Building and Rebuilding: NL Central Contract Cores | Disciples of Uecker

Disciples of Uecker

We'd like to go to the Playoffs, that would be cool.

While working on my 2012 NL Central previews, it occurred to me that the teams can be compared to one another for their contractual cores, as well as their 2012 rosters. The more I research these rosters, the more it amazes me how close some rebuilding teams can be to some competitive teams in terms of talent. By looking at each team’s long-term core, we can anticipate certain rebuilding cycles within the division, as well as the expected duration of competitive clubs atop the division.

In terms of the Brewers, a lot has been written about where the Brewers’ roster is headed in the future. The Brewers are basically opening their second consecutive “win-now” year, this one oriented around Zack Greinke‘s and Shaun Marcum‘s (and Randy Wolf‘s?) last seasons in Milwaukee. However, the extended foundation for future competitive clubs is built around players such as Yovani Gallardo, Ryan Braun, John Axford, Rickie Weeks, and Aramis Ramirez, as well as serviceable MLB players such as Chris Narveson, Nyjer Morgan, and Jonathan Lucroy. While many note that there are question marks about the club’s pitching rotation and their next wave of pitching prospects, the reality is that the Brewers have one of the oldest, most-experienced, and best cores for the next five years in the NL Central.

SURVEY
I used BaseballProspectus‘s Cot’s Contracts database to examine NL Central clubs’ contractual cores for 2014 and beyond. To focus on functional MLB cores, I looked mostly for players that would be arbitration eligible from 2014-onward, or players that had longterm deals. This is simply a matter of subjective editing, of course, because each NL Central team has loads of players that could be under contract for the next five years. The difference between Taylor Green and, say, Nyjer Morgan, is that while the Brewers have Green under their control for years to come, he is not yet an established MLB player, and therefore is judged according to a different criteria than a player of Morgan’s status. This was an extremely difficult decision to make with clubs such as Houston, where the majority of their roster is under control for a handful of seasons due to their collective ages and inexperience. My goal here is to examine the long-term efficacy of each NL Central club’s MLB core.

Method: Once I located notable players under contract from 2014-beyond, I looked at several factors. First, I considered the players’ respective ages during their contracts. Next, I judged talent on a very basic “average” or “not-average” scale by using Baseball-Reference’s OPS+ and ERA+ stats, along with career IP or PA.

As a result, I can judge (1) the aggregate age of each particular core, (2) each core’s composition of average-or-better players, and (3) each core’s composition of notably-above-average players (30%+ above league average).

Believe it or not, each NL Central team had a contractual core between six and eight players from 2014-beyond. As expected, rebuilding clubs such as Houston and Chicago have much smaller extended MLB cores than competitive clubs such as the Reds and Brewers. In my Pirates’ season preview, I wrote about that club’s impending shift to a competitive club, and noted that the Pirates’ organizational success will soon be judged more against their MLB performance than their rebuilding moves; their roster core of 8 MLB players shows this.

Reds (8; Ages: 25.6-28.5): .625 above average, .000 notably above average, 1768 PA / 398.1 IP
Pirates (8; Ages: 26.8-30.0): .500 above average, .000 notably above average, 1288 PA / 367.35 IP
Astros (6; ages 27.5-30.5): .167 above average, .000 notably above average, 664 PA / 572 IP
Cubs (6; Ages 27.7-30.3): .500 above average, .000 notably above average, 3185 PA / 292.9 IP
Cardinals (7; ages 28.4-32): .857 above average, .429 notably above average; 2455 PA / 222.6 IP
Brewers (8; Ages 29.1-32.6); .625 above average, .250 notably above average, 3214 PA / 412.4 IP

Cubs: 2.6 years per 6 players (3 players through 2014)
Reds: 2.9 years per 8 players (5 players through 2015)
Astros: 3 years per 6 players (2 players (each) through ‘14, ‘15, ‘16)
Pirates: 3.2 years per 8 players (3 players through 2015)
Brewers: 3.5 years per 8 players (4 players through 2014)
Cardinals: 3.6 years per 7 players (3 players through 2016)

The Reds’ core really surprised me. The Cincinnati nine feature the youngest contractual core in the NL Central, and they also have one of the most flexible cores, boasting an average span between 25.6 and 28.5 years of age. Not surprisingly, the Brewers and Cardinals have the oldest and widest ranging cores, featuring players under contract well into their 30s.

Here we can see the real differences between organizations such as the Astros, Pirates, and Cubs, and the Brewers, Cardinals, and Reds. The Cubs have extreme roster flexibility at the moment, which is appropriate for a rebuilding club. The bulk of their core will be gone after 2014. The Astros don’t have a core-identity, with players scattered between 2014, 2015, and 2016 contract expiration dates. The Pirates have a long-term outlook with their core, boasting three players through 2015 and average ages spanning between player primes.

Oddly enough, the three divisional favorites have their contracts distributed in different ways, which of course signifies that there’s no correct way to build a winner. Cincinnati’s core is extremely young, and they boast a handful of players under contract through 2015. By contrast, the Cardinals’ core is 3-4 years older with significant pieces under control through 2016. The Brewers split the difference, boasting an old core with a bulk of contracts expiring within three seasons.

INDIVIDUAL CLUBS

Cincinnati Reds
Jay Bruce (2016; ages 25-29): 2076 PA, 112 OPS+
Mat Latos (2015; ages 24-27): 429.7 IP, 108 ERA+
Drew Stubbs (2015; ages 27-30): 1460 PA, 96 OPS+
Mike Leake (2015; ages 24-27): 306 IP, 99 ERA+
Aroldis Chapman (2015; ages 24-27): 63.3 IP, 122 ERA+
Sean Marshall (2015; ages 29-32): 530 IP, 112 ERA+
Johnny Cueto (2014; ages 26-28): 687 IP, 109 ERA+
Homer Bailey (2014; ages 26-28): 436 IP, 85 ERA+
(Ages: 25.6-28.5): .625 above average, .000 notably above average, 1768 PA / 398.1 IP

The other day, while researching the Reds, I tweeted that the Reds’ organization has one of the best shots at a mini-dynasty in the NL Central. First and foremost, they have several young, above average players under contract for extended periods of time. Useful MLB players like Drew Stubbs and Mike Leake are under control for several years, as is the electric arm of Aroldis Chapman. Ace-in-training Johnny Cueto and former top-prospect Homer Bailey both look to be gone by 2015, but that still gives the Reds three seasons with both pitchers. Not included here, of course, is the wave of prospects that the Reds have in-waiting, meaning that even if they can’t keep Joey Votto, they will introduce talented youngsters into a strong long-term core. The Reds are surely a team to reckon with in the future, especially if they find prudent answers to their existing questions.

Pittsburgh Pirates
Andrew McCutchen (2017; ages 25-30): 1824 PA, 123 OPS+
Neil Walker (2016; ages 26-30): 1171 PA, 108 OPS+
Jose Tabata (2016; ages 23-27): 823 PA, 101 OPS+
James McDonald (2015; ages 27-30): 311.7 IP, 97 ERA+
Pedro Alvarez (2015; ages 25-28): 648 PA, 90 OPS+
Garrett Jones (2015; ages 31-34): 1574 PA, 108 OPS+
Charlie Morton (2014; ages 28-30): 423 IP, 79 ERA+
Casey McGehee (2014; ages 29-31): 1689 PA, 99 OPS+)
(Ages: 26.8-30.0): .500 above average, .000 notably above average, 1288 PA / 367.35 IP

While the Pirates had their share of trouble carrying 90 competitive games through the full 162 in 2011, their core suggests that strong opportunities to win the division are in the club’s future. Andrew McCutchen solidified his status as the face of the franchise, signing an extension that will keep him in Pittsburgh during the full duration of his prime years. Behind McCutchen stand a gang of serviceable players such as Neil Walker and Jose Tabata, as well as ready-to-explode candidate, Pedro Alvarez. Not unlike the Brewers of the last few years, the Pirates’ fates may depend on the club’s ability to find pitchers to accompany their batting core. However, the batting core is in place for quite some time, giving the club many different approaches to their building process.

Houston Astros
Brett Wallace (2016; ages 25-29): 538 PA, 87 OPS+
Jordan Schafer (2016; ages 25-29): 533 PA, 69 OPS+
Bud Norris (2015; ages 27-30): 395.3 IP, 91 ERA+
Wesley Wright (2015; ages 27-30): 145.3 IP, 82 ERA+
Jed Lowrie (2014; ages 28-30): 920 PA, 92 OPS+
Wandy Rodriguez (2014; ages 33-35): 1176 IP, 102 ERA+
(ages 27.5-30.5): .167 above average, .000 notably above average, 664 PA / 572 IP

The Astros are in full-on rebuilding mode, and at the very least, they have the lack of long-term contracts to show for it. Their 2012 roster is full of young players with little-to-no MLB service time, but those players do not exactly constitute a future core for the club. Brett Wallace and Jordan Schafer are two of the most accomplished MLB players in the field for the Astros, and they will have their chance to change the perception that they are prospects cast off from other organizations. Veteran Wandy Rodriguez is the lone average player in the core, although Jed Lowrie finally gets his chance to prove himself during a full season, and he could improve on his limited career record.

Chicago Cubs
Starlin Castro (2016; ages 22-26): 1221 PA, 106 OPS+
Travis Wood (2015; ages 25-28): 208.7 IP, 95 ERA+
Jeff Samardzija (2015; ages 27-30): 169.7 IP, 95 ERA+
Alfonso Soriano (2014; ages36-38): 6916 PA, 112 OPS+
Randy Wells (2014; ages 29-31): 500.3 IP, 105 ERA+
Ian Stewart (2014; ages 27-29): 1418 PA, 89 OPS+;
(Ages 27.7-30.3): .500 above average, .000 notably above average, 3185 PA / 292.9 IP

The Cubs are also rebuilding, but they already have a superstar-in-training in Starlin Castro, who is under contract for five seasons. As a result, their rebuilding project has a different tune than the Astros’ current project. Offseason trades by the Cubs’ new front office netted Travis Wood, a useful starting pitcher poised to improve over his previous campaigns, and the Cubs also have a couple of other useful MLB pieces in place. On the other hand, the Cubs are also shying away from long-term commitments to veterans, at the moment, and the organization now has the opportunity to build as they see fit.

St. Louis Cardinals
Yadier Molina (2017; ages 29-34): 3497 PA, 88 OPS+
Matt Holliday (2016; ages 32-36): 4829 PA, 137 OPS+
Jon Jay (2016; ages 27-31): 826 PA, 114 OPS+
Fernando Salas (2016; ages 27-31): 105.7 IP, 141 ERA+
David Freese (2015; ages 29-32): 667 PA, 116 OPS+
Jaime Garcia (2015; ages 25-28): 374 IP, 115 ERA+
Jason Motte (2014; ages 30-32): 188 IP, 133 ERA+
(ages 28.4-32): .857 above average, .429 notably above average; 2455 PA / 222.6 IP

Fresh off of their Championship season, the Cardinals can boast a core that includes most of the useful pieces from their improbable run. Of course, Albert Pujols is gone, but in the long-term, that’s probably a good thing for the Cardinals. Furthermore, the Cardinals have other key players under contract for a long time, giving them the opportunity to try and replace Pujols several different times in the next few years. What the Cardinals lost in sheer production they gain in roster flexibility, and while that’s not the same thing as elite production, it can lead to situations where the club is able to find elite production at key positions in the future. Any long-term solution for the Cardinals can work next to useful players such as David Freese and Jon Jay, and the extremely productive Matt Holliday.

Milwaukee Brewers
Ryan Braun (2020; ages 28-37): 3177 PA, 145 OPS+
John Axford (2016; ages 29-33): 139.3 IP, 177 ERA+
Jonathan Lucroy (2016; ages 26-30): 765 PA, 82 OPS+
Chris Narveson (2015; ages 30-33): 385.7 IP, 87 ERA+
Nyjer Morgan (2014; ages 31-33): 1832 PA, 94 OPS+
Rickie Weeks (2014; ages 29-31)” 3338 PA, 108 OPS+
Aramis Ramirez (2014; ages 34-36): 6958 PA, 114 OPS+
Yovani Gallardo (2014; ages 26-28): 712.3 IP, 113 ERA+
(Ages 29.1-32.6); .625 above average, .250 notably above average, 3214 PA / 412.4 IP

Aside from Matt Holliday and the Cardinals, the Brewers claim the division’s other true superstar in Ryan Braun, and they have him locked up for a long time. Not only can the Brewers claim to have the best player in the division under contract, but they also have a strong core of other above average MLB players, alongside a few useful parts. The question marks, once again, will be pitching for the club, although ace-in-training Yovani Gallardo remains with the club for years, as does useful low rotation southpaw Chris Narveson. While the Brewers nurture their young arms and next wave of prospects, they have the oldest long-term core in the division, and one of the best.

LONGEST CONTRACTS:
Ryan Braun (2020; ages 28-37): 3177 PA, 145 OPS+
Andrew McCutchen (2017; ages 25-30): 1824 PA, 123 OPS+
Yadier Molina (2017; ages 29-34): 3497 PA, 88 OPS+
Starlin Castro (2016; ages 22-26): 1221 PA, 106 OPS+
Jay Bruce (2016; ages 25-29): 2076 PA, 112 OPS+
Neil Walker (2016; ages 26-30): 1171 PA, 108 OPS+
Jose Tabata (2016; ages 23-27): 823 PA, 101 OPS+
Matt Holliday (2016; ages 32-36): 4829 PA, 137 OPS+
Jon Jay (2016; ages 27-31): 826 PA, 114 OPS+
Fernando Salas (2016; ages 27-31): 105.7 IP, 141 ERA+
Brett Wallace (2016; ages 25-29): 538 PA, 87 OPS+
Jordan Schafer (2016; ages 25-29): 533 PA, 69 OPS+
John Axford (2016; ages 29-33): 139.3 IP, 177 ERA+
Jonathan Lucroy (2016; ages 26-30): 765 PA, 82 OPS+

RESOURCES:
Baseball-Reference. Sports Reference, LLC, 2000-2012.
“Cot’s Baseball Contracts.” BaseballProspectus. Prospectus Entertainment Ventures, LLC, 1996-2012.

Images: http://crabcakesports.files.wordpress.com/2011/07

http://lesterslegends.com/quick-fantasy-baseball-streaming-options-73111/

http://floppingout.com/reds-aroldis-chapman-hits-106-mph/

http://www.thesportsbank.net/basewars-chicago-cubs/chicago-cubs-are-starlin-castros-team-now/

http://www.lehighvalleylive.com/sports/index.ssf/2010/07/saint_louis_beats_up_on_punchl.html

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