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29/01/2004

The Phillies 

Major computer problems today, so my post can’t be very long. I wanted to tackle the two Phillies who have yet to sign contracts, being Kevin Millwood and Placido Polanco. The former is asking for more than any other eligible player, requesting $12.5M in 2004, the Phillies are countering with $10M. Polanco wants $4.5M while Ed Wade submitted $3.4M as his figure.

First, Kevin Millwood has no business asking for $12.5M, and his agent did a terrible job determining his price. Three Millwood-type players have signed contracts this offseason (Vazquez, Halladay, Wood), so I wanted to use them as proof. In terms of H/9, Millwood ranked 3rd in this group, only .05 in front of Roy Halladay at 8.51. Vazquez (7.73) and Wood (6.48) blew them both away. Millwood is last in K/9, once again close to the AL Cy Young winner, but his 6.85 is well behind Vazquez (9.40) and Wood (11.35).

Millwood had the worst K/BB of the group, but his 2.49 checks in very closely with Wood’s 2.66. Halladay was the best at this, sporting a 6.38 K/BB. Finally, Millwood had the worst ERA of the group by far, as his 4.01 is well behind Wood (3.20), Vazquez (3.24), and Halladay (3.25). Next year, Wood will make $9.75M, Vazquez will make 11.25M, and Halladay 10.5M. Millwood is definitely the worst of this bunch, but at worst will make more than Wood, who ranked best using the previous metrics.

In 2003, Millwood had a $9.9M salary. While years of eligibility is important in determining price, I had to ask myself, did Millwood’s 2003 warrant a large raise from the salary he had a year ago? No way.

2002: 18-8 3.24 186/217 (7.71H/9) 178/65 (7.38K/9)
2003: 14-12 4.01 210/222 (8.51H/9) 169/68 (6.85K/9)

In 2002, the year determining Millwood’s $9.9M, his H/9 was 9.4% less, and his K/9 was 7.7% more. The right-hander’s performance took a considerable drop in 2003, so why give him a 26% salary increase? Millwood did a very good job accepting the team’s arbitration offer, but there is no way his arguments can justify a $12.5M salary.

Mark Loretta made 1.25M last year. His AVE, his OBP, and his SLG were all better than Polanco’s numbers. They had very similar extra-base hit numbers. Was Mark Grudzialnek worse than Polanco? Was Luis Castillo even with Polanco? No and No. End of case. I wish I could get into more detail, but Blogger’s just too damn difficult.

Sorry for the small post, I’ll be back tomorrow.

28/01/2004

Twins go to Arbitration 

In the last two days we have talked about the high-profile arbitration-eligble players, and now we move on to the second-tier group. Three players from the 2003 Minnesota Twins, Doug Mientkiewicz, Johan Santana, and now-Giant A.J. Pierzynski all are disputing their 2004 salaries. Below is what these players are asking for next year, and in parentheses, what their team will be fighting for.

Mientkiewicz- $3.6M ($2.5M)
Santana- $2.45M (1.6M)
Pierzynski- $3.5M ($2.25M)

I was very surprised when the Twins didn’t non-tender Doug Mientkiewicz, as prospect Justin Morneau is ready for the Major Leagues. But Minnesota is very high on their first basemen, who will rip the manager, the front office, the White Sox, whomever to make a point. On the field, Mientkiewicz has become a good hitter, and has lived up to the defensive compliments he’s always received.

Last year, Mientkiewicz had 19.58 Win Shares, which was good for 3rd in AL 1B. His 17.15 win shares for hitting settled him comfortably in third, well behind Jason Giambi (26.04), but well in front of Kevin Millar (13.34). On defense, Doug was second in the American League at 2.39, only behind John Olerud in the American League. His on-base percentage (.393) was good enough for ninth in the league, helped by the fact that he drew the thirteenth most walks. While Doug doesn’t have the prototypical first base power, his 38 doubles were tied for thirteenth last year.

Here’s a list of six players that will make more money than Mientkiewicz if given the Twins amount, but were worse in terms of Win Shares:

- John Olerud- $7.7M
- Tino Martinez- $7M
- Sean Casey- $6.8M
- Ryan Klesko- $6.5M
- Jeff Conine- $4.35M
- Kevin Millar- $2.65M

There is no way that an arbitrator would rule in favor of the Twins here, it’s impossible to prove he is worse than his aforementioned peers.

In Johan Santana, we’re getting another example of a first-year eligible player trying to make some money. Santana is reportedly upset with the Twins about long-term negotiations, and a deal isn’t promising.

Last year, Santana found himself on the leaderboard of a few statistics, and has become the ace of the Twins’ staff. He finished 5th in the AL in baserunners/9, fourth in ERA, second in H/9 and second in K/9. Some of the names in front of him, Pedro Martinez, Mike Mussina, Tim Hudson, all dwarf Santana in terms of salary.

Johan finished 13th in the American League in Win Shares by a pitcher, contributing 5.3 wins (16WS) to the Twins. The only player in the top 12 even close to Santana’s demands is fellow first-year eligible southpaw, Darrell May, who just completed a deal with the Royals. May will make 2.475M next year, more than what Santana is asking about. So if I were an arbitrator, the key decision here is whether or not Johan has deserved the right to make an equal amount to Darrell May, or should he make less?

While Johan has less innings pitched than May, he has won six more games, struck out 96 more batters, and walked seven less in the last two seasons. His ERAs (2.99 and 3.07) are far lower than what May has done in two years (5.35 and 3.77). Johan is younger, and has much more projectability than his competitor. If there is any reason that May deserves more money than Santana, than Johan might as well take the loss. But...there isn’t any reason.

Finally, there is A.J. Pierzynski. Let me say first and foremost that A.J. Pierzynski is a left-handed catcher, and those don’t come around often. Since World War II, Pierzynski’s 2003 had the second best average ever from a LH catcher, the second most doubles, and the sixteenth best on-base percentage. A.J. has been the best left-handed hitting catcher in quite some time, and already has been to an All-Star Game. This is his first-year eligible for arbitration, and asking for $3.5M is highly ambitious.

Last season, A.J. Pierzynski finished fourth in the Major Leagues for Win Shares by a catcher with 21.58. His 14.74 Win Shares on offense sit right in between Jason Kendall ($8M in 2004) and Mike Lieberthal ($7.5M in 2004). But the killer in this situation is that it’s Pierzynski’s first time eligible for arbitration, and the Giants will be quick to point to Ramon Hernandez, who will make $2.375M with the Padres. Of the three cases in this article, A.J. definitely has the best chance to lose. Should he? Probably.

I’ll be back tomorrow...

27/01/2004

The Cardinal Clipper 

As I said yesterday, today I was hoping to tackle the Albert Pujols case. Aaron Gleeman beat me to the punch earlier in the week, going into detail on the Cardinal slugger. The two sides are talking long-term contract, but remain undecided on a 2004 salary. Pujols is asking for the largest sum ever by a first-year eligible player, $9.5M, while the Cardinals stand 3.5M less. That represents the highest difference between two players, and barring a long-term deal being inked, is likely to go to an arbitrator.

In the Gleeman piece, Aaron points out that Pujols finished tied for 12th all-time in home runs through the age of 23, tied for 10th in doubles, and 10th in RCAA. Using the indispensable Sabermetric Baseball Encyclopedia, I ran a few more tests, and discovered this coincidence:

Name	 AVG	 OBP	 SLG	 ISO	XBH	RC

A Pujols .334 .412 .613 .279 259 438
Player A .331 .384 .610 .279 261 449


While Aaron compared Pujols to Teddy Ballgame in his article, Player A is Joe Dimaggio. While Pujols was better in OBP than Dimaggio, Joltin’ Joe had a leg up in Runs Created. Their Isolated Power is the exact same, and the AVG, SLG, and XBH numbers are eerily close. After his first three seasons, the Yankee Clipper peaked during his ages 24-26 seasons. He had averages of .381, .352, and .357 during that time, and topped a .600SLG for the final time. If Joe’s numbers are indicative of what Pujols will do in the next three seasons, the Cards can expect a .360/.430/.650 player that will flirt with .400 at that point.

Using just statistics, Pujols would be guaranteed his $9.5M, and probably more. But as I pointed out with Gagne yesterday, Albert is likely to lose his case. Giving a first-year eligible player $9.5M increases prices given to those in his same category, and more players will go to the arbitrator. So instead of deciding whether Pujols will/should make $6M or $9.5M in 2004, I set out to find what his long-term contract terms should look like.

By setting the Sabermetric Encyclopedia’s parameter to just 1994-2003, only six players were in the top ten in AVG, OBP, SLG, ISO, XBH, and RC at least five times. They are:

Pujols- 6
Alex Rodriguez- 6
Vladmir Guerrero- 6
Scott Rolen- 6
Eric Chavez- 6
Edgar Renteria- 5

I then looked at what the five players from above made from their team before hitting free agency. Before signing a record deal with the Texas Rangers, A-Rod made about $11M in his time with the Mariners. In September of 1998, the Expos signed Guerrero through his arbitration years, inking a five-year, $30M contract. It should be said that the timing of that deal would be synonymous if Pujols had signed a year ago, so it's a bit late. Scott Rolen made about $17M before signing a long-term deal with the Cardinals after the 2002 season. Eric Chavez was signed through his arbitration years at $11.75M, and Edgar Renteria is finishing out a four-year, $20M contract (with two option years) that he signed a year after Pujols would be signing.

The mean for the five players above is $20M, but none have scratched the surface on what Pujols means to this team. The Guerrero deal makes the most sense, but Pujols is looking beyond five years, and beyond $6M per season. Let’s also look at the contract obligations the Cardinals currently have for every season beyond 2004:

2005: Rolen (11.25), Edmonds (10M), Izzy (6.75M), Suppan (3M), Sanders (3M), Tavarez (2.1M)= 36.10M
2006: Rolen (11.25), Edmonds (10M)= 21.25M

After assuming that the Edgar Renteria option years will be picked up, each of those totals have about $5M added to them. So before the Cards even begin to start talking to Pujols and Matt Morris about contract extensions, they have to worry about the $41M already spend towards the 2005 season, and the $26M geared towards 2007. Considering that the Cardinal payrolls hover around $85M, signing Pujols and Morris to $10M+ per year deals would be a burden on the franchise.

If I were Walt Jocketty, I would make Pujols an offer of about eight years, at an average of 11M per season. Build the contract so that the team pays less in 2004, 2005, and 2006, and more towards the end of the contract. Also put in incentives that can take the deal to about 14M per if Pujols performs well.

And then, there is the age issue. I might be naive in thinking that Pujols is telling the truth here, but I’m going to assume he is 24 until proven differently. Those who argue against me will say, “Well, look at what he’s done so far...” to which I’ll respond, “Albert Pujols has had a great first three seasons, but it’s not even in the top 5 of Major League players ever, it is possible for players this young to do that.” Any contract likely would/should have an age stipulation, in which the Cardinals can opt out if his age is proven different.

Albert Pujols is a very gifted player, and likely the favorite for the 2004 NL MVP. I mean, the Yankee Clipper won an MVP in his fourth year...

26/01/2004

Game Over 

The next week is going to be Arbitration Week at Wait 'Til Next Year, as I will spend time analyzing who will go to an arbitrator, and those who settled before arbitration. There are 26 players who remain unsigned for the 2004 season, and these are the six players who have the largest disagreement with their team:

1. Albert Pujols- $3.5M
2. Eric Gagne- $3M
3. Kevin Millwood- $2.5M
4. A.J. Pierzynski- $1.25M
5T. Placido Polanco- $1.1M
5T. Doug Mientkiewicz- $1.1M

With that being said, this is the rough schedule for the next five days here:

Monday: Eric Gagne
Tuesday: Albert Pujols (subject to change)
Wednesday: Twins (Mientkiewicz, Santana, and former Twin, Pierzynski)
Thursday: Phillies (Millwood and Polanco)
Friday: Those who settled prior to arbitration

That may all change, but I think all five posts will be well worth your time. As I said, today will be analyzing the contract situation of Eric Gagne, the 2003 NL Cy Young winner. Gagne was converted to relief prior to the 2002 season, and has immedietly become the best reliever in the game today.

2002: 4-1 1.97 55/82.1 114/16 52Sv
2003: 2-3 1.20 37/82.1 137/20 55Sv

Gagne's 107 saves are tied with Dave Righetti for 11th all-time in saves before the age of 28. While he is 71 behind the leader, Bobby Thigpen, no reliever has ever come close to the 107 Gagne has in the last two seasons. He has set the record for consecutive saves, which is still running at 63. And the scary thing about Gagne? He keeps getting better.

2003 1st half: 1-3 1.99 23/45.1 76/11
2003 2nd half: 1-0 0.24 14/37.0 61/9

Yes, you read that right. Eric Gagne only gave up one earned run in thirty-seven second half innings. And that run? On August 20th, Gagne gave up solo shot to Vladimir Guerrero in his second inning of work. Since that time he didn't give up a run in 18.1 innings. I mean, he only gave up 8 HITS! To further put Gagne's 2003 in perspective, the following tables are top ten lists of pitchers with more than 80IP in a season against their league average in ERA, H/9 and K/9:

ERA                           YEAR     DIFF   PLAYER   LEAGUE   

1 Pedro Martinez 2000 3.18 1.74 4.92
2 Roberto Hernandez 1996 3.09 1.91 5.00
3 Eric Gagne 2003 3.08 1.20 4.29
4 Mariano Rivera 1996 2.91 2.09 5.00
5 Tim Burke 1987 2.90 1.19 4.09
6 Pedro Martinez 1999 2.80 2.07 4.87
7 Robb Nen 1998 2.71 1.52 4.24
8 Felix Rodriguez 2001 2.68 1.68 4.36
9 John Wetteland 1993 2.68 1.37 4.05
10 Greg Maddux 1994 2.66 1.56 4.22

HITS/9 IP YEAR DIFF PLAYER LEAGUE
1 Eric Gagne 2003 4.97 4.04 9.02
2 Jeff Zimmerman 1999 4.52 5.13 9.66
3 Pedro Martinez 2000 4.35 5.31 9.66
4 Francisco Rodriguez 2003 4.07 5.23 9.30
5 Scott Williamson 1999 4.05 5.21 9.25
6 Mitch Williams 1987 3.97 5.22 9.19
7 Trevor Hoffman 1996 3.93 5.11 9.05
8 Ricky Bottalico 1995 3.93 5.13 9.06
9 Tommy Byrne 1948 3.88 5.31 9.19
10 Goose Gossage 1977 3.70 5.28 8.97

STRIKEOUTS/9 IP YEAR DIFF PLAYER LEAGUE
1 Eric Gagne 2003 8.33 14.98 6.65
2 Rob Dibble 1991 7.63 13.55 5.92
3 Rob Dibble 1989 6.99 12.82 5.83
4 Pedro Martinez 1999 6.97 13.20 6.24
5 Rob Dibble 1990 6.71 12.49 5.78
6 Randy Johnson 2001 6.42 13.41 6.99
7 Randy Johnson 1995 6.28 12.35 6.07
8 Tom Henke 1987 6.27 12.26 5.99
9 Tom Henke 1989 6.25 11.73 5.48
10 Pedro Martinez 2001 6.13 12.57 6.44


After that, I think it is safe to say that Gagne's 2003 is the best relief season ever. No one has approached what he has done against league average in H/9 and K/9, and he is narrowly behind Pedro and Roberto Hernandez in ERA. There are so many fantastic stats about Gagne, the Dodgers should be paying him top reliever money, right?

Well, there is one problem: this is his first offseason being eligible for arbitration. He joins superstars Alfonso Soriano and Albert Pujols in that regard, but Soriano has already signed (5.4M), and Pujols is discussing a long-term contract. Gagne and the Dodgers are negotiating a contract for 2004, but remain three million dollars apart, $6M vs. $9M. Using Doug Pappas' fantastic website, I found out that $9M would be by far the most a first-year eligible player has gone to an arbitrator, excluding the $9.5M that Pujols is asking for. At this point, Derek Jeter is the leader, asking for $5M preceding the 1999 season. The funny thing about Jeter's case...he won.

Since Major League Baseball started using arbitration in 1974, players have a losing record of 194-259 (.428) against the owners, or about the record that the Cincinnati Reds had on the field last year. So Jeter's case is the exception to the rule. And is Eric Gagne, a reliever, more valuable than Jeter was after 1998, being a shortstop? That's a hard case to argue, because at that point Jeter joined two Hall of Famers who had posted three years of a .370OBP and .400SLG before the age of 25.

In a perfect world, Gagne would earn contracts around those of fellow top-notch closers, Billy Wagner (8M), Mariano Rivera (8.89), and John Smoltz (11M). But as we know all so well, the MLB's economic system is flawed. If Eric Gagne's case goes to the arbitrator, he likely will lose. He deserves so much more.

24/01/2004

Food for Thought 

Rare weekend post, as there are a few topics I want to hit on, and a few I'd like to revisit. The first is about my article yesterday, in which I wrote about the throwing sessions of Orlando Hernandez and Maels Rodriguez. Will Carroll wrote on his blog yesterday that Rodriguez failed to top 90mph, maxing out at 87 with his fastball. El Duque, throwing at 85%, never hit above 78. This will hurt their 2004 salaries, and Maels is going to need to have a very impressive second outing to attract a signing. The Red Sox said that Maels was low to mid-90s earlier in the week, but could that have been to start driving up what the Yankees have to pay?

Since we're on the topic of bullpen sessions, Yankee Steve Karsay had an impressive workout on Friday, throwing 30 fastballs from the bullpen mound. The team isn't sure if Karsay will be ready for Opening Day, but it looks like the Yanks will have their #4 RH out of the bullpen back at full strength early on in the season.

I've ripped Dan O'Dowd often at this blog, so I couldn't hesitate from smiling when hearing that the team had signed LHP Shawn Estes to a minor league contract on Friday. This is O'Dowd trying to recreate the Darren Oliver addition from a year ago, but it just won't work. Estes does a decent job of keeping the ball on the ground, but if he was terrible in Wrigley, what is going to happen in Coors? Yikes.

Bob Melvin was talking about reshuffling the Mariner lineup this year, possibly moving Ichiro Suzuki to the #3 hole. Peter White of Mariner Musings and David Cameron at the U.S.S. Mariner have done a good job analyzing this move, saying that Ichiro is better fitted for hitting with runners on base. Cameron presents a mock lineup with arguments for each spot, something I hope to do for every Major League team here in the coming weeks. I can't say I agree with putting John Olerud in the fourth hole, but it will be bad enough when Bob Melvin makes Raul Ibanez his fifth hitter.

Finally, I never touched on the Glendon Rusch signing this week, so I thought this would be a good time to sound off my thoughts. Before this season, I couldn't have imagined a situation where a 1-12 pitcher would be sought after, but Glendon Rusch actually had some options. Mike Maddux worked wonders on Rusch, who had a 3.23ERA in the second half, with most of his appearances in relief. Maybe Rusch is built for middle/long relief, but I'm a believer that he can return to usefulness after years of inadequacy. I actually prefer this signing to Kenny Rogers, although the Gambler is a lot more likely to waste rotation space.

E-mail me with thoughts, suggestions, column ideas, etc.

23/01/2004

Cuban Refugees 

Yesterday, two Cuban pitchers took the mound in front of Major League scouts in an attempt to attract a large offer. One is a 24-year-old flamethrower that would be a ‘rookie’ in 2004, while the other is a 38-year-old five-year veteran. The latter has accumulated more than 50 wins during that time, including a 17-win 1999. Both have large injury concerns, the younger was said to lose 10mph off his fastball last year, while the elder didn’t pitch in 2003.

So, that begs the questions, where will Maels Rodriguez and Orlando Hernandez pitch in 2004, and how effective will they be?

Hernandez threw at the University of Houston yesterday morning, in front of scouts from twenty Major League teams. El Duque said through an interpreter that he was about 85%, and that he would be 100% by Spring Training. Hernandez looked to have revive his career with a strong 2002 season, but shoulder surgery kept him out a year ago.

In 2002, Hernandez made 22 starts with the Yankees, compiling an 8-5 record with a 3.64ERA. He only allowed 131 hits in 146 innings, while striking out 113. His K/9 has always been around 7.00 during his career, but a K/BB of 3.14 was a career high. El Duque has always been a flyball pitcher, as his career GB/FB rate of 0.81 shows. Hernandez throws a ton of different pitches, and has used almost every arm angle in the book. In 2002 he revived the ‘eephus’ pitch, an lob that he threw to Alex Rodrigeuz, that the slugger promptly hit out of Arlington Park.

So far, we know that the Yankees, Dodgers, Mets, and Pirates were all present to see Hernandez throw. The Yankees seemed to be there out of courtesy, as vice president of major league scouting Damon Oppenheimer said, “We have a lot of respect for him, so we wanted to make sure we were down here.” That doesn’t indicate a whole lot of current interest, so don’t expect the Yankees to make a run after him. Returning to New York is a possibility, but it would be as a member of the Mets. Hernandez would be effective in Shea Stadium, but not in Texas, another possible destination.

As for Maels Rodriguez, details of his throwing session haven’t been published yet, but the Red Sox had a private workout with the right-hander earlier in the week. The “100mph fastball” that Cubans bragged about wasn’t quite true, although the Red Sox did have him in the mid-90s. Rodriguez set the Cuban record for strikeouts in the 2000 season, compiling 263 in 178.1 innings. He was limited to 113 innings last year, but kept his strikeouts high at 117.

In a USA Today article this week, Milton Jamail, author of Full Count: Inside Cuban Baseball is quoted as saying “If I was a team with a lot of money, I’d take a chance with Maels. If I was in a middle market, I wouldn’t consider it.” Minnesota Twins GM Terry Ryan repeated more of the same, saying “When I see certain (big-spending) teams are going, I figure ‘What’s the point?.’”

The main competitors for Maels’ services figure to be the Yankees, Rangers, and Mariners. With the retirement of Kaz Sasaki, the Mariners have the most money to spend, but Tom Hicks and George Steinbrenner aren’t used to standing down in auctions. Rodriguez would help the Rangers the most, who have needed an ace atop their staff since Nolan Ryan left. Maels would replace Gil Meche in the Mariner rotation, but wouldn’t even be guaranteed a spot with the Yankees. Instead, he would battle it out in Spring Training with Tommy John surgery recoveree Jon Lieber.

If Rodriguez signs with the Yankees he is likely to follow the path of fellow Cuban Jose Contreras. But, that’s where the comparisons between the two countrymen end. Contreras was said to be Cuba’s best pitcher, and is a 6-4, 224 lbs. beast. Rodriguez is said to be 5-11, which will turn many scouts away. While I consider Contreras with the highest regard, Rodriguez shouldn’t be expected to have the same success. Someone will drastically overpay for Maels, who should be a little above league average during the life of the deal he signs.

In other workout news, A.J. Burnett had a 23-pitch session in the Florida bullpen Thursday, and is making fantastic progress from elbow surgery. The Marlins will pick up Rick Reed in the next couple of days, and Reed will hold down the 5th starter spot until Burnett is ready. Expect A.J. to start the season on the D.L., then appear in 5-10 games in relief, and then to bounce Reed from the team.

Jimy Williams announced yesterday that Tim Redding will be Houston’s 5th starter, eliminating any competition that would have taken place in camp. This was disheartening for the likes of Carlos Hernandez, Jeriome Robertson, and Brandon Duckworth, but was the best move for the team. The rotation will be the least of Houston’s worries in 2004, and Williams should spend camp much more worried about his offense and bullpen.

Finally, Roy Halladay signed a 4-year extension on Thursday, worth $42M. This is less than the $45M that Javier Vazquez signed for, and should help set the market for Kerry Wood and Kevin Millwood. Consider what Halladay and Vazquez have done the last two seasons:

Halladay: 41-14 3.10 476/505.1 372/94
Vazquez: 23-25 3.57 441/461.0 420/106

And here is what Wood and Millwood have done:

Wood: 26-22 3.43 321/424.2 483/197
Millwood: 32-20 3.63 396/439 347/133

And yes Jim Hendry and Ed Wade, you should use that in negotiations. Have a good weekend.

22/01/2004

Far Eastern Entry 

Earlier this week I discussed the story of Kaz Sasaki, the ex-Mariner that has opted not to return to the Major Leagues in 2004. Instead, he will stay with his family, yet hasn't ruled out the possibility of pitching in Japan. If he decides to do so, he'll be only 31 saves from becoming the Japanese all-time saves leader, a gap that should not widen any further since current recordholder, Shingo Takatsu, will be coming to America after signing a one-year, $1M contract with the Chicago White Sox on Wednesday.

Consider that when Kaz Sasaki left Japan after the 1999 season, he 'retired' with 229 saves. At that time, Takatsu only had 98 saves, but has caught on like wild fire the last five years, notching 162 saves in that span. Here is a look at what Takatsu has done from 1999-2003:

1999: 30Sv 2.18ERA 32H/41.1IP 38K/8BB
2000: 29Sv 2.08ERA 32H/34.2IP 29K/8BB
2001: 37Sv 2.61ERA 49H/51.2IP 39K/13BB
2002: 32Sv 3.89ERA 37H/41.2IP 28K/11BB
2003: 34Sv 3.00ERA 42H/42.0IP 26K/21BB

While his save totals and ERA are somewhat impressive, his peripheral numbers are less than amazing. His H/9 in the last five years is only 8.18, and has risen to 8.51 in the last three seasons. A K/9 rate of 6.81 isn't very intriguing, especially considering that number has decreased in each of the last five years. His K/BB has also decreased each season, hitting a concerning 1.24 last year. Admittedly it's hard to put these numbers into context with the MLB, so we'll look at how another closer (Sasaki) did before coming to Seattle. Here are Kaz Sasaki's numbers from 1995-1999:

1995: 32Sv 1.75ERA 30H/56.2IP 78K/17BB
1996: 25Sv 2.90ERA 37H/49.2IP 80K/16BB
1997: 38Sv 0.90ERA 25H/60.0IP 99K/17BB
1998: 45Sv 0.64ERA 32H/56.0IP 78K/13BB
1999: 19Sv 1.93ERA 19H/21.1IP 34K/6BB

Sasaki blows Takatsu away in every stat except saves, which is due to an injury-plagued 1999. Sasaki's H/9 of 5.28 dwarfs the Japanese saves leader's of 8.18, and Sasaki actually improved (4.98) in from 1997-1999. Kaz had an insanely high K/9 of 13.63, and a better BB/9 to boot. He was a much better pitcher, so his Major League success shouldn't be a surprise. Remember that in 2000, the year in which Sasaki won American League Rookie of the Year, his H/9 'rose' to 6.03, and his K/9 'fell' to 11.20. That means his H/9 rose 14.2%, while his K/9 fell 17.8%. If this happens to Takatsu, he'll have a H/9 of 9.34, and a K/9 of 5.60. Projected to 60 innings: 62.27 hits and 37.33 strikeouts. The man they call "Mr. Zero" in Japan may be worth just that.

If this is true, Takatsu will prove to be worth less than the $1M that Jerry Reinsdorf is paying him, but it's a decent bargain. Takatsu is still almost guaranteed a bullpen slot, along with Damaso Marte, Billy Koch, Cliff Politte, and Kelly Wunsch. That leaves only one to two bullpen slots open, yet the White Sox have hardly filled the roles. Possible relievers Scott Schoenweis and Danny Wright sit at the back end of the rotation, leaving uncertainty amidst the Sox pitching staff. So the team took a few gambles Wednesday, signing Vic Darensbourg, Robert Person, Mike Jackson, and Jose Santiago all to minor league contracts.

Ken Williams is still high off his Esteban Loaiza find, so don't be surprised to see him plucking underachieving veterans off the market for years to come. This year the big name is Robert Person, the former-15 game winner that fell off the face of the planet after a 2002 injury. He's only two years removed from usefulness, and even kept a high K rate in his short stint with the Red Sox. It's possible Person nabs a rotation job in Spring Training, which says less about the Sox than it does to compliment Person. Jackson and Santiago seem to be insurance that Billy Koch and Cliff Pollitte don't break down, but it's also entirely feasible one ends up with a middle relief job. Jackson's 2002 and Santiago's 2003 seem relatively similar, because they both kept ERAs down despite pretty bad peripheral numbers. The Sox organization is loaded with left-handers (Marte, Wunsch, Sanders, Munoz, Meaux, etc), so Darensbourg is probably in the wrong situation. He appears to be a 4-A pitcher that will get the inevitable cups of coffee for 15 games or so a year.

The team also made a few offensive moves yesterday, signing minor league infielders Bobby Smith, Kelly Dransfeldt, and Mike Bell to contracts, along with outfielder Marvin Benard. The infielders are Williams way of creating competition at second, which leads to asking, why again did they trade Aaron Miles? Bell and Dransfeldt are poor souls that never succeed, and are better suited for the Southern League than the International. Bobby Smith, on the other hand, has had four great IL years in the last five, but never gets it done at the ML level. He'll be tempting, but I guess when Willie Harris is the favorite, even Harold Reynolds would be appealing.

One big question surrounding Bernard is, can he still play centerfield? If so, the team's selection in him, and his selection of the White Sox make sense. He will make the team either way, but actually has a chance at a starting job in center. The competition will be between him, Aaron Rowand, and Jeremy Reed, whom I will label as the Proven Veteran, the favorite, and the rookie. Ozzie Guillen's choice will be reflective of his managerial style, something important to look out for in the early months.

All I know is, the White Sox are almost finished. With Bernard, Person, and Takatsu, the team's depth chart is up to 23 names. If we assume that Jackson, Santiago, or Darensbourg wins a rotation slot, we're at 24. That leaves one spot open for a hitter, and right now we only see Jamie Burke and Ross Gload vying for spots, yet more could be added later. The White Sox will need things to break right and for some people to bounce back in 2004 (see Konerko, Crede, Koch, Buerhle, Person) to contend. I see Kansas City and Minnesota as better teams at this moment, but time will tell. Tomorrow I'll be back on Maels Rodriguez, and his possible destinations.

(Thanks to japanesebaseball.com for all the Japanese statistics used in this article)

21/01/2004

Asked and Answered 

I didn't think I had anything to write about today, until Twins Fan Dan over at Will Carroll's blog posed the question,
"What the sam-hell is Mark Shapiro doing?" For me, that question is definitely worthy of a 1,000 word response. Here's more than you will ever want to know about the 2004 Cleveland Indians, starting with their rough depth chart:

Position Players
C- Victor Martinez
1B- Travis Hafner
2B- Ronnie Belliard
SS- Omar Vizquel
3B- Casey Blake
LF- Escobar/Ludwick/Broussard
CF- Milton Bradley
RF- Jody Gerut
DH- Matt Lawton
Bench= Josh Bard, Ricky Gutierrez, John McDonald, Broussard/Escobar/Ludwick, Crisp

Pitching Staff
Rotation: C.C. Sabathia, Jake Westbrook, Jason Davis, Cliff Lee, Bere/Durbin/Stanford

Bullpen: Bob Wickman, Jose Jimenez, David Riske, Scott Stewart, Rafael Betancourt, Jack Cressend

I see potential in that roster, especially when considering how hogtied Shapiro is. He was in the organization in their mid-90s glory years, but agreed to take over a team that would have to see a signifcant decrease in salary. Last season, their Opening Day payroll was $47.6M, yet that will be on the decline next season. After recently signing David Riske and Scott Stewart to contracts, this is the list of guaranteed contracts the Indians will pay next season:

Vizquel- 7.500
Lawton- 6.750
Wickman- 5.300
Gutierrez- 3.820
Sabathia- 2.450
Bradley- 1.430
Riske- 1.025
Wohlers- 1.000
Jimenez- 1.000
Belliard- 1.000
Westbrook- .925
Stewart- .850
Bere- .400

TOTAL= $33.450

That means eleven of the twenty-six players I named above are under contract, so fifteen others will be auto-renewals. At most, that will cost about $6M, leaving the Indians payroll below $40M. With that little money, I'm much quicker to compliment Mark Shapiro than to question his motives.

First of all, the Indians are going to have a very good bullpen next season. Three of the members, the returnees of the group, had very good 2003 seasons. David Riske became the closer late in the season, and was very impressive. He gave up just a .196 average allowed, a K/9 rate of 9.88, and a fantastic 4.10 K/BB. While he's underrated, Rafael Betancourt may just be the best reliever you didn't know existed. After some insane AA numbers (33H/45.1IP 75K/13BB), the team quickly promoted him to Cleveland, in which he gave them 33 games with a 2.13ERA. Like Riske, his AVE allowed was .196, especially displaying great skills at negating right-handers (.133/.165/.253 allowed). Cressend bounced back from a poor 2002 very nicely, posting a 2.51ERA in 40+ innings. Cressend allowed only 2ER between 30 AA and AAA innings, and continued that middle relief success in the Major Leagues. The three 2003 Indians won't draw a lot of press, but are as effective as any trio at what they do, and should be valued higher in the stat-head community.

After that insanely long paragraph, I move to the other 3 bullpen members, whom Shapiro is counting on to bounce back. The first of which is Jose Jimenez, who finally gets to leave the altitude of Coors. Despite having a 5.81ERA as a reliever, there remains a lot to like about the former Rockie closer. For instance, Jimenez hasn't allowed his GB/FB ratio to dip from 2.50 in any season during his career, and the slick Indian infield should help. His HR ratio will also decline, but Jimenez needs to work on taking his K/BB back in the 4.27 range (see 2002), rather than 1.73 (see career). Stewart and Wickman are both hoping to bounce back from injuries, although Stewart had time for 51 average games last season. His effectiveness vs. LH dipped, and to be successful his LH Ave. allowed must regress to past seasons.

The rotation is going to...well, struggle. The team's rotation had a 4.41ERA last year, and I can't expect that to dip too much this year. C.C. Sabathia keeps pitching well despite worrying injury-gurus like Mr. Carroll. No matter how you slice it, Sabathia's an innings-eater who will allow an OPS of about .700, strike out about 6.5 per 9, and relies on his ability to get the ball over the plate on any given day. His ERA dropped last season largely because his 66BB were the lowest of his career. The only other starter I like is prospect Cliff Lee, part of what Shapiro got for Bartolo Colon in 2002. Lee had nine solid Major League starts, showing good hit and strikeout rates. For you fantasy players, Lee wouldn't be a bad last-round pick, as he could have 140K's very easily this season.

Victor Martinez and Milton Bradley are the only 2 starts that are 25 (or younger), and both have very bright futures. Bradley took a quantum leap last season, finally displaying what once made him a top Expos prospect. Bradley's OBP skills were fantastic, and it looks like he needs to be patient for success to come. He looks like a solid HR/SB guy, and could be 25/25 for sure. If he doesn't develop that power, he'll be good in the leadoff slot anyways. Martinez was a top prospect a year ago, and held his own in a 159AB stint with the Indians last season. He showed good contact and OBP skills, yet had absolutely no power. The team is praying that his September line of .344/.417/.422 is indicative of his talents, and I think so. Don't be shocked to see Martinez hit .290/.360/.400 next season, which would battle Benito Santiago for top catcher in the division.

The other youngsters from the lineup, the 2003 rookies, are Travis Hafner and Jody Gerut. The latter impressed the most, actually finishing top-3 for Rookie of the Year voting. Jody came out of nowhere to have 57 extra-base hits, including 22HR. In the end, he may end up a platoonable player, as he did hit .306/.360/.564 vs. RH, as opposed to .209/.274/.313 against southpaws. I like Gerut's potential, and he should be the lineup's power source this year. Helping will be Hafner, who didn't garner any attention, but caught on late. His second half numbers are .273/.348/.519, and he hit nine home runs in his final 156AB. Don't be shocked if he hits 25HR out of nowhere, and if the Indians actually have a decent middle-of-the-order (Gerut-Bradley-Hafner).

Finally, there are the veterans. Lawton and Vizquel are on the decline, yet both could post OBPs above .340, and I think Eric Wedge will place them atop the order. Casey Blake had a nice season, clubbing more than 50XBH after signing a minor league contracts. These are the moves Shapiro must thrive on, those being minor league signings, the waiver wire, and small trades. Ronnie Belliard is the no-name signing that Shapiro is bullish on, yet I must say I'm unimpressed. At best, you are looking at .280/.350/.400, which would be an improvement on the .209/.247/.320 line Indians 2B had last year.

And then, there is the Master Plan. Shapiro is praying that Brandon Phillips turns things around, that Grady Sizemore develops power, and that Michael Aubrey and Brad Snyder turn out. The team lacks a left side for the future, but everything else is covered, and covered well. Jeremy Guthrie will be in the Majors this season, possibly before June, and will be another great Stanford arm. The team has a ton of more prospects, and Shapiro is really planning on 2008-2010 being his years. Will Indian ownership being willing to wait? Hey, Chuck LaMar got his time.

20/01/2004

Far Eastern Retirement 

In a shocking move, yesterday Kaz Sasaki's agent announced he has no intentions of playing professional baseball in the United States, bypassing the $9.5M he was set to make from the Seattle Mariners. Sasaki wished to be closer to his family, and has no ruled out the possibility of playing in Japan. This move comes a little late for Bill Bavasi, who has already struggled mightily in his newest role atop the Mariner organization. Sasaki was penciled in as the Mariner's closer, although the team couldn't have been that excited about him:

2000: 6.03H/9, 4.45BB/9, 11.20K/9
2001: 6.48H/9, 1.49BB/9, 8.37K/9
2002: 6.53H/9, 2.97BB/9, 10.83K/9
2003: 8.37H/9, 4.05BB/9, 7.83K/9

And by using the Rob Neyer style, I'm going to break that into 2:

2000-2001: 6.26H/9, 2.92BB/9, 9.74K/9
2002-2003: 7.18H/9, 3.35BB/9, 9.77K/9

So, Sasaki's worst year came in 2003, and in the last two years, he's become much worse. His H/9 ratio increased in each of his four seasons, and excluding a walk-full rookie season, his walk ratio is on the upswing. His K/9 hit an all-time low in 2003, but a solid 2002 kept his K/9 equal to the previous two seasons. Some blame Sasaki's terrible 2003 on injuries, but I say his fastball just lost the pop it once had.

Much of Sasaki's bad year can be blamed on a disastrous April, in which he gave up nine earned runs in nine innings, blowing four out of his eight save attempts. He then seldomly pitched until August, upon which allowing a 4.91ERA and not getting a save opportunity. He finished September fine, but it was too little, too late. Sasaki's final win share total was 3.58, which can be rounded to 4. That converts to about one and one-third wins, or half of Rafael Soriano's contributions.

So, we've established that Sasaki's absence won't hurt the team from a talent standpoint, but where does that leave them? The team will now look something like this in the pitching department:

Rotation
1. Jamie Moyer- LHP
2. Freddy Garcia- RHP
3. Joel Pineiro- RHP
4. Ryan Franklin- RHP
5. Gil Meche- RHP

Bullpen
CL- Rafael Soriano- RHP
SU- Eddie Guardado- LHP
MR- Shigetoshi Hasegawa- RHP
MR- Julio Mateo- RHP
LOOGY- Mike Myers
Long-Relief- Kevin Jarvis- LHP

Well, it doesn't exactly rival the Angels and Athletics, but hey, it beats the Rangers! Wasting Soriano in the closer's role (or maybe even set-up), while letting Gil Meche pitch in the rotation is indefensible, but hardly unbelievable from what we've come to expect from Mariner brass. Now word has it the team is interested in putting Sasaki's money into Maels Rodriguez, which I support. Cuban pitchers have done very well when coming to the United States, but some worry about the condition of Maels' arm. That will be settled January 22nd, but I think he might be better suited for the closer's role. And hey, the Mariners didn't do horribly the last time they overpayed for a foreign player to close.

With Soriano in the fifth slot, Rodriguez closing, Bavasi then might be able to trade Ben Davis, Gil Meche, and maybe even Kevin Jarvis. I really like the Mike Myers addition, as I supported the Cubs signing him months ago. When used in the right role, Myers can be very solid. Last year, lefties hit .237/.314/.421 off of Myers, and their OPS is a combined .692 in the last three seasons. He struggles vs. RH, but a good manager keeps him out of those situations. Given the right managing, I believe Myers can post a sub-3.00ERA again, but hey, I got a thing for sidearmers.

In the end, the Mariners will have a hard time moving from third place. Bill Bavasi has become one of the game's worst GMs in his first offseason, starting with the Raul Ibanez signing. You know it's bad when a player quitting is one of the better moves of the winter months...

19/01/2004

Baseball After Football Sunday 

It has been really hard for me to sit down and write this column because, well, nothing is going on in the baseball world. I’m sorry, but the signings of Rey Ordonez, Reggie Taylor, and Edgar Huerta don’t really inspire me to write. There are some exciting long-term negotiations being discussed between Albert Pujols and the Cardinals, and Kerry Wood with the Cubs. On Thursday, Maels Rodriguez and Yobal Duenas will try out for teams, so Maels negotiations should fly through the roof.

Another happening of note is that the Detroit Tigers offered Pudge Rodriguez a four-year, $40M contract. Some say Pudge allowed the Tigers to get in the process to increase the Cubs offer, but Jim Hendry has called Boras’ bluff. This is the best offer that Pudge is going to get anywhere, and I’m not exactly sure he’s worth it.

Last year, Rodriguez was actually better in Pro Player Stadium, with his numbers declining to .279/.336/.443 on the road. Right-handers have started to get the best of him, as he only hit .274/.340/.444 against them last season. While he had a fantastic post season, Rodriguez declined in the second half, hitting only .294/.361/.417. In fact, Pudge only hit three home runs in the second half, during which time he had 218AB. Yes, that number should scare teams away, although the Tigers don’t exactly have a lot to replace.

One of the reasons behind the Tigers ghastly performance in 2003, was the pitiful job done by their backstops. The catchers for Detroit hit a combined .190/.243/.308, led by the ever-terrible forgotten prospect Brandon Inge. Inge was the only of four catchers the Tigers had to hit above .200, although during 330AB, he hit only .203. The team chose Chris Shelton first overall in the Rule V Draft, although teams see Matt LeCroy in Shelton, so he won’t get much time catching in 2004.

If the Rodriguez acquisition were to go through, Dave Dambrowski will have likely improved his team in four positions. Here are the lines for C, 2B, SS, and LF, of which the Tigers will/might have Rodriguez, Vina, Guillen, and Rondell White next season:

C- .190/.243/.308
2B- .253/.307/.350
SS- .220/.283/.282
LF- .244/.294/.480

And here are the lines of the four “replacements”...

Rodriguez- .297/.369/.474
Vina- .251/.309/.382
Guillen- .276/.359/.394
White- .289/.341/.488

Those four represent vast improvements, as they combined for something along the lines of .278/.355/.435, compared to the Tigers 2003 foursome of about .227/.282/.355. Also, consider that Dmitri Young, the Tigers lone All-Star whom hit .297/.372/.537 will now have all his at-bats in the DH slot, which accumulated a .270/.341/.440 line a year ago. Dave Dambrowski is hoping to see improvements from Carlos Pena and Eric Munson, while accepting that Alex Sanchez and the Bobby Higginson/Craig Monroe spots of the lineup will hurt the team.

As for Munson, I’m excited to see if his bat will catch up with the potential it once had. Remember, Munson hit 53HR in 1100 minor league AB, giving scouts much to drool over. Last year, the converted third basemen hit .240/.312/.441 in his first extended test of the Major Leagues. Yet, there was still potential within his bat. Munson showed a definite platoonable split, hitting only .208/.299/.377 in 77AB against southpaws. Fifteen of his eighteen home runs came against right-handers, and in only 236AB. Although he got injured, Eric was starting to turn it on as the season went on. Excusing a July slump, Munson improved with each month:

April: .175/.273/.333
May: .256/.344/.423
June: .291/.321/.506
July: .206/.316/.444
August: .273/.294/.545

So not including his July slump, Munson’s OPS improved in each month, as he got more used to Major League life. I expect big things in 2004, especially 30HR. A .260/.330/.500 line is not out of his grasp. For you fantasy baseball competitiors, Munson is actually not a bad bench option to have, if not just for his power.

Dambrowski also improved the rotation this off season, recently signing Jason Johnson to a two-year contract. While Johnson’s potential isn’t very high, it hasn’t been matched yet. His career GB/FB ratio of 1.05 wasn’t great for Camden Yards, but will suffice in the spacious Comerica Park. Johnson succeeded with a high WHIP last season, which isn’t the greatest indicator for future success. But, Jason has done well against most (excluding the White Sox) of his AL Central foes in recent seasons, and that move will help considerably. While I think Johnson’s ERA will rise from 4.19 next season, he should pitch better than he did in 2003, and give hope for a promising 2005.

The rest of the rotation is up for grabs, with only Mike Maroth also guaranteed a spot. The final three slots will be a battle with Jeremy Bonderman, Nate Cornejo, Wil Ledezma, Matt Roney, Nate Robertson, Gary Knotts and more competiting for. The team is going to have to live and learn with Bonderman, and I imagine Trammell will pick Nate Cornejo, whom almost was the Tiger All-Star last season. Ledezma has the most promising future of the bunch, but he and Rule V partner Matt Roney struggled mightily in the few starts they were given. Robertson and Knotts didn’t impress either, so really, it’s a crapshoot. Anyways, don’t be surprised if the team makes another stupid decision, hurrying the likes of Kenny Baugh or Preston Larrison.

The final piece of the puzzle is the bullpen, which I think could be good in 2004. I like the idea of Fernando (Rodney) & Franklyn (German) finishing games, as the two large guys can bring a lot of heat. As can Matt Anderson, whom may or may not be ready to get back to the pitcher he once was. Veterans Danny Patterson and Al Levine will solidify the right-handed situation. Knotts, Chris Spurling, and Chris Mears will also fight for slots. Left-hander Jamie Walker is a damn good LOOGY, as lefties only got on base 25.4% of the time last season.

So, there you go. I didn’t know where I was headed when I started the article, but then went on a 1,000 word rant on the Tigers. In conclusion, I give you there newly updated depth chart (with Pudge), which unfortunately, doesn’t have Cody Ross on it.

Starting Lineup
1. Fernando Vina- 2B
2. Carlos Guillen- SS
3. Pudge Rodriguez- C
4. Dmitri Young- DH
5. Rondell White- LF
6. Carlos Pena- 1B
7. Eric Munson- 3B
8. Bobby Higginson- RF
9. Alex Sanchez- CF

Bench
1. Mike Diefelice- C
2. Chris Shelton- C/1B
3. Greg Norton- 1B/3B/OF
4. Craig Monroe- OF
5. Pablo Ozuna/Omar Infante- MI

Starting Rotation
1. Jason Johnson- RH
2. Mike Maroth- LH
3. Jeremy Bonderman- RH
4. Nate Cornejo- RH
5. Wil Ledezma- LH

Bullpen
1. Fernando Rodney- RH
2. Franklyn German- RH
3. Matt Anderson- RH
4. Danny Patterson- RH
5. Al Levine- RH
6. Jamie Walker- LH
7. Chris Mears- RH

And while this whole article was about free agent Pudge Rodriguez, Walt Jocketty announced today the team will not be pursuing other top free agent Greg Maddux, who has seen his market decline more and more. I’m going to step out on a limb here and say either Pudge or Mad-Dog ends up with my Cubbies.

16/01/2004

Coming Back Home 

When the Houston Astros signed Andy Pettite, I blasted the team for overpaying for an overrated southpaw. I was hoping to do the same when the team I hate the most signed Roger Clemens, another player I hate. But, the evidence proves me wrong here, Roger Clemens is still one helluva pitcher. For $5 million, the Astros got a steal. Here's why:

Overall: 17-9 3.91 199/211.2 190/58
Home: 7-7 5.22 115/108.2 110/36
Away: 10-2 2.53 84/103 80/22
Pre-ASB: 8-6 3.68 111/124.2 128/35
Post-ASB: 9-3 4.24 88/87 62/23

Well, his splits are very clearly defined. Roger struggled in Yankee Stadium last season, but he hasn't always done so. Here's a look at Roger's home splits the previous four seasons:

2002: 9-1 2.84 74/101.1 122/27
2001: 10-1 3.10 83/98.2 98/26
2000: 8-4 3.86 110/126 123/42
1999: 9-5 3.56 103/113.2 102/46

So before this season's glitch, Clemens had been fantastic at home, accumulating a 36-11 record from 1999-2002. So, was last season a hiccup? Well, we don't know. But, here's a look at where he succeeded:

@ANA: 2-0 1.06 11/17 11/1
@BAL: 1-0 1.88 12/14.1 9/3
@TB: 2-1 3.43 15/21 15/6

Fenway was the only other stadium that Clemens threw 10 innings at last season, and his ERA was 4.26 there. In the last three seasons, Clemens has had a 6.18ERA against his former team the last three years, and will be happy to get away from Beantown. But, consider that Clemens won't be facing the Twins (0.41 in 22), the Angels (1.78 in 30.1), the Athletics (1.82 in 34.2), and the Devil Rays (2.85 in 101). Roger's done fairly well in limited experience against NL opponents, and I doubt he'll be intimidated by the likes of Milwaukee, Pittsburgh, and Cincinnati.

One point against Clemens is that his K/9 was 'only' 8.08 last season, which was his second lowest in the last nine seasons. Only in 1999 did he go lower (7.82), and that was his worst season of note. But, to Clemens' credit, he also got much better with walks. His K/BB was the best since 1997, his 2.05 ERA year, and it was the first time his OBP allowed was under .300 since 1998. His SLG against has been above .375 each of the last five seasons, and has sat close to .400 each of the last two years. His 24HR allowed were the second highest of his career, not a good sign for moving to the smaller Minute Maid Park.

Interestingly enough, Clemens has been much tougher against lefties than righties the last three seasons, largely because of his splitter. Against southpaws, Clemens has allowed a stingy .224/.300/.347, but a .276/.315/.438 line vs. right-handers. That will actually hurt him against the likes of the Cubs (Sosa, Lee, Ramirez, etc.), and the Cardinals (Pujols, Renteria, Rolen).

What Clemens role will be in Houston isn't quite defined yet. There are rumors that Clemens will solely pitch in Minute Maid, that he will seldomly pitch away, or that he'll aim for all 32 starts. The club has room to carry a swingman 6th rotation member, with Carlos Hernandez, Jeriome Robertson, and Brandon Duckworth all eligible for that role. Clemens will surely feel the effects of pitching in a smaller stadium, and should be effected to facing some great in-division right-handed bats. But overall, Clemens will be earning $2.5M less than Sidney Ponson next season, and will be considerably less than Greg Maddux.

How will Roger Clemens do in Texas? ERA above 4.00, a K/9 above 8.10, and 12-15 wins. And no, the drama of him batting every fifth day won't be as great as the media is hoping. That's it, I'm out.

15/01/2004

This and That 

Not much happening in baseball of note, so it won't be a long post for me today. I'd like to first mention that my prediction on Jay Payton to the Padres came through, and I am very impressed with the San Diego lineup. In case you had forgotten, here it is:

1. Sean Burroughs- 3B
2. Mark Loretta- 2B
3. Brian Giles- OF
4. Ryan Klesko- OF
5. Phil Nevin- 1B
6. Ramon Hernandez- C
7. Jay Payton- CF
8. Khalil Greene- SS

Throw that with David Wells and some young, developing pitchers, and you have a divisional contender. While I don't think Jay Payton will hit .280 with the Padres, his help will be substantial. The Orioles signed Sidney Ponson to a three-year deal Wednesday, ending a long courtship that began last July. Ponson will make $7.5M next year, or what Greg Maddux is being offered by the Cubs. That's too much money to pay here, but they needed to find a way to take some pressure off a disastrous rotation.

A pair of formerly decent right-handed relievers signed in the last two days, as Turk Wendell went to Colorado, and Mike Williams to Tampa. Turk had a very good ERA and H/9 last year, but his BB/K was as ugly as they come. I worry about Wendell for this one fact:

1999- 0.62
2000- 0.94
2001- 0.76
2003- 0.89

In his last four seasons, Wendell has a lot more flyballs than groundballs, and that spells trouble in Colorado. That's going to be a pretty bad bullpen in Colorado, but Clint Hurdle better be sure to go to Steve Reed in important situations, not Wendell. As for Williams, I like the low-risk minor league signing. Williams has been good four of the last six years, and his ERA has bested 3.00 in that span twice. He gets a lot of grounders, and I think Mike has a decent chance of helping out the D-Rays in 2004.

Now, using the work I've done in the past week, here are a few predictions for where free agents go:

Greg Maddux- Cubs
Ivan Rodriguez- Tigers
Ugueth Urbina- Twins
Raul Mondesi- Orioles
Orlando Hernandez- Marlins
Rick Reed- Mets
Scott Sauerbeck- Marlins
Randall Simon- Pirates
Glendon Rusch- Rangers
Pedro Astacio- Rockies
Mark Guthrie- Phillies

That's enough for now, but if you want more of my educated guesses, let me know. In the coming days, expect to hear lots of Greg Maddux talk, as he would be smart to get the contract out of the way before January 22nd, when the Maels Rodriguez show hits the United States. The report the Mariners are interested doesn't make sense, and I can't see him in anything but pinstripes. Richard Hidalgo or Jacque Jones will be traded to the Dodgers, guaranteed. If they can do that in conjunction with signing Pudge, my feelings on Dan Evans might change yet. How about this in LA?...

1. Trade Paul Lo Duca for Jacque Jones
2. Sign Pudge Rodriguez
3. Sign Travis Lee

Just an idea. I'll be back tomorrow with you more regularly scheduled program...

14/01/2004

Five Degrees of Vladimir Guerrero 

I'd like to announce that today's article will also be posted at www.baseballinteractive.com in the coming days, so do me a favor and check that out. It looks like I will be a regular contributor to their site, and I highly suggest heading over there and reading the works of Mike C, Alex Belth, John Strudel, and the other new addition, Seth Stohs. I thank Baseball Interactive for this opportunity, and hopefully everyone enjoys what they see there. Anyways, here is the article...

Vladimir Guerrero signing with the Angels has been the most shocking baseball news of 2004, for those of us who don’t care about Pete Rose. After months of chess matches between Guerrero’s agents, the Orioles, the Mets, and other teams, the Angels came out of nowhere to land the league’s best rightfielder. The surprise was reminiscent of Florida signing Pudge a year ago, as Arte Moreno invested $70 million to renew Anaheim’s forgotten optimism.

This signing has a substantial effect on a number of teams, notably his new and former teams, the Orioles, the Mets, and the Marlins. Guerrero will dictate what lineups teams will use in 2004, and also how they will finish the off season. Vladimir Guerrero was this year’s top free agent, and while he was passed around until mid-January, it’s still one of the top three most monumental moves of the past three months.

To define Guerrero’s importance to the Angels, let’s first look at his numbers from the last three seasons:

Year AVE GPA HR SB Win Shares
2001 .307 .311 34 37 23
2002 .336 .336 39 40 29
2003 .330 .338 25 9 18

Well, it looks like Alex Rodriguez has some MVP competition within his own division now. Despite back problems last season, Guerrero managed to increase his on-base percentage, while not sacrificing a loss in slugging. His stolen bases were down, but that isn’t supposed to be a problem next season. Here’s a look at the Angels lineup last year, as compared to what it will be in 2004:

2003 Lineup 2004 Lineup
C- Molina C- Molina
1B- Spezio 1B- Erstad
2B- Kennedy 2B- Kennedy
SS- Eckstein SS- Eckstein
3B- Glaus 3B- Glaus
LF- Anderson LF- Guillen
CF- Erstad CF- Anderson
RF- Salmon RF- Guerrero
DH- Fullmer DH- Salmon

Well, Erstad will move in from center, and Garrett Anderson will likely be moving over from left. Tim Salmon will be taking his hitting to DH full-time, assuming Guerrero stays off the DL. So in actuality, Guerrero and Guillen will be replacing what the Angels had at first base, and at whatever Salmon wasn’t playing that day (DH or RF) in 2003. Last year, the Halos produced a .293/.362/.492 line from 1B, Jeff DaVanon hit .282/.360/.445 in right field duties, and Brad Fullmer hit .306/.387/.500 mostly as a DH. So, Guerrero and Guillen are being summoned to replace what is basically a .290/.365/.480 line?

Last season, Jose Guillen hit .311/.359/.569 in what should be looked at as a career season. Upon moving to Oakland for much of the second half, Guillen struggled, hitting .265/.311/.459. Those are much more in line with his career numbers of .270/.315/.430. Jose will be moving to a more hitter-friendly ballpark than he was during that second half, but I think it’s hard to predict the Guillen repeating his 2003 success. My guess is he produces a line of .280/.330/.460. That means the Angels are asking Vladimir Guerrero to have a .300/.400/.500 season to keep their offense the same as last year. So keep in mind next season, while reading Vlad’s numbers in the box scores, every point above .400OBP and .500SLG is another run for the Angels.

Early in the off season, Vlad turned down a 5-year, $75M offer to stay with the Montreal Expos. Little did he know then it would be his most lucrative offer, but I doubt he’ll be missing the (un)friendly confines of Olympic Stadium next year. What surprised me most about researching for this story is that Omar Minaya, one of the most underrated GMs in the game, has actually managed to improved the Montreal offense.

To prove that, let me show you the numbers Montreal produced from the four corner positions a year ago:

Position (AB) AVE OBP SLG HR BB/K R/RBI
1B (605) .274 .343 .448 22 61/129 80/100
3B (604) .230 .298 .331 9 51/102 61/49
LF (598) .261 .336 .426 19 65/148 78/84
RF (592) .302 .390 .527 31 81/106 93/114

All four of those positions will have different people in 2004, except left field. I included LF in the previous list because the team mistakenly gave more than 250AB to Ron Calloway and Jose Macias. You can bet that won’t be happening again. So here are the four that will stand in those positions in 2004, prorated to 650PA apiece:

Name AVE OBP SLG HR BB/K R/RBI
Nick Johnson .284 .422 .472 22 112/91 96/75
Tony Batista .235 .270 .393 25 27/99 74/96
B. Wilkerson .268 .380 .464 21 96/167 84/83
Carl Everett .287 .350 .510 30 57/91 100/99

Assuming all these players stay healthy, the Expos team OBP from their corners should be about .355-.360, up from about .340 a year ago. Their slugging will be about .460, where it was .433. They are projected to hit about 17 more HR, walk 34 more times, and strike out less. It’s also very easy to foresee Johnson and Wilkerson improving from last year, and I don’t think Batista can get much worse. By my projections, the Expos should have around 750R next season, where they only had 711 a year ago. Who would have thought that Omar Minaya would be happy that Vlad said “no”?

Two people that aren’t happy about Vlad’s recent decision are Jim Beattie and Mike Flanagan, the two-headed GM combo that run the Orioles. I have criticized their hot and heavy pursuit for Vlad quite often this off season, pointing to their lack of pitching as my prime reasoning. The question now is, did they assume on Vlad so much that they left right field wide open?

Not really. For now, Jay Gibbons will remain in right field, while Rafael Palmiero plays first base. B.J. Surhoff, Jack Cust, Marty Cordova, and David Segui could slug it out for the DH spot. The team has been associated with Pudge Rodriguez in the past, but I don’t see Pudge going anywhere but Los Angeles at this point. My take would be to not spend one more dollar on offense, as pitching should be their central concern.

Here is a list of the pitchers on the Orioles 40-man roster who have experience starting, along with their number of games started (in descending order):

Omar Daal- 164
Rodrigo Lopez- 60
Kurt Ainworth-15
Buddy Groom- 15
John Stephens- 11
Eric DuBose- 10
John Parrish- 9
Rick Bauer- 7
Matt Riley- 5
Mike Dejean- 1

Yes, you read that right. The Orioles currently have only two starters with more than fifty career starts, and those two have a combined career ERA of 4.61. Of this group, only Daal, Lopez, Ainsworth, DuBose, and Riley started games in 2004, which is the current rough outline for their rotation. While a lineup with Miguel Tejada and Javy Lopez might top 800R scored, the aforementioned rotation would likely allow 800R. And yes, that would be .500 or worse for a team spending millions to make the playoffs. Beattie/Flanagan: spend your money on Maels or Maddux, not Pudge.

From the beginning, Guerrero was said to dislike New York, but the Mets push was almost enough for the 27-year-old right fielder. The Mets had a contract that would have paid more than $70M over five years, yet only about $30-35M was guaranteed. Mets fans around the Internet have been upset about the Mets wait on signing a right fielder, as Roger Cedeno is currently slated in at the position.

The free agent market doesn’t have a lot of outfielders left, with Raul Mondesi, Troy O’Leary, Marvin benard, and Karim Garcia, the names that are available. I’ve been saying Mondesi for awhile, and I still believe that is true. Jim Duquette passed on quite a few names in his pursuit of Vlad, and I guarantee Juan Gonzalez would have worked in New York. Duquette’s tenure with the Mets hasn’t started exceptionally, and Fred Wilpon’s unwillingness to guarantee money cost them Guerrero.

So where do the Mets go now? They could go and try to trade for Richard Hidalgo, while others say they’ll recruit Tom Glavine’s friend/ex-teammate Greg Maddux. I don’t see a fit with him in New York, but the Mets will definitely have more money to offer than the Cubs.

Finally, for the second straight winter, the Florida Marlins attempted to make a late bid and land a huge name All-Star. While a one-year, $10M offer worked for Pudge Rodriguez, Vlad turned down what was a $13M offer. The Marlins are said to want one more big name player, and are said to be turning their attentions to Greg Maddux and Jason Kendall.

With the Orioles, Mets, and Cubs all hot on the trail of Maddux, there is virtually no chance of him winning his 300th game in Miami. The Marlins would have to come up with a huge offer to land Maddux, and I don’t see it happening. But there wasn’t a happier man in the world to hear the Jason Kendall to the Padres talks died yesterday than Larry Beinfest. It’s likely the Marlins will go after Kendall now, offering Ramon Castro, and maybe someone like A.J. Burnett. The team has been hesitant to give Castro the catching reins for years, and 2004 doesn’t appear to be any different.

Vladimir Guerrero was passed on for so long, it comes as a small surprise that teams are negatively impacted by his departure to Anaheim. This proves that having only plan A in January is the worst plan one can have.

13/01/2004

What's left in the NL 

Today I'll get right into it, here's what the National league needs to work on the rest of the offseason, which will help us determine where the remaining free agents will land.

Atlanta Braves

John Scheurholtz keeps making nothing out of nothing, and I keep forecasting his demise. I will do the same in 2004, but I’m sure the Braves will surprise me. Offensively, the team is week with Estrada, LaRoche, and DeRosa all demanding 500AB. They could break out, but if not, yikes. The Braves could add an infield bench player, but besides that, they look finished.

The rotation is all finished, even if it’s not jaw-dropping. I’m a big fan of John Thomson in 2004, so write that down. Leo Mazzone and Bobby Cox are going to go with some interesting bullpen names, giving the huge AA combo of Alfonseca and Almanza a lot of innings. Jaret Wright, Will Cunnane, Kevin Gryboski and Jung Bong will all help complement John Smoltz. The Braves don’t have much to do this offseason, but I will still be predicting them below first place...again.

Florida Marlins

Fresh of a World Championship, the Marlins have gone in a odd direction. They acquired Hee Seop Choi, and decided to give Miguel Cabrera and Jeff Conine the outfield corner spots. The catcher will be Ramon Castro, not example always being compared to Pudge. The team has Redmond, Mordecai, and Banks for their bench, but still could use replacements for Andy Fox and Todd Hollandsworth.

The rotation should be pretty good, but until A.J. Burnett comes back, Michael Tejera is plugged in the fifth hole. There have been Greg Maddux rumors, but a flyball pitcher like Rick Reed might just work here. The bullpen will have Benitz, Fox, Neu, and Tim Spooneybarger, for sure. Tommy Phelps and Tejera figure to get jobs as well, and Blaine Neal could land a spot.

Philadelphia Phillies

The Phillies are the favorites to win the AL East, and they are all finished this offseason. Yesterday’s signing of Doug Glanville fills their bench with Pratt, Wooten, Polanco, Perez, Ledee, and Glanville. And for all those who don’t think the bullpen is finished, I imagine it will be Wagner-Worrell-Cormier at the end, with Roberto Hernandez and Amaury Telemaco getting some middle innings. The team may want a different LOOGY than Victor Alvarez, leaving Ed Wade one more job.

Montreal Expos

In a lot of ways, Omar Minaya is hog-tied. But he must put a decent 25-man roster on the field, and has a chance at besting the New York Mets, again. They really only need a backup catcher on offense, as Ron Calloway, Juan Rivera, Henry Mateo, and Jamey Carroll cover the other eight positions. Brian Schneider has no back-up, so signing a leftie killer might be a good idea.

The pitching staff is finished, as the team will use Livan, Day, Armas, Ohka, and Vargas in their rotation. Seung Song and Josh Karp will be ready relatively quickly. The bullpen currently has Luis Ayala, Chad Cordero, Rocky Biddle, Joey Eischen, Randy Choate, Dan Smith, and T.J. Tucker. Does that need upgrading? Probably not.

Who would have guessed the Expos would just need a backup C on January 13?

New York Mets

First and foremost, they need a right fielder. They need one bad. Right now, the only two real options are Raul Mondesi and Jay Payton. Ouch. A one-year deal would be best here, as Magglio Ordonez is an attractive candidate in a year’s time. Besides that, I don’t see Jim Duquette making another move to help this offense.

There is talk that the team wants to send Jeremy Griffiths and Aaron Heilman to AAA, so they will sign a pitcher before Spring Training. They will likely compete with the Orioles for Greg Maddux, and drive that price up considerably. The bullpen should be finished, and Art Howe will be sorting a lot in Spring Training.

Chicago Cubs

If Jim Hendry wants to be finished, he can be. Otherwise, there is still room for a fifth starter, and a sixth right-handed middle reliever. But like I said, they already have more than 25 guys.

Houston Astros

I’ll detail the Clemens signing on Friday, but with that money committed, I don’t think Drayton McLane can afford to do anything else. They now have enough pitchers to fill a bullpen and a rotation, and had the people to make a bench. It’s all over for the Astros.

St. Louis Cardinals

Well, there will be decisions to be had in St. Louie. For instance, do they put John Gall at first base and keep Pujols in left? Do they sign anyone besides Marlon Anderson and Bo Hart for second? I like the idea of Gall, but I’m not so high on Anderson. Signing Cuban defector Yobal Duenas would be an interesting move, but after the So Taguchi disaster, I don’t even know if Walt Jocketty will make a call.

The Cardinals current rotation has Morris, Williams, Suppan, Haren, and Carpenter, and that is probably enough. Just in case, they also have Jason Marquis waiting in the wings. While I wouldn’t have reccomended the signing of Julian Tavarez, it did give them a complete bullpen. Isringhausen, Tavarez, Kline, Eldred, King, Calero, and Marquis. Wow, what an improvement from a year ago.

Cincy Reds

Can I have a team to skip? Please? I really don’t like this team, and probably never will. Their bench looks filled with Corky Miller, Juan Castro, Ray Olmedo, Wil Mo Pena, Ryan Freel, and some other available options in their minor leagues.

Wow, what a bad rotation. There will be Jimmy Haynes, Paul Wilson, and Cory Lidle. Aaron Harang, Jose Acevedo, Josh Hall, and Brandon Claussen will battle for the last spot. They might sign one more fringe starter, but they have enough bullpen arms to fill that area.

Pittsburgh Pirates

Jason Kendall should be gone in days, and the Pirates lineup will have Cirillo at third and Stynes at second. If they end up signing Randall Simon, and I think they will, it will be a disastrous offseason. It’s time to hand some jobs to youngsters, to start re-building. Maybe Dave Littlefield isn’t fit for this job after all.

Milwaukee Brewers

I really think the Brewers should trade Junior Spivey to clear a space for Keith Ginter, but I don’t think Doug Melvin reads this blog. Both the White Sox and Cardinals would be interested, and would give fair value back. Could they get Neal Cotts in a deal for Spivey? If so, I see no reason why they wouldn’t jump on that. The Brewers have a few bench spots to fill, so they might be picking up the leftovers relatively soon.

No one can say what the Brew Crew will do with their pitching staff, besides the fact that Ben Sheets and Doug Davis will get spots. I would add one more starter, simply because the Brewers don’t really have enough guys fighting for spots. And yes, Matt Kinney really does suck. The end of the season really proved they could have a good bullpen, and they are filled in that area. Picking up the scraps, and waiting for the kids is Doug Melvin’s job during the upcoming seasons.

San Francisco Giants

Unfortunately my prediction for Greg Maddux didn’t work out, as Brian Sabean decided to go for the cheaper, and worse version, Brett Tomko. That’s a great rotation, and the team’s bullpen looks to be finished as well. In fact, Brian Sabean has left Felipe Alou with a lot of options, and I don’t think the Giants will spend another dollar this offseason.

Arizona Diamondbacks

I’ll never understand Steve Sparks and Shane Reynolds, but I don’t have to. If those two combine with Randy Johnson, Brandon Webb, and Elmer Dessens, I’ll be making fun of this team. At least give one or two pitchers under 25 a chance. I mean, they don’t have much of a chance in 2004, so they might as well be developing players. The bullpen has enough, and I like Valverde and Matt Mantei finishing ganes.

On offense, all the Diamondbacks need are backups in the outfield. They have just Bautista, Finley, and Gonzalez at this point, so adding another one of two would be a good idea.

Los Angeles Dodgers

My guess? They sign Pudge, but their offense is still terrible, as they’ll have a Ventura/Loduca platoon at first, Encarnacion in left, and one of the worst middles in the game. It doesn’t matter at this point, the ownership situation has screwed them. They will be bad in 2004, but I remain bullish on the Dodgers in the long run, notably in 2006. They’ll get back to the top, it’s just going to take some time.

Colorado Rockies

After my past articles on the Rockies, there’s no way I’m going here.

San Diego Padres

I would highly recommend that the team signs Jay Payton, and I would personally find that to be more important than getting Kendall, although he’s a great player. The Padres lineup is going to be fantastic, giving Khalil Greene the surroundings he’ll need to win Rookie of the Year. Believe me, it’s very possible.

That’s all I can tonight folks, I’ll be back on Vlad tomorrow.

What's left in the NL 

Atlanta Braves

John Scheurholtz keeps making nothing out of nothing, and I keep forecasting his demise. I will do the same in 2004, but I’m sure the Braves will surprise me. Offensively, the team is week with Estrada, LaRoche, and DeRosa all demanding 500AB. They could break out, but if not, yikes. The Braves could add an infield bench player, but besides that, they look finished.

The rotation is all finished, even if it’s not jaw-dropping. I’m a big fan of John Thomson in 2004, so write that down. Leo Mazzone and Bobby Cox are going to go with some interesting bullpen names, giving the huge AA combo of Alfonseca and Almanza a lot of innings. Jaret Wright, Will Cunnane, Kevin Gryboski and Jung Bong will all help complement John Smoltz. The Braves don’t have much to do this offseason, but I will still be predicting them below first place...again.

Florida Marlins

Fresh of a World Championship, the Marlins have gone in a odd direction. They acquired Hee Seop Choi, and decided to give Miguel Cabrera and Jeff Conine the outfield corner spots. The catcher will be Ramon Castro, not example always being compared to Pudge. The team has Redmond, Mordecai, and Banks for their bench, but still could use replacements for Andy Fox and Todd Hollandsworth.

The rotation should be pretty good, but until A.J. Burnett comes back, Michael Tejera is plugged in the fifth hole. There have been Greg Maddux rumors, but a flyball pitcher like Rick Reed might just work here. The bullpen will have Benitz, Fox, Neu, and Tim Spooneybarger, for sure. Tommy Phelps and Tejera figure to get jobs as well, and Blaine Neal could land a spot.

Philadelphia Phillies

The Phillies are the favorites to win the AL East, and they are all finished this offseason. Yesterday’s signing of Doug Glanville fills their bench with Pratt, Wooten, Polanco, Perez, Ledee, and Glanville. And for all those who don’t think the bullpen is finished, I imagine it will be Wagner-Worrell-Cormier at the end, with Roberto Hernandez and Amaury Telemaco getting some middle innings. The team may want a different LOOGY than Victor Alvarez, leaving Ed Wade one more job.

Montreal Expos

In a lot of ways, Omar Minaya is hog-tied. But he must put a decent 25-man roster on the field, and has a chance at besting the New York Mets, again. They really only need a backup catcher on offense, as Ron Calloway, Juan Rivera, Henry Mateo, and Jamey Carroll cover the other eight positions. Brian Schneider has no back-up, so signing a leftie killer might be a good idea.

The pitching staff is finished, as the team will use Livan, Day, Armas, Ohka, and Vargas in their rotation. Seung Song and Josh Karp will be ready relatively quickly. The bullpen currently has Luis Ayala, Chad Cordero, Rocky Biddle, Joey Eischen, Randy Choate, Dan Smith, and T.J. Tucker. Does that need upgrading? Probably not.

Who would have guessed the Expos would just need a backup C on January 13?

New York Mets

First and foremost, they need a right fielder. They need one bad. Right now, the only two real options are Raul Mondesi and Jay Payton. Ouch. A one-year deal would be best here, as Magglio Ordonez is an attractive candidate in a year’s time. Besides that, I don’t see Jim Duquette making another move to help this offense.

There is talk that the team wants to send Jeremy Griffiths and Aaron Heilman to AAA, so they will sign a pitcher before Spring Training. They will likely compete with the Orioles for Greg Maddux, and drive that price up considerably. The bullpen should be finished, and Art Howe will be sorting a lot in Spring Training.

Chicago Cubs

If Jim Hendry wants to be finished, he can be. Otherwise, there is still room for a fifth starter, and a sixth right-handed middle reliever. But like I said, they already have more than 25 guys.

Houston Astros

I’ll detail the Clemens signing on Friday, but with that money committed, I don’t think Drayton McLane can afford to do anything else. They now have enough pitchers to fill a bullpen and a rotation, and had the people to make a bench. It’s all over for the Astros.

St. Louis Cardinals

Well, there will be decisions to be had in St. Louie. For instance, do they put John Gall at first base and keep Pujols in left? Do they sign anyone besides Marlon Anderson and Bo Hart for second? I like the idea of Gall, but I’m not so high on Anderson. Signing Cuban defector Yobal Duenas would be an interesting move, but after the So Taguchi disaster, I don’t even know if Walt Jocketty will make a call.

The Cardinals current rotation has Morris, Williams, Suppan, Haren, and Carpenter, and that is probably enough. Just in case, they also have Jason Marquis waiting in the wings. While I wouldn’t have reccomended the signing of Julian Tavarez, it did give them a complete bullpen. Isringhausen, Tavarez, Kline, Eldred, King, Calero, and Marquis. Wow, what an improvement from a year ago.

Cincy Reds

Can I have a team to skip? Please? I really don’t like this team, and probably never will. Their bench looks filled with Corky Miller, Juan Castro, Ray Olmedo, Wil Mo Pena, Ryan Freel, and some other available options in their minor leagues.

Wow, what a bad rotation. There will be Jimmy Haynes, Paul Wilson, and Cory Lidle. Aaron Harang, Jose Acevedo, Josh Hall, and Brandon Claussen will battle for the last spot. They might sign one more fringe starter, but they have enough bullpen arms to fill that area.

Pittsburgh Pirates

Jason Kendall should be gone in days, and the Pirates lineup will have Cirillo at third and Stynes at second. If they end up signing Randall Simon, and I think they will, it will be a disastrous offseason. It’s time to hand some jobs to youngsters, to start re-building. Maybe Dave Littlefield isn’t fit for this job after all.

Milwaukee Brewers

I really think the Brewers should trade Junior Spivey to clear a space for Keith Ginter, but I don’t think Doug Melvin reads this blog. Both the White Sox and Cardinals would be interested, and would give fair value back. Could they get Neal Cotts in a deal for Spivey? If so, I see no reason why they wouldn’t jump on that. The Brewers have a few bench spots to fill, so they might be picking up the leftovers relatively soon.

No one can say what the Brew Crew will do with their pitching staff, besides the fact that Ben Sheets and Doug Davis will get spots. I would add one more starter, simply because the Brewers don’t really have enough guys fighting for spots. And yes, Matt Kinney really does suck. The end of the season really proved they could have a good bullpen, and they are filled in that area. Picking up the scraps, and waiting for the kids is Doug Melvin’s job during the upcoming seasons.

San Francisco Giants

Unfortunately my prediction for Greg Maddux didn’t work out, as Brian Sabean decided to go for the cheaper, and worse version, Brett Tomko. That’s a great rotation, and the team’s bullpen looks to be finished as well. In fact, Brian Sabean has left Felipe Alou with a lot of options, and I don’t think the Giants will spend another dollar this offseason.

Arizona Diamondbacks

I’ll never understand Steve Sparks and Shane Reynolds, but I don’t have to. If those two combine with Randy Johnson, Brandon Webb, and Elmer Dessens, I’ll be making fun of this team. At least give one or two pitchers under 25 a chance. I mean, they don’t have much of a chance in 2004, so they might as well be developing players. The bullpen has enough, and I like Valverde and Matt Mantei finishing ganes.

On offense, all the Diamondbacks need are backups in the outfield. They have just Bautista, Finley, and Gonzalez at this point, so adding another one of two would be a good idea.

Los Angeles Dodgers

My guess? They sign Pudge, but their offense is still terrible, as they’ll have a Ventura/Loduca platoon at first, Encarnacion in left, and one of the worst middles in the game. It doesn’t matter at this point, the ownership situation has screwed them. They will be bad in 2004, but I remain bullish on the Dodgers in the long run, notably in 2006. They’ll get back to the top, it’s just going to take some time.

Colorado Rockies

After my past articles on the Rockies, there’s no way I’m going here.

San Diego Padres

I would highly recommend that the team signs Jay Payton, and I would personally find that to be more important than getting Kendall, although he’s a great player. The Padres lineup is going to be fantastic, giving Khalil Greene the surroundings he’ll need to win Rookie of the Year. Believe me, it’s very possible.

That’s all I can tonight folks, I’ll be back on Vlad tomorrow.

12/01/2004

A Preview and Review 

Didn’t make the weekend post I had hoped to, got a little busy. For all those who are thinking about going to see Blue Man Group, you have my full support. Good stuff around the Internet, Bill James’ assistant Matthew Namee had some good work for Aaron Gleeman, Rich Lederer had a very nice interview of Joe Sheehan, and Will Carroll attempting to make headline news again. Believe me, Clemens is as overrated as Pettite.

To give a little overview of the week, I’ll review what I said on Friday today, I’ll detail the National League tomorrow, Wednesday will be devoted to the newest Halo, and Thursday we’ll look at where the free agents should be going. Exciting times ahead on Wait ‘Til Next Year...

On Friday I spent a long time detailing what American League teams have left, and today I’ll review quickly what I said...

Oakland: RH reliever
Seattle: Trade Davis and Meche
Anaheim: Well, it was 1B, now it’s make fun of the Mariners
Texas: One (or 2) starter(s) and one RH reliever

Minnesota: Trade Jacque Jones, one SP, one RH reliever
Chicago: SP and 2B
Kansas City: Sit around
Cleveland: Trade Ludwick or Escobar (Lawton?) for SP
Detroit: Apply to become part of International League and worry about rotation

Yankees: George wants one more SP
Boston: Back end of bullpen
Toronto: All finished
Baltimore: RF and SP, SP, SP!
Tampa Bay: Likely finished, maybe one bench spot

Sorry folks, that’s all I got today, I’ll have another 2500+ words tomorrow...

09/01/2004

The AL 

Not a lot going on in the baseball world, but I think in a week’s time the Orioles will have contracts done to Vladimir Guerrero, Rafael Palmiero, and B.J. Surhoff. I think the team would be much better suited to spend Palmiero’s money towards starters, but if Sidney Ponson ends up with them, my argument is void.

For the weekend, I’m going to post what I consider to be very important information: what each team has left to do this off season. It has been an interesting couple months in the very least, and a sign of the path that baseball is headed down.

Oakland Athletics

Billy Beane has a starting lineup in place, and it should definitely be an improvement over the group he fielded a year ago. An outfield of Kielty, Kotsay, and Dye could improve in big ways, and Bobby Crosby will be a top candidate for Rookie of the Year. The team easily has enough players to make a bench, and my guess is that Adam Melhuse, Eric Byrnes, Billy McMillon, Frank Menechino, and Marco Scutaro will get spots.

The A’s will have a great pitching staff again in 2004, this time with Mark Redman as their fourth starter. Rich Harden is the best fifth starter in baseball, and Justin Duchscherer (PCL Pitcher of the Year) is waiting in the wings. The bullpen is really the only thing that needs a little tweaking. So far, the A’s have a nice start in Arthur Rhodes, Chad Bradford, Ricardo Rincon, and Chris Hammond. Jim Mecir, Chad Harville, and Duchscherer will compete for spots. In my mind, the team needs to add one more right-handed reliever to make a good ‘pen, and is a long way from matching what they did a year ago.

Seattle Mariners

Fans are not happy with how the off season has gone in Seattle, and Bill Bavasi is quickly becoming one of the worse GMs in the game. The Guillen-Aurilia swap will happen anyday now, yielding Ramon Santiago for the M’s. They would then have a full lineup, with Raul Ibanez, Scott Spiezio, and Rich Aurilia replacing Mike Cameron, Jeff Cirillo, and Carlos Guillen. The bench is among the worst in baseball, with Wiki Gonzalez, Dave Hansen, Santiago, Willie Bloomquist, and Quinton McCracken all looking at spots. Ben Davis likely will be dealt, or he could push Gonzalez to Tacoma. I’m thinking the Mariners would be best suited to never pinch-hit next year, not a promising proposition for Bob Melvin.

As for the rotation, the Mariners actually have one too many players at this point. Jamie Moyer, Joel Pineiro, and Freddy Garcia are all but guaranteed spots next season. It would be hard to deny Ryan Franklin, who had a 3.34 second half ERA, a spot as well. That leaves Gil Meche to the fifth hole, although there is one small problem. Rafael Soriano deserves a spot as much as anyone. He was the best reliever in baseball during the last two months, and is dominating in the winter league. Give him a spot, and trade Davis and Meche together.

Eddie Guardado will be a big help in the bullpen, although they don’t have the firepower they once had. Sasaki is getting worse every year, and can we honestly expect Hasegawa to match last season’s performance? Julio Mateo might be their best reliever, although they won’t see that. Kevin Jarvis is all but guaranteed the long relief spot, just because of the huge paycheck the Mariners are giving him. The last spot is up for grabs with in-house candidates J.J. Putz, Aaron Looper or Aaron Taylor likely to land the spot. Barring a Davis and/or Meche trade, that’s all you’ll see from the Mariners.

Anaheim Angels

The former World Champions are much improved, and will have a very potent rotation in 2004. Bartolo Colon and Kelvim Escobar are the newest additions, and will be the first power pitchers the Angels have housed in awhile. Jarrod Washburn and Ramon Ortiz have spots, but they must drop their high HR/9 rates. World Series hero John Lackey should land the fifth slot, but expensive right-hander Aaron Sele at least gets a chance. If he doesn’t win it, he’ll likely be released, and the Angels will take the hit for his salary.

As for the bullpen, the Angels strength will once again be in finishing games. The Donnelly-Rodriguez-Percival trio is unbeatable, likely the best 7-8-9 in the Majors. Scot Shields and Ben Weber are also very effective. The team usually doesn’t use LOOGYs, so Derrick Turnbow and Kevin Gregg will battle for the sixth spot.

Anaheim is one of the few teams without a completed lineup, as Bill Stonemann has yet to find Scott Spiezio’s 1B replacement. Travis Lee has been a rumor for weeks, and I expect that deal to happen very soon. The bench currently has Jose Molina, Alfredo Amezaga, Jeff DaVanon, Chone Figgins, and Robb Quinlan should get a spot. That would leave the team with 24 players, possibly allowing Sele to make the team as a long reliever. All in all, Travis Lee is the only move I expect from the Angels.

Texas Rangers

While the Rangers lineup has questions, they already have enough players to fill all the necessary positions. At this point, we know that Einar Diaz will catch, and the infield will be Teixeira, Young, Rodriguez and Blalock. Brad Fullmer will act as DH, and Brian Jordan will have a corner spot. That leaves centerfield and another corner outfield spot, with David Delucci, Laynce Nix, Kevin Mench, Rusty Greer, and Ramon Nivar battling it out. Out of that group, Nix should land a spot, and if Nivar doesn’t, he’ll be returned to AAA. Eric Young may get a chance in center, but he is probably just middle infield insurance. Other bench players include Mike Lamb, Herbert Perry, and Gerald Laird.

As with all Ranger teams, the questions are in the pitching staff. The Rangers have been ridiculously slow to sign pitching, pretty much guaranteeing another last place finish. Chan Ho Park will have a spot, but that’s all that is guaranteed at this point. The current depth chart would have Joaquin Benoit, Colby Lewis, Juan Dominguez, and either R.A. Dickey or Ryan Drese. With that being said, I guarantee the Rangers will add at least one starter still, and they really should add 2.

The bullpen is going to add a right-hander in the coming days, with rumors that a Turk Wendell contract is all but finished. Wendell will be used to set-up effective closer Francisco Cordero, who was dazzling a season ago. Jay Powell makes a lot of money, and was once effective as a middle reliever. Southpaws Ron Mahay, Brian Shouse, and Erasmo Ramirez all had their moments a year ago. I don’t expect the Rangers to sign more than one right-handed reliever, although they probably should. Signing Maels Rodriguez should be their other plan of attack.

Minnesota Twins

Myself and Twins fans alike have been quick to bash Terry Ryan this offseason, who really made this club worse by not doing anything. It all starts in the rotation, where the Twins are yet to fill their five slots at this time. So far, Johan Santana, Brad Radke, Kyle Lohse, and Grant Balfour look to have spots. If the competition goes as low as Carlos Pulido and Carlos Silva, just give this division to someone else. Signing a starter should be a priority for the Twins, or at least trading Jacque Jones for one.

While the catcher position has no clear starter yet, the rest of the starting lineup is filled. The team has important decisions with rookies and outfielders, but have more than enough bats to fill a roster. The only weakness is up the middle, but it appears Augie Ojeda and Nick Punto are going to back up the Rivas and Guzman combo. Jacque Jones and Doug Mientkiewicz could get traded for pitching, and it would have minimal effect on the offense.

A lot of people are questioning the Twins bullpen, but I believe they are one man away from being pretty effective. Ugueth Urbina is rumored to be heading there, and he is probably the last of the good relievers left on the market, it’s essential for Ryan to act here. Joe Nathan and J.C. Romero are fairly good as set-up men, and I like Juan Rincon a lot in middle relief. Michael Nakamura are Carlos Silva should land spots, leaving the seventh spot to be a battle between Pulido and Aaron Fultz. Note to Terry Ryan: start working!

Chicago White Sox

While Ken Williams tried to improve the White Sox this offseason, he failed mercifully. The White Sox are bad right now, very bad. Esteban Loaiza and Mark Buerhle have a lot of pressure at the top of the rotation, and Jon Garland needs to take a big step forward. After that the Sox rotation is eerily weak, with Scott Schoenweis, Dan Wright, and Neal Cotts among those battling for spots. The team has shown interest in Sidney Ponson, and I think they will likely end up signing him.

The bullpen will not be as strong as it was last season, as I don’t see Cliff Politte matching the performance that Tom Gordon had last year. Damaso Marte and Billy Koch will battle for closer duties, and Kelly Wunsch is one of the league’s better LOOGYs. Dan Wright and Scott Schoenweis could fill roles in the bullpen, but I think the White Sox should consider adding one more right-handed middle reliever.

Not many changes in the hitting department, although part-time players Robbie Alomar and Carl Everett are long gone. In their places, the team will be using Willie Harris and Aaron Rowand, respectively. If Harris struggles, Juan Uribe could be forced into the starting lineup. I also think the club will put in a phone call to Cuban defector, Yobal Duenas. The team has a few bench positions in must fill, as Sandy Alomar, Jamie Burke, Ross Gload and Uribe are the only ones currently occupying those positions. The White Sox have a lot of work to do, but I’m not sure if Ken Williams realizes this.

Kansas City Royals

Allan Baird has done a fantastic job this offseason, and he can now go to rest. With the recently announced Juan Gonzalez signing, I imagine the Royals are done for the offseason. The team has a lot of options, and will let David DeJesus get reps at AAA before a likely midseason call-up. The bench will have Kelly Stinnett, Ken Harvey, Tony Graffanino, Dee Brown and Rich Thompson.

The rotation is a little weak, but they make up for that with a fantastic bullpen. Curt Leskanic, Jeremy Affeldt, Mike MacDougal, Scott Sullivan, Jason Grimsley, and D.J. Carrasco are the top six for the bullpen, and the team will likely try Joey Dawley as the long relief man. The Royals are the favorites to win the AL Central, and can now sit on that title until February.

Cleveland Indians

Well, what can Mark Shapiro do? The Indians aren’t going to be very good in 2004, but it’s a waiting game in Cleveland. Shapiro has built this team to the best of his abilities, but they still come up lacking. With limited resources, sometimes all you can do is cry, “uncle.” The lineup is their best asset, and they’ll have a bench with Josh Bard, Ben Broussard, John McDonald, Ricky Gutierrez, and Ryan Ludwick. I’m not so sure on the choice of Ronnie Belliard at second base though.

Also somewhat respectable will be a bullpen filled with players you’ve never heard of. David Riske has proven to be reliable for a couple of years now, and it looks like the team will hand him the reins as closer. Jose Jimenez and Bob Wickman will serve as veteran set-up men, and I’m big on Jimenez bouncing back after some bad years in Coors. Rafael Betancourt, Scott Stewart, and Jack Cressend all bring strengths to the table, and with the proper managing, Eric Wedge could have a top 10 bullpen.

It’s the rotation that I worry about. C.C. Sabathia proved he could be an ace, and Cliff Lee showed some very nice things in his short stine. Jake Westbrook was very hot and cold in Cleveland, but needs to improve his K/BB rate (58/56) to take it to the next level. Jason Stanford and Chad Durbin are penciled into the final two spots, but Jimenez and Jason Bere could steal those spots. Also, expect Jeremy Guthrie to demand a spot during the season. The Indians should improve each year as they find out a little more about this team, but Cleveland is going to need patience for the next three years.

Detroit Tigers

Well, now Dambrowski has some names that everyone has heard of. Their lineup:

C- Brandon Inge
1B- Carlos Pena
2B- Fernando Vina
SS- Carlos Guillen
3B- Eric Munson
LF- Rondell White
CF- Alex Sanchez
RF- Bobby Higginson/Cody Ross
DH- Dmitri Young

It’s not a fabulous lineup, but I don’t think they’ll come last in the Majors in runs scored either. The bench is a little weak right now, with Mike Diefelice, Chris Shelton, Omar Infante, Dean Palmer, and Craig Monroe penciled in. The bullpen won’t be too bad if Alan Trammell pushed the right buttons, as right-handers Fernando Rodney, Franklyn German, Matt Anderson, Al Levine, and Danny Patterson all have potential. Jamie Walker is a good LOOGY, and Chris Spurling had a nice rookie season.

Of all things, it’s the rotation that frightens me the most. Jason Johnson, Mike Maroth, and Jeremy Bonderman sit atop what should be a pretty bad group. The last two spots will be a combination of Wil Ledezma, Gary Knotts, Nate Cornejo, and Nate Robertson. Yes, the Tigers are destined for last place once again. But now, they won’t lose 119 games!

New York Yankees

Well, is the Boss ever really done? No, he’ll always be looking for a signing to put his team a leg up, and this time his sights are on Maels Rodriguez. Apparently the thought of Jon Lieber serving as his fifth starter is hideous, and Steinbrenner is intent on landing another good arm for the rotation. The bullpen looks to be good, with Rivera, Gordon, Quantrill, Karsay, Heredia, and Gabe White handling the duties. Lieber should serve as the long man, similar to the role Jose Contreras started in last season.

While the Yankees don’t have a great bench, they’re likely finished with it. John Flaherty, Enrique Wilson, Miguel Cairo, Ruben Sierra, and Tony Clark will be the options Joe Torre has for pinch-hitting this season. I’m thinking he is going to stick with his starters this year, so once again, depth is a nervous issue with this team.

Boston Red Sox

Like George, Theo is always looking for a way to outdo his opponents, although there aren’t many more moves left in this chess match. The only thing I can see Theo doing is trading Scott Williamson, but at this point, I think the team would be smartest to hang onto him. Foulke, Timilin, Williamson, Embree, and Bronson Arroyo is a nice group, and it appears the team is thinking of having Mark Malaska and either Ramiro Mendoza or Colter Bean fill their last spot. The rotation is fill with Pedro, Schilling, Wakefield, Lowe and Kim, so I really don’t understand their interest in Maels.

Offensively, the team is finished. They will have a four man bench, with Doug Mirabelli, Pokey Reese, Gabe Kapler and Brian Daubach. They can do that with the versatility that Mark Bellhorn, Bill Mueller, Kevin Millar, and Trot Nixon all bring to the table. Expect a decline in offensive production next year, but not significant enough to take them out of this race.

Toronto Blue Jays

With the two recent signings of Terry Adams and Chris Gomez, J.P. Riccardi is all done this offseason. Instead of beating around the bush, here are your 2004 Toronto Blue Jays:

Lineup: Greg Myers, Carlos Delgado, Orlando Hudson, Chris Woodward, Eric Hinske, Frank Catalanotto, Vernon Wells, Reed Johnson

Bench: Kevin Cash, Dave Berg, Howie Clark, Chris Gomez, Chad Hermansen

Rotation: Roy Halladay, Miguel Batista, Ted Lilly, Pat Hentgen, Josh Towers

Bullpen: Terry Adams, Kerry Ligtenberg, Justin Speier, Aquilino Lopez, Valerio De Los Santos, Jayson Durocher

Baltimore Orioles

While the Orioles will surely get a lot of credit for their recent and upcoming signings, this is hardly a finished product. While an offense with Lopez, Palmiero, Hairston, Tejada, Mora, Bigbie, Matos, Guerrero, and Gibbons is more than appealing, they need pitching. The bench is also a little weak, with Geronimo Gil, Brian Roberts, B.J. Surhoff, Marty Cordova, and David Segui likely to get bench roles.

The starting rotation is ghastly at this point, with Rodrigo Lopez, Omar Daal, Kurt Ainsworth, Matt Riley, and Eric DuBose currently on the depth chart. Sidney Ponson is on their radar, but the team is more focused on finishing the Palmiero and Guerrero negotiations. If they miss him, then the Orioles are a .500 team at best. The bullpen has Jorge Julio, Mike Dejean, Willis Roberts, Buddy Groom, B.J. Ryan, and Rick Bauer, hardly an intimidating group. Maybe the plan was to focus on offense this year, and then worry about pitching, but if so, no one told me.

Tampa Bay Devil Rays

Chuck LaMar has been more proactive in this off season than he has in years, and I’ve come up with two theories behind that. Either Lou Piniella has instilled this new desire in LaMar to win, or he smells his days as GM shrinking. Either way, LaMar used limited resources to make the Devil Rays better this offseason, and while his acquisitions haven’t been the best players, the fact that he’s trying is a good start.

Offensively, the Devil Rays should be fine. The team signed Robert Fick today, and Fernando Tatis should be signed too as well. That would give Piniella a bench of Brook Fordyce, Geoff Blum, Fuck, Eduardo Perez, and either Antonio Perez or Damian Rolls. Jose Cruz is going to do very nice things during his stay, and I can’t compliment the team enough for signing Aubrey Huff to a three year, $14.7M extension.

Lou has some choices to make for the starting rotation, but he sure has his options. I think Jeremi Gonzalez, Victor Zambrano, and Mark Hendrickson are all but locks to land the job. That leaves John Halama, Paul Abbott, Rob Bell, Chad Gaudin, Jon Switzer, Doug Waechter, Jorge Sosa, and Dewon Brazelton to wrestle for the last two spots. Yes, you read that right, the Devil Rays will have an eight-man competition for two spots.

The bullpen will be better, as Danys Baez and Trever Miller bring some experienced arms into Pinella’s grasp. Lance Carter is close to being a very good reliever, and I’m also a big fan of Travis Harper and Jesus Colome. The last one or two spots will go to one of the aforementioned pitchers, so it could be a good bullpen. In conclusion, the Devil Rays are going to finish last in 2004, but it will be their best team ever. This club is making strides, and it won’t be long until they finish on the right side of 81.

Wow, 3,277 words later, I’m finished with the American League. I’ll write a quick recap of what I said for these teams over the weekend, have another long in-depth report on the National League for Monday, and then analyze what this means for free agents on Tuesday. Stay tuned, and have a good weekend.

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