Entries Tagged as 'Hot Stove'

Free Agency season starts today

It’s free agency season.  As of 12:01am today, all free agents are eligible to negotiate with all teams. 

ESPN has my free agent tracker of choice.  Take a look at it now while all free agents are rated “NR” which I guess stands for “No Regrets”. 

The average age of the 167 eligible free agents is 33.9 years old but that includes Brad Ausmus who I thought retired.  That skews it a bit by probably a tenth of the year or so. 

Ausmus isn’t the oldest though.  That honor belongs to reliever Trevor Hoffman who might like to add to his all-time leading 601 career saves in 2011.

Which team lost the most players to free agency?  The answer might surprise you.  The Tampa Bay Rays who succumbed twelve players including six pitchers.  

Guest post: Rich Williams on what happened to the 2010 St. Louis Cardinals

This post is penned by friend and die-hard Cardinals fan Rich Williams.  When asked by us Cub fans over email what happened to St Louis this year, Rich wrote this very thoughtful and analytical piece on the Cardinals.  What went right, what went wrong and the look to the future. 

I asked his permission if I could re-post it here and he graciously yes.  Thanks, Rich!

-tbz

 

After watching Halladay pitch a no-hitter in his first ever post-season appearance, Texas pound the Rays, and the Yankees continued Torment of the Twins, I think we can all agree that both STL and the Cubs (maybe a little more with the Cubs) have a longgggggggggggg way to go.   My pleasure will become in watch Dusty make stupid pitching choices on the way to a 3-and-out.

So, I can’t let Alex’s questions go by without some insights. I have to admit, this is the most complex Cardinal season I have ever tried to dissect.  I think there are a few problems I can immediately identify:

1. LOW OBP by leadoff batters caused overall run totals to sag.  Felipe Lopez was not the answer offensively or defensively to Schumaker sagging to his career means in both areas. Ditto Aaron Miles, although his BA was inexplicably decent for a part time player.

2. Inconsistent performance by 3-4 hitters in RISP situations.  I don’t believe there is such a thing as a clutch hitter (ala Bill James), so the only explanation I can offer is both were pressing and expanding their strike zones because ……

3. Very LOW OPS in 5/6/7 slots after Freese went down, Rasmus went down, Ludwick was hurt then was traded, Allen Craig could not hit MLB pitching, etc.  Molina struggled offensively all year and finally broke down when Larue got his head kicked in by Cueto.

4. Lack of depth, period for third base (feliz????) both at bat and on the field.

5. Not getting Jake Westbrook enough innings after spending so much to get him

6. Bad chemistry in the club house with enough blame to go around.  Felipe became the scapegoat, but the problems between the players and Tony eventually extended to Albert, Holliday and Carpenter.  Losing Ludwick was a major contributor to negative clubhouse atmosphere just when they needed it most.

7. A curious inability to beat tail-ender teams like the Cubs while piling up an impressive record against above-.500 and contending teams.

8. Below average defensive performance compared to previous years in general, particularly against lesser teams.

 

Summary:

The Cardinals season got decided in the six weeks following the sweep of the Reds immediately after the All-Star Break.  All the problems above seemed to descend in a vengeance. Problems in finding a 4th and 5th starter (Lohse and Suppan) aggravated these issues by consistently putting a team behind 4-5 runs early when they could not score.   This in turn burned down what had been one of the most effective bullpens in the NL culminating the outrageous game in Denver where the Rockies came back in the bottom of the 9th trailing 9-3 to win 12-9 on a walk-off 3-run homer.   September found them so far behind and still struggling to score runs that even the Cincy mini-collapse only narrowed the ending gap to 5 games. Getting swept by Cubs (who finished 11 games in back of them) in STL was pretty much the end of the line.

 

2011 Needs:

1. A lead-off hitter that improves on these stats:

BA (rank) … OBP (rank) … SLG (rank)

245 (12th) … .309 (13th) … .350 (13th)

2. An everyday 2nd baseman with league average OPS at least.  (Trade)

3. An everyday third basement with league average OPS at least. (Freese, Descalso, Greene are likely contenders)

4. Overall depth at infield positions as opposed to outfield positions. This is where a lot of younger players from Memphis who came on late will contend (Greene, Descalso).

5. An everyday right fielder with minimum league average OPS, if not a little more.

6. Sign Pujols to an extension.

7. Resign Westbrook.

NB: Brendan Ryan remains an way above league average fielding shortstop that the pitching staff trusts and insists is in the game most of the time. His offense can remain a semi-black hole as long as his defense comes back in 2011 instead of his 2010 where he got injured early.  The Skip Schumacker experiment at 2b is over and he will either return to outfield duty of get traded as a throw-in somewhere.

Good things in 2010:

1. Young players making strides: Jaime Garcia, John Jay, Tyler Greene, Colby Rasmus, Jason Motte, Kyle McClellan.

2. Starting pitching and bullpen.

3. Pythagorean for RS/RA projected a better record (92 wins) even with problems above. See defensive issues, problems against lesser teams, consistency in run scoring.

4. 86 win season matching 2006 club.  Reds simply beat them despite playing sub-.500 ball against winning teams by cleaning up on tail-enders (but only by 5 games=91 wins). Reds outscored Cardinals gave up far fewer runs and dominated the heads up series 12-6.

Where to improve:

Offense:

Improve on these 2010 numbers across the board:

RUNS 736  14th Overall

ON BASE PERCENTAGE .332  13th Overall

SLUGGING PCT  .402  16th Overall

Pitching:

Improve on following 2010 numbers

QUALITY STARTS 94  6th  Overall   (Find 4th and 5th starters who are healthy and go six innings)

WHIP

1.30 10th Overall  (Ditto)

BAA

.256  16th Overall (Ditto)

Cardinals are way ahead of the Cubs in fielding a contending team, but need to fill some obvious gaps to stay competitive.  The Reds will likely come down to earth in terms of RS/RA but will look to improve as well.  Offseason will be worth watching for both.  Cubs need to clear deadweight payroll, Cardinals will try to deal with limited payroll flexibility given they have locked in Holliday, Lohse and Carpenter and look to lock in Albert.

And what will Tony Larussa do?  

Changes in Free Agency

MLB and the MLBPA announced a few changes in how free agency will be handled.  Here are the changes in a nutshell:

  • Players will no longer need to file for free agency.  The process will be automatic.
  • Players can entertain offers five days after the last game of the World Series instead of the previous 15 days.
  • Teams must tender contracts by December 2 which is nine days earlier than before.

The changes will take effect beginning next offseason.

Diamond Jim is back

Centerfielder Jim Edmonds is making a comeback.  After an ill-fated 2009 when his wife died of a cocaine overdose and he spent most of the rest of it recuperating from that, Edmonds is back in baseball.

The Milwaukee Brewers are taking a flier on Edmonds hoping he can help the team.  A good move in my opinion if only because they’re getting him on the cheap.

The Gold Glove centre-fielder, making a comeback after taking the 2009 season off, had his minor league contract purchased Thursday, giving the 39-year-old a spot on the 40-man roster.

The move put US$850,000 in Edmonds’ pocket, with the ability to make up to $1.75 million in bonuses.

Twins hang on to Mauer for $184 mil

Mike Bauman, columnist for MLB.com, explains why the $184 million deal that keeps Joe Mauer in Minnesota for the next eight years, is good for baseball

This is where the encouragement occurs for the rest of the non-Yankees in the baseball universe. Instead of Mauer moving to the Bronx to take over for Jorge Posada, for instance, he will simply remain in the upper Midwest as a member of the Minnesota Twins. What a nice, clean, refreshing story line.

and further…

There should be encouragement in this example for other franchises of less than gargantuan size, with star players coming into their own free agency. The best players can be retained by someone other than the biggest franchises.

The figure of $184 seems like a high number but for the number of years and the quality of the product, some feel that the Twins got a pretty good deal.  I’ve even heard the word “bargain” bandied about. 

Put simply, what this does is lock up one of the best players in baseball who was lucky enough (from the Twins’ perspective) to develop within their system.  The Twins are saying goodbye to the Humpdome and hello to Target Field which in the long run will probably help pay for Mr Mauer. 

Back to Mike Bauman’s point, though.  Is this good for baseball?  I guess it doesn’t matter since well, it’s already happened right?  But part of me understands Bauman’s point.  It’s nice to see the small guys hold on to the big players once in a while.

Hot Stove Talk

Xavier Nady to the Cubs

If healthy, let’s say that again… IF HEALTHY, I like this move by the Cubs.  One, he comes at a good price (rumored at 3.3 mil guaranteed, 2.5 mil in incentives and quite honestly I don’t mind any incentives because that means he’s working for his money).  Two, he hits lefty pretty well and would fit into a Kos Fuk platoon.

Finally, Ronnie would have fun with the X thing.

Rich Hill to the Cardinals

I’m doing my best to suppress laughter (7.80 ERA in 2009) because before I know it, Rich Hill will be the next comeback kid.  Despite all his troubles and all his mental blocks, he IS still under 30. 

And at one point, I really liked him.

Ben Sheets to the A’s

He’s going to Oakland so who cares except that my buddy Don is a Halos fan.  His comment?  “One year, $10 million.  The Price of Poker is STEEP.”  Heh, maybe.  If I were an Oakland, I would be cautiously optimistic.  If healthy (see Nady above) might be what the A’s need.  The downside:  Sheets has never won more than 13 games.

Athletics Nation certainly likes the deal.

Cubs-Contreras rumors

ESPN’s Bruce Levine reports that the Chicago Cubs are interested in former White Sox starter Jose Contreras.

(Emphasis mine),

Listed at age 39, his real age is could be anywhere from 40-45, nonetheless the Cubs are looking at him as protection for Lilly, and also to push the No. 4 and No. 5 spots in the iffy bottom of the rotation

Jose DID pitch well after coming to Colorado in late August (Levine reminds us that he had a 1.59 ERA in Sept/Oct) but his overall second half ERA was still 5.40 coupled with a 2-6 record.

Roast Some Chestnuts on the Hot Stove

The Yankees made another move, now I believe, it’s the Red Sox turn.  Righthanded starting pitcher Javier Vazquez & lefty reliever Boone Logan (both with the White Sox a couple of years ago) were dealt to Atlanta in exchange for centerfielder Melky Cabrera, a 19 year old out of the Dominican Republic by the name of Arodys Vizcaino, and lefthanded relief pitcher Michael Dunn.  Vazquez crashed & burned in the Bronx, he did well with the Braves (but that’s the National League), it’ll be interesting to see how he makes out in the Big Apple (with big pressure), one of my happiest days as a White Sox fan  was when Javier Vazquez & Boone Logan were put on a train out of town.  Melky Cabrera, a fan favorite, will move into the lineup as the Braves everyday centerfielder, Dunn has a shot as a lefty in Atlanta’s pen, and the young righthander, Vizcaino, has a huge upside, only time will tell.

Atlanta also added their firstbaseman in the person of Troy Glaus.  Troy was injured last season with the Cardinals.  The hot corner has always been this big power hitter’s position, but he shouldn’t have any problems shifting across the diamond, his real position is BAT.

Darren Oliver went back to where he started, returning to Texas.  This will be Darren’s third go around with the Rangers.  Oliver spent the last three years in the Angels bullpen, the Halos are pursuing Fernando Rodney.

In a move that was kind of under the radar, Jason Marquis was signed by the Washington Nationals.  Marquis showed guts in winning 15 games last season with the Rockies.  This veteran righthander will provide the Nats with just what the doctor ordered, 200 innings & 30+ starts.  Next up Washington needs to secure Mike Capps as their team’s closer.

Throw a Few More Signings on the Hot Stove

atkinsThe Baltimore Orioles answered the question, who’s on 3rd, by signing free agent Garrett Atkins.  Garrett became a free agent when he lost his job to Ian Stewart, and the Rockies decided not to offer him a contract.  It seems like only yesterday the 30 year old looked to be a bright young star hitting his way onto the scene in Colorado.  In 2006 Atkins batted .329, with 29 homers, & 120 RBIs, following that with a .301 average, 25 long balls, and 111 knocked in, and in ’08 he drove in 99, with 21 big flies, and a .286 batting average.  But when he tailed off to .226, 9 HRs, & 48 ribbies, it was time for him to move on, and Baltimore is hoping he’ll regain his stroke in an Orioles uniform.

The O’s also locked up lefty reliever Mike Gonzalez.  Gonzalez appeared in nearly half of Atlanta’s game in 2009, 80 (which was 3rd in the majors), and with his funky delivery & nasty stuff Mike was able to strikeout 90 batters in 74′ innings pitched, he recorded a career high in saves, 24, with the Pirates in 2006.  His contract is loaded with bonuses if he does well as the closer in Baltimore.

Mr. OBP, Nick Johnson will take his act back to the Bronx, where it all started.  New York drafted Johnson in the third round of the 1996 amateur draft, he was a highly touted youngster in their organization, even batting over 700 times with the Yankees in 2002 & 2003 combined.  But Nick’s career has been filled with its share of injuries, still he has an outstanding career OBP of .402 in 770 big league games.  With Hideki Matsui signing with the Halos, it looks like the 31 year old lefthanded hitter will take over as the club’s designated hitter.

Across town Japanese reliever Ryota Igarashi will pitch this upcoming season out of the Metropolitans bullpen.  Ryota missed all of 2007 with an arm injury, but appears fully recovered as he posted a 2.42 ERA this past year for the Swallows, which was his career best.  The 30 year old, Igarashi, a righthander, is said to have the best fastball in Japanese baseball.

Monty Hall: Let’s Make a Deal

michael-taylorThere is another three way deal on the horizon, this one involving the Phillies, the Blue Jays, & the Mariners.  Philadelphia would get righthanded ace Roy Halladay from the Blue Jays & pitching prospect Phillippe Aumont (plus another Seattle youngster, yet to be named) from the Mariners, Seattle gets Cliff Lee from the City of Brotherly Love, and Toronto picks up superstar phenom outfielder Michael Taylor, sky’s the limit starter Kyle Drabek (Son of Doug), and minor league catcher Travis d’Arnaud from the Phils.  In a deal involving two former Cy Young Award winners switching uniforms, the third party player might end up being the big winner, that’s how good Michael Taylor might end up, he’s that good!  Trader Billy Beane jumped into the frey to make it a four-way deal, sending 1B-3B Brett Wallace, a 2008 1st round pick out of ASU by the Cardinals who was traded to Oakland in the Matt Holliday trade, to Toronto for Michael Taylor.  While Wallace has some serious power 20 or more homers in each of the last two seasons, he also swung & missed 106 times in the minors this past year.  To me, the A’s look to be the big winner getting the highly skilled outfielder Taylor.

This three way deal was probably made possible when the Red Sox inked John Lackey away from the Angels.  Once the Bronx Bombers knew Boston was no longer in the hunt to pickup either Halladay or Lee, the Pinstripers could relax and let the trade proceed without outside interference from NY.

In another move, not made by the Yankees, World Series MVP Hideki (Godzilla, but you can call me Shemp) Matsui headed west to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.  The Orange County team needed to bring somebody on board after losing leadoff man Chone Figgins (now with the Mariners) & ace starter Lackey (over in Bean Town) already this offseason.  Still I don’t know if it’s much of a consolation prize, seeing the Mariners added Figgins & Lee, while on this day the Halos, in effect, swapped Lackey for Matsui.