Where Do We Go From Here? 2004 (Part I: Free Agents)

Player Name (2004 salary)

Paul Byrd ($7,000,000)
Russ Ortiz ($6,200,000)
J.D. Drew ($4,200,000)
Antonio Alfonseca ($1,350,000)
Jaret Wright ($850,000)
Julio Franco ($750,000)

Last season, the Braves had four major free agents — well, three major free agents and Vinny — and didn’t make a serious effort to re-sign any of them. This season, the Braves find themselve with five major contributors, plus platoon player Franco (who was also a free agent last season but re-signed), free agents. But the situation has changes, as they aren’t expected to cut any more payroll, and they should make efforts to re-sign some of them.

Drew was the Braves’ best hitter this year, finding his health and having a career year in Atlanta. And it’s his home state. Some players would take less to stay at home where they’ve found success. These players do not have Scott Boras as an agent. Drew will want an eight-figure salary and a long-term contract, one I find it unlikely that the Braves would give. The question becomes if someone will sign Drew to such a deal. There’s still the question of his health, which might drive the price down. But the market is thin in outfielders this year, and it seems likely to me that someone will indeed give Drew a long-term deal for more than $10 million a season. And that it won’t be the Braves. They’ll make an effort, but will be outbid.

Jaret Wright had a remarkable comeback year with the Braves. I can’t imagine, however, that teams would be too eager to lock him up. He’s only done it once, of course. I also think that losing two games in the NLDS will be held against him. (That isn’t really fair, because anybody can have two bad games in a row, especially against the Astros’ offense, but it will be perceived as some massive failure.) There is the suspicion that he’s a creation of Leo Mazzone and will fail elsewhere. It may be a suspicion that he himself holds. I am guessing that he’ll get a contract more in line with what Paul Byrd got two years ago or John Thomson last year, probably for a little more money but for two, or no more than three, years. I think he’s the most likely free agent, after Julio, to stay in Atlanta.

I can’t imagine Russ Ortiz will be back in Atlanta next season. He pitched poorly down the stretch, got smashed in his postseason start, and frankly makes too much money for what he is — a middle of the rotation starter. The Braves were able to take him on because his price was fixed. But he’s going to make more money in the open market because of his impressive won/lost records — 15-9 this season, 36-16 as a Brave, 103-60 for his career — which make him look like the ace he isn’t. The Braves may bid for him, but I assume someone like the Dodgers will give him more money. He could do well in Dodger Stadium.

Paul Byrd, everyone seems convinced, will be back in Atlanta only if he takes far less money and a swingman role. Byrd was decent for the Braves this season, and gave them a needed shot in the arm in the middle of the season. But he just got paid $10 million over the last two seasons to make 19 starts, and his average start (six innings, three runs) was exceedingly average. That has value, but you aren’t going to pay $5 million a season for it. If he’s willing to take less money and a reduced role, he can be valuable.

Antonio Alfonseca was the Braves’ best reliever this season other than Smoltz — and even against Smoltz he has an argument. The major numbers are pretty impressive — 6-4, 13 holds, only one blown save, a 2.57 ERA. He was paid a relatively small sum for this. There are some troubling numbers if you look below the surface, in particular a 5.5 K/9 ratio. But his strikeout rates were never all that impressive, even when he was pitching well. The difference between good Base12 and bad Base12 has usually been the extra-base hits; this year he allowed a career-low .349 slugging percentage. He was somewhat lucky on balls in play, and he won’t put up a 2.57 ERA again, but he can be a valuable reliever as long as he isn’t giving up longballs. Will it be in Atlanta? Maybe. It depends on the market for relievers. Alfonseca’s ERA doesn’t jump out at you like, say, Chris Hammond’s did a couple of years ago. If he is back, he’ll either get a raise or a two-year contract.

Julio Franco has been on a series of one-year contracts since the Braves salvaged him from the Mexican League in 2001. I don’t see any reason that will change. The Braves will probably hand him an arbitration offer, he’ll accept, then they’ll put together a contract sometime in January. He’ll platoon with LaRoche again next year. He’s 43 hits from 2500.

Next time, the arbitration cases. Marcus Giles is going to make a lot more money next year, something to consider when you start thinking about bringing these free agents back. And will they have the audacity to non-tender Chr*s R**tsm*? I hope so.

18 thoughts on “Where Do We Go From Here? 2004 (Part I: Free Agents)”

  1. Great job Mac. I just want to add a few thing on top of your message. Armando Almanza’s contract ($500k) will also end this season. However, it is offset by the new salary of Martin ($1.4M with half the amount paid by the Dodgers).

    In respect of Marcus, I actually think he will follow the pattern of Furcal and will make around $1.5M being his first year of arbitration. Furcal, being a fifth year veteran, will actually get a higher pay raise than Giles, perhaps to around $5.5 – $6M.

    I certainly hope they will non-tender Reitsma if we cant trade him, and that will save us another $1M.

  2. Mac;
    The free agent comments were excellent. I’d like your comments, though, on the number of innings pitched by Base12 this year. Is the number significant? What can we expect to pay for comparable innings next year?
    Also; can you comment on the Managements’ abilities to make these decisions?

  3. Free agent OF:
    Beltran (already a Yankee)
    Ordonez (already a Met)
    Drew (Boras,Scott – who thinks its still 2000 and 252 million dollar contracts are falling out of the trees)
    Alou (38 coming off a near career year)
    Hildago (uhhhh, no)
    Dye (the A’s paid him 11 million last year?)
    Bautista (only 11 Hr at the BOB?)
    Carl Everett (yeah right)
    Burnitz (warning Will Robinson, Coors Effect!)

    I think Drew is a goner. Someone will overpay him to the tune of 10 to 12 million per year. Man he is a great player. I loved watching him play. The others aren’t worth considering and I don’t think that even that the magic dust that Schuerholz uses can make a star outfielder of Langerhans, Marrero or Thomas. I think that a creative trade will have to be used to acquire a quality hitter for right field.

    I’m not convinced that Wright can be our #1. He pitched great, but one good year doesn’t a 120 million contract make except if you are Mike Hampton(ok so he had 2 good years). I still think that the Braves should make every attempt to re sign him unless the price gets ridiculous. John Thompson money makes sense to me.

    I agree with you that Ortiz pitched himself off of the Braves the last part of the season. His 20 win season was the product of great run support.

    Byrd. Ok for a 3rd or 4th starter but not at 7 mil per year. Again 3.5 or what Thompson makes for one year with an option.

    The starting pitcher Free Agents are intriguing. Would the Braves make a run at Pavano? With Hampton, Thompson and Ramirez returning and if we get Wright do we need a high priced arm? Do we try to lure Millwood back home to see if Leo can resurrect his career? Can someone tame Juan Cruz enough to get him to fulfill his promise? Will the Braves just decide to ‘use up’ Smoltz who will be 38 and on the last year of his contract? Hmmmm.

    Alfonseca – God did we rag on him at the beginning of the season. Must have been the hangover from Roberto Hernandez. I dunno. Is 1.35 too much for a 7th or 8th inning pitcher? Does the Schuerholz magic dust wear off after one season? Aren’t there arms in the system capable of pitching the 7th inning?

    Julio – We’ll bring him back. He’ll either pinch hit or platoon. Either way he is a nice asset for the team.

  4. I don’t think Alfonseca’s innings are that big of a concern. He threw fewer than R**tsm* or Smoltz, and just 1 2/3 more than Cruz. It’s a pretty standard workload for a main middle reliever.

    I chose to leave out Almanza because it was clear that the Braves have no interest in him beyond a possible NRI — and probably not that much. The savings aren’t totally insignificant, but not too great. You have to pay whoever you bring in at least $300K anyway.

    The best comp I can come up with for Marcus is Jose Vidro. In Vidro’s first arb year he got $2.5 million. Vidro had made the All-Star team headed into arbitration, while Marcus made it the season before. Still, that’s probably pretty close.

  5. Chr*s R**tsm* will go to the yankees next year and start. and win CY young.. and the braves will be cursed forever…….

    Or not.

  6. Dye (the A’s paid him 11 million last year?)

    Dye’s intriguing. I imagine he won’t be too costly. At this point I view him sort of like Drew last year, albeit with less upside. He’s fought injuries the last few years. He may be due for a rebound, and might be worth a flier for a low-price, incentive-laden contract.

    >>Byrd. Ok for a 3rd or 4th starter but not at 7 mil per year. Again 3.5 or what Thompson makes for one year with an option.

  7. I thought Reitsma had signed a two year contract when they got him last spring. So, the Braves would be stuck with him for another year. Am I incorrect about that?

    The most logical thing to me is that the Braves trade Andruw and make a real push to re-sign Drew. They’re about the same age but Drew is a much more consistent hitter (despite what happened in the NLDS). It’s pretty clear that Andruw is unlikely ever to be a dominant offensive player. And he’s making $12.5 million so, a big Druw contract would be no worse than Andruw. Drew could possibly move to center and they could look for a corner outfielder. Andruw probably has some significant trade value so they might be able to get a pitcher or corner outfielder in return.

    I doubt they will make a run at any significant free agent. They haven’t done that in years and someone like Pavano would be very expensive. I do think the Braves need to upgrade the pitching; they need some power arms, at least if they want to have a shot in October. I still advocate giving Cruz a shot.

    Middle relievers are pretty interchangeable; they have a good year then they have a bad year. Hammond has never repeated the success he had in 2002. They will probably try to resign Alfonseca but not at big money.

  8. I’m jumping the gun on Mac’s arbitration entry, but one of the factors that arbitrators look for is: Are there comparable recent players, and how much did they earn with similar service time?

    There’s a great recent parallel with Giles, and it’s Jose Vidro. Generally speaking, both gave mediocre part-time performances in their first two seasons, before making big jumps in full-time production in their next two. Giles is a year older at the same career juncture (4-year vet), but their age-25 seasons are amazingly similar:

    http://www.baseball-reference.com/g/gilesma01.shtml

    http://www.baseball-reference.com/v/vidrojo01.shtml

    Now scroll to the bottom right of the Vidro page, and you’ll see he went from $340K to $2.5M in year 5. Montreal signed him to a 4-year contract after the 2000 season, so this wasn’t an arbitration case, but I’m sure all parties knew the range of $$ that an arbitrator would be expected to reward, had they chosen that route.

    I expect (and hope) the Braves take a similar approach with Giles. The goal of a long-term contract at this stage is not to save $$ during the arbitration years, it’s to lock him up at below-market value for the first couple years of free-agency eligibility. So maybe a 4-year deal looking something like this:

    $2.75M
    $4.25M
    $6M
    $7M

    So, 4 years, $20 million. Thoughts?

  9. Of course, now I look at the comments and see that Mac has already invoked Vidro. The man just can’t be scooped!

  10. My prediction for the 2005 Braves outfiled is Chipper in left again with Marte at 3B, Andruw in Center and Marrero/Thomas in right. I think both Marrero and Thomas deserve another shot, they are cheap and capable of playing right as well as left. Plus, that would leave the Braves all the Drew money to play with. With Boras being his agent, he will be gone for sure.

  11. Mac, I think you don’t give enough credit to dumb GMs who will overpay for any perceived performance. Look at the contract that John Burkett signed after Leo revived *his* career: 2 years, 8 million at age 37+. Even Chris Hammond got 2 years 6 million or so. I would guesstimate Wright would get at least 5 million per year.

    The guy we need to sign is Matt Clement, but there is little chance of that happening. Oh well! Maybe we can trade all of our prospects for Ben Sheets as I once suggested… not likely. I hope Kyle Davies turns out well.

  12. Putting Charles Thomas in RF is a guarentee of roughly 3,423,654 runners taking the extra base.

    Off topic: Mac, I’ll be in Northport this weekend at the Kentuck Arts Festival. Any chance of meeting you there?

  13. Sorry, I will be decompressing after working nights all week. Can I sleep for 48 hours straight? Probably not. But I’m betting I can sleep more than I’m awake.

  14. The only thing I can add is that I think the Braves will offer Wright and Drew arbitration. Their current salaries are relatively low and I don’t see how Boras can (honestly) demand $10 million per for JD given his injury-plagued past. But Boras has surprised me in the past.

    I think the fact that the most Wright could reasonably ask for is $5 million per year and that the Braves could weasel him down to $4 million by low-balling an offer going into arbitration.

    Alf surprised the heck out of me. I rarely dog JS, but I did after that signing. Alf throws some serious stuff, but a lot of the time the ball moves so much it looks like a 90 mph knuckleball. Trouble is, it kills his control. I still don’t trust him enough to handle the 8th. I think Colon, Capellan, and Cruz are all going to get a look at the set-up slot.

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  16. will the braves make a run at Kevin Brown?I heard the braves were talking to Jaque Jones if they got him that would be a good arm in right ot take Drew’s place and i think he has better speed than Drew does and he is a number 2 hitter and then they could move Giles to third in the lineup and move Chipper to clean-up.Will the Marlins trade Pavano to the Braves for Wright and some procpects?I heard that the braves were looking at farnsworth?He coukd solve your closer problems if Smoltz’s moves into the rotation!

    thanks,
    michael pilcher
    age:14

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