Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Perez, Johnson, Pimentel to Kansas City

Excellent deal by Dayton Moore and the Royals today. Dessens is a pretty marginal pitcher, and Perez is much more likely to be a significant contributor. Paying $7m for a season and a half of Perez (if the $8m cash figure CBS Sportsline is reporting is correct) is a flyer worth taking, given that he's been an above average pitcher for years and his current season's awful numbers are mostly from balls in play over a small sample. And truthfully, shelling out another $7.5m to pick up the 2008 option might look like a wise move a year from now. After all, it was only 20 months ago that Paul DePodesta's Derek Lowe signing was being widely ridiculed while the Perez signing was looked at as a necessary move. Fans, at least, have taken to wildly revisionist history on those perceptions, although I do remember one guy who was a voice of mild dissent.

I know many observers think Perez is 'done,' and some offer popsych reasons or faux scouting. Can we please take the Pepsi challenge on this one? 'Scouting' someone once you've already made up your mind on his performance is pretty difficult, I'd imagine, for even the most competent scouts. Can we get the detractors who are 'sure' of Perez's decline being an issue of the current state of his talent (as opposed to simply being the perception we can garner from his results) to give a year-blind video analysis, showing significant differences in his location, velocity, delivery, mechanics, whatever they think it is? And can they then on top of that proffer a plausible explanation for why the change is irreversible and he can't return to his established performance level of 2002-2005? I am somehow tempted to blame Baseball Prospectus for all of this, since they've been pushing so hard on their "beer AND tacos" marketing idea. While scouting information is vital to any baseball operation, ex post facto scouting is ridiculous; using the stats to evaluate a player and then the scouting to analyze (or justify) that performance shows a profound misunderstanding of the nature of baseball statistics. Of course, there's no way this is BP's fault, since the same stuff has been going on for as long as baseball statistics have been kept. But they have, perhaps, been at the vanguard of adding saber-credibility to fundamentally confused methodologies. I think. Scouting information and statistical records are too different types of data, and the comparison of the two that goes into player evaluation would very logically suffer from the cross-fertilization of the data streams. Of course, this is likely the status quo for all or most scouting, but one would hope that saberminded fans could get past it.

That's not to say that Perez isn't 'done,' but it is to say that I don't buy any of the BS reasons to believe so. Perez might be 'done,' but the results of 8 starts and 12 relief appearances aren't nearly enough data to determine that he's just lost his former ability. And while I would tend to agree that might be a sufficient sample to make a legitimate scouting-based judgment on whether he can't cut it any more, I have no confidence that that's really what the Dodgers or their fans have done.

And Kansas City is just the place for Perez, since they've got no meaningful alternatives for playing time, so he can easily keep playing until he's back on track, if getting back on track is truly something he needs to do. Given that KC ownership seems to insist upon spending much of the budget on the major league team, it's hard too argue that Perez at this price isn't a better value than anything the Royals can pull down in the free agent market. And while spending on player development might in general be a wiser use of the Royals money, they can't really only do that, lest they continue to be such a bad club that they need to pay an insane premium to acquire free agent talent.

So the Royals get Perez at a fair enough price, and all they had to do was to trade an okay reliever in his 30's for a pitcher who will surely crack their organizational top 10 lists in the offseason and another decent young arm. Very good move.

I don't even know that it's appropriate to discuss this trade from the Dodgers' point of view. Apparently Colletti, deciding that the struggling and unhappy Perez wouldn't work any longer in Dodger Blue, decided to replace him with Mark Hendrickson (whose own performance earlier this season may have affected unjustified change in his scouting reports). So he traded lefty starter Perez for lefty starter Hendrickson, straight up. To help the pen, he traded right-handed swingman Jae Seo for right-handed swingman Elmer Dessens (who is oddly and hopelessly trumpeted in the Dodgers' press release for lefties' batting average against). While both are certainly debatable, talent-wise, the need to make the moves is at least understandable, though perhaps faulty from a value-maximizing standpoint. And it does save a bit over a million this season, and figures to save five or six million in salary next season as well as Perez's option buyout in 2008.

Not content with that, though, he decided to pick up back-up catcher Toby Hall, who's salary cancels out the savings for 2006. In exchange, he only had to give up backup Sandy Alomar and Julio Pimentel. I don't really understand the wisdom of giving away a C-grade prospect for a small upgrade at the backup backstop, but it's not terrible. Still, Pimentel is striking out more than a hitter per inning in high-A while only 20, and isn't exactly without value.

The trade he made that really bugs me, though, was to pick up BJ LaMura, a decent arm who is probably too old to figure to have great value. For LaMura, Colletti gave up $7 million - about the amount he'd netted on the above salary swaps - along with two very good prospects in Dioner Navarro and Blake Johnson and a player to be named later. Navarro's very young and figures to be an above average bat at the plate for years to come at basement prices, and his defensive struggles were likely temporary. Blake Johnson was a 2nd round pick in 2004 who has just turned 21 and looks deserving of a promotion to AA in 2007; while his ERA is near five, he's got 73 K against only 19 walks, and in the offensive environment at Vero Beach his relatively disappointing ERA and HR rate aren't much of a negative. It's hard to imagine that the scouts have really soured on Johnson just because the extra longballs and the mild K decrease moving from the SAL to the FSL, and the improvement in his BB rate is encouraging. The PTBNL turned out to be Justin Ruggiano, who probably projects as a decent backup in the majors with a shot at a higher 'upside.' While all the other trades Colletti made seemed questionable but reasonable, this one is the real headscratcher, and I really can't fathom it.


At 9:18 AM, Blogger Rob said...

Disagree on Johnson; the environment at Vero is more hitter-friendly than elsewhere in the league, but the adjusted park factors for the league indicate it's still a pitcher-friendly park. Pitchers who see sudden upticks in their WHIP scare me. That's not to say that Johnson couldn't become something eventually, but he'll first have to stop giving up so many hits.

At 10:02 AM, Blogger j said...

glad to see you're back. i always loved the writing.


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