I spent time this morning revising my post below trying to make sense of the Mets’ payroll. This included reading the CBA, and that’s always a hoot.
Anyway, I believe my original point stands better now. If the Mets are to eclipse last year’s $87 million payroll, they must add only about $13 million in salary for 2014 given a current baseline.
Issues with the Previous Analysis
1. Buyouts are Signing Bonuses for Luxury Tax Purposes
First and foremost, I learned something: for the purposes of the competitive balance tax, buyouts get treated as signing bonuses, and are prorated over the guaranteed years of a player’s contract (CBA XXIII, E-5-b). Thus, Santana’s $5.5 million buyout was treated asa $0.92 bonus over the first six guaranteed years (FOR TAX PURPOSES). How that changes the Mets’ accounting on Bay and Santana, I have no idea, although I suspect not much.
As I now understand it, this does not change the way in which the teams pay out the buyout, which happens before an option year, just the way the CBA counts that buyout money against team payroll.
2. Don’t Forget Players
I left a few players who played for the Mets in 2013 out of my original post.
I omitted Aaron Harang, Daisuke Matsuzaka, David Aardsma, Rick Ankiel, Tim Byrdak, Pedro Feliciano, Aaron Laffey and Sean Henn from the Mets’ 2013 payroll for no other reason than I forgot about them. (Stands to reason, they were all awesome.) This octet combined for $1,081,600 in my estimation system, although I did not apply any adjustments to the minimum veterans’ salaries, so I suspect they earned more than that.
Service Time Adjustments
I credited Josh Edgin with a full season in the big leagues, and a full year of MLB salary when he spent all of May and the first week of June in the minors. This overstated his cost to the Mets by about $113,000.
I neglected to give Wilfredo Tovar credit for his week and a half in the big leagues and the extra ~$58k he earned that way.
If I do nothing to my earlier signing bonus accounting, the tweaks I made to these 10 players pushed my estimate of the Mets’ 2013 payroll up to $88,410,960.
This includes all payments to players who were on the team’s 40-man roster, while they were in the majors and minors.
I have excluded the $0.25 million the Mets paid the Pirates as part of the John Buck/Marlon Byrd/Vic Black/Dilson Herrera swap and any other cash swaps as part of trades.
I’m still treating the buyouts as lump-sum payments due at the end of the guaranteed years. This is wrong relative to the CBA’s accounting, but matches when the bonuses are actually paid out in the real world.
The next step will be correcting that. Again, here’s my working spreadsheet (Mets Payroll) if you want to play along.
I’m leaving this issue for the day. I believe that my original point is still valid. Sandy Alderson’s proclamations that the Mets’ 2014 payroll will exceed 2013′s $87 million commits the Mets to spending, at this point, a minimum of $13 million more and possibly $20 if Jason Bay’s impact is removed. So, Mets fans can and should expect to see the Mets adding some players and salary moving forward.
Of course, players are not only measured in salary, and the idea is to add good major league players. The Mets could use more of those whether they can play the outfield, SS, or pitch. Adding good or even great players in free agency is awfully expensive. And that circles right back to the budget.
Last week, Mets GM Sandy Alderson told the world that the Mets’ 2014 payroll would be higher than their 2013 payroll, calculated at $87 million. This was reported as major Mets news. It’s really just a promise to spend in the neighborhood of $15 million in additional money on the 2014 team.
Forget what you’ve read elsewhere about the Mets’ payroll flexibility this winter. It is exaggerated. The Mets already have over $70 million committed to their 2014 payroll already. They should surpass that $87 million with ease. In fact, that $87 million is just a floor, and a very low one given the team’s existing commitments.
I confess that November’s $87 million number was new to me, but that’s my fault. Alderson first used it at the Mets’ September 30 end-of-season press conference.
- Per Adam Rubin, at ESPNNY, “Alderson said excluding the money owed to former Met Jason Bay, the Mets payroll for this past season ended up around $87-88 million.“
- At the New York Daily News, Kristie Ackert heard Alderson’s September comments as foreshadowing a similar payroll in 2014: “Alderson, who said the payroll will be around $87 million-$88 million, described himself as finally being free from financial constraints he has had to deal with…”
- Mike Puma in the New York Post, “Alderson said the Mets’ payroll this year — excluding the deferred payments still owed to Jason Bay — was in the $87 million to $88 million range. “
Baseball Prospectus’ invaluable Cot’s Contracts listed the Mets’ 2013 Opening Day payroll at $93,684,590. By shifting much of Jason Bay’s money from 2013 to 2014 and 2015, and carefully accounting for the team’s in-season moves, I could match the Mets’ own $87 million estimate.
- the Mets spent $87,582,860 on the team’s 40-man payroll in 2013. (There were many small adjustments that went into creating this estimate, so focus on the big numbers to the left, rather than a false sense of precision over the last dollar.)
- The team has over $74.5 million committed in 2014, depending a little on how Bay’s money is split between 2014 and 2015.
First, a caveat: I was unable to duplicate the math that produced Cots Opening Day number precisely, but I could get close.
I credited minor league players, who were on the 40-man roster, but not in the big leagues as earning $39,900, as the MLB Collective Bargaining Agreement demands. My estimate on Opening Day payroll landed $889,040 over Cots’ estimate, so I suspect Cots was shorting the minor leaguers a few bucks, perhaps by using an old minor league minimum. For our purposes, that wiggle room under $1 million is well within the margin of error.
The major discrepancy between the Mets’ accounting and Cots’ estimation is the treatment of Bay and Santana’s money. When the Mets released Bay last November, they owed him $21 million. Of that, $6 million was to be paid in 2013 while $15 million was to be paid out in 2014 and 2015 to be paid out in five installments. Cots included almost all of Jason Bay’s money in the 2013 number – a clear mistake – but did not include Johan Santana’s $5.5 million buyout.
At one time, like November 2012, the Mets planned to count all of Bay’s money – the scheduled $16 million salary, the $3 million buyout, and the $2 million that was left of his signing bonus – against their 2013 budget. By September 2013, the Mets were excluding at least the $12-15 million the team still owes Jason Bay in 2014 and 2015 from 2013 payroll numbers, but including Santana’s buyout. In essence, the team was counting only their actual 2013 payroll obligations of $6,125,000 to Bay in 2013′s budget. That makes sense. But the team still owes Jason Bay lots and lots of money. Will that zombie-like, undead money return to the 2014 payroll? The 2015 payroll? I suspect the answer is yes.
To match the Mets’ own estimate of $87-$88 million on 2013 salaries, I made the following adjustments:
- added Santana’s $5.5 million buyout to his $26.5 million salary. (Note: as commenters have pointed out below, $5 million of Santana’s contract was deferred every year, and then is payable seven years after it was “earned.” The Mets will be paying Santana then until 2020. I treated all of Santana’s money as due in 2013. In truth, then, the Mets’ actually paid out $5 million less in 2013 than I have accounted for.)
- cut Bay’s 2013 compensation to $6.125 million
- Prorated everything to account for MLB service time. This includes:
- the MLB contracts of DFA victims Collin Cowgill (45% of the season) and Brandon Lyon (53%)
- the MLB contracts of traded players like John Buck, Marlon Byrd, Collin McHugh, Eric Young Jr. and Vic Black
- the MLB and minor league time of Ike Davis, Lucas Duda, Ruben Tejada, Mike Baxter, Kirk Nieuwenhuis, Jordany Valdespin, Zach Lutz, Robert Carson, Travid d’Arnaud, Wilmer Flores, Gonzalez Germen, Juan Lagares, Zack Wheeler, Omar Quinatanilla, Vic Black, Carlos Torres, Josh Satin, Andrew Brown, Matt den Dekker and Juan Centeno
- I created an estimate of the percentage of the season a player spent on the active 25-man roster, and credited him with an MLB salary during that time, and assigned him a minor league salary for the rest of the year during which he was a Mets employee
- In the case of Nieuwenhuis, Lutz, Young, Torres, Carson, Satin and Brown and their ilk, all of whom had big league time prior to 2013, I used a minor league minimum of $80,000. The rules governing players like this, with big league time, but in their second or third season on a 40-man roster are complicated. Each player has an individualized salary floor depending on their previous season’s earnings, but for our purposes, whether they were making a prorated portion of $100,000 or $80,000 or something in between, in their minor league time, these numbers are close enough.
I made the following assumptions about the 2014 salaries:
1. ADDED IN $7.5 MILLION for JASON BAY. The Mets owe Jason Bay $15 million more after 2013. It could be that the team is splitting it $7.5 and 7.5 in the next two years or $6 million and $9 million, or some other more funky looking arrangement.
2. added arbitration raises to Arb2 players Dan Murphy ($6 M), Bobby Parnell ($3M), Scott Atchison ($1 M) and Omar Quintanilla ($1 M) consistent with Baseball Reference’s projections.
3. added arbitration raises to Arb1 players Ike Davis ($4 M), Dillon Gee ($3 M), Lucas Duda ($2 M), Eric Young Jr. ($2 M), Ruben Tejada ($1 M) and Justin Turner ($1 M) again consistent with Baseball Reference’s projections.
4. assigned Major League minimum salaries ($500,000) to the remainder of the Mets’ 40-man roster. In cases where the player had earned over $500,000 in any previous season, that player got credit for the extra salary (Scott Rice and Jeremy Hefner). This will deliberately understate the Mets’ 2014 payroll (but by less than a $1 million).
5. I made no adjustments for projecting Major League roster time. So, in my analysis, a guy like Juan Centeno is carrying the full MLB minimum of $500,000 whereas he will probably begin the year in AAA, earning the minor league minimum for a player on his second 40-man year of $81,500. This type of adjustment is relevant for the last few roster spots in the bullpen and in the outfield. This will overstate the Mets’ 2014 payroll (but by less than $3 million.)
The following chart explains all of this in numbers. The column on the left is the player’s Major League contract according to Cots. The middle column is an adjusted estimate of the player’s actual payroll to the 2013 Mets depending on my accounting of his time on the active 25-man roster. The final column is a projection for that player’s salary for the 2014 Mets.
|Brandon Lyon||750,000||402,750||DFA (7/9/13)|
|Marlon Byrd||700,000||567,000||FA (Phi)|
|Greg Burke||550,000||550,000||FA (Col)|
|Robert Carson||39,900||160,000||DFA (LAA)|
|Matt den Dekker||95,000||500,000|
Here’s the major takeaway: Bay’s contract really matters.
By removing the remainder of Jason Bay’s contract from the 2013 accounting and shifting it evenly to 2014 and 2015, the Mets can add as little as $13 million in net payroll to their 40-man roster as currently constructed, to make Alderson’s statement that the team would exceed last year’s $87 million in payroll, true. Or they could just count more of Jason Bay’s money against 2014.
Using the same assumption about splitting Bay’s money evenly, if the Mets do successfully trade Ike Davis and DFA Jordany Valdespin and Zach Lutz, for example, they would remove $5 million in payroll. In this scenario, they would need to add $18 million in payroll to exceed 2013′s number.
Even imagining a world where the Mets’ future commitments to Jason Bay just disappear from the 2014 and 2015 calculations, Alderson’s recent public statements hardly suggest a free-spending Mets. Removing all of Bay’s money from 2014 takes the team’s current commitments down to $67 million. At that point, the team would need to spend $20 million to surpass 2013′s payroll level.
The playing time adjustments to the 2013 salaries are much less important in the overall accounting than the $5.5 million of Santana’s buyout and the $15 million of deferred money to Jason Bay. Still, they matter. Assigning a full MLB minimum to every player who played for the Mets in 2013 would overstate payroll by a few million. In the same way, ignoring the mostly young players would shuffled on and off the roster totally would understate payroll.
The magnitude of any individual arbitration award is not terribly important. All could be, and likely will be, a little off from my estimate, but given that the Mets have enough arbitration-eligible players – six in their first year, and four in their second – it should all more or less cancel out. Thus, my final payroll estimate for 2014, which assigns an increase of $13.5 million for these ten players, is not too sensitive to any single arbitration salary. It also seems likely that one or two of these arbitration-eligible players will be traded before Opening Day 2014.
The Mets structured David Wright’s salary as $11 million in 2013 and then $20 million in 2014. In a world where the Mets are not significantly expanding payroll that $9 million increase eats away at the team’s flexibility.
This is not supposed to be encouraging. It also explains, in part, why the Mets never went really hard after say, Jhonny Peralta, a useful player who fit their needs, but who signed a contract worth $13 million annually with St. Louis.
This analysis has not really touched on what the Mets need to do to build a contending team out of a group that won 74 games in 2013 and will be approaching 2014 without Matt Harvey, its best pitcher. It just explains the minimum they need to do to make Sandy Alderson’s statements regarding an increase in payroll from 2013 to 2014 from September and November 2013 true.
Alderson has promised a minimum of $13 million net spending after adding Chris Young on the 2014 roster moving forward. The real questions is how much beyond the $13 million minimum, the Mets have to spend AND relatedly, how they are accounting for Jason Bay’s money. Can they get to $100 million through free agency or trades? Or build a winner on less?
Further Research and Resources
The spreadsheet I used to calculate salaries based on roster time is here (Mets Payroll) if you would like to explore it yourself or check my math. I color-coded the guys who are arbitration eligible to track how those awards or negotiations changes the overall budget outlook.
The full text of the CBA is here.
The Mets’ 2013 transactions are here.
The Mets have reportedly come to terms with OF Chris Young on a one-year, $6 million contract for 2014. ESPN places the value of the contract at $7.25 million.
Young, who turned 30 in September, had a bad 2013 with Oakland, hitting .200/.280/.379 with 18 doubles, 12 homers, 36 walks and 93 strikeouts in 107 games. He was worth 0.2 bWAR and 0.5fWAR. And yet, this is a solid signing.
Young was a very productive player from 2010-11 with the Diamondbacks, putting up fWAR of 4.1 and 4.5 in 2010 and 2011 respectively, and bWAR of 5.5 and 5.0 for those same seasons. (The point is not that one WAR system is right or wrong, but that they both saw his contributions in 2010-11 as in the range of “very good.”) He hit a little above average, running a wRC+ of 109 and 102 in 2010 and 2011 respectively, combined with excellent defense in center. Young was, at that time, the player Mets’ fans hope Juan Lagares can be.
Young’s 2012, his age 28 season, was not as strong as his previous two years. He started late with a right shoulder separation and then his September was interrupted by a quad strain. Still, his offensive contribution in 2012 (98 wRC+) was close to 2011′s level (102). The difference was largely the result of a slight erosion in his walk rate from 12.1% in 2011 to 9.9% in 2012 and a decline in his BABIP from .296 in 2010, to .275 in 2011 to .263 in 2012. His defense in CF 2012, by UZR/150, graded out even better than in his two-season 2010-11 peak.
In 2013 everything got worse. His walk rate slipped a tick down to 9.6%, his lowest rate since 2008, while his strikeout rate climbed to 24.8%, his highest rate since 2009. His BABIP of .237 was his lowest of his Major League career. His BABIP drop can be significantly explained by the decline in Young’s ground ball percentage, which went from 33.7% in 2010 to 28.6% by 2013. That 5% drop was more or less replaced by infield fly balls in his batted ball profile. Why the change in batted ball profile? Was he cheating to get under pitches to drive them and instead popping them up? Was he dipping his back shoulder? Dropping his hands? I don’t know, but I would wager that there is a mechanical swing explanation. In 2013, for the first time in his career, his production on fastballs, per 100 pitches was negative. Defensively, he was a plus corner outfielder by UZR, but below average in center in only 381 innings – the equivalent of a quarter of a season.
The decline in Young’s 2013 walk rate can be explained by his in/out zone swing percentages. In 2013, his O-swing%, that is the percentage of pitches outside the strike zone at which he swung, was a career-high 28.3%. In his 2010, 11, and 12 that number was 22%, 26.5% and then 24.7%. In 2013, his Z-Swing %, that his the percentage of strikes at which he swung was 61.8%, also a career-high, narrowly edging out 2011.
Over the span of his career, he has a significant platoon split, bopping lefties at a .262/.363/.474 rate in 1138 PA while hitting .225/.295/.415 against righties in 2825 PA.
To return to his 2010-2012 peak, he will need to cut down on chasing pitches out of the zone. That sounds like Mets’ hitting coach Dave Hudgens’ strong teaching suit. Increased selectivity for Young could bring his infield popup rate back down.
Is Chris Young worth $7.25 million on a one-year deal? Most assuredly so. David Murphy just signed a two-year $12 million deal with the Cleveland Indians. Murphy was every bit as bad as Young in 2013 (.220/.282/.374, 73 wRC+, 0.4 fWAR, 0.2 bWAR) if not worse. Murphy’s two years older and his best season (2012) was not as good as Young’s best (2010 and 2011). Young is better than Murphy, younger and comes with a lower total dollar amount.
The price of real MLB outfielders, coming off down years, in their age 30-32 seasons, who can play good defense, have platoon splits and nearly four-win seasons on their resume is now apparently $6 million-ish per year.
Chris Young could certainly perform better for the Mets in 2014 than he did in Oakland in 2013. Any return towards his 2010-2012 form will help the blue and orange. His signing makes the 2014 Mets a little bit better. It does not make them a favorite in the NL East or for a wild card slot. It just makes them incrementally better. As a first step to a more productive outfield, Young fits the bill. Even if Young does not hit better in 2014 than he did in 2013, or he gets hurt, or both, there is absolutely zero long term risk. The Mets have not attached themselves to Young’s decline phase past his age-30 year and the 2014 season.
If the Mets put Young in an outfield corner, say right, they can expect above average defense, and a very dangerous bat against left-handed pitching. Ideally, the Mets would pair him with a lefty hitting outfielder who can play against many of the right-handed pitchers the team will face to produce better value out of the same corner outfield spot. An outfield that begins with Juan Lagares in center and Chris Young in right, should be well above average defensively.
Also, as the picture at right makes clear, Young has outstanding choice in hosiery, which is almost as important as whether a baseball player can hit, field, and run the bases.
The deadline to add minor league players to the 40-man roster to protect them from the rule 5 draft is midnight, tonight.
Every player who signs at 19 years old or older, has three drafts worth of protection. Guys who signed below 19 have four years of protection. Thus, college draftees from 2010 and high school and international signees from 2009 and earlier can be drafted this year.
Remember, in the Major League phase of the draft, the drafting team must hold the newly acquired player on their active 25-man major league roster all year (or DL) to keep that guy.
The Mets currently have 36 players on their 40-man roster.
Adding players is not costless. Rather, the cost is a 40-man roster spot. The Mets need their players on the 40-man big league roster providing big league value, if not now, in the very near future. Also, if a player is added to the 40-man roster, and is sent to the minors, he begins using one of his three option years. Basically, it only makes sense to add players who can realistically help a big league team in the next two years, or possess something else extremely valuable.
If I were doing it, here are the decisions I would make.
RHP Jacob deGrom
What he is: Lean righthander who can touch 96 with his sinker. He’s struggled to improve his slider, so the Mets worked to teach him a curveball this year.
Why he’s eligible: drafted out of Stetson in 2010, he lost the 2011 season to Tommy John surgery.
His role: Likely middle reliever who comes in and airs it out in short bursts, because hey, 94-96 with sink is hard to hit. If he improves his breaking ball dramatically, he could remain a starter.
RHP Jeff Walters
What he is: Sinker/slider righthander who set a Binghamton Mets record for saves in 2013. Saves are a stupid stat, and worthless moving forward, but he’s shown that he can be an effective reliever at AA with a fastball from 92-94 and a slider.
Why he’s eligible: The Mets drafted him in the seventh round in 2010 out of the University of Georgia.
His role: Middle reliever. He should start 2014 in AAA with Las Vegas and will likely be up in the big leagues by July.
LHP Steven Matz
What he is: The best left-handed pitching prospect in the New York Mets system. Matz was very effective for Savannah in 2013 putting up a 2.62 ERA with 121 strikeouts and 38 walks in 106.1 innings. He struck out 28% of opposing batters and walked 8.9%. He was up to 97 mph with his fastball, and regularly 92-95 with his heat. There just are not enough left-handed pitchers with this kind of velocity to leave Matz unprotected.
I thought at the time, his changeup flashed as a plus Major League pitch with arm speed and sink.
As I wrote in September, “there was a time early in the year when Matz and Savannah Pitching Coach Frank Viola were trying to make this breaking ball a slider, but by the second half of the South Atlantic League season, they had abandoned that effort to focus on his curveball, which was his primary breaking ball in high school and early professional career. The pitch indeed shows promise with, when it’s right, good depth and late movement. It can get sweepy and he has trouble locating it for a strike. However, there are fewer spinners than when he was trying to work on his slider. If memory serves, he did not throw a single strike with his curveball in his final start of the playoffs in the Gnats’ clinching win in Game Four of the SAL playoffs.”
Why he’s eligible: drafted in the second round in 2009 out of Ward Melville HS as an 18-year old. Tommy John surgery in 2010, and then complications from that surgery kept him off the field in 2010 and 2011.
His role: Well, he will be in the St. Lucie rotation in 2014.
Longterm, if he can learn to throw his curveball for strikes, and improve his own fastball command, he will be an above average MLB starter. Matz had a reverse platoon split in 2013, so, given his current arsenal, I am not at all convinced that he will move well to the bullpen as a left-handed specialist.
vs. RHH: .214/.291/.289, 29% K, 8% BB – 328 PA
vs. LHH: .261/.340/.352, 25% K, 11% BB – 100 PA
Left-handed relief specialists usually are fastball/breaking ball.
Further: Matz should start 2014 in advanced-A St. Lucie. As long as he’s good there, he will end 2014 in AA Binghamton. That gives him a chance to make the big leagues in 2015.
On the Outside Looking In
In order of consideration for a 40-man addition.
LHP Adam Kolarek - fastball/curveball guy who works mostly 90-92. He was effective in AA in 2013, putting up a 1.71 ERA and a 63/22 K/BB. Across AA and a few AAA innings, he held left-handed batters to a .214/.287/.250 line with a 23/8 K/BB ratio for a 24% strikeout rate and a 8.5% walk rate. Righties hit him for a little more power, going .209/.293/.356 against him with a 41/17 K/BB ratio 22% strikeout rate and a 9.2% walk rate. His straight fastball sneaks up on lefties.
OF Cory Vaughn – Platoon outfielder coming off a .250/.320/.375 line in 22 games in the Arizona Fall League. I wonder if the two-year $12 million contract David Murphy has signed would make the Mets think twice about exposing Vaughn, who has hit lefties well (.296/.401/.528 total 2011-2013) in each of his stops in the minor leagues in the last three years.
OF Darrell Ceciliani - The 23-year-old hit .268/.322/.380 in 112 games for AA Binghamton in 2013. He put up a .718 OPS vs. RHP and a .653 OPS vs. LHP this year. He’s a defensive-minded fourth outfielder who could play center or left. It’s hard to see a Major League team putting him on their 40-man roster for 2014 to play center against RHP only.
LHP Darin Gorski - Gorski was lights out (1.83 ERA, 67 K/22 BB/46 H) in 78.2 innings in AA, after getting bombed for 17 runs in 13.2 innings in AAA to start the year. His fastball lost velocity this year, and was back down to mid-upper 80s. His best pitch is his changeup, but he is hurt by a lack of separation from his fastball.
INF Reese Havens - the second of three Mets’ picks in the first round of the 2008 draft, at 22 overall, Havens hit .237/.312/.330 in 38 games with Las Vegas as a 26-year-old in 2013. Injuries have killed his potential for a meaningful Major League career.
Baseball America has Trackman data up from the Arizona Fall League. It’s like pitch fx on steroids. There’s some fun stuff in here.
A few Mets farmhands appeared on leaderboards.
Small sample size warnings abound.
Jeurys Familia – #8 (96 mph).
Topped out at 98.2. Man, what he could do with a little bit of command.
Fastball Spin Rate
Hansel Robles – #12 (2,465 avg RPM).
More spin means less sink or a straighter fastball with more “rise” and thus, in theory, strikeouts and flyouts. Per pitch fx, Robles sat at 90.66 mph. Pitching up in the zone with such a heater seems like a dangerous versus Major League hitters. There were few swings and misses. Batters swung and missed at two of Robles’ 59 fastballs in the AFL, a whif rate of 3.39%.
Slider Spin Rate
Chasen Bradford – #11 (2,683 rpm)
MLB average, per BA is “around 2,400 rpms.” So, translated, Bradford’s slider has an above average MLB spin rate and velocity at 85 mph. Bradford throws his slider a lot. By pitchfx tracking, he used the pitch 43% of the time in the AFL. Among all MLB relievers who threw 30 or more innings last year, only 10 guys threw sliders that much. Bradford had a 33% whiff rate (6/18) on his slider in the AFL, which is pretty good. If Bradford makes it, he would do so largely as a slider specialist. And for a short reliever, that’s not a bad thing. In fact, the Rays built their bullpens on one-pitch wonders.
Yesterday, I wrote that Curtis Granderson was not worthy a four-year contract and that the Mets should stay away.
Now comes word, or rumor, that the Mets are interested in former Texas Rangers outfielder Nelson Cruz. According to Kristie Ackert in the Daily News, “the Mets are going hard after (and may be the early leader for) Nelson Cruz.” Jon Heyman at CBSSports also thinks the Mets are “in on” Cruz. However, Adam Rubin at ESPNNY wrote that “a team insider severely downplayed to ESPNNewYork.com the likelihood of signing either [Nelson or Cruz].”
As with a lengthy contract for Granderson, a three-year deal for Cruz would be a similar mistake. At ESPN, Jim Bowden predicted that Cruz would earn a three year contract for $48 million, for an average annual value of $16 million. The crowd-sourced project at Fangraphs saw him as signing for 3 years/$31.8 million or $10.6 annually.
Here are the most relevant facts:
1. Cruz is 33 years old. Most 33 year old baseball players decline rapidly.
2. He is not special. His baseball reference WAR the last three years: 1.3, 0.4, 2.0. He has one season above 2.3 in his career, his age 28 season in 2010 with Texas (4.3). Fangraphs WAR from the last three years: 1.3, 1.1, 1.5.
3. In his career away from Texas, he has hit .242/.299/.435 in 1590 PA. No, this is not a small sample.
4. Since turning 30, he has hit .263/.319/.489 in 392 games over three years in 129 games a year.
5. As the recipient of a qualifying offer, he will cost the Mets a second round pick.
Less relevant to me, but germane to many: he was suspended 50 games in 2013 for his ties to the Biogenesis clinic. Mets fans should recognize that players with PED suspensions can come back and hit (ahem: Marlon Byrd).
There is already a literature about the dangers of signing Cruz including Dave Schoenfeld at ESPN, and Dave Cameron at Fangraphs and USS Mariner.
We played this game yesterday with Curtis Granderson, but lets take a look at Cruz’s top 10 most similar hitters and how they have aged in their age 33 seasons and beyond. Again, the WAR listed is bWAR and accounts for all of the value these players provided in their year XX seasons and every one after. Again, I have eliminated players whose careers ended in 1970 and earlier.
Uhhhhhh. [runs away screaming]
Starting in their age 33 seasons, these eight players totaled 14 WAR, an average of two per player. However, to be fair to Cruz, five of these guys, Hawpe, Willingham, Werth, Ross and Ludwick have not completed their age-35 seasons, the potential third year of Cruz’s deal. On the other hand, they have not aged well.
However, in their recently completed age-34 seasons, they accumulated the following bWAR:
Cody Ross was worth 2.5 wins in Arizona in his age 32 season.
Jayson Werth’s 2013 was better than any single one of Nelson Cruz’s seasons. Werth has three seasons – 2009, 2010, 2013 – that are as good as Cruz’s best in 2010, which itself was an aberration in Cruz’s career. There is no reason to think that Cruz will magically get dramatically better in his age 33 and 34 seasons, like to peak Werth level.
If the price of a win on the free agent market is really $7 million, signing Cruz for two years at $10-12 million per year for a total of $20-24 could give a team some short-term right-handed power assuming he can average 1.5-1.7 wins the next two years. Anything else is just throwing good money after bad for the decline years of a player who is not that good to begin with.
Do the Mets need outfield help? Oh, yes. Do they need Nelson Cruz at anything longer than a two year commitment? Oh, no.
See, the secret to contention is not actually signing corner outfielders in their mid-30s to lengthy deals. Shhhhhh…..
The hot rumor action on Tuesday connected the Mets to free agent outfielder Curtis Granderson. Oh, the Mets were “serious” about liking him and planned to set up a meeting with his agent. And while I was writing this, apparently a team insider “downplayed” the Mets’ interest in Granderson. Granderson’s agent was so encouraged by the early-winter flirting that he is now asking for a four-year deal. That’s a problem. The Mets should not sign Curtis Granderson to a four-year deal. No team should.
A four-year contract would lock up Granderson’s age 33, 34, 35 and 36 seasons.
In 2013, his age-32 season, coming off back-to-back 40+ homer seasons with the Yankees in 2011 and 2012, he hit .229/.317/.407 in 61 games. His season started late – in May after he fractured his forearm in Spring Training. Then, after playing just eight games in May, a broken left pinkie kept him out until August. For what it’s worth, he had a strong August – .278/.394/.444 with six doubles and three homeruns and a 27/18 K/BB ratio in 27 games. Then in September, he stopped walking, hitting .177/.233/.375 with a 36/7 K/BB. His whiff percentage spiked in September and his strike zone discipline cratered.
Beginning of the end, or small sample size?
Baseball reference lists Granderson’s top comparables, and for the Mets, or any team interested in signing the Grandyman, it should be a scary list.
Here are Baseball Reference’s top 10 most similar players to Curtis Granderson through his age-32 season:
1. Ron Gant
2. Bob Allison
3. J.D. Drew
4. Roy Sievers
5. Jose Cruz
6. Jason Bay
7. Wally Post
8. Jesse Barfield
9. Bobby Thomson
10. Kirk Gibson
The historical names are fun, but lets drop anyone who’s career ended in 1970 and earlier because it was a different game 40+ years ago. That eliminates Allison, Sievers, Post and Thomson and leaves us with six players.
Using Baseball Reference’s amazing career calculator the following gives the career bWAR totals for this group beginning in their age xx season.
|bWAR 33+||bWAR 34+||bWAR 35+||bWAR 36+|
Beginning at age 33, this group totaled 21 bWAR for the duration of their career, an average of 3.5 (I’m rounding here because decimals on WAR give a false sense of accuracy). By age 36, three of the six were out of baseball, and it’ll likely be four out of six when Jason Bay decides to walk away to watch his kids ski and hang out with and listen to Pearl Jam. (Note: if my retirement includes watching my kids ski, skiing with my kids, or hanging out with Pearl Jam, I’d be one really happy dude.)
Gant, who hung on until age 38, is perhaps a best case for Granderson. After finishing fifth in the MVP balloting in 1993 with Atlanta, he missed the entire 1994 season, his age-29 year, after breaking his leg in an ATV accident. He bounced around after that, putting together strong seasons at 30 and 31 with Cincinnati and then St. Louis. Like Granderson, Gant had a down year at age 32 (83 OPS+) his lowest since his age 25 year. From age 33 on, he posted OPS+s of 114, 97, 106, 95, 125 while playing for six different teams. Gant, like Granderson started his career as a centerfielder, but after playing the position at -27 runs in total zone, in 1991, the Braves wisely moved him to left as his primary position (and all pre-Andrew Jones, who did not debut until 1996). From age 33 forward, Gant’s seasonal bWAR peacked at 2.1 at age 34, never to exceed two again.
J.D Drew is a great cautionary tale. He posted a strong, and perhaps underappreciated 2009 season with Boston when he was 33, hitting .279/.392/.522 for a 134 OPS+ and a 4.3 bWAR in 139 games. He was solid, but clearly declining a year later at 34 (.255/.341./452 – 109 OPS+ – 3.1 in 137 games) but was done at age 35 when he hit .222/.315/.302 – 68 OPS+- -0.9 WAR in 81 games. He was out of baseball at age 36.
Decline and injury came in a hurry for Gibson after his MVP performance and post-season heroics in 1988 – his age 31 season. He played 100 games just twice more after that point in 1991 with Kansas City and 1993 with Detroit. Gibson was basically a league average hitting from 1989 – 1993 (his age 32-36 seasons) combining for a 105 OPS+ and 85 games a season. He then bounced back to have, a for me, inexplicable age-37 year with Detroit in 1994 when he hit .276/.358/.548 for a 130 OPS+ and a 2.3 WAR, his first above two since 1988.
The Granderson Offensive Decline
So, has Curtis Granderson shown any indication that he can buck the rapid decline his most similar hitters experienced from their age 33 seasons forward? In a word, no.
These are Granderson’s base rates in his secondary statistical categories from his age-27 season onward. What do you notice? His big homerun years with the Yankees were driven by a spike in HR/FB. Is there any reason to think that will spike again as he ages? No.
Now, about that rising strikeout rate. Lets take a look at his swing rates and contact rates from the last four years (remember 2010 and 2011 were his Yankees peak and 2013 was abbreviated). O-swing percentage is just the percentage of pitches outside the zone a batter swings at. O-Contact percentage is the number of pitches outside the zone which a batter swings at that he connects on. Z Contact is the percentage of pitches inside the strike zone at which a batter swings that he connects with.
O-Swing% O-Contact% Z-Contact %
2010 25.6 60.1 89.9
2011 25.7 60.8 88.1
2012 29.5 58.9 81.0
2013 31.3 54.5 80.0
In the last two years, Granderson has chased more pitches outside the zone and made contact with fewer. Can the Mets teach him to lay off pitches out of the zone again? Maybe.
Moreover, and more damning, when he has swung at pitches inside the strike zone in the last two years, his contact percentage on such pitches has plummeted.
The advanced defensive metrics have split a little on Granderson in his last four years with the Yankees, but all agree that among his last full seasons, 2011 was poor and 2012 was worse.
UZR is all over the place on Granderson’s defense in center, giving him UZR/150 the last four years of 9.0, -5.3, -18.5, 21.4 (small sample size on ’13). He was negative his last two years in Detroit in 08 and 09.
Total Zone is more charitable on the whole for his Yankee years: -1, -4, -12, 5. BIS Defensive Runs Saved from average tell a similar story: 12, -6, -10, 3 (’13, coming all three outfield positions).
The ranges on 2012 suggest Granderson cost the Yankees at least full win by playing center.
Since the start of 2011, Granderson has been a below average defender in center and getting worse. Granderson’s declining defensive abilities should push him to a corner over the life of a four-year contract.
At the plate, he is chasing more pitches outside the strike zone and connecting on fewer. He is connecting on fewer inside the zone. As a result, his strikeout rate has spiked.
His big homerun seasons in Yankee pinstripes were the result of a HR/FB spike that has disappeared in last year, and was well out of line with his career norms.
Players most similar to Granderson were at best league average players from age 33 forward, and most fell well short of that mark and were in fact out of baseball by their age 36 seasons, the last covered by a potential four-year contract.
Granderson turned down the Yankees’ qualifying offer of $14.1 million dollars. In previous years, free agent wins cost in the range of $5 million per win. Granderson would need to be a three-win player moving forward every year to reach that mark at $15 million annually. I suspect that there will be inflation in this market, but I also suspect based on Granderson’s own performance and his most similar players that his decline will be steep and in fact, has already begun.
Two-year commitment? Ok. Four? Run away.
The Silver Slugger is awarded to a single player per position, determined to be the most valuable offensively, in both the American and National Leagues as determined by Major League Baseball’s coaches and managers.
When it comes to thirdbase in the National League in 2013, the League’s managers and coaches picked extremely poorly in selecting Pedro Alvarez. In his age-26 season, Alvarez hit .233/.296/.473 in 152 games for the playoff-bound Pirates. He led the National League in two categories: homeruns (36) and strikeouts (186).
On a plate appearances basis, he was a mid-pack thirdbaseman offensively. By wOBA, Alvarez (.330) was seventh in the NL behind David Wright (.391), Aramis Ramirez (.366), Chris Johnson (.354), Ryan Zimmerman (.353), Juan Uribe (.334), and Pablo Sandoval (.331). wRC+ tells the identical story, slotting Alvarez seventh among Nation League hot-corner handlers.
Stepping back from advanced statistics, Alvarez was 17th in on-base percentage and second in slugging behind David Wright.
Wright played only 112 games and thus, did not reach 20 home runs or qualify for the NL batting title. He still was more valuable at the plate not just on a rate basis, but in terms of aggregate production than Alvarez. By Batting runs above average, Wright crushed Alvarez 29.7 to 9.9. That’s worth two wins on the field.
Alvarez was one of only two National League thirdbasemen to hit over 20 homeruns joined by only Ryan Zimmerman. Zimmerman had a strong overall season, hitting .275/.344/.465 in 147 games for the disappointing Nationals, who like Wright’s Mets missed the playoffs. Both Chris Johnson and Juan Uribe had nice seasons for the playoff-bound Braves and Dodgers, but neither has a real clear claim to being the best-hitting third baseman in the National League.
It’s not a stretch to say that hitting home runs was the only productive thing that Alvarez did in a better than average manner in 2013. Well, that and whiff, as he struck out in 30% of his plate appearances.
And somehow, National League managers decided that Alvarez’s ability to hit homeruns made him the best hitter in the league at the position. That’s wrong.
In his age 23 season, the injury-prone Ceciliani missed a week with a hamstring strain in August, but still played in a career-high 113 games for AA Binghamton where he hit .268/.322/.380 with 17 doubles, six triples and six homers, and a 6.3% walk rate and a 22.8% strikeout rate. He was also 31-of-38 (82%) stealing bases. The left-handed hitter split his time between centerfield (58 games) and left (48 games).
He hit .243/.304/.350 in 103 AB vs. lefties in 2013 and .276/.328/.390 in 315 against righties.
He does not profile offensively in an outfield corner at all. His only hope of starting everyday is in centerfield. Even there, he would struggle to put up a .300 on-base percentage in the big leagues as pitchers will exploit his aggressive approach. On the other hand, he runs well, and offers the ability to play center or left, but does not have the arm for right.
Ceciliani is most likely to stick as a fourth/fifth outfielder who can add speed/defense in LF off the bench and picks up some spot starts for a MLB team against right-handed pitching. He is Rule 5 eligible for the first time this winter (if you’re curious, the full list is available here) and I do not expect the Mets to add him to the 40-man roster this winter.
Is Gavin Cecchini on the verge of a make or break year as a prospect? He had a solid average in a pitcher friendly NY Penn League, but his power numbers are really lacking. A lot of reports I read are down on him, and was just wondering your take Toby. Thanks.
Toby Hyde, Mets Minor League Blog:
No, 2014 is not a make or break year for Cecchini, who will make his full-season debut in 2014. Barring a Spring Training injury, he will be playing shortstop for Savannah as a 20-years-old on Opening Day, Thursday, April 3, 2014. He will be young for the South Atlantic League. Again, he will be 20 years old in 2014.
Yeah, Cecchini does not hit for much power, that’s not what his game is about.
Instead, his game is about playing a well-rounded shortstop. He’s at best an average runner, but he has lithe actions quick feet around the bag. His hands work well. He has enough arm to play short. So, while he’s not going to blow anyone away running from home to third like, say Jose Reyes, the Mets expect him to play short, and do so well.
As Mets VP of Amateur Scouting and Player Development Paul DePodesta told me in March, “I think he’s going to be a solid average defender at shortstop. I don’t think we have any question that he’s going to stay at the position… We think he’s going to a very steady defender. It’s probably not going to be Omar Vizquel, it’s not going to be flash, but he’s going to be a very solid defender.”
For the sake of argument, lets say that Cecchini does become average to a little better at short, say zero through plus five runs above average defensively. Last year, by UZR, the list of guys in this profile, who played at least 700 games at short (half a season), included Ian Desmond, Elvis Andrus, Stephen Drew, Brandon Crawford, Pedro Florimon, Jhonny Peralta, Brendan Ryan and Jean Segura. (Note: Segura’s UZR/150 of -1.1 was the only one here who was negative, but it’s close enough to average that I think he can be safely included in this group and he was above average by Total Zone, DRS and +/-.) This selection of eight guys comprises seven starting shortstops – a quarter of Major League Baseball, and Ryan, who played mostly for the Mariners in 2013.
Here is this octet of players ranked by fWAR:
And what do we have here? A wide range of value from replacement level through qualifying offer-level (Drew) and beyond. Even while playing averagish defense at short, there is a line at which teams will stop running a player who is hapless with bat out onto the field. Ryan, who hit .192/.24/.265 in 87 games with the Mariners is living proof. Moving up the chart, Florimon was above replacement level, barely, thanks to a .221/.281/.330 line for the Twins. Ok, that’s not really useful to a winning baseball team.
Instead, it’s Crawford (.248/.311/.363) and Andrus (.271/.328/.331) who establish the bottom bound of useful when combining averagish to slightly above average defense at short with enough offense to get above 2 WAR. For what it’s worth, Crawford hit nine homeruns and Andrus stole 42 bases.
Cecchini’s glove should be an important part of his overall value, but the hitting matters too, always.
In 2013, Cecchini hit .273/.319/.314 with a 6.6% walk rate and a 14.2% strikeout rate in the New York Penn League as a 19-year-old. At the plate, I like the way Cecchini’s hands work, but he’ll need to become stronger in the coming years. I thought he was too pre-loaded in 2012, and was starting to use his lower half better in 2013. And yes, power will always be the weakest of his traditional tools.
On our eight-player list of average to slightly above defensive shortstops, there’s only one other guy who was drafted out of high school: Ian Desmond. He played in Savannah as a 19-year-old for the Washington Nationals and hit an imposing .247/.291/.334 with 13 walks, 60 strikeouts and 16 extra-base hits. For some reason, the Nationals promoted him to advanced-A to finish the season, and had him begin his age-20 season in double-A. It’s all worked out in the end, but his path through the system was certainly faster than Cecchini’s will be despite unimpressive statistical markers. Desmond, of course is 2-3 inches taller than Cecchini and stronger.
Peralta played in the South Atlantic League at age 18 in 2000 and hit .241/.352/.309 for Columbus.
There’s nothing make or break about Cecchini’s 2014, as long as he shows the tools to play short. His glove will give him a chance to get to the big leagues, and it’s his bat that will determine what time of value he provides when he gets there. Wishy-washy? Sure, but that’s the thing about a guy who has not played a day in a full-season league.
For our Mets Minor League Report on Cecchini, click here.