Trapped in Transactions
Too many transactions to ignore today, so I'm going to play the role of Ruzich, and spend about 2,500 words analyzing the day's events. Alex Belth has another amazing interview at Bronx Banter, this time with Sports Illustrated writer Tom Verducci. Also, Baseball America gave their top ten list of GM prospects, although I'm a little bitter my name didn't appear anywhere. On to the writing...
To start I send you to the O.C. (not the Fox TV show which I highly reccommend watching), where Arte Moreno has made his second huge signing as owner. California loved Gene Autry, and while you won't see Moreno's face on the silver screen, I have a feeling he'll be well-liked by Angels' fans. So will the fattest pitcher West of David Wells...
Colon Overall- 15-13 3.87 223/242 173/67
Colon is the true essence of a power pitcher, finishing snugly in second of most pitches thrown over 100 mph last season. Many were worried of Colon's diminishing K/9 rate before the season, but he raised it up to an acceptable level, and dropped his BAA and BB/9 numbers for the third straight season. Colon is learning how to pitch, and should thrive under the tutelage that Bud Black will provide. He is great for a bullpen, as it's hard to find anyone else in the Majors whom has approached 700 IP in the last three seasons (697.2). Many worry his husky frame will lead to injuries down the road, a la David Wells, but a good motion and thick legs should provide health during this contract.
The deal will carry Colon through the latter half of his "prime years", and will finish when Colon is at the age of 34. $12M will turn out to be a good barometer of the market, as similar pitchers Kerry Wood, Kevin Millwood, and Javier Vazquez are all seeking contracts in that range. Colon wasn't helped by Cleveland and Detroit as much as teammate Esteban Loaiza, actually allowing a 5.94ERA to the Tigers in three starts. The AL West is known for spacious ballparks, so I wouldn't be surprised if Colon turns in his best season to date next year, then slowly falling off the map as his fastball decreases in velocity. Between Colon and Ramon Ortiz, there will be a lot of home runs given up in Anaheim next year, but Arte Moreno did a nice job signing the best pitcher available on the market.
Whether this move necessitates a Jarrod Washburn trade/non-tender will be a story for another date, but if not, the Angels will have a fantastic rotation next year. If Washburn leaves than Aaron Sele has a spot, but expect Bobby Jenks and Ervin Santana to fly through the system. I see this team building towards 2006, when their great farm system will begin yielding their best results, and players like Kelvim Escobar and Bartolo Colon will be seeing their final days under contract. Anaheim still will sign a 1B (Palmiero or Travis Lee), and they are in the market for a shortstop, whether it be Nomar Garciaparra by trade or Miguel Tejada in a signing. The Winter Meetings will really dictate who becomes the favorite in the AL West, as no team looks too fearful as of yet.
Bill Bavasi has tried to put the Mariners in front for 2004, and made a very bold move signing Eddie Guardado to a contract Tuesday, days after locking up Shigetoshi Hasegawa. Here are some splits:
Guardado: 2.89 50/65.1 60/14 41Sv
Everyday Eddie is an interesting case, a seemingly consistent player whom shows drastic split differences. Guardado, like ex-Twins LaTroy Hawkins and Eric Milton, showed a large affinity for pitching in the Metrodome, a statistic that has held true much of his career. Seattle hardly plays in a small stadium though, so I don't anticipate any negative effects from that move. Guardado became a better pitcher in the second half, showing better stuff and a slightly higher walk rate as a result. Right-handers have always been known to hit with more power against him, but he negates both types well.
Guardado isn't the typical great reliever that has one dominant pitch, but fits more in the Joe Borowski variety of hard-nosed pitchers. He has excellent control, and uses as many as five pitches to disrupt hitters. 1995 was the last season Eddie threw in less than 60 games, although 2001 was the last time he was primarily used in the set-up role. But, Kaz Sasaki is old and injury-prone, so Guardado's as good a bet to finish with 20 saves as anyone. It will also move Shigetoshi Hasegawa to solely pitching in middle relief, a role he was familiar with until being tried as closer during parts of the 2003 season. A look at Hasegawa's numbers:
Hasegawa: 1.48 62/73 32/18 16 Sv
Shiggy is the rare type of pitcher that could care less about strikeout numbers, yet is still extremely effective. He was the best reliever in baseball during the first half, but finished the year fifth on Baseball Prospectus' reliever rankings. Hasegawa is much better in Safeco, a figure that likely drove up his value this offseason. In the end, Shiggy signed a contract very comparable to that of Paul Quantrill, another of the game's best right-handed middle relievers. Shiggy's 2003 will likely finish as his career season, but don't be surprised if he doesn't top a 3.00 ERA during this contract.
Like it or not, the Mariners will be paying Guardado and Hasegawa a combined $7.5M next year, before these players even think about reaching incentives. Sasaki is set to bring in $8M, meaning the team's top three relievers could easily haul in $20M next season. Kaz will begin the year as closer, with Guardado mainly working in set-up. Hasegawa and Julio Mateo are next out of the bullpen, and the team is one left-handed pitcher short. I like this deal because it means Bob Melvin must use stud Rafael Soriano out of the rotation, and likely pushes Freddy Garcia into free agency. But, Arthur Rhodes would have come a lot cheaper, plus Seattle is strapping for cash after a bad left fielder signing. Speaking of...
Player A: .294/.345/.454 .268 EqA $4.3M 2004 salary
This example shows how horrendous the Raul Ibanez signing truely was, as Allan Baird signed Matt Stairs to a one-year, $1M deal yesterday. And oh yeah, Baird will get a second-round choice next June courtesy of Bavasi's error. Here's a look at the rest of Stairs' stats:
Home: .350/.424/.669 Road: .230/.356/.446
I won't bother to show the LH/RH splits, as Stairs only had thirty-two at-bats against left-handers last season. Anyways, Stairs, a former second basemen, has really changed the course of his career, becoming one of the best platoonable players in the game during recent seasons. The team is said to be courting Raul Mondesi, and the trio of Stairs, Mondesi, and Ken Harvey would alternate in the LF/DH roles next season. Allan Baird is really starting to understand baseball better, and I hear tomorrow he will add Benito Santiago as well.
But he wasn't finished yesterday, also picking up valuable reliever Scott Sullivan at the bargain basement price of $2.1M next season. Here's a look at Sullivan:
Sullivan: 3.66 48/66 56/32
The main reason I love Sullivan is durability, the man has pitched in 373 games in the last five years, with a 6.06 ERA in 2002 the only blemish on his chart. Sullivan pitches in every role, able to pitch from three innings to one batter, and right-handers have always struggled against him. Walks are a little bit of a problem, but Sullivan has been notoriously a great reliever during his career. Playing in Kauffman Stadium may push his ERA above 4.00, but he'll be valuable in a very deep bullpen that includes Sullivan, Curt Leskanic, Mike MacDougal, Jeremy Affeldt, and D.J. Carrasco already. The Royals are doing a great job, and with Santiago and Mondesi would become the favorites in the weak AL Central.
Moving to the National League, the Braves have quickly signed their replacement to Greg Maddux, as the team signed John Thomson. You laugh, but Thomson wasn't a whole lot worse when throwing ERA out of the equation last season:
Maddux: 9.27 H/9, 1.36 BB/9, 5.11 K/9, 3.4 SNWAR
While I recognize that Maddux is and was the better pitcher, he also comes with a price tag that sits about $10M higher than the $3.5M that Atlanta will pay Thomson. John pitched very well after the break, going 7-5, 4.17ERA, allowing 98 hits in 99.1IP with 63K and 25BB. Teams were hot on his trail, and Turner Field should go a long way into helping his 2004 statistics. He'll be the third pitcher for the Braves, pitching behind Russ Ortiz and Mike Hampton, while in front of Horacio Ramirez.
By signing a starter the Braves have indicated all their money will go toward offense, likely freeing up enough money to go after Vladimir Guerrero during the Winter Meetings. This does mean their hot and cold interest in Andy Pettite and Kevin Millwood will subside, although both those pitchers will likely stay with their current teams.
Millwood has said it is "likely" that he will accept arbitration from the Phillies, likely commanding a salary in the $12M range for 2004. Philadelphia is trying so hard to do the Jacobs' Field Indian effect of the 90s, timing success with a new stadium perfectly. The Phillies made another move yesterday, signing reliever Tim Worrell to a two-year, $5.5M contract. This is a solid move by the Phillies, considering Worrell's 2003...
Worrell: 2.87 74/78.1 65/28 38 Sv
I'm not particularly bullish on Worrell next season, although I think he is one of the better set-up men that is left available on the market. This will put a lot less pressure on Rheal Cormier, which has to be considered a good thing, and Billy Wagner makes games eight innings with his amazing arm.
There's little left for the Phillies to do, they want to sign Dan Plesac, and they will want to sign one more right-handed middle relief arm. But for now, this is one Helluva team:
Lineup: Lieberthal, Thome, Utley, Rollins, Polanco, Burrell, Byrd, Abreu
Wow, all Ed Wade has to do now is listen to the hype build, and prepare to fire Larry Bowa when the team struggles out of the gate. Bowa is the only thing holding back this team, although de facto manager Joe Kerrigan wasn't exactly a miracle worker in Boston.
Finally, touching on the St. Louis Cardinals, who announced non-guaranteed deals with Brent Butler and Steve Cox yesterday. Butler is an infielder who has been entrenched in the Rockie system for years, never producing awe-inspiring results. Cox is an ex-Devil Rays first basemen that had tons of potential, lost it, went to Japan, and has come back.
Butler has amassed 553 at-bats the last three seasons in Colorado, finishing with an average of .248/.285/.380 across the board. His road OPS during this time hasn't topped .550, but he's known mainly for his infield glove. Also, Butler has a reverse-platoon split, as his OPS against right-handers (.698), is much better than that against southpaws (.567). Bo Hart is currently seen as the Cardinals' 2B, although I think the team felt they needed to bring a veteran in to compete with. Hart was very effective against left-handers last year, and may end up with just a platoon role. In the end, expect the popular Hart to win the job, but here's a little credit to Walt Jocketty for at least building some competition.
I'll also keep that credit going with the low-risk signing of Steve Cox, the 2000 #9 prospect in the Tampa Bay organization. In 1999, Cox hit .341 in AAA, also hitting 25 home runs, while walking only 67 times. Then, he went on to put these lines up in the Majors:
Cox looked like a very promising player after the 2000 season, during which he homered 11 times in 318AB, with a BB/K ratio that GMs love (45/47). But his numbers deteriorated the following seasons, as his batting average, slugging percentage, and OPS all spent three years on the decline. An injury prevented Cox from playing in Japan, and St. Louis was definitely the right place to come for a job.
I've written numerous times on this site I believe John Gall will play first base for the Cardinals in 2004, while Albert Pujols will remain in left field. Cox will play a similar role to the aforementioned Brent Butler, providing Spring Training competition for the youngster, Gall. If Cox has a great Spring Training the team can give him a chance, or they can see if he'll recreate those 1999 numbers in Memphis. Cox never hit lefties in the Majors, and Gall struggles with them currently, so expect the team to sign a LF that can hit southpaws, and Pujols will move to first on those days. Overall, I like these moves by Jocketty, as I support veteran competition before giving jobs to youngsters, unless you tempt Dusty Baker with Randall Simon.
That's it, I think I nailed every transaction. San Diego signed the Japanese veteran they've long sought after, and while I didn't touch on Shannon Stewart, I'll just refer you to Aaron Gleeman's great piece from yesterday. Have a good one, and I hear Benito is a Royal, Vinny Castilla a Rockie, and Carl Everett has an offer from the D-Rays. So is life Carl, so is life.