Offseason Overview – Atlanta Braves

Mar 12, 12 Offseason Overview – Atlanta Braves

Atlanta Braves

2011 RECORD: 89-73

PRESIDENT:  John Schuerholz GM: Frank Wren

KEY ACQUISITIONS: Chris Jones, Robert Fish (via Rule 5),  MiLB contracts: Adam Russell, Drew Sutton, Luis Durango

KEY DEPARTURES: Derek Lowe, Alex Gonzalez, Nate McLouth, Brooks Conrad, Scott Linebrink, George Sherrill

Atlanta decided not to overreact after coming off a heartbreaking collapse at the end of 2011. That’s actually an understatement: the club traded Derek Lowe for salary relief, let five significant players walk in free agency, and spent a total of  $2.5 million in guaranteed money on major league signings (Eric Hinske and Jack Wilson). This is a classic Atlanta Braves maneuver as the club has a knack for winning by consistently building from within.

Trading Derek Lowe to Cleveland was the highlight of Atlanta’s offseason. Given the rotation depth and emergence of young arms, Lowe likely would have been demoted to a middle relief role. Instead, Atlanta was able to move him and save $5MM on payroll.

Trade rumors were the next hot topic for Atlanta’s winter. The club entertained offers for both Martin Prado and Jair Jurrjens but ultimately decided to retain both players (mostly due to diminished trade values coupled with a high asking price). Prado is coming off a down year in which he posted a .296 wOBA after back-to-back seasons of .350+ wOBA. Jurrjens bounced back to post a solid 3.99 FIP while bringing his walk rate down to a career best 2.61 BB/9, however; durability is a big question as Jurrjens has only pitched a combined 268.1 innings in the past two seasons.

Scott Linebrink and George Sherrill are sizable losses to what was the best bullpen in 2011. Atlanta can afford losing the two and not replacing them through free agency because of the great depth they boast in the ‘pen. Anthony Varvarro and Kris Medlen are expected to replace the two veteran losses in a bullpen that consists of three of the best in the game: Jonny Venters, Craig Kimbrel, and Eric O’Flaherty.

The Braves failed to lockup star catcher Brian McCann before St. Louis inked a $75MM deal to keep catcher Yadier Molina a redbird. This is going to come back to hurt Atlanta since McCann has statistically proved to be a significantly more valuable catcher than Molina (and McCann is nearly two years younger). Check out the career comparisons below – I added Joe Mauer‘s numbers at the time of his 8-year $184MM deal for comparisons sake. Note: WAR/year begins with the players’ first full season in the big leagues.

Comparison Age Games Career wOBA Career CS% WAR/year
Brian McCann 28 882 .361 24% 4.37
Yadier Molina 29.5 944 .310 44% 2.63
Joe Mauer 26 699 .384 38% 5.4

McCann has a good 51 points on Molina’s career wOBA but Molina is far better at throwing out base-runners, that said; McCann is a year and a half younger and boasts nearly two additional wins per year over Yadier Molina. One thing to keep in mind is that there is no way to statistically value the importance of a catcher’s ability to “control” or manage a pitching staff.

2012 PAYROLL

Payroll is expected to be at $90MM which is a norm for Atlanta. The club has been in the $90MM ballpark for the past decade. Don’t expect any blockbuster mid-season acquisitions as the club looks to keep payroll at a manageable level.

2012 OUTLOOK

Two big items to look out for:

1) Only one starting pitcher in the 2012 rotation threw more than 152 innings last season and it was Tim Hudson, who will be out for at least the first month of the season. While the rotation is very talented, it is just as inexperienced and raises the question if trading Lowe will come back to haunt the Braves. Tommy Hanson, Brandon Beachy, and Jurrjens will need to step up during Hudson’s absence.

2) Can Jason Heyward bounce back from his ridiculous sophomore slump? Heyward is a stud with freakish athletic ability at the plate. While his overall numbers tanked last year, one stat that held relatively steady was his ISO which dipped just 17 points while his wOBA crashed 62 points. What’s good is that Heyward maintained his power and patience (with a solid 11.2% BB rate) while some of his decline in output can be attributed to his BABIP which dropped to .260.

The Braves may not be the division favorite, but expect them to compete and stay in the race until the end.

LONG-TERM OUTLOOK

Long-term this club is in a solid position as it almost always is. This is because Atlanta is one of the best scouting clubs in the business – the scouting and player development departments are phenomenal at bringing players through the system.

The future from a payroll perspective is looking good as well. Lowe’s remaining salary comes off the books after this year, Chipper Jones‘ $14MM is off the books after the year (but if he plays 124 games a $9MM option kicks in), and much of the club’s top talent will be controlled through arbitration.

What happens with McCann? I don’t expect McCann to stay in Atlanta because he wants to test out free agency and he will eventually be courted by an AL club that will give him the option to DH later in his career.

Dan Uggla has $52.8MM remaining on his deal – will that come back to haunt them?

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Should the Giants Trade Matt Cain or Tim Lincecum?

Mar 09, 12 Should the Giants Trade Matt Cain or Tim Lincecum?

Matt Cain‘s contract situation has been a hot topic in Scottsdale, AZ this past week. MLB Trade Rumors highlighted the latest news on a potential Matt Cain extension earlier today. The question I beg is if the Giants brass would be better off shopping either Tim Lincecum or Cain, rather than signing both to $100+ million contracts (which is what the starting point of negotiations would be.

Lincecum just signed a two-year $40.5 million deal buying out his remaining arbitration years and is reportedly seeking a 7-8 year $175MM extension while Cain is in the last year of his three-year $27.35 million deal.

Let’s look at Cain first: Cain came out and said he will not be giving the Giants a hometown discount and many MLB executives say Cain would garner close to $150 million in the open market. Consensus is that there is no way the Giants lock-up Cain for less than $100 million (probably over 5 or 6 years).

Does Cain deserve that much? No question he has earned it. He has been a workhorse year-in-year-out posting five straight 200+ inning seasons on a career 3.69 FIP. And while he isn’t overpowering with strike outs and he definitely isn’t a groundball pitcher, Matt Cain consistently gets hitters off-balance, resulting in fly-outs. This does put him at risk to giving up home runs but Cain gave up just .37 HR/9 in 2011. Overall, Cain’s 24 career WAR makes him a 4 WAR/year player which is nothing to overlook.

The issue with giving a Giants pitcher a monster contract is that half of their starts are in one of the most pitcher-friendly stadiums in the league. This is especially important for a guy like Cain who is a fly-ball pitcher in what is by far THE toughest park to hit a home run at. Furthermore, it’s not as simple to say – well if Cain re-signs, he will continue to pitch half his games at AT&T park, so what’s the big deal? Problem is, you can’t expect his metrics to hold up throughout his career (e.g. Cain won’t always have a commanding 92+ mph fastball that overpowers hitters up in the zone). Therefore, as his career progresses, pitching in SF may not be as big as an advantage as it is currently. Cain has a career 3.12 ERA at home and 3.62 on the road – not a huge difference but still a notable one.

Lincecum is a different beast and will command a contract similar to the one of CC Sabathia. Fortunately the Giants still have two full years of control before Lincy hits the market, which makes him a much greater commodity than Cain. Lincy’s numbers are phenomenal – career 27.9 WAR, sub-3 FIP, and 9.87 K/9. The biggest question on him is whether his freakishness will eventually come back to haunt him and his shoulder. He has regressed over the last two years and may be showing his true future as a 5-WAR starter (still all-star quality).

I see reasonable arguments for signing either Lincecum or Cain but locking up both pitchers to $100+ million 6+ year contracts is not only a great risk but a constraint on the payroll. Also, players are far more valuable before they hit free-agency when they are often overpaid and locked into contract far past their prime.

I have compiled a list of the largest contracts given to pitchers and have compared their WAR from the three seasons prior to their contract being signed to their WAR after the contract was signed. Note: the ages listed are not necessarily from the date of the contract being signed, but the age of the player during the first season of the contract.

 

Player Age  Years Amount Date WAR Before WAR After Diff
CC Sabathia 28-34 7 161MM Dec-08 6.73 6.23 -0.50
Johan Santana 29-34 6 137.5MM Feb-08 6.50 2.73 -3.78
Barry Zito 29-35 7 126MM Dec-06 2.77 1.32 -1.45
Mike Hampton 28-35 8 121MM Dec-00 3.97 1.34 -2.63
Kevin Brown 33-39 7 105MM Dec-98 7.50 3.74 -3.76
Cliff Lee 32-36 5 120MM Dec-10 7.00 6.70 -0.30
Carlos Zambrano 26-30 5 91.5MM Aug-07 3.73 2.43 -1.31
Jered Weaver 29-33 5 85MM Aug-11 5.07 N/A N/A
John Lackey 31-35 5 82.5MM Dec-09 3.80 2.80 -1.00
A.J. Burnett 32-36 5 82.5MM Dec-08 3.77 2.13 -1.63
Justin Verlander 27-31 5 80MM Feb-10 5.27 6.70 1.43
Felix Hernandez 24-29 5 78MM Jan-10 4.87 3.90 -0.97
C.J. Wilson 31-35 5 77.5MM Dec-11 4.17 N/A N/A
Roy Oswalt 29-33 5 73MM Aug-06 6.07 3.66 -2.41
Josh Beckett 30-33 4 68MM Apr-10 5.70 2.90 -2.80
John Danks 27-31 5 65MM Dec-11 3.47 N/A N/A
Chris Carpenter 32-36 5 63.5MM Dec-06 5.07 2.98 -2.09
Derek Lowe 35-39 4 60MM Jan-09 4.27 2.6 -1.67
Roy Halladay 33-36 3 60MM Dec-09 6.83 7.4 0.57
Tim Lincecum 27- 5.77
Matt Cain 27- 4.07

This data shows some very interesting stories. 1) Only 4 of the 19 pitchers listed have actually lived up to their contract so far. The best contract on here is probably CC surprisingly, along with Verlander and Halladay 2) The average WAR differential after a contract is signed = -1.52/year 3) 4/6 $100MM contracts have been atrocious and only one can be confirmed as a success (CC) 4) 4/5 contracts of 6 years in length or more have been atrocious (again the one exception is CC)

This speaks loudly. It shows that pitchers are far more valuable prior to hitting free agency. More importantly we can see that players are often over-rated and overpaid for their historical success rather than being paid for their future potential.

I looked at the players WAR from the previous three seasons before signing a large deal. This is because I feel the most recent three years are most valuable to projecting future success. If you look at Barry Zito, his WAR was just 2.77/year in the three seasons prior to becoming the highest paid pitcher in the MLB (at the time). Obviously the Giants overvalued Zito’s Cy Young year in 2002.

Now let’s bring this back to Lincy and Cain. Lincy will get a monstrous contract but that is mostly because of his back-to-back Cy Young years in which he posted WAR of 7.5 and 8.0. But is he a 7 WAR/year pitcher? It doesn’t look like it after posting back-to-back sub-5 WAR seasons – also having his velocity dip among other factors. Still, he is a consistent all-star type of pitcher.

The Giants are in a great situation with Lincecum because he decided to go the year-by-year / short-term route in arbitration and therefore is locked up at a reasonable $20.25MM per year during his “prime” ages of 27 and 28. IF he stays productive at his current pace, Lincy should get a contract somewhere in the range of CC’s 7-year $161MM – keeping him under contract until he is 35 years old.

Cain on the other hand is coming off his career best 5.2 WAR season and is actually younger than Lincy by four months, however; he hits free agency a year sooner at the age of 28. Cain will receive a far more reasonable offer – in the $100MM-125MM range.

What should the Giants do? Given the historical data on large contracts for pitchers post 28/29 years old, it is far too risky for the Giants to lock up BOTH Cain and Lincecum. I would sign Cain to a 5-6 year deal (ideally 5 years with a 6th year option) and then trade Lincecum after this season. Sounds crazy right? Well actually it sounds more like an intelligent baseball and business move to me. The reason is: More likely than not, the Giants have milked all the Cy Youngs out of Tim Lincecum and it is not worth making him one of the highest paid pitchers of all time based off of two outstanding seasons, (in what would be) 4-5 years prior to his new contract. Furthermore Lincy has started to show that he may actually be a 4-5 WAR/year pitcher rather than a 6-7 WAR/year. Far too risky. Instead the Giants can sell high and guarantee themselves either a top ML-ready prospect and then spend the Lincy money on building the club’s offense and reinvesting in the draft.

The Giants can also afford to trade Lincy because of the rapid growth of Madison Bumgarner (who will be relatively cost-controlled throughout arbitration).

Finally, considering that the Giants play in a pitcher-friendly park, it is easier to bring aboard pitchers who can succeed in SF without having to pay such a premium via free agency.

Signing Cain and trading Lincecum may be the best move for the Giants but I am almost sure that Sabean would never do such a thing because signing Cain and Lincecum both to long-term deals will bring job security for at least a couple more years.


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Offseason Overview – New York Yankees

Mar 08, 12 Offseason Overview – New York Yankees
New York Yankees

2011 RECORD: 97-65

PRESIDENT: Randy Levine GM: Brian Cashman

KEY ACQUISITIONS: Michael Pineda, Hiroki Kuroda, Raul Ibanez, Bill Hall (MiLB), Russell Branyan (MiLB), David Aardsma, Manny Delcarmen (MiLB)

KEY DEPARTURES: Jorge Posada, Jesus Montero, A.J. Burnett, Bartolo Colon, Aaron Laffey, Hector Noesi

Dealing Jesus Montero to Seattle in exchange for the right-handed stud Michael Pineda was the Yankees highlight this past winter. Furthermore, the club inked veteran Hiroki Kuroda to a friendly one-year deal and shipped out A.J. Burnett’s contract to Pittsburgh in order to tack-on Raul Ibanez as a DH platoon-man.

The most important aspect of the Yankees offseason was the club’s decision not to spend big on free-agents and instead to improve through trades and strategic short-term contracts. This is derived from ownership’s persistence to cut payroll from its current $210 million figure to below the $189 million luxury tax threshold in 2014. Whether that is feasible, we will get to later in the post, but for now let’s analyze the effects of Cashman’s recent moves.

The Montero for Pineda swap made headlines and sparked great debates. On one side, fans were upset that they just lost a potential perennial all-star bat (who may or may not be able to play the field) but on the other hand, the club received an absolute beast on the hill who is… wait for it… actually proven himself.

Pineda is 6-5/260 and averaged 94.7 mph on his fastball in 171 innings last season. He finished the year with a 24.9% strikeout rate and a league-high 11.8% SwStr% (Swinging Strike %). Overall Pineda posted a 3.42 FIP and 3.4 WAR.

In exchange for this beast, the Yankees were forced to part with a beast of their own in Montero. In 69 plate appearances last year, Montero hit .328/.406/.590 with a .421 wOBA. Granted it is a small sample size, Montero combined to showed great patience at the plate with a 10.1% walk rate while boasting a .262 ISO.

The biggest knock on Montero is his apparent inability to play the field. If he settles in as a DH, his value definitely tanks; keep an eye out for him at first base.

To me, this trade is a no-brainer for the Yankees and a head-scratcher for the Mariners. It reminds me of 2007-2008 when the Giants were rumored to have entertained a Tim Lincecum – Alex Rios swap (I know it still scares me to hear that now). A starting pitcher with Pineda’s tools and stature is far more valuable and rare than a premier hitter who struggles at defense.

Joining Pineda in the Yankee rotation is veteran Hiroki Kuroda who inked a one-year $10 million deal. This could be one of the top steals of the offseason: Kuroda comes to NY with a career 3.55 FIP, 12.2 WAR, and 699 IP over four years of work with the Dodgers. Kuroda’s strikeout rate has been increasing over the years but in 2011 he saw his groundball rate dip to 43.2% after being above 50% in his career previously. This is a concern since Kuroda will be more susceptible to giving up homeruns in the hitter-friendly Yankee Stadium if he is unable to keep balls on the ground.

 What did Kuroda do differently in 2011?

1)       Threw his fastball 39.9% more in 2011 than in 2010 and his sinker 16.18% less in 2011 than in 2010.

2)      Kept his fastball high in the zone, resulting in less groundballs and more fly-balls.

Hiroki Kuroda Fastball% Sinker% Slider% Splitter% Curve%
2010 16.3% 44.5% 21.4% 13.2% 3.4%
2011 22.8% 37.3% 18.9% 14.2% 5.3%

 


Kuroda Heat Chart (Fastballs) 2011 - from FanGraphs.com

More fastballs high in the zone explain the dip in Kuroda’s groundball rate and therefore his career-high 11.3% HR/FB.

2012 PAYROLL

A cool $210 million. Ownership is definitely altering its philosophy on shelling out multi-year multi-million-dollar contracts each offseason. Moving A.J. Burnett gives NY some breathing room for minor midseason adjustments (possibly at DH).

2012 OUTLOOK

If all goes well, the Yankees will be in the World Series come the end of the year. The rotation is solid with the additions of Pineda and Kuroda under ace CC Sabathia. If Ivan Nova can provide a solid 180 innings and a Freddy Garcia/Phil Hughes 5-spot holds up, the Yankees will be dangerous.

We know what this club is able to do offensively – there isn’t much to question on that realm. Keeping Alex Rodriguez healthy in 2012 will be easier with him spending time at DH (and the same goes for Derek Jeter).

LONG-TERM OUTLOOK

Big question: Can the Yankees drop payroll to $189 million and stay competitive through 2014?

Getting to $189MM will be a task in itself since A-Rod, Mark Teixeira, and CC Sabathia will eat $75.125 million combined in 2014. That leaves $113 million for the remaining 40-man roster which faces two key free-agencies in 2013: Robinson Cano and Curtis Granderson. Cano will surely receive $20+ million per year and Granderson may command close to that if he stays anywhere near his current pace of 7 WAR seasons.

Essentially, $189 million means no more A-Rod types of big-name free-agent splashes. I am ecstatic about this because now we shall truly be able to see and appreciate Brian Cashman’s talent as a General Manager.




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Who Should Start at 2B in Detroit?

With Prince Fielder in town and Miguel Cabrera heading over to third base, second base has become a hot commodity in Detroit. Since losing his spot at the hot corner, Brandon Inge has been seeing time at second base for the first time in his career this spring and is now competing with Ryan Raburn and Ramon Santiago for the starting spot. Let’s take a look at what metrics tell us about who should start at 2B on opening day.

Right off the bat we can eliminate Inge from the conversation because he was atrocious at the plate last year and has no experience at 2B. Inge’s biggest asset is his glove – as seen by his career 5.6 UZR/150. But even with solid defense last season, Inge was a less valuable than an average AAA replacement player.

2011 Stats wOBA UZR/150 WAR
Brandon Inge 0.247 3.3 -0.4
Ryan Raburn 0.314 -21 1.2
Ramon Santiago 0.305 3.8 1.4
Career Stats wOBA UZR/150 WAR
Brandon Inge 0.301 5.6 15.8
Ryan Raburn 0.337 -23.8 4.6
Ramon Santiago 0.296 -3.5 4.9
Bill James Projected wOBA
Brandon Inge 0.297
Ryan Raburn 0.336
Ramon Santiago 0.291

Ramon Santiago is definitely the defensive option to start at 2B – metrics place him as an above-average defender overall (career -3.5 UZR at 2B, 3.6 UZR/150 including SS/3B). Last year Santiago posted the highest WAR of the three, highlighted by his 3.8 UZR/150.

That said, Raburn is still the favorite to start at 2B because of his offensive value. He boasts a career .337 wOBA – far superior to Inge’s career .301 and Santiago’s abysmal .296 career wOBA. This will probably be enough of an offensive spread for Leyland to overlook Raburn’s atrocious play in the field (-23.8 career UZR/150).

A strategic platoon is going to be the right way to play this one out. Two things are important here: 1) Ryan Raburn is a significantly better hitter vs LHPs (career OPS .847) than RHPs (career OPS .731) and 2) When Rick Porcello is on the mound, defense should be the priority. Porcelo sports a 51.4% GB rate and life is going to be tough on him with the Tigers awful defense.

With that, Raburn should be a shoe-in to start vs. southpaws. He will probably get most of the starts vs RHPs as well given Santiago’s offensive struggles, however; it would be strategic to give Santiago the nod at 2B when Porcello is on the mound. This essentially knocks Inge out of the picture aside for coming in as a late-inning defensive replacement, spotting at the hot-corner as an injury replacement, or filling in on potential DH days for Cabrera.


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Offseason Overview – Arizona Diamondbacks

Mar 07, 12 Offseason Overview – Arizona Diamondbacks

Arizona Diamondbacks
2011 RECORD: 94-68
PRESIDENT: Derrick Hall GM: Kevin Towers
KEY ACQUISITIONS: Trevor Cahill, Craig Breslow, Jason Kubel, Takashi Saito
KEY DEPARTURES: Jason Marquis, Xavier Nady, Kam Mickolio, Jarrod Parker

Coming off a 94-win season and the NL-West division title, Towers made some key additions to bolster the rotation and bullpen at a minimal cost to the teams low payroll. Shipping out the minor league system for Trevor Cahill was definitely the highlight of the D-backs offseason. Craig Breslow and Takashi Saito will add depth to the bullpen while Jason Kubel will take over LF in what is a questionable move by the organization.

Cahill joins Ian Kennedy, Daniel Hudson, and Josh Collmenter to form a deadly rotation which rivals their NL-West counterparts in San Francisco. Kennedy comes off a stellar season in which he posted a 3.22 FIP. While Hudson’s numbers don’t look as great as Kennedy’s, he was just as efficient with a 3.28 FIP on 222 IP.

I see Cahill settling in as a solid #3 rather than the 1-2 type that some project. The biggest worry is control: his career BB% is 8.8% (quite high), however; his strikeout rate has increased in each of his first three seasons and was 16.3% last season – which is impressive for a groundball pitcher. But don’t expect Cahill to bounce back to his 2010 numbers (18-8, 2.97 ERA) even with the pitcher-friendly transition to the NL. Cahill’s adjusted numbers were actually better last year as he posted a 4.10 FIP, down .09 from 2010. What changed was his BABIP which normalized to .302 in 2011 after being .236 the year prior. Also, Cahill is moving from a spacious Oakland Colosseum to the hitter-friendly Chase Field where he will be liable to giving up more home runs.

Take a look at the heat-charts below which compare the location of sinkers thrown by Cahill and sinkerball-extraordinaire Derek Lowe in 2011. Lowe is notorious for posting league-high ground-ball rates because of his ability to consistently keep his sinker low in the zone. The heat graphs highlight Lowe’s ability to keep his sinker low and away in the zone. Cahill will have to do just that otherwise he risks giving up more homeruns in Chase Field.

Trevor Cahill (top) and Derek Lowe Heat Maps – Sinkers (From FanGraphs.com) AB vs L on left – vs R on right

The bullpen should again be strong in 2012 with J.J. Putz, Brad Ziegler, Joe Paterson, and David Hernandez coming back after great years. Added to the mix will be veteran Takashi Saito who is 42 years old but holds a career 2.65 FIP. Health is the concern; the club opted not to give Saito a physical after signing him since they knew he would fail it. Instead, they will be cautious with him and will have him on a specialized work-out and training program throughout spring.

Bringing in Jason Kubel was the move that turned heads around the league. Kubel inked a 2-year $15M deal to make him the starting LF, sending Gold Glove outfielder Gerardo Parra to a minimized bench-role. Let’s first look at Parra and then dive into what Kubel brings to the table.

The 24-year-old Parra broke-out with a stellar defensive season while putting up solid numbers at the plate. Parra finished with a slash of .292/.357/.427 and stole 15 bases in 16 attempts. While he managed a .357 OBP on a 8.7% walk rate, Parra’s lack of power comes to light with his career.316 wOBA. It is reasonable to be skeptical of Parra’s ability to match or outperform his 2011 production since he is coming of a .342 BABIP. Parra does have a career .338 BABIP but in 2010, when his BABIP dipped to .322, his BA tanked to .261 with a wOBA of just .291. Furthermore, his OBP is generously high because of free passes granted to Parra in the 8-hole with the pitcher on-deck.

The case to keep Parra as the starter is more about his defensive presence than anything else: he is able to man all three spots in the OF and covers a lot of ground. Teamed with Chris Young in center and Justin Upton in right, the D-backs have a strong case for the best defensive outfield in the league – which is deadly coupled with the club’s stellar rotation.

Kubel joins the club with a track record of hitting home runs. The intuition is that he will add a veteran presence and be a middle-of-the-order bat from the left side. Kubel is coming off a mediocre season in which his wOBA was just .332 while also spending time on the DL. 2010 was actually a worse year for Kubel – .326 wOBA. The back-to-back down years made him affordable and available on just a two-year contract – the hope is he will bounce back to his 2009 stellar season in which Kubel posted a .239 ISO and .383 wOBA.

Kubel’s fly ball rate is quite high and has been increasing over the years – the hope is that he will be able to convert more fly balls into home runs in Chase Field, something he failed to do during the last two years in Minnesota. For Arizona, this will come at the expense of having a top defensive outfielder replaced by a poor defender who spent 1/3 of his starts as a DH last season.

According to Bill James’ and ZiPS projections, at best Kubel is projected to provide between 5-8 additional offensive runs over Parra, however; over the past three years, Parra has saved on average, 10 more runs per year than Kubel [based off FanGraphs Defensive Runs Saved (DRS)].

The reliability of defensive metrics has been questioned but Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) is one defensive measure that correlates as well as wOBA (which is one of the most reliable and highly regarded sabermetric statistics). So lets compare Kubel and Parra in terms of UZR/150 (per 150 innings). Parra has a career 9.5 UZR/150 (in three seasons) while Kubel has a career -17 UZR/150 which is atrocious.

Based on metrics, Kubel actually detracts from the team as a full time replacement for Parra, however; Parra should be able to get in at least 300 plate appearances by playing on off days for each of the three starters, starting in interleague road games, and coming in as a late inning defense replacement for Kubel. Also, bringing on Kubel gives the club injury insurance in the outfield.

OTHER NOTES

Towers was questioned after giving two veteran utility players, John McDonald and Willie Bloomquist (who have played sparingly in the past few years) two-year deals when many agreed that the two wouldn’t have garnered anything more than one year plus an option in the open market.

The club signed Mike Jacobs to a minor league deal. Jacobs was last relevant in 2008 when he hit 32 home runs in Florida. He will face a 50-game suspension for substance-abuse before he is able to play.

2012 PAYROLL

2011’s payroll was just over the $56M mark. The 2012 payroll  is expected to be around $75M which is a significant increase, showing the club’s seriousness to compete in 2012. At the same time, the D-backs will be in a tough situation if Kubel doesn’t pan out and they are forced to eat his $15M and trade for a bat mid-season.

2012 OUTLOOK

The NL West is going to be competitive in 2012. The D-Backs success in 2012 will again be largely determined by the repeat success of their rotation. We know the team can hit (3rd best slugging team in NL last year) and will continue to put up solid offensive numbers with Justin Upton yet to reach his prime and Miguel Montero developing into a premier hitter behind the plate. The question-mark is Stephen Drew, who is expected to be back by opening day. If he stays healthy and hits around his career average, the D-backs will be in great shape.

Arizona made the right move to further bolster their rotation and bullpen with the likes of Cahill, Breslow, and Saito. Kennedy and Hudson should be able to anchor the rotation as they did last year. If Cahill can provide a solid 200 innings of sub 4 FIP, this club will roll through the NL West.

LONG-TERM OUTLOOK

Arizona is one of few clubs that does not have any bad contracts bogging them down. Upton’s contract is the largest the team has on the books and keeps him in Arizona until the end of 2015 at a reasonable price. Kennedy, Hudson, and Roberts are all under control for the next four years while Parra is under team control for the next five seasons. Given the club’s desire to keep the payroll low, if the team doesn’t win in the next two years, expect to see some of the young talent moved prior to their contracts blowing up in arbitration.

For the foreseeable future, expect Arizona to milk their young talent while adding talent through trades and short-term deals for veteran free agents.

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