The 2008 Winter Meetings in Review
With the 2008 Winter Meetings concluding today, we thought it might be worthwhile to provide a recap of the week's activities with our comments added to each of the transactions and announcements.
Monday, December 8
Arbitration: Of the 24 players who were offered arbitration by their teams, only Cincinnati RHP Dave Weathers and the Angels LHP Darren Oliver accepted prior to Sunday night’s deadline.
Comments: Nine days ago, we called offering arbitration to the Type B Weathers "a low-risk move," noting that he made $2.75M last year. We added, "The 39-year old is unlikely to get more than $3M in 2009 unless the arbitrator focuses on his 3.25 ERA rather than the fact that he gave up more hits than innings pitched and had just a 2:1 strikeout-to-unintentional walk ratio (1.5:1 including IBB)." As a Type A, Oliver would have faced resistance from other teams not wishing to part with two draft picks for an aging lefthanded reliever.
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Retirement: Four-time Cy Young Award winner Greg Maddux held a press conference to announce his retirement.
Comments: Maddux was not only one of the top two pitchers of the past 20 years but one of the ten greatest of all time. He was at his best in the 1990s, fashioning back-to-back ERAs of 1.56 and 1.63 in 1994 and 1995, in the 2s in five of the other eight seasons, and a decade-high of 3.57 in 1999.
As Lee Sinins reported in his daily Around the Majors report, "Maddux is fourth on the career Runs Saved Above Average (RSAA) list since 1900."
1 Roger Clemens 732
2 Lefty Grove 668
3 Walter Johnson 643
4 Greg Maddux 552
5 Randy Johnson 533
6 Grover C Alexander 524
7 Pedro Martinez 493
8 Christy Mathewson 405
9 Tom Seaver 404
10 Carl Hubbell 355
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Hall of Fame: Joe Gordon was named to the Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee.
Comments: While Gordon may have been a deserving choice, there were many others – including Bill Dahlen and Sherry Magee from the pre-1943 era and Ron Santo from the post-1943 ballot – who were ignored despite having stronger cases and at least one under-the-radar star who wasn't even considered. More than anything, thank goodness that Allie Reynolds, who came up one vote shy of election, will not be included in the Hall of Fame class of 2009.
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Trade: The Rangers traded C Gerald Laird to the Tigers for minor league RHPs Guillermo Moscoso and Carlos Melo.
Comments: Laird, who is two years from becoming a free agent, gives Detroit an inexpensive defensive catcher who can also hit for occasional power. At 25, one has to discount Moscoso's eye-opening strikeout and walk rates last season when he whiffed 122 while allowing only 21 free passes in 86 2/3 innings in High-A and Double-A. Meanwhile, Melo hasn't even turned 18 yet. He struck out 61 batters in 49 innings in the Dominican Summer League.
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Signing: The Tigers signed free agent SS Adam Everett to a one-year, $1 million contract plus incentives.
Comments: Everett may be the best defensive shortstop in baseball. He can't hit a lick but saves enough runs to be a decent option at a base salary that is only about a half million dollars above the minimum.
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Tuesday, December 9
Signing: The Mets signed RHP Francisco Rodriguez to what is essentially a four-year, $51 million contract (including the vesting option that is likely to be triggered).
Comments: This move was the biggest lock of the winter. K-Rod was the highest-profile name in an eclectic group of closers that includes Brian Fuentes, Kerry Wood, and even John Smoltz. The Mets had the need and the money to step up on Frankie, who set the single-season record for saves (62) in 2008.
The Angels can replace Rodriguez with Jose Arredondo, who has the stuff, if not the experience, to step into the closer's role. Of importance, the Halos will receive New York's first-round draft slot plus a compensatory pick. These selections can be used to rebuild a farm system that is no longer one of the best in baseball.
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Trade: The Orioles traded C Ramon Hernandez to the Reds for utilityman Ryan Freel and minor league 2B Justin Turner and 3B Brandon Waring.
Comments: This trade makes sense for both clubs as the Reds are not giving up a lot for a veteran catcher who can still hit even though his defense is not what it once was. In the meantime, the Orioles are making room for Matt Wieters, who was named Baseball America's Minor League Player of the Year in 2008. However, don't be surprised if Baltimore picks up another catcher for April and a possible mentor for Wieters once the youngster is brought up to the majors (which likely won't be out of spring training as the club does its best to hold him back to delay his free agency by an extra year).
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Signing: The Dodgers re-signed 3B Casey Blake to a three-year, $17.5 million contract with a team option for 2012 and signed INF Mark Loretta to a one-year, $1.25 million contract.
Comments: Blake is 35 years old and is unlikely to play a passable third base for all three years. Moreover, he doesn't hit well enough to warrant a full-time position at first base or as a corner outfielder. As a result, I couldn't be more confident that this signing will come back to haunt the Dodgers, perhaps as early as this season and certainly no later than next. Loretta, on the other hand, makes sense as a much cheaper solution to Nomar Garciaparra and as a backup in case Blake DeWitt doesn't pan out at second.
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Wednesday, December 10
Announcement: The Baseball Writers Association of America voted to include Internet-based writers Will Carroll and Christina Kahrl from Baseball Prospectus and ESPN's Keith Law and Rob Neyer.
Comments: Congratulations to Will, Christina, Keith, and Rob. I went to bat for Neyer last year and am extremely happy that he was admitted this time around. He makes the BBWAA a better organization. Now that the wall has been torn down, it's imperative that Baseball America's Jim Callis be included in the next group of web-based members.
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Signing: The Yankees signed LHP CC Sabathia to a seven-year, $161 million contract. Sabathia has the right to opt out of the contract after the third year.
Comments: The Yankees got the big one in more ways than one. While there is no doubt that Sabathia is an outstanding pitcher and citizen, the number of years and total cost seem outlandish to me and apparently to the competition as it is uncertain as to whether any other club was even in the ballpark in terms of length and value.
Speaking of ballpark, the Steinbrenners can thank the New York taxpayers for chipping in with hundreds of millions of dollars to build the new Yankee Stadium in order to pony up nearly a couple hundred million to sign one player – and a 300-pound pitcher at that! And you wonder why I'm against public funding of stadiums? Unbelievable!
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Trade: The Rays traded RHP Edwin Jackson to the Tigers for OF Matt Joyce.
Comments: Both teams were dealing from strength and trying to shore up weaknesses. While the consensus appears to believe that Tampa Bay GM Andrew Friedman fleeced Detroit GM Dave Dombrowski, I'm not so sure. Jackson, who throws a 94-mph fastball, has the potential of taking it up a notch or two as a starter if he can develop his secondary pitches. Otherwise, he's not the worst option in the world as a reliever who can come in and throw heat for an inning. Joyce (.252/.339/.492) can hit for power but strikes out at an alarming rate (23.5% rate in the majors and 27.3% in the International League last year). There are also questions as to whether he can hit lefthanders consistently. As such, the 24-year-old Joyce may be limited to a platoon role with the Rays.
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Trade: Seattle's GM Jack Zduriencik made his first trade last night, a three-team, 12-player transaction in which the Mariners obtained RHP Aaron Heilman, OF Endy Chavez, LHP Jason Vargas, and minor league 1B Mike Carp, RHP Maikel Cleto, and OF Ezequiel Carrera from the New York Mets and OF Franklin Gutierrez from the Cleveland Indians in exchange for RHP J.J. Putz, RHP Sean Green, CF Jeremy Reed (all NY bound) and Luis Valbuena (to CLE). Cleveland also received RHP Joe Smith from New York.
Comments: In acquiring Chavez and Gutierrez, it appears as if Zduriencik values outfield defense highly. Chavez and Gutierrez are among the best left and right fielders, respectively, in the game. In a big ballpark like Safeco, outfield defense is at a premium. According to Baseball Prospectus, Chavez has been 13 runs above average per 100 games in left field, while Gutierrez has been 10 runs above average per 100 games in right field over the course of their careers. Gutierrez, who won a Fielding Bible Award this past season, led all right fielders in Plus/Minus with +29 in 2008 in only 97 games and +20 in 2007 in 88 games.
With Rodriguez and Putz in the fold, the Mets have significantly improved their bullpen since learning that closer Billy Wagner will miss the 2009 season. However, it's also possible that Putz could be moved in another deal as he views himself as a closer and not a set-up man. In the meantime, Heilman wants to start and may get the chance in Seattle that wasn't coming in New York.
Green, a sinker/slider type, and the submarining Smith are interesting in that they are bullpen specialists who have a knack for inducing groundballs and getting righthanded batters out. They ranked seventh and eighth in GB% last year among pitchers with 60 or more innings.
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Thursday, December 11
What will the final day of the meetings bring? One source has the Yankees trading Melky Cabrera to the Brewers for Mike Cameron. While Cabrera (.268/.329/.374 in 415 career games) didn't turn 24 until August and has the potential of becoming a better player over time, the fact of the matter is that he has never slugged even .400 in any of his three seasons. It would be one thing if Melky were an on-base machine but he barely put up a .300 OBP last year. Cameron, on the other hand, gives the Yankees better on-base, slugging, and defensive skills in center field. The soon-to-be 36-year-old, who will make $10 million this season, hit .243/.331/.477 while slugging 25 home runs in 120 games in 2008. He is the perfect stopgap for Austin Jackson, a prospect I ranked as the eighth-best 21-year-old last February.
In the meantime, the Yankees are also confident they have the highest bid for A.J. Burnett and still in the mix to sign Derek Lowe. Andy Pettitte and Ben Sheets remain shorter-term options if New York is unable to sign Burnett and/or Lowe.
The Rule 5 Draft takes place today. You can check out Marc Hulet's sneak preview of the best hitters and pitchers available. Look for RHP Eduardo Morlan of the Tampa Bay Rays to be taken early. The former Twins prospect turns 23 in March and can be brought along slowly in the early going as he learns to adapt to the big leagues with a fastball that no longer touches the mid-90s. He has the stuff and the credentials (10.71 K/9 in 321 MiLB innings) to eventually pitch at the back end of games.
The Winter Meetings make for a great handful of days of baseball news. As Paul DePodesta wrote on his blog last weekend, "It's an intense time and probably the most unhealthy stretch of the year - no fresh air, very little sleep, lots of room service, and an emotional rollercoaster. It's the best. I'm going first thing in the morning."
You gotta love it.
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Update: Here are the complete results of the Rule 5 Draft (including MLB, Triple-A, and Double-A phases). The names of players are linked to their pages at MiLB.com.