Albert Lyu and Carson Cistulli are overzealously reviewing colleague Jonah Keri’s forthcoming book, The Extra 2%. Feel free to read parts one and two and three of the series that’s sweeping — if not the nation — then at least behind the TV where a lot of dust builds up.
In what follows, our intrepid duo attempts to understand the giant and real-life brain teaser otherwise known as original Devil Ray GM Chuck LaMar’s player personnel decisions. Neither Messrs. Cistulli nor Lyu — nor FanGraphs, generally — are responsible for injuries to the human spirit as a result of this discussion.
Cistulli: Hey, Albert, pay attention and stop doing terrible things to that dog. The sound you hear is the people demanding that we continue our sprawling and genre-defining review of Jonah Keri’s book.
When we last left off, we were looking at the futility of the Rays’ early ownership — and, specifically, the misbehavior of Vincent Joseph Naimoli.
Chapter three introduces a second layer of futility to this very depressing and multi-layered cake: the life and times of Rays’ GM Chuck LaMar.
There are two ideas about which I got particularly excited in this chapter. First, is the expansion draft — just as a thing, I mean. It’s really the closest thing the majors have to a fantasy draft. If you’re so inclined, I’d like to examine this — the 1997 expansion draft, specifically, I mean.
The second idea is actually just a sentence. Writing about LaMar, Keri writes that his (i.e. LaMar’s) “claim to fame was being the Zelig of the National League.”
That line almost definitely appeals to me for no other reason than it’s a Woody Allen reference in this book about finance and baseball. It lets me trust the author more, certainly.
Albert: As a sort of recap for those who have short-term memory loss that cycles through 13- or 14-year periods, in the 1997 expansion draft, Tampa Bay (the team this book is about) and Arizona each chose 35 players from the other major league teams’ 40-man rosters and minor league systems. Each of the 28 teams, though, could protect 15 players and an additional three more after each round of the draft.
The expansion teams had several amateur draft restrictions, however, which meant that neither organization would be able to effectively produce homegrown ML talent until at least a few years later (or in this case, a chapter later — tune in to chapter four, coming to a NotGraphs post near you!). At the very least, TB and AZ wouldn’t be able to draw early first-round talent in their first few years, even though draft order is usually determined by previous seasonal standings.
One of LaMar’s first GM-ing moves turned into one of LaMar’s first (of several) GM-ing mistakes. The Astros unashamedly left Bobby Abreu unprotected. And this was 1997, when Abreu was the prototypical five-tool prospect. LaMar picked Abreu — then traded Abreu to the Phillies for shortstop Kevin Stocker. Stocker would go on to produce 2.9 WAR the rest of his career and Abreu would produce, uhh, 60.8 WAR.
If you don’t mind me producing a WAR graph, Carson, this is hilarious:
Carson: Yes, it appears as though that move didn’t work out particularly well. And a similar point might be made about the Dmitri Young-for-Mike Kelly trade, as well.
The 1997 expansion draft as a whole* — which saw the 57th and 58th picks post — demonstrates either (a) how difficult prospect mavening is even , (b) how poor these teams were at assessing talent, or (c) a combination of those two things.
*Re-printed at the end of this post.
Albert: We could certainly go through each and every one of LaMar’s errors and his faults and what-not, and analyze and FanGraphs-isize his transactions, but this is NotGraphs and this is undubitably the incorrect domain for something like that.
What I’m interested in hearing from you, though, Carson, is how unique you think it is for an author/journalist/writer like Jonah Keri to be able to get a former executive to willingly identify and elaborate on his previous moves and/or mistakes? Is Jonah some sort of high-level lovable Care Bear? Did Chuck LaMar not know that he was on-the-record and being interviewed? I’m pretty sure that I personally would not want my mistakes recorded, documented, and analyzed to the nth-degree in the (currently) eighth-best selling baseball book on Amazon.com.
Carson: First of all, we have to remember that Jonah’s a Canadian person and Canadians are, by their nature, non-threatening and polite. It’s very easy to reveal all manner of otherwise sensitive information to a Canadian person.
Consider some of these facts:
• Over 70% of all psychotherapists working in the US are actually Canadian — or, if not Canadian by birth, are at least Canadian-looking.
• Information about former CIA operative Valerie Plame Wilson was revealed at an airport bar when a friendly Canadian businessman asked Karl Rove, “So, whaddaya do for work?”
• Michael J. Fox
That’s what we in the industry refer to as a “cavalcade” of evidence, Albert.
In the case of LaMar, specifically, at the risk of sounding reasonable, his behavior actually appears to be remarkably healthy. I’ll suggest — anecdotally, at least — that the happiest people are those who recognize their own fallibility. LaMar appears merely to have a pretty decent sense of his failures.
Albert: One quote to note (note to quote?) from Jonah’s book is the following on page 60: “The Hit Show needed an extra “S” to properly illustrate its catastrophic effects on the Devil Rays.” The Hi(S)t Show (that’s where the “S” goes, right?) included such seasoned, well-trained, famous, and relatively ancient veterans in Vinny Castilla, Jose Canseco, Greg Vaughn, and Fred McGriff. The acquisitions underscore the Devil Rays’ early philosophy in their franchise history to throw heaps of dolla signz at veterans and well-known players to let’s-win-now-or-else at the cost of player development investment and draft prospect bonuses.
The current Rays as we now know it is almost a complete 180 of the early Devil Rays. The Hit Show relied on building a team around veterans with washed-up minor leaguers, while the current Rays are built around young stars and prospects, acquiring veterans to fill in the team’s needs and gaps.
The 1997 Expansion Draft (courtesy of Baseball Reference):
|1||Tampa Bay Devil Rays||Tony Saunders||LHP||Florida Marlins|
|2||Arizona Diamondbacks||Brian Anderson||LHP||Cleveland Indians|
|3||Arizona Diamondbacks||Jeff Suppan||RHP||Boston Red Sox|
|4||Tampa Bay Devil Rays||Quinton McCracken||OF||Colorado Rockies|
|5||Arizona Diamondbacks||Gabe Alvarez||3B||San Diego Padres|
|6||Tampa Bay Devil Rays||Bobby Abreu||OF||Houston Astros|
|7||Arizona Diamondbacks||Jorge Fabregas||C||Chicago White Sox|
|8||Tampa Bay Devil Rays||Miguel Cairo||2B||Chicago Cubs|
|9||Arizona Diamondbacks||Karim Garcia||OF||Los Angeles Dodgers|
|10||Tampa Bay Devil Rays||Rich Butler||OF||Toronto Blue Jays|
|11||Arizona Diamondbacks||Edwin Diaz||IF||Texas Rangers|
|12||Tampa Bay Devil Rays||Bob Smith||3B||Atlanta Braves|
|13||Arizona Diamondbacks||Cory Lidle||RHP||New York Mets|
|14||Tampa Bay Devil Rays||Jason Johnson||RHP||Pittsburgh Pirates|
|15||Arizona Diamondbacks||Joel Adamson||LHP||Milwaukee Brewers|
|16||Tampa Bay Devil Rays||Dmitri Young||1B||Cincinnati Reds|
|17||Arizona Diamondbacks||Ben Ford||RHP||New York Yankees|
|18||Tampa Bay Devil Rays||Esteban Yan||RHP||Baltimore Orioles|
|19||Arizona Diamondbacks||Yamil Benitez||OF||Kansas City Royals|
|20||Tampa Bay Devil Rays||Mike Difelice||C||St. Louis Cardinals|
|21||Arizona Diamondbacks||Neil Weber||LHP||Montreal Expos|
|22||Tampa Bay Devil Rays||Bubba Trammell||OF||Detroit Tigers|
|23||Arizona Diamondbacks||Jason Boyd||RHP||Philadelphia Phillies|
|24||Tampa Bay Devil Rays||Andy Sheets||IF||Seattle Mariners|
|25||Arizona Diamondbacks||Brent Brede||OF||Minnesota Twins|
|26||Tampa Bay Devil Rays||Dennis Springer||RHP||Anaheim Angels|
|27||Arizona Diamondbacks||Tony Batista||IF||Oakland Athletics|
|28||Tampa Bay Devil Rays||Dan Carlson||RHP||San Francisco Giants|
|29||Arizona Diamondbacks||Tom Martin||LHP||Houston Astros|
|30||Tampa Bay Devil Rays||Brian Boehringer||RHP||New York Yankees|
|31||Arizona Diamondbacks||Omar Daal||LHP||Toronto Blue Jays|
|32||Tampa Bay Devil Rays||Mike Duvall||LHP||Florida Marlins|
|33||Arizona Diamondbacks||Scott Winchester||RHP||Cincinnati Reds|
|34||Tampa Bay Devil Rays||John LeRoy||RHP||Atlanta Braves|
|35||Arizona Diamondbacks||Clint Sodowsky||RHP||Pittsburgh Pirates|
|36||Tampa Bay Devil Rays||Jim Mecir||RHP||Boston Red Sox|
|37||Arizona Diamondbacks||Danny Klassen||IF||Milwaukee Brewers|
|38||Tampa Bay Devil Rays||Bryan Rekar||RHP||Colorado Rockies|
|39||Arizona Diamondbacks||Matt Drews||RHP||Detroit Tigers|
|40||Tampa Bay Devil Rays||Rick Gorecki||RHP||Los Angeles Dodgers|
|41||Arizona Diamondbacks||Todd Erdos||RHP||San Diego Padres|
|42||Tampa Bay Devil Rays||Ramon Tatis||LHP||Chicago Cubs|
|43||Arizona Diamondbacks||Chris Clemons||RHP||Chicago White Sox|
|44||Tampa Bay Devil Rays||Kerry Robinson||OF||St. Louis Cardinals|
|45||Arizona Diamondbacks||David Dellucci||OF||Baltimore Orioles|
|46||Tampa Bay Devil Rays||Steve Cox||1B||Oakland Athletics|
|47||Arizona Diamondbacks||Damian Miller||C||Minnesota Twins|
|48||Tampa Bay Devil Rays||Albie Lopez||RHP||Cleveland Indians|
|49||Arizona Diamondbacks||Hector Carrasco||RHP||Kansas City Royals|
|50||Tampa Bay Devil Rays||Jose Paniagua||RHP||Montreal Expos|
|51||Arizona Diamondbacks||Hanley Frias||SS||Texas Rangers|
|52||Tampa Bay Devil Rays||Carlos Mendoza||OF||New York Mets|
|53||Arizona Diamondbacks||Bob Wolcott||RHP||Seattle Mariners|
|54||Tampa Bay Devil Rays||Kevin Sefcik||LF||Philadelphia Phillies|
|55||Arizona Diamondbacks||Mike Bell||3B||Anaheim Angels|
|56||Tampa Bay Devil Rays||Santos Hernandez||RHP||San Francisco Giants|
|57||Arizona Diamondbacks||Joe Randa||3B||Pittsburgh Pirates|
|58||Tampa Bay Devil Rays||Randy Winn||OF||Florida Marlins|
|59||Arizona Diamondbacks||Jesus Martinez||LHP||Los Angeles Dodgers|
|60||Tampa Bay Devil Rays||Terrell Wade||LHP||Atlanta Braves|
|61||Arizona Diamondbacks||Russ Springer||RHP||Houston Astros|
|62||Tampa Bay Devil Rays||Aaron Ledesma||IF||Baltimore Orioles|
|63||Arizona Diamondbacks||Bryan Corey||RHP||Detroit Tigers|
|64||Tampa Bay Devil Rays||Brooks Kieschnick||OF||Chicago Cubs|
|65||Arizona Diamondbacks||Kelly Stinnett||C||Milwaukee Brewers|
|66||Tampa Bay Devil Rays||Luke Wilcox||OF||New York Yankees|
|67||Arizona Diamondbacks||Chuck McElroy||LHP||Chicago White Sox|
|68||Tampa Bay Devil Rays||Herbert Perry||IF||Cleveland Indians|
|69||Arizona Diamondbacks||Marty Janzen||RHP||Toronto Blue Jays|
|70||Tampa Bay Devil Rays||Vaughn Eshelman||LHP||Oakland Athletics|
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