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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.


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.


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 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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    Offseason Overview – San Francisco Giants

    Mar 07, 12 Offseason Overview – San Francisco Giants

    San Francisco Giants
    2011 RECORD: 86-76
    PRESIDENT: Larry Baer GM: Brian Sabean
    KEY ACQUISITIONS: Melky Cabrera, Angel Pagan, Ryan Theriot, Gregor BlancoRamon Ortiz (Minor League contract)
    KEY DEPARTURES: Carlos Beltran, Pat Burrell, Jonathan Sanchez, Andres Torres, Cody Ross, Jeff Keppinger, Ramon Ramirez

    The Giants’ front office made some questionable moves (and “non-moves”) this offseason, highlighted by a couple trades for outfielders Melky Cabrera and Angel Pagan and the free-agency departure of 2011 mid-year acquisition Carlos Beltran.

    Trading the young southpaw Jonathan Sanchez for Melky Cabrera was nothing short of mind boggling.

    Jonathan Sanchez Fastball Heat Chart - Photo from

    What I see in Sanchez is untapped potential: A guy who ranked 4th in strikeout rate over the last three years; has a no-hitter (perfect game minus Uribe’s error) on his resume; but is coming off an injury-ridden down year after posting a FIP of 4.0 in 2010 and 3.85 in 2008. His down side is his consistent league-high walk rate which can be attributed to his propensity to pitch high in the zone where it is tough to make contact but also tough to get called strikes.

    On the other hand, Sanchez has started to become less reliant on his fastball and instead throws more changeups. There is potential for him to develop better command of his CH to place it low in the zone where even if more contact is made, it is likely to be on the ground.

    Jonathan Sanchez Pitch Type - From

    Melky is an interesting player to look at. He has a bad rep for distinct struggles in 2008 and 2010 while also having his character and work ethic questioned. On the plus-side, he heads to the bay in his prime (27 years old) and is coming off a career-best season. Let’s take an in-depth look at his career best performance.

    On the surface, Melky’s slash looks good at .305/.339/.470 but his BABIP was a significant career high at .332 which we should not expect to hold up. He also posted a career low walk rate (5%) and career high strike out rate (13.3%). Furthermore, looking at his power, Cabrera’s career-high ISO of .164 last year likely will not be hold up in pitcher-friendly AT&T park. It is very reasonable to expect Melky’s numbers to regress to around .280/.315/.415 considering he is walking at a career low rate and he is not an Ichiro-type to live off consistently high BABIP.  Now 280/.315/.415 is still a decent slash considering the Giants were the second worst offense in the league last year but the issue comes in when we look at Melky’s defense.

    Metrics place Cabrera as a below-average defender and even with that aside, his size and speed makes him a question to cover the vast CF area in San Francisco. He will probably end up spending a lot of time in LF which significantly decreases his value since he takes up what should be a offense-heavy position. All-in-all, this points to Sanchez being a more valuable asset than Melky and this next piece will prove why.

    Just days after the trade was completed, I spoke to a Major League Scout who told me in confidence that Brian Cashman was willing to part with Brett Gardner in exchange for Sanchez. Doesn’t that make you wonder? Did the Giants not do their due diligence in shopping Sanchez or does Sabean see something in Melky that I don’t?

    Angel Pagan is the other outfielder Sabean acquired through a trade which shipped out Andres Torres and right-handed reliever Ramon Ramirez to the Mets. This move gives the Giants a defensive option in CF as well as a “true” lead-off hitter. Pagan is coming off a down year where he saw is BABIP tank from .331 to .285 and consequently, his slash to drop to .262/.322/.372. Before last year, he was living off high BABIP, partly due to his speed. That number should normalize to around .300 making it reasonable to expect Pagan to bounce back a bit from last year. The loss of Ramirez is not too damaging given the Giants exceptional depth in the bullpen, however; you can never have enough arms in the ‘pen.

    The biggest issue of the Giants offseason was letting Carlos Beltran go without making a strong push to resign the slugger. Beltran ended up in St. Louis on a very friendly two-year $26M deal. I understand losing him to a three-year deal, but at two-year $26M, it is tough to comprehend. He is too valuable of a bat at that price, especially considering the Giants gave up Zach Wheeler for a few months of Beltran.

    Shortstop left in the hands of Brandon Crawford
    The Giants felt no need to invest in a starting SS and instead opted to leave the position in the hands of the 25 year old Crawford who hit four points above the Mendoza line last year. This looks poor on the surface but Crawford is a stellar defensive player and is coming off a BABIP of just .228 which should normalize up this year. The Giants did pick up utility-man Ryan Theriot who could see time at SS.

    The club avoided an arbitration hearing with Lincecum by inking the ace to a two-year deal worth $40.5M, buying out his remaining arbitration years.

    Ryan Vogelsong also received a two year deal worth $8.3M with a third-year club option.

    Pablo Sandoval agreed to a three-year extension buying out his arbitration years for $17.15M.

    Speedy CF Gregor Blanco will battle for the final outfield spot. Blanco boasts a career walk rate of 12.8% but severely lacks power.

    2012 PAYROLL
    Giants are looking at a payroll of around $135M for 2012 which is high and may be a factor in the club’s ability to add offense at the trade deadline, especially considering the change in CEO from Bill Neukom to Larry Baer last season.

    2012 OUTLOOK
    We know what the Giants strength is: Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner, Ryan Vogelsong, and Barry Zito make up one of the top rotations in baseball. Sergio Romo and Brian Wilson highlight what is also one of the top bullpens in the league. Manager Bruce Bochy recently stated that Zito, firmly, will be the 5th starter heading into the season; however, look for Eric Surkamp to make a push for the 5th spot as the season progresses.

    Everything comes back to creating offense, and the Giants are depending on a healthy Buster Posey and Freddy Sanchez, a bounce-back year from Aubrey Huff, and the development of prospect Brandon Belt into a middle-of-the-order threat. Reports say Buster is definitely not 100% meaning he may see extensive time at 1B which would crowd the outfield with Huff, Melky, Pagan, Nate Schierholtz, and Belt.

    The only for-sure spots are 3B with the Panda and 2B with Sanchez (as long as he stays off the DL). Brandon Crawford will be fun to watch at SS – if the Giants’ offensive struggles continue to affect the club’s ability to contend, expect the team to find an offensive upgrade at short.


    The Giants have been known for their ability to draft and develop star pitching talent but recently their system has been somewhat depleted, most notably with the Zach Wheeler trade. The team does have some offensive talent about to break into the league: top prospect OF Gary Brown will start the year in Double-A after spending a full season in Class-A, posting a .336/.407/.519 slash. Expect him in the big-league by 2013. Catcher Hector Sanchez is the other highlight budding in the minors. Sanchez was a late call-up last season and may be back this year if Posey establishes himself at 1B.

    Bumgarner should get signed long-term soon so the Giants can avoid redoing a Lincy-type scenario. The southpaw has been stellar in his young career, posting a 2.67 FIP in 204+ innings last year. So far the club has yet to begin extension discussions.

    The most intriguing factor for Giants is their payroll situation, which is blown up with notoriously bad contracts to Zito and Aaron Rowand. The good thing is that Rowand’s $13.5M is off the books after this year, along with the $10M Huff will get this year.  2013 will be Zito’s final guaranteed year and assuming his 2014 option does not vest (200+ innings in ‘13 or 400+ innings in ‘12 + ’13) he will be off the books with a $7M buyout.

    This leaves the Giants with NO contract obligations in 2015 and beyond (just one of 9 teams with such situation) – quite impressive. That should allow them to sign both Cain and Lincecum to monstrous contracts while also locking up Posey and Sandoval before they hit FA in the next few years. While this is the likely route for the Giants brass, they actually have many options given such flexibility, including; shopping Lincecum or Cain and/or making a FA splash on a hitter in 2014.

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      New Collective Bargaining Agreement

      Here is a basic overview of the major changes in the new Collective Bargaining Agreement and a brief analysis of how the changes will affect front office activity.

      Super-Two Status

      Beginning in 2012, more players than ever will be able to qualify as a Super-Two player which enables them to reach arbitration earlier. Of players with between 2 and 2.171 years of service time, the top 22% (in respect to service time) will be eligible for arbitration as Super-Two players – this represents a 37.5% increase from the previous 16% figure which often times resulted in a cutoff around 2.130-2.135 years of service time.

      How does this affect my team? From now on, for clubs to avoid players with super-two status, they will have to wait even longer than the usual June 5th time frame to bring prospects to the major leagues. This further complicates the dilemma of competitive clubs keeping highly-touted prospects in the minors even though they are big-league ready.

      A prime example of an early call-up resulting in millions of dollars of extra expense  is Tim Lincecum’s situation in 2007. If Lincy was brought up just one week later, he would not have qualified as a super-two and thus would have his contract be under team control for an additional year rather than him hitting arbitration early as a super-two. Lincy received $9M in his first year of arbitration – he would have earned less than $1M if he was not a super-two.

      Cap on draft spending

      This is arguably the most debilitating new rule for small-to-mid market clubs. Teams will now be capped on the amount they can spend on the amateur draft. Each team will be allotted a draft pool for the first 10 rounds. The pools will be determined by the slot value of the club’s draft picks: i.e. teams drafting at the top will have a larger pool than teams with later picks.

      Last year 20 teams went over slot recommendations to sign draft picks. There is a reason this happens – small-market teams know they can not acquire top talent in free-agency because they will be out bid by the Yankees, Red Sox, Angels, Dodgers, etc. So instead of spending on free-agents, small market clubs pour money into the draft where they are able to get premium talent at a low price – a more efficient way of spending money. This will no longer be possible, without facing severe penalties (listed below)

      Clubs that exceed their Signing Bonus Pools will be subject to penalties as follows:
      Excess of Pool Penalty (Tax on Overage/Draft Picks)
      • 0-5% (75% tax on overage)
      • 5-10% (75% tax on overage and loss of 1st round pick)
      • 10-15% (100% tax on overage and loss of 1st and 2nd round picks)
      • 15%+ (100% tax on overage and loss of 1st round picks in next two drafts)

      Last year the Pirates spent a record $17M on the draft to snag both Gerrit Cole and Josh Bell, convincing the latter to bypass college. They won’t be able to that again.

      This system can still be exploited, but by rich teams that consistently win and draft towards the end of the first round. Example: The Yankees can notify agents that they will be going over slot on the draft and thus snag top talent while being able to afford the tax and the loss of first round picks (that probably will be at the end of the first round anyways). The A’s or the Pirates could never afford such maneuver.

      Cap on international free agent spending

      Capping international bonuses will ultimately have a similar affect on clubs as the cap on draft spending. Teams will now be limited to about $2.9M in bonus money per year for international signings. Clubs with worse records from the previous season will be allotted a larger pool.

      This is the first step of the MLB ultimately heading towards an international draft but as of now it again severely limits small-market teams that spend internationally to compensate for not being able to compete in the free agent market.

      Increase to major league minimum salary

      The major league minimum will increase progressively from $414,000 in 2011 to: $480,000 in 2012; $490,000 in 2013; and $500,000 in to 2014.

      Elimination of Type A and B status for draft-pick compensation

      Right off the bat, this change hurts some of the more strategic front offices in the game. Here is a little background on how the Type A and B compensation system worked in the past. Players would be ranked by Elias based upon recent-years stats and the top free agents in each position would be Type A and the next tier would be Type B. If a team were to lose a Type A player during free agency, the club would receive the signing team’s protected 1st round pick plus a supplemental draft pick. For type B players, clubs would receive the signing team’s 2nd round pick as compensation. This was notoriously taken advantage of by GMs such as Theo Epstein who would trade for projected Type A and B players in order to rack up compensation picks.

      This will no longer be possible. New rules eliminate the Elias ranking system and instead, draft pick compensation for free agents will only be available if the player played the entire season for the club, the club offers the player a one-year guaranteed contract with a salary equal to the average salary of the top 125-paid players from the previous season, and the player rejects the offer to sign with another team. To put this in perspective, the average salary of the top 125 paid players last season was about $12 million. This significantly reduces draft pick compensation only to teams losing premium talent and thus eliminates the ability of teams to rack up compensation draft picks.

      Competitive balance lottery

      The ten teams in the smallest markets and the ten teams with the lowest revenue will be eligible to take part in a draft lottery for the six picks following the completion of the first round of the MLB Amateur Draft. The chances of winning the lottery will be determined by the clubs’ winning percentage in the previous season. The eligible clubs not receiving the first six lottery picks, as well as other clubs that receive revenue share money, will be eligible for another six picks immediately following the second round.

      The intriguing part to this is that the competitive balance lottery picks can be traded but cannot be sold for cash. This is the first time that MLB teams will be allowed to trade draft picks – how will the picks be valued? I’ll check in on that later.

      Additional Playoff Team

      Beginning in 2012 an additional wild card team will make the playoffs in each league. The two wild-card teams in each league will face-off in a one-game playoff.

      With the addition of a playoff team in each league, the mid-season trade market will include more buyers and less sellers. Expect to see the value of premier players increase given the fact of increased demand.

      For example: On the day of the trade deadline (7/31/2011) last season, the Tampa Bay Rays and Toronto Blue Jays were all but out of the playoff race being 8.5 and 10 games behind the Yankees for the wild card spot respectively. If the new rules were in place, the Rays would have only been 2 games back from the Angels for the second wild card spot while Toronto would have been just 3.5 games out.

      This should also affect signings for players at the end of their careers or those with injury concerns. Small-market teams have more of an incentive to take a chance on “washed-up” players with a one-year deal. Here is the intuition: if the player does well and you are not in contention by mid-season, the club will be able to deal him off to contenders at a premium price given the increased demand from added playoff spots. Pittsburgh and Cleveland are two teams that already embrace this strategy – i.e. Erik Bedard and a slew of minor league contracts to veterans by Cleveland.

      Click here for the MLB’s press release regarding the changes in the new five-year CBA. 

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        $100+ Million Contracts

        Courtesy of MLB Trade Rumors’ Transaction Tracker, I have placed below all of the $100+ million contracts signed in baseball history.


        Player               Age    Years      Value       Team       Acq. GM                   Agency                           Date

        Alex Rodriguez 32 10 $275.0000MM NYY Brian Cashman Boras Corporation 12/13/2007
        Alex Rodriguez 25 10 $252.0000MM TEX Doug Melvin Boras Corporation 12/01/2000
        Albert Pujols 31 10 $240.0000MM LAA Jerry Dipoto Icon Sports Group 12/08/2011
        Prince Fielder 27 9 $214.0000MM DET Dave Dombrowski Boras Corporation 01/24/2012
        Derek Jeter 26 10 $189.0000MM NYY Brian Cashman CAA Sports 02/01/2001
        Joe Mauer 26 8 $184.0000MM MIN Bill Smith Shapiro, Robinson, & Associates 03/21/2010
        Mark Teixeira 28 8 $180.0000MM NYY Brian Cashman Boras Corporation 01/06/2009
        CC Sabathia 28 7 $161.0000MM NYY Brian Cashman Legacy Sports Group 12/20/2008
        Matt Kemp 27 8 $160.0000MM LAD Ned Colletti Dave Stewart 11/14/2011
        Manny Ramirez 28 8 $160.0000MM BOS Dan Duquette 12/19/2000
        Troy Tulowitzki 26 10 $157.7500MM COL Dan O’Dowd TWC Sports 11/30/2010
        Adrian Gonzalez 28 7 $154.0000MM BOS Theo Epstein John Boggs & Associates 04/15/2011
        Miguel Cabrera 24 8 $152.3000MM DET Dave Dombrowski SFX 03/24/2008
        Carl Crawford 29 7 $142.0000MM BOS Theo Epstein Legacy Sports Group 12/08/2010
        Todd Helton 27 9 $141.5000MM COL Dan O’Dowd 03/01/2001
        Johan Santana 28 6 $137.5000MM NYM Omar Minaya Peter E. Greenberg & Associates 02/02/2008
        Alfonso Soriano 30 8 $136.0000MM CHC Jim Hendry 11/20/2006
        Jayson Werth 31 7 $126.0000MM WAS Mike Rizzo Boras Corporation 12/05/2010
        Barry Zito 28 7 $126.0000MM SFO Brian Sabean 12/29/2006
        Vernon Wells 28 7 $126.0000MM TOR J.P. Ricciardi Legacy Sports Group 12/20/2006
        Ryan Howard 30 5 $125.0000MM PHI Ruben Amaro, Jr. CAA Sports 04/26/2010
        CC Sabathia 31 5 $122.0000MM NYY Brian Cashman Legacy Sports Group 10/31/2011
        Mike Hampton 28 8 $121.0000MM COL Dan O’Dowd 12/12/2000
        Cliff Lee 32 5 $120.0000MM PHI Ruben Amaro, Jr. Frontline 12/13/2010
        Matt Holliday 29 7 $120.0000MM STL John Mozeliak Boras Corporation 01/07/2010
        Jason Giambi 30 7 $120.0000MM NYY Brian Cashman 12/18/2001
        Carlos Beltran 27 7 $119.0000MM NYM Omar Minaya 01/13/2005
        Ken Griffey Jr. 30 9 $116.5000MM CIN 02/11/2000
        Jose Reyes 28 6 $106.0000MM MIA Larry Beinfest Peter E. Greenberg & Associates 12/04/2011
        Ryan Braun 27 5 $105.0000MM MIL Doug Melvin CAA Sports 04/21/2011
        Kevin Brown 33 7 $105.0000MM LAD Kevin Malone 12/12/1998
        Ryan Zimmerman 27 6 $100.0000MM WAS Mike Rizzo CAA Sports 02/26/2012
        Carlos Lee 30 6 $100.0000MM HOU Tim Purpura 11/24/2006
        Albert Pujols 24 7 $100.0000MM STL Walt Jocketty 02/19/2004

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