Minor Deal, Major Impact: Unheralded Moves Pay Off

The Yankees probably wouldn't be in the ALCS if they hadn't spent big on Mark Teixeira and C.C. Sabathia. The Giants probably wouldn't be in the NLCS if they hadn't drafted Buster Posey and Tim Lincecum. But less celebrated moves also contributed to the success of the four teams in the LCS. Here's a closer look at four acquisitions that have shaped this year's pennant race:

  • As I wrote in September, the Giants' decision to sign Pat Burrell to a minor league deal changed the NL West from that point on. Not only did the Giants get 18 home runs and a .266/.364/.509 line from the slugger, they kept him away from the Padres and kept their division rivals out of the playoffs. This is about as impactful as a minor league deal gets.
  • When the Yankees signed Marcus Thames to a minor league deal, they probably weren't expecting him to hit .288/.350/.491, but that's exactly what he did. Brian Cashman deserves credit for adding Thames to Joe Girardi's bench.
  • Wilson Valdez, who signed a minor league deal with the Phillies last fall, didn't hit like Burrell or Thames, but he played second when Chase Utley was injured and short when Jimmy Rollins got hurt. He didn't hit badly, either, posting a .258/.306/.360 line.
  • None of the Rangers minor league deals (Alex Cora, Endy Chavez, Mark Prior and others) made a difference at the major league level this year, but a look back at GM Jon Daniels' first Rule 5 draft reveals a decision that's looking smart now: the Rangers plucked Alexi Ogando from the A's in the 2005 Rule 5 draft. The right-hander has yet to allow a run in two postseason appearances, after posting a 1.30 ERA in the regular season.


16 Responses to Minor Deal, Major Impact: Unheralded Moves Pay Off Leave a Reply

  1. bjsguess 5 years ago

    I always wonder about posts like this.

    How much credit should we give the GM? Is he really deserving of kudos because a move paid off or was luck a more important factor than scouting, etc?

    For example, you take Marcus Thames. The guy posted his best BA, OBP and 2nd best OPS of his career. He had 1700+ PA’s over his career prior to 2010, was in his age 31 year, and absolutely beat out the most optimistic projections.

    The question becomes, did Cashman see something that nobody else did? Did they change his approach, swing, attitude? Or was the increase simply due to 345 BABIP (prior to 2010 that number sat at 270 for his career)?

    His BB rate and K rate lined up exactly with his career norms. His LD% was down slightly vs his career. In fact, his batting characteristics were almost all identical to his career averages with the exception of IFFB’s which dropped a few %.

    So, is Thames a case of shrewd player personnel decisions or did Thames just have a really lucky run with the Yankees?

    I’ll contrast that to Burrell. Pat the Bat absolutely stunk in Tampa. However, he did have a strong track record as a walker and basher (and butcher). While he outperformed his Tampa stay by a country mile, I’m not sure everyone was shocked to see him turn it around. Surprising, sure. But, this wasn’t new territory for Burrell.

    Not to take anything away from Cashman but I view the Thames situation as primarily fueled by luck while the Sabean decision was a smart risk/reward move that exceeded expectations.

    • Luck or not, I think the bottom line is that if the move isn’t made, then the reward isn’t received. Marcus Thames wasn’t signed with the intention of being a world-beater, but the fact that he was able to successfully produce should reflect well upon Brian Cashman to make the decision to begin with.

    • Sniderlover 5 years ago

      Cashman didn’t know. If he knew then he would hit this good, then he wouldn’t have signed him to a minor league deal. Cashman probably thought he could be a decent bench player who will pop a few but Thames ended up being great and I would call it luck. I doubt you’ll see him hit like that if he was given full-time starting role.

      • andrewyf 5 years ago

        What are you saying, if he knew he would be this good, he would have signed him to a big-money deal instead of having him accept a better deal for the team? Are you kidding me? He obviously thought Thames could help, and signed him to the best deal possible. He was with the Yankees on day 1, so obviously they saw a lot of good in him. What is wrong with you people?

        • Sniderlover 5 years ago

          Never said big money but it would be a little more than minor league and possibly the term as well.

          • YanksFanSince78 5 years ago

            Thames would’ve never signed a multi-year minor league deal. Evey mlb player that signs a minor lge deal does so because their stock has fallen and they just want the chance to proove themselves. And from the Yanks perspective they limit their risk. Thames is the kind of player that serves a specific purpose and not much more. Those kind of players you go year to year with. Also, with Montero in AAA I’m sure the Yanks would prefer not to block the DH spot by signing Thames to anything more than season to season.

      • YanksFanSince78 5 years ago

        How do you figure Cashman didn’t know? Marcus Thames came up as a Yankee (1997-2002) and I’m sure there are guys, including Cashman, who were familiar with him.

        Now if you give Cashman the blame for bad pick ups (Vazquez, Nick Johnson, Randy Winn) then you have to give him and his staff credit for the ones that work out too (Thames, Woods, Kearns).

        What was Thames brought in to do and was most well known for? To bat against LHP.

        Career- .262/.335/.502 vs LHP

        What did he do in 2010? .302/.356/.523 w/ 9 hrs

        The surprise of the year was that in addition to hitting well against LHP he showed uncharachteristic ability to hit RHP pitching at a decent clip as well this year posting a line of .254/.338/.413 w/ 3 hrs and making himself more valuable.

        A good GM puts his players in a good position to succeed and I think that what happened with Thames. This was probably a career year for him though and no way should they ask him for more than to be the primary DH and PH vs LHP.

    • andrewyf 5 years ago

      A big reason for Thames’ success is that he was primarily used as a platoon player against LHP, something the Tigers were never intelligent enough to do when he was with them. Sure, Marcus hit RHP well this year, but only because the Yankees played him against RHP when he was streaking and hitting everything hard. That’s the right way to use a platoon player like Thames.

      So honestly, he didn’t really outplay his career. He played to expectations vs LHP. Even if he played to his career numbers against RHP, it would have been a successful move, because the Yankees saw a guy who hits LHP well and decided they wanted him on their bench. It worked out. That’s the DEFINITION of a smart move.

      Nice (albeit typical) attempt at downplaying a great move by Cashman and the Yankees, by the way. It’s sad that people can’t accept that the Yankees make smart moves too, but it probably ties into some psychological condition about jealousy and inferiority and whatnot.

      • bjsguess 5 years ago

        Andrew – I’m not trying to run down Cashman. In fact, I said so in my post. You know, that part about, “not to take anything away from Cashman” comment.

        Thames is just one example of a player getting lucky. If you somehow think that Thames can manage to boost his BABIP by 60 points over his career norms then so be it. The real test will be what Thames does in the next few years. I’m sure playing more to his strengths in a platoon helps a lot but I’m not convinced that 2010 will be repeated in 2011 and beyond.

        Let’s take it away from the Yankees though. I’ll use my team, the Angels. They were extremely lucky in the first half of the season with Fernando Rodney. I don’t know if casual fans noticed but Fraudney had a very respectable 3 months to begin the year (ERA right around 3). Did Reagins see something in Rodney that nobody else did? Was the change of scenery enough to induce better play. Rodney hadn’t played this well since 2005.

        The answer came over the next 3-4 months. Rodney returned to his old ways. His ERA over the 2nd half ballooned to nearly 5 (keeping in line with his recent career performance). In retrospect, the first 3 months showed that Rodney pitched a little better but was largely aided by luck. His WHIP was virtually the same, yet the ERA showed a difference of almost 2 runs between the 1st and 2nd half.

        In the end Reagins got a known commodity. Despite a brief illusion of better performance, Rodney ended up being Rodney. And that’s my point. If Rodney would have thrown a full year of sub 2 ERA baseball I’m not sure that you can credit Reagins for that. It would be a fluke – especially if the numbers were out of line with peripheral stats.

        The same is true when players underperform. I don’t knock Kenny Williams for acquiring Nick Swisher despite his putrid play. Swisher is a good ballplayer who just happened to put up an awful season in Chicago. Williams made the right decision in acquiring Swisher. His screw up was selling him so low. All signs pointed to a resurgent Swisher in New York. So, if you are keeping score, smart move by Williams to acquire the talented OF’er. This is true regardless of the season that Swisher produced. Dumb move by Williams to sell him for nothing. Brilliant move by Cashman to get him while his stock was down.

        • theyankeefanatic 5 years ago

          and Cashman should try to make a similar move with Hanley Ramirez…although i know he will not come cheap as Swisher…but i believe he could be had with a decent package…because he is known as a player who doesn’t give 100% when the team starts losing and he put up his worse numbers since his rookie year…so if the Yanks pull off a trade while the Marlins are down on him…that would impress me…

  2. To be fair, the Padres weren’t interested in Burrell, so “keeping him away from [them]” isn’t really a valid point. Could they have used him? Absolutely, given the way their hitters performed all year, especially from the outfield positions. But unfortunately, they never showed real interest in him; even Moorad commented after the season that he regretted not pushing Hoyer to go after him.

  3. In what universe is Valdez’s line “hitting good?”

    If anything, that signing is OVERheralded. Every stupid Phillies fan has been screaming about Valdez’s “all-star caliber” play. He’s a backup SS and nothing more. There’s a guy like him on every team.

    • Piccamo 5 years ago

      He hit better than my team’s starting shortstop.

    • Agreed. “Good” is a relative term but a 79 OPS+ is the absolute opposite of good.

  4. blackandorangepride 5 years ago

    the Burrell signing was the best minor league deal the Giants did this year.

  5. YODA777 5 years ago

    Marcus Thames could always hit; particularly, hit for power. Jim Leyland ruined Thames by limiting his playing time. Every time Thames got in a groove, ole Jimmy would sit him on the bench. Several hitters have left Detroit and gone on to find success in other places, namely Aubry Huff for the Giants, but there have been others. Leyland is the most overrated manager in baseball.

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