Friday, April 20, 2007

Hudler & Rizzo -- 3 Years Later

As we start into S4 of the GAP, it is time for all of us to analyze our franchises, sign, release, promote, and demote. It is also time to look back on how we got to this point, and how to move forward.

GAP was the first elite HBD world, with a dedicated group of owners who boasted proven track records. Out of the gate, all of us wanted to make a splash. I spotted two stud FAs that I decided would fill my gaps perfectly--Tony Hudler and Artie Rizzo. They were certainly the two prized FAs that all owners coveted, whether they could afford them or not.

Hudler was the most interesting one. At 33, he was a big risk. Would he be able to maintain his ratings for several years? This was the key, because with all the bidders, he was certainly going to get a five-year deal. And with the price being driven up and up, owners had to ask themselves if he would be worth eight figures at age 37.

His ratings were sexy, however. 32/81 meant he could go every fourth game, 6 or 7 innings per game. Add in the 81/94 splits, 91 control, and 93 GB numbers, and there was a lot to like. But one ugly number--52 health. The bidding went higher and higher. When the smoke cleared, it took $90,000,000 across five years to get him. The one failsafe I built in was a team option for S5. If he broke down early, at least I'd be able to cut my losses by the tidy sum of $15,000,000 at the end.

Meanwhile, Rizzo was the best bat available. I liked my franchise's ML-ready options, but the missing cog was a slugging 1B, so Rizzo was a perfect fit. His health was an issue as well (62), but a risk worth taking for 93/93/73/79/90. Especially for the Royals, who were weak against RHP. Rizzo ended up cashing in for $75,500,000 while scoring a player option for S5. At 31, it seemed more likely he'd have something left by then, and what player is turning down a max contract to go to the market? That was the thought process anyway.

I was hoping to get both guys, as I budgeted the money I thought it would take to pull it off. I had to drive up my offers, and had to do it by back-loading the deals as much as I could. The end result is that by S3, I would be paying a combined $38,250,000 to two players.

When the smoke cleared, I had them both. The message board lit up with a wide variety of opinions from astonishment for the bold strategy or admonishment for the stupid strategy. I was convinced I had a two-year window, maybe three, to get a title with these guys.

The question now--Was it worth it? From a postseason-success standpoint, maybe no. Everyone has heard my whining about missing the postseason two straight years on tiebreakers. But 92 and 96 wins is nothing to sneeze at. Finally in S3, I pulled away down the stretch and almost grabbed a first-round bye. After dispatching the Yankees in the opening round, my Royals got swept by the Red Sox in Round 2. Then it was an agonizing week or two watching two teams with fewer regular season wins than my Royals advance to the WS.

Hudler and Rizzo have been very successful, however. They are two of only five GAPpers to make all three all-star squads. Hudler is 53-25 with a 3.57 ERA. Meanwhile, Rizzo won the S3 MVP, three silver sluggers and a gold glove while hitting 132 HRs while putting up a 1078 OPS.

There is a twist at this point in the story, however. The window might not be closed yet for KC. Tony Hudler got better. Yep, at age 35, Hudler improved from an 83 overall to an 85. His DUR and STA both inched up a point, while his CTRL, vLH, and P2 each went up 2 points or more. Rizzo is dropping but doing so fairly slowly, so he appears to remain a top-notch starting 1B for the remainder of his contract as well.

At the same time, I've been able to bring some young players along (with those big contracts, did I have any other choice?) who are moving into their prime. Theo Haney, now 22, led the MVP race until the final two weeks when he rested. He did lead the GAP in runs scored with 151. He made another big jump in S3, and is now an 87 overall, up from 64 when the world began. 24 y/o 3B Pedro Jose won the AL ROY while hitting 44 homers. SP JR Vosberg was in the ROY race as well, winning 19 games for KC.

The other key piece to the puzzle is the unique talent that is Gabe Brooks. With a 32/48 dur/sta back in S1, Brooks seemed like a tweener. I bounced him around to several different roles in S1 That 91/83 split, 98 control, and 80s and 90s throughout his pitching ratings made him appealing, but I couldn't figure out how to maximize him. Finally in S2, I decided to make him a closer. That's the spot for him although he struggled in S2. He settled in during S3, saving 38 games, winning 10 more, and putting up a 2.53 ERA while winning the AL Fireman award. The beauty in Brooks is that he often pitches two innings, or can go two or three days in a row with no trouble. 63 appearances and 89 innings is a nice combo to have at the back end of games. Brooks, now 35, is another guy who is getting better in his old age. His 91/84 split is now 94/88, with other numbers on the rise as well.

S4 shapes up to be at least one additional season in contention for Kansas City. I feel like a man living on borrowed time, and maybe, just maybe, this is karma evening out the score for the bad luck dealt to me in S1 and S2!

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