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Craig Edwards FanGraphs Chat – 1/23/2020

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The Texas Rangers Still Aren’t Very Good

As the Rangers look to open 2020 in a new ballpark, they set out to build on a surprisingly competent 2019 season by making significant additions. The team was aggressive on the pitching side, quickly adding Kyle Gibson on a potential bargain of a three-year deal for $28 million, then they added Jordan Lyles as a potential starter for reliever money. Next, they traded for a potential ace in Corey Kluber without giving up much in return. Adding that trio to Mike Minor and Lance Lynn, two of the better pitchers in baseball a year ago, means the Rangers should have one of the top 10 rotations in the game with the potential to land in the top five at season’s end.

Unfortunately, the Rangers still look to be one of the 10 worst teams in baseball because they’ve done little to address the position-player side of their team. To illustrate the Rangers’ issues, the table below shows projections by position as well as team rank at that position.

Rangers Depth Chart Projections
Position 2020 Starter Projected Team WAR Projected MLB Rank 2019 MLB Rank
C Robinson Chirinos 0.2 30 30
1B Ronald Guzmán 0.1 30 29
2B Rougned Odor 1.3 25 18
SS Elvis Andrus 1.3 29 24
3B Todd Frazier 2.0 22 26
LF Willie Calhoun 1.3 21 9
CF Danny Santana 1.4 22 9
RF Joey Gallo 2.2 10 18
DH Shin-Soo Choo 1.1 11 4

That’s really bad, and as the 2019 column shows, it was really bad a year ago as well. The 2020 projections have the Rangers getting about 11 wins from their entire position player group. That would actually be an improvement over last season when they put up 9.2 WAR the entire season. The Rangers made it into the top 10 last year in two position player groups outside of designated hitter, but in both left field and center field, the team was adequate because Joey Gallo put up good numbers at both positions. Since the season ended, the team has brought in Robinson Chirinos, whose okay projection gets canceled out by Jeff Mathis. The team traded away Nomar Mazara and Delino DeShields, who aren’t big losses from their 2019 production, but expectations for Danny Santana and Willie Calhoun are not high. Todd Frazier was signed in a nice deal to add some production at either first or third base, but even then, the position still ends up below average. Read the rest of this entry »

Scott Rolen Was Dominant

When a player first comes up on the Hall of Fame ballot, their career is likely still fairly fresh in a voter’s mind. It’s possible, however, that the fresh appearance can cloud the memory. After all, if a player is up for Hall of Fame consideration, they probably played 15-20 years, and the last eight of those seasons were likely out of that player’s prime. As we are now more than 15 years away from Scott Rolen’s prime, it is possible misconceptions and incorrect narratives are forming around the type of player Scott Rolen was when he played. He was dominant in his prime, but beginning his career on a team averaging 90 losses the first four seasons of his career and then moving to a team with Albert Pujols in a league with Barry Bonds tended to obscure Rolen’s dominance. His value as an all-around performer further hid his greatness.

While Rolen has taken a major step forward this season in Hall of Fame voting, he still needs another boost before he gets elected, so it is worth clearing up any misconceptions about his career. Looking at Rolen’s overall body of work, it’s not hard to see that he was a consistent performer at an All-Star level. As Jay Jaffe noted in his examination of Rolen’s case:

Rolen cracked the league’s top 10 in WAR a modest four times, but had six seasons of at least 5.0 WAR, tied for 10th at the position, and 11 of at least 4.0 WAR, tied for third with Boggs, behind only Schmidt and Mathews. That’s particularly impressive considering his career length. Take away his cup-of-coffee 1996 season, his injury-wracked 2005, and the two at the tail end of his career; in 11 of the other 13 seasons, he was worth at least 4.0 WAR, which is to say worthy of All-Star consideration. Only in 2007 and ’08 did he play more than 92 games and finish with less than 4.0 WAR.

Using FanGraphs WAR, Rolen actually has five top-10 finishes in league WAR. Those six seasons of at least 5.0 WAR help paint the consistently good picture, but it leaves a little out of the story. Let’s take a look at Rolen’s prime, which we’ll start with his first top-10 finish in WAR and go through his best season in 2004. Read the rest of this entry »

The Nolan Arenado Trade Problem

There have been rumors for much of the offseason that Nolan Arenado might be on the move. Jon Morosi stirred up a ruckus with a pair of reports that the Cardinals were “emerging” in trade talks and that names had been exchanged. As Ben Clemens noted earlier today, the Cardinals do make some sense as a trading partner because Arenado would be a significant upgrade over Matt Carpenter. Arenado would add an immediate three-win upgrade in what should be a very competitive NL Central. The problem with trading for Arenado is not Arenado the player. Any team would be happy to have his steady five-to-six-win performance. The problem with trying to trade for Nolan Arenado is his contract, and it’s not the $234 million owed to him, either. The opt-out after 2021 is a trade-killer.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Jeff Passan was throwing water on Cardinals-Rockies trade rumors:

Derrick Goold wrote up a summary of the Arenado activity as well as the Cardinals’ perspective and described the problem as such: Read the rest of this entry »

Ranking the Trade Value of Nolan Arenado, Mookie Betts, Kris Bryant, and Francisco Lindor

Earlier this week, I asked our readers to rank the star players rumored to be on the trade block. I asked just two questions. The first asked readers to rank the players by how good they are right now. The second asked readers to rank the players by their trade value.

The first question proved to be an easy one, as 42% of the more than 2,500 responses had the exact same ranking.

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Craig Edwards FanGraphs Chat – 1/16/2020

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Alex Cora Out as Cheating Scandal Moves to Boston

When the investigation into the Astros’ electronic sign-stealing operations concluded, Houston was hit hard, losing draft picks, dollars, and their general manager and manager. Jay Jaffe went over the penalties for FanGraphs, but Jeff Luhnow, AJ Hinch, and Brandon Taubman weren’t the only people mentioned in the report. New Mets manager Carlos Beltrán was identified as having substantial role in the so-called “banging scheme,” though given that he was a player at the time, he will not face suspension; whether the Mets will retain him as manager is still unclear. And Alex Cora’s name was littered throughout, with the former Astros bench coach identified as having played a prominent role in the team’s cheating scheme. While discipline wasn’t meted out to Cora in the Commissioner’s Monday memo, as he is also the subject of an investigation into more cheating while with Boston in 2018, a suspension is inevitable, and hoping to move forward quickly, the Red Sox and Cora, using language so euphemistic as to almost defy accuracy, “mutually agreed to part ways.”

As soon as the Astros investigation’s findings came out, Cora was as good as gone. From the Red Sox release:

“Today we met to discuss the Commissioner’s report related to the Houston Astros investigation. Given the findings and the Commissioner’s ruling, we collectively decided that it would not be possible for Alex to effectively lead the club going forward and we mutually agreed to part ways.”

As for those findings and that report, Cora’s name is mentioned five times in the Rules Violation section:

Early in the season, Alex Cora, the Astros’ Bench Coach, began to call the replay review room on the replay phone to obtain the sign information.

Cora arranged for a video room technician to install a monitor displaying the center field camera feed immediately outside of the Astros’ dugout.

Witnesses consistently describe this new scheme as player-driven, and with the exception of Cora, non-player staff, including individuals in the video replay review room, had no involvement in the banging scheme.

Rather, the 2017 scheme in which players banged on a trash can was, with the exception of Cora, player-driven and player-executed. The attempt by the Astros’ replay review room staff to decode signs using the center field camera was originated and executed by lower-level baseball operations employees working in conjunction with Astros players and Cora.

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Which Star Player Has the Most Trade Value?

Without going into the likelihood of a trade or the reasons (or lack thereof) behind one, I’m interested in gaining some insight into the relative merits of four star players rumored to be on the block: Nolan Arenado, Mookie Betts, Kris Bryant, and Francisco Lindor. We shouldn’t have to go too deeply into the background of each player, as they are four of the very best players in the game, but here are some basics:

Four Stars On the Trade Block?
2020 Age Career PA Career WAR 2019 wRC+ 2019 WAR 2020 WAR
Nolan Arenado 29 4357 31.3 128 5.9 5
Mookie Betts 27 3629 37.2 135 6.6 6.5
Kris Bryant 28 3105 27.8 135 4.8 4.6
Francisco Lindor 26 3244 27.2 114 4.4 5.8

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Five Things We Learned from Arbitration Deadline Day

Last Friday was the deadline for all 155 arbitration-eligible players who have been tendered contracts to either agree to terms with their teams, or file desired salary figures ahead of an arbitration hearing. At the hearing, an arbitrator chooses either the figure submitted by the player or by the team; they cannot choose any other dollar amount. Those hearings will take place in the coming weeks. It might not be the most exciting day of the offseason, but it is a very necessary one as we move toward spring, and it certainly results in a high volume of transactions. By our count, 140 players reached agreements; you can see them all in our Offseason Tracker. Just click on the player to find out the amounts. Here’s what we learned from the contracts that did — and did not — get signed last Friday.

Some Clarity Emerged Surrounding Potential Trades

Trade rumors continue to circle Mookie Betts, Kris Bryant, and Francisco Lindor, and determining an official salary number for 2020 could be useful in setting up potential trades. Teams aren’t going to let a few million dollars stand in the way when negotiating the trade of a superstar, but knowing that Mookie Betts will make exactly $27 million (breaking Nolan Arenado’s final-year arbitration record of $26 million) provides some clarity. It also ensures that any team that trades for him would not have to go through the arbitration process with a player they just acquired. Francisco Lindor is still two years away from free agency and his $17.5 million salary is a bargain for Cleveland, just as it would be for any team looking to trade for him. Kris Bryant’s $18.6 million figure is an exception here. While we now know what he’ll be making in 2020, his grievance against the Cubs for service time manipulation has yet to be decided, and the chance that Bryant could be a free agent after 2020 instead of 2021 will likely continue to prevent meaningful negotiations.

File and Trial Produces Settlements and Unnecessary Arbitration

Several years ago, teams began to adopt an arbitration strategy where they would elect not to negotiate single-season salaries once arbitration figures had been exchanged. This strategy, called File and Trial, meant that any agreement needed to come before the arbitration deadline. Exchanging figures was no longer another step in an attempted settlement prior to a hearing, but instead, effectively ended negotiations. The strategy was designed to spur early settlements and extract lower figures from players, as they needed to ensure that they submitted a figure likely to result in an arbitrator siding with them in a hearing. The strategy has been successful, but its utility will come into question over the coming weeks. Read the rest of this entry »

How Winning and Financial Power Affect Free Agent Spending

Over the past few days, we’ve discussed the cost of a win in free agency and how that cost has been lowered for slightly below-average players. In this post, I want to examine some of the potential driving forces behind these changes. Specifically, I want to take a look at the following assumptions about how teams operate with respect to paying for wins on the free agent market.

  • The closer teams get to the playoffs, the more money they will be willing to spend on players because of the monetary benefits that come from making the playoffs.
  • The more money a team has, the more they will be willing to spend on a win on the free agent market because they can afford it, and vice versa (i.e. the Rays won’t spend the same dollars per win as the Yankees because the Rays have to hunt for bargains while the Yankees can afford to make the highest offer to any player they want).

We’ll take these assumptions one at a time. While there isn’t a great way to bucket teams by whether they’re “close” to the postseason without some degree of arbitrariness, I opted to look at a team’s projected win totals for each of the last two seasons, plus its current projected WAR for next season. I put teams into three categories: likely playoff teams, teams with a decent shot at the playoffs, and teams with little to no hope of making the playoffs. For the first group, I included teams projected to win at least 86 games, which usually provides a 50% or greater shot at the playoffs. For the second group, I included teams projected to win at least 77 games, but fewer than 86, which is roughly aligns with the 10%-50% range in terms of playoff odds. In the final group, I put teams with fewer than 77 projected wins.

The table below shows how much each group is spending over the last three offseasons, including this one:

Spending Based on Projected Win Totals
Wins Teams Players Dollars $/WAR (2018-2020)
86+ 28 84 $2106 M $9.0 M
77-86 33 104 $2299 M $8.3 M
77- 29 57 $656 M $8.3 M

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