Ned Colletti’s Two-Year Deals

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I know it seems so long ago now, but there was actually once a point where the Dodgers could barely afford to fill out their roster with actual big-league talent. Way back in the dark, cold off-season of 2011-12, before the Guggenheim group came in and when we could count on Bill Shaikin camping outside a Delaware court room for days at a time, the Dodgers had a thin roster and little in the way of dollars to flesh it out.

Faced with holes and such a limited budget, Ned Colletti’s plan was to get as many mid-level veterans as he could just to put a team together, and to give them all backloaded two-year deals. In some cases that was to make the budget work; in others, it was because some of these guys likely couldn’t find a guaranteed second year elsewhere.

Every five seconds, it seemed like there was a two-year deal. Mark Ellis, two years. Chris Capuano, two years. Aaron Harang. Jerry Hairston. Tony Gwynn!

Or as I said when Gwynn was signed:

Yet it’s the second guaranteed year that’s really galling here, and I’m not just talking about the obvious jokes regarding Ned Colletti handing out two years to every warm body he can find. (Speaking of which, Rivera must be wondering what’s wrong with his agent right now, right?) Unlike free agents like Mark EllisChris Capuano, or Aaron Harang, players who had to be lured off the open market with the promise of a multiyear deal, Gwynn was under team control. They merely needed to tender him a contract, and he’d have been theirs for 2012. Would he have made more than $850k? Probably, but not by a whole lot; it almost seems that in order to save a lousy $200k right now, Colletti felt it was worth it to hand out a second guaranteed year.

Now, Magic Johnson might be spending $200k to get custom cigars made out of $100 bills, then lighting those with $50s. As you can imagine, this strategy wasn’t all that popular at the time, but now that those deals are all completed, I have to be honest: this didn’t work out too badly at all.

Capuano provided 304 innings of 3.91 ERA ball and 3.2 WAR for $10m, including his buyout.

Ellis put up 4.5 WAR in 944 plate appearances while making $8.7m, including his buyout.

Hairston faded terribly in 2013 and almost entirely negated his 2012 value, combining for just 0.2 WAR for $6m, but his ability to play so many positions was vital considering how many injuries this team had, especially in 2012.

Harang had 1.6 WAR in 179.2 innings last year, then was dealt off for Ramon Hernandez (0.4) this year, for a total outlay of something in the neighborhood of $8 million.

Gwynn was the only true bust here, because after being sub-replacement last year (-0.3 WAR) he spent all of 2013 in the minors, validating that the deal never made sense in the first place.

Total outlay here is approximately $34.7 million and 9.4 WAR. The going value of a win is somewhere in the $5m-$7m range, so depending on how you value that, these deals broke even at worst.

All in all, that’s not too bad, especially considering the situation of the time, even if we disliked most of them. So kudos to you, Ned, credit where credit is due. Now, if we can just do something about those three-year deals to mediocre pitchers — Brandon League, Matt Guerrier, Ted Lilly — then we’ll be getting somewhere.

Ned Colletti on “Clubhouse Confidential”

Yesterday, Dodgers GM Ned Colletti sat down with Brian Kenny of MLB Network for a chat as part of “Clubhouse Confidential”. Topics ranged from the huge rotation to the even huger budget, but most encouraging is hearing both how much he wants to retain Clayton Kershaw and how optimistic he is about Carl Crawford. That’s not exactly “news,” of course, because that’s exactly what you’d expect a general manager to say.

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No TV for today’s game, sadly, though it will be broadcast on KLAC 570. Josh Beckett makes his spring debut, with Brandon League, Kenley Jansen, J.P. Howell, Gregory Infante, and Kelvin De La Cruz  Other than De La Cruz & Infante, each will be seeing their first action of the spring behind him.

One of the many odd quirks of spring — what, Juan Uribe hitting cleanup wasn’t odd enough? — is that the Dodgers will be utilizing the designated hitter while the Giants will not, instead opting to let Tim Lincecum swing the bat. I’m sure there’s a joke about the Giants not actually having enough major-league quality hitters in there somewhere, but what the hell, it’s February 26. Update: well, scratch that. The Giants put out an updated lineup that has Brett Pill in as the designated hitter.

Unrelated but still awesome:

Pedro Baez, whose pitching resume consisted of one inning in an instructional league game, is already being talked about for an appearance in a Spring Training contest after an eye-opening bullpen session with guru Sandy Koufax on Monday.

Baez showed Koufax a natural delivery, a fastball in the mid-90s and a curveball more advanced than many of his fellow Minor Leaguers who have been at this pitching thing for years. Koufax told other staff members he’d like to see Baez in a game this spring.

Just phenomenal. Really, really hoping we get to see him once — preferably in a game that’s actually televised.

Ned Colletti Will Outlive Us All

I’d like to say that this comes as any sort of surprise whatsoever, but, nope. Bill Shaikin:

The Dodgers have opened discussions with Ned Colletti on a long-term contract extension, which could put him in position to become the team’s longest-serving general manager since Al Campanis.

Dodgers Chairman Mark Walter said he did not know the details of the discussions but confirmed a new deal is on the table.

“That’s my understanding,” Walter said.

Look, I’ve probably written more words about how infuriating I’ve found most of Colletti’s moves than I have on any other topic in the five-plus years this blog has been around, except perhaps than I did on Juan Pierre, who was himself a Ned Colletti move. Yet considering how this team is still in the hunt despite years of McCourt mismanagement and Stan Kasten’s track record of having kept Jim Bowden after arriving in Washington, I can’t say this comes as any surprise at all. This team, despite years of McCourt mismanagement, has been surprisingly competitive for most of the year. The fans are returning, interest is picking up, Colletti & Kasten seemingly have a solid working relationship… well, why should we have expected a change?

Well, that’s not totally true. I am, I suppose, a little bit surprised that this might happen before the end of the season, because if a team he built and then spent hundreds of millions of Guggenheim money to upgrade nosedives after spending most of the season in first place, it would have been a lot easier for Kasten and company to install their own people.

I never really bought into the “Colletti was handcuffed by McCourt’s budget troubles!” argument, because this is still the guy who blew well over $100m on misguided signings like Jason Schmidt, Andruw Jones, Juan Uribe, Matt Guerrier, Ted Lilly & Pierre. He’s still the guy who traded away James McDonald (for Octavio Dotel!) & Carlos Santana, and has a crazy fetish for horrible “gritty” veterans like Adam Kennedy, Nick Punto, Mark Sweeney, Aaron Miles, & Ryan Theriot. Still, I will begrudgingly admit that most of the moves we hated last winter have generally worked out – so far at least, until those back-loaded two year deals come back to bite next year –  and the recent spate of trades ranged from great to at least defensible – and I honestly can’t imagine the effort that must have gone into the giant Boston deal. Colletti, if still not great, has been at least useful over the last year, and that’s a step up from the days where it was almost certain that the team would be better off if he didn’t even show up for work.

Does that make Ned Colletti the man I want leading this team forward? No, of course not, because I still dream of that forward-thinking Andrew Friedman type, and I’m terrified to see what he does on the open market with this kind of money. But I’ve long been resigned to the fact that he’s not going anywhere, and while that’s disappointing, the lack of surprise makes it less of a downer than you’d think.

Ned Colletti’s going to be here for a long, long time. It’s a fact we’ll need to deal with, sad as that may be. All we can do is hope that the more recent version has learned some lessons from the truly atrocious version we started out with… and that when and if he does make another massive mistake, the Guggenheim pockets are deep enough to buy their way out of it.

A Trading Season Primer

Sunset at Dodger StadiumIt’s July, and you know what that means: trading season is in full swing. It’s going to be somewhat of a unique time, as we’ll see for the first time what the second wild card does to the market, and we’re following a bizarre Dodger team that not only has money for the first time in years, but is just one game out of the division lead despite a roster that at times seems like it would struggle in the Carolina League.

With that in mind, silly season is here, and that means we need some very simple rules to live by…

1) Don’t believe everything you read.

Last week, ESPN’s Buster Olney tweeted that Ned Colletti had inquired with the Royals about the availability of Jeff Francoeur. Dodger fans responded predictably, since Francoeur is having a terrible season and ranks as one of the least productive outfielders in baseball. But think about how many different things could have happened to make Olney tweet that out:

  • - Colletti could have been legitimately asking about Francoeur, since Francoeur is exactly the type of “gritty” low-OBP player who would seem to interest Colletti.
    - Colletti could have called the Royals as just one of the 80 calls he probably made that week across the entire big leagues as he desperately seeks a bat, doing his due diligence as a general manager.
    - Kansas City could have leaked the info, true or not, in order to create the appearance of a big market for Francoeur, in order to inflate prices from other interested clubs.
    - The Dodgers could have leaked the info, true or not, in order to signal to other sellers that they should lower their prices because the Dodgers have other options.
    - Francoeur’s agent could have leaked the info, true or not, in order to make his client seem more valuable in the midst of a down season.
    - Olney’s source could have been an intern at the Kansas City Star, angling for a future position at Bleacher Report after showing his proficiency in making up stories.

The point is, we don’t hear about 90% of the conversations that actually go on, and 90% of what we do hear is complete fluff. I can’t imagine what the people inside organizations must think of us having heart attacks over every reported rumor, watching us flail over trade discussions which were either dead long ago or never real at all.

2) Especially don’t believe everything you read from a source which you aren’t familiar with.

We may make fun of Olney & Jon Heyman & Ken Rosenthal a lot, and often with good reason, but they’re legitimate baseball writers who are plugged in and have been doing this for a long, long, time. If you see a trade rumor and it hasn’t been mentioned by guys like that or at least by a team’s local beat writer, chances are it’s garbage, especially if it’s coming from someone like “Johnny29381″. It’s not always easy to tell, because last night a theoretically plausible report saying the Dodgers were in on Tampa’s Desmond Jennings surfaced from a Twitter account that claimed to be ESPN analyst and former Red Sox manager Terry Francona. If an account isn’t verified, or has very few followers or tweets, or keeps trying to get people to follow someone else’s account, it’s probably not real. Twitter makes this all the more difficult, though when a mainstream media member starts going with a fake report someone dreamed up on Twitter, it can occasionally be entertaining. Where have you gone, @kenrosenthai?

3) Trades need to make sense for both sides.

It’s no secret that there’s plenty of Dodger fans who have absolutely had enough of Chad Billingsley and would like nothing more than to ship him out of town as soon as possible. I don’t necessarily agree, but their frustration is understandable. That being said, you can’t say “Billingsley is awful, he’s worthless, get rid of him!” in one breath and then suggest trading him to the Cubs for Matt Garza, Bryan LaHair, Starlin Castro, & Jorge Soler in the next. He’s either valuable, or he’s not. Just because you want the Dodgers to make a great trade doesn’t mean that every other general manager out there is desperate to help them out. That goes for James Loney, too; just because he’s from Houston doesn’t mean the Astros want an overpaid, below-average first baseman who is in his walk year.

4) Always, always check splits in Colorado & Albuquerque.

Though it’s almost certainly not realistic, a popular target for Dodger fans these days seems to be Colorado’s Carlos Gonzalez, who is having the best year of his career at age 26, hitting .337/.394/.604. That’s a fantastic stat line, but with Coors Field playing like its 1996 again, his splits are massive. At home, he’s hitting .390/.450/.714, which is practically Ruthian; on the road, it’s a much more mediocre .276/.329/.450. That might still represent an upgrade over what the Dodgers have, but it’s hardly worth emptying out a farm system to get.

The same holds true for Dodger minor leaguers in Albuquerque. I get a surprising amount of people who want to promote shortstop Luis Cruz, who has a career .296 OBP in parts of 12 minor-league seasons, because they insist he’s “figured it out” with a .319/.349/.533 line this year. Not quite; at home, he’s hitting a robust .353/.385/.629, while on the road, that’s a brutal .258/.286/.386. So no, no one’s going to put any trade value on a minor-league lifer who can’t hit outside of Albuquerque’s video game environment. That holds true for the superficially nice stats of Josh Fields, Tim Federowicz, and most of the other Isotopes as well.

5) We don’t know what we don’t know.

I have a hard time sticking to this one as well, and I’m sure I’ll break this rule in the coming weeks, especially in the fury of July 31. We just need to remember that we’ll never know as much as the teams themselves do, and I’m not talking about fancy stats. I remember one time in the last few years where a young player with strong peripherals on an American League club became available and I suggested the Dodgers take a look at him; then a person much more in the know quietly told me that this player had some personal demons that were known within the industry but not publicly known, and that they would make him much less attractive. That player hasn’t made it out of the minors since. That’s just one example, but I’m sure there’s millions more; we can never know that a player has to go because he slept with the catcher’s wife, or because he’s playing in his hometown and he is distracted by friends & family looking for handouts, or because he’s had brushes with the law that were kept out of the papers, or because he’s going through a painful divorce. On the other side of it, we may see a team acquire someone who seems useless because the pitching coach sees a flaw in his motion that he knows he can fix and turn him into a productive arm. That doesn’t mean we completely can’t pass judgement, of course, but we really ought to keep in mind that we’re likely not privy to the full information.

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Got all that? Good. Now let’s get back to figuring out how many prospects it’ll take to get Chase Headley north.

Ned Colletti and the Replacement Level GM

Editor’s note: The less said about last night’s Aaron Harang-tastrophe the better, right? Not that I can be totally surprised that Brandon McCarthy is shutting teams down, because he’s awesome, but it’s probably healthy for us all to keep in mind that guys like Bobby Abreu, Elian Herrera, and – gasp – even A.J. Ellis aren’t likely to keep their BABIP near or over .400 all season long. In lieu of recapping that mess, today please welcome a guest opinion piece from a long-time member of the online Dodger world, Andrew Grant. Andrew was the original proprietor of TrueBlueLA and is currently bringing us useful minor league stats and splits at Minor League Central. Give him a welcome, and maybe we can convince him to write more often. -Mike

Baseball Prospectus published an article yesterday asking a question I’ve seen come up a lot recently: “Is Ned Colletti really that bad?” R.J. Anderson makes the case that most people make: most of the prospects Colletti has traded away have amounted to a hill of beans, and hey, the Dodgers still have Kemp and Kershaw. In a vacuum these sound great, but if you assume that a GM should have a basic level of competence, Ned’s track record looks much less stellar. Let’s look at the two arguments for Ned.

“Most of the guys he’s traded away amounted to nothing”

According to the BP article, Ned has traded away 36 minor league players, and only five have amounted to anything. Five actually might be stretching it, since that includes Dioner Navarro. Great, Ned comes out ahead 8 out of 9 times, but consider a few things:

-That list includes names like Julio Pimentel, Kyle Smit, Jarod Plummer, and Justin Fuller, also known as “players with no expectations of ever being productive big leaguers”. Giving up nothing for one month of a bench bat or as part of an incentive to eat Odalis Perez’s contract isn’t something that should be applauded, it’s something that should be expected.

-The most likely career path for a top 100 prospect is washing out of the majors after struggling for a couple years. 69% of top 100 prospects will never do anything more than become a below average big league regular. If the best of the best washout that often, the odds of a good but not great prospect like Delwyn Young or Chuck Tiffany coming back to bite you are incredibly small. Or to put it another way, if Ned traded away his top two prospects every year, on average he would only give up four useful players – or not much different than what actually happened. Ned not intentionally getting rid of every good prospect has arguably produced worse results, since the return coming back to Los Angeles was less in the first place.

-The Dodgers have drafted and signed more of the pre-free agency talent than any other team. However, they’re in the bottom third of production from pre-free agency players. The Dodgers, by a good measure, send more young talent away than any other organization. This isn’t all Ned’s fault, since Shane Victorino and David Ross make up a good portion of this value, but it’s another sign that “only” losing four useful players isn’t something to be applauded.

The knock on Ned has never really been “he trades away too much young talent”, it’s that he doesn’t get nearly enough in return. In return for the regulars he’s dealt away Ned has received:

- Two months of Manny Ramirez

- Two months of Casey Blake

- Danys Baez who became Wilson Betemit who became Scott Proctor

- One month of Octavio Dotel

And it’s not as though his other trades of young players have produced much other than a couple magic months from Marlon Anderson and Ronnie Belliard. If Ned truly understood the value of his players more than anyone else, shouldn’t he be getting more in return?

“He didn’t trade away Matt Kemp or Clayton Kershaw

There are very few great players that were traded less than two years into their big league career in baseball today. Josh Hamilton, Carlos Gonzalez, and Adam Jones cover most of the list. Heck, you could easily argue that two of the top 10 players that were traded early in their careers were Dodgers. Holding on to your best young players is a vital part of the job, but its part of the bare minimum we should expect out of a GM.

Ned Colletti isn’t without his merits. He’s good at assembling a bullpen on the cheap and the Dodgers get more mileage out of their veteran utility guys than most teams, but these are minor things in the big picture. Colletti inherited a dream situation, the best farm system in baseball with a payroll in the upper echelons of the league and the more it has become his team, the worse it has gotten.  If you compare Ned’s moves to Bobo the General Managing Chimp he looks great, but if you assume a base level of competence from your GM Ned falls massively. James Loney’s monthly home run doesn’t make him a good player, so all of Ned’s moves not failing miserably shouldn’t make him a good GM.