Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Improvement, But At What Coste?

As you may have heard, the Mets made two minor signings this week, bringing back Alex Cora and signing former Phillies catcher Chris Coste.

Much has been made of the Cora signing:
Jon Heyman of SI.com recently twittered, "alex cora's financial breakdown: 50 grand for ballplaying, $1.95 mil for being a helluva nice guy." Brooklyn Mets Fan said "I certainly know better than to be surprised when a ball player is being ludcriciously over paid for his services but the Cora deal really seems to stick out." Ted Berg called Cora a guy who "is not very good," and "should be competing for [a roster spot]."
At this point, Cora is a proven commodity. He's a decent player, and he belongs on someone's roster somewhere. Over the last five years, he has been worth $2.9, $0.4, $2.3, $3.3, and -$0.1 million dollars to his teams.

His last healthy season, he hit .270/.371/.349. Last season, he hit .251/.320/.310 for us. His projection for his age 34 season is not pretty. Barring some kind of injury like he suffered last season, he'll MAY be worth about $2 million dollars again this year.

The problem, however, is that there is no upside to this signing. There is no possible way that he could be better than that. That means that NO MATTER WHAT, the difference between Alex Cora and the theoretical "replacement level player" that the Mets could call up from the minors for free is less than a win. It's probably half a win over the course of a year. The thing is, there are literally hundreds of players out there who could probably be that good and play for the major league minimum.

Dan Szymborski's ZiPS projections for major league teams have begun coming out for this season. As an example, we can take a look at the projections for the Washington Nationals -- a struggling organization. The Nats have a few players who will make the minimum who project in the same neighborhood as Cora. Alberto Gonzalez, age 27, is projected to hit .267/.304/.361 this year. Danny Espinoza, 23, is projected to bat only .211, but with an on-base percentage of .303 and a slugging of .345.

MetsCitiBlog used the Red Sox and Nick Green as another example. "Nick played for Boston last year and had roughly the same number of at bats as Cora...Last year Cora made $2 million and Green made about $500K (courtesy of Baseball Reference). Cora beat him in average by only about 15 points, however, Green had 6 homers to Cora's 1. Also, Green had twice the RBIs and 7 more doubles."

In addition to Green, the Red Sox have Jed Lowrie, Travis Denker, Ivan Ochoa and others in their system who play shortstop and all are projected to hit approximately as well as Cora will. Even the Reds have Danny Richar, Drew Sutton, Paul Janish, and some guy named Chris Valaika.[1] Even Ruben Gotay is a career .255/.315/.371 hitter, and he had a fantastic year in the minors last year, putting up a .429 on-base percentage.

The problem with Cora is that even if he has a year that is good by his standards, it won't matter. He may not be "overpaid" and he might not even be "bad." Cora may have a fine year. But there are a ton of other players who we could acquire, or who we already have, who would be either just as good, or barely worse. The same goes for Chris Coste.

The Mets should not be focusing on this kind of personnel move at this stage of the offseason. They should not be committing their (reportedly) scarce offseason budget to bits-and-pieces which might be replaced internally.

What the Mets need to do is focus on their areas of weakness, and take a look at the players on the market who can improve them, now and in the future. Enough with trying to trade Castillo and sign a player who is marginally better. Enough with speculation over players at the end of the roster. The Mets need to be looking at the big picture.

[1] If the Mets projections were out, obviously, I would have used those.

No comments: