Wednesday, July 15, 2009

El Capitan, Mi Capitan

In case you missed it in the midst of a nice couple of days of reprieve from Cleveland Indians baseball with the All-Star Break, El Capitan made the declaration in St. Louis that he wants to “retire as an Indian”…and suddenly, just when I thought it was time to take a load off for a couple of days, we’re off in that direction talking about some very serious topics regarding the future make-up of this team.

Firstly, let’s get the emotions related to this idea right out in the open – Victor is El Capitan, he is quickly becoming the “face of the franchise” and perhaps the most popular player on the team (at least among fans not in the 18-25 female demographic who have another favorite), he has become the linchpin in the Indians’ batting order, and he has done all of this while growing up and maturing as a Cleveland Indian before our very eyes.

Victor is awesome…Victor is the embodiment of the Cleveland Indians…in the ultimate gesture of acceptance, he’s graduated to the one-name universe on the North Coast, known simply as “Victor”.

OK, all that is out on the table right?
Now clear off that table and let’s remove emotion from this discussion and talk about extending Victor Martinez in very real, tangible terms as to how he fits on this team past his 2010 contract and what extending would mean, monetarily, to the Indians.

Take away emotion?
But he’s Victor!
I know, but let’s look at this situation rationally without getting all tied up in the emotional aspects (which do play a role, but not as large a role as other factors) when examining the prudence of extending Victor past 2010.

With emotion removed from the equation, the biggest factor in extending Vic past the 2010 season is position and the players that are currently in the organization that would seem to be jockeying for the C or 1B position that Victor would almost certainly play. This is relevant because, inarguably, the Indians’ 4 best position player prospects playing at AA or above are:
Carlos Santana – AA Catcher
Matt LaPorta – AAA 1B/LF
Mike Brantley – AAA LF/CF
Nick Weglarz – AA LF/1B

Obviously, these names represent prospects and prospects are just that, but the positions that they play may hold the key as to how prudent it is to extend Victor seeing as how all four of these players figure into 2011 plans at the very latest and each impacts a position that Victor could find himself playing.

That is, if Santana starts 2010 in AAA and works his way up to the parent club at some point next year or stands at the precipice when 2010 ends, one would think that he’s our starting catcher in 2011, which is the year that Victor is presently no longer under contract with the Indians.

If Santana’s behind the dish (and yes, a lot can go wrong between now and then), then the logical move is to put Victor at 1B, where he has already started to slide, right?

Absolutely, at least in the short-term as LaPorta’s ability to play LF certainly gives the Indians some great flexibility there as to where he ends up and an outfield of LaPorta, Sizemore, and Choo is certainly one that everyone can get behind (like a month ago) with Victor logging much of the time at 1B or bouncing back and forth between C and 1B.

But the eventuality of a Santana-C, Victor-1B, LaPorta-LF equation is not as simple as it looks when you factor in the arrival of Brantley and, later, Weglarz to play either LF (as Sizemore and Choo aren’t going anywhere) or LF/1B in Wegz’s case. When either of those two arrives, LaPorta’s flexibility to man 1B suddenly opens a spot up for either to play LF on an everyday, but it also takes 1B out of the equation for Martinez in the long-term.

Assuming then, that the development of Santana, LaPorta, Brantley, and Weglarz continue, you’re talking about four players for three positions (C, 1B, LF) with two of those positions being the ones that Martinez would figure to play. Of course, the giant caveat in this is that prospects are not 100% guaranteed to continue to develop, to meet expectations, or even to stay healthy and on their current career path.

That being said though, the Indians have to weigh the potential and projectability of these players (taking into account their affordability as young players at the same time) when determining whether committing more years and dollars to Martinez past 2010 is a sound baseball and financial decision.

While weighing the potential of those young players, it’s important to note that Martinez’s value diminishes somewhat as a 1B, mainly because his bat is exceptional as a C but becomes merely average as a 1B if you’re talking about comparing it to the AL average for the two positions:
2009 AL Average – 1B
.272 BA / .356 OBP / .488 SLG / .844 OPS

2009 AL Average – C
.251 BA/ .312 OBP / .403 SLG / .715 OPS

Why is this relevant?
Victor Martinez
2004 - .283 BA / .359 OBP / .492 SLG / .851 OPS
2005 - .305 BA / .378 OBP / .475 SLG / .853 OPS
2006 - .316 BA / .391 OBP / .465 SLG / .856 OPS
2007 - .301 BA / .374 OBP / .505 SLG / .879 OPS
2009 - .294 BA / .374 OBP / .485 SLG/ .859 OPS
I’ve excluded his 2008 injury-riddled and other than seeing that Victor is frighteningly consistent in terms of production and has put up quite a body of work over the last six years, see how those numbers are about average for a 1B in the AL, but spectacular among C in the AL?

Of course, it’s possible that his numbers would improve greatly if he became a full-time 1B and was able to avoid the wear and tear of catching everyday…but it’s also just as possible as the “wear and tear” of those years of catching simply taking their toll on Victor at this point, making the transition negligible in terms of production.

Regardless of whether his numbers would improve as a full-time 1B, the other mitigating factor in the possibility of Martinez being extended is the lack of DH as an option for Martinez (or any of these other players) to eventually slide into in terms of where he could go once (or is it if) this young talent arrives from the farm is blocked by the presence of Travis Hafner on the roster, both in terms of him being only able to DH and the fact that he’s signed through 2012 at some pretty big numbers.

In case you forgot, the Indians are still on the hook for these numbers for Hafner after Martinez’s contract runs out:
2011 - $13M
2012 - $13M
2013 - $13M club option ($2.75M buyout)

Those dollar amounts are relevant not only because they more or less guarantee that DH is out of play as an option for Victor if the youngsters arrive ready to contribute, but also to illustrate the downside of extending players past their arbitration years, regardless of recent performance.

In case you forget, prior to signing that deal when he had just turned 30 a month earlier in 2007, Hafner had compiled a three-year line of .308 BA / .419 OBP / .611 SLG / 1.030 OPS from 2004 to 2006.

Since signing that deal (and I’m including the whole 2007 season even though he signed the extension in July of 2007), Hafner’s posted a line of .254 BA / .368 OBP / .438 SLG / .806 OPS from 2007 on as the large dollar amounts kicked in for the Indians’ DH.

This isn’t brought up to pour salt in open wounds that everyone’s aware of or to pile on Hafner, for whom injuries have certainly played a role in his downturn. Rather, I put them out there to illustrate the fact that Hafner’s performance prior to his extension was elite among all MLB, certainly justifying Hafner’s contract if the assumption is that Hafner would continue on the path he was walking, even if it were with slightly diminished returns as he aged. The idea being, when Hafner was extended, that Hafner would solidify the middle of the lineup for years, providing stability for the team to build around in the lineup.

How does that look just 24 months later?

And that’s where this comes back to the wisdom in extending Victor, who will turn 31 this December, the same 31 years old that he will be when his contract expires at the end of the 2010 season. Let’s say for a moment that the Indians decide to extend Victor at a dollar amount like $8M (which would be below market value), which means that (with Hafner) the team would have more than $20M tied up in two players, in their 30’s, whose best positions at that point are going to be 1B and DH with the very real possibility that Hafner’s contract becoming more of an albatross than it already is given the still-burgeoning uncertainty about his health. If the extension were to add another three to four years to Martinez’s deal, the Indians are now paying for the production from Victor ages 32 through 35 at a much higher rate and with the knowledge that players do not typically “peak” during these years.

Ultimately, the prudence in extending Martinez is certainly not an open and shut debate given the depth behind him and the dollars already committed on this roster to a defensively limited player with a track record that justified guaranteeing more years and dollars to “one of their own”.

Does that mean that Victor should be traded now?
Not unless you think that Shoppach, Garko, and LaPorta can hold the fort down until Santana and Brantley arrive and thrive in MLB with no significant drop-off in production in Victor’s absence if he were to be traded.

But given the Indians’ depth on offense (and particularly at the positions that Martinez figures to man going forward), the Indians may be best served to use that depth at C/1B/LF to net some arms that are sorely lacking in the organization at some point in the near furture, particularly at the upper levels.

Would that “depth” include Victor?
Certainly, but it could just as easily mean one of those other names listed above (like Weglarz), though it would represent a sharp departure in strategy in going with the higher-dollar, older player over the younger, under-club-control player, particularly with other glaring holes on this team.

But bringing the emotion back into the equation, a “sharp departure” from thinking could be what keeps Martinez around under an extension, given his unquestioned importance to the organization and his leadership to the team, with the Indians using some of the depth that could be considered replacements for Martinez’s bat in the lineup as fungible assets to inject the system with more arms.

How big of a role emotion plays into the decision remains to be seen as we’ve all learned that memories are a great thing, but that creating new memories are even better and that past results do not guarantee future performance.

If you’re dealing with emotion out of the equation, extending Victor doesn’t make a lot of sense for the Indians, particularly if they hold onto the players below Martinez on the depth chart.

If you’re factoring in emotion, fan reaction, the idea of rewarding Victor for past contributions and hoping that he can continue to remain relatively healthy and productive, the decision is not as cut and dry.

Plus…it is Victor, after all.


Alex Trebek said...

If only Victor could pitch.

Hyde said...

I think emotion is part of the reason that Hafner was extended, since it never made any sense for a middle-market team to invest that sort of money in a DH, especially considering there were already a few troublesome signs in his play at the time the new deal was agreed to.

I like Victor, but as I have said here before, I just don't see him as irreplaceable in the same way that Manny Ramirez and C.C. Sabathia were. The entire idea behind Mark Shapiro's mostly nonexistent "plan" was that young, cheap replacements would have to come through the pipeline regularly so that the big money could be spent on the truly special players and/or on veteran free agents at those positions where the farm hadn't come through. C and 1B are among the few areas where we have multiple prospects. To me, this is an easy call, and that's leaving aside who we might be able to get in a deal for Martinez.

And as far as his leadership goes, the Indians can have the worst record in the AL with Pee Wee Herman as their de facto captain.

Les Savy Ferd said...

Hmmm, an excellent, thoughtful post.

If the "Carmona Dilemma" was this year's primary line of inquiry in determining the team's success surely the "Martinextension" will be one of next year's, assuming he isn't traded later this month.

I tend to fall with the case of Mr Hyde.

For me, if the team were playing very well right now, and contending, you would err on the side of caution and retain Martinez who has proved himself consistently effective, even if that meant rewarding him with years that may not be incredibly productive as the tools of ignorance will take their toll.

But the Indians are not a good ballclub. Their pitching staff is not in good shape. I think if moves are to be made they can be made a little more aggressively, since if something doesn't pan out, we'd be going from bad to bad, or possibly even bad to sorta bad, instead of falling from contention.

I have to believe the hype with Carlos, and assume he will be a very good MLB C. I would be fine with him not even approaching Victor's level of production which is something pretty much nobody does anyway, right?

But trading Victor would

a) net us an arm or three. It HAS to.
b) free up 1B for Laporta, who, if he doesn't shine will be a very BIG reason this team does not succeed in the near future.
c) which in turn frees up that last OF slot/ and or allows someone like Wegz to man 1B.

Point being we have (shudder) waves of fresh, talented bats coming up into an already very very good offense. But the arms ain't coming, not from within. And if Victor's is the face that launches 1,000 pitching prospect ships, well, I guess I have to be OK with that.

plus, imagine:
CF: Sizemore
RF: Choo
LF: Laporta
3B: Jhonny, Er... Marte?
SS: Cabrera
2B: Valbuena
1B: Wegz
DH: Hafner

That's a championship caliber line-up combined with a decent backstop.

Brian said...

I definitely agree, Les Savy Ferd, except I would but Hodges/Chisenhall at 3rd (trade Jhonny once he gets value) and I would switch LaPorta and Weglarz. I think LaPorta's better defense at first base makes up for the small drop you would get with Wegz in left. Plus, Wegz has played LF for his entire career, if I am not mistaken; Mills is manning first this season in Akron.

The A.G.B said...

First the butt-kissing: awesome, well-written post.

Now the belly-aching: Don't you dare take away my Victor.

Adam A said...

So keeping things to the point, why haven't the Indians looked at Martinez as a long-term DH solution over Hafner? I love both the players and the leadership they bring to the team, but you run the lines and Vic is heads-and-shoulders a better producer... even, as it seems, in the midst of injuries.

Take Les' lineup, and switch Haf out:

CF: Sizemore
RF: Choo
LF: Wegz
3B: Marte/Hodges/Chisenall
SS: Cabrera
2B: Valbuena
1B: Laporta
C: Santana
DH: Martinez

Bench: all the others spoken of previously

That to me is an even better offensive juggernaut. In the end, this strikes me as a guy that has veteran leadership AND offensive upside. Blake and Nixon, two guys who had the former didn't have the same upswing in offense.

On a completely unrelated note, I'm calling the 2010 skipper as none other than Albert "I'll probably punch your baby" Bell. Discuss amongst yourselves :)

Unknown said...

Great article Paul, as always. You have a knack for bringing up the crucial topics at a given time, as Victor's quote stating his desire to remain in Cleveland has caught the message boards aflame this past week.

Rationality tells me to trade Vic, emotion tells me to keep him. He's my favorite player now, but will that be the case when he's putting up a .750 OPS in 2011? Or will he age better than that?

Tough, tough call. I'm glad I'm not the one who has to make it.

Paul Cousineau said...

That "get rid of Hafner" idea is great...until you realize that he can only be moved to an AL team and one that is willing to assume a $13M annual contract for the next few years for what could be a part-time player.

Until that match can be found, Vic at DH isn't an option.

Andreas said...

I tried to do some research to evaluate one big category (esimated drop-off in production due to age) so get ready for a lot of numbers!
Based on mlb and espn I compared stats of some (active) Catchers to check IF one can assume a noteworthy reduced production in their 30s. There are five other Catchers over the age of 30 who accordingly to espn qualify to be compared to Victor this season:

A.J. Pierzynski (turned 30 in: 2006)
2007 - .263 BA / .309 OBP / .403 SLG / .712 OPS
2008 - .281 BA / .312 OBP / .416 SLG / .728 OPS
2009 - .299 BA / .327 OBP / .461 SLG / .788 OPS

Bengie Molina (2004)
2005 - .295 BA / .336 OBP / .446 SLG / .782 OPS
2006 - .284 BA / .319 OBP / .467 SLG / .786 OPS
2007 - .276 BA / .298 OBP / .433 SLG / .731 OPS
2008 - .292 BA / .322 OBP / .455 SLG / .767 OPS
2009 - .264 BA / .269 OBP / .439 SLG / .708 OPS

Ramon Hernandez (2006)
2007 - .258 BA / .333 OBP / .382 SLG / .715 OPS
2008 - .257 BA / .308 OBP / .406 SLG / .714 OPS
2009 - .249 BA / .330 OBP / .355 SLG / .685 OPS

Jason Varitek (2002)
2003 - .273 BA / .351 OBP / .512 SLG / .863 OPS
2004 - .296 BA / .390 OBP / .482 SLG / .872 OPS
2005 - .281 BA / .366 OBP / .489 SLG / .855 OPS
2006 - .238 BA / .325 OBP / .400 SLG / .725 OPS
2007 - .255 BA / .367 OBP / .421 SLG / .788 OPS
2008 - .220 BA / .313 OBP / .359 SLG / .672 OPS
2009 - .239 BA / .348 OBP / .478 SLG / .826 OPS

Jason Kendall (2004)
2005 - .271 BA / .345 OBP / .321 SLG / .666 OPS
2006 - .295 BA / .367 OBP / .342 SLG / .709 OPS
2007 - .242 BA / .301 OBP / .309 SLG / .616 OPS
2008 - .246 BA / .327 OBP / .324 SLG / .651 OPS
2009 - .237 BA / .327 OBP / .379 SLG / .606 OPS

For the sake of the argument I added:
Jorge Posada (2001)
2002 - .268 BA / .370 OBP / .408 SLG / .838 OPS
2003 - .281 BA / .405 OBP / .518 SLG / .923 OPS
2004 - .272 BA / .400 OBP / .481 SLG / .881 OPS
2005 - .262 BA / .352 OBP / .430 SLG / .782 OPS
2006 - .277 BA / .374 OBP / .492 SLG / .866 OPS
2007 - .338 BA / .426 OBP / .543 SLG / .969 OPS
2008 - .268 BA / .364 OBP / .411 SLG / .735 OPS
2009 - .285 BA / .369 OBP / .508 SLG / .877 OPS

Ivan Rodriguez (2001)
2003 - .297 BA / .369 OBP / .474 SLG / .843 OPS
2004 - .334 BA / .383 OBP / .510 SLG / .893 OPS
2005 - .276 BA / .290 OBP / .444 SLG / .734 OPS
2006 - .300 BA / .332 OBP / .437 SLG / .769 OPS
2007 - .281 BA / .294 OBP / .420 SLG / .714 OPS
2008 - .276 BA / .319 OBP / .394 SLG / .713 OPS
2009 - .245 BA / .278 OBP / .392 SLG / .670 OPS

So, what gives?
You can do your own interpretation but based on these numbers there is very little hindsight to assume a lack of production from Victor which should lead to trading him. Apart from the example of Kendall (who had his prime-numbers during his 20-somethings), Variteks numbers are in clear decline since he's 34 and he still provides the RedSox with something and we can at least expect something similar from an aging Victor. I would expect Victors's numbers to be in the range between Pierzynski and be continued...

Andreas said...

Last part:

And how much would that be worth??
I checked some contracts via Cot's Baseball Contracts:
Pierzynski: 2008-2010, 3 years, $18.35M
Posada: 2008-2011, 4 years, $52.4M
Pudge: 1 year, $1.5M plus performance bonus
B. Molina: 2007-2009, 3 years, $16M
Kendall: 1 year, $4.25M
Varitek: 1 year plus option for 2010, $5M – before that: 2005-2008, 4 years, $40M
R. Hernandez: 2006-2009 plus option for 2010, 4 years, $27,5M
Joe Mauer: 2007-2010, 4 years, $33M
Kenji Johjima: 2009-2011, 3 years, $24M

Paul mentioned 8M per year would be "below average"...which I doubt. I would assume it may also come down to contract-length...and we know how that may end (names of a few former Indians who left for elsewhere come to mind).

As for the inner-organisational depth at C/1B I would say: Keep Santana and trade some youngster in a package-deal (Peralta! Betancourt!) for pitching. Speaking of committed $ and possible blocked positions, as we know our DH is all but a lock. So in a perfect world Pronk will return to his pre-2008 self which I doubt. So true, we owe him big and could only buy him out after 2012 and even when up to then a few fat contracts have expired and Sizemore's contract with $7.5M expires after 2011 (with an $8.5M option for 2012) would be quite a lot $$ invested in Victor and Pronk alone. So that will remain an issue, maybe THE issue...

Well, and now I haven't even mentioned the „emotional side“ of this subject...