Amaro, Howard Agree to Three-Year Deal

With seven of his eight arbitration-eligible players taken care of this off-season, things were looking good for new GM Ruben Amaro, despite an ill-advised signing of free agent outfielder Raul Ibanez after spitting at Pat Burrell, now a Tampa Bay Ray. Howard’s situation was a complicated one; it was — if I may exaggerate a bit — a minefield.

Go year-to-year with him and you probably end up grossly overpaying for an overrated player.

Sign him to a multi-year deal of the two- or three-year variety and you might be stuck with an ineffective player towards the end of the contract. He may become an untradeable burden.

Sign him to a multi-year deal of the four- to six-year variety and you are attaching yourself to a player whose body type does not scream “I’ll age gracefully” and accepting that your first baseman alone will account for 15% of your payroll for the next 4-6 years. You would then have about as much flexibility financially as Citigroup does right now.

Amaro ended up going with the second option — a short multi-year deal that takes him through his arb-eligible years and ends when he becomes a free agent after the 2011 season. And, as he has done so well this season, Amaro made the deal a win-win for both sides. Howard will make $54 million over the next three years ($15M, $19M, $20M from ’09-’11), an average annual value of $18 million — which was what Howard was asking for in arbitration.

FanGraphs has estimated Howard’s value the last three seasons as follows…

2006:  1.084 OPS, 0.2 UZR/150 — $25.7M

2007:  .976 OPS, -1.3 UZR/150 — $17.1M

2008: .881 OPS, 0.7 UZR/150 — $14.1M

Of the four projection systems listed on FanGraphs, Oliver is the only one that sees him with an OPS under .900 in 2009:

  • Bill James: .963 OPS
  • CHONE: .955
  • Marcel: .922
  • Oliver: .892

If Howard is closer to the James/CHONE projections and he “breaks even” defensively (0.0-ish UZR/150), he’ll probably be worth $17-19M next year, which would make his salary pretty darn accurate to an AAV of $18M. Howard’s value is even a bit higher if the theory of MattS from The Good Phight is correct:

Due to the location of first base (the right side of the infield), teams employ large shifts for left-handed power hitters when it is possible, frequently placing three infielders on the right side of the diamond.  However, when there are runners on base, it is more difficult to position infielders in such a way that minimizes the hitter’s chance of hitting safely if they hit the ball in play.  The result is that for a given batting average, a left-handed power hitter is actually more likely to get those hits when runners are on base.  These are naturally higher leverage situations in general.  Hence, a given batting line for a left-handed power hitter is more valuable than the equivalent batting line for right-handed power hitters.

Later in the comments, he explains Howard’s value:

Ryan Howard is probably about $500K more valuable (1 run) than his context-neutral stats would suggest. So is David Ortiz. So is Jason Giambi. Because these hitters will systematically overperform the implied run value of their AVG/OBP/SLG/SB/CS stats, they are more valuable than the right handed equivalent.

As long as Howard’s production doesn’t completely divebomb between now and the end of the 2011 season, he most likely will have deserved the $54 million. Here are a couple more great things about the deal:

  • The contract isn’t so expensive so as to make Howard untradeable, and he is and most likely will continue to be productive enough to entice teams to want to trade for him despite the expense. This will be more relevant in 2011.
  • The Phillies can still offer him arbitration after his contract expires. If Howard declines, which he most likely will, the Phils get two draft picks as compensation for his leaving (assuming he’s a Type A).

Major kudos to Ruben Amaro for excellently handling arbitration, although it still won’t make me forget spurning Pat the Bat for Raul Freakin’ Ibanez.

BDD: Manuel’s Three Things

At Baseball Daily Digest, I’ve come up with three things Charlie Manuel should do to ensure another successful season for his Philadelphia Phillies.

Hamels went from 183 and one-third regular season innings and 6 and two-thirds post-season innings (190 total) in 2007 to 227 and one-third regular season innings and 35 post-season innings (262 and one-third) in 2008. That’s an increase of 72 total innings — more than double Verducci’s threshold! Even if you count the regular season only, that’s a 37-inning jump, which still qualifies.

As much as you hate to choose not to utilize your best starter, it might be smart for Manuel to make Hamels skip a start or at least push him back a few days, only against non-divisional opponents and ones the Phillies should have no problem dealing with (i.e. the Pirates or the Padres).

Let’s Not Crucify Selig for This

Warning: This gets a bit political. I realize that not everyone agrees with my viewpoints.  I welcome debates, just keep it civil.

Pete Barth of The Sheboygan Press has a column up this morning criticizing Bud Selig over his salary. Before I tread lightly into the issue, I’ll quote Craig Calcaterra over at ShysterBall:

It’s quick and easy to compare his salary to Derek Jeter or Joe the schoolteacher’s and act all outraged, but Bud is in the entertainment business. In light of that it would make much more sense to compare him to Robert Iger or the head of some other entertainment company. My guess is that his salary seems pretty reasonable against that backdrop.

Okay, now into Barth’s column.

Capitalism run amok.

That’s the best way to describe the stunning news that Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig got a $3 million raise and drew $17.47 million worth of compensation in 2007, according to public tax returns.

Listen, I’m very much a critic of capitalism myself (Naomi Klein is one of my favorite people, if that gives you any indication), but Bud Selig’s salary isn’t even close to an example of “capitalism run amok.”

Capitalism (more specifically, corporatism) run amok is Blackwater Worldwide usurping a lot of the responsibilities of the U.S. military, thanks to a no-bid contract; it’s Halliburton‘s involvement in the Middle East with its ties to the Bush presidency. It’s not Bud Selig being paid several million dollars for leading one of the more successful businesses in the United States.

But there’s no way Selig deserves that kind of money.

What we think others deserve is entirely subjective. Rarely do we have a systemic way of figuring out monetary value, similar to the way FanGraphs does it for baseball players. So, there’s no objective way, really, to determine what Selig “deserves.” And, frankly, I don’t think it’s for any of us — fans, bloggers, sportswriters, etc. — to determine, since very few of us know what Selig has to do on a daily, weekly, monthly, yearly basis.

Basically, Barth’s presumption that Selig is undeserving of his salary is a knee-jerk reaction to the sum total.

But this is how it works in a nation where top-level CEOs continue to draw huge, huge, out-of-alignment bonuses and salaries while the rank and file continues to struggle and lose jobs by the hundreds of thousands.

The two aren’t directly related, as it seems Barth is implying. And you can’t connect the salary of the commissioner of Major League Baseball to the plight of the working class, the majority of whom work for companies that are sinking. Major League Baseball is most certainly not sinking (in large part thanks to Selig himself), so it can afford to pay Selig that kind of money.

This sentiment is expressed a lot, especially lately: Person X in Group A makes lots of money while People Y struggle in Group Z. Person X is [overpaid/should give money back/insert lame utopian fantasy].

If Selig’s salary doesn’t bother you, how about this little nugget: he drew $422,590 in expense account allowances, up from $140,603 the year before.

Wow. What a lifestyle.

Burn him!

At least Selig didn’t request a bailout, then treat 70 of his employees to a luxorious spa treatment, like AIG did. There are your enemies; there are your bad guys.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with getting rich in this great nation of ours. Especially when hard-working, risk-taking Americans start businesses, grow them and see the fruits of their labor.

It’s the American Dream, and it’s a beautiful thing.

Don’t you love it when you sit down to write an article expressing a specific view about a controversial issue, and then when you’re nearly finished your article, you contradict yourself completely? I hate that!

Actually, he’s going for the same objective people have when they say, “I’m not racist, but…” and then they follow right up with something obnoxiously racist.

But the news of Selig’s ridiculous salary to oversee a relatively self-reliant sports league is a little microcosm of what ails us economically today.

I agree with the first part: I’d like to see more economic equality. But the salaries of big-wig businesspeople have very little to do with the economic problems of this country, and it’s very simplistic to think it can be narrowed down to a small array of problems, as Barth implies.

Often, the issues that arise in sports have some connection with American culture at large, but there’s a great deal of manufacturing going on when many writers (Barth isn’t the only one, he’s simply the unlucky person I chose to single out) are abusing the same premise of “If Bud = Wealthy, Then Bud = Evil/Greedy/Undeserving/Enemy to America.”

Selig has made quite a few errors in his tenure as commissioner. You can crucify him for calling the All-Star Game a tie in 2002, or for failing to step in and halt Game 5 of the 2008 World Series. But you can’t crucify him for his bank account balance.

BDD: WBC Prospect Primer

At Baseball Daily Digest (notice the name change), I’ve highlighted the twelve prospects that show up on their respective teams’ top-ten lists (according to Baseball America).

Phillies #2 prospect Carlos Carrasco will be pitching for Venezuela.

  •  Carlos Carrasco (#2), RHP, Venezuela
  • he’s already got three solid big-league ready pitches, he’s shown durability and endurance needed to be a front-line starter, and he’s got the brains to outsmart sluggers from outing to outing and at-bat to at-bat. If Philly gives the kid a shot, expect some highlight-reel performances. [Scouting Book]

Lend A Helping Hand

If you’ve been following news in the Philadelphia area lately, Coatesville (a city in Chester County) has been under siege. Arsonists have been lighting the place up for about a year now.

MSNBC:

On Monday, Coatesville was under a state of emergency. The feds were called in and people were, in one woman’s words, “talking about taking up arms.

There’ve been 14 arsons this year and 15 last year. The most recent, this past weekend, spread to 15 row homes.

Many are without homes and have nothing but the clothes on their back. They are relying on the generosity of others to help them through this trying time.

With many thanks to CalvinBall, a poster at the Phillies forum Back She Goes, I am presenting pertinent information should you feel generous enough to make a donation to aid these families who have fallen victim to these senseless acts.

Click here to read all of the information in full.

If you want to give money, you can write a tax deductible check to CCGM (the ministry that is over Camp Old Mill, and partnered with the Bridge Academy and Community Center in Coatesville). Write ‘Fire Release’ in the memo. Every cent will go towards these families. It will mostly be buying gift cards, but will vary if their needs require something else. If you would rather just get a gift card and send it, you can do that as well. Anything will help!

County Corrections Gospel Mission

PO Box 1136

Coatesville, Pa 19320

BDD: Empathy for Adam Eaton

At Baseball Digest Daily, I explain why I am a charter member of the Adam Eaton fan club.

I’m not going to go out and purchase a Phillies jersey with “Eaton” and his number 23 (I’m sure he meant no offense to His Airness) on the back. But I’m the charter member of his fan club if for no other reason than that I refuse to piggyback on a guy who, most likely, could stand to carry a lighter burden.

Werth Is Cool; Howard Is Not

A nice quote from Jayson Werth per David Murphy, PDN:

You look at the guys around here – we have some high-caliber guys. We have some guys who are really good baseball players. But on top of that, they’re young. You look at Cole – he’s what, 24 [actually, 25]? We’ve got some guys that can play for a long time, so it makes sense to bring all these guys back here. And we were successful, and it just shows you the type of organization that the Phillies are. They’re first class all the way. They take care of their guys, they want to win, and they put a product on the field that is conducive to winning. And then after they win, they bring everybody back . . . It’s good to be successful, and it’s good to have an organization that wants to be successful.

Jayson WerthRead that, and then hearken back to the days of Curt Schilling and Scott Rolen, both of whom were peeved at the Phils’ inability to commit to winning. How quickly the tides can change.

One day, you’re putting Alex Gonzalez (the bad one) in the six-hole; the next day, you’ve got Shane Victorino in there.

For as much as new GM Ruben Amaro has been bashed for poorly handling the Pat Burrell situation, he does deserve kudos for how he’s handled 7 out of the 8 arbitration issues this off-season. Maybe player analysis isn’t his strength — his strength could lie in evaluating contracts. It’s a change from Pat Gillick, of course; he is arguably the opposite if you take a look at the Adam Eaton and Geoff Jenkins contracts.

Werth’s comments were pleasing to read, since players usually don’t make the effort to offer compliments — it’s easy to take the contracts for granted.

On the flipside, you have Ryan Howard, the only Phillie whose contract issues haven’t been quelled yet. With the advice of his family and agent Casey Close, Howard has expressed that he thinks he should be one of the highest-paid players in baseball given his incredible power numbers. Officially, Howard and his agent submitted an $18 million request to the Phillies, who countered with $14 million.

Unless they settle prior to arbitration, either Howard will get $18 million or $14 million; there is no compromise. Unlike last year, the Phillies are highly likely to win because their offer is a substantial raise and one of the highest arbitration offers ever, and Howard is coming off of yet another season that saw a decline in offensive numbers across the board. An 80% raise for declining production is absurd, and not even a Sabermetrics-avoiding panel of arbitrators could justify that.

Howard isn’t eligible for free agency until after the 2011 season, but it’s fairly obvious that if he thinks he should be that well-compensated, his time in Philly is winding down.

He’s 29, so the Phillies will control him in his final “prime years” (and that may have passed already, as players of Howard’s build do not age well) and thus can confidently go year-to-year in arbitration with him. They will be slightly overpaying for his services, but will not be bound to a contract that can potentially hamstring the organization.

Trading Howard after the 2009 season would probably be the best route to capitalize on his value, assuming he does not have a disastrous season. Other teams will get two full seasons with the slugger, and can either trade him again, or recoup draft picks when Howard becomes a free agent. Additionally, with Howard’s aging concerns, the sooner the Phillies can get back a healthy return for the slugger, the better. The Phillies wouldn’t want to get stuck trying to trade a player with $20 million requests whose OPS struggles to reach .825.

Further, a few of the Phillies’ contracts are backloaded, so having payroll space to accommodate for this is important. The list:

  • Chase Utley: $11M in ’09 | $15M in ’10-’13.
  • Raul Ibanez: $6.5M in ’09 | $11.5M in ’10 and ’11.
  • Cole Hamels: $4.35M in ’09 | $6.65M in ’10, and $9.5M in ’11.
  • Jayson Werth: $2M in ’09 | $7M in ’10.
  • Ryan Madson: $2M in ’09 | $4.5M in ’10 and ’11.
  • TOTAL: $25.85M in ’09 | $44.65M in ’10 ($18.8M difference) .

That’s a 72.7% increase in salary for those five players alone from ’09 to ’10, or about 15% of a $130M payroll.

Amaro, who has shown excellent judgment when it comes to the business side of baseball, will have to deal with all of this and will have the burden of trading a very popular player. Ultimately, trading Howard — for a handsome assortment of players and prospects — after the ’09 season would be a positive step for the team.

If the Phillies don’t get a first baseman in the package for Howard, it becomes an intriguing conundrum as to how to plug that hole. Moving Utley — who has some limited time at first base in his career as a Phillie — over a few feet would be neutralizing his amazing defense at second base. Other than that, the Phillies really have no realistic options for first base. Pat Burrell would have been a logical option … oops.

Aubrey Huff will be a free agent after the ’09 season. Just saying.

Credit Where Credit Is Due [Updated!]

If you’ve kept up with this blog with any frequency, it’s no secret to you that I do not have a warm place in my heart for new Phillies GM Ruben Amaro, and that’s justifiable given the head-scratching deals he’s made. You know, like losing two first-round draft picks, not upgrading defensively, and downgrading offensively by replacing Pat Burrell with Raul Ibanez.

Phillies General Manager Ruben Amaro Jr.

However, I have to give the man props. Heading into arbitration with eight players, he could have been taken to the cleaners, but, being proactive, he wouldn’t let that happen… at least not yet.

Greg Dobbs signed a two-year deal worth $2.25 million. According to FanGraphs player valuations, Dobbs has been worth nearly $9.5 million the last two seasons combined. As a left-handed hitter who can play all four corner infield and outfield positions, he is a critical piece of the Phillies’ puzzle.

The big news is that Amaro got Cole Hamels to agree to a three-year deal. Hamels was a concern given that he was insulted last off-season. With this extension, he’ll earn $20.5 million through 2011.

FanGraphs player valuations cite Hamels as being worth $9.5 million in ’06, $15.5 million in ’07, and $20.6 million in ’08.

Both deals, relative to the valuations, show Amaro significantly benefiting from both deals.

Bravo, Ruben.

UPDATE, 1/19/09: Phils, Madson agree to three-year extension.

The deal, which is pending a physical exam, is believed to be for $12 million, with incentives.

FanGraphs values Madson the past three seasons at about $11 million. Mad Dog made huge strides last season, increasing his velocity (and subsequently his strikeout rate) and lowering his walk rate. With a 3.05 ERA the past two seasons, he’s become the Phillies’ go-to guy before Brad Lidge.

Amaro strikes again. Three-for-three with his attempts to avoid arbitration, and he’s taken care of three of the eight arbitration-eligible Phillies.

UPDATE (just for consistency):

  • Jayson Werth, Chad Durbin avoid arbitration [Delco Times]
  • So does Joe Blanton [MLB.com]
  • And Shane Victorino [KHNL]

BDD: 5 Guys to Bank on in ’09

At Baseball Digest Daily, I’ve suggested five players I think will defy our expectations in the ’09 season. Here’s a snippet:

However, Rollins — who can now be referred to as a seasoned veteran — had an impressive change in his peripherals in ‘08. His walk rate increased by three percent and his strikeout rate decreased by two percent. As such, he doubled his ‘07 strikeout-to-walk ratio. This correlates well with his overall three percent dip in swings. Oddly enough, his contact with pitches outside the strike zone jumped from 68.5% in ‘07 to 78% last season. Probably an aberration, but interesting nonetheless.

Rollins’ line drive rate is back, too! His LD% was at 24%, his highest since 2003, and over a four percent increase from ’07. However, his BABIP didn’t reflect the increased line drive rate, sitting at an average .292. When Rollins had similar line drive rates previously in his career, his BABIP was around .310. Rollins was a bit unfortunate last season on balls in play.

Who do you think will surprise us?