Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Options ...

As promised, a team-by-team look at the options still pending for 2007. Should they be exercised? Will they be exercised? Read on.
All contract information courtesy of the invaluable Cot's Baseball Contracts website.

Mike Mussina, Yankees
2007 Age: 38
2007 Option: $17 mil. club option
While I respect Mike Mussina as much as the next guy, it's hard to find any pitcher worth $17 million. Hell, there aren't many players at all worth $17 mil. Not only is Mussina a high-salaried pitcher, he was (in 2005) the highest-paid pitcher in baseball. Only four position players earned more (A-Rod, Bonds, Manny, and Jeter).
Is it even remotely possible that Mussina is worth bank-breaking dough? No. And while I respect Mussina a ton, as any man with a 237-132 lifetime record deserves, he's just not worth that much money, especially at an age of great injury risk.
I think the Yankees should decline his option and try to negotiate a new contract.
BUT I think the Yankees will pick it up. I'm not really sure, but this sounds like just the kind of desperation move the Yankees would make. It's true that they do need starting pitching, and it's also true that Mussina's been their best, most reliable starter this year. But "Moose" fought injury troubles in 2004 and 2005, and it's more than likely that they'll resurface next year; his top-notch, healthy performance this year is a surprise not likely to be repeated. But that doesn't mean that the Yanks won't act out of desperation, especially since it would be a bad PR move to non-tender your best pitcher, a pitcher who's starting to build a strong Hall-of-Fame case. Determining whether or not the Yankees pick up the option will let us know how much the team is really in Brian Cashman's control. Because if the option gets picked up, it will smell of the influence of George Steinbrenner.
Gary Sheffield, Yankees
2007 Age: 38
2007 Option: $13 mil. club option
Is Gary Sheffield worth $13 million? That's a tough question. If he hits like he did in 2004 (290/393/534 in 154 games) and 2005 (291/379/512 in 154 games), then yes, absolutely. But this year, Sheffield's eternally nagging injuries finally caught up with him, causing him to miss most of the season. Despite a well-earned reputation for being difficult, Sheffield is not as brittle as his reputation. Before 2006, he had played at least 130 games in every full season since 1992 (he played 87 and 63 games, respectively, in the strike-shortened 1994 and 1995 seasons).
But the truth is that Sheffield's uncanny durability in the first two years of his Yankee deal was disguising pain that, while it did not disable him, has built up to a point where he had to miss most the year this year, and will likely limit him to playing first base and DH for the rest of his career. If we're gambling on whether Sheffield will be healthy and productive in 2007 or whether he will be injured, I think we'd have to guess injured. This isn't even considering the fact that he's entering the twilight of his career, a time when injuries tend to increase dramatically and plate production tends to decrease. That and the fact that the Yankees have effectively replaced him with the Bobby Abreu trade leads me to think that Sheffield's $13 million would be best spent on pitching.
I think that the Yankees should decline Sheffield's option. This will make him even crankier than he already is, and would likely make him unwilling to negotiate a new contract in New York. But with Bobby Abreu entrenched in right field and Jason Giambi stuck at 1B/DH, the Yankees would be much better off spending that money on pitching. The 2006 success of their pitching staff could very well be illusory: Mike Mussina is turning 38, Randy Johnson is turning 43 (!!), Mariano Rivera is turning 37, and the rest of the staff is populated by tricky youngsters (Wang, Farnsworth), and overpaid injury risks (Wright, Pavano).
AND I think the Yankees will decline Sheffield's option. I can't say this for certain; if there's any mistake the Yankees can be predicted to make, it's the mistake of spending too much money, and on the wrong people. But the cantankerous Sheffield may force the issue, especially since he hasn't done anything this year to justify further expenditure.

Mariano Rivera, Yankees
2007 Age: 37
2007 Option: $10.5 mil. club option*
* -- option is guaranteed with 60 GF in '06 or 114 GF in '05-'06

GF stands for "Games Finished." If I'm reading the contract correctly, Rivera's option year has already vested; he's finished 122 games in '05-'06 and has 55 so far this year (he'll easily make 60). This is good news; not only would the Yankees have picked up this year in a heartbeat, they absolutely should. Rivera is getting older, and can no longer be called the greatest closer in the game with absolute certainty. But you know what? He probably still is the game's greatest closer and considering Rivera's status as a Yankee icon, the Yanks would have to have a really good reason to get rid of him. He's given them no such reason; he's a Hall-of-Famer who's still pitching like one, even at his age.

Jorge Posada, Yankees
2007 Age: 35
2007 Option: $12 mil. club option*
* -- option is guaranteed with 330 games as catcher from 2004-2006

According to Posada's Baseball Prospectus DT Card, he's caught 377 games from 2004-2006, and will catch another month's worth this year. So the option has vested. It's not a bad thing at all. While you could certainly argue that Posada and his poor defense aren't worth $12 million, it's important to note a) the going rate for a catcher who can hit like an All-Star these days, b) the dearth of good catchers on the free agent market, and c) the absence of anyone in the Yankee farm system ready to carry Posada's jock strap, let alone take over his job. Yes, it's overpaying, but it's the Yankees; they can afford it.

Before we move on, I just have to point out some of the peculair nuggets contained in the Alex Rodriguez Contract from Hell. Note:

  • A-Rod's contract was for 10 years and $252 million.
  • From 2001-2004, his annual salary was $21 mil./year; from 2005-2006, it was $25 mil./yr. And from 2007 through 2010, A-Rod will break all records by earning $27 million per year.
  • He may opt out of the contract after 2007 (!) unless he gets an $8 mil./yr. raise, or $1 mil. more than the MLB's highest-paid player. What a vanity clause! Considering that, seven years later, A-Rod is still the game's highest-paid player, I doubt he'll exercise this clause, which would require opting out of a $27 million annual salary from age 33 through 35.
  • He has a no-trade clause, which he waived to come to New York in the 2003-4 offseason.
  • He gets a $100,000 All-Star incentive, plus a bonus for every MVP award. He got $500,000 for taking the award in 2003 and a cool million for his 2005 nod.
  • One year into the deal, A-Rod agreed to defer $45 million of his salary to 2011-2020 at 3% interest (the rate was later reduced). How generous of A-Rod to save the team money in the short term in exchange for a 10-year pension.
  • The Rangers, upon trading A-Rod, agreed to pay $67 million of the remaining $179 of A-Rod's salary. So the Yankees are really only on the hook for about 2/3 of what A-Rod makes; the Rangers paid him 1/3 of his contract just to go away.
  • A-Rod's agent is, of course, Scott Boras.

The only thing more amazing than a con man is the ignorant marks he takes advantage of.

Curt Schilling, Red Sox
2007 Age: 40
2007 Option: $13 mil. club option*
* -- option is guaranteed if the Red Sox win the World Series

I mentioned this earlier, but yes, Schilling's option was guaranteed if the Sox reversed the curse. They did, and now the Sox will be paying a 40-year old $13 million. To be fair, Schilling has made a great comeback from injuries in 2006 so far, and the Red Sox do need dominant starting pitching, more perhaps than they need anything else. But Schilling is quite a risk to give it to them. Again, however, it's the Red Sox, and they can afford to overpay almost as much as the Yankees can.

Keith Foulke, Red Sox
2007 Age: 34
2007 Option: $7.5 mill. club option ($1.5 mill. buyout) or $3.75 mill. player option

This is why everyone cringed when the Blue Jays signed B.J. Ryan to a record-breaking contract for a closer. Even a closer who looks like the most reliable guy around is still subject to the violent wheel of fortune surrounding relief pitchers. After helping the Sox to World Series victory in 2004, Foulke tried to pitch through injuries in 2005, and the results were disastrous (5.91 ERA). They were perhaps even more disasatrous for his long-term future, as he has failed to get back his rhythm even in 2006 (5.63 ERA, 9 HR allowed in 38.1 IP). Considering Foulke's recent past, combined with the fact that 34-year-olds tend to get more injury-prone and less effective, I seriously doubt the will plunk down $7.5 million to a guy whose career is completely off the tracks, and might be essentially over.
I think the Red Sox absolutely should not pick up Foulke's option, unless there's some great medical prognosis or statistical bias that I'm missing.
AND I think the Red Sox won't pick it up. The Sox have already replaced Foulke as closer, and even they can't take such a high-level risk with such little prospect of return. If Foulke could turn himself around, he might be a steal for some team willing to sign him to an incentive-laden 1-year deal. But even that is a long shot for a 34-year-old injury risk.

The Sox also have a $3.5 million mutual option for Jason Johnson (6.35 ERA), but my guess is that they'll decline their option and buy out Johnson's (for $500,000). Johnson's a great guy to have for a minor-league deal, or a low-end incentive-laden major league deal, but he's nobody you want to commit $3.5 million to, especially when you've got several good young starters on the cusp of establishing themselves in the majors. Ditto for Rudy Seanez ($2.1 mill. club option) and his 4.82 ERA.

The Toronto Blue Jays have a 2007 option on catcher Bengie Molina, but I don't think it merits the full-screen discussion. While Molina (277/312/441 this yera) is a good guy to have around, he's not nearly worth $7.5 million. I doubt the Blue Jays would disagree, desperate though they may be for a catcher.

The Baltimore Orioles and Tampa Bay Devil Rays don't have any option years pending for 2007.


The Detroit Tigers don't have any option years pending for 2007.

Mark Buehrle, White Sox
2007 Age: 28
2007 Option: $9.5 million club option ($1 million buyout)

Buehrle had never really had a bad year before; I guess he was due. After being one of the most reliable and top-notch starters in baseball since 2001, Buehrle is suffering through a 2006 that has seen his ERA balloon to 4.71, with peripherals to suggest that it's not a fluke, namely a big drop in his strikeout rate.
That being said, Buehrle is just 28 years old; finally, we have someone on the right side of 30 on this list! Unless there's some underlying mechanical or health problem I'm not aware of, then there's every reason to expect Buehrle to bounce back in the future. $9.5 million isn't a lot to ask for a pitcher who is regularly among the 10 best starters in the league, and sometimes among the top 3. He has thrown a lot of pitches and logged a lot of innings as a young man, but until that clearly manifests itself physically, we have to assume that Buehrle is just having an off-year.
I think the White Sox should exercise Buehrle's option.
AND I think the Sox will do just that. I'm sure they're well aware of everything I've said here, that plus the fact that Buehrle is the longest-tenured current Sox, a team institution, and a just plain ol' valuable guy to have, and I don't see why Kenny Williams would decline this option. The only reason would be if there is something more significant to Buehrle's bad 2006 than is readily apparent. The more realistic interpretation is that Williams is weighing his options and likely discussing a multi-year extension.

Jermaine Dye, White Sox
2007 Age: 33
2007 Option: $6 million club option

When discussing the good moves Kenny Williams has made, the Jermaine Dye contract is often overlooked. Having suffered a broken leg in Oakland that nearly ruined his days as a productive hitter, Williams took a flyer on Dye, on the hopes that he would be able to hit like he used to. He did just that in 2005, and this year is having a career year even by his standards, hitting 326/391/649 and garnering attention in the MVP race. And he did that for $4 million last year, and a bare $5 million this year, a true steal. But even if Dye hits more like his usual, 2005 self (274/333/512) next year, he's still worth $6 million, easily.
I think the White Sox should pick up Dye's option.
AND I think they will do just that. I can't imagine the Sox turning down the reigning World Series MVP, who will finish in the top 10 of the MVP voting (and maybe even top 5). It's a career year, yes, but he's worth it, and I think Kenny Williams knows it.

Tadahito Iguchi, White Sox
2007 Age: 32
2007 Option: $3.25 million 2007 option

I think Iguchi is one of the most overrated players out there. He gets by on a reputation for being a real "gamer," but he has a career hitting line of 279/340/422 in the AL's best hitter's park. That's not too bad for a second baseman, but one with Iguchi's defensive shortcomings isn't doing his team any favors. Iguchi managed an abysmal -14 Fielding Runs Above Average in 2005, and then proved his bad defense wasn't a fluke with -13 so far this year.
But, having said all of that, everyday second basemen don't grow on trees, especially nowadays. While Iguchi may be ripe for a trade to some goof, the Sox may be just better off keeping him for the relatively cheap price of $3.25 million. $3 million isn't bad at all for an everyday player who won't embarass you. I'm not familiar with the White Sox' organizational depth chart, but I don't think they have anybody in their farm system even remotely ready to step in as a big-league second baseman. The Sox should pick up Iguchi's option (a popular choice, since most South Siders haven't yet grasped his mediocrity -- yes, that means you, Ken Harrelson), live with his moderate production, and turn your attention elsewhere. And if the right deal comes along where you can get a good upgrade at the position, the White Sox can just move him along.
I think the White Sox should exercise Iguchi's option.
AND I think they will. Baboons like Harrelson have led South Siders to believe that Iguchi is something special. No need to offend them by suggesting otherwise.

Dustin Hermanson also has a 2007 option with the Sox, but my understanding is that injuries have essentially ended his career and forced him to retire.

Torii Hunter, Twins
2007 Age: 31
2007 Option: $12 mill. club option ($2 mill. buyout)

Speaking of overrated, we have Hunter. The Twins will almost certainly decline Hunter's 2007 option, but that's because they're cheap, not because they think he's overrated. Still, while Hunter is a good center fielder, he's not the Greek God suggested by his flashy catches (although the league seems to have fallen for that one). He's really an average hitter (.268 career batting average, .323 career OBP) who makes up for it somewhat with good power. Notice, though I said "good" power; not "great" power. Hunter averages a little over 20 homers a year, which is fine for a good-fielding center fielder.
But how much of Hunter's power will survive his move out of the Metrodome? If he were to end up in (god forbid) Dodger Stadium, his 20+ HR power would become 15-HR power. So unless Hunter signs to play in another hitter-friendly ballpark (Arlington would be a nice fit), he's likely to end up as an average or slightly above-average hitter. Add in good-but-not-astounding defense and low stolen base numbers completely cancelled out by his times caught stealing, and you've got something less than the perennial All-Star many commentators think he is. Some team desperate for a center fielder will problem convince themselves he's as good as Johnny Damon and sign him to a big-time contract. He's not as good as Johnny Damon; in fact, he's about the 5th-best center fielder in the league -- in a good year. Don't get me wrong, that's a valuable thing to have, and I don't mean to keep dismissing Hunter's defense, which is good, but this guy isn't worth $12 million a year. Not by a LONG shot.
I think the Twins should decline his option.
AND I think they will, but just because they're cheap bastards; not because they can see Hunter's shortcomings.

Luis Castillo, Twins
2007 Age: 31
2007 Option: $5.75 mill. club option ($500,000 buyout)

Castillo is usually a dependable source of good batting averages and good defense. And while I can't speak for his defense, his batting average has mostly deserted him this year. A move from cavernous Dolphins Stadium to the Metrodome didn't help Castillo even a little, even though his offense is entirely power-less.
With a player like Castillo, they have to hit for a high batting average, because that's all they do at the plate. Castillo will draw a decent number of walks a year, so that if he hits about .310 or .320, he's a valuable hitter, even with 0, 1, or 2 home runs. But when he's hitting .294 (as he is this year), with a 294/349/372 batting line, that's just awful, even for a second baseman. He helps make up for it with defense and a few steals (just 20 this year, nowhere near his career-high 62 back in 2000).
Therefore Castillo is something less than a promising investment for 2007. It's possible that his batting average will bounce back, but it's also true that his defense and base-stealing prowess are on the way down. Hell, his steals, once his calling card, are pretty much gone already; his 20-for-27 (74%) performance this year adds almost nothing to the team's offense.
It's true that everyday second basemen are hard to find, as I said before. But considering that Castillo's salary calls for $5.75 mill. next year, I just don't think it's worth it. If the Twins were desperate, maybe; but the Twins have several guys like Jason Bartlett and Nick Punto; cheap guys you can plug into an infield spot and get only marginally worse production than you can from Castillo. I'll take Nick Punto for half a million over Castillo and his $5 3/4 mill.
I think the Twins shouldn't pick up Castillo's option. (I'll admit right now the possibility that Castillo will bounce back, hit .330 next year, and make me look like a fool. But that's a risk I'm willing to take).
BUT I think they will. The Twins are just the sort of team that overvalues defense. They don't so much overvalue stolen bases as they undervalue the negative effect of getting caught. Castillo is the sort of player the Twins like even when other teams rightfully see him as marginal, at least at this point in his career. The biggest thing that would keep the Twins from renewing his option is money.

Rondell White, Twins
2007 Age: 35
2007 Option: Vesting Option: vests at $3 mil. with 400 PAs in 2006, vests at $8 mil. with 650 PAs each in 2006 and 2007

This is pretty complicated; basically, if White stayed in the lineup, he would get a pretty good option for 2007. But White hasn't stayed in the lineup; when he hasn't been injured, he's been awful(214/241/296). So far this year, he has 270 PAs (plate appearances). It's an impossibility for White to get 130 PAs in the last four weeks of the season, especially considering his awful play. So the 2007 will not be vesting, making White a free agent.

Also, the Twins have Carlos Silva under contract, with a $4 mill. club option in 2007 ($100,000 buyout). But Silva has yet to play six full seasons in the majors, so he's still under the Twins' control, even if the option is declined. It would just mean that the club would either have to sign him to a new contract, go to salary arbitration, or decline to tender him a contract, making him a free agent. I don't know if the club will pick up the option or not, but I'm thinking yes; awful though Silva's been this year, you'd rather take him for $4 million than risk arbitration.

Aaron Boone, Indians
2007 Age: 34
2007 Option: $3.75 mill. mutual option

1. Aaron Boone has become a very poor player.
2. The Indians have one of the game's top prospects, Andy Marte, ready to take over at third.
3. Refer back to Numbers 1 & 2.

The Indians really like signing up players to long-term contracts while they're still under their control. So while the club has options on Jake Westbrook ($5.6 mill.) and Casey Blake ($3.75 mill.), they're in the same situation as Silva; even if the team declines the options, the player is still with the Indians. They'll just have to come to terms on another deal. And my guess would be that both players will see their options picked up.

The Kansas City Royals don't have any option years pending for 2007. The only one they did have was a $3 million option on second baseman Mark Grudzielanek. But instead of exercising the option, the Royals signed the decidedly non-spectacular second baseman to an entirely new contract for 2007 for $4 million, with an option for 2008. Can't say as I understand that one.


The Oakland Athletics don't have any option years pending for 2007.

J.C. Romero, Angels
2007 Age: 31
2007 Option: $2.75 mill. club option

Romero is probably the most random name on the list. It's not enough teams feel so generous to lefty relief specialists that they grant them option years. Romero played his role well in Minnesota, but he's been awful his one year in L.A. (7.13 ERA in 41.2 IP, 25:30 BB:K ratio). I don't know what the Angels will do about the option. It depends on whether Romero is injured or not, or whether this is just a bump in the road. It also depends on Romero's relationship with management, which hasn't always been rosy. We'll see what happens.

The only options the Texas Rangers have pending are to reliever Ron Mahay and backup catcher Miguel Ojeda. Mahay is a nice relief arm to have around, but it's hard to imagine why the Rangers felt the need for a $1.75 million insurance policy for 2007. The idea of an option year for Miguel Ojeda isn't too bad. If you pick up his option, he pays you money. But I understand the Rangers have it working the other way around, actually paying money ($500,000) to keep Ojeda around, which puzzles me.

Eduardo Perez, Mariners
2007 Age: 37
2007 Option: $1.5 mill. club option

Perez is a nice player to have on your roster, but again I wonder why the team felt the need to add an option year to such a player; an old guy with a severe platoon split who can kill left-handed pitching. Not a bad guy, as I said, but since most pitching in the majors is right-handed, that can throw a wrench in the works. It should be noted that the contract was signed by the Indians; Perez (and his contract) were traded to Seattle early this year.
I think the Mariners shouldn't pick up the option.
BUT I think they will. Perez's reputation as a lefty-killer has finally caught up with him, just in time for his career to come to a close. Ironic.

I'll be back tomorrow with the National League and all the goodies contained therein.

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