Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Perfect Pickup: Los Angeles Angels

I’m in Vail, CO, and I’m completely bushed after a long day of snowboarding. Fortunately, this is the easiest post I’m going to write all offseason. There’s no combination of player and team in this free agent market that matches up better than the Angels and Adrian Beltre.

The Angels had the 7th highest payroll in baseball last season, at slightly below $123.5 million. They’re a big-money ballclub, and with that kind of cash comes the expectation that they should be able to fill out their roster with starters who are at least league-average. However, their third base situation was a complete mess last year, as they split duties between Alberto Callaspo (52 starts, 0.2 WAR), Brandon Wood (46 starts, -1.8 WAR), Kevin Frandsen (38 starts, -0.4 WAR), and Maicer Izturis (26 starts, 1.0 WAR). Izturis is penciled in as the starter for 2011, but he’s more of an infield Swiss Army knife type every team would love to be able to bring off the bench. He’s played strong defense at second, short, and third over the course of his six-year career, but for a team looking to make a solid playoff run, he’s not going to provide the kind of production the Angels want from the hot corner. 2 WAR is generally accepted as being the benchmark for a borderline starter. Izturis has only had one season of 2+ WAR, in 2009, and he put up a wRC+ of 91 last season.

Fortunately, the perfect solution is staring GM Tony Reagins and the rest of the Angels’ front office right in the face. Adrian Beltre is one of the strongest all-around ballplayers on this year’s free agent market, pairing above-average offense with extremely strong defense (career 15.3 UZR/150 at 3B), and once in a while putting together a season that ranks him among the best players in baseball. Last year’s 7.1 WAR was the second-best season of his career, falling short of his ridiculous 10.1 WAR season in his 2004 contract year as a Dodger. His 143 wRC+ was third among third basemen last season, behind only Jose Bautista and Ryan Zimmerman, and at 31, he’s still got some good years left in him. The market also seems to be cooling somewhat on him, as the A’s and Rangers are reported to be the only other interested teams. Without the competition that existed for big-name free agents earlier in the offseason, Beltre will almost certainly eventually sign a contract that pales in comparison to the deals Carl Crawford and Jayson Werth received.

The Angels offered Beltre roughly 5 years and $70 million a little more than a week ago, then reportedly pulled that offer when it wasn’t accepted by Beltre and agent Scott Boras. The only other offer Beltre was reported to have received this offseason was for 5 years and $45 million from the A’s, so I’d guess that he won’t see a better offer than the one he got from LA. Boras may be forced into the uncomfortable situation of asking the Angels to put their offer back on the table, and if Reagins plays hardball he may be forced to accept a less lucrative contract than the one they offered originally. Regardless, I don’t see any other team with the need and ability to pony up the kind of money it’s going to take to get Beltre to sign. This deal simply makes too much sense not to happen, so while the sport we love is extremely unpredictable, it’d be a huge surprise to see the Angels fail to ink their Perfect Pickup, Adrian Beltre.

Check back next time, when we'll look at the Marlins and try to figure out the best option they can fit into their miniscule budget.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

The Perfect Pickup: Los Angeles Dodgers

The 2010-11 offseason presented an interesting opportunity for the Dodgers, but it was also somewhat unfortunate in that the Dodgers’ needs and the market’s stronger areas didn’t really match up at all. Ryan Theriot pulled a Bluto, putting up 0.0 WAR with the Cubs and Dodgers, and came into the offseason at the top of the second-base depth chart. The Dodgers sent him to the Cardinals and signed Juan Uribe to a three-year deal to replace him. That was really the best they could have done in a poor second base market, but Uribe isn’t exactly a game-changer.

The only real chance they had for an offensive upgrade was to move James Loney and sign a first baseman who can bat in the middle of the lineup. Loney’s been consistently mediocre, putting up 3.4 WAR in the last 3 seasons as LA’s starting first baseman. However, they seem as though they may be content to give Loney another go.

The rotation, however, provided ample opportunities for tinkering. Clayton Kershaw, Chad Billingsley, and Ted Lilly remain from last year, but Hiroki Kuroda and Vicente Padilla were both headed toward free agency. Kuroda was resigned on a one-year. $12 million deal, and I think that makes a lot of sense for the team. Kuroda’s an extreme groundball pitcher. Each of the Dodgers’ projected infield starters was an above-average defender at their position last year, according to UZR, so that should play right to his strengths.

They also signed Jon Garland for a year at $5 million. Garland put up a 51.9% groundball rate last season, which was the highest of his career. However, he also showed some troubling signs that make me doubt whether this was the right decision for Los Angeles. His 0.8 WAR was his lowest mark since 2001, which might be surprising considering his 3.47 ERA was the best mark of his 11-year career. His .267 BABIP (.288 career) suggests that he had some luck on balls in play, and his walk rate jumped from 2.69 BB/9 in 2009 to 3.92 in 2010. This was the fourth-worst walk rate in the league, besting only Jonathan Sanchez, Gio Gonzalez, and CJ Wilson. Sanchez, Gonzalez, and Wilson can somewhat offset their walks by putting up gaudy strikeout numbers. Garland doesn’t have that ability, and combined with a likely regression toward his career mark in BABIP, I’d be surprised if he repeats his performance from last season with regard to his “baseball card” numbers.

Finally, they resigned Vicente Padilla for one year on a $2 million, one year deal. Padilla provides another option as the 5th starter, and he does have the ability to strike out some batters, but unlike Kuroda and Garland, Padilla allows an extremely high flyball rate. His 42.5% last season was a career high, and a repeat will make it very difficult for him to have success in LA, as Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier are among the worst defensive everyday left and centerfielders in baseball.

Instead of Garland and Padilla, I would’ve gone a different direction. For a fifth starter, I’m generally in favor of taking a bit of a risk, with the hope of getting strong production with a bit of luck, and the downside of turning a long reliever into a spot starter or calling up a prospect and giving him a shot if the risk doesn’t work out. With both Garland and Padilla, the Dodgers pretty much know what they’re going to get—nothing special, but a serviceable guy who can eat some innings. If I were the Dodgers, I’d prefer to go after Brandon Webb or Jeff Francis. Webb would be a little more expensive, but his world-class sinker consistently puts him among the top groundball pitchers in the league, and he’s the kind of guy who could pay off huge. Coincidentally, MLBTR just announced that Webb’s reached an agreement with the Rangers. My guess would be that this turns into a huge value buy for Texas.

Francis is a bit more under the radar, and after missing all of 2009 and the beginning of the 2010 season, he certainly has some question marks. However, I believe Francis showed last season after his return that he can get back to his pre-injury performance level. After his May 16 return, Francis started 19 games, and despite his ERA of 5.00, his 3.88 FIP and 3.94 xFIP were both career lows. He had the lowest walk rate of his career, with only 1.98 BB/9, and more importantly for the Dodgers he put up a career-high 47% GB rate. His traditional stats were hurt by his .322 BABIP and 64.5% strand rate, but assuming these regress to more normal levels, Francis could be a great value. He’ll need to stay healthy, which admittedly has been a huge problem for him, and retain the steps forward he’s taken in his underlying statistics, but Francis could have been the Perfect Pickup for the Dodgers. Instead, they’ll have to hope that either Garland or Padilla can stave off their continuing declines for at least another year.

Check back next time, when we’ll take a look at the Los Angeles Angels and look at additions that could help them supplement the return of Kendry Morales in improving a team that certainly underperformed expectations last season.

Friday, December 24, 2010

The Perfect Pickup: New York Mets

This one’s going to be a little unconventional, so bear with me. However, I think the Mets have already made their best possible move, despite only agreeing to two contracts with a total value of $3.8 million this offseason. No, DJ Carrasco and Ronny Paulino are not the Mets’ perfect pickups. However, the men that brought them into the fold, in my estimation, are the best additions the Mets’ could have made.

In September 2004, Omar Minaya took over as GM of the Mets after coming over from the Expos, where he had held the same position since 2002. In Montreal, Minaya made one of the worst trades in the history of professional baseball, sending prospects Cliff Lee, Brandon Phillips, Grady Sizemore, and Lee Stevens to the Indians in exchange for Bartolo Colon. Ouch.

Minaya did have some success in New York (notably, bringing in Johan Santana for Carlos Gomez, Phillip Humber, Kevin Mulvey, and Deolis Guerra), but he mostly made big free agent signings that didn’t pan out and set the farm system a couple steps back. Though they do have a few interesting prospects, the Mets don’t have the team to compete for an NL East title right now (especially with the Phillies’ addition of Cliff Lee), and they don’t appear to have much help on the way from their farm system. For the Mets, the most important goal of the offseason was to begin the process of building a club that can win consistently.

By hiring Sandy Alderson, the Mets did just that. Alderson is one of the most experienced and most well-qualified people in the world for the Mets’ GM job, having been the GM of the A’s from 1983 to 1997. Alderson built one of the strongest minor league systems in baseball during his time in Oakland, with Athletics rookies taking three consecutive AL Rookie of the Year awards in 1986 (Jose Canseco), 1987 (Mark McGwire), and 1988 (Walt Weiss). He also was a very important mentor for his successor, who was promoted from his job as assistant GM when Alderson left to work for the Commissioner’s office. The new GM was a guy named Billy Beane. Guessing you might’ve heard of him.

Alderson brought along with him two more well-respected executives, both former GMs, to assist him in rebuilding the franchise. JP Ricciardi, who worked with Alderson as a special assistant when Alderson was GM in Oakland, became Director of Player Personnel for the A’s when Alderson left. In 2002, Ricciardi left for Toronto to become the GM of the Blue Jays. He held that job until last offseason, when he was fired and replaced by Alex Anthopoulos. Ricciardi will hold the same job in New York that he had in Oakland, acting as a special assistant to Alderson.

Alderson also brought along an executive with whom he’d worked much more recently. Since leaving the Commissioner’s office in 2005, Alderson has acted as CEO of the Padres. It was there that he worked with Paul DePodesta, who moved to San Diego after his 2005 firing from the position of Dodgers GM. DePodesta was the Padres Special Assistant for Baseball Operations and was promoted to Executive Vice President in 2008. He worked closely with Alderson in San Diego, and will continue to do so as the Mets’ new Vice President of Player Development and Scouting.

The Mets haven’t made any big deals that signal that they’re on the way back up or that can help them become contenders for next year. There’s no incoming star or up-and-coming prospect that can singlehandedly save this team. However, by hiring three of the brightest and most well-respected minds in the business of baseball, the Mets have begun the process of climbing back to the top. If anyone can build a team to contend consistently and produce strong big-league results while strengthening the farm system and building a sustainable model for success, it’s Alderson, Ricciardi, and DePodesta; the Mets’ Perfect Pickups. Next time, we'll look at DePodesta's old team, the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

What To Watch For

So far, we’ve looked at the happenings in the offseason up to this point. Now, we’ll go through a few as-of-yet unresolved situations that will be interesting to watch as they play out over the remainder of the offseason.

Beltre, others remain unsigned
There are only a few top free agents remaining on the market, with Adrian Beltre foremost among them. The Angels have seemingly been Beltre’s most consistent suitors throughout the offseason, but earlier this week reports surfaced that the Halos’ had made their best offer to Beltre, at around 5 years and $70 million, then pulled that offer when Scott Boras decided to look elsewhere for employers for Beltre. The Angels are still considered the frontrunner for Beltre, but the Rangers and a number of other teams could still be in play. Other interesting free agents still on the market include Rafael Soriano, who has been connected to both the Angels and Rangers as well as Washington, Toronto, Baltimore, the Yankees, the White Sox, and others. My guess would be that the Angels will be out on Soriano after picking up Scott Downs and Hisanori Takahashi, but Soriano is still on a lot of different teams' radars. Finally, while the pitching market has thinned out considerably (and it didn’t exactly start strong), Carl Pavano remains unsigned and is currently the best option out there for teams looking for rotation help. The Twins remain the favorites to resign Pavano, but the Rangers, Pirates, and Nationals could also be in the mix, as were the Brewers before they acquired Zack Greinke. It will be especially interesting to see whether the Rangers and Angels try to make a splash later in the offseason, as both were expected to be big spenders (the Rangers in an attempt to keep Cliff Lee, and the Angels as suitors for big bats like Beltre and Carl Crawford) and neither have made any moves bigger than Los Angeles’ 3-year, $15 million deal for Scott Downs.

Matt Garza moving?
With the Greinke deal complete, Matt Garza of the Rays is now the most prominent starter rumored to be on the trading block. His name came up over and over again at the Winter Meetings, and with the free agent pitching market somewhat bare, teams that missed out on Cliff Lee and Greinke could (and likely have) come calling on Garza. He’s controllable until 2013, and while he doesn’t have the starpower of Lee or Greinke, he’s a young asset who wouldn’t put a huge dent in a team’s budget. The Cubs and Rangers have shown up quite a lot in Garza rumors, and the Nats have been in on just about every pitcher available this offseason, so Chicago, Texas, or Washington could be possible destinations for Garza. The Mets may also be involved.

Market for reclamation project starters remains in flux
Though most of the starting market has dried up, one group of potential high-upside starters remain unsigned. The large group of “reclamation projects,” guys with injury or consistency issues but a proven track record of strong major league performance, remains one of the most interesting stories of the offseason. The group, led by Brandon Webb, includes Jeff Francis, Erik Bedard, Justin Duchscherer, Chien-Ming Wang, Jeremy Bonderman, Chris Young, and others. So far, Bedard and Wang are only ones who have signed, inking a one-year, non-guaranteed contract. Expect the Rangers to be players for most of these high-upside starters, with teams attempting to sign them to short-term, incentive-laden deals. The Mets, Cardinals, Cubs, Pirates, and others could also get involved.

We’ll try to keep an eye on these stories as they get resolved. In the meantime, we’ll pick back up with the best free agent fits for each team as next time I’ll take a look at the New York Mets’ Perfect Pickup.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Catching Up (pt. 2)

Continuing on my post from Tuesday, we’re going to finish up on talking about some of the biggest storylines of the offseason. 

Greinke rumors abounded all offseason, with Royals GM Dayton Moore asking the world for his young ace and several other teams waiting for the price to come down to pull the trigger. Greinke even publicly requested a trade, weakening Moore's position somewhat. Finally, on December 20, Brewers GM Doug Melvin decided the price was right for him and picked up Greinke, Yuniesky Betancourt, and $2 million (to pay Betancourt’s 2012 buyout, should the Brewers decide not to pick up his $12 million club option) in return for outfielder Lorenzo Cain, shortstop Alcides Escobar, and righty starters Jeremy Jeffress and Jake Odorozzi. This seems like a pretty big bargain for Greinke, as none of the prospects going to KC are exactly blue-chip guys. The Brewers have added Grienke and Shaun Marcum this offseason, and they join a top three with Yovani Gallardo that immediately puts the Brewers right up with the Reds and Cardinals in the battle for supremacy in what should be a tightly contested NL Central. However, Yuniesky Betancourt is going to be their starting shortstop. Betancourt is probably the worst everyday shortstop in baseball, and he’s put up a total of –0.7 WAR in the last three years. Last year was his best of the three, with a 0.6 WAR. Not exactly what you’re looking for from your starting shortstop. In fact, as I write, MLBTR just announced that the Brewers have resigned Craig Counsell. Counsell could split time with Betancourt, but the exact share or how that situation will shake out will probably not be decided until at least spring training.

The AL Central opens its wallets
While the Royals sold, the Tigers and White Sox bought big in an effort to catch up to the defending division champion Twins. The Tigers added Victor Martinez for 4 years and $50 million, Joaquin Benoit for 3 years at $16.5 million, and resigned both Jhonny Peralta and Magglio OrdoƱez. Meanwhile, the Sox added Adam Dunn for 4 years and $56 million and resigned Paul Konerko for another 3 years and $37.5 million. The Sox are fourth and the Tigers sixth in overall free agent spending so far this offseason, populating the top six along with leader Boston and Washington, Philly, and the Yankees.

The relief market goes nuts
So far this offseason, 10 relievers have signed multiyear deals, including four for three seasons. The market was set by the aforementioned Benoit contract with the Tigers, and since then Scott Downs, Jesse Crain, and Matt Guerrier have all signed for three years, with Rafael Soriano still on the market. The last time more than two relievers signed for 3+ years was 2007, so this represents a relief market very much in free agents’ favor.

Jeter and Rivera remain in pinstripes
Though negotiations got a little interesting in both cases, Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera both agreed to stay with the Yankees organization for multiple years, with Jeter signing back on for $17 million per year over three years and Rivera getting two years at $15 million per. The Jeter negotiations seemed at first like they would be fairly smooth, but in late November it was revealed that the Yankees and Jeter were far apart. Brian Cashman offered Jeter 3 years and $45 million, Jeter’s agent believed he could get much more, and Cashman suggested that he test the market in an attempt to do just that. Unsurprisingly, there wasn’t anyone willing to pay Jeter nearly as much as he wanted, and eventually Jeter and agent Casey Close agreed to sign a slightly improved Yankees offer.

Next time, I’ll take a look at a few storylines to watch for in the remainder of the offseason, including the few remaining big-name free agents, the Matt Garza trade market, and the suitors for the many reclamation project starters still available. 

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Catching Up

Wow. Glad to be back after a stressful few weeks of finals preparation. I’m stoked to get back to writing on a regular basis, and I can’t wait to delve into what I believe has been one of the most exciting and unpredictable offseasons in recent history. I’m going to take the next few days to run down some of the bigger deals before we return to our regularly scheduled programming. These deals have already been thoroughly dissected by the most well-respected and widely read minds in the baseball blogosphere, so I’ll just take you through each deal quickly and give you my two cents.

This one caught me by surprise as much as it did pretty much everybody else. My first reaction was that I’m extremely glad he turned down so much money to do what he knows will be best for himself and his family. If he doesn’t want to play for the Yankees, he shouldn’t let any amount of money convince him to sell his soul. That said, the tens of millions he let go are a pretty unprecedented number, so MLBPA wasn’t exactly happy about that. Whatever. Lee immediately turns the Phillies from a strong playoff contender to one of a few World Series favorites, with a top four that could challenge the mid-90s Braves as one of the best rotations of all time. Of course, they’ll have to stay healthy and effective, but any team with Halladay, Lee, Oswalt, and Cole Hamels is going to have a chance to shut down any other ballclub on any given day.

Perhaps the second most surprising free agent move of the offseason was Jayson Werth becoming one of the first big-name players to sign. I had predicted the Nats would make a splash (although I had them going after Lee) and GM Mike Rizzo paid the big money to pick up Werth to man right field for the foreseeable future. Werth’s deal was surprisingly large and has set the stage for one of the most player-friendly free agent markets in recent memory, with pretty much every player getting more money and/or more years than most people predicted. This contract is the same as the ones Barry Zito and Vernon Wells received. The Nats will be hoping Werth doesn't go the way of those two.

Crawford’s signing surprised me in that, like almost everyone else, I believed the Werth contract would have much more impact on the amount of money Crawford was able to get. After Werth agreed with the Nationals, predictions for Crawford’s value jumped, with some believing he could get in excess of 10 years or $180 million plus. This contract was more in line with what I figured he’d get at the beginning of the offseason, so the top end of the market may not have adjusted as much as it did for lower-tier guys. The only question for the Sox will be whether playing Crawford in front of the Green Monster will sap some of his defensive value. My guess would be that it will. It’ll be interesting to see what they do about that.

The trade that everyone sorta knew was coming finally happened, after Padres’ GM Jed Hoyer pulled the trigger, sending Gonzalez to Beantown in exchange for Anthony Rizzo, Casey Kelly, Reymond Fuentes, and Eric Patterson. Gonzalez to Boston just made too much sense not to happen. He’s a strong defender and fits well in Fenway, especially considering the great 145 doubles factor for lefties, according to Statcorner.com. He’s put up 176 doubles over the past 5 seasons, and getting out of cavernous Petco Park will certainly lead to a few more home runs as well. He’s been a premier home run hitter for the last few seasons, putting up more than  30 home runs in every year since 2007 and topping out at 40 in 2009. With the move to Boston, Gonzalez could push his total into the 40s and may even have a shot to challenge for the league lead. This trade was reported to be done, then fell apart over Boston's inability to successfully negotiate a contract extension with Gonzalez. Boston GM Theo Epstein eventually decided to pull the trigger anyway, with the hope that they can extend Gonzalez in the near future. 

We’ve still got a ton more to cover, including the Greinke trade, the relief market, Victor Martinez, Mark Reynolds, Dan Uggla, and others. It’s been a crazy offseason and I can’t wait to see how the rest shakes out. I’ll discuss that in my next post.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Time Off

I'll be taking a bit of time off to concentrate on my final exams and projects. Should be back to a normal posting schedule in about two weeks. Sorry for the inconvenience, and enjoy the hot stove until I return!