Monday, August 30, 2004

The Number One Free Agent Target

Brad Radke presents the best available free agent for the White Sox this offseason. There are several reasons for this:

(1) Anti-Twins Factor. Very rarely do teams have the ability to make their own team better and their main opposition worse in the same free agent signing. Right now, the Twinkies have one great starter (Santana), one very good starter (Radke), one marginal starter (Silva) and two big holes in their rotation (Lohse and Mulholland). Switch Radke to the Sox, and the Sox are now Garcia-Buerhle-Radke-Contreras-Garland. The Twinkies would have Santana-Silva-Lohse-Mulholland-????? And, remember, Mulholland isn't exactly a long-term solution. Most likely, the Twinkies would have a 4 and a 5 spot to fill next year.

(2) Dependability Factor. One of the things that seems to be lacking in the Sox's rotation is dependability. Jon Garland can pitch extremely well, then have a terrible game. Radke has higher lows and lower highs than the rest of the Sox's rotation. Here are his game scores this year: 41, 34, 78, 19, 44, 69, 63, 53, 46, 66, 63, 49, 68, 67, 51, 50, 20, 83, 58, 16, 61, 70, 46, 78, 52, 65, 62, 7. Other than an erratic start, Radke has been a model of consistentcy. He had 12 consecutive starts with a game score of 44 or better. Of his 28 starts, he's had only 5 starts with a game score below 40. Compare that to Mark Buerhle, who has 8 starts with game scores below 40. Radke has not had two game scores below 40 in a row - and after the first 5 starts of the year, Radke has not had two game scores below 50 in a row. That's a model of consistentcy that the Sox desparately need.

(3) Radke Will Be Cheap Compared To His Value. Radke's current salary is $10,750,000. This high level of salary - especially with the increases due to some of the other Twins players - seems to make it unlikely that the Twinkies will tie up a lot of money in Radke going into the offseason. Arguably, his salary this year limited the Twins' ability to take on additional payroll for the stretch. In addition, since he cannot be offered less that 80% of his salary by the Twins ($8,600,000) in arbitration, there is a chance that the Twins might not offer him arbitration, greatly reducing the chances that he'll resign with them.

Now, $10.75 million is a lot of money, but if you add in the fact that spending money on Radke makes the Twins worse (see above), he's a lot more valuable to the White Sox than any other team. In fact, there's an argument that he's worth premium value to the White Sox because of this - not only does he add $8-$9 million worth of performance to the White Sox, he takes away that value from the Twins.

Let's assume his value over a replacement player for the Sox (i.e., a 5th starter) is a modest total of an extra 4 wins per year. Let's assume he has the same value to the Twins - 4 extra wins per year. Assuming the Twinkies rely on their farm system to fill Radke's spot, that takes away 4 wins from the Twins as well. All of a sudden, Radke is worth 8 games in the standing against the Twinkies. 8 games per year is Pedro-Martinez/Randy Johnson territory, and they command far higher salaries. One might say that Radke at $10 million per year is actually $3-$4 million below his actual value to the Sox.

There are no lack of questions regarding Radke. He has given up a lot of homers in his career, which could hurt him at US Cellular Field (5.18 career ERA there). He's 32 years old, and likely won't be the same pitcher at the end of a contract (that really hurts, since I'm 32 myself). But I just don't think that the Sox can afford NOT to sign Brad Radke if he's available in the $9-$10 million range.

Comments-[ comments.]
I'm sure I'm missing something here, so let me walk through this and you can tell me where I'm going wrong.

First, I can accept the assumption Radke is a four-win improvement over the Sox fifth starter.

Second, I'm not as convinced that Radke is necessarily four games better over whomever the Twins find to take his place. For that to be true, that pitcher would have to be as awful as the current Sox fifth starter, no? I can, however, accept this for the sake of argument.

Third, where I remain skeptical is the notion that the eight games would be enough. This team right now--i.e., without Ordonez and Thomas--isn't one that can play within eight games of the Twins over the course of a season, no matter what the current standings say. Yeah, Frank could be back next year to expected production, but the proverbial jury is still very much out on Magglio, either here or elsewhere, no?

Bottom line--is the difference really eight (or fewer) games? I'm not confident enough that it is (or will be next year) to suggest the Sox sign a 32-y-o pitcher.
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