Sunday, September 10, 2006

NL Options

So a day turned into a week. My apologies. In regards to my last entry, Dustin Hermanson is far from retired -- he's back pitching with the White Sox. And Casey Blake's option, which I was all but certain the Indians would pick up -- is apparently a "foregone conclusion" to be denied, according to Baseball Prospectus' Christina Kahrl. When in doubt, trust the BP writers before you trust me. I guess I need to keep my ear a little closer to the ground.
Also, please excuse the cramped nature of this and several previous entries. I try to separate paragraphs or segments with a space, but they disappear whenever I post the entry. Isn't Blogger just a dream?
Onward. (Salary figures again courtesy of Cot's Baseball Contracts).

John Smoltz, Braves
2007 Age: 40
2007 Option: $8 mil. club option
Smoltz has been frustrated with the Braves, because Atlanta management has yet to make a decision regarding his 2007 option. It's uncharacteristic for Smoltz to speak out against the club, equally so to make statements to the effect that he doesn't feel obligated to finish his career in Atlanta anymore.
Why have the Braves taken their time? That's a tough question. The obvious answer is that the Braves aren't sure yet whether they want to go for it in 2007, or take a more conservative approach and build their young team for 2008 and later. If they take the latter approach, then there would be little reason to pay $8 million to a 40-year-old.
However, the Braves haven't shown any indication yet that they're ready to give up on 2006, let alone 2007. Even after every reasonable person had given them up, the Braves were still trading for talent, acquiring questionable properties like Danys Baez (2nd in the NL in blown saves) and Daryle Ward late in the season. So it's hard to reconcile both sides of the team's behavior.
My two cents is that if the Braves stand a chance to contend in 2007 (and considering the sorry state of the NL, they just might), they should pick up the option. Not only would getting rid of Smoltz be a big PR nightmare, it would also hurt the team in its most vulnerable spot: starting pitching. For all the attention and hoopla given to the Braves' struggling bullpen, their starters have been nearly as awful, with the sole exception of Smoltz. If the Braves are willing to limit his innings and keep him around until September, he's pitched well enough to earn his $8 mil.
I think the Braves should pick up Smoltz's option.
And I think they ultimately will. For a team that prides itself on "heart" and "tradition," like the Braves do, it would be a big surprise for them to make such a ruthlessly cost-cutting move. Unless they decide to give up on 2007, or unless the messy transfer of ownership causes them to lower payroll, I think they'll keep Smoltz around.
The Florida Marlins don't have any options pending for 2007.
Tom Glavine, Mets
2007 Age: 41
2007 Option: $5.5 mil. player option ($3 mil. buyout) increases by $1 mil. for 180, 190, and 200 IP in 2006.;
$12 mil. club option ($3 mil. buyout) increases by $2 mil. for 180 IP in 2006
Glavine has thrown 172 innings so far this year. He's scheduled to make about 3 or 4 more starts this season, maybe less if the Mets decide to rest him for the playoffs. I'll pencil him in for about 190 IP, but less than 200. This means that his player option will bump up to $7.5 mil and his team option to $14 mil.
That's a whole lot of money to spend on a 41-year-old pitcher. Glavine is as durable and reliable as they come, and although he's not as effective as he used to be, 200 innings of a 4.00 ERA is nothing to sneeze at, even in the National League. That said, there's no way Glavine is worth $14 million. Even though starting pitching is probably the Mets' biggest weakness going forward, they'd be much better off spending that money on Barry Zito or Jason Schmidt than on Glavine.
I think the club should decline his option.
And my guess is that the club will decline their option. I don't know what kind of money Glavine would fetch on the open market, but I imagine he would pick up his $7.5 mil. player option and stay in New York in his pursuit of 300 wins. He has 288 right now, and New York would give him the run support to easily notch the 10 or 12 necessary next year to reach the milestone.
Jamie Moyer, Phillies
2007 Age: 44
2007 Option: Mutual option; undisclosed salary
Yes, Jamie Moyer's one old dude. But if his 2007 option is for a reasonable price, the Phillies should pick him up. He hasn't exactly been grand this year (4.32 ERA split between Seattle and Philly with just 97 K in 187.1 IP), but the Phillies are pretty desperate for starting pitching. Moyer is a big risk, as is any 44-year-old, and his pitching style isn't a great fit for hitter-friendly Citizen's Bank Park, but if he comes cheap, he's worth the risk.
I think the Phillies should exercise the option, but only if it's a low-end deal.
And I think the Phillies will. Moyer's a treasured veteran, and he knows GM Gillick from their days in Seattle. He may not be able to back it up in the field like he used to, but I imagine that Gillick is well aware of the team's starting pitching problems. He just needs to avoid committing too much money to Moyer when the club is perfectly capable of pursuing a big name like Jason Schmidt.
Jeff Conine, Phillies
2007 Age: 41
2007 Option: $2 mil. mutual option, plus incentives; option vests with 450 PAs (plate appearances) in 2006
This club is not short of corner outfielders, and so I normally wouldn't recommend picking up Conine's option. However, Conine's option has already vested, as the Phillies must have known it would have when they traded for him. Conine isn't a bad hitter (270/328/409 this year), but he's pretty sorry for a corner outfielder with defensive limitations. And since the Phils already have Pat Burrell and David Dellucci (and Shane Victorino on the bench), there's no reason to toss away $2 million on Conine. But they already have. Granted, $2 mil. isn't a whole lot, but you'd like to have room for more on your bench than a $2-million fifth outfielder with few remaining abilities.
Conine's option has already vested.
The Phillies also have an option on Aaron Rowand for a $3.25 mil. player option or $5 mil. club option. The club should, and will, exercise it. But since Rowand's still arbitration-eligible, he's under the Phillies' control anyway.
Brian Lawrence, Nationals
2007 Age: 31
2007 Option: $5.7 mil. club option
As bad as the Nats' rotation looked this year, and as bad as it projects to be next year, they still aren't desperate enough to throw nearly $6 million at a pitcher as marginal as Lawrence. Lawrence showed some signs of decency in pitcher's parks in San Diego (4.19 ERA in 2003, 4.12 ERA in 2004), but had an awful 2005 before injuries shelved him for the entire 2006 season. His low strikeout numbers, plus his recent injury, are enough to suggest that he's worth little more than a minor league deal. And he ain't getting any younger.
I think the Nats should decline his option.
And I think the Nats will decline his option. As unpredictable as Jim Bowden is, and despite his penchant for throwing incomprehensible amounts of money at marginal players, even he won't be silly enough to pay this much money to a guy like Lawrence. Won't he?
Ryan Drese, Nationals
2007 Age: 31
2007 Option: $3 mil. club option
Speaking of throwing money at marginal players, we have Drese. Drese had a career year with Texas in 2004, posting a 4.20 and going 14-10. Clever men, however, pointed out that he had struck out a woeful 98 batters in 207.2 innings and, at the age of 28, wasn't nearly as good as he looked. When he got off to a terrible start in 2005, this opinion seemed to be confirmed.
But Jim Bowden is not a clever man.
Not only did Bowden claim Drese off waivers from Texas (understandable), he signed him to a two-year contract extension for $2.5 mil. with a $3 mil. 2007 option (JPS -- just plain stupid). Since then, Drese has surprised no one (save for Bowden) by pitching like you'd expect a 30-year-old, low-strikeout guy to pitch: very poorly. Drese made 11 starts last year (4.98 ERA), limited to 59.2 innings by injuries and ineffectiveness. This year so far, Drese has earned his $1.75 million by throwing 8.2 innings with a 5.19 ERA (8 walks, 5 strikeouts).
I think the Nats should decline his option.
And I think they will. Even men as dense as Bowden and Frank Robinson (recently voted the MLB's worst manager in a poll of the players) can see that Drese is at best a minor leaguer. But we can't predict when Bowden's next stupid act will come -- and it may come with Drese. Who knows?
Kerry Wood, Cubs
2007 Age: 29
2007 Option: $13.5 mil. mutual option ($3 mil. buyout)
The Cubs would have to be absolutely, positively crazy to spend $13.5 million on Kerry Wood. Wood's 2007 option vests with at least 400 IP from 2005-06. He's actually thrown 85.2 IP in those two years. This is, of course, Wood's problem. Unfortunate as it may be, it's doubtful that Kerry Wood will ever be a truly healthy pitcher again. If Wood ever spends another full season in the majors, it will likely be as a reliever/closer, where his use/abuse can be carefully controlled. Wood hasn't pitched a full season in three years, since his 2003 campaign. His durability and his effectiveness have gone down the tubes since then.
I think the club should decline his option. I don't know the exact nature of the mutual option, but if the Cubs can decline their part of the option and buy him out for $3 mil., they're much better off. Wood, of course, won't make anything like that anywhere else in baseball.
And I think the club will decline it. As much as it would be a tragic end to a "what might have been" career in Wrigley, the Cubs have to know that $13.5 million is a lot of damn money. Instead, Wood will stand as a shrine to the importance of handling a young pitcher's health well, and a lasting monument to his manhandling at the hands of Jim Riggleman, Don Baylor, and Dusty Baker.
It should be noted that Aramis Ramirez has the right to void his contract after this season and become a free agent. Why the club would put such a clause in a contract with such an important player is beyond me, and it should be noted that the contract was signed under GM Jim Hendry's watch. Ramirez has given vague assurances that he wants to stay in Chicago. But the club is currently in last place -- behind the PIRATES -- and will likely end the season there. The early returns on 2007 are equally depressing, with the added turmoil of a likely-fired manager, and maybe GM as well. Ramirez may assure fans now that he will stay in Chicago, and if I had to guess, I think he probably will (for about $11 mil. for two more years). But I also wouldn't be surprised if Ramirez jumps the sinking ship and enters a free agent market devoid of an impact third baseman.
Jason Johnson, Reds
2007 Age: 33
2007 Option: $3.5 mutual option, plus incentives
Yes, the Reds are desperate for pitching, which is why GM Wayne Krivsky has traded for every pitcher in the Western Hemisphere not nailed down (rumors that the club entered negotiations with 87-year-old Bob Feller are thus far unsubstantiated). All those pitchers and contracts are going to come back to bite Krivsky, who apparently was never introduced to the concept of a "long-term plan" during his years in Minnesota. Chief among these is Johnson, a pitcher who is now almost completely useless and not likely to get any better at his age. Johnson's main talent at this point in his career is durability. But if you're posting an ERA above 6.00, no one wants you to be durable. To be fair, it's likely that Johnson will revert closer to his career ERA of an even 5.00 next year. But there are a couple dozen pitchers who can post an ERA like that willing to work for less than $3.5 million (luckily, Johnson hasn't pitched enough for any incentives to kick in). The Reds are desperate for pitching, yes, but that doesn't mean that you can abandon the concept of fiscal responsibility and good sense.
I think the Reds should decline Johnson's option.
But I think they will pick it up. I really don't know about this -- even Krivsky should see that Johnson is easily replaceable by cheaper, younger pitchers -- but he also may panic yet again and overpay for pitching help. We'll just have to see.
Rich Aurilia, Reds
2007 Age: 35
2007 Option: $2 mil. mutual option ($100,000 buyout)
That buyout will increase to $200,000 if Aurilia reaches 450 PAs (which is likely). I'm surprised that the Reds haven't already picked up his option, signed him to an extension, and given him a parade so far. Aurilia has a great reputation in Cincinnati as a great "clutch" hitter and a scrappy ballplayer that sets an example for the whole clubhouse.
Well, in lieu of a rant, I'll just state that "clutchiness" isn't nearly as valuable as people think it is. And everyone who thinks that a club will stop winning if they lose that one "scrappy" clubhouse leader is unfamiliar with history.
Thankfully, for Reds fans, Aurilia has hit well enough this year to justify his pay. After a fair 282/338/444 performance in 2004 (which nonetheless nearly won him the team MVP award) , Aurilia has hit 307/353/539 this year in over 100 games. Aurilia has killed lefties this year, and when you consider that he's also a versatile guy who can play all over the infield, he's worth $2 mil. to have on the bench. The big problem for the Reds (and their fans) is that Aurilia has been playing in place of Edwin Encarnacion (293/375/513) at third. And this should never, ever happen, especially for a team that needs to focus on the future while contending now. There's no excuse for sitting Encarnacion on the bench when Aurilia could easily slide over to shortstop and replace the god-awful Royce Clayton (Krivsky trade acquisition). The Reds have been blinded by Encarnacion's 22 errors at third. While Edwin is no great shakes at the hot corner, it's a short-sighted team that thinks the solution is to take his bat out of the lineup. If you think defense is more important than hitting, then of course you're going to finish below .500 and self-destruct your way out of the Wild Card race.
I think the Reds should pick up Aurilia's option. I don't think Aurilia will hit nearly as well as he did this year, but he should still wear out lefties, and he's a handy guy to have on the bench.
And of course the Reds will pick up his option. Team officials are lining up to perform sexual favors upon him even as we speak.
Juan Castro, Reds
2007 Age: 34
2007 Option: $1 mil. club option
Get this -- the option voids with more than 500 PAs in 2006. Which is about right -- the more Castro hits (career 232/271/340), the more the team suffers.
What can you say about Castro? He is a fine defensive shortstop. But even getting a fine defensive shortstop isn't worth putting up with a 248/275/350 hitting line (his 2006 numbers in Minnesota and Cincinnati). If Castro were used strictly as a defensive replacement in the late innings with his at-bats limited, then maybe he'd be worth $1 mil. But it's doubtful that Jerry Narron and Reds management are that self-aware. In fact, since Clayton departs after this season as a free agent, Castro may well end up as the team's starting shortstop in 2007. That's a prospect that should give Reds fans severe gas -- the last time Castro was the team's starting shortstop was in 2004, and he hit an abysmal 244/277/378 which, despite his good defense, still made him one of the league's worst shortstops. It's another stinging indictment of GM Krivsky, who traded away the Reds' shortstop of the future Felipe Lopez who, despite defensive shortcomings, was at least a decent hitter, and was at least going to be around for the near future. Instead, Krivsky got Royce Clayton, who is not only much worse than Lopez, but is leaving as a free agent after the season. So the Reds are left without a starting shortstop, which could very well leave them stuck with Castro in 2007. Ugh.
I think the Reds should decline Castro's option.
But I think the Reds will pick it up. $1 million isn't a lot of money, no, but it's better spent on good players, rather than on guys like Castro. Guys like Castro are the kind of guys you settle for when there's no other choice, not a guy you go out of your way to select for 100 games+ of service.
Jeff Bagwell, Astros
2007 Age: 39
2007 Option: $18 mil. club option
Yeah, right. Bagwell's career is basically over, and the Astros have pretty much already accepted his retirement. Getting Bagwell's contract (which paid him $17 mil. this year for zero ABs) off the books will be an enormous boon for Houston. Combine that with the $22 million they'll save by not bringing Clemens back (assuming, of course, that they don't bring him back), and the Astros will have some money to spend going into 2007. Here's hoping GM Tim Purpura spends it wisely.
I think the Astros should decline Bagwell's option, and of course they will.
Trever Miller, Astros
2007 Age: 34
2007 Option: $1.3 mil. mutual option (option vests with 50 appearances in 2006)
Miller has already appeared in 56 games this year, so consider this option vested. Miller has served as the Astros' LOOGY (Left-handed One-Out GuY) this year, and has done well (3.32 ERA, 49 K in 43.1 IP). Of course, limiting him to just 43.1 IP isn't a great way to get maximum value from him, but then that's an argument for another day (darn you, Tony LaRussa).
Francisco Cordero, Brewers
2007 Age: 32
2007 Option: $5 mil. club option
While the trade for Carlos Lee was a surprisingly unfruitful one for Milwaukee (is Kevin Mench really the best they could do?), GM Doug Melvin did at least salvage something by picking up Cordero. The Brewers were in need of a closer, and they scavenged a good one from Texas. Cordero had lost his job by blowing 9 of 15 saves in Texas and posting a 4.81 ERA. But although his level of blown saves was high, GM Melvin wisely pegged him as someone who could be counted on to rebound in the future. Cordero's strikeout rates have been very, very high for years, and despite pitching in Texas, he's managed a reasonable walk rate and a very low home run rate (just 30 HR allowed in 433.2 career IP!). He's no Mariano Rivera, but for a team looking for a cheap, undervalued closer (which is an oxymoron these days), you can't do much better. Cordero has thus far justified the move, posting an 0.51 ERA and going a perfect 11/11 in saves for Milwaukee.
I think the Brewers should pick up Cordero's option.
And I think they will. $5 mil. is nothing to sneeze at, especially for a low-income team like the Brew Crew. But considering how much closers are overvalued in today's market, he's a great bargain for a team looking to break through to contender status.
Damian Miller, Brewers
2007 Age: 37
2007 Option: mutual option; $3.75 mil. club option / $2.25 mil. player option
Miller is one of the few cases where you could argue that GM Melvin paid too much for a free agent. Catcher had been an issue for the Brewers for a number of years, and while Miller was no Mike Piazza, he was considered a decent hitter and a good handler of pitchers. Unfortunately, he's been thoroughly average for the Brewers (by catching standards), with his 252/325/394 2006 performance even worse than 2005.
Mistakes, though, are in the eye of the beholder. Miller made just a little over $3 million both years in Milwaukee, so you could argue that Melvin got exactly what he paid for. And while I couldn't really advocate dropping even more cash ($3.75 mil.) on Miller at age 37, it may be better than any other catching option the cash-strapped Brewers have.
I think the Brewers should decline Miller's option. Not that he's that bad a bargain, but his skills are diminishing as he gets into his late 30's.
But I think the Brewers will exercise his option. This is a big question mark, as I don't know what other options GM Melvin has in mind. But ultimately, I think he'll opt for the reasonably-priced veteran, even as he does get older.
Jeromy Burnitz, Pirates
2007 Age: 38
2007 Option: $6 mil. mutual option ($700,000 buyout if club declines)
Would you believe that Burnitz is now the highest-paid player on the Pirates, making $6.7 million this year? If you made a list of the highest-paid players on each club, I'd venture to say that Burnitz is the worst, and it's not even close. The sad part is that the Pirates signed him to that 1-year deal when every modestly observerant commentator saw someone who was declining rapidly. Burnitz did hit 258/322/435 for the Cubs last year, but that's not an especially impressive number for someone limited to playing the corner outfield spots. It was also fueled by homer-friendly Wrigley Field, giving Burnitz 24 long balls that provided him with most of his value. His transfer to PNC Park hurt him even more than predicted, as he's now hitting a god-awful 232/290/426. He's basically a worse version of his 2005 self, with only his homers providing any value -- but he's only hit 16 this year. I said it was a bigger drop than anticipated, but it's certainly not unheard of for a 37-year-old. The only person who seemed to be surprised was GM Dave Littlefield.
The Pirates are the NL version of the Royals; completely ignorant of their relative place in the standings, they keep signing short-term veteran filler for far too much money. Those veterans serve only to block better young players, eat up payroll, and depart after pushing the team to 70 wins. The only reason Dave Littlefield still has a job is that Pirates management is either too incompetent or too lazy to fire him.
I think the Pirates should decline Burnitz's option.
And I think they will. Even the Pirates aren't that stupid.
Jim Edmonds, Cardinals
2007 Age: 36
2007 Option: $10 mil. club option ($3 mil. buyout)
Here's a really tough question. Should the Cardinals plunk down big money for such a big injury risk as Edmonds? On one hand, Edmonds is still an elite offensive player and a fine center fielder when healthy. On the other hand, this year has called into question whether Edmonds will ever be really healthy again, not to mention the fact that he's nearing 40.
It's easy to say that the Cards should just decline Edmonds and spend their money elsewhere. But 1) can they really replace him, and 2) are the Cards in a safe enough position to let such a good player go? As to question number one, the answer is no, not cheaply. There are no budding center fielders waiting to break into the majors in the Cardinals' system. There are some players who could be traded for at the right price, but it's doubtful that someone like Coco Crisp would be even be worth the trouble for St. Louis.
As to question #2, the answer is once again a resounding, "No." The rest of the Cardinal outfield is currently comprised of Chris Duncan and Juan Encarnacion. Encarnacion is barely mediocre as a corner outfielder, and Duncan's amazing 2006 (303/366/569) is so out of character that no one is willing to predict that he'll do so well again next year. The Cards' have a woeful middle infield of David Eckstein and ___ at second base (pending free agent Ron Belliard at present) as well as the lightest-hitting catcher in baseball in Yadier Molina. The only offense the Cardinals are getting (apart from Duncan) is from third baseman Scott Rolen (who is also an injury risk on the wrong side of 30) and, of course, Albert Pujols.
I believe that the Cardinals are so desperate for offense that they need Edmonds enough to pay him big bucks. They're also right in the middle of the win nexus, where one or two moves could mean the difference between another NL Central title and a descent to .500. Edmonds is an injury risk, yes, but because his upside is so good, and so desperately needed in St. Louis, I think he's worth the money.
I think the Cardinals should pick up Edmonds' option. Yes, I know that $1o mil. is a lot of money, and that you can get yourself a pretty good player for that kind of dough. But unless the Cardinals can find a good, young, very productive source of offense to replace Edmonds, then he's worth more than whatever Preston Wilson-clone they're likely to replace him with.
But I think the Cardinals will decline his option. The Cardinals have soured on Edmonds since he's missed so much time this year with post-concussion syndrome. Tony LaRussa has even gone so far as to publicly imply that Edmonds is milking his injury. If LaRussa wants to see a man run around center field with vertigo and come to bat with double vision, he's welcome to it. But LaRussa's great fondness (read: weakness) is for scrappy players like David Eckstein who play every day, get their uniform dirty, etc. without actually producing squat at the plate. GM Walt Jocketty needs to step in and say that while Edmonds may not play more than 120 games next year, he's a billion times better than So Taguchi, despite LaRussa's inclinations to the contrary.
Preston Wilson, Cardinals
2007 Age: 32
Option: $24 mil. through 2007-09 ($500,000 buyout)
In the future, I think the term "Colorado contract" will enter the popular lexicon to describe a high-paying, bizarrely-termed contract to sub-par players. But while Wilson benefited from a Colorado contract in the past, this option is part of the 1-year deal he signed with the Astros. What the hell Houston GM Tim Purpura was smoking that day, we'll never know. And unless he convinces Walt Jockett to take a "hit," the Cardinals will most assuredly decline the option.
I think the Cardinals should decline the option.
And I think they will, just because $8 million/year is a lot of money for a moderately-talented center fielder who can't field the position anymore.
Luis Gonzalez, Diamondbacks
2007 Age: 39
2007 Option: $10 mil. club option
Much though Gonzalez has meant to the D-Backs, he's just not an elite player anymore, and while he's a great guy to have in the lineup (277/364/467 even at his age), he's not worth $10 mil. to a club with many younger, cheaper options. Gonzalez is probably the all-time greatest Diamondback, which may seem like small praise but probably means a lot to the people of Phoenix. However, considering the D-Backs' youth movement and the rumors that they've been trying to trade Gonzo, I imagine that they'll decline his option. They may still try to re-sign him to a 1-year deal at a lower price, but that depends on how much of a pay cut Gonzo is willing to take. There's new management in Arizona, as well as a flock of talented (and cheap) young kids in the farm system.
I think the D-Backs should decline Gonzo's option.
And I think they will, although I wouldn't bet against the possibility that they negotiate a new deal for less money. It depends on how sentimental GM Josh Byrnes is, and if Gonzo still wants to play another year if it means taking a near-50% pay cut.
Jeff DaVanon, Diamondbacks
2007 Age: 33
2007 Option: player option based on active days on the ML roster; if he reached 180 days, the option is $1.25 mil.
I don't know where to go to look up a player's service days, but my guess it that DaVanon, who hasn't played in the majors since August 5, has only managed enough days to bring his option up to the $1 million range.
That said, you could do a lot worse than to have Jeff DaVanon as your fourth outfielder. Since catching on as a switch-hitting utility man with the Angels, DaVanon has been one of the best-hitting fourth outfielders in the majors. He kills righties especially, hitting them up for a 308/383/495 batting line this year. A lot of his value is due to hitting in hitter-friendly Chase Field, yes, but DaVanon is still a bargain for a bare $1 million. The only reason I foresee that the D-Backs won't keep him is if they have too many outfielders. The club has youngsters Chris Young and Carlos Quentin penciled in for the 2007 starting lineup, and if they choose to bring back free agents Luis Gonzalez and/or Eric Byrnes, that could leave DaVanon out in the cold. But hey, if you're the Diamondbacks, what a good "problem" to have.
Since DaVanon's option is a player-option, however, Arizona will have to wait on DaVanon's decision. Then, they can either keep him, trade him, or release him.
I think the D-Backs should keep DaVanon. If not -- if they do have too many good outfielders -- they could get a good return for someone with his skills.
And I think the D-Backs will keep him. Especially if they lose Gonzo and Byrnes, the D-Backs could use somebody off the bench who could fill in on a regular basis, even moreso with two rookies in the lineup. DaVanon comes cheap, but earns it at the plate.
Jason Jennings, Rockies
2007 Age: 28
2007 Option: $5.5 mil. mutual option ($100,000 buyout)
This is your basic no-brainer. A team that really needs pitching? Check. A fairly cheap, yet valuable pitcher? Check. A pitcher who can pitch at Coors Field? Check. Granted, Jennings' lower ERA in 2006 is partially --perhaps mostly -- due to the changing nature of Coors Field into damn near a pitcher's park. Jennings' ERA at Coors (3.16) is actually better than his road ERA (3.75). His strikeout rate and home run rate are pretty much the same in both places as well. Yes, a lot of this "improvement" is due to the changing nature of Coors Field. But you can also look at it another way -- the change in Coors has finally let us see that Jason Jennings really is a good pitcher. He's no great shakes -- but for less than $6 mil., the Rockies will take him.
I think the Rockies will exercise his option.
And I think they will. For years, the Rockies have blamed Coors for the fact that they've never developed good pitchers from their farm system. Well, now that excuse is out the window, and the team would be crazy to let one of the good ones get away.
Ray King, Rockies
2007 Age: 33
2007 Option: $2.85 mil. club option
Why is an aging middle reliever getting a nearly-$3 million option? Coors Field. Rockies management has historically treated Coors like an active volcano -- if they sacrifice enough dollars each year, it won't kill them. Well, if the 2006 trend holds and Coors Field is finally tamed, that excuse is gone. So, too, will be the excuse for every bad Colorado contract. We'll finally get to see what GM Dan O'Dowd really looks like.
On a thoroughly unrelated note, I must add that King is a fairly portly fellow. Bill James once said, in regards to Cecil Fielder's acknowledged weight of 290, that it "leaves unanswered what it would be if he put his other foot on the scale." I feel that way about King's acknowledged weight of 240. Granted, his picture isn't very flattering; it makes him look like Abdullah the Butcher.
I think the Rockies should decline King's option; not that he's a bad pitcher, but surely he can be gotten for less than $2.85 mil.
And I think the Rockies will decline it. In truth, I honestly don't know what the Rockies will do -- it all depends on their disposition toward King, who's pitched relatively well this season (3.85 ERA, which isn't all too impressive in the new Coors Field, with an unimpressive 16:18 BB:K ratio.
Jose Mesa, Rockies
2007 Age: 41
2007 Option: $3 mil. club option ($500,000 buyout)
Ray King's contract looks positively glorious when compared to the monstrosity doled out to Jose Mesa. At least King had a recent track record of good performance -- Mesa entered 2006 having lost his job as the closer with the Pirates. When the f'n Pirates have given up on you, it's safe to say that your ship has sailed. But the Rockies saw fit to plunk down $2.5 million to Mesa, plus this option. Mesa wasn't going to be their closer -- Brian Fuentes already had that job -- he was just going to be a middle reliever. Not only that, but I recall specifically the Rockies mentioning something about Mesa's "veteran experience" -- or somesuch -- being important for their young team. The same "veteran experience" led the 2004 Pirates to a 72-89 record -- and then it led the 2005 Pirates to a 67-95 record . . . I guess you'd see where I'm going with this. It's hard to argue that Mesa's making some clubhouse contribution when his team is 5.5 games worse the year after he arrives.
But I guess I'm ignoring the "veteran experience" and presumed leadership that led Mesa to threaten the life of former teammate Omar Vizquel when Vizquel blamed Mesa for the Indians' 1997 World Series loss. To my knowledge, Mesa has never retracted his own personal fatwa of "Death to Vizquel," making one wonder if he has the mental stability required in working with other people. I can envision this little dialogue:
Rockies Manager Clint Hurdle: "Hey, Fuentes, how come you're late for the team bus?"
Impressionable young pitcher Brian Fuentes: "Hey, Skip, I would have been here earlier, but it's not my fault. I was waiting for Jose to get out of the shower."
Jose "The Ayatollah" Mesa: "I will kill you and your children!"
Rockies Manager Clint Hurdle: "I think the reason we lost this game 7-6 was because Jose came into the game in the 9th inning with a 6-0 lead and gave up 7 runs."
Mesa: "I will roast your entrails and sautee your spleen!"
Just a thought.
I think the Rockies should decline Mesa's option.
But I think the Rockies will pick it up. Mesa has posted a 3.39 ERA, although granted, this is the "new" Coors Field. Plus his BB:K ratio is an ugly 33:33, and at the age of 41, we can't expect his magic to go on forever. Certainly not at $3 million a pop.
Byung-Hyun Kim, Rockies
2007 Age: 38
2007 Option: undisclosed amount; $250,000 buyout
Last year, Kim was one of the few moderately effective Rockie pitchers. So you'd think the colossal shift of Coors Field to a pitchers' park would help him, right? Apparently not; Kim has a worse ERA than he had last year. This could just be a function of turning 37. Or it could mean that Kim was a bad pitcher last year, Coors or no Coors. Either way, he's a guy the Rockies should keep around, but only on a minor-league, low-end deal. If his options calls for any amount of big guaranteed money, it should be declined. I don't foresee many clubs clamoring for Kim's services.
I really can't comment for certain on whether the Rockies should -- or will -- pick up Kim's option without knowing how much money it's for, or even if it's a club option at all.
Mike DeJean, Rockies
2007 Age: 36
2007 Option: $1.5 mil. mutual option; $150,000 buyout*
* --mutual option becomes player option if DeJean is traded
Boy, the Rockies like their options, especially with relievers. To be fair, it does take a lot of convincing for a pitcher to sign with Colorado as a free agent. The problem is that the Rockies tend to go for former closers who've lost most of their value -- like DeJean and Mesa. Yes, they're cheap -- but they're cheap for a reason. Once DeJean was anointed with the title of "closer," however briefly (2 seasons in Milwaukee), he became that much more valuable to gullible GMs. I must admit that DeJean pitched well with the club after signing with them in July of 2005. But for a 36-year-old with DeJean's checkered history, that should merit a low-end deal, perhaps with incentives. It should not get him a guaranteed $1.3 million this year with an even bigger option for 2007. DeJean went out this year and pitched his age; that is, he threw 1.2 innings and got injured, never to pitch again in 2006. Suffice to say that he's not worth a $1.5 million gamble this year.
I think the Rockies should decline DeJean's option,
And I think they will, if only because his year-long injury has forced the issue.
Eric Gagne, Dodgers
2007 Age: 31
2007 Option: $12 mil. club option
Oh, the difficult choices that a GM must make. And this time, no, that's not meant sarcastically.
Eric Gagne wasn't just an elite closer from 2002-2004 -- he was an elite closer of legendary status, posting three of the best relief seasons in recent history. He was also amazingly consistent, not just in racking up saves, but in pitching exactly 82.1 IP every year. He also struck out 114, 137, and 114 batters in those three seasons. Sandwiched in the middle was a well-deserved Cy Young Award in 2003.
Thinking they were set for the immediate future, the Dodgers signed Gagne to a 2-year, $19 million extension with a 2007 option. But it's never that easy, is it? For that $19 million, the Dodgers have gotten exactly 15.1 innings pitched from Gagne. That's more than $1 million per inning. Not only has Gagne been slowed by injuries, but his tendency to rush back to the majors too soon has only made them worse. Now, at age 31 and two years removed from his last healthy season, it's doubtful that he'll ever be as good as he once was.
I think the Dodgers should decline Gagne's option. It's a risky move, especially if Gagne signs with another team and rebounds. But surely the Dodgers could manage to sign Gagne to a deal for less money -- if it's laced with major incentives based on innings pitched. But since Gagne's agent is Scott Boras, the Dodgers may end up losing him to some dumb-ass team willing to pay him like a superstar. In my opinion, though, that's a risk the Dodgers have to take. $12 million is too much money for someone with Gagne's injury history, especially when they have several good (and cheap) young hurlers like Takaishi Saito -- who has already taken Gagne's place as closer and done well.
And I think the Dodgers will decline his option. I'm very hesitant in making this prediction; firstly because Gagne has become a marquee attraction in Los Angeles, and secondly because GM Ned Colletti has shown no grasp of the concept known as "the future" and is perfectly capable of tossing away big money on big names. But $12 million is a lot of cash, even for someone as dense as Colletti. If Gagne had only missed one year, I think the Dodgers would pick him up. But after two straight years of nothing for $19 million, I think the Dodgers will decline and try to re-sign him to an incentive-based deal.
The Dodgers are also on the hook for a $300,000 buyout of Jose Cruz, Jr.'s contract, after designating him for assignment this August.
Mike Cameron, Padres
2007 Age: 34
2007 Option: $7 mil. club option ($500,000 buyout)
Let's make this short: Cameron provides offense that the Padres desperately need. He's hit 261/346/471 this year and has actually hit better at Petco Park rather than on the road. He's still a fine center fielder, although he is an old 34, given his injury history. That said, though, $7 million isn't a lot to ask for a good hitter at a key defensive position on a team that really needs one.
I think the Padres should pick up Cameron's option.
And I think they will. There's no one else on the team ready to push Cameron off his spot. He's been the best player on the whole team this year, although that says more about the disappointing nature of the club than it does about Cameron's prowess.
Mike Piazza, Padres
2007 Age: 38
2007 Option: $8 mil. mutual option; $750,000 buyout
Piazza's 2006 deal was laced with incentives, one of which assured him a $50,000 bonus for winning the Gold Glove. They might as well have added another $50,000 bonus for being elected President and one more for walking on the moon.
Piazza has been one of the Padres' best hitters in 2006, but there are some odd trends there. He's faded since the All-Star Break (290/348/504 before; 264/321/488 after). That could be just luck, or it could be the effects of catching on a 37-year-old. On the bright side, Piazza has hit enormously well on the road (337/371/565), indicating that he's a better hitter than Petco Park has made him out to be. That's a dubious distinction for the Padres, though, as it doesn't matter much how good Piazza "truly" is when he's hitting 218/305/424 at home.
I said before the season that the Padres picked perhaps the worst circumstances in which to exploit Piazza's value. They had him continue as a catcher, despite the fact that he's 37 years old and a liability defensively, and they also put him in a park that would nearly kill off his power. I was right, but it's a credit to Piazza that he's still managed to hit well in spite of these circumstances. Will he continue to hit well next year, well enough to earn $8 million? I don't think so. He's such a defensive liability and such a candidate for a major injury that we just can't guarantee he'll keep hitting like David Ortiz on the road.
I think the Padres should decline Piazza's option. This is a big risk, which will look stupid if Piazza signs for some team in an offense-heavy ballpark and makes the All-Star team. But given what we know now, I think Piazza is too much of a risk. If they could work out another deal for less money, but equally laced with incentives, then absolutely I'd bring him back. But the acquisition of Josh Bard makes that a much less likely move.
Which is why I think the Padres will decline his option. Under any other circumstances, I think the Padres would pick up Piazza's option. But Josh Bard will be 29 next year, making far less than $8 million, is a damn sight better than Piazza defensively, and is hitting 317/396/486 this year. I don't think he's really that good as a hitter, but even if he's vaguely that good, he's a better bargain than Piazza. There's always the chance that the Padres will take the easy choice and bring back the All-Star who can still hit, but I think that the acquisition of Bard makes it easier for them to cut Piazza loose.
Scott Linebrink, Padres
2007 Age: 30
2007 Option: $1.75 million club option
Linebrink's 2007 option vests with 100 appearances in 2005-06; it also may escalate to $2.25 million based on undisclosed incentives. Linebrink's option was guaranteed many moons ago; he made 73 appearances last year, and has made 62 so far this year. He's not nearly as good as he was last year, when he was baseball's best setup man at a 1.83 ERA and 70 K in 73.2 IP. But he's still pretty darn good: 3.62 ERA with 56 K in 64.2 IP despite allowing 9 HR. He's not as good as he looked in 2005, but he's worth $1.75 million, especially as an insurance policy in case Trevor Hoffman starts showing his age.
Steve Finley, Giants
2007 Age: 42
2007 Option: $7 mil. club option; $1 mil. buyout
Finley's been pretty poor this year: 247/320/388 is bad even for a center fielder. But he's practically the Comeback Player of the Year given how wretched he was for the Angels in 2005 (222/271/374). The Angels and Giants traded bad contracts in the off-season, with the Giants taking Finley and the Angels taking Edgardo Alfonzo. Unlikely as it may have seemed, the Giants won out, getting at least replacement-level production from Finley, despite his $6.5 million salary.
But is Finley likely to be this "good" next year? Don't bet on it. Saying that 42-year-old center fielders don't age well is like saying that Bill O'Reilly isn't a member of the Al Franken Appreciation Society.
I think the Giants should decline Finley's option.
And I think they will. But you know what? I'm not absolutely sure. Giants GM Brian Sabean has shown a positive fetish for older players in recent years. He claimed when he started this geriatric shopping spree that the veteran leadership would get him to the playoffs. Guess what? The Giants are still a team that's only as good as Barry Bonds. And while you could argue on behalf of the Omar Vizquel or Moises Alou deals, there's nothing to say that Sabean's penchant for pensioners has been anything but a failure. The Giants haven't made the postseason since 2003, the year before Sabean went off on his senior citizen manhunt. This despite the fact that the NL West has collapsed like a flan in a cupboard.
The Giants also have a mutual option on pitcher Jamey Wright for $2.5 million. This one doesn't even deserve a full discussion. Wright is a great guy to sign to a minor league deal as an emergency starter, but he's not even worth 2.5 million Canadian dollars. But who knows? Wright's turning 33 in December, so he's just entering his "prime," according to the Dusty Baker/Brian Sabean school of thought.
Still plenty of issues bouncing around the baseball world, and I'll be back soon to discuss them. Until then, be sure to catch those fly balls and ponder the great inaccuracy of baseball fielding rules.

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