Is Anthopolous Right to Take the Picks?

The Toronto Blue Jays have had a fun year for a team many picked to be among the worst in baseball before the season started — a short burst of pseudo-contention to start the season, tons of home runs, and they are still above .500. However, given where the team is at in the “success cycle,” most assumed that before the deadline they’d trade away some of their veteran relievers who will be free agents after the season: Jason Frasor, Scott Downs, and Kevin Gregg (the Jays hold a club option on Gregg). Surprisingly, all three relievers are still with the team. Jayson Stark reports that Toronto GM Alex Anthopoulos decided that relative the offers they were getting for these pitchers, Toronto would be better off offering the relievers arbitration (which Anthopolous is confident they’ll turn down) and getting compensation draft picks in return.

In the cited article, Anthopolous sounds confident that the relievers would turn down arbitration if it was offered to them, thus netting the Jays compensation picks if they were signed by another team. Assuming that the Jays would have made a fair trade for both sides, and the players will turn down arbitration, is Anthopolous right that the draft picks are likely to be worth more than the prospects in return? My seven longtime readers will know I’m about to refer to Victor Wang’s research on the trade value of prospects and draft pick compensation as summarize by Sky Kalkman. The average surplus value of Type A compensation picks (meaning this takes into account the average of all the players who “made it” and “busted”) is around six million dollars. The average value for Type B picks is about three million dollars. How does that compare to what the relievers would have brought back in a fair trade?*

* Calculating pitcher WAR is a bit involved, so I won’t be going through each step (see Dave Cameron’s primer here), I’ll simply cite each Pitchers ZiPS RoS FIP and then their projected “true talent” WAR assume that.

Gregg, who is currently projected to be a Type B free agent in the offseason (assuming the Jays decline his option) has a ZiPS RoS FIP of 4.01. Over a full “relief season” of about 65 innings and with decent “setup” leverage, that’s not quite a 0.5 WAR player, or at best about $2.5M worth of value over a full season. Gregg is getting paid $2M this season, and has a $750,000 buyout on his contract (all quoted salaries are according to Cot’s). Assuming the Jays didn’t throw any money in, there really isn’t any surplus value to be had here, so they shouldn’t have received any prospect of note. The draft pick would certainly be better, although I must say that Gregg would be crazy to turn down arbitration of the Jays offered it to him.

Jason Frasor has a ZiPS RoS projected FIP of 3.22, which comes to between 1 and 1.5 WAR over a full season, or between four and six million sollars of value. His 2010 salary is $2.65 million. Over a the half-season after the deadline, a team would project to get (again assuming the Jays don’t send any money along) between about one or two million dollars in surplus value. Frasor also projects as a Type B free agent (with a projected value of three million on the compensation picks), so so even at best the C prospect the Jays would get in a fair trade wouldn’t be as potentially valuable as the compensation pick.

Scott Downs is even more interesting, as he looks as if he will qualify for Type A status. (I highly recommend reading Mike Axisa’s piece on the implications of Type A status for Down’s free agent prospects). Downs actually doesn’t project as that much better than Frasor (both are good relievers): 3.17 FIP, between 1 and 1.5 WAR over a full season. Downs is making four million dollars this season, however, so he actually had less surplus value than Frasor. Over half a season, that’s probably one million dollars of surplus at most, which Wang shows to be about the value of a younger C propsect, and not worth nearly as much as even Type B compensation, and certainly not Type A compensation (as Axisa discusses, the Jays will still get a decent pick the team that signs Downs doesn’t have to give up a first rounder).

On this rough outline, it appears that the Blue Jays are making the right choice. The picks project as more valuable the Jays would have received in fair trade return. That’s a good sign for Jays fans. It might also show that the league is getting smarter about what they are willing to give up for half a season of a reliever.




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Matt Klaassen reads and writes obituaries in the Greater Toronto Area. If you can't get enough of him, follow him on Twitter.


33 Responses to “Is Anthopolous Right to Take the Picks?”

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  1. Ryan says:

    Why on the good green earth would anyone want Kevin Gregg on their team

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    • Detroit Michael says:

      Gregg has a 3.50 ERA and a 4.03 xFIP. He’s been erratic despite adding a cut fastball this year. Maybe he’s not worth the price, but he’s certainly rosterable.

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  2. Bob says:

    Because he’s doing better than Papelbon who blew his 6th save against the Jays last night while Gregg only has 4?

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    • joser says:

      …which would be a good argument if Saves (achieved or blown) was a stat worthy of anyone’s attention. (And if it was, what do the numbers of the order of “4” and “6” scream?)

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  3. Lance W says:

    In this case, what type of prospects was AA justified in asking for in a deal, considering he would be giving up the compensation picks as well? I read that several teams that balked at his asking prices didn’t think the draft picks they could receive at the end of the season should be a factor, which obviously isn’t the case.

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  4. hank says:

    There are 3 major assumptions:
    – As you mentioned these folks turn down arbitration…. I doubt this happens with all 3 of them… so if you combine them altogether they may net something on 1 or 2 of them if they turn down arbitration, but that can be offset by 1 or 2 being overpaid by accepting arbitration
    – The relief market was extremely thin and you’re assuming fair market value in what was a seller’s market…. Look at what Matt Capps and some other relievers netted.
    – The Jays reportedly had some ridiculous demands- they could have been getting above market offers for these guys and just had the bar set too high…. You are assuming the Jays would have made a fair trade… that is not what was being rumored and I’m not sure that is a good assumption at all.

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    • hank says:

      Oh and the 4th flawed assumption is the value on 1/2 year of a reliever… isn’t it 1/2 year of reliever + the comp picks? You’re excess value calculation to determine a fair trade completely ignores this.

      You give that value only to the Jays, but not to a team that would acquire these guys?

      It seems this article has a bit of spin to make the lack of a deal look like the right decision.

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      • Thanks for the comment. Some good points here.

        a) I agree that I’m not sure all three would turn down arb, as you can see from my aside on Gregg.. I simply didn’t want to get that in-depth in an already over-long post, so I “fiated” it for the sake of argument.

        b & c) You may be right about the sellers market, however, I don’t find much interest personally in analyzing hypothetical “screw jobs,” I mean, sure, if the Jays could have gotten Jesus Montero for Downs, they should have done it. What’s the point in writing that? Anyway, I did read they had ridiculous demands for Downs, but I don’t know what they were, and I don’t know what they were actually offered, either.

        d) D’oh! You are right about not ascribing the value of the picks to the teams the Jays were trading with. That is an embarassingly obvious oversight on my part, so good point there. Obviously, the Jays didn’t feel like the offers covered that value, as well, I don’t know. Although I’m hesitant to mention this (since it is extremely speculative when adjustingn values for it), the 2011 draft class is supposed to be incredible deep, so that may be effecting things as well.

        Anyway, I agree I missed something there, so thanks for pointing it out. I’m an idiot.

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      • hank says:

        Matt – thanks for taking the time to respond to my (as well as others’) comment. I have a great deal of respect for that:
        – It shows you care enough to read through them
        – You are willing to listen to other points of view (unlike some other writers here)
        – If you do happen to make a mistake you will acknowledge it and not simply try to minimize it or wave it away (unlike some other writers here)

        Again – thanks for the response!

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      • Mr. Sanchez says:

        The arbitration point should not be overlooked. As a Braves fan, Rafael Soriano last year springs immediately to mind, but he isn’t the only reliever to unexpectedly accept an arbitration offer in recent years.

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      • JamesDaBear says:

        I have to add this though… if, for example, a team like the Yankees trades for Scott Downs (which was a real possibility), it’s highly-likely they’ll offer him arbitration and/or sign him to a market-value contract. Therefore they wouldn’t be getting draft pick compensation. They’d be getting a valuable major-league player for multiple years. Both are viable options. Since it highly depends on the team trading for him, and we’re affixing dollar values to both sides of the possible transactions, it would make sense to attach percentages of each possibility and make a weighted average for the team that acquires them…. Just a thought.

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  5. Jonathan says:

    Gregg and Frasor notwithstanding, this doesn’t really take into account the whole point of Axissa’s article, that being: will his Type A status affect Downs’ signability?

    If I’m a small to mid-market ballclub (Clubs who pretty much rely on draft positioning), I’m not even going to approach a non-closer who’s going to cost me a high draft pick. That leaves you looking at the high payroll clubs like the Yankees and Red Sox who are almost certainly going to go after more than one Type A. That means they’re more than likely giving up a second or even third rounder for Downs instead.

    Taking that into account, you’ve also got to consider that those large market clubs are also going to be late pickers in the draft.

    My honest feeling is that the Yankees will sign him. Their park is built for lefties and they’ve got a limitless payroll and little heed for draft positioning. If they sign Crawford and Lee as most anticipate, the Jays are looking at something like pick #40+ and a pick in the mid-hundreds. Not exactly an ideal return.

    I really have to imagine AA could’ve done better by backing off his reportedly astronomical demands (A scrub prospect is one thing, but he was reportedly asking for guys like Jesus Montero, and you don’t give up prospects like that for any reliever not named Mariano Rivera).

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    • spindoctor says:

      Jonathan,

      I agree with you that if Downs is a Type-A, it limits the number of teams that will be willing to sign him (most likely). But I don’t necessarily agree about the return. The joy about draft picks is that noone can guess how they will be used. The Jays could, conceivably, go for high talent, hard to sign guys that they’ll have to go over slot for in those spots, and the return could look pretty nice. Or they could play it safe and the return may not look as tempting.

      Regardless, they’d be getting something vs. something hypothetical (we have no idea what was offered for Downs, at least I haven’t seen anything concrete — all I’ve seen were rumoured asking prices). Getting something for a player who is leaving anyways is better than nothing, and I’m guessing AA felt that the picks, regardless of whose picks there are, were better than what teams were willing to offer for Downs services the rest of the way and the picks they could get from him turning down arb.

      Regardless, it will be interesting to see how this all plays out.

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  6. Blue says:

    Matt, I basically agree with your column. That said, I’d like to bring up a point that we went around on before on Royals Review.

    Wang’s research does not determine the value of a draft pick prior to the draft. Rather, it determines the average value that was converted by clubs through the picks that were actually drafted.

    This is a subtle but important point. Teams follow one of three different strategies regarding additional high-level draft selections. Some, resource constrained, lowball their picks looking for signability, particularly supplemental round picks. Others, on the other hand, draft at what they perceive to be slot value. Finally, some teams will draft over slot.

    Wang’s average draft pick value conflates these strategies. (That’s not intended as a criticism, by the way.) For most teams, it should produce a reasonable approximation of the value of a pick. For teams that are resource constrained, however, it will overvalue the pick while for teams that are willing to bust slot it will undervalue the compensation pick. Let’s take the Royals and Dayton Moore, for example. If he is willing to buy a higher level of talent in later rounds–like a Myers–then those compensation picks are more valuable to him than an approach that links prospect class to draft pick to value would indicate.

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    • We’ll have to continue to agree to disagree about whether this is actually a problem with Wang’s research and how big it might be, but in any case, even if you are right, this only makes Anthopolous “righter” in his decision-making.

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  7. Ben says:

    Two factors unexplored here (besides the great point someone made above that you’ve left out the 1/2 season of value in addition to the picks).

    1) I realize this is precarious, but every expert out there is saying this draft is on track to be the deepest in recent memory. I know we calculate value of draft picks as an average of expected outcome, and rightfully so, but I have to think the potential of the upcoming draft played a role for some teams here. My guess is that some execs valued draft picks in the upcoming draft more than they usually do. Again, I realize that’s not possible to prove, but I think it’s worth acknolwedging.

    2) More significantly left out: I often see this point neglected, but when we’re talking about type A free agents, it’s important to remember that they are not guaranteed the other team’s top pick. Look at what happened to these same Jays two years ago. They held onto Burnett at the deadline, thinking the packages they were being offered weren’t equal to a first rounder plus sandwich pick.

    Their mistake? Well they forgot that Type A guys are prioritized. The Yankees went out and signed Teixeira, Sabathia, AND Burnett. The Jays were left with the sandwich pick and a third rounder. Not exactly what they had in mind.

    The same thing could easily happen again this year with Downs. They could easily end up with a late second or third rounder instead of that late-first or early-second they’re hoping for.

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    • This is what I was referring to obliquely with reference to Axisa’s article, actually. But it doesn’t effect the analysis — the sandwich pick alone from Type A compensation is worth more than Downs’ surplus value, even if the comp pick is third round.

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  8. Mike Green says:

    Wang’s research is necessarily general, and actually undersells Anthopoulos’ position in this. In other contexts, two 1.5 WAR players have very close to the same value as a 3 WAR player. In the AL East, it doesn’t work that way. A 25% shot at a 3 WAR player is much more valuable than a 50% shot at a 1 WAR player. What Anthopoulos is trying to do is acquire a lot of tickets to the 3-4 WAR lottery.

    The other point is that Downs, Frasor and Gregg actually have value to the Jays in 2010. Anthopoulos’ deadline strategy was not that of an excited seller; the Escobar/Gonzalez-Pastornicky-Collins trade was actually more of a buyer’s deal given Escobar’s service time. Some of his value is directly from 2010.

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  9. Sky says:

    Sexy stuff.

    Two points: one, these guys would have more value to a team in contention than the current Jays or a mythical “typical team”. If a team in contention could go spend $8M per marginal win to sign a free agent for the rest of the year, they’d probably do it.

    Second, what about the value of getting rid of these contracts outright? Sure, the Jays might win two fewer games, but they’d save, I don’t know, $5M this year that could be spent next year. That money, plus a handful of C prospects, was probably worth it.

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    • Mark says:

      I don’t know. I’d rather have sandwich picks in the draft and best case a first rounder (likely a second or third) and 5M less cash than save 4-5M bucks and get a C level prospect. 4-5 M isn’t a ton of cash.

      Obviously there’s the downside of lost playing time in the minors (ie traded prospects play now vs draft picks might not play till 2012) – but I’d rather have the shot at a star player in the draft vs a C level prospect. Building an army of C level prospects isn’t going to help the Jays compete.

      Granted you might not get a star player in the draft, and might end up with a C level (or worse) prospect. But I’d have to think the risk would be worth it to gamble for something better than a marginal prospect.

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    • Thanks for commenting, Sky.

      How much more value, though? double the value? Because it would have to be around that to make them more valuable than the picks themselves.

      Saving the $5M a season for all the players isn’t worth as much as two type-B comp picks, at least not straight up. It’s close with the prospects.

      Even with those considerations, I think the Jays’ decisionis at least defensible.

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    • AK707 says:

      Money saved this year doesn’t usually just appear in next year’s payroll. Think like an owner.

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    • DexF says:

      The one thing the Jays have is a lot of payroll flexibility. Not trading Downs/Gregg/Frasor and them all agreeing to arbitation still provides value for the Jays in 2011 without hindering their ability to get in on key free agents if they choose. The point that a lot of people often miss in the arguments about the lack of a trade is that in this case, Anthopoulos held all the cards; he didn’t need to trade them unless he got the value he wanted; if he didn’t and they declined arb, he’d get the picks from them; finally, if he didn’t and they accepted arb, the Jays go into the 2011 season with one of the stronger bullpens in baseball without hurting the Jays offseason strategy in the slightest.

      Unless you don’t have a choice, you either sell high or don’t sell at all. Dickering for C level prospects has no value for the Jays, who have proved you can’t compete against Boston or New York unless you have a boatload of young controllable talent coming out of the farm system.

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  10. IamDeadHoratio says:

    Some great points made by Matt and others in response to the article. It does appear that one thing being left unsaid is the new direction the Jays have demonstrated in their drafting strategy as evidenced this past draft.

    Forgetting for a moment Matt’s point that even the compensatory pick for Downs would be worth more than Downs’ surplus value, it is quite possible that Toronto is not concerned in the least whether the additional pick is in the first, second or third rounds given that they have shown they will now definitely go over slot for high upside picks.

    Given the reported strength of next years draft, perhaps they simply feel that more picks, regardless of the position of each pick, will offer more value to the organization.

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    • joser says:

      That may indeed be true. Certainly with baseball the draft is much more of a crapshoot than most of the other sports, and the payoff is further out — which gives you more time to compensate (“re-do” your draft decisions) via trades of minor-leaguers. You can thus definitely make a case for just focusing on quantity of draft picks without worrying overmuch about which round they’re in. That’s not an excuse for not trying to get as many high-round picks as you can (nor for not scouting the heck out of the draft class) but it does change the calculus quite a bit for observers who come to baseball with biases about the draft derived from other pro sports.

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  11. Jeff says:

    I’ll add another point in favor of the relative value of the picks. When trading, the pool of available options is necessarily constrained to the rostered players the other team is willing to give up. The choice of a draft pick on the otherhand is relatively unconstrained. This is particularly relevant for the Jays, who have made a large investment in scouting and that “competitive advantage” can be most leveraged through draft picks.

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  12. tdotsports1 says:

    One of the harder names to spell so we’ll give you a break (plus a great piece) but it’s actually spelled Anthopoulos. Sorry, I had to be the one.

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  13. Dave Shrine says:

    Interesting piece on the value of relief pitching… http://twurl.nl/p1j6bx

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  14. Dave Shrine says:

    Interesting piece on the value of relief pitching. worth reading… http://twurl.nl/p1j6bx

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  15. Brandon says:

    I’d just like to add a few points that are being overlooked in the comments.

    a) Downs is only a “non closer” because his manager chose not to give him that role. He has been an effective reliever for years, and likely could excel in the closer role.

    b) There are 14 (15?) teams that would not have to give up a first round pick to sign Downs, so it’s not simply limited to teams that “have the luxury of not worrying” about the first round pick. Protected picks could very well come in to play here. (Remember, that’s how the Jays got Snider even though they signed 2 type A’s that off season.)

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  16. Daniel says:

    Can we all just agree that the compensation system is terribly flawed?

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    • joser says:

      Yeah, that’s a given. And unless you’re on the committee or one of the MLBPA lawyers or something, I don’t know that you can do anything about it. Certainly it’s been talked to death already, which is why nobody is bothering to do so again here.

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