WTNYFebruary 25, 2004
04-05 Free Agent Pitchers
By Bryan Smith

I work hard not to have an East Coast bias in my writings (Hell, I’m a Central boy), but the Rivalry simply does have the most news. Yesterday, Shaun Powell of Newsday wrote an article entitled “Pedro, Nomar, Lowe: ’05 Yanks?” Readers of this site should not be blown away by this statement, I mean, I’ve stated that Pedro and Lowe are unlikely to return. Nomar should be back, and yesterday a Jayson Stark piece gave added insight to the Red Sox Pedro and Nomar situations.

Each has one year left on contracts they seemed to sign back in some other lifetime. It once was hard to imagine the Red Sox without either of them, let alone both of them. But now that could happen. Easily.

So there was Pedro on Tuesday, saying: "If they don't want to sign me, that's fine. I'm pretty sure I'll find a job with somebody else."

And there was Nomar not even an hour later, talking about the prospect of not finishing his career in Boston, saying: "I'd definitely be hurt. I'd definitely be disappointed. ... But basically, I've dealt with that already. As far as I'm concerned, it was a done deal. I was shipped off to another team. So I don't know what the future holds."

While this seemed to reaffirm my belief that Pedro was out the door and Nomar would stay, Garciaparra threw a few negative statements in as well.

The state of Garciaparra's psyche has been a topic dancing all over the New England winter. It will be just as hot a topic all spring, all summer, all fall. No one doubts how hard he will play. But will he feel the same allegiance to a franchise that he clearly believes showed no allegiance to him last winter?

"I probably feel how anyone would feel after playing his whole career in one organization and having to find out he was traded, or pretty much gone, over the television," Garciaparra said, bluntly. "How would you feel?"

Asked how he reacted when he heard statements from the Red Sox that signing him to an extension was still their first priority, Garciaparra couldn't have acted more skeptical if he'd burst into uproarious laughter.

"Everyone saw their actions (this winter)," he said, "pretty much on a daily basis. It was everywhere. You guys can answer that for yourself."

If Nomar was to leave, I doubt he'd come to New York like Shaun Powell suggests, but rather back home in California. This leads me back to yesterday's article about post-2004 free agents that garnered some good feedback. Contrary to what my research had told me, Lance Berkman and Aramis Ramirez will not be free agents until after the 2005 season. Also, I missed Edgar Renteria, who likely would have appeared after Richie Sexson and before Jose Vidro. This would be my Edgar statement...

6.5- Edgar Renteria, St. Louis, SS (78, 116, 131): It has taken a long time for Renteria to reach the bar that was set for him in Florida, but he has done it. I believe that Edgar Renteria is the fourth most valuable shortstop in the game, sitting right ahead of the revered Derek Jeter. Edgar runs, walks, and plays defense. He makes contact and hits for power. The Cardinals have spent a lot of money on the likes of Scott Rolen and Albert Pujols recently, but it would be wise to open their checkbook up once more.

In yesterday's piece I also promised a run-through of the hitters that have 2005 options, and they are:

- Jeff Kent (HOU): Chances are Houston will retain Kent for one last season, seeing as even decreased production is WAY above league average.
- Bret Boone (SEA): For $8M, Seattle ownership shouldn't have a problem bringing the American League's best second basemen back.
- Jeff Conine (FLA): Conine comes cheap, can play a couple of positions, and is a fan favorite in Miami. He'll be back.
- Moises Alou (CHC): Any cost won't be worth an aging outfielder that PECOTA has hated for years.
- Christian Guzman (MIN): Jason Bartlett should be taking over at short in 2005, but if he falters, the Twins may be forced to bring back Aaron Gleeman's least favorite SS.
- Jermaine Dye (OAK): It's laughable that the A's would have to pay more than $10M to keep Dye, so I think it's safe to assume the underachieving right fielder will be on the open market next offseason.

The rest of today's article will be devoted to the next free agent class of pitchers, but because the group isn't as deep as the hitters, the list only goes 15 deep (and oddly enough, all right-handed...ERA+ is attached).

1. Pedro Martinez, Boston (189,196,212): Rich Lederer, a far smarter man than I when it comes to historical perspectives, once said that Pedro might be the best rate pitcher ever. In an article about Lefty Grove, Lederer shows tables of career ERA+, ERA vs. league average, and ERA as ratio of league average in which Pedro completely dominates. While people complain that he can't go far into games, Pedro is the best five-inning pitcher I've ever seen...and that has to be worth something. Who will pay, if not the Yankees, is a question I can't answer.

2. Kerry Wood, Chicago (126,110,133): Forever I will be mystified by a spring start in 1998. I've watched a lot of baseball in my time, but Kerry Wood's 20K game against the Astros was the best ever. While his slider doesn't bite quite as hard as it once did, Wood is still one of the top-3 strikeout pitchers in the game today. I'll pray that the Cubs recent talks with Wood's agents represent that a deal will get done, and I'm optimistic. People say he'd like to go to Texas, but he's got things good on the North Side.

3. Matt Morris, St. Louis (137,114,111): With the recent feudings between Morris and my Cubbies, I was thinking about not including this guy at all, but that just wouldn't be fair to my readers. Morris has worsened a bit in each of his three seasons back from injury, but he's still a helluva pitcher. The K/9 rate is a worry for sure (stay away in fantasy leagues), but I would watch that curveball all day if I could. He's enticing, and frustrated with the Cardinals. But they need pitching, and Jocketty is more apt to spend available dough on Morris than Renteria.

4. Mariano Rivera, Yankees (191,160,265): When healthy, Rivera is still one of the best three closers in the game. Mariano hasn't walked more than 12 in a season since 2000, and his ERA hasn't touched 3.00 since he was a starter. Rivera is one of the best things to ever happen to the Yankees, and talks are already under way to re-sign him. This will get done, and on Mariano's terms, he's earned that much.

5. Kevin Millwood, Phillies (102,127,103): Kevin was very lucky the Phils offered arbitration this past year, allowing Millwood to nab one more eight figure salary. While he's talented, I just don't see that in his future. 2002 vs. 2003 proves that he needs a big field to work with, but he's not the player that Halladay, Vazquez, or Wood is. Atlanta might be interested, and Turner Field seemed to work well for everyone involved.

6. Esteban Loaiza, White Sox (95,78,155): There hasn't been a larger breakout in my memory than Loaiza, who went from a 'never been' to a Cy Young candidate in one year flat. His cut fastball worked wonders, but you can't help but think negative thoughts about Loaiza's 2004. Jerry Reinsdorf hates to sign pitchers to long-term deals, and players like Jaime Navarro and Jack McDowell have only reinforced that philosophy. Unless he takes another two-year deal, Loaiza won't be a Chicagoan in 2005.

7. Livan Hernandez, Expos (77,86,155): Look at the ERA+ of Hernandez and Loaiza, they are mindboggling. Hernandez was actually less of a bet to breakout, but when he did, matched Esteban step-for-step. Hernandez has pitched at least 215 innings in five of the last six seasons, but things are clicking again. He's a very good pitcher, and like most Expos, as good of a bet as anyone to be traded midseason when the contenders come calling.

8. Troy Percival, Anaheim (179,226,123): I'm going to go out on a limb and say that moving to the mound was a good decision for Percival. Troy has been a great pitcher during his career, but I was shocked to learn that only four have his nine seasons his ERA has been below 3.00. The K/9 has always been fantastic, which is likely the reason my mind overvalued him. The Angels would be smart to let him walk and to give the closer's role to Francisco Rodriguez, Brendan Donnelly, or even Bobby Jenks.

9. Derek Lowe, Boston (128,171,105): I once heard that no one else in the league throws their sinker like Lowe, probably the reason he's had such success with the pitch. He's a great innings-eater, but his performance has been less than what people give him credit for. He's the type of player Dan O'Dowd should spend eight million per season on, and the player that Theo Epstein would pass on. Both those hypotheticals are plausible, definitly more so than the Yankees.

10. Russ Ortiz, Atlanta (122,105,109): Not many players can have such success while walking so many, but Ortiz has done it for three years running. Like other players on this list, he's good for 200 innings, but that can only do so much. I have this feeling that one season is just going to be ugly, maybe once he gets out of stadiums like Turner Field and Pac Bell. We might get to see if I'm write in 2005, but that would involve a John Scheurholtz pass.

11. Matt Clement, Cubbies (84,112,103): His pitching history isn't filled with wonderful statistics, but Clement has the ability to shoot up this list in a hurry. It looked like Larry Rothschild had helped him turn the page in 2002, just to have more inconsistency in 2003. This year will be big for Clement to prove that he's worth the billing, but I just don't see him returning to Chicago. Instead, I anticipate the Rangers to get their second choice, but yet another Cub.

12. Freddy Garcia, Mariners (138,96,98): Maybe Freddy will never be better than he was in 2001, but it's important for Garcia to prove he's above a league average pitcher. The guys at U.S.S. Mariner pointed out last September that Pat Borders seemed to work wonders with the right-hander, and I'm anxious to see if he'll carry his success into this season. The Mariners are a lost cause, and their frustration may lead to a midseason exit for Garcia.

13. Hideo Nomo, Dodgers (101,112,130): I'm not so sure if Nomo could possibly ever have this kind of success outside of Dodger Stadium, but I'm not sure that we'll again be able to test that notion. There have been times each of the last two years that Nomo has just led the staff for a good month or so, using the park to his advantage. He isn't quite as fun to watch as he was in 1995, but he's just about as effective.

14. Carl Pavano, Marlins (73,79,94): Like Orlando Cabrera yesterday, just because he's never topped 100 before (except in 97 innings in 2000) doesn't mean he'll never do it. Pavano has been highly touted since he was a young Expo, and one of the few players that can say they were traded for the first player on this list. He showed good stuff in the playoffs, causing many teams to call Florida this winter. The team chose to lose Mark Redman instead of Pavano, but I don't think they'll keep him next winter. The Red Sox and Rangers both make sense here...buy low, sell high.

15. Kris Benson, Pirates (119,92,85): What can I say, I'm a believer? Benson was the top overall pick in the 1996 draft, but has hardly justified the selection as of yet. The Pirates will let him go after 2005, and probably right around the All-Star Break. He has tons of potential, and if he can stay away from the DL, might make some noise somewhere. Yes, I did put Benson before Milton, Hentgen, Radke, and Lieber. Call me crazy.


Finally, I feel it necessary to respond to the Baseball Prospectus recently released top 50 prospect list. Love 'em of hate 'em, you really have to respect Prospectus for their shrewdness. They house the least consertive list I see on an annual basis, letting their hunches ride heavier than a Baseball America scouting report. I think this is a good thing, and something I need to work on. I probably let a few selections be determined on "what I should do."

With that being said, in my mind, I overvalued J.J. Hardy. Prospectus made him a top 20 prospect, and I'm sure Baseball America will have him in the top 25. I regret putting him in my top 30, I'd rather him have been in the 40s somehwere. The kid only hit .279 in AA last year, not as high as a top 40 prospect should do. I came to a revelation next year when trying to think of a good comparison...Royce Clayton. When checking the numbers, I proved to be right. Here are some numbers that the two were eerily close on while in AA:

Average: Clayton- .280; Hardy- .279
Walks: Clayton- 61; Hardy- 58
XBH: Clayton- 35; Hardy- 38

I concede that Clayton has more speed while Hardy has more pop, but both were great on defense. Who knows if this comparison will pan out or not, but I found it interesting.

That's all for today. As always, leave reactions in my comments (I read them all), and go check out the other All-Baseball sites for more fantastic commentary.