December 2, 2003

Quality versus quantity

Last Wednesday, I talked about the Derrek Lee for Hee Seop Choi (and a PTBNL) swap that the Marlins and Cubs made. I think it is interesting to compare that deal to the one the Brewers just made with Diamondbacks, because the player Milwaukee gave up, Richie Sexson, is amazingly similar to Derrek Lee.

Both Sexson and Lee are right-handed first basemen who are currently 28 years old. They also both had their best season in 2003.

           PA      AVG      OBP      SLG      EqA

Sexson 718 .272 .379 .548 .308
Lee 643 .271 .379 .508 .307

About as close as you can get in batting average and on-base percentage. Sexson had a significant edge in slugging percentage, but some of that is due to the ballparks they played in. Put all of it together and adjust for home ballparks and you get Sexson with a .308 Equivalent Average and Lee with a .307 EqA. Defensively, Lee is far better, enough to probably push him over the top in the comparison for 2003, despite the fact that Sexson had about 10% more plate appearances.

As if that weren't similar enough for you, here is what they have done over the last three years combined:

           PA      AVG      OBP      SLG      EqA

Sexson 2037 .274 .362 .533 .298
Lee 1956 .274 .368 .492 .297

I'd say that those numbers, along with the fact they are both 28, both play first base and both hit right-handed is enough to make Sexson and Lee about as similar as two players can get. If I had my choice of either and the money was the same, I would go with Lee, just because of the defense he brings to the table. But they are extremely close.

What is interesting is that both of these guys were trading recently, about a week apart, yet the packages their old teams received in exchange varied significantly.

For Lee, the Marlins got one player, Hee Seop Choi, and a Player to be Named Later.

For Sexson, the Brewers got six players - Lyle Overbay, Craig Counsell, Junior Spivey, Chris Capuano, Chad Moeller and Jorge De La Rosa.

It is your basic "quality" versus "quantity" issue, I suppose. Hee Seop Choi is a more valuable commodity than any of the six players the Brewers got, but the Brewers did get a few valuable players.

In fact, all things being equal, I would almost certainly take the package the Brewers got for their 28-year old right-handed hitting first baseman than the package the Marlins got for theirs. Of course, we are talking about the Brewers, which means all things are definitely not equal.

The Brewers are not going to be a good team this season. Or next season. Or the year after that. Those are just the facts. Down the line however, I think they have a chance to put a good team on the field. They have quite a few very intriguing position-player prospects who should be arriving over the next 2-3 years. Until that time comes, they aren't going to be good. Because of that, I don't understand why they are interested in trading for guys like Craig Counsell or Junior Spivey. In fact, the only one of the six guys they got who is under 25 years old is Jorge De La Rosa.

The only explanation that makes sense to me is that either a) they had to take Counsell and Spivey from Arizona to even out the salaries or b) they are planning to move Counsell and/or Spivey in another trade. And really, if they had to take on salary I don't understand that either, because they could certainly have found a decent deal for Sexson that didn't involve doing that.

Of the six guys they got, only De La Rosa has a chance to be a major contributor when the Brewers have a shot at being decent again. I also think Lyle Overbay has a chance to be a good player for the next 4-5 years, but he plays first base, which means he will be pushed out of the way as soon as Prince Fielder, one of the best hitting prospects in all of baseball, is ready for the majors. De La Rosa is a nice prospect, but he's not worth trading Richie Sexson for. All of which makes me think that some of the guys the Diamondbacks just acquired will soon be on the move again.

Craig Counsell seems to have a reputation around baseball as being some sort of a good player, despite the fact that he isn't one. He's also 33, has had injury problems of late and is set to make $3.15 million next year. Why any team would want him at that price is hard to figure out. Why the Milwaukee Brewers would want him at that price is impossible to answer.

Junior Spivey seems like the most easily tradable guy in the bunch. He's 28, he plays a decent second base, he has a little pop in his bat and he'll make $2.4 million next year. He'd be a nice player for a lot of teams, but he's essentially useless to the Brewers for anything other than their quest for 70 wins next year.

Chad Moeller is also not a bad player and could be valuable to a lot of teams. I actually heard a rumor last week that the A's were interested in him to help replace Ramon Hernandez behind the plate, so maybe Milwaukee plans to flip him as well.

Basically, there are two ways this deal can go for the Brewers. In one scenario, they trade several of the veterans they picked up for Sexson, turning them into some young players who can actually help the team in the future. In the other scenario, they hold onto guys like Spivey and Counsell and Moeller, essentially trading their best player for a bunch of mediocre, relatively expensive veterans who will do absolutely nothing for them over the next several years, aside from help them fight for fifth place in the NL Central.

Normally I would say that there is no way a team that is in a "rebuilding process" would trade someone the caliber of Richie Sexson and only get one good, young player in return. We are talking about the Brewers though, which means it's entirely possibly that they see Craig Counsell as the key to the franchise's turnaround.

In addition to Overbay, at best, simply holding down the fort at first base until Prince Fielder arrives, the Brewers would also be blocking a perfectly good player at second base by holding on to Spivey. After Eric Young was dealt to the Giants, Keith Ginter took over as the everyday second baseman and finished the year hitting .257/.352/.427 in 415 plate appearances. He's not great and he's already 27, but Junior Spivey is 28 and barely an upgrade if he's an upgrade at all. Plus, Ginter is going to make about 15% of what Spivey will make next season.

I will try to reserve judgment on the Sexson-trade until we find out for sure what the Brewers are planning to do with all the guys they got from Arizona. If they aren't planning to do anything with them, then I think this was a horrendous trade. All they would end up getting for one of the best hitters in baseball would be a 26-year old first baseman who plays the same position as one of their best prospects, two veteran middle-infielders who have absolutely zero worth to the team, a nice backup catcher and two interesting pitchers, one of whom is already 25. When you think of it in those terms, I would rather have Hee Seop Choi and a PTBNL any day.

It's not so much that I think trading Richie Sexson is a bad idea, because I don't. He was Milwaukee's best player, but he is also already 28 and by the time that next good Brewers team arrives, he'll be well on the wrong-side of 30. So, it makes sense to cash him in while his value is high, like it is now. It just seems to me that the Brewers had better options than the package of assorted mediocrity that they got from Arizona.

Hawk to Chicago

Here's a little of what I said about Latroy Hawkins when I previewed the free agent pitchers last month:

"I think a smart team out there is going to sign Hawkins for two or three years at $3-4 million a season and get one of the best relievers in baseball out of the deal. I'm still hoping that team will be the Twins."

Well, Hawkins signed a three-year deal for about $4 million a year last night. Unfortunately, it wasn't with the Twins. Hawkins signed on with the Cubs for three seasons and what is reportedly somewhere around $11 million (depending on incentives).

I am sad to see Hawkins go, because he has been a very reliable and extremely dominant pitcher for the Twins over the last two years. At the same time, a team with a projected payroll of about $55 million for next year has to make some tough choices and sometimes that includes not being able to pay a setup-man $4 million a year. Credit Terry Ryan for finding a suitable replacement for Hawkins in Joe Nathan, who should provide relatively similar value for about 10% the cost.

The good news for the Twins is that they no longer have to make a decision on whether or not to offer Hawkins arbitration. To me that would have been a no-brainer because, at worst, it would have meant signing him to a one-year deal for maybe $3-4 million. But the Twins seemed to be going back and forth on the issue. Now, because Chicago signed Hawkins before the deadline to offer players arbitration, the Twins will get Chicago's first-round pick in this June's draft, as well as a "sandwich" pick between the first and second-round.

Meanwhile, the Cubs get themselves a hell of a pitcher and, while some teams are handing out money left and right this week, the Twins lose a very valuable player, simply because they can't afford to sign everyone they want to keep. Hopefully Nathan can do the job next year and maybe one of those draft picks will turn into someone good.

*****Comments? Questions? Email me!*****

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