Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Transactions Analysis: Boris Spassky Edition

Tonight PBS is broadcasting a concert performance of the musical Chess from Royal Albert Hall, and has assembled an all-star crew for the show. The leads will be sung by heartthrob Josh Groban, the wildly talented and underappreciated Idina Menzel, and my wife's personal favorite, Broadway star Adam Pascal. There's one problem with this: Chess stinks. Written by Björn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson, the same men who tortured us with ABBA (to say nothing of the disaster known as Mamma Mia), it has dramatically awful 80's music, and uses the Rocky IV Cold War of good-versus-evil, all through a thrilling game of...chess. To have these three talented singers performing Chess for a national audience is the rough equivalent of staging a summer concert in Central Park featuring Ben Gibbard, Alicia Keys and David Cook, and making them sing the songbook of Peter Frampton.

So besides being an excuse for an introduction, what does this have to do with the Wankdorfers and a TA? Well, if we were to look at chess the actual game, and not the hackneyed musical, we'd find a decent analogue to what's gone on transaction-wise over the past month. Some players are looking at the game defined as this season, while others are thinking 5-15 moves ahead and planning for 2010 and beyond. Some, to use a cliche, are playing checkers. And it's not clear who's playing what level and how well they're playing it without a thorough examination. Which is why we have TA's, and why we're going to analyze a slew of adds, drops and trades that have made people decide they're going for it or out of it much earlier than usual. Let's see what these transactions have in store for us, bearing in mind some portentious words from Chess:
I took the road of least resistance
I had my game to play

I had the skill, and more the hunger

Easy to get away

Pity the child with no such weapons

No defense

No escape from the ties that bind

Always a step behind. (El Angelo)
I'm not very good at chess OR checkers, so I've decided to play Chinese Checkers instead. Only problem so far is that my marbles keep rolling off the board. (Teddy)

The Loose Bowels
  • Released John Grabow, RP, Pittsburgh [5/29]
  • Signed Josh Outman, SP, Oakland; Released Jorge de la Rosa, RP, Colorado [5/30]
  • Released Dave Bush, SP, Milwaukee [5/31]
  • Signed Jerry Hairston, Jack of All Trades, Chicago (NL) [6/2]
  • Traded Jacoby Ellsbury, OF, Boston and Carlos Lee, OF, Houston to Le Dupont Torkies for Erik Bedard, SP, Seattle, Trevor Cahill, SP, Oakland, and David Ortiz, DH, Boston; Released Hairston [6/5]
  • Signed Mike MacDougal, RP, Washington and Carlos Gonzalez, OF, Colorado; Released Joel Zumaya, RP, Detroit and Vernon Wells, OF, Toronto [6/7]
  • Signed Adam Kennedy, 2B, Oakland; Released Ryan Theriot, SS, Chicago (NL) [6/11]
  • Signed Cody Ross, OF, FLA and Scott Podsenik, All-Star, 1998; Released McDougal [6/14].
We begin this TA by observing that our beloved commissioner must truly believe that he is the Messiah, because how the hell else can you justify acquiring both David Ortiz, Mike MacDougal (who was a league joke 7 years ago) AND Scott Podsednik, unless tawny was involved? All three of these guys are about as lifeless as you could imagine, be it from their talent being exorcised or never being any good to begin with. If Andy can breath life-giving breath into these three stiffs, the Mets would love to hire him to work on their injured players, which at last check, constituted 60% of their Opening Day roster. (El Angelo)

Don't look now, but Ortiz had 3HRs last week and has an OPS of over 1.100 in June. Anyway, the trade really comes down to how you feel about Erik Bedard. Although I (like a lot of teams, I'm sure) had Bedard circled going into the draft this year, but I think this is a buy-high deal. I make the case here that Bedard and Jarrod Washburn have both been bolstered dramatically by Seattle's great OF defense this year. That's not a problem by itself--the stats count either way--but could become one if the M's succeed in moving Bedard at the trading deadline, which they are actively attempting to do. If Bedard finds a soft landing space, it's a good deal for TLB. If he ends up pitching in front of Raul Ibanez in a bandbox in Philly, not so much. (Teddy)

The Spam Avengers
  • Signed Andy LaRoche, 3B, Pittsburgh [5/31]
  • Signed Josh Willingham, OF, Washington and CJ Wilson, RP, Texas; Released Joe Beimel, RP, Washington and Ian Snell, SP, Pittsburgh [6/2]
  • Released Willingham; Signed Ian Stewart, 2B, Colorado [6/8]
  • Signed Nolan Reimold, OF, Baltimore and Andrew Miller, SP, Florida; Released Brandon Morrow, P Seattle and Lastings Milledge, OF, Syracuse Chiefs [6/12]
What this transaction roster reveals is that Alex is spending way too much time watching crappy games on the MLB Extra Innings package, which is odd, because he's actually a Yankee fan. There isn't a single player here that comes from an above-.500 team, and in many cases, these are guys from last place squads. In fairness, I like the LaRoche and Stewart pickups, as both seem to have come into their own in the last month and are talented enough to stick in 2009. By contrast, I'm not sure that tossing Brandon Morrow overboard was necessary; do you really need to keep Ben Sheets on your roster that badly when he's not coming back until the High Holy Days? (El Angelo)

Morrow has announced that he is re-coverting back to SP after his failed stint as a closer. With that in mind, he almost certainly has no value this year, but might show enough in a late season recall to make him intriguing as a weak keeper going into next year. (Teddy)

Wu Tang Financial
  • Signed Jarrod Washburn, SP, Seattle; Released Andy Pettite, SP, New York (AL) [5/28]
  • Signed Luke Scott, OF, Baltimore; Released Barry Zito, SP, San Fran [5/30]
  • Released Michael Wuertz, RP, Oakland [6/3]
  • Signed Mike Lowell, 3B, Boston [6/9]
I'm renaming this team the Rip Van Winkles, because this pattern of moves indicates that Jon may have been asleep for 7 years and woke up to realized that Andy Pettitte and Barry Zito haven't been any good since the middle of 2004. While there's a definte gain by purging their carcasses from the roster, query whether adding the ageless Jarrod Washburn really helps this team now or later. Best case scenario is that Washburn gets dealt to a contender--what does he do then? Win games with bad rate stats? Become Joe Blanton-lite? That said, the pitching ranks in free agency are so thin, you could excuse picking up almost anyone. Except Mike MacDougal. (El Angelo)

Well, I pretty much fired my Washburn bolt above. That said, I approve of the Mike Lowell pickup, because you can never have too many one-legged infielders on your roster. I myself plan to sign Paul McCartney's ex-wife and stick her at short. (Teddy)

Recalcitrant Cobbler
  • Signed Randy Wells, SP, Chicago (NL); Released Rich Hill, SP, Baltimore [5/29]
  • Signed Clayton Richard, SP, Chicago (AL); Released JJ Putz, RP, Mount Sinai Medical Center [6/2]
  • Signed Aaron Rowand, OF, San Fran; Released Joel Hanrahan, Pederast, Washington [6/8]
  • Released Richard; Signed Carl The Truth Pavano, SP, Cleveland [6/9]
  • Signed Leo Nunez, RP, Florida; Released Dan Wheeler, RP, Tampa [6/11]
Clayton Richard's Wikipedia page indicates that he's from the middle-of-nowhere Indiana and was the Hoosier State's Mr. Football and Mr. Baseball. Given that Wikipedia isn't exactly known for being dead-on-balls accurate, I'm going to take the liberty of saying that this is 100% wrong, and that he's the grandson of Maurice Rocket Richard, the famed member of the Habs, because at a minimum, it gives him a much cooler last name.

Either way, it doesn't mask the fact that he's been vaguely useful for the ChiSox this year, but as a guy who's a spot starter/middle innings guy approaching 26 years old, there's not a lot of upside here and there's probably not much to gain long-term by keeping him. Of course, the Shoemen offset their smart waiver by promptly picking up every Yankee fan's favorite pitcher, Carl Pavano, who celebrated joining this roster by giving up 9 runs in 4 innings against the hapless Royals. I'm not sure if it's more of an indictment on the Indians that he's their nominal ace, or the threadbare nature of pitching in this league that picking up Pavano is mildly defensible. (El Angelo)

I wholeheartedly endorse the rechristening of Richard; to me he shall fovever more be "klay-TOHN ree-SHARD". Maybe this will one stick where our attempted Latin-flavored rechristening of Jaime Moyer as HAI-mee Mwoy-YAY" failed.

In other news, a useful back-of-the-envelope method for determining whether a team still thinks it has a hot at the money is to look at how many older setup guys they churn through in search of vulture saves and wins. By that measure the Keeblers are in it to win it, with Leo Nunez, Dan Wheeler, F--king Hanrahan and JJ Putz all riding the treadmill over the past few weeks. Is Guillermo Mota still available? If so, pencil him in for the Peach's roster in July. (Teddy)

Evil League of Evil
  • Signed James Loney, 1B, Los Angeles; Releaesed Joe Nelson, RP, Tampa [5/29]
  • Signed Chris Snyder, C, Arizona [5/30]
  • Signed Randy Choate, RP, Tampa; Released Conor Jackson, 1B, Arizona [6/3]
  • Traded David Wright, 3B, New York (NL) and George Sherill, RP, Baltimore to Mission Accomplished for Reid Brignac, SS, Tampa and their 1st round pick in the 2010 draft [6/4]
  • Released Choate and Brignac; Signed Mat Gamel, 3B, Milwaukee and Nick Blackburn, SP, Minnesota; Called up Andrew McCutchen, OF, Pittsburgh from the prospect list [6/5]
  • Released Snyder [6/9]
  • Acquired Brandon Morrow, P, SEA on waiver claim [6/15]
For the first time since joining the league, it appears that ELoE will not be in the money, as the white flag hath been waived in early June. The returns on George Sherrill and David Wright weren't poor considering there aren't a lot of actual contenders this year, but while the draft might be deeper next year, let's just note that great players haven't been falling to the 10-12 slot. What I like a lot more here are the shrewd pickups from the FA list; Brandon Morrow is an excellent flyer to rebound in the 2nd half, Nick Blackburn is not lacking for talent, and even Mat Gamel is interesting in a Jim Thome-lite way. I don't see any of that troika becoming central to ELoE's 2010 team, but I also wouldn't be surprised to see any or all of them kept. As usual, this owner doesn't screw around with veterans that might rebound (except for playing closer roulette for kicks, which we all do), but instead focuses on guys who might, you know, be part of a contending squad. Good way to start rebuilding for 2010. (El Angelo)

As you say, we can't really judge this deal until we see what the draft pool looks like for next year. That said, a team in ELoE's position can't really do much more than grab whatever first-round pick is out there and pray for deliverance. Honestly, the team's fortunes going forward might well be shaped more by call-up Andrew McCutcheon and his erstwhile prospect teammate Stephen Strassburg than any of the various parts of this deal, and that might work out just fine for ELoE. (Teddy)

ARoids Anonymous
  • Signed Brian Tallet, P, TOR; Released Brett Cecil, P, TOR [5/30]
  • Signed Fernando Martinez, OF, NYM and Jake Fox, DL, Forever; Released BJ Ryan, RP, TOR and Mark Teahen, IF, KC [5/31]
  • Signed JA Happ, SP, PHI; Released Kenshin Kawakami, SP, ATL [6/6]
  • Signed Vincenzo Mazzaro, GK, Inter Milan; Released Tallet [6/7]
  • Released Fox [6/14]
Snore. Let's go back to the wisdom of Chess for a summary analysis:
What's going on around me
Is barely making sense

I need some explanations fast

And when he gives me reasons

To justify each move

They're getting harder to believe
More apt words for this crapfest were never written. (El Angelo)

Is the lyricist for this terrible musical you keep citing really operating under the belief that you have to provide detailed justifications for each move you make? How would that even work? Though it could make the game more interesting if players used it as an opportunity for some psychological warfare: "I played QN to K4 in order to better control the center of the board, and also because your Mom asked me to while I was railing her last night [Slaps chess clock]."

Also, it's a little surprising that Fernando Martinez wasn't on anyone's prospect list. Nice find. (Teddy)

Mission Accomplished
  • Signed JD Drew, OF, BOS [5/29]; Released Drew [5/30]
  • Signed JA Happ, P, PHI [5/30]; Released Happ [6/3]
  • Acquired David Wright, 3B, NYM and George Sherrill, RP, BAL from Evil League of Evil; Traded away Reid Brignac, SS, TB and a first-round pick. [6/5]
  • Signed Clint Barmes, MI, COL; Released Mike Lowell, 3B, BOS and Garrett Atkins, 3B, COL. [6/5]
  • Acquired Mariano Rivera, RP, NYY and a 9th-round pick from Unenviable Position; Traded away Stephen Drew, SS, ARI and a 3d-round pick. [6/12]
  • Acquired Johan Santana, SP, NYM from Unenviable Position and Jon Papelbon, RP, BOS from wormcheese mousebird; traded away a first round pick (via Flaccid Funiculi) and Chris Tillman, SP-Prosp, BAL. [6/14]
  • Signed Jed Lowrie, SS, BOS and Yadier Molina, Molina, STL; Released Jarrod Saltamacchia, Hype Machine, TEX [6/15]
To my shock and surprise, my squad has not fallen apart as I thought it would by early June. When it became clear that dumping time was upon us, I decided it's time to go for it, because frankly, why the hell not? (Especially when you can make a 3-way trade, which to be a dork, just rules.) What's made going for it a bit more possible is the amount of low-hanging fruit available. Specifically, I'm last in saves, and now have 3 closers, which means there's an easy 3-8 points to pick up in saves alone, let alone what trickles down to ERA and WHIP. Also key from my angle is that I've kept Johan Santana and David Wright off of other contenders as well--something tells me they would have been desired. Of course, Santana has looked like dog shit for 2 straight starts, which is par for the course. Good enough for ya, Tucker? (El Angelo)

I'll say this: Ang has set himself up for an extremely high-tension fan experience down the stretch now that he has aligned the fate of his fantasy team almost entirely with the fate of his real-life team, the Mets, by acquiring Santana and Wright. I like the strategy, given the Mets recent history of strong finishes.

Also, Ang, you should trade your 2d round pick away to someone so that you can just skip the first hour of next year's draft, Phil Hellmuth-style. (Teddy)

Unenviable Position
  • Signed Brad Bergesen, SP, BAL and Anthony Swarzak, SP, MIN; Released Tim Wakefield, SP, BOS, and Mat Gamel, 3B, MIL [6/2]
  • Released Swarzak [6/4]
  • Signed Carlos Villanueva, RP, MIL [6/7]
  • Signed Dan Bard, RP, BOS; Released Jason Varitek, C, BOS [6/11]
  • Acquired Stephen Drew, SS, ARI and a 3d round pick from Mission Accomplished; traded away Mariano Rivera and a 9th-round pick. [6/12]
  • Released Ramon Ramirez, RP, BOS [6/13]
  • Acquired 1st, 3d round picks from wormcheese mousebird, and Chris Tillman, SP-Pros., BAL from Mission Accomplished; traded away Adam Dunn, 1B, WAS to wormcheese mousebird and Johan Santana, SP, NYM to Mission Accomplished [6/14]
  • Re-signed Varitek; Signed Jason Hammel, SP, COL [6/14]
  • Signed Glen Perkins, SP, MIN and Kevin Correia, SP, SD; Released Hammel. [6/15]
You know, we pick on Corey here a lot for picking up a thousand Blue Jays, but the more I look at Teddy's TA's, the more I realize he's the real homer nut in the league. I mean, Bard, Ramirez, Touchdown Tim, and Varitek ALL in the same TA? Why not just go all out and pick up Michael Bowden, Tim Naehring, Robinson Checo and Phil Plantier? This is beyond inexcusable.

What's a lot more excusable is dealing off a bunch of useful chits that weren't going to be here next year (Mo Rivera and Johan Santana) and a good outfielder (Dunn) for a couple of draft picks. Now personally, I don't think Stephen Drew is all that special and the 33rd pick in the draft is a bit of a dice roll value-wise, but you can't argue with getting a first round pick from Ironhead, especially while retaining their own. It's unlikely that either he or Ironhead will bottom out for a top-3 pick, but dealing off Adam Dunn plus some other stuff yields a stud, there's absolutely no way to quibble. Great pickup. (El Angelo)

I guess this is where I try to defend myself, so here goes. Drafts in the league have never gone more than 5-6 deep in no-brainer, franchise-type guys. A lousy team in this league thus faces a conundrum: any team that is willing to trade you a first-rounder in a dump trade is going to end up finishing high enough that the pick won't do anything but getting you first crack at the second-tier talents. I made this trade because its structure let me escape that conundrum. By getting Sahil's 1 I give myself two chances in the lottery, and at least a shot at getting two true top-tier talents. Throw in my prospect list, which now consists of Neftali Feliz and Chris Tillman, and my returning guys, and I have a shot to be real good next year.

at left: the truth hurts.

Also, query how much the trades actually hurt me this year in the aggregate. Drew might not be a All-Star, but he's a massive upgrade over what I've gotten from JJ Hardy this year. I have more than enough power, so losing Dunn won't hurt too much. And even with Johan, my SP-driven stats ranged from mediocre to horrible.

An analogy: when Branch Rickey was the GM of the truly terrible St. Louis Browns, his best player once came to him and asked for a raise. Rickey's response? "Son, we finished last with you; we can finish last without you." I think that logic applies equally well here. The only real ding I think I'll take this year comes from the loss of Rivera, which I was willing to eat to fill the SS hole. (Teddy)

wormcheese mousebird
  • Released Seth Smith, OF, COL [6/9]
  • Signed Vernon Wells, OF, TOR; Released Hank Blalock, CI, TEX, [6/11]
  • Acquired Adam Dunn, 1B, WAS from Unenviable Position and a 1st round pick from Flaccid Funiculi (via Mission Accomplished); traded away Jon Papelbon, RP, BOS, and 1st and 3d round picks. [6/14]
The participant in the 3-way deal that took the biggest risk, but I really like the move and the upside here. Yes, they are most likely trading down in the first round, but in exchange, they pick up Adam Dunn for 2+ years, which rounds out a somewhat underrated offense that really needed a bopper. And assuming the pick given up isn't in the top-3 (unlikely, as the team figures to gain in the power department), moving from #5 to #9-11 isn't that big a deal. What this team needs is to draft some good pitching next year, because their current rotation is for shit, but that's probably the easiest hole to fill in the offseason. (El Angelo)

I agree that the worsecheem mourdbises helped themselves a lot for this year, and I also have to say that I'd much rather have a 40-HR guy than a 40-save guy going forward, especially when the power guy is cheaper in keeper slots. As you say though, in the end the wisdom of the deal comes down to the end-of-season gap between the lowercase lovers and Flaccid Funiculi; the smaller the gap, the better the deal. If I were FF, I'd keep my roster away from suspicious packages. (Teddy)

Le Dupont Torkies
  • Acquired Jacoby Ellsbury, OF, BOS and Carlos Lee, OF, HOU from The Loose Bowels; traded away David Ortiz, UTIL, BOS, Erik Bedard, SP, SEA, and Trevor Cahill, SP, OAK. [6/5]
  • Signed Antonio Bastardo, P, Lehigh Valley IronPigs [6/6]
  • Signed Carlos Ruiz, C, PHI, Billy Wagner, DL, NYM, JP Howell, RP, TB; Released Willy Taveras, OF, COL and John Baker, C, FLA [6/12]
  • Signed Juan Rivera, OF, LAA; Released Ruiz.
Given the pickup, can we just rename the owner of this team Tony the Bastard? Because I can't think of a better baseball name since Oddibe McDowell. (El Angelo)

Indeed. When you pop out a bastard in Sicily, the villagers don't beat around the bush. None of that Irish-style, stick an O' on his name and be done with it approach. Just relabel him entirely to avoid confusion. Lovely.

Anyway, we should probably at least glibly discus the trade, too. It's a nice one, as the Torkies managed to buy themselves a brand new outfield for the (relatively) low cost of a faded star and a stud pitcher who might lose his studliness around the trading deadline. The trade does leave the Torkies short on reliable SPs, but given their nice head start in W's and their stable of vulture-W-specialist relievers, they should be OK. They'll be tough to catch in the absence of injury. (Teddy)

Flaccid Funiculi
  • Signed Sean West, P, FLA; Released Matt Palmer, P, LAA [5/29]
  • Released Mike Pelfrey, P, NYM [6/9]
  • Signed Ramon Trancoso, RP, LAD [6/12]
  • Signed Dallas Braden, SP, OAK [6/14]
What's truly frightening is that either West or Braden may be this team's third-best starter after Chris Carpenter and Justin Verlander. While my esteemed co-author mocked Braden a couple of TA's ago, Braden's thrown five straight quality starts, and has pretty fair rate stats to boot. Has he turned the corner? Unlikely, but this squad is going to need all the starting help it can get, so they may as well ride the hot streaks as long as they can. (El Angelo)

Dallas Braden does have the advantage of pitching in a big ballpark against a division with a couple of iffy offenses, so he could very well be useful, especially now during interleague play. I think otherwise mediocre AL pitchers are nice risk-reward plays during interleague games, especially in NL parks where they get a taste of the good life sans DH.

It's Enrico Pallazo
  • Squadouche [5/29-6/15]
Here's the second zippo on the year for these guys, who are mired near the bottom on the standings, somewhat inexplicably. Clearly, this is some kind of a gambit I can't fathom. For this, I bequeath them a picture of the man after whom arguably the most famous gambit is named, Pal Benko. (El Angelo)

What gambit is that, putting a bunch of day-old sushi in a box and selling it as a lunch special? I guess I shouldn't mock it, because it certainly works often enough times. (Teddy)

1 comment:

El Angelo said...

I probably should have noted "Chess gambit"--it's certainly less notable than, say, Pickett's Charge. Probably about as successful though.