Saturday, 19 February 2011

On Bautista

Rather than wax at my usual length on my opinion of the Thursday announcement of a five year extension for Jose Buatista, I'm going to largely defer to the excellent work posted at Jays Journal on the subject.

There are a few points that I've mentioned in other places that I'd like to add in a supplementary fashion, and a few points in the linked article I'd like to repeat for emphasis.

On the former:

My completely wild guess is that on the overall value of the deal, the most likely outcome is that the Jays lose value, mildly, in terms of pure statistics. That is, to pull a random number out of the air, they are paying $65 mil for about $55 mil in statistical value. But even that is such a fuzzy conclusion it's like nailing jello to pin it down. I'll mention more about this in a bit.

I'm certainly open to the possibility of a less-likely but not remotely impossible better or worse extreme.

However, I think there's something else at work here that's been alluded to in some places but not expressly stated that I've seen.

Alex has very strong beliefs about team building and not all of them are statistical. Whether he's right or wrong, he clearly believes in things like chemistry and leadership and mentoring. Bautista clearly, in HIS (Alex's) estimation, brings value to the team beyond the stat sheet.

So, in the context of what Alex was shopping for - what HE was in the market for, he did not in fact overpay. Because even if Bautista reverts to (to use a comparison that one commentator invoked) say, Casey McGeehee, who's not a bad hitter in his own right, , those "intangible" qualities Alex looks for do not go away - it's a "skill set" that doesn't fade with age.

Consider this - the Jays have a talented Latin shortstop who has a reputation for, possibly, not always having his head on straight . . . and they have a top prospect from Cuba who they quickly learned needed a Latin influence on the coaching staff. How much value, in a dollar figure, is it worth to the Jays if Escobar and Adeiny each preform half a WAR better on average because of JB's influence? What kind of value does Anthopoulos place (and should WE place) on Bautista working right beside Escobar for a whole season?

You or I might not place much value in those calculations but I'm betting Alex does.

Additionally, and this is also part of the way Alex seems to think, there's a psychological impact on the other, younger players on the team if the Jays appear unwilling to reward a great season (and I'm betting few players think "bet he can't do it again" the way fans do).

Another alternative, less likely but also consistent with what we know of Alex, he may simply have concluded that in a couple of years, if Bautista DOES maintain a 5 or 6 WAR level of production, he could put him on the trade market say after the 2012 season as a consistent top shelf hitter signed to a sweet deal (assuming the state of the franchise at the time made it a better idea to move him than to keep him) - the risk being that you have a 4-5 mil guy making 14 and you have 9-10 mil a year in sunk costs. As others have pointed out, the team has been wiling to write off such money before.

Ultimately, this is a deal not dissimilar to the Rios deal, and I had then and have now no complaints about the Rios deal. If Kenny Williams were to offer him back to us today, I'd be more than happy to drop him Rios CF and pay the contract he has remaining.

One of the things I've noted is that people LOVE to dial up the snark factor in situations like this and think they are making clever points when really, they aren't. One respondent to Christina Karhl's article (as it was linked on Facebook) was to invoke the name of Brady Anderson.

It is true that Anderson had one tremendous outlier year in which he had 50 HR, but people neglect to look closer at the rest of his career. Anderson didn't get regular playing time until age 27 and didn't play a full season until the following year. He had his monster year at age 32 and he brought a career 101 OPS+ into that season (his OPS was .742). For comparison, Joey Bats got his first regular playing time in the majors at 25 but never played a full season until last year at age 29. Coming into 2010 his OPS on his career was .729 and his OPS+ was 91, similar to but slightly less than Anderson's.

Bautista's 2010, his age 29 season, rated a 166 OPS+ and 32 year old Anderson's peak year was a 156. But here's the part a lot of people forget: over the next 4 seasons, Anderson's OPS+ was 117 an he posted an .832 OPS. He didn't decline from being an entirely productive and valuable hitter until his age 37 season. If Anderson is a model for Bautista - If JB puts up a 120ish OPS+ over the next 5 years (through his age 34 season) then the Jays will have received fair market value for a fair market salary.

What's the market value of a 117 OPS+? Well, Alex Anthpoulos specified one named specifically as a player who was a model for the Bautista deal - Dan Uggla. Anyone want to venture a guess as to what Uggla's career OPS+ is?

In referance to points made in the Jays Journal article, here are my take-away points there:

1. The manner in which Bautista refined his swing is not a fleeting thing, it's such a complete change that it's not the sort of thing you can just drift back into old habits on. The article links an feature with Jerry Hairston demonstrating the change on Baseball Tonight.

2. The Jays are not paying for a 40-50 home run guy. Hopefully they do that next winter by chasing Albert Pujols. The rhetoric about a huge amount of money that you hear from people on the radio and so forth is just silly. Too casually people invoke "you just got rid of Wells' deal and..." (it was asked at the press conference) but this is not comparable at all to the Wells deal.

3. The Jays didn't back off the idea of Brett Lawrie at 3B in the wake of this deal so while Bautista will be at 3B this year, as soon as they think Lawrie is ready (as early as mid-season but not necessarily) JB is going back to RF for years to come. This makes a lot of sense, if Lawrie holds up his part of the equation because the Jays better OF prospects (who can play RF) are some years away. My personal pick is Jake Marisnick who could advance one level a year and not arrive until 2015.

All in all, while first impressions might provoke some head scratching, I think that the closer one examines the Bautista deal, the more one can support the rational. The Jays might yet find they have overpaid, as measured by statistics, but my bet is that if they have it's such a marginal amount that it's incidental.

One other thing on an unrelated note I want to call your attention to - that's the stories of the two injury plagued pitchers working hard to contribute to the Jays in 2011. The first, and the one closer to contributing, is one-time All-Star closer Chad Cordero. Cordero has always been one of my favorite guys and every winter when he was looking for a place to hook on as he traveled the recovery road, I hoped it might be the Jays who gave him a chance and this year it was. There's a great piece by Shi Davidi (is it redundant to say "great piece" by "Shi Davidi"? is there any other sort?) about Cordero's continued attempts to make it back to the majors and his special motivation for doing so on the Canadian press that's well worth a read.
The other is erstwhile Blue Jay starter Dustin McGowan. Gregor Chisholm writes for the Jays official site about McGowan's hopeful spring and his realization that this is his last practical chance to stay healthy.

Cordero, apparently, has a legitimate shot at forcing his way onto the opening day roster. McGowan, naturally, is further behind and has no practical shot at opening day, though manager John Farrell is optimistic he'll get to see game-action in the Spring. Hopefully he'll be ready for major league action by mid-season (that's a wishful thinking time frame on my part, NOT a citation from any team source).

I'm rooting for both men to reclaim a bit of their former luster this year.


Brian Tallet's Moustache said...

Awesome write-up, and thanks for blowing up the Brady Anderson thing.

freethinkinged said...

Excellent piece! Nicely argued.

Mylegacy said...

I agree Tammy.

Interestingly - the Jays are working Sierra at third as well. As I'm sure you know - Sierra is the RFer with the Jessie Barfied Cannon Arm.