Archive for March 2010

The Process of Weeding Out

March 31, 2010

Teams are getting towards their Opening Day rosters and some tough decisions are being made.

The Mariners have waived Ryan Garko, who hasn’t been hitting this Spring (.630 OPS in 41 at-bats).  My guess is that Garko will clear waivers because he has a major league $550,000 contract for 2010, which other teams probably won’t want to assume.

To my surprise, Garko still has minor league options left, according to mlbtraderumors.com.  However, he’s been in the majors the last three seasons now, so he may have the right to void the contract and become a free agent.  In this market, however, he may well elect to be sent down to AAA so he can keep collecting on his guaranteed contract.

In a similar vein, the Rays’ Dan Johnson cleared waivers and has accepted an assignment to AAA.  Dan Johnson is a former A’s 1Bman who was the best hitter in the International League in 2008 and went to play in Japan in 2009 for about $1 million.  However, he disappointed with the bat in Japan and wasn’t invited back for a second season.

In fact, Johnson really wasn’t that bad in 2009, except for his feeble .215 batting average (he hit 24 HRs and drew a lot of walks), and I still think he could have become a big star in Japan with another year to get used to the Japanese game.  However, the Rays gave him a $500,000 major league contact on January 10, 2010, which was more than any Japanese team would give him in the current economy and after his sub-par 2009.

Of course, Johnson has accepted the minor league assignment, because a guaranteed $500,000 is more than he’d get this year from anyone else anywhere.  If the Rays are committed to paying him half a mil to play minor league ball, they’ll at least have him in mind when someone gets hurt.  Meanwhile, I expect he’ll again be one of the top hitters in the International League in 2010.

Eric Stults is headed to Japan.  The Dodgers have sold Stults for an amount reported to be $300K or $400K to the Hiroshima Carp.  My guess would be that Stults’ contract will be for roughly twice the purchase price.

Stults is a marginal major league pitcher at best, with a career major league line of a 4.84 ERA, 145 IP, 156 hits, 18 HRs and 63 walks allowed and 98 Ks.  And he did that pitching his home games in Dodger Stadium, a great pitchers’ park.

Stults is 30 this year, and Japan is certainly his best bet.  I’m not sure he’ll be successful, though.

Japanese teams like guys like Stults with significant major league experience.  However, while Stults pitched well at the AAA level in 2006 and 2008, he was pretty terrible there in 2007 and 2009.  It remains to be seen if he’ll have what it takes to be a success in Japan.

Another player reported to be of significant interest to Japanese teams, Seth McClung, was just released by the Marlins, after posting an 11.05 ERA in six Spring appearances (7.1 IP).  After two adequate years for the Brewers in 2008 and 2009, and being a year younger than Stults, McClung looks like a better option for a Japanese team.

McClung may yet catch on with an MLB organization, but he should consider going to Japan long and hard, because it might ultimately be the best way to have a successful professional career.

The Cubs released Kevin Millar.  He wasn’t having a good Spring (.242 batting average) but he wasn’t terrible either (.769 OPS).

He’s 38 now, and this probably means the end of his professional career. Economic times such as these are especially hard on older players.  There seems to be something of an unwritten rule about how little a major league team can pay a veteran like Millar.  As a result, when times are tight, the clubs prefer to go with younger, cheaper players.

However, for a player who got his professional start in the lowly Independent A leagues, Millar had a helluva career with a lot of exciting moments.  It’s hard to feel too sorry for him.

The Mets did indeed waive Pat Misch.  As I mentioned in an earlier post, the Mets are reportedly hoping to slip him through waivers so they can send him down to AAA where he’ll be on standby until some of the pitchers the Mets take north develop sore arms.

Finally, the Tigers sent Nate Robertson and $9.6 million of the remaining $10 million on Robertson’s contract to the Marlins for minor league pitcher Jay Voss.  Robertson is 32 this year, and he sure looks like a pitcher whose best days are well behind him.  I guess the Marlins want him for depth in their bullpen.

I actually kind of like Jay Voss.  He’s only 23 this year, and in 40 relief appearances mostly at the AA level in 2009, he pitched well, with an ERA under 3.00 and roughly a strikeout per inning pitched.  He’s projected as a left-handed short man at the major league level, but at his tender age, he’s still a legitimate prospect.  However, he probably isn’t worth Nate Robertson and $9.6 million.

Advertisements

Biggest Bonehead of the 2009-2010 Off-Season?

March 30, 2010

As players go, that just might be Jarrod Washburn.  He turned down a $5 million offer from the Twins this off-season, in spite of the fact that the Twins are obvious play-off contenders heading into the 2010 season and Washburn has stated a desire to play near his Wisconsin home.

Last time I looked, the only major league teams anywhere near Wisconsin are the Brewers, Twins, and the two Chicago teams.  Last time I heard, the Twins were the only one of those four teams rumored to have any interest in Washburn.

Maybe Washburn’s real desire was to return to Seattle all along.  I kind of doubt it, though.  Instead, I tend to think he’s another badly advised Scott Boras-represented player who thought he had more of a market in a down year than he had any right to think.

Washburn’s chances of signing with any major league team for 2010 have to be shrinking by the day, at least in terms of what they will pay him to do so.  The Mariners are reported to have some interest, and the Twins are probably still interested, particularly in light of Joe Nathan’s injury and the possibility that the Twinkies will trade a young starter for bullpen help.

However, Washburn has now missed all of Spring Training.  In spite of his quip in mid-February that he never liked Spring Training anyway, it’s the 35 year old pitchers who really need to Spring Training to whip their old bodies and tired arms back into shape. This is particularly true for a 35 year old pitcher who went from leading the league in ERA to throwing up a 7.33 ERA in eight starts after his trade to  the Tigers and whose season ended on September 15 with a knee surgery.

If you sign Washburn now, you have to send him to the minor leagues for at least six starts to prove he’s ready to face major league hitters.  Remember, this isn’t Pedro Martinez, a former multiple Cy Young winner, we’re talking about, it’s Jarrod “Only One Really Good Season to His Name” Washburn.  Even Pedro had to settle for a pro-rated $5 million per season contract when he signed well into the 2009 season.

In fact, if I had to choose between the two at this moment, I would rather have Chad Gaudin than Washburn heading into the 2010 season.  At least Gaudin pitched this Spring, even if he didn’t do it well.

Gaudin signed for $700,000.  As a proven commodity, the Twins or Mariners might be willing to give Washburn somewhere between $1 and $2 million, but it’s hard to see any team paying Washburn more than that when the teams already have their 2010 salary structures set.

I also don’t buy the claim that Washburn really just wants to retire.  If that were the case, he wouldn’t have been hanging around looking for a deal all off-season.

You only get to pitch so many seasons in the major leagues, and 35 really isn’t that old in the greater scheme of life.  Washburn should have taken the Twins’ $5 million dollar offer when it was on the table.  If Washburn is forced into retirement a year early, he’ll have no one but Scott Boras and himself to blame.

A’s Ink Chad Gaudin

March 29, 2010

The A’s have reportedly signed Chad Gaudin for $700,000.

I wrote a post four days ago in which I said that I thought a lot of teams would compete for Gaudin after the Yankees cut him loose.  Well, Gaudin certainly signed quickly, but for considerably less than I expected.  Most likely, after his poor Spring (8.68 ERA in 9.1 IP), Gaudin got bigger offers than the $700,000 the A’s gave him, but they were of the non-guaranteed, minor league variety.

The A’s have had a number of injuries in their bullpen this Spring, so that is where Gaudin is expected to start the season.  I suspect, however, that at some point he will become their fifth starter.

At this price, it’s a great deal for the A’s.  I’ll be surprised if Gaudin isn’t a major league caliber pitcher this year at age 27, and even if he isn’t, $700,000 is a very small gamble for a guy who has a been an adequate fifth starter and middle reliever in the past.

Signing with Oakland also makes a certain amount of sense for Gaudin.  Aside from the fact that he’s played for the A’s before, the Oakland Coliseum is a great play to pitch.  It looks like if Gaudin spends the entire season with the A’s, he’ll have enough service time to become a free agent after the season ends.  A good year in Oakland would certainly put Gaudin in a better position contract-wise next off-season.

BTW, this makes Guadin the second former 2009 Yankee pitcher the A’s have acquired this off-season.  The A’s obtained Edwar Ramirez from the Rangers last week for light-hitting minor league middle infielder Gregorio Petit.

The Rangers had obtained Ramirez from the Yankees for cash considerations near the start of Spring Training after the Yankees had designated Ramirez for assignment to open up space on their 40-man roster.  At that time, I commented that he was available and someone should grab him.

Ramirez had a strong year in the Yankees’ bullpen in 2008, posting a 3.90 ERA in 55 appearances with 63 Ks in 55.1 IP.  His command declined in 2009, and he was hit pretty hard in limited time at the major league level.  Ramirez has great stuff with 116 Ks in 98.1 career major league innings pitched, but his command hasn’t been there, which means he gives up too many walks (56) and homeruns (19).

At age 29, it remains to be seen whether Ramirez’s control will improve enough before he begins to lose his stuff to become an honest-to-goodness major leaguer.  Still, he’s close enough that he’s a good risk to take.

The Spin Zone

March 29, 2010

I was amused by this article today in which Blue Jays GM Alex Anthropoulos explained his decision to release centerfielder Joey Gathright, after a horrendous Spring in which Gathright had a .353 OPS after 42 at-bats, with the statement that Anthropoulos thought it “wouldn’t be fair” to Gathright to send him down to the minors.

For those of you not familiar with Joey Gathright, he’s a 28 year old back-up centerfielder with a career major league OPS of .630 who has managed to obtain more than 1,000 ABs because his center field defense is stellar and he makes a useful pinch runner.

Given that Gathright hasn’t hit a lick this Spring, I take Anthropoulos’ statements as a polite way to say, “Joey, you played so badly this Spring we don’t even see you as a regular centerfielder at the AAA level.  We could be using that roster space to develop a younger player, so hit the road.”

It’s just about impossible to imagine that a major league GM would feel the least compunction to send a Joey Gathright-type player down to AAA if the GM thought there was any way the player might be able to help the major league team or even the AAA team in the future.

By way of comparison, I also read this question and answer by mlb.com beat writer Marty Noble in which he speculates that despite his 1.38 ERA in 13 Spring innings pitched, lefty and former Giant Pat Misch probably won’t be on the Mets’ Opening Day roster.  Noble further speculates that Misch will probably be one of the last players the Mets try to send down, since he’s out of options.  The Mets’ hope is that teams won’t have a major league roster space for Misch and he’ll pass through waivers.

In fairness to the Mets, the rest of Misch’s Spring line isn’t nearly as good as his ERA.  Thus, it would not be a surprise if the Mets would rather try to slip him through waivers than a pitcher they might think has a more of a future.

However, Misch is just good enough that no right-thinking GM would cut him loose because it wouldn’t be “fair” to send him to the minors.  Misch still has value to a major league team, because at age 28 also, he’s just good enough that he’ll likely pitch well at AAA and get at least a couple of weeks on the major league roster in 2010, because someone on the Mets’ pitching staff is bound to get hurt.

Giants Extend Cain

March 29, 2010

I may have thought the Giants should have waited before pulling the trigger on the Jeremy Affeldt and Brian Wilson contract extensions, but I have no complaints about the Giants’ decision to extend Matt Cain for three years and $27.5 million.  The Giants will pay Cain $4.5 million this year, $8 million next year and $15 million in 2012.

In fact, I’m not entirely sure why Matt Cain accepted this deal.  It buys out the first year of his free agency, when he will be 27.  Assuming that Cain pitches in 2010 and 2011 the way he pitched 2009, which is not an unreasonable assumption since he was only 24 years old last year, he would have received a long (five or six year) contract for an average per season of more than the $15 million the Giants will be paying Cain in 2012.

In fact, probably as many or more major league scouts prefer Cain going forward as prefer Tim Lincecum.  Cain is a big-body pitcher with the kind of easy motion and speed the scouts like, because as a group they hurt a little less often.

The only real cause for concern with Cain is that he’s now pitched three consecutive seasons of 200 or more innings before age 25.  However, he hasn’t been overworked as No. 2 starters go, and he hasn’t shown any ill effects so far.

Most likely, the Giants’ decision to sign Lincecum, Affeldt and Wilson to multi-year deals had a lot to do with Cain’s decision to agree to a third year.  The Giants are clearly committed to keeping the core of the Giants pitching staff together and building around them.  I’m sure that’s appealing to Cain.

Also, it’s got to be hard to turn down that first really big contract as a professional player.  While $27.5 million is not a big contract even in this market, at least when you consider that the Brewers gave Randy Wolf $29.75 million over three years early this past off-season.  No one in his right mind would rather have Wolf over Cain for the next three years.

One thing we can be sure about is that Matt Cain likes pitching for the Giants.  He certainly left money on the table by giving the Giants the first year of his free agency.

What to Do with Wilson Ramos?

March 28, 2010

Here’s an article by Joe Christensen of the Minneapolis Star Tribune about whether Twins’ hot-shot catching prospect Wilson Ramos is now relegated to trade bait because the Twins have just signed Joe Mauer to his eight-year extension.

Ramos is a 22 year old Venezuelan catcher who hit .317 with a .795 OPS in 205 at-bats at AA New Britain at age 21.  He had similar years with the bat in the Class A Midwest League and the Class A+ Florida State League in 2007 and 2008.

This Spring Wilson is hitting a lusty .393 in substantial playing time (28 ABs) with a 1.036 OPS.  The only real complaint is that he hasn’t drawn even one walk this Spring.

However, he almost certainly won’t make the major league team, even with the injury to last year’s super-sub Jose Morales, because the Twins want him to play everyday, which he’d get to do at AAA Rochester, and he won’t get to do playing behind Joe Mauer in Minnesota.

Jose Morales had wrist surgery in January, and although there’s an article on the Twins’ website from when Spring Training began indicating the Twins expected him to be ready by Opening Day, it sure doesn’t look like it now.  He hasn’t had even one Spring at-bat yet, so the chances are good that even if he’s ready to play when the season starts, he’ll do it somewhere in the low minors on injury rehab.  If things go well for Morales, he’ll likely be ready to join the Twins ten or fifteen games into the season.

Right now it looks like Drew Butera, who the Twins acquired from the Mets in the Luis Castillo deal in 2008, will be the back-up catcher when the Twins’ season opens.  Butera is a feeble 3 for 19 at the plate this Spring, and his last two seasons spent in AA and AAA suggest he’s no kind of major league hitter, even for a back-up catcher.

Most likely this means Joe Mauer plays almost every day in April and possibly May, until Jose Morales is ready to come back, and the Twins send Butera back down the minors where he belongs.

Meanwhile, Wilson Ramos definitely needs half a season at AAA Rochester to prove whether he’s really ready to be  a major league player.

There’s no reason for Twins’ fans to worry about the Ramos situation at this minute.  Even if he proves he’s ready by the 2010 All-Star Break, you never know what will happen.  Catchers get hurt a lot, so there’s still a chance that Ramos will prove a useful player for the Twins to have around in 2010 and 2011.

By the end of the 2011 season, though, if Ramos continues to develop, the Twins will probably be forced to trade him.  If he’s established himself as a major league player by that point, there will be a market for him, because half of the major league teams need a starting catcher that can hit.

Frandsen to Red Sox

March 27, 2010

The Giants sent back-up middle infielder Kevin Frandsen to the Red Sox for cash considerations or a player to be named later, and Rob Neyer has something to say about it. Unfortunately, I agree with Neyer — it’s not a move that makes a whole lot of sense for the Giants, who need another back-up middle infielder in the wake of another Emmanuel Burriss injury.

I think this is a case of the Giants giving up on Frandsen and seeing his weaknesses rather than his strengths.  Frandsen looked like a contender for the Giants starting job at second a couple of years ago, but he blew out his Achilles tendon, missed almost a full season, and was too old when he came back to be an every day player.

Frandsen went 0-for-16 last year when he was trying to establish himself as a major league back-up, and he made some ill-considered comments when the Giants rightfully thought his ankle injury made it extremely unlikely he’d ever be a major league regular. In short, both Frandsen and the Giants were ready for a change, but the Giants got almost nothing in return in the process.

As Neyer notes, Frandsen hits well for a back-up infielder, at least based on his minor league performance, but his defense is sub-standard.  Frandsen will be better served playing in Fenway, a much better place to hit that AT& T Park.

The contract extensions of Brian Wilson and Jeremy Affeldt and the trading away of Frandsen for a box of peanuts bothers me mostly because the Giants seemed determined to make decisions based on the moment rather than the long term.  The Wilson and Affeldt extensions come at a time when both pitchers could and did command the biggest possible contracts, and the Frandsen trade seems based on the disappointments of the past rather than on what Frandsen might have provided the team in the future.

In the case of all three deals, the Giants would probably have been better served by keeping still for a couple of months before pulling the trigger.