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Pirates Missing Free Agents

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-P- This is a weird article:

A disciplined approach surely will help the Pirates keep their $50 million payroll free of the major mistakes in long-term contracts that damaged the franchise for much of this decade. But, as one agent put it recently, "They're trying to hit a home run with every deal they do, and it just doesn't work like that."

Coonelly acknowledged the Pirates must break their boundaries on occasion to succeed.

"Eventually, there will be a point in time when we need to go above our internal value," he said. "We'll determine that this player could be worth enough to us even if we pay 10 percent or 20 percent more. I understand the way the free-agent market operates. You have to take into account what the player's likely value is outside your market. But, even taking that into account, there has to be value to us."

He seized the line of questioning to reiterate the Pirates' top priority in acquiring talent.

"This is why it's so important for us to be developing our own premier players. This free-agent market ... until you get to this point in the offseason, you're paying a premium, something above a player's intrinsic value. We can't get into the habit of doing that. Our money can be better spent and will be better spent."

You should read the whole article, then come back here and tell me what you think Coonelly is trying to say. Personally, I hear him saying that now is not the time for the Pirates to make big investments on free agents.

That I agree with, and a corollary to that is that the value of most free agents is lower to the Pirates than it is to other teams, so it makes sense that the Pirates are losing out on them. Baseball Prospectus' 2007 annual - and I think this is in the Tigers chapter - shows that there are more teams than we'd expect hovering around 65 wins and around 95 wins, and somewhat fewer than we'd expect hovering around 85 wins. This is because when a team has an 85-win talent level, free agents are worth more to them because they're only a few wins from a playoff spot, and playoff appearances are profitable in any number of ways.   There is much less value in going from 65 wins to 70, so a smart 65-win team (like the Pirates) will lose out on free agents more often than not, and will bide their time until they can get to within shouting distance of playoff contention on their own.

If that's what Coonelly's saying, it makes a lot of sense, and it's not worth worrying about the losses of Johnny Estrada and Luis Vizcaino and Jeremy Affeldt.

What, though, is a player's "intrinsic value"? Players have no intrinsic value. Their values have to do with the market and the situation of the team and any number of factors that are always in flux. Coonelly does promise that he'll be willing to break from the formula somewhat when the Pirates get to the point where spending more on free agents is a good idea. Let's hope we can take that promise seriously.

UPDATE: WTM draws my attention to his excellent article at OnlyBucs, which also addresses this article and relates it to Coonelly's recent comments about spending in Latin America. I hadn't thought about it that way, but it makes a lot of sense, and WTM convinces me that Coonelly's comments about "intrinsic value" could be a lot scarier than I realized. "Intrinsic value" isn't a comment that really makes much sense with regard to the market, and ultimately it's only going to be invoked when the Pirates want to find new ways of saying, "We're not going to spend money on that." Ultimately, though, they've got to spend money somewhere, arbitrary "intrinsic value" system or no.

-P- The Padres have signed shortstop Khalil Greene to a two-year, $11 million deal, avoiding arbitration. Greene has a really weird skill set - he plays good defense at short and has terrific power, but he doesn't hit for average or control the strike zone all that well. The former problem has a lot to do with PETCO Park, where Greene hit .216 and the entire Padres team hit just .235 last year. Still, it's weird that Greene, one of Billy Beane's objects of affection in the "Moneyball" draft, can't draw walks anymore. He's still a good player, but it's hard to tell where he's going to go; he could become Jeff Kent (who didn't draw walks early in his career either), or he could become Pedro Feliz.