Wednesday, November 21, 2007

The Hot Stove (I hate that term)

The offseason has begun in earnest. Let's start with the deals that have been signed, and then we'll talk about those that have just been loosely agreed upon, and those that are just "in the works."

  • The Phillies signed middle reliever J.C. Romero to a three-year contract extension for $12 million. The money doesn't bother me that much, although the Phils should really be looking at Romero's track record. The problem is a 3-year deal. Considering the fact that most relievers are essentially replaceable, and considering the fact that this knowledge is not a secret among baseball boardrooms, why are marginal relievers getting multi-year deals -- especially for more than two years? I can maybe understand extending an excellent reliever beyond his expiration date, but why would you do so with someone who is less than excellent? I guess some things people just never learn.
  • The Tigers traded Omar Infante to the Cubs for Jacque Jones. The Cubs have far too many outfielders, and Jones isn't their best option. I don't see that he does the Tigers a whole lot of good, either, since they're pretty well set with outfielders. I guess Jones isn't a bad 4th outfielder, at his price, but they'd better not think that he's an everyday player.
    As for Infante, he's a valuable guy, but he's not much of an improvement over what the Cubs had. And with Edgar Renteria, the Tigers didn't really need him that much. I don't know; maybe this deal was a draw.
  • The Cubs also sent away another outfielder, Craig Monroe. He wasn't doing them any good, and he won't make much difference for the Twins, either, who may have to non-tender him. I guess the Minnesota front office is still playing the game of "Left Fielder Russian Roulette."
  • The Astros traded Josh Anderson to the Braves for reliever/fringe starter Oscar Villarreal. The Astros don't need Anderson, who's a fifth outfielder, and neither do the Braves. The Braves may talk about keeping Anderson as their center fielder, but let's hope it's just talk. The Braves didn't really need Villarreal, but couldn't they have gotten more for him? The Astros, on the other hand, need some cheap guys to eat innings as a swingman.
  • The Blue Jays got Marco Scutaro from the A's for a pair of minor leaguers. This may be a sign that the A's are willing to trade anyone for a return. And while Scutaro is a useful guy, I don't relish the sight of a Scutaro/John McDonald pairing at shortstop.
  • The Mets signed Luis Castillo to a 4-year, $25 million contract. Whoaaa, there. Good ol' Omar's gonna regret this one mighty quick.
  • The Angels traded Orlando Cabrera to the White Sox for Jon Garland. I can understand this deal from the Angels' point of view. Garland is overpaid, but he's still a valuable #3-level pitcher. And though Cabrera is good, the Angels have some pretty good replacements for Cabrera. The addition of Garland gives the Angels a pretty crowded rotation, and that's always a good problem to have. It could mean that the Angels go into the season with an overstocked uber-rotation, or it could make one or two guys expendable if the right trade should come along.
  • The Braves signed Tom Glavine to a one-year deal. The deal is basically a nostalgia trip for both parties, as Glavine is essentially done. He's not going to be a reliable #3, but he could at least eat up some innings at the back end of the rotation. At least this way, the transition will be clear when Glavine wears an Atlanta hat to Cooperstown.
  • The Brewers traded Johnny Estrada to the Mets for Guillermo Mota. I don't really get this deal from the Brewers' point of view, but for the Mets, they get an aqequate place-filler behind the plate; someone who's not really any worse than Paul Lo Duca or Yorvit Torrealba and is infinitely cheaper.
  • The Indians signed Japanese free agent reliever Masahide Kobayashi to a two-year deal. I know nothing about Kobayashi, but from what I've heard, this is a good pick-up for Cleveland.
  • The Red Sox re-signed Mike Lowell to a 3-year deal. Apparently, the rumors of wealth and prosperity for Lowell in Philadelphia were overstated. So he stuck with the Sox for a bit more money than he's worth.
  • And finally, the Angels signed Torii Hunter to a 5-year deal for about $90 million, or $16 million.
    Wait a minute ...
    The Angels weren't on the short list of teams thought to be front-runners to land Hunter, but they took a giant leap forward in the negotiations and landed Hunter, perhaps the most sought-after free agent of the offseason.
    However ...
    Did the Angels overspend? Hunter is 32 now and will turn 33 next July. To sign him up through his age-36 season, what will the Angels get?
    They'll get a lifetime 271/324/469 hitter who, away from the friendly MetroDome, is easily a below-average hitter. Hunter has above-average power, but his batting average and especially his OBP more than counteract this. But it must be said that Hunter is a center fielder, and compared to other AL center fielders, his batting skill isn't so far from average.
    But wait a minute -- are the Angels paying $90 million to get an average center fielder in his decline years? They're also paying for elite defense, aren't they? If Hunter were the elite defender that is his reputation, this contract would be a bit more palatable. But he isn't. Hunter more than anyone has benefited from the modern development of the "web gem." It's always been true that flashier defenders get more credit than less flashy glove men of equal or better value, but nowhere has this been as true as with Hunter. Because of his circus catches, he's looked upon as a one-of-a-kind defender. But he has never been an elite center fielder, especially in terms of range. But he's been quite good. The trouble is his age; looking at several different defensive metrics, Hunter shows up somewhere around average defensively. So again, the Angels are dropping big money to a man in his 30s for what should be average production, and that's assuming that Hunter keeps doing as well as he did in Minnesota.
    The other problem is that the Angels are deploying a great deal of money and resources where it was not really needed. The Angels' outfield last year consisted mainly of Garret Anderson, Gary Matthews, and Vlad Guerrero. In fact, the most shocking thing about this deal is that it comes one year after the Matthews contract, another hideously misguided deal that was supposed to be a long-term solution to the center field question. They could shift Matthews to right field, Guerrero to DH, and start Hunter in center. But that would leave Juan Rivera, a talented hitter who's earned a lineup spot, out of a job. And it should be said that Rivera would be a much better right field solution than Matthews, but the latter's contract essentially precludes him from being moved. The same is true of Anderson, who's not any kind of left fielder anymore, but the Angels are stuck with their contract, and also stuck with Anderson as one of the faces of the franchise. So it will likely by Juan Rivera who's left out in the cold (or traded), even though he is, after Guerrero, the best hitter and the cheapest solution to the corner outfield problem.
    And again I must say that I'm stunned to see the Angels essentially admitting defeat with the Matthews deal, or at least showing themselves so willing to write off an expensive contract by shunting him over to an outfield corner, where he is far less valuable (you simply can't pay a corner outfielder $10 million a year to hit 252/323/419, or what Matthews hit in 2007, which is roughly in line with his career numbers).
    Arte Moreno has, since becoming owner of the Angels, shown himself as someone who is willing to spend big money to get the right players. That's been a successful policy, so long as he continues to spend it on the right players. If the Angels fall into the trap of spending big money on flashy free agents who end up as a drag on the payroll, they will no longer be a power to be reckoned with in the AL.
  • The White Sox are announcing a final agreement on a 4-year deal with reliever Scott Linebrink. If they go ahead with this, I'll lose a lot of respect for Kenny Williams. I've already written about the uselessness of giving 3+ years to less-than-stellar relievers, so I'll save some breath. But this also makes me think that the White Sox will not go gently into that good rebuilding process.
And here are the deals that are pretty much done, but have yet to be sealed:
  • The Yankee Three -- Alex Rodriguez, Jorge Posada, and Mariano Rivera -- all seem to have accepted their offers from the Yankees and will be returning next year. I said it before, but with Posada and Rivera especially, we shouldn't have given too much credence to their threats to leave the Yankees if Torre and/or A-Rod didn't come back.
  • Scott Boras came out recently and said that Andruw Jones will not be looking for a one-year contract this year. Some had speculated that Boras would use this tactic to get Andruw back on the market next year, when he would presumably have better stats to sell a long-term contract.
    I don't give Boras' comments any credence -- what idiot would, in the middle of negotiations, announce publicly that they'd be willing to give up and compromise? -- so this is another step in the Jones negotiations. My guess is that Boras isn't having any luck getting GMs to commit to a long-term offer, because they all think he's going to go for a one-year deal. He made this announcement to try and dislodge someone into giving Jones a multi-year offer. So in the end, I take this as a sign that the marketing of Andruw Jones isn't going well.
  • The Mets' deal with Yorvit Torrealba fell apart, and really -- that's a blessing in disguise for them.
  • Kenny Rogers severed his relationship with Scott Boras in what some have seen as a conciliatory move toward the Tigers. It seems that Rogers' most likely destinations are the Tigers or retirement. Although a story was floated about the possibility that Rogers would go back to the Rangers for the fourth time in his career. But given Rogers' stuff, he would be well-told to return to a pitcher's park such as Comerica in Detroit.
  • The Brewers agreed to a one-year deal with Jason Kendall. Kendall isn't anyone's ideal catcher, but considering what was available this offseason, I think Kendall is a good signing for a small-market team that wants to contend, and the contract sounds like low enough money that it won't be a hardship. And there's always the chance that Kendall still has some bounceback in him.
And now for all the rest:
  • Rumors have circulated for a while that the Cubs are targeting former Rockies second baseman Kaz Matsui as a free agent. Many Cub fans have subsequently expressed their hope that this remains a rumor.
  • The Royals have expressed some interest in Jose Guillen. I think Guillen is talented and perhaps underrated, but he's not a guy for a team like the Royals. He will come too expensive and not be the difference between making and not making the playoffs.
  • It will be interesting to see how the Torii Hunter signing affects the Angels' efforts to acquire talent via trade. Before they signed Torii, the Angels were considered favorites to land Miguel Cabrera. Now, with a big piece added to the lineup, the Angels may back off somewhat. (Hunter doesn't remotely compare to Cabrera in terms of offense added, but the Angels might think he does). It's also possible that the Angels keep moving and get Cabrera anyhow. That would make their outfield/DH situation even more problematic when Cabrera has to move off third base (which will be soon). The sad thing is that the Angels might take the same route as the Dodgers and replace all their young and productive players with guys who are much older and much less valuable, money-wise. It would suck if the Halos tried to solve their outfield logjam by trading someone like Juan Rivera or Casey Kotchman instead of ditching a gigantic money drain like Matthews or Anderson.
  • The Johan Santana sweepstakes is heating up. I'm less of a hard-liner than some of my fellow sabermetricians here -- I'd be much more likely to give up value to get someone as good as Santana, especially if I really needed him. The problem, of course, is that he'll probably go to someone like the Dodgers, who have several nearly-as-good pitchers making the league minimum in the minors.
    The key here may be the Mets, who have a strong need to win now, a strong base of money and market to support the $20-25 million per it would take to keep him, and a strong sense of desperation that would lead the front office to act rashly. Player agents must get physically aroused by a desperate General Manager, and I see Omar Minaya as someone who is a) pretty desperate, b) willing to overspend to get what he wants, and c) facing a lot of pressure to do something from the fans and media. Add it up, and if I were Johan's agent, I'd put Omar on my Christmas card list. I'd also look up the Bartolo Colon trade and try to get history to repeat itself.
  • The Orioles seem pretty desperate to unload Miguel Tejada. If I were a team that needed a third baseman, I'd look pretty hard at Miguel. I think he'd bounce back in a better environment, and even if the Orioles pick up just 15-20% of his contract, he'd be a good bargain, provided he can turn things around. I should point out, though, that Tejada's first years in Baltimore were big successes. The image of him as a failure comes mainly from this year's performance (296/357/442) and his sagging defense. But if he could give those numbers just a little boost back to their former levels (career 287/344/477 in pitchers' parks) and provide adequate defense at third, he'd be a really good deal, well worth a couple of "B" prospects, especially if you're a team (:cough: TWINS :cough:) that could really use him.
Things should keep developing, as the offseason hot stove (there's that phrase again) should heat up as quickly as it did last year.

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