Saturday, February 28, 2004

Rallying Around Raul 

Steve at Mariners Wheelhouse writes an entertaining (as usual) critique of my latest defense of Bavasi that compares me to Rumplestiltskin for trying to "spin" the Mariners offseason into gold.

The piece diverges later into the poor PR work that Lincoln & company did trying to say that they didn't realize A-Rod was available. Steve then comes to blanket conclusions that bash GM Bill Bavasi.

We have a GM who proactively gets involved in areas where he doesn't have the skills and should be holding back, and he is passive about staying in contact with his counterparts who are actively trying to make deals.
While their PR department is doing a horrible job with the Mariner fans, the front office deserves praise and not the abuse they've gotten for much of their work, including the offseason signing of Raul Ibanez.

Steve uses the signing of Frank Catalanotto back to his own Toronto Blue Jays to a one-year deal as evidence of the idiocy of signing Raul Ibanez to a 3 year, higher dollar deal. To back this up, he compares both the 2003 and lifetime OPS numbers of Ibanez and Catalanotto and sure enough, Catalanotto wins:

Player                BA  OBP  SLG  OPS 

Catalanotto, 2003 299 351 472 823
Ibañez, 2003 294 345 454 799
Catalanotto, career 297 359 465 824
Ibañez, career 278 334 464 798
Terms of contract:
Catalanotto: 1 year, $2.5 million
Ibañez: 3 yrs, $13.25 million
Tell me again why the Mariners think Ibañez was worth more than $4 million per year?
So, what's wrong with this comparison? First, it omits the fact that over the past two years, Cat played in approximately 200 games with 700 at bats while Ibanez played in 300 games with 1100 ABs. Ibanez is a better defender at both LF and 1B (although Catalanotto could play 2B, but hopefully we won't need someone to do that).

And most interestingly, Ibanez' numbers at Safeco Field (381/435/881, 5 HRs in 41 ABs) over the past three years absolutely crush Catalanottos (255/356/451, 2 HRs in 51 ABs) as well as the numbers of any human being on this planet. Now, I realize that 40-50 at bats is not considered statistically significant, but you gotta admit, Ibanez has kicked some serious tail at Safeco and it is intriguing to think what he could do there with a full season or three. Here are some excerpts from the ESPN article on the signing, that show how much Ibanez wants to hit at Safeco which is a refreshing change from the Mike Cameron death-by-Safeco era.

Ibanez has performed well at Safeco as a member of the Royals, hitting .381 with five home runs over the past three seasons. He feels his tendency to hit line drives contributed to his success in Seattle.

"If you hit balls in that big left-center gap, the ball hangs," he said.

Ibanez, who hit the first grand slam in Safeco Field history on July 17, 1999, said he simply likes the way it feels when he steps into the batter's box at the ballpark.

"I like that it's a wide-open field," he said. "Some parks you just like. You go to certain parks and feel things are all centered. I like the way it feels here."
Yeah, yeah, I know things like this won't impress the statarazzi, but maybe, just maybe, Ibanez and Safeco are the perfect fit.

But regardless how you spin stats and how much fun it would be if Ibanez continued to put up an 800+ slugging percentage in Safeco, do you know what is REALLY wrong with this argument? Well, first, Catalanotto's deal is actually only worth $2.3M not $2.5M so that's uh... nevermind that. Catalanotto also was resigning with his same team up from a $2.2M deal a year ago, while the Mariners were signing Ibanez away from a team that paid him a nice $3M salary in 2003, and who provided him the opportunity to resurrect a career that Lou Pinella had attempted to bury.

But forget all that, as no one factor stands out as hugely important. The key factor overlooked by Steve is that...

Catalanotto was not a free agent! Sadly, with 5 years, 171 days of major league service with the Blue Jays, Tigers and Rangers, poor Frank was ONE day shy of free agency, and instead was arbitration eligible. And, as described in this article on the signing, Cat had no leverage other than arbitration, so he decided to get his money quick, and frankly looks like he took way too little, leaving as much as a million dollars on the table.

... while [Catalonotto] thought he could make $3 million or more in arbitration, he wasn't sure the Jays would offer it.

"If you get non-tendered then you go out into that free agent market, then it's the unknown," he said. "You don't know what you're going to get."

The Jays signed Catalanotto Dec. 30, 2002, after the Rangers declined to offer him another contract before Dec. 21 deadline. He didn't want to sit around and wait again.

"It was kind of scary last year that free agent market," he said. "I made out probably the best out of probably anybody. You don't know how that market is going to be and I was concerned about that."
In fact, one could argue that if Catalonotto had done his research better, and waited until after the Ibanez signing to settle, that he too would have a $3M+ contract in hand right now. But projecting your worth and a players worth in the market is an inexact science. If not for Vladamir Guerrero's reluctance to play in Baltimore, the Mariners may have pegged the market for Tejada's services perfectly, as only the Orioles were willing to go crazy for Miguel (obviously, Baltimore could have had Tejada for 5yr/$46M and saved themselves $26M, right?)

The M's opened their wallets to get the guy they think is a perfect fit in left field. A guy who LOVES Safeco and Seattle and hits with power. Time may show that they overpaid, maybe by a million per season, maybe by a year too long. Or it may be a signing of Bret Bonnian proportions. I'll go on record as saying that by years end, bloggers will be praising Raul Ibanez for helping lead the Mariners to the Promised Land, or my name isn't the Mariner Optimistiltskin.

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