Archive for July 2011
Juan Rivera made his debut for the Los Angeles Dodgers last night. Yes, the Blue Jays turned baseball’s bankrupt team into buyers this week, flipping Rivera and cash (likely the remaining $2.095 on his contract) to Chavez Ravine for a player to be named later or cash. I’m reading the Jays recoup $175,000. Not much, but better than the nothing they would’ve gotten by releasing Rivera outright.
The Dodgers are 42-51, 11.5 games out of first in the NL West and 13 out of the wildcard. Rivera can play a passable LF, a surprisingly nimble 1B and he can hit left-handers (.345/.412/.569). LA can use somebody like thaeven if the effect is minimal. It’s hard to imagine him getting 200 at bats unless this is an early audition for a platoon role in 2012. In that scenario, he could caddy for outfield prospects Jerry Sands and Trayvon Robinson while rescuing the flailing James Loney from lefties (.184/.232/.197).
But this post isn’t about the Dodgers. It’s about how Toronto fans perceived Rivera in his short time here. They seemed to preserve a special hostility for the former Montreal Expo. One I thought strange from the start. He wasn’t acquired to be an every day player nor expected to replace Vernon Wells. He was just… a guy. A professional hitter who, Jays fans hoped, would help erase memories of Brad Wilkerson, Kevin Mench and David Dellucci while contributing at LF and DH until the kids were ready. To hear Jays fans, you’d think they were expecting Mariano Rivera. Maybe it’s the Bautista effect. People now assume league-average performance can morph into something meteoric with good coaching. Of course, it can’t. So the fans are loudly, proudly glad to see him go. Fair enough. But it’s important to remember that Juan Rivera’s time with the Blue Jays was actually a tremendous gift.
Rivera and Mike Napoli (quickly flipped to Texas for Frank Francisco) were the Jays’ return for Vernon Wells and $5 million. To properly evaluate the deal, you have to examine the economics of the deal, the performance of those involved and the impact that acquisitions had on each team’s prospect development. For brevity, let’s eschew the last one here. (All contracts details courtesy the excellent Cot’s Baseball Contracts)
Rivera: 1 year, $5.25 million.
Francisco: 1 year, $4 million. Currently qualifies as a Type B free agent.
+$175,000 from Los Angeles Dodgers
Wells: 4 years, $86 million. (11:$23M, 12:$21M, 13:$21M, 14:$21M)
+$5 million cash
The Jays manage to shed $81 million of Wells’ $86 million deal. Then, after the Dodgers transaction, they end up spending 9,075,000 on Francisco, whatever compensation he ultimately yields (if any) and half a season of Juan Rivera. Even if you deem the players and the compensation a washout, the Jays essentially sell Wells to the Angels for $75 million. Great deal. Why? Performance.
According to Fangraphs, Rivera was worth 0.0 Wins Above Replacement (WAR) as a Jay. The definition of a replacement-level player. Wells is only a 0.1 WAR player. In free agency, each win above replacement costs about $5M/annually in free agency. So both players are disappointments. But Wells has been a complete disaster for someone making $23 million this year with three more seasons left at 63 million. He’s been a bit unlucky, suffering a groin strain that kept him out of action three weeks, and hitting just .229 on balls in play. But Wells has battled nagging injuries at various stages of his career. And hasn’t produced a BABIP of more than .280 in three years. Besides, even a league-average BABIP would leave him with disappointing numbers for a LF on a contending team. He carries a line drive rate (LD) of only 10.2%, down from 15.9 in 2010 and 14.8% in 2009. If Wells had the at-bats to qualify for the batting title, he’d carry the worst LD rate of all eligible players. Meantime, his 46.3% fly ball rate is good for tenth in baseball. Jays fans, your memories don’t deceive you. Vernon hits a lot of pop-ups.
Had the Jays kept Napoli (a 2.0 WAR player so far) rather than flipping him for Francisco they would’ve benefitted from the deal even more. Of course, less than a month after the Wells deal, Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos re-invested $65 million of his found money into five years of Jose Bautista. So far, that’s working out. Bautista is the most valuable player in baseball to come along in 38 years.
So Rivera’s been no worse than Wells. Cost analysis tells us Rivera’s actually been better – by himself – than Wells during the opening months of 2011. Furthermore, the Jays still have Francisco and whatever compensatory draft pick they might receive when his time in Toronto ends. And one less albatross clogging an outfield slot and standing in the way of ready-now mashers Travis Snider and Eric Thames.
Juan, it was nice to see you take the first pitch you saw as a Dodger deep last night.
Toronto should wish you well. The Blue Jays certainly did well by you.
And… back. Not that yours truly ever really left. Martin made sure of that. Looking out not only for the site but, in his way, for me, Richard, while I, in my way, gathered ideas, gnawed thoughts to their nubs and came back to our sandbox ready to play. Here goes.
One of the benefits of the work I do is that every now and then I get to witness great human triumph. The best of the best we have. Sometimes against seemingly impossible odds. Shuttle launches. Olympics. Obama, back then. Also: the Chilean Miners of 2010. First came the accident. Then the implications. Deep breathe. The promise of modern science and innovation. The resilience. The glimpses of hope. The torturous incremental updates. The jubilation. And the overpowering sense of community our restless, twitching world found (and shared) when it stopped to watch 33 men at their best.
I was working the morning they surfaced. Watched with tears in my eyes, as they emerged, one-by-one, not beaten or barely holding on. Not outwardly, anyway, though we know some were approaching the brink. No, by and large, they crawled out full of joy. Grown men, marooned, arriving. Men who earned the right to get their lives back. How many of us can say that?
A few weeks ago, I got to see the capsule that lifted those 33 men from something close to hell. For a moment, the feeling of that October morning came back to me. The happiness that swelled in me as I sat punching away at my keyboard, trying to plan a news program out of what I could see through my bleary vision. That joy. That pride. The knowledge that something amazing was unfolding before our eyes. It didn’t matter where they were from. Who they were. What they’d done. We loved them. Couldn’t wait to ask our friends and mothers if they’d watched with us. In front of the capsule I could mostly just smile. It’s hard to put all of that into the kind of words you might say to the friend who came to the exhibit with you, many months and one continent removed from that night. Especially on a Tuesday morning at 10am. So we just smiled at each other. We both knew.
Lately, I’ve been thinking about it a lot. It’s time for me to surface, too.
Because… it could be now. It could be today. This moment, this week, this month, this summer that could be more important than any other. More important than me. All the building and all the tearing down and all the realizing and all the evolving, all leading to this. For some of the miners, the arrival was the end of their story. For others, the beginning. For all, surfacing came with a choice. It could be now.
Ms. Richard and I have followed a beautiful spring with an incredible start to summer. The wisdoms earned will make their way into the words and images and elliptical ideas here soon. They’re getting ready for the light. Some vessels seem to take a little longer. Thanks for understanding that. Of course you do. Thanks, too, for your love. And thanks to Martin for not just holding the fort, but raising the ceilings and letting so much new light in. It’s what he does. We’ll never let him forget it.