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Charging the Mound: The Middleman's Cut

Jeff Erickson

Jeff Erickson

Jeff Erickson is a co-founder of RotoWire.com and the only two-time winner of Baseball Writer of the Year from the Fantasy Sports Writers Association. He roots for the Reds, Bengals, Red Wings, Pacers and Northwestern University (the real NU).

-----Original Message-----
From: "Christopher Liss"
Sent: Tuesday, July 20, 2010 2:32am
To: "Jeff Erickson"
Subject: Charging

I'm heading to NY tomorrow for the Sirius XM draft, but I still have baseball on the mind. For starters, I made a trade today in the CardRunner's League - Brett Cecil for Milton Bradley plus $45 in FAAB (original FAAB budget was $260). I was initially fine with this trade (especially because I have Brett Anderson to take Cecil's place next period and Jeremy Hellickson at least ostensibly waiting in the wings), but I was a lot less fine with it when Derek Carty simultaneously flipped Cecil and Julio Lugo for Yunel Escobar, Mike Gonzalez AND $25 in FAAB. I would have dealt Cecil for Escobar straight up, but I had no idea Escobar who went for $196 in FAAB was available at that price. Why didn't the Escobar owner come straight to me and eliminate the middle man? He must have thought for God knows what reason that I really wanted Bradley much more than Escobar even though I have plenty of Bradley-level scrub OF and am hoping Jason Donald (my MI) doesn't get demoted when Asdrubal Cabrera comes back. Was I remiss not to inquire about Escobar directly? I had no reason whatsoever to believe that his owner was willing to deal him for Cecil. But should one probe every possible offer with every owner, constantly ascertaining the market for everyone's players? Obviously not, but to the extent one does have that knowledge - that owner x undervalues player y, but overvalues player z on someone else's team - you can act as a middleman and take a serious cut.

So on the one hand, those who probe for information can have an advantage - in a trading league like this one - but on the other, did the Escobar owner have an obligation to let everyone know that he was either looking to move him or didn't value him much? But if the Escobar owner undervalues Escobar, by definition he doesn't know that he undervalues him, so how can he possibly be expected to tell other people that he's available at a discount if he doesn't know it's a discount? In the end, is there anything that can be done about this situation? Or are Access, timing and luck always going to play a major role in which trades get done?

The other thing on my mind is the major league trade deadline. (I won't go into an extended rant about how stupid teams are to wait right up until the last day to make moves with only two months left in the season). With Cliff Lee gone, it seems like few players stand out. Maybe Adam Dunn in a DH role, but Roy Oswalt or Ted Lilly in the AL, Dan Haren with his down year and poor second halves and a bunch of innings eaters don't seem like game changers. Derrek Lee's having an off year, too. Would he or Adam LaRoche really be a major upgrade for the Angels over Mike Napoli, for instance? If the Phillies were willing to move Jayson Werth to the Yanks, that would make a difference. But that would require a contender built for the present to move a major piece - something that doesn't seem too likely. I'd also be shocked of Prince Fielder got moved for reasons I've stated before - is Doug Melvin really willing to take the heat for moving him a year before he has to?

I also wonder how much we can read into what major-league managers and GMs say. For example, the Yankees are allegedly more interested in bullpen and bench help than starting pitching even after A.J. Burnett's implosion and Andy Pettitte's injury, in addition to Phil Hughes needing to limit his innings. How can that possibly be true? Don't you think the Yanks will make a play for Oswalt, Haren and/or Lilly? Or least a Jake Westbrook innings-eater type? What about the Rangers? They're five games up in the West, and you have to think they're pot committed after renting Cliff Lee. For the playoffs, they have Lee, Colby Lewis and what? Tommy Hunter, C.J. Wilson far beyond his innings limit, Derek Holland if he's completely healthy? You don't think they'd really trot out Rich Harden's carcass, or Scott Feldman, do you? Do you think the Rangers (Nolan Ryan apparently loves Oswalt) will acquire another pitcher? While Oswalt's salary might not fly given their ownership situation, the Astros would probably take on a substantial portion of his cost for some of the Rangers' elite prospects. Is Texas all in? Should they be?

-----Original Message-----
From: jeff@rotowire.com
Sent: Wednesday, July 21, 2010 2:13am
To: "Christopher Liss"
Subject: RE: Charging

I don't have a problem with this series of trades. Derek gets the hustle points for arbitraging this situation - and he's just the latest to do it. We've seen on multiple occasions in this league where Owner 1 trades for Player A and subsequently flips him to Owner 3 as part of another deal. If anything, given your middle infield situation following the Alex Gonzalez trade, wouldn't it have been natural for you to contact Escobar's owner to at least see what the cost was to get him? So yeah, you were remiss about not turning over every stone to see what middle infielder might turn up. Even if it's not Escobar that you were seeking, it could have been another middle infielder made expendable by his acquisition of Escobar that might have been an improvement over Donald.

The concept of overvaluing a player or undervaluing another is somewhat murky anyhow. Yeah, it appears that Derek got more value out of this deal, but what if Escobar's short-term production was just a dead-cat bounce? Isn't it just as possible that Bradley approximates his previous form over the last two months and outproduces Escobar? I'm not trying to be sophistic here - but these players aren't fixed values, but variables. The owner that ended up with Cecil obviously thinks that he ended up with the better player, moreover one that was the better fit.

That said, if Cecil was his target all along, I don't know why he didn't just ask you about his price. Maybe he would have gotten a better deal. Still, I don't think there's anything that can be done, or for that matter, should be done about these two trades. You know my stand on rejecting trades - absent pure collusion, I think that the veto hammer should be sparingly used. And I don't see this as collusion at all, but rather a case of one owner knocking on just one more extra door than another.

It's funny that you brought up both Roy Oswalt and Jayson Werth, and now we're hearing rumors about both involving the Phillies. How badly has Ruben Amaro Jr. handled this situation? He had an $8M Cliff Lee with an expiring contract, and turned him into three prospects of disputed value, because he was afraid of losing Lee as a free agent and wanted the payroll flexibility. Then, he turned around and gave Joe Blanton (who, for all his merits, doesn't make up for losing Cliff Lee) a three-year, $24 million deal to avoid arbitration, and then during the season he ripped up Ryan Howard's contract to give him a five-year extension that doesn't begin until 2012. Now the rumor (and granted, we're in the silly season of rumors, so take it with the appropriate ocean of salt) is that he's looking to trade Jayson Werth, to make room to afford Roy Oswalt? You realize he could have accomplished the same thing without losing Werth simply by not trading away Lee, right? What am I missing here?

If Werth goes to the Rays as the rumor goes, that really spins the wheel on a lot of different scenarios. Domonic Brown almost certainly would get the call before September and presumably would play daily. The Phillies presumably would get a young-ish pitcher from the Rays that might even be able to contribute right away - and that's something that they'd need in addition to Oswalt following Jamie Moyer's injury on Wednesday night. Though they could also simply bring back J.A. Happ from Triple-A if they deem him ready.

For the Rays, it's even crazier. They already have all sorts of optionality between Ben Zobrist, Sean Rodriguez and Reid Brignac. Adding Werth to that mix would make this a pretty crazy situation. Werth could either play right field or slot in as the full-time DH. Zobrist could either move to second base or center field on days when they want to rest B.J. Upton. Jason Bartlett and one of Rodriguez/Brignac would certainly lose out on a number of games. Moreover, that would almost ensure that we won't see Desmond Jennings in a meaningful role. I'm still trying to wrap my head around all of the scenarios with this rumored swap.

As for LaRoche or Derrek Lee or any other first baseman going to the Angels, it only makes a lot of sense if they're willing to put Napoli back behind the plate. And I think that's a move that needs to happen - Jeff Mathis has really come down to earth since his return from his wrist injury. Before Tuesday's game, his OBP had falled all the way down to .267, and he went 0-for-4 with three K's in that one. The Angels aren't a terrible offensive team, though, so if they make a trade, maybe it's to go get another starting pitcher (team ERA is 4.43 - better only than Cleveland, Kansas City and Baltimore in the AL) and not a first baseman. The Scott Kazmir experiment has run its course - he now *is* Victor Zambrano. First base seems like a void, but it seems that run prevention is where they really fall short.

You're dead on about the divergence between what teams are saying and what they are doing this time of year. It's all part of the game - if there's anything that the Yankees or the Rangers can do to lessen the cost of that starting pitcher, they'll do it. Of course, I'd bet most teams can see right through the subterfuge and their feigning indifference. That's why reading about and listening to all the trade rumors can be so maddening - it's so easy to get led astray.

And yeah, Texas has to be all-in, after trading away Justin Smoak for a one-year rental. I know that the ownership/financial situation is pretty whacked, but at the very least they have to be looking for a platoon partner for Chris Davis at first base. I'm not as sold on Oswalt in that ballpark against American League hitters, though, even with Ryan's stamp of approval. I understand that Wilson/Holland/Hunter have their risks, and that they have to be all-in, but they have to be all-in for the right thing. But is there anything better out there than Oswalt, even without factoring in his contract? That's why getting Cliff Lee was so vital for them.

One last thing before I let you go - we've spent a lot of time on AL contenders, but what about a few of the NL buyers? We talked about this on RotoWire Fantasy Sports Today on Tuesday - it just seems that there's a dearth of quality guys coming from the AL to the NL. I'll say this, though - I'm going to watch carefully for any pitchers that make the trip over to the senior circuit. Even a pitcher like Jeremy Guthrie could really benefit from making the trip over. Witness short-term successes like Vicente Padilla and Jon Garland or the longer-term success of Bronson Arroyo as examples that suggest someone like Guthrie could really profit.

-----Original Message-----
From: "Christopher Liss"
Sent: Wednesday, July 21, 2010 10:04am
To: jeff@rotowire.com
Subject: Re: Charging

But I did contact Escobar's owner, and traded Oswalt for Jason Donald, leaving him with no surplus middle infielders. Why on earth would I expect him to give up his only remaining starting MI for Cecil, especially one for which he blew his entire FAAB budget two weeks before the MLB trade deadline? Moreover, it's not like he just swapped Escobar for Cecil - a barely fair enough trade on its face given that Escobar is locked in as the Jays' starting SS the rest of the season - but he gave up Mike Gonzalez AND $25 in FAAB and got just Julio Lugo back!

And yes, you are being sophistic with the "who knows?" argument. I can trade Evan Longoria for Bradley, too, and who knows - Bradley *might* outproduce him. In fact two paragraphs down you write:

How badly has Ruben Amaro Jr. handled this situation? He had an $8M Cliff Lee with an expiring contract, and turned him into three prospects of disputed value, because he was afraid of losing Lee as a free agent and wanted the payroll flexibility

How do you know he handled that situation badly? Because at some point, the market is relevant, and to pay 80 percent of your starting FAAB budget for a player, then throw in the rest of your FAAB budget and Gonzalez (a closer!) and get back just Cecil and Lugo is madness that I certainly didn't even consider.

And remember - this wasn't Derek getting a player and then flipping him later. This was Derek getting a player and flipping him simultaneously! Which means somehow the other owner had to be under the impression that Derek somehow had an in with Cecil which wasn't really the case. I didn't even want Bradley, but he asked me what it would take to bridge the gap between him and Cecil, and I aimed high - saying $50 in FAAB. I did it for the FAAB which is valuable given that only two people can outbid me now, and there will likely be moves in August and call-ups in September. So if the other owner wanted Cecil - he should definitely have asked me the price rather than going through a middle man and paying a serious vig.

And of course, it's not collusion - that's would be ridiculous given that said owner is in 4th place, and Carty is much further down. Moreover, it hurts that owner, not me. I'm just pissed because if it's my player he wanted, I should have gotten the windfall. So I'm not arguing the trade should be vetoed. That's not the point at all. I'm just saying I had a player that someone else overvalued - or undervalued his own players - either way - and Carty somehow got the windfall thanks to his hustle, but that's something that never should have happened because all it took was one email to me asking whether I'd do Escobar for Cecil SU. I had no reason to believe that was available given the FAAB cost of Escobar, but I'm not sure why he didn't think to make that offer since he wound up giving so much more, and I was hurting at middle infield. In fact, when I offered him Oswalt for Donald, why didn't he just counter with Escobar for Cecil? I saw him go to the wall for Escobar and figured correctly that Donald could be had cheaply (Oswalt is cheap because he's an NL player whose stats won't count unless he's traded to the AL).

The one saving grace is that for now, Donald has been named the Indians starting 2B, so that worked out, and with Morneau concussed for God knows how long, I might have to move Matt LaPorta to 1B, and Bradley slots in at OF to take his place. So, it might all be for the best, though I'm very skeptical of Bradley retaining at-bats the rest of the way with Michael Saunders needing to get experience and the Casey Kotchman/Russ Branyan/Bradley logjam at DH, now that Smoak has locked down first base.

Totally agree with the Phillies analysis, by the way. Lee is better than Oswalt SU, and Werth is arguably almost as valuable as Howard when you factor in defense and base running. If the Rays did trade with the Phillies, I'd have to think it'd be Wade Davis and Brignac or Rodriguez for him. The Phils get someone to fill in for Utley (and also Rollins/Polanco if need be) and a pitcher that would be far better than Kyle Kendrick (now that Jamie Moyer's out) in the short-term and with upside in the long run. The Rays probably move Zobrist to 2B, Werth to the OF, I'd think. At least last year, Werth was a plus fielder with a great arm. That would leave DH open, though obviously Jennings can't be called up to play there. It's possible, Werth could DH with Jennings playing right field, but you're right - it's less likely because the Rays aren't going to trade Brignac AND Rodriguez, so one of them will still start on occasion, and Zobrist will see time in the outfield. Unless, of course, they could move Jason Bartlett (Colorado?), start Rodriguez/Brignac at SS, Zobrist at second, Werth at DH and Jennings in RF. But I'm not sure that works out defensively for them.

That Kazmir *is* Victor Zambrano (and so is Carlos Zambrano, by the way), is hilarious. Jim Duquette has to be feeling some vindication, even though it was a terrible move at the time. Moreover, at least Victor had the decency to go away after not very long. Kazmir's been occupying a rotation slot for years after the deal (and Carlos signed a massive extension and then became an ineffective and untradeable hothead in the clubhouse). In fairness, Kazmir was pretty good for the Rays when healthy for a year and a half or so and fetched them Sean Rodriguez, so it was still a great trade for them.

As for players coming to the NL, you mentioned Guthrie who could be very solid in the right park. I think Jake Westbrook, too, could be effective in NY or Los Angeles, for example. I doubt the Jays will part with Shaun Marcum, Ricky Romero, Brandon Morrow or Cecil, but Jesse Litsch might be serviceable in an NL park, too. I'm not sure what happened to Kevin Millwood (due back soon), but Brad Penny and John Smoltz sure turned it around last year in the NL. But I agree - I don't see any real game-changers going from AL to NL this year.

-----Original Message-----
From: jeff@rotowire.com
Sent: Thursday, July 22, 2010 2:59pm
To: "Christopher Liss"
Subject: Re: Charging

I'll concede one point - that he gave back Gonzalez and $25 in FAAB is pretty stunning. My reading comprehension was off, too - I neglected to notice that it was the same owner who traded Donald to you. That said, if I'm being sophistic with the "who knows" argument, then you're guilty of using the slippery slope argument. It's not a reach to compare Bradley vs. Escobar in terms of production. For all of Bradley's problems this year, at least he's running (six SB's) and hitting for a modicum of power. There's plenty of scenarios where Bradley gets enough playing time to make this deal work for you.

Anyhow, that's your windmill to tilt at. At least Donald is still playing for you, like you said, even with Asdrubal Cabrera back. That's good for you, though I worry (again) what this all means for Michael Brantley once Shin-Soo Choo comes back. Yeah, Brantley has become my lost cause this year - I still believe in him, even though he hasn't done much to justify the love just yet.

Do you think that the Rays will have to give up both Davis and either Brignac/Rodriguez to get a deal done? Werth is a free agent at the end of the year, and I think that makes it less likely that they give up that much. If I'm the Phillies, though, if that's on the table, I do it immediately. And I'd jump all over Davis if he moves to an NL team.