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james_piette_suitors_of_yunel_-_part_1-2 | July | 2009 Articles

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James Piette: Suitors of Yunel - Part 1

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As is custom with sports writers, Buster Olney recently wrote about a few of the "potential trades" [1] that the Braves might execute. It is his belief that Atlanta will be looking to acquire an outfield bat for either Yunel or Javier. What a surprise! While we, like Olney, are capable of inventing a wide array of plausible scenarios that the Braves could engage, I will take Olney as an "industry insider" [2] and assume that the (basically)[3] six acquisitions that he mentions involving Escobar are currently the most likely to occur. Note that I am focusing on Escobar and not Vazquez because the deals he proposes for Vazquez are incomplete[4]. The players he mentions are (in alphabetical order): 

  • Michael Cuddyer
  • Shin-Soo Choo
  • Corey Hart
  • Matt LaPorta
  • Denard Span
  • Mark Teahen

It is always beneficial to rank all possible trades and, as mentioned above, Olney's list is an appropriate place to start. These rankings will represent my evaluation of which trade leaves Atlanta the best off, in general. By this, I mean I plan on rating each trade based on both the short-term and long-term[5]. Before getting started, I want to point out that I do not believe that some of these deals for Yunel are worth it at all. Yunel is a top 10 shortstop and is almost certainly going to improve as a player. I don't put too much weight on attitudes, with a few exceptions (ala Elijah Dukes), but even when considering that, any acquisition that includes Escobar needs to have a good deal of talent on the other end to make any trade worthwhile. With that, let's see which of our lovely suitors have the most to offer.

(6) Mark Teahen

This is, honestly, the worst of the major trade options Buster talks about in the article. Teahen, who was made famous by Michael Lewis in his book, Moneyball, and a fantastic article he wrote for the New York Times Magazine, probably needs little introduction. After his first productive major league campaign in 2006, Mark proceeded to disappoint for the two years after that, with his OPS dropping from .876 in '06 to .763 in '07 and .715 in '08. He has bounced back, so far, in '09 with an above-average .292/.350/.451 line.

As Olney mentions in his article, a key advantage to Teahen is his positional flexibility. The guy came up as a third basemen, moved into the outfield playing both right and left in 2007, garnered some time at first and third (again) while continuing to play right field, spent this past spring training trying to learn second base [6], and, finally, is now spending a majority of his time back at third base. It's obvious his DeRosa-lite presence would bode well with an aging left fielder, an injury prone third baseman, and a "right fielder".

My problem with this is that we don't need that guy. That role is already filled by a combination of Omar Infante and Martin Prado. Omar can play all of Teahen's positions plus he is a decent shortstop. Infante's projected line is decidedly worse, coming in around .275/.335/.400, but he did show (in his little playing time) this year that he was hitting for more contact. In his 184 plate appearances, he had cut his projected K% almost in half to 8.1% for the year. Teahen is undoubtedly a better hitter, but by a fairly slim margin. However, even more comparable to Teahen is Prado.

While Martin Prado can't play outfield, he has the same predicted OPS as Teahen; the difference is the combinations of power and on-base abilities they use to produce that number. Here are the CHONE projections of each player's advanced statistics for this year[7]:

Player Name BB% K% OBP SLG OPS
Martin Prado 7.9% 13.5% .355 .409 .764
Mark Teahen 9.3% 22.0% .341 .426 .767

Prado's contact makes up for his slight deficit in his batter's eye to Teahen, giving him a slightly higher OBP. Teahen's extra power (career HR/FB of 10.8% to Prado's 4.4%) shows up in SLG, beating out Prado in that category. The season is halfway through, however, so we can update these predictions with what both of these players have done this year.

Teahen is outperforming his current projections by a small amount, but it should be taken with a grain of salt. His BB% is down (7.1%) and his BABIP is elevated (.344 to his projected .327). We all know Prado has been ridiculous so far this year. This past week's NL Player of The Week is sporting a .889 OPS. That will, inevitably, come back down to Earth, but there are some positives to take from it. He has further improved his contact by only striking out in 8.0% of his at-bats and his BABIP is below his projection. They may profile differently, but Prado's and Teahen's overall contribution with their bats are about the same.

This should be enough for why we wouldn't want Teahen's services, but, in case you are still not convinced, I'll continue on. The two players compare nearly identically defensively. Mark's only position he has posted a positive UZR/150[8] (while logging enough playing time to consider the results as significant) is right field, where he saved 6.7 runs in 2007[9]. Prado's defensive work around the diamond has been mixed, but should not be considered distinctly worse than Teahen. He seems to be adequate to below-average at third base and above-average at first. Second has been a struggle for Prado, but comparing him to Teahen who wasn't even good enough defensively to play that position in Kansas City is a stretch[10].

Finally, the last thing to consider is his contract. I won't say too much here, since I will be talking about many of the underlying problems with moving Yunel when considering Cuddyer's contract (see below), so I'll sum Teahen up pretty quickly. He is in his second year of arbitration and will be set free, as it were, within two years. Yunel is not even arbitration eligible yet. 'Nuff said.

I think that this analysis leads to a pretty simple conclusion: whatever we get from Mark Teahen, we already have in one form or another. Why would we need to send an top tier shortstop away to acquire a service that we can install internally?

(5) Michael Cuddyer

Trading for Michael Cuddyer would be a less poor idea than acquiring Mark Teahen, but, more importantly, would be very unrealistic. Cuddyer is a solid right fielder, posting an OPS+ of 124, 111, and 92 over the last 3 years. While his current line of .278/.359/.516 shows he is improving at the age of 30, he is no defensive stud. He has never posted a UZR/150 of above -5 runs for the past 3+ seasons. There is also the concern of injury, which sidelined him for most of last season. However, his biggest flaw of all is the contract he carries around with him.

This year he makes 6.75 mil and he'll make another 8.5 mil in '10. That's not a ridiculous contract, but it is definitely not worth it in this market. Given that Dunn is only getting paid 10 mil a year (my arbitrary reference point), I would think we could get a lot more bang with our buck[11]. Plus, I don't expect the Braves are willing to take on that much payroll. The same goes for Minnesota; I doubt they will cushion Cuddyer's financial blow.

Let's say that we did have the best case scenario, where Minnesota pays for half of that contract. At that point, it might be a decent trade. However, Yunel is still under control for about 4 years, he will cost us much less than Cuddyer, especially considering that we have a guarantee of service from Yunel, and he is a better player for his position.

To give a little perspective, Yunel's RAR, or Runs Above Replacement[12], last season was 32.0 runs. Cuddyer's RAR for his last full season (2007) was 21.8 RAR. Considering the replacement for Yunel would be Brooks Conrad and Cuddyer would be filling in for Francoeur[13]/Diaz, we would actually be losing a few runs[14]. Thus, paying extra for the chance that Cuddyer, who is slightly less impressive at his position, to perform above what is expected while losing out on two "free seasons" from Yunel is simply not worth it. Hopefully (finger crossed), this trade will never be given real consideration.

Parts 2 and 3 will be coming out over the next two days.

[1] I put this in quotes because Olney is most likely being entirely speculative. Also, thanks to gondee at TalkingChop.com for the link.

[2] I mean the man gives you no bologna. That's no joke.

[3] The Oakland reference does not seem plausible given the trend in moves Wren has made.

[4] He says that the Brewers would need to offer Corey Hart plus "another really nice piece in the deal" for it to work out. Also, he talks about the Dodger's Juan Pierre as being a viable option, but he admits that "presumably, the Braves would prefer someone with a little more thump."

[5] Most of my evaluation will be done using statistics from FanGraphs.com, but there will also be a smattering of PECOTA here and there. This is the nice blend that you will frequently see me using when doing my baseball analysis.

[6] Apparently, being 6-3/210 can hinder your range at second, so he didn't win the job.

[7] I choose CHONE's hitting projections because it has been shown that the RMSE (Root Mean Square Error) for CHONE's model when predicting the following year is better than all of the other freely available projection systems.

[8] I should point out that I use UZR because it is the most readily available defensive metric out there. I do not think it is at all accurate. Recent work by my advisor on his project called SAFE, or Spatial Aggregate Fielding Evaluation, a project I am currently in the process of updating, seems to refute what the Fielding Bible and others seems to be reporting.

[9] He faltered the very next season in right costing his team 5.6 runs, according to UZR.

[10] Two things: Alberto Callapso's defense at second is, actually, not that bad and Prado's is, actually, that bad. Prado's UZR/150 over the past four years of playing the position is around -30 runs. Ouch.

[11] Why weren't the Nationals being talked about? Granted, they are probably one of the lesser interested teams in either Yunel (see Guzman) and Vazquez (see record), but it is the Nationals. Who knows what they think is a good idea?

[12] This is a Fangraphs.com-calculated statistic. It does a good job incorporating offense and defense, while adjusting for the position the player plays. Of course, it is not perfect; there are issues with how the "replacement player" is determined and UZR/150, like I said before, is potentially flawed.

[13] The guy put up a negative RAR last year. God dammit.

[14] That is, until Omar Infante comes back, who is certainly better than a replacement player.

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