Saturday, January 22, 2011

The Armando Galarraga Fiasco And My Outrage With Dave Dombrowski Over It

This isn't how Armando Galarraga thought it would be as a kid.

Coming off a disappointing 2009 season, Galarraga opened 2010 in the minors but was up by mid-May when injuries and ineffectiveness necessitated his presence. After three uninspired starts to open his year, Galarraga had just 12 innings with six earned runs allowed to show for himself. Then for one night in early June, he was perfect - too bad Jim Joyce wasn't. To Galarraga's credit he handled the disappointment better than just about anyone could've. For my part, I was literally screaming at my TV, gesticulating wildly with my arms, pounding my fists... I was a belligerent mess.

Galarraga just smiled.

Fast forward seven months and everything has turned on it's head. First, the Tigers signed Brad Penny to a one year deal with incentives. Then Galarraga was signed, and then six hours later, designated for assignment. And once again, I'm a belligerent mess.

Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski has given his reasons for the move - basically saying that they were uncertain a pitcher the caliber of Penny would be available to them this late in the off season and they felt Penny was a significant enough upgrade to warrant bumping Galarraga from the rotation.

I can buy some of, but not all of that.

Here's Dombrowski;

"(Penny) does not have back of the rotation stuff," Dombrowski said. "He was still a mid-90s guy with his fastball. His main pitch was his fastball. Knowing Brad throughout the years, he has to pitch rather than to throw. We’re hopeful with that situation. He throws hard. He’s a guy that will average close to the mid-90s. he also has a solid breaking ball. He’s got a changeup. He’s in a position where he has good stuff.
"He would not be your traditional No. 5 starter when he takes the mound, other than that he hasn’t pitched a lot in the past few years.  … When you look at him and see he pitched on an all-star squad in 2006-07, we did not see a significant change."

I covered all of this of course in my write about Penny's signing saying;
"If healthy, Penny could be good for around 170-190 innings with an ERA in the low 4s. Poor results aside, an examination of Penny's rate stats the past three seasons reveals very little change other than a slight (but not completely insignificant) decline in his strikeout rate."
"while Penny comes with plenty of risk, he also comes with an upside that former 5th starter Armando Galarraga doesn't possess."

So Dombrowski and I are in agreement that Penny likely represents an upgrade over Galarraga. Where we differ is in essentially everything else. 

Chiefly, what Dombrowski fails to acknowledge is the significant risk that he's taking. Regardless of what you think of Penny's abilities - no matter how you parse his poor performance over the past three years - he's a risk. There is absolutely no guarantee that Penny will be able to avoid the injuries and ineffectiveness that have plagued him over the past three seasons. 

In the event that Penny (or anyone else) does become injured, or if his poor performance in the AL happens to be more systemic than coincidental, then the Tigers are left to knock on the door of their Minor Leaguer system for players who they clearly didn't think are completely ready right now - otherwise they'd never have bothered to make the signing in the first place.

All of which made keeping Galarraga as a bullpen piece in long-relief, ready to spot start or step into the rotation in the event of a significant injury to someone else, so logical. It's also why DFAing him now makes so little sense, especially if the idea is to move him, which certainly seems to be the case. 

With the exception of Dayton Moore's incredibly bizarre David DeJesus/Vin Mazzaro deal, looking back on recent transactions involving back-end starters, the returns have been pretty meager. For good reason, while every team needs five starters, most have little trouble accomplishing that task because back-end rotation talent simply isn't that hard to come by. Most minor league systems have at least one or two guys who can come up and give the replacement level production you expect from a #5 starter like Galarraga (who was worth 0.5 WAR in 2010).

Unfortunately for Dombrowski, most of the GMs in baseball aren't nearly as clueless in the trade market as Moore has proven to be, which means the odds of him getting anything worthwhile in return would seem to be minimal. For his part, Dombrowski is talking big, saying he's 'confident' in the market for Galarraga and expecting that a deal will get done. Of course, when reports are coming out that teams with powerhouse rotations like the Nationals and Pirates aren't interested because they don't feel Galarraga represents a upgrade over their in-house options - you get the feeling the market isn't quite as strong as Dombrowski suggests. 

I also take umbrage with Dombrowski's assertion that he wasn't confident a pitcher of Penny's caliber would be available late in the off season for a reasonable amount. While we can debate the caliber of some of the pitchers that have been on the market this off season, what is harder to debate is the level of baloney the Tigers GM is trying to sell. 

A cursory glance at the free agent markets over the past few years has consistently shown injury-risk pitchers looking to rebuild value on one-year deals signing early in the new year at affordable rates. And this years crop of former-beauty-queens was deeper than most years. Jeff Francis, Brandon Webb, Justin Duchscherer, Eric Bedard, Rich Harden, Javier Vazquez, Chien-Mien Wang, Chris Young... take your pick, there were ample targets available. Dombrowski didn't think someone would be available who would represent greater upside than Galarraga?

I'll tell you what happened. Dombrowski seriously miss-judged the depth of the market with these types of pitchers and he's over-selling Penny to his fanbase in order to justify the fact that he held on to Galarraga who he apparently wanted to dump all along. And now he's probably about to take his teams best starting rotation insurance policy and give it away for a C grade prospect. Brilliant.

“We’re happy... I think a lot of clubs say that and I’ll be a lot happier if we’re playing late into October.” Said Dombrowski.

We'll see how it works out, but I've got a sinking feeling it won't end well. The Tigers rotation is full of promise, but it's also full of question marks. Beyond the two guys at the front, absolutely nothing is for certain. At least you know what Galarraga gives you.

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