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It has made for a nice story this week, but I’m not inclined to
believe that the Astros’ rumored signing of Pudge Rodriguez is directly tied to
his eye-popping performance in the World Baseball Classic. The fact of the matter
is this: the Astros had already made an offer to Rodriguez prior to the WBC, as
part of their winter-long search for a veteran catcher to replace Brad Ausmus.
Now it’s possible that Rodriguez’ uplifting efforts for Team Puerto Rico raised
the Astros’ offer, bringing it up to a level that was more acceptable for the
future Hall of Famer. That I can
Will I-Rod help the Astros? When the alternatives are
unproven catchers of questionable hitting pedigree (J.R. Towles and Humberto
Quintero), the answer is definitively yes. Rodriguez is in better shape than
most 37-year-old receivers, still has the requisite bat speed, and maintains a
better-than-average profile defensively. I’m also convinced that his
late-season struggles with the Yankees had less to do with the complete
breakdown that comes with old age and more to do with the difficult adjustment
that comes with learning an entirely new pitching staff in mid-season. With
nearly two weeks to go in spring training, Rodriguez should receive a needed
jumpstart in learning what he needs to know about Roy Oswalt and Company.
Rodriguez won’t be enough to vault the Astros into
contention with the Cubs in the NL Central, but he should make things more
interesting in a division where rivals Milwaukee
and St. Louis
have been hurt by key off-season losses. And in the short term, his signing
will distract some attention from Houston’s
atrocious but nearly meaningless spring training record…
I was all ready to jump on the Royals’ mini-bandwagon–a
small wagon that has them looking to improve but not contend in the AL
Central–and then they went and did something inane like sign Sidney Ponson to a
contract. Ponson will now be allowed to compete for one of the last two spots
in Kansas City’s
rotation. When will all of baseball come to the necessary revelation that
Ponson simply cannot pitch at a competitive level? Ponson is no longer a kid;
he’s 32, and years removed from his last decent season. He’s still overweight,
despite constant reminders that he could lose a pound or 15. And he has little
or no endurance, limited to five-inning stints of subpar pitching.
Hopefully, the Royals will come to their senses and find
better solutions to the problems at the back end of their rotation. It would be
a shame if they allowed someone like Ponson to torpedo a team that has a chance
to make some upward movements in the central. I like the promise of a rotation
built around veteran Gil Meche and buttressed by younger right-handers Zach
Greinke and Luke Hochevar. The bullpen has a premium closer in Joakim Soria.
Offensively, Jacobs will provide 30-home run power to a lineup that badly needs
punch from both sides of the plate, while perhaps lessening the pressure on
disappointing phenom Alex Gordon. And with Crisp in center field, flanked by
David DeJesus and Jose Guillen, the Royals may have their best defensive
outfield since the days of Willie Wilson, Amos Otis, and Al Cowens…
After watching Hideki Matsui play on Tuesday night against
the Pirates, I’m ready to proclaim “Godzilla” the early favorite for AL
Comeback Player of the Year honors. The game marked Matsui’s fourth consecutive
start at DH, an indication that his right knee is nearly ready for the start of
the season. In his first at-bat, Matsui turned on an inside fastball, launching
a tower-scraping drive high over the right field wall at Steinbrenner Field. It
was the kind of swing missing most of last season, as Matsui struggled on balky
knees, one of which was recovering from surgery while the other was anticipating
a similar procedure. While much of Yankee camp has centered on the abilities of
new third baseman Cody Ransom, Matsui will be an especially important Yankee
during the first six weeks of the season. With Alex Rodriguez on the disabled
list, Matsui will serve as the Yankees’ cleanup hitter, making him resident
protection for the newly-signed Mark Teixeira. A good start for Godzilla will
help soften the blow of losing A-Rod for any length of time.
What a bargain! That was my initial (and subsequent) reaction to hearing that the Angels had signed Bobby Abreu to a one-year contract worth $5 million–quite a paycut from the $16 million that the Yankees paid him last season. Now Abreu does have his faults; he’ll never again hit with the power that he did during his Phillies prime and he’s become a horrendous defensive right fielder whose problems go well beyond his notorious fear of outfield walls. Still, at $5 million he’s a steal, a durable and consistent performer who will reach base 40 per cent of the time and hit the century marks in both runs and runs scored. Even at 35, he’ll be a good fit in the Angels’ lineup, hitting in front of Vlad Guerrero and behind Chone Figgins. One suggestion for the Angels: give Abreu a first baseman’s glove this spring and make him take hundreds of grounders as a hedge against Kendry Morales completely flopping at first base…
The Nationals paid more than the Angels did in signing Adam Dunn to a two-year deal worth $20 million, but it still ranks as another winter bargain on the freefalling free agent market. The “Big Donkey” has become a remarkably consistent player. He’s a lead pipe cinch to hit 40 home runs (he’s hit that exact mark four years running), drive in 100 runs, and walk 110 times. Dunn will also help balance a Washington lineup that leans precariously to the right, with nary a left-handed power bat to be found. I just hope that the Nats have the good sense to put Dunn at first base, where Nick “The Stick” Johnson has become unreliable because of a long injury history. The Nationals already have six major league outfielders–Elijah Dukes, starting center fielder Lastings Milledge, Austin Kearns, Josh Willingham, Wily Mo Pena, and Willie Harris–with at least four capable of playing every day. Given his immobility, Dunn will cause less damage defensively at first base, while allowing Manny Acta to better sort out the playing time in the outfield corners…
The Yankees open up spring training on Friday, which will result in Tampa turning into the Alex Rodriguez Question Show for the weekend. The mainstream media might be obsessed with the story regarding A-Rod’s failed steroids test and his pseudo-admission of guilt, but this issue will likely blow over by May. A far bigger question affecting the Yankees’ playoff chances will involve one of the catchers arriving in Tampa on Friday. That would be Jorge Posada, whose return from shoulder surgery ranks as New York’s No. 1 concern. The number of games that Posada can catch in 2009 will serve as a gauge to the Yankees’ success this season. If he can play 110 games behind the plate, the Yankees could be a 100-win team. If he can play only 90 to 100, the number of wins could fall off by two or three. If he plays fewer than 90, that could mean third place in a stacked division–and no postseason for the second straight summer.
Did the Mets overpay in giving Oliver Perez a three-year contract worth $36 million? Absolutely. I would have gone no higher than $30 million over three years. Do the Mets need a pitcher like Perez to make a run at the Phillies? Yes, because a starting rotation that features Tim Redding as the No. 4 starter and Freddy Garcia as the No. 5 simply would have carried too much risk. Now the Mets can slot Perez in at No. 4, and allow veterans Redding and Garcia to battle young left-hander Jonathan Niese for the fifth spot. So do the Mets now have enough to make themselves the favorites over the Phillies in the NL East? The answer to that question is no.
The Mets are still one hitter short of the Phillies. They have offensive question marks at three positions (catcher, second base, and left field) and concerns in right field (where Ryan Church will be trying to come back from serious concussion problems). Right now, the Mets are relying too heavily on four offensive players–Carlos Delgado, Jose Reyes, David Wright, and Carlos Beltran. If one of those four comes down with a significant injury, or if Delgado starts to show his age, they will have trouble being one of the elite offensive clubs in the National League. Even with all four healthy and productive, their lineup lacks a quality No. 2 hitter and balance at the bottom of the order. Omar Minaya needs to address this situation, whether it’s on the high end with Manny Ramirez, something in the middle with Adam Dunn or Bobby Abreu, or something at the bargain end in Ty Wigginton. Otherwise, the Mets look like a second-place team to me…
The value of baseball players can be as volatile as the stock market. A year ago, Cubs left-hander Rich Hill was a desirable commodity, coming off an 11-win season in which he struck nearly one batter per inning and kept his ERA under 4.00. Now he’s been traded off low, sent to the Orioles for a player to be named later, which doesn’t figure to be much more than a B or C-level prospect.
So what happened to Hill? He tried the patience of Lou Piniella by falling behind in counts and walking too many batters, which is just about the surest way to make “Sweet Lou” sour. (The other way is to schedule Piniella’s Cubs in the Hall of Fame Game.) Hill, though, figures to be a good risk for the Orioles. He won’t turn 29 until March, still has good stuff, and might benefit from having a more patient manager in Dave Tremblay. This looks like a sensible and potentially profitable move for the O’s…
Coming on the heels of the passing of former reliever Frank Williams, who died as a homeless alcoholic in January, it looks like we have another sad story involving a former major leaguer. Craig Stimac, a burly catcher who played briefly for the Padres in 1980 and 1981, died on either January 15 or 16 in Italy, possibly from a suicide. Details are sketchy regarding the passing of Stimac, who became somewhat of an Italian League legend in the late 1980s before remaining in the country as a businessman. Like Williams, Stimac was a young man who had apparently fallen on hard times. Stimac was 54.
On the heels of their amazing 2008 championship run, the Rays made a terrific signing on Monday when they reeled in a World Series opponent with a bargain of a contract. By signing former Phillie Pat Burrell to a two-year deal worth $16 million, the Rays have upgraded their offense without breaking the bank and without doing major damage to their defense. With Carl Crawford entrenched in left field, Burrell will be doing what he should be doing–and that’s DHing on a regular basis. Burrell’s 30-plus home run power and .350 to .360 on-base percentage will be welcome additions to an offense that sometimes struggled to score runs last summer, even in winning the AL pennant. With Tampa Bay’s young pitching and dynamic defense already in place, the Rays could be an even more well-rounded team in 2009, a scary thought for both the Red Sox and Yankees…
The signing of Burrell has apparently directed another free agent, Jason Giambi, toward the Bay Area. The A’s have reportedly signed Giambi to a one-year contract, with the possibility of an option year. Either way, it’s a far cry from the ridiculous three-year demand that Giambi had made earlier in the off season. This figures to be a good news/bad news signing for the A’s. Giambi can still hit with power and draw walks, making him a potentially capable left-handed complement to Matt Holliday. But Oakland fans will also have to suffer while watching Giambi stumble his way around first base, since there’s no room at DH, where Jack Cust is already stationed. Having watched Giambi play first base for the better part of the last seven years, I can say this with little hesitation: “The Giambino” is the worst defensive first baseman I’ve ever seen, worse than Mo Vaughn, Dave Kingman, Don Baylor, and a host of other lead gloves. Brutal. Awful. Pick your adjective in assessing Giambi, they all fit in describing the second coming of Dr. Strangeglove…
We’re now one week away from the Hall of Fame election, which will likely feature two electees, with an outside shot at a third. Rickey Henderson remains a lock for Cooperstown immortality; the only question is whether he will break the 95 per cent barrier. Now in his final year on the ballot, Jim Rice will join him, but the vote will be close, with the former Red Sox star coming in just above the 75 per cent mark needed for election. And based on what I’m hearing, support for Andre Dawson is building among the members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. Dawson, who received 65 per cent support last year, may threaten the 75 per cent mark. It’s an outside shot–but that’s a better shot than what I would have predicted for “The Hawk” 12 months ago.
Each winter brings outrageous free agent demands by players and their agents. At the start of the current off season, Scott Boras let it be known that he wanted a ten-year, $250 million contract for prized client Mark Teixeira. Last week, Boras “settled” for an eight-year deal worth $180 million. But even Boras’ initial demands don’t represent the most outrageous request by an agent or player this winter. No, that honor belongs to Jason Giambi, who has had the gall to insist that the A’s give him a three-year contract running through the 2011 season. That would be a three-year contract for a 38-year-old, one-dimensional slugger with a bad body and a severe lack of athleticism. That would be three years for a guy who plays first base with all the dexterity of a stone statue, and will be limited to DH duty for the balance of the contract. That would be three years for a streak hitter who disappears for long stretches, making him an offensive non-entity because of his lack of foot speed and inability to make contact. Is Giambi out of his mind? How did A’s GM Billy Beane prevent himself from keeling over with laughter after hearing that particular demand from Giambi’s agent? I mean, you can’t write this stuff…
Because of Giambi’s desire a three-year deal, the A’s have turned to two other free agents of left-handed vintage, Bobby Abreu and Garret Anderson. Abreu makes some sense because of his ability to maintain a high on-base percentage and steal bases, but Anderson is harder to figure. Never a patient hitter, Anderson doesn’t draw walks the way the A’s would like their sluggers to do. He also has a bad reputation for failing to run out grounders and pop-ups, a criticism that dates back several years with the Angels. Frankly, I’m surprised the A’s haven’t made a run at underrated free agent Adam Dunn, whose combination of power and patience makes him the consummate “Moneyball” player. Dunn also has seen his market shrink this winter, making it possible for the A’s to sign him to a three-year deal at reasonable terms. With Dunn and Matt Holliday in the middle of the Oakland order, the A’s would have their best one-two power punch since the hey day of Giambi and Miguel Tejada…
Dunn’s former team, the Reds, made a risky signing over the weekend. They inked the non-tendered Willy Taveras to a two-year contract, thereby committing themselves to him as their new leadoff man. Taveras is a good defensive center fielder with plenty of range, but his .320 on-base percentage is less than satisfactory in the leadoff spot. And while he did lead the major leagues with 68 stolen bases, it’s always a bad sign when your stolen base total exceeds your runs scored total; Taveras scored a mere 64 runs in 2008. He’s really only a slightly upgraded version of Omar Moreno, which is fine when you have players like Bill Madlock, Dave Parker, Willie Stargell, Bill Robinson, and Mike “The Hit Man” Easler batting behind you, but the Reds don’t have that assemblage of talent backing their leadoff man. In an ideal world, Taveras should be batting eighth in a National League lineup, but the Reds don’t have anyone else who fills the bill properly…
With Taveras in place, the Reds now have two-thirds of their outfield set: Taveras’ presence in center and allows Jay Bruce to move to right field, where he’ll be a better long-term fit. Still in need of someone to play left field, the Reds are considering moving Edwin Encarnacion from third base to the outfield, but they’d first have to sign Ty Wigginton. The Reds have also made contact with the Yankees about one of their spare outfielders, either Hideki Matsui, Xavier Nady, or Nick Swisher. Let’s rule out Matsui, mostly because no one knows whether his two surgically repaired knees will hold up playing the outfield. IT could come down to a preference for either Nady (who can be a free agent after 2009) or Swisher (who is signed long term), with the Yankees likely looking for two solid bench players in return. A package including a catcher (Ryan Hanigan?) and an infielder like Jeff Keppinger could get it done, or perhaps Keppinger and a B-level prospect.
With the Winter Meetings now behind us, the shaking and moving of baseball’s off season has just begun. The Yankees’ signing of CC Sabathia and the Mets’ acquisition of Francisco Rodriguez have now cleared the way for a flurry of other trades and signings to take place in the next two weeks before the Christmas holiday. One of those moves was finalized Friday morning, when the Phillies signed free agent left fielder Raul Ibanez to replace Pat “The Bat” Burrell. The Phillies’ decision is questionable on a couple of fronts. In signing Ibanez, the world champs have added yet another left-handed bat to a lineup that already tilts heavily from the southpaw side. They’ve also committed three years to a 36-year-old player, and with Ryan Howard already occupying first base, the Phils have nowhere else to put Ibanez if his already horrid defensive play in the outfield becomes any worse. All in all, it’s a high risk move for the Phillies, who might have been better off trying to construct an inexpensive platoon of Greg Dobbs and free agent bargain Juan Rivera…
The Yankees and Brewers remain close to a swap of Melky Cabrera for Mike Cameron, but the two sides are continuing to haggle over the minor league pitcher that New York will throw into the pot. From the Brewers’ perspective, they need that pitcher to be a prospect of some value (and no, not someone like Kei Igawa) because right now Cabrera is a pale imitation of Cameron, who brings an intriguing package of power (25 homers), speed (17 stolen bases), and skilled defense to the table. There are some scouts who believe that Cabrera will never become more than a No. 4 outfielder, which isn’t enough of a return for a quality player and high character guy like Cameron. There’s also been talk that the Yankees might be able to squeeze Bill Hall out of the Brew Crew; he’d be a valuable backup infielder/outfielder and possible platoon partner for Robinson Cano at second base, if Cano continues to disappoint the NY brass…
I have to confess that I can’t fathom why the Yankees and Braves have engaged in a bidding war for free agent A.J. Burnett. They’ve both offered him five-year deals, which is shocking given his frequent injuries and his age (32). And now comes word that Burnett may not want to sign the Braves because he doesn’t want the “burden” of being considered the staff ace. Great, a team is going to pay a guy upward of $80 million, but he doesn’t have the guts to want to take on the role of being the No. 1 guy and leader of the staff. It’s just another reason why I’d stay far, far away from a longterm commitment to Burnett…
Finally, some Hall of Fame officials are privately embarrassed by the Hall of Famers’ fourth consecutive “shutout” on the Veterans Committee ballot. The Hall of Fame thought they had fixed the process by narrowing the number of names on the final ballot to ten, but they didn’t anticipate that some Hall of Famers would become so stingy with their votes, some to the point of submitting blank ballots. (Others have been deceptive in who they’re voting for, claiming that they’ll vote for candidate X, but then failing to check his name on their official ballot.) Now the Hall of Fame is left in a quandary: how to change the process again without resorting to the public embarrassment of actually taking the vote away from the Hall of Famers. One way or another, something will have to change, because continued shutouts by the Hall of Famers are making a mockery of the Veterans Committee’s original intent and purpose.
Hey, who invited Whitey Herzog to the party?
After a slow start, activity has picked up considerably at the Winter Meetings in Las Vegas. First, there was the news that the Yankees had reached agreement with CC Sabathia on a $160 million contract (an agreement that actually took place in San Francisco) and now we have a three-team, nine-player blockbuster involving the Mariners, Indians, and the Mets. The headliner in the deal, J.J. Putz, will be heading to New York to serve as Francisco’s Rodriguez setup man, completing a whirlwind 48-hour remake of the Mets’ beleaguered bullpen. Here are the final destinations of all the players involved:
*Mets: receive Putz, outfielder Jeremy Reed and reliever Sean Green
*Mariners: receive minor league first baseman Mike Carp, outfielders Endy Chavez and Franklin Gutierrez, and right-hander Aaron Heilman
*Indians: receive right-hander Joe Smith and minor league second baseman Luis Valbuena
My thoughts on the deal? The Mets gave up a large quantity of players to acquire essentially Putz (since Reed and Green don’t have much value), but didn’t have to part with any of their top-tier prospects, so it’s a good gamble for Omar Minaya. Given Putz’ relative youth and live arm, he is a needed addition for a Mets’ bullpen that struggled as much in the seventh and eighth innings as it did in the ninth. Heilman was never going to succeed in the bullpen because of his desire to start, while Chavez was always going to be relegated to a fourth outfield spot. The hard part for the Mets was giving up Smith, a competent reliever, and Carp, who might have been the heir apparent to Carlos Delgado.
The Mariners, who have holes throughout their roster, may be plugging all of their newcomers into prominent roles immediately. Heilman will move into the rotation, Chavez and Gutierrez could become starting outfielders (or at least platoon partners), and Carp could be the Opening Day first baseman or DH. If Heilman can develop as a starter and Carp becomes a productive platoon player, then this deal could work for Seattle…
Sabathia’s deal with the Yankees is interesting on several fronts. From a monetary standpoint, it’s the richest deal ever given a pitcher. It’s also a classic case of the Yankees bidding against themselves, which is not exactly the textbook way to conduct business. From a baseball standpoint, it gives the Yankees their first legitimate No. 1 starter since Roger Clemens’ peak days in pinstripes. Sabathia also becomes the best left-hander the Yankees have had since the prime of Ron Guidry, which happened only about 25 years ago…
The Yankees have also made offers to both A.J. Burnett (five years) and Derek Lowe (four years and $66 million). If Brian Cashman is lucky, the injury-prone Burnett will turn down the deal and Lowe will accept, giving the Yankees an excellent No. 2 starter for their revamped rotation. If both Burnett and Lowe accept Yankee offers, then Andy Pettitte’s career in pinstripes will likely have come to an end…
One other Yankee rumor. They continue to talk to the Cardinals about Rick Ankiel, who would fill a major hole in center field. St. Louis is said to like Ian Kennedy as part of a package, which could also include Melky Cabrera and perhaps one other player (Chris Britton?)…
Finally, one other minor trade did get done on Wednesday. The Phillies acquired backup catcher Ronny Paulino from the Pirates in exchange for a minor leaguer, fueling speculation that the world champions will send Chris Coste to the Cubs as part of a deal for Mark DeRosa. The Phillies like DeRosa as a temporary fill-in for the injured Chase Utley and a possible fulltime candidate to replace Pat “The Bat” Burrell in left field.