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Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Now How Much Would You Pay? Dodgers 10, Expos 2

Last night's pounding of Montreal, a game in which Beltre hit 40 dingers on the year, prompted Jon to ask that eternal question, well-known to carnies, used-car salesmen, and insomniacs, "Now how much would you pay?" Before I get to that, let's consider a couple points.

First, remember that prior to the 2002 trade deadline, rumors flew about a Beltre-for-Rolen deal. While I don't think the Dodgers would have come out on the short end of that stick this year, the next few are the ones we need to consider, and it's altogether possible that Beltre is going to be a premier third baseman in the foreseeable future. Age is the principle factor here.

Second: how much are third basemen with similar VORP getting paid? Well, that's a tiny number right now. Belly's got a 69.8 VORP, tying him with the Cards' Scott Rolen:

PlayerTeamAgeYTD VORP2004 Salary
Scott RolenCardinals2969.8$6.18M
Melvin MoraOrioles3266.0$3.5M
Alex RodriguezYankees2846.5$20M
Aramis RamirezCubs2645.8$6M
Mike LowellMarlins3043.8$8M
Eric ChavezAthletics2639.3$5.70M

When making decisions like this, you have to ask yourself, "What did they do in the past?" and, "What will they do in the future?"

Beltre's inconsistency throughout his career is the wild card; the upside is his age. My feeling is you offer him $6M scaling to $12M over five years, with incentives amounting to $2M annually for performance above and beyond, say, 20 homers, MVP titles, etc. Suitors are lining up: in New York, they're garroting A-Rod in public for his lackadaisical production, comparing him unfavorably to Beltre. Remember, stars don't grow on trees, and Beltre is not an opportunity to be missed; this could be a watershed moment for the franchise, in the same vein as losing Gary Sheffield. Futility Infielder checks in on that possibility with the second part of his three-part series on Shef, relating the Dodgers' missed opportunity. Even though Jaffe misses Sheffield's 2001 September slump in his analysis, Sheffield's rant about the non-risks of long-terming him was, in hindsight, spot-on:
"A risk? Come on, they're paying Brownie (Kevin Brown) $15 million a year until he's 41," Sheffield was quoted as saying. "They just gave [Darren] Dreifort $55 million when he's only won 39 games in his career and had arm surgery. They gave Shawn Green $13 million a year. And how about Carlos Perez -- paying him $6 million a year?

"And you talk about risk, that I'm a risk? That's an insult. ... I'm getting less than Dreifort? I'm getting just $3 million more than Carlos Perez? It's not my fault they signed Perez to that stupid contract. It's not my fault they gave Eric Karros a no-trade clause when he's got no value. It's not my fault they gave Greenie all that money.

"They give out all of these dumb contracts, and when it comes to me -- nothing. And I'm even willing to defer a lot of the money for that. They were saying how they lost $25 million. I almost laughed in their face."

"How much are you willing to pay?" he asks. Better put, "how much are you willing to lose?"
Lost in the Beltre-buzzsaw was Ishii's gun-to-the-head performance, two earned runs in seven and a third innings, as well as a remarkable outing for newcomer Masao Kida. Ishii earned himself another start, but that fact alone makes me nervous; he hasn't proved he can be consistent, the key word. The fact that his job hangs by a thread -- and might be Nomo if he fails -- is not especially comforting.

Props also to Alex Cora, who channeled A-Rod for one at bat yesterday.


The problem, as you said, is Beltre's inconsistency. He only seems to perform when he has some sort of external motivation to do so: the Tyler Houston-inspired tear in 2002, his contract-year explosion this season, etc.

My fear is that giving Beltre a long-term contract will give us a content third baseman with job security and no urgency to perform. And a contract starting at just $6 million a year that's heavily incentive-laden is wishful thinking. Remember that Beltre's agent is Scott Boras.

I'm figuring Beltre is going to get a contract similar to what Miguel Tejada got last year, in the 6-year, $72 million neighborhood. And remember that Tejada had a lousy season in his walk year.
Although Tejada may not have had the best 2003, I don't think his 2004 can be considered a disappointment. He trails only Carlos Guillen in VORP for shortstops. (35.7 to 33.3)

Jack Wilson leads the NL at 9.7. Surprisingly Izturis is at -3.3. Then again Jeter is -2.2.
Wuzza? Izzy's current VORP is 23.5, 7th in the NL (behind the Padres' Khalil Green, by the way). You're looking at his MLV.
The notion that Beltre performs only when externally motivated is a classic correlation vs. causation flaw. There is absolutely no proof that the prodigious presence of Tyler Houston caused Beltre to improve in second-half 2002.

Beyond that, what are we saying here. Beltre only performs when motivated? Um, okay, let's try the converse of that. What's going to motivate him not to perform in 2005? His desire to be booed or called a disappointment? His desire not to be in a pennant race?

I also think it's inappropriate to talk about "inconsistency" in Beltre's case. Ishii is someone who is inconsistent - his good performances come at random. More appropriate for Beltre is "development." Unless you think Beltre is going to have an appendectomy every other year.
>>I also think it's inappropriate to talk about "inconsistency" in Beltre's case. Ishii is someone who is inconsistent - his good performances come at random. More appropriate for Beltre is "development." Unless you think Beltre is going to have an appendectomy every other year.<<

Jon -- you forget that he had a weak 2002 and 2003, both pretty far removed from his appendectomy year of 2001. We have good reason to be skeptical that his production will continue to be this good in the future. Heck, record-breaking performance is always exceptional, so even if we were discussing a contract for Mike Lowell, you wouldn't pay him as though he were going to perform this way indefinitely. As they say in the financial ads, past performance is no guarantee of future results. This isn't Barry Bonds we're talking about.
Rob- incentives for 20 HR's aren't permissible. My understanding is that the only performance incentives he could get are for plate appearances, which, considering that his major risk factor is not injury, is rather pointless. I think minor incentives for all-star appearances and finish in MVP voting are allowed under the CBA, and if it were easy to do so I'd find out if Boras has typically signed off on contracts that heavily weighed all-star/MVP incentives, but I doubt they could account for a significant portion of the contract's value.
It's pretty common for an under-25 player to take a step backward before taking a step forward in his development. No, I don't know for sure, but I think that's what's happened with Beltre - compounded by lingering, yes long-term effects of the surgery. Check out Beltre's comps. Ron Santo had a step back before a step forward.
Whew, thanks for pointing that out. I was wondering how Izzy could have been so bad.

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