There are no big trades to report, as it looks like Manny Ramirez is mos' definitely a Boston Red Sox for 2007. There were several free agent signings, and some other tasty newsbites:
- The Dodgers signed free agent Jason Schmidt to a 3-year deal for $47 mil. $15 mil/year is a lot of money, but this contract is still a steal. Schmidt is still capable of pitching like a Cy Young candidate, and the Dodgers were somehow able to limit him to a 3-year contract, which is ideal for him. Schmidt's contract will end up being infinitely more reasonable than that given to Barry Zito, who isn't as good a pitcher, and whose only advantage over Schmidt is a better health record and 5 years of age. That's not insignificant, but trust me when I say that the Dodgers will enjoy their Schmidt deal much more than Zito's team will, especially if it's the Rangers. All of the teams that end up losing out on the Zito sweepstakes should kick themselves for not pursuing Schmidt harder.
- Mike Piazza signed a 1-year, $8.5 million contract with the A's to be their DH and semi-backup catcher. Let's just go ahead and call this the Frank Thomas deal of 2007, because it sure looks that way. The A's will be using Piazza almost strictly as a DH, which will enhance his durability and get him in the lineup more often. And they somehow managed to nab him for just 1 year and an utterly reasonable $8.5 million. Piazza was supposed to be mulling another offer from the Rangers, and I have to wonder if they offered him two years. Maybe they should have, because Piazza is still an offensive presence. His 283/342/501 batting line last year was dampened by playing in Petco Park; he hit 332/372/564 on the road. The A's needed a jolt of offense and they got it. This deal also means that Barry Bonds won't be signing with Oakland, so it looks like it really is just the Giants or nothing.
- The Indians signed Joe Borowski to be their closer -- 1 year, $4.25 million was the final number. Borowski is one of those "proven closers" who actually isn't very good at all. The Indians seem to realize this given that low-ball contract, but the problem will be when they actually stick him out there in the 9th inning. Borowski did admittedly have a rebound year with Florida last year, notching a 3.75 ERA with a 33:64 BB:K ratio in 69.2 IP. But that was in Florida; now, he's going to have to pitch in the real major league. The good news is that the Indians are fully capable of shifting him out of the job and replacing him with a kid if (when) he tanks.
- The Giants signed catcher Bengie Molina for 3 years and $16 million. I often make fun of the Giants for their signing of tired, old players, but really -- it's not funny anymore. Molina was a free agent (obviously), and I wrote in his Toronto entry that he should be stamped "Don't Open After Age 30." Well, Molina will turn 33 next year, and is already the slowest player in baseball, even by a catcher's standards. And while he still hits relatively well (284/319/467 in '06), don't count on much durability. And with his "athleticism," his health should take a sharp turn for the worse in the years to come.
Incidentally, Molina will be replacing Mike Matheny, the last old catcher the Giants signed to a 3-year deal. That was a dismal failure, too. ::Sigh::
- The Dodgers were busy today; they also nabbed Mike Lieberthal to be their backup catcher for 1 year and $1.25 mil. Lieberthal's days as a full-time starter were done, but he's a good fit to be a backup, especially for that money. He hits pretty well for a backup, and isn't a defensive loss either.
- Words is that the Twins are trying to talk starter Brad Radke out of retiring. I don't know how much stock to put in this rumor, especially since Radke pretty much shot his shoulder all to hell in the stretch run last year. He did this with the knowledge that he wouldn't be coming back in 2007. And after that, I'm surprised the Twins would really want him back for anything other than sentimental reasons.
- Reports are that the Red Sox & Daisuke Matsuzaka are still far apart in their negotiations, and the clock is ticking. The sticking point is that the Red Sox, having already committed $51.1 million in their posting fee, don't want to pay Matsuzaka full market price. Because if they do agree on a (justifiable) contract for, let's say, 5 years and $90 million, it will actually be 5 years and $141 million (about $28 mil./year) for Boston, because they have to factor in that posting fee. Matsuzaka's agent, Scott Boras, could give a shit about the posting fee; that money goes to the Seibu Lions, and Matsuzaka doesn't get a cent of it. His attitude is, "I don't care how much you paid for the rights to Matsuzaka. You're going to pay him full market price, or you won't get him at all." And Boras isn't the sort to bluff on something like that. He totally has the whip hand, too. Because if the Red Sox fail to sign Matsuzaka after all of this hoopla and he goes back to Japan, Theo Epstein & Co. will be roasted in the Boston press for missing out on a Cy Young-caliber pitcher. It's hard for me to imagine the Sox not signing Matsuzaka, if only because they've got so much invested in the process beyond their pitching staff.
This process should be very informative for teams looking to sign Japanese players in the future.
- Whither Andy Pettitte? Pettitte decided today (after much hand wringing) that he will return to baseball in 2007, after threatening to retire after last season. The only real possibilities are the Yankees and Astros, with Pettitte reportedly favoring New York. Pettitte should probably come at a pretty reasonable price, making him a much better bet than Ted Lilly. And the Yankees and Astros are perfectly aware that wherever Pettitte goes, he's likely to bring along his old friend, Roger Clemens (remember him?), who is indeed a free agent. Clemens will likely do the same routine as last year, waiting to join the team in May and working a limited schedule. It was tremendously effective last year, and I've just resigned myself to the fact that Clemens could pitch until he's 90 and still win games. So the Clemens Factor will be the strong subplot of any Andy Pettitte discussions.
- Whither Richie Sexson? The Mariners are rumored to be shopping around their expensive first baseman, and the Yankees are rumored to be interested. New York needs a first baseman, and Sexson appears to be available. But this appears to be more rumor than substance. The Yanks really aren't looking to add any more big-money hitters, and while Sexson isn't that expensive, the Yankees are focused first and foremost on pitching. I have to take the opportunity to congratulate Brian Cashman and the Yankees for exercising a remarkable amount of restraint in recent years. For better or worse, the George Steinbrenner heyday is over, and the Yankees are no longer going to pursue free agents like a 5-year-old on a Toys R Us shopping spree.
- In my earlier report on the Mets-Royals trade, I apparently expressed too optimistic a view of Brian Bannister. My view was that Bannister had some potential to develop into a quality pitcher, but reports I've heard since then (from those wiser than I) say that he's a #4-5 starter at best. But even if it is a good trade for the Mets in terms of talent exchanged, they're still losing something they need (starting pitching) and getting something they don't so much need (relief pitching). But the ceiling on Burgos is high, and the Mets may be eyeing him as the eventual replacement for Billy Wagner as closer, either that or as a Zumaya-esque Setup-Superman.
- Medical reports from Boston are that Jon Lester, diagnosed with lymphoma a few months ago, appears to be cancer free. There's been nothing official, but I've heard that his MRI has come back clear, and his cancer appears to be in remission. This is fabulous news, no question, and best wishes as always to Lester and his family that he can stay cancer-free. For the Red Sox, it's good news, of course. There's also the added benefit that they don't have to rush Lester along in his recovery. The Sox will have 5 or 6 starting pitchers going into 2007 without considering Matsuzaka. So there's no hurry for Lester, who still has a ton of potential.
There will probably be more in the weeks to come, and I'll try to stay ahead of it. In general, I try to avoid reporting on rumors, unless they're particularly strong and reliable, or unless they just interest me in a humorous or bizarre way. Most observers have remarked that this edition of the Winter Meetings have been so silent that the most random rumor can become absolute fact in no time at all. When you've got a fleet of news people with no news to cover, this is what happens. So forgive me if I don't have all the hot n' juicy gossip. For every deal that happens, there are 10 or 15 that don't, and it would be tiresome to talk about them all.
I've also been quite remiss in recent weeks in not giving credit to the sources of all of my information. My primary source for baseball stats is still Baseball Reference.com, which is currently redesigning itself and adding more features to become even more fabulous -- if that's possible. Most of my minor league stats come from The Baseball Cube, which reports minor and major league stats that are quite useful to the statistically-inclined. Doing my reports on future stars would be impossible without a quick reference to the Cube. I also use the sortable stats available at Baseball Prospectus where I am, at long last, a subscriber. There you can get pretty much every sophisticated sabermetric stat, sortable for every season back to 1973. It's like a wet dream. (I will also periodically pull out Lee Sinins' computer program, the Sabermetric Encyclopedia. It's a bit superfluous given all the benefits of BR, but it is still useful).
Historically speaking, we'd all be at a loss without Retrosheet.org, which has box scores for every game going back more than 100 years, and play-by-play data for every game for the past 30+ years (they're constantly adding more games and completing more seasons). They're the ground-level, grass-roots organization that makes all of the game-level details available to all of us geeks who care. They also chart random bits of interest, such as every inside-the-park home run and every instance of the hidden ball trick and every time a team was penalized for batting out of turn.
Almost all of the commentary and analysis I get from Baseball Prospectus (BP, from now on), The Hardball Times, and espn.com. It would be impossible to list all of the valuable contributors from each site. But I try to check in on these as often as I can for my daily dose of insight. There are also a ton of blogs and secondary websites that offer news, criticism, and commentary. I listed only those that I visit regularly, so it's not an exhaustive list by any means.
For strict baseball news, I'm pretty much a devotee of espn.com. With invaluable insiders like Peter Gammons, Buster Olney, Jayson Stark and many others, you often know what happens before it happens there. They're also very good at getting things right, and at labelling rumor and speculation as such. MLB.com is also valuable for every press release and any sort of official information about award selections and news. Their sortable stats are probably the easiest to navigate if you're just looking for the basic baseball card stats such as AVG, HR, ERA etc.
And for baseball humor, there is nothing like The Brushback, which is an online source of humorous fake news for sports (much like The Onion). They've recently published a book of their collected columns and headlines, and it is freakin' hilarious. I couldn't begin to list all of the hilarious stories, but here's a small sampling of some of their fake news headlines:
Confused Manny Ramirez Thinks He's Being Traded to Disney World
Naive Scott Boras Thinks He's Not Going to Burn in Hell
Congress Drafts Bill To Punish Those Who Don't Cry During National Anthem
Recruit Scared Off By University's High Graduation Rate
$7 Milion Worth of Jewelry Stolen from NFL Player's Glove Compartment
Player Heckles Underachieving Fan
Only 3 Date Rapes at This Year's Maxim Party
Visiting Team Rattled by Repeated Playings of "We Will Rock You"
It would be more appropriate to credit each of these sources in every one of my entries, as they all provide the data and insight to make me sound much smarter than I am. There's a great deal of baseball wisdom available over the internet, and I can only hope that after taking so much of it, I can start giving back.