There's been a big time lovefest for Seattle Mariners General Manager Jack Zdruninkneknk lately and I've been as big a part of the ass kissing train as anyone so I decided to try to think about things more objectively, making direct comparisons. I came up with four quite similar moves in terms of target and motivation that were all made in the same time period by the two GMs in question. The results, however, proved less similar
The moves/targets are as follows: Slugging first baseman, defensive center fielder, in-season upgrade at shortstop, in-season replacement for injured outfielder.
First, slugging first baseman. Jack Z and Dayton Moore both wanted to acquire a slugging first baseman prior to the start of the 2009 season. Jack Z signed Russell Branyan to a one year contract for 1.4 million. For that 1.4 million, Branyan posted a .251/.347/.520 season, good for 2.8 WAR in 116 games.
Dayton Moore traded for Mike Jacobs. Jacobs was arbitration eligible but came to terms without a hearing on for a one year contract worth 3.275 million. For that 3.275 million, Jacobs posted a .228/.297/.401 line, good for (-)0.7 WAR in 108 games, mostly as the DH.
Based on Fan Graphs value stats, DM paid 1.875 million more dollars for 15.9 million less value in production. In addition, the Royals surrendered multiple cost-controlled years of Leo Nunez, a useful but not terrific relief pitcher. An auxiliary cost to the move was a depletion of the bullpen necessitating the signing of Kyle Farnsworth and/or Juan Cruz.
Second move, defensive center fielder. Jack Z and Dayton Moore both sought a defensively talented center fielder in the offseason prior to 2009. Jack Z traded for Franklin Gutierrez. Franklin Gutierrez was a pre-arbitration eligible player, and made 0.45 million in 2009. For that salary, he posted a .283/.339/.425 line and a 29.1 UZR, 27.1 UZR/150 good for 5.9 (!) WAR in 153 games. In addition to paying Franklin the league minimum, Seattle surrendered players in the deal. Notably, JJ Putz, an overpaid, injury-prone closer. Shedding Putz's payroll should enter into the evaluation of this trade, but I'm probably not quite smart enough to do it justice, so I'll just sort of throw it out there.
Dayton Moore acquired Coco Crisp from the Boston Red Sox during the same offseason. Coco Crisp made 7 million in 2009. For that 7 million Coco put together a .228/.336/.378 line and a 4.5 UZR, 19.6 UZR/150, good for 1.2 WAR in 49 games. In addition to paying Coco 7 million, the Royals surrendered mutliple cost-controlled years of Ramon Ramirez, an above average relief pitcher to the Red Sox. The same auxiliary cost vis-a-vis the bullpen applies to the Crisp trade as well.
Now, Crisp performend incredibly well defensively prior to the injury, and he should get points for that. However, Crisp had a history of injury, so it's unfair to completely call this one bad luck to the injury bug. Again using Fan Graph's value calculations, ~6.5 million more money for 21 million less in production.
Third, in-season upgrade at shortstop. Jack Z acquires Jack Wilson from the Pirates. The Ms are on the hook for a little less than half of Wilson's 7.25 million salary. I don't have the energy to break down the season pre and post trade, so the season line for Wilson is.255/.292/.362 and 14 UZR, 20.4 UZR/150, good for 1.9 WAR.
Part of the rationale for this trade also involved having the inside track to sign Wilson for future seasons, which Jack did. The Mariners surrendered legitimate prospects as part of this deal.
Dayton Moore acquires Yuniesky Betancourt from said Mariners. I can't recall exactly how the financials break down on the Betancourt deal, I think we paid him less than 1 million for 09. Let's be generous and say 0.5 million for the partial season of.245/.274/.351 line and (-) 20.5 UZR, (-)23.9 UZR/150, good for (-) 2.1 WAR.
Part of this trade also involved having Yuniesky signed for future seasons. The Royals also surrendered legitimate prospects as part of this deal.
The salary vs. value calculations aren't as clear cut on these in-season trades, particularly with Seattle picking up part of Yuni's tab, but a glance at the full season math still gives you an idea: 5.1 million less in salary...but for 18.1 million less value in production. No matter how you slice the financials, the result is not favorable for the Royals GM.
Finally, the fourth move. Coco Crisp gets injured and the Royals need an in-season replacement outfielder. Endy Chavez gets injured and the Mariners need an in-season replacement outfielder. Both GMs essentially pluck some one up for free, to their credit, so the financials are less important here than the performance:
Ryan Langerhans: .5 WAR for the minimum in 38 games
Ryan Freel: (-) 0.7 WAR for (not the minimum although the Royals essentially paid him the equivalent of the minimum if not less) in 41 games (though most of those were not with the Royals).
Langerhans = young, cheap, upside, potentially useful for the future, so give him an audition
Freel = old, washed up, no upside, not useful for the future, is blocking evaluation at bats
Two GMs make four similar moves with ridiculously different results. Seattle gets infinitely more production for less total and relative money than the Royals. One thing all four Seattle players have in common? Objective analysis says they are good players. One thing all four Royals transactions have in common? Tools. Jack's moves demonstrate a shrewd analysis of the market and the value of these players. Dayton Moore's moves show that he loves him some tools. Dayton Moore sure can recognize those tools. After all, it takes one to know one.
So is the Jack Z lovefest overblown? Perhaps, but in less than two years he's managed to take a 100 loss team, cut payroll, improve the team immediately and for the future. In over three years Dayton Moore has taken a hundred loss team and increased payroll, tread water on the team immediately, and improved modestly on the future. The lower minors are unquestionably better off than they were before. But the refusal to enter into a true rebuild has hurt the team's future. He hasn't hurt the future by trading away near MLB ready talent, but, rather, has hurt the team by not acquiring such talent.