weekend discussion thread

you've heard of Reefer Madness? behold Reliever Madness:

player team deal
f'sworth (?!?!) yanks 3 yr / $17m
gordon phils 3 yr / $18m
h carrasco(?!?!) angels 2 yr / $6m
worrell giants 2 yr / $4m
howry cubs 3 yr / $12m
eyre cubs 3 yr / $11m
dejean rox 2 yr / $2.6m
timlin boxos 1 yr / $3.5m

and that's just what they're paying setup men; the chart doesn't even include the two mega-deals for closers wagner and ryan. the madness is nowhere close to being over; several teams with money to burn (yankees, red sox, orioles, angels, and tigers, among others) are still looking for bullpen help, and less profligate teams like the braves and padres (both of them defending division champs) will also be bidding and driving up prices. so don't look for looper and tavarez and todd jones and ricardo rincon to go for cheap.

the market for outfielders, by contrast, doesn't look nearly as terrifying. the top-shelvers may command loony dollars, but the bobby howrys and scott eyres of the outfielder class -- reggie sanders, matt lawton, rondell white, jerry burnitz -- will probably sign for 2 or 3 years at $3m to $5m per. and the cards really only need to sign one; they can get by with a gooch/rodr'z/gall/luna medley at one corner if necessary.

so -- assuming that j marquis is gonna be traded -- maybe the smart play would be to trade him for bullpen help instead of for an outfielder.

not the first time i've made this argument. i've already sung praises for toronto's frasor and speier and (in the same post) the rangers' joaquin benoit, all three of whom would likely be at least as good as a looper or tavarez -- but only cost 1/5th as much. and don't kid yourself that marquis is too valuable to give up for a mere setup reliever. jason in 2005 had a VORP of 18.8 and 9 win shares (pitching only) -- speier beat him in VORP (22.8) and had 7 win shares, while frasor's totals (17.9 VORP, 7 win shares) were comparable. for that matter, al reyes' VORP also beat jason's at 23.3, and he had 8 pitching win shares to jason's 9.

so no, a slam-door setup guy is not too little to get back for marquis -- particularly if said door-slammer contributes comparable value for a fraction of the salary. the payroll diff'l means that you could flip marquis for one of these guys (and you might be able to get a mid-level prospect or two as throw-ins) and use the payroll savings to a) sign a free-agent outfielder of the reggie sanders ilk, or b) pay retail for one of those overpriced free-agent relievers. so the return on marquis ends up being something like benoit and sanders, or speier and tavarez. you'd come out way ahead on the deal; no brainer.

so, in that vein, here's another potential trading partner: the indians. they have two holes to fill in their rotation (millwood and elarton both leaving via free agency) and a deep crop of bullpenners that includes arthur rhodes, fernando cabrera, rafael betancourt, and david riske. admittedly the tribe's closer slot is vacant, but they're trying to fill that with a free-agent; went hard after wagner and ryan, now said to be courting trevor hoffman. once that guy is in place, the indians will be looking to dump a reliever.

indeed, they've already tried: offered riske to the phillies along with coco crisp as part of a package for jim thome. no doubt he's the one they'd most like to trade. he's a six-year veteran who made $1.4 million last year and stands to get a sizeable arbitration-induced raise for 2006 -- after which he walks. riske has put up some excellent numbers, and last year he essentially tied marquis in VORP (18.7) and posted 6 pitching win shares. but check out the strikeout rate: after fanning more than a hitter an inning for four consecutive years, riske in 2005 fanned just 48 guys in 73 innings. it was his 3d consecutive year of 70+ innings pitched; very high danger quotient.

a better option for st louis would be rafael betancourt. here is cleveland's answer to al reyes: a 31-year-old right-hander, venezuelan, who served a long minor-league apprenticeship and blossomed late. from 2000 thru 2002 he threw only 24 innings, apparently because of injury; but in 2003 he was literally a new man -- unhittable at double a (75 strikeouts in 46 innings) and very effective in half a season with the indians (2.13 era). his strikeout rate and k/w ratio remain very impressive; he made barely over the minimum in 2005 and won't be arbitration eligible for another year or two. he beat marquis in VORP (20.4) and was comparable in win shares (7).

then there's fernando cabrera, a 23-year-old flamethrower who some regard as the tribe's closer of the future. both baseball america and john sickels had him ranked as cleveland's 7th-best prospect; he struck out 10.6 per nine innings last year (triple a and mlb combined). with just 19 major-league games under his belt, he is nowhere near arbitration eligibility. i doubt the indians would part with him very easily. but if they're unable to find a starter via free agency, you never know. this indians are anxious to win in 2006 and erase the memory of their last-week collapse in '05.

a final candidate might be detroit's fernando rodney, a minor league standout with mild control problems who finally started to fulfill his promise last year. he became the tigers' closer after farnsworth got traded and went 9 for 13 in save opps; logged 5 win shares, 14.3 VORP.

let this be the sabbath discussion thread; i won't be popping in here over the weekend less'n we hear something about you-know-who. peace ev'ybody

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