Friday, November 30, 2012

(Not So) Instant Trade Analysis: David Wright, Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera, Russell Martin and BJ Upton

In the midst of the NBA's multiple storylines right out of the opening gate, the MLB hot stove is burning. In the past 36 hours especially, there's been a ton of action on the baseball front, so let's take a MAMBINO-sized shot at examining the various moves with our (not-so) Instant Trade Analysis:

New York Mets get: 3B David Wright

David Wright gets: 7 years, $122 million

As much as people everywhere want to revile David Wright for signing with one of the worst ownership teams in professional sports, the truth is that on his end, the future could look pretty bright for the Mets. It certainly doesn't start with the bats: the offense is still hugely reliant on big years from Wright and Ike Davis to merely be better than mediocre. Meanwhile, the bullpen still lists Frank Francisco...anywhere, so there's obviously work to be done. But, the hardest task is seemingly complete--the rotation.  

Examining their 2013 roster, it's headlined with the 2012 NL Cy Young winner, an aging but effective Johan Santana, young pitching prospects in Zack Wheeler, Matt Harvey and Jenrry Meijia, and steady hands in Dillon Gee and Jon Niese. If Harvey and Wheeler emerge this year in a Lincecum/Cain-like tandem, then the Mets could potentially have rotation in the NL East? It's not crazy. 

For the Mets, there's obviously two ways to look at this: management needed to show fans (and the team itself) that they weren't going to completely submerge themselves in a middle-market type of free agent irrelevance. They had to keep their star player at whatever price it took. After all, what type of message would not re-signing a six-time All-Star who just finished in sixth place in the NL MVP voting? 

However, I do have concerns that as Wright reaches his 30's (this contract will take him until his age 37 season), he's going to wear at a high pressure, high intensity position at third base and his recent injury history is going to become even more a problem. All of Wright's advance metrics suggest that he's just as good as he's ever been despite hitting for less power than in his early twenties, but he's still a very good to elite defensive hot cornerman and a 40 doubles, 20 (maybe not 30) homer hitter. 

In regards to the contract, Wright certainly could have gotten more money playing out free agency. Anaheim, LA, the Yankees, Philadelphia and both Chicago clubs could have offered him more money. However, Wright has always proclaimed that he's wanted to retire as a Met (the fool!), and he obviously saw the team's future prospects ready to emerge.

The Mets had to make this deal, simply to show everyone that they weren't turning into the Cleveland Indians. I have little doubt that Wright won't be earning his money by the time the contract ends, mostly due to the fact that he'll be playing first base around that time. However, re-signing with the Mets wasn't an awful decision for his personal future, baseball-wise.

New York Yankees get: SP Andy Pettitte, RP Mariano Rivera

Andy Pettitte gets: 1-year, $12 million (plus $2.5 million in performance bonuses)

Mariano Rivera gets: 1-year, $10 million (plus performance bonuses)

The City of New York gets: A grand total of three active Yankees they'll never boo

In both guys, there's a strange dichotomy of knowing exactly what you'll get, but at the same time having not knowing anything. Rivera is coming off a torn ACL, the first serious injury of his career, and at age 43, there's no real way to predict just how his body will respond to the grind of another 60 plus innings in high-leverage situations. Pettitte also had an injury racked 2012, missing nearly two months with a fractured ankle. He pitched fantastic in his return to the mound in September, only giving up three earned runs in over 16 regular season innings, while throwing 13 innings of 3.29 ERA ball in the playoffs. However, Pettitte, like Rivera, is on the wrong side of 40. Let's put it this way: if both of these pitchers showed up to camp and got absolutely shelled, would you be surprised? Maybe a little. But even the most ardent pinstripe supporter would probably say, "Well, it had to happen sometime".

However, both guys have always kept themselves in immaculate shape--especially Rivera--and seeing as they both could have simply hung it up this season without any Yankees fan thinking any less of them, they both decided to come back and play another (presumably) final season. Drive really isn't the question at all for these signings--it's obviously going to be centered around health.

Pettitte can't be counted on for 30+ starts at this point; his injury this year was a freak incident on the mound, but as much as Yankees fans are loathe to admit, the guy isn't made of steel. He's 40, coming off a major injury and expected to throw 100 pitches, pushing off on his once-fractured left ankle for 32 starts a year? I'd pencil him in for 25 starts and be extremely happy with that. On the positive side, the guy has shown that even with a year off in 2011, he's still a very effective pitcher, relying on deception and accuracy to get outs. He's oddly still more reliable than Phil Hughes, Michael Pineda, David Phelps or Ivan Nova. Even as disjointed as his appearances might be, the Yankees still needed that scattered steadiness to balance out their more powerful yet unreliable youngster (though this shouldn't at all deter the Yankees from pursuing another free agent starter like Ryan Dempster). Realistically, Pettitte only needs to be healthy come the fall; other than that, if he misses time, he misses time.

The same obviously goes for Mariano as well, although he's coming off a more serious injury at an older age than Pettitte. As unsure as everyone should be about Rivera returning from a torn ACL, there's also off-field personnel concerns. His signing doesn't necessarily ensure that Rafael Soriano won't re-up with the Yankees, but it will definitely change the circumstances and dollars in which the free agent could seek this winter. Soriano provided a commodity that few others on the market would be able to do for the Yanks--a proven ability to successfully pitch in New York. He absolutely dominated in the Bronx in 2012, saving 42 games to a 2.26 ERA. It's not a sure thing that he'll want to go back to setting up in the eighth inning, even if it is for just one year. For the Yankees, it's about the long-term healthy of the club as well as the short-term; re-signing Mariano might impact ticket and merchandise sales immediately, but his potential performance and effect it could have on a proven, 32 year old closer re-signing could have ramifications today and for years to come.

Signing this pair was a moderate-risk, high-reward proposition to begin with. However, if they hamstring the team from signing younger, better players this offseason, I'm not sure it's worth it. 

Pittsburgh Pirates get: C Russell Martin

Russell Martin gets: 2 years, $17 million

For Martin, there's very little about this that's a "win". The Canadian backstop turned down a reported three-year deal from the Yankees last winter, and with a .224/.317/.405 batting line and a 30-year old birth certificate, he certainly didn't improve his free agent standing. Allegedly, the latest offer from the Yankees this winter was around $12-14 million, so the decision became much easier for Martin.

In the end, by not re-signing for the long-term with the Yanks a year ago, Martin not only loses money and years, but also moves from a perennial contender to arguably one of the worst franchises in North American professional sports. The Pirates are fitted with a remarkable 20 year-long streak of below .500 ball, rife with several rebuilding movements compiled of awful free agent signings and pathetic draft selections. The Pirates came close this past year, hovering in contention late into the summer, but ultimately went 12-29 down the stretch, collapsing in epic fashion that made even the most casual baseball observer shutter.

In Russ, the Pirates are getting a consummate professional on all sides of the ball, from his superb game-calling, to a potent power bat that's whacked 39 homers last year (which impressively, 18 of which happened on the road away from the home run hitter's paradise of Yankee Stadium). Martin is the perfect type of veteran to inspire calm on a team full of amateurs that obviously panicked and tired in the waning months of the 2012 season, and should be able to harness a sometimes wild starting rotation, from AJ Burnett (his former NY battery-mate) to Wandy Rodriguez. Despite completely crapping the bed in August and September, the Pirates finished at 79-83. They're playing in a winnable division, and perhaps Martin, along with another free agent starter, is the first of two potential tipping points towards making this team a division contender. It's not that Martin is a game-changing defensive or offensive player; but he's a confident winner who can influence a team that's never experienced either of those things in the fall at the Major League level.

The Yankees are now clear to sign either AJ Pierzynski or Mike Napoli in Martin's stead, seeing as the alternatives range from the inexperienced (Gary Sanchez) to the unpalatable (Austin Romine) to the downright disgusting (Francisco "Tricycle Helmet" Cervelli). However, Pierzynski and Napoli both present better bats than Martin, but the former is 36 and the latter lacks Russ's defensive chops. 

Going into the season without an established receiver would be a huge mistake for the Yankees. The new $189 million dollar luxury tax ceiling is obviously starting to affect the team, who let a veteran catcher with good defensive instincts leave at the cost of a few million dollars. The once unthinkable--the Red Sox and Yankees cost-cutting?--is now a reality.

Atlanta Braves get: OF BJ Upton

BJ Upton gets: 5 years, $75 million

There's a lot to like about Melvin "Bossman Junior" Upton, besides the fact that he took the name Bossman "BJ" Junior over Melvin. He's 28 years old, played at least 145 games every season for the last five and has ascending home run and slugging percentage numbers for four consecutive years. He's got ridiculous speed (at least 31 steals since 2008) and can, at times cover lots of range in center field. Upton, when focused, can be one of the best twenty hitters in the league. Look no further than the 2008 playoffs when he had 9 extra base hits, 16 RBI and 7 jakks in 16 games. 

However, the problem is...that BJ Upton is rarely that player. He's struck out at least 134 times in every full season he's played and has had a progressively worse walk rate and on base percentage  since his high water mark in 2008. Upton's defensive acumen far exceeds his actual performance metric-wise, as well as simply watching the guy make boneheaded play one after the other. In every way, he represents the Matt Kemp of 2010--an extremely talented player with not nearly enough discipline in almost every facet of the game. Upton only frustrates because he could be a MVP-candidate annually. To date, he's never received even a single 10th place vote. 

The problem with the Braves isn't really his contract--as television revenues increase for baseball, so will the average value of blue chip players. At five years, $75 million, Upton's deal isn't outrageous. He is, as Braves fan and MAMBINO correspondent says, redundant in Atlanta. 

High power, high strikeout, free swinging hitter. Sound like anyone you know in the Braves organization? Try Dan Uggla, Freddie Freeman and Jason Heyward. Atlanta already has several offensive players that regularly whiff or pop out within three pitches, not nearly wearing out opposing hurlers by showing enough plate patience. More importantly, Upton doesn't fulfill their need for a speedy lead-off hitter, leaving Martin Prado as the current best option. In many ways, Upton is adding fuel to an already out of control fire, unless Heyward and Freeman can start to exhibit a better batting eye, which could happen as both players are in their early twenties. 

Still, a blue chip outfielder in his prime with infinite potential is worth this type of deal. Upton whacked 28 homers last year, and regardless of similar hitters up and down the Braves' batting order, a bat like that is always a welcome addition. It's just not exactly what Atlanta needed.

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