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December 2011

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COMMENTS

Going Selling – Part One

Written by , Posted in General

For Sale

To this point, Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer have largely played the middle ground this offseason by signing David DeJesus to a two year, $10 million contract and trading Tyler Colvin and D.J. LeMahieu to the Rockies for Ian Stewart and Casey Weathers.  On the one hand, they have not brought in a big money free agent like Albert Pujols or Prince Fielder, nor did they place the winning bid on Japanese pitcher Yu Darvish (for those of you who did not here, the Rangers won with a posting fee of $51.7 million.)  On the other hand, they have not traded any of their significant contributors from 2011.

Many of those players could be traded for prospects.  The key to trading away established players for prospects, though, is determining which of your assets are currently overvalued and which are currently undervalued.  As with nearly all things economic, timing is everything.

Looking at the Cubs’ roster and the way free agency has gone so far this year, there are some Cub veterans who may be overvalued by the market.  But there are also players who not only may be undervalued by the market, but might become significantly more valuable as the season goes along.  In this post, I will examine a few players I think the Cubs should be trying to sell now.  Next week, my attention will turn to players I think the Cubs might receive better value for as the season progresses.

Sean Marshall-  The Cubs’ left handed setup man has been one of the best relievers in baseball over the past two seasons.  In 2010, Marshall posted a 2.65 ERA while striking out 10.65 batters per nine innings and walking only 3 batters per nine innings, good for a 2.2 fWAR.  Marshall was even better in 2011, with a 2.26 ERA.  While Marshall’s K/9 dropped slightly to 9.40, his BB/9 also dropped to an excellent 2.02, and Marshall’s fWAR increased to 2.8.  Sean Marshall is also the only relief pitcher in baseball to be in the top 6 in relief pitcher fWAR in both 2010 and 2011.

Marshall is signed for $3.1 million in 2012 and will hit free agency after the season at age 30.  If Marshall puts up another season like his last two, he will be one of the best paid relievers in baseball starting in 2013.

While some teams are getting wise to the fact that relievers are volatile and often have very short peaks, some teams clearly continue to overvalue relief pitchers with track records of success, evidenced by the large contracts the Phillies and Marlins gave to Jonathan Papelbon and Heath Bell.  There are almost certainly teams that would be willing to overpay in prospects for a reliever with Marshall’s pedigree and reasonable salary.  And while Marshall has been great this season, a great bullpen is not likely to turn the Cubs into contenders in 2012, and the Cubs have some minor league depth in the left handed reliever category.

My one caveat to trading Sean Marshall now would be if the Cubs were thinking of moving him to the starting rotation.  Without argument, if Marshall succeeded as a starting pitcher his trade value would skyrocket.  However, I have not heard any concrete information that the Cubs are intending to use Marshall anywhere aside from out of the bullpen.

Carlos Marmol- The Cubs’ closer over the past two and a half seasons has been an image of inconsistency.  Marmol strikes out nearly a batter and a half per inning with a career 11.74 K/9, but also issues a ton of walks (5.88 career BB/9).

I do not think Marmol will have quite the range of teams interested in him that would be interested in Marshall, largely because Marmol is signed for $16.8 million over the next two seasons.  However, there are probably at least a few teams who have a hole in the ninth inning who would prefer an “established closer” like Marmol over a guy like Marshall who has never closed regularly.  I would disagree with those teams, but would be very happy to see the Cubs take advantage of any team’s irrational love for the save statistic to pick up some good prospects for Marmol.

Marmol had a down year last season (4.01 ERA, 0.8 fWAR) after having an excellent 2010 (2.55 ERA, 3.0 fWAR).  Usually, you do not want to trade a player coming off a down year because his value is depressed.  I think the situation is different in Marmol’s situation because his career has been one of streaky inconsistency.  As such, I doubt Marmol will add significant value with a hot first half, because a front office worth anything near its weight would have to know a week where Marmol cannot find the strike zone could arrive at any time.  If the Cubs can get a fair return for their inconsistent closer, they should take it now.  I would not expect the Cubs to get as good a return for Marmol as they would for Marshall.

Darwin Barney- I know what you are thinking.  Darwin Barney?  I will wholeheartedly admit that he is an individual with fairly limited trade value at best.  But look at the light hitting, strong fielding middle infielder free agents who have signed contracts this offseason.  Clint Barmes, Jamey Carroll, Mark Ellis, Nick Punto and John McDonald all received multiyear contracts averaging more than $1 million a year before Prince Fielder has been able to find a home.

I also think odds are pretty good that Barney’s value is only going to go decrease as 2012 progresses.  If not for a hot April, Darwin Barney would have been an unmitigated offensive black hole last season.  As a player with extremely limited power and who does not walk, Barney does not have significant offensive upside.  If I had to bet, I would put money on Darwin Barney being relegated to a back up middle infielder role with the Cubs by the end of May.  If there is a team that is more highly enamored with Barney right now, the Cubs should find that team and get something more useful in return.

As a final note, I will also just mention Matt Garza.  I did not originally intend to include him on either list, because I think his value is more tenuous.   However, rumors of Garza potentially being traded in a deal that would net the Cubs a prospect package headlined by Padres first baseman Anthony Rizzo have sprung up over the past few days, so I thought he was worth a mention.  Garza is only getting more expensive and coming closer to free agency with each passing season.  But Garza’s last season was by far his best, and the first where he came close to the ace potential he has been rumored to have.  If Garza has a first half of 2012 similar to his performance last season, his value could definitely increase heading into the mid-season trade market.  But if he reverts back to his Tampa Bay type of numbers, his value on the trade market will take a big hit.

  • Norm

    Agree with you.
    If you dont think the Cubs can compete in 2012, trade Garza for guys that are under cheap team control far into the future

  • Jedi

    Garza’s final three years with the Rays were very similar to his 2011 campaign with the Cubs. For 4 years he’s been as consistent as you can expect from a pitcher. If his trade value is on the decline it has more to do with his contract situation (lack of team control via arbitration) than on-the-field performance.

  • Noah

    Jedi, you and I seem to be disagreeing on player analysis even more than usual lately! I think a deeper look into Garza’s numbers shows that he was a significantly improved pitcher in 2011. If it was just an ERA drop from being in the high 3’s to the low 3’s, I’d say it was probably just moving from the AL East to the NL Central, but I think there’s more to it.

    In the AL East, Garza generally put up an ERA better than his peripherals. As a Ray his ERA was generally about a quarter to a half a run lower than his FIP and xFIP (always in the low to mid 4s in Tampa), which better take into account things like defense and park effects. In Tampa, was the beneficiary of a large home park and a good defense.

    In Chicago, however, he played in a more homer friendly home park and in front of a bad defense, so his ERA was worse than his FIP and xFIP. Last season Garza posted a 2.95 FIP and 3.19 xFIP, but a 3.32 ERA.

    Garza also changed the way he pitched last season. In Tampa, he threw the fastball about 72% of the time. Last season, he only threw the fastball 53.4% of the time, relying much more on his slider and change up in particular (his curveball only saw a slight uptick in usage). I think this change in approach is a strong suspect for the reason he both induced a lot more groundballs in 2011 than he did as a Ray and gave up significantly less home runs than he did as a Ray.

    Clearly time will be the truest indicator on Garza, but to me it appears that he had both an improved approach and improved results in 2011.

  • Buddy

    I’d take a bag of baseballs for Darwin Barney.

  • I’d take a baseball bag containing Vince the midget firefighter for Darwin Barney. Vince and Fast Tony could star in a sitcom called “It’s Lookin’ Up!’ They would play roommates who both overcame physical disabilities with moxie, but get pulled into various hi-jinx by their wacky neighbor (played by Don Knotts.)

  • Timo

    Getting some prospects in return for Marmol would be great. It looks like he will not increase his value in 2012 and the Cubs might not need a closer in the near future. A team that is not in contention who cares for a couple of lost SO?
    So who ever is willing to give up a decent pitching prospect take Marmol please.
    ~
    I am absolutely not for trading Marshall. He is a very good a setup pitcher and he is really cheap right now. Given that Marmol leaves we would (most likely) Wood and Marshall hat the end of a winning game ball game we don’t need him.
    But Marshall should not be put back in the starting rotation. His breaking balls gets killed the 2nd or 3rd time through a lineup to often. So I really count on the coaches to keep up his value and use him as a setup man.
    ~
    Since we have Baker we don’t need Barney. So if someone is willing to give up a guy with some potential e.g. decent minor leaguer trade him.
    ~
    When it comes to Garza: Only trade if we get really good pitching prospects, but I don’t see anyone giving up more than the Cubs gave up last year and then the trade is not worth Gaza.
    Keep Garza and think about trading him at the deadline if the offers might be much better.

  • Jedi

    Right so if you ignore all his other stats and focus only on FIP then he’s attained some other level of success. I assume you’re using the Fangraphs number that doesn’t adjust the FIP between leagues. Most of his other numbers over 4 seasons are quite comparable; his VORP and WARP numbers for 2009 and 2011 are very similar…he’s been a good pitcher since he got to Tampa Bay. One year of a slightly lower FIP isn’t anything to get too excited about…his FIP will probably be in the mid 3s next year.

  • Noah Eisner

    But I don’t only focus on FIP or xFIP, but also the peripherals that make up those numbers. So I’m looking at K/9 (career high in 2011), BB/9 (stayed in line with career bests, and the only other year he had a K/9 over 8, which was 2009, also saw a career high BB/9 from Garza at 3.50), GB% (best since leaving the Twins after 2007) and HR/FB (career best). However, much as you point to his BP VORP and WARP numbers, which are ballpark and league adjusted, are not adjusted for the quality of defense behind the pitcher, which is precisely why I prefer FanGraphs, which uses FIP as the basis for their WAR calculations instead of a runs allowed calculus.

    Also, FIP and xFIPs that are BOTH a full run lower could be significant. If it was just the FIP but not the xFIP to see a significant decrease, that would be a big indication it was just a HR/FB drop. But xFIP normalizes the HR/FB number, making it a more predictive number.

    If Garza is just a 2.9 wins above replacement player at his very best, as BP believes, the Cubs should be more than willing to trade him.

  • Clearly.

  • Buddy

    Jessep: Are we clear?
    Kaffee: Yes sir.
    Jessep: Are we clear?!
    Kaffee: Crystal.

  • Norm

    Let’s get the outrage started on the potential Sean Marshall trade:
    Traded in the division? OH MY GOD!
    Travis Wood is terrible!
    One season of a great 70 inning pitcher is much more valuable than 4-5 seasons of a back of rotation starter plus prospects.
    How are the Cubs going to win in 2012 with these craptacular moves?

  • Jedi

    Totally disagree Norm. I like the potential Marshall deal, wish it wasn’t with a team in the division, but no deal is “perfect.” We’re dumping a solid reliever who only has a year left for a starter who has five more years under team control. Wood has to be better than Coleman or Lopez, so it’s already an upgrade at the No. 5 spot in the rotation if he earns that job. Let’s wait and see the final package before we get too excited though, the Reds need a closer not a lefty setup man, so Marshall might not be only guy going to Cincy.

  • Doc Raker

    I think the Cubs should extend a 4 year contract to Marshall at a relievers number and then make him a starter. Then you have some real value.
    When does Garza hit free agency? I don’t like the idea of trading him but if the Cubs aren’t going to hold onto him into his free agent years I would trade him at some point, not necessarily this offseason for whatever prospects are available. I would wait and be patient for the right trade, the bestest trade ever.
    *Please please please someone offer us something for Alfonso Soriano and Carlos Zambrano, a six pack of Falstaff beer and pay for their salary. How sad, we can’t even give their contracts away.

  • Here’s to hanging breaking stuff in Great American…maybe we can bring him back next year. Win/win.

  • Jedi

    We did just sign the right-handed David DeJesus (Reed Johnson) to a one year deal, presumably not much more than his $900k last year.

  • Noah

    Jedi, I’m 99.9% positive Norm was being sarcastic. While I actually haven’t seen anything that leads me to believe that many, if any, of the regulars here fail to understand the value equation, if you check other sites (look at the comments on Bleacher Nation), it’s pretty comical.

  • Buddy

    Norm, you forgot “Marshall is a great clubhouse guy, so this trade will upset the Cubs team chemistry!”

  • Doc Raker

    Obviously Theo doesn’t read my posts, had he read he would of made Marshall a starter and not traded him, Theo would of also increased his entertainment for the day since I am at the top of the Wizzie leader board. Anytime you can read a post from a Wizzie board leader your time is well spent. I wish Marshall the best, I can remember his first outing, a start against the Cardinals. After his start someone ask him if he preferred starting or relief and he said, “I don’t care, all I know is I plan on staying here (in the bigs) whether starting or relieving.” That showed me moxie, a true clubhouse leader, a real gritty gamer type.

  • Buddy

    Theo probably just ignores your posts, like the rest of us. Hey hey!

  • Jedi

    Buddy’s trying to take more wizzies than Raker.

  • Jedi

    Pardon my capitalization, or lack thereof.