clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

a confession; and problems of value

New, 559 comments

now that the new year is upon us, i have the chance to do something i wanted to do five weeks ago.

i never knew when, but i always knew this day would come. it's time for me to talk about the past and to confirm what people have suspected. i used to drink alcohol during the composition of my blog posts in november and december of 2009 and I apologize. i remember trying to write after three glasses of wine or, in the holiday season, a glass of store-bought eggnog heavily spiked with rum.

i wish i had never touched any post-enhancing drinks (PEDs). it was foolish and it was a mistake. i truly apologize. looking back, i wish i had never posted during the drunk-blogging era.

i'm sure people will wonder if i would have written in the same way if i hadn't blogged while half in the bag. i had good posts i wrote sober and bad posts i wrote drunk. but no matter what, i should have just said no, like nancy reagan and gary coleman used to tell me in very special episodes of "diff'rent strokes." 

blogging is really different now. sbnation has cleaned the place up a lot. i now have to blow into a little straw attached to the usb port of my laptop to post at all. if that thing doesn't read 0.05 or less, i get automatically redirected to the p-d forums. they've shown me some tough love, and i'm glad they did.

after all this time, i want to come clean. i was not in a position to do that five weeks ago in response to probing questions about why whole lines of text appeared as gibberish or why i led my december 19th post with what appeared to be a low-resolution camera phone picture of my own navel, but i now feel an obligation to discuss this and answer questions about it. i'll do that, and then i just want to help this blog make the internet a happier, nerdier place. 

right after this glass of port.

while the offseason of 2009-2010 is not yet over, we've seen enough of it to have some sense of its measure. most recently, matt holliday just blew the hot stove up. among its smoldering embers, the one that burns the hottest at the moment seems to be . . . joel pineiro. the dodgers and the mets are both taking careful looks at him. anybody who said in january of 2009 that joel pineiro would be the free agent starting pitcher in third or fourth greatest demand after lackey and wolf and maybe harden, step right up.

something which has driven me crazy this off-season is the bizarre treatment of some arbitration-eligible free agents. a first, and easy, objection to the free agency-arbitration system is that the elias rankings were dated when they came out and haven't aged well, misprizing defense being the most obvious defect, which leaves mike cameron a type B and jermaine dye a type A. more thought has been put in by some good sabermetricians on the value of an individual draft pick -- for instance, here and also, newly published, here. nate silver wrote the seminal article on the topic several years ago before he started writing about boring things like the electoral college and teabags and health care, but it's for paying readers only [insert greedy sabermetrician joke here].

my concern this year has focused around the failure to offer arbitration to some obviously appropriate candidates for arbitration. some type A free agents are so obviously valuable that offering arbitration is risk-free (holliday, bay, lackey). some type A free agents are clearly on the decline or prone to injury such that an offer of arbitration would be immediately accepted and would cost the club substantially more in arbitration than on the free market (troy glaus, jermaine dye, etc.). a third group, which presents unique challenges, are relievers; apart from "closers" (i am tempted to continue to place the word "closer" in quotes just because i think i hate it), even good relievers are worth less than the value of a first- (or second-, for teams with protected picks) round pick (see octavio dotel, darren oliver). last is a group of what tends to be infielders without the eye-popping slugging values of the matt hollidays of the world, but with solid offensive production; this year, the group featured orlando hudson, orlando cabrera, and placido polanco.

of the first group, the only person who clearly fits the first category who was denied arbitration was randy wolf. what a terrible decision by the dodgers, their financial situation notwithstanding. what was the real risk? first, he was almost certain to decline arb, knowing that offers like the one he got for multiple years and eight figures would await. second, even if he accepted, the dodgers would have had a second tier pitcher on their hands on a one-year deal at about his market value. given that they are now looking at rotation help (like the esteemed mr. pineiro), they could, you know, have let him pitch. or, if money was really that tight, they could have traded him after the arbitration process.

the second group had few surprises. the only player who may have arguably gotten unfairly lumped in here is johnny damon, and the progress of the hot stove season suggests that the yankees made the right choice to refuse arb for him. damon will likely get less on the market than his arb value. 

in the third group, a lot of teams took the chances that their "closers" would reject arbitration and net them two picks. the last signing in this group - valverde - was a very hard decision. i'm inclined to think the tigers chose wrongly in doing so, but i am less charitable than danup. at any rate, nobody got juan cruz'd this year among relievers.

in the fourth group, arb was denied across the board to these players. chone figgins and marco scutaro were the only infielders to be offered arb. both rejected arb and received major deals. 

* * *

type a cases - except for aberrant cases like wolf - are actually less interesting than type b cases. for type b free agents, the signing team suffers no penalty, but the team that offered arbitration gains a supplementary pick. in theory, type b free agents should be like free money; the only restraint is the concern that the type b free agent will accept arb and be less valuable than what one could have otherwise done with that money (braden looper, melvin mora). 

maybe it was the tight economy, but very few type b free agents were offered arb - only 13. some surprising names on the list of those not offered arb - nick johnson, mike cameron, bedard, doug davis, jon garland, harden, vincente padilla, pettitte, etc. some of those names can be attributed to the same crunched budgets (and internal front office strife) that led the dodgers to deny arb to randy wolf. the brewers (cameron), the cubs (harden), arizona (davis), and the dodgers, again (padilla, garland). [btw, revisit this dave cameron gem about the cubs from last year, their good but not great gm, and their excellent financing. also, they were the best team in the NL in 2009, apparently.]  some arb denials came from clubs relatively flush with cash - seattle (bedard) and new york (pettite). in both cases, one assumes the club just felt the player would make more in arb than on the free market, which may well be right. note that both clubs ended up needing more pitching. 

in addition to the tight economy, the other theme of this offseason has been the hangover. clubs are really paying now for what they thought earlier in the decade (do i have to say last decade already?) was a new era in gigantic contracts. each of the clubs above now claiming poverty have sunk tons of money into players who are modestly good at best. by my count, the dodgers may have left as many as  4 picks on the table (wolf and two type B picks) - maybe more if you think belliard or orlando hudson were good wagers to reject arb (which i doubt). the dodgers have tapped out their farm system in the best way -- by putting good farm graduates on the field. but they're still going to need a continuing stock of talent to keep the club running, and all those picks could have made the 2010 draft one to sustain the club for a long time. this offseason has been a gigantic step back for the org, and even the issue of the divorce rings hollow in justifying this kind of negligent management. even if padilla or garland had accepted arb, they remain very tradeable pieces on the open market.

in a curiosity, the one player inexplicably offered arb was pudge rodriguez. texas took the chance that pudge would call their bluff and go to arb. he didn't, and the nats (who somehow were afraid offering nick johnson arb would put them in the poorhouse) doubled down on texas's questionable choice and gave him a two year contract. texas walks away with a pick from the pudge signing and the byrd signing. two not spectacular players that texas had the guts to offer arb to and texas gets two extra chances to make their farm more ridiculously great. 

i will say i really liked the offer of arb to both derosa and pineiro. mo made good decisions on those two and the no-brainers on holliday and glaus.

* * *

what we need is a new system with two key features. first, we have to get away from traditional elias rankings that undervalue strong defenders and overvalue poor ones, as well as relying on weaker traditional stats like saves and wins for pitchers. second, we have to stop penalizing the players by taking away the first round picks from teams who sign type A free agents.

the solution to the first question will require some negotiation and some incorporation of these egghead stats. the second one seems reasonably clear: follow the supplemental round pick model. eliminate the rule that allows the offering team to poach the signing team's pick. in addition to the unfair burden put on the player (and the perverse incentive to play badly that it gives to a player whose stats put him on the border between type A and type B  in the last month of a season), the "penalty" is somewhat arbitrary since half of the teams will lose a far less valuable 2nd round pick for signing a type A free agent. you could instead grant the offering club two supplemental picks between the first and second rounds.

alternately, you could create a secondary supplemental round between the second and third round. give teams who offer arb to a type A free agent who declines and signs elsewhere a round 1A pick and a round 2A pick, and teams who offer arb to a type B free agent who declines and signs elsewhere a round 2A pick. 

either way, a reformed system would accomplish what it was designed to do; to encourage, not discourage, the offer of arbitration. 

the other lesson here is that if you have any money at all, get a prenup. or maybe don't get married.