The Cost of and Need for Adrian Gonzalez

Some of you have apparently gotten the idea, from the last two pieces, that I’m against acquiring Adrian Gonzalez from the Padres. Not so.

Far from it, in fact. All that I’m asking for – as always – is some perspective. Some examination of the economics involved, the mechanics of the transaction.

The Boston Globe’s Chad Finn, for example, a writer that I have a lot of respect for, is arguing for an acquisition of Adrian Gonzalez at, essentially, any cost:

If Theo has to part with Casey Kelly (is he closer to the next Frankie Rodriguez or closer to the next Zack Greinke?) or Ryan Westmoreland (are the injuries officially a concern?) or frankly, anyone in the organization with legitimate aspirations of playing in Fenway Park someday, he must do it.

Emphasis his. He reiterated this view ten days later, saying:

I’ve explained my feelings on this before, and nothing has changed: It is going to take a bounty of riches to get Gonzalez from the Padres, in part because he is a wonderful, underpaid player in the heart of his prime, and in part because new Padres GM Jed Hoyer probably has as much familiarity with the Red Sox farm system as anyone not named Theo Epstein. But I’ll shout it again: He is worth it. Give them Clay Buchholz, Ryan Westmoreland, Casey Kelly, and another SoxProspects.com favorite or two, and do not look back.

As you probably guessed, I do not subscribe to this view. Candidly, I think at best it’s the kind of pre-Theo regime thinking that led us to win nothing for eighty years. At worst, it’s a panic move.

Every asset has a cost, and not every cost is worth paying.

I’ve looked at Gonzalez twice now, so I won’t rehash my analysis of him. Suffice it to say he’s an outstanding offensive first baseman when he’s facing right-handed pitching, below average otherwise. Defensively, he’s an asset.

What of the other pieces to a transaction, however? What of the cost and the need?

Cost

As should be expected, Finn sets up his at-any-cost acquisition scenario with an ostensible reminder of the unpredictability of prospects.

Make no mistake: Gonzalez will bring, as Sports Illustrated’s Jon Heyman cleverly called it this summer when his name first showed up in trade rumors, the madre lode. And yet, chances are Gonzalez will prove worth whatever package the Red Sox part with. All prospects are essentially lottery tickets, even the truly elite. In the 2002 Prospect Handbook, Baseball America founder Allan Simpson rated his top 10 prospects this way:

  1. Josh Beckett, RHP, Marlins
  2. Mark Prior, RHP, Dusty Baker’s Arm ‘n’ Limb Meat Grinder Emporium
  3. Sean Burroughs, 3B, Padres
  4. Hank Blalock, 3B, Rangers
  5. Wilson Betemit, SS, Braves
  6. Ryan Anderson, LHP, Mariners
  7. Juan Cruz, RHP, Cubs
  8. Josh Hamilton, OF, Devil Rays
  9. Mark Teixeira, 3B, Rangers
  10. Carlos Pena, 1B, A’s

Joe Mauer was 14th, Marlins shortstop Miguel Cabrera — yes, shortstop; imagine that now — was 31st, one spot below KC’s Angel Berroa, and Gonzalez was 34th, one spot ahead of the Angels’ Casey Kotchman.

So, yeah . . . lottery tickets. Case rested.

Finn may rest his case, but let me have a crack at it. Personally, I look at that and see a pitcher that almost single-handedly won two world series titles ranked one, a pitcher that would have had a stellar career were his arm not abused two, and an eight-nine-ten that anyone would kill to have in their offense. Throw in the fact that Blalock had one .900+ OPS season and three north of .850, the fact that Betemit and Cruz are still playing, and I don’t think the list says what Finn thinks it says.

While it’s ugly and obvious, in hindsight, that Cabrera and Mauer should be near the top of the list and Berroa not on it, better than fifty percenty of the individuals on that list are, or were, successful major leaguers. And most of those performed at an elite level for at least a season in their careers. Not a bad success rate for an organization that knows nothing about the players but what they can glean from their performance and interviews with the staff.

My bet is that Theo, McLeod and co know a bit more than Baseball America about their players than Baseball America. With all due respect to that fine organization, of course.

So yes, prospects are unpredictable. But not that unpredictable. At least relative to their major league counterparts. Here’s what Baseball Prospectus said about Gonzalez in 2005, for example:

Once a Grade-A Prospect in Florida, Gonzalez came to Arlington as part of the Ugueth Urbina trade and is now far from a can’t-miss. He’s still only 23 this season, but he’s at a point where it’s time to pick it up with the bat if he wants to have a career as an MLB starter.

One problem with discussions of “prospects,” in general, is just that: it’s general. Let’s look at a more specific example, closer to home. One in which there was a premium player on the market that we were rumored to be interested in. One Johan Santana.

With the Minnesota Twins insisting on center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury in any trade for pitcher Johan Santana, the Red Sox have altered their offer and have told the Twins they are willing to include the outfielder.

But sources say the Red Sox have also told the Twins they will not trade left-handed pitcher Jon Lester and Ellsbury together in the package they are offering.

The Red Sox included Ellsbury in one of their proposals a week ago, but the Twins asked the Red Sox for two players among the group of three prospects — Ellsbury, Lester and pitcher Clay Buchholz. Boston then offered Lester, center fielder Coco Crisp, minor league shortstop Jed Lowrie and a minor league pitcher.

On the one hand, the article on the other serves to prove Finn’s point: were we really valuing Ellsbury’s 2009 .770 OPS and his -14 UZR/150 equally with Jon Lester?

On the other, it’s an accurate illustration of the cost of such trades. Would you prefer to have a.) Santana, or b.) your starting centerfielder, starting shortstop candidate, #1 and #3 starters and a bullpen arm (Ramirez via Crisp)? I prefer the latter, personally.

Which is why I’m less excited than Finn to give up “Clay Buchholz, Ryan Westmoreland, Casey Kelly, and another SoxProspects.com favorite or two.”

Need

The conventional wisdom says that the Red Sox are in deep shit, offensively. Let’s take a quick look at the projections for next season, assuming a.) no further trades or acquisitions (including no Bay) and b.) Lowrie as the shortstop:

CHONE projects our offense as a collective .274/.354/.441 offense for a .796 OPS. Bill James, meanwhile, is more optimistic, projecting a .280/.368/.462/.831. For context, the Yankees led the league in OPS last year at .839.

Now before you get excited, remember: the above projections are just for starters. They don’t include all the bench, roster filler – or worse, pitcher – at bats. If we just take the starters from last year, as an example, their OPS was .852. The actual? .806.

Still, the projections indicate that our offense – even without help – isn’t awful. Last year’s CHONE predictions, for example? .817 OPS.

In other words, we’re giving up 21 points of projected OPS to a year in which we scored the third most runs, had the second highest OBP, SLG and OPS. and hit the fourth most home runs.

Is there room for improvement? Undoubtedly. But neither can you, I think, build the case that we’re doomed absent a Gonzalez type. And yes, that’s even if we don’t resign J Bay.

The Net

Do I hope we can acquire a premium offensive asset, someone like Adrian Gonzalez? Yes indeed. The prolonged offensive slumps were, more than anything else, what held the club back this year. But am I willing to hand over four or five legitimate prospects for the privilege? I am not. Our top two prospects, a past number one prospect / #2/#3 starter (and potential ace at Petco), and another prospect is too rich a haul by far for two years of Gonzalez, in my opinion. Particularly since his value is only likely to decline from here, as he’s a.) unlikely to exceed his current performance levels and b.) he’s getting closer to free agency.

Acquisitions are essentially an equation. A complicated one, to be sure, but an equation nonetheless. Divided by the market conditions, the two sides – Padre’s needs (asset and financial) + Asset (Gonzalez) value and Red Sox needs and Asset Value – need to balance. The proposals I’m seeing thus far skew too far – way too far in my view – towards the Padre side of that equation.

We’ll see if Theo and co. agree.

15 thoughts on “The Cost of and Need for Adrian Gonzalez

  1. @Aaron Pressman: VORP does value SB’s, as far as i know, which likely accounts for Ellsbury’s value in that system.
    the question then becomes a) is the ability really that valuable, and b) can that ability be sustained over time.
    the answer to the second, of course, is that we don’t know. he stole 20 less in eight fewer games the year before, and it’s obviously dependent on health.
    the answer to the former is that it’s an open question. Fangraphs’ WAR (Wins Above Replacement), for example, which is in turn based in part of WOBA (which does value the stolen base),
    has Mike Cameron as a 4.3 win player last year against Ellsbury’s 1.9.
    who’s right? tough to say.
    but let’s assume that VORP is valuing the steals perfectly: it’s still a deal you make because of Gonzalez’ value.
    This comment was originally posted on wicked clevah

  2. @Aaron Pressman: VORP does value SB’s, as far as i know, which likely accounts for Ellsbury’s value in that system.
    the question then becomes a) is the ability really that valuable, and b) can that ability be sustained over time.
    the answer to the second, of course, is that we don’t know. he stole 20 less in eight fewer games the year before, and it’s obviously dependent on health.
    the answer to the former is that it’s an open question. Fangraphs’ WAR (Wins Above Replacement), for example, which is in turn based in part of WOBA (which does value the stolen base),
    has Mike Cameron as a 4.3 win player last year against Ellsbury’s 1.9.
    who’s right? tough to say.
    but let’s assume that VORP is valuing the steals perfectly: it’s still a deal you make because of Gonzalez’ value.
    This comment was originally posted on wicked clevah

  3. You guys, are all crazy! If you don’t think Ells is going to get better you are out of your mind. Don’t be surprised if he turns into a regular all-star. Personally I would rather see the Sox spend some cash and get Matt Holiday and keep Ells. I would have liked to see Roy Halladay and Matt Holiday, over John Lackey and AGON any day! It’s funny they didn’t want to push for Doc because the Blue Jays wanted too many prospects, but we will give away one of our best young players for AGON, and Doc would have done more than AGON will do for us.
    This comment was originally posted on wicked clevah

  4. You guys, are all crazy! If you don’t think Ells is going to get better you are out of your mind. Don’t be surprised if he turns into a regular all-star. Personally I would rather see the Sox spend some cash and get Matt Holiday and keep Ells. I would have liked to see Roy Halladay and Matt Holiday, over John Lackey and AGON any day! It’s funny they didn’t want to push for Doc because the Blue Jays wanted too many prospects, but we will give away one of our best young players for AGON, and Doc would have done more than AGON will do for us.
    This comment was originally posted on wicked clevah

  5. @Real Sox Fan: where to start…
    1. It is likely, at the age of 26, that Ells is going to get better. That’s not the question. The question is by how much, and will he be a star. Based on all of the available evidence, the answer is: no, he will not be a star. Therefore he should not be untouchable.
    2. Holliday apparently wants Teixeira money, and he’s not worth anything near that. At which point the Sox should – and reportedly did – walk away.
    3. Holliday’s an excellent pitcher. He is, however, 36 and has thrown an exceptionally high number of innings the past few years. Ergo he’s a signing risk. Further, the Jays would have required us to pay a premium to trade him within the division, making it an even riskier deal. Lackey can approximate if not duplicate his numbers at a far more reasonable acquisition cost.
    This comment was originally posted on wicked clevah

  6. @Real Sox Fan: where to start…
    1. It is likely, at the age of 26, that Ells is going to get better. That’s not the question. The question is by how much, and will he be a star. Based on all of the available evidence, the answer is: no, he will not be a star. Therefore he should not be untouchable.
    2. Holliday apparently wants Teixeira money, and he’s not worth anything near that. At which point the Sox should – and reportedly did – walk away.
    3. Holliday’s an excellent pitcher. He is, however, 36 and has thrown an exceptionally high number of innings the past few years. Ergo he’s a signing risk. Further, the Jays would have required us to pay a premium to trade him within the division, making it an even riskier deal. Lackey can approximate if not duplicate his numbers at a far more reasonable acquisition cost.
    This comment was originally posted on wicked clevah

  7. Sog,
    If you look at Ells first two complete years his OBP and Avg. have both gone up 30 points. With a little more work his OBP will be right where you would want a star lead-off hitter. Next the guy who wrote this article is talking about power. Ells hit 8 HRs this past season which is not great by any means but for a lead-off hitter, is just fine. My question is does anyone actually know how many more runs his speed has made the Sox last season? A guy that can turn a single into a double is priceless. No one seemed to complain about Damon when we first got him and he didn’t hit a ton of Homeruns.
    And as for AGON, sure he is a great hitter, but if you don’t have anyone on base in front of him those 40 HRs he hit last year only earned him 40 RBIs. Take last season for instance, With those 40 HRs he only hit in 99 RBIs. That is not many RBIs per Homerun. The reason being is no one was getting on base before him and when they were on base they were not fast enough to get in scoring position so that he could drive them in.
    If we get rid of Ells, who is going to lead-off?? Mike Cameron?? That would be nice with 250 batting average and bad wheels. How about JD Drew? With a hefty 275 batting average and great wheels with 2 stolen bases this past season.
    Now you talk about Holliday being old, he is only 4 years older than Lackey, and has been very durable and reliable during his career. I do understand that all we had to do was give up money for Lackey and not Prospects, but now we are turning around and thinking about throwing prospects at AGON. Not only that but, why is everyone ignoring the 5.75 era that Lackey has in Fenway??? Did everyone forget byung hyun kim? Everyone was all excited when we picked him up knowing that he couldn’t pitch against the Yankees. But everyone just said “oh he will be fine.” How did that turn out? Now we are giving a crap load of money to Lackey and we don’t even know how he is going to pitch in a park that he is notorious for struggling in.
    I just think we would have received more from a Doc and Matt Halladay deal then a Lackey and AGON deal.
    This comment was originally posted on wicked clevah

  8. Sog,
    If you look at Ells first two complete years his OBP and Avg. have both gone up 30 points. With a little more work his OBP will be right where you would want a star lead-off hitter. Next the guy who wrote this article is talking about power. Ells hit 8 HRs this past season which is not great by any means but for a lead-off hitter, is just fine. My question is does anyone actually know how many more runs his speed has made the Sox last season? A guy that can turn a single into a double is priceless. No one seemed to complain about Damon when we first got him and he didn’t hit a ton of Homeruns.
    And as for AGON, sure he is a great hitter, but if you don’t have anyone on base in front of him those 40 HRs he hit last year only earned him 40 RBIs. Take last season for instance, With those 40 HRs he only hit in 99 RBIs. That is not many RBIs per Homerun. The reason being is no one was getting on base before him and when they were on base they were not fast enough to get in scoring position so that he could drive them in.
    If we get rid of Ells, who is going to lead-off?? Mike Cameron?? That would be nice with 250 batting average and bad wheels. How about JD Drew? With a hefty 275 batting average and great wheels with 2 stolen bases this past season.
    Now you talk about Holliday being old, he is only 4 years older than Lackey, and has been very durable and reliable during his career. I do understand that all we had to do was give up money for Lackey and not Prospects, but now we are turning around and thinking about throwing prospects at AGON. Not only that but, why is everyone ignoring the 5.75 era that Lackey has in Fenway??? Did everyone forget byung hyun kim? Everyone was all excited when we picked him up knowing that he couldn’t pitch against the Yankees. But everyone just said “oh he will be fine.” How did that turn out? Now we are giving a crap load of money to Lackey and we don’t even know how he is going to pitch in a park that he is notorious for struggling in.
    I just think we would have received more from a Doc and Matt Halladay deal then a Lackey and AGON deal.
    This comment was originally posted on wicked clevah

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s