Marlins Sign Aaron Rowand Following Their Old Template

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The Marlins don’t really have a center fielder unless they’re willing to put Chris Coghlan out there again; Aaron Rowand has been a Gold Glove center fielder in the past; at 34 obviously he’s not as good as he was, but he can still play the position. Given that the Marlins signed him to a minor league deal and would be paying him the big league minimum if he makes the team (the Giants released him and will be paying the bulk of his $12 million salary), what’s the harm?

Rowand is also a hard-nosed tough guy who’ll be more than willing to get in the face of a teammate who’s either pouting or not playing hard. (See Hanley Ramirez.)

The “hard-nosed” reference is a fitting adjective after breaking his nose crashing into the fence in Citizens Bank Park against the Mets in 2006 to make a game-saving catch.

I’m a fan of Coghlan, but the Marlins demoted him last season because he wasn’t hitting and he seems to be on the outs with the organization. Emilio Bonifacio played some center field, but is more of a roving utilityman type rather than an everyday center fielder.

Why not see if Rowand has anything left?

The big question with him is whether or not he’s healthy; but the signing makes perfect sense considering the hole the Marlins have at the position and the personalities they’re accumulating in that clubhouse. If he’s able to play, Rowand can help them a lot and he’s costing them almost nothing.

I’m not sure what the critics want from the Marlins. For years they scrimped, saved and treated their players and fans like fools; they used political trickery to get their new ballpark built at a minimal cost to the organization and are now spending big money on players and are still getting criticized.

So what would happen if they were entering the new ballpark and conducted Marlins business as usual, scoured the scrapheaps and refused to invest in the on-field product? What would be said then?

They signed an All Star shortstop (Jose Reyes); a veteran closer (Heath Bell); one of the most durable starting pitchers in recent memory (Mark Buehrle); and made a legitimate offer to Albert Pujols.

Now they’re taking their old familiar tack—one that worked in finding the likes of Cody Ross, Jorge Cantu and Dan Uggla—and taking players that other teams didn’t want and seeing if they can get cheap production from them.

If the club thinks Rowand can possibly help them, of course he’s worth a look; and if he’s unable, they can release him at almost no cost.

Some think this is funny and I’m not understanding why.

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Myth Becomes Myth In The Re-Telling

Books, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Management, Media, Paul Lebowitz's 2011 Baseball Guide, Players

Stories tend to fluctutate.

As does analysis regardless of how the stories are formulated.

It’s with that in mind that the “free agent year myth” is a worthwhile topic.

With this column from ESPN.com stat people like Dave Cameron say that there’s no evidence of a contract year boost.

Cameron’s points are propped up by reality…sort of; but just like anything else, you can find examples of players who have had it “kick in” at contract time.

That might be staying healthy in an injury-riddled career (Carl Pavano); it could be having their career-year at the right time (Brad Lidge); and there are those who made sure they were healthy and their stats were top notch with free agency beckoning even at the expense of team needs (Rafael Soriano).

No one is suggesting that Albert Pujols is going to be “better” than he’s been his entire career because of the money he’s set to make at the end of the season; in fact, if any player was a prime candidate to have an “off” year in his free agent year, it’s someone like Pujols who’s set a standard of excellence so ridiculous that even a great year for a normal player would be seen as a fall for Pujols.

And Pujols’s numbers will be somewhere in line with what they’ve been in the past by the time the 2011 season is over.

Cameron brings up familiar “walk year” names like Adrian Beltre. Beltre is much appreciated in stat circles because of his superior defense; he’s been assisted by two massive years as he was heading for free agency; but he also had several mediocre seasons with the Mariners before his free agent year of 2009 in which he got hurt and wasn’t particularly good at all.

That winter, the Red Sox signed Beltre to a 1-year, $9 million deal. This was an situation in which the stat person’s template to building a team cheaply and efficiently and a player’s motivation worked for both sides; Beltre and the Red Sox maximized assets and found value. This is an unassailable tenet of stat based theory.

It was a mutually beneficial contract. Sometimes they work as was the case with the Red Sox and Beltre; sometimes they don’t as appears to be happening now with the Rangers and Brandon Webb.

The Rays, Athletics, Marlins and even the Red Sox and Yankees have gotten great value from players who either had nowhere else to go or were, yes, looking to have a good year for a good team and cash in.

The Marlins in particular have found scrapheap pickups like Jorge CantuCody RossJohn Baker and Brendan Donnelly, gotten use from them and discarded them when they grew too expensive or were no longer producing.

In fact, I don’t believe a team can win under a budget unless they find these types of players.

It’s not a matter of simplistic “free agent year=big year”; it’s a myriad of factors that could advantage the player, team, both or neither.

To simplify it in terms of “no evidence” is just as bad as the all-encompassing implication that the promise of free agent riches is the impetus to the big year in the first place.

It’s not one thing that spurs a player. It could be anything; the promise of money is part of that “anything” as a motivating force with a great many players.

Truthfully, it’s nothing to be ashamed of; nor is it something to dismiss out-of-hand based on out-of-context statistical analysis.

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The Remainders

Hot Stove

As spring training approaches, the Rays weekend signings of Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez diminishes the number of remaining free agent “names” available in star power and financial obligation.

But that doesn’t mean these names can’t help.

In certain cases, their presence could make the difference between a playoff spot and going home for the winter.

Let’s have a look at some of the recognizable players and where they could and/or should wind up landing.

Vladimir Guerrero—DH/very part-time OF

Guerrero proved he can still hit last season and it wasn’t a creation of Rangers Ballpark because his numbers were similar at home and on the road—link.

What does he want? Is he looking for more than a 1-year deal? Does he want to go to a specific place?

He’s hindered in that he can’t play the outfield anymore, eliminating the entire National League.

He could go back to the Rangers if they decide they don’t want to play David Murphy every day; don’t trust Chris Davis or Mitch Moreland at first base and shift Michael Young there; or are concerned about Josh Hamilton‘s injury history. But these are not guaranteed at bats and Guerrero proved he still deserves to play regularly.

It’s a comparable situation with the Angels as they appear intent on at least giving Peter Bourjos the chance to play center field every day with newly acquired Vernon Wells in left and Bobby Abreu as the DH. Guerrero is still a fit if they determine that they’d be better overall with Wells in center, Abreu in left and Guerrero as the DH.

I understand why the Orioles would consider Guerrero because of his still productive bat and that he’d be a great influence on the young players like Adam Jones and Felix Pie. One would assume Vlad’s mother would be accompanying him wherever he goes; it can’t be discounted how important that influence and home cooking was to both the Angels and Rangers young Latin players.

But do the Orioles need Guerrero and, at this stage in his career, does he want to be a pure babysitter for a team that has literally no chance at contention? Manager Buck Showalter would love to have Guerrero as a conduit to the players, but to me, it’s not the right fit.

That doesn’t mean it won’t happen.

The Blue Jays could use his bat and maybe—maybe—Guerrero could get through the thick skulls of Edwin Encarnacion and Yunel Escobar.

The best place for Guerrero could be the Tigers. They don’t have a pure DH; it would be a short-term deal so they wouldn’t have to be concerned about clogging up the DH slot for Miguel Cabrera/Victor Martinez and they’re a legitimate contender.

Most importantly, it wouldn’t be because of off-field leadership; they’d be getting Guerrero to try and win now. And they can.

Joe Beimel—LHP/Ron Mahay—LHP

Contending teams are missing an opportunity with Beimel or Mahay. Every year they’re floating around looking for work as a lefty specialists and are generally the last ones out there, signing right before spring training.

Inexpensive and wise for clubs who are smart enough to foresee the future, they’re necessary.

The Yankees have three lefties in their bullpen with Pedro Feliciano, Boone Logan and Damaso Marte, but Marte is a question as to whether he’s going to be healthy. If the Yankees truly intend to go with a bullpen-based pitching staff, get what they can out of the starters after C.C. Sabathia and mix-and-match depending on the situation, they’re going to need all the arms they can get and an extra lefty could mean the difference between making the playoffs and not. Joe Girardi’s bullpen machinations aren’t trustworthy and if he’s entering the season with it in mind to micro-manage on his micro-managing, it could be a problem.

The Red Sox are going to be coming at them with Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez, David Ortiz and J.D. Drew—the Yankees are going to need the extra left-handed arms.

The Phillies also only have J.C. Romero, Antonio Bastardo and Mike Zagurski as lefties—none of whom is going to scare anyone. they do have Dan Meyer in camp, but Meyer is historically better against righties than lefties.

Looking ahead to possible post-season matchups with the Braves and Red Sox isn’t paranoia, it’s forward thinking and another reliable lefty is going to be a necessity.

It’s not that Beimel or Mahay are frightening, but they’re good at the role of lefty specialist.

Jorge Cantu—1B/3B

If I thought he could still play second base, I’d say the Mets should have a look at Cantu, but I doubt he can.

Cantu didn’t hit for the Rangers after they got him from the Marlins, but he has a habit of disappearing for a year or two and coming back with a big year. He fights through at bats and has good power. If he’s looking for a starting job, he’s going to have trouble finding one, but if he wants a backup role, the Phillies and Yankees could both use him. If he hits, he might be the Angels best option at third base on a cheap deal.

Teams will sorely regret missing a playoff spot or championship because they scrimped and saved where they didn’t have to. Lefty specialist, power bat off the bench and on/off field positive influence are valuable; with the above players, they’re not costly either.

Under The Radar, Available And Cheap

Hot Stove
  • I think they might be useful:

For all the “name” free agents available, there are many players who are picked up off the scrapheap as an afterthought only to serve a great purpose to a club in one way or the other. It might be on the field; it might be in the clubhouse; or it could be as trade bait late in the season.

Let’s take a look at some free agents I see as useful.

Josh Banks, RHP

No his numbers aren’t impressive and he throws an absurd eight different pitches, but if he’s told—not asked, told—to cut down on that vast array of mediocrity and limited to the stuff that works, then he can be effective.

The more pitches a pitcher thinks he can throw, the less stuff he has. I know this because when I used to pitch (don’t ask), I had a similar arsenal; the only ones that were of any use were my curve and changeup, but you couldn’t tell me that then—I used to be difficult if you can believe that.

Certain pitchers have been able to throw that number of pitches. John Smoltz couldn’t wait to break out his knuckleball; but Smoltz was one of the most egotistical pitchers you could ever encounter; he had reason to be, Josh Banks doesn’t. And you can bet at crunch time, Smoltz wasn’t throwing a knuckleball.

As a cheap pickup for bullpen help, why not have a look at Banks?

Jorge Cantu, INF

Cantu’s one of those “oh him” players who has drastic peaks and valleys in his career, but always resurfaces someplace to rejuvenate his career. He was dumped by the Rays and Reds and ended up with the Marlins as a minor league free agent and pounded out a load of extra base hits.

Cantu was atrocious for the Rangers after a mid-season trade, but if he’s given a chance to play, he’ll pop 50 extra base hits. He’s not a great fielder, but he can play first, second or third adequately enough; he won’t cost a lot of money either, so if he’s not hitting, there won’t be a reluctance to bench him because of money.

Tim Byrdak, LHP

Byrdak is a veteran lefty who has been effective as a specialist for years. While many teams are looking at the annual floating lefty like Joe Beimel, Byrdak might be cheaper and would be at least as good.

Justin Miller, RHP

When he’s healthy, Miller gets people out with his slider. His strikeout numbers with the Dodgers in 2010 were very good (30 in 24 innings) and while his control is historically mediocre, he threw strikes last season.

Willie Harris, OF

Perhaps I’m having flashbacks (post-traumatic stress?) to the way Harris always seemed to torment the Mets with a big hit or sparkling defensive play in the outfield, but he has three attributes that should make Harris attractive to a contending team: he can run, he can catch the ball in the outfield and he walks.

I’d think the Phillies might have interest in Harris as a defensive replacement for Raul Ibanez. And to torture the Mets.

Micah Owings, RHP

I have a problem letting go of things that I see as salvageable.

Owings is one such thing.

Maybe it’s that he’s hypnotizing me with his ability to hit, but maybe it’s what he’s shown on the mound. To me, Owings is still a pitcher who might fulfill his potential as a pitcher and if he doesn’t, he can still be an extra bat.

Given the way certain players have been “foundlings”—R.A. Dickey, Colby Lewis—from whom teams have gotten surprising and cheap production, there’s nothing to lose from looking at a player based on availability and a roll of the dice to see what they come up with; they might even unpolish a gem.

  • Subterfuge?

Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira is implying that his text messages with Andy Pettitte give him the sense that the lefty is leaning toward retirement—ESPN Story.

Is this accurate? Or it is two players commiserating to make more money for the group and stick it to the team?

The Yankees need Pettitte. He knows it and they know it. Pettitte was unhappy with the way the team played hardball in the contract negotiations last year and he might be using this as a lever to extract more money in a new deal.

Amid all the accolades doled on the “Core Four” of Yankees championship players for being classy, it’s been something of a rocky road as they age. Derek Jeter‘s free agency sullied both him and the team; Mariano Rivera flirted with the Red Sox (the Red Sox!!!); Jorge Posada has been basically told, “you’re going to DH and like it”; and Pettitte is vacillating on pitching again.

I don’t see Pettitte retiring. Players know when they’re done and Mike Mussina exemplified this when he hung it up after a 20-win season knowing the team wanted him back. Pettitte’s not going to know what to do with himself if he doesn’t play; and he can still pitch.

It’s not unheard of for players to join together in such schemes to plant nuggets into the public consciousness to craft a “wag the dog” style scenario against their bosses.

Like Jeter, Pettitte is no angel; he’s not above using circumstances to his advantage. Whether or not he’s doing that now is unknown, but don’t think he’s above it, because he’s not.

  • Viewer Mail 12.29.2010:

Matt writes RE the Yankees:

It suddenly occurs to me that Carl Pavano is a perfect fit for the Yankees right now. They desperately need that reliable, veteran strike-thrower in their rotation and the 2 year strong money contract Pavano will require fits nicely into their window of contention with their current group. How ironic.

God that would be funny, but I think they’d sign Jose Canseco as a pitcher before they went to Pavano.

Mike Fierman writes RE Brandon Webb:

I understand the rangers felt like they had to do something and I get it that Webb is someone with such a well of talent that you go ahead and take a chance on him. What I don’t get, especially for a team with a 50 mill+ payroll is how you can allocate a guaranteed 3 million to this guy. if that deal was such a no-brainer then how come richer teams like the Yankees give him a MLB contract?

That’s what I was wondering. I had Webb pegged for the Yankees, Red Sox or Phillies. From the reports that have been circulating, his injury is ominous for a return to form. And Webb wasn’t a good pitcher, he was a great pitcher.

Jane Heller at Confessions of a She-Fan writes RE Jorge Posada:

You really think the Yankees have treated Posada shabbily? He got paid handsomely with his last contract. Now he’s an aging catcher with diminished skills. I love him but I don’t want to see him behind the plate for every game anymore.

I think they’ve disrespected him. Money is beside the point. Was it necessary to blame Posada for the struggles of A.J. Burnett, C.C. Sabathia and Joba Chamberlain?

He was good enough to catch Roger Clemens, Pettitte, David Wells and Mike Mussina, but A.J. Burnett has the audacity to complain about Posada? And don’t get me started about Chamberlain—I’d have let Posada beat him until he fell into line.

The issues between pitchers and the catcher should never have gotten into the papers; in fact, they should’ve been handled by the manager who was a former catcher for those same pitchers on the championship teams, Joe Girardi.

His skills are diminishing and obviously at his age, he can’t catch 120 games anymore, but that has little to do with calling a game. Posada’s not innocent here—he’s hard-headed to a fault—but they’re not treating him right.

Matt Minor writes via Email RE Ichiro:

paul, i was reading through joe posnanski’s archives and came across this. I think you’ll love it.

http://joeposnanski.blogspot.com/2010/09/nolan-and-ichiro.html

Thanks for the link.

Ah, Ichiro.

Here’s what I don’t get: I was attacked for saying Ichiro wasn’t as great a hitter as some suggest; for saying that he has the bat control to hit for more power if he chooses to and that his relentless pursuit of singles is a selfish endeavor to accumulate numbers rather than help the team win.

Posnanski caveats his accurate assertion that Ichiro isn’t a top tier offensive player by saying: “What I do think is that Ichiro Suzuki is one of most dazzling and unforgettable hitters I’ve ever seen. I get a jolt every time I see him step to the plate.”

Does Posnanski really think this? He wrote it, so I would assume he does. I don’t find Ichiro’s hitting all that engaging. I have little interest in watching him slap singles between third and short and he plays for an atrocious team in large part because of Ichiro’s style of hitting singles while having no one behind him to drive him in. It’s a vicious circle.

I’ve said this for years: Ichiro is overrated because his talents are misused—not due to the interpretation of his value by others.

Browsing through the comments to Posnanski’s posting, I was struck by the absence of vitriol as if they’re afraid to disagree. No one had an issue coming at me when I unloaded—accurately—on Ichiro a few months ago, but they had legitimate reason to be frightened when I retorted because I have no compunction about blasting back with no thought to collateral damage.

Let’s see if anyone comes back at me now.

Let’s….see….