Hot stove round table: Part 3

Baltimore trades Miguel Tejada to Houston for Luke Scott, Troy Patton, Matt Albers, Dennis Sarfate and Michael Costanzo.

How much better will the Astros be with Tejada?

Matthew Carruth: How good the Astros make out depends on where they play Tejada. If it’s at shortstop then they’re maybe a single win better than they were yesterday. That’s a testament to how good Adam Everett is in the field and how not good Tejada is. If they keep Everett at shortstop and play Tejada at third base, then they’re slightly better off, but still thoroughly mediocre as a team. It is the NL Central though, thoroughly mediocre could cut it.

John Beamer: The Tejada deal is interesting. A couple of years ago, when Houston was contending this would have been a great deal, as it added a power bat to the line-up. If your view is that the ‘Stros can contend in a weak NL Central then, fine, make the trade. If you are rebuilding for a run later on in the decade then it is a stupid trade as Tejada will presumably be on his bike. From an Astros perspective you get a great hitting short stop who at $12 million a year is relatively cheap, but unless Miggy moves to third you’ll lose a lot with the glove.

I’ll be interested to see what happens to Everett. Rumor has it that he’ll become an unrestricted free agent. If so we’ll see the extent to which teams value his glove work — that will be interesting

Steve Treder: The Astros don’t have to be especially good to be a serious contender in the NL Central. The trade makes good sense for them; the package of prospects is middling. It’s a fair and reasonable exchange from the perspective of both teams.

And while his 2007 performance suggests that Tejada is declining, he’ll only be 32 in 2008. If his career gets a second wind, this deal could turn out to be a real good one for the Astros.

Chris Jaffe: One thing to keep in mind about Tejada: last year he had 36 games against Boston and Toronto, who—by ERA+—were two of the best three teams in the AL at run prevention. Baltimore got to play the NL West in interleague play. By ERA+, that division had five of the six best pitching staffs in the NL. (To be fair, Baltimore didn’t play them all, “only” the division winning D-backs, the pennant winning Rockies, and the near-wild card Padres. Plus six games aganist the Nationals. Even if Tejada’s decline is for real and continues, his numbers might actually bump up a little next year.

What do we need to know about the prospects going back to the Orioles?

Chris Constancio: A very thin farm system just got thinner, but it’s doubtful that the Astros surrendered any future stars. Troy Patton is the top prospect in this group; he’s a lefty with a track record of very good control. A late draft pick that the Astros paid good money to lure away from the University of Texas in 2004, Patton has watched his strikeout rate drop considerably over the past year even though he throws hard and has good stuff. If he doesn’t miss more bats then he is nothing more than a back of the rotation starter at this point, but his upside is considerable.

Albers’ stuff is probably just as good as Patton, and he is only a year removed from being the Texas League Pitcher of the Year. He has suffered from below-average command and control throughout his career, however. I view him as a usable middle relief arm going forward.

I think Costanzo is a bit overrated and underrated in different ways. I think his power potential is overrated by many. He was second in the Eastern League with 27 home runs in 2007, but he is an extreme pull hitter who benefited from a very hitter-friendly context at Reading. I think his on-base skills are often underrated. He struggles to make contact, but he did improve in that respect during the second half of the 2007 season and has always walked a lot so I hold out hope that he could demonstrate at least average on-base skills in the major leagues.

There are some questions about his ability to stay at third base, and he obviously isn’t of much value if limited to first base/designated hitter duties. For what it’s worth, my play-by-play zone-based fielding metric had him almost exactly average among Double-A third basemen in 2007.

Aaron Rowand signs a five-year, $60 million deal with the Giants.

Is this deal justifiable, and could the Giants have better used their resources?

Chris Jaffe: Is it justifiable? From some points of view, sure. For example, if one wants to see White Sox general manager Kenny Williams driven to homicide, this is a great move. First the Angels snatch Torii Hunter from him. Then the Tigers get Miguel Cabrera. By one report I heard, his offer for Fukudome wasn’t much different from the Cubs offer. And he’d been targeting Rowand in recent weeks. If you’re hitchhiking in the Chicagoland area, and Kenny Williams offers to give you a life, don’t accept it.

Matthew Carruth: Not for the Giants it isn’t; they’re nowhere near contention. At least they were so bad last year that Sabean was not allowed to lose their first round pick this time around. Worth mentioning about Rowand:

1) His defense is likely overrated. PMR, RZR and UZR all seem to stick him around league average 2006-07.
2) His last few years have been in US Cell and Citizens Bank. He’s moving from two of the most hitter friendly parks in baseball to a neutral/pitcher’s park.

This isn’t the worst deal of the offseason, but it’s still bad (and a testament to the sheer number of horrible contracts that I was really really surprised this wasn’t worse)

Geoff Young: By my count the Giants are the third team (Angels, Dodgers) to go out and sign a guy to a long-term deal as a replacement for the guy that they signed to a long-term deal last winter. It seems to me there might be more efficient ways to procure talent. As for Rowand, if his recent track record is any indication, he’ll give San Francisco two good years, two bad years, and one in between. Assuming he stays healthy and doesn’t slip too much as he enters his thirties, that is.

Joe Domino: There is a lot of money to go around if it appears everyone is signing horrible contracts the market has likely shifted. Baseball either passed or is about to pass the NFL in revenue. In my opinion, it is irresponsible for teams trying to be competitive to not be spending the money on these types of contracts if there is no in-house replacement available.

Dave Studeman: Even agreeing that Rowand is overrated by the general public, I don’t see this as a terrible deal. $12 million for a good center fielder in his prime is probably the going rate these days. True, the Giants aren’t going to contend next year, but that doesn’t mean they should just drop out of the free agent market. If nothing else, it will make them more likely to hang onto their valuable young arms.

Let’s quantify the Rowand deal versus the free agent market. Last year, teams paid about $1.4 million for every WSAB produced by free agent outfielders. We all know we’re in a hyper-inflation mode right now, so I’ll add 10% for this year, making the current market price $1.55 million for each WSAB.

Keep in mind that the market will likely continue going up in the near future; I think you’ll see a slowing of inflation or outright decline in perhaps 4 or 5 years. So Rowand will get $12 M a year for five years, overall salary levels will increase, and his production will likely decline with age.

In other words, $12 million for next year’s production is a good benchmark for the entire contract.

At a market price of $1.55M for each WSAB, that means that Rowand will have to produce about 7.7 WSAB a year for the life of this contract to make it “even”. Over the past four years, he has produced an average of 7 WSAB a year, including 2006, when he had that terrible injury (0 WSAB), as well as last year, which may have been a career year for him (11 WSAB).

So, bottom line, this contract is a bit of a stretch but not an outrageous one. It also may be a riskier deal than normal, given Rowand’s injury history.

John Beamer: Superficially this isn’t as bad a deal as many make out. As Dave says, $12 million for an average center fielder isn’t terrible but on the other hand it isn’t going to vault the Giants into contention.

Saying that I think the assumption that salaries will continue to spiral 10% year on year should be treated with a little caution. I accept that over the long term we may see this sort of growth but with a possible recession looming baseball salaries may take a hit, particularly if gate receipts stagnate. We saw post the Internet bubble in 2000/2001 salaries moderate, and it wouldn’t surprise me if the same happened for the next couple of years. Of course there are a ton of external factors which we can’t account for but I think there is risk here. That would make marginal deals, like Rowand’s considerably worse, especially if he gets injured in the later years of his contract.

Bryan Tsao: For what it’s worth, Rowand’s THT projection of .287/.345/.465 (granted, in Citizen’s Bank Park) is in the same ballpark as those of Torii Hunter or Andruw Jones. Interestingly, all three are in their early thirties and have defensive reputations that are probably no longer deserved. In that context, Rowand got less money than Hunter despite being two years younger and will cost about two-thirds as much as Andruw Jones per year despite having a much better season in 2007. It’s debatable as to whether you’d want a longer or shorter commitment in this situation, but this strikes me as a deal that will seem much better in retrospect.

Of course, he could hurt himself drinking some Vitamin Water or get named in the Mitchell Report tomorrow or just suck next season, but that’s why they play the games.

Cubs sign Kosuke Fukudome to a four-year, $50 million contract.

Who is this Fukudome guy anyway and what type of production can we expect from him?

Chris Jaffe: It’s always tricky predicting Japanese players, but … Going by Dan Szymborski’s ZiPS projection system, Fukudome should be an above-average hitter next year. Specifically, he could be a well-rounded tweener—good but not great at average, power, and walks, adding up to a decent package.

In many ways, he isn’t all that much superior a hitter to Matt Murton, who the Cubs already have under contract at a much cheaper price. However, he should be a little better with the bat, and also he should be better than Murton on the bases and in the field.

That last part might be especially important. In the NL in 2007, of the 76 men who tossed at least 100 innings, Ted Lilly was the 8th most extreme flyball pitcher, and Rich Hill was 18th. Among those with at least 180 innings, Lilly was the most extreme flyball pitcher. If the Cubs begin the year with an outfield of Fukudome, Felix Pie, and Alfonso Soriano, that duo could have much better numbers. (Alternately, Carlos Zambrano, Jason Marquis, and Ryan Dempster are all definitely groundballers, so they won’t be impacted as much).

Does it make them better? Well, the Cubs got good offense production from Murton and Floyd last year, but this could improve them by a bit. Their outfield offensive sinkhole was center field, though.

Geoff Young: I don’t know what this guy is capable of, but I’m already sick of the word play based on mispronunciations of his last name, and the season hasn’t even started yet.

Matthew Carruth: If I recall correctly, the level of play in Japan has been likened to a shade below Triple-A in the states. He’s going to a NL team, so the step up isn’t as big as if he headed to the AL so let’s just call it Triple-A. What would you project a hitter to be like that played in a hitter’s park in Triple-A and put up Fukudome’s line? The signing amount has 75% to do with how financially stuffed the MLB is right now and about 20% to do with how good Fukudome probably is. I think he makes the Cubs a little bit better; a win or two.

Chris Jaffe: Going off what Matt said, here the ERA+ numbers for teams in the NL Central last year:

CHC 115
MIL 101
STL 94
CIN 94
HOU 93
PIT 88

The only good staff is the one he’ll never face. He gets over 80 games against teams that were, on the whole, well below average—in the game’s inferior league. The biggest improvement any of the staffs have made is Cincy, who got a new closer. Then again, they took him from Milwaukee, so there isn’t as much talent coming into the division.

Padres sign Tadahito Iguchi to a one-year deal.

How much of an impact will he have on the Padres’ pennant hopes?

Dave Studeman: For his first two years with the White Sox, Tadahito Iguchi was a fine ballplayer—solid at bat and in the field. He seemed to lose something early this year, which apparently triggered reservations by some general managers, but he regained his footing with the Phillies. This is a nice signing for the Padres.

One year for $4 million? Compare that to the four-year deal the Mets handed Luis Castillo (another second baseman who was traded from the AL to the NL in midseason), at $6 million a year. They’re both similar players, roughly the same age and same value. The difference is that Castillo is a speed player while Iguchi has more power. To me, there’s not much to choose between the two.

Geoff Young: Nice stopgap signing for the Padres. Second base was a disaster last year in San Diego, with Marcus Giles and Geoff Blum (both now gone) doing most of the damage. The in-house options were Matt Antonelli, who is a fine prospect but who has played half a season above Single-A, and guys like Callix Crabbe, Edgar Gonzalez, Marshall McDougall, Oscar Robles, Luis Rodriguez, and Craig Stansberry. If you don’t know who they are, well, then, I think I’ve made my point.

Matthew Carruth: By himself, not that much, but by not breaking the bank or the future for a stopgap 2B, Kevin Towers once again uses a savvy move to enable him to utilize resources elsewhere.

Hiroki Kuroda rumored to be signing a three-year, $30 million contract with the Dodgers

Who is this guy anyway, and what kind of pitcher is he and what kind of impact on the Dodgers will he make?

Matthew Carruth: Kuroda seems to profile as a typical right hander. Low-90s fastball, no real out pitch, good command, doesn’t yield many home runs. My spidey sense tells me to expect something in mid-4 ERA range from Kuroda. It could go lower if his home run prevention turns out to be as good as advertised in Japan, which would make it phenomenal over in LA. It could go higher if it turns out his command doesn’t transfer well to the States and his stuff gets exposed as middling. What might be the biggest impact Kuroda makes on the Dodgers is that this seems likely to drop them from any pursuit of Erik Bedard, who with the trade the Tejada, seems 95% sure to be traded this winter, possibly even packaged with Brian Roberts.

Colorado picks up Aaron Cook’s 2008 option and signs him to a four-year, $34.5 million extension.

How does Cook compare to the other options on this season’s pitching market?

Matthew Carruth: Yes, this is a good deal. Cook’s an extreme groundballer in the Chien-Ming Wang mold and that seems likely to hold up and with Troy Tulowitzki manning shortstop for the foreseeable future, Cook should do just fine. Cook’s extension will be one of the better value signings made this winter.

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