WTNYDecember 22, 2003
Examining the Non-Tenders
By Bryan Smith

Busy weekend, as teams sent 59 players to free agency as an early Christmas present. The list doesn't include any big names, as players like Freddy Garcia and Carlos Lee were kept by their respective teams. Instead, the free agency market was clouded with players who even the average GM likely didn't recognize (i.e. Geraldo Garcia).

Of the 58 players non-tendered, seven are expected or have re-signed with that team. Mark Redman and Michael Barrett re-upped with the Marlins and Cubs respectively, while Edwin Almonte, Gabe Kapler, Jason Shiell, Kris Wilson, and Scott Elarton are all expected to re-sign. Teams can re-sign players then non-tender until January 9th, making the arbitration situation the single most confusing in all of sports. This is what Michael Barrett has seen in the last week:

- Michael Barrett traded to Oakland for P2NL
- Barrett traded to the Cubs for P2NL (a.k.a. Damian Miller)
- Cubs non-tender Michael Barrett
- Barrett signs with Cubs for one-year, $1.05M

Whew. This is an area the next Commissioner (Alderson?!?!) must amend, but something Bud seems much too preoccupied to do. Also, by my count, eleven players were non-tendered with less than twenty games experience for pitchers, and 150AB for hitters. That list is...

- Andy Van Hekken
- Geraldo Garcia
- Scott Chiasson
- Matt Miller
- Kit Pellow
- Alfredo Gonzalez
- Derek Thompson
- Jeremy Hill
- Travis Chapman
- Miguel Ojeda
- Todd Sears

Of that list, I would say that Sears is the best bet to have a future. If you remember, Sears was fantastic in Spring Training last year, but flamed out after only 24G in the Bigs. He is a nice left-handed bat to have off the bench, but his inability to play the outfield well likely will keep him resigned to the 4-A mantra.

That leaves, by my count, 41 meaningful players that have now joined the free agent market. Seventeen of those players are hitters, and only four have earned a starting job over the last two seasons. Karim Garcia held a job well in the second half of 2002 with the Indians, actually leading the Majors in RBI during that span. Marlon Anderson has spent time starting with the Devil Rays and Phillies, occupying both the 2B and 3B roles. Randall Simon has held a starting 1B job at various times during his career, and he held up a platoon with the Cubs late last season. Finally, the best player on the market is Jay Payton, he of the .302/.354/.512 line.

Payton will be the most sought after of the non-tenders, although his numbers are seen as slightly inflated due to Coors Field. Payton is considered a league average centerfielder, although he primarily played in left last season. He's an interesting Coors player, seeing as though his road numbers were still good at .281/.330/.483 in 2003. My gut tells me the Padres will be all over Jay, and that the rumor that Boston was interested is completely bogus.

After Jay, here is a ranking of the other 16 hitters, in terms of usefulness...

1. Karim Garcia
2. Marlon Anderson
3. David Delucci
4. Randall Simon
5. Rod Barajas- only real catcher
6. Damian Jackson
7. Russ Branyan
8. Shawn Wooten
9. Lou Merloni
10. Reggie Taylor
11. Frank Menechino
12. Ruben Mateo
13. Jason Sandberg
14. Ben Petrick
15. Augie Ojeda- if only for the name
16. Jason Tyner

As for the pitchers, I see the list as breakable into three categories, first the starters, then the right-handed relievers, and finally the southpaws. The starting list is limited to three, Jason Johnson, Damian Moss, and Orlando Hernandez. Personally, I find the Orioles actions here indefensible, seeing as Rodrigo Lopez (he of the 5.82ERA), is the only current Baltimore starter with more than 25 2003 starts. Next on that list? Omar Daal with 17 starts. Yikes. In fact, this is the current Oriole pitching staff, barring any changes...

1. Rodrigo Lopez
2. Omar Daal
3. Kurt Ainsworth
4. Matt Riley
5. Eric DuBose

Now surely the team will sign a starter, possibly Sidney Ponson, but how can they defend throwing so many millions into hitting without any pitchers? I mean, as I'm writing this, I hear Javy is close to a 3-year, $23M. My guess? Kelvim Escobar will be the better buy...

Jason Johnson and El Duque are a toss up, where Johnson has the edge in pitching, Hernandez is the bigger and better name. Johnson is fully capable of an ERA in the low 4.00s, although he struggled mightily after the break, and on the road last season. Hernandez was hurt all of last season, and may be getting to the point where middle relief is the better option. And Damian Moss? He sucks, but will undoubtedly have a job next year, if not only for the 'burns.

Here's my ranking of the top 10 right-handed relievers...

1. Braden Looper
2. Danys Baez
3. Cliff Pollitte
4. Jayson Durocher
5. Scott Strickland
6. Jeremy Fikac
7. Mike Lincoln
8. Britt Reames
9. Gene Stechschulte
10. Toby Borland

Looper is the most accomplished of the bunch, what with his new World Series ring and all. Teams with open closing positions will go after him, although I imagine the Devil Rays and White Sox to be the higher bidders. Baez could be very good in a middle relief role, and it will be interesting to see if the Phillies are interested, seeing as they almost acquired him a month ago. Jayson Durocher and Scott Stickland are coming off surgeries, but both had high upside beforehand.

Finally, my list of LOOGYs...

1. Carl Sadler
2. Scott Sauerbeck
3. Trever Miller
4. Armando Almanza
5. Pedro Feliciano
6. Mike Matthews
7. Valerio de los Santos
8. Troy Brohawn

I like Sadler a lot, so I decided to put him above Sauerbeck and Miller. He did quite well in the Indians 'pen last year, and will come very cheap. Miller was also very good in Toronto, but Sauerbeck has a bigger name. The Padres are in the market for a LOOGY, so expect them to land one of these names.

Whew, so that's all the non-tenders. I wanted to close with comments on a few transactions. First, Jeremy Burnitz signed with the Rockies this weekend. I just don't understand where O'Dowd is going this offseason, with millions being spent on the likes of Burnitz and Castilla, when Atkins and Rene Reyes were ready. Next they'll spend on a shortstop, and in a year's time they'll regret not having Bellhorn there. O'Dowd needs to be spending this money in pitching! Imprison O'Dowd!

Secondly, the World Champions named their closer this week, signing Armando Benitez to a one-year deal. Benitez going back to Shea will be quite interesting, as will be his attempts at closing. I've said letting Armando just face right-handers would produce good results, but I wince everytime he faces a left-hander. So does he, as his BB/9 rate skyrockets. The Marlins won't necessarily regret this, but Benitez and Fox isn't the scariest 8-9 combo...

Finally, the Red Sox inked Pokey Reese this weekend, likely as a defensive replacement. He'll be good to start during Lowe's games, but I don't find him completely useful other than that.

That's it for today, have a good one...