertainment in the form of all of the amusement parks in the area.  As has been shown countless times, baseball teams do not make money for the city as opposed to merely pushing it around a little bit.  With the city already being a pilgrimage of the Mouse...there just is not likely to be a major buy in from those group.  The only Fortune 500 company headquartered there is Darden Restaurants (7.1B; 332nd).  The Citrus Bowl is likely to be the only stadium to be able to be used for baseball until a new one could be built.  Finally, Florida seems to be home to two baseball clubs that are not exacting pinnacles of business success.  Putting in a third one, two hours from the Tampa Bay Rays may not be the best of ideas.

Portland
TV Market - 21s
Radio Market - 23rd
Population - 584k; 29th
GDP - 121.7B; 4.7% growth

Portland appears like an obvious location for a MLB to sprout up.  It has a long history with AAA baseball.  It has had a rapidly growing GDP.  It is a decent size city with a respectable standard of living.  A corporate presence is on the low side, but it does have Precision Castparts (5.5B; 409th) and Nike (19.0B; 135th; 15 minutes away in Beaverton) call it home.  Even with this presence, AAA baseball has left the city twice in the past 30 years.  That is not a great record.  However, I would put it ahead of Orlando and Las Vegas.  With Indianapolis it is a question how whether one believes more in corporations and population or media markets and GDP.

San Antonio
TV Market - 36th
Radio Market - 28th (Cinci, Clev
Population - 1.327 MM 7th in US
GDP - 73.6B; 3.0% growth

San Antonio is a promising option, but with a drawback.  First with the good news, San Antonio has an immense population that is being poorly served by top tier professional sports.  The media market is not great, but has good long term prospects.  This region has been a hotbed of growth even during the economic struggles the rest of the United States was facing.  San Antonio also has a major corporate presence.  The city is home to Valero Energy (86.0B; 24th), Tesoro (20.3B; 128th), United Services Automobile (17.9B; 145th), CC Media Holdings (5.9B; 391st), and NuStar Energy (4.4B; 497th).  That is a good group that would help buy up seats and luxury suites.  The problem is though that the main stadium available, the Alamodome, was built without the ability to store a MLB field.  The structure cannot be retrofitted to accommodate a team either.  This means a club would need to have a new stadium waiting for it.  The Arizona Diamondbacks accomplished that feat.  The Colorado Rockies, Tampa Bay Rays, Miami Marlins, and Washington Nationals required an existing stadium.  Before them, Seattle and Toronto used preexisting stadiums.  Point being, it is uncommon to have everyone in order for a MLB to show up on your doorstep.

Vancouver
TV Market - ~20th
Radio Market - ~42nd
Population - 590k; ~29th
GDP - 83B; 3.0% growth

I have argued before that baseball should move up north again.  I think baseball could work in Montreal, but I don't think that will happen any time soon.  That city is no longer MLB ready anymore.  Vancouver is.  Of all of the cities, Vancouver would be the easiest one to move into because of BC Place.  BC Place was originally built with the intent of luring a baseball team.  That was unsuccessful, but the building has been renovated and is a fairly modern stadium with proper infrastructure in place.  It hearkens back to the Tropicana except that it has an excellent location and the stadium has been kept up.  Vancouver also boasts a few corporations who would appear on the Fortune 500 if they were in America: Telus (9.6B; 257th), Teck Resources (8.8B; 277th), Jim Pattinson (7.1B; 331st), and Best Buy Canada (5.6B; 404th).  That is not a stellar corporate presence, but it is stronger than Portland, Orlando, and Las Vegas.  It has a second tier TV market, a third tier population, and a growing economy.

Conclusion

Of these cities, Charlotte is an obvious front runner for an expansion team.  San Antonio has a strong foundation, but would need to get enough capital in place to not only buy a franchise, but also develop land for a stadium for the team to play in on day one.  That is logistically difficult.  Indianapolis has supposedly had issues with the Colts pulling in enough cash, making them threaten to look elsewhere.  Portland is an old school favorite, but their difficulties in keeping their AAA clubs cast some doubt and they need a stadium immediately.  Orlando and Las Vegas are simply poor fits.  Vancouver looks like a decent third tier location with a great stadium situation.

I would probably award Charlotte and Vancouver the teams.  I would bump out Vancouver if San Antonio could promise a stadium.

Also of note, with Constellation Energy appearing to be falling under Exelon, Baltimore will have no Fortune 500 companies.  Washington DC has seventeen.