Thursday, December 18, 2003

Let's talk about non tendering Freddy Garcia....

During the course of 2003, if you asked me whether the M's should offer arbitration to Freddy Garcia my immediate answer would have been "No way. Time to cut bait on this guy." Never was the pitcher know as Franken Freddy more apparent than 2003. His year ending ERA of 4.51 does not accurately tell the tale of his season. In fact Freddy had 5 mini-seasons over the course of 2003.

Games IP Runs ERA
1-7 42.1 18 3.84
8-12 29.2 24 7.39
13-17 36.3 6 1.48
18-23 26.7 33 11.10
24-32 62.6 16 2.30

Freddy was the 9th flakiest starter in MLB as rated by Baseball Prospectus.

Which Freddy will show up in 2004 and is he worth $6 million a year? (Assuming the M's win any arbitration case they have resulting in a ~10% pay cut).

I took a quick look around ESPN's site and ranked pitchers with an ERA close to Freddy's. Then I took a look at their respective salaries and years of service. Just like in most businesses there are several "tracks" to and through the major leagues.

Track 1) Player becomes integral part of the major team early in career. Team decides to sign player to contract through arbitration years. Contract pays player initially more than base pay but quickly becomes a bargain for team if player continues to perform through arbitration years.

Track 2) Player becomes starter at early age. Team decides to not make long term investment, instead paying less for early years but having to make decision each year on offering arbitration in years 3-6 of MLB career, if player performance falls into top 17% of players in MLB. Arbitration amount based on performance not years of service.

Track 3) Player enters free agent market prior to 6 years of service. Usually spends career as fringe player.

Freddy is a track 2 player. The few comparables I came up with are Cory Lidle ($5.3 million, Roy Hallday $3.8, Kevin Millwood $9.5). Only Cory Lidle had a worse 2003 than Freddy but his career numbers are better.

The M's (probably wisely) chose not to lock Freddy up through his arbitration years. The unfortunate side effect of that is the team now has to decide if they are going to non-tender him by Dec 19th letting him go as a free agent.

What are the possible scenarios?
a) M's offer Freddy arbitration, he accepts and wins some ungodly sum like the $9.5 million Kevin Millwood gets.
b) M's offer Freddy arbitration, he accepts and loses to the tune of $6 million
c) M's non tender Freddy saving $6 million
d) M's offer Freddy arbitration and sign him to a contract at a significant pay cut.

I think the M's brass is leaning toward option c. They're not convinced that he will ever become a #1 starter and can't afford to pay him $6+ million a year to be their #5 starter (as he was last year). By publicly taking this stance in the local papers, they've been unable to find any takers in trade (why trade when you think you can negotiate with a free agent instead in another week?) Frankly I can't dispute the thinking that he's not worth the money.

It's a difficult choice but I still think the correct decision is to let Freddy go and move some of the youth (Soriano) into the rotation. The risk of getting stuck with a $6 million albatross is just too great. Freddy may develop at a later age into a #1 starter. He's got the movement and velocity but he doesn't have the control. He throws too many pitches to get through each inning (16.7 P /IP) and his K/BB ratio radically declined this year. Empirical observation shows that his successful outings have mostly come against the dreg offenses in the AL (TB, Detroit, Bal).

I disagree with the way the M's have slandered Freddy in the media (remember the "Freddy parties too much" stories leaked in spring 2003?) and I disagree with the lack of negotiating savvy they've shown. I can't disagree with what I think the ultimate decision will be. Time to cut bait.


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