8.03.2006

Philly Blues

The blues (as the name suggests) are always sad songs. But it would be incorrect to assume that everyone signing the blues is depressed. The beauty of blues is that you can express yourself, and try to move past the pain of your life.

My second-grade psychoanalysis isn't intended to expose shortcomings in my formal education, but to serve as a template for this post. While I agree with a lot of what was said on the Abreu / Lidle for junk trade at the Confines, I've thought about it, read a number of articles on both sides, and put together an opinion on the matter.

Here's a few facts to set the table
  • Bobby Abreu's 2006 salary: 13.6 million

  • Bobby Abreu's 2007 salary: 15.5 million

  • Bobby Abreu's 2008 option: 16 million

  • Phillies 2006 payroll without Abreu: 87 million

From an ESPN article published today
  • Abreu, who had a full no-trade clause, told the Phillies he would be interested in waiving it only for the Yankees, Mets, Red Sox and Angels

  • When Gillick talks about the importance of "payroll flexibility," he must quietly lament the burdensome contracts negotiated by his predecessor, Ed Wade ... Burrell has a full no-trade clause and is owed $27 million in 2007 and 2008 combined

So the situation is this, pre-trade. The Phillies are a mid-market team with a ballooning payroll. They want trade Abreu and cash in with prospects. We all know that. But it's a little more interesting than that. There's only four teams he's gonna go to. We know what happened with the Yankees. So now we have three questions left for each team.
  1. Do they really want Abreu (or were they just trying to drive the price up)?

  2. Can they afford him?

  3. What would they offer?

First, I'll take the Angels. Their scrappy, small ball character has devolved a bit since their heyday in 2002. They seem to be a team without any philosophy on how to win. That being said, their outfield is old and expensive, so they definitely want a dependable power hitter.

Unlike so many other years, the Mets weren't making desperate deals at the deadline to bolster their chances for the NL Wild Card. Beltran has been a monster with a 1.027 OPS. Chavez and Floyd haven't been great, but the Mets are trying to give Lastings Milledge opportunities to play, so an extra outfielder might meana decrease in playing time. Furthermore, the Mets have held onto their young talent as of late, perhaps learning a lesson from the disastrous Kazmir trade. The Mets are playing well, and decided not to mess with their team at the deadline. Given Floyd's glove and the cost in both prospects and money, the Mets had mild interest at best.

The Red Sox were probably more interested in Abreu to keep him from going to the Yankees than to actually sign him. Crisp has been a huge dissapointment, but a lot of his diminished performance can be attributed to injury. Trot Nixon and Willy Mo Pena have platooned quite well, however, and I'm sure that the Red Sox have no interest in pushing any higher into salary cap territory. Would they like to deny the Yankees a fresh outfielder? Of course, but he's too damn expensive for that. What does Nixon's 7.5 million pay for? For a second DH, behind David Ortiz? True, they could have sent back Crisp, but his stock is about as low as it can get, especially with a contract that rachets up a million or so a year to an 8 million 2010 option. He might be a steal, but he looks like a risk after this half season. Manny and Papi are tearing the cover off the ball, but in a tight division race, Abreu looks a lot better than he otherwise would.

So from this point on, we're going to discount the Mets. I don't think there's any world where what they get from Abreu is what they'd have to give up to get him, and what they'd have to pay.

So now we have to see if the Angels and Red Sox could reasonably afford the added 15 or so million a year. This would put the Red Sox dangerously close to the limit for 2006, while the Angels would be a good 15 million under. Forbes published a list in 2005 of the financial standings of all 30 teams. It's worth noting the five biggest deficits in terms of operating income:
  1. New York Yankees -37.1

  2. LA Angels of Anaheim -30.0

  3. Arizona Diamondbacks -18.7

  4. Boston Red Sox -11.3

  5. New York Mets -11.2

Quick accounting tutorial. Operating Income = Gross Profit - Operating Expenses. This deos not include certian taxes or debt, so it's actually a rosier picture than a full profile. It's important to understand that Theo Epstien is a Beane acolyte, and the whole point of Beane's theories is to win while making money. So is Theo going to put another 15 million on the books already knowing where the numbers are? My guess would be no, since he's smart enough to run the stats and see that Abreu is unlikely to net additional millions in revenue.

So this leaves the Angels who already have a 30 million operating deficit. Vladimir Guerrero is signed through 2009, Anderson through 2008, and Colon is on until 2007. Erstad is the fourth largest contract, and it expires at the end of the season, but it's only 8 million coming off the books. The Angels could make this move, but it could well push them to a 40 to 45 million a year operating loss, so it's a tentative interest at best. The Angels are the only team we're dealing with anymore, after concluding that the deal was far too rich for the Red Sox's blood.

By now we've all heard the deal the Angels offered for Tejada, Ervin Santana and Erick Aybar. Santana is believed to be an up-and-coming ace, and Aybar has hit well in the minors for the last few years. So would the Angels have offered this for Abreu?

2006
Tejada - .328 / .380 / .515
Abreu - .282 / .428 / .439

Career
Tejada - .284 / .341 / .480
Abreu - .301 / .412 / .507

Abreu is about 100 point better in OPS, but is two years older than Tejada, and plays in the outfield. Power hitting SS take precedence over OF for even money. Tejada has been first or second in SLG among SS every year but one since 2000 (including this year) so it doesn't get any better than this. I'd say that they come out roughly even, especially given Tejada's reputation as a clubhouse leader. So this is the other deal that the Phillies might have seen: Abreu for Aybar / E. Santana

So after all this muddling about, here's what we come out with. The only other deal on the table would have been from the Angels, and it would have pushed the Angels much further into the red. I'd estimates the chances of an Abreu-to-the-Angels at 25 percent. Every million the Phillies pay, the percentage goes up by 5.

It's been painfully obvious that the Phillies needed to rebuild from the ground up, and chose a new direction for the organization before they're trampled under the Marlins rookies and Mets superstars. Clearing Abreu gives them the chance to move in that direction. Could other trading partners have offered better parts? Yes, but they were less likely to actually pull the trigger on Abreu without a donation from the Phillies -- exactly what they were trying to avoid. This is one of the few cases when I feel that the phrase 'addition by subtraction' should be used.

So the Phillies could have done better, if they'd got lucky. As it was, they had to send off a man who was using them, running around town, and always takin' their last dollar. The thrill was gone, but now those Phillies can move on.

Sounds like blues to me, but it's no sad voice singing.

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