Purgatory Online

Monday, October 18, 2004

On Friday, I said that the guys who are currently under contract, or will very likely be under contract, for 2005 will cost the Angels in the neighborhood of $75.27 million.

Unfortunately, it appears that my belief that Adam Kennedy's rehab will cost him only a few weeks is the optimistic view of things; I'm now seeing language to the effect that he will return "between April and August." Which means the Angels will need to find a full-time second baseman, either from within or without.

Today, however, let's talk about shortstops.

David Eckstein has spent four seasons with the Angels. In the last off-season, Eckstein won an arbitration case against the club, resulting in a $2.15 million salary for 2004, and, presumably, for 2005 as well.

At 29 years old, Eckstein has established himself as a fair contact hitter with no power. He sees a lot of pitches, and puts a lot of balls in play, but generally is one of the easier outs in the lineup. Although his crow-hopping approach to getting the ball from short to first makes him a target of some derision in the field, his mastery of fundamentals make him a competent shortstop. His numbers for the past three years look like this:

vLHP: .281/.355/.384
vRHP: .273/.340/.337

Although those are not horrible numbers for a flashy shortstop, they're not all that terrific either. In 2002, Eckstein looked as if he might fit in at the top of the order, hitting .293/.363/.388, but he's failed to match that kind of production since, slipping down to the bottom third of the order fairly frequently by the end of 2004.

Eckstein's principal value to the Angels in 2005 would be that, at $2.15 million, he would come relatively cheaply. With a payroll between $90 and $100 million, the difference between Eckstein and someone making the league minimum is fairly small beer. Any move the Angels might make from within to replace him would be predicated solely on the belief that they could improve the production at that spot, rather than reduce the payroll. At this point, however, the Angels' shortstop prospects are far enough away from the majors that this is not a serious consideration. It is theorectially possible that utilityman Chone Figgins could play short, but, with Kennedy now out for an extended period of time, it is likely that Figgins will be needed to play a fair number of innings at second base, as well as getting time at center field.

This leaves only free agency if the Angels are going to improve at shortstop. This would almost certainly mean increasing the payroll at that position, and possibly offering a multiyear deal that could block prospects Alberto Callaspo, Erick Aybar, and/or Brandon Wood a couple of years down the road.

There are essentially two classes of free agent shortstops this year: guys who are comparable to Eckstein and will make comparable money, and guys who are much better than Eckstein, but will make really silly amounts of money.

The former group looks like this, with age, 2004 salary, and three-year stats:

Orlando Cabrera (currently with Boston) - 29 years old, made 6.0 million this year.
vLHP: .292/.356/.414
vRHP: .269/.314/.407

Desi Relaford (Kansas City) - 31 years old, 0.9 million.
vLHP: .246/.358/.340
vRHP: .248/.299/.358

Dave Berg (Toronto) - 34 years old, 0.8 million.
vLHP: .269/.313/.386
vRHP: .259/.304/.362

Royce Clayton (Colorado) - 34 years old, 0.65 million
vLHP: .259/.331/.350
vRHP: .253/.309/.373

Jose Vizcaino (Houston) - 36 years old, 1.2 million
vLHP: .288/.326/.346
vRHP: .279/.316/.392

Deivi Cruz (San Francisco) - 31 years old, salary unknown but probably not much
vLHP: .262/.296/.401
vRHP: .268/.291/.383

Rich Aurilia (San Diego) - 33 years old, 3.15 million
vLHP: .258/.316/.434
vRHP: .262/.314/.382

Frankly, there just doesn't seem to be much point in exchanging Eckstein for any of those guys. Aside from Cabrera, they're all older than Eckstein, and statistically more likely to decline from their numbers, which, in any case, are substantially similar or worse. Cabrera is an interesting case, in that he would offer something of an upgrade in terms of power, but is currently thrice the price. While I strongly suspect he will end up taking a pay cut, he will probably still be at least a couple million more than Eckstein while offering only slightly more production.

Which brings us to the real upgrade options:

Edgar Renteria (St. Louis) - 29 years old, 7.25 million
vLHP: .348/.436/.547
vRHP: .296/.340/.411

Nomar Garciaparra (Chicago Cubs) - 31 years old, 11.5 million
vLHP: .316/.356/.511
vRHP: .303/.351/.518

Nomar is last on this list because his statistics require a little bit of explanation. As a right-handed hitter in Fenway Park, Garciaparra has hit more than his share of wall-ball doubles off the Green Monster, some of which would presumably be turned into outs in roomier ballparks. So let's also look at his road numbers from 2002 and 2003, and his 2004 numbers (home and away) after being traded to the Cubs (which accounted for just over half his at-bats in that season):

2002 road: .293/.343/.533
2003 road: .243/.286/.401
2004 NL: .297/.364/.455

There's no question that Garciaparra is good...but $11.5 million good? Wow, I dunno. I do know that Renteria certainly looks like the better deal, but even he is expected to be looking for a long-term contract at about $10 million per year. Now, Garciaparra's numbers may come down, but in any event the likelihood is that significantly improving the Angels at shortstop is going to quadruple their payroll there at a minimum. So the options are these, keeping in mind the target they're looking to hit for total dollars:

The guys I talked about Friday plus Eckstein - about $77.42 million
The guys I talked about Friday plus Renteria or Garciaparra - about $84.5 million

The latter option would leave about $15.5 million for a starting pitcher, a third baseman, two relievers, and a catcher. And that's not considering going outside the organization for a second baseman or a DH type, or for another outfielder if Jose Guillen doesn't return. It doesn't seem likely.

There is one scenario in which I can envision the Angels acquiring one of these folks, preferably Renteria, but it would require a number of other pieces falling into place. First, they would have to acquire another Kelvim Escobar - that is, a solid starter they can get for around $6 million. They'd then have to commit to keeping Guillen for 2005, since he's relatively cheap for his production, exercise their option on Bengie Molina at $3 million, replace Glaus with McPherson, put Figgins at second, and pick up a couple of relievers for a couple million apiece. This isn't completely outlandish, and could be a possibility if the Angels decide that one of these two shortsops is the best guy available. The problem would be finding that starting pitcher first, while several other teams pursued Renteria/Garciaparra, or risk not having the dollars to sign a decent starter at all.

For logistical and financial reasons, therefore, Eckstein is likely back for 2005.