Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The Kelly Blue Book Value

As the season winds down and the Indians (apparently relishing this “spoiler” role that I want no part of in future seasons) racking up victories on their march to finish above .500, it has become obvious that the biggest decision that the Indians must reach pertaining to players already on the roster involves what to do with Kelly Shoppach.

As anyone who hasn’t been in a coma since the beginning of June knows, Kelly’s emergence as a fixture in the Tribe lineup since becoming an everyday player because of the injury to Victor has been one of the bright spots of 2009. Shoppach has transformed himself from one of the best backup catchers in baseball to…well, one of the most offensively productive catchers in baseball over the course of about four months.

How productive has Mr. Show Pack been in relation to the rest of the AL, regardless of position, since entering the everyday lineup on June 7th?
OPS - .951 (12th in AL)
SLG - .588 (6th in AL)
HR - 20 (tied for 7th in AL)
Given that the timeframe that is involved here, which covers 272 AB for ShopVac, the “small sample size” argument begins to dissipate that Shoppach is just riding a wave of success.

Now, given Shoppach’s good standing among ALL players in the AL, realize how valuable Shoppach’s bat is because it’s at a position that generally isn’t an offensively productive position.
Shoppach’s rank among all catchers with more than 300 AB this season:
OPS – 3rd behind Chris Iannetta (COL) and Brian McCann (ATL)
SLG – 1st
HR – 3rd behind McCann and Geovany Soto (CHC)
Starting yet to appreciate what Shoppach has put together and how he’s burst into the upper tier of catchers in all of MLB with his offensive output since Victor went on the shelf? Factor in that Shoppach is just hitting arbitration and under club control for another three years and his value right now cannot be understated.

As a quick aside here, let’s get in the Silver DeLorean for a moment and go back to the Coco deal and imagine that the assumed return for Coco was Shoppach, some AAA 3B and a PTBNL instead of Marte, some AAA C, and a PTBNL…does it take the sting out of Andy Marte’s regression as a player? Maybe not, but Coco’s been relegated to the role of a 4th OF in Boston this year while one of the players the Indians received in return has established himself as a Top 10 player at his position in MLB with three more years of club control in front of him while Crisp is still owed $5.75M in 2009 with a $8M club option ($500,000 buyout) for 2010. Interestingly, though, is there any irony that the Indians face the same question with Shoppach that they did with Covelli? That question is what to do with a player not thought to be irreplaceable on their roster, who likely has more value to another team in need of a player that the Indians already possess.

Back to the matter at hand here as the whole purpose of laying Shoppach’s accomplishments out is to quantify what Shoppach has been able to do by busting through the window of opportunity presented to him in June. What he’s done, suddenly, is provided the Indians with TWO completely viable options for catcher in 2009 (remember that Martinez guy, who has averaged a line of .308 BA / .381 OBP / .482 SLG / .863 OPS with 20 HR and 95 RBI from 2005 to 2007?) – and here’s where “The Kelly Question” comes into play. That question, of course, is that if the Indians are sitting on a surplus at the catching position and Victor Martinez is assumed to be the starting catcher for 2009, what does the team do with Kelly Shoppach?

To me, there really are only two answers here, which would be to either trade Shoppach to fill a hole on the roster or move Victor to 1B and allow Show Pack to become the starting catcher. Seeing as how one of those options goes against the organization’s stated stance that Martinez is the everyday catcher in 2009, the trade of Shoppach this off-season looks to be both imminent and logical. The thought process being that (if Victor is going to be the starting C in 2009), returning Shoppach to the backup role is folly as he’s proven that he CAN be a viable starter and finding the necessary AB on the Indians just doesn’t look to be feasible.

But, wait…why are the Indians looking to MOVE a productive bat from behind the dish when a reasonable alternative exists? Namely, why couldn’t Victor improve the overall offense by moving down the line to 1B for 120 or so games, allowing Shoppach to stay as catcher, have Victor play behind home plate for the other games, and keep a player like Garko (or someone else) around as a 1B/PH/DH as insurance that “Pronk” (as we once knew him) is never coming back and to allow more roster flexibility as Victor would essentially serve as the “backup catcher” while being a “starting” 1B.

The plan is not without merit as the numbers that Victor has averaged over the last three years is pretty much in line with average production from 1B in MLB within that timeframe:
Victor Martinez (2005 – 2007)
.308 BA / .381 OBP / .482 SLG / .863 OPS with 20 HR and 95 RBI

Average Production for 1B in MLB – 2007
.276 BA / .357 OBP / .464 SLG / .820 OPS with 25 HR and 94 RBI

Average Production for 1B – 2006
.285 BA / .362 OBP / .488 SLG / .850 OPS with 28 HR and 101 RBI

Average Production for 1B – 2005
.276 BA / .352 OBP / .471 SLG / .823 OPS with 27 HR and 96 RBI

But I suppose the key phrase there for me is “Average Production” as Victor goes from a plus bat as a catcher (an “average” OPS for a catcher is usually between .700 and .750) to merely an average bat as a 1B. Now if the Indians feel that the years of by Victor is going to be catching (pun intended) up with him soon at the plate, as it has to Jason Varitek and Jorge Posada recently, and that a move to the less strenuous position of 1B will increase his offensive numbers due to less wear and tear on him throughout the season, this scenario absolutely needs to be considered. However, all public comments coming forth from the Indians convey the idea that Martinez is the catcher in 2009, leaving Show Pack on the outside looking in.

Another factor in the whole “Victor to 1B” idea is the very real possibility that the Indians are pegging Matt LaPorta to be their 1B of the (very near) future as 1B is his “natural” position and that his bat is purported to be very nearly MLB-ready, if not already an MLB-ready impact bat (and he sure better be if the Brewers get to decide the PTBNL if they miss the playoffs). And that doesn’t even take into account the batch of 1B elsewhere in the system with Garko, Mike Aubrey, Jordan Brown, Beau Mills, etc. Granted that most of those names don’t exactly get the pulse racing until you get down to Les Beaux Moulins, but if LaPorta’s natural position is 1B, the logic of suddenly blocking him with a player who provides a plus bat from the catching position doesn’t hold water.

Now, if LaPorta’ performance as a LF allows him to stay slated in the outfield AND the Indians feel that Victor’s offensive numbers would improve dramatically with less wear and tear by moving him from C to 1B, the case for keeping Kelly becomes much more compelling. But those two answers look to be pretty big leaps of faith, mainly based on the comments from Tribe that Victor is “still our catcher”.

So where, ultimately, does that leave us in terms of trading Shoppach?
If Kelly is deemed to be a luxury on this roster, would trading him weaken the team from the standpoint of depth?
Not really, as the Indians have players in the upper levels of the organization that project as backup catchers in Wyatt Toregas and Chris Gimenez. While neither Toregas or Gimenez project as much more than a serviceable backup catcher, capable of spelling the starting catcher from time to time and serving as a defensive replacement if necessary, as long as the team isn’t asking either of the 25-year-olds to sit in the middle of a lineup and put up an OPS over .800, having either on the team isn’t too much of an issue.

Are they steps down from having Shoppach as the backup?
Absolutely, but remember that prior to this year, the most AB that ShopVac had ever logged were the 161 AB he accumulated last year. So, as long as Victor is able to stay healthy (fingers crossed and knocking FIRMLY on wood) next year, the Indians should be able to carry either as a backup catcher. If reservations exist about either player’s readiness for MLB, the Indians can always re-sign Sal Fasano, or a player like Fasano, as middling veteran catchers are bountiful throughout baseball.

Beyond Toregas and Gimenez and the possibility of adding a backup catcher from the scrap heap, the addition of Carlos Santana to the organization cannot be underestimated in this decision as Santana finished his brilliant 2008 campaign in Akron and figures to top many national prospect lists for the Tribe. Santana looks to remain as a catcher with the Indians and has been compared favorably to Victor Martinez at similar stages of their development, particularly offensively. While Santana doesn’t figure into the 2009 plans, there certainly exists a possibility that he could flourish in Akron next year to merit a call-up to Columbus at some point or even factor into the Tribe’s plans as early as 2010. That, too, would figure to give the Indians enough confidence in their catching depth (and the quality of it) to consider Shoppach as more of a luxury than a necessity.

And that’s where this all comes down for me, the question of luxury versus necessity, in that Kelly Shoppach proved this year that he is a viable MLB catcher. Unfortunately for him, he did this on a team with one of the top 5 catchers in all of baseball. His 2008 put Shoppach on a short list of top offensive catchers…it just so happens that one of the names above his (because of longevity and track record) is also the name above his on the depth chart for the Tribe. Thus, he becomes more of a luxury on a roster that has holes elsewhere than a necessity as a contributor from the backup catcher position. Given that the Indians are looking to fill holes in the infield (2B or 3B), the bullpen, and the middle of the rotation, wouldn’t one HAVE to assume that the biggest chip that the Indians have to play this off-season would be Shoppach?

Trading him doesn’t create a hole on the team the way that trading a player like Peralta does in that his assumed role (that of a backup catcher) is not essential in the way that a starting IF would be. Rather trading him now, at the point that some could argue is the peak of his value given his productiveness and contract status, actually allows the Indians to FILL holes as opposed to creating them by dealing from their depth.

Could Shoppach be moved in a package for a 2B or 3B, similarly under club control for the next few years, which would shore up the infield?

What about seeing him moved to a team that may have an extra middle-of-the-rotation RHP a few years away from Free Agency?

Certainly he would net a bullpen arm – but would an established, bona-fide closer be too much to ask in return for him?

There’s no question that interest would be out there for him on the open market, particularly when you consider that he could (note the “could” not “does”) project as a middle-of-the-order hitter, particularly in the NL. Consider for a moment what type of production certain teams received from their catcher position…and know that this is not just from their regular catcher, but SEASON-LONG production from anyone who donned the tools of ignorance for them and picked up an AB:
Astros - .195 BA / .274 OBP / .279 SLG / .553 OPS with 8 HR and 48 RBI in 502 AB
Padres - .201 BA / .267 OBP / .291 SLG / .558 OPS with 8 HR and 52 RBI in 547 AB
Yankees - .234 BA / .294 OBP / .340 SLG / .634 OPS with 8 HR and 43 RBI in 526 AB

And that’s just the bottom three among the 14 teams that have not even received OPS production over .700 for the season from the catcher position. In reality, it’s easier to determine who DOESN’T need a catcher like Shoppach instead of who DOES as it can reasonably be argued that Shoppach (if his 2008 is not a mirage) would represent an offensive upgrade for every team save…say nine teams.

One of those teams, unfortunately for ShopVac and his tenure with the Tribe, is his current team and as long as he remains on the same roster as a healthy Victor Martinez, his time to take the reins as a starting catcher (something he has certainly earned this year) doesn’t figure to happen in Cleveland in 2009.
It will likely happen for him somewhere next year…just not with the Tribe.


Baltimoran said...

just from watching highlights last night, peralta was about 6 ft. away from getting too a slow ground ball to the short stop side of second base...i would love to see him play a few games at 3rd NOW with Marte on crutches last night. If he has all off season and spring training to work on it, i don't see why he couldn't be an above average 3rd basemen.
i would prefer to see vic at first with laporta looking to fill in LF...but shoppach hit 3 homeruns in the 2 games i got to this year and i love him now.
for those who worked at the south euclid pools, i had a leslie flashback as about 12 different kids said to me "your just mad cause the browns lost" when i would gave them directions on monday

Fios said...

Apart from a show of loyalty to Victor, strictly adhering to the Vic as catcher in 2009 philosophy seems foolish/bordering on obstinate to me.
First, I'm not convinced other teams would place the same value on Shoppach that we do. Why not see what Shoppach can do over the course of 600 at-bats? I just don't see the value in shipping him out given his production and his contract, nor do I see the sense in moving Victor back to a position that he'd eventually have to move out of anyway.

Paul Cousineau said...

I'm not sure that adhering to the Vic as catcher in 2009 is foolish as he's established himself as an elite catcher with his performance over the past few years and has staked his claim to return to his position.

On Shoppach, I would think that other teams ABSOLUTELY value Shoppach more than we do - namely teams that need a catcher, which we don't.

I'd love to see what he could do over a 600 AB season, but it comes down to the fact that the Indians have holes to fill and FA has not proven to be an effective avenue to fill those holes. If the team does need to fill holes without overpaying in FA, then the trade route is the option - and to get quality, you have to give up quality.

I know I'm not revealing anything new to you, but it bears revisiting that a package of The Looch, Barfield, Sowers, and Mujica isn't magically turn into Brian Roberts. Who's the most valuable player that the Tribe has that doesn't create a hole with his departure?
Shoppach...it's as simple as that.

Put some of those names above around Shoppach and you're going to get a nice player. How nice of a player? No idea, but Shoppach has turned enough heads with his performance that he'll net something of worth that can fill a hole.

As for Victor moving out from behind the dish eventually, that's true...but we're talking about next year, when Victor is still a plus C and an average 1B - offensively speaking. And as long as that's the case, you keep Victor as catcher.

rich77 said...

What about keeping Kelly and trading Vic? If you really belive that Kelly is a middle of the order hitter and not just a one year flash in the pan, wouldn't you get a LOT more for Victor? You have as mentioned several choices at 1b and back up catcher. You trade Vic and get the best deal you can for a 2b or 3b and possibly include your middle of the road RH starting pitcher. If you include some of the other EXPENDABLE parts we have, which from my point of view are many, you should be able to put together a nice tade package for your bigest needs.

Fios said...

I suppose I'm probably overly enamored with Shoppach, and I tend to forget that other GMs do pay attention, I just find the idea of Vic at first and Shoppach at catcher to be a very appealing one. However, if Kelly + X package = Roberts, I'd do that deal in a heartbeat. That's obviously not an Earth shattering revelation but I'm coming around to your POV on this, if Shoppach can net some legitimate return, the team would be stupid not to explore it.

Paul Cousineau said...

The Vic thing is certainly an intriguing subplot on this whole Shoppach thing.

I don't know that the Indians ARE convinced that Shoppach is a middle-of-the-order hitter while believing that Martinez certainly is. And crazily enough, Shoppach may be more tradeable than Victor because of his affordability as he's just hitting arbitration while Vic is owed $10.35M over the next two years with a $7M option for 2010.

The other factor which is not quantifiable is that "leadership" factor. Remember the 2 players that addressed the fans after the team clinched last year?
CC and Vic...which may mean nothing, but I think that's the answer that you'd hear from the Tribe FO.

Whether that's the best answer, or the most logical, I'd still go back to the track record thing to keep the "sure thing" with Vic and hope that they're selling high on Shoppach and he isn't just scratching the surface of what lies ahead for him.