GM GPA: Grading Kevin Towers' First Semester

There's no question that the D-backs have exceeded expectations in GM Kevin Towers' first year as D-backs GM, but Towers' moves from last off-season have come under some scrutiny across the site.  As a fun little exercise, I've decided to try my hand at creating a little toy stat, which I've designated the "GM GPA" to try to measure how "good" he's been while in charge of the team.  Details on how the stat works after the break, and, of course, the calculations of the stat for Towers.

First, let's run through how the stat is calculated.  First, I take an individual acquisition and calculate the estimated total cost of the move.  This initial calculation requires a few assumptions.  First, the most basic cost is cash, though in a multi-year contract there is technically the issue of the time value of money.  After all, five million dollars a year from now is less valuable than five million dollars today.  However, the last thing I want to try to do is assume some undoubtedly-incorrect baseball salary inflation rate, so I'm going to be operating under the assumption that all contract money is equal, which thankfully isn't a particularly absurd assumption since Arizona didn't sign a free agent to longer than a two-year deal last summer.

For the valuations of draft picks and prospects, I've turned to the ever-awesome research of Victor Wang, who provided estimate surplus value calculations for those assets, as detailed here.  These calculations will be used when describing the "true costs" of trades involving prospects or free agent signings with draft pick ramifications that affected the D-backs.  Then, of course, there's valuing Mark Reynolds, which I'll get to later.  The cost of a replacement player will not be factored into each move, as the $40k adjustments aren't material to the analysis.

From there, I assign a completely arbitrary "grade" on the standard educational grading scale (with a few moves stretching outside that limit...), then weight each grade in terms of its cost, as higher-cost moves should obviously weigh more heavily in determining a GM's effectiveness.  One final point: this isn't a grading of the thinking behind Towers' moves, but a grading of how each of the moves has turned out over the course of the season (in my opinion).  Also, above all else, remember that it's a toy stat.

First, I'll split the moves into three tiers based on this true cost: cost > $6MM, $6MM > cost > $1MM, and cost of $1MM and below, which I'll respectively refer to as the "high cost," "moderate cost," and "minimal cost" tiers (I couldn't justify calling a $1MM "medium cost" in baseball terms, but it's certainly not "low cost" in normal human terms, so these titles just stuck with me better).  This post will be divided first into three sections detailing these three categories of moves individually before getting to a cumulative grade.

Final note: All contract info courtesy of the glorious godsend that is Cot's Baseball Contracts.

 

High Cost Transactions:

Arizona signs RHP J.J. Putz - True Cost: $10MM - Grade: A-

True Cost Breakdown: Arizona signed Putz to a two-year, $8.5MM contract w/ a $6.5MM club option ($1.5MM buyout); $10MM guaranteed.

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J.J. Putz has been exactly what we've hoped for - a stabilizing force in the back of the bullpen that has consistently locked down the ninth inning for the D-backs.  Sure, he's struggled as of late, but he's still put up a 3.12/3.40 ERA/FIP in 34.2 innings of work in the first half of the season, good for 0.6 fWAR.  A legitimate 1.2 fWAR season pace and whatever intangible value may come from having that back-end anchor in the bullpen, all for what is effectively $5MM, is hard value to find in the free agent relief pitching market.  Arizona has done a great job of keeping him healthy and available (up until this recent DL stint, which I don't believe is serious), and the stuff is as good as you could possibly expect given his age.  There's no absurd level of surplus value here, but you have to consider the fact that Towers got legitimate relief pitching value in a market that gave Joaquin Benoit three years and $15MM a definite plus, and a massively successful move.

 

Arizona trades 3B Mark Reynolds and a PTBNL (C John Hester) to Baltimore for RHP David Hernandez and RHP Kam Mickolio - True Cost: $8.5MM - Grade: C+

True Cost Breakdown: This is where the analysis gets complex.  Wang's research values Hester at $0.5MM, which seems reasonable enough for me, but Reynolds is a much more complex player to asset, with a three-year contract and inconsistent performance history.  First, the contract details: assuming Reynolds' third-year option gets exercised (which I think it should/will be), he's basically on a three-year, $23.5MM contract dating back to the start of this season.  Additionally, we have the fortune of knowing that Mark's next three seasons are technically the prime of his career, so we won't have to make any adjustments for post-30-years-old aging decline.

Next, we have to try to deal with his defensive value.  Reynolds looked like he was evolving into a solid defender in 2010, posting the first positive UZR of his career.  However, that has suddenly turned into Exhibit A for why full-season samples of defensive metrics aren't fully-stabilized samples.  Reynolds has been hit by a freight train of regression, as his UZR in the first half of 2011 would represent a full-season career-low, at a staggeringly-bad -16.5.  Looking at his career UZR by year since he became a full-time player in 2008, it's not too difficult to spot the outlier: -11.0, -11.4, 1.7, -16.5 (79 games).  There simply no denying that Mark is a bad defender at third.  Personally, I would guess that his true level of defensive skill is somewhere in the -11 range, but I'll be a little more methodical for the sake of this post and use his career UZR/150 figure at third base, -9.7, as a pro forma UZR/150 over the next three years.

Now, to tackle what kind of hitter he'll be going forward.  His wRC+ numbers by season since '08 are as follows: 99, 128, 96, and 130 (87 games).  What I've decided to use is a 5/4/3 weighting scale for his last three years of wOBA, though I have adjusted this for the fact that his most recent "season" is just half of a year, essentially making it a 2.5/4/3 weighting scale for the wRC+ totals of 132/96/128.  This results in a pro forma wRC+ of 115.6 over the next two and a half years.  Over 600 plate appearances, assuming that runs per plate appearance remain at the levels they were at in 2010, that adds up to 9.9 runs above-average per 600 plate appearances.

Adding the 20 run "replacement" average production and two-run third base positional adjustment, then factoring in the aforementioned -9.7 UZR, and you come up with approximately a 2.2 WAR player.  Two and a half seasons of a 2.2 WAR player plus the 0.7 fWAR he's accumulated so far in 2011 gives us a total of 6.2 expected WAR from 2011-2013, the life of Reynolds' contract, which has value of $31MM when assuming $5MM/WAR market value.  Subtracting the $23.5MM left on Mark's contract gives us a surplus value of $7.5MM.  If all of that was way too confusing to handle in words, here's a pretty table with all of the details and calculations:

Mark Reynolds Surplus Value Calculations:
Contract Details:
  - Contract Length (assuming option is picked up): 3 years
  - Contract Salary: $23.5MM
5/4/3 (2.5/4/3) three-year wRC+ weights:
  - '09: 128
  - '10: 96
  - '11: 130
Projected wRC+: 115.1
Projected (wRC+ / 100): 1.150526
2010 Actual MLB Runs per PA: 0.109916
wRAA/PA: 0.016545
    [-- Equal to (AvgRuns/PA)((wRC+/100)-1)]
wRAA/600 PA: 9.927155
 
Approx. League Average (FG "Replacement") RAR/600 PA:         20
 
Approx. 3B Positional Adjustment per 150 G, in RAR 2
 
Career UZR/150: -9.7
Calculated Expected RAR/year: 22.22716
Calculated Expected pro forma WAR/year: 2.222716
 
WAR/2.5 years: 5.556789
Current 2011 WAR: 0.7
Expected 2011-2013 WAR: 6.256789
 
Value of 2011-2013 WAR, in $MM ($5MM/WAR): 31.28394
Contract Salary, in $MM: 23.5
Surplus Value, in $MM:      7.783944

Now, keep in mind that this valuation of Reynolds could be tinkered in very small ways to come up with very dramatic changes.  For instance, weighing Mark's 2011 success as a full season (i.e. setting the weights at 5/4/3) raises his value by well over $2MM going forward.  Additionally, if his UZR/150 sits at -11 instead of -9.7 over the next two and a half years, that's cuts around a million bucks of surplus value from that total.  This is just the best guess I have right now.

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Now that I've spent extensive time trying to value Reynolds, allow me to say this: I have absolutely no idea what to think of this trade.  As recently as June 3, Mark was hitting a paltry .188/.307/.365 and rated poorly defensively according to UZR, and it looked as if Arizona could have gotten the better of Andy MacPhail.  Not only was Arizona getting the better production, but they were paying less for it and had longer control of it, too.  However, a .225 BABIP through that date and decent, though not great, peripherals (.177 ISO, 56:30 K:BB ratio) may have been responsible for keeping Reynolds' numbers down.  Since that date, Reynolds has been playing absolutely, to put it in one strangely-jumbled word, berzonkertastic.

In just 33 games, Mark has gone 31-105 (.295) with 20 walks (a .411 OBP) and... wait for it... thirteen home runs - a .714 slugging percentage.  His BABIP over this stretch isn't absurd, either, at .333.  Sure, that balls-in-play mark is high, but it's about sixty points below the kind of BABIP I'd expect over a one-month span that resulted in a 1.125 OPS.  The hot streak has raised his season line to .227/.346/.493, with a still-low season BABIP of .259 going into the break.  Yes, his defense has (supposedly) been atrocious to the point where a move to first base might make sense, but we have a Juan Miranda-sized (now down to 0.5 fWAR) hole at that position.  Heck, even Ryan Roberts and his 1.9 fWAR has hit an utterly disappointing ..226/.298/.355 hitter since May 3, and Roberts isn't exactly looking like a long-term everyday option anymore.

So Mark definitely would fit one of this team's holes, but what about Hernandez and Mickolio?  The latter (and Bryan Shaw... and Esmerling Vasquez...) has been buried, after just 6.2 innings in the majors, at Triple-A Reno in favor of Yhency Brazoban for reasons that I simply cannot comprehend.  Mickolio 's 3.24 xFIP was too promising to give up on that quickly because of a couple of command kinks in such an absurdly small sample of innings.  It's a shame, too, because keeping Mickolio in the majors would Arizona another solid reliever, and one that the club could have really used before the All-Star break with J.J. Putz out.

Hernandez, on the other hand, has been a fixture in the Arizona bullpen for the first half of the season, and when I say "fixture," I mean "he's appeared in forty-fricking-eight percent of the team's games."  He's been nothing short of phenomenal in spite of an excessive walk rate due to his electric ability to strike batters out and an incredibly friendly HR/FB rate that is destined to regress.  Still, his FIP is a mere 2.74 (xFIP of 3.75) in 41.1 innings (yikes), for 0.9 fWAR.  Unlike the case with Mark, pretty much all of Hernandez's value is surplus value, since he's making minimum salary for the next couple of years.  That's a definite point in Arizona's favor for this trade - the performance of Hernandez and Mickolio probably won't match Mark's, but it doesn't have to for this to be a very good trade.

However, one has to be worried about Hernandez's ability to keep his right arm attached - all of this work in 2011 could have devastating long-term repercussions on his ability to stay active and stay effective.  If Hernandez falls apart in the next couple of years, this trade will prove to be a complete bust... unless Mickolio pulls through and taps into his enormous upside.  Then again, Mark could continue along his 130 wRC+ pace for three years and have it not matter.  Or, of course, Mark could regress back towards the 100 wRC+ pace he was close to a year ago, and combine it with poor D at third and make it a good deal for Arizona regardless of what Hernandez and Mickolio manage to do.

So, once again, I have no idea what to make of this trade after half of a season.  So I'm giving it a C+ grade, which is basically my way of noting that Arizona has received the superior value so far, while also saying "inconclusive, ask again in November" as far as future value to be received.  By that time, we should have a better idea of which Mark Reynolds Baltimore will have for the next couple of years, and how much work Hernandez will have been put through over the season.

 

So that's it for the high-cost transactions - yes, Kevin Towers made just two moves that involved lump costs greater than $6MM, and dedicated no more than $10MM to any acquisition, which certainly makes sense for a low-budget team like the D-backs trying to stretch the value of each dollar.  Here's the nice and quick data table for the GPA results of the high-cost transactions made by Towers:

     High-Cost Transaction:           Cost:        Grade:      GPA:      Weight:     Weight * GPA:  
J.J. Putz Signing $10MM A- 3.67 52% 1.911
Mark Reynolds Trade $9.2MM C+ 2.33 48% 1.116
"Cost > $6MM" Total $19.2MM -- -- 100% 3.028

Certainly a nice score, considering that I've tried to design this so that a C grade is "GM Average."  Half of a season into the year, Towers has certainly made his two most important moves count for Arizona, particularly considering that the Reynolds trade would have received a much lower grade going into the season.  These are the moves that Towers can't afford to have backfire, and thus far they haven't.  A kudos has to go to Towers for that.

 

Moderate Cost Transactions:

I feel it necessary to begin this section, unlike the others, with a disclaimer.  The set of moves that have had a cost range of $1MM-$6MM is full of acquisitions of bench veterans, and the Towers supporter would point out that their professionalism and "doing the the right way" has contributed positively to the team in ways the numbers cannot express.  I'm not of the mind that these sorts of qualities among older players really has that much of an impact on the younger part of the roster.

I strongly believe that experienced and/or effective coaching does have that kind of impact, but what does Willie Bloomquist being on the bench have to do with Justin Upton's All-Star-caliber season at the plate?  Isn't Don Baylor, you know, the hitting coach, the guy who has been working with Upton on his hitting?  So when you see these grades, know that I'm judging by performance of the individual players, not by performance of the team due to the increase in veteraniness of the roster.  Now, on to the grades.

 

Arizona trades RHP Cesar Valdez to Pittsburgh for LHP Zach Duke - True Cost: $5.75MM - Grade: C-

True Cost Breakdown: Arizona signed Duke to a one-year, $3.5MM contract w/ $5.5MM club option for 2012 ($750,000 buyout); $4.25MM guaranteed. Option vests with innings pitched figure that is unlikely to be reached due to Spring Training injury.  Victor Wang's value for a grade C pitching prospect w/ age > 23 years is ~$500,000.

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This was another move where I didn't quite know what to think after a half a season's worth of games.  On one hand, Valdez was recently traded by the Pirates to the Marlins for the ever-promising cash or player to be named later after working out of the Triple-A Indianapolis bullpen in the Pittsburgh system.  On the other hand, Valdez doesn't make $4.5MM guaranteed and have a 5.40 ERA in eight big-league starts (45 innings pitched) like Duke does.  On a third hand (those of you who haven't seen me before don't know....), Duke has a 3.44 FIP and 3.93 xFIP, his best marks in those categories - and only marks below 4.00 in those categories - since his first year in the majors in 2005.  Still, Duke has under-performed his FIP throughout his career, with an ERA/FIP of 4.57/4.29 in a sample of over 1000 innings.

The question going forward that will define this move is this: is that spread the result of consistently terrible Pittsburgh infield defenses, as was the defense of the move when it was first made, or is Duke's raw stuff so bad that it gets consistently clobbered past fielders.  The second point is certainly one that needs to be considered.  Duke's two-seam fastball comes in at an average velocity of 86.4 miles per hour, per FanGraphs, just 5.6 mph faster than his average change-up, by far his best (and most often used) off-speed offering.  Duke is throwing far fewer curveballs than in any other season of his career, and the obvious question is whether or not that is a repercussion of the hand injury he suffered in Spring Training (though he's using his slider a bit more often than in any other season of his career).

He's still getting his share of ground-balls (48.5%), but how often does he get a guy to just roll over the top of one and ground out softly to second base?  Maybe it's just me, but it looks like every time Duke gets a ball on the ground, it's one of those Justin Upton-like grounders that come off the bat at what appears to be 400 mph and rocket through the left-side hole before the shortstop has an opportunity to take a step towards it.  Compare those to the grounders that Brandon Webb used to induce, and is it really fair to say that the BABIP on each grounder should be equal?  I'm not exactly sure if I buy that.

So how did I come to my conclusion for a grade?  First, Arizona hasn't really given up anything of value, so that wasn't a knock against the move.  Second, I don't think we can come to a solid conclusion as to what type of value Duke will provide this team in the second half of the season - if he significantly regresses towards his FIP, he'll be a relative bargain at $4.25MM, but if he doesn't, he's awfully close to replacement-level.  So I'm essentially giving the move a pro forma wait-and-see grade C, but had to take a tick off the grade due to the current sample of poor performance that has hurt the D-backs more often than helped.  Barry Enright could have (in my opinion) given us 45 innings of similar production for a pro-rated portion of $400,000, not a pro-rated portion of $4.25MM.

 

Arizona signs RHP Aaron Heilman - True Cost: $4.63 - Grade: F+

True Cost Breakdown: Arizona signed Heilman to a one-year, $2MM contract as a Type B free agent who had turned down salary arbitration.  Victor Wang's value of a Sandwich-round pick is $2.63MM.

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This is no offense specifically to Heilman - and I truly mean that - but this move is downright inexplicable.  It was inexplicable at the time the signing was announced, and has remained inexplicable ever since.  Heilman finished with 0.1 fWAR in 2010, yet ranked as a Type B free agent due to a high total of innings pitched and a few handy saves he accumulated in an ill-fated attempt at closing games.  Heilman declined Arizona's offer of arbitration and seemed headed out the door, and Arizona seemed fated to cash in with its second Sandwich-round pick - its fourth pick prior to the second round - in one of the deepest amateur draft classes in recent memory.

It was a fool-proof plan that only required another team to give Heilman some sort of major-league contract, which was a near-certainty given his reliability.  Sure, I think there's value in the bulk innings that Heilman gave us in 2010, but it isn't more than $2.63MM worth of value, and that's exactly what the value of the compensation draft pick was going to be.  It was almost as if former GM Josh Byrnes had this planned out from the beginning when he traded spare parts Ryne White (now out of affiliated baseball) and Scott Maine (a LOOGY at best who has been awful in the major leagues) to the Cubs for Heilman.

Then it all came crashing with one, well, inexplicable announcement.  The D-backs had signed Heilman to a one-year, $2MM contract, and were going to give the right-hander a chance to win a spot in the team's starting rotation.  WHAAAAA??!!  The mind baffles, and Heilman's performance hasn't done anything to change that.  He hurt himself in Spring Training trying to adjust to the starting role, which isn't particularly surprising given that he hasn't started a major league game since 2005.  He tried to work through the injury, but clearly wasn't completely healthy, coughing up nine earned runs and three homers in his first 6.2 innings before going on the shelf in Mid-April.  His 5.04 ERA since returning isn't good either, but he's suffered through a .342 BABIP in that span, so some of it might be bad luck.

Still, the first 6.2 innings still count, and Heilman has a 6.54 ERA and 4.91 FIP on the year, giving him -0.2 fWAR.  Below-replacement-level production isn't exactly what you hope for when you give up $4.63MM of total cost to retain somebody.  Not to mention the fact that "replacement-level" for Arizona's bullpen is probably higher than most big-league clubs, with solid arms like Kam Mickolio, Esmerling VasquezBryan Shaw, and Ryan Cook patrolling the minor leagues.  There's a legitimate chance that keeping Heilman on the roster in lieu of one of those relievers costs Arizona as much as half of a win over the course of the year, a shocking amount of value lost from keeping around a reliever.

However, the reason there's a '+' at the end of the grade rather than about five minuses is the fact that Heilman could still be a Type B free agent once again, since (I believe) the Elias ranking system uses the last three years worth of data, so Heilman's 5.21 ERA in 76 innings of work in 2008 is the season being replaced this year according to the Elias system, which Heilman ought to be able to reproduce this year even with the poor start.  If Heilman indeed remains a Type B free agent, hopefully this time the team will know well enough to let him walk.  It has to be noted, though, that there is a much larger risk next off-season that Heilman won't be given a major-league deal by one of the 29 non-Arizona teams, so the bonus to the grade provided by that designation is significantly diminished.

 

Arizona trades RHP Kevin Eichhorn and LHP Ryan Robowski to Detroit for RHP Armando Galarraga - True Cost: $4.4MM - Grade: -[C]

True Cost Breakdown: Galarraga signed to a one-year, $2.3MM contract, avoiding arbitration.  Victor Wang's value of a grade C prospect 22 years old or younger (Eichhorn) is $2.1MM.  Robowski a non-prospect.

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You thought the last move was bad?  Hah!  This one might have made some sense when it was first made, but it's been an absolute travesty ever since.  Galarraga was serviceable a year ago in Detroit, posting a 4.49 ERA and 5.09 FIP in 144.1 innings in the American League, so moving Galarraga to Arizona should have brought positive results, right?  Guess not.  Galarraga straight-up crapped himself on the mound for the D-backs, posting a 5.91 ERA in 42.2 innings (eight starts) with the help of a .254 BABIP.  His FIP was 7.22, and while his xFIP was 4.96 because of a 21% HR/FB rate, everyone who watched Galarraga pitch knows that wasn't an aberration of luck.

The guy had terrible fastball command, no third pitch, and averaged 90.2 miles per hour on your "heater" without much life.  When that's your arsenal and you can't keep yourself from throwing those pitches right down the middle, major-league hitters are going to tattoo it regularly.  Galarraga gave us a frighteningly-bad -0.8 fWAR in his time in the desert, then had a memorable - for all the wrong reasons - exit from his time with the D-backs.  And, yes, we're paying $2.3MM for the privilege of having him cost this team nearly an entire win.  Needless to say, his time in the desert is done, and I truly wouldn't be shocked if he never saw the major leagues again, although there's still a chance he could be a half-decent reliever.

So yeah, that's a complete crap sandwich, with Galarraga providing Arizona -$6.3MM of surplus value on his $2.3MM contract.  Wait, what's that?  You want to be more depressed about this move?  Unfortunately, that is a request that I can fulfill.  When the move was made, the right-hander Eichhorn was a grade C prospect who had just finished his age-20 season, mostly at Rookie-level Missoula, compiling a 5.00 ERA in 86.1 innings of work.  However, that ERA (and 12 home runs allowed) masked an impressive 81:18 K:BB ratio that has translated quite well to Low-A ball, we Eichhorn now has a 68:19 K:BB ratio in 82 innings for West Michigan in the Midwest League.  Eichhorn's ERA has dropped by over a run and a half, to an impressive 3.29.

Sure, the MWL is a pitcher-friendly league, Eichhorn has a fairly extensive injury history, and his strikeout total suggests that he profiles more as a command-and-control back-end starter.  TINSTAPP and all, though, Eichhorn will probably rate as a C+ prospect next off-season, and unlike Kevin Towers' forte of converting nothing into something, it appears that this trade could be looked back upon three years from now as Towers giving up something to get nothing.  Except that by nothing, I mean a detriment to the team.  I don't give out the "-C" for kicks and giggles, I give it out because Arizona gave up something of positive value for something of negative value.  For $4.4MM of cost, a little over 0.8 fWAR over the course of the year is about the type of value you'd hope to gain from the transaction for a C grade.  For Arizona, that's how much additional value the transaction cost us.  That has to be worth a negative "GPA" (and isn't the only such move).

 

Arizona signs INF Geoff Blum - True Cost: $2.7MM - Grade: D+

True Cost Breakdown: Blum signed to a 2-year, $2.7MM contract.

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Blum has yet to take the field for the D-backs, having been out since mid-way through Spring Training with what can be best described as "a lack of any sort of cartilage left in his knee."  However, I still have reason to be encouraged that this move could pay some sort of dividends, as the one thing Blum is capable of effectively being is a left-handed pinch-hitting option, which is one of Arizona's biggest roster weaknesses.  He's really only a switch-hitter by definition, as his career splits indicate that he may have been better served simply sticking to the left side of the plate:

Career vs. RHP: (3,536 PAs) .255/.313/.389, .703 OPS

Career vs. LHP: (764 PAs) .231/.299/.368, .667 OPS

The splits were even further exaggerated in 2010, when Blum was with the Astros (note: SSS):

2010 vs. RHP: (185 PAs) .289/.335/.387, .722 OPS, 93 sOPS+ (how Blum fared against RHP compared to how the rest of the league fared against RHP)

2010 vs. LHP: (33 PAs) .138/.242/.172, .415 OPS, 15 sOPS+

That .722 OPS against right-handed pitching would be a dramatic improvement on the team's overall .229/.287/.351 line from pinch-hitters, and better than the two lefty options the D-backs have tried to make stick as pinch-hitters this year: Sean Burroughs (.318/.318/.364, .412 BABIP) and Russell Branyan (.000/.118/.000).  If Blum could put up those kind of pinch-hit numbers over the course of a full season, then the move would probably be a C so far - a C+ for current production and a C- for "why did we give him two years again when it was totally unnecessary???"

However, considering that we've received no return on our investment halfway through the first year of Blum's deal, I felt knocking the move down to a D+ - one grade for missing this much time, another grade because the numbers listed above are speculative from past history, not current production - was appropriate.  Plus, we have no idea just how Blum will be used - if he's over-used against LHP (read: used at all against LHP), any value he could still provide against righties at his current age is obliterated.  Still, at least it's better than a negative return on your investment... (/performs seppuku on self)

 

Arizona acquires 1B Juan Miranda from the New York Yankees for RHP Scottie Allen - True Cost: $2.5MM - Grade: C

True Cost Breakdown:  Miranda makes $400k as a pre-arbitration player.  Victor Wang's value of a grade C prospect 22 years old or younger (Allen) is $2.1MM.

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To begin, yes, I overrated Allen immensely a year ago - that's what relying strictly on ARL's and numbers will do to you with prospects.  Allen has struggled immensely in the Yankees' system this year, recently being demoted from the Hi-A Carolina League to the Low-A Sally (South Atlantic) League, where he's continued doing exactly what he did in Arizona's system - put up gaudy K:BB peripherals, but give up a ton of hits and post a high ERA.  He's got potential, but mostly as a back-end guy or, particularly since he's a Yankees farmhand, a relief option.

Still, Juan Miranda hasn't exactly set the world on fire.  Earlier in the year, after the Houston series, Miranda's fWAR was comfortably in the 1.0 range, and he looked to be a solid, usable fill-in between Adam LaRoche and up-and-coming top first base prospect Paul Goldschmidt.  Since that series, though, Miranda has seen that fWAR total plummet to 0.4, with a miserable overall season wOBA of .319 and wRC+ of 94.  Simply put, Miranda's numbers would be decent at best for a bench bat, but aren't anywhere near acceptable for a regular first base option.  However, Miranda is actually on pace to provide some surplus value on that true cost figure, so long as he can curtail his slide towards replacement-level suckitude and put up at least half a win's worth of WAR on the season.  Legitimate value here in spite of the simultaneous mediocrity, so a C grade is appropriate.

 

Arizona signs 3B Melvin Mora - True Cost: $2.3MM - Grade: -[C-]

True Cost Breakdown: Mora signed to a one-year, $2.35MM contract.

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Allow me to begin by saying that, yes, I supported this move when it was first made.  Mora was solid for the Rockies last year at the plate, and were it not for appearances at second and third base - where he is a poor defender - sapping his value, he'd have been very valuable for the Rockies.  At the time the move was made, it was a good move in theory - Mora's career just happened to collapse at exactly the wrong time for Arizona.  However, it's important to note that Josh Byrnes wasn't fired because he was a bad GM in theory; he was fired because his teams didn't win and the moves he made didn't bring about good results.  So even though I would agree with making a similar move to the Mora signing in the future, I can't grade this move that way.

Mora put up -0.5 fWAR in his time in Arizona, about negative $2.5MM worth of value, at a cost of $2.35MM.  It was a lower-cost move than the Galarraga trade, and we didn't give up any young talent, so I'm giving it a slightly more forgiving grade, but it can't be denied that this move has cost this team gobs of value, and I don't think anybody will argue with the harshness of the grade.

 

Arizona signs OF/1B Xavier Nady - True Cost: $1.25MM - Grade: D-

True Cost Breakdown: Nady signed to a one-year, $1.25MM contract.

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Nady's deal was by far the cheapest of this tier of moves, but that didn't make it any better than the others.  Signed to a one-year, $1.25MM deal as a reclamation project, Arizona was hoping Nady would return to the form that saw him accumulate 3.2 fWAR in 2008 between the Pirates and the Yankees.  Unfortunately, Nady has been every bit as bad as he was a year ago with the Cubs, when he posted -0.5 fWAR.  In 63 games with the D-backs this year, Nady has posted a miserable .287 wOBA and 73 wRC+, and since the only positions Nady is capable of manning defensively are the premium offensive positions, that horrible wRC+ total has equated to -0.2 fWAR this year.

So why does Nady get some mercy with just a D- grade in spite of his below-replacement-level-ness?  Well, because the traditionalist would argue that Nady has provided some benefit to this team with his "ability" to hit well in key situations.  Under the B-R "late and close" leverage statistic, Nady is hitting .308/.317/.487 in 41 plate appearances.  Do I personally believe that Nady has been a good thing for this team?  Nope, not a bit.  But Nady has something going for him, which a lot of the others listed don't.  Don't get me wrong, though - a D- is a miserable grade for a move, and it's unfortunately a well-earned D-.

 

Arizona signs C Henry Blanco - True Cost: $1.25MM - Grade: C+

True Cost Breakdown: Blanco signed to a one-year, $1MM contract with $1.15MM mutual option for 2012 (w/ $250,000 buyout); $1.25MM guaranteed.

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Easily the best move of this tier, Blanco has represented a stable, defensively-sound backup catcher who isn't being paid like an everyday catcher, a commodity the D-backs haven't had in quite a while.  Sure, Blanco's power streak is unsustainable (his ISO of .241 would represent a career-high outside of a three-game sample in 1997), but, well, that value is already in the bank.  0.4 fWAR from your backup catcher in 20 games of action is a great payout, and even if he doesn't do much with the bat in the second half, his glove and position should keep him around or better than replacement-level for the next seventy-or-so games, meaning Arizona will likely get some surplus value on this contract.  Additionally, Blanco's signing is one of the few cases where I can actually buy into a veteran being able to positively affect this team off the field - not necessarily in handling the pitching staff or helping Miguel Montero progress defensively, but in helping to mentor some of the younger Latin American players like Esmerling Vasquez or Gerardo Parra, since there are no Hispanic coaches on the D-backs' staff.  Solid C+ move.

 

So there we have the six moves Arizona made with a true cost between $1MM and $6MM, just one of which grades above a C (and it's a C+...).  Feast your eyes on this table:

               Moderate-Cost:                       Cost:           Grade:        GPA:        Weight:       Weight * GPA:   
Zach Duke Trade $5.75MM C- 1.67 23% 0.387
Aaron Heilman Signing $4.62MM F+ 0.33 19% 0.062
Armando Galarraga Trade $4.4MM -[C] -2.00 18% -0.354
Geoff Blum Signing $2.7MM D+ 1.33 11% 0.145
Juan Miranda Trade $2.5MM C 2.00 10% 0.201
Melvin Mora Signing $2.35MM -[D] -1.00 9% -0.095
Xavier Nady Signing $1.25MM D- 0.67 5% 0.034
Henry Blanco Signing $1.25MM C+ 2.33 5% 0.117
"$6MM > Cost > $1MM" Total $24.83MM 100% 0.496

Yeah, you're reading that all correctly.  That's $24.83MM effectively turned into one giant F+/D- grade transaction.  The cumulative fWAR of these seven acquired players through the first half of 2011?  Negative 0.2.  So, to be honest, I was probably way too forgiving with the grades I handed out in this section.  For some cherry-picking fun, take away Duke's 0.9 fWAR, Blanco's 0.4 fWAR, and Miranda's 0.3 fWAR, then add in Russell Branyan's -0.3 fWAR and Willie Bloomquist's -0.2 fWAR.  Those seven players - Heilman, Galarraga, Blum, Mora, Nady, Branyan, and Bloomquist - have combined for... wait for it... negative 2.1 fWAR through the first half of 2011.  It's a really good thing for Mr. Towers that, for whatever reason (veteran presence, bullpen regression, over-achievement, or natural progression of talent), that Justin Upton, Ian Kennedy, Daniel Hudson, Miguel Montero, David Hernandez, and Gerardo Parra have all had breakout seasons.  Without the progression of those guys, this team is very clearly worse off than it was a year ago, even with J.J. Putz aboard.

 

Minimal Cost Transactions:

Arizona signs UTIL Willie Bloomquist - True Cost: $900,000 - Grade: C-

True Cost Breakdown: Bloomquist signed to one-year, $750,000 contract with 2012 mutual option for $1.1MM ($150,000 buyout) - $900,000 guaranteed.

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Willie Bloomquist has been just about everything we've expected him to be: "versatile" defensively, below-average in the field overall, an okay baserunner, absolutely atrocious with the bat, and, of course, below replacement-level.  He's put up a sterling -0.2 fWAR through the first half of the season, thought that thankfully puts him on pace to improve upon the -0.8 fWAR he posted a year ago.  The reason why Willie doesn't get an F grade in my book is that his presence on the roster and supposed "versatility," regardless of whether or not he should be on the roster or not, allows the team to keep other players on the bench who are actually useful as pinch-hitters - namely, Wily Mo Pena (and, I hope, Brandon Allen).

Now, sure, Wily Mo has technically been at replacement-level so far this year (46 PA's is hardly enough time to make a serious blip on the radar), and is absolutely worthless as a starter, but his ability to come into a game in the late innings against some idiot who thinks he's going to throw a fastball past every hitter he faces is a useful commodity.  Just useful enough, in my opinion, to give Bloomquist an only slightly below-average grade.

 

 

Arizona signs 1B Russell Branyan - True Cost: $600,000 - Grade: D

True Cost Breakdown: Branyan signed by Arizona to one-year split contract, worth $1MM in the major leagues.  After being released by the D-backs, Branyan signed with the Angels, who became responsible for a league-minimum portion of his salary (approx. $400,000).

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The Branyan experiment just didn't work.  The guy couldn't pinch-hit, he took plate appearances away from Juan Miranda when he was put in the starting lineup, and he made a solid chunk of coin while he was here.  Thankfully, the Angels tried to pick him up as a flier, taking about $400,000 of the obligation owed to Branyan off our hands, but we were still left with $600,000 worth of checks to write and the bitter aftertaste of -0.1 fWAR.  Pour some out for Branyan's career, it looks like it's about over.

 

 

Arizona selects LHP Joe Paterson in the Rule 5 Draft - True Cost: $450,000 - Grade: B+

True Cost Breakdown: Paterson makes minimum salary as a rookie.  There is a $50,000 fee to make a Rule 5 draft selection.

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Paterson was a nice find in the Rule 5 Draft, a once-rich source of talent that has seen the well dry up due to recent rule changes that allow teams an extra year of control of their minor-leaguers prior to having to protect them on the 40-man roster.  Middle relievers and LOOGYs are about all you're going to find in the Rule 5 these days, and Kevin Towers did just that when he snatched Paterson away from the NL West rival San Francisco Giants.  Although it's true that Paterson has seen his numbers take a hit in recent weeks, I attribute that more to strange usage patterns (i.e. against right-handed hitters ever) than Paterson's clock hitting midnight.  I think he's a solid LOOGY who can have a nice big-league career in that role - all it takes is a funky sideways angle, a little deception, and the ability to spin a legitimate curveball, and Paterson has all of those things.  0.2 fWAR from an investment just over-league minimum?  I'll take that for another five and a half years (the reason why the grade is so high - tons of cheap control going forward), please.

 

Arizona signs RHP Micah Owings - True Cost: $400,000 - Grade: B

True Cost Breakdown: Owings signed to MiLB contract, joined team early in season (for the sake of rounding and simplicity, I've assumed he's making a full-season's worth of minimum salary).

_______________________________________________________________________________

Here's another move that's worked out splendidly.  No, that's not sarcastic - feel free to start celebrating.  Owings has been the quintessential swingman for Arizona this year, starting a pair of games (and performing admirably) and working thirteen relief appearances with a sparkling 3.08 ERA.  His FIP is a lot higher, at 3.98 (xFIP of 4.14), but he's still put up a solid 0.2 fWAR for having pitched just 26.1 innings this year.  I feel like I speak for the site when I say that Owings should be given a bit more work every now and then, particularly when there are three right-handed hitters due up and Joe Paterson is being called upon.  As long as Owings keeps attacking the strike zone, he should prove to be a great value for the minimum-salary deal this year, and hopefully can be signed on the cheap again for 2012.

 

Arizona signs PH/DH Wily Mo Pena - True Cost: $375,000 - Grade: C+

True Cost Breakdown: Pena signed to a split contract worth $750,000 in the major leagues, and was brought up about mid-way into the season.

_______________________________________________________________________________

Pena certainly is an enigma.  His motto this year has been to "just make contact," which naturally has resulted in a career-high 41.3% K-Rate in his small handful of innings.  He's utterly atrocious in the field, and shouldn't be put anywhere close to a starting lineup card, but man can the guy give a baseball a ride.  Having already whacked five home runs in his 49 plate appearances, Pena has certainly helped make up for the fact that he has just four hits that haven't been homers.  Part of this is due to a .182 BABIP that is bound to regress with how hard the big fella hits the baseball, and part of it, once again, is the fact that he's struck out 19 times in 49 plate appearances.  He's been at replacement level so far this year, and with a few more dinky singles and doubles, I think he'll prove to be a sound investment for the money.  He gives us a legitimately dangerous hitter off the bench, or at least a replacement-level one... and that's something we didn't have before.

 

Arizona signs 3B Sean Burroughs - True Cost: $300,000 - Grade: D+

True Cost Breakdown: Burroughs signed to a MiLB contract, called up approximately (just guessing here) 1/4 of the way into the season.

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Burroughs is certainly a nice story.  After wasting away his physical prime in Las Vegas, he got himself back in baseball shape and made it back to the major leagues just a handful of games into his return at Triple-A.  However, that's where the good news ends with Sean.  He's had his moments of glory, but the reality is that he sports an overall line of .261/.255/.283 in 48 plate appearances, good for -0.1 fWAR.  His defense has been nice, but a 37 wRC+ does not a major league hitter make.  We'll either need to see an improvement on his .022 ISO or grand total of zero walks before Burroughs becomes even a passable bench option for a major-league club.

Still, the D-backs keep sticking with him, which is most of the reason why this grade is as low as it is (I typically can't fault a replacement guy for performing around replacement-level).  Arizona has other options in the minor leagues for a replacement-level infielder, like Cody Ransom or even Tony Abreu, but yet they continue to let Burroughs hit ground balls around half of the time he makes contact.  Call him up once and see what happens, fine by me.  Call him again after going through the hassle of DFA'ing him?  Now I have an issue.  Heck, it isn't even as if the D-backs necessarily need another infielder - that's what Willie Bloomquist is for, right?  Too many other options who could pay dividends to have brought Burroughs back.

 

Arizona signs RHP Yhency Brazoban - True Cost: $200,000 - Grade: D

True Cost Breakdown: Brazoban signed to a MiLB deal mid-season, brought him up around mid-way point of the season.

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Ugh.  What annoys me here is that so many other, better options for relievers were passed up so that we could give a retread right-hander a chance to prove himself at the ripe young age of 30 years old.  This is a guy who has been exactly replacement-level for his entire career, despite pitching in the pitcher's haven of Chavez Ravine for most of it.  I've gone through the logic before, but it bears repeating: taking a guy who was mediocre in a pitcher-friendly environment prior to surgeries and aging and putting that pitcher in a hitter-friendly environment after surgeries and aging is not going to yield good results.

It's even more mind-blowing when you consider the fact that Arizona passed on numerous solid relief options in the minor-leagues to give Brazoban a chance, which is the most frustrating part of the move to me.  Pass up on the likes of Ransom and Abreu to give Burroughs a flier, and I'll be okay, so long as you don't give him so much of a chance that it seems like you are hoping he'll succeed rather than taking a flier to see if he'll succeed.  But pass up on legitimate relief prospects like Kam Mickolio, Bryan Shaw, Esmerling Vasquez, and Ryan Cook to bring up Brazoban??!!  Mind-numbing.  Thus the reason Brazoban's grade is one notch lower than Burroughs'.

 

Arizona signs LHP Alberto Castillo - True Cost: $200,000 - Grade: C+

True Cost Breakdown: Castillo signed to a MiLB deal mid-season, brought him up around mid-way point of the season.

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This is the type of flier I can support.  Castillo got a late start to his affiliated career, but has had some stretches of mild success, and admittedly some excruciating stretches of failure.  However, there wasn't an established record of Castillo repeatedly being a bad major-league pitcher, as there was with Brazoban.  Add the fact that he's a lefty with a funky arm angle and a few junk pitches, and you could have a legitimate second LOOGY here, provided Castillo lowers his high BB-Rate.  Castillo actually fits the definition of a "flier" - someone with an unproven track record or recent injury who you're giving a chance to succeed on a low-dollar move.  Not someone who has established a track record of being repeatedly bad.

 

Time for the last table's worth of transactions:

                 Minimal-Cost:                        Cost:          Grade:       GPA:       Weight:       Weight * GPA:   
Willie Bloomquist Signing $900,000 C- 1.67 26% 0.439
Russell Branyan Signing $600,000 D 1.00 18% 0.175
Joe Paterson Rule 5 Selection $450,000 B+ 3.33 13% 0.438
Micah Owings Signing $400,000 B 3.00 12% 0.350
Wily Mo Pena Signing $375,000 C+ 2.33 11% 0.255
Sean Burroughs Signing $300,000 D+ 1.33 9% 0.116
Yhency Brazoban Signing $200,000 D 1.00 6% 0.058
Alberto Castillo Signing $200,000 C+ 2.33 6% 0.136
Cost of $1MM and below $3.425MM 100%* 1.968

* I know these add up to 101% - this is due to a rounding error of the decimals.

This was definitely a better set of moves than the Moderate-Cost tier, but still had plenty of mishaps.  Thankfully for Arizona, the two really solid moves in this group were spectacular - Owings has been one of the better relievers in Arizona's bullpen this year, and Paterson looks to be a LOOGY fixture for at least his two-and-a-half years remaining before hitting arbitration.  Overall, Towers gets what amounts to a grade C here, which is what you'd expect from a typical year's haul of bargain-hunting.

 

That's it - in over 8,000 words (YIKES!!!), I've gone through an entire off-season's (and then some) worth of transactions from new Arizona GM Kevin Towers.  Some great moves made at the top and lower ends of the cost spectrum were unfortunately unraveled by some excruciatingly poor transactions made in the middle cost tier.  As for the final result of the GM GPA halfway through Towers' first year in charge of the D-backs, I think it's time for one final table...

      Category:          Total Cost:       GPA:       Weight:       Weight * GPA:   
High-Cost $19.2MM 3.028 40% 1.225
Moderate-Cost $24.83MM 0.496 52% 0.260
Minimal-Cost $3.425MM 1.968 7% 0.142
TOTAL $47.455MM 100%* 1.627

* Another decimal rounding error, these actually do equal 100%.

So there you have it - Kevin Towers scores at around a C- on the strength of his two most important moves panning out for him thus far.  Of course, this is just my opinion - if anybody wants to tweak the numbers a bit, I have the spreadsheet saved and all set up with formulae.  If you're interested in doing your own GM GPA calculation, let me know and I can e-mail the spreadsheet to you.  All you'd need to do is plug in new grades and subsequent GPA values, and the spreadsheet will (should) do the rest for you!

I hope that a) anybody who managed to read this entire behemoth enjoyed it, and b) that nobody takes it too seriously.  I certainly had a good deal of fun writing this up, and look forward to re-visiting this fun little toy again, perhaps at the end of the year.

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