O'tis the Free Agent Season
Sittin' in the mornin' sun
I'll be sittin' when the evenin' come
Watching the ships roll in
And then I watch 'em roll away again, yeah
- Written by Otis Redding and Steve Cropper
News Item #1: Tom Glavine agreed to a one-year, $8 million contract with the Atlanta Braves on Monday. Last month, the southpaw with 303 career victories declined a $13M player option to return to the New York Mets.
Comment: This signing serves as a rare example of where a player uses his free agency to choose location over money. I applaud Glavine, who is married with four children, for passing up the extra dough and taking a hometown discount to return to his roots in Atlanta.
News Item #2: Mike Lowell and the Boston Red Sox agreed to a three-year, $37.5 million deal on Monday. The World Series MVP apparently turned down more years and money from the Philadelphia Phillies and the Los Angeles Dodgers to remain in Boston.
Comment: Kudos to both sides. They found a common ground. Had Boston and Lowell been unable to agree on the number of years, I was going to suggest that they agree on a contract that would be good through the 2011 All-Star Game.
News Item #3: Mariano Rivera reportedly told the New York Yankees last night that he has agreed to a three-year, $45 million contract offer. The average annual salary becomes the highest ever for a reliever.
Comment: The Rivera signing should keep the future Hall of Famer in pinstripes for the rest of his career. With 443 saves, Mo should pass Lee Smith (478) for second on the all-time list late next season or in the early part of the following campaign. Rivera also has an outside shot at leapfrogging Trevor Hoffman (524) before his contract expires.
Glavine joins fellow oldies but goodies Greg Maddux and Curt Schilling as potential free agents who have already signed for 2008. Roger Clemens is unlikely to return next season. Andy Pettitte has said that he will either play for the Yankees or retire. Kenny Rogers would like to pitch for the Detroit Tigers again. These signings and pending retirements mean that Carlos Silva and Kyle Lohse just may be the best starters among the remaining free agents. Similarly, the only relievers of note that are still available are Francisco Cordero and David Riske.
Everybody except Scott Boras knows that Alex Rodriguez has negotiated a new ten-year, $275 million pact with the Bronx Bombers. Jorge Posada has also re-upped with the Yankees, taking two of the best players off the market. Barry Bonds, who was indicted by a federal grand jury on charges of perjury last Thursday, is unlikely to garner much interest at this point.
So what's left? As Patrick Sullivan covered last week, the cream of this year's free agent crop are four center fielders (in alphabetical order): Mike Cameron, Torii Hunter, Andruw Jones, and Aaron Rowand. Hunter will probably sign the most lucrative contract of 'em all with Rowand also getting a longer-term deal for at least $12 million per annum. Rather than learning from the Juan Pierre and Gary Matthews signings last year, teams will close their eyes and pay up for guys like Rowand and hope they produce.
This year's free agent position players and pitchers leave a lot to be desired. If a team is looking to plug in a third outfielder (Jose Guillen or Geoff Jenkins) or settle for a decent second baseman (Kaz Matsui, Tadahito Iguchi, or perhaps David Eckstein) or a warm body at catcher (Michael Barrett or Yorvit Torrealba), there are a few options out there. But the list is cluttered with aging players who are better suited as inexpensive bench players and pinch hitters. In other words, there really aren't many free agents who are likely to be impact players, much less difference makers.
Based on the limited choices in the free agency arena, I would expect that trade discussions will heat up at the Winter Meetings in early December. Front and center will be players such as Johan Santana and Miguel Cabrera who will be entering their walk year in 2008 or 2009. Yesterday's deal between the Chicago White Sox and Los Angeles Angels may be the first of many swaps in the works.
Although Jason Bay is coming off the worst season of his career, he could be a viable option for a team in need of a big bat (I'm looking at you, Arte Moreno and Tony Reagins). He is a Tim Salmon-type player who would fit nicely into left field, forcing Garret Anderson into a full-time role as the club's designated hitter (which is where he belongs). Bay could be a much cheaper option than Cabrera, both in terms of players and salaries.
With four years of major-league service under his belt, the 2004 NL Rookie of the Year will be a free agent after the 2009 season. In the meantime, his remaining arbitration years have been bought out at $5.75M in 2008 and $7.5M in 2009. By comparison, Cabrera is in line to earn about twice those figures as an arb-eligible player this year and next. Mind you, I'm in no way suggesting that Bay is the equal of Cabrera. If money is no object, then, by all means, go get Miggy.
Bay, who turned 29 two months ago, was one of the best players in the NL in 2005 and 2006. In 2007, he hit like the Jason of old through June 1 (.314/.387/.536 with 15 2B and 9 HR), then like an old Jason the rest of the way (.205/.290/.344), including a 9-for-52 finish with only one HR since his last multi-hit game in late August.
Is Bay done? I highly doubt it. You don't go from being very good to bad in a matter of months. Sure, his .247 AVG, .327 OBP, .418 SLG, and 21 HR were all career lows. His walk rate was down and his strikeout rate was up. He experienced major slippage for sure. If Bay hadn't, he would probably be an untouchable. Instead, I think he can be had.
Neal Huntington, who was hired as the Pirates GM in September, is interested in rebuilding the club and one of his best bargaining chips is none other than Bay. If an acquiring team can convince itself that Bay's knees are in good order, his eyesight is 20-20 or better, and he has the fire in his belly to bounce back from a disappointing campaign, then I would suggest giving Mr. Huntington a call.
You see, PNC Park was the most difficult environment in all of baseball for a right-handed hitter to slug home runs last season, as well as from 2005-2007. PNC's HR index for RHB was a 66 in 2007, meaning it suppressed dingers by 34%. It was a 72 over the past three years, lower than RFK Stadium in Washington (76) and McAfee Coliseum in Oakland (82).
Let's take a look at Bay's HR splits the past three seasons:
2005 9 23
2006 13 22
2007 7 14
If Bay had slugged as many homers at home as he did on the road, he would have gone deep 46, 44, and 28 times the past three years (rather than 32, 35, and 21). These additional 30 HR would have yielded an average of 10 more per season.
Bay's hit chart at PNC in 2007 shows that he tends to pull groundballs while lifting flyballs to straightaway center and to the opposite field in right.
I'm unsure as to whether Bay has lost some bat speed or is simply frustrated by the dimensions of PNC. As Marc Normandin of Baseball Prospectus detailed in a Player Profile last July, Bay ripped the majority of his home runs over the LF wall in 2005 and to LCF and CF in 2006. His power has been gradually drifting from left toward right field over the past couple of years. It's possible that Bay could regain some or all of his lost power by playing in a different home ballpark, particularly one that favors RHB such as Philadelphia, Cincinnati, Colorado, Milwaukee, Houston, Chicago (AL), Toronto, or Baltimore. A more neutral site could even do the trick.
Bay isn't a slam dunk. But the reward may be more than commensurate with the risk.
Now, I'm just gonna sit at the dock of the bay
Watching the tide roll away
Oooo-wee, sittin' on the dock of the bay
Note: (Sittin' on) The Dock of the Bay was recorded by Otis Redding almost exactly 40 years ago to the day and within 72 hours of the plane crash outside Madison, Wisconsin that took his life. The song was #1 for four weeks in 1968.