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Thursday, December 22, 2016

Musta Got Dealt

It’s ain’t supposed to be sad though you might feel it that way. It’s a song about desperation. Every now and then we do get desperate.

- Peter Wolf, Intro to “Musta Got Lost”, J. Geils Band

Should Boston have waited to trade Clay Buchholz until a team got desperate late in spring training?

Y’know, it seems on this site we often talk about this very scenario, maybe every year. Hey, maybe a team will suffer an injury in the rotation. If a team gets desperate before opening day, or before the trade deadline, we can convince them to take a player we want to get rid of. I’m skeptical that we’re really assessing desperation very well, or at least the likelihood of it. So let’s dig deeper, using the current case of Clay Buchholz as an example.

 

First let’s define that level of desperation for Buchholz. There’s a wide range of desperation we could assess, but I think it would need to be something like this:

A. A non-AL-East contender going into 2017…

B. ...who has an season-ending injury to a 3+ WAR starting pitcher…

C. ...and has no in-house options who can produce at least -0.5 WAR in that role, which is about 2 WAR worse than Buchholz’s projection for 2017.

On A. I’m figuring a non-contender isn’t desperate to trade for a pitcher, and that of the remaining teams Boston isn’t otherwise helping an AL East team. On B. I’m figuring anything less than 3 WAR is something they roll the dice with, even if they’re on the projected playoff bubble on opening day.

And on C. I’m figuring they’re not desperate to get Buchholz before opening day if they have someone in-house who is not far from Buchholz’s level. They might not want to go the whole season losing 3+ WAR on the in-house option, but they can certainly survive April and maybe May and then see what their options are. The concept we’re starting with is that Boston could have waited until late March to make the Buchholz move, but we’re also working with a premise that Boston has to make a roster move of some kind before opening day. As we went through earlier, Boston has a 17-man pitching staff before the trade, with only 3 of those players (Eduardo Rodriguez, Carson Smith, Matt Barnes) having free-and-clear minor league options, and probably none of those 3 being players they’d want to option to the minors. So we’re looking here for a team that is more desperate to fill a position than Boston is to make a move. A team that can afford to wait a month or two past opening day to make a trade can’t be considered desperate to make a trade in late March, at least in this context.

Is that fair? Then let’s begin.


A. A non-AL-East contender going into 2017. As a first step let’s define a contender as any team projected for at least 85 wins. The worst record among playoff teams last year were the Giants and Mets, with 87 wins each. Based on Fangraphs’ poll last month there were 9 non-AL-East teams projected at or above that threshold: CHC, LAD, WAS, CLE, HOU, SFG, STL, NYM, TEX. The first two teams under that threshold are, rather conveniently, AL East teams, so let’s hold it there at those nine.


B. Has an season-ending injury to a 3+ WAR starting pitcher. I’m going to use Steamer WAR projections because they’re available. And we can argue about the value of WAR, but in all honesty this is back of the napkin, and we’re using this for shorthand for identifying good pitchers whose absence would create a desperate situation. So, for those nine teams, here are the starters at 3+ WAR:

CHC: Lester, Arietta, Hendricks
LAD: Kershaw, Hill
WAS: Scherzer, Strasburg
CLE: Kluber, Carrasco, Salazar
HOU: Keuchel, McCullers
SFG: Cueto, Samardzija
STL: Martinez
NYM: Syndergaard, deGrom, Matz
TEX: Darvish, Hamels

They all have candidates (on paper) for injury who are projected to be significant contributors. No shock there.


C. Has no in-house options who can produce at least -0.5 WAR in that role, which is about 2 WAR worse than Buchholz’s projection for 2017. Again, going with Steamer projections, and including anyone not in the projected rotation but who is otherwise projected to be mostly used as a starter:

CHC: Aaron Brooks, Dallas Beeler, Pierce Johnson
LAD: Jose DeLeon, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Brandon McCarthy, Scott Kazmir
WAS: A.J. Cole
CLE: Tim Cooney, Edwin Escobar
HOU: Joe Musgrove
SFG: Chase Johnson
STL:
NYM: Robert Gsellman
TEX: Mike Hauschild, Tyler Wagner, Nick Martinez

I know some are thinking, “There’s no way the Dodgers could replace Kershaw with Kazmir.” And you’re correct in terms of value. But that’s not the point. The point is that if Kershaw goes down and they have to choose between Kazmir and a trade for Buchholz - they’re supposedly desperate for him, remember? - the half-win upgrade in projected value for the latter is not a realistic motivator.


So unless there are injuries to multiple front-line starters and the team suffering them doesn’t just pack it in, it looks like the only potential candidate is the Cardinals. And the above tabulation is working with just players projected to be starters. Right now Steamer has been calibrated with the assumption that Michael Wacha will be a reliever. I have to believe if the Cardinals are desperate for a starter they’re going with the guy who was a cromulent starter for most of 2016 and a good one prior to that, than trading for Buchholz and eating his salary.

And all of that assumes they’d trade specifically for Buchholz. Above I’ve provided 16 viable non-Buchholz starting options on other teams, half of whom are 2nd runner up on the depth chart and might be available for the right trade. It doesn’t count surplus pitchers in other teams’ systems. It doesn’t count free agent pitchers like Ryan Vogelsong who could very well go through spring training without a contract. It doesn’t count other starters on the Red Sox, because if Boston has to clear a roster spot in late March, Buchholz is not the pitcher the Cards would demand. That’s fine, Boston can hold steady at “Buchholz or nothing”, but they’re gonna get a lot of nothing and find themselves - wait for it - desperate to move him.

You’re going to be home playing bingo all night all alone, and that’s why you’re sitting there by the telephone. And you know that she ain’t going to call you!

Maybe it’s the current state of MLB and minor league rosters, or maybe it’s a function of Buchholz not being a strong object of desire right now. But it seems like the scenario of a team desperate to trade for a starter in late March is unlikely - and even so, they likely are not desperate for Clay Buchholz. There’s at most one team desperate in that scenario, and it’s the one that still needs to make half a dozen roster moves.

Of course, one of those moves didn’t have to be Buchholz. But they had an opportunity to move him and his salary now, and I think it’s unlikely they would have been shown the same love later. Love comes once, and when it comes you better grab it fast ‘cause sometimes the love you grab ain’t gonna last.

villageidiom Posted: December 22, 2016 at 01:56 PM | 6 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
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   1. Jose is El Absurd Pollo Posted: December 22, 2016 at 08:01 PM (#5373195)
As always you make several good points. It is very annoying to argue with someone intelligent who makes good points but I won't let my incompetence stop me.

This comes down to what I think is our big issue of disagreement. I don't think the Red Sox are better for trading Clay Buchholz than they were not trading him. You are starting from the position of "the Sox have to unload one of these guys" and I'm not at that point. I'm not convinced the Sox are going to put that 13 mil to good use. If they do I will absolutely and happpily mea culpa the hell out of ST.

I do think your case for why they felt they had to make this deal is a good one though. One thing that you crystallized for me here is that I am likely wrong that they would have been able to make this deal on St. Patrick's Day. If you then operate on the assumptions;

1. The Sox have to trade Buchholz (or Pomeranz) and
2. They want someone who will take the whole contract

Then yeah they probably were right to make this deal. I'm still not convinced that number 1 is true but if the Sox felt that way, this is the right call.
   2. Jose is El Absurd Pollo Posted: December 22, 2016 at 09:23 PM (#5373221)
Edwin 3/60 to Cleveland. THe money ain't going to him.
   3. Dock Ellis Posted: December 23, 2016 at 12:10 AM (#5373272)
   4. Jose is El Absurd Pollo Posted: December 23, 2016 at 12:32 AM (#5373274)
Yeah, hopefully Tobias can pan out like Holt has.
   5. villageidiom Posted: December 23, 2016 at 01:14 AM (#5373276)
If you then operate on the assumptions;

1. The Sox have to trade Buchholz (or Pomeranz) and
2. They want someone who will take the whole contract

Then yeah they probably were right to make this deal. I'm still not convinced that number 1 is true but if the Sox felt that way, this is the right call.
We are not in disagreement. You are right that it's still not clear trading Buchholz was a better alternative than keeping him and making another roster move.

But the argument about desperation is the same if they had traded away Pomeranz, or Wright, or Rodriguez, or Hembree, or any other part of the pitching cornucopia. The Red Sox would have been likely to be the team dealing in desperation in late March, had they waited instead of dealing now.

Edwin 3/60 to Cleveland. THe money ain't going to him.
Yeah, I keep thinking at 3 years they should have been in on him. But I have to keep reminding myself that they might have needed to go to 4 years to pry him away, and I don't like him at 4 years nearly as much as I'd tolerate him for 3.
   6. Eddie Hart Posted: December 23, 2016 at 07:53 AM (#5373298)
Yeah, hopefully Tobias can pan out like Holt has.


Looking at his MLEs though, I'm not really seeing it. He was a 10th round draft pick as a 22 year old senior. He's been old for every league he's played in professionally and has yet to put up numbers that would draw one's attention (career .301/.362/.439 slash line) He tries to steal an average amount, and succeeds an average amount, in the minors. His BB/K rates are average, in the minors. He has some power but not a lot. His defensive numbers look above average but, since his other numbers indicate only above average speed and quickness at best, it's unlikely he's a defensive wizard. He'll be 24 entering a year in which he'll likely start in high A after doing this (.254/.324/.357) in 146 plate appearances this past season. If he plays well this year, he'll probably jump to AA sometime mid-season. If all goes well, he'll start 2018 in AAA as a 25 year old. If that goes well, he might get a call-up in Sept.

So, the earliest we can expect to see him as a fixture on the roster is the beginning of the 2019 season as a 26 year old rookie, stuck behind a franchise icon. presumably.

Holt's minor league numbers in the Pirates system are noticeably better, and he achieved them while being younger than his league at every level.

If Tobias is a prospect, he better hurry up proving it because I'm not seeing it right now and time is running out.

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