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Judging Windows, JD's Mistakes, and the Kevin Millwood Contract

Evan Brunell, who founded and blogged about the Red Sox at the MVN network back when that existed, has a piece up at CBS Sports, evaluating the best and worst moves of Jon Daniels' tenure as the Rangers' g.m.

Brunell's BoSox roots seem to influence the picks -- the Eric Gagne trade is rated as Daniels' second-best move as g.m., and that deal left a bad taste in Boston fans' mouths, while Rangers fans would probably rate that as a very solid trade but not on par with some of the others Daniels has made.  He also, strangely, doesn't include the Josh Hamilton deal in the top three, because he apparently thinks Edinson Volquez is too good to make that a really good deal for Texas.

However, what was of interest to me was his list of the worst deals the Rangers have made under Daniels' watch (and there are quite a few to choose from).  Burnell lists the Young contract and subsequent drama as the worst transaction under Daniels, followed by the Gonzalez/Eaton trade* and the Soriano trade, with the Kevin Millwood contract and the John Danks trade getting honorable mention.

*  It is interesting to me how this deal has evolved -- the first couple of years after the trade was made, the deal was known as the Chris Young trade, and the Rangers were pilloried for giving away a great young pitch like Young for nothing.  I remember fans and some writers lamenting, in 2008, the "four aces" Daniels had given away -- Chris Young, John Danks, Edinson Volquez, and Armando Galarraga.  Danks, of course, is the only one of that group whose departure has really come back to haunt the Rangers, and now the deal is ripped because Gonzalez was given away, rather than Young.  It is reminiscent of how the Travis Hafner trade was made because John Hart really wanted to get Einar Diaz to Texas, with Cleveland and Texas swapping disappointing pitching prospects as part of the deal, and then when Ryan Drese broke out in the 2004 season, Hart started claiming that the Rangers had to deal Hafner because they had to get some pitching (i.e., Drese) in here.  Kudos, by the way, to Brett Perryman, who said when the deal first went down that Gonzalez, rather than Young, was going to be the guy the Rangers would really regret giving up.

Anyway, I thought putting the Millwood contract in the same category as the Danks trade seemed pretty bizarre -- Millwood didn't pitch as well as the Rangers had hoped, I don't imagine, but all in all, it really wasn't a bad signing, I don't think.

So I went back and compared his contract to what FanGraphs said Millwood was worth over the five years of the contract, and the results were pretty interesting:

Year Salary  FanGraphs Value
2006 $  9.0 $18.9
2007 $10.5 $10.9
2008 $11.5 $15.0
2009 $14.0 $10.9
2010 $15.0 $5.1
Total $60.0 $61.8

A couple of things here...first of all, Millwood's contract included a $15 million signing bonus, but that bonus was payable from 2011-15, so I just prorated it over each of the five years of the contract at $3 million per year.

Secondly, in signing Millwood, Daniels seems to have done the unpossible*...he signed a free agent pitcher to a deal that ran through his mid-30s to a big dollar, multi-year contract, and ended up paying him less than what he was worth over the life of the contract.

*  Me fail English?

Third, the deal looks even better when you realize that the Rangers dumped him on Baltimore for the final year of that deal.  The Orioles only paid $9 million of his $15 million 2010 number ($3 million being from the signing bonus, $3 million being subsidized by the Rangers), but they got only $5.1 million in value from him. 

In signing Millwood, the Rangers ended up paying $51 million for $56.7 million in value, along with getting Chris Ray and Ben Snyder to boot.

That makes it difficult for me to see how any objective observer can lump Millwood in among the worst moves -- or even, really, among the BAD moves -- that Daniels has made.

Now, Brunell would likely say in response that regardless of what FanGraphs says, the Rangers were generally not contenders during Millwood's time in Texas, and so the money that was spent on Millwood would have been better used on Latin American signings, or above-slot draftees, or absorbing bad contracts from other teams in order to take on prospects, or something like that.

But the Rangers, in the 2005-06 offseason, were a year removed from an 89 win season, and while they had won just 79 games in 2005, they still had a good young core -- Mark Teixeira, Michael Young, Hank Blalock -- that they thought they could build around to contend in the coming seasons.  In retrospect, that didn't work out, but it is hard to say that at the time, the Rangers should have known that there was no point in signing someone like Millwood.

In fact, if you look at the period where Millwood was under contract with the Rangers, the team went a combined 411-399.  Even if you ignore 2010, and simply look at the years Millwood was here, the team was 321-327, barely below .500, and the only year where the Rangers were never in the the hunt in the A.L. West was 2007. 

This wasn't the Royals, a perennial 90+ loss team with no hope of contention, signing Gil Meche.

Really, if you go through and look at Brunell's critiques, the bad moves all are the result of the team trying to contend in 2006 and 2007.  Brunell has this to say, for example, about the decision to trade Soriano:

In Daniels' defense, he was handicapped by Soriano entering the final year of his deal, but Daniels should have looked for prospects in any deal, not an outfielder on the decline, a pitcher he would give away a couple years later and a bit piece that would go on to become part of Daniels' worst trade to date.

First of all...not to re-hash the whole Brad Wilkerson thing, but at the time, there were a lot of smart people praising that trade, in no small part because of the belief that Wilkerson was a better player than Soriano.  While Brunell dismisses Wilkerson as being "on the decline," he was also 28 when the 2006 season began, seemingly in the midst of his prime years.  Wilkerson's shoulder was shot and his body gave out on him -- it turned out he was an "old" 28 -- but suggesting that Daniels should have known he was "on the decline" and his career was basically over is revisionist history.

Secondly, there was even at the time a seeming disconnect between what fans thought Soriano should be able to bring, in terms of prospects, and what he was really worth.  Soriano was a low-OBP guy who was also a bad defender at second base, and who was known to not want to change positions.  He was also on the verge of making $10-12 million through arbitration before he was eligible to walk as a free agent.  Teams weren't knocking down the Rangers' door, offering up a Teixeira-esque (or even Gagne-esque) collection of prospects for Soriano, and even at the trade deadline in 2006, when Soriano was in the middle of the best season of his career, Jim Bowden ended up not being able to get what he considered to be fair value for Soriano, in terms of prospects.

But lastly...the Rangers considered themselves contenders for the 2006 season.  They felt that, with the nucleus they had, and a division that wasn't considered very strong, they had a chance to make the playoffs.  Why would a playoff contender deal one of its veteran starters for prospects before the season starts?

It is easy to look back now and say, they finished below .500 in 2006, they flopped out of the gate in 2007, and they ended up going into rebuilding mode, so they should have just dealt Soriano for whatever prospects they could get at the time, but that ignores where this club appeared to be at the time the deal was made.

Similarly, the Adrian Gonzalez/Chris Young deal...unlike the Soriano deal, I hated it the moment it was announced.  But like the Soriano deal, it is a move that looks much worse in hindsight because the team made the move because it was trying to "win now," and the team didn't win.  Adam Eaton was viewed as a pitcher on the verge of making the leap to true TORP-ness, and the Rangers thought they had a chance of acquiring him on the cheap, locking him up to a contract extension,* and then getting #1 starter performance for less than #1 starter price.**

* The Rangers were supposedly pushing for a 3 year contract extension at $7-8 million per year, which apparently wasn't even close.  Eaton ended up having yet another injury-plagued, disappointing season in 2006, which one would think would have made refusing the Rangers' offer a big mistake...except there was a bidding war for his services after the 2006 season, and he was signed by the Phillies to a 3 year, $24 million contract.  He went 14-18 with the Phillies, with a 6.10 ERA, in two seasons, before being released prior to the 2009 season.  There's a lesson in there, somewhere.

**  The most similar pitcher to Eaton, according to B-R's similarity scores?  Perpetual Ranger target Jeremy Bonderman.  Second most similar?  Former Ranger deadline acquisition James Baldwin.  #4 on the similarity score list is Mark Clark, possibly Doug Melvin's worst free agent signing ever as Ranger g.m.  #5 is former Ranger Kris Benson.  #9 is Jason Jennings.  There's also a lesson in this, somewhere.

If they'd known the direction the franchise was heading the next few years, they wouldn't have made that trade.  But heading into the 2006 season, the Rangers were trying to win a division, not rebuild.

The Michael Young know, I'm not sure about that one.  Towards the end of the first half of the disastrous 2007 season, I think a lot of fans were of the opinion that, if we'd known the team was so bad and would be going into rebuilding mode, we'd have preferred that the Rangers not extend Young (whose contract made him untradeable basically from the time it was signed), but instead deal him at the deadline and hope you could get a solid prospect package in return.

Now, it may be that the Rangers would have extended Young, even knowing that a rebuilding project was ahead of them.  They may have felt that they needed the credibility with the fan base that keeping Young would give them.  They may have felt that they wanted Young on hand to provide leadership to the young players coming up.  I don't know.

Regardless, though, every move classified as a mistake on Brunell's list owes itself, either in whole or in part, to the Rangers thinking they could win when they really couldn't.

But ultimately...isn't that usually the case?  Thinking about it, how often do you have a team that makes a mistake of selling off veterans and trying to rebuild or go young when they should be trying to win now?

That's the nature of professional sports...teams always seem to err on the side of overestimating their chances of immediate success...