Archive for February 2010

Someone’s Gotta Claim This Guy

February 28, 2010

I saw that the Yankees have designated relief pitcher Edwar Ramirez for assignment in order to make room on their 40-man roster for Chan Ho Park.  I’ll be amazed if the Yankees are able to pass Ramirez successfully through waivers.

Ramirez will be 29 in 2010, and his major league career so far has been unspectacular.  After a solid season in the Yankees’ bullpen in 2008 in which he went 5-1 with a 3.90, he pitched his way back to AAA with a poor start in 2009.  He was called up in September, but didn’t do much to make the Yankees think he was in their long-term plans.

Ramirez clearly knows how to pitch, and he would be a great bet for a team looking for pitching.  Ramirez has a career major league line accumulated over the last three seasons as follows: 5.22 ERA, 98.1 IP, 93 hits, 19 HRs and 56 walks allowed and 116 Ks.  Except for the ERA and homeruns allowed, that’s a strong line.  My guess is that he has not yet shown major league command, which means he’s had to come in with lollipops when he’s behind in the count and a lot of these loliipops have been hit a long way.

However, Ramirez’s career line at AAA Scranton-Wilkes Barre over parts of the last three seasons suggest that he’s only minor adjustments away from being a successful major league reliever: 1.98 ERA, 100 IP, 61 hits, 3 HRs and 31 walks allowed and 144 Ks.  It’s hard to pitch much better than that at any level over 100 innings.

You have to figure that there are at least a half dozen major league teams that would be wise to take a chance on Ramirez for the cost of a player to be named later or cash considerations, which is the best the Yankees are likely to get in return for a player they’d have to pass through waivers to keep.

P.S. 3/9/10 – Rangers reported to have obtained Ramirez from the Yankees for cash considerations.  Definitely a good, low cost move for the Rangers.

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Could Be the Best Free Agent Signing of the Off-Season

February 27, 2010

The Cardinals have reportedly reach agreement with 2Bman Felipe Lopez on a one-year contract that guarantees him somewhere between $1.75 and 2 million, plus performance incentives.  In terms of what the Cards are paying and what they’re getting, it could be the best free agent signing of the off-season.

Three weeks ago the Twins signed Orlando Hudson for one year at $5 million.  The deal made sense for the Twins, and I can see why the Twins preferred Hudson to Lopez: Hudson is a more proven commodity and has experience playing in the American League.

However, Lopez is two years younger than Hudson and had a better year on both sides of the ball than Hudson did in 2009.  If Hudson was worth $5 million to the Twins (and he is), then Lopez should be worth at least $4.5 million to the Cardinals, particularly when you consider how well he played for the Cards in the last two months of 2008 (.964 OPS).

That’s not the way the market works, however.  Once the Twins chose Hudson, the Cardinals were the only team that would pony up as much as $2 million for Lopez, so that’s what Lopez had to accept.

Skip Schumaker, the Cardinals primary 2Bman in 2009, actually hit pretty well.  Fangraphs didn’t like his defense, although his raw numbers don’t look that bad.  Most likely, after the losses of Mark DeRosa and Rick Ankiel, Schumaker, who can play a lot of positions, will get significant playing time at third and/or centerfield.

Brendan Ryan had a fine year on both sides of the ball as the Cards’ primary shortstop last season.  The only real knock on him is that 2009 was his first season as a major league regular, and he was already 27 years old.  Players who have their first year as a major league regular at age 27, particularly if they are not catchers or hard-throwing pitchers, don’t tend to have long careers.

Given Schumaker’s ability to play other positions, I don’t see how signing Lopez can fail to help the Cardinals in 2010.  As the reigning NL Central Division champs, and having resigned Matt Holliday, they have to be the odds-on favorite to repeat in 2010.

Marlon Byrd and Milton Bradley

February 26, 2010

I know I’ve already written enough about Milton Bradley, but sometimes I just can’t help myself.

I read this article today about Marlon Byrd arriving at Spring Training with the Cubs this week.  Apparently, he and Milton Bradley are old friends who went to school together.

Byrd’s quotes are pretty much what you’d expect, given his and Milton’s history together: i.e., Milton is not a bad person, people don’t know the real Milton Bradley, and Bradley becomes a scape goat when things go wrong.

Cubs GM Jim Hendry is quoted as saying that the Cubs’ failure in 2009 wasn’t entirely Milton Bradley’s fault and that Hendry was “going for the gold” but “in hindsight” it was a mistake to bring Milton Bradley to Chicago.

Well, I was stating loudly last off-season that it was a huge mistake for the Cubs to sign Bradley before he’d even arrived at the Cubs’ 2009 Spring Training camp.

Bradley is not the worst human being in major league baseball.  Many people have been quoted as saying there is another Milton Bradley away from baseball who has numerous positive qualities.

However, Milton has several severe character flaws (pop-off-itis, nothing is ever his fault no matter how much he brings controversy or hostility down on himself), that make him one of the worst players in major league baseball to bring to a team that has serious and realistic aspirations of making the post-season.

He is the definition of a lightening-rod, inevitably bringing down the opprobium of management, the fans or his teammates on his head.  Too often Milton and his problems become the focal point of media attention, rather than the ball club and what they’re doing on the field.   He’s a distraction, and with his inability to stay healthy and actually live up to his enormous talent on a consistent basis, he’s just not worth the headaches.

You put up with the Barry Bonds’ and Mark McGwire’s of the baseball world as long as they hit like Barry Bonds or Mark McGwire.  When they can’t any more, they tend to find themselves involuntarily retired.

The point of professional baseball is to win, pure and simple.  A player like Milton Bradley is good enough to help a bad team, like say the Pirates or the Royals, win more games than they would otherwise win.  However, on a team like the 2009 Cubs, he doesn’t produce consistently enough to justify the trouble he causes.

The Mariners are hoping against hope that Ken Griffey, Jr. can work his clubhouse magic and keep Bradley in line enough to help the M’s win with their revamped 2010 squad.  Obviously, I’m not particularly sanguine about the likelihood of that possibility.

One thing is for certain: the moment that the Milton Bradley we know and loathe rears the ugly side of his personality, the Mariners need to be ready to give him his walking papers.  They’ve got too a good a team this year to get side-tracked by the Miltie Show.

Homer Bailey and Scott Boras

February 24, 2010

I just saw an SI.com article about Homer Bailey and that reminded me that I have been rooting for Bailey to do well.  He was the seventh player taken in the 2004 draft, and he shot through the Reds system and made it to the big league club by age 21.

He wasn’t ready.  Homer had major league stuff but not major league command.

Homer pitched poorly in Cincinnati and Louisville in 2008, but he put it together last year in both places.  Here is his ’09 AAA line: 2.71 ERA, 89.2 IP, 87 hits, ten HRs and 27 walks allowed and 82 K’s.  Except for all the dingers, it’s an excellent line.

Homer is still only 24 in 2010, and I think he’s ready to build on his strong finish in ’09.  The only thing I don’t like about Bailey is his name: Homer is not a good name for a pitcher.

I’ve been trying to think of something to say about the $8 million Johnny Damon contract.  I’ll say this: it was as good a contract as Damon could get after rejecting the Yankees’ reported two-year $14 million offer when no other team was willing to offer a second year.

As could be expected (in some quarters at least), there have been rumblings that Boras had a conflict of interest representing Damon and Matt Holliday.  A website called (I kid you not) No, You’re a Towel posted a particularly detailed analysis of this theory.

This all stems from attorney Jack Marshall’s Hardball Times piece from January 2009.  Marshall’s argument is that under the Model Rules of Professional Ethics Scott Boras, as a lawyer, has an unwaivable conflict of interest in representing free agents who play the same position.

However, the Model Rules are not the actual rules of professional conduct in many jurisdictions.  If Boras is smart, and he clearly is, he has his players sign statements at the beginning of the representation in which he discloses the potential conflict.

I really have a hard time feeling too sorry for the players who choose Boras as their agent.  So long as they are properly informed of the potential conflict up front, a lot of them will still choose Boras because of his proven record of results.  Also, a lot of players over-estimate their own abilities and value to teams, so they get the guy who will get the biggest possible contract for them, if they’re as good as they think.

Sometimes you have to protect people from their own stupidity or greed (think Bernie Madoff), but it’s always a question of exactly where to draw the line.  Protecting Johnny Damon from having to accept only $8 million to play baseball for another year, isn’t on my side of the line.

Minor Happenings

February 20, 2010

Russell Branyan finally found a taker, signing with the Indians for around $2 million guaranteed and an additional $1 million in performance incentives.  He was another guy who really overplayed his hand this off-season.  His final 2009 numbers were terrific, but he didn’t play after later August due to a back injury, he’s 34 in 2010, and he’s never had a season in a long major league career anything like his 2009.

That said, it’s not a bad deal for the Tribe.  Branyan has always been an underrated, under-utilized player, and, if he’s healthy in 2010, he should at the very least be a useful platoon player against right-handed pitchers at a reasonable price.

I’m less sanguine about the Nationals’ signing of Chien-Ming Wang for $2 million and a potential $3 million more in performance incentives.  While the price is right and Wang was a very effective pitcher for a couple of seasons for the Yankees, soft throwers who suffer major shoulder injuries traditionally don’t come back all that often.

Baseball history is littered with pitchers whose statistics resemble Wang’s, i.e. guys who don’t strike a lot of people out, but know how to pitch.  They can have a couple of big seasons, but then they tend to get hurt and never really make it back.

It’s interesting how pitchers don’t suffer shoulder injuries like they once did.  Now, the big injury is a blown elbow tendon.  This is almost certainly a result of the fact that major league pitchers as a group throw a lot more sliders and a lot fewer curves than they once did.

The Tommy John surgery technique has become so refined at this point that an awful lot of young pitchers who blow out their elbows can miss a full season or a season and a half, but once they are fully healed, they can pick up their careers almost where they left off.  It seems a lot harder to make that kind of come-back from a blown-out shoulder.

Another big factor in this is how old the pitcher is when he blows out his arm.  If he’s young (no more than 25 or 26 when he blows out his arm), it’s lot easier to come back than if he’s older than 27 when his arm breaks down.  Wang is 30 in 2010, so he’s on the wrong of the date line, for sure.

A couple more arbitration decisions were rendered.  Back-up catcher Jeff Mathis beat the Angels and will receive $1.3 million in 2010 instead of the $700,000 the Angels wanted to pay him.  Relief pitcher Sean Burnett lost, and the Nationals will pay him $775,000 instead of the $925,000 Burnett was seeking.

I’m surprised that Mathis won his arbitration hearing.  He was in his first year of arbitration eligibility, and he looks for all the world like a classic glove-tree catcher.  Mathis had a feeble .596 OPS last season and has a career major league OPS of .597 in a little over 800 plate appearances.  The arbitration panel must have liked the fact that he played in 84 games for the Angels last year.

Another factor is obviously the Angels’ low-ball offer.  Still, given the two proposed salaries, the panel must have concluded that Mathis’ 2009 performance was worth at least a dollar over $1 million.

I don’t see it.  Mathis looks an awful lot like Josh Paul, a back-up catcher who lost his arbitration hearing with the Rays in 2007, after a season in which he played 58 games at catcher and posted a .669 OPS.  Paul sought $940,000 but was awarded $625,000.  Perhaps that was what the Angels were thinking when they made their low-ball $700,000 offer.

This could be a case of winning the battle but losing the war for Mathis.  If he has a 2010 season in line with his career norms so far, there’s a strong likelihood that the Angels will non-tender him next off-season rather than being forced to give him a raise on the $1.3 million he’ll be making next year.

Jose Molina, an established veteran with a career .609 OPS, just signed a deal with the Blue Jays for a guaranteed $400,000 plus an additional $400,000 if he starts the season on the major league roster.   It also looks likely that Rod Barajas will sign a deal with the Mets for right around $1 million.  With established back-up catchers making this kind of money on the open market, there’s no way a team would offer arbitration to Mathis knowing they’d have to pay him more than $1.3 million as a best-case scenario.

In Mathis’ defense, he will be 27 in 2010, which is as good a season as any to have a career year.  Also, he was the 33rd player selected in the 2001 draft and was a good minor league hitter through 2005, when he had a fine season at AAA Salt Lake City at age 22.  However, he hasn’t done anything with the bat at any level since then.

I’m not particularly surprised that Sean Burnett lost his arbitration hearing.  The arbitrators have never been particularly kind to mediocre middle relievers.

However, Burnett was actually quite a bit better than mediocre in 2009.  He appeared in 71 games for the Pirates and Nationals and posted a strong 3.12 ERA.  However, he only pitched 57.2 innings, which I’m sure cost him.  However, that’s a pretty typical total for a full-time left-handed short man.

Here’s another way to look at it:  was Jeff Mathis, with his .596 OPS in 264 plate appearances in a league where the average OPS was .763 and (I will assume) his great defense at catcher, worth $1.3 million; while Sean Burnett who faced 237 batters and held them to a .599 OPS in a league where the average OPS was .739, worth only $775,000?

I don’t have any way to quantify Mathis’ defensive value at catcher, since fangraphs does not provide UZR ratings for that position.  Suffice it to say that the two arbitration decisions aren’t necessarily consistent.

The last player left who is going to arbitration this year is Cubs’ shortstop Ryan Theriot.  He’s asking for $3.4 million, the Cubs are asking for $2.6 million.

I’ll be surprised if Theriot doesn’t win this one in light of money Corey Hart, Cody Ross (winning) and B. J. Upton (losing) received.  Theriot has been the Cubs starting shortstop for three years now, and he’s pretty good.  He has no power, but his .387 on-base percentage in 2008 and .343 OBP last season are excellent for a middle infielder.  Also, fangraphs says he plays slightly above-average defense at short.  How is all that not worth $3.4 million in today’s market?

In a final note, I saw that Josh Barfield signed a minor league deal with Padres without an invitation to Spring Training.  Barfield is one of those guys who stands out as going from a burgeoning star to an absolute flop in what seemed like the blink of an eye.

For those of you who don’t remember, Barfield (the son of legendary right-field arm Jesse Barfield) had a tremendous rookie year as a 2Bman for the Padres in 2006 at age 23.  He played 150 games that year for the Padres and posted a .741 OPS, terrific for a rookie middle infielder.

It didn’t appear to be a fluke either, based on his preceding minor league seasons.  He had a break-out year in the A+ California League at age 20, posting a .919 OPS, and after a mediocre year at AA at age 21, he had a fine .820 OPS in the AAA Pacific Coast League at age 22.

In a move that surprised everyone at the time, the Padres traded Barfield after the 2006 season to Cleveland.  Apparently, the Padres knew something nobody else did, because Barfield has never come close to his 2006 performance.  He quickly played himself out of the major leagues, and even more surprising, he hasn’t been a good AAA player the last two seasons, posting a .660 OPS for Buffalo in 2008 and a .602 OPS for Columbus last year.  This is even more surprising when you consider that he was still only 25 and 26 years old those two seasons.

Here’s an article from the hardball times from November 2007 entitled, “What happened to Josh Barfield?” It makes some good points, but it’s still hard to understand how a young player who looked as promising as Barfield did from 20o3 through 2006 could turn into such a dud in what should have been some of his prime seasons.

Barfield will still be only 27 years old in 2010, but he has looked so bad his last three seasons, it seems doubtful at this point that he’ll ever put it together again enough to make it back to the major leagues.

Wandy Loses Arbitration

February 18, 2010

Wandy Rodrigquz lost his arbitration hearing with the Astros today.  He will be paid $5 million in 2010 instead of the $7 million he was seeking.

I was a little surprised Wandy lost, because he really was one of the best starters in the NL last year.  His 205.2 IP was good for 15th in the NL, his 14 wins was tied for 12th, his 193 Ks was tied for 8th and his 3.02 ERA was 9th.

Wandy was pretty clearly at the bottom end of the ten best starters in the NL last season.  Going into his sixth full season in 2010, I thought that his performance last year, not to mention his steady progress since coming up in 2005, was worth $7 million in 2010.

However, Wandy only earned $2.65 million in 2009, and the arbitration panel may have decided that an 89% raise to $5 million was enough.

You have to figure that Wandy going to arbitration and losing means that it will be tough for the Astros to resign him once he becomes a free agent.  However, the Astros may not care.

According to mlbtraderumors.com, Wandy does not become a free agent until after the 2011 season.  He’ll be 32 in 2011, which militates against him being a prize free agent that off-season.  In the meantime, holding Wandy to $5 million this year may well hold down his reasonable salary expectations for 2011.

Also, Wandy is a small left-hander (he’s listed as 5’11” and 193 lbs), and his arm may not have more than a couple of seasons left as a top of the rotation starter.

On the other hand, as noted above, Wandy has steadily improved in his major league career, and in 2009, he was a terrific starting pitcher.  If he’s just hitting his stride, the Astros may one day regret going to arbitration with him yesterday.

A Couple More Arbitrations

February 17, 2010

Cody Ross won his arbitration against the Marlins.  He’ll receive $4.45 million in 2010, instead of the $4.2 million the Fish offered.

This is yet another case that shouldn’t have gone to arbitration.  I’m glad that Ross won, because I’d bet dollars to donuts that the failure to reach agreement short of arbitration was the Marlins’ fault more than it was Ross’s or his agent’s.  The Marlins have long been the biggest skin-flints in MLB.

Brian Bruney and the Nationals had an arbitration hearing today.  Bruney wants $1.85 million while the Nationals want $1.25 million.  This is the first of the four arbitrations so far that makes sense to me.  While $600,000 is not as much money as Corey Hart and the Brewers were fighting over ($650,000), it’s a much bigger amount in terms of the size of the contract.

The decision on Bruney’s hearing comes down tomorrow, and I’ll be mildly surprised if he wins.  Elbow problems limited him to 39 innings pitched last year, he only pitched 34.1 innings pitched in 2008, and he’s never pitched more than 50 major league innings in any of the six seasons to date that he’s pitched in the majors.  It’s hard to see an arbitrator giving him a big raise for 39 innings pitched.

On the other hand, Bruney made $1.25 million last year, and he has been around for parts of six major league seasons, so it’s not totally out of the realm of possibility that he could win.  That being said, I think it’s more likely than not that he’ll lose.

Whether or not he wins, I still like Bruney’s prospects for the Nats in 2010.  He’s only 28 years old this coming season, and I love his career 8.9 Ks/9IP.  If he can find his command and stay healthy, he could be a closer-caliber reliever.  Of course, those are big ifs, and there are always loads of young or youngish pitchers with great stuff, who never find their command or never get healthy.  Only time will tell.

P.S.  I was right that Bruney lost his arbitration hearing, but I was wrong on the numbers.  The Nats offered him $1.5 million, not $1.25 million, so Bruney still ends up with a $250,000 raise.