Monday, January 29, 2007

How to Build a Rivalry

UPDATE: Reports now say that the Helton/Red Sox discussions are dead. Probably a smart thing for the Red Sox. Everything in the following post still holds true, but the Sox have made a wise foray into the realm of "test the waters to get a vet on the cheap". When things didn't look good to the Rockies, they balked. Good GMing by Theo in the end.

How is it that Red Sox vs. Yankees has permeated the baseball scene from the farthest reaches of the continental United States, to the span of foreign continents, and from Spring Training to Spring Training, 365 days a year. I thought I’d had just about enough in 2006 after yet another season of 19 head to head matchups, but I’m starting to feel even more like I ate one too many pieces of double fudge layer cake. This time the story is Todd Helton.

The news has been swirling around the Red Sox and the Rockies lately regarding a potential swap of slugger Todd Helton for a package of players and possibly cash. In and of itself this news does not register as more than a firm tremor on the baseball Richter scale, but in “the rivalry” it’s yet another example of the teams sticking out their chest at one another and daring the opponent to react. For the organizations themselves, baseball decisions are made for baseball reasons, in general, but for the fan bases these things become giant foam middle fingers to wave at each other. What does this really mean once we strip the emotional fan factor from the equation?

Todd Helton has been one of the most fearsome hitters in the game for years. Yes, in the NL. Yes, in Colorado. When we examine his career road split against his home numbers we see the following:

Home .371/.465/.676 for a 1.141 OPS
Road ..294/.393/.507 for a .900 OPS

Home .353/.471/.616 for a 1.087 OPS
Road .287/.418/.453 for an .871 OPS

I chose 2005 over last season’s numbers because Helton, by all accounts, had an illness that prevented him from playing and when he did play he was weak. Taking that illness out of the equation, we should expect him to produce at a fairly consistent level. What jumps out right away is the titanic dropoff in power that occurs away from the thin air of Coors. The average also suffers. For the Red Sox, the problem with making this deal is the big money that is combined with the lack of power at a premier power position. The plus for the Sox will be his on base percentage, which slips to a merely semi-superhuman level on the road. In front of Papi, Manny, and Drew that should be devastating. If Francona can get it through his head to also bat Youkilis in front of that group, you’d see something special offensively.

In other words, he doesn’t have to be Todd Helton Colorado to be a big bonus for the Sox. He merely has to be Todd Helton Fenway. I think there’s more upside to taking on whatever money Helton has coming back with him, if any. The rub is the long term aspect of his play. Can he earn his money on the back end of the contract. I have faith that a .400 OBP and .500 SLG will be a perfect fit in Boston in 2007 and 2008, but his contract runs through 2011. That means that whatever diminished skill set he has in 2009, 2010, and 2011 will be on the payroll in Beantown. In those years, Helton will be 35, 36, and 37 years old respectively. The money is less of an issue with the free spending ways of the modern day Red Sox, but the production is a big question mark. Make no mistake about it. If Helton wears a Boston uniform in 2007, the Sox are looking to win now. They are looking to take, perhaps, two shots at the World Series with Helton in the lineup. They are playing by the early 2000s Yankees’ playbook, where high priced veterans and a yearly run at the championship are worth eating the back end of bad contracts. That’s brilliant if it works. If you win, no one cares about the wads of cash flying out the window of the penthouse. If you don’t win, it looks more like stacks of $100s being tossed into the dingy basement furnace.

Yankee fans have grown weary of that method, and thankfully Cashman has grabbed the reins to build the farm, build long term, and bring a bit of fiscal restraint to the organization. With the resources that both these clubs have, it’s better to invest the dough in the system to build a dynasty on the backs of young homegrown talent. Instead of Todd Helton at the tail end of his career for big money, the Yankees are taking the path to Helton at the beginning of his career at minor league prices. The Sox system has suffered thanks to their recent fixation on winning it all again. Like heroin junkies, they traded away Hanley Ramirez and Anibel Sanchez to the Marlins for Beckett and Lowell. Lowell may be a part of this Helton trade, and Beckett was pretty bad on a third place team. Ramirez won the rookie of the year and Sanchez threw a no hitter. Andre Marte is another one that slipped away.

The Yankees are poised to bring up Phil Hughes this season. Cano, Wang, and Melky are all current factors in our lineup. Any number of other young arms could be on their way to the Major League roster soon, and a few lower level players will eventually have a huge impact (Tabata). There is work to be done on the Yankees farm when it comes to position players, to be sure, but we are building. The Red Sox would be trading away yet another package of minor leaguers to get Helton. They have Papelbon in their rotation now, and wisely never sold him up the river. Pedroia will be joining the big club to fill their hole at 2B, while Jon Lester will be attempting to come back from cancer. That leaves very little in the way of major prospects in their farm system.

Who knows, the Red Sox may end up winning 3, 4, 5 World Series in a row thanks to all the spending. Maybe they’ll succeed where the Yankees have failed in recent years. Their team will be very strong for the next few years, to be sure. I’m still going to live and die by the way the Yankees and Cashman are running the business today, and I think it bodes well for our dynastic likings, to see the future emerging from within.


jim said...

See, Mike I look at Goldman's latest bible and feel even more assured that it should be the Yanks taking the risk on Helton.

They have plenty of pieces to move, lack an in-house option, and could be absolutely hamstrung mid-season.

The last time I think Cashman went into a season thinking he could upgrade mid-stream was CF in 2005. And we ended up with Bubba Crosby starting a deciding playoff game.

Now Teixeira and Sexson might be better fits, but one will require a monster contract of the type Cashman is supposedly avoiding, while the other is clearly inferior to Helton.

I'll stick to my guns - if Helton can be had for 50 million and prospects or even help get rid of Pavano, then the Yanks should make the move.

Mike Plugh said...

I actually wouldn't be opposed to Helton on the Yanks either. I think he's still got enough in the tank to be a very dangerous hitter. I just don't like the idea that Goldman suggests there's a doomsday scenario staring us in the face should multiple major injuries occur. Surely there is no team better equipped to deal with that situation than the Yankees.

I wonder if Cash will try to get Helton for a mid-level arm and cash. I'd probably give them Eric Duncan, Rasner, and cash. Thoughts?

jim said...

"Please name one team in the sport that given one or more significant injuries would fare better than the Yankees."

The Red Sox??? because of the better bench.

Seriously, Goldman at least suggests that the dominance of the Yankee lineup is a bit illusory. The Sox have the two biggests bats of them all. And they've improved nicely around them.

That said, I don't think PECOTA is right when it predicts better years for Coco Chanel And Juicin Varitek and worse from Abreu and Damon and Jorge. But those predictions aren't far outside the realm of possibility either.

"I just can't fathom why a team that sported the best record in the sport despite missing Sheffield and Matsui most of the year, and featuring a 1000 year old Randy Johnson every 5th day at the front of the rotation should garner so much doom and gloom after doing some very nice things in the offseason."

I think you're missing the point that right now the Yanks haven't been improved at one roster spot and are getting older. With age comes more variability. I think that's what PECOTA is taking into account.

Now, on the improved bit, two things:

1) The only changes so far to the 2007 Yankees were to the rotation. Pettitte and Meat/Igawa may be an improvement over Unit/Wright. But the latter threw about 340 league average innings last year. That's pretty good, and it's not entirely clear that the new guys will pick that up because of injuries and ineffectiveness. And I think Phil Huge will be lights out but the word via PeteAbe is that he'll be restricted to 180 innings. And probably half of those will be in Scranton. So, still they need over league average 250 inning. Likely but not guaranteed at this point.

2) At every other open roster spot, I'd argue the Yanks either spun their wheels or got worse, esp if they carry 12 arms (more improvement if Bernie for Thompson). Cairo will be worse. MCI too. And most definitely the BUCs. Phelps/Phillips will be about what they got last year. So an injury to anyone in the IF and the offense is hurting.

Sure, none of that means Cashman can't make a move mid-season. But I think it's easier said than done. That's what I think happened in 2005 - he expected something for CF to open up and it didn't. And last year the upgrades available at 1B Guiel and Wilson which left Shef to starting in the playoffs.

Helton to me means just that much more insurance (defense and offense). Phelps/Phillips go to the bench and MCI could be cut. Sexson/Teixeira could work too but Seattle/Texas would have to fall out of it.

We'll have to see. But I'm not all peaches and roses these days. This off-season meant the farm is stocked with arms but the 2007 Yanks haven't been improved IMHO.

jim said...

Exactly on Helton. I'm even cool with Duncan, Pavano (to help shed salary), and Karstens/Rasner and/or Beam.

I think it all depends on how much salary the Rox would pick up. If it's 40 million (as reported in COL) then - Heck yeah! (Helton at 10mil per for 5). If it's 27 mil (as reported in Boston) then the Yanks need to do a better job of negotiating if they're interested.

P.s. Any way to avoid having to verify these stupid pseudoword images everytime I post? I'm logged in and can barely read most of them.

Mike Plugh said...

The thing is Jim, the Sox bench and the Yankees bench isn't likely to cost the teams more than a game or two in the standings. The problem with that thinking is that any fluky set of circumstances could also win or lose us a few games. It's within the margin of error on either side.

When have the Yankees ever stood pat when faced with major injuries. Do you think Brian Cashman is going to sit by and let major injuries cost us the season? Last year he got Abreu because the Phillies wanted to dump his salary. If he waits on a guy like Helton, he can probably drive the cost down and acquire him later. There are literally dozens of good firstbaseman to be plucked from clubs to help in an emergency. The Yanks could grab up a billion dollars on a guy if they needed him badly enough. It's not an issue to me.

I'm content to let things play out. I think the Bombers have improved, but even if we believe the team has spun its wheels and even taken a minor dip, the Red Sox have Paul Bunyan sized questions in their lineup. Their rotation looks better in the short term, but they have zero on the farm. Sox fans are kidding themselves if they think there's anything down there that can save them. They traded it all away. Pedroia is up with the big boys now, and even he is a question.

The Yankees could bring up Hughes, Sanchez, or Clippard. If Zambrano doesn't get a deal by the end of Spring Training, we could even make a run at him. Things look better in the Bronx than they do in Fenway, especially when you look at things 2,3, 5, and 10 years down the road.

By the way, the word verification is a necessity. As soon as I turn it off I get spammed like there's no tomorrow.

jim said...

Tis true on the variability. But I'm more more insurance than less.

But I don't think you can assume Helton will be available (and he might not come to the Yanks any ways.) The Rox might be in contention and the same goes for the Rangers and M's.

I think last year it worked out with Abreu but the year before it didn't with CF. It's just risky and I've seen now how problems at the beginning of the season have a way of lingering until the end.

I agree things look better long-term in Yankeeland. But that will be little solace if the Sox get another ring. The worst bit is because Toronto is good too it may not be a cakewalk to the wildcard either. The AL East winner could be its only representative in the playoofs. So every game could mean something. I'd just like the Yanks to be better prepared for that scenario.

P.s. That sucks on the word verification. I don't know the trouble and expense involved in switching but it seems like PeteAbe moved from blogger to Word Press.

singlessss said...

Look out... Jim Dean has entered the room.

"The last time I think Cashman went into a season thinking he could upgrade mid-stream was CF in 2005."
And exactly who did we have playing CF in 2006? And in 2007? Is it possible that Cashman made an educated guess, and that the outcome of the CF issue went his way?

"At every other open roster spot, I'd argue the Yanks either spun their wheels or got worse"

I assume your talking about the 2007 ML roster. You're not talking about the minors or the future, correct? Are you inferring that improving a starting position is more important then improving the pitching staff?
I would agree that because Cano and Jetes had such outstanding years in 2006, that we might guess less from them in 2007. Melky MIGHT be better. Giambi, if healthy as a DH, MIGHT be a little better (.253 BA). ARod MIGHT be better (.915 OPS, 35 HRs). Damon? He said he could be better. Jorge.. posted an OPS .014 better then his carrer numbers. He might be worse. Of course, we said that last year too.

"Cairo will be worse."
2006: .280 .320 .239 .559
Worse then above? Is your statement a guarantee? A fact? Because he is one year older? Have you bet your house on this?

"MCI too."
Last year, at 31, his OPS was .006 higher then his career. He is one year older. Is your statement a guarantee, a fact, that we will be worse? Have you bet your house on this?

"And most definitely the BUCs."
Kelly Fasano posted an OPS of about .560. Is your statement a guarantee, a fact, that our BUC (whoever it is?) will be worse? Have you bet your house on this?

"Phelps/Phillips will be about what they got last year."
Phillips 2006: .240 281 .394 .675
Worse then above? Is your statement a guarantee? A fact? Because he is 30 and not 29? Have you bet your house on this?

But I don't think you can assume Helton will be available...
I don't believe Mike ASSUMES this... I think he is stating it as ONE of the DOZENS of variables yet to be determined, that might have a positive impact on the Yankee team.

(and he might not come to the Yanks any ways.)
Really? Then why the 47 posts on BB INSISTING Cashman is an idiot for not GETTING him? (I know your didn't have 47 posts... this is just the number of RH RPs Cashman, in his lunacy, has picked up)

"Helton to me means just that much more insurance (defense and offense)."
IF he WAS available, I agree, for 2007-2008 he would have improved the team. He is probably also insurance, that in 2010 and 2011, we would have yet another, old, overpayed, easy position to fill, player clogging up our lineup.

"....If it's 40 million (as reported in COL)" These Reports were based on getting Lowell, Tavarez, Hansen and Declarman. Does that mean that $40M is an absolute number regardless of the players traded? All 4 of those guys are MLB ready. Who should the Yankess have offered?

Jim..... I will not clog up Mike's blog [Manhug for Daddy] with an ongoing dabate. I have absolutely NO problems with your opinions. The problem that drives me crazy is all the suppositions you post, as if they were facts (or at least very widely accepted) and then ganged together, to 'prove' your point.

If you state an opinion that is backed up with ONE supposition that has a 75% of being correct, then your opinion has a 75% of being correct. TWO suppositions that each have a 75% of being correct, then your opinion has a 56% of being correct. THREE suppositions that each have a 75% of being correct, then your opinion has a 42% of being correct. Etc.

Will Miggy be worse? MCI? Phillips? Would Helton in 2007 (in the AL East) improve over 2006? Will his back problems be Vlad-like or Donnie-like? Will he be better then league average at his position in 2009? Will he be Bernie in 2009? Will Damon be Bernie in 2009? Will I get laid in 2009?

If there are no injuries to either team, and if DMats is a #2 or better (which I think he will be), right now the Sox MAY have a slightly better team (on paper) then the Yankees. I think DMats is the determining figure, moreso then any one position player.

Due to the randomness of the Universe, the questions/suppositions of the post are all good questions. Thank God the game is played on the field.

The only thing I'm pretty sure of is the Bernie will be Bernie in 2009.

I will end this post with one absolute agreement with Jim... the word verification is a pain in the ass, and yet another supposition I can't necessarily agree with... "all the women like my sausage".

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