Free Agent Market = No Achilles' Heel for Z ... so far


There has been a suspicion, fueled not least by Dr. D., that Jack Zduriencik has a gift for evaluating ML-ready talent, but that his evaluations of established ML players might not be so remarkable.

Benihana, shedding light rather than heat, lists every FA acquisition that Z has made:


Russell Branyan:1yr, $1.4M = 1.8 WAR 
Ken Griffey, JR: 1yr, $2M = -0.3 WAR


Chone Figgins: 4yr, $36M = 1.1 WAR (10) -0.5 WAR (11), TBD, TBD
Eric Byrnes: 1yr, $0.4M = -0.5 WAR
Ryan Garko: 1yr, $0.55M = released before the season


Jack Cust: 1yr, $2.5M = 0.1 WAR
Miguel Olivo: 2yr, $7M = 0.2 WAR (11), TBD
Brendan Ryan: 2yr, $2.75M = 2.8 WAR (11), TBD


George Sherril: 1yr, $1.2 = TBD


And that's what I found.  Everyone else was either signed to a minor league deal or acquired via trade.  Did I miss someone?

So, first off, that ain't a team that's trying to BUY anything.

=== Outlet Mall Dept. ===

First kibitz is this:  there is only one player who has been paid for even 1 WAR per year, that being Figgins.

Zduriencik is 0-for-1 on big-name FA's.  If Dr. D is CEO, grading his GM, Z gets a pass on Chone Figgins.  First of all, because it's one player only, and second of all because EVERYbody wanted Figgins at that salary.  As CEO, I was giddy about the deal.  No doubt you were too.

It just didn't work out.  F-500 companies have "lessons learned" reports.  Lesson learned:  5.0 WAR cobbled through UZR, and walks, and baserunning, and etc., aren't 5.0 WAR hard on the barrelhead the way that a 40-homer man gets them.

Another lesson learned:  comfort zones matter.  Big time.  Dismiss them at your peril.


=== NFL Street "Are you SURE you're a STARTER?" Dept. ===

At a glance (thanks to Benihana's list) we can see that there have been 5 players signed to be bargain starters "on the cheap," those being Branyan, Cust, Jr,*, Ryan and Olivo.  

Three of those five players were major positives as starting players, for sub-1 WAR salaries.  (10 runs added, or 1 WAR, have been costing $4.5M per year in salary.  That is quickly rising in 2011-12.)

Russell Branyan saved the M's first half in 2009, slugging .600 most of the way.  He was paid next to nothing.  Miguel Olivo and Brendan Ryan have been very respectable ML starters at middle-of-the-diamond positions.

Here, let's run these five guys in Fangraphs value and in salaries paid:

  Salary Earned
Branyan $1.4 $12.0
Ryan 2.75 11.8
Olivo 3.5 4.3*
(Junior 2.0 -3.8)
Cust 2.5 -0.4


Junior was an organizational decision forced on Zduriencik against his recommendation.  It wasn't a talent evaluation by Zduriencik and shouldn't be on a chart that assesses Zduriencik's abilities.

Note #2:  Olivo's $4.3M in fangraphs value does NOT capture his CERA, his handling of the pitchers, and the progress made by M's pitchers such as Jason Vargas, Doug Fister, etc.  It captures Olivo's bat and caught stealing and a few other little things.  A fair value for Olivo would be more like $6 or $8M last season, in my view.

Cust should, and whether Z's fault or not, represents Zduriencik's biggest misfire in the "free agent market."


=== Non-FA's ===

"Free agents signed from outside the org" doesn't capture everything about Zduriencik's decisions, naturally.  

I loathed the Jack Wilson decision when it was made, heaped abuse on the Ian Snell decision, slammed my head against the desk a dozen times on the Casey Kotchman decision.  (Should he be on the above list?)

But, on the other hand, it was foresight bordering on the supernatural to send Russell Branyan packing after 2009.  He had just slugged .520 in Seattle -- about what you'd expect Carlos Beltran to hit, in a good year -- but was on the brink of the end of his career, which apparently came in 2011.

Am sure there would be a good number of other decisions to look at, to get a really fair overall read.  Still:  Benihana's list is a great starting point and it completely cuts across my assumptions.

=== Dr's Diagnosis ===

But supposing you took the four players other than Junior ... and you used only the Fangraphs values ... then Zduriencik scraped the mayo jar for $10.2 million worth of players, and got back $27.7M worth of value.  There are bloggers who think you can win the World Series that way. 


Lot of light there, very little heat, Benihana.  Great listing.

Zduriencik has signed one major free agent, and five super-cheap FA's he intended to be starting players.  The major FA imploded; the five cheapies, as a group, woulda made a Fangraphs author puff out his chest.

I unsay my previous words about Zduriencik's evaluations of established ML talent.  So far he's been doing well.


Dr D


IcebreakerX's picture

Was a trade, not a FA acquisition.
We gave up Cleto, I think.
So that's one big plus off the list.
Given, the Cards were in dump mode, but still...


Jack Wilson and Brendan Ryan roughly cancel each other out, anyway, it seems.  Wilson's not on the list even though we extended him of our own free will.
On a 30,000-foot view, you try two NL-central SS's, and one crashes and the other's fairly useful ... those two dice rolls, in isolation, are two rolls that any GM (including Bavasi, Woodward, etc) might have taken.
Objectively speaking, I personally would grade [Wilson + Ryan together] as mediocre to dubious.

IcebreakerX's picture

You can call Jack Wilson a trade then FA... The M's declined his one year option and opted to pay him more over two years. 
Figgins, for me, was DOA. I have always been a doubter in the glove affair of the last few years in baseball (there are just somethings baseball figured out before sabermetrics... you don't put Endy Chavez in left and call it good...) and there was no way in hel...p menus that he got awesome and would stay that way at 32. Given, I didn't think he'd be this catastrophic... More like very inefficient returns.

IcebreakerX's picture

I do believe GMZ *is* a good negotiator and a good talent evaluator in the minors. That should offset the fact that he's really a first-time GM. There's a lot to juggle at the top level.

benihana's picture

So was Kotchman (Bill Hall (who was a trade too))
Jack Wilson was a trade, resigned of our own accord. 
Many of Jack's minor league deals panned out well too - Sweeney, Kennedy, the 'pile' of bullpen arms, etc.
With the exception of Figgins, every move on the FA list seems to be low-risk low-reward.  It seems that Z has cleared the flotsam and jetsam of the Bavasi regime without locking up positions where prospects can prosper.  He's limited the total outlay in both dollars and years to reasonable amounts (if $9 million per is your worst deal, that ain't bad in the scheme of things).
Seems a lot like he's been doing what Sandy's been saying, and also what Geoff Baker's been saying lately - this team is well positioned to maintain maximum flexibility moving forward.  
- Ben.


In truth, it's HARD to judge the moves Z has made objectively.  There's noise associated with a bunch of the moves.
Was Griffey FORCED on him - or just suggested?
Bradley was his attempt to get a Mulligan on the Silva deal.  But, ignoring Bradley completely allows Z to ignore his most expensive outlay of his regime so far - (I don't think Figgy has outearned Bradley quite yet, but I could be wrong).
Yes, Z cut payroll to the mid 80s. 
Texas cut payroll to $55 and went to the WS.  Tampa cut payroll to 40-something and went to the playoffs.
My take is Z spent two years mostly just shoveling fertilizer overboard. 
But, what about his first move?  Guti is not even mentioned.  He was (once-upon-a-time), the foundation centerpiece of the rebuild.  But, since he wasn't a FA he doesn't show up on the assessment.  Hey, I get the reasons to equivocate on Guti.  But, rather than concentrate on method of acquistion, why not concentrate on previous MLB experience?
Guys that Z picked up with the intention to start who had more than 600 MLB PAs before arrival?
That would include:
CA: Olivo
1B: Branyan, Kotchman, Smoak
2B: Figgins
3B: (Figgins)
SS: Wilson, Ryan
LF: Endy, Bradley
CF: Guti,
RF: n/a
DH: (Bradley), Griffey, Cust
The only guys paid anything significant were Olivo, Figgy, Wilson, Bradley and Guti. 
And, honestly, it's almost a perfect inverse relation of money to how bad they were. 
One of his earliest moves was dumping Yuni for Wilson/Wilson.  While Yuni isn't scaring anyone with his offensive prowess - Yuni DID manage 78 and 68 RBI the last two seasons.  How many Ms did?  None.  Not that RBI is a great stat to judge hitters - but Yuni is yet another in a long line of players who left Seattle to get better, (16 and 13 HRs the past two seasons).  Justin Smoak, the wunderkind prospect coup of the Z era managed 169 total bases in 2011.  Yuni managed 212.  Though long forgotten, Yuni managed 225 total bases as a 24-year old. 
Lopez slugged .472 in a quarter season of play with the Marlins last season and managed a .731 OPS. 
The lineup that Z assembled and Wedge started the 2011 season with was:
There is only one player left over from pre-Z ... Ichiro. 
That's 9 starters.  How many finished 2011 with an OPS+ above 100?
Heck, how many finished the season on the roster?
Me?  I think Z did a pretty good job of selecting veterans, given his budget constraints.  But, the reality is that Seattle still has a significant issue with imported talent falling short of expectations.  Seattle isn't a 20 or 30 point drop in OPS ... that's the result in the happy exceptions.  The normal behavior is a 100-200 point drop in OPS.
IMO, Seattle still has not addressed the #1 problem with the organization.  They literally do not understand how to hit effectively in their own stadium.  Whatever they teach tends to make hitters WORSE.  Hey, it's a tough park.  I get that.  But Dodger stadium was a pitchers park for decades - but didn't neuter every import that came through.
While Z has tried to tailor the roster to the park (stock up on lefties and switch hitters).  But what has the actual home/road OPS split done since 2007 for the Seattle offense?
year --- home -- away
2007 -- .755 -- .769
2008 -- .720 -- .695
2009 -- .712 -- .719
2010 -- .623 -- .651
2011 -- .623 -- .658
The road OPS has dropped by 40 points since 2008.  The home OPS has dropped by almost 100. 
My favorite line by Doc ever has been - "If I was wrong - how would I know?"  Everyone believes that stocking up on lefties is the key to combating the Safeco effect.  How would I know I'm wrong -- if after stocking up on lefties, my home road split continues to get worse.


The lefties we brought in make it hard to judge.
The corpse of Griffey, corpse of Cust, Kotchman (probably the worst lefty fit for the park you could get as Taro has noted in the past).


Yes, it's hard to judge Z's success. 
My post wasn't originally intended to be a memo on handedness - it was intended mostly to warn against the danger of hand-waving away every counter-example that might call into question Z's FA selection acumen.  Nothing wrong with counting Branyan and Ryan as successful pickups ... but if Bradley and Wilson and Kotchman are ignored ... and then you "give a pass" on Figgins, then I'm sorry, but I've got to question the methodology being employed, because it certainly feels like too many players (especially the poor performing ones) are being ignored.
In the final analysis, the opening day 2011 lineup had zero players with under 700 MLB PAs.  The guy with the fewest, (Smoak), was the only player in that opening day lineup to finish the year with a 100 OPS+.  EVERY Mariner player that finished with an OPS+ over 100 had fewer than 800 PAs when 2011 began. 
This wasn't Z's first year.  It was his third.  And by the end of it, what was the "veteran" assessment, (guys with 800+ PAs coming in)? The WAR totals are from bbref.
C. Figgins - 39 OPS+ 313 PA - -1.0-WAR; $9 millionF. Gutierrez 53 OPS+ 344 PA - -0.7-WAR; $4 millionJack Wilson- 65 OPS+ 187 PA - +0.6-WAR; $5 millionMiguel Olivo 79 OPS+ 507 PA - +1.0-WAR; $2.25 millionA. Kennedy - 79 OPS+ 409 PA - -0.2-WAR; $750kLuis Rod --- 80 OPS+ 139 PA - +0.1-WAR; $600kBrandan Ryan 83 OPS+ 494 PA - +2.8-WAR; $1 millionLangerhans - 89 OPS+ 64 PA -- -0.6-WAR; $525kM. Bradley - 91 OPS+ 115 PA - +0.0-WAR; $12 millionJack Cust -- 94 OPS+ 270 PA - +0.1-WAR $2.5 million
By my count that is $37+ million spent on 10 players for an aggregate total of +2.1-WAR. ... chosen by Z ... with none breaking 100 OPS+.  If you drop the minor league gambles, you still end up with about $35 million for about 3 WAR.  I'm sorry, but if you pick 10 players, pay them $35 million and they produce only 3 WAR between them, then you aren't doing a good job of selecting veterans.  You aren't even doing an average job.  If you continue with an $11 million per WAR rate of return on your veteran pickups, then you're going to need a payroll of $400 million to become competitive.


Yeah, but some of those really are Mulligans.
Gutz?  C'mon.  Z deserves a break on that.  The man basically came down with  plague.
Figgins?  No one predicted him to crater like that.  Most people though it was a solid if unspectacular move at the time for a reasonable contract, not a potential disaster.
Jack Wilson?  On Z, but there weren't a lot of other good choices IIRC.
Bradley?  That's really on Bavasi.  Desparate move to get rid of the Buffalo.
Cust?  Bad, but not terrible, especially in terms of dollars.
Olivo?  Gotta have a catcher.  Servicable.  Move forced on Z by failure of RJ and Moore. V-Mart or Russel Martin would have been better choices I guess.  Obviously trading for Napoli would have been the way to go as advocated by Taro.
The other guys were either good (Ryan) or role players paid peanuts and really represent ony the lost opportunity cost of playing someone else in that roster spot.
Where I think Z is overrated (I know this is a contrarian position) is actually in the trade market.  Some huge wins, sure, but not a story of uninterrupted success, certainly.  Lots of weak trades too, especially in retrospect (though some, like Fister, are still very early).

Tim's picture

Sandy's point is interesting to me - how much do teams actually end up paying per eventual win on their roster? Taking a look at the free agents on the 2011 Rays, the most efficient team in 2011 in $/win:
Manny Ramirez       -0.3 WAR,   $2.0MJuan Cruz                 0.3 WAR,   $0.8kDan Johnson            -0.8 WAR,   $1.0MJoel Peralta               1.3 WAR,   $0.9MJohnny Damon         2.8 WAR,   $5.2MKyle Farnsworth      1.8 WAR,   $2.6M
Ending up with a net +5.1 wins being paid $12.5M, or $2.5 M/win. When your franchise can get that kind of value even from free agency, that's huge. While Z may not have an "Achilles heel" when it comes to picking free agents and veterans, he's certainly not elite, and there's room for improvement.
Maybe it's poor circumstances and bad luck, as Grumpy is suggesting - a couple of bad rolls of the dice, a Silva contract here or there. 
Speaking of Silva, and also of trades... over 2010 and 2011, Carlos Silva was worth 2.1 WAR, Milton Bradley, -0.7. That's surprising to me.

Add comment

Filtered HTML

  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <em> <strong> <cite> <blockquote> <code> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd><p><br>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.


  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <em> <strong> <cite> <blockquote> <code> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.