Recapping a Busy Tuesday
In past years, December 20 has been an early Christmas for some General Managers with the hopes of landing a second-tier free agent for cheap. This year, the presents under the tree are quite disappointing. It seems like, in this day and age, players bound to be non-tendered are often traded before reaching this stage.
Fifty players were non-tendered on Tuesday, and some have (and will) immediately signed minor league contracts with the same team. When perusing the list, I found ten players that should generate at least a little bit of interest in some General Manager's mind. The ten, listed alphabetically:
Joe Borowski - 35 - RP - 2005: Tampa Bay Devil Rays/Chicago Cubs
The Cubs were unwilling to give Borowski the proper time to heal, and gave him the boot midseason. He paid them back by starting his stint with the Devil Rays strongly, setting a club record with 21 consecutive scoreless innings. However, that mark was made less impressive when he followed it (and ended his season) by giving up fifteen earned runs in 14.1 innings. There is a possibility that Joe Borowski will never again be a serviceable reliever in the Major Leagues. But if some teams are willing to give Rule 5 picks a chance to be their fifth or sixth reliever, giving Borowski a NRI is a decent gamble.
Chad Bradford - 31 - RP - 2005: Boston Red Sox
While his season was cut short by injury, the world's most famous submariner had yet another season with an ERA+ over 100 last year. Bradford is basically the right-handers' answer to the LOOGY, as his only talent is (and has been) an ability to effectively retire right-handed batters. Last year, he held RHB to a line of .282/.316/.310. A bad September will be noticed by many front offices, but they should also note that Bradford's best (and only full) month was August. Given the right role, Bradford can still be an effective member of a bullpen. He should be guaranteed seven figures (if just $1M) by someone.
Jim Brower - 33 - RP - 2005: San Francisco Giants/Atlanta Braves
Suddenly, it appears that once a pitcher passes his prime, one bad season will irreparably damage his reputation. From 2001-2004, Brower was a right-handed Ron Villone, a versatile reliever averaging about 100 innings per year. He could start, mop-up, middle relieve or even set-up. But things fell apart in San Francisco last year, and he was quickly shipped off to work with Leo Mazzone in Atlanta. The results were solid (shocking, I know) if unspectacular, and it will be interesting if the Mazzone Effect means that Brower will follow him to Baltimore.
Eric Byrnes - 30 - OF - 2005: A's/Rockies/Orioles
For five years, Eric Byrnes was a staple on the Oakland A's 25-man roster. It was the only team he had ever played on, and with his strong clubhouse chemistry, it was really the only team we could imagine him on. Suddenly, in the span of about six months, Byrnes has added two teams to that list, and stands to add a third soon. His peak has likely passed, but Byrnes is better than he showed in 2005. I've always thought of him as a poor man's Aaron Rowand, and someone in need of a versatile 4th outfielder, and accomplished southpaw basher should call Byrnes up.
Josh Fogg - 29 - SP - 2005: Pittsburgh Pirates
This guy should be a bad, low-payroll team's dream. For the last four years, Fogg has been freakishly consistent, and with his age, shows few signs of stopping in the next two seasons. You can easily expect 140-200 innings and an ERA from 4.30 to 5.30. It doesn't change. He has a mediocre, four-pitch arsenal, and has learned to pitch his way out of trouble (Minnesota knows him as Joe Mays). If Scott Elarton can get a big contract from Kansas City, someone should give Fogg a two-year, $3M contract. At the back of a rotation, he won't disappoint.
Ryan Franklin - 33 - SP - 2005: Seattle Mariners
Most of what I just told you about Josh Fogg applies here. Franklin has a broad arsenal, one in which no pitch is particularly effective. He doesn't strike people out. He doesn't have any upside. He can give you about 180 innings of slightly below league average pitching. But while Fogg at least offers a sexy age, Franklin offers the potential of falling apart. I would suggest he look into the salary difference between being a AAA ace and whatever job he could get away from baseball very soon.
Trever Miller - 33 - LH RP - 2005: Tampa Bay Devil Rays
Let me get this straight. During this winter, have we really seen Scott Eyre, Ricardo Rincon and Mike Myers get multi-year contracts? Was Steve Kline actually coveted by another team? In such a case, Trever Miller at least deserves a shot. The guy is not quite a LOOGY, as he has always been equally effective -- or in the case of 2005, ineffective -- against hitters on both sides of the plate. His slider is good enough that someone is going to give this guy a decent offer and not be disappointed. I would pay something like $750,000 for a trial run, that's for sure.
Miguel Olivo - 27 - C - 2005: San Diego Padres/Seattle Mariners
Man, the Padres must be really confident in Doug Mirabelli's abilities, or else think Bengie Molina is going to fall into their hands. But, really, if Yorvit Torrealba can bring in a live arm like Marcos Carvajal, is Olivo's market really non-existent. This guy was great with the Padres last year, after a horrible (and I mean really bad) run with the Mariners. He's quick, is pretty good behind the plate, and has some decent pop in his bat. If he could walk or make contact, he'd be an everyday catcher. As is, he should at least be someone's back-up in 2006.
Ramon Ortiz - 32 - SP - 2005: Cincinnati Reds
Cincinnati was a bad, bad career move for Ramon Ortiz. After watching Ortiz hang curveball after curveball, the Angels decided to punish Ortiz a year ago, and send him to a stadium where it would really hurt. The results were predictable, as Ortiz gave up 34 homers in 171.1 innings. I mean, did this guy really strike out 162 guys in a season...within the last five years? Crazy. A team with a committee for the fifth spot in the rotation, and a big outfield, should really consider bringing Ortiz in. The results could be Pedro Astacio-esque.
Junior Spivey - 31 - 2B - 2005: Milwaukee Brewers/Washington Nationals
Like Byrnes, it seems like we just blinked, and Spivey became a journeyman. Really, it was just 2002 in which Spivey hit .301/.389/.476. And if word on the street is correct, that could even be duplicated soon. Why? Well, because apparently Colorado needs a second baseman, and has targeted Spivey to fill that role. This is best for Spivey, as any stadium without an easing hitting environment seems to be too difficult at this point.
Again, not a lot to offer here. I'd almost prefer the minor league free agent market, which in some ways, is what this will become.
The one team that has left many scratching their heads after Tuesday has been the San Diego Padres, who apparently had a case of second-thoughts when the deadline came close. Two players acquired this winter (Dewon Brazelton and Pete LaForest) were given pink slips, as well as two others that hadn't been with the organization long (Olivo, Craig Breslow). Very strange.
San Diego brass has claimed that had they not traded Sean Burroughs to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, he would have been non-tendered. Basically, the Padres decided to non-tender Burroughs yesterday, dumping Brazelton. I thought Dewon could have a future in PETCO Park, but it appears that he will be forced to take his act somewhere (likely a AAA team) in 2006. Still, you have to wonder what the White Sox (who were interested in Burroughs, and ultimately acquired Rob Mackowiak) were offering for Burroughs. Could the Padres have acquired Damaso Marte or Luis Vizcaino?
If Olivo didn't fit on the roster, which still seems odd to me, it's no surprise that LaForest doesn't either. LaForest is really a AAA player, a catcher that used to hit well -- no longer does -- and never was good behind the plate. Breslow looks like a pretty good LOOGY destined for Kansas City, leaving the Padres another hole in their pitching staff.
These moves further indicate the Padres do not have a plan this winter, which contrasts heavily with the Los Angeles Dodgers, who have rehauled their offense in the last month. The NL West was up for grabs, and the Dodgers seem to have taken it.
Earlier this offseason, I mentioned that the Padres seemed to have the mentality of "2006 or bust." The acquisition of Vinny Castilla and the flirtation with David Wells were the driving forces behind this thought. Now, I don't know what the plan is. Trading Mark Loretta to the Red Sox for Doug Mirabelli was a big question mark, and by giving Josh Barfield a shot, seemed to indicate they were thinking about their future rather than 2006. However, the re-signings of Brian Giles and Trevor Hoffman -- two old players -- create some urgency within the organization.
Another question mark was thrown into the equation yesterday, in which the Padres acquired three players from the Texas Rangers for Adam Eaton, Akinori Otsuka and an A-ball catcher. Both Eaton and Otsuka are free agents after the season, while Chris Young, Terrmel Sledge and Adrian Gonzalez are far from it. Now, you'd think the team was really geared towards the future rather than the present.
Most people are giving the Padres the "W" for this trade, citing Eaton's forthcoming free agent status, as well as his outspoken reluctance to re-sign any time soon. Many say that the Rangers, by swapping Eaton for Young in their rotation, were not adding much. To this notion, I disagree. Over at the Hardball Times, we see that much of Young's season was because of luck. He allowed very few home runs, despite being an extreme flyball pitcher, and might even have trouble keeping balls in the park at PETCO. His second half seems to be a good start for a prediction, and with young pitchers, there is always the threat of injury. The Rangers were trading a pitcher destined for worse numbers in 2006.
Eaton, on the other hand, has upside that Young can't touch. He was one of the NL's best pitchers through June last year, but injuries took a toll on the rest of his season. In many ways, he's similar to Kerry Wood, as both have eight-figure stuff and a ten-cent arm. If the Rangers could manage to acquire Eaton and Kevin Millwood, and harness the two properly in 2006, they can easily become one of the AL West favorites. Otsuka adds a dependable arm to the bullpen. Adrian Gonzalez and Terrmel Sledge were blocked. The Rangers are going for it in 2006.
As for the Padres, it's hard to tell. It's hard to say what roles they will find for Gonzalez and Sledge, or what they will do with the back of their rotation. They acquired plenty of good talent, but for me, it creates more questions than it answers. Los Angeles seems to have intimidated the team, who after jumping out to a quick lead seem to be backing off the 2006 race. However, would it really surprise anyone if the long-rumored Dave Roberts for David Wells trade finally happens within the next week?
The Red Sox had all their cards on the table. They were committed to bringing Johnny Damon back. In fact, this late in the winter, they needed to bring Johnny Damon back. Other options, like Brian Giles or Milton Bradley, secured their futures. Damon signed a contract with the Yankees yesterday for four years and $52 million, matching what the team gave Hideki Matsui.
For months, Brian Cashman was saying all the right things in the Big Apple. Unlike the Red Sox, he wasn't committing to anything, except the possibility that Bubba Crosby could start the season in center. We never bought it. Cashman proved us right, overpaying for a leadoff hitter that should not be providing very good value in 2009. But he solved a few problems for 2006, specifically those at the top of the order and in center field.
And, of course, he weakened the Red Sox. Their options now are quite limited. Convince the Reds to trade Wily Mo Pena. Trade for one of the A's outfielders, and pay a ridiculous premium. Sign Preston Wilson. Give Dave Roberts 500 at-bats. The Yankees are filling holes, the Blue Jays are acquiring five-star players, and the Red Sox are prepared to take a giant step back.
At this point, the biggest mistake would be trading part of the future for a centerfield option. Frankly, I don't think the Red Sox will be winning the division in 2006. I would acquire Roberts for Wells, and give the playoff hero a full-season in center. Put Jon Papelbon in the rotation, and see what potential he has in that role. Use the money designated for Damon and bring in Roger Clemens. See if some magic can produce a Wild Card team, and if it can't, retool in one season. Who knows, at that point, Theo Epstein might even be back on the market.
From the Yankees end, this move likely didn't take a lot of thought. Filling holes and weakening the Red Sox. You can bet that George Steinbrenner will pay a premium for that. When this team closes their winter by acquiring a defensive-minded first baseman (J.T. Snow) soon, they will enter Spring Training with one of the best offenses in the American League. No longer should the Blue Jays, and especially the Red Sox, intimidate them.
Step down from the ledge, Cubs fans, things aren't quite as bad as they appear (or as bad as they are for the Red Sox). Far and wide, there seems to be a general consensus that the Cubs are foolish and idiotic for handing Jacque Jones a three-year, $16 million contract. I see things differently.
Jones is a role player. If this were basketball, he would make a mean sixth man. In baseball, he brings three key attributes to the table: the ability to hit right-handed pitching, good baserunning and good fielding. First and foremost, is the left-handed bat that Jones brings to the table. For his career, Jones is about a .290/.345/.485 player against right-handed pitching. Last year, the Cubs had a .748 OPS against RHP, and Jeremy Burnitz (the everyday RFer) hit .267/.345/.430. Both of those marks should be improved upon by Jones in 2006, who will (conservatively) manage an .800 OPS, with the ceiling of somewhere near .850. With a little more luck in the BABIP department, and factoring in his recent increase in walks, Jones is as talented a hitter against RHP as the Cubs could have hoped.
Last Spring Training, Dusty Baker was committed to making the Cubs better on the basepaths. His plan, well, failed. Certainly, the addition of Juan Pierre should help improve those marks in 2006. But, don't discount the possibility of Jones helping, as well. Never an accomplished base stealer, his quickness should shine through when the Cubs attempt to advance runners from first to second, first to third, and second to home. According to Dan Fox, the man behind incremental runs (as found in the 2006 Hardball Times Baseball Annual), Jones has been one of the best baserunners in the Majors for the last five seasons. He had a solid 0.58 IR last year, and since 2001, he is at 4.92. He is among the game's 50 best on the bases. Burnitz? Well, his -0.51 finish in 2005 dipped his five-year total to -1.61, so he's a below average baserunner. This difference shouldn't make a huge difference in the 2006 standings, but it's a relatively ignored improvement on what North Siders have been used to.
As we all know, fielding statistics are the question mark of sabermetrics. But, by most all metrics, Jacque Jones is quite the fielder. For some reason, Baseball Prospectus' numbers tend to question Jones' play in left field during the course of his career, but give him high marks for right field. The Hardball Times numbers rank Jones as the seventh best right fielder in the Majors, but also have Jeremy Burnitz at third, and Mark Kotsay towards the bottom of the outfield barrel. No matter what numbers you use, the outcome will likely say that both Jones and Burnitz are above-average outfielders. The effect will be minimal, but gone are the days of wincing to the actions of Sammy Sosa.
It's hard to mention Jones, however, without calling to attention his weakness: southpaws. During his time with the Twins, Rod Gardenhire refused to bench Jones against left-handers, and he leaves Minnesota with a career .227/.277/.339 line against them. Dusty Baker's tendencies be damned, the Cubs must learn from this mistake for this signing to be successful. This transaction is simply not complete without the acquisition of a right-handed hitter for the bench. There aren't a lot of fantastic options out there, but if the Tigers found Craig Monroe off the minor league free agent market, the Cubs could surely find someone (Eric Byrnes?). And if all else fails, throw John Mabry out there, who at worst could give you an OPS of over .700, despite batting from the left side.
Brian Giles and Hideki Matsui were free agents that were nearly unwilling to leave their homes. Milton Bradley came with baggage and a price tag the Cubs were unwilling to pay, which is also true for the likes of Bobby Abreu, Austin Kearns and even Kevin Mench. Reggie Sanders certainly isn't the world's best right field option. Simply put, I don't see a lot of options for Jim Hendry here.
For the next two seasons, I'm confident in saying that Jacque Jones will be worth his salary if platooned. In the third year, he has a chance of doing the same, or at worst, becoming Orlando Palmiero version 2.0, with more raw power, of course. In the NL Central, soon-to-be baseball's worst division, Jacque Jones is not going to ruin any postseason opportunities. At about $5.3 million per season, the Cubs committed about 1/18 of their payroll for the next three years to a role player. I don't see a lot wrong with that.