Off Season Winners In Retrospect

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Let’s look at the teams whose off-season moves are paying off so far in 2012.

Tampa Bay Rays:

Acquired:  Jose Molina, Hideki Matsui, Luke Scott, Carlos Pena, Fernando Rodney

Subtracted: Johnny Damon, Kelly Shoppach, Casey Kotchman, Juan Cruz, John Jaso

The Rays did what the Rays always do. They cut out the players that were getting too expensive or had been signed as a short-term veteran stopgaps and replaced them with youngsters or other veteran stopgaps.

Molina hasn’t hit; Pena is doing what Pena does with a low batting average, good on base percentage and power; Rodney has been brilliant. None of the players they dispatched—Damon, Shoppach, Kotchman, Cruz, Jaso—have been missed or are doing much with their new teams.

Baltimore Orioles

Acquired: GM Dan Duquette, Jason Hammel, Wei-Yin Chen, Matt Lindstrom, Wilson Betemit

Subtracted: GM Andy MacPhail, Jeremy Guthrie, Luke Scott, Vladimir Guerrero

The Orioles have played over their heads but Dan Duquette got rid of Guthrie and acquired Hammel and Lindstrom who are under team control and have pitched well. Chen has been very good.

Chicago White Sox

Acquired: Manager Robin Ventura, Kosuke Fukudome

Subtracted: Manager Ozzie Guillen, Mark Buehrle, Sergio Santos, Carlos Quentin, Juan Pierre

Getting rid of the volcanic and tiresome personality of Guillen and replacing it with the laid back Ventura has been exactly what the White Sox needed. They cleared salary by getting rid of veterans Buehrle, Quentin and Pierre. They’re not as good as they look right now, but the AL Central is wide open and they have enough starting pitching to stay in the hunt. They underachieved horribly in recent years under Guillen and are overachieving now under Ventura.

Texas Rangers

Acquired Yu Darvish, Joe Nathan

Subtracted: C.J. Wilson, Darren Oliver, Endy Chavez, Matt Treanor

Darvish has been as brilliant as I expected. Nathan is having a good season. They haven’t missed Wilson on or off the field.

Seattle Mariners

Acquired: Jesus Montero, Hector Noesi, John Jaso

Subtracted: Michael Pineda, Josh Lueke, David Aardsma, Jose Campos

For Michael Pineda (disabled list), Jose Campos (hot prospect and on the disabled list), the Mariners got a top hitting prospect in Jesus Montero who’s still finding his way and showing flashes of immense power and a young starting pitcher who’s also learning his craft in the big leagues in Noesi. They got rid of the troublesome Lueke for Jaso who’s been contributing big hits of late.

Oakland Athletics

Acquired: Yoenis Cespedes, Josh Reddick, Collin Cowgill, Bartolo Colon, Jonny Gomes, Ryan Cook, Jarrod Parker, Tom Milone, Seth Smith, Kila Ka’aihue, Manny Ramirez

Subtracted: Trevor Cahill, Gio Gonzalez, Andrew Bailey, David DeJesus, Josh Willingham, Ryan Sweeney

Reddick has 14 home runs and is heading for the All Star Game. Cespedes was a silly signing for a team like the A’s, but there’s no denying his talent. We’ll see what Manny does and the young pitchers Millone and Parker are high-end arms.

Washington Nationals

Acquired: Gio Gonzalez, Edwin Jackson, Ryan Perry, Mark DeRosa, Brad Lidge

Subtracted: Ivan Rodriguez, Todd Coffey, Jonny Gomes

Gonzalez has been terrific across the board and might deserve to start the All Star Game. Jackson has been consistent despite not accumulating wins.

Miami Marlins

Acquired: Manager Ozzie Guillen, Carlos Zambrano, Jose Reyes, Heath Bell, Mark Buehrle

Subtracted: Javier Vazquez, Chris Volstad, Clay Hensley, Burke Badenhop

Zambrano showed up in shape, has kept his temper in check and is showing why the Cubs gave him that contract in the first place (the majority of which they’re paying for him to pitch for the Marlins). Reyes is getting hot and Buehrle is a leader off the field and innings-eater on it. Bell’s been a disaster, but it pitching better lately.

Guillen was hired to draw attention and he did so negatively when he started trouble almost immediately with his idiotic comments praising Fidel Castro. Jeffrey Loria is under investigation for the stadium deal and looked silly using Muhammad Ali as a human shield to protect himself from getting booed at the regular season opener of the new stadium, but apart from Bell they’re getting what they paid for for the most part.

San Francisco Giants

Acquired: Melky Cabrera, Angel Pagan, Clay Hensley, Gregor Blanco

Subtracted: Carlos Beltran, Jonathan Sanchez, Andres Torres, Ramon Ramirez, Pat Burrell, Cody Ross

Cabrera’s not going to maintain this pace, but he’s still a good player and they got him for Sanchez who’s been hurt and had worn out his welcome with the Giants. Pagan is batting .314 with 10 stolen bases and has contributed several big hits to go along with his usual array of space cadet maneuvers. Blanco and Hensley have been solid, cheap pickups off the scrapheap.

Arizona Diamondbacks

Acquired: Trevor Cahill, Jason Kubel, Craig Breslow

Subtracted: Micah Owings, Ryan Cook, Collin Cowgill, Jarrod Parker

The Diamondbacks are struggling because they’re not getting the same above-and-beyond performances from the players that carried them to a stunning division title in 2011. That doesn’t diminish the work that Cahill, Kubel and Breslow have done. If the Diamondbacks don’t right the ship, it won’t be because of the players they acquired over the winter.

Los Angeles Dodgers

Acquired: Chris Capuano, Jerry Hairston Jr., Mark Ellis, Aaron Harang, Matt Treanor

Subtracted: Jon Garland, Jonathan Broxton, Jamey Carroll, Hiroki Kuroda, Casey Blake, Rod Barajas, Vicente Padilla

Capuano is pitching about 20 miles over his head; Hairston is hitting about 20 miles over his head; Ellis and Harang are respected, under-the-radar veterans.

The Dodgers didn’t spend a lot of money this past winter, but are getting far more than they paid for.

Off season losers and incompletes will be in forthcoming postings.

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MLB Non-Tenders—List and Analysis

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Here’s a list of the MLB players who were not tendered a contract for 2012.

Among the non-tenders are some surprising names that are sure to draw widespread interest.

The most interesting/intriguing players are discussed.

Fabio Castillo; RHP; age 22—Texas Rangers

Dan Cortes; RHP; age 24—Seattle Mariners

Cortes is huge (6’6”, 235) and has put up solid strikeout numbers in the minors as both a starter and reliever. He can be wild but there’s a pitcher in there somewhere; his hits/innings pitched ratio of 659/691 and that he doesn’t allow many homers (50) make him an attractive look-see.

Willie Eyre; RHP; age 33—Baltimore Orioles

Cole Garner; OF; bats and throws right; age 27—Colorado Rockies

Garner’s shown the ability to hit, hit for pop and run in the minors and never got a chance in the big leagues.

Chris Gimenez; C; bats and throws right; age 29—Seattle Mariners

Gimenez is a journeyman who doesn’t hit, but he can throw from behind the plate.

Clay Hensley; RHP; age 32—Miami Marlins

Hensley can start or relieve and be useful-to-good if he’s healthy. He missed substantial time in 2011 with a shoulder problem.

Jeremy Hermida; OF; age 28 in January; bats left, throws right—San Diego Padres

Hermida’s become an “oh him” guy where everyone wants to pick him up and hope they unlock the talent that made him a first round pick. He has power and is a pretty good defensive corner outfielder.

Koyie Hill; C; age 33 in March; bats both, throws right—Chicago Cubs

Rich Hill; LHP; age 32 in March—Boston Red Sox

Jeff Keppinger; INF; age 32 in April; bats right, throws right—San Francisco Giants

Hong-Chih Kuo; LHP; age 30—Los Angeles Dodgers

This is a pitcher who’s going to be in demand, might get a multi-year contract and will either be a huge success or a disaster.

He’s had Tommy John surgery twice; he missed a large chunk of 2011 with an anxiety disorder and has had back problems.

But when he’s right, he’s unhittable with a near 100 mph fastball and wicked slider.

Expect the big guns to take a serious look at Kuo.

Aaron Laffey; LHP; age 27 in April—Kansas City Royals

Jose Mijares; LHP; age 27—Minnesota Twins

Peter Moylan; RHP; age 33—Atlanta Braves

The side-arming Moylan missed much of the 2011 season with a rotator cuff problem. Presumably the Braves want him back but didn’t want to pay him in arbitration.

Micah Owings; RHP/PH; age 29—Arizona Diamondbacks

Owings found a home in the bullpen in 2011 and he’s a weapon off the bench with his bat when he’s not pitching. I’d expect him back with the Diamondbacks.

Ronny Paulino; C; age 31 in April; bats right, throws right—New York Mets

No one on the Mets had a nice word to say about his work ethic or attitude.

Jo-Jo Reyes; LHP; age 27—Baltimore Orioles

Will Rhymes; 2B; age 29 in April; bats left, throws right—Detroit Tigers

Joe Saunders; LHP; age 30—Arizona Diamondbacks

Saunders gives up a lot of hits; a lot of home runs; his control and stuff aren’t particularly great; but he’s durable. If you put him on a good team that scores a lot of runs; plays their home games in a big ballpark; or has a good bullpen, he’ll win 15 games, lose 13 and give 200 innings.

Luke Scott; OF/1B; age 33; bats left, throws right—Baltimore Orioles

Scott missed most of 2011 with a shoulder injury. His home/away splits with the Orioles are atrocious—he murdered the ball in Camden Yards and was useless on the road. He has power and can be a veteran threat off the bench.

Doug Slaten; LHP; age 32 in February—Washington Nationals

Andy Sonnanstine; RHP; age 29 in March—Tampa Bay Rays

Ryan Spilborghs; OF; age 32; bats right, throws right—Colorado Rockies

Ryan Theriot; INF; age 32; bats right, throws right—St. Louis Cardinals

Eli Whiteside; C; age 32; bats right, throws right—San Francisco Giants

There are some players who will help certain teams—possibly help them a lot—but, as usual, the non-tender wire is the scrapheap where luck trumps analytical skill.

Unless we’re talking about the Pirates.

But they didn’t non-tender anyone they could’ve used as they did with Matt Capps two years ago.

Then again, they’re the Pirates and doing something stupid is part of their routine at one point or another. They just haven’t done it yet. But they will.

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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….