Thursday, July 26, 2012

Adam's Ribbies

Zen cannot dispute the proof.
A paycheck is the ultimate truth.
Ethnocentric Republicans, Buddha Drives a Beemer"

Burro Grande: The free-agency game isn't played without hazards. (Nam Huh/AP)
Two years ago, White Sox GM Ken Williams famously unraveled his team in pursuit of Adam Dunn, then the lonesome slugger responsible for not only scoring but driving in all the runs for the Washington Nationals.

Williams had a .683-OPS of a Ty-D-Bol man named Mark Kotsay at DH, who was inserted in lieu of the productive Jim Thome (.933 OPS with the White Sox) at the visionary behest of manager Ozzie Guillen, who desired a 13-man player roster filled with able defenders at interchangeable positions--even the position that doesn't require defense.

With the White Sox whooshing into contention on the backs of a superior starting staff and solid bullpen, Williams wanted relief for his offense, Kotsay be designated and Guillen be damned.

New Nats GM Mike Rizzo--who had dealt in an assistant capacity with Williams before, helping to orchestrate the third-worst value deal of Williams' White Sox tenure by plucking Chris Young from the South Side--was the man in charge of moving Dunn. And smoke-to-flame direction pointed to Edwin Jackson-- a pitcher Rizzo pushed to acquire with the Diamondbacks--as the key to a Dunn deal.

Williams did his part, swapping an apparently overmatched and easily-rattled Daniel Hudson for Jackson, with the thought of flipping E Jack City to Washington for a couple of months of the Big Donkey.

But, in a decision that took Rizzo right off of KW's Christmas card list, the Nats GM began pouting, seesawing, and otherwise raising the ante on Dunn, who was almost certain to walk at the end of the season.

In the end, nobody got what they wanted. Jackson was no boobie prize, putting up 4.0 WAR in his White Sox tenure but never breaking out of the inconsistency that has seem him relegated to seven teams in less than 10 seasons. Rizzo got a White Sox first-rounder for Dunn, rather than a ready-made major leaguer plus prospects. Rizzo's former club, Arizona, did OK, coaxing 4.2 WAR from Hudson at a bargain-basement price. (Though it's fair to note 3.7 of that WAR came in the wheezing garbage time that ended the Snakes' 2010 season and just 1.4 came in last year's surprising playoff run, backhandedly confirming Williams' hunch that Hudson might not be a pressure pitcher. And DHuddy was positively awful over nine games in 2012 before succumbing to Tommy John surgery.)

Williams did end up enticing Dunn, but in a manner that might have undermined the slugger's four-year value to the White Sox. Rather than joining the club in the midst of a playoff push in 2010 (although Dunn claims he would have done everything possible to prevent moving his family in-season, not the state of mind most adaptable to instant DH production in Chicago), Dunn came in as the primo signing of the 2010 offseason. The resulting pressure (and his poor conditioning, unreadiness to DH, and, oh, a burst appendix) produced essentially the worst season in modern baseball history.

At his current pace, it will be another year or so before Dunn works himself out of the -3.1 WAR hole that 2011 placed him in, meaning that in the best case scenario, the White Sox will pay $56 million for one typical Dunn season over the course of four years.

Meanwhile, Rizzo did get his prize, Jackson, ponying up $11 million for just one year as Washington hoped for a .500 season and no unnecessary commitments in case Stephen Strasburg exploded again, or Bryce Harper responded meekly to major league pitching. Auditioning, again, for next year's contract, E Jack City is on pace now for the second-best season of his career.

Free agency is not without its hazards.

The Dirty Digits
Depending on how you slice it, Williams has done either really well in free agency (if you count commitments to his own players (i.e. re-signings, arbitration avoidance and extensions) or just OK (bringing in outside players and knowing when not to re-sign a current White Sox).

Counting all signings, Williams:

Has signed 113 players and let 34 sign with other teams.

He's signed 151.4 player seasons, giving up 42.

He's acquired 170 WAR, giving up 28.2.

The dollar value of the players he's signed is $641.2 million, while allowing $102.2 million to walk.

He's paid his signings $618.7 million in salary, while players cut loose signed for $164.9 million.

The overall surplus value--the dollar value players produced, above player salary--that Williams has signed is $22 million.

The players he's let go have produced -$62.7 million. By far the bulk of that negative value is taken up in two deals: Maggilo Ordonez's seven-year, $99.2 million contract (producing -$52.2 for the Detroit Tigers) and Bobby Jenks's two-year, $12 million deal (producing -$13.8 million for the Boston Red Sox).

If you remove White Sox re-signings and extensions from the mix, Williams has gotten just a little bit more than he's paid for:

He's signed 85.2 seasons worth of outside players, producing 54.1 WAR.

The dollar value of that WAR comes to $210.8 million, so with salary paid ($204.7 million) it leaves a surplus value of $5.6 million. 

Over 12 seasons, that means Williams' outside signings have averaged a $467,000 value to the White Sox.

Great Free Agent Signings: The Nifty Nine
These Williams deals all topped out with more than $10 million in surplus value for the White Sox.

1. December 17, 2004: White Sox claim Bobby Jenks off waivers from the Anaheim Angels.
Surplus Value: $20.9 million
We know the story; Jenks was an irresponsible mess with the Angels, a million-dollar arm in a 10-cent head. He applied just enough focus and received just enough guidance to make it to the White Sox in time to be Closer Phase III for the eventual World Series winning White Sox, which bought him five years of future tolerance from his grateful employers. Almost all of Jenks's net profit to the White Sox came in 2007 and 2008, when he was still being paid minor-league money; from 2009 on, Jenks was a terrible underperformer, and Williams dumped him on the other Sox at the right time.

2. December 11, 2002: White Sox sign Mark Buehrle to a three-year, $17.5 million contract extension.
Surplus Value: $17.5 million
That's right, in the contract that covered 2004-06, Buehrle delivered twice the value of his salary. His best season of that bunch, a 4.5 WAR in 2005, still ranks as only the fifth-best of his career.

3. January 22, 2008: White Sox sign Alexei Ramirez to a four-year, $9.9 million contract. 
Surplus Value: $16.9 million
His $5 million contract in 2012 will result in salary already catching up with Ramirez's value (an underperforming 0.8 WAR so far), so this four-year honeymoon might be the only plus-value years of the Missile's tenure on the South Side.

4. October 21, 2009: White Sox claim Alejandro De Aza off waivers from the Florida Marlins.
Surplus Value: $16.6 million
In three seasons with the White Sox--although 2012 has been the first he broke camp with the big club--De Aza has provided nearly equal value to the more ballyhooed, perennial Gold Glove candidate Ramirez. Perhaps Guillen could use De Aza now...

5. July 8, 2007: White Sox sign Mark Buehrle to a four-year, $56 million contract extension.
Surplus Value: $15.3 million
Do you get the feeling that Buehrle has given back more value than any player in White Sox history? Even as his yearly pay more than doubled, he brought back nearly as much value as his earlier extension with the White Sox. But what would turn out to be Buehrle's last contract with Chicago almost didn't happen, as a crushingly bad 2007 season lit the idea of a rebuilding effort that neither Buehrle nor the White Sox would benefit from having him around for. Of course, this "advance the core" thinking also led to an extension for Jermaine Dye (see "The Seven Stinkers," below).

6. January 17, 2006: White Sox sign Joe Crede to a one-year, $2.7 million contract to avoid arbitration.
Surplus Value: $13.6 million
This was Crede's last, great hurrah with the South Siders. He would never be the same player, or provide the White Sox with surplus value, again.

7. November 11, 2011: White Sox sign Jose Quintana to a one-year, minimum-salary contract.
Surplus Value: $12.2 million
Not even Williams or assistant GM Rick Hahn at their wisest could have forecasted such a season-saving role Quintana would have for the 2012 White Sox in lieu of the injured John Danks. As great a find as Philip Humber was in 2011, Quintana is on pace to bring even greater value to the South Side by season's end.

8. November 19 2004: White Sox sign Jon Garland to a one-year, $3.4 million contract to avoid arbitration.
Surplus Value: $11.2 million
Garland, never short on feist or pride, put money where his mouth was and led the World Series champions with 18 wins in 2005.

9. December 12, 2005: White Sox sign Jon Garland to a two-year, $17 million contract.
Surplus Value: $10.7 million
Like Buehrle, Garland took on a bigger contract and still provided more than $10 million in surplus value to the White Sox in 2006-07. 

Free Agent Busts: The Seven Stinkers
Seven of Williams' deals will live in -$10 million value-plus infamy.

1. December 3, 2010; White Sox sign Adam Dunn to a four-year, $56 million contract.
Surplus Value: -$29.9 million
The good news is that there is still plenty of time in the deal for Dunn to turn his surplus value around enough to finish in the black. The bad news is that the early returns are poor, no matter what sort of comeback season 2012 has been. Consider that Dunn's ballyhooed "three outcomes" (homer, K, walk) production compares faintly to the South Side's last slugging DH, Thome. Gentleman Jim stuck out his share of times, but a White Sox slash of .265/.391/.542 indicates he was no mere three-outcome hitter, in spite of less speed than Dunn and hitting against some of the same diamond-shifting defenses. The result was an average of 2.7 WAR in Thome's four South Side seasons; Dunn is on pace this season to tally 1.8 WAR.

2. April 1, 2006: White Sox sign Jose Contreras to a three-year, $29 million contract extension.
Surplus Value: -$21.6 million
Who could have imagined that Contreras, in the middle of the greatest stretch of his pitching career (and on as good a run as any starter has been for the White Sox in recent memory) would turn this extension through 2009 into an April Fools' joke? He fell from a 3.5 WAR in 2006 alone to a 1.7 over his last three years in Chicago combined.

3. August 10, 2009: White Sox claim Alex Rios off waivers from the Toronto Blue Jays.
Surplus Value: -$20.9
Like Dunn, Rios could easily reverse the damage caused by his poor 2009 and 2011 seasons in Chicago, and he has more time to do so. In WAR terms, Rios is basically a wash--but the White Sox have paid nearly $21 million to a consummately replaceable player so far in his time on the South Side.

4. December 8, 2009: White Sox sign Mark Teahen to a three-year, $14 million contract extension.
Surplus Value: -$14.9 million
The trade for Teahen wasn't exactly a kick in the crotch--but the sight-unseen extension from Williams, along with a gift of the third-base job, sure turned out to be. As much as having dumped the 2012 portion of the extension ($5.5 million) on the Blue Jays may satisfy Chicago's bottom line today, Williams proved much too zealous here.

5. November 30, 2005: White Sox re-sign Paul Konerko to a five-year, $60 million contract.
Surplus Value: -$14 million
As much as it's impossible to imagine the latter-day White Sox without the Captain, PK did not provide nearly a fair value back to the White Sox on this mansion-building contact bonanza. By contrast, the deal Konerko signed in 2010 has been square for both sides ($20 million so far paid, $19.4 value provided).

6. August 18, 2007: White Sox sign Jermaine Dye to a two-year, $21 million contract extension.
Surplus Value: -$11.1 million
Toward the end of a -1.9 WAR season for Dye, Williams made the bold move of keeping the band together by extending Dye--an infinitely riskier proposition than re-signing Buehrle, the GM's other in-season extension. The move looked to pay off somewhat in 2008, as Dye put up 2.4 WAR. But in 2009, Dye fell completely off the map defensively and suffered an offensive meltdown in the second half. The beloved right fielder never played again.

7. December 8, 2006: White Sox sign Mike MacDougal to a three-year, $6.1 million contract extension.
Surplus Value: -$10.9 million
Some three years to the day before Williams extended another ill-fated former Kansas City Royal, Teahen, he re-upped MacDougal. It's a testament to how terribly MacDougal would pitch from 2007-on (-1.1 WAR) that he turned a mere $6.1 million into an eight-figure value loss for the South Siders.

Part One: Williams' WAR wins.
Part Four: Who bullies Ken? (A study of GMs)
Part Five: What-ifs, and other trade miscellany.

Fine print: In many cases, exact details of cash considerations are unavailable, so educated guesses were made. Some player-for-considerations deals have been skipped or omitted. WAR data came only from Baseball-Reference, while yearly dollar/WAR values were estimated primarily from Fangraphs data. Players included in trades who never contributed at the major league level are not listed.

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