In the game of baseball, as in sandcastle-building, I'd rather be the dragon than the hapless worker.
I find certain reactions to our offseason moves interesting. The prevailing opinions so far seem to be that a) we overpaid Cruz by something from a marginal to a ridiculous degree, and b) that Michael Saunders was the goose that lays the golden eggs and we threw him away for half a ham sammich and some stale fries.
"If Cruz is truly worth the 1.5 WAR that Steamer projects he’d be a 3.6 WAR marginal gain over the fecal matter the Mariners deployed at the position in 2014 — Kendrys Morales, Corey Hart, and Jesus Montero combined for -2.1 WAR at DH. Getting a 3.6 WAR gain in this market for only $14.5 million per season on average seems like a bargain, but to measure it that way completely ignores the principles of replacement level. Nonetheless, Cruz was an upgrade, albeit one that some (me at least) would argue was substantially too expensive (also one that could have been outpaced by an Adam Lind/John Mayberry platoon).
That said, trading Michael Saunders for J.A. Happ was simply asinine, and basically undoes all of the good done from overspending on Cruz.... Cruz in addition to Saunders was a marginal gain. Cruz without Saunders is basically a wash, and preys on a position – any outfield position that is – for which the Mariners have very little organizational depth."
On Happ in a separate article, he argues that the Safeco effect should not be calculated into the performance of Happ because it's also part of the performance of anyone pitching against Happ, so there's no surplus value added there.
Please do pop over to his site and read the articles. I think they're wrong about a couple of points, but they are very worthwhile reads with a good take on some of the issues at hand.
So let's talk about it. First, Cruz. The Mariners solved their DH issues for at least the next couple of years (even under the most pessimistic projections) and did it for market value (Cruz is making a couple million less per year than Victor Martinez, the other major DH on the market, and around the same annual amount that the Red Sox are paying someone like Mike Napoli, who could have been brought in to play DH). If you have a proven contributor at the DH position, you will pay him what we paid Cruz. It's not the easiest position, despite what some think.
But apparently there is still disagreement about that. Casey suggests a Lind/Mayberry platoon, which would absolutely be cheaper. And with Mayberry's career .860 OPS against lefties (he's .660 against same-handed pitching) and Lind (.860 against righties, .590 against lefties) we would have a 2-headed DH posting that combined .860 OPS for around 10 or 11 million a year for the next couple of years. That saves you 3 million at least on Cruz's deal and only costs you a position spot (tying up two guys for a DH spot rather than one).
Why hasn't the league caught on to this yet? Why aren't there DH platoons everywhere in the league? Firstly, the bench position is apparently worth more value than we're giving it. Neither Mayberry nor Lind can be allowed to play much on days they are facing same-handed pitching. You're turning a corner position into a glove-SS at the plate any time that happens. Late in game, same problem: you need the ability to bring your alternate DH in off the bench to face a situational reliever, so you can't use Mayberry earlier (or you need to make sure you have other guys who can crush oppo-handed pitching sitting on your bench in addition to the one you've already got).
Cruz, for his career, posts an .810 OPS against righties and destroys lefties to the tune of .890. He doesn't need to be pinch-hit for. He can handle his own business, and is about the same vs. starters or relievers. Cruz can also hit as a DH (unlike someone like Mayberry, who has basically never done it - although he's been much better than the average pinch-hitter, so perhaps it's in his skillset).
There's also the gaping black hole at DH that the Ms have posted in the vast majority of years since Gar retired. Many would say we should not consider that, but I guarantee you the Ms are. They've tried platoons, retreads, aging players, injury discounts, expensive midseason additions and gotten basically nowhere. We missed the playoffs last year for many reasons, but one of them was because of our designated hitter conglomerate-abomination. DH is not a position you can just put any ol' hitter into. It's actually a specific skill to be able to hit well while not staying in the field. Many players hate to DH. NL players haven't done it since the minors, in most cases.
And adding Lind or Seth Smith or others would require a trade - like giving up Saunders, let's say. With people flipping out about adding Happ for the price of Saunders, would be it be any better if they gave up Michael for Lind who is twice the Condor's price and has to be platooned? I dunno.
Then there's his manager to consider. Lloyd wants an armada of death in the bullpen, an arm for every occasion, and never to run out of rested and deadly arms. The price for that is a short bench. Perhaps a team that does not have a flotilla of relievers can spare the bench space for the RH part of a corner platoon, but on this team - one that is already platooning middle infielders to some extent - we probably do not have that luxury.
I do find it weird that after years of people scoffing at Jack for adding a bunch of DH/1B types because he WANTED to piece together a set of 1B/DH platoon combos/rotating players and having it blow up in his face that he's now getting grief for adding one of the better FA bats for market price and getting away from that model. I wish we'd kept Jaso to be a lefty 1B/DH, but Morrison is that now for the same time period - and unlike Jaso, he doesn't have to be platooned. There's value in that which goes understated.
And can we talk about DH replacement-level WAR for a minute?
Here's the chart of everybody who had at least 40 games at DH and had more than 1 WAR:
V-Mart, DET: 5.3 WAR
Cruz, BAL: 4.7 WAR
Pujols, LAA: 3.9 WAR
Encarnacion, TOR: 3.6 WAR
Ortiz, BOS: 2.9 WAR
Chris Carter, HOU: 1.9 WAR
The only other guys who had ANY positive WAR contributions with 40 games at DH were Kenny Vargas (.7 WAR, 234 PAs), DeJesus (0.7 WAR, 273 PAs), Adam Dunn (0.3 WAR, 511 PAs) and Shin-soo Choo (0.1 WAR, 529 PAs). Up that number to 60 games, and your positive WAR DHs are V-Mart, Cruz, Ortiz, Carter and (barely-WAR-useful) Dunn.
Now, I don't like the way WAR is figured for DH, but that aside: there are 15 teams in the AL - FIVE of them had useful DHs, and a couple others had minorly useful part-DHs. Are they all somehow platooning useful DH production out of lesser players?
sOPS+ for DH position, per team:
DET: 159 (.958 OPS)
BOS: 133 (.862 OPS)
HOU: 117 (.809 OPS)
BAL: 116 (.796 OPS)
CHW: 115 (.791 OPS)
TOR: 112 (.782 OPS)
MIN: 108 (.765 OPS)
LAA: 104 (.753 OPS)
CLE: 96 (.721 OPS)
TBR: 92 (.703 OPS)
TEX: 91 (.702 OPS)
NYY: 80 (.662 OPS)
KCR: 76 (.639 OPS)
OAK: 75 (.637 OPS)
SEA: 56 (.567 OPS)
So if you didn't have V-Mart, Cruz, Pujols, Encarnacion, Ortiz or Carter taking a chunk of DH at-bats for your team, your DH position was basically a slag heap. Platooning or using lesser players didn't help, and definitely hurt. If every AL team could find a good DH platoon, they would. If DHing wasn't a skill, then from the pool of available hitters (none of whom are required to field), teams should be ablle to cobble together plus performances every year. They don't, and they didn't in 2014 either.
The exceptions? The White Sox and the Twins. Why? The White Sox split their DH duties between Dunn, Konerko and 35 games of Abreu. Abreu's .910 OPS over his DH time increased the totals quite a bit, and Dunn and Konerko are two borderline HOF players giving their last bit for the team in a platoon. It worked out. The Twins used the position as a catch-all (7 dudes with more than 30 PAs at DH) and ALL of them hit well there except for Kendrys. Pinto's .772 OPS was the LOWEST from the other guys. They are the one team that a rotating DH worked out for.
I'm not willing to take the bet that we could make that happen (since we sure haven't in the last decade) and Jack wasn't either. We needed right-handed power to help balance the lineup, and we got it. We needed a plus DH, and we got that too. If Cruz disintegrates at the plate in short order it might be Jack's head, but this game is a lot of guessing. About player worth, player durability, growth... and performance. Jack's making the best guess he can, and for the $3 million delta between a Lind/Mayberry platoon or Cruz himself, I'll take Cruz. Especially since lineup production doesn't care about positional WAR replacement, it cares about runs. We already tried getting a bunch of defensive whizzes in here and we put up the worst offense in the DH era. A run saved is NOT always the same as a run earned, because you can't always earn the same amount of runs with an additive-based offense that you can subtract with an area-based defense. Right now we're trying for both, with decent defenders (Golden Glove in the infield) and better positioning added to actual hitters and really good pitching. This is to be celebrated, not derided.
... and I was gonna talk about Happ here, but that'll have to come later because Cruz sucked up this whole post somehow. I just think the idea that we can get Cruz's career level of performance from a mish-mash of players to be odd, since you have to have the RIGHT mish-mash of players in the first place (which we never seem to and Jack has therefore demonstrated no skill to acquire) and that if we HAD a mish-mash of players all failing to do that, we ossify the roster and create issues elsewhere.
Nelson Cruz is not my favorite player, but we needed what he provides. Felix is in his prime NOW. Cruz and Seager are there NOW. Cruz even, should still be there NOW. So NOW is the time to strike when the irons are hot. We've wasted a decade of the King's career through idiocy and penny-pinching. Let's not waste any more. If Cruz is a statement that we're committed to winning, then so be it. I'd rather that than another excuse for adding a 2nd or 3rd-tier hitter who eventually fails to conquer Safeco like the rest before him.
Enough slag heaps - I want victory pyrotechnics, not more dumpster fires.