Archive for January 2010

Another One Who Slipped Under the Radar

January 30, 2010

In the last post, I commented on just how bad by historical standards the current free agent market is.  Excluding the collusion years, I can’t remember a worse year to be a free agent, at least in terms of what players have received in the immediately preceding few off-seasons.  Of course, in the early years of free agency, players’ salaries were so depressed after 100 years of the reserve clause that even in the worst of economic times (the steep 1982-1983 recession), free agents still seemed to do great.

Anyway, I saw a post on mlbtraderumors.com today regarding the fact that there are a lot of free agent 2Bmen waiting to be signed and that the market seems to hinging on the contract Orlando Hudson receives, as the conventional wisdom’s best 2Bman remaining.  However, the post also mentioned that Felipe Lopez had the highest OPS last year of the unsigned 2Bmen, including an astounding .383 on-base percentage.

Felipe Lopez is one of those players who has slipped under my radar, and, I suspect, most of the general managers in baseball.  I knew he was a starting middle infielder for the Reds for a few years and hit fairly well for middle infielder.  However, the Reds were bad, and Cincinnati has traditionally been a good place to hit, so I considered him kind of like Ronnie Belliard: a good, but by no means great player, who you might be able to use to fill a hole cheaply, but who is by no means the kind of player you look to to be one of your star players, at least not if you have serious post-season hopes.

However, while I wasn’t looking, Lopez really had a terrific season in 2009.  A 2Bman with a .383 OBP in 680 plate appearances is a great player, at least if he gives you average defense.  In 2009, Lopez was better than that.  According to fangraphs and their UZR/150 ratings, he was the 6th best defensive starting 2Bman in MLB last year.  By way of comparison, Orlando Hudson ranked 14th.

Among the raw statistics, the number that jumped out at me was that Lopez was involved in 25 more double plays than Hudson in 2009, in slightly fewer innings at the position.

This was by far the best offensive year of Lopez’s career, and at age 30 in 2010, you’d have to bet that he won’t be as good with the bat in 2010.  Also, it’s almost impossible to predict what he’ll do with glove in 2010, because he was a bad defensive shortstop for the Reds according to UZR/150, and wasn’t particularly good in his first year as a 2Bman in 2008.  On the other hand, it could be that second base has been his true position all along.

Even with these concerns, the odds are about 50-50 that Lopez will be as good or better than Hudson in 2010.  Hudson has been a much better offensive over the course of his career, but Hudson is also two years older.  The difference between age 30 and age 32 in major league baseball is much greater than it sounds.

Also, while Hudson has more power than Lopez, Hudson’s career .348 OBP isn’t much better than Lopez’s career .338.  Both run well, although Lopez has actually stolen considerably more bases in his career than Hudson (115 to 50), although Hudson’s success rate has been higher (72.5% to 67.6%).

In short, if Hudson’s contract fixes the price for the remaining free agent 2Bmen and Lopez thus signs for a little less than what Hudson gets, the team signing Lopez has made the better deal.

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This Is So Wrong

January 29, 2010

Reds GM Walt Jocketty confirmed today that the team has offered Johnny Gomes a minor league deal for 2010.  There is just something so wrong about Gomes not getting offered anything more than a minor league deal after the year he had in 2009.

Aside from hitting 20 HRs in 281 ABs and posting an .879 OPS last year, Gomes now has a career major league OPS of .801.  On top of that, he’ll only be 29 in 2010, so there’s no good reason to think he can’t match or better his career OPS in 2010.

Yes, he doesn’t hit for much of an average, and he strikes out a lot, and he’s a defensive liability in the outfield.  Still, he’s a right-handed hitter who hits lefties hard (career .885 OPS against port-siders), and he’s hit 28 homeruns for every 500 major league ABs in his career.  Hard to believe that not one major league team would offer him a guaranteed deal in the $750,000 to $950,000 range, to have him come off the bench for them in 2010.

Like everything else in the U.S., things are determined by the current state of the market involved, whether or not it really makes any sense.  Right-handed hitting bench players still in their prime of their careers with career OPS numbers at .800 or higher just aren’t that common; yet in the present market, a lot of major league caliber players are being forced to take minor league contracts.

Much of life is cyclical.  In a few years, when the national economy is booming again, major league teams will be falling all over themselves to offer players guaranteed two-year $5 million contracts for the kind of season Gomes had in 2009.  Let’s hope Gomes is still around then to enjoy it.

More Signings

January 28, 2010

Jon Garland just signed a one-year deal with the Padres that guarantees him $5.3 million ($4.7 million salary in ’10, with a mutual option at $6.5 million in ’11 with a $600,000 buy-out).  While I’m not a big fan of Jon Garland, I don’t think this is a terrible move for the Padres.

The thing I don’t like about Garland is that his Ks/9IP numbers are consistently terrible.  However, he generally throws strikes, he’s still only 30 in ’10, and he had a sold year in for the DiamondBacks and Dodgers in 2009.  He also eats up a fair number of innings.

Finally, he may benefit greatly pitching his home games in Petco Park. One thing that has always killed Garland is that he gives up a lot of home runs.  However, Petco Park is a tough place to hit HRs, which should benefit Garland as much as anyone.

In a waste of a couple of million dollars, the Cubs decided to give Xavier Nady $3.3 million for 2010, even though injuries limited Nady to only nine professional games played in 2009.  Definitely too much money to give Nady in the current market.

I’ve never been enamored with Nady.  He doesn’t walk at all, and he really doesn’t have enough power for a corner outfielder.  Also, he’ll be 31 in 2010, and after essentially missing the entire 2009, the odds are great that he’ll never have another season anywhere close to his one and only truly good season in 2008.  Even hitting in Wrigley, I think the Cubs will be lucky to get an .800 OPS out of Nady in 2010.

By way of comparison, the Yankees just signed Randy Winn for $2 million.  I’ll be surprised if Nady has a significantly better year with the bat than Winn, and Winn is clearly the better defensive rightfielder.  The only thing really positive I can say about Nady playing right field for the Cubs in 2010 is that he isn’t Milton Bradley.

In a move I like better, the Cubs signed Chad Tracy to a minor league deal.  Chad Tracy really looked good his first couple of major league seasons, but his career has gone straight down the toilet the last three.  Still, he’s only 30 in 2010 and could help the Cubs in a back-up capacity at a reasonable price.  I suspect Cubs’ fans will be happier about the decision to sign Tracy than the decision to sign Nady come the end of the ’10 season.

To my chagrin, the Twins went ahead and signed Jim Thome for 2010 at $1.5 million.  I have absolutely nothing against Thome, and at that salary level he could really help a number of teams.  But not the Twins.

As I’ve said many times, most thoroughly here, the Twins have to find a way to limit Joe Mauer to about 110 games played at catcher each season, while still keeping his bat in the line-up every day.  With Justin Morneau, Jason Kubel and Jim Thome on the same team, that simply isn’t going to happen unless someone gets hurt.  With this roster, however, the player most likely to get hurt is Mauer.

It’s worth noting that the Twins limited Mauer to 109 games at catcher in 2009, and he won the AL MVP Award.  It’s hard to see Mauer playing fewer than 130 games at catcher in 2010, now that the Twins have signed Thome.  As such, the Twins are risking turning arguably the best player in the world at this moment into the next Butch Wynegar.

I just can’t understand it, unless deep down the Twins think there’s no way they can sign him to a long-term contract, so they figure they better suck the marrow from Mauer’s bones while they can.  However, if there’s any team that could get Mauer to accept a home-town deal it’s the Twins.  Mauer is from St. Paul, and the Twins have fielded competitive teams throughout his career there.

Also, the Twins appear to have a fine back-up catcher in Jose Morales.  Morales will be 27 next year, the age at which players as a group peak, and after a slow start to his professional career, he’s looked like a major league caliber player the last three seasons.  How much playing time is he going to get if the Twins are trying to get either Kubel’s or Thome’s bat into the line up?

Perhaps the Twins figure that out of their two corner outfielders (Delmon Young and Michael Cuddyer), Justin Morneau and Jason Kubel, someone’s bound to get hurt, and then the decision to sign Thome will really come in handy.  There’s certainly a reasonable chance that one of these players will get hurt or (most likely in the case of Young and Cuddyer) won’t hit.

Still, the temptation’s going to be there all year long to keep running Mauer out at catcher so the Twins can pencil either Kubel or Thome’s into the DH slot.  It would have been better for the Twins to avoid that temptation in the first place.

Now that I’ve had the chance to vent my disapproval, I think I see the Twins’ logic.  The Twins want to win in 2010, and Joe Mauer wants to win in 2010.  For a $1.5 million signing price, Thome gives the Twins the most bang they’re going to get for those bucks.

Thome has been remarkably healthy since 2006 for a man of his size and age.  He had an .849 OPS in 2009 and an .865 OPS in 2008.  If he gives the Twins an .825 or .830 OPS in 2010, he’ll be a real bargain, at least in terms of what they’re paying him.

The Twins’ best chance at signing Mauer to a long-term deal at the price they’re willing to pay mostly likely occurs if the Twins make it past the first round of the 2010 play-offs.  Jim Thome gives them the best chance of doing it for the money they’re willing to spend.

Yankees and Phillies Shake the Glove Tree

January 27, 2010

The Yankees are reported to have just reached a deal with former Giant right-fielder Randy Winn on a one-year $2 million contract.  It’s a huge drop from Winn’s three-year $23.25 million contract just ended.

Fangraphs rates Randy’s right field defense among the very best in baseball, but the puny contract he just signed suggests that major league teams still aren’t going to shell out for good-field-no-hit players.

Still, it’s a good move for the Yankees.  The price is right, and Randy could have a better year with the bat in 2010 than he had in 2009.  He is, after all, a guy who hit .300 or better three times in the last five seasons.

Also, signing Winn to play right field means that the Yankees can move Nick Swisher to left, which should give the Yankees good all-around outfield defense.  The Yankees already have hitting to spare, so a move that improves their defense at a modest price makes sense.

Meanwhile, former Giant Brian Bocock was just claimed off waivers by the Phillies.  As you may remember, Bocock was waived by the Giants and claimed by the Blue Jays about three weeks ago.  However, the Jays just waived him, and he fell all the way down to the Phillies.

If my understanding is correct, once the Jays waived him, Bocock would have been made available first to AL teams and then to NL teams, with teams getting to claim him in inverse order of their won-loss record last year.  If so, then 29 teams passed on Bocock before the Phillies, as NL pennant winners, claimed him.

No word on why the Jays decided to waive him so soon after claiming him from the Giants.  Maybe they looked at his career batting numbers (.614 career minor league OPS, and well below .500 at the AA level or higher)

I have a soft spot for Bocock, but at age 25 in 2010, the reality is that there’s little chance his hitting will ever improve enough for him to be a major league player again.

More on Ben Sheets And Ray Ratto

January 27, 2010

After the A’s signed Ben Sheets to a huge one-year deal, the SF Chronicle’s Ray Ratto wrote an article the gist of which is that A’s fans can’t get too excited about the signing because even if Sheets pitches great as an A, the A’s may well trade him off at the July 31, 2010 trade deadline, the way they did Matt Holliday in 2009.

Well, that’s just a dumb argument.  I can’t see how any intelligent A’s fans wouldn’t be excited about this deal, so long as Sheets stays healthy and pitches well.

As a fan of a small-market team, you just have to accept the fact that the team needs to do more with less and make moves with an eye to their financial limitations.  That being said, some teams really are too cheap (the Marlins), and some small market teams don’t really know what they’re doing (the Royals and Pirates).  However, some small market teams have been able to build winners on a constricted budget (the Twins and the A’s).

The Matt Holliday move last year made sense for the A’s, and the Ben Sheets deal makes sense for the same reason.  The reason the A’s traded Holliday last year at the trade deadline was that Holliday did not play especially well as an A, and he wasn’t able to turn the team around. With the team headed to another 75 win season, it absolutely made sense to trade Holliday for prospects.

2010 is a whole new season, and while the A’s still don’t look like world-beaters, they will probably be a better team than in any of the past three seasons, even before adding Sheets.  If Sheets pitches great and the A’s are surprise contenders in late July, the A’s will likely hold onto Sheets, at least until they drop out of contention.

If, however, the A’s are going  nowhere, why not turn Sheets into some valuable young prospects to whom the A’s didn’t have to pay large signing bonuses?

Small market teams absolutely have to rebuild around young players.  You only get so many high draft picks, so you have to find other ways to acquire legitimate prospects the team can build around.  The A’s have figured out a way to sign top players, who if they don’t do enough to make the team a winner in the short term, can be traded for those prospects.  I don’t see that this strategy is anything to gnash one’s teeth over.

A’s Shell Out for Ben Sheets

January 27, 2010

The A’s have reportedly reached agreement on a one-year deal with former ace Ben Sheets for $10 million plus performance incentives.  I don’t know if it’s a wise move for the A’s, given the cost, but you have to love the fact that they are confounding expectations.

I suspect that the A’s felt they had to pay a big premium to sign Sheets, the way bad teams usually do to acquire “top” talent.  The A’s have played poorly the last three seasons, not a whole lot is expected of them in 2010, and they play in the emptiest stadium in baseball (at least in 2009, although they didn’t do much better in ’07 or ’08).  If I had to guess, I’d say that the next best offer Sheets received was for no more than $8 million.

The money aside, it’s actually not a bad move for either party.  Sheets gets to attempt his comeback in one of the best pitchers’ parks in baseball, and the A’s suddenly have seven solid options to compete for five starting spots in 2010.  The other arms in the mix are Justin Duchscherer, Trevor Cahill, Brett Anderson, Gio Gonzalez, Dallas Braden and Vin Mazzaro.

Duchscherer is an even bigger risk than Sheets, in terms of his ability to stay healthy and be effective, but the other five pitchers are all young, healthy and look ready to be productive major leaguers or better.  Even assuming that at least one of the seven contenders has a serious injury early in the season, the A’s should have a strong rotation with another young guy pitching in relief and ready to step in if another starter falters.  In other words, signing Sheets should help their entire pitching staff, which was looking thin until today’s move.

I also found this move interesting because it completely undercut the SF Chronicle’s Ray Ratto, who published an article today in which he quotes A’s GM Billy Beane as stating, “The way the system is right now, there really is no difference between a $75 million and $40 million payroll. I think a lot of small-market clubs look at that and ask, ‘Why pay $75 million when $40 million will buy me as many wins?’

I didn’t take that quote too seriously when I read it, because I just couldn’t believe that Billy Beane really meant it.  Some small market teams, including the A’s, have been able to field good teams for a period of years without huge payrolls.  In fact, it absolutely makes sense for a team like the A’s at present to rebuild around cheap, young players and keep payroll around $40 million, or at least as cheap as possible.

However, once that young team develops to a point where they’re almost good enough to be a play-off team, it absolutely makes sense to lay out some bucks to sign a few more expensive veterans to make a run at the post-season.  In other words, you might jump payroll up to $75 million from $40 million over a two year period and find yourself the league’s pennant winner.

Obviously, the A’s chances to make the post-season in 2010, even after signing Ben Sheets, aren’t good.  However, even without Sheets, the A’s were likely to be a better team than they were in any of the last three seasons.  Signing Sheets gives the A’s at least a reasonable shot of winning 85 to 88 games in 2010, which should do wonders for the A’s horrendous attendance.  If nothing else, it gives A’s fans some hope that the A’s are still trying to field the best team they can given their economic limitations.

Tyler Walker Now a National

January 26, 2010

Former Giant Tyler Walker has just signed a deal with the Nationals for 2010.  No word on whether it’s a major league or a minor league deal, but I’d have to assume the latter, given Tyler’s age (34 in 2010), recent past performance and the current free agent market.

I’ll say this, however: Walker continued to pitch well in 2008.  He started the year at AAA Lehigh Valley, where he posted a 1.40 ERA in 15 relief appearances.

Walker was then called up to the Phillies, where he spent the rest of the season and pitched well considering the jump in talent from AAA.  He finished with a major league ERA of 3.06 in 32 relief appearances.  He had great ratios both in AAA and in the Show.

Walker also pitched better in 2008 for the Giants than his 4.56 ERA indicated, with 47 hits and 21 walks allowed and 49 Ks in 53.1 IP.

If the contract is a minor league deal that doesn’t pay Walker much more than $1,000,000 pro-rated for his major league service time, it’s a good move for the Nats.