Friday, December 12, 2008

Winter Meetings Round-Up

  • The Yanks ended up getting C.C. Sabathia for a 7-year deal worth about $161 MM ($23 MM AAV). Considering where the Yankees are, I can see how this is the right move for them. They've been pressured to sign a free agent starter in past offseasons and ended up with the likes of Jaret Wright and Carl Pavano. This time there was a legitimate ace out there, and the Yankees nabbed him. Not that there was a lot of doubt on that front.
    My personal take is that I would NEVER give any pitcher a 7-year contract. So many things about Sabathia's future are unknown; he's shouldered a very heavy workload, but it hasn't seemed to affect him yet. He's nearly 300 pounds, but it's hard to find any pitcher from the past to compare him to. I'm far too conservative fiscally to commit so much money to an unknown quantity. But as I say, the Yankees are in the unique position of being able to afford it.
    There are just two things that bug me, even taking that into account: 1) the Yanks could have had him for less money, as their haste to outbid everyone else and get the deal done early added to the final amount, and 2) Sabathia has an opt-out clause after the third year of the deal. An opt-out clause fully protects the player while providing no advantage to the signing team. The disadvantage is that the Yankees don't really have Sabathia signed for seven years; they have him signed for three years with a player option for four more. Apparently the Yanks felt that they had to include this in the contract to be "competitive." I'm quite skeptical of that. $161 million and a seventh year is competitive enough.
  • Another Brewer who might soon become a Yankee is Mike Cameron. Rumor has it that the Brewers and Yanks are close to a deal that would send Cameron to the Bronx in exchange for Melky Cabrera. This would be a good money-saving move for the Brewers (and give them a center fielder for longer than one year), even if it hurts them in the short run. And it would give the Yankees a true center fielder who can hit to put in the lineup. The cost to them is minimal; Cabrera's time as a Yankee was done. We'll see if this deal gets done.
  • The Mets signed Francisco Rodriguez to a 3-year deal worth about $37 million. This is far less than the 5-year $60 million deal that some were predicting at season's end. It's still probably overpaying, but the Mets can afford to do that, as can the Yankees. The worry here isn't so much with dollars as it is with years; the Mets were able to get the most coveted relief arm out there (whether he's the best is debatable) without having to add a fourth year. And considering the concerns about K-Rod's arm and performance, this deal is a better risk for New York.
    Now, K-Rod was not the best arm available, and he won't solve the Mets' problems alone. After I heard about this signing, I was worried that the Mets had been fooled by looking at Rodriguez's 60+ saves rather than his actual performance. But the Mets got themselves one heck of a backup soon after, trading for Seattle closer J.J. Putz.
    Putz is older and has a more troubling injury history, but he's also just better than K-Rod. Either one of them on their own would be a big gamble, but together you've got a really good combination to handle the late innings for the Mets. And should one of them go down, the team won't be toast, as they were when they lost Wagner this past season.
    The Mets gave up a lot of players for Putz, but very little of substance. They gave up Aaron Heilman -- whose performance has been spotty and was due for a change of scenery -- along with Joe Smith, who went to Cleveland in what was a three-team trade. They also give fourth outfielder Endy Chavez to Seattle, as well as forgotten starter Jason Vargas. Along with Putz, the Mets get Sean Green (a better bullpen option than Smith or Heilman) and Endy Chavez's lesser half, Jeremy Reed. The Mets also gave up three prospects, but no one they're likely to miss.
    How did the Mets get one of the game's best closers for so little? Apparently, Seattle was more interested in quantity than quality. Either that, or they just have a much higher opinion of Endy Chavez than we think. It should be said that Cleveland chipped in Franklin Gutierrez to Seattle. Gutierrez is a defensive plus who could slot into center field, if the M's can/will shift Ichiro back to right. Gutierrez's bat may not play in a corner. Endy Chavez is no Raul Ibanez, but he's a far sight better defensively. And Wladimir Balentien can fit in there somewhere to give the outfield more pop.
    Bottom-line, the Putz deal will end up helping the Mets much more than the K-Rod deal. Rodriguez will probably pitch more innings, but Putz will almost definitely be better. Get them both in there, and you're doing well.
  • This morning's news is that Raul Ibanez has signed with the Phillies for a 3-year, $30 million deal. This fills the Phillies' hole in left field, but I'm not crazy about the deal. Ibanez will be 37 next year, and while he's been consistently good at the plate in Seattle, he's going to get old eventually. And, like Pat Burrel, he's a defensive liability. I don't mind giving Ibanez $10 MM per, but I don't see why the Phils had to go to three years.
  • The Indians are close to signing Kerry Wood to a 2-year deal for an indeterminate amount. Wood is probably, per dollar, the best closer on the market. The Indians have needed an ace closer for some time now. Wood is not without risk, but the upside is so good that it's a steal to get him on a two-year deal. If the Indians can add another bat and another starter, they'll be back in the AL Central race.
  • The Dodgers signed Casey Blake and Mark Loretta to fill out their infield. Blake isn't as good as people think, but he's a good enough placeholder. They just need to re-sign Manny to make sure their offense is up to snuff.
  • The Reds traded Ryan Freel to the Orioles in exchange for catcher Ramon Hernandez. This fills the Reds' catching void with a decent player without giving up much in return. Freel gives the O's a super-sub, and getting rid of Hernandez clears the way for uber-prospect Matt Wieters to take over behind the plate whenever he's ready. The Reds just need to hope that Hernandez is more inspired this year; he's coming off two sub-par years that made his free agent deal with Baltimore a dud. The good news is that he tends to do very well in his walk years.
  • The Tigers traded for the Rangers' catcher Gerald Laird and also signed free agent shortstop Adam Everett to a one-year deal. Everett is a good fit for the Tigers; he's a defensive whiz and the Tiger offense can compensate for his weak bat. Laird has probably the least upside of the Rangers' catchers, but is the most major-league ready. He's solid defensively and hits fine for a catcher. Now if the Tigers can just turn around their pitching staff, they'll be good.
And the deals that didn't happen:
  • The Jake Peavy trade talks are dead, for the moment. Apparently it just got too complicated, with the Cubs having to move a lot of salary and with a lot of haggling over who would pay what to Jason Marquis and/or Mark DeRosa. I personally never thought the Cubs really needed Peavy that badly; he would help, but I wouldn't give up my #1 prospect (Josh Vitters) and more to get him, especially when I'm already out-pacing my division, and the offense is more of a problem.
  • Mark Teixeira is yet to sign, despite a reportedly huge offer from the Nationals. The Angels still think they've got the inside track, and they'd better hope they do, because they need him more than anybody else.
  • Apparently, the only team really interested in Manny Ramirez is the Dodgers. But don't count Scott Boras out; he's good at dragging in a team out of nowhere to start a bidding war.
  • The other closer out there, Brian Fuentes, appears to be close to a deal with the Cardinals. The Cardinals are a team right on the edge of contention, so every little bit helps. If they could pick up a good second baseman somewhere, they might be able to contend. But a lot depends upon their patchwork starting rotation, especially the health of Chris Carpenter.
Also, Friday is non-tender day, when another batch of free agents -- players not tendered a contract by their team -- enter the market. There are no MVPs here, but some useful pieces certainly.

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