Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Free agents

  • Johnny Damon signed a 4-year, $52 million deal with the Yankees. This is a pretty big loss for Boston, who are now looking for a center fielder and a shortstop (since trading Renteria). As Rob Neyer points out, though, Damon's numbers have experienced a nice boost from Fenway. Over his 4 seasons in Boston, Damon hit 383/442/310 at Fenway, and 342/440/281 away from home. This doesn't mean that he'll hit that poorly at Yankee Stadium; but don't look for Damon to be the big-time hitter he was at Fenway. He's also 32 years old, which means that his defense in center field and his stolen bases will be declining. Don't get me wrong; Damon is a good idea for center field, much better than anyone else out there. He'll probably be worth the money over the first year or two, but not for the back end of the contract. Of course, that's been true of EVERY contract signed so far this off-season. The Sox are stuck in a pretty good hole without Damon; I've heard it suggested that they trade for Corey Patterson, but that's seriously laughable. Patterson isn't worth the price it would take to get him; the Sox would be better off coming up with a creative solution in center. What will likely happen is this; the Yankees will be the best team in the East in 2006, maybe by a fair margin. But they'll be dealing with a fair amount of financial obligations in the future, whereas the Red Sox will have the option of rebuilding from within. Although the odds of Red Sox fans being remotely patient enough to sit this one out is non-existent. I can look out my window and practically see the vitriol spewing from New England, especially if (when) the Sox finish second to the Yanks again this year. The Sox are partly responsible for ending up in the situation they're in; they've made some really questionable moves. But the fact that they're not throwing millions of dollars around to hide their mistakes is a really good sign.
  • The Cubs signed Jacque Jones to a contract. He'll likely play left field, although I'm not really sure who's going to be where in that outfield. Jones has good power, but as Neyer points out in the same article, the Cubs aren't exactly short on power. What the Cubs do not need is another guy who hits some home runs, strikes out all the time and never walks. Jones' OBP over the past two seasons combined is .317, a dreadful number for someone in an AL hitter's park. The Cubs will likely get 20+ homers from him, but he won't hit any more than .270 or draw more than 40 or so walks. He's also, at 30 years old, not getting any better. This is what happens when you wait around for the free agent market to empty. You're left with gaping holes to fill with players like Jones.
  • On a similar note, the Cardinals signed Sidney Ponson. When not punching judges in Aruba or getting a DUI, Ponson in 2005 posted a 6.21 ERA in 130.1 IP. This is after a 2004 season where his ERA was a mere 5.30. Ponson is 29, and he's simply not going to be the pitcher people thought he was. Not only is he a below-average pitcher (4.81 career ERA) with a poor strikeout rate (about 120 per 200 innings), but he's also coming off some pretty serious personal problems. The Cardinals would have been much better off signing a no-name place-filler or just bringing someone up from the farm system.
  • Alfonso Soriano has again reiterated that he's not moving to the outfield. He also claims that he's going to wait and become a free agent and sign on with an AL team after this season. Gee, Jim Bowden, maybe you should have checked a little closer before you actually made this trade? If Bowden thought he could talk Soriano into shifting into the outfield, he was dead wrong, and should have been absolutely CERTAIN of this before he made the bone-headed trade in the first place. Not only that, but Soriano will be a real popular guy in Washington now that he says he doesn't want to play there. Any hopes of signing him to a long-term deal are apparently useless now, and he sure as hell can't trade him to any NL team. Trading for Soriano as an outfielder was a bad idea. If he ends up playing (read: "butchering") second base, it will be an even dumber move. Bowden is left with a front-page attitude problem and an incumbent second baseman (All-Star Jose Vidro) who has to be wondering who he pissed off to get treated like this. Well done, Jimbo.
  • The Dodgers are starting to look like the Yankees west. They signed Kenny Lofton to play center field, which isn't such a bad move, except that Lofton is getting older and is best used in a reserve/pinch hitting capacity. Not only that, but they signed Nomar Garciaparra. Nobody knows where Nomar's going to play, although Peter Gammons speculates that it will be at first base. I'm flummoxed as to what this deal was about. The Dodgers already have a first-base platoon in Hee Seop Choi and Olmedo Saenz which is cheap and effective if not spectacular. Nomar hits well for a shortstop, but his offense isn't sufficient for first base. Not only does that leave Choi and Saenz out in the cold, it further confuses an already confused lineup. The Dodgers have a lot of players, but no one really knows who's going to play where. They signed Rafael Furcal to play shortstop, which is great, except that they already had Cesar Izturis. Izturis can't hit like Furcal, so I thought he might shift to second, with Jeff Kent playing first. Now that they've signed Nomar, I don't know what the hell's going on. I'm not at all convinced that the Dodgers are doing anything but throwing money around in order to look like they're a better team. It's amazing how often that happens, even though it rarely works. It's been said that the McCourts, who own the Dodgers, are very headline-conscious. This offseason bears that out, as they've gone after all the pretty toys in the free agent bin, ignoring the fact that they have a lot of young players who now have noplace to play, and a pitching staff that needed an upgrade much more than the lineup did.
  • The Rangers and Padres completed a confusing trade: The Rangers sent young pitcher Chris Young, minor league first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, and outfielder Terrmel Sledge to San Diego in exchange for Adam Eaton, Akinori Otsuka and a prospect. Eaton was a good minor league prospect, but has yet to pitch well at all in the majors. He's 28 years old, and his ERAs and strikeout rates show someone who's about as mediocre as his numbers appear. For some reason, though, the Rangers still wanted him. Otsuka is a good reliever, and the Rangers need that. But I don't get why they trade one young pitcher (Young) for an older, less effective pitcher in Eaton. Sure, Eaton is more "established," but I thought being established was only a good thing when you were, you know, good. Chris Young, the pitcher the Rangers gave up, had as good a season in 2005 as anything Eaton's ever done. His ERA was 4.26, but 1) he pitched in hitter-happy Texas, and 2) his strikeout rate (137 K in 164.2 IP) indicates that he's better than that. Not only that, but Young is younger (just 26) and cheaper than Eaton. Not only that, but the Rangers also gave up a pretty good 23-year-old slugging prospect in Adrian Gonzalez. So the Rangers traded away a good, cheap, young pitcher for an older, more expensive, less effective pitcher? I'd like to think that the Rangers aren't so dumb that they can't see past the ends of their noses, but this trade doesn't bode well for any optimism in that regard.
  • The Mariners signed Jarrod Washburn to a 4-year deal. This is good news for Seattle. Washburn isn't going to win any Cy Young Awards, but he's a fairly young and relatively cheap part of the starting rotation who is twice as dependable as some of the bigger-name pitchers.
  • The Diamondbacks traded pitcher Javier Vazquez to the Chicago White Sox. As Matthew Perry might say, could the White Sox have any more pitchers? They've got a pretty dynamite rotation in Buehrle-Garcia-Garland-Contreras-Vazquez, with young Brandon McCarthy waiting in the wings. That's nice, but could you get some offense, too? The Sox need a good dose of OBP more than they need a pitcher in mid-career crisis. Not only that, but Vazquez asked for a trade from Arizona to be closer to his family on the east coast. Well, I guess Chicago is closer than Arizona, but it may not be what he had in mind. And wouldn't it be a bit embarassing if Vazquez calls GM Kenny Williams and says, "I don't know what maps you've been looking at, but I asked for a trade to the east coast."
  • The White Sox signed catcher A.J. Pierzynski to a 3-year contract extension. I'm sorry, but Pierzynski just isn't that good. The Sox are going off of the Postseason Halo Effect, with Pierzynski mooching a lot of credit for the success of the pitching staff. Maybe the Sox were amazed by his performance on the NWA-TNA pay-per-view.
  • The Royals signed free agent pitcher Scott Elarton, second baseman Mark Grudzielanek, and first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz. Okay, this is why the Royals completely suck. They get some money in the off-season and, instead of spending it wisely, they buy about 3 or 4 bottom-of-the-barrel free agents. The free agents do nothing, and it turns out the Royals would have been much better off investing in their farm system. The Royals are like somebody at the mall with a gift card about to expire. "Well, we have to spend it on something! But instead of buying one nice thing, let's buy about 15 really crappy things."

That's a little harsh, but essentially true. Stay tuned for the 1962 NL Expansion: Astros and Mets.

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